Witt's Twaddle

The Gold Rush

Posted in Everyday, Fests, Tech by Witt on December 4, 2010

I had the Gold Rush! SMART‘s Gold Rush The Twelve Thrills of Christmas!

Abbie and I went to the second outing of the “Rush” (the first was held last November 19-21, 2010 at Eastwood City Mall) Rockwell Powerplant Mall in Makati yesterday to avail of the promo for the new Samsung Galaxy Tab. Cool new phones! Free food and drinks too (first day only). Processing queue was crazy long though. I suggest you get there early, line up before the mall opens. Promo runs until Sunday, 5th of December 2010. Be there.

3:48pm, 5 December 2010.

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Complete Guide to Maximizing Your Android Phone’s Battery Life

Posted in Tech by Witt on September 5, 2010

You’re no doubt reading this article because you’ve got a shiny new Android phone, but there’s just one problem: you’re so addicted that the battery runs out on a daily basis. Instead of putting the phone down, let’s maximize the battery life.

Saving your battery life isn’t rocket science—the general principle is to get rid of the things that are draining the battery the most, and trim down other things that you need to use, but maybe can tweak a little. Keep reading for the full explanation.

Use Android’s Built-in Battery Usage Screen

There’s a screen built into Android that most casual users probably don’t even know about, and it can tell you exactly what is killing your battery. Head into Settings –> About Phone –> Battery use to see what has been killing your battery life.


From this screen, you can usually see what apps are the worst offenders, and you will probably notice that the biggest problem—at least, the biggest one that we can fix—is actually the backlight on the phone. Personally I’d prefer to talk less to other humans, but that isn’t always an option!

Note: on my phone, I’ve already configured the backlight to not be very bright—normally that number would be a lot higher.

Adjust the Backlight to be Less Bright

Since we’ve already determined that the backlight is usually the biggest problem, you should probably adjust the settings. Head into Settings –> Display –> Brightness, where you can choose to automatically adjust, which usually works fairly well, or you can just turn the brightness down to the lowest acceptable level.


You should make sure that the screen timeout value is set to turn off quickly as well.

Disable Your Wi-Fi When You Don’t Need It

Wi-Fi can really speed up accessing data on your phone, but it can also be a big drain on the battery if you don’t need it enabled, especially when you are out and about… The phone will try and scan for a wireless network even though you may not want it to.

To enable Airplane mode, you can head into Settings –> Wireless & networks–> Airplane mode.


You can easily toggle the Wi-Fi on or off with a widget or shortcut—there’s a built-in widget included in Android phones, or you can use the AnyCut or BetterCut utilities to create your own shortcuts to directly turn them on or off without requiring a widget.

Disable Bluetooth if You Don’t Use It

If you aren’t using a wireless headset, there’s no reason to have Bluetooth running all the time, and you should probably cut it off to save the battery life. If you never use it at all, head into Settings –> Wireless & networks–> Bluetooth.


You can also enable or disable the Bluetooth when you do need it, using the power widget.

Use the Power Widget to Easily Toggle GPS, Bluetooth, Wireless, and Screen Brightness

Android includes a built-in Power Widget that can easily toggle these settings on or off—just long press on the background of one of your screens, choose Widget –> Power Control to add it to the screen. You’ll notice in this example screenshot that I’ve got my GPS enabled but I’m not using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth at the moment—the icon all the way on the right lets you easily toggle the screen brightness settings.


This is probably the simplest and easiest thing that you can do to save your battery without having to dig into the settings all the time.

Disable Apps that Sync Constantly

The built-in Email application (not the Gmail one, which uses Push technology) can suck the battery badly, because it syncs on a too-regular basis, especially when you have lots of accounts—each one of them is set to sync every 15 minutes. You’d be better off setting it up to sync manually, but if you want it to sync automatically, you should set it to sync less frequently.

Open up the Email application, head to your account, and choose Account settings –> Email check frequency from the menu. Change this to something more like an hour… or never. You can always hit refresh manually when you want to read your email.


The same thing holds true for other accounts, like Twitter clients, which are even less important to update all the time. For Seesmic, you can head into Settings –> Background Updates from the main screen. For the official Twitter app, the settings are similar.


The Facebook application polls automatically in the background, and you can customize the refresh interval for that as well—if you don’t need Facebook updating all the time, you should set this value as high as possible.

From the main Facebook screen—the one with the icons—head into Settings –> Refresh interval from the menu.


Disable the GPS Location Features

One of the biggest battery sucking features on my droid is the GPS… When I have navigation going, the battery dies far too fast, so I end up having to keep it plugged in the whole time I am driving. This makes sense… but what you might not know is that a lot of other applications use the GPS as well.

You can also change the GPS to use wireless networks, and uncheck the option for Use GPS satellites—this will make the GPS a little less accurate, but it will save your battery. Note that you probably want the real GPS enabled if you’re using Google Maps Navigation.


Additionally, you should turn off the geolocation features in your Twitter client, weather application, or whatever other apps that you really don’t need them in. If you want to keep it enabled, that’s great, just realize that it does drain the battery, so uncheck this option to help.

Use a Task Manager to See What is Always Running

It is a wise decision to have a copy of Advanced Task Cleaner or a similar application installed on your phone to help you kill applications that don’t need to be running, but more so that you can see what exactly is launching itself repeatedly in the background. You can setup an auto-kill list for applications you don’t use that often—make them cut off when you shut off the screen, or after an interval.

Note: If you’ve configured your application settings to not pull down lots of data or do checking in the background, it’s not quite as important to keep tasks killed all the time—that’s really what kills your battery, not having them sitting idle.


You can also configure advanced task manager to show you CPU usage for each app, which is a more useful meter than memory usage when it comes to battery life.

Disable or Remove Applications That You Aren’t Using

Once you have identified the application that you don’t want running all the time, check in the settings to see if it can be removed from running in the background. Some applications will give you an option for notifications that can be turned off if you don’t need them, making the application not check in the background so often.

It should go without saying, but we’ll say it anyway—you should remove the apps that you don’t need anymore, especially the ones that are draining your battery as determined from the android battery panel or task manager. Head into Settings –> Applications –> Manage Applications and then you can click the Uninstall button for an app.


Disable Home Screen Widgets You Don’t Need

If you’ve got loads of widgets that are pulling data from the web, that means they are likely pulling down data in the background all the time. You should try not to go overboard with these, or remove the ones you don’t actually need.

Disable Animated Wallpaper

Yeah, that sweet animated wallpaper doesn’t help your battery any. Get rid of it for a small extra battery savings.


Use APNDroid to Kill Your Entire Data Connection When You Don’t Need It

If you’re using a phone that’s on the AT&T or T-Mobile networks, you can use the APNDroid utility to kill your data connection entirely with a simple widget. It doesn’t work on Verizon phones in my testing. It’ll disable the data but still allow regular calls and SMS.


Keep the Battery from Getting Too Hot

One of the quickest ways to kill a battery is to leave it out in the sun—try and keep your phone somewhere that isn’t too hot whenever possible. You’ll end up needing to replace the battery a lot quicker if you don’t.

Additional Notes

There’s a number of other things you can do to extend your battery life a bit—one of which is to use a rooted phone and install the Autostarts utility, which you can use to keep applications from launching themselves automatically. Since this isn’t something you can do on a stock phone, we’re not covering how to do it here.

You can also use an application called Tasker to automate certain actions, like turning on or off the GPS or Wi-Fi when you launch a particular application, or scheduling a time of day to make sure that Wi-Fi is disabled. Lifehacker has a great guide to using Tasker to automate your phone, and they also explain how to use a  configuration to scale back data usage at night.

Reblogged via How-To Geek

10:44pm, 5 September 2010.

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What is rooting and why should I do it? The pros & cons of Android rooting

Posted in Tech by Witt on July 28, 2010

Everywhere we look, there are posts about phones being rooted, the ability to flash alternate ROMs, and more. So why should you root your nice, shiny phone? What are the benefits? Well, that’s what we are here to talk about today. Before we go any further, however – a word of caution: rooting or modifying your phone in any way can cause the device to no longer work, or “brick” it. You are at your own risk, should you choose to root or flash your phone, and we assume no liability for any damages.

What is rooting?

Before we get started, I want to explain what “rooting” is.  When you root your phone, you gain “superuser” privileges to the Android operating system. When you are using a stock device, you have the equivalent of “guest” privileges. If you are familiar with any Linux operating system, you know that the superuser privilege allows you to gain access to administrative rights. This level of access gets you down to the nitty gritty of the OS with no restrictions, lets you make changes to the system, and run scripts that would normally be blocked with a standard user account. As long as they are not encrypted, that is… such as the case of the Droid X, which has an encrypted bootloader. With superuser privileges on an Android phone, you can install programs that need complete access to the OS – such as ROM installers (like ROM Manager), theme modifiers (such as Metamorph), and simple apps like DroCap2, which takes screenshots from the device without having to plug it in to your computer.

While the act of rooting does not do much for an end user, it means the world to a coder or developer. Rooting your phone gives you access to run the applications that developers create that need elevated privileges. Always be careful what you install, though, because the wrong program could take over, or even brick your phone.



So, what are the advantages of rooting your device? Once you have root access and the bootloader is cracked, you can install custom software onto your device. I mentioned ROMs before, and you might be wondering what they are. A “ROM” is the software your phone is running. It is stored in the read-only memory of the device, and is executed after the boot process. Think of a ROM as the OS itself. This is where you can add some features and upgrade others – such as the Froyo (Android 2.2) upgrade. By installing a ROM based off of the Froyo 2.2 software, you gain those features before your device is officially scheduled to receive them. This is great for EOL (End of Life) devices, such as the Droid. While it may still receive a few updates for a short period of time, long term support is not guaranteed. If you look at the T-Mobile G1 , that device is still running strong, thanks to custom ROMs. With ROMs and other add-ons, you can install custom themes as well. The Ultimate Droid mod is big on using dark themes for their ROMs. I, personally, am running Bugless Beast V0.4 on my Droid, which is a Froyo build. This allowed me to have the new version of Android before it was officially released, or even supported. There are tools, such as ROM Manager, that help make the process of flashing your phone much easier.

Custom Themes

As I mentioned above with the Ultimate Droid mod you can install full themes or change just about any graphic you want. There are two ways to do this and that is installing theme packages using installers such as Metamorph or by using the ABD shell in the SDK kit to push the images to the file system. Below are two examples. The first one shows the whole theme applies with the installation of Ultimate Droid. Notice the black notification bar and the different dock icons on the bottom. The second picture was taken on a vanilla install of Bugless Beast V0.4. In this example I used Metamorph to install a few custom icons. The Bluetooth, WiFi, and Signal icons I made and created an installer for them. The battery icon I found on another forums and installed using the same method.

Kernel & Speed

In addition to the visual aspects of rooting your device, you can also update and change other aspects as well. Two main features that are widely changed are the kernel and the baseband. The kernel of a Unix device (such as an Android-powered phone) is the heart of the software. The kernel is the layer of code that handles communication between the hardware and the applications. A lot of developers tweak the kernels for added performance, battery life, and more. Take the original Droid, for instance. The Droid uses the Arm Cortex A8 processor, which is clocked at 550 MHz under standard conditions. Developers, such as the well known ChevyNo1, have made custom kernels which allow you to run your Droid at higher speeds… some at over 1 GHz. Other kernels, however, have been tweaked to conserve battery life by running at slower than stock speeds. It’s all a matter of preference, which is really the entire basis of rooting your device in the first place.


The Baseband, mentioned above as the other major change in mind when rooting, controls the radio for your phone. It is, essentially, what controls the phone’s ability to make and receive calls and data. By changing to updated or fixed basebands, you can try to improve both signal and call performance. If you noticed in the pic above, I am running baseband 43.01P for my Droid.


With everything that’s good, there have to be downsides as well, right? The answer: absolutely. Due to recovery software for Android, such as Nandroid, there isn’t much that you can’t recover from, should something go wrong. With that being said, there is always the chance that you could “brick” your phone by altering it. This is especially true during the initial rooting process, as well as while flashing the bootloader.

Other than bricking your device, there isn’t much more that is seen in the way of disadvantages. I suppose one other would be that it is not available on every device. It is up to the communities of developers out there to find a way to root the phone and crack the bootloader. As we recently discovered with the Droid X (which has an encrypted bootloader), it’s like the old saying goes… where there’s a will, there’s a way. A developer named ‘Birdman‘, along with other developers, recently found a way to root the Droid X, which is just the beginning. With time, the device will (hopefully) be unlocked and flashable so we can have all the custom goodness.

As you see, there are a number of reasons to root your phone. Each phone is different, so be sure to read over any provided documentation carefully. I was once the type that said “I would never root my Droid!” I though it was pointless, but I can tell you now that I would never go back to stock.

Reblogged via Alan Matson for TalkAndroid.

9:11pm, 28 July 2010.

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The Smartphone: A Shackle Once More

Posted in Tech by Witt on April 4, 2010

Here’s a phrase many of you will remember, probably from the late 1990s: “Yeah, I’d get a cell phone, but I don’t want to be on, like, an electronic leash, you know?” People had land lines, pagers, car phones — the pocketable mobile phone was still a luxury and, to some, an unwanted responsibility. Over the next 10 years or so, the mobile phone gradually reached such high levels of market penetration that it’s quite difficult to find anybody without one. It is simply too practical and affordable to refrain from at this point. However, in the last few years, as smartphones and texting have become the default mode of communication for many people, the tone has changed again; the electronic leash is returning.

Why is this? It’s actually pretty simple: once a tool reaches a certain level of integration with the social and communication norms of a person, it receives the same level of cognitive consideration as, say, speech. Do you wonder whether you should end a text message with an exclamation mark, a period, or nothing at all? This is because texting and email are approaching the same level of integration with our daily lives as the speech and gestures we’ve been using for millennia. I realize one could have said this at any time over the last decade, but I’m saying it now for a specific reason.

As someone who works online, I have a bit of an unusual communication situation, to be sure. Most of my interactions take place via text boxes. IM, email, the CrunchGear chatroom and task manager where we administer the site — these are my main methods of social interaction during most of the day. Even at my previous job, where I worked in an office and spoke to clients regularly, the volume of email and otherwise written communication approached that of “real” interaction. I’m sure, dear reader, if you were to submit your life to this analysis, you would also find a startling amount of what people like to categorize separately “virtual” (or some such descriptor) communication.

Now, the level of expression possible in 140 characters, or a two-paragraph email, or in a chatroom, is clearly not equal to the level of expression possible in a face-to-face conversation. That is a fact, as far as it goes… partially because our brains are actually designed for the latter sort of interaction, so it’s not really a fair fight. And although the expressive bandwidth, if you will, of a series of text messages is very small, we are beginning to imbue these impersonal, telegraphic communications with the subtlety and power of a normal conversation. You see? As text begins to more completely supplant conversation, conversation more completely informs how we create and interpret the text. Observe this overly simplistic diagram that took way too long to make:

This is, I believe, why our phones are beginning to be electronic shackles yet again. Oh, I don’t mean that because we can write a 🙂 or :(, it’s just like looking in someone’s face — but what was impersonal only a couple years ago is rapidly becoming extremely personal, as we project ourselves more completely onto it, as we must necessarily when it takes up such a large portion of our social interactions. Think of the way correspondence made up such a huge portion of communication before the age of the computer. The Victorians, my god! Half their life was in trunks of letters, and lovers of 19th-century literature will recall the minuteness with which letters are scrutinized; it was at least as important a form of communication as face-to-face conversation, and it got the weight it deserved. Similarly, the delimiting of microcommunications like texts and tweets over the last few years (socially and monetarily) has put them more firmly on our cognitive maps.

So why is it suddenly a shackle, then? Have things really changed so much in the last year or two? Well – it’s an ongoing process, obviously. The best way to see it in action is to hearken back to when BlackBerrys started getting popular. People were glued to them, because as major email users and connected people in general, they were the early adopters not just of the technology, but of the repercussions of relying on that technology. So you’ve got CrackBerrys blowing up, and then you’ve got the iPhone and the popularization of the smartphone that it brought. Over the last couple years, many more phones have integrated push email, instant notifications from things like Facebook and Foursquare, and so on — to say nothing of the increasing popularity of unlimited texting. The reliance on the phone as primary (or close secondary) method of communication is an expanding circle, and it’s starting to envelop the “man on the street,” whereas not long ago it was only the tech-savvy guy, or the business guy, or what have you. The personalization of impersonal communication is happening on a large scale, and the implications of that are interesting.

I say “interesting” because it’s hard to say they’re important, or huge. They’re just that: interesting. The change from phone as passive receptacle of information to active conduit between you and everyone you know means that what the earliest adopters in the 90s feared is coming true. Once a text message or email is as immediate, personal, and important to a group of people as face-to-face conversation, that means by definition that everyone you know can address you at any time, with the reasonable expectation of response.

After all, you don’t just turn away from someone’s face when they’re talking about something uninteresting at a bar, or if they invite you to an event you can’t make it to or don’t want to attend. You nod politely, make excuses, change the topic — all the skills of conversation come into play, because that person is right there and you can’t ignore them, or rather to ignore them is itself a positive act (that is to say, not simply inaction but deliberate inaction). Well, it’s getting to the point where to ignore a text message, email, or evite is also a positive act. How many times have you seen recently someone angry that another person didn’t text them back, or on the other hand, say disdainfully “I’m not even going to respond”?

In other words: our phones no longer simply make us available, as they have for years; they make us present. As close to physically present as corresponds to your level of reliance on the phone. A bit weird, isn’t it?

For the younger generation, this will be even more pronounced. This isn’t a bad thing at all, I should say: people complain loudly about how kids are texting each other all day and not really communicating. Okay, grandpa — I won’t take any wooden nickels, either. This method of communication is new, and we’re adapting to it as best we can, but just like the parents of my generation deplored the constant phonecalls (imagine the fortune telecoms made on second lines) and their parents deplored the baby boomers’ obsession with… I don’t know what, cruising in your hot rod maybe? Free love? I’m out of my depth. But you get my drift: the communication paradigm is changing, not for the worse, just for the new.

So I call our phones shackles, and then I say it’s not a bad thing. Well, it’s not a good thing, either — it’s just a thing. You’re “shackled” to your neighbors and your city. You’re “shackled” to your car payments and your futon. But you’re also “shackled” to your kids, your computer, your hobbies. Not every shackle has a ball and chain on the end — it’s just another name for attachment. This new shackle, a shackle of constant connection with the people in your life, is, like most technologies, neutral. In D&D terms, it’d probably be chaotic neutral, since it’s disruptive to the way we’ve been living, but neutral nonetheless.

What are the implications? Beats me, I’m a blogger, not a sociologist. Different implications for different people, probably, or none at all since the change is so gradual and natural as to be imperceptible. But see it or not, the change is happening, and the urgency and primacy of once-virtual communication is mounting as, increasingly, the virtual becomes indistinguishable from the real.

Reblogged via Devin Coldewey for CrunchGear

5:52pm, 4 April 2010.

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Master Google Android: 40 Tips and Tricks

Posted in Tech by Witt on March 21, 2010

The first time you use an Android phone, one thing becomes immediately clear: You’re not in Cupertino anymore.

Android, as recent Verizon commercials remind us, is the antithesis of Apple’s celebrated handset: It’s open source, fully customizable, and free from unexplained app rejections. If the iPhone is Apple’s inalterable masterpiece, the Android platform is Google’s open canvas. The palette is in your hands; it’s up to you to add color.

We’ve assembled 40 tips and tricks to help you make the most of your Android phone. Some are specific to Android 2.0 or later, but most apply to any Android-based device. And not one of these tricks requires you to jailbreak anything.

So grab your phone, and get started–it’s time for you to become a certified Android master.

Optimize Your Home Screen

Add to Home screen

1. Make the most of your space by using widgets–dynamic programs that operate right on your home screen. Simply hold your finger on any open space, and then select Widgets from the pop-up menu. Widgets come in a huge variety of sizes and functions, so search the Android Market to find what works for you.

2. Prefer not to be bothered by a sound every time an e-mail arrives? Head into Gmail’s Settings menu and set its ringtone to Silent. You’ll still see new-message alerts in the notification panel at the top of your screen, and you can always pull the panel down to get detailed information. You can configure text messaging and other alert-generating apps the same way.

3. Set up one-touch dialing for the people you call the most. Hold your finger on an open space and select Shortcuts. Then, touch Direct dial and pick the person from your contact list. If one-touch texting is what you crave, use the Direct message option instead.

4. To drop your favorite Web pages onto your home screen, long-press on any site in your browser’s bookmarks and then select the Add shortcut to home option.

5. Try using folders to keep your home screen organized. Long-press on a blank space and select Folders to create one. You can then drag and drop frequently used contacts, apps, or other shortcuts into it to cut down on clutter. To rename a folder, press and hold the folder’s title bar while it’s open.

Get Around Android


6. Make file management a snap with a utility such as Astro, which allows you to browse through your phone just as you would a computer, navigating directories and moving or deleting files at will.

7. Need to cut and paste text? Long-press on any text input area. If you’re on a Web page, tap the Menu key and use the Select text option.

8. Use Android’s hotkeys to do everything from zooming in to a Web page to opening a program. Check out our complete list of Android keyboard shortcuts to learn them all.

9. You can set your own hotkeys to open apps, too. Head into the main Settings menu, select Applications, and then choose Quick Launch to get started.

10. If the on-screen keyboard pops up when you don’t want it, touch it and swipe downward to make it disappear.

11. You can see the current date at any time by touching your finger to the top-left corner of the screen.

Stay Connected

12. To load files onto your Android phone, plug the handset into your PC and pull down the notification panel. Tap the USB connected box, and then tap Mount when the confirmation dialog box appears. Your phone will appear as a hard drive on your PC, and you can then drag and drop files as you wish.

13. Manage your music–and even import your iTunes playlists–with DoubleTwist, a free PC-based utility. The program’s intuitive interface makes Motorola’s Media Link offering look like a bloated relic.

Double Twist

14. Sync your Outlook calendar with your phone without the hassle. Install Google Calendar Sync and let it do the work for you.

15. To sync your Outlook contacts without using an Exchange server, try GO Contact Sync, an open-source utility for your PC.

16. Stay up to speed with your feeds with the help of NewsRob, a handy app that syncs your phone with your Google Reader account.

17. Want to have your PC’s browser bookmarks on your Android phone? Download MyBookmarks from the Market to import them.

Power Up Your Phone

18. Get extra calling power by integrating Google Voice into your phone. Once you’ve signed up for an account, download the official app and watch your options expand. Bonus tip: Add the Google Voice widget to your home screen for one-touch toggling of your outgoing-call preferences.

19. You can send text messages for free through Google Voice–everything you need is in the app. Just make sure you change the settings to refresh every 5 minutes so that incoming messages won’t be delayed. If you want faster notifications, log in to the Google Voice Website and configure your account to send you e-mail alerts when a new text arrives.

20. Get unbilled talk time by using Fring, a free mobile chat client for Android. Fring lets you make calls over Google Talk, Skype, and any SIP calling service.

21. Cut down on calling headaches by using the free Dial Zero app to call the companies you do business with. It lets you bypass annoying phone trees and get right to human representatives.

22. Keep annoying callers away by routing them directly to your voicemail. First, open the offending person’s profile in your contacts list. Then, press the Menu button, tap Options, and check the Incoming calls box.

23. The Incoming Calls screen also holds the option for setting custom ringtones for callers. Tap Ringtone and change each person’s tune as you wish.

Dolphin Browser

24. Want to use your own MP3 files as ringtones? No problem: Make a new folder on your memory card and name it ringtones. Copy your MP3s there, and they will automatically show up in your selection list. Folders called alarms or notifications will do the same thing for those respective functions.

25. Check out the free app RingDroid. With it, you can easily edit an MP3 file to grab a precise segment of a song for a ringtone or system sound.

26. Android lets you keep multiple browser windows open at the same time. Long-press any Web link to open it in a new window. Tap the Menu key while in the browser to toggle between windows.

27. Prefer seeing Web pages in landscape mode? You can tell Android to always display sites that way. Select the Landscape-only display checkbox in the browser’s Settings menu.

28. Android’s built-in browser isn’t your only option. Try Dolphin Browser for cool features such as tabbed browsing, gesture-driven commands, and multitouch zooming (yes, even on the Droid).

Secure Your Smartphone

29. Android includes an option to use simple patterns to secure your phone; to unlock the handset, you swipe your finger across the screen in a specific pattern. Look for Screen Unlock Pattern under ‘Location and Security’ in the main System Settings menu.

30. Want to back up your phone’s data? Try MyBackup, which saves your apps, contacts, call logs, texts, and even settings to either your SD Card or a secure Internet server. You might also like SMS Backup, which periodically saves all of your texts into your Gmail account.

31. For even more protection, download Mobile Defense. The app allows you to use a PC to track your phone via GPS, remotely lock it, and then back up and wipe all of your data.

Add Essential Apps

Adobe Photoshop Mobile

32. If you handle a lot of Office files, Documents To Go may be just the thing for you. The free version gives you the ability to view Word and Excel files. The full paid version adds editing capabilities, along with PDF and PowerPoint viewing options.

33. Prefer working in the cloud? Get your hands on GDocs or ThinkFree Mobile Office, both of which make it a cinch to connect with your Google Docs documents.

34. If basic note-taking is all you need, download a PC-synced notepad such as GDocs Notepad With Sync. It saves documents directly into your Google Docs account for easy access.

35. For on-the-go photo editing, Adobe’s Photoshop.com Mobile app is tough to beat–and it’s free, too.

36. Jazz up your Android music experience with TuneWiki, which automatically finds and scrolls lyrics next to your songs as they play. Plus, it gives you access to Internet radio streaming and some cool community-sharing features.

Customize Your Phone Completely

37. Adjust how your phone acts by using Locale. The app lets you set custom profiles for practically any circumstance–having your ringer shift to silent when you’re at work, for example, or making your screen glow brighter at night.

38. Take full advantage of your phone’s LED by installing Missed Call, which configures your phone’s light to flash specific colors when calls from certain people slip by.

39. Edit Android’s custom dictionary to include your name and other proper nouns. That way, they’ll pop up in the auto-complete list as you type. Look under Language and keyboard settings in System Settings to get started.

40. If you try an Android app and decide that you don’t like it, return it. The Android Market will give you a full refund for up to 24 hours after any purchase, provided that you haven’t tried to return the same app before.

Reblogged via JR Raphael for PCWorld.

7:56pm, 21 March 2010.

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The Milestone

Posted in Tech by Witt on March 13, 2010

It’s finally here! My new Motorola Milestone, fresh from Hong Kong.

Fortress of Tung Chung Mall

A couple of months ago, I asked my good friend, Dick, who’s a resident of HK to look around for iPhone 3GS prices for me. There is one place in HK where you can get unlocked iPhone 3GS, Fortress, the one-stop electronic superstore. iPhones were priced at HK$ 4,288 – 8GB, HK$ 5,388 – 16GB and HK$ 6,288 – 32GB respectively. With this in mind, I had my eyes set on the 16GB.

Come 6th of March, my friend went to Fortress at Tung Chung Mall finally get the iPhone 3GS. Bad news. All out of stock. The reason: a local carrier unveiled an über-low call & data plan. Hongkees swarmed the shop and grabbed all the iPhones they can get.

With quick thinking, I went for the Milestone. This was my third choice from my recent blog. The Nexus One was available online in Hong Kong, but I didn’t want to trouble my friend with all the fuzz. So Milestone it is. The good thing, it’s a steal! HK$ 4,680 for it’s specs and build, wow!

The Box

Open Sesame

The Goods

What’s in the box:

1. Motorola Milestone

2. Battery

3. USB Cable

4. Power Adapter

5. 8GB microSD card (already fitted in the Milestone)

6. 3.5mm Wired Stereo Headset

7. Software CD

8. User’s Manual

Time to explore the Android OS. Let the good times roll.

5:43pm, 13 March 2010.

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Leave No Trace: How to Completely Erase Your Hard Drives, SSDs and Thumb Drives

Posted in Tech by Witt on March 10, 2010

With stories abounding of identity theft aided by information lifted from discarded storage devices, you want devices you no longer plan to use to have no usable information when they head out the door. Here’s how to wipe them clean.

Why Erasing Files Is Not Enough

Sure, you could erase the contents of the drive, but keep this in mind: the act of erasing a file does not remove it from a storage device.

When you erase/delete a file from your computer, it’s not really gone until the areas of the disk it used are overwritten by new information. If you use the normal Windows delete function, the “deleted” file is sent to the Recycle Bin until the space it uses is required by other files. If you use Shift-Delete to bypass the Recycle Bin, the space occupied by the file is marked as available for other files. However, the file could be recovered days or even weeks later with third-party data recovery software. As long as the operating system does not reuse the space occupied by a file with another file, the “deleted” file can be recovered.

With SSDs, the erased file situation is even more complex. SSDs store data in blocks rather than in sectors as with magnetic storage. Overwriting a block was previously used involves copying the contents of the block to cache, wiping the block’s contents, delete the block to be overwritten from cache, writing the new data to cache, and rewriting the block with the new data. As an SSD is used with files that are deleted or changed frequently, the performance can drop unless the drive (and operating system) support a technology called TRIM that wipes out deleted data blocks as soon as the file using the blocks is deleted. TRIM is supported by Windows 7 and by some late model SSDs, but not by older Windows versions. So, disk wiping can be both a security feature and a performance improvement strategy.

Data Wiping Versus File Erasure

While erasing files simply marks file space as available for reuse, data wiping overwrites all data space on a storage device, replacing useful data with garbage data. Depending upon the method used, the overwrite data could be zeros (also known as “zero-fill”) or could be various random patterns.

Products that can be used for wiping hard disks might not be suitable for wiping other types of drives. In this article, we will look at methods for securely wiping hard disks, USB flash memory devices, flash memory cards, and SSDs.

Zero-Fill a Hard Disk

Time Needed: several hours (varies with size and speed of drive)
Software: Hard disk utility software from your drive vendor
Media: blank CD or floppy disk

Although writing zeroes across the entire hard disk surface (aka “zero-filling”) is not sufficient to meet government data sanitation (disk wiping) standards such as DoD 5220.22-M or the more comprehensive Standards and Technologies (NIST) Special Publication 800-88, overwriting the entire hard disk prevents most types of data recovery from being successful.

Here’s where to get zero-fill software from hard disk vendors:

Drive Fitness Test (see website for specific models supported)
Select the Erase Drive feature to zero-fill your hard disk

HUtil (see website for specific models supported)
Use Tool, Erase HDD to zero-fill your hard disk

Seagate (including Maxtor)
SeaTools for DOS (see website for specific models supported)
Use Full Erase to zero-fill your hard disk

Western Digital
Data Lifeguard Diagnostics (select drive model for specific version recommended)
Use Write Zeros to drive to zero-fill your hard disk

1. Determine the brand and model of hard disk you want to overwrite.
2. Download a CD ISO image or a floppy disk image (depending upon your equipment) and use the image to create bootable media. The floppy disk image is self-contained: run it, insert a blank floppy disk when prompted, and the image is created on the disk. You will need to use a CD burning program that works with ISO images to convert the ISO image into a bootable CD.
3. Restart your computer with the bootable media you created in Step 2.
4. Select the hard disk to zero-fill when prompted.
5. Choose the option to zero-fill the hard disk.

6. When the program is finished, follow the on-screen instructions to shut down or restart your computer.
7. Remove the wiped hard disk; you can now reuse or recycle the hard disk.

Secure Wiping a Hard Disk

Secure wiping goes beyond zero-fill operations, and provides an extra level of security. Most secure wiping programs are designed to meet DoD 5220 standards, which require three passes of overwriting with a special numeric pattern and verification. More information about this and other secure standards are available from the DataErasure website.

(Note that the 2007 revision of the Defense Security Service, Updated DSS Clearing and Sanitization Matrix (June 28, 2007) (PDF) now recommends degaussing or drive destruction for maximum protection.

Stanford University’s Disk and Data Sanitization Policy and Guidelines, a must-read for understanding data wiping issues, recommends Darik’s Boot and Nuke (DBAN) for secure hard disk wiping.

Secure Wiping a Hard Disk with DBAN

Time Needed: several hours (varies with size and speed of drive)
Software: Darik’s Boot and Nuke (DBAN); available from http://www.dban.org/
Media: blank CD (all versions) or floppy disk (version 1.0.7 and older versions)

1. Download the DBAN boot image ZIP file (we used version 1.0.7 and beta version 2.0 for this article); we downloaded the ISO image for CD burning, but a floppy disk builder is also available
2. Extract the contents of the compressed file.
3. Burn the ISO image file extracted in Step 2 to CD; see our article on how to do this, or use the built-in ISO CD image burning support in Windows 7. If you downloaded the floppy image builder, run the program to create a bootable floppy disk.
4. Restart the computer using the CD or floppy disk created in Step 3.
5. Press Enter to run DBAN in interactive mode.
6. Use up and down arrow keys to highlight the drive to wipe.
7. Press the space bar to select the drive.
8. Press M to select the wiping method.
9. Press F10 to begin the wipe process.

10. At the end of the process, shut down the system. You can reuse or recycle the wiped hard disk.

Note: if DBAN is unable to recognize your SATA hard disks, configure your system BIOS to use IDE mode rather than AHCI mode.

Wiping Flash Memory Cards and USB Drives

Programs such as DBAN or vendor-supplied hard disk utilities are limited in the devices they support: they are designed to work with internal ATA/IDE or SATA hard disks only. Programs that work with flash memory cards and USB flash drives often support hard disks as well, enabling you to use a single program for all disk wiping processes. Roadkil’s DataWipe can be used with any hard disk, floppy disk, or flash drive that has a drive letter.

Wiping Flash Memory Cards with Roadkil’s DiskWipe

Time Needed: Varies; from a few minutes to several hours, depending upon size and speed of drive and computer
Software: Roadkil’s DiskWipe, available from http://www.roadkil.net/
Media: Can be run from Windows desktop

1. Download Roadkil’s DiskWipe.
2. Extract the contents of the compressed file.
3. Open DiskWipe. If you are running Windows Vista or Windows 7, right-click the program icon and select Run as Administrator.
4. Select the drive to wipe.
5. Select the type of wipe to perform; DiskWipe can zero-fill the disk or write random data.
6. Enter the number of passes.
7. Click Erase to start the process.

8. At the end of the process, close the program. You can reuse the wiped disk.

Wiping SSDs

To solve write performance problems on drives that don’t support TRIM (check with your drive vendor for firmware upgrades) is to use wiper.exe (included with some SSDs) or to run the Secure Erase feature supported in most recent ATA/IDE and SATA drives. The Secure Erase feature can be activated on many systems by running Secure Erase 4.0 (HDDerase.exe), available from http://cmrr.ucsd.edu/people/Hughes/SecureErase.shtml. Version 4.0 works with most recent ATA/IDE and SATA hard disks and SSDs, but if you use an Intel X-25M, X-25E, or X-18M SSD, follow this link to download Secure Erase 3.3 http://www.iishacks.com/index.php/2009/06/30/how-to-secure-erase-reset-an-intel-solid-state-drive-ssd/. Note that it is no longer being developed, and we were unable to use it on a system running an AMD 690 chipset.

Wiping Drives and Free Space with SDelete

SDelete is a free program from Microsoft’s TechNet Sysinternals collection. It runs from the command line, and can be used to wipe drives, wipe files, or wipe free space.

Time Needed: Varies; from a few minutes to several hours, depending upon size and speed of drive and computer
Software: TechNet Sysinternal’s SDelete, available from http://technet.microsoft.com

Media: Can be run from Windows desktop

1. Download SDelete.
2. Extract the contents of the compressed file.
3. Copy sdelete.exe to c:\windows\system32\ (this will enable you to run it from any location)
4. Open a command prompt session with Administrator rights.
5. To wipe all files on drive X: and its subdirectories and to wipe free space, enter Sdelete -p 2 –s -z X:\*.* (to see all command-line switches, enter Sdelete with no options)
6. Wait; the program displays status messages as it runs. When the program is finished, you can reuse or dispose of the drive.

Evaluating the Effectiveness of Disk Wiping Programs

We used demo versions of two popular data recovery programs to evaluate some of the disk wiping programs discussed in this article. To determine whether a typical data recovery program could recover files on a SD card wipe with Roadkil’s DiskWipe, we first of all formatted the card using a card reader. Ontrack’s EasyRecovery Data Recovery (available from http://www.ontrack.com) had no difficulty finding folders and files to retrieve.

However, when we used DiskWipe to wipe the drive using a one-pass blank disk (zero fill) operation, EasyRecovery DataRecovery was unable to find the file system, let alone any files or folders.

After reformatting the card, taking a few photos, and deleting the photos, EasyRecovery Data Recovery was able to find the new photos, but the contents of the card before running WipeDisk were unrecoverable.

To evaluate SDelete, we used SDelete to wipe all of the files on a hard disk, but omitted the –z switch; when –z is not used, SDelete deletes files and renames them, but does not clear free space. To determine what might be visible, we used a demo version of Disk Doctors NTFS Data Recovery software, available from http://www.diskdoctors.net.

Disk Doctors were able to locate the deleted folder and Outlook Express message folders, but SDelete had renamed them from their original names and DBX extensions (Outlook Express message folders). If you use SDelete, it’s very important that you take time to use the –z switch to clear free space on the disk (once a file is deleted, the space it occupies is free space).

We also used Disk Doctors to evaluate the effectiveness of a freeware program called Eraser, which can delete and overwrite files and folders from the right-click menu. We created a documents folder with a subfolder called Figures and used Eraser to overwrite the folder and subfolder using its default settings.

Disk Doctors was able to locate the folders, but the contents are files with garbage names and are zero bytes in size – except for leftover word processing temporary files (files that begin with $). These filenames were not changed, which could enable a snooper to figure out the names of the files in the folder – although the files themselves were destroyed. By using more overwrites or different methods available with Eraser, a more thorough wiping may be possible.


We’ve highlighted a variety of free ways to protect data on castoff drives from being retrieved. As you can see, your best bet is to overwrite data directly, but you also might want to consider using a program such as SDelete to scramble filenames first and then use a disk wiper such as Eraser or WipeDisk to finish the job.

Use demo versions of data recovery programs such as Ontrack Easy Recovery Data RecoveryDisk Doctors Data Recovery (various editions for NTFS, FAT, and flash media), and others to evaluate the effectiveness of your data wiping procedures. Remember, the full versions of these and other data recovery programs can save your data if you accidentally format or partition a disk because, until the data is overwritten, it’s still there.

Reblogged via Gizmodo

11:43pm, 10 March 2010.

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Sync data with Macs, iPhones using Google

Posted in Tech by Witt on March 3, 2010

Keep your contacts and calendars up to date in multiple places for free

If you have two or more Macs, or an iPhone or iPod touch, you’ll undoubtedly want to keep your contacts and calendars on all your devices in sync. One way to do so is to use Apple’s MobileMe service ($99 a year for individuals; $149 for the five-user Family Pack). With MobileMe properly configured on each of your devices, any change you make to contact or calendar data syncs almost instantly with the other devices (and, in the case of the iPhone, syncs over the air).

But what if you don’t want to pay for MobileMe, or if you simply prefer using the free Google Contacts and Google Calendars (both accessible from any Gmail account)? Google lets your iPhone or iPod touch connect to your Gmail account (either with a gmail.com address, or an address at your own domain via Google Apps) using Exchange ActiveSync, which provides over-the-air push e-mail, contact, and calendar data, just as MobileMe does. Meanwhile, Snow Leopard contains native support for Exchange 2007 servers in Mail, Address Book, and iCal, and Microsoft Entourage also supports Exchange accounts. So in theory, one should be able to store contact and calendar information in Google’s cloud, access it using your existing software, and configure all your devices in such a way that everything stays automatically in sync.

Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. Although the iPhone and iPod touch work well with Google’s Exchange services, the same isn’t true of current desktop Mac software. You can sync your Google Contacts and Calendars with Address Book and iCal, respectively, but not using Exchange. As a result, syncing isn’t instantaneous or automatic. Likewise, Entourage can tie into OS X’s Sync Services to achieve syncing with Google Contacts and Calendars in a roundabout way, but setting up your Gmail account in Entourage as an Exchange account doesn’t work.

Nevertheless, you can replicate most of what MobileMe offers for contact and calendar syncing using Google’s services and Snow Leopard. The initial setup process is more complicated than with MobileMe, and you’ll have to adopt slightly different habits, but the end result should meet most people’s needs.

However, I do want to mention a few qualifications up front. First, the process I describe here is for syncing a single person’s data among multiple devices, not for syncing information among multiple users. Second, on an iPhone or iPod touch, this procedure uses Exchange, but the iPhone OS currently supports only one Exchange account per device. So, if you already use Exchange for another purpose (such as connecting to your corporate e-mail account), this solution won’t work. And third, although most contact and calendar data syncs between Mac applications and Google just fine, a few items (including Address Book groups and the “floating” time zone in iCal) do not.

Preliminary steps

Before changing your sync settings, you should perform a few preliminary steps.

First, be sure to back up your contact and calendar data so that if anything goes wrong, you can restore it to its previous state. To back up the contents of the OS X Address Book, open Address Book (in /Applications), choose File -> Export -> Address Book Archive, enter a name and choose a location for the exported data, and click Save. To back up your iCal calendars, open iCal (in /Applications), choose File -> Export -> iCal Archive, enter a name and choose a location for the exported data, and click Save. To back up your Entourage contacts and calendars, open Entourage, choose File -> Export, select Items To An Entourage Archive and then All Items. Also, in the Archive The Following Items Types section, select the Local Contacts and Local Calendar Events items (you can deselect the other checkboxes) and click the right arrow. Leave the No, Keep The Items In Entourage After They Are Archived option selected and click the right arrow again. Enter a name and choose a location for the exported data, and click Save. If you’re using an iPhone or iPod touch, attach it to your Mac using its USB cable or dock and allow it to sync before proceeding.

In addition, if you’re using Google Apps (for a custom domain name), make sure you’ve enabled Google Sync for your domain by following Google’s instructions.

Finally, if you are a MobileMe user, I suggest turning off MobileMe syncing for contact and calendar data, as that will simplify setup and troubleshooting. To do so on your Mac, open the MobileMe pane of System Preferences, click the Sync tab, and deselect the checkboxes for Contacts, Calendars, or both. On an iPhone or iPod touch, go to Settings -> Mail, Contacts, Calendars, tap your MobileMe account, and turn Contacts, Calendars, or both off. When you do so, your device asks whether you want to keep or delete the existing contacts or calendars on your device. The safest option is to tap Keep On My iPhone, but due to the way Google stores information, this may result in some duplicated contacts or events. If you’re certain that the data on your Mac is correct, up-to-date, and backed up, you can reduce the chance of duplicates by tapping Delete From My iPhone.

Sync contacts with Address Book

To sync Address Book with Google Contacts’ My Contacts list, open Address Book, choose Address Book -> Preferences, click Accounts, select On My Mac in the Accounts list on the left, and then click the Account Information tab. Select the Synchronize With Google checkbox, and then click Configure. If you’re setting up Google syncing for the first time, an alert appears explaining about the synchronization process; read this and click Agree. Then, in the dialog box that appears, enter your Gmail address in the Google Account field and your password in the Password field, and click OK. You may see a warning that Address Book can’t verify the identity of the server; if so, click Continue.

Next, make sure the Sync menu (an icon with two arrows arranged in a circle) appears in your Mac’s menu bar. If not, open the MobileMe pane of System Preferences, click the Sync tab, and select the Show Status In Menu Bar checkbox at the bottom. Choose Sync Now from the Sync menu. During the initial sync, if the Conflict Resolver window appears, click Review Now, decide which version of each contact to use, and then click Sync Now. After the first sync, OS X should sync changes once per hour, although you can sync manually at any time by using the Sync Now command. (If hourly syncing is too infrequent, you might try the $25 Spanning Sync, which syncs every time you modify a contact, and as often as every 10 minutes otherwise.) Repeat this procedure with each Mac you want to sync.

Sync calendars with iCal

To sync iCal with Google Calendar, open iCal, choose iCal -> Preferences, click on Accounts, and click the plus (+) button. Choose Google from the Account Type pop-up menu, and enter your full e-mail address (whether ending in @gmail.com or your custom domain) in the Email Address field and your password in the Password field, and click on Create. You may see a warning that iCal can’t verify the identity of the server; if so, click Continue. Your primary Google calendar then appears in iCal. To sync additional Google calendars, click the Delegation tab in the Preferences window and select the Show checkbox for one or more calendars.

Note that this entire procedure syncs existing Google calendars with iCal, but not the other way around. To move your existing iCal data into Google Calendar, find one of your calendars in Google on the left side of the screen, click the Settings button beneath it, click Import Calendar next to the Create New Calendar button, and then in the dialog box that appears, click Browse, navigate to the iCal backup file you created earlier, and select it. In the Import Calendar dialog box, select the calendar to which you’d like to add the events (if you have more than one) from the Calendar pop-up menu and then click the Import button to bring your calendar info in.

By default, iCal syncs with Google Calendar every 15 minutes, but you can change the interval if you prefer. To do so, click on the Account Information tab in the Preferences window and choose a new value from the Refresh Calendars pop-up menu. As with contacts, repeat this procedure on each of your Macs.

Sync contacts and calendars with Entourage

If you use Entourage to store your contacts and calendars, you can’t sync directly with Google Contacts and Calendars, but you can sync indirectly. First, follow the procedure for setting up syncing with Address Book or iCal and Google Contacts or Calendars (even if your OS X Address Book or iCal is empty).

Then, in Entourage, choose Entourage -> Preferences, select Sync Services under General Preferences in the list on the left, select Synchronize Contacts With Address Book And MobileMe and/or Synchronize Events And Tasks With iCal And MobileMe, and then click OK. In the dialog box that appears, read the descriptions of the three options for your initial sync (Combine Information, Delete Entourage Information, or Delete Information From Macintosh Address Book, iCal, And MobileMe), select the one you want, and click OK. (In most cases, if you use only Entourage for contacts and calendars, the best choice is Delete Information From Macintosh Address Book, iCal, And MobileMe.)

Sync contacts and calendars with an iPhone or iPod touch

To sync your contacts and calendars, you must be using iPhone OS 3.0 or higher. Go to Settings -> Mail, Contacts, Calendars and tap Add Account at the bottom of the Accounts list. Tap Microsoft Exchange, enter the full e-mail address associated with your Google account in the Username field and your password in the Password field; leave Domain blank. Tap Next. If an Unable To Verify Certificate message appears, tap Accept. In the Server field, enter m.google.com, and tap Next again. Make sure Contacts and Calendars are turned on (plus Mail, if you want to sync your Gmail e-mail) and tap Done. When prompted to choose how to handle existing data, tap Delete. Synchronization begins momentarily, and everything happens wirelessly.

Reblogged via Joe Kissell, Macworld.com

11:54pm 3 March 2010.

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Jailbreaking in the iPhone 3.0 era

Posted in Tech by Witt on March 2, 2010

In a few short years, Apple has established the iPhone as the mobile platform to beat. Each successive firmware update opens new, and often unmatched, features for users and developers to explore. Many of these features, however, find their roots outside Apple’s walled-garden approach to the iPhone, as the jailbreak community proves time and again to be an innovative environment for off-limits apps that demonstrate new ways to push the iPhone platform forward.

To be sure, the past year of Apple updates has altered the pre-3.0 iPhone jailbreaking landscape. The company’s iPhone 3.0 OS, together with its speedy, feature-enriched iPhone 3G S handset, has brought new software and hardware capabilities that somewhat mitigate the need for jailbreaking. But despite these advancements, as well as warnings that jailbreaking leads to security risks and potential copyright infringement, iPhone jailbreaking continues apace, evidenced by the growing variety of rogue apps available for jailbroken iPhones.

Central to that growth is ongoing developer and user frustration with Apple’s enigmatic app acceptability rules, as well as its deliberate hobbling of many application capabilities, such as Web browsing, background processing, voice services, and tethering (in the United States). Jailbreaking also allows users to unlock their iPhones from Apple’s exclusive AT&T wireless service contract, freeing them to use their phones on other cellular providers’ networks worldwide. These factors, as well as developers’ interest in pushing the limits of the iPhone’s evolving capabilities, make for a jailbreaking community that is as vibrant as ever.

iPhone OS 3.0: Apple unlocks some features, keeps rein on others

Apple’s iPhone OS 3.0 opened the iPhone to several features previously available only to jailbroken devices: copy/paste, MMS, push notification, voice recording, global search, HTTP streaming, and peer-to-peer networking. Apple’s June release of the iPhone 3G S extended the iPhone’s hardware capabilities to include an enhanced camera, integrated magnetic compass, video recording, augmented reality and navigation, and voice control.

There were other signs that Apple might begin lifting restrictions on previously forbidden application categories. Yet it took a very public investigation by the FCC following Apple’s hobbling of Skype and rejection of Google Voice for the iPhone to persuade Apple and AT&T torelent on VoIP telephony. And though apps such as Google Voice and Skype can now be used on the device, limitations still abound. Internet tethering, an intensely desired feature, is one high-profile example. Built into OS 3.0, the capability remains restricted in the United States by monopoly iPhone carrier AT&T.

Meanwhile, Apple has not altered its SDK restriction on interpreted code, which rules out Flash and Java applications (although Adobe purportedly has a Flash work-around), as well as Flash video playing inside the iPhone’s Safari Web browser. Web browsers themselves remain off limits as an app category, except for simple repackaging of the iPhone’s built-in Webkit HTML rendering engine.

Then there are certain iPhone capabilities that Apple still reserves for itself: background processing, video recording on pre-3G S devices, application launching, video output, lockscreen and wallpaper customization, interface skinning, GPS tracking, and remote control of an iPhone from your desktop computer (a la Apple’s Mac OS X Screen Sharing).

Each of these limitations provides incentive for the jailbreaking community to thrive.

Apple’s ongoing objections to iPhone jailbreaking

Apple’s company line on the kind of features jailbreakers seek remains steadfast: These features reduce battery life, slow performance, introduce security vulnerabilities, stress the 3G network, and increase Apple support costs. It is under the auspices of these objections that Apple routinely blocks apps it doesn’t like from its App Store. Some developers argue, however, that often such blocking happens more for competitive reasons than out of concern for iPhone users’ safety and productivity.

Still, many of Apple’s concerns have in fact materialized in jailbroken apps. Background processing does reduce battery life and overall performance, according to users, but these same consumers say the feature is worth the hit as long as they can control its application. Battery drain is also a key symptom of a particular jailbroken-iPhone worm infection. Jailbreaking proponents, however, point out that the worm can only infect phones that users haven’t properly secured by changing the default password. As for stressing the 3G network, most signs point toregional differences in AT&T cellular data capacity as the root cause of this issue, as opposed to anything that jailbreaking would exacerbate.

Performance issues aside, Apple has registered its formal opposition to jailbreaking under the cloak of copyright, claiming the act is illegal under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). This claim has been disputed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and open source Web browser developer Mozilla, which has called Apple’s restrictions both harmful to innovation and an improper application of DMCA rules. Apple has thus far taken no legal action against users who jailbreak their phones, nor against any jailbreak-enablers, including the iPhone Dev Team, which has managed to jailbreak every iPhone OS update to date.

Meanwhile, the EFF and Mozilla have asked the U.S. Copyright Office for an exemption specifically permitting installation of legal apps on iPhones. The Office listened to arguments on both sides in a May 2009 hearing, but has missed its own October projection for a decision and has yet to issue its opinion.

Jailbreaking encourages iPhone innovation

Long before Apple launched its iPhone App Store in 2008, jailbreak users could download apps from a variety of repositories at a time when Apple limited customers to the apps it delivered with the phone. In fact, some argue that jailbreaking was instrumental in educating Apple about the shortcomings of its built-in apps, prompting it to launch the iPhone App Store to give developers an opportunity to fill the gaps.

Since then, Apple has demonstrated a pattern of recognizing features of interest in popular jailbroken apps, then addressing users’ desires for those features with OS updates. iPhone OS 3.0 follow-up updates have included features such as video archiving and editing, Bluetooth-enabled voice control, desktop-based application reorganization, pop-up blocking, wireless ringtone downloads, and remote handset locking and erasing, all of which originated in jailbroken apps.

Jailbroken apps may also have played a part in persuading Apple to loosen restrictions on certain application programming techniques that were previously disallowed, such as exploitation of so-called private API functions. In addition to concessions on VoIP apps, Apple has approved live streaming video apps such as Ustream Live Broadcaster and iPhone development aidiSimulate, both of which use private APIs.

Apple’s capriciousness drives developers to jailbreak

The iPhone’s 140,000 apps (and counting) continue to enrich both Apple and independent iPhone developers. Yet Apple’s uneven App Store administration threatens to kill, or at least maim, the app cash cow, despite recent signs of flexibility from Apple. In November 2009, Apple drove away major iPhone developer Rogue Amoeba after repeatedly rejecting its Airfoil Speakers Touch 1.0.1 app update. Rogue CEO Paul Kafasis said in his corporate blog, “Rogue Amoeba no longer has any plans for additional iPhone applications, and updates to our existing iPhone applications will likely be rare. The iPhone platform had great promise, but that promise is not enough, so we’re focusing on the Mac.”

But if high-profile defections such as Rogue’s threaten to undermine the breadth or quality of apps on offer at the App Store, Jay Freeman’s Cydia store for jailbreak-iPhone apps continues to point the way forward. His Cydia Installer remains an organizing tool for frustrated developer creativity, linking to app repositories that have proved to be useful crystal balls for predicting future Apple iPhone OS enhancements.

“I definitely believe [Apple’s] decisions increase the demand for Cydia: Developers want to be able to improve on the base platform, and Apple doesn’t let them even come close to that,” says Freeman.

Of the jailbreak iPhone apps we listed last year, more than half still can’t be implemented on all native iPhones. Still thriving in Cydia, these apps and several new offerings show promise as future Apple enhancement prototypes. (See “21 apps Apple doesn’t want on your iPhone 3.0”).

Recent jailbreak apps of note include those that streamline background task management, such as Multifl0w, which helps users switch between multitasking apps in a way similar to how app switching is performed on Android handsets. Another popular category is personal Wi-Fi hotspot creation, as illustrated by MyWi. Several apps, such as QuickReply, exploit background processing to let users pop out of an app to, for example, reply to a message, then return to where they left off.

Security has become an important issue for iPhone users, both due to demonstrated vulnerabilities inadvertently created during jailbreaking and as a result of privacy liberties taken by traditional app vendors, such as Facebook. Firewall iP is an app that addresses this interest; it helps users stay in control of their data by alerting them to any unusual outbound data transmissions.

Apple iPhone sales—and jailbreaking—to continue

Despite numerous “end of jailbreaking” scares, the iPhone DevTeam and compatriots have so far always succeeded in sawing through any bars and locks Apple adds with each new OS release. Thousands, if not tens of thousands, of these users are non-AT&T subscribers, which add to Apple’s bottom line, to AT&T’s chagrin.

The jailbreaking phenomenon also likely presages a similar movement in the nascent Apple iPad community. The iPad, what many see effectively as a giant iPod Touch, runs iPhone apps natively and may also be crackable by iPhone escape artists.

It’s safe to say that as long as Apple maintains its heavy-handed grip on “authorized” iPhone developers, jailbroken phones, and app stores such as Cydia, will continue to thrive, even after the iPad arrives.

This story, “Jailbreaking in the iPhone 3.0 era,” was originally published at InfoWorld.com.

Reblogged via Mel Beckman, InfoWorld.

5:10am, 2 March 2010.

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Photoshop and Photography: When Is It Real?

Posted in Everyday, Tech by Witt on February 26, 2010

In the March issue of Popular Photography magazine, the editor’s note, by Miriam Leuchter, is called “What Is a Photograph?”

You’d think that, after 73 years, a magazine called Popular Photography would have figured that out. (Ba-da-bump!)

Actually, though, the editorial is about the magazine’s annual Reader’s Photos Contest. This year, in two of the categories, the winners were what the magazine calls composites, and what I call Photoshop jobs.

One photo shows a motorcyclist being chased by a tornado; another shows a flock of seagulls wheeling around a lighthouse in amazingly photogenic formation. Neither scene ever actually existed as photographed.

Now, in my experience, photographers can be a vocal lot. And a lot of them weren’t crazy about the idea of Photoshop jobs winning the contest.

I have to admit that when I saw the winners revealed in a previous issue, I was a bit taken aback, too. I mean, composition and timing are two key elements of a photographer’s skill, right? If you don’t have to worry about composition and timing, because you can always combine several photos or move things around later in Photoshop, then, well — what is a photograph?

The thing is, though, this isn’t necessarily an open-and-shut case. Ms. Leuchter’s editorial points out that photography has never been strictly a “capture reality” art form. It’s never been limited to reproducing what the eye sees.

From the very beginning, photographers have set up their shots, posed people and adjusted brightness and contrast in the development process. So although you may think that some line has been crossed, it might not be so easy to specify exactly where that line sits.

Here’s a list of things people do to and for photographs, ranging from the innocent and traditional to the dangerously artificial. If you were running a photography contest, at what point would you draw the line and say “That’s not photography anymore?”

* You move the camera to get the best possible shot.

* You attach a lens that takes in a much wider or closer view than you would get with your eyes alone.

* You choose a shallow depth of field, providing that sharp-subject, blurry-background look of professional photos, which looks nothing like reality.

* You set up lights to illuminate a scene in a way that nature never intended.

* You bring in a professional crew to transform a model’s skin, clothing and hair.

* You witness a spectacular event, and then ask the people involved to go back and re-enact what just happened so you can have your camera ready.

* In the darkroom, you “burn” and “dodge” to make certain parts of the photo brighter or darker.

* You bring the photo into Photoshop to remove red-eye. (After all, the red-eye wouldn’t have existed if you hadn’t taken the photo to begin with.)

* You bring the photo into Photoshop to make the colors “pop” a little more.

* You bring the photo into Photoshop to shift one element slightly for better composition.

* You combine two or more photographs of the identical scene, taken at different exposures, strictly to produce a better range of lights and darks (what’s called “high dynamic range” photography).

* You combine two or more elements of different photos of the same scene, taken around the same time, simply to get them all in the frame at once (like the seagulls/lighthouse photo).

* You combine two or more elements of different photos that were taken at different times and places (like the motorcycle/tornado photo).

* You use a 3-D modeling program to create a photorealistic scene that never existed anywhere but in your imagination.

Of course, your answer may be something like, “It depends on the purpose of the photo.” If you’re a news photographer, you (and your audience) would probably be O.K. with tweaks to the color and contrast, but that’s it. On the other hand, if you’re an advertising photographer, you and your audience would probably have no problem with anything on the list above.

The question here is, what should the rules be for a photo competition?

Ms. Leuchter suggests that next year, they’ll have a separate category for Photoshop creations. I think that’s a good idea.

But meanwhile, we live in an age where Photoshop jobs are commonplace, reality TV shows dominate the airwaves, and news bites are taken out of context and manipulated. Maybe, these days, the question isn’t “What is a photograph?”; it’s “What is reality?”

Reblogged via Pogue’s Post of NYT

5:20am, 26 February 2010.

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