Thursday, April 6, 2017

Automagic: Flashlight-A global variable project

With my new phone, I've been automating some repetitive things I need it to do.  Future blog posts will talk about settings I've made for different times of the day.  And a post I've already done talks about using Automagic to get around an Android Auto bug (feature?).

My Google Pixel running Nougat has a nice flashlight feature. It can be turned on my pulling down the setting menu and touching a small icon. That's not always convenient.

I was surprised there was no widget.

I discovered one of the Actions in Automagic was turning on and off the flashlight.

But how to do that without having two of Automagic's widgets, one for on, and another for off?

Then I discovered one of Automagic's Triggers can be a change in a Global Variable. When ever the value of a Global Variable changes, a flow is begun.  And depending on the value of the variable, the path of the flow can be altered.

So I created the flow shown here. A Global Variable named global_flashlight, a binary variable, is the trigger to two other Actions: Flashlight On, and Flashlight Off.

On the main screen of my phone is an Automagic Toggle Widget. When pressed it toggles the value of global_flashlight, thus triggering the flow and turning the light on or off.

Global Variables can be found in the menu on the main screen under Manage.

Download Flow

Sunday, March 12, 2017

A blog returns to its roots...my adventures in tech - starting with my new cell phone

When I began this blog back in 2008, it was a log of my adventures in tech.  The idea was not so much that others would  be interested in every one of the entries, but instead, if I solved a problem that solution might be discovered by someone else searching for a solution to the same problem.

And then I let it lapse into mostly posts pointing to my most recent column.  Recently, I withdrew the column from InsideNova.  There may be a future column for another outlet; details as they develop.

My latest post was more in the old vein. I had a problem with Android Auto, investigated it and found others had reported it.  I also came up with a work around.

I just bought my next smartphone; my fourth.  It made me think about the path to here.  I just re-read some of my posts about my first smart phone.  It was a Samsung Instinct back in 2008.

I replaced it with a Samsung S3 in 2012, my first Android phone, and then a LG G3 in 2014.  I kept the G3 longer than any phone; almost 30 months.  That is longer than most people it seems, but is in keeping with a trend of people keeping their phones longer, as Business Insider explained recently.

The LG G3 served me well. As a geek though, and a columnist, I want the latest version of Android to play with. My wife's iPhone and Watch keep me up to speed on that end of the equation.

Sprint, my provider, turned out to be the only carrier to not upgrade the G3 to Marshmallow.  What's worse, is they lied to me about their intentions to do so.

So it was with bated breath to see what Google would bring out to replace their aging Nexus phones. Phone's from Google do not rely on the manufacturer to modify the latest Android for the phone, and then the carrier to further test and modify it and push it out.

That can take a long time, if it happens at all.  If one were cynical, you'd think carriers do not want phones over a year old to have the latest version. It might keep people holding on to their phones a bit longer and not buying an upgrade.

The Google Pixel phones seemed awesome but expensive. I soldiered on with my G3.  I had a small fleet of batteries and two chargers that would charge the battery out of the phone. That was the phone's downfall.  I swapped batteries almost daily. Finally, one battery contact started to go bad.  At the end I could get a battery to make contact if I fiddled long enough. I knew I had to leave that battery in place. The phone also shutdown at random due to that bad contact. And the Bluetooth went out, something others had seen in aging G3s.

I was waiting for the Pixel XL 128 gigabyte to be available, but the LG was dying fast, so I pulled the trigger on a Pixel XL with 32 gigabytes. I'm not sorry. The 128 is still not available.  And I have 100 apps on the phone (that I actually use) and have only about half filled the phone.

What do people do with 128 gigabytes?  I don't listen to a lot of music. And my photos and videos upload to Google Photo, so other than apps and my current podcasts there is little else on my phone.  That's how I work; others might need more space.

The Pixels have a built in battery.  The phone came with two type-C USB cables and I immediately bought two more. I have the rapid charger in my home office, a cable hooked to a standard Android charger next to the bed, another in my car and the final one at my desk at work.

Turns out I didn't really need those two extra cables.  The battery is awesome!  I commute 45 minutes each way with Android Auto on, Google Maps navigating and podcasts playing. At work, I don't use the phone that much, but  on the way home I'm also calling and texting by dictating via Google Assistant. By the time I go to bed, I still have several hours left on the battery.  And I use the phone a lot for surfing.

My battery status right now.

And the rapid charger can charge the phone in 15 minutes for seven hours of use.

And the beauty of this phone most of all -- I'll get the next Android version--probably the next several.

I can't wait for Google IO in May now more than ever.


Thursday, March 9, 2017

Using Automagic to get around a bug in Android Auto

I recently purchased a Google Pixel XL 32g phone. It is by far the best phone I've owned.

It is great company on my daily commute. The Android Auto app warns me of traffic, plays my podcasts for me, and lets me dictate text messages.  I've combined it with ReadItToMe so that my incoming text messages are read aloud.

I noticed on my first afternoon commute though the Do Not Disturb icon was turned on on my Android watch. At the next traffic light I discovered that Do Not Disturb was on on the phone as well.

A Google search at home found I was not alone in noticing/suffering this.  The Android Product Forum had mention of it.

People first reported this back in November 2016, so hopefully a fix will be coming.

Meanwhile, I worked out a workaround using AutoMagic.

The flow below detects the launch of Android Auto and then turns off Do Not Disturb by setting the Ringer on, and turning the audio volume up. I have tested it briefly here at home, but not yet on a commute.



Update: 3/10/2017 A link to the XML file to make this flow in AutoMagic.


Update: 3/14/2017:  I am finding this does not always work reliably. Use at your own risk.  It may also interfere with navigation.  Testing continues...

Monday, February 27, 2017

"Hidden Figures" is a must see movie.

I lived and breathed the space race when I was a kid. I was four when the first Mercury went up, and twelve when they landed on the moon. One memory I have of First Grade is all of us trooping all the way across the street to the teacher's house and crowding into her living room to watch a Mercury launch (either Cooper or Schirra).

I can't imagine a boyhood without a space race.

For all my adoration and study (I gave away a huge box of books, magazines, newspapers, mission patches etc. in late high school), I never came across the story of the black women who served as "computers" for NASA right here in Virginia.

Today, a bit late, we saw "Hidden Figures". It is an awesome movie. It is appropriate for all ages. Take your kids to see it. They can learn so much about the battle for racial and sexual equality, STEM, and yes, the space race.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Finally, Google Voice Updated!

After five years,Google has updated their Google Voice web site and apps.

I haven't seen it yet; these things roll out over weeks.  My Google Voice number is the ONLY number I give out, I'm thrilled to see their renewed commitment to Voice.

Voice is one of my corner stone apps; I would have to greatly rethink how I work if I didn't have it.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Family Tech: "CES 2017 shows off possible gifts for this year" - January 13, 2017

No sooner does the holiday gift giving season end then the consumer technology manufacturers meet in Las Vegas to try and sell what they think we will want this coming December.

Yes, CES, formerly called the Consumer Electronic Show, was held last weekend.

This is an annual column, and reading past ones just underlines that we can’t expect everything we love at CES to appear. Or the products may appear and not find favor with the buying public. A couple of years ago 3D TVs were the rage.  Did you ever buy one?

Last year I wrote about the Code-a-Pillar, a toy caterpillar from Fisher-Price that taught elements of programming.  We know one family that bought one, and we may buy one soon as a gift.

Fisher-Price again this year has an intriguing device-- an upgrade actually to their Smart-Cycle exercise bike for kids. It has a holder for a tablet; previous versions required a TV. It comes with an adventure game with literary value, with others available for only $5.  Kids can play a game, learn a little and burn off some calories -- all at the same time. It will come in June or July for $150.

Coming soon to your health club are exercise bikes with VR helmets. Imagine biking along San Francisco Bay, across the Golden Gate Bridge and down into Sausalito.  On your return a setting sun lies to your right, and as your exit the bridge, a full moon hangs above the TransAmerica Pyramid.  You’ll enjoy the ride I described. I know I did many times in my 30s. But on mine, I stopped for a beer in Sausalito.

Lego Mindstorm robotics kits are meant for older kids.  Their new Lego Boost is a $160 set for the younger set that contains components that move, interact with a phone or tablet app, and can be augmented by regular Lego bricks. Kids can make up to five devices after downloading the app that provides instructions and programming for the device.

A big winner at CES was Amazon’s Echo, the voice assistant device. Both Ford and Volkswagen announced they will be integrating Echo into their cars.  This will give you the ability to give voice commands to listen to music, podcasts, books, navigate and order toilet paper, all on your commute.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Family Tech : "Life can become much easier with online services" - January 6, 2016

If you are over 40, you must have a we-live-in-the-future moment every time you Skype video with someone.  It is amazing how quickly this kind of phone call has become commonplace. My 90-year-old mother regularly video calls with her great-granddaughter, and she is hardly unique. In my experience, even the most tech resistant senior makes the effort to learn how to video call.

Now there are some innovative ways to bring valuable services via the same technology. Professionals can efficiently reach their customers/patients via online video services.

Primary among these is video psychological counseling.  Instead of driving to an office, a patient simply Skypes in and has a conversation with a therapist.  Some really like the casualness of it.  There is no sitting in a waiting room where you might feel like others there are judging you. Instead, in the comfort and safety of your own home, you are having a session with someone who wants to help you. And some studies have apparently shown online counseling can be nearly as effective as face-to-face counseling.
Online visits simplify child-care concerns.