Fix a stuck broken-off Apple Lightning cable connector tip!

Somehow the Lightning cable connector tip snapped off inside my girlfriend’s iPad. At first, it seemed impossible to get the broken piece out of the slot since there is nothing to grab onto and the opening is terribly small.

A Google search came up with several possible solutions, some of which suggested super-gluing the broken piece to a cut ziptie or wires. I tried the ziptie+glue, but just couldn’t get a strong enough bond to yank the piece out. (On a side note, I didn’t have the same issue gluing my fingers together! ;-) Of course, you also have to be very careful not to get the glue elsewhere and ruin the connector. I do not recommend using glue. What worked for me involved something much more simple: a baby diaper safety pin. Read more

My thoughts on the iPad Pro

I thought I’d share my thoughts on the newly announced iPad Pro. I like the option of using a stylus…errr pencil. This positions the Pro as a laptop-replacement device; however, iOS just doesn’t handle massive amounts of files efficiently. You need to be able to natively connect a 2TB portable USB drive or at least an SD card and have the iPad read directly from the storage without requiring you to first copy the files to the device. For that, iOS needs a real file system. Read more

51 days later…my lost iPad Mini was found!

On June 23rd, I stupidly forgot my 64GB WiFi+Cellular iPad Mini 2 in the seat-back pocket on a United Airlines flight to Colorado. I was really bummed and dutifully filed a lost item report. I got a little hopeful on June 29th when I got a Find-My-iPhone email telling me that “Mini Me,” my cleverly named iPad Mini, was found near Chicago O’Hare International Airport. As the weeks passed without a word from the airline, however, I gave up. After a month, I got an automated email saying that the item was never recovered and they were no longer searching. “Oh well,” I thought. Read more

AirPlay emulator for Windows!

Just installed shairport4w which is an AirTunes emulator for Windows. It basically allows you to wirelessly stream music to your PC from your iPod/iPad/iPhone/iTunes by making your Windows PC “look” like an AirPlay device.

So what I’m doing is kinda interesting. I’ve got a Subsonic server running on one PC that is streaming music to my iPad via the iSub app. The iSub app sends the music to another PC that is running shairport4w! Seems to work perfectly. Very cool!

I tried streaming to some speakers via Bluetooth, but what I don’t like about that method is that *all* audio goes to the BT speakers. So if the speakers aren’t on, you’ll hear nothing and just have to remember to turn off BT or disconnect the device. Using AirPlay you generally get to choose from the app what the target speaker device is.

Apple iPad causes back problems

Have you seen the billboards where the iPad user is comfortably lounging on a couch or something, relaxingly using their Apple iPad? Well, maybe if they showed their face, they would be grimacing.

Let me explain. Since I started using my iPad more and more, I’ve noticed I’m starting to get acute back pains. I think this is mostly caused when I use it sitting in bed before I go to sleep. In some ways just as it is being used in the ads. You don’t get a lot of back support sitting in bed and I suppose my back is hunched over for too long a period. I’ve tried pillows and such, but it’s impossible to make it the functional equivalent of sitting in a chair.

I’ve tried using it laying flat with the iPad propped up on a small pillow on my chest. It’s a little awkward, but my back seems better. The device is pretty heavy and you don’t really notice it at first. You really can’t hold it comfortably very long in one hand. I’m guessing that the weight contributes to the problem.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I thing it is an amazing device and I will continue to use it. However, I am thinking seriously about getting the lighter Amazon Kindle for reading in bed (and outside use). It will be interesting to see if mainstream media starts jumping on Apple on this. Picking on Apple seems to be the thing to do these days. I did a Google search and got some hits on the topic. I’m going to coin the phrase now: “iPad Syndrome”!

Think the iPhone 4 has issues? Try using the Nokia N97.

I find it very entertaining the back and forth going on between Apple and Nokia over the whole antenna problem. Honestly, people are making too much of it. The only people that should complain is anyone that wouldn’t use a case. Of course, you’d have to be pretty stupid to not use a case on a phone with a front and back made of **G L A S S**, but I digress.

I owned the “flagship” Nokia N97 for 8 torturous months. What a piece of sh*t it is. Forget dropped calls, there were times when I couldn’t even answer a call! Navigating through the ancient UI was a test of anyone’s patience. Push a button and you have to wait to see if it really recognized the touch. Despite having 32GB of memory, it has this tiny partition where required system and programs files needed to stored, so you’d run out of memory anyways! And the 5MP camera with Carl Zeiss lens??? Oh, using the flash caused the light to bleed into the picture–like some iPhone 4 cases–but there was nothing you could do. Well, you could mitigate it a little by marking the area surrounding the lens and flash with a Sharpie! (How would that go over, if that was Apple’s fix?!) You couldn’t even read the letters on the keyboard if the backlight was on. I could go on and on about the N97, but I’ll spare you. If anything needed to be recalled it was the N97…geez!

Before the N97, I had the N95 which was revolutionary in its day. Anyways, I find the iPhone 4 to be by far the best phone I’ve ever used. The damn thing just works.

If loving the iPhone (and iPad) makes me an Apple fanboy, then so be it. Note that I still use Windows for serious work and will never move to a Mac. I just think that Apple got the small form factor OS right.

If you don’t like the iPhone 4, take it back and get a refund. Actually, I think Apple should give all complainers an N97 and their money back!

Broke down and bought an iPad! Road Test Results.

“The force is strong with this one” –Darth Vader

I was pretty much convinced that I was not going to get an iPad and was instead going to wait for a full Windows version. It just seemed too limited in what you could do. However, I saw a Youtube demo of a Windows Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) app called iTap RDP and it pretty much made me run out and get one.

If you don’t know, RDP is a feature of Windows that lets you remotely log into one and control it just like you were sitting at that computer. (Note: Only the advanced versions of Windows has it.) There are several RDP apps, but I chose  iTap because it seemed to be the only one that transferred the audio as well to the iPad.  (On a side note, apps that use actual Windows RDP are superior to those that don’t. Basically the others, like Logmein and VNC draw the display like they are playing a video. This takes a lot of resources. RDP in contrast operates at the OS level and draws the interface object by object, which is much faster.) iTap RDP is awesome! The way it uses multi-finger gestures is genius and makes it so easy to use. The darn thing even works decently on my iPod Touch!

I was wondering how iTunes was going to handle syncing multiple devices (i.e., my iPod Touch and iPad) to the same machine, but it treats each one separately like you would expect. A nice surprise was that apps that I already purchased for my Touch can be synced to my iPad without re-purchasing. I had expected to have to buy new copies for my iPad. Nicely done Apple!

There have been some reports that the iPad does not charge when connected to some USB ports. While I found this to be true when connected to my USB hub, even though it has an AC adapter, I’ve found that once it hits sleep mode, it charges nonetheless. It’s only when it’s plugged in and fully powere up that it says it is not charging. Not a big deal IMHO.

Apple was out of the official case and I’m kinda glad based on the reviews I’ve read. I went to Staples and ended up getting the Built NY Netbook Sleeve to just protect it when I put it in my backpack. It’s a pretty nice and snug fit and at $21 much cheaper than official iPad cases. I also got the one on the right off eBay. Only $20.

Road Test

I took my iPadOn a recent business trip. I tethered it to my Nokia N97 via WiFi using Joikuspot. RDP performance over the 3G connection was surprisingly acceptable with iTap. Typing on the large touchscreen keyboard is very easy and fast. Sure, not physical keyboard speeds, but pretty fast.

Something that I didn’t expect was how heavy the iPad is. You can’t really hold it in one hand for very long. For extended use, you’ll need to prop it up in your lap–just like in the ads.

It was awesome watching videos on it during flight. However, one thing that is oddly missing is the blue “watched” dot for videos. On my iPod Touch, when you list videos there is a small dot that indicates if you haven’t watched the video or if it’s partially watched. It doesn’t show if you’ve finished watching it. iTunes has the same dot. For whatever reason, the iPad only shows thumbnails of the videos, but no blue dot! That’s crazy if you have a bunch of TV shows loaded, all in various states of being watched or not. It appears to not even track it because, even when I sync to iTunes, the blue dot in iTunes is not updated. Stupid move Apple.

The Built case mentioned above has worked fine in my backpack. I just got my other eBay case, so I haven’t really had the chance to put it though its paces. It is very similar to one I use for my iPod Touch. which I love, so I have high hopes.

Conclusion

Do I think the iPad can replace my laptop? No way. It just doesn’t do enough and RDP, although fast, is still much slower than using a real PC. Does it replace my iPod Touch? Again, no. It’s too big for quick portable use. Will it accompany me on my next trip? Definitely! It’s wonderful for watching videos and passing the time at the airport or in my hotel room. To sum it up, it replaces my iPod Touch is cases where I don’t need to pull a portable Internet device out of my pocket.

Update  2010-05-10:

I caught a cold and tried to use the iPad while lying in bed. Forget it. The beast is too heavy. Had to go back to my iPod Touch. It was fine propped up in my lap of course.

Sharing a wireless hotel Internet connection

UPDATE 2/21/16: Easier way to share wireless hotel Internet connection

UPDATE 11/24/13:
I haven’t needed to share a WiFi connection for quite a while but the need came up recently and I decided to revisit this popular blog post from April 2010…Wow. How did anyone follow this convoluted post??? I’m so sorry. Obviously it’s time to write a more straight forward one. Click here.

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Connect to a hotel WiFi and set up your own private WiFi hotspot using an ordinary wireless router!

After a couple recent business trips, I found that I really wanted to connect my laptop, iPod Touch and phone to the hotel WiFi. However, since the hotel charges for each unique MAC address, I ‘d have to pay for multiple connections. I scoured the Internet looking for some type of wireless sharing device to solve my problem. Surely one existed. It would be dead simple if I wanted to share a wired Ethernet jack (everyday router/NAT, right?). However, I could find no out-of-the-box solution to share a wireless connection. Initially, I did it the hard way using an Apple AirPort Express wired to my laptop (see below for my original post). I could get it to work most the time, but it was a real pain to change configurations. After a little more digging, I found a much more elegant and easy solution.

Do I Need to Repeat Myself?

A few years ago, I hacked a Linksys router with the DD-WRT opensource firmware which allowed me to use it as a network bridge, giving wireless capabilities to my Ethernet-only network devices . I hadn’t paid much attention to that community since then, but my new needs made me check up on what they were doing. Well, it looks like that whole movement has grown incredibly. The best part was that they have moved on from just network bridging to the type of network repeating I needed; one that creates a secondary network! Another surprising thing is that Linksys, as well as other manufacturers, now openly embrace the use of opensource firmware. How times have changed.

Different Flavors of Repeaters

Let me explain why this particular type of repeating is necesssary. When you connect a basic router to, say, your cable or DSL modem, you are adding just the router to your ISP’s network. The devices “behind” the router in your home are on your local area network (LAN) only. The router manages all of the network traffic between devices as well as to and from your ISP’s network. From your ISP’s perspective, the router looks like a single client device.

A wireless network repeater is a device used to expand the range of a wireless LAN. A few home routers offer this as an optional mode. Technically, these are repeater bridges since they create a secondary network segment and connect (i.e., bridge) it to the primary segment. The important part is that both the primary and secondary network segments are on the same LAN.

You might add a repeater bridge upstairs when your wireless router (connected to your cable modem) was downstairs. Devices connecting to the upstairs repeater will operate as if they were connected to the downstairs router. Why would you do this? Well, it may be problematic trying to connect upstairs devices directly to the downstairs router due to a weak signal. Connecting upstairs devices to the upstairs repeater may be more dependable.

The flavor of repeater that I need, however, is one where the repeater creates a secondary segment, but creates one that is its own separate LAN. To do this, it must also do DHCP and NAT. Like an ISP that can only see the primary router, from the primary router’s perspective, it only sees the repeater, even though behind the repeater there may be many other devices. The opensource DD-WRT firmware allows me to turn a cheap Linksys router into such a repeater.

One thing you might take away from the illustration is how dangerous it is to connect directly to a hotel WiFi. It is wide open to attacks from other computers connected at the hotel.

The Easy Way

After reading up what I needed, I bought an Linksys WRT54GL wireless router for $60 at Frys, installed the latest DD-RT firmware, and followed a dead simple on-line tutorial. I had the router sharing a wireless connection in about 20 minutes. (Beats the pants off the days of torture I endured doing it the hard way.) Sure, it’s an old-school bulky blue Linksys router with an AC adapter and not as sleek as the Apple AirPort, but it’s rock solid and works like a charm. To flash the firmware, I used the “Mini-Build required for inital flashing via WEB, v24 preSP2 (Build13064)” file and just used the router’s web interface firmware upgrade function. Easy as pie.

When updating the DD-WRT settings, it may help to understand that the Physical Interface is the part that connects the router to the wireless access point (i.e., the actual Internet connection). As such, you have to manually enter the SSID and passphrase, if any, so the router can make the connection. You’ll need to change these two settings, if you later need to connect to a different access point. However, there is a little optional step that will make the router a universal wireless repeater. (I’m referring to the nvram set wl_ssid=”” start up script step.) This will only work for unsecured connections, like most hotels, but I’m wondering how it works if there are multiple access points in range. FYI I didn’t add the script.

In addition to the Physical Interface, you need to set up the Virtual Interface. This is the access point you are creating that you will connect your laptop and other devices to. What’s the difference? Well, the router only has one radio. As such, it is impossible for it to be truly communicating with the Internet access point (i.e., acting as a client) while simultaneously broadcasting to remote connections (i.e., acting as a host). The cleaver programmers quickly alternate between the two tasks, so from the user’s perspective, it appears as if it’s doing things simultaneously. Genius!

Anyways, this was easy to do and seems to work well. Below is the original entry I was going to post before I found the easy way. It may help you understand what the WRT54GL is doing; however, it remains mostly because I spent too damn long writing and editing it to just trash it =).

UPDATE 4/6/10:
After my success with the Linksys WRT54GL, I  switched to a Buffalo WHR-HR-G54. The Buffalo takes up about one-half the space and only has a single external antenna. In fact, it has an internal one and seems to work fine only using that if I’m in close proximity. Also, Buffalo is suppose to start shipping routers with DD-WRT pre-installed!

UPDATE 4/15/10:
On my first trip with the new repeater and it works flawlessly! A side benefit is that all my devices automatically connected to it since they already had the connection settings saved. Also, even though this particular hotel does not secure their WiFi (i.e., I could connect all my devices for free even without the repeater), I’m still using the repeater since it provides some level of protection between my stuff and the hotel’s WiFi network. Speed hasn’t been an issue.

UPDATE 6/17/10:
I feel compelled to state the obvious that this set up will not protect you from the normal hazards of connecting to a public WiFi hotspot. The normal suggestions to use HTTPS and VPN still apply.

UPDATE 11/15/13:
This post continues to get tons of hits after 3-1/2 years! Anyways, many routers have the bridge feature built-in and you don’t really need DD-WRT anymore, at least from what I’ve read. The TP-LINK TL-WR702N looks really good and it’s so tiny. I actually ordered the 703N version from China (via eBay) which already has DD-WRT installed. It was only $26! I’ll post something when I get it to test.

UPDATE 12/7/14:
The instructions miss an important step: After you set the Physical Interface settings and save, go to Status > Wireless and click Site Survey at the bottom. Look for the desired network in the list that appears and click the Join button on the right. Note that hovering over the entry in the Open column will tell you what type of password security is being used so you can use that in the following step.

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The Hard Way

I found a lot of nuggets of information on the Internet, but no one place that really let me get my arms around the solution. Hopefully, I’ll succeed where others have failed :-) There are basically just two things you need to do: 1) Hook up a wired network bridge to your laptop that wirelessly connects to the hotel WiFi access point; and, 2) Put your laptop in ad hoc mode. After that, you can easily connect any wireless device, like an iPod Touch, to your laptop, which now acts as an access point. (See illustration)

First, you need to get a network bridge. What is a bridge? It’s just a device that connects one network to another and manages the connection. In our case, it is bridging a wireless network (e.g., the hotel’s WiFi) to a wired network (your laptop only). You can find dedicated bridges, but they are expensive and not very portable. The best thing to get is a WiFi router that has a “bridge” mode. (Sometimes it’s called a client mode or not even called anything specifically!) I found three portable devices that looked like they had a bridge mode: The D-Link DWL-G730AP, the ASUS WL330GE, and the Apple AirPort Express.

On a side note, Linksys once offered the WTR54GS Wireless G Travel Router. From what I could gather, this is exactly what I was looking for, but sadly it appears to have been long out of production with no apparent replacement from Linksys or a competitor. The key listed feature is “shares a wired or wireless internet connection”. Other than the WTR54GS, I could not find a single portable device that would share a wireless connection out of the box. The ASUS WL330GE does have a repeater mode, but from what I can tell, it will only extent coverage and doesn’t have the capability of simultaneously creating it’s own independent network.

I opted for the AirPort because of it’s nice compact design that doesn’t require a bulky AC adapter. The D-Link and ASUS units looked kinda outdated too. The AirPort supports 802.11n. I gotta say, though, as nice as the AirPort looks outside, the software interface is ugly as hell and cumbersome. Every other router I’ve ever seen uses a nice web interface except this one. Basically you set the settings in a PC utility and it transfers a settings file to the device.

(NOTE: The following instructions are for a PC running Vista, but you should be able to do the same things on other operating systems.)

A couple things to take care of first:

  1. Connect your computer to the AirPort with an Ethernet cable.
  2. You must be in range of the wireless network.

OK, let’s configure your AirPort to work in bridge mode.

  1. Run the AirPort Utility.
  2. After your device is recognized, click the Continue button. (Note that it can take its sweet time to recognize your device.)
  3. Give the device a name and enter a password. This password is just used if you want to change the settings later. Click Continue.
  4. Choose “I want AirPort Express to join my current network” and click Continue.
  5. Choose “I want AirPort Express to wirelessly join my current network” and click Continue.
  6. Finally, select the wireless network you want to access, enter the login info, and click Continue.
  7. Click Update on the next page and your settings should be transferred to the device.
  8. If it all works out, you will get a Congratulations screen and the green light should be lit on the AirPort Express unit.
  9. Unplug the AirPort Express Ethernet cable. Wait a few seconds and re-plug it in.
  10. As you use the AirPort with different access points, you will need to change the wireless network login settings. You can do this by clicking the Manual Setup button and changing the settings on the Wireless tab.

Now, even though the AirPort successfully connects, if you are setting this up at home, your laptop may still be using your normal direct connection to your wireless network. As such, you need to disconnect from any wireless connections (or just temporarily turn off your laptop’s wireless radio). You may also need to set any existing wireless connections so that they don’t reconnect automatically. You need to test if you can connect to the Internet via just the AirPort connection. Open up a browser and try accessing a website. Essentially, your laptop should think it’s connected via a wired Ethernet connection.

The above is probably the trickiest part to getting this whole thing to work. If you don’t really understand networking, it will be difficult to troubleshoot and way beyond this short tutorial. However, it is pretty straightforward and should work.

Next, enable Windows Internet Connection Sharing (ICS) on your laptop:

  1. In Vista, open the Control Panel and click the Network and Sharing Center icon.
  2. Click on Manage Network Connection link on the left side.
  3. Right-click your Local Area Connection icon and choose Properties from the pop-up menu.
  4. Click on the Sharing tab
  5. Enable the “Allow other network users to connect through this computer’s Internet connection” option. (If a drop-down menu is visible, set it to your wireless network connection.)
  6. Close the windows down.

Warning: When you enable ICS, I found that it changes the TCP/IP settings for the Wireless Network Connection to a static IP instead of DHCP. Moreover, ICS will not work through the wireless connection if it is set to DHCP. The ramification is that if you want to go back to directly connection to WiFi via DHCP (e.g., when you are at home). You have to manually change this setting.

Now, set up an Ad-hoc network connection on your laptop:

  1. On the Network and Sharing Center window, click Set up a connection or network.
  2. Choose “Set up a wireles ad hoc (computer-to-computer) network” and click Next and Next again.
  3. Give it a (SSID) name, like “adhoc”
  4. Try WPA2-Personal security and enter your network passphrase. For whatever reason, I’ve had better luck connecting with the less secure WEP.
  5. Enable the Save this network option and click Next.
  6. This should set it up and make it ready to use.

Now, just connect to the Ad-hoc network from your portable device, like it was an ordinary WiFi connection. Be patient! I have found that after you connect to the access point, it can take several seconds for Internet access to be available to the portable device.

In the future, you will likely need to re-connect to the Ad-hoc network on your laptop. Just open the Network and Sharing Center, click the Connect to a network link on the left side and choose the Adhoc connect you created.

Well, that’s it. You can now share a single hotel WiFi connection with multiple devices. I anxious to test this out on my next business trip.


A note on Windows Bridge Mode

I also tried formally bridging the Local Area Connection to the Wireless Network Connection within Windows. To do this, you just hold Ctrl and select both connections in the Network Connection window, right-click and choose Bridge Connections from the pop-up menu. Using this method, I could connect my portable devices, but I could not get my laptop to browse the Internet. ICS seems to be a form of bridging that works better.