Tag Archives: mobile

Android Oreo Won’t Stop Vibrating

I finally discovered why my phone has been vibrating on most incoming messages since upgrading to Android Oreo, even when sound is on: It’s now a per-conversation setting, so even though I have Messenger set to sound only, that only applies to new senders. I had to go through my saved text messages and turn vibrate off in every. single. saved. conversation.

Deleting a conversation also makes it use the default setting the next time that person sends a message, so if you don’t want to save the existing texts, deleting them is faster.

Not terribly convenient, Google.

Of course, that only fixes it for Messenger.

Notification settings are per-app now, and it seems Oreo assumes you want it to vibrate along with the ringtone unless the app turns it off. And of course not all of them let you turn off vibration independently from sound. They haven’t needed to until now, after all.

Ironically, this includes Chrome. I’m trying out Mastodon (find me at @kelsonv@mastodon.social for general conversation and @kelsonv@photog.social for photos), and for now I’m using the embedded Chrome app. And I can’t fine-tune the notifications because Google’s own flagship browser doesn’t include the options it needs on the new version of their OS! 🤦

It’s amazing more email accounts weren’t hacked back in the 2000s

At a tech training session, I wanted to get access to some of my class-related email on the training computer. But I didn’t want to log into my primary email on an open network, or on someone else’s computer at all. I have no idea what they’re logging, whether they’re doing SSL inspection, whether there’s a keylogger on it — probably not, but who knows?

Heck, I didn’t even want to use my own device on the hotel Wi-Fi without a VPN, and that was at least secured by WPA2! (then again…)

I ended up forwarding the extra class materials to a disposable email account and logging into that one. No risk to other accounts if it got sniffed, at any level.

But I remembered how we all used to get at email when traveling back in the early 2000s, before smartphones, and before every laptop and every Starbucks had Wi-Fi:

Internet Cafes.

We’d walk into a storefront and rent time on one of their computers. Then we’d go to our webmail site and type in our primary email login and password over plain, unsecured HTTP without TLS.

I’d never do that today. Admittedly, I wouldn’t need to in most cases — I can access my email wirelessly from a device I own that I carry in my pocket. (Whether that’s a good thing remains up for debate.)

But more importantly, we know how easy it is for someone to break into that sort of setup. Even if your own devices are clean, someone else’s computer might have malware or keyloggers or a bogus SSL cert authority on their browser to let them intercept HTTPS traffic. An HTTP website is wide open, no matter whose device you use. And an open network is easy to spoof.

So these days it’s defense in depth: If it needs a password, it had better be running on HTTPS. If I don’t trust the network, I use a VPN. And I really don’t want to enter my login info on somebody else’s device.

Not impressed with the Google Assistant

I’ve had the “Google Assistant” on my phone for a few weeks now. Since I don’t use the always-on voice activation, this means it’s pushing extra notifications based on what it thinks I want/can use. Fortunately it doesn’t do audio alerts, so it’s a lot less intrusive than it could be. I figured I’d give it a try and see if it turned out to be useful (or creepy).

The alerts I’ve gotten fall into the following categories:

  • Estimated commute time based on current traffic. This would be more useful if it wasn’t based on the freeway, which I never use to get to or from work because it’s such a pain. Though on a trip to San Francisco, it popped up transit delays, which would have been helpful if I’d actually been going anywhere beyond walking distance that day.
  • Weather changes. This is kind of useful, but I have a widget to show the same info.
  • Hours and offers for stores I have just left. At least three times, I’ve walked around a grocery store or Target for 30-40 minutes, consulting my shopping list on my phone all the way, and it has popped up with info when I load up the car. What’s the point of that?
  • Potentially useful information for someplace nearby, but that I’m not going to. I work near an airport, and it’s repeatedly sent me the terminal layout. (The one time I actually went to the airport, I was already on a shuttle to the remote terminal — which isn’t on that map, incidentally — before it sent me that one. Better than the return trip, though, when it sent me a map after I’d boarded the plane.) Once it tried to help me with a mall restaurant while I was at a different restaurant. Another time it sent me info about a hotel I had driven past.
  • News articles about Trump. As if they’re hard to find. No further info in the notice, just “There is a new article about President Trump.” (Or something along those lines — I don’t recall the exact phrasing.)
  • Premiere dates for two TV shows that I watch. This one impressed me, since it correctly picked out two of three returning shows that I watch, and has not tried to plug anything else. It makes me wonder what it’s mined to figure that out, but I’m impressed it caught the nuance of which two DC/CW shows I watch. (OK, Flash is easy, but it somehow figured out that I was interested in Supergirl but not Arrow or Legends of Tomorrow.)

At this point, I think the experiment has run its course. The only category that’s been consistently useful is the TV premiere schedule… and that only comes up a couple of times a year.

How to Forget Out-of-Range WiFi Networks on a Samsung Galaxy Phone

Samsung’s Android skin won’t let you tell it to forget a saved WiFi network unless it can see it right now. If it’s present, sure. If it’s out of range, it won’t let you tell it that no, you really don’t want it to automatically connect the next time you’re in range.

This is both annoying (your Galaxy S7 or Note 5 is going to keep looking for those networks all. the. time.) and a security risk (imagine someone sets up a rogue hotspot called “Starbucks WiFi” and you happen to park your car* or sit on a bench within range of it).

Note that the stock Android settings do allow you to fix this, with a Saved Networks section in the WiFi config. Samsung deliberately removed the feature** for some reason.

Apparently it used to be possible to remove saved networks using a third-party app, but new security protections in Marshmallow prevent that. (Ironic, that.)

Workaround (source):

  1. List all saved networks by going to Settings → Data Usage → More → Restrict networks. (This doesn’t let you remove them, just limit background transfers on them.) Take a screenshot if you have to.
  2. Remove the ones you don’t want anymore by tediously renaming your own WiFi hotspot to match each in turn [edit: you also need to match the security type (open vs WPA2)], removing them one by one in the regular WiFi settings, then renaming your hotspot back to its normal SSID.

It’s a pain, but at least it’s possible.

Update May 2017: The Android 7 update finally restores this capability directly in the Settings app, at least on the Galaxy Tab S2. You can now go to

Settings → Connections → Wi-Fi → Advanced → Manage networks

to remove saved networks of just turn off auto-reconnect on a case-by-case basis (so you can keep saved passwords). But for older Android versions, we’re still stuck doing it the long way.

*I once stopped at a Coffee Bean and left my tablet in the car. I don’t remember why I pulled it out when I got back in the car, but it had connected to the WiFi while I was grabbing my coffee. It couldn’t actually load anything but the login page because it was the real hotspot…but if it had been a fake hotspot, they could have intercepted or modified any non-encrypted traffic going on in the background.

**At best, Samsung forgot to include it when they wrote their own settings app years ago.

So Much for the Pebble Smart Watch

For a long time I’ve thought that if I wanted to get a smart watch, it would be a Pebble, because they actually understand that a smart watch needs to work as a watch. So when they announced their Kickstarter for the revamped Pebble 2 and Pebble Time lines this summer, I decided it was time to try out wearable computing. My Pebble 2 arrived in late October, just in time for LA Comic Con, and I’ve been figuring out how best to use it over the past month and a half. I feel like I haven’t really found the watch’s full potential yet, but I’m not sure what point there is now, because I’m not sure how long it’ll be supported.

Today they’ve been bought by FitBit, and will be discontinuing the entire hardware line as FitBit picks up the software, cloud services (for now), and part of the development team.

Getting to Know the Smartwatch

Pebble 2 does work great as a wristwatch. You only need to charge it once every 5-6 days, and the screen is always on, so you can see the time and date at a glance. I’ve already gotten back into the habit of glancing at my wrist for the time instead of reaching into my pocket and pulling out a bulky phone.

Third-party watch faces range from the aesthetic (mimic classic designs) to the informative (cram every bit of time, weather, and health tracking data you can onto the main view) to the whimsical (show time using a binary counter, or Pac-Man, or the dots on a pair of dominoes). My six-year-old loves picking new designs and seeing them show up on my watch, but I keep coming back to the basic one because it works for the key thing a watch needs to do: let me tell the time quickly.

Notifications and calendar events are a key use case for a smart watch, but you have to manage them. I always pare down my phone’s audio notifications in order to avoid getting distracted, and that goes double for something that buzzes on my wrist. Once I got it down to just texts, calls and calendar appointments, it helped me avoid missing texts…for a while. Eventually I started missing them anyway. I’m not sure whether they’re not reaching the watch or my brain has started tuning it out.

When I do catch them, though, it is nice to see a preview of the message so that I know whether I should pull my phone out right away or it can wait a few minutes.

Fitness tracking is most useful if you have an actual workout routine (which I don’t) or you wear the watch constantly. It checks your heart rate every 10 minutes, counts steps, and tracks sleep and deep sleep. The watch shows your current status, and the phone app tracks daily, weekly and monthly stats. It’s interesting, but I can’t wear the watch 24/7 because the wristband ends up irritating my skin. A nicer watchband might help, but it might not, since I need to wear it tightly to keep the heart rate sensor in place.

I haven’t explored the Pebble app ecosystem as much as I could (but who knows how long it’ll be around). A few things I’ve looked at:

  • Music control is nice: you can pause and skip your phone’s music player using actual physical buttons.
  • I don’t want to play games by tilting my wrist.
  • Transit apps would be helpful if I rode the bus or train more often.
  • There’s a to-do list app that syncs with Google Tasks, which seemed great at first…but it’s a lot easier to pull up the tasks on my phone and look at a dozen items at a time than to scroll through three items on a tiny screen.

And that brings me what I think is key for smartwatches:

What a Smartwatch Needs to Do

To really be useful, a smart watch needs to be better than a phone at certain tasks. Cases where it definitely works:

  • Always-on at-a-glance info. Time/weather/step counts/etc. most of the time, with notifications and events as they occur.
  • Health/activity sensors.
  • Quick actions. Dismiss a reminder, or reply to a text message with a pre-canned “OK.” Menus are a pain, but I can imagine voice commands would help a lot.

If it takes longer to do something on the watch than to dig out your phone, unlock it, and do it there, the watch has failed at that task. If the watch makes it more convenient, then it’s succeeded.