Sunday, June 18, 2017

FAQ: Pocket Casts on my iPhone or Android device shows duplicate episodes of Phones Show Chat (or similar)

This seems to be an issue that keeps cropping up and I wanted to get some thoughts down somewhere as to what's going on.

For starters, there's nothing wrong with the RSS file for each podcast - this is the plain text file that tells podcatchers which episodes are available and where to grab them from. There's nothing to go wrong here, other than the occasional typo, which I'd typically pick up very quickly.

Every other podcatcher on every platform (I've tried over a dozen on Android, iOS, Windows Phone and Blackberry) reads this RSS file fine and podcasts appear as they should.

But then there's Pocket Casts, probably the most popular third party podcatcher in the phone world. This goes one step further than the podcatcher itself grabbing the RSS (or XML) file for each of your favourite podcasts. Instead, it grabs them all onto a custom server, the idea being that each client round the world doesn't have to grab the same old RSS files time and time again - it simply has to sync with the Pocket Casts server and the latter will tell it what's new.

Unfortunately, all of this depends on the logic built into the server code by Shifty Jelly, Pocket Casts' developer. And when the logic doesn't allow for typical Internet 'glitches' then things can go haywire.

What seems to be happening is that after I publish my new RSS file, with a new podcast episode mentioned in it, to my web server, the Pocket Casts server grabs it immediately and all is usually well. But the server isn't just grabbing the file once, it's hammering podcast URLs around the world (I'm guessing once every minute) through the day. So, for a big web host (I use Names) with many servers and levels of caching, it's possible that in the first few minutes or so after a major file change, the 'old' file might be available on the right URL, while all the various servers and mirrors sort themselves out.

This shouldn't cause an issue - logic dictates that the file might be older and should be ignored. Or perhaps, acting properly, Pocket Casts' server should receive this temporary copy of the 'old' RSS file and remove the new episode? After all, for all it knows, I might have pulled the episode for editorial reasons!

What actually happens is that the PC server spots the new episode and makes it available for all synced clients. It might sometimes then (in the first few minutes) spot an old copy and resets the RSS file timestamp/baseline in its database to this. A few minutes later, it sees the new/proper RSS file again and says 'Oh, this is new' - again - and parses the newest entry, adding this too to its database. Again.

Rinse and repeat and you can see why some people using Pocket Casts might be seeing multiple 'copies' of a podcast.

This is purely down to how the logic on Pocket Casts' server handles temporary caching glitches from web servers. And I can't believe it's beyond Shifty Jelly's programming skills to get this one right. It's NOT rocket science for a line of code to recognise that the database entry it's trying to add matches the one it added five minutes previously and to then abort the addition.

I'd welcome comment from Shifty Jelly, though all the code on their server is proprietary so fixing this is 100% down to them!

PS. I accept the observation that very few other podcasts are affected by this, but the RSS file is tiny, plain text and unambiguous. It can be read and understood by any podcatcher or browser at any time - and all of them do this perfectly... except the Pocket Casts server. Given that I can't do anything about the massive server farm run by Names, the logical thing is for Shifty Jelly to make its server code more...robust!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Twitter is a true public utility and SOMEONE needs to fund it properly

I'm sure I'm not the first person to suggest this, but here goes anyway:

Twitter is ubiquitous these days. News, tech, sports, celebrities, music events - Twitter and hashtags (etc.) are where EVERYONE finds out what's happening and what other people think about what's happening. Quickly and succinctly (140 chars etc) in real time.

From TV stations to radio to Internet hubs to the man in the street, Twitter is THE place to go - and yet we keep hearing that Twitter is struggling to make ends meet in terms of making a profit and so we have to put up with ads and sponsored tweets.

WHY DOES EVERYTHING IN THIS WORLD HAVE TO BE ABOUT MAKING A PROFIT? When something's genuinely and universally useful, why couldn't someone/something rich (think Apple, Google, or even the USA government) step in and fund Twitter out of their small change - the amounts concerned are relatively tiny.

Say 500 million dollars a year to staff and run. It sounds a lot to you or I but it's nothing to the big boys. In fact, I'm amazed that Google in particular hasn't bought up Twitter by now, it's such a natural fit.

Or - thinking laterally - I think Twitter could get 'there' using public support. 350 million users and I know a lot of the typical members of the public want everything to be free, but I'd bet that there are a LOT of users (including me) who would happily pay (say) $100 a year to keep Twitter going.

So, doing the maths, if only 1 in 70 Twitter users chipped in to this level, on average, then Twitter would be completely funded.

Just thinking out loud. Twitter is finding it hard to 'monetise' because its core service isn't about products, it's about real time one-to-many communications. My point is that it shouldn't HAVE to monetise. At all.

Comments welcome!

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Case review: Noreve Tradition E for Blackberry KEYone

You have to hand it to the guys at Noreve. Eschewing 'same day shipping', plastic and 'faux' everything, they go all out when they make phone cases:
  • real, high quality leather
  • metal inner/frame
  • deluxe packaging
  • each case made to order (they don't even have sample cases to send out for review!)
Put it all together and you get a sumptuous experience, here exemplified in the fabulous Tradition E for the new Blackberry KEYone. Noreve do a big line in folio (wrap around) cases, but in the KEYone's case I think an in-situ wrap-around design works best.
The finish of the leather is stunning and, unusually, there's no sign of stitching - the leather panelling is moulded neatly around the metal inner so that the seams are hidden behind the glued-in folds of material.
The phone is gripped very securely, with the metal angles of the case doing their job. The KEYone already includes some material, some texture, but only on the back - this gives an all-leather, all-the-time feel to the device, along with quite a bit of protection from every day knocks.

Although the KEYone only comes in black, I wanted to showcase here the colours that the leather produced for Noreve comes in - and the (Ferrari) red here is the height of decadence and luxury.
The right hand edge has just the one big cut-out for the KEYone's buttons, but this proves the best arrangement and there's no impediment to operation. Ditto at the bottom, with the bottom edge cut out so that you never feel like the case is getting in the way of your fingers or thumbs on the keyboard or sensor/space bar.
At 45 Euros (£40), this isn't cheap. In fact, it's downright expensive. AND you have to wait a couple of weeks while it's made to order and shipped. But it's worth it, if you want the best.

PS. Bonus, more generic link to Noreve's KEYone case range.

Alert! New! Update! Notification overload!

What is it with notifications? Every phone, every application, every smartwatch, tablet, every web site, every desktop OS... THEY ALL WANT TO KEEP BOMBARDING ME WITH NOTIFICATIONS!

Noisy, intrusive things. Beeping, flashing, distracting. Even in the middle of the night, waking me up.

I spend most of my days turning them off in every app, every OS, for every site, on every device. It's a game of whack-a-mole, trying to find the relevant Settings pane, switching notifications off for everything and hoping that an app update doesn't reset things to 'on' again.

But why should this be the case? Why not, for once, have an application default to not popping up notifications? Shouldn't this be something that the user turns on? By all means show me a tooltip or similar when I first start the app, reminding me that the notification system exists, but thereafter it should be up to me to turn on something noisy and distracting, surely?

24 hours a day, the only thing I want me phone or watch or laptop telling me is the arrival of an SMS (and even then, half of these are spam) or perhaps a Twitter DM. Everything else, repeat everything else should be silent.

Looking at the average teenager's phone these days (they leave everything on, it seems), notifications from something or other (including, social, games, etc.) come in every minute of the day. I know, I've watched them 'bing' and 'bloop' their way onto screens.

Every minute? Me, I'd rather know peace and quiet and enjoy the real world, turning to my tech at my convenience, not at that of some Internet notifications server.

Just me?

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Case round-up: Galaxy S8+

It's another case round-up, this time for the Samsung Galaxy S8+ - Mobile Fun have again come up with the goods and again I try and pick winners and losers.

The S8+, like many modern all-glass phones, simply can't be used naked, so a case is downright essential. Here are six of the best:

Olixar X-Trex Rugged Hard Case

The toughest case in this bunch, this follows the usual tough case mantra of inner and outer shells, though the inner one isn't as rubbery as you usually encounter and rather hard - not very impact absorbent.
There's a kickstand folded away into the back, as shown here - it works well enough, though is very plasticky and it's tough to click back into place afterwards.
More worryingly, there are design issues, like the aperture for the USB Type C, which wasn't quite large enough for my test cables and so the phone wouldn't charge.
Finally, the volume button covers are poorly made and I found it hard to change volume.
Overall, I can't recommend this, especially at £15 - it's too large, too plasticky, and too quirky.

Score: 5/10

Olixar X-Duo Carbon Fibre

A very slim two-piece in-situ case, this adds a nicely grippy back and gives the S8+ a much more secure feel in the hand. You'd have thought that the metal-effect outer rim, not in contact with the phone at all, would be made of something really substantial, but - disappointingly - it's very thin and weak plastic.
I realise that weight is important here, but I'd have liked to have seen a thicker and tougher rim. Still, the back is so well done, with the camera and port cutouts nicely sculpted and with a protective rim.
The feel in the hand is largely what counts, of course, and I had no complaints here. And, like all the cases here, the top and bottom front lips extend beyond the phone, so that a face-down drop won't impact the phone screen immediately.
Not bad, though less substantial than I'd have liked - an extra 5g of plastic would have done the trick, Olixar...

Score: 7/10

Obliq Slim Meta Gun Metal

Now this is what I call a tough case. Despite only adding a few millimetres in thickness, this two part affair looks the business and does it too. The back shell, with its chain mail effect texture, is really, really tough and durable, while the front half/inner is slightly softer and more absorbent.
The fit and finish and sculpting around the ports is first class too. Your Galaxy S8+ will be both protected and pretty, though as with most of the other cases here, you don't actually to get to see the £750 of high tech in glass that you originally paid for. Still, we can't have you dropping it and breaking it, can we? 8-)
Again, as with the other cases here, there's front protection in case you should happen to drop the phone face down:

Score: 9/10

Samsung 'Playful' 2 piece cover

The odd one out here by a million miles, this is left field thinking of the wackiest order. You know that ultra sticky/grippy rubber that you find on car dashboards and the like? Where anything just stays put, yet you can wipe it clean with soapy water?
Well, Samsung just put this inside a pair of plastic end caps for the S8+ - you literally pop them on the ends/backs, give them a bit of a squeeze and they - amazingly - stay on. Most of the time.
They're perfect if your goal with a case is to protect the phone when sliding it in and out of pockets or putting it down on rough and dirty desks, that sort of thing. But - somewhat obviously - they're no use at all if your goal is to protect the phone when you drop it onto a pavement or similar.

At the first impact, the end caps will come off - you may achieve some protection, but don't bank on it. Still... they look fun and I applaud the innovative thinking.

Score: 6/10

Olixar Leather Executive Wallet

This is the real deal, at least if you love leather and like folio-style cases, though it does come with an obvious caveat and a related, though not so obvious one.
The fit and finish is excellent and the leather is real, though not perhaps of the very highest quality. Cards fit in the front flap, the phone goes in its receptacle and you know what to do from there. Wallet and phone in one pocketable gadget.
What's not so obvious is that there's a hidden flap behind the clear phone receptacle - you can see it on the right in the photo above - this props the opened case up for media watching, as shown below.
The system works splendidly and keeps its mechanism and magnets away from your cards under the front flap, which is good.

What's not so good is that the receptacle, the extra flap and mechanism, and the back leather, all make for a case that's so thick that the camera and sensor island is deeply recessed:
The problem here is that it's hard to get your finger onto the fingerprint sensor - now this is partly Samsung's fault for putting the sensor in a stupid place, but it does mean that for this particular wallet case you'll have to rely on iris recognition or one of the other authentication mechanisms.

Score: 8/10

Ghostek Cloak 2 Silver/Gold

Another two piece design, with great materials (plastics, but dense and grippy/rubbery where needed), this comes with scratch protectors from the factory, i.e. to stop micro-scratches during packing!
The metal effect on the main gold back section here is simply stunning and makes this a premium option.
In terms of protection, this case is nigh on perfect. [On the box, it even declares that it comes with an 'explosion proof screen protector', presumably in the wake of Galaxy Note 7 woes. But I'm not a believer in screen protectors, I want to feel the phone's oleophobic screen under my fingers.]
I did have one issue - on the review sample case the volume buttons (shown below) didn't quite mate up properly, but I'm sure that this was a one-off production issue - the design looks top notch overall.

Score: 8/10

A handy selection of cases to protect the Galaxy S8+ then, but I'm going to declare the Obliq Slim the winner here - I realise that cases are very much a personal thing, but this one hits everything out of the park for me.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Overtaking and Formula 1 - admit it, it's essentially broken

I fell asleep several times... After 'the most glamorous race of the F1 season', I think I've had it with Formula 1 - Monaco may be the most glitzy circuit, but it's totally artificial and even a much faster car, with the aid of DRS, still can't get past a slower car because the city track if just too narrow. What IS the point?

If you can't actually race properly, then what IS the point?

Race after race, in fact, you hear the commentators saying 'Of course, it's hard to overtake on this track'. The whole DRS (Drag Reduction System) technology was designed to make passing easier, and it works on most tracks, but it's not exactly a racing overtake is it? I mean, the number of times car A passes car B, which then is 'within the 1s window' and has DRS to enable it to pass car A again.

I can count the number of genuine overtaking moves between the top cars in each season on the fingers of one hand. And that's not enough for 9 months of 'racing'.

For 2017, they even made the cars wider (for some reason) - why not make them 30% narrower, so that there's room on corners for more overtaking to happen? They'd be slower too (less downforce from the wings), and that would also help.

As ever, though the FIA is more about making money and TV rights and never mind keeping a sport a... you know, sport.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Review: AUKEY AC600 (Dual band Wifi adapter)

The story of our laptops and Wifi is a long, tortuous one. As our Dell and HP laptops have got older (3 and 5 years respectively), their built-in Wifi circuits seem to die. Not completely, but just enough that they lose connection every few hours and have to be power cycled (or the laptop turned on and off). A right pain.

So I bought a couple of cheap USB Wifi adapters and these seemed to sort the problem out, in that connections were far more stable - but limited to the 2.4GHz band. Which was a bit annoying since every other device in the house ran on the 5GHz band - faster and more reliable (away from Microwave and other interference).

So I bought a 5GHz-compliant adapter and... it died after a couple of days and was returned for a refund.

All was then quiet until I was sent the AUKEY AC600 here for review - a newer, hopefully more robust dual band (2.4/5GHz) adapter. So we've been giving it a go - and it has been rock solid. Even on the older laptops.

It's tough to write much about something as humble as a Wifi USB dongle. It either works or it doesn't. And this is definitely the former. Oh yes, and a little green light flashes on top to let you know that data is being transferred. Which is... handy.

At only £9 on Amazon UK this is something of a bargain in terms of bringing new life and faster connectivity to older PC hardware. Recommended.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

LG G6 case round-up/review

Mobile Fun kindly sent over a bunch of LG G6 cases to review and, on the whole, I was impressed. Here are my assessments:

Zizo Bolt Cover

I picture this case being used while hiking up the mountains - the belt clip included is super-tough and heavy duty in grippy black neoprene-covered polycarbonate, while the case itself is a two piece design, in super-textured red plastic outside of a slightly softer (impact-absorbing) black inner shell.

A kick stand is included in the back, giving this case an extra string to its bow.

My only complaint here, other than the obvious increase to the phone's thickness, is that the volume buttons are hard to press through all the plastic. Maybe you'd get used to this, plus if you're manly (or womanly) enough to be out in all weathers in the first place then your fingers would have more strength than mine!

The G6 slips in easily and isn't too bad to take out, even without separating the two parts of the case, i.e. it can be treated as one.

Score: 9/10

VRS Design High Pro Shield

Another two part design, but this time more style-focussed,  with much softer outer and inner plastic.

In fact, the VRS Design here has produced something that simply isn't grippy enough, since the outer gold ring is super-smooth and has no texture, making the case almost as easy to drop as the bare G6, which partly foils the point. True, the phone is protected when it hits the tarmac, but shouldn't a case at least partly make dropping the phone harder in the first place?

The galling bit is that the central panel on the case's back is beautifully textured, with a brushed metal effect - on plastic! Why wasn't this used for the thin gold outer ring?

More grip needed all round.

Score: 7/10

Olixar leather-style Wallet Stand

Creating a good folio case is tough. Put in material too thick and the overall phone, when it's all folded over, is too thick. Make it too thin and there's not enough protection. I think Olixar has got this one about right in terms of materials, with lovely feel and smell, and with decent opened-out 'stand' for watching media, even if you do have to tuck the magnetic closure underneath the front of the case, which looks a bit untidy.

There are some Achilles heels here though, and they're to do with the G6's layout. For starters, the power/fingerprint button/sensor ends up so recessed that (cased) it's hard to turn the phone on. I do think that larger openings on the case's back would have allowed easier finger access to the sensor.

Secondly, with the folio merely opened, the volume buttons are hard to operate, requiring the use of a second hand, which isn't always convenient. So you end up tucking the front around behind the phone, which never feels 'right'.

It's all a compromise too far at the moment - all for the benefit of the 'stand' and that folio protection.

Score: 6/10

Ringke Fusion

At first you see a clear plastic case and think that we're going cheap and bottom end, but looks are deceptive here. There inner and outer protective films that have to be peeled off before use - this is to make sure that the clear TPU is pristine and shows the pretty back of your LG G6 off to good advantage. That there are films at all is a sign of quality.

The 'Fusion' bit in the name refers to the use of rubber for the case sides, 'fused' to plastic. This works pretty well, though is perhaps a touch of overkill.

Then there's the feel in the hand, the easy access to the fingerprint sensor (not too small, this time!), and the little flaps over the 3.5mm headphone socket and the USB Type C port. The flaps don't add anything to the G6's waterproofing, they're more to stop dust and other foreign objects getting in and impeding actual functioning. I guess they could be snipped off with scissors if you really didn't like them.

If I had a complaint it would be that the TPU is a little too soft, it always felt like it was about to break away or tear - I doubt it would have, but there's just a bit too much give for my liking.

I'm not convinced that this is worth £15, but snap it up for under a tenner or on offer and it's certainly one of the more premium clear TPU efforts out there.

Score: 8/10

Spigen Thin Fit

Spigen don't mess around - their cases always fit immaculately and this is no exception. Although I wouldn't choose the white version personally (it looks a little odd on my black G6), the feel in the hand is first class.

Perhaps a little too slippy - I'd have liked to have seen a more textured finish and I wonder whether the black version offers this?

Regardless, the grip on the G6 itself is amazing and, once in place, it feels like the Spigen case is never going to let go again. Not when the phone hits the concrete, not when I want to stop reviewing it and move on to the next case(!)

Score: 8/10

Olixar Flexishield

There's a reason that TPU cases are popular - they offer the maximum grip and protection with the minimum of extra bulk. And the Flexishield is no different - really well made in terms of fit and finish, providing outstanding grip in the hand.

Your grip on the G6 is absolute and you essentially forget that you've bought a £600 metal phone - all you feel is shiny and grippy black plastic. Which is another rant for another day, of course.

My one complaint would be that the TPU is 'gloss' rather than 'matt', meaning that it does show fingerprints - maybe Olixar could add some texture to break up the shiny back?

This is also by far the cheapest case in the review bunch, as you might expect, but it's also the most generally applicable.

Score: 9/10