Sunday, December 30, 2012

My super Android phone (versus iPhone 5)

The spec of my Jiayu G3 is discussed in the last post.   A few days into it, I figured out many superior features that Android phones can do while the iPhone 5 can't.

My G3 is untappable!   One weakness of Voip is encryption.  Propriety systems like Skype can easily add encryption.  Google Chat (Talk/Voice) don't have encryption, at least true as of last year.  SIP client like Sipdroid don't have it.

Sipdroid uses a PBX service (like a telephone exchange) that provide VPN.  But they charge for it.  Then there is an Openvpn related service who sells pay-as-you-go bandwidth.  This could be very attractive in comparison to my $6 a month service.  But then they don't support Linux so I have to pay extra on top of my desktop.  Then I discovered that their is the general Openvpn client.  About 5 sec into the app description, I realized that Android being Linux, I can use my existing Openvpn files from my service.  Indeed I just need to drop those key files into the microSDHC card and then file up Openvpn client without hassle.  You can turn it on and off just like any apps with a switch.  And there's a "key" indicator when connected.  Even better than the client on my desktop.

So whatever on my phone will be in a secure tunnel all the way to any of the Kryptotel servers.  From then it's unencrypted to the PBX, which interface with the telephone network.  Nobody can wiretap me like a telephone line.  They have to locate the service that I'm using, and the PBX I'm using, and then monitoring all the traffic.  It should not be easy to find out which connection is mine.  And then the servers and PBXes can be changed easily if needed be.  Of course end to end encryption you can simply use Skype.

BTW, you need to get a microSDHC card for the G3 or else many functions cannot be performed, such as the camera and many clients that need storage!  And without the card, you may think that the USB doesn't work at all other than charging.  Android dropped the old USB drive connection in favor of Media device protocol.  Other phones maintain the compatibility with or without a SD card.  The G3 implementation is simpler.  You don't see any storage from USB unless you have a SD card.

One more thing.  Sipdroid do not do sms / text, which is rather strange.  It used to have or may have, video too, but they took it out or haven't put them back in yet.  But the Sipdroid quality is super for free.  Once setup, you can use *43 for echoing test.  Basically they send you back your own voice once they received it.  I was worrying that it's too much.  But for less than 80 ms, it's like playing echo with a kid.  You tell them to repeat whatever you say face to face.

Google Voice can do text absolutely free that I always know and use.  But it's tricky without a sim card or with a disable sim.  GV setup always assume you have a working phone.  I also worry about multiple logins that will ruin the xmpp to sip protocol conversion.  At the end, I can send and receive text using the GV app. There is an app to integrate that with the native messenger, but tricky without a in service sim card.

As long as Google Voice is free, you don't need to pay anything.  If all else fails and go bust, you can always run your own telephone exchange.  The most popular PBX is Asterisk, which can be run on the $30 Raspberry Pi.  I'm surprised that there is no Asterisk server running on Android, which is a lot more powerful than the Pi at 700 MHz.  Most Android phones are dual core and >1GHz.

Of course I want to stream any of my media collection and any other things to my phone, say if I am in the bathroom.

The standard is DLNA.  There are apps for your Android which acts as a server, client, and controller.  So you can control whatever goes wherever, TV, computer, phones, even in your bathroom.  Apple has it's own standard.  You can do the same if you have iWhatever.  But for TV you still need an Apple box.  Most smart TV supports DLNA internally.

I felt so cheated because my smartTV doesn't support DLNA.  It does but not wifi streaming across your own network.  Worse, some of the same model does support it, depending on the over 20 digit product number!

I was thinking about a media server or a mountable nettop on the TV.  Of course I thought of the Pi too, that turned out to be pretty good at it.  The Pi is 6 years in the making.  While the Chinese strip off the screen of an Android dual-core phone and put everything in a USB sized stick.  The latest one is about US $60.  This is a no brainer.   It's a ready made DLNA server with all the apps you want for it.

It's an awesome chrometop as oppose to a chromebook.  You just need to fire up the chrome browser and you are as good as a chromebook with a huge HD monitor.  Particularly if you have so many computers, chrome is the best OS.  It doesn't matter which computer you use and your work is always on the cloud Google drive.

Basically it's a desktop with a huge monitor.  You can also play Android games with a wireless touchpad keyboard instead of touchscreen.  It can also be another phone by pairing it with a good quality headset.  The TV doesn't need to be on with all voice commands.

That is the reason I didn't go for cordless with extra handsets.  Everybody have cell phones and now at home you don't need to pay anything.  You can also turn the system into a private exchange.  Each cell phone assigned an internal extension like 200,201 .. 202.  You can do intercom too.  These are supported by PBXes but I'm not sure about the charge.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Android phone Jiayu G3 and VOIP app review

My Jiayu G3 android 4 phone has arrived.  At 1280x720, it has more pixels than the iPhone 5.  At the front, it uses Gorilla glass as in the iPhone 5.  It's constructed from light weight alloy (aluminum?) just as the iPhone 5.  The back cover is plastic but well protected by the metal frame.  Somebody called it QHD that is wrong.  QHD is 960x540.  This is the same as 720p TV.  While 1080p HD may be called full HD or HDX (Vudu).  Somebody called it retina display.  The G3 has more pixels but half an inch wider than the iPhone 5.  Whether it's retina, you can do the math.  I don't care.  I'm not losing any pixels if I watch Vudu in HD.

What made it so popular is the price.  At well under US $200 (no contract), it is an entry level phone used by students.

The external appeal carries on to the camera at 8MP, and the very decent front camera.  Both are high end specs like the Samsung Galaxy III.  The cams look good but I can't try them without a micro SD card, up to 32 GB.

What make the price low is the lack of 4G, which doesn't make a lot of sense outside of US and Europe without substantial 4G coverage, and for incompatible standards.  It's 3G so there is decent data speed.

It's dual core, but the bench mark is at the low end of current Android phones. I got call during game playing without lagging.  I could have chosen cheaper single core CPU but dual core gives me more assurance for a home phone.  The advantage of dual core may not show up in the benchmark.

It's a pretty good toy - watching movies better than the iPhone 5, the same camera resolution (though quality depends on other factors), and a very decent video phone.  It's a pretty game console with a much better screen than the Nintendo's.  It's weak at 3D graphics compared to high end Android phones because of the cheaper GPU.  But then the phone is for a landline, not a game machine.

Now for the VOIP software.  I only tested those apps that work with Google Voice.  If you are new, you want to create a new Google account so you have nothing to fear if you give out your password to 3rd-parties.  Then you create a Google Voice account and get a phone number.  You can port your wireless number to it.  For landline you need to port it to wireless first.  You need at least a working phone number to associate with a Google Voice account.  (But you don't need this associated account once you are verified.)

You should create a GV account first before you install the VOIP apps.  You have to login using a browser and set forwarding to Google Chat only.  And then you need to logout, otherwise incoming calls are routed to your PC.

The apps I tested are Sipdroid, GroveIP lite, and Talkatone.  All 3 will ask you for the GV account name and password.  Sipdroid ask you if you want to create a PBX account first.  You need to say yes to work with GV.

Sipdroid is most integrated into the Android OS.  It's hard to stop it from running.  Any attempt to call will reactivate it again.

I use the 1st echo test number to test the voice quality.

PSTN Test Numbers


  • 1-909-390-0003 - Ontario, California - Echo Test - No Ring, Immediate Echo


  • Send faxes to 1-888-877-1655 or 1-503-200-1300


  • 44-785-584-1311 - Voicemail on UK mobile. If you pay more than $0.10 to call this, see Avi Marcus


  • 972-72-264-1749 (temporary)- FreeSWITCH echo test via 012 on UK server, by Avi Marcus
  • 972-72-264-1751 (temporary)- FreeSWITCH standard MOH via 012 on a UK server, by Avi Marcus


  • +883-510-000-000-091 - Blueface Echo test


  • - Mouselike Sound Test - echo and others.
  • or for Iptel's echo test
  • sip:hangup$ - trigger a hangup of your choice, e.g. USER_BUSY
  • - "transfer your telemarketer calls to lenny to take care of !!!!" - it's random voice that talks during quiet times. 
The best voice quality is Sipdroid.  The worse is Talkatone.   It should be noted that the voice quality depends on things like traffic, routing and server.  But at least I'm trying them one after the other.

GrooveIP only supports G.711, which is the standard PSTN (landline quality) codec.  The excuse is that Google Voice supports that codec only.  This is not very true as we shall see.  Sipdroid supports the grand daddy of wideband codecs - G.722, the oldest HD voice standard.  There are other codecs that is designed for packet loss.

Delay and echo is a problem in VOIP calls.  The delay is obvious if you compare your old landline and Sipdroid via the echo test number.  It's like the other end starts to hear "one thousand", right after you finished saying "one thousand".  The delay is much shorter with landlines.  I don't think it's crippling.  I hope so.  And I think that this delay isn't noticeable when you actually don't hear yourself when not in the echo test.  The delay is about the same with GrooveIP and Talkatone.

The advantage of Sipdroid is that it displays the codec inuse, the % packet lost and the delay.  The delay is 80 to 110 ms so far.  Round trip or not I don't know.  This may not meet landline standards, but I think it's regarded as a problem in VOIP if the delay is greater than 200 ms.

If somebody dial your GV number via PSTN (analog), the G711 codec will be used by Google Chat to forward the call.  There's no advantage to use better codecs.  If you dial out from Sipdroid, Google Chat will settle for G.722, which then downgrade to G.711 if the number you called is PSTN.  The echo test service is obviously supporting G.722 because I get much better quality with Sipdroid than with my PSTN landline.

There are other important settings if you need Sipdroid to work well.  Typically, the PSTN side will hear echoes of themselves.  You don't hear your own echoes because smartphones have echo cancellation at the endpoint.  The PSTN echo is due to their voice from the earpiece coupled to the mic on your Android phone.  This can easily be reduced.  Fire up Sipdroid and use the setting menu.

For some phones the receiving volume is weak even on highest setting.  In this case you need to set the earpiece gain to high.  If you two echoes in the echo test, the first one is the wanted echo for the test, the 2nd is the unwanted, annoying echo.  You set the mic gain to low to reduce the unwanted echo.  Usually you won't be able to hear the unwanted echo after that.  Or, the unwanted echo is hardly noticeable unless you listen hard for it.  You can set the earpiece gain to low to further reduce any echoes, provided the ear piece volume is still sufficient.

The speaker phone won't work for any apps.  I think it may work if both are decent Android phones with echo cancellation.  But I can sacrifice this.  Most of the applicationis, I can use skype, conference calls, and bluetooth headsets instead.

GV is reliable so far.  May be the phone rang sooner than cell phones.  Voice transcript to email takes less than a minute I think to reach my phone.

Now the remaining is porting.  By law you can port your landline to wireless.  Even the cheapest prepaid should accept your request.  They can delay but cannot screwup.  My good old favorite is the Go phone prepaid.  Then you can port from wireless to Google Voice.

BTW, Google announced that Google Chat calling is free for US and CA in 2013.  This does not mean that GV is free too.  There is still no announcement on the GV blog.

Monday, December 24, 2012

In praise of the 900 MHz cordless phone

When my new Android SIP VOIP landline phone is on the air shipping, let me take the time to praise my old 900 MHz cordless phone, which prevailed several challenges.

When I was in my relocation apartment, I got my hands on a 3rd generation cordless at 900 MHz.  The 1st 2 generations analog cordless are useless.  That Panasonic sounded good, same as corded.  It hold well, actually even better because of the size and quality plastic.  That was 1998 !!!

Before carrying further, I have to tell the story of the razors.  My father uses one blade razors for all his life.  I do the same rather than power shavers, which doesn't do the job well, and still doesn't.  Suddenly, dual blade shavers came out.  I tried it because I have no choice.  It was free.  It seemed good.  Then all of a sudden triple blades.  Now, if you still don't think that 4 or 5 blade razors is a scam, you must be stupid.  They got away with it for far too long.

When I got my own house several months later, I decided to get the same phone.  It sound good and it feel good.  And my budget was tight.

At the time, manufacturers ganged together to get you to replace your cordless phone.  The Europeans always have DECT, the digital cordless standard which will be similar to the US 900 MHz digital.  But DECT guarantees compatibility among manufactures, and cover necessary standards such as encryption.

Following is the standard sale pitch at the time.  Digital is of course better.  High frequency is better, like 2.4 GHz.  Spread spectrum is even better.  Later the ultimate monster 5.6 GHz spread spectrum came out.  I am sort of an insider so I know.  This is nothing more than 5-blade razors.

Digital will be better, but if you don't have interference problems, the voice cannot be better than the phone line and depends very much on the quality of your mic and earpiece. Higher frequency have shorter range and have more problems to overcome.  2.4 GHz is the microwave spectrum.  Early and not so early wi-fi all stopped whenever I was cooking something in the microwave.  So you don't need higher frequency when the spectrum is not crowed.  The crowd never came on my 900 MHz.

Spread spectrum in cordless is never the intended use of spread spectrum.  FCC limits the power of every phone so as not to interfere with each other or with other services.  By transmitting a wideband signal, the total power is increased very much and created a phone with a monster range that the rest of the world never need.  Most people in US don't need it too.  If you have a house of farm that is measured in acres, and you want every inch of it covered with cordless signal, then it's for you.   But it make more sense to carry a cell phone when you go horse riding, and add a repeater for reaching the out house at the far end that you will likely ever take a call.

The salesman started the pitch on me when I walked near the cordless section of the store.  I resisted it and picked the Panasonic that I can spot on the shelf.  The saleman walked away disappointed and commented to other saleman that "they are difficult".  I came prepared and I knew the pitch well.

Today, 2012, it still sounded better than any other phone I have.  And I'll be still keeping it in 2013 in case that I have to revert to using ATA for VOIP.

For an uninterpreted service of 14 years, the 1st hurdle is the battery.  People are still buying custom battery packs from the manufacturer.  People are still replacing their phones because their battery ran flat, costing not much more to replace the phone than the battery pack.  But the batteries are standard NiCd batteries.  You just need to keep the connector and solder the new rechargeable battery together and to the connector.  NiMH batteries are better and compatible with the phone charger.  Well, at least you need a cheap continuity tester (like a light bulb) and a soldering iron.  But I got those already.

We are the 1st on the street to get cable telephone service, and cable TV and Internet.  We use their digital services like answering machine.  Not too long after the phone, we realized that we need call screening and an answering machine that we alert and operate locally, and we need caller ID.  Instead of replacing the phone, we added to it an answering machine.  We got it because it was cheap but it ended up as resilient as the phone.  It have no hi-tech screen but a talking caller ID.  People are amazed by the convenience of this feature on the latest version of digital cordless today.  Some smartphone apps have it too.  The UI is totally via voice prompt.  You can set everything by following the voice.

Many times we wanted to scrap the old phone and answering machine and replace them with a digital cordless with answering machine and a caller ID display.  Every time I was deterred by the silliness of the cordless sale pitch and the bank of 5.6 GHz spread spectrum on the shelves.  If I don't buy one of those silly things, I am cheap.  I am cheap anyway so it doesn't hurt if I keep my favorite phone.

Also, I hate to give up the talking caller ID.  Yes, we can still use it even if we replace the phone.  But the one time I actually ordered a replacement is when I found a tiny phone with answering machine that can save a lot of space on the kitchen counter.

Again the main reason to replace the phone is because the phone is directly programmed to use some cheap international call providers.

It must be a conspiracy.  The caller ID of the cheap phone does not work with my "digital" phone company.  The phone is very small, made of very cheap plastic and designed like a square bar with ugly buttons.  I only tolerate it because we wouldn't be using it much. 

Instead of upgrade to a 5.6GHz spread spectrum, I dug up the old phone and answering machine from the garage.  I could have sold them or donated to charity for the blind.  The buttons are big to huge and you can use voice to setup everything on the answering machine.  And remember that the caller ID is speaking. 

Many years have past when the Sunrocket came.  It's a no brainer as my phone bill can be cut in half or a third.  They came in a big way so there was less worry of it going bust in a short time.  But I was wrong.

I decided against a ATA (analog telephone adapter) as I will be still keeping my old favorite junks plus a new box.  A wife cordless phone will be most sensible.  I know  the ATA's can be unlocked to use for other service providers but it made no sense to me.  So I finally got a new digital cordless phone with a caller ID display.

I was so happy with it that with difficulty I found an extra handset for it.  Both the "base" and the extension handset are from target.  But by then it's not easy to find the extra handset, as Sunrocket isn't promoting itself and any shops that still promote that thing will run the risk of being called scam.  Soon after that Sunrocket folded.  Those new toys became useless junk and I have to dig up my old favorite junks out once again.

The Sunrocket junks aren't that useless.  They can still be used as intercomm.  They can be used as walkie talkie outdoors.  Though you  have to bring an inverter to charge the base in the car.  They are a bit bulky but being digital, better than analog walkie talkies.  They may be still around but I haven't saw them for years.

Again many years have passed when my old favorite junks are challenged again.  Although I have been using Google Voice on my cell phone for years, Obi ignited my desire to ditch my phone company.  You get free calls for $40 one off!  Why not?  On closer examination, free calls rely on the Obi server to bridge Google Talk XMPP protocol and the SIP protocol.  They are in a way promising you a forever free service after you pay them $40 for a device.  If Obi ran out of business, you are high and dry.  And then I will still be using my analog phone without a caller id display.

It just happened that the Gigaset SIP DECT cordless phone is on the market for a deep discount.  I got the last one on Amazon.  If you know the history of Siemen, you may also want to own a piece of history of good engineering.  The hardware has to be good.  And it was.  Not so sure about the user interface.  And it was bad.

I got the Gigaset because I was mislead by one reviewer that the Gigaset works too with Google Voice so you can make free calls.  It would be a much better choice than Obi.  Digital all the way.  If you use the Obi, the output will be the same old analog signal from the phone company, and then you may digitized it again via DECT or the silly 5.6 GHz spread spectrum.

It was not to be.  The geek way of landline replacement doesn't mean the same as my requirement, that 1st graders can make calls and especially emergency calls.  Free calls depends on Gizmo, which provide the same service as OBI does to Google Voice.  But GV brought Gizmo and that service stopped.  There's one guy who provided the same OBI bridging service to anyone.  But it didn't work and it won't be reliable anyway.

There are other SIP providers.  Some charge over a hundred to lock you for a year.  Some calls are very cheap but you have to pay $10 credit up front anyway.  Generally I have no confidence as nobody comes out as the clear winner.  I have a limited window to return the phone.  Most of the SIP providers programmed in the phone went out of business.  Does it say something to you?

The UI is pretty crap compared to a smartphone.  Because of the display size, it's crap compared to a $15 go phone !!

After communicating with the seller and Siemen's, they can't recommend any good SIP service so I returned it.  My analog 900 MHz survived another challenge!

I stumbled on two technologies that I liked.  HD voice or wideband voice that every VOIP phone is capable of, but not traditional landline nor Obi.  SIP and DECT - the all digital cordless.  I really wanted to keep it as a piece of good engineering history, as you see what the company is going through.  The division won't be there for long.  To their credit, support returned my emails promptly though they are repeating the instructions on the manual.  Their SIP server still working for free calls between their own products.  The seller told me that he knew nothing about the product, and gave me full refund after consulting his manager.

I gave up on wideband voice on SIP.   The Obi?  Maybe.  Then I stumble upon the latest Panasonic cordless.  It's DECT on the US frequency band.  The one feature that worth buying is that it can be used as a bluetooth headset for your cell phone at home.  It is pretty cool when you are at home you can take your calls off the cordless without doing anything.  Then I found out that the latest latest model is on sale on the Panasonic site for a huge bargain.  It even have talking caller ID.  It's a no brainer.

I was so sure that my 900 MHz will finally be RIP.  All the functions are replaced, direct replacement at less than $70 for two handsets.

But before it arrived, I changed my mind and cannot get over wideband voice.  And I thought of getting an unlocked Android for making SIP/VOIP calls via Google Voice.  There are multiple apps for that so it won't go down as easily as Sunrocket.  I have nothing to lose if it doesn't work out.  I can upgrade my cell phone as this phone has more pixels than the iPhone 5.

As of today, I'm still using my 900 MHz cordless.  Indeed I just called Apple to return an iPad 2.  I can't believe that iPad 2 is older than the "New" iPad.  What are you thinking?! You think everyone on earth is following your limited product line?  I never lay eyes on an Apple product since the Apple IIe.  And I don't listen to any talks about them.  It's a gift for 2nd grade kids.  They deserve all the candies this year.  I have my iPhone killer for adults.

Google Voice cannot charge you in 5 days time

I have no bias whether GV remains free or not.  If it's free, I can have a free landline.  If it charges, it will be a reliable VOIP provider that I can rely on for cheap calls.  Remember Sunrocket?  If it charges more than the business SIP/VOIP rate, they won't have corporate customers.  Same for high volume residential rates.  For low volume users, I really don't care whether it's 1c or 2c per minute.  I just want to drop my landline for $30 a month for nothing much.

GV still haven't announced anything yet.  It's not obviously purely base on business decisions of the unit alone.  If it is, they have to and can make a decision long ago.  GV have to sync with the internet strategies of the other main units.  Perhaps they deliberately make announcement randomly at the end of the year to discourage independent developers or users to rely on their current from of service.  You are grateful that they are still here and still free.  You won't complain and ask for more.

To start charging, they just can't tell current customers you have to pay in 5 days time.  If they start charging, they have to provide a whole department of customer services.  They cannot discriminate landline users who want to port.  They have to provide XMPP to SIP gateway like Obi, which is trivial.

I just realized a few things in the Google internet strategy.  DLNA and Google@home.

Every Android is connected to the internet, via wifi or wireless data.  Everyone of them are selling ads unless you only use smartphones for dumb phone calls.

More Androids means more revenue.

Every Android since xx.x supports DLNA, enabling your smart TV to play a slide show of photos on your hardware connected to your PC or file server.  You can listen to music on your phone, streaming from your PC or file server or media center.  All the smart TV supports that.  Being Apple, they have their own incompatible standard.  So if you want to streaming your music to where you work, Android is for you.  I don't know if it works that way now, but it should.  Windows supports DLNA since 7, and pretty good at it.  Being Microsoft, it must be lagging behind to use an establish standard.  I'm sure Windows Mobile OS will support it.  Anyway, I think you should be able to control DLNA devices with your phone, whatever it is.  I think Apple will lose out in the long run, needing a box to connect to your TV, while DNLA TV's don't need a box.

Google@home go after home automatic via wifi, using Android as the controller of course.  $50 a light bulb is laughable, but people have been paying that for a switch.  Home automation using power line like X10 are unreliable, or expensive like Instanton.  There are newer wireless standards but not doing well.  All of these lack a controller with decent UI.  Android is the answer.  Home automatic may not be the killer app, but home security system apps sure will have much more users.

Apple got there first with the iPhone, but they have nothing other than devices.  And so they try to lock in customers by their own standards.  Grocery are great apps with a large user bases.  Imagine you can use your Android to monitor everybody's alarm system!

Microsoft have the power to play catchup like the xbox with kinect.  With Windows phone sure there are some advantages when you are using Windows on your desktop, provided if you don't hate it.  But at the end, what do you want from Windows on your phone?  Using Microsoft Office?  Google office on the cloud is a much better and reliable choice for people on the go.  Gone are the days when secretaries are proud that they can do different headers on even and odd pages.

I was surprised that Microsoft want to be more like Apple, device oriented.  Yeah, perhaps they know they lost the internet war to Google.  Google may not be more profitable, but they just need to dug the trenches and hold up.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Google making big waves in 2013

A few days after my prediction that Google Voice will be free for 2013, another person at CNBC put it all together.  Google will lead a phone price war in 2013. This fits well with my prediction.  That Google is after something big and Google Voice is part of its overall strategy.  Charging for Google Voice isn't worth it's time and effort.

I just find out that Republic Wireless offer $19 per month for unlimited everything!  The phone is Moto Android at $250.  It will automatically use wi-fi if available.  It is of course a Sprint reseller.

Firstly, the unlimited data is a bit suspicious.  I don't think it's 4G, but 3G.  Sprint is struggling, rolling out services like this and the landline replacement immobile cell phone at Walmart.  You can see how Google works.  It owns Moto.  Moto may not be that profitable, but with the "custom" hardware, the Republic Wireless plan cannot work, and Google cannot increase it's presence.  A guy in the same newspaper said Google have no mobile strategy.  What?  Android is staring in his face.  Window mobile OS has a long way to catch up even if it works.  And Apple have nothing.  Unless it has some secret innovations, it is just a phone maker and now the phones from China are below $199 with better specs than the iPhone 5.  (though no 4G)

Once the monthly charge drops significantly below the $30 mark and for reasonable usage like unlimited, more people will drop their landline.  Your are better off buying an extra cell phone.  The Walmart plans will only work if they give you better voice quality than cell calls, perhaps via data network.  They didn't say so.  For $99 you get an adapter.  For $250, you get an Android.

The same article said VOIP won the landline war, and VOIP via mobile data will do the same.  I sort of agree but there is no profit in it for big guys to provide VOIP for low volume residential lines.  There is no obvious winners in this market.  There is just confusion and doubt.  I totally agree that you only need data, and the mobile bill can be slashed by 2/3!

That supports my Android for landline plan.  It's mobile VOIP but I don't intend to take out, so I'm not paying a dime for service, other than my ISP.  If they have a data plan only for a few dollars a month, I'll try it.  All carriers and resellers force you to buy something you don't need.  Even Republic Wireless force you to buy their Moto sprint phone.

But Sprint (Virgin) prepaid Anodrid phones are well below the $100 mark.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The road to an Android landline

There is the prequel of got burned by Sunrocket, got a very cheap all in one cordless that doesn't work with caller ID from my "digital" phone company.  I tried and returned a very good SIP DECT phone.  And returning the latest Panasonic cordless for a restocking fee.  (Can't sell it on eBay or Amazon)  I'm still using my 900MHz cordless and talking CID answering machine.  That's a long story.  But the talk of getting crowded in the 900MHz spectrum and interference is bull shit.  It never happened and now may be I'm the only one in that band.  Well, that depends on where you live as well.

I had done some research.  It's doable but not straightforward.  You may not get high quality voice all the time.  But I have no doubt that my wife and kids can use it like the good old phone.  Indeed I think that will be easier as tablets are so popular.

The latest cordless are cool.  They can be used as a bluetooth headset for cell phones.  Basically you can take mobile phone calls using the phone at home.  But why?  The cell phone is capable of better voice, infinitely better user interface.  If you want comfort, you can always use a bluetooth headset.  And then the adapter.  ATA means analogue telephone adapter.  Not cool.  The DECT cordless specifications includes SIP VOIP and codecs.  But you need to get a SIP DECT phone.  DECT phones alone will be designed for your "analog" landline.

Google is confusing.  It has to be.  If it wants to be a carrier, it could get anti-trust treatment.  Of course other carriers are dealing with it carefully, like blocking Google Wallets.  The project with Dish to provide wireless data says it all.  Interestingly, the Google apps don't work very well on iPhones.  Now they have the hardware (Moto), the software powering more than half of the smartphones, whose owners are paying for the 4G network.  And they are carriers too!

All Androids are capable of wideband voices for over a year now, somebody said.  Android 4 and above is safe.  But I would think earlier models are OK if you need to hack it a bit.

Somebody said Google Voice only supports G.711, the narrowband codec fit for POTS.  That's surprising as I checked that Google Talk supports many wideband codecs.  Somebody else said that GV shouldn't matter if you do not use it "directly".  I sort of know that GV isn't an application, but some redirecting service that shouldn't negotiate the codec directly.

The bottom line is that I hear rather good quality.  The sipdroid reports that it is using G.722, the grandfather of wideband codecs.  It doesn't make a lot of sense as I was talking to my old phone on the old line.  That's the problem of echo, background noises, input and output levels.  Some apps just don't work.  But they can be overcame.  Somebody says G.722 isn't suitable for mobile data or Wifi because of packet loss.  Other codecs will be better.  But my Wifi is at home totally under my control.

Also, the Wifi range is roughly 100ft indoors while DECT is at least double or more.  I don't think that matters too much for my house.  Extenders can't cost much more than routers.  And you can always bring out the darn cell phone or the sim card when you are going to the extremes of your estate someday.  Also, the router should support the newer n standard and with more than 1 antenna.

First, the phone.  I decided against a tablet because that would not be suitable for kids' hands.  Games will always be played.  On the other hand a big phone will be good, with length and weight more similar to the old phone.  The longer distance between earpiece and mic might just be improving the echo problems.

A resolution of 720 HD will be preferred.  That's the highest resolution you can get now.  So my younger kids with nobody to call will not bother me to get a cell phone because they want to play games.  A decent front and back camera wouldn't hurt as they will be used for video phones.

Android 4.0 and above will be easier to maintain/update and likely wideband voice capable.  I would think dual core will be safe to run all the apps, codecs and play games at the same time.  Also I think Skype needed the power for peer to peer.

A Chinese made phone fit the bill.  It's 3G only without 4G.  But I don't need any G.  It cost about $200 if you are brave enough.  I was willing to risk it on DHgate but my bank didn't seem too eager.  I know paypal dropped them in August and never accepted the others.  Any my bank sort of intercepted the online transaction in the form of a security check.  I confirmed but they seemed to decline the payment anyway.  I ended up with several orders of the same thing.

Those guys have a different mentality and I don't blame everything on them.  It's like you made a honorable decision, and you cannot cancel in a few days' time.  What?  I didn't even paid!  Some companies over here asked for 50% restocking fee.  You are lucky if they accept returns.  Android Nazi's.

It's interesting what they are selling on their own sites inside China.  Of course the biggest promotions are on the famous Brands like Moto and Samsung and of course iWhatever.  Of course they cost more than from here.  They also classify phones into political incorrect catagories - Men's phone, Women's phone and Student's phone.  You will be humbled when you check your own model.  What do you think their idea on the under $100 Virgin's prepaid Android?  For Virgins?

The score for now.  1 returned SIP/DECT.  1 pair of link to cell Cordless on sale.  4 orders of the same 1280x720 4.5" Android.  One unconfirmed payment possibly declined.  I was willing to pay $50 extra for the same thing but now probably will not make it for Christmas.

Let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The compelling reason to replace your POTS landline

HD Voice.

For low volume users, cost isn't the compelling reason.  Look what happened to Sunrocket, when I was a user too.  If you charge lower than the minimum Vonage charges per month, obviously it's hard to survive.  If you don't talk much, there's no reason to move over to Vonage paying about the same.

There's a lot of SIP VOIP providers, but the market is a mess.  I'm not doing it again after Sunrocket.

Wireless carriers are now offering you cheap landline replacement by giving you a huge cell phone that you cannot take outside.  It's cheaper but the quality is not as good as POTS.  You have to buy the adapter that's a sort of "contract" or activation charge.

I recently got and returned a SIP phone.  I love my voice for the first time with the echo test.  I don't trust any providers and can't work with Google Voice like my POTS landland.  So I returned it.

Many users have experienced HD voice via SIP or other forms of VOIP such as Google Talk, Skype and other chat clients.  Now wireless carriers are starting to provide it.

It's the cool factor.  You may have a silly 5.8 GHz cordless in every room.  But it's not cool.  You can't get HD out of the phone line.  But you can from the Internet (also wireless data, same thing.)

It's compelling when someone call you, and your gadget don't have any wideband codec to respond.

And you can get it all free.  Two compelling reasons.  No configuration.  Three ...

Landline replacement means many things to many people.   Replace it with wireless means you are getting rid of the landline altogether.  There's a lot of reason to keep a landline.  If you have a family and small kids who have no cell phones yet.  Even for a couple it's worthwhile to have a landline.  Basically the call is for whoever is in the house, as oppose to an individual.  It's free, so why not.

My landline replacement and enhancement means moving over to VOIP.  By replacement I mean small kids can pick up the "phone" and dial anyone (including 911) with a phone number.  The outgoing caller ID will be what you expect as a landline.  Of course anyone can call you with your phone number anytime.  Even if you ditch the landline altogether, it's good if you can automatically have HD voice at home using the same cell phone.

Never buy any VOIP adapters, even if they work with Google Voice.  You don't get wideband voice by using the same old analog phone. 

I don't know why SIP phones are so expensive.  Cordless SIP phones are more expensive.  It doesn't make much sense with a SIP adapter, and then plug in your super DECT phones or spread spectrum cordless phones.  The adapter output is analog, and behavior exactly like the good old landline.  I got a cordless gigaset which integrates SIP with DECT.  That make more sense and I got it at a huge discount.  I got HD voice on it.  But the UI is too poor compared with, say, an android.

What make more sense is Wifi SIP phone.  But why are they so expensive?  Business people still in business can pay more?

It dawned on me that every Android phone is a Wifi SIP phone.  I checked and there is native support on it.  But like a SIP phone, you must pay a SIP provider.  When you receive a call to your GV number, Google don't convert the protocol to SIP and redirect to your phone.  It's trivial.  You can't even dial out without paying the wireless carrier, but you can use Google talk on any computer connected to the internet.  It doesn't make sense and may be I'm wrong on the last bit.

So Google is doing most of the work, the most being giving you a number that people can reach you.  But Google don't provide the last mile.  The work that Obi did is trivial.  It's like login for you in a computer, receive the GV call, and convert the protocol to SIP to send to your IP.

There are actually a lot of apps on the Android that do the same thing.  Either free hoping you pay for the premium SIP services, ad supported, or one off like the Obi.  So if one server is down and out of business, you have some backup.  And you can always fall back to Skype.  Now Skype added outgoing caller ID, but to get a number you need to subscribe, and I don't know if they can port your number now.  I have a single core Android that don't work well for Skype.  But SIP is simpler and works well without peer to peer.  Though why people don't make a standalone Google talk phone without the video?

An OBi cost $40.  A new Android is as low as around $80 for prepaid Sprint (Virgin).  Paying $40 extra for a Wifi phone is a no brainer.  I don't know how the basic Android performs with HD codec.  But for sure I will buy a dual-core expecting some kids will be playing on it or watching youtube, making sure calls will not be dropped.  The Walmart landline replacement cost $99 and you HAVE to pay $15 each month.  Verizon has the same thing which is basically the same hardware I think.

I have mentioned that connected to the internet GPS are quite accurate for E911 if you are in a single family house.  I will further say that to nominate a household on the street to keep the landline.  My phone line is basically the same internet fibres as the cable company provides everything.  And after the Sunrocket incident, I'm fairly sure they punished me by giving me an internet adapter at the box, rather than giving me back the old line, which has more degree of separation with the internet fibers.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Google Voice will be free for 2013

That's my educated prediction.

If GV charges, it will be competing with SIP companies, who are dropping like flies with new small flies to replace them constantly.  Google won't do that unless they are short of cash to keep the service.   They aren't short of that type of cash.  And they could find some way to find cash for that, like advertising in GV in some form like gmail.

GV will be used for something big, much bigger than competing with half dead small fishes for 1cent a minute.  Not, unless they have to care for the small changes.

To understand the Google conspiracy, you have to take off the sim card of your Android Phone and look at the screen.  What do you see?

Emergency service

Got it?  Google is not interested in landlines because they are NOT connected to the INTERNET.  And Google will be very careful not to upset wired and wireless carriers and ISP's.  Google will break out in a big way when they have to power to call the shots.

What landline replacement?  That's a silly thing to do.  Think about landline enhance.  Got it now?

Only the poor will replace their $30 landline with $15 wireless landline from Walmart.  Or buy Obi to use with GV.  May be add a state of the art cordless phone system in all rooms.

Your Android phone is the best landline replacement & enhancement.  You can immediately download sipdroid or talkatone apps and try it with GV.  No configuration needed other than giving out your password to GV.  (You can always create a new gmail/gv account for that.)  Sipdroid will give you HD Voice for free.  Every Android phone have decent mic and earpiece and power for codec/equalizer if needed.  Landline carriers cannot compete because they cannot give you wideband signal without changing all their system.  Phone companies are usually also ISP's.  They are not providing you very cheap phone calls on their internet unless they are forced to.  Others have to do it.  And that's the reason they drop like flies.  Remember sunrocket?   No business uses landline anymore because they heavy use justify moving over to sip internet.  You can't squeeze money out of cheap home users who are not willing to pay $30 a month.  Sunrocket found out the hard way.

A spare cheap Android is on the way to my home. That will be the landline enhancement, ditching narrow band voice to wideband voice.  And that's not the type of replacement people have been talking about for years.  It's the kind of replacement that little kids can use and can call 911, just like old POTS.  The caller ID of both incoming and outgoing will be exactly as Grandma expected.  No fiddling.  Just pick up the phone and press the virtual number pad.

As for E911, I don't even want to spare $1 a month for SIP providers.  Check the google map on the Android.  The GPS with aid from internet is right at my house most of the time.  At most it goes to the yard of my neighbor.  Power backup and phone backup are all figured out.  I have to admit traditional landline are more reliable but ... old phone companies dont maintain rural areas that much, and new phone companies are also ISP's.  Go figure.

I shouldn't give out too much.  But Sprint is rolling silently rolling HD voice on mobile.  Iphone is capable but carriers are not interested.  I will tell you more when I dumped all my cordless / answering machines on ebay.

You can't use Google Voice on mobile phones without going through the carriers and pay for it.  You know what Google is dealing with.

A spare Android connects to the internet via wifi.  Once on the interent you can use GV at will without paying anybody a cent.  Carriers rule the air, ISPs rule the cables.  FB may rule the internet someday.  But Google rules the internet AND mobile now.

Update: Google lead phone price war in 2003

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Photo and Video management in Linux - Shotwell

I hated every photo and video management in any OS.  Even for Picassa, you can import your pictures into Piscassa, and then you have an alternative view of your pictures.  The problem you never know where exactly the pictures are, which could be a real folder or something else.  And many software don't deal with both pictures and videos, which is too bad as nowadays they come from the same cam.

The default image management software in Ubuntu is Shotwell.  You can't fault it too much as it is built from 3rd party components.

The best thing is that when it imports pictures and videos from your cam. It put the images files into a tree of sub folders according to when the picture was taken, something like a top level folder of 2012, then subfolders for months, and then subfolders for days.  You can change the behaviour.  You can also re-import from a folder again into different arrangements.

You can publish to facebook, youtube, picassa, flickr etc but I haven't tried.

Imported pictures will not be imported again, which doesn't make much sense.  If the picture files are identical, it doesn't matter.  If not, it's rather complicated to tell them apart.

There are a few problems, but none that a little script cannot be solved.

When the date on your cam is wrong, you pictures may go everywhere that are difficult to find.  Shotwell doesn't seem to be able to edit the timestamp in the exif metadata.  You should use exiftool to shift the timestamp of all the pictures to get them corrected all at once before import.

Shotwell recognizes the default cam folder for pictures, but not videos.  You need to use the import from folder feature for video, instead of import from cam.

Shotwell doesn't recognize .MPO 3D pictures nor .THM thumbnails.  I use a simple script to change all the names to .mpo.jpg and .thm.jpg.  Since they are all basically jpg files, Shotwell can read the exif metadata and import.  MPO is two jpg images back to back for the left and right image.  THM is the same as jpg to me.

To save download time from older cams, Shotwell will compares thumbnails to decide if the picture needs to be imported.  The problem is that some cams have a .mpo file and a .jpg file for the same image.  The .jpg file is just the left image for easy viewing.  However, Shotwell is so clever as to ignore the filenames, timestamps, file sizes. Instead it only looks at the hash results of the thumbnail.  So the .mpo and .jpg files have the same hash because the first half of the files are almost identical with the same thumbnail.

To import both .mpo and .jpg files of the same shot, you need to import from folder instead of import from cam.  Whole files will be compared instead of just the thumnail.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Convert and display 3D MPO pictures on your 3DTV

3D pictures are typically in .mpo format, basically two jpg files concatenated. There many image viewer can see the first (left) image while ignoring the other.

First you have to split the two images. In Linux, there is a tool for that - exiftool. Just type in the command and the os will tell you how to install it.

Then you have to resize and stitch the pair of images together, side-by-side or top-to-bottom.  The former is for active 3DTV's, but for the newer passive TV's, top-to-bottom is the best option.  In Linux, there is imagemagick for everything (convert).

The complete bash script, let call it ttb:  (I put it together from the web.)

name=`basename $1 .MPO`
echo $fname
exiftool -trailer:all= $1 -o $
exiftool $1 -mpimage2 -b > $fname.rt.jpg
convert -append $ $fname.rt.jpg -geometry '1920x540!' -mosaic $fname.ttb.jpg

The command
#ttb mypic.mpo

will generate and mypic.rt.jpg and then stitch them into mypic.ttb.jpg.  This assumes your picture size is 1920x1080 pixels.

It's trivial to modify the script to go through all the .mpo files on the camera attached as an USB drive.  Then image management software such as shotwell can import the left and right and ttb images separately.

Typically 3DTV's can't display the .mpo files directly, nor the TTB (or SBS) images.  They do recognize mpo files, nor expect any 3D picture formats.   Therefore in picture mode, the TV's don't allow or expect any 3D mode.

Typically 3D video cameras have mini HDMI ports.  You can display mpo files correctly via the HDMI into your TV.  But this is not practical.  You have to store everything in the cam, or load a slideshow into your cam every time.

Luckily, reading from USB drives is a capability for Vizio TV's as well as blu-ray players.  When the TV receive signal from the player via HDMI, the TV doesn't care it's video or pictures.  So you can set you TV to 3D TTB, the same as you set for 3D movies.  I still haven't buy a single blu-ray disk yet.  But the display of 3D pictures make it all worthwhile.

Unfortunately, although the Walmart TV can read from external USB drive, the Blu-ray player can only read from USB flash drives.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Reformatting and recoding video files for Internet TV's and other devices

You have a .mkv or .wmv movie, but you want to play it on PS3, or internet TV's that only know mp4.

You have a .avi movie with old Xvid video codec.

You only need one package in Linux - ffmpeg.  It comes with Ubuntu, but because of codec licensing, you need to install the aac avc and such codec separately.

Ubuntu Precise Pangolin 12.04 LTS and Ubuntu Oneiric Ocelot 11.10
#sudo apt-get install ffmpeg libavcodec-extra-53

Ubuntu Natty Narwhal 11.04 and Ubuntu Lucid Lynx 10.04 LTS
 #sudo apt-get install ffmpeg libavcodec-extra-52

You need to look at the streams of your movie file:
#ffmpeg -i movie.mkv

If the first stream is the video in AVC and the 2nd stream is audio in AC3, and your TV understands AC3 in MP4, then you just copy the v(ideo) and a(udio) into a new mp4 container:
#ffmpeg -i movie.mkv -vcodec copy -acodec copy movie.mp4

Most of the time, blu ray movies are in DTS, so you need to recode into AC3 or AAC.

#ffmpeg -i movie.mkv -vcodec copy -acodec ac3 movie.mp4

You can look up the exact ac3 encoder you have installed, or just let ffmpeg flag it up and suggest to you.  If the default encoder options do not give you satisfactory results, you can control the bit rate and no. of channels by -ab and -ac options.

If you need to pick a particular language track out of sequence, you need to specific all tracks:

#ffmpeg -i movie.mkv -map 0:0 -vcodec copy -map 0:2 -acodec ac3 movie.mp4

0:0 is the first input file, first stream.  0:2 is the first input file, third stream.  It doesn't matter how the tracks is numbered in the original file.  It's the order of it.  You can also handle subtitles like this.

You can pick only one track and output it into an video file mp4 or audio file like mp3.  You can combine multiple input files and streams with more than one -i options.  All the streams can be selected by -map f:s

ffmpeg also understands wmv and avi formats.

Typically, the Walmart best seller Vizio E3D420VX understands
mp4 - AVC, AAC or AC3, not DTS
wmv - wmv video and wma (libwmav2)
avi -

Even if the TV has the decoder, it may not work on different container formats.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Dennis Ritchie and Steve Jobs

I can't help to join in, having nothing better to do.

This is why kids know about Einstein, not the CEO of Bank of America.  Or else nobody will want to be a scientist, putting the human race in danger.

There is nothing new here.  It shouldn't have been compared in the first place.  The only difference in the apple cult consumers, who can now be geeks just by waiving their fingers.

Dennis will have a place in the history books.  If you don't involve in operating system or language design or a software architecture or a programmer, you don't need to know him.  But if you do, sooner or later you will find his name.

This is always how it works.  A student in a profession will have to find out what had been done and what's the best.  A paper, book, product will point you to the greats of the past.  One day when you are curious enough, you will trace the history to them.

Dennis came at a time when computers are main frames, have their own primitive machine language called assembly language.  The operating systems are written in machine language specific to a particular machine.  The same for applications that need a lot of speed and memory.

The word then is portable.  The aim is to make Unix, a minimal operating system, that can run on all computers.  You can do that but nobody will listen to you.  The only way feasible is to design a portable language that can run on all computers, and write the operation system on that, which don't need to change for every past and future computer.

So C is born, and Dennis is the sole(?) author or inventor of it.  All sorts of languages and important concepts were developed ever since the invention of the computer, like object oriented, an ancient concept.

The key concept of C really isn't that key, but enable you to port Unix to any computer by writing a small compiler, translating C language to a particular machine language.

C is like a high speed machine language.  You can control the speed and memory efficiency as in machine language, by how you write or optimise your program.  You can also write in any style you want, so it branches into different forms, C++ is the obvious, objective C, parallel C. And since programmers are liberated from the arcane half machine language FORTRAN, there aren't any important syntax change from C.  Any fragment of code of modern languages look like each other, C++, Javascript, Java.

Perhaps you will never know who thought of a portable operating system and pushed it through.  But Dennis got the credit of authoring the C language and obvious they needed this for Unix.  Something like C and Unix will evolve, and one won't be a lot better than the other.  It's not like somebody "invented" C and Unix and changed the world.  It's is in a way, but the concept of a portable operating system changed the world.

Jobs is a lot different.  CEO's and super rich people don't go into student history books.  Somebody is glad that Bill Gates is not yet dead.  Jobs and Bill are indeed pioneers on personal computers.  The criticism that they steal ideas is sort of right, but their vision is one computer to every person, while the computer industry is for large computers that can afford at least a mini computer, expensive terminals, or hire some computer for processing.

Jobs is credited for the Apple personal computer.  But he is not alone for the Apple I, and that is most likely not the first PC.  Before the IBM PC Microsoft is writing software and operating systems for the other manufacturers, such as NEC.  As you can see, Apple is still losing out in terms of numbers of operating systems.

So Bill's major step backward operating system is still the king in numbers, and Apple's Unix based system, combined with all other Unix systems is far behind.  Third will be Linux which is not Unix, but the important concept is open source.

I'm not trashing Jobs, but it's hard to pinpoint credits due to him.  He is a great visionary and great entrepreneur but you can say that for many people, deserving it or not.

If he had been ahead of Microsoft, I bet he will do the same that Bill did, protecting his empire rather than pushing forward technology.  You give what people want sooner in order go get ahead of the competition.

iPhone is of course a great product but all the tech are there one way or the other.  Touch screen.  High resolution screen.  Pocket computer and organiser.  Of course Jobs managed to put everything together and built a great company and great products.  But he will lose out again to open source Android as history repeats itself in some ways.  But who cares about the numbers when your profit margin is so much greater?

I would say Job is so popular with fans is because he enabled people to be geeks if they want to be.  No qualification and training needed.  In the beginning you can't usually touch computer hardware.  You can be geek if you know some programming, doing it in company or edu computers.  With early PC's you need to know at least some typing, even true today.  With iPhone you can type like a journalist on blackberry, send and receive email whenever you are, text like a teen.  For anything geek can do in software, you can pay $3 and get anything you want.

Of course, Job also enable kids to do computing with zero training using iPads.  Again I bet that's not his original idea and others are doing it for much cheaper for not so rich kids.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Investigative journalism: the pirate wars

Even though SOPA, PIPA, ACTA are almost defeated or in serious trouble, the war with the pirates are far from over.  The massive p2p lawsuits in UK are back, even though the last lawyer involved was utterly destroyed.  In US, ISP's are preparing to deploy in summer what they agreed to do, patrolling their users and deal with repeat offenders.

To deal with piracy, the internet is in danger of unconstitutional censorship and even loss of the guaranteed right of anonymity.  You can blame the pirates for coming to this.  My guess is, with or without the pirates, the internet is heading that way anyway.  Pirates is just the right excuse.  I may not be right.  But one thing is certain, the pirates will always become defenders of the constitution by the things they fight for.  One is unknown.  One is certain.  Which side do you take?

We shouldn't have to care.  If we are not one percent of the one percent, who cares if someone is losing money?  Punishment should fit the crime, not using severe punishment as scare tactics just because those losing money are rich and powerful.

You know from my other blog I like to investigate myself. I want to see who's going to win the next round.

Megadownload and such are money making schemes.  They have no efficiency and can't handle 3D movies 10 to 20 Gb each.  So I look at bittorrent as an indicator.
If you do a simple search using Google, all the great movies and great games are there, in all the formats.  BT isn't going to go away soon.

The Ship

The bittorrent protocol is an open book where everybody knows everybody else.  There are ways to cut down your exposure - private trackers, seedbox, VPN.

Private trackers are like private clubs.  Because of the small numbers of users swamping a torrent, it's much more inefficient to track down all the users.  Users are sort of screened but there's no guarantee that management are not compromised.  They have your IP just like public torrents.

Since you only need the most basic virtual server and website to run these clubs, they are almost untraceable.   There are pretty good open source software for exactly this purpose.  I'm sure they don't keep any logs.  But the hosting company of these servers still may have connection logs, depending on the jurisdiction.  There are in theory free if you want, but finding the right ones and begging to join is a hassle, on top of the hassle of juvenile management.

Seedboxes are typically servers in the cloud that performs the bittorrent download for you.  All you have to do is to download or stream the completed files into your computer.  Amazon servers in the cloud are pretty good seedboxes, but since they charge by bandwidth, HD and 3D movies are out of the question.  Because you have to seed, upload while downloading, you end up with twice the bandwidth usage.  For a ten Gb movie, you are charged twice.  It end up costing some $5 dollars for a 3D movie, which is a great deal but you can have it for free.

In Europe the cloud servers are not charged by bandwidth.  They become heavens for seedboxes.  Unlike Amazon, owning a server still cost too much for individuals.  But typically seedbox operators hire a server and split it into seedboxes to resell to end users.  But be careful that the server providers do not allow bittorrents.  So these resellers may come and go, along with your money.

The weak link in seedboxes is the final download into your hard drive.  Your IP has to be exposed.  You can use proxies but fast and reliable and untraceable ones cost money.

Typically if you are a movie junkie, you need a seedbox.  If you are a causal user, like at most a movie every two days, you don't need a seedbox.  A basic boardband connection at home, the simplest netbook can do all the work in the background.  It's even better if you have an old spare computer, or a cheap media computer attached to your TV.

If you do your bittorrent pirating at home, my source's advice is to hire some VPN provider.  A http or socks proxy for the browser won't work as bittorrent clients now use udp as well.  VPN has been called transparent proxy.  When the VPN is turned on, every net traffic goes through it so you don't have to set the proxy of individual applications.   There's no DNS leak unless you keep using your ISP's DNS server.

VPN typically cost the least of the above because it doesn't provide anything other than "anonymous" connection.  Operators have no fear of being targeted.  You can always use VPN on your last leg whatever you decide to use, which decreases your traceability.  Also, the consideration of choosing a VPN is the same as choosing other services.  Our further investigation is on VPN.

Other anonymous services such as TOR and Jondo are two slow or two expensive for huge movies.

The Base

Ironically, having real pirate problems, the Republic of Seychelles is heaven for pirates and legitimates business to setup off shore companies.  Company officials are anonymous (with records kept securely in the Republic).  That adds confidence if these people can hardly be identified, how can you?

The worse VPN or other services you can have is based in Europe, where they have the data retention laws.  When they receive a court order, they just have to give up your IP when you connected to them some 6 months or two years ago.  However, many countries haven't implemented the laws yet, and some like Germany are still fighting it.

On the other hand, Europe has the best data protection acts to protection your privacy.  It's harder to bribe or make threats in order to get data.  Everything has to be done properly, such as proper court orders, or the company will be liable.

Some countries are harder to get court orders such as Sweden.  When the Pirate Bay got busted the last time round, anonymous persons carried on as a non-profit incorporated in Seychelles.

The Sword

Kryptotel is a VPN provider (amongst others) incorporated in Seychelles.  The VPN service specifically allows bittorrent, while some don't.  VPN by definition always allow anything unless you block it, or don't open the ports for it.  It's also the cheapest, less than $5 a month if you pay in bulk.

I have no affiliation with Kryptotel. (There are few others and then some.) I'm just interested to go into real pirate infested waters to try out their service.

They sell service for just one month, monthly recurring, a couple of months and more.  I brought one month for my investigation.  The order form seems primitive and I am expecting to wait till tomorrow or next week to hear from them.  But they must have monkeys sitting on the other end 24/7, or the system is actually fully automated in disguise.

Soon after I paid via paypal, I got in my email  a configuration file for openvpn for linux. Of course they support Windows and Macs.  Basically it contains the encryption key and also for your credentials to use the service.  So you can connect any time in any machine as long as you have the file.  Actually it's one configuration file for each country they have servers in, and one for random servers in the world if you want that.  Type in the openvpn command with the configuration file and I'm in.  Actually there are minor problems but since I'm a rarer case so I don't blame them.  It's trivial problems.

For all the servers I tried, connection is instant.  The connection speed maxed the broadband connection under trial.  I don't lose anything in speed by going through the VPN.  Typically torrents aren't that fast as typical broadband connections at home.  So it's good enough.  But I miss my Amazon EC2 seedbox.  It ran as fast as several MB/s, making it almost movie on demand for popular torrents.

So I tried some public torrents with public domain contents (of course).  The speed is good so I don't think they limit the speed or the servers are over used.

I paid using my personal paypal account because everybody who visits coffee houses using wifi should have one VPN account.  It cost less than a coffee per month.  It cost you more if you have your own Amazon VPN, or you have to turn your EC2 on whenever you need it.  There is no hassle for Kryptotel.

If you are under aged you can get the cheapest VISA gift card for $25 plus $4 fee.  Some are not as good as the others.  The most VISA looking card allows you to enter any name and billing address online, while some don't.  I believe you can setup a paypal account with that, or just pay online as a credit/debit card.

They even advice you to email them with a disposal account.

The Verdict

Will the pirates win?  Avatar 3D Blu-ray cost $100, while the cheapest active 3D TV is just over $600.  Go figure.  It's like paying $150 for a Wii while each new game cost $30 or more.

They scare people away from bittorrents and move into direct download.  It's inefficient and expensive.  And you can easily close it down.

You cannot really close down public torrent trackers, and you will find them easily replaceable.  You just can't track down all the private trackers and close them in all countries.  There are new version of the protocols that are purely distributed p2p without the need for central trackers and hence nothing to close down.

Does a VPN service like Kryptotel provide sufficient anonymity?  There's no money in it to cooperate with law enforcement.  I think they just hire virtual servers from some providers when there are demands, or find some mom and pop at home servers as affiliates.  To have accessible logs they have to ask all these operators to log huge amount of data, and send it to a central database to store.  They won't do it if they don't have to.

From a torrent, you can only prove that a certain IP downloaded certain content at some point in time.  If that IP is from your ISP, it links to you directly.  Even without data retention laws, typically ISP log IP's for 6 month or more.   With a VPN, that particular IP is shared, probably simultaneously, likely different people at work shares the same external IP.  Even if you can trace everything, you have to log a lot more than connection time as at your ISP.

I'm no expert but think of it this way.  They have to monitor the server you are using, and monitor you at your ISP, just to catch you in the act.  That's just too stupid to catch one bittorrent user.

If you are one strike from your ISP, and you get a VPN service, there's no difference from downloading a torrent or surfing in a coffee shop.  Though the coffee time is much longer. And if you encrypt your movies at home, they can't hold you anything even if they knock down your doors.

If you have a rich enemy that's another matter.  But you just can't find these anonymous guys to bribe. 

3D is a reason you stay at home.  More controllable viewing angle, better 3D glasses.  There are more decent 3D titles now than a year or two ago.  3D TVs are approaching the $500 mark, and they are the better ones than the older generation.  A few times brighter and arguable finer characters can be read off the screen.

I doubt if the ISP's are doing anything but lip service.  For few dollars a month worth of protection, they cannot do anything but actively target you one at a time without probable cause.  In that case you can switch to DSL, get a VPN as the final leg, rent a seed box, and you will be very welcomed to join a private tracker club.  That cost about a Blu-ray 3D per year or every quarter.

If all else fails, there's always the Pirate Parties all over the world.  In a few year's time, a lot of people will turn 18 and vote.  If I were your, don't mess up their internet connection starting this summer.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Playing .mkv files on Internet TV's

 This is outdated.  See Reformatting and recoding video files for Internet TV's and other devices.

As you know, my small and sexy netbook do not play 1080p files well under Ubuntu without hardware driver for video acceleration.  In Windows 7, it's barely OK, but the default media player do not recognise .mkv format.  Other players suffers from the same thing on Linux, without hardware driver that use video acceleration.

It is very frustrated when these Internet  TV's can play 2x1080p from the blu-ray player, 1080p 3D movies from Vudu and even Youtube.

My TV says the media app can only play mp3 and view pictures from the USB ports.  It will only support flash thumb drives.  And that the format have to be the old FAT.  (It' the E3D420VX for the bathroom :-)  This is very wrong, protectionism.  This is pure software.  The hardware can obviously play anything from anywhere, USB or even stream via Wifi.

Out of frustration I plugged in my external USB drive in the standard Windows format - NTFS.  It works and plays mp4!!!  Another upgrade it should connect to your PC or file server via wifi and no need to carry your USB drive around.  Now almost any USB drive works.  I have a 1 TB Western Digital, and another very old laptop hard drive savaged and put in an external box to adapt it into a portable usb drive.  This one is even better as it uses y-cable instead of power adaptor.  No need to find another power socket.

There are only two problems.  Like Windows, the media play won't recognise .mkv files.  Even though it's not FAT, the video file size is limited to 4Gb.  It will play larger files, but would crash at the 4Gb point.  I think if these are sorted out, they will update the manuals.

On Ubuntu you need to install two packages to solve everything.
#sudo apt-get install gpac mkvtoolnix

First you need to find the exact frame rate and the tracks.
#mkvinfo hugo.mkv

You should read the exact video frame rate, eg, 23.976 fps.  So far all the movies are on this rate.

Usually track 1 is the video, 2 and 3 are alternative audio formats, DTS and AC3. Next extract the tracks you want.  Extensions are important.  This is how the file formats are recognized.
#mkvextract tracks hugo.mkv 1:hugo.h264 3:hugo.ac3

Since dts and ac3 in the same language are not put in blu-rays, you need to convert the dts audio track obtained the same way as above.

#ffmpeg -i hugo.dts -acodec ac3 -ab 640000 hugo.ac3
where -ab is the audio bit rate, 640kb/s may be the max for ac3, while dts is higher.

Now put them back in mp4 format.
#MP4Box -fps 23.976 -add hugo.h264 -add hugo.ac3 hugo.mp4

For some reasons, mp4box cannot detect the video frame rate correctly.  And if you put in 24 instead of 23.976, it will be out of audio sync sooner or later.  Audio sampling rates are well defined with no problems.

In contradiction to what I have researched, ac3 audio works perfectly in the mp4 format, and on my TV.  So mp4 got updated, the TV player cheated, or mkv is a mistake.  The mkv file is 11 GB, while the mp4 file is only 9 GB.  Still mp4box don't support DTS format.

Finally split up the big mp4 file into 4GB trunks.
#MP4Box -splits 4000000 hugo.mp4

This is totally lossless.  Totally fastest.  You can also concat the split files so you don't need to store the complete movie file.  Can totally be done in the cloud.  Now EC2 provides 30Gb free for one year for new signups.  But Amazon will be totally not suitable for movies because they charge bandwidth.

My prediction is that the most popular file format will be mp4 with ac3 audio or whatever what is in blu-ray.  And the 3D format will be HTB.  The blu-ray format is full side by side, meaning 2x 1080p.  To keep the current HD bit rate, the more common format is half that - HSBS.  However, in passive 3D TV's, half the vertical resolution is dropped so each eye can see all the time on a 1080p display.  So half top-bottom is best for passive, with no further loss of resolution.

Now the cheapest Vizio becomes the best.  A lot of people says passive are better.  Passive allow gamers to play 3D 24 hours instead of an hour or two.  Passive is a few times brighter.  Surprisingly, you can see finer small text in passive.  Anyway, if you know a thing or two about active, it seems like an electronic gadget for torture via your eyes.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Kindle touch is on par with multi touch smart phones

From the reviews, I hesitated to buy the Kindle touch version, worrying that it will be too bad compared to the smart phones the family is used to.  The tiny guy likes to pinch every image on her colour picture book on the kindle phone app.  It turns out that it's the best feature is the touch, especially if you are used to smart phones like iphone.

If you have kids already reading phone book thick books, e-ink is a no brainer.  They don't need colour books.  You can hurt their eye sight least with e-ink, reading for hours at a time.

The screen resolution of 800x600 is quite adequate for reading.  The more important is the dpi.  With e-ink, kindles are better than tablets and the kindle fire, and not as dense as smart phones.  But you only need that density on 3 to 4 inch phones.  Indeed if I can do it again, I would not pay more for smart phones like qHD or the iPhone 4 or newer HD screens in smart phones.  Movies and websites look really beautiful on the tiny screens, but I think even if I ever watch a movie on it, I wouldn't mind as long as it plays.

So kindle and e-ink is best for reading, period.  And cheaper than the kindle fire.  If I want anything else, I have the netbook.  The latest kindle screen is slightly better than the last model, and noticeably better than the 1st generations - it was reported.

Page turning or transition on the kindle is said to be like ATM machines in the 90's.  That is, slow.  In reality you can see the transition, but not as if you need to wait.  And it is a lot faster than turning a paper book.  So for web browsing, you have to expect a little delay when you fetch a new page, not to wait for the download, but for the ink to settle.

There is one home button at the bottom, and one power button on the side bottom.  Contrary to some reviews, these buttons are not sensitive at all.  It's pretty hard to accidentally toggle these buttons as in phones.  You really don't need to use the power button often because the battery last for a month or two, and the device will go to sleep automatically.  The home button is huge, and I think there is redundancy in it to last longer.  So the kindle touch will outlast other devices, when it's not worthwhile to repair any malfunction buttons.

The touch screen is supposed to be resistive, meaning that you can use anything instead of your fingers.  In phones they have capacitive screens to avoid triggering the phone other than your fingers.  But resistive screen isn't a bad thing on the kindle at all.  You can use a soft tip to type, and it will not leave grease too.

The kindle screen is like matte as compared to glossy on phones.  So the kindle is more tolerable to grease.  But it is just superficial.  Wipe with any micro fibre cloth and it will be fine.

Basically the kindle is a mutli touch device very much like an Android 2.3 multi touch phone.  You can turn pages with wiping and change font sizes with pinching.  Same thing when using the browser.  Because the screen is so much bigger, it is easier on the kindle than on the phone.  You don't worry about too sensitive or not sensitive enough.

They have a context sensitive keyboard, which is standard on reading mode and change to web mode when browsing.  But somehow not when you are entering your username and passward, so you have a relative hard time entering your email address with the standard keyboard.

Of course the touch keyboard will be superior than any physical keyboard on devices of the same size and smaller.  You only need landscape mode on phones because of the keyboard size.  The kindle is wide enough not to need it.  And you read, you the natural mode is portrait.  Though, if you have challenged eye sight or movement abilities, you may need the landscape mode, or a bigger device.

Keyboard on phones have optional sound and vibration for feedback.  The kindle doesn't.  But the ink color transition on the keys is a pretty good visual feedback.

Browsing is not bad at all, other than that it's black and white, do not play flash video, and have to wait a little for the ink to settle.  But I can comfortably manage my emails, and browse the news for example.  There is also an article mode during browsing, probably for better reading of news and such.  It's neat that you will be left on the last page of your book, and also your web page always. (Not sure after completely power down.)

For the software you have the whole Amazon store.  The Amazon Prime deal isn't as good as it seems.  Other than the selection is probably not as many as Netflix, Amazon video don't work on Linux (used to at some point), and neither on the Wii.  So you need to have a wifi TV or a cheap wifi streaming box.

Amazon Prime is limited to one new book per month.  So for children readers it is obviously not enough.  But there are many free books.  The problem is that they don't have a precise catalogue by design.  So there's an industry of paid books and subscriptions, telling you how to find free books.  And you can have the free books perhaps as long as you have a kindle, not Amazon prime.

I picked the Kindle over the Nook because I'm sure the kindle books work on the phone, the computers, and I can download kindle books from the library.  I think the Nook will be similar but I don't see the word Nook on the library website.  I tried to install readers on Linux to read the other formats, but so far only the kindle web reader works without hassle. 

As a final word, the screen savers with commercials are beautifully done.  It reminds me of Casablanca the movie.  It's that good.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The best way to capture, record any sound playback in Oneiric Ubuntu Linux

The best means what the sound architecture designed to be used.  It's lossless - the same digital signal goes to your speaker and to the file.

Any means what you hear is what you get (WYHIWYG).  All you need is any sound card or USB device so you can hear anything.

The problem of Ubuntu forums is that the information isn't update and the obsolete post pull you into it like a magnet. 

In Oneiric, the sound architecture is ALSA and the sound server is Pulseaudio.  I have no clue what it means, but simple things become complicated and many info are obsolete.

Oneiric is bundled with the command pavucontrol, and it has no manual page for it, brilliant.  You can find PulseAudio Volume Control in the dash, or just enter the command in a terminal. It has GUI.  It's not just volume control, but master control of everything.

Now you need to play some sound.  Play a movie file or play a youtube video, with sound of course.  In the Input Device tab of pavucontrol, you should choose to show "monitors" at the bottom.  For each output device, you have a corresponding monitor device as the input that you can record.  Is that simple?  You should see the volume meter moving up and down.

Now you need some recording software.  The only thing that works for me is Audacity.  It's good for many thing else.  You can install it via the Ubuntu software center.  Fire up audacity.  There's typically nothing to set, or it doesn't matter that much.  Just in case, you need to set the 4 selector right above the sound wave area to ALSA, default, default, stereo.  You have to start recording with the red button or nothing will happen.

Now go back to pavucontrol.  At the record tab, you should see the application Audacity.  You just need to set the capture selector to "monitor of whatever sound device you are playing back".  And that is one of the monitors at the Input Device tab.

The settings will be remembered on a per application basis. (I think.)  So you can set the default sound device and settings for each application.  And because of this, without any configurations, it always give me the wrong device during playback.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Create launcher / shortcut for applications in Ubuntu Oneiric

Everybody have their little scripts for automating anything.  It used to be very easy to create launchers or shortcuts for launching applications in Ubuntu.  It make very little difference if the app is installed software packages or your own little script.  You just right click on the desktop and create a launcher.  You can even move the launcher into your desktop panels for quick launch.

Not anymore.  Ubuntu Oneiric took it all away.  It's still there, and very easy to use.  But it was so simple and transparent that I didn't know the details before.

Basically instead of creating launcher on the desktop, you need to run from a terminal:

#gnome-desktop-item-edit --create-new ~/Desktop

It's the same as before, when you want to create a launcher on your Desktop.  Give it a name, the path to the application or your script, it's done.  Typically for scripts you check the item "it's application in terminals".  Optionally you can change the icon by clicking on it.

You can drag your launcher icon on the desktop into the unity bar to keep it there always.

You can create a script for the above command, create a launcher for it.  So you never need to type the command again.  (It doesn't work without putting it in a script first.)

Basically a launcher is a simple nameXX.desktop text file anywhere.  From the desktop GUI you see this as a launcher.  Inside is just the name of the app, path of application or script, and path of icon.

Sometimes you can't move the launcher icon into the unity bar for various reasons.  Sometimes it turns into a black block in there.  There may be some legacy problems.  There is an icon path where the icons are to be searched.  This include ~/.icons  If your script have the same name with one of the icons, the icon will be automatically loaded, which may not be your intention.  Etc, etc.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Unsolved problem: Playing HD video 720p 1080p on Linux netbooks such as AO722

Netbooks means weak CPU.  Linux means no hardware video acceleration because of open source drivers or incomplete proprietary drivers.  This is the case for Acer Aspire One 722.  Because 720p can fit in the screen, so in theory it's a lot easier than rescaling the 1080p into full screen.

The bundled Movie Player (Totem) doesn't play anything HD, so I thought the AO722 is useless for video.  I used another player and even 1080p can play smoothly with out of sync sound.

I spent some time investigating because, if you are given a HD video, you want to be able to view on the netbook without recoding the whole movie into 480p, which can take hours I think.

The core component of a media player is the codecs.  All the players use more or less the same, such as FFmeg.  The problem is these things have license restrictions, making it a nightmare to distribute.  So often you are not using the best and fastest codecs.  These codecs are available as plugins to overcome the license restrictions.

On the next level there's the video backend, or engine.  There are basically 4, gstreamer, mplayer, vlc, xine.  Gstreamer has a few plugins doing similar things.  Mplayer has different branches.  Xine is basically fading away but still has updates.

There are one to many GUI frontends for each engine.  The default ubuntu, gnome player is Movie Player, which is actually called totem, use gstreamer.  There is the Gnome-mplayer, and smplayer for the mplayer backend.  There's also the mplayer-gui and mplayer can be used in the command line.  Similarly there are a few xine gui's.  The company Videolan makes both the frontend and backend of VLC and not used by any others.

Movie Player (Totem) and VLC don't play any HD on AO722 in any meaningful way by default.  Mplayer and xine plays even 1080p smoothly.  But I can't find ways to sync the audio because the video is lacking far behind.

In a faster but old machine, I discovered that only VLC can sync the audio, in the expense of some noticeable artifacts on the video.

On the AO722, I discovered that I can tweak the preferences to get a lower quality video but with perfect sync of HD 1080p (>900p) such as the Bourne Ultimatum demo clip.  Try low quality, skip frames, etc.

I concluded that you can watch HD on AO722 smoothly, with compromise in quality.  The problem is how to configure the player.

Totem/Gstreamer is most comprehensive.  I can't believe that I couldn't find out how to install and use the ffmpeg plugins, for example.  Not in the official website nor the ubuntu forums.  At least not in the form I understand. 

You should be able to configure a lot of things for mplayer (and xine), but the problem is too many options.  There's no tutorial for crippling the player for slow machines.

I manage to tweak the VLC options to play HD with perfect sync.  But some 1080p are more consuming that others.  So it's not a complete solution.

Video for the browser is another story.  HD on youtube is mostly mp4.  It's better to use a video player to play youtube videos, mp4 or not, than using the crippled flash implementation.  The VLC browser plugin doesn't work.  That left us with the Gnome-player plugin.  Disable other plugins and use FlashVideoReplacer extension for Firefox and you can play youtube videos just like flash, but only on  youtube and a few other sites.  You can play 720p with perfect sync, but not any higher.  That's not a problem because youtube always give you different resolutions from 240 up to 1080p.