A useful little device

Last weekend, I ran into quite a lot of bother with my wired broadband service. Eventually, after a few phone calls to my provider, it was traced to my local telephone exchange and took another few days before it finally got sorted. Before that, a new ADSL filter (from a nearby branch of Maplin as it happened) was needed because the old one didn’t work with my phone. Without that, it wouldn’t have been possible to debug what was happening with the broadband clashing with my phone with the way that I set up things. Resetting the router was next and then there was a password change before the exchange was blamed. After all that, connectivity is back again and I even upgraded in the middle of it all. Downloads are faster and television viewing is a lot, lot smoother too. Having seen fairly decent customer service throughout all this, I am planning to stick with my provider for a while longer too.

Of course, this outage could have left me disconnected from the Internet but for the rise of mobile broadband. Working off dongles is all very fine until coverage lets you down and that seems to be my experience with Vodafone at the moment. Another fly in the ointment was my having a locked down work laptop that didn’t entertain such the software installation that is needed for running these things, a not unexpected state of affairs though it is possible to connect over wired and wireless networks using VPN. With my needing to work from home on Monday, I really had to get that computer online. Saturday evening saw me getting my Toshiba laptop online using mobile broadband and then setting up an ad hoc network using Windows 7 to hook up the work laptop. To my relief, that did the trick but the next day saw me come across another option in Argos (the range of computing kit in there still continues to surprise me) that made life even easier.

While seeing if it was possible to connect a wired or wireless router to mobile broadband, I came across devices that both connected via the 3G network and acted as wireless routers too. Vodafone have an interesting option into which you can plug a standard mobile broadband dongle for the required functionality. For a while now, 3 has had its Mifi with the ability to connect to the mobile network and relay Wi-Fi signals too. Though it pioneered this as far as I know, others are following their lead with T-Mobile offering something similar: its Wireless Pointer. Unsurprisingly, Vodafone has its own too though I didn’t find and mention of mobile Wi-Fi on the O2 website.

That trip into Argos resulted in a return home to find out more about the latter device before making a purchase. Having had a broadly positive experience of T-Mobile’s network coverage, I was willing to go with it as long as it didn’t need a dongle. The T-Mobile one that I have seems not to be working properly so I needed to make sure that wasn’t going to be a problem before I spent any money. When I brought home the Wireless Pointer, I swapped the SIM card from the dongle to get going without too much to do. Thankfully, the Wi-Fi is secured using WPA2 and the documentation tells you where to get the entry key. Having things secured like this means that someone cannot fritter away your monthly allowance too and that’s as important for PAYG customers (like me) as much as those with a contract. Of course, eavesdropping is another possibility that is made more difficult too. So far, I have stuck with using it while plugged in to an electrical socket (USB computer connections are possible as well) but I need to check on the battery life too. Up to five devices can be connected by Wi-Fi and I can vouch that working with two connected devices is more than a possibility. My main PC has acquired a Belkin Wi-Fi dongle in order to use the Wireless Pointer too and that has worked very well too. In fact, I found that connectivity was independent of what operating system I used: Linux Mint, Ubuntu, Windows XP and Windows 7 all connected without any bother. The gadget fits in the palm of my hand too so it hardly can be called large but it does what it sets out to do and I have been glad to have it so far.

Extending ASUS Eee PC Battery Life Without Changing From Ubuntu 11.04

It might just be my experience of the things but I do tend to take claims about laptop or netbook battery life with a pinch of salt. After all, I have a Toshiba laptop that only lasts an hour or two away from the mains and that runs Windows 7. For a long time, my ASUS Eee PC netbook was looking like that too but a spot of investigation reveals that there is something that I could do to extend the length of time before the battery ran out of charge. For now, the solution would seem to be installing eee-control and here’s what I needed to do that for Ubuntu 11.04, which has gained a reputation for being a bit of a power hog on netbooks if various tests are to be believed.

Because eee-control is not in the standard Ubuntu repositories, you need to add an extra one for install in the usual way. To make this happen, launch Synaptic and find the Repositories entry on the Settings menu and click on it. If there’s no sign of it , then Software Sources (this was missing on my ASUS) needs to be installed using the following command:

sudo apt-get install software-properties-gtk

Once Software Sources opens up after you entering your password, go to the Other Software tab. The next step is to click on the Add button and enter the following into the APT Line box before clicking on the Add Source button:

ppa:eee-control/eee-control

With that done, all that’s need is to issue the following command before rebooting the machine on completion of the installation:

sudo apt-get install eee-control

When you are logged back in to get your desktop, you’ll notice a new icon in your top with the Eee logo and clicking on this reveals a menu with a number of useful options. Among these is the ability to turn off a number of devices such as the camera, WiFi or card reader. After that there’s the Preferences entry in the Advanced submenu for turning on such things as setting performance to Powersave for battery-powered operation or smart fan control. The notifications issued to you can be controlled too as can be a number of customisable keyboard shortcuts useful for quickly starting a few applications.

So far, I have seen a largely untended machine last around four hours and that’s around double what I have been getting until now. Of course, what really is needed is a test with constant use to see how it gets on. Even if I see lifetimes of around 3 hours, this still will be an improvement. Nevertheless, being of a sceptical nature, I will not scotch the idea of getting a spare battery just yet.