Category Archives: Portable computing

Stop annoying pop ups on your phone’s web browser(s)

When using my Android phone, I’ve become reluctant to click on links to unknown webpages because many — maybe most — of them contain obnoxious pop ups. I’ve stopped this by disabling Javascript in my phone’s web browsers(s). Each browser is different, but in general go to the Settings for your web browser and turn off Javascript. This will work on both Android and IOS (Apple iPhone) phones. 

Most browsers will allow exceptions to this Javascript off rule. Your webmail hosting service, bank, etc. probably require Javascript. Add these sites to your browser’s list of sites on which Javascript may execute.

I know — it’s inconvenient to configure, but you’ll be glad that you did, when you’re no longer bothered by those awful pop-ups.

 

A big voice for little phones

I love my little Samsung SGH-T399 Galaxy Light phone. One disadvantage of its small size is that its tiny speaker produces a tiny sound.

Etekcity Roverbeats T30 wireless mobile speaker

The Etekcity Roverbeats T30 wireless mobile speaker solves that problem. It gives my diminutive phone a big sound, yet is small enough (about two cubic inches) so that when I’m at home I carry it with my phone from room to room.

It runs on battery power for hours, but you must provide a battery charger with a mini USB connector.

Its only problem is that occasionally it disconnects its Bluetooth connection. This suggests that it needs to be reset, but there is no reset switch. I’m not convinced that turning off its on/off switch actually resets its CPU. Nevertheless, leaving the T3 off for hours does seem to restore its willingness to remain connected.

With that one connection caveat, I recommend this neat little speaker . . . and it costs only about twenty dollars.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Listen to podcasts on your smartphone

I just realized that I’ve not described how I listen to podcasts, recorded audio, and live radio broadcasts on my phone.

Prehistory

Winamp website
Winamp for Windows Screenshot

My first streaming audio experience was in 2000 with the Windows-based MP3 player program called Winamp. Its Shoutcast network of streaming sites is built upon the traditional broadcast model: content on each channel is delivered in a continuous stream. A listener may not demand or replay any content. There are (or were) thousands of Shoutcast channels. I still occasionally listen to Shoutcast streams on my phone using Winamp for Android (which may no longer be available). I wrote an article or two about Winamp’s latter day rough sledding.

Content on demand

I began listening to both live and pre-recorded audio with an older version of TuneIn. Its creator sold TuneIn to a company that has ruined it with too many ads and unnecessary “features”. I’ve stored an early version for Android. This older version is much better than the new version that’s available in the Android Play Store. If you have an Android device, feel free to download and install my version.

RSS Podcast iconWhen Tunein began to degrade, I turned to Podcast Addict on my Android phone. It’s very flexible, and its many options can intimidate a first-time user. Have patience. Its power is worth climbing the learning curve. I now use Podcast Addict for most of my phone-based audio listening.

  • Tip: If one of these programs responds slowly, go to Android Settings, More, Application management. Select the sluggish program. Press the Force stop button. Press the Clear Cache button. Restart the program.

Apple iPhone or iPad?

I recommend all three of these programs for Android. If you have an Apple (IOS) device, you may find better alternatives. I see on alternativeto.net that Apple supplies its own podcast program.

Tune in, turn on, and drop out in.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Linux as a remedy for Windows XP’s end of support

A customer with a perfectly good Dell Inspiron 600m laptop was in a quandary. On April 8 his laptop’s Windows XP will lose Microsoft support, making it vulnerable to attack via the Internet. The laptop had slowed to a crawl, so it was time to either reinstall XP or try something else. The laptop’s specs: 1.4 GHz Pentium M, 1.5 GB RAM, 30 GB hard drive. These specs are too modest for Windows 7, and Windows 8 is, well, Windows 8.

xubuntu desktop mage

Linux to the rescue
Because this laptop’s resources are modest, I chose the lighter weight Xubuntu flavor of Linux instead of the heavy-duty Ubuntu. Unfortunately the latest release of Xubuntu, 13.10, would neither run from its live DVD nor install because the Pentium M CPU apparently doesn’t include physical address extensions. Xubuntu 12.04 installed without protest.

With Xubuntu 12.04, both the Firefox and Chromium web browsers are quick, apps print reliably to the networked HP OfficeJet 7500a, and the customer can scan from the same OfficeJet over his LAN to the Simple Scan app that’s part of Xubuntu. It’s very sweet and was surprisingly easy to configure.

No more Microsoft Update Tuesdays or constant virus scanner updates or infections!

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Android and Adobe Flash

Adobe Flash continues to be a security nightmare. Adobe stopped supporting Flash on Android devices earlier this year, which uninstalled Flash from all Android devices. Eventually H.264 and HTML 5 will replace Flash. In the meantime, if you absolutely must have Flash on your Android device, here’s how: http://forums.adobe.com/thread/1061194. Caveat Lector.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Learn how to fix gadgets

I like the philosophy expressed by http://www.ifixit.com: stuff should be repairable, and users should have free access to repair information for their stuff. ifixit logoThe site’s goal is ambitious. It provides illustrated maintenance and repair information for everything from automobiles to cell phones.

ipad air teardwonSome modern handheld devices, including Microsoft’s Surface and Apple’s iPad tablets, aren’t designed for ease of repair. Quite the opposite. By gluing in their batteries, their manufacturers exhibit disdain for society and environment. Rechargeable lithium ion batteries in such devices might have a lifetime of 1.5 to 2 years, so it makes sense to allow the owner to change the battery in a device that might enjoy a 4 or 5 year useful lifetime. Otherwise, when their batteries die, these devices are likely to become landfill.

The iPad Air and Surface Pro 2 teardowns show just how service unfriendly these designs are. The ifixit people rate these tablets a 1 or 2 on a repairability scale of 0 to 10. In my opinion, this makes them poor designs, despite their other virtues.

Bookmark ifixit.com. You just might need it soon.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Power to the peoples’ cell phones

The Power Matters Alliance (PMA) is a group of companies and government and academic bodies that wish to promote the concept of wireless power delivery to mobile devices. Power Matters Alliance markThe smartphone is a 21st century invention, but the dream of wireless power transmission is at least a century old. My articles Wireless hype existed a hundred years ago, also and Wardenclyffe site to be acquired for proposed Tesla museum touched on this ancient dream. Tesla and Marconi dreamed of long-distance wireless power transmission. The PMA’s goals are more modest: they want you to place your phone on a hot-plate at Starbuck’s, where it will receive power through the miracle of inductive coupling. (Discovered by Michael Faraday and Joseph Henry c 1831, electromagnetic induction is the principle behind transformers and motors.)

As part of the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE-SA) Industry Connections program, the PMA is fleshing out a suite of standards that provide advanced wireless power – called ‘Power 2.0’

It sounds good, but there’s one pesky law of physics that interferes: The efficiency of inductive coupling is inversely proportional to the distance between the two coils.

Meanwhile, in the world of wired battery chargers . . .
In 2009, all GSM phone manufacturers except Apple agreed on a standard low-voltage DC charger-to-phone interface specification (GSM phones will have a standard battery charger), which was a big step forward.

The PMA has lofty goals:

It is estimated that by 2020 wireless charging could offset the equivalent of 289.4 million metric tons of CO2 and the equivalent of 482 100MW power plants. These savings could amount to a cancellation of the entire embedded energy usage of external power supplies by over 118%, thereby saving the unnecessary disposal of an estimated 4.5 billion transformers and associated toxic components into landfills.

It’s going to be tough to achieve good efficiency. I wish them luck.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Capture Screenshots on Samsung Exhibit II 4G T679 Android phone

I found this useful tip on http://droidtricks.blogspot.com recently: How to Take Screenshot on Samsung Exhibit II 4G T679. It works on my SGH-T679 phone.

Android devices lead the mobile O.S. market.

While looking at statcounter.com, I noticed that more Android devices are used to browse the web than than any other mobile operating system (“O.S.”).

Top 8 mobile operating systems

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Waze challenges maps providers

Road-Warrior1Google Maps and Mapquest have a growing competitor that’s quickly winning fans: waze.com. In addition to relatively static maps, it provides dynamic information such as traffic jams, speed traps, gasoline prices, and road obstacles. Who provides this data? Other Waze users.

Waze uses crowd-sourcing to great effect via Facebook. It has an iPhone and Android version for use in cars. There is no pedestrian, bicycle, or public transport version.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

A remedy for display timeout killing Android streaming audio

Within the last week, my podcast streaming on my Android phone has been frustrated by the audio quitting shortly after the screen blanks. Samsung Exhibit II SGH-T679 phone

Apparently my Samsung Insight II SGH-T679 with Android 2.3.6 Gingerbread by default maintains network connections even when the screen is blanked. I gather that Android includes a setting that can change this so that Android disables network connections when the screen turns off. This setting doesn’t appear on my phone, so there’s no obvious way to change it.

The fix: I think that an app called Battery Booster had toggled this setting. I think. Here’s what fixed this problem:

  1. Uninstall Battery Booster
  2. Turn off phone
  3. Remove battery
  4. Remove SIM card
  5. Replace SIM card
  6. Replace battery
  7. Turn on phone
  8. Click on Applications
  9. Go to Settings
  10. Go to Wireless and network
  11. Go to Wi-Fi settings
  12. Turn off Wi-Fi

This worked for me. It may or may not work for you.

In any case, my phone now obediently streams audio, even after its display turns off. All’s well that ends well.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Please notice. Your phone’s battery is overheated.

A polite but annoying Chinese female voice inside my Samsung SGH-T679 Android phone speaks these words all too often.

When I can, I respond by sticking my phone in the refrigerator. Otherwise, I just switch off the display. (Apparently the LED backlight generates a fair amount of heat.)

Is this spoken over-temperature warning a feature of most Android phones, or just Samsungs?

  • Update, December 2015: I’ve resorted to cooling my overheated phone with reusable cold packs (purchased from drug stores). My new SGH-T599 Galaxy Light phone seems to overheat less than my older SGH-T679 phone did.
Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Occasionally, Apple’s single-vendor model makes sense.

Simply connecting my cellphone wirelessly to my netbook proved to be much harder than it should be.

Last week I bought my third Samsung SGH-T439 cellphone. It’s a 2007-vintage product: a very small flip-phone. I’m fond of the product, so when I found a great deal on eBay, I pounced. I learned on howardforums.com that Samsung has a program (called PC Studio 3) that allows a Windows PC to exchange files with cellphones such as mine.

Since I was using a Windows XP netbook with a Bluetooth adapter, I thought that I’d try connecting the netbook to the cellphone via Bluetooth. It sounds easy . . . and it could be, except that multiple hardware and software vendors’ products need to communicate nicely and securely with each other.

After failing several times to get this multi-layer system to work, I carefully documented the interface of each layer: function, ports, protocols, passwords, and eventually got it to work. The task required at least an hour . . . and I understand most of the technology and vocabulary! The layperson would have little or no chance of making this setup work.

It’s at times like these that I appreciate the rationale of Apple’s single-vendor approach.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Speech distortion with iPhones varies

I know it’s a lame headline, but I see no pattern to iPhone speech distortion.

photo: Apple Inc.

Months ago I planned to write an article that documented my observations of speech distortion when conversing with iPhone users. I thought that I saw a pattern: Verizon iPhone subscribers and iPhone 4S users had more speech distortion; AT&T iPhone subscribers and iPhone 3 and earlier users had less speech distortion.

I became interested in the topic because my phone conversations with iPhone users were frequently very low quality. Distortion would obscure syllables, words, or whole sentences.

My testing resources were nil; I would rely upon my very imprecise ear and the patience of my iPhone friends. A funny thing happened on my way to this article: any pattern that I thought that I saw initially, vanished.

Even the simplest analog system can introduce speech distortion caused by a number of anomalies. Modern cellular phone systems add still more variables that can cause speech distortion. One source is multi-path reception: the same radio signal arrives at the receiving antenna after following multiple paths. Each path involves different delays, so the signals are out of phase and interfere with each other. This is most likely to be a problem in urban areas with tall buildings. GSM systems such as AT&T’s can reduce this effect through frequency hopping.

Test equipment is required at both ends of a telephone conversation to perform most audio distortion tests. One useful test is for intermodulation — the mixing of two tones, resulting in additional tones that weren’t in the original two-tone input signal. The difference in amplitude between the original tones at the test system output and the new tones is measured in decibels (dB). An acceptable difference of signal level to intermodulation (IM) distortion product levels might be -35 dB or more. My ear tells me that cell phone (not just iPhone) IM noise is frequently much, much worse than -35 dB. If I had to guess, IM distortion often is perhaps -10 dB or worse: there’s plenty of audio level; it’s just completely garbled. I’ve not found any real-world iPhone IM distortion test results.

I have one friend with an AT&T iPhone 3 that sounded great one day (no distortion at all), and much worse another day when connected to a different cell tower. Another friend with a Verizon iPhone 4S sounds consistently bad.


One positive result: I found a good mobile phone forum and blog: howardforums.com

I’m surprised that we accept such abysmal speech quality from our mobile phones. (In the old Ma Bell wired telephone days, Bell Labs devoted enormous resources to minimizing speech distortion. Low speech distortion meant that people talked more via phone, which resulted in more revenue.) I wish that I could document a pattern to iPhone speech distortion, but I can’t. Sorry.

What are your iPhone speech distortion observations?

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Court allows warrantless search of cell-tower records.

Court rules that police may track cell phone locations without warrant.

drawing: Daniel Roca ES

US District Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the District of Columbia ruled several weeks ago that investigators don’t need to obtain a warrant based on probable cause to access a suspect’s location history that’s logged by cell phone towers. The judge based his opinion upon the supposition that mobile phones are equivalent to wired communications. His ruling conflicts with a federal appeals court ruling from last year that rejected federal government claims that it didn’t need a search warrant to track suspects using GPS location-tracking devices.

Judge Lamberth ruled that under previous court rulings governing wire communications, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in the numbers a customer dials using a landline. According to him, cell phones are similar: cellular customers have no privacy expectation for data their handsets transmit to nearby towers. The industry refers to this data as CSLI (Cell-Site Location Information).

I wanted to write about this ruling weeks ago because it will have a profound effect on our privacy. It appears that this issue will continue to bounce around in the courts for a while. These conflicting opinions may be settled by legislation. In the meantime, if you want to prevent your cell phone’s location from being tracked, turn off your cell phone. If you really want to prevent your cell phone from being tracked, remove its battery.