Thursday, January 14, 2016

Charging Your Smart Phone

There seems to be a lot of misinformation about "how to charge your smart phone". Such as not to let your battery get too low. Not to charge it overnight. Not to leave it charging after it has fully charged. Not to run your phone while charging. Not to use a "different" charger from the one that came with the phone. And probably more that I haven't seen yet.

Here's the deal: The only thing the charger does is provide power to the phone. It has no idea about the state of your phone's battery. Only the phone knows that. The phone has hardware inside that controls how much charging current to provide to the battery. It knows the temperature of the battery. Some even have humidity sensors. If the phone is on (either on standby or in active use*), the charger, or the battery, or both, will power the phone. It doesn't matter!

Here's what I do: When I have power available, I plug it in. When I don't have power available, I use the battery. If the battery gets too low, the phone will go into battery saver mode, and eventually shut down when the battery gets down to 1% or so. And a smart phone knows how best to discharge and to charge the battery, based on the state of charge, temperature and other things. You may even see the battery management strategy improve with software updates. That's why they call them smart phones. They do these things, so you don't have to think about it. Just use your phone, and don't worry about the battery.

*How often do you use the GPS on a long trip, with the phone plugged into the car's USB the whole time? Yeah, the phone gets hot, and the battery charging hardware, along with the phone's software drivers, calculates the proper charging profile to use.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Expansion Storage Support: Lame, Lame, Lame!

I have three mobile devices that have expansion storage, by plugging in a MicroSD card. Or so they say. And yes, you can plug in a MicroSD, and it gets "recognized". You can even explicitly tell the device to put data there. But that is about the extent of it. It makes usability almost nil.

Example one: After a recent map update, my Garmin Nuvi GPS told me that my internal storage was almost full, and that I should consider adding more. So I added a MicroSD to double the storage. What happened? I can now see two "drives" on the device, but the GPS OS has no idea how to use the additional storage. There is no way to span volumes that I can see (and I have Googled this). I can put photos on the expansion storage, I suppose. Yeah, the GPS can display photos. Whoopee. But if the maps get much bigger, I'm boned.

Example two: I purchased a Motorola DROID RAZR M smartphone. It had a reasonable amount of storage, but I added a MicroSD to double the storage. What happened? Again, Android seems clueless about "just using" this extra storage. I can explicitly store my files there, but I can't say "all user files go on the expansion SD", nor is there any way to span volumes that I can see (and I have Googled this).

Example three: I received a Dell Venue 8 Pro with Windows 8 as a gift. The primary storage is about 60 GB. So I added a MicroSD to double the storage. What happened? Well, Windows recognized the "external drive". It would even allow me to move all of my user libraries over to it - by changing the "Location" property - something you have to do for each library. I wish Windows would support simply moving the "Users" directory over to another volume, or better yet, span volumes. But noooo!

Even worse, moving to the latest Windows 10 update failed because I had some files on an "external" drive. What's more, OneDrive cannot sync to an "external" drive. Jeez-louise! Shouldn't I get to decide if I want to treat a drive as "external" or not? A microSD that I tuck inside a covered slot that isn't even accessible when the case is installed, doesn't seem very "external" to me! Windows could just ask.

Bottom line, I have three microSD cards that have successfully "expanded" storage in three devices, and I have no usable way to make any practical use of it. I'm a technology geek; If I were really motivated, and I had the time, I could probably hack a work-around. But casual users? Fuggedaboudit! That's lame! Come on, OS vendors! Can't you get creative about making expansion storage a plug-n-play proposition?

Sunday, August 2, 2015

A Good Swift Backup

What this world needs is a good, convenient backup system. I realize that different people have different needs, but following a recent SSD failure, I can tell you what I need.

I had been doing regular backups to a 0.5 TB HDD, using Windows 7 scheduled backups. I "let Windows decide what to back up". That was probably a mistake. Had I chosen the custom backup, I could have selected "include a system image" with the scheduled backup. Then, I could have restored my system to a new drive from the system image. Bam! Just like that.

Instead, I had to re-install Windows, locate OEM drivers for the devices that Windows setup seemed to have no clue about, and that I could not get via online updates, since the NIC was one of the things Windows didn't recognize. I don't think I ever had an OEM driver DVD. I don't remember having to deal with that on the initial setup, but I digress. Anyway, the incremental backups that I did have were incomplete, and the entire feature seems to provide capabilities I never cared about (the ability to revert to an earlier version of a file that I created, and then edited). So it was a major headache that I thought I had taken precautions to avoid.

Okay, so Windows 7 has the backup capability I need: scheduled system image backups. So what's the problem? The problem is, this capability has been removed from Windows 8.1, and evidently, Windows 10, in favor of "file history", which I already pointed out, isn't what I need. Automated insurance against hardware disasters is what I really need.

Something that would be even better is an automatic system image backup that would start when I plug in a designated backup drive on a USB port, replacing the existing image, if any. A removable USB drive makes sense, because I want to keep backup drives offsite, and not connected full-time to a computer. (The reason for not keeping it connected full time is to help avoid attacks such as CryptoLocker.)

Maybe there's a market for what I'm selling here.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Microsoft Windows 10 Was Unveiled Today

I have always been highly critical of the way Microsoft callously abandoned Windows 7 users by making the Windows 8 workflow completely schizophrenic and foreign feeling to desktop users, by focusing on the Metro/Modern look and feel, primarily aimed at touch screens and tablet users.

The desktop interface that we were all familiar with was almost an afterthought, rather like the DOS window in Windows. It's there if you really think you need it, but we think you're going to like Metro so bloody well, that you'll never go back. But we went back. Worse yet, Microsoft ripped out the "Start" button/menu. Experienced Windows users no longer had their "anchor" to use as the focal point for navigating around the desktop.

A fundamental rule in software development is you don't remove features; you deprecate them. Meaning that you can hide them, or make them configurable but turned off by default. But no, you're going to use Windows the way we say, and you're going to like it.

Some things improved with Windows 8.1 after the blow-back and slow uptake, which restored some of the worst inconveniences, but it still didn't cut it. Of course, we have gotten used to using Windows 8 over time, but many of us still miss some of the old features, and we still marvel at the screwy split personality of Windows 8.

So Windows 10 appears to have added back better desktop support, seamless transition between touch and desktop environments, and the ability to merge the two experiences without the schizophrenia that plagues Windows 8. I'm waiting to get my hands on an advance copy of Windows 10.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

WxService Update Available

WxMonitor ow4j141330

  • Improved the barometer tool tip to display a more conversational forecast status string.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Android Audio Stutter -- Fixed!

Not long ago I finally bit the bullet and replaced my old flip phone with a smart Android phone. I had several reasons: I had an increasing need to respond to people texting me, and the ability to check email and sync up work and personal calendars on one device was attractive too. I also figured I could take advantage of 32GB SD storage to put my entire music collection on the device, and have it with me always. Or so I thought.

Android audio playback was a disappointment. The audio quality was fine, if you can call stuttering, choppy audio fine. It would be playing along perfectly; I'd be enjoying the music, not thinking about the hardware, when all of a sudden it would stop for a half second or so. Very jarring -- disconcerting even! It doesn't take much to pull all of the enjoyment of music out of an experience when you get yanked back into reality every few minutes at random.

This pattern occurred with all three music apps I use: Amazon MP3, Pandora and Play Music. Choppy audio is usually due to multi-tasking other applications. I tried shutting down all the other running apps, trying to find the culprit. Unfortunately, even with all apps disabled, it kept happening. Then I stumbled upon the Power Control Widget. The Power Control Widget allows me to disable the sync feature (it turns off the periodic email, calendar and other data fetching functions). It appears the sync feature is what stutters the audio.

Android Power Control Widget
Left to Right: Wireless, Bluetooth, GPS, Sync, Screen Brightness

The sync feature may be a poorly written app, or maybe it really needs the hardware to run at a higher priority than keeping the audio buffers full, or feeding audio from the buffers into the D/A converters in real time. Whatever the reason, disabling sync seems to be the solution.

So, I set up a home screen with all of my audio apps, and with the Power Control Widget at the bottom. Now, when I go to play audio, I simply turn off sync. I admit, it's a pain to remember to do that (especially turning sync back on when I'm done listening), but it's better than the alternative. Maybe someday, the Android developers will fix this, but in the meantime I'll live with it as-is.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

WxService Update Available

WxService ow4j140220

  • Fixed a glitch in the total rain accumulation calculation. The reset time wasn't being calculated reliably, causing total accumulation to continue into the next day (or other configured recording interval).