All posts by Alex

tech guy for hire

Linkstation Windows Printing Problem “Solved”

[edit: Coshy has kindly shared Windows 7 information on this; please see the comments for this post below.]

We have a Buffalo Linkstation Live NAS, model HS-DH500GL hanging off our home network serving personal files. The unit includes a print server. You hook up a USB printer, and it works. And for most of the first year, it was flawless.

Then, at some point in 2008, it stopped printing. Or, rather, it stopped printing from Windows. In the case of this particular printer, it’s shared on one local network here consisting predominately of Windows and Linux computers; the odd thing is that we could still print from any random Linux box we’d attach to the LAN. No PC running Windows would work any longer.

Linkstation-HSDH500GLAnd after probably two months of printing from Windows not working, it suddenly spit out some old stuck docs (roughly two months old or so–I know, right?) and started working again. And it worked again normally for many, many months.

Until a few months ago, when it stopped again. And this time, it’s shown no signs of coming back to life.

And once again, we can still happily print via Linux all day long, like there’s no problem at all. File server functionality (across all OSes that access it) is still totally fine as well.

Digging around, it seems it’s a pretty common problem. These devices (and not just our 500G model, it seems) apparently don’t handle Windows printing very well and, over time, eventually fall over, seemingly dead (from a Windows printing point of view). Documents seem to stick in a print queue somewhere. In our case, on any Windows machine we looked at, the Windows print queue always seemed to show as pending the last print job from whatever Linux box–a print job that we know has printed and been held in our hands.

So those stuck documents…are they really stuck? Attempts to empty spooler folders, restart print services on Windows, monkey with bidirectional-communications settings, etc… nothing worked. XP, Vista, made no difference. We have not tested this with Windows 7, but we assume the problem exists there as well, as it appears it’s a Buffalo/Linkstation problem, and not an issue with Windows itself.

The only apparent solution is to completely wipe everything from the Linkstation device (not just configuration info, but all of your data), monkey with setting the NAS software into a debug mode, and force-updating/overwriting the firmware to “reset” it completely. This resets everything. User data, user configurations, everything. We weren’t about to blow away the data or deal with moving it around if we didn’t have to. If that solution works for you, go for it. Sadly, even this extreme solution does not work for everyone.

We went a different route. Our workaround? Installing Print Services for Unix, under Windows. It’s dead-easy, assuming you have access privileges on your Windows machine, and here’s a Microsoft Knowledge Base (KB) article that tells you how:

Print Services for UNIX: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/324078

You’ll need to install this on each Windows machine that won’t print (likely all of them once this bug rears its head); it can be automated in the normal ways if you have a larger installed base of affected computers.

The normal way Windows users are told to connect to their Linkstation’s print server is via Network Neighborhood. You navigate to your Linkstation device, see the print server, right-click, and choose “Connect…”. That sets up a printer connection. You choose the driver or provide one, and you’re off to the races. If you don’t go that route, you can always add a printer via the Printers control panel and end up with the same result. Only, once it stops printing, good luck printing consistently that way ever again.

Follow the KB article instructions to get Print Services for Unix installed, then configure an LPR port as described, giving either LAN IP or name for your Linkstation, pointing drivers at it, and start printing again.

It doesn’t solve the problem of Windows printing directly, but it does pretty easily solve the more general–and ultimately more useful–“I just wanna print from Windows, but can’t” problem. Hopefully it works for you, too. We wanted to let this run for a few weeks or so without issue before writing it up; so far, so good.

And Buffalo, we shouldn’t have to say it…. but you might want to finally fix this long-standing bug in a way that doesn’t require people to pay for twice the archive/backup hardware they really need (buying another backup/archive solution as temporary or replacement storage altogether).

Flip Mino HD. Empty. Time Left: 3:33. What?

Flip Mino HD failWe went on an overnight camping trip several weeks ago now. Several hours prior to leaving, I connected our Flip Mino HD to my (Ubuntu Linux) laptop to copy over the movie clips and recharge the unit. I did what I’ve done many times before: copied the files over, deleted them off the camera from the PC’s file explorer window, and that’s been it.

Except this time, when I whip out the camera for the first time on our trip. I’m now in the middle of nowhere, camping. Looking at the Flip Mino HD’s display, I notice there’s only 3:33 (three minutes, thirty-three seconds) of available recording time. But I erased the videos… or did I?

I double-check. The camera’s empty, it tells me. Umm, now what? I whip out my smartphone, so I can try to get online and check Google for any other instances of this problem. I find mention of a reset procedure using the pinhole inside the tripod mount hole on the bottom of the Flip. I had not known there was a hole and reset switch there before this, so hey, this could be great!

The hole itself is super-tiny. I finally managed to locate something small enough to insert into that hole (I pulled a staple out of some service documents for our Pilot from the glove compartment, straightened it out, and used that) and press the reset switch. The hole is that small, seriously. No ballpoint pen tip will work here. You need a needle or pin or thinner.

Hold the switch for 5 seconds. Then turn the unit back on, and without touching any of the buttons, wait another 5 seconds. Or something like that, I no longer recall.

Except, it didn’t work. Turns out this is a soft-reset for fixing the sensitivity of the touch controls, and that’s apparently it. Where’s a proper hard-reset, Flip?

I almost brought my laptop along, but didn’t because it was just an overnight thing. I was tempted to bring our Acer netbook, but didn’t. So we had no PC available. I break out my phone again. We’re not exactly in the best place for cell reception. I have a single bar if I walk up the hill from our camp site, face west, and hold the phone up like I’m engaged in some sort of offering ritual. My phone clearly doesn’t like being starved for towers, and the battery’s been draining since we got there, seeking and seeking away…

I finally manage to pull up Flip’s website using Pocket IE. I start filling out the form on their support page, because Flip apparently only offers email support. What? No phone number to call? This is a miss for Flip. Sure, they say it’s a 4-hour window for a response, so whatever; I’m thinking it’s better than nothing even if it’s kind of crappy having to wait.

I get the form as filled out as much as I can, but the site uses Javascript that Pocket IE apparently doesn’t comprehend, and I’m stuck. Can’t submit my support question. Pocket IE is an arguably common mobile browser; and it seems reasonable enough to make a support page simple enough that any functional browser should be able to access and use it.

I had similar results on my phone with Opera Mini, by the way.. and then we hit the point where my smartphone finally died from a drained battery… And after all this, the Flip still sits there, taunting me with it’s “Time Left: 3:33” display and continued insistence there are no videos on the device.

It would also only record 3:33 of video before stopping as it does when it’s normally full. I’ll basically have to know in advance if the next 3:33 I record will be more awesome and save-worthy than the previous 3:33 recording… This is terrible!

I wasted about an hour pecking away on my phone at this point, for nothing.

I only have my smartphone’s car charger along for our camping trip. I plug the phone into the car and left it to charge a bit. I come back later, managing to post to Twitter, hoping that maybe, just maybe, Flip monitors Twitter? Let’s try…

Flip Not Listening to Twitter #1

Flip Not Listening to Twitter #2

Flip Not Listening to Twitter #3

Flip Not Listening to Twitter #4

Apparently Flip does not monitor Twitter. As of this writing–now more than a month later–we have still not received any kind of response to any of my Flip-related tweets. Clearly it’s not going to happen. This is yet another (series of) miss(es) for Flip.

We have since learned that they do seem to barely maintain a @FlipVideoBrand account, though:

@FlipVideoBrand Crickets TwitterYou can guess: no response to that tweet, either. Flip, come on.

So we eventually return from our trip. Short, fun trip. Kids are young, fun, had a blast with us, each other, their cousins, and their grandparents. It really would have been great to have caught some video of their antics. We have… none. Huge disappointment.

Now at home, I plug the Flip camera into my laptop and look at the files and folders on the unit. The DCIM folder is empty. Fine, but the computer’s also telling me I only have a puny amount of free storage on the Flip, which seems wrong but consistent with the storage shortage issue. I don’t normally use the Flip software at all, by the way–ever, in fact, because I run Linux on my main laptop and the software’s not compatible. I notice a couple of folders with fairly recent dates on them: .cache and .Trash-nnn. Ohhhh. At this point, I delete those two folders. Suddenly my laptop reports 3.7GB free… and it seems we’re fixed.

I unplug the camera and fire it up. “Time Left: 60:00”. Hurr-freakin’-rrrah.

The problem? It looks like I forgot to “Empty Trash” before I unplugged the camera from my laptop, to flush those deleted images from the camera completely. Oops. But still, this should not be the showstopper it became!

Anyway, we’re now all charged up, and storage capacity is back to normal. Too late for this trip, but fixed nonetheless, it seems.

During all of this troubleshooting and searching/researching, I discovered I had missed Flip’s release of their Ultra HD camera. Two hours recording time, HDMI out, takes rechargeable (or regular) AA batteries… might work out better for us. Time to look for that Costco receipt?

How could this have been made better? Offhand:

  • Flip could more closely monitor Twitter. They obviously have at least one account. They’re a hip company with a great product; a well-maintained Twitter presence at this point is a complete no-brainer.
  • Flip’s website should not suck. Support pages that don’t support mobile devices isn’t helping anyone that’s out and needs help.
  • Flip should provide phone support. I’ve since read that they do, but I was unable to find this information when I needed it (and I’ve still not yet seen direct evidence of this myself).
  • Flip cameras should support a hard reset if they don’t already. I understand the Flip software is stored on the unit, but there needs to be some way to wipe out and fully reclaim the storage capacity of the unit without requiring a PC to do so. Again, if this is an option, I could not find it when I needed it.
  • The reset hole could be larger. Apparently not directly related to my situation, but even if the Flip had an available hard-reset option, I would have had a very hard time engaging it using the existing reset hole without something as thin as a straightened staple or needle that few people carry around with them on the go.
  • And finally: I could have not been an idiot when I failed to empty the trash after deleting the images from the camera. However, if we had a hard reset option, I could have still fixed the problem in the field without a PC to help, and we’d have more great videos of our kids!

And that’s about it. We still really love the camera a lot, overall; we take more video now than we ever did with a traditional camcorder. We’d happily take an Ultra HD or two as compensation for our troubles, Flip… Are you listening?

Vonage, You’re Making A Mistake, And Losing A Customer

Vonage Customer Since 2004

We’ve been Vonage customers for 5 years come mid-July. This very likely ends soon.

Let’s first say something, though: overall, we’ve enjoyed having Vonage. It was nice to be able to tell Ameritech/SBC where to stick their lackluster customer service and ridiculous billing. The Ameritech/SBC rep at the time had no idea what Vonage even was (which would hopefully no longer be the case).

They also couldn’t touch Vonage’s pricing. And it’s recent Vonage pricing changes that have us seriously considering surrendering our account with them…

We’ve had Vonage for our mixed-use/SOHO line since 2004. It’s been pretty good for us, mostly. We’ve never used it that much, so the 500 (outbound) minutes per month plan for $15/month seemed like a pretty good deal. It was actually more than we needed at the time; as it turned out, we had to work pretty hard to even use 300 minutes in a month–and that’s only happened a handful of times.

So for $15/month, we had a fairly nice, relatively-inexpensive solution to keeping a landline in our home for the random phone call we needed to make or–more critically, really–receive. And it worked pretty well. Once we worked out the router QoS settings and gave it the right amount of bandwidth, you’d never know it wasn’t a ‘real’ phone line.

We did go through a period where we had a lot of problems with Caller ID, though… even going without it at all for more than a year at one point. We wrote and called them and attempted to get someone to even acknowledge the CID issue, but Vonage was unwilling and/or unable to work with or help us. In the end, Vonage additionally refused to issue us a credit for any of our hassles at all–despite it eventually being a well-established issue by many other Vonage customers on many Vonage-related forums and other websites–because, in their words, “you’ve had active service all along”. We’re not paying for just the dialtone, Vonage; way to miss the point!

We were not amused, but at the same time, it was still the best bang/buck option available to us… so that came and went, and came again briefly, and went again… and overall, for fifteen lousy bucks a month, there’s just not that much complaining you can do.

And then the fees started to accumulate, bloating our bill.

Vonage started acting like a Real Phone Company, insofar as feeling it necessary to preemptively charge us for taxes and other fees they felt they might eventually have to start paying should they not get a pass on VoIP-related legislation. We were getting Milwaukee County Miller Park renovation fees tacked onto our Vonage bill. Really, Vonage? We started feeling like we were back with SBC/Ameritech, getting nickeled and dimed all over again.

Vonage was also involved in a lawsuit or two along the way, which no doubt redoubled their efforts to be as “preemptive” as possible collecting as much money from their customers as they could get away with. Our $15/month was rapidly turning into $18, $19, $20/month… a sizeable increase for something that shouldn’t really increase at all. It’s really no different than having a subscription to an online game, after all. It’s an online service we use over the Internet. Not really any different than web browsing, instant messaging, telnet, ssh, irc, and on and on.

Well, it seems Vonage is on another money grab. As of February, they’ve raised the rates on their $15/month plans to $18/month. With the fees, this jacks up our monthly bill to nearly $23/month. For a 500-minute plan.

Vonage’s solution to our $23/month dilemma? “Upgrade to our $24.95/month unlimited plan!”

Yeah, we’re just dying to do that. Looking at a recent billing statement, we used… thirty minutes the entire month of April. Thirty. Our $23/month bill, including fees and taxes, means we’re paying a nearly-ridiculous $0.77/minute.

If we upgraded our plan to the “unlimited” (note: not really unlimited-read the fine print!) $25/month plan, after taxes and fees, we’d be paying right around a dollar a minute. A dollar a minute!

So, as a result, Vonage will almost certainly be losing our business. We’re apparently not tethered enough to our phones to make it worthwhile, and they’d rather not bother. it’s a shame, because VoIP with Vonage could be one of those Great Equalizers, able to accommodate everyone at every usage tier and/or income level. And indeed, I thought that was kind of the point of Vonage in the first place. A for-profit business, to be sure, but also a company clearly interested in being a reasonably-priced VoIP provider that could and would dominate and maybe even destroy the Bells, bringing everyone along into VoIP fold.

Maybe Vonage feels they’ve succeeded at that, I don’t know. If so, they’re wrong. They’re certainly facing increased competition from Internet providers that are offering similar–and often more featured–telephony options alongside their Internet service.

What Vonage needs to do is consider the lower end of the market; something no one else is really doing effectively. “Skype”, you might say… but Skype isn’t really pedestrian enough a solution for most people. People want what seems and feels like a real phone. Skype too often feels like a toy (and frequently sounds like one, too). It’s great for all the geeks, but it’s not such a hot solution for the grandparents.

Vonage could easily offer lower-end services, at even lower prices, for people interested in paying less because, hey, they use the service less. What will be happening instead is Vonage will be losing those customers they’re attempting to force to upgrade, that already don’t get full use of the lower-tier plan. And again, after taxes and fees, I’m guessing Vonage’s $25/month unlimited plan would top out over $30/month, which means last month’s 30 minute of usage here would end up costing us a buck a minute. No thank you.

So Vonage, either offer us something that will keep us around, or they’ll lose us. And others like us, no doubt. I’d think even $10/month is still better than $0/month, for those that barely use the service, but would still like to have something around that works reasonably well. Even a cheap parking/forwarding service, to keep the number and allow inbound-only calls… I’d strongly consider it, and I’m sure others would, too.

We’ve tossed around the idea of a $200 Ooma box, but we’re not quite sold on their business model, although the break-even point after purchasing the box is at around 10 months. There are no mandatory monthly fees with Ooma,, but there’s a premium package that’s certainly got our attention. That’s still $100/year (minus the hardware cost) for a few dozen minutes a month, though…

And of course, too, we want something we can hang onto and not have to change. We also don’t want a Sunrocket situation with Ooma going belly-up and leaving us and our phone number stranded and difficult if not impossible to recover.

Of course, I have no idea what it costs Vonage to maintain a line and number for a customer, so maybe that’s part of their pricing, too… but surely there’s some kind of option to keep Vonage from losing the lower-tier customers. Jacking up the price, by the way, if it wasn’t already clear… isn’t really one of them.

So, Vonage, we prepare to bid thee adieu. Will you be around still in 2, 3, 5 years? Who knows. It’s no longer a bet we’re willing to take.

Update: Vonage has been running commercials recently bragging about how they’ve never raised prices. Watch the commercial closely. They specifically limit their claim to their $25/month “unlimited” plan. They conveniently leave out the gouging they’ve been doing trying to force people off thei 500-min/mo plan, jacking that up from $15/mo to $18/mo. They’ve also not mentioned they’ve kept adding fees to the bills over time, causing increases of several dollars over the years in the total price of the service per month. In a nutshell, the commercial’s technically truthful, but otherwise fairly dishonest and deceptive. Buyer beware.