Not the best week for my Android

Although I’m a huge Android fan the past week or so hasn’t been too kind to my HTC One M8, which up until now has been spot on in terms of both hardware and software.

Just in case anyone else experiences the same issues I decided to post this to at least make the problem solving process a bit less painful…

OK Google? O… K Google? Oh…

12605596705_75921dc70eMy favourite feature since getting the M8 (just pipping the IR remote) is Google Now and particularly the “OK Google” voice activation. Having an almost-natural voice interface with the device is something that makes me feel like “the future” has arrived, as well as coming in very handy for in-car use for navigation, music playback etc.

Unfortunately the Play Store forced down a bunch of updates recently and now the activate from any screen system has stopped working 😦

Ref: https://productforums.google.com/forum/#!topic/websearch/jvUlugguDBY

Seems like I’m not the only one it’s affected judging by the slew of comments on the Google forums. The last couple of posts suggesting it’s fixed in the latest beta look promising at least – hurry up Google and get this fixed!

Wi-Fi in slow-motion

Around the same time I’d also noticed loading web pages on my home Wi-Fi had gone back to 56k speeds, or even worse just timing out. For a day or so I just switched to 4G as a workaround but tonight had to try and figure out what was going wrong. After a bit of Googling this struck a chord:

Ref: http://forums.androidcentral.com/htc-one-m8/565952-app-causing-slow-wifi.html

Indeed as soon as I disabled the Bluetooth connection everything went back to normal. I don’t usually have it turned on but since using Android Auto (more on that soon) Bluetooth tends to get left on when I get out the car. May need to invest in some NFC tags and use the Trigger app to control this.

BlinkFeed replacement

One HTC-specific feature I’ve grown to like is BlinkFeed. Initially I dismissed it as a nuisance taking up precious home screen space but as content started rolling in I started spotting some interesting content that I wouldn’t normally see through traditional browsing methods.

With social network updates mixed in as well it became a really useful at-a-glance content consumption method. Needless to say I don’t like the sound of the replacement if the article below about ad-related content is true:

Ref: http://forums.androidcentral.com/htc-one-m9/607607-news-republic-app-replacing-blinkfeed-awful.html

The joys of continuous updates and a quick word on OneDrive

At least two of the issues above come as a result of the continual release cycle we now find ourselves in these days with cloud-first software and services. On one hand getting new features is good but when the releases break (or even worse remove) key functionality then it’s a very different end-user experience.

It would be nice if Google etc. held their hands up when bugs are found to remove the uncertainty over whether it’s one particular device \ installation at fault or if users are suffering from update-related issues; I for one would value the honesty of saying “it’s broken but we’re fixing it” over saving face and staying silent. Fortunately blogs and forums often step in to fill the gap.

Still at least none of these issues are in the same league as Microsoft’s ludicrous bait-and-switch OneDrive retrospective storage downgrade on it’s consumer user base. I’m moving all my backups onto Google Photos right now then dispensing with OneDrive for personal use once the storage limits are applied early next year.

It’s a real shame as I’ve been using the product right from its early SkyDrive days so in my case the reversal from 40GB (15GB + 10GB loyalty + 15GB camera roll) down to 5GB is a real kick in the teeth. At the start of the year I was likely to move up to the paid plan once I went over my last couple of GB but there’s no chance of that now.

40GB
enjoy it while you can…

Fortunately the same stupidity hasn’t been applied to Education (OneDrive for Business) users, which is probably the only bit of good news to come out of the debacle. Ironically all this happened the same week the much-improved (and long overdue) new UI arrived on our O365 tenancy. A real shoot-yourself-in-the-foot moment from Microsoft I feel (as do many, many others).

Ref: https://onedrive.uservoice.com/forums/262982-onedrive/suggestions/10524099-give-us-back-our-storage

Microsoft still has time to reverse this before they lose whatever goodwill they had left among consumers but the clock is ticking…

2016… the year of monetisation of the cloud?

What is interesting the the OneDrive move is that Microsoft have effectively blinked first in the game of which provider stops giving more to consumers. In this case MS have gone one step further and will be actively taking away what we already have.

With enhanced ad-blocking features moving across platforms onto iOS and suchlike I wonder if 2016 may be the year the big cloud players start pushing the boundaries to see how far they can go with monetising their services. This is one prediction I’ll be very happy to see turn out wrong!

100,000 views and counting!

coollogo_com-31751774

Hot on the heels of the 100th post I noticed the other day that I’ve also hit over 100,000 views so thought it deserved a little celebration.

When I first started this I wasn’t even expecting 100 views and thought the blog would just serve as a personal memory bank, looks like it’s proved useful to people too which is an unexpected bonus 🙂 Thanks for reading and all your comments, now onto the next milestone of 250,000!

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I wasn’t sure if celebrating 0x186a0 views was going to have quite the same headline effect…

Happy 100th!

Wonder-100-Milestone-Image-640x385After my last post I noticed I’d hit 99 articles published so have held back a couple of others that were in the pipeline until I got round to writing this one. Looking back at my stats I started the blog 4 years ago on the (now very dead) Windows Live Spaces, moving the content over to WordPress by hand just after Microsoft brought out a migration tool (typical!)

Where it all began

Way back in 2009 (where did those 4 years go?) I started blogging as a way to note down some of the work I was doing day to day, almost as more of an online tech diary than anything else. As time has gone on it’s served as a good reminder a couple of months down the line when you can easily forget all those little tips and workarounds on a system you don’t touch every day. I also see it as my way of giving something back to the online community – I’m a great believer in using forums, discussion groups and suchlike to try and figure out problems so when I have something concrete at the end I write it up and share it to save someone else tearing their hair out elsewhere! It also played a part in getting my new job where I’ve just completed my first year 🙂

Most popular

To my surprise some of the posts have proved more useful than I first thought they might – checking out the stats there’s two that lead the way by some margin…

1st place – How to… get a perfect Windows 7 managed Start Menu and Taskbar
This one really surprised me at the time, I remember when writing it thinking “no-one will read this”… how wrong was I! While doing some R&D for a Windows 7 deployment I couldn’t believe there wasn’t an out-the-box solution to give machines a clean, pre-populated Start Menu with pinned items. Microsoft seemed to obsess with some of the default Windows applications and didn’t want to let me be helpful and put commonly used Office shortcuts there instead. Fortunately some clever people had written scripts that could help solve the issue, along with some GPO tweaking. It’s also a great example of the tech community sharing ideas and solving problems.

2nd place – Fixing the Windows 8.1 “We weren’t able to connect the Store…” error
This one has sent my stats through the roof at times, which I guess is testament to how ropey the Windows Store can be as much as my solution! I found this when staying late at work setting up a couple of Surface RTs, one worked, the other didn’t. Furious Googling didn’t really help, apart from one post in  Microsoft Answers thread that gave me an idea to check out the user accounts link more closely and led to the solution. Judging by the comments box it’s not a fix in every case (seems like there’s a couple of variants to the cause of the error) but it’s helped some out there get going with Windows 8

merry_christmas_grumpy_cat_greeting_cards-r27c69b2fca374af483c78740c2b9c345_xvuat_8byvr_512The future

Onwards and upwards! Over the next couple of months I’m going to be doing a lot of work with Office 365, SharePoint and Server 2012 so expect plenty from that point of view. I’ve got new versions of Moodle to play with and recently took on a personal website project using WordPress (.org version this time) so that might sneak in at some point too.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year in the only way I know how… 

 

PRINCE2 Foundation done and dusted

PRINCE2 manualLast week I managed to miss the whole Windows 8 launch party experience as I was at Learning Tree for a 3-day PRINCE2 Foundation course. Having done ITIL and found it useful it seemed like PRINCE2 made sense as the next step to learn some formalised management techniques to help make things run a bit smoother on future projects.

shocked catAfter signing up for the course a few months back I had my pre-course reading arrive, all 300 pages of it in this suitably weighty tome. Needless to say my reaction was something along the lines of the pic on the left!

 

Fortunately help wasn’t far away in the shape of a very handy little app on Google Play (I still keep calling it Android Market)

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.istudy.prince2&feature=search_result#?t=W251bGwsMSwxLDEsImNvbS5pc3R1ZHkucHJpbmNlMiJd

iStudy PRINCE2 appYou can use it in “Study” mode to just try out questions and get feedback for each answer. Even better it references the right pages and sections in the textbook so you can look up information in more detail.In the end I used the Study mode first then read around what I learnt from the questions, which seemed to work a lot better than trying to simply shovel 300 pages of management-speak into my head. The £4.99 paid version is well worth it to get 520 practice questions that are in the same style as the ones you’ll get in the real exam.

(click the image for a larger version, yup that’s actually my phone, it’s been through the wars a bit over the last two years!)

Next to the course itself, at first I wondered if it might be “dry” and a long 3 days but not so 🙂

As always Learning Tree hired a top notch tutor to run the course and as a result the class moved along at a good pace, applying what we’d learnt to our own organisations along the way along with quiz activities that made you think about the chapter you just covered. Course notes were also much more concise than using the textbook; turns out you don’t need some of the more detailed areas for Foundation so the notes helped to focus attention where it was needed.

Final day included the exam, pretty standard multiple choice affair, which although felt a lot harder than the practice ones in class ended with a similar result… a high scoring pass 😀

I’d fully recommend this course to anyone looking into PRINCE2 Foundation, whether you just want the certification or want to learn more about how to start implementing the techniques in your own projects. Course info is on the link below…

Learning Tree logo

http://www.learningtree.co.uk/courses/uk1176.htm

Next step for me is to try Project in a Box as I like the idea of keeping as much of the documentation digital as possible, plus it should help to ensure I keep with the PRINCE2 processes.

Olympics tech: Gold medal for the BBC :)

After a fantastic two weeks London 2012 is done and dusted, creating some fantastic memories along the way. Amongst all the glory for the athletes and organisers I feel the BBC deserves a special mention from the techie side for all their work during the games.

I tend to have very low tolerance levels for bad software and on the same front also full of praise where it’s due… for the BBC it’s the latter as their online systems have been top notch. Thanks to an unfortunate moment with the aerial cable on my TV card resulting in the connector breaking off the mainboard I’ve been reliant on streaming media a lot of the time, fortunately the web player performed when it mattered.

(image credit http://londoncalling.co… 16 days of competition and I forgot to take a screenshot the entire time!)

The interface was slick and just… worked, great in itself then factor in the choice of every sport as it happened, bookmarks within broadcasts plus all the stats and athlete info and it adds up to an extremely impressive package. To think about 6 years ago I was watching the first blocky low res streams of World Cup 2006 compared to what we have now…

Also found the mobile app very useful, although basically a mobile rip of the BBC website it kept me in touch with Team GB’s gold rush. The only downside was not being able to play video thanks to Adobe’s moronic decision to break Flash Player in Android on ICS and newer releases.

There’s an interesting read on the BBC’s blog about how they brought it all together…

http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/bbcinternet/2012/07/olympic_data_services_and_the.html

A pat on the back for a job well done to all, just one of many successes of London 2012… as Seb Coe said, we did it right!

Ice cream anyone?

With the British summer disappearing behind a torrent of rain ice cream isn’t the first thing you’d be looking for right now… unless it’s an Ice Cream Sandwich…

Having found out that an early contract upgrade to an HTC One X isn’t going to work well for me (thanks a bunch Orange) I started looking around the ROM lists on xda developers to see if something better was available for my rather battered and bruised Desire. I was running Cyanogenmod but although it had some nice features it felt rather rough around the edges at times… 10 minutes later I found this beauty…

http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=1484648

A quick flash later and I’m on ICS… very impressed 😀 The phone feels slick, smooth and the UI looks very polished to the point where I’m not missing HTC Sense now. Have also installed Mounts2SD to get around the Desire’s paltry internal memory provision, seems to be working so far…

http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=1342387

End result with my usual selection of widgets to emulate my favourite parts of the Sense home screen (Simple Calendar Widet and Sense Analog Clock) it’s good to go…

At the same time I decided to get my eeePC 2G Surf out of semi-retirement and see what else I could do with it. This was the device that started off the boom in cheaper consumer web devices that’s eventually led us to the tablet market today. Bearing in mind this was a very basic spec even when it was new back in 2008 means it’s prehistoric by today’s standards. Getting something modern and productive onto it was a challenge that seemed like a way to make some use out of a wet and miserable Saturday afternoon…

I’d already tried Chromium OS (didn’t fit on the 2GB internal SSD, how it needs that much space I don’t know), JoliCloud (same issue) and stripped down XP (best bet up until now) I was wondering if there might be a version of Android that might work… fortunately there is… even better there’s an eeePC specific build!

http://www.android-x86.org/
http://www.android-x86.org/download 

It only needs a couple of hundred MB to install and works well with http://www.linuxliveusb.com/ to make bootable USB installation media. Installation was painless and within 10 minutes Android was up and running.

Verdict? Rather pleased with it, boot speed is around 1 minute and once you’re in it feels snappy enough, only Youtube struggles somewhat but that’s to be expected to some extent. The widgets certainly work well and browser has been fine. The only oddity is getting used to dragging to scroll web pages but you can use Fn+Down as an alternative.

Certainly worth trying out to give that old netbook a new lease of life. For those who remember Art Attack, as Neil Buchanan would say “try it yourself!”

gshaw0 – now with added MBCS

I’m now pleased to be a Professional Member of the British Computer Society, got the welcome pack in the post the other day. Certificate goes nicely on the wall next to my ITIL one 🙂

For more information on BCS visit http://www.bcs.org/

Going to my first event on the 28th Feb – “IT @F1 Speed” sounds good as it mixes two of my main passions… IT and cars!