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Archive for the ‘iphone’ Category

DIY Smart TV

If you have a bang-up-to-date expensive Smart TV – just ignore this. Otherwise if you’re on Sky HD you might find this useful.

For some time now, having given up on toys such as the Apple TV box and similar and while pondering the new Android box, I’ve been running a laptop (for lack of noise – and immunity to power glitches) next to the TV to run Plex – which has to be one of the best free Media players on the planet. Running on a laptop it gives you access to all your media using a standard Microsoft-type remote IR control. I’ve trained up a “One-For-All” to handle the Sky HD box, the TV and the laptop. My media is held on a Netgear ReadyNas – a black box with disks in it which reliably stores and makes available my pictures, music and video to the home network.

PlexPlex is a fine, easy to use software interface to your media and has available loads of plug-ins such as YouTube, Ted TV and lots more. With the laptop plugged into one of the TVs spare inputs, switching between Sky and Plex is a simple button press. The laptop is set to run external monitor only and hence can run without heating up or using it’s internal display.

With the likes of the BBC iPlayer and ITV’s equivalent it has for some time been possible to catch up on TV you’ve missed – the only problem being the players are not integrated into Plex so you have to fiddle with a keyboard and mouse – not ideal in a living room– and the quality is not as good a modern HD TV.

Along comes Sky On Demand according to the ads on TV. On pressing the RED button on my Sky remote,  I seemed to have only a small subset of what I’d expect – only seeing material that has already been automatically recorded on the “reserved” space on the HD box (this happens all the time – and explains why you don’t have as much room as you’d expect on your Sky box). Incidentally if you have the original Sky HD box you really should consider upgrading (either upgrade – or you can replace the hard drive yourself with a little work) as modern HD materials EAT disk space and so the latest units have larger hard drives – One Terabyte is good. I realised that Sky was choosing what it thought I would like (wrong) and storing them in a reserved part of the hard disk- but that’s it. No ability to do REAL on-demand from the Internet.

Typical 5-port routerLast night I decided to investigate and On-Demand is actually free – but you have to register for it on the Sky website. But first things first – you need a wired network connection to the Sky box – I’d not even think about wireless considering the amount of data we’re talking about downloading. 

I swapped my wired network connection from the laptop to the Sky box and sure enough – recognised immediately. As it happens I’d bought a TP-Link 5-Port Gigabit Unmanaged Desktop Switch from Amazon for £15 and so I simply plugged the network lead into that – giving 4 remaining outputs – one for the laptop, one for the Sky box and 2 spares. Perfect.

Now armed with broadband to the Sky box, going through Sky’s rather convoluted website www.sky.com/ondemand I was convinced I was going to end up paying more while signing up – but sure enough… no. After 5 minutes checking on the web I was still kitted out with Sky Anytime stuff as before and the promise now of the FULL package. But pressing the RED button produced nothing new – all I had were the same few inappropriately pre-recorded programs I’d always had available. To make matters worse, Sky have two access points on their website, the other being www.sky.com/tvondemand – which is confusing but turns out it’s the same thing and can be ignored.

Having signed up on the web, I gave up late last night, resigning myself to ringing Sky today to ask why no On-Demand… but when I got up this morning – lo and behold…. an overnight update left me with the full works. BBC iPlayer, ITV player, Channel 5 player and a host of icons for Sky stuff – all with no extra cost.  How it works? Simple – so for example I wanted a copy of the Harry and Paul Episode 3 from a couple of weeks ago on the BBC (I never watch BBC live and didn’t even know the program was on). Clicking the iPlayer icon I selected the episode – and a download began. 1.2Gig is needed for this 30 minute episode (see what I mean about broadband – this is going to eat up a LOT of data) and after about 10 minutes, despite the download being only 20% complete, a “Play” icon appeared.

I pressed Play and sure enough, not the normal web-streaming medium quality but the full, crystal clear HD playback stored on the Sky HD box just as if I’d scheduled a recording in the normal way. For reasons best known to the BBC this recording will only be available to me until part way through December but by then I’ll have watched the best bits of this superb episode to death. Harry’s Scottish accent “Everything is much, much better in Scotland than England, oh yes” and Paul’s Gypsy woman “I curse you” are the funniest thing on TV IMHO.

Add to this Apps for iPhone which not only let you set recordings on your Sky HD box from anywhere on the planet but also talk directly to the Sky box over the WIFI when you’re at home and let you control the box as if you were using the remote control (but better). There’s an iPad App but it kept failing on me and the Android equivalent right now does not give you local WIFI control. but given a little time these apps are going to be superb– the iPhone version works really well now and is FAR better than using the normal Sky remote for selecting material, but the larger screen of a tablet would be my choice as the TV programme guide is so limited compared to what you can do on a tablet.

And there you have it. A sparkly new Smart TV is one way, but not the only way.

Ice-Cream Anyone? The new white HTC ONE X

Against my better judgement (but then it’s usually that way) my wife, desperate for a new phone and frustrated by continued delays with the forthcoming Samsung S3, decided today was going to be the day she got her new phone and so off we went to the Metro Centre in Gateshead.

She headed to the Orange store where she got her original HTC Desire from – and I managed to persuade her to pop firstly into the 3 store – where I got my iPhone 4. Having been an Orange customer for many years, some time ago I’d simply had it with their utterly useless technical support and wavering definition of “unlimited data”.. I went to get my iPhone 4 and they informed me that I could have unlimited data – but that I would have to pay an extra £10 a month to share that data with my iPad. Well, you can imagine how I felt about that and to cut a long story short, I simply got out of the contract and went elsewhere.

3 offered truly unlimited, unrestricted data- and sure enough having bought my iPhone 4 with 3, I could share it with my iPad – and have done ever since, not to mention playing endless Internet radio when in the car. Marvellous. I have no complaints – batter life could be better but then that applies to virtually all top-end phones.

tmpD4FDFor the above reasons alone I did my best to convince my wife to change suppliers. She was not convinced until today, we went first to the 3 store and they were offering the new HTC One X for £29 a month with unlimited data. Back we went to the Orange store wherein we asked the assistant if they had the new Samsung – no. Ok, did they have the HTC X1 – yes – at £41 for unlimited data. This apparently is the best they can do – when asked if they still matched other people’s rates the assistant INSISTED EMPHATICALLY that they’d never done that. Sadly for him we both have long memories of having had Orange do just that on several occasions… by this point we were so disgusted with Orange I didn’t have to do any convincing – straight across the road to the 3 store and shortly thereafter out came my wife with a brand, spanking new HTC One X.

I’m not that keen on HTC having had many years of dealing with their phones supplied to staff.. and having watched buttons drop off etc.… but I have to say, they do seem to be improving. Whether this model will compare to Samsung S3 or the forthcoming iPhone 5 is another matter but the setup (Ice-Cream Sandwich) was devastatingly easy, the large screen is stunning and the phone is very light and thin. With a 1.5Ghz quad-core processor the screen is lightning fast and transferring information from the old to the new phone, I did in the store while she was filling in forms.. a trained monkey could have done the job. 

Key things to note, the HTC desire, though capable of handling a large external memory was screwed by having only 256 meg internally – and no matter what you do – you have to use a small but of that memory for every application you install – even if that application itself is stored in external memory.

The ONE X is very different – out of the box it has 1 GB of internal memory but ALSO has 32GB of permanently built-in “external” memory.  Installing the Sat-Nav software we use along with Spanish and UK maps hardly made a dent in the available storage and I’m confident the phone will handle more Apps than are likely to get installed by a long way. The S3 incidentally will have a higher monthly cost so that needs to be taken into consideration when comparing the two.

As time and experience progress I’ll update this blog. Up to now the white model is looking very nice. Would I swap for my iPhone? No, they still have a long way to go – but Ice Cream Sandwich is a very welcome improvement on the previous operating system version…  First thing to get tested once the battery is fully charged will be the 1080p HD video recording capability…  I mean – in a PHONE for heaven’s sake!!

Project Production Line

It’s been a quiet weekend up to now, got my grandson over, last night we had WAY too much to drink with friends so I’ve been hiding away in my office with the soldering iron to recover. The Internet Thermostat is sitting testing 24/7 – I’m determined to leave it for a couple of weeks to make sure it is reliable before actually using it to control heating!

tmpB2BCSo, having grasped the basics I’m now 90% through my next project. The board you see to your right is an 8-relay controller, capable of switching 8 devices (lights, heaters etc etc) at up to 2Kw each. You see the relay panel at the bottom, microprocessor on the left and Ethernet controller on the right. The primary control is via the Internet, from, say, my iPhone but I’ve added infra-red remote control (the little green thing top left) and tomorrow depending on the weather I plan to add short range radio control also. The idea being that this would be controllable by short range radio but also that the power of the board could be extended to a further up to 8 relays (or more) for those hard to wire places… depending on the reliability of the radio (I know it works as I had a test rig up with two of them chatting to each other – but I don’t yet know how reliable the radio is.

That’s my next job…

Cottage Thermostat

If you’ve been keeping up I’ve spent all my spare time recently getting to grips with the Arduino – which is in essence nothing more than a single-chip Micro with bootloader and a decent library of routines.

We needed a better thermostat for Hollyberry Cottage and decided to “give it a go” – here’s the results so far after MANY blind alleys and the smell of fried plastic on more than one occasion…

Arduino-based thermostat

So essentially what you’re looking at on the right is a prototyping board with a microprocessor on the right and associated parts (the little long grey chip on the right), at the top of the board – the blue sub-board is an Ethernet (internet) interface, at the bottom a mains relay. Off the board to the left is a control pot (user heating control, to the top are some LEDs  and on the right is the cable I use to program the lot – that’s not part of the project.

So the idea is simple enough – the unit via a remote head controls the temperature in the place with two options – normal and standby… in standby the temperatures drop, in normal they are suitable for having people there.. in each case there are 4 timezones and the level of control the pot has is controllable… so we might let people vary the temperature by +-4 degrees from the setpoint for example….

tmp6261So why the Ethernet interface – well, Maureen and I are out and about, perhaps even in Spain and we need to be able to handle last minute cancellations or indeed last minute bookings.  Instead of driving over to the cottage to change the heating, we want to be able to do this from anywhere… and that means on a mobile phone. There are TWO different and incompatible Ethernet Interfaces for the Arduino board and I made the mistake of spending a lot of time working with the cheap one using the ENC28J60 chip – it’s cheap – but it simply does not work reliably. I then moved onto the standard board which uses a Wiz5100 chip – and that worked perfectly except for inexplicable hang-ups which were pretty predictable – turns out the standard library that everyone uses has a bug – that sorted the board is now working utterly reliably (up to now, longest test 24 hours – I plan to give it a couple weeks next).

tmpBBE7The interface has to be simple.. As you can see on the left I’ve stuck with large buttons. Typically you would log into the site and press NORMAL or FALLBACK to control the heating – but you can also set up the time, set the temperature zones and even view a graph of historical temperature (stored locally in EEPROM). The graph will get more sophisticated in time but for now it merely shows historical data. The chip has enough spare EEPROM for around 900 points (to the nearest degree, much smaller if you want fractions – though thinking about it I could store to the nearest 0.5degrees just by doubling the figure and getting the 8-bit equivalent – if the temperature hits 128c we’re in BIG trouble – or minus for that matter internally).

Instead of an expensive LCD display at the user end I’ve gone for 3 simple LEDS – red, green and blue. The GREEN light simply flashes to let you know the unit is thinking – when the heating is ON it flashes far more obviously…. the red and blue are optional and give a varying indication of HEATING (red) or COOLING (blue) depending on the setting of the pot.. they may or may not make it into the final unit.

I’ve incorporated delays to stop someone madly fiddling with the controls and setting the relay on and off rapidly….. and the settings will survive a power loss – though right now the time won’t… my next job is to get the board to send me an email if the power dies so I can reset the time – cheaper than using a battery and more useful as I need to know if power cuts occur! Maybe I’ll get it to send a TWEET…. more as things progress.

Update 29/3/2012

The email was not that easy – turns out it’s quite hard to have the board do a server/client on it’s own web pages AND handle something else – so email, even twitter is out (I did get the code running to send TWEETS!) until I can find out how to do 2 things at once. On the upside I’ve now added a real time clock board so it knows the time and can keep it if the power goes off. The board is essentially done, it now needs to sit on test to make sure it’s reliable. NOW I can get back onto working on Maureen’s SAD light… which will also get the real time clock treatment!  I’ve ordered more of the Ethernet boards – I can see lots of applications for this stuff.

Update 24/9/2014

See other posts on the subject of home control – amazing how far this project has come on in 2 years! The first follow up to this original article occurs here – my UberBareBoard project.

Watching your Favourite Movies on Holiday

tmpBCCFSince the release of NetFlix in the UK (for American readers – we know – we’re miles behind on this) I’ve been avidly catching up on movies I’ve missed and old TV shows. How? Well, Netflix is a streaming video service which not only has movies like LoveFilm but also has many hundreds of TV series – yes, not just shows but entire series..

Given half-decent bandwidth you can watch stuff in pretty high quality on your iPad, iPhone or Apple TV – even Android has "an App for that".

The first hurdle however comes when you try watch your favourite American shows on NetFlix – guess what – we don’t have them. Some of the best stuff is unavailable to a UK audience and worse, when you go on holiday, let’s say, for the sake of argument, SPAIN…

tmpAF97

The same of course applies to the BBC iPlayer. Now, I understand copyright… we can’t have the Spanish watching stuff for which they don’t have an agreement. BUT.. HEY BUDDY – I PAID FOR THIS ALREADY.   I paid my TV licence which means BBC content is as much mine as any other Brits… and I’m paying £6 for NetFlix – so why CAN’T I watch my shows?

Finally, ever been overseas and gotten yourself annoyed at foreign adverts on your browser, or perhaps Google comes up in the wrong version… same issue… read on.

Answer part ONE: There are solutions for these issues and more. All of these country checks rely on your IP address to figure out where you are in the world.. and if they spot that you are not where you should be – you get messages like the one above…. so what you need is something that gives you an IP address of the country you’re supposed to be in – so in the case of the iPlayer, the UK and ideally for NetFlix – the USA.

If you don’t know what an IP address is, it’s a number you’re given when you connect to the Internet. PCs don’t use names for addresses, they use numbers, the net naming system is just for our benefit.

VPNs (virtual Private Networks) can be used for the purpose of pretending you are somewhere else  and, in fact, any broadband router worth a light (so that excludes BT routers) will have VPN capability built in – so in theory on holiday you could route back into your own home in the UK… but there’s a catch. Your home broadband would no doubt pull in the movies at high speed – but it’s SENDING (upload) capability is probably RUBBISH… typical UK upload speeds are less than 1 meg – not good enough.

tmpEE3ESo what you need is a package of high-speed VPNs in various countries – without breaking the bank. HIDEMYASS does this – and so now, sitting here in Spain I have access to VPNs all over the place, England, France, USA etc. All I have to do is connect my iPad to the Internet, run up the VPN for say America – and Bobs your uncle – I look like I’m in the USA so NetFlix puts up the right information.

And that’s wonderful, PC, iPad, Apple TV and…. erm, no.  Over here the broadband speed is not that fast, it’s 1 MByte or so in each direction, being a WIMAX setup with an aerial on my window and a very LARGE aerial in the village below.  Add to that the slight drop in using the VPN and the quality is awful.

Answer part TWO: While it is customary to knock old fashioned PCs and even more old-fashioned FLASH, the fact is that while newer formats such as that found on the iPad and Apple TV offer GREAT quality, they are not so clever on limited bandwidth.. The humble Windows 7 PC when running Netflix and the iPlayer uses FLASH and it’s actually quite reasonable on rubbish bandwidth.

Plugged into a large LCD TV we’re sitting here enjoying the best of American and British TV and movies without a Spanish advert in sight… the only thing that’s missing is a handy remote control. Ok you’re not going to get the latest Sky series but they’ll end up Netflix eventually – just a matter of time.

Fist thing I’m doing when I get back is looking for a half-decent second hand laptop to be the new media centre – with these new tools (and CatchupTV) it’s finally possible to manage without a satellite or aerial – not before time… and as broadband speeds increase, it can only get better.

Planning a trip abroad? Like your TV – now you know how to get what you want, where you want it.

The Future could not be further from Orange

Even when I was WITH Orange they could never get it right – and now that I’ve LEFT them they STILL can’t get it right.

Until recently times I’ve had an Orange mobile phone since, oh, well, last century. I’ve never had a signal in Wark but we live in home and from time to time I’ve written to Orange to try to push them along to improve the signal. Along the way their customer service has been attrocious to say the least and recently it’s been just too much. I’d had enough by mid-2011 and due to that and continued utter lack of signal at my home and no plans to get it, I finally managed to get Orange to agree that I could scrap the mobile contract and go elsewhere – this was in May 2011.

This agreement was put on my record.  I rang them up and confirmed I wanted to leave Orange – and asked what the procedure was. I was to put my phone in an envelope, send it off to them and I’d then get a final partial-month bill – and the info I needed to transfer my number elsewhere.

I sent the phone off and verified with the post office that it was delivered and signed for – that was 2 weeks from first writing the this blog in May. I heard nothing. I wrote to them – and heard nothing.  I went online to their ATTROCIOUS website which never works properly – I had SO MANY attempts…. just to get my final bill for £36.  It said there was a PDF waiting for me – but every time I went there…

tmpEF35

I am SO glad I dumped these losers. Oh yes, I went to mobile company THREE and yes, their website works, NO they don’t have a “fair use” policy – and they give you a free premium subscription to Spotify… and their 3G works in every rural area I’ve been to up to how – Orange say they have better COVERAGE – but I think I’m safe in saying that THREE have better 3G coverage. I can play music almost anywhere I go as it streams it off the web, be that Internet radio or Spotify…  what a different world….

Check out this catalogue of errors…..

Update 5th September 2011 : I’ve just returned from holiday to find a bill from Orange (I never did hear any more from them otherwise).  No, it’s not for the outstanding £36 – but for a whopping £114.68 AND they’re threatening to "disconnect" the service – that should be good for a laugh as it has been disconnected since June (07773 819894 – discontinued) – it’s as if they have no knowledge AT ALL of the contract ending. I spoke to someone on the phone today and they have records of me ringing in… but could not progress as the guy I spoke to may be on another shift – or some such excuse  – so I’ve written off to them to point out they have the phone and the contract’s been dead since June…  Amazing.

Update 9th September 2011 : After writing off to Orange a less than pleasant letter in the post regarding the so-called £114.68 overdue bill, I received a call today to apologise for the screw-up – it says “With reference to your recent enquiry, we can confirm that your account is now settled and that no further action will be taken against you. Your credit reference records will be updated accordingly.”

Update 13th October 2011: All the time I was with Orange I had to put up with their total inability to get things right. I’d almost forgotten what it was like – until this morning.  On the 9th when I spoke to them – as you’ll see above, all was well. Well, THIS MORNING I got a bill for £69.33 – I’m sure they just think of a random number, hopefully if ANYTHING still works over there, there recorded messages from the 9th should clarify that this is WRONG – you have to wonder…

Update 14th October 2011:  2 days after Orange sent a bill for the wrong amount – they sent off a THREATING LETTER. This one says they’ve contacted me a number of times “ERM NO!”. Apparently if I’m still within my contract (which they KNOW I’m not) I’ll be liable for monthly service plan charges.  What is it about this lot that make me think of a large office of people walking in straight lines, banging their heads against walls then bouncing off in search of another wall. Dealing with Orange has been this dis-organised since I bought my first Nokia Smartphone from them last century when we lived in Newcastle…thinking about it – there was no signal there, either. Still – I’ll never have to do it again!

Update 30th October 2011: I’ve returned from a short break – this time to find a letter from Moorcroft Debt Recovery Limited who sent a particularly obnoxious for £148.27 (remembering I owed Orange £36 and I had already send them a cheque on 14th October to sort this once and for all despite not having an invoice for it).  I rang Orange (amazingly this simple cancellation has now been going on for 5 months) – the operator put me on hold for his manager, his manager put me on hold for debt recovery – but their phone isn’t working today and so I have been told by the manager, a lady, that this is in NO WAY MY FAULT (you don’t say), that she’s emailed the dept recovery agency to SCRAP this and someone will ring be back tomorrow between 10.30am and 11.30am. I was just about to thank her and put the phone down when she started talking about UPGRADES… I very CAREFULLY explained this was nothing to do with upgrades but due to a cancellation because Orange never has and never will provide a signal where I live.  It is hard to believe that this company actually has computers and keeps records.

A quick look at the timeline…so far…

  • May – CANCELLED CONTRACT, RETURNED PHONE.  I owed £36
  • 5th September – no invoices (and no disconnection code either) – but the bill is now £114.68
  • 9th September I’m promised I’ll get a bill for £30
  • 13th October a bill for £69.33
  • 26th October a bill arrived for £148.27 and a load of threats from Moorcroft debt recovery Ltd – and a promise from Orange that none of this is my fault. Meanwhile they seem unaware I’ve already sent a cheque for the REAL outstanding amount together with a long cover note including this blog.

Update 17th November 2011: I checked with Moorcroft and sure enough they cancelled the order against me – and they don’t do anything with credit records – one down, one to go. The latest bill from Orange turned up, no cover letter, nothing – but THIS TIME they OWE ME several pence. Well, I suppose that’s a step forward, perhaps I should get an agency to harass them for non-payment…  but importantly no confirmation that they’ve set the credit record right – and no promised letter to say we’re all done – which means I could just as easily get another bill from them at any point setting us back to square one. I guess another letter is needed to try to wrap this up, again.

Meanwhile my new THREE service continues to work a treat, they’re not immune to incompetence – but at a much lower level. I’ve now had several attempts to stop them sending me text messages every 5 minutes when I’m overseas – their Indian call centre promised me this would never happen again but a text confirmed that the operator had no authority to say that and they can’t actually stop them – well, honesty is a virtue I suppose.

Retail versus the Web

Never let it be said I don’t try to shop retail….

After a tip-off that Asda have a Bluetooth keyboard the same width as the iPad, I put my Apple keypad on eBay and planned a trip to Gateshead for the weekend to get the new keypad – along with a replacement soldering iron bit for my bog-standard Antex soldering iron. In addition, the backlight went on my keyboard and so I decided it was time, after several years, to go buy a new one.

First stop Maplin in Gateshead, one of very few places left where you can buy electronic stuff locally (there is always RS Components but they close on Sundays and as for so many others, Sunday is my best day for shopping). The guy showed me a pack of generic soldering iron tips that weren’t even remotely suitable – that was it, our main electronics component shop and they had one set of soldering iron tips. Fail. While I was there I had a look at keyboards – nothing but low-end rubbish.

Next stop Asda. After a thorough look around the relevant section of the store I finally asked an assistant who clearly didn’t know what a Bluetooth keyboard was – she rang up the store manager who obviously didn’t know either. You would think they’d simply get on the computer and check stock, but no.

Last stop PC-world. You would imagine as a shop that sells games, they’d have a range of top-end keyboards – but no, just one vastly over-priced Logitech gaming keyboard and the rest were your average run of the mill.

So.. when I got home I spent 5 minutes on the web and ordered everything I need, wondering why on earth I ventured out in the first place.  I did manage to buy an excellent stand for the iPad from Poundland but that hardly justified the fiver or so in petrol for the wasted morning trip.

Peter Scargill

Apple TV2 Jailbroken

tmpC8D1Some time ago, I took my (then) Apple iPhone 3GS and jail-broke it. Why? Because I could and because I was sick of Orange trying to charge £10 a month for letting me share the 3G connection with my laptop.

That’s all history now, Orange have been kicked into touch in favour of the vastly superior THREE company and I now share unlimited 3G with my various devices.. When I moved up to the iPhone 4 I really could not see the point of jailbreaking the phone – but the Apple TV2 is different.  One of the biggest uses for Apple TV is to watch movies and guess what – you’re stuck with iTunes on your PC and Apple format movies.

Neither of the above is a problem for me – but converting movies to Apple format is not something your average person has much time for (couple of hours per video)… and so I took the plunge and had the thing jailbroken using the latest Sn0wbreeze (yup, that is spelled correctly).

The process is easy enough and takes a matter of half an hour including setup but the results are spectacular. Now I can watch movies and listen to music in a variety of formats. Not only that but I also have access to a NetGear ReadyNas Duo, an inexpensive and rather neat network backup device which just happens to be able to stream to the Apple TV – which means no more need to leave a computer on to access movies, pictures and music on the Apple TV. Between the low cost of Apple TV2 (sub-£100) and the Duo ~(sub-£100 excluding disks) – and the nature of the Duo which means with 2 disks you have redundancy (both store identical content – so if one disk goes down you continue on as normal) I now have a reliable solution for handling media at home without using a PC and without lengthy media conversion to suit Apple. It just so happens that software is available for both iPad and iPhone to handle this scenario also.

So is it worth jailbreaking the Apple TV2?  Most definitely – but if it turns your box into a stone – you are of course on your own – follow the Sn0wbreeze instructions carefully.

The Future’s Bright, the Future’s THREE

As regular readers will know I’ve been struggling with Orange incompetence for years now, if it’s not been poor customer service, it’s been lack of signal (there is no Orange signal in my village, hasn’t been for the last decade and now I understand they have no plans to do anything about this – despite claiming they put applications in on more than one occasion for masts – I just don’t buy this).

Anyway having discovered that someone has already successfully won a legal case to get out of their contract because of lack of signal, I convinced Orange to let me go without a penalty.

Armed with that freedom I headed off to the THREE store. Why THREE? Well, I already use (and recommend) their MIFI units and perhaps contrary to what you might think, they have quite an impressive coverage in the UK, at least everywhere I’ve tried up to now. They are also FAR more realistic with data, offering up to 15GIG a month data on their MIFI units. Better, on their iPhone deals, the offer a flat-rate package at £35 a month that gives “all-you-can-eat” data.

Now, we’ve all heard that from the other operators who until recently claimed “unlimited” broadband then when you read the fine print it’s a con – they have “fair use” policies which means the claim of unlimited is really a downright lie.

So I checked – according to THREE, “all you can eat” means unlimited data with no fair use policy.  Further, unlike Orange who charge an extra TEN POUNDS a month to share phone data with a laptop, sharing with the laptop is INCLUDED in the deal.

For reasons well beyond me the fellow at the THREE store thought this did not include iPads which would not work – but I remember standing outside the store thinking “But if you share over WIFI how on earth would it distinguish an iPad from a laptop?” and sure enough I was right, the iPhone will take in 3G, spit out WIFI and share it with any device that works on WIFI AND yes it will handle VPNs for those who need to log into work.

So, armed with my new phone and new company I headed off from Hexham for a trip to Blackpool, Internet radio (the American BIG CHEESE radio station) running on the phone…  and in a trip taking over 2 hours, I lost no more than a couple of minutes of radio time. Bye Bye BBC!

Jailbreak iPhone 3GS (later model) with IOS 4.3.2

For many years I used Microsoft’s Smartphones and 18 months ago I took the plunge and moved to iPhone, which apart from the odd yearning for Android I’ve never really regretted. The one thing that REALLY gets me annoyed when I think about it is the inability to share my connection from my Orange iPhone – with my laptop – or more importantly, the iPad. With the MS phone it was simply a matter of paying $20 for something called WMWIFIROUTER, a piece of software which shared the connection over WIFI with my laptop.  Turn it on and bingo – the laptop gets a WIFI connection from the phone’s 3G connection. 

I really can’t handle Orange’s restrictive practices on this, helped by Apple who provide the facility to share WIFI then block it so that Orange can charge a staggering EXTRA £10 for the facility to work – and remember I’m paying something like £30 a month to start with for the privilege of limited (something like 3 gig) data on the iPhone.  Come end of contract I’ll be looking to THREE, who offer their MIFI units with “all you can eat” data, WAY more minute and WAY more texts than Orange for only marginally more outlay. Hopefully by the time my contract is out that difference in cost will disappear (the above with THREE is £35 a month – I don’t know if they include tethering).

In the meantime – the iPhone 3GS is now 18 month old, I have a few months left before considering when to upgrade and what to upgrade to.. and so I thought I’d take a look at jailbreaking the phone – which simply means removing Apple’s ultimate control over it.

iPhone with CydiaRedsn0w ( http://blog.iphone-dev.org/ ) will jailbreak all but the iPad2 and so I downloaded the program to my Windows 7 PC after much reading on the subject. Well, of course it didn’t work – turns out you need to use the program in XP SP3 compatible mode – but hey, it’s free – who’s complaining! A simply right-click option on the shortcut did the job.

Minutes later, one jailbroken iPhone – it really is that simple – note the new brown icon in the photo on the right – except – that Cydia, the repository for jailbroken apps – is currently having issues with Amazon who provide their storage…  basically for now it’s bust – Amazon have been unable to provide them with working connectivity for around 3 days now – absolutely amazing.  So I figured I’d have to wait patiently, not something I do well, for them to get their act together so I could go and grab the relevant software to make my phone, once more into a handy source of signal for the iPad and laptop when on the road, however it turns out that you can grab free programs while the service is down – you just can’t get the paid versions.  I’ve grabbed PDANET and within seconds had it sending a password-protected WIFI signal to my iPad. No problem at all. Until the site is up I’m restricted to http: sites and not secure ones but no doubt that’ll be resolved within the next day or so.

Of course, I have a MIFI unit which provides WIFI access – but that’s on THREE – and there are believe it or not times when Orange’s signal is the stronger.. so now I have the best of both worlds. More on this when Cydia is NOT bust.