Jeremy's almost but not quite entirely moribund blog

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Windshield wipers

A few months ago, the windshield wiper switch on my 2000 Honda Civic broke, resulting in funny behavior like the blades stopping the second you let go of the lever, even in the middle of the windshield, and when you pull the lever back to squirt the windshield, it'd keep squirting forever until you push it back.

The car was due for a safety inspection, and I figured it wouldn't pass in this condition. I picked up a new switch at the local Honda dealer and installed it this morning. The wipers worked like they should, but the windshield squirty-things didn't squirt.

Just yesterday I topped off the wiper fluid, so I knew that wasn't the problem. This pointed at the pump. Looking under the hood, I couldn't even see the pump. Only the top of the reservoir poked through the maze of frobnitzes and gormishes. Looking up from below, I couldn't see it either. I was worried I'd have to remove the front bumper, but it turned out the pump is situated just in front of the front wheel and is accessible through the wheel well once the cover is removed. I picked up a new pump at AutoZone (which was much less expensive than the switch, interestingly enough), drained the fluid into a bucket, and swapped pumps. Now I can squirt the windshield again; in fact, the new pump almost overshoots the windshield entirely. I guess it's a little more powerful.

With a working windshield wiper system, I took my car to Jiffy Lube for the inspection, and they told me my blades needed replacement... so one more trip to AutoZone.

Side note: Jiffy Lube also told me my air filter needed replacement, and they offered to do it for $15. I declined, because I knew the air filter is easy to install, so I thought I'd save a few bucks. Until I saw what the new air filter cost at AutoZone: $15. I guess next time I'll just let Jiffy Lube do it.

I also replaced the cabin air filter and windshield wiper blades on the family van. And my Civic has a door that won't open from the outside... maybe I'll make a clean sweep of it and look at that this evening.

Aren't cars fun?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Making Vista x64 print to an XP Home box

My printer, an HP Laserjet 1012, is connected via USB to my desktop computer, which runs Windows XP. The printer is shared from the desktop, and my wife regularly prints to it from her Eee PC (also running XP) and the MythTV box (running Linux, of course). No problem setting either of these up.

I was just working on a document on my shiny Dell laptop that runs Windows Vista x64 Edition, and I had a bear of a time getting it to talk to the printer. It sees the printer in the Add Printer Wizard, but when I go to install it, it claims it couldn't find a suitable driver, even if I point it directly at the Vista x64 driver I downloaded from HP's website.

I thought, maybe if I plug the printer directly into the computer, it'll let me install the driver--so I yanked the USB cable from the desktop and plugged it into the laptop. It saw the printer appear, chewed on this information for awhile, and then told me it couldn't find a driver. So I pointed it at the one I downloaded, and lo and behold, this time it worked.

So I reconnected the printer to the desktop and went back to the Add Printer wizard, figuring this time it'd realize the printer was installed and not complain about the lack of a driver. Nope. It still complained that there was no suitable driver, even though a suitable driver was already installed. Stupid Windows.

I did some Googling and found the answer: lie to Windows and say you're adding a local printer, on a local port that happens to be named \\server\printername. This way it noticed that the appropriate driver was installed, and it actually completed the installation and printed.

Stupid Windows.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

New phone: Tracfone LG 600G

EDIT: Before writing this, I created ringtones and wallpapers, and even compiled software and transferred it to the phone, but I didn't actually try talking on it. Har. Guess what? It doens't work. It makes and receives calls, but a few seconds into it, it drops the call, then the phone reboots. Sigh...

UPDATE: Tracfone sent me a replacement phone and everything works now. They were pretty quick about it, and they compensated the minutes (and more than compensated the airtime) that I lost after activating a phone that didn't actually work as a phone.

I had been using Virgin Mobile for two and a half years, and I recently decided it's time to switch to Tracfone. My main complaint with Virgin Mobile was lousy coverage. The VM phone didn't get service in the building I work in, or in any of the quasi-rural spots where I go to see stars (when I got stuck in the snow late at night in Provo Canyon last year, I had to rely on a camper whose phone actually worked there).

My wife switched from a Sprint monthly plan to Tracfone six months ago, and its coverage is much better. With my Virgin Mobile service about to expire, and finding that I could get better coverage for less money, I decided to take the opportunity to switch to Tracfone myself.

I'll diverge for a moment to discuss pricing. On Virgin Mobile, I had to pay $20 per 90 days to keep the service active. Minutes were 18 cents per, and text messages 15 cents (this tripled from 5 cents when I started with VM). Coincidentally, $20 per 90 days is about what I had to spend anyway - meaning I averaged 8 or 9 minutes per week - I don't talk recreationally, but it's invaluable for logistical-type things. FWIW, this was a grandfathered rate at the time I quit VM; they've upped it to 20 cents per minute these days.

With Tracfone, there are a dizzying array of pricing options, and on the surface they look more expensive than Virgin Mobile - however, the key is their "Double Minutes for Life" feature. Buy a more expensive phone than the generic $10 models, and effectively minutes cost half as much, for the life of the phone. I paid $40 for the LG 600G at Target, and it includes double minutes. This means a 60-minute card (which adds 90 days of airtime to your service), priced at $20, would yield 33 cents/min otherwise - but just 16.7 cents/min on this phone - a better deal than Virgin Mobile. Higher value cards have a correspondingly lower cost per minute; the one-year-of-service card, which at $100 gives you 800 (doubled) minutes, yielding 12.5 cents per minute. Also, there are often promo codes* you can enter to get even more bonus minutes with a purchase; I used a 200-minute code, meaning I got a total of 1000 minutes (400 * 2 + 200) for $100 - 10 cents per minute. Not too shabby.

I also got an additional 100 bonus minutes for porting my number from Virgin Mobile and activating a one-year card. The porting process, which their web site said could take 7-10 days, actually took less than one. I sorta hoped it would take longer, because I didn't get the chance to burn off my remaining Virgin Mobile balance - oh well. :) My only complaint here is that they called me at 7:15 AM to complete the process by entering a few thousand numbers into the "code entry" fields.

So, on to the phone. My curiosity was piqued when I saw my wife's w376g and saw what looked like a standard USB mini-B socket on it - it'd be nice to transfer files to and from the phone without paying for airtime, I mused. But not with that phone - the USB port has been crippled on that phone, and is only good for charging. Bleh. The 376 also has Bluetooth, but it's crippled too, and is only good for a headset.

The LG 600G, on the other hand, doesn't pretend to have a USB port, but what it does have is non-crippled Bluetooth. It's possible to create ringtones (.mid or .amr) and graphics (.jpg) and send them to the phone without paying a dime. It's also possible to download pictures from the camera over Bluetooth. What's more, you can actually develop and distribute software that runs on the phone, using Java Micro Edition. Not common features in a $40 no-contract phone.

Trying to actually use the Bluetooth features has been a bit of an adventure. I'm using my work laptop, a MacBook Pro, to transfer stuff to the phone since none of my personal machines has Bluetooth. I prepared a bunch of my astrophotos for the phone, cropping and downsampling them to 128x160 for the screen, and then I sent 'em all over to the phone in one batch ... except that it didn't quite work. One, the phone prompts you to confirm each individual transfer, and two, when I sent multiple files over in one batch, the MacBook seemed to send File 2 before it finished sending File 1, leaving File 1 truncated (easily visible in JPEG files). I don't know whether this bug is Apple's or LG's, but for the time being, files must be sent one at a time. (I'll try other Bluetooth software and see if this changes.)

When typing text messages, the 600G has what's called "T9" mode, which lets you press each key once instead of multiple times to pick the correct letter. It uses a dictionary to figure out which word you meant. So to type "hello", you just type "43556", not "443555(wait)555666". It's quite nice, until you come up with a word that's not in the dictionary, but that doesn't happen often in my experience.

I downloaded the Java ME SDK, compiled a "Hello World" sample, and sent it to the phone and ran it. It worked. I haven't thought of a killer app to write for it yet, but it's nice that I have the ability to program this thing. It's somewhat limited, however, since the thing only has 4MB of storage (an iPhone it is not). There are a whole bunch of downloadable games for the 600G here.

Just for grins, I'll include the backgrounds I created for this phone...

*I didn't actually get the 200 promo minutes at first, but I sent Tracfone an email and they were credited to my phone the next day. I got the code I used from Tracfone's own web site, but I suspect it was out of date, because a different code was shown elsewhere on their site.