Astraweb Usenet Server $8/mo Special Offer

I’ve been using Usenet for few years now and tried several paid providers but Astraweb seems to be the most consistent on speed and availability and since they are now having a special offer $8/month for unlimited (normally $15/mo or $39/3 mo) I thought I’d mention it to my readers. Some quick facts about Astraweb

  • 2,100+ days binary retention
  • 1,095 days text retention
  • 85,000+ newsgroups
  • 99%+ completion rate
  • 20 connections
  • US and European servers
  • 256-bit SSL included
  • $8/mo unlimited DSL special offer

I just recently switched back to Astraweb but I’m using a block account since my monthly usage has dropped way down. If you know any better providers do let me know. I’m especially interested in ones with good download speeds in EU. With Astraweb I can saturate my 100Mbit/s download link.

Removing DRM from Kindle, ePub and PDF ebooks

I like to read all my books using my iPad mini so I buy all my books from various sources as ebooks but most places tend to add DRM to them and thus making it harder for me to use them on the device I want. Some go as far as requiring you to use their own App for reading but that’s not acceptable for me as I like having my books neatly organised in my iBooks. So to do that I need to remove the DRM from the files. Please note that in some countries removing DRM is illegal so know your local laws.

Calibre

I tried couple of different software to remove DRM from ebooks I had bought but Calibre to be the most consistent. It’s available to Windows, Linux and Mac OS X.

  1. Calibre will be the tool that will do most of the heavy lifting for us. So first download and install it.
  2. You’ll need to add a DRM removing plugin into Calibre and that you can get from Apprentice Alf’s blog. For the impatient here’s a direct link to DeDRM Tools github releases.  You’ll need the tools_vX.X.X.zip
  3. Inside the tools_vX.X.X.zip there’s a DeDRM_calibre_plugin directory extract the DeDRM_plugin.zip from that directory
  4. Install the DeDRM_plugin.zip to Calibre by going to Preferences -> Change Calibre Behaviour, then under Advanced select Plugins, then select Load plugin from file and select the DeDRM_plugin.zip
  5. Restart Calibre.
  6. Now your Calibre is ready to strip DRM from every ebook you add to it. The imported ebooks are without DRM and you can add them to your favourite e-reader. The files you can find directly from Calibre by clicking on the file and then under the preview there’s Click to open link.

Adobe Digital Editions

If you’ve bought Adobe DRM protected ebooks you’ll Adobe Digital Editions to download them to your computer. Sometimes all you get is a .acsm file and Adobe Digital Editions downloads the actual ePub or PDF file when you open the .acsm file. You’ll first need to sign in with your Adobe ID. You can download Adobe Digital Editions from Adobe. When you’ve downloaded a book with ADE you can find it by right clicking on the book and select Show File in Finder. Then add that file to Calibre and no more DRM on that book.

Kindle

  1. Download Kindle app for your computer.
  2. Download the book inside Kindle app to your computer.
  3. In Mac OS X you can find the Kindle books from Library/Containers/com.amazon.Kindle/Data/Library/Application Support/Kindle/My Kindle Content/ The book files might not have any meaningful name but they all end with extension .azw
  4. Drop the .azw files to Calibre and it will figure out what book it is.
  5. Once it’s loaded to Calibre you can select the book and click Convert books to convert the AZW3 format to ePub which most readers will support

Happy reading! Please don’t pirate books using this method it’s just for your own convinience.

Mobee Magic Charger

mobee_batteryPack_magicCharger_120730_BATThe Mobee Magic Charger for Apple Magic Mouse is something I’ve been wanting for quite sometime without actually realising it. I accidentally saw it while browsing at a electronics store in Helsinki while waiting for my actual order to be ready and once I saw it I knew I had to have it. I really love the Magic Mouse but I’m so done with rechargeable batteries. The Magic Charger comes with it’s own custom battery pack for Magic Mouse and inductive charger.

They promise to get up to 8 days of use out of the battery without charging and with my 20 days test I can say that is pretty accurate. I’ve been leaving my mouse on 24/7 and only charge it once it’s completely depleted but from now on as my test is concluded I’ll probably put it on the charging station over night so I never have to worry about running out of juice in the middle of work. The design is very sleek and the charger fits nicely on my table or to be more exact under my rain design mstand. The charger gets it’s power from USB and I have it connected on my USB hub so I only need to connect one USB cable to my Macbook Pro.

Only time will tell how well the battery will hold it’s charge but for now I’d say it’s a buy for anyone with a Magic Mouse.

Escort Passport 9500ix Radar and Laser Detector

Escort 9500ix blueSo I finally bought a radar/laser detector. I wanted to buy one after my first ticket but never got around to doing the research on which ones are actually effective. Well now I really wish I had since I’d probably had already saved it’s price and I would have avoided the trouble of fighting a ticket. A LIDAR detector doesn’t really help you beat a ticket if you were really speeding because it’s really fast and by the time your detector alerts you your speed was already clocked but what it does is to be more aware what speed you were going. The reason I’m fighting my last ticket is because I honestly thought I wasn’t speeding. Ever since I got my first ticket I’ve been paying attention to my speed and I use cruise control when ever possible. And when I was pulled over by CHP I was really surprised because I was certain I wasn’t going over the limit.

I think now a days most law enforcement uses laser radar or LIDAR or at least that’s what I’ve always been caught with. LIDAR uses light instead of microwaves or radio waves so it’s not really a radar in conventional sense.  LIDAR sends a laser beam to it’s target where it’s reflected back and then it uses time of flight principal to determine the speed. LIDAR allows speed enforcement in traffic also where as a regular radar can’t reliably measure your speed if there’s other cars around but they are still not infallible so getting pulled over by officer using one doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fight it. If the maintenance is neglected or the office using the LIDAR gun isn’t properly trained you might be able to show reasonable doubt for a judge to dismiss the case.

Laser veilThe Escort Passport 9500ix is a top of the line detector that can detect not only all the conventional radars but also LIDAR. It also has a built-in GPS and it can warn you of any known speed traps, speed cameras and red light cameras. It will also announce your speed at every alert. One of the annoying things about radar detectors is all the false alerts. That’s where 9500ix shines as it can auto learn and eliminate them. False alerts are especially bad when driving in city. So now that I have a detector to alert me but like I said before it’s usually too late with LIDAR to slow down. There’s few solutions to that one is laser jammer but those are illegal in California so that’s out. The second solution is VEIL. VEIL is a coating that you put in your primary targeting areas like head lamps and license plate. It makes it slightly more difficult for the LIDAR gun to get a reading giving you few extra seconds to react. VEIL is perfectly legal in California and in conjunction with a high end LIDAR detector it maximizes your changes of slowing down before the LIDAR gun gets a reading.

I’ve been now testing it for just over two weeks and pretty satisfied with it. It doesn’t give too many false alerts  and it learns false alerts after detecting the same signal at same location for 3 times and that has been working very well. I’ve gotten laser alert only 3 times once the cop was on the opposite side of the fwy, once on the airport and the last time I didn’t even see the cop at all. Each time it was very short alert so I really don’t know yet how effective VEIL is. The only huge annoyance is the red light camera alerts that I get on fwy even thought they are not even on my path but rather at some intersection close to the fwy. I’m sure I can turn it off completely since I’m not in the habit of running red lights and the cameras in Los Angeles are usually pretty visible. The alerts are really clear and I really like the fact that it almost instantly lowers the volume so that it doesn’t become irritating. This is so much better than the cheap detector I had when I was in college. It used to drive me nuts with the false alerts to the point that I kept ignoring it and when I got busted for speeding it was with LIDAR which the detector didn’t even support.

I scored both for under $500 with shipping with a coupon from Radar Detector Buyer’s Guide. If this saves me from even one accidental speeding it’s paid itself off.

Here’s a video to show off how VEIL affects LIDAR guns ability to get your speed.

First impressions on Google Maps for iOS

google maps iconGoogle maps for iOS is finally available in Apple App Store. It has turn by turn navigation, live traffic information and public transit directions. The UI is very responsive and easy to use as always. I must say that I’m very impressed with it. The directions seem to account for current traffic conditions in calculating the route.

google maps for ios screenshot

iPhone Photography Accessories

iphone olloclip glif gorillapodSmartphone cameras have come a long way and now with smartphones like iPhone 4S you can pretty much replace a regular compact camera with your smartphone. So far I’ve always had a compact camera like Samsung TL225 12.2Mpix camera but in the end I always end up using my iPhone for most photos since I forget to take the other camera with me and I always have my iPhone. Now with iPhone 4S and 5 the came takes so good pictures in most conditions where I would use compact camera that I decided to completely replace it with my iPhone and I’ve since sold my compact camera. Since there isn’t any optical zoom on the iPhone and there really isn’t much adjustments you can do with the camera app so I’ve gotten some accessories to go with it.

Olloclip

Olloclip is a 3-in-1 lens add on to iPhone 4/4S and they have iPhone 5 model coming also. It’s high quality product and I really like the wide angle lens. With the wide angle lens you can get more in your picture. The other two lenses are macro and fisheye. With macro lens you can get amazingly close up. The lenses work with any camera app that uses the rear camera. You can’t use the lenses with the facetime camera. Also you can’t use any case when using the lens. The lens itself is very compact and lightweight and easily fits in your pocket. The lens retails at $70 but I got mine way cheaper from Ebay.

Glif+

Glif+ is a iPhone tripod mount and stand all in one. It allows you to attach your iPhone securely into a tripod and it also has a D-ring or Ligature as they call it. With it you can attach Glif to a keychain so that it’s always with you or you can get creative where you hang your iphone. The only downside to Glif is that you can’t have any case with your phone. The Glif+ comes with Serif which provides extra support for your iphone so that it’s really securely attached to they mount and won’t fall of even if placed upside down. There’s some cheaper Chinese clones but I bought the real American made Glif from Amazon.

Joby GorillaPod

I think everyone knows GorillaPod it’s not really a iPhone accessory but it goes well with Glif so I thought I’d mention it.

Camera+

Camera+ isn’t really an accessory it’s a camera app that makes taking better photos easier. With it you can adjust where the focus is where the exposure is. I’m still learning to use the app but it’s much easier to get fairly well light picture with it. Camera+ also allows you to do some post processing to the photos.

I think it’s only right to end this post with a video I came across on tips on how to shoot amazing photos with iPhone. It’s from a pro photographer Michael Andrew.

Nokia’s HERE maps for iOS review

Nokia here iconNokia released it’s HERE maps for iOS recently so decided to give it go since it’s free. There’s not much good I can say about that application. The UI felt weird compared to Apple Maps or Google Maps. The map graphics are really ugly and the first route instructions I tried would have directed me close but still totally wrong place as the destination is not accessible from that street which is not even the street I used to look for the route. For voice instructions I had to wait it to load a audio file which I found weird. I didn’t try driving with the instructions and see if you could adapt to changes in route. To sign in it swiched to Safari to do it instead of doing it embedded in the app.

The over all experience was what I’m come to except from Nokia which was disappointing. I really hoped they had stepped up to deliver better quality and more intuitive products but I see that nothing has changed. I really can’t recommend this app to anyone.

nokia maps here ios screenshot

Buying a gun as non resident alien in California

Most people would think that buying a gun is only limited to US citizens but many states that’s not the case. Non citizens have more requirements than citizens but it’s still possible to buy a gun legally in California even for us non resident aliens. It’s going to be harder to find a dealer that knows exactly what is required from a non resident alien so to save you from the trouble I’ve faced I though I’d share what I’ve learned in the past year from my own experience of buying a gun.

The first thing is to know if you are a non resident alien. That’s pretty simple really if you don’t have a green card and you are here with a long term (more than 3 months) visa then you are a non resident alien. You could have a H1 visa for work or you could be a student with F1 visa. If you have a green card then you are treated pretty much the same as citizens.

The second thing you need to know is what type of gun you are buying, whether it’s going to be a long gun such as rifle or shotgun or a handgun. Handgun has some additional requirements not just non resident aliens but citizens as well. Generally to buy any gun as a non resident alien you’ll need to get a hunter’s safety certificate which you can get by taking a hunter’s safety class and passing the exam. This allows you to buy a hunting license which is a requirement for non resident aliens even if you are not going to hunt. Just buy the license without any tags and you’re good to go. Then you need a California Driver’s license or ID. That’s to provide proof that you are California resident. They’ll also need to take a copy of your visa and I-94. Your alian registration number is your I-94 number. Then the last common requirement is that you’ve had to been in the country continuously for 90 days from the beginning of D.R.O.S. and you can’t leave the country even for a quick visit until you’ve taken posession of your gun.

Summary for long gun (rifle or shotgun) requirements:

  • Hunting license
  • California DL or ID
  • Copy of Visa and I-94
  • Must have been in country continuously last 90 days

Now if you are buying a handgun then you need to complete Handgun Safety Certification in addition to the requiremetns for long gun. That is pretty simple if you have any common sense and have handled firearms before. You just read a booklet and take the test at any firearms dealer. Now if you haven’t handled a handgun before you should take a class on it or at least go to shooting range that allows you to rent a gun and try out different handguns to find what you like. Remember that many shooting ranges won’t allow you to rent a gun by yourself especially if you haven’t handled one before. The Target Range in Van Nuys is a really friendly place and they have good selection of standard and premium handguns. They also provide training and will let you rent by yourself if you’ve shot before. When buying a handgun you’ll also need additional proof of residency and for that you can use utility bill from past 3 months or a apartment lease agreement. They will also accept DMV car registration but they won’t accept bank statements.

Summary of handgun requirements:

  • Hunting license
  • California DL or ID
  • Copy of Visa and I-94
  • Handgun Safety Certificate
  • Additional proof of residency such as utility bill or car registration
  • Must have been in country continuously last 90 days

I’ve verified all of these requirements directly from California Department of Justice Bureau of Firearms but laws change and some requirements even changed this year so recheck them when you are thinking of buying a gun. If you are not in California make sure it’s even legal for you to poses firearms in your state.

Remember that firearm safety starts with you. Shooting is a fun hobby if you treat guns with respect and handle them safely. 

The Diamond Resorts International Timeshare Scam

A few months ago I signed up for a sweepstakes to win $100.000 or dream car at Camarillo Premium outlets. Then just this week I got a call from Diamond Resorts International that I was selected as the few finalists. They explained that even if I didn’t win the main price I would get a free trip and I was also promised a bonus gift of 2 nights accommodations if I came to their showroom in Encino California to listen a 90 minute presentation of their timeshare offering. I also needed to bring my wife and two forms of identification and a credit card but I was under no obligation to buy anything.

At this point my scam alarm went off as I’ve heard about all these timeshare scams. Still I was interested to see it in action and see if I could actually get anything they promised to me so I agreed to go there with my wife to whom I explained that this is probably a scam but let’s see if we can actually get something out of it. I got my invitation which also had a one full letter size page full of small print with the terms and conditions. I actually read it and surprise surprise there was a lot of restrictions like they had to be used off season and a minimum 30 to 90 days prior had to be booked.

Before going there I did little bit of internet research on their timeshare and found out that there’s ridiculous maintenance fees and it’s nearly impossible to get the kind of vacations they promise. Armed with this information we arrived to their showroom to play the part of easily manipulated and unsuspecting mark. We registered at the front desk and waited for our agent.

Our agent Shannon started by explaining how the thing works that she would do a presentation of their offering and after that we could get our gifts. She also told us that they could give us a deal today and only today because they were “bribing” us to come there they were limited by law to get our business only today. After today we could get the same deal as anyone else and none of the perks. First we talked about our vacation habits and destinations we were interested in. She made it sound like they were taking a survey to learn more about their potential customers.

Then she gradually started showing how their system differs from a traditional timeshare how they had this point system and how those points could be redeemed for free nights at any of their resorts or steeply discounted rates at any Interval International resorts world wide. She painted a picture how we could stay in a penthouse suite and have private chefs cook for us. It all seemed so good a little too good to be true. We watched a video where paid actors eh members told how they love it. We saw some models of their resorts and pictures and floor plans. She appeal to the emotional side how it was good for our health and relationship etc.

For the rational side she played with the numbers she got from us as how much we spend yearly on travel and how much it would accumulate in 30 years and then some weird math how inflation would triple that number. Now that we were in the ballpark what their 15 000 point silver plan would cost at $6 per point. Next up was April who I suppose was supposed to close me with numbers. She told me that just today they have a deal where I don’t have to buy the full 15k points but I could start at lower number like 6k or 4k points. The 4k points was around $15k dollars to own. Also they would offer financing where I only pay a downpayment of $2500 and for the 4k it would be $250 per month. So wouldn’t it make sense to payoff something I own since I’d be spending that money anyways on vacation.

Of course she didn’t tell me until I asked that that $250 per month is a 10 yr loan with 16.99% interest. Now let’s calculate how much that will actually cost me. 120 x $250 + $2500 = $32500. That is over double the slightly less than $15k. Of course I could pay it off at any point.

I was hesitant with $250 dollars a month so she offered me a even lower option with 2k points at $150 per month. At that point she realized it wasn’t about the money. Because I was constantly saying I’d need to sleep on it and look at the papers. At that point she got a bit hostile saying that their boss Stephen J. Cloobeck the CEO of Diamond Resorts International had been in the Undercover boss and how Guggenheim had invested $1B dollars on them. Surely their lawyers would do better research that I would. I’m sure they would but I’m sure they didn’t buy points. I even asked if I could get papers on the anytime deal but they couldn’t even give those out since I could from their competition.

She got frustrated with me and gave up. Now here comes the manager to do quality assurance. I can’t remember his name but he was Armenian. He was very understanding to us that we don’t do impulse buys. Also at this point the maintenance fees finally come up. If I’m not mistaken it was around $2600 per year for the 15k points and at 4k points it was around $900. So let’s do a quick recalculation on the 4k points: 12 x $250 + $900 = $3900 per year.

He wasn’t done yet he had one more offer a 15k points trial for 18 months which would cost around $2800 or $166 per month for 16 months plus a $399 downpayment. This offer was limited to 16 of their best resorts. This was also the first time could see what the points actually get us. One example in driving distance from home was their Lake Tahoe resort. At the peak season you’d need 10k points for one week stay in one bedroom room. The 2k points wouldn’t have gotten us even a 4 day stay during low season.

After a while he realized that he wasn’t able to convert me either and thanked us for our time and directed us to our prize drawing. We got two gift cards that had to redeemed through Odenza Marketing Group. Redeeming them requires a $50 reservation deposit as bank draft or cashiers check on each. I will write about the later on how the process goes.

I went there thinking this is some kind of scam and surely enough that’s exactly what it is. When ever something sounds too good to be true it usually is. Especially when you have to make a decision right there and then without having possibility to review all the material and then ask the questions on anything that bothers you. The whole situation was very pressuring for me to sign up and it was like they were doing me a favor by inviting me to this opportunity.

I’m sure this works for those that can buy the minimum 15k points right there and then without financing and if you don’t care about paying the high maintenance fees. They prey on gullible people and this country has a lot of them and non existing customer protection. Even after several requests I couldn’t get any papers to take with me even on the anytime offer I’m able to participate at any time. I’m sure they’ve covered their ass with a ton of fine print that you can’t take home to review or to show a lawyer. The gifts also smell like scam but I’m going to find that out myself and report on it later.

TriggerTrap Mobile

I got a TriggerTrap Mobile for me and my wife some time ago from Jan at TriggerTrap and this review has been pending ever since. We were going to do a field test and see how TriggerTrap mobile stacks up against Trigger Happy. That how ever got didn’t happen because weather was against us on our camping trip to Big Sur and we also had technical difficulties because of iOS 6 with both devices. So instead of doing a indepth review I’m going to write my initial thoughts on this product.

TriggerTrap Mobile consists of the dongle, camera spefic cable and the app. There’s two versions of the app: free and paid. I’ve tried them both. The paid version has much more functions than the free version. You can use the app also with iPhones built-in camera but pointing it is little hard because the app doesn’t show a preview like the regular camera app and there’s of course no view finder in iPhone. My only gripe about the app really is that it’s really hard to make out anything in bright daylight and some of the adjustments are too sensitive and hard to get the exact number you want.

I personally like this product more than Trigger Happy Remote. It’s more polished product and there’s much more documentation on triggertrap website. Also if you ever switch cameras or have multiple cameras you only need to get a new camera cable and can use the same dongle. Another great thing is that you can order your dongle and cable from Amazon. Lastly big thanks to TriggerTrap for providing us review copies. We are going to continue to play with them as time allows. Check out also my wife’s blog Great use of Pixels.

Introducing Triggertrap Mobile from Triggertrap on Vimeo