Category: Gadgets

Patience Is A Virtue

In our modern fast pace lives, most people will confess to lacking one finite resource – time. I too, can get caught up in the rat race world of chasing the corporate dollar. However, I do believe that at times it is important to unplug, step back and ignore the shameless marketing that feeds constant and consistent consumerism. A case in point is my mobile phone, the embarrassment, which I refuse to even display on my desk in the office, as heavy as the burden has now become. It was not like this over four years ago on Friday 3rd October 2010 when I eagerly awaited the arrival of not just my first proper smartphone but my first mobile phone not made by Finnish manufacturer – Nokia.

Probably six months into the ownership cycle, I realized that without rooting the device, I was extremely limited on what I would be able to achieve. While at first this was rather disappointing, considering I had placed so much faith into not just a new phone but a new company, they did not live up to my expectations. However I was willing to wait, in an ideal world I would purchase a phone unlocked SIM free and use this on my Vodafone SIM Only Contract, as I would be out of contract by December 2012. I removed all apps from my phone and left it has a mere shell to use for emergency web use (checking football scores via web based BBC Portal) and of course, calls and texts. Without forgetting that it had become the defacto alarm clock. (Who in 2014 uses an alarm clock other than their mobile?). To be frank, I hardly do much of that in any case. People who know me, will testify that I text more than speak on the telephone. I am not a big user of my mobile phone, as usage reports using the Ofcom backed Bill Monitor portal prove, I probably would be better off with a pay as you go option. Most people would have just upgraded to the next available phone when their contract date was up but I decided to wait. I always knew the moment I purchased a phone, either offline or as part of an upgrade, I would be disappointed that I had not waited a little longer for the next model that would be announced literally days later. (As irony has it, the initial specs of the HTC M9 were leaked the following day)

It was probably when the four year old ProPorta shell started to break apart off my HTC Desire, was it time to finally consider an upgrade. That was my mission for the weekend, to get not just a good upgrade but an excellent deal on my next smartphone. I first checked online to see what deals were available, including purchasing the old HTC One M7 in blue on eBay priced around £200. I visited Expansys, which I have tended to religiously visit on an almost a weekly basis to check prices on a range of smartphones. First stop mid morning while in Slough was the Vodafone store, with their Black Friday deals. There was a deal to be had, but I wanted a second opinion. While in Uxbridge, before a trip to the cinema I went to the Vodafone store in intu (formerly Chimes) shopping centre. They had the HTC One M8 in store in grey but were unwilling to offer me the additional employee discount (20%) on top of the Black Friday deal (50%). Even with a request to speak to the manager (only the assistant manager was available) and even when he got off the telephone in the back office, all he did was show a long list of terms from Newbury HQ which basically meant no additional discounts could be applied on top of the Black Friday discount. I left the store disappointed but willing to fight another day back in my home town of Slough.

The Vodafone store in Slough High Street was extremely busy for Sunday lunchtime. Once again I was served by Manpreet. She was patient once again and confirmed the same deal was on offer and even upsold me onto a 4G plan for a few extra pounds a month. I had to take the deal but they only had the HTC One M8 in silver, my heart was set on grey. Probably rather strange for readers to understand, particularly as I will be putting my phone (as I have with all my mobile phones) into a case. The deal was done, the order was processed and I would receive at my office by Tuesday lunchtime.

Deal done, I headed over to the HTC office, which happens be behind the Queensmere and Observatory Shopping Centre. I took a few photos, declaring to HTC and Philip Blair, head of the EMEA business that he and his company have one more chance. If they could call on Iron Man last year to try and rescue their brand, maybe they are worth another roll of the dice. What will probably shock most of you, is that I will probably leave the device boxed up for several days until I get around to unlocking and loading Cyanogenmod with the help of a colleague in the office. If you have waited over 1460.97 days for a brand new phone, what difference will a few more make? Here’s To Change…

Life Before Shazam

How did we identify songs before the mobile app Shazam? Well you would have to remember a key lyric in the song, ideally the chorus. In most cases you would just have to record those words to memory, rather than write them down as a note in your smartphone. We are talking about the pre-smartphone era, so before the middle part of this decade. I can recall many a time searching for lyrics in Google, hoping the correct song with artist name and song title would appear in the results. Ideally the official music video, which you can then watch on YouTube. In modern times, there is no need to go to such great lengths.

While in H&M in Westfield yesterday afternoon, I heard a song come on the in-store radio system. Instantly I thought the artist was Rihanna, the song had her signature vocal all over the thumping beat. I could even make out what I thought was the title, War Child. I was actually wrong on both counts. I opened up Shazam on my smartphone and identified the song within seconds. It was actually called Wild Child by Australian prodigy Elen Levon. On tagging the song and artist, I quickly share this information with Wunderlist, my To Do List application which records the details under a section called music. Wunderlist has been a revelation for me as a “list” person. Available as an Android app, Windows app and online via the web, I can see my to do list wherever I am. I have a long list of songs I have heard on television, radio or just out and about and need to download.

Over three years ago, in the same store but in a different city, I heard a song but had to wait until I got home to work out who it was by and what is was actually called. Life is so different in this world of instant gratification. I am in my office gym this morning and have listened to the song six times back to back. To be honest, I am glad to finally give my music collection a refresh. My gym playlist has been very stale of late and at time become very repetitive. My podcast diet has been reduced down to mere two weekly podcasts, both from the Beeb. I no longer have the luxury of a two hour commute each day to fill with radio goodness. Listening to Martin Lewis of on BBC Radio Five Live, while on the treadmill and I try to listen to the Let’s Talk About Tech (the Joy Of Tech was considered too risqué a name for the BBC and although the file name is still referred to by the old moniker) every Monday as that is recorded on a Saturday evening. I tried one of the American gym workout podcasts, GetFitPod last week but just could not get offer some cheesy American DJ, Skip Orem trying sooth me from his warm studio and I’m sweating it out on the rowing machine. I gave up (on the podcast not my workout) after about ten minutes. I did not like his choice of music in any case. Never trust a man with the name Skip.

Shazam can even save the tag, if no internet access is available at that moment in time and identify the song once you are back on the grid. As was the case in point for a song I had tried to identify in HMV a little later on this Saturday afternoon. It was not until later I could identify the song (while identify another song) that the artist was The 1973 – Settle Down.

XBMC The Return – Tablet Edition

While I love my Asus Nexus 7 from Google, it has limitations as an all you can eat media device. I quickly hit a wall, particularly when trying to view HD footage. In same cases, the video would play with no audio. In other cases, the media file would refuse to stream from my server and want to copy itself to a local directory. In most cases, even once copied across (if space would allow) the movie, music video or television show would not play. I was happy to live with these limitations, even on my rooted device. Several months back I downloaded the Drippler app. I thought this would give me additional hints and tips on getting the most out of my first ever tablet. An article appeared explaining how to enable the Nexus to play every format of media. I read up on the article, which took me to a webpage via Chrome. The answer was my beloved XBMC. I knew it had been ported over to Android but was unsure of how well developed it was on the platform. I was about to find out, while not available in the official Play market, I was able to download directly and install on my rooted device. Within a moment or two, I had it linked to my server locations and it was scrapping the internet to pick up all the information on my movies, television shows and music videos.

While I am committed to building a media centre with XBMC as the operating system on top, that is many years away. I am happy to have XBMC back in my life, even if in this limited form on my tablet. Sure, there are some bugs and teething problems you would expect. The most promising development that XBMC has arrived on Android with a bang and development continues on various fronts.

While some people may wonder what the point of having media centre software on a seven inch tablet, it is great to now have a single media source, rather than multiple applications with various degrees of usability. I hope XBMC lands on Google Play soon.

Identifying Songs

When I hear a song I do not know, I have to quickly identify it. For a while, when my HTC Desire was brand spanking new (late 2010) I had Shazam installed and would use it at every available opportunity. However, over two years later, my Desire lacks the memory space to hold any useful apps, so I have Shazam installed on my Nexus 7, not the most mobile of devices but it does work perfectly – most of the time.

Let me take you back five weeks, to Friday 25th January. My colleague Harps offered me a lift home in his beloved white BMW 330d cabriolet. (Surprisingly this was the first ever time he was giving me a lift home, even though we have worked together for almost exactly a year!) The journey started off with Luda (who else!) but Harps was switching to various songs on his MP3 CD. It then switched to an Unknown Artist – Unknown Track (I of course, would never have such an epic fail on my audio collection, all my ID3 tags (v1) are fully compiled). The song was instantly catchy and I asked Harps to name the artist, when he could not, so I switched on my tablet and Shazam’d (is that even the adjective?). This song would be the soundtrack to not just my weekend but the rest of the month! I downloaded the song from the internet and then had it burnt onto CD for a drive to Oxford (via Aylesbury on Sunday afternoon). The song, which is of the RnB persuasion rather than HipHop, is called Who Booty (Remix) by John Hart featuring French Montana.

Glee has been a mixed bag of late, at times becoming a parody of itself in this it’s fourth season. However, in places the quality has improved, as the the new characters develop and make bonds with each other. Episode eleven, “Sadie Hawkins” we had very low expectations for, but it actually proved to be quite a good visit to Ohio, not just for bringing in some interesting movement to the plot but also some fantastic songs! The highlight for myself was the cover of TLCs 1999 comeback hit “No Scrubs”. However for my dearest wife, it was the cover of the much more recent Bruno Mars – Locked Out Of Heaven (even if some of the lyrics are risqué for a family friend television show). Straight after the girls performance, a song kicks in on the dance-floor but apart from a few patchy lyrics, there was no way for me to identify the song. The audio volume is just far too low and with characters (Kitty and Puckerman) talking there was no chance of me identifying the song. I noted down a few lyrics after listening a few times and then went over to Google. My searches were rather fruitless but I was not the only person whom had noted the song and wanted to know who the artist was. My first port of call was, registering and leaving the question as a comment. I had little response, so a few days later I tried entering the few lyrics I could make out into Google and sure enough was taken to a Glee forum. Sure enough, I was not the only person looking for this unidentified song, but so far the trail had run suddenly from hot to cold, as all the suggested songs were not the song in question. We were left thinking that this was an unreleased song, which had been produced specifically for the show. I had lost hope of ever finding out the artist and track name. This was until Thursday morning, when I happened to go back to the forum to check if there had been any updates. There had and the answer to the question that had been on my mind for the past few weeks was finally there on the web page. The artist was Rae, the song was 305 and it featured, in a slightly different mix on the Hop soundtrack. Mystery solved.

It does make me think, how much harder life was before the interweb. How did we ever get the answer to more deep and meaningful questions, rather than some random song played within the context of a high school prom on a television show. Back in June 2005, I had a similar problem with a song I heard on my portable DAB radio. It did not take me that long to find that song, as I actually had the title of the track from the chorus. Do you not just love this connected, always on world we live in, with the possibility of so much at our fingertips? I sure do!

You would class “305” or is it “The 305″, as bubble gum pop, whereas I prefer to use the term pure pop! The lyrics and overall production remind me of the opening track from the Resse Witherspoon movie, Legally Blonde. The track which plays during the opening credits is Perfect Day by Hoku. The 305 even includes the lyrics, “It’s a perfect day” in reference to the older song by Hoku – pure coincidence perhaps! It is almost seven years ago since I was naming checking this romantic comedy, the song and even quoting the lyrics on my blog!

Rae Tweets The 305

Thanking My Past

Knowing my history with computers and data, I made the decision in 2007 to invest in an external drive. This was not an off the shelf consumer device of course, I purchased a 320gb drive from eBuyer and IDE to USB caddy from eBay. Now perhaps I should have had hindsight to future proof this purchase by obtaining an SATA drive instead of the old school IDE but that was not to be a major part of my decision-making process. It was the cost, this was the biggest capacity I could afford at the time. I knew it was a decision only my future self would appreciate. I was talking to Teg from 2013 but unbeknown to me (of 2007), I would be married, living in Slough and working for the biggest software manufacturer services and devices company in the world.

Now having a server, with mirrored drive configuration, did negate the need for a backup drive but I preferred to be safe rather than sorry. I copied all my music and videos and pretty much everything else onto this drive up to the end of 2008. Dagobah arrived in July 2009, so the backup drive was forgotten at my parents place in High Wycombe. My Dad had wanted to place the drive and caddy in the garage, but I had confirmed, that it needed to remain at an ambient room temperature although I’m sure modern drives can last at low temperatures of an English winter. I just did not want to take the risk, because I knew that one day I would need that drive again.

With all the problems I have had with my server of late (it failed again in early January and it took me almost a month to get it back online, with help courtesy of Myles G and a new two terabyte hard drive courtesy of I am still glad many things have been burnt to DVD. My backup regime has been somewhat fragmented but at least I have a backup regime, which is perhaps good in itself. I am able to ‘jump back’ to music videos and TV shows from 2007-8 but the limitations of 4.7GB of data and of course, lack of precious time mean that I only have so much data archived away. This was were the large backup drive came into it’s element. However, in December when I tried to see if I could access the data off it, the caddy failed to work. I needed to buy a replacement but looked for an IDE/SATA hybrid model from eBay. This arrived a few weeks ago but it was not until my server was fully functioning at the beginning of the month, was I able to grab my old drive from High Wycombe and set it all up. I was back baby!

If I could speak to my old self from 2007, I would thank him for having the courage to use not one but two backup mediums. Remember this was a time in my life, when I recorded a great deal of television (albeit standard definition) onto my hard drive. I recall one time in November 2007, catching Beyoncé perform my favourite song from B-Day on Strictly Come Dancing and rushing to from the lounge to my computer to record the segment. Any material over 4.7GB or things I could not categorise into a selection for a DVD burn, remained on the drive. I am so happy I made this decision to copy all my music and video content to an external drive. I now only have a small gap of data missing (the time between 2009 and 2012). The great beauty with digital content though, is apart from some unique and rare features I recorded from the television, most are available to download again or ready to stream from YouTube, if your heart so desires. However, with my bandwidth cap every month, I always prefer the 1080p (full high-definition) downloaded file, which I can stream to multiple devices around the home.

We are perhaps the first generation (of many) whom will have our memories stored electronically in digital ones and zeros and not physical photo albums. We just need to make sure we think about duplicating the effort. One backup will never be enough!

Touchscreen Paradise

Sharing a laptop with my other half is not that bad actually, even as a new age internet geek, I have much better self control to regulate my time online than say ten to fifteen years ago. Plus, I always have my mobile, if there was something urgent I needed to check on Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo! Mail. However, the device is still very much consumption rather than input. You quite quickly hit limits then I need to use the laptop and there is no other option. Transferring an mp3 (or FLAC) file to my music player still requires the laptop but I now have the in-between zone of my Nexus 7 tablet. To say it has changed my life would be an understatement. It has changed everything!

Let me start with a rather basic morning ritual. I read the Metro paper every week day morning, collecting a paper copy at Slough station before I board my train. Now, I just download the latest edition onto my tablet in the morning during breakfast and read at my leisure on the train. To be fair, there are only three sections I tend to read (Quote Of The Day, The Green Room and The Guilty Pleasures) before jumping to the Sports section and read the latest about Arsenal and transfer gossip. Now I no longer have to worry about the paper copy, I have the app which I update every morning.

I have installed the Glimmr app, which links to my FlickR account, so I can show people all of my images (over 6,000 now) that are in the cloud. Absolutely brings the tablet into a new league. Particularly when there are photos that I do not want to display on my work monitor as an example, I can show friends and colleagues on my seven inch screen.

I have finally joined Instagram by downloading the app. I have had an account for many months, wanting to reserve the account “tegala” to ensure nobody took it. Although at the time I setup my account I was hoping to switch to Galaxy SIII. I consider the Nexus 7 as my treat before I finally switch to the SIII later in the year. Most likely once the SIV is released in May. However I do then have a dilemma, what photographs to upload to Instagram. I use FlickR for all my photographs, but I feel I will use Instagram for mobile photographs in the future. Surely somebody will come up with a link between the two, so they can work together.

Finally I need to mention a fantastic UK resource run by Adam. I found it while looking for advice on screen protectors. (Yes I know I have bought a pack of five and still not applied any them to my beautiful tablet (preferring instead to just clean the screen every other day!) The tweeter account is over at @Nexus7UKfans and the fantastic website over at Google Nexus 7 UK Fans.

Gold Dust

I have been in the market for at tablet computer for some time but have been waiting for my perfect moment to invest. However the Gods were consipring against me just before Christmas, with every high street (and most online) retailers out of stock of the Nexus 7. It was going to take me a while to get my hands on the grey box.

On Saturday I had called the John Lewis store in my hometown of High Wycombe and got verbal confirmation of a delivery today. I therefore made sure I was at the store promptly at 9:30am to pick up the item. The dilemma unfortunately for me was that the item was out of stock on the JL website and I could not reserve over the phone with the item not available on the shop floor. Never knowingly undersold apparently. While the sales assistant in Audio & Visual called local stores (Watford is not exactly local but I was willing to drive there on a tablet mission impossible!) I called my wife to let her know about a great offer on a Freesat recorder. It was at this point in the conversation she informed me she had reserved the Nexus 7 at Argos in South Ruislip. I had my next destination for the Google Navigation on my aging HTC Desire.

Google Tablet

Item remains boxed until I secure delivery of screen protector and case. The wait therefore continues but at least the grey box is in my flat and not with Yodel for delivery or sitting in some warehouse in Mongolia.

Hacking MP3 Players

Any true geek (or is the more fashionable modern term – nerd) will want to hack his/her gadgets – whatever they may be! I am no exception to this rule but still find myself shocked at the possibilities of the open source community to come up with ingenious options for a range of rather limited devices (if you stick with the stock firmware).

Most people expect me to own an iPod, they are surprised when I explain I own no Apple products and actually only bought an Pink iPod Mini for my sisters way back in early September 2005 as it was an offer not to be missed by MightyMouse. Instead just over a year later I purchased a Creative Zen Vision:M. Ordered online on Christmas Day 2006. This was a mighty 60gb beast but affectionately called a ‘Fatty’, due to the large casing. Creative would release a thinner model within the space of a few months, so it would match the same thin dimensions of the 30gb model. I missed out but was not that fussed to be honest. It was a beast but I enjoyed the fact that it played any audio or video I threw at it and only the odd older videos had be converted for viewing (which did not take that long on my PC). However, it was only once I started commuting by train (for the first time since November 2004) that I realised that I needed to upgrade. The Zen, as fantastic as it once was, was just far to bulky to bring with me to work every day. The media player actually weighed down one side of my coat. Add to this, the fact that transferring data across involved carrying a USB cradle. While not too cumbersome, was annoying if I left it at home and could not copy across the latest ArseCast on a Friday afternoon. (I have started to listen to the Arsenal podcast by Arseblogger of Arseblog fame every week). I needed a new player and something lightweight would be ideal for the gym.

I did some research and found RockBox. An open source firmware for a variety of mp3 players. Now it was just a case of making sure the device I purchased (or was kindly gifted by Santa) would be compatible.

I discovered the HotUKDeals website in a rather roundabout way, which I feel is worth mentioning. My colleague at Intel, Rich mentioned the website Bitter Wallet back in late 2010. I read it occasionally but soon realised it was run by the same team behind Gizmodo and Gawger. Every day, they would post a Deals Of The Day blog post, powered by the users of HotUKDeals. I checked out this website, which is just a glorified forum with users from all over the country posting offers. Some of them are phantom offers you will not find in your local supermarket but many are insane offers too good to be missed! It was on here on several occasions I noted the SansaClip+ MP3 player on offer at I let my dearly beloved know and looked forward to Christmas Day when I would finally have the player all to myself.

Fast forward five days and I installed RockBox onto the player and finally unleashed the full power of the beast! The firmware enables a number of additional features, installs a database for playback and updates various features in terms of playback (volume, cross fading, advanced play-lists). They have even ported Doom over to the device, albeit plays extremely slowly due to the tiny screen and lack of colour display and high refresh rate. Unplayable but it is not about that, it is proving that such a major PC based computer game from 1993 can be ported across to a tiny device with a little elbow grease in 2011.

Sansa Clip+

I have yet to actually use the device out in the wild, but am looking forward to the endless possibilities. Plus this gives me the perfect excuse to centralise and organise my mp3 collection. For years I tried to organise my collection manually with a folder for each decade. I then flirted with MusicMonkey Gold but I think I am going to start using free option of MusicBee. Much easier to use and many more features. My server has the majority of my albums stored as FLAC (lossless audio compression format) and following on from the demise of LimeWire over a year ago, I have been using MP3 Skull to download my audio. Good for recent releases, it does have limited options in terms of bit-rate, most files are 128kb/s. Trying to hunt down older songs would not be easy, plus the majority of my mp3 collection still resides on my desktop computer at my parents house. I probably will not get hold of that until I actually move into either a bigger flat or house. My 24 gb mp3 player will have to put in a decent innings until that time in the not too distant future!

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