Friday, November 15, 2013

The joys of having a haircut

One of the great things about getting a haircut besides the feeling of freshness, is the enjoyable conversations that I have with my barber. The conversations usually span multiple topics, and are mostly random, but sometimes we chat about technology, and it is always great to get the perspective of someone not embedded in the field.

Last time we talked about how the younger generations are using technology to communicate. My barber made astute observations about the topic, gleaned from his observations on how his kids, nephews and their friends communicate. It was interesting to learn that despite having cell phones, the younger generation has forgone all types of voice communication on the mobile device, and instead has opted for text messages and instant messaging. My barber was complaining that his kids rake in thousands of text messages a month, and if he did not select the right cell phone plan he would have gone broke by now.

Despite not using voice communication on the mobile device, they did the opposite on the computer, using Skype to communicate exclusively through videos. When I asked him about where do they play games, I was surprised that he mentioned they were not interested in using gaming consoles for entertainment, but rather using the computer and the mouse, just like how we did some time ago. And of course they play games on their mobile devices, which does not bode well for console manufacturers, and specialized handheld devices.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

It is not just about the hardware

About a year ago I switched from the iPhone to the Samsung S3, and was initially pleased with the switch. What's not to like about a bigger screen, better technical specs, and easy expandability and connectivity.

As I gained more experience with the phone, I started getting annoyed by the quality of the software, the inconsistencies between applications, and all the wonderful carrier add ons that I could not remove from the phone, unless I rooted it. And not to mention the dropped calls and the garbage collections that rendered the phone unusable at times.

The poorly written software and the carrier add ons drained my stock battery so quickly even with minimal use, that I had to replace the stock battery with one that has 4x the capacity to get a usable phone. The replacement came with its own inconveniences that a bulky phone brings.

It made me think about how a superior hardware spec and a bigger screen do not necessarily make a good phone, and that the unified experience of good software and a decent hardware does. Sadly it is time to switch back to an iPhone.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Amazon knows when I finish reading books

Recommendation systems are in wide use today, and Amazon's website is a prime example of that use.  In addition to the recommendations on the site, whenever I buy a new Kindle book, I receive emails with recommendations for other items I would be interested in. The recommendations are usually spot-on, and I end up buying more Kindle books, and the cycle continues.

Recently I noticed that whenever I finish a Kindle book, Amazon sends me an email with related books that I might be interested in, which is pretty cool if you ignore the fact that an algorithm is watching when you finish a book, and triggers a recommendation email to entice you to read more.

The feature might have been in place for some time, and I might not have noticed it, were it not for a very long book that I was reading on and off over the last year. After I was done, I received an email recommendation for other books by the same author, equally as long. Even though the recommendations are good, I am sure I am not going to buy these books any time soon.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

F.lux and custom color temperatures for Mac OS X

There is something to be said about using computers before going to sleep, and the effects they have on how well we sleep at night.  The authors of the free software F.lux believe that one of the reasons for the sleep disruption after using a computer is the color temperature of the screen.

They postulate that computer screens are designed to feel like sunlight during the hours of the day, which is great, but they don't change how they look at night, which is not so great. They designed and implemented the F.lux software to warm up the screen as the sun goes down. And to make things easier, the software can automatically read the location of the computer, and adjust the warming schedule accordingly.

The software is free, and works on Windows, Mac, and the jailbroken iPads/iPhones. I have only tried it on the Mac, and while I cannot attest to any changes in my sleep patterns, I admit that the screen looks a lot more pleasing at night: warm and soft, unlike how it looked before. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Samsung S3 and the poor battery life

I have had my Samsung S3 phone for a bit over a year, and the most annoying thing for me is its poor battery life. I mainly use my phone for work email, with the occasional phone call or text message, and the minimum Internet browsing, and despite that light usage, I can barely survive a day on a single battery charge.

I used every trick possible, from power savings mode, to manually syncing emails and accounts, and finally through installing Juice Defender, an Android application that turns off most of the unnecessary radio antennas when the phone is not in use to maximize battery life. The most I got was almost 10 hours of usage without charging. Better than nothing but not ideal.

I attribute the poor battery life to the poor software that runs on the device, including Samsung's and AT&T's add-ons, that I cannot uninstall after their latest update. Most of that background software eats up the battery in no time. Barring a software fix, a hardware answer would do.

An Amazon search opened up the wonderful world of extended batteries. The official S3 battery is roughly 2100mAh, but there are a lot of higher capacity ones online. The downside of the higher capacity batteries is that they need a new case for the phone, because they are thicker than what the original plastic back can accommodate.

I liked the Hyperion 7000mAh battery, and I figured with such a high capacity I should get at least 2 days on a single charge without worrying about losing power. When the battery arrived I was surprised at how thick it is, and after installing it with the new honeycomb back, my phone looked like a brick phone from the early 90s, and weighed probably as much. The battery came nearly uncharged, and the instructions recommended charging it overnight for 8 hours for 4-5 battery cycles till the battery is conditioned. After that break-in period, a normal charging cycle is good enough.

I am still at the early days with this high capacity battery, but so far all signs look positive, despite the thick form factor. I only wish device makers and network providers wrote better software.