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SPH Magazines yesterday confirmed their popular community discussion platform HardwareZone Forum (HWZ Forum) suffered a security breach that resulted in the leakage of 685,000 registered user profiles. Here’s what you need to know and what you need to do.

The security breach apparently happened as far back as September 2017, before it was first noticed a few days ago on 18 February 2018. The breach was confirmed two days later on 20 February 2018.

While SPH Magazines’ official statement revealed only that user profile data, which includes name, email address, user ID, and a dozen over other data fields, were leaked, there are some suggestions that fundamentally the server database has been leaked.

The good news, according to the statement, is that there are no NRIC numbers, telephone numbers and addresses, as these data were purged in line with the Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC) guidelines in July 2015.

It is not clear if passwords were stolen, but given the likelihood that the server database was breached, it is safe to assume that passwords in some form or other has been stolen. SPH Magazines’ statement advised all members to immediately change their forum account password. Apart from that statement, it does not appear that any specific attempt has been made to reach any of the forum members.

An important issue now is to understand how passwords are stored in the HWZ Forum system, and at what level the system was breached.

A casual search on the Internet reveals that vBulletin, the software used by HWZ Forum, stores passwords in a MD5 hash format. Weaknesses in MD5 were found as far back as 1996, and in 2005, MD5’s designer Ron Rivest himself wrote that MD5 (along with SHA1) is clearly broken. The best case scenario that the HWZ Forum’s unidentified attacker made away with MD5 password hashes from the vBulletin database is already bad enough.

The worst case scenario is that the attacker may have other system accesses that allows the collection of plaintext passwords. If you have an account on HWZ Forum, it is possible that your password is known.

If you use that password on any other systems, or a variation of that password on any other systems, your accounts in those other systems are at risk of compromise.

Although SPH Magazines only advises you to change your password on your forum account, I suggest that more importantly, you should change your password on every other system where you may have used the same password or a variant of that password. Your HWZ Forum account itself may not be extremely valuable, but it is possible that you may have a more valuable account somewhere else. For example, make sure that you don’t use the same, similar, or derivation of the password for your banking account, SingPass, or other high-value account.

The breach of HWZ Forum is of particular interest, because it was one of those hypothetical scenarios I had previously talked about. I write and speak about IT security from time to time, and many years ago, when the topic of watering hole attacks became a talking point, I used HWZ Forum as an example in Singapore. The idea is that if an attacker wanted to breach your organisation, he doesn’t necessarily need to directly attack your organisation’s IT systems. Instead, the attacker watches where people in your organisation “hang out” online outside of your own organisation’s IT systems, and attacks those websites instead.

In Singapore, HWZ Forum is an excellent watering hole. Many tech-savvy Singapore users would likely have an account in HWZ Forum. If an attacker had an interest to, say, infiltrate Mindef’s IT system, would it not be easier to breach HWZ Forum in the hope of finding an account that would also work in Mindef’s IT system? (I know Mindef and the Singapore government cut their internal networks from the Internet, which inconveniences the attacker, not necessarily prevents the attack.)

IT systems of HWZ Forum might not be considered high-value per se, and hence may not be very well protected. A potential attacker, of course, will see this very differently. A platform like HWZ Forum can be a trove of valuable account information.

This brings me to the topic of password uniqueness, and the importance thereof that you should really use different passwords on every website or online system. Some users expect sites like HWZ Forum to be better managed, not like a fly-by-night type of outfit. That’s really besides the point. Nowadays, we don’t talk about security breaches being an if, but a when. You should prepare that your accounts will be hacked, and your passwords will be leaked. Attackers are going to see your actual passwords.

Hence, password uniqueness goes far beyond just being different, but being truly unique. In the best case, your passwords are just random gibberish, every one different for every website. In practice, many users are going to devise some derivation algorithms to remember passwords to use on each website. If you do this, then you must make sure that your derivation algorithms are so obscure that a potential attacker, having known your password at one website, is not going to guess your password at a different website.

For example, if you simply append the website name to your password, then an attacker having learnt that your password at HWZ Forum is mysecretpassHWZ can reasonably guess that your DBS banking account password might be mysecretpassDBS.

I strongly recommend using password managers to help with remembering unique passwords for each and every website. Of course, this in part implies that your password manager becomes the single-point-of-failure. That’s true. But I’d argue that this is something you have more control over, than how all the numerous websites handle your passwords. You could still choose multiple password vaults, or use different password manager, or committing the highest-value account passwords to memory, so you don’t have all your eggs in one basket.

HWZ Forum’s breach of 685,000 accounts means something like over one in ten of us in Singapore are affected. It’s the largest breach to date in Singapore. If you haven’t thought much about your password security, you should start now.

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KEF, in partnership with Porsche Design, launched a trio of audio products last year: Gravity One, Space One and Motion One. This post is a review of the Gravity One Bluetooth portable speaker, and I’ll have a review of the Motion One Bluetooth earphones in a later post.

You’re perhaps not familiar with KEF, and maybe Porsche Design too. The latter is the lifestyle arm of that German sports car company. KEF, on the other hand, is a British-based hi-fi speaker company, renowned for their very premium speakers. Very premium indeed, considering their flagship Muon speakers which cost some US$200,000 a pair.

Fortunately, the Gravity One, as well as the Space One and Motion One, are priced far more down to earth, but still well-placed in the premium category. I think the Gravity One is a hard sell, but then again, I’m sure it will appeal to certain sophisticated customers.

The Gravity One screams premium. From the moment you open it’s packaging, you’ll probably see rightaway why it costs more than your usual Bluetooth portable speaker.

A single piece of seamless gun metal gray aluminium wraps around the sides of the Gravity One body. It looks reminiscent of an Apple-designed product. In fact, the Gravity One will look good alongside a MacBook Pro, or even an iMac.

The Gravity One is surprisingly heavy for its size, weighing in at 780 grams. Measuring 56 x 215 x 63 mm (H x W x D) in size, the Gravity One isn’t very compact, though comparable to other good-sounding portable Bluetooth speakers.

The speaker grills are on the top of the Gravity One, concealing the upward firing Uni-Q drivers beneath which emanate music omni-directionally. There is a panel of buttons positioned in the centre. There are a total of six buttons: power, Bluetooth, mute, volume up, call/play/pause, and volume down. There are LED status indicators beside the first three of those buttons. A built-in microphone lets you use the Gravity One for phone calls.

The body has a sort of an overhang design, supported in the centre, and both the left and right sides raised off the surface that the Gravity One sits on. Twin bass radiator ports make clever use of this overhang design, and all the cable ports are tucked under one side of the overhang.

There’s one 3.5 mm auxiliary input port, one Micro-USB port used for charging the Gravity One, and a USB Type-A port which you might use for charging your smartphone off the Gravity One. The space for the ports is a tight squeeze though, so you might need to be picky about what sort of cables you plug into the Gravity One. Those supplied with the Gravy One, of course, work perfectly.

The Gravity One supports Bluetooth 4.0 with aptX codec, and has a range of up to 10 metres. It can pair with up to 8 devices, and connect to up to two devices simultaneously. The built-in lithium-ion battery is rated for up to 10 hours of listening.

There is no doubt that the Gravity One looks really good, but of course it’s equally important to sound good. This is a speaker from KEF, after all, and you’d expect nothing less than excellent listening experience. I think the Gravity One largely fulfils those expectations. It’s one of the best sounding Bluetooth speaker in its size category.

KEF’s Gravity One marketing speaks of tight clean bass. That is correct. The bass is tight, and it is clean, though it doesn’t reach deep. It is not something you so much feel, as you hear. As much as KEF tries to achieve with their bass radiators, a speaker of the Gravity One’s size can only do so much. It is a good effort though.

The mids and highs come across clear and detailed, with an overall presentation that is well-balanced across all frequencies.

The Gravity One is mostly an excellent Bluetooth speaker in every way. However, it’s value proposition will be a tough sell. You can find numerous other Bluetooth speakers with similar features and audio quality for significantly less than what KEF is asking for the Gravity One. But if good looks and build quality are very important factors to you, the Gravity One may be worth your consideration.

In the box, the Gravity One comes with a USB charger, a variety of interchangeable plug heads, a braided Micro-USB cable, and a carrying pouch.

The KEF Porsche Design Gravity One retails for S$599.

Conclusion

The Gravity One Bluetooth speaker from KEF, in partnership with Porsche Design, not only sounds great, but also has looks and build quality to match.

Pros:

  • Stylish design
  • Excellent build quality
  • Excellent sound quality

Cons:

  • Ports are a tight squeeze
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If you’re looking for a full-HD 180-degrees field-of-view IP security camera to use outdoors, you probably don’t have many options right now. D-Link’s latest DCS-2670L security camera does just that, and it may perhaps be the only affordable consumer product you can use at home right now.

The DCS-2670L has an IP65-rated weatherproof housing, with weather-resistant connecting cables for power and wired Ethernet. This camera is definitely rain-proof, and although the plastic housing looks durable for indoor use, I’ll probably not have it exposed to direct sunlight when installed outdoors.

The Ethernet wired connection is optional, since the DCS-2670L is Wi-Fi-enabled, with 802.11b/h/n and WPA/WPA2 support. There’s no 802.11ac though. which it’s apparently indoor-equivalent, the DCS-2630L, supports.

A mounting bracket is provided for ceiling or wall installation. You can tilt vertically and rotate horizontally the DCS-2670L to make sure you get the right view. This is a fixed camera, so there is no auto-panning, but given the 180-degrees field-of-view, you might not need panning.

The DCS-2670L works at night with four built-in infrared LED illuminators hidden behind the black bezel around the camera lens. The infrared illumination is good for up to 10 metres. The camera itself works well in low-light, down to 0.5 lux in colour mode, and 0.1 lux in black/white mode, and only needing the infrared illumination under 0.1 lux.

The camera has a 1/2.7-inch 2-megapixel progressive CMOS sensor, and a f/2.0 aperture lens with a minimum focal distance of 30 cm. You get full-HD 1920×1080 resolution video in 16:9 format image, with 180-degrees horizontal field-of-view and 90-degrees vertical field-of-view. I found the video quality to be pretty good, though there’s noticeable smoothing out of details. Low-light and night-mode (with infrared illumination) works very well.

The DCS-2670L has a built-in microphone so you can listen in on audio at the remote end, wide dynamic range support, configurable motion detection windows, and basically most of the features you’d expect of IP security cameras.

There are a number of recording modes you can configure, including scheduled recording and motion/sound-triggered recording. Recorded video can be stored on a local micro-SD card, or emailed out. If you’re familiar with other D-Link IP security cameras, these features are mostly the same.

Like other D-Link IP security cameras, the DCS-2670L supports the mydlink-Lite mobile app which is on both Android and iOS platforms. You can use this app to setup and manage your D-Link IP security cameras, as well as to access live view and saved video recordings. In principle, the app should be very easy and convenient to use, but like others, I’ve found the software to be rather buggy. Setting up is a pain, and remote access to the camera is often slow.

As an alternative to the mobile app, you can also access your D-Link IP security cameras, as well as other D-Link smart home products, via the mydlink web portal. It’s not better than the mobile app though.

In the box, the DCS-2670L comes with a wall mounting bracket and screws, power adapter, and an Ethernet cable.

The D-Link DCS-2670L retails at S$289.

Conclusion

D-Link’s latest DCS-2670L IP security camera provides excellent full-HD 180-degrees field-of view in outdoor environment.

Pros:

  • Good 180-degrees field-of-view full-HD video
  • Weatherproof housing

Cons:

  • Poor mobile app experience
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It’s the Lunar New Year tomorrow, and I suppose this blog, metaphorically, could do with some spring cleaning. I had really wanted to do a visual overhaul, but unfortunately, I only found time to do some simple clean-up.

The clean-up is mostly under-the-hood stuff, fixing some CSS bugs, trimming off needless code, and tweaking some visual appearances. Perhaps the most major thing has got to do with fonts.

Fonts are a big thing to me. I wrote about fonts a few times, the most recent in 2016 when I switched to Fira Sans Light and Merriweather, for the header and body font respectivevly. I later changed to Raleway and Fira Sans Light.

In the last year, I see significant blog readership from mobile devices. In fact, I find myself reading a lot from my smartphone too. This leads me to think about optimising the reading experience for mobile users. It’s one thing to design for desktop while also looking good on mobile, but it’s another level up to truly optimise for both platforms. That’s not as easy as just slapping on a responsive UI design. This is difficult for me since I’m not a designer. I run infrastructure, I write code, design is quite a different league.

Anyhow, I decided to just focus on a font refresh this time around, and I mbarked on a font search. Something with a modern flavour, something that says tech. I happened to chance upon the very excellent Glegoo font, which I experimented as a body font, loved it tremendously, but had trouble finding a header font that would pair with it. Glegoo’s large x-height and large counters make for very easy reading, but the slab-serif style and delicate strokes work better in headers than in body text. Ultimately, if I wanted Glegoo, it would be better to use it as a header, and find something else to use in body text.

After much exploration, though mostly limiting myself to those fonts available from Google Fonts, I finally selected Oxygen. This font was originally designed for use with the KDE desktop, so it might perhaps look familiar to some people. It’s a sans-serif style font having good x-height and large counters. It renders very well on screens.

Both Glegoo and Oxygen meet all my requirements:

  • The letters ‘I’ (capital-eye), ‘l’ (small-ell), and ‘1’ (number 1) must be easily distinguishable from each other. This is clearly the case with Oxygen. Glegoo’s ‘I’ and ‘l’ have admittedly similar glyphs, though it’s not difficult to see that they are different. I figured this is lesser of a problem in a headline, and in larger sizes.
  • The fonts are easy to read, having large x-height and large counters.
  • The fonts look normal, and serve the purpose of rendering text to be read. Glegoo and Oxygen are not fancy looking, and won’t call attention to themselves, rather than the content that people want to read.

For future reference, here’s how the webpage looks (at non-retina resolution).

I fuss a lot about fonts. To me, they serve an important role to complement content, to facilitate and encourage content consumption (i.e. to read). Sometimes, you don’t read not because the content is uninteresting, but because the delivery of that content makes it unappealing to read.

Trying out new fonts will require at least some simple mock up so that you can see how things look. You need to see how two different fonts will work with each other, and particularly at the sizes that you will use them. There’s one important tool that I’ve been using: Typecast Public Demo. This is a web-based tool for designing with web fonts, and allowing you to add content, customise styles, and otherwise create a mock up that can meaningfully represent how it would look with your actual website.

A recent message on Typecast’s website reads: we are no longer providing support for Typecast. I’m not sure exactly what that means, and there doesn’t seem to be a link providing more information. I hope the tool above continues to be around.

There are two more tools that come in very useful to help browse font pairings. The two are related actually: OurOwnThing’s Font Pairing, and archetype. These are good places to start if you’ve no idea what fonts you might fancy, because they provide you with a quick way to try them out and see how they’ll look with some simple content.

I’m pleased to present the new font pairing at ZitSeng.com to welcome the new Lunar New Year. To all those who celebrate Lunar New Year, here’s wishing you a happy and prosperous new year ahead. For all others, you have a happy and prosperous year ahead too. There’s also the long weekend to enjoy!

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It’s the Lunar New Year tomorrow, and I suppose this blog, metaphorically, could do with some spring cleaning. I had really wanted to do a visual overhaul, but unfortunately, I only found time to do some simple clean-up.

The clean-up is mostly under-the-hood stuff, fixing some CSS bugs, trimming off needless code, and tweaking some visual appearances. Perhaps the most major thing has got to do with fonts.

Fonts are a big thing to me. I wrote about fonts a few times, the most recent in 2016 when I switched to Fira Sans Light and Merriweather, for the header and body font respectivevly. I later changed to Raleway and Fira Sans Light.

In the last year, I see significant blog readership from mobile devices. In fact, I find myself reading a lot from my smartphone too. This leads me to think about optimising the reading experience for mobile users. It’s one thing to design for desktop while also looking good on mobile, but it’s another level up to truly optimise for both platforms. That’s not as easy as just slapping on a responsive UI design. This is difficult for me since I’m not a designer. I run infrastructure, I write code, design is quite a different league.

Anyhow, I decided to just focus on a font refresh this time around, and I mbarked on a font search. Something with a modern flavour, something that says tech. I happened to chance upon the very excellent Glegoo font, which I experimented as a body font, loved it tremendously, but had trouble finding a header font that would pair with it. Glegoo’s large x-height and large counters make for very easy reading, but the slab-serif style and delicate strokes work better in headers than in body text. Ultimately, if I wanted Glegoo, it would be better to use it as a header, and find something else to use in body text.

After much exploration, though mostly limiting myself to those fonts available from Google Fonts, I finally selected Oxygen. This font was originally designed for use with the KDE desktop, so it might perhaps look familiar to some people. It’s a sans-serif style font having good x-height and large counters. It renders very well on screens.

Both Glegoo and Oxygen meet all my requirements:

  • The letters ‘I’ (capital-eye), ‘l’ (small-ell), and ‘1’ (number 1) must be easily distinguishable from each other. This is clearly the case with Oxygen. Glegoo’s ‘I’ and ‘l’ have admittedly similar glyphs, though it’s not difficult to see that they are different. I figured this is lesser of a problem in a headline, and in larger sizes.
  • The fonts are easy to read, having large x-height and large counters.
  • The fonts look normal, and serve the purpose of rendering text to be read. Glegoo and Oxygen are not fancy looking, and won’t call attention to themselves, rather than the content that people want to read.

I fuss a lot about fonts. To me, they serve an important role to complement content, to facilitate and encourage content consumption (i.e. to read). Sometimes, you don’t read not because the content is uninteresting, but because the delivery of that content makes it unappealing to read.

Trying out new fonts will require at least some simple mock up so that you can see how things look. You need to see how two different fonts will work with each other, and particularly at the sizes that you will use them. There’s one important tool that I’ve been using: Typecast Public Demo. This is a web-based tool for designing with web fonts, and allowing you to add content, customise styles, and otherwise create a mock up that can meaningfully represent how it would look with your actual website.

A recent message on Typecast’s website reads: we are no longer providing support for Typecast. I’m not sure exactly what that means, and there doesn’t seem to be a link providing more information. I hope the tool above continues to be around.

There are two more tools that come in very useful to help browse font pairings. The two are related actually: OurOwnThing’s Font Pairing, and archetype. These are good places to start if you’ve no idea what fonts you might fancy, because they provide you with a quick way to try them out and see how they’ll look with some simple content.

I’m pleased to present the new font pairing at ZitSeng.com to welcome the new Lunar New Year. To all those who celebrate Lunar New Year, here’s wishing you a happy and prosperous new year ahead. For all others, you have a happy and prosperous year ahead too. There’s also the long weekend to enjoy!

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When Chrome 68 arrives, expected around July 2018, websites that don’t use HTTPS will be branded “Not secure”. This label will appear in the address bar, in place of where you’d see the padlock and “Secure” labelling for websites that use HTTPS properly.

The dominance of Google’s Chrome browser has enabled the company to push for better standards on the Internet, such as in this case to increase security through encrypted communications between browser and server.

Already from beginning 2017, websites that ask for passwords over unencrypted HTTP connections are highlighted with a red strike across a padlock, to warn users that the website is not secure. Prior to that, Google used HTTPS as a ranking signal in search results to encourage websites to convert to HTTPS.

With services like Let’s Encrypt around since April 2016, a service that provides free TLS (or what is commonly referred to as SSL) certificates to any website, there’s little reason why any website should not adopt HTTPS. Cost is not an issue anymore, even if the meagre US$10 or so per year had been an issue in the past.

For security, adopting HTTPS is now just only the beginning. There are so many more things that one can do. Not all TLS certificates are equal. We’re past the deprecation of SHA1 certificates, but there are other developments worth investigating. One example is the use of ECDSA-based TLS certificates, a switch which I had made in early 2016.

DNSSEC is also another component in the Internet security puzzle. This could be something trivially easy to do at some DNS hosting providers, where you could simply tick a checkbox to have DNSSEC provisioned for your domain.

Security matters everywhere. Even if your website doesn’t handle any sort of personal, financial,  or other information where confidentiality or privacy may be a concern, you should still move to HTTPS. Otherwise the “Not secure” labelling by Chrome will make your website look bad.

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Specialist British audio company RHA announced the availability of two new Bluetooth in-ear headphones in Singapore last month: the MA650 Wireless and MA750 Wireless. These had joined RHA’s acclaimed product range in Summer 2017, and these are their first Bluetooth wireless products. I have the higher-end MA750 Wireless for this review.

RHA’s commitment to design, build quality and audio excellence is immediately apparent, at least in the looks department, the moment you open up the box. The 303F stainless steel earpiece looks exquisite.

The MA750 Wireless is a neckband-style in-ear style headphone, a style that’s getting quite common and one that I’m quite fond of. With neckbands, the weight of the headphone mostly rests on the neck, leaving the earpieces light and without cable weight pulling down on it.

The neckband is uniformly weighted, and covered in smooth comfortable rubber finish. It feels good and won’t slip around easily around the neck.

The right-side end of the neckband incorporates the power/pairing button, as well as a modern USB Type-C (USB-C) port for charging the headphone. The NFC logo on the left-side end shows where you should place your smartphone for NFC pairing.

The slim inline remote is positioned on the right-side cable The three buttons are covered with rubber. The centre button is thankfully recessed, otherwise it’ll be quite hard to distinguish between them the three buttons. Long-pressing on the centre button launches your smartphone’s voice assistant. The inline remote also includes a microphone, so you can take calls with the MA750 Wireless.

The premium-look earpieces look really good. The cables are curved and designed to hook over your ears. The earpieces are also magnetised, so they stick together when you hang them down your neck.

The earpieces incorporate handmade model 560.1 dynamic drivers, which are engineered to deliver an accurate and clear listening experience. Its Aerophonic housings channel sound into the ears without distortion. It should sound very good, and I’ll come to that in a bit.

The MA750 Wireless comes with a generous number of ear tips, though some of them are just extras in the same size: 4 pairs of silicon tips (one pair already fitted in the earpieces), 2 pairs of double-flange silicon tips, and 2 pairs of comply form tips. I love comply foams, but oddly the only two pairs provided by RHA are of identical size.

Sound isolation is good once you use the right-sized ear tips to fit your ears.

There are a few more notable features of the MA750 Wireless. Its batteries are rated for a good 12 hours of listening. It is splash and sweat-proof to IPX4 rating. You also get aptX and AAC compatible Bluetooth streaming from this headphone. There’s no ambient sound mode, active noise cancellation, or other more advanced features.

Considering that RHA positions themselves for the audiophile community, I am tempted to hold it up to those higher expectations. To that end, I think the sound quality from the MA750 Wireless can be considered somewhat middling. But if you consider its price point, and come to it with the ears of a casual listener, I think the MA750 Wireless is quite good.

Music from the MA750 Wireless on the whole is well-balanced and immersive. The bass presence is definitely evident. However, it doesn’t stand out, and often comes across as lacking energy and enthusiasm.

The mids and highs do a lot better sounding forward, lively and energetic. It’s markedly more engaging, and they do reasonably well with clarity and detail.

Included in the MA750 Wireless packaging is a USB-C charging cable, carrying pouch, and a variety of ear tips.

The RHA MA750 Wireless carries a suggested retail price of S$289, and is available from AV One, Analogue+, Connext, Cumulus Nimbus, Elush, Stereo, Treoo, Xgear, 1st mobile and headphones.sg.

Conclusion

The RHA MA750 Wireless in-ear headphones are very good, especially the excellent build quality and comfort, and has matching audio quality that will satisfy most casual listeners.

Pros:

  • Excellent build quality
  • Comfortable neckband
  • Reliable Bluetooth connection

Cons:

  • Had higher expectations in audio quality
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When it comes to sports headphones, I always think they have to be in-ear style or earbud style. On-ear or over-ear style headphones that go over your head, they’ll be too clunky right? Then what about getting wet? I’m surprised that Plantronics’ new BackBeat FIT 505 works quite well, for gym and even for running.

The BackBeat FIT 505 was launched last December alongside the BackBeat FIT 305 in-ear style Bluetooth headphone which I had reviewed earlier. The BackBeat FIT 505 supports both Bluetooth wireless connection and conventional 3.5 mm wired audio connection.

Plantronics’ BackBeat range of headphones have been quite popular, and it looks like this BackBeat FIT 505 will prove to be quite interesting, particularly given its price point and how it will serve for sporting use.

When you first look at the BackBeat FIT 505, the dash of sporty style on the headband will be immediately apparent. But apart from that, the BackBeat FIT 505 looks like a regular, more serious type, headphone.

The ear cups can be extended out from the headband to suit you. They also articulate so the whole headphone can lay flat for easy storage and transport. The soft, breathable, cushion on the underside of the headband is very comfortable. The soft cushioned paddings on the ear cups feels good and comfortable.

The BackBeat FIT 505 is by no means clunky for an on-ear style headphone, but I was doubtful about how it would work for sports. It turns out that the headphones stay comfortably and quite securely on my head. It doesn’t grip too tightly, yet at the same time, it won’t fall out easily, at least not for running and typical gym workouts.

Perspiration isn’t an issue. The BackBeat FIT 505 is coated with P2i military-grade nano-coating, which should provide protection from sweat, rain, and spills.

There are a plenty of controls on the BackBeat FIT 505. On the right ear cup, you’ll find two buttons, one for power and Bluetooth pairing, and the other for call control. The call button when long-pressed invokes the mobile device’s voice assistant.

The left ear cup has a volume rocker, Micro-USB charging port, and 3.5 mm audio jack. On its side, there’s also the playback control buttons.

The BackBeat FIT 505 supports multipoint Bluetooth, so you can connect up to two Bluetooth mobile devices simultaneously. This is very convenient if you want to, say, listen to music from one device and still be able to take calls on another device.

Even as we move toward Bluetooth wireless connections, I like the idea of a fallback wired connection. If the BackBeat FIT 505 runs out of battery, you can still listen to music using the 3.5 mm wired connection.

The BackBeat FIT 505’s battery is rated for a generous 18 hours of operation.

The sound quality from the BackBeat FIT 505 is surprisingly good, particularly considering its price point. I also tend to not expect too much from sports headphones because music quality tends to be less important when you’re engaged with your fitness activities. On the BackBeat FIT 505, music is clear and detailed throughout the range. Bass comes across deep and rich, but not overpowering. Overall, the BackBeat FIT 505 sounds good enough to use for casual music listening anywhere, not just while running or doing your gym workout.

Apart from the Micro-USB charging cable and 3.5 mm audio cable, the BackBeat FIT 505 also comes with a nice fabric carrying pouch.

The Plantronics BackBeat FIT 505 is available at S$169 from Challenger, Sprint-Cass, Newstead, Nubox, Harvey Norman, Courts, Best Denki, EpiCentre, Stereo, Mustafa Centre, iStudio, Inforcom, Parisilk, Gain City, Connect IT, Xgear, Popular, 1stMobile, and Analogue+. There is also a non-sweat proof version available at S$139.

Conclusion

The Plantronics BackBeat FIT 505 delivers excellent music at a very affordable price point, and despite being an on-ear style headphones, work well for gym and running.

Pros:

  • Excellent sound quality
  • Comfortable
  • Stays securely while running or working out

Cons:

  • Occasional Bluetooth connection dropouts
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A brave judge has described an MP’s appeal letter as “somewhat troubling” and “regrettably misleading”. *clap* *clap* *clap* I’ve often wondered, what’s the deal with these MP letters anyway, why do people ask MPs to write all sorts of letters, and why do MPs agree to write all those letters at all?

I can appreciate when residents require help writing letters because they are unable to do that themselves, or they don’t know how to do that themselves, or they need help with some bureaucratic issues that the MP is better positioned to navigate through. Or perhaps they need the weight of an MP’s voice to bring a relatively small, yet important, citizen matter to the right level within the government.

However, often times, we see educated persons approaching MPs for not-so-serious matters. Something simply didn’t work out the way they wanted, and they want their MPs to fix it for them. Seriously, are the MP letters supposed to work some magic? Do they carry more weight than an ordinary citizen?

I thought we lived in a meritocratic society. Yet, it’s not uncommon to hear stories of people who ask their MPs to write letters for all sorts of trivial matters, such as to waive fines. Why is it that the person himself, or herself, cannot get things done on their own, but require the backing of an MP to change the outcome?

There’s, of course, how things should be, and how things actually are. There are unwritten rules, or back-channels, that you don’t talk about.

However, I’m surprised, and disappointed, to read from the Straits Times (4 Feb 2018) a statement from Chan Chun Sing, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, in relation to this case:

MPs are generally advised to write to the Ministry of Law (MinLaw), which will then forward the letters of appeal – for example, when asking for leniency in sentencing – to the courts for their consideration

Does the appeal from the defendant not count? Would it help if the defendant’s lawyer wrote in to the Ministry of Law? I fail to understand why the Ministry of Law, much less the MP, should have an effect of how the courts handle the case.

In fact, in the same article, it was reported that MP Lam Pin Min had written a letter of appeal to the Traffic Police on behalf of the defendant for a reduction in charges. Is this a suggestion, here, that the Traffic Police would entertain the matter at all? Why should an appeal by the defendant herself be given less consideration?

I can completely understand MPs aiding a resident who does not know how to write letters, or does not know the appropriate channels for making the appeal themselves. I can understand when an important, well-respected, well-recognised, figure serves as a character witness to another person, possibly to establish some background facts surrounding a case for the consideration of the court. It doesn’t sound like any of these are the case in this instance.

I find it preposterous that PAP thinks their MPs do have a role writing appeals for their constituents, including to appeal directly to the courts in “urgent cases”. Or that they could appeal to the Attorney-General’s Chambers not to pursue charges.

As a matter of curiosity, would an appeal letter from an opposition-party MP be considered differently?

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I’ve been a long-time Mac user. I’ve used them as my primary computer ever since the PowerBook G4 era. That’s even before the Mac even used Intel processors. Yet, I don’t consider myself fanatical about Macs. In fact, I’ve had, more than once, considered options to switch away from Mac. To Windows, or in recent years. even ChromeOS.

ChromeOS, unfortunately, still isn’t quite good enough yet. If all you ever need a computer for is to surf the web, then ChromeOS probably works great for you. I look at how I use my computer, and I think ChromeOS won’t work for me. Maybe I could change the way I work. But for now, I’d rather my computer fit the way I work, rather than I fit my work to what the computer can do.

Windows, on the other hand, has become an extremely promising option. I mean, we’re no longer living in the Windows 3.1 era, the time I chose to go with OS/2. We’re past the age of Windows XP or Windows Vista. Not even Windows 8.

It’s Windows 10 now. Windows 10 is actually different. It’s still Windows, but it’s Windows in a better way than ever before. I still don’t use Windows enough to consider myself familiar with Windows, but all the Windows I use through reviewing the many notebooks and 2-in-1 devices on this blog has given me some appreciation of all the new things that Windows 10 is doing today. Microsoft has done really awesome things with Windows 10. Too bad it didn’t happen 10 years earlier.

I’ve actually made conscious effort, even while using my Mac, to accommodate the possibility of switching to Windows some day. For example, when Apple announced the demise of Aperture, I didn’t go with Apple’s recommendation to use Photos. Instead, I migrated to Adobe Lightroom. I made sure Apple cannot screw me again over my photos.

Macs are renowned for costing more than Wintel equivalents. There are many good reasons for that, but at some point, I’d wonder if the price premium makes sense. At one time, Apple makes the best, the most beautiful, hardware. Apple hardware was always about form and function. PC makers had mostly been about cheap and what works just enough.

Times have changed. Apple may have led with way with the MacBook Air. That unveiling by Steve Jobs is something that continues to impress me. But by 2017, there are many other Wintel choices that are pretty good. In fact, several are good enough that I wished Apple had made them, and there would be macOS in there, so that my choices would be so much simpler. Right now, I can only say the MacBook Pro is the best hardware among conventional notebooks, ones that do not have touchscreens or styluses.

There are also other pressures, like at work, where the prevalence and over-dependence on Windows ecosystem makes it difficult to use alternatives like the Mac. It’s not a serious issue, but you know, yet another consideration that makes me wonder if I should just switch.

What do I do on my Mac? Most of my web surfing is on Chrome. I use Microsoft Office. I use Lightroom and Photoshop. Most things I do on my Mac can be done in Windows. Maybe I’d have some concern about email. Apple’s Mail app works wonderfully. I’m not sure if Windows 10’s Mail app would measure up. That’s something I would have to explore further. I think Outlook is too clunky, but perhaps, similarly, I’ve got to explore further.

As I think hard about that Mac-to-Windows possibility, I always end up at this point: a Unix environment. Ok, I know, there’s bash and there’s Ubuntu and there’s a new OpenSSH in Windows you can enable after a bunch of clicking here and there. But you know what, it’s just not the same thing.

I spend quite a fair bit of time in macOS’ bash shell. I do a lot of things in the command line. There are so many things I can do in a real Unix server that works about the same way in macOS. That experience in Windows 10 just doesn’t cut it. It doesn’t even come close. Nope, not at all.

It’s not just about wanting a virtual environment to get a Unix experience. That’s basically what Microsoft is doing with Windows 10. With the Mac, the entire macOS itself is Unix. I interact with my my native Mac files from the command line. Oh yes, of course I use the GUI as well, but I also use the command line. I don’t want Unix inside a virtual machine. I want the whole thing to be Unix.

So, I wonder, if this would be it: Can Microsoft please build Windows 10 a Unix-type environment? Or perhaps, would I just give up thinking about Unix. It’s not likely Windows 10 can be overhauled easily. Just look at Apple’s journey from Mac OS 9 to MacOS X (now just called macOS). But for me, having used Linux since before the kernel was even 1.0, to give up the Unix environment, would be hard too.

Some day, perhaps, we’ll meet somewhere in-between.

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