Wednesday, 6 December 2017

A tale of headpones.

This is a tale of a couple of pairs of headphones, and some interesting outcomes based on a couple of purchases that I have made.

First off, let me be very clear, I'm not an audiophile. For a pair of headphones to sound bad to me they probably are going to rate as god awful for anybody who claims that title, so this is not so much about audio quality as much as it is about the construction of the things.

That being said I found myself needing a new pair of headphones a while back and after sniffing around online I settled on a set of headphones from Status Audio, specifically the HD One's. The claim here is that Status Audio works on a direct to consumer model and that by cutting out all the middlemen and marketing crap that they deliver headphones comparable to other much more expensive brands.

Seems legit.

The price was good and I thought that since they have a 30 day statisfaction garuntee I'd give them a try and tossed out an order for them and waited for delivery. When they arrived I pulled them out of the box, gave them a go, and they sounded fine. Given the coupons that I got and the free shipping (since they messed up on the shipping) the price came in around the 50$ mark. And that's where the problem came in.

While the headphones where good and sounded fine they really didn't have the build quality that I was hoping for. They where in fact very similar to some other headphones that I've come across at a number of other dollar store places over the past several years. In fact looking around on a number of sites I can see many other headphones that look very similar for a lot less money.

Now I don't know of the folks at Status are just picking up some inexpensive headphones, labeling them and sending them out at a decent markup, or if they have some secret sauce that they have figured out and they manufacturer that they are using just uses the same molds on a bunch of different products. Either way I can't get past the feeling that these things are going to snap in half while I'm trying to adjust them to my head.

If they where something that I picked up for 20$ or so I probably would not have had any complaints but for the price I was expecting something more robust. So, given that I had a 30 day guarantee on these I decided to take advantage of that and try something else.

That something else wound up being a set of Anker Soundbud Sports. They are quite a bit different but given the price at the time (25$) I thought it would be pretty hard to go wrong. After using them for several months I was pretty happy with them but earbuds like this don't generally fit in my ears well at all and these really didn't make much difference from others.

The quality is fine, they work well enough, and the battery life is fairly good considering that they are tiny little things and I was quite willing to keep running with them for as long as they would survive. I however wound up getting a bit of good luck in the form of a door prize that I won when a local retailer opened a new shop near my house.

That door prize was a set of Plantronics BackBeat 500 series headphones.

Now these things are quite a bit more than I would normally spend on a headset, simply because they don't tend to last for me and I'm cheap as hell. However after having these things for a while I'd seriously consider spending that money if I was looking at having to replace them. The sound is goog, battery runs for days and days, and if they go dead there's still the option to wire them in with a cable that came bundled with them.

I'm actually fairly familiar with the Plantronics brand from the headsets at work - and they hold up pretty well there considering that most of the people using them generally treat them like a rented mule.

Time will tell on this one, but I have the feeling that I'll stick with these headphones for a while, they don't have the issues with construction that the Status Audio ones do, but they have the convenience of Bluetooth so that I have one less wire hanging around to deal with.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016


So yea, that whole getting fit thing. Still sticking with it, but man are my legs tired tonight.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

A home lab.

As many people know I work with technology for a living. For those of you who don't, well I work with technology for a living.

To support that I keep a batch of hardware at home for purposes of playing around with new software solutions that I get my hands on. For a while I had been scaling back more and more and more on the hardware that I keep in house and using virtualization more and more. However it eventually got to the point where I wasn't replacing my hardware at a pace that could keep up with the number of machines dying due to old age.

I was looking around at getting some new gear, but then I got a call from a friend who had some machines that where being disposed of and they where wondering if I was interested in recycling them for them. I figured that I may as well have a look at them, and in the end it turned out that they where a bunch of HP 6000 PRO machines running dual core processors. While these aren't the most powerful pieces of hardware they are enough to run VMWare ESXi and the price was right.

Unfortunately there was only enough memory to get a few machines running properly, but just having to purchase memory is a dammed sight better than having to purchase an entire system.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

When doing the right thing feels like a bad idea.

People that know me probably know that I'm not the most athletic person on the planet. It's not that I don't like getting out and doing things but going out and running a marathon is not something that I'm about to go out and do for fun.

This week however I did something that feels like a really bad idea.

I joined a Gym.

Now, normally that's not a bad idea, but as I said I'm not somebody who's going to run out and look for physical exercises to perform. That being said there have been some rather impressive runs of horrible luck as far as my family and the health of folks in my family over the last year. These incidents have had me reconsidering my own health and finally thrown enough fear into me that I've decided to take some steps to change things.

We will see how this works out.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Pretty little iPhones...

So, no more headphone jack on the iPhone moving forward.

I'm kind of torn on this one to be honest. While the headphone jack has been pretty much a staple on phones for a very, very, long time it does put some specific limitations on what you can do with your device. It's going to set a minimum thickness to the phone and it requires that you have the appropriate hardware to drive the thing in the device.

I can see why Apple would pull it out, a lot of people are moving to using Bluetooth to stream audio to other devices but it's not quire replaced using a hard wire in all cases.

There was a similar outcry when Apple dropped the ADB ports on the Mac hardware of the day, and another when they dropped the Floppy disk from their systems, so this is really nothing new. Apple tends to move on from legacy stuff first and others wind up following suit. I think it's a bit early right now since Bluetooth headphones are still not as cheap as the wired ones, and personally I already have too many devices to charge.

While they do give you an adapter that's still another piece of wire to lug around, and since i'm using more than one device with the same pair of headphones that wire won't simply stay attached to the headphones 24x7.

While I'm not 100% sure it's time to drop the headphone jack that's not the reason that i'll be passing on the iPhone 7. Quite frankly the price of the devices is killing it for me.

These days I have been using a set of rather inexpensive Android devices. While the user interface is not as polished on the device that I'm currently using it's still more than enough to get the job done. This phone ran 150$ bought outright, compared to nearly four times the cost to purchase the cheapest iPhone outright. And while my current phone can't do Apple Pay, that's really not something that I find myself missing. The peace of mind that I get from not having to worry about my phone hitting the floor if it slips out of my hand is worth a fair bit on it's own.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Thoughts on encryption, and why the Apple vs. the DOJ thing is important.

There is a really interesting fight brewing right now between Apple and the US Department of Justice over the cell phone used by the shooters in San Bernidino. Most people have probably read about this in some form or another but it boils down to law enforcement asking Apple to break into the phone in a way that would allow them to simply brute force guess the password on the device as fast as possible to unlock the data that it contains.

The US law enforcement position is that they need access to this information to protect the public interest and because of the way that the device is designed and encryption is in place on these things they don't have a back door unless Apple puts one in place for them. Apple's position is that this is a slippery slope and that if they do this for a single device they will get pushed into doing this on more and more and more devices as soon as law enforcement realizes that they now have a way in.

The big problem that I have with this is that if Apple concedes and opens up this one phone they have now proven that it can be done. There's already one request showing up asking them to do anywhere between 9 to 11 more phones that I've seen posted online, and there's one US district attorney who's said that he's got about 175 phones that they have been unable to unlock. Consider that this is happening before Apple has even said that they can actually do what's being asked of them and it's not hard to see where this ends up.

And if you think for a second that the folks making Android devices won't be getting similar requests as soon as a precedent is set you need to give your head a shake.

Now normally I'm on the side of Law Enforcement in a lot of cases. They have a rough job to do and they pretty much have to be right 100% of the time, where somebody trying to cause problems just has to be right once to have an impact, but this bothers me in a way that I'm not entirely comfortable with.

First of all any time you provide a back door it's going to get abused. You can put as many controls on access to this information as you want but at some point in the chain there is going to be someone who has access and uses it for their own purposes. It might be somebody stalking a ex, somebody tracking their kids, or some other equally inane reason but once you open that door it's not going to be closed and will eventually get in the hands of people who want to use it for really nasty reasons.

Secondly, while I have nothing to hide that's not to say that I don't have information about myself or my family that I don't want being publicly disclosed. Everybody has secrets, and while the only sure way to keep them secret is to keep them off of my computer having anybody with the ability to just walk in and bypass any type of encryption that I have put in place - no matter how good I am about maintaining the security of my devices - is a troubling thought.

And while there are a lot of points that one can keep going over the government already can go after people to get this type of information - provided they are not you know, dead. If the government wants into something that I have encrypted they just have to go get a court order to get the passwords, encryption keys, or whatever is required to access that information.  Then I have the choice to provide that information or go to jail because I have decided to defy a court order. The advantage to this is that it's not something that's going to be done behind my back and it puts the onus on me to decide if it's worth going to jail to keep that information secure.

This is something that everybody should be watching carefully. If this box gets opened up it should cause us all to carefully reconsider what's secure in our world, if there is actually anything that we can consider secure at all.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Cellphones suck.

Yesterday was the Apple keynote at WWDC, and as usual they announced a number of new phones and devices. And  while there was nothing unexpected when they started talking about the pricing on the phones I just had to shake my head, not just for the fact that Apple is expecting people to pay 900$ (CAD) for the iPhone 6s for the base model, but for the fact that all the folks making smart phones are expecting people to be paying that much for a phone.

Now this is for a unlocked phone, and a lot of people will say that the phone is not that expensive because they will just get the provider to subsidize it when they renew their contract. Funny thing - the cell providers don't actually do you any favors with that subsidy. Take for example Fido, and the cheapest plan that you can get from them on the current iPhone 6.

iPhone 6 (Upfront Cost) - 349.00$
Monthly service cost - 80.00$/month
Service Cost (24 month) - 1920.00$
Total Paid (24 month) - 2269.00$

Now with Fido you can get the same plan, if you bring your own phone, for 40$ per month. So if I go out and buy a unlocked iPhone from Apple directly here's what I wind up paying:

iPhone 6 (Unlocked from Apple) - 769.00$
Monthly service cost - 40.00$/month
Service Cost (24 month) - 960.00$
Total Paid (24 month) - 1729.00$

Difference - 540.00$

So basically you wind up paying a extra 540$ for the privilege of getting a locked phone from your provider and getting stuck with their service for at least 2 years. And the kciker is that even if you wanted to pay the provider for the phone and get the cheaper plan they still want to charge you 839.00$ for the privilege of getting the phone from them. An extra 70$ out of your pocket just because they hand you the phone rather than getting from Apple directly.

This is a nice enough scam that Apple is getting into the financing game for the phones now. Right now it's only in the US but I can see it showing up here in Canada soon enough. Looking at the numbers they are only charging you 124$ US over buying it outright, and you wind up with the AppleCare warranty on the thing as well. Honestly if I was one of the existing carriers I don't know if I would be pissed off because Apple was taking a chunk of my cheddar by cutting into what I can make selling the phones, or happy because I don't have to carry the subsidy over the life of the customers contract.

And this cost is all for a 16gb base model phone. Yea, great value for the money there.