PowerPoint Killed the Video Star

So, you’re getting ready for a big meeting where you’re going to give a presentation to all the bigwig muckity-mucks at your company. Your boss, and even his boss, will be in attendance to hear what you’ve got to say. You’ve spent all week crafting the perfect PowerPoint presentation to wow them with on Monday and now, on Friday at 4:30pm, you are ready to add all the flair and pizazz that you just KNOW is going to get you a promotion.

It’s time to add the videos and music.

You’re no rookie presenter, you’ve been using PowerPoint for almost your entire career, so you know exactly what you need to do to insert your videos and music. You make sure they’re all in the same folder as your PowerPoint presentation and that they’re all in a file format that PowerPoint can use (WMV or AVI for movies and all your music is MP3). Heck, you even went online and made sure your computer’s CODECs were up to date. What could possibly go wrong? You smile as you remember how Smitty’s presentation flopped last year when his video of cats dancing to the Macarena didn’t play during his big presentation because he thought a MOV file could play in PowerPoint on a PC. What a moron. It’s his own fault that he was transfered to shipping with no hope of a promotion. He should know that MOVs are native to Macs and not PCs. He should have converted the files, or at least tested the presentation beforehand. He just got sloppy. The poor bastard.

But that’s not going to happen to you.

Smirking in your superiority, you click the “Insert Movie from File” button and insert the first video. Fifteen minutes later all five of your awesome movies are inserted and you’re ready to do a test run of The Greatest, Most Awesomest PowerPoint Presentation In The World Ever™. You start the show and go through your mental checklist of all the things a PowerPoint presentation must have in order to be considered AWESOME.

  • Light blue, gradated background? Check.
  • Yellow Comic Sans header text? Check.
  • Typewriter or laser sound effects for each bullet point? Check.
  • Wacky and “cool” animations for every-god-damned-thing on each and every slide? Check.
  • Some slides filled top to bottom with 25 bullet points in 8 point font? Check.
  • Indecipherable charts using every color of the rainbow? Double check.
  • Video of polar bears playing with giant rubber balls? Che… what?

The video isn’t playing.

This can’t be happening. It’s not possible. You checked everything, you made sure… DOUBLY sure, that the videos worked before you inserted them into your presentation. You spend the next two fricking days trying to figure out what the problem is but nothing seems to work. You convert the files to WMVs (again), but that doesn’t help. You make sure the videos are in the same folder as your presentation, which they are. You change your computer’s video settings, to no avail. You do the whole Windows Update thing, including updating MS Office, but still no video. It’s enough to drive you completely mad!

You cannot believe that you’re going to crash and burn like poor, stupid Smitty.

Then, after clicking through your billionth search result you stumble upon a possible fix that is so utterly, ridiculously, stupendously simple that you cannot believe it could possibly be right. But, because you’re already at your wit’s end, you decide to give it a try.

And, by great Odin’s beard, it works.

Fina-FRICKING-ly, your videos play correctly in PowerPoint. The Greatest, Most Awesomest PowerPoint Presentation In The World Ever™ is ready to wow your boss and get you that pomotion you’ve always wanted. Even better, you still have three hours before you need to get up for work so you can get a little sleep.

Maybe even take a shower, praise the lord.

As you drift off to sleep your mind wanders back to the genius on that message board from 6 years ago who pointed you to the solution that just saved your butt. The fix was so simple that you didn’t even need a special program or hacker skill set to implement it. All you needed to do was… and you STILL can’t believe it… shorten the filename and/or file path of the videos. How crazy is that? Somehow, even though Windows itself allows filenames (including the file path) to be up to 255 characters in length, mplay32.exe (the actual video player PowerPoint 2003 uses to play videos) can’t play a file with a filename (including the file path) longer than 124 characters! How the hell ANYONE would ever figure out that THAT was the problem when their videos didn’t play in PowerPoint is beyond you. Lord knows Smitty would have peed himself and resigned before he ever figured it out. Lucky thing you found that old message board or you might have been weighing packages and stamping boxes eight hours a day like that poor SOB.

Ah, who are you kidding? You’re a fricking GENIUS!

So, let that be a lesson to us all. If you must include an insipid piece of video trash in your PowerPoint presentation, keep your file paths and names as short as possible or your fabulous videos may not play properly. And we all know that without those stupid fricking videos in PowerPoint all your presentations would suck anal lint from angry badgers.

And for god’s sake, stop using Comic Sans!

How to Install Windows 7 Via a USB Drive

This was driving me crazy.

I searched high and low and it took me far longer than it should have, but I finally figured out how to install Win7 from a USB drive WITHOUT having to create an ISO or do anything too crazy. The hardest thing that I had to do was alter my BIOS settings to make the USB drive the primary boot device. So, what follows is the steps I took to make the bootable USB drive that would install Win7 on my HTPC. First some warnings; Make sure you back up all your important files and programs before you begin otherwise all of your data will be lost. Also, make a list of your most important programs so you can re-install them after Windows 7 finishes installing. Things like; web browser of choice, antivirus, media player, etc.

Things you will need:

  • USB thumb drive at least 4GB in size
  • Access to your BIOS (usually by pressing a key like the delete key or F1 as soon as the computer begins to boot up)
  • A copy of Windows 7 with a valid product activation key
  • A WORKING computer running Windows
  • About 1 hour of time

Now, on to the instructions.

Step #1 – Thumb Drive
Plug in your USB thumb drive and make sure it’s empty. If it has files on it they will be destroyed in the next step, so either copy them to a safe place or delete them now.

Step #2 – Command Prompt Window
You need to open a command prompt window with Administrator rights. Don’t worry, I’ll walk you through this Geeky stuff. It’s actually very simple, so don’t get scared. If you’re using Windows Vista or Windows 7 to create this USB Boot Drive, then all you need to do is go to the Start Orb and type “cmd” in the search box (without the quotation marks). When you see cmd.exe in the results RIGHT CLICK on it and choose “Run as Administrator”. A warning will popup, just click “YES” and a black window with white text will show up. That is the command prompt and you should see a blinking underscore on the screen right after some text. If you’re using Windows XP then you need to go to All Programs | Accessories | Command Prompt.

Step #3 – Find USB Thumb Drive Letter
In order to do the next step, which is formatting the USB thumb drive and making it a bootable device, you need to know what drive NUMBER the USB thumb drive has been assigned. This is different than the drive letter you might see in Windows. At the command prompt type DISKPART and then press ENTER.
Now, you should see the blinking underscore next to the word “DISKPART”.
Next, type LIST DISK and press ENTER.
You will see a list of all the disks in your system beginning with your primary hard disk. Find your USB drive in the list (it’s probably the one with a size of 4GBs or whatever size your thumb drive is) and note what drive number it is. For the rest of this excercise I’m going to assume the USB disk number is DISK 2, but you should substitute your disk number for mine in the next step.

Step #4 – The Commands
You need to type in the next few commands, one at a time, and press ENTER after each command. When you get to the format step, be aware that it might take a while to finish, so have something handy to keep yourself occupied until it’s done.

  • FORMAT FS=NTFS (this will take a while)
  • EXIT

Leave the command prompt window open, you will need it again soon.

Step #5 – Drive Letters
Now you need to insert the Windows 7 DVD into your DVD drive. When you do this, hold down the “SHIFT” key on your keyboard. This should halt the autoplay feature and let you continue without having to exit the auto-installation routine. Once the DVD is spinning nicely open up “My Computer” and note the drive letters for both the DVD drive with the Windows 7 DVD in it and the USB thumb drive. For the next steps I’m going to assume that the DVD drive is drive letter “E” and the USB thumb drive is drive letter “G”, but don’t forget to substitute your drive letters for the next steps.

Step #6 – BOOTMGR
Now you need to make the USB thumb drive bootable. We do this by going back to our command prompt window and entering the following commands.

  • E: CD BOOT and press ENTER. Substitute “E” for your DVD drive letter.
  • CD BOOT and press ENTER. This is NOT a repeat of the previous step.
  • BOOTSECT.EXE /NT60 G: and press ENTER. Substitute “G” for your USB thumb drive letter.

Once that is done you can close the command prompt window, we’re all done with it. Now you have a USB thumb drive that is bootable and we’re almost done with all the Geeky stuff.

Step #7 – Copy Windows 7 to USB Thumb Drive
Open Windows Explorer, navigate to the Windows 7 DVD and copy all the contents of the DVD to your USB thumb drive just like you would for any other files you needed to copy.

Step #8 – Change BIOS Boot Sequence
This is the hardest part, because this part is where you need to do a bit of work on your own. What you need to do is change the boot sequence of your computer so it will boot from the USB thumb drive you just created INSTEAD of from your hard drive or CD/DVD drive. You do this by pressing a certain key (usually the DEL key, the ESC key or F1 before Windows loads while the system is starting up) and that will bring you to a very ugly screen that can only be navigated by the keyboard (no mouse). Once there, find the boot menu and change the sequence. If you can’t figure this out on your own, then please find a resident Geeky friend who can help you, because each motherboard has a different BIOS so I can’t really give you specific instructions for this step.

Once Windows 7 has installed it will need to restart the computer to finish the installation. During this restart, remove the USB thumb drive and get back to the BIOS and reset the boot sequence so the computer boots from the hard drive first and CD/DVD drive second and NOT the USB thumb drive (remove the USB thumb drive option completely). Once you have the boot sequence back to “normal” save and exit the BIOS and Windows 7 should finish installing without a problem.


I’ve been a little busy working on a new website devoted to my photography, Dots on Screen. Now that it’s up and running the way I want I can hopefully spend some time fixing things up around here and get back to writing!

Minor GMail Hack

If you’ve run into the GMail limit for checking your other email accounts using POP3 then you might find this helpful.

If you have a lot of email accounts all over the place and want to use GMail to manage all those accounts, you might have run into the limit GMail places on the number of accounts you can access using POP3. There is a quick and easy workaround for increasing the number WAY past the five that Google allows. All you need to do is create another GMail account that will access up to five of your email accounts and forward all the email it receives to your primary GMail account.

Simple, no?

For example, let’s say you need to check 10 email accounts but your main gmail account only allows you to check 5. So, if your main GMail account is “SuperDuperEmailMan@gmail.com” you could create another gmail account “SuperDuperEmailMan1@gmail.com”, have it check 5 of your email accounts and then forward all the mail it receives to “SuperDuperEmailMan@gmail.com”! There. Now you can create millions of email addresses and still check them from your main gmail account.

Go knock yourself out.

ebook Rant #7

I want an ebook reader.

In an average week I read 2 books, 5 magazines and about 100,000 words on various websites, blogs and message boards. I like reading but I really hate carrying around all the books I want to read, especially when I’m traveling. With all the weight restrictions on planes nowadays, I’m lucky to fit a hardcover book into my carry-on for each business trip I take. And if the trip is cross country or overseas, I have to force myself to read slowly so I don’t finish the book before I land and be forced to listen to my seatmate snore in her sleep.

Note to lady in 32F, next time get a nasal strip or I will shove Cheetos up your nose.

Now, you may be wondering why I don’t just buy an ebook reader like the Kindle and be done with my Geekish whining. Well, I’ll tell you why I haven’t bought one yet; cost. Not the cost of the ebook reader, but the cost of the ebooks that I’d put onto the reader. Most ebooks cost anywhere from $5 to $15 each, which might seem reasonable at first glance, but I beg to differ. You see, where a physical book has inherent costs associated with its design, construction and distribution, an ebook has none of those same costs. There’s no reason why an ebook should cost as much as a physical paperback other than to prop up an outdated publishing business model that, due to the advent of the internet, is no longer relevant. If there’s no longer a physical book that needs to be designed, created, warehoused, shipped, stored and displayed then why are we still being asked to pay for those costs?

I don’t know.

What I do know is that at some point in the near future the current cost structure of contemporary publishing will fail, and a new structure will rise in its place. Hopefully one that is far more consumer oriented, perhaps similar to the iTunes structure of $.99 per song. Imagine how many more books you’d be willing to buy if they cost $.99 each. How often has someone said, “There’s this book I’m reading that I know you’d love.” But you never buy it because at $24.99 it’s not worth your money to find out if your friend was right? If you could buy the book for a dollar, right then and there when your friend mentioned it, would you hesitate?

I know I wouldn’t.

Or, how about a club-like, subscription structure? Imagine if Amazon opened up an iBrary where, for $14.99 a month ($100 a year), you could download and read all the books in their entire ebook catalog. If you let your subscription lapse then all the books are removed from your device. However, for an added fee of say $5, you could “own” that ebook and even if your subscription lapses it would remain on your ebook reader and/or backed up on your computer.

That sounds pretty good to me.

Unfortunately, right now ebooks are being treated like the proverbial red-headed step-child of the publishing world. I truly believe the publishing world is scared out of their collective minds about what ebooks might do to their businesses. Just last week Macmillan strong-armed Amazon into hiking the price of their e-books from around $10 to between $13 and $15 depending on the title. Why they think this is a good idea is beyond me, but it does make me hesitant to buy a Kindle or any ebook reader right now. Why spend the money on the reader and ebooks when buying paperbacks and/or used costs less? In fact, I defy any representative of any publishing house to explain to me why the cost of an ebook appears to need to be higher than the cost of a brand new physical hardcopy of a paperback book. How can it possibly cost more to upload a single file to a central database than it does to design, create and bind a physical book, store it in a warehouse, ship it and display it in a bookstore?

Until I have an answer, or until the price of ebooks become more realistic, I’m think I’m going to have to stick with paper.

Rotten Apple?

My thoughts on the Apple iPad

It’s a horrible name. Just horrible. Makes me cringe just thinking about it. Can’t imagine what they were thinking, but my first guess is that there was some sort of legal reason they couldn’t use something like iTablet, iSlate or even iScreen.

Hell, even iWhattheheck is better.

My initial reaction to the ebook ability of it was “Cool!” But then I started thinking about eyestrain and how the non-e-ink screen would make reading for long periods at a time a chore. I sit in front of a computer for 12 to 16 hours a day and reading long-form content like books or magazines on a computer screen is very straining to my eyes. I just don’t know how many ebooks I could read on this before my eyes just stopped focusing. Also, since it doesn’t have a keyboard, writing anything more than a quick email would become tedious really fast. Its lack of a cover for the screen makes it hard to simply shove into a bag and it’s too big to easily fit in a pocket. It has a painting program, but as a graphic artist I’ve found that small screens are no good for comfortable editing of artwork or photos, especially at high resolutions.

Now, I know that there’s a keyboard dock and a cover being sold separately, but if you’re going to get those, why not just get a netbook and be done with it?

They’ve released the iWork suite for the iPad, but other than viewing the files and doing quick, simple edits, I fail to see the point. For example, can anyone imagine writing a long report in pages using an on-screen keyboard? Or how about creating and editing a big spreadsheet? And Keynote? Really? How is that useful? You can’t hook the iPad to a projector which means you need to prop up the iPad to show the presentation to others and since it’s a touchscreen you’d have to hold it or stay close enough to touch it to advance the slides which basically means YOU become the tripod. And a 10″ screen means your audience would need to be almost in your lap to see anything on the slide that you’re talking about.

I’m lost as to why someone would spend the money on iWork for the iPad.

I’m just not sure what need this thing fills for the average user other than being a bigger screen to play your cool iTouch/iPhone apps on. I mean, the iPad might be great for watching videos or playing app games, but so is an iTouch/iPhone. Heck, the iTouch and iPhone seem to be a better choice since they run the same apps as the iPad (for now) and are more portable and cheaper. And, just like the iTouch/iPhone, the iPad doesn’t have the ability to multitask, so you can’t even surf the web while listening to music. It seems to me that for everything the iPad does, from playing games to surfing the internet, an iPhone or iTouch would be cheaper, more portable and better. An iTouch/iPhone does almost the same things as the iPad and is more portable and in the case of the iPhone, also makes phone calls. And if you wanted something more “powerful” then Netbooks have larger hard drives, built-in keyboards, can play Flash, usually have a built-in camera for Skyping and can play videos and music just as well as the iPad. Hell, if you just want to watch movies on a bigger screen, Archos has been making media players for years.

So, I’m left wondering why anyone would buy the iPad other than it’s “New” and “Cool”.

Overall, it just seems like a big, less portable iTouch and I don’t understand what need it fills for the average user that isn’t already met by another device. I’m not saying it won’t be cool and great and awesome, I’m just not sure YET why someone would buy it OTHER than it’s a cool new toy. Maybe I’m missing the Great AHA moment, but I just don’t get it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a damn cool looking device and I almost instinctively want one just because it looks sleek and sexy and sweet. But if I can’t figure out a reason for it to exist, or a way to use it in my everyday life, I just can’t see myself spending money on it. And ultimately, because I don’t know myself, I can only wonder what the early adapters out there who buy it will actually wind up using it for. Movie viewing device? Internet surfing tablet? Fancy universal remote control? Flat surface to snort coke off of? I don’t know and right now I can’t even begin to guess.

What would you use it for?

I Hate Thumbs

I was going to write a whole diatribe about Windows 7 and the usually un-deletable Thumbs.db files that clutter up the folders on your hard drive that contain pictures and/or videos and then give you step-by-step instructions on how to solve the annoying problem, but thanks to Technoleros I no longer need to spend the time doing it! Fred has written an excellent how-to post on fixing this annoying issue here so now I can spend my time doing far more important things…

Like eating Cheetos and watching Riptide.

Win7 God Mode

If anyone’s interested in a fun little Windows 7 (and Vista 32bit) hack, here’s something you might enjoy. Create a new folder on the desktop (the folder can actually be located anywhere on your computer, but the desktop is easiest) and then change the folder name to the following;


This will create a folder that contains nearly ALL the controls needed to alter your system. From creating a hard drive partition to altering folder options to changing the display resolution, it’s all available from this “God Mode” folder.

Multimedia on Ubuntu

Who knew playing a DVD would be so hard?

After getting nearly everything working the way I liked in Ubuntu 9.10 I decided to relax and watch a DVD to celebrate. Unfortunately, my celebration was stopped in its tracks because Ubuntu failed to mount the DVD. BTW, “mount” is the linux term for “load”, and they use “unmount” instead of “dismount” which is silly since dismount sounds so much cooler. But anywaste, while Ubuntu could read, write and play CDs from the same drive the DVDs didn’t work in it was frustrating me to no end that my DVDs didn’t work. After trying everything I could think of I finally caved in and posted my own cry for help at the Ubuntu forum.

You can read my pathetic weeping for yourself here.

Long story short, nothing solved this problem and I wound up reporting it as a bug and am now re-installing Ubuntu 9.10 yet again. What I’m going to do here is summarize the steps I take to get my laptop up and running to play multimedia (other than from the DVD drive, of course). In future posts I’ll explain some of the other things I do after the install such as;

  1. Programs I install
  2. Themes or other changes I make to the GUI
  3. Problems, issues, headaches, workarounds and other things I might run into
  4. Any additional functionality I might add
  5. And so on

And now, on to the multimedia setup routine.

First things first, you can already find some really, really good guides on Ubuntu multimedia set-up (here and here for example). And even though a lot of what I’m going to write is similar to what has already been written, I’m not trying to rehash other people’s hard work as my own. I’m just going to write about the things I do because someone out there might like my way better, that’s all. And also, it’s easier for me to remember how to do something if I write it down. Also, keep in mind that this guide is for fresh installs of Ubuntu 9.10, not upgrades from 9.04 or below. This guide may also not be good for newer releases of Ubuntu, whenever they come out. Lastly, I’m no expert, so don’t expect me to be able to help if you follow these directions and something goes horribly wrong. I’m happy to try to help, but if it’s beyond me I’ll simply point you to the Ubuntu forums and stop taking your calls.

I’m talking to you, Mom.

OK, the first thing I’m doing to get multimedia files to work in Ubuntu is add all the files, codecs and other nonsense that are omitted from the install due to legal reasons. First, you need to open up Terminal which can be found under “Applications | Accessories | Terminal”. Then you need to copy and paste the following code into Terminal (remember that to paste in Terminal you need to hit ctrl+shift+V);

sudo wget http://www.medibuntu.org/sources.list.d/`lsb_release -cs`.list --output-document=/etc/apt/sources.list.d/medibuntu.list; sudo apt-get -q update; sudo apt-get --yes -q --allow-unauthenticated install medibuntu-keyring; sudo apt-get -q update

Next, you should install as many of the packages as you want/need. Again, this is done by copying and pasting the command into Terminal. A lot of the info I’ve found on the web adds Sun Java to the following code, but I feel it’s easier to install that separately if you want it because sometimes, due to the way Java’s end-user license agreement (EULA) interrupts the installation until you agree to its terms, Java will crash or fail to load properly. I usually install Java though the Ubuntu Software Manager or the Synaptic Package Manager. However, if you want to install Java along with everything else in the code below, just add “sun-java6-fonts sun-java6-jre sun-java6-plugin” (no quotes) at the end of the code below.

sudo apt-get remove gnash gnash-common libflashsupport mozilla-plugin-gnash swfdec-mozilla && sudo apt-get install alsa-oss faac faad flashplugin-nonfree gstreamer0.10-ffmpeg gstreamer0.10-plugins-bad gstreamer0.10-plugins-bad-multiverse gstreamer0.10-plugins-ugly gstreamer0.10-plugins-ugly-multiverse gstreamer0.10-pitfdll libmp3lame0 non-free-codecs unrar

Now you should install a few of the necessary (yet, also omitted due to legal reasons) packages in order for Ubuntu to play encrypted DVDs, certain Windows and Apple formats, etc.

sudo apt-get install libdvdcss2 libdvdread4 libdvdnav4 w32codecs

Note: if your computer uses the AMD64 or PowerPC architectures then you’ll need to replace w32codecs in the code above with either w64codecs or ppc-codecs respectively.

That should give you a very strong base, now you need to start the Update Manager which can be found at “System | Administration | Update Manager”, and let it update everything it finds that needs to be updated. And now you’re ready to play nearly any multimedia file you might want. All that’s left is to install your favorite media player via the Ubuntu Software Center which is found at “Applications | Ubuntu Software Center”. My favorite for movies is VLC Media Player because it’s fast, simple (yet powerful) and free. I haven’t yet found a favorite music player yet, but I’ll be sure to post about my search for it soon.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Penguin Problems

So, I’m trying to learn to use Ubuntu Linux… and failing miserably.

Well, let me be a little more specific. It’s not so much that I’m failing to use Ubuntu, it’s that I’m unable to get it to run at all. It seems that I’ve been unfortunate enough to run into this bug and it’s causing me to go absolutely crazy. Long story short, Ubuntu 9.10 seems to install perfectly fine, but upon rebooting to complete the installation the computer fails and displays a black screen with the text “error: no such device:” followed by a large string of numbers and letters. Since I can’t even get to a command line, there’s absolutely nothing I can do to fix this other than try to install an older version of Ubuntu and then try to upgrade and see if that fixes the problem. If only I could get to the boot menu maybe I could find a workaround… Man, this is reminding me of the time I installed Windows 3.1 back in 1992… [shiver]

A loooooong time later…

Well, thanks to a little bit of code advice found in that bug report I linked to above, I’ve discovered the workaround fix for boot issues in Ubuntu 9.10. The boot problem seems to stem from the (still as of this writing) beta version of grub2 that Ubuntu 9.10 uses. Apparently, it’s attempting to load from a floppy and if there’s no floppy drive connected to the system the loader simply refuses to proceed and gets stuck in an endless loop with no way to exit without shutting down completely. It’s also important to note that this issue seems to only affect clean installs, and not upgrades.

Which is very upsetting.

Luckily, the fix isn’t that horribly technical and can be easily implemented by almost anyone as long as you can find a way to get to the actual grub menu. I’ve found that the easiest way to get to the grub menu is to hit the “Escape” key just as the machine begins to load the OS. YMMV. Of course, the modifications below won’t stick if you upgrade the grub-common package, but you can always do it again after an upgrade, and now you know where to find the instructions.

  1. Get to the grub menu and then press “e” to edit the startup commands.
  2. Delete the line that reads “search –no-floppy –fs-uuid –set ${fs_uuid}” where ${fs_uuid} is a long string of numbers and letters.
  3. Reboot
  4. You should now be able to boot into the Ubuntu desktop. Once there open up a terminal (Applications|Accessories|Terminal).
  5. Enter “sudo gedit /usr/lib/grub/grub-mkconfig_lib” (no quotes). You will need to enter your password.
  6. Scroll down until you find the line that reads “prepare_grub_to_access_device ()”.
  7. Remove the following lines:
    if fs_uuid=”`${grub_probe} –device ${device} –target=fs_uuid 2> /dev/null`” ; then echo “search –no-floppy –fs-uuid –set ${fs_uuid}”
  8. Save and close the gedit window.
  9. In Terminal enter the code “sudo update-grub” (no quotes).
  10. Reboot

That should take care of the boot problems. Just remember that you might run into the issue again if the grub-common package is updated!