Friday, May 28, 2010

Satisfying my radio hobby with a Blackberry

About 2 hours and 20 minutes of every work day is spent commuting on the LIRR. This isn't as bad as it sounds. First of all, the trains are comfortable and rarely full on the line I take. Plus, since my destination is actually in Queens (I take the subway from there to work) I have a usable data stream for most of the trip. Crossing into Manhattan leaves you in "radio silence" for anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes.

I can remember trying to hack together a way to listen to streaming radio on the first Blackberry that AOL issued me. I was spoiled from my Windows Mobile device which would stream almost anything (with the assistance of an app called TCPMP). This proved to be close to impossible, even with one or more of the cludgy apps that had appeared to try to work around the shortcomings of those earlier devices. As the devices and BB OS revisions evolved though, so did the streaming abilities.

BB OS version 5 and up now offers many options. Some in the form of apps, but direct streaming seems to work sporadically too. The challenge of trying to find a way to get certain streams to work has added a level of difficulty to the process that makes it interesting. So instead of trying to wade through QRM and adjacent channel interference, I'm looking for ways to hack pls files and other stream links.

Several apps, most in BB app world, make this easier. Flycast offers a nice directory by area and genre, and offers podcasts, and other little extras. Some of the stations even allow for timeshifting. The paid version allows downloading and offline listening.

Nobex Radio Companion started as a way to look up what was playing on a radio station, and then added a streaming feature for most stations. Although not as reliable as other choices, there are stations here I cannot find anywhere else.

CBS and AOL have radio apps from the same developer. I've heard good things about these but cannot try them as they seem to only work on certain BB devices for now.

For podcasting I like Stitcher. Although the search too gets a bit strange, I have been able to find most podcasts I like in their directory and they cache quickly. Very useful for loading just before heading on to the subway.

The browser itself works too. By itself, certain streams work right from the links. A good example is Radio Paradise. Others can be obtained through (formerly known as Moodio). You create an account on your computer and then add stations through a search function. Then your stations show up on a custom mobile page that streams well to BB's.

I have an iPhone coming soon, so I may revise this a bit, but I hope this helps a bit for some of you BB radio fans out there. Happy listening.

Sent from my BlackBerry®

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Living with the Kchibo D96L DSP Radio

I purchased a Kchibo D96L DSP Radio awhile back on Ebay. The D96L is probably the best of Kchibo's DSP offerings, all based on the Silicon Labs si4734 DSP chip used in the Grundig G8, and Tecsun PL-310, PL-380, and several other radios. I also own a Degen DE1123 based on this chip (to be reviewed at a later date). This was an evaluation model sent to a radio reviewer, and was barely used. I like the radio a lot, but have a few reservations. Here are my views on this model: (reception results from the north shore of Long Island)

Sensitivity: The radio is amazing on AM and FM, probably like many of the better DSP radios I have read about. It is the only radio that reliably pulls WPKT from Meriden CT, on 90.5. On AM I can receive WBZ, Boston during the day, as well as getting pretty clean reception of some of the lower-power NYC AM stations like WNYC AM on 820. Reception is almost as good as my GE SuperRadio II, and with the Select-A-Tenna nearby, even better. Shortwave reception is good. I can usually receive anything on the internal whip that I can get on the RP2100, G5, or the Sony SW7600GR with their own antennas. It doesn't seem to like my Degen amplified antenna much, just adding more noise to the mix. I haven't put up a longwire yet at this place. SW reception is good here, but the last two places I lived, it was hampered by the dynamic range. If you live anywhere near strong AM stations, even extending the whip on this radio will have AM interference killing most SW stations.

Selectivity: The D96L has all of the available bandwidth choices available for AM and SW that the other si4734-based radios offer. This allows for reception of stations unavailable to me on the RP2100, or my G5. The Sony does OK here because of the Sync feature. I wonder if we'll see a radio with the si4734 chip AND sync sometime soon? FM selectivity is also great, as indicated with WPKT again which sits between 2 very strong stations on 90.3, and 90.7.

Audio Quality: The internal speaker is not bad. Not up to the bass response of the G5 (and obviously the RP2100) but well defined, and excellent treble response. The wide bandwidth on strong AM stations is great, and there's an adjustment for de-emphasis on FM that gives you a little extra high end response. FM Stereo sounds good through external speakers, or headphones.

Ergonomics: OK. This is where things get odd. Hard to say when I am still guessing what many of the buttons do from day-to-day. Everything is labeled in Chinese. The keypad layout is odd, with the zero to the right of the 9. I do appreciate the two-level lock ("tuning", and "all"), and the dual speed tuning.

Build Quality: This is my first Kchibo. I hadn't heard good things about their past models, but kept seeing that this one was a significant improvement in other reviews I have read. Definitely not up to the Sony standards, or even the G5 for that matter, but better than most of the cheap models I have had. The tuning knob feels a bit cheap, but the buttons are fine. One issue that would be a major one if I could read Chinese: All of the printing is wearing off of the plastic areas. The rubber buttons are retaining their labeling but anywhere the radio is labeled on the plastic surface it seems to come off very easily. Since I can't read the labels anyway it has not been an issue.

Amenities: The radio came with a decent soft case, earphones, a USB charging cable, a USB wall plug, and 2 Li-Ion Batteries (cellphone style). The USB wall plug is standard 2-prong, but expects 200 volts, and does not have auto-switching. Luckily, with the included USB cable, I can charge it from any 5 volt USB source. Battery life has been very good.

Overall: For what I paid, it has been an excellent radio. Not good for those of you that live near strong AM stations, unless you don't intend to use the SW bands much. For the prices I see it selling for new, the Tecsun PL310, or 380 might be a better value, even though I don't own either one yet to do a proper comparison. The reviews of the Tecsun models seem similar to my results with the D96L, without the overloading issues.

Monday, May 17, 2010


So I ended up with the department iPad for the weekend. I thought I would give some thoughts on how it worked.

First of all let's just say what everyone else has been saying: It's slick! Apple has design down with technology the way that Ferrari has it down with cars. Just looking at it in a profile view reveals that same "this thing is designed to look thinner than it really is" look that the MacBook Air has. Setup was painless, since I already had an iTunes account. It synced my music, podcasts, and pictures from the iTunes install on my Acer Hackintosh seamlessly. After syncing, startup is instant, and everything is self explanatory. Typing takes a bit to get used to, but once you do, it isn't bad (this post was typed on it). The auto capitalization and auto correct features are not as annoying as some other devices I have used.

I tried several free apps including Pandora, the ABC player, and Accuweather. All three of these took good advantage of the iPad interface and worked well. The ABC player was especially impressive, automatically switching to full-screen mode in the landscape view, and providing a smooth, and crisp video experience. Reading a book is a great experience. I can imagine that some gadget lovers have made the decision to buy this just on the incredibly cool page-turning animations alone.

As much as I really enjoyed this thing though, there are things I think I want to change before I would plunk down the cash. It definitely needs multitasking. Just as with the iPhone, it would be nice to be able to play music from Pandora while browsing the web. I think this is coming though. Some sort of USB connectivity, or card reader would be nice. I know Apple doesn't want to give us a real filesystem, but even something app-embedded would be good for grabbing pics, video, and music off of an external device of some sort. A front facing camera would work very well for conferencing. I'm still surprised that they left that out.

As much as I would like the 3G model, I really don't need more monthly service charges from a second carrier. I think I would invest in the EVO 4G phone when it comes this summer and create a wifi hot spot instead. As far as the Flash argument that this device seems to have precipitated, I agree with Apple's take on Flash. That said, it would still be nice to have Flash support for now, at least until Apple wins the war. While browsing the Sunday sale ads I found one that didn't have an HTML fallback mode and could not be read.

I can see myself buying one. Maybe 2nd generation though. Anyone else care to chime in?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Adventures in healthy eating, part 2: Almond meal

I love bread. Anyone who had attempted a low carb diet knows what kind of low carb options there are for bread lovers. With that said, I have heard that there are ways to get around this. I have been buying almond meal at Trader Joe's for a bit now. I use it in place of bread crumbs, and sometimes flour. So far I have made cookies, crackers, cake, and used it to bread chicken, and fish. Jill used it in her meatballs last night, and although they didn't hold together quite as well as the usual ones, they were quite good.

I've also made a wonderful bread-machine bread from a mixture of almond meal, flax meal, and wheat gluten. I found the original recipe here at recipe zaar, but used almond meal in place of the soy flour, and added about 1/4 teaspoon more yeast. Also, I recommend sifting the dry ingredients in an OLD FASHIONED SIFTER only. The almond and flax meals will clog up and ruin the new style ones. Sift as much as you can and dump the unsiftables into the bread machine too for texture. I used the rapid yeast and the rapid setting on my Hitachi bread machine. The results were very good, and add up to about 2 grams net carbs per slice, if you get about 10 slices out of it.

Adventures in healthy eating

After relocating to Long Island, and considering this move to be permanent, I figured it was time to find a new doctor. I really do love the P.A. I used to see in Kingston, but living 2 hours from your doctor is not very convenient. I looked in the local guides and found a physician who had good reviews on various sites.

During the three months of unemployment I experienced, my already bad eating habits got much worse. I didn't fast for the first blood test either which led to dangerously high triglyceride levels and sugar too. Even though the fasting numbers probably wouldn't have been quite as bad, it was a wake-up call to start eating healthier. I immediately began cutting carbohydrates and fat from the diet. My adjustments to carbs are definitely more drastic than fat, but the results are showing.

I have more energy. Clothes are starting to fit better. I think I'm at the stage where my face has thinned out a bit because people are starting to notice. I've done this before, but it feels different this time. I've taken an approach that satisfies me in a whole new way. So, how did I do this?

Being a man of science, I've taken the challenge of creating healthy and interesting meals to new levels. I have become the Mad Scientist of the Kitchen. I also look at this differently than most people. I tell everyone that I AM NOT DIETING. This is not a diet. Diets fail. This is a change of lifestyle. It's the challenge to create these crazy foods, in combination with avoiding the things that will eventually kill me, and increasing the activity level. So far the only time I've weighed myself is at the doctors office. It seems that I've lost about 14 pounds so far, but who's counting?

So, I will start to post some of the things I've come up with here. maybe someone else can benefit from my new outlook. Bon Appetit!