Monday, December 30, 2013

Finally upgraded my camera

It was a long time coming, but I finally upgraded my camera. Thanks to a tip from +Adam Maas, I'm now the owner of a "new" Nikon D600 for $1200. Open Box Boxing week sale at Henry's. Full warranty though. Wasn't planning on buying anything on Boxing Week, but ended up buying a new dryer today too! :)

Patiently waiting for the battery to fully charge. Only thing missing from the camera was the triangle eyelets for the camera strap. Someone managed to remove these. I didn't notice until this posting so I'll have to call tomorrow to see if I can get my replacements. 

My camera gear was sitting unused a lot as cell phones started coming out with cameras that took better pictures than my ageing D200. Will see how things go now that I have this. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Alternative Instant Messaging clients for Android

So +Google has seriously screwed their instant messaging client. The one new feature that was going to be amazing in Hangouts, notification/read syncing between devices works so poorly it looses messages. When it did work, it worked inconsistently. I know that this only affects a small set of users, but I'm one of them. I longed for the days where my messages were simply sent to all my logged in devices. On the desktop I tried using the web client, but it didn't compare to using a multi-protocol client like Pidgin. So I was forced to try out alternative third party clients on Android similar to what I use on the desktop. One thing to note ahead of time, if you want Hangouts for video chat, you're stuck with having a broken Google Talk implementation as none of these clients support the video feature.


 This client has been around for a long time and I knew it without having to research. It's available for almost every platform and has a trusted name. I found the interface to be a bit dated, but functional. It supports cloud message history syncing via their own services. Skype is also supported which is nice as Microsoft has been talking about dumping MSNM for some time now. This app costs $5. However, if you want OTR, that's another $5. I find that a bit steep for something that should be based on GPL code. I'm actually going to investigate that. You can try IM+ for free with adds and some features missing.


I didn't get far though. Even though it's free, or because it is, you have to sign up with them first. They ask for a lot of details and apparently kill your account if it smells like you didn't enter your full and proper details. From what I have seen though they have the cleanest and nicest interface.


This client also worked well but I couldn't get past the interface. The talk bubble interface got old very quickly. The full featured Pro version
 costs $10, which considering it doesn't include OTR like encryption was a bit steep. I didn't find the price justified over the $5 price of IM+. They do have a free version available as well.

So in the end I stuck with IM+ and paid for their pro version. It  seems to be the best by far in terms of features, usability and value. Yes, some of the clients are free, but require you to sign over your IM privacy to some third party. This app, at the time of purchase cost $5 and you can leave the company out of your IM or choose to benefit from their history syncing.

The one annoying thing I ran into with all the clients has nothing to do with the actual clients but that some of the other IM protocols, unlike Jabber, do not support multiple device sign-in. Wish they did as logging in/out all the time is annoying. Still it's a small price to pay for an actual working IM client that doesn't loose your messages.

Lastly, I know there are complete alternatives to these like Whatsapp, but this is not what I was after and have no interest in it. Hopefully you will find this mini review of value as I know I'm not the only one that is having issues with Hangouts.

 Update: Since posting this I got some other recommendations which missed my radar as they are not multi-protocol.


An open source Jabber client which will interface happily with the old Google Talk gateway. Looks clean and full featured and OTR is included. If you're just looking for a Google Talk replacement, this looks like the best I've seen so far, and it's free.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Do not use Windows 8s "Windows 7 File Recovery"

Windows 8 carried forward the disk imaging backup and restore feature from previous versions of Windows. They call this "Windows 7 File Recovery" as it's a feature Microsoft hopes to remove in future versions of Windows. When trying out Windows 8.1 I can confirm that it's gone. This is warning to anyone to stay far far away from this method of backing up your data. In fact, Microsoft leaves you high and dry in terms of proper disaster recovery for your system in Windows 8. Yes, your personal files can be backed up using their File History feature, but that's not the same thing as a full system restore.

Windows disk image backup is severely broken. It expects your drive configuration to be the same as when you made the backup. If anything is out of place, you will get the following error:
Windows image restore (Error code 0x80070057; "the parameter is incorrect")
What this error means, is that the number, type, size and order of the drives as they were when you made the backup are not the same as they are now.There is no way I could find to see what that was during backup. There is no way to manual write the image file to disk and no way to properly convert the backup VHDX file to anything usable. This means, that if your primary drive dies, and you get a new, different one, you won't be able to simply re-image the drive. What's worse, is that I made this backup less than one week ago, but even having a memory card in a reader can screw things up.

So my files are safe. The reason I'm restoring is not due to hardware failure but me simply screwing around. I haven't lost anything other than hours of time. I've learned a valuable lesson, do not trust Microsoft with your data, they will find a way to screw it up. Chose a reliable 3rd party tool to do your backups. I'm probably going with Clonezilla.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Recovery partitions in Windows 8 and BitLocker drive encryption

Having just upgraded to a Lenovo ThinkPad Helix, I ran into a problem who's answer I could not find online. Lenovo (formerly IBM) Rescue and Recovery is gone. Windows 8 now comes with a slew of backup and restore functionality integrated into the OS. One of these features is a recovery partition with a complete system restore. Gone are the days of DVDs and other archaic media. Now all you need is a USB key (of sufficient size, usually 16GB) and you can create a recovery disk in case things go bad. Well, it turns out that if you enable BitLocker drive encryption, you loose access to the recovery partition. You can still create a restore drive, but this only allows for diagnostics, not full blown system wipe and re-install. So if you find yourself wanting to create a backup image using the stock Window 8 recovery tool, the "Copy the recovery partition from the PC to the recovery drive" option greyed out. You have to fully turn off BitLocker, decrypt your HD and reboot before the option is selectable again. I can understand why this happens, but I can't understand why I wasn't warned about this ahead of encrypting my entire drive.