Sunday, May 19, 2019

Windows 10 Blank Screen Showing Only Mouse Pointer

That's the best I can describe the issue.

I boot up my PC/laptop. It shows the blue Windows 10 logo with the spinning dotted circle below indicating that it's booting up. The logo goes away and normally the Windows desktop with the start screen and taskbar should show up. But this time, all I get is a blank screen. I jiggle the mouse a bit, and my mouse pointer shows up. So I know Windows is running, and it's not a screen issue.

What I did notice is that when I move the mouse, I can see that the pointer actually goes off-screen. This tells me that issue has something to do with the multi-display feature on Windows. Very possible that after a Windows update, the default screen was not set to my current display. So here's how to fix it.

Bring up the Project menu by pressing Windows key + P shortcut. You might not see it, as there's a chance it'll show up on the "main" display. Either way, just press the up or down arrow key a few times and press Enter.  If nothing happens, that's fine. It only means that you haven't selected the correct option. Keep trying a few times, until the desktop shows up on your display.

In my case, I'm the only user on my laptop and has configured auto-logon, so I don't need to log in to Windows. However, if your account is protected by a password, you'll have to log in first. You do this by pressing the spacebar or the Enter key or clicking the mouse, then typing in your password. This might be a difficult as you can't see the logon screen, but once logged in, you can follow the steps above to get back your desktop.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Microsoft Surface Pro No Audio on Headphones

Watching YouTube video using Firefox browser on the Surface Pro with audio coming through the built-in speakers. Plugged in headphones on the 3.5mm audio socket. Audio stops from the speakers. No audio on the headphones. Unplugged the headphone, audio is back on the speakers. Strangely enough, this doesn't happen on my other laptops and tablets.

The theory here is that when Firefox is first started, it chose the built-in speakers as the default audio device. Play YouTube and it routes audio to the speakers. When you plug in the headphones, Windows add a second audio device and makes this the default audio device. However, Firefox is not aware of this and continues to send audio to the speakers, which are now muted by the introduction of the headphones. Most likely a hardware/firmware/driver issue somewhere?

In my particular case, this was fixed by shutting down Windows, plugging in the headphones, and booting up. Windows installed some updates during the reboot, so the issue might've been fixed with some new driver, or maybe it just needed a reboot.

A few things you can try if the above didn't work for you:

  • First of all, make sure the headphones are not the problem. You never know. Try them out on a different laptop (or phone).
  • Have a look at the headphone plug. Give it a clean if it's dirty.
  • When you plug in the headphones, does the audio device switch from speakers to earphones? Check by hovering or clicking on the audio/speaker icon. If it's still on speaker, right-click the audio icon, then Open Sound Setting. Choose earphones as the output device.
  • If that still doesn't work, try the "Troubleshoot sound problems" option. Windows will most likely reconfigure or reinstall or reset the audio driver, which should fix it.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Mom's Banana Cake

Ingredients:

  • 1½ cup all purpose flour
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 - 4 bananas (mashed)
  • ½ cup butter
  • 1½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teasepoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons evaporated milk
  • 1 teaspoon banana flavour

Sift flour into a large bowl. Add in sugar. Make a well in the centre. Add in all the other ingredients. Stir until just combined. Pour into an 8"x4" pan. Line with baking paper if not non-stick.

Bake at 350ºF for 40-50 minutes or until  a skewer inserted into centre comes clean. Set aside to cool down.

Mom's Basic Chiffon Cake

With the chiffon cake, you basically have two parts - the egg yolk mixture and the egg white mixture (meringue). Mix the two and bake.

A few things to remember:
  • Used chilled eggs, instead of room-temperature ones. This results in a very smooth meringue without the need for cream of tartar.
  • Best to use a proper chiffon cake pan. Do not grease the pan, or the the mixture won't stick to the sides and can't rise as high.
  • For the same reason, do not use non-stick pans.
  • Let the chiffon cake rest upside down. This helps the cake maintain its height, instead of deflating.

Now, on to the ingredients.
For the egg yolk mixture:
  • 3 egg yolks
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup cooking oil (vegetable or canola)
  • 5 tablespoons water
  • 1 cup and 2 tablespoons cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • a few drops of vanilla
Whisk the 3 egg yolks together with the sugar until creamy pale yellow color. Slowly add the cooking oil. Then the water. Add in the sifted cake flour and baking powder. Keep whisking until thoroughly mixed.

For the meringue:
  • 3 egg whites
  • ¼ cup sugar
Whisk the egg whites using a hand mixer using medium speed until opaque and bubbly. Slowly add in the sugar. Mix using high speed until stiff peak is formed when whisk is lifted.

Next, fold in a third of the meringue with the egg yolk mixture and mix. Then the next third, then the last third.

Pour mixture into the chiffon pan. Bake at 350ºF for 40 - 45 minutes until ready.

Monday, May 6, 2019

LRC Support

Not sure how widely supported LRC is. Not much, I guess, as I don't see it mentioned much anymore. IIRC, LRC files came out pretty much soon after MP3 was introduced. Nowadays, it's not so easy finding LRC files for songs.

For those who  don't know what I'm talking about, LRC is basically a specially-formatted text file that allows song lyrics to be displayed in sync with the music. For example, a folder/directory would have song.mp3 together with song.lrc. When song.mp3 is played on an LRC-capable MP3 player, it would also display the synchronized lyrics within song.lrc. An LRC file is basically a collection of text entries - a timestamp in brackets, followed by a line from the song. Sort of like SRT for video files, though SRT is more complicated.

On the PC, my default MP3/OGG player is foobar2000. LRC support is through an extension called Lyric Show Panel 3. It can automatically search for, display, and optionally save timestamped (LRC) or text-only (TXT) lyrics. On my Android phone, I used to have HikiPlayer as my default music player. Recently switched to Musicolet when I found out it supports LRC files. Simply tap on the album cover image to display the lyrics. By default, Musicolet displays the lyrics embedded on the music file. Change the settings to LRC if you have LRC files and want to display synced lyrics instead.

My Hisense smart TV also has LRC support for music files. However, Chinese lyrics shows up as weird characters. Strange that it can't decode Chinese LRC files properly because the song title and song artist (also in Chinese) are displayed onscreen just fine. Tried looking for character-encoding settings to change, but didn't find any. Hopefully this is fixed is some future firmware upgrade.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

New Life on Old ThinkPad T41

Found my old IBM ThinkPad T41 in a cupboard. Wanted to see if I get it back to working condition.

Installed Windows XP on it, but couldn't get WiFi to work. I mean WiFi work, I can see the WiFi LED on. I can see the WiFi icon in the notification area. However, it's not able to see any WiFi access points.

Clean installed Windows 7 to see if it's any better. Wireless not even detected. Have to get the install the driver packs from my Windows XP disc to get that working. Ended up with a similar situation. However, after resetting the wireless interface, Windows was able to detect wireless networks, and go from there. The next issue I'm experiencing is that the laptop runs too slow on Windows 7. Opening a simple webpage takes ages (relatively speaking). And after installing Windows Defender, it became even slower (if that's even possible). CPU is almost always at a 100% and the hard disk is always active. Hard to believe this is the same corporate laptop running Windows and Office and Wireshark (Ethereal) back in the day!

Tried to load CloudReady via USB, but it won't boot up properly. Looks like Linux is my only option. My first choice would've been Linux Mint, but I reckon it's still too "modern" for the T41. We need something that is built/designed for old, slow 32-bit PCs from the ground up.
  • Damn Small Linux seems to be dead.
  • Read somewhere that lubuntu doesn't have the WiFi drivers out of the box.
  • Tried Puppy Linux, but the BionicPup variant I downloaded won't install because it comes with a PAE kernel, and the CPU on the T41 doesn't have PAE capability.
  • Finally settled on antiX. Based on Debian, but totally free of systemd. Now that's a feature.
Booted up antiX from USB stick just fine. Installed it on the hard disk with no issues. Got the WiFi working using ceni. Memory usage is really low, and CPU is pretty much idle if you're not doing anything. Firefox takes up a few hundred MBs of memory. Web browsing is slow, but works. Watching videos over the network or YouTube pretty much maxes out the CPU. Looks like this is only going to be useful as a text editor.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Uploading Clash Royale Matches to YouTube

Started off with me wanting to put my Clash Royale matches on YouTube. As always, wanted to go with the simplest, easiest, and cheapest way to do this.

First off, recording the gameplay. Two ways to do this - Google Play Games or as I'm using a Galaxy S9+, the Samsung Game Tools. With Google Play Games, you select the game from the carousel, then click on the floating videocamera icon to start recording. Quality setting is either 720p HD or 480p SD. You can also record yourself (audio and video) via an in-game round selfie window, if that's what you want. With Samsung Game Tools, these are the options:

  • record format (mpeg or gif)
  • audio source (mic or game)
  • video resolution (720px or 1080px)
  • choice of different bitrates and aspect ratios

Went with the latter, as I want the recording to be as hi-res as possible.

Now that gameplay recording is sorted out, I needed a way to edit the video - basically trim the start and end portions. I know that the Photos app that came bundled with Windows 10 is able to trim videos. From the app, click on the Edit & Create button, then select Trim. Move the blue marker and align the starting point with it. Do the same for the endpoint. When ready, click on the Save as button. Aaand it spits out an error message. "It looks as though you don't have permission to save changes to this file. Try saving a copy instead." That's what I'm trying to do! Tried saving to a different location/folder. Tried changing the filename. It just won't save the edited video clip!
A search on Google shows that I'm not the only one having this issue. Didn't find any solution that worked for me, so had to look for other software that can do the job.

Found mostly trialware that requires either payment or a subscription. Some of the software/websites looks dodgy I don't even want to try them even if they're free. I did play with the open-source OpenShot a bit, but it keeps stalling and freezing. In the end, I went with Sony Vegas Pro. After a few YouTube tutorials, I was trimming videos like a pro. One thing I noticed - Vegas Pro won't render your vertical video when you use the Sony AVC/MVC format. Made sure the render properties match the project properties, but still kept getting "invalid parameter". Switched to MainConcept AVC/AAC and 1080x1920 resolution works just fine when rendering the final video. The only downside is MainConcept only supports 30fps, while Sony AVC/MVC can do 60fps.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Formatting a Write-Protected USB Stick

Most times you don't even need to format your USB stick. Simply delete the existing files and copy in new files again.

People usually reformat when they want to clean out the pendrive. Or switch from FAT32 to NTFS or exFAT to suit a particular OS. In my case, I was using Rufus to install a bootable ISO to my USB stick. For some reason, it failed during the creation of the partitions. Ended up with a pendrive that is not accessible. Right-click, Format. Windows says no. Tried using the excellent HP USB Disk Storage Format Tool. Says disk media is write-protected. No write-protect switch anywhere on the pendrive.

Now, the forums said that I should use diskpart to set "attributes disk clear readonly". Didn't work. Some suggested using regedit to create a new DWORD called WriteProtect under HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\StorageDevicePolicies and set it to 0. Didn't work.

What eventually did work - using diskpart to create and format the active partition on the USB stick.

Here's the session log:
Microsoft Windows [Version 10.0.17763.316]
(c) 2018 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

C:\WINDOWS\system32>diskpart

Microsoft DiskPart version 10.0.17763.1

Copyright (C) Microsoft Corporation.
On computer: DESKTOP-46R9F1I

DISKPART> list disk

  Disk ###  Status         Size     Free     Dyn  Gpt
  --------  -------------  -------  -------  ---  ---
  Disk 0    Online          465 GB  1024 KB
  Disk 1    Online         7646 MB  7645 MB

DISKPART> list disk

  Disk ###  Status         Size     Free     Dyn  Gpt
  --------  -------------  -------  -------  ---  ---
  Disk 0    Online          465 GB  1024 KB
  Disk 1    Online         7646 MB  7645 MB

DISKPART> select disk 1

Disk 1 is now the selected disk.

DISKPART> list disk

  Disk ###  Status         Size     Free     Dyn  Gpt
  --------  -------------  -------  -------  ---  ---
  Disk 0    Online          465 GB  1024 KB
* Disk 1    Online         7646 MB  7645 MB

DISKPART> clean

DiskPart succeeded in cleaning the disk.

DISKPART> create partition primary

DiskPart succeeded in creating the specified partition.

DISKPART> list disk

  Disk ###  Status         Size     Free     Dyn  Gpt
  --------  -------------  -------  -------  ---  ---
  Disk 0    Online          465 GB  1024 KB
* Disk 1    Online         7646 MB      0 B

DISKPART> select partition

The arguments specified for this command are not valid.
For more information on the command type: HELP SELECT PARTITION

Partition 1 is now the selected partition.

DISKPART> active

DiskPart marked the current partition as active.

DISKPART> format fs=ntfs

  100 percent completed

DiskPart successfully formatted the volume.

DISKPART>

After that, the USB stick works normally again.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Google on a Chinese Samsung Galaxy S9+

Forgot the fact that Google and its apps do not come pre-installed on smartphones sold in China.
I knew I should've gotten the phone in Hong Kong, instead of Shanghai.

After some research, the safest way to do this without mucking around with rooting and/or installing custom ROMs is to simply download Google Services Framework. Google Play Services, and Google Play Store from APK Mirror, then sideload and install the APKs on the phone.

The APKs installed just fine. On first run, it asked me to log in with my Google account. gapps would crash during the password verification phase. Play Store recognizes my account, but is not showing any apps. Getting Server Error message. Restarted the phone. This time, I was able to access Play Store properly and download apps. All this time, I'm getting a notification that says "Google Play Services won't run unless you update Google Play Services". Catch-22 much?

When I click on the notification message, I get to the Play Store entry for Google Play Services, but the only option is Deactivate. I click on it, and pop-up window says device administrator needs to be disabled first. No such option under Settings - maybe because APK was sideloaded??

In any case, it's not really a big deal as Google Play Store is definitely working. Later on I realized that not all Google apps are working properly. For example, Calendar can't seem to see my calendars. Gmail says "Getting messages", but no emails actually show up. Google News says I'm not authenticated. Booted to recovery and wiped cache partition. Didn't help.

At this point, I decided something else needs to be done. I decided to change the firmware from CHC (Open China) to TGY (Hong Kong). The model I got is SM-G9650/DS, which is only sold in China (and HK) and Latin America. Google works in HK, so I'm hoping Play Store will come pre-installed on the TGY image. Not too sure if device needs to be rooted or OEM unlocked first. Hoping the hardware is fully compatible with the new firmware.

One thing to note: Downloading the firmware files from SamMobile took a couple of hours. (SamMobile limits the download speed to 15kB/s for free users.)

Cleanest procedure is to do factory data reset via Settings. Boot to recovery, do a factory reset, then wipe cache and data. After that, flash new firmware. Prior to factory reset from recovery, it warns you that you might need to authenticate with the Samsung account that was first used with the device. Not so sure about this part, so crossed my fingers and continued on to the flashing part. While it took hours just to get the stock firmware, flashing it via Odin took only 8 minutes.

After all the work, I now have a fully-functional Google-enabled Galaxy S9+. (Not so sure about Samsung Pay or Google Pay though as that's usually country-specific.)

To boot to recovery mode:

  1. power off the phone
  2. press and hold Bixby and Vol+ buttons
  3. press and hold power button
  4. release when the Android mascot shows up after the Samsung splash screen


To boot to download mode:

  1. power off the phone
  2. press and hold Bixby and Vol- buttons
  3. press and hold power button
  4. release once in download mode


Flashing firmware with Odin:

  1. unzip firmware file downloaded from SamMobile
  2. pre-fill the BL, AP, and CP fields with the extracted files
  3. under CSC, put in the CSC file if you want a clean flash; otherwise, use HOME_CSC to keep your apps and data
  4. reboot phone into download mode (see above)
  5. connect phone to PC using a working USB data cable
  6. make sure only Auto Reboot and F. Reset Time are ticked under Options
  7. click on Start