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A bit of a Review – Kit: High Power 20,800 mAh Dual USB Emergency Charger

Saturday, March 22nd, 2014

So.  I don’t do this sort of thing very often.  Never, in fact.

I was asked to review a bit of tech on my blog here.  Specifically, MobileZap saw my blog and asked me to review “a good bit of kit” – a 20,800 mAh USB Emergency Charter.  I said sure – as long as you know it will be an honest review.  To their credit they were happy with that proviso.

Unfortunately, this leaves me with a bit of a bind – at the time of writing, at least, I understand I get to keep the bit of kit they sent me, which is a nice fillip.  Sort of repays some of the blog expenses.  But, if I write a review slamming the thing, they might ask for it back (sending these things back in Australia actually presents a problem – see later).  But if I write a review praising the thing, my legion of blog-fans (hi Mum!) will accuse me of being a bigger sell out than Metallica.  So, I’m going to stick with the honest review and see where that takes us.

Before we start

Obviously, I’ve written this review at the request of MobileZap.  Who I’ve never heard from before, and may never hear from again :).   My experience was about usual.  The item was packed well and was despatched reasonably quickly – about a week to arrive, I think.

Still, I googled the name. If you read the online reviews, there’s a bit of a mixed-bag of experiences with this online retailer.  On ProductReview at the moment they’re about 3.2 stars out of 5.  The negative posts relate to non-delivery or late-delivery of items that, though were marked as in-stock, weren’t.  Overall, these comments seem in line with a lot of these electronic online retailers.

I suppose I will temper that by saying that someone who feels gypped by a product will tell everyone they see (including ProductReview) whilst someone who ‘gets what they expected’ rarely does put up a positive comment.  In that context the comments and ratings on ProductReview are at least about average.  Still, you can get this product somewhere else if it takes your fancy, I’m sure.  They do have a good range at MobileZap, including iPad Air accessories (something they seem particularly proud of on their website).

Let’s take a look at this Emergency Charger

So, what is an Emergency Charger?  On the MobileZap website it looks like this:

And frankly, when I opened up the package at an Australia Post parcel locker (great service by the way), this is what I had.  A fairly heavy, smooth shiny black device.  By heavy, I mean it’s got a good heft about it.  It weighs 443 grams – which is pretty much a pound (sorry, I’m a metric baby).  More than you’d like to put in a pocket but perfectly portable in a man-bag or such like.

So.  To the review.  What matters?  Portability (weight and power source), looks (style), and fit-for-purpose (does it do what it says on the tin?).  In the traditional manner, I’ll talk about its pros and cons, as well as overall value, only after that discussion.

Portability

Upon opening, there’s a USB cable with a connector on one end, three connectors that fit onto the connector, and the charger itself.  That’s it.

Regarding portability – that weight is pretty much fine for what it is.  Yes it’s a pound, give or take, but it’s rectangular and about two centimetres high.  If you were out and about with a shoulder bag you won’t notice it too much – just slip it in there.  It won’t go in your pocket but it’s quite portable.  I believe there are smaller options if that matters to you.

Regarding the power source – by which I mean, can you power it up anywhere?  The answer is pretty much yes.  It’s USB-powered (which takes forever to charge up) so you can trickle charge it from your laptop or a standard USB charger (one of those ones that your mobile phone and/or tablet probably uses.  This good bit of kit does come with an adapter that connects to the USB for charging it up – and you’ll need to keep track of them.  The three adapters are a Micro USB, Mini USB and a 30 pin (old-style Apple) charging adapters.  You could use any USB cable with those adapters permanently affixed, I’ll warrant.  It certainly works for an iPad with a Lightning connector – just use your original cable.

I’d still like it if the product included a small bag or something to keep these adapters together.  Otherwise there will be tears at charging time.  I just put mine in a small zip lock bag, as shown in Exhibit A:

For some reason my photo’s not quite as good as MobileZap’s.  Still, from this photo you can also get an idea of how big it is – for comparison I’ve put a AA battery there.  It’s about 17cm long x 7cm wide x 2cm high.  While we’re talking about things that are missing from the case, it would be nice if it had its own charger.  Yes, they’re a dime a dozen but a dedicated one would be nice.  Particularly I’ve found that if I use a low-amp phone charger it takes ages (like, 24 hours) to charge this sucker up.  But you can just charge it using pretty much any USB port, and without the charger I guess that keeps the costs down and it’s one less thing to lose.  Buy one on ebay if you must.

Overall this charger is really quite portable.  If it is too hefty, there are smaller ones.

Looks

Looks-wise – hmm.  I’m an accountant, so not the harbinger of high fashion.  It’s basic black, so it’s unobtrusive.  Easily lost at the bottom of a dark bag I guess, but realistically that’s not an issue.  It isn’t garish and it’s pretty unobtrusive.  The finish is fine, there’s no pointy bits to catch on anything, and the joins are visible but no gaps.  It’s built well and feels like it’s built well.  That heft gives it a nice feeling of quality, and in an emergency you could use it to fend off an attacker in a dark alley – as it’s shiny black, they’ll never know what hit them.

It seems to be a fairly generic power-kit made in China, so there are no obtrusive logos.  It simply has a power-specifications label on the underside of the item.

Fit-for-Purpose?

And now the biggie – does it do what it says on the tin?

Let’s be frank.  I’d never gone looking for such a thing, partly because I didn’t know they existed, and partly because I didn’t know I needed it.  I do have battery cases that my phone clips into – it then goes from being Slim & Fashionable Phone of 2012 (HTC One) to DorkPad.  Those power cases from Mugen are pretty handy, but this is handier in more situations.  It really does shine as a portable charger for someone on the go, particularly with the ludicrously poor battery life phones still have.  I didn’t take it with me one afternoon and after an hour or two of Facebooking and texting back-and-forth, I wished I had.  My phone went dead, and that’s unhappy-time. It’s one of those life-skills of the 21st century – keep your phone charged.

The battery is mammoth.  Let me get my rave on a bit.  It has 20,800 mAh.  My One XL has 1,800 mAh.  I literally charged this pack up and one week later was still charging my phone from it.  I charged the phone four times from low power (<20%) to 100%, attached it several times when I wanted a perma-wifi hotspot, and the charger was still half-charged.  My biggest gripe about my phone is its lack of battery life – and if I use it for a wifi spot when I am out with my laptop or ipad, I can count on needing to charge it up again pretty soon.  Sigh.

I’ll note that the claim on MobileZap’s website is ’12 recharges of an iPhone 5S’ (which has 1560 mAh).  I think 12 is a bit optimistic (because some of the energy will be lost as heat and battery discharge), but maybe you’d get there.

With this charger I would be able to have literally hours of wifi hot spot (just got to watch that Telstra charge for going over my 1.5gb data limit).

I should note that there are two ‘out’ USB ports.  One is 5v, 2.1amps (that’ll be for your tablets and such), and the other is 5v, 1 amp (for your phone).  There’s also a button on the top – press it, and presto, you’re charging the connected device.  You can charge two things at once this way (a tablet and a phone).  Don’t try and charge a phone from the 2.1amp socket, though – my phone didn’t like that very much.

I guess that this ‘rave’ does highlight a problem with this charger.  It’s big – and because it’s big, I have a ridiculous amount of power to keep my phone running.  Perhaps I’d prefer to have something slightly smaller with less weight.

Still and all.   I can charge my phone and/or ipad wherever I am, without needing to find a power point (useful for international as well as inter-state travel).  The number of times I’ve been inter-state and at the end of the day discovered I’ve got very little charge left.  And since this will allow me to use the wifi hotspot with my laptop without worrying about having no phone, the charger is a definite plus.  It’s definitely fit for purpose.

I can think of a number of good applications for this.  For instance – in the car with children running out of power for devices (yes I can charge from the cigarette lighter but that’s not always that reliable). On the bus while playing Angry Birds when coming home from uni. Or, while camping.  Or, it can be slipped into my motorcycle pack so that if I do have a breakdown I can charge up my phone.

Don’t laugh – it happens!

A good buy?

Or, in a more mundane manner I can travel around the place and just use my phone with impunity – unless I’m away from powerpoints for several days, I’m good to go.

So.  Is it worth it?  At the time of writing, this ‘good bit of kit’ is up for $68.49 on the MobileZap website.  Shipping is $4.50 for standard slow-boat-from-China all the way up to $17.95 for standard and $24.95 for express delivery.  Still the good side of $100 (just).  I’d say it’s well worth it.  I’ve spent more than that in a taxi for a trip away.

So if you are the sort of person who is regularly away from your desk, this could be your new best friend.  If charging devices is not a challenge for you, maybe it’s not worth it.  I think that for me it probably is good value, even weighing up the pros and cons.

Pros:

  • Good weight, very portable
  • Looks the goods – unobtrusive and professional
  • Definitely fit for purpose – with the caveats noted below.  You should get a few decent charge–from-empty charges for your phone at least, and you can use it to power your phone while it’s acting as a wifi hotspot without worrying about losing power.

Cons:

  • Those little connector bits should have a little bag to keep them all together – maybe they do in standard orders, but mine didn’t.  The lack of a Lightning connector seems to be an oversight.
  • Similarly – a dedicated charger would be a nice-to-have
  • Precisely because it’s so big, maybe you’d prefer a smaller and less weighty version.  Still it’s pretty light.

Value:

  • For < $100, it’s right proper worth it, if you’re away from a power source regularly.

Overall I hope you found this review interesting.  The charger is certainly a ‘good bit of kit’, with a few relatively minor issues.

Post-Script

Now, there needs to be a post-script to this review, and this relates to the issue of lithium batteries with Australia Post. I googled the product ID and as best I can tell this thing has a lithium battery in it – which is what I would expect.

It seems to be well-documented but you cannot legally send a lithium battery through Australia Post.  Mobile Zap can send you a lithium battery by post, because it’s being sent from China and is thus under their rules.  China doesn’t seem to consider it a dangerous good.  So, Australia Post will deliver the package from China, but they won’t let you send it back.  You have to use a specialist  courier – who are always going to be more expensive.

Yes it’s a silly situation, but there it is.  The upshot is, there is a problem with the charger, or you want your money back, you’re going to have a bad time.  Of course you can do what everyone does, which is go outside the post office and declare it as non-dangerous.  Australia Post can’t open the parcel to inspect it – so they rely on your declaration.  If that’s what you do, that’s between you and your moral code. Legally, you can’t send it back.

This issue seems to be a result of international cooperation gone bad – frankly I can’t understand how it’s not safe to send a battery by post when I can carry it on-board as a passenger.  But there you go.

More information

Round-table discussion: Effective social networking in the public sector

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013

I was invited to facilitate a round-table discussion on effective social networking in the public sector for CPA Australia at their International Public Sector Convention on 21st February 2013. These notes derived from that session.  I have formatted this discussion as an article, and it is available h here for download:  20130221 Roundtable Notes.pdf.  Please feel free to provide feedback or discuss this topic further in the comments below.

Purpose

Social networking has gained enormous traction in recent years, changing business models and the ways humans interact.

However, social networking is more than just using a particular tool or medium. This roundtable discussion held at the CPA Australia International Public Sector Convention on 21st February 2013 aimed to discuss the long-term value of online social networking and explore how it can be applied to generate lasting benefits across the public sector.

The facilitator was Micheal Axelsen, of Applied Insight Pty Ltd, and the participants were representatives from the public sector. This discussion took place at the Brisbane Convention Centre.

Funny toy or useful?

It was apparent from our discussion that people are still not entirely sure what exactly online social networking is, and whether it is ‘too risky’ or not.

NewImage

It was noted that collaboration is easily done using tools such as Facebook in comparison with the sometimes-slow bureaucratic processes for developing internet sites.

We did note some benefits – for example, we can keep in touch with people by ‘loose connections’ rather than lose touch when people change jobs.

Online social networking replaces chat groups or email lists, in many ways. Online social networking though is faster and more immediate.

Risks that may arise from the use of online social networking include:

  • Legal
  • Reputation
  • Cyber
  • Privacy and identity theft
  • Records management
  • Technology

Although we recognised those risks, awareness of the risks when online social networking is important to ensuring effective social networking.

Risky business?

Online social networking – the younger generation just ‘gets it’. But they too can be lax and not think through all the risks.

Users do need to be ‘savvy and sophisticated’ users. Not all people in all places are aware of what they can and can’t do with material on online social networking. A nightmare for auditors!

It’s not the tool that is evil, though – it is how the tool is used. The opportunity for fraud exists and the means by which online social networking can be used can be ‘really mind-boggling’ – particularly the social media tools. People still are not aware of the risk of fraud that can occur through social media.

Change for the better?

There are still definite benefits. Online social networking can be a real tool for finding out information.

One participant noted that they now find out more information from Facebook and Twitter than they do from television. For instance – weather awareness and information that more traditional channels are ‘slower’ to distribute.

So as an information awareness tool and gathering tool, online social networking has real benefits. Particularly product search and product help is a definite positive of online social networking.

For example, obtaining very quick recommendations for a service or product via twitter or Facebook can result very quickly, and if you receive 15 recommendations for the one service (for example, a restaurant), then you probably have had your choice made for you.

Sometimes participants felt that they have had quicker and better responses online to problems with products, although this varied between organisations.

We did consider though whether there may be a ‘regression to the mean’ in relation to how companies deal with issues raised through social media.

It may soon be only those Facebook posts with 300 likes that get a company’s attention, and then later only posts with 1,000 likes. Eventually, the extra resource expended on customer monitoring on online social networking will become part of ‘business as usual’ and the response will return to long-term trends.

NewImage

Unlike a phone call or a letter, however, we did note that, with online social networking, complaints and discussions take place in a public place. For that reason organisations will likely place a higher priority on that for some time to come.

We recognised that online social networking is another channel, and this complicates our communication channels. The world is more complex than a PO Box and a phone, and this complexity means that agencies need to respond. Unfortunately, the ‘simple’ world of the past has most likely disappeared.

In twenty years’ time, online social networking will continue on, it will be the new norm. But new technologies will be developed, and the technologies will mature.

The need to critically appraise the information and comments made on online social networking by users is important. People need to assess quickly the credibility of the source making the comment, and also consider the number and sources of information. There are trolls on the internet but there are self-correcting mechanisms to filter these things out. It is an ‘ongoing war’ and the ‘wisdom of the crowds’ can help with this. Nevertheless, this takes time and effort to sort through the ‘chaff’, and some ‘walled off’ communities can be credible resources.

For example, LinkedIn makes a considerable effort to ensure the credibility of participants in conversations through moderated membership of groups.

Government agencies can use online social networking to access the communities that they deal with. Facebook pages, for example, allow an agency to talk one on one with their community, and obtain immediacy in their response.

This capability is used to varying effect. Some agencies have had fairly aggressive relationships with their communities whereas others have had more positive experiences. Monitoring online social networking can be used to provide information for policy development, particularly with respect to the targeted communities.

For example, overall the Queensland Police Service presence on Facebook has been considered a major success in their sometimes-difficult dealings with the public. This was a focussed and strategic use of social media.

NewImage

Brand recognition on twitter and the maintenance of the brand is important. However, you have to understand the risks and mitigate the risks – you have many more stakeholders. Brand recognition will be important for agencies that need to self-promote to obtain their funding.

Targeted delivery of information via online social networking can be more effective, as well. For example, Generation Y (or perhaps the younger Generation X) that are heavily into social media can be accessed through social media rather than the traditional media. Engagement through traditional media may be diminishing.

Social media is just another channel to communicate; whereas people from one generation might write a letter to the editor, those from another generation might tweet about the issue or use activist sites such as ‘GetUp!’.

As generational change happens, agencies and organisations will need to educate and adapt to meet the needs of their communities.

There are opportunities to keep in touch with organisational alumni – particularly for the recruitment of new staff – but unfortunately not much is being done in this area at the moment. There is a lot of untapped potential there.

Concluding thoughts

People are still not entirely sure of online social networking, and whether its risks are worthwhile. Some benefits can be obtained by using online social networking in the public sector, but by no means has it been universally adopted.

Participants felt that the public sector is definitely lagging behind in the use of online social networking compared to the private sector. As generational change occurs, particularly for health, change will be needed.

Although our discussion centred on risks, several themes did emerge, including:

  • More understanding of what online social networking is is still needed.
  • User awareness of the risks of participating in online social networking still needs to mature.
  • Agency communities (for example, QPS Media on Facebook) can increase community engagement, but they might just as equally cause difficulties with the community.
  • Maturity will reduce this complexity, and as the novelty diminishes the tools will be embedded.
  • Targeted delivery via online social networking of information can be more effective and engaging than traditional media.
  • Informing policy response via community engagement can be particularly helpful for public sector agencies.

In the long term, the world has changed to be more complex.

Overall the discussion was lively and the risks and benefits were debated intelligently and in an informed way. Online social networking clearly has a long way to go in terms of maturing across the public sector, but the potential perhaps can be summarised as ‘promising, but beware the risks!’

My friend the moggy

Sunday, January 6th, 2013

Consider this world of ours. It is very strange. Not just because it is big and blue, hanging in the inky depths of space like a bowling ball that forgot to fall to the ground. This world is also strange because of the people hanging precariously on that thin crust of a surface. Let us consider those things that I don’t understand about our world, and some of those that I do.

I do understand why my cat is a good hunter of its prey – it’s a sleek beast made for the purpose.

I don’t understand why people have to hate each other. Some people really are ‘haters’ – their hate defines them, destroys the very essence of their being. We should never ‘hate’ – it is the very strongest of emotions and destroys your soul when you do.

I do understand why my cat is gentle with victims. It shows no mercy in achieving its goal, but after the thrill of the hunt the victims are set free – to live another day.

I don’t understand the need to hate – maybe hating a cardboard cutout is easier than understanding. The real story is too complex – all Men have feet of clay – if they don’t, they haven’t had ‘A Current Affair’ ruin their lives yet! Beware the absolute. ‘All Nazis are evil’. ‘All Muslims blow people up’. ‘All heroin addicts are destroyed and lost souls’. Everyone has a story to tell if the ‘real them’ is allowed onto the open plains – ‘Australian Story’ on the ABC tells us that. The absolute is easier to hate, to revile, to cast out into the wilderness of blackness. The absolute is a cruel master of your mind.

I do understand why my cat is powerful. His passion is coupled with strong desire for life lived out of the shadows.

I don’t understand why hatred needs to be such a powerful force – we see the bloody evidence of it every time we power up that glowing screen that emasculates our minds. Is it just me that doesn’t understand this world? Why journalists need to cackle with demonic glee as Baghdad is bombed? Why Islamic fundamentalists rejoice in the destruction of people never met?

In the midst of all this drear, can the powerful force of hatred be fought? Not in the traditional way. The only way I know is to fight the eternal darkness of the soul by acting locally. Build bridges with your ‘absolutes’. I do understand my friend the Moggie. My cat is a Lion, and my cat is out of the bag. You are that cat – you have the power to choose whether to scratch the furniture or to make this world a better place.

Facebook Ticker Box and Privacy Settings

Saturday, September 24th, 2011

The new Facebook Ticker box on the right is an abomination unto privacy, but it is designed to only show you items you could always see on other people’s pages. So if I wrote on Random Friend from Uni’s wall, my Random Friend from School in 1987 could still see it if my uni friend has the ‘friend of friends’ or ‘everyone’ access to the wall privacy setting in place. Or has an open profile. What the Tickerbox does though is bring it right up in my “random friend from school”‘s face without having to browse my wall or all of my friends’ walls. And so it does a great service: “Privacy? Facebook cares not”.

Sergeant Major eats Sugary Cookies

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

What?

Ah.  Well.  About that title…

Back when I was a student – the first time around – I subscribed to Time magazine.  Wonderful little news magazine; I had visions of becoming a world leader, or at least someone who knew who Michael Dukakis was (well, someone has to) – instead I blog rather a bit.

I found Time magazine interesting, and engaging, and important.  Nevertheless, once I left university and could afford to buy my own beer, it became time to choose between, well, Time and time (OK, and beer).  And I let my subscription lapse.

Last week at the good old school dropoff, a fellow parent in drop-off purgatory said to me, “I know you’re a reader, you’re doing your phd so you must be.  I subscribe to Time magazine – would you like a copy?”.  Well, it was a bit hard to refuse as she had this enormous pink bag chock-full of magazines – including Marie Claire’s for my wife (I’m afraid I won’t even read Marie Claire for the articles, but L loves them). 

So going through Time magazine, two thoughts occurred to me: 

(1) It was a lot thinner and flimsier than I remembered;

(2) it was still just as engaging as ever it was.

And I soon found myself reading an article all about Sergeant Major Eats Sugar Cookies.  What’s that about?  Well, the story was about returned US veterans contributing to their communities, and one of the veterans mentioned this whole Sergeant Majors with a sweet tooth approach to planning.  Apparently it’s called an “operations order”, and it’s how the US marines plan an operation:

  • Situation:    What is the problem?
  • Mission:  What is the principal task at hand and purpose behind it?
  • Execution:  What strategy are we going to use to accomplish the task?
  • Service and Support:  What are the logistics?  How many people and resources will we need?
  • Command and Control:  What other groups (e.g. committees etc) should be involved and how will they communicate?

The Marines like to keep this all on a single page – dot points are your friend here.

Now, obviously this is designed for the army.  And I couldn’t be less an AJ if I tried – I could only run out of sight in a week if I fiddled with the calendar.  Nonetheless, I thought this was very relevant to anyone needing to communicate with a client, or write an internal memo – since many of the things we write for clients are about building new tihngs for clients and/or doing new things in our business, this is quite relevant.  You might for instance write an executive summary using this format, or indeed try to keep everything you do to this approach.  You wouldn’t need to keep these labels, and in fact you might want to just use it as a structure for emails that you send out to people.  But I think that as a way of keeping you focussed on the task at hand, and make sure everyone is singing from the same songsheet, this is an excellent tool.

I am adapting what I currently do for clients in terms of proposals (a “nice one-pager” is something just about everyone wants in business) and this structure could at least be the starting point to provide an overview.  Sure, you can have that 30-page project proposal in your back pocket – but the reality is most people don’t read the full thing, if ever.  Keep the 30-pager to support the one-page executive summary following the “Sergeant Major Eats Sugar Cookies” approach, and I think you’ll find your clients, your partners, and your subordinates thank you.  Just because we have word processors and computers that allow us to punch out multiple-page documents before breakfast doesn’t meant that we need to consider that a challenge to write more.

Anyway, if you like it I have created a template on my blog for anyone that wishes to have a template document (it’s plain-format, no logos or anything) – so you can download it directly if you wish.  Or not, it’s up to you.

And thanks Andrea, for reminding me that Time magazine is a wonderful subscription to have…