First Impressions: Android

I’ve been a Sprint customer for the past eight years, but over the course of my most recent contract, I encountered a number of customer service issues:

  • Unable to block calls from unknown numbers.
  • Being charged for text message spam.
  • Sprint deciding to wipe out all user accounts on their web site.
  • Sprint store employees unable to sell replacement batteries.

When I wrote to the head of customer service, Sprint’s response to everything was best summed up as “We don’t do that.” (Amusingly, on one of my phone calls to customer service, the person I spoke to admitted that she doesn’t use Sprint at home.)
When my contract expired in December, Sprint offered me a $50 rebate if I’d sign on for another two years. What they didn’t offer was an apology. That’s too bad, because they certainly are sorry.
So now that I’m footloose and contract-free, I started looking around at some of my other options. I have some misgivings about T-Mobile, and a few more about Google, but the Android Operating System has all sorts of Geek appeal. (Regardless of whether you actually do it, the notion of being able to being able to program your phone is kind of cool.)
I’ve certainly heard plenty of good things about the phone. A co-worker has been raving about his since the week after they came out, and when I bumped into her at Farpoint, Katie started evangelizing about the G-1.
So, I decided to give it a try. I ended up buying the phone directly from T-Mobile and arrived home on Thursday to find a note from UPS waiting for me, saying a signature was required. I finally got the phone late Friday evening when I went to the UPS pickup location.
When you first turn the phone on, it prompts you to either login to an existing Google account, or create a new one. So I entered my information and clicked the “Sign-in” button. The login process ended with a message telling me that the phone couldn’t log in. It might be a temporary problem, or it might be that the SIM card hadn’t been set up correctly. After twelve hours later, I’ve ruled out the idea of it being a temporary glitch.
The first call to T-Mobile’s “Customer Care” number (Whatever happened to calling it “Customer Service”?) didn’t go so well. First I got a bad connection. Next, the representative kept telling me how I could find out the new phone number by entering a code (Gee, if only I could get the phone set up, I could try that!), and then I got cut off.
The second call was a bit more productive. It turns out that when I ordered the phone, the sales person forgot to sign me up with the required data plan. (Buying the G-1 phone absolutely requires you to buy a data plan, but somehow the sales person managed to skip that step.)
I’m set up with data service now, but the Customer Care rep told me it may take anywhere from a couple hours to a couple days before the service starts working. (If it ends up at the “couple days” end of the scale, I’ll be returning the phone. I’m already several days into the trial period without being able to try it.)
So my first impression of the G-1 Android phone is this: It’s a brick. I’d been hoping to write about how well it was working, maybe even post something via the phone. (Before it died, I would occasionally post via my PDA.) Instead, I’ll have to settle for letting Katie write about her phone in the comments.
Most likely the problems I’m having are because somebody turned off the satellites.

In Orbit

Given that this particular model has a reputation for draining it’s battery even faster than I can drain a can of soda, it’s good that the new new phone includes a card with “Tips to make your battery last even longer.
My favorite tip? Turn off GPS satellites when not in use.
Well OK. But won’t that be inconvenient for the rest of you?

Whatchamacallit

I spent some time at work on Thursday troubleshooting a problem on a QA system.
This raises an important question, specifically, what is the correct past tense of “troubleshoot”? “Troubleshot” shows up in the spelling checker, but it just doesn’t sound right. At best, it sounds like a kind of shotgun cartridge (sorta like birdshot). Likewise, “Troubleshooted” (which shows up in the Firefox spelling checker but not Microsoft’s) sounds like it’s both present and past tense at the same time.
According to Merriam Webster, the correct form is troubleshot, which is good to know. This sort of question tends to come up when I go looking for trouble.

Bye-bye Google

The Google ads are gone from this portion of the site. (At least, I think I found all the places where they were set up.) I still need to remove them from the blog on the fandom part of the site, and also from Wylie’s pages. But much as Rome wasn’t built in a day, it took a while to tear it down too.
Just to be clear, I don’t have a problem with companies making money to pay for the content they put on line. I simply don’t agree with Google’s decision to keep track of what sites individuals visit. That’s just a little too invasive and a little too easy to abuse. (I’d love to think I’m part of a larger backlash on this one, but most folks seem fairly oblivious to privacy concerns.)
One thing I do agree with though: Google should try to make their ads a bit more relevant. Looking at my fandom blog just now, Google’s displaying an ad for car insurance. That one’s not only irrelevant to the content of the blog, it’s irrelevant to anything I’ve even looked at online in the past six months.

Hiding From Google

Google has announced plans to make their ads more “interesting.”
Evidently the plan is that they’re going to track what web sites you visit over time and use that information to decide what ads you might find interesting. They’ve had this capability for years, every time you visit a site with Google ads, they set a cookie in your web browser. By serving up a cookie with the ads, they’re able to track you no matter what sites you visit. If the site includes Google ads, Google will know you visited it.
Do you find it a little creepy that Google will know your every move? They’ll let you opt out. You just have to be know that they’re watching you and also know that there’s a way to turn off the tracking. Because, you know, this is going to be completely obvious to everyone. (Believe that and I have some ocean front property in Colorado I’d like to talk to you about.)
My personal preference for dealing with this is to change my browser settings to discard cookies every time I exit from the browser. That way, none of the various trackers (Google is just the largest company to do this) knows my usage patterns outside a single session.
This is fairly easy in Firefox: Go to Tools menu, select the Options sub-menu and a dialog box will open. On the Privacy tab, change the setting for “Keep Until” to say “I close Firefox.” Note that after making this change, most web sites with logins will require you to login again for each new browser session.
Turning off cookies in Firefox.
Internet Explorer is a little different, but not too much more difficult: Go to the Tools Menu (you may need to press the [Alt] key to make the menu visible), select the Internet Options sub-menu and a dialog box will open. On the Privacy Tab, click the “Advanced” button.
Turning off cookies in Internet Explorer, part 1.
This will open a new dialog box. Click the “Override automatic cookie handling” checkbox (1). To block ad-based cookies, in the column labeled “Third-party cookies”, select “Block” (2). For greater privacy, you can also choose “Block” from the “First-party cookies” column, however this will prevent some web site logins from working. Check the “Always allow session cookies” which will allow cookies to be set for the current browsing session (3).
Turning off cookies in Internet Explorer, part 2.
Full Disclosure: You may have noticed that my site makes use of Google ads on a number of pages. I don’t care for Google’s new tracking technology, so I’ll be removing the ads completely over the next week or so. Between the privacy concerns, the lack of relevancy, and the number of blatant scams appearing in the ads, I don’t think they’re worthwhile.
Until I remove the ads, I’ve modified the settings in my Adsense account to exclude my content from the interest-based ads. In the meantime, Google’s context-based ads will continue to appear. It may be entertaining to see what sort of ads result from this post. 🙂

Hypothermia

Bad Dog works in a hospital where he runs the heart and lung machine during open heart surgery. This gives him a professional interest in hypothermia. He’s also into the outdoors, and the two interests sometimes combine and lead him to some unusual reading material.
Today he sent out a link to an article about hypothermia. This account takes a medical description of what happens as you enter the various stages, and combines it with a story about someone experiencing them. The result is quite eerily compelling and well worth a read.
In many ways, it reminded me of Jack London’s To Build a Fire.

Catching the Bus

Saturday was a very full day. Working at the Gaithersburg St. Patrick’s Parade in the morning, going down to the Writer’s Center in Bethesda for an open house in the afternoon, and then going out to dance at Glen Echo in the evening. (And somewhere in between, taking a nap; that was one very long day!) On the way out for the evening’s activities, I made a detour to buy gasoline and on my way back to the main road, found myself stuck waiting first at a railroad crossing, and later, behind a bus.
There was a light drizzle falling and when I first saw the bus, I was bemused that the route number seemed to spell out a word. I couldn’t quite make out the numbers, but it looked a bit like “HE7A.” How they come up with the combination of letters and numbers that makes up a route number is a mystery to me, so I didn’t pay much attention.
After going through an intersection, I started paying a bit more attention to the bus. That’s because I had noticed the running lights were blinking in a way that would get your attention and instead of “HE7A”, the route number instead said, “HELP!”
Aside from it being the first convenient vehicle, I can’t imagine why someone would hijack a bus. But as soon as it sunk in what was going on, I grabbed my cell phone and called 911. I told the dispatcher what I was looking at and where we were. It turned out they already knew about the bus, but didn’t know which one it was (this area has several gazillion buses after all). I was able to give the dispatcher the bus’ ID number and an update on where it was turning.
Going on the idea that the bus really had been hijacked, following it probably wasn’t the safest thing to do; but there were no signs of police cars whizzing into the area and I thought it might be helpful if someone could give them an update on where it had gone. (Buses are big and difficult to hide, but as noted above, this area does have several gazillion of them.)
The last I saw of the bus, it had pulled over to the side of the road. While I was trying to go around, the driver hopped out, looked up at the route number display, got back in, turned it off, and came back out to make sure it was off. My best guess is that he’d been driving around for the last couple of miles, completely unaware that he’d bumped the “I’ve been hijacked” button.
It had never occurred to me before that a bus might be equipped with a panic button like that. It does kind of make sense though. And where you have panic buttons, you undoubtedly also have the occasional incident where the button gets pushed by mistake. But that’s a lot better than the alternative of having an actual emergency.
It certainly made a memorable start to my evening.