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.


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: 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.

WD My BookThunderbolt Duo Drives – Read the Fine Print

I was quite impressed when I received an e-mail advising me that Western Digital are now offering a new drive called the My Book Thunderbolt Duo with an Intel Thunderbolt interface port with a supposed transfer rate of 10Gb/s or 10 Gigabits per second.

But all is not what it seems.

Unfortunate my initial enthusiasm was somewhat diminished by reading the fine print in the speed graphic.

The actual performance of the device is given in MB/s or Megabytes per second, not Gigabits, so some arithmetic has to be done. Eight bits to a byte leaves us with a maximum speed of 2000 Megabytes/s or 2Gb/s, way below the indicated throughput of either Firewire or Thunderbolt port.

In fairness to Western Digital, the fine print is there, you just have to work at finding the truth.

The 10Gb/s throughput of the Thunderbolt interface is actually supposed to be a combination of up to two HD video channels, and multiple data devices, on a single cable, not a single device. The transfer rates are based on the manufacturers specification, not the realities of the device in question.

In short read the fine print.

I have been stung by transfer speed claims before. This is not the first time a manufacturer has erred on the side of hype, and will not be the last.
Have you been caught by claims that where not supported by reality? 
Why not share with us, I would love to know how you feel.

A New Router, And Problems out of the Box – Linksys WRT160N

I have used a D-Link DI-624S storage router for a couple of years now. I received a lot of criticism, much of it well founded. The ability to share printers and USB drives was a good idea, but it lost something in the implementation. Recently it died completely overnight. In the evening, the internet was offline, but the internal network was functioning. In the morning, I rebooted it, and it just did not come back. The same day I replaced it with the well reviewed Linksys (Cisco) WRT160N Wireless Router.

The WRT160N is a thing of beauty, looking more like a jet or flying saucer than a wireless router. But it also performs most impressively. It has outstanding wireless coverage. I walked around with my Asus Eee connected to the wireless network. I could get two doors down the street, or out into the back yard and to the back fence with full wireless network speed. And with 802.11n it is faster than any WiFi card I have at present.

It seems there is a problem though. It began to drop out, with DNS errors (site not found, etc) and I had to do some research. It appears the the router has a security vulnerability, and in an attempt to fix it, Linksys upgraded the firmware and introduced a bug. here I go again. I seem to buy the lame ducks!

The vulnerability is reported by Secunia here

Then solution was to install the older version of firmware 1.2.02_008. A web page showing how to do this has been posted here . Once the firmware was downgraded, and the DNS settings changes, the router began to work fine.

I will watch Linksys for a firmware upgrade, and hope they post one soon. In future I will spend more time reading the newsgroups associated with these products. It was a quick decision because I needed to get back on the air.

I am very pleased with the Wireless performance of the WRT160N, but not with the lack of comment or action by Linksys. I know it takes time to produce and test firmware, but there should at least be some comment on the problem.

How about it Linksys, are you taking any responsibility for this? The issue has been documented and discussed endlessly on your OWN FORUMS and still, four months later this defective product is still in the stores.