Buying a new vehicle? Wipe the old one’s memory first!

When you toss out your old computer, you likely will remove its hard drives or storage and either keep them or destroy them. Likewise, when you give an old computer, digital camera or other digital device away, you wipe out (I hope you do, anyway) your personal information, photos, music files, etc.  In other words, you clean them up and ready them for the next person to make use of them.

I’ll bet, however, that there are two devices that most will forget about: your smartphone and your vehicle.

Many mid and high end cars and trucks made since, say, 2004, will come with some kind of infotainment system. Many of them allow you to store personal photos, music and even movies.  IF the vehicle has GPS, it records the last x number destinations, likely has your home address stored in its ‘go home’ feature and may even ‘remember’ exact routes you take often. 

In addition, if your vehicle has phone capability, then it has phone numbers and names of people you’ve called. Has information about your phone as well.

So, when you sell or trade your vehicle, do you remember to erase the various memories in the system?

Well, I can attest that many do not. I’m going to even say that MOST do not do this.  In fact, I neglected it myself. Only remembering hours after the dealer was closed.

The vehicle  we purchase has a sophisticated infotainment system. GPS, bluetooth and phone connectivity.  Sure enough, names, phone numbers and addresses were there. The phone module had a dozen or so ‘last calls’ and phone numbers with names.  The GPS had routes and a home location. It was all there. 

The vehicle I traded, a 2010 VW mini van, also had a photo album and music library.  I put a dozen photos on it and three CD’s of assorted music.  The GPS also has my information.  It never occurred to me to delete any of this until hours later.  I am hoping the dealer will let me erase this information before they sell the vehicle. 

I have wiped out the memory in my new to me car, but a person with nefarious goals, could have used it to cause problems for the former owner of my new new to me car.

Just a word of caution to you all, when trading or selling your vehicle, make sure you purge it of both digital and real world information.

UPDATE: Went to the dealer, they still had the van. Asked if I could erase the data and they said no problem. I was escorted to where the van sat and was allowed to remove our data. Took about five minutes to delete it all.  The Volkswagen software is bad, terrible interface but…it worked just fine.

Windows 10: One more recap

10-UpgradeWell, the waiting is nearly over.  The Windows 10 rollout has begun. Those who are ‘insiders’ will be getting the bits first, then a staggered roll out for everyone who ‘reserved’ their copy will begin to get the new OS.  Your computer, if you reserved, will let you know when the OS has been downloaded so you can then install it.

So, just what will you get? What new functionality is in there, you might ask.  Well, here’s a short wrap up.

Cortana

Cortana is a digital assistant for your computer.  Cortana will search the web and your computer to give you the information you need, find that file or start an application.  You interact with Cortana in many different ways including keyboard, speech, the EDGE browser and other ways.  Cortana will learn how you use your computer and become more efficient and give you answers accordingly. And, since you use more than your computer, say a tablet or smartphone, Cortana is there. Available on iOS, Android and Windows Mobile/Phone, Cortana is there when you need it.

EDGE Browser

Replacing Internet Explorer, EDGE gives you a better browsing experience.  Faster rendering, more accurate rendering and the fastest Javascript processor yet.  EDGE is more minimalist and, therefore, easier to use.

 

EDGE has a unique feature that lets the user markup the page. You can take notes and draw on the web page and then send it to Microsoft OneNote for later use and indexing.  This feature works best with a touchscreen device, but is also mouse and keyboard friendly.

Bundled Applications

3-MailThe bundled applications have been improved. The mail and calendar applications, especially, received welcomed changes that make them easy to use, nicer to look at and smoother operation.  Looking more like a consumer edition of Outlook, Mail and Calendar play nice with not only Exchange, but GMAIL and other third party mail and calendar services. This is not your Dad’s Outlook.7-Photos (1)

Photos application now includes support for importing photos from your phone, has the same editing features that were nice in the Windows 8 version of this application AND have more intuitive OneDrive integration.

Start

8-StartThe Start menu looks familiar to both fans of Windows 7 and Windows 8. It retains the live tiles of Windows 8, arguably the best feature of Windows 8 AND the Windows 7 menu.  If you like 7, you’ll love this, ditto for Windows 8 fans. The Start menu can go full screen for those who like the Start Page from 8/8.1 Or it can reduce to almost nothing if you despise it.  However, in the default configuration, I think everyone will like them. Live tiles present information (if coded) that often precludes the need to open the application all the time. 

For a more in depth look at the operating system, click here to download the Quick Guide from Microsoft.

Windows 10, fun things to know

With Windows 10 about to launch, I thought I would share some tips on using the ‘new’ operating system.   If you have used Windows 8/8.1, some of these will be familiar.

EDGE – Internet Explorer’s replacement browser

  • When you fire up EDGE, you will notice, right away, thisedgefave is not Internet Explorer.  It does what all browsers do, and that’s serve up the now standard fare of HTML/Javascript/CSS based pages.  It does so very quickly and much more standards based than Internet Explorer ever did.  However, upon upgrading to Windows 10, EDGE knows nothing about your favorites. As you would with another browser, you must import your favorites.  Do so by clicking the ‘Hub’ icon, it’s the three uneven lines on your EDGE window, in the upper right corner.  When the panel opens, click the Star icon (your favorites) and then select Import Favorites and then the browser you wish to import from. It will take a few seconds, depending on the number of links you have.  Your favorites are now imported.
  • One of the things about tabbed browsing is having a tab play audio when you don’t want it win10EdgeNiceor expect it. Finding that tab, especially if you have many open, isn’t always obvious. With Edge, in Windows 10, it is a bit more obvious. Refer to the photo, the opened tab has an audio indicator and a play button. These let you know which tab or tabs have media playing. You can switch to that tab and take care of the offending media.

  • In the current version, 10240, EDGE does not have the ability to display multi levels of forward or backward pages.  For example, in IE or Chrome, if you right click the back button, you will see 10 levels or so of history. Not so in EDGE.

START Menu

newstartThe Start Menu, which Microsoft decided to bring back from the dead, has been greatly enhanced. It is also customizable.

  • In Desktop mode, the Start menu takes up little space. It has, on the left side, that traditional style Start Menu listing of applications and functionality. On the right side, is what remains of the Windows 8/8.1 Start Page.  You can pin things to the Start Page and the live tiles will work, provided the tile belongs to Windows Store application.   The whole thing can be resized by grabbing the upper right corner of the menu and dragging it up and to the right.
  • In Desktop mode, you can make the Start Menu take up the entire screen, if you like that. To do so, go to Settings->Personalization->Start. Click ‘Use Full Screen’ and close the settings.  Click the Start Button and you should see a full screen Start Menu/Page.
  • Right clicking on a live tile will pop up a menu giving more control over them.  You can unpin the tile, resize it, turn it on or off, pin to the taskbar or uninstall the application.
  • You can make the taskbar, action center and start page transparent by opening Settings->Personalization->Colors. Turn on the transparency by clicking ‘Make Start, taskbar, and action center Transparent’ slider.

Task Manager

taskmanThe ALT-Tab task switching, though looking different, still works the same. Microsoft has taken that notion, added in a bit of the Vista style task switching and went full screen with tiled representations of the running applications. You can select an application to switch to OR…and you LInux people will deride this as old, send an application to a new desktop. Yes, Windows 10 now has multiple desktops.  You can activate this feature by clicking on the desktop icon next to the Cortana icon on the task bar.

 

So, there you have a few nice features of Windows 10.  Check back for more.

Windows update, activation and 10: two major problems and a happy ending

As part of his graduation, we gave my oldest son a gaming computer. It’s nothing too fancy, a middle of the road gaming rig so he can play League of Legends with as little ‘lag’ as possible. The machine we got him, a CyberPower PC special from Best Buy, is no slouch: quad core, 3.7ghz processor, AMD/ATI R 6700 graphics, 8GB of RAM and a 2.2TB HDD.  Oh, it runs Windows 8.1.

Now, the computer came with a lesser graphics card, my son inherited the R 6700 (I think that’s the number) card and, ever since we put it in, it has caused several blue screens.  In all of the time I’ve run 8 or 8.1, I think I’ve had two such issues. Well, with the last blue screen, came an activation issue.

Windows did not think it was activated. 

Great.

So, I proceed to activate.  No go.  After several attempts, I discover the key is now invalid.  What?

A call to Microsoft resulted in finger pointing to CyberPower PC. The key is an OEM key and Microsoft refuses to help on them.  So, I call the OEM. As it was on a Saturday, they had limited hours and I had both limited patience and battery on my phone.  After 45 minutes on hold, my phone was losing juice and I lost patience. 

Remembering that I had a clean, legal copy of WIndows 8 PRO-with an unused key-I thought, well, I’ll just install 8, upgrade to 8.1 and put him on the Windows 10 track.  Simple.

It started out great, Windows 8 took 20 to 30 to install.  Upon the desktop setup, I proceed to the Windows Store to grab 8.1. No go. Have to update first.  How stupid is this? So, I goto Windows Update.  Boy, my friend Sam was right, this damn thing is broken. Sorry Sam. Over 150 updates awaited.  So, I told my son to keep an eye on it and my wife and I went out.

At some point, it appears the computer went to sleep.  DURING UPDATING.  My son lets me know.  Well, the interrupted update BROKE the update process!

Nothing I did fixed it.  It’s 11pm now and I’ve wasted the day-save the two hours I was with my wife-on this bloody computer. Not happy.

So, I recalled that one can go to Windows 10 directly from 7, 8 or 8.1. So, I went ahead and upgraded to the most current build of Windows 10.  The upgraded took about 45 minutes, but it worked like a charm.  We had to install Direct 3d/dx 9, but League of Legends worked and did not need to be reinstalled – which, itself, takes hours and hours and hours.

So far, with one exception, 10 has worked very well.  It did blue screen, but the error was really odd and had to do with sound. This computer has some odd hardware, so I am thinking it is a driver issue and I plan to check them all for compatibility.

This whole process was just a joke.  Windows Activation is the most assinine thing yet.  There is just no reason for Microsoft to continue with that mess. It does not stop those who want to steal it and just causes major headaches for those of who play by the rules.  And Windows Update? Holy hell.  What a major blemish that has become.

Microsoft, I implore you, do the right thing and ditch activation. Fix the update process.  And hire people who can CLEARLY speak the same bloody language as those who call your centers.

That is all.

Cheap Windows 8 Tablets: how do they stack up?

WP_20150214_22_50_25_RichA few months back, I decided to try one of the cheap Windows 8 tablets. The tablet I chose was the Encore Mini from Toshiba.  It was under $90 from Best Buy (it was on sale, I think.)  The tablet came with 16gb of storage, an Atom processor, bluetooth, wifi and has a seven inch touch screen. It is expandable via Micro SD.

So, after a few months, how has  it stood up? Well, hardware wise, it is fine.  Not too heavy, not too light.  The screen looks decent and battery life is OK.  About the only hardware issue are the cameras…they stink.  They take really bad pictures. But, I don’t use them anyway.

The operating system is the weak spot here.  While it runs compressed and isn’t slow as a snail, more like a fast turtle, it still consumes much of the storage.  If you include the built in applets and the set of Windows 8.1 apps, you have very little storage left.  I installed the Solitaire suite, a code editor and bluetooth terminal and that was all I could fit.  I have since removed the editor and bluetooth terminal. I still run out of storage.

Windows 8.1 allows you move YOUR FILES to SD, but NOT the apps.  If the apps could live on the SD card, this thing would REALLY be useful.

It’s size lends itself to portability and is a great web browsing device. It even makes for a nice little multimedia device. But, for anything more, it is pointless since you cannot expand the main drive and you cannot move apps to the SD card. 

Supposedly, people who buy these things will get Windows 10 for free. If Windows 10 allows installing to the SD card, this thing will be like a new machine. Windows 10 is far more efficient than previous builds of Windows, including Windows 8.

I would put off buying one of these until Windows 10 comes out.  Go to a store and play with one that has Windows 10 installed and see if it works for you.  Until then, these things are turkeys.  Spend a few more dollars and get a tablet with 32gb or more.

Windows 10, good and bad and on the way

Microsoft is in the home stretch with Windows 10 for PC.  Releasing TWO builds in two days, they are proving that they are agile, listening and, above all, making sure this thing works—it HAS to.  Overall, the latest builds have been great and are usable for daily work.  The latest build, 10159, also includes the Edge branded browser, new wallpaper and tweaks everywhere.  10158 fixed a whole raft of issue that I had (like the Start Menu not displaying, pretty big since it is now the only way to launch applications easily) and made it much more usable.  The little changes, like fonts, color changes, icons, responsiveness and stability have all added up to a product that is really close to ‘done’. 

The avenue, however, that they—still—have a problem is consistency.  They have come a long way, but, sadly, still have a long way to go.  They still have an ugly mess of old style dialogs intermixed with the newer metro style. 

For example, ‘Desktop Icon Settings’ is STILL the old Windows 95 style!  Twenty years have passed and they still are using the SAME dialogs.  Yes, they tweaked it, but it is, essentially, the same.Windows 10 159 build inconsistency 1

Most of the personalization stuff is still in the old dialogs with some redundant settings in the metro style.

One other problem they have, and I’ve seen no real change, is the stubbornness of the Windows Update mechanism.  I have a couple of drivers that I really do NOT want updated. Windows INSISTS on updating them.  One is Arduino related and I really want the Windows 7 driver to be left alone. It works and does not degrade my PC’s performance where the Windows 8 driver does.  The other driver, likely, will be updated for Windows 10, but, for now, the IDT audio driver for Windows 7 works much better under Windows 10 than the Windows 8.1 driver.  But, in the interim, Update, leave em alone!  And, speaking of update, I hope the finished Windows update just works and doesn’t gum up peoples machines. It is the number one complaint I hear. I rarely have any issues (other than the aforementioned driver updates) with it, but others do. PLEASE, Microsoft, get this right.

Now, a few things I do like…

The over all look and feel is nice.  It blends the best of Windows 8 and Windows Vista. Yes, VIsta.  Vista was a great looking operating system and so was Windows 8 (not 8.1, 8) but both were maligned for some reason … I can’t think of any at the moment.  (wink, wink)

I like the integration with Windows Mobile 10, Cortana, One Drive and the support for competing technologies.  Microsoft has realized that they are no longer the top of the heap.

The Edge browser. This thing is hot.  While it is still a bit unstable, there is no doubt that it screams along.  Pages pop up and, for the most, render as they are supposed to.  I’ve seen a few weird things, but I suspect it was to support IE and that Edge rendered it as other browsers would have done.

Windows 10 will be released to everyone on July 29, 2015.  Most people should be eligible for a free upgrade. Go to Microsoft.com to see if you qualify.

Multi-Player Tiny Trek for Arduino

TinyTrekBasicListingWhen I set about creating the Half-Byte Computer/Console, one of the things I, personally, wanted to do with it was create a small, easy to program, micro-micro computer that harkened back to my childhood, otherwise known as the 1970’s.  In order to do so, I needed the language that I learned back then, Tiny Basic, to work on the device.  I did both and it works great.  However, one of my goals with this combo was to play Tiny Trek.

Now, Tiny Trek is small, compared to its big brothers that ran on computers with gobs of memory (you know, 8k) and something called ‘Microsoft Basic’ or ‘Microsoft Basic-80’.  These behemoth Treks’’ would clock in at around 4k to 7k or more. Tiny Trek, however, was small, about 1.5k.

1.5k.

Wow, that’s BIG!  At least, it is when you have less than 1024 bytes (1k) of RAM to work with. 

I am still looking for a solution to the RAM squeeze.

Anyway,  My goal of running Tiny Trek in Tiny Basic is yet to be resolved. HOWEVER…I have decided to code it in Arduino C.  This way, the code can be what ever size it needs and I can have more memory for graphics.  I am also considering making it multiplayer, instead of the computer being the Klingons, one player can be Klingon and one can be the Federation.

Only problem is time, which is in very short supply right now and I’ve got several other things ahead of this, but, I can still plan it out, right?

So…here’s my thoughts on multiplayer Tiny Trek for Arduino.  You won’t need a Half-Byte computer, but if you do….let me know!

Input and Output

11268362_10204228141446944_697530416473282760_oSince this is supposed to be a simulator, I’m thinking we don’t need a full keyboard, so a keypad will work just fine.  I have a few sticky back keypads that I can use. They have 0-9 and a-d and few other keys.  They should work just fine.  I was also thinking of using the Wii Nunchuk, but I am thinking that is overkill and limited in use.  But, I may have dedicated buttons for phaser/photon torpedo and shields up/down.

I’m going to use video and audio, but I am also thinking that a small status display is in order. I have a few 2×16 lcd panels, but they use the serial I/O, which will be used for communication between the two computers, so I may use the little Nokia 5110 LCD’s.  They are similar in resolution to the video, so I could swap screens if needed.  I’m thinking the little screen could show energy, torpedo inventory, shield status and other info.  Video would show the short range/long range display.

Communication

For now, serial will be used to communicate with the two computers.  As each computer will be running independently, I’m thinking code in each version of the game will have to have a main loop that will then monitor communication from the other computer and alert the user accordingly. It also needs to ‘run’ the ships functions and service the UI.  Our snappy 328’s are perfect for this. Oh, it also has to monitor the keypad and update the secondary screen. No problem.

Game

The game, as stated above, will start and run in a loop.  This loop will simply call various functions that will then control the game.  This main loop will:

  • monitor serial i/o
  • update the video
  • monitor the keypad
  • update the secondary screen
  • run each game module
  • do it all over and over until game won or ship is destroyed

The game modules contain the library computer, short and long range scanners, battle mode, navigation, ships condition.

Game Play

Game play will be very similar to the 1970’s version in which you have to seek out and destroy the dreaded Klingons. Instead, however, of having to destroy x number, you have to only get one…but that can be hard as that one is another player who will play unpredictably AND it will be much more difficult to destroy the ships.  There will be only one starbase for the Federation and one for the Klingon.  You must protect your base as it CAN be attacked.  You cannot, however, use phasers or torpedos while ‘docked’.  The Klingon CAN, however, attack while you are docked. Undocking will use one move and you will be vulnerable while doing so.  Klingon bases can cloak for a short time.

Victory is achieved when you destroy your opponent.  You do so by: forcing them to use up all shields and power.  When both are depleted, they will be given the opportunity to surrender. If they do not, you must destroy them. If you do not, they can escape and the game will end in a draw.

Hardware

In addition to the keypads and secondary screens, I’m thinking the PIN 13 LED can be used for the RED ALERT.  It blinks when your opponent is in range.  Some cool things that can be done…the previously mentioned buttons for phaser/photon torpedo control and shield control, there could also be a self destruct (have not thought much about it, though.)  You could get as complicated as you want, provided you have enough pins.

Serial is the best way to talk to the computers, but that does not mean they have to be wired.  There are cheap bluetooth modules that communicate serially and then there is the super cool and super cheap ESP8266 WiFi boards.  And, the best part is that you only need a few lines of code to set them up, no additional libraries are needed.

So, there you go, a multiplayer, interactive Tiny Trek for Arduino.  What do you think? Leave your ideas, suggestions, whatever in the comments below.

Hoping it wont be too long before I can start this. Of course, I need someone to play with…maybe an Internet option too….hmmm….