Thursday, March 29, 2012

DLink DSC-930L Review [Home Monitoring]

With the popularity of home networks, it has become very easy to setup a remote video surveillance system, but there are a lot of options out there and the symbiotic relationship between hardware and software often makes the choice of a surveillance system an “all-in” option because it is not easy, if not impossible, to mix hardware from many different brands (we need this to change).
I’m a webcam enthusiast, so I’ve decided to take a look at the DLink DSC-930L to see how well it does in the real world. The interest for this particular line of products from DLink is of the seemingly good price/quality ratio, the ease of setup and the availability of both web-based surveillance and local-network surveillance and recording. At a price hovering around $75 per camera, users now have the possibility to set up a convenient multi-point video surveillance system for an affordable price. So – how good is it?

DLink DSC-930L Overview

The DLink DSC-930L is a simple-looking webcam that has a plastic body and stand that can be used on a flat surface or screwed directly to a wall. The design is very simple, and rather classic: you may see similarly designed cameras from other brands. The camera is very easy to orient and you should have no problem pointing it towards a particular direction. If only DLINK could have a wide angle version…
In the back, there is an Ethernet port, but unfortunately, the camera is not designed to be powered by Ethernet. To be fair, many Ethernet HUBs/switches don’t provide enough power for that purpose anyway. The combo camera + arm is very light: to give you an idea, it’s much lighter than most smartphones. In the front, the lens, microphone and LED light are prominent, and it is easy to spot if the camera is active or not (assuming that this is a good thing).


By default, the setup assumes that you want to use a web-based remote surveillance. Because of that, you are immediately directed to a setup that will initialize the camera and assign it to your account. The whole setup for each camera is relatively easy, even if saving parameters to the camera can be slow (and frustrating). In the end, it all worked with minimum trouble, but trouble nonetheless (a couple of “camera not found”, “cannot save settings”…). If your router supports WPS, you won’t even have to enter a WiFi password.
If you want to install the local network surveillance software, there’s a link to a different software package called D-ViewCam. The installer user-interface is really not obvious, but if you know what to look for, the link is just at the bottom of the main installation screen. The good news is that both local and web-based surveillance can be used simultaneously, so when you’re home, you can view up to 32 cameras on a fast network. While on the go, the web interface lets you choose one camera at a time.

Web surveillance

Let's say that I want to keep tabs on my plant...
Depending on your upload speed, you can get up to 640×480 at 20FPS (I can reach this with the 30Mbps/7Mbps connection at the office). For more modest Internet connections (sub-1Mbps upload), things quickly go to 320×240. It seems to me that the webcam is using MJPEG to encode frames, and this is clearly not the most efficient video format (far from it…), but it is probably the cheaper hardware to embed in the internal camera software.
The web interface is convenient because it works pretty much on any computer. However, I did not like the fact that requires Java plug-ins. Flash would have been a better choice in my opinion. Regardless of the connection speed, I found the overall web interface to be slow and somewhat clunky, but it does not requires any router setup (especially Network Address Translation, or NAT), so it remains consumer-friendly.
This is what my plant looks from The image is smaller than 640x480... too bad.
At the moment, you can only watch one camera at a time online, and there’s no thumbnail, so you need to name your cameras accordingly, or be faced with a list of DLink DSC-930L + Serial # names, which is not so intuitive.

Mobile app

You can watch the cameras on your Android or iOS device
If you have an iOs or Android device, it is possible to download an application that basically do what the website does, but without having to install a Java plug-in or anything like that. This is in my opinion the most convenient way to keep an eye on those cameras while on the go as there is much less “friction” and the user interface is better. In fact, I often use the apps, even if my laptop is nearby.

Local network surveillance

Generic screenshot of D-ViewCam
As I said earlier, the installation CD also came with a software called D-ViewCam that allows video surveillance and recording on a local network (WiFi or Wired). Because of the faster speed of a home network, the video feeds tend to be more fluid, but again, the videos can become a bit blurry if your network is busy.
What’s interesting is that D-ViewCam lets you track up a heterogeneous group of up to 32 webcams, and you can see tiles, and set things up so that the software alerts you when there is something deemed interesting to look at (probably from a motion-based algorithm).
It is also possible to set up a digital video recording (DVR) function, and the software will automatically delete old recordings if the available storage goes below a preset threshold (in %). I haven’t really dug into this, but from what I could see after installing the software, it seemed to have the proper features for home use.

Image and audio quality

This is a screenshot from my iPhone 4S. Don't expect the animation to be fluid over 3G...
As I said earlier, this is pretty average-quality video when it comes to surveillance cameras, but in the grand scheme of things, and given the low-price, I feel like it’s very competitive. To get better video frame-rates, a hardware-based MPEG4 solution may work better, but at the expense of affordability. In my view, the best usage for this is basic remote surveillance where you just want to check if your home has been visited, or if a child is sleeping.


It was very interesting to review DLINK’s DSC-930L camera because I’m sure that its attractive price should make many people consider it. In the end, I feel like this is one of the best low-cost solutions on the market. Obviously, you won’t get “pro” image quality, but for the price of a single “fancier” camera, you can buy three or four of these. At least, that’s my thinking.
The setup is OK, but I found that Dropcam was much easier to install, although the older Dropcam Echo had a really low image quality. Dropcam also has a great cloud-based DVR feature that is better (and unique) because it records directly off-site, so even if someone steals/destroys your camera and equipment, the recording is safe on
DLINK should improve the overall software for its cameras. It is true that in the world of consumer surveillance cameras, standards are relatively low, but the company could add a lot more value by investing in software, than it would by releasing almost a dozen different cameras. I love the idea of managing a swarm of cheap cameras. Finally, DLINK should also look at details like power cable length as the current ones have proved to be too short for virtually everything that I tried to do: electric outlets are often at ground level, and we tend to place cameras on a vantage point, if possible.
In conclusion, I would like to add that I don’t consider this to be a real “security” setup as it does not have power-independence or remote recording. However it should work great for most home surveillance schemes where you don’t expect intruders to cut power to your home, or destroy the cameras/recorder. The DLINK DSC-930L has one of the best price/quality ratio of any such cameras that we have tested ($75 street price) and has enough software to make the cameras really useful.

How to Own Your Own Website (Even If You Can’t Build One) Pt 1


You’ve probably put up plenty of pages and accounts on various services and blogs. But today, learn how to become a real website owner and put together an awesome feature-rich website of your own with little to no experience.
Having your own website is expected in many fields. You can host your resume and various files, or put up an online business card to make sure that you’re one of the top results when you do an ego search on Google. Whatever your reason is, you don’t have to pay hundreds (or thousands?) of dollars to have somebody else make a website for you, when you can use free software and cheap hosting to make your own in minutes. In this first part of a multi-part series, we’ll discuss how to put up a simple website and and how to start owning your own domain.

Purchasing a Domain and Hosting

To own your own website, you usually have to pay for a minimum of two things. To make your life easier, you can get both from the same company. The first thing you need is a domain name—that’s the URL that you type into your browser to find your website. Basically, buying a domain is putting yourself on the map so that remote computers can find you. You pay a fee, usually once a year, to notify the services necessary to direct your URL to the second part of your website, your host.
Domains can be registered on any major hosting site, although there are some dedicated domain registrars around. You can absolutely buy a domain from a registrar and host it with another company. This is not terribly difficult and involves changing the A Host settings. However, for the sake of simplicity, we recommend buying hosting from the same company that sells you your domain. Expect to pay anywhere from $10 to $25 USD per year for each domain you buy. Many companies offer incentives for buying hosting and domains, and may give you a discounted or even free domain.
(Author’s Note: Be careful using the “Check Domain Availability” search bars. Depending on the integrity of who is doing the search, the registrar may register the domain out from under you and force you to buy if from them. If you’re searching for a domain, be ready to buy it right away!)
Hosting is the second required part of the equation. Hosting is space and bandwidth leased out from a bunch of remote servers that pipe your information throughout the web. While it does some fancy stuff and crunch some data for you, you can basically look at your hosting as hard drive space you can store the stuff that makes up your website. That’s quite an oversimplification, but since we’re not writing about how to run your own server or write your own web applications, we’ll do fine with our simple explanations today.
Hosting can be bought at a number of places (such as all of the above) with lots and lots of fancy features, most of which you won’t use unless you’re going to hire a developer (or learn more about developing applications for the web). The only ones that are important (as of the date this article was written) are:
  • PHP version 5.2.4 or greater
  • MySQL version 5.0 or greater
Hosting like this can be bought (usually) for less than $10 a month, although your mileage may vary. Even the most basic of plans offers PHP and MySQL, which are both required for loads of common software for the web. Find a one stop shop for hosting and domains at any of the following providers.
Dreamhost and Bluehost are two hosts that feature easy integration with WordPress, so you may want to use one of them if you’re a beginner and following along with our how-to. If you’re not afraid to get your hands into some confusing setups and help files, you can set it up yourself on any server that you choose. We recommend sticking with Dreamhost or Bluehost for most, if not all, readers of this article.
On a final note about hosting and domain registration—don’t agonize over a clever domain. If you’re going to put up a website to promote yourself or use as an online business card, simply using your name as a domain is perfectly acceptable. Use your name, your Xbox username, your first dog’s name, or whatever. It doesn’t have to be a huge ordeal to pick a domain because you’re probably not going to build the next Google on it. Besides, you can always buy a second (or third or fourth) later.

Web Software for A Feature-Rich Modern Site

If you started dabbling with HTML several years ago, you might have noticed that web pages have become quite a lot more complicated. If your understanding of HTML scripting hasn’t grown with the web (or is simply nonexistent), have no fear. Modern web pages are more robust than a few random text files coded in notepad and tossed on the internet. Most modern websites have a Content Management System behind the scenes that allows non-technical users to update content, design, and customize feature-rich web software using only a web browser.
Three of the most popular software packages are WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal. All are free downloads, and all will allow you to manage, design, and update a site of your very own. Our how-to today is going to focus on installing software. All are fairly easy to install, even without using a host with integrated “One-Click” style installers for the software.
The one click scripts can download, install, and create all of the necessary MySQL databases you need to use the software. It’s seriously almost too easy. Let’s take a look.

Installing WordPress (The Easy Way)

When you log into your shiny new hosting, you’ll likely be faced with some kind of control panel. This is a common software for a web hosting control panel, simply called Cpanel. On it, likely near the bottom, you can find a section called something like “Site Builders” where you’ll find “1-Click Install” or “Simple Scripts.”
Click the link for the 1 click install software.
Most of the sites will have lists of software they will download and install for you. Find WordPress from the list they give you and choose to install it.
Simply tell it to install it on the next screen to continue.
You should be able to pick the domain you bought earlier, provided you also bought it from the host. Select the dropdown and find your URL—something like and it will do all the hard work for you.
You may have to agree to some software terms and conditions. Nothing surprising here.
From the scripts screen, you should be given links to your new domain and to the “backend” page that logs you into your content manager. It’s fairly simple to use, but we’ll cover it as well as some other basics in an up and coming article.
And congratulations! You now have your own website based on your own domain ready to be customized to your heart’s content. Check back with us as we expand this multiple part series, to cover basic customizations in WordPress, a more advanced install, and some tips on getting a great website out of your basic WordPress install.

How to Create Shortcuts to Programs on USB Drives


If you work on multiple computers, you probably use a USB drive to take your favorite portable software with you. Portable application suites like PortableApps.comCodySafe, orLupo PenSuite, each have a main menu providing access to the programs installed into the suite.
However, there may be reasons why you need to create shortcuts to programs on your USB drive. You may be using a program that does not integrate into the suite’s main menu. Or, you may not be using an official portable application suite at all, and just placing portable software in a folder on your USB drive. Maybe you prefer using shortcuts on the root of the USB drive, like a portable desktop.
Whatever your reason, you can’t just create a shortcut to an application on the USB drive and place it in the root of the drive. The shortcut will always refer to the full path of the application, including the drive letter. Different computers assign different drive letters to USB flash drives, so you would have to change the drive letter for your shortcuts when it changes. You can assign a static drive letter to the USB drive. However, if you would rather not do that, there is a way to create shortcuts to programs on a USB drive using relative paths.
Because Windows does not support relative paths in shortcuts, we will show you how to create a “shortcut” on the root of a USB drive by creating a batch (.bat) file and converting it to an executable (.exe) file.
To create the batch file, open a text editor, such as Notepad, and enter the full path, including the name of the executable file, to the program for which you want to create a shortcut. However, make this a relative path by leaving out the drive letter and the first backslash. Also, surround the path with quotes. We will use the free icon extraction program, BeCyIconGrabber, as an example. The image below shows an example of the relative full path to the program on our USB flash drive.
In the text editor, save the file as a .bat file in a location of your choosing. We saved our file to a special directory on our USB flash drive.
NOTE: It doesn’t matter too much where you save the batch file. The location of the final executable file is what matters.
You can put an icon on your shortcut by extracting the icon from the program’s .exe file and adding it to the executable file you will create for your shortcut. To extract the icon from the program file, see our article about using a free tool to extract high quality icons from files. You should end up with an icon (.ico) file as shown below.
To convert your batch file into an executable file, download the free program Bat To Exe Converter. The program does not need to be installed. Simply extract the files from the .zip file and double-click on the .exe file to run the program.
On the Bat To Exe Converter program window, click the browse (…) button to the right of the Batch file edit box.
On the Select the batch file dialog box, navigate to the folder in which you saved your .bat file, select the file, and click Open.
Now, we need to specify the name and location of the resulting .exe file. By default, the same location as the batch file is entered as the save location. However, we didn’t save our batch file on the root of our USB flash drive, but we want to save the executable shortcut file on the root. To change the location, click the browse (…) button to the right of the Save as edit box.
NOTE: You can also type the paths and filenames in the edit boxes directly, instead of using the browse buttons.
On the Save as dialog box, navigate to the root of the USB flash drive, and enter a filename for the shortcut in the File name edit box. Click Save.
To run the batch file “invisibly,” with no console window opening in the background, select the Invisible application option in the Visibility box.
To add the icon you extracted to the .exe shortcut file, click the Versioninformations tab and then click the browse (…) button to the right of the Icon file edit box.
On the Select the icon file dialog box, navigate to the folder where you saved the extracted .ico file, select it, and click Open.
The path to the icon file is entered into the Icon file edit box. Click Compile to create your .exe shortcut file.
To close Bat To Exe Converter, click the X button in the upper, right corner of the dialog box.
The new .exe shortcut file is available on the root of your USB flash drive. Double-click it to run the program.
Here is the BeCyIconGrabber program opened from our converted batch file.
Now you can easily create shortcuts to programs on your USB flash drive that will work no matter what drive letter is assigned to your drive on any Windows computer.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What’s the Difference Between Sleep and Hibernate in Windows?

Windows 7 provides several options for conserving power when you are not using your PC. These options include Sleep, Hibernate, and Hybrid Sleep and are very useful if you are using a laptop. Here’s the difference between them.
Note: this article is meant primarily for beginners. Obviously ubergeeky readers will already know the difference between power modes.

Sleep Mode

Sleep mode is a power-saving state that is similar to pausing a DVD movie. All actions on the computer are stopped and any open documents and applications are put in memory. You can quickly resume normal, full-power operation within a few seconds. Sleep mode is basically the same thing as “Standby” mode.
The Sleep mode is useful if you want to stop working for a short period of time. The computer doesn’t use much power in Sleep mode.


The Hibernate mode saves your open documents and running applications to your hard disk and shuts down the computer, which means once your computer is in Hibernate mode, it uses zero power. Once the computer is powered back on, it will resume everything where you left off.
Use this mode if you won’t be using the laptop for an extended period of time, and you don’t want to close your documents.

Hybrid Sleep

The Hybrid Sleep mode is a combination of the Sleep and Hibernate modes meant for desktop computers. It puts any open documents and applications both in memory and on your hard disk, and then puts your computer into a low-power state, allowing you to quickly wake the computer and resume your work. The Hybrid Sleep mode is enabled by default in Windows on desktop computers and disabled on laptops. When enabled, it automatically puts your computer into Hybrid Sleep mode when you put it into Sleep mode.
Hybrid Sleep mode is useful for desktop computers in case of a power outage. When power resumes, Windows can restore your work from the hard disk, if the memory is not accessible.

Where are the options?

The Sleep and Hibernate options are accessed using the arrow button next to the Shut down button on the Start menu.
If you don’t see the Sleep option or the Hibernate option, it may be for one of the following reasons:
  • Your video card may not support the Sleep mode. Refer to the documentation for your video card. You can also update the driver.
  • If you don’t have administrative access on the computer, you may have to refer to the administrator to change the option.
  • The power-saving modes in Windows are turned on and off in your computer’s BIOS (basic input/output system). To turn on these modes, restart your computer and then enter the BIOS setup program. The key for accessing BIOS differs for each computer manufacturer. Instructions for accessing BIOS generally displays on the screen as the computer boots. For more information, see your computer’s documentation or check the website for your computer’s manufacturer.
  • If you don’t see the Hibernate option, the Hybrid Sleep option is mostly likely enabled. We will explain how to enable and disable the Hybrid Sleep mode later in this article.

How Do I Wake Up the Computer?

Most computers can be woken up by pressing the power button. However, every computer is different. You might need to press a key on the keyboard, click a mouse button, or lift the laptop’s lid. Refer to your computer’s documentation or the manufacturer’s website for information about waking it from a power-saving state.

How to Enable and Disable the Hybrid Sleep Option

To enable or disable the Hybrid Sleep Option, click Control Panel on the Start menu.
Click Power Options in the Control Panel window.
NOTE: If Power Options is not available, select Large icons or Small icons from the View by drop-down list in the upper, right corner of the Control Panel window. In the Category view, you can also click System and Security and then click the Power Options heading.
On the Select a power plan screen, click the Change plan settings link next to the currently selected power plan.
NOTE: You can change the Hybrid Sleep option for either one or both of the power plans. The steps are the same for both.
On the Change settings for the plan screen, click the Change advanced power settings link.
On the Power Options dialog box, click the Change settings that are currently unavailable link.
Click the plus sign next to Sleep to expand the options, if they are not already expanded. Click the plus sign next to Allow hybrid sleep. Select Off from one or both of the drop-down lists under the Allow hybrid sleep heading.
NOTE: You can also double-click on a heading to expand it.
By default, Windows requires a password to access the computer when you wake it up from a power-saving state. You can use the Power Options dialog box to turn this off. The first heading in the list box is the name of the power plan chosen in the drop-down list above the list box. Click the plus sign to expand the heading and select Off from one or both of the drop-down lists under the heading.
Click OK to save your changes and then click the X button in the upper, right corner of the Control Panel window to close it.

How to Prevent Your Computer from Automatically Sleeping or Hibernating

You can prevent Windows from asking for a password when it wakes up from a power-saving mode. However, if you are using a battery-powered laptop, be careful when turning off the sleep or hibernate mode. If the battery dies when you’re in the middle of working on the computer, you can lose data.
You can also change the amount of time before your computer goes into sleep or hibernate mode. Here’s how to do this.
Access Power Options in the Control Panel, and click the Change plan settings link next to the currently selected power plan on the Select a power plan screen, as we described earlier in this article.
On the Change settings for the plan screen, click the Change advanced power settings link.
Double-click on the Sleep heading, and then double-click on Sleep after. If you’re using a laptop, click On battery or Plugged in to activate the edit box. Click the down arrow until Never is selected.
NOTE: If you’re using a desktop computer, click Setting, and click the down arrow until Never is selected.
You can do the same for the Hibernate after heading.
If you want the display to stay on, double-click on the Display heading and then double-click Turn off display after and change the On battery and Plugged in values as desired.
Click OK to save your changes, and close the Control Panel window, as described earlier.
Now you can be smart in your choice of power-saving modes. If you’re using a laptop computer, the best option is most likely Hibernate, because it saves the most power compared to Sleep and Hybrid Sleep.