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 18 month old Nokia phone. At least it gets decent reception, even if it reboots at random.
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.
Update Friday 29th August: The refund from Kalahari finally came through. That was not a good buying experience. Fortunately we have had better experiences with them in the past, so we will be buying books from them in the future. And they can't be blamed for the poor quality control at Hisense.
Update Friday 5th August: I've had the new phone for a week and it seems to be working correctly, except for the slow speed on the second SIM. I'll post a review in a few days.

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 advertising 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 (0.5117BTC) 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.
Update: The phone I got was faulty, and has been sent back to Kalahari. Also, Coinhuntr has closed its doors, so I am now mining with WeMineLTC. The degree of difficulty is much harder this year than last year, so I don't expect to earn more than 1 or 2 LiteCoins this year.
Update Friday 29 August: The refund came through from Kalahari, and I bought a replacement HS-U970 from the M-Web store in Cresta. This one seems to be working, and I'll post a review in a week or so. 
Update 9 December 2017: If I had kept my 0.5117BTC instead of using it on the phone, I could have paid for my car at today's outrageous exchange rate. 0.5117 Bitcoin equals R105,257.46. Hindsight is a cruel thing.