Monday, 10 October 2011

Fritter and waste the hours in an off-hand way.

I found an interesting feature/bug in Android this morning regarding the time settings although, as I found out, it is not a new discovery. I had been in Didsbury for the BBC Daily Service as I do approximately once every four months with my choir, the Manchester Chorale. As it is a live broadcast, we have to turn off all phones and suchlike (setting to 'silent' is not enough as a network connection can still interfere with the broadcast) and I decided to go one step further and remove the battery. I did this because I am the sort of paranoid person who will continually check a phone to make sure it is really turned off but the only way to do that with my phone is to press the 'on' button.

After we finished I plugged the battery back in and turned on to find that that time was 00:00 on 6th January 1980. This didn't concern me a great deal as I knew that the phone would get the time updated when the network had woken up fully and, being almost exactly 31 years, 9 months, 4 days and 10 hours slow, I could still use it to approximate the correct time.

By about quarter-past midnight on that Sunday back in 1980 I was starting to get concerned that the time would not click back into place as quickly as I had hoped so I started to search t'Interwebs and I came across this forum post that made me realise that this is not a new problem and, what was more, no one had apparently come up with a sure-fire way of fixing it. At half-past midnight, at the age of nearly six years old, I thought I would try experimenting to see if I could kick my phone back into the present so I turned on GPS and used a useful app called GPS Essentials to monitor how it was getting on.

For those who don't know, GPS works by putting your distance from a number of satellites into a set of simultaneous equations where the unknown values represent your position. As we live in three dimensional space you might be forgiven for thinking that you need three satellites and three equations to find your position but in fact there is a fourth unknown, time, that also needs to be calculated. This is because the distance between you and the satellite is found using the time it took the signal to reach you and unless the clock on your GPS receiver happens to be an atomic clock and set to exactly the same time as all the satellites, it just isn't accurate enough. As a result, a rather useful by-product of GPS is the correct time. Obviously, my smart-phone will be smart enough to use this to correct itself, right?


Not only did my phone not take the correct time from the GPS fix, it clearly assumed that it had made a mistake and refused to get a fix. I watched as up to 8 satellites were found but none was used. GPS Essentials even briefly displayed the correct time but clearly thought that that was so ridiculously wrong that it discarded it.

So I was left wondering, as my phone has GPS installed, and it can calculate the correct time as accurately as any time server that my carrier can provide (and Android can fail to pick up), why is there no option in the settings to use this?

As an interesting aside, it appears that the first GPS satellite was launched on my 4th birthday. That's nice of them.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Market is a Shambles

I have had an Android phone for about a year now and a few days ago I started experiencing problems with the Market. I have not tried installing any new apps but whenever I tried to upgrade something it would get a "download failed" error. I searched on the Internet for solutions and tried various things including clearing the application data from the Market, clearing the cache from the Market and clearing the data and cache from a list of applications that have nothing to do with the Market (but were all created by Google). While trying these solutions I would occasionally get something to work but more often than not the "download failed" would return. Finally I came to the 'turn it off and back on again' solution and this time something odd happened; it took an inordinately long time to reboot and then when I opened the Market it had changed considerably. At first I thought that I had really broken something and it had reverted to some sort of basic mode because it looked like something from an older, more primitive world but I have since discovered that it had in fact updated itself. One of my biggest immediate annoyances, apart from the changed display and the fact that it was now much slower than before, was that the order of the items that appeared when I pressed the 'menu' button had changed. Typically, I would open the Market and instinctively press 'menu' followed by 'My Apps' to see if there are any updates. However, this option and 'Settings' have been switched round and this change, coupled with my muscle memory and the general sluggishness of the application, has led to several moments of seething impotently at Google's developers. Anyway the good news is that I no longer got the "download failed" message. The bad news is that it was replaced with "Package file is invalid" which is, at least, a little more descriptive.

Another thing that annoyed me was that a number of apps had reverted to 'Automatic Update' (again, all Google apps). I set all apps to require manual updates because I like to see what is getting installed on my device. To find that Google has rode roughshod over my preferences makes me a little bit peeved, but not as much as if I were subscribed to a pay-as-you-go data plan and thus find myself being charged for Google's cavalier approach.

As I have already mentioned, I thought that I must have broken something and this is because I have been trying some app development and installing things that I had created only my phone. Some of the solutions I had found had mentioned installing packages download from other sources than the Market as being part of the problem so I had pretty much resigned myself to having to spend some time finding what I had done wrong and tidying things up. This was until I saw someone on Google+ complaining about exactly the same thing. He was putting the blame on the carrier but a follow up comment said, "I blame google for this one. The old app market used to fly." Having seen this I thought I would try seeing what else I could find and I came across this rather illuminating thread. Some of the posts are quite old but from the posts that were added in the last few days there are some interesting comments:

"Google, the new Market is a failure. You didn't test it. You just expect your paying customers to test it. Very lame."
"I still don't know why the Market takes forever to load up though. It is really annoying. I loved the old Market, it was fast, plain and simple."
"I'm a software developer and also I've seen that once the new update of the market was released, the download counter of the apps I've put on the market has completely halted (it was like 20+ download/day)."
"no longer show 'new apps'. This is concerning from a user and developer perspective. As a user, I always looked at the new stream when I was bored. As a developer, you count on people looking at that to get people to use your app. Why is this now gone?"

Of course, these are all anecdotal but it is an indication that I am not alone (which is a relief) but the last two quotes I have put is a concern for someone like me who is hoping soon to start producing apps for putting on the Market.

If this is correct and the Market is currently is a very broken state I would hope that a fix will be coming out soon. If what the developer quoted above says is true it will not be long before more developers find that their revenue stream stream has dried up overnight.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

It's a small(ish) world

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post about an experiment I tried on Google+. It was not terribly scientific; I was curious to see how many people used the 'Nearby' stream that I noticed on the Google+ Android app so I posted a comment with a location asking for comments. I had not explicitly requested locations from the people reading it but some people volunteered this information and it became apparent that 'nearby' is a bit of a loose concept.

Recently, Google made accounts on Google+ available to everyone, having previously restricted it by requiring an invite from an existing user., and I was curious to see what this did for the 'nearby' range. To this end I put out another post with a location attached, this time asking people to tell me where they were reading it from. This time I had more individuals responding, as I expected with the increased population, although no conversations started this time so the total number of comments was much fewer. Here is a map of the results.

(View as a large map) The red marker is where Google+ thought I was at the time (I didn't have GPS turned on when I made the post so it is accurate to a few hundred meters). As I was watching the comments come in I thought that the range had been brought in but now looking at the map I see that there are still three outliers to the West at about the furthest distance I saw last time. Someone even commented that he was in New Zealand, but when I looked at his profile it contained almost no information and his comment vanished after a few minutes so I think it was someone having a laugh.

I don't know if this proves anything but I thought it was interesting.