Today’s Tech Tip – Kill Dell’s Wirelesss WLAN Tray Service

March 8, 2015

dellMy Dell laptop, a 2010 Studio XPS M1340 running Windows 7, was running slow, with a significant lag before responding to anything I did. There was other flaky behavior, like trouble rebooting successfully after installing updates. Since it wasn’t my primary system, I managed to ignore the problems for a long while.

Still, the perceptible lag while scrolling through web pages during breakfast or clicking on a link was annoying, and conceivably the problem could have been malware of some kind, since the laptop is also where I install any possibly-sketchy free apps that I need for one-off tasks. So the other day, I finally got around to digging in and finding the problem.

I opened up the Resource Monitor and looked at the processes that were using CPU cycles while the computer was nominally idle. One called “WLTRYSVC.EXE” was unfamiliar, so I googled it and found that it was part of the Dell Wirelesss WLAN Tray Service that Dell installs on many different systems that use Broadcom’s WiFi hardware.

A little more googling brought up reports that this service has a long-standing memory leak that Dell/Broadcom hasn’t bothered to fix. I confirmed that this was affecting my system by using Windows Task Manager to watch the process suck up memory and generate page faults while the laptop sat idle.

Luckily, the Dell Wirelesss WLAN Tray Service is totally unnecessary bloatware. Windows can do a perfectly good job of managing your wireless networks all by itself. So the fix was simple – just open the Services control panel and stop the service. You’ll also want to disable it so it doesn’t reload the next time you boot the system.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

There’s also a startup item, WLTRAY.EXE, that you should kill by running MSCONFIG:

service disabled-2

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Ta-da! My 5 year-old laptop runs like new again. The problem was trivial in retrospect, but aren’t most of them, once you find the answer?

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iPhone Overheating? Sucking Battery Life? Kill that app

September 22, 2014

When your iPhone gets hot, sometimes it’s a hardware problem, but usually it’s a specific app causing the problem by running the CPU or the WiFi or cellular data channels constantly and straining your phone’s resources.

It’s not only annoying, but excessive heat can damage your phone. It will certainly reduce your battery’s lifespan, and it can cause other damage.

The energy heating the phone has to come from the battery (unless you’re leaving your phone on a stove or something equally dumb).  If you have iOS 8, you can often figure out which app is the problem by checking the iPhone’s battery usage stats.

When the phone is hot, open the Setting apps and go to General->Usage->Battery Usage. You’ll see something like this screen:

IMG_2998

Note how the Roku app used 70% of all my battery usage over the past 24 hours? Given that I’d only been using the Roku app for about 10 minutes (to stream music to my Roku 3 box over WiFi), it was obvious where the problem was. I killed the Roku app and my iPhone cooled off.

Battery usage is a blunt instrument. I don’t know why the Roku app was causing the problem, but at least I know that that app was the issue. Unless the app triggered an iOS bug – you may never know.

If your battery needs frequent recharging (whether or not your phone overheats), the battery usage stats are a good way to figure out that culprit, too.

The Roku app is a convenience, nothing critical, so I just stopped using it. Hopefully your problematic app is equally disposable.

If your phone heats while sitting in your pocket, the cause may be an app running in the background. That makes the problem app harder to detect.

It’s a good idea to turn off unnecessary background processes. Not only will you reduce the chance of overheating, but by reducing the number of apps that run all the time, you’ll need to charge your phone less often.

There are two places where you can manage background app activity: Settings->General->Background App Refresh and  Settings->Privacy->Location Services. Turn off background refresh and location services for any apps where you don’t need the functionality.

Once you find a problem, don’t forget to go to the app store afterward and give the app a bad rating, explaining the issue. Who knows? Maybe they’ll fix it.

If there isn’t an obvious problem app, you can try resetting your network settings. In Settings, go to General- > Reset-> Reset Network Settings. Even if this works, the solution may only be temporary, until the problem app starts up again.

Once you reset, to reconnect to WiFi you will have to select your network and put the password in again.


TurboTax sells access to your data

March 18, 2014

I was preparing to e-file my 2013 taxes using Intuit’s TurboTax Deluxe for Windows when this security alert popped up on my computer:

Click to embiggen

Click to embiggen

I took a look at the certificate and found TurboTax was apparently trying to set up a connection to Adadvisor.net. Since there’s no reason for TurboTax to be making any internet connections at this point, let alone to an “Ad Advisor”, I said “No”.

I checked my browser and found fresh cookies for adadvisor.net, which means that TurboTax had allowed a third party access to my computer. When I Googled adadvisor.net, I found that they are run by Neustar Information Services, a company that “provides audience insights that increase online advertising relevancy through the power of verified offline consumer data.” (note: if you click on that link, Neustar will add yet another set of cookies.)

Is TurboTax secretly giving an unapproved third party my verified personal data, gained from my income tax return? I’ve deleted the cookies, so I don’t have them handy for further analysis, but as the old Magic 8-ball might say, “All signs point to Yes.”

I’d expect this sleazy behavior from TurboTax if I were using the web version, but I had the apparently naive expectation that I’d retain some small scrap of privacy by using the desktop app.

Meanwhile, my E-filing seems to have been successful, though if TurboTax and their partners can’t do something as simple as generating a functional certificate chain, who knows what really happened to my returns?


Garmin Forerunner 610 Charging Cradle Fix

November 18, 2013

Garmin Forerunner 610 charging cradleThe Garmin Forerunner 610 is my fourth Garmin GPS watch. Each upgrade has brought new features in a smaller package. But the one thing they haven’t been able to fix is the charger. Luckily, there’s a minor adjustment you can make to the 610 charging cradle that will help.

At one time or another, every Garmin GPS owner has gone to take their watch out of the charging cradle for a run, only to find it sitting there, screen blank, battery dead. It’s not an uncommon occurrence with a new watch. Then, as time passes, Dead Watch Syndrome occurs more frequently.  

It’s important to keep the contacts clean, of course.  Those tiny contacts get sweaty and dirty, so cotton swabs and a little rubbing alcohol can help. But soon enough, even rubber bands and clothespins aren’t enough to ensure a reliable connection between the watch and its cradle.

I found that I could improve the contact between the Garmin 610 and it’s charger by shaving a little bit from the top of the plastic lugs that surround the charging pins on the cradle.  I used my Dremel and a grinder bit, but you could try a file or a sharp knife.  Just a little bit off the top is enough. Don’t take off too much, as the lugs are necessary to keep the charging pins lined up with the contacts on the watch. (Don’t worry, if you screw up, you can buy a replacement cradle).

It’s not a perfect solution, but it helps.


Building Quick-and-easy Budget Audiobooks

March 25, 2013

Once upon a time, I looked into what it would take to make Chasing the Runner’s High into an audiobook. I found a service that supports self-publishing audiobooks, but creating the audiobook file turned out to be a challenge. I could do it myself, which would take a massive amount of time to do poorly and even more time to do well, or I could hire it out and spend over $1000 for something that was unlikely to bring in more than a few bucks in income. So I decided to give the idea a pass.

Then I signed up to run Boston as a guide for Team With a Vision. The irony of selling books to support vision-impaired people did not blindly pass me by, so I’ve been investigating some of the tools available to vision-impaired readers.

I found that text-to-speech conversion has come a long way since I first played with it on my Commodore 64. For example, my iPhone comes with VoiceOver, a screen reader that can be used to convert ebook text to sound. It’s not quite as good as a human reader, of course, but it’s more than adequate for most purposes.

Last weekend, Ruth and I were sitting in a coffee shop in Porter Square when Sally, a young blind woman, came in with her guide dog and sat down next to us. She was there to help her friend manage accessibility issues for the graduation ceremony at Harvard. Mild ADHD makes me an inveterate shoulder-surfer, so I saw that Sally had all kind of tools for vision-impaired users running on her laptop and we got into a conversation about them.

It turns out that Sally’s also a runner (coincidentally, she’s been guided on a few runs by Ken Skier, a mutual friend). She told me that she was a little frustrated with the number of sports books available for blind people though, as she put it, “I can read more than I ever want to know about Helen Keller.” She was happy to find that my books were available from Google, because her Android phone has text-to-speech tools that work with Google Play. She also liked that my books were available through Smashwords in simple formats like RTF or plain text that she could feed to her laptop’s screen reader applications.

Unfortunately, because most ebooks from major publishers are defective by design (encumbered with DRM), blind readers are usually stuck with the tools supplied by the ebook vendor. They may not work very well. For example, Sally mentioned that she didn’t like the tools available from Amazon for the Kindle.

balabolkaI did some asking around. Erich Manser, another Team With a Vision volunteer, pointed me at Balabolka, a free text-to-speech app for Windows computers. Balaoolka can read many kinds of text files, including common ebook formats like epub and mobi/azw (Kindle books).

Even better, you can use Balabolka to convert your book to speech and then save the resulting audio as a MP3 file. Voila! Instant audiobook!

Here’s a sample, using the default voice that comes with Windows 7:

Since everything sounds more intelligent with a British accent, here’s another version:

Other voices are available for free, including some foreign languages.

OK, it’s a little robotic, and words like “Charbonneau” are a problem. If I were going to turn my entire book into an audiobook, I’d need to do some editing and perhaps help the computer improve its pronunciation of certain words with a little creative spelling. But for the price and the effort involved, it beats the hell out of the alternatives.

Of course, Balabolka only works with DRM-free files, reason #23,475 to avoid DRM.  It’s a shame there’s no way to remove DRM from Amazon’s ebooks.


Facebook thumbnail images and Wordpress posts

March 9, 2013

fb-imageQuick tech tip for WordPress bloggers:  If you’re sharing a post on Facebook and you can’t select a particular image and display it as the thumbnail next to your link, the problem is probably that the image is too small.  Images have to be at least 200×200 pixels or Facebook will choose another image (if there’s another available to choose).

Solution: make sure the image in the media library is at least 200×200.  You can resize it in your post to be smaller if you want – that’s OK.  You may need to refresh Facebook’s cache to make the new image appear.  You can do that by loading your post in the Facebook Debugger.

This tip applies to all web pages – Facebook expects a thumbnail image to be at least 200×200, even though it’s much smaller when displayed.  Whatever.


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November 27, 2012

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