Jan 06 2012

Up Yours Sprint

Published by under Technology

Minimalism at last

I've got about six months to go on my HTC EVO, a Sprint "4G" Android phone that was quite advanced back in the summer of 2010 when I chucked my Blackberry and Lotus Notes shackles and went off on my own.

It's a nice phone, has a battery life on a par with the life span of some hyperkinetic gnat that hatches, mates and dies before lunch, a big screen, and the occasional ability in the right city to get some fast connectivity via Clearwire's WiMax technology. I can tether my iPad and Thinkpad to it, thereby sticking it to the paid-WiFi thugs at the hotel and airport, and I can get rid of my digital camera, dashboard GPS, and assorted other electronic bricks in my bag.

The biggest bitch I had with the phone wasn't with the hardware as much as Sprint's ass-hatted insistence that I would have their stupid NASCAR app whether I liked it or not. The amount of bloatware junk that was burnt into the phone was staggering, and sure enough, after a couple months, the phone started bleating that it was out of storage space, forcing me to pick away and delete photos, videos, and assorted apps, all the while being unable to kill NASCAR, the NFL, and Blockbuster (aren't they dead and gone?) from the phone all because Sprint's CMO paid a big check to sponsor the Redneck Eternal Left Turn known as stock car racing.

So I rooted the sucker. Jailbreak. Got medieval on its ass and followed the handy instructions on how to capture the phone for me and only me (while voiding the warranty). In the process I realized that playing around with Android phones at the command line/super user level is just like those wonderful days of exploration in the early 198os when I got my hands on my first IBM-PC and a copy of Norton Utilities.

I followed the magic step-by-step instructions, mindful that I could "brick" or toast the phone if I messed up. A weird volume-button-power-button-rubber-chicken reboot and I had Root, that exalted state of hack bliss where the hardware and me are one, and not kept apart by the evil carrier.

I installed Cyanogen, the aftermarket Android ROM based on Honeycomb, then overlaid that with ADW Ex, a launcher that let me mess with my icons and other GUI goodness. The result, combined with a minimalist icon set, is a wide open phone that is a lot slicker than the factory model, has tons of room, and still has all the functionality it used to.

Sure, there were moments of debugging -- the GPS wouldn't work until I patched it -- but there's something about getting intimate with one's hardware to restore my faith in the technical world. Don't be afraid. Stick it to the man.

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Feb 04 2011

The Electric Eldridge – Currents, an Android App for sailors

I've blogged in the past about maritime Android apps I find useful on my HTC EVO. I can definitely see a future where a marine-version of an Android Honeycomb tablet is fixed to the binnacle of my sloop and offers me a multi-function nav device for GPS enabled chart plotting and a wealth of navigation data from tide tables to an anchor-drag alert. A new app will definitely be on that device.

Vernon Grabel, who founded Cape.com (my ISP) and is a personal baseball/sailing friend, has released a free app into the Android Marketplace called Currents. The premise is drop-dead simple but very convenient as it acknowledges that for most sailors the most important tidal information is not necessarily the time of high and low tide at a specific point, but the velocity and direction of the current caused by the ebb and flood of the tide.  A boat's track from point A to point B is affected by "set" -- the lateral movement of the hull due to leeward drift (which is why sailboats have keels or centerboards) and general current direction. which can accelerate speed if coming from astern, slow down if coming head on, or push the boat downwind or upwind.  Currents in constricted areas, such as canals, guts, and harbor entrances, can mean the difference between successfully transiting an area or meeting with disaster.

For more than a century, Cape Cod mariners have relied on the familiar yellow covered annual edition of the Eldridge Tide and Pilot Book to determine the current's velocity and direction for any given point and time. The process of calculating current based on the time of the tide in the major observation points listed by Eldridge and then off-setting that time for the specific spot being transited (e.g. if one is entering Cotuit Bay, one needs to find the time of the tide in Boston and add one hour and seven seconds for high tide, and subtract 45 minutes for low) ... it's time consuming, a serious pain in the ass under sail, and a distraction as one pops below for the book, brings it up to the cockpit, and starts flipping pages back and forth.

Grabel nails the problem with Currents for not only New England but most of the coastal United States. By using the public data published by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration  (NOAA), mashing into Google Maps, and overlaying arrows of varying thickness and length and direction, Currents gives a perfect, zoomable, and accurate current and tide reading for the hundreds of coastal stations tracked by NOAA.

So, this may be the year I save $14,00 on yet another copy of Eldridge and rely on my phone for yet another essential piece of navigational information.  Currents is listed in the Google Marketplace under "currents" or "yoyana" or you can scan this:

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