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Archive for the ‘Android’ Category

Lots and Lots of Memory

Always running out of memory on your phone? me too!

Note this article applies only to Android 6 users.

HTC One M8There was a time in the distant past when Android phones would allow you to use an app called AppToSD or similar and move your apps (as against data) into your SD card. That time was long ago before Google stopped it working.

Then in the not too distant past, Samsung and others seemed to find a way around this  – you could go into your memory settings – apps – and move programs to SD (well, part of them – and only some programs), still leaving large chunks in the limited internal memory.

And so it was that until today I was struggling with my HTC One M8 phone which has 16GB of internal memory and a massive 64GB SD. All that extra SD was doing me no good because I kept running out of room in main memory. Attempts to move TomTom into SD failed as it would not run. TomTom are aware of this and by all accounts could not give a toss. Weeks after enquiring, they gave me some instructions for reformatting the SD that didn’t work. Other programs didn’t even provide the option.

And so, having read up on Android 6.0 having the ability to assimilate SD into internal memory but ALSO having read that TomTom would not have that as it would not be able to find any SD memory, I went for broke and formatted the phone and SD. In settings is an option to make external SD part of internal memory and I went for that.

Some time later, I was greeted with the message on my phone that I have a grand total of 73Gb of internal memory. Sounds good but would it work – I didn’t really think so.

Normally with all of my apps in – I’m sitting at 15GB used out of 16gb available, with only travel maps, images and video in the SD.  I re-installed all of my apps and more besides  – a LOT more. I figured I’d give this a good hammering.

Everything worked – and I installed a new sat-nav program – grabbed Spanish and UK maps and was delighted to find that all the new stuff was going into the SD part of memory leaving me nearly 8GB of the old internal memory intact – this had never happened before.

I don’t know what made me do it but I thought I’d have one last go at TomTom and installed it. I could not believe it – it worked. I told TomTom go go off and get Spanish and UK maps – which took an age. I came back, closed TomTom and started it up again – it worked!! But more’s the point, I STILL have nearly 8gb of the original internal memory. I added Word, Onenote, Facebook, Nova launcher and on and on -  hardly any change with everything going into the once-useless massive SD.

And so there you are – I have my TomTom and more apps than ever before – and rather than considering my 16GB HTC ONE M8 to be getting on a bit – I feel like I have a brand new phone.

The “Internet of Things”

As this is now abuzz-phrase you’ll see littering the press, I thought I’d put in my two-pence worth on this “new” subject.

The “Internet of Things” is a phrase used to describe things that can be controlled or monitored (or both) over the Internet.

In 1962  I was too young to be aware of what was happening outside of my own house! but at this time, a fellow called Licklider from MIT was describing what he called a “galactic network” concept in which computers all over the world would talk to each other. By 1969 4 machines were talking to each other in what was called “Arpanet” and the rest is well known… today, billions of machines are connected worldwide… but most folk think of everything from large computers down to mobile phones – what is slightly less well known is the massive spread late last century of “microcontrollers” which are now found in most everyday electronic gadgets (washing machines, industrial controllers etc. and which are often connected together by what is currently called “The Internet of Things”. Checkout Cloudwash if you’re interested in what might be done with domestic appliances. Here is another link to a Samsung phone controlled washing machine, the WW9000.

In 1963 my interest in electronics started with a “Philips E10” kit which started me on the path of building radio receivers, controlling lights and motors.. and I’ve been involved with electronics since then, writing articles, building machines and eventually turning my interest into a business in the 80’s and beyond.

In 1974, the X10 protocol was developed in Scotland (but strangely found much favour in America where, amongst others,  Steve Ciarcia made it popular with hobbyists -Steve Ciarcias Circuit Cellar magazine). This was a means of connecting gadgets around the home/office/factory for the purpose of remote control. In this case the signals were/are in fact sent over the mains electricity supply. Other solutions involve WIFI, Bluetooth, general radio, Infra-red and other mechanisms.

That takes care of the local connectivity while the Internet allows that remote control to extend worldwide.

In 1982, students at Carnegie Mellon University created the first ever “Internet connected soda vending machine”. I remember being fascinated at the possibilities this would bring, thousands, perhaps millions of machines of all shapes and sizes being controlled and monitored via the Internet from anywhere in the world. Of course at that time there was not even the concept of an Internet-connected mobile phone so that limited possibilities at the time – but this was enough to start me off and by May 1994 our company had developed a home control system called Appcon which basically let anyone control lights, alarms, heating and more from a PC – and by implication, by remotely controlling the PC, from anywhere. 

We used wire control and the mobile infrastructure was simply not ready for this. Today it is and we’re already starting to see simple light and heating control via mobile phones appearing on the market. We’re also seeing what I believe is only the tip of the iceberg in dire warnings in the press about security.  While Windows and the Internet in general have had a long time to get used to nasty people trying to break in and destroy – to the extent that virtually all of the public are aware of viruses, trojans and other means of destroying PCs, certainly the home control market has to date not been sufficiently important to attract large scale attempts at disruption – but it will happen – it’s just a matter of time.

Part of the problem is that the sophisticated anti-virus and other techniques used to protect PCs are simply not available to the simplest of controllers you might see in for example a remote light switch. Even HTTPS: which is a simple mechanism to encrypt data over the Intranet is mostly not available to the simplest of controllers.

Gartner reckon that by 2020, 30 BILLION devices will be connected to the Internet and bear in mind that the current IP4 system of Internet addressing allows for only 4.3 billion individual device addresses and that includes PCs and phones etc.!! Newer technologies such as IP6 which allow for a FAR greater number of devices are again not really available to the simplest of devices at this time so there are lots of changes and improvements to be made in the coming years.

In the meanwhile, much fun and entertainment is still to be had in this emerging field – enthusiasts using the likes of the Raspberry Pi, Arduino and other technologies are having a great time coming up with new ideas and new applications. The combination of local networking and remote control via the Internet has chance to dramatically change how we interact with the world in the coming years, offering massive possibilities for saving energy and doing things in completely new ways. Expect to hear a LOT more of this in the coming months.

For my own efforts I’m now controlling my own gadgets in 3 properties including modern lighting technologies and heating and already making savings on heating bills.

Home Control April Update

tmpB947The home control system is coming along nicely and after a “weekend of code” has some nice new facilities, not the least being a new test desktop PC program and some new radio error checking. Add to that the recent work on week/weekend temperature program and it’s just about ready to roll to both the cottage, our house and Spain. One of the guys helping me has gone off with the first model to play with.

tmp25FEFirstly the Android/IOS App has been tidied up and some new screens put in the place – the first is shown on the left here and shows temperature monitoring, +-adjustments and hold-off (in days) which puts it on standby – useful for the cottage if it’s not in use. Dusk and dawn times are automatically calculated on a daily basis and any of the on-off controls can now include on from dusk until midnight, on from dusk until dawn etc.

The second page shows some demo NRF24L01 remote units and similar on-off controls with these.

The new internal additions allow for momentary radio failure and will temporarily log out and failed unit and it’s siblings to prevent slowing everything down. This was a major pain before as constant polling of units could slow things down. That is all now history.

tmp6051The third page here can control serial LEDS – the new type with individual serial control. I’ve not yet implemented a simple means to change the lengths of these LED strips but that will come shortly. There’s no reason I can’t store this in EEPROM.

tmp4C84Note the various colour controls and sliders. The very bottom is just an experiment area.

Below right you’ll see the heating controls which allow setting main and fall-back temperatures as well as weekday and weekend timing controls. You should be able to enlarge these images by clicking on them incidentally.

Below all of that is a glimpse of the new PC testing software – just finished working on that and not yet turned it into stand-alone compiled code but that will come this week hopefully. It works perfectly and includes the ability to save profiles for testing different board scenarios.

imageWhat has made a bit of a difference is the discovery of the ease of extracting mains control PCBs from some of the low cost plug-in-the-wall Chinese USB supplies – the newer ones have very small boards capable of giving out over 0.5amps at 5v very efficiently.

So now it’s possible to make plug-in-the-wall radio units and masters no longer needing separate power supplies. Added a nominal level of security

Some way to go before I’ll be satisfied with this but it’s starting to look ok. I now have TWITTER alerts kind of running on the larger boards but the low-cost version still won’t have them – I’ve written off to the guy who designed the Ethernet library to see if that can be fixed.

All of this has come a long way from my early experiments with the NRF24L01 radio boards – which seems to have been a popular video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VgmVYdSCNLs but documenting this lot could take quite some time.

The only problem with the NRF24L01 boards is range – they are atrocious. Firstly they are very susceptible to noise and many people recommend putting an electrolytic capacitor on the board at the connector. I suspect this has to do with current spikes when transmitting. This does seem to make a difference. Secondly -  they are in the same radio spectrum area as WIFI etc. Thirdly there is no way to gauge incoming signal strength and therefore when used with any mesh network software, it can’t tell which is the best connection to use – and finally – just because of the frequency band they operate in combined with low output, they won’t go through thick walls easily – I’ve seen their range reduced to a few feet in certain circumstances.  On the plus side, they ARE cheap and though they need 3v3 to operate, the data lines happily work with 5v logic – most other cheap boards out there need level convertors which at the very least means a bunch of messy resistors.

tmp7176On the right you see a little stand-alone Ethernet-driven board which is dirt cheap to put together.. that too has possibilities though of course it still needs an Ethernet lead to run. I’ve sent off for some inexpensive plug-in-the-wall mains USB supplies so I can rip them up and get the supply PCB out of them to power these units.

Somewhat frustrating that they are way too expensive when sourced in the UK but hey, at least they’re available.

That’s it for now, got a lot of work to get through before I can devote more time to this and awaiting feedback from various people to fix some minor library issues… but no doubt about it, the next house will be the one to watch for home automation…

Update July 2014:  I’m in Spain and working with controllers here – the range of the NRF24L01 boards (or lack of it) is getting to be a severe problem. Investigating alternatives such as the Atmel processor with built in radio and some 800Mhz and 433Mhz transceivers.

This all sprang up from my original article on a cottage thermostat in which I envisaged a very simple controller. Then came the UberBareBoard article about an Atmega328-based Arduino clone, initial attempts to master the NRF24L01 radio. The next article was the first item entitled home control and after this – then part 2 and then the winter update – all the time learning more and more. And after this… July and the full mesh.

Could this be the future of Tablets? The Samsung ATIV-Q


Just as you thought people were running out of new ideas, the launch of the Samsung Ativ-Q. This company really is on a roll at the minute. Very thin, VERY powerful and amazingly running Windows 8 – with Android 4.2 running as an APP (clever) at full speed (and with interaction between the two operating systems, the tablet offers a stunning 3,000 pixel across resolution. Could this be the future? Instant flicking between the two!!  No pricing yet but do look at the video!


Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 Tablet Cheap

Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1How to get the bargain of the year (UK only) – but don’t mess about as it’s almost over. The Samsung tablet is not one of the most advanced in the world – the Nexus 7 for example out-performs it and the Apple iPad blows it away – however what makes this tablet so special is not the bright, clean, fast screen – or the almost up to date Jelly Bean software, it’s not the all-day battery and not even the stereo speakers (which neither the iPad nor the Nexus have or if they do you can’t tell).

No, it’s the £145 price tag for a quality 10.1” tablet that does it!

Now where do I get that from – everyone knows if you go to Tesco, PC-World or Currys it’d £238 and also it’s the same price on the web. It’s also well known that it’s retail price is considerably more than that.

This then would appear to be the ultimate in bargains!

claim formSimple enough… CarPhone Warehouse if you can find any in the stores, are selling this for a true £195 – no catches other than that they’ve run out in the online stores – you have to check individual stores (but you can do that online).

Buy the tablet and then wait no less than 15 days and no more than 30 (I’d be making it 15) and go to samsungback2college.com and fill in the form – you MUST have your receipt and you MUST not leave it too late. 30 days later – you get £50 cash-back.

So other than the specs, what’s the machine like? Well, I would NOT have paid £300 for it, I’m thinking about £250 would have been the maximum and even then I might’ve held out and bought the Nexus 10 and paid the extra. But at £195 it’s a BARGAIN. At £145 – don’t even think about it! But hurry, they’ll be just about gone now – the white ones were gone when I got there.

The Changing World of the Web

I’ve been doing some research for the FSB and I thought I’d put down some information I’ve picked up – all of this is bang up to date.

Amazing as it seems, up to a third of the world has Internet access. That might not sound a lot but think of the people who will never have access – those parts of the world for example where they’ve gotten themselves into a situation where they are utterly controlled or they don’t even have electricity. If for the sake of discussion we discount those people – it’s fair to say that the majority of people who are going to get access in the near future, already have it.   Even at home in the UK there are those (primarily age-related) who simply don’t see the point and are not interested.

As for who’s using what.. PC sales seem to have levelled off whereas tablet sales are going through the roof right now – no doubt this Christmas will have an affect on that – apparently 47% of American kids want an iPad (I’d imagine a very small percentage will actually GET one). So the big drivers right now are smartphones and tablets and as we know, iPad and Google Nexus are the two big names here right now.

Right now, more broadband is consumed by mobile devices than fixed devices and the theory is that by 2015 (only a couple of year) that’ll be more like 4:1 in favour of mobile!

There are currently 6 bullion mobile phone users, 1 billion of those being users of smartphones but in current SALES, Smartphones are sailing ahead of the older feature phones which are starting to die off. As you’d imagine the whole thing is definitely age-related with the highest users of Smartphone being by younger people with more cash to spend. But of course once hooked as they get older there will be no way they’re going back… China, incidentally has 25% of smartphone sales and that puts them at around twice the size of the US market.

The Internet used to be full of free content – which made it hard to run a business from it but of course that has all changed – iTunes, Netflix (and similar), buying and selling on Ebay all play a major part today in the massive and every-increasing commercialisation of the Internet. Digital advertising has gone from just about zero in 1995 to around 20 billion pounds today.

For American companies at least – and limiting to those in the media and tech areas, around 40% of their income is now digital – i.e. online. For advertising, TV still keeps the lead (42%) – but online advertising is coming closely behind and advertising in print is starting to go very much downhill (9%). Newspaper advertising in particular has dropped through the floor (I don’t know about you but I haven’t bought a newspaper in years).

On the subject of digital photography, we all know that Kodak are stuffed – who would have thought… but today, phone cameras are now giving traditional cameras a run for their money not because they are as good but because they are far more convenient.

As a life-long amateur photographer, I gave up on film as far back as 1997 and only a couple of years ago I gave up on large bulky cameras as being just too much like hard work for hot holidays… the convenience of the phone camera and the ability to send to Facebook etc. straight from the phone was the main driver. Throughout it all however I’ve sorely missed the quality and control that comes with a DSLR. Then out of the blue the traditional cameras are fighting back – I’ve just bought the new Samsung Android camera – a full-blown Android unit with a decent lense – the first of it’s kind. I predict that a variation on this will become the norm (pending people coming out of their comfort zones) and that non-updatable, proprietary camera interfaces will hopefully soon die out. For now I’m ahead of the pack and enjoying every minute – I just wish someone would invent decent batteries!

One wonders what it would be like to to transport 10 years into the future. The changes are likely to be far more dramatic than the changes we’ve seen in the previous 10 years – but making predictions is probably a fool’s game.

DIY Smart TV

If you have a bang-up-to-date expensive Smart TV – just ignore this. Otherwise if you’re on Sky HD you might find this useful.

For some time now, having given up on toys such as the Apple TV box and similar and while pondering the new Android box, I’ve been running a laptop (for lack of noise – and immunity to power glitches) next to the TV to run Plex – which has to be one of the best free Media players on the planet. Running on a laptop it gives you access to all your media using a standard Microsoft-type remote IR control. I’ve trained up a “One-For-All” to handle the Sky HD box, the TV and the laptop. My media is held on a Netgear ReadyNas – a black box with disks in it which reliably stores and makes available my pictures, music and video to the home network.

PlexPlex is a fine, easy to use software interface to your media and has available loads of plug-ins such as YouTube, Ted TV and lots more. With the laptop plugged into one of the TVs spare inputs, switching between Sky and Plex is a simple button press. The laptop is set to run external monitor only and hence can run without heating up or using it’s internal display.

With the likes of the BBC iPlayer and ITV’s equivalent it has for some time been possible to catch up on TV you’ve missed – the only problem being the players are not integrated into Plex so you have to fiddle with a keyboard and mouse – not ideal in a living room– and the quality is not as good a modern HD TV.

Along comes Sky On Demand according to the ads on TV. On pressing the RED button on my Sky remote,  I seemed to have only a small subset of what I’d expect – only seeing material that has already been automatically recorded on the “reserved” space on the HD box (this happens all the time – and explains why you don’t have as much room as you’d expect on your Sky box). Incidentally if you have the original Sky HD box you really should consider upgrading (either upgrade – or you can replace the hard drive yourself with a little work) as modern HD materials EAT disk space and so the latest units have larger hard drives – One Terabyte is good. I realised that Sky was choosing what it thought I would like (wrong) and storing them in a reserved part of the hard disk- but that’s it. No ability to do REAL on-demand from the Internet.

Typical 5-port routerLast night I decided to investigate and On-Demand is actually free – but you have to register for it on the Sky website. But first things first – you need a wired network connection to the Sky box – I’d not even think about wireless considering the amount of data we’re talking about downloading. 

I swapped my wired network connection from the laptop to the Sky box and sure enough – recognised immediately. As it happens I’d bought a TP-Link 5-Port Gigabit Unmanaged Desktop Switch from Amazon for £15 and so I simply plugged the network lead into that – giving 4 remaining outputs – one for the laptop, one for the Sky box and 2 spares. Perfect.

Now armed with broadband to the Sky box, going through Sky’s rather convoluted website www.sky.com/ondemand I was convinced I was going to end up paying more while signing up – but sure enough… no. After 5 minutes checking on the web I was still kitted out with Sky Anytime stuff as before and the promise now of the FULL package. But pressing the RED button produced nothing new – all I had were the same few inappropriately pre-recorded programs I’d always had available. To make matters worse, Sky have two access points on their website, the other being www.sky.com/tvondemand – which is confusing but turns out it’s the same thing and can be ignored.

Having signed up on the web, I gave up late last night, resigning myself to ringing Sky today to ask why no On-Demand… but when I got up this morning – lo and behold…. an overnight update left me with the full works. BBC iPlayer, ITV player, Channel 5 player and a host of icons for Sky stuff – all with no extra cost.  How it works? Simple – so for example I wanted a copy of the Harry and Paul Episode 3 from a couple of weeks ago on the BBC (I never watch BBC live and didn’t even know the program was on). Clicking the iPlayer icon I selected the episode – and a download began. 1.2Gig is needed for this 30 minute episode (see what I mean about broadband – this is going to eat up a LOT of data) and after about 10 minutes, despite the download being only 20% complete, a “Play” icon appeared.

I pressed Play and sure enough, not the normal web-streaming medium quality but the full, crystal clear HD playback stored on the Sky HD box just as if I’d scheduled a recording in the normal way. For reasons best known to the BBC this recording will only be available to me until part way through December but by then I’ll have watched the best bits of this superb episode to death. Harry’s Scottish accent “Everything is much, much better in Scotland than England, oh yes” and Paul’s Gypsy woman “I curse you” are the funniest thing on TV IMHO.

Add to this Apps for iPhone which not only let you set recordings on your Sky HD box from anywhere on the planet but also talk directly to the Sky box over the WIFI when you’re at home and let you control the box as if you were using the remote control (but better). There’s an iPad App but it kept failing on me and the Android equivalent right now does not give you local WIFI control. but given a little time these apps are going to be superb– the iPhone version works really well now and is FAR better than using the normal Sky remote for selecting material, but the larger screen of a tablet would be my choice as the TV programme guide is so limited compared to what you can do on a tablet.

And there you have it. A sparkly new Smart TV is one way, but not the only way.