I don’t like Verizon

Goodness, I’m not sure exactly where to start. My cellphone screen on my Galaxy S4 got damaged in July to an extent that it was unusable. For the last month or so I’ve been using an old Galaxy Trend which while doing the job, does it in a manner that frustrates me, slow, laggy, crashes etc.

Now in the US I figured I’d be able to pick up a cheapish 2nd hand S4 and perform a motherboard transplant. Looking around Ebay, I found quite a few phones. Almost all of them were 16GB versions (as opposed to my 32GB) and many were CDMA (although including GSM). From this I thought there might be some problems with a direct motherboard switch, but if it looked like it wouldn’t work, I could just use the phone as it came and not do the transplant.

Additionally to this, most of the phones seemed to be carrier locked. A google search showed that this is relatively easy to disable however, so I thought nothing more of it. Cue me buying a Verizon Galaxy S4.

IMG_4304It arrived, I put my T-Mobile SIM card in and booted up. The phone notified me that an invalid SIM card had been put in, but still allowed me to make phone calls. Time for the heart transplant.

The phone opens up easily enough, at first glance the boards look like direct replacement, but I noted several small differences. As such I decided to rather try get the Verizon phone to work with my T-Mobile SIM.

It should be as simple as going into a ‘secret‘ menu and changing a setting. Problem one, none of the ‘secret’ codes did anything. Even typing *#06# (which should bring up the phone’s IMEI number) did nothing. Verizon had the secret menu blocked.

Then I tried a bunch of other things, firstly trying to create a shortcut to trigger the secret menu. Which failed. Then trying to send commands to the phone via USB debugging and the Android Development Kit. Eventually resigning myself to rooting my phone. Kingo works like a bomb by the way. This allows you to edit a file in the system to make hidden menus visible.

Great. All done, but not actually. So I can bring up the hidden menu, but when I navigate to the correct place, the option I need to turn the SIM Lock off isn’t there. There should be 3 options: info, on and off. I have only info. Now I don’t know what to do. There are lots of people with lots of ideas. They mention installing other APKs, I install CWM recovery to support this, but whenever I try boot in to the CWM recovery, the phone decides halfway it doesn’t like CWM and loads the standard Android recovery menu (I assume this is also Verizon’s doing).

Image modified from

Image modified from Wonderhowto

I remember now that, although the phone tells me it has an invalid SIM card, I could still make a phone call. My data doesn’t work, but looking around, I was able to create my own APN which then got my data working. SMS however wasn’t working, and the usual menu item to change the SMS Service centre wasn’t there. There is apparently another code you can enter to bring up a hidden menu. But for whatever reason this did not work. Googling I see that others have a similar issue.

Unfortunately not everyone in the US uses Whatsapp or equivalent, and I still rely on being able to send SMSs. So I decide to cut my losses(?) and go for the heart transplant.

IMG_4303It went OK. Not as well as I’d hoped but OK. Took Verizon motherboard out, and put my 32GB motherboard in. So there are a set of cables down the LHS which plug into the motherboard. The cables are fairly rigid and the plug location slightly different on the two boards. There’s an additional brown wire that was not in my 32GB phone.

Circled plug in different place results in bulge in cables

Circled plug in different place results in bulge in cables

I removed this additional wire (as no where to plug it in) and went about removing some plastic structure of the phone to get the cabling to still fit in its new position.

Clips that I shaved off to make cables fit.

Clips that I shaved off to make cables fit.

Put everything back together and it works. However the bottom ‘back’ and ‘menu’ buttons don’t function. They light up occasionally but don’t do anything. At the moment I’m just living with it to see how annoying it is. I did find a workaround. Also the phone thinks its charging even though it isn’t :/

Coming from South Africa, where phones haven’t really been carrier locked since the late 90s, the amount of effort that has gone into locking the phones in the States is incredible. I’m truly impressed (albeit extremely frustrated) at the lengths I’ve tried to go through to unlock this phone. Verizon will apparently do it for a fee, ~$100. More than what I paid for the phone in the first place.

But I have a mostly working phone. And it’s fast and I’m happy enough for now :)

Also I realise Verizon didn’t do all this work themselves, and that Samsung developed the phone in this manner. But it was done because of companies like Verizon who believe that the phone should for some reason belong to them. And that is why I don’t like Verizon.

Mars Trilogy (timekeeping)

Look, I’ve only read the first book, well 70% of it, I’m still busy with the rest, but I’m sure the concept of time keeping is not going to change. I’ve mostly enjoyed the book (written by Kim Stanley Robinson), although it’s getting a bit long after the excitement of the first quarter. But anyway, timekeeping, it’s ridiculous. Red Mars is a Sci-Fi book based on the starting decades of populating Mars and making it habitable.

It starts focusing on the ‘first 100’, the first 100 people to arrive on Mars. They were all specially selected out of thousands of applicants to go to Mars. They’re mostly scientists and engineers with skills that they can use to develop Mars once they arrive.Screenshot_2016-05-14-18-16-45One of the early concepts introduced in the book is that of timekeeping. Something which, as they’re a bunch of scientists, I’d think would be rather important. Mars has this problem in that a solar day on Mars is marginally longer than a solar day on Earth. On average 39min longer.

This poses a problem when working on Mars, as how do you keep time? Do you have watches run an extra 39min? So after 24h00 is 24h01 up to 24h39? You can do this, in my opinion it’s a better solution than what took place in Red Mars, but it’s not what scientists do. Not the scientists at NASA anyway. No, they just redefined a second. Or rather gave the Mars Second a definition equal to 102.7% of an Earth Second. And it works! It’s good.

It means that any software can continue to operate on Mars, as long as the clocks they are set to work with are setup to a Martian clock. Well the time will work in any case, dates become a bit more complicated. But that’s not the topic of this article.

In the Mars Trilogy, the scientists’ solution in this situation was to run a clock at the same speed as an Earth clock. Then when 24h00 came along it would stop. It would stop for 39min, and then the clock would start again at 00h01. This time when the clocks were not running is referred to as the timeslip. And took on an element of meaning in the book, but egal.

The main reason they chose to do this is because, as opposed to rovers etc., we actually have people living in this timeframe now, people who are used to the length of a second and whose delicate minds don’t need the extra strain of not knowing how long a second is.

I disagree. From a scientific perspective alone, how do you record things taking place in this timeslip? How do computers react, how much extra effort is it to work around this; when it would be much easier to just make the second marginally (imperceptibly?) longer.IMG_20160514_181814I saw a recent video on YouTube where participants were asked to count to a minute in their heads and say stop when they got there, with interesting results. Mainly supporting my opinion that no one’s going to pick-up a 2.7% difference.

But it’s a book, and maybe I shouldn’t take it so seriously, it’s a nice plot device, if in my opinion a complete bogus conclusion to come to for a bunch of scientists.

If you’re interested, you can view a NASA article on the topic of timekeeping on Mars here, goes as far to include things like timezones and dates. Interestingly, the Wikipedia article on Mars timekeeping includes a mention of ‘timekeeping in fiction‘.

I was initially triggered to read the books after hearing in a podcast (I think it was Still Untitled) that a 10 part series was being produced based on the trilogy. According to Wikipedia it has however again been shelved.

Being legal is frustrating

Four years ago I bought a laptop on a student special with the local universities. Pinnacle were the local distributors and the laptop came pre-installed with Windows 7 and Office professional. Wonderful. But it didn’t come with installation DVDs. I queried this with Pinnacle and they said I should use the Lenovo software (OneKey Backup) to create a backup install which would then have everything ready to go. Fine.

A few months later I buy myself an SSD and now want to install Windows on it. Do everything necessary but the 36GB original install complains that my 120GB SSD is too small to install Windows on… So I repartition my original HDD to have an 80GB windows install. Create new backup install, and successfully install on my SSD.

Fast forward to 2016 and for several reasons I haven’t once reformatted my hard drive since original install. But now it’s time. Backup everything I need. Boot up my backup DVD and try and install onto the same SSD. It complains the drive is too small. This is the same drive I installed on four years prior. No other hardware changes have taken place. I spend the next several hours rebooting trying different types of things; use an Ubuntu live CD to format the drive and remove the extra 100MB partition that Windows makes. All efforts are unsuccessful.

I give up and decide to use a legit Windows 7 install DVD I have to just do a plain install. Alas after installation it doesn’t like my key (the one stuck under my laptop), as the DVD is for Windows Ultimate, and my licence is for Windows Premium… Windows used to have their install DVDs freely available through Digital River. But discontinued this service a few years ago. After some extended searching I get hold of an ISO that, after installing, seems legit and is happy with my key. Yay.

I spent more time trying to get an audible.com audio book playing than it took to listen to the book. I have lost every other piece of DRM-locked music I have paid for.

source: https://xkcd.com/488/

But now I don’t have Office. So I begin the same search for an install for Office. I had earlier run a program to extract the CD-Key from my installed software. Again the Digital River ISOs had been discontinued. MS does offer install files for download on their website, but you have to input a valid CD-Key, and the licence for my CD-Key apparently didn’t match any of the versions they had for download. I get hold of some ISOs through different sources, but none of them are playing ball with my CD-Key…

So what eventually happens? I break down and buy Office. Through all my searching, I kept on getting adverts for MS’s Home Use Program. Basically, if your employer has some deal with MS, you can get Office 2016 Pro for like R150. My employer had never advertised this to us (that I recall), but I typed in my work email address and the next day there was an e-mail at work stating that I am eligible. So R150 later I have Office 2016 installed. My biggest gripe (besides having to pay for something I kinda already had) is that it installs everything! Skype for business (which you can’t use a normal Skype account with), MS Access, OneNote and Publisher which I don’t use. There is no option to only install specific software. And no option afterwards to remove some of the software.

But at least I have a working computer again. And I’ve made copies of all the CDs and installs I used. Stuff knows what use the Lenovo OneKey backup DVDs are to be used for.

All of this boils down to DRM, and how difficult it makes people’s lives. Those who try to do the right thing get blocked at every corner. Whereas I could easily have downloaded a cracked copy and be done with all these hassles. Argh!

I made a mistake

I’ve been wanting to get myself a TV for a while. I moved into a fully furnished place at the beginning of the year, with free DSTV and thus a TV. But it was an old 74cm CRT. Massive thing (honestly, I weighed it and it’s 49kg), but not the greatest picture, especially with my PS3.

So I’ve been looking for the past month or two and was pretty much waiting for a sale on a Samsung or Sony, say R5,000 for a decent 42″. Then about three weeks ago, Hi-Fi corp have a sale on a JVC 42″ smart TV (JVC LT-42N630SA), with wi-fi and a bunch of other features. Great I decided. It only cost R4,000, and I was willing to take a slight quality knock for the lower price and smart TV capabilities. Sadly the TV was sold out before I could get to the store.

Then this week I see the same TV is on sale again for R5,000. Fine I decide, let’s just get it, although it’s more expensive, you would pay quite a premium for the same functionality in a Samsung. So I went and bought it. Oops.

It’s not that  it’s a terrible TV, it’s just really not great. The process was fairly painless, but shucks. I can’t remember how long it took to startup the first time I turned it on. I’m quite sure it was in excess of 2 minutes. I have a lot of complaints about this TV. the biggest one being it’s usability. Everything just takes forever (or doesn’t work).

  • Under normal conditions it takes 25s to start up
  • The “Google TV Remote” app to use your cell as a remote is not allowed in South Africa (ie you can’t use it), Even though there’s a brochure for it in the box.
  • The preloaded Youtube app doesn’t work.
  • Menu and interface is logical, but very laggy, and unpredictable at times.
  • Pushing buttons on the remote doesn’t always seem to do anything.
  • The system update button kills the ‘settings’ app each and every time.
  • Video quality on my RF in was terrible
  • You can’t change the picture mode (4:3, 16:9, original, etc.)
  • Sound quality is below average
  • The whole time while connected to Wi-Fi or a USB device, the icons show in the bottom right corner (I tried for a few minutes to turn this off but couldn’t find a way)

What it has going for it

  • It does have Wi-Fi and a ethernet port, so it should be capable of more.
  • Picture quality was decent
  • The TV is pretty cheap.
  • It is a good looking, well built TV

But in the end I took the TV back. I couldn’t deal with it. Hi-Fi corp gave me a full refund without any issues. I had a look at some other TVs, but in the end went to Game and picked up a Samsung 40″ for a few hundred rand less than the JVC.

And most importantly, I’m happy with it. It responds quickly and without hassle. It may not be ‘Smart’, but it can still play files from USB, and there’s always my PS3 I can use.