2013
03.15

Papua New Guinea Travelblogue

Which I shared only with friends for various reasons, now may be spread more widely…

 

http://869749699ee32e08242a8ef54719ee52.blogspot.com

2013
03.10

Verizon Wireless Botches The DST Change In Hawaii

March 10, 2013 6:30 AM (give or take)

“It seems awfully dark for 6:45″, I thought, when the alarm went off. But it had been raining and cloudy last night, so I took it in stride. I got up and answered the Cat’s call for breakfast, set the coffee maker into production, and told my wife it was time to get up.

It took me a few minutes to notice the clock in the living room, which said it was 5:48. Having just woken up, I was skeptical that anything was amiss. It must be me. I looked at my Verizon smart phone, which had served as the alarm that woke me. It said 6:48. I decided that since Hawaii does not observe daylight savings time, I needed to consult a dumb clock, one that had no notion of DST. The bedroom alarm clock said 5:48, the kitchen range and microwave and coffee maker said 5:48.

Maybe I messed with the time setting on my phone, I thought. When I looked, it was set to “Automatic – use network provided values”, and time zone “GMT-10:00, GMT-9:00″. I took it off automatic, and set the time to to match the other clocks, and the time zone to Hawaii/Aleutian. Then I clicked on automatic again. It went right back to DST and zone “GMT-10:00, GMT-9:00″. I am now annoyed that some Verizon engineer, who is probably fast asleep, has made this horrific mistake and left me without an hour of Sunday morning sleep. Or perhaps, even worse, some idiot in California, who clicked (or failed to unclick) the DST setting on a CDMA base station somewhere. Thankfully, my multiple CDMA-disciplined clocks on the UH network do not use time zones, and appear to be OK. (BTW: My wife’s T-Mobile phone says agrees with the coffee maker.)

 

2011
07.02

Droid X2: The First Fortnight

Droid Inside X2

I was lurking on a conference call about a month ago, when the strangest thing happened. A series of touch-tones began intruding on the call, making further conferencing impossible. Since I had destinated at work, I decided to hang up and head for my office.

By Sunday night, three days later, it had become apparent that the Old (Motorola Original) Black Droid just wasn’t what she used to be. There were enough “phantom” touches to render it useless, and after much fiddling, I declared it totaled, and decided to move on. (Soon after I ordered the new phone, a colleague clued me in that the Droid’s apparent touch-screen failure was actually a screen-protector problem, so Old Droid’s fine now.)

I really, really wanted a physical keyboard, but I was also aware that I wanted to reach for as much platform performance as possible, because if I changed phones, I wanted to get at least another two or three Android versions hence. Physical Keyboards are getting hard to come by, which is slightly strange, since Android Froyo, even under Moto-Blur, seems to assume you have one, in various ways.  I looked longingly at the Droid 2 Global, but I really didn’t need to roam globally — when I go abroad, there’s almost always some other source of phone, so the need to slip a sim card into my CDMA phone is small, and doesn’t really provide any advantage. You’re going to use another number anyways.

So, I took a deep breath and went for the Droid X2. Dual Core, good chance for Ice Cream Sandwich readiness, and beyond, but no keyboard.  (My new X2 came with Froyo, and bright future for Gingerbread is on the horizon, we hope.)

The size of the thing is the first yay/boo item. The screen is big and beautiful, makes the phone a little big in-pocket.  The truth is that I can type about an order-of-magnitude faster on the X2′s soft keyboard than on the Droid’s physical. Still, I miss the deterministic cursor positioning of the trackpad.  If you think your text entry is OK, try writing Python code with it in SL4A; you’ll turn off all the auto-correction post-haste.

The X2 comes with a built-in 4 GB flash area which is mounts as “/sdcard” (aka /mnt/sdcard), which is where apps expect to find the SD card, and the removable sdcard ends up as “/sdcard-ext” (aka /mnt/sdcard-ext), which, once you get your mind around it, is nice.  What it means is that your bulky videos and stuff can go in /sdcard-ext, while the things you want to stay with the phone, like your PGP keys, important apps etc, go in /sdcard.

The lack of a slide-out keyboard makes putting a protective skin on it more plausible; my old Droid went through phases, with the hard snap-on plastic annoyance, later rubber pads stuck on strategic surfaces. Something that I really liked about Old Droid was its non-skid. My Original iPhone had been a constant nuisance because it wouldn’t stay put. It was too slippery, but with the rubber jacket on, it was hard to get in and out of pockets. The Droid had a nice rubberish coating on it that made it stay where I put it. The X2 is a little bit non-skid, but less so than Droid.

After running a couple of benchmarks on the new X2, and comparing with Droid, I noticed that although it goes faster, and is noticeably peppier during use, it may not be configured, as delivered to exploit both cores.

A cat of /proc/cpuinfo:

Processor        : ARMv7 Processor rev 0 (v7l)
processor        : 0
BogoMIPS        : 1992.29

Features        : swp half thumb fastmult vfp edsp vfpv3 vfpv3d16
CPU implementer        : 0x41
CPU architecture: 7
CPU variant        : 0x1
CPU part        : 0xc09
CPU revision        : 0

Hardware        : Daytona
Revision        : 83a0

Only reports one core, albeit one with 8 times the BogoMIPS that the Old Droid reports (249.15).

For so much hype about dual-core power, Droid X2′s do not tend to fare well with benchmarks, mine ranking at 12794 in Antutu (free in the market).

The Rub

One big bugaboo with Droid X2 — its video decoding is inexplicably buggy. From my extensive selection of MP4 files encoded over the last 7 years, some files play, and some just get stuck, or have a 20 second unsync between picture and sound. These files play reliably on PSP, iPhone, Droid, In Windows and Mac OS, with QuickTime, VLC, and Windows Media Player, and with various media players on Ubuntu, so don’t (sh, sh, don’t) tell me that Droid X2′s video decode is OK, or per spec when the others weren’t.  It’s broken, and it should have never shipped that way. Luckily, there is a decent work-around. Install MoboPlayer (for free, from the Market) and “MoboPlayer Codec for ARMV7FP3“, and then set it to use “Default Using Soft-Decoding”.  When you have done this, your extensive SouthPark and SpongeBob collection will be ready for the road again.

Several bloat-apps are included, but the two game demos I got, “Need For Speed: <something-something>”, and “Let’s Golf”, are deletable. The others, (evil-Blockbuster,  and some Verizon crap) are not. The bloat factor is annoying, but not to a prize-winning extent, by any means.

I am conflicted about the standard Android buttons. Why are they in a different order? (note to focus groups: don’t express your true feelings — lie to get what you want. Or maybe what I mean is “lie to get what I want”). There really wasn’t (sh, sh, no don’t) any good reason to rearrange the buttons. Also, they’re physical buttons, that require force to depress, which is completely different from Droid, and makes one-handed use more difficult. Of course, it was too easy to accidentally hit the Droid touch-buttons, so I concede the point, I guess. The camera has no physical button, but the one on Droid was a funky pain-in-the-ass, and I tended to use the on-screen one anyways.

Lastly, I would like to change the ever-present default icons at the bottom of the screen. Specifically, to remove the default Android mail app, which I don’t use.  A different kind of bloatware is the auto-install partition that pops up for MotoHelper, which apparently is simply another driver-update virus. This is a nuisance, and I suggest just changing your auto-insert settings to exclude it, rather than installing it. I installed it at home, and so far it’s pretty quiet, but at work I just told 7 to shut up about it.

Conclusion

So far, besides the video decode and various getting-to-know-one-another turbulences, the X2 and I are getting along pretty well. I hope for some cluefulness in the next update, but you know how that goes.

2011
01.22

Tech Heaven: Hong Kong’s Golden Computer Arcade

Having spent a couple of months in Hong Kong over the last 3 years, there are many great things to see and do there, but as an incorrigible techophile, my favorite, so far, is the Golden Computer Arcade in Sham Shui Po.

Getting There

Sham Shui Po (Cantonese for “Deep Water Pier”) is a neighborhood on the Kowloon Peninsula, north of Hong Kong Island. It is known for its flea-style street markets, and is a decent shopping destination for various things, including tools, electronics, test equipment, as well as clothing and other uninteresting stuff.   The easiest way to get there is to take the MTR to Sham Shui Po station, which is on the Tsuen Wan Line (say “chin wan”), which connects with the Hong Kong Island Line at Central and Admiralty stations.  If somehow, you are in Hong Kong and isolated from the MTR trains, you can probably take either an MTR Bus to a train station, or a Kowloon Motor Bus directly to Sham Shui Po. (KMB has an excellent trip planner on their web site.)

Once you are in Sham Shui Po station, take exit D2. Walk northwest on Fuk Wa Street (vehicular traffic flows southeast), toward larger Yen Chow Street. There is a McDonald’s on the same corner, directly across Fuk Wa from Golden Computer.  See my Google Map for details.

What you’ll find in the Golden Computer Arcade is a whole lot of everything computer-related, from motherboards, and cooling fans to point-of-sale equipment, to educational electronic breadboard kits, to just plain weird stuff you’ve never seen before. You can go just to look, and have a good time. If you do decide to buy something, don’t buy it the first time you see it, at least not early in your visit. You may see some new things here, and get excited, but then you’re likely to see them a hundred more times as you move around.

Prices in Sham Shui Po can be quite good, partly because the fixed US->HK exchange rate makes them so.  Also, note that there is no word in Hong Kong Cantonese (or HK English for that matter) which means “refund” –  it’s a foreign concept.  So don’t expect to renege on that impulse buy.  You can find interesting portable keyboards, panda-shaped  web-cams, many Android tablet devices, cables, flash drives, hard drives, RAM sticks, software, games, PC-pimping components, and pretty much anything else. The stalls range in format from temporary piles of cardboard boxes (often with brand-name-knock-off items) to standard retail shelf space, and they’re all worth a peek.  For the most part, you will need cash, in Hong Kong Dollars, to buy stuff here. Some of the more store-looking stalls may take credit cards.

Two blocks southwest, in Apliu Street, you can find a vast assortment of tools, test equipment, and other delights (there’s a store dedicated solely to monitor mounting brackets), as well as those T-Shirts made by people who slept through English class  (favorites: “Nobody seems to shiny”, and “Galmour Gril”).

There are bathrooms in the GCA, and also across the street at McDonald’s (regular ice cream cones at HK McD’s cost about $0.65 USD).

Caution In most of Hong Kong, you should always plan to limit the temptation you offer to pickpockets; use extra caution in crowded spaces like the Golden Computer Arcade.

When in HK, consider getting an Octopus Card at 7-11 — it’s an RFID based transaction card that you can use for transport, food and drink, as well as other things. It’s almost absolutely pervasive in transportation, only taxis and certain mini-buses don’t take it, and it helps you avoid that buildup of unfamiliar change in your pocket.  If you get a “loaned” card at 7-11, you need to make a $50 HK deposit, which you get back upon surrender.

(02-15-2011)

A friend from HK adds:

There are two computer arcades in Wan Chai, the bigger one is just adjacent to the Wan Chai MTR station exit. Another one, which is smaller and called the 298 Computer Arcade, is about 15 minutes walking from the Wan Chai MTR station.

The bigger one is similar to Sham Shui Po GCA. The 298 Computer Arcade mainly sells accessories like cables and writable CDs and DVDs etc, even though there are some shops, but not much, selling main boards and hard disks. The 298 shops do sell things a little bit cheaper. By the way, there is a computer fair held at Sham Shui Po from 12-Feb to 22-Feb. And then there is another Computer Fair which was held at the Cheung Sha Wan Sports Ground from 18-Feb to 21-Feb.??

2011
01.03

Unlocking Orginal iPhone

If you want to unlock your ORIGINAL iPhone, “iPhone 1,1″, what is colloquially called “2g” by many, an effective process seems to be:
(I don’t care about iPhone 3G,3GS,4,etc, since I will never have one).

Google for 3.1.2 firmware and download
Google for 3.9 and 4.6 boot loaders and download
Google for redsn0w 0.9.4 (not newer) and download
Put phone in DFU mode
Start iTunes, accept fact that phone is in “restore” mode
left-shift (apple computer alt) and click restore and select 3.1.2 load you downloaded
wait really long time for everthing to finish (let’s say 20 minutes)
run redsn0w and apply to 3.1.2 file
follow instructions, including waiting a really long time for stuff
upon reboot open Cydia, let it update, wait really long time
install SSH (just in case things go awry
install bootneuter choose 4.6, neuter, unlock
power off, install alternative SIM (if you hadn’t already)

voila
There are more complete published procedures search the web

Ignore blackra1n, sn0wbreeze, etc redsn0w works and is easiest

This post written by intrusive hax0r with scary l33t name, since the keepers of this site would never violate any software agreement, even lousy old Apple’s.

2010
12.04

Navigating Abroad With Motorola Droid and No Network

On a recent trip to Asia, I carried my Droid, and although there was CDMA service in the countries I visited, I didn’t really need or want to use it.

But I did want to use my GPS capability, and after much fiddling, I was able to use Droid as a scrolling map GPS.

The first thing you need to know about GPS on Droid is that the GPS function is married to the CDMA radio in some obtuse fashion, and one must apparently start the GPS with all radios (CDMA (phone transceiver) and GPS receiver) on, until a position is obtained, and then you can turn the CDMA off, either by entering Airplane mode or by turning it off with a tweaker app, like Advanced Settings. This much is well documented.

A catharsis that I had one day, standing under an open sky, with all GPS and CDMA enabled, waiting for GPS to find satellites, was when I turned off “Data Enabled” under “Wireless and Networks” -> “Mobile Networks”. I always have “Data Roaming” turned off, but turning off “Data Enabled” made the GPS suddenly find several satellites. Since the whole point was to make GPS work without network, it didn’t harm anything, and it did really help.

Also, turn off “use wireless networks” under “Location and Security”. Can’t use it without coverage, turn it off.

In order to have a scrolling map, I used Maverick, and Mobile Atlas Creator. I down-loaded about 5 different zoom levels, you wouldn’t need all levels, of Google Maps, which worked really well. Of course, no turn-by turn, but I was able to navigate and record tracks and waypoints, even with the limited numbers imposed by the free version of Maverick. I intend to buy it, it seems worth the 5 Euros.

Backing up a little:
On day one after my arrival, the GPS got satellites, found position, and worked well with Maverick. A couple of days later, however, it refused to find satellites, and when Maverick was open, it showed 5000-some miles to local land marks, which suggested that it was assuming a point in the US as its starting point. For a while, I fiddled around and googled, trying to figure out how to move the starting point, which has been part of the procedure with my previous Garmin and Magellan handheld GPS receivers. I never did see a way to do this, but I think that the strategy of “assisted” GPS, as found in Android, is to forego that step by using CDMA base stations to guess the starting point. The “starting point” is important in a short time between power-off and position-reporting GPS, because if the GPS knows where it is, it can estimate which satellites it can expect to receive by consulting ephemerides. It’s also not clear that the Droid GPS saves state which survives power off and/or battery change, because it is designed to have the “assisted” part.

But unchecking “Data Enabled”, “Data Roaming” and “Use Wireless Networks” seems to give the Droid a leg-up on doing “no-coverage” GPS.

2010
09.18

Why I Love My Boosteroo

A couple of years ago, at Fry’s on the north side of Indianapolis, I bought a little dealy called a Boosteroo, which is simply a headphone amlifier, which allows you to hear what the people are saying in your iPod/PSP/Android/etc handheld video when you’re in a nominally noisy environment.

When I bought it, I wanted it primarily for airliners, but nowadays I spend an hour or more on city buses daily, and having just a little more audio power is the very thing to jump the gap from frustrating to enjoyable, when I’m listening to “serious” programs, instead of cartoons. For a while, I was using primarily South Park and The Simpsons on the bus, because compared to live-action programs, practically all the lines are shouted in the cartoons. The real-people programs inevitably involve whispering.

After I bought my Boosteroo, it worked well for a couple of trips, and eventually became erratic on one channel. I had to take it apart and re-solder it, which took me two tries, because the old soldering iron had lost all heat control. Recently, I bought a new soldering iron, which does a lot for one’s general self-esteem, of course, and also allowed me to fix the Boosteroo. Since then, I have been really happy with it. On the bus, I actually play things on my Motorola Droid at less than full volume, because full volume is too painful, as God intended. There is no discernible clipping at any setting.

I also am beside myself with Joy to find that when I dub between computers, I can insert the Boosteroo in the audio chain and get louder, distortion-free track audio.

2010
09.11

Linux Under Airbus 330 Entertainment System

Of course, at this point, it’s kind of my personal leprechaun, the little penguin on the seat back in front of me. I was on a Delta flight, an AirBus 330, a couple of months ago, and my movie (Pirate Radio) gagged in mid-play, after which I was informed by my unit that it needed to reboot.

Unlike the gent in this blog post, my seat-neighbors still had video during this time. So I was sort of stuck there, watching it reboot, and what to my wondering eyes should appear but the Linux Penguin, some boot messages, and then it was gone. For me, there was no question about getting a picture, as I had no time to do anything but a mental gasp and head jerk.

The system righted itself, and I had to re-start my movie and fast forward to the middle somewhere. Never had another issue. I think that Linux simply knew me, and wanted to say “hi”.

2010
06.16

Treating Mobiles as second-class citizens

Ok, now I’m annoyed. I just now used my Droid to happen over to eBay, on a curious whim to see what kind of Android platforms were available there. I ignored the “download our eBay Android app!” tag, and searched “droid”. Of course, even in the smart phone and pda category, there’s so much crappy accessory noise in that search result that if you want to see actual phones, you have to search by price, which capability, of course, the visionaries at eBay have seen fit to exclude from the mobile version of their site.

So I continue, and finding a Verizon-branded Droid for sale, I am intrigued, and I click. Following practically NO information, I find the words, “visit eBay using a computer before you bid or buy”. This is followed by buttons to bid or buy, of course, but since they’ve left out the details of the auction,

Why DO mobile versions turn out to be crippleware? The opportunity of an ubiquitous platform, with a potential to add millions of hits, possibly at previously off-peak times. As for their app, the answer is just “no”. Publishing an app is not a substitute for providing a viable web interface. Even if you ARE eBay, you don’t merit space on my phone, and neither do your neighbors. I already have an eBay-accessing app on my phone, it’s called “Browser”.  Having an “Access Full Site” link is silly, too. You spent a mint on development for your mobile site, eBay, and you failed. You could have put something useful in the hands of the exploding population of people with handheld computers (for some reason, we call them “phones”, but how silly is that?), but you decided to play thumb-switch, instead.

Wake up, content providers. Stop making the mobile version of your site a disappointment.

2010
05.29

My Week With Samsung Moment

Samsung Moment

Running "GPS Status" by EclipSim

(This is written as a retrospective, about using a demo of a Sprint-connected  Samsung Moment phone for one week. Since that time with the Moment, I have used a Motorola Droid, full-time, for a month.)

The Situation Here:

When I made the decision to leave iPhone behind in favor of an Android device, I narrowed the field of possible phones to w devices pretty quickly. I wanted a physical keyboard, reasonable performance, battery life and durability. I also wanted community — others with the same device, for the grass roots support and developer focus.  After extensive Googling, I decided that the two viable devices seemed to be Motorola Droid and Samsung Moment.  Right at the same time, I was offered a Moment (Sprint; Android 1.5) to try for one week.  I accepted.

It was something of a stroke of luck, since I was at the point of choosing a new phone without having seen it, and I wanted to try the Moment before simply choosing the Droid. It was also my first experience with Android, and full visibility into the Android Market.

Peppiness:

Coming from an Original  iPhone, I was happy with the performance, for the most part. The Moment seemed responsive enough when executing programs, but less so when using the Sprint Network. The included Sprint-branded turn-by-turn navigation software was a real dog, practically unusable, since one would have to wait a minute or more for the app to start, and then wait several minutes for the route to compute. If you planned ahead and always did it over WiFi, maybe you could minimize the damage, but it’s easy to see that one would just avoid it. Google’s Maps turn-by-turn is much faster and more usable.

Input:

I have had the iPhone for two years, and I’m pretty comfortable with the keyboard, but that on-screen input is just never going to be good. I did Graffiti with my Handspring, and I have experienced the Apple Newton‘s writing system as a favored beer-related activity.  So far, my favorite handheld input system has been my HP iPaq 4355, which I bought on the spur of the moment in the summer of 2004. (When I did a light-pack tour of Italy in March 2007, iPaq was still going, and I got enough incidental WiFi around “The Boot” to blog the trip.)

iPaq pictured in the Moment

I have seen Samsung Moment’s keyboard lauded as a breath of fresh air, compared to the Droid, but I found it hard to use, with the space bar splitting the bottom row, and a little ridge along the bottom edge of the keyboard that makes it hard to depress the bottom row of keys. I find Android’s on-screen less usable than iPhone’s, but I might be brainwashed. I found the Moment less typist-friendly than the iPaq, and subsequently the Droid.

Camera:

The camera was slow, slower than Droid, as well as lower resolution, and not especially good at flash metering and autofocus, but hey, it’s a camera phone, right? Maybe. We are steadily approaching the time when the integration of camera and phone is superceded by decent-or-good camera and phone.  My Original iPhone was simpler and in ways nicer to operate, but it was fixed focus, no flash and no hard button (the pictures in this post were taken with iPhone). I hate edge-buttons, still, it’s nicer when you want to do self portraits, for instance.

Battery:

I would place Moment’s battery endurance somewhere below Droid, and significantly below Original iPhone. Incidentally, I now know how to make your iPhone battery last A LOT longer: cancel your AT&T service. ;^)

The Cherry (not) On Top:

Last but not least, Moment came with a 2GB micro-SD card! Since my 2-year-old iPhone had 16GB (though tainted by an association with iTunes), and the Droid comes with 16GB micro-SD, this really was the deal-breaker.  My not-too-analytical take on Sprint EVDO versus Verizon’s is that Verizon’s is faster and more available, but I did not take measurements. Much has been said about the beauty of the screen on Moment, but it didn’t really stand out as a feature for me.

If you’ve decided to buy a Moment (or you got one for Christmas, and you had no choice), or live somewhere with great Sprint coverage and not so great Verizon coverage, I would not dissuade you from enjoying the Samsung Moment. For me, living in  Hawaii, I chose Droid, and I am satisfied with the choice.