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Background Noise / Webcam Audio Hum

By Lee in guides

If you have a laptop with a built-in webcam and you record video you (and your viewers) may notice a ton of background noise or annoying hum when you play the video back. Since the webcam often grabs audio from the built-in microphone, what you’re hearing is the vibration from noisy components (fans, hard drives, etc) inside your computer going about the chassis and up through the microphone. It doesn’t help that recording video is an intensive process for most standard issue laptops. When recording, do you notice if the fans are spinning wildly? Here are some tips to correct the audio:

  • Fix it in Post – While this is an easy task for short videos, a video longer than 10 minutes may take hours to render, depending on your hardware specs. It’s like a double edged sword. If you’ve got a beefier laptop, chances are you’ve got better hardware. Better hardware needs better cooling, better cooling means your fans spin faster ANNND we’re back at square one =( Here’s a link to Audacity’s Wiki. Basically you take a sample of the beginning or end of your video where you’re not talking, since you’re silent, but the hum/buzz is still there, it’ll know what frequency to remove. Play around with short clips before you commit to a full render (or fix the audio separately and re-render with the new track)!
  • Cool your laptop – If you notice your laptop fans start to spin when you record, perhaps you need to be cooling it down more. Elevate the laptop so the exhaust fans (usually the bottom) aren’t blocked. They may be in a push-pull configuration, meaning the fans are pushing air out while sucking air in through another opening. Whatever the case may be, make sure you’re not blocking the fan that provides cool air, and make sure it’s easy for the laptop to vent the hot air.
  • Ground your power supply – Some laptops come with the option to use a 2 prong plug or a 3 prong plug when plugging in to a wall outlet. When recording opt to plug in with the 3 prong plug. This helps in several ways:
    • Some power profiles give precedence to different tasks when unplugged, give your laptop the juice boost it may be looking for.
    • It fully grounds your computer. Most humming/buzzing in the world of audio equipment is because of a ground loop.
  • Buy an external microphone – Even a cheaper microphone is better than your webcam/on-board mic. I wish I could provide suggestions, but I’m sure you can find a good one on amazon. Audio-Technica has a condenser microphone for sale that ranks #17 on Amazon for around $25. Check out the video review to hear the difference between the onboard microphone of his camcorder and the ATR 3350. It is a mono mic so you’ll have to dupe the L/R tracks, but in Audacity that’s pretty easy.
  • Buy a video camera (or use your phone’s video camera) – Since you wouldn’t be recording on your laptop, there should be no issues with audio unless you’ve got a really noisy background. Most camera phones these days will let you record video. The microphones are much better too.

Hopefully this quick post has helped you isolate and fix noise issues in webcam recorded videos. While I’ve included free and more expensive solutions, getting an external mic would probably be the most cost effective solution (not to mention the time you’ll save in post).

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Noisy Bathroom Fan?

By Lee in guides

Over the years I’ve noticed that the bathroom fan at my house has been getting obnoxiously louder and louder. Since the bathroom fan was installed before we moved in, it was probably in need of some type of cleaning. At first, I became lazy and just kept the bathroom door open hoping it would ventilate the humid air out. A few weeks of this and the paint on the walls started peeling, big mistake. Finally I grabbed a ladder, popped off the vent cover, and removed the fan motor and blower wheel to try to clean it. After using a vacuum to suck out all the dust and dirt, I got in between the blower wheel vanes with a toothbrush. I replaced the fan motor and turned it back on. What I should have done was record a clip of the fan going before the cleaning so I could compare it to what it sounded like after. It was slightly quieter, but I was unsure. A week passed and I realized the noise level was pretty much the same, if not worse. Finally I caved and started looking up replacement fans online and also did some research to see if I could do a deeper cleaning (which was a long shot). Bear in mind I was able to date the unit to about 20 years old! Some places like Lowe’s or Home Depot had similar complete fan units for about $150-200. They also showed quick “How To” videos that outlined the replacement process and it did look fairly easy, but I didn’t want to shell out the cash. Since the rest of the fan still works (it’s a combo, fan and heater) I decided that I might be able to find a replacement motor. Here’s what the motor and wheel looked like before (but after my initial cleaning):

Old Motor and Wheel

I found that the manufacturer was a company named NuTone. Another popular brand of bathroom fans is Broan. Eventually one of the companies bought out the other, but I forget which one. Luckily on NuTone/Broan’s website finding the right replacement part was a breeze. I tried to order the parts online and found the motor was in stock, but sadly the blower wheel wasn’t. I could’ve purchased them separately, but I didn’t want to pay an additional shipping charge. I checked Amazon for replacement parts, but none of them were a direct fit. Some reviews said they had to reverse the motor (which I think requires desoldering the leads and soldering them backwards) and/or cut the motor shaft so that it would fit the enclosure properly. Since I didn’t want to do any modifications that may render a new part useless, I called NuTone’s 800 number. After half of a ring (guess they don’t get many calls), an old man answered. I explained I needed a part and he pretty much gave me another number to call. I asked if the prices were the same and he said they’d be the same if not cheaper. I was skeptical at first because 1) this new place was in Michigan 2) the number was to an individual parts “collector” so I didn’t know if the part was new 3) the guy didn’t have a website so I couldn’t check reviews about his business.

After calling Gary’s Electric in Lansing, MI (517) 484-9361, I found Gary to be helpful and very nice. He answered all my questions about the part and knew exactly what I needed. Somewhere in 2005 and after, NuTone started manufacturing the entire units differently so the parts weren’t interchangeable. He made sure I received the right one. One caveat was that Gary sent my package to the wrong address (thankfully the house number he sent it to did not exist, so UPS held the package at the hub), but he was quick to give me a tracking number when I called him back. Before you hang up the phone with him, have him verify all the information (I did this initially, but I think he typed in the address for UPS incorrectly) and have him call you with a tracking number when he ships it out. Anyway, I paid $45 which included tax and shipping, which made me very happy since the parts on Amazon were roughly $15-30 without shipping costs. Here’s a picture of the new vs old fan motor and blower wheel:

Old vs New Motors and Wheels

As you can see, there’s a significant amount of rust on the old motor. In the next photo, you can see the amount of rust on the shaft itself. This contributed to an unbalanced shaft, causing wobble and vibration which was causing all the noise. I was also able to move the shaft up and down, it had a fair amount of play in it.

Old Motor Shaft and Wheel

Here’s a shot of the new part. So shiny! Also, look how clean the vanes are on the blower wheel!

New Motor and Wheel

I fell in to the same trap as before as I didn’t record a clip of the noise before and after. Thankfully I can definitely tell the fan is quieter and my wife can also confirm it. I saved $150 by just replacing the motor instead of buying a completely new unit and struggling to install it. If you have a noisy bathroom fan, pop off the cover and see what you can find. A simple cleaning might do the trick, or you may need to tighten a few bolts. Please take extreme caution as you’re working with live electrical lines! Here are some tips:

  1. Record a quick clip of what the fan sounds like before you do any repairs, you’ll have solid proof if the repair worked (or didn’t)
  2. BEFORE YOU POP OFF THE COVER: TURN OFF THE CIRCUIT TO THE FAN (if you have to, the entire bathroom; in this instance, use a shop light and extension cord for illumination!)
  3. DOUBLE CHECK THE CIRCUIT IS OFF
  4. TRIPLE CHECK THE CIRCUIT IS OFF
  5. Make sure your ladder is on a sturdy surface
  6. Take pictures before you start unscrewing stuff or draw a diagram where wires and screws go
  7. Keep in mind of the position of the fan plug, it’s short for a reason
  8. Wear eye protection: stuff can and will fall into your eyes (think 20 year old dust bunnies, eeeww!)
  9. Excess moisture caught by the fan is often siphoned off into a drip tray on the fan enclosure, use a drop cloth or lay out some newspapers when disassembling the fan motor. You’ll see what I mean, just note this “moisture” has been stagnant for days/months/years it stinks like mold and can stain carpets, towels, clothing. Think of it as the drip trays or the oil catch that is installed in your stove’s range hood

I think there are more than enough tips for a successful repair or replacement. By reading this post, I am in no way responsible for any damages, injury, or deaths that may occur from performing the repair or replacement. Just throwing that out there! =)

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Dropbox

By Lee in guides

I work in the IT field. I’m a help desk tech so I get to do all the dirty work and fun stuff. I also get to “escalate” problems to the higher ups because I don’t have rights to do so and so (that in itself is a rant for another day; I mean like, Hey, I can totally do those things, what gives?!) Anyway one of the main problems we face as a public facing organization is sharing of information. Whenever you want to share info, you run the inherent risk of a security breach. This breach can include passing of sensitive/confidential/personal data. Recently someone wanted to send a file, 15mb. In this day and age, sharing of information should be as seamless as possible no? This file was A OK to be sent out, but a few things prevented it from happening.

  1. Our email attachment limit was set “too low”
  2. The email attachment limit for some of the recipients were “too low”
  3. The sender wanted to BCC about 35 people

We fixed #1 quite easily, but something happened down the road and we had to reboot our mailserver. #2 is out of our control. #3 is also kind of out of our control. When a message is sent to more than x amount (depends on the receiving mailserver) of people listed as BCC, most mail systems see it as spam and handle it accordingly. One solution we have for our users is a public FTP folder where they can drop stuff and provide credentials to the outside public. This works, but it’s slightly cumbersome as in the end, you’re providing support to the people outside who don’t “get” how to use it (even with clear and concise instructions provided for them). One solution which I think would alleviate all problems is the use of Dropbox. Dropbox allows you to share files quickly and seamlessly across multiple platforms and devices. Anyone with a Dropbox account can simply plop a file in the “Public” folder of their account and give a unique URL to outsiders for easy, secure, and fast access. Only those with the link can download the file. Once everyone has partaken in the download, simply trash the file or move it out of the public folder. Easy peasy.

The cooler part about Dropbox is that there are many many many more ways to use it to sync files across your devices. One example is syncing your Firefox browser profile across computers, let’s say your work computer and your home computer. Simply store your profile in your Dropbox and your favorites, add-ins, and settings are synced between the two. When you sign up, you get 2gb’s of space free, and if you install the client, you’re given an additional 250mb. If you refer more people and they in turn sign up and install the client, you’re given another 500mb for free! Since they have a client for most mobile device platforms out there (iOS, BlackBerry, Android, etc) you’ll always be within reach of your most important documents. Stuff is securely stored on their server. They even offer 30 days of version control (on the free plan, longer for a fee). If someone makes a change, the old file is archived for 30 days and is easily recoverable through their friendly web interface.

I’ve been using Dropbox for a few years now, and I love how easy it is to use as well as all the functionality it provides. There are a few dozen apps out there that utilize the “cloud storage” mentality like LastPass (a password manager) and Dropbox makes it easier to store and sync your password cache across platforms. A few years ago, I met the Dropbox CEO, Drew Houston, in line for the iPhone 4 in San Francisco and he’s a pretty chill guy. Drew and Dropbox were recently featured on Forbes Magazine, you know, the one Bruno Mars and Travie McCoy sing about in Billionaire… All in all, get with the program and sign up for Dropbox, it’ll change your life and the way you store stuff!

PS Some organizations choose to BLOCK Dropbox (and related services) because it’s a file storage type service so don’t go installing it at work without reading your company’s Computer Use Policy! So with that said, I’ve done my job. Haha…

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HTPC Done!

By Lee in guides

I finally finished the setup of my HTPC. Oh BOY is it sexy! I crammed everything into an Ikea BESTA cabinet. The cabinet has two 120mm fans installed on the rear for exhaust, and the bottom of the cabinet is cut out and I’ve installed a cheapo HVAC air filter in order to filter out dust. The result? A dust free, quiet HTPC setup! WOO HOOO!! The only thing I have left to buy is a new wireless keyboard and mouse. I’m thinking about getting the Logitech diNovo Mini ($120) or a non-backlit Lenovo Mini for half the cost at $60. Any suggestions? Here are a few pics of the setup.

Got Airflow?



Hidden like... Bin Laden was...It's all stuffed in the left cabinet




I couldn’t have done it without the help of this guy’s article on Lifehacker… I took a little bit of liberty with the setup, but in the end, the installations look the same. Oh for the Power and HDD activity LED’s, I placed them facing downwards towards the air filter. So when the lights are off, you can see a small hint of light, giving me peace of mind the HTPC is up and running, without having to open the case! Pretty sweet!

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Sony DLP HDTV Thermal Fuse Replacement

By Lee in guides

Just fixed a Sony KDF60XBR950 (aka 60″ Sony Grand WEGA)
Blinking lights on your TV? Won’t power on? I have the service manual and the pictures…
for FREE, unlike some stupid websites!
Coming soon…

Update:

Here’s the manual. Please note that if you break your TV or injure or cause injury to any person or property, I will not be held liable. By downloading the PDF and follow any of these instructions, you are doing so at your own risk.

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Web UI & uMonitor

By Lee in guides

Yesterday I posted two tips about how to download torrents remotely. Both tips had the same “con”: You can’t remotely stop, pause, or check status of your torrent. Well this follow-up post will show you how!

I’m pretty much glued to my iPhone. I jailbroke it so I can do what I want with it, I paid for it after all. Screw Apple for locking down a device you paid for, if I want it to do something, then I should easily be able to do what I want. Think of Apple as the most strict IT department EVAR. They’re protecting users from installing crap software and software that can potentially harm you. BUT their overzealous protection also keeps out the USEFUL software that I feel leads to productivity and efficiency.

Apple has banned any and all torrent related applications from the App Store. What is a developer to do? Well Claudio, after months of hard work, got shot down by Apple so he did the next best thing. He released it on Cydia. uMonitor is a great app for your iPhone that allows you to add torrents, pause, stop and start them. The only caveat are the fact that you need an iPhone or iPod Touch and secondly it needs to be jailbroken.

You CAN however, activate and use the Web UI for your torrent client WITHOUT using a torrent monitor like uMonitor. This will allow you to check on your torrents from anywhere you have a connection to the oh so wonderful internet.

The first part of this quick quide will show you how to setup the Web UI for uTorrent. Secondly I’ll briefly describe how to get uMonitor up and working.

uTorrent Web UI
I’m assuming you want/need the ability to check on your torrents from outside your network. Forwarding Ports on your router isn’t necessary if you’re simply checking from a different computer on your network. Also, if you’re using UPnP, you don’t have to forward the port, uTorrent will do it automatically.

  1. Launch uTorrent. Click Preferences > Web UI
  2. Check the box “Enable Web UI” and type a username and password
  3. Check the box “Alternative listening port”
  4. Enter the port number you wish to use, have it something you’ll remember, but don’t put anything listed on this list as it may be in use by another program on your system.
  5. Click Apply and then OK
  6. Launch a web browser and check to see if the UI shows up. You’ll need to type: http://localip:portnumber/gui
  7. You should be prompted for a username and password, enter it to gain access.
  8. Since the test above was only from INSIDE your network, we have only one thing left to do: Forward that Port.
  9. Type the ip address to your router. A common list of default router gateway ip addresses can be found by searching google. Linksys routers by default are set to 192.168.1.1
  10. Find your port forwarding section. This is usually listed as “Port Forward” in the Advanced sections of your router or under “Applications and Gaming”
  11. Since every router is different, you’re slightly on your own. All you have to do is enter the port number you chose, and enter the local ip address of the computer you’re running uTorrent on. Usually you specify “start” and “end” ports. Put your port number in both fields. You’ll also be asked about traffic type, just choose TCP.
  12. After you’re all set, you simply need to type the same thing you typed to test the connection into the browser of your phone or computer, except instead of using your local ip, you need to type in your real ip address: http://wanip:portnumber/gui
  13. You probably have a dynamic ip address, so signing up for a service like no-ip or dyndns will allow you to keep in sync with your ip by assigning yourself a hostname (sigh, another guide perhaps? OR you can use google to look it up hehe)

Phew that was a doozy. You still with me? We still have to setup uMonitor!

uMonitor

  1. On your iPhone/Touch, launch Cydia
  2. Tap on Search and look for uMonitor
  3. Install the package and launch uMonitor
  4. Tap on Settings and then tap the + sign
  5. Type a name for your connection
  6. Enter the address to your Web UI. This will either be your real ip address, or your hostname that I hinted that you should create =)
  7. Finally enter the port number, username, and your password that you setup.
  8. It might take awhile for the app to contact your Web UI, but as long as you were able to connect from outside your network, and you didn’t make any typo’s then you should see your torrents!

We’re done! YAY! Super Mobile torrenting FTW!
One of the great features that uMonitor allows is the fact that you can copy and paste the .torrent url’s to add them from the interface. Pretty slick!

uMonitor Interface

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Remote BitTorrent Tips 'n' Tricks

By Lee in guides

Ok so everyone and their momma knows how to download via torrent. I found a few cool tricks you can use to always be able to download on the go, or remotely.

First off, you need a torrent client. I use uTorrent. It’s lightweight yet it still packs a crapload of features. Secondly you need something to download and need to know where to find it. I use several torrent sites, each have their “strengths” in terms of availability of different genres of media. I always find myself at:

Now that you’ve got a proper BitTorrent client and an idea of what you want to download, let’s mosey onto the tips.

Tip #1 – RSS Feeds
Set up a RSS feed. Set up uTorrent to watch your feed and download automatically. Publish “.torrent” URL’s to your feed.

Pro’s: Can truly be used on the go. From anywhere you have access to the internet, you can add feeds. Quick copy/pasting involved after initial setup.
Con’s: RSS feed update interval is limited to 5 minutes at minimum. No control over download priority. No control of stopping download.

How To:

  1. Sign up for free at reactorfeed.com
  2. Login to the website with your new credentials – note on this, after signing up I got a message saying I’d be emailed a confirmation, well I never got it, so I just logged in with my new user/pass and it worked. Your mileage may vary.
  3. Click on “Add Feed”
  4. Give it a snappy name, like “torrentz”
  5. ReactorFeed will display your spiffy new url. Copy this URL for the next step.
  6. In uTorrent, click on the “Add RSS Feed” button.
  7. Paste your feed URL into the next prompt, and also create an alias, like “reactorfeed”. This is basically a name so you know where the content is coming from
  8. Check the “Automatically download all items published in feed” radio button.
    - Also, you might want to change “rss.update_interval” to a value of 5 in uTorrent’s advanced settings (Options > Prefrences > Advanced, Scroll to the bottom). Anything lower than 5 will be ignored. This will mean uTorrent will refresh your feed every 5 minutes and take appropriate action.
  9. Find torrent you like/want.
  10. Save the URL location (ends in “.torrent”) by Right-Clicking on the URL and selecting the option “Save Link As…” or “Save Location As…”
  11. In your new “torrentz” feed, Click on “Add Item”
  12. Paste the URL and click the “Add” button.
  13. You can either wait 5 minutes for uTorrent to refresh your feed, OR you can right-click on your feed in uTorrent and click on “Update Feed”
  14. Verify that uTorrent starts downloading your request

With all the steps laid out like that, this seems like a lot, but really it’s a few clicks at most…

Tip #2 – Dropbox
Set up a dropbox account. Set uTorrent to watch for torrent files inside your dropbox folder. Save .torrent files to your dropbox folder on the remote computer. When the .torrent file syncs to your home computer, uTorrent will automatically begin downloading.

Pro’s: As long as you can upload .torrent files to your dropbox, you’ll be able to download anywhere there’s a connection. Dropbox can be used for other types of files also. Nearly instantaneous sync of .torrents across computers.
Con’s: Can’t upload torrent files behind some firewalls to the dropbox website or sync is blocked by firewall. Dropbox is often blocked at organizations as “peer to peer sharing” or “online storage”. Can’t control stop/pause of torrent download.

How To:

  1. Get Dropbox
  2. In uTorrent: Options > Preferences > Directories. Check “Automatically load .torrents from” and point to your dropbox folder.
  3. You can also elect to delete .torrent files after they’ve been loaded (no real point of keeping them, unless the download fails for some reason)
  4. Browse for whatever you like and right-click and save .torrent FILES to your dropbox folder that is being “watched” by uTorrent. You can do this a number of ways:
    • install dropbox on your remote computer and save the torrent file to the folder
    • use the web interface on the dropbox website to upload the torrent file to the folder
  5. Verify uTorrent picks up the file and loads it

NOTE: There is difference between Tip #1 and Tip #2. With RSS feeds, you’re essentially feeding uTorrent the URL to the torrent file. Dropbox requires you to SAVE the .torrent FILE to the folder uTorrent is watching, not just the URL.

That’s pretty much all there is to it. Each tip has their pro’s and con’s. They are both relatively simple to setup whichever you choose. When I’m at work, I simply add items to my RSS feed since the dropbox website is blocked. I can do the same thing on the go through my iPhone. If I’m at a friend’s house, I can elect to do either. I mainly prefer using the RSS tip because there’s virtually no footprint on the computer you’re using. All you really need to do is copy/paste the URL to your feed.

Happy downloading! Oh, and remember: SEED!

Update: ReactorFeed allows you to set your feeds public or private. If you have any concern with privacy, you’d obviously check the private option. If you want to switch it at any time, you can, just click on the Edit button next to the feed you created. Make sure you update your RSS feed URL in uTorrent as it might change.

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