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Smartphone chargers just got a powerful upgrade

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
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This is NOT a sponsored post.

Anker Atom PD-1

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At first glance, the Anker PD-1 may seem unremarkably normal looking. After all, it looks like the small wall charger that came included with your iPhone. It is almost the same size as that iPhone charger, but it delivers a full 30 watts of USBC power (it’s 35-40% smaller than the equivalent MacBook charger).

Ravpower 45W PD Charger

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Ravpower have taken the same technology to greater heights by designing a slim (14mm) 45 watt USBC charger .

Tell me how this is possible

The go to foundation for many electronic components is silicon. Silicon is in everything from computer processors to chargers, but we needed something better to improve charging speed and efficiency.

This is where gallium nitride (GaN) is making an entrance.

  • GaN has a theoretical ability to conduct electricity 1000x more quickly than traditional silicon.

  • GaN also doesn’t get as hot as silicon which means the electricity, not being lost to heat, is used to charge your device faster. It also means we can save 15-20% of worldwide power consumption if all electronic devices switched to GaN.

  • Since GaN chargers are smaller, they require less material, less packaging and are therefore cheaper to ship.

Why Anker and Ravpower?

What makes the Anker and Ravpower so remarkable is that they are the first major brands to release GaN-based chargers. These are first-generation products so we can expect much power powerful GaN chargers in the future, at a much lower price. Anker and Ravpower are charging a premium for these smaller and lighter devices. As the technology becomes more widely available, expect prices to drop dramatically.

Other uses

2019 should be the year where GaN chargers become commonplace. An optimized iPhone and a GaN charger could charge your device 6x faster than today, in a package the same size.

Like many of you, I travel a lot, and a battery backup is critical. Charging a traditional 9000 mAh battery can take 3-5 hours. I recently started testing the Apollo Pro from Elecjet which is a graphene-infused battery that is capable of fully charging in 20 minutes with a 60W USBC charger. Being able to charge your backup battery while you enjoy a coffee is incredibly freeing. Now imagine what will happen when smartphone manufacturers adopt faster charging graphene batteries paired with faster charging GaN chargers. It will be an unbeatable combo.

We likely won’t see any major brands adopting these two techs for their 2019 models, but I am willing to bet you will see a bunch in 2020, probably starting with the Samsung Galaxy S11.

New US Border Control rules for Canadians

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment

Since the tightening of US border entry rules, readers have been emailing asking:

What should I do when crossing the USA / Canada border?

Canadian readers (and non-US) travelers to the US wanted to know what the new tighter controls mean when crossing into the US. 

The first important truth most travelers need to accept is that "entering another country is a privilege and not a right". Although the controls may have tightened a bit, they haven't changed materially. Having visited over 40 countries in the last 30 years, I accept the fact that anytime I cross a national border, I am subject to the controls of that country and prepare accordingly.

The cardinal rule of information security is "know your risk". The first step is to determine all your risk factors (status entering that country, data you will be traveling with, travel history, your background, travel risk level of the region you are entering, etc).

Before you leave

  1. Minimize the amount of information you travel with. People often forget the treasure trove of information they carry on a daily basis. Your smartphone (as an example) contains all your contacts, login information for all your social networks, health information, GPS location history, networks you have connected to, etc. Anytime you cross a border (not just the USA but this applies to any national border crossing), the agents are tasked with protecting that county and may "take" any information you are entering the country with to determine your traveler risk. Do not take anything you wouldn't want to hand over.
  2. Minimize the amount of devices you travel with. This may sound stupid but I have seen business travelers cross the border with a personal smartphone, work smartphone, a personal tablet, a work tablet and a work laptop. Understand that anything you enter the country with can be seized or taken  for analysis. With all the Snowden, Vault7, Wikileak dumps, its clear that if a border agent touches your device, you shouldn't use it anymore. You should assume it has been permanently hacked. Where possible, do not bring devices with you. If you do, try to bring "disposable" devices you wouldn't mind throwing away if need be.

What should I do before crossing the border?

  1. Remove all information from your devices that you do not absolutely need to bring with you.
  2. Anything you could need, try to move it to the cloud and securely delete your local copy.
  3. Delete any apps from your smartphone for which you don't want to hand over login credentials to.
  4. If you use a password vault solution synchronized with the cloud, you may want to delete that (Lastpass, 1Password) and reinstall it after you enter the country.
  5. If you use a cloud synchronized 2-factor authentication solution, you may want to delete that (Authy) and reinstall it after you enter the country.
  6. If you can, leave the device at home. If you have a work phone, bring it with you but leave your personal back home.  Instead of bringing a tablet, try to load your content on the smartphone.
  7. If you can, travel with the least complex device possible (chromebook instead of a laptop or tablet instead of a laptop)
  8. Ensure device encryption is turned on.
  9. Turn off your devices before crossing the border.
  10. Switch the unlock mechanism from fingerprint to password based.

At the border

Never lie to a border agent. Never! Ever! Ever!

Any foreigner that refuses to comply with a border agent request (any border not just the USA) will likely be turned away and sent back to their home country. In extreme cases, you can even be bared from entering that country again.

This means that you are "forced" to comply with any request made by the border agent. If asked for your device password, you can provide it and cooperate or defy them. If you defy the request, they will likely take the device and send it for investigation while denying you entry (maybe even keeping you for secondary questioning). Either way, once you "lose control" of your device, you should assume it has been permanently hacked and that a clean re-install will not make it trustworthy again.

They may also ask you for your social media login information. Even if you do not have the app installed on your devices, they know you have an account and can ask for the credentials. Never lie. Refusing to cooperate can cause you to be detained for additional questioning and given an entry ban.

What should I do while crossing the border?

  1. Always be polite and respectful. Remember the agent is doing his/her job.
  2. Never lie. Always be truthful. 
  3. If asked to hand over a device or password, I would do it without putting up a fight. Once you are at the border, you have decided you are engaged and have to cooperate. 

After crossing the border

If your work device was accessed at the border, notify your company information security group immediately. 

If your personal device was accessed, you have to think long and hard about what you want to do. Know that there may be a permanent (un-removable) backdoor or tracker installed on the device. In some cases even a complete factory reset won't remove it. What do you want to do? In the security space, we recommend throwing the device away and buying a new one but this is a personal decision especially with a $1000 smartphone, tablet or laptop.

Also if they accessed your device or asked for your social media login information (username/password), assume they downloaded you social graph (all of your contact info and the contact info of your contacts). I would change all my social media passwords and double check my account information (email address, recovery phrases, telephone numbers, etc). Also notify your network that you lost control of your social media account and to be extra vigilant with requests and the information being shared with you. 

Other recommendations

If you travel to the US regularly, think about applying for a Nexus card (if you are a Canadian). Having a Nexus card means you have been deeply vetted and all of your fingerprints are on file. My experience has been that the Nexus has made crossing into the USA much easier. 

If you are a tech neophyte, take the time to read up on device security and security best practices. The truth is you are solely responsible for your privacy and security.

Infinite USB cables promise to add USB connectivity to your devices

technologyEdward KiledjianComment

Regardless of how many USB ports your devices seem to have, you are always short a couple of ports. Now the creators of the Infinite USB cable believe they have solved the problem once and for all. 

The promise is that you can keep connecting their nesting USB cables (plugging one cable into another cable over and over). The idea sounds incredible at first but... Remember that most USB ports have limited power which means you will quickly make become unable to power the USB devices you are plugging into them. This means that you wouldn't be able to keep chaining cables to your hearts content. At most you would be able to plug 2 maybe 3 of them (if you are lucky).

$12 get's you a MicroUSB while $14 get's you an Apple Lightning cable. There is a USB Type C cable in the works which may be the best option.

See it on Kickstarter (link)

How to get 50% more run time on your laptop

technologyEdward KiledjianComment
Intel's Architecture Group VP Rani Borkar is making some bold claims about the upcoming Haswell chipset: that it will allow laptops to deliver 50% more power out of existing batteries. 50% more runtime is an incredible claim and if true, may single-handedly drive increased laptop sales as customers jump to upgrade.
He attributes the miserly battery usage to lower power requirements and better power management. I have to test a Haswell device before I can believe such a grandiose claim but it is music to my ears. 
In other words, wait a couple of weeks before you buy that new laptop.
Computerworld article here.

D-Link PowerLine AV+ Mini Adapter Starter Kit (DHP-309AV) Review

technologyEdward KiledjianComment

WIFI Convenient but slow

WIFI is a wonderful thing and makes our lives that much easier. Even with the latest and greatest technologies, WIFI is often slow and unreliable compared to a wired network. Interesting real world tests conducted by Epitiro show that a WIFI connection is on average 30 percent slower than a wired one.

You're not going to wire your iphone, Android or ipad and browsing the web on WIFI works well enough but the minute you start playing games, streaming video, using HD video chatting or other service that requires low latency high bandwidth connectivity, you'll feel the pain of WIFI.

Start passing the wires

If your lucky enough to build your new house, you may be able to wire every room with nice and reliable Category 6 cable. You can then route all the cables to one central location and interconnect everything with a gigabit switch.

But most of us won't be building a new home anytime soon and making holes in perfectly good walls and floors is out of the question.

Enter Powerline adapters

Powerline adapters are small little devices that plug into your electrical outlets and use your house's existing electrical wiring to transmit data. Powerline networks aren't as fast as a direct wired Ethernet network but they are the next best thing. There are various models currently available but you should expect between 200Mbps up to 500Mbps networking performance.

Even the slowest name brand powerline adapter will provide enough bandwidth to play games, transfer large files and stream high quality video. It will provide wireless coverage anywhere you have a power plug and in most cases will be much faster (and more reliable) than your WIFI setup.

Dlink PowerLine AV+ Mini Adapter Starter Kit (DHP-309AV)

Looking a the box, I thought the adapters would be huge but I was oh so wrong. These adapters are small and light. Installation couldn't have been easier. I plugged both adapters into separate power outlets, I then pressed the little button on the bottom of the first adapter, I then pressed the button on the bottom of the second adapter and within 2 minutes I had setup a secure network connection between these 2 adapters.

It's important to note that these adapters should be plugged directly into the wall without a power adapter, no extension cords or other line conditioner. It is also recommended that you not plug these next to a power hungry appliance. Otherwise you shouldn't experience any issues.

Click on the image to see the full size one in a new window.

My test

At first I was going to test it for a couple of days and write my review but I had such a wonderful experience, I decided to do a longer 3 week test instead.

My internet connection at home is fiber to the house with 16Mmbps down and 8Mbps up. When plugged into the main router, my speed is always constant with only 8ms latency and I always hit the advertised speed.

I conducted WIFI tests with an Engius, Linksys, Apple Airport Extreme and the WIFI built into my fiber router. All wireless routers were configured into a forced 801.11n mode and I chose a channel with very little interference. Most devices were MIMO with multiple antennas.

My test devices were a laptop, desktop with gigabit Ethernet adapter, iphone 4, iphone 4s and an ipad. I tested my internet speed on each of these devices using all of the Wireless routers (only 1 router was online at a time so as not to create interference). My first tests were conducted in the same room, then I move one floor up/down and the last test was from the basement.

The best performance was when I was in the same room as the router and I was very close to wired performance. The next test from 1 floor up/down showed good degradation and my speeds were almost half or worse. The last test from the basement was the worst with speeds less than a quarter of wired.

I then placed one of the powerline adapters next to the router and went to the furthest point in the house (based on location and wiring layout). I then plugged my laptop and desktop (separately) and conducted my tests. I started with a speedtest. Then I tested transferring large (2-20GB files). I also played latency sensitive internet using games. My last test was streaming an mkv super high quality video file from my server to a set top box. Everything worked flawlessly and everything was super speedy. The powerline setup added a 15% latency (negligible). Tests to and from the internet delivered the full capacity of my internet connection. Transfers from my laptop to my desktop where happening at speeds of between 120Mbps to 178Mbps (these adapters have been designed for 200Mbps).

As for latency, WIFI game me 30-100ms of latency whereas the powerline adapters were 12-15 ms (with a wired connection into the router I get 8ms)

I lent these to a friend who connected his Xbox 360 to the internet and everything worked perfectly. No lag or slowdowns. No degradation. It just worked.

Comparing to others

I compared the performance of the Dlink to other 200Mbps rated powerline adapters from Tenda, TP Link and Trendnet. Dlink seemed to outperform its competitors by 8-17%. Dlink really shined when I started streaming HD video. Some of the others caused the stream to buffer whereas the stream powered by DLink was consistently fast and smooth.

Considering the others are sold at almost the same price, Dlink seems to be the better investment.

Purchasing them

Doing a quick internet search, Americans can pick these up from Amazon for about $49. Canadians can scoop up a pair from FutureShop for $69.