Saturday, November 29, 2008

I Love My Car, But It Sucks Anyway

Oh, wait, it should be the other way: My car sucks, but I love it anyway...

But I digress.

It's one thing to read about coolant leaks in They All Do That section, and competely another to see the CHECK COOLANT LEVEL message two days after the coolant had been replenished, and find a pool of blue liquid under the car on a chilly November night far away from home.

I guess this is when having spent some money on Bentley Service Manual should start paying back.

Well, it sucks, but I love it anyway.

UPDATE: Failed water pump, part #11510393336. Leaking bearing is very easy to mistake for the leaking thermostat side connector of the lower hose (part #11537505229).

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Google Sync 0.5.11 for BlackBerry: no, make that a fail

Contrary to what I thought, all the problems brought in by Sync 0.5.9 are still back.

The address book is still botched on the device, there are entries with no information present whatsoever (though I checked them before doing the sync, and they appeared to be fine after the sync).

Sync doesn't appear to honor the "sync manually" option and is doing something in background, destroying address book entries in the process.

Most ridiculous is that the problems with 0.5.9 were never offically acknowledged, and 0.5.11 never officially announced. Tsk-tsk-tsk.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Google Sync 0.5.11 for BlackBerry: Close, but no cigar

Without much ado, Google Sync for BlackBerry 0.5.11 was released today.

Yes, it did fix screwups that Sync 0.5.9 created, but still doesn't work right.
  1. Spend precious time fixing GMail contact list;
  2. Sync again;
  3. Spend precious time weeding out duplicates and litter from GMail contact list again;
  4. Sync again;
  5. Voila, the trash from the BlackBerry address book is back from the dead, alive and well in GMail contact list.
Thank God for backups.

Still not a word from Google.

UPDATE: Well, this is something I haven't expected from Google programmers, out of all people. GMail contacts have the email address as a primary key for a contact, BlackBerry address book uses the phone number. They may have gotten into both lists from different sources, in different notation. Good luck trying to find out what source gets precedence for what case.

One thing is clear - don't expect your GMail address book to work as the system of record.

I wouldn't be surprised if the BlackBerry address book is not treated as a system of record either, but honestly, a little bit too tired to try.

What a mess.

UPDATE: Oh, and NullPointerException is back.

Android Wishlist: Smart Context

G1 is literally a death threat in the car, with its lack of voice dialing capabilities.

On the other hand, it is also a privacy threat, being used without the screen lock pattern.

Whereas it is barely possible to get away with placing a call with the screen unlocked (Menu-Menu-Home-Direct Dial, if it is configured, and Menu-Menu-Call-get-lost-and-die, if it's not), it is even more difficult if there is a lock pattern.

A good start in the right direction could be, for example, automatic unlock to the home screen upon connecting with a specified Bluetooth device.

Still, this doesn't make it safe enough, just reduces the threat. I do wish someone's got enough time and money to come up with the docking station.

Or, for Pete's sake, fix the voice dialer...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Android Wishlist: IM, uninterrupted

It would be nice if IM clients present on Android didn't drop connection every time there was a handover between WiFi and GSM/GRPS/EDGE/3G... And even if it dropped, it reconnected automatically if told to do so.

Quote Of The Day: Competition

I am reluctant to talk to my competition because the amount of information they can extract out of my questions significantly exceeds the amount of information they can extract of my most honest answers to their most detailed questions.
-- GT

Android Disappointments: Good Bye, Locale

With great regrets, retired Locale today. Most regrettable because this is something I thought about as well, something that showed great promise, and something that can be greatly improved.

Doesn't seem that is destined to happen, though. At least not yet.

What makes projects great is transparency. Here, there is none.

Feedback, other than 915 ratings to date on Android Market, is hidden. Directions of further development are unknown. The only way to "get involved" is to send a mail (yeah, sure, let me whip out my spam filter). It is not known whether the project team is planning to make this an open source project, or make it a commercial application. It is not known and not clear whether the application is being actively developed, or maybe the team has reaped the benefits and moved on, releasing minor bugfixes once in a while.

Given the fact that the application is quirky and there is a lot of space for improvements (which I'm not even going to talk about until they put the cards on the table), I just call it quits.

This application is uncertain. Uncertainty is risk. Risk is threat.

The impact of this application on one's life can be a blessing or a curse - and curse much more often than a blessing, people usually notice things that go wrong and take what goes right for granted. Just imagine an alarm that's been missed because it fell into the "silent" zone, and you not making the once in a lifetime interview because of that.

*IF* Locale becomes a commercial application, I might think of buying it. But probably won't - you know, if the range top microwave falls and severs my SO's arm, I don't care much if if the installer had insurance to cover it.

But, if they decide to open it up... I just might be tempted enough to chip in my $0.02.

Too bad I don't have time to write it better from scratch, being busy doing other things...

Google Sync 0.5.9 for BlackBerry: where to go to get help

I wish this page was more discoverable than it is: Latest version of Google Sync not syncing contacts at Google's BlackBerry Devices Help Forum.

Both pages have RSS feeds.

UPDATE: One more cry of pain.

Android network problems are Google's fault? That's a definite maybe

Whereas I didn't experience problems like this, I've seen a thing or two that make me wonder how ready Google's infrastructure is for the massive influx of Android users.

A couple of days ago, I've bought the second G1 - my wife didn't like black, and I got stuck with it, and the process of changing the phone identity on top of that.

So she just took the shiny new phone, booted it up, logged in (with the identity that she had used on the old phone for a month), said "Yep, it's on" and walked away.

I've spent about 30 minutes trying to figure how to disassociate the phone with the GMail account (all this time the phone was still operable, I could place and receive calls, and everything worked except for Email and IM). Haven't found a way (manual didn't help either), decided to do a master reset and... stuck for good.

An attempt to sign in caused a lengthy delay accompanied by the warning that it can take up to five minutes.

In reality, it took about two to three hours, with multiple timeouts and invitations to retry and check with T-Mobile whether they provisioned the SIM card correctly.

As I was close to the T-Mobile store, I asked them - and they told me that all recent customers are having this problem, quote, "it takes from three to twelve hours for the activation to work".


So I went home, hoping that this problem would dissolve by itself, and it did - like I said, somewhere between two and three hours since the first attempt.

Of course I've been wondering what went wrong. The only explanation I have at this time (and I don't think Google or T-Mobile will be offering any :) is that Android authentication and mail access are not handled by the same infrastructure as GMail. My best guess is that the activation delay is caused by account replication - and yeah, good luck replicating a few years and gigabytes of my mail, along with countless others'.

This, along with HTC's updated forecasts, makes me wonder if the omnignostic Google flopped in demand predictions, or was it T-Mobile that can't cope with the load.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Google Sync 0.5.9 for BlackBerry: What A Royal Pain

For the last four days, I'm dealing with the consequences of upgrading my BlackBerry Curve to Google Sync 0.5.9, with Contacts.

Even though the Curve is now gone to a different user, and I'm working with GMail and G1, but the consequences of a botched release are still biting me in the back.

Over two hundred entries in the address book, most of them with 7 or 8 postal address copies. Yes, for some reason it is either seven or eight - guess that was a number of attempts the sync application made before I realized that each new attempt is making things worse and shut it off.

Same for phone numbers - there's lots of duplicates. Each notation for a number (999-999-9999, 999.999.9999, (999) 999-9999, you name it) gets a unique entry.

I'm not even talking about NullPointerException.

Good thing I don't have to deal with the BlackBerry address book anymore, I can only imagine how much time I would've spent on putting that in order.

But still, it's bee quite a few hours by now, and time is money. And I'm not the only one affected, and there's a lot of people that are much less capable of fixing this problem, or having enough time to deal with it.

And four days later, Google is mum. As if they've released an update on Friday night and went on vacation. But wait, it was Wednesday.

I would say that this is a black eye on Google's PR. There's no update, and there's no apology.

Nothing is going to bring back hours of my life that I wasted on fixing Google's screwup, but a little "we're sorry" would make me feel just a little bit better.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Next Android Challenge: Context

I want to accomplish a very simple task:

  1. Create a document using my phone.
  2. Print it.

I sure hope Google does come up with something better than CUPS.

The bigger picture question would be - how does Android device become aware of its immediate surroundings and make itself usable?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Google Sync 0.5.9 for BlackBerry: Not So Fast

Saw the news about the fact that the Sync now supports GMail contact synchronization, rejoiced and immediately installed the update - I've been waiting for this feature for quite a while.

And regretted it five minutes later. It breaks the phone and renders it next to unusable.

Some incoming calls that used to be identified just fine don't get identified anymore.

Custom ringtones for some incoming calls are borked.

Best of all, attempt to invoke the call log causes java.lang.NullPointerException dialog box to be displayed prominently. Sometimes this happens after the call is terminated.

Sometimes the dialog box goes away and the phone falls back to the home screen by itself, sometimes hard reset is required to make the phone operable again.

And of course, there's no going back to the old version of the Sync. I'm hoping that system restore will help, and will be furious if it doesn't.

It appears that the numbers affected are those that were originally stored on the SIM card.

UPDATE: Wiping out the contacts from the SIM card (pray that you have a backup phone) does fix the problem with misidentified calls and custom ringtones, but the null pointer exception dialog box persists.

UPDATE: Providing telephone numbers for all email-only contacts in BlackBerry address book, and disabling the sync seems to take care of the problem. Not what I would want, but better than a half-dead phone.

Lots of people complain about this problem, Google is still mum on the subject. No apologies forthcoming.

Printers: They All Lie

On August 7th, my Xerox 6130 complained that the black toner cartridge is almost empty. It was bizarre, keeping in mind that the printer was bought just a short while before and definitely didn't print 10k pages per cartridge claimed in the specs.

OK, said I, it must be the new "demo" cartridge that was installed in the new printer, I need to print, I need to buy the cartridge.

Today, on November 21st, three months and fourteen days later (given pretty dense printing load) the printer eventually declared that it can't live without another cartridge - but the strange part is that the last page printed looked *just fine* to me.

I know that ink printer manufacturers have already been slapped on the wrist. I wonder when the patience of laser printer owners get thin enough to do the same.

Wonder how many pages this cartridge will print.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Android: Welcome To The App Hell

We all know all too well what DLL Hell is.
We also know what is Jar Hell.

Welcome to the new stage, the App Hell.

Multiple applications for the same device, all trying to solve their particular task, with their developers each scratching their own itch, and stepping on each other's toes, with little or no way of finding out about each other.

Just a quick example:

Ring Control - controls the ringer volume and vibrate settings;
Locale - controls (at this point) ringer volume, vibrate, WiFi;
Power Manager - controls GPS, WiFi, Bluetooth;
Toggle Settings - controls GPS, WiFi, Bluetooth.

The answer to this predicament is much bigger than a humble blog article can contain, all I'm trying to do here is to open the can of worms.

I can just guess that there has to be a device-wide capabilities discovery and current state notification bus the applications can subscribe to, and cooperate. Priority management wouldn't hurt, either.

Meanwhile, prepare for Android balkanization... And try to remember which of your gadgets does what and not go nuts in the process.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Android G2 Wish List

Now that it is more or less clear what G1 is, it is becoming clear what it's missing.

First of all, the big items:
  • UMA - but unlikely this will happen;
  • Improved battery life - it is possible to drain the battery in an hour when actually doing something;
  • Improved voice recognition - current generation is pretty much unusable;
  • Hands-free operation, voice commands over headset - it is dangerous to use G1 to initiate a call when driving, visual feedback is required. Any feedback other than audible, or pressing a button on a headset, is unacceptable;
  • Internationalization (input language support);
  • Google Talk Voice - I know this will not happen, but still want it;
  • Google Apps Integration - I don't see why GMail should get preferential treatment over an offering with identical, if not superior (for paid editions) functionality.
Low hanging fruit:
  • I wish Google developers realize that GMail contacts with no first/last name, but with company name, should not be displayed as just a telephone number in Android contact list. It is ugly to copy/paste the company name into the name field - it is not the name. Interestingly enough, they got this right in GMail, but not Android...
  • Along the same lines: contact should be searchable by company name as well as name. Well, while we're at that, why don't make it searchable by any field? (Update: fixed in GMail)
From this point on, in no particular order (RC33 fixed these issues):
  • Auto-answer when on handset options
  • User-programmable buttons
  • Volume control buttons in a place where they don't get pressed all the time
  • "Escalating" volume setting for ringtones and alarms
  • Better tactile feedback
  • Raised keys on the face (flat keys are pretty difficult to find)
  • Cached Market entries
  • Centralized application update notification (today, there's no way to find out about the update other than look it up in the Market manually)
  • Market Watch List (an application may be not good enough today, but I want to keep an eye on ie)
  • Customizable clock on the home screen (I'd rather have a digital, with 24 hour display)
  • Full control of the phone via remote connection - TCP or at least USB (GMail sync is a good start, but some operations are just too cumbersome and slow on the phone itself)
  • External screen/docking interface - it would be nice to plug the phone into the car and have input and output on a bigger screen (maps, GPS, directions, you name it) - another view at the same problem
  • Multi-touch screen - those zoom buttons are annoying
  • Web access to Market - even today, access is already slow and cumbersome, and there's too many applications to view comfortably. And please not as clumsy as Apple App Store;
  • No IM interruptions on joining/departing WiFi.
(more to come)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

T-Mobile Store: Just Say No

Just one item: Motorola H710 Bluetooth Headset.

T-Mobile: $99.99
Newegg OEM: $36.99

That'll be 37% of T-Mobile's price, or 63% off. Impressive, duh?

Android G1: Bluetooth is not that useful, either

In the process of comparing headsets, I've swapped H700 and H710 between phones and decided to test the voice quality via Bluetooth on G1.

I knew that voice dialer could be better, but the result was unexpected nevertheless.

Turns out, there are just two things you can do using just the buttons on your Bluetooth headset:
  • Take the call
  • Redial
Having used to have an extensive set of voice commands, this comes as a major disappointment.

G1 is unfit for hands-free operation. If you drive a lot, and have to initiate calls, you may want to think twice before buying it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Tao of Mobile Computing

Not something I normally do, but just couldn't resist:

A master programmer passed a novice programmer one day. The master noted the novice's preoccupation with a hand-held computer game. "Excuse me,'' he said, "may I examine it?''

The novice bolted to attention and handed the device to the master. "I see that the device claims to have three levels of play: Easy, Medium, and Hard,'' said the master. "Yet every such device has another level of play, where the device seeks not to conquer the human, nor to be conquered by the human.''

"Pray, great master,'' implored the novice, "how does one find this mysterious setting?''

The master dropped the device to the ground and crushed it underfoot. And suddenly the novice was enlightened.

Source: Slashdot, (Useful) Stupid BlackBerry Tricks

Conspiracy Theory: There Will Be No Google Talk for Android

Not that it's non-obvious, just didn't stop to think about it until now...

Fact #1: mobile carriers charge customers for airtime.
Fact #2: Google Talk uses data channel to transfer voice.

Corollary: Google Talk jeopardizes carrier's business model, and puts a strain on their data channel capacity. This can't make carriers happy.

Corollary 2: There will be no Google Talk for Android.

So if you're developing your own VOIP application, now is a time to rejoice and have a second breath - the first to get to the market share hits the jackpot.

UPDATE: See the UMA conspiracy theory.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Outlook Sync for Android: It's Real

Just like I was predicting the first Microsoft Outlook synchronization product didn't take long to arrive. Less than two months from the Android announcement, less than a month from the day of Android release.

So now it's Lotus Notes' turn. I don't think it will happen as fast - unless it'll be a third party solution, not IBM's. Having worked with Lotus products myself, I can testify what a royal pain in the ass it is, and wouldn't dare to say that the sync will arrive anywhere as soon as Outlook sync. However, keeping in mind the tremendous inertia of Lotus Notes' customers, and their insurmountable cost to exit, I would bet that the sync will appear sooner than a decision to replace Lotus Notes with something more sane will be made.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


Attitude (Воспитание)

My kid decided to show me how grumpy he was by shifting his teenage weight while being perched upon the (pictured above) miserable product of Chinese design and manufacturing genius. With some obvious and some non-obvious consequences.

The obvious consequences were that the said product, predictably, cracked.

The non-obvious were that he was grounded until the product was fixed.

The latter took him getting some familiarity with woodworking tools, seven layers of paint, a few sanding runs, and lots of time.

I don't think he'll be showing attitude anytime soon.

PS: Click on the photo to see some nice design decisions.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Google Apps, Android and Corporate Customization

An attorney was sitting in his office late one night, when Satan appeared before him. The Devil told the lawyer, "I have a proposition for you. You can win every case you try, for the rest of your life. Your clients will adore you, your colleagues will stand in awe of you, and you will make embarrassing sums of money. All I want in exchange is your soul, your wife's soul, your children's souls, the souls of your parents, grandparents, and parents-in-law, and the souls of all your friends and law partners." The lawyer thought about this for a moment, then asked, "So, what's the catch?"

A while ago I've had a tempting proposition: get myself a BlackBerry 8820 with employer paying for the device and the plan. The downside was (just like above) that the phone would be locked up, set up by the employer, and maintained by the entity known as Helpless Desk.

I chose to pass the opportunity.

When I had a chance to compare the corporate phone with mine a few months later, I blessed the moment I said no. One word to describe the corporate phone is "crippled". Nothing works as it should, nothing can be set straight because it's not you who can make things happen, but the Helpless Desk. From "the blessing and the curse" that a cell phone is it passed on to being a quintessential curse.

Enough about BlackBerry, let's talk about Android...

- Can a son of a colonel become a general?
- No, generals have sons too...

My earlier predictions about arrival of Microsoft and Lotus product gateways on Android notwithstanding, they will be mosty irrelevant in bigger picture, as far as Android is concerned.

We are at a break even point right now.

It is obvious that Google will be pushing Google Apps as the solution for Android (it is perfectly fir for it). The question is, how can they manage to make it work without crippling it in the process?

<to be continued>

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Motorola H710: I'm sick of proprietary connectors

During last few years, the power adapter hall of shame is growing at alarming rate. Every new device cometh with its own, proprietary adaper (or simply a proprietary connector, for all I know), and, as a matter of rule, I have to go and also buy a car adapter for it. Then the device, being significantly more complex, dies, and the charger stays in a vain hope that it'll be useful again someday. Never happened so far, but I'm still holding my breath.

There were notable exceptions:

Motorola PEBL
Motorola H700
BlackBerry Curve
BlackBerry Pearl
T-Mobile G1

All of these are compatible with the same connector - I believe it is USB mini-B (bigger picture). Hence, lots of spare chargers in case one dies (oh, by the way, can someone explain why do they insist on packaging a charger with every new device???), and just one adapter per vehicle for all the occupants and all the devices. Heaven on Earth, or something very close.

So today, when I needed another headset, I simply went to the store and bought Motorola H710 (the only one available in that store), having used a very similar H700 for about two years now and being very happy with it.




See, the connector on H710 is not Mini B, though it looks like one to anyone with vision less than perfect. It is something else, possibly the mystery plug. I don't care to investigate further what it is, and under no circumstances I'm going to buy more car adapters to clutter my cars (one adapter is an annoyance enough already) and, no less importantly, spend the money I don't have to spend otherwise.

One thing I don't understand is - why the hell did they have to change the connector? H700 was a decent product, and it was just fine the way it was, in the form factor it was. There is no perceptible shape change between H700 and H710, and I don't think there's something very critical that begged to change the connector (yeah, sure, H710 plays sounds when you switch it on and off, but I don't think that could've possibly be the reason).

Other than stupid marketing - "oh, now we can sell more chargers!!!"

No you won't. Not to anyone who is sick to death of paying extra for a charger they don't need, and having to deal with this snake nest of chargers and wires.

H710 goes back to shop, and H700 gets ordered off Newegg. Motorola loses a sale and now has to deal with the returned H710, and my critical mass for not ever buying Motorola products gets one step closer.

Good job.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Android vs. iPhone: What Part Of The Message You Don't Understand?

Reading SDK shoot-out: Android vs. iPhone vividly reminded me of a joke I've first heard in mid-nineties:

In seventies, IT managers were choosing VMS over Unix.
In eighties, IT managers were choosing Novell over Unix.
In nineties, IT managers were choosing Windows NT over Unix.

What part of the message you don't understand?

One quote from the article: "If you can't get coders on board, you're sunk."

Guess what, I don't have a Mac. Neither did three startups I've worked for. Neither did three corporations I've worked for. And neither of us (me, the startups and the corporations) have any intent to buy a Mac, despite an overwhelming desire to have one someday.

I've placed my bets.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Android G1: Hardware

Can't stop comparing the G1 with other phones I've had in general, and BlackBerry Curve in particular.

Operating system aside, G1 seems pretty flimsy compared to other phones. However, the keyword may just as well be "seems".

I've read an article once about differences between German and Japanese engineering. In an essence...

German engineering is exact and elegant. The buttons will always feel the certain way, the tactile feedback would be just like you expect, the doors will thunk just like so (did you know they design sounds?), and, in general, the experience would be exquisite.

Until something breaks, that is.

Right there and then everything will cease to work completely.

Japanese designs, on the other hand, would feel like crap, look like crap, buttons may plonk deep or not move at all, but everything works. For a long, long, long time.

The explanation is difference in design tolerances.

Back to phones - G1, so far, seems to belong to Japanese school of design. Either that, or it's just outright flimsy. Time will tell.

I'm looking forward to "German" engineered Android. Of course, the market positioning and the price would be different, but it would be interesting to witness nonetheless.

And if my gut feeling is right, it may be manufactured by RIM. Or Motorola...

BlackBerry App Store: Too Little. Too Late.

Just like I was saying, RIM *is* afraid. They're opening their App Store.

In March 2009.

Let me see, that'll be roughly five months after Android Market was launched, and I don't even care to count how many months after Apple's App Store.

That might just as well be the definition of "irrelevant".

They were caught off guard.


Difficult to say what the corporate blokes were thinking all this time - the best explanation I can come up with is that they (correctly, I should say) didn't see iPhone as a threat to their business model (mostly corporate clients with thick wallets and expensive long term contracts), but totally underestimated the momentum that Android has created.

I don't think this is going to save RIM in the long run. The rules of engagement are pretty simple: lead, follow, or get out of the way.

They can't lead anymore.
They don't want to get out of the way.
The only choice left is follow.

Go ahead and release Android core on your platform already, I'd be the first to buy the result.

Quote Of The Day

Love, it seems, is blind. Whereas hate has GPS.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Android G1 RC29 is here

Voice dialer still sucks. Totally unusable - checked by three people. Not a sinlge time in 10 minutes of trying did it get a single name (or number, for that matter) right.

Android G1 @ Wal-Mart: Preliminary Speculations

It seems to be confirmed by now that Wal-Mart is about to start G1 anytime soon, for a price that is at least $30 less than what T-Mobile is selling G1 for. Seems to be a no-brainer on the surface, but the reality may turn out even more exciting.

List price for G1 at T-Mobile site today is $399. However, T-Mobile reps I've talked about outright refuse to sell me a G1 at that price, claiming that the only way for me to buy the phone is "upgrade" (there' two not-so-white lies related to that: one, obvious, is the 2 year contract, and the other is the $18 "upgrade fee" - T-Mobile consistently forgets to mention it or prints it in a font size so small I can't read it, so it is an unpleasant surprise every time).

Then there's a claim (biased since it's coming from T-Mobile reps, but can't be proven true or false until G1 actually does start selling at Wal-Mart) that Wal-Mart's contract will be even more restrictive than T-Mobile's is, since it is a "subcontract".

Well, the only parallel I can draw today is that the same phone T-Mobile was willing to sell to me outside of the contract for $70 was available at Wal-Mart for $30, no strings attached. That's 42% of T-Mobile's price.

Granted, it was a cheap (though very common and reliable) phone, and G1 definitely doesn't fall into the same category. However, it would be interesting to see what exactly string would be attached to G1 when it starts selling - all in all, Wal-Mart with its colossal exposure and the same target audience as iPhone simply can afford to sell it without strings for the advertised price, just for the hell of it.

Let's see if they actually do. Stay tuned.