Monday, April 8, 2013

Automatic login and lock in Windows

Lock n' Load

Difficulty: beginner

Yes.  Cheesy title, but effective little tweak I discovered recently.  You know how you start up your computer... wait to get to log in... then enter password... then wait even LONGER as Windows loads up all your startup items?  This is probably one of the reasons why people just prefer to put their computer to sleep/standby all the time or even hibernate.  A few issues: 1) power consumption, 2) time it takes to hibernate (It writes everything on RAM to your hard drive.  It is slow on a mechanical drive and is destructive on a solid state drive.) 3) Even with a SSD, the screen takes a second or two to initialize and show you the login screen -- wasted idle time!  4) Windows seems to behave better when you restart often.

I like to turn on my laptop and then go grab a cup of water or something and I would very much like to have my computer ready to go when I get back.  Even better is if you have startup programs do their thing when you turn on your computer (torrenting, virus scanning, etc.).  The problem with automatic login is it usually requires having no password at all or you can't walk away once you first boot up your system (security risk in public).

*Note: this was done in Windows 7.  It should also work on Vista.  For XP, visit http://support.microsoft.com/kb/315231 in lieu of the first few steps.
Anyway, here we go:

Step 1:  Hit the start button and type in "netplwiz".  Click the program.

Step 1.  I just cropped out all the whtie space here.

Step 2:  Uncheck the box next to "Users must enter a user name and password to use this computer.  See below.  *At this point you will be prompted to enter your current password to authorize this change.  Yeah - go ahead and do it and hit "OK" to finish.

Step 2.

Step 3:  Go to your start menu and find the "Startup" folder under "All Programs".  Right click it and press "Open".  

Step 3.

Step 4:  Right-click in the window, go to "New >" and click "Shortcut".

Step 4.
Step 5:  In the text field "Type the location of the item:", enter "C:\Windows\System32\rundll32.exe user32.dll,LockWorkStation".  Click "Next", enter a name like "Lock computer" in the next window, and click "Finish".

Step 5

Step 6:  Double check that the new shortcut is working by double-clicking it.  Your computer should be locked.  If this step is successful, try restarting your computer.  You'll notice now on the login screen, it says "Locked" under your username.  SUCCESS!  Your computer has already started loading your items!

OPTIONAL:

Change the icon of the new "Lock computer" shortcut:
1) Find that shortcut again.  (Step 3)
2) Right click it, click properties.
3) Click the "Change Icon..." button.
4) Choose an icon.  I use the yellow square key icon.  I also like the padlock there!  If you don't see any items, enter this into "Look for icons in this file:"  "%SystemRoot%\system32\SHELL32.dll"
5) Hit OK and you're done!

Change the lock/login screen in Windows 7:
http://www.julien-manici.com/windows_7_logon_background_changer/

Do more to improve bootup times:
1) 'Tis easy: download CCleaner and install.
2) Go to "Tools", then "Startup".
3) Weed out programs that you don't need to start up every time you start your computer.  I disable pretty much anything that isn't "Intel" related.  I keep "F.lux" and "Skydrive" enabled -- very small programs.

*Disclaimer:  I haven't tested this out on a slow system so I'm not 100% sure there isn't a window between automatic login and locking that proves to be a vulnerability.  It happens instantaneously on my laptop.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Fixing a mouse click switch (Right click on a Logitech VX Nano)

Intermediate/Advanced level guide to fixing a problematic mouse click:


Do you have a randomly unresponsive left or right mouse click?  Do you run into problems holding the button down? It is common for switch contacts to oxidize and no longer conduct well.  A symptom is sporadic mouse clicks when you try to drag or hold the button down.  I'm in the middle of right-click dragging a file somewhere and all of a sudden in mid drag, the button "lets go" and clicks again.

Being even a mildly active PC gamer means tons of clicking.  My mouse is now almost 5 years old.  I played tons of League of Legends and Diablo II and Torchlight... all VERY clicking-intensive.  I was playing Path of Exile where you hold the mouse button on an enemy to lock on and attack.  Needless to say, I kept dying when my mouse failed to register my attacks... Anyways, let's jump right in!

Please note:  this repair requires fairly steady hands and involves small parts.  Please have good lighting and have a container/cup to hold all the parts.  

You will need: Philips/flat screwdriver, razor blade, lint-free microfiber cloth (for cleaning eyeglasses for example), rubbing alcohol, tweezers.


This is my mouse.


On the bottom of pretty much any mouse, you will see what I think are teflon pads or "feet".  These cover the screws usually.  If you can access the screws without taking these off, great!  Otherwise...

1) If applicable, turn off your mouse and remove the batteries.  Otherwise, unplug it.

2) Use a small flat screwdriver or razor blade to pry off teflon feet.  Be careful to not cut them up or damage them excessively.  They are attached with a medium strength adhesive.  Try using a hairdryer to soften up the adhesive if it is being stubborn.  Don't overheat the whole mouse!


My mouse with rubber feet removed and screws exposed.  Looks like my mouse is displeased with me.

3) Remove the screws with a suitably sized Philips screwdriver.


*TIP: For ANY electronics work, please use a screwdriver set that looks like this.  You can get it from any dollar store.  I paid $1.50 at Daiso for this set.  Why is this important?  It is very easy to accidentally overtighten and strip the screws or the plastic.  These small screws are all meant to be tightened with only a small amount of force.  The narrow body of these screwdrivers prevents you from overtightening.  (Remember MECHANICAL ADVANTAGE from physics?  Any screwdriver with a normal/big grip will give you TOO MUCH!)  Plus you can put one finger on the top and rotate the screwdriver with the others.  Trust me, you'll know what I'm talking about once you get these.  (I also have a plastic spudger made out of a cut credit card.  Useful for prying things open without damaging the surrounding material.)


4) Check in the battery compartment for more screws.  In my case, I had two more here.  I had 5 in total.


5) Crack 'er open!  Spudger (just something with a blunt, non-damaging edge like a credit card) might be useful here, but usually once you remove the last screw, the two halves will separate readily.


Exposed in all the glory.  If you have a dirty mouse wheel, now is a good time to clean it!  Wipe it good.  The black rectangles with white nubs are what we are interested in.  These are the click switches.  I will refer to the black piece as the switch box.  It is literally a plastic box covering the metal switch with a hole for the white plastic nub that pushes it.


6) Locate the offending mouse click switch.  Mine are Omron branded as seen here.  High quality stuff in my opinion.  NOTE the orientation of this switch!  You need to reassemble it later and you don't want to put it back on backwards!  There will be tabs on both short sides of this switch box.  Use a razor blade to pry the tabs outwards and then upwards.  It can be frustrating, so take your time and do this carefully.  Try to pry from the bottom center rather than just a corner.  Once free, lift it up and off!  BE CAREFUL AND DON'T LOSE THE CLICKING NUB (white bars on the switches in my pictures)!!!  IT WILL PROBABLY FALL OUT unless you hold your mouse SIDEWAYS while removing the outer shell!  Keep these safe and out of the way!



**ALTERNATIVE:  If you can't remove the switch box, don't have a click switch with a removable box, or don't feel like getting more involved, do this:  Use rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) and apply it with a Q-tip (cotton swab).  Dab it directly on to the top of the white nub where it clicks and get some alcohol in there.  Work it in by clicking furiously.  Do this several times to try to clean out the contacts.  Important:  Let the mouse dry out for at LEAST a couple hours!  If possible, I would give it a whole day to be on the safe side.  In a warm room, it might only need 2-4 hours, but please be cautious.  (You can try to smell the residual alcohol.  Noses are pretty sensitive.)


Don't let these guys escape.  Keep them away from your hands so you don't accidentally knock it on to the floor or something.  Better yet, keep these in a cup or small container with all the screws!


My camera's macro isn't that great so here's a slightly zoomed out shot of the actual copper contacts in the mouse.  

7) TAKE NOTE of how it is arranged.  Make a drawing if you have to!  Nothing is more frustrating than removing this only to not know how to put it back on.


8) Using tweezers, slide this top piece of copper "foil" sideways to free it from the contacts.  (I'm just going to call it the "foil".  It is thin enough.  Don't accidentally bend it!)


9) Look at where my screwdriver is pointing.  You need to clean both the top and bottom of these contacts.  Use a lint-free microfiber cloth (I used the cloth made for cleaning my eyeglasses) dabbed in a rubbing alcohol solution.  I like to use diluted rubbing alcohol (70% diluted to half strength) because it works just as well and isn't as harsh.  Pure rubbing alcohol will be fine, however.

Optional: Use a small flat-blade screwdriver to scrape the bottom of the contact a bit.  Usually you can see a small nub where the foil touches the contacts.  Scraping it removes oxidation and exposes new copper which is VERY bright and shiny!  Clean this again with alcohol.



Use a 50/50 mixture of rubbing alcohol solution / water to clean just about anything.  It is great for cleaning any sort of screen and keyboard.  Oh, might as well wipe your mouse down with it while you're here! :)  For screens, dry with a lint-free cloth to prevent water spots from forming.  I use filtered water to minimize such deposits.


10) You also need to clean these contacts where my screwdriver is pointing.  This is the two-position contact area.  The foil is up at rest and touches the bottom piece when clicking.  Same as before, use alcohol and a lint-free microfiber cloth.  However, I absolutely recommend that you take a screwdriver to scrape the bottom contact!  You will see fresh new copper under the layer of oxidation.  It is beautifully shiny... Wipe with alcohol.


11) Reassembly time!  Slide the foil back in to position like the picture above.  Next, press down the curved piece in the middle until it snaps back into position using tweezers or a screwdriver.  This curved piece is what gives the switch tension.  If your mouse isn't as "clicky" as it used to be, go ahead and bend this upwards a bit (make it flatter).  This gives it more tension and will give you a really nice feel to the button.  I tensioned my foil a bit because I really find that tactile feedback to be extremely satisfying.

TEST: Press down on the metal bridge in the middle of the foil and see if it clicks.  You should see the (left) end of the foil move to touch the bottom contact.  If you press it right, it should make a clicking sound.  You could also try turning on your mouse at this point and plug it in to test it in the same way.  Your clicks should work again at this point!


12) Put that clicking nub back in the box/cover.  Use a piece of tape to hold the two together like pictured above!  This will prevent the white piece from falling out while you put the cover back on.  IMPORTANT:  Make sure you put the cover back on the CORRECT way!  SNAP!  If you haven't already, test your mouse at this point.  Try clicking.  If it works, great! 

13) Reassemble your mouse by following the guide in reverse.  At this point, it should just be putting the two mouse halves back together, put all the screws back in, and put the teflon feet back on.  

If it didn't work... you probably have the foil on in the wrong orientation or it isn't completely dry.  If you did the full disassembly and cleaning, you shoudn't have a problem with it still being wet.  Take a look at the 11th picture right above step #7.  This is a very common design and should be the same.

Congratulations!  I hope you feel like how I did when I did this repair - so freaking proud of myself.  Such a simple fix (relatively) for one hell of a common problem.  Buy some boba milk tea with the money you saved not having to buy a new mouse!

Got questions?  Leave a comment below!  :)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Sony MDR-V6 Headphones Review

Sony MDR-V6 Headphones

I have to say that these headphones are amazing.  Better than so many of the headphones out there... but in a different way.  Let's get down to the design first of all!

Design


These headphones rest over the ears against the head (circum-aural).  I find this to be extremely comfortable and works for prolonged wear.  It doesn't have the problem of fatiguing the ears.  These are foldable to make it a bit more compact and easier to stuff in the included bag!  Generally with headphones this size, portability isn't something people look for... but it's nice to have anyway.  Note that the cable is positioned on the left side.  For people like me with a laptop to the right side of my desk with the headphone plug also on the right... it's a minor annoyance.  For anything on the left, it's super convenient!  Retro.  I'm not too big on the colors and the labeling like "for DIGITAL" on each side and "STUDIO MONITOR" on the top, but... it has charm.  At least it's not gaudy unlike some other products...

Build Quality


Rock solid.  This thing is built like a tank.  Everything seems durable and there's no free play in any of the parts.  The size adjustment mechanism has a reassuring tension to it - I know it will stay where I set it.  The headband is solid and doesn't feel like it will snap like the plastic headband of those Beats headphones.  My only criticism is the amount of padding on the headband.  I would like it to be more plush, but I have gotten used to it.  The tension of the headphone cups against the head actually does most of the work holding it up so you barely feel the weight of the headset at the top of your head.  It is a supple faux leather material which feels really good to the touch.

The wiring is really something else.  Most products nowadays have really anorexic wires which I feel could break with a moderately forced tug.  Criticism first: I feel like the cable that runs from the headband itself to the headphone cups will break in time.  I wish that Sony would have integrated the cable into the band itself, but understandably it would be difficult to do without adding lots of bulk to the headphones.  Still, the cable is moderately thick and it's not like anybody touches them.  The actual cable that connects the headphones to the source is amazing.  Thick (bigger than the 1/8" plug!) with COILS.  Yes the cable is ridiculously long, but it is coiled to take up the excess slack!  The coils aren't so rigid as to impede movement, but enough to do its job.  It is supposedly high quality copper cable and jeez - it feels like I can run these over with my car without worrying.  The plug itself is made of a heavyweight metal (steel, perhaps?) accompanied by a rubber sleeve tension relief and finished with the standard 3.5mm plug with nickel coating.  I would take gold over nickel coating any day, but let's see how long it takes to oxidize.  I have owned these for a few months now and they show no sign of oxidation yet.  Shiny!

The ear pads are very comfortable.  With typical pleather material and a good amount of padding, I can wear these for hours on end.  It folds up pretty small too.  The cups actually swivel outwards so you could pretend to be a DJ (or actually do DJ stuff... these will definitely stand up to the test of time)

Now the debatably more important part...

Sound Quality


This is mainly where the Sony MDR-V6 sets itself apart and shines in its own respect.  These do NOT sound like a pair of Boses or Beats or Skullcandies.  What do I mean?  The bass is not heavy.  The highs are not overrepresented.  In fact... these headphones have a very FLAT tonal response along the entire sound spectrum.  This is why these headphones are the gold standard amongst audio engineers (or so I've read).  What you DO get is clarity that makes you say WOW and the ability to tune your music to whatever you prefer.  I have never used a pair of headphones that responded so well to equalizer adjustment!  These are not specifically made for modern day music with emphasis on bass like hip-hop, rap, pop, and electronica.  Vocals come through crystal clear with no muddy bass or piercing high-end sounds.  You can actually differentiate between all the instruments!  I use an equalizer to boost the low end sounds some and I have never been happier with my music.  It is deeply satisfying to be able to get decent bass with the clarity throughout all the frequencies.  Nothing sounds overbearing in the least.  If you've done a little research about headphones, chances are you've heard of "burn-in" in which headphones tend to sound better once they've been used and worn in.  I'm sure these headphones will benefit a little bit from "burn-in", but I think most of the burn-in is happening in my brain.  Listening to these headphones over time makes me appreciate the sound more and more every instance I put these on.

Summary


Pros:
  • Solid build quality
  • Coiled cable
  • Amazing sound and clarity, vocals absolutely shine
  • Price - $74 easily beats out many headphones
  • Comfort
  • Portability
Cons:
  • Cables on the sides going from headband to cups
  • Headband could use more padding, less of an issue if you extend the band more
  • Nickel plated plug, but we'll have to see how resistant it is to oxidation
  • Plug is too fat to fit some devices like my phone with the case on.  Could easily get an adapter.  I actually use a portable amp (FiiO E5) which plugs into the phone with no problem.
I'd give this... a 9.5/10.  Very minor design quirks, but you're really not going to get something better than this for under a hundred or even $150.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Living space (or lack thereof)

First look at my unorthodox room

In a 14x12 room split in half with a roommate, a guy has to make do with the little space he has.  My solution?  An IKEA full loft bed frame with my preexisting foam mattress and a body pillow to fill the gap.  Underneath is my "office" which consists of a Staples Z-line L-shaped desk and printer cart underneath (too small of a clearance for my printer).  Behold, my (low cost) FORT.


Figure 1.  My computer setup.  Viewsonic 21.5" screen, salvaged Logitech X-230 speakers, Cooler Master U2 laptop cooler (repaired the fans, more on that some time later), Asus U35-JC 13.3" laptop (rock solid, 9hr. battery life, super light and thin for its age), generic Microsoft keyboard (fixed an unresponsive key), and the older, but reliable Logitech VX Nano mouse (no Unifying receiver technology just yet, fixed a stuck left clicker switch after 4 years of flawless operation).  Oh and yes, I need a new calendar...


Figure 2.  The new plug of the aforementioned salvaged Logitech X-230 speakers.  My cousin's roommate was going to throw these beautiful speakers out because the left speaker wasn't working and the sound from the right speaker was intermittent.  My foolproof test: jiggle the connector.  If the sound drops out, time to replace the plug!  Shown here is a gold plated stereo 3.5mm plug which is 5 sets for only $3!  A few minutes of cutting and soldering and presto repairo - sounds like new again!


Figure 3.  My custom rigged under-loft LED strip setup.  300 SMD5050 LED strip hooked up to a 12V dimmer switch powered by what looks like a laptop charger.  I had to turn the brightness to near zero to take this picture!


Figure 4.  As you can see, my LED light strip goes all the way around.  Pictures don't do it justice.  The warm white is a very pleasant color and the brightness is running on half power.  No flash photography here.


Figure 5.  Hate dealing with chargers all the time?  Get a powered USB hub and plug everything in!  Dedicate a charging station like this and never worry about it again.  Manage all your devices with just one USB plug too!

Lots of stuff, all within the confines of the dimensions of a full size bed.  Organization sure is a powerful thing.

The (Re)Introduction

The return of the blog, now a manual.


I don't think it's a surprise to people who know me that I absolutely love fixing things.  I usually keep to myself, but I would love to see my work and experiences help someone out.  Unlike a certain sister of mine, I'm going to keep these posts short and sweet.  Just kidding, she's great so check out her blog - http://theflavorsofchocolate.blogspot.com
UPDATE: NEW SITE!
http://saltatoria.blogspot.com/

What needs to get done.  How to do it.  My opinions and suggestions.  Pat yourself on the back.

Hold off on that purchase.  There's a better alternative.  Be an informed consumer.

In the end, I hope people can at least draw a little inspiration.

Leave comments for suggestions, questions, and ideas!