Jenn and I went to Las Vegas for three days this week (Tuesday through Thursday) and had a great stay at the Paris Las Vegas. As usual, we walked our asses off, so bad that I can still feel the pain in my hip sockets. I’m pretty sure I never got fully recovered from the previous trip to Vegas a couple of weeks back for MIX09. The Las Vegas Monorail saved us a lot of wear and tear, but apparently not enough.

We saw the “Criss Angel: Believe” show at the Luxor. Neither of us really knew what to expect, but we came out liking it. It’s probably better described as a “magic show with a story” where the assistants and dancers are all Cirque du Soleil performers. For the folks looking for a Cirque show, it’s really more magic than Cirque. Great dancers, really cool costumes, and some great effects… but definitely more “magic” than “Cirque.” We both liked the show a lot, though I feel a bit like it cost a lot for what you get. It’s the most expensive show Jenn and I have seen down there and I think Ka was probably a better value.

There were really only two things that colored the trip for me.

First, when I stayed at The Venetian for MIX09 (and MIX07), the front desk offered to print my airplane boarding pass for me when I checked out. Both times. No charge. It’s a little thing, but so nice and convenient it definitely makes a difference. The Paris Las Vegas insists you use either their business office or one of the myriad internet kiosks they have around so they can charge you $5. Is $5 a huge amount? No, but then, it’s just two pieces of stupid paper. Do they really need to nickel-and-dime me for $5? It’s the little things like that which make a “good” hotel into a “great” hotel. I talked to the front desk about that and “that’s the policy.” Needless to say, I filed a complaint about that. I’ll update this entry if I hear something back, but I’m not holding my breath.

Second, after we checked out, we wanted to leave our bags at the front desk until our shuttle bus arrived. The conversation around that went something like this:

Travis: Hey, we’d liike to leave our bags here until later when our bus thing comes to get us. Bellhop: [condescending] “Bus thing?” What is a “bus thing?” Travis: The, uh, the shuttle bus. To the airport. Bellhop: Ah. I see. I can help you with that. Let me tag those bags. Travis: OK. Bellhop: [after tagging the bags] Here’s your claim ticket. Around when will you be back to get them? Travis: Well, the shuttle leaves a little after 5:00, so around then. Bellhop: I won’t be here at 5:00 when you come back. Travis: Uh… [thinking: So what? I just need to… OH. He’s asking for a tip. Wow, that’s a little forward.] Right. Um… [thinking: All I have is a $20 bill. I’m not giving this guy $20 to check two carry-on bags.] Can I get some change? Bellhop: I can give you change. Travis: OK, I need change for $20. [hands the bellhop the $20 bill] Bellhop: [hands me two $5 bills and stops] How much did you need? Travis: [thinking: What? You seriously think I’m giving you $10 to hold two stupid carry-on bags? Seriously?] Um, $18. [thinking: $2 is way more than enough for you, asshole, considering I’m going to also have to tip the guy I pick this up from.] Bellhop: [glaring at me] $18? Travis: [thinking: You know what, shithead? Why not give me all $20 back and take a different tip - don’t be an asshole. I don’t owe you shit. You’re a fucking bellhop. You get paid to take my God damn bags. Take them and shut the fuck up.] Yes, $18. [taking the last $8] Thanks.

Now, I know it’s a tip-oriented culture down there, but this guy was pretty demanding and blunt about the whole thing.

I filed a complaint about that, too.

Other than that, our stay was great. The room was great, the rest of the service was great, the food was great… Hopefully the Paris won’t turn into a low-end nickel-and-dime you sort of establishment. I’ve loved my stays before, and aside from these two issues it was another good stay.

media, windows comments edit

Something I’d noticed in recent times: My Dell Studio Hybrid media center PC wouldn’t display a video signal after resuming from sleep.

This would work:

  1. Turn the TV on.
  2. Turn the Dell Studio Hybrid on (power on).
  3. Put the Dell Studio Hybrid to sleep.
  4. Wake the Dell Studio Hybrid up.

Doing that sequence you would correctly see the PC go to sleep, wake up, and still display a signal on the screen. This, on the other hand, would not work:

  1. Turn the TV on.
  2. Turn the Dell Studio Hybrid on (power on).
  3. Turn the TV off.
  4. Put the Dell Studio Hybrid to sleep.
  5. Turn the TV on.
  6. Wake the Dell Studio Hybrid up.

Doing that sequence, the TV would never get the video signal from the PC again. You’d have to hard power off and power it back on to get the signal. (As it turns out, it’s not putting it to sleep that’s the problem, it’s the power option to “Turn off display” - the machine doesn’t have to go fully to sleep, but if the display turns off, you still see this problem.)

I also noticed that there was a problem where occasionally the TV would lose signal just switching inputs away from the Dell Studio Hybrid and back.

  1. Turn the TV on.
  2. Switch the TV to the HDMI input for the Dell Studio Hybrid - everything looks fine.
  3. Switch the TV to some other input.
  4. Switch the TV back to the HDMI input for the Dell Studio Hybrid - signal lost.

This would only happen when Windows Media Center was running full screen. If you were looking at the desktop, or if WMC was in windowed mode, you’d never lose signal. Only when WMC was full screen would it be a problem.

I updated all the drivers, no luck. I messed around with different driver settings, no luck. After searching around, I found several workarounds.

What worked for me: I bought a little $20 HDMI switchbox based on this blog entry here. Putting that between the TV and the PC seems to have cleared up my signal loss issue.

Other workarounds include…

Use the “Bubbles” screen saver. For some reason, I found the “Bubbles” screen saver does something that other screen savers don’t seem to do and the signal doesn’t get lost when it’s on. It does mean you have to set the computer up so it never goes to sleep and the video signal never shuts off, but if you do that (and set the screen saver to start at something like one minute) then as long as you don’t switch the TV input to the PC when the screen saver isn’t running, you’re fine. Worst case, you switch away from the PC and wait one minute before switching back. Even with the HDMI switchbox, I’m still running the “Bubbles” screen saver, though it’s running at 15 minutes now instead of one minute.

Switch the ACPI suspend type to S1. I stumbled on this while searching through forums. It didn’t work for me, but it works for some folks. By default, it’s set to S3 - suspend to RAM. Switching it to S1 (sleep) seems to have resolved it, at least in my tests thus far. I can now do the sequence that wouldn’t work - turn the TV off, put the DSH to sleep, turn the TV on, and wake up the DSH with the video signal intact. I learned a little about what the different modes mean while I was figuring this out. This is a great FAQ if you want to know more.

UPDATE (5/28/09): I reformatted this post to be a little more clear about the issue and possible solutions.

This is more of a vent than anything else, but there’s a bit of a lesson learned, at least for me, here.

I just spent the last three hours fighting my home network. I got a little snippy with Jenn, who didn’t deserve it, due to the ridiculously high frustration levels. Darn close to broke a lot of stuff at random just because I was so pissed.

The problem: Xbox Live was not connecting and, on testing, was telling me that my NAT settings were set to “moderate.”

Let me give you a little background.

Xbox Live requires certain ports to be freely available to it. I don’t recall which ones and I’m too irritated right now to go Google them for you so I’ll trust you can do that on your own. The ports are not the point. The point is, if you don’t have these ports available, Xbox Live will sometimes decide to throw little network curve balls your way, like you’ll be able to connect to half of your gaming group but not the other half. Or you’ll be able to do video chat but you’ll get no audio. Crap like that.

In order to determine if you’ve figured out the magic combo, you do a “network test” from the Xbox dashboard and it basically gives you either a green light or an unhelpful message telling you about a problem. The message will say something about your “NAT settings are Moderate” or your “NAT settings are Strict.”

You don’t want Moderate or Strict, you want Open. Open means Xbox Live can get to all the stuff it needs to get to and will choose not to hose you in the middle of your Call of Duty session with your dad and uncle.

Usually I have no problems. My NAT has always been Open. Every once in a while, though, and it’s ever since we got Verizon FiOS, my NAT will suddenly change from Open to Moderate. I’ve never hit Strict, but it doesn’t matter, because it may as well be black and white - Moderate is bad news.

The trouble is that I can’t predict when it’s going to decide to change. Sometimes it just “changes” and rebooting the Xbox will fix it. Sometimes rebooting the router fixes it. Sometimes waiting an hour fixes it. Sometimes checking an arbitrary setting on the router and then unchecking it again - just change something and change it back - fixes it. It’s entirely unpredictable. I think I figured out what causes it, though.

Tonight I got the Moderate NAT problem. Again. So I was trolling through my settings and found that there were a bunch of weird port forwarding rules that I don’t remember setting up. Innocuous stuff for valid applications like MS Messenger, but I didn’t set them up - they got set up by UPnP. I also noticed that the admin interface was slightly different from the last time I was in there.

Verizon auto-updates stuff.

I knew they auto-updated the firmware on the set-top boxes, but I didn’t think about the damn routers. They’ve been updating crap and I’d bet dollars to donuts the NAT problems I see crop up sporadically coincide with these helpful updates.

I couldn’t figure out how to fix it this time. I had the Xbox as a DHCP client, so I switched it to a static IP and added some port forwarding rules. No luck. I messed around with all sorts of crazy settings, no luck. NAT = Moderate.

In the end, I went catastrophic. Full reset to factory defaults. Put the WEP key back in, put the SSID back in, reconfigure everything. And you know what?

THAT FIXED IT. Suddenly the NAT was back to Open.

What a load of crap.

media comments edit

This is, admittedly, a bit of a niche thing, but it’s helpful for me so I figured someone might be interested.

I use DVDFab HD Decrypter to rip movies for my DVD Library and it works really well except when you tell it to rip movies to a particular folder, it generates this little folder structure that makes it difficult to just copy over the movie to my Windows Home Server. Say I tell it to rip to the “C:\Movies\Really Cool Movie” folder - I’ll come out with a structure like this:

C:\Movies\Really Cool Movie

The problem is, I want the AUDIO_TS and VIDEO_TS folders up in the “C:\Movies\Really Cool Movie” folder, not two levels down in some generated hierarchy:

C:\Movies\Really Cool Movie

It requires manual file moves to get things rearranged. Not a big deal, but do it 100 times and it’s a pain in the ass. This script fixes that up:

    @echo off
    if .%1. == .. goto :help
    pushd %1
    pushd FullDisc
    for /d %%s in (*) do pushd %%s
    for /d %%s in (*) do move %%s ..\..
    for %%s in (*) do move %%s ..\..
    rmdir /s /q FullDisc
    goto :eof

    echo This script fixes up DVDFab rip folder structures.
    echo fixmovie [moviefolder]
    goto :eof

Copy that into a batch file called “fixmovie.bat” and save it in your movies folder. Then you can just run it and pass the folder name of the movie you need to fix the directory structure for. In the case of my example, I’d run fixmovie.bat "Really Cool Movie" from the “C:\Movies” folder and it’d clean up the directory structure for me.

Standard disclaimers apply. YMMV, not responsible for destruction of your universe, etc.