UP24 and why I will buy a Fitbit next time

TL;DR The design flaw of the UP24 makes for a product that breaks easily and cannot be repaired. It is too expensive for what it delivers.

Last year, the second of July 2014, I bought an activity tracker from Jawbone, called the UP24. It was very stylishly made in matt black plastic. It performed well and has made me realise I need to move more. So far so good.

But now, less than a year later it is broken. The plastic is deforming at both ends, the small status light no longer works, battery charging is nearly impossible because the connector is loose and the button on the other end no longer works.

It has become just a piece of dark plastic that I will probably have to throw away. 150 euros down the drain (it currently sells for 129 euros, fyi).

My colleague, who has a Fitbit, recently broke his plastic bracelet. Rather than buying a new activity tracker, he just bought a new bracelet for about 30 euros. Still a lot of money for a plastic bracelet, but a whole lot cheaper than buying a new Fitbit.

The Fitbit itself is just a small device inside the bracelet, so he transfered it into his new bracelet. While he paid 30 euros for the bracelet, at least his is still functioning. At least he had the choice to replace it whole or in part.

I love the app, I love the functionality. But I don’t like throwing money away.

The next activity tracker will need to be sturdier, and/or be able to be repaired or have similar functionality like the Fitbit. So the next activity tracker unfortunately for Jawbone, won’t be anything from them.

Surface Pro 3 Review

I’ve been using a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 ( a 2in1 hybrid tablet/laptop pc ) for a few months now, and I thought this would be a good time to share some feedback.

The Surface Pro 3 I bought is equipped with an Intel Core i5 CPU, 256 GB SSD and 8 GB ram. I chose this version because I wanted a good CPU that will last me a year or 3, and enough disk space to comfortably store stuff. It’s the laptop that I tote with me just about everywhere.

Here are some bullet points that capture my feelings towards it:

– WEIGHT : it’s incredibly light, my backpack feels almost empty, especially compared to when I take my (2011) Apple Macbook Pro. The current Macbook Pro weighs a lot less, and against a Macbook Air the weight difference is almost negligible ( Surface 3 is 2.42 pounds (with keyboard) against the Air’s 2.96 pounds). It’s a handy carrying size.

– SCREEN : the screen is big enough and with a high enough DPI to really make your pictures and movies ‘pop’. I love it.

– DRAWING : I originally bought the Surface Pro 3 for the included N-Trig pen, as I wanted to take notes, and I always wanted to learn how to properly draw. I’ve found out that I’m not using it as much as I want to, although note taking works fine it’s something that I will have to get used to. I’ve bought Clip Studio Paint to draw with, which works fine if you want to freeform draw. But what I’m really looking for is a ‘webdesigner’ vector drawing program that is usable with gestures and touch. On the mac I would go for iDraw, Artboard or Sketch. On Windows 8 I can’t really find a similar program except for Inkscape and the now-defunct Microsoft Design which isn’t fully touch-compliant. Adobe Illustrator or the now defunct Fireworks seem good alternatives, but they cost too much for my limited usage of them.

– WINDOWS 8.1 : using it with Touch it now makes sense. Suddenly everything is much more intuitive. I didn’t really understand how to work Windows 8.1 until I started using it on a touch-capable laptop. It all makes sense : the charms, the swipe up or down, swipe from left to get to your previous app – it all works beautifully. I even started swiping the screen on my mac (to my great frustration). Touch really adds an intuitive dimension, and I for one am waiting for Apple to add it to their laptops.

– HARDDISK SIZE : 256GB for an SSD is plenty of space. Although it is filled up for about half of it’s size already, now that most programs are installed, there should not be a lot of extra disk space needed, bar a few games now and then. I’ve bought a Sandisk 128 GB memory card from amazon on which I store music, movies and some less-frequently used software. If I need the soft I move it first to the SSD – launching from there is very slow, but that is probably more due to the micro sd card.

– PERFORMANCE : I really can’t fault the performance of the Surface, there are no hiccups, everything runs smoothly, even QGIS and a few games on it. The i5 Surface has a Intel 4400 graphics card. While some older graphic-intensive games do work (Fallout 3, Divinity Original Sin), in general they make the fan go on and the Surface gets really hot. You can certainly play games (a few of the best can be found in the Windows store AND are adapted for touch), but it’s best to limit yourself to some less graphic intensive games.

– KEYBOARD : the clip-on keyboard really should be integrated in the price – without one, you are buying an over-priced tablet. With one, the ensemble of tablet + keyboard is still pricey but you suddenly have a good laptop as well. The keyboard is ok, the keys have a bit of a good give and I would not want to work on this keyboard day and night like I would with my macbook pro, but they suffice well for travelling.

– BUGS: there were some initial bugs (not sleeping, not waking, iffy wifi connectivity) that were not immediately solved which garnered quite a bad press. Since then there have been several firmware releases that have solved the majority of the bugs. I only experienced the limited wifi issue in the beginning, but after an update this bug went away. However, it still (very infrequently) comes up and the only solution is to reboot the system (which goes fairly fast, but is still a hassle for such a pricey beast as this one).

My current conclusion :

All in all, I’m very happy with my purchase. It is a very fine fully featured travelling computer with enough space to store all your stuff in. I absolutely love the intuitive way of working with a touch display and hope that Windows 10 will keep this functionality (or I won’t be upgrading). I like Windows 8.1 in it’s Touch-enabled version quite a lot more than on a regular laptop, but in all honesty I still prefer the Apple desktop as I have more experience with that and it makes more sense to me.

If Apple would add a touch screen to their new or future macbook (one that I can draw or write upon with a pen) that would probably be my next buy instead of a Surface 4. Since that won’t be the case for quite some time or maybe for ever, I will continue using my very nice 2-in-1 hybrid tablet / laptop.

SquareUp accepts CHIP cards now – will it be enough to get back on track ?

It seems that Square has seen the light, perhaps sooner than the rest of the US : swiping your card is showing to be more and more to be a security and fraud risk. In 2015, all new cards in the US will contain an EMV chip.

This is the reason why I wrote on this same blog in 2011 that Square wouldn’t be able to work in Europe in it’s current configuration

So a few weeks ago, they introduced a new cardreader that can accept EMV Chip-enabled cards. The EMV page contains some worthwhile statistics about exactly *why* the US is moving to using EMV cards. The numbers are staggering : it seems that the US has 24% of all credit card sales, but 50% of the fraud !

The following are lots of links to articles around the web discussing this new card reader and it’s impact for Square.

Mashable has a short article about this new reader, but if you want the technical in-depth details, go for the Ars Technica article. There you can learn for example that the new card reader is not yet fully chip-and-pin compatible : for now, you can only do a signature using the chip card, as the new guidelines in the US do not require that PIN is enabled.

Forbes has some interesting tidbits as well about Square, that it has lost 100 million in 2013, and has burned through more than half of it’s venture capital. Not good for a young company that needs to grow.

Which makes me think that Square is betting big on this new card reader to climb back out of the red.

If they are very quick (and *if and when* their adapter can also do PIN) they might still be able to grab themselves a slice of the market here in Europe and other parts of the world – there are still people here that would love to use the Square card reader as well. However, more and more competitors are launching themselves here, for example iZettle is already active in several European countries.

Google ChromeCast : nice but limited (in Belgium, for now)


Last month I was passing through France and had the opportunity to buy a Google Chrome Cast doohicky for 35 euros; since then you can now also buy it in Belgium.

For those not in the know : the Chromecast dongle allows you to ‘cast’ things from your smartphone to your tv. So for example you can show Youtube clips or the latest snaps of your kids on your tv.

Setup is a breeze, really the easiest setup ever for such a complicated interaction of software and hardware – just install the hardware on your tv and install the chromecast app on your smartphone, the app gets you up and running in minutes.

Behind the scenes it must be quite complex: the app disconnects your smartphone from your wireless network, searches for the Chromecast dongle which is on it’s own default network, and asks your wifi password so it can pass it on to the Chromecast, updates it with the latest firmware, reconnects to your network, and it’s working ! I was fairly impressed with the ease of setup.

Once the setup is done, you can start ‘casting’ pictures, home-videos, etc from your smartphone to the chromecast. Each app that can do that has a chromecast icon somewhere that you can tap, and then select your chromecast dongle.

The data you are casting is actually not directly sent to the chromecast, but first goes up to the internet, and then back down to your dongle.

  • Disadvantage : your casted picture/video travels out of your local network, to make a detour on the internet – more distance makes it slower
  • Advantage : Google Movies / Netflix movies / Youtube clips stream at a decent resolution for your smartTV, and probably come ‘directly’ from the Google/Netflix/Youtube servers instead of traveling via your app.

I played around with it for few days, and here is my feedback :

  • It makes any tv with a spare HDMI and spare USB port a ‘Smart TV’ so you can upgrade your TV for a low low price of 35 euros
  • It plays well with your smartphone and any apps that can cast data (I use Android, YMMV on an iPhone)
  • In our world where our mobile phone is becoming more and more a centerpiece of our live, this integrates very nicely
  • If you could just use it for casting your own pics and (silly YouTube) videos, then the price of 35 euros is just right to make your tv smart, but it will be sitting mostly unused behind your tv: unfortunately out-of-view is out-of-mind
  • However, when you can use it to control your NetFlix account (or other similar streaming service)and order movies from your mobile to stream to your TV, *then* it becomes much more interesting !
  • Netflix has announced that it is coming to Belgium sometime this year. Meanwhile Google has quietly opened Google ‘Play’ Movies in Belgium as well… in the same week as they announced that their Google Chromecast is available in Belgium as well…

    Hmmmm… smells like a strategy to me :-)

TP-Link, D-Link, Devolo with HomePlug AV are all compatible

I just bought a new TP-Link starter kit to replace my last Devolo device (since I’m not a fan of Devolo anymore). Cheap when compared to other devices, especially as it has 2 ETHernet ports, which is what I was looking for.

The title on the box of the TP-Link starter kit, however, is a bit misleading : 300Mbps AV500 Wifi Powerline Extender Starter Kit.

My eyes just skimmed over the first words (300Mbps) and I immediately went looking for another device than this, because I was searching for a *500* Mbps AV device. Not a 300 Mbps.

I took me a few times to actually completely read the description on the device (after looking at more expensive devices). Turns out that it is actually a 500Mbps AV device, and the 300Mbps is for the WIFI part of it !!

TP-Link, you might want to change that… Customers might think like me that this is a 300Mbps device and go for another device.

The devices itself are small. The plastic does not feel perhaps as sturdily made as Devolo or D-Link, both of them seem like big blocks compared to the TP-Link device. However, that is not what you buy it for… So far, the TP-link devices certainly work, with almost zero setup.

Using WPS on the router I activated the Wifi-Cloning at the TP-Link device, a few blinks, done, and then it automatically repeated my wifi. Where the wi-fi reception in the kitchen was guaranteed to be close to non-existant, due to the router being behind multiple walls with different angles all the way at the other side of the house, suddenly reception of my network is now between 3 and 4 bars ! ETHernet ports work as well, as I can stream video from my NAS to my tv.

I can also confirm that TP-Link, D-Link and Devolo all happily talk to each other – as long as it states on the box that they are AV Homeplug compatible they should work fine together !

Importing a comma-separated csv file into Numbers Tool

I created this to scratch an itch of mine when reading a csv file into Numbers that contained commas. It turned out that Numbers puts each line into a single cell. It ignores the commas. And there’s no way to specify that the delimiter needs to be a comma, not a semi-colon.

Here’s a small tool made using a small python script and Platypus that will launch as a ‘droplet’ and will allow you to drop a csv file on it that has COMMA (meaning this , ) separated values.

It will accept any csv file and convert from commas (,) to semi-colons (;) and save the result out again as “filename2.csv” – Numbers should be able to open it correctly then. Your original csv file is only read.

It works on my smallish csv files, but please note :

! WARNING ! THERE ARE NO GUARANTEES THAT THIS WILL WORK FOR YOU – YMMV ! WARNING !

Please note there is NO feedback if something goes wrong.

It works on my 2 macs (using OS X Mavericks), so I figured I would throw it out in the wild for those people who also might need it.

You can download the (non-signed) app here : Com2DotCom.app – you’ll need to open it using RIGHT-CLICKING on the App the first time.

Feedback, comments, bug reports, etc are very welcome. If possible, I’ll try to respond and help you out.

Apple iWork updates : Numbers becomes slightly more useful

Some new iWork updates this morning on my Mac Mini : KeyNotes, Pages and Numbers can now save password protected documents, can now display charts based on time series, more compatibility with MS Office Documents.

iOs Keynote Apps have received similar updates.

You can now do some things with Numbers that Office Excel already can since ages : sort on multiple columns, chart on time series… Progress!

All in all a good update, but frankly, this is late in coming, and the updates should continue coming to get even more functionality in there. I understand that this is a from-the-ground-up-rewrite, but these functionalities are what people expect from the start, not delivered 6 months or more waiting for it.

Now if only with the new version I could figure out how to updating an existing chart line with a new entry that is in the same column as 4 other chart lines…

I have one column of numbers that has a monthly entry for each measurement. Multiple years in one column. I want to graph each year in this column separately. This works, but when I add a new monthly measurement at the end of the column and try to update the appropriate graph line, this results in a mess of graph lines.

So far, I haven’t found it, except redoing the whole thing from scratch. Somehow I expected a more intuitive process on doing this, but perhaps my intuition is failing me on this, or I have been brainwashed too much by Excel :-)

Also, what is really bothering me is importing a csv file that has “,” separated values instead of “;” separated values. This results in the whole line being imported into the first cell, as Numbers expects “;” for csv. Nothing else.

I can’t even *FIND* the “import” command, you can only OPEN a CSV file in the regular way, and there are no options possible to indicate HOW you want to open the file / import it. Very disappointing.

Apple, please keep the updates coming, and make Numbers something worthwhile to use. Meanwhile, I have to write little scripts to do my work for me.

Just updated to WordPress 3.8

I just updated to WordPress 3.8 – phew !! Sure are a handful of changes. Not too sure about the newest template, I’ll leave it activated for now, but it’s not how I want my site to look…

For example I have put all my widget elements in the right side container, so my blog posts can have a bit more space. Apparently this is not possible by default, as the text just stays centered in the middle instead of taking up all the space as intended. The theme as-is also seems not to be fully responsive, as it does not expand past a certain size… hmmm. Needs some investigation.

Sonos Play:1 is marvelous !

Sonos Play:1 speaker
Sonos Play:1 speaker : great sound for a (relatively) small price

I just bought 2 Sonos Play:1 speakers for my living room, with the free bridge included (the offer lasts till the end of 2013, so you people who want to start with collecting Sonos speakers should hurry). Sonos speakers have been on my wish list for quite some time, ever since Vowe mentioned them on his blog, but they were always too expensive. Till now, with the Play:1 speaker coming out for a relatively cheap price of 199 euros. Still ‘ouch’ but it’s doable.

I was originally going to start out with one speaker, but due to circumstances I ended up with 2…

One speaker I originally bought from MediaMarkt.be, but at that moment they were out of stock. So I reserved one and paid an advance, hoping it would soon turn up. After 2 weeks they still didn’t have new stock, so I got a bit unhinged and in a fit I ordered from an online shop : bol.com and promptly got it delivered the next evening ! Kudos to Bol.com for their shopping experience and followup !

Then the same week I went back to MediaMarkt on other shopping needs, and guess what I found : a delivery just arrived from sonos, so I caved in and bought another one :-)
(Two Play:1 speakers can be grouped as a stereo pair)

I had a hard time believing all the sonos hype about the setup and usage, but in my case it was all true : plug the Bridge in, plug the speakers in, install the app, follow the instructions on the app to link everything, and I was playing music in about 10 minutes (unwrapping included) !!!

A further 10 minutes I had my iTunes library linked to it (it should have been 5 minutes, but apparently you can’t have an apostrophe in your mac’s name for sonos to link up your library, and I had to look it up and rename my mac – no biggie).

You can really hear the difference to my other bog-standard Pioneer DVD 5.1 surround system when playing Jazz – when listening to Dianne Krall I could -for the first time- hear the individual sounds, even the champaign popping sound she makes !

I’m pretty happy with my Sonos setup, and I’ll guess I’ll start saving up for some other speakers in the future…

Kindle on Android: learning your reading speed… and how to turn it off

[I added an update at the end of this post so you can read the solution – kudos to Karl Buehrens !]

I just had a Kindle software update on my Samsung Galaxy Note II Android 4.2 device that has a added a new feature : “reading speed”.

Now whenever I’m reading there is this grey text that is appearing on the bottom of my screen and it is annoying me with it’s info and constantly changing text. And there is currently no way to turn it off.

Learning reading speed” … “8 minutes left till end of Chapter”… 36% read.

WTF ? Who thought that this would be informative and useful to show this all the time ?

Why would I want to know how many minutes I still have to read to the end of the chapter ? Am I doing forced reading ? No. I read for my enjoyment, and it bugs me a lot to see that grey text. It detracts from the story that I’m reading and delivers nothing extra.

It’s almost feels like I should take my stopwatch out and see if I can read it faster and beat my reading speed.

Amazon, please add a disable function to the settings so that people like me who just want to read their story won’t get so annoyed with this grey line of text. Your app was fine as it was.
Update: a commenter on this post found the solution : you need to click on the message, and after several clicks, it will turn off and disappear !!! Non-intuitive, I kept searching in the settings menu.