postheadericon ECS: Upgrade Fever: Is There a Cure?

Do you feel your pulse rise and sweat in your palms every time you see an advert wanting you to upgrade your hardware or software? Are you always feeling the need to run out and buy the latest and greatest, even though last month you plunked down hard-earned rupees for just that? Then this article is for you...

First, this particular addiction is what I call upgradetosis, and can usually be cured with a 12-step program or simple medication. Seriously, a better remedy is a careful “needs analysis” of each upgrade offer we get from our gadget manufacturers. For example, will superlatives like “faster, slimmer, more powerful” actually benefit your situation enough to justify the cost of the newer device?

Let’s take laptops...if you are currently using a desktop for your home or office computing, then listen to what Sandeep (owner of Logix Computer on Putalisadak) has to say on the matter:

“In today's situation of 14-hour loadshedding, there is no point in buying a new desktop, as there is no electricity when u want to run it. So the only solution is laptops. Besides, the prices of laptops have come down so much that the cost is almost the same as an assembled desktop with similar specs.”

What Sandeep says is true, as you can now get a powerful Dell or HP laptop in his shop for as little as Rs. 49,900 - and you would be hard-pressed to spend more then Rs. 68,000 for a spanking new DELL laptop with an i5 Core, 4gb memory, and a 500gb HDD – grand enough to replace any desktop of yesterday’s vintage.

But upgrading from a desktop to a laptop is not really a challenging decision. But what about smartphones, LCD TVs, and now tablets (such as the iPad vs. iPad2)? This is where upgrade fever can get serious, and often take a turn for the worse. For example, if one were to succumb to upgrade fever in the case of Apple’s iPhone, one would have bought 4 new phones in almost as many years, at an expense of about 3 lakhs!

With LCD TVs and other home entertainment equipment, the sticker shock is far worse, but not shocking enough to prevent folks from upgrading their perfectly good 2D LCD TV to one that sports 3D, even though 3D media is near non-existent in Nepal. This type of impulse buying is cumulative, as in this case, an upgrade to a 3D TV would “necessitate” an upgrade to a Blue-Ray DVD player and perhaps a better surround sound system, and heck, while you at it you might as well get new wireless speakers to replace the perfectly good wired ones.

And so goes the fever until all of your cash is burned away.

But there are upgrades that do make sense, and that won’t make you a candidate for the bankruptcy asylum. These come in the form of “updates” (vs. upgrades), and mostly relate to software products or your hardware’s firmware.

For example, while it’s true that a virus package upgrade from say the Norton 360™ Version 5.0 to the Norton 360™ Version 5.0 Premier Edition won’t buy you much more protection, daily updating whatever virus protection that you do have is a must-do activity. The same goes for almost all other software packages, where updates are usually free and essential, whereas upgrades to new editions are not free, and may indeed not be needed at all.

Smartphone firmware updates are a bit trickier, as in the case of the iPhone in Nepal, where a firmware upgrade from Apple (say from iOS3 to iOS4) might just “brick” your phone and make it only useable as a shiny glass paperweight, instead of giving you the intended new features and functions. Here is a good rule of thumb for updating your iPhone’s firmware: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” But if updating is a must, take it to a professional - like those working at Neoteric’s F1 service center on Teku Road.

With Android smartphones, the situation is just as bad. If you want to update your Android phone’s operating system to the latest Android edition, usually called something silly like “Gingerbread”, “Honeycomb” or “Ice Cream Sandwich,” then you might just have to buy a new phone altogether, as many phone manufacturers are not giving out these updates at all!

Now some analysts in the business think that upgrade fever is actually manufactured by design, and that upgradetosis is caused by controlled leaks from corporate laboratories, all designed to get you to buy more, and on a predictable schedule. These conspiracy theorists propose that all technology is designed to be rolled out to the public in meager layers, thus maximizing a company’s return on investment. And you do your part by buying the latest and greatest according to an advertising cue.

Personally, I don’t wear a tin hat - so I think these subliminal signals enter my system within weeks of any gadget purchase, making me sweat whenever a new release of whatever I bought comes out a month later. And outside of doing a careful “needs analysis” along with a few beers, I am not sure what else to do besides locking up my credit card in an underground vault.

It could just be that there is no cure whatsoever for upgrade fever, and it’s just plain human nature to always want the latest and greatest - as fast as we can get upgrades home from the store.
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postheadericon TECH TALK: The Big ISP Smackdown

Being a home Internet user in Nepal for almost a decade, it feels like I have “seen it all” as far as Internet connectivity craziness goes, so I thought that I would compare the three providers that I do know, while leaving out the few that I don’t.

Currently, I am a customer of Broadlink, WLINK, and NTC – so I feel I have the right to praise or condemn at will, as I am currently fielding bills from all three. I’ve organized this review by how well these local giants perform in just these areas: installation, delivery and service.

First, on installs: NTC requires a phone line, as their most popular service in the home market is ADSL, which streams the Internet into your house over the same line as your fixed phone line...if you have one! Installation is relatively simple, but you would want an ADSL-capable router if you have more then one PC in the home (and I am assuming that we all do – right?). Then, all that’s required is a simple router configuration and a splitter for the phone line, and whamo, you are in the Internet ring. No technician required – just read the web page for setup.

WLINK is a bit trickier, as the two most popular WLINK services slam the Internet into the home using either Wi-Fi or cable equipment. If you are in a line of sight of a WLINK Wi-Fi tower, then this installation requires an antenna placed on your water tank, and if you are not, you are connected to the nearest cable box located somewhere in your neighbourhood.

Broadlink is simplicity at it’s best, as their towers are almost everywhere, and can be picked up by the Wi-Fi receiver in your computer, smartphone or tablet. But again, most of us need a router to distribute Internet throughout the house, so an antenna on the water tank is needed for that. However, since Broadlink sets up a “roaming” account for you, you can get to your email, webpages, Facebook, etc. no matter where in Nepal that you are, using whatever device that you own, as long as it’s Wi-Fi enabled and that device is picking up a signal from dada Broadlink. In one word: awesome.

Smack! Broadlink wins on installation.

On delivery, the winner would depend on your budget and your desire for speed and simplicity. For example, NTC offers the cheapest unlimited 384Kbps service at just Rs. 1,500+VAT. Compare that with almost the same speed at WLINK (320Kbps) for Rs. 1,700+VAT. But even as I am writing this article, it seems WLINK is changing speeds, rates, and package descriptions - part of the problem with this company – you never know what you are paying for, or if it’s the best deal available.

Broadlink circumvents all of this confusion on speed and pricing by giving you an online dashboard to pick and choose what you want, and then you just need scratch cards to top off your account. You can change speeds/pricing on the fly (no calls to support needed), and the rates are comparable to the other two companies. At home for example, I am always using 512Kbps and paying Rs. 2700 per month, inclusive of VAT, and online videos and games all play just fine.

Smack! Broadlink wins BIG on delivery.

As for service, well, we all know how well NTC has historically treated customers, and I have nothing new to report there (sic).

WLINK has an inconsistent service organization that sometimes provides super service, and sometimes downright dishonest service... in my experience, you never know what you are going to get. And their products need a large staff, as both the cable and Wi-Fi connections often go south, unlike the NTC and Broadlink connections, which are surprisingly almost always on.

Broadlink service is a beauty to behold, as the most common tasks are done by you, the customer, and through that online dashboard that I mentioned. If the techs have to install an antenna on your water tank, they come well versed in even Apple technology, and also armed with your first scratch card to top off your new account.

Triple Smack! Broadlink wins on service too.

So to sum up then, in my experience with all three providers, I would pick Broadlink over all others in a heartbeat, as Broadlink smacks down all others on installs, delivery, and on service calls if you ever need one. And with that Broadlink roaming technology that I mentioned, I submit this smackdown ringside from an iPhone while sipping a drink from my favourite Jhamel sports bar...Cheers!
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postheadericon TECH TALK: The Pathetic State of Apple's iPhone in Nepal

Have an iPhone or thinking about getting one soon? Well, why not, as this particular smartphone from Apple is a worldwide phenomenon and has changed the way we look at and interact with mobile devices. Yet all is not perfect, or close to it, in iPhone heaven – and this short rant will tell you why...

First, I have to admit I have been a happy iPhone user for many years. A US relative sent me an iPhone 3G back when the 3Gs first came out, and I have been using his old jailbroken and unlocked device here in Nepal with both NTC and now NCELL as a carrier – to great success! No problems whatsoever, as the jailbreak and unlock was already done for me.

To digress for just a moment (for the noobs in the crowd), a jailbreak allows you to modify the iPhone (and voids all Apple warranties) and an unlock allows you to insert any carrier’s SIM card so you can make calls, and in our case, that would be with either NTC or NCELL. Since there are no “official” carriers that sell iPhones in Nepal, you (or the person selling you the iPhone) must jailbreak/unlock the iPhone to make it usable before the sale. If they don’t, the iPhone is nothing more then a nice iPod that allows you to play games as well.

It’s this jailbreak/unlocking that causes most a lot of headaches, as well as actually improving the function and features of the base iPhone as manufactured by Apple. For example, once a phone is jailbroken, you can load an application called Cydia, which is a repository for hacks and apps that make your iPhone better than the original.

One Cydia app that I really appreciate is Wi-Fi Sync by Pragmatic Consulting. Since Apple sells you a phone that must be synced with iTunes (a desktop/laptop app), and you must have a special USB cable to make this happen, it’s often a problem if you don’t have the cable handy. Well, the Wi-Fi Sync app allows you to do all that wonderful syncing with iTunes using any home WiFi connection.

There are thousands of other useful apps on Cydia that you just can’t get in the iTunes App Store, and again, they won’t even load on your iPhone unless you are off Apple’s tethered balls and chains. For example, if you want to run multiple apps at the same time, and you don’t have the new iPhone 4, you can do so with an iPhone 2, 3, or 3Gs using a Cydia app called Backgrounder – just impossible to do on a vintage AT&T/Verizon iPhone.

But being jailbroken/unlocked comes at a high cost, and Apple is not very sympathetic with any of us who live in Nepal and use a Nepali telecom. Not only is your official Apple warranty voided, you can easily “brick” your phone if you are not careful when connecting to iTunes. The reason is this: Apple updates the iPhone’s software and firmware all the time, adding features like iBooks and improving things broken in previous releases of the iPhone software. But, Apple does not support the files added during a jailbreak/unlock process, so updating via Apple iTunes could, at worst, make your Nepali-purchased iPhone a nice paperweight, or at best, force you to return your phone to your place of Nepali purchase for a complete rework or even replacement.

If you are tech savvy, which I consider myself very much so, you can upgrade your iPhone as new updates come out from Apple by going to iClarified.com and following the appropriate tutorial for your model of phone and level of firmware/software (there are about 300 tutorials there to date). But I gotta tell ya, these instructions are not intuitive at all, but instead are very terse and contain so many disclaimers and “gotchas” they can’t be easily parsed by a normal human being.

All the tutorials on iClarified are based on jailbreaking/unlocking code supplied by a group of really smart hackers called the Dev-Team (blog.iphone-dev.org), and the tools have names like redsn0w, ultrasn0w, and Pwnage. However, these tools are not to be wielded by the tech-mindless, as any one of them can easily render your phone forever inoperable. But these tuts do make it possible for an iPhone to work in an Apple-ignored country like Nepal.

I can report at least one success; as after two and ½ days of googling, re-booting, downloading, and repeatedly following obscure tuts, I successfully upgraded my old 3G iPhone (that was on version 3.1.3) to version 4.2.1, the latest and greatest update from Apple. That means that I am happily running the same apps designed for the new iPhone 4 and iPads - but it was a very very painful 36 hours.
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Jiggy Gaton
lives in Kathmandu and is an aging technologist - has been since the days of Woodstock - so in the words of Roland The Gunslinger "he is from a world now gone by." However, Jigs is extremely up-to-date on all things tech and is also available for hire.
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