Posts tagged ‘cellphone’

Time to abandon Meizu Music: 8.2 is a lemon


That didn’t last long. Within a day, this was what Meizu Music showed:

   The songs, all 1,229 of them that I had fed in manually, are still there, and they still play, but the question remains: for how long? If they don’t show—I told you computing devices were forgetful—then how long before the program fails to play them at all? Not only were the songs gone, the few MP3 files that were on the phone’s RAM (from dynamic wallpapers and recordings) don’t show, either!
   I really didn’t want to chance it but you just have to conclude that Meizu has released a lemon, and if in a year they still can’t get it right, then it’s time to abandon it.
   I could go with Migu Music but I wanted something with the functionality of the old Meizu Music. After trying several apps, I’ve settled on an advertising-supported Muzio Player. It’s not perfect—the cover artwork doesn’t show for everything, and updating it manually for an album doesn’t see it shared with the individual tracks within—but it does the job for the most part. And, like every other app I trialled, it picks up the music on the SD card.
   Since I keep phones for some time—the old M2 Note is repaired—it’s going to be a long time before I’d contemplate a replacement for the M6 Note. But when I do I doubt it’ll be another Meizu. After being a cheerleader for the brand in the late 2010s, they’ve really fallen behind in customer service and, how, software development. Whomever else is willing to go the Google-free route is going to get my vote.

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Posted in China, design, technology | No Comments »

Facebook whistleblower gets fired; and a workaround for Meizu Music’s inability to find your SD card


This is a pretty typical story: find fault with Big Tech, try to alert the appropriate people in the firm, get fired.
   Julia Carrie Wong’s excellent article for The Guardian shows a data scientist, Sophie Zhang, find blatant attempts by governments to abuse Facebook’s platform, misleading their own people, in multiple countries. Of course Facebook denies it, but once again it’s backed up by a lot of evidence from Zhang, and we know Facebook lies. Endlessly.
   Facebook claims it has taken down over ‘100 networks of coordinated inauthentic behavior,’ but I repeat again: if a regular Joe like me can find thousands of bots really easily, and report some with Facebook doing next to nothing about them, then 100 networks is an incredibly tiny number in a sea of hundreds of millions of users. Indeed, 100 networks is tiny considering Facebook itself has claimed to have taken down milliards of bots.
   And people like me and Holly Jahangiri, who found a massive number of bots that followed the Russian misinformation techniques, have been identifying these since 2014, if not before.
   Zhang reveals how likes from pages are inflating various posts—forget the bots I’ve been talking about, people have manufactured full pages on the site.
   She uncovered one in Honduras, and then:

The next day, she filed an escalation within Facebook’s task management system to alert the threat intelligence team to a network of fake accounts supporting a political leader in Albania. In August [2019], she discovered and filed escalations for suspicious networks in Azerbaijan, Mexico, Argentina and Italy. Throughout the autumn and winter she added networks in the Philippines, Afghanistan, South Korea, Bolivia, Ecuador, Iraq, Tunisia, Turkey, Taiwan, Paraguay, El Salvador, India, the Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Ukraine, Poland and Mongolia.

   Facebook was inconsistent with what it did, and its own self-interest interfered with it taking action. In other words, Facebook is harmful to democracy, and not just in the US which has received most of the occidental news coverage. On Azerbaijan, Zhang wrote in a memo:

Although we conclusively tied this network to elements of the government in early February, and have compiled extensive evidence of its violating nature, the effective decision was made not to prioritize it, effectively turning a blind eye.

   She was ultimately fired for her trouble, Facebook saying she wasn’t doing the job she had been hired for.
   So if you are going to work for Big Tech, leave your conscience at the door. That blood on your hands, just ignore it. Red’s such a fetching colour when it’s not on a balance sheet.

Little Tech can be troublesome, too. Last year, Meizu updated its Music app after a few years of letting it languish (a familiar theme with this firm), and it was a real lemon. It wouldn’t pick up anything on my SD card, at the location the old Music app itself saved the files. When I could still access the Meizu (English-language) forum, I managed to post a comment about it. Only today did I realize someone had responded, with the same issue.
   I can read enough Chinese to get the phone to do a search for local music files, and the only things it could pick up are what’s on the phone RAM itself, not the card. There’s no way to point to custom locations such as a card (even though there is a custom search, but it applies to the phone only).

Above: Meizu Music will only find music on the phone’s RAM—in this case sound files that come with the dynamic wallpaper and a couple of meeting recordings I made.

   Eventually I restored the old app through the settings, and all was well. It would occasionally forget the album cover art and I’d have to relink it (who says computers remember things?), but, by and large, Music 8.0.10 did what was expected of it.
   Until this last week. The phone insisted on upgrading to 8.2.12, another half-baked version that could never locate any SD card music.
   Sure I could just move the entire directory of 1,229 songs to the phone, but I wondered why I should.
   Restoring the app would work only for a few hours (during which I would try to relink the album cover art, ultimately to no avail). Blocking the new version the app store did nothing; blocking the entire app from updating did nothing. Blocking network access to the Music app did nothing. Essentially, the phone had a mind of its own. If anyone tells you that computing devices follow human instructions, slap them.

Above: I asked the app store to ignore all updates for Meizu Music. The phone will ignore this and do what it wants, downloading the update and installing it without any human intervention.

   I had a couple of options. The first was to make Migu Music the default—and I had used that for a while before I discovered I could restore the Music app. It’s passable, and it does everything it should, though I missed the cover art.
   The other was to find a way to make Music 8.2.12 work.
   There is one way. Play every one of the 1,229 songs one by one to have Music recognize their existence.
   Using ES File Explorer, you head to the SD card, and click on each song. It asks which app you’d like to open it. Choose Music. Repeat 1,228 times.

Above: I finally got there after doing something 1,229 times. As a non-tech person I know of no way to automate this easily. I can think of a few but developing the script is beyond my knowledge.

   Whoever said computing devices would save you time is having you on. They may have once, but there are so many systems where things are far more complicated in 2021 than they were in 2011.
   You may be asking: doesn’t ES let you select multiple files, even folders? Of course it does, but when you then ask it to play them, it ignores the fact you’ve chosen Music and plays them in its own music player.
   And even after you’ve shown Music that there are files in an SD card directory, it won’t pick up its existence.
   It’s at odds with Meizu’s Video app, which, even after many updates, will find files anywhere on your phone.
   For a music player with the same version (8) it’s vastly different, and, indeed, inferior to what has come before.
   How’s the player? Well, it connects to the car, which is where I use it. But so many features which made it appealing before are gone. Editing a song’s information is gone. Half the album cover art is unlinked (including albums legitimately downloaded through the old Meizu music service), and there’s no way of relinking it. European accented characters are mistaken for the old Big 5 Chinese character set.
   The only plus side is that some songs that I had downloaded years ago with their titles in Big 5, as opposed to Unicode, now display correctly. That accounts for a few songs (fewer than 10) of the 1,229.
   I know Meizu will do nowt, as its customer service continues to plummet. I may still file something on its Chinese BBS (the western one is inaccessible and, from what I can tell, no longer maintained by anyone from their staff), but it’s highly unlikely I’ll be brand-loyal. It’s yet another example of a newer program being far, far worse, by any objective measure, than its predecessor, giving credence to the theory that some software developers are clueless, have no idea how their apps work, have no idea how people use their apps, or are downright incompetent. It’s a shame, as Meizu’s other default and system apps are generally good.
   In the future, I’m sure someone else in China will be happy to sell me a non-Google phone when it’s time to replace this one.

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Posted in China, design, internet, media, politics, technology, USA | 1 Comment »

Computing in 2021: Gmail’s advertorial spammers, Facebook bots, and Twitter fatigue


I’m not entirely sure I need to block out the email addresses here since they’re likely to be burner Gmail accounts, but I’ll give these spammers the courtesy they don’t deserve.
   As shown below, they’ve been coming for over a year; there’s a chance I may have even received them in 2019.

The text of the latest reads:


I hope you’re well!
   I am currently working with a number of clients in placing guest blogs/sponsored articles on high-quality sites, such as yours. I recently came across your site and, after having a quick read through some of your more recent posts and articles, I think it’d be a great fit for some of the sorts of content campaigns that we frequently work on.
   I work with a range of clients across different areas such as fashion, lifestyle, home decor, legal, travel plus loads more. Would you be interested in working together on one of our future/upcoming content campaigns?
   Looking forward to hopefully working on a campaign together soon!

   First up, I already know they never visited since the latest refers to Lucire as a ‘blog’ in its subject line. Just because you run Wordpress doesn’t mean it’s a blog.
   A more crazy one recently actually requested we publish something at, which is a brochureware site with no posts on it—so I don’t think they are even hunting specifically for Wordpress-driven sites. Anything will do.
   Last year, I replied to one of them, thinking they could be a legit enquiry for advertorial. It went nowhere, since, as far as I know, they were just after backlinks, and not prepared to pay what a commercial advertorial purchaser would.
   I wouldn’t have been any the wiser if they didn’t keep repeating the messages, and it seems that during the last few weeks they’ve shifted into high gear. And when you know they’re spam, the innocent experience that you had in 2020 suddenly becomes a supreme waste of time.
   I know, all the signs are there: they run Gmail accounts and there are no signature files or details of what company they represent. Gmail, to me, has plenty of spammers, and it is not the service used by professionals. (When 200 people can share the same email address, why would you?) But there was that charitable side of me wondering if the first one was just someone who had shifted to working from home and trying to make a buck. I didn’t really think, since I’m not of this mind myself, that it was spam and that I was a mark.
   I now have common phrases from the spams fed in to my filters so these will just go into the trash folder. I’m posting this in case others have received these spams, and wish to do the same.

Here’s a recent Tweet of mine. Not altogether an accurate one, but when I wrote it I genuinely believed Facebook claimed it had 2 milliard users.

   As Don Marti says, the fact Facebook even has to claim this tells us they are fighting a losing battle.
   On one of the groups I administer there, I’d say over 99 per cent of the members’ queue are bots. Here’s a typical screen in botland, I mean, Facebook:

   These are common patterns and I see them all the time; they all use a variety of responses but they all come out of the same program. ‘I will seriously abide!’, ‘Yes bro’ and ‘OK bro’ are pretty common, and there are others.
   The thing is, I’ve seen these for years, reported each one as a fake account (since there is no option for ‘they are using automated software’), and in 99 per cent of cases (no exaggeration; in fact I may be underestimating), Facebook tells me there is no violation of their terms of service.

   This can mean only one of two things: Facebook is too stupid to realize that an account that feeds the same things into group questionnaires constantly is a bot or running some sort of software that is not permitted under its own terms; or these accounts exist with Facebook’s blessing.
   In the queues, legitimate humans are being outnumbered by over 99 to 1, and if this is a representative sample of Facebook’s current user base (I’m betting I see more accounts than the average person), then hardly anyone is on site any more. I wouldn’t know, I only check client pages and this queue for the most part.
   But if you wish to waste your money advertising to bots on the Facebook platform, then be my guest. Zuckerberg and co. are already getting enough money for doing nothing useful.

I wonder if I’m getting more Twitter fatigue after 14 years. I have built up a fun network there, especially of car people that I made a point of following over the last couple of years. But the cellphone keyboard is such a fidgety, impractical and slow device, I’ve found myself starting to respond, even writing the first few words of a Tweet, then giving up. This has had wonders on my email inbox as the number of messages drops. I’m getting through stuff.
   Fortunately for Twitter, Jack Dorsey hasn’t come across as big a dick as the Facebook and Google people, and the man has been doing some good with his money, like donating US$1 milliard to COVID-19 research. Yes, Twitter still has some major problems, especially when it comes to censorship, but when someone says, ‘I can afford to give that away because I’d still be a rich bastard with the US$2 milliard I have left,’ it’s actually a contrast to Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg. Unlike the latter, he also hasn’t been publicly lying and calling us ‘dumb f***s’.
   Even so, more often than not I now find myself stopping. Is Tweeting that really worth it? Who cares? So I have a different opinion to that person. I don’t need a global audience for it. If I feel strongly enough, and have the time, there’s always long-form blogging.

Finally, here’s a page explaining just why Google is corrupt.

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Posted in business, culture, internet, technology, USA | 1 Comment »

After 18 months, some progress on the Meizu M6 Note


That was an interesting day in cellphone land. I collected the Meizu M6 Note from PB last Friday and switched it on for the first time in the small hours of Tuesday.
   I originally wasn’t pleased. I had paid NZ$80 for a warranty repair (there is provision under the Consumer Guarantees Act 1993 in some circumstances) and was told at the service counter that all that was performed was a factory reset, followed by a week’s testing. In other words, what I had originally done, twice, before bringing the phone in. I replied that that was not going to work, and was told by the PB rep that maybe I shouldn’t have so many apps open. Conclusion: a newer phone is far less capable than an older one.
   But he wasn’t the technician, and as I discovered, Joe had done more than a mere factory reset. When I switched the phone on, it was back to square one, like the day I bought it, complete with Google spyware. I wasn’t thrilled about this, but it suggested to me that the ROM had been flashed back to the beginning.
   Meizu’s factory resets don’t take you right back to factory settings, not if you had rooted the phone and removed all the Google junk.
   To his credit, this was a logical thing to do. However, within 10 minutes it developed a fault again. The settings’ menu would not stay open, and crap out immediately, a bit like what the camera, browser, and gallery had done at different times. All I had done up to this point was allow some of the apps to update, and God knows what Google was doing in the background as messages for Play and other programs flashed up in the header. The OS wanted to update as well, so I let it, hoping it would get past the bug. It didn’t.
   So far, everything was playing out exactly as I had predicted, and I thought I would have to head to PB and point out that I was taking them up on the three months they guarantee their service. And the phone was warranted till December 2020 anyway. Give me my money back, and you can deal with Meizu for selling a lemon.
   However, I decided I would at least try for the umpteenth time to download the Chinese OS, and install it. Why not? Joe had given me a perfect opportunity to give this another shot, and the phone appeared unrooted. The download was painfully slow (I did the same operation on my older Meizu M2 Note out of curiosity, and it downloaded its OS update at three to four times the speed—can we blame Google for slowing the newer phone down?) but eventually it got there. The first attempt failed, as it had done countless times before. This was something that had never worked in the multiple times I had tried it over the last 18 months, and I had drawn the conclusion that Meizu had somehow locked this foreign-market phone from accepting Chinese OSs.
   I tried again.
   And it worked. A fluke? A one-off? Who knows? I always thought that in theory, it could be done, but the practice was entirely different.
   It took a while, but I was astonished as the phone went through its motions and installed Flyme, killing all the Google spyware, and giving me the modern equivalent of the Meizu M2 Note from 2016 that I had sourced on Ebay from a Chinese vendor.
   I may be speaking too soon, but the settings’ bug disappeared, the apps run more smoothly, and as far as I can tell, there is no record of the phone having been rooted. I had a bunch of the APKs from the last reset on the SD card, so on they went.
   Meizu synced all contacts and SMSs once I had logged in, but there was one really annoying thing here: nothing from the period I was running the western version of the phone appeared. The messages prior to December 2018 synced, plus those from the M2 Note during June while the M6 was being serviced.
   It appears that the western versions of these apps are half-baked, and offer nothing like the Chinese versions.
   With any luck, the bugs will not resurface—if they don’t, then it means that the read–write issues are also unique to the western version of the M6 Note.
   I’ve spent parts of today familiarizing myself with the new software. There are some improvements in presentation and functionality, while a few things appear to have retrograded; but overall, this is what I expect with a phone that’s two years newer. There should be some kind of advance (even little things like animated wallpapers), and with the western version, other than processor speed and battery life, there had not been. It was 2016 tech. Even the OS that the phone came back with was mid-decade. This is what the western editions are: out of date.
   The only oddity with the new Chinese Flyme was the inability to find the Chinese version of Weibo through Meizu’s own Chinese app store—only the foreign ones showed up on my search, even though the descriptions were all in simplified Chinese.
   These mightn’t have been the developments that Joe at PB expected but if things remain trouble-free, that NZ$80 was well worth spending to get a phone which, for the first time in its life, feels new. The other lesson here is to avoid western-market phones if you don’t find the Chinese language odd. I had already made enquiries to two Aliexpress sellers to make sure that they could sell me a non-western phone, ready to upgrade. Hopefully that won’t need to happen.
   Next week: let’s see if I can shoot some video and have that save without killing the gallery, the bug that kicked all of this off.

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Posted in business, China, design, New Zealand, technology, Wellington | 1 Comment »

Cellphone saga update: back to the past


Off to PB. The M6 Note was under warranty after all, so it’s now with PB Technologies’ service department in Wellington, after I explained it could have trouble doing read–write operations and the tech saw the camera and gallery hang (usually they just shut themselves down). I paid over NZ$400 for the phone including GST, and fortunately for me, I’m only 17 months in to my ownership. (You may think NZ$400 is cheap, but I don’t.)
   However, before I committed it to service, I had to find a way to get the old M2 Note going. I explained to one of the phone sales’ crew at PB my predicament: despite buying new chargers and cables, the only way to charge the phone was to drive to Johnsonville where it was last “serviced”. And, as usual, here’s the kicker: he plugged it in to his nearest micro USB charger and it fed it with juice, instantly. He said it was the cheapest charger they had in store. It also turned on immediately for him, whereas I’ve never been able to get it going—remember, there are only three buttons here, and I have tried them all. ‘You have 86 per cent charge,’ he said—back home it showed nil, refusing to turn on because the charge was non-existent. Your guess is as good as mine over this.
   The really great thing here is that everyone believed me. I guess these techs have been around enough to know that devices are illogical things, and that the customer isn’t bullshitting you, but more at a wit’s end when they come in with a fault. He sold me a new charger (NZ$18), which worked. Of course, charging it on the cable that fed the M6 Note doesn’t work: it says it’s charging, and the percentage keeps dropping. Again, your guess is as good as mine over this.
   Tonight it’s getting fed the new Adata cable, which took it to 100 per cent earlier tonight.
   Up side: how nice to have my old phone back, with Chinese apps that work and look good. Down side: my goodness, a four-year-old phone is slow. I didn’t think the M6 Note was that flash when I got it at the end of 2018, but after 17 months, I got used to it and find the M2’s processing lagging. The battery isn’t lasting anywhere near what it used to, either.
   I originally needed the M6 in a pinch, as at the time Dad was heading into hospital and I couldn’t risk being out of contact. The M2’s screen had vertical lines going through after a drop, rendering things difficult to read—and what if I couldn’t swipe to answer? The M6 wouldn’t have been my immediate choice: I would have preferred to have researched and found a Chinese-spec phone, even if every vendor online, even Chinese ones, touted their western-spec ones.
   If PB fixes the issue, great. But if not, then I may defect to Xiaomi at this rate. Meizu cares less and less about export sales these days, and there appear to be some vendors who can sell a Chinese-spec phone out there. The newer phone was also buggier: whether that was down to it being a western version, I don’t know. The M6 Note didn’t represent the rosiest of moments, certainly not for Dad, so I’m not wedded to it getting back to full health. Let’s see how they go next week, but at least I now have a cellphone that rings again—one’s only concern is how much charge it holds.

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The latest phone factory reset was good for eight days


It looks like this latest phone reset lasted all of eight days, as today, all the bugs returned, all indicating to me that the M6 Note has some sort of read–write error. PB has offered a link to file a report and asked that I drop phone and form in to their Wellington store, but I may call to double check that it is under warranty.
   If I do, I need to figure out a way to charge my old phone, since that’s been impossible since its “repair”. Go in with a phone that works in most respects other than a busted screen, come back with a phone that has a fixed screen but doesn’t charge, regardless of charger, except, of course, the one at their shop. If I can get it going, then that saves a few hundred dollars buying a replacement, which I’m loathe to do.
   There’s also one further option, to buy a new SD card, in case that is the culprit, but considering the phone has difficulty deleting files on its internal storage, I doubt very much that the card is at fault.
   I’ve already been chatting to an Aliexpress vendor in Shenzhen to confirm that they can sell me a new Meizu with Chinese spec, since I have zero desire to get another western-spec one that I have to root in order to remove the Google spyware. And if this M6 is any sign of what a western-market phone is like, then no thanks. I also need to do a lot more reading about the Note 9, the potential replacement, to check the frequencies and capabilities. With Meizu doing less and less outside China, decent information is harder to come by.
   I’ve done factory resets twice already this month, each time wasting hours replacing all the apps and settings. Since the resets have put me right anywhere from a day to eight days, then I don’t relish having to do one a third time, with the very real possibility the phone will conk out again. Amanda and I are back to having half a phone each: hers rings but you can’t talk into it; mine doesn’t ring but you can make outgoing calls.

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Posted in China, New Zealand, technology, Wellington | 1 Comment »

The end of the cellphone?



This is a take that will probably never come true, but hear me out: this is the end of the cellphone era.
   We’ve had a pandemic where people were forced to be at home. Whilst there, they’ve discovered that they can be productive on their home desktop machines, doing Zoom and Skype meetings, and a proper keyboard with which to type and respond to people properly.
   They’ve realized that everything they do on a cell is compromised. It’s hard to reply to an email. It’s hard to compose something properly. It’s hard to see the participants in a virtual meeting. It’s hard to edit a photo. Voice recognition is still nowhere near what David Hasselhoff and KITT suggested 38 years ago.
   Camera aside, which I find is the cellphone’s best feature, it doesn’t offer that great a utility.
   More organizations say you can work from home today, and many have discovered what I’ve known for 33 years: it’s nice to have a commute measured in seconds and not be at the beck and call of whomever is on the other end of your cellphone. You are the master of your schedule and you see to the important things as you see fit.
   This is, of course, a massive generalization as there are professions for whom cellphones are a must, but I’m betting that there’s a chunk of the working population that has discovered that they’re not “all that”. In 1985 it might have looked cool to have one, just as in 1973 the car phone was a sign of affluence, but, frankly, between then and now we’ve gone through a period of cellphones making you look like a wanker to one of making you look like a slave. In 2001 I was the only person at an airport lounge working on a device. In 2019 (because who’s travelling in 2020?) I could be the only person not looking at one.
   But they have apps, you say. Apps? We offered a Lucire news app for PDAs in the early 2000s and hardly anyone bothered downloading them. So we gave up on them. Might take others a bit longer.
   By all means, have one to keep in touch with family, or take one on your travels. Emergency professionals: naturally. A lot of travelling salespeople, of course. But as someone who regularly does not know where his is, and who didn’t find it much of a handicap when the ringer stopped working (actually, I think that bug has recurred), I’m just not among those working groups who need one.

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Microsoft’s revived Intellimouse isn’t a successor to the old


How I had such high hopes that the Microsoft Intellimouse Pro Special Edition bought at Noël Leeming would be a successor to my Intellimouse 1.1. The short version: it isn’t.
   It might be a successor to the Intellimouse Explorer 3 on which the shape is modelled, but for those of us who prefer symmetrical mice, because the higher right-hand side supports your hand better, it literally was a pain.
   There are only some counterfeit ones going for a decent price on Ebay, and I really should have snapped up more of the second-hand ones when I had a chance. The mice now at Recycling for Charity are, like all those reasonably priced ones in shops today, tiny. I imagine mice from the early 2000s aren’t even getting recycled any more, since it’s 2020 and the “old” stuff is from last decade—after the manufacturers began to shrink them.
   Asus did a good job with its ROG Strix Evolve which I bought three months ago, but I find that the absence of tapering at the front and the overall tightness of the buttons didn’t serve me that well.
   The Intellimouse 1.1 is back here as my reserve, and the Asus is on the mouse pad. It took all of a few seconds at my desk to know that Microsoft’s revived Intellimouse wasn’t right—and one wonders why they couldn’t just keep making something that worked so well for so many of us.
   I was lucky to get the similarly shaped Microsoft Laser Mouse 6000 five years ago, a dead-stock mouse made in 2005 that had been sitting at Corporate Consumables. In between the properly sized Microsoft mice—three in total, including my first in 2002—I had all manner of other types but nothing was as comfortable.
   When you go to some websites selling mice, they tell you that you can hold their product like a ‘claw’, as if that is a positive attribute. Once again we see the need for humans to adapt to technology, rather than the other way round. I can see why one might need to do this given how mice have shrunk. If your hand’s like a claw, then you may be the modern equivalent of the Chinese women who had their feet bound in the 20th century. You may feel that is the fashion, but you need not live with it.

I did it. On Saturday night I reset my Meizu M6 Note again, the second time in eight days, taking it back to factory settings. Except this time I didn’t load Whatsapp or Signal. Two days later, my phone remains OK.
   I suggested to PB that it may have developed a read–write fault, as deleting photos from the internal memory takes minutes (if it ever completes), which the warranty should cover. It also would explain why the gallery, camera and the downloads’ folder wouldn’t load properly, since they each tried to access the internal storage. I also had difficulty restoring my SMSs with SMS Backup, with the operation crapping out before completing—though strangely, today, the SMSs are back without any intervention from me.
   But it also wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Whatsapp wasn’t compatible with Android 7 now—Instagram never was, not fully. To save a load of time I won’t be putting messaging apps back on there. I lost a second evening to this and I’m not keen on losing more.
   There are two up sides: I don’t need to get a new phone, and if I did, I finally found a vendor on Aliexpress who’ll sell a Chinese-spec Meizu. No more of these western editions: they are less reliable, with a less well stocked app store, and you can’t update the OS. You have to root them to get rid of the Google spyware. I may stick with Meizu but I really won’t be buying domestically again.

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Posted in business, China, design, New Zealand, technology, Wellington | 2 Comments »

The first world problems of the cellphone (lockdown edition)


This Pukerua Bay Tardis was the last thing I shot before the cellphone’s camera and gallery failed

First world problems: the cellphone. Right now my partner and I have half a phone each, so between us, we have one phone. She can receive calls on hers but no one can hear her answer. Mine no longer rings but you can hear me speak. So I guess the way to communicate with us, while there are no repairers within easy reach during Level 3, is to call her, we note down the number, and one of us calls you back on my phone. Oh, and neither of us can take photos any more: hers has had an issue with SD cards from quite early on, and mine developed an inability to function as a camera last week.
   I’m not that bothered, really. I’ve no real desire to get a new one and while it’s a shame to lose a very good camera, one wonders whether I should just get a camera. After all, those last longer than a mere 18 months …
   The fault on my Meizu M6 Note isn’t easily explained. I’ve spotted similar errors online, solved by deleting the app cache or app data. That doesn’t work for me. The camera crashes on opening, as does the downloads’ folder. The gallery is a grey, translucent screen that does or doesn’t crash eventually. The stock music and video apps cannot find anything, though the stock file manager and ES File Explorer tell me that everything is there, and the music and video files play.
   I’ve not lost any important data—I’ve always backed up regularly—and I’ve transferred everything off the SD card, including all SMSs and contacts, as well as photos.
   PB (who sold my phone) says this is a software issue (avoiding a warranty claim) but I’m sensing that the phone is crapping out whenever it’s trying to write to one of its disks. That sounds like hardware to me. I can transfer files via ES File Explorer but it crashes immediately after the transfer. It doesn’t appear to be the SD card, as when I unmount it, it makes no difference.
   Meizu has been useless: no forum answers and no customer-service answers, though I did contact them during the CCP Workers’ Day holiday and mainland China was, it appears, shut.
   I’d go back to my old phone but the only way to charge it is to drive to Johnsonville and ask the repair shop to charge it—that’s been the only way since they repaired the screen last year. They claim they haven’t altered the charging mechanism, but since no charger in this house works, not even a new one, I can’t explain why this is. The techs there are mum because it would be giving away a trade secret, I suspect. It seems I need a special charger since the manufacturer’s one is no longer compatible, and, guess what? I bet you the repairer will sell me one at some ridiculous price.
   But for now it is rather inconvenient, making me wonder: just why on earth do we need a cellphone anyway, when we have perfectly adequate land lines, when they become this much of a nuisance? They are frightfully expensive for little, fragile trinkets that I now increasingly use for just calling and not apps. There is no utility to a phone that can only be charged at one location, and there is no utility to the newer phone to which no one has posted a ready solution.
   Last night, I reset the newer unit to factory settings, and, happily, none of the Google BS returned. Maybe it was software. I still can’t do any updating with Meizu’s official patches, which is annoying. But for that brief, glorious period, I could take photos again. The camera, gallery and downloads’ folder would open.
   I did have to find, with some difficulty, the Chinese version of the Meizu app store, since I never saved the APK separately. This at least allowed me to get some of the Chinese apps not available on Meizu’s western app store. It was a shame to see some of the apps I once had no longer in the catalogue; presumably, the licence had expired.
   And there I was, for about five or six hours reconfiguring everything, and I’m now suspecting that I should not have put the thing into developer mode or downloaded Whatsapp. Those were the last things I did, content that all was well, before waking up this morning to find myself back to square one, with the bugs all returned. The log files tell me nothing other than Meizu’s servers not responding properly (they’ve been getting progressively worse supporting people outside China).
   I never wanted Whatsapp but for one friend formerly in Germany, and one of Dad’s friends in Hong Kong. The former has moved back here and can be reached on Facebook, accessible via a basic browser. And sadly, I doubt I will hear much from the latter now that Dad has passed away. He knows my regular number anyway, and if I had a cellphone that rings, maybe he could call it.
   Since Whatsapp and Instagram are owned by Facebook, it would not surprise me if both were becoming less and less compatible with Android v. 7, and I’ve charted Instagram’s increasing, Facebook-era faults on this blog before. If Facebook can’t get its basics right on its flagship site, then why should I have their crap in my pocket?
   Generally, I could live without it. Maybe tomorrow night I’ll give the reset another go. I’ve saved most of the APKs from this round, and it was a good opportunity to do without some apps that I seldom used. But I already lost a day to it earlier in the week, a night to it last night, and I face the prospect of more hours to come. These things are not productive when they take up this much time. And I don’t like typing on tiny keyboards, I do absolutely zero work on them other than calls since it is impossible to compose a logical email (which you then have to somehow sync back to the desktop to maintain a full, professional record, wasting even more time), and they serve only a narrow range of purposes, photography being one. I’m still quicker looking at a paper map than relying on a device.
   However, I don’t like faulty gadgets that have cost me hundreds of dollars, and since a reset solved the problems for a few hours, it might be worth one more shot to at least bring things closer to normal, useful or not. Let’s at least have that camera and music back.

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Finding an Android browser that works without fuss is harder than you think


With my last two cellphones, I’ve not used the default browser. I usually opted for Firefox, and in December 2018, I believe that’s what I did on my then-new Meizu M6 Note.
   I don’t recall it being too problematic, but the type on some sites displayed a tad small, so I sampled a few others. I must have tried the usual suspects such as Dolphin and definitely recall seeing the Brave icon on my home screen, but my friend Robin Capper suggested Edge.
   You might think that that’s a ridiculous option given what Edge’s (and IE’s) reputation has been like, but it actually worked better than the other browsers I sampled. It played the videos I loaded on it, and it displayed type generally well, but there was one very regular bug. If I left a session and came back to it later, or let the phone go to sleep or standby, Edge would almost always falter when I tried to pick up where I left off. It would stutter and close. When I opened it up again, it was fine.
   The latest version began displaying in my notifications that it wouldn’t work properly without Google Services, which was a blatant lie, since it was still stable other than the bug above, and all previous versions were absolutely fine. I wonder if this was some leftover from the Chromium base, but, as with the overwhelming majority of Android apps, Google Services are unnecessary.
   The other bug that began happening on a more recent version was Edge getting confused by stylesheets and not knowing what size to display type at. It might change as you browsed, and when you scrolled back up the page, the text that was legible before had turned minute. It did this on Lucire, and it is serious enough for us to redevelop a template for the site.
   I began wondering if there was life outside Edge. I returned to Firefox to find it stable but utterly incapable of playing videos. I don’t remember it being like this when it was my default, but like so many software programs, the more they upgrade, the crappier it gets. I also believe that a lot of these boffins don’t test with older gear, for reasons I’ve outlined elsewhere on this blog.
   Four browsers were suggested to me as replacements: Vivaldi (which I went to anyway, since I use it on the desktop), Duck Duck Go (which I had heard was slow, but I downloaded it anyway), Brave (they have a programme where they claim to give money to publishers but it’s impossible for a publisher like me to sign up to), and Bromite (hadn’t heard of it before today). I had already tried, and rejected, UC Browser on another occasion.
   Vivaldi has been and gone from my phone as I write this post. It’s buggy as heck. Twitter displays about half a centimetre off, so you think you’re clicking on one thing you see on the screen but you’ve just activated the link that’s 0·5 cm above. YouTube will crash the browser (two out of four times). It loses the tab you were browsing on when you come back to a session. It gives the same BS about needing Google Services when it doesn’t. I was very disappointed considering it syncs with Vivaldi on the desktop, the settings seem comprehensive, and the interface looked pretty good.

Vivaldi struggles to display YouTube before crashing

Vivaldi displays everything a bit low (though it functions as though everything is fine, leading you to click on the wrong things), and the tabs I set it to show have gone

   Duck Duck Go has been working quite well. Other than the pop ups that tell me about things I already know as a decade-long user of the search engine, I haven’t noticed the slowness that I’ve heard from a very reliable and knowledgeable source.
   Brave was back, still telling me about their rewards’ programme, but I haven’t experimented with it enough to form a proper opinion. But it has sent a notification about my first Brave advertisement, which I actually can’t see. I admire what they’re trying to do but if only they’d let me sign up as a publisher—yet their site doesn’t permit it. It might be short-lived on my phone, too.
   Bromite, so far, has worked in a standard fashion with nothing too remarkable, and I’ll be investigating further.
   The day has ended rather differently on the cellphone—a whole lot of time invested on a device I barely use. But it’s been a fun exploration of what’s out there and how some fall well short of the basics of stability, consistency and compatibility. Duck Duck Go has so far won the default slot but the jury is still out on Bromite.

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