Saturday, December 15, 2012

Ramping up to CES 2013

An example of an invite to a cocktail party at CES
It's that time of the year again -- done with the turkey coma and on to the Christmas shopping and New Year's champagne with a culmination of a tough and rewarding year of work at our jobs.

It's time to getting psyched about CES 2013 in Vegas.

What biggest change do I see forthcoming in our working space?
Proliferation of touch enabled ablet pcs in our workspace. PC at the desk, touch enabled tablet at meetings, lunch and in the evening.
Here's what I'm sure to see at CES this year

  • 1080p HD phones
  • Bigger, Thinner TVs
  • Obnoxious 3D TVs and Cameras
  • 4x HD devices
  • New Tablets and Touch enabled Laptops
A lot of this is the regular annual junk that's sort of boring.

Here's what I'm looking forward to this time:
  • Our team at Wannabtechie is growing a bit more and so three of us are heading that way this year including our new lifestyle specialist who will post on the blog before we go up there for work
  • See what interesting software and interaction environments will emerge prior to the democratisation of tablets in the workplace
  • Convergence of DSLRs, Mirrorless, Compacts and Smartphones
  • Smarter Toys
  • Next Generation Consoles (Xbox 1080, PS4?)
  • Generally have fun in Vegas
  • Maybe we'll go check out Grand Canyon


Friday, December 7, 2012

Home Theater Success: An End to PowerDVD Issues

After a hard day's work, facing problems with your home TV can be a pain.

Are you like me? See how many of these things you can check.

  1. Did you buy a a BluRay drive like this
  2. Did you hope to connect your desktop to your TV as part of a cut the cable move
  3. Were you frustrated with so many issues that you thought you should buy a blu-ray player?
  4. Could you not utilise the full power of your 5.1 or 7.1 surround system?
If any of the above, this post is for ya.

BluRay Drive
I actually bought what you call an OEM BluRay drive with bundled PowerDVD software. BluRay technology tries to keep itself ahead of pirates by constantly updating encryption and security technologies. So with newer and newer discs you buy or rent, your drive firmware needs to be updated for the drives to play correctly. If you're reading this, you probably came across the pain of upgrading firmware - it is just as complex as trying to compare Serta mattresses.

In short -- when you get PowerDVD bundled with your drive, it is the responsibility of the drive manufacturer to maintain the hardware firmware and its compatibility with the specific bundled version of PowerDVD. Of course manufacturers stop at some point. I did everything I could, contacted PowerDVD, Samsung and they kept passing the batton between each other. The hardware firmware is of course being updated but I was forced into finally buying a copy of PowerDVD Ultra 12 for the Christmas special of $39.99.

Still a rip-off, but hey I already had sunk cost in my home theater setup and it is still cheaper than cable. Now I can rely on PowerDVD to keep this version up to date for a few years.

HDMI Connection Issues
I would often come home to two very common problems.

  • No sound.
This was frustrating. Took me forever to figure out. My desktop audio is connected to my TV via an optical out as well as HDMI. Depending on the order of which I turn things on, TV, audio receiver, computer wake -- it picks HDMI or optical. And the desktop has a default playing device. Had to do some brute force restarting to figure this one out. 
  • This error message that says my computer is incapable of playing BluRays. A similar one would blame a missing AC3 codec.

Well this was kinda stupid. Of course my computer can play BluRays. But PowerDVD thought I was trying some creative technique to rip the BluRay via a bypass tunnel of the HDMI cable. I downloaded the tool, did all sorts of tests. Had to restart the computer to fix. It took me some time to realise that if I turned off and on the receiver, it would self-fix. This is a weird issue with HDMI-sleep/wake. You can literally read thousands of articles like this on the topic. Skip it, just switch off/wake 2 seconds/switch on the receiver.

True Surround Sound (>2.0)
It seems like by default my computer outputs audio to 2 channel PCM. And if you have the HDMI AC3 issues above, you definitely saw this.

Read this article about how when you use SPDIF you will definitely see 2 channel output for sure and if you use HDMI you are very likely to see a default to 2 channel output.

What does this mean? Well you're watching the latest Dark Knight Rises BluRay and the annoying thing is playing the surround and background sound on the front speakers. It also kills any multiple frequency toning that your speakers are capable of. So why bother buying 5.1 in the first place?

This one took me many after work nights as well to fix. When using Windows Media Player or Xbox 360, the receiver would happily default to Dolby HD to play using my 5.1 setup. That quickly localised the problem to the default PC output settings or PowerDVD. Since Windows Media Center (TV stations) were running 5.1 on channels like CBS, that means the default audio device was capable of 5.1 and therefore the problem had to be in the new version of PowerDVD 12 that I bought.

PowerDVD settings is very compact and light, but can be very misleading. In the image below you see there is a setting for # of speakers. I played around with this for a while to realise it is futile. I moved back to the default HDMI setting and in the ouput mode - voila - I changed from default to Dobly and TrueTheater Surround.

Finally, PowerDVD 12 Quick Review
What I bought was bundled with some movie and photo editor software that I will never use, but a video player for android which is actually pretty powerful. It also comes with the PowerDVD remote software which is very handy.

Great remote. It provides windows media controls as well as movie progress controls
As for the software itself, I like the colours and layout of the user interface. Given my problems above clearly the UX is subpar and this is probably because the PowerDVD team is focused on monetising product rather than improving customer experience (clearly highlighted by the # of ads I see on an expensive paid version of software).

As for playing BluRays and using the remote - I like it. Compared to PowerDVD 9, version 12 seems to do a lot more to accomplish the same. It is slow to start, goes into all sorts of screen modes before starts playing the BluRay and sometimes I wonder if it may actually crash my computer because of the commotion it creates. In weird times it doesn't play anything and a quick close and a restart of the software does the fix.

On one occasion the crazy screen size fixing left me in a mode where I couldn't close PowerDVD or go back to my desktop. If I played the movie I would see horizontal bars of my desktop on the top and the bottom. I switched to theater move via Windows Media Player and I saw the whole software experience significantly improve.

All the best WannabeTechies!

Source(s): my experience, unlimited internet help posts

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Connecting a Macbook (or Laptop) to your TV. Better than Roku/Boxee?

I’ve definely been able to use Hulu right on the laptop and it is fine. When it comes to Netflix, it gets a bit challenging for the top quality 1080p HD content. To fix this I use the computer on a cooling pad like this. All Mac laptops run very hot especially the newer ones which are faster and this is a required investment to not scorch your floor, desk or laps.

When talking about projecting to a TV I think you need to buy a mini DVI to DVI adapter and then a DVI to HDMI (or DVI or VGA depending on your TV) cable. You also need to get a computer audio (3.5mm) to RCA audio (red/white) cable. After all that, there is no guarantee that the resolution will be great. It worked great on my flatmate’s TV a few years ago but text was blurry on a TV at another person’s place.

But here’s my honest recommendation: if you had a budget of around $385
• you buy a used mac mini if you really want a mac on your TV (~$350, +about $100 for wireless keyboard and mouse)
• if you’re willing to be fine with only a browser, then you will have a lot more access to channels and tv shows designed for TV consumption with a boxee ($200) or a roku ($100) and if you really needed a mouse in addition to the remote keyboard, something like this ($50)
• $150 blu-ray player that comes built in with apps like Hulu and Netflix

I connected my super human desktop (insane core i7 config) to my <1 yr old 1080p HD tv and it looked OK for text but was awesome for video. It’s all about the light levels. A computer screen is able to manage the text on white background without burning your retina but for a TV which is set to be naturally of high dynamic range you’ll end up having to manually set the colour levels for the TV when using the computer and then go back for when watching just TV. And after about 2 weeks it became annoying trying to type for things with a wireless keyboard. It just seemed to be too much interaction for TV. I was so used to a very simple TV remote. My TV has online apps and with <3 button presses I can get to the Hulu app or the Netflix app and that is what I always use and have moved my desktop back to my desk, where it belongs. And for boxee and Roku you haves apps for each channel. You don’t need to go to or whatever. Just pick the app (channel) and the show and it takes you right to the video. It is truly customised for the couch and cheaper. Source(s):

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

TravelSmart: Renewing your H1b Visa in Toronto

Looking to renew your H1b? Low on vacation time and don't want to spend the money and time to go to your home country? Considering Toronto/Canada for renewal? I'm here to help mate!

1. Go here and apply for your visa and get your appointment date. File the application form online, pay the $150 fee online and also submit your photos digitally. I took my photos myself.

2. Get an appointment date about 3 weeks in advance so you have time to buy your flight tickets (plan for around 7 business days in Toronto), prepare documents and apply for a Canadian visa if necessary. Consider also that Toronto is a big city and the DHL pickup locations and the consulate are not close to each other and so make considerations for travel time and planning.

3. Go to Canada for your interview and on approval the visa will be stamped in your passport and sent to a DHL office for pickup.

Other notes assembled from frequently asked questions:

Employee vs. Contractor

I’m a full-time employee (not contractor), so that affects experience. Contractors/consultants need to prove the vendor-client relationship. Most employers give employment letters for only 3 months out and it worries the consulate to approve a 3 year visa on a 3 month employment guarantee. But it's all the documentation you have. Take photos and letters to prove employment and length of actual projects and engagement. Just be prepared, that's all you can do.


As for documents they only asked for my previous passport with the old h1b stamp. They didn’t ask for any other documents (I had bank statements, wage records, tax records, offer and employment letters, performance reviews, office photographs, all old passports and visa stamps)

Immigration Clearance on Return to US

When entering the US (immigration) they asked for the old passport, h1b stamp and company letter and a lot of the same questions asked during the interview.


(my responses shortened and in bold)

1. Tell me about your employer and your job. Petition says address of home company, you say you work in SF. Explained

2. What degree do you have. EE. How is this relevant to your current job. Explained my current roles and how the degree helps me in my daily job

3. Tell me about your previous H1b and employer. Talked about previous job and why I left it for this job and how they are related.

4. Asked about life in San Francisco and how it is to work for employer continued to chat about life and work

--He issued me a provisional visa.


Visa interview was on Monday, issued visa on this day (no PIMS). Sent to DHL office on Thursday, I picked up on Friday. They recommend 7 business days from interview to receipt. In the case of PIMS nothing is certain.

Many people think you need to renew H1b in your resident country. While it is preferable especially for your first H1b stamping, you actually don’t have to. I did my first H1b in London (was a resident there) and the second in Toronto. My home country is Sri Lanka.

I’ve been hearing though that depending on your home country and city consulate the success rates may be different. Some people who have gone back to India have not been able to come back. Toronto is a tough consulate. Vancouver and Tijuana (I have heard) are easier. London definitely was easier. Essentially there was a time when it was easier to renew in the home country. It isn’t the case anymore. It’s fair chance wherever – you just need to have your documents. It is cheaper to renew at a border consulate (Canada or Mexico) vs. India because of the cheaper flight cost.

The end to end time in Toronto from interview to Passport receipt was 5 business days (can be sometimes 7 days). In Mexico it is around the same. I am hearing it is much longer in India.

Source(s): my experience

TravelSmart: Applying for a Canadian Visa from San Francisco

Straying away from the topic of hot technology, I thought I'd share some valuable information surrounding visa applications similar to an older post about applying for a UK visitor visa.

San Francisco residents are faced with a lot of consulates operating out of LA or Seattle, making the application process and timelines a little tricky. I'm here to help!

If you're already here, you just want the details so I'm going to get right down to it.

You need to apply for a canadian tourist visa (TRV – temporary resident visa).

Type up a letter that lists of all the documents required for an applicant who is currently a US resident with H1b status (or whatever status you are in --this will slightly affect the documents required to prove residency in the US).

Here are the links that I found very helpful:

· Comprehensive visa guide:

· Photo specifications. I was able to take and print the picture for the US visa myself but the Canadian consulate has more stringent requirements. On some parts of their website they have even asked it to be taken by a professional photographer:

· Fee schedule. Single entry visa will be given for period of trip and multiple entry visa will be given for two years. Cannot make payment online. Must be (drawn in US dollars) a money order/cashier’s check or bank draft payable to “Canadian Consulate General”

· Application by mail. If you cannot make it to the Seattle or Los Angeles consulate for same day service (apply 9am, receive visa by 3pm – keep in mind arriving at the consulate after 11am will classify your application as apply by mail and will not have same day service), you can apply by mail. Use USPS Express Mail – most convenient for you and the Canadian consulate. Add a paid self addressed express mail envelope in your package that you will be sending to the consulate. Once you get the visa the consulate will send back your passport and requested documents in the self addressed express mail envelope. As for costs, this ran me about $40 including tracking (delivery confirmation) and signature service. Express mail is fast – overnight service.

· Timing. Technically it takes 14 business days for a mail application to process (additional days are added if you have a passport from this list of countries The real timing for me was 3 business days. I sent out the package on Thursday evening and I received the USPS express mail by the following week Wednesday morning 9am.

Source(s): my experience