Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Impressions of Movie Collector

Having invested in Movie Collector Pro (from, here's my impressions so far.

The software seems reasonably fast and well written.  It's quite usable.  There are tons of fields, which can be an advantage or a disadvantage depending on how much time you want to spend.

I invested in the wired laser-based barcode scanner, the C37.  The Cuecat looked too goofy, having to swipe across each barcode, and the Intelliscanner didn't seem to justify it's high price.  I have a spare laptop currently sitting in my movie room to do the job of mass importing my collection so wireless scanning is nothing to me.  So I have no idea how the Intelliscanner is supposed to work with the software.

Importing barcoded movies is really pretty fast.  Hitting "Ins" brings up the import screen, and if you have a barcode scanner then the cursor is pre-set to the barcode input field.  You scan, and the software will download the details and cover automatically for confirmation.

You do still have to press a button or key combo to accept the selection - a sort of confirmation step.  There were a couple of cases where the selected movie did not match my version, but it was usually an alternative or foreign-language title.  There was only one outright error that I found so far.

Importing other stuff is not so straightforward, although I suppose it's as painless as is possible.  Movies with custom covers usually would not scan because the barcodes were too small and/or blurry.  Some did, but most don't  Sometimes the covers were lacking barcodes altogether, which helps them look cool but makes auto-import impossible.

For these, you have to manually type in the UPC code or movie title.  UPC code works better for those movies that had one, but only because it's more specific.  (Covers for European films had barcodes, but there was no corresponding lookup, so they're probably not UPC codes.)  Failing that, you put in the title and search.

Either way, you then need to find your version/edition from the resulting list and add by hand.  Irritatingly enough, the cursor does not return to the barcode field after this process, so I wrote a macro to fix that for me.

The "Add" selections also change depending on if you scan or search.  If the software finds a unique match, it will automatically check the selection, and the add step becomes "Add Checked" (Alt-C).  If no unique match is found, you need to "Add Selected" (Alt-S).  There is also an "Add Anyway" button in case you have something like a bootleg that has no database entry.  Initially I found these confusing, but I didn't RTFM so take that for what it is worth.

Collections are stored as a single entry, and not as multiple movies.  For example, scanning "The Indiana Jones Collection" gives you just that.  There seems to be no option to auto-breakout the collection into the individual movies, so that you remember that that collection includes only the first 3 movies, but not the fourth.  If you want that, you need to add the movies by hand - and again, sometimes the collector covers don't have individual barcodes.

The software does support custom formats, such as DivX and DVD-R.  Unfortunately again, this field is buried 14 fields deep in the opening edit screen.  Fortunately, you can change a whole bunch of movies en masse using the multiple edit option - only available on the Pro version, naturally - which simplifies things as long as you keep track of what you're doing. 

VHS, Blu, and UMD are also in the Format list, although it seems you can type anything you like in there.  The software remembers your categories automatically, and you can pull them up as "Folders" on both the PC and Android software - very useful if you are looking to replace older formats once the new ones go on sale.  (For example, just go to the "Blu-Ray" folder to see if you own the movie on Blu yet.)

The rest of the fields range from mildly interesting to virtually useless for all but the most avid collector.  One notable exception is the "Seen It" field, which is buried 3 screens in and about 15 fields down in the edit dialog.  Being able to record what I haven't seen is a boon, as I've missed several movies this year, and I don't remember which ones.

Associated options, like where and when I first saw it, seem like unnecessary fluff to me, and I would cheerfully get rid of most of them to make it easier to edit the options that I do want.  There's a huge amount of detail, including plot, cast, studio, reviews, and other blah blah.  There's also a "Current value" field - useful if you collect rare movies, I guess, but not too many of us do that.

The software does do a good job of handling quirks.  Movies that do not match database entries are easily edited with no fuss.  You can also manually sort titles using the "Title Sort" option - useful for collections, such as Bond and Indiana Jones, that don't arrange themselves nicely in alphabetical order.  You need to watch out, however, since some of the database entries come pre-loaded with a "Title Sort" entry, and probably not the one you want.

If you have a mixed collection, count of a fair amount of editing time.  Only people with plain-jane DVD and Blu collections will get maximum throughput when adding movies.

Still, overall, the software does the job for me.  The extra options are unnecessary for me, but they don't really get in the way too badly.  If I wasn't running macros for the common tasks, however, I can see it taking twice as long as it is currently taking, which is roughly 20 minutes per 20 movies.  Not too bad, but for 1000+ movies it still takes a while.

The software will install on multiple machines, and the database is more or less fully portable between PCs.  Cover images are stored on the local hard drive, so if you switch machines the cover images will not come over.  Fortunately you can update them all with a few clicks, so no biggie.  (This does not seem to apply to the handheld apps, which import the cover images when they import the database.)

The most important feature for me - the Android app - works quite well.  Each import takes a bit of setting up on the PC side, because it doesn't remember your Android device between exports.  Which seems odd, but it may be unavoidable for all I know.

Once started the import process is quick and voila! you have a nice, pretty, sortable movie list to take around with you.  The gallery view, while not complex, is especially impressive to show off.  You do have to import manually after every change, though - it does not auto-refresh.

Overall I'd recommend the software.  Yes, the company name is ridiculous and makes them sound like script kiddies, but once I got past it the software works as advertised.

For whatever it is worth, Collectorz had the best prices on the barcode scanners, or at least equivalent to what other people were selling them for.  I didn't immediately find a way to hack in a cheaper scanner/keyboard wedge combo, so using their "supported" scanners may be worth it.  Unless you can pick up a scanner from a going-out-of-business sale for $10, it's probably not worth the effort.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Android 2.1 update broke my keyboard and quick settings widget

I knew that upgrading my phone would spell some kind of trouble.

In this case, aside from losing a lot of settings (such as email accounts), my Bluetooth keyboard no longer works.

It's a funny problem, though.  The keyboard still connects, and the driver works.  You even get a sound when you press the keys.  But Android 2.1 on the X10i doesn't allow you to select BlueInput as one of the input methods.  It's just not there any more.

I tried installing the latest BlueInput, but no change.  Wonderful.

[Edit]:  To re-enable BlueInput in the IME list, go to Settings/Language & keyboard settings, and check "BlueInput".  This will allow you to select BlueInput as an input method, and the keyboard will work again.  Now using driver 1.7.

Note also that the stock Sony Ericsson backup application does a good job, but MyBackup Pro did a reasonable job of restoring my home screens.  I'd recommend it.

Friday, December 17, 2010

More Bluetooth headset impressions

So in the interest of saving myself time, I went  back to Best Buy and picked up 4 headsets to try out.

I had a long conference call arranged for business reasons - a good opportunity to test all 4 out under the same conditions.

They were:
-  Plantronics M100
-  Motorola H720
-  Plantronics Discovery 520
-  BlueAnt Q2


Motorola H720 - $80

Like:  Like the folding design: compact, easy to tell when it is on, and really easy to connect when I yank it out of my pocket.  Earloop rotates, easy to get on and off.  Micro-USB charge port.  Might come with a carry case, I didn't even look.

Call quality:  Same as all the others, basically.  Incoming audio sounds fine.  My voice sounds a bit tinny and still has the electronic overtone mentioned in my last post.

(Heard the same on a demonstration audio clip from another reviewer using a different headset.  Must be common to all headsets.)  Good volume level.

Dislike:  Maybe not as comfy as the others - hard to tell.  No nifty voice prompts, no biggie.

Plantronics M100 - $60

Like:  Like the size, like the on-off switch.  Fits well.  Voice prompts are nice.  Looks good.  Micro-USB charge port.  Seems comfy.

Call quality:  Same as all the others, except the 520 (below).  Test caller said unit broke up more than the first unit but was manageable.  Incoming audio was fine, but seemed quieter than the 720.

Dislike:  Earloop is strange and makes it hard to get the unit on and off quickly.  Earloop looks fragile. 

BlueAnt Q2 - $150

Like:  Nice looking.  OK fit and earloop.  Like the on-off switch.  Good voice prompting.  Micro-USB charge port.  Auto-downloads your contact list.

Call quality:  Same as the others, or maybe worse.  My test participant said it was not the best - don't know if he meant static, distortion, or what.  Incoming audio was fine

Dislike: On/off switch awkwardly placed and hard to toggle.  Expensive.  Didn't try the Android text-to-speech or other apps.

Plantronics Voyager 520 - $80

Like:  Love the charging stand, cool idea.  Looks good.  Good earloop, rotates so it's easy to put on.  Universal charger.

Call quality:  This unit had a range problem.  During the call, the phone was placed arms length at my left, while the earphone was on the right.  The 520 had incoming static as soon as I switched it in.  Some static was audible on the outgoing as well, but not as bad.  The phone had to be within 12 inches of the headset to eliminate the incoming audio static.  Non-starter.

Dislike:  Range.  A little bigger than the others.  Didn't like the fact the charging contact is proprietary, making it necessary to buy a special-purpose car or spare charger.  The AC adapter also came apart in my hand while still plugged in to the mains!  (I had accidentally pressed the prong release with my hand because I didn't know it was there.)

Guess I'm sticking with the mid-size mid-range mid-price Motorola H720 for now.  The m100 is a bit less expensive but I prefer the fold over the on-off switch.  It's the smallest, easiest to deploy quickly, and will protect itself better than the non-folders.  Wish I could have had the charging stand of the Platronics, though.

It was interesting that except for the 520 range problem, all the units had pretty much exactly the same incoming audio quality, while outgoing call quality was quite similar.  Goes to the fact that all of these units are basically built around the same chipsets, probably.  Seems they all distort your voice to some degree or other.

Found it cheaper at Newegg  - $50 + free ship, vs. $80 at Best Buy.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Impressions of a Plantronics Discovery 975 headset

In my quest for a new headset, I tried the Plantronics 975.  You can get it for around $70 online, shipped, but I bought it locally because I was worried I wouldn't like the fit.  Always best to try before you buy.

Now, I had this thing for less than 24 hours, so take these for what they're worth.

Good stuff:  Fit me pretty well.  It is as light as they say, and (surprisingly) doesn't move around in your ear.

I was surprised because I expected the boom to create some leverage, but it doesn't.  Or maybe the hoop in the earbud is what keeps it in place, I don't know.  But I was personally happy with the comfort level for short periods.

The volume button on the headset only has low, medium, and high settings.  But you can use the volume control on your phone to set any volume level you please.  So the volume button is really a 'boost' button for kicking up the volume when it's noisy out, or dropping it when you're in a quiet area.  Works fine, and is really a non-issue at the end of the day.

Sound on my end was quite good.  It's not ear-splittingly loud at max, as some of the shills would have you believe, but it's OK for my car at low speeds.  I didn't try it at highway speed.

The voice prompts are good.  I only ran into them once, when I walked away from the phone accidentally.  The set said 'connection lost'.  Nice idea.

Bad:  Well, a few things.  It sits in your ear, so pressing on the multifunction button pushes the headset directly into your ear, which I found uncomfortable.  Not a deal breaker, because possibly I'd get used to it.  But the MF button is a bit stiff, and since you have to press to both answer and hang up, I can see it irritating my ears pretty easily when calling a lot.

 I left myself a test message, and tried calling a friend, both from a very quiet home office.  In both cases, the outgoing voice from my headset was tinny and had an electronic-sounding overtone to it.  It's hard to describe, but it's akin to what you would get when running a voice through a synthesizer.  Turning off the headset and returning to the phone mic eliminated the problem, according to my buddy.

Knowing this, the noise-cancelling features quickly became a non-issue.  For this kind of price, I expect perfect performance in good conditions.  This headset didn't have that for me (on my Xperia X10i, YMMV).  I can get mediocre call quality for much less money.

Also, I can't figure out the case thing.  What is the use scenario for this headset?

Personally, I keep my headset in my pocket, and pull it out when I need it.  Or, I might be wearing it, but not too often.  Would be hard to wear 100% of the time no matter how comfy.

The 975 is too fragile to put into your pocket unprotected.  Maybe part of the reason why they provided the case.

(Certainly part of the reason they provided the neck lanyard, but I've only ever known one guy who wore his headset around his neck, and it's not a look I want for myself.  Enough said about that.)

Now, the case is cool.  The embedded battery is a great idea, and you know your headset is always topped up for use.

But it does make the case a bit chunky.  It's still pocket-able, which was a surprise to me - I can actually fit it into my front pocket not too badly.

Unfortunately, it does not include a belt loop or clip.  Nor is there any provision for fitting one.  So it's a bit large to pocket, but impossible to belt on.  Really strange omission, considering the size and the nominal cost of adding a loop or clip.  I guess they intended it to go in a pocket, bag or purse.

But how to use it?  I get a call, so I have to stop, pull out the case, open it, eject the headset, and turn the set on, before I can use it?  Oh, and do it one-handed because I'm on the damn phone already.  The call will be over before I can accomplish this Houdini trick.

It's (potentially) even more time if you're a girl, and have to dig your phone out of your purse in the first place.  Or a guy and need to dig it out of a briefcase, day bag or jacket pocket.

For guys, you can't pull the case out of your front pants pocket while seated, nor put it into your back pocket because it's too large to sit on.  It'll fit in your front pocket, but it's big enough that the corners will be well worn inside of a few months - same effect as having holes in your jeans, it'll look crappy.  I know because my old Treo holster case suffered the same fate, although after years of hard use.

Try and pocket the unit without the case and it'll be in pieces in no time.  It's not strong enough.  One sit and crack! - the end.

Nice unit, but obviously not for me.  Especially for the $150 retail.  Maybe for the $70 online, but not with mediocre call quality.  Glad for everyone who likes it, but it's obviously not perfect for everybody.

I think I need a unit that is more solid, so I can pocket it without fear.  My old Scala 500 was durable, if nothing else, and survived routine crushing with only cosmetic wear for years.

Back to BB I go - maybe the oft-maligned Jabra or Blueant models will work better for me.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Using a "Mini Bluetooth Keyboard" on your Android device

So I took a chance (a $25 chance, to be exact) and bought a "mini Bluetooth keyboard" for my Xperia.  I figured why not - it may be an improvement over the soft keyboard if I'm doing a lot of entry or something.

These devices are sold everywhere under different names.  The one I bought is from Focalprice.  Others have the same unit for similar prices.

Naturally, the unit that came was packaged differently than the unit shown.  There was no manual, and the included CD was either blank (likely) or wasn't formatted properly for a standard PC to read it.  Figures.

After some digging, here's how I got it to work:

Grab the Teksoft Bluetooth keyboard driver for Android, called BlueInput.  Get it here.  These are demo versions, so they're free to try to see if they'll work with your keyboard or not.

(I recommend getting all 3 versions of the driver.  The latest 1.7 driver doesn't install on some devices, including mine.  The initial 1.5 driver worked but didn't map the symbols correctly, so none of the keyboard symbols worked for me.  I ended up on 1.6.131, which did the job for me.)

Install the driver using your favorite app manager.

Pair the keyboard by charging it, turning it on and pressing the only button on the front of the keyboard.  The blue LED will blink.  Discover the keyboard on your phone.  Type "1234" into your phone, and "1234<enter>" on the keyboard to pair.

Launch the BlueInput app, and follow the instructions available from Teksoft or from here.  Follow them carefully, and it should work.

If it works, you'll need to register BlueInput for 10 euro with Teksoft.  The demo versions all have some kind of limitation on them.

It looks like the 1.7 driver has support for different keyboard mappings.  Note that symbols did not work on my device with 1.5, but did work on 1.6.  If they don't work on your device, you may need 1.7 so you can use a different emulation map.

After goofing around with it for a bit, my impression of the keyboard is: not bad at all.  Takes some getting used to, as the keys are spaced bigger than the virtual keys on the soft keyboard.  It's still a thumb keyboard, and don't expect to be able to touch-type on it.

The keys are rubber, not hard, and have considerable travel - or what feels like considerable travel after using an on-screen keyboard for a while.  I was semi-expecting a hard 'chiclet' keyboard, but that is not the case here.  Typing is slow, and until you get used to the spacing, expect some errors from pressing the wrong keys.

Navigation and other commands can be done with key combinations that are reasonably straightforward.  You can do most things with the keyboard that you can do on screen.  I don't know if it's actually faster or better than the on-screen, but if you really hate the virtual keyboard it might feel like a step up.

Physically, the keyboard is nice looking, about the same size as most phones, and very light.  It would be easy to pack along.  And it's cheap, so you can't really complain.

I'm not sure I'll use it on a regular basis.  It does fit in between the virtual keyboard and a full-size in terms of functionality, but don't expect it to solve large data entry problems.  The backspace and some symbol keys are oddly placed, so expect it to take some practice before getting good with it.

Note the keyboard has no auto-repeat.  If you want to do a lot of text editing, you may want to use something else that supports auto-repeat.

It also seems as though the driver makes you re-pair and/or re-connect every time you turn the keyboard off and on.  Re-pairing might be a limitation of the demo, I don't know.  Reconnecting is a necessary function of the driver, and they make it reasonably straightforward, but don't expect to turn it on and just go.  You need to scan for the keyboard and sync up before using it.

Finally, the keyboard lost the connection to my phone once.  It may have been a timeout thing - I put it down for a few minutes.  Reconnecting solved the problem, but again, it was a bit odd.

Hope this helps someone interested in the accessory keyboard for their Android.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The great Bluetooth headset marketing machine

It seems that more and more products are being marketed with fluff and image rather than design and substance.  This is an incorrect assessment, of course - the reality is that most products have always been marketed this way.  It's just annoying me personally more and more every year.

I need a Bluetooth headset to replace my aging Cardo Scala 500.  I liked the Scala so much I bought a couple of old-stock units from eBay, but they failed to perform as well, and somehow the Scala does not work as well with my new Xperia X10i.

You'd think that picking up a good headset would be like picking up a decent case - just go out and find it.  Unfortunately, handset accessories are major breadwinner products with little to no substance behind them.  While a case can be judged solely on appearance, and inexpensive enough to take a chance, headsets are not.

So the frustration begins.  I agree with Mark Knowels when he said - nearly 3 years ago - that even reading the marketing nonsense associated with these products is enough to make you vomit.  But the real blame lies at the feet of the so-called 'reviewers' on the net.

In order to fill up their 'column space', reviewers dedicate enormous amounts of prose towards extolling the claimed virtues of the new product, while sadly sacrificing any real-world, objective testing.  Manufacturers specifications and buzzwords are regurgitated ad nauseum without giving the reader the slightest clue as to the real value. 

Most reviews don't even clearly tell you how many buttons a headset is equipped with, preferring instead to hide the fact that many don't even have on-off switches or proper up-down volume controls any more.  Instead, they tout mysterious, magical features such as noise cancellation and multi-device compatibility, while hard specifications like talk time are almost completely arbitrary. 

Even reviews that bring up obvious negative points still manage to end on a high note with a decent product rating.  I've read tons so far, spending a horrible amount of time, and still have little to no idea which units might be worth buying.  It's bloody well paid advertising, and that's all there is to it.

Not to mention that last months 5-star winner is immediately downgraded to a has-been as soon as a newer, 'better' model is released.  Never mind that the previous headset made all the same claims as the latest one.  Never mind that today's $150 headset is tomorrow's $50 version, yet somehow manages to deliver the same performance.  And that for every stellar review, there seems to be someone out there who has a poor experience.

Now, OK, let's be fair here.  Headsets have issues with fit and functionality that vary according to the user, so everyone will have a different experience.  My face is not your face, my ears are not your ears.  But is it so hard, really?

No, it is not.  It is plainly not hard to conduct objective testing on these things, but no one does - not even the 'test lab' sites. 

Examples?  Despite 95% of the population owning a mobile, they can't come up with more than 4 popular devices to test with.  Despite having decibel meters available for decades, they can't come up with a test for how loud a headset.  Despite 90% of the working population having a significant commute, they can't come up with a real-world test against vehicle noise.  It's just about the most pathetic, idiotic thing I have ever seen.

And why?  They're great moneymakers, that's why.  Lacking objective criteria, people will buy the highest priced version they feel comfortable with, in order to reassure themselves that it will work.  After all, for that much money, it must work really well - right?  The cheap ones can't really work so well, can they?  I mean, if they did, they'd be charging more, right?

It's the same psychological marketing that causes people to pay Monster Cable $150 for a piece of wire that cost less than a buck, and provides absolutely no benefit over the $3 cable on the next shelf over.  Despite an convincing array of real-world evidence that shows there is no difference, people continue to pay obscenely inflated prices because it makes them feel better.

Headsets have a short marketing life anyway.  Even if one sucked, by the time word got around it would be replaced with something new.  (Really, everything in these devices is in the control of the IC makers who make the chipsets.  The headset makers just put fancy packaging around it all, and sell on style and not on substance.)

With constant turnover, people hungry for current information will be driven to the 'review' sites, which have an ready-made, ever-expanding topic for future content.  They are advertising supported, thus increasing their 'user base' and 'unique hits per month' metrics and helping to justify their advertising rates.

So the review sites make money, the manufacturers make money, and everyone is happy. Even Joe and Jane Consumer, who is 'satisfied' they made the right choice based on nothing but fancy packaging and retail therapy.

So, in the end, the real blame is on us - the consumers - for falling for it.  Because it's an old joke - and the joke is still on us.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Sony Xperia X10i AWS and WIND Mobile

Previously, I wrote that my Xperia X10i (AWS version, compatible with WIND) was frying SIM cards.

A little inaccurate, as it turns out.  Full details are here, but basically the SIM is fine.  It's the phone that's the problem.

After highway trips, or indeed any trip that involves a lot of cell site handoffs, the X10i seems to get confused about how to look for roaming partners.  My current theory is that it gets stuck looking for a pre-programmed roaming partner that isn't there.

The long and short of it is: if your X10i doesn't want to work anymore, try cycling your SIM card through another GSM phone.  Of any kind.  This seems to 'unconfuse' the phone by resetting the information in the SIM and letting the phone work normally again.

Good news for anyone suffering with an X10i that periodically stops working.  Try turning on airplane mode for long trips, and if needs be, keep a spare GSM phone around to recycle the SIM and get it working again.

I have no idea if the Android 2.1 upgrade fixes this or not.  I've been too scared and busy to try it.  I don't want to reinstall all my apps right now.
After being on WIND for a while, I have found some peculiar behavior from my Sony Xperia X10i.  More about these 'niggles' later.

A few days ago, my phone stopped responding to the network.  Basic troubleshooting such as resetting, changing areas etc. didn't help; I called WIND and my account was still intact too.  The phone radio showed a good signal (better than -60 dBm, which is fairly good.)

The WIND techs were quite helpful and took a considerable amount of time to help me solve the problem.  I tried to stay out of their way - I have found that trying to hurry tech support along doesn't get you anywhere.  Also, it seemed that the problem was either my phone's radio (my problem) or something to do with the network access (their problem), and I didn't want to be a pill in case in was, in fact, my problem.

After some trouble, it was determined that the SIM card in my phone was fried.  In fact, the techs went so far as to declare this a known issue on the X10i.  According to WIND, the X10i is known for frying the SIM card when operating on an AWS network.

Do note that this is a Sony Ericsson Xperia X10i.  Note the lack of 'mini' or 'pro' in the name, and the 'i' at the tail end, indicating this is the AWS (1700/2100) compatible model.  The model normally sold in Canada is the X10a, which is GSM only and is only operable on the Rogers network.

Upon going to the shop to get my SIM replaced, I found the attendant knew one poor woman who had replaced her SIM at least four times in her Xperia X10i.  So I'm not the only one with this problem.

WIND blames an undefined firmware incompatibility with the X10i handset, because this problem doen't show up on other phones.  Other information posted on the WIND site seems to indicate that the problem might be related to how WIND provisions their SIM cards - but seriously, no matter what WIND does, surely the phone shouldn't actually damage the SIM!

I doubt the problem is something as simplistic as an over-voltage condition or something like that - the entire phone no doubt has multiple power supplies, but the demands of each are dictated strictly by the relevant circuit section, such as GSM, GPS, Wi-Fi, display, and so forth.  The chances of bridging are nil, and the SIM will be operating within normal limits.

I think it's more likely the SIM simply wore out.  I'm imaging the SIM to be a small flash memory, with a limited number of write cycles.  (Maybe even a limited number of read cycles, although I can't imaging why this would be.)  Chances are the phone simply wore out the SIM memory by constantly attempting to write stuff to it.

This would explain the random nature of the problem, as well as the fact that some SIM cards seem to last longer than others.  I imagine the problem is also user-dependent - perhaps travelling a lot, or spending a lot of time outside WIND Home has something to do with it.

Hey SE, ARE YOU LISTENING TO THIS?  How's about you put this on your bug list and get it fixed for those of us bravely supporting your devices?

For those of us included in that list, do yourself a favor and get a spare SIM or two from WIND now.  I got two spares for free - the stores have free SIM cards that are intended for new subscribers, and they  might let you score a couple.  They can be activated when needed by calling in to WIND and giving them the SIM number.

The other thing you could try while you're there - and before you activate your new SIM - is the 'phone-swap trick'.  Put your non-working SIM into another WIND phone, let it acquire the home network, and then plug it back in to your X10i and give it a try.  Some people have found that this 'resets' the SIM and lets the phone operate again.

If this works for you, you might be interested to know that WIND has some really cheap handsets - on sale for $35 right now.  I don't even know if this works for my situation, but for $35, I'll buy the Huwai as a backup phone anyway.  If the phone-swap trick works, so much the better.

[Update]:  Missed the sale on the Huwai - they were sold out.

How to tell if a phone works on WIND Mobile – for dummies version

My old-but-reliable Treo has finally given up. More accurately, the spotty built-in microphone finally seems to have given up for good – I can hear them but they can’t hear me.

After realizing how much I’m getting taken for at my current carrier, I got interested in Wind. Their plans seem nice. But their limited phone selection makes things difficult. So the quest began to find a phone I wanted that would operate on the Wind network.

(There is a sticky topic at that deals with this same topic, but I found it to be a bit too complicated. This is the for-dummies version.)

1. Look carefully at the phone specs for the magic number: 1700 MHz.

Wind runs on 1700. No 1700, no Wind!

Yes, you will see many other numbers. You don’t need any of them.

Specifically, you don’t need 2100 MHz.

2. Look for one of the key words: UMTS, WDCMA, HSPA, HSDPA, HSUPA, or HSPA+.

For our purposes here:


This is all the same technology, and Wind uses it, so your phone needs it.

3. Look for the key words: GSM, 850 MHz and 1900 MHz.

Wind has a really limited network. If you want to use your phone outside of Wind zones, it also has to run on Rogers.

Rogers runs GSM on the 850/1900 MHz bands. You need both 850 and 1900 MHz.

Fortunately, this is very common. You will also see 850/900/1800/1900 a lot, which is fine.

4. OPTIONAL If you care about international roaming, there is one more step.

(I honestly can’t think why anyone who does a lot of international would sign up with the carrier with the world’s smallest network. But hey, it’s your money. And I suppose for occasional travel to Mexico it’s nice to have.)

Look for the key words: “quad-band”and the magic numbers: 850 and 900 and 1800 and 1900 MHz.

This means the phone will work in the majority of countries around the world.

Fortunately, this is very common. You will see 850/900/1800/1900 a lot, which is fine.

5. OPTIONAL: If you care about international roaming, and you use data, and you want the fastest data speeds (3G, not just 2G) there is one more step.

Now, listen! If you do 1 through 3 above, you will get both international voice and international data. Data will work at 2G speeds, and not 3G speeds, but it will work fine. So this is optional.

But if you WANT it:

Look for the magic number: 2100 MHz.

Overseas networks use 2100 MHz to run their 3G networks.

Now, listen! 2100 is not used for voice. You don’t need it for voice. You don’t need it for voice. You don’t need it for voice!

Also, 2100 is not required for data. You don’t need it for data. You don’t need it for data. You don’t need it for data.

2100 is used for faster data internationally. That’s all. It’s optional. Not required.

I ended up getting an Xperia X10i.  Nice device, but with a couple of quirks - kind of like Wind itself.  Subject for a future post.

The Logitech G15 and KVMs - The final word

Logitech G15 and KVMs - the final word

I was so pleased when the G15 first came out. I wanted input devices that would make me more productive at work, and the G15 macro key setup (G-keys) fit the bill perfectly. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the on-board LCD display was useful for displaying the date and time. Overall the G15 is a great business keyboard.

I have never used the G15 at home, because I have a multi-PC setup. This means I have the dreaded KVM in between my input devices and my PCs.

I live by my KVM, for many reasons. I don't know when it became acceptable to wait 15 minutes for a PC to boot, but somehow it did. With the KVM, at least I can switch to a different PC while I'm waiting for a machine to reset itself from the inevitable memory leaks, hung processes and general deterioration that affects all Windows machines sooner or later.

I also routinely have my PCs running in the background, doing different jobs. Usually I like to parcel out the I/O and hardware interrupt intensive operations to a different machine than my main workstation, to avoid slowing me down so much. Burning DVDs, uploading and downloading files, copying and moving gigabytes of data, these all go on in the background on a different machine. I need to check in from time to time, hence the KVM.

Of course, I've always wanted to use the G15 at home. The G-keys are sexy, and not because of the name. They allow you to launch programs with a button. Nothing else does this. All other 'macro' keys just punch out keystrokes - they won't launch programs or shortcuts.

At work, I had these set up for Lotus Notes, Word, Excel and my CAD programs. I also had shortcut buttons to my documents, the documents hosted on the network server, the departmental repositories, and other common locations. I even had a macro set up to skip the mandatory, ever-annoying, no-you-cannot-eliminate-it e-mail spell-checker dialog box that popped up for virtually every email I ever wrote. The increase in productivity was considerable. I saw it every day while watching my co-workers fumble for desktop shortcuts using the mouse.

Add in a Logitech MX Revolution mouse (purchased separately) and you have a highly capable input system.

Alas, my KVM is PS/2. Of my five PCs, one is Windows 2000 (don't ask) and so PS/2 seemed easier on that box too. USB KVMs didn't really exist when I set up this system.

There are advantages. PS/2 works on every box, new and old. Plus the keyboard hotkey - ScrLock - ScrLock - # - allows instant switching between boxes. No muss, no fuss. I switch fifty times a day, at least.

Still, the G15 was calling me. And I missed the functionality. Not to mention the sheer geekiness of that oversized in-your-face techy-looking this-aint-your-mommas-keyboard.

So my quest for a KVM began... and went on and on. Everyone has the same questions, but the answers are inconsistent at best.

So here's the deal:

THERE IS NO KVM THAT WILL WORK PERFECTLY WITH THE G15. That's it. Period, full stop, finis, end of story, bye-bye, thanks for coming.

If you Google enough, you will find forum postings that say otherwise. (Yes, Tiffany the Girl Gamer, I'm looking at you.) But they are wrong. Or mistaken, if you're being generous.

Maybe I'm just a stauch old traditionalist, but to me, perfectly means PERFECTLY. No caveats, limitations, provisos or fine print. You can't have something "work perfectly except for", "work perfectly but", or anything like. PERFECT means just that. And somehow a lot of people have missed the point on that one.

(To be fair, my current KVM does not work perfectly. Being an older device, it doesn't emulate my LCD monitor correctly, leading to strange effects if I background reboot a machine. So it's 95% correct, but it's not PERFECT. And I don't claim it is.)

To be sure, there are several KVMs that will work with a G15. But NONE of them will work PERFECTLY.

The KVM makers are in a no-win situation with the G15. And, I assume, the revised G15, the G9, and any other keyboard (or mouse) that has unique or special features only available through specific drivers.

KVMs usually have keyboard emulation. This means the KVM 'impersonates' a keyboard to all the connected PCs. As far as the PC is concerned, a keyboard is plugged in all the time, regardless of how the KVM is switching the actual keyboard around.

If the KVM-makers install keyboard emulation on the keyboard port, the end user gains the ability to boot PCs in the background, (usually) switch the KVM using hotkey combinations, no need for USB re-enumeration when switching, and (sometimes) use the keyboard in BIOS.

However, the keyboard emulation can't possibly emulate the special features of the G15, which are the G-keys and LCD panel. Or any other special features for any other unique keyboard. Seriously, how is the KVM maker supposed to know how these work? So having keyboard emulation is not perfect.

Leaving out the emulation means the KVM just passes through the raw data - in effect, the KVM stops trying to translate what the G15 is saying. This turns the KVM keyboard port into a generic USB port like any other. Voila, the special features work!

But wait, you've lost something. Since the KVM doesn't impersonate a keyboard any more, the keyboard is only connected to one PC at a time. So, when you switch, it's just like you've unplugged the keyboard from the first PC, and plugged it in to the second PC.

What happens? Well, the second machine will take a few seconds to recognize the new USB keyboard, enumerate, and start using it. So there's a switching delay.

Plus, you can't use hotkeys. The KVM is no longer 'watching' the keyboard port, so it can't 'see' hotkeys. Switching must be done using whatever physical buttons are present on the KVM box.

Third, you can't background reboot a PC. If you reboot a PC while the KVM is on a different box, the rebooted box will not see a keyboard. It's not there to see - the KVM has connected it to a different computer. Beep, beep, "No keyboard present" error.

In the end, it's simple. On one side, you have hotkeys and background reboot. On the other you have the LCD and G-keys. That's it.

Similar problems exist for special mice. The KVMs have mouse emulation too, which screws up special features for a lot of mice.

So, what does one do with all of this? Well, there is obviously no point in following through with attaching a G15 unless it works as a G15 - you'd be just as well off getting a $10 generic keyboard. If you didn't care about the special features you wouldn't be reading this.

To get special features, you must give up keyboard emulation. This means no hotkey switching, no background reboot, probably a short delay when switching, and inability to use the keyboard in BIOS on some machines. That's the deal, take it or leave it.

So, how to get around the keyboard emulation?

There are some KVMs that don't have emulation period. Unfortunately, they don't consider that a feature, and often don't explicitly say they lack emulation. If you can find a KVM without emulation, you're probably OK.

No KVM I've seen allows you to disable keyboard emulation if it's present. That eliminate the keyboard port as an option.

There are KVMs that allow you to disable the mouse emulation. The Aten KVMs, in particular, have this feature. So, you can disable the mouse emulation and plug the G15 into the mouse port. If there are only two input ports, this means the mouse has to go into the G15 USB ports, which might or might not work.

The last option is the one most people use. Get a KVM with a USB 2.0 hub built-in, and plug the G15 into one of the hub ports instead of the keyboard port. The generic hub port will not interfere with the G15. Naturally, all the caveats above apply - no hotkeys, no background reboot, probably no BIOS operation, and a few seconds of delay when switching the G15 from machine to machine.

After Googling, you will find all the reports say "It works perfectly except for the hotkeys" or something like. Leaving aside the utterly irritating insanity of these statements, these people are almost always plugging the G15 into a hub port.

Note that the same principles apply for sophisticated USB mice. I haven't tested any, but I expect my Logitech MX Revolution will have problems with the mouse emulation on the KVM getting in the way. Disabling or avoiding the mouse emulation will be necessary to enable the special features of the mouse. Leaving the emulation on will allow background-reboot machines to 'see' a mouse, but will block any special features. Again, disable the emulation, or use a generic USB port instead.

Note that many KVMs with USB hubs can switch the hub ports independently of the keyboard/mouse ports. A lot of people get tripped up by this, and switch the mouse while leaving the keyboard behind. They always complain the switch isn't working right. RTFM before you get your back up on this one!

Finally, it is prudent to only use KVMs that have their own external power supply. The G15 takes more power than a typical keyboard, and some bus-powered KVMs are not up to the task. This is doubly true if you also have a power-hungry mouse - such as many wireless types - or power-intensive USB peripherals on the hub. Symptoms of insufficient power include total loss of function, random operation, or loss of use of another device (such as the mouse) when the G15 is plugged in. These all stem from not having enough power to run all the devices at the same time.

My recommendation: Get a KVM with an external power supply and a USB hub. Try disabling the emulation on the mouse port and plugging the G15 in that port first. If that works, try plugging the mouse into the G15.

If the G15 doesn't operate on the mouse port, or if your model KVM doesn't allow you to disable the mouse emulation, put the G15 on one of the generic USB hub ports. Plug the mouse in wherever it works best.

I personally am going to try an Aten KVM. It's the only brand that I know of that allows you to disable the mouse emulation. IOGear devices are theoretically re-branded Aten KVMs with a 'G' prefix on the model number, but if Newegg reviews are to be believed, the quality on the IOGear is sometimes spotty. If I feel like it I'll post my experience here.

A couple of final gotchas: When setting up the system for the first time, you may need to install the G15 and/or mouse drivers before installing the G15 and/or mouse itself. This means you may need another USB or PS/2 keyboard and mouse for the initial setup. You might also need a PS/2 keyboard for use when the machine breaks and you need to access the BIOS. As machines differ, YMMV.

You will also have to set up the KVM so that the panel buttons are physically accessible and reasonably convenient to use. After all, those buttons are the only mechanism by which you can actually use the KVM to switch.

[Addition]: I did not use the Aten. Instead, I set up a regular old PS/2 keyboard and mouse on my existing KVM. For my main workstation, I attached a Logitech G13 keypad (awesome device) and Logitech MX Revolution mouse (awesome mouse) directly to that PC via USB.

This means the G13 and MX Rev. only work on my main station. I use the 'backup' PS/2 mouse for operating the other workstations.

I've also been trying out Teamviewer for remoting my other 3 stations. Works fairly well, but it isn't quite a replacement for the KVM. When the secondary PCs get busy - say, when the damn antivirus software takes over the entire system - remote control solutions become sluggish or inoperative.

I've had the G13 for some months now and highly recommend it if you need a supplementary keypad. It does everything the G15 does, including real program launching shortcuts - not just the keyboard emulation / keystroke macro garbage that so many of these devices do.

The great electronics lab equipment rip-off

Having recently set up my own little electronics design consultancy, I eventually (and inevitably) found myself needing some test equipment.

(Actually, I managed to survive for several months without even 'basic' equipment - such is the life these days, where most of the work is done on CAD tools and not in real life.  If you're thinking of stepping out on your own, don't assume you'll need $10k of seed money just for tools - or, at least, not right away.)

My desire, of course, was naturally to get some of the Fluke tools that I'd used in the past.  The 189 is a lovely meter, and having worked with Fluke (the company) and Fluke tools (the meters) before, I know they are top-notch.  Unfortunately, they command top-notch prices as well.  $900 for a Fluke 289 is not in my budget right now.

Being a curious sort, I ended up researching this topic, and soon ran across Mastech ( and their line of 'high-end' meters for low-end prices.  The 8218 model was particularly fascinating, at around $170 on eBay.  But was it even worth that amount?

Let's get real here.  Professionals pay premium prices to reduce errors and downtime.  An auto tech who works at Canadian Tire will still pay premium prices for Snap-On tools because (a) they won't break, and (b) when they do break, the Snap-On guy will deliver new tools to them the next day.  It's just as much about the service as the product.

Same goes for electronic test equipment, except we pay for peace of mind.  When you get a reading of 41.2 uA, you want to know in your heart that it is actually 41.2 uA, because if it's 42.2 uA, your product will only last ten months instead of twelve.  Which can be more than a big deal, it can be everything.  Calibrations and all that only serve to maintain this peace of mind.

Sure, there are some way cool items out there. The remote-display Fluke meter is an awesome idea, and the 289 supports in-meter datalogging and graphing functions that are not easy to find on other meters. Barring these special features, though, a meter is a meter is a meter.

So how good is good enough?  Well, I ran across a very helpful article by David Cook at the Robot Room (of all places) that describes his findings of several "cheap" multimeters that you can easily get for under $100.

Judge the results for yourself, but I ended up picking up some rebranded Mastech units for a tiny fraction of the Fluke meters. A very, very tiny fraction, as they were at a truly massive discount owing to the Xmas season. I could have bought more than 30 of these meters for the price of one 289. For that price, if I had to buy ten to find two that worked, it would have been worth it.

Plus these meters include direct temperature reading using a thermocouple, which was the real reason I was buying them in the first place. Note the Mastech 8218 does not include a direct temperature reading feature using a thermocouple - a strange omission, and one I did not recognize quickly as the advertising all claims it has a temperature function. If you read the manual, you will find out it does not.

If I had not run into these, I probably would have purchased a couple of VC97 meters, which were reviewed by Mr. Cook and found to be pretty damn good. Easily available on eBay for a nominal price.

So face it - it's a DMM. It's not magic anymore. The days when companies had to struggle to get an accurate and stable current or voltage measurement circuit are long, long gone. Really. Unless you really need DMM datalogging, just buck up, put your professional ego away and save your money for something worthwhile.