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Saturday, October 31, 2009

How To: Enter Diagnostics Mode on Sony Playstation 3 (PS3)

There's a secret way to get your Sony PlayStation 3 (PS3) into a diagnostic mode that will enable you to try some advanced "fixing" options for your game console. With the recent failure of my Blu-Ray disc drive, I figured it was worth a try.

In order to enter the diagnostic mode on your PS3, perform the following:

Hold Power button down for three beeps (while PS3 is off): Enter PS3 diagnostic mode.

However, this can be a little tricky. Generally, you do not count the first beep when the system turns on, so it is three after that. What happened on my PS3 is that the first time it beeped three times, the Sony Playstation 3 console shut itself off. On the second try, the second and third beeps come very close together. Take your finger off the button and you enter the diagnostic mode. They key here is the two quick beeps.

Once you enter the main menu for the PS3 Diagnostics, you have the following options:
Restart System
Restore Default Settings
Restore File System
Rebuild Database
Restore PS3 System
System Update


Two of the options are only available through this menu, Restore File System and Rebuild Database. All of the others can be completed through your normal Sony Playstation 3 menus.

Here is how both of them work:

Restore File System
After entering this mode, you are prompted with the question, Are you sure you want to restore the file system. You select yes and press down the X button.

The system restarts and then you get this message:
The hard disk's file systemis corrupted and will be restored.

It took about 45 seconds for my file system to be rebuilt. After it was restored / rebuilt, the PS3 restarts itself automatically.

Rebuild Database
Here, you are prompted with the question:
Are you sure you want to rebuild the database on the hard disk?

If you rebuild the database, messages, playlists and other saved information will be deleted.

It may take a few hours to rebuild the database.

After choosing yes, the system reboot's then you get the message:
The hard disk's database will be rebuilt.

In my case, it took less than 30 seconds and then the Sony Playstation rebooted itself automatically.

Unfortunately in my case none of these diagnostic utilities fixed the problem with my Blu-Ray disc drive...which means I will still need to send it in for service. Hopefully, you'll find these tips and options helpful!

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

How To: Force disc to eject from Sony Playstation 3 (PS3)

Will you Blu-Ray, DVD, or game discs not eject from your Playstation 3?

Do you press the eject button, but nothing happens?

Perhaps there was a power outage and now your disks will not eject?

In any case, there is a Sony Playstation secret that will enable you to force the ejection and and removal of the Blu-Ray, DVD, or game disc from your PS3.

How does it work?

While your Sony Playstation 3 is still on, rather than just pressing the eject button, instead hold the eject button down for 8 seconds. This will override and force the disc to eject!

Good luck, hopefully that works for you!

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

How To: Reset Video Settings on Sony Playstation 3 (PS3)

I had an interesting problem that I needed to solve. With my primary Sony Playstation 3 being broken (learn more here), I wanted to move my PS3 from upstairs down to the main home theater so I could still watch movies and playing games.

I thought it would be really easy. Just unplug the Playstation 3 upstairs, bring it downstairs and plug it in. Everything would work, no problems. I brought it down, plugged it in and guess what? No video or sound.

Why?

The Sony Playstation 3 does not have an "automatic" detect when you change the type of video connection. In my case, my Vizio LCD HDTV upstairs used an HDMI connection and my Sony Projection HDTV downstairs still used the component / d-terminal video and optical audio output. So, I could not get any video or audio.

I tried first changing the settings upstairs while connected to the HDMI to the component output, but I could not get it to save. Seemingly, Sony's PS3 was trying to protect me from myself by not allowing me to configure an unsupported video mode. If only they knew what I was trying to accomplished.

Was I stuck?

After some searching, I found a technique that your can use in order to reset the video (and audio in my case) settings on your PS3. Presumably it resets all of the "connections" on your PS3.

Here's how you perform the video / audio format and settings reset:

With your Playstation 3 turned off, do the following: Hold power button down for two beeps and then release. This function will reset video and audio to auto-detect and lowest settings.


I tried this out and it worked great for me...my PS3 was working with both audio and video immediately. The good news is that you can use this for any video and audio modes you are changing between including HDMI, Component, D-Terminal, Composite, S-Video, AV MULTI, and SCART.

Good luck, let me know with a comment if this technique works for you!

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Monday, October 26, 2009

How To: Attach USB Hard Drive to your Playstation 3 (PS3)

You think that in this day and age it would be drop dead simple to attach a hard drive to your Sony Playstation 3. In fact, it is 2009 and it's almost been 15 years since Microsoft gave us Windows 95 with it's plug-and-play -- which some called plug-and-pray. You would think, wouldn't you?

But it is not that simple, at all. In fact, your PS3 is very restrictive on the type of USB hard drive or mass storage device that you can attach to your Sony Playstation 3. Why? Your PS3 only allows for a mass storage device like a hard drive to be recognized in the FAT32 format.

FAT32 you say? Microsoft introduced FAT32 with Windows 95/98 (Wikipedia article on FAT here) and Windows 2008 server, Windows 7 and Windows Vista do not support it via their disk utility or disk management systems. Only NTFS and a new version of FAT called exFAT which is also known as FAT64. But, you guessed it...exFAT / FAT64 is not recognized by the Sony Playstation 3 System.

Which, leaves us in a little bit of a quandary. With only Mac OS X system Snow Leopard which will allow a FAT file system and a Microsoft Windows Vista system that will only format in exFAT, what is a person to do? All we want to do is connect an external hard drive to the PS3!

One of the most natural thoughts is...why don't you just go to a MS-DOS prompt and enter "format x: /FS:FAT32" where "x:" is the drive you want to format? Well, if your hard drive is bigger than 32GB -- which most are today -- you're in trouble as that command line will only generate a 32GB drive. (Of course, make sure you're running as administrator with windows elevated permissions)

What are you options?

Well, through this page I found a link (click here) to a program called "fat32format" which is a command line utility that enables you to format the entire partition, even those larger than 32GB as a FAT32 partition.

Here's how you should go about it:


1. Format your hard drive -- in my case it was a 80GB portable drive I have -- in either NTFS or exFAT, using the entire partition.

2. Download the fat32format1.zip file to enable formatting of hard drives and media over 32GB with FAT32 on Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 7. Unzip it in a location you know.

3. Open up a command line prompt as administrator with elevated permissions (you can do this by right-click and selecting run as administrator).

4. Browse to the folder where the fat32format.exe file is located.

5. Type "fat32format.exe z:" where z: is the letter of the drive you want to format as FAT32 larger than 32GB.

6. Type "Y" to confirm the drive and format. Now your drive will format!


Once it has completed, you will have a hard drive as large as the original partition you created with the FAT32 format on it. In my case, I had ~75GB available for data storage -- plenty of space to backup my Sony Playstation 3 (PS3) system.

I was able to connect it and it was immediately recognized without issue.

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Fixed? PS3 Won't Read or Play DVDs, Games, or Blu-Ray Discs

The day has come unfortuantely; where it appears the original Sony Playstation 3 (PS3) that I bought 3 years ago at launch needs to have some work done on it. I am not sure exactly how it happened, but it appears that a combination of the Blu-Ray laser and/or mechanism failed.

This apparently was fairly common with some of the early versions of the Sony PS3, especially my CECHA-01 model; basically the very first hardware / firmware release of the Playstation 3. Some of the articles and discussion (this one for example) suggest that this was due to either poor quality Blu-Ray lasers being installed, or some overclocking by Sony early on to get the hardware fast enough to keep up with the demands.

In any case, I see several people with yearly failures of their PS3 Blu-Ray laser and replacements and varying symptoms from not reading just Blu-Ray discs to reading nothing: no games, no standard DVDs, no Blu-Ray.

My PS3 appears to have the symptom that none of them work. The Blu-Ray DVDs, Games, and standard DVDs load and spin up fine. However, there does not appear to be any tracking or reading happening. The end result is that nothing shows up in the main screen of the PS3 Operating System and load screen when turning the PS3 on.

Initially, I was unwilling to accept that my Playstation 3 was dead. I tried a number of old tricks and techniques to see if it was a cleaning or other basic issue. Here are the things I tried:

1. Good old can of air and basic cleaning of the PS3. No luck.

2. I tried the Playstation "cleaning" secret where the PS3 power switch in the off position, you turn power switch back on while holding down Eject button for 6-10 seconds. This mode allows you to clean out the dust inside the PS3. However, this technique only works for Models CECHG and higher. Bummer.

3. I tried resetting my PS3; both a soft reset as well as restoring the default factory settings. If you end up doing this process, please make sure you backup your PS3 system and settings first!

So, after numerous testing and investigation of alternatives...I have oddly opted to send it back to Sony for $150 to have it repaired. This was rather unusual for me to opt for this choice, but after a full investigation -- I decided it was the best option for me.

Why?

After some research, I found that you can get a laser lens and replacement deck from Amazon.com or eBay for about $50-$90, depending on the vendor and the amount of risk you want to take -- for example, a refurbished Blu-Ray lens / deck might be had for $50. Still, given the surprisingly high failure rate on the lasers -- did not seem worthwhile to me. At least you get a 90-day warranty from SCEA (Sony) on any repaired Playstation 3's. It seemed there was a lot of risk to take for $60 of savings; given a high likelihood that I could end up not only with a still broken PS3, but a $90 investment that I would still need to spend an additional $150 to complete the fix. Easy choice in my book where the risk of failure outweighed the cost savings.

However, if these Blu-Ray laser lens replacement approach $30 -- it would definitely be a different story!

Still if you are up for the do-it-yourself, you can get your replacement laser lens / deck from Amazon.com just by clicking here.

Here's a picture of what it looks like:

Photo of a Sony Playstation 3 (PS3) Blu-Ray Laser Lens Deck Replacement for fixing your PS3

In addition, I found two great videos that will walk you through how you can accomplish the repair and replacement of the PS3 laser lens and deck on YouTube.

Part I: The tear-down guide for your Playstation 3:



Part II: The removal and replacement of the Blu-Ray laser and laser deck:



If you choose to attempt to repair the laser lens deck or the Blu-Ray laser itself, I am sure you'll be successful given the two videos above.

In the end, this type of problem is a little disappointing for my PS3 --, I had the same thing happen with my early edition Playstation 2 (PS2) where the CD-ROM failed and I needed to spend way too much money to have it fixed and replaced. At this point, I am willing to bite the bullet for $150 to have the Blu-Ray drive and laser fixed with Sony...but if the prices on the Blu-Ray DVD players keep coming down at the rate they have been to under $100. If it happens again, one of my two PS3's will be slated for parts and retirement.

Crazy how this always seems to happen with the game consoles, but I have yet to have a DVD Player itself ever fail on me. It sort of makes me wonder why.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

How To: Blackberry Pearl 8100 LCD Replacement Guide

You put your Blackberry Pearl into your pants pocket and you bumped into something and you heard crack...causing your to squirm.

Or...maybe you Blackberry Pearl was dropped and the face hit a sharp corner of a rock, breaking the LCD.

Or...perhaps you just got made and hit your Blackberry Pearl and you shattered the LCD.

Or...maybe it just burnt out or stopped working.

In any case, if you are out of sorts because you need to replace the LCD screen on your Blackberry Pearl 8100 series, then this is the right post for you! In just a couple of steps, I will show you how you can quickly and easily you can repair the Blackberry yourself for free...in just a few minutes of your time!

Before we get started, there are two things that you need:

1. A replacement OEM LCD screen for your Blackberry Pearl! Thank goodness they are readily available, you can get yours from Amazon.com. Buy a replacement LCD by clicking here.

2. You need a Torx bit screwdriver, specifically of the T6 size. However, I have found that is always best to have a complete set. Again, you can purchase these from Amazon and here is a quick link for you, click here to purchase.

If you have those two items, then you are ready to go. Just as a quick reminder, this particular guide should cover the entire line of Blackberry phones whether you are on the AT&T / Cingular, T-Mobile, or Verizon networks. As each network has it's own Blackberry Pearl model including the Blackberry Pearl 8100, Blackberry Pearl 8110, Blackberry Pearl 8120, and Blackberry Pearl 8130.

Now, let's get started with how to tutorial:

1. First off, you need to perform a basic tear down of your Blackberry Pearl 8100 series smart phone mobile device. I have previously posted a how-to guide on the basic technique for disassembling the Blackberry Pearl here: http://www.somelifeblog.com/2009/10/blackberry-pearl-8100-tear-down-guide.html

2. Once you get the basic tear down completed leaving you with the Blackberry Pearl main board with the LCD screen attached, now you will need to unhook the LCD cable from the board so you can remove the LCD. To do this, there is a small latch in the uppoer left hand corner (upper right of the picture) of the Blackberry LCD FACING the LCD Screen. Lift the black latch with light pressure to unlock the cable -- be careful not to damage the latch or the cable, as recovery is very difficult.


3. Now slide out the cable from the connector and you will notice that the LCD Screen sticks to the main board. Just lift with even pressure in order to remove the LCD screen. It should peel off, just like a sticker!



4. To replace your screen, just follow the two steps above in reverse. You want to position the the LCD Screen first and stick it to the main board on your Blackberry Pearl before you re-attach the LCD cable connector. Be sure to latch down the cable before putting your Blackberry Pearl back together or you will be going through the tear down process again!

Good luck, please let me know if this works for you with a comment; or feel free to leave a question!

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

How To: Blackberry Pearl 8100 Tear Down Guide

It's time for another edition of the popular tear down guides for the Blackberry line of mobile devices and phones. This time, I will be tearing down the Blackberry Pearl 8100 Series of phones. This particular phone was no longer functioning (broken trackball) which I will be fixing and showing in an upcoming post.

This particular guide should cover the entire line of Blackberry phones whether you are on the AT&T / Cingular, T-Mobile, or Verizon networks. As each network has it's own Blackberry Pearl model including the Blackberry Pearl 8100, Blackberry Pearl 8110, Blackberry Pearl 8120, and Blackberry Pearl 8130.

Here is the how-to guide on disassembling or tearing down your Blackberry Pearl 8100 series phone. The guide requires a T6 Torx bit screwdriver to be successful. If you don't have one, you can get it here from Amazon.com -- click here.

1. Remove the battery cover. In order to remove the battery cover, turn the phone over push on the cover slightly and slide it down. After the cover clicks and slides, lift up to remove it.

Remove the battery cover. In order to remove the battery cover, turn the phone over push on the cover slightly and slide it down. After the cover clicks and slides, lift up to remove it.
2. Now remove the battery. To remove the battery, lift up on the lower corners of the battery and tilt at an angle. The battery should come out easily.

Now remove the battery. To remove the battery, lift up on the lower corners of the battery and tilt at an angle. The battery should come out easily.
3. Using your Torx scredriver bit, remove the two screws at the top of the Blackberry Pearl 8100 series.

Using your Torx scredriver bit, remove the two screws at the top of the Blackberry Pearl 8100 series.
4. Now comes the trickiest part of this teardown guide. You need to carefully pop out (possibly use a small screwdriver from a eyeglasses set) the bottom plastic piece. There are two hooks that will disconnect from the Blackberry and the you can rotate it off and it pops off.

Now comes the trickiest part of this teardown guide.  You need to carefully pop out (possibly use a small screwdriver from a eyeglasses set) the bottom plastic piece.  There are two hooks that will disconnect from the Blackberry and the you can rotate it off and it pops off.
5. Once you have removed the plastic piece, it exposes two additional screws on the face of the Blackberry Pearl. Remove these two screws with your T6 Torx screwdriver.

Once you have removed the plastic piece, it exposes two additional screws on the face of the Blackberry Pearl.  Remove these two screws with your T6 Torx screwdriver.
6. When you remove the last two screws, it releases the silver sides of your Blackberry Pearl. From there just pull them of, the best technique is to start on one side and apply light and even pressure until they lift off.

When you remove the last two screws, it releases the silver sides of your Blackberry Pearl.  From there just pull them of, the best technique is to start on one side and apply light and even pressure until they lift off.
7. Once the side plastic pieces are removed, you can simply lift off the black plastic piece holding covering the main board on your Blackberry Pearl.

Once the side plastic pieces are removed, you can simply lift off the black plastic piece holding covering the main board on your Blackberry Pearl.
8. Now you can just lift the Blackberry Pearl's main board out of the face plate of the Blackberry Pearl 8100 and you have disassembled the main pieces of your Blacberry Pearl.

Now you can just lift the Blackberry Pearl's main board out of the face plate of the Blackberry Pearl 8100 and you have disassembled the main pieces of your Blacberry Pearl. Congratulations, you have successfully completed the tear down of your Blackberry Pearl 8100 series! In order to put your Pearl back together, all you need to do is reverse the steps in this guide and you will complete it. Upcoming guides will include repairing subcomponents and cleaning your Blackberry Pearl device.

Did this guide help you out or do you have additional quesitons? If so, just leave a question / comment below.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

P2K Commander V6 (6.0.0) is Available!

The latest full version release of P2K Commander, 6.0.0 also known as V6 is now available for download. Although, honestly...I am not entirely sure what it means. We know the focus for P2K Commander V5 (5.0.0) was on the P2K over USBLAN with associated features enabling it to be a full featured communication profile. But with P2K Commander V6 (6.0.0), the changes are not readily apparent.

First, I checked out both the ChangeLog.txt and the Whatsnew.txt file to see if there were any documented changes. Unfortunately, there were not any documented changes with the files for V6.

Next, I proceed to load up the application to see if there were any noticable changes. I checked the main screen, the options and all of the commands in the menu bar, but still could not find and new features or changes to the P2K Commander Application. Even checking the about section, I noticed that both the verison name and the build date were updated so minimally it is a new build.

Here is a screen shot of the new version:
P2K Commander V6 (6.0.0) is Available -- Screen Shot from P2K Commander V6

The good news is that my phone still connects with ease to P2K Commander V6 and it appears to have all the functionality working properly.

This leads me to the following conclusions; and either one of them is the case.

1. P2K Commander V6 is a minor update to the V5 releases and has some bug, performance, and stability fixes.

2. With the P2K over USBLAN feature completely built out in version 5.1.0; the P2K Commander developers may have made the decision to simply consider it a complete version upgrade and repackaaged it as V6, version 6.0.0.

In either case, if you're looking to download P2K Commander V6, you can get it directly from this link:
http://www.el-co.hu/dl/P2kCommander-V6.0.0.zip

Otherwise, please visit this page for all versions of P2K Commander as well as any updates that may have occurred since this post:
http://www.somelifeblog.com/2007/03/motorola-v3-complete-list-of-p2k.html

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Monday, October 19, 2009

P2K Commander V5 (5.1.0 MR) is Available!

It's been quite some time since I have updated my site on the availability and features with P2K Commander. First off, I have been focused on a number of other things which have distracted me from keeping updated. But, then the creator of P2K Commander has made a number of changes to the site and availability and some of the initial vesions of P2K Commander V5 had some major issues with being able to establish connectivity to my Motorola V3 RAZR phone.

However, with the introduction of P2K Commander V5.1.0MR, which stands for Market Release -- a fully functional version of P2K Commander V5, that gets some great new bells and whistles. First, here is some history for P2K Commander V5 in terms of the releases:

P2kCommander-V5.0.0.zip 30-Jul-2008 20:42 357K
P2kCommander-V5.0.1.zip 01-Aug-2008 20:55 357K
P2kCommander-V5.0.2.zip 13-Aug-2008 21:26 358K
P2kCommander-V5.0.3.zip 18-Aug-2008 22:09 358K
P2kCommander-V5.0.5-MR.zip 03-Sep-2008 21:37 376K
P2kCommander-V5.0.6-MR.zip 30-Sep-2008 20:48 378K
P2kCommander-V5.0.7-MR.zip 03-Nov-2008 08:26 379K
P2kCommander-V5.0.8-MR.zip 04-Dec-2008 14:59 417K
P2kCommander-V5.1.0-MR.zip 06-Jan-2009 21:11 419K

Looking for updates to this list, the complete P2K Commander release list can be found here:
http://www.somelifeblog.com/2007/03/motorola-v3-complete-list-of-p2k.html


This article is a part of the complete guide to Motorola Phones, Modding, Software, and Troubleshooting guide. For additionl articles on Motorola Phone tools and other tips, please click here.


The great news about P2K Commander V5; is that it is the most fully functional and user friendly P2K Commander created thus far. In addition, it is packed with some great new features and updates that include some of the following items:
  • P2k over USBLAN support
  • P2K over USBLAN for reading/writing files, download hidden files, create/delete folders, filefilters, new paritions.
  • New logging code, autodetect if startup mode and phone type differ (p2k vs usblan)
  • Updated scripting (.p2kc files) for use with backup/restore user files.
  • Backup folders, recursively copy folders and containing files

And from my perspective, the use of P2K Commander V5.1.0MR was my best experience yet, here's how it went:

  • First off, when P2K Commander V5 starts up -- there is a snazzy new graphic of a Motorola RAZR phone rotating around. Entertaining update to the software.
  • After start-up the detection of a new version actually works. It notified me that there was an updated version of P2K Commander available and asked me if I wanted to download it. Since the download location changed recently; this feature is broken in many previous versions.
  • Lastly, the automatic detection of which mode you should be using worked very well. By default in V5, P2K Commander starts you up in P2K05 over USBLAN where my phone only works with P2K/P2K05 (USBLAN / Samba / Netbios and USBLAN / Ftp are two other options). The software detected my phone and automatically switched. The startup completed properly, connected to my phone and immediately pulled all of the data back

P2K Commander V5 was a homerun from my perspective after a few troublesome beta-like releases. If you need to update your P2K Commander to V5, V5.1.0-MR is the release you want.

Here are a couple of screenshots and descriptions of the tryout...



The new introduction graphic of a Motorola RAZR phone rotating as the P2K Commander V5 Application loads
The new introduction graphic of a Motorola RAZR phone rotating as the P2K Commander V5 Application loads


The pop-up informs you that a newer version of P2K Commander is available and will pop you out to the download area so you can update
The pop-up informs you that a newer version of P2K Commander is available and will pop you out to the download area so you can update.


After recognizing my connection mode via P2K05 over USBLAN would not work, it moved me back to P2k/P2k05, connected my phone automatically and read the files on my Motorola RAZR V3 properly.
After recognizing my connection mode via P2K05 over USBLAN would not work, it moved me back to P2k/P2k05, connected my phone automatically and read the files on my Motorola RAZR V3 properly.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

iPhoto 09 Keepsakes: Photo Books & Calendars Review

In my continued "lovefest" with Apple's iPhoto 09 since Apple patched the initial release a few months. Now that I am relatively satisfied with the overall product with the exception of a couple of small issues -- I was ready to try out some new features, the Keepsakes.

Keepsakes are ways you can transform you pictures in iPhoto to a permanent memento or "keepsake" as Apple likes to call it. The main choices are a Photo Book, Calendar, or even a Card. Basically, what you do is compile all of your photos the way you want to in the keepsakes, then send it off to Apple. From there, Apple produces the "Keepsake" you choose -- either the book, calendar, or card -- and it arrives about 10 days later at your front door. You can even have it faster, if you want for an additional expedited shipping charge.

We decided to try it...truth be told, we had fallen way behind on our scrap booking and creating of photo albums from our past trips. In fact, our 2006 trip to Germany is still in mid-creation. The photobook capability seemed that if it worked out properly, it would be a great way to "catch up" and have a good way to create the permanent memories as a coffee table book.

In fact, in just a few hours, we were able to create the following book from our recent trip to Madrid and Barcelona Spain.
Apple iPhoto 09 Keepsake Photo Book created and published with the Apple iPhoto 09 software

When we first started the process; we first needed to choose the type of Photo book keepsake that we were going to create. Apple provides you with 3 options: Wire-Bound Books, Softcover Books, and Hardcover books. The wire-bound and softcover pricing are virtually identical where it becomes a matter of preference more than anything else. The hardcover book runs at a 50% premium, but is the only style that offers a "true" coffee table size, the 13" x 10" -- which runs $49.99 before all of the extra pages. Below is a snapshot from the Apple site on the current pricing and available options for iPhoto 09.

iPhoto 09 Keepsake photobook pricing for wire bound, softcover, and hardcover photo books from Apple

We choose the largest size, and created an initial album using all of our "favorite" photos that we flagged from our "Spain Trip" event. From there we choose one of the available styles, a world travel style that integrates maps and other layout and templates that go with a vacation and the initial book was setup.

There is a great little feature called "autoflow" that takes all of the pictures you have in the album and lays it out automatically. It was a great way for us to start the process; although it created a ton of pages...almost 100 or so. Then it was just a matter of time for use to change the layouts (in many cases increasing from 1-2 pictures to 5-6 pictures), and writing the copy for our adventures in the book.

Now was the moment of truth. The one area of nervousness I had was around the quality of the photo book that would be produced. When you take "great" pictures with a 12.1 megapixel DSLR camera, you do so because you care about the quality. And when investing $75 in a keepsake photo album in the full 13"x10" size, you want the quality to be clear and crisp as possible.

In reading some reviews on the web, I had found mixed reviews. It was clear from the reviews, that in past versions of iPhoto the quality of the photo books left a little to be desired. It had appeared to get better in iPhoto 08 and iPhoto 09, although there were some mixed reviews. After carefully considering, I figured it was worth the risk.

I went ahead and hit the submit button and watched iPhoto 09 go to work compiling and sending the information off to the publisher. Briefly, a red flag was raised when only 35MB worth of data was sent over the Internet. I was nervous of that because the raw sizes of the photos along in the album was likely 400MB.

Would I get the quality I wanted, or would I be disappointed? Only a couple of weeks would tell.

After about 10 days, the album showed up at our doorstep. I nervously opened up the album to see what we would get. Almost immediately, when I saw the dust jacket I knew I was going to be happy. The quality of the publishing was just as I had hoped for. The accuracy of the colors and the clarity of the printing met the expectations I had. I quickly flipped through the album and went to a couple of the full page pictures, where there was the most risk for quality and pixelation issues and they were just as expected.

In all, a very positive experience on our first keepsake photo album in iPhoto 09. No question that moving forward (and I should say backwards as well) we'll be using iPhoto 09 Keepsakes in order to put together our photo albums. It's too easy and the quality is great. If you were considering using it, I would highly recommend it.

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Taj Mahal 2.0 - My Second Visit to Agra

On my recent trip to India, I had another opportunity to visit the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. One of my colleagues had never gone, really wanted to and I could not pass up another opportunity to see the Wonder of the World.

I had last visited the Taj Mahal back in July of 2007 and other than the drive, it was quite impressive. We left our hotel at about 1:30am in the morning for the 4 hour drive in order to get there for the sunrise at the Taj Mahal. It was in fact, the worst riding experience I had in my entire life and although the sunrise was impressive -- I vowed never to do the drive half-asleep ever again.

This time, our base in New Delhi was at the Trident Hotel which is actually in Gurgaon which is an impressive 5-star hotel just a few minutes south of the airport in New Delhi in the Gurgaon special economic zone. After a great night's rest at the Trident (which unfortunately is no longer associated with Hilton) our driver picked us up and we headed out at 7am for the Taj Mahal in Agra, about 120 miles away -- expecting a 2.5 hour trip to get there.

Trip via car to Agra and the Taj Mahal from the Trident Hotel in Gurgaon

The journey to the Taj Mahal in Agra from Gurgaon


We had heard that roads had continued to improve, making the journey to Agra quicker since the last time I had arrived. We headed down SH13 (State Highway 13) on our way to NH71B (National Highway 71B) to catch the main NH2 (National Highway 2) which will get you into Agra. Very quickly, I realized that we were in for a long drive. Both SH13 and NH71B were two lane roads going through towns with a good number of dirt roads. In fact, it took us almost two hours just to get the NH2 highway. In all, our trip there was about an hour and a half longer than we thought it would be.

As we arrived in Agra, we stopped to pick up our "guide" for the Taj Mahal at the side of the road. This is where it is important to understand how it works in Agra. Pretty much either the car / bus / van company or your driver has "contacts" in Agra -- and your "guide" will always be free. The reason? The guide is not only a guide; but they are a commissioned based salesperson. They will be more than happy to give you a free tour and tell you all the details of the beautiful Taj Mahal.

Of course, in exchange for something...

At the end of your tour undoubtedly be told as part of your tour, I will be taking you to place where they still carve marble and inlay the gemstones in the marble. The place I am taking you has 17 generations of family members that still practice the ancient tradition...and you can also purchase an "original" piece that was created here in Agra in that same tradition. Of course, there are hundreds of these places in town and likely the one you will be taken to will be 4-5 times the price that you can find at one of the stores on the outskirts of the city...with no difference in quality. Not to mention you guide gets a 20-25% commission on what you purchase.

More on this later...

So, we pick up our guide and head over to the Taj Mahal. There is a "ban" on non electric and battery powered vehicles as you approach the Taj Mahal as a pollution prevention zone to preserve the marble. We paid our fees of 750 rupees (about $15 US at the current exchange rate) for non-resident visitors and jumped in a golf cart transport to come up towards the entrance of the Taj.

As we entered the protected zone, I noticed a couple of things that were different from my previous trip. The first was that the number of people that came up to us to sell various post-cards and souvenirs was very few compared to the last time. Hardly anyone came up to use. Secondly, there were several more vehicles (mainly police and military) in the non-pollution zone.

We entered the Taj Mahal and it was just as I remembered it...although this time there were no monkeys climbing on the walls surrounding the Taj. The weather was also much more pleasant -- 85 degrees or so -- instead of the 100+ with high humidity I had experienced in July/August of 2007. It was great to experience it again amongst the crowds again.

I mainly wandered on my own since I knew much of the story and history from my first trip and let my colleague Mike get the scoop from the guide. From what I overheard early on, I knew the sales pitch was on. First, he started by checking how much time we had...when we said not a bunch, we saw his pace pickup to make sure we'd have time to "shop", but we kept our own pace and did not allow ourselves to be rushed. Secondly, when we looked at the marble and the inlayed gemstones -- I could just hear not only the history but the sense of...don't you wish you could have something like this...and creating that emotional response.

It helped for both of us to know this was the standard method of operating at the Taj; so we were able to ignore it and still enjoy the tour.

As expected, at the end of the tour it was recommended that we go with the guide in our car to a local shop to see this work. We obliged, knowing we would go for a short demo and then exit to go to a different place with much better pricing. Once we got to the store we were able to watch a couple of people working the marble and stones...whether they were actually working or it was an act we weren't sure...but it was fun.

Once we completed the demo, we were taken into the store and even I was astonished at the types of prices that were being thrown out. First off, if the pricing is in US Dollars you know that you will be paying too much...but in this case, I was amazed. $550 was the asking price for an 18" round table, about 5x what you would expected. I also asked about an 8' table...which I knew someone had picked one up for 1.5 Lakh (about $3,000) and the owner of the shop told me 250 lakh...I could not help but almost laugh...that was $500k. We were polite said no thanks and left the store; thanking our guide for his great tour and giving him a couple hundred rupees as a tip.

We went over to the ITC Sheraton, the ITC Mughal in Agra and had a great meal before hitting a recommended shop on the way out of town. The shop we went to was J.K. Cottage Industries at 45, Shamshabad Road in Agra, 282001 - voice +91 562 2226897. We found the identical items we had seen at the previous store, but for about $120 rather than $550. We picked up a couple of items, negotiated the price down (20% minimum is my usual guide) and were happy with what we got and the pricing.

We then headed back towards Gurgaon and our room at the Trident Hotel. The way back was equally as long and little more trying...ask dusk approached, it seemed that drivers going the other way became more aggressive. Thank goodness that we had a great driver, Sanjeev...but on a couple of occasions we came to a complete stop when a car passing a truck on the little two lane road failed to make it on time. By the time we got back to the hotel it was well after dark.

It was a great trip overall, but thinking about it...if I were to go to Agra in the future I would do either one of the following two things:

1. Fly to Agra from Delhi, it's an hour flight and you probably blow another hour and a half getting to the airport and security, but it would be worth it.

2. Don't stay in Gurgaon, rather stay in Noida and leave from there. The worst part of the drive was SH17 and NH71B. From the special economic zone of Noida, it's pretty much a straight shot down NH2 which is a much farther developed road. Still, according to Google Maps they are both about equal.

Here are a few photos from the trip to the Taj Mahal, which I think turned out much better than my ones from my last trip:

The Trident Hotel in Gurgaon is a great place to stay.  Quiet, peaceful, and relaxing.The Trident Hotel in Gurgaon is a great place to stay. Quiet, peaceful, and relaxing.
The main road in Gurgaon.  Huge developments going in there with massive luxury apartments and still the roadside vendors.The main road in Gurgaon. Huge developments going in there with massive luxury apartments and still the roadside vendors.
This was not a zoom photo.  About 1000 oxen or cows...whatever.  Right outside the window of the car...could have rolled down the windows and grabbed the horns.This was not a zoom photo. About 1000 oxen or cows...whatever. Right outside the window of the car...could have rolled down the windows and grabbed the horns.
Passing through a small town on the way to Agra.  What caught my eye was the advertisement in this show for Xenon headlights, even out here in the middle of nowhere.Passing through a small town on the way to Agra. What caught my eye was the advertisement in this show for Xenon headlights, even out here in the middle of nowhere.
A picture as we approach the Taj Mahal.A picture as we approach the Taj Mahal.
Just the Taj.Just the Taj.


One of the many typical poses people take.  Definitely a tourist.One of the many typical poses people take. Definitely a tourist.
Walking outside the Taj Mahal on the way back to the car, I'm practically run over by some sheep.Walking outside the Taj Mahal on the way back to the car, I'm practically run over by some sheep.

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Friday, October 02, 2009

Personal NAS: D-Link's DNS-323 is a Winner

After my Galaxy MGB Raid Pro case died a few months ago, I really needed another personal solution for a network attached solution for my home network. With 2 Dell PCs, a Dell Server, and a Mac Mini, there is a lot of data that needs to be shared between devices -- and properly backed up. Please nevermind the fact that the number of desktop computers out number the total household 2:1 and if you add in the laptops and PS3s, it's worse.

Still, a reliable backup soltuion was required, and preferably one that was also compatible with the Apple Macintosh. The Galaxy unit really struggled with any sort of Mac connectivity via SMB, and forget about using Time Machine, even with hacks on it on Snow Leopard, OS X version 10.6. I was left with a modified process where I backed up my Mac Mini to my Windows 2008 server and from my Windows 2008 server copied everything to the NAS. Not really the greenest solution, wasting energy, disk space, and time.

Without any sort of NAS device, I was considering what to do when I happened to be stumbly through the aisles of Fry's Electronics...which can be dangerous for any geek, especially me. I ended up by the storage devices and the D-Link DNS-323 jumped out at me...it was only $149! I double checked only at Amazon.com and it was still $157 there. I had to buy it.

The D-Link DNS-323 is a great personal NAS device that is a big winner in my book, especially when compared with similar products like the Galaxy MGB Raid Pro

And let me tell you, thus far it has been a night and day difference from that old Galaxy MGB Raid Pro NAS.

First off, setup was pretty easy...just pulled out the 1TB Hard Drives from my Galaxy and dropped them in the quick release slots on the DNS-323 and I was in business. It was also nice not to have to screw everything in, saving me about 10 minutes. The only bummer is that even though you can use the same EXT2 format with the D-Link NAS, you cannot just drop the drives in and go. Unfortuantely, the entire drives needed to be reformatted.

Not a huge loss given the data was all backup and not source data. Just costs a little extra time and energy.

A couple of additional benefits so far:

1. The NAS device is yet to lock up; even when copying 100,000 files or more. That was a frequent issue with the Galaxy device that in the midst of a large copy, it would just freeze up.

2. Network throughput is much higher than the Galaxy. I'm touching much higher rates, peaking at 30M+ in some cases. I could never get the Galaxy much about 15M -- even using the same cables and both supposedly supported gigabit ethernet.

3. Ability to backup your Apple Macintosh directly to the NAS device. While you can configure (learn how to here) the Mac's Time Machine to backup to a network with a minor hack, I could not get it to work with the Galaxy NAS. No problems what so ever with the DNS-323.

4. The D-Link NAS is pretty quiet, especially the fan. Noticeable audible difference in terms of producing less noise.


So far, in my book the D-Link DNS-323 is a winner if you need a basic JBOD or backup configuration at a reasonable price for your home or small business network. The easiest place to pick one up? The D-Link DNS-323 2-Bay Network Storage Enclosure is only $148 bucks now at Aamzon. Just click here to pick one up.

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