About Computer Niagara

My passion has always been with computers ever since I laid my hands on the Tandy 1000. Since that time I've lived and breathed computers/technology and watched it grow to what it is today... incredible to say the least.

My Home Theatre

It’s been a hiatus… I’ve been a bit busy lately, it’s summer time and all… I’ve been enjoying the beautiful weather with my family but I feel like I’m due, so here we go!

Home Theatre! This topic interest me big time, ever since I bought my “new” house 5 years ago I had been planning to do something nice in terms of an entertainment space. The space I had in my mind was a bit different then your typical audio/videophile types dream of but it’s what I dream’t of at this stage in my life.

I will be the first to admit that this post is late to the game, and I anticipate to upgrade my projector and receiver to native 4k within the next 6-8 months. I have my eye on you Optoma UHD60!

Coming from my previous house (a shoebox) I had a big room to actually call my mancave, a 25’x16′ room. The picture below is pretty unflattering… and it only shows the room from one angle, but this is all I could find for the time being… This was a couple days after we moved in. In hindsight I should’ve taken more before and after photos for this project.

mancave_before-1

Here is the original conceptual design of what I envisioned the room to actually become.

mancave-schematic

First step was to build the A/V closet and shelving, the closet did not exist originally so I had to rip out some drywall and attach into the existing framing. Here is a before picture of where I put the closet in.

AVcloset-before

Here are some pictures of the AV closet build out. The shelf design I found on another site, if I can find it again I will give them a kudos link, man is it a solid design – homemade shelf that can hold a ton of weight and gear. All of the supplies for the shelf I purchased at Canadian Tire and Rona. All of the cabling, connectors, wall plates and in ceiling speakers I purchased through Monoprice.

 

Here are pictures of what it looks like today, don’t mind the mess I have a few kids.

Projector Mount

If you look at the projector mount picture below you’re probably saying wow that’s a crazy mount is this guy a nutcase? Actually it’s pretty much mandatory in my mind to design something like this if the projector is going to be installed in a basement like setting.

When I originally mounted the projector I was truly a newbie… I affixed it directly on the floor joists, what a mistake. The feedback was vicious and the projector was bouncing like no tomorrow… and when it started to bounce it really didn’t recover quickly since there was nothing to absorb the movement that reverberated off the joists.

This is something I came up with through trial and error, this works for me, it doesn’t eliminate movement entirely, if my kids are bouncing off the walls upstairs it will shake, but it’s absorbed quickly by this design and I can rest well knowing that my investment is safe. To date I have almost 5000 lamp hours using this rig and the projector and lamp still lives on.

I used a large piece of MDF that spans three joists, I tapped into the joists using 2 1/2″ wood screws. From there I lined up where the projector was going to be mounted and penciled in four pilot holes where the bolts were going to be installed. These four bolts affix the actual mount to the MDF base, they are 3/8″ in width in my application, the bolts are fairly long I believe around 3 1/2″. I used several washers, rubber grommets and springs as you can see from the photo, these items are doing a lot of the hard work to minimize any vibration and impact.

projector-mount

Projector

At the end of 2012 I was on the hunt for the right projector for me. I didn’t want to spend a ton but I wanted a projector that was a good bang for the buck, but mandatory was good input lag and 3D. I stumbled across the BenQ W1070 Home Theatre DLP Projector. It’s a great unit, I’ve been using it now for almost 5 years, so it’s done really, really well… no issues whatsoever.benq_w1070

 

Screen

I went the Do-It-Yourself route. After abundant research I ended up using the following for the screen paint:

Sherwin Williams ProClassic Smooth Enamel Satin Finish Extra White – 6260 UNIQUE GRAY. I don’t believe Sherwin Williams carries this formulation anymore.

Down the line I believe I will switch to an actual screen for my next projector install. Don’t get me wrong the paint is great and a money saver, but I found that it cannot cover imperfections in your actual drywall. If you look close enough you can pick up on these subtle things while the unit is on.

I used a somewhat dark color for the rest of the wall around the screen. Sherwin Williams Classic 99 Satin Finish Extra White – 6549 ASH VIOLET.

The screen is approximately 110″ measured diagonally.

Screen Frame

I used 2 1/2″ MDF trim I mitered the corners at 45 degrees and installed L shaped hinges on the back side. I primed and painted with flat black paint and used brad nailer to affix it to the wall.

Speakers

I opted for a 7.1 configuration, the front and center speakers I got a sweet deal on from Newegg, they were on clearance dirt cheap… I could not pass it up. I picked the JBL Studio 1 Series Studio 190 Front and Center speakers. For the subwoofer I went with the Klipsch KW-100, for the sides I went with Klipsch RS-62s. For the in ceiling I went with Monoprice 6-1/2 Inches Kevlar 2-Way In-Ceiling Speakers.

The in-ceiling speakers I cut a plywood template to hold the speaker since I have a drop ceiling with soft fiberglass tiles. The plywood template fits into the 2’x2′ grid and the grid take the weight of the speaker and not the tile.

For the Klipsch surround speakers, I mounted the speaker to a stud on opposing walls using a single screw.

I am not an audiophile but they sound good to me, most would recommend not mixing and matching, but really for me I was going with the best value/deal at the time as speakers can be really expensive for something better then bottom of the barrel.

AV Receiver

For the receiver I went with the Onkyo TX-NR616, I had never purchased an Onkyo before but I can say I have been really happy with it.

The receiver can not fully power my front speakers in it’s current 7.1 configuration, if I used 5.1 it can power them fully, but the sound is still good, I don’t pump it too often… just something to keep in mind if you are purchasing an AV unit.

The one issue I have had which seems to be some kind of glitch where HDMI switching stops working after the projector is turned off, it doesn’t happen all the time… it is a random thing. Simply recycling power on the receiver corrects the issue.

IR Repeater

For extending my IR remotes (satellite receiver, AV receiver, etc…) I went the cheap route. I picked up a USB powered IR repeater from Amazon – Neoteck IR Repeater Infrared Remote 1 Receiver 4 Emitters Control Kit. I just plugged it into my AV receiver’s USB port to get power, and I installed the IR receiver discreetly along the edge of my drop ceiling. It’s cheap but it does the job and I can close my cabinet if need be and not have to fight with pointing remotes directly at the device.

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Generate Cyclic Redundancy Check (CRC) Using CertUtil

A CRC is used to detect any changes to the original data/content, the most common reason being accidental data modification and corruption. CRCs are used to validate integrity, to ensure that the data sent is the data received.

It’s quite easy to create a CRC with tools built into the Windows operating system. Open a command prompt window, browse to the location of your file and run the following command:

CertUtil -hashfile <file_name> MD5

By default CertUtil uses SHA1 if the algorithm is not specified, for this example we’re using MD5. CertUtil supports many different algorithm types.

  • MD2
  • MD4
  • MD5
  • SHA1
  • SHA256
  • SHA384
  • SHA512

Once the command has completed successfully CertUtil will output a sequence of numbers and characters, this is the MD5 hash. We will use this hash to validate the integrity of the file once it’s transferred. Once the file is copied we will run the same command and compare the values. If they match the file is valid, if not we know the data was altered. To simplify this process I’ve written a small script in PowerShell that you can leverage.

if ( $(CertUtil -hashfile "<file_name>" MD5) -eq "<hash_from_certutil>" ) { 
  Write-Host "CRC File Integrity Check Passed." -ForegroundColor "Green"

  Write-Host "`nPress any key to exit..."
  $x = $host.UI.RawUI.ReadKey("NoEcho,IncludeKeyDown")
  exit 0
}
else {
  Write-Host "CRC File Integrity Check Failed." -ForegroundColor "Red"
  Write-Host "Please re-download file and re-run CRC check."

  Write-Host "`nPress any key to exit..."
  $x = $host.UI.RawUI.ReadKey("NoEcho,IncludeKeyDown")
  exit 1
}

How to Create a Dell Server Update Utility (SUU) ISO

In this example we are going to walk through the creation of a Dell SUU ISO for 64-bit Windows. The SUU is crucial if you are building out Dell servers as it updates firmware and drivers.

I find the Dell documentation isn’t overly helpful so I’ve put together this quick tutorial on how to create a customized Dell SUU ISO, keep in mind this tutorial creates a Windows based installation ISO.

1. Go and download the latest Dell Repository Manager if you do not have it installed already.
http://en.community.dell.com/techcenter/systems-management/w/wiki/1767.dell-openmanage-repository-manager

2. Once installed find the icon on your Desktop and launch it.
icon

3. Once launched, you should be prompted to update some plugins, go ahead and do so. If you are prompted to update the Dell Online catalog do so as well.

4. Once the application has loaded, go to the menu bar and select Source > View Dell Online Catalog.
view_dell_catalog

5. If you have not updated the Dell Online Catalog, you should now be prompted to update, click Yes.
sync_db

6. Under Dup Format check off Windows 64-bit to narrow down the bundles.filter_catalog

7. Check off your System Bundles based on the models you’d like the ISO to support.

8. Once these are all selected click Create Deployment Tools.deployment_tools

9. A wizard will appear, select Create Server Update Utility (SUU) > SUU to ISO. Select Next.
create_suu

10. Accept the defaults on the Select Plug-ins Select Next. You will be prompted for the SUU export location, select a folder and click OK.
create_suu_2

11. On the Summary and Finish page, review the Selected Bundles and confirm that all the appropriate models have been selected for export. Click Finish if everything looks okay. The job will be added to the Jobs Queue where the progress can be seen.
create_suu_3

How to Generalize a Linux VM Template

When building out an environment of any kind, you need to have a good starting base, a strong foundation and the same holds true for many things. It’s no different when building a virtual machine (VM) template to deploy in your environment in a repeatable fashion.

Recently I spent some time developing a generalized/sanitized VM template for Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) versions 6 and 7. This script should be run right before you shutdown the VM and template it for reuse.

#!/bin/bash
echo "Generalize the template..."
echo "Remove RHN system ID..."
rm -f /etc/sysconfig/rhn/systemid

echo "Create sanitized ifcfg-eth0..."
echo -en 'DEVICE=eth0\nTYPE=Ethernet\nONBOOT=yes\nBOOTPROTO=dhcp\n' > /etc/sysconfig/network-scripts/ifcfg-eth0

echo "Clear /etc/sysconfig/network file..."
cat > /etc/sysconfig/network < /dev/null

echo "Remove SHH keys..."
rm -f /etc/ssh/ssh_host_*

echo "Remove udev rules..."
rm -f /etc/udev/rules.d/70-*

echo "Remove fixed hostname..."
rm -f /etc/hostname

echo "Clear Machine ID (SID)..."
> /etc/machine-id

echo "Remove all logs from /var/log..."
rm -rf /var/log/*

echo "Remove all logs from /root..."
rm -rf /root/*

Fix and Repair a Dead Hard Drive

Everyone’s got a story about losing important data one way or another, whether it’s from the accidental deletion of some files, a stolen computer, or more commonly a failed hard drive.

To be honest I’ve never been a casualty to lost data, I always kept backups… probably too many backups… like backups of backups. To others it’s “a lot of work”, probably because they don’t have a good process/mechanism in place or they are “limited” technologically and that’s fair.

It’s never fun thinking about what you can’t get back when your hard drive goes belly up… but what if you could get it back and fairly painlessly. Well if your hard drive is dead, toast, caput, it just might be salvageable as I found out this week when a friend of my sister’s dropped off their hard drive to me to see if their life memories could be retrieved.

The hard drive is a Seagate, model ST31000528AS, it’s a 1 TB SATA 3.0Gb/s.IMG_20160422_125811

It would not power on at all, my first inclination was obviously something on the PCB (Printed Circuit Board) has gone awry. First things first, let’s remove the PCB so we can take a look at it. This may require a torx screw driver, most techies will have this on hand.IMG_20160422_195902
IMG_20160422_100855

Now the first place to check is the two diodes on the PCB. You want to check the resistance of each diode, if the resistance on either is very low then there is a good chance that removing the diode will resurrect your hard drive. The diodes act as a circuit protector (similar to a fuse), when there is a power surge it “takes one for the team”
to prevent damage to other circuitry.
IMG_20160422_102131

Notice when I test the first diode, the resistance is fairly high, it’s measuring approx 48K. This diode is OK.IMG_20160422_103230
IMG_20160422_103222

However, when I measure the 2nd diode the resistance is almost nil. This diode is bad.IMG_20160422_102258
IMG_20160422_103205

Simply desolder this diode, reassemble the PCB to the hard drive, cross your fingers and power it up.
IMG_20160422_105846

If it worked, great! Remember though, going forward you no longer have the circuit protection unless you replace the diode you removed. If for whatever reason there is another power surge you probably won’t be so lucky.

Now go and backup that hard drive so next time this happens you can get a good night’s sleep!

 

Install Dash Cam (Aukey DR-H1) in 2012 Honda Civic (9th Generation)

Recently there’s been a lot of buzz around Dash Cameras with many “interesting” videos popping up all over YouTube. As a techie it’s always cool to fiddle around with new stuff and I wanted to put such a camera into my daily commuter, a 2012 Honda Civic Sedan.

I wasn’t dying to get a dash cam, but it’s one of those techie things that if it falls in my wheel house I’m going to do it no matter what. And so, I was shopping on Amazon last week and I somehow came across a cheap covert dash cam for $79.99 CDN, and it had good reviews, so I thought hmm at this price it’s worth a shot. At higher price points I was much more reluctant to pull the trigger but this definitely seemed like a good value buy.

The camera I stumbled upon is an Aukey DR-H1, it’s a small well-built little camera. The camera supports up to 32 GB of micro SD storage and records at 1080p. It doesn’t have any fancy bells and whistles like some other cameras do (gps, etc) but I wasn’t going to use those anyways. To be honest I just wanted something that was a “set it and forget it” type of product, just for piece of mind. So let’s get to my install.

What’s in the box?

  • Dash Cam
  • Fuse Box Wiring Power Cable (with video out – which is used to customize settings)
  • Cigarette Lighter/12 Volt Accessory Power Cable
  • Manual + Registration Card (extends warranty by 6 months to 30 months warranty)

IMG_20160331_131411
IMG_20160331_132845IMG_20160331_163146

Camera Closeup

It’s very small and covert when installed, seems solid with great build quality. As you can see it uses the 3M double-sided tape, so once you stick it, it should hold solidly.

IMG_20160331_162839IMG_20160331_162850IMG_20160331_162859IMG_20160331_164042

Initial Testing:

I wanted to go the fuse box route for installation, it’s much cleaner and routing the cable in the civic took minimal time, maybe 10 minutes max. In my opinion, the manual provided did not give great directions for installing the camera into the fuse box. As a first time dash cam installer I thought the camera could just operate on acc power (ignition 12 v), I didn’t understand why the camera needed constant 12v and acc (ignition) 12v so before installing the camera in the car I did some testing externally to better understand.

My testing came to the conclusion that the acc ignition power wire was basically a normally open switch, but when energized, it closed and the camera powered on. It made sense after playing with this, because if the camera were to work just off acc power it would never shut down cleanly unless it had some internal circuitry/battery. What I mean is when the car is turned off, the power to the camera would be cut immediately and the camera would not have had a chance to shut down gracefully. Through testing it was easy to see this, when the car was turned off the camera continued to run for about 3 seconds afterwards.

IMG_20160401_180749Constant voltage applied, note dash cam is powered off.

IMG_20160401_180803
Acc voltage applied, note dash cam is now powered on.

Fuse Box in Civic:

First order of business was to find constant 12v power and acc 12v power… so I pulled out the multi meter and found fuse location 10 (constant) and 23 (acc). There are obviously more possible locations and the ability to tap other spots as well but these worked for me.

IMG_20160331_164759fuse

IMG_20160401_182319Here’s the successful test configuration with the supplied wiring.

Prepare Ground Wire and Locate Grounding Location

The only modification I had to make to the supplied wiring was to turn the black (ground) wire into a usable ground wire for installation. The process is quite simple, it just requires cutting the end of the cable and crimping on a more appropriate end.

IMG_20160401_200917IMG_20160401_202347

There are certainly many spots to ground this off, I picked a location that I thought was suitable for this application.

IMG_20160401_200635IMG_20160401_200439

Install the Dash Cam and Run the Wire

Now that we have everything ready to go, find a spot to stick the dash cam. The most common spot is right behind the rear view mirror so it does not obstruct your vision in any way. I chose to go right behind the mirror just on the right hand side.

IMG_20160401_203310

Run the wire… it seems daunting but really it’s rather simple as you will find out. I’ve marked the pictures in red to illustrate where the wire is running.

IMG_20160401_204330IMG_20160401_204335

IMG_20160401_204747IMG_20160401_204847

IMG_20160401_204855IMG_20160401_205252

IMG_20160401_205307

Wire it up

As described early, this is wired to a 9th generation Honda Civic (model year 2012). Yellow wire (constant 12v) fuse 10, red wire (acc) fuse 23, black wire (ground).

IMG_20160402_130451

Configure Settings

Plug the yellow rca/composite wire into some kind of display. I didn’t have a free TV kicking around so I ended up having to make a custom rca cable with some left over cables I had lying around. I ran it to my TV inside and used Facetime to program it… funny I know but it worked well and rather quickly. This allowed me to configure a few settings, the most important being date/time. 2 other settings of value are the 720p/1080p and the 1, 3, or 5 minute length setting.

IMG_20160402_124433

File Size and Recording Capacity

I set my camera to use the 5 minute video length setting. I did some rough calculations and it appears that the camera can record a maximum of approximately 300 minutes of footage at 1080p. The camera is geared to roll over on it’s own, so it’s maintenance free.

size

Final Thoughts

All in all it was fun little project, it didn’t break the bank and it was a good learning experience. Overall the camera is not too bad, at night it’s not the greatest but as I always say you get what you pay for.

I’ve taken some video and I have posted it up, enjoy and as a side note I’m sorry about the slightly distorted sound during the night-time clip, my music was a tad too loud.

Run Mac OS X on Windows 10 Using VMware

I’ve never been a Mac fan, but I do have to say that our family does have several Apple products in our home, 2 iPads and an iPhone… for the kids and my wife. Whether I like to admit it or not they do make a highly polished quality product.

It had been an interest of mine recently to run Mac OS X on my powerhouse PC at home, but I wanted it to run as virtual machine. I raked over some sites that stated it was not possible, I found that rather funny I mean how is it not possible doesn’t Mac run on Intel hardware nowadays anyhow? Then I stumbled on this video.

It does a good job at showing the basic steps, however it doesn’t explain much along the way, I figured it would be good to break this down and explain it.

  1. Download this file (approx. 6 GB), within this file is a file called Yosemite 10.10 Retail VMware.rar, this needs to be extracted to a location of your choice, preferably onto a SSD. This rar file contains VMware prepped OS X files (vmx, vmdk) for use with VMware products.
  2. Install VMware Workstation or VMware Player, I chose the Workstation route since I already had it installed.
  3. Confirm VMware Workstation or VMware Player is installed correctly, and close the program.
  4. Download the latest OS X Unlocker, at the time of writing it is version 2.0.8.
  5. Extract the contents of OS X Unlocker onto your computer. OS X Unlocker essentially patches the installed VMware product so Mac OS X can be installed. It does this modifying some core VMware system files.
  6. Browse to the folder where you extracted OS X Unlocker and Run the following files As Administrator (win-install.cmd and win-update-tools.cmd)os_x_unlocker
    Note: if something goes wrong or you’d like to restore the original files for your VMware application you can run win-uninstall.cmd.
  7. Run VMware Workstation or VMware Player and select Open a Virtual Machine.vmware_open_a_vm
  8. Select the Mac OS X 10.9.vmx file and select Open.vmware_open_vmx
  9. Go to Edit virtual machine settings. Either by right clicking on the Mac OS X 10.9 object on the left side panel or via the tabbed window.vmware_edit_vm
  10. You can keep the default resources if you prefer or bump them up, I personally bumped them up to 8 GB and 2 vCPU. The important option here is Version which is on the Options tab. This needs to be set to Mac OS X 10.7. This option is not available by default, the OS X Unlocker we ran earlier has exposed this option. If for some reason you don’t see this option, look at re-running the OS X Unlocker steps, it needs to be Run as Administrator.vmware_mac_os_x
  11. Now power on the Virtual Machine using Power on this virtual machine or by right clicking and going to Power > Start Up Guest.
  12. The machine will boot up and take you through the OS X setup process, it’s very quick and painless. Once complete it’s now time to install the latest VMware Tools onto the newly created OS X VM. You may have picked up on it when we ran win-update-tools.cmd for OS X Unlocker… it pulled down the latest and greatest for us to mount and install.
  13. Right click on the Mac OS X 10.9 VM on the left side and go to Settings.
  14. Go to CD/DVD and go to Browse and mount the darwin.iso file. Make sure Connected is checked!
    mount_vmware_tools_darwinbrowse_vmware_tools_darwin
  15. The VMware Tools installer should pop right up, just click Install VMware Tools and then reboot upon completion.os_x_vmware_tools
  16. If you want to take it a step further to improve the VM performance there is tool called BeamOff which is included in this file we downloaded in step 1. This tool disables beam synchronization which in turn improves OS X VM performance.
    • Mount the Beamoff Tool.iso similarly to VMware Tools in the step previous. Alternately you can download BeamOff zip and do this yourself if you prefer.
    • Extract the BeamOff application to somewhere on your VM.
    • Go to System Preferences.
      os_x_system_pref
    • Go to Users & Groups.os_x_users_and_groups
    • Click on your User account and select Login Items, click the + and browse and select beamoff.os_x_login_beamoff
  17. At the time of this writing OS X El Capitan is now available, if you want to apply it, go fetch the update from the App Store and install it!os_x_el_capitan

Hopefully you found this informative, I found it interesting and thought I should share my experience.