Archive for January, 2013

Marble maze made out of Legos

The idea is that you put a marble into the top, and have to navigate it through the “maze” so that it falls through a hole in one level to go to the next, and eventually comes out the bottom. You can either make it so there are little holes to view the marble through (like I did), or make it completely “blind.” You can design these in all sorts of ways, including making it so that the maze has to be manipulated in many different ways.

My son loved the one I made for him, and makes his own now.

See photos below

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My thoughts about Symform

I exchanged emails with a reader, and during the exchange, he asked me my thoughts about Symform, especially about running it on a Synology NAS. Here is a copy of my response.

Overall symform is an affordable, new approach on the cloud storage concept, albeit with its shortcomings.

The synology symform client is extremely resource intensive, and would really drag down my DS211j for several minutes when the service started up. The need for having to manually having to set the port number is a shortsighted issue that Symform should address in an update.

The desktop client has no apparent indicator that it’s working either, so that’s another simple user experience issue.
From a security standpoint, Symform encrypts data with its own keys, and there’s no option (yet) to use your own. This comes down to how much one can “trust” symform and their protocols.

From a data integrity standpoint, their 50% parity is a good thing, but I’d be concerned if its enough. And since you’re placing your data in the hands of others, you’re relying on their upstream bandwidth (something that’s in short supply on a typical Internet connection) to get your data back. The more you store, the longer it will take, since there’s no individual file restore option — only whole folders.

Overall? It’s “good”, but not great. I’d use it for non-critical, non-sensitive data that wouldn’t need urgent restoration.

What are your thoughts on Symform? Please feel free to comment below. Thanks!


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Screen flickering and horizontal lines when coming out of standby on Windows 8

I upgraded my Dell Latitude E6510 with an Nvidia NVS 3100M  to Windows 8 a short time ago, and noticed something fairly quickly: Whenever my display came back on after being powered off from power saving mode, or the laptop came out of sleep mode, the screen had a very noticeable flickering and some distinct horizontal lines. The best way to explain it was to say that there was something very wrong with the display refresh rate.

The effect would gradually diminish with time, but wouldn’t completely go away. I updated the graphics drivers from the built-in Windows 8 drivers to the latest ODE graphics driver for Windows 8 64-bit (310.90) — that didn’t fix it. I also noticed that putting the display in 40hz mode and then back in 60hz mode didn’t fix it either. I even would have the problem if I shut down completely and powered the laptop back on a few moments later.

I later found this blog post from someone having the exact same issue. He even indicated that he’s had hardware replaced on his notebook, and that didn’t fix the issue. He did, however, find a fix: Dell’s A08 drivers for the NVS 3100M graphics chipset. He posted links to a Dell search for A08 drivers and two drivers that specifically worked:

nVidia Quadro FX 880M – Win7/Vista 32-bit Graphics Driver

nVidia NVS 3100M – Win7/Vista 64-bit Graphics Driver (this is the one I used)

So I uninstalled my existing Nvidia drivers and installed the 64-bit driver linked to above. You know what? It worked. The flickering went away immediately, and it continues to work correctly resuming from standby.

I also recall speaking to someone who had a similar issue, albeit on Windows 7. I’m guessing it was probably related to the drivers as well.

UPDATE: After doing some more testing, I found this: I took a clean install of Windows 8 where the screen flickering was there, reformatted and reinstalled Windows 7 64-bit. After booting into Windows 7, the screen flickering was still there! It would seem that the driver is manipulating the graphics controller to produce this flicker. Installing Dell’s recommended NVS3100M driver for Windows 7 did fix the flickering issue.

Further reading:

Anyone else having the same issue? Have the drivers above worked for you? Please feel free to share your experience in the comments below. 

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SymformContribution share getting recreated after reboot on Synology NAS after uninstalling Symform

A reader (M.R.) contacted me asking about running Symform on his Synology DS3611xs. He later uninstalled it and found that the SymformContribution folder was getting recreated at every reboot.

After a number of email exchanges, he was able to get Symform to confirm it was a bug:

Thank you for contacting Symform support. I understand that you are having an issue with the SymformContribution folder being re-created after you have un-installed Symform, and rebooted the DiskStation.

I have been able to reproduce this issue, and found that it is re-created due to the folder listed as a Shared folder in the Synology Shares section.

I have sumbitted an internal bug ticket to my developers to look into this issue. From what I found, it is just re-creating the folder, and the Symform services are not present, or running.

The commands to fix it follow, but I’ve updated step 3 to an absolute path:

1. Here is the command to view the Synology shares table:

/usr/syno/sbin/synoshare --enum ALL

2. If you see the SymformContribution folder listed, enter in the following command:

/usr/syno/sbin/synoshare --del TRUE SymformContribution

3. Then, to remove the folder from the Volume1 folder, enter in the following:

rm -rf /volume1/SymformContribution

Adjust the path in step 3 if your contribution folder is on another volume.

Thanks again to M.R. for the information and legwork getting this resolved!

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Performing a clean install from a Windows 8 upgrade media

If you purchased the Windows 8 upgrade from Windows 7, but would rather do a clean install, here’s a method that I’ve found that has been reported to work.

First, obviously, delete all partitions during the Windows install, supplying your key when requested.

After Windows 8 installs, and if Windows won’t activate, do the following:

Run regedit, and set:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Setup\OOBE\MediaBootInstall to 0 (zero)

Open an administrator-level command prompt, and run the following:

slmgr /rearm

Then reboot and run activation again.

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Windows 8 error code 0x807800C5 during Windows 7 File Recovery backup

The following error appears if you try to include a system image in your backup using the Windows 7 File Recovery backup tool.


There was a failure in preparing the backup image of one of the volumes in the backup set.

Details: The mounted backup volume is inaccessible. Please retry the operation.

Error code: 0x807800C5

According to this forum

For Win 8 only: The Win 7 back up program included with win 8 does not support backing up a image file to any kind of NAS device (UNIX, Linux) . Internally the program gives an error that the NAS device has an incompatible sector mapping type. You can backup to a hard drive that is attached to a different windows machine and then back up that file to your NAS. Convoluted, but it works.

So, backing up a system image to a Samba share is out of the question. To work around this, disable the creation of a system image in your backup.

I haven’t tried backing up to an NTFS-formatted iSCSI LUN, which might work. If anyone has tried that, I’d be interested to know the results.

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Error code 0x80070544 when attempting to back up Windows 8 onto NAS over Samba

If you use Windows 7 File Recovery to attempt to backup your system to a NAS device, you may receive the following error:

0x80070544: The specified network location cannot be used.

Verify the path points to a correct network location and that the supplied credentials can be used for write access to the folder.

The validation information class requested was invalid. (0x80070544).

The solution to this is rather simple. You have to prefix your username with the name of the machine where the Samba share is located. So, if you are backing up to diskstationbackups, prefix your username with diskstation.

In my case, my username on that device is mike. So instead of using mike as my username, I had to use diskstation\mike.

It works now. Enough said.

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Get smBIOS UUID using wmic

Microsoft Windows 8 online activation requires that the smBIOS UUID be non-zero.

Here’s a wmic command to check the value of the smBIOS UUID.

wmic path win32_computersystemproduct get uuid

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Can’t add reminders on iPhone with iOS 6

I ran into an issue where I went into the iOS Reminders app and there was no plus button to add a reminder. Fortunately, I found a fix.

First, go to Settings > iCloud and turn Reminders on.

Now, go back into the Reminders app, and the plus sign should appear.

After this, you can go back and turn the iCloud Reminders setting back off if you’re concerned about battery usage. The plus sign will remain.

Another potential solution is to tap the list icon in the top left corner, then search for a list. The results will come up empty, but then you can tap the edit button and create a new list. This will also fix the Reminders app.

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Synology releases DSM 4.2-BETA. MyDS registration now required.

Today I downloaded and installed Synology’s new DSM 4.2-Beta (Build 3160). I’m normally excited about new DSM releases, even the betas, as they mean the opportunity to see and test new features. I’ve been impressed by DSM releases in the past, as they’re usually very stable and I can’t say as I’ve really had any major issue with them.

Unfortunately, Synology decided to implement something in this DSM release that has me irritated, to say the least. They require that you register with their MyDS service in order to install any additional software packages on your Synology product, or even to upgrade any packages that you had installed prior to installing the DSM 4.2 BETA. This even applies to 3rd party software packages, but not software packages installed from other software sources. And, it’s not optional.

Yes, even if you had a software package on your Synology product before installing the DSM 4.2 BETA, you can’t upgrade that software package without registering on the MyDS service.

Oh, yeah, you also can’t downgrade to a previous DSM release.

This is a great example of another instance of “forcing” customers to use cloud services to utilize the full potential of a product, and a huge disappointment for me. And yes, they keep records of your “purchases” (downloads). And, also, there’s currently no way to delete your purchase history, or your MyDS account.

I took a close look at Synology’s “What’s new” for this Beta to see if I had missed a mention that MyDS was required. Here’s a screenshot of what their website shows:


Note that it says that MyDS is required to purchase paid apps. It says nothing about free apps. This is misleading, to say the least.

I shouldn’t be forced to register and log in to Synology’s MyDS service to download and install their own software packages. It would be like Microsoft forcing users to have a Microsoft account to download Windows updates. More so, this even affects the third-party software packages available from the package center that come from Synology repositories. However, again, it doesn’t affect software packages from other sources.

The only good I could possibly even see coming from this would be the ability to remotely manage and push software updates to the Synology product directly from the MyDS center. But why would you want to do that instead of just logging into the product itself and doing it securely? I could even see malicious software authors getting hold of the Synology software bundles and offering to host them on publicly available repositories where they could be downloaded without registration, but modifying the packages to introduce malware into them, unbeknownst to the user.

Thanks a bundle Synology. Maybe you should take a lesson from Cisco. They tried something like that at one point. It was called Cisco Cloud Connect, and they backpedaled on it. Read more about that on eWeek here and here, and on Cisco’s own blog here.

UPDATE 8-Jan-13:

I should clarify some of the above. You CAN manually install and upgrade freely-available packages from Synology. First, you have to go to Download Center, and select your product type. In the case of my DS211j, the direct link is here. (If you’re looking for the updated 4.2-BETA packages, they’re here for all models.) You can download the spk file from there, and subsequently upload the spk file via the Package Center’s manual update feature. (You can also find downloads for all packages for all models here.) The direct links to DSM 4.1 (build 2636) are here.

Again, why Synology forces MyDS registration to do this via the automated installer for freely-available packages is still beyond my understanding. However, it looks like their intent is DRM-based. Specifically, on packages that are to be purchased.

UPDATE 14-Jan-13:

I’ve been in contact with Synology on Twitter, and I openly thank them for their dialog with me regarding my feelings on this issue. I’ve sent them the following email as well:

I’m submitting this to let you, Synology, know how disappointed I am in the decision to force MyDS registration for automatic package downloads in DSM 4.2-BETA. This is a decision that I feel has multiple implications.

First, it impacts the usability of the Synology product for people who do not care to register for a MyDS account, as they can no longer automatically update or install packages. Indeed, some packages can be manually installed by downloading from Synology’s website and installed or upgraded manually, but quite a few packages (such as 3rd party packages) are absent from the download list. Along with this, one that is present (Amazon Glacier) requires Python, which is not present.

Second, this impacts privacy, as all automated downloads are logged as “purchases” in the MyDS account, but this list cannot be deleted, nor can the MyDS account itself be deleted.

Third, there are additional possible security implications, but I am going to choose not to elaborate on them for the purposes of this email.

I strongly (and vocally) disagree with Synology’s decision.

I understand that the addition of paid packages to the Synology repositories has created the need for a purchase and DRM solution, but I do not understand why this has to create an issue for people that do not have those packages available to them, or simply choose not to purchase them.

I submit that it would have been a much better decision to at least allow the automatic installation and upgrade of free packages without the forced MyDS registration. Or, at least, to allow the download of all free packages via a web page or FTP download, and prominently display a link to that are in the DSM Package Center.

I have written about this at


Mike Beach

Are you the owner of a Synology product and tried the DSM 4.2-BETA? What are your feelings about the forced use of MyDS for software downloads? Please feel free to share in the comments below. Thank you!


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