Posts tagged ‘technology’


The newer the Instagram, the clunkier the video

07.12.2018

It’s been nearly one week with the new Meizu M6 Note.
   It’s the “international” model, which means it’s not Chinese-spec, and there was no way to turn it into a Chinese one.
   One observation is that the international one is far buggier than the Chinese one. Either that, or Android 7 is far buggier than Android 5.
   For instance, if I leave my old phone as a USB media device, it would stay on that mode. The new one will always change by itself to ‘charge only’, meaning each time I plug it into USB, I now have to waste time doing an extra step.
   Secondly, there’s no drive assistant on the new phone, which may have been a Chinese-only feature. I guess they don’t know we have cars outside China.
   I’ve mentioned the app shortcomings in an earlier post.
   But here’s one that I doubt is related to the Chineseness of my phone: Instagram simply performs better on the old phone than on the new.
   A Meizu M2 Note on an old Flyme (on top of Android 5) running a version of Instagram that dates back seven or eight months uploads smoother videos than a Meizu M6 Note on the latest Flyme (atop Android 7) running the latest Instagram.
   The issue then is: is it the phone, the OS, or the app that’s to blame?
   My first clue was my attempts at uploading a haka performed at my primary school. It took nine attempts before Instagram made one publicly visible, a bug going back some time.
   When it did upload, I noticed it was clunky as it advanced.
   I uploaded it again today on the old phone and there were no issues. It worked first time.

New phone

Old phone

   Now, the two are on different aspect ratios so you might think you’re not comparing apples with apples. How about these two videos? Again, Android 7 required repeated attempts before Instagram would make the video public. Things worked fine with the older phone.

New phone

Old phone

   Anyone know why it’s far, far worse as the technology gets newer? Like servers, which are much harder to manage now, or banks, where cheques take five to seven times longer to clear than in the 1970s, technology seems to be going backwards at the moment.

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Posted in China, internet, technology | No Comments »


Meizu’s made it harder to switch OSes and root the M6 Note—at least I managed the latter

01.12.2018


Above: If phones were sentient beings, it probably is a bit mean to have the old phone take a photo of its successor.

After a drop to the ground (and by that I mean the hard floor at the local Pak ’n’ Save) produced lines on the screen of my old Meizu M2 Note, I decided to upgrade to the M6 Note. The familiarity of the Flyme interface was one big reason, though it’s only now, after 12 hours of fiddling, that I’m only slightly happy with how it all went.
   The experience was quite unlike the previous purchase, which went incredibly smoothly. The trouble seems to stem from Meizu offering a New Zealand-specific version of the M6 Note, model M721L.
   Why didn’t I buy it from a Chinese vendor like last time (when there were no New Zealand retailers)? It seems that all the Ebay vendors were selling global editions of the phone, too, so for the sake of a few dollars, I wanted the support of a local vendor. If there wasn’t much difference between a global phone and a Kiwi one, should it matter? After all, this phone is on Flyme 6·1·4·1G (G for global), and according to one page on the Meizu forums, all I needed to do was download a Chinese Flyme OS patch and it should upgrade and change accordingly.
   Problem no. 1: it doesn’t work. It might have worked for one user, but every patch I tried (and they take nearly two hours to download from Meizu’s website) ended with a ‘Firmware corrupt’ (if you were lucky to even get an error message) despite the ZIP files all verifying correctly.
   Resigned with the fact I could not turn the M6 Note into a Chinese one, I had to root it to remove the Google bollocks.
   Problem no. 2: Meizu has taken away the easy access to rooting the phone. This method does not work, either, at least not this model. After about six hours, I stumbled on the solution: you can follow the above method but switch your phone to Easy Mode first.
   Once rooted, I began removing anything Google, for reasons followers of this blog know well.
   After downloading the familiar apps, I did encounter some issues. First, the Chinese app store and the global one have different software. Weibo is an international version, for instance. The default music and video apps are much crappier for export, missing the Chinese content (which sometimes included international TV series), and going straight to the local directories.
   We do live in an age where the Chinese versions of software can be better than the western ones. Indeed, it was during my experimenting with my previous Meizu phone that I discovered that Chinese designers were creating more visually pleasing and user-friendly apps than their occidental counterparts, at least among the programs I needed.
   While there’s obviously a jump up in terms of speed (I bought the 64 Gbyte version) images seem to render duller on the screen.
   Then there were the usual problems of photo and music directories from the transferred SD card not appearing in order, which isn’t uncommon.
   While I’ve yet to give the phone the acid test (daily use, taking photos and videos), I haven’t really been wowed by the experience of setting up. It was far easier in 2016, with better results. It’s going to be a useful phone, and I thank Charlotte at PB Technologies Wellington for her advice, but if I had the time, I would have waited till a friend went to China and asked them to bring a Google-free one back.

PS., December 4: Solution to getting the Chinese version of Weibo: since my old phone wasn’t completely dead (and will remain in service as long as the screen holds up), I went to its App Store, which is Chinese, got the URL for Weibo there (through sharing it), visited it on a browser on my new phone, and installed from there.

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


A more honest computing glossary

26.10.2018

Since (mostly) leaving Facebook, and cutting down on Twitter, I’ve come to realize the extent of how outdated traditional computing definitions have become. To help those who need to get up to speed, I’ve compiled a few technobabble words and translated them into normal English.

app: in many cases, an extremely limited web browser for your cellphone that only works with one site, as opposed to a proper web browser that works with many sites.

bots: fake, computer-driven profiles masquerading as real humans on, predominantly, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

clean install: something entirely unnecessary, but suggested by tech support people who want to cover up buggy operating systems (q.v. Windows 10).

cloud: hackable online repository of naughty photos of celebrities.

comments’ section: when you see this while surfing, it’s a reminder to leave the web page you are on and make up your own mind.

Facebook: a website where bots live, where post-sharing is intentionally broken to ensure you need to pay for attention. Once paid, your posts are shared with bots, so even fewer humans actually see them.

Facebook friend: (a) a friend; (b) a total stranger; (c) a bot.

Google: (a) a virtual hole into which you dump all your private information, to be sold on to corporations, but feel good doing it because you gave it up to a private company to use against you rather than have the state take it to use against you; (b) a cult that supports (a), whose members will think you have a degenerative brain disease if you dare question the perfection of their god.

malware scanner: malware (especially when offered by Facebook, q.v.).

messenger app: an inefficient messaging program where typing takes 10 times as long as on a desktop or laptop computer. Designed to dissuade you from actually calling the person.

phone: portable computing device, not used to make calls.

remote desktop: when your operating system fails, and the odds of you seeing your familiar screen are remote.

social media: media where people are antisocial.

Twitter: (a) social media with no discernible rules on who gets kicked off and why; (b) where the US president gets angry.

white balance: when racists attack people of colour but pretend they are noble and against racism.

Weibo: a website monitored by the Chinese Communist Party, where users have more freedom than on Facebook and Twitter.

Windows 10: a buggy operating system that requires 10 goes at any updates or patches, hence the name.

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Life inside Google—an ex-Googler airs the dirty laundry

19.10.2018

In amongst all the political fallout of the National Party this week—what I’m dubbing (and hashtagging) ‘caught in the Rossfire’—was a series (well, over 100) Tweets from Morgan Knutson, a designer who once worked for Google. Unlike most Googlers, especially the cult-like ones who refuse to help when you point out a fault with Google, Knutson decided he would be candid and talk about his experience. And it isn’t pretty. Start here:

Or, if you prefer, head to the Twitter page itself, or this Threader thread.
   As anyone who follows this blog knows, I’ve long suspected things to be pretty unhealthy within Google, and it turns out that it’s even worse than I expected.
   A few take-outs: (a) some of the people who work there have no technical or design experience (explains a lot); (b) there’s a load of internal politics; (c) the culture is horrible but money buys a lot of silence.
   Knutson claims to have received a lot of positive feedback, some in private messaging. His Tweets on the aftermath:

   This, I thought, summed it up better than I could, even though I’ve had a lot more space to do it:

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Twitter stutters and other Big Tech misadventures

07.10.2018

I think the signs of a departure from Twitter are all there. Certainly on a cellphone there’s little point to it any more. As of last week, this began happening.

   That last sentence refers only to the fact that Twitter is the only website on the planet where the keyboard is incompatible. (Thanks to Andrew McPherson for troubleshooting this with me.) Other sites are buggy, too: earlier today I couldn’t delete something from Instagram (being owned by Facebook means all the usual Facebook databasing problems are creeping in), and one video required four upload attempts before it would be visible to others:

I couldn’t reply on the Facebook website to a direct message (clicking in the usual typing field does nothing, and typing does nothing) except in image form, so I sent my friend this:

   Earlier this year, many friends began experiencing trouble with their Facebook comments: the cursor would jump back to the beginning of text fields, pushing the first few characters they typed to the end. Others are complaining of bugs more and more often—reminds me of where I was four or five years ago. And we all now know about Facebook bots, four years after I warned of an ‘epidemic’.
   It’s as I always expected: those of us who use these sites more heavily encounter the bugs sooner. Vox was the same: I left a year before Six Apart closed it down, and the bugs I encountered could never be fixed. I’m actually going through a similar battle with Amazon presently, blog post to come.
   Now, since Mastodon and others work perfectly fine, and there’s no end of trouble to Big Tech, it’s inevitable that we jump ship, isn’t it?

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De-Googling is more mainstream now

30.09.2018


No, this isn’t my idea: Reed Allman used a version of this in his Medium post about de-Googling.

Looks like I’m not the only one writing about de-Googling, even if this piece in Medium is many years after I wrote about my efforts in 2009–10. (Here’s an even earlier one.)
   It does mean that others are becoming warier of Google’s privacy intrusions, if it’s now a mainstream issue. Reed Allman’s piece is very good, and it was interesting to see that it took him 36 days and upward of US$1,500 to get free of Google’s clutches. I’m sure it can be done for less with some judicious use of certain services. It’s far better having it all in one place (unlike my documenting nearly a decade ago), and his guide is bang up to date.
   I will recommend Zoho ahead of others as a Gmail alternative, only because of personal experience and Zoho’s excellent customer service. I haven’t used Zoho’s office programs but I assume they are the equal of Google Docs et al.
   He does conclude that he didn’t feel others were convinced about following suit, which is sometimes how I feel when these warnings fall on deaf ears. (And you’ve already heard me go on about other Big Tech players elsewhere.)

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Posted in internet, technology, USA | 2 Comments »


Social media mean less and less

16.09.2018


Above: I must report and block dozens of Instagram accounts a day, not unlike getting over the 200-a-day mark on Facebook in 2014.

For the last few days, I made my Twitter private. It was the only time in 11 years of being on the service where I felt I needed that level of privacy; I only made things public again when I realized that I couldn’t actually contact people who weren’t already following me.
   However, it was relatively blissful. Accounts with automated following scripts were blocked as I had to approve them manually. I had far fewer notifications. And I only heard directly back from people I liked.
   It actually reminded me of the “old days”. It’s why Mastodon appeals: since there were only a million people on there at the end of last year, it felt like Twitter of old (even if it has already descended far enough for actor Wil Wheaton to get abused, compelling him to leave).
   The quieter few days also got me thinking: I had far more business success prior to social media. I was blogging at Beyond Branding, and that was a pretty good outlet. I emailed friends and corresponded like pen pals. Those weren’t fleeting friendships where the other party could just “like” what you said. If I really think about it, social media have done very little in terms of my business.
   I’m not saying that social media don’t have a purpose—a viral Tweet that might get quoted in the press could be useful, I suppose—but I really didn’t need them to be happy in my work and my everyday life.
   Since giving up updating my Facebook wall in 2017, I haven’t missed telling everyone about what I’m up to, because I figured that the people who needed to know would know. Twitter remained a useful outlet because there are some people on there whose interactions I truly value, but as you can surmise from what I said above, the number of notifications didn’t matter to me. I don’t need the same dopamine hit that others do when someone likes or re-Tweets something of theirs.
   Interestingly, during this time, I logged into Whatsapp, an app I load once every three months or so since I have a few friends on it. I saw a video sent to me by Stefan Engeseth:

   When I look at my Instagram stats, they’re back to around 2015 levels, and with these current trends, my usage will drop even further as we head into 2019.
   And I really don’t mind. The video shows just why social media aren’t what they’re cracked up to be, and why they aren’t ultimately healthy for us.
   I can add the following, that many of you who read this blog know: Facebook is full of bots, with false claims about their audience, and engages in actual distribution of questionable invasive software, charges I’ve levelled at the company for many years, long before the world even heard of Christopher Wylie. Twitter is also full of bots but actually disapproves of services that help them identify them; they have double standards when it comes to what you can and can’t say; and, perhaps most sadly, those people who have viewpoints that are contrary to the mainstream or the majority are shat on by disorganized gangs of Tweeters. That’s not liberty. Instagram is also full of bots—like when I was on Facebook, when I reported dozens to hundreds of bots a day—and there seems to be no end to them; it also lies when it talks about how its advertising works. Given all of these problems, why would I provide these services with my precious time?
   I engage with these social media in more and more limited fashion and I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m completely away from these big tech names in due course.
   It’s not as though young people are active on them, so the idea that they are services where you can get the next generation of customers is bogus. If you say you’re on Facebook, you might be considered an old-timer now. I asked a Year 11 student here on work experience what he used. Facebook wasn’t one of them. He said most of his friends Snapchatted, while he was in to Reddit. He didn’t like Facebook because it wasn’t real, and we have a generation who can spot the BS and the conceit behind it.
   It does make the need for services such as Duck Duck Go even greater, for us to get unbiased information not filtered by Google’s love of big corporations, in its quest to rid the web of its once meritorious nature. Google is all about being evil.
   As we near the 2020s, a decade which we hope will be more caring and just than the ones before, it’s my hope that we can restore merit to the system and that we find more ethical alternatives to the big names. I can’t see as great a need to show off fake lives on social media when it’s much more gratifying, for me at least, to return to what I did at the beginning of the century and let the work speak for itself.

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Posted in culture, internet, media, New Zealand, Sweden, technology, USA | 1 Comment »


In line with what I discovered in 2011: Google tracks your location even after opting out

16.08.2018

The Associated Press had an exclusive this week: Google does not obey your opt-out preferences.
   I could have told you that in 2011. Oh wait, I did. And I pointed out other instances where Google ignored your request to pause your history, continuing to track you either through its main site or its properties such as YouTube.
   This latest story related to Google tracking people’s movements on their Android phones.
   The AP found that Google lies: what it claims Location History does on its website is not what it actually does.
   In 2011, I proved that Google lied about its Ads Preferences Manager (no, it doesn’t use apostrophes): it said one thing on its website and did another. In 2014 and 2015 I showed Google lied about what it would do with your search histories.
   Instagram does that these days with its advertising preferences, saying you can control them via Facebook when, in fact, it stores another set altogether which you have no control over. If I get time I’ll post my proof. It makes you wonder if the same dishonest programmers are running things, or whether it’s part of Big Tech’s culture to lie.
   This is nothing new: they all lie, especially about unwanted surveillance, and have been doing so for a long time. It’s just that mainstream media are finally waking up to it.

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Forced to take prime-time nostalgia trips

20.07.2018


‘There’s an old Polish proverb …’ I believe it’s ‘Reality television can’t stop the motorways in Warsaw from getting icy.’

I’ve always known what sort of telly I liked, and often that was at odds with what broadcasters put on. In the 1970s, my tastes weren’t too dissimilar from the general public’s, but as the years went on, they diverged from what New Zealand programmers believed we should watch.
   Shows I liked would prematurely disappear (Dempsey & Makepeace), only to return very late at night a decade later. Some only ever appeared late at night (Hustle), then vanish (in New Zealand, seasons 5 to 8 have never appeared on a terrestrial channel, and they have also never been released on DVD).
   We had a British expat visitor on Wednesday. He arrived here in 2008, and had no idea that TV1 had once been the home of British programming, and TV2 was where the Hollywood stuff went.
   By the late 2000s and early 2010s, I was watching either DVDs or finding a way to get to BBC Iplayer et al, because less and less of what was on offer had any appeal. We had boxed sets of Mission: Impossible, The Persuaders, and others.
   When the country switched to Freeview, I couldn’t be bothered getting a decoder. We were fine with online. Eventually, I did buy a TV set with Freeview, but only because the previous one conked out.
   On Thursday night, it became very apparent just how bad television had become here.
   Every English-language and Te Reo Māori terrestrial channel had unscripted drama, i.e. “reality” shows, or the occasional panel show or real-life event, other than Prime, showing the MacGyver remake.
   Who in the 1980s would have predicted that MacGyver would be the only scripted series on air during prime-time here between 7.30 and 8.30 p.m.?
   I realize the economics of television have changed, and there’s no such thing as a TVNZ drama department any more.
   Shows which might have had the whole country watching would be lucky to pull in a quarter of the audience today.
   But it is a sad reflection that the televised equivalent of the weekly gossip rag is what rates. The effort needed to produce quality drama is expensive, and not enough of us support it.
   I also imagine scripted Hollywood shows are cheaper than British ones, hence what we see on our screens is American—and why some kids these days now speak with American accents. Yet to some New Zealanders, Chinese-language signs on Auckland high streets are a bigger threat to the local culture. Really?
   In this household, we vote with our attention spans—and over the last month that has meant DVDs of Banacek and, in true 50 shades of Grade fashion, The Protectors. Sometimes, you feel it’s 1972 in this house—but at least the telly was better then.

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Posted in culture, interests, New Zealand, technology, TV, UK, USA | No Comments »


The EU lands Google with another fine—but will Google change?

19.07.2018


Zain Ali

The EU gets it when it comes to fines. Rather than the paltry US$17 million certain US states’ attorneys-general stung Google with some years ago for hacking Iphones, they’ve now fined the search engine giant €4,340 million, on top of its earlier fine of €2,420 million over anticompetitive behaviour.
   That US$17 million, I mentioned at the time, amounted to a few hours’ income at Google.
   As the EU’s competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager noted on Twitter, ‘Fine of €4,34 bn to @Google for 3 types of illegal restrictions on the use of Android. In this way it has cemented the dominance of its search engine. Denying rivals a chance to innovate and compete on the merits. It’s illegal under EU antitrust rules. @Google now has to stop it’.
   Google forces manufacturers to preinstall Chrome if they want to install Google Play. The EU also notes that virtually all Android devices have Google Search preinstalled, and most users never download competing apps, furthering Google’s dominance of search. Google pays manufacturers and cellphone networks to preinstall the Google search app on their phones, and prevented manufacturers from installing Google apps if their versions of Android were not approved by Google.
   DuckDuckGo, my search engine of choice, welcomed the decision. It noted:

   This last Tweet is particularly damning about Google’s deceptive practices (or, as I call them, ‘business as usual’ for Google):

   That’s consumer confusion on top of restrictive contracts that promote market dominance and anti-competitive behaviour.
   This is a very petty company, one that shut down Vivaldi’s Adwords account after its CEO gave some interviews about privacy.
   Of course I’m biased, and I make no apology for it—and anyone who has followed my journey on this blog from being a Google fan to a Google-sceptic over the last decade and a half will know just how Google’s own misleading and deceptive conduct helped changed my mind.
   Google’s argument, that many Android manufacturers installed rival apps, clearly fell on deaf ears, and understandably so. While I’m sure Android experts can think up examples, as a regular person who occasionally looks at phones, even those ones with rival apps still ship with the Google ones. In other words, there’s simply more bloat. I’ve yet to see one in this country ship without a Chrome default and Google Play installed, often in such a way that you can’t delete it, and Google Services, without getting your phone rooted.
   I did read this in the Murdoch Press and thought it was a bit of a laugh, but then maybe my own experience isn’t typical:

The impact of any changes mandated by the EU decision on Google’s ability to target ads to users—and to its profitability—is an open question. The two apps targeted in the EU decision, Google’s search and its Chrome browser, are extremely popular in their own right. Consumers are likely to seek them out from an app store even if they weren’t preinstalled on the phone, said Tarun Pathak, an analyst at research firm Counterpoint.

   I just don’t believe they would, and I made it a point to get a phone that would, happily, have neither. By buying a Chinese Android phone, I escape Google’s tracking; by seeking out the Firefox browser, I get to surf the way I want. That choice is going to create competition, something that Google is worried about.
   The Wall Street Journal also states that despite the earlier fine, Google’s shopping rivals said little or nothing has actually happened.
   With all of Google’s misdeeds uncovered on this blog over the years, I’m really not surprised.
   The EU is, at the very least, forcing some to examine just how intrusive Google is. It might soon discover how uncooperative Google can be.

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