Score another one for the web!

Last week I made a quick trip to Spain. It was a pretty early flight and I was quite sleepy and so… I totally forgot my laptop! I indeed thought that my bag felt “a bit weird”, as the laptop makes the back flat (when it’s in the bag), but I was quite zombified, and so I just kept heading to the station.

I realised my laptop wasn’t there by the time I had to take my wallet out to buy a train ticket. You see, TFL have been making a really big noise about the fact that you can now use your Oyster to travel to Gatwick. But they have been very quiet about requiring people to have enough credit in their cards to pay the full amount of the ticket. And since I use “auto top up”, sometimes my card might have £18. Sometimes it won’t, as in this case.

Anyway, I didn’t want to go back for the laptop, as I was going on a short holidays trip, and a break from computers would be good. Except… I did have stuff to do, namely researching for my next trip!

I could use my phone, but I quite dislike using phones for researching trips: the screen is just too small, the keyboard is insufferable, and I want to open many tabs, look at maps, go back and forth, which isn’t easy on a phone, etc. I could also borrow some relative’s laptop… or I could try to resuscitate and old tablet that I hadn’t used since 2013!

It had become faulty at the beginning of 2013, but I thought I had fixed it. But months after, it decided to enter its mad loop of “restart, restart, restart and repeat” during a transatlantic flight. I had to hide it in my bag and let it expire its battery. And then I was very bored during both the rest of the flight, and the flight back, as all my carefully compiled entertainment was on it. Bah! And so I stopped using it and at some point I brought it to Spain, “just in case”.

Who would have guessed I’d end up using it again!?

I first spent about 30 minutes looking for a suitable plug for the charger. This tablet requires 2A and all the USB chargers I could find were 0.35A or 0.5A. The charger only had USA style pins, but that part could be removed, and revealed a “Mickey mouse” connector, or C7/C8 coupler if you want to be absolutely specific. A few years ago you could find plenty of appliances using this connector, but nowadays? I eventually found the charger for an old camera, with one of these cables! So I made a Frankenchargenstein out of old parts. Perfect.

The tablet took a long time to even show the charging screen. After a while I could finally turn it on, and oh wow, Android has changed a lot for the better since 3.1. But even if this tablet could be updated easily, I had no laptop and no will to install developer tools on somebody else’s laptop. So I was stuck in 3.1.

The Play Store behaved weirdly, with random glitches here and there. Many apps would not show any update, as developers have moved on to use newer versions of the SDK in order to use new hardware features and what not, and I don’t blame them, because programming apps that can work with different SDKs and operating system versions in Android is a terribly painful experience. So the easiest way to deal with old hardware or software versions is just not supporting them at all. But this leaves out people using outdated devices.

One of these “discriminatory apps” I wanted to install for my research was a travel app which lets you save stuff you would like to visit, and displays it on a map, which is very convenient for playing it by ear when you’re out and about. Sadly, it did not offer a version compatible with my device.

But I thought: Firefox still works in Android 3.1!

I got it updated to the latest version and opened the website for this app/service, and guess what? I could access the same functionalities I was looking for, via the web.

And being really honest, it was even better than using the app. I could have a tab with the search results, and open the interesting ones in a different tab, then close them when I was done perusing, without losing the scrolling point in the list. You know… like we do with normal websites. And in fact we’re not even doing anything superspecial with the app either. It’s not like it’s a high end game or like it works offline (which it doesn’t). Heck, it doesn’t even work properly when the network is a bit flaky… like most of the apps out there 😛

So sending a huge thanks to all the Firefox for Android team for extending the life of my ancient device, and a sincere message to app makers: make websites, not apps 😉

Mozilla on Android

mozilla on android

I attended the Mozilla on Android impromptu meeting at the London office yesterday. Although I was quite tired I found it all really informative and quite enjoyed the presentations. Since it was all organised in a very quick/improvised way, many people couldn’t attend, so I’ll quickly go through what they covered in case anyone is/was interested.
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Installing Firefox Nightly in your Android device

Firefox Nightly builds

Did you know that you can get a Nightly version of Firefox for Android without getting your hands dirty with Mercurial or a compiler or even have to launch Eclipse at all? Yes, you can! Here’s how!

There are two ways of accomplishing this. First I’ll show you the scenic route, which involves connecting your Android device to your computer:

Download the latest build of Nightly for Android from http://nightly.mozilla.org/. Just in case of doubt, it’s in the Mobile row, and it should be an .apk file. If unsure about choosing the ARMv6 version or not, just choose the non-ARMv6 one.
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Twitter app for Android maybe going a little bit too far

I got an update notification a couple days ago. I must be one of the few users which does actually read the messages, and I noticed that this app now requires accessing contacts data. Up to which extent?

To this (I highlighted the most shocking parts):

READ YOUR CONTACTS
Allows the app to read data about your contacts stored on your tablet, including the frequency with which you’ve called, emailed, or communicated in other ways with specific individuals. This permission allows apps to save your contact data, and malicious apps may share contact data without your knowledge.

MODIFY YOUR CONTACTS
Allows the app to modify the data about your contacts stored on your tablet, including the frequency with which you’ve called, emailed, or communicated in other ways with specific contacts. This permission allows apps to delete contact data.

Twitter, do you really need to know about my private contacts? Really?

Of course, there’s the issue of the Play store not really inviting/asking developers to explain why do they need each permission. Some developers already put this in the description, but Twitter don’t, and their privacy policy doesn’t address this specifically, other than saying that I can “delete my contacts”, but it doesn’t allow me to see which contacts have already been uploaded there, if any.

Yes, I know a solution is to root my phone, install something like Cyanogen and reject nasty permissions on each individual nasty app. Another solution is that corporations behave ethically and stop data mining us.

Although probably the first solution has more chances to actually be implemented than the second. Or maybe I could just uninstall the app altogether! 😀

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 LE resuscitated!

Remember I told you the tablet I was given at Google I/O 2011 decided to kill itself a couple weeks ago? Well, I’m proud to announce that I’ve been able to resuscitate it!

I basically followed this guide, but with some differences. For the sake of posterity, and just in case the tablet decides to commit suicide again in the future, I’m going to write the steps I followed here:
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