2018-08-03

Google News for Android

Google News for Android

I used the Google news app for many years on my Android phones. It is
okay, but when you choose a story from the previewed stories, it opens
the story in your web browser. When you finish the story you have to
back out of the browser and restart the app.

The app kept bothering me to try the new and improved version, so I
finally submitted. The only significant difference that I saw was huge
photos that reduced the information content on the small phone screen.

I suddenly wondered what news.google.com would look like on a web
browser - easy enough to try. I use Dolphin browser. It has couple of
nice features - the home screen is just a bunch of user selected links,
so I added news.google.com. And the tabs are just like most desktop
browser tabs - visible - not hidden like Android Chrome and Firefox. When
you open news.google.com on a phone it gives you a list of story previews.
Press on a preview and it opens a new tab with the whole story. When you
are done, press X on the tab - you are back on the preview list. This is
vastly superior to either of the apps.

And the news sources that I have hidden on my desktop computer, due to
requiring a subscription, are automatically hidden on the phone.

Google - what is the point of the app?

2018-07-30

Solving Problems with a 3D Printer

Solving Problems with a 3D Printer

A couple of years ago I purchased a 3D printer (Lulzbot Mini) to allow me to develop and produce a violin shoulder rest. Here is the second generation - I think it's great. See www.vsr.ravitz.us for more information. In addition to its primary usage, the printer has helped me solve some of the world's biggest problems. Here are four of the most important solutions.


Of course you need a 3D printer to implement these solutions - they can be purchased for a few hundred dollars or, I'm told, libraries have them. And you've got be able to design useful parts - I use a free program call OpenSCAD but you have to design the parts via programming language rather than visually.


Button Magnet

I like to use a magnet to hold my name tag button to my shirt at dances - easy to move, no holes in my shirt. I don't like using a single magnet that has a widely dispersed magnetic field and is difficult to remove (I keep short fingernails to make playing the fiddle easier). So I obtained 3/8 diameter by 1/8 height magnets and 1 inch steel washers (I could not find magnetic stainless steel washers). The magnets sit on the washer, separated slightly, with one oriented north up and the other south up. The shape makes it easy to remove. The button, washer, and magnet orientation encloses the magnetic field for a very strong bond and greatly reduced stray field. This works very well, but -

The early versions required glue to keep the magnets in place and the washers rusted. When I got the 3D printer, I designed a snap together case that holds the magnets in place without glue and prevents washer corrosion. Problems solved.




Heel Wedges

The white heel wedge in the photo is a four degree lateral wedge that helps rotate your ankles slightly, improving your step. I like this - I don't know how many others it would help.

But the wedge won't stay in place. I found a flexible, but not spongy, filament (the plastic that the printer prints with) and designed a wedge with a rim that holds it where it belongs.




Automobile Phone Holder

A good phone holder for your automobile is really useful, especially with navigator apps. But finding a good phone holder for my car was not easy. There is the questionable attachment to the car. Suction cups inevitably fall off and mounting on the windshield blocks vision. Vent vane attachments block ventilation and heat the phone when the heater is running. Cup holder mounts use up a cup holder. And there is the questionable attachment to the phone as the holders need to work with many different phone sizes.

I bought one of the cup holder devices - my car has four front cup holders so it seemed reasonable. The cup holder attachment worked well. But the phone holder was hopeless.

I designed a simple drop-in box and added leather padding (I had sticky back leather from experiments with dance shoe soles. It's handy for other things too.) It's easy to drop the phone in and take it out, with or without the charging plug. It holds the phone securely as long as the car doesn't roll over. I can press the on/off, volume, and fingerprint controls easily (only the bottom third of the phone is inside the box). Of course it only works for a small range of phone sizes, but I can print a new one if I get a new phone.




Pocket Watch

I don't like having a watch on my wrist. And pocket watches are inexplicably large. But it's easy enough to take the band off of a wristwatch and keep it in your pocket. Except that digital watches have buttons that are easily accidentally pressed by stresses in pockets. I used a nice model of watch with recessed buttons for many years. But it is no longer available.

I found a nice digital watch and designed a holder for it that protects the buttons from accidental presses. It makes the watch larger than it should be, but it works well.



2018-07-08

Miscellaneous Thoughts

Miscellaneous Thoughts

Galaxy S9 vs. Pixel 2: Which Android phone should you buy?

This is about a published comparison of two phones -

"Galaxy S9 vs. Pixel 2: Which Android phone should you buy?
...
the Pixel 2 doesn't look sleek.
...
Its (Pixel 2) thick bezels and the matte finish on the (aluminum) back feel dated and cheap, especially in contrast to the Galaxy S9's edge-to-edge curved screen and glossy (albeit fingerprint-collecting) glass casing."

The matte finish aluminum (Pixel 2) is easy to hold, does not show fingerprints, and does not crack when dropped (although the paint is readily scratched down to the aluminum). The glass back (S9) is slick and easy to drop, shows a mess of greasy fingerprints after a little usage, and cracks easily when dropped (despite its being made of Gorilla Glass). And the reviewer prefers the glass.

And of course Google wanted to add some class to the Pixel so they added an easily cracked glass area to the back, encompassing the top two corners to break the fall when dropped.

What's wrong with plastic?

Why does the reviewer prefer sleek to sturdy? Is there some need for good aerodynamics in a phone?


Ad Nauseum

Q*** electric toothbrushes has one ad on the radio. Not too offensive the first five times that you hear it. It repeats about four times per hour, whenever I am listening. If they can't afford to make another ad, how about just running it through a frequency shifter to make different versions. How about just having different people read the script? Of course the script is meant to be read by the inventor, but that doesn't stop KFC from having multiple people play Colonel Sanders in their ads.

I finally resorted to turning off the radio when the ad starts.


More Mind Numbing Radio Ads - Distilled

For all of the following ads - "Alexa pause" (I listen to the radio on an Alexa device because I don't get good radio reception at home).

"I'm an idiot and I can adopt kids" (to paraphrase).

Why doesn't my baby smile? (Autism if you haven't heard.)

"I haven't been sick since I've been on Texas Superfoods." Well how long is that - one week?

"My dog looked and smelled like he had been dead for six months, but these vitamins fixed him right up" (to paraphrase).

Stifel stock market reports - death by numbing the brain.


Verizon Wireless

I purchased Google wireless earbuds at Verizon a while ago. They were useless. Verizon traded them for Apple Airpods (no additional cost). One of the earpieces wouldn't charge. I couldn't tell if it was the case or earpiece. Verizon replaced everything. The new hardware works great. Thank you Verizon.

2018-06-19

More Good Stuff

More Good Stuff

"Always on" displays on smartphones are great. These are referred to as ...LED (different technologies of active LED screens - AMOLED for example). They have no backlight, just an array of LEDs. Power is only consumed by LEDs that are turned on. This allows them to be used to display the time (for example) whenever the screen is exposed (no need if it's in a case). Even if the phone has been sitting, untouched, for an hour, you can glance at it to see the time. My Pixel 2 lock screen also displays notifications - email, text, etc. Older phones blinked a separate LED to let you know that there was email, etc. But you had to look at the phone for a few seconds to see the blink. With the Pixel 2 the notifications do not blink, so a quick glance lets you see any notifications. This is a huge improvement in usability. Note that many phones now have always on displays - iPhone X, Samsung S9 (and some of Samsung's older models), others. This feature is worth searching for.

Apple AirPods - wireless smartphone earphones. I covered these in a previous post. They are great.

Einsky Wide Brim Sun Hat - UPF 50+, 3.7 inch stiff brim, ventilated top. Unlike the last time I looked for a good sunhat (many years ago) there are many nice sunhats listed on Amazon. This one fits my requirements and works well.

While looking at sunhats, Amazon "also viewed" (or maybe "also bought") showed sunblock t-shirts - Hanes Men's Long Sleeve Cool Dri T-Shirt - UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) 50+ (>98% blocked). Many years ago, I got some long sleeve t-shirts for a trip to Florida. I made the mistake of getting my usual medium, cotton. These are useful in bright sun, but almost impossible to take off after sweating, and the style that I got had tight wrist cuffs. And I don't know the UPF as it isn't advertised for cotton shirts. This time I chose large, better ventilation and easier to get off. These are nice. The polyester feels nice. The wrists cuffs do not squeeze. A big improvement for a walk in the sun. And I can remove it after the walk.

Speaking of "also viewed", Amazon's product search often fails to find what I am looking for, but the "also viewed" section has it. Why didn't the original search find it? Regardless, "also viewed" is very useful.

Nimbus Microfine Toothbrush regular size (extra soft). These are great. Better than the Dr. Collins Perio Toothbrush that I was using. Look for them on Amazon.

2018-06-08

Basics vs Features

Basics vs Features

I have repeatedly screamed at software designers to get the basics right before adding features. So let's go over what's wrong with Android.

Screen brightness control - you have two choices - set the screen brightness or turn over control to Android. If you set the brightness then you have to keep resetting it depending on the ambient light - that's a pain. So you can turn over control to Android, but then it's too bright in dark places (this obviously depends on the phone and user). And the brightness makes large steps with small changes in screen angle - very annoying when reading, especially with a white background.

How about a screen brightness versus ambient light function that lets you set a baseline at typical room light and adjusts the entire curve based on this point. Then reduce the step level and average ambient light readings over a longer time.

I use Lux to control the screen brightness, which doesn't have these issues, but it has its own problems.


Audio equalizer - this is important for music enjoyability and speech recognition. Android has a built in equalizer that can be accessed by apps, but there is no built in access for users. This would be okay, there are many apps for adjusting it, but many apps don't send their audio through the equalizer. Many music players access it, but I Heart Radio doesn't. Why can't I force all audio output to go through the equalizer?


Accessibility of navigation icons and notification bar - why are apps allowed to cover the notification bar and navigation icons? Maybe that's okay for some people. Not me. Why not make it a setting?

Pointless icons on the lock screen - the lock screen with always on displays includes notifications. Good idea. But all that counts here is missed phone call, voice messages, text messages, and email. The others just clutter the screen and make the others less noticeable.

Pause in Maps - I often pause when taking a road trip, food, rest, gas, bathroom. I would bet that most people do. Why doesn't Google Maps have a pause button? The moment I leave the highway my phone starts chattering at me how to get back on my route. Grr. Maybe, on a car based route, automatically pause when I'm going less that five miles per hour.

Meanwhile (June 6, 2018) a Yahoo Technology headline reads "Android P Beta 2 brings updated system images and 157 new emojis". I don't know - maybe the new emojis will solve the world's problems. Meanwhile my head has been boggled.

2018-06-03

Wireless Earphones for Smartphones

Wireless Earphones for Smartphones

I was skeptical about adopting wireless/Bluetooth earphones for my phone. My past experience with Bluetooth was clunky startup - slow or no connection. Plus it is expensive to get multiple sets so I've got to keep the one pair with me.

After my Google Nexus 5 died unexpectedly, I got a Google Pixel 2, which has no headphone jack. So I jumped back into the Bluetooth world.

First I eliminated all of the products with flexible ear seals - I find these very uncomfortable. I thought that just left Google Pixel Buds, so I got a set. These are GARBAGE. I didn't even get to pairing them. They don't fit in my ears. It looks like they would fit if I cut the cord (a cord connects the two earpieces). They also look like the weight distribution will cause them to fall out if they fit in. The recharging box is clunky and big compared to the AirPods case (I didn't know this until I replaced them with AirPods).

I looked for more options and discovered that Apple AirPods are just Bluetooth earphones with some extra function that only works with Apple phones. Verizon made the trade from Pixel Buds easy - no paperwork, two cents credit to my account, and I walked out with them.

WHAT A DIFFERENCE! AirPods fit in my ear, are comfortable, and do not fall out. They feel just like Apple's old corded earphones, which have always worked well for me. After a little problem pairing them with my phone (I had to reboot), they are now paired and whenever I take them out of their recharging case, they are connected to my phone in a few seconds. You can can use either one or both. They sound fine. I don't care about any missing function dealing with digital assistants. The case is nice and includes a battery, so it can recharge the ear pieces even when it's not plugged in. It looks a lot like a dental floss case, so there could be an identity crisis on the horizon.

Apple - please keep your hands off of this superb design. I can't think of a design change that will make it better - it can only get worse.

A note from days later - rebooting the phone kills the pairing. Pairing is not hard, but requires the case. So not as convenient as I thought, but then I don't reboot the phone very often.

Google - you need to fire the people that designed Pixel Buds and everyone in your organization that approved the design.

2018-05-20

Roku and Other Streaming Entertainment

Roku and Other Streaming Entertainment

The controls on my Roku stick, at least when used with Amazon Prime are awful.

Hit the circular go back button (again - how do you talk about icons when they don't have an obvious name?) and the show backs up 10 seconds. Sounds very useful. Hit again quickly and the show goes back to the start. If I want to back up 30 seconds, I generally end up at the start, with no easy way to get back to where I was. Grr.

There is no stop button. There is a pause button. But if you pause, go back to antenna TV, then return a few hours later, you are likely to find that you have played several episodes of the show and lost your position in what you were watching and lost your position in the episode tracking.

The left arrow button (the straight go back button?) often takes you back to where you came from. But if you are watching a show, you have to hit it three times to make the show truly stop.

But what really annoys me applies to all of the the entertainment services that I have used, Hulu, Amazon, Netflix, I Heart Radio - PLEASE STOP with the idiotic recommendations for what I will like. You don't have a clue.

You have no idea why I like the shows that I watch. When I watch an entire series it probably means that I like a watching a certain character or maybe I like the plots or the writing. It doesn't mean that I will like anything else of that genre.

When I accidentally start a show because your control lag is so bad, then stop it almost immediately, that does NOT mean that I like the show.

When I start watching one episode of a show and stop halfway through, that does NOT mean that I like the show.

When I watch one episode of a show and then never watch another episode, that does NOT mean that I like the show.

I Heart Radio - when I delete a music theme from your recommended themes, that means I don't want to hear it. It does NOT mean that you should keep recommending it.

When you recommend a number of shows and I don't watch them, that's a clue. You are NOT getting it right. Give up and STOP ANNOYING ME.