Kudos Where Due: Phillips Hue Smart Bulbs

We’ve had remote control lighting of some kind for almost twenty years. In the early days it was simple X-10 remote controlled outlets. For a while it was some Z-wave stuff. For the past two years it’s been Phillips Hue lights, which leverage Zigbee.

A few weeks ago one of the Phillips Hue bulbs began to occasionally turn itself on, completely on it’s own. This particular bulb was in my night stand. After going to bed, I’d ask Alexa to turn off the bedroom lights, which she would do as usual. A few minutes later my night stand lap would turn itself on.

The first time this was completely unexpected, and quite a shock. The second time wasn’t so shocking, but each time got progressively more annoying.

One Sunday morning I reached out to Phillips via the contact page on their web site. Also, via their Facebook page. Surprisingly, someone responded to the FB query with some simple suggestions; disable all third-party app integration and see if it still occurred. Also, try moving the bulb into a different lamp.

I removed the Hue connections to Yonomi and IFTTT, the two smart home apps that I’d used in the past. Over time the Hue and Alexa apps had themselves grown to encompass the functions I wanted without using these services.

Disabling all third party apps meant severing the link between the Hue lights and our Amazon Echo devices. Thus the only remote control of the lights was be via the app on our Android phones. No more asking Alexa to turn lights on or off by room. That was sure to annoy the Mrs. Nonetheless, it was only for a day or two as a diagnostic process, so I did as they requested.

As a backup, I ordered a Phillips Hue dimmer that would give us acceptable remote control of the bedroom lights. This dimmer acts in the Zigbee realm, so we’d have remote control even if we took the Hue hub off our local network. Taking it offline is the ultimate act of isolation from third-party apps.

Even before the new dimmer arrived the bedside lamp again misbehaved. On that basis, we know that the problem is not some remote app or service. We were narrowing the scope of possible causes.

Then something unexpected happened. Someone from Phillips called me. They were responding to the email contact. Given the experiments I had already run they were quickly able to point to a fault bulb as the most likely cause.

Further, they were able to decode the serial number to determine when that bulb was manufactured. That would suggest if it might still be under warranty. The bulb in question was made in June 2016, and most likely purchased in October 2016. Thus it was under warranty and Phillips would replace it.

Just knowing that the bulb itself was the cause of the behavior was useful. Until it can be returned, I moved it to a different location where its odd behavior would not cause a problem.

Kudos to Phillips for being in touch and being informed.

Lenovo X1 Carbon: Some thoughts about an old friend

In the earliest days of January 2013 I ordered the first laptop that I’d bought with my own money in over a decade. It was a Lenovo X1 Carbon. I had been carrying an HP 8510P, which was a decent machine, but getting to be very old. Having carried both netbooks and back-breaking portable workstations, I craved an ultrabook, and the X1 Carbon stood out from the pack.

The X1C cost me dearly. At just over $1800, it was the second most expensive computer I’d ever bought, but I don’t regret it for a minute. The fact that I don’t despise it after 5 years proves that it’s been a spectacular laptop.

Except for the CPU, I opted for an i5 vs i7, it was completely optioned. Maximum memory (8 GB) and storage (256 GB.)

It was the first computer I had ordered with an SSD. It contains a 256 GB m.2 2280 SanDisk drive. It was at a transitional point in technology, so it’s an mSATA3 drive. It predates both mPCIe and NVMe.

None of this would be a concern, except that the X1 suffered a failed Windows update a few weeks back. It was rendered unbootable. Fortunately, I had a full system image that was only a couple weeks old. I was able to wipe the SSD, restore the backup image, and get back to business.

This leaves me wondering about the state of that five-year old SSD. SanDisk has a drive utility that reports that the device has 90% of it’s lifespan remaining.

SandDiskDrive Utility

I’m told that’s based upon the limited number of write cycles that flash media can sustain. Lenovo themselves pointed me to a page that projects the lifespan of an SSD into the hundreds of years. This seems optimistic to me. But then again, I had issues with the Crucial SSD in my old desktop.

Also, what about the future of the X1C itself. At this age, should I bother with replacing the SSD? Or just write of the laptop completely? Retiring the X1C hardly seems appropriate. Since I travel very little these days I don’t rely on it for much.

I tend to hang onto computer hardware. In April 2017 I bought the Airtop-PC, which moved my old HP H8 (AMD FX6100) desktop into a utility role. The even older HP DC5750 desktop that I used three-computers-back is currently running Logitech Media Server, serving music to our various Squeezeboxes (and equivalents.) Heck, it wasn’t so long ago that I finally disposed of the Asus Pundit (P1-H1, AMD Athlon XP) that was my primary desktop some four computers ago.

As I ponder the future of the X1C, I urge you to take the lesson from my recent experience. Make routine backups. Spacious portable hard drives are dirt cheap. Most recently I’ve been using the free version of Macrium’s Reflect for Windows. The process is easy. Restoring is also easy. It’s a good habit to have, and a good way to go about it.

It’s Official! The patents on G.729 have expired

Somewhere in today’s news I was tipped to this update from SIPRO Lab about the status of the G.729 patent arrangements:

“As of January 1, 2017 the patent terms of most Licensed Patents under the G.729 Consortium have expired.

With regard to the unexpired Licensed Copyrights and Licensed Patents of the G.729 Consortium Patent License Agreement, the Licensors of the G.729 Consortium, namely Orange SA, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation and Université de Sherbrooke (“Licensors”) have agreed to license the same under the existing terms on a royalty-free basis starting January 1, 2017.

For current Licensees of the G.729 Consortium Patent License Agreement, no reports and no payments will be due for Licensed Products Sold or otherwise distributed as of January 1, 2017.”

In truth, I haven’t given much thought to G.729 since I ran a local Asterisk server. Back then, when embedded Asterisk appliances were a brand new idea, I was running Asterisk on a Soekris Net4801 with a paltry 266 MHz AMD Geode CPU. It could barely manage to transcode two calls into G.729, if I paid Digium $10/channel for the licensed codec.

That said, G.729 is likely the most widely deployed low-bitrate voice codec. It’s embedded is all manner of hardware, which means that it probably won’t be going away any time soon. With the licensing requirement dropped it’ll just be cheaper for grey route operators to deploy the codec.

That’s a pity since G.729 sounds nasty. Otherwise normal phone calls transcoded to/from G.729 to pass across cheap international long distance links are notably degraded. Cascading transcodes make matters dramatically worse.

Further, there are newer and much better options today…most especially Opus.

Surveying the state of small desktop computers

The fact is that I’m in need of a new desktop computer. My current desktop was purchased an embarrassingly long time ago. It was an impulse purchase, inspired by an attractive offer at Woot.com.

These sorts of transitions are no surprise. I’ve been on the lookout for suitable replacements for a year or more. I know that I don’t want just another huge box. I want something potent, but small and hopefully very quiet.

Is that what they call, “out of the box thinking?” Here are some thoughts about a few notable candidates.

1. CompuLab’s Airtop PC

I’m still seriously enamored with the Airtop PC from Compulab. It’s a fine piece of engineering.

It’s completely fanless, so dead silent. It has both Intel Iris Pro 6200 onboard graphics and an nVidia discrete graphics adapter. It’s capable of driving 7 (!) displays.

The 5th generation Intel i7-5775C CPU might be getting older, but it still measures well against the current crop of Skylake and Kaby Lake processors.

It accommodates six storage devices while maintaining a compact footprint. It even has one PCIe slot to handle my HDMI capture card.

Continue reading “Surveying the state of small desktop computers”

How-To: A Non-Bluetooth Wireless Headset for a Mobile Phone

Nexus 5 & Logitech H820eA few days back someone over at the DSL Reports VoIP Forum posed a question. Along with expressing some frustration with Bluetooth headsets, they asked how they might use a wireless headset that was not based upon Bluetooth with a mobile phone?

That is a curious question. I certainly understand that people can be frustrated with Bluetooth headsets. It’s something that I have suffered now and then.

Class 2 Bluetooth, which is limited to 2.5 mW radiated power, is the most common variety. It’s supposed to deliver a 10 foot range. That’s fine when a mobile phone is in your pocket, but inadequate when it’s on your desk and you need to refill your coffee.

Class 1 Bluetooth kicks the RF power up to 100mW, aiming to allow you to wander up to 100 feet from the host device. Unfortunately, to achieve this freedom to roam, both the host and the headset must be class 1 devices. AFAIK, no mobile phone has ever had a class 1 Bluetooth radio.

Continue reading “How-To: A Non-Bluetooth Wireless Headset for a Mobile Phone”

snom ONE Mini PBX Targets SOHO Market

Today snom is introducing a small form-factor PBX for the small office and home office. Based upon their established ONE PBX software the ONE Mini offers a depth of features at an attractive price point.

You may not know this, but a snom 200 was the very first  SIP hard phone that I ever purchased. snom was an early leader in promoting SIP, also an early advocate of HDVoice.

snom-one-mini1

The new ONE Mini PBX supports up to 20 extensions, providing a generous list of features derived from their snom ONE Yellow edition. Further, it’s delivered in a form factor that looks very much like the base from their m9 SIP/DECT cordless phone.

The device seems well-considered, featuring support for power-over-ethernet and no moving parts at all. This makes it especially well suited to applications where small size, low power consumption and high-reliability are concerns.

The ONE Mini sells for $599 from a range of vendors, including VUC sponsor e4 technologies.