Webkamera schützen

Aus gar nicht so aktuellem Anlass, aber für viele muss das Fass ja wohl erst umkippen damit die Füße nass werden: die Webcams meiner Geräte schütze ich jetzt schon seit einer gefühlten Ewigkeit mit Schiebeschaltern. Erst waren das reine Papierschieber, jetzt sind es kommerzielle Lösungen aus ca. 1mm dickem Kunststoff, die etwas besser sind. Die Papierschieber haben den Vorteil, dass sie sehr dünn sind und bei Geräten mit wenig Spielraum am Display nicht weiter auftragen. Toll sind natürlich Laptops, an denen die Schiebeschalter schon integriert sind. Das ist aber (noch) eher die Ausnahme als die Regel.

Webcam Schiebeschalter

Je nach Kamera- bzw. Linsengröße eignen sich unterschiedlich große Schieber. Die Preise bewegen sich so zwischen 2 und 10 EUR, je nach Bezugsquelle und Händler. Derzeit wohl auch weniger – mein letzter Kauf liegt schon mindestens ein Jahr zurück. Und obwohl Deutschland bei dem Thema sicherlich besonders aufmerksam ist, gibt es bei ebay.COM derzeit noch mehr Auswahl als bei ebay.DE. Bei den üblichen Direkthändlern aus China (dx.com, fasttech.com, usw.) habe ich die Cover noch nicht entdecken können. Eigentlich wären Webcam Cover die idealen Konferenz-Goodies (“swag”) – mit Logoaufdruck des Sponsors usw..

Bei eBay gibt es auch webcam cover aus (ferro)magnetischen Materialien, bei denen eine Scheibe auf einen Ring gelegt wird. Das hatte ich mir als Vorlage für die Absicherung der etwas größeren Logitech Webcam genommen. Mit Magnet(klebe)band kann man ganz nette Dinge produzieren. Zur Befestigung eignet sich das ca. 2mm breite Doppelklebeband von den Chinahändlern, welches auch gerne für Displayreparaturen verwendet wird.

Webcam cover

Aufgrund dieses Artikels bei Netzpolitik.org habe ich mir jetzt auch noch unverbindlich die Aufkleber des Bundesministeriums für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend (sic!) bestellt, die dann an Freunde & Verwandte weitergereicht werden.

Aus meiner Sicht geht es beim ganzen Thema der Webcamspionage nicht um die technische Durchführung oder den tatsächlichen Missbrauch, sondern vor allem um die psychologische Seite: a) dass wir nicht die totale Kontrolle über unsere Geräte haben und b) dass wir hier als Verbraucher in einer Situation sind, in der wir uns proaktiv schützen müssen.

Das ist es auch, was mich am ganzen (Mega-)Überwachungsskandal am meisten ärgert: diese negative Seite, dass wir vollkommen ausgenommen werden und uns vor einer unbekannten Macht irgendwie schützen müssen. Dabei bieten große Datenmengen auch jede Menge positive Chancen – die aber bei all dem irgendwie komplett untergehen. Ich würde beispielsweise die Standortdaten von Mobilfunkgeräten noch viel mehr zur Verkehrsflusssteuerung nutzen wollen und sehe auch in manchen location based services eher eine Vor- als einen Nachteil. Leider ist das ganze Thema jetzt durch den Überwachungsskandal negativ behaftet und ich gehe davon aus, dass es die “guten” Firmen dadurch noch schwerer haben werden und die anderen ihren Missbrauch – ohne Regulierung – weiterbetreiben. Schöne neue Welt.

On Windows 8.x

There’s probably a bunch of things that could be said about Windows 8 or the upcoming update Windows 8.1 – but as someone who has only recently been required to use Windows 8 on his new laptop, let me just say these two things:

1. The User Interface
The Metro UI new Microsoft design language (i.e. the tiles and the fonts) instead of the start menu – this probably makes sense on tablet computers, but for most other requirements (i.e. corporate), most people just want to stick to what they already have and which works for them.
The first thing I did on my Win8 machine was to install Classic Shell to get the tradidtional start menu back. I did this – not because I disliked the new tiles design – but because I missed a quick overview on all installed apps. That is, I understand the need for a clean cut and appreciate all efforts on user interface improvements, but for my needs – and probably a lot of other users too who have a dedicated tablet with its own OS – the old style just worked. Why change this?

2. Passion, or the lack of it.
I believe that Microsoft could be a great company IF only it would be a bit more passionate about its products.
To me and my perception of what they do, there is a huge gap between MS Research (which is really cool!), some good software products they have bought in the past and since killed or reduced in functionality, their focus on low hanging fruits when it comes to corporate IT needs (which would include the HTML rendering within Office since 2007, which is horrible), their bureaucracy and also their marketing approaches which are nothing but a collection of embarrassing spots and moments. All of this could be so sexy and they both have the potential and market dominance, yet what we’re witnessing here is so below the optimum. Too sad.

For professional reasons, I’ll have to stick to using MS-Windows and MS-Office most of the time, but I so often wish they would just make a giant step forward and tackle some legacy issues and also focus on what really matters to most users. Obviously, this does not include being innovative or marketing innovative technologies, so they should instead stick to optimizing on what they’re good at.

Windows 8.1 may be a good and much needed update to a Vista-like image of the current version, but in the end it’s great software tools (which “just work”) that will deliver revenue, imo. It’s a bit irritating that we’re currently experiencing so many cool apps on mobile operating systems, yet when it comes to desktop requirements, it still feels that we’re still stuck in 1999. I wish there could be a smart and flexible OS for my desktop needs that runs just fine and delivers what I need. Windows, OSX and most Linux distros aren’t delivering it – yet.

Life’s too short for crap

I may be late to the party, but I just couldn’t resist and ordered an iPad 2 (16GB, 3G).

It’s a strange situation because I am already an Android user these days for the phone side and really appreciate the freedom (and costs!) that come with it despite Androids downsides (my main criticism is that there are no vouchers available for the Android app market as opposed to the iTunes store => +1.85% on each app purchase while using my EU credit card).

My beloved HP tc4400, the iPad2 on iOS5 and a FlyTouch 3 Android 2.2 tablet that still lacks a PDF reader because it’s already on auction. The FlyTouch btw also has a 1024×600 screen – as opposed to the other two that offer a 1024×768 screen resolution. Good for movies, bad for PDFs.

No, there’s much more to an iPad, obviously, and probably also more than enough reasons why over 29 million (!) iPads have already been sold till now. A “tablet revolution”? No, but a tablet revolution based on the iPad – that’s for sure.

I am used to buying second hand hardware and this time I am glad I had found a way to finance this purchase (via a mobile phone contract = subsidized hardware) and with the sudden loss of a dear family member earlier this year, I also realized that life is indeed too short for crappy products. Why should I waste time with stupid hardware if instead I can also go for the real thing?

This very emotional reason probably is the most honest excuse for this purchase, but you know what? Clicking that “buy” button felt damn good. Whatever they say about Apple products and their fanboyz – it’s true, it’s a *feel-good-world*.

So why should I still blog about this purchase if 29 million out there have already made this buying decision? Because I have a smart list that matters to me. Here’s my TOP5 reasons for the purchase:

After watching this documentary earlier last month about former Microsoft employees, it eventually occurred to me that most MS products just lack passion .

This is exactly what I like the most about these portable Apple products: a meticulous CEO that demoed his products and also looked at the smallest details.

Or Linux developers who create stuff out of passion. Not because they have to, but because they want to. That alone is a totally different approach and a sign of quality to me.

I am yet to see that on MS products. And I am a Win7 user most of the time, along with this crap called Outlook 2007 (HTML rendering, bollocks!).

And it’s not just the software you can buy. Just yesterday I read through this publication from Microsoft Research on the need for meta data to be implemented in future generations of filesystems. Very valid points and I understand that MS Resarch are doing good work, BUT! – again – the paper was much longer than necessary. So much blablabla and yet the important stuff could have been said on one single page. This out-of-focus-approach is so typical of MS, I think. As a customer and user of MS products, I don’t feel any passion in their products and meanwhile also believe that many lines of code on their OS & apps are just random data.

Hence: any company that shows a passion with their products is highly appreciated. A passion to deliver good quality.

I think the iPad is the best reading device. Why? Because I can not display most of my PDFs on a 7″ eInk display without constantly zooming in and out. So as long as eInk readers aren’t running a bit faster for this purpose, the iPad is the better alternative to me at the moment although I am sure we’ll soon see more 7″ devices.

The Amazon tablet(s) would have been an interesting alternative to me, but their 7″ Fire tablet isn’t even available here! In my opinion as a customer, if you can’t launch/ship global, then don’t even launch it for a single country. You can do that for Japan, maybe, but not for the US that are so connected with the rest of the world.

There are SO MANY apps available for the iPad. In fact, most publishing houses in Europe ONLY offer iPad apps for their print products. No Android app, only iOS. Sad, but still the bitter reality. Because I’d also be happy with a competitve (and available) Android tablet.

Talking of Android tablets, my friend Dave recently got an Asus eeePad Transformer TF101 and – as a pilot for an international airline – tried to pick the better alternative. Unfortunately, his tablet already broke after only two month and his biggest complain was the lousy App situation for Android Honeycomb (as compared to the iPad, of course, which is hard to beat). Dave – go and get your iPad. Now!

Adrian – I missed my chance to get an HP TouchPad for 99 EUR. I reckon that it would have been an interesting PDF reader and surfing device for me.

Battery runtime on the iPad is just totally crazy. It’s long enough to get me through a day at a BarCamp and that’s all that matters to me.

Also, 29 million customers enable a fabulous aftermarket. You’ll find plenty and cheap chargers as well as other accessorries on eBay, on FocalPrice and so on.

I remember when Eric told me about his daily trips to the office through Nairobi traffic and mentioned how the iPad actually is the solution to his mobile office.

Just look at how many of us laughed about the iPad and its limited capabilites back when the iPad1 was launched. And now we are even using it to have a mobile office and a quick device for that daily “lemme google that”-moment.

Sure, the iPad2 is heavy and we’ll probably all complain about the size once there are more 7″ readers/tablets, but after my previous experience with a 8.9″ and a 10.1″ netbook, I know for sure that 12″-14″ is the best laptop size for me and that this 10″ tablet does it for me atm.

HP tc4400 vs. Apple iPad 2
(the HP tc4400 tablet pc also serves as my backup machine)


I am not yet ready to fully convert to the Apple world (+ Ubuntu is cheaper anyways :-), but this lack of passion on MS products certainly is a very valid reason for me. It’s also kind of ironic that Bill Gates himself is very passionate about his philanthropic foundation for this passion has already enabled so much good work (the BMGF are imo doing a very good job by financing smaller projects). I wish some of this passion could also reflect back on Microsoft and that their future tablets with Windows 8+ will provide a suitable alternative. But atm, I highly doubt that.

Novag Robot Adversary chess computer

I was recently asked by a friend of mine if I and the folks behind our local DIY / maker initiative @makefurt could have a look into an older chess computer that would have some issues.

The owner – a former advertising designer here in Frankfurt who collects old movie posters and created this interesting website about it (in German) – came over today and brought this valuable robot to my place: the Novag Robot Adversary chess computer.

Novag Robot Adversary chess computer
The Novag Robot Adversary chess computer when it arrived…

A quick search on the interwebs reveals that “The Novag Robot Adversary is the most iconic of chess computers. Apparently 2000 were built but the failure rate was high and the vast majority of those sold have long since developed faults.” (src)

It’s a chess computer with a robotic arm that moves all chess pieces over a magnetic board, animating each move with an extra show. Hence it’s not just any other chess computer, but probably the coolest or most epic one out there.

According to this Wiki page, this machine cost about DM 3000 back in 1982 which is about EUR 1500 and is powered by a Z80 (CPU) from Zylog, running at 7.5 MHz, has 5 KB of RAM and a 32 KB ROM.

There’s a lot of information on this computer out there (including this Spiegel article from 1982, in German) but we’re yet to find a circuit diagram. Also, I am more the hardware guy so my first step was to completely disassemble it, clean everything (= removing nasty nicotine stains and glue from old gaffa tape) and check the wiring and the PCB for broken components:

Novag Robot Adversary chess computer
20 minutes later

Novag Robot Adversary chess computer

Novag Robot Adversary chess computer

Novag Robot Adversary chess computer

That yellow thing looks like a battery to me. Probably needs to be replaced…

Novag Robot Adversary chess computer

“Robot Adversary Main PCB” – old school! :-)

Novag Robot Adversary chess computer

The motor that turns the robotic arm. Kindly note some previous repairs (badly done, imo).

Novag Robot Adversary chess computer9

s/yellow nicotine stains/soap

Novag Robot Adversary chess computer

There are magnets for each position on this board (underneath).

Novag Robot Adversary chess computer

We do have an owner’s manual (in German). Circuit diagram is still missing though…

Novag Robot Adversary chess computer

I’ll have another look at the robotic arm now and will then try to reassemble everything in order to keep all parts in one place and where they should be.

If you’d like to help us fix it, please feel free joining us next weekend on October 30th, 2011 from 3-5pm at the Museum für Kommunikation here in Frankfurt. Or ping us anytime at info@makefurt.de // @makefurt. All are welcome!

Chrome flaps

On of Germany’s most popular tech bloggers (@Caschy) recently published a notice about Google Chrome 9 final on his blog – and attached the following Chrome logo to the news…

Google Chrome 9 final Portable Google Chrome 9

..which I’ve marked with red arrows, because I’d like to know from YOU, dear reader, if you know what these sort of landing gear flaps on the logo are all about (?).

Someone on Caschy’s blog suggested it is part of the Jefferies-tubes, someone else wrote they are flaps for a microphone and a camera.

Seriously, do you know why they’re part of the Chrome logo and what’s the story behind them?

I love my DE1103

Picture of Degen DE1103 world receiver

I’ve already mentioned the arrival of this sweet gadget on my posterous blog earlier this week, but I am so pleasantly surprised by the qualities of this world receiver that I decided to mention it on my main blog.

For technical details, pls see this full review or google for “Degen DE1103”. The Degen DE1103 is a Chinese world receiver that covers the 76.0 – 108.0 MHz range in FM and 100 – 29999 KHz in AM & SSB. It sells for about 50,- EUR including shipping, directly from eBay / China, and comes with a cord, a charger (!), rechargable batteries, headphones, an external wire antenna and a pouch.

I am a bit late to the party as this model has already been introduced in ~ 2005 and every serious SWL and radio ham probably already had his hands on the Degen – for comparison reasons or because they couldn’t resist the offer like me – but this little DX goddess beats my other receivers (Commtel COM610 and Sony ICF-7600 DA + some home built equipment) hands down.

If you are looking for a good & light radio receiver with SSB & a new FM station every 150-200 kHz (yes, it’s that good) – this is the one to buy. Seriously. Highly recommended.

my first magnetic loop


I’ve just completed building my first magnetic loop – a special antenna that’s supposed to catch some short wave signals in this LAN-infested electric smog environment. Popular with a lot of SWLs and radio hams since many many years, so with my powerline network plug and no space for a proper antenna on the roof, the magnetic loop is my only option.


The antenna is so jua kali, built from used parts – far away from an optimal setup, but I was longing for a quick win and an answer to the question if this is doable without much further ado.

It consists of a ~ 3,5m long copper pipe that’s supposed to be (bended) circular (= loop). I guess I’ll still need to optimise the shape fo this …. egg? :-)


The feed / cable to my receiver should actually be 1/5 of the diameter of the big loop and placed somewhere near the loop, but I ended up using these alligator clips which do the job for the moment. Obviously, lots of room for some improvements – starting by the shape of the loop. The alligator clips also helped in avoiding soldered cables which would probably attenuate the signal(s) even further. The knob I am using on the rotary capacitor is a bottle cap. It’s cheap, it works, it wins!

This setup is so primitive – but I am pleasantly surprised that it really works, hence the need to blog about it. Uhmm… building antennas is like a virus – once you’re infected, you won’t stop.

3x 3G modems

I recently bought a new notebook (HP 6930p) and made sure it also comes with extra antennas (next to the WLAN antennas on top of the display) so that I could install a Wireless Wide Area Network (WWAN, pictured below) adapter which I had to buy separately.

HP un2400 wwan adapter on the HP 6930p

The good part about this wwan adapter – an HP un2400, also known as Qualcomm Gobi 1000 – is that it supports different frequency bands so it can work in many different parts of the world. This, however, and maybe that it is hidden under a cover inside this computer so you don’t have to carry extra gadgets, is the only good part about this modem.

My other computer is a netbook which also has a wwan modem – an Asus eeePC 1000HG. Just slip in your SIM card (underneath the battery), boot into WindowsXP or Ubuntu and you’re ready to go online, simple as that.

HUAWEI EM770 Mobile Broadband modem on the eeePC 1000HG

The HP un2400 modem on my HP notebook, though, will ONLY work when the (main) battery is inserted. HP names “carrier certifications” as the reasons for this requirement as:

  • This prevents SIM fraud
  • This prevents any possible corruption if the SIM is removed while the notebook PC powers on


Just to remind you: the 3g modem on my Asus eeePC will work either way – whether the battery is inserted or not, it just works.

And then there’s this thing called “Firmware” – which also is a very peculiar process on the HP modem. Whereas most gadgets will normally come with their own (preloaded) Firmware (which may or may not be updated by end users), this Qualcomm Gobi modem requires an initial load of the firmware prior to its use (HP’s Connection Manager will take care of this under Windows XP). Once you restart your computer, you will have to reload the firmware. The only possible reason for this – to my understanding – is that it enables the modem to adjust to different wwan environments. But that’s about it. Needless to mention that you won’t find any drivers for this device for Win7, and I’ve only come across a few users who managed to get this device working under Ubuntu after lots of fiddling.

And again, no problems with my netbook & its Huawei EM770 3g modem. Real plug & play, regardless of the operating system.

“So where’s the problem?”, you may ask, “aren’t laptops/notebooks and netbooks designed to be run from battery power anyways?” – Well, yes, BUT! I always remove the battery on my notebook when I’m about to connect it to a stable power supply for a longer period. Like when I plug it into the docking station at home, I always remove the battery. I do this to save it from being constantly charged. It’s a precaution that helps me keeping the battery at ~90% initial charging capacity after three years usage (as seen on my old HP nx8220 notebook). It’s a proven method that worked for me and saved me from spending another EUR 80,- on a spare battery.

And the worst part about this wwan adapter is that HP locked the BIOS to _ONLY_ use these modems. It wouldn’t be possible to use the 3G modem from the eeePC on the HP notebook.


Now, this is the part where I actually want to talk about alternatives to these internal solutions, which are often still considered to be the optimal solution. As described above, it’s a not-so-perfect solution for those who want to use other operating systems then Windows XP and/or Vista. It’s an epic fail that HP still needs to realize. An epic fail on all of their “EliteBooks” as HP calls this series (HP 2530p, 6930p, 8530p).

The eeePC I have is also available without such a 3g modem – the price difference used to be EUR 100,- less. People (not me, I got it cheaper :-) actually paid this difference in order to get a netbook with an internal 3g modem. As for the eeePC, the price difference is (was) justified as you had to cough up about the same amount for an external modem some time ago.

However, now, in September 2009, things are a bit different. Be it Germany or Kenya, you’re actually able to get an external USB-based 3g modem for something like EUR 20,- to 30,- – which is a decent price, I’d say. Sure, you could even get it for less (in Germany) if you go for a 24month contract with a network provider but I am only talking about prepaid solutions here.

the popular Huawei E169

And these USB sticks are the very reason for blogging all this. I think that these external 3g modems are still the best solution for the following reasons:

  • they are supported by different operating systems & often well documented on the internet
  • they often come with their own software so you won’t have to worry about that part
  • power consumption on these devices is moderate, also because they are easier to remove (and wouldn’t require a software switch on the OS) – just unplug them
  • some of these sticks come with an extra socket for an external (UMTS) antenna
  • some of these sticks come with an extra flash memory capacity
  • they are relatively cheap these days
  • they can be used on more than one computer – just unplug them and hand them over to your friends (provided you have an unlimited data plan)

The disadvantage of course is that you’d have an extra device at the side of your notebook which blocks one of the often limited USB ports.

In the past I’ve also used thethering my Nokia phone to the computer and using its 3G capabilities to surf the net; and on my old & beloved (and now sold) HP nx8220 notebook I had used a PCMCIA (PC-Card) version of these 3G modems which I blogged about earlier. The PCMCIA version worked fine, albeit the PCMCIA port being known for quickly draining the battery (which also became obvious as it heated up pretty quickly). My new HP notebook has an ExpressCard slot, so this could also be an alternative if USB ports are really limited and already used for other devices.

To be honest, with this limitation of the internal 3G modem on my HP 6930p to Windows XP & Vista (and probably also Win7 one day), I’d probably go for another machine in future. I actually don’t know about the 3G modems on a Dell E6400 or Lenovo T400(s) – all of them seem to come with a Gobi device these days -, but I hope they aren’t as crippled as this Qualcomm Gobi? HP uses on their EliteBooks.? And signal strength (RX/TX ratio) actually isn’t so much better with the internal antennas which have to compete with the WLAN antennas for the limited space above the display. However, I understand that it isn’t the modem which sucks (some websites claim it even comes with an internal GPS chip?!) but rather HP’s policy which prevents us from using alternative operating systems and even locks the system down to this device only.

And with my policy of drawing a clear line between user data and the operating system + hardware, the external USB modem is just so much more convenient. It’s a plug & play device that adds modularity & flexibility to the system.