Bluetooth On The Go With The Kinivo BTC450

Posted by TechyDad on October 22, 2014 under Review, Technology

BTC450If I want to talk on the phone while driving, I’ve got to carry a Bluetooth headset along with me and remember to keep it charged.  If I want to listen to music from my phone in the car, I need to plug the phone into the speaker with a wire and control the music with the phone itself.  Neither situation is optimal.  Enter the Kinivo BTC450 Bluetooth Hands-Free Car Kit.

The BTC450 consists of three components.  The first is a power plug that goes in your car’s cigarette lighter.  This provides power to the entire unit as well as giving you a USB port to charge your device.  The second part is a plug that goes into your stereo’s auxiliary input.  The third, and perhaps most important, component is a small button.

Button

This button might be small, but it is quite powerful.  It connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth and routes audio from your phone to your car’s speaker system (via the aforementioned auxiliary input plug).  It also acts as a microphone so the people you are talking to on the phone can hear you.  Pressing the button can both begin or end a phone call.  Finally, two small buttons on top allow you to skip ahead or go back while listening to music.  No longer do you have to pick up your cell phone while driving (a very unsafe thing to do), just press the button.

Of course, all of this wouldn’t be worth anything if the audio quality wasn’t good.  In my testing, the audio coming from the speakers (routed from the BTC450) was very good.  The people I called initially reported that I sounded muffled, but I repositioned the button/microphone and they said that I was coming in much clearer.  The button comes with adhesive to affix it on your dashboard for easy access.  I positioned it on a spot on my dashboard without the adhesive, but if you do stick it on, I’d recommend trying it out before using the adhesive.

Overall, this was a very nice way of enabling Bluetooth access in my car.  Considering that the BTC450 only costs $39.99 (affiliate link), it is quite an inexpensive method of adding Bluetooth to your car as well.  This is definitely a device that will get plenty of use every time I go for a drive.

DISCLAIMER: I was sent a Kinivo BTC450 Bluetooth Hands-Free Car Kit to review.  The opinions expressed above are my own.  No compensation (other than the product) was provided.

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Addicted To Learning

Posted by TechyDad on September 12, 2014 under Technology

learn-iconYou might have noticed that I’ve been a bit quiet recently.  Part of the reason is that I’ve had a bit of a case of Bloggy Writer’s Block.  A bigger reason, though, is that I’ve gotten addicted.  Addicted to learning.

In my field, web development, you need to always keep moving.  You need to keep picking up new skills, learning new technologies, all while keeping your existing skills polished.  If you don’t, you risk being left behind.  Of course, life always tends to get in the way – making sure I don’t have enough time to keep up on everything.  In addition, there’s a certain comfort to doing things the way you’ve always done them and a certain scariness of doing something a new way.  So it can be very easy to sink into a morass of "do it the way we’ve always done it and change nothing."  Once you get into that morass, it can be tough to get out.

I wouldn’t say I was in that morass, but I saw myself headed in that direction so I took action and decided to learn some new skills.  My first target was Bootstrap.  Bootstrap is a web development framework that was first developed by Twitter.  I had heard that it made it extremely easy to develop responsive websites – that is, websites that reformat themselves to display on computers, tablets, and handheld mobile devices.  This is something I was able to do myself, but I had heard that Bootstrap made this much easier.

Boy, did I hear right.  As I watched the video, my mind was blown.  Before I even finished the video, I couldn’t wait to apply this newfound knowledge to make something awesome.  I’m thinking a page to encourage someone to hire me for freelance projects would be appropriate.  What better use of a showcase of my new skills?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I need to learn some more so I can make an even more awesome website.

NOTE: The "Learn Icon" above is by ousia and is available via OpenClipArt.org.

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My Open Letter To The FCC Concerning Network Neutrality

Posted by TechyDad on July 15, 2014 under Internet, Technology

DTRave_Cartoon_Computer_and_Desktop_small1[1] Over the years, I’ve written about the bandwidth caps that cable companies are placing on Internet usage, use of the term “cord cheater” to describe people who view online videos, and Network Neutrality.  On the last item, the FCC has been collecting comments.  To date, they have collected over 650,000 comments.  Today, however, is the final day for submissions.  I submitted mine already, but thought I would publish here as an open letter. Below is what I sent the FCC.  If you haven’t submitted your comment yet and are quick, you might be able to send it in.

Update: Due to tons of people flooding their systems with last minute comments, the FCC has extended the deadline to Friday, July 18th.

NOTE: The computer image above is by DTRave and is available from OpenClipArt.org.


To whom it may concern,

I’m very worried about the issue of Network Neutrality. As a web developer and someone who is active on social media, I spend a lot of time online. I also keep up to date on what is happening in the online world. Unfortunately, I see one very big problem.

Most ISPs are monopolies or duopolies in their areas.

To give an example, I connect to the Internet via Time Warner Cable. I have no other wired broadband options available to me. FIOS doesn’t reach my area and DSL is a dying technology. (It’s older and slower and the telecom companies are chomping at the bit to get rid of it.)

What this means is that Time Warner Cable can essentially do whatever they want and I’m forced to continue service with them. They can raise rates, slow down my general connection, impose harsh caps/overage fees, or slow down specific sites until they are unusable.

If almost any other company did these things, the free market would lead customers to flee to their competitors. Unfortunately, the ISP market isn’t free. The cable companies know they have a lock (or near-lock) on their area. Cox isn’t going to invade Comcast’s territory and vice-versa. They’ve carved up the land into their own little fiefdoms where they can do as they please.

But why would a cable company want to slow down a connection to a website? Two words: Internet Video.

Cable companies make their money from cable TV – both live/DVRed content and on-demand content. However, services like Netflix, Amazon VOD, YouTube, etc, compete for consumers’ entertainment dollars and are drawing people away from cable TV. These are 100% legal options, but cable companies don’t like them. After all, everyone who watches a video on Netflix could have potentially paid the cable company to watch that video. The cable companies see money flowing to these “Internet upstarts” and it is ruining the cable companies’ status quo.

So something must be done.

The opening salvo came from Ed Whitacre, former head of AT&T, who in 2006 claimed that these Internet Video companies were getting a “free ride” off of AT&T’s connections because they weren’t paying for access to AT&T’s customers. Of course, the fact of the matter is that these Internet Video companies pay for their own bandwidth. To make an analogy, this would be like a pizza shop getting their business phone line from Verizon and AT&T complaining that the pizza shop was making money off of AT&T’s customers calling them without them paying AT&T. Nobody in their right mind would suggest that businesses should pay all phone companies so that those phone companies’ users would be able to call the businesses. Similarly, online companies shouldn’t have to pay ISPs access except for the company they pay for their bandwidth.

But who pays for the connection to the user, you might ask.

Here’s how the payments/connections go. The business (e.g. Netflix) pays their ISP for bandwidth. If that ISP is not a top tier ISP, they pay their upstream provider for bandwidth and so on until they reach the top tier. (In fact, Netflix pays a top tier ISP for bandwidth.) On the other side, users pay their ISPs for bandwidth. These ISPs again pay their upstream providers until the top tiers are reached. The top tier ISPs come to agreements with each other about how data is going to pass between them and what, if any, payments are required. As you can see, everyone gets paid. There are no free rides.

ISPs quickly backed away from any claims that they would block sites. Instead, they claimed that they simply wanted to open a “fast lane” to “help” websites get to users faster. All it took was a little payment. Otherwise, websites would be stuck on the “normal speed” lanes which the ISPs claimed would still be fast.

Unfortunately, we go back to the monopoly/duopoly situation. Since the “normal speed” lanes wouldn’t generate any profit, the ISPs wouldn’t have any incentive to keep sites using that service running at a decent speed. In fact, they would profit more if sites using the “normal speed lane” found themselves slowing down and needed to pay for “fast speed” access. Meanwhile, the ISPs’ own video services would get instant “fast lane” access without needing to pay anything. In short, the “fast lane” would be a money maker for ISPs. They would either slow down competitors or make additional money off of them.

As a side effect, these extra charges will be passed on to the Internet Video customers via rate hikes which – the ISPs hope – will push people away from Internet Video and to the ISPs’ offerings.

On the other side, ISPs are looking into instituting caps on their users. They claim this is to only charge users for the bandwidth that they use. The true purpose, however, is to punish users who use Internet Video. With caps in place, Internet Video users suddenly will find themselves with limits on how long they can watch. If they go over their cap, they risk getting charged overage fees. Of course, the ISPs’ own offerings will be exempt from the caps.

The net result of this is the effective price of an Internet Video service will go up which will, again as the ISPs hope, result in people leaving Internet Video for the ISPs’ offerings.

I’m not a huge fan of government regulations. There are many times when they just raise costs and add bureaucracy to a process that could be done cheaper/faster without the regulations. However, government regulations do have a place in this world. One instance is where the markets are so broken that companies can use their monopolies to crush competition and/or abuse customers.

The ISPs would love for the government to stand back and let them crush their competition with no interference. This way, they can make more money, grow even bigger, and wield more power over what people watch and when. I and hundreds of thousands of Americans are hoping that the FCC will stand up to these ISPs.

Companies shouldn’t be able to use monopolies in one area to protect their business interests in another area. The ISPs are trying to do this with “fast lanes” and by favoring their own traffic over those of their competitors. Those who support Network Neutrality want traffic to be “origin blind.” It shouldn’t matter if a packet of information comes from Netflix, a cable company’s on-demand service, or YouTube. It should be treated the same no matter what.

Note that this doesn’t mean that ISPs can’t prioritize traffic. For example, an e-mail message is less important to deliver right away than a video call. So video call packets could skip ahead of e-mail message packets. However, this is different than ISPs allowing their services to get priority over similar services offered by other companies. The former improves user experience, the latter improves the ISPs’ position at the expense of users and competitors.

When you are looking to craft Network Neutrality regulations, please keep in mind the millions of users your regulations will be affecting. They are currently helpless against the big ISPs profit-seeking and monopoly abusing schemes. As a government agency, of the people, by the people, and for the people, your first concern should be helping the citizens affected, not preserving ISP monopolies and turning a blind eye to their abuses.

Thank you for your time,

– TechyDad

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Saying Goodbye To Wired Earbuds

Posted by TechyDad on June 9, 2014 under Review, Technology

BTH240_2 For the longest time, I clung to my wired accessories.  While people began sporting Bluetooth ear pieces for making phone calls while driving, I scoffed at them.  Why, I thought, do I need another device that I need to remember to recharge when I can just plug in my wired headset and microphone?  Then, I got a Bluetooth ear piece and discovered just how freeing going wireless could be.

More recently, I decided that I needed new headphones.  My existing ear buds just weren’t cutting it.  I like listening to music at work, but can’t just blast the music for obvious reasons.  Unfortunately, my ear buds didn’t have a volume control.  This meant I needed to rely on my phone’s volume control which seemed to go from "too loud" to "mute" in one step – resulting in many a headache from listening to music that was too loud.  In addition, the cord from my phone to my ears would get caught on my chair and either pull out of my ears or (worse) pull my phone off my desk.

Enter the Kinivo BTH240 Bluetooth headphones.

BTH240 When I was first sent the headphones to review, I was impressed with how they fold up.  The sides move in to collapse the headphones down so small that they can fit in your pocket.  My second thought, after I put them on, was that they felt uncomfortable.  I didn’t like how the band felt on the back of my neck.  However, I wondered if this was due to not being used to having headphones on like this.  Sure enough, the more I used them, the more I got used to the feeling of having them on.  Now, I don’t notice the headphones at all.

Of course, the most important part of the headphones is sound quality.  Here, the Kinivo headphones excel.  No longer am I getting cell phone music induced headaches.  Instead, I can make the audio as loud or quiet as I like.  In addition, while they don’t call themselves noise-cancelling, I’ve found that they work very well to block out many external sounds.  Perhaps a little too well.  I’ve had quite a few moments when someone was trying to talk to me while I had my headphones on – and was oblivious to them.

There are buttons on the side of the headphones to control audio (increase/decrease volume) and music playing (next song/previous song).  There is also another button that is a combination power switch and answer calls button.  Yes, as I was pleasantly surprised to discover, you can have the headset on and talk on the phone.  While I might not recommend them for driving due to the previously mentioned noise blocking (not hearing a car honking could be very bad indeed), I have put my phone in my pocket, put the headphones on, and talked on the phone while making dinner.

Finally, is price.  When I was looking for Bluetooth headphones, many were priced at $100 or more.  While I’m sure they were very good, I just couldn’t justify denting my bank account that much.  The Kinivo, on the other hand, are just $24.99 on Amazon.

Now for a mini side review.

zx100 When I was getting the Kinivo BTH240 headphones to review, I was accidentally sent another product instead.  As Kinivo sent the correct product for me to review, I decided to try out what they had sent as well – the Kinivo ZX100 mini-speaker.  This is a very small speaker that plugs into your phone’s headphone port.  The speaker pops up and provides some very impressive audio.  I could definitely see using this to play a series of MP3s for a group or connecting it to a laptop to boost the audio output during a presentation.  Given that it costs only $19.19, it won’t break the bank either.  Unfortunately, being wired means needing your device right next to your speaker.  Kinivo does make a wireless Bluetooth speaker, though, so that product might suit your needs more if you need a wireless speaker.

DISCLAIMER: I was sent a Kinivo BTH240 Bluetooth Headphone and ZX100 mini-speaker to review.  The opinions expressed above are my own.  No compensation (other than the products) was provided.

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Save Our Internet

Posted by TechyDad on June 6, 2014 under Internet, Technology

DTRave_Cartoon_Computer_and_Desktop_small[1]The Internet is under attack.

Before I get to explaining this though, let’s quickly review how the Internet works.  Suppose you want to watch a Netflix video.  First, you pay your ISP for an Internet connection.  Your ISP pays their upstream provider who pays their upstream provider and so on until you reach the top of the stack.  On the other side, Netflix pays their ISP for bandwidth.  Their ISPs pay upstream providers in the same fashion.  (Some of the ISPs act as “top of the stack” providers as well.)  The “top stack” providers enter into peering agreements which essentially say “we’ll let our networks work together.”

The problems began when some cable ISPs saw some Internet companies 1) using a lot of bandwidth, 2) making a lot of money, and 3) competing with the cable ISPs’ existing video offerings.  The cable ISPs began to worry that people would cancel their TV service thanks to Netflix and that couldn’t be allowed to happen.

Overage Fees

On one front, cable ISPs have been pushing for data caps.  They claim that this is to “only require users to pay for what they use.”  The problem with this is that the light users won’t wind up paying less.  Instead, heavy users will wind up paying more.  And by “heavy users,” I mean anyone that the cable companies think are sending money to companies other than the cable companies for video entertainment.

Right now, you can watch hours of Netflix for just the price of your ISP connection and your Netflix subscription.  If cable ISPs have their way, though, you’ll hit a limit after the first few hours.  After that, you’ll graciously be allowed to continue watching videos – for a “small” overage fee.

This is a win-win for cable ISPs.  It raises the cost of Internet videos to the point that cable offerings become price competitive.  Also, if people continue to use Internet video, they will wind up paying the cable companies more money.  And since most people have two or fewer broadband Internet providers available to them, people won’t have an “overage free” option.

Fast Lanes

Bandwidth caps target the users, but the ISPs aren’t satisfied with that.  They also want to provide a “fast lane” for Internet video services to operate faster.  Sounds good, right?  Well, of course, that fast lane will cost more money for Internet companies to access.  In addition, the “standard speed” lane will quickly become a slow lane to provide incentive for companies to “upgrade” to the faster speeds.  (Of course, the ISPs’ own video offerings will be on their own fast lane by default.) I could spend time explaining it better, but John Oliver already has:

After John Oliver called for Internet commenters to submit comments to the FCC’s website, they were flooded with comments.  So many comments, in fact, that the FCC’s website went down.  As of this writing, there are over 45,800 comments.  Of course, the Internet needs everyone to participate.  After all, the big ISPs have a lot of money to use in their fight to rig the system.  The head of the FCC is even a former lobbyist.  The only thing we have is sheer numbers.  Our only hope, at this point, is the fear politicians have when masses of citizens oppose something.  If we can flood the FCC with comments opposing Internet fast lanes, perhaps they will scuttle the plan.

Many of us spend hours upon hours online.  We can’t let a few big companies ruin the Internet for the rest of us because they are afraid of the future.

NOTE: The computer image above is by DTRave and is available from OpenClipArt.org.

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