Archive for Technology

Thought on Technology

I’ve owned this Nitin Sawhney track on CD for some time but as it’s good food for thought I’ve found the associated music video and posted it up here.

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Free iPad

Whilst at WordCamp UK 2011, held in Portsmouth, I entered a competition run by one of the key event sponsors, Stinky Ink, to win an iPad2 – and my e-mail got picked out of the hat!

Free iPad

It’s unpacked and I’ve started to have a play around with the interface and features. I’m already liking the ease of use for occasional web browsing, the twitter client is great and I’ve been inspired to do a little hacking in the field of push e-mail. Watch this space!

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Broadband Upgrade

Today I had my FTTC broadband upgrade installed from XILO and here are the latest statistics from reputable testing sites

Speed Result

Ping Result

I certainly couldn’t be happier with the improvement!

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Voicemail Delay

A voicemail issue I recently had was that Vodafone seem to think people can answer their mobile within 15 seconds or so. This default is a little short for my liking so I had a hunt around on Google and found a GSM code I could call to increase the delay to 30 seconds. I share the Vodafone one here for anyone in a similar fix.

**61*121*11*30#

The 121 is the number to dial for voicemail and 30 is the time delay you want before a call is diverted to voicemail. You can interchange these numbers with those for your provider.

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BlackBerry Storm

BlackBerry StormAs my mobile contract recently came to an end I decided to avail of a new phone. My old device handled mobile e-mail but the UI was intolerably slow most of the time which made me seek a device which could at least get e-mail right down to a T. With this in mind I decided on the BlackBerry Storm due to the brand reputation in the mobile e-mail arena.

In various tech blogs the storm has been touted as being the iPhone killer but all I was looking for was a smooth, lag free UI and a good feature set so I’ll review it based on my requirements and point out any issues I’ve found in normal use.

Out of the box the first things you notice are the responsive interface and interesting touch screen. Touching the screen on a button merely lights it up. To click on it you have to physically push the screen in slightly until you here it click. While this might sound odd it actually makes for a remarkably intuitive and straight forward experience as you are always sure what you are pressing (it lights up before you click) and you never press anything accidentally (you have to click the screen inwards to select something).

E-Mail comes very easy to the storm. There is a push e-mail service included and providing your e-mail domain has a correctly configured mail server in its DNS all you need to do is enter your e-mail address and access password and you can start receiving all new e-mail while on the move. Sadly your old mail isn’t accessible on the phone but having e-mail delivered instantly without having to poll the server easily makes up for it.

Writing anything on the phone is made easy with the qwerty keyboard which appears when you rotate the phone into landscape position. Typing takes a bit of getting used to as you need to make sure the correct key is lit up before pressing so that you get the correct letter but with practice the keyboard certainly beats a conventional phone keypad, even with predictive text.

Speaking of typing, those familiar with texting will no doubt be familiar with the annoyance that is hitting reply to a text and then forgetting part of the original message you are replying to. With the storm this doesn’t happen as it chains related text messages from a contact together, ie. if you hit reply, you will see the message you are replying to below the text box you are entering your reply in. Further more if you have been sending a few messages to and fro with a contact, you will see the entire conversation threaded together which makes for a much better texting experience.

My last phone (Sony Ericsson W960i) had a problem when taking a backup of contacts on the PC; it locked up all the contacts in a proprietary file format. While I had to bypass this to get my contacts on the storm by syncing the Ericsson with Outlook and then Outlook with the storm, the storm thankfully allows me to take contacts backups into a variety of file formats, including plain text CSV files which should make managing my contacts and ensuring I don’t lose any data a lot easier in the future.

The phone functionality on the storm is simple and presents no real surprises in its operation. Missed calls are shown as a handy icon on the home screen so you know when to switch to phone mode if you’ve not been around to catch a call. The only slight confusion here is how to access the phone mode in the first place. There is no icon on the home screen so the only ways to access it are to receive a call, press the green button or press and hold the BlackBerry button and select the phone icon from the list of applications which pops up. All that said though the call quality is very clear and the easily accessible volume control on the side of the handset makes it easy to cater for different amounts of ambient noise.

The other big thing that the BlackBerry storm has going for it is all the applications that you can install. I could spend a long time detailing all the ones I’ve started to use such as YouTube, Facebook and Flickr but I’ll just go into detail on one spectacular application – Google Maps. The storm has a GPS built in which when combined with google maps as you know it on a PC and a touch screen makes for a wonderful navigation aid. You simply run the maps application and it will tell you where you are. You can then enter a destination and it will give you walking or driving directions. You can then check your progress as your actual position is replotted on the map as you move. If you are in the habit of getting lost or don’t have a good enough memory to recall the directions you printed off the computer without continuously getting said print out from your pocket to check, this application will really make your day.

So are there any negative points? Well not many is the short answer. The long answer includes the inability to rotate photos taken with the on-board camera (thus making uploading portrait pictures on the move impossible), the battery life (I’ve not managed to get more than a days use out of the storm without an overnight charge) and the odd thing that happens when the battery runs down completely.

The other night I forgot to charge my storm and woke up to find it off and unable to be powered up. I connected it to the charger and found that I couldn’t switch it on; I was simply presented with a charging symbol on the screen and an unresponsive set of buttons. The only way I could find to switch it on was to charge for 5 minutes, remove the charger, power on normally and then reconnect the charger when I got to the home screen. The turmoil wasn’t over though. I found that the storm refused to activate radio features (GSM, GPRS etc.) because the battery was too low, even though I had the phone hooked up to the charger. It wasn’t until the phone had charged to 10% that I could use the phone normally when hooked up to the charger. Although I don’t imagine this happening very often as I usually remember to charge up, I found this an unnecessary pain in the ass; every phone I have had until this one could be both switched on and used fully when hooked up to the charge. If I’m simply operating the phone incorrectly feel free to let me know but the instruction manual and google came up with nothing.

That aside though I’m very happy with the BlackBerry Storm. It is by far the best phone I have ever had and it has all the responsiveness and features I could possibly need. I’ve even found some novel uses for it – stand by for my forthcoming article on photo blogging!

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Surface Computing

Its not often I praise Microsoft but here is a product that I just can’t wait to have a play with. “Cool” just doesn’t do this device justice. I don’t necessarily agree with all the uses Microsoft suggest for surface computing; they focus too much on the business, advertising and marketing uses and not enough on the collaboration side, but I certainly do think this technology has a future.

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New camera

On Sunday I finally did it – I bought myself an amazing digital SLR camera, the Cannon EOS 400D to be precise. You can read a review here. Put simply it is amazing. The freedom it gives compared to a conventional digital camera (or at least my old one anyway) is akin to releasing a caged animal into an area the size of which cannot physically be covered by the creature.

While I haven’t been able to explore all the features and indeed I’m still not entirely sure what some of them do, I have been able to practice with the different settings by taking pictures in and around the house and noting the flexibility and versatility of the options available. I can definitely see myself being able to take some superb pictures with this piece of kit.

The ability to change the ISO settings and manually focus are just two functions which make me excitied. While a film camera will allow you to focus to your hearts content its not something available on conventional digital cameras and changing the ISO with a normal SLR was reserved for film change time, and then you had to take a whole 24 or 36 shots at that ISO. Now I can chop and change at will and its fantastic – great for those low light level shots. I have high hopes for my sunset pictures in the future.

I hope to get out and about with the camera this weekend and if I get any good shots I will be sure to post them up here for all to see.

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Bluetooth battery life woes

Recently I ordered a new phone from O2 as part of an upgrade package and renewing my contract. So far I’ve been very pleased with my Nokia 6280 but one thing is really getting on my nerves; the drain bluetooth places on the battery.

I have it setup such that I have control over my phone with some software on my computer when it is in range. This enables me to manage the phone book, send text messages and transfer files without touching the phone. I restrict access to the phone to my own machine by allowing only already paired devices to see the phone is there and gain access to it.

The issue is my battery only seems to last for around 48 hours standby, even if I don’t make any calls. For a phone that advertises a standby battery life of over a week this seems a bit of a con to me. My old Motorola Razor V3 had bluetooth enabled all the time (so a wireless headset I had could be enabled simply by switching it on) and the standby battery life was hardly affected at all. I appreciate that my new phone is more feature packed in general and this should be expected to use more juice, but seeing as it only seems to be bluetooth that causes this drain its not really acceptable. For any modern phone bluetooth is one of those things you can’t afford to turn off and yet likewise you are not always going to be able to get to a charger depending on travel arrangements etc.

If I thought writing to Nokia was going to help I would do so, but I thought I would post here to warn anyone who knows me and that might be considering getting one of these and uses bluetooth not to touch them with a barge pole unless they have a range of charging options available at all times.

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VoIP on test

Last week I was sent a brand new VoIP phone from Safecom to try out, test, report faults and write guides/reviews on. It is from this test that I formed some views on VoIP technology that I want to share, and hopefully some hints and tips that those looking to use VoIP may find useful.

For those unaquainted with the technology, at least in its use rather than what it stands for, VoIP is Voice over IP, and is the technology used to make telephone calls using your internet connection rather than a conventional phone line.

The advantages are easy to guess, even if you don’t know what they are from the off, its cost. You can get an incoming number, with no line rental that never expires from pretty much any area code in the country, and recieve calls on that number and make calls to all free numbers for no cost whatsoever. Not only that, but calls that do cost can be made at a fraction of BTs call costs and there are unlimited call packages available also.

After some tinkering and very little (read no) reading of instruction manuals, I had my new phone connected to my router and had popped it in the DMZ for ease of testing. I had also registered with Free World Dialup and SIPGate as two service providors to try out. The former just allowed calls in the VoIP world, the latter gave you a PTSN number as well.

I have to say, that despite initial issues with the phone that required firmware upgrades and other such things (no surprise as I was testing the phone and its was VERY new), all worked very well. The phone provides superb call quality, multiple incoming lines (and so numbers), and the ability to dial PTSN numbers when you have credit on your account as if you were using a normal phone.
One of the main downsides is bandwidth usage. The phone requires at least 100Kbps up/down on your connection for crystal clear call quality, otherwise you get distortion and breakups on call. While this is much less than many broadband connections provide, on the upstream it uses nearly half of what most ISPs provide, 256Kbps. For people who already struggle to run home servers on this upload bandwidth, it can cause problems in terms of slow server speed and call problems. If you run servers I would therefore recommend that you have a faster uplaod than the stock 256Kbps, or emply bandwidth limiting on your server(s) so that your calls don’t get swamped when more users than normal come online and use your servers.

The final issue, and its much smaller than the bandwidth one, is reliability. Free World Dialup is almost perfect. If you use STUN or direct access without a NAT all calls are made peer to peer and the connection reliablility is superb. Calling the PTSN network or recieving calls from it however can be a problem. The gateways are not perfect, and of the 50 or so times I have tried to make calls to and from my phone on SIPGate using the the PTSN network somewhere in the equation, 5 or so calls have failed. This is a high proportion, that I am sure will get better with time, but it is something worth considering – with VoIP be prepared to have to try to dial a couple of times sometimes and for people who try to call you from normal phones to have to do the same.

On the whole though, for normal home and small (home) business use, I would recommend VoIP, and in particular buying a VoIP phone for use with a VoIP type service. It allows you to not lose the familiarity and style of a normal phone, but to avoid line rental and have multiple lines at no cost. You also get caller ID, call waiting, voicemail, and calls on hold for free too. While there may be some teething problems when you first start, and calls may not be quite as reliable, once connected they sound just as good (if not better VoIP to VoIP) and so its well worth checking out.

Please leave your views on my posting or your own experience of VoIP in the comments section.

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