Monday, December 30, 2013

Christmas light fault finding II using binary search

Warning: the following instructions include exposure of hot wire at full voltage of electrical outlets.  The modifications to equipments are non-standard that could expose personals to high voltage who do not know of any modifications. The equipments should be supervised by the installer at all times.

Christmas light fault finding apply mostly to 2.5V incandescent lights bulbs, with 50 bulbs in serious in one strand.  Newer LED's don't blow up easily; they just fade away very gradually.  But in a "few" more years, my lights can be collectables!  Otherwise the nostalgic value is there - your childhood, your child were born, their childhood.

There are non-contact voltage detectors for fault finding.  But their range should be an inch or more for detecting wires behind walls.  Imagine icicles lights when the original neat formation is gone, and strands are hanged over each other to increase the brightness and light density.  Even for one strand, the wires with and without voltage due to faulty bulbs are twisted together.

The faulty bulb finder is an old fashioned high voltage probe, a long single piece of wire, and a plug without polarity so you can swap hot and neutral.

The bending of the probe is incidental and have no relation with the project.  A probe is just a bulb plus a high resistance.  You touch the red end, using human as the electrical return path. It is safe because the current is very small.

DO not touch the red end because it can now be at 120 V.  It is easy to attach a wire to the red end with the screw and spring inside.  You should take off the metal clip too as it is dangerous.  You should not touch any metal part except for the tip part of the probe - the opposite when using a normal probe.  You can tape the end with electrical tapes but after Christmas you can just take the wire out and use the probe again, until next year.

There are probes that looks the same for low voltage as in hobby electronics.  You will burn the bulb if 120 V is applied to it.

I actually keep the pair of wire which can be reused.  But make sure that only one of the wire is used, and insulate any bare wire of the other unused wire.

A full chain of Christmas lights may have several strands of about 50 bulbs each.  For a fully working light, if you take off any one bulb, a section of the light will be off.  That's a strand.

Now assume there is only one faulty strand. Procedure:
  1. plug in the fault finder in any convenient voltage outlet.  Don't touch any bare metal or wire (except for the tip of the probe).
  2. take out about the middle bulb in the strand.
  3. short the two contacts in the bulb housing with the tip of the probe (this is safe)
  4.  if the strand light up, this bulb is the faulty one.
  5. Otherwise, probe the two contacts in the bulb housing in turn and note if the probe lights up in each of the two cases.
  6. Let the state of the probe light be ON (or brighter) and OFF (dimmer).  If the state of the probe is OFF-OFF, you need to change the orientation of the plug, swapping the hot and neutral position.  Then you should get one ON and one OFF.
  7. If you can't get an ON state, there are multiple faulty light bulbs.  You should pick any one side as the faulty side.
  8. The faulty bulb is on the OFF side of the strand.  The wiring into the housing should clearly indicate which is the OFF side.  If not, you can pick one side at random and assume it is the OFF side.  Then see later if your assumption is right.
  9. Put the bulb back.
  10. On the faulty (OFF) side, take off the bulb which is mid-way between the last test bulbs or the end of the strand.
  11. Repeat from 3 until 4 happens, or in case of multiple faults, you will approach the faulty bulb on both sides.
If there are multiple faulty strands, just do one strand at a time if you know the boundary (by looking at the wiring).  The 1st or last bulb at the strand has 3 wires attached to the housing; others has two.  Or do a less aggressive binary search by assuming a short strand.  One strand is usually 50 bulbs.  If your assumptions are wrong, there will be contradictions later.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Android VOIP Landline updates

My totally free VOIP solution worked for a short while until PBX kicked me out of their service.  Sipdroid exists to sell PBX services.  If I pay, I would not be going through so much trouble to use Google Voice for free.

I upgraded to a Wifi firewall router in the hope that I can install Asterisk myself as a server to connect to GV and be independent on anybody else.  But the support is in disarray, in contrast to the impression one gets.  Firstly, they can't keep up with new chipsets and won't work with some.  Then I discovered that my router will probably not support the newer (and lower production cost) USB drives that do not need a power supply.  And they need FAT partition.  So I never tried to install anything to day.

As you know, instead of charging for the calls, they dropped the open x??p protocol and integrate GV into hangout.  I come to understand and predict their strategy.  If you charge the calls mobile users are not going to pay twice by using GV.  They never and still aren't interested in landlines.  They are only interested in their own bread and butter.  If you have been using GV, you are very motivated to use Android and Hangout when you consider switching.  The support of x??p protocol is to initially attract compatible standard users to start using and switch.  Now it became a distraction when people using it as free Voip calls, and supporting companies such as OBI.  

SIP VOIP is here to stay.  The service and equipments are there for many years.  It does not need great investment to run a service.  Great phones are very cheap compared to a smartphone, standalone skype phone and in the future, a standalone hangout phone.  Even the main cost for a great sip phone is on the screen and software.  Google and Microsoft will not be interested to go into carrier business, which will be on the mercy of cable and telecom infrastructure companies.

Skype's turns are interesting.  It came on at a time no servers can support that many phone calls, only p2p.  Now you have the clouds.  MS has it's offerings.  Google of course want to move everybody into the clouds. It's good if you don't need to pay extra, using the bandwidth you already brought, a smartphone or the computer.

I can see that Google can take over the whole of telephone and video phone business.  Android phones are already doing that, only needing to integrate with your phone number.  For a dedicated desktop phone? There is already the chrome book selling for $200 dollars, cheaper than the price of top end sip video phones.

I do have a chrome book.  Until then I use Callcentric.  It's great for people who don't use that much of their landline.  If you don't call, you can be just paying the 911 tax and may be some other tax.  I doubt even that you need a 911.  Now when you activate a cell phone you can enter a default address for emergency.  You are probably always closer to a cell phone than to your home phone at any time.  And old cell phones with old sim cards can still cal 911.  Now if you used 3 carriers before you have a lot of redundancy.  You just need to keep all of the antique phone charged.

I never had internet outage or cell phone outage.  So I won't hesitate to switch instead of believing that some old fashioned reliable wire connects me to the local telephone company.

However, Sandy wiped out Callcentric.  To provide the low cost service, they don't have geo redundancy.  If you are serious, you should port to Google so people can always reach your number if your connection to the internet is OK.  You can change SIP provider at an instant.  There's a lot more coming out of Sandy in case you are interested in emergency planning.  BTW Callcentric offers free porting.  You can save $25 and try the service for no investment.  Port cost $20 for google and a sim card + activation for porting to wireless first.  T-mobile has free sim activation kit on a day to day basis.

I was burnt by Sunrocket and so I'm not interested in Oma or Obi.  The Oma business model is doubtful.  Now it's clear that you can still call for free but will be stuck in equipments many years old.  Any the Oma is not for low volume callers and nowadays people are mostly on the cell, except for office.  With GV, the Obi is just an dumb telephone adaptor.  Why you still want to stick with your old analogue telephone?  (Fax?)  If you are locked into a service, you are not getting new techs.  Now the non-HD voice IP phones are dirt cheap.  It doesn't help your business image, and there's no other major reason to go into SIP.

I got hooked on HD voice when I tried once.  As they say, "you sound better than yourself".  Hearing yourself when speaking is different than hearing yourself from the other side of the phone (echo test service or HD voice mail).  It sounds so much better with HD.

My thinking has been correct, just I thought too much, both ways.  First I brought a Gigaset IP phone with DECT, which got me hooked up on HD voice.  The remembrance of a once tech giant adds to it.  The "basestation" need to plug in to the router (or modem) and you can put the handset anywhere.  DECT has a good range, and in no way can be worse than my super analogue cordless.  DECT was developed years ago but HD voice came out of it for sure.  May be they have enough bandwidth or they have updates.

I probably got the last one of the last lot.  It was a huge discount.  I can't anything like it for that price even now.  But sorry that I returned it.  The software is so crappy compared to any smartphone.  They can't be compared as a smartphone cost some $500.  Maybe it's a mistake.  I should have look into ways to integrate with the android phone book.  You can use a smartphone as an extension but do not use it to call. The one reason to keep it is that you don't need wifi for it to work.

I didn't know what I was thinking.  I brought a cordless DECT phone.  May be I was going to get an ATA and use the DECT for a start, and then as a backup without the need for wifi.  The selling point is that you can pair cell phones with it and use it at home, which is much more comfortable.  It's a Panasonic, same as my super analogue cordless, which like Siemens, is winding down it's gadget consumer electronics division.  I could have kept it but I didn't.  It was a special straight from factory.  If I return it I have to pay a heavy restocking charge.  But I managed to sell it at Amazon at zero lost because my phone is discounted.  However, the postage Amazon asked for is a bag, I upgraded for a box big enough to put the phone in.

Now my solution to Android SIP VOIP WIFI is almost completed when I had some time.  First you have to the check the wifi coverage and signal strength in your house and yard.  There are Android apps for that.

I upgraded my wifi router.  If you need a reason to upgrade, this is it.  While the spectrum congestion of cell phone and analogue cordless never came to me, the wifi spectrum is very congested.  You can beat your neighbours easily by upgrading to a dual band one.  But your phone have to support that.  The iWhatever's do.  I also turned the old router into a repeater for the far away rooms.  Wifi is a totally different animal from cell and DECT signals, which are not sensitive to the number of walls and what materials are in them.  It is only then I understand why the HDX transmission from VDU isn't always successful even though the test is fine.

It turns out to be well known that wifi is tricky for voice and the android audio latency is also well known.  But I think these may be non-matters.  But it doesn't hurt to do the best and the obvious.  You don't want to lose calls when all your kids are playing online games or streaming HDX movies.

First you need to activate quality of service (QoS) on your router to give priority to the SIP protocol.  And give priority to the phones you are using via MAC, which you can find it on info on your phone along with IMEI, etc.  Failing all that, put your phone on the DMZ zone, straight through the firewall without checking and processing.  If it depends on IP and port range, you may be limited to one phone.  But you can use other phones for caller ID, ring tones, etc.

I don't think it matters much but you can create a virtual AP without security encryption.  You should isolate it from other AP's so any hacking is limited to the phones and there's no much to loose in them.

For Csipsimple the SIP app, you can enter expert mode to improve the latency.  But I think it didn't work or there's no more margin to improve that way.  There's another app known to tackle the latency aggressively but they don't have the option anymore as I see it.

The critical issue is the echo at the dumb phone end.  Since my telephone company is still charging $30 for all the modern conveniences such as caller ID, call waiting, etc, I am sure there's still millions and millions of dumb phone around.

All mobile phones have good echo cancellation, they have to be, so that's a non-issue.  But the issue is created by the smart phone end.  The sensitive mic will pickup from the ear piece.  So the caller's voice come out from the earpiece, went into the mic, and back to the caller's earpiece.  If you are lucky, you can reduce the echo by reducing the volume on the earpiece and the sensitivity of the mic.  For Csipsimple you can adjust those during a call.  Some phones it can't be done unless you have trouble hearing the caller or the caller can't hear you properly.

The complete solution is really a ear plug.  Completely no echo.  You have your ear and head to absorb all the sound wave and there's nothing hard to carry the wave from the earpiece to the mic - just a flexible wire.

I also think that the echo is also the culprit for a large latency.  Echo cancellation is software.  And if the software is trying to cancel a long echo, the buffer has to be larger, hence more delay.

Now an earplug is really inconvenient.  How to get kids who are not old enough to use a cell phone to get use it it?  You just can't pick up the dam phone.

I was thinking to get the cheapest ATA at $15 so all my lovely analogue equipment are still usable as a backup.  No learning curve.  And that I can keep my talking caller ID answering machine.  To date no talking caller ID works for SIP in Android.  If I like to sound HD I would go to the Android or my computer.

While talking caller ID can't be replaced, because you don't need to get up to see who is calling, you can achieve the same with assigned ring tones.  You just need any numbers of Android phones to attach as extension to assign ring tones.  Android can also read the name from your phone book.  The phone you actually talk on can be dumb.

And for a little more, you have have a very good new non-HD IP phone.  They can be plugin before the router so one less failure point.  It's really just "pickup the phone".  There will be no echo issue, a totally different animal from a squar rigid glass and metal frame good for conducting sound wave.   However, they are huge and totally unsuitable for home.

And for some $40 you can get an HD phone.  But the screen may be too poor from an Android and that some are big.  I spotted one that is suitable and did a "best offer" on ebay.  The listing ended before the offer was considered.

I was thinking that a bluetooth headset will ease the inconvenience.  There's no wire so you just pick up the headset instead of the phone.  You can put the phone in some convenient place attached to the charger all the time.  You can even hide it if you have a cracked screen.

A bluetooth headset may or may not have the same echo problem.  The usual ones are tiny that hangs on your ear.  There are some with a stick to put the mic closer to your mouth.  I would think a conventional headphone with a stick mic will have absolutely no echo problem.  But, how can a kid answer the phone or make a call?

It dawned on me that I needed a handset (as opposed to a headset).   I remembered handsets that looked like my dad's phone's handset.  Dad will be happy to use it.  I found a low cost handset that doesn't resemble my dad's phone.  But the design is basically the same, with earpiece on the ear, the mic by the mouth and something soud absorbing in the middle.

Bluetooth or not isn't the point.  One more piece of wire isn't critical and BT isn't espensive.  But usually nowadays you can do voice command on the handset (or headset for that matter).  How about "call dady" ?   Or "momy called".  The handset has only about one 4 way rocker switch to work with.  Can't be simpler than that.

I should have found one that docks and charges.  Now this one charges with USB.  But that's not a problem.  Even the smallest kid have a USB charger by her bed.  She use it for playing games on ipad, android and whatever.  She knows to keep all her electronics fully charged or she cannot play.

I don't know if BT can carry HD voice.  There are BT that certified for that.  In any case the cheap handset will be useful for many things, if only as a backup.

Now I don't have anything specific for SIP only.  If they doesn't work as intended I have nothing to return.  Let see how it goes.

VPN service updates

I have been using paid VPN service for over a year now.  Now it's about $6/7 a month so that's not bad compared to some dedicated service.  VPN is flexible that meet my several needs.

I tried Kryptotel for a month, then three, then a year.  It's that good.  But recently the service was unreliable.  The server may becomes slow, that's when I switch to another random server.  It usually works great but it seems that all the servers are busy.

When my subscription ended, I was surprised that they don't sell openvpn anymore!  The company's business is all about encryption, and I have been taking it seriously because it is an offshore company setup for that purpose.

Maybe they are pressured not to sell something that is not crackable?  They still sell other VPN's.  May be openvpn is too difficult to support?  Their local techs do seem not to know what they are doing, but very responsive.  Maybe they can't compete with Openvpn itself, selling VPN by bandwidth.  That's a very good deal if you just want to protect you IP and privacy from coffee shops.

I changed to Mullvad and so far so good.  The servers are not as fast as when I used Kryptotel a year ago.  But much better than the last days of Kryptotel Openvpn.  Their advantage is that for random servers they have some in Eastern Europe.  That seemed to be popular for some p2p applications.  But your bank and facebook will be very suspicious.   You can also use servers only from some countries if you change the server address.  I have a script for that to switch servers developed for Kryptotel.

They have the same "bug" or feature that couldn't make it work out of the box for linux.  It's the pushed option from the server:

redirect gateway def1 bypass-dhcp

They have to bypass dhcp for Windows but it's an illegal option in Linux.  So the whole option is discarded.  So in your client config file you need to add:

redirect gateway def1

And my lesson learned - never pay for the whole year.

Openvpn works on a lot of my platforms now.  Ubuntu insists on separate certificate files.  Ipad works if you email the single config file to yourself and open it.  Android works if you just drop the separate files to the phone.  But it doesn't work for some stick computers because they don't include a kernel module.  But you can root and upgrade.  DD-wrt accept separate files pasted into dialog boxes.  Chrome OS the same.  But I didn't try the latter two.  I will be surprised if they don't work.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

No monthly fee landline replacement with Google Voice and Android wifi soft phone

Now I have a working system paying nothing.

I opted for a soft phone in Android.  Although it's a mobile phone, but it is classified as a soft phone.  A dual core will be fine but a single core isn't much far behind in benchmarks.

You need to check your wifi reception around your house.  Actually my 900MHz analog cordless is superior in range.  There are no problems inside the house and around the yard.  On the same floor with the router upstairs, the front rooms have interference from across the street.  The signal drops a lot downstairs.  I used to think wifi signal has a large range.  But no, my old wireless router was just sufficient to browse the web in most places indoors.  I never did much on wireless other than browsing.  With my new router, with careful placement of it, I manage to get 3Mbps in most indoors areas.  That figure is from  I think that's megabytes.  That's the minimum speed provided by some ISP and typically for DSL.  My ISP is 30Mbps and I can get almost that when I'm close to the router.

One of the soft phone said it requires over 1 Mbps to work properly.  Double that is safe as link speed fluctuates a lot and depends on how your neighbors operate their routers.  I use my Android phone with wifi apps to walk around and check the signal and link speed.

For the soft phone I use sipdroid.  It setup Google Voice during install without problems.  For now allows HD voice codec for free.  If you are not talking to another soft phone, or a sip phone, it doesn't mean a thing.  But that's the cool factor.  It sound pretty good if you try the echo test number *43 or the 909... number for PSTN. 

Using a dedicated Google Voice account is recommended because you have to give out your password.  Also, sipdroid acts as if it's talking on the computer via Google talk/chat all the time.  So you must not use it.  Don't login to gmail, but if you have to, logout of Google talk/chat there.  At the Google Voice account, you have to set forward to Google talk/chat, and that's forwarding to your softphone.  You can ring other numbers too as well.  Your softphone will ring first on your mobile before your carrier does.

Sipdroid is pretty much integrated with Android.  But ...  the native dialer won't work with sipdroid without a sim card or perhaps a valid carrier plan.  But any other dialer will work.  You can put the icon of your new dialer in place of the native dialer if you have to.  There are dialer widgets that you can put on the home screen.  Remember that it is supposed to be a landline replacement that kids can use.

The native/Google contacts work.  The call history works.  Sipdroid is transparent if you set it as default if there is wifi.

Now for a change, the Google Voice app is able to send and receive text via wifi only.  The GV app can run any time without interfering with Google Talk/Chat, which is connected to your softphone.  But make sure to set the app not to make any calls.  Confusing enough?

Those talking to you will certainly hear echo of themselves if they are on PSTN.  It's a characteristic getting across different networks, the PSTN and the internet or other networks.  Cell phones have echo cancellation I think.  On the PSTN side, I think echo canceling is done on the carrier network.

Your caller's echo is due to sound from the earpiece coupled into the mic on YOUR phone.  In the echo test number, you can hear the 2nd echo of yourself.  To reduce that set the mic gain to low in sipdroid.  If the echo is still bad, set the earpiece gain to low.  For some phones, if the sound level is too low, you can set the earpiece gain to high.

There's no doubt about it, the voice quality is good, sounds like a landline and better if both ends are soft phones or sip phones.  Using Google Voice, there is a delay that may or may not be noticeable.  The only issue is calling some call centres when you have to use DTMF tones.  You have to slide it out in Sipdroid, not as convenient and responsive as physical buttons.

Can't do fax at home.  Have to find an online account.

There are reasons not to use Google Voice.  When you call somebody, you will be connected to the pbxes server probably in Germany.  They will forward the call to a Google talk/chat server probably in US.  From there your call goes into the PSTN.  If you don't use Google Voice, your call will not bounce across continents.

Before I sorted 0ut my wifi problems, I almost wanted to get service from a VOIP/SIP provider.  The reason I returned my SIP phone is because I have no confidence to find myself a good provider.  If you pay $20 a month there's no problem.  A reasonable provider seems to be callcentric.  First, their website is update - copyright 2013.  They seems to be the real deal full service provider with 911.  You can pay as you go.  The monthly fees are like $1 and the setup fee is free or at most a few dollars.  Calls are a bit expensive at less than 2 cent a minute.  But then if you don't use the phone much you pay almost nothing.  You can try out their services with very little upfront payment.  They also promise to refund any unused prepaid credits.  But they are for geeks who know what is DID and understand why you have separate packages for calling out and receiving calls.  There's a little bit of catch as they will port your home number for $25.

I might still do, for 911 for less than $2 a month.  I'm sure you can still call 911 on the go phone with an expired sim card.  I'm not so sure on the Android.  Some people dial 911 as their first call on their new phone.  It's true, that's the only way you can be sure.  But emergency services is very much against that.  The position reported from my always online Android is not bad at all, mostly fall in the right lot.  But there were exceptions that I didn't look into.  I will.

Even with sip providers, you can still port your number to Google Voice (via wireless first).  For outbound calls they can put any verified phone numbers as the ID.  People can just call your GV number and get forwarded to your DID number.  Since GV is a redirection service, the calls are not bounced across servers as in Google talk/chat.

One more thing, is totally for geeks.  Of course people who manage pbx are IT people for a company.  And don't mess with the settings too much.  If you messed up, HD voice won't be free any more as per their plans.  However you can still delete the account and reinstall sipdroid.  They don't ban the same email after you delete your account.  I don't know if I can keep their free account for long.  Their emails to warn of deleting your accounts are a bit threatening.  I like to pay them reasonable charges but they don't provide sip services, just pbx.

One step further will be having your own PBX.   From there your call goes straight to Google talk server, which will be the same as talking on your computer using gmail.  That's way too complicated but it's all because Google has strategic reasons not to become a free sip provider.

The most popular Asterisk pbx server is actually available on jumbo versions of DD-WRT, that are preinstalled or can be installed on many wireless routers.  The one time cost are adding up fast if I actually buy a new router.  However, I might just do that because the whole house need better wifi coverage.  The old router can be used as a repeater.  Also, I was amazed how many things can be installed on a router nowadays.  A printer server - you may want that in large offices as the router has a large antenna while wifi printers don't.  File server of course.  In relation to that bittorrent clients.  VPN of course but so far I see no openvpn.  For files I must need file encryption like truecrypt of better still the Linux version that do not have pre selected fix sizes "folders" for all your secrets.

But most of it can be installed on Android stick computers too with minimal power consumption.  I don't see why not as you can even install Linux over Android.  But then may be I'm the only one who want Asterisk on an Android stick - until Google Voice shows it's next move.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

How I regret letting an iPad into the house

I have no Apple in my house except for ipods that were promotional gifts.  Everything is Linux, including all the phones (Android), including the iPhone knock-off for kids.

But then it was Christmas.  Wife and kids won't have a clue of what brand of Android tablets they want.  So I let them have it.  For myself the screen can't be bad, the best spec of them all.

The first mistake - the ipad is newer than the ipad 2.  So I have to return the engraved boxes to an Apple shop after Christmas and get some on the self instead.  Before that I walked all the way to the back of the shop to wait for help from one of the many red shirts.  I must be looking too geeky that nobody came forward to help.  They were busy talking to customers but not all of them.  Finally a guy talked to me and tell me to walk all the way to the entrance to the fast track area that I didn't spot at first.  So I handed them my boxes and got one back from the shelf.  The lesson is that Apple shops are not for geeks.  You are so out of places.  If you are used to buy hand made Italian shoes and deal with those sale persons, Apple shops are for you.  Now I appreciate the Samsung smart phone ad much more.

And before that, I realized that a smart case and a dock won't work together.  That's not very smart, isn't it?

Soon after use, I realized that the iPad can hardly be shared.  Multi user login is never designed for.  You can do that in Android if your device is rooted.  Google has no problem with rooting instructions in the Play store.  It's only Linux underneath.  How bad is it?  My wife's email and other alerts are mixed with my kids' game alerts.   Whenever my kids want to try some games, most of the time they have to ask me for the password. 

Then I want to try some music and video on the iPad.  Then I realized that Apple want you to buy everything from the Apple store.  I never did.  It dawn on me that the other end of the cord is a USB so I plugged in.  Oh I was so excited that the iPad appeared as a USB storage.  The excitement was short lived because you can copy things onto the iPad but iPad won't try to detect them.

After some searching, I know that you can copy things over using iTune.  But I have no iTune on my Linux.  I don't want to reboot into my ancient XP every time I want to copy something over.  16 GB is about one Blu-ray movie.

I remembered that Ubuntu works with iPods.  But not yet for the new iPad (or I doubt any iPad).

At least Apple haven't ban YouTube and Amazon altogether.  While all monitors and laptops are wide screen, the iPad is absolutely not.  You have the two old familiar black bars when you are watching a full HD movie.  The iPad isn't that light.  Basically I am carrying extra dead weight when the reason I pay for the premium is the screen.  The screen is really great, but you can always see finger grease on it.

My final attempt to find any use of it myself.  I came across DLNA, which can beam your movies across devices via wi-fi.  I have little faith on it.  Firstly my TV is supposed to support it but some of the models including mine didn't.  Secondly Apple have it's own standard.  I downloaded the 1st media server app and it seemed to work.   So I fired up the server on Ubuntu.  They work flawlessly almost by default.

Soon, being Apple, I realized that only mp4 is playable, and that's a maybe.

Then I downloaded an app that is almost like VLC, that plays everything.  It did.  But after a while, it only plays anything on the top 5 of any list.  You are blackmailed into paying the full solution.

My experience so far is that Apple store apps are more money grabbing, and that is in turn caused by the closed market.  There are plenty of open source software for media server and clients that play everything.

Never again.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Google shopping paid model caused by loophole

Nobody seems to believe Google's explanation for turning Google product search into fee based listing.  That you have better information and higher accuracy.  This is very true.  But what Google didn't tell you is that shop owners find nasty way to game Google's system.

Many shoppers have seen the loophole being exploited.  They just didn't connect the dots.  As for analysts, how often do they actually test the products of the company they analysis?  Did they ever know anything other than financials? (Or not even that?)

It's too easy to game Google's system.  Get a e-commerce website.  Select a product for an incredible low price.  Make sure that people actually can't buy the product.  Then you will get free top ranking in Google product search.  Hopefully buyers will take a look at the real products in your store, or you use the hits to your advantage for something totally different.

At first it was a test.  For example you have to have a lesser known credit card to get the bargain, if it actually exits.  Then it was all over the places.

Google tweak the algorithm to bring them to the back but the impossibly low price stills come up to confuse consumers.

I suspect Google have nothing to combat this as Google search is based on popularity, and the lowest price is the most popular.

This problem will evaporate once payment is involved.  You can identify sellers and can sue them for violating agreements.

Google's multi prong strategy is always interesting.  A Google product doesn't need to be market leader.  It's good to complement Google's overall product offerings, and just as good to generate internal competition.

When Google shopping was free, I use it as a mega search engine including eBay and Amazon.  It pays to advertise there even if you don't sell on both.  With the paid model, Google is still differentiating itself.  You develop your own website and choose whatever payment system you fancy, include Google Wallet.  Google can actually charge you 3 times, the listing, the payment and the advertisement.

eBay will go back to being for small sellers and buyers having too much time on their hands.  It's worse.  Paypal once accepted DHgate, a direct buy from China website.  But then they have to back out because of too many dishonest merchants.  On the other hand, their adult session becomes DHgate or Aliexpress.  If you have a killer product, you want to sell on Amazon for highest impact because of the reviews.  Amazon becomes a place for sellers to bid for buyers.  You can change price on the fly to out do competitors. 

Google shopping seems to be doing OK.  And I can offer you reasons.  Products sell at different prices.  Panasonic sells online direct, via wholesale, who may have their own e-commerce sites, and also on Amazon (eBay).  Nowadays Amazon often don't have the best prices.  I actually paid more on eBay and Amazon for some Chinese made gadgets, in return for better protection and better return policy.  If you want the best price you still need Google.

The $60 Adroid stick computer that kills them all

The causalities is or will be Microsoft, Apple Inc, Intel.  The winners will be those who doesn't depend on hardware/software nor the IT industry.  Those will be Google, and Amazon.

The exceptions will be companies who know how to compete and have competitive edges that are non-volatile.   That's ARM who supplies all those low-cost processors for smart-phones and tablets that made it all possible.  Their reasonable royalty make it possible for the $60 stick computers.  But they are on a tight rope anyway.  All semiconductor fabs or design houses will want to design a replacement for the ARM.  Apple has been known to reinvent itself to get the competition edge, from computers to music players to selling music and TV and then tablet computers again.  This is totally unpredictable for outsiders so I can't really count them in.

If I am correct, Samsung used to have preferential  treatment from the South Korean government.  Indeed Wirlpool has accused them of unfair government subsidies.  Anyway Samsung is king in S Korea as Nokia is in Finland.  Price fixing is common among S Korean conglomerates.

The consumers has spoken!  The last time I upgraded my desktop is just before the dual-core Intel 3GHz processors were introduced.  At the time I have some video coding to be done so I opted for the lastest Intel CPU.  Now that mp4 is standard and my TV understands many codecs, my current desktop is overkill.  At the time I was wondering will people keeping paying for a supercomputer for word processing and web browsing because Microsoft and Intel wants them to?  Now they have spoken.

Android is dominant in the smart phone market, like 80%.  Android is overtaking the tablet market very fast at about 50% now, and will only get more market share like the phones.

Now everybody is going to have a phone, a tablet, a portable and a desktop, and in that order.  This is true especially for kids.  What you can do without is a desktop and a portable.

Android is Linux.  Chrome is Linux.  Kindle is Linux.  The rest is Apple OS.  This is what get Microsoft shitting in their pants.  If their own tablet and phone fails, Windows will be outnumbered by at least 3 to 1 in new purchases and falling.

People realize that they can do most of their stuff on a smart phone, and almost all can be done on an cheap Android with dual-core processor.  They are not afraid of Microsoft, Intel and their own IT department.  Smart phones will stay as you need a phone, and must not be larger than 4 to 5 inches to be carried conveniently.   All you need is a larger screen at other times.  Everybody has HDTV, but they will be in use most of the time.  Then tablets fit the bill.  7" is good to carry for reading but for 10 to 12 inches you can use it as a desktop too, after adding bluetooth or wireless keyboard.

Microsoft is their own biggest enemy.  Although Windows have over 90% of the OS market, Windows 7 has just recently taken over Windows XP (!!!) as the most popular OS.  Now many people have seen that Windows is no more than 5-blade razors, when one or arguably two blades will do the job well for a fraction of the cost.

People buy Windows because there isn't much alternative.  Apart from Apple, nobody sells another OS with their hardware.  You have to pay a premium for Apple's own hardware.  If you want to compete with Windows, you have to find hardware vendors or make your own hardware.  Google did just that.  They don't even need to make money on it as opposed to Apple.

Motorola (owned by Google) know that people realized that they can dock their quad-core phone and use it as a desktop.  That the project doesn't take off two well isn't the issue.  The time hasn't come.  CPU's will be more powerful.  Hopefully there will be something portable that it can dock to.

Now that Android solved the hardware supplier problems, it's Microsoft turn.  They know they have to sell hardware to compete, otherwise Android/Linux will invade their desktop/portable space.  The Surface is what people want - powerful enough and screen large enough for a desktop, more portable than a laptop, and good portable keyboard, and easy to use as a phone.  The problem is - it runs on Windows!  Do you want to run anti-virus suits on your tablet and smart phone?  Oh please.  The market share of Android is big enough to show that the security problems is all Window's problem.  Or, Microsoft's unwillingness to acknowledge the problem.  It's not that difficult.

Window's brand image is so bad that users are asking "do I need anti-virus on my Windows phone? my Windows tablet?".   Users are beginning to ask the questions on Android too.  The security industry isn't helping.  They may be asking the questions themselves and answering themselves.  It's like Y2K or 2012.  If they can't scare enough people they will fall with Microsoft.  Basically modern CPU and OS are designed to be secure.  The problem with Microsoft is legacy.  2nd, they have many of their own very complex closed software with security holes in it.  3rd, they outsource their security team while it should be the OS design team's 1st priority to tackle malware problems.  When I opened my new laptop that comes with Windows 7, I can see anti-Virus on it prominently.  For any other products in life, people will throw that trash away.  Of course I install Linux in it.  It is understandable that Apple can make a living out of it.

There is malware in Android or anything else if you install and give permission to apps from unverified sources.  That include apps that your trusted friend send to you but not from play store (for example).  Other than that, the Linux OS is mature and stable.  With the popularity of Android, patches will be faster and security scrutiny will be tighter.  Linux and Google will be fixing the security holes rather than waiting for Panda security to discover it and Macfee to fix it.  For the 3rd party malware detection for Android, you have to ask what they are selling you?  Are there 3rd party virus detection for Apple?

The problem of open OS is finding hardware to go with it.  No major hardware manufacturer will produce a Linux PC because the demand will be low at first.  So the lack of drivers for Linux is a problem.  Being dominant, Android solved the problem.

The other MS problem is their bread and butter Office.  Now when apps are selling for dollars and cents, what place has Office?  Google office is free, no worries cloud storage, and collaboration and version control.  If you don't know the importance of the latter, I understand why you need to stick to MS, so you won't have be the being left alone feeling.  Corporate IT has nobody else to blame if they go for Google Office.  Now Google begin to take some corporate business and earn some money out of it just as well.  IT strategy will change.  Corporate don't view consumer advertisements, which is Google's bread and butter.  That's why the low priority until now.

MS word has been the 6-blade razor for decades.  Google Doc is still minimal in comparison but what else do you need?  Now that file formats are all open and compatible.

Does Apple has something game changer under it's sleeves?  You can never know.  But that mode of operation is hard to maintain.  You rely on true disrupting innovation.  You can see how fast Apple rise to the top and how easy they are not the dominant player.  Their old main competitor Microsoft is selling low for an inferior product.  Android is a different animal.  It's open source and free.  Google don't even need to make money out of it as long as more people have a Google account and use it more often.

Intel can always fabricate other's chip design like ARM's, but they can't get that sort of revenue margin from each one.  They already did a Microsoft for flip-flopping about their architecture.  They are going nowhere.  They are still designing and making very good CPU's, but too good that they are super computers that people don't need.  Netbook/nettop is an idea to sell weak chips for lower price and don't admit that most people don't need 3 GHz quad-core CPU's.  Atom ended up to be pretty fail.  They can always find an answer to ARM, but they have to sell them as cheap as ARM.  RISC architecture, that the ARM is, is decade's old idea that everybody predicts will win the day.  But Intel's legacy chip killed them all, include high end work stations.  (What? Work stations?)  A consumer product that everybody pays can get enough revenue and margin to support development of complex chips that are hard to compete.  ARM survived enough to save the day.

Now you have a dual-core Android on a stick for $60, forget about docking phones, nettops, media servers and all those.  The dock may cost more than that.  Plug that into an HDTV and you have an Android desktop.  Of course you need a wireless keyboard with a touch pad on it.  Or just a touch pad.  They are pretty good and I'm using one on Linux.  Since you have TV's at home and monitors at work, nothing's more portable than that.  If you really need something done on the go, you really need a tablet.  But it makes sense to me if they produce a 11 inch sized monitor (with touch) that can be easily carried or easily stand on desktop.  You plug your stick in and it's a tablet.

One computer per child goal is pretty much accomplished - by Chinese factories.  There are already tablet target priced at $99 for major manufacturers.  For the Android stick, how much is it to add a 8GB microSD card and a 1280x720 display?  Or a QHD display?

A display and touch pad makes sense because it is pretty hard to be obsolete.  My 17" monitor is doing well.  The magic number seems to be 1920 x 1080 full HD.  It will take decades to adopt to another standard.  Sitting on the desk, there's a lot of limits for what a monitor can become.  Retina display is a gimmick as you need to be close to notice anything.  A monitor cannot be too big otherwise you need to mount it on the wall as your TV.  Even Windows is going to give up multiple overlapping windows, so the day of huge monitors is over.  If you need that, you can always have more monitors.  It's much easier to plug in an Android stick each than having a common computer.

"But Android doesn't do word processing!" But Android is Linux.  You can download the terminal app and try typing "echo hello world".  It should be trivial to add or replace with another Linux.  I think Ubuntu becomes an app in Android.  The graphics drivers and the are the difficult part.  Now you have it in Linux.  There are also word processing app in store now.  Google didn't go all the way because they don't need to.  They are not making direct money on the OS.  Once you get enough hardware for Linux, software will come. Is 80% smart phones and 50% tablets enough?  I predict next year it will be 80-90% for smart phones and 80% tablets.  This will be the US market.  Asian markets will lag behind because of the brand name problem.  China snatched up a lot of ipads because of brand and image.  Americans always have less of such concerns.  They are more of the "bang for the buck" people.

There are so many things that the iPhone cannot do because it's not an open market.  The smart phone is the ideal platform for bittorrent download!.  For a 32 GB card you can download the whole blu-ray disk.  You can then stream it to your HDTV or monitor.  Openvpn is easier to install and use on any platform I have tried.  It's a few dollars a month for subscription services and may be cheaper if you only pay for bandwidth use.  Android could revitalize bittorrent and kill some of the annoying file download sites that rely on spams to get business.

Is Google really king?  If the $50 wifi bulb that you can control on your Android sells, Google can get more user time on their device, their account and their websites - meaning more advertisement.  If that doesn't work out, find something else.  Who doesn't need advertisement? Amazon.   Ironically, you SEARCH to compare on Amazon and then buy.  Amazon earns when you buy, doesn't matter which product.  Years ago, my buying decisions are based more on specifications and reviews, rather than advertisement.  Reviews are problematic but Amazon had been educating the public for a decade and most can detect good reviews, fake reviews and dumb reviews.  Being Bezos, I think he could have had the vision of reviews are the answers to advertising.  In the beginning I went with epinions to get some pennies even though Amazon reviews has much more views.  I switched to Amazon because the reviews at epinions became, well, advertisements. 

Facebook is a dating site.  Yes, it still is.  Who wants to be on it so everybody else can look you up?  You pay to get off the phone list!  When all's said and done, when you have family and kids, and understand that nobody else want to see your family albums, you will retire out of Facebook.