Back into the walled garden, with enthusiasm (and an emptier wallet)

Yesterday I finally had enough. I headed over to the local AT&T store, indulged myself in a mild rant about the POS (Samsung Infuse) that they’d sold me last summer, and then paid through the nose to upgrade it early to an iPhone 4S. Since I don’t intend to replace this one any time soon, I went for the top-of-the-line: a 64GB white one. Did I really need that? Well, when I replaced my iPad with an iPad 2, I opted for a 32GB rather than 64GB, and I’ve been running into space constraints ever since. So 64GB seemed safer.
Anyone want to buy a Samsung Infuse 4G in good condition, complete with desktop cradle? You’ll need to root and flash it to make it usable, of course….

New year, new direction

I’ve just left Yahoo, mostly because it became clear that I wouldn’t be able to do what I was originally hired to do. Frustrating, but never mind. So now I’m checking out the alternatives (of which there are quite a few), and in the meantime I’ve joined US Venture Partners as an entrepreneur-in-residence.

Time to root – or dump – my AT&T Samsung Infuse 4G phone

Well, 2011 has given way to the New Year, and AT&T have failed to fulfill their promise to upgrade the Android software on all of the 4G phones which they sold in 2011. Back in the summer I embarked on an experiment to see what life outside Apple’s walled garden would be like. The results are in: it sucks. Battery life is awful, system freezes are common (often with the phone feeling dangerously hot), and app management is broken (somehow I have acquired two copies of several apps). I could go on, but why bother?
The main takeaway from this is that Samsung and AT&T (and probably other carriers and manufacturers) haven’t understood that Apple changed the rules with the iPhone, by bringing the PC (and Mac) upgrade model to mobile communications. Backward compatibility is mandatory. Software and hardware upgrades are decoupled. Bugs are fixed. OS and app features are delivered regularly. I’m sure Google hoped that the Android ecosystem would follow this path, but if so they’ve completely failed to convince their partners.
So what to do next? Yes, of course I can root the device, find and install a ROM image of unknown provenance, etc. But I resent the need to do this*, and I’m distinctly uncomfortable doing so on a device which is used for corporate communications. I could dump the Infuse and buy an iPhone 4S, but after only 6 months on the contract it’s a relatively expensive proposition. And the final insult is that most of the tools for hacking Android phones seem to be Windows based, and I don’t have any Windows machines lying around.
File under #FAIL.

* And that’s assuming that I don’t inadvertently brick the device. For those who haven’t explored this stuff, here’s the simple version of the instructions for a popular ROM:

  • Ensure you have both root and CWM. See the reference post if you do not have both of these.
  • Copy ROM .ZIP to SD card
  • Shut phone off. Hold Vol Up + Vol Down and Power on device
  • Wipe Data and Cache (Wiping data will remove your installed applications and settings. You have been warned!)
  • Flash CM7 zip
  • Reboot. You will get stuck at Samsung screen. This is normal.
  • Pull battery, and reboot into recovery (Hold: VOL+ VOL- Power)
  • You should now be in ORANGE -OR- BLUE CWM
  • Go to “mounts and storage”
  • Select format /system
  • Reflash CM7 zip
  • Don’t forget Google Apps as well. You can get the gapps easily using Rom Manger -> Download ROM -> Scroll down to Google Apps). Google Apps download link is also at the bottom of this post
  • Reboot into CM7 goodness, made possible by LinuxBozo

Christopher Hitchens

I had hoped, almost selfishly, that Christopher Hitchens’ cancer might spare him for a little longer, so that we could enjoy more of his wonderful writing. Alas, no.
Hitch was just about a year older than me, and like me he moved to the USA in 1981. We were both socialists in our youth, and we each spoke out about our atheism in a country and culture which mistrusts and despises non-believers. But it would be silly to stretch the identification further. I loved his writing, particularly his book reviews, even as I was infuriated by his melodramatic politics. I admired his courage and determination to live life to the fullest. I’ll miss him.

Kindle Fire and Apple Airport Extreme

I got my Kindle Fire yesterday, unboxed it, and… I was horribly disappointed. The out-of-the-box experience was awful: slow, inconsistent, stuff timing out, difficulty connecting to the network. I put it aside, because I had a busy work schedule. This morning I picked it up again. Still unusable. I checked the online help resources, FAQs… nothing.

I contemplated returning it.
Then deep in the bowels of the Kindle discussion groups I came upon this thread. So I started to play around with my wireless access point. I use an Apple Airport Extreme (APX), with an Airport Express as an extender. There are lots of devices connected to this network – at least a dozen (PCs, Macs, tablets, phones…) – and they all work flawlessly. I’d configured the APX WiFi as “Radio: Automatic”. I switched it to “Radio: 802.11a/n – 802.11b/g”. Instantly the Kindle Fire started working properly.
I still need to run a few tests to see if this change has any negative impact on the rest of my network, but right now I’m happy to have a usable Kindle Fire

Penultimate vision posting

If all goes according to plan, this will be my penultimate posting on the subject of my cataract surgery. The second (left eye) procedure has gone even more smoothly than the first. Intra-ocular pressure didn’t fluctuate, and recovery was uneventful. At the end of my post-op checkup on Wednesday, they tested my vision as 20/20 in both eyes. I asked if they could flip the chart to the 20/15 page, and rattled off the last line without any hesitation. I have another checkup scheduled next Tuesday; in a couple of weeks I’ll have a final meeting with my ophthalmologist, followed by a session with the optometrist to design the right reading/computer glasses for my new eyes.
During the last year, my cataracts had become significantly worse. I remember back in August, walking through the cafeteria at Yahoo!, looking out for friends whom I might join for lunch, and not being able to make out a single face. They were all just face-shaped blurs. And so I was expecting that the surgery would restore my vision to what it was before the cataracts became intrusive. What I hadn’t anticipated was that I would wind up with vastly BETTER eyesight than before. I started wearing glasses at the age of 4, and even with correction my vision was never better than 20/20. Now… well, it’s a revelation. I hope I don’t get used to it too quickly: I’m enjoying the experience too much!

HP TouchPad arrived

My HP TouchPad has finally arrived.
It looks beautiful. (Of course, it looks like every other black rectangular tablet with rounded corners – are Apple’s lawyers listening?)
Unfortunately, I can’t set up email on it. My IMAP configuration for, which works on my MacOS, iOS, Android, and various other clients, won’t work in webOS.
I’m working my way through configuring the rest of the settings and downloading a minimal set of apps. For some reason, the settings for each subsystem are handled in an individual “settings” application. This is remarkably tedious.
More anon.
UPDATE: Thanks to Steve, I got email working by installing a new certificate on the TouchPad. Like most of the apps, it’s visually appealing but relatively inefficient in its use of screen real estate. (Users of recent releases of Skype will empathize with this.)
A few more observations:

  • Registering clicks in the browser seems hit-or-miss. Navigating something like Google Reader or the “Manage your Kindle” page at Amazon is frustrating.
  • Speaking of Kindle, the TouchPad Kindle app is visually appealing but remarkably fragile. Whenever I navigate away from that app for more than a few seconds, I get a popup informing me that the Kindle app has crashed. Yes, I know it’s marked as “Beta”, and it’s unlikely that a non-beta version will ever be released, but even so…
  • In order to install the new SSL certificate, I had to connect the TouchPad to my iMac via USB. From the Finder, it looked as if I was simply attaching an external USB storage device. However when I tried to eject the device, Finder reported it was busy. I did a “Force Eject” anyway, and when I next looked at the TouchPad I found that hundreds of JPEGs from my Pictures folder had been copied to the device. my Facebook account had been downloaded to the TouchPad. Strange…

"We're doing the left eye, correct?" "Right… er, I mean yes, correct, left!"

This morning I had the second cataract surgery, replacing the lens of my left eye with a synthetic replacement. It was uneventful, which is — in its way — an interesting comment on human adaptability. I was surprised by how a procedure that I had experienced for the first time in my life a few weeks ago could feel routine. Of course I’m not planning to do this again, so this learning and adaptation is largely wasted, but even so….
The process was not exactly the same, of course. I had a different anesthesiologist who dialled in a slightly lower level of sedation. This meant that I was much more aware of things: while I didn’t feel any pain, some steps were slightly uncomfortable, and therefore more distinctive. So I could tell when the broken-up remains of my lens were being aspirated, and the way the doctor “polished” the capsule prior to inflating it and inserting the new lens.
After the first procedure on my right eye, the contrast between “old” and “new” was so startling that I overlooked the fact that my eye was quite uncomfortable for a couple of days, and it took over 24 hours for all of the effects of the procedure to subside. Unrealistically, I expected the second operation to give me perfect eyesight immediately, and I was briefly disappointed. But over the rest of the day things settled down nicely.
One consequence of the second operation is that I can no longer cheat: I really need reading glasses for all close work. During the period between the first and second procedures, I could read things by bringing them close to my “old” eye, even without glasses. That’s over, for ever. I’m not sure exactly how I will organize my life going forward; right now, my impulse is to leave reading glasses all over the apartment, just in case I unexpectedly need a pair! (Don’t worry, Kate — I won’t!) Perhaps I’ll switch from wearing t-shirts to shirts with front pockets, just to carry my glasses. I certainly don’t like wearing them around my neck on a lanyard….
Tomorrow morning I have my first post-op checkup. Hopefully my intra-ocular pressure will return to normal more quickly than with my right eye. I’ll be working at home for a couple of days, since I don’t want to drive until everything’s settled down. When I do, I’m looking forward to improved twilight and night driving. Even with glasses, my cataracts used to cause glare from headlights and streetlights, which was becoming quite stressful. And now… well, I just looked out of the window (it’s 11:30pm here), and light sources were beautifully clear, with no glare at all. Let’s hear it for bionic eyes!

Feature driven competition, and the Android problem

Tim Bray just posted a nice blog piece about his new phone: a pre-production Nexus Galaxy running Android 4.0 (code-named “Ice Cream Sandwich”). There are some really nice features in this release, which is, of course, what we’ve come to expect. These days, competition in many markets is driven by features, and less attention is given to price, performance, quality, and customer service.
But will I ever get to use these features? Here’s the comment I posted on Tim’s piece:

Yes, Tim, it all looks very nice. But I’m still waiting for AT&T to get around to updating my Samsung Infuse 4G from Froyo to Gingerbread (promised in August, already shipping in Canada). I have no idea if AT&T and Samsung will ever put Ice Cream Sandwich on the Infuse, let alone when. I read your account of the new features, but I have no idea whether it’s relevant to me.
For me, this is the biggest bug in the Android business model compared with iOS: it’s completely unpredictable. All of the players – Google, handset makers and carriers – contribute to the mess. And so I’m not surprised that so many apps are so unstable: the test matrix is ridiculously big.
In contrast, when an iOS release comes out, I know exactly what it will run on, and which features will be available on my device. Moreover I can install it immediately.
This summer, I decided to try life outside the “walled garden” and replaced my iPhone 4 with the best Android device then available. I have to report that so far, life outside the wall sucks. This is a shame. I guess I could hack it, but great products shouldn’t need hacking….