Hallelujah! The Return of the Nexus

Android

An Android

Thanks to two fantastic experts on the internet I have my Nexus 7 tablet running just like it did on Christmas day in 2012 when I got it. Woohoo.

The process of “downgrading” from the problematic (to put it politely) Android 5 Lollipop (not so much the sweet as the bitter medicine) to the much better version 4 (Kitkat – always preferred chocolate anyway) was, as described in most places, a pain in the neck requiring the use of the Android SDK, digging into long-forgotten MS-DOS territory of environment variables etc, and command prompts. The post I found linked to a document on Google Docs that the author (Techno Bill) had written which streamlined the process.

Having followed the instructions for collecting the required files in a folder on my PC’s C: drive, and eventually managing to install the necessary drivers, thanks to the second online saviour, I fired up a command prompt in windows and was taken back to my earliest days of PC computing – typing commands and seeing the remote device respond accordingly. It was, strangely, fun. Back to the old days, typing commands, like we had to once upon a time, as manually as you can without resorting to machine code.

A few commands and a bit of waiting later and I hit the return key on the last command of the actual process of flashing Android 4.4.4 back on it.  This was the no-turning-back point, if it worked all would be well, if not, I’d be off to Argos tomorrow to buy a new Samsung…

I have never been so pleased to see the old google animated flower type loading screen, or that old home screen (after the initial setup, naturally). Instantly I knew it was right again. Even as it started to update the default apps, and Gmail looked for all the unread email I’d ignored for the last few years, it was so much quicker – under Lollipop I’d have to wait half an hour before I could use it after switching on the WiFi but the re-Kitkatified (?) Nexus was flying within seconds.

Yet another example of the wonder that is the collective fount of knowledge that is the internet.  No more thoughts of buying a new tablet, the Nexus is back.

Advertisements

Dear Google…

Very dear Google, at the moment, it seems.  In both money, time and torn out hair.

Two years ago my folks bought me a Google Nexus 7 (by Asus) for Christmas as I couldn’t afford the £200 cost myself and over those two years it has remained a terrific gadget, so useful to me, checking emails, quick notes into Evernote, streaming my entire, extensive, music collection over a bluetooth speaker system etc, as I’ve mentioned before.

Then Google announced Android 5.0 – Lollypop.  A new look, a new heart, faster, leaner, better – for every device that would take it.  Until I clicked on the download button on the update my Nexus 7 rarely stuttered, only very occasionally did it slow down, usually down to an errant website or, very rarely, a misbehaving app.  Now though it can’t even display Google Earth street views without crashing completely, touches are completely unresponsive, though sometimes it’ll do what I’ve asked a minute or so later.  Google Maps zooms out when I make the gesture to zoom in, bouncing back out to the original map size like it thinks I’ve changed my mind.

I’ve read the forums where others afflicted like myself have tried to suggest fixes – I’ve cleared the cache by booting into its safe mode” and it seemed to work, for a day or so and then we were back to the same sorry state of affairs of frustratedly stabbing at the screen like it’s going to suddenly notice that I’m doing something.  The Jellybean version of android introduced Project Butter which made Android smoother and slicker, I think Lollypop must refer to a toffee apple as this feels more like Project Treacle.

In tech parlance our Nexus 7s (Nexii?) are as good as bricked, and it’s all the more annoying that it’s on Google’s own device – they should know their own hardware.  The Nexus line was originally a kind of reference hardware of sorts, the first out the gate with a new O/S to show how other manufacturers should make their devices.  The thing is that the Nexus devices have been so good and such good value for money that they’ve not been just bought by techies who will accept that they’re using a beta-test device and can get round any bugs, these are mainstream devices with respected names engraved on them, a major update like this shouldn’t effectively break the hardware or ruin the user experience.

To be fair, briefly, it’s not just Google as Apple too have had a similar experience with iOS 8 making many iPhones etc unusable after the update, issues which took some sorting out via various updates.

I have a Sony phone which will never be updated beyond Android 4.3 because Sony doesn’t feel that 4.4 (Kitkat) would run well on it, this I can accept and because of this the Xperia still runs beautifully and unless something I load onto it changes that it will for some time.  I also have a laptop which sometimes loads to a black screen and I can’t log on until I put it to sleep and wake it again and it sometimes crashes yet I don’t mind one bit – because it’s running Windows 10, which is currently only in its experimental, technical preview stage.

That’s the thing pre-beta test operating systems will inevitably contain bugs, that’s the point of beta test software, you use it, you accept it, but Android 5.0 on an older Google device feels like a piece of beta software pushed out as finished.

So Google, please make it work, I can’t afford a Nexus 9, I want my Nexus 7 back.

[Really Google, I mean it, I can barely type at the moment, I’m pleading, hands clasped, on my knees, which are starting to feel sore…]

 

Update:  Ok, so it’s a couple of weeks later, Christmas has been and gone and I’m now less than charitable, my Nexus is still next to useless, every time I go to use it the battery’s flat, it’ll work fine for a while then I’ll try to browse the internet and it’ll start locking up again, sometimes Maps will work, sometimes it won’t.  All I’m thinking now, while looking for contingencies of cheap non-Google tablets (I did find myself thinking “if only I had an iPad” the other day but in reality I’m thinking more the Asus/Acer route), is how long will it be before someone sues Google over this.

End of January – the 5.0.2 update came in, all was fine, it was like having a new tablet again, woohoo!  Then after a couple of weeks it was back to being unresponsive most of the time again.  Seriously, Google, I want my £200 back, plz, k thx for nothing, bye.

March 15th – Android 5.1 “Bug Fixes” Ooh, they’ve fixed it.  No.  Now it’s just as unresponsive as ever and now the Ebay app won’t connect to the internet while Gmail will – it’s fine though if I switch the router off and on again.  Oh joy.

May 26th – There’s an article on Gizmodo about the future of Nexus devices.  I know the future of one Nexus device and it involves a rubbish bin, as I couldn’t in all conscience even give away this now almost bricked slab of glass and plastic to anyone.  It works for looking at Ebay, oh and Gmail but only if I leave it for twenty minutes after it connects to my WiFi in order to let it sort itself out.  If I try to search for something it goes into 1998 PC speed mode when any browser loads, I can barely use the internet on it basically.  Google Maps is the same, most of the time it just locks solid when I try to zoom into a map, after half an hour of forced reboots and trying to ignore it the thing will suddenly work ok, for a while.

I’m at a loss to explain it, as is anyone else.  If this was an Apple device their reputation would be taking a battering.

Anyway, time to save up and move on – Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 it is then.

Finding the Tracks, Lyrically Speaking

Headphones

Headphones (Photo credit: 96dpi)

“Out of a doorway the tentacles stretch of a song that I know and the world moves in slo-mo straight to my head like the first cigarette of the day.”  Elbow, Bones of You.

Earlier, out of nowhere, I remembered a song that I always associate with reading Rendezvous with Rama in the 90s because the music seemed strangely appropriate to the setting of the book.  It was in the charts at the time and was on the radio regularly but back then I didn’t buy music as I didn’t even have a CD player.  I’ve always thought it was a great song but had lost track of who it was by.

Time to find out, I thought, in these days of MP3 downloads I should have this in my collection.  Searching for “State of Mind” on Amazon wasn’t specific enough and brought up too many recent songs, then I thought that somewhere amongst all the lyrics sites one must have the words to this song.  Off to Google I went: “lyrics “I realise the state of mind that you have found me”” (the first line) returned one solitary result – and the details “Goldie – State of Mind”.  Aha.

Thirty seconds later and the MP3 single was downloading having cost me 59p.  A minute later I’m enjoying 7 minutes of blissful music.

I know the music industry took a while to accept music downloads but being able to rediscover old favourites and enjoy them again via either a snippet of lyrics or a sample of audio is one more amazing thing that the great database of the internet gives us.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Lifelogging

The rear LCD display on a Flip Video camrea

The rear LCD display on a Flip Video camera (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Often today people worry about surveillance by the government with CCTV everywhere and intelligence agencies able to view what we do online (hi, Mr/Mrs NSA/GCHQ person) but there’s another side to the technology which is becoming ever more popular.

Many of us carry some form of video camera, I have a smartphone and a good compact camera that can record HD video, in fact I used this the other day to record a worker at our factory who was adamant he could cut a worktop with a saw that everyone else said was clearly blunt.  The resulting video is a possible candidate for YouTube, complete with Top Gear style “four hours later…” captions, as I joked at the time.

We now have the ability to record everything we experience in some way or another and people feel the need, or the desire, to do exactly that and share it with the world, even in their most intimate moments, as if to prove that they did it, or how good at it they were, so to speak.  It’s a standing joke that Instagram and Facebook are a repository of photos of people’s dinner but in some ways it’s true.  In any pub you go in there are groups of drinkers gurning at smartphone cameras, never again will you be able to get utterly pished without it being recorded.  I once had my glasses “borrowed” by a woman whose friend took a photo of her, wearing my glasses, with me kissing her cheek.  Months later a woman stood by me at a bar turned and said “I’ve got a photo of you on my Facebook.”  Same woman, same glasses.  Technology has made it simpler, quicker and cheaper to create a digital photo album or slide show that, without needing shelf-space or the setting up of a projector, can be virtually infinite in size, accessible anywhere, searchable and sorted by date.

The next stage is again in the area of wearable technology.  Google’s Glass project, along with other similar techie-eyewear, promise the ability to instantly record anything you can see, which has worried many privacy campaigners despite the devices clearly having a red, Borg-like, light on the side when they’re recording.

The other type of device is specially designed for recording just about everything you experience – the Lifelogger.  Two devices have appeared so far, Autographer and Narrative, which are intended to document your life while you’re wearing it of course.  While you’re not you can imagine it sitting there wondering where you’d gone.   The two have different approaches, Autographer uses five sensors to detect location and changes in light and motion to take a photo when you change location of when it thinks you’re doing something interesting like running after someone.  Narrative takes a picture twice a minute.  When downloaded you can then look through what they’ve logged and perhaps see things you’d missed or remember something you’d forgotten – which might be both a blessing and a curse depending on the event.

One day we could all be carrying a multi-sensored device that, in the event of an emergency, could log what’s happened to you and call for help – a kind of personal Black Box Recorder.  This is happening in cars already, as the Russian meteorite impact last year showed – the event captured by an unprecedented number of witnesses thanks to dashcams and smartphones.  In-car video is also useful for insurance companies, TV clip shows and YouTube, recent personal experience of idiot drivers makes me want one more than ever.

Whether the current Lifelogging technology has a use is down to whether it’ll record anything useful or interesting but the idea has been picked up by emergency services who have considered something like Glass to both record an incident and how it’s dealt with (possibly for legal, in case of being sued, reasons, inevitably these days) while also providing vital information to the medic or police officer in real-time.  Already trials have shown that police wearing body cams are seeing positive results in terms of arrested criminals accepting their guilt.

So we hurtle onwards into the recorded future, the problem could be having time to sort the wheat from the chaff of all these Lifelogged images and indeed where to store them all.

Looks like we’ll need a bigger server.

Cloudless

Heavy Rain

Heavy Rain (c) 2013 Andy Vickers

Like walking into a house when you’ve been away for a while I pull off the dust-sheets and open all the curtains…

It feels like such a long time since I’ve been able to post anything here, in reality it’s been a couple of weeks that I’ve not been able to access The Lunch’s dashboard or create new posts.  At first I thought it was my browser, my computer, my ISP, I searched online for WordPress issues but couldn’t find anything so was stumped.  Then finally via Google I found mention of a similar issue on another blog which told me it was a problem with WordPress servers being blocked by ISPs due to someone’s blog breaking Terms of Service.  A demonstration of how one persons actions can cascade on systems like the internet.

Secondly the other week we had rain that looked like a monsoon, almost as dense as fog, waves of water were flowing off the tops of roofs across the road, the road outside itself became a river, water erupted from drain covers.  One driver of an expensive saloon car *cough*a BMW*cough* clearly felt that a couple of inches of water was too risky and reversed back then drove down the pavement instead while others ploughed through regardless spraying people and buildings with torrents of water.  One especially impressive young man managed to leap completely over the large bow-wave created by one passing car as it rolled along the pavement.  As usual I watched the rain and lightning, listened to the thunder.

All seemed ok that evening as the storm passed and things settled back to normal.  The next evening though I found my landline phone wasn’t working, seems the storm had taken out the phone lines locally, and then the terrible reality struck.  NO INTERNET EITHER – The Cloud taken out by Rain Clouds.   Arghhh.  I couldn’t even use 3G on my mobile because I hadn’t got enough credit.  It didn’t bother me that much, the emails can wait, I’d perhaps miss one of the Deals of the Day emails but there probably wouldn’t be anything decent anyway.  I watched some TV then thought about listening to some music, the new CD I’d ordered for example, I’d got the MP3 version free, downloaded it and then uploaded it to Google Music, I’ll listen to that…  Ah.  Maybe not.

Luckily I’d still got it on my computer too (the CD itself hadn’t arrived yet) so I could still listen but it was a little reminder that when you put everything in the cloud and you lose your connection you’re stuffed.  This is why I only use cloud services as backups or as a quick and convenient way of accessing music or photos on just about any device I have.   Other services like Evernote and Wunderlist will sync with the cloud database once reconnected so at least they’re still usable locally.

Lifehacker has some useful advice in case of internet outages including using a mobile hotspot or tethered 3G phone, borrowing a neighbour’s internet or using public wifi if these are available which shows that thinking ahead can save the day but even then at the wrong time you might still be netless.

Maybe one day the dreams of the likes of Google with their (mostly) everything-online Chrome OS will be realised but we’d need an internet that only goes off when the power to run the computer does too.

Ad-Free or Not Ad-Free, That is The Question

Yahoo Bar on Flickr

Yahoo Bar on Flickr

The home of my other creative endeavour is over at Flickr, a site that many say has been left to stagnate under the ownership of Yahoo mainly because it didn’t become the kind of social network that Facebook is.  The thing is that it started out as a photo sharing site and it still is, the recent makeover improved how your photostream was presented to viewers and in general it was still doing its job as an online portfolio of photos.

Today though something odd has happened and the Flickr community as a whole is not happy.  Me included.  The facelifted interface had a nice grey toolbar across the top, it was all very clean and modern looking, very professional, but today something else appeared, a lilac bar – referred to now by forum members as the Y! Barney Bar – displaying links to other Yahoo sites and services.

As many commenters have said it looks like something from a nineties website, wedged between your browser’s chrome and the elegant Flickr interface, a distracting layer of pink nougat taking up screen space and cheapening the experience for your viewers.  The thing that has annoyed most people though is that many of us pay to have an ad-free interface both for our own use and for those viewing our photos but this amounts to an advert for Yahoo’s services, driving viewers to the ad-land that is Yahoo’s main site, to gather more revenue.  Yahoo staff have said that “The idea is to make it easier to access other places in the Yahoo! network and make visiting Yahoo! pages a more seamless experience.” and that it brings your photos to a wider audience.  If that’s the case add another menu item to Flickr’s own toolbar not this monstrosity.

Many users have pledged to leave altogether if it’s not removed immediately but most think it’s unlikely because Yahoo are copying Google’s trend of having the toolbar at the top of everything, but at least Google’s bar fits in.  What you’re paying for on any site like Flickr or our home here at WordPress is the avoidance of your content being juxtaposed with adverts which may detract from what you’re trying to say or the aesthetics of your site, to make it feel like your own space not part of a larger corporate behemoth, that is what the Yahoo bar makes Flickr feel like – just a part of a search engine and internet portal, it takes the shine off the presentation, makes it feel less special.

Some commenters have said that at least this hasn’t happened to the sites of our blogging brethren over on Tumblr – but as Yahoo haven’t had much time with its new purchase as yet perhaps it’s only a matter of time.

[Flickr Forums]

Poor Memory in The Internet Age

A woman thinking

A woman thinking (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have a ridiculously bad memory which is a problem in an age where we are bombarded with information that we have to remember for work or at home. This is why I’m writing this on a notepad in the bath, before I forget it.

My poor short-term recall is one of the main reasons I’m single. I am pathologically terrified of small-talk or rather my inability to spontaneously make it.

My last few relationships have been generally been with confident and, most importantly, talkative women as I am a good listener. I have however a limited list of subjects to start or continue a conversation with in those rosy early days of a relationship because I can’t remember what I’ve been previously told and can’t remember subjects to make conversations about such as things happening in the news or in a magazine I’ve read, or gossip about friends.

My problem is in my brain’s ability to tag memories as important, most things just enter and go straight to long term memory without being registered as being sufficiently important to remember a few hours or a day or so down the line. I can remember taking a photo of a scene when I’m in the same spot again or an obscure fact if I’m reminded of it but just picking out a random fact is just impossible.

My memory requires a prompt to recall anything and even then sometimes it takes a while to drag the relevant facts to the front, and if the event that I need to remember happened while I was very busy then recalling it becomes extremely difficult unless I’ve made some effort to definitely remember it.

It’s bad enough trying to remember what I’ve read in a magazine as the first article has been forgotten as I’ve read the second but the volume of information available via the internet makes it even worse and trying to remember facts to write into blog posts is a nightmare.  The anxiety of not being able to remember what I want to say is part of why I put off writing and instead employ decoy habits to distract me from what I want to do which is write.  Some say the internet will cause us to stop remembering facts and rely on Google instead but that’s a different problem, what if you don’t even remember what you wanted to find?

There are techniques to alleviate the problem, from focussing more on the information being received, thinking about it before moving onto the next thing, associating the information with an image in the mind, writing things down, and more that I, to be honest, can’t remember.  I have notebooks, both paper and Evernote- based, filled with disjointed information which I can, one day pull together into something interesting and useful but the first step is overcoming the fear of not knowing what to say.  Eating more healthily, exercise and getting enough sleep are also meant to be beneficial and I keep telling myself that my memory is getting better as with so many mind related issues often believing you can do something is half the battle.

How The Net Saved Me £300

English: A close up of a Toshiba Satellite L30...

English: A close up of a Toshiba Satellite L305D-S5900 Laptop Computer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am a bit of a techie though the trauma of trying to resurrect an uncooperative network or computer caused me to stop being a computer geek for a while though even now I don’t keep up with the differences between Core i3s, Core i5s, Phemons and memory specs, I thankfully don’t really need to.

I do though recognise when my computer’s doing something odd.  In the past the LCD monitor attached to my laptop has started flickering, little irritating horizontal bars, and as I recognised this as electrical noise I rerouted the cables away from noisy power cables, or in one instance plugged the laptop’s power lead in properly and all was well but over the last few months the problem has returned and nothing seemed to work, I couldn’t get the leads any further apart without the aid of scaffolding.

My immediate thought was that the external monitor output was on its way out, I connected my netbook to the monitor to check that it wasn’t that or the lead to it that was faulty.  Nope.  My heart sank, as much as I’d like a shiny new laptop, namely a Lenovo one in blue at a significant discount on Amazon Warehouse, not that I’d looked in any detail, I couldn’t justify it.  I have an old desktop PC that with £50 of upgrades to its memory and an adaptor for the laptop’s big hard drive would also do the job but I thought I’d try asking the massed geeks of the net for assistance first.

Having typed “toshiba satellite vga output flickering” into Google (other search engines are available) and clicked through a few links I found that many people had solved the problem by plugging the laptop and monitor into separate mains sockets.  Sceptical as I was I tried it and blow me it worked.  There’s still some faint flickering and the fact that it’s a recent problem makes me think the adaptor could still be on its last legs but replacing that’s the cheapest option of all, if and when I need to.

That’s one of the greatest benefits of the internet, for all the naysayers proclamations that it’s just a hole of filth and misinformation – if you cast your net wide enough you can find an answer to just about anything.

Be Careful What You Search For

Watching

Watching (Photo credit: Laddir)

You are being watched.  No, calm down, I didn’t mean in the real world, sit back down and stop looking behind your sofa.

For many years people have simultaneously worried about how their browsing habits were being tracked and perhaps used to monitor their activities while marvelled at how Amazon suggests new products for them based on their previous choices  – online data collection really is a double-edged sword.  In the UK we have a law where websites have to visibly inform you about browser cookie use and give you either a choice or instructions on how to enable them or otherwise.

The data collected by browsers is not always sent to advertisers, much is used today to improve services, make useful suggestions for stuff to buy, places to visit, people to friend on Facebook etc.  The data collected when you’re logged into Google’s many and varied services, for example, can be used by their Google Now service to provide real-time information relevant to you.  I was impressed when without being told my Nexus 7 knew where I worked and how long it would take to get there, giving me weather and travel information too.  My first reaction was “how did it know?”  I don’t take it to work, has it been talking to my phone?  Well, in a way, it used my contacts information, I think, I hope.  These computerised personal assistants like Google Now and Apple’s Siri are a wonder of our time, intelligently finding, collating and presenting information in truly intuitive ways, I’m still impressed whenever I ask my Nexus 7 what the weather’s going to be like tomorrow.

But the other day I discovered something about Google Now that could, in the right, or wrong circumstances be interesting or awkward.  I searched for Cromwell Weir on Google Maps on my laptop and later that evening noticed that my Nexus 7 was giving me, like the helpful little soul it is, travel information to Cromwell.  Later still I searched for a shop in Lincoln and again it was there saying “are you wanting to go there now?  I can show you where to go.”

Which is all very helpful until you’re searching for a hotel for a surprise weekend away for you and your other half on your PC while your tablet, in the hands of your beloved in the room next door is happily giving the game away.

So if you don’t want Google, or for that matter Siri if Apple’s assistant has similar abilities blabbing about your plans remember to log out before browsing.

I’m Just Not a Twitterer

Chick (image courtesy of Serif)

Chick (image courtesy of Serif)

It seems like everything’s “social” these days, no marketing campaign is complete without “find us on Facebook”, follow us on Twitter for exclusive news, competitions and stuff, and to make sure all your friends know what products you like.  I remember competitions including the line “put your answer on a postcard” but more and more the only method of entering is by tweeting your answer to @most-social-media-aware-company-evar.   Email isn’t an option, Facebook’s sooo last year.

I have Google+ because it was there, with my Gmail, I did enter a competition via that and Facebook today because it only involved clicking two buttons.  The third one was to enter via Twitter.  I didn’t because I can’t.  I don’t use Twitter, don’t even have an account, I have enough information coming at me as it is and I don’t want to have to remember another password.

It is, however, becoming unavoidable.  Presenters on radio shows say “is it snowing where you are?  Let us know.”  You think, yes it is, I’ll be part of this.  Then he says “tweet me to let me know.”  And a feeling of being left out makes you start to type twitter into your browser.  It’s not just unfair to those of us who don’t want to tweet but to those who don’t have the technology or the knowledge to sign up to these services.  Competitions and surveys should be open to anyone.

I haven’t given in yet, but it feels like it’s only a matter of time before I have to.

[Edit – March 2016]

Ok, I have given in, I was bored last week and decided to see what the fuss is about, also I thought I’d grab the same twitter name as my Flickr account.  @AndyByTheTrent.  I’ve followed a couple of people but not really done much with it.  #stillcantseethepointyet.