Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Miners Shot Down in Cold Blood

Two years after the Marikana massacre, nothing has changed. The government owes us an explanation and apology, and it needs to name (and fire) the people responsible.
The problem is that the government responsible for this atrocity is too busy robbing the country's resources to worry about a few dead bodies. So much for getting rid of Apartheid.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

My So-Called "Dual SIM" Hisense Phone

I have had a love-hate relationship with my Hisense HS-U970 phone. It's my first smartphone, and so I have enjoyed all the toys and goodies that come with Android. But it has also been a monumental disappointment in one crucial respect: it claims to be a "Dual Sim" phone. It isn't. It's a one-and-a-half sim phone.
If you look at the photo above, you can see it has slots for 2 sim cards, but only one of those slots is capable of 3G data. Nowhere on the Hisense product page or the press release or the Kalahari or Takealot pages does it say anything about this. Neither does the box:
The official Hisense product page claims under "Network" that the phone is "Dual SIM card, dual standby (HSPA/WCDMA/GSM)" and the press release waxes lyrical about how "Prime 1 has dual SIM capabilities, allowing users to simultaneously run two SIM cards from different accounts and networks off a single mobile device." But that's where the hype and the truth diverge. Badly. Sure, there are 2 sim card slots, and each of them can take a sim card, but only one of the slots has (HSPA/WCDMA/GSM) capability. The other slot is GSM only. That means it can do voice, sms messages, and EDGE internet data. EDGE can carry a bandwidth up to 236 kbit/s under ideal circumstances. In practice it's closer to 64k-128kbps.
HSPA provides peak data rates of up to 14 Mbit/s in the downlink and 5.76 Mbit/s in the uplink, twice that of WCDMA. So the difference between HSPA and EDGE is significant: HSPA is theoretically 60 times faster than EDGE. So its not the kind of detail that should be overlooked on a product description (see screen shot below). In my case the problem was even worse, because the phone was faulty and it would not accept my MTN sim card in slot 2 at all. A visit to the Hisense stand at Decorex convinced me that my phone was faulty, because their stand phone (the same model and software version) would accept each sim card in either slot. Not even a factory reset of my phone would fix the problem.
Here is a screen shot of my Telkom Mobile/8ta data connection speed when it is plugged in to slot 2 and only able to connect using EDGE. Not exactly awe inspiring. The same sim card in a USB modem gets excellent speed from the same location (my desk).
Hisense is a multinational company based in China, and the Chinese are notorious for poor quality control, so I knew there was a risk when I bought the phone. But still, I paid R2000 for the phone, so I expect the thing to work as advertised. Unfortunately Hisesnse are lying about the capabilities of the phone. They omit to mention to their prospective buyers that you can select between sim cards, but only one sim card will give you good internet speeds. The other one gives you v-e-r-y s-l-o-w internet speeds.
Note to Hisense PR department: lying by omission is still lying.The box says "HSPA High Speed Internet Acces", not "HSPA High Speed Internet Acces on slot 1 only". It should.
It's only when you open the box and insert two sim cards that you find out that one slot is GSM (good for voice and sms messages) and the other slot is good for voice, sms and data. If you are only going to use the internet for WhatsApp chatting and so on, then slot 2's internet will probably suffice. But don't expect your phone to work properly on the Internet.
The other problem I had with my phone was that whenever the signal strength went below 2 bars (as measured on my old Nokia phone) the Hisense phone lost connection completely. "No Service" it said. This happens in the gym change room (where other users on other phones could make and take calls), in Cresta shopping centre, and in my own office at home. In all these places I have not encountered any problems with the same sim card in my Nokia phone. I will wait and see what happens with the replacement phone.
Update Thuesday 4pm: The courier company has collected the faulty phone for return to Kalahari.com. Waybill no 600684278. In the meantime I am back to using my cranky 2 year old Nokia phone. At least it gets decent reception.
Update Friday: I found a post on Google Plus for a Spanish retailer:
New Arrival @Select Mobiles
Hisense U970 Smartphone
• Model: HS-U970
• Sim: Dual Sim card
• Display: 5.0 inches TFT Capacitive touch screen
• Platform: Android v4.2 Jelly Bean
• Processor: Quad Core 1.2GHz CPU MTK6589
• Ram: 1GB RAM,4GB internal & expandable up to 32GB
• Camera: 8.0MP autofocus LED flash rear & VGA front camera
• Network: GSM/EDGE 900/1800/1900; WCDMA/HSDPA/HSUPA 900/2100MHz GPS: GPS/AGPS
• Connectivity: USB:Micro USB
• Wifi:802.11b/g/n
• Bluetooth: Bluetooth 3.0 EDR
• Sensors: Proximity sensor,Ambient light sensor,G-sensor
• Audio: Headphone: 3.5mm headset connector
• Additional features: MMS,Email,Push Email,Wi-Fi hotspot
• Battery: 2000mAh
• Dimension: 142 x 73.2 x 9.4mm
• Weight: 144g
It seems to me that Hisense global is not being entirely honest about the capabilities of their phones. Deliberately ambiguous specifications are deliberately dishonest.
Update Friday 22nd August: A month after buying the (faulty) phone, I have been told that Kalahari will refund me the full price within 5-7 working days. This is getting ridiculous. On top of that the marketing geniuses at Hisense have asked me to remove my blog post. They really don't "get it", nor do they understand the outrage of a customer who was sold a device that doesn't work, and can't work as advertised.

Monday, August 11, 2014

How Bitcoin Got Me A "Free" Smartphone

I first heard about Bitcoin on the "Security Now!" podcast episode 287 in February 2011, and then in January 2013 episode 388 mentioned Litecoin. I installed the basic Litecoin QT software on my FRAGG computer and asked it to try "mining" Litecoins. I struck it lucky a few months later and earned LTC50, which is worth around R3600 in today's currency. In those days there wasn't much I could do with it, other than use the BTC-E.com exchange to buy Bitcoins. LTC10 buys around BTC0.11, so it isn't exactly a fortune. Litecoin is to Bitcoin what Silver is to Gold.
Later, when I bought my new SQL Server I was able to use the minerd program to do "mining" with a "mining pool", and thereby earn further LTC.
With 8 cores, the Intel Xeon processor was sitting around doing nothing much of the time, so now at least the server could do something useful when it wasn't being a server. I joined the CoinHuntr mining pool, and have been earning a small trickle of currency since April 2013. Unlike Bitcoin, where you need custom hardware to do "mining", Litecoin uses a "memory hard" algorithm that allows ordinary hardware to stand a chance of successfully mining coins.
More recently I heard that PayFast, the payment gateway for www.bookdealers.co.za (and thousands of other online stores), was able to accept payment in Bitcoin. While investigating this for Bookdealers, I discovered they use the bitx.co.za exchange. That was the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle, and finally allowed me to convert my LTC via BTC to ZAR, i.e. turn some of my Litecoins into local currency. Finally I had a means to splash out on a smartphone without spending grocery money.
Kalahari.com has been adertising their Gobii Android smartphones starting at R999, but when I wanted to actually buy one there wasn't any stock. So I looked at the Hisense HS-U970 "dual sim" smart phone instead, since it was only R1,999 and the Gobii 4.5" phone was R1,699. The Hisense phone is slightly bigger, with a faster processor and bigger battery, so it looked like a good deal.
Over the weekend of 20 July I sold some of my Bitcoin on bitx.co.za, and was paid out on the Monday. I ordered my phone on 21st July 2014 from Kalahari.com. After some delay, I had the phone and its free cover by Friday 25th July 2104.

Friday, July 04, 2014

SAPO "Track and Trace" Not Working? Try TrackMyParcel instead.

If you've even been frustrated with the South African Post Office's "Track and Trace" web site not working, I have found a solution that works much better: www.trackmyparcel.co.za
Not only does it handle all the Post Office tracking numbers, but it does the same thing for a bunch of courier companies as well, including Speed Services, RAM, Fastway, BEX and CourierIT. Excellent stuff! Now if only they could get the Post Office to hurry up and deliver the mail on time ...

Thursday, May 15, 2014

We Need More Happy

Music has always had the ability to lift one's mood. These songs in particular are doing that for me right now. The Goldfish song has already reached 1.2 million views. They even wrote a song about it, which has also got plenty of views. Not bad for a South African band. Pharrell Williams has also created the world's first 24 hour music video, even if I can't get the site to work.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Using Sound to Improve Focus at Work

I heard about the focus@will web site on Security Now, a podcast I follow every week. There is a free version at www.focusatwill.com, which is worth trying out. It will play an hour of music that is suitable for background music to eliminate other distractions and help you focus.
I experimented with it for a week or so, and now I have taken the plunge and will be paying $5 per month for the paid version. This gives you an endless variety of music in high quality stereo audio. It doesn't seem to use up much bandwidth, but I'm not about to use it on my phone.
I will give more feedback on this in a week or so, since I am going on a business trip and will be able to see how it helps (or not) in a different environment. In the meantime, check out the interesting articles on their blog, as well as the science primer, which explains the research behind the web service.

Update 20th Feb: One of the joys of living in South Africa is the crappy bandwidth. So around lunchtime the sound starts breaking up, with annoying gaps in the middle of a track, or forcing the player to go to another track. So I have been using TotalRecorder to record an hour or 90 minutes of the selection I play in the morning, and then I play that offline in the afternoon. It also means I have some music on my laptop for those times when I can't connect to the internet.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

I Won't Pay for Gauteng's eTolls

In 1986 I was one of 143 South Africans who refused to serve in the Apartheid army. It is ironic that it is once again time to take a stand against the arrogance and dictatorial stance of the government and say NO to eTolls and their method of collection.
I did not agree to the expensive loans used to upgrade these roads. I did not agree to the expensive "big brother" technology used to monitor which vehicles use these roads. I did not agree to the many kiosks, shopping centre stores and expensive buildings used to collect the tolls. None of them are necessary, nor are the inflated salaries of the bureaucrats who are supposedly collecting these tolls.
I did not agree to the bribes and backhanders involved in the loans and tenders used to build these monuments to government greed and stupidity. I will not, therefore, be party to paying for them. I have not purchased an e-tag, and will not throw away my rights by doing so.
SANRAL has lied to the public about the costs involved, and continues to do so. They have used the eTolls fiasco as an excuse for not maintaining the roads they are supposed to throughout the country. They and the government are siphoning off the fuel levy to line their own pockets and the pockets of their cronies, while they allow the roads infrastructure to deteriorate, which affects the poor and rural people the most. These are the people who voted for the ANC, and who die on the roads as a result of ANC mismanagement and maladministration.
I will not be party to the murder of my fellow citizens through the greed and maladministration of those whose job it is to save lives and build safer roads. Its unconscionable. Its wrong. I won't do it.

This video has already had 325,000 views. Also, check out "For Whom the Roads Toll" by John Clarke.
Update "Black Tuesday" Dec 3: SANRAL is still lying to the public about the costs of eTolls. Today I took a trip to a customer in Rivonia. The advertised price on the highways is R 9.00 because they only display the eTag price. Their web site calculates the cost if I don't have an eTag as R 17.41, but that assumes I have signed over my rights by opening an account with SANRAL, and will pay within 7 days. The ACTUAL cost is R52.17, assuming I pay at all. And now they wonder why I'll refuse to pay. DUH!
Update Wednesday 4 Dec: I called the SANRAL toll free "customer care" line 0800 726 725 and got a reference number 1001819381. The clueless call centre operator quoted me R 17.41 for the trip, and was shocked when I told her to look at Page 7 column 6 of the Government Gazette, instead of column 5, which is what the online eToll calculator uses. I told her to resign from SANRAL and get a real job: even working for Eskom or Tolkom would be better than robbing the public.
My question is simply this: if they actually want to collect R9 to repay the loans and cover the cost of the eTag system, where does the remaining R43.17 go? Their back pocket? Their kickback and bribery fund? Mr Alli's R3 million salary?
Update Thursday 5 Dec: What SANRAL Doesn't Want You To Know About E-Tolls in South Africa
The government has invested R17 billion of the state pension fund in SANRAL. No wonder they are being so obstinate! Once again money trounces common sense.
Update 20th Feb 2014: The muggles at SANRAL made the big mistake of trying to send my wife an SMS demanding money. I called their call centre and told them to remove her cell phone number from their system, and not to send SMS messages or emails because they would be breaking the law if they did so. I also asked the unfortunate call centre agent what possessed her to work for a criminal organisation like SANRAL, and why didn't she get an honest job?
FWIW, SANRAL has yet to send me a single invoice. So much for their billing system. Even the corrupt President Jacob Zuma has said that it needs to be fixed. I guess he needs the money.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Internet Explorer 11 broke my PC

I don't usually use IE, except for doing my taxes, because it is incredibly slow. Fortunately IE11 doesn't work on Windows Vista, or I would be wasting a lot of time reinstalling everything again. But my FRAGG PC gets used for all kinds of miscellaneous tasks, such as developing web sites, playing music or audio books, and so on. Until Wednesday.
That was when the Windows Update facility broke my PC by installing an "important" update: IE11. One of the important functions of a browser is to view web pages, yet IE11 has failed dismally in this task, for reasons I cannot fathom. It won't open a single online web page, not even the "What's New in Internet Explorer" page.
Perhaps IE11 doesn't run on Windows 7 Home Premium 32 bit with 4GB RAM. Perhaps there is some driver or legacy software that is causing an incompatibility. I don't know. What I do know is that I restored a full image backup dated 31 May 2013, and ran all the updates again, except for IE 11. Everything works fine. Until I install IE11. Then it breaks my Audible player, Visual Studio 2012 debug mode, and anything that needs a web site, like DropBox, Google Drive, Last.fm, etc.
If you haven't installed IE11 yet, make sure you have a complete system backup before you do. Like me, you may be needing one. I tried some suggestions at fixing the problem, but neither method worked.
Update Wednesday 20th: Penny's Acer computer runs Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit, and when she shut her laptop down to take it to the shop, it tried for 3 hours to install IE11, and still had not shut down. She left for the shop without her laptop, and I eventually just switched it off. Fortunately the IE 10 installation was still intact, and I was able to hide the IE11 update option.
Penny has asked me to uninstall IE10 altogether, and we'll use Chrome, and Firefox where needed.

Warning: The NSA and 4 million other sick weirdos with "security clearance" have intercepted this page and know that you are reading it.