Pizza and Karate

Wednesday night is karate night. Not for me, but all three of the boys spend an hour improving their martial arts. It’s an interesting sport and one from which (I hope) all three are benefiting. This is certainly the case for the eldest who has already competed in several tournaments and who is in training for his next.

Since I am home before the karate lesson finishes, organising dinner often falls to me, which is handy because Wednesday night is also cheap pizza night — any pizza for €6.50. They’re good pizzas, too.

Over the years, several pizzerias have come and gone locally, but this one has always remained. It’s been through a couple of changes of ownership while we’ve been in Belgium, but the restaurant itself has remained pretty much unchanged — cheap, friendly and reliable. Clearly, a winning formula is not to be messed with.

So here I sit, enjoying a glass of Duvel and finding myself being pleasantly surprised by the WordPress app.

I installed this app some time ago, back when this blog was still self-hosted, and… it wasn’t very good. The app had a rather annoying habit of freezing — generally when I wanted to upload a draft — which led to me removing the app out of frustration.

Now that I have WordPress hosting the blog for, I thought I’d give the app another go. It’s not always as intuitive as I would like but it does seem to be a lot more reliable now and I have been able to successfully use it to follow conversations where possible.

The acid test, of course, will be to see what happens when I press the Publish button.

Kobo in my Pocket

I have, over the years, acquired a surprisingly sizable collection of eBooks and, after trying several cheapskate alternatives have finally had to face the fact that you really do need a dedicated eReader if you want to read an eBook comfortably. So I bought a Kobo. Specifically, a Kobo Aura H2O which I could (in theory, at least) read in the bath.

It’s a nice device and I am finding myself using it more and more. The text is sharp and clear and the backlight redshifts as the evening wears on so that you can read it in bed without disturbing your partner or straining your eyes.

The real killer feature for me, though, is the Pocket integration.

Pocket is not something I have really looked at in the past but, since the Kobo integrates with it I thought I would take a look. And this has proven to be fantastic.

With a traditional PC or phone screen, I find that there is a limit to the length of article I am willing to read. It doesn’t matter how interesting or useful the article is, I always reach a point at which I start scanning to the end of it — I’m not alone in this.

But now, rather than skimming, I save longer articles to Pocket so that when I get home they are all on the Kobo, patiently waiting for me to make myself a nice cup of tea before I sit back on the couch and catch up on the day’s reading.

Better than that, though, is that with a little IFTTT tinkering I have the RSS feed for The Observer coming straight into Pocket and direct to the Kobo. It’s not quite like reading a Sunday paper again, but it’s probably as close as I will ever get.

Give me convenience, or give me death

GNOME Foundation partners with Purism to support its efforts to build the Librem 5 smartphone

The GNOME Foundation has provided their endorsement and support of Purism’s efforts to build the Librem 5, which if successful will be the world’s first free and open smartphone with end-to-end encryption and enhanced user protections.

Emphasis mine.

My GNOME desktop is great and provides a UI that could easily be ported to a mobile device. I would certainly like to see a truly open smartphone succeed. However, I am skeptical of the chances of this one, not for any technical or functional but because of the sheer size of the Android and Apple ecosystems.

Anyone trying to get into the smartphone market faces the same Catch-22: the user base isn’t big enough to appeal to app developers and the paucity of apps deters people from migrating to the platform.

The current duopoly is not fixed forever, but it will take a company the size of Samsung to break it.

Digital dufferdom

I have to admit that, when I heard that Nokia was planning to re-enter the smartphone market I was more than a little interested. And the Nokia 8 does sound very appealing — stock Android, frequent updates and all from a company that, for all its managerial missteps, has always been very good at engineering.

And then I saw this quote from Pekka Rantala who has the job of reviving the brand:

The phones resonate well with older generations – we’re not excluding them.

I have the horrible feeling that they know me too well.

Crowdsourcing road safety

Ping if you care: volunteers map cycling danger spots

The Brussels-Capital Region has launched a pilot project that will allow cyclists to contribute to a map showing the danger spots on the region’s roads. Secretary of state for road safety Bianca Debaets sent out 540 volunteers this week equipped with “pingers” linked to an app that highlights dangers.

Each volunteer uses an app, connected by Bluetooth to a piece of kit attached to their handlebars like a bicycle bell. If the cyclist feels unsafe on the road at any point, they tap once on the pinger and the app records the location.

Once the information is uploaded to the database, along with any feedback the cyclist wants to give, it can be added to a map of the most dangerous places for cyclists on the region’s roads. It would then be up to the authorities to do something to remedy the situation if possible – in the case of a dangerous junction, for example, though not in the case of a vehicle parked on a cycle path.

Ping If You Care is one of those ideas that is both brilliant and really obvious now that someone else has thought of it.

Removing crapware from the phone

After wasting my time last night, I realised where I’d gone wrong. It appears that the Google Apps Installer on the Fairphone installs the Google Apps as System Apps. So they can’t (easily) be removed and the factory reset does nothing to them.

So what I need to use is the /system/app mover and BusyBox to make the system apps into user apps.

I have tried this with iFixit and successfully removed the default version and upgraded to the F-Droid version.

Going through the actual Google apps will require a little more care and may take some time.

Update

Now I’m confused. I’ve just glanced at the phone and the Google Apps appear to have vanished. The only thing I can think is that, when I restarted the phone, some cleanup happened. But the apps are removed, which is what I was trying to achieve, even if I’m not entirely sure how I achieved it.

Removing Google Apps from a Fairphone

One of the nice things about the Fairphone is that none of the Google Apps are installed by default. There is a widget that allows you to manually install them and, when I received my phone back in 2014 I hesitated briefly, then tapped it.

This means, of course, that if I want to scrape all of these apps off my phone, the easiest approach is to backup and reset.

It worked, but the results aren’t quite what I expected. I still see apps like the Play Store, Gmail and Google+ on my phone, which leaves me wondering what the Google Apps Installer actually installs. This also means that my phone is still a lot less Googly than I would like and I have simply managed to find the slow way of removing an account.

However, I went ahead and installed F-Droid and started searching for current apps or replacements. This was successful and F-Droid does have everything I want, and more more. The only quirk I encountered was with the iFixit app which was installed by default on the phone. F-Droid tells me there is an upgrade, which I can’t install without first removing the original app. And I can’t remove the original app.

The Fairphone 1 is rooted by default, so I should be able to remove this. But right now, it’s late and I’m going to bed.

Eight questions to ask before buying that IoT gadget

Because, Of course smart homes are targets for hackers

  • Does the vendor publish a security contact? (If not, they don’t care about security)
  • Does the vendor provide frequent software updates, even for devices that are several years old? (If not, they don’t care about security)
  • Has the vendor ever denied a security issue that turned out to be real? (If so, they care more about PR than security)
  • Is the vendor able to provide the source code to any open source components they use? (If not, they don’t know which software is in their own product and so don’t care about security, and also they’re probably infringing my copyright)
  • Do they mark updates as fixing security bugs? (If not, they care more about hiding security issues than fixing them)
  • Has the vendor ever threatened to prosecute a security researcher? (If so, again, they care more about PR than security)
  • Does the vendor provide a public minimum support period for the device? (If not, they don’t care about security or their users)

Remounting a read-only filesystem on Android

Following on from my last post, I figured that copying the hosts file from my laptop to my phone would be a very good idea. In principle, this is just a case of getting the file onto my phone and then copying it to /etc/hosts.

Obviously, I need root access to do this but, with a Fairphone 1 this is not a problem.

What did catch me out, though, is that /system is mounted as a read only file system. It’s not difficult to get around, but I am noting it here so I can easily look up the steps when I next do this.

# mount -o rw,remount /system
# cp /storage/sdcard0/Download/hosts /etc
# mount -o ro,remount /system

For other phones, some pathnames may vary.