Older blog entries for etbe (starting at number 1083)

Failures of Intelligence Agencies

There’s been an ongoing news issue related to the NSA that I’m not going to directly comment on, Charles Stross has one of the more interesting comments about it [1]. One of his major points is that any success at government secrecy relies on the type of work environment that existed 40+ years ago. Corporatism has killed government secrecy – now it’s a matter of time before corporate whistle-blowers start seriously leaking documents.

One article that Charles links to is an interesting and insightful blog post Adam Curtis wrote for the BBC about the many failures of MI5 [2]. I think that everyone is aware of their biggest failures but from Adam’s article it seems that they have only failed and never succeeded in anything. I wonder whether ASIO is any better, it’s probably not (the Wikipedia page notes the involvement of MI5 in creating ASIO). It seems that the best way of achieving the goals of ASIO and MI5 would be to disband those organisations and assign regular police to do such work, after all it’s been proven that British police are better at catching spies than MI5.

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Syndicated 2013-11-23 01:36:21 from etbe - Russell Coker

Bad Advertising of Protoplast

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

In early 2010 I wrote about Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, I gave a picture of the wrist brace and a description of the process of creating it [1].

A few months later I wrote a follow-up about how the wrist brace had helped me, at the time I was anticipating wearing it at night for the rest of my life [2]. But my wrist has continued to improve. Nowadays I never wear the wrist brace and hardly even think of it. I am a little more careful about posture than I was before, but mostly it has no impact on my life. I think this counts as a full recovery.

At the time I was mildly interested in buying some thermo-plastic of that type to make things, but the only source I found was Jaycar which sold 100 grams for $14.95, Jaycar prices have now dropped to $11.50 for 100 grams or $89.50 for a kilo but it’s still expensive [3].


When looking at the sites that link to my blog I saw a site advertising “Protoplast” which is a type of thermo-plastic that can be used for making things [4]. Protoplast have more reasonable prices, E30 ($AU42.75) for a kilo and their web site offers better prices for anyone who purchases 10kg or more (good for hackerspaces etc). As they post no further than Belgium they aren’t an option for me but they do seem to make a good offer, better than Jaycar offers in Australia.

Protoplast is probably a good product, but I think that their advert is misleading. While it is probably possible to make a wrist-brace similar to mine with Protoplast it’s a fact that my wrist brace was not made with it. My wrist brace started out as a flat sheet of plastic which could be formed to the final product without being melted. Converting a packet of plastic granules (as sold by Protoplast or Jaycar) to a sheet to even start work on such a wrist brace would take some work.

To make a sheet of plastic out of beads sold by Jaycar or Protoplast you would ideally completely melt the plastic, if you just softened the plastic then it wouldn’t be as strong as using a pre-made sheet. During the time that I wore the wrist brace I probably repaired it more than 30 times, this wasn’t particularly difficult to do, I poured boiling water over it to soften the part that cracked until it became tacky and then pushed it together again. But the result was significantly weaker than the original due to the difficulty in welding the broken sections together. I ended up cutting some strips from less important parts of the wrist brace (the part nearest to my elbow) to reinforce the weakest part which was between my thumb and fore-finger. That section ended up being about three times thicker than it was originally while also not being as strong as it was originally. I also had difficulty in making it flat so it wasn’t nearly as comfortable as the original version.

It seems rather misleading to include the picture of my wrist brace on a site advertising plastic which wasn’t used to make it and which probably couldn’t be used to make something that looks as good with the same ratio of strength to mass. But with a suitable disclaimer indicating that the user probably can’t get the same result it would be OK to give it as an example of what could be done.

I can imagine someone using a product like Protoplast to make a wrist brace that can hold a mobile phone, that can be worn with a watch, or has other features that aren’t offered by medical staff.

License Issues

The license for my blog doesn’t permit people to just copy pictures, it’s a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike based license [5]. I am interested in supporting companies that make interesting products and anything that can help people with medical issues is also of interest. So I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a free license for a picture from my blog to be used in the way that they used it (with a link back to the original blog post). But I would want a description that informs readers that it’s not an item made with their product, merely something similar that can be used for inspiration.

Related posts:

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Syndicated 2013-11-12 13:07:13 from etbe - Russell Coker

Aldi Changes, Cheap Telcos, and Estimating Costs

I’ve been using Aldi as my mobile phone provider for two months now since Kogan was shut down [1]. Now Aldi have cut the transfer quota on their “Unlimited” plan from 5G per month to 2.5G per month. The most charitable interpretation of this would be that Aldi got a lot of former Kogan customers who needed the 6G per month that Kogan offered and that forced them to make changes to remain profitable. But the most likely possibility is that with less competition Aldi can just offer less for the same price.

This isn’t a huge problem for me, in two months on Aldi my biggest month involved almost exactly 2.5G of data transfer. But it’s annoying to lose something and it’s enough to make me consider other options. Also some of my relatives are looking for new plans so now is a good time to research the options.

Other Pre-paid Options

Lebara offers “Unlimited” plans that start at $30 per month and offer 1.5G of data [2], this compares well to the “Unlimited” plan of $35 per month from Aldi which has 2.5G of data (depending on whether 1.5G is enough).

Amaysim has an “Unlimited” plan that includes 4G of data for $40 per month [3]. If you make lots of phone calls and transfer more than 2.5G of data per month then that would be a really good deal.

Lebara uses the Vodafone network and Amaysim uses Optus. Neither of them compare to the Telstra 3G network if you want access outside major urban areas. I had Virgin (Optus network) work well for me for years and Three (their own network now part of Vodafone) work well for many years before that. But data transfer is becoming more important to me and the Telstra network is a major feature of Aldi.

Lebara has one of the wost web sites I’ve ever seen and Amaysim isn’t much better. Aldi is great, they just provide all the key data in one page. Aldi and Amaysim have Android apps that can be used for recharging and viewing the balance, Aldi’s app works well but I haven’t been able to test the Amaysim app. Lebara doesn’t even have an app.

Generally Lebara doesn’t seem to have anything going for it unless you want to make lots of calls to other Lebara customers, you want to make calls to certain other countries where Lebara has very low international rates, or unless you need a plan with “unlimited” calls but don’t need more than 1.5G of data.

The following table summarises the costs of the three pre-paid telcos.

Telco Flagfall Cost/min (Australia calls) SMS Data Cost/Meg Data Increment Credit Expiry and Minimum 30day Data Packs
Aldi 0 $0.12 $0.12 $0.05 1M 1 year $15 2G=$15
Lebara $0.29 $0.15 $0.15 $0.05 1K 90 days $10
Amaysim 0 $0.12 $0.12 $0.05 1M 90 days $5 1G=$10 2G=$20 4G=$30

Post-paid Options

Virgin’s cheapest offer is $20 per month for $200 of calls (at $0.98/min + $0.40 flagfall) and 200M of data [4], they currently have a special offer of an extra 1G if you sign up before the 18th of November. Virgin have a long history of periodically offering special deals so if you want to sign up with them some time in the next few months it’s best to poll their web site and wait for a deal.

The TeleChoice Global Liberty plan is a slightly better deal of $20 per month for $500 of calls (at $0.97/min + $0.40 flagfall) and 1G of data which also has free SMS [5].

TeleChoice Global Rebel Texter is a plan for $15 per month that includes $200 of calls and 200M of data and free SMS [6]. They also have a $10 per month plan which charges $0.22 per SMS, which would be bad value for anyone who sends 1 SMS per day.

At Aldi rates if you spend $15 per month on 2G of data and $5 on calls then you will get 41 * one minute calls as opposed to $200/($0.98+$0.40)==145 * one minute calls with the cheapest Virgin plan. It seems to me that there is little possibility for those two $20 post-paid plans (which seem to be two of the best value plans currently available) to compete well with the pre-paid options from Aldi and Lebara. Even if you have the same usage pattern every month there are only particular patterns which make the Virgin or TeleChoice deals most appealing options, for example if you need to make more than 40 minutes of calls but less than 145 minutes of calls then Virgin will look good. TeleChoice Global Liberty looks good if you make between 40 and $500/($0.97+$0.40)==365 * one minute calls.

If you only need a small amount of data transfer (less than 200M billed in 10K increments) then the TeleChoice Rebel Texter plan would look good as the Aldi 1M increments matter for small amounts of data transfer. But I don’t think that many people are in that situation, even my mother in law can’t easily stick within 200M of data transfer.

Measuring Phone Use

The first program I used for measuring phone calls is the Call & SMS Stats app from the Android Market [7]. I wouldn’t recommend this to technical users as it demands a lot of access to the phone (including reading SMS, accessing the phone storage, and sending data to the Internet), but it’s good for less technical users. For my use I prefer Call Meter 3G from the F-Droid repository [8]. I trust the Call Meter 3G program more because it’s source is available under the GPL and it also has the convenient feature of adding up the costs of the calls, SMS, and data used.

According to Call Meter 3G I’m using less than $20 of calls and SMS per month, so if I continue my current use with a 2G data pack every month from Aldi instead of buying a $35 “Unlimited” pack and don’t use more than 2G of data then I’ll save at least a few dollars every month. My wife makes fewer calls so I’ve already moved her phone away from the “Unlimited” plan and I’ll move my phone later if it looks like it will save money – she will now use my phone for making calls when we are together so the “Unlimited” plan may become good value when we share it.

The Case for Aldi

Aldi offers competitive options for phones for most levels of usage. While there are some post-paid plans which are better in some areas such as the ones from TeleChoice Aldi has the benefit of flexibility. A phone with Aldi can have it’s plan scaled up or down easily with no penalty fees.

For a phone to be usable for an entire year the cheapest option at the moment is Aldi which has a $15 recharge that lasts for a year. The next best option seems to be Amaysim with a $5 recharge that lasts for 90 days.

Saving Money

In the past I’ve been used to SMS being significantly cheaper than phone calls. When I was on Virgin and calls just over $1 per minute ($0.98 per minute plus the flag-fall) and SMS were $0.28 which made a simple question and answer cheaper by SMS than calling. But with Aldi charging the same for a 1 minute call and sending an SMS a simple question and answer will cost half as much if it’s done with a call so SMS isn’t a good deal. Also I’ve started using Google Hangouts to communicate with my wife instead of SMS as extra use of Hangouts is essentially free (we both have it running all the time for Ingress related communication anyway). The financial incentive now is to use Google Hangouts to replace some calls.

One down-side to saving money in such ways is that it restricts usage of the phone. While moving from SMS to Google Hangouts (or any other instant-messaging system) isn’t any great cost having to reduce the number of calls does. The ability to talk for as long as you want without bothering about cost is something that’s worth paying for.

I Hate Telcos

For most things that I spend money on I wouldn’t invest much effort to try and save $10 or $15 per month. Even when doing research that will help my friends and relatives and random people on the Internet I probably wouldn’t take so much time for a small saving. But the Telcos seems to avoid competing as much as possible which is obvious from the way that they increase prices and decrease services at the same time. Also most Telcos seem to have a business model that is based around exploiting customers, they have confusing terms in the contracts that make it very likely for customers to go over the included usage and hit penalty rates and charge unreasonable prices for the phones that are bundled with a telephony contract. I want to reduce the amount of money I pay to Telcos as a matter of principle.

Aldi is better than most Telcos, they have clear terms that are explained on a single web page [9], and they have an Android app to show the remaining credit that can reduce the risk of excessive fees if a 2G data block is used. Aldi sells phones in their stores at low prices, the phones that they sell aren’t the highest quality but the customer gets what they pay for and the warranty return policy is good. But we still need to find the best options so that market forces will encourage Telcos to make more reasonable offers.

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Syndicated 2013-11-10 00:26:51 from etbe - Russell Coker

Links October 2013

Wired has an interesting article by David Samuels about the Skybox, a small satellite (about the size of a bar fridge) that is being developed to provide cheap photographs of the Earth from low orbit [1]. Governments of major countries will probably try to limit what they do, but if they can prove that it’s viable then someone else from a different jurisdiction will build similar satellites.

Alice Dreger gave an interesting TED talk about the various ways that people can fall outside the expected genetic sex binary [2].

The short film “Love is All You Need” has an interesting way of showing the way that non-straight kids are treated [3].

The Guardian has an interesting article by Ranjana Srivastava about doctors and depression [4].

Don Marti wrote an interesting post about believing bullshit as a way of demonstrating group loyalty [5].

Zacqart Adam Green wrote an interesting article for the Falkvinge blog about the way tgat tge Ouya gaming console can teach children about free software and political freedom [6]. Read more at www.ouya.tv [7]. It’s a pity that the Ouya is not conveniently sold outside the US and the UK, with shipping it would probably cost a lot more than $99 in Australia.

Tim Chevalier wrote an interesting post for Geek Feminism about the unintended consequences of some codes of conduct [8].

Tim Chevalier wrote an interesting Geek Feminism post about Wikipedia describing how the Neutral Point Of View is a way of representing the views of people in power [9].

Ramin Shokrizade wrote an interesting article for Gamasutra about the “Free 2 Play” (F2P) techniques [10]. The concept of F2P games is that the game can be installed for free but requires regular small payments to make the game easier, apparently some people pay $3000 per year or more.

The TED blog has an interesting interview with Jack Andraka, a teenager who invented a new test for pancreatic cancer (and also ovarian and lung cancer) that is cheaper, faster, and less invasive than other tests [11]. The blog post also has a link to Jack’s TED talk.

Wired has an interesting article by David Samuels about the Skybox, a small satellite (about the size of a bar fridge) that is being developed to provide cheap photographs of the Earth from low orbit [12]. Governments of major countries will probably try to limit what they do, but if they can prove that it’s viable then someone else from a different jurisdiction will build similar satellites.

Alice Dreger gave an interesting TED talk about the various ways that people can fall outside the expected genetic sex binary [13].

The short film “Love is All You Need” has an interesting way of showing the way that non-straight kids are treated [14].

The Guardian has an interesting article by Ranjana Srivastava about doctors and depression [15].

Don Marti wrote an interesting post about believing bullshit as a way of demonstrating group loyalty [16].

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Syndicated 2013-10-31 04:56:29 from etbe - Russell Coker

Thinkpad T420

I’ve owned a Thinkpad T61 since February 2010 [1]. In most ways it’s a great system and it still does most things that I require, even though it inspired my post about how modern laptops suck [2].

Problems with my T61

The biggest ongoing problem with my T61 was the heat production, I’m not sure how much of it was due to the CPU producing heat and how much was due to the cooling system not removing it fast enough. But any serious computation for even a relatively small amount of time caused it to get close to thermal shutdown. But as I mostly use my laptop for reading email, a SSH client, and coding (for which the big compiles are done on servers) that didn’t force me to replace it. The next problem was the battery life, it’s expected that laptop batteries degrade over time so it wasn’t a surprise that after 3 years my T61 battery only lasted for about 15 minutes. A final problem is the screen which didn’t seem to be as bright as it used to be, it’s annoying but doesn’t compel me to buy a replacement.

T61 Failure

But in July my T61 stopped working, it appeared to be either the power supply or something internal related to power, it had been running but was suddenly powered down after being left alone so for some reason power wasn’t getting from the wall to the laptop. I initially thought that it was the power supply at fault and investigated the price of a new PSU and a new battery as well. The Lenovo online store [3] charges $71.90 for a new PSU and $113 for a regular capacity battery or $156 for an extended capacity battery (50% more power). So based on the assumption that the PSU was faulty that meant a cost of $185 or $228 (maybe more if postage is included) to get the old Thinkpad going again. I could probably get the parts cheaper from somewhere else, but I’m hesitant to buy batteries from sources that aren’t reliable in case I get one that’s been used.

Buying at Auction

I ended up buying a refurbished Thinkpad T420 (product ID 4236-J73) from Grays Online [4]. It was refurbished and cost me $306.35 including delivery. $306.35 for a new laptop including PSU was a much better deal than buying a new PSU and battery for $185 or more. It turned out that the PSU wasn’t broken (a different PSU also didn’t work with it) but then my Thinkpad T61 just started working again, presumably it has some intermittent fault related to power and needed to be replaced anyway (I use my laptop for work and can’t have it fail randomly).

One significant problem when buying a Thinkpad is that the model numbers aren’t specific to the hardware specs. According to ThinkWiki the T420 model ranges from a 2.1GHz i3 to a 2.8GHz I7 CPU, from 160G to 500G hard drive, and has either a 1366*768 or a 1600*900 display [5]. Auction sites almost always specify the size of a hard drive and usually the exact CPU speed doesn’t matter much for an auction purchase (2.1GHz is fast enough for most things). But the display resolution is a big deal, in this case Grays had multiple Thinkpads on offer with the same description and the same price so bidding on one with high resolution was quite important. Lenovo has a web site for discovering Thinkpad specs, this is the current link for it (it changes periodically) [6]. At that page you can specify the “TYPE” AKA “PRODUCT ID” that is printed on the back of a Thinkpad (and usually included in an auction listing) in the search field that’s currently described as “QUICK PATH” and get all the specifications. Lenovo really do a great job of providing all the details for their products (including ones that were obsolete years ago). But it’s unfortunate that their web site sucks, there should be a single URL for such things that’s easy to find and they shouldn’t use cookies to track which model you are looking at because it makes it really difficult to research two different models.

Comparing T61 and T420

I upgraded my new Thinkpad to 8G of RAM because RAM is really cheap. I bought it with 4G of RAM which didn’t seem to be quite enough as the hard drive is slow for paging (my desktop with 3G of RAM and a SSD performed well for similar tasks). Now it’s running really well, my new Thinkpad is a lot cooler than the old one (not being broken is a good thing).

My T420 has a screen resolution of 1600*900 which was a little disappointing initially when going from 1680*1050 (18% fewer pixels and 2% fewer than the T41p I used previously). But having a smaller screen means that the Thinkpad is a lot smaller and lighter. My T61 didn’t fit in most backpacks and laptop bags and was unreasonably heavy, it’s the type of laptop that looks good on a spec sheet but doesn’t seem so good when you carry it around for a few hours. Not only is the T420 a lot smaller and lighter than the T61 but the power supply that shipped with it is a lot smaller and lighter too. I might have spent $72 a few years ago to buy a lighter PSU if I knew that was an option.

Cost of Ownership

Thinkpads are getting so cheap at auction that I’m tempted to buy myself an X series as well. When a $300 item can last several years (my T41p was from some time before 2006, my T61 was from 2010, and my latest is from 2013) that brings the cost of ownership down to something like $0.25 per day. If I bought myself a Thinkpad X series (ultra light) as well at auction then I would be looking at maybe $0.50 per day for my laptop use which would give me the option of taking a light laptop to a conference and a bigger laptop for spending a day at a client site.

Related posts:

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Syndicated 2013-10-23 04:16:21 from etbe - Russell Coker

LUV Hardware Library after 20 Months

20 months ago I started the LUV Hardware Library [1]. The aim of the project is to provide a repository of free spare parts for computers for the use of club members. People who have parts that are good but which they can’t use can donate them and others who need such parts can take them.

Some people have criticised my choice of the name “Hardware Library” because the word is associated with borrowing while with my Hardware Library it is expected that noone will return the item that they take. The Wikipedia page about libraries is worth reading, my interpretation of that is that the essential aspect of a library is that it is a public collection of items that are useful for study and that borrowing is just one thing that can be done. A book library could consist of a service of printing free books on demand (anyone could do this with access to The Gutenberg Project [2] and a printer) or of just making them available to download. Many libraries don’t allow books to be borrowed, they just allow them to be studied and copied in the library. Also every general public library has reference items that can’t be borrowed, it’s typical for a library to have a full encyclopedia which is not available to be borrowed. Also with the Hardware Library people feel obliged to give something if they take something (as happens with a geocache), so there is an issue of returning something.

My main aims with the Hardware Library were to save people money on parts and to help the environment by reducing the need to buy new computers when old ones can be upgraded and remain in service. My next aim was to help people learn about hardware by providing free parts, when a mistake has no financial cost people are more willing to experiment and will learn more. I believe that those aims have been achieved.

More Successful Than Expected

One thing that surprised me is the social aspect that developed. I had expected that most people would just find some parts that they need and not look at it again for some months. I had also anticipated that some people would poll the Hardware Library every month in the hope that a part they needed might appear. I didn’t expect that people would look through it every month because they just like looking at old hardware. I also didn’t expect groups of people to hang out by the Hardware Library to discuss various issues related to PC hardware and Linux.

During the breaks in the main meeting the location of the Hardware Library often becomes a focus for discussions of various issues related to Linux and hardware. I think that this is really advancing the aims of LUV [3] and I think that members of other LUGs should experiment with similar projects.

Starting this didn’t require any special skill or authority. I just started bringing a briefcase full of parts to meetings and offering them to whoever was interested. Any member of any LUG can do the same. To start something like this you wouldn’t even need a collection of parts, you could just bring a box and ask for donations.

Related posts:

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Syndicated 2013-10-23 02:42:11 from etbe - Russell Coker

Links September 2013

Matt Palmer wrote an insightful post about the use of the word “professional” [1]. It’s one factor that makes me less inclined to be a member of “professional” societies.

The TED blog has an interesting article about Wikihouse which is a project to create a set of free designs for houses to be cut out of plywood with a CNC milling machine [2]. The article also links to a TED talk by Alastair Parvin of the Wikihouse project which covers many interesting things other than designing houses.

An XKCD comic has one of the best explanations of bullying I’ve ever seen [3]. If you aren’t familiar with XKCD then make sure you hover your mouse over it to read the hidden text.

The Fair Phone is a project to develop a smart phone starting with conflict-free resources and with fully free software (not like a typical Android build) [4]. It’s an interesting project and the price and specs seem within the normal range – so you’re not paying a huge premium for a conflict-free phone. Unfortunately they only have one model with a 4.3″ display, if they had a competitor for the Galaxy Note then I’d be interested.

Patrick Stokes wrote an insightful article about why “I’m entitled to my opinion” is a bogus argument [5].

Jim Daly wrote an interesting TED blog post interviewing Rishi Manchanda about “Upstream Doctors” who look for the root causes of medical problems rather than just treating the symptoms [6].

Brian Krebs wrote an insightful article about the value of a hacked email account [7]. If you are trying to convince your users to use better passwords then this should help.

Ron Garrett wrote an insightful series or articles on morality hooked on the premise of whether it’s wrong to torture kittens [8]. Part of his conclusion is that people who believe it’s wrong to do such things tend to be more capable of working in large groups and forming a productive and efficient society.

The TED blog has an interesting post by Karen Eng summarising Andreas Raptopoulos’ talk about using autonomous drones to deliver parcels in parts of the world that don’t have usable roads [9]. Delivering parcels (which would start with medical supplies but would presumably move on to commercial transport) by drone is apparently really cheap. Being cheaper than building roads isn’t going to be difficult but it seems that they are going to make it cheaper than paying people to deliver parcels even if the roads were built. The main web site about this project is www.matternet.us, they are hiring electrical engineers. Here is the link for Andreas TED talk [10].

The TOR blog has an interesting article by Emily Asher-Perrin comparing the different houses of Hogwarts [11]. It’s an insightful article about personality attributes and gives more information than is available in the movies (I’d read the books if I had time).

Related posts:

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Syndicated 2013-09-30 13:50:06 from etbe - Russell Coker

Hive Bluetooth Stereo Speakers

picture of Hive bluetooth speakers

I’ve just been given a set of Hive Bluetooth speakers by MobileZap (see this link for all their Bluetooth speakers) [1].

The speakers charge by a micro-USB cable so I started charging them in my car immediately after collecting them. To connect them to a phone or other Bluetooth device you just press the Bluetooth button on top and get the phone to be visible and scanning for devices, they identify themselves as “Hive”, after that they just work. My first test of using them was playing Ingress and the quality of the sound was impressive, I had thought that the Ingress recommendation to use headphones was due to the risk of annoying other people or alerting other players, but the quality of the sound was impressive and the internal speakers of a phone can’t do it justice.

After getting home I did some tests listening to music. For watching music videos it didn’t work so well as the sound was too far removed from the video, but the audio quality was very good. I listened to “Vow” by “Garbage” (a good benchmark for stereo sound) and even though the Hive speakers are only 16.5cm wide I could still notice the stereo effect when they were about 1.5m away from me. The audio quality didn’t compare well with my Bose QC-15 headphones, but for affordable and portable speakers it was quite good and an obvious improvement over the speakers that are built in to any phone I’ve used.

According to the Bluetooth Wikipedia page the range of a class 2 device is 10m and the range of a class 3 device is 1m. When my Samsung Galaxy Note 2 is talking to it I get a reliable range of about 5 meters and a mostly working range of 6 or 7 meters (sound randomly drops out and gets choppy). It could be that other phones would support a longer range due to having a higher transmission power (either class 1 or being closer to the limits of class 2) and a more sensitive receiver. But it doesn’t seem likely that a 5m range is going to be a problem.

Volume and Quality

The speakers are rated at 5 Watt, when running at maximum volume (both through the phone volume setting and the volume control on the speakers) the sound is reasonably distortion free, as good as can be expected from playing an MP3 that’s not compressed with the highest quality. Sound Meter [2] reports the sound volume as almost 85dB on a Galaxy S3 and as almost 100dB on a Galaxy Note 2, that would be somewhere between the volume of a “busy street” or “alarm clock” and the volume of a “subway train” or “blow dryer” which seems like a reasonable description, I find it very unpleasant to be within a meter of the speakers at maximum volume. With the typical amount of background noise in my house I can play music on the Hive speakers at one end of my house and hear it clearly at the other end.

These speakers are more than capable of supplying the music for any party I’d want to host or attend. I’m not really into wild parties, but I think that anyone who has a one room party would be more than satisfied with the Hive speakers. Obviously the sound quality of portable speakers in a box that’s 16.5cm wide and 6cm high isn’t going to equal that of a full size set of speakers, but I think that hardly anyone who attends a party would expect better sound quality than the Hive speakers can provide. The aim of such speakers is to be portable, not really expensive, and to provide good sound quality within those constraints. I think that they meet such aims well.

Over the years there have been many occasions when I have used a Thinkpad to provide the music for a party and found it to be quite loud enough. My current Thinkpad is a T420 which can produce 75dB according to my Galaxy S3 or 85dB according to my Galaxy Note 2. So it seems that I only really need about 10dB less than the maximum volume of the Hive speakers.


The designers obviously made an effort on the appearance of the device. They have gone with the Hive concept and used hexagons everywhere. It really looks nice.

Unfortunately when I took the photo there was some dust on it which didn’t look bad to the eye but caught the camera flash. But with a matte black device there’s always the problem of light colored dust. Even with a bit of dust it still looks great as a set of speakers, the dust just detracts from the appearance in photos.

Line In

One of the features I looked for was an audio line input so I could connect it directly to a non-Bluetooth device. I’m assuming that this feature works as it’s something that’s difficult to stuff up when designing such a product, but I haven’t got around to testing it. Once I started using the device I just found that I didn’t have a real need for that feature.

One thing that it might be useful for is PC desktop speakers that are powered by a USB port on the monitor. Currently I have a bearable (but not great) set of speakers for each PC and I don’t need to change anything. But having the option of another set of speakers is very handy in case I suddenly need to make hardware changes.

Other People’s Reviews

When I review a product I generally try and get opinions from random other people if possible. My mother and my mother-in-law were both impressed by the Hive speakers and expressed interest in owning a set. My mother-in-law was particularly interested as she uses her phone to listen to radio stations from outside Australia (I’m going to get her onto Aldi for cheap 3G data ASAP so she can listen to Internet radio when travelling).

Generally the impression that other people have of this device seems to be very positive. It seems that Bluetooth speakers aren’t just a Geek toy.


While I’m very impressed by this product, at this stage I’m not sure whether I would pay for this one or something cheaper if I was paying for it. MobileZap offers a range of other products that look appealing at lower price points. It really depends on how much I use it.

I’ve just got a Makerbot Replicator 3D printer working and I’ve found the Hive speakers very useful for the purpose of drowning out it’s noise. If I keep doing that sort of thing then I’ll get enough use out of the speakers to justify the price.

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Syndicated 2013-09-23 08:43:22 from etbe - Russell Coker

Qi Phone Charging

I have just bought a wireless phone charging system based on the Qi Inductive Power Standard. I bought a charging device which connects to a standard micro-USB cable and receivers for the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 and Samsung Galaxy S3 phones I own. Both those phones have contacts in the back of their case that are designed for wireless charging so you can install a charging device inside them. The charging devices make the case fit a little tight, and the charging device is stuck to the phone battery with contact adhesive, this makes it impractical to change the battery on a phone with such a device and makes it a little more difficult to swap out a battery case. One nice feature of the Nexus 4 is that it has Qi charging built in, that saved me $19 and was also more convenient.

I believe that the main advantage of a wireless charger is to avoid the risk of damage to the phone if it’s dropped while connected to a USB charger. This allows the phone to be charged in situations where you might need to quickly or regularly unplug it to go somewhere. One example of how I might use it is when working at an office so I could charge my phone while at my desk and then quickly take it with me if I had to go to a meeting (sadly I have worked in many offices where they have so many meetings). Another example is for sysadmin work where I have to frequently visit devices to fix them.

The wireless charging mat that I bought from Kogan connects to a standard micro-USB plug, the good thing about this is that it’s easy to find cables and it can take power from any PC. The bad thing about this is that the resistance of the USB cable is a factor that limits the power that a phone can receive, when using wireless charging you have the limit of the cable resistance as well as some power loss from the wireless transmission. After any extended period of charging the charging mat feels warm to the touch and the phone that’s been resting on it feels warmer than usual. The warmth is an indication of energy loss which means longer charging times, a longer charging time isn’t necessarily a problem as the convenience of wireless charging can allow longer charging times, but if you want to charge your phone in a hurry before you go somewhere then wireless isn’t a good choice.

In the past I’ve discovered that the battery in a Samsung Galaxy S3 can’t be charged if the phone is at 46C [1]. 46C might seem extremely hot to people in some parts of the world (EG northern Europe and Canada) but the temperature in even southern parts of mainland Australia can get that hot and it can be hotter in central and northern parts, so phone temperature can be a real issue. Currently my house is at 21C according to a digital thermometer, the Galaxy S3 and the Note 2 are being charged from USB and report temperatures of 27C and 23C respectively. While the thermometer in my house and those in the phones probably aren’t really accurate it seems reasonable to assume that the battery of a relatively idle smart-phone that’s being charged will be a few degrees warmer than the ambient temperature. The Qi charger makes things a lot worse as it even feels warm to the touch. So maybe a phone on a Qi charger would be 8 degrees warmer than the ambient temperature or more. That implies that in Australian summer weather a Qi charger won’t be useful outside or in any building that lacks air-conditioning. So I think we can give up on the idea of using Qi devices to charge phones at a BBQ.

Picture of Qi charger on top of Samsung Galaxy Note 2

The final problem I have is that the Qi device is quite small, I took the above picture with my phone face-down because no part of the charger is visible in normal use. With that size I can’t just dump a phone like a Note 2 on top of the charging mat and expect it to work. I have to carefully place it so that it balances and so that the wireless receptor inside the phone matches the transmitter in the mat, if the phone isn’t placed correctly then the Qi mat won’t detect it and won’t supply full power to the transmitter.


I’m fairly disappointed in this device. The waste heat makes it unsuitable for Australian summer conditions and slows charging. The difficulty of correctly placing the phone reduces the convenience which is one of the major features.

The price was $19 for each charging card for the Note 2 and the S3 and $29 for the charging mat to give a total of $67. I think it’s worth the money for me to cover the risk of one of my phones having it’s USB port damaged. Using a Qi charger on occasion will decrease the probability of such damage and allow the phone to be used after receiving certain types of damage.

The prices of those phones nowadays are $389 for a Galaxy S3 (Kogan price), $250 for a Nexus 4 (when it was on sale in the Google store), and probably about $500 for a Galaxy Note 2 (last time Kogan offered them). So by paying $67 for Qi charging I believe that I’m getting some degree of damage insurance for just over $1100 worth of phones. It seems likely that the Nexus 5 will ship with Qi charging support and that the Galaxy Note 3 will also support an optional Qi charging card (which will probably also be $19 or some similar price) so the charging mat should be useful for a long time.

While I’m disappointed I don’t regret buying the device. But I would be hesitant to recommend it to other people and definitely wouldn’t recommend it to someone who doesn’t have a significant interest and investment in smart phones.

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Syndicated 2013-09-20 08:26:04 from etbe - Russell Coker

Advice for Web Editing

A client has recently asked for my advice on web editing software. There are lots of programs out there for editing web sites and according to a quick Google search there are free Windows programs to do most things that you would want to do.

The first thing I’m wondering about is whether the best option is to just get a Linux PC for web editing. PCs capable of running Linux are almost free nowadays (any system which is too slow for the last couple of Windows versions will do nicely). While some time will have to be spent in learning a new OS someone who uses Linux for such tasks will be able to use fully-featured programs such as the GIMP which are installed as part of the OS. While it is possible to configure a Windows system to run rsync to copy a development site to the production server and to have all the useful tools installed it’s much easier to run a few apt-get or yum commands to install the software and then copy some scripts to the user’s home directory.

The next issue is whether web editing is the best idea. Sites that are manually edited tend to be very simple, inconsistent, or both. Some sort of CMS seems to be the better option. WordPress is a CMS that I’m very familiar with so it’s easy for me to install it for a client, while I try and resist the temptation to force my favorite software on clients there is the issue that I can install WordPress quickly which therefore saves money for my client. WordPress is a CMS that supports installing different themes (and has a huge repository of free themes). The content that it manages consists of “pages” and “posts”, two arbitrary types of document. Supporting two types of document with a common look and feel and common important data in a side-bar seems to describe the core functionality used by most web sites for small businesses.

Does anyone have any other ideas for ways of solving this problem? Note that it should be reasonably easy to use for someone who hasn’t had much experience at doing such things, it shouldn’t take much sysadmin time to install or cost to run.

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Syndicated 2013-09-18 10:10:14 from etbe - Russell Coker

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