Posts for category 'General computing'

A week of fixing Vista problems

It's been a quiet month on the blog front. This is of course because I've got lots of stuff to do to prepare for my departure to Japan next month, including quite a bit of work that needs to be finished at University. Next Tuesday I'm going to an orientation meeting organized by the Japanese Embassy, so I'll be sure to blog about that.

The past week though has been marked by the solution to two problems I've had with Vista. This would hardly qualify as interesting news if it weren't for the fact that one of them I care a great deal about.

Ever since the beginning of the Vista beta, sound has been a problem. The newness of Vista's audio stack combined with crappy Creative drivers have given everybody a lot of headaches (I own a Sound Blaster X-Fi; great card, lousy driver support).

Although it's been mostly ok for a while now (surround sound works, stutters are limited to when there's a lot of hard disk IO, not sure if this is due to the audio or the IDE drivers), there was one thing that didn't work yet. That was SPDIF passthrough.

For the less audio-savvy readers, a quick explanation: normally when you watch a DVD on your computer, the DVD playing software takes care of decoding the Dolby AC3 or DTS audio stream on the DVD. Then your sound card converts it to an analog signal that goes to your speakers. With an expensive sound card like the X-Fi, sometimes the card can do the AC3/DTS decoding as well. But the signal to the speakers remains analog, since the digital SPDIF interface can handle only 2 channels when handling decoded (PCM) audio, not the 6 channels required for your typical DVD. With SPDIF passthrough, the still encoded AC3/DTS signal is sent directly over the SPDIF link to an external decoder. The advantage is that you now have a digital connection up to the external decoder, instead of everything from the computer down being analog, leading to better quality. My speakers, the Logitech Z-5400 (the link is for the Z-5450, which is the same except the Z-5400's rear speakers are not wireless), include such a decoder.

So, being the audio-freak I am, and having paid a neat sum for those speakers, I'd like to be able to use the external decoder. But that was impossible in Vista, since SPDIF passthrough did not work (although for mysterious reasons, it did work from the "test" option in the Control Panel and from Media Center, just not from any other application such as WMP or PowerDVD).

Now, with Creative's new drivers (released March 8th), it finally works. Despite the fact that the release notes for the drivers say that SPDIF doesn't work on x64, it does actually work.

So happy was I that it worked, I even created a silly video to show it.

The second problem I solved had to do with Windows Media Player. For some reason, WMP11 on Vista could synchronize music to my PocketPC's main memory, but it didn't recognize the storage card (strangely, WMP11 on XP had no problems with this). For this, I found this hotfix, which took care of the problem.

Categories: General computing
Posted on: 2007-03-18 11:51 UTC. Show comments (1)

Moving pains

Today the site of Obs De Wilgen, the primary school where my dad works (I created the site), moved servers. We didn't want it to move servers today, but it did.

We did intend an eventual server move. We were previously located at Nedcomp, whom I would qualify as reasonable. Their support level is nothing short of great, but they're quite expensive for very little space. And since XS4ALL were offering a package which was free for schools, offered more space, more bandwidth, more features, and had the stuff we needed (ASP.NET 2.0), we were going to move to them.

But in every communication we had with them, we said: "don't move the DNS; we first want to transfer the site, only then can you change the DNS." That didn't stop them from changing it anyway, so this morning we found the site non-functional, displaying only a generic XS4ALL under construction page. What's worse, we didn't have the password.

After figuring out how to set the password, I quickly threw up a "sorry, we're down" message, frantically downloaded the whole site from the old server, and uploaded it to the new one. Then the trouble began.

XS4ALL are running the site at reduced Code Access Security permissions, which meant that a few of the assemblies I used which didn't have the AllowPartiallyTrustedCallers attribute set refused to load. Fortunately they were all my own code, so I added the attribute, recompiled and uploaded. Then it broke on some of my custom configuration sections, since apparently you need ConfigurationPermission for that which we didn't have anymore. So I had to rewrite some code to use AppSettings instead. Not nearly as nice as a custom config section, but it works.

Then I discovered none of the web services worked, which was due to this issue. Apparently we don't have write access to the temp directory. I sent them a support request on that, and in the mean time I worked around the web service stuff. All of the web services were used in the admin part of the site anyway, so it shouldn't affect regular visitors of the site.

All in all, not how I'd planned to spend my Saturday. :(

Oh, and XS4ALL's helpdesk page says they're running SQL Server 2005, while in fact it's 2000. That's not a huge issue for me, but a bit sloppy about the mistake on the helpdesk page.

Categories: General computing
Posted on: 2007-02-17 21:29 UTC. Show comments (0)

Finally, DVDs on Vista

Cyberlink released an update for PowerDVD today that fixes some of the issues it had with Windows Vista. The problems I had with blocky video are gone, and DVD-Audio works properly now.

My main complaint about SPDIF not working still isn't fixed though, but I'm not sure if it's PowerDVD or the driver writers at fault here. I logged a support incident with Cyberlink, we'll see what they have to say.

At least I won't need to boot into XP anymore for DVD-Audio and DVDs where the sound isn't that important (e.g. most older TV series). But unfortunately I'll still need XP for movies where the soundtrack is important.

At least it's a start.

Categories: General computing
Posted on: 2007-01-31 18:19 UTC. Show comments (0)

Did someone say WPF/E?

I'm not usually one to rehash news stories on my blog, but some things are cool enough to make an exception. WPF/E is one of those things.

I for one am wondering how this "Flash-killer" will take on. On the one hand I'm sure it has many compelling features (while I haven't looked very deeply into it, if it's even remotely like the real WPF it has to be better than Flash ActionScript; not that that's hard, though), but on the other hand Flash has an extremely strong foothold in the "rich media on the web" arena. And although alternative browsers are supported by WPF/E, people who use those alternate browsers often do so for reasons that would make it unlikely for them to accept a plugin from MS.

I don't claim to be a psychic, so just like the rest of you all I can do it wait to see how it pans out. But I'm sure it's going to be interesting.

Categories: General computing
Posted on: 2006-12-04 22:34 UTC. Show comments (0)

SecureW2 in Windows Vista (and XP x64)

Due to popular demand (one person asked for it :P ) I'm making available my method for making Alfa & Ariss SecureW2 work in Microsoft Windows Vista (both x86 and x64) and Windows XP Professional x64 Edition.

The method is by no means perfect; especially in Vista there are some issues with "COM Surrogate stopped working" messages and the need to disable and re-enable the network connection on each login otherwise authentication will fail. There are also some issues with Fast User Switching. This is not ideal, but it beats having no network connection. In XP x64 it works just as well as in regular XP in my experience.

The download below contains all the files you will need to get it working (apart from certificates or other information that are unique to how you authenticate to your network; I can't provide those). Besides regular x86 and x64 versions of the DLL, versions with tracing enabled are also included. These versions will write a log file with diagnostic information so you can troubleshoot your connection. It also contains a readme.html file with detailed installation instructions.

Download SecureW2.

Note that this method works for me. It may not work for everyone, and there are also other methods floating around. Just try them until you find one that works for you.

If you have any questions or comments, just ask.

Categories: General computing
Posted on: 2006-11-29 12:35 UTC. Show comments (6)

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