Brilliant Germany, Hapless Brazil or a Bit of Both?

July 9, 2014

Vista busy cursor  It will take Brazil a long time, if ever, to get over their 7-1 World Cup Semi Final mauling by Germany.

Brazil built up the game to be all about passion, emotion, riding the fans’ wild support and “doing it for Neymar”. While about it they seemed to entirely forget about discipline, shape, organisation, patience, control. The Germans couldn’t believe their luck. Thomas Muller was quoted after the game saying every time the Brazillians got the ball they rushed forwards with it and left the Germans masses of space to get at their defence on the counter.

Taking nothing away from the Germans, they were awesome. Movement, passing, vision, pace. Wonderful. But not 7-1 worth of wonderful without a lot of help from their opponents. Would that German side have stuck seven past Costa Rica, who got to the quarter finals while only conceding one goal (penalty shoot-outs aside)? Costa Rica don’t have stars or flair players but they know how to set themselves up to be solid and competitive.


Brazil have been shown up as not that great. They do have some decent players but got further than they deserved thanks to the incredible local support, occasional bits of brilliance from Neymar and moments of luck. Without their two best players, with the weight of expectation upon them and up against a very good team they were unmasked as not up to it. Worse, their over-reliance on emotion rather than organisation allowed the Germans to start sticking the goals in, and the realisation they were undone broke Brazil’s spirit so that they went utterly to pieces and the flood-gates opened.




Podcast Pile-up

May 27, 2014

Vista busy cursor  I am starting to fall way behind with my podcast listening, and I’m blaming the dog. Yes, Tiggy the dog, who cannot be walked at the moment because she is about to have surgery for a cruciate ligament injury. Three or four dog walks a day, totalling anywhere up to a couple of hours translates into around 12-13 hours of prime podcast listening time every week, currently lost to me.

I suppose I could just go for a walk without the dog, or sit at home for the equivalent amount of time, with my earphones in. But I think I would feel odd or silly doing that.

Maybe, I should take up jogging. Now there’s a more promising idea. Tiggy will not be able to go for a proper walk for another 6 weeks while she recovers from surgery, so I definitely need to find some sort of solution. And jogging should have some health benefits for me. The question then is whether I will have to abandon the jogging when Tiggy is ready to resume normal walks. I’ll worry about that when the time comes, I think.



Hasta la vista, Windows 8

February 13, 2014

Vista busy cursor  It is odd to think that I started this blog nearly 7 years ago because Vista had just come out and I was struggling with it as an early adopter. 

These days I just run Windows 7 on my home PC (and use it on my work laptops) and otherwise barely give Windows  a second thought. Windows 7 is fine, it works and is pleasant enough to use.

There is no way I would go anywhere near the debacle that is Windows 8. Vista was bad enough and I don’t need aggravation for the sake of it. Microsoft appear to have lost their way so badly with Windows 8 that they may never recover from it. I’ll move away from Windows 7 when absolutely forced to and not a moment sooner.

Whereas my Vista-related pain was first hand, I am aware of the ongoing Windows 8 saga from tech news on the Internet, and I do still listen to Windows Weekly with Leo Laporte, Paul Thurrott and Mary Jo Foley on the TWiT podcast network. More out of habit than because I particularly care. Certainly not about Windows 8. I don’t have an Xbox or Windows Phone. So why do I keep listening? I guess the show still has its moments, although the interminable conjecture about who would be the next Microsoft CEO has merely given way to interminable conjecture about what Satya will do to take the company forward.

Puts me in mind of the joke about the old woman on a plane driving everyone mad with incessant loud whingeing along the lines of “Boy, am I toisty!” … “I am so toisty” … “Boy, am I toisty!” until a fellow passenger calls the stewardess and persuades her to get the woman a glass of water. The latter takes a long swig and everyone on board breathes a deep sigh of relief, until …

“Boy, wuz I toisty!” … “I wuz so toisty” … “Boy, wuz I toisty!” etc etc



Unexpected Pebble Delight

December 4, 2013

Vista busy cursor  Left to my own devices (no pun intended) I would never have bought a smartwatch or any other kind of “wearable technology”.  Put it down to my cynical nature. Do people really need or want wearables or are big technology companies trying to manufacture demand out of thin air? They do need to find the next big thing to follow smartphones and tablets in order to drive their never ending thirst for growth.

Having said all that, I now have and wear a Pebble smartwatch. All thanks to my kids who clubbed together to get it for me. They thought I would like it and had one shipped from the States. That was so thoughtful and sweet of them. They weren’t sure I would like it but decided to give it a shot.

Well, blow me but I have really taken to it. Maybe because it is from a small, startup manufacturer, as opposed to being an overhyped Samsung product or an overpriced Apple product. If you were being unkind you could describe the Pebble as a lump of plastic, but it is a sturdy and well made lump of high quality plastic. Its appearance is simple and understated but quite smart and attractive. It is not exactly svelte but neither is it oversized and bulky like the Samsung Gear. My wrists are a bit on the thin side for a man but the Pebble fits fine and does not look like a bulbous carbuncle.

As smartwatches go, it is not packed to the gills with selling-point features. No camera, no colour touch screen. It has limited functionality but the things it does are the things which are of value to me. I can be in the car and read my texts and emails as they come in, as if I were checking the time, and without picking up my phone. If I am out with the dog I can start or pause playback on my podcasts/audiobooks/music at the touch of a button, or adjust the volume or skip backward or forward 30 seconds, while my phone stays in my pocket.

And it tells the time with the cute watch-face of my choice. Cynicism be damned. I like my Pebble.



Anker A-weigh: Battery woe to battery wow!

August 31, 2013

Vista busy cursor  It would not be a problem if the battery status indicator on my Samsung Galaxy Note (GT-N7000) were to be disabled. I no longer need it. After an overnight charge, the phone still has around 30-40% power at the end of the day, even after heavy-ish use, so I can be confident the phone will always get through the day without needing a battery top-up.

This is a great end to my search for acceptable battery life, which  started when my phone was upgraded to Jelly Bean (Android 4.1.2). Until the Jelly Bean roll-out the Note had nearly always made it through the day on an overnight charge. After the upgrade, I was having to put the phone on charge by late afternoon.

Worse than that, I believe Jelly Bean may have been implicated in frying the original Japanese-made battery (assembled in Korea) which came with the phone. It was not long after the upgrade that the battery more or less gave out completely and would barely hold charge for an hour. There is anecdotal evidence on the Internet that I am not alone in having that experience. I cannot immediately imagine how an OS upgrade could have that effect on a battery, but it does seem to be the case.


I did have a spare battery, an official Samsung branded battery which I had bought some months earlier on Amazon. It sported the same part number and looked identical to the original except that it was made in China (and assembled in Korea). I had always wondered whether the spare was as good as the Japanese original; it never seemed to last as long. But I was only charging it up and keeping it with me as a spare in case the main battery ran out, so it was only getting occasional use. After the death of the original battery, the Chinese-made spare became the main battery, but by then battery life had been so badly mauled by Jelly Bean that it was hard to make sensible comparisons.

There was a breakthrough of sorts when I traced much of the post Jelly Bean battery drain to a couple of settings in Google Maps. At the time I thought I had solved my battery life problems, but it became evident after a few days that my phone was still not holding enough charge to last the day. It would look like it was holding up fine till around tea-time, then the battery charge would fall off a cliff leaving the phone dead by around 8 or 9pm. By then I felt certain that the Jelly Bean issue had been sorted with the fix to the Google Maps settings and that the poor battery life I was left with was squarely down to the disappointing capacity of the replacement battery.

All other things being equal, the capacity of a battery is proportional to its weight. And the Chinese battery is distinctly lighter than the now-defunct Japanese one.  It is disappointing that Samsung would produce inferior quality accessories. Maybe they changed suppliers for the battery innards at some point. Or maybe they have a policy of skimping on replacement batteries and suchlike to make a bit more money on them. After all, reviewers test battery life on newly released devices with original batteries, so there is no brand risk involved. Whichever way, I was stuck with an underperforming battery.

While investigating battery life issues on the Internet, I came across a post recommending Anker batteries. I had never heard of Anker but they seem to make replacement batteries for a range of popular phones. Some of their products are oversized extended life batteries which come with a new thicker back for the phone. The Note is quite large enough and I didn’t want it to become any bigger or heavier. However, Anker also make batteries which are the same size as the original, but with a modest increase in capacity. They offer such a replacement battery for the Galaxy Note which is rated at 2700mAh compared with 2500mAh for the Samsung branded equivalent, and the cost is not much more than the Samsung battery. So I bought one.

The advice on the ‘net was to put the battery through two complete charge/discharge cycles from the off to get the best performance out of it. The battery had arrived in the post while I was at work so I immediately installed it and left it to charge. It was fully charged (meaning the “fully charged please unplug” icon came up, not just 100% battery charge indication) by around 10pm.  I took  “two complete charge/discharge cycles” to mean uninterrupted charging followed by uninterrupted discharging, so I unplugged the phone and left it discharging overnight. I had business in London in the morning so it was a very early start and then the 6:43 from Stockport to Euston. I had the phone playing videos for nearly two hours solid on the train and the battery was holding up well. I started to worry that it might finally run out while I was on the train on the way home in the evening, so decided I needed to complete the discharge cycle during the day, allowing enough time to fully recharge the battery before setting off back North from my firm’s London offices. Well the battery refused to die. In the event I turned media volume right down, started up a long video with brightness up to maximum, and closed the cover so no-one could see a video was playing. Then I got on with my day’s work and meetings. I just about managed to kill the battery in time to get it recharged before close of play for the day.

It took over 26 hours for the second discharge cycle to run its course, this time with normal use. I have now been using the Anker battery for over a week and it has continued to perform at that level. I genuinely no longer look at the battery icon on the status bar and have disabled the percentage indication. I am completely confident that with any sensible use of the phone I can rely on the battery to get me through the day with a comfortable margin to spare.



Jelly Bean Battery Drain Traced to Google Maps

July 13, 2013

Vista busy cursor  Samsung’s official upgrade of my Galaxy Note (GT-N7000 on UK T-Mobile) to Jelly Bean 4.1.2 has not been a success, the worst aspect being the virtual halving of battery life. It had been the norm for the phone to manage a whole day on an overnight charge. After the upgrade to Jelly Bean I found myself forced to put the phone on charge throughout the afternoon or it would be dead by early evening. This annoying state of affairs has persisted for nearly three months. Happily, battery life now appears to be back to its Ice Cream Sandwich days best but it took a great deal of detective work to track down and remove the source of the power drain.

I had wondered if Google Now was implicated. After all, it is the single most obvious new feature in Jelly Bean which might be consuming more power. But I was loath to just plain do without it, and it did not appear to be the culprit per se. I tried any amount of fiddling with settings (without rooting the phone), attempting to cripple new bits of Samsung bloatware I imagined might be responsible and app/battery management apps, all to no avail. Neither did any amount of Googling or exploring the XDA Developers website produce an answer. I did though start to form the view that tracking down problem wakelocks might be the way to go.

I eventually found the problem thanks to an app called Wakelock Detector from UZUMAPPS. The app is for diagnosis only – it provides detailed stats about which apps are triggering an awakening of the CPU and how many minutes they are keeping it active using wakelocks. The accumulated data pointed an accusing finger at Google Maps. I tried delving into the Maps settings and came across a couple of suspicious items, “location reporting” and “location history” under location settings. They were both on by default. Switching them both off seems to have made all the difference.

I think these settings are new, although I can’t swear to it, and connected to Google Now. Having said that, the latter still works although maybe I’m not getting as many travel/location related cards as before. A price well worth paying.

So is it a case of all’s well that ends well? I have to say I’m not convinced. It’s certainly a relief to have my phone back to getting through the day without having to top up the battery. But there’s a certain annoyance that I had to put up with this. After all, this was an official upgrade. There must have been testing done by Google, Samsung and T-Mobile along the chain. Heaven knows it took them long enough between them to get the upgrade onto my phone. And when it got there it just appeared with no disclaimer, warning, any kind of communication. There was hype then the upgrade, then the consumer left literally to his own devices.



Another day, another meltdown

July 3, 2013

Vista busy cursor  The laggy performance and rotten battery life I’ve suffered since “upgrading” to Jelly Bean 4.1.2 on my Galaxy Note GT-N7000 had been tempting me to try a backup and factory reset. There is anecdotal evidence on the Internet that resorting to this can sort out the lag, although maybe not the battery life. But all the prep is a chore – you need to find the time and there is always too much going on.

Well the decision was taken out of my hands yesterday while I was on an early morning train to London from Manchester. I had been building a spreadsheet to illustrate a talk I am due to give shortly, then needed a break and tried to watch a video podcast on the phone. Very soon the video started to flicker – lots of horizontal lines across the screen – then it died. I kept trying to reboot it and it kept working briefly but always crashing and dying. It took a while for the penny to drop that the phone was just out of power. It never occurred to me that a phone fully charged when unplugged at 6am would have drained the battery by 7:30. By then the damage was done. My repeated failed attempts at resuscitation had caused some loss of data and the phone had gone into “set up from new” mode. Another meltdown, then. It has been a while.

Once at the office in London I decided I could no longer trust the state of the phone’s data. I saved what I could to the external SD card, removed the latter and invoked the factory reset. The phone is now fine but I concluded that the battery had reached end of life – it really showed no interest at all in holding more than a minimal amount of charge, but I had bought a spare some months ago so it wasn’t much of a problem. It is odd that a battery can die quite so suddenly and with so little warning, but that does seem to be the way of it.


I have not really tried to get the phone back to the way it was before the battery-induced meltdown. I decided to only reinstall the apps I really use daily such as Audible, Kindle, Doggcatcher plus a few other essentials such as Evernote, Arcus Weather, my banking app and a very few others. The idea was to see whether cutting down on the numbers of apps makes a difference to performance and battery life, as is sometimes suggested.

With this in mind I kept TouchWiz for once, rather than replace with a third party launcher that is closer to stock, such as Nova. I didn’t rush to install Tasker either, but I did need a quick way to switch between:

  • “night time mode” (ringer on but text/email notifications silenced),
  • “in the office mode” (all sounds on but at a non-embarrassing volume level), and
  • “out and about mode” (everything on loud).

The Simple Sound Profile Widget did the trick quickly and easily.

I’m now running with just 31 apps (including all the Google and Samsung apps I get no choice about because they are built into the ROM) compared with around 105 before the reset. It is too early to say whether the reset and/or lean running approach have fixed the lag and battery issues. At the moment the phone seems less laggy than before, but with occasional slow app launches and overall responsiveness still not on a par with my works iPhone. Project Butter could do with a few more lashings. And the jury is still out on battery life. Maybe it’s a bit better but  the battery which I am now using never quite seemed to match the capacity of the one that came with the phone (before its sudden and premature death, obviously).

I don’t think I’m going to get a complete answer. I was blaming Jelly Bean for the deterioration in battery life, and there was a definite big change at the time of the upgrade, but with hindsight the proximity of my battery’s death may have had some effect too.



Samsung’s Jelly Bean is a Galactic Let Down

June 25, 2013

Vista busy cursor  For months I berated how long it took Samsung and my carrier to roll out the Jelly Bean upgrade to my phone, the original Galaxy Note. From the point where it had been promised, back in December, I found myself checking almost daily on-line for any news of an impending update.

There was no doubt in my mind that Jelly Bean was going to transform my phone. The evocatively named Project Butter was going to banish all trace of lag, delivering instant smooth responsiveness on a par with the iPhone. I would have Google Now anticipating my every need for up to the second information about weather, travel and my interests. Best of all, I would be able to multi-task thanks to multi-window, a feature Samsung had already introduced on the Galaxy Note II.

Well, about a month ago the long anticipated day dawned and Android 4.1.2 was finally rolled out via Kies to the UK Galaxy Note GT-N7000 on EE (T-Mobile). And my phone was indeed transformed, in every way for the worse.

I have no idea what went wrong with the implementation of Project Butter on the ROM that finally made it onto my phone. Project Sludge would have been more apt. My phone is now laggy and slow. I now have my own iPhone for comparison (my employer having issued one to me as a replacement for my work Blackberry) and find there is no comparison. The iPhone 5 is snappy and smooth. The Note on JB is a complete pig.

Google Now is OK. It is fine with local weather but not ground-breaking. It has utterly failed to get to grips with my travel needs. My commuting patterns are regular, albeit not trivial – for the last couple of months I have been working in London Tuesdays to Thursdays and at my office home base in Manchester on Mondays and Fridays. Google Now has not adapted very well. I am not always at the same hotels in London, which seems to confuse it. It is always giving me travel times to the hotels I was at the previous week. And it has not learned about my sporting or other interests. Overall not a complete failure but there is a lot of room for improvement and so far very little genuine added value.

And as for the multi-window feature I so longed for – the truth is I have never found any real occasion to use it. Firstly it is a pain to activate the multi-window mode if, as I do, you use a third party launcher to escape TouchWiz. You can leave the mode active but then get an annoying blue semicircle continuously planted halfway up the left side of the screen. But the real killer is that so very few apps are compatible with multi-window, and not in general the ones of value to me. Both Chrome and the Android stock browser are MW enabled but the only browser I can get on with is Dolphin and that is not MW compatible.

And that’s not the worst of it. Battery life has gone to hell. Before JB I could get through a working day without charging the phone something like 9 times out of ten. At the moment I can barely get to late afternoon before the phone is down to 15% charge or less. And it seems to be getting worse. It may be all the additional Samsung bloatware that came with 4.1.2 but I’ve eliminated the impact of that as far as I can. I’ve tried every battery consumption analysis app, every tweak, every trick. I am certain it is just down to the way JB has been packaged and implemented for the phone.

From an investigation on-line it looks like many others have had similar experiences. I don’t believe Google mistepped with JB. My money is firmly on this disaster being down to Samsung’s insistence on messing with JB to add their own apps and features, few of which are of any value or benefit. The only new feature which has been of use has been “smart stay” which stops the screen being turned off if the front facing camera detects that the user is looking at the screen. It is not infallible, but it is now rare for the screen to turn off when I’m looking at it.

As has oft been said, be careful what you wish for. Taken as a whole, JB has been a major setback for my enjoyment of my phone. As soon as I can find the time I shall investigate a suitable third party ROM.



This Androidless Life #2 – Getting the Jitters

June 4, 2013

Vista busy cursor  This is the second post in my series documenting my experiences in attempting to make the switch from Android user to iPhone user. As previously explained, this is not down to any kind of dissatisfaction with Android – I have been delighted with my Galaxy Note. Rather, I now get an iPhone paid for by my employer so it makes sense to use that as my one smartphone for everything and save the cost of the monthly contract on my Android.

My initial expectation was that I would miss some of the Galaxy Note’s benefits but find I could pretty much get the same basic utility out of the iPhone. After all, when it comes down to it I have only a few basic requirements out of a smartphone (aside from the obvious ability to make/receive calls, send/receive text messages, email, calendar) namely:

  • Podcast download and playback (via podcatcher app)
  • Audiobook download and playback (via Audible app)
  • Ebook reader (via Kindle app)
  • Bluetooth A2DP support so I can listen to podcasts/audiobooks on bluetooth earphones or in the car

Let’s start with podcasts. I first tried Apple’s default stock podcast app and rapidly realised it was far too basic, much as Google’s stock podcatcher is reputed to be. For example, it does not allow me to set the fast forward/back buttons on the bluetooth (or any) headset to skip forward or back by 30 seconds or a minute, as opposed to skipping to the next podcast. That alone was a dealbreaker. So I “cast” around, read some reviews and alighted on iCatcher! by the charmingly named Joeisanerd.com. Now iCatcher! is the real deal and very comparable with Doggcatcher, my Android podcast app of choice.

Another key requirement for me is the ability to vary playback speed. Typically I listen to podcasts at 1.5x speed otherwise I’d never get the time to listen to them all. In the Android world there is the Presto app which is used by other apps to carry out the clever digital signal processing that allows speed to be varied without changing pitch or losing quality. In the iOS world, Apple have built a utility into the OS and iCatcher! unsurprisingly uses it. Which would have been fine except that on speech podcasts I can hear a distinct and annoying “flutter” or “jitter” at 1.5X speed. It’s fine at 1.25X, but that isn’t quick enough to get through my podcast listening schedule and still squeeze in some decent progress with whichever Audible book I happen to be reading.

I can’t think of a way round this one other than wait for Apple to improve their software to the standard of Presto.

Not a great start.



This Androidless Life #1 – The Holy Grail

May 28, 2013

Vista busy cursor Android has come of age in the last year or so, matching the iPhone for polish. It was already ahead in terms of flexibility and customisability. It is no longer anathema to switch from iOS to Android and former Apple fanboy bloggers have been known to share their experiences and learning processes on dipping their toes in the Android world.

Not so much comment, however, on how well dyed-in-the-wool Android users get on with switching to the iPhone. After all, it is hard to imagine many wanting to go in that direction just at the point when even the Apple faithful are running out of  reasons to put Android down. But that is what I may well find myself doing.

Blackberry substitute

Blackberry substitute

Until last Friday, I had never had an iPhone. I bought them for my wife and children, but chose a Samsung Galaxy S for myself when the contract on my old Windows Mobile phone expired. I confess that at the time it was mainly down to not wanting to follow the herd, but I have since become very partial to Android, enjoying the larger screens, custom launchers, automation apps such as Tasker and slick keyboards such as Swype, all of which are denied to iOS users.

So why am I moving to the iPhone? Well, it’s actually the company I work for that’s switching allegiances. In addition to my personal Android phone, I have for the last two years been carrying around a work’s Blackberry. It’s one of those horrible little dumpy things with a microscopic physical keyboard and tiny screen. But it was the only way to get at my corporate email and calendar while on the move. And the firm paid for it. I made all my work calls on the BB and personal calls on the Android – which made things easy for me when it came to claiming expenses.

But now my employer has replaced my BB with an iPhone 5 and that raises a question: can I justify going around everywhere with two smartphones? If I can use the iPhone to do all the things I would have used the Android for, then I can dispose of the latter, saving a considerable monthly bill, and have fewer devices to lug around. In principle I would have achieved the holy grail. That to me carries more weight than any petty loyalty to one mobile platform or another.

So I’m starting a series of posts to chart my attempt to make the switch to the iPhone, by analogy to my old “This iPhoneless Life” series. And I have already hit some potential showstoppers, but that’s for next time.


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