27 October 2015

Ingress, exercise & in-app purchases

I've played Ingress (ingress.com) for a year or so now, to encourage me to walk. Some people find it very social, whereas I don't interact with other players at all - this is about me getting some exercise. I've walked 284 km as at the date of writing and have reached level 9.

Today I noticed the Android version asked for permission for in-app purchases. Niantic Labs, which used to be part of Google, is doing some interesting things such as teaming up with Pokemon to produce a similar game (I assume it will require players to walk/bike/move around to physical sites to catch Pokemons). Pokemon will have a pay-for element, and as many have anticipated, it seems Ingress will too.

I've seen concerns on the internet about this, but I trust that Niantic will do this well, and it won't be a "pay to win" type of game. The other difficult balance will be between people at higher levels already as compared with those new to the game who might have to pay to level up at the same speed as the longer term players.

Anyway, if you need some encouragement to get walking and see the world, I'd recommend Ingress, whether or you not you're interested in the social aspects of it!

06 October 2015

Samsung phones and a Renault Megane RS 250

I have a Samsung Galaxy Alpha phone, which I have come to really not like at all. It has had many issues, including simply not working for more than an hour or so at a time on the Optus network in Australia (an insider at Samsung Australia confirmed that it's a known issue).

I waited for the launch of the Nexus 5X and 6P in late September 2015 to see if I wanted one of those, but ended up ordering an iPhone 6S+ after the Google announcement. However, I'm still very happy with my employer supplied Nexus 5.

I really hate the Alpha now. It's slow, it's aggressive at terminating apps in the background in a way that my Nexus 5 simply doesn't, and today it killed (well, rendered unconscious) the radio head unit in my Renault Megane RS 250!

I've used this phone with the bluetooth in this car for 6 months without issue. Today though, while I was driving I went to switch from AM radio to bluetooth. It wouldn't change. I stopped the car and shut everything down - didn't fix it. I turned the radio off, and then it wouldn't turn on again. 

I rang Renault (North Shore Renault at Waitara, to give them a plug, because they fixed this for free without an appointment), and the first question asked was "Do you have a Samsung phone?"

He advised that if a Samsung phone tries to download its contacts to the car, it will sometimes crash the head unit. The phone asks if it can download them  during the pairing procedure, and I have always permitted it, despite it never actually downloading them (which is a fail all by itself). 

So 15 minutes in the workshop for a reset of the head unit, and it's working normally now. Renault cleared all the bluetooth pairings, so I made sure when I paired it again that I cancelled the address book download. 

Yet another black mark for Samsung and the Galaxy Alpha - although the service manager said that all Samsungs including the S5 and S6 do it as well.

01 July 2015

Samsung Galaxy Alpha SM-G850Y - Lollipop now available

Samsung Galaxy Alpha SM-850Y running Android Lollipop 5.0.2I bought a Samsung Galaxy Alpha SM-G850Y some months ago and still have mixed feelings about it. It's not a terrible phone, but it does seem to be a phone in search of a reason for existence. Its screen is clearly not as good as a Nexus 5 (1280x720), although the battery life is about the same.

It wasn't particularly cheap, and I really didn't think it would ever be upgraded to Lollipop, since the SM-8G50Y model is a bit peculiar compared to other SKUs. For example, the SM-G850S has been receving the upgrade since mid-April 2015. I understand the reason for this is that some SKUs have the Exynos 5 Octa 5430, but others have a Snapdragon 801.

However, today (1 July 2015) I was notified of the availability of an update from 4.4.4 to 5.0.2 (although at the time of writing the generally available version of Lollipop for, say, my Nexus 5, is 5.1.1).  The download was about 850 MB and the process took 35 minutes.

There are only a few obvious changes, but I'm looking forward to having better notifications. Sadly it doesn't have "Screen pinning" which I use a fair bit in certain situations, but it does have Smart Lock (although "Trusted voice" isn't available for my language) which is also very useful.

23 June 2015

Iceland and data security

 In 2010 the government of Iceland decided it wanted to create a haven for new media that would be at the forefront of data security in Europe and perhaps the world. Since then the many data centres have been built in Iceland. Why would you store your data in Iceland? Deutsche Wella recently did a video piece on the topic.

Although an island, Iceland is only a few hours away from major capitals in the West. As an island it may be that it is less susceptible to large-scale physical attack on data centres (although to be fair, I’ve never heard of one occurring anywhere). Iceland has renewable energy, and one would imagine that cooling might not be too expensive even in summer. Verne Global's facility has a Level 3 connection, providing direct connectivity to many countries. Iceland might be also considered as being physically between Europe and the United States. The government of Iceland has partially funded development of these data centres, and it has some of the most stringent data protection legislation anywhere in the world — don’t forget that this is where the Pirate Party was founded, as well as the forerunner of the International Modern Media Institute, the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative. Both these organisations have had the aim of protecting and promoting freedom of expression and the freedom of information.

Iceland has an interesting piece of legislation — the Act on the Protection and Processing of Personal Data, number 77/2000. The purpose of the act is to promote the processing and collection of data in conformity with data protection and the right to privacy. The Icelandic Data Protection Authority can enter any premises where personal data is being processed without a court order. The purpose of these powers is to ensure compliance with the law.

A proposal being pushed by activists is a right to “data asylum” which might position Iceland as a data privacy haven. The International Modern Media Institute (IMMI) and its predecessor have been promoting legal frameworks for privacy in Iceland for five years, and Hörður Helgi Helgason , the ex-CEO of the Icelandic Data Protection Authority, has recently been named chairman of the steering group of the IMMI. Unfortunately, despite the high profile support to put Iceland at the forefront of data privacy, there is still some way ago.

26 March 2015

Australia meta data laws pass through parliament


03 March 2015

10 February 2015

Microsoft Outlook on Android

A lot has been written in the last week about the rebadged software now known as Outlook. I have to say that most of it is uninformed and some of it is wrong. Bloggers are being very charitable to Microsoft for some reason - but actually it's just not that great. Why?

Before the announcement of the acquisition by Microsoft I did a short roundup (http://blog.calvin.it/2014/11/exchange-email-applications-for-android.html) of Exchange clients and I settled on Nine. It certainly isn't perfect, but it's way better than the new Outlook product. In fact, I wrote this blog post in it, and you might notice it's in rich text - something Outlook can't do.

It just goes to show that a lot of blogs don't even look at the product - they either regurgitate press releases or other site's reviews.

Not much has changed since I was once complimented by a magazine editor for actually playing the games I reviewed.

20 January 2015

Downgrade Nexus 5 from Lollipop to KitKat

Yesterday I downgraded my Nexus 5 from Lollipop (5.0.1) to KitKat (4.4.4).  Why?

I've actually got two Nexus 5 phones. One is my work phone which has always been on  KTU84Q, which is the special 4.4.4 image for a few carriers (including Telstra) in Australia, and the other was on KTU84P, for which I receved an over the air update to 5.0 and later 5.0.1. I have a 2013 Nexus 7 which is on Lollipop after an OTA upgrade.

As a result, I've had ample opportunity to compare 4.4.4 and 5.0.1, and it's clear to me that I not only prefer 4.4.4, but it's better than 5.0.1.

Problems with Lollipop

Audio on Lollipop over Bluetooth is problematic (at least it is with my Renault Megane RS 250). Waze and Google Maps voice prompts don't play - they just stop the music playing.

Bluetooth handover from car to phone is 5-8 seconds, rather than about 2 seconds under KitKat.

When listening to FM or AM radio, the Nexus would send the odd short noise to the radio head unit, like it was trying to force a Bluetooth connection, but not following through.

The quick access to WiFi and Bluetooth in Lollipop from a swipe down is different in behaviour to KitKat - in KitKat you can either toggle WiFi or Bluetooth, or choose a new WiFi network or Bluetooth device. That was taken away in Lollipop -  you can only turn them on or off.

Battery life... this is a bit like talking about unicorns, but I had a suspicion that battery life dropped off with Lollipop, and now after a couple of days back on KitKat my battery life is restored. However, to be fair, I haven't put back every single app onto my phone since the downgrade, so it is possible that one of those apps is responsible (but I doubt it).

BeyondPod started behaving badly - the shortcut controls from a swipe down often didn't respond at all, and BeyondPod would become uncontrollable.

There were regular "pauses" on the phone generally, where nothing would happen for a few seconds.

The things I've mentioned above were clearly enough for me to downgrade, although I'll leave my Nexus 7 on Lollipop so I stay in touch with what's going on with the OS. However, I can add another reason - Lollipop didn't offer any substantial advantages that outweighed the inconveniences in the interface.

I should say that none of these issues arose on my work phone that had stayed on 4.4.4.

Despite the absolute rubbish you read on so-called tech news on the web, a lot of phones haven't had Lollipop pushed to them - I have a feeling Google knows that there are issues with it. Trust me, you don't really need the minor conveniences that Lollipop gives, and the "tech tips" that some sites give to fix Lollipop problems on a Nexus 5 really don't have a foundation in fact and are simply based on hope.

If you want to downgrade?

You should probably just search for the answer, but the short version is:
  • you'll be completely wiping your handset, which shouldn't be a problem if you use it properly (i.e. let it back up photos etc and not have the only copy of anything on it), but...
  • if you use Google Authenticator or any other two factor authenticator you should migrate them to another device or use a different second factor (SMS etc)
  • you'll need to download some stuff - the image file, ADB drivers from Google, and the ADB Tools
  • you'll need to understand how to boot the phone into recovery mode and it's a little more fiddly than you think
  • you'll need to spend some time manually reinstalling your apps
Once you've done something like this then it's not so hard, but it's not exactly entertaining. For me - the downgrade was worth it, and I'll hold off any further upgrades till I have a better sense of what's happening.

03 January 2015

Consumer Refund Directive

If you sell into the European Union you should find out more about the Consumer Refund Directive.