Fun without wires

Using a Bluetooth Keyboard on the iPhone 3GS

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In case you didn’t know, portable bluetooth keyboards have been available for a variety of PDAs for a long time. Like, a really long time. The iPhone, for some reason, has always had a crippled implementation of Bluetooth which meant that it didn’t support the profiles necessary for an external keyboard. That changed recently thanks to the work of some enterprising hackers, armed with jailbroken iPhones and a desire to type with more than their thumbs.

I can confirm that I’ve installed the BTStack Keyboard driver (via Cydia) and am able to use my Apple Wireless Keyboard on my jailbroken iPhone 3GS, and it rocks. Here are some observations:

  • Full version (not the demo) works in all applications. You launch the app, connect to the keyboard, then go back to your Home Screen and go to another app. From there, pretty much anything that brings up a keyboard panel should also be accessible via your external keyboard.
  • After installation, I had to connect my keyboard, then restart my iPhone once to get things to run smoothly.
  • If your keyboard is also paired with a laptop or some other device, make sure you either unpair it from there, or turn Bluetooth off (or get out of range) before trying to pair with your iPhone, otherwise they’ll conflict with each other.
  • Modifier keys don’t work yet (so you can’t hold Shift and use an arrow to make a selection for example)
  • Copy/Paste not supported via Apple-C/Apple-V, which would be nice 🙂
  • There is no pause or lag between hitting a key and the letter appearing. It’s really slick.
  • Auto-correct on the iPhone seems overly aggressive when using the keyboard and gets kind of annoying. I’d like to see the developer perhaps suppress it somehow while input is being received from the keyboard?
  • Not being able to navigate around on the iPhone from the keyboard makes it feel a little weird, but it’s definitely workable. It would be awesome if there could be some rudimentary support for Tab to jump between controls, and perhaps something like Apple-Esc to jump to the home screen.
  • It seems that the keyboard disconnects automatically after 15 minutes. I thought this was only supposed to happen once the iPhone was off, but it seems to happen while you’re still using it as well. I believe this is a battery-conservation measure.
  • Speaking of which, using a keyboard doesn’t seem to drain the battery any moreso than just having the iPhone actively turned on.

In general, I love this. Totally worth the $5. I tried it out by drafting an entire post within the WordPress.org iPhone app, and it worked really nicely.

Written by Beau Lebens

January 5th, 2010 at 11:22 am

Posted in Bluetooth

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RFID Metro Cards in Santiago, Chile

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As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m currently in Santiago, Chile. One of the cool uses of wireless technology they have here is that their cards for accessing the Metro system are RFID-based, and pre-paid. You purchase the card at a kiosk, then you can refill it over and over. There are small terminals for adding money to them all over the place, including in all Metro (subway) stations, and next to a lot of bank-based ATMs.

Santiago bip! card

Santiago bip! card

I particularly like the fact that on the buses here, the only way to pay is via bip! card. If you try to get on and pay cash, they tell you to get off. It means that boarding the bus happens at the fastest possible speed, because there’s no pause required for people to walk past and “bip” their card on the way through.

Written by Beau Lebens

December 18th, 2009 at 1:46 pm

Posted in RFID

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Wifi Stumbling on iPhone 3GS

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WifiTrak for iPhone 3GS

WifiTrak for iPhone 3GS

I’m currently in Santiago, Chile on an extended trip, and trying to “work from the road”. That’s easier said than done, and there are a number of things you’ll be looking for when you’re trying to set up a temporary office in a cafe or other location. One of those things, obviously, is wifi. A lot of places are nice enough to have a sticker on their window, or some other indication that they have wifi available for guests to use, but it can get tiresome walking around peeking in windows trying to find signs of life.

The solution that I’m currently using it to employ my iPhone 3GS as a stumbling device/wifi scanner. I looked around on the iTunes store for a while and the best (99c) application I could find that actually works on the iPhone 3GS, doesn’t require a data connection of some sort, and is a true scanner (not a location-based look-up against known APs) is WifiTrak.

I can turn on WifiTrak and then walk around an area that I know has some cafes etc, and quickly get a scan of all the wifi in the area. It’s easy to spot open/protected APs (although a lot of the protected ones here will give you a password if you ask), and to see relative signal strengths. It automatically sorts the APs located by signal strength, so you get the strongest ones at the top. You can even connect to a network directly from the app which is a nice touch, although I’m not using that since it’s really just for scanning purposes.

Written by Beau Lebens

December 18th, 2009 at 1:33 pm

Posted in Uncategorized,WiFi

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Growl Network Notifications

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I use a system wide notification manager called Growl to handle notifications of all sorts of apps on my Mac, including a number of custom scripts and tools. It’s a really neat little system, and even supports handling notification requests across a network. I was working from a cafe today and fired up a little app called Flame to see what was going on in the network around me. It just shows you all Mac machines connected to the same network and tells you what services they are running.

I spotted someone who had the Growl network service active (_growl._tcp.), so I thought I’d give something a try. According to Flame, their computer was called “Brad’s Computer”, and his IP was so I fired up Terminal and entered the following:

$ growlnotify -H -t "Hi Brad" -m "You should really put a password on Growl network notifications"

Obviously it got through and displayed, because some dude freaked out and his eyes went wide while he stared at his screen. I tried not to laugh.

Surprise! 🙂

Written by Beau Lebens

February 5th, 2009 at 3:06 pm

Nokia E66 Cellphone Review

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After having to send back the Nokia E71 that I was trialing, WOMWorld was kind enough to also send me an E66 to try out. I’ve been using this handset for about a week now, and I feel like I’ve used it enough to start offering some opinions and details.

Here we go.

This is the first “slider” phone that I’ve ever used (I’ve always had “candy bar” devices before), and I have to say that I didn’t like the slider design much at all. While the ability to simply slide the phone open/closed to unlock/answer calls and lock/end calls was kind of fun, the layers created on the keypad (different heights of keys depending on if they’re “outside” or “inside”) and the requirement to slide the phone before I can really do anything useful outweighed any coolness provided by the slide. In addition to be a slider, this is the first phone I’ve used in over 2 years that had a normal numeric keypad, rather than a full QWERTY keyboard, and apparently I’ve lost all patience of T9. I want my QWERTY. Combined with the slide vs. candy bar issue, this was almost enough to make me stop using the phone altogether.

Once I got over those issues (or rather, ignoring them for now, because I still haven’t gotten over them), I found the OS to be very similar to the E71, although I did notice a snazzy fade effect. When you transition between apps or menus, a neat fading effect is applied to make it less jarring. I don’t remember seeing that on the E71. Other than that the OS seems to be the same, with all the same updates over my E61.

There were 2 more big disappointments for me on this device when compared to the E71 in particular:

  1. The camera was completely buggy. It takes about 11 seconds to load the camera and have it start showing you an image, and when it does, it’s UPSIDE DOWN! I have no idea what’s going on here, I can only assume that this is a genuine bug either in the software or the hardware (camera installed upside down?). Videos and still images are all upside down, rendering the camera feature completely unusable. I looked everywhere for an option that might have been causing this to no avail.
  2. The A-GPS seemed far inferior to that of the E71. I found that it usually gave me a weak level of accuracy (under Google Maps) and that it took longer to update than the E71 did. This is a let-down because the GPS on the E71 was a specific feature that I liked.

OK — I’m not done bashing on this phone yet 🙂 I also didn’t like the external (top) keypad, the one with the main function keys. The keys are flat and there’s hardly any distinction between each key. They are also made from a slick plastic that causes you to slide around when your fingers are slightly sweaty or moist in any way. The E71’s center navigation button was made of a nicer, almost gripping rubber/plastic, as opposed to the button on this E66, which was again the slick plastic. This made it more difficult to navigate around (pressing up/down/center/etc), which is what you spend a lot of time doing on these phones.

There is a simple accelerometer in this handset that’s intended to do something akin to what the iPhone does when you turn it on its side. The problem is that it’s apparently not a very good one, because the handset sometimes takes some convincing to really turn, and even when it does, it’s often a bit of a mess. Not all applications (e.g. Google Mail) seem to support it properly, so you end up with your screen sideways, but your soft-keys still thinking things are in portrait. Basically I think this is a wasted feature as the phone is pretty awkward when held sideways anyway, so there’s not much motivation to use it in that mode.

Obviously, overall, I was much less satisfied with the E66 than I was with the E71. I didn’t even bother setting up synchronization with my laptop because I have no desire to “move in” on this phone properly. I’ll be sending it back as soon as it’s requested. Here’s a few things that using this handset taught me:

  1. I won’t be getting another handset without a QWERTY keyboard (or at least an on-screen keyboard a la iPhone),
  2. I’m not a fan of slider-style handsets,
  3. I’d rather have no GPS at all than have it, and have it be inaccurate (I’ll just get by on cell-tower triangulation thanks),
  4. Little things (like the material used to make keys) make a big difference to your experience with a handset

Verdict: E66, no thanks. E71, yes please.

Written by Beau Lebens

January 23rd, 2009 at 4:08 pm

Nokia E71 NAM Real World Usage Review

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Now that I’ve been using the Nokia E71 NAM for a few weeks, I wanted to post a follow-up review covering some of the more “day-to-day reality” aspects of the phone. I’m going to bullet-point my observations/comments for brevity’s sake, and as with my initial review, any comparisons made here are as compared to my Nokia E61:

The Good

  • The operating system is much snappier and more responsive overall. The phone just feels a lot faster than the E61.
  • The new 5 way navigation key absolutely rocks compared to the little joystick on the E61. The only thing I don’t like is that perhaps the outside edge (“arrows”) could be a little bit wider to make it easier to hit with the end of a finger.
  • Connecting to and using EDGE seems a LOT faster.
  • Wifi connect time and bandwidth/throughout also seems a lot faster.
  • Web pages render and respond a lot quicker (scrolling etc)
  • I like that when the phone is “asleep”, if you hold down on the middle button, the screen shows you a large clock for a brief period (including icons for any messages, missed calls, etc)
  • From the Home Screen, you can start typing the name of a contact and they will appear in a list so you can just select them from right there.
  • You can also dial letters now, which was a frustration of mine with the E61. If, for example, you needed to dial 1800FLOWERS, there was no way to do that on the E61 without figuring out what “FLOWERS” is in numbers, which is hard because you don’t have a normal phone keypad, you have a QWERTY keyboard instead. On the E71 you can dial 1800FLOWERS and it will figure it out.
  • After a quick download of an iSync plugin from Nokia I was able to synchronize my Calendar and Contacts to my Mac Address Book/iCalendar.
  • Google make a version of their Gmail App specifically for Symbian 60 series devices (e.g. the E71) and it’s really slick.
  • Google’s Map application is also available for the E71 and detects and uses the GPS device automatically. It’s awesome. It won’t give you true turn by turn directions, but you can plot out a course using the directions feature on Google Maps, then follow along using the GPS to achieve almost the same result.
  • I also tried out qik (over wifi) and it worked like an absolute charm. Simple set up, easy streaming, decent quality. I was very impressed.

The Not So Good

  • The operating system, although responsive, is still just as confusing/non-user-friendly as it always has been, if not a little more so. The menus have been moved around a little and things have been re-classified to make them even harder to find.
  • I felt like the vibrate feature is a bit weak. I rely a lot on my phone’s vibrate (rather than a loud, obnoxious ring-tone) and found that I quite often missed calls unless I was sitting down (so it was pushed to my leg) or somewhere really quiet where I actually heard my quiet ringtone.
  • It took a lot of poking around in the menu to figure out how to customize the 2 softkeys on the Home screen
  • As usual with recent Nokia phones, to use the voice-dial command you have to master talking like a robot, and can’t just record a voice-tag against a contact and use that.
  • I couldn’t figure out how to customize the middle button (between the volume up/down buttons) at all. That seems like a good button to be a shortcut to the camera.
  • The Automatic Network Selection algorithm on this phone seems to be quite aggressive. I noticed my handset changing quite frequently to another network because my signal got too weak.
  • I tried out Quickoffice, which is included with the handset. It is absolutely painful to try to create even a tiny, simple spreadsheet on 🙂

As a side story, I’ve been quite sick for the past few days, and spent most of my time either on the couch, or in bed. During that time, I used the E71 to browser the web, check email and send SMS messages a lot for 2 days without charging it at all. I was impressed that it stood up to that much usage with wifi, as the E61 tended to drain the battery quite quickly if you stayed connected too long. It was good to have a device like this handy to keep me at least a little bit connected (even if my mind was thoroughly disconnected!).

All in all I’ve been very impressed with the E71 thus far, and will be very sad to have to return it. Everyone else who has seen the phone has been impressed by its design, and by the features I’ve mentioned (usually GPS, internet access, email etc). It’s been described as a “sexy BlackBerry”, an “iPhone with a keyboard” and “sweeeet”, amongst other things. I’d have to agree with all of those descriptions.

Congratulations on another solid phone Nokia – now please spend a little more time on refining the software/UI side of things if you’re hoping to compete with the likes of Apple!

Written by Beau Lebens

January 6th, 2009 at 4:08 pm

Nokia E71 NAM First Impressions

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A few weeks ago, I got an email that I almost discarded as spam, asking me if I would like to try out a Nokia phone for a few weeks. As it turns out, the email was completely legitimate, and the offer was genuine. The good folks over at WOMWorld Nokia wanted to send me a Nokia E71 NAM (the NAM is for North AMerica, since there’s a slightly different European version) so that I could try it out and see if  I liked it. Either way, I was welcome (encouraged) to write about it, talk about it, and generally let people know what I thought of it. This is the first of 2 posts that I will be making about the phone and the experience I had with it. I wanted to do one as a “first impressions” post, and then one at the end of the test period (unfortunately, I have to send it back 🙁 ) with more detail on my experiences.


I took a few snaps while I was opening the delivery, and of the phone when I first got it, also comparing it to my current Nokia E61 handset. In addition to the handset, they also sent me a Nokia BH-602 bluetooth headset to try out (as you’ll see below).

Unboxing Nokia E71 Unboxing Nokia E71

Side by Side Phone on Phone Action


As soon as you lay your eyes on this phone, you’ll see it’s a sexy little number. It’s got a very similar form factor to the iPhone, although obviously there is a full keyboard in play here, so the screen is a lot smaller relatively speaking. Let’s check out a few of the things I noticed immediately:

  1. Uber-hot chroming/shiny-ness all over
  2. Dimpled stainless steel back-cover
  3. Much more compact (read: smaller) keyboard than my E61
  4. New keys! There are new keys which looking at the icons are (L-R): Home, Calendar, Contacts, Mail. The E61 had a weird “menu” key and a Mail key only.
  5. Thinner and narrower, but same height
  6. The screen appears to be slightly smaller (but when you turn it on, it’s crisp and sharp and very bright)
  7. External access to the memory card slot and a mini-USB port
  8. They’ve switched the volume up/down buttons to the other side of the phone
  9. There’s not one, but TWO cameras on the device. One on the back (with an LED flash and a small mirror for “MySpace photos”) and one on the front, I assume for video calls.
  10. The E61’s kinda poky joystick has been replaced with a nice big square key, surrounded by a single, connected directional key for L/R/U/D.

Gettin’ Dirty

Once I’d gotten over how much sexier this handset was than my current one, it was time to play around with it a bit and see if the actual experience of using it lived up to the exterior (never judge a book by its cover and all that).

One of the first things I noticed was that the screen was very crisp, and the colors were sharp. I’m not 100% sold on the font selection on the device, but generally the visual side of things is an improvement over the E61. All the icons got an update, but I actually liked the older, angled versions a bit better. Some of the color selections for highlighting things (black with a red outline?) are a bit odd as well on the theme that was active when I got it.

As far as responsiveness goes, the E71 blows the E61 out of the water. Going back now and comparing the 2 makes it feel like the E61 is running in a bucket of molasses, trapped in a time-warp where everything goes in slow motion. I really can’t stress the difference in speed that’s evident doing anything and everything on the phone. The E71 is quick, smooth, and jumps from task to task without a pause. Even when you leave a bunch of applications running it still seems to handle itself better than the E61 with nothing running.

The keyboard, although smaller than on the E61, actually feels better. It took a little getting used to but the new key style is more responsive and the tactile feedback is much nicer than the squishyness on the E61. There are a few compromises made to get the keyboard smaller though; namely the removal of the right shift key (makes it tricky to do shift+@/x/c because they’re so close). They’ve also moved a few special characters around (or hidden them off in the character selection menu somewhere) which is a pity, because I often use double-quotes (“) and ampersands (&) and both of these got sidelined.

Having a camera back on my phone is a treat that I’d learned to live without. The E61 was an “enterprise” device, so they decided that it didn’t need a camera on it (the E61i released shortly thereafter fixed that mistake), so I haven’t had a cameraphone for almost 2 years now. I was quite surprised with the quality on the camera – it’s decent, but not quite as good as I remembered 3 megapixels to be honest.

Here’s a couple of sample pictures to show you what it can do (click through for full-sized versions). L-R are: Inside, overhead incandescent lighting; Outside, mid morning, natural lighting; At night, with the LED flash only.

Mini Christmas Uphill

Parking Meter

Other than that, a lot of the features are the same or similar to the E61, so I’ll post a bit more of a comparison once I’ve played with it more. I am supposed to return the handset after the new year unfortunately. I already really like it, and am finding myself enjoying it a lot more than my E61.

More to come closer to return-time, stay posted.

Written by Beau Lebens

December 20th, 2008 at 4:09 pm

Logitech Are Evil

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So it’s been a while since it happened; I’ve had time to calm down, they’ve had time to rip off a bunch more people. It’s time I tell the story about my wrangle with Logitech’s Customer ‘Support’.

You may remember that I had some problems with my Logitech Bluetooth Headset. By the end of all of that, I just wanted to return the headset, get my money back, and try something else entirely.

That’s when things got interesting.

Basically, it went something like this…

Them: We’re not going to be able to send another replacement product sir, since we’ve already done that and it hasn’t worked.

Me: That’s fine, I don’t want to return it, I want my money back.

Them: I’m afraid we can’t do that either sir, we can’t issue a refund on the product because we don’t believe it is defective.

Me: So what am I supposed to do?

Them: We believe your phone is faulty – take it to a Nokia store and have them fix it.

Me: There’s nothing wrong with the phone – the headset doesn’t work with your bluetooth hub on my computer.

Them: We believe your phone is faulty…


So there you have it – basically they replaced it a couple times, it still didn’t work, so they tell me to piss off. End of story – no other options. Brilliant.

I now officially hate Logitech, it’s just a pity that they still have some products I really like (such as the diNovo), otherwise I could entirely boycott them.

Written by Beau Lebens

December 31st, 2004 at 4:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Finally, A Bluetooth Headset That Works

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I finally found one that works! One last shot, I thought I’d have a look at the Jabra FreeSpeak 250. They’ve been in the market for a while, and seem to be pretty popular, so they must be doing something right.

Eventually, I got the FreeSpeak to work perfectly with Skype on my iBook (you can even set Skype to use it, but the system to use normal audio out which is very cool). I also got it to work on my iPAQ, but it’s shaky at best, and requires me to drop into a completely open Bluetooth profile, with all security and encryption of any kind turned off… but it works. It works beautifully on my Nokia 6230, even re-connects when the handset goes out of range and then comes back in (although if it’s away for too long, then it won’t).

I am yet to get it to work reliably with the Logitech diNovo Bluetooth Hub, but I am now resigned to the fact that the Hub sucks. I think either the Hub, or the WIDCOMM drivers don’t really support the correct profiles to make the headset work, which is a pity, but I can live with that. I’m moving to a PowerBook soon as my main machine anyway, so then it won’t be an issue.

Go to hell Logitech.

Written by Beau Lebens

December 20th, 2004 at 4:00 pm

WirelessPirate Goes International

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As of this Friday, I’ll be heading off on an intense trip around the world. I’ll be out and about for nearly a month and a half, and I will hopefully be posting from all over the place in that time.

My new iBook is going with me, as is my AirPort Express, Nokia 6230 and HP iPAQ H5550. I’ll be stopping off in Honolulu (Hawaii), Sydney (New South Wales), Perth (Western Australia), Singapore, London (England), Chicago (Illinois?), Minneapolis (Minnesota), Los Angeles (California), Las Vegas (Nevada). Some of those are just lay-overs, some are for longer stays (a couple days). It should be interesting to say the least.

It will be interesting to see what access is like in different places, and hopefully spot some cool technologies around the place. Stay tuned to hear the latest as I progress 🙂

Written by Beau Lebens

December 1st, 2004 at 4:00 pm