Older blog entries for etbe (starting at number 1069)

Scratching a Galaxy S

Some years ago when I first got a LG U990 Viewty (which in some ways is the best phone I ever owned) I went swimming and left my phone in my bag. My phone happened to rest on my car keys and had vibration mode enabled, after a couple of missed calls I had a nasty scratched area on the phone screen. Since then I’ve been very wary about allowing metal objects to come in contact with a phone screen.

Now I have a Samsung Galaxy S with some sort of motherboard damage (it won’t even boot and I know it’s not a software issue because it was initially intermittent). A phone that old isn’t worth repairing (they sell on ebay for as little as $50) so it seemed worth testing how hard the screen is. The screen cover is Gorilla Glass which was the hardest glass available at the time the phone was new (apparently there are better versions of Gorilla Glass available now and my more recent phones should be tougher).

My first test was with one of my favorite Japanese kitchen knives, it didn’t scratch at all. Then I chose a knife sharpening stone as an obvious item that’s harder than a knife, it scratched the screen easily. A quartz pebble also scratched the screen when I used some force, so presumably concrete and brick would also scratch it. Tests with all current Australian coins and my car keys showed that the screen is too hard to be scratched by them. I also tested hitting the phone screen with my keys, I hit it much harder than would happen if I was to run while having my phone and my keys in the same pocket and there was no damage.

My conclusion is that any metal object you are likely to carry in your pocket is unlikely to cause any problem if knocked against the screen of a modern phone.

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Syndicated 2013-08-26 13:57:25 from etbe - Russell Coker

The End of Kogan Mobile

Kogan Mobile has just announced that Telstra succeeded in it’s attempt to break it’s contract with ISPone and thus end the Kogan Mobile business [1]. Over the last few years there has been a trend for all Australian telcos to increase mobile phone costs. There are some pre-paid companies that offer reasonable deals for people who don’t make many calls, but for people who make any significant amount of calls or use any significant amount of data transfer the prices have mostly been going up.

The big exceptions to the trend of increased prices were Kogan Mobile and Aldi who offered “unlimited” contracts at affordable rates. Kogan’s deal was initially $299 per annum (it was later increased a bit) for “unlimited” calls and SMS and 6G of data transfer per month (but not more than 1G in one day and not more than 3 days of more than 400M in a month). 6G per month is much more than most people could use in a month and 400M is enough data transfer that most people won’t be at risk of doing that 3 times in a month. While Kogan did impose some limits on calls and SMS they weren’t going to affect most people. So when I switched to Kogan I removed the apps that tracked bandwidth use and talked for as long as I wanted without bothering about cost. I don’t think I used much more data transfer or spoke for much longer, but it was good not to bother about such things.

Now it seems that Aldi Mobile [2] is the best remaining option for affordable mobile access in Australia for anyone who wants more than the basic use. Aldi’s option is $35 for 30 days of “unlimited” phone calls and SMS within Australia with 5G of data transfer, $420 for 360 days of “unlimited” calls and 5G of data per almost-month isn’t as good as $299 per 365/366 days and 6G of data per month. Only having 5G of data per almost-month isn’t a problem for me, but the significant increase in price is.

A big problem with Aldi is the limitations on “acceptable use” which aren’t as clear as for Kogan, Aldi gives “downloading gigabytes of data in a short period” as an example of unacceptable use, this isn’t nearly as good as Kogan’s daily limits of 3*400M or 1*1G in a month which can be tracked by software to avoid accidental breaches.

But I’ll use Aldi in spite of this risk. All the other telcos charge too much for plans which involve 2G of data per month. The 1.5G quota I had before Kogan was a real problem for me, I need a quota of at least 2G with no serious penalties for accidentally exceeding it or a quota that’s at least 3G.

Australia needs proper competition in the mobile phone market or significant government action. Forcing the current telcos to stop colluding would be one good option for the government but another option would be to create a government owned telco with a mandate to serve the public – much like Telstra was before John Howard sold it off.

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Syndicated 2013-08-20 14:55:06 from etbe - Russell Coker

Google web sites and Chromium CPU Use

Chromium is the free software build of the Google Chrome web browser. It’s essentially the same as the Google code but will often be an older version, particularly when you get Chromium from Debian/Stable (or any other Linux distribution that doesn’t track the latest versions all the time) and compare it to getting Chrome straight from Google.

My wife is using Chromium on an AMD Opteron 1212 for all the usual web browsing tasks. Recently I’ve noticed that it takes a lot of CPU time whenever she leaves a Google web site open, that can be Google+, Gmail, or Youtube.

Web standards are complex and it’s difficult to do everything the way that one might desire. Making a web browser that doesn’t take 100% CPU time when the user is away from their desk may be a difficult technical challenge. Designing a web site that doesn’t trigger such unwanted behavior in common web browsers might also be a challenge.

But when one company produces both a web browser and some web sites that get a lot of traffic it’s rather disappointing that they don’t get this right.

It could be that Google have fixed this in a more recent version of the Chrome source tree, and it could be that they fixed the browser code before rolling out a new version of Google+ etc which causes problems with the old version (which might explain why I’ve never seen this problem). But even if that is the case it’s still disappointing that they aren’t supporting older versions. There is a real need for computers that don’t need to be updated all the time, running a 3 month old Linux distribution such as Debian/Wheezy shouldn’t be a problem.

There’s also a possibility that part of the cause of the problem is that an Opteron 1212 is a relatively slow CPU by today’s standards and it’s the slowest system I’m currently supporting for serious desktop use. I don’t even think it was one of the fastest CPUs available when it was released 4 years ago. But I think we should be able to expect systems to remain usable for more than 4 years. The Opteron 1212 system is a Dell PowerEdge tower server that is used as a workstation and a file server, so while I get desktop systems with faster CPUs for free I want to keep using the old PowerEdge server to avoid data corruption. As an aside I’ve been storing important data on BTRFS for a year now and the only data loss I’ve suffered has been due to a faulty DIMM. The filesystem checksums built in to modern filesystems such as BTRFS and ZFS mean that RAM corruption covers a greater portion of the risk to data integrity and the greater complexity of the data structures in such filesystems gives the possibility of corruption that can’t be fixed without mkfs (as happened to me twice on the system with a bad DIMM).

The consequences of such wasted CPU use are reduced CPU time for other programs which might be doing something useful, extra electricity use, and more noise from CPU cooling fans (which is particularly annoying for me in this case).

Any suggesstions for reducing the CPU use of web browsers, particularly when idle?

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Syndicated 2013-08-15 11:29:29 from etbe - Russell Coker

Nexus 4 Ringke Fusion Case

LG Nexus 4 phone with Ringke Fusion case

I’ve been using Android phones for 2.5 years and for all my phones (Sony-Ericsson Xperia X10, Samsung Galaxy S, Samsung Galaxy S3, and LG Nexus 4) I’ve bought “gel” cases. The gel cases are made of soft rubber which allows phones to bounce rather than break if dropped and also provide better grip (both for holding the phone and for resting it on a vibrating surface such as a tray in a car or plane). The cases have cost me between $12.50 and $15, I haven’t felt inclined to pay any more because a case has always seemed like a needless expense, something that merely compensates for deficiencies in phone design.

There are some problems with the gel cases, the first one is that they are rather ugly, while I’m not really interested in decorating my phones it seems a waste to have a nice phone like the Nexus 4 which has a neat sparkling pattern on the back and then use a case that entirely covers it. The next problem is the fact that the gel cases tend to restrict access to the buttons on the outside of the case.

I have been given a Rearth Ringke Fusion case for my Nexus 4 by MobileZap (this is a link for the Nexus 4 cases they sell) [1]. The case features a transparent layer of plastic at the back which protects the phone against having the rear glass of the case break (a known risk with the Nexus 4) while still allowing the user to admire it. With good lighting the sparkling pattern on the back of the phone can still be enjoyed, unfortunately this doesn’t show up at all in my photo. It’s impossible for a photo to capture a shimmering effect although other photographers have done a better job at showing off a Nexus 4. Also the transparent back to the case gives the option of putting any form of decoration between the phone and the case, for example one could print the logo of their Ingress team and put it between the phone and the case.

One thing that is visible in the photo is the feet on the back of the case. With small feet at the corners the transparent back usually won’t touch a surface that it rests on, this should prevent unsightly scratches to the back of the case. Also the feet can get some grip on the surface that it rests on, my car has a tray suitable for resting a phone which has a pattern of dimples that catch the feet of the Ringke case and prevent it from sliding.

Finally the external buttons for power and volume control are not obstructed in any way. After using 7 phones of 4 different models with gel cases I’ve become accustomed to buttons either being difficult to press or easy to press accidentally. The Ringke case allows the buttons to be pressed easily when needed but doesn’t seem prone to accidental presses.

I’m not about to buy a new case for my Galaxy Note 2 (my main phone at the moment) because I don’t like paying to replace something that works. But next time I buy a case I’ll look for something better than a plain gel case, it’s worth paying an extra $9 to get a good case for a phone that costs $350 (the current discount rate for a Nexus 4) or more. I definitely recommend the Ringke case for a Nexus 4.

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Syndicated 2013-08-13 12:14:06 from etbe - Russell Coker

Religious Conversion

Today I was in the center of Melbourne and I saw two stands run by Muslims advocating their faith. They had a selection of DVDs and brochures to give away and seemed friendly enough for anyone who wanted a chat. I think that this is a good thing, if the majority of the Australian population would think of the Muslim minority as people who give away DVDs rather than as potential suicide bombers then it would be a great benefit for society.

Then I saw a Christian stand which had placards indicating that Jesus loves Muslims, which is fine. One of the workers on that stand then gleefully told me that there had been a Muslim stand in that area but the Muslims departed when they arrived. It would be good if advocates for the various religions could work together to promote positive things that they all agree on (generally related to being nice to other people). When they seem to be essentially bullying other religious groups into leaving the area they aren’t making a good case for a kind and caring god.

The Christian who was so happy about the Muslims departing then tried to convert me. He started by talking about a mobile phone not being able to appear from nothing which was the start of an utterly stupid argument about creationism. That was stupid firstly because it’s obvious that evolution doesn’t apply to consumer electronics, if I leave a phone lying on top of another phone overnight I’m not going to get some little phones appearing as a result.

But the bigger stupidity is in even promoting creationism in the first place. Advocating creationism is essentially claiming that god is so incapable that ze can’t manage an evolutionary process. An all-seeing all-knowing god of infinite intelligence could just create a plasma cloud that will form into a solar system and evolve life. People who argue for creationism don’t believe in a capable god, they believe in a being that resembles a god in the way a “magician” resembles someone who can actually perform magic. Arguing for creationism is arguing for a limited being which probably isn’t worthy of worship (why worship space aliens who are probably only a few thousand years ahead of us). Regardless of the scientific evidence (which is strongly in favor of evolution) just logically thinking about the issue in regard to what a being with infinite powers might actually do suggests that ze could just as easily create or evolve all life and probably wouldn’t care about what we believe. Genesis should be taken as metaphor because it’s obvious that nothing that’s taught in a year 7 science class could be taught to your typical stone age goat-herd, but even if it was taken literally it’s not specified as a required belief (as opposed to a belief in a single god, repenting sins, and other beliefs which are required).

The greatest stupidity however is the fact that even if it made any sense to promote creationism it wouldn’t make sense to do so immediately. Any time you want to convert someone to a set of beliefs it’s a good strategy to start with the ones which will seem least wacky. I can have have a conversation with Christians about positive things which we generally agree on such as donating to charity and trying to do good things in various ways. But when they start with the stupid stuff I walk away.

When the weather is better I plan to interview representatives of the various religious groups who are trying to convert people on the street and rate them according to how wacky they are. I’ll be a little limited in my ability to review them by the total lack of any right to free speech in Australia (our laws are much the same as those in the UK). But I should still be able to give them a reasonable review.

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Syndicated 2013-08-03 13:45:41 from etbe - Russell Coker

Links July 2013

Wayne Mcgregor gave an interesting TED talk about the creative processes of a choreographer [1]. The dancing in this talk is really good.

Melissa McEwan wrote an interesting article on whether being an “ally” to members of a disadvantaged group is a state or a process [2]. It seems to me that the word ally is a problem here, maybe a word like supporter would be more useful.

Ken Murray wrote an insightful article How Doctors Die about the end of life choices that people with medical experience make [3]. He makes a good case for rejecting the type of “treatment” which has a low probability of success and a certainty of lowering the quality of life. It would be good if health insurance offered patients with terminal illness an option of $1000 per day party funds if they chose to reject the expensive and painful methods that might extend their life, that might even save enough money to allow cheaper health insurance!

Rick Falkvinge wrote an interesting post about the copyright to translations of the Bible [4]. I used to think that copyright issues with “religious” works was only a problem with cults…

Joshua Foer wrote an interesting article for the New Yorker about the invention of the language Quijada which is designed for maximum precision [5]. It also has a lot of background information on constructed languages and the way that they are used.

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Syndicated 2013-07-31 05:15:27 from etbe - Russell Coker

Security is Impossible

The Scope of the Problem

Security is inherently complex because of the large number of ways of circumventing it. For example Internet facing servers have been successfully attacked based on vulnerabilities in the OS, the server application, public key generation, DNS, SSL key certificates (and many other programs and algorithms in use), as well as the infrastructure and employees of all companies in the chain. When all those layers work reasonably well (not perfectly but well enough to not obviously be the weakest link) there are attacks on the end user systems that access the servers (such as the trojan horse programs used to attack PCs used for online banking).

My Area of Interest

The area of security that interests me is Linux software development. There are many related areas such as documentation and default configurations to make it easier for people to secure their systems (instead of insecure systems being the default option) which are all important.

There are also many related fields such as ensuring that all people with relevant access are trustworthy. There are many interesting problems to solve in such areas most of which aren’t a good match for my skills or just require more time than I have available.

I sometimes write blog posts commenting on random security problems in other areas. Sometimes I hope to inspire people to new research, sometimes I hope to just inform users who can consider the issues when implementing solutions to security problems.


In the software development side there are ongoing problems of bugs in code that weaken security. The fact that the main area of concern for people who are interested in securing systems is fixing bugs is an indication that the problem of software quality needs a lot of work at the moment.

The other area that gets a reasonable amount of obvious work is in access control. Again it’s an area that needs a lot of work, but the fact that we’re not done with that is an indication of how far there is to go in generally improving computer security.

Authenticating Software Releases

There have been cases where source code repositories have been compromised to introduce trojan horse code, the ones I’ve read about have been discovered reasonably quickly with little harm done – but there could be some which weren’t discovered. Of course it’s likely that such attacks will be discovered because someone will have the original and the copies can be compared.

Repositories of binaries are a bigger problem, it’s not always possible to recompile a program and get a binary which checks out as being identical (larger programs often include the build time in the binary). Even for build processes which don’t include such data it can be very difficult to determine the integrity of a build process. For example programs compiled with different versions of libraries, header files, or compilers will usually differ slightly.

As most developers frequently change the versions of such software they will often be unable to verify their own binaries and any automated verification of such binaries will be impossible for anyone else. So if a developer’s workstation was compromised without their knowledge it might be impossible for them to later check whether they released trojan binaries – without just running the binaries in question and looking for undesired behavior.

The problem of verifying past binaries is solvable for large software companies, Linux distributions, and all other organisations that have the resources to keep old versions of all binaries and libraries used to build software. For proprietary software companies the verification process would have to start with faith in the vendor of their OS and compiler doing the right thing. For Linux distributions and other organisations based on free software it would start by having the source to everything which can then be verified in theory – although in practice verifying all source for compilers, the OS, and libraries would be a huge undertaking.


There is a well documented history of military espionage, people who are sworn to secrecy have been subverted by money, blackmail, and by having political beliefs which don’t agree with their government. The history of corporate espionage is less well documented but as corporations perform less stringent background checks than military organisations I think it’s safe to assume that corporate espionage is much more common.

Presumably any government organisation that can have any success at subverting employees of a foreign government can be much more successful in subverting programmers (either in companies such as Microsoft or in the FOSS community). One factor that makes it easier to launch such attacks is the global nature of software development. Government jobs that involve access to secret data have requirements about where the applicant was born and has lived, corporate jobs and volunteer positions in free software development don’t have such requirements.

The effort involved in subverting an existing employee of a software company or contributor to free software or the effort involved in getting an agent accepted in such a project would be quite small when compared to a nuclear weapons program. Therefore I think we should assume that every country which is capable of developing nuclear weapons (even North Korea) can do such things if they wish.

Would the government of such a country want to subvert a major software project that is used by hundreds of millions of people? I can imagine ways that such things could benefit a government and while there would be costs for such actions (both in local politics and international relations) it seems most likely that some governments would consider it to be worth the risk – and North Korea doesn’t seem to have much to lose.


We would like every computer to be like a castle with a strong wall separating them from the bad things which can’t be breached in ways that aren’t obvious. But the way things are progressing with increasingly complex systems depending on more people and other systems it’s becoming more like biology than engineering. We can think of important government systems as being comparable to the way people with compromised immune systems are isolated from any risk of catching a disease, the consequences of an infection are worse so greater isolation measures are required.

For regular desktop PCs getting infected by a trojan is often regarded as being similar to getting a cold in winter. People just accept that their PC will be infected on occasion and don’t bother making any serious effort to prevent it. After an infection is discovered the user (or their management for a corporate PC) tend not to be particularly worried about data loss in spite of some high profile data leaks from companies that do security work and the ongoing attacks against online banking and webcam spying on home PCs. I don’t know what it will take for users to start taking security risks seriously.

I think that a secure boot is a good step in the right direction, but it’s a long way from being able to magically solve all security problems. I’ve previously described some of the ways that secure boot won’t save you [1].

The problems of subverting developers don’t seem to be an immediate concern (although we should consider the possibility that it might be happening already without anyone noticing). The ongoing trend is that the value of computers in society is steadily increasing which therefore increases the rewards for criminals and spy agencies who can compromise them. Therefore it seems that we will definitely face the problems of subverted developers if we can adequately address the current technical problems related to flaws in software and inadequate access control. We just need to fix some of the problems which are exploited more easily to force the attackers to use the more difficult and expensive attacks. Note that it is a really good thing to make attacks more difficult, that decreases the number of organisations that are capable of attack even though it won’t stop determined attackers.

For end user systems the major problem seems to be related to running random programs from the Internet without a security model that adequately protects the system. Both Android and iOS make good efforts at protecting a system in the face of random hostile applications, but they have both been shown to fail in practice (it might be a good idea to have a phone for games that is separate from the phone used for phone calls etc). More research into OS security is needed to address this. But in the mean time users need to refrain from playing games and viewing porn on systems that are used for work, Internet banking, and other important things. While PCs are small and cheap enough that having separate PCs for important and unimportant tasks is practical it seems that most users don’t regard the problems as being serious enough to be worth the effort.

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Syndicated 2013-07-23 04:34:01 from etbe - Russell Coker

Samsung Galaxy Note 2

A few weeks ago I bought a new Samsung Galaxy Note 2 Android phone. As I predicted in my post about Phone and Tablet Sizes [1] the Note 2 with a 5.55″ display is a bit too big for me to have an ideal single handed side grasp (I estimate that about 5.2″ would be ideal). But I can stretch a bit and move it around in my hand to touch all parts of the screen with my thumb. Although when doing that I don’t have a tight grip, with my previous phone the Samsung Galaxy S3 [2] I could properly wrap my hand around it to grip it tightly while using it with one hand. The Note 2 will be easier for me to drop or for a thief to snatch it from me.

While the big screen makes the phone difficult to use with one hand it does allow viewing more data. The ConnectBot SSH client (Play Store link) [3] (F-Droid repository link) [4] works a lot better on a larger screen – I’ve also discovered that the volume control buttons can be used to change the font size in ConnectBot which is handy as the default is really tiny. Also Klaus Weidner’s Hacker’s Keyboard (Play Store link) [5] (F-Droid repository link) [6] works a lot better with a larger screen. When I tested the Hacker’s keyboard on a smaller phone I found the 5 row layout too difficult to use, but on the Note 2 it works well. As an aside I wish I could quickly and easily toggle between 4 row mode (good for SMS) and 5 row mode (good for sysadmin work) in the Hackers’ Keyboard.

For less serious use the large screen on the Note 2 is good for watching TV. I’ve got a collection of mp4s of TV shows that I’ve been meaning to watch, now I watch them in bed on my phone.

Another advantage of the Note 2 is the battery life. When playing Ingress and doing all the usual email checks etc my Note 2 will last about as long as my wife’s Galaxy S3 with it’s power case. So without any extra batteries a Note 2 will probably last about twice as long as a Galaxy S3.

The Note 2 has more RAM than the S3 I used to use (I had the S3 with 1G of RAM) and it also apparently has a faster CPU. The CPU speed hasn’t been an issue for me but the extra RAM is a real benefit, it means that I can usually switch between Ingress and other programs without having to restart Ingress each time. As an aside I think that Google and LG should release a “Nexus Ingress 4″ phone or some other device that’s optimised for Ingress, I’m sure it would sell well.

Some people make a big deal about the stylus that comes with the Note 2. It is a neat feature to have the device know when the stylus tip is hovering over the screen but it’s not very useful for me. If I was going to create art work on a phone (as some people do) then it would interest me, but I’m more interested in email and ssh for fine input and my fingers are generally good enough for those tasks. I have got thin fingers, so I think that people with thicker fingers could really benefit from the stylus. I recently bought a batch of stylus pens from Kogan which have a pen at one end and a rubber stylus tip at the other for fat fingered people I know who need to use an Android phone but can’t afford a Note or Note 2.

I also like the software build on it which is almost the same as that on the Galaxy S3. It seems that many people prefer the apparently stock features on the Nexus 4 but I like the way Samsung does things.


I’m very happy with my new phone. The bigger screen allows me to see things more clearly, this is good for web browsing, reading email, and now that I can use the Hackers’ Keyboard I can type more effectively. The longer battery life is really good too, although I think that Samsung could have done better – if the phone was 3mm thicker then it could have a much bigger battery and have a larger CCD for the camera.

I don’t think that the phone is really different, at least not for my use. Samsung has promoted it for artistic use and I’ve seen evidence to support their claims. But for most people it’ll just be a phone with a larger screen and a bigger battery. Some people criticise it for being too big, but it’s still smaller than the handsets on most desk phones so it’s not big by the standards of old fashioned phones.

The increased size has not only allowed me to do the same things more effectively but also allowed me to do things I hadn’t tried doing on a phone before such as watching TV. This isn’t because of the phone being particularly special in any way, it’s just that the change in size gives more possibilities for ways of using it.

The Samsung Galaxy Mega is the largest smart phone. The 5.8″ version of the Mega has a resolution of only 960*540 (less than the Note and Note 2 – not good enough IMHO) and the 6.3″ version has the same resolution as the Note 2 of 1280*720. I think that both Mega variants are too big for me, I need to be able to use a phone with one hand. So it seems that the Note 2 is probably the best phone for me right now.

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Syndicated 2013-07-10 13:07:07 from etbe - Russell Coker

Links June 2013

Cory Doctorow published a letter from a 14yo who had just read his novel “Homeland” [1]. I haven’t had anything insightful to say about Aaron Swartz, so I think that this link will do [2].

Seth Godin gave an interesting TED talk about leading tribes [3]. I think everyone who is active in the FOSS community should watch this talk.

Ron Garrett wrote an interesting post about the risk of being hit by a “dinosaur killer” [4]. We really need to do something about this and the cost of defending against asteroids is almost nothing compared to “defence” spending.

Afra Raymond gave an interesting TED talk about corruption [5]. He focussed on his country Trinidad and Tobago but the lessons apply everywhere.

Wikihouse is an interesting project that is based around sharing designs for houses that can be implemented using CNC milling machines [6]. It seems to be at the early stages but it has a lot of potential to change the building industry.

Here is a TED blog post summarising Dan Pallotta’s TED talk about fundraising for nonprofits [7]. His key point is that moral objections to advertising for charities significantly reduce their ability to raise funds and impacts the charitable mission. I don’t entirely agree with his talk which is very positive towards spending on promotion but I think that he makes some good points which people should consider.

Here is a TED blog post summarising Peter Singer’s TED talk about effective altruism [8]. His focus seems to be on ways of cheaply making a significant difference which doesn’t seem to agree with Dan Pallotta’s ideas.

Patton Oswalt wrote an insightful article about the culture of stand-up comedians which starts with joke stealing and heckling and ends with the issue of rape jokes [9].

Karen Eng wrote an interesting TED blog post about Anthony Vipin’s invention of HAPTIC shoes for blind people [10]. The vibration of the shoes tells the person which way to walk and a computer sees obstacles that need to be avoided.

David Blaine gave an interesting TED talk about how he prepared for a stunt of holding his breath for 17 minutes [11].

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Syndicated 2013-06-30 13:55:15 from etbe - Russell Coker

Nexus 4

My wife has had a LG Nexus 4 for about 4 months now so it’s time for me to review it and compare it to my Samsung Galaxy S3.

A Sealed Case

The first thing to note about the Nexus 4 is that it doesn’t support changing a battery or using micro-SD storage. The advantage of these design choices is that it allows reduced weight and greater strength compared to what the phone might otherwise be. Such choices would also allow the phone to be slightly cheaper which is a massive advantage, it’s worth noting that the Nexus 4 is significantly cheaper than any other device I can buy with comparable specs. My wife’s phone has 8G of storage (not RAM – thanks Robin) and cost $369 at the start of the year while the current price is $349 for the 8G version and $399 for the 16G version. Of course one down-side of this is that if you need 16G of storage then you need to spend an extra $50 on the 16G phone instead of buying a phone with 8G of storage and inserting a 16GB micro-SD card which costs $19 from OfficeWorks. Also there’s no option of using a 32G SD card (which costs less than $50) or a 64G SD card.

Battery etc

The battery on the Nexus 4 isn’t nearly big enough, when playing Ingress it lasts about half as long as my Galaxy S3, about 90 minutes to fully discharge. If it was possible to buy a bigger battery from a company like Mugan Power then the lack of battery capacity wouldn’t be such a problem. But as it’s impossible to buy a bigger battery (unless you are willing to do some soldering) the only option is an external battery.

I was unable to find a Nexus 4 case which includes a battery (which is probably because the Nexus 4 is a lot less common than the Galaxy S3) so my wife had to buy an external battery. If you are serious about playing Ingress with a Nexus 4 then you will end up with a battery in your pocket and cable going to your phone from the battery, this is a real annoyance. While being a cheap fast phone with a clear screen makes it well suited to Ingress the issue of having a cable permanently attached is a real down-side.

One significant feature of the Nexus 4 is that it supports wireless charging. I have no immediate plans to use that feature and the wireless charger isn’t even on sale in Australia. But if the USB connector was to break then I could buy a wireless charger from the US and keep using the phone, while for every other phone I own a broken connector would render the phone entirely useless.

Screen Brightness

I have problems with my Galaxy S3 not being bright enough at midday when on “auto” brightness. I have problems with my wife’s Nexus 4 being too bright in most situations other than use at midday. Sometimes at night it’s painfully bright. The brightness of the display probably contributes to the excessive battery use. I don’t know whether all Nexus 4 devices are like this or whether there is some variance. In any case it would be nice if the automatic screen brightness could be tuned so I could make it brighter on my phone and less bright on my wife’s.

According to AndroSensor my Galaxy S3 thinks that the ambient light in my computer room is 28 lux while my wife’s Nexus 4 claims it’s 4 lux. So I guess that part of the problem is the accuracy of the light sensors in the phones.

On-Screen Buttons

I am a big fan of hardware buttons. Hardware buttons work reliably when your fingers are damp and can be used by feel at night. My first Android phone the Sony-Ericsson Xperia X10 had three hardware buttons for settings, home, and back as well as buttons for power, changing volume, and taking a photo which I found very convenient. My Galaxy S3 has hardware buttons for power, home, and volume control. I think that Android phones should have more hardware buttons not less. Unfortunately it seems that Google and the phone manufacturers disagree with me and the trend is towards less buttons. Now the Nexus 4 only has hardware buttons for power, and volume control.

One significant advantage of the Galaxy S3 over the Nexus 4 is that the S3′s settings and back buttons while not implemented in hardware are outside the usable screen area. So the 4.8″ 1280*720 display is all for application data while the buttons for home, settings, and back on the Nexus 4 take up space on the screen so only a subset of the 4.7″ 1280*768 is usable by applications. While according to specs the Nexus 4 has a screen almost as big as the Galaxy S3 and a slightly higher resolution in practice it has an obviously smaller screen with fewer usable pixels.

Also one of the changes related to having the buttons on-screen means that the “settings” button is often in the top right corner which I find annoying. I didn’t like that aspect of the GUI the first time I used a tablet running Android 3.0 and I still don’t like it now.


My wife’s Nexus 4 seems to be much less accurate than my Galaxy S3 for GPS. I don’t know how much of this is due to phone design and how much is due to random factors in manufacturing. I presume that a large portion of it is due to random manufacturing issues because other people aren’t complaining about it. Maybe she just got unlucky with an inaccurate phone.

Shape and Appearance

One feature that I really like in the Samsung Galaxy S is that it has a significant ridge surrounding the screen. If you place a Galaxy S face-down on a desk that makes it a lot less likely to get a scratch on the screen. The LG U990 Viewty also had a similar ridge. Of course the gel case I have bought for every Android phone has solved this problem, but it would really be nice to have a phone that I consider usable without needing to buy such a case. The Nexus 4 has a screen that curves at the edges which if anything makes the problem worse than merely lacking a ridge around the edge. On the up-side the Nexus 4 looks and feels nice before you use it.

The back of the Nexus 4 sparkles, that’s nice but when you buy a gel case (which doesn’t seem to be optional with modern design trends) you don’t get to see it.

The Nexus 4 is a very attractive package, it’s really a pity that they didn’t design it to be usable without a gel case.


Kogan is currently selling the Galaxy S3 with 16G of storage for $429. When comparing that to the 16G version of the Nexus 4 at $399 that means there’s a price of $30 to get a SD socket, the option of replacing a battery, one more hardware button, and more screen space. So when comparing the Google offers for the Nexus 4 with the Kogan offer on the Galaxy S3 or the Galaxy Note which also has 16G of storage and sells for $429 the Google offer doesn’t seem appealing to me.

The Nexus 4 is still a good phone and is working well for my wife, but she doesn’t need as much storage as I do. Also when she got her phone the Galaxy S3 was much more expensive than it is now.

Also Kogan offer the 16G version of the Nexus 4 for $389 which makes it more appealing when compared to the Galaxy S3. It’s surprising that they can beat Google on price.

Generally I recommend the Nexus 4 without hesitation to anyone who wants a very capable phone for less than $400 and doesn’t need a lot of storage. If you need more storage then the Galaxy S3 is more appealing. Also if you need to use a phone a lot then a Galaxy S3 with a power case works well in situations where the Nexus 4 performs poorly.

Related posts:

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Syndicated 2013-05-29 05:18:14 from etbe - Russell Coker

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