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Benjamin Oakes

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Hi, I'm Ben Oakes and this is my geek blog. Currently, I'm a Ruby/JavaScript Developer at Liaison. Previously, I was a Developer at Continuity and Hedgeye, a Research Assistant in the Early Social Cognition Lab at Yale University and a student at the University of Iowa. I also organize TechCorridor.io, ICRuby, OpenHack Iowa City, and previously organized NewHaven.rb. I have an amazing wife named Danielle Oakes.

Filtering for the Android category. Clear

ampd: a remote-controlled jukebox for your old Android device

by Ben

Fill a MicroSD card with music, install ampd, and hook your old Android to your stereo. Violà, you have an awesome, remote-controlled, energy-efficient jukebox. This is the best use I’ve found for an old Android device, especially one with a mediocre display. 

Pair it with a client like the very high-quality MPDroid on your everyday phone, or another client for your platform of choice.

Save the world using your PC or phone

by Ben

By joining your machine to others around the world, you could help eradicate diseases or find alien life.

Source: Save the world using your PC or phone – CNET

BOINC’s Android app is particularly amazing to me. If you already plug your phone in overnight, you should consider installing it. Unfortunately there isn’t an iOS counterpart.

Chrome 42 Beta for Android Brings Powerful Developer Features

by Ben

Chrome 42 Beta Brings Powerful Developer Features.

The web is quickly becoming as powerful as native apps and Chrome 42 beta brings a number of huge features for developers to Android devices.

First, it brings a new “App Install Banner” that allows websites to show a prompt to users that asks if they want to add your site to their home screen. The idea is that Google wants to encourage users to start pinning the sites they frequent to their home screen, just like apps.

[…]

Chrome 42 also brings push notifications to the web, thanks to a new Push API that allows them to send a system notification. Your website can now send a full notification, even if Chrome isn’t open.

Happy to see the mobile web — or at least Chrome’s version of it — is catching up to “native” apps in terms of supported features. Let’s hope Safari and Firefox make the Push API a priority!

Pixel Dungeon, a quality open-source dungeon crawler

by Ben

Pixel Dungeon – Android Apps on Google Play.
Pixel Dungeon – F-Droid.
watabou/pixel-dungeon – GitHub.

pixel-dungeon-gameplay

Traditional roguelike game with pixel-art graphics and simple interface.

I randomly came across Pixel Dungeon today, and it was well timed because I was recently thinking about re-playing Diablo, a very well known take on the “rougelike” concept. However, though I kept thinking it would better on a tablet. (I played it a little on a Windows XP tablet. Yes, there was such a thing, and I had one… though I didn’t have the time to sit down and enjoy it back then.) Unfortunately, Diablo isn’t on Android, and from what I can tell, it’s not worth the trouble of trying to get the Windows 95 version up and running under emulation.

I found NetHack, famous for being one of the oldest continually developed games, which has some okay Android ports with some okay tilesets. I was hoping for NetHack with higher fidelity, maybe some retro-styled graphics, maybe some sound effects, and if I was lucky, some decent music. I found all of that in Pixel Dungeon. It’s definitely a gem of open-source mobile games; I’d recommend trying it. I haven’t played it much yet, but it’s definitely worth sharing.

Side note: it turns out Michael Toy was one of the original authors of Rogue, in addition to also a main part of the Netscape documentary called Code Rush that I watched recently. That’s quite a coincidence!

Why open source and open standards matter on Android

by Ben

Google has a mixed history with their product offerings. Though they were once the poster child of open source contributions and open standards, they are now shutting down well-liked, standards-based services to move users to applications that are more tightly integrated in the Google ecosystem, allowing them to more closely track users and collect more data for advertising purposes. As examples, Google Reader (which used the RSS and Atom standards) was shut down in favor of Google+, CalDAV access was limited for Google Calendar (though I think they partially reversed that decision), and they’re in the middle of shutting down Google Talk (which uses XMPP, the same as Facebook and others) in favor of Google Hangouts. The writing is clearly on the wall for FeedBurner and maybe even IMAP access to Gmail. The idea of Google killing off IMAP seemed far fetched a couple of years ago, but now that “Inbox by Gmail” is their vision for email’s future, it certainly seems possible in a few years.  All of this means that Google will have much more control over how and when we can use our data.

It’s no secret that Google is continuing to migrate Android from being an open source smartphone to an OS to host its proprietary apps and services. That said, Android is still the most open of the mainstream mobile platforms. Compare that to Apple’s iOS, which is very unlikely to ever receive a version of Firefox that isn’t just a skin for Safari and specifically bans code from the App Store if it uses certain types of open source licenses, like the General Public License (GPL).

Thankfully, open source and standards-based solutions are available on Android. They don’t have a “kill switch” for any one company to flip.  The important thing is to use them.

Given the above, if you’re not the fondest of relying on Google for yet another service and would like to know if open source, standards-based apps exist for your need, these are some good sources to consult:

Should you only use open source applications? Well, it might not be that enjoyable of an experience on mobile today… and although open source matters, open standards might even be a more important distinction to consider as we move more and more towards cloud computing, considering that products will continue to appear and disappear over time.  Certainly, if you have a choice between a closed-source app that uses open standards and a closed-source app that uses the opposite (i.e., proprietary APIs), it would likely to be in your own best interest to strongly consider the former, given the long term.

The list of sources is just a starter set, but worth a look the next time you’re looking for software.  If open source and/or open standards aren’t on your list of considerations, there might not be much software that use either in the future.

Update: I’m happy to know I’m not the only one who feels this way.  Dan Bernier shared this related post with me: Your App Is Not Better Than An Open Protocol.

How do I view source in the Android browser?

by Ben

html – How do I view source in the Android browser? – Android Enthusiasts Stack Exchange.

As a bookmarklet: javascript:document.location='view-source:'+document.location;

How to allow auto-update of apps in Play Store only when plugged in?

by Ben

4.1 jelly bean – How to allow auto-update of apps in Play Store only when plugged in? – Android Enthusiasts Stack Exchange.

My answer:

The closest I’ve come is combining two settings. I do this on two devices, one running Android 4.4.4 (KitKat) and another running Android 5.0.2 (Lollipop).

  • System Settings → Wi-Fi → Advanced → Keep Wi-Fi on during sleep → Only when plugged in
  • Play Store → Settings → Auto-update apps → Auto-update apps over Wi-Fi only

It seems to pick up updates at least a little more often when it’s plugged in. It’s not perfect, but it’s not a bad half-solution, and it doesn’t require Tasker or rooting.

Microsoft to invest in Cyanogen, which hopes to take Android from Google

by Ben

Microsoft to invest in Cyanogen, which hopes to take Android from Google | Ars Technica.

A Microsoft investment in the company would be the latest in Redmond’s ironic ties to Android. Microsoft is thought to make more from Android patent licensing fees than it does from Windows Phone, and through its purchase of Nokia, the company even briefly sold Android-based handsets. Now, according to the Journal, Microsoft will become an investor in a company that sells an Android distribution.

This is good news for AOSP, and hopefully Android as a whole. Having more Android investment from companies other than Google is a good thing.

Android app: SMS Backup +

by Ben

SMS Backup + – Android Apps on Google Play.

Backup Android SMS, MMS and call log to Gmail / Gcal / IMAP

Easily one of the more interesting apps I’ve found recently. This makes your texts searchable and restorable, can use vanilla IMAP, and is even open source.

iMessage deactivation problems earn Apple a federal lawsuit

by Ben

iMessage deactivation problems earn Apple a federal lawsuit | Ars Technica.

I got a new phone over the summer, and it took me a while to realize that it couldn’t receive some text messages.  It seemed to randomly fail; sometimes it would work, sometimes it wouldn’t.  Eventually I found out that iPhone users couldn’t text me if they had texted me before. The problem was that I no longer had an iPhone; I had switched to Android.  Apple’s iMessage was intercepting my texts because I didn’t know to turn off iMessage on my old phone before wiping and selling it. That was an unexpected pain when switching from an iPhone to a competitor’s phone.

I found an Apple knowledgebase article about the issue, which instructed me to call Apple support.  To my surprise, the only option for support was to pay a pretty hefty service fee — which was thankfully waived after I explained the iMessage bug.  Apple explained that it was a known issue, and they then instructed me to contact everyone I knew who had texted me from their iPhone to tell them to delete all the threads that I had been a part of.  (I almost fell out of my chair when I heard that.)  They also said that my contacts could also turn off iMessage entirely to avoid the problem for me and any other contacts that might switch from an iPhone (e.g. my wife) — which I recommended to everyone I talked to.

Those were incredibly awkward conversations to have, particularly because several iPhone users seemed to think that I was contacting them because of a text messaging bug in Android.  (Keep in mind that most non-technical users don’t know the difference between an iMessage text message and an SMS text message.)  I’m sure that a few still think that Android is buggy and are now afraid to switch away from Apple products in fear that they won’t receive any text messages.  It’s not hard to think of a few reasons that Apple would take years to fix this problem.

To be clear, iMessage was a problem for me even when I used an iPhone daily.  The service has had a surprising number of issues that have prevented users from receiving messages, though most of those were fixed in a relatively-timely manner.  For example, I had serveral problems with multi-person threads.  Ironically, I wouldn’t receive any messages from the other iPhone users on the thread, but the Android users would get messages just fine.  The iMessages went into oblivion, and I would just get a confusing half of a conversation from the Android user who was obviously responding to something that had been said.  That happened multiple times over a period of months; it wasn’t just a couple of forgivable, short service disruptions.

It’s still my recommendation to turn iMessage off, especially if you have free text messages as a part of your phone service.  All it takes is a trip to “Settings.”