Archive for category Tech Gadget

News Roundup: Patent Circus; Android’s Security Flaw

In a demonstration of the ridiculousness of our current patent law, Apple is using patent to stifle competition and innovation. In Apple’s claim against one of Android tablet maker Motorola, it does not even have anything to do with hardware or software but only with the aesthetic effect. Apple managed to get injunction against Samsung’s launch in Europe. Tablet is not an invention of Apple. In Apple’s ideal world, all innovation and the burgeoning Android open source and free software innovation should cease so that they can continue to charge more for their iPad than the manufacturer of Android. That’s why the Pirate Party of Canada had proposed abolition of software patent and Electronic Frontier Foundation have been working hard to fight “bogus software patent”. Software developer and industry are being handcuffed by Patent trolls using our antiquated patent laws as their weapons. Microsoft and Oracle is also going after Android using the patent law. It is time we reform our patent law to encourage innovation, not protect anti-competitive business practices. Motorola have also went after Apple. Not sure if it’s a pre-emptive attack on expected Apple’s Patent lawsuit but Motorola have equally dubious claim on such things as antenna design, proximity sensing, and software management. A lot of these stuff are inevitable that it will end up being the same. Like how do you cross the ocean? You build a boat. Can the first one who set sail claim patent and prevent everyone else from crossing the ocean? The obsolete patent law is just slowing down innovation and getting it mired in business malpractices.

In other news, Riley Hassell, a mobile security expert claimed to have identified a security flaw in Google’s Android system. I don’t totally agree with one expert argument that Riley should have kept quiet since there is no fix yet. Microsoft on a lot of cases have been forced to act only after public disclosure by independent security expert. Have their been no public disclosure, only the rogue security expert would know and take advantage of it with people being unaware of it. That way they have a Zero day exploit they can use for longer time. Zero day is a term used to described a security flaw such as viruses or bugs that is so new nobody have a fix for it yet. Without public disclosure, Microsoft and Google might continue to be unaware, or content to fix it at a slower pace. And there are examples of that in the past. In this case, Google still deny a flaw exist. But now that everyone can verify the flaw, if the claim is true, then Google will be pressured to act sooner to fix it. If a fix can’t be done in short period of time, the public still needs to know and decide based on their comfort level whether to use the offending app or not. And Google can help its user by issuing an advisory.

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Breaking the Net/Cell Carrier Duopoly, Plus Other Tips

Over the holiday, I came face to face with the bandwidth cap introduced by major Cellphone and Net carrier in Ontario. Rogers introduced the bandwidth cap immediately after Netflix announced they were coming to Canada. Netflix offers a buffet type option for movies and TV shows. It might not be the latest but 30% of youth in U.S. does not seem to care since they have canceled their cable and satellite in favour of Netflix.

Rogers used to be able to offer their lowest tier plan at 60 GB cap per month with no signs of strain or slow down on their system. They have used the same network for their cables and video on demand service. But suddenly they have dropped their monthly limit to a low of 2 GB/month with $5 /GB charge for going over. The next higher one was originally capped at 60 GB also with higher speed and was first dropped to 25 GB and is now at 15 GB. The third higher up is touted as one for streaming video with 60 GB monthly cap.

But statistics from 2005 shows the average TV viewing hours of Canadian was more than 3 hours daily. So in a month it could easily be about 90 hours. An hour of Netflix video at decent quality takes 1.5 GB. So 90 hours of TV viewing would be 135 GB, way over the 60GB plan or the next 80 GB plan. And that does not even include youtube and other web surfing. Even the Extreme plus of 125GB monthly cap at $70.00 won’t cut it. The highest plan at 175 GB at $100 might do but you are out of luck since you must be subscribed to Rogers cable and own a digital box to be able to get that service.  And if you reach your limit, Rogers embed itself to whatever website you are visiting with half a page of message.  The bottom line is you won’t be able to get rid of your cable in favour of Netflix.  Aside from getting the nice friendly reminder screen hijacking half of your web browser, the speed goes inexplicably slow at times. It reminds me of the good old days,  when high speed internet was just being introduced.

Is it just good business practice on Rogers part or are they being anti-competitive? Just imagine this, Microsoft have been penalized and asked to change its business practice (considered to be anti-trust) because they are using their dominance in the operating software market to marginalize their competitor in web browser and other markets.  In much the same way, Rogers and Bell are using their dominance and control over the internet backbone to keep their competitors out.  Sadly, here in North America, the U.S. FCC is just as bad as Canada’s CRTC in their lack of foresight and understanding of the new technology.  What we need is an independent monitor of the internet backbone to see if there is any substance to major carrier claim and excuses for blocking their competitors traffic. Now with CRTC giving green light to Bell to start metering the small internet service provider, it is just a matter of time before these independent ISP ran out of business.

The internet is expected to move to the wireless realm in the near future. It is considered a more viable solution for providing high speed connectivity to rural areas. Australia’s government is investing large amounts for wireless broadband infrastructure and up to 99% of Australia will be covered by their next HSPA high speed wireless.

Monitoring Your Bandwidth Usage

To monitor your bandwidth usage, you can use network monitoring tools. There are softwares that you can install on your computer. But what if you have a media player in your living room, a gaming console, a laptop, a desktop, a cellphone that connect to your wireless. What if you want to monitor the bandwidth usage from all these devices? One option would be to use an Open-source wireless router firmware called Tomato. This is installed on your router and allow you to see your bandwidth usage, and avoid the surprise message from Rogers. You can also use it to independently verify the usage metering reported by the major carriers.  To use this firmware, you need to have Linksys WRT54G v1-4. It won’t work on newer v5 and higher. Check the site for other routers that would work.  To use this, make sure you know what you are doing or get someone to help you. I have installed this for someone and it works nicely. But use this at your own risk.

Going Around the Duopoly

If you refuse to be dependent on major carrier for your internet and cable/satellite as well as cellphone, there’s a new kid in town and its name is wireless.  New wireless carrier are arriving and offering competitive prices and better deals. And they have more reasonable internet plans also. During the holiday, I came across a Mobilicity ad with special discount of $40 for unlimited voice and data plan including “Blackberry internet”. Regular price is $60. Wind Mobile unlimited voice data plan could be had for $40 as of this time. Mobilicity is offering $40 unlimited internet access plan, allowing you to use your 3G cellphone signal as internet at home or wherever you are. There’s a big caveat at this time. They are fairly new and coverage might be limited. Wind Mobile is also lowering your speed limit if you have already used 5 GB.  They will lower you speed from 7.2 Mbit/s to 512 kbits/s. Mobilicity have no such restriction but better read the fine print just to make sure. You would also need a USB mobile stick similar to Rogers Rocket stick. Just to be sure, ask other existing customers how reliable their internet services are.

So I present the above solution more as a case study than a full recommendation for the new carrier services. If you want to go with them, make sure to do lots of research. The convergence of internet, phone and entertainment medium (replacing cable and satellite) is likely to end up with broadband wireless. There should be a debate as to whether government should have a role to play. And whether it would be better for government to invest in the new internet backbone that is wireless and lease out the backbone to private companies?

Tip on Smartphone

One last tip for people looking to buy a Smartphone. If you just need it for simple web browsing, common applications (like spreadsheet) and GPS functionality. You might be better off with cheaper alternative to IPhone and Blackberry. I know they are the “in” thing and the latest and greatest. But if you are going to be forced to get tied up in 3 years contract to be able to afford these phones you might want to think twice. To sign up for their contract, you would need to get a data plan also. That would rack up your monthly cellphone bill. Do you really need data plan every month?  Or will you be using it every now and then when on the road and would just surf the net mostly at home or wireless hotspots (e.g. coffee shop and hotels)?. Can you afford to pay $600 full price so as not to get tied up in contracts, and would that be worth it?

There are other phones that work as well. For example for $250 you could get a Nokia C6 which has a nice slide out keyboard with track-pad. It runs on Symbian OS 5. It also beat Blackberry in GPS because the device has built-in GPS and you don’t need internet or wireless signal to be able use them, if you have preloaded the map. This is especially helpful if you are traveling and have to pass by dead zones. It even has voice guided direction without paying hundreds for app plus monthly service fee – which seems to be the only option for voice guided GPS on Blackberry right now.

If you are tech savvy or a hobbyist, you might appreciate Nokia’s N900. A phone that runs on Linux and can be overclocked. It also has video output to your TV. N900 frequency range is not compatible with Rogers network but it does work with Wind Mobile.

Other smartphone option includes Samsung Corby and other Android based phones. The Nokia C6 is available at Bell for $250 (non-contract full price). But if they are anything like Rogers, even paying cash for full price would get you a phone locked to the carrier. Hence you might be limited on what app you can download. Much the same as needing to jailbreak IPhone to access uncensored apps. You might have to pay them ridiculous amount of $50 to unlocked YOUR own phone. In that case, newegg.ca might be cheaper since it’s $269.99, just $20 more than Bell’s price.

I have to close this post with a disclaimer. If you are interested in buying anything, always do your own research first. Some facts presented here could change. It is always best to read lots of review online before buying.

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Apple Pulled Wikileaks Apps on Questionable Ground

Apple have pulled Wikileaks apps claiming it is illegal. However, U.S. government up to this point is still not able to state exactly what law Wikileak have violated. They might have to resort to passing new laws to make Wikileak illegal. But that would surely generate outcry from people who still care about free speech and free press.

Apple had also claimed that it might put individual or group in harm’s way. So far the media have been parsing what can and cannot be published so no individual have really been put in harm’s way. Although it does have the side effect of embarrassing government officials and forcing them to be more open and honest.

Update: Apple Insider have reviewed the Apple’s Store Review Guidelines found this line:

Apps that include the ability to make donations to recognized charitable organizations must be free” and “the collection of donations must be done via a website in Safari or an SMS”.

This was not the excuse given by Apple to Business Insider – they have  used the two mentioned earlier. And as PC World had pointed out , if that is the only reason, they could have informed the app developer. If this was the excuse used by Apple to begin with, then maybe it would have seem more legitimate.

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Overpriced Blackberry or Samsung Galaxy S Captivate

As much as I want to support Research in Motion (RIM), they are just way too overpriced. What Blackberry have going for them is secure network and more compressed data. However, they charge much more for a slower system. With new smartphone such as the one from Samsung (Galaxy Captivate S) hitting the shelves at much lower cost than Blackberry, it is hard to justify shelling out cash for Blackberry instead of the more powerful and advanced Smartphone.

Here is a hands-on of the new Samsung Galaxy S – Captivate. A good comparison between the new Samsung phone vs IPhone 4. Seems like Captivate is holding up pretty good against IPhone. But based on user accounts and review, Captivate still have lots of bugs that needs to be worked out.

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Blackberry Playbook + QNX = Winner

I knew Canadian company Research in Motion (RIM) was onto something when they bought the QNX software. QNX is an operating system designed not to go down. So it is used on cars and on critical instruments in the Nuclear Industry. It also handles resources efficiently. Now that Blackberry have announced their feature rich and powerful tablet called Playbook, they have shown the sensationalist media that they are still a serious contender. If they decide to support SD card expansion, then it will put them over the top of IPad. IPad was intentionally designed to have no expansion, inorder to force customers to buy the more expensive model if they want a bigger memory sized tablet. If Blackberry decide to have SD card support on their Playbook, they should go all the way and support SDXC – the next generation SD card that could have capacity up to 2TB and operates faster than current SDHC card.

The Blackberry Playbook will have 2 cameras, one facing the user and another facing the back. I will be surprised if it does not come with the bright LED flash, which should be standard by now. It will also have HDMI output so you can plug it and watch your HD video on your big screen HDTV.

It is just a matter of time before Blackberry Smartphone switches to QNX. I thought Torch and OS 6 is just a transition rushed out so that they have something close to IPhone and Android lines of smartphone while they develop their QNX smartphone.

CNET Q&A about Blackberry Playbook

Slideshow of Blackberry Playbook from PC World

More technical details from Fast Company

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