Greece - Day 3

Wow, I haven't had a chance to blog about my Greece trip; I will blame it on the jet-lag...

We had to have someone 'house sit' to take care of Betty (she 'requires' attention or she gets nervous and freaky- I think she has some abandonment issues) so Kate is staying over with her dog Chaucer; hopefully Betty will be easy on her and Chaucer (I have been checking in with our cameras to see how things are going).

We arrived in Athens on Saturday morning (Greece is GMT + 2, so it is seven hours ahead of EST) and took a cab to the GR Louis Hotel (formerly the Andromeda?).  I was a little worried when I noticed that the ceiling fans in the lobby were all on high speed.  The elevator was also humorous- it had a 32" door and could fit one person comfortably with 2 pieces of luggage: so it took us 3 trips to get us and our gear upstairs.

We arrived at our (first) room and turned the AC on and had a short lie down while after our 11 hour flight- the AC did not work.  Tracy had a talk with the manager and he moved us to another room- a much larger suite on the top floor (7th)- and the elevator stops one floor below so we had to use the stairs for the last leg. 

The room had two areas (living room and bedroom) and a balcony and two separate AC units.  This worked fine until the AC unit in the bedroom started leaking water onto the table- the management's solution was to turn the AC up so it didn't get so cold (to about 77F) and to put a towel on the table beneath the unit: not a real good answer (my theory on this was the 2" hole in the wall behind the unit was allowing the outside humid air to condensate on the AC coils- so they needed some caulk and filler). But after running the ACs full open all night the rooms finally got pretty chilly. 

I will have to say that Greece appears to be worried about electrical usage from the commercials on TV and the 'kill switch' for the entire room located at the exit of each hotel room (and the wind power generators I noticed on the flight in)- but they should run the AC just a little to keep the room temperature under 90 degrees for their guests!

The girls couldn't sleep well because of the dripping of the AC on the wet towels (we added another towel as it saturated the 1st).  There were other issues like the toilet leaks (and there is a floor drain installed for this?), the bathroom floor was nasty (pics later) and other such annoyances that made us find another hotel for the rest of our stay in Athens.

We moved to the Hilton (about 12 blocks away) and are so far pretty happy; the room is smaller, but the amenities are much nicer (they left a bottle of wine and a plate of fruit for us- how sweet) and the AC kicks!

We also have 'free' Internet courtesy of Purelli- which is a godsend based on the Internet rates in Greece:  It was 16 Euro for 2 hours at the first hotel and it is 10 Euro for 1 hour (or 27.5 Euro for 24 hours) at the Hilton- which really sucks for a country that has 24mbps DSL for 21.5 Euro/month!

Another thing to watch for is the price gouges for basic things- like 6 Euro for a can of coke 'light' (their version of Diet Coke) in the room (about $9 USD)- I found the (multiple) sidewalk news stands sell the 750ml version of the same product for 1 Euro; it just takes a short 4 block walk to get this discount.

I guess the above two are a way for the hotels to make easy money- which really compounds the insult of paying 200+ Euro/night!  I guess they figure all tourists are idiots with nothing to do but spend money...

Anyway- enough rants and raves (well, maybe more later on the restaurants): we did some walking yesterday and found lots of shopping areas (reminiscent to me of the New Orleans French Market) and walked up to the Acropolis.  I got separated from Tracy and Diana (I ended up walking back to the Hotel) but found some interesting 'back roads' (between some old houses) up to the back of the Acropolis- and got some stunning pictures of the city.  These should be on Flickr soon if the Internet connection holds up.

We fired up Skype last night and the girls called everyone they could think of to tell them about the trip- most people didn't answer as the out-boud caller ID displays 0001234567 (a problem with Skpe usage in the USA).  The sound was pretty good through the built-in speakers/microphone on the laptop; i will bring my headset next trip.

Today it is 10:30 in Greece and the girls are about to be awoken for another fun day (yesterday they didn't wake up until after 1:00pm!)


Treo 700p Firmware Update

Woo hoo! Sprint has finally released a firmware update for their Treo 700p phone! It doesn't appear to add A2DP support but hopefully it will fix some of the random lock-ups I get when checking email! :o)

The update must be downloaded to an SD Card, the phone must be hard reset and they are saying it takes 25-30 minutes to complete(!) I have started the process and I am getting a shower- when I get out I should have either a shiny, new phone OS or I will have a brick...


GigaNews 'Accelerator'

GigaNews has released their final version of their 'Giganews Accelerator'- basically a proxy service for connecting to their binary news servers.  One very interesting (and useful) feature is that they can compress the headers before sending- and the accelerator will decompress as they are received.  Very useful as the compression equals to downloading the headers at about 40mbps (over a 6mpbs connection)! 

The accelerator also offers a SSL connection between the client and the Giganews news servers- but only if you have a data plan that includes SSL.  Nice if you are worried about your ISP doing packet inspection and possibly doing traffic shaping based on the data it finds...


More X-10 Installs

My 'home automation' project has been going well; I just ordered and received several more of the non-dimming (XPS3) switches and I have been installing them in 'key' places through-out the house. 

I also had to get a few of the 3-way dummy switches (XPSS) and wire these in as we have a few 3-way switches in the house.  I found that the wiring for a 3-way switch with an X-10 system is the reverse of what I thought it should be- the 'dummy' switch must be connected to the line voltage (the 'hot' circuit) and the XPS3 switch is connected on the side of the actual light (the 'load' side).  It seems to be this way as the dummy switch just passes the power through and sends an on-off command across the signal wire (the extra wire needed for a 3-way switch); the XPS3 does all the actual on/off switching... 

I also purchased a DS7000 alarm system (to supplement the DSC Power 832 system that I hardwire installed before we moved in) to try out some of the wireless options and to see how it integrates with the cameras, email notification and FTP posting.  I also purchased several PIR sensors and door/window sensors.  I started playing around with it and decided that this was something that needs to be configured only during daytime hours- the arming 'chirp' is so loud that I definitely do not want to do an alarm test!  (The alarm is rated at 95db, but I think the frequency makes it sound much louder!)

It looks like when I am done I will have several dozen X-10 parts left over- several lamp modules, a dozen dimming wall switches, five control modules, extra security hardware, etc; maybe I should start installing these for other people!  :o)


More PSP Stuff

So my PSP has been flashed to v1.5 firmware via the Lumines exploit and I have installed the 3.4OE firmware to allow me to play my UMD games that require such.

Helpful notes:

  • If you want to play an ISO backup image of your game (it is much easier to carry a 4GB MS Pro Duo than 3-4 UMD discs!), you must have a valid UMD game in the PSP- not a movie! (I had forgotten this!)
  • The 3.4OE firmware creates GAME150 and GAME340 directories under \MS_ROOT\PSP\; GAME150 is homebrew designed for 1.5 firmware releases and GAME340 is for 3.x homebrew! (Very clever idea!)

Fry's has a sale on Lexar 4GB MS Pro Duo sticks for $39 each so I picked up two: one for movies and one for my backup game ISOs.  (I think the sale is good through July 10th) Last week I thought $69 for a SanDisk 4GB was a good deal from Circuit City- I guess this shows how volatile the flash memory market is right now.

While searching the interweb for more info on homebrew, I came across a MOD chip for the PSP called the Undiluted Platinum; this appears to be the most complicated install I have ever seen!


PSP v2.0

The price on the Sony PSP has been coming down and the games are now actually a reasonable price ($10 - $20) so I decided to re-invest in one again.  I had one prior but it cost me $350; I kept it for a few months and sold it on eBay for $300; the new ones are $170.

PSPs are unique devices as they have a lot of functions, such as:

  • Games
  • MP3 Player
  • Video Player
  • Web Browser
  • RSS Reader (?)
  • Mass storage device (thumb drive)

There are also add-ons now for GPS and Webcam.   Hell, slap a HSDPA phone radio in and A2DP bluetooth support and it would be an iPhone killer!

But the real fun is trying to get the PSP to play something that it is not supposed to- namely NES/SNES/N64/GBA emulators and MAME!  This can also be called 'hacking' or 'modding' the PSP.

The PSP firmware is regularly updated so people cannot execute code on the device that would allow people to play things such as 'backup' copies of PSP games and other 'homebrew' applications as many of these cause conflicts in interest with other commercial titles (why by the Namco Museum when I can play the games on MAME for free?)

The 'golden firmware' version is v1.50 and the most recent official release of PSP firmware is 3.51.  There are new features added in with each major revision- such as the web browser, RSS reader, flash and WMA support- and Sony also requires updates to firmware to play certain games to ensure that people upgrade and that hackers are kept busy; for example, my copy of Dungeon Maker: Hunting Ground game requires firmware 3.4 or greater to allow the game to start.

When I received my PSP it had v2.51 on it.  There is no 'exploit' for this version, so I had to upgrade to 3.03 to try to take advantage of the 'GTA: Liberty City Stories' game save exploit.  The exploit is executed when GTA: LCS tries to load a mal-formed save game and the system is put into a mode where other code can be run- in this case to replace the firmware with a non-Sony version.  Unfortunately, the GTA: LCS disc must be an original unlatched version of the game- so I was screwed with the purchase I made from GameStop.

Luckily, there is an hew exploit for 3.50 firmware using a Lumines save game exploit.  I updated my PSP to 3.5 and I was finally able to play my Dungeon Maker game- and then I had to try to find a copy of Lumines!  News has traveled and Amazon sales of this game have increased 5800% since release of the exploit info on June 27, 2007.  Ebay prices are $40 - $50 each (for a cheesy 3 year old game that no one really cared about).  after checking for the disc at 3 Game Stops, 2 Best Buys, 2 Wal-Marts, 2 Targets, a Fry's and a Microcenter I had almost given up- but fate would have me passing by a Circuit City where I found a copy (actually 2) in the closeout bin for $13.00!  :o)

There are three versions of the exploit- all appear to do the same thing in different packages, so I went for the one with the most documentation.  The basic steps are:

  1. Upgrade to PSP the official Sony 3.50 firmware
  2. Copy the contents from the 3.50 Downgrader file to the memory stick; basically a Lumines save game and a homebrew copy of 3.5 HEN firmware
  3. Copy a renamed version of the 1.5 firmware to the memory stick
  4. Run Lumines; it will try to load the save game and reboot- enabling 3.50 HEN firmware.
  5. Run the 1.5 Firmware updater
  6. Reboot- clear all settings and format memory stick
  7. Install a custom PSP firmware version (I used 3.40)

One caveat is that with my specific motherboard version (the infamous TA-082 version) I had to applay a specific patch (included in the downgrader file) and I cannot upgrade to an official Sony firmware version until a patch has been made to correct this!

At this point I can run all original games + any homebrew apps I care to try; currently NES, SNES, GBA, N64, Atari 2600, MAME and PSX emulators...

Another awesome program is Xilisoft DVD to PSP ripper; it takes about an hour minutes to rip a DVD (encrypted!) and convert a movie to MP4 format at damn near UMD quality!