Aug 20, 2012

Windows 8 status update

Thought I'd share with you what features are working and not on my laptop (HP Elitebook 2540p) with Windows 8. It may apply to other laptops as well.

Validity Fingerprint Sensor Working with Validity's drivers Does not always work from hibernation
HotKeys Works with HP's Win7 drivers
Wifi Native Win8 support
Ricoh Card reader Works with HP's Win7 drivers In Win8RC, Explorer would crash if the card was unformatted.
Webcam Native Win8 support
Sound Native Win8 support

Related links: HP Drivers
and Validity drivers

One thing that had me fooled for a while was how to power off the computer. The power button of course is linked to hibernation, which works well, but to shut down, I had to go to metro/start menu/whatever and then click sign out, then find the power symbol and choose shut down.
An easier way is to go to desktop (win+d) and press alt+f4, for the regular shut-down menu.
An even easier way, if you're too lazy for the keyboard, is a shortcut on the desktop. To a .cmd file that contains only "shutdown /s /t 0". It will shut down immediately, so be careful, you can change the switches to whatever is your taste.

Synaptics Touchpad

The people at Synaptics have released a new driver suite that supports Windows 8 mouse gestures (or touchpad gestures, if you will). Luckily, it also works with the touchpad in 2540p. Just download their drivers for Windows 8 and install, reboot and you're off.

Right click the Synaptics icon in the system tray and go to "Touchpad properties" for a handy introduction to the gestures and switch on and off the different ones. In my experience they all work! Especially the three-finger scroll is helpful in modern/metro UI.

Happy Windows 8 install!

Aug 6, 2012

How to get Validity fingerprint sensor working on Windows 8 - updated

I have been trying out Windows 8 RC on my laptop, it's an HP Elitebook 2540p. One of the features I've not been able to set up properly is the fingerprint login. The 2540p sports a Validity VFS451 sensor, which worked fine under Windows 7. But searching for Windows 8 drivers gave no results.

If you use Help and Support in Windows, and search for fingerprint, it tries to help you by saying type "biometric", then select "Settings" and "Biometric Devices". This, of course, leads to nothing, unless the correct driver and software is installed. It also suggests to let Windows Update find the drivers, but let's face it, if that worked you wouldn't be reading this.

So I went ahead to HP's support site and downloaded the Windows 7 64-bit drivers. They installed with no problem, and the Validity Sensor appeared under Device Manager. Yay! Now to reboot and find out if it worked.

Windows-key, "biometric", Settings, .... nothing. Ok, I'll try rebooting again.

In the end I went to the source, downloaded the Windows 7 drivers from Validity, and tried installing them. It didn't go too well. I got an error message and a question if I wanted to retry in compatibility mode. Windows suggested we run it in "Windows XP Service Pack 3"-mode - went ahead and did that, but no luck. There's a folder in the archive called DPPersonal_FMA, and subfolders for 64-bit and 32-bit, which contains a DPSetup.exe. I ran that and got through the installer with no problems, and now when I typed in "biometric" in metro, lo and behold - Biometric Devices.
Successful "biometric" search in Metro!

Now enrolling the fingerprints sure is a piece of cake! But, as I soon found out, no - not really. By clicking "Manage your fingerprint data", you enter a wizard that helps you enroll fingerprints. At least two fingers are needed. The first scanning screen is just a "test" screen to let you figure out how to scan for success... It worked fine. Then, into the enrollment view, click to select a finger, and swipe. It worked the first time. But you have to swipe several times. The second time, and N times after, I only got "swipe unsuccessful". I tried going back, tried restarting the wizard, the only thing I came up with was "Unspecified Error" and then the app crashed.

I restarted the computer again, remembering that I had the same pain doing this with Windows 7! In fact, after some time, Fingerprints didn't play well with 7 at all. The software was there, but I was unable to scan my finger. So this next step applies to Windows 7 as well, I believe. A bit of black magic and totally unstable, but the fingerprint reader is working.

  1. After the computer has restarted, log in as usual, but go straight to the Biometric Settings. 
  2. Start the wizard.
  3. Navigate the wizard using tab and enter. Do not test-scan before clicking "Enroll".
  4. Now you should be able to click the finger and scan it the required two or more times.
  5. If you get a message "the fingerprint reader is not connected", don't freak out. Just click Finish or Exit or whatever the option is. I got the same message. I rebooted again, and repeated steps 2-4. The fingerprints scanned the first time were still there the next time.
  6. When you're happy, click Next and Finish. 
  7. Try locking the screen and logging back in - using your finger!

Update August 7, 20:50 CET:
It's been a couple of days since I got it working, and I'm guessing 4 reboots. Suddenly I can't log on using my finger again. The option was there, but nothing happened when I swiped. So... I logged in using my password, went to Biometric Devices, and now the status for the reader was "Unavailable". That's just great!

I ran Update Driver... just for fun, and it installed a driver over a year older than the current. Great work! And then I was back to Biometric Devices being completely emtpy. Had to uninstall it, check the box for "remove driver software" and then reinstall the driver from Validity. Now it works again, but not sure for how long.

Update 2: December 5, 2014:
I've seen the comment that the file from validity is no longer available, but I haven't been able to research it. Today I had to reinstall the old laptop and do fix the fingerprint problem again... Guess what, HP have been busy. There's an updated driver available now, just download from here (64-bit version): HP support site   Looks like it's working out of the box this time! And for a bonus: It works on Windows 8.1, too.

Aug 4, 2012

Finding a job for the Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi, the new favorite toy of all us computer geeks. The small size, low power, no sound and heat makes for a very friendly installment and for some funky case mods. How about a pack of smokes or a deck of cards... I only got mine last week, but I've been waiting since the middle of May. If you want the technical details, here they are.

I tried to compile a small list of possible usages for it here, some are my own ideas, some I've gathered from various discussions on the web. Some of them require specific hardware and possible mad skills in some technical field. For almost every usage there are existing solutions available commercially, but this is for those who love to tinker, customize and learn by doing.

  • HTPC - can play back upt to full HD, has onboard HDMI and toslink outputs. Small enough to be mounted on or behind your TV. Does not need any further hardware except perhaps wifi dongle, if you don't have a cable handy. It's also the most mentioned use for the raspi that I've seen. There's a dedicated Debian-based distro for running XBMC on the raspi called Raspbmc.
  • In-car Media-server ("carputer"). The micro-usb power allows a cigarette adapter to power the unit, and it's small enough to fit inside the glove compartment (or other available spaces). Requires cigarette adapter and connection to amplifier or existing playback-device. Not sure if many regular car stereos have digital inputs, so you may have to cash out for a DAC as well. Luckily there are several USB DACs available in many price ranges.
  • Home Automation a.k.a. "Smart-House" Controller. A low-power unit that can monitor different environment variables (get it?) using whatever sensors you can get working. For example, turn up or down lights, heat, sun screening etc. It can even be used with the Tellstick Duo (or the simpler Tellstick) to turn any kind of power outlet on or off. Seems Tellus are already aware of this. I imagine connecting motion and temperature sensors, RFID or whatnot to achieve a fully automated and energy efficient house.
  • Security camera system, using the raspi as a brain in a multi-cam setup ( Discussion on the subject here )
  • Outdoorsy stuff. It's small, light and requires no more power than regular batteries can provide. It can run off a smallish solar panel or perhaps fuel cells (it requires 5V/700 mA). You can attach GPS trackers to it. Actually, that could come in handy for the in-car stuff as well.
  • Lightweight NAS. If you don't require too much space, a USB stick/HDD and/or the SD card will suffice as a NAS or at least a file server at home, without the space and noise requirements of the usual stuff. 
  • Game console - enclose the raspi in your favorite 80s gaming console box. Good luck getting it to work with cartridges or cassettes, though.
  • Beer brewing system - for monitoring of temperature and pressure, logging this, and starting/stopping your cooler/heater. 
For more creative ideas look to the Raspberry Pi forum or Hack a Day.

Also worth reading is this blog post from Scott Hanselman: Top 10 Raspberry Pi myths and truths.