Long Distance Relations

Adult Supervision

I’m at a wedding reception in Canada, virtually. To be possibly a little more accurate, I’m watching some friends be drunk in Canada, via webcam over Ustream. Feels a little weird. The video is all right. A bit jerky maybe, but watchable. It sounds though like a circus. A circus on acid. In a swimming pool. On board a submarine. Between the slow video and the strange out-of-sync audio effects, it feels like trying to communicate with astronauts. But what the heck. I mean, they’re at a wedding reception. I’m probably not missing a lot of sparkling conversation.

And it’s one-way of course, so they can’t see or hear me at all. We’re communicating through the system’s “instant messaging” service. In quotes, because it’s taking even longer for the IMs to pass back and forth than it is for the video. Something wrong with that. It only adds to the Apollo mission feeling.

Weird Internet People

Moving nonetheless. A whole bunch of people, some of whom I haven’t seen in years, some of whom I’ve never actually met, all of whom I’ve gotten to know over the last decade or so purely through the Internet. People from other countries, who by other means I’d have met briefly if at all, but now are a community I belong to. A real community, despite being bound only by threads of data, with all the things that appertain. Indeed, this is how the happy couple met.

I love being alive at this time.

Long Distance Relations

Adult Supervision

I’m at a wedding reception in Canada, virtually. To be possibly a little more accurate, I’m watching some friends be drunk in Canada, via webcam over Ustream. Feels a little weird. The video is all right. A bit jerky maybe, but watchable. It sounds though like a circus. A circus on acid. In a swimming pool. On board a submarine. Between the slow video and the strange out-of-sync audio effects, it feels like trying to communicate with astronauts. But what the heck. I mean, they’re at a wedding reception. I’m probably not missing a lot of sparkling conversation.

And it’s one-way of course, so they can’t see or hear me at all. We’re communicating through the system’s “instant messaging” service. In quotes, because it’s taking even longer for the IMs to pass back and forth than it is for the video. Something wrong with that. It only adds to the Apollo mission feeling.

Weird Internet People

Moving nonetheless. A whole bunch of people, some of whom I haven’t seen in years, some of whom I’ve never actually met, all of whom I’ve gotten to know over the last decade or so purely through the Internet. People from other countries, who by other means I’d have met briefly if at all, but now are a community I belong to. A real community, despite being bound only by threads of data, with all the things that appertain. Indeed, this is how the happy couple met.

I love being alive at this time.

Living With An Android (1)

Enhancing Your Battery Life

It's the button that was missing

As phones have got bigger, brighter and more sophisticated, so their battery lives seem to have reverted to the stone age. Any decent one will of course still have sufficient to make and receive calls all day, but will it leave enough to also do the things you actually bought a smartphone for? A couple of hours browsing in the afternoon, maybe some handheld GPS navigation around town, and suddenly it’s looking like you may not make it home to your charger in time.

What’s to be done? Well Android does present a lot of power-saving options, but it’s not at all clear to the user just how much these will save or what functionality they sacrifice.

OK, some are no-brainers. You will extend battery life very significantly if you don’t turn on Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS until you need to connect to a network, link your phone to some other device, or find out where you are, respectively. (And remember to turn them off again after!) It’s worth mentioning too though that Wi-Fi needs less power than a 3G connection, so use it to go online when you have the choice. Of course, that will also save you data charges.

That huge vivid screen drinks power like a power alkie falling off the power wagon. If you’re not trying to impress anyone with its shininess just now, set the brightness as low as you find usable. (Settings > Display > Brightness; Your phone’s automatic brightness setting, which allows it to adjust to the ambient light, may be the best compromise.) While you’re here in Display Settings, you can adjust the screen timeout – the length of time it stays lit after you stop touching it – to be as short as you can tolerate.

Those are the biggies; after that it’s all fiddling with minor adjustments that might or might not make a noticeable difference. What would be really nice to find is some hidden setting that dramatically improves battery life, a sort of magic button if you will. Not too much to ask, is it?

Well no it’s not. There is one simple thing you can do, and it will save you buttloads of electricity¹. You can turn off Packet Data.

Packet data is what’s more loosely referred to as “3G” – Internet over the mobile network. Your Android phone, by default, keeps a data connection going all the time. This means you can constantly receive things like emails, calls over Skype and other VoIP systems, MMS messages, and fresh new adverts for your ad-supported apps. Nice stuff – well mostly – but not exactly necessary. Especially not when you consider that the time you’re spending online without really meaning to is deducted directly from the time you can be online when you want. Simply maintaining that data connection is eating your power, even when nothing is being transferred.

One problem: Android is kinda designed around the always-on data connection, they don’t really mean you to turn it on and off easily. So the option is a little buried, under Settings > Wireless and network > Mobile networks. There you check and uncheck “Use packet data” depending on whether you want mobile Internet access right now. Four clicks down – pretty irritating for something you might want to change several times in one day.

But fear not – there is of course an app for that. Or to be more precise, a widget – a simple button you can stick on your home screen to turn packet data on and off handily. There are a great number to choose from on the Android Market Google Play in fact; some though are ugly-looking, some have ads, some other features that you may or may not want. One I found that seems to work just fine, looks nice and is both free and ad-free is called Data Switch. I can’t promise this one will work flawlessly for you (try restarting your phone if it doesn’t seem to at first), but it seems to work perfectly on the Galaxy Note.

While the Note’s battery is very reasonable by smartphone standards, this could make all the difference between worrying if it will last, and being relaxed about it. So if you really want to Skype me, call me first to let me know OK?

  1. Electricity used to be sold from large barrels called butts, each equal to two hogsheads or seven rundlets.  

Facebook and Microsoft?

May I be the first to run around the room with my arms flailing? Facebook may merely be working with Skype to introduce video calling, and Skype may have only been recently bought by Microsoft, but it immediately makes you fear that Microsoft are on the point of buying Facebook. And that would be almost unthinkable. The lumbering old PC monopolist, owning the nimble new social network. The folks at Redmond, with their hands on our personal profiles. Shiver.

Yet… It seems a compelling match. Though not officially on sale yet, the estimated asking price of Facebook is The Largest Number You Can Think Of – a sum which Microsoft just happens to have.

Will they? Would they? They may have to. If Google actually begins to rival Facebook with its Google+ network, it is going to have a fantastically powerful strategic position. And remember, as the main way that the world interacts with the Web and the maker of what is going to become the world’s most popular phone OS, Google has a strategic position already far in advance of anyone.

It’s clear already what they’re planning to do with Google+. They’re going to blend social networking in. They want a person’s online activities, their socializing and their Web searching, to merge casually and seamlessly together. Search for an air fare to Italy, let your friends (or a certain group of friends) see that you’re searching, get their comments and tips. It’s amusing that just after all the browser-makers introduced an “In Private” feature so that you could explicitly search without being seen, Google realised that an “In Public” option would be even better.

This will work. People will like their social networking being blended into their general online activities. It will make using the Web as a whole a much more social thing, a lot more like being with people. It will be great and Google will become even more fantastically powerful.

So if Microsoft want to stay in the game, they need Facebook. The chances of them successfully introducing their own social network system seem poor. There’s really just one question. If Facebook becomes a property of Microsoft, will it instantly become uncool? It seems likely that being owned by Mr. Fox contributed to the demise of MySpace, possibly a similar effect could strike down Facebook. Especially if Google are successful in selling Google+ as the cooler alternative. I’m not sure. Facebook is so big now that it seems almost unimaginable that it could falter. And yet, anything can happen on the Web.

Then again, Microsoft could actually improve Facebook’s image. MS is not exactly the world’s most trusted and loved company, but it is at least known to be businesslike. Facebook is so good at giving the impression of being fundamentally unreliable that Microsoft could actually make it seem a lot more trustworthy.

What’s more, if MS keeps blundering around with the sense of direction it’s displaying right now, if Apple and Google keep running rings around them like this, it’ll soon be able to portray itself as the loveable underdog.

As I say, anything.

What The Hell Is IPv6?

IPv4 exhaustion
The Red Line Shows Remaining Available Internet Addresses

So did you enjoy World IPv6 Day?

All right, there’s a fairly large chance that you have no freaking idea what I’m talking about. To put it as briefly as possible, the Internet is running out of addresses. The old system (IPv4) could only handle four billion of them. And as every computer, phone, tablet and other device connected to the Internet needs one, we were going to break the four billion mark sometime very soon. So, much like when your local telephone system adds an extra digit to its numbers to make room for new subscribers, the Internet is making its addresses longer. The new system is called IPv6.

We do not talk about IPv5.

But adding one digit to a phone number lets you create only ten times as many. The switch to IPv6 is more expansive than that. Seriously more. It will allow for 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times as many Internet addresses as now. This is what mathematicians call a “silly number”.

As an end-user you’re not going to notice any difference. The process started years ago, and will take more years to complete. Yesterday’s “World IPv6 Day” was more or less a publicity stunt organised by some of the Net’s bigger names, Google and Facebook among them, to alert the industry to the necessity of upgrading. IPv6 was tested on a bigger scale than ever before and, well if you’re reading this then I guess nothing broke too badly.

So, a good thing then. We needed more addresses for the Internet to keep on expanding. But… this many? It will mean we could all have a few trillion to call our own. My toes can have a Skype account each. You could Internet-enable every leaf on every tree. It’s hard to imagine how you could ever use that many.

And there may be a downside to that. More anon!

What The Hell Is IPv6?

IPv4 exhaustion
The Red Line Shows Remaining Available Internet Addresses

So did you enjoy World IPv6 Day?

All right, there’s a fairly large chance that you have no freaking idea what I’m talking about. To put it as briefly as possible, the Internet is running out of addresses. The old system (IPv4) could only handle four billion of them. And as every computer, phone, tablet and other device connected to the Internet needs one, we were going to break the four billion mark sometime very soon. So, much like when your local telephone system adds an extra digit to its numbers to make room for new subscribers, the Internet is making its addresses longer. The new system is called IPv6.

We do not talk about IPv5.

But adding one digit to a phone number lets you create only ten times as many. The switch to IPv6 is more expansive than that. Seriously more. It will allow for 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times as many Internet addresses as now. This is what mathematicians call a “silly number”.

As an end-user you’re not going to notice any difference. The process started years ago, and will take more years to complete. Yesterday’s “World IPv6 Day” was more or less a publicity stunt organised by some of the Net’s bigger names, Google and Facebook among them, to alert the industry to the necessity of upgrading. IPv6 was tested on a bigger scale than ever before and, well if you’re reading this then I guess nothing broke too badly.

So, a good thing then. We needed more addresses for the Internet to keep on expanding. But… this many? It will mean we could all have a few trillion to call our own. My toes can have a Skype account each. You could Internet-enable every leaf on every tree. It’s hard to imagine how you could ever use that many.

And there may be a downside to that. More anon!