Sunday, October 18, 2009

Is this a joke?

We decided to upgrade the hard drive on our Tivo Series3, since the stock 250G drive only holds about 30 hours of HD video.  I studied the various Tivo upgrade boards and selected a hard drive that had been recommended by some, the WD 1.5TB "EADS" Green drive.  The upgrade process is simple: crack the tivo, extract the drive, move the data from the old drive to the new, "expand" the new drive (updating the partition table so it uses the extra space), and replace the drive.

Attempt 1: 1.5TB drive, using trusty Unix tools -- put the drives into a Unix box, copy data with dd, then do the expansion with 'mfstools'.  This is the approach I've used several times in the past, with good results.  Put the new drive in, turn it on, and it gets stuck forever in the "Wecome, powering up" screen.  Back to Google. 

 Turns out that the S3 can't see a partition bigger than 1TB, and mfstools expands the partition to the whole rest of the drive, yielding a too-big partition.  Turns out mfstools doesn't support limiting the size of the partition, but the Windows version (winmfs) does, so I'll use that instead.  (Its good to have lots of spare computers around when attempting any sort of upgrade.)

Attempt 2: 1.5TB drive, using winmfs.  Put the drives in the windows box, run winmfs to copy the data, and let winmfs expand the partition.  It asks me "should I limit the partition to 1TB", I say yes, good.  Put the drives back -- same problem.  More Googling.

So I discover that "some versions of the drive I was using (WD15EADS) are 'not compatible' with Tivo Series3."  Its been years since I've heard about incompatible (system, disk) pairs, and this is a standard SATA drive, but OK, I guess I bought the wrong drive.   RMA time.  Sorry, NewEgg.  The Tivo Upgrade FAQ ( is telling me I should favor the WD EVVS drives instead, so I buy a 1TB drive (WD10EVVS) from Amazon. 

Attempt 3: 1TB drive, winmfs.  I repeat the process, copying the 250G drive to the new 1TB drive, and put the drive back in the Tivo.  (At this point I've learned to try it before I fasten all the screws.)  Same deal -- stuck on the "Welcome, Powering Up" screen.  More Googling.

I found this update, which was added after I'd bought my drive:

The WD10EVVS was removed from the list on October 10, because there is a new
batch of that drive, manufactured on September 20, that is not compatible
with the TiVo.   These incompatible drives are labeled as follows:

MDL: WD10EVVS - 63M5B0
Product of Thailand
DATE: 20 SEP 2009
DCM: [b]HAxxxxxxxx
R/N: 701640
LBA: 1953525168

I looked at my drive, and sure enough, I had one. 

Is this an elaborate joke? 

Next up: RMA redux, ordered a WD 10EVDS drive.  Stay tuned.


Update: installed the WD10EVDS, worked fine.  Fourth time's the charm!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

You've been scammed!

I got an odd e-mail from PayPal the other day, telling me I'd paid EU250 to something called "Skype Business Panel."  My first thought was that it was a phish, but careful examination suggested it was real.  I logged on to my PayPal account and indeed I'd been charged EU250.  What the hell is "Skype Business Panel", anyway?  Turns out it is a skype feature where businesses can allocate credit to the skype accounts of their employees and thereby manage their telephone spending. 

I have spent about $10 with skype per year, recharging my skype account from PayPal when it ran low.  Somehow (don't remember) I had authorized skype to charge my PayPal account when my balance got low.  And this was the vector through which I was scammed.  Someone must have gotten a hold of my skype password (don't know how), logged on, and billed EU250 to my PP account (which didn't require a PayPal webflow), and then allocated it to some bogus accounts. 

First stop: dispute the charge with PayPal.  They were completely unhelpful, pointing me to the authorization and told me to work it out with skype.  Fortunately skype was more helpful, and they reversed the charge immediately. 

I then logged on to my Skype Business Control Panel (now that I know such a thing exists), and found several bogus accounts linked to mine, which I deleted.  After all was said and done, including the refund, I still somehow had a EU100 balance on my BCP, meaning somehow the scammers gave me  EU100. 

To see if you have any such preapprovals on file: login into your paypal account, click "Profile", and click "Preapproved Payments."  You can delete them from there.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Laptop upgrade annoyances

We've got an old Dell C400 laptop. Its seven or eight years old, but its still going strong, and it just fine for an around-the-house laptop (similar in performance to a modern netbook, but with bigger screen/keyboard, and still nice and light). The limiting performance factor right now seems to be the hard drive; many Windows operations (booting, shutdown, sleep, wake) are disk-seek-bound, so I bought an IDE SSD to replace the existing IDE drive. Hopefully that will also improve battery life and thermal characteristics. 

What I'd like is a simple way to move all the data from the existing drive to the new drive, and then just toss the old drive. But this isn't as simple as it might appear. Laptop IDE cables generally only support one drive, so I can't use (say) PartitionMagic to do a partition copy the way I would on a desktop system.

A lot of people have suggested various tricks, like:

  • Get an IDE-USB adapter, put the old disk on that, put the new disk in the machine, boot from a Linux CD, and use dd to copy the data;

  • Get a pair of 40 pin to 44 pin IDE adapters, put them in a desktop system, and copy using PartitionMagic (Windows) or dd (Linux);

  • Find a dual-drive 44 pin IDE cable, plug both drives in, and hope that the OS / BIOS recognizes both disks;

  • Just reinstall Windows and whatever apps I have on the new drive (including chasing down all the device drivers, such as the touch pad, speakers, etc)

Why is this so difficult?  A hard-drive-swap should be a simple, common upgrade operation, that shouldn't require using tools from another operating system, transplanting the drives into another system, or rebuilding the world from scratch. 

On a similar note, I just bought a Samsung NC10 netbook, and was going to wipe the disk and reinstall OSes.  I have all the software I want ripped to ISO images, many of them bootable.  Why is it so hard to take a bootable ISO and turn it into a bootable USB key?  (I tried "unetbootin" but it didn't work on the PartitionMagic ISO, which is usually my first step in installing onto a new PC.)

Friday, June 12, 2009

WiFi prices finally come down

I've always been annoyed by just how expensive WiFi access is for such spotty coverage. I've had the T-Mobile plan ($30/mo) for a few years, which provides coverage at Starbucks (until they switched to AT&T), and many airports and hotels. Its been a better deal than not having it (they have coverage at the hotel I stay at most frequently, and the airports I transit through most frequently), but it always felt like too much money for too little service, given that there is not always a TMobile hotspot available. TMobile has roaming deals with many of the other big providers (Boingo, AT&T), but the only real benefit there is the convenience of the billing arrangement, as the roaming fees are not nominal. (Though I do like that TMobile also provides convenient pay-by-the-minute roaming access at many hotspots in Europe.)

Finally there seem to be some better alternatives. Boingo now seems to have an unlimited $10/month plan, so I switched to that. Boingo claims I also get free roaming on many TMobile, AT&T, and other hotspots -- I'll report on that once I get my first bill. I downgraded my TMobile account to the "Pay as you go" plan, which has no monthly fee, and is $3 for the first hour, which seems like a good option to have.

Starbucks also has a reasonably priced plan (Starbucks Gold Card) if you spend a lot of time in or near Starbucks (they are in the process of switching their hotspots from TMobile to AT&T.) For $25/yr, you get two hours per visit of WiFi time (not sure if this is enforced or not), plus 10% discount on most Starbucks purchases.