Friday, October 31, 2008

Locale + Calendar Integration, Take 2

Carter from Locale team made a correction to the original post.

First of all, my apologies - I've had a tunnel vision attack and didn't see the calendar icon on the screenshot.

On the other hand, that might serve as a message that screenshots are insufficient, and they're not searchable. And that the documentation is an important part of your product - even if it is free. For now. And the front page of the project is still talking about Android release in the future tense.

But enough bickering, let me address the original point.

I guess I was thinking about Calendar integration for too long and didn't realize that what I implied too much in a cryptic message, so let me spell it out.

Let's see, yes, you can integrate a Calendar event into Locale. However, in order to do that, you need to:

  1. Get the phone in your hands;
  2. Open Locale;
  3. Fiddle with it for a sufficiently long period of time in order to create a situation;
  4. Go through the user interface that duplicates Calendar (I didn't look into technicalities, hope Calendar UI is a standard Android gadget);
  5. Select the event;
  6. Finish the situation.
That's a lot of work.

Now, what I actually meant was:

  1. Start creating your event (in the Calendar);
  2. Add a Calendar gadget that specifies notification preferences to your event;
  3. Have Locale (or suchlike application) analyze the events in background and apply settings that are already specified in the events.

And that's all.

The point is, don't do the job you don't have to. Lazy design is a good design.

Note, it doesn't matter whether the event is being created via Web interface on your computer, or your phone. Don't know about you, but I hate the small keyboards on smartphones, no matter how good they are - maybe it's all cool and peachy while you still have all your life ahead of you, but well, I have better things to do than explore the limits of G1's mechanical excellence (more about that in a different post) in my not-so-spare time.

Having said all that, let me repeat once more that yes, I realize that per-event calendar gadget may not even exist yet (last time I checked, it didn't), but that can be addressed, and I'm sure it's either there already, or is coming soon.

More about lazy design - ahem... Give me one good reason why do you have to have a separate "manage" tab, whereas you can do the same thing in the same tab by simply using a long press?

But again, I'm nitpicking. All in all, Locale is a very useful application, and if the design team plays along with Google's way of doing things (release early, release often, improve evolutionarily) - I'm sure it'll keep being one of Android's crown jevels.

Good job, guys, and good luck.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Four R Mantra, now coming to Android

It used to be called The Microsoft Mantra: Four R's.


My Nokia never needed a reboot.

I was appalled when I was told by customer service to reboot my PEBL.

I wasn't even surprised when BlackBerry wanted to reboot after installing practically anything, and sometimes even by itself, for a good measure.

I guess I have nobody but myself to blame that I didn't figure out that a simple reboot would fix the problems I was having lately. But no, it didn't occur to me, I've put too much faith in the development team, and it took a call to T-Mobile customer service (hilarious call, I should say) to cure that.

All right, now that I know that Four R's is applicable to Android, my life is easier.

It's still disgusting, though. Thought they would do better than that.


Last thing in the world that you want to do is to get the geeks pissed.

The very last thing in the world that you want to do is to get the law geeks pissed.

Viva Harvard.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

When The Geek Phone Is Assaulted By Mere Mortals...

...then the infrastructure caves in. *And* the geek phone.

I guess the audience is catching up, and the regular users that bought the phone not because they knew what it is, but because they saw the ad or otherwise chose it over something else, finally discovered the Android Market.

Application downloads started since yesterday still display "starting download" (tricks with "restarting" don't help), and the whole phone feels as sluggish as 256M RAM computer trying to run ten applications under Windows XP. There's seven application download processes runnig in parallel, with zero success.

I guess I could've eased its task and cancel some of downloads to bring the phone back to normal, but that'd be cheating - regular users won't do that, so I'm gonna follow their lead and see how soon does it come back to normal, if ever.

That's a second serious dent in G1, first being the voice dialer.

Update: Don't know what was the role of the Market server, but 24 hours later the issue was solved by a simple reboot. Welcome to the Windows world.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

G1 Voice Dialing Sucks

Don't know what to blame it for - on G1 hardware, or on Android software, but the voice dialer on G1 deeply and profoundly sucks.

Out of existing address book, it can recognize 1 (one) name.

It would've been tolerable if it could recognize digits, but no, it can't recognize them either. Repeatedly.

I would've blamed that on the fact that I speak with an accent, if not for the fact that a stone age old PEBL had just slight problems with it, and BlackBerry Curve didn't have any at all.

I wonder if voice recognition actually runs locally on the phone, or remotely with your voice input channeled to a Google server - just like Picasa 3 does with face recognition. Also wonder if the algorithm is fixed, or self-learning - it gives me way too may choices when it fails.

Verdict: unusable in current state. If you're using voice dialing a lot, make sure it works for you before you buy the phone.

Update: I'm not the one whose voice it doesn't recognize. Native speakers have just as much luck as I do.

Update: RC29 didn't help much.

Mobile Schizophrenia: Notifications

All notifications are not equal, but some of them are less equal than others.

I do want to wake up and take a call no matter what - I assume if someone's calling me, they really need me. But sometimes I can't take a call during a meeting.

I do need to take a look at incoming SMS - with less urgency, maybe. T-Mobile, for example, is known to send routine service notifications at five in the morning - I don't think I need to wake up for that. But if it is someone I know to be judgmental in their SMS habits, I'd rather take a look at what they wrote. Say, if my bank tells me there's fraudulent activity on my account - that's pretty urgent in my book.

I do need to know when mail comes - at day. I don't think I need that at night.

In other words, I need to be able to establish my own guidelines for what constitutes urgency, and introduce arbitrary classes of service - "anytime", "not when I'm busy", "not when I'm sleeping" and so on. Would be nice to have integration with Locale and IM status.

But today, there are only two, at most three, priorities: phone call, SMS, sometimes IM. This is not enough.

Android Wishlist: Locale + Calendar Integration

Apparently, other people have exactly the same pet peeves that I do.

Can't blame them for not doing the job exactly the same way I would've done - they've already done much more than I cared and/or had time to, but can't resist (being the <censored>-retentive nitpicker that I am) from an observation: why do I have to create timed conditions via Locale specific UI and storage, when there's a tool perfected to do just that: the calendar.

The calendar is available through its API.

Calendar gadgets, last time I checked, were on per-day granularity, but still, one can use the API to create events that external tools (like Locale) can work with. Or, push the Calendar guys to create per-event gadgets - Google is known to be flexible in admitting their shortcomings. This may already exist on be in the works, for all I know.

Locale project does advertise "3rd party developer platform", so doing it may be a straightforward task, but the promise is yet to materialize - Locale doesn't look like an Open Source project. There's something funny about it - for example, I wouldn't imagine the Top Ten project team to allow the site to talk about Android release in the future tense a week after it's actually happened...

Monday, October 27, 2008

BlackBerry OS upgrade notes: 4.2 to

A few random observations, in no particular order:

  • The whole process takes about 50 minutes;
  • Device boots about 15 minutes after restart, don't panic;
  • Browser is different, trackball now controls the pointer instead of hopping between links;
  • Font size preference is gone;
  • Folder layout I've spent significant time fiddling with is gone;
  • Device still loses the wallpaper when used as USB Mass Storage;
  • Nice white background formerly present during the call is now replaced with the ugly *default* theme wallpaper (not even the one I selected for the home screen);
  • All the useless applications that I've tried to delete or hide are back with vengeance, some of them you can't delete;
  • GMail 2.0.5 takes quite a while to start for the first time;
  • GMail preferences are gone;
  • All above makes me think that all application preferences are gone;
  • Interestingly enough, advanced ring preferences are still intact;
  • Yahoo Messenger now supports user icons, finally supports UTF-8, and now it is able to automatically reconnect you on device reboots (which happens much more often than you think/see);
  • I don't remember seeing "Wireless Upgrade" option before;
  • I don't remember seeing "Scan for Available Wi-Fi Networks" before;
  • First impression is that the device has become significantly more sluggish than it was.
That's all in a nutshell.

Old software version had an annoying problem - Bluetooth headset by itself worked just fine, but when the device was switching to UMA, voice quality was dropping so bad, the other party usually asked me to get off the headset. It is too early to tell if that's going to be the case here - stay tuned.

Update: Yep, it's definitely sluggish now.

Brand Recognition: G1 Is Known, Android Is Not

Looking at Google Trends for BlackBerry, Android, G1, Google Phone:

Google Trends Graph

Hmm... G1 is catching up with BlackBerry quite fast...
Hmm... Android is obviously a geek-only term at this point, and general population knows little about it.
Not so for G1, at least as of now.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Android G1: RIM should be afraid. Very afraid.

Here's what is going to happen pretty soon, in no particular order, with different probability of materialization:
  • Software development houses are going to realize that Android offers them equal, if not more powerful platform than BlackBerry OS;
  • They are going to realize that social networking and application interoperability (a.k.a. Web 2.0) is making their life much easier, and development overhead smaller, and time to market shorter;
  • For a short while, corporations will bitch and moan about absence of Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes support on Android;
  • Software development houses are going to realize that whoever comes up with Microsoft Exchange and/or Lotus Notes support on Android is going to hit the jackpot;
  • Hence, the Big Race will start (I believe it has already started), and Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes support will inevitably come to Android, and very soon;
  • This will eliminate the competitive advantage that BlackBerry is still enjoying;
  • RIM is going to realize that Android in general, and G1 in particular, is the BlackBerry killer;
  • RIM may do the right thing and drop BlackBerry OS altogether, with just legacy support (unlikely, that's too much of loss of face) or
  • RIM may do the right thing and release a BlackBerry device with Android instead of or along with BlackBerry OS, gradually fading BlackBerry OS into oblivion;
  • Presence of Android on BlackBerry hardware is going to save their butt, and allow them to save billions of dollars on not having to develop something the rest of the world is already eager to do for them. Just let them.
So here's what I would do:
  • If I was responsible for mobile application development for consumer sector: drop BlackBerry development, change iPhone/Android resource allocation as 20/80 - iPhone is just one iPhone, Android is a platform, a cheaper platform, with more phones to come and vastly wider distribution;
  • If I was responsible for mobile application development for corporate sector: forget that Android is not currently on the approved list. This will change very fast. Change the BlackBerry/Android resource allocation to at least 50/50, and keep watching the market. Oh, and look very deeply into not reinventing the wheel, for application interoperability will be the key for Android applications, and there'll be lots of reusable code to reuse;
  • If I was responsible for infrastructure development: location based services are somewhat overdue, make sure they're not forgotten - and start planning ahead already;
  • If I was responsible for buying a phone for myself: I'd buy G1, in fact, I just did;
  • If I was responsible for corporate procurement plan: I'd eliminate all sorts of long term contracts with RIM and kept talking to Google about how they can make my life easier.
Now the prediction's been made, let's sit and wait and see what happens. I don't think holding one's breath for extended periods of time is necessary - BoA's mobile banking application has already been available on day one, Visa has declared their intent to do the same, there's some action as far as Microsoft Exchange support is concerned, Motorola is working on something. Let's see how much time it takes for others to realize that either they have to jump on the bandwagon, or be left in the dust.

Update: Told ya: CompanionLink Releases Outlook Syncing App For Android. Less than a month. May not be perfect, but certainly proves the point. Now let's see how long does it take for Lotus Notes sync app to arrive.

Android G1: Just Like Bosch

The phone is new, and not everyone knows about it. My wife, for example, was totally unconvinced to buy it (even though it was to be her phone) and just succumbed to my nagging because that's what she usually does to preserve the peace in the family.

That was, however, until I was able to forcefully distract her from making whatever shopping decisions she was making at the moment and show her this. And this. The look in her eye told me that I'm guaranteed unconditional love. Until my next blunder, that is.

Women are gotta love thes phones.

Note, this is on the third day on the market. With lack of serious advertisement (yeah, I know, us geeks knew about it for months, but that doesn't count).

It seems to me that Android is going to be for women what Bosch is for for some of us mechanically inclined: just like this comment says, the moment is not far away when we will start wondering what causes that wild look in their eyes.

Well, let's wait and see how this turns out...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

BlackBerry Curve Add Input Language HOWTO

A short while ago I was trying to add Cyrillic input language support to my Curve through T-Mobile. Following are the simple steps that will allow you to add any input language support to your phone, provided the language is included into the distribution. Unfortunately, it's not possible to determine beforehand whether your language supported or not until after some steps are complete.

Once again, this set is for T-Mobile phones only. If your carrier is different, you may brick your phone, and don't hold me responsible.

Here goes:
  1. Go to
  2. Select your phone, click "get software" button.
  3. On the next screen, enter your mobile number and cick "go".
  4. Further instructions have been verified for Curve 8320, but are likely to work with other 83xx phones as well, and possibly other models using the same software distribution model. URL given to you will be different depending on your mobile number, hence no URLs from this point on.
  5. Download and install Desktop Manager Software, Multi-Language with Media Manager (don't know if the other version of Desktop Manager is going to work, feel free to try and let me know).
  6. Download Handheld Software Installation Instructions. Gotta have Acrobat Reader handy.
  7. Download and install Handheld Software.
  8. Follow the Handheld Software Installation Instructions TO THE LETTER.
On page 7 of the Installation Instructions there's a glimpse of the screen where you have to select the input language you want to add.

There will be a significant delay as the installer reconnects to your Curve after the reboot - if this is not your first reboot, you know that already, but I just thought I'd mention that.

You might want to google up blackberry curve input language shortcut.

Credits: the_razor's message here provided the starting point. The process is actually pretty straightforward, but it is not quite obvious, and it took me quite a while to find it, so it is posted here for the benefit of poor souls trying to add an input language to their device.

And NO, you don't have to purchase anything in order to add input language, despite T-Mobile reps' statements to the contrary.


Want Cyrillic on your Curve? Fughet about it

1 hour, 13 minutes, 48 seconds is all it takes to confirm what a lot of us know already: customer support is useless when the issue at hand is anything other than trivial. Generally, I haven't had any problems with T-Mobile support, but in this case the tech support turned out to be utterly lacking, despite their best efforts and educated guidance from my side.

And it is really surprised given the multitude of nations that comprise the US population, and the fact that a lot of people speak more than one language, and quite some more than two.

And the question was really, really simple: how to add Cyrillic input language support. Doesn't get much simpler than that.

It is even more infuriating because I know that it is possible, and all the T-Mobile rep is saying is "you have to purchase the application to do that", and when I ask "what application should I purchase?" his answer is "It doesn't say it here". I don't have a personal grudge against him - it's simply beyond his training, but the T-Mobile the carrier could've paid more attention to such a simple issue.

Oh well, GIYF... Off investigating.

UPDATE: BlackBerry Curve Add Input Language HOWTO.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Java Security Model Fail

Java 2 was introduced in 1999, along with its revolutionary security model.

There was just one problem: nobody wanted to use it.

It's been almost 10 years since its introduction, and even though there were nice extensions like JAAS, I don't remember ever seeing applications that were, in fact, relying on Java security model.

Part of the problem, of course, was the fact that it was a pain in the neck to implement. Parts of the implementation were working outside of the security manager, and the bootstrap was neckbreaking. By the time I abandoned attempts to use Java security model (about 2003, having grokked it fully by then) because none of my employers were willing to support it, there were no available common sense implementations such as LDAP security manager, and anything more complicated than a policy file was out of question because you needed to implement it first. I believe this greatly contributed to the overall failure of the security model - Sun should have paid more attention and provided at least basic implementations.

Another part is a perceived performance degradation. Sure there is some, but there is also total absence of hard proof, which, in turn, is caused by total absence of visible implementations that actually used the security manager... Hence, I call bs until I see the actual hard statistics (not that I'm holding my breath for that).

This, however, is complicated by the fact that if you can really compare the performance of a system with the security manager and without one, that'll mean you're doing it wrong. Security manager is much more than simply checking for access, that'll be like using the microscope to hammer nails. Properly using security manager means that it is completely integrated into your application and is an integral part of it.

But I don't think this is happening or will ever happen, except for maybe a few niche products.

Too bad, it was a good start.

Update: To be fair, all above is pertinent only to a part of what is declared to comprise the security model today, namely, Authentication and Access Control. Other parts either didn't exist, or weren't officially the part of the security model at the time.

Google Mobile World Domination Fail, BlackBerry Edition

I've been planning to write this article about several times a day for a couple of months already. And every time, there was the next update that made me think "No, not yet" and abort the attempt.

Until now.

The point is, with all the efforts that Google seems to be directing at the mobile space, their efforts are either failing or backfiring, at least where BlackBerry is concerned.

Usability of applications is getting reduced with every new update.

Worst of all, I'm now starting to see the pattern where spontaneous device reboots that drive me nuts seem to be related to the clandestine Google Updater that runs in the background. Sometimes, it reboots in the middle of a phone call.

Visible notification about new mail in GMail mailbox is gone.

New mail doesn't get into the mailbox until a while later, I have acquired a habit of hitting "refresh" all the time (all right, Google may be concerned about bandwidth consumption, but I'd rather they ask me if I want to wait an hour until they refresh the mailbox contents).

Spreadsheet is marginally usable, if you really need to read the documents.

It is no longer possible to have just the applications that I need (the all-encompassing "Google Mobile App for BlackBerry" replaced it).

It is no longer possible to see whether the application version is the latest (to be fair, Google Updater was always quite flaky as far as new software versions were concerned, and the only way to reliably check whether the new version is available was to manually install the application - current software versions are not displayed on Google site, either).

Bottomline: having used almost all Google applications for quite a while by now, I can say with confidence that most of Google apps for BlackBerry fall severely short in comparison to their usual quality standards.

This scares me a bit - being able to use Google apps was one of selling points of BlackBerry. Now that Android enabled phones are becoming tangible, I wonder what happens to Google's desire to keep BlackBerry (and iPhone) apps with their heads above the water...

Update: New mail notification works with BlackBerry OS upgrade from 4.2 to 4.5.
Update: Visual notification only works if audible notification is enabled. If you disable audible notification, you lose visual as well.

Are Fanless PSUs Going Extinct?

There was time when quite a few fanless power supplies were available (too many to count and remember). Today, out of all those there are three fanless PSUs on Newegg. Two of them are 300W, one 400W.

For reference, Antec Phantom 500 repeatably and reproducibly shuts off when feeding two 8 series NVidia cards working in SLI.

Conclusion? Need to pay more attention to the general acoustic qualities of the case and its ability to suppress the wind noise. Slight hope for improved energy efficiency of future components, but in any case I don't think there'll be fanless PSUs able to feed high end gaming systems anytime soon.

It seems, by the way, that Antec Phantom 500 was the most powerful fanless power supply ever manufactured. Whereas it does have a very annoying auxiliary fan (very noisy) which switches on under heavy load (which gaming definitely is), using it for HTPC is perfectly justified - I don't remember the fan ever switching on.

It is still being sold online, so hurry before existing supply runs out...

Far Cry 2 DRM Infected?

Search on far cry 2 securom reveals that SecuROM is planned to be used to protect Far Cry 2.

What a <censored> annoyance.

I've faithfully purchased all the games produced by this team so far (that'll be Far Cry, Crysis, Crysis Warhead), was severely disappointed when it turned out that Crysis Warhead used SecuROM (which gave me tremendous headache throughout many years and on several computers - the dreaded Invalid system-time detected), and now pondering this:

It takes me roughly $50 and a trip to the store (yes, I like to have shiny boxes) to get the game. Trip to the store costs me anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes, and gas, so the total cost of the game (supposing I would've been working instead of driving) goes up to about $200.

On the other hand, the crack for the game protection will be out in HOURS after the release, and it will be readily available, just like Far Cry crack... Oh, wait, it is already available, despite the fact that the release date is still about a week away.

So, why should I even bother buying the game? Give me ONE GOOD REASON, except for appealing to my concsience, which wears pretty thin as I keep wasting my precious time to deal with stupid DRM tricks - which are supposed to deter pirates, and not me, faithful paying customer. For now.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Chrome Rust: Schizophrenic Middle Finger

There is one very annoying feature in Chrome: non-reversible "open link in new tab" on middle button click. All other browsers (that I care of, anyway) do allow you to reverse the policy from "open in a new background tab" to "open in a new tab and make it active", bug no, Chrome is above that. At least for now.

Very annoying to switch back and forth between browsers - and since the number of other browsers (on more than one operating system) far exceeds one (Chrome), the choice here is simple: either drop Chrome altogether (only morbid curiosity prevents me from doing so), or change my habits - hell no, forget that.

Let's see if I'm alone and how soon they add this feature.

BlackBerry Curve Overheating & Battery Drain: Solved?

I've suddenly realized that it's been a while since my phone overheated and tried to drain the battery. There were no statistically significant changes in usage patterns, but there were several BlackBerry updates (couple of them caught me in the middle of the conversation - and why that Instant Messaging folder that I've deleted keeps coming back to life like a zombie?) and possibly some Google application updates (can't really say anymore, since they've hidden update details from the casual eye).

There's a poll on the sidebar, tell me if it's just me or it's gone for good...

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Google Stock Fail?

Life is not easy today, market is falling. But even more interesting is the fact that Google stock price has been falling since December 7 2007, when it reached $714.87, all the way down to today's value of $338.11 - less than half of the price, to be exact, 47%.

It's been losing money faster than the market (-51.1% vs. -34.38% for NASDAQ and -30.21% for Dow Jones).


See for yourself: GOOG