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Motorola for the win

As you’re aware if you follow this blog — all two of you — I recently broke my cell/mobile phone and needed to replace it. I know, this is stunning news that you just never hear and likely haven’t experienced yourself, but bear with me. 🙂 Although I had a cell/mobile phone long before many people did, I essentially gave up on them and stopped owning one for many years due to the way that the Canadian cell phone oligopoly rapes their customers.

In 2017 I decided to buy a phone from an American supplier — Ting, who operated based on paying only for the services you wanted and used — even though I was in Canada. Ting was a mobile virtual network operator owned by Tucows (before they sold it), a Canadian company who also own OpenSRS, a domain registrar who operate based on the reseller model. One of these days I will write more about them and why I left them after almost twenty years, but it should suffice to say that they didn’t (and don’t) live up to their own hype. Tucows never opened Ting in Canada because of how fucked-up the Canadian cell phone market is, and they essentially said that to their Canadian clients … without using the four-letter word I used. 🙂

However, Ting was awesome for the approximately two years I used them. (They actually did live up to their hype!) They’re not any more, sadly, because they now operate based on the plan system like just about everyone else, rather than actually charging you for what you need and use. (Tucows sold Ting Mobile.)

Through Ting I bought a phone that was adequate for my needs, a US$60 smartphone. Why didn’t I spend a thousand dollars on an Iphone? Because I don’t give a fuck about fads like owning the latest and greatest tracking device. Simply put, I just needed a portable computer in my hands that would tell me when I had email that may or may not need my immediate attention. I roamed in Canada, of course, but that was still cheaper in the long run than owning a Canadian cell phone. Bizarre, but true! I also wasn’t scrolling through Facebook endlessly and watching videos on it; all it did, essentially, was check my email. (In January 2024, after Rogers and Bell coincidentally raised their rates at the same time by about the same amount — after Rogers bought Shaw and promised that being allowed to do that would cause rates to be lowered! — I’m again hearing other Canadians talking about getting a non-Canadian phone and roaming! With VoIP and Internet-based messengers like Signal, why not?! Welcome to the 21st century!)

I still have that $60 cell phone! I occasionally use it on wifi, but I suspect it wouldn’t be welcome on any cell networks in 2024, or be able to download the latest apps.

In 2019 I was enticed to join Freedom Mobile, to whom I refer as Troublesome Mobile. I am not generally someone who looks for the cheapest, nastiest deals around — quality is not cheap, but quality isn’t to be found in this industry at any price! — but considering the extent to which the Canadian cell industry, as I say, rapes the Canadian population, the deal was good for what I needed, a portable computer that let’s me check my business email when I’m out. I don’t know anyone who pays $15 a month (before taxes) to be connected wherever they go.

Troublesome Mobile offered a Motorola phone at a reasonable price, so I went for it. I had bought a Samsung tablet a few years before but, as I said at the time, “In a nutshell, I am mightily disappointed in my Samsung/Android tablet.” So there was no way I was gong to acquire a Samsung phone, and I never will seeing as they have become the Apple of the Android world. When looking for a new phone late last year, I decided on another cheap, unlocked phone from an electronics retailer. I mean, smartphones have been around for years now, right? Apple is up to the Iphone 132 now or something, I believe, and each iteration is a vast improvement over the one before, right?! Well, apparently not. I was well aware that my old Motorola had Motorola apps on it that imparted more functionality on the phone than what comes with Android the operating system, but I naïvely figured that by 2024 those things would be standard in the OS. Ha! They aren’t, but I knew I’d adapt … until my new Cat Phone wouldn’t play nicely with my network of (limited) choice.

So I returned it and, as I said, walked into the trap of the Canadian cell phone oligopoly and crawled back to Troublesome Mobile on my hands and knees and handed over a couple of hundred dollars for another, low-end Motorola. Now, with my new phone, I can again karate chop my torch on. Yippee. Sadly, I learned that the feature of my old phone whereby I could do a double wrist twist to turn on the camera doesn’t work any more. As I said, new versions of software don’t imply improvement.

I readily admit that my vast experience will all of three brands of smartphones doesn’t hold a candle to the experience of selfie queen Kim Kardashian, who can afford to buy (or is probably given) a new phone every week, but Motorola is one company that I’m reasonably content with … except for the fact that it’s owned by Lenovo, who are based in the hostage-taking PRC. Now all I need is a Motorola sponsorship so that I can get paid for my effusive words of high praise! 🙂

Excellent service (not!) at Visions Electronics, Vancouver

I did something for the first time in my life on Boxing Day, and that was go shopping looking for a Boxing Day deal, days after I had smashed my cell phone by dropping it. I’d done a bit of online research in advance, of course, so I already knew roughly what I wanted. My old phone was running Android 9 (“Pie”, to you weirdos that like to use silly words instead of version numbers) and the new one runs Android 12. (I’ll have more to say about how crappy Android 12 is in a future post. How Google gets away with selling a software product [as Microsoft does], even though it’s open source, without providing any kind of support except through their fanbois is beyond my understanding.) I’d also decided to shop at Visions Electronics, who had been open on South East Marine Drive at the north end of the Knight Street Bridge for a few years. I’d never been in there, so I thought it was time I had a look after driving past about a million times.

Although I wasn’t there at opening time, I was still surprised at how “un-busy” they were. It’s not as if the place was deserted, but I suppose they just didn’t have the deals people wanted. Apparently Boxing Day sales are a thing of the past, with Black Friday and Cyber Monday taking their place.

I first went over to the big “CELLULAR” sign, where I found … no cell phones. I eventually found a small cell-phone display (nowhere near the big “CELLULAR” sign!), but they were just selling phone packages from the Canadian cell-phone oligopoly (including my current provider, Troublesome Mobile, aka Freedom Mobile), which was definitely not why I was there. I just wanted an unlocked phone. The salesperson there was uninterested in helping me if I was looking for an unlocked phone — he was busy doing something else on a computer anyway, and I was unhelpfully interrupting him — and pointed to a desk where customers were apparently checking out and paying for goods.

Unlike the old A&B Sound, which used to be located further west on South West Marine Drive, the place wasn’t roaming with salespeople looking for marks, even though the interior decor is similar with boxes piled everywhere. Instead I made my way to the head of a short queue where I stated that I was interested in a Cat S42 smartphone, and that I had questions. Instead of a helpful salesperson being very interested in selling me a phone, all I received in response — besides a look at the phone in question — was aggression towards and disinterest in my questions, one of which was based on the visions.ca website reporting different specifications for the phone than the Cat Phones website. Just as I didn’t really want to have a phone with a smashed screen, I also didn’t want to drag out the process any longer than was necessary by going somewhere else or going back home empty-handed to restart my research for what has become a standard consumer good, but for which cell-phone companies charge sometimes four figures for their products!

Anyway, to make a long story short I handed over my money to the ungrateful salesperson and walked out with the new phone. Admittedly, I got it for $210 less than the price on the Cat Phones website, but considering how I felt I was not really welcome or wanted in their store, I don’t plan to go back for anything else. Just not gonna happen!


Updated, 2 January 2024: After wasting several hours of my life on the Cat Phone (not the Bat Phone!), both on the phone itself and on the line with Troublesome Mobile (aka Freedom Mobile) for the better part of two hours, I returned the phone today to Visions Electronics because, despite the fact that one would assume that the phone was manufactured according to “standards” by Bullitt Mobile Ltd. in the UK, Troublesome Mobile declared that it was an “off-brand” phone and it was incompatible with their MMS system! It so happened that I returned it to the same salesperson (Thomas Lai-Mana) who sold it to me and who was completely uninterested in answering my questions when I bought it. Surprisingly (or maybe not!), he wasn’t one bit interested in why I returned it!

I also returned it because, despite the fact that the Visions website states that the phone is compatible with “All known Canadian carriers” (which seems an odd way to put it) … it wasn’t! Frankly, I don’t know whether to blame Bullitt Mobile Ltd. or Troublesome Mobile, but I already have a very low opinion of Troublesome/Freedom Mobile, so let’s go with them.

I then unwillingly (but knowingly) walked into the trap laid by Canadian mobile operators and went to a Troublesome Mobile retail location and bought a Motorola Moto G Pure … for fifty bucks less. (I bought it outright, not on some stupid payment plan.) I’ll have more to say about this ongoing scam in due course, but I’ve got so much to complain about at the moment that I need to take a break for the sake of my sanity! 🙂

Updated, 8 January 2024: I mentioned my experience at Visions to a friend, and she told me she and her husband had had a similar negative experience with a TV purchase from them. If only I had known I could have avoided my experience!

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.

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!

BlackBerry/RIM. Going, going, gone?

A couple of years ago my company had a major server outage on a primary server that brought down websites and email for almost two and a half hours. Such outages are rare, but they happen, and they happen to small hosting companies like NinerNet as well as the giants. After that outage I wrote about the lessons learnt and, without trying to deflect attention or criticism away from us, I pointed out an extensive list of major service outages experienced by the likes of Google, Amazon, YouTube, Barclays Bank, MySpace, Facebook, PayPal, Microsoft, eBay, and so on.

Also in that list was BlackBerry/RIM, and this is what I wrote at the time on them in particular:

Have a Blackberry? Do you realise that all Blackberry emails in the whole world go through one data centre in central Canada, and if that data centre has a problem, you can still use your Blackberry for a paperweight? Nobody is immune; nobody gets away unscathed.

I’m under the impression that, since then, RIM expanded that single point of failure to create multiple points of failure (often under threat of sanctions by governments who want access to their citizens’ communications), and fail they have — worldwide — in the last few days. And for several days, not just a couple of hours.

Without wanting to gloat over a mortally-wounded about-to-be corpse, RIM’s problems weren’t that difficult to predict. Unfortunately for them they are, at this time, the victim of a perfect storm that includes (among other things) poor sales and share performance, product failures, the almost simultaneous (to their technical troubles) launch of a new messaging system on the iPhone to rival BlackBerry Messenger, and these latest technical troubles. But this perfect storm is of RIM’s own making, and their problems go deeper than that anyway; they go to the heart of their core philosophies.

Now, I’m no Apple fanboi (and in the wake of the death of Steve Jobs I commend to you What Everyone Is Too Polite to Say About Steve Jobs), but at least an iPhone more resembles a “proper” computer like the one you have on your desk than the toaster in your kitchen that can only do the one or two things its manufacturer decided in its infinite wisdom it needs to do. Mobile computers (aka “smartphones”) like the iPhone and those running on the Android operating system rely on open standards when it comes to things like email. In short, open standards and systems win. (That said, Apple is not the poster child for open standards and systems, and needs to change that.) There is no central super-server somewhere handling all email for all iPhone or Android users worldwide, just waiting to fail. With BlackBerry there is … or was. End of story.

If you swallowed RIM’s mantra about their system being de rigueur for business and the iPhone being “not for business”, you’re paying for that today.

Sorry for that.


Update, 30 May 2012: Seven months later and Roger Cheng at CNET finally comes to much the same conclusion.