Archive for the ‘Other Stuff’ Category

The G1: A Retrospective

October 12th, 2011 No comments

g1Last week, I reluctantly traded in my 2.5-year-old T-Mobile G1 for a brand-new Samsung Galaxy 2. Why did I spend so long using a phone with a hideously outdated version of Android, a bezel the size of my thumb, and hardware straight out of 2004?

Partially, it was for fear of T-Mobile’s hefty early termination fee.  But it was also more than that. After all these years, the G1 is still a pretty decent phone. It makes phone calls. Its camera, despite my earlier rants, takes halfway decent pictures. And it’s robust enough to have survived over a quarter decade of almost constant use, in an age where most electronic gadgets are supposed to be replaced the instant something new comes along.

Of course, this is a somewhat melancholy moment. Looking back, though, it’s amazing to see how far Android has come. When I first got my G1, I was a rogue early adopter, stubbornly choosing an early-stage Google product (and we know how long those normally last…Google Wave, anyone?) over the sleek and sexy iPhone which seemed guaranteed to eventually crush it.

Today, Android has a market share to rival Apple’s, and normal people are buying the phones in drogues! A Linux-based product, gone mainstream? Who’d a thunk it!

Looking at my shiny new Galaxy 2, it’s also amazing to see how far we’ve come in the last couple years in terms of hardware. My G1, especially near the end, was molasses-slow and had a screen that, in comparison to the Galaxy, looks a bit like a postage stamp. The new phone is pretty much all screen and has a faster processor than my laptop. I can watch movies on it, the GPS actually works, and the long-promised Flash player functions brilliantly.

Time, however, actually treated by little G1 pretty well. It survived (mostly) a fall down a few flights of stairs, suffering only a small crack in the screen which didn’t even affect the capacitive touch properties. And the original factory-shipped screen cover sticker remains on the phone to this day; tell that to the guy at the Sprint store next time he tries to sell you a $15 screen protector! Battery life suffered after a couple years, of course, but I could still get a day’s worth of normal use out of the G1 if I charged it fully.

All in all, I’m happy to have a new phone. But you have to hand it to the G1; it managed to launch a whole new sector of the mobile industry, pose a real threat to Cupertino, and not completely suck after almost 3 years of use. Not bad Google guys, not bad.

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Sprint: The “Now We’re Gonna Put You on Hold” Network

October 9th, 2011 No comments

So maybe you’ve heard that Sprint has the new iPhone 4S, or that it consistently has the best selection of Android phones, or that it doesn’t cap/throttle your bandwidth like the other guys. And maybe now you’re thinking “Maybe I ought to switch over to Sprint. $200 early termination fee from my current carrier, be damned; Sprint sounds great!”

But perhaps you’re also thinking “Being treated like a human being when you call in to customer service is nice. And having competent sales reps would be good too! Oh, and I value my time; I wonder if Sprint would do the same?”

Here’s your answer: No.

About I week ago, I reluctantly chose to part with my Tmobile G1, which I’ve had for about 2.5 years (more on that later). My wife and I went to our friendly neighborhood Sprint store and picked up a lovely new Evo 4g and Samsung Epic (rebranded Galaxy 2). The sales rep confidently assured us that they could port our numbers from our old carriers in 3-4 hours, well before our next billing cycle for our current phones began.

You can probably guess where this is going. A week later, no sign of any activity. We’re still calling people with temporary numbers, doing the little “Hello? Who is this? Oh, you have a temporary number? Ok, I’ll fail to write that down and then forget it, and be unable to reach you with important calls!” dance with anyone we tried to contact.

So I call Sprint, and figure they probably had the wrong password or something. Should be easy, right?

Turns out there was no record of the original port request. Fine, forty five minutes reading out digits, forking over the SSNs for our entire extended family, etc. and it should be solved!

And it was; both numbers came over…to the wrong phones. So now I was, as far as Sprint was concerned, my wife.

Another call: naturally, the representative needed a non-Sprint callback number in order to reach me if we got disconnected when she tried to flip the numbers. Except, now Sprint had both our numbers, and we didn’t have any other numbers for them to call us on! Such fun! Let’s get a supervisor! Our hold music is really great, and this should give you time to memorize all the lyrics!

Back on; turns out they can do without the callback number. They’ll just flip the numbers on our two phones, and in ten minutes, everything will restart and we’ll be good to go. Ten minutes later, they restart! They authenticate to the network! And…I’m still my wife.

Another lovely chance to make sure I  remember every bar of that hold music! This time, another 20 minutes later, I hang up again, ten minutes pass, and…it worked!

At this point, though, I’ve wasted 2.5 hours of my time, as well as a week of waiting for the numbers to port. And we’re stuck with three phonebills, because naturally our other plans didn’t get canceled  in time, due to our first Sprint friend’s failure to set up the port correctly.

So I called customer service to lodge a complaint. Now, I’m pretty reasonable. I didn’t want six months free, a credit back on my phone, the right to let our dog come to the next Sprint shareholder meeting and pee on some executives, etc. All I wanted was a measley credit on our bill for the first week of our service, when we were essentially without phones.

Surely, any company would be absolutely willing to give me a measly 30 bucks to keep me around, especially given that we’re still within our 14 day return window, and could march right back to the Sprint store and return everything, then write nasty blog posts about them. Right?

Another hour on the phone and four (count ’em, four) escalations later, I finally had my $30. I only had to tell my story to each new rep I encountered, listen to the same lovely hold music for another 30 minutes or so, and defend the fact that I had (gasp) made a couple calls using my temporary phone number!

So there you have it: Sprint has the best selection of phones, a great data plan, some healthy discounts, and the worst customer service staff ever to insult our planet with its presence.

Verizon, anyone?


UPDATE: Sprint has gotten a whole lot better, right? Nope. Part of our plan was a 23% employee discount, which on a data plan for two smartphones amounts to a hefty sum each month. This credit was one of the reasons we chose Sprint in the first place. When we signed up in the Sprint store, the rep told us that the credit would normally apply after two billing cycles, but that if we signed up that day, he would add it from day 1.

First bill arrived, and naturally the credit wasn’t there. Another lovely jaunt up the Sprint phone tree got me nothing but the stock response “The credit applies after the second billing cycle, sir.” Finally, I called the Sprint store where we got the phones, and spoke to their manager. They admitted their error and added a credit to our first bill. They also made a note on the account about the trouble we had getting the credit, and assured us that the credit would apply from now on.

FOUR billing cycles later, and EVERY time Sprint has failed to apply the credit. Every month, I have my little chat with the Sprint billing people, during which they pull up our account info (“I see that there’s a note on your account about your billing troubles…”), give us the credit we were supposed to have from Day 1 and assure me that the credit will apply from now on. I have spent enough time in Sprint’s phone system that I’ve almost developed a taste for smooth jazz. Their hold music may well end up being a candidate for our future childrens’ wedding songs.

Really Sprint? One simple data entry step, and you screw it up every month for FOUR months? Really?

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G1 + Android As Microscope

October 12th, 2009 No comments

So after reading this article in Technology Review, I started wondering whether there was an easy way to use the T-Mobile G1 as a remote microscope. I wanted to be able to build something and use it, along with my G1, to take some extremely close-up photos, which I could then send quickly and easily over email.

The catch is this: I wanted to do this with only stuff I could find around my home. There seems to already be a lot of buzz about remote microscopy, to the point at which companies are actually selling (expensive!) microscope adapters for your camera phone. I didn’t want any of these–if someone is cobbling together a cellphone microscope, I’m assuming they don’t have $375 to spend on a lens. If they did, they could probably buy…a microscope.

So I started to think about what around the house would contain a lens with enough magnification to produce useful images. I wasn’t trying to look at blood cells and whatnot just yet–I just wanted something which could be used for looking at materials, things of forensic interest, cuts and other little traumas, etc.

The solution I arrived at was using the lens from a CD player. These lenses are everywhere–you could even grab one from an old optical drive. They’re generally easy to get at (I plucked mine out of the CD player with needle-nose pliers), and they provide good magnification.

The rest of the build was equally simple–I just took the back off of my G1 and taped the lens over the aperature for the G1’s camera.

Here are some of the resulting photos:

Human hairs imaged by the G1 microscope

Human hairs imaged by the G1 microscope

A 12 point letter 'e'

A 12 point letter 'e'

A small cut on my thumb...gross, yes?

A small cut on my thumb...gross, yes?

The metallic end of a USB cable

The metallic end of a USB cable

A millimeter ruler...anyone know how to use this to calculate magnification?

A millimeter ruler...anyone know how to use this to calculate magnification?

Next step would be to incorporate a second lens to get higher magnification, since at the moment this is really more of a glorified loupe than an actual microscope.

Please share your thoughts!

Hacking the Android Unlock Pattern

February 3rd, 2009 No comments

Ever since I discovered the Android Unlock Pattern, I’ve been trying to come up with a creative way to get around it. I’m sure there are plently of snazzy software ways to do this, but there’s an even easier one–use smudges.

Especially after you’ve made a call and held the G1 up to your face, some grime inevitably builds up on the screen (eww!). When you run your finger over the screen to unlock the phone, it ends up leaving a surprisingly clear fingerprint trail behind. If you hold the phone up to a light or a window and tilt it around enough, you can generally see the patterns of fingerprints on the screen. Unless the person using the phone did a lot of scrolling around after entering their unlock pattern, it’s also usually possible to clearly see their pattern as a nice little trail of disrupted grime on the screen.

Several people have pointed this out in forums, but I wanted to get a clear picture of the problem. Given the reflectiveness of the G1’s screen, however, this proved surprisingly hard to do. Eventually, I ended up placing the phone under a bright light and then photographing it with an SLR, which allowed me to selectively focus on the screen, and not focus on the reflection on the screen, as my point-and-shoot inevitably chose to do. I then made the resulting image negative in Photoshop, ran it through a high pass filter, and messed around a bit with the brightness and contrast.

The result is an image, on which I’ve overlayed the unlock “dots”:

Overlay of smudges on Android screen with Unlock Pattern

It’s not hugely obvious at first, but if you look closely, you can see a line connecting the dots from the lower left to upper right corners (forming an L rotated clockwise), the correct pattern. It’s a lot of hassle to show something which is really obvious when you’re actually looking at the phone under a light, but you can see the idea.

This begs the question of how to protect your phone. The most obvious solution would be to wipe the screen after each use (or shower/wash your hands more often), but who wants to do that? Another idea is to create a pattern where you double back over lines you’ve already drawn, thus obscuring the actual pattern, even if someone should see its basic layout. The ease of doing this, however, suggests that maybe the unlock pattern isn’t all it’s cracked up to be–how about adding support for PIN entry in a future release, Google?

My Android Experience Begins

January 8th, 2009 No comments

Welcome to the blog! Recently, I received a T-Mobile G1 as a (solicited) Christmas present, equipped with Google’s new Android operating system. It took about 5 minutes to discover that Android is everything a nice piece of open source software should be–extremely capable yet endearingly temperamental. My first interaction with it–attempting to crop a photo for my wallpaper–yielded a comically huge enlargement of my forehead, plastered across the G1’s lovely Multitouch screen, with a nice friendly-looking analog clock smack in the center of it. This had neither the polish of an iPhone, nor the ruthless efficiency of a Blackberry. I was delighted–it was like carrying Ubuntu Linux around in my pocket!

Ever since, I’ve been experimenting with the G1. In learning about its features, I’ve found other blogs and websites extremely useful. For that reason, I decided to document what I discover, in case other people are Googling for the same things. Enjoy, and please comment!

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