2011 August 14 Sunday
Mozilla Browser Sign-In Add-On

Mozilla has created a browser extension to let you log onto web sites from your browser tool bar. You can get the Sign-In Add-On here.

My take: The idea as described does not go far enough. What's needed: encryption of all the log-in information and the requirement to log into that cache of user ids and passwords every time you start up the browser. Ideally it should be possible to move that encrypted file between PCs and not worry if, say, the USB memory stick you use to move it gets stolen.

The problem as I see it is that at least some of us have far too many online accounts to places where we would not want anyone else to get access. Lots of online store accounts, bank accounts, brokerage accounts, and other accounts are basically keys to the ability to spend money and transfer money. These accounts need to be hard to get to. The information about them should be encrypted and logging into a PC should not by itself enable someone to get into that information. We need to move files between PCs and servers anyway. So there are other points of vulnerability.

Even an unlockable encrypted file doesn't seem like enough security. A browser can be hacked and browser makers do frequent releases of security hole patches. If a browser can get into your account information then so potentially could a hacker. So we need more layers of security. Though I'm not sure what those other layers should be.

By Randall Parker   2011 August 14 10:43 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2011 February 06 Sunday
AT&T And Verizon iPhone Call Dropping Compared

Count me in the ranks of those who get a lot of dropped calls on AT&T (both Blackberry Bold and now Google Nexus S). So I look with interest on all the comparisons journalists are doing between AT&T and Verizon for iPhone dropped calls. David Pogue finds a huge advantage for Verizon.

I took the Verizon iPhone to five cities, including the two Bermuda Triangles of AT&T reception: San Francisco and New York. Holding AT&T and Verizon iPhones side by side in the passenger seat of a car, I dialed 777-FILM simultaneously, and then rode around until a call dropped. (Why that number? Because I wanted to call a landline, eliminating the other personís cell reception from the equation. Also, Mr. Moviefone can carry the entire conversation by himself, so I could concentrate on the testing.)

In San Francisco, the AT&T phone dropped the call four times in 30 minutes of driving; the Verizon phone never did. The Verizon iPhone also held its line in several Manhattan intersections where the AT&T call died. At a Kennedy airport gate, the AT&T phone couldnít even find a signal; the Verizon dialed with a smug yawn.

Pogue points out that as millions flock to Verizon for their iPhone version their comparative advantage might decline.

Walt Mossberg also finds a big Verizon advantage.

On the big question, I can say that, at least in the areas where I was using it, the Verizon model did much, much better with voice calls. In numerous tries over nine days, I had only three dropped calls on the Verizon unit, and those were all to one person who was using an AT&T iPhone in an especially bad area for AT&T: San Francisco. With the nearly identical AT&T model, I often get that many dropped calls in one day.

A friend got a pay-as-you-go plan with a cheap phone on Sprint in order to compare. His dropped call experience on Sprint is much better. When we have phone conversations between our AT&T phones with 4 bars each the dropped calls make the conversations painful. I am waiting for my contract to expire.

By Randall Parker   2011 February 06 02:46 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2011 February 05 Saturday
Google Nexus S Complaints And Suggestions

I started using a Google Nexus S (albeit with AT&T 2G as I wait for my contract to expire) a few weeks ago. It has been a gradual learning process to make it become more useful to me. I am stepping up from a Blackberry Bold. Here are some of my observations from using the Google Nexus S with Android 2.3:

Connectivity:

  • Sometimes it looses data networking access so persistently that I have to cycle power to get it to do AT&T 2G networking again.
  • It gets confused if two wireless access points have the same SSID (or close enough, one was NETGEAR and the other Netgear). I think it tries to connect to the weaker access point and fails. Strangely, when it gives me the stronger one listed I click on that one to connect to and yet it still failed. To solve this problem. I renamed my own access point and got far more reliable connections. My Win 7 laptop was smarter and always connected to the right access point in spite of the SSID naming conflict. Note that lots of people do not give their home wireless router a unique name. So Android ought to get smarter about handling this. Remember the Mac address? Or why not just try the stronger signal access point first? I'm not sure how wireless connections are negotiated.
  • Wireless 802.11g access is not reliable on wake-up of the device. Even after giving myself a unique SSID I still find the phone does not always connect to the access point. I have to turn off and on wireless to get it to work. Most times it works fine though. The phone is close to the access point when I am having problems.
  • Not using 802.11 to suck down big files while recharging? When the phone is plugged in and recharging and it goes into lower power mode (at least the screen darkens) when I wake it up the WiFi icon is not visible for several seconds. So then has it shut down WiFi and reverted to using 2G/3G while recharging? I happen to have selected a couple of Android Market apps to download. I would think it could make short work of downloading them while recharging if it continued to use WiFi. When it is plugged in it has lots of juice. So why not do the heavier energy user task of running WiFi and get big files during that period?

Bandwidth usage strategies:

  • Need the ability to set refresh rates of apps based on type of current connection. It ought to be possible to set refresh rates for GMail and the main weather/news app based on whether you have 802.11, 2G, 3G. So, for example, if on 802.11 do updates more often. Also, be able to set to prefetch articles only on 802.11. Optionally adopt lower data usage strategies when people are more likely to be paying per amount of data fetched.
  • When looking at news stories be able to click over on the right on a button per story to say to prefetch it. Story fetches take so long that I'm disinclined to read much on the phone.
  • Be able to zoom in to start reading a news article while still downloading a page. When downloading news stories the browser makes the slow download time (it will have the text but still be downloading adverts and images) even more irritating by not allowing the tap to show the news column zoomed to fit the screen. Surely there must be a way to handle this more smartly.

Multi-tasking:

  • I find the UI for managing multi-tasking to be baffling. Why isn't the "Windows" icon for seeing the list of app windows accessible in more places? It appears to only be for having multiple web pages open. I am left wondering: Android doesn't support multi-tasking?
  • The 5 desktops are similarly baffling. Are they just for putting more icons on desktops? They seem like natural places to have different apps open.
  • I'd like to be able to start apps from the desktop for them to go do their things in the background and then add themselves to the top bar to indicate they ready to be used. So, for example, one could tell GMail to go get the latest mail, the New York Times front page to load, and a few other things to happen. Then one could start doing whichever one of them is first ready.

Google GMail app:

  • Blackberry GMail updating works better. With the Blackberry GMail app when you have new mail the desktop icon gets a different color and it buzzes. The desktop GMail icon on the Nexus S provides no indication that I've seen that it has new mail. Why such a big step back? Is the GMail app not running when you are not in it?
  • GMail does not seem to update email in the background or even in the foreground reliably. It will even show a number of unread emails greater than 0 and yet not show the non-read entries. I've had problems getting it to show the entries even after hitting Refresh. I am still playing with this to see what the pattern is. Seems slow even on home WiFi.
  • GMail should have an "Unread Emails Only" view. This is especially important on the small screens of smart phones.
  • Gmail should also have a "Show folder list with unread emails only" view as well. The navigation around in Android GMail is too hard if you have a lot of stuff coming in to various folders. The current UI limits are such that smart phone GMail is just a stop gap measure between times in front of a PC screen.

Google Books:

  • Why show the "1 of 368" at the bottom of a page with no way to get rid of it so that it overlaps with text on the page? I found going to Flowing Text got rid of it. But to read the book in the original page image form I can not see how to get rid of the bottom info pop-up bar. Update: A single tap on the top bar will get rid of the top and bottom bars so the whole page can be seen. But I have yet to figure out the pattern of when those bars will pop up. Tilting the phone might do it? Not clear.
  • Dismissing the top (book title) and bottom (page range) bars is too hard to do, especially since I haven't yet figured out what causes them to pop up in the first place. Single taps on the top area to get rid of the book title at the top and page range at the bottom have to be very precisely put in that area. One needs to use the small edge of a finger. If the area was bigger in the first place (the document ceases to be readable when it is there, so why not?) it would be easier to dismiss it.
  • Too easy to lose your place in a book: It is too easy for the book reader to pop up the bottom (page range) and top regions when you do not expect it and then for you to tap on the bottom area and suddenly be half the book away from where you were. If you do not know the page number of where you were it is time-consuming to find your way back to it.
  • It ought to be possible to put the reader in to a mode where it accepts only 3 commands: next page, previous page, menu of options. That way it would become harder to suddenly be somewhere you do not want to be or for the zoom to change unexpectedly.
  • Jane Austen's Emma in Google Books has mistakes in its text when you go into the Flowing Text form that should be cleaned up. One can still read it. But surely enough free versions exist to allow easy comparison to identify mistakes? I realize this isn't the fault of the Android developers.
  • The book reader app ought to have a setting in it for keeping the screen lit longer when it has focus. If you do not speed read you run the risk of the light going out on you.

Software updates:

  • The biggest advantage of the Nexus S over any other Android phones is that Google keeps it up to date with the latest OS and application revs. I've already been notified ohttp://www.sitemeter.com/?a=stats&s=s25crush41&r=11f software updates from Google once after less than a month of usage. The biggest problem I see in the Android ecosystem is untimely updating of the phone software. The various phone makers and cell phone carriers do not release fixes in a timely manner. As security hole exploitation becomes a problem on smart phones this is going to become an even greater problem.
  • It would be useful if Android had an alerting system for third party app updates.

Bottom line on the critique: Even at 2.3 Android is not as mature as I hoped for. On the other hand, many of the less optimal aspects strike me as fairly easy to fix. I hope I am not alone in my sense of what is deficient about this operating environment.

By Randall Parker   2011 February 05 07:34 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2011 January 07 Friday
Pay For Smart Phone App Privacy?

Cruising around the Android Market looking for apps for my new Google Nexus S phone I noticed Dictionary.com has a free dictionary app for Android. I like looking up works and so I went to install it. But wait. it requires access to "Your location", "Network communication", and "Phone calls". Why the heck does it need to know who I call? I am guessing that it wants to know my location in order to show me advertisements for nearby businesses. The internet access could be for fetching ads. But my phone records? Why? To profile who I am by what sorts of businesses I contact?

That app is listed as having more than a quarter million downloads. So lots of people aren't bothered or aren't thinking about the privileges they are granting to their smart phone apps.

I decided I didn't really need that dictionary. I would be curious to know what they expect to make from advertisements per user who downloads their app. If they offered a 99 cent version without need for phone access, without geolocation, and without ads how many people would opt for it?

By Randall Parker   2011 January 07 11:07 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2011 January 06 Thursday
Chinese Military Shovel WJQ-308: The Saga

You've all heard about Swiss Army Knives. Well, a Chinese company can top that. Do not be fooled by the first minute or two of this gripping (and chopping and climbing) video. Get 2 and you can use it to paddle a boat too.

I was surprised when they started using it as a peeler. The translation from Chinese characters labeled that scene as "Chopping" but clearly that was peeling. The climbing scenes were high points. Plus, the cutting thru barbed wire was cool.

So naturally you wonder if you can buy one of those things. I couldn't find it for sale in Western markets. But I found a 7 function shovel: Shovel, pick, saw edge, hammer, bottle opener, nail puller, wrench, compass and waterproof match container.

So as compared to the Chinese military shovel you gain the compass and waterproof match container but do not get the wire cutter.

By Randall Parker   2011 January 06 05:38 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (5)