Tag Archives: android

Mobile Browsing with Addons

One of the things that I liked a lot about Android 4.x is that Chrome was now a browser option. It meant that I got an almost Desktop quality browser on my phone and tablet. The almost bit has gotten pretty annoying of late though, because mobile Chrome doesn’t support extensions.

About a year ago I converted over to using Lastpass, which means all my passwords for various websites are unique, and 12+ characters of randomness. Huge security improvement. However, it means every time I try to log in on the mobile web it’s a multi step process to jump over to the lastpass App enter master password, enter it again to get username and password copied, jump back over to mobile Chrome, copy paste into the input fields, and finally log in. This is in contrast to the Desktop experience of feeding my master password ever couple of hours, and it automatically detecting and logging me into sites when I visit them. The mobile browsing experience feels clunky and broken compared to the desktop.

How I wish Mobile Chrome supported extensions, but it’s not clear they are ever going to change that.

However, Mobile Firefox does.

Over Christmas break I figured out that lastpass actually works in mobile firefox, and after a little configuration started using Mobile Firefox instead of Mobile Chrome on both my Nexus 7 and S3. The overall browser seems roughly the same speed (maybe slightly slower), however the experience is much better. You get Ad Block, which turns the web back into something vaguely sane, and my browsing experience is now akin to the Desktop. Enough so that I’ll now use my Nexus 7 over my laptop for many browsing tasks.

Hopefully Google will eventually bring these features to their platform, but for now, the Firefox mobile strategy seems to be bearing some fruit, and reopening mobile browsers to innovation.

In the future…

In the future, you will take a picture of a wedding announcement with your phone, which will automatically scan and transcribe the text, which you can click on to search for the location of the event, and then automatically be prompted to get directions from your current location to said location (including estimated drive time).

And by you, I mean me. And by the future, I mean this morning.

Satellite Tracking on Android

For those with an Android smartphone out there, with an interest in Astronomy, the Heavens Above app is something you should install immediately.

It provides look ups for satellite crossings based on your location, as well as the ability to set alerts based on search conditions. I’ve had it installed for a couple of weeks, and have used it to catch half a dozen ISS passes and an iridium flare. While you can always go and look for these things online, having your phone give you a 5 minute alert when one is coming in your area is very cool.

A better voice for your phone

I really appreciated my Android phone when we were down at the shuttle launch, for many reasons, but the best of which was the built in Google Navigation system. It got us around perfectly, and helped us find some decent restaurants while we were there. The fact that your journey ends with streetview pictures of your location is just icing on the cake.

On the way back to the airport I was complaining that the stock voice is pretty horrid, and wished there were replacement voices. Apparently, I’m just an idiot, because there are. For $3 per, you can get a whole bunch of voices for different languages from SVOX. They’ve got an application that lets you hear a sample of all of them, and after poking with that for a few minutes I bought the Grace voice.

The voice engine is deeply integrated in the Google stack, so you basically just change the default voice engine in preferences, and from there on out everything that speaks to you, does so with the new voice. The only exception I found was Tasker, so I needed to specify which engine to use for it to read me incoming text messages when the headphones are plugged in (which is likely when I’m driving in the car.)

What’s Google doing: Castles and Moats

There was a really great piece this week on the freight train that is Android:

So here is the kicker. Android, as well as Chrome and Chrome OS for that matter, are not “products” in the classic business sense. They have no plan to become their own “economic castles.” Rather they are very expensive and very aggressive “moats,” funded by the height and magnitude of Google’s castle. Google’s aim is defensive not offensive. They are not trying to make a profit on Android or Chrome. They want to take any layer that lives between themselves and the consumer and make it free (or even less than free). Because these layers are basically software products with no variable costs, this is a very viable defensive strategy.

His final comment is spot on:

In Silicon Valley we like to make light of industries that are facing digital disruption such as newspapers, the record industry, and the movie industry, suggesting that their executives “just don’t get it.” Perhaps now we are witnessing the disruption of not just analog businesses, but also formerly interesting digital businesses as well.


Digital Familiars

From the Wikipedia entry on Familiars:

In European folklore and folk-belief of the Mediaeval and Early Modern periods, familiar spirits, sometimes referred to simply as familiars, were supernatural entities that were believed to assist witches and cunning folk in their practice of magic.[1] According to the records of the time, they would appear in numerous guises, often as an animal, but also at times as a human or humanoid figure, and were described as “clearly defined, three-dimensional… forms, vivid with colour and animated with movement and sound” by those alleging to have come into contact with them, unlike later descriptions of ghosts with their “smoky, undefined form[s]”.[2]

Due to their association with older forms of magic, in the twentieth century a number of magical practitioners, including adherents of the Neopagan religion of Wicca, have once more begun to utilise the concept.

When they served witches, they were often thought to be malevolent, whilst when working for cunning-folk they were often thought of as benevolent, although there was some ambiguity in both cases. The former were often categorised as being demons, whilst the latter were more commonly thought of and described as being fairies.The main purpose of familiars is to serve the witch/young witch. The service the familiar would provide would be to protect the new witch coming into his/her new powers.[3]

The most astute comment that has been made to me about smartphones in the last year was by my friend Colby Miller up in Vermont over christmas. We were talking about our android devices and while holding out his HTC Incredible he said “you know what this is, it’s a digital familiar“. I had never thought of it in those terms, but it made perfect sense, and really captures the kind of relationships we form with these devices.

Familiar isn’t apparently part of most people’s vocabulary, as I found out last night. I guess all that AD&D in middle school came in useful after all.

Android Talk at the Poughkeepsie ACM

I didn’t get home last night until 10:30, and sleep didn’t find me until after 1am. All of this was because of a talk I gave at the Poughkeepsie ACM on my experience with Android Development with the Where is Io application.

Why the ACM, and not the LUG? That question got asked at dinner, as the ACM regulars are well aware that I run MHVLUG. There were a few reasons. The first of which is that we did an Android talk in May, and while my talk was substantially different, the concept would feel stale to me. We’ve got a 2 year no repeat policy on topics, which I think works out quite well. But I had this quite good talk that I really did want to do locally and not just for the folks in Harrisburg.

But something else happened over the course of the fall, which got me more excited about this talk. It occurred to me that mixing things up a little is always a good thing. MHVLUG is my familiar turf, and at this point I know the audience really well, so it’s less of a lecture and more of a hangout with friends for me. I am definitely in my comfort zone there. ACM is new faces, new audience. I had spoken there previously, and while I knew a couple folks that come to LUG meetings are ACM regulars, it promised to be a mostly fresh crowd. Growth for me, and a chance to generate a bit of crossover between the groups. I advertised the talk to the LUG on the off chance that we’d get a few folks to come out.

The ACM does dinner first, meeting second (reverse of MHVLUG). I happened to show up at the Palace just as Ben and Tim (2 of the other MHVLUG officers) did. As we walked in we found the ACM table which was 7 folks, with an open spot for me.  At +3 we kind of broke that assumption so wedged another table over.  It turned out that wasn’t the last table addition we’d need. By the time food was being ordered there were about 16 people at dinner. Bob Cotton, ACM president, turned to me at one point saying this was the most people they’d had in a while.

Gulp. At that point I realized an expectation was set, if no where else than in my head. This was going to be more of a draw than the ACM meetings typically got, which meant I felt an extra burden to not be wasting anyone’s time. I knew the talk didn’t suck, I’d given it before, and I’d refined it again, but live performance is what it is, and until you get swinging you never know.

Dinner ran late, which means we got to Marist late, and while I was expecting a few other faces than at dinner, people who said they’d be there, I wasn’t entirely expecting 20 more faces. Neither were they. There was a chair scramble while I set up.

The talk went very well, one of my better performances. It clocked in at about 50 minutes, which seems to be my new norm, open questions for 30 minutes following, with stragglers there for another 40 to ask more questions. It had been one of the biggest draws in a while, and when people want to keep discussing the topic for a full hour after you ceded the floor, you know you stuck the landing. I still get quite an adrenaline rush after a solid presentation like that, which led to the whole issue in falling asleep.

Bill Collier told me at the end of the evening I’d be welcomed back to speak any time, and I’ll definitely take him up on that.

Android Development Talk at Poughkeepsie ACM

As confirmed yesterday I’m going to be presenting my Android development talk from CPOSC (with a few tweaks for the local audience) at the Poughkeepsie Chapter of the ACM this month.

Mon, Jan 17 7:30 pm – 9:00 pm (Ulrich Room, Dyson Hall, Marist College ): Poughkeepsie ACM Talk: Solar System in your Pocket – Developing Android Applications

It started with a simple discussion after a local astronomy meeting trying to figure out which moons of Saturn we were looking at. This seemed like the perfect first Android application, building an astronomy simulator that would let me answer that question wherever I was. Little did I know that trying to do this would take me on a Journey through most of the major subsystems and interfaces in the Android SDK.This talk will take you along on that journey of writing your first Android application.

It will touch most of the major concepts involved in mobile development for Android, and many of the interfaces you’ll need to write you first application. Most importantly it will give you a list of things *not* to do when developing for the mobile space.

Sean Dague has been an open source software engineer in the IBM Linux Technology Center for the last 10 years. His spare time is split between the outdoors, amateur astronomy, and random bits of open source hacking. Dinner before the event at the Palace Diner at 6pm.

The talk will cover some of the basics of android development, focusing specifically on how it’s a different programming model from what you might be used to.  I use my Where is Io application, and what I learned along the way, as a roadmap for the talk.

Android 2.3, all about gaming

The Android 2.3 SDK dropped yesterday, and if you look through the api changes you can see the entire release is about gaming. There are new sensors, that are pretty much only good for gaming, new hardware buttons, and a pretty substantially openning up of what you can do from native (C/C++) code.

I think Google came to terms with the fact that Game developers are held to their ways, if they don’t have a compiler in their workflow they feel naked and exposed. If you can get on an OpenGL ES surface you can pretty much skip any java activities now. It actually makes me wonder if you could port stellarium whole sale to the platform, which may be something worth looking into.

For people that are less interested in gaming 2.3 was kind of a snooze. Strict mode looks interesting, where you can monitor yourself for aberrant behavior, but other than that nothing much juicy in there.