The Ugliness of Short Term Hacks on the Road to Wireless

Here’s a Kickstarter project to solve the problem of no audio jack which illustrates just how thorny it is: iLDOCK – charge and listen to iPhone 7 at the same time by ildockgear — Kickstarter

ILDOCK lets you use your wired headphone while charging your iPhone 7. You can also add storage via SD, TF and USB ports with Plus. 

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The problem, as some have highlighted in the comments, is that Apple rarely grants MFi status to accessories where the lightning cable doesn’t plug directly into an Apple device. In this case, one does but the external one doesn’t. Most manufacturers get around this by making the external one a microusb. I don’t mind that, in fact it helps me, but some folk aren’t crazy about it. 

There are other issues too, of course: if you have lightning headphones and want to charge, this isn’t going to help you. 

I know I’ve written before that the future is wireless, but this project, worthy though it is, merely illustrates how ugly the interim is going to look like. 

(Via Kickstarter)

Drive Safely

This is probably the way to go with USB drives — security features that the user has to follow, or else the device won’t work.  Verbatim’s new Store ‘n’ Go Corporate Secure USB Drives’

mandatory security features safeguard all device contents with a complex password. Hack resistant feature locks down device after 10 failed logon attempts, protecting your data from dictionary or brute force hack attempts.

Of course, Verbatim are aiming this at corporate and government types, but I’d be interested to see this kind of thing used by ordinary folk too, perhaps as part of a handshake between host computer and USB drive. Internet cafes, public terminals at airports etc could encourage users to plug in their drives (as opposed to either blocking the ports or hiding them) so long as they have certain security features in place to prevent transmission of viruses, sending of spam or botnet controlling, or whatever bad people do at public computers.

How To Run Programs From a USB Drive

Great comment from Fausto Di-Trapani on my posting An Updated Directory Of Programs Designed For USB Drives. Fausto points to a great little program that removes the need to browse through sub-folders when running applications from a USB drive:

Being an extensive traveller, a portable computing environment is a MUST. A great little program I came across is RUNit. It is a little program launcher with all its settings stored in an ini file (portable). I wrote a little batch file to edit the ini file to refer to new locations of programs when the drive letter changes, so far this little program has been the most useful of the lot for me as it allows me to easily access all my portable apps without having to browse through folders.

Thanks, Fausto. Actually RUNit looks like an interesting program in its own right.

U3’s First USB Program?

So far the U3 initiative — where manufacturers agree on a standard way to have programs running from USB thumb drives — has been more bark than bite. But here’s an announcement that provides a little nibble of the potential: StealthSurfer II, its manufacturers announce, is now Compatible with U3 Platform.

StealthSurfer II will be compatible with the U3 smart drive computing platform. The StealthSurfer II allows consumers to surf the Web with anonymity while simultaneously protecting surfers from identity theft and phishing and pharming spam attacks. StealthSurfer II’s Internet surfing protection suite can be carried on any U3-powered smart drive so it can be launched on any PC running Windows XP or 2000 for a highly mobile and secure computing experience. Consumers can now enjoy Web browsing protection available anywhere on their U3 smart drive.

This seems to offer some significant benefits:

By partnering with U3, Stealth Ideas’ integrated suite of portability and privacy software is no longer tied to a single USB flash drive manufacturer. In addition, the security aspects of the U3 platform are harmonious with the rigorous standards of the StealthSurfer software. The U3 platform also supports encrypted files and folders, and sign-on and password protection and management.

Certainly if you’re going to use public Internet terminals, or your office, to surf the web, it makes sense to be as anonymous as possible. I haven’t tested this product yet, though I plan to.

More Software on a Stick

A bunch of useful USB-drive-oriented software for windows: Wipe usb drive software by Proxymis Multimedia and others

I haven’t tried any of them, but plenty to choose from.

My expanding directory of USB drive programs is here.

Get Even More From Your USB

I’ve written before about the uses of USB keydrives (here’s the latest list of programs that will run off them). But the USB port can be used for more.

Since taking root in an office I’ve found the Dell desktop has a pretty generous six USB ports. None of them used for anything official so I’ve colonised some of them with:

  • A Logitech cordless mouse — much nicer than the PS2 mouse the office provides. It’s the same mouse I use at home, so my hand is used to it, and it’s easy enough to throw in my bag along with the USB dongle. No installation software really needed.
  • A charger for my Palm. One of those retractable USB charger/sync cables, which also takes up next to no space in the bag, but means my Palm (or cellphone, or Treo) won’t run out of juice during the day.
  • An external hard drive. Just buy an extra cable and you don’t even need to bring the cable along with you. (Companies don’t always like this kind of thing, so check with your sysadmin first, or just keep really, really quiet about it).

Of course, it needn’t stop there. There are mug warmers, desktop lamps and fans that will run off a USB port (designed for laptops and travelers), so if you find your office is scrimping on the water heaters, lighting or air-conditioning, just bring your own.

This week’s column – Flash Drives Aren’t Flash

This week’s Loose Wire column is about Flash drives:

 I LEFT YOU last week in the capable hands of Ethel Girdle, the fictitious octogenarian who took her accusations of built-in obsolescence to the technology giants. One of her beefs was about so-called flash drives–small devices that store data, for example as memory cards for MP3 players, digital cameras or personal-digital assistants, or as ultra-portable drives which can plug directly into your computer’s USB port. These little things have taken off in a big way. Nowadays it’s hard to find a gadget that doesn’t use them–even your cellphone uses the same technology–or a keychain that doesn’t have a thumb drive dangling off it. But Ethel (OK, it’s really me) found that two out of five memory cards in my possession have given up the ghost within a year or so of buying them. So what gives? Are flash drives the future or, if you’ll excuse the phrase, just a flash in the pan?

Full text at the Far Eastern Economic Review (subscription required, trial available) or at WSJ.com (subscription required). Old columns at feer.com here.

The USB Pen

Not a bad idea this: A pen with a built-in USB drive. PNY Technologies have just launched a line of Executive Attaché ballpoint pens with attached USB 2.0 flash drives that hold up to 512 MB of stuff.

The pens look chunky — and very executive-looking, ‘made with -quality materials similar to those of high-end writing instruments’, and in colours ranging from blue and black marble to black and red herringbone to brushed silver — but not unpleasantly so. The USB bit is basically the top half of the pen, which when removed reveals the USB plug. They cost between $80 and $100.

News: USB 2.0: Not Always As Zippy As It Should Be

 AP is reporting that not all products that flaunt the latest version, USB 2.0, are as speedy as consumers might expect. It turns out that while a growing number of devices feature USB 2.0, some actually transfer data at the slower speed of its predecessors — i.e. 40 times slower than they should. Also, there’s a significant difference between “full-speed” and “hi-speed” USB 2.0.
 
 
An industry group behind the USB standard is partly to blame for the muddled jargon, AP says, though it is trying to clear up confusion by issuing official logos and labeling guidelines for manufacturers. These are only guidelines, however. Ultimately, the labeling and any fine print that either informs or misleads the public is still up to individual companies. No guidance offered to users in the article, but obviously if you feel your devices are not working faster, complain loudly.