Sony PRS-T1: Crashing E-books

Sony reader PRS-T1 by Hideya Hamano

Lately, my somewhat dated Sony PRS-T1 e-book reader has been crashing on newer ePub format e-books. I can read a few chapters, and then out of the blue, the device will stall, eventually booting me back to the device home screen. Resuming the e-book and trying to navigate past the crash point creates a reproducible issue.

In terms of buying a new e-book reader, I can’t really make a good case for it. Sure, the device is five years old, but in general, it still gets the job done. You may have noticed this trend, where technology and I are concerned. Why throw out a mostly usable though slightly imperfect piece of technology when you can fix it? Challenge accepted!

Long story short, I’ve since found a really simple way to get around the issue by converting the ePub file.

The Problem

It’s unclear to me if the crash relates to formatting in specific ePub files themselves, certain characters, book length or a result of newer versions of the ePub file format. This issue has really only come up in two e-book files over the past six months or so. A minor nuisance, but a nuisance never the less.

The Solution

I’ve talked about the Calibre e-book manager on my blog before. It serves a number of purposes including allowing you to transfer e-books to your reader.

A lesser used feature allows you to convert e-books directly in Calibre, by right clicking on a title and selecting “convert books”. You’ll end up with another copy of the ePub title, however, it will be reformatted by Calibre. Converted ePub files seems to fix this problem for me. Simply remove the old ePub file from your e-book reader and transfer over the new file created by Calibre. Much cheaper than buying a new e-book reader! The only caveat with all this is that your e-book file must be DRM free for conversion to work. The joys of technology.

Header image by Hideya Hamano – Sony Reader “PRS-T1” // CC by 2.0

Cheap Laptops: Not Worth the Hassle

Buying a laptop that lasts over three years may mean spending a little more up front.

Matt Mets - Computer on Fire

A couple of years back, I was helping my parents choose a new laptop. Their one criterion was:

  • Sub $500 machine

Right there, you can see an issue. When making a large purchase, price should never be the sole determinant. There are other elements, such as reliability or speed that depending on your use case should be considered.

Needless to say, they picked up a random HP Pavilion something or other at Costco, and over the past two years, this machine has been more of a nuisance than anything else.

So far:

  • Failed battery, out of warranty, which no longer charges
  • Hard drive which is throwing errors when checked with Crystal Disk, also out of warranty

Ultimately, to save a couple hundred bucks on a computer they ended up paying more than that, in terms of cost of replacement parts and technical support time (even if they weren’t directly charged for the latter). They would have been much better served buying a higher end, more rugged machine. A Lenovo ThinkPad, or any business class laptop, really would have been much better purchases. When you put price over all else as your key purchasing determinant, your future self may be the one footing the bill. You pay less upfront, but over the long run, you’re no further ahead.

In replacement part costs, the HP Pavilion is now on par with my nine year old desktop. For a machine that is largely used for e-mail and browsing the internet, that is entirely unacceptable. If you use something daily, it might be worth considering spending more in that area. Be it shoes, a bed, a computer chair or even your laptop.

I’m not advocating consumerism, or hedonistic purchasing. Those are largely wasteful and don’t necessarily lead to increased long-term satisfaction. What I’m saying is, sometimes you have to spend a bit more to make sure you get your money’s worth.

Make your money work for you, don’t buy junk, and save the family computer technician a headache or two, or three!

Resources:

If you’re looking for a laptop, here are some useful resources:

Laptop Magazine’s Best Business Laptops

PC Magazine’s Best Business Laptops of 2017

The Wirecutter – What Laptop Should I Buy

Header image by Matt Mets – Computer on Fire // CC by 2.0

Build a Computer that Lasts: 9 Years Strong

Build a quality computer that can last you a decade. Do your research and spend your money where it matters most.

Taryn Domingos - Old School

In the age of disposable electronics, it is absolutely still possible to build a computer that you won’t have to replace every five years. I’m fairly money conscious, so making what I buy last is important. A dollar saved is a dollar earned and all that. I don’t enjoy buying things for the sake of buying things, only to have to replace them a few years later. Money earned is much better spent elsewhere, as much as I do enjoy playing with new toys. Be it my retired car, my computer, or even my bicycle that’s generally been my philosophy. Do your research, buy quality within reason, maintain it, and you’ll get your money’s worth. This is absolutely how my old car lasted nearly 18 years, despite Quebec’s salty roads and aggressive drivers.

Nine years ago, a few friends and I got together to assemble the very computer I still use daily when not working. I’ve had to replace only two components due to failure, including a hard drive and a power supply in nine years. It still runs just fine. How is a computer quite this old still useful for fairly intensive computing?

Key Areas to Focus your Money:

1) The CPU (processor): this piece can easily be replaced, though the likelihood that you’ll actually replace it is fairly low. Buy a proven performer that is well liked in the overclocking community, even if you never plan to overclock.

I picked up an Intel Q6600 which was well liked in the enthusiast community (released back in 2007). It wasn’t the cheapest option, but it still performs well today and I see no reason to upgrade. Last generation games still work just fine. Good old patient gaming I guess.

2) The motherboard: spend a little more on a quality motherboard. Don’t skimp here – this is not something you want to have to replace. Buy a quality, name brand, well reviewed motherboard that meets your needs. Do not buy the lowest cost option, unless you fancy the idea of gutting your computer to replace this eventually. I never wanted to deal with this possibility, did a ton of research, and got a motherboard that was about $50 bucks more expensive than other options. Divide that across nine years, and yeah, it was totally worth it. Rest in peace, ABIT, may my motherboard continue well beyond the end of your company. These days, this probably means looking at a board produced by Asus, Gigabyte or MSI.

3) The power supply: yes, my power supply absolutely failed spectacularly with an audible pop. However, when it went, it didn’t damage any other components in my machine. A quality power supply is an investment in the other bits of your machine and can help prevent them from premature failure or damage.

Closing Thoughts

The rest of the bits, such as memory or videocard are arguably less important to strategize over. I got a mid-range graphics card that I eventually replaced when a co-worker was selling his “old” card a few years ago. I paid $20 bucks to upgrade my mid-range graphics card to something far more modern and far more powerful. I paid about $100 for an SSD (Solid State Drive) which improved the overall feel of the machine. At those prices, why not?

Occasionally, I get the upgrade bug, but reason takes over. I’ve spent under $250 in replacement parts over the last nine years, for bits which actually broke down, which I think is pretty decent (under $28 bucks a year). I definitely haven’t had to spend $1,200 Canadian to assemble a brand new machine, harvesting old computer parts like something out of Frankenstein. I think that’s great value for my money.

Buy quality, do your research and spend your money where it matters most.

Useful Resources:

PC Part Picker Canada: Great resource when researching computer components, includes user ratings and pricing on parts, as well as suggested builds.

Reddit’s Build a PC Subreddit: Great place to see what other people are building, read feedback on suggested builds and get some advice.

Header image by Taryn Domingos – Old School / CC by 2.0

Computer Won’t Boot Post Blackout? Try this.

Things to try, if following a power failure, your computer will no longer start normally.

aAdy Satria Herzegovina - Lego Computer

With the frigid temperatures in Canada’s prairies, and increased power grid demands, we’ve been experiencing power outages which last between five to fifteen minutes. One such blackout knocked my computer offline, and subsequently prevented it from booting up. It would power on, the fans would whir, but the computer would hang at the BIOS screen, without the customary beep. Effectively, the light was on, but nobody was home.

At first I celebrated, somewhat strangely I suppose, given I’ve been looking for an excuse to replace my eight year old machine (an Intel Q6600 from prehistoric times). However, frugality soon took over and I decided to try and fix it. I did build the thing after all, so I figured, why the heck not? It took about two rather frustrating hours to get running again, that I’ll never get back. C’est la vie. However, if I consider that I saved 600 – 800 bucks, by not having to buy a whole new machine, I suppose that was time well spent. My hourly pay is definitely not that high.

I managed to fix the issues through a combination of investigation and voodoo. Well, it felt like voodoo to me. Here’s what I did:

1) Unplug the computer from the wall, and turn the power supply to the off position. My goal was effectively to discharge the motherboard capacitors, incase there was any weird buildup. How’s that for  a scientific explanation?

2) Reset the CMOS (BIOS data). In my case, the power outage had actually corrupted the BIOS data, which loads prior to your computer booting into an operating system. I did this by opening the case and removing the CMOS battery (it looks like a large watch battery). I waited a couple of seconds, then replaced it.

How did I know to try this? My computer has a fancy motherboard LED indicator which shows you boot and error codes. I cross referenced the code it was throwing against the manual, which mentioned CMOS/BIOS issues. A shame ABIT no longer makes motherboards.

After doing all this, I put the computer back together and tried powering it on. This introduced another issue, where the computer was no longer outputting video. I was able to fix this issue doing the following:

1) The ram dance: Basically, unsocket your ram, remove any dust in the sockets, and replace your ram. Usually this involves actually moving ram to other sockets, but in this case, given I had a known working ram configuration, I skipped that bit.

2) Disconnect and reconnect connections from the power supply to the motherboard. Clear out the dust in the sockets and replace the cables. I can’t explain why this would make a difference, but this was the last step I took before things magically started working again. More voodoo.

3) If the above fails, try booting with less devices connected to the power supply. Try booting with only your C drive connected to a power source, for instance. This can help rule out specific hardware failure, interfering with the boot process.

Finally, you will need to reset your BIOS settings to whatever you had configured before the outage. Taking out the CMOS battery will effectively lose all your boot settings. So much for replacing my eight year old machine!

To avoid this scenario in the future, I’m going to spend the big money and buy an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS). It seems worth the piece of mind, when using your computer on a somewhat unpredictable power system. With a UPS, I can safely power down the machine, instead of letting it forcefully turn off. No more worrying that a power outage may fry my computer hardware. It’s a much cheaper solution then replacing bits that are damaged due to power surges or voltage drops.

Header image by Ady Satria Herzegovina // CC0

Use an Old Wireless Router to Connect Multiple Media Devices

Cat sleeping on Gigabit Switch

A couple of months ago, we moved across the country and encountered a new and exciting networking challenge: our old Nintendo Wii had trouble connecting to the wireless signal provided by our new modem/router combination device. Also, our Steam Link buffered a bit, while streaming games over wireless to the TV. I looked up how to best deal with this: I could create an Access Point with our spare wireless router, or I could turn my old router into what is called a Media Bridge. Learning how to set-up a Media Bridge, given I had no idea how it worked at the start, seemed worth investigating. Also, there was no guarantee creating an Access Point would sort out my Wii issue.

The differences between these two networking modes are as follows:

1) Access Point Mode: Your second networking device, such as an old router, connects to your primary router via a network cable, and re-transmits the wireless signal, boosting it in another area of your house. This can be useful if you have a larger house, or a house where the wireless signal isn’t great. This of course means, you need some way of connecting a network cable between the devices, which can prove problematic if you’re living in a rental and can’t drill holes to run network cables everywhere.

2) Media Bridge Mode: Your second networking device, such as an old router, connects to your primary router over wireless. The wireless signal is not re-transmitted or boosted. Your media bridge router, effectively works as a wired switch, where you can plug things in via network cable, such as my old Wii or a Steam Link which may be sitting next to your TV. This removes the heavy lifting of dealing with network traffic from your media devices. Further, if your devices are old enough to not support wireless connection, this gets around that problem entirely. This has the added benefit of providing a more stable wired connection, which can reduce buffering and increase performance.

In order to set this up, I had to connect to my secondary router, and switch the mode from Router to Media Bridge, telling it which wireless network it was to bridge. Not all routers will support this out of the box – they specifically have to support Media Bridge mode. Some router firmware, such as DD-WRT will add this capability, if your router is supported by it. On my Asus AC RT-66U, this was as involved as logging into the router, going to the administration page, changing the device mode to Wireless Bridge and telling it which wireless network to bridge.

This was a fairly straightforward, cost effective solution, given I had an old router sitting around. If that weren’t the case, other options, such as power line adaptors, which create a network using your home power lines can also similarly solve this issue. Though of course, there is a cost for going that route.

Happy networking!

Header image by Michael Himbeault – Gigabit Switches Make Excellent Pillows // CC BY 2.0

A Consumer Grade Router to Last: Linksys WRT54GL

Southpark - The Internet

Routers allow you to easily connect multiple computers to the internet, using one internet connection. It sits between your network of computers and the internet, avoiding the hassle of either setting up multiple accounts with Internet Service Providers,  and bypassing the need to have a dedicated computer set-up to share its internet connection. Further, many routers have built-in firewalls, further insulating your machines from the internet. Over the years I’ve gone through *many* routers which have entirely failed the test of time. Be they D-Link, Netgear, or Trendnet, they’ve passed on to the router graveyard for one reason or another (inability to maintain reliable connections to the net, inability to power on, etc.). My experience has largely been that nearly any consumer grade router found at BestBuy, Futureshop or CircuitCity is built to fail. Being I’d rather not pay to replace my router on a near yearly basis, over the years I’ve looked into finding a router that was both highly robust provided  an extensive feature set.

About four years ago, I came across the much acclaimed Linksys WRT54GL. It looks like pretty much any other router, with one key difference: it runs a micro version of Linux. Everything I’d read about it in terms of features and reliability seemed great, so I picked one up for about fourty bucks, and have been using it since (roughly four years). Like many other routers, you can install a custom firmware on it (such as DD-WRT or Tomato which I presently use, to increase feature set, and reliability).

I recently had to set one up for someone, so figured it would be a good excuse to a) discuss the router and b) test out my camera. Without further ado – the WRT54GL.

What you get:

The box:

WRT54GL Box Web

Packaging:

WRT54GL Package Contents

The INTERNET (err – the router):

WRT54GL

Pretty standard as far as routers go – the set-up is also pretty much like any other router you’ve ever used. You connect your modem to the WAN port, with your computers plugging into ports one through four, or connecting via wifi. The real interesting stuff comes in when you install a custom firmware, which can allow you, among other things, to set-up virtual networks, splitting your network into sub domains should you choose. It has a bunch of features usually only found on far more expensive commercial grade routers, such as QOS, which can allow you to prioritize your bandwidth, based on application (want more bandwidth allocated to your chat roulette session, over bit torrent? Piece of cake). You can do other neat stuff like boosting your wireless signal, providing greater wifi coverage. Lifehacker had a nice write-up on this very subject (covering set-up and what you could do with your new fangled router right over here.)

I would strongly recommend this router to any and all looking for a home wireless routing solution. The only limitation is that, given the age of this router, it only supports A/B/G wireless (sorry, no “N” support).

Installing third party firmware:

Installing a custom firmware such as tomato is relatively trivial, and can be broken into a few steps:

1) Download the firmware (Tomato being suggested here) and extract the firmware zip / 7zip archive.

2) Connect the router to your computer, via a network cable (basically to any port minus the WAN port)

3) Login to the router (by default, the WRT54GL uses the username root with a password of admin, accessed at http://192.168.1.1)

Router Login

4) Navigate to the “administration” tab, select “firmware upgrade”, and use the “choose file” button to select the appropriate file (WRT54G_WRT54GL in our case).

Admin Tab

Select New Firmware

It should take up to about two minutes, maximum (it took about 30 seconds on my router).

That’s it! Just enter your relevant settings under the “Basic” section, and you’re good to go. Not very different than configuring any other router, though you get way more settings.

Syd

Kobo Firmware Upgrade 1.4: Incremental Improvements

Unboxing the Kobo - JiveDansonBeing the impatient person that I am, I signed up for early access to Kobo’s firmware upgrade program. The upgrade was relatively smooth, short of extreme awkwardness in setting the device to “upgrade mode” (it basically involves you holding the menu button, the middle D-pad navigational button, and pressing the power button against a table). The upgrade works well and I can now view all epub formatted books with proper font resizing. They didn’t quite give the ability to delete the 100 free Gutenberg books, though you can selectively hide them from the browse menu, by selecting “My Books” instead of “Pre-loaded Books”. My books will show you titles you’ve added yourself, and those that are set to “now reading”. The ability to actually delete these titles (either through the Kobo app) or from the device itself, would be nice.

There are a few other changes I’ve noticed – they’ve added a “sleep” feature. If you hit the power button quickly, the device will go into a lower power mode, draining less battery power. If you don’t reactivate it in the next fifteen minutes, it turns off. This also provides the benefit of allowing you to get back to your book more quickly, should you just be wandering off for under 15 minutes. The full power on boot-up takes a fair bit longer.

I only really came across one major issue with the update, being that after I upgraded, the device kept displaying the “first-use” screen, where it asks you to connect it to your computer, to set it up with the Kobo app (though I had already done this). I fixed this by resetting the device to default settings, from the device itself. The device will now show a “powered off” screen in the power off state, hiding book illustrations on shutdown (showing your book cover on shutdown was neat, I’m not sure why it was abandoned). Beyond this, I had to re-transfer my purchased titles after the firmware upgrade, but that wasn’t really too big of a deal.

A step in the right direction with this update – I’m looking forwards to new features in coming firmware updates.

You can read the official 1.4 firmware thread over at the mobileread forum.

Syd

Header image courtesy of JiveDanson – Unboxing the KoboCC BY 2.0