Samsung N110: Wi-fi and Sound Problems Sorted!

I will fight to my dying breath to avoid being labelled as part of the Samsung netbook “community” (Lest I be grouped alongside those pony-tailed, Jobs-worshipping Mac-addicts) but there seem to be a fair few of us out there owning at least one or more of the popular and crtically-lauded Samsung product line*. This comes in very handy when a problem develops: in most cases there is at least one other person who has experienced the same thing.

Since I purchased my delightful little Samsung N110, ‘Samantha’ to her friends, she’s unfortunately been plagued by two issues that have significantly affected my ability to make use of her in the ways I’d envisioned.

1. The first concerned her sound capabilities. I don’t have any form of music playback equipment anywhere in my home other than my desktop PC which, yes, is capable of some superb sound but sometimes it’s nice to have music playing somewhere other than the small room I laughingly call a ‘Study’. If you have friends round, for example, or even just if you fancy an evening on the sofa with a good book. So my idea was to set up a pair of good, bassy speakers in the lounge and use the Netbook as a portable, programmable music centre. What little music I have (only about 14 gig so far which is nothing compared to some people’s collections) fits easily on her ample 160Gb hard-drive.

Sadly, right from the word go Samantha’s sound card has been popping and cracking whenever I attempted to play anything. So far it’s been bearable for travelling – the volume produced by the device’s own internal speaker isn’t anything to write home about. But when hooked up to good speakers and a mighty woofer…let’s just say I very nearly binned the speakers before the real cuplrit was identified.

However, while attempting to download new sound drivers for her last night directly from the Samsung website, I happened to be idly fiddling with some of her sound settings and noticed that in the Control Panel, in the Sounds and Multimedia Devices applet, the sound acceleration was set to its second setting (the fourth being fully accelerated). Curious, I moved the slider to full and then fired up one of my recent favourite tracks in the mighty Foobar.

Lo and behold, she played smoothly without any of the popping or cracking! I’ve yet to give her a thorough test so this could just have been a fluke, but I’m greatly encouraged so far.

[UPDATE] She played through my whole lunch hour without a pop – job done!

2. I love the idea of Wi-fi. Being able to surf the web from any point in or around your home – who can resist that! But try as I might I could not get Samantha to connect to my wireless router in any way but over a completely unsecured connection, meaning anyone within range could hop on and start using/abusing my precious bandwidth. To me, it was like leaving the front door of my house wide open all day – an open invitation for nefarious types to come on in and do whatever they wanted. I managed, but for peace of mind had to keep switching the wireless capability itself off and on through my desktop PC. Hardly an ideal situation, and one I resolved to sort as soon as possible.

Google wasn’t being particularly helpful though, finding many people suffering from identical issues with similar equipment but providing sweet French Apples in the way of definitive solutions. Some hardy souls had even gone as far as complete reinstalls but I could not bring myself to even consider following their example.

[DIVERSION AHEAD]

I strongly believe that if you have a problem that needs a complete reinstall then a) you shouldn’t be using computers and b) you REALLY shouldn’t be involved in tech support. Advocating a reinstall is like me telling you to solve your problems with home draft exclusion by burning down and rebuilding your house. Granted, reinstalling an operating system can be accomplished in far less time but can often be as damaging to you, via your precious data and settings, as any house fire. There’s an art to solving PC issues (and I mean primarily Windows-based PCs), one that only really requires a little time, patience, some skills with a search engine and the occasional ability to piece together data from different sources into a workable solution. Having some understanding of how Windows and your PCs components operate doesn’t hurt, either. I have most of these, which makes it incredibly maddening when jobbing premium-rate tech support teams all over the world use the burn-your-house-down approach as as blanket response to most issues, including those that may only need a simple patch or registry tweak. A pox on them all, I say!

[END OF DIVERSION]

Back to my Wi-fi issues, some forum-ites had reported success using a simple driver update, and had posted a link to the driver in question. Swapping out drivers is usually the best place to start for hardware issues (if you’ve exhausted fiddling with the available software settings) so I decided to give it a go, despite some other forum-ites saying it did nothing for them.

The Atheros wifi driver setup opened and gave me an option to consider – did I want the driver-only install, or something callled driverACU? Google told me the ACU part was most likely the Atheros Client Utility and suggested it had something to do with greater control over the connections, making it the better choice in this instance. What big-G didn’t tell me was that the ACU would take-over control from Windows: I thought they’d work in tandem. Having just got used to the slightly fudgy way Windows managed the connections I now had to spend a few minutes investigating this new software. But hey, I’m a geek: stuff like this is my bread and butter, baby!

Happily, the ACU seemed fairly easy to understand while also lending itself to more easily handle more complex wifi setups than the one I was trying to use. And within a few moments of me typing in my new WPA passkey for the most secure connection my router could handle, the software had smartly established a solid wireless connection to the internet! Hurrah!

Finally, home entertainment in the Grunt Cave enters the 21st century!

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*Just leave the money in the usual account, thanks, Samsung.

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Tron: Legacy – ‘Flynn Lives’ HD Trailer!

Forget that horrid low-res, nearly inaudible old trailer I posted yesterday – check out this newly released Spanking HD version! With an extra few seconds of footage! GEEK-GASM 2: BIGGER, HARDER, LONGER, UNCUT!!

Hmm, ok, so they’ve decided not to let skeevy bloogers like me steal their loveliness, but you can still watch the thing on YouTube.  Just click play on the vid below and you’ll be given a link to that site. The vid runs wider there anyway. Enjoy! 🙂

In addition, there’s this curiosity. Hopefully this is Flynn himself (Jeff Bridges) waxing lyrical on the  upcoming revolution in digital teleportation…

Lastly, there’s this curious site, Flynnlives.com,with another link to the HD trailer and five more boxes just waiting to be unlocked…

Looks like Disney are seriously pimping this one!  O’ Tease me, you great big media-conglomerate-of-lovliness, you!

{UPDATE}

Yea…ok. There’s nothing so humbling as being out-blogged by professionals. 🙂 Go HERE, where they’ve scraped together and lovingly presented much more stuff than I even realised was out there! Thanks, guys!

(One of the more interesting comments on their page: The trailer released last year was done so UNOFFICIALLY by persons unknown. Disney bigwigs apparently hit the roof when they found out, but when the extremely positive fan reaction got back to them they had no choice but to green-light the film!)

Tron: Legacy – First Look!

What beautiful news to wake up to!

America’s annual geek-fest, Comic-con, has gifted the geek community with the first official look at Disney’s new Tron film’s title, Tron: Legacy! Thank GOD they heard the cries of horror at last year’s ‘con when they unveiled the working title, the yoof-centric ‘TR2N’!

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I had a geek-gasm just seeing this. A big one. I had to sit down for a bit to catch my breath and let my knees stop shaking.

They’ve also unveiled an incredible set of concept artwork (laminated, to catch the tears of joy…) Caution: too much eye-candy can make you sick of Real Life…

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The new iGridBike

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That Recognizer seems familiar somehow... 😉 Not so sure about the Matrix-esque visuals, however.

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THAT'S more like it! Grunt Wants One!!!!

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So abstract it defies description. Pure Tron, though. Gorgeous. 😀

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Again, not sure what's going on here but it's very shiny whatever it is. And blue, which just happens to be my favourite colour. 🙂

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The Tron universe finally gets its own street-racer!

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Faster than a very fast thing going exceedingly fast. The first ground-based vehicle to go FTL?

I adore the first film, the 1982 classic starring Bruce “John Sheridan” Boxleitner (of Babylon 5 fame) and none other than Jeff “The Dude” Bridges. More than any other film, Tron is ART, while also being a ripping adventure of the kind Disney used to excel at before they learned how to suck. More than any other film in production I want the great makers to get this one right.

First impressions are good –  but I’m a bit worried that the simplicity of the iconic original visuals has been upgraded too far into the standard Hollywood slickness. If we’ve learned anything from the ILM-fueled live-action Transformers abominations*, it’s that you can make things too complex for people to actually follow (in visual terms). That Apple-inspired bike has me a tad concerned, too. Still, it’s early days yet so I’ll try to keep optimistic. Here’s what the film will be about:

Official Synopsis- Tron: Legacy is a 3D high-tech adventure set in a digital world that’s unlike anything ever captured on the big screen. Sam Flynn (GARRETT HEDLUND), the tech-savvy 27-year-old son of Kevin Flynn (JEFF BRIDGES), looks into his father’s disappearance and finds himself pulled into the same world of fierce programs and gladiatorial games where his father has been living for 25 years. Along with Kevin’s loyal confidant (OLIVIA WILDE), father and son embark on a life-and-death journey across a visually-stunning cyber universe that has become far more advanced and exceedingly dangerous.

Now THAT sounds wonderful. I’ve always loved a bit of ‘dark n dangerous’, me. 😀

Finally, I’ll repost the concept trailer they screen at last year’s Comic-con. This hasn’t much to do with the film itself, being something the makers slapped together in order to get the green light from the studio for the big moolah, but it’s still cream-inducingly amazing. It’s a bit fuzzy, but still lovely to watch. Oh, and turn the volume up so you can hear the crowd going nuts! Enjoy!

What are you waiting for, Disney!?! RELEASE THE FILM NOW!!!

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*I warn you now, DO NOT GET ME STARTED on Transformers!

Postcards from Morrowind

Foreword: This article takes place in a Morrowind heavily modifed over the vanilla install and was inspired by one of my best friends playing it again and describing her experience in conversation (Hello, Sarah!), and also heavily influenced by an ongoing Game Diary written by one of RockPaperShotgun’s four founding members, Alec Meer. I’ve stuck fairly closely to Alec’s list of Mods, albeit tailored to my own desires, but have used one or two more I thought would be useful. I’ll mention these where applicable. Alec’s continuing diaries provide fascinating reading for those seeking a more journalistic interpretation of the enormous range of experiences the practically unparalleled game-world Morrowind has to offer. By contrast, I intend this article to be nothing more than light amusement and a minor showcase of the amazing things the talented and dedicated community has made available for this old classic. Enjoy.

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By far the most undeniably astonishing modification you can make to Morrowind is to unleash the Morrowind Graphical Extender (MGE) upon it. The default game, being a product of the time when computers were not so powerful as today, relies on some very close fogging to keep frame-rates high, hiding everything beyond a certain range as if you are perpetually surround by a thick cone of the stuff. For a world as imaginatively designed as Morrowind this can be extremely frustrating. The MGE utility removes such frustrations. Behold!

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Sunset, looking west from a hill not far from Maar Gan, in the Ashlands region.

Fans of Morrowind’s sequel, Oblivion, are well used to such sweeping landscapes thanks to the new technology developers Bethesda designed for that game. But to see them in Morrowind really does take the breath away. EVERYTHING you see here can be travelled to, including that Dwemer (Dwarven) ruin poking up on the right-hand side of the horizon. Another great feature of MGE is that it can apply better shading and lighting effects – you’ll note the blood red splashes of colour to the left of the snapshot, caused as the setting sun reflects on the water. What’s also enormously exciting it that I’ve had to use the LOWER settings of this mod to get an acceptable frame-rate on my six year old machine at a paltry (but still anti-aliased) 800×600 resolution. Imagine how much better it would look on a modern beast PC!

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A massive Silt-Strider stands ready to transport passengers around Morrowind, on the southern edge of Balmora. Early-morning mists still cling sleepily to the surrounding hills. Aww.

Another of MGE’s capabilities is to apply a blur effect to distant landforms, leading to a faintly romantic depth-of-field effect perfect for fantasy games such as this one. The patches of light you can see above are the product of another mod, Lights300, which applies much more realistic and dynamic lighting conditions to exterior and interior environments and other sources. Interiors look SO much better than the bland ambient lighting the game shipped with, although it does take some getting used to the now-pitch-black caverns, tombs and dungeons! Torches, lamps and lighting spells become vitally important for any intrepid explorer, introducing a much-needed note of real trepidation as sudden frontal attacks from the gloom test nerves and loosen bowels…

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Ahem. Yes, I paid a visit to the House of Earthly Delights in Suran, but only on official business for the Fighter's Guild, I assure you. You can put your hands down now, love. My weapon won't be leaving its sheath this time...

Speaking of human bottoms…this lively, somewhat seedy tavern in Suran benefits hugely, not only from the lighting mod bathing everything in flickering red light, but also from the Better Bodies mod (also Better Faces, Better Hair, etc), an enormous improvement over the rough, gawky, low-poly character models supplied by Bethesda back in 2002. When this young naked dancer completes her spin she is ENTIRELY anatomically correct (and quite deliciously so), meaning this is possibly the only shot (out of the 783 I seem to have taken) that I could show you without me and my blogging being summarily drop-kicked out of the WordPress community. Thankfully, the ladies of Morrowind don’t go in for ‘brazilians’, a practice I’ve always thought makes women look like plastic Barbie dolls anyway. Hurrah for realism!

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Silt-Strider travel agent, Selvil Sareloth, stands watch atop his lonely boarding platform, cheerfully reciting the company sales-mottos to each and every passer-by in his trademark throaty growl: "We make a special run, just for you. Same low price". Drives the ladies wild, so I'm told.

A noteworthy feature of this particular shot (apart from the re-textured surfaces: Morrowind Visual Pack v3) is something we geeks like to call HDR lighting, another fabulous ability of the now legendary MGE mod that seeks to emulate the way lighting contrast is handled by human eyes, the way our irises open and close to adjust to less or more light coming in. This shot perfectly encapsulates the glaring band of brightness that often occurs between grey skies and dark landscape. Taking this shot reminded me very much of the most prominent form of what we laughingly call ‘weather’ in my home town of Aberdeen, which also boasts one of the highest rates of suicide in the North-East of Scotland. Coincidence? I’m not a great believer in it.

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This coy minx steadfastly refusing to share her surname with me was discovered hiding her great beauty under the bushel of a local Imperial Cult office. I did try to coax a little softness out of her, but she weathered my attentions with the kind of measured patience only the truly beautiful learn to wield when being pestered by those of lesser attractiveness. Bitch. Still, I've dated religious women before and they always tend to clash badly with my Heathen ways. Perhaps this was for the best.

My last snap of the day showcases another of the great mods Alec had selected for his Morrowind adventure: MCA, or Morrowind Comes Alive. MCA adds hundreds more NPCs to the game, making the world feel more, um, alive than the default game, which often tended to be a sparse, lonely experience. Now we have bands of bandits roving the badlands, shoppers shopping in the towns and villages, and many gorgeous and startling additions like the one pictured above. I once encountered a pleasant, blue-skinned Dunmer (Dark Elf) woman outside a Daedric (Demon) Ruin who had the most amazing wings upon her back but, to my eternal regret, I had not packed my camera on that trip. I also found a Lay-Preistess in Vivec who bore a stunning resemblance to my good friend, Suzanne. But when I later returned, camera in hand, she was nowhere to be seen…

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If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading. I’ve enjoyed putting this together so much I may do this or something similar one day soon! If you fancy trying the mods you can simply google for them, read the lists of links Alec has diligently placed within his precis articles or, if you have some time, why not sift through this fairly mind-boggling  list? Please be careful, though. Spending hours looking for the right dresses to put into a game means you may be taking it all too seriously, and – if you are aggressively masculine like myself – might lead to some decidedly uncomfortable moments of self-awareness.

Keeping Pidgin aloft

I’ve been chatting a lot on Facebook recently. For the few lingering hold-outs in igloos and mud huts that aren’t aware, Facebook comes with its very own tiny little chat facility. The Good: If a friend is logged into Facebook, you’ll see their name appear and then have the option of opening a tiny chat window in which you can both converse in real-time via the magic of your keyboard. The bad: that’s virtually all the chat window does. You can open it up to full screen to avoid the claustrophobic feeling of typing into a postage stamp but that’s really the only feature of note. No personalising the font. No saving message history. No customising your contacts. A smiley icon or two, but hardly an exhaustive list. The chat box functionality has obviously been targeted at short, concise conversations, as opposed to two people determinedly putting the world to rights.

Poor old Pidgin was becoming superfluous.

In these heady days of social networking I can count on one hand the number of friends I have that still use Instant Messaging (and even then, only rarely), even with Pidgin’s handy facility to connect to multiple IM protocols: AIM, GoogleTalk, ICQ, MySpace, MSN and many more. I have Pidgin set to run at system startup so it’s generally there, ready to use, whenever my PC is on (Unless I shut it down to free up system resources for Gaming). And yet all too often that small white box in the lower right quadrant of my screen was empty, unused and somewhat forlorn. I was giving serious thought to retiring the poor thing.

Thank the stars, then, for a plug-in that integrates Facebook chat into the superior Pidgin client! I love that solving problems on PC’s is often as simple as asking the right questions of a search engine. 🙂

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Usage: Once you’ve installed the plugin, simply add a new account using your Facebook login details and you’re ready to go. As soon as someone logs in to Facebook they’ll appear in Pidgin’s main window neatly categorised in your contact list; Pidgin creates a permanent entry for new contacts although I’d advise entering an alias ASAP – if you close and reopen Pidgin for any reason you’ll be left with FB’s default reference codes, eg: 541109887.

I’m still working out exactly how this integration works within Pidgin. If I come across any useful tips or pointers (the website documentation doesn’t explain much beyond installing the thing) I’ll let you know.