Better Battery Management for Windows Vista and 7

Cribbed right off the download page:

BattCursor shows the remaining battery charge in percent directly under the mouse cursor, and offers many other battery-saving features, including dim down the display brightness when inactive, automatically disable the Windows Sidebar, Aero Glass and much more.
And the best part: It costs nothing, worth seeing 😉

BattCursor (no relation to the Caped Crusader) gives you a free method of managing your laptop’s battery usage that is so much better than the built-in “management” tools in Windows, you’ll wonder why Microsoft didn’t steal it think of it themselves.

The author’s native language is apparently German, but the translation is perfectly understandable in the application itself, and only mildly odd on the Web site.


“Fix” your Windows 7 laptop battery problem

By this time, I am sure everyone has heard about the problems with Windows 7 “destroying” laptop batteries. I’m not going to go into the truth-or-fiction aspect, and I’m not interested in assigning blame; I just want to explain what you can do to fix it if you have this problem.

First, take a look at the Spanish language version of the fix. I suggest you open it in a new tab.

Now, here’s the English translation, courtesy of Google:

Spanish to English translation

Problems with laptop battery Windows 7: workaround
Many users of Windows 7 are taking warnings related to problems with their laptop battery when in fact there is no problem.
Microsoft is currently investigating this issue with hardware manufacturers. Apparently the problem is related to the BIOS and look for an immediate update of firmware.

Consider replacing your battery “Consider replacing your battery” is the annoying error message that appears frequently in Windows 7.

As Microsoft releases the final solution for this error, then a temporary solution is to disable the error:

– Open the Control Panel Device Manager or write in the search box on the Start menu
– Select the Device Manager
– Expand and select Battery with Battery control method for ACPI Microsoft
– Right click and select Disable

And there you have it!

Beer is good for you! Woohoo!

Beer: Now A Health Food!
Beer: Now A Health Food!
According to BBC News, drinking up to three ounces of alcohol daily can reduce a man’s risk of heart disease by 35%; drinking 3 to 11 shots gives a man a 50% lower risk of heart disease!

If you haven’t already yelled out to the Little Woman about this discovery, show her the full report!


Preview: Chinese PSP Go Knockoff

The Chinese are at it again, this time with a knockoff of the new PSP Go. This one plays 16-bit NES titles, MP3s, and AVIs, and if you want to see what it looks like “up close,” go down to your local game store and look at Sony’s PSP Go. Except for the color and the logos, it’s identical.

The PSP Faux

For under a C-note, it’s a pretty good deal. You can check it out here.

Review: Roku Player

Recently, the owners of a site I do webmastering for decided to give me a bonus; it was exactly enough for me to order the Roku Player, which I’ve been interested in for quite a while.

So off I went to the Web site, and placed my order, using PayPal as my preferred method of payment. Two weeks passed. No Roku. No email saying the order was delayed. No tracking number. Nada. Zip Zilch. And Amazon (mercifully) had not charged my PayPal account. A few emails back and forth, and I figured out that Amazon had totally dropped the ball on this order; somehow, it fell through the cracks, and Roku was never notified that I wanted their product. So, I canceled the Amazon order, and ordered direct from Roku (for exactly the same price, and the same shipping). Three days later, a smallish purple package arrived; not much thicker than a standard desktop encyclopedia (the dead-tree kind, not the desktop PC kind), it was lightweight and said “Roku” in large white letters.

I eagerly opened the box, of course. Now, I am not the kind of guy who thinks an “unboxing” is a major event (I rank it right up there with the “unbagging” of the groceries), so I didn’t bother to take pics of that. The contents, though, are pretty interesting. the most important ones have photos here.

First, here’s the Roku Player, the remote for the Roku Player, and a standard sheet of 8 1/2 x 11 printer paper for size comparison, sitting on a 1-inch square grid (my wife’s sewing pattern guide, if you must know).

Roku with Remote
Roku with Remote

As you can see, the Player is a mere five inches square, give or take a quarter-inch. Here you can see the back panel, with the plethora of connectors, and note that the Player is only about 2 1/2 inches thick. This is a very tiny device!

Roku Back Panel
Roku Back Panel

And the front panel:

Roku Front Panel
Roku Front Panel

Note that there is no power switch whatsoever. I’ll talk about that more shortly. I neglected to take pics of the power supply, but it’s a tiny “wall-wart” style unit, about the same as the one I use for charging my cell phone. Here’s a pic of it from the Roku Web site (you can buy replacements for the power supply and the remote for only about ten bucks each):

Roku Power Supply
Roku Power Supply

The player comes with the usual red/white/yellow RCA cables for lowest-possible-video-quality connections. I had purchased an HDMI cable in a separate order from Amazon, which they managed to handle correctly; actually, I got two cables, at 1 cent each, and $6.98 shipping for the two of them together, so I have an extra. There is also a fold-out “Getting Started” guide. The Web site also has a more detailed  User Guide. Anyhow, I finished getting everything out of the box except the superfluous RCA cables, hooked everything up (power, cat5e network cable, and HDMI to the TV), turned on the TV, and was rewarded with a fast system software update to the Roku box. At some point, I think it asked me if I was going to use a wired or wireless connection (Wifi is built in, but I prefer my high-speed wired network). Anyhow, after the software update, the player rebooted itself, and asked what kind of TV I have – HDTV, old-school 4:3, or 16:9 anamorphic, if your widescreen TV doesn’t support 720p video. This can be changed later if you get a new TV, of course.

Finally, you’ll be asked which service you want to use. Right now (September 2009), Netflix Watch Instantly, Amazon Video on Demand, and are supported. When more services are added, they’ll show up after your automatic software update. I chose Netflix, because while I have an Amazon account, I never use the VOD option; and I am about as interested in as I am in having my chest waxed.

The first question you’ll be asked after selecting your service boils down to, “do you already have an account, or do you want to open a trial account?” I have a Netflix account, so a code was generated which I had to put into a Web page using my PC. Simple enough, I have a PC in the entertainment center; here is a pic showing the Roku Player, a DVD clamshell case for size comparison, and the humongous Dell PC all together:

Roku, DVD case, and Dell PC
Roku, DVD case, and Dell PC

By the time I had the TV switched back to the Roku Player, it was showing my Netflix Watch Instantly queue. I selected an episode of “The IT Crowd,” waited a couple of seconds while Netflix determined my Internet connection quality (which vastly exceeds the 4 Mbps required for HD streaming; I have 20 Mbps FiOS), and was enjoying a great HD comedy series almost immediately. Even better, the Roku Player remembers where you are in the queue, so if you are watching a series, you can come back to the next episode the next time you feel like watching it; no need to scroll through the queue if you haven’t watched something else in the same queue in the meantime.

Now, about that no power switch thing: The Roku Player goes into deep sleep mode after a few minutes of no activity. The power light (the only visible sign of life on the front panel) goes off. Even at the maximum possible power draw from the wall-wart, it’s under 7 watts, so you’re not going to save a lot, but it’s nice to know that Roku is as “green” as humanly possible.

Bottom line: If you have a good, solid, fast Internet connection, and your monthly download bandwidth is uncapped, and you want great HDTV streaming video, the Roku Player is a great piece of equipment. For me, it’s the best hundred bucks I’ve ever spent on an electronic entertainment device.

UPDATE: 1 December 2009
Last month, Roku added 10 more channels to the available lineup. You can read about them at Roku’s site. However, that’s not what I want to talk about now. Right now, I feel I should give you two warnings: First warning: Roku’s tech support is pathetically bad. As is normal for anything tech-related nowadays, the “technicians” are very obviously in India; that would be OK, if they were actually competent to answer questions, but they are not. Email support is pretty much non-existent; they never actually address any questions you ask them. The toll-free support line is simply some guy reading a script (also, unfortunately, quite normal in the industry), which is bad enough, but even after you tell him you have already done several of the obvious steps, like disconnecting the power, waiting a few minutes, and reconnecting it, he will read that question off the script and ask you again. I’ve called several times, and this is not just one guy; apparently it is company policy to assume all customers are liars and idiots. And that brings me to the Second Warning: Under no circumstances should you give an email address to Roku if you don’t want spam at that address. Mind you, it’s not a lot of spam, but Roku is now trying to sell me the exact same box I already have, via “email marketing” (also known as “unsolicited bulk email,” or “spam” to normal people). I get enough spam, as I am sure everyone else does; I don’t need more from Roku, especially when it’s such brain-dead content.

I’m still glad I bought the device, but I will forever rue the day I let Roku know my email address.

UPDATE: 21 December 2009
Belated report on the firmware update: As it turns out, the “factory default reset” which was advised by Roku’s India-based “customer support” was not merely unnecessary, it was counter-productive, since I had to re-associate my Roku player with my Netflix and Amazon VOD accounts afterward, and still didn’t get the update. I found out that it was unnecessary by reading through the Roku customer forums for a couple of hours, until I discovered a post that claimed the update could be forced to happen by trying it twice within 20 seconds. I tried it, and viola!

UPDATE: 22 July 2010 Since December, Roku has continued to add channels, and my aggravation has decreased massively. There are almost enough channels now to allow me to dump my satellite TV provider (which I’m stuck with until the end of the contract in November anyhow), including among others: Revision 3, Flickr, MediaFly, TwitTV, Pandora, and a plethora of others. There is also at least one app available that lets you stream your own media – video, photos, and music – from a home server to the Roku box so you don’t have to have a noisy (and usually unattractive) PC in the same room with the TV. I’m running MyMedia on my Windows Home Server and watching my video collection without bothering to get up and find the DVD. So at this point, the Roku HD player is back on my “must have” list.

UPDATE: 31 August 2010 As of now, you can get the Roku HD (the model I reviewed here) for less than $70, with free shipping, AND with a $10 gift card for Amazon Video On Demand. I am seriously considering getting a second one. I’m not sure why yet.

And the “technical support” is still abysmal; no matter what the problem is, the drones in Mumbai still tell you to perform a factory reset. The *correct* answer is usually the same as for any PC – disconnect power, wait a minute or two, reconnect power. In other words, reboot. Or as my friends on “The I.T. Crowd” like to say, “Have you tried turning it off and turning it back on again?”

The Germophobe’s Guide to ‘Con Cosplay

In spite of the reputation of the geek as a solitary creature, there are times when we must gather en masse at various conventions.  We are not content to meet in groups of 3 or 4. No! We must pack thousands of us into a hot, crowded convention center.  Geeks from all over flock to these gatherings and, as a result, the likelihood for the passing of germs is high.

Rare is the person who comes away from a ‘con unscathed.  In light of the recent events regarding PAX and the presence of an uninvited guest (Swine Flu), I thought the topic should be discussed. Sure, you could walk around in a surgical mask and a pair of latex gloves to protect yourselves from germs, but the ‘con is the perfect venue to be a bit more creative.  I’ve compiled a list of the top 5 costume genres you can use to keep other peoples’ germs at bay.

1. Ninja/Power Ranger/Snake Eyes/ Cobra Commander

The key feature here is some type of cloth facial covering that could easily hide a surgical mask and make you look quite dapper as well.  The requisite pair of gloves also protects your hands from germy game demos.  All these costumes are fairly readily available from various costume retailers or are simple enough to put together yourself.

2. Storm Trooper/Darth Vader/ Boba Fett

Again with this genre is the mask to hide a less aesthetically surgical one, but this time they are hard masks.  Plus, the odd sound your voice will make coming through the various layers will only serve to enhance the cosplay experience. And, again, the gloves are part of the outfit.  These, however, are probably better for the more die hard fan, as purchasing one or making one yourself can be quite daunting.

3. Steam Punk/WWII Soldier/Psycho Mantis from MGS

The big draw here: Gas mask.  Rather than use a fake one, get a real mask and outfit it with a couple of filters rated to keep biological microbes and you’ll be all set. All in all, it’s fairly simple to put together a decent outfit from thrift or army surplus stores. A pair of thin leather gloves will make button mashing easier and safer.

4. Transformer/Gundam

While certainly not the easiest costume to move around in, you could probably hide an entire respiration system within a good cardboard robot.  Make sure to bring a friend, though.  Maneuvering by yourself could prove quite hazardous.

5. Mascot-style Characters

While this is certainly something I would never encourage, there’s certainly no better way to keep everyone away from you than by dressing up as a terrifying large headed stuffed animal.

I hope that now before you head off to your next convention that you’ll remember what you’ve learned here and will take the necessary, geeky precautions.

Netflix Watch Instantly Review: 30-Second Bunnies Theater

Got a minute? Watch a couple of movies!

So it’s Monday, Labor Day, around nine PM, and I don’t feel like going to bed yet. So I asked the wife, “Want to watch a movie?” She says, “Do we have time?” “Sure!” I reply, “We can watch a dozen or so!”

So, during the next hour, we watched Freddy vs. Jason, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Scream, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Pulp Fiction, Highlander, The Big Chill, Night of the Living Dead, Titanic, The Shining, It’s A Wonderful Life, The Exorcist, Alien, Jaws, War of the Worlds, Star Wars, King King, and Rocky.

“How is that possible in just one hour?” I hear you wondering. Well, we watched the 30-second Bunnies Theater condensed versions of all of those movies (which actually are closer to a minute long each). They are all rated “AC” for “Adult Content,” and I would not recommend them for young children, but honestly, of the actual movies I have seen versus the 30-second Bunnies version, I would have to say the the bunnies did it better; not “just as well,” but better!

To quote from the Netflix synopsis: “If you don’t have two hours to watch your favorite movie, get the 30-second, laugh-out-loud version here, acted out by adorable animated bunnies. Jennifer Shiman created this award-winning series and she, along with Douglas McInnes, provide the voices.”

So, to make this review as condensed as the 30-second Bunnies Theater, I’ll cut it short here, and just tell you that there are 3 seasons available on Netflix Watch Instantly, and I look forward to watching all of Season 3 tonight! Don’t wait: Get your bunnies on!

Breaking the cable habit

Why, you might ask, would this be a suitable topic?  Because it’s the technology that we have now that inspires this post.  I believe we’ve got a confluence of things occurring right now that make it entirely plausible for a reasonably tech-savvy individual to completely replace their cable box:

  1. Netflix:  missed your favorite show?  Who cares, just queue up the season DVDs to be mailed (or, if you’re lucky, it’s available to watch immediately)
  2. Hulu:  Why not just stream the show for free?  Hulu will even let you build up a queue complete with subscriptions
  3. Over-the-air HDTV:  pull in those local channels, for free, using a simple antenna and your fancy new flat-screen (or an older TV with a converter box)
  4. BitTorrent:  plenty of ways to find espisodes of shows for download as well, though this is, at best, a bit of a grey area when it comes to the legality.
  5. Digital stores (Amazon/iTunes/etc):  just purchase your favorite episodes to watch at your leisure

Now, admittedly, a lot of these require you to have high-speed internet (any digital download or streaming) and/or pay (Netflix, digital purchases), but the options are varied.   However, DSL is reasonably priced ($20-30/month); slap a Netflix subscription on top of that for another $15 or so, and you’re still coming out cheaper than anything the cable company (well, that I’ve seen from Comcast) has to offer – plus you’ve got high-speed internet to boot.

I guess what remains to be seen is how the cable companies will adapt to the new technology.  Yes, cable internet is most likely the fastest that most people can get ahold of (unless they’re in a FIOS market), but that doesn’t give you any discounts on your cable bill.  Will the Comcast’s of the world fight back against the pressure of free HD and online programming?  Only time will tell, but I’m not holding my breath.

Movie Review: Repo! The Genetic Opera

In high school, I was a huge theater nerd.  I was big into musicals of all shapes and sizes. I watched the Tony Awards every year and picked up all the new soundtracks for just about everything that showed up during that time. In spite of that, Repo! The Genetic Opera still manages to be like nothing I’ve ever seen before.  It reminds me of Rocky Horror and Sweeney Todd while not being derivative.  It’s gritty. It’s gory. The cinematography is along the lines of highly stylized films like Sin City. It’s a star-studded affair, pulling from both actors and musicians to put together an ensemble cast who pulls off the difficult medium of the film musical beautifully. The art direction and score are dark and exciting.

Repo! takes place in the not-so-distant future.  After a devastating epidemic of organ failure that wipes out millions, GeneCo, a pharmaceutical company, and its founder Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino) come to the rescue of the destitute, offering organ transplants on a payment plan. Because these organ transplants are so affordable, they soon become more than just a necessity. They become the latest fashion trend. “It’s what’s on the inside that counts.”  In addition, GeneCo releases Zydrate, a powerful and highly addictive painkiller for dealing with the trauma of organ transplant. With the increase in frivolous organ transplants, there are eventually those who cannot keep up with their payments. To combat those who fall behind, Largo gets government approval for the creation of Repo Men, assassins who hunt down those who owe and take back what that cannot pay for.  In addition, to keep up with the demand for Zydrate, an underground market develops, selling a lesser version of the drug extracted from the dead.  Largo learns that he has an incurable disease and worries about finding an heir to his vast empire; his three children (Paris Hilton, Bill Moseley, and Ogre) regularly engage in less than savory activities and are a complete embarrassment to him. In the midst of all this is Shilo (Alexa Vega) who is stricken with a blood disorder and kept confined to her room by her overprotective father, Nathan (Anthony Stewart Head).  She longs to be a part of the outside world. When Shilo’s life collides with that of Largo and Blind Mag (Sarah Brightman), the voice of GeneCo, everything is turned upside down.

One of the most fascinating and elements of this movie is the use of comic panels for plot exposition.  Rather than flashback or lengthy explanations, the characters’ pasts are divulged through highly stylized comic panels, some animated, some not.  It’s extremely effective and ties in well with the equally stylized cinematic direction.

The score is reminiscent of Rent, Rocky Horror, and Sweeney Todd; there are a lot of power chords and heavy drum beats. As with any good musical, you definitely find yourself humming bits of the songs even after one viewing. One of my few complaints about the music is that it seemed in a few places to try a bit to hard to make itself an opera; there were a few songs that fell flat and seemed to exist purely to avoid dialogue. Even those songs, though, are well performed.  Unlike some musical films of late, there weren’t any actors picked solely for their star power hoping the audience would ignore their less than stellar singing.

There are a couple of caveats that I would be remiss if I didn’t mention. First, if you do not like musicals, chances are you will not like this movie.  While it isn’t technically an opera, it’s very much more song than dialogue.  There’s really no getting around that. Secondly, if you have a problem with blood and gore, you may very well have a hard time watching this. This movie is graphic and definitely not for the faint of heart.  While the blood and gore tends towards the more ridiculous and outlandish, there are parts that are still tough to take. It is, after all, a story involving the repossession of internal organs… and they’re not afraid to show it.

If you can get past those two points, I highly recommend this film. The story, cast, art direction, and score all work to create a really great and unique movie experience.

Learning to Love Sci-fi

Do girls and Sci-fi go together?

When I think of Sci-fi, the same picture always pops into my head.  A geeky guy with thick, dark-rimmed glasses sitting in a room filled with posters of Albert Einstein, Godzilla, the periodic table and such, holding a dinosaur in one hand a computer mouse in the other. Not a scene most women would picture themselves in, myself included. But I am amazed at how many of my guy friends expect me to know everything there is to know about each and every Sci-fi show, movie, book and television program out there. I’ll admit that I do enjoy the occasional show on the Sci-fi channel (now SyFy), but I do not, however, feel the need to know every character’s name, occupation, family history or tag line.

My perception of the Sci-Fi genre changed in May, when my friend invited me to see the new Star Trek film with him. After begging him to ask someone else, he offered to buy my ticket and snacks. I figured at the worst, I would have wasted a couple of hours of my time. At best, I would get to spend time with my friend and snack on some irresistible movie popcorn. Walking into the auditorium, I could sense excitement in the air. Maybe it was because I was one of the few women in the audience. My mind instantly flashed back to the nerd in the room scene, but I figured I could stick it out for my friend’s sake. I mean, how bad could it really be? The best thing about watching a movie with a room full of geeks is silence. This is pure movie enjoyment at its best.

The movie started with a bang and I found myself wrapped up in the plot immediately. Me. A girl.  As a matter of fact, I was captivated from the moment the movie started and found myself crying within the first 5 minutes. After a few looks from the nerds around me, I quietly excused myself, headed to the restroom and cleaned myself up. Intact once again, I headed back to the auditorium ASAP, determined not to miss another second. Although there were times that everyone was laughing except me (I had no clue what the jokes were referring to never having watched any of the Star Trek series), I was pleasantly surprised at how much I truly enjoyed the movie. It didn’t hurt that the movie featured some major eye candy. Hubba, hubba, hubba.  I liked it so much in fact, that I took my friend to the drive-in a few weeks later to watch it again – my treat this time.

So, from time to time, I think I’ll give my friend a break. He’s a great guy and Sci-fi isn’t really all that bad. I now have a greater appreciation for those who love it and I’m beginning to understand why. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll be able call myself a Sci-fi geek.  For right now, I’ll settle for buying my very own copy of Star Trek when it hits the stores on November 17th. Hope to see you there!

Learning to Love Sci-fi

Twitter Down: DDoS Attack

Is Twitter Down? The answer is YES. as of 10:30 AM EST on Thursday August 6, 2009

According to twitter’s status page they are in the midst of fighting off a Denial Of Service Attack.

What is a DDoS Attack you may ask.

Well according to Wikipedia:

A denial-of-service attack (DoS attack) or distributed denial-of-service attack (DDoS attack) is an attempt to make a computer resource unavailable to its intended users. Although the means to carry out, motives for, and targets of a DoS attack may vary, it generally consists of the concerted efforts of a person or persons to prevent an Internet site or service from functioning efficiently or at all, temporarily or indefinitely. Perpetrators of DoS attacks typically target sites or services hosted on high-profile web servers such as banks, credit card payment gateways, and even root nameservers.

So there you have it.  I’ll let you know more when I know more.

Update: It appears Twitter is back up for the moment. 11:48 EST

They’re using lasers, Captain!

Bowhunting seems like an unlikely sport in which to find gadgets that were science fiction just a short time ago, but believe it or not, some bowhunters in Oregon have come up with an innovation that looks like something out of Universal Soldier.


The Neverguess Rangefinder is an arm-worm laser rangefinder for bowhunters. This is no toy; in addition to the usual line-of-sight distance to the target, this gadget also has a “tilt sensor” so it can accurately calculate true horizontal distance. What does that mean? Remember your geometry lessons from High School; in the diagram, the slant height in red is longer than the true horizontal distance (in blue).


While the difference means very little to non-hunters, any marksman will tell you that the time-of-flight of any missile, be it a hurled rock, an arrow, or a bullet, is dependent almost entirely on the true horizontal distance traveled; having that figure known makes a one-shot, one-kill out come much more likely.

In addition to the gee-whiz factor of having a laser on your arm, the Neverguess Rangefinder is lightweight (16 ounces, or just 448 grams), waterproof, durable (the case is anodized camo aluminium, not painted; most of the internal parts are stainless, and the armguard/armmount is reinforced camo Cordura and velcro) and, because it mounts to your arm rather than the bow, it’s legal in all US States.

The calibration of each unit is done on a high-tech calibration stand using more lasers, and assembly is accomplished right here in the USA using high-tech adhesives and tools that would make Dr. Who envious (no, they don’t use a sonic screwdriver – yet).

Not only is this a geeky gadget, the price has just been reduced a full 25 percent.

The guys have promised me some super-geeky tech info and a tour of the assembly plant later today, so check back soon for more pics and some numbers.

UPDATE: Well, I wanted pics of the calibration bench, but it turns out that the exact method used now is a closely-guarded trade secret, so we can’t show it. I can tell you the old method: A retro-reflective target is set up at a measured distance from the rangefinder, and then the technician “dials in” the correct range. This is fairly slow and pretty labor-intensive, which is why the new bench is such a hush-hush big deal.

Here are some technical facts and figures:

  • The laser diode operates at 905nm (near infrared, or “NIR”). It’s invisible to humans and animals, although that teacher you had in Third Grade who could see through the wall of the cloak room when you were breaking the rules  might be able to detect it.
  • Optics are designed and anti-reflective coated specifically for the laser.
  • Body is camo anodized, which actually “leeches” the picture into the aluminum, then sealed.
  • The adhesive used for construction and waterproofing is cured using an ultraviolet lamp.
  • Every time the button (which is on the hunter’s fingertip, at the end of the wire seen in the photo up top) is pressed, the rangefinder actuates 64 times (at approx 900 MHz), then evaluates the statistics of the return hits in order to filter out brush, or other accidental hits. In the event of a statistical tie, the computer will prefer the further target.
  • The display automatically brightens/dims based on ambient light conditions.

Source: Scott Lawson by way of

Full disclosure: Icesnake is one of the Webmasters for in addition to his assorted other hobbies and passtimes.