“Fixing” cheap electronics

I did a lot of googling about this problem yesterday, and the
current fix (more like a workaround) was suggested by something I
read, but there really didn’t seem to be very much enlightenment
going. So in the hope that this will enlighten someone else,
here’s the story.

My Zoom
has developed a couple of idiosyncrasies.

One is that over half the time when I turn it on it tells me
(incorrectly) that it doesn’t have an SD card. This was a bigger
problem when it first started happening, when I thought I had to
take the card out and reseat it. It turns out that it always
seems to recognize the card the second time I turn it on, so it is
now a minor inconvenience.

But recently, it’s stopped playing sound out of the line
out/headphone jack. This is a fairly major problem for one of
the things I do — playing something while I’m practicing and then
listening to it.

I managed to narrow down the possible
diagnoses to a loose jack. Googling “loose audio jack” didn’t
really come up with much, but someone did mention using a piece of
rubber band to tighten the connection between plug and jack. That
turns out to work, at least temporarily. The rubber band I found
was much too thick in its virgin state, so what I have is a piece
the length of the plug and about a quarter the width of the rubber
band. I have it scotch taped to the H2, since I’m sure it would
fall out if I just left it in the jack.

Before I found this “solution”, I also spent some time figuring
out how to open the H2, to see if the jack could be replaced. I
did turn out to have the right screwdriver (not easy to tell,
since you can’t see the screwheads), but it looks like the jack is
part of the circuitboard, so that was a dead end.


New Camera

Lately, every time I wanted a picture for the blog I didn’t
have my camera, and every time I took a picture with the cell
phone, I ended up apologizing for it. So when Woot had a good price on an Casio
Exilim camera
, I bought it.

It arrived today. It’s a good size for sticking in your
pocket, and seems to take pretty good pictures:


Sunny napping

I always use Sunny for my test subject. Then I noticed the
Birthday cards, and took them too:


Birthday cards


Snow Dog at the Dog Park

[Snow Dog]

Snow Dog

We had a good snow sculpture snow last week, and someone made
this dog at the dog park.

I’ve been researching cell phones with better cameras, and
cameras that fit better in a pocket, and haven’t found anything
for less than $80, which seems frivolous. But I might get
annoyed enough at the great pictures I’m missing that I’ll just
get myself a birthday present.

Marty Sasaki, RIP

[marty from post to his high school facebook page]

Marty from post to his high school facebook page

Marty’s death apparently happened about six months ago.
He stopped posting to his blog
on August 13. His recorder teacher, who told me about it, had
seen him at her student recital (which may have been the one on
September 12) two days before he died.

[marty from fellow photographer's page]

Marty from fellow photographer’s tripod page

We shared a cubicle in 1981-2, when we were both programmers in
the Radiology Department of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Although it was at that point one of the better jobs I’ve ever had
in my life, we both found some of the political aspects of it
frustrating. We would occasionally both get into his car and go
to a hill in Brookline and fly kites.

[One of Marty's kites]

One of Marty’s kites

He was at that point not long out of MIT, and in much better
touch with the cutting edge of programming than I was, so I
learned a lot from him. He was the first person I ever saw using
emacs, and it was his copy of The TEXbook that
introduced me to Donald Knuth and TEX.

When he left that job for another job in the Harvard Medical
Area, he was the first person I ever kept in touch with by email
and a “talk” program that ran on the Vax.

We eventually fell out of touch, but then when I was just
starting to be the Administrator of the Boston Recorder
, I got an email from him (in my capacity as
administrator; we’d neither of us particularly identified as
recorder players when we knew each other). He was thinking about
picking up the recorder again, and wondered if what the BRS was
doing would help. He must have decided that it wouldn’t, because
I don’t think he ever came to one of our meetings, but he did get
involved in other recorder-related activities in the Boston area,
and I occasionally saw him there.

The most recent real conversation we had was when he came as
part of the group that spelled the Cantabile Band at the Walk for
Hunger last year. He was looking quite a bit thinner than when
I’d most recently seen him, and seeming more mobile. We talked
about how much more energy blogging takes than you would expect,
and about the process of winding up the affairs of a dead person.
He was talking to me instead of playing because he’d gotten
frustrated by the playing — most of the other players in the
group were a lot more experienced than he was. But I had a bit
the same sense of returning peace that I remembered from flying
kites on the hill in Brookline.

He will be remembered at a recital on Saturday.
I won’t be able to go, because there’s a memorial service for
another friend at the same time. Having conflicting memorial
services makes me feel old, but that’s another post.

Following up on last August’s arrest

I spoke to my neighbor who was arrested
last August when a neighbor called the police because his dog
was barking.

He’s still not completely out of the woods, but his lawyer made
a motion last month to have the evidence thrown out on the basis
that the breakin was improper, and the judge granted the

So the DA can still go through appeals and drag it out, but
they may just drop the case, if they accept that they don’t have
any admissible evidence.

I asked him if that meant he would get his computer back, and
he said he’d asked that too. His lawyer said the next thing the
police would do is apply for “destruction of the evidence”, which
will certainly apply to the alleged marijauna plants, and might
apply to the othe items seized in the breakin. (Not just the
computer, but his camera, printer, monitor…)

I can see claiming that a hard drive is evidence, but I really
don’t see how a printer can be.

Anyway, the lawyer’s advice is that he can fight the
destruction of evidence application, but he advises against it,
on the grounds that it might well cost more time and money than
the equipment is worth.

I’m glad I set up my offsite backup system.

“Buying” a cell phone

[Ada and Richard]

It’s time for me to acquire a new cell phone. Actually, I
should have gotten one 2 years ago when the current one acquired
its intermittent problem. It stops hearing what I say. I can
make phone calls, and people can call me, but they all hang up
on me because they can’t hear me saying anything to them. I did
some ill-considered fiddling with passwords, so now the only fix
for this problem is to take the battery out for a few minutes.
This only happens every few months, so I haven’t done anything
about it, but now that I’m eligible for a new subsidized phone,
I figure I should get one.

The two features I’d like are a better camera and an ability to
read books. The better camera looks doable for a few tens of
dollars. This is frivolous, since I already have a better
camera, but it doesn’t fit easily even into my jacket pocket, so
I often don’t have it when I want it.

Reading books costs several hundred dollars, though. If you buy
from the T-Mobile store, any of
the phones smart enough to run reading software require a data
plan, which costs $25/month. So for the two year life of the
contract, that’s $600, plus whatever the phone costs.

I really don’t see that I want internet in my phone $600
worth. I need a phone that’s capable of internet, as a backup in
case the cable goes down, but that’s a few days a year at most.
Since I got Comcast instead of Verizon, I’ve had only a few hours
of down time, which happened at night so I didn’t need to use the
cell phone. When I’m at home, I have an upstairs desktop and a
downstairs laptop, and most of the places where I go and have time
to browse the internet have WIFI (so I can use the internet tablet). I know the people who have
iPhones do use their internet access, and maybe I’d wonder how I
lived without it if I got it, but right now I don’t feel like
spending the money.

Of course, you can buy an unlocked phone from Amazon or Newegg,
and probably you don’t need to get the data plan if you do that.
But the unlocked phones are all $300 more than a subsidized
version that comes with the data plan.

And again, this would be frivolous, because I already have my
Nokia N810 Internet Tablet for reading books. And it does fit
easily into a jacket pocket, so it’s only bad organization when
I don’t have it.

I investigated whether I could use the camera on the Internet
tablet for better pictures than the cell phone gets me, and it
turns out that I can’t, although it’s possible someone
could use it for something. It’s a fixed focus, intended for
doing video calls, so taking anything but yourself is difficult,
and the software seems to be pretty flaky. I managed to get an
out-of-focus shot of something unrecognizable, but never managed
to get the dog (my usual test subject), even though he’s taking
his morning nap and not difficult to shoot with a normal camera
at all.

So I’ll probably just upgrade to something similar to what I
have, maybe spending the $40 to get a better camera. In two
years, maybe the cost analysis will be different. Or maybe the
unlocked phones will get cheaper in less than two years.

There’s a character in Dickens’ Bleak
who is described thus:

He immediately began to
spend all the money he had in buying the oddest little ornaments and
luxuries for this lodging; and so often as Ada and I dissuaded him
from making any purchase that he had in contemplation which was
particularly unnecessary and expensive, he took credit for what it
would have cost and made out that to spend anything less on something
else was to save the difference.

One of my friends who bought an iPhone justified the expense
because his cell phone plan was $30 less per month than someone else’s he
knows (although it’s $30 more than mine). I do a certain amount
of that kind of thing, too, but I’m resisting the temptation in
this case.

When Everything Changed

I enjoyed reading this
by Gail Collins, who’s one of the New York Times
columnists I read regularly. It’s not so much a comprehensive scholarly history, as
a collection of the stories about women’s issues in the last
century. They’re well-told. And even if you lived through it
all, you’ve probably forgotten even some of the good ones.

Of course, if you lived through it, you probably have your own
stories that are as good as plenty of these. I kept thinking
about the time (probably in the mid-70’s) I didn’t get a job I was interviewed for, and the
person who did get it was a married woman. My mother was
incensed, because she thought I should have had priority over
someone with a husband to take care of her.

Another good part is that Ms Collins
followed up on what happened to the characters in the stories. So
a woman who in the 50’s was famous for having been able to iron a
shirt in 12 minutes was interviewed in the assisted living
facility and said she only owned one skirt, because she wears
pants everywhere these days. And she gets both Gloria
Steinem’s and Phyllis Schlafly’s reactions to Sarah Palin.

Ebook experience

Most of my ebook reading has been fiction. Terry Pratchett
does put footnotes in his fiction, and the most recent one I
bought did the right thing about making the footnotes links.

This Adobe epub book does even better and has a link back from
the footnote to the place in the text where it occurs.
Unfortunately, when you move to the link, it doesn’t appear at the
top of the screen, so you have to scan the whole page to find the
footnote you were looking for.

Another annoyance was that the page numbers (unnecessary,
because they’re redundant to the Adobe Digital Editions display at
the top of the window) obscure some of the text.

The illustrations came out very well. They were all at the end
of the book, with no links between them and the text that refers
to the same subject. This is probably similar to the dead tree
book, but it’s a place where an ebook could provide some value
added. And flipping between different sections of an ebook is a
bit more difficult than with a dead tree book, so publishers
should be thinking about these things.

But on the whole, I’m glad I was able to take this out of the
library as an ebook, even though I wish someone would crack the
Adobe epub format so that I could have read it in more comfort.


Google Voice Mail

The feature that inspired me to sign up for Google Voice was the idea
of getting voice mails as transcribed emails, instead of having
to call and listen to them.

I implemented that feature a couple of days ago. Yesterday I
was at a party, and mentioned it, and people wanted to test it,
so someone called my phone and left a message.

The transcription is better than some voice-to-text
transcriptions, but could still be pretty alarming if you didn’t
know that’s what it was:

Transcript: Alex, Hi Laura, this is [redacted] and I’m sitting in
[redacted, but it wouldn’t do you any good if I didn’t] living room and we’re doing a test message to see if
you can get this. Both or the police and it as an email. Hope it all
works. Bye. Yeah.

The first name was transcribed pretty well — the second name
wouldn’t have been recognised. Otherwise it’s a good
transcription except that she said “both audibly and as an email
instead of “Both or the police and it as an email.”

The actual voice mail can be played from the email message, so
as far as it goes, this is a useful feature. Unfortunately,
there are a few disadvantages to this instead of the t-mobile
voice mail:

  • It apparently made the process of getting to
    voice mail a little longer and more confusing because of going
    to Google Voice instead of t-mobile voice mail.
  • The call
    doesn’t appear in the call log on my phone, which is a really
    useful feature, since most of the people you call are the ones
    who’ve called you in the last few days.
  • I had turned the phone off an put it in my backpack, and
    when I turned it on again, there was no indication that I’d
    missed the call. There’s an option to send a text message to the
    phone when there’s a voice message, but I think that costs me $.10!
  • I suppose there’s a way to get at the google voice mail from
    your phone, but until I figure out what it is, I need to be able
    to get at voice mails when I’m not at my computer.

So as attractive as having an email transcription of voice
mails is, I think I’m turning the feature off again for the moment.

Phone and electric outlets

My mother’s house, where I’m staying until tomorrow morning, was buit in 1948. At that time, phones came from the phone company and ran on power that came down the phone line.
So nobody thought it was necessary to put a power outlet next to the telephone connection.
This started being a problem when my mother decided she wanted a cordless phone, which needed its base plugged in.
It’s now more of a problem now that they have DSL, and would like both the DSL modem and the wirless router plugged in.
I’m thinking about this problem because the current solution isn’t going to work this afternoon when 30-40 people come over for my sister’s Christmas party.
The right answer would have been to install an electric outlet where the original phone was, which is a corner of the hall central to the first floor of the house, with a smal table quite resonable for holding the mobile phone base, the DSL modem, and the wirless router. But instead of doing something that reasonable, they’ve been stringing electric cables around the corner to the kitchen and through the bathroom door, as well as an ethernet cable across the hall and into the guest bedroom.
They have of course also strung phone cables to various other places in the house, so I’m about to go see if any of those places have enough electric outlets that I can move the DSL stuff there.
If not, we’ll be off the internet from whenever we take things down until whenever we put them back, or in my case, whenever I get back to Cambridge.