The Advisory Boar

By Abhijit Menon-Sen <>

Second thoughts about the Simvalley PICO RX-80


After a few weeks of using the phone, I'm less thrilled than I was at first.

To begin with, the battery life is nowhere near the claimed 90 minutes of talk time and 100 hours of standby (which would have worked well for me, since I don't make many calls). A full battery lasts almost 48 hours with minimal use (messages only), but using the phone, even if it's mostly for messages, always drains the battery in less than a day. The display flickers occasionally, which may or may not be related.

The audio quality sounds fine to me, except that what I hear is mostly complaints about excessive feedback (i.e., callers hear their own voice after a delay). I don't know why it happens, but it's unpleasant.

When sending messages (which I do more often than making phone calls), it's annoying to always have to switch from the default German input mode, and the lack of a sensible English dictionary also rankles. In practice, I'm forced to type in "triple-click" mode most of the time. The keyboard, though very nice to use, is a trifle too noisy for my taste (enough to make people nearby look up).

Aside: the phone does seem faster at sending messages than any other I've used, but I can't imagine why or how that might be, and I'm not certain that it isn't an interface effect. It's also nice that you can cancel the sending—if you can hit the red button quickly enough.

One bug that does nothing more than amuse me: if you select "unlock" when the keypad is locked, it says «Press '#' \nkey» (i.e., the two literal characters \n, not a linefeed).

All told, the problems outweigh the advantages of having an extremely small phone. I'll try to get my old Nokia's screen replaced, and keep the RX-80 as a backup.

My beloved Chenbro PC-611 cabinet


The heat and dust in Delhi are extremely unkind to computer hardware, and the fifteen years that I've spent here have been punctuated by the failure of many generations of components. My current computer has been in operation for five years, thanks to a double-converting UPS that protects it from flaky mains power, but each passing summer exacts its toll in random breakage and frayed nerves.

But I realised the other day, while removing dust-balls that had choked up my CPU fan, that one component in particular deserves my gratitude for never once having gotten on my nerves since I bought it five years ago: my Chenbro PC-611 tower cabinet.

I had forgotten the model number, and had to look through ancient email to find it, but I remember that it was recommended by a friend, and that I had trouble finding one in Nehru Place. With its power supply, it cost me more than five times as much as the generic cabinet I had been about to buy, but I have never once regretted the decision.

My exposure to high-end cabinets has been limited to this one, so I have no real basis for an evaluation, but it is so much better than any other cabinet I've seen that the comparison seems unfair. Every single time I have had to open up another computer in the last five years, I've missed mine. I like the way drives get mounted on rails, the precise and solid construction without rattling, the rounded metal edges, spacious layout, "tool-free" disassembly—and it's not even hideously ugly, as are most of the cabinets I see these days!

Best of all, other than the dust, it shows no signs of age. I expect it will outlive every other component in my computer.

Update: In fairness, I should mention that one of the two chassis fans began to stutter a few years in, and the power switch has become a little unresponsive because of accumulated dust… but there's no getting away from dust in the end.

Simvalley PICO RX-80 mobile phone


My long-suffering Nokia 6610i fell on its head a few days ago, and its screen died. My friend Arnt told me about the tiny Simvalley PICO RX-80 mobile phone, and was kind enough to send me one a few days later when I told him—sadly—that it wasn't available here.

There's surprisingly little information about this phone on the web. A bunch of blog posts copied almost verbatim from this one (they all have the same three or four photographs, and claim the phone has dimensions of "50x800x10mm"!), and this German video. Here are my brief but non-boilerplate initial impressions of the RX-80.

First, its real dimensions are 50x80x10mm, which makes it absurdly tiny. I put it on my credit card, and I could see the edges of the card under the phone. At 44g, its weight is also imperceptible in my hand. Despite that, it has a surprisingly high-quality screen and a lovely keyboard. The audio quality seems perfectly acceptable. The battery is supposed to provide 90 minutes of talk-time and 100 hours of standby operation. (I haven't tested this yet, but the stated times would suit me fine.)

I was concerned about what features the phone did or did not have, but I needn't have worried. It has everything I need (which isn't very much): a clock, a call log, a competent phone book (but it can't store multiple numbers per contact, which would have been nice), and an alarm (in fact, three separate alarms, which can be one-shot or weekly); and I can tell it to ring just once, softly. It has nine built-in ring-tones and three kinds of SMS alerts, all of which I hate. (I want plain old "ring ring" and "beep", which fewer and fewer phone seem to have these days.)

As someone who sends a lot of SMS messages, however, I'm just a little disappointed. Although I switched the language from the default German to English, the SMS composer starts up in "Ger" input mode, and I always have to click # a few times to switch to English. The word completion is not very usable either. It lets you scroll through a list of completions (which is neat), but there's no way to add words to the dictionary, and if the dictionary doesn't contain a word you want, it's not possible to retain whatever you've already typed and keep going. So I'll end up using the basic "abc" input mode a lot, which is a pity.

A minor glitch: when I first switched on the phone and made a call, I couldn't hear anything; nor was I audible to the person I called, and the phone didn't ring when she called back, either. I was worried for a moment, but switching to the "outdoor" profile and then back to the "standard" one fixed the problem.

Another thing: the phone's front is entirely shiny, which means I spend a lot of time obsessively cleaning fingerprints from it with my T-shirt.

That makes barely two things I've found to complain about, which means I get to feel very lucky all over again.

I love my tiny new phone. Thanks, Arnt!

Update: After a few weeks, I'm having second thoughts about the phone due to poor battery life, excessive audio feedback, and a few other minor annoyances.

OpenWRT and DD-WRT on the Linksys WAP54G 3.1


We bought a Linksys WAP54G "Wireless-G Access Point" in August 2008.

This flat blue-and-grey device is a basic 802.11b/g access point with a single Ethernet port and little besides: two adjustable rear antennae and a front panel with some blinking lights. A sticker below the panel says "Model No: WAP54G ver 3.1", and it shipped with firmware version 3.05, dated 2005-12-28. It has a 200MHz Broadcom BCM5352 CPU, 4MB of Flash memory, and 8MB of RAM.

This page is about my experience with installing, using, hating, breaking, bricking, reviving, and reconfiguring this device.

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Mountain Hardwear Light Wedge 3


In February 2008, Hassath and I got a Mountain Hardwear Light Wedge 3 tent. This is a review written after half a dozen trips, and just over a year of use. (This is the only tent I have owned, though not the only one I've used or pitched.)

The quick summary: I love this sturdy, roomy, lightweight, inexpensive tent.

Many thanks to Rai for ordering and bringing us the tent; and for his subsequent creative accounting that turned it into the best gift we've received.

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Eeebuntu on the Asus EeePC 4G


We bought an Asus EeePC 4G (701) in October 2008 as an inexpensive, temporary replacement for my beloved Lifebook, whose motherboard had died some months ago, after nearly five years of none-too-gentle use.

The machine came with a customised version of Xandros installed. It was much better than I had expected. It booted extremely fast, and gave me access to an xterm. That, and the fact that other EeePC distributions all had one problem or the other, was enough to keep me using it for some months.

The one big problem I had was with the package repositories. I followed various instructions (which I no longer remember), but a couple of hours wasn't enough to get vim installed, and I gave up. This inability to install things kept annoying me at inopportune moments.

Eventually, I decided to install an Ubuntu derivative. This page is all about my (surprisingly pleasant) experience.

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Books about Indian birds


I am often asked to recommend a field guide, usually by beginners, or people who have just started to get interested in serious bird-watching. There aren't many available; and since I've used all of them at one time or another, here are some notes about the ones I like best.

(Here's a more extensive annotated bibliography, albeit very dated; and here are some brief reviews of field guides.)

A Field Guide to the Birds of India

By Krys Kazmierczak, illustrated by Ber van Perlo.

Published in 2000 by Pica Press (UK).
Reprinted in 2006 by Om Book Service (India).

If you have to pick just one book, this is the one I recommend.

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Hosting at Hetzner.DE


In July 2005, I ordered a "root server" at Hetzner.DE, to host mail, web, and DNS services for myself and a few friends. I used that machine for five years, then retired and replaced it with a new Hetzner server. This is a brief summary of my experience.

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