Monday, December 13, 2010

Working remotely and how I bought a 27" iMac


I don't travel much. To be honest, the largest amount of traveling I do is to the shopping centre over the weekend. My daily work commute is less than 5 minutes (and a similar number of kilometers).


So why do I need a laptop ? Well, I do a fair amount of work from home. This work is not particularly system intensive; it primarily comprises reading e-mail, browsing, some RSS feeds and Skype. The heavy lifting is generally done at work. I've been waiting for Core i7-based quad-coreMacbook's for at least a year, and so have a few other people. Bottom line, I don't forsee it for at least another 6 months to a year, if then.


Meanwhile, the quad-core iMac has been around for a while, is well priced, and gotten good reviews. The 27" also has the added ability to be used as an external monitor, which is useful once the machine outlives its useful life.


So I ordered a custom version; 2.93GHz quad-core i7, with 8GB of RAM. It arrived last week, and I can only say, "Wowzers!". The thing is blazingly fast, and consumes everything I'm throwing at it with ease. I migrated all my data across, and am using it full-time for a week now. All I can say is wow, wow, wow!


So, initial thoughts;

  • For what you get, its a great price
  • The unexpected Bluetooth keyboard, mouse and trackpad (which I wasn't expecting) is cool - what is mind-boggling is that they were already paired with the machine before unpacking them
  • 27" is quite large; obscenely large, actually (maybe a bit too big)
  • Its a pity there is no eSATA support, or ability to expand using ExpressCard support


For what I need it to do, its great.


PS. I've ordered a 11" Macbook Air as a companion device to use remotely; its fast enough for what I need (I've played around with a few), the screen is large enough and when used with Dropbox to sync my data, will be flawless. Also, all the stupidity of the previous generation seems to have been sorted out.


I'll survive by using the iPad I'm borrowing in the interim. It sucks.


My Air is only arriving in January 2011 (thanks Apple) for putting Africa at the bottom of your priority list. A post for that when it arrives, for sure!

Friday, December 10, 2010

iPad (and iDorks / iTards)


So the Apple iPad generated a huge amount of interest and attention. I've managed to play with one for about 3 weeks now, sufficient time to talk about it authoritatively.



  1. Its fast and highly responsive
  2. The screen size is right - a 7" would be too small
  3. Gestures are a more intuitive method to browse / peruse information
  4. The battery life is brilliant - almost a full week, with an hour or three use per day



  1. its fundamentally unusable when not connected to the Internet
  2. Most apps are still not multi-tasking / threaded compatible
  3. It has no camera for video conferencing
  4. The video out is controlled on an app-level
  5. There is no USB interface to get content onto it
  6. You're in this diminishingly exclusive club of posers



if you wanting to use it a a computer replacement, it isn't. If you're using it a tool to augment content consumption, its ideal. Overall, is it worth R7000 ? Nope.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Desire HD

I was very happy and comfortable using the HTC Desire, which is an Android phone. It was stable, fast and felt much more integrated and polished than the Nexus One, itself a good device.


Then HTC announced the Desire HD, a bigger version of the Desire. To be honest, if screen size bugged you before, its about the only compelling reason to change to this. Superficial thoughts on it are;


  • it is bigger (maybe uncomfortably too big)
  • the build quality is poorer than its sibling (it scratches ridiculously easily)
  • the battery life is lower because of the larger screen
  • it feels slightly snappier (but not significant enough to warrant changing)
  • has a long way to go - I'm not sure where this is hosted, but connectivity and the site itself needs a major improvement is a portal where users of qualified phones can track their phones (ala MobileMe), lock / wipe them remotely, access their backed up data, etc. Its a great promise, but needs some more polish and thought.


So, overall, happy with it, but as happy as I was with the Desire. Nice, but not different enough to justify a change.


PS. These can also be rooted and its annoying that Google doesn't force manufacturers to do this out the box

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Updates on the rooted Desire

I mentioned yesterday that I was using an HTC Desire. Some quick pointers;

  1. The image I used has the option to underclock and do various other things; don't use them, they caused my phone to be incredibly unstable.
  2. You can install Wavesecure as a system service, allowing you to enable the GPS tracking remotely.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Using an HTC Desire

After mucking around with CM6, I decided to spend some more time with HTC Sense UI.

I like it; it feels polished, gets useful stuff done without getting in the way, and appears to be more stable than CM6. I've been plagued with random reboots while the device is locked and I'm sleeping, and this isn't great for me.

So, I pulled out a HTC Desire, switched on, and ran through the OTA upgrade, only to discover that it cannot be rooted. So, I had to follow this route to downgrade, and then used the unrevoked method to install a custom recovery, Clockworkmod. I then applied a pre-rooted image, from XDA-Developers. This is a good, stable combination which I'd highly recommend!

PS. unrevoked have released a version that can downgrade from the 2.2 upgrade. Much easier.

PPS. The compelling things for me in the HTC mods are

  • Corporate directory integration
  • A much better dialler with T9 lookups
  • Some pretty, useful and pretty useful widgets
  • A better launcher


Monday, August 30, 2010

Hacking your Android phone

postheadericon.pngSo if you read the previous post I wrote on Android, you'll know that I managed to get hold of a Nexus One, which is unfortunately not available except through Vodafone. The device came with Android 2.1, which I was pleasantly able to upgrade to 2.2 with an OTA upgrade by doing a "Check for Updates". Android 2.2 is blazingly fast, introduces some new features and is generally pretty stable and robust.


But, I was bored with it - it felt like there was much more tweaking that was possible, and I wasn't seeing it. My device was rooted, by following this post. That was required primarily to buy paid apps from the market (in retrospect, if that was the only reason, I should have used, which allows you to buy apps). I had heard about Cyanogenmod before, but frankly didn't have the cajones to try it.


Well, I've tried it, and it is the best OS to mate to amazing hardware. It is supremely flexible, and allows me to customise almost every aspect of the device. I'd highly, highly recommend it! Note to HTC users, there is a lot of goodness in the Sense UI which is now available on almost all their devices. Be warned, naked Android is not as pretty as what you have. Check the Cyanogenmod Wiki for a how-to relevant to your device.


If you own a HTC Desire (which frankly I would leave with Sense, and just root), you're in trouble if you updated to 2.2; you won't be able to root, and hence, no custom recovery and therefore no new mod. Downgrade to 2.1 and use the unrevoked method.


PS. If you're new to Android and don't like the battery life you're getting, download Screebl Lite (and then reduce your screen timeout to the lowest you can) and JuiceDefender from the Market. They'll do wonders. When you root your device, get SetCPU and change the CPU clock speed to underclock when the screen is off, and overclock when on. Works great!


PPS. I'm not going to paste links to apps, they change too often.


PPPS. The full list of apps that I have on my device as "must have's" are;

  1. 1Password - popular Mac password manager port for Android
  2. 3G Watchdog - check your data usage and whinge when you hit particular limits
  3. Adobe Flash Player 10.1 - self explanatory
  4. Adobe Reader - self explantory
  5. AK Notepad - to take notes :-)
  6. AndFTP - ftp client
  7. Antennas - check to see how rubbish the mobile networks are
  8. Apps Organiser - best way to organise apps, I would die without this; organise and then create category shortcuts on your home screen(s)
  9. Astro File Manager - self explanatory
  10. Autostarts - tells you what apps are being called on which system event hooks
  11. Battery Left widget - nicest looking battery life estimator I could find
  12. Beautiful Widgets - nice looking clock and weather widgets
  13. Better Keyboard - stock Android keyboard is rubbish
  14. Bluetooth File Transfer - should be in the base OS, but isn't - go figure
  15. ConnectBot - ssh client
  16. Documents to Go - view Microsoft docs on your mobile
  17. DroidStats - analyse your SMS and calls
  18. Earth - self explanatory
  19. Factbook - CIA-backed DB on various cities and countries
  20. Feedr - RSS reader
  21. FeedSquares - another RSS reader (but pretty)
  22. Fring - used to be useful, now only as a sip client
  23. Goggles - Google's LBS demo app
  24. Google Sky Map - pretty nifty, lets you know what's up!
  25. Google Translate - self explanatory
  26. Handcent SMS - much better than the stock messaging / SMS app
  27. Here I Am 2 - tells your mates your exact GPS co-ordinates
  28. IM+ - multi-IM server client
  29. IMDB - because looking up movie information is important on a Friday/Saturday night
  30. InstaFetch - Instapaper client
  31. JED - I have new shareholders :-)
  32. JuiceDefender - monitors and optimises battery by cutting features (e.g. 3g radio)
  33. LauncherPro - MUCH better than the stock launcher, very customisable and fast
  34. Linkpack for Android - to compare sizes
  35. Brut Navigation (Maps and Navigation) - enable Navigation outside the US and UK - get from here
  36. MarketEnabler - allow you to buy apps from anywhere
  37. MyBackup Pro - self explanatory
  38. NubDial - T9-style predictive dialler
  39. ONN - for kicks, fun client
  40. Paypal - nothing really useful
  41. Phonalyzer - similar to DroidStats, but with graphs
  42. Places Directory - tell you where to go close by
  43. Pure Calendar widget - allows you to see your calendar in a variety of forms
  44. Quadrant Standard - to compare sizes
  45. RealCalc - for when the stock calculator doesn't hack it
  46. ROM Manager Premium - because you never know when you want to try another ROM ;-)
  47. Root Explorer - similar to Astro, nothing that I need more, not sure why I bought it
  48. Route Recorder Free - tells you where you've been (Zen!)
  49. Screebl Pro - Pro version of the screen saving tool mentioned earlier
  50. SDMove - move apps to the SD card
  51. SendContact - send business cards to people
  52. Shazam - tells you what music is playing
  53. Ookla Speed Test - to compare sizes
  54. SystemPanel Lite - quick system-wide info tool
  55. TaskManager - tells you what is running
  56. Titanium Backup - best backup tool ever
  57. Trackball Alert Pro - flash different colours LED / trackball on particular system events
  58. Vibrate During Meetings - self explanatory
  59. Visual Task Switcher - pretty, not essential or important
  60. WaveSecure - great tool, gives you the ability to remote wipe and manage your device
  61. Wifi Analyzer - lets you feel like you have a very expensive spectrum analyser (when you don't)
  62. XE Currency - again, I have shares in foreign currency :-)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The best phone I've ever used - period.


I mentioned previously my experiences with an iPhone; in essence, I hated it. I had played around with Android on a Motorola Milestone, and thought that was pretty awesome - although the Milestone had its own issues. I got my hands on a Google Nexus One - fortuitously it appears, as Google is no longer selling them.


Its only been two days, but this is, without a doubt, the best phone I've ever used.



Mine is already rooted (because I want to run market-enabler, the tool that allows me to buy apps outside of the US), running Froyo, aka Android 2.2. Major highlights for me include the ability to run Flash and the fact that its so much faster than Eclair, aka 2.1. The battery life for a phone with this type of screen isn't bad (it lasts me one full business day), but thats not enough, so I have ordered an extended battery.


Useful links;

How to root your 2.2 Nexus One

Make sure your Amonra recovery doesn't get destroyed on every reboot

Monday, July 19, 2010

Popcorn Hour A200 metal case



The Popcorn Hour A200 is a great device; its smaller and cheaper than the C200, with no sacrifice in functionality. I just didn't like its cheapish plastic case. It worked perfectly, but looked very unimpressive compared to both the C200 and the A110. Popcorn Hour France sells a metal replacement unit, which I bought and tried out - it works exactly as advertised, and makes the device look more solid.


Doesn't play any differently of course, but it is a nice accessory. Recommended!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Why I need a 500mm lens


I was lucky enough to attend two FIFA 2010 soccer World Cup games; I tried using my Nikon 18-200mm VR lens, which is a great lens but nowhere near close enough. I did also use a Sigma 10-20mm wide angle lens for some reasonable stadia and scenery shots, but what I really wanted were some close ups of the players (as more than just humanoid shapes), and some of the on-field action.


I've decided that the newly updated Sigma 50-500mm optically stabilised lens will be a good purchase; combined with a pair of Nikon 12x50 Action EX binoculars, I should be ok :-)


Hello Nexus One


I really, really hated using an iPhone. So much so that I begged and pleaded, and will be getting my hands on a Google Nexus One shortly. Details to follow shortly :-)


Major plus in its favour is that it gets its Android updates straight from Google. So no lengthy delays in OS updates, and I avoid the deadly Android fragmentation. Now that is a good thing.


I may still end up buying an HTC Desire, which is the non-Google version of the Nexus. But I'll avoid that for as long as I can, and buy a device on contract when I have to return this one.

The iPhone - I feel dirty using it


I've been using a friend's iPhone 3G for almost two weeks now, after having sold my Motorola Milestone. Many thanks to that friend, because I was contemplating getting an iPhone 4. Thank god I borrowed this 3G. Never mind the fact that I'd drop signal all over the place (which means I'd have to take note of how I hold the phone), especially given how superlative my current MNO's cell coverage is (it sucks), but this thing misses some basic things.


  • No widgets on the home screen
  • No ability to with one press set WiFi on/off, Bluetooth on/off, etc
  • No ability to set the phone to vibrate when I'm in a meeting
  • A clunky way to forward SMS'
  • No way to replace the rather rubbish standard SMS app


Nope, not impressed. And yes, I was using iOS4.

Huawei E5830 / E5

option 401

I was using an Option Icon 401 USB modem, on my Macbook Pro. It worked pretty well, but then the wonderful mobility guys I work with at Internet Solutions decided to start bringing in the Huawei E5830 aka E5. This is one of the new classes of 3G connectivity devices; it takes a SIM card, and presents itself as a WiFi hotspot.

I was initially quite sceptical, but after using it for about two weeks, am a firm believer! These things are great; it has a digital display to tell you what is going on, it is battery powered so no cords and it seems quite stable. Definately a winner!


Goodbye Milestone, hello opportunity!


So if you remember, I bought a Motorola Milestone from Expansys, and after quite a lot of irritation, decided it was time to go. So I put it on Bidorbuy, Gumtree and Vottle, and managed to sell it for R3500. So, a R1000 hit for a phone that I had used for six months, and managed to learn about Android and what I didn't want in a phone. Not bad school fees.


In the meantime, I've borrowed a friend's Apple iPhone 3G, and lets see how that goes!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

MacBook Pro Core i7

Apple announced new MacBook Pro's that would use Intel Core i7 processors; great I thought, quad-core processors here we come!

Afraid not; these new machines have dual-core processors. Fail, Apple, fail, when other manufacturers released this stuff two years ago. Fail.

Disappointing, I wanted to upgrade this year. Guess I'll wait for the next cycle, which should be in six months time.

The iPad (TM)

The Apple iPad is a cool device; its got a gorgeous big screen, its super fast/responsive, and it meets a need in the market; it must, they've sold over a million in 28 days.

But, I am holding out on buying one, for several reasons;

  1. Never buy a first generation device

  2. I want a forward facing camera for Skype, and it looks like one will appear

  3. I want it to multi-task

  4. Micro-sim's are hardly ubiquitous, although it looks like Vodacom will offer them; if you're adventurous, you could certainly hack one

Not sure what I'll use it for, but I won't lie that I want one, but not right now

Blackberry Curve 8520

I have played around with Blackberry handsets, before, namely the Bold 9000. My opinion at the time was that while it was a good device, it wouldn't be my primary device. And I stick by that assertion.

As a second (or backup) device however, its unbeatable. As a result, I've enjoyed the stability, responsiveness and absolute solid call quality of the device so much, that when I had to return my loan device, I needed a replacement. The Curve 8520 is being flogged by all the operators in South Africa, so I took the plunge and bought one. Its great! Same structure and featureset as its bigger and more expensive brother, but without a GPS, a feature I can live without.

A nice device! And even nicer when you hack OS 5 onto it.

Popcorn Hour A-200

Popcorn hour a200 1

A while back, I bought a Popcorn Hour C-200, which is a very fancy (and big) media player.

Fast forward to a new house, another TV (32" Sony BX300), and a requirement for another media player. My desired device was the Popcorn Hour A-200, and first contact with the local agents was that the device would be R4500! That was a bit steep, so I decided to go buy a Mede8er, which is actually a cool device; its better than the Popcorn Hour in that the interface is cleaner / easier to use, the preview features are awesome (compared to the lack thereof on the PCH), and the device is nice and small.

Unfortunately, it irritated my wife to no end that the user interface was different, and there was a different mechanism to view the same content as the C-200. It also didn't help that it suffered to playback some really good quality large MKV's across a gigabit network. I phoned the local agents again, and discover they had made a mistake with the price of the device, and it would only be R2100, which is what was paid for the Mede8er; I promptly sold the old device and bought the new one.

There isn't much to say, other than it does the same job as its bigger brother, in a much smaller form factor. And the wife is happy too :-)




My home network is a gigabit Ethernet network, with Apple Airport Extreme base stations for local access, and wired access to a MacBook Pro which has a Drobo connected to it via Firewire 800 for storage. A desktop PC running pfsense protects the environment. It works quite well.




The new TV (46" Sony EX700) is being installed tomorrow. Watch this space for a review!

Android 2.1

Given my unhappiness with Android 2.01, I was surprised at how boring the upgrade would be. I connected about 3 weeks back (on a Windows machine), did the 2.1 upgrade, and realised not much had changed.

Oh well, it seemed pretty important at the time. Now, not so sure. It does bring a lot of stability to the device, at the cost of the occasional reboot. Progress!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Android 2.01

After voicing my irritation, I upgraded to Android 2.0.1, which is essentially a set of bug fixes for Android 2.0. Hooray. Only 2 months after the Droid.

I have also used market-enabler after rooting my device to make it more useful and let me see all the apps - paid and otherwise.

Now there is the news that the bootloader is signed; this means no custom firmware; sigh. This made the press.

In the mean time, its been announced that the Droid will be updated to Android 2.1, albeit with unconfirmed details. Its amazing how badly an old-school manufacturer gets it so wrong so consistently.

Should have bought a Nexus One.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Motorola is usless, but Google is downright naughty

Maybe Motorola should have shut down its mobile division.

While it has produced some great Android devices, tech support for them outside the US has been non-existant. While US consumers have the Droid, EU customers have the Milestone; one is CDMA-based, the other GSM-based, but the insides are technically the same.

But, US consumers have a device running 2.01, and us EU customers have 2.0 ? Shades of Nokia, Motorola. Shame on you! Customers love the hardware, but not the rubbish software support. And going to a stupid Facebook page for updates is extremely poor.

And in addition, Google, you are naughty, naughty, naughty. You forced me to root my phone in order to install market-enabler, which allows me to buy apps from anywhere on the market. So I got the main app I was looking for.


Friday, January 8, 2010

Motorola Milestone

Motorola released a device called the Droid, exclusive to Verizon Wireless in the US. A short while later, they announced the Milestone, a non-Verizon-locked phone.

I ordered one, and have been playing around with it for a week (not long, but long enough).

So, some thoughts.

  1. The initial thought is that all smart phones will come this way
    • the day of the monolithic phone OS and majority built-in apps is over
    • the phone OS will do very little, but will provide a platform
    • your functionality will come from apps that you download (free or paid)
    • your phone stability might be compromised, as could your information depending on the trust worthiness of the app provider
  2. Its not better than my Nokia E75 in many respects, but there is the promise and hope of improvement in the very active Android Market, which is teeming with tons of apps (both rubbish and useful)
    • It doesn't allow you send/receive business cards via SMS or e-mail
    • You can't send a file to it via Bluetooth (or receive one)
    • You can't change the sort order from First Name, Last Name for contacts
    • You can't adjust the sync frequency for syncing to the various Google services (e.g. Contacts, Calendar, Mail) and corporate services other than, at most, 1 hour. Weekday/weekend, 4 hour and other options would be nice.
    • Battery life is just as rubbish - 1.5 days, maximum
      • But not bad considering its a much bigger screen
    • etc, etc
  3. Its fast, and the on-screen keyboard isn't bad - I haven't yet had to resort to the physical keyboard
  4. The IMAP and corporate syncing (read Exchange) support is superlative
  5. It multi-tasks!
  6. Android OS is still immature, and rough around the edges - that's why a manufacturer like HTC spends time and money developing their own UI

All points to a device that requires some polish, both from an OS and app provider perspective. Sounds positive! So what are the negatives ?

  1. Come on Motorola, where is Android 2.1 ? Its been out now for at least a week, and this Milestone of mine is still running 2.0. Hell, I'd even be happy with 2.01
  2. Come on Google, I thought you were all about "not doing evil" ? Why can I not buy paid applications from the Android Market ? Its only available in some countries.
    • There is a way to get around this; use market-enabler, which requires you to hack your phone, which I can't do yet because the phone is still so relatively new

Overall, I'm happy with the device. Should I have waited for the Nexus One ? Nah, I like a keyboard on my devices. I'll pass.

Lets hope Motorola and Google get their act together.

Blackberry Bold 9000

In a previous post, I spoke about how I was irritated by my phone device (Nokia E75), and was going to try out a Blackberry Bold 9000.

Well, I tried it. And I have been trying it since mid-December. And, I have to say, I get it. I get the whole Blackberry phenomenon. It does e-mail really, really well. Its simple to use, and has a decent superficial skin. Poke a bit deeper though, and you quickly hit the smartphone equivalent of a DOS prompt; long linear lists of text, with obscure configuration options with no decent help.

I have activated it using my employer's BES server, and thankfully, they haven't gone down the whole "lets lock everything down" route; its relatively untouched and was actually quite a slick process. There are some issues overall though.

  • there is no way to switch off e-mail syncing - ever
  • the battery lasts about 1.5 days if you're a light phone user, a day if you're a moderate user and not a minute longer
  • if you use a BES, you are forced to browse and access the Internet through your corporate's network
  • your device experience is only as good as your IT department's competence
  • the default "blink red for every e-mail" notification is annoying, and should be disabled

My summary; I've put the equivalent of a pay-as-you-use card into the device, and will continue to use it as a "work" device. It fulfills this role perfectly, and if I ever go overseas, I know I'll use this device a lot because of the unlimited data plan. But as the overall personal/work device, this isn't there yet.