Fixing the macOS Microsoft LifeCam Webcam Overexposure Issue

There’s a problem with old Microsoft LifeCam webcams with macOS; often they will have increased exposure, making them basically useless (I look like a blindingly white ghost – well, more than normal). There’s no way to fix this at the OS level, no drivers update or settings to change. I read about a hack using Photo Booth to override the exposure issue, but it doesn’t fix it permanently and I found the effect would randomly stop mid-conference call. Not to mention that it hits your CPU pretty hard, which kicks up the fans on my laptop and makes things noisy. This webcam has to be about a decade old – maybe more – so frankly I’m amazed it works at all. πŸ˜†

I came up with the only thing I could think of to force the exposure levels on the camera down: I popped a lens out of my non-prescription sunglasses and taped it over the front of the webcam. It worked, dropping the exposure down to a usable level. And when the camera occasionally gets the exposure right, I can flip the lens up to remove the darkening effect.

Without the sunglass lens on the left, with on the right.

Now I’m just waiting for my new webcam to show up…in a month. 😩

How to Set up an Office 365 Exchange Email Catch-All

I’ve been using a Microsoft hosted Exchange email solution for myself and my wife for several years. Yes, it’s kind of geeky, but we both rely on Outlook as our main email/contact/calendar tool and it’s worked well for us. Years ago I set up a catch-all email forward for my domain, so anything sent to any email address at jasondunn.com would get sent to me.

Why would I do such a thing? To give myself protection from companies abusing my email address. When I sign up with a new company, the email address I give them is [email protected] When I do this in person, it makes some people practically go cross-eyed because they can’t understand how I could have an email address like that. 😜 Quite often I’ll get asked if I work for the company and when I say no it confuses them further. I always explain if someone wants to understand.

Continue reading How to Set up an Office 365 Exchange Email Catch-All

Vinli’s Dead End: The Hidden Negative of Crowdfunding

I’ve been participating in crowdfunding campaigns since 2011 when I backed a documentary about MMA fighter Jens Pulver. I’ve enjoyed participating in the process of helping to bring products to market – 45 on Kickstarter, 40 Indiegogo – and other than the times I’ve been burned by backing a project that never came to market (which is another blog post) it’s been a fun way of purchasing items.

For this post, I want to focus on the other side of the story: what happens when you get the product, it meets your expectations, you utilize it fully, come to rely upon it…and the company goes out of business or EOLs (end-of-life’s) their product. Many technology products today have a service/app element and that means your hardware has dependencies upon the business model of the company you backed. They brought the item to market that you wanted, but if their business model changes or they go out of business, that thing you bought might just stop working.

Continue reading Vinli’s Dead End: The Hidden Negative of Crowdfunding

How Did a Moko Case Ruin the Aluminium Finish on my iPad Pro?

Anyone knows me understands that I try to take care of my things, especially my gadgets. I keep the original packaging for many items, because unless I plan on keeping it for my technology archive/graveyard, I like to sell items to recoup some of my costs.

Some items, such as iPads, are re-used within my household. Each kid has their own iPad, a hand-me-down from the previous generation; my daughter is using my son’s old iPad Mini, and my son is using my old iPad Pro. When I bought my iPad Pro 11 last year, I took my previous iPad Pro out of the case I had it in – a red Moko case. I was shocked to see the back of the iPad had become discoloured and blotchy. It’s difficult to photograph but in person it looks simply awful.

It had a glass screen protector on the front, and was never used outside this case, so it’s frustrating to have it marred by a case. I contacted Moko and asked them if this was a known issue with their cases. Their response was not to admit fault or explain anything, but instead to give me a $25 refund. πŸ€”It’s better than telling me to pound sand, but it doesn’t change how this iPad Pro looks. I will never purchase another Moko case again – which is a shame because they are really quite good. ☹️

Synology DS-1019+ Plex Hardware Transcoding: This is Magic!

Back in 2012, I purchased my first Synology NAS: a five-bay DS-1512+. I added a five-bay DX-513 expansion unit a few weeks later, and for seven years I’ve been using it to store 1180+ movies and 2300+ TV episodes in MKV format. Because that Synology came with a weak Atom CPU, I had to use a Windows computer (a small Gigabyte BRIX) with a Core i7 CPU to run Plex on because the MKVs needed transcoding for most devices. That’s less the case now that so many devices are powerful enough to use Direct Play, but if I access my videos off-site they need to be transcoded. This system worked great for years, but I’ve been hoping to simplify my overall setup and get away from needing the BRIX.

When I got the DS-1019+ things changed: although it has a relatively wimpy Celeron CPU (to my external frustration, Synology refuses to put out a product with a Core i-series CPU – they go straight from Celeron to enterprise-level Xeon, with price tags to match) it has Intel QuickSync video transcoding capabilities.

The DS-1019+ was something I’d been waiting for because I’d read many reports of how well the hardware transcoding features of the Celeron CPU worked with Plex so I was eager to test it. When I got the new Synology set up, I asked some friends to help me by streaming a movie from it.

Continue reading Synology DS-1019+ Plex Hardware Transcoding: This is Magic!

A Faster, Stronger Blog Host: the Digital Ocean $10 VPS Droplet

This is the speed on Servage, my previous web host. πŸ₯Ί

It’s amazing how server horsepower has gone up over the past few years, and how costs have come down.

For $7.99 a month, Servage gives me a shared hosting environment – an unknown amount of CPU power, an unknown amount of RAM (but I’d guess 256 MB at most), and 200 GB of storage. And the above performance is indicative of the kind of speed I’d see from this blog – when it was loading at all that is.

Servage, a web host I’ve been with for years, has become so dysfunctional, and their shared servers so overloaded, I’d often see 4-6 hours of down time on this blog. It was staggering how many technical problems and poor provisioning (in terms of too many sites on a single host) they inflicted upon customers. And even logging in to file a trouble ticket to ask why my site was down for the 15th time this week always started like this:

Compare that with Digital Ocean, where for $10 a month, I get a dedicated 2 GB of RAM, one virtual CPU, 50 GB of storage space…and a dedicated VPS that has (so far) perfect uptime. And look at the speeds: this site loads 15x faster! It’s amazing how painful WordPress is to use when it’s on an underpowered server πŸ‘Ώ, but what a sheer joy it is to use when it’s on a solid machine. πŸ˜‡ Granted, running your own VPS isn’t for everyone, but so far it’s been a great experience for me.

This is the speed on Digital Ocean! πŸ˜ŽπŸ‘

For those wondering what took me so long to move this blog over to a better service, it’s a combination of having several domains and dozens of email accounts on Servage (which is a pain to move to a new host), having all my Thoughts Media sites on a different VPS (1&1, which also needed to move over onto Digital Ocean), and of course the biggest factor: I am not a Linux expert or web hosting guru, so I was was limited by my own skillset and the gracious help of friends when they could spare the time. 😁

At this exact moment I have my digital footprint spread across the above three service, but within the week I hope to have it down to two, then within the quarter down to one…

The Maddening HP Inkjet “First Print of the Day Blurry Problem”: SOLVED

I have been brutally disappointed in the experience of owning my HP OfficeJet Pro 8710 for the past 15 months. Every single day, the first page of any print job is blurry.

The first week I used the 8710 I started getting blurry prints from it. I contacted HP support and spent 30 minutes troubleshooting it. Because this is an intermittent issue that only occurs after the printer has been idle for hours, it’s impossible to make a change and know if the fix worked. I hoped the steps I took with the first tech worked. They did not.

So I called back and HP helped me again. This time they thought it was the print head causing the issue, so they sent me a new print head. I replaced it.

The problem kept happening: blurry prints.

Then I called back and HP helped me again. This time they thought it was the whole printer that was the issue, so they sent me a refurbished printer.

The problem kept happening: blurry prints.

So I called back and HP helped me again. This time they thought it was a configuration issue with the macOS printer driver (never mind the fact that my wife also got blurry prints when printing from her Android phone). The tech walked me through some changes to the driver, and I hoped it would help.

The problem kept happening: blurry prints.

Always the first print of the day when the printer had been idle for hours.

Multiple firmware updates have occurred and every time I hoped that maybe THIS TIME it would fix the issue. 

The problem kept happening: blurry prints.

By this point, probably 10 months had passed and I’d wasted easily 2-3 hours of my life working with HP tech support trying to fix this problem. I just gave up and didn’t want to deal with it for a while.

Today I called HP support again, even though my printer was out of warranty, in the hopes that there was a known fix for this blurry print issue. The tech kindly offered to help me, despite being out of warranty, but after he had me reboot the printer and pull out the ink cartridges and look for corrosion, I just couldn’t walk through the same useless troubleshooting again. I explained in detail the symptoms of the problem, explained that the problem persisted across printer head chanages, multiple ink changes, and even A WHOLE PRINTER CHANGE, but the tech persisted in wanting to put me through the basic steps.

I’ve owned HP printers for 15+ years, and I’ve never felt like I feel now: that my HP printer is incapable of doing the most core thing I need from it…printing. I will likely never buy another HP printer so long as I live given the extreme distrust I now have for their printing products (and lack of faith in HP tech support to solve customer issues).

July 2019 Update: I am pleased to share that HP solved this problem for me. I was told the 8710 printer was known for having this problem, but only in rare cases and they couldn’t duplicate the problem in their labs and thus figure out how to solve it. That makes it a tough issue to fix for customers. However, HP solved this for me by sending me a different printer: the HP OfficeJet Pro 9015. So far I’ve had it set up for a few days and have had no blurry prints, so I’m happy. 😁 I am extremely impressed that HP support was both empowered and willing to offer me a replacement printer. This undoes a lot of the frustration I had toward HP and I am pleased with this outcome. Kudos to HP leadership for giving their techs the authority to do things like this for customers! It’s unfortunate though that I had to go to such lengths to have them offer me a replacement printer. ☹️

This is What Storage Salvation Looks Like: Western Digital RED

Huge thanks to my friends at Western Digital (hi Heather!) for helping me out of a storage bind with these three 10TB WD Red NAS hard drives! These will save me days of moving 35+ TB of data over Ethernet from one NAS to another, twice. And these drives are rated for 24/7 use + a three year warranty. These are my first NAS-appropriate drives – I’ve just used basic consumer-grade drives until now – and I’m excited to see how they perform.

Why was I in desperate need of 30 TB of hard drives you might be asking? I’m in the midst of dealing with a defective Synology 1019+ NAS that has given me non-stop headaches for months, and moving this much data around is incredibly difficult. When I went from my old Synology 1512+ to the new 1019+ I migrated the drives and OS, but I’m convinced that played a role in some of the issues I’m seeing now (as well as outright hardware failures).

So instead of migrating, I’m starting from scratch with a replacement 1019+ and these WD drives, then moving the data over – but only once, which will be a huge time-saver.

Customer databases are hacked more often than you might think

Although I can’t prove this – only the biggest of companies will admit to the most egregious data breaches – I’m convinced there’s a near-constant theft of customer data happening from improperly secured servers. And I’d bet that in many cases, the company involved doesn’t even realize it. Hackers don’t make their presence known unless they have reason to.

How do I know this? I use unique email aliases whenever I give out my email address. I use catch-all email forwarding for jasondunn.com. So if I sign up for something from company XYZ, I give them [email protected] as my email address. It’s hilarious when I do this in person, watching the expression as people try to process it. 🀯 They sometimes think that I work for their company. πŸ˜‚

I do this to have some control over incoming email; every email address becomes a “burner” that I can throw away by routing it into an inbox with only 1 MB of storage space (so it bounces all incoming email at this point). I have easily over 100 email addresses that are routed this way. These email addresses are compromised in various ways: some are shared/sold to other legitimate companies (“cross marketing”), some keep getting email even after I’ve tried to unsubscribe, and some are used by spammers/phishers like this one below.

I’d contacted Congressman Adam Smith via his online contact form, using this unique email address that had never been used anywhere else before, and a couple of months after using it, I started getting repeated email spam to that alias.

I’ve seen this many times before; I used to try and follow up with the company to point out they might have a problem. Once, years ago, when I did this with an online reseller of Roomba products, they got back to me and confirmed that they did in fact have a security breach and customer contact info was stolen – and they hadn’t realized it. It’s more efficient now for me to just rout the compromised email address into oblivion than to try and make the case that my info was compromised by a third party.

This type of issue happens several times a year to me, so I’m glad I have the ability to control the inflow of email. It will be very hard to go back to the “regular” way of doing email if I ever can’t do an email catch-all…πŸ€”

Dramatically Speed up Synology NAS Network Folder Browsing on macOS

Since adopting macOS into my computing world five years ago, and having a Synology NAS in the mix for even longer, one thing I’ve consistently noticed is how much slower it was to browser NAS folders via macOS compared to Windows. Every folder loads so slowly on my Macs, but immediately on my Windows laptop. It’s not about server load either. After five years of wondering why it was so slow, I finally found a solution right on Apple’s tech support pages:

To speed up SMB file browsing, you can prevent macOS from reading .DS_Store files on SMB shares. This makes the Finder use only basic information to immediately display each folder’s contents in alphanumeric order. Use this Terminal command:

defaults write com.apple.desktopservices DSDontWriteNetworkStores -bool TRUE

To complete this change, you log out of your Mac and log back in. Boom! You’ll be able to browse network folders as fast as you can on Windows. The negative to this method is that the DS_Store files aren’t scanned, so Finder won’t remember custom file sorting views, etc. No big loss from my perspective, but something to be aware of.

For anyone like me who’s constantly accessing network shares on a NAS, this tweak is a game-changer!