Root your Asus HD7 Now

I couldn't find complete, straight-forward instructions for rooting my new Asus tablet, so I wrote this article.

Excellent Instructions for Using a Raspberry Pi as a Web Kiosk

I wrote this article as a result of not being able to find clear instructions on who to lock down a web kiosk I built with a Raspberry Pi computer. Learn from my Experience.

ICVerify: All your Woes Easily Solved

This is an explaination of how I cured myself of the ICVerify blues.

10 Must Know Topics for Using PowerPoint as Digital Signage

Learn from my years of usng PowerPoint as Inexpensive Digital Signage. Must Know Topics!

ICVerify “Cannot Start Program” error and Set File

Tutorial on fixing Cannot Start Program Error in ICVerify 4.

9/4/13

Microsoft Office 2013: To-Do / Calendar Bar Missing Functionality

I just recently started using Office 2013 and have some things to which I must get accustomed.

However, I felt that I needed to share this discovery as there seems to be much aggravation from the user base concerning this topic.

The almighty To-Do and Appointment Bar has been crippled and been replaced by a highly annoying Peeks functionality. Peeks allows you to pick a day and see what's going on. Much different than seeing your next 5 or so days worth of appointments onscreen next to your email.

Thanks to  and this blog post covering the topic. She informed me of an Appointment and to Do Addin from gamosoft on Codeplex.

It brings back the functionality I have vehemently been trying to find in this new version.

There are many other new features which lead to annoyances in Office 2013. So many in fact, my current recommendation is to stick with 2010 for long time users of the office suite.

Even so, the did remove the annoying suggested contacts feature in 2013.  Click to see a full list of deprecations in Office 2013.

Leave a comment with your thoughts on Office 2010 versus 2013.

8/16/13

How to Root your Asus Memo HD 7, TF300T, M173x



I received a Asus Memo HD 7 today. I did this from a Windows 7 Machine, so I will be writing from that perspective. I couldn't find an exact set of instructions from start to finish for this, so I wanted to whip one up.

Step 1: Enable USB Debugging on your ASUS HD 7
  • Navigate to Settings > About Tablet
  • Then tap 7 times on the Build Number section.
    • You will see it say "You are now a developer!”
  • Now navigate to Settings > Developer Options > Debugging > USB Debugging
  • Press to enable
Step 2: Attach Tablet to PC
  • Use the included USB cable to hook up the tablet to your PC
  • Let windows find the drivers for it. It may take a few minutes, but it should work fine.
Step 3: Rooting the Device
  • Download MotoChopper
  • Extract zip file
  • Run the run.bat file that is included
  • When it hangs, go to your tablet and Disagree to let Google check your installed apps.
  • MotoChopper should continue
  • It will then ask you to press any key to reboot and root
Step 4: Enjoy your rooted device
I will be using this tablet for a single function in an industrial setting. I needed to root this only to install all the crapware. I did not need to install a custom ROM.

If you want to install CyanogenMod, go here to get the download, then follow the instructions on the Wiki.

If you need a good Micro-SD card for the device, I highly recommend the SanDisk Extreme series. Also, if you are looking for a good case, start here.

References:
http://forum.xda-developers.com/showpost.php?p=40129120&postcount=1

8/15/13

Ultimate How To: Raspberry Pi Web Kiosk - Simple, Complete, and Clear Instructions



Raspberry Pi clear caseThis project came about as a need to have a web portal for our HR software installed in our break rooms. I needed a low budget, easy to deploy solution that anyone can use. The goals for the project were to have a web browser that allowed user access to only a few websites, a locked down browser, and an inability to access the OS. There are a ton of mini-PC's available at a wide array of prices. As a Windows admin, I was initially considering Windows 7 Pro in an effort to minimize OS creep across my systems. After examining the available mini-computers, I discovered that by the time I had a viable Windows 7 machine, I was looking at $350 or more minimum for the completed system hardware without the Windows license. The Android machines all had touch screen interfaces or seemed like they may be more of a hassle to work with than I'd like. I kept coming back to the Raspberry Pi. I ended up purchasing the following:

Hardware for the project:

Software for the Project:
The CanaKit comes with a pre-loaded SD card that includes the same version of Debian Wheezy that I used for this project.  However, in an effort to get a little more speed out of the system, I used the 95MB/s Sandisk extreme listed above. It seemed to help, but I did not bench mark it beyond observation. 

Anyway, lets get down to building a Raspberry Pi Web Kiosk.

Step 0: Get all of the hardware.
Step 1: Get all of the software.
Step 2: Assemble all your pieces. No need to insert SD card or Power cord at this point.
Step 3: Unzip the Raspbian package
Step 4: Use Win Disk Imager to write the image to the SD Card
Step 5: Insert SD card into Raspberry Pi
Step 6: Plug in your Raspberry Pi
Step 7: You will use the config tool screen to do the following:

  • Expand File System
  • Change Password (to something you can remember)
  • Change Hostname (to something you can remember)
  • Enable Boot to Desktop
  • Define Keyboard Layout (select Type, Language, Layout, No to Alt-G, No to Compose, No to Ctrl-Alt-Backspace)
  • Advanced > Enable SSH (if you want to be able to remote into it)
  • Advanced > Overclock to Medium
    • Notes on overclocking: High and turbo both corrupted SD cards. The Turbo issue is documented.
  • Finish to reboot
Step 8: Changing the display configuration:

Once the desktop boots, launch the terminal window
If your display loaded properly, skip this step. Otherwise, we are going to customize the monitor settings. Do that by entering the following command.

sudo nano /boot/config.txt

The display I am using for this project is 24 inches. It loaded with black bars around the edges. For me I had to uncomment the overscan section and change the values to -50.  I also uncommented hdmi_group=1 and changed hdmi_mode to equal 31. This sets it to 1080p. As a note, I turned overscan on, but it didn't change anything. 

Step 9: Installing the programs we need:

You have to love how easy it is to install program son Linux.  These are the commands to upgrade apt-get to the current version as well as download and install Chromium, x11-server-utils, and unclutter.

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install chromium x11-xserver-utils unclutter jwhois dnsutils

Step 10: Setting up the Web Kiosk portion
The goal here is to get the Raspberry Pi to boot into Chromium which is displaying your desired web page. You'll need to edit the Auto start script to get this to work. To do this, enter the following command:

sudo nano /etc/xdg/lxsession/LXDE/autostart

Add a # before @xscreensaver to comment out (turn off) the screen saver and a # in front of the @lxpanel line.
add the following lines:
@xset s off
@xset -dpms
@xset s noblank
@chromium --kiosk http://yoursitehere
@xmodmap -e "pointer = 1 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2"

Step 11: Disable keyboard shortcuts
Next we need to edit  ~/.config/openbox/lxde-rc.xml
You can either use nano or navigate to it through the file manager and use Leafpad. The editing is extensive, so I preferred Leafpad.

Don't forget to back this file up in case you screw it up.

Find the sections <Desktop>
Change <number> from 2 to 1
Remove the line that is <name>2</name>

Navigate to the Keybindings section.

Here we will be removing all the keyboard shortcuts.  You can also download my pre-configured file.
I changed all keybindings, except Alt-F4, to not work. 
I simply copy and pasted over the existing <action> content in all keybindings using this line:

<action name="Execute"><command>false</command></action> 

I also added Chromium shortcuts so I could null them out. There are about 30-40 of them. See the pre-configured file for the full list. 

I left Alt-F4 active so that if you made a typo it would be easy to exit Chromium and edit the file.

Step 12: Disabling Right Click in Raspbian / Debian
The xmodmap command in to the autostart file disables right click by remapping the middle and right buttons to non-existent keys (assuming you have a 3 button mouse)

Even so, by editing /etc/xdg/openbox/menu.xml and clearing out all the items between the <menu> tags, you can eliminate the desktop context right click menu if you so desire.  I could find no way, aside from xmodmap, to disable right click on desktop icons or in Chromium. Ultimately, I could get away with disable the right click key. If you know how to suppress the right click menus or selectively define them, please let me know with a comment below.

You also already disable the menu bar by commenting out the lxpanel in the auto start script. If you need that, go remove the # sign from in front of lxpanel line in the auto start script.

I tried wiping out the bindings in the lxde-rc.xml file to eliminate right click, but it didn't make a difference. The xmodmap remapping was the only way to completely disable right click altogether.

If you have a solution, please comment below.

Step 13: Disabling all web pages but a few select ones
I am going to discuss my attempt to use iptables to do this in the next paragraph so that someone out there can tell me what I was doing wrong.  However, I ended up downloading and installing Whitelist for Chrome. Then selecting the checkbox to deny all sites except approved ones. Then I added the few sites I needed.

Now, the reason you had dnsutils and jwhois in your apt-get command earlier is so that we could figure out which ip address you needed to add to the iptables. I couldn't this to work. I also couldn't get whois to work as it kept telling me "command not found." That is where jwhois comes in.

I had 3 static web pages that I wanted to approve. I used the following iptable commands:
 sudo iptables -A INPUT -i eth0 -s <destination-ip-address1>/32 -m state --state RELATED,ESTABLISHED -j ACCEPT
sudo iptables -A INPUT -i eth0 -s <destination-ip-address2>/32 -m state --state RELATED,ESTABLISHED -j ACCEPT
sudo iptables -A INPUT -i eth0 -s <destination-ip-address3>/32 -m state --state RELATED,ESTABLISHED -j ACCEPT
Sudo iptables -A INPUT -p all --destination xyz.com -m state --state RELATED,ESTABLISHED -i eth0 -j ACCEPT
sudo iptables -A INPUT -p all --destination 0/0 -m state --state NEW -i eth0 -j DROP

iptables-save > /etc/iptables.conf
sudo nano /etc/rc.local then add the line iptables-restore < /etc/iptables.cong

Step 14: Install Flash player for Chromium (if you need it)
There are lots of forums on how to install flash for Chromium.  All the advice there didn't help me. The forums basically said you should be able to type sudo apt-get install flashplugin-nonfree  and if you got an error you needed to update your install location repositories.

I just googled adobe flash, clicked on the get flash player now button, downloaded the tarball, extracted it, and moved libflashplayer.so to /usr/lib/chromium/plugins. Didn't see that advice in any forums, so I wanted to share it with you.

Other notes:
  1. To get back to the Raspi configuration menu just type: sudo raspi-config
  2. If you use Vim to edit files, you can overwrite a read-only file by using this command: :w !sudo tee %
  3. Turbo mode will corrupt our SD card (I had it happen in High mode also)
  4. To backup your image, use Win32DiskImg and click read instead of write.
  5. How to create a desktop icon that will launch google in chromium:
    1. I couldn't find this exact instruction anywhere else either, so I hope it helps:
      1. Fire up your command line and type: sudo nano /home/pi/Desktop/google.desktop
      2. In the file, type the following:
                                 [Desktop Entry]
                                 Type=Application
                                 Name=Google Shortcut
                                 Comment=Launches Google in Chromium
                                 Icon=location of a google icon you saved somewhere
                                 Exec=/usr/bin/chromium http://www.google.com
                         3. Press ctrl+x to begin exit, select Y to Save.
                         4. File will appear on your desktop.
                        












7/17/13

ICVerify 4 Troubleshooting: Solve all your problems at last

Many of you stop by this site for the article on First Data's ICVerify 4 (and lower versions) program. If you are like me, this program is unstable on operating systems above Windows XP. Getting it to run properly on on Windows 7 was difficult. Getting it to run stable was almost impossible. The latest verision I worked with was 4.2.1. I went to the First Data website for ICVerify to make sure there wasn't a much newer version before I wrote this article. I found that the version listed is 4.0.2 and the download links have been disabled.

This leads me to believe ICVerify is discontinued. I did find a site selling 5.7, but I couldn't get ahold of their customer service and the product cover looked like the 4.0.2 version.

Also, if you have called support about ICVerify, you know it is abysmal.

If you have reached the end of your wits and want to get rid of ICVerify but keep First Data as your payment processor, call your account rep about thier web based e4 gateway product. It does everything ICVerify did, but in an easy to manage SAAS web environment. It is very cheap. Like $15 dollars a month cheap for unlimited users.

At that cost, it is insainely easy to justify the subscription price. Your support costs for ICVerify have to be higher than that each day.

I want to say that I am offering this information as a way to ease your ICVerify headaches. I do not receive any kickbacks from First Data to discuss their products (I am willing though!).

Checkout their video demo

If you are stuck with ICVerify, amybe some of my other articles will help you:
If you need a replacement disk, you can still find them here.

Leave a comment if this helps you out.

7/8/13

10 Things to Know About Using PowerPoint for Inexpensive Digital Signage

Powerpoint software image
This article is a follow-up to my two previous posts on PricelessGeek.com about using PowerPoint as Digital Signage. My original article discusses the kickoff of my experience with the topic and the second article discusses the knowledge gained from using and expanding my original setup over two and a half years.  Originally, my PowerPoint as a Digital Signage solution was meant to be temporary until we purchased a robust content system such as TightRope.  However, PowerPoint turned out to be a highly cost effective method for displaying our content.  In particular, PowerPoint 2010, is robust enough to do everything we require of our display boards. 

Respectively, we are not doing anything complicated.  We basically have one topic per slide, are not using video, and only have stats that need to be updated once a day. We are also replicating the message across many screens.  That being said, if your display needs are similar and you have a computer and a TV, you may be able to get your signage running for practically nothing.  What follows is a top 10 list of knowledge areas to consider before you finalize your setup. I am writing this with two assumptions in mind. The first is that the reader is very budget sensitive. My expectations are that the readers of this article want digital signage in the price range of zero to $3000. Secondly, that most readers will have a spare computer, an Office 2010 license (or just PowerPoint), and a spare TV of 32 inches or larger laying around.  Even so, I will discuss hardware choices, prices, and occasionally mention pricier hardware for expansion reasons. 


1.) Know your content

As I mentioned previously, our content is relatively simple. If you want to display live statistics, live TV, or a live web page you may want to consider using some other solution.  There are some plugins for PowerPoint that let you display those things, but my experience was that your overall presentation performance suffered as a result. 

Knowing what you want to display will very much determine most of your digital signage specifications.  Moving text, pictures, and data from other Office applications, such as Excel, can all be easily integrated into a PowerPoint Presentation.  You can also easily integrate video, timings, narration, and anything else PowerPoint is capable of into your presentation as long as you know how to do it in PowerPoint.  Knowing PowerPoint well could very well allow you to have a very robust presentation without all the cost of a content server.

If you need ideas about what to display or how to most effictively convert viewers into clients, check out Keith Kelson's excellent book Unleashing the Power of Digital Signage: Content Strategies for the 5th Screen.


2.) Know where your Monitors will be located

Next, you will want to have a plan for the location of your monitors. You will have to answer several questions such as the following.  Are you going to wall/ceiling mount the monitors or have them on a stand? Where will your electrical power come from? How will you get the signal from the player to the monitor? The location of your monitors also drives some of the next decisions you will have to make. Such as do you put a content player (computer) at each monitor location or do you have a central server (computer) and distribute the signal to each of the screens. My setup includes a central server computer and inexpensive signal distribution equipment. This allows me to minimize the number of computers I have to maintain. It also means I don’t have to worry about player synchronization. 

3.) Pick out the right player

I have been throwing around the term player like you are familiar with digital signage terminology. Just in case you are not, in this conversation, a player is the device which runs your content. Specifically for this function, it is the computer that runs PowerPoint. In the digital signage industry, you will mostly likely be required to purchase three things to make your signage work, a player, a server, and content management software. The player plays the content, the server hosts the content, and the content management system allows you to create and edit the presentation content. For us, all three of these things can be any computer that can run PowerPoint. If you plan on running video, you will want a computer with more memory and processing power than the bare minimum system specs for the software. I always recommend at least a dual-core system with 4GB of memory and a solid state hard drive.  If you plan on having a computer at each monitor, there are a ton of Mini-PCs being sold that will hide nicely behind a TV.  However, if you are going with the one player to many TV’s route, any basic, new desktop should be able to handle the job.  If you have the option of buying a new computer to drive the presentation, pick on with an HDMI display port. It will make distributing the signal much easier. 

4.) Pick out the right content server technology

If you are the only one creating, editing, and managing the presentation, know you can use the same computer you are running the presentation on to act as your player, server, and content manager.  However, you may want to have someone from the accounting department edit vital statics on one slide while HR manages birthdays and anniversaries on another slide. This is where a shared drive comes in handy. You can host your content in a shared drive and let authorized users edit the content. To add another layer of protection, I only let authorized users edit linked files. Furthermore, I have a script on each player to copy down the content from the drive once every morning.  This does two things. It keeps the displays from freezing if someone is editing the presentation or linked file and the monitors will keep playing if the internet is down (which it never is – knock on wood).  If you don’t have a shared drive or your team is remote, you could always use Dropbox or similar as your content manager. The point is, you don’t need expensive software to get the job done. 

5.) Pick out the right monitors

Here, if you just want to try this out, grab any decent flat screen TV and get your computer connected to it. Run your presentation and see how it looks. You can use VGA. However, I’ll discuss why and how to use HDMI in the cabling section.  That being said, if you don’t know which monitor to choose, I am a personal fan of the Sharp Aquos line. I am running 11 of these of various sizes (42 Inch, 60 Inch, and 80 inch) in house and also have one at home. I spent a good deal of time comparing LCD/LED TV’s of the consumer and professional grades to figure out the best bang for your buck. I concluded that Sharp Aquos gives you a high performing picture with the right feature set at a price that is hard to beat.  We are using non-smart (dumb?) TV’s. They are not internet enabled nor are they 3D. They are just simple 120Hz LED flat screens.  The 60 inch Sharp Aquos has been floating around $1000 for a couple of years now. The oldest monitor I have is two and a half years old and has been running 24/7 since I installed it, without fail (again, Knock on wood). I have had poor experiences with discount TV’s such as the Westinghouse brand and Dynex

The professional literature on consumer versus professional display lists a host of differences to scare one into spending six to ten times more for the professional version. My assumption is that you do not want to spend $10,000 per monitor.  The major differences I have found are that professional versions can have greater power consumption, thinner bezels and enclosures, as well as increased viewing angles.  Officially, consumer TV’s are meant to be on for four to six hours a day where professional displays are meant to be on all the time. Maybe I am lucky, but the Sharp Aquos displays are beasts.  Other differences are that professional monitors may have more expansion and integration options, increased RS232 controls, longer warranties, and can be mounted vertically. Even so, I would still recommend the consumer grade Sharp Aquos LED’s long before I’d say go buy a professional grade display. Especially, after reading multiple stories in Residential Systems magazine about contractors using the Sharp Aquos displays in high end installations. It boosted my confidence in my decision. 

However, any monitor you pick should run full HD (1080p). If you are picking out multiple monitors, make sure they can all run full HD. Your presentation will look weird if you are running it at different resolutions and may make it hard to get it to fit completely on all displays. Lastly, if you are buying multiple monitors, using the same monitor will keep your colors uniform. Even two high priced monitors from different manufacturers will look slightly different. Color differences are usually more exaggerated in inexpensive displays. 

6.) Pick out the right Display mounts

Knowing where and what you are going to mount is a start to figuring out how you are going to mount your displays. This section is for those who are not going to put them on a stand or counter. If you are unfamiliar with TV wall mounts, know there are several different types. There are straight mounts that do not swivel or tilt; they just mount your TV to the wall. They are very inexpensive as in sub-forty dollars each. There are tilt mounts that allow you to manipulate the vertical viewing angle. These have worked best for me. Right now you can get it one for $25 dollars and it includes a level and a HDMI cable. Another type is swivel mounts which let you adjust the horizontal angle of your display.  There are also mounts with retractable arms. This lets you bring the display out away from the wall and usually also have a tilt/swivel feature built in. These are the most expensive mounts. You won’t need those unless you have a particularly tricky mounting area. Those are your basic wall mounts. There are hundreds of different types of mounts and I’m certain you can find one that fits your unique needs. Even so, most people will find the tilt/swivel mount to be the easiest to install and the best bang for your buck. 

Other tips I feel I should mention are making sure your get the right bolt pattern for your TV. The Sharp Aquos’ usually have the 400mm x 400mm VESA Pattern. You also want a mount location with studs. If your location doesn’t have studs, then make sure to mount it to the wall using drywall anchor bolts. If you don’t know how to locate a wall stud or what an anchor bolt is, please consider paying someone to install your TV’s.  Proper installation is essential for your safety, your staff and customer safety as well as for proper performance of your equipment. 

7.) Pick out the right distribution hardware

Okay, so you have your presentation, you have your player, you’ve figured out how to distribute your content, and you have your displays. So how do you get the presentation on the displays? The answer depends on your setup.
a.) Single computer to single display board
     This is the easiest setup. If your computer is near the display, you can setup the monitor as your primary display and show it there. However, you will need to disable OS notifications and hide toolbars, gadgets, and desktop icons. Another option is to make the display a secondary.  There is a setting in PowerPoint that you can check to always play slideshows on a specific monitor.  You can enable it so that it always plays on the second monitor.  In this case, no distribution hardware is needed. This will also be your basic setup if you have a computer attached to each display. 

b.) Single Computer to Multiple displays
This complicates things and adds a bit of cost. However, it is easy to do. If your computer has an HDMI port, you will need an HDMI splitter/Distribution box.  Basic setup will be to connect the output of the computer to the input of the distribution box. Then you’ll have to figure out how to get the HDMI signal from the distribution box to the monitors. I prefer to use HDMI over Category 5e extender hardware. This can throw your signal up to 300 feet (depending on the capabilities of the hardware). 

Now, if your computer has only a VGA port, you can use a VGA upconvertor/scaler box to change the input type from VGA to a full HD HDMI connection.  You would put this right before the HDMI distribution box. They come in inexpensive 4, 8, and 16 port models. They are also called signal distributors. Please make sure you do not buy a “switch” as they make you switch between inputs and do not distribute the signal across multiple monitors. Remember splitter is “one to many” and switch is “many to one”.  That is pretty much it. If you are going short distances of 50 feet or less, you should be able to use HDMI cabling without using the extenders. 

8.) Pick out the right cabling

Once you have the right hardware, you also need to make sure you have the correct cabling. This section is mostly to say you do not need super expensive cables to get a good picture. Inexpensive HDMI cable of version 1.3 will work fine. Also, make sure you are using Category 5e or higher networking cable. Anything lower and you may see some issues. However, it doesn’t have to be expensive.  If you are running it through walls or ceilings, you may want to check your local fire and electrical codes to make sure you are up to code with your installation. If you are running your wire through your ventilation duct work, you must use plenum rated cabling. Really, the only cabling you will need for this project is HDMI and maybe the CAT 5e if you are going that route. 

9.) Displaying different content on different monitors

As soon as you want two screens to display two different content sets you need a second media player (computer) or an additional layer of software such as Office One’s Powershow to handle the output. I must admit, I have never used the Powershow software in production. I did test it a bit and it worked well enough. This is where the player behind the TV would come in handy. You can program each player to download a specific set of content off your server or shared drive.  It would then show whatever you wanted. You cannot do this with an HDMI Splitter

10.) Refreshing your content

Refreshing the content is pretty easy using task manager or a similar tool. I have a simple set of commands that closes the running presentation, copies the updated content, then restarts PowerPoint. This script runs automatically every day. If I need to update it during the day, I use a remote command to trigger the scripts. That is pretty much it. Relatively simple. 

Please remember, this solution isn't for everyone, but it is great for companies looking to try out digital signage on a budget. If you want a low cost complete solution, please look at a company called MediaSignage. If you would like a full-blown broadcast digital signage system, please check out Tight Rope. Please let me know if this helps you or if you have expanded on this idea by leaving a comment.  I have seen someone add a touch screen overlay to the monitors with excellent results. 

Updates: I have just discovered a plugin for PowerPoint from Presente3d that allows you to do #D displays.  While not price conscious, this plugin combined with the newest Samsung Aquos 90 inch 3D Smart TV would really wow your crowd.

There is another software which eases our use of PowerPoint for digital signage. It is kind of expensive for what it does, but maybe it is what you are looking for: Appoint Signage.

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7/1/13

Inexpensive Digital Signage using PowerPoint 2010 – 2.5 years later

     I wanted to post a follow-up to my original post about inexpensive digital signage with PowerPoint. It was originally posted two and a half years ago. While much has changed in that time, the capabilities of this setup have not. I’ve actually expanded upon it and have added some equipment. I now have two zones, driven by two synced computers, on 11 television monitors spread across a 85,000 square foot facility. The only reason I have two computers in place is because there are plans to have different content in each zone ( set of monitors displaying the same content). Currently, I am only displaying the same content across all monitors. You can drive an enormous number of monitors off a single computer if you have the same content on all the screens (single zone) and the right equipment.  My goal with this article is to answer some frequently asked questions and discuss some of the equipment I've field tested during the last couple of years.

     The first point of interested is almost always the display monitors I chose. I have had excellent experience with the Sharp Aquos line of LCD and LED monitors. I prefer to go with the less expensive 120Hz LCD/LED non-smart, non-3D versions such as the 42 Inch, 60 Inch, 70 inch, and 80 inch versions. Secondly, I have had good experience with inexpensive mounts such as this one for large TV's. There are any number of mounts under $50 for 55 inch and smaller TV's. I have tried several and they all work well. I recommend getting the tilt mount as it gives you more ability to adjust if there is glare or are mounting it high.

    The follow-up question usually concerns driving different content on different monitors simultaneously. The most solid answer is as soon as you want two screens to display two different content sets you need a second media player (computer) or an additional layer of software such as Office One’s Powershow to handle the output. I must admit, I have never used the Powershow software in production. I did test it a bit and it worked well enough. My situation was always that my players were located far away from my monitors in a server room and I had had extra hardware laying around that I could use as media players.

     Next people often wonder how difficult it is to split the signal to multiple monitors without loss of quality. If you are using HDMI, it is extremely easy. You just need an HDMI splitter (not a switch) box. They come in inexpensive 4, 8, and 16 port models. They are also called signal distributors. Please make sure you do not buy a “switch” as they make you switch between inputs and do not distribute the signal across multiple monitors. Remember splitter is “one to many” and switch is “many to one”.

     Another popular inquiry concerns getting the signal to the monitors beyond splitting it. Most of my displays are more that fifty feet from my source. I use Category 5e Ethernet to HDMI convertors. They are usually good for about 100 to 200 feet of signal throw. It is important to verify how far the item will push signal because they are not all the same. I’ve had good luck with the AVUE branded HDMI extenders and they are rated for 400 feet. However, if you have to run HDMI, more than 400 feet, it can get expensive. This module is one solution I’ve seen for runs up to 3000 feet. However, another solution for shorter runs, is to use VGA, then up-convert it to HDMI. I’ve personally used this Startech VGA extender to for a run just short of 500 feet. I’ve also used these VGA up-convertors (VGA to HDMI Scalers), which takes a VGA signal and scales it to Full-HD, with success on several occasions. Lastly, if you are doing short runs of multiple audio/visual cables, you should check out RapidRun cables. They allow you to get multiple connections by using a single cable with specialized pigtails that screw in after the cable run.

     Refreshing the presentation is another point many people also ask about. We don’t have live or streaming data. Our presentation updates once a day automatically. Using a shared network drive, designated staff can update files that are linked to PowerPoint and contain daily and/or monthly metrics. These will update upon the daily refresh of the PowerPoint presentation. I use Task Scheduler in Windows 7 to Shutdown, copy important files, and restart the presentation. I've found that running the presentation from local files on the media player works better than running them off the network. Plus, running the show from the network locks up the files one might need to change for the next day. When PowerPoint comes across a locked linked file, it freezes.I avoid that as much as possible. I also have a specialized script that grabs images from news station websites to load daily weather info. The images are also linked in the slideshow so that they also update upon each refresh.

     My previous post references plugins I no longer use. Liveweb, LiveImage, and Update links all drove me crazy because they would lag the presentation at the beginning of the loop.

     Lastly, I also wanted to let you know about a company called MediaSignage. They have a cloud based content creator, host, and player. I've tested it with success and have noted it as a solution if our presentation requires expanding beyond PowerPoint's capabilities. You basically use their robust tool to design your content online, download a player on to your hardware, then point your player software to your created content on their server. This does also run off a local copy of your content. This keeps your network utilization down, your content smooth, and will keep running even if your network is down. They content creator has a decent learning curve. However, if you need a solution that will do more than PowerPoint, check them out.

Did the last post help you out, are you coming back to find out more, or is this your first time here? Leave a comment and let me know. I would also love to hear about your digital signage hacks too.


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Signage,PowerPoint,capabilities,setup,equipment,zones,computers,
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5/4/11

Autorun.inf is useless in Windows XP, Vista, and 7

This is a note to USB Developers: It appears that the autorun.inf file is useless in computers running Win XP SP3 or higher. Recent Microsoft updates have kept the autoplay feature, but disabled the autorun feature in XP SP3 and Vista. It is also set this way by default in Windows 7.

If the user is motivated to do so, there are work-arounds. However, promotional USB developers must keep this in mind as a statistically large portion of users will no longer be able to use their USB drives as effectively.

I am putting this here so that it may save you time trying to find a solution when this happens to you.

I will also update this blog if I find a valid solution other than ensuring the root directory of your USB only contains a file that say CLICKME.

Hope this helps.

If you aren’t reading this at Priceless Geek, you should be.

 

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ICVerify and Windows 7

I had intended to put this topic on my previous ICVerify post, but I felt it needed its own entry.

Getting ICVerify (I was using v4) to work on Windows 7 is pretty simple.

When I first installed it, the program would fatal error when the program called the receipt printer.

However, the solution is NOT reinstalling.

  • Just go into the folder where ICverify.exe resides and Right click on ICVerify.exe.
  • Go to properties
  • Go to the Compatibility tab
  • Check “Run this program compatibility mode for:” Windows XP SP3
  • Also, check “Run this program as administrator.”

From there everything should cooperate.

 

Another user is already logged on Error 

If ICVerify crashes and you cannot log back in because you get an error message stating that the user name you are loggin in as is already loged in, don’t panic. This is also an easy, quick fix.

  • Open the ICVerify User Manager. Log in.
  • Go to the Log On Tab
  • Select the option that is not User manager from the drop down box.
  • You should see your user ID showing as logged in.
  • Select that line, then click the log out button.

You should now be able to log back in.

Hope that helps. Do you have any tips or tricks for this program you would like to share? Please comment if so.

If you aren’t reading this at Priceless Geek, you should be.

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5/3/11

ICVerify “Cannot Start Program” error & Set File

I had the pleasure of working with ICVerify 4 again the other day.  This time I had a machine on which I was getting an error that went Something like “Cannot start program to due to an error.”

If you have dealt with this program, then you know it is easier to uninstall and reinstall than to try and troubleshoot it. That is the path on which I journeyed. It failed to take me home.

After some frustrating time spent on it, I discovered the uninstall features did not remove the hook into the SQL database. Once I deleted the reference on the SQL Server, I was able to run the program without incident.

Also, if you did not know this, you can export the ICVERIFY.SET file from a working installation and copy it over to your new installation. You just have to open the ICVerify setup program and export it from there. It takes two seconds and can save you some time if you are manually setting up your configuration.

What are some of your experiences and/or tips with this program?

If you aren’t reading this at Priceless Geek you should be.

 

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4/21/11

Inexpensive Digital Signage with PowerPoint 2010

Note: After reading this article, you may want to also read the follow-up article here.

Have you wanted to setup fancy digital signage like that in banks, airports and hotels, but don’t have the budget?
Well, you aren’t out of luck. If you have a slim LCD (or LED) TV with a HDMI port and a computer with PowerPoint 2010 you can setup some decent digital signage.
Step 1: The Hardware:
  • Slim LCD TV (I prefer 1080p models)
  • A PC with a bare minimum of
    • a 2.0Ghz processor
    • 2GB Memory (More is Better)
    • I’m a Microsoft guy so I prefer Windows, but the premise is the same with an Apple
    • PowerPoint 2010 (or Apple Keynote)
  • A VGA to HDMI Upconverter
  • and a HDMI over Cat5 Extender (if TV will be located away from TV)
The setup is pretty simple your slide show software goes on your PC. The VGA output from the computer goes to the VGA to HDMI Upconverter. The HDMI port on the Upconverter goes to the HDMI port of the Cat5 extender. The other box of the Cat5 Extender has an HDMI port that goes to the back of the TV. Run two Cat 5 Cables from your computer location to where your TV is located. Make sure you mark the cables. Port 1 on the host unit must go to port 1 on the receiving unit. Plug in the Cat5 cables to the the Cat5 extender ports respectively.
You can setup the TV as your primary monitor or an extended desktop. I recommend an extended desktop (means you’ll need an extra monitor), since you will not be able to see what you are doing on the computer with the TV located far away. If you don’t want to bother with an extra monitor, make sure you dial in all your PowerPoint settings before you install everything.
You should now have a display on your TV from your computer. Make sure you crank up the screen resolution to 1080x1920 to get the maximum screen real estate. Now, on to the presentation.
The Slideshow:
Be creative. Just remember to set your page settings to 16:9 ratio an to loop your slideshow endlessly.
If you are using PowerPoint, I recommend the following plugins to maximize your presentation capabilities:
  • LiveWeb – Updates embedded websites every time the slideshow loops.
  • LiveImage – Updates linked images every time the slideshow loops.
  • Update Links – Updates linked items every time the slideshow loops.
  • Find more at skp.mvps.org.
I also found that MPEG4 in PowerPoint seem to have a memory leak that will crash your presentation after a day or so.
Conclusion:
That is really it. It only costs approximately 300 dollars if you already have PowerPoint, a compatible TV, and the computer. I had to get the TV and PowerPoint for my project, but it still only cost about $2000. That is a big change from say TightRope which would be about $6000 for a single display installation.
I did get to demo TightRope. The setup we just discussed above is no replacement for TightRope. It is an excellent professional product with extremely more features and functions than PowerPoint.
I also looked at SCALA, but it seems overly complex for what I wanted to do. It is extremely versatile and would be excellent for complex multimedia displays. I am intending to just give a small business the opportunity to display digital signage at a reasonable cost.
PowerPoint will run for months without issue as long as you configure the computer properly (aka disable anything unnecessary). 
Consumer grade TV’s will also work fine as long as you don’t go super cheap and turn it off during non-business hours. I used a 60 inch Sharp Aquos LCD TV for my installation $1300 at Best Buy).
These are pictures on the display recessed into a wall. For perspectives sake, the wall is about 9 feet wide and 10 feet high. So it is a big, bright display. Here it is showing a hi-def picture that doesn’t identify the installation location.
2011-01-20 17.42.28
2011-01-21 22.21.29
Good luck with your efforts. Please comment or ask questions. I’ll be happy to answer.

7/7/10

Lessons Learned with a Toshiba Satellite Laptop: 10-FC12-0017 error

Sometimes repairs stop being about a quick fix and become a vendetta. This is one of those instances.

Recently, a Toshiba Satellite L305 was given to me for repair. The OS had been accidentally removed, but the person had the Vista 32-bit recovery disks. I figured no problem, I can do this in a hour.  Well, the recovery went find until disk 2 went into the recovery process and hit about 30%. I received a 10-FC12-0017 error.  A search of the net found nexperts (net experts) divided between bad recovery disks or bad hard drive.

The hard drive wasn’t acting or sounding bad. Plus ,my friend had said the only reason she ran the recovery disks originally was because the touchpad wasn’t working. It’s ok to laugh. I assumed the HDD was fine since she didn’t complain of operating issues.  So I figured it was the recovery DVD’s, as they had some serious scratches on them even after I cleaned them.

The L305 had a 64-bit processor so I figured, let me try my OEM 64-bit Vista disk.  It actually installed fine with no errors.  However, I had no valid product code and the product key on the bottom wasn’t validating.  So I knew I had to use the recovery disks.

Toshiba has quite a racket with these recovery disks. It’s $25 for a new set. I wasn’t about to go that route. 

I booted freedos off a CD and made sure all the partitions on the drive wiped before attempting a new recovery, With a raw drive, I attempted the recovery again, using the recovery disk to setup the partitions. It failed again.

At this point I was frustrated. I also think Vista sucks. I re-wiped the drive with freedos and attempted an install of windows 7 32-bit. It is what I had laying around. It failed with a “cannot install on this hardware error.”

At this point I knew something was up. I then ran CHKDSK on the drive and it took damn near 8 hours to complete.  I ran the recovery and it failed again.

So extremely frustrated, I put a spare SATA drive in it, and ran the Vista recovery disks. 

After about 14 hours of attempted recovery, the OS came to life.  So error 10-FC12-0017 on a Toshiba recovery, is a bad hard disk.  Save yourself the trouble and just replace the HDD.

What is most frustrating about this is the touchpad never did work, it was bad. The owner opted for an external mouse instead of paying to fix it.  It didn’t work during the recovery. That should have been my clue that more hardware (like the HDD) could be damaged.

And that is one of the lessons I learned.  The other lesson is, check the disk before running a recovery (something I normally do anyway for computers I don’t know the drive’s history).  The third lesson is never detour from your usual practices because you are doing a favor for someone.

I hope someone finds this helpful.

Also, if you aren’t reading this at http://beavmetal.blogspot.com, you should be.

 

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