December 19, 2008

Review: Composite and component cables for iPod from Griffin Technology

Richard Kuper
The Kuper Report
http://thekuperreport.com/

If your iPod is capable of sending video or graphic images to TV, then instead of viewing the videos or images on a tiny little screen, you can view them on your TV or monitor. If you want to hear the audio files you have on your iPod on a real stereo system, then these cables will give you that option. All connectors are color-coded for easy connecting.

With either of these cables from Griffin Technology and the included PowerBlock AC Adapter you can also:
  • Connect your iPod to your computer to download songs, videos, images, and also charge your iPod via your computer.
  • Charge your iPod from a wall outlet via the PowerBlock AC Adapter (and you can do this even while watching videos on your TV or listening to music on your stereo system).
  • Charge any usb device via the PowerBlock AC Adapter.
If your TV or home entertainment system only accepts one yellow-coded cable for video, then you will want Griffin’s Composite Video Cable for iPod.

If your TV or monitor has three video inputs (Red, Green, and Blue), then you will want Griffin's Component Video Cable for iPod.

Important caveats if you are thinking of getting these cables to see the video or images stored on your iPod displayed on your TV or monitor. First, check to see if your iPod has that option. Not all do, and the default setting is for this feature not to be enabled. So assuming your iPod has the option to send output to TV, you will need to first turn that option on. There are no instructions that come with the cables telling you this, so be sure to check your iPod first. I discovered, for example, that the iPod nano (1st generation) does not have an option to send the images to TV. I even went and got the latest software update but that option did not show up anywhere on the 1st generation iPod nano. Also, these cables are not for iPods that only have a usb connection.

If the caveats are not an issue, then check out these cables from Griffin Technology. They list for $49.99.

November 04, 2008

Review: Plantronics Stereo Bluetooth Headsets

Richard Kuper
The Kuper Report
http://thekuperreport.com/

I evaluated two Bluetooth headsets from Plantronics: The Plantronics Voyager 855 Stereo Bluetooth Headset, and the Plantronics Pulsar 590A with Universal Bluetooth Adapter. Both have pros and cons, depending on your personal preferences and needs.

Neither the Voyager 855 nor the Pulsar 590A listed my current cell phone, a Samsung Juke (SCH-u470) that doubles as an mp3 player, as a compatible bluetooth phone. Samsung did not list either of these headsets as compatible. Despite those omissions by both companies, both headsets easily connected (the term used for connecting bluetooth devices is "paired") with my phone, and neither needed the indicated code to pair up.

For stereo listening, bluetooth devices must support the Bluetooth Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP). Devices that do not support the A2DP profile must use the Plantronics universal adapter to work wirelessly with these headsets. The adapter only comes with the Pulsar 590A. Also, bluetooth mobile phones with built-in MP3 must support the Bluetooth Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP) for stereo listening.

Used as a cell phone headset

Voyager 855

The Voyager 855 works either as a standard mono bluetooth headset, or as a stereo bluetooth headset.



This is an in-ear headset. To use it as a standard mono headset, you can either insert the primary unit in your ear or, if you need an over-the-ear hook to hold it in place, attach the provided hook. To use it as a stereo headset, the in-ear add-on is attached to a thin cord connected to it's own over-the-ear hook. There are also three different sized earbud adapters. I've tried all three sizes and haven't quite found the right size for one of my ears that I personally find comfortable. And if I fully set the earbud in my ear to "seal out the noise", I find that I hear myself echoing in my ear when I talk, as when one simply holds their hand flat over their ear and talks. But that's just me. You may not have this experience.

To answer an incoming call, you either extend the sliding boom on the primary unit so that the mic is closer to your mouth, or tap a button. Since my phone is also an mp3 player, I was happy to find that when I answered a call it paused the music, and resumed it when the call ended. The
sound was clear on phone calls using the unit as a mono headset, and was even more so when using the unit in stereo mode (probably because I was now listening in both ears). One issue that folks at the other end of the calls mentioned was when I was outdoors in breezy or windy weather they had trouble hearing me, so I found myself cupping my hand over the mic to block the wind, which helped. I've had this issue with wired headsets in the past.

Plantronics claims up to 7 hours talk time, 6 hours stereo listening time, 160 hours standby time from a single charge. I don't make/receive a lot of calls and have mostly used the Voyager 855 to listen to music. In that mode, I estimate that the claim of 6 hours of listening time before needing
to recharge is reasonably accurate. Unfortunately, the only way to determine the battery status is either to somehow notice a blinking red (hard to do when the unit is on your ear), or else you suddenly hear a series of beeps when the battery is really low. At that point, the battery dies soon afterwards and needs to be recharged.

In addition to the items mentioned above, the Voyager 855 comes with an AC charger and a pouch to hold the headset. The Voyager 855 does not come with a USB cable to charge the unit via your pc. Such a cable is available, however, for an extra charge. In my opinion, this cable should be included with the headset.

I will address music listening, and what happens if I get a call while listening to music after a basic review of the Pulsar 590A.

Pulsar 590A

The Pulsar 590A is more than an over-the-head stereo bluetooth headset. It can also be used as a wired headset or wired headphones.



With the provided universal bluetooth adapter, it can also be used to listen wirelessly to iPods and virtually any device with a headset/headphone out jack. And if that's not enough versatility, it also comes with an in-flight cable so you can listen to the music or movie on a plane. It also comes with a desktop charging stand, an AC charger, a travel case, and a USB charging cable.

The mic on this unit is a small tube that looks like a small fuse. It seems to be a glass tube, so some care is needed. I found it a little difficult to extend it initially, but it loosened up a bit over time. Other than that, the test results were comparable to the 800, including when I answered a call it paused the music, and resumed it when the call ended. In the case of this headset, however, you need to press a button to answer a call.

Extending the tube does not engage the phone-answer action.

For the Pulsar 590A, Plantronics claims up to 12 hours talk time, 10 hours stereo listening time, 130 hours standby time from a single charge.

Listening to music

The main reason I was interested in stereo bluetooth headsets was to listen to music on the mp3 player part of my cell phone. Headsets are not stereo systems, and mp3 files are not the same as full-fledged audio recordings intended for play on a real stereo system, and so such comparisons would be unfair. Comparisons to a high-quality headphone connected by wire to such a stereo system would also be an unfair comparison to wireless listening. So the only reasonable comparison for most listeners would be to compare the sound to an iPod and it's provided earphones. Both the Voyager 855 and the Pulsar 590A provided comparable sound quality to iPod earphones, and also to the wired headset that came with the cell phone. The Voyager 855 sounds best when inserted in the ear in a manner that blocks out outside sound.

As mentioned earlier, though, the Pulsar 590A comes with some extra tricks. One is the ability to use it as a standard wired headphone. The provided cable comes with a 3.5mm plug - the size used on iPods and personal computers and such. With a separately purchased stereo phono-plug adapter from such stores as Radio Shack or amazon, it can also be used as a wired headphone on a real stereo system. I did connect it this way, and although it did not measure up to my high-end headphones, it provided very nice sound. I then tried out the Universal Bluetooth Adapter, attached to my stereo system. It was quite a treat to be able to walk around without wires and listen to my stereo, and the sound was very nice. I was able to set up my stereo to play both through the systems speakers and through the headphone jack that the adapter was connected to (via my 3.5mm to phono plug adapter) and discovered that there is a delay in getting the signal to the headset. It was like being in a stadium where the announcers voice echoes. I also connected the Universal Bluetooth Adapter to an iPod and enjoyed wireless listening that way too. I was also able to pair the Voyager 855 headset to the Universal Bluetooth Adapter.

Other features

With both headsets you can raise and lower volume. I was able to skip forward and back on the tracks on my mp3 phone and mute and pause with both headsets. I have not been on a plane in while, so I was unable to test the in-flight option with the Pulsar 590A.

In conclusion

All in all, I was impressed with both headsets. They both met my needs for stereo listening and making/receiving phone calls on my cell phone/mp3 player. The Pulsar 590A had many more options.

The Plantronics Voyager 855 Stereo Bluetooth Headset is an in-ear headset, and can be used either as a mono headset or a stereo headset.

The Pulsar 590A with Universal Bluetooth Adapter, is a stereo over-the-head headset.

The Voyager 855 lists for $149.95, while the Pulsar 590A lists for $249.95. Each can be found for about half those amounts at places like amazon.

More information about these and other Plantronics headsets can be found at the Plantronics website, http://plantronics.com.

August 30, 2008

Safe Computing Tips

Richard Kuper
The Kuper Report
http://TheKuperReport.com

********************************************************
NOTE:
This article was originally posted August 8, 2007 but is still relevant,
and so we are reposting it now.
********************************************************

If someone is truly determined to hack into your computer or your emails and they have the tools and knowhow, then they will probably succeed. But you can make it harder for them to do so. Unless it is the government. On Monday, President George W. Bush signed into law an expansion of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), giving government expanded rights to intercept phone calls and e-mails without warrants.

You can protect your computer by installing a suite of protection products. One such product, Grisoft's AVG Internet Security Suite has previously been reviewed. (See the original review here and the follow-up here.)


Such suites provide protection from spyware and viruses and a variety of other malware. That would be an excellent first step. And of course be sure to keep it up to date and proactive.

Be very careful what emails you choose to open, and set your email to hide graphics by default. If you are confident that a particular email is from a trusted source, you can always activate the graphics for that individual email as you are viewing it. Turning off graphics in email is a simple way to prevent a lot of the newer means of introducing malware to your computer that just might start capturing everything you do, including all your passwords.

Be very careful about clicking on links, especially in emails that look like they came from your financial institution. The safest way to deal with your financial institution online is to not click on links in emails, but instead go to their website by entering their web address directly into your browser. Otherwise you may end up at a very good copy that looks like your financial institution's website but is instead a rogue site that will collect all the information you type and then will use it to potentially steal your identity, or at least order lots of stuff in your name billed to you but shipped somewhere else.

When connecting to the internet, never do so from a computer id that has administrative rights except when absolutely necessary (e.g., to download and install new software that you purchase online from a reputable source). Being connected to the internet with administrative rights is akin to leaving your front door open while you are not at home and expecting no one will walk in andpotentially walk out with many of your valuables.

When creating passwords, try to use a combination of letters and numbers, and the longer the password the better. Of course, don't write it down and leave it by the computer or where someone could find it.

And if you really want secure communication in email, you need to be sending encrypted email. That's not as easy as all of the other suggestions above. It requires a means for encrypting by the sender and decrypting by the receiver, and the encryption/decryption codes can only be known by just those parties for it to truly be of value.

Does your cell phone have internet access? Then it can be hacked just as easily as your desktop or notebook computer.

One more thing. It does not matter what brand computer or cell phone you have. All are vulnerable.

June 21, 2008

Privacy & Security Watch: TJX Fires Employee for Disclosing Security Problems

As readers of this newletter know, TJX, the parent company of T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, and Home Goods stores, had a serious security breach over a long period of time. (See http://www.TheKuperReport.com/2007/03/stolen-data-from-tjx-tj-maxx-marshalls.htmland subsequent articles on this subject). Well, it seems they still haven't learned from their mistakes. According to this article, a young employee in a Lawrence, KS T.J. Maxx store tried, but failed to convince management that running their server in administrator mode and giving everyone id's with blank passwords was a very bad and insecure thing to do. So he anonymously posted about this lack of security to an online forum. TJX found out it was him and they fired him. No word on whether they address this serious security breach.

Richard L. Kuper
The Kuper Report
http://TheKuperReport.com

Privacy & Security Watch: Diebold Summer Sale Offers Used Voting Machines

This also gets categorized under: "Who wants to steal the election?"

According to this article, Premier Election Solutions, formerly known as Diebold, makers of those easily hackable electronic voting machines, (just do an internet search on "hackable Diebold" if you doubt that statement), is "selling off everything from used touch-screen voting machines ($600/each) to ballot boxes ($1,000/each), voter and poll supervisor smart cards that are used to initiate voting on machines on election day ($2.00/each), and tamper-evident security seals ($0.15/each) that are supposed to protect machines from intruders."

Richard L. Kuper
The Kuper Report
http://TheKuperReport.com

May 04, 2008

Updated: Privacy & Security Watch: Beware of fake emails appearing to be from the IRS


Richard Kuper
The Kuper Report
http://TheKuperReport.com

(Originally posted April 23, 2008)

I received the following email today. Beware! It is a fake!

===

From:
"Internal Revenue Service"
(the associated email address was: easytref [at] tax.ref.co.us)

Subject: Tax return (Message ID IRS-9438-2825)

A Secure Way to Receive Your Tax Return

After the last annual calculations of your fiscal activity we have
determined that you are eligible to receive a tax refund of $620.50.
Please submit the tax refund request and allow us 3-9 days in order
to process it.

A refund can be delayed for a variety of reasons.

For example submitting invalid records or applying after the deadline.

To access the form for your tax refund, please click here

Note: For security reasons, we will record your ip-address, the date
and time. Deliberate wrong inputs are criminally pursued and indicated.

Regards,

Internal Revenue Service

Copyright 2008, Internal Revenue Service U.S.A. All rights reserved.

===

Also note that the link (not included here) seems to point to a website for a boy scout troop in Virginia!
UPDATE:
Due to the hacking of that boy scout website, the ISP shut the site down.
Also, there are other scam emails out there regarding the Stimulus Rebate checks being sent out, also appearing to be from the IRS.

If you get any such scam emails, the best way to help the IRS track down the perpetrators is to first, if your email program has the option, choose "show all headers" or something similar. Then forward the email to the following address (and substitute the "[at]" with "@"):
phishing[at]irs.gov

April 05, 2008

Review: D-Link Powerline HD Network Starter Kit

Richard Kuper
The Kuper Report
http://TheKuperReport.com



As you might have surmised by the name of this product, it uses your electric power line. This kit comes with two DHP-300 Ethernet Adapter devices, two ethernet cables, a quick install guide, and, of course, a CD. Additional DHP-300 Ethernet Adapters can be purchased separately.

Setup is very simple. Follow the provided instructions (not my summary here) for the correct order of steps and specifics.

My goal was to be able to connect a notebook PC to the internet at the same speed as the desktop pc in a different room. I plugged one of the units into an outlet and connected it via a provided ethernet cable to my router. I plugged the other one into the outlet in the room near where I wanted to connect the notebook PC. I followed the onscreen instructions in the order instructed, including encryption information. Once I was done, I connected the other provided ethernet cable to the unit in the other room and connected it to the notebook pc. Within moments I was online and surfing away at the same speed as on the desktop pc via my cable modem.

You can also use the kit to set up a small network, or buy extra adapters to connect additional devices. According to the box, you can use the Powerline HD to "stream HD video and enjoy intense online gaming". And according to the website, "D-Link’s Powerline HD Ethernet Adapter is ideal for connecting an Ethernet-enabled digital media device such as a Tivo® or Slingbox™ to your network and the Internet."

Some things to note:

First, the ethernet adapters get very, very hot and stay that way, so be careful.

Second, for this to work, all the electric outlets in question need to be on the same self-contained grid. For most, this will not be an issue. However, if, for example, your had your home or office wired in such a way that the computer and such are on their own grid so that they are not affected by power issues in the rest of the office or home, then this won't work unless you run an extension cord or otherwise provide connection to that other grid so that the units are on the same grid.

If the caveats above are not an issue for you, and you want faster speed than wireless and a quick and easy way to set up a network or expand the number of pc's that can connect to the internet, then look into the D-Link Powerline Network Starter Kit.