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A few nights ago, my Palm Prē got dropped, causing a hairline fracture in the touch-screen. Since it would no longer take any screen input, it was suddenly an even less useful device than usual. I’d been thinking of switching to an Android phone anyway, so I am now the (proud?) owner of a shiny, new Samsung Epic 4G (one of their Galaxy S line).

Getting used to it has occupied a fair bit of my time, but here are a few early impressions. Obviously, some of these are impressions of the Android OS, and others are about the phone’s hardware.

  • The Android calendar will let me set alarms anywhere from 1-99 units in advance of events, where the units can be minutes, hours, days, or even weeks. This actually beats what the old PalmOS used to let me do (and the webOS replaced by a simple drop-down of 5, 10, 15, and 30 minutes, 1 hour, and 1 day — not very useful; sometimes I want 3 hours’ warning).
  • The Epic is a much bigger, chunkier device than the Prē was. It still fits in my pants pocket, but not so smoothly. Not only is it just plain larger than the Prē, it also has less-rounded corners. Also, the protective case I got for the Epic is the rubberized kind, noticeably thicker than the “invisible skin” I had on my Prē.
  • What’s with the battery gauge not giving an actual percent? That seems so… naff. I’ve found a nice app to give me usable information: Modded Logic’s Battery Status Bar.
  • Live Wallpaper is cool as anything. It also seems to eat batteries like a very hungry thing. I’m still trying to decide if it’s worth it or not.
  • Read the rest of this entry »

    Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

kai_mactane: (Default)

Here are a few things that I consider to be basic requirements for functionality in a smartphone, along with notes on how my Palm Prē fails to deliver:

When I press the power switch, the phone should turn on.
(Assuming the battery is charged, of course. And I’m willing to accept that a modern smartphone needs to be charged every night. No problem there.) But given that, when I press the “on” switch, I should see the screen light up within, say, one second. It should not take ten seconds. By the time ten seconds go by, I’ll assume that I must not have pressed the power switch hard enough, and I’ll try pressing it a second time.



Did you know that the Palm Prē stores power-switch presses in its input buffer? That means that when the phone finally does get around to waking up, it processes the first impulse, lights up the screen… and then immediately blanks it again as it processes the second impulse. This is extremely frustrating.
When the screen lights up and shows me an “unlock” icon, it should actually let me unlock the unit.
I’m not complaining about the fact that it shows me that icon. I recognize that it’s there to conserve my battery life by making me prove that I’m a human being, and not an inanimate object that jostled the phone in a crowded purse or backpack. I’m fine with that.



What I’m not fine with is having to try three-to-five times to get the icon to recognize my input. And it’s not like the Prē stores this stimulus in its input buffer, so if I just wait for it to catch up… it blanks out the screen and I have to try again.

Read the rest of this entry »

Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

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Right now, the question of what you need in a mobile computing platform is most often phrased in terms of “Do you need a netbook or a full laptop? Or perhaps one of the new high-end smartphones will manage?” I think the question isn’t one of capabilities as much as it is a question about how we access those capabilities.

For some people, the iPhone’s lack of a physical keyboard is a deal-breaker. For me, the smaller-than-standard keyboard on the average netbook is a powerful disincentive: If I had to use one, it would slow down my interaction with the netbook — and if I learned to be fluent and productive with the small keyboard, it might mess up my muscle memory for dealing with full-size keyboards on my “real” computers. It’s not a trade-off I’m willing to make.

The Palm Prē’s physical keyboard is tiny. I can only key it with my thumbs, and there’s no risk of interference with my pre-existing keyboarding skills. Inputting data with it is achingly slow, but offset by the device’s wonderful portability (it fits into a pocket even easier than an iPhone does). But I can’t really edit text with it, because there’s no D-pad to do precise cursor positioning with. Even the Orange+finger-movement trick is balky and awkward, in my experience; if I want to correct a single-letter typo, getting the cursor after the incorrect character so I can backspace and correct it is such an ordeal, it’s often quicker and easier for me to use Shift+Backspace to delete the entire word and then retype the whole thing.

In effect, even though the phone has the ability to edit text, the interface makes it so difficult that I can’t use the capability. It might as well not be there. What would a better interface mechanism look like?

Read the rest of this entry »

Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

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Yesterday, a wonderful person who goes by the handle of pzil on the Palm Prē forums gave me a solution to my “You are signed out, there is no escape” woes. You can read pzil’s solution as posted on the Palm forum, but just in case, I’m also reproducing the meat of it here, in case it helps anyone else.

Again, I take absolutely no credit for this one; all credit goes to pzil.

Read the rest of this entry »

Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

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We’ll see if anything useful comes of this… I wasn’t too happy with the rep’s cluefulness at 2:55, I must admit.

2:50 PM Connecting to Rescue Gateway: control.app51.logmeinrescue.com…
2:50 PM Connected to Rescue Gateway. A support representative will be with you shortly.
2:51 PM Support session established with Kade.

2:51 PM Kade: Hello.
2:51 PM Kagan MacTane: Hi.
2:51 PM Kade: I understand that you are getting signed out and erase all data screen.
2:51 PM Kade: Am I correct ?
2:51 PM Kagan MacTane: Yes.
2:51 PM Kagan MacTane: And when I press “Just Restart”, the phone restarts and then shows that same “Signed Out” screen again.

Read the rest of this entry »

Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

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The following is a copy of what I just posted on the Palm Prē forums:

I woke up this morning to find that the webOS 1.2 upgrade had been pushed to my Prē automatically. I was happy, until the reboot finished and I saw:

Signed Out

You are no longer signed in to your Palm Profile on this phone.

If you plan to use this phone again, you can leave the files on your USB drive intact.

If you’re done using this phone, you can erase all your data on the phone and return to its factory default.

[Just Restart]
[Erase All Data]

The [things in brackets] represent buttons.

Read the rest of this entry »

Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

kai_mactane: (Default)

So, Palm was recently caught spying on its users. Major kudos, by the way, to Joey Hess, who initially broke this story. For those who haven’t kept up, various other news outlets and blogs have also been reporting on it.

Palm’s response to this problem is a single paragraph of corporate PR-speak:

Palm takes privacy very seriously, and offers users ways to turn data collecting services on and off. Our privacy policy is like many policies in the industry and includes very detailed language about potential scenarios in which we might use a customer’s information, all toward a goal of offering a great user experience. For instance, when location based services are used, we collect their information to give them relevant local results in Google Maps. We appreciate the trust that users give us with their information, and have no intention to violate that trust.

The problems with this statement are:

  1. There is no indication of how to turn off this particular piece of data collection. Not on Palm’s web site, not in the user manual that came with the Prē, and not in the Prē’s user interface.
  2. For all the “detailed language” in Palm’s privacy policy, there is no slightest indication — anywhere — that they collect information about what applications the user runs.

It’s particularly interesting to look at the “On-Device Services” part of the privacy policy: It mentions types of data that will be collected “If you use services we provide” (emphasis added). For example, they say, “When you use a remote diagnostics or software update service, we will collect information related to your device (including serial number, diagnostic information, crash logs, or application configurations)”. This is the only mention of collection data about a user’s applications, and it clearly starts with “when you use a diagnostic service”.

It doesn’t say “once per day, no matter what”.

Other items under “On-Device Services” start with “When you use a back-up and restore service…” and “When you use location based services”.

All of this suggests that users have some sort of control over what gets sent and when. The Palm Prē’s “Location Services” preferences item has a control labeled “Background Data Collection”, with the caption: “Allows Google to automatically collect anonymous location data to improve the quality of location services.” (This is after other controls labeled “Auto Locate”, “Use GPS”, as shown at right. If you turn on Auto Locate, you also get a control labeled “Geotag Photos”.)

It doesn’t say that Google (or anyone else) will collect data on what apps a user is running. And it strongly implies that this data will only be collected when I actually run an app that uses location services — for example, Google Maps, or OpenTable (which wants to know where I am so it can try to find nearby restaurants).

And it blatantly claims that if I turn off that switch, it won’t send my data off to big corporations any more.

So far, I’ve verified a few things:

  1. The application data log includes installs, uninstalls, and launch and close times for all apps, not just Palm’s official ones. Homebrew and third-party apps are included.
  2. Flipping the Background Data Collection switch does not turn off the contextupload process that’s responsible for sending the information to Palm’s servers.
  3. Nor does it stop logging application launch and close times. I’ll repeat that: My Prē is still logging application launch and close times into /var/context/contextfile, even though I have Background Data Collection turned off.

We in the technology business have a technical term for what Palm is doing when it claims that it “offers users ways to turn data collecting services on and off” in the context of this particular data. That term is: lying. Palm is lying to us, pure and simple.

Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

kai_mactane: (Default)

Last week, I wrote that I’d been working on a script to easily install homebrew apps on the Palm Prē. It now looks like there are much better ways to handle such things — I’ve become quite a fan of fileCoaster, myself, and of course webOSQuickInstall is a wonderful piece of work, as well. But just in case anyone might find this shell script useful, I’ll release it for general use.

Assumptions

  1. You have a web-accessible server where you put your development .ipk files.
  2. You can ssh into your Prē.

Download

You can download the script at http://kai.mactane.org/software/libraries/download/homebrew.sh.

Installation

Just drop the shell script into your home directory and make it executable. If you want to be able to use the “my” argument, you’ll also need to edit the three configuration variables at the beginning: MY_HOSTNAME, STDPATH, and STDVERSION.

Usage

For most purposes, you’ll just want to install your own package that you’ve been working on. Assuming you’ve set the config variables correctly, you can just type ./homebrew.sh my appname, where the appname is the base name of your package.

If you’re installing multiple .ipks and you don’t need to restart the GUI manager for each one, you can use the “skip” command on all but the last:

./homebrew.sh skip my foo

./homebrew.sh skip my bar

./homebrew.sh skip my baz

./homebrew.sh my quux

You can also supply a complete URL: ./homebrew.sh http://forums.precentral.net/spe_attachment/download-23971-com.palm.net.precoder.fcoaster_1.0.2_all.ipk will download and install fileCoaster, so you won’t have to mess with my script any more.

What It Does

It automates the process of installing homebrew apps with a rooted Prē, as described on the webOS Internals wiki. Basically, it remounts the root partition in read-write mode, wgets your .ipk file, installs it, does the “Good Housekeeping” backup, remounts the root partition in read-only mode again, and then restarts the GUI manager.

Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

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I’ve actually made some progress on coding projects this weekend. My Palm Prē “Magic 8 Ball” application now responds to the Prē’s accelerometer: if you rotate the Prē, the app stays right-side up (including readjusting the position of the backdrop image). Even cooler, you no longer have to tap a button to trigger the fortune; now you shake the phone instead. (Last Saturday night, a friend expected to be able to shake the phone and have it “shake the magic 8-Ball”. But that wasn’t actually possible for third-party devs like me at the time; the accelerometer support only arrived in the webOS 1.1.0 update, which came out on Thursday.)

I’ve also got a reasonably good script for installing, updating, and uninstalling homebrew apps for the Prē. Instead of the annoying, six-step process for installing homebrew apps on a rooted Prē, I just shell in and type ./homebrew.sh my 8ball, and the homebrew.sh script does it all for me. I need to publish that thing, now that I’ve got it working fairly well.

Additionally, my Japanese sentence generator, called “J-Babble”, now does proper plain past tenses (the -ta and -nakatta forms), which will make it more useful for me as a tool to keep me from backsliding when I’m busy. I’d link to that, but it’s not really a general-use tool yet. It’s more just for me. Maybe some day, I’ll give it the option for people to customize what vocabulary and grammatical forms they know, so it can just generate stuff they have a chance of understanding. For now, though, its use is just for me: when my life gets too busy for me to read my Japanese textbook and try to make new progress, I can at least bring up J-Babble once a day and get 25 randomly-generated, but grammatically correct and semantically sensible, sentences in Japanese. It’s just enough to keep the neural pathways from atrophying; it allows me to hold my place instead of losing ground.

(I’ve gotten some housework done, too, but this isn’t the place to talk about that.)

Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

kai_mactane: (Default)

Note, Added A Few Days Later: This post does not tell the whole story. This is a wail of anguish, and is not intended to be balanced. For a more balanced look at the Palm Prē, read my later, and broader, evaluation of it as well as this post.


There are a lot of good things about the Prē, but right now, they’re almost all being overshadowed by the catastrophic mistake the webOS developers made with the Memo Pad and Task List. They appear to have been swayed by the general Google-based philosophy that “If you’ve got really good search, you don’t need any internal structure or divisions.”

This idea is completely wrong.

Not allowing me to divide things into categories and subcategories is a painful thing. The excuse that “you can find anything you want, just by searching”, misses the point that I don’t always want to search at all — sometimes I want to browse.

Sometimes, I don’t want to select a single item. Instead, I want to see which items are available. Dividing things into categories is also an exploration of the ways that things are connected to one another. Allowing access only by searching demolishes those interconnections.

The only thing that’s more wrong than denying the user the ability to sort things into categories from the beginning, as Gmail does, is to take away the categories a user has already set up. And that’s what the Memo Pad and Task List in webOS did with my imported data from PalmOS.

I used to have 237 memos, sorted into 11 different categories that relate to various hobbies and interests, projects I’m working on, my girlfriend, and so on. And within each category, memos were automatically sorted alphabetically by title. And I had 50 To-Do items arranged in 11 other categories, these ranging from locations (i.e., “things that can only be done at home”) to types of shopping trip (e.g., “things to pick up at the supermarket” vs. “things to pick up at Fry’s”).

These internal divisions are now completely gone. My 237 memos are now arranged in the order they were created in, which is absolutely useless to me. I can, apparently, assign each memo one of four colors, and I can drag them to reorder them, but I’d still be stuck trying to deal with a list of 237 items, where previously no category had more than about 2 dozen. This is the difference between a manageable list, and one that is completely unmanageable.

(As you might guess, I also had a bunch of categories in my Date Book — only 10, as it turns out. But categories aren’t quite as indispensable there, because a calendar app has a natural way of organizing data that’s more primary. Months and weeks even subdivide time for you automatically. So while I sorely miss the categories in my Date Book, their lack isn’t a complete, crippling, deal-breaker.)

To add to the difficulty of a 237-item list, webOS doesn’t seem to have scrollbars. The content will scroll just fine, but there’s nothing to indicate where you are in the list. Are you right at the top? Halfway through? There is no way to know. There is also no way to go quickly or easily from one end to the other; you have to laboriously traverse all the territory in between.

Confronted with such a nightmare, my first thought is, “What if I just throw away all my old memos and start fresh?” Admittedly, there is some cruft in there. (In fact, I do occasionally archive stale memos to my computer’s hard drive and then delete them. It could be worse; it’s not like I’ve kept everything.)

The mere fact that I’m considering nuking all my old data, just because the new system can’t handle it, is a tragedy of poor software design and backward incompatibility. But honestly, even that wouldn’t really help:

The very nature of the new memo pad means that it cannot handle very many memos before it becomes unwieldy. With no scroll bar and no way to filter the view, the user is forced to confront all of the information that’s present, instead of having any way of interacting with a reasonable subset of it.

Once there are more than, say, three or four dozen memos in the new memo-pad system, it will be unusable again.

And this means I’m going to have to find a new way to organize my stuff. My notes. My thoughts. My ways of remembering stuff when I’m on the go.

Maybe Palm will eventually put categories back in. I dearly hope so, because their lack is a calamity for me. But by the time they do such a thing, I’ll probably have found some completely new way to keep myself organized.

I am very upset right now. And this has all just been about one particular problem; it’s not like the Prē doesn’t have some other flaws. (The lack of a D-pad is pretty annoying.)

It has some nice features, and I really ought to write about them at some point, just for balance. But right now, confronting the complete breakdown of my organizational system, it’s hard for me to see any of the good stuff that lies beyond.

Edited to Add: It seems the To-Do List or Task List app actually does have a feature that effectively allows a single-level category grouping. It’s just somewhat easy to overlook at first. The Calendar will color-code items based on their source — for example, all items derived from Google Calendar might be blue, while ones from MS Exchange might be red. I think this is silly; I’d rather have, for example, parties in red, work tasks in blue, social appointments in green, and what-have-you.

Right now, all my items are green, indicating that they all came from the same source. I really hope later ones don’t pick up some other color; I’d rather have no categorization than color-coding that doesn’t match my thoughts and that I can’t turn off.

Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

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