Gadgets

Hacking TiVO, PS2, Palm, GPRS, or your riding bikes

New computers – Windows 8 Phone

I was given a Win8Phone recently.  I suppose it may seem like looking a gift horse in the mouth to review it, but:

I must say, first off, that the Nokia Lumia has a lot of power compared to my other phone (and Android tablets), so I like the responsiveness using Twitter.  The antenna is decent, so I can connect to hotspots, even at a bit of a distance.  Also, this camera is a lot better than those on the three Android machines.

I’m finding the lack of functionality annoying.  There isn’t any file access on the phone itself, although the ability to access it via Windows Explorer (when you plug the USB cable into a Windows 7 or 8 computer) is handy.

I find the huge buttons annoying, and the interface for most apps takes up a lot of space.  This doesn’t seem to be adjustable: I can change the size of the font, but only for the content of an app, not for the frame or surround.

http://www.windowsphone.com/en-us/how-to/wp8 is useful: that’s how I found out how to switch between apps (hold down the back key and it gives you a set of
icons of running/active apps).

The range of apps is pathetic.  Security aside (yes, I know a closed system is supposed to be more secure), you are stuck with a) Microsoft, or b) completely unknown software shops.  You are stuck with Bing for search and maps: no Google, no Gmail.  You are stuck with IE: no Firefox, Chrome, or Safari.  Oh, sorry, yes you *can* get Firefox, Chrome, and Safari, but not from Mozilla, Google, or Apple: from developers you’ve never heard of.  (Progpack, maker(s) of the Windows Phone store version of Safari, admits it is not the real Safari, it just “looks like it.”)  You can’t get YouTube at all.  No Pinterest, although there is a LinkedIn app from LinkedIn, and a Facebook app–from Microsoft.

It’s a bit hard to compare the interface.  I’m comparing a Nokia Lumia 920 which has lots of power against a) the cheapest Android cell phone Bell had when I had to upgrade my account (ver 2.2), b) an Android 4.3 tablet which is really good but not quite “jacket” portable, and c) a Digital2 Android 4.1 mini-tablet which is probably meant for children and is *seriously* underpowered.

Don’t know whether this is the fault of Windows or the Nokia, but the battery indicators/indications are a major shortcoming.  I have yet to see any indication that the phone has been fully charged.  To get any accurate reading you have to go to the battery page under settings, and even that doesn’t tell you a heck of a lot.  (Last night when I turned it off it said the battery was at 46% which should be good for 18 hours.  After using it four times this morning for a total of about an hour screen time and two hours standby it is at 29%.)

(When I installed the Windows Phone app on my desktop, and did some file transfers while charging the phone through USB I found that the app has a battery level indicator on most pages, so that’s helpful.)

Review of “cloud drives” – Younited – pt 3

Yesterday I received an update for the Younited client–on the Win7 machine.  The XP machine didn’t update, nor was there any option to do so.

This morning Younited won’t accept the password on the Win7 machine: it won’t log on.  Actually, it seems to be randomly forgetting parts of the password.  As with most programs, it doesn’t show the password (nor is there any option to show it), the password is represented by dots for the characters.  But I’ll have seven characters entered (with seven dots showing), and, all of a sudden, only three dots will be showing.  Or I’ll have entered ten, and suddenly there are only two.

Review of “cloud drives” – Younited – pt 2

My major test of the Younited drive took a few days, but it finally seems to have completed.  In a less than satisfactory manner.

I “synched” a directory on my machine with the Younited drive.  As noted, the synching ran for at least two days.  (My mail and Web access was noticeably slow during that time.)  The original directory, with subdirectories, contained slightly under 7 Gigs of material (the quota for basic Younited drives is said to be 10 G) in slightly under 2,800 files.  The transfer progress now shows 5,899 files transferred, and I’m out of space.

A quick check shows that not all files are on the Younited drive.

Review of “cloud drives” – Younited – pt 1

I’m trying out various “cloud drives”–or “file transmission services” as my little brother likes to call them, so as not to sully the name of cloud storage–and thought I’d mention a few things about F-Secure’s Younited first.

The reasons it is first are because a) F-Secure is a highly respected antivirus firm and based beyond the reach of the NSA in Finland, b) they are promoting the heck out of the new service by making it practically invitation only and asking that people tweet and blog about it, and c) it is really starting to annoy me.

Supposedly you can access it via the Web or through apps you install on your computer or device.  I have been able to upload a few individual files onto it, and access them on other devices.  Except for the MacBook.  The app seemed to install fine, but then it wouldn’t open anymore.  On the theory that, like SkyDrive, it wouldn’t install on my copy of Snow Leopard (and at least SkyDrive had the decency to tell me that), I upgraded to Maverick (which has created its own problems).  That hasn’t fixed it.  Next step is probably to throw it in the trash and reinstall.

I decided to give it a bit of an acid test tonight, and upload a set of directories.  First off, it seemed to load everything, willy-nilly, into a standard set of folders for “Pictures,” “Videos,” “Music,” etc, regardless of the directories they came from.  At least, that what the app showed.  The Web browser, if you accidentally hit the right button (and I’m darned if I can find out how to get it back) showed the directories–but they were all empty.  A web browser on another machine shows nothing at all.

(A gauge of progress for uploads has been saying “Transferring 635/6475” for the last several hours, regardless of what else has gone on.)

I thought maybe I might have to create and populate a directory at a time.  That’s when I realized that I can’t make directories.  If you get past the initial level of “Help” FAQs (which don’t have a lot of helpful detail) you can find the “community.”  Do a search on “folders,” and a number of listings come up, included an article on how to organize your files.  This says that, in order

“To create a folder

  1. Go to the younited_folder.PNG younited folder.
  2. Select Create_folder.PNG Create folder.
  3. Type a name for the older and select OK.”

Only problem is, when you click on the younited icon, the “create folder” option or icon never appears.  Other entries are equally “helpful.”  (What is the icon for sarcasm?)

I will, undoubtedly, learn more about the system and how to use it, but, at the moment, it is frustrating in the extreme.

Access vulnerability on Android tablet

I made my first ever “Black Friday” purchase last week.  Staples (for those outside North America, this is a “big box” office supplies store with a large computer and tech section) had a door-crasher special of a Digital2 brand 7″ tablet, running Android 4.1, marked down from $250 to $70.  We had to go past a Staples on an errand, so I stopped in and got it.

I don’t quite regret getting it: particular at that price it is probably worth it.  I may do a review of its shortcomings at some point.  (Low memory, poor storage management, slow performance, limited battery, incompatible with some apps, poor file management options, many functions irregular.)  However, I came across something this morning that indicates a weakness.

One of the oddities is that there is no indication of charging or battery unless the tablet is on.  So, while charging, I had the tablet on to check the battery level.  The indicator icons are on the lower right of the screen on this model, and, in order to get more details on the charge, I touched that area.  But I had forgotten to unlock the device.

Lo and behold, it brought up the quick indicator list anyway, and, along with it, the notifications.  Prodding at this, I found that I couldn’t get into the settings menu proper, but I could access any of the notification messages.  And, once into any of those apps I had full access.

(This sounds similar to a number of lock-screen vulnerabilities that I’ve heard of on various Android and iOS versions and devices, but it seemed to be simpler and more direct than most.)

(Photo) Copyist’s error?

Students of the classics and ancient documents are used to checking for copyist errors, but a photocopier?

And, of course, you can’t trust the machine to check the copy against the original, since it will probably make the same mistake every time.

Actually, with absolutely everything in the world going digital, this type of problem is becoming inevitable, and endemic.  Analogue systems have problems, but digital systems are subject to catastrophic collapse.

Why can’t my laptop figure out what time zone I’m in, like my cell phone does?

We got new cell phones (mobiles, for you non-North Americans) recently.  In the time since we last bought phones they have added lots of new features, like texting, cameras, email and Google Maps.

This, plus the fact that I am away on a trip right now, and Gloria has to calculate what time it is for me when we communicate (exacerbated by the fact that I never change the time zone on the laptops to local time), prompted her to ask the question above.  (She knows that I have an NTP client that updates the time on a regular basis.  She’s even got the associated clocks, on her desktop, in pink.)

Cell phones, of course, have to know where they are (or, at least, the cellular system has to know where they are) very precisely, so they can be told, by the nearest cell tower, what time it is (or, at least, what time it is for that tower).

Computers, however, have no way of knowing where they are, I explained.  And then realized that I had made an untrue statement.

Computers can find out (or somebody can find out) where a specific computer is when they are on the net.  (And you have to be on the net to get time updates.)  Some Websites use this (sometimes startlingly accurate) information in a variety of amusing (and sometimes annoying or frightening) ways.  So it is quite possible for a laptop to find out what time zone it is in, when it updates the time.

Well, if it is possible, then, in these days of open source, surely someone has done it.  Except that a quick couple of checks (with AltaVista and Google) didn’t find anything like that.  There does seem to be some interest:

http://stackoverflow.com/questions/8049912/how-can-i-get-the-network-time-from-the-automatic-setting-called-use-netw

and there seems to be an app for an Android phone:

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=ru.org.amip.ClockSync&hl=en

(which seems silly since you can already get that from the phone side), but I couldn’t find an actual client or system for a computer or laptop.

So, any suggestions?

Or, anybody interested in a project?