Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Get T-Mobile 4G for $30 for a month

If you need a fast Internet for a month or so, at home or on road, this T-Mobile plan is the cheapest. You buy an activation kit for $1 and then refill $30 to get 4G data service for a month. The first 5GB is at 4G speed and, afterward, 2G.

First go to T-Mobile website to purchase an activation kit for $1:

Choose the micro SIM, because you can very easily cut it to a standard SIM and, a bonus, you get a micro to standard SIM adapter that is quite difficult to make (see the following video). It takes few days for the kit to arrive in your mailbox.

Once you have received the activation kit, go to T-Mobile website again to activate it:

Now go to 7-11, KMart, etc. and buy a $30 refill. Use cash, it's always a bad idea to tight a credit card to a prepaid plan. Now insert the SIM card into your phone and enjoy. Speed is slower than AT&T, Verizon and Sprint, due to either the old phone (Nexus One) and/or my location. Youtube can be played smoothly only with 240p quality.

Tether and HotSpot work, but you have to change your browser's user agent as described here.

One of alternatives: StraightTalk "unlimited" for $45 per month. The activation kit costs $15 and can be ordered from ST website. You may choose between AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Turn off WWAN on Thinkpad

As described in this article, I added a $10 Gobi 2000 WWAN card into my Thinkpad x220. Because it is not officially supported by Lenovo, "Fn+F5" does not see this WWAN card and therefore cannot turn it off. Here is the method to control the WWAN.

Download PuTTY and run it. Select "Serial", change COM1 to the serial port that the Gobi modem uses. In my case it is COM27. Then click on "Open":

In the PuTTY session window, type in AT+CFUN=0 or 1 to turn off or on the WWAN card. You'll see the WiFi light turns off or on correspondingly:

Some more details:

  • If you disable this card in device manager, it only stops the card to talk to Windows. It is still powered on with RF activities that consume lots of battery.
  • If you use "0" to turn the card off, it'll be turned on automatically after waking up from a sleep. "4" (i.e. AT+CFUN=4) has the same effect.
  • "5" is factory test mode, "6" is reset and "7" is offline mode.
  • You may save the PuTTY session so you don't need to select the COM# each and every time.
  • You may use AutoHotKey to write a simple script to easy above process.
This is a simple working AHK script and how it looks when you run it. You need to put the PuTTY.exe in the same folder with this script. You need to change COM27 and "wwan" (saved PuTTY session name) to yours.

#SingleInstance ignore
SendMode Input
SetWorkingDir %A_ScriptDir%
SetTitleMatchMode, 2

Gui, Add, Button,,WWAN ON
Gui, Add, Button,,WWAN OFF
Gui, Show

Run, putty -load "wwan"
WinWaitActive, COM27 - PuTTY
Send, AT{+}CFUN=1{ENTER}
Sleep, 300
Send, !{F4}
WinWaitActive, PuTTY Exit Confirmation
Send, {ENTER}

Run, putty -load "wwan"
WinWaitActive, COM27 - PuTTY
Send, AT{+}CFUN=0{ENTER}
Sleep, 300
Send, !{F4}
WinWaitActive, PuTTY Exit Confirmation
Send, {ENTER}

P.S: The AT commands for turning airplane mode on:


To turn airplane mode off:


[update 07/04/13] I've been using the following AT commands to turn the Gobi2000 on/off for months, flawlessly.



I.e., 5 is the number for off and the modem stays off after a sleep. After sending the command to the modem, you must put X220 into standby/sleep mode for the change to be effective.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Opera is THE browser for your phone

First, let's see the problem with other browsers such as the one built into Android, the Safari in iPhone and iPad and some 3rd-party offerings like Dolphin:

When you open a page such as amazon reviews, the font is way too small to read. So, you have to zoom in, but then you can no long see full lines and you have to scroll left and right endlessly to read a page:

Opera does not have this problem. You can zoom in (or out) as much as you want and you always see full lines:

When you are typing text, Opera is also the only one that lets you see full lines.

A very unique feature of Opera: you can insert or upload any files from your phone's storage. With other browsers, you can only deal with some files such as photos, you cannot fully access your phone's storage.

Opera does not run my phone hot, all other browsers do. It means longer battery life too.

There are few sites such as and that all browsers cannot do, then FireFox is the one.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A charger that charges all batteries

"Vivitar Series 1" is a classic lens series that are still loved by today's M43 camera users. Vivitar gave the same name to its universal charger for a good reason - this charger will be the classic for years to come.

AA, AAA, cell phones, cameras, even computers, you name it, as long as they are 1.5V, 3.6V or 7.2V, this Vivitar Series 1 charges them all! At home or in a car, and for only $19.

AA/AAA, one or two, charged separately:

Cell phone's battery (such as this Samsung Galaxy S):

Camera's (such as this Panasonic GF2):

Computer's (such as this Viliv X70EX):

The initial version had a very stupid design flaw though: you had to use a little stick (included) to move the contacts:

The second version fixed that problem, now you can move the contacts with two knobs found on the bottom side:

Both wall (100V-240V) and car (12V) adapters are included:

Make sure you get this newer version:

If you happen to have the old version, there is an easy fix. Just cut a hole that's large enough for your fingers to access the movable contact seats:

Most smart chargers such as the very popular La Crosse are picky on the condition of the battery; they refuse to charge or stop charging too early if they think something wrong with the battery. This Vivitar Series 1 does not do that, it simply works, always.

In the last 20 years I've tried almost all chargers I could find, but only above two are worth of mentioning. All others are garbage. So disappointed and hopeless, I made my own chargers (0.1C constant current using LM317) and have been using them at home. I use the Vivitar when travel and no longer use the non-dependable La Crosse.

For my battery pack, I've been using this one, 100% reliable and dependable:

Last night we had a power failure, and this is what I found this morning:

The batteries had been in the two chargers and fully charged before the power failure. The two in La Crosse are less than 1 month and had been used for only about 3 times while the two in the Vivitar are 8 years old and only 50% capacity left. As you see, the La Crosse is still charging one, wrongly, while the Vivitar has stopped correctly. This is just one of the many times when the La Crosse behaves erratically. Too often, I put batteries into the La Crosse before I go to bed and, the next morning, the batteries are either still charging or not charged at all. Not a dependable charger.

Another example that the La Crosse misbehaved. This time, it stopped charging too early. The one at the rightest side was stopped after only 1 hour and 19 minutes:

So, I take out the #4 cell, leave it outside for a day and put it back into the La Crosse. This time it was charged for a good 4 hours and 25 minutes:

After wasted so much money and time on those "smart" or "fast" chargers, I was hopeless and finally made my own dumb constant-current charger. It is very simple, just a LM317 and a 22 ohm resistor (or 6.2 ohm for AA). It's been absolutely dependable. I simply threw my batteries into it and, no matter what condition they are, they will be always fully charged the next morning. No worry about over charge, because it is the standard safe 0.1C rate.

Those dumb chargers sold in stores are garbage. They are not constant-current, using only a diode. If the battery is too old and has high internal resistance, the charging current will be too low to charge them up. Some such dumb or timer chargers use too high current, 2x or even 5x, will over charge your batteries soon or late.

The bottom line: the only absolutely dependable charger is dumb 0.1C constant-current type but nowhere to buy one. If you need a fast charger when travel, the Vivitar Series 1 is currently the only option; it is quite dependable and it charges almost all your batteries - AA, AAA, cellphone's, camera's, camcorder's and even computer's!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Do Skype the right way

Because the old portable version of Skype no longer work, so I downloaded and installed portable version This version always download "SkypeSetup.exe" and prompt the annoying notification.

To prevent this automatic downloading and prompt, do the followings:

  • Find your temp folder, for Windows 7, it is: C:\Users\UserName\AppData\Local\Temp. If you cannot see this folder, you need to enable showing hidden system folders and files.
  • Download the fake "SkyepSetup.exe" file from here and put it into above temp folder.
  • Right click on this file, Properties, Security, Edit, deny all access for all users.

BTW, you should always use the portable versions for Skype and QQ (2011) .

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Sony SLT-A35 is no compare to Panasonic G3!

Sears stores are clearancing the Sony SLT-A35 for as low as $249; so I gave it a try, because Sony SLT is the only DSLR with a usable AF for video without hunting that's found on all DSLR cameras and all mirror-less cameras except Panasonic.

People often say DSLR with a larger APS-C sensor like this A35 produces better high ISO images than M4/3. How false is that? What I found is: the A35 is simply no compare to G3, no matter what you compare, and the differences are all huge!

First, let's see their photos @ ISO 3200 (full size and 100% crops):

Now ISO 6400, the one from A35 is simply unusable:

Even at base ISO, the one from A35 is much lower resolution and lacking of contrast:

The only time you want to use the A35 for photos is when you want to hide the details of an ugly face like this:

Now let's compare video:

You may download the original MTS files here and here, if YouTube is not so convincing to you.

They also often say: phase detection is better. Again, this is not the case when comparing A35 to G3.
  • When trying to focus on a spot of flat color, stills or video, both A35 and G3 will hunt and fail. So, no advantage from phase detection on this regard.
  • For stills, G3 focuses faster, and never inaccurate while A35 can be off sometimes.
  • For video, G3 focuses continually, gradually and quietly while A35 shifts focus periodically, disruptively with very audible noise.
  • Aperture is limited to f3.5 if you want AF for video. If you buy a $$$$ f1.8 lens for A35 for video, you simply waste your money. G3 does not have such limit.
This video shows how differently they focus during filming and G3 is favorable:

I am not the only one who found above truth, for example:

Even in this same thread, a poster is still blindly saying: "So G3 for low ISO and Sony for video and high ISOs". Such typical misleading words are flooded all over the Internet, including some camera review sites. I have no idea why.

Based on my own side-by-side tests, I can safely say, in the era of youtube, DSLR is technically outdated and Panasonic M4/3 such as G3 is currently the only choice for taking both 1st-grade photos and video. And, Panasonic M4/3 is much more compact than DSLR, practical for travel and soccer mom.

The same sensor in A35 is widely used in many mid- and top-range DSLR cameras such as the very popular Nikon D7000 selling for $1400. When you buy a G3 for just $299, you miss nothing but gain over a DSLR, period.

[update] The poor images from A35 have something to do with the 18-55 kit lens. To achieve the sharpness of G3, I have to do the followings:

  • Change photo style from standard to vivid and increase contrast, saturation and sharpness by +1. And,
  • Zoom in from 18 to 33 mm and decrease aperture from 3.5 to 5.6.

But video is still significantly worse than G3's. At ISO 6400, photos are much better too, but still too noisy: