Arlec 3.1 Amp 2 port Fast USB Charger + GPO

Arlec DA30 USB Charger
Arlec DA30 USB Charger

A good USB Charger is essential for the Small/Mobile Office user.  Australian users will be impressed by the Arlec DA30 High Powered USB Charger. These are advertised on the  These are advertised on the Bunnings web site.

The DA30 has has 2 USB ports, charging at 3.1Amps plus a GPO (Power outlet). That makes it a pass-through power outlet. This allows two USB devices to be charged, while still providing a power point for another device. This is a Get Out Of Jail Free card for someone in a place where they can only access a single power point.

The label says USB 1 is 1 amp and USB 2 is 2.1 amps. Unfortunately, the outlets are not labeled, so I used a current meter, and found the left hand port is the 2.1A and the right hand port is 1A.

My research has shown that USB charging ports are not all equal. This device is advertised as being for an iPad and iPhone. I do not own Apple devices, only Android. I am testing charging rates on other devices to see how well it performs there, and it seems to perform quite well.

It has matched the best charging rate for each cable and device across all the chargers I have tested. In reality, most devices will not allow charging at much above 1.5A, so the DA30 is a good, quick charger.

I TRUST Arlec, an Australian company based in Sydney. The products may be manufactured overseas, but an Aussie brand used heavily in building and in industry will maintain it’s quality and protect it’s brand. Arlec, and Australian manufacturer, will maintain standards that many importers will not. I am using two of these chargers, and  recommend that Australian based nomads, both Gray and Digital, support Arlec and buy this product.

I have purchased two, and will soon buy two more. One thing I cannot get enough of is USB charging ports.

This device is a fixed 240 volt Australian pin layout. International travellers need chargers that work form 110 to 240 volts and fit multiple power sockets. This WILL NOT work safely overseas, but here in Australia, this looks good.

My only complaint is the Blue LED is a little bright in a dark bedroom.

For use inside Australia, I recommend this charger for daily use. Beside the bed, in the office or in the suitcase, car or caravan while travelling, this is a great device.

For international travellers or those flying with severe weight restrictions, you should look further.

Anker IQ 40W 5-port Smart USB Charger Reviewed

Anker 40W charger
Anker 40W charger

The best USB power supply I have seen is the Anker 5 port, 8 amp smart charger. It uses a so-called PowerIQ charging system to provide the best power possible for each device. It is a small brick shaped device that connects to the wall via a figure-eight cable.

A USB based charger can charge most portable devices, from Android phones and tablets, iPhones, iPads, Bluetooth headsets, Cameras, to a wealth of other devices.

Most of these devices come with a “wall wart” plug pack and a USB to micro or mini USB plug, or the Apple Lightning connector. Carrying the original charger for every device we own, and finding a power outlet for each is impossible.

The Anker charger is a small brick, smaller than a cigarette packet, (58 x 91 x 25mm) with 5 USB ports on one end and the small two-pin figure eight socket on the back. The advantage of this (and the wide power supply range) is that the charger can be used in any country with the addition of the correct cable. It can be found on Amazon here and eBay here.

Every USB device makes it’s power requirements known by talking to the charging port via serial communications through the two inside pins, or, for dumb charging devices, by being wired with certain resistors in the power lines. This allows a smart charger to supply just the right amount of power to each device. The Anker charger is very well regulated, and assuming the cables are of suitable quality, maximum charging speeds will result. Overcharging is impossible as long as decent cables are used. I label the cables that come with my devices and try to keep the correct cable with each device. I have only once seen a different cable to cause a problem. It was supposed to have a “Fast Charge” switch on the plug. switching to “Fast Charge” caused charging to stop completely! More about cables another time.

Anker 5 Port 40W charger
Anker 5 Port 40W charger

I found the results to be impressive, though I could never get my HP Chromebook 11 to charge at anything like the 3 amps that it’s dedicated charger is supposed to deliver. But I torture tested the Anker charger on a one week stay in Melbourne recently. I was sharing accommodation with three other device users. Each night four smartphones, three tablets, a USB charged HP Chromebook 11, a power bank, Bluetooth headsets, two keyboards and a USB powered Seagate WiFi hotspot and media server all had to be kept topped up by the Anker IQ 40W 5-port smart USB charger. It worked flawlessly for the week, charging everything, in some cases with split two headed charging cables connected.

Anker 5 Port 40W charger Replacement
Anker 5 Port 40W charger Replacement

The Anker IQ 40W 5-port charger comes with an 18 month warranty, and this is backed by an impressively fast and helpful customer support operation. My first charger had one port die within a week. Anker asked for the serial number of the device, and had a replacement in the mail within 24 hours. Since they are in the US and I am in Australia the replacement arrived with great speed. A tribute to a real belief in quality and customer support.

Anker now has a 60W version, but I seriously doubt it will result in faster charging except with the most extreme combination of devices. But if you believe more is better, here is a link to the 60W charger on Amazon.

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Logitech T630 Ultrathin Touch Mouse

Logitech T630 Ultra-thin Touch Mouse
Logitech T630 Ultra-thin Touch Mouse

For many users of touch devices such as phones and tablets, mice are a thing of the past. For me, the mouse still has a huge place in my toolkit. It is essential for laptop and desktop computing, and even editing text on a tablet works better with a mouse.

I use a number of tablets and computers on a daily basis, and wireless mice have three drawbacks. They require a spare USB port for the dongle, they require AA or AAA batteries, and they are mostly fairly large.

I spend a lot of time using Laptops, Chromebooks and Tablets. None of these have a lot of spare USB ports, and some have none at all. So Bluetooth is the only option to get full functionality on all devices. If I am doing serious typing on my Nexus 7 Tablet, I connect a Bluetooth keyboard, and at times, having a mouse is handy.

If I am travelling, I will have a Chromebook or an Ultrabook. Long hours working on one of these devices on a table or on my lap is a sure invitation for a stiff neck, and back pain. So I carry a stand that tilts the laptop up to a level where the screen is comfortable.  This may require a Bluetooth keyboard, but always makes the trackpad difficult to use, so I always use a mouse if I have the room.

I have been using a Microsoft Sculpt Touch mouse, simply because it was the only Bluetooth mouse I could find here in Tasmania, Australia that was reliable. The Sculpt Touch is a good size, but has a tactile bar that replaces the wheel that drives me absolutely crazy. It is impossible to control on non Windows computers, and just plain bad on Windows. Scrolling becomes an exercise in frustration that has on one occasion literally driven me to throw the mouse across the room (onto a lounge chair, I was frustrated, not stupid) and resort to the touch pad. It also uses 2 AA batteries, and therefore is quite heavy.

I do not like mice that require batteries. When I travel I must take spare batteries, and/or a charger. I like everything I use to charge from a USB port. This makes it possible to travel for an extended period with only one charger. I have a USB powered AA/AAA charger, but it is another device, and unless I carry spares, I have to stop work and wait for my mouse batteries to be charged, or do without the mouse

So I went shopping for ANY mouse that was Bluetooth enabled and has USB charging. I took a few deep breaths before I paid out $90 for a mouse, and kept the receipt in case I could not use it, but I have found THE perfect mouse for me.

The Logitech T630 Ultrathin Touch Mouse

Logitech T630 Ultra-thin Touch MouseThe Logitech T630 Ultrathin Touch Mouse. I confess, if I had seen one, I may have gone for the T631 white mouse, but other than that, this is mouse is ideal for me. It is very small, 59 x 85 x 19mm and weighing only 70 grams.  The tiny size had me worried that it might be difficult to control, but it invites you to place two or three fingertips on top and control it that way. There is no wheel, the entire top surface is touch sensitive, and stroking the top surface up and down or sideways provides a scroll effect. The provided software works on Windows & Mac, and adds multi-touch functionality, but since I use Chrome OS, Linux and Android as well as Windows I have kept my use to the basic functions that work on every device.

Scrolling is smooth and effortless, and can be done almost anywhere on the top of the mouse. The Bluetooth setup is a function of the operating system, but the mouse seems to reconnect on wake-up very fast. It has been faultlessly reliable.

An added feature that a number of Logitech keyboards have is the ability to pair to two or more devices, and switch between them with the flick of a switch. The Logitech mouse has a switch on the bottom of the mouse that allows two connections. I would love the ability to connect to three devices, like my Logitech K810 Keyboard, but two is enough for most situations.

To keep the mouse clean and small, the micro-usb charging port is on the bottom, so the mouse cannot be used and charged at the same time. This is not really a problem. One minute of charging will run the mouse for an hour. I have only had the mouse go flat once, I plugged it in for a minute to get it working, continued worked until I wanted a break, and re-charged it the few minutes I was away from the computer. Basically I charge the mouse & keyboard up once a week, and just forget about it after that. I do not bother to switch it off unless I am travelling.

I am far more concerned with function than looks, but it is still a pretty mouse. it is small, works on everything (better if you have the Windows or Mac software, but I am happy without the extras) and has a simply beautiful scroll surface.

Watch out for the Click!

Logitech T630 Ultra-thin Touch MouseI have seen criticism of the buttons sticking down. The do NOT stick. The buttons are under the chassis of the mouse. There are no buttons on top of the mouse. It is a single, unbroken touch surface. The entire mouse moves down when you click a button. If (like me) your fingers hang over the sides of the mouse, and touch the desktop it is possible that when you click (press down) your fingers, resting on the desktop, will grip the mouse tightly enough to stop it coming back up. This is a user error, based on the very light, small and short travel of the mouse. As you become aware of this, you learn to be a little gentler in handling the mouse, and it then moves perfectly.

I became comfortable with the tiny, light and sensitive nature of the mouse quickly. the button held down issue took a few days. but now, when I have to use a normal mouse it feels monstrously big, and awkward. Having to deal with a shrunken tendon in my right hand makes this mouse even more friendly.

Overall, this is my choice for the best ever portable mouse, and in my case, the best mouse ever.

The quick and simple connection with Chrome and Android devices as well as the usual Windows and OS x devices makes it very versatile. Frankly, the best ever! It is small, light and a little different in use due to the tactile to surface, but once you use the mouse for a few days, you will not want to go backwards to an old, traditional mouse.

I am writing this on an ASUS Chromebox, with a Logitech K810 Keyboard and a Logitech T630 Ultrathin Touch Mouse in Google Docs. Despite the high price, I am trying to convince my wife that a second T630 Ultrathin makes sense for my office, where I use multiple devices on a daily basis.

The jury is still out on that second mouse… But I am hopeful…

Microsoft Universal Mobile Keyboard – A Bluetooth Keyboard Contender?

 

Microsoft Universal Keyboard
Microsoft Universal Keyboard

I am always trying to find a better, lightweight, Bluetooth keyboard, and Microsoft has just entered the fray with the “Universal Mobile Keyboard” at $79.95 US.

I tend to be a keyboard junkie. Surprising, since I am not a touch typist. I do use keyboards daily, and type on a tablet, phone, and often on a Chromebook or Laptop that I put up on a stand to save neck pain. So I use a Bluetooth Keyboard for all these devices.

 

Logitech has been my hero in this area. They make a number of keyboards, some of the expensive, but excellent.

Logitech Tablet Keyboard for Android
Logitech Tablet Keyboard for Android

One that I like, but tend not to travel with is the awkwardly named “Logitech Tablet Keyboard for Windows and Android” that works beautifully, and comes with a very solid case but is unfortunately heavy. It weighs in at a deal-breaking 676 g  or 1.5 lb.  It also comes in at $99 AU. We do not have an Australian price for the Microsoft keyboard, but with the “Australia Tax” it will probably cost more.

The big selling point of the Microsoft Universal Mobile Keyboard is a flip back, detachable cover that serves as a universal tablet stand, taking any tablet or phone thinner than 10mm.

Logitech K810 Keyboard
Logitech K810 Keyboard

It also has the ability to switch between multiple devices instantly, like the Logitech K810, my favorite keyboard. It weighs in at 339 g or 0.74 lb, but has no stand or case. That means I have to carry a separate stand and find a way to protect it in the road.

If this new keyboard from Microsoft comes in at a respectable weight, I will be standing in line for one in August.

“The Checklist Manifesto” by Atul Gawande

The Checklist Manifesto
The Checklist Manifesto

A Book Review – “The Checklist Manifesto” by Atul Gawande.

I buy too many books, and often they sit on a shelf (or my Kindle) for months or even years before I read them.

In this case I bought “The Checklist Manifesto” by Atul Gawande almost as a stocking stuffer. I had bought a book I really wanted online, and since I have been trying out checklists to make myself a little more efficient, this looked like something to add to the order. I was expecting a book about how to write checklists.

Instead I got a book that verged on a thriller. The author has a brilliant, first person writing style, and personally pursued the use of checklists from aviation, construction, medicine and even five star restaurants. From visiting Boeing and seeing how a checklist could save an aircraft by getting in a simulator and experiencing an emergency firsthand to standing in a restaurant for a night counting how many dishes got sent back before they left the kitchen. How Walmart was getting relief supplies into a ravaged New Orleans days before FIMA and the federal government.

This book is fascinating, powerful, thought provoking and absolutely essential reading. I will never see complex processes and systems the same way again.

The author proves that our world has become incredibly, even dangerously complex, and demonstrates that the humble checklist can show us ways for the average, or even exceptional  mind to manage and tame the complexity.

He walks the reader through the process of creating a checklist for the WHO (World Health Organization) for use in surgery all over the world, from impoverished and overworked hospitals to the best in the world. What they did wrong (making them to long or complicated) and how they solved the problem.  The author, a top surgeon, decided to “eat his own dog food” and applied the checklist in his own operating room. It picked up problems immediately, and in one case, described in a humble and honest style, proves that the checklist worked, and saved a life on the author’s own operating table.

The statistics came back from hospitals and operating theaters around the world where extraordinary, and gratifying.

A team of smart people with almost no budget created a checklist, and a desire to use it, and sent it out to the world. That list will continue to save lives for years to come.

I read this book in one day, and will read it again, soon. And I am already writing checklists to help me manage my much too busy business and life.

Asus Zenbook Windows 7 – Boot Issues

Asus ultrabook
Asus ultrabook

I have lost almost an hour by starting this Windows 7 Computer.

It took 5 minutes to start. The Logitech mouse driver had to be downloaded and installed. The manufacturer of the PC downloaded a critical update. The Logitech webcam downloaded an update. Windows began downloading 95Mb of updates. meanwhile I could not open a web browser, for reasons unknown. One of the updates hung at about 80% and after making a cup of coffee and doing a clean-up around the office, I decided to reboot the computer.

The PC stopped in the “shutting Down” screen for about five minutes, and then I held the power button down to kill it.

When it re-started, I chose to start normally, and was back up pretty quickly. Now more updates where coming, and a virus scan was under-way. I could at least get Google Keep open and begin typing this. I am a little frustrated, so the keyboard is getting a bit of a pounding, but soon I will close this machine down and go back to my Chromebook.

Well, the updates failed the first time, so I re-ran the installer. After 15 minutes and a re-boot, Windows 7 is finally working.

BTSync has synced files from another machine, and I can go back to being productive.

Ahh! The Serenity!

A New Start for Phil Stephens

Phil Stephens
A face made for radio

After running a number of businesses and currently posting content and putting effort into three different web sites I have decided to bring everything together here under my own name.

My interests are diverse, but revolve around one theme. Using and enjoying technology in life and in business. From my first 8-bit Microbee computer with 64Kb of RAM and a cassette tape storage system to the Asus Core i5 Ultrabook I am typing this on, and the Samsung Chromebook I may be using from tomorrow, technology is a wonder and sometimes a curse.

This site and blog will focus on helping people get over the hurdles and pitfalls of technology. It will focus on small businesses, start-ups, home businesses and those struggling to get the most use from the least technology.

Why Telstra Sucks – A Lesson in Poor Service

Telstra has gone from one of the most respected entities in Australia to a joke among it customers. Here is one reason why.

telstra-sucks-sml

It is a truism that good service is good marketing. Certainly it is easier and cheaper to keep an existing customer that it is to get a new one. Smart managers know this at put a lot of effort into retaining their existing customers.

 The last twelve months have seen me go from a very long term Telstra customer into a very disgruntled ex-customer.

This saga began when my business partner, who also is my son, was facing surgery and a protracted hospital stay. He had formerly worked from the office, and had not had a mobile phone. I use the mobile phone diffidently, usually to allow people to contact me, rather than me calling out. So the business had a low cost business plan with two mobiles sharing one data plan. It was economical and activated it in 2009.

So in October 2012 I went into a Telstra shop to activate a third phone.

Enter the clowns…

Our business plan was no longer available, to add a new phone we would have to move to a plan that was 20% more expensive. That was a shame, but not a deal breaker. I had an existing handset, and simply wanted a SIM and a connection to our business plan that allowed us to call between phones.

For some reason that was never explained, the phone first had to be activated with a 10$ pay as you go SIM. This was explained after the SIM was installed. This was annoying, because I already have three unused $10 PAYG SIMs in my desk drawer.

I waited for two hours while repeated calls where made, forms filled out and signed, whispered consultations and trips into the back room, and more calls. I left to get back to work, and returned the next day for another two hours. Just before the store closed I was assured they would get everything working the next day, and call me if there where problems. The phone was working, but I had data turned off until I was sure it was on a data plan. Given Telstra’s outrageous charges for casual data I was not taking risks.

All seemed well, the next phone bill looked about what I had expected. I paid it.

This is not my account number!

Then on the 11th of December I got a notice that my mobile phone account was in arrears. It was a account number I did not recognise. The Telstra shop had created a new account for my third mobile phone. Calls between it and the other two business phones where being charged and full rates. And a data pack had been added each month. In the meantime my existing phones had been moved to a more expensive plan, and both phones now had data packs, even though one handset did not have data capability. My mobile phone charges had gone up more that 300%.

Between 11 December 2012 and May 2013 I spent over eight hours on the phone over multiple calls trying to rectify the problem. The second account was cancelled, but I still had to pay the three months charges including multiple $15 data packs that had never been touched. My two existing phones where now being billed at almost three times the rate I had paid previously. All told the three phones where costing five times as much as the two had. And the Testra support lines could do nothing but promise it would be fixed NEXT month, just pay this bill, it will be fixed next time. It never was. 

They never missed sending a bill on time, though!

At the end of May, in total frustration, I moved to another carrier, and Telstra promptly billed me $344 for exiting my contracts early. I had been a mobile customer since the days of analog phones, my first being a Motorola brick that would just fit in a briefcase without bending the aerial.

I had been on a Telstra business plan for more than five years. But I was billed for early termination of my contract because Telstra had forced me to move to another plan so I could add my third phone.

Another 45 minute phone call got that termination fee halved. and I decided $172.02 was a small price to pay for finally being free of the worst customer service experience I have ever been through.

It was too much to hope for… When the SIM cards arrived from our new carrier, one phone demanded an unlock code. This was a handset I had bought outright from a Telstra shop more than two years before. I did not know it was network locked, because I was using it on the Telstra network.

Once again I went back to Telstra phone support. A 15 minute call gave me the assurance that I would have an unlock code within five working days. A week later I called again, and got the same assurance, and again a week later. On the fifth attempt I was a little more forceful. My problem was escalated to a supervisor, and I would get a call back within one hour.

Fortunately, I have a drawer full of old feature phones, and we pressed one back into service to keep us working. Because once again, nothing happened.

I called back in another week. I got the same routine. “Sorry sir, it is a priority, we will call back before close of business”.

$15 and 5 minutes accomplished what Telstra could not do in six weeks

The next day I  Googled unlocking Telstra handsets and in five minutes had payed $15 via Paypal to an individual in Australia. I thought the money might just disappear, but 30 minutes later I had the unlock code, instructions, and a phone number I could call if I had problems. within 10 minutes the phone was working again.

Something that Telstra should have done free, and had been promising for more than six weeks was done in 30 minutes for $15.

Like the previous fees, I considered it money well spent. I am now totally free of the bloated and inept Telstra. The total cost of getting that extra handset working ran to $480.42 above what I should have been charged. and when it was finally working with three phones on one light usage business plan it was costing 2.5 times as much as I am paying on my new carrier. And I am enjoying  four times as much data per month.  

Goodbye Telstra. Do something about your customer service or you will find yourself going the way of the dinosaurs. Too slow and stupid to respond to a changing world of social media and fast responding competition.

Photo Credit: Indigo Skies Photography via Compfight cc

User Account Control Settings – Windows

User Account Control (UAC) settings in Windows Vista and Windows 7 seem like an annoyance rather than a benefit to Windows users. There are  many web sites telling users how to turn UAC off. However the UAC warning:

Is a vital tool in maintaining the security of your computer. It ensures that you know when a program is attempting to make changes. If you are trying to install a program, you expect the warning. But if you see a message like this when you are visiting a web site, or reading e-mail it is a warning that something is being done without you requesting it.

Simply cancelling the request will keep your computer safe.

To maximise your safety, increase the level of notification from UAC to the maximum.

How to Raise UAC to the highest setting

1) Click on the Start button or hit the Windows key.

2) type UAC in the “search programs and files” box

3) Click on the “Change User Account Control Settings” option (it should be the first choice)

4) Push the Slider up to the highest setting

5) Click OK, and you are done.

This will ensure nothing makes changes to your computer without notifying you. and remember, ALWAYS read those notifications before clicking on them. A malicious program, once installed can be an expensive mistake.

What Else Can I Do?

There is lots more, and we will post about them here, but with these three things, and common sense, you will enjoy a safe and secure Windows computer.

 

Belkin N750 DB Router – System Time Problem for Australia

I have recently purchased a Belkin N750 DB Router and I am pleased with it’s performance. More on that later.

The router gets it’s time and date settings from the Internet NTP servers. The list of servers is a drop-down list of IP addresses, only one for Australia. The list cannot be edited, and the date and time cannot be set manually.

I set the default time server to: 128.250.36.3-Australia from the drop down list, Set my timezone (Hobart) and moved on.

It was some time later I realised the clock was completely wrong, it was showing January, 1970 as the date, and the time was many hours out. I pinged the NTP server. Nothing. The server is not running. The solution is simple, switch to another server. I am now using the Asia-Pacific servers, and all is well.

The ability to use DNS to find other servers in the pool would be good, but I have found a work-around. Check out the NTP Pool project site for Australia.