Dan's Data letters #166Publication date: 1 June 2006.
Last modified 03-Dec-2011.
I found a page on your site that mentioned BIOS chips, and a link to our business, "Ozflash". I buy most of the computer magazines every month, and on a few occasions I have read "Horror BIOS Reflashing Problem" stories, and not one magazine has mentioned the fact that people can obtain programmed BIOS chips from Ozflash, or have their chip reprogrammed, all done here in Australia.
I know that some overseas firms are slightly cheaper than us, but our postage costs puts us in front, plus with Express Post, they can have a new chip next day. I did e-mail one magazine once, letting them know about Ozflash, and hoping that it would get published for a bit of free advertising, but it did not appear in print. I run the business with my nephew on a part time arrangement, as it is not profitable enough for full time employment.
Barry - Ozflash team member
Replacement BIOS services are a difficult thing for magazines (or Web reviewers) to write about, since there's nothing very reviewable there (what're you going to do, send a chip to a reviewer?) It's the kind of business that can only be "reviewed" by customer testimonial.
They still should have mentioned you, though. So here's your free plug!
You're not, of course, the only option for Australians looking for a non-dead BIOS chip, but there's not a lot of competition, since most computer stores don't want to touch it. I do know that Aus PC Market do BIOS swaps for people, but they don't go out of their way to advertise the service, because it's really just a way to make past customers happier and attract new ones, not a real branch of the business in itself.
Or a very long extension cord
I live in a small town in British Columbia in Canada and am stricken by the high cost of cell (mobile?) telephony.
I've come across a technology called Long Range Cordless which purports to be a super duper home style cordless phone that one could carry around town (utilising the low cost of a land line as opposed to cell).
Here's an example.
They want $700-odd Canadian for this puppy. That would buy me a cheap flight to Sydney!
Do you guys have this kind of technology down under? Whaddaya think about it?
The Durafon name keeps coming up when I try to find Australian information about the technology, too.
I've never seen one of these things in person, and it's one of those inherently suspicious Products Nobody Seems To Have Reviewed, but it's sound enough in principle. The quoted range figures, taken with the usual grain of salt to compensate for the fact that maximum range and the real range you get in an area with obstacles around, seem perfectly useful for many people.
Well, they seemed useful, until I put this page up and got feedback from a guy who works for a company that sells them, who said that you shouldn't expect all that much from them if you're not on a golf course. City range is, according to him, "a few blocks, at best", if you install a high antenna on the end of a bunch of heavy cable.
And then there's this new review, which agrees that the urban range for the "up to five mile" Durafon 1X is more like a quarter of a mile.
So if that's enough for you, go ahead and get one. A quarter-mile circle doesn't cover much, though, even if your base station's in the middle of the town. If it's on the edge, you're pretty much certain to lose coverage before you make it to the shops. I'm a long way from the edge of my town, but a quarter-mile phone would still be close to useless for me.
In theory, this sort of thing can work very well. In the olden days, something like this would be a crummy low frequency analogue system, which would need a pretty big antenna and leave you open to eavesdropping and helpful input from local radio hams. And, generally speaking, just not work.
Modern digital cordless phones, though, are impossible to trivially "hack" with a mere radio scanner, and use a higher frequency band. That allows the antennae to be much smaller - lots of cordless phones these days are cellphone sized, with no external antenna at all, but still have the range to cover a big suburban home and a small walk down the road with crystal clarity. There's no reason, barring legal power limits, that such a system couldn't be beefed up for more impressive range, which is what I presume the DuraFon does, for wide open spaces at least.
Note that the down side of higher frequency transmissions is that they're more affected by obstacles. Trees and buildings will eat high frequency signals quite effectively, and if you've got a hill between you and the base station, you can completely forget about being able to contact it. The DuraFon base unit looks as if it could be easily installed in a roof cavity or something, though, so you could improve range in many situations without having to clown around with dubiously legal external antennae - but if all the people who sell it can manage is 400 metres, then it looks like a non-starter to me.
Ipaq, Upaq, Onepaq, Tupac
I have an HP Ipaq H1910. The battery doesn't last more than an hour, and when the battery dies, all information is lost and Windows reinstalls. I have checked in the options for the batteries and it says that the NiMH backup battery is fully charged. I was wondering if it would be worth trying out a new battery? Not the NiMH one, the big one?
The symptoms suggest that the backup battery is dead, too. Worn-out NiMH cells, like various other old rechargeables, will charge up to a perfectly good voltage, but deliver no capacity to speak of.
I don't know how smart the battery management hardware in the 1910 is, but I'm willing to bet the answer is "not very". You can buy backup batteries off the shelf, though, which means the problem is solvable, by you or by someone you pay to pull the Ipaq apart for you.
What could go wrong?
I've an appliance I bought in Australia that plugs into a 240 volt system using an adapter that converts it to 12 volts.
Back in America, of course, we're on 120V. I was not sure if it would be all right to plug it in here, since the adapter may still output 12V, or if it would malfunction. My guess is that it would not break it from having too little power, but I do not want to risk it. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
A lot of modern plugpacks are lightweight switchmode units (your average modern mobile phone charger, for instance) that support all mains voltages at 50 or 60Hz, and probably somewhat beyond as well. One of those is safe to plug in anywhere, with an appropriate pin adapter if necessary.
If the plugpack doesn't have a sticker on it that says something like "100-240VAC 50-60Hz", though, it will not work from a voltage significantly different to the one in the market where it was sold. There's some flexibility, to allow for the fact that mains voltages fall broadly into the "100-120V" and "200-240V" ranges, so something from a 120V country should work fine in a 110V one. Frequency also doesn't matter that much, though running a standard linear power supply (the old style heavyweight plugpacks with a big old iron-core transformer inside) from a higher mains frequency than it expects will cause it to run warmer, possibly dangerously so if it ran pretty warm to start with. And that's as far as it goes.
If your gadget runs from an ordinary 12 volt adapter, and you know what the adapter's polarity is (often on the spec sticker or stamped into the plastic; if not, you can figure it out with a cheap multimeter when the adapter's running, or just hope your gadget is made to cope with reverse-polarity input without dying), you can easily replace it with a similar adapter (regulated if the old one is, and with the same current rating) made for the new country, and be fine. If you're reduced to guessing the polarity, remember that on barrel plugs the centre conductor (often confusingly called the "tip") is usually positive, and on headphone-style plugs, the tip is usually positive.
Or you can get a step-up voltage converter and plug the old adapter into it. A new adapter is a cheaper and more elegant option, though.
Maybe not wise to make Germans this angry
Hi Dan, I'm pissed.
I've always wanted to start an email like this, however, you will most certainly be delighted to hear, the object of my hate is not you but Universal Pictures. Their German branch, to be precise.
I've recently bought a DVD containing "The Day of the Jackal". The original one, not the cheap remake from '97.
The magical moment arrived, in which I freed the mighty disc from its imprisonment, stuff to drink and eat was preparing to meet its maker and the Felis silvestris forma catus was sitting by, expecting to reward pleasant strokes with pleasant noises. I entered the magical commands, putting the stuff into live and ... nothing happened.
For quite some time and much too long, to be ok. So I changed to my second computer, from there to a third and then to a fourth. I switched from the humble MPlayer to Kaffeine and finally to VLC. None did the job, all failed in some way or another. To avoid accusations that Communist software sucks in general, I would like to point out that capitalism didn't prove to be much better.
I then wrote to the mailing list of my beloved MPlayer and asked for advice. They gave me several, some of it enabling me to see approximately half of the film (skipping bits in the middle), however none of the suggestions restored hope for the initially anticipated viewing event.
I then wrote to the aforementioned originator of my troubles and asked for (a) confirmation that I was indeed encountering some copy protection and (b) some solution. I got a most unkind "we don't care if you have troubles" answer, most probably automatically generated or copy and pasted. An answer for (b) was not given. In response to a second mail, I got the advice that I should take the stuff back to the shop for a refund, be quiet and don't bother them anymore.
Meanwhile, on other front lines, I got an answer from one of the MPlayer developers, asking me to use DVD Shrink, to provide them with the first 30 seconds of the DVD to get a chance to further evaluate the problem.
Being kind of curious, I downloaded DVD Shrink and extracted the first 30 seconds of the film, and made an ISO to establish that the strange behaviour was still there. It wasn't, the film played flawlessly.
So, what we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is a DVD, legally bought, which I cannot view with my computer, because the copy protection prevents me from doing so. A copy protection, which makes it quite possible to copy the DVD. Copy it and all your troubles are gone, as you can watch the copy in the very same setting where the original won't run. No this is a brilliant idea, isn't it?
Best of all, take current legislation in USA and some parts of Europe, which makes it quite illegal to make a copy of your own stuff, so in principle, it is not important whether I buy the DVD and copy it or I download it from dubious sources, the violation of law is always there.
Looking at more aggressive copy protection schemes, one gets more and more the impression that the content industry drives its user to the illegality. Sorry to bother you with such random ranting, however, I had the urge to write it down somewhere.
Oooh, yes, the Bruce Willis "Jackal" was a bad, bad film. Like many other bad films, though, it spawned an excellent Ebert review.
Getting to the point - IMDB thinks that the German version of the disc only has the same basic Macrovision-ing as the UK one, but it only currently knows about the copyright-2001 versions, rather than the copyright-2003 version which Jonathan explained he has, in further correspondence. As is often the case for copy prevention schemes, this one appears to be based on deliberate errors on the disc, which allow it to play OK in standalone players, but not on computers. Unless, as he says, you just DVD Shrink the darn thing.
That doesn't necessarily involve any actual "shrinking" of the movie, by the way. You can use DVD Shrink to make an un-transcoded copy of a whole disc or just the main feature, and save it as an image file on your hard drive if it's too big for a single-layer writable DVD and you don't feel like paying for a dual layer blank.
Lots of people use DVD Shrink to make copies of DVDs for their kids. The copies not only keep the originals safe, but are better than the original, because they can just contain the main feature. That means the disc will auto-play when your toddler puts it in the DVD player, with no annoying menus (quite a few DVDs for grown-ups could benefit from this, too).
Here in Australia, we are currently in the process of making it legal to tape TV shows with a VCR. Provided you only watch the show once, of course. Everybody agrees that this sounds like an entirely fair idea, and we're all waiting avidly for these "Vee See Arrs" the law speaks of to become locally available.
The brilliant minds at the big content companies have, indeed, now left more than a few of their customers in a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't situation. Given the annoyingness of some copy control technologies, the optimal solution is becoming "buy the thing you want, leave it in the shrinkwrap, download the ripped version from somewhere, watch that".
Since the legitimate version therefore becomes just a license, and since the content companies make sure that the never-read and hard-to-understand-even-if-you-read-it license allows you to do as little as possible, doing things the legitimate way starts to look just plain stupid. If nothing's going to go any worse for you if you never buy the legit version in the first place, why bother?
In cases where the originator of the work in question can be pinned down as one entity, a better solution suggests itself. "Download what you want, send the artist $5, which'll be more money than they'd make if you bought the DRM-ed version".
Regarding this, Jonathan commented "You can easily and legally do so, for some time for music and in recent times, you can even get some films and games. Usually I make it a habit not to pay more then 10 to 15 Euro per film, astonishingly I have no problem doing so with such fan projects."
The fact that the closer you get to directly rewarding creative people for the things they make, the more illegal it generally becomes, strikes me as a leading indicator that this system really is as screwed up as everybody says. Australia's historic and modern dumb-and-ignored copyright laws have made this sort of thing old news for us, not that we're unique in this department; little FM transmitters are technically illegal in the UK, for instance, so you can't buy the bigger brands of car-MP3-transmitter device (lots of others have sneaked into the country, of course). Not to be outdone, the USA's also made some radios illegal.
Consumer hardware that effectively enforces such dumb rules is new, though.