Epson PM-A950 under Windows 7 64bit

Earlier this month, an old eMachines T6212 bought in April 2005, a humble single core 1.6 GHz Athlon64 that had served me faithfully for more than 5 years, finally died. So two weeks ago I bought an Acer Aspire ASM3910-N54E, a Core i5-650 machine with 4 GB of RAM (max. 8 GB) and a 640 GB hard disk. It came with Windows 7 Home 64bit.

I replaced the C: drive with a 1 TB drive and added another 1.5 TB drive that I previously used in a USB-enclosure. I am using the on-board video with dual 1280×1024 monitors (Dell 1905FP), hooked up via an analog VGA cable and a digital HDMI-to-DVI cable.

The best thing I can say about Windows 7 is that it’s not as bad as Vista. I wish I could have stuck with Windows XP, but at least Windows 7 doesn’t get in the way as much as Vista did. It feels a bit more like Mac OS X, if that is what you like. It’s going to get more and more difficult to get drivers for new hardware that still support XP, but on the other hand older hardware may have problems working with Windows 7, for example my old Logitech QuickCam Zoom is not supported by Windows 7.

Epson PM-A950 printer driver

Today I tried to print from the new machine for the first time and found I needed a new printer driver for my almost 4 year old Epson PM-A950 USB printer/scanner. Though Microsoft’s documentation states that the printer is supported by Windows 7 out of the box, it will do so only using a generic Epson printer definition which probably will not support all the functionality. So I searched the Epson Japan website and found these two drivers (the 64bit version worked fine for my version of Windows 7):

  • Windows 7 32bit / Windows Vista 32bit / Windows XP / Windows 2000:
  • Windows 7 64bit / Windows Vista 64bit / Windows XP x64 Edition:

Energy efficiency

So far I’m very happy with the new machine. The machine draws about 40W when idle, considerably less than its less powerful predecessor (69W). The lastest Core i3 and Core i5 machines are very energy efficient. My i5 actually did better than a VIA MM3500 (1.5 GHz single core VIA C7). The only x86-compatible machines I have that beat the i5 on power usage at idle are either notebooks or are desktops built using notebook chipsets (i.e. the Mac Mini).

Excessive JPEG compression on Android phones

A few weeks ago I got my first smart-phone, an HTC Magic (aka Google Ion or myTouch 3G) which uses Android 1.6.

Originally I had wanted to get the HTC Desire with Android 2.1 from Softbank, but they had no more stocks of the old model and weren’t going to start shipping the new model until October. I couldn’t wait that long. That’s how I ended up getting an Android phone from the US.

I first transplanted the USIM from my almost three year old Softbank Samsung 707SCII into the Android phone, which wasn’t locked to any provider. I could then make calls here in Japan.

Next I added Softbank’s “smart phone pakehodai” (smart phone unlimited data) plan to my existing contract, after telling the company that I was going to use my existing USIM in an imported Android phone. They didn’t raise any objections to that. The plan is about 5700 yen per month (about US$67), plus 315 yen to enable web access and mail (US$3.60), which I had previously disabled as I was only using SMS besides voice calls. I configured APNs for accessing the Softbank network using this link, which then gave me full web access from my new phone even when not on my wireless LAN at home.

So far it has been a fun experience and I’m still exploring new features and applications.

The application I enjoy most so far is Google Maps. Having moved from the semirural suburbs of Yokohama to a densely populated part of Tokyo recently, I’m now exploring local back streets on foot or on the bicycle as well as riding trains, of which there are plenty. Google Maps will easily find me a train connection to anywhere in this city of 13 million people, including directions for walking to and from stations and down to the minute connection schedules (Japanese trains are famously punctual).

I was disappointed however by the picture quality of the 3 MP camera (1536 by 2048 pixels) on the phone, not that my expectations were too high to start with. But I was shocked to see that when I copied these 3 MP image files off the phone using a USB cable, they were only 330 to 700 MB (500 MB on average) in size even when taking pictures at the highest quality settings. This is 2 to 3 times smaller than typical 3 MP cameras.

My old Sony P8 (also a 3 MP camera) averaged around 1.3 MB per image. One Megabyte or more per image is fairly typical for high quality settings at 3 MP. That means the Android camera must be using very aggressive JPEG compression settings, which reduce detail and produce artifacts, to squeeze pictures into 40% of the space used on other cameras. And you can really tell from just looking at the pictures: They look somewhat blurred and fuzzy, not as sharp and crisp as you’d expect even from a modest 3 MP camera.

What’s worse, I could not find any setting that would let me change this. A search on Google confirmed that others using different Android phones have the same problem, but currently no solution.

I hope Google will address this problem on the Android 2.2 upgrade, because with these software settings the capabilities of the hardware are wasted, even more so on 5 MP or 8 MP camera models. It makes no sense to aggressively compress pictures when the user has selected optimum quality, especially on a camera that can be expanded with up to 16 GB per microSD memory card.

Installing OpenWRT on WZR-HP-G300NH from DD-WRT

Last month I bought a Buffalo WZR-HP-G300NH router and flashed it with DD-WRT open source firmware to use at my new home. However, I had problems with the router resetting itself periodically and with a weak WiFi signal. It appears DD-WRT for this router is not yet ready for prime time, though it may be in better shape by the end of the year.

Since I read that OpenWRT for the same router was fairly robust, I investigated switching from DD-WRT to OpenWRT. It turned out easier than I thought.

Using putty under Windows I did a ssh session to the router running DD-WRT. From there I downloaded the new firmware into the /tmp folder, trimmed off the 32 byte header and wrote the result to flash memory:

# cd /tmp
# wget
# dd if=openwrt-ar71xx-wzr-hp-g300nh-jffs2-tftp.bin of=firmware.trx bs=32 skip=1
# mtd -r write firmware.trx linux

When the mtd command finished it dropped the connection to putty. I waited for the router to finish its reboot. Then I released and reacquired the IP address on Windows using ipconfig /release and ipconfig /renew. I launched the FireFox browser with to configure OpenWRT. The first thing you should do once you’re connected to the web interface is assign an administrative password, because by default there isn’t one.

My next stumbling block was the fact that the WAN port had a different MAC address under OpenWRT than under DD-WRT. In DD-WRT the WAN and LAN ports on the WZR-HP-G300NH have the same MAC address, but in OpenWRT the WAN MAC address is larger by one. As a result DHCP from the ISP treated it as a new client that needed a new IP address, but the cable modem had already assigned its only IP address to the old MAC address. The solution was to pull the power cord from my Cisco cable modem, reconnect it and wait for the modem to reinitialize (watch the LEDs). Then do the same with the router. Reconnect ssh to the router and the WAN port has an IP address.

I also assigned Google’s open DNS server ( / to the router rather than leaving the default but I’m not sure if that was really necessary.

I set up the wireless SSID and selected WPA2 and a key. Finally I could specify transmit power to reach the whole building.

The OpenWRT UI doesn’t look quite as slick as DD-WRT, but it seems to work well and all the basic configuration seemed easy enough through the web interface. What I really liked best about the WHR-HP-G54 that this router replaces for me was its rock-solid reliability, followed by its WiFi coverage and feature set. With OpenWRT the WZR-HP-G300NH looks like a worthy successor to it.