Galaxy Gear Wednesday, 26 February 2014  
I got a Galaxy Gear recently. Its a nice device, albeit slightly ugly and has oodles of potential - with 512MB RAM and 4GB SD card, its actually overpowered because theres not much you can do with it. I like the home screen - nice and clear and big. But thats about it.

Samsung have really underplayed what this device can do and the XDA forums has lots of stuff to keep hackers happy - from custom watch faces to installing a browser and more.

I write this blog, not because I want to review or praise the device but I just wish Samsung could write software.

For starters - the gear manager app is buggy. Very buggy. It corrupts its own database - I have 4 "Touchwiz Home" apps I can add to my watch and this grows everytime I visit the myapps/add-app menu. And it hangs and crashes.

The Samsung app store hangs if I try to do anything in it - simply appalling. No amount of reinstalling seems to help.

But theres two things that have driven me nuts -

The first was "Weather" updates. Took me a *month* to figure out why it had stopped on Xmas day and not updated in the entire month of January. (Solution: enable location services. Why? WTF).

Ok - thats fixed. I wish the weather app had more than a week of data or could show graphs (like the Suunto watches could years ago).

This one has me beat: the settings app on the watch has gone missing. This is fun. I cant find out how much battery life is left on the watch. I dont know where the settings app has gone (despite restarts; I havent tried reinstalls as yet). What is worse...trying doing a google search for "Galaxy Gear settings". Not a fun way to browse the interweb.

My RSS feed ( is now working nicely - have used less than 20MB of mobile bandwidth in a week, rather than 50-75MB in a day by visiting websites full of bloat.

And am continuing work on the ptrace (strace replacement) as I now have the ability to sandbox the filesystem and manipulate files which apps try to open. I'll update at a later time when more of it is working, but you may see tweets of new releases going out.

Posted at 22:41:38 by fox | Permalink Monday, 17 February 2014  
I've fixed a number of bugs, and added more sites, and added compression. This RSS feed reader is designed to optimise bandwidth by avoiding the download of images, or excess javascript/html garbage and avoid the "I wonder whats changed on *this* website...hmmm...nothing".

I added compression. Typically this is getting 2.8x compression size. This means the first page - 200kb, comes out at a cost of ~70kb of download. This typically contains the last few hours of 5-10 websites, and means my data usage has/should plummet (from a peak of 50MB/day) to more like 2-3MB/day.

My goal is to consistently use no more than ~100MB/month. Keep watching to see how the diet goes.

I may need to do something about - a useful site, especially if you are in the UK. But the rate of new items - most of them of no interest to me, tends to decrease the signal/noise ratio.

I havent implemented cookies yet - I might do, simply so that the tool could annotate where you have left off from a prior page download. However, its not clear if this is that useful - not unless you are refreshing at a rate of less than 1h - in which case it can be useful.

Posted at 22:57:33 by fox | Permalink
  Tales from the RSS.... Saturday, 15 February 2014  
RSS has been around a long time. There are so many readers and apps. Its pretty boring.

Or is it?

My mobile SIM is data limited - 500MB/month. I am a tight person - I dont need minutes and texts, and the data is fine for odd browsing. I would never watch video or listen to music over the 3G airwaves.

But my vendor does something strange: for a zero cost per month, they shove adverts, piggy backed onto the web pages you look at. Before they did this in earnest, life was ok. I could get through 250MB of data a month - and managed to squeeze this down with the excellent off-road mode of the Opera browser, on Android.

Alas, they blocked that. So, my bandwidth was back to 250MB/mon. But the way they do adverts - very broken, typically is doubling that - more like 500MB/mon - because once a page has downloaded, they tack on some form of redirect, and take you to the advert page. To get back to the page you were browsing is another full copy of the page. (They increased the free data allowance from 400MB to 500MB, possibly an indication they knew what they were doing).

In addition, over recent months, they have been suffering capacity problems, so a lot of the time, I would never get to my page of interest - although a lot of data was being downloaded, consuming bandwidth.

So, lets revisit the appalling state of all browsers on Android today.

First: Opera - simply the best - but alas, looking under nourished. With off-road mode and data compression, along with *settings* (yes! Settings!...see below), the ability to disable images - wins on the bandwidth usage. Typical data savings are at the 75% mark. Brilliant. Except my provider has blocked the off road mode, or Opera has stopped supporting it.

Next: Chrome. Severely rubbish. I dont care that it comes from Google. It is undernourished and lacking *SETTINGS*. No ability to control the browser or adblock. The recently introduced compression feature achieves around 10% bandwidth saving. Pure rubbish. The UI for Chrome is utter junk. So many clicks to get to the bookmarks and select a new page.

"Next": an ok browser, but lack of settings, nothing to write home about.

"Firefox": potentially good - lots of features and settings, but an annoying interface. Far superior to chrome.

Dolphin: the "best", after Opera. I dont like its version of the speed-dial page, but it suffices and is easy to configure.

Ok - so a brief run down of a bunch of browsers. I have used others, but none of them appear good enough to spend a few minutes on my phone.

Back to RSS: most RSS readers are rubbish. There is no control and determining bandwidth usage is nearly impossible.

So I wrote my own - again. My first RSS app was for CRiSP - its still there today, for web crawling and news reading in the contents page. But I wanted to avoid CRiSP and have a simple customised app - one I can run on my internet facing 24x7 machine at home, and use this for collecting RSS data from my mobile. This means stripping out the garbage in many RSS feeds, and being as minimalistic as possible. Its controlled from a rss.cfg file stored with the source file (a Perl script). In the browser, you can navigate fairly well. And it means I can grab a ton of news, and fit it into a 200kb page/download. That means I can trim my download data significantly, and possibly get to 100MB/mon instead of 500+MB/mon. And the page loads instantaneously - no images or other html things to slow page loading.

You can try it here:

Theres no sign up - you get what I give you and have configured my end. Theres nothing special about this page - except the need to be ultra fast, ultra compact and avoid the issue caused by all browsers being designed to render at speed and provide zero support for data allowances.

The initial version took about 4h of effort to write. So far, the effort is around the 20h mark. It took about 3 minutes to make the RSS aggregator into a web server (about 10 lines of pure Perl). It deliberately doesnt do anything clever - other than restrict the files you can download. I may add cookies at a later date (just so that it can be cleverer about the deltas it sends you, but the 200k/page size limit means we dont have to be so clever - yet).

It could do with decent CSS support.

One thing I have yet to verify is the HTML. The web page is deliberately ill-formed HTML, which I think has the benefit that my provider cannot daisy chain adverts on to it. I will know in a few days if this is true or not, and will experiment to see how they do this. (Using a non-standard port helps; not being a properly HTML conformant page helps too).

Posted at 23:21:26 by fox | Permalink