Tweaking Vista, TV Converter Box Program, Bricked WT54G, Minifox for Firefox

Tweaking Vista

Vista. Yea, you’ve all heard of the problems or more than likely ran into them yourself if you got it on a new computer system or installed it.

I’ve been helping people with it, usually to get rid of it in most cases or live with it and learn it in others. But really I haven’t had the opportunity to sit down with it and figure the in’s and out’s of it, on a deeper level.

My new laptop came with it. Of course, my first thought was to dump Vista and install XP. I’d dealt with so many headaches concerning Vista, and read about many more.

Well, no, I guess my first thought wasn’t exactly to dump Vista – my first thought was to dump the incredibly slow and resource-munching Norton. I did that; which is pretty much mandatory with me. Norton, in any of its present forms is a hulk of bloatware. It does it’s job, especially for those who really need it, but there’s many better alternatives.

So after that I set out to really get into the ‘innards’ of Vista and see if I could make it usable for a super power user like me, and maybe go a bit further for some of my customers then just making sure they know how to use it and turn off the standard crap that they don’t need and slugs everything down.

After a week of tinkering I’ve sped Vista up tremendously; I’ve gotten rid of the idiotic pop-up messages that ask you questions all the time (like from the “User Account Control” [first thing I disabled] and the built-in firewall), turned off the useless sidebar (installed Rocketdock instead) and hungry real-time indexing, unselected some start-up services that were totally unnecessary, put on a compatible firewall and anti-virus, and am delving into the other services that can be disabled. Black Viper, who you’ll know if you’re a tech or a tweaking junkie, has some great stuff out. Absolutely required reading.

I eventually partitioned the harddrive and stuck XP on another partition, then repaired the freaky boot stuff that Vista uses (and the XP boot loader destroyed) as well as the MBR. The whole thing took a couple of hours of playing around, though it’s not that complicated once you use some of the various software made to make it easier. I wanted to figure it out myself though.

Now I have XP on it also, with a nice menu for dual-booting. Maybe Linux next.

But you know what? With the tweaks and such I don’t mind Vista. It’s not great, but it’s not real bad.

There’s a bunch of stuff it won’t run, especially some of the higher level stuff. Things that you guys who maybe stick to using browsers and e-mail and Office might not run into. But I bet sometime you’ll find something it won’t run, at least until software is updated from each manufacturer/programming house.

Even with the tweaks the normal use of the GUI interface is slightly slower than XP on the same machine. Aero may be the culprit, but it’s too damned pretty to get rid of (at least until I get sick of it – and then likely I’ll turn off themes altogether; a great savings in speed and resources). And some programs seem to run slower, especially their interfaces which, again; may have something to do with the Aero theme.

On the other hand some things blaze while they go somewhat slower on XP. Math-oriented, those with high levels of processing for example. Celestia is a good demo – the 64 bit architecture of the machine as well as Vista makes the smooth rendering even smoother on this machine.

So, I plan on keeping it on my laptop – running alongside XP, but more than likely the primary OS on that particular computer. Why, oh why, did MS make such a crappy system out of the box with so many nonsense and wasteful and plain idiotic parts that could; easily be turned off to make it run better and easier and more user-friendly.

My conclusions are fairly simple.

It’s a crappy operating system in its stock form. For those who don’t do a lot with their computers they may not notice it much, or it may be a minor annoyance. More than likely a good percentage will really not want to switch at this point or may want to go back to XP (like so many already have and will continue to for a while).

If you’re into tweaking or have someone like me to do it for you; Vista can be hyped up, streamlined, and made much much more usable and faster. You really won’t mind it as long as your favorite programs run on it in that case. Otherwise, avoid it for now.

TV Converter Box Program

We don’t live too far from a good-sized city. Unfortunately the area is serviced by a somewhat disreputable and money-hungry conglomerate. You’ve probably heard of them if you live in this part of the country, and if you have you’ve probably heard the same problems with them.

We’ve only about six hundred feet from a cable line but the company refuses to run it to us. Scratch that – they’d run it for us; for thousands and thousands of dollars. We’ve tried for years to get them to.

On an earlier blog entry you’ll see the set up I put into place using two of my hacked routers to span the distance between a neighbor and us, so as to allow us to share his broadband. But after a while, though we had the system in place, we lost the interest in giving the money-grubbers a cent of our money – either for Internet or TV.

So we get our TV off the satellite (DishNetwork) which works tremendously well and has been digital for years. HD channels are also available but we’ve never gotten around to go with it as it costs a bit more.

But for local channels we need to receive them off-the-air. Our TV doesn’t have an HD converter box nor integral tuner for it, even though it’s compatible, and our local stations are simulcasting in both analog and HD now, and have been for quite some time.

As most of you probably know eventually those receiving over-the-air broadcasts will have to be receiving it in HD as the analog signals will end next year.

What a pisser, huh? We have all this high quality TV equipment with a high quality digital signal but to receive a couple local channels we have to get them in a crappy analog signal, and will be out in the cold next year when they stop broadcasting in analog.

Like many areas, our local TV stations aren’t carried by the satellite company as yet, otherwise it wouldn’t be a problem.

So at midnight on January 1st I logged onto The Government’s TV Converter Program Website and applied for a couple vouchers for converters boxes. Yes, they turned the site on at exactly midnight 😉

Unfortunately it seems that the general idea is for the government to supply these vouchers for the cheaper or moderately cheap boxes. In other words most will only take the digital HD signal and down-convert them to analog – at least it’s looking that way.

What we want is a converter that takes the digital HD signal and outputs it into an equally good signal via any number of ways so that our TV can access that high quality signal. We’ll have to wait and see what the boxes will really be capable of doing. My guess is they will at least have RCA cables and maybe S-video; better than analog.

This whole process though… Sure, the analog range is kinda splotchy and wasteful because our transmitters are much more precise now then when TV first went on the air. And the bandwidth being wasted can be used for bigger and better things. But I can’t help but wonder about this whole thing. The explanations the FCC gives, well, I think a group of politicians are getting their hands royally greased in this whole deal by certain large manufacturers and services, while we; the taxpayer, take up the slack by helping to provide the vouchers and paying for converters our of our own pockets as a stopgap measure for those who receive off-the-air signals. What a boondoggle.

Bricked WT54G.

Ugh, out of the blue my WT54G V5 bricked on me. I’m going to try all the usual methods first, but I’m afraid that I am going to have to take it apart and do a manual restart. Great. Risky.

My WR54G V3 is still running strong on the Linux DD-WRT software (though I was writing a configuration and accidentally turned it off before it was finished. A simple reset fixed it, no problem.). But the non-Linux version seems to be pretty flaky on the V5, squished onto the smaller space as it is too.

[I did finally have to do a manual reset after taking it apart, and it is running fine now and has been for years on newer versions of DD-WRT.]

Minifox for Firefox

For those who like to tweak Firefox and want as much screen real estate as possible check out the Minifox [link deleted – no longer working] extension. It squeezes everything down, gaining you a few lines of space in your browser window, There’s also a version for Thunderbird, though I haven’t tried the Thunderbird one as yet.

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