The Week Ahead

This will most definitely be a busy week! I have a few videos “in the can” coming up including a review of a WD external SSD for gamers posting tonight, a VisionTek portable dock that I think works well for desktop use and a look at how a smartphones can send text messages through the ISS without a cellular network or Internet.

I also hope to shoot my next Plex video this week along with one or two other video reviews. I am overloaded with laptops again so I will try to get one or two of those done. I’m also eager to dig into the Unihertz phone that has a built in HAM radio.

On Saturday I’ll be at RetroWorldExpo in Hartford, Connecticut. From there I’ll be heading to the airport and flying down to Florida for the launch of Artemis I! After that we’ll get back to a more regular cadence here.

Stay tuned!

You can communicate with the ISS using just a handheld radio with its built in “rubber duck” antenna!

Now that the ISS’s digipeater is active there are several opportunities per day to try out different ways of confirming a radio contact with it.

Yesterday I wanted to see if it’s possible to get a data packet heard by the station 250 miles up with just the “rubber duck” antenna that came equipped with my super low-end 8 watt Baofang BF-F8HP radio (affiliate link).

Normally for satellite communications I use an Arrow Antenna designed specifically for satellite work. But is it possible to use something smaller and more portable? The answer is yes but it’s going to be much more challenging.

I attempted this contact when the station was almost directly over my location for the best results. I attached the radio to my computer with the BTECH-APRS-V01 (affiliate link) cable that converts the radio’s mic and headphone jacks into a three prong TRRS connector for smartphones and laptops with a single headphone/microphone jack on board.

After sending a ton of packets into the air while tracking the station with my smartphone it looks like one of them actually made it according to that listens for packets beamed back down from the station.

I was traveling when I did this so I didn’t have my Windows computer with me. I used an iOS app called PulseModem running on my Mac in its iOS compatibility mode. It was having trouble triggering the radio’s VOX so I probably sent less packets than I thought I did. I ended up holding down the PTT button on the radio and pushing transmit on the computer’s screen.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this works with a more reliable set up on future passes!

Televes DATBOSS LR Mix Review

My latest review continues my series looking at the changing landscape for receiving linear television programming. This time we look at an antenna that will solve most of my OTA reception problems called the Televes DATBOSS LR Mix.

This is an enormous TV antenna designed for situations where you’re located far from broadcast towers or have challenging terrain like I do. It’s likely overkill for many people, but for me it is the first antenna that I tested that pulls in all of my major networks both over ATSC 1.0 and the new NextgenTV 3.0 standard.

Assembly wasn’t too difficult although the instructions reminded me a lot of Ikea’s sometimes cryptic assembly guides. Thankfully Televes has a helpful assembly video on their YouTube channel that will help those of us who are challenged assembling things like this.

The antenna includes a pre-amp for the best results. It is not outdoor rated but ideally you’ll place it somewhere near where the antenna is mounted on the exterior.

Performance is outstanding – most of my stations are located over 35 miles away with a lot of challenging terrain and lots of trees in the way. I found that it picked up my NextGenTV ATSC 3.0 stations better than an Antennas Direct unit I purchased previously with a separate preamp installed. It also picked up one ATSC 1.0 network that I could never receive and it was able to maintain about a 50% signal quality. In total I was able to reliably bring in about 55 channels to my place here – more than any other antenna I have tried.

Thanks to the Antenna Man for the recommendation! It’s big but if you’re having DTV reception problems this will likely solve your problem.

New Video : Lenovo Slim 7 Pro X Review

Every once and awhile Lenovo puts together the perfect “all rounder” laptop that offers a great mix of price, performance and utility. The Slim 7 Pro X is that machine for 2022.

It incorporates a Ryzen 6900HS processor (the first time machine I’ve reviewed with one) along with an Nvidia RTX 3050 GPU running at 55 watts. It’s just a little over 3 pounds, well built and has a nice 14″ 120hz display. It’s great for gaming, light VR, video editing, and other types of basic work.

I ran a few gaming tests with the GPU disabled to see how the Ryzen graphics worked on their own. Red Dead Redemption 2 ran much better on this vs. prior Ryzen generations which was also confirmed in our 3Dmark benchmark tests.

You can see more in the full review up on my YouTube channel.

What’s On Tap This Week and Next

The next two weeks will be a little disruptive from my usual production cadence. I have a quick day trip out to New York City tomorrow for a product preview that you’ll see a little later in September and then taking a few days off for some family time. The following week I’ll be headed down to Kennedy Space Center to witness the launch of Artemis I!

You can hear about all of the stuff I have in the works in last night’s wrapup video.

The good news is that I’m working to make sure I have plenty of content to bridge the gaps in production. So I have a bunch of things already “in the can” and at least one more video today I’m hoping to get done. A few projects I started did not go the way I had expected so they require a little more work.

Tomorrow I’ll have a review of the new Lenovo Slim 7 Pro X (affiliate link) probably the nicest laptop I’ve looked at from Lenovo over the last year. It’s relatively small and light but has both a Ryzen 6900HS AND a Nvidia RTX 3050 inside. I tested things using both the built in graphics and the discrete 3050 to see how this new AMD chip performs.

I will likely pop up with a livestream later this morning / early afternoon tinkering with an Atari 2600 and a flash cartridge for an upcoming video.

Interview with the Antenna Man!

Whenever I cover anything cord cutting involving over the air antennas viewers tell me I have to talk to the Antenna Man. And in my latest video I do!

The 45 minute interview covers a wide range of topics including how the Antenna Man got his start as a subject-matter expert, the big changes ATSC 3.0 will bring, what types of antennas people should look for, and a whole lot more.

Be sure to check out the Antenna Man’s website where you can get an inexpensive consultation for what might work best in your location, and his YouTube channel where he looks at all things related to receiving free over the air broadcasts.

Check out some of my other interviews here! This will also be up on my Podcast channel a little later this week in audio form.

The ISS Digipeater is Active!

The astronauts turned on a data packet repeater on the space station last week. When the station is overhead licensed amateur radio operators can send short messages to the station and it re-transmits those messages back to the ground. I had a successful transmission on my first shot!

Somebody from Virginia heard me through the station and sent a message back:

To hit the repeater I used a handheld radio, an Arrow Satellite antenna, and a Signalink USB soundbox that I talked about in this video. I used a piece of software called PinPoint to manage the data packet traffic which connects up with another piece of software called Direwolf that listens for the packets and passes them to Pinpoint.

Here’s a fun video from RetroRecipes where they made contact using a Commodore 64! This worked because the packet data protocol used is the same one that was used in the 1980s to transmit data over the radio. Sometimes when something works it doesn’t need to change all that much.

This repeater isn’t always active. But the voice repeater on the station is usually going all the time. Sometimes you can even catch an astronaut operating the station during their break periods!

You can learn more about amateur radio on the ISS by visiting the ARISS website.

New Video: Analogue Pocket OpenFPGA Cores Update

The Analogue Pocket recently received its long awaited update to allow for third party cores to be added to the system and that’s the topic of my latest video.

Magically a mysterious Github user posted cores for the GameBoy, GameBoy Color, GameBoy Advance, Sega Game Gear, Sega Master System, and the Sega SG1000 a day or two after the announcement. Analogue also came up with a PDP-1 core that plays the very first video game, SpaceWar.

There is hope that many open source MiSTer cores will be ported over to the Pocket platform. But don’t hold your breath – although the FPGA code can port over fairly easily the frameworks both systems use to attach the core logic to displays, controllers, file system, etc. are very different.

The first MiSTer core port attempt was of the NeoGeo core and it’s very, very rough. So rough I can’t get it to boot! But others have had better luck on YouTube. Hopefully some smart folks will get together and come up with a simple path to port more cores over to the portable system.

Some were hoping for a little more of a floodgate being opened given the potential the pocket has to run just about every 70’s, 80’s and 90’s console but it’s good to see some progress being made.

Stay tuned!

New Short: AV Modded Atari 2600

I’ll admit I’ve gotten a little addicted to WhatNot (affiliate link) which is a live auction site that has attracted some interesting sellers in the Retro game market and a few other collectible verticals.

The other day I happened upon a seller with an Atari 2600 that had its RF input swapped out for a RCA composite adapter. It even came with a controller in decent condition.

This was a great excuse to fire up the Retrotink 5x. After tweaking a few settings on the Retrotink side it looks perfect.

I’ll have more on this soon but in the meantime check out the Short.

New Video: Unihertz Tick Tock Phone

Unihertz’s “Tick Tock” phone has nothing to do with the social media network – its name refers to the round watch-like second display it has on the back. It is the subject of my latest video review. See it on Amazon and YouTube.

This very solid and rugged phone has a Mediatek Dimensity 700 processor, 8 GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, and support for SD cards for additional storage. I was pleased with the performance of the phone for its reasonable price point and I think it’ll do well in industrial and commercial applications. It’s pretty good for games too.

Like other Unihertz phones the build quality is spectacular. It weighs almost 11 ounces and feels like a brick. The phone is IP68 rated for dust and water resistance, has a screen protector preinstalled, and has a case along with an extra screen protector in the box. There’s no need to purchase any additional accessories.

Battery life is exceptional – the large case allows for a large battery that will last quite a long time. It also supports up to 30 watts of fast charging over USB-C although it does not have wireless charging capabilities.

The rear display doesn’t have much utility for me. It’s cool but it feels like Unihertz was trying to come up with something to make this rather standard Android phone feel a little more unique.

The default clock it displays looks great and there are other watch faces that can be used instead of the default. In addition to watch faces the display can display notifications, has a compass app, and allows the rear camera to be used as selfie camera as you can see the preview image in the round display. This is not an Android Wear watch, however, it’s proprietary to Unihertz and they plan on adding additional features to it over time.

The cameras are terrible, however. Although the rear camera shoots at 48 megapixels the image quality is very bland. And with all of that resolution the max it can shoot video at is 1080p @ 30 frames per second. Although it looks like there are two cameras on the back the right hand side camera is just a place holder and doesn’t seem to do anything. It’s not selectable in the camera app. I suppose the camera system is fine for commercial work but it’s not competitive with other phones from better resourced competitors.

Unihertz is known for their niche phones like the super tiny Jelly 2 and their other Android phones with Blackberry style keyboards. This is their first attempt at a more mainstream phone. It’s certainly much better than the many generic phones we see at this price point but it’s not quite up to the level a slightly more expensive Google Pixel 6a would deliver – unless a rugged design is what you’re looking for.

The Week Ahead

We’ve got another diverse range of content ahead this week.

One of the most successful series of smartphones I do on the channel are for Unihertz phones. They have carved out a niche for themselves making tiny phones and Android phones with Blackberry style keyboards. All of their phones are exceptionally rugged too which leads us to their latest creation called the “Tick Tock.”

The Tick Tock is a more traditional Android phone but it has a nifty second screen that can do a few functions now with more to come. You can get a sneak peak at it from my livestream I did on Amazon the other day (tune to about the 90 minute mark).

Also this week we’re going to look at the new Lenovo Slim 7 Pro X (affiliate link) which is powered by the new 6000 series Ryzen processors. It’s always fun to see how a new processor performs vs. the previous generation.

And finally we’ll have an interview I did with Tyler the Antenna Man! We’ll learn his origin story and how he became YouTube’s TV antenna expert and explore why there is no single “best” antenna on the market – but there are certainly a lot of bad ones.

I’m sure we’ll have a few other things in between too. Stay tuned!

Part 2 of My ARRL Tour Video: The Future of Amateur Radio

In the second part of my visit to the headquarters of the National Association for Amateur Radio we get on the air at W1AW station and make my first international contact. Following that we take a look at what the ARRL envisions to be the new digital future for amateur radio.

Some may consider amateur radio an obsolete technology given all of the ways we can connect to others over the Internet. Unlike the Internet nobody owns amateur radio and it’s relatively easy to reach people over super long distances with nothing more than a low cost radio and a wire in a tree. As I’m typing this I’m remotely logged into a PC in the basement making contacts in South America using a digital mode called FT8.

Working within the limitations of small bits of bandwidth and the physics of radio communications is a ton of fun for those of us who like tinkering with technology.

You can watch my full series on amateur radio and software defined radios here.

ioSafe 220+ Review

The last two weeks on the channel could best be described as the “not for everyone” series. The ioSafe 220+ is another product not for most people but those who need one will appreciate that it exists. You can see my review here.

The ioSafe 220+ has all the guts of an Intel powered Synology 220+ NAS device inside of a fireproof and waterproof casing. It’s designed to survive being in a 1550 degree fahrenheit fire for 30 minutes and the subsequent water dousing it’ll take to put the fire out. The electronics won’t survive but the drives inside of the fireproof enclosure should.

It works thanks to an endothermic material that is built into the casing. Water molecules are trapped inside of the material and will turn into steam when placed in a high temperature environment. That steam draws heat away from the center portion where the drives are stored. The drive enclosure is hermetically sealed to prevent water intrusion. You can hear more about how it works in this interview I did with the founder of the company back in 2015.

One of the improvements in this version is a much quieter fan. Previous versions had super loud fans that made it difficult to locate the device in an office environment. This one is about as a quiet as a regular Synology NAS.

Performance otherwise is on-part with a regular Synology NAS.

Why is this not for everyone? Price. A regular diskless Synology 220+ NAS sells for $300. This one starts at $940. But there are often corporate and government requirements for data storage that call for flood and fire protection for mission critical data.

Jason Scott Unearths Another Internet Time Capsule

Jason Scott, aka textfiles, is a master digital historian who works for the Internet Archive. Jason is the man behind the BBS Documentary, Get Lamp, and countless other pieces of digital history that are safely stored on his website but also on the Internet Archive.

His latest find is a 1996 documentary entitled “Life on the Internet” and is hosted by NPR’s Scott Simon. Scott describes it as follows in a twitter thread as:

It is well-made, narrated by NPR voice of Weekend Edition Scott Simon, and, after those of us perform the requisite oos and aahs of memory and nostalgia for the 1990s, is most striking for its off-the-rails naivety about the effects the Internet would have on society and life.

I was handed the VHS tapes over the weekend and I got all 13 done in a day and a half, and I wanted you all to see it as soon as possible. Scott Simon is, and I can’t emphasize this enough, a beyond sneering skeptic throughout the entire series. Nothing misses his contempt.

But once you wade past his sarcasm and disdain, you run into faces like James Gosling, who created Java, and the founders of Yahoo, before they got a chance to ruin everything.

Each episode is 30 minutes, the names are strangely spoken and not given title cards, but if you were there, you’ll get a rush of memories; and if you weren’t there, see how much we got it wrong.

Lenovo’s ARM Powered ThinkPad X13s

My latest review is of the new Lenovo ThinkPad X13s.

I was expecting another “betaish” feeling ARM on Windows experience with this one but was pleasantly surprised that Windows 11 is finally closing the performance and compatibility gaps of previous attempts.

Make no mistake: ARM on Windows is still nowhere near as seamless of an experience as ARM on the Mac is. The 3rd generation Snapdragon 8cx still lags far behind the Apple M1 in performance too.

But the performance on this new ThinkPad is now closer to a mid-range Intel or AMD laptop vs. the low end performance we saw before. And Windows 11 finally integrates support for both x86 and x64 apps in the current shipping version as opposed to having to install beta versions of Windows to get x64 compatibility.

And for the post part compatibility is pretty good. I ran a bunch of low impact x86 and x64 apps and all ran just fine with no complaints or crashes – a big improvement over my experiences with Windows 10 previously. But there are still some issues like Da Vinci Resolve (a video editing application) not identifying a GPU it can use.

Gaming of course is another story. Most games did not run for various reasons like anti-cheat code not recognizing the hardware and games written using the Vulkan API do not currently work on Windows ARM. I’ve found that games that rely on Microsoft’s DirectX architecture do better but performance lags behind current integrated graphics on Intel and AMD processors.

So why then would anyone consider an ARM Windows laptop? The answer is simple: battery life, battery life, and did I mention battery life? You won’t find a longer lasting Windows laptop anywhere else. This is the draw and the selling point right now – especially for executive types that mostly live inside of the Microsoft 365 / Office eco system.

Despite its remaining quirks ARM on Windows is beginning to feel a lot more like a new direction for Windows vs. a novelty. What it lacks now is performance vs. Apple’s M1/M2 architecture.

The Week Ahead

Another week is upon us! I already have two videos shot and recorded that just need a little editing and polish. The first one you’ll see is the Lenovo Thinkpad X13s, an ARM powered Windows laptop. Windows 11 appears to have solved many (but not all) of the compatibility issues we saw with prior Windows ARM laptops I’ve reviewed. The 3rd generation 8cx processor also appears to be an improvement. Look for that one likely tomorrow night.

Also ready to go is part 2 of my tour of the ARRL headquarters for amateur radio here in the United States. I was disappointed that there wasn’t more viewership for Part 1 but I expect this video to improve in performance over time as the algorithm puts it in front of people who have more interest in the topic.

Also on the docket for this week is a new NAS device from ioSafe that’s designed to be fireproof and waterproof! We’ve reviewed these in the past – they are Synology NAS devices repackaged into these fireproof boxes.

Additionally got in a bunch of quick hit items that we’ll unbox on an Amazon Live Stream later this week too.

I think I might also do an update on the Analogue Pocket as it now looks like their new firmware allows for additional cores to be installed in the device.

A Visit to the National Association for Amateur Radio (ARRL) Headquarters!

My journey into the world of amateur radio continues. This week we took a tour of the ARRL headquarters in my home state of Connecticut. We ended up with so much footage we had to split this piece into two parts!

In this first video we look at W1AW, also known as the Hiram Percy Maxim Memorial Station. Maxim was the co-founder of the ARRL and an early pioneer of radio technology. You’ll see one of Maxim’s radios towards the end of the video. It still works but it’s rather dangerous to use around modern electronics due to the electrostatic fields it generates.

W1AW is where the ARRL transmits their morse code trainings and digital bulletins and is known throughout the world as an important entry to get into contact amateur logbooks.

W1AW is open to licensed amateurs and the public to operate from too which is what we’ll do in part of the series!

Audiobooks on Plex?

I had a viewer reach out to me recently asking about the best way to host audiobooks on a personal media server. And that question became the topic of my latest sponsored Plex video!

Plex does not have direct support for audiobooks but its music library feature works pretty well especially if the audiobooks you are ingesting have good data inside of their audio files. The most important setting is “store track progress” which will remember where you last left off. This is typically off by default for music libraries so you need to make sure that is enabled in the audiobook library you’re setting up.

Your audiobooks will playback just fine through the Plex app and Plexamp but some users have found third party apps that work with Plex to be a better option. The most popular app by far is Prologue on iOS which brings in some audiobook features missing in Plex apps. On Android Bookcamp and Chronicle are two similar options.

If you have a huge audiobook library you might want to check out this guide on Github with some additional scripts and agents you can install to help quickly organize a large block of audiobook files.

And if you’re looking for free audiobooks check out the Librivox project that is building a great library of books read by volunteers throughout the world. Oftentimes you can find multiple versions of the same book!

Eufy Solocam S40 Review – Solar Powered Notification Camera

My latest video is a review of the Eufy Solocam s40 outdoor camera.

First things first on this one – it’s more of a “notification” camera vs. a “surveillance” camera. The reason is that because it needs to operate on minimal power it can’t provide a constant recording like a wired camera will. Depending on what settings you choose you’ll only get a short clip when motion triggers the camera to activate.

That puts this camera in the same market as the Wyze Outdoor cam and Blink cameras which cost significantly less. Is it better than those? Yes in many ways, but the other devices are far less expensive even if you add an optional solar panel for those devices.

But the solar panel works exceptionally well on this – I mounted the camera on top of my wife’s garden which is under direct sunlight for a large portion of the day. I purposely didn’t charge the camera when I received it and my battery less than a week later went from 40% to 75%. This is summertime right now so I’d imagine winter will be a little harder to maintain charge, but it’s impressive nonetheless.

Unlike the Blink and Wyze cameras this camera does not require a base station and will connect directly to your Wifi. This might be an issue if you don’t have a good wifi signal where you want to place the camera. The only fix is to get another wifi access point and move it closer to the area. So this means you need to find a spot that gets good sunlight (without a lot of afternoon shade) AND gets a good Wifi signal.

The spot where I have the camera mounted is able to get both a good signal and good sunlight and I’m pleased with the experience so far. The camera alerts quickly and gets thumbnail images delivered to my iPhone and Apple Watch wherever I am. I have no trouble accessing the camera over the Internet.

I like that there’s no monthly fee here and everything is stored on the camera itself. Cloud storage is not even an option on this camera. You need to download video clips manually to keep them permanently. The camera’s 8GB storage should be able to hold a lot of event clips but it will eventually overwrite the oldest clips to make room for the newest ones. And if anyone walks off with the camera you can’t access anything you haven’t downloaded.

Visual quality is great especially during the day. Nightvision with the infrared illuminators also works great and shows a ton of detail. It also has a built in spot light that’s bright enough for a front door vestibule but not quite enough to illuminate over a garage.

For night images you have an option of using the spotlight to get a color image or leave the light off and capture infrared. I recommend using the infrared mode as the spotlight mode tends to blow out faces of people that get close to the camera.

Overall I’m pleased with this one as a notification camera. At the rate it’s operating I don’t think I’ll ever have to bring it in for a charge. If you’re on a tighter budget the Wyze outdoor camera will deliver similar results with free (albeit slightly limited) cloud storage for far less money.

Those in need of more robust security should consider a wired option with a security NVR.

Disclosure: This camera was sent to me for review on my YouTube channel and here on Amazon. However the brand did not compensate me for the review nor did they have any input into the review or see it before it was uploaded. All opinions are my own.

How Apple PR Controls the Narrative

Here’s a great video from John Rettinger on how he was blacklisted from Apple PR when he reported his experiences from one of their products. Apple was unhappy and called him up to lambast him and demand the video be taken down. After that he was never invited to another event again.

This was a topic was something I covered last year in one of my Weekly Wrapup videos in regards to the practice of “early access journalism” where companies hold the prospect of access to early products and information over the heads of outlets reporting on that information. Piss them off and you lose that access.

It also looks like there’s some tiering to the pecking order too – Rettinger was invited to Apple events but hadn’t yet made it to the upper tier where he’d actually get early loaner product as some YouTubers and journalists do.

This is exactly how Apple picks winners and losers. Those they hand pick get early devices and lots of traffic and revenue as a result. And because these reviews are early and devoured by millions of people they tend to be the first video YouTube and other algorithms recommend for future viewers looking for review videos. Rettinger also insinuates that Apple controls some of the narrative of these early reviews and restricts what can and can’t be covered.

There’s tremendous value in having a phone review packaged up and ready to go two weeks before anyone can buy one. Losing that access costs outlets real money as it likely equals millions of eyeballs. Few outlets disclose that Apple gave them this early access. It makes you wonder how many of them coordinate their content with Apple to prevent getting blacklisted like Rettinger did.