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Android issues

Google+ has stopped, which is very unfortunate.

Google+ has crashed, burned and died, which is terribly unfortunate

As I’ve alluded to before, my disappointment with the Android operating system created by Google is mighty. However, it reached a new low last week.

Suddenly I kept being presented with “Unfortunately, Google+ has stopped” errors that prevented me from doing anything until I tapped either “Report” or “OK”. I tapped “OK” the first few times, but then I thought, “Well, maybe I should be a good user and report this problem.” At first my reports were polite, but after being presented with this error every few seconds, sometimes one on top of the other while I was still trying to report the previous instance, I started to use four-letter words, usually two per report. Then I just gave up, and hit a few random letters before sending my report. I figured that after a few dozen reports something might be done. I am so naive!

Anyway, after a day or two of not being able to do anything on my tablet without constant interruption by the Google Plus app apparently crashing, I decided to take matters into my own hands. First of all, I don’t use Google Plus in any shape or form, but (of course) it’s a “system app” that you are forced to keep, so I rolled back the updates and disabled it. Then I went and disabled every single Google app I could identify except the six that I’m actually using:

  • Chrome,
  • Gmail,
  • Google Play service,
  • Google Play Store,
  • (Google) Maps, and
  • Youtube.

I have no doubt that there are more Google services on my tablet “phoning home” at every opportunity, but I probably can’t do much about those. As for the six that are left, short of “rooting” my device I probably can’t operate without the two “Play” apps, Gmail is on my list of things that I won’t need in the near future (and will disable) as I work diligently to stop using all Google services (I’ll be writing about that when I have some time), Chrome I’m keeping for now as I think it’s a good idea to have a second web browser on any machine (even if one of them is Google crap), Google Maps I will replace if or when I find something as good (in the meantime I’m fine using it with location services turned off), and Youtube … well, since it’s the world’s video sharing service, I won’t be disabling that any time soon, I suppose.

Speaking of rooting, I’m now way more inclined to do that than I was a couple of years ago when I bought this tablet. The only issue is that I don’t have the time to spend managing all of my computing resources. Technology was supposed to save us time, allowing us to frolic in fields of green with our friends and families while the computers did all the work. Instead we’re chained to them like slaves. How bloody ironic! Anyway, my tablet doesn’t seem to be on a list of supported devices for which there are instructions and software for rooting. Further digging reveals that I could probably work on it but … here we are back at the time excuse in this circular argument.

But here’s some further irony in this story: Once I had disabled all of the Google apps I could get my hands on, suddenly I could multitask again! Well, as well as you can on a tablet, I suppose. Where once I couldn’t switch to another app without it completely reloading from scratch, now I can get back to where I was mid-session with some of them. Firefox is the exception, which annoyingly reloads tabs from scratch every single time they’re re-selected.


Update, 29 November 2015: Having got on a roll and removed or (if it’s a “system app”) disabled any app that I’m not using, I was left with Samsung WatchON, which (after rolling back all of the updates) I can neither disable nor remove nor even stop. And yet, according to its Wikipedia article (as much research as I am willing to waste my time with), “App is discontinued on December 31, 2014 worldwide except US and Korea, and June 15, 2015 in those remaining two countries.” (The wording of that is not the only problem with the Wikipedia article.) When I try to run the app I’m told that it won’t run because the time on my device is wrong. Well, actually Samsung, it’s not. And so, having rolled back all of the updates so that I could disable this “system (cr)app”, I’m now running an out-of-date and possibly vulnerable app that I can neither stop, disable nor remove, and I keep being prompted to update it. Well, I guess I’d better update it then to stop the annoyance! Now when I try to run it I get an error message about not being able “to retrieve data from the server.” It helpfully suggest that I “Try again later. (1) [sic]

Thanks, Samsung, you useless bastards.

Goodbye Windows! Goodbye Google!

The day is finally here! It’s 8 April 2014, and support for Windows XP has ended. Years ago — I really don’t remember how many — I swore that XP would be the last version of Windows that I’d run. Not because XP was any worse than versions of Windows before it; on the contrary, having finally reached a level of acceptable stability with Windows 2000, XP continued that and I was generally happy, although that happiness (contentedness, rather) has been badly tinged in the last couple of years by the fact that my older machine (still easily meeting the technical requirements for XP) got more and more bogged down by the crap that everyone feels they need to load into their web pages.

But back in the mists of time I saw where Microsoft was going with Windows, and I wanted no part of it. Whether they succeeded or not with their plans for DRM, I wanted no part of their philosophy. (Apple is even worse, not to mention ridiculously overpriced, so that certainly was never going to be an option.) Besides those issues, I recently helped a friend buy a new computer and I was just aghast at Windows 8. It’s horrible! Maybe as someone who got his start on an Apple ][ and then moved to DOS, I’m just an irrelevant old fuddy-duddy now, but I’m still a reasonably productive (no old-age home yet) and paying consumer, and Windows 8 would not do anything to help with my productivity.

So with the countdown clock winding rapidly down to today, I bought a new machine from System76 that came with Ubuntu Linux. I’m still getting my sea legs on it, but I’m very happy so far. If you’ve ever used swear words when dealing with Windows and you’d like to consider alternatives but you’re worried for some reason about trying Linux, don’t be. So far I’ve found that it feels like all that has happened to my daily experience is that what Windows calls the “task bar” has moved from the bottom of my screen to the left edge (I could probably move it, but I’m not that motivated to do so), the close button has moved to the top, left-hand corner from the right (but Alt-F4 still does the same thing), and I now have a thin combination between a task bar and a menu bar at the top of my screen. In other words, my mind is not preoccupied with figuring out how everything works, and I’m more productive because I have new hardware. It’s a win all around. As someone who has watched former Windows users (including myself) tear their hair out trying to figure out the so-called intuitive Mac operating system, I’m very happy so far.

Even selecting new applications has been a breeze so far, with one exception. Not counting background programs (generally those running in the Windows system tray), on Windows I generally manually run four programs as soon as I log on: an email client, a text editor, a web browser and a terminal window. On Windows these were Eudora, TextPad, Firefox and (of course) a DOS box.

I’ve been a Eudora user since version 2 (in April 1996 when I bought my first GUI-based computer running Windows 95), almost twenty years ago! Over time I tried Thunderbird, Outlook and Outlook Express (and considered others, not the least of which was Pegasus), but they all failed to impress me. Even when Qualcomm stopped developing Eudora in 2006 (version 7 for Windows, 6 for the Mac) I kept using it. (Don’t forget, the standards on which email is based go back to the 1960s!) Qualcomm passed along something — I’m not entirely sure what, other than the name, but not much and certainly no substantial code if any at all — to the Mozilla Foundation and they were supposed to develop a Thunderbird-based “new Eudora”, keeping as many of the features of Eudora as possible that made it such a superior email client. To make a lengthening story shorter (I should have seen the writing on the wall, given my lack of enthusiasm for Thunderbird), Eudora was pissed down the toilet and (known by then by the project name “Penelope” and then as Eudora OSE) died a cruel death. Ironically, the lack of Eudora on Linux (unless you run it in an emulator) was my biggest worry about switching to Linux, but circumstances have conspired to force my hand anyway.

TextPad is a great editor, although a Windows-only program, but Linux is famous for its text editors. (I mainly used TextPad as a note-taking and text-processing application anyway; for coding I used Notepad++ [Notepad Plus Plus, aka Notepad Double Plus].) Firefox runs on Linux; and of course Linux has a far better, more functional and more versatile command line. The fact that I have (with the significant exceptions of Eudora and TextPad that I’ve used for so long) been drawn to open-source software (even on Windows) means that I can keep using on Linux some of the programs I’ve been using on Windows: GIMP, KeePass, the aforementioned Firefox, and more. This is good.

So what am I using now for email on Linux? After some research I have (for now; I’m still evaluating) settled on Evolution as my new email client, but I may also evaluate Zimbra‘s email client. I’m also still using Gedit (the default editor in Ubuntu) with some plug-ins to replicate what I had with TextPad, but I haven’t made a final decision on that yet either.

Hopefully I’ll have more to say about GUI Linux and System76 in the near future.

And what does Google have to do with all of this? Well, the other thing that I am changing after so many years is the Web search engine I use. The last time I did that was when I switched from AltaVista to Google in the late nineties or early noughties! But today is about dumping particularly evil companies, so it seems a good time to double the celebration. Unfortunately, due to the reach of their evil I can’t dump Google entirely, but I’m making a first step by not feeding them with free data about my life through their search engine. I don’t trust anyone online any more, but for now DuckDuckGo seems as good a search engine to use. In fact, if they didn’t have such a stupid name I’d probably have realised what they were and switched much sooner!

Samsung and Android: Out-of-box failure

I learnt a new term recently while doing research related to configuring my Samsung/Android tablet: Out-of-box failure. The current definition (as of this writing) on Wikipedia that applies in this case is as follows: “Out of box failure … is a negative experience a user has when installing and/or performing initial configuration on a piece of hardware ….”

In a nutshell, I am mightily disappointed in my Samsung/Android tablet.

While I have damn nearly two decades of experience being the go-to guy for computer problems among some of my friends (not to mention providing technical support to paying clients for almost that long), managing a tablet (or smart phone) is a new experience for me. I expected to run into challenges, but I didn’t expect to be let down so severely.

I remember learning about Android years ago — long before it was even released — and at the time I was excited. (Well, as excited as I get anyway.) Here was a new operating system (albeit based on an old [and good] OS, UNIX, with which I have almost as much experience as I do with Windows) that was going to allow people to turn their “dumb phones” (akin to the one-trick pony sitting on your kitchen counter: the toaster) into handheld, portable computers, just like their bigger cousins sitting on laps or desks. Not only that, it was going to create competition for the monopoly at that time — Apple and iOS — giving its users the freedom to manage their devices as they saw fit rather than as the dictatorial manufacturer saw fit. Besides the fact that I am a fan of competition, I have no love for Apple or their products. I specifically dislike the control they exert over the consumers of their products, the people who put ridiculous amounts of money into Apple’s coffers. Either you do it Steve Jobs’ way, or you can suck wind:

And yet, here I am — definitely not an “early adopter”! — with a new Samsung Galaxy Tab 3, running Android of course, and I find that I’m being railroaded into having to do things according to the Gospel of Google:

  • First, if you want to do anything useful with your tablet (other than read reams and reams of dire legal agreements as you run each app for the first time), you have to sign up for a Google/NSA account. If you don’t want to do that, you might as well return your tablet or use it for a paperweight, frisbee, coaster, or for skipping on a lake like you would with a stone.
  • Then, if you want to dump crap like Dropbox … well, you can’t! It’s a “system app”, so you can’t uninstall it. You can disable it, but only after you roll back the updates that were installed after you finally broke down and gave your name and email address to Google and the NSA.
  • The other thing I have found my Samsung/Android tablet is useful for is spam. Not sending spam or stopping it, but reading it. The fucking thing is always whistling at me or interrupting what I’m doing to ask me if I want to sign up for one Google service or another, or to remind me that I haven’t yet set up yet another “system app” (Peel Smart Remote in this case) that I also have no intention of ever using. Plus I’m now getting spammed by YouTube (“Happy dances around the world” for fuck’s sake), even though I keep clicking the “unsubscribe” link and even though the link takes me to a YouTube page that tells me that my “current setting” is “off”. Let me give you arseholes a tip: If you want me to use your software or service, hijacking my email account and the device for which I paid a couple of hundred dollars and generally pissing me off is a guaranteed losing strategy. This kind of shit is why, in the desktop world, the first thing I do with a new computer is “format c:” and install a fresh and unadulterated copy of the operating system to get rid of all the “crapware” cluttering the desktop and hard drive that companies have paid to have added to the system, but which is generally of little or no use to any thinking user. I suspect that once I get the hang of this, I will similarly root any future new Android device I buy (or work on) immediately.

OK, so as I think I understand it (I’m just guessing at this point in my learning experience, actually), it’s the decision of the device manufacturer to decide what apps are “system apps”, so I need to blame Samsung for that … and they (and Google) are starting to look more and more like Apple to me. This isn’t even a cell phone attached to one of the evil members of the cell phone cartel, who speciously claim that they must control what software runs on my phone — it’s just a tablet, which to me should be no different than a desktop computer when it comes to installing what I want on it — so I fail to understand why I am forced to keep apps that I have no intention of ever using, such as Dropbox and Peel Smart Remote. (Hasn’t Google learnt from Microsoft’s experience about bad behaviour like this in the latter’s various anti-trust lawsuits launched by the American and European governments?) To me this is like being forced to live with a slovenly neighbour from down the street, because the Communist Party Housing Authority said so. No thanks.

Although I have had this tablet for almost three months now, it has taken me this long to get over my feelings of loathing and dread (for all of the above reasons) and find the time to get this far in the experience, where I have finally installed my choice of web browser (Firefox, which crashes daily for no apparent reason) and anti-virus (Avast), and a crashing (because it wants to use the now disabled Dropbox) KeePassDroid so that I can actually access useful services that I use for which I need to log in. (Two out of three apps crashing; not what I would call “out-of-box happiness”.) I don’t have all the time in the world to screw around with this crap, as educating as it is, so time will tell whether or not this tablet turns out to be a productive and useful tool, or another listing on Craigslist.

It will also determine what new cell phone I buy shortly, ending my one-man, seven-year boycott of the anti-competitive cell phone industry, and a “dumb phone” (also known as a “feature phone”, although I can’t figure out why when it has only one feature!) or continuing with no phone is starting to look like a mighty attractive option right now.

Stay tuned!

Google search going downhill?

After being frustrated by the results in a Google search yet again, I submitted the following feedback to Google under the category “Google’s search results weren’t helpful” and the sub-category “The results included a page that was irrelevant”:

You searched for shaw vod 33319.

Please list which site or sites were irrelevant.

http://www.digitalhome.ca/forum/showthread.php?t=55214
http://www.digitalhome.ca/forum/showthread.php?t=127023
https://secure.shaw.ca/apps/digital_services/GuideErrors.asp

… and probably the rest of the results, but I didn’t go past the top three.

Why were they irrelevant?

I’m finding more and more that Google ignores one or more of my search terms, trying to be too clever for its own good. For example, while the third result on the secure.shaw.ca domain would be relevant if I was looking for a way to contact my cable company (Shaw) about the VOD (video on demand) error (33319) I am receiving, it’s absolutely useless as a result that tells me immediately what error 33319 is.

In this case “33319” does not even appear anywhere in the page at any of the top three search results. Why then are these pages included in the results if I’m searching for “all of the words” (Google’s wording) I have entered, and not “one or more of these words”? And this happens even when all of my search terms are actually words, unlike this case where one of the search terms is a string of numbers.

Please don’t make me use a Microsoft product for my searches. The last time I switched search engines was from AltaVista to Google.

For those of you with short memories or who weren’t around “BG” (before Google), AltaVista was the search engine back in the day. They even provided search results for Yahoo, before going into decline and eventually becoming a part of Yahoo. Now it’s just a point of entry into the Yahoo search system. I don’t even remember exactly when I switched, but it was probably in the early 2000’s.