Pebble Smartwatch and Windows Mobile 10: working, at last

WP_20160815_20_13_28_ProSince I got my Pebble Classic Smartwatch, I’ve only been able to use a smattering of its features. The problem is that Pebble does not and, apparently, will not, support the watch on Windows Mobile.  But, as the watch is very open, anyone is free to develop software to run on the watch and companion apps on any platform.  So, several enterprising souls did that. The second big issue was that Microsoft closed off parts of Windows Mobile-notifications and running in the background-which pretty much killed most of the functionality.

Well, fast forward a year and Microsoft has released Windows Mobile 10 Anniversary Update which fixed these issues.

So, there are now two apps that work with the Pebble smartwatch line of wearables: Pebble  Time Manager 10 and Pebble Essentials.WP_20160815_20_16_37_Pro

I downloaded Pebble Time Manager 10 and began using it.  For a free app, this thing rocks.  I did plunk down a buck to ‘unlock’ the health features and to give the developer SOMETHING for this great product, which is free.  Did I mention it is free?

Pebble Essentials I have not yet tried out, but will sometime soon. This write up is about the Time Manager.

Pebble Time Manager allows you to:

  • Download and install apps and watch faces from the Pebble store
  • Display all notifications from your mobile device
  • Track your health stats (provided you paid for the module AND your watch supports it)
  • Manage installed apps and watch faces
  • Direct Access to the Pebble Store

The notifications is huge.  Being able to get my phone’s notifications and NOT have to have an app running is tremendous.  Previously, you could get Twitter, Weather, email and, maybe Facebook notices but an app had to be running. Since the Windows AU came along, you no longer have to do that. You still run the app, but you can then dismiss it and the notifications keep on going.

WP_20160815_20_14_15_ProThe other big deal is direct access to the store.  Tap an app or watch face and see everything about. Tap the download icon and download the item to your phone. Tap it on the phone and it is sent to the watch.  The app, however, cannot tell you how much space you have, though.

Some watch apps require a settings page. Previously, you just took the defaults, but TIme Manager incorporates the ability to access and use these settings.  A nice touch.

The user interface could use some polish, but it works and is functional, if not a bit bland.  It does not have to be pretty, though, because it just works. And works well.

All in all, the app is worth much more than the developer charges (which is nothing) and is very easy to use. 

Stay tuned for more.  There are a lot of things it will do and some it won’t.  Oh, there’s a desktop version as well.

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Upgrading Your Toshiba Encore Mini from Windows 10 to Windows 10 Anniversary Update

I have a Toshiba Encore Mini Tablet that I bought a couple of years ago and managed to upgrade it to Windows 10 last year. I document that effort here.  It was quite a task as the Encore Mini is really crippled: 1 gb of RAM and only 16 gb of storage. Minimal, indeed.  So, how was going to do this upgrade?  Well, pretty much the same way as the original upgrade.

Since I do not use the Toshiba for much, mostly Candy Crush, web browsing and some video watching, I didn’t have a whole lot on the device. So, the first thing I had to do was clean it up.

I freed about two gigs of space and then tried the upgrade using the system update.  That did not work. I needed over five gigs on C:\, which would be next impossible. Windows itself takes nearly ten of the sixteen gigs, so freeing 5.76gb was a no go.  So, I tried to use an SD card. I put in a 32 gb card and tried again, this time telling it to use the SD card. That bloody thing still needed nearly three gb on C:!

I then remembered the Media Creation Tool.  I put the card in my desktop and fired up the tool.  UGH! It did not let me use the SD card!

WP_20160804_21_48_19_ProI figured out, as well, that the bloody SD card was bad. I kept having to format it…which you should not have to do. I put it aside and found a 16gb card.  I then tried everything again and…failure greeted me at every step.  As a last ditch effort, I downloaded the 32 bit ISO to the SD card. Put it in the Toshiba, mounted the ISO as a drive and ran setup from there.

Setup did point out the lack of space on C:\ but did allow me to use the SD card AND 2gb on C:\.

The upgrade took quite a bit of time.  I’m not sure, because, after an hour, I went to bed.  I finished overnight.

When it finished the initial user setup, it began to hang on me.  I tried everything I could think of, even trying to reset the operating system using the OS Refresh/Reset feature. They, too, locked up. On a whim, I removed the SD card and rebooted the tablet.  It has worked perfectly since.  I have WP_20160805_07_38_37_Proformatted a 4gb SD card and that has been working splendidly.  I’m not sure why the ISO SD Card caused a problem, but I am also glad I figured out what was wrong.

The tablet has been running well.  It is a bit speedier, but that might be because it is a new install of Windows.

So, there you go, a tablet that, by any definition, is a turd, has been upgraded–not painlessly–to the latest and greatest Windows.  Life is good.

NOTE: One issue I had, post upgrade, was that Windows would stop responding after logging in.  After about 20 to 30 seconds, what ever was running would continue, but shell would stop.  I solved the problem by dismounting and removing the SD card that contained the ISO.

Casio Calculator Watches…the original smartwatch

Back in the mid 1980’s, miniaturization and micro electronics were coming into the mass market at prices people could afford.  Pocket television, pocketable computers, small calculators and digital watches were common place.  Digital Watches, which began as consumer products in the late seventies, were in full swing with watches that mimmicked analog watches, watches that played a game, ‘databank’ watches and calculator watches. 

CasioWatchOh man, the calculator watch.  Casio. 

I had to have one.

When they first came out, they were expensive.  But, seemingly, overnight, the price plunged and I could afford one.  I bought myself a Casio. I don’t remember the model number, but I recall it was sleek, black with white trim and it could store 16 memos or something like that. It was very cool.

I had that watch for years. In fact, I had it up until my last move, some five years ago. The case broke right where strap is held in place by the pin.  I think I replaced the battery once in the twenty some years I had it. WP_20160804_21_35_542_Pro

The calculator watch, like most digital watches, faded away.  Forgotten.  Or, so it seemed.

I don’t know if the current ‘smartwatch’ fad has anything to do with it, but I saw them on sale at my local CVS drug store.  For five dollars.  I had to buy it.

Now, this thing is cheap, it looks cheap and feels cheap.  But…it’s a bloody CAL-CU-LATOR WATCH!  How freaking cool is that?!  Is it just me?

Anyway, I don’t care how long it lasts, I like it and it took me down memory lane.   Best five dollars spent in a long time.

Microsoft, Apple, T-Mobile…They take a lot and give little

win10mobileT-Mobile.  The Un-Carrier.  This company, led by it’s uncool CEO, John Legere, claims to be different.  And, in a few regards, that is true.  They led the march to do away with subsidies and contracts.  Getting rid of the contracts was a good thing.  However, the replacement plans by T-Mobile and the others leave little to be desired.  This company also bills itself as having a fast, reliable network.  That’s debatable. In the Richmond, Virginia area, anyway, they are spotty—despite having PINK all over the area map.  Speeds are so-so.  They also advertise the binge-on program where you can consume all of the video streaming, from a select few services, and won’t affect your data or speed. What they fail to say is that you need specific plans to qualify.  Lastly, the ‘Get Thanked Tuesdays’ promotion only applies to certain customers—i.e. those who have Android or iOS devices and those not on prepaid plans. If you have a Windows Phone/Mobile, Blackberry or other device or you have those and are on a pre paid plan, you are out of luck. No thanks on Tuesdays or any other day.  (To be fair, they did try  to make up for it by giving me a credit, free pizza and, in last Tuesday’s event, they texted me the codes—but did not mention I had to use them right away. My fault there, though, it is in the rules.)  The no hoops, hurdles and strings mantra does not apply if you use anything but iOS or Android.

Apple.  Another company that loves to dump on its customers. But, Apple, at least, makes you feel good about getting dumped on. Hell, it’s a PRIVILAGE.  This company has, for the most part, products that, if from any other company, would put you to sleep. But, they slap that stupid logo on them, charge a mint and invite you into these sterile, wood and glass stores, and attempt to make you feel like you OWE them a purchase.  What’s really odd…and lame…is the uniforms the employees wear…..JEANS and BLUE T-SHIRTS.  What the hell is that?  You want me to pay two grand for a computer, I’m in what is supposed to look like a high-end store, and the person who is assisting me is dressed as if he or she was playing kick ball on a school lunch break? Seriously?  And what’s up with that stupid watch?

Microsoft. OH MY LORD.  This company makes it damn near impossible to like.  Everything I have liked, from the Zune to Windows Mobile 10 to Windows 10 itself, has had features removed, been crippled in some way or out right cancelled. I don’t’ need to say anything about Zune…its dead and so is my 30gb player. So, I’ll move on…to Windows Mobile 10. Now, a few years ago, MS bought Nokia’s phone business.  And promptly drove it into the ground.  They released Windows Mobile 10 by gutting many of the nice features of Windows Phone 8, including stability, reliability and many, many features like the hubs.  Now, the company says they are removing features because no one uses them, like FM Radio and the Kids Corner.  Guess what? I DO! This is the same reason they removed Media Center from Desktop Windows. Guess what? I used that too.  Now, Microsoft is further limiting another of its once great products: OneDrive.  They lured you in with tons of free online storage, then cut it all out but 5gb (like Apple) but you could still do a lot. Now, that is being limited as well. You cannot use it to share files a lot or share large files. I guess they are getting hammered for bandwidth. I don’t care, they opened the door and invited us in, now they want to boot us out after an hour.  Why should I bother at all?  They did this with remote sharing as well.  They killed off a terrific photography tool, photosynth.  Their OneCare was great, they killed it.  Windows Mobile has the potential to still be great, even with all of the neutering but, it, too, will languish. That’s what this company does best.

Honorable Mention: GOOGLE. Man, I could rant for days, but I’m not.  Suffice it to say that I will likely be forced to use Android again. I don’t like Android, but my distaste for iOS is worse than my dislike of Android.  One last thing, Google is far worse than Microsoft when it comes to product support and growth. Just look at the Google dead product grave yard.

This may sound like sour grapes, and to some extent, it is.  I’ve been burned a lot by these and other companies.  However, the problems stated here affect more than just myself. In the case of Apple, the deception costs real money.  In the case of Microsoft, it’s not only money, but a lot of frustration as well.  This company needs to stop its practice of introducing things, getting you hooked and then either taking them away or severely handicapping them.  It has really made me re-think my whole Microsoft affinity. 

So, what great Android phones are out there?  I need a good, non-Apple replacement for my Zune too.  My Zune HD is starting to have problems and I don’t know how much longer Windows will run the Zune software.  I want a dedicated MP3 player, I don’t like using my phone for media.  Lastly, what online storage solutions are out there that are low cost or free and are unfettered? 

Apple, you are done…Microsoft, your dominance is near the end and Google, welcome aboard: how Android won the game, via Chrombooks

Change. It is a difficult thing to go through, but, it is inevitable. Nearly thirty years ago, CP/M was THE operating system and 8080/Z80 based computers were THE thing. I remember thinking they’d be around FOREVER. They didn’t make it past 1986, when IBM began to take over the personal computer industry. And, so, we are near that crossroad today.

Google has announced that Android apps will be available ‘soon’ for ChromeOS. That is, as they say, a game changer.

Why?

Well Chromebooks are inexpensive. Small computers using ChromeOS are inexpensive and do not need Wintel level power to do things.  Android apps, likewise, are mostly designed to run on cheap smartphones with power that comes close to that of a cheap desktop or laptop computer.  Combine the two and…WOW…that is a game changer, folks.

A friend of mine (one day, Sam, we will meet in person) has been touting these Chromebook things for a few years now.  I’ve always kind of poo-poo’ed them as being a browser on a minimalist Linux.  However, you put Android abilities in there and…BOOM!   A real challenge to Wintel.

Chromebooks already outsell the Macintosh. It will be a while before they supplant Windows, but, I think the writing is on the wall.  I am a die hard Windows fan. I’ve loved the environment and, later, the operating system since the 2.1 days. But, change is inevitable and Microsoft knows this. Pretty much the only product they still sell that is not completely available on other platforms is the Visual Studio development tool suite. And, I think, it won’t be long and you will be using that on Android. On a Chromebook. 

So, how is Google doing this? Merging the two operating systems?

No. No merging.  No AppV or Virtual machines either. NO, they are using containers that have the Android framework embedded in them.  This is a quite clever approach as it not only allows the app to ‘see’ the underlying filesystem and hardware it is running on, it also means apps can talk to each other and that is HUGE.  What good is a photo editor that cannot get to the photos?

It also means the applications run AT FULL SPEED.  Think about that.  Now the Android GAME world is open to ChromeOS.  In fact ALL Android apps will work this way, no developer changes required. Candy Crush Jelly Donuts and Coffee will run, full speed, full screen, on a cheap $120 (US) Chromebook just as well as it does on that Moto G.  This, my friends, is not only cool, but awesome.

I am no fan of Google, but this is a clever and very smart way to bring Android into the home in something other than a phone.

Now, I need to buy myself a Chromebook, get a good book on Java development and retool myself.  Apple, you need to get a clue. Your walled garden is about to be overtaken by weeds when your gardeners leave for greener pastures.  From Google.

You can read more about it here.

Windows Mobile 10: Alcatel OneTouch Fierce XL

5055w_front_back-groupI’ve been using the Fierce XL with Windows Mobile 10 for almost a month now.  I bought the phone from T-Mobile to temporarily replace my now ailing Lumia Icon from Verizon.  As Verizon no longer considers Windows a viable platform for them, I went to T-Mobile who is still friendly toward the mobile operating system. 

The Fierce XL from Alcatel OneTouch was $140 (US) to buy out right.  No contract and a $40 a month plan made it a nice deal.  So, how does it compare to my old Icon?

Well, not very well.  And that is just fine.  The Icon was a ‘flagship’ , that is, it was considered a premium phone with premium features.  The Fierce XL is not.  It does, however, have some features that were, previously, a premium feature, like 2GB of RAM and a large HD display. It also came with Windows Mobile 10.  So, it is not quite a slouch but no high end phone either.  I knew this going in.

In most respects, it is a good device.  Not as fast as the Icon, not as slow as my even older Lumia 521 or iPhone 4.  In terms of performance, it is closer to an iPhone 5.  The 2GB of RAM helps a lot.   The OS is fluid, but does hiccup once in a while. I am running a ‘Redstone 1’ insider build, so there are OS issues, but they are the result of running beta code.  However, that code does bring out features that were not in the shipping release of Windows Mobile 10, like a quasi Continuum feature. More on that in a bit. 5055w_back-left

The camera is, perhaps, the weakest point of the device. The rear camera is only eight megapixels and has poor low light ability.  The images are not very crisp and color tends to be more on the muted side of things. Coming from my Icon, it is a huge let down.  Again, I was aware of this when I got the phone, but it was still a big let down.  Almost enough to take the phone back to T-Mobile, but, alas, my poor Icon’s battery is on life support. As is the body of the phone. 

Which brings me to the best and worst aspect of the Fierce XL: it’s body is all plastic.  The back is a funky shade of blue that has grown on me, but is also now covered up by an overpriced rubbery shell that the salesguy sold me at T-Mobile.  The plastic case looks cheap and feels cheap, but it likely will not break or dent, like the Icon’s all metal body did.  I don’t mind the plastic all that much, but it does feel cheap, which makes me think I would not like it on, say, the Lumia 950.

Overall, the hardware-except for the camera-is decent. Performance is good, considering the price.  While it feels cheap, the build quality is quite good. 

As I mentioned earlier, the latest Windows 10 insider builds unlock a nice Continuum feature. To 5055w_front-rightuse it, both the phone and the computer must be running the latest builds of Windows 10 Insider (the ‘Redstone 1’ builds) as the feature needs the PC to have the plumbing for Continuum.  So, what does it do?  Well, it lets you, via the ‘connect’ feature on the device, to allow the phone’s screen to be shown on the PC’s monitor and allows the PC’s keyboard and mouse be recognized by the phone. This lets you use the phone as if it were the computer.  The difference, though, between this and the ‘real’ continuum is that you cannot do something else on the phone while using Continuum, and it does not scale the phone’s screen to fit the monitor. It is the same as the old ‘connect’ or project my screen feature.  It is a nice feature, though one that I don’t see myself using all that much.  Perhaps I will if I use my phone at my job to take notes or start work on a document or spreadsheet.  Though, I generally just save to my OneDrive and use my PC and its apps.  So, while this is cool and nice, and all that, I’m not sure that I’d use it all that much.

Windows 10 runs very well on this hardware and gives me hope that Alcatel Onetouch will bring some of its better hardware to Windows Mobile, like the Idol 3.  It also gives me hope that other manufacturers will follow. Indeed, HP, Acer and HTC all have or will have Windows Mobile devices out very soon, if not now.

The Fierce XL with Windows 10 is available from T-Mobile for $139.95.

Giving your Arduino projects ‘sight’ and ‘touch’: using IR, Photocells and Touch Sensors to your project

12419231_974683622601393_320731550894605287_oOK, so I am taking some liberty here with the terms sight and touch, but it got your attention, yes?

In this post, I am going to briefly share how to use three sensors: a ‘light detector’ or photocell, a touch sensitive ‘button’ and an IR receiver.

These three sensors all came from a company called ‘OSEPP’, but similar sensors can be had from other vendors as well.  I am going to write about these three specific sensors, but you should be able to adapt the information to what ever you have.  I will present code in both Tiny Basic and Arduino.

LIGHT SENSOR

• 3 pin outs: GRD (-) VCC (+) S ( Signal)

• Suitable supply voltage: +3 to 5Vdc
• Analog voltage output: 0 to 5 Vdc
• Detects ambient light density
• Works with CdsPhotoresistor
• Interface with microcontrollers and logic circuits • Analog sensors
• Uses PH 2.0 socket
• Special sensor with Arduino expansion boards

The light sensor is a cool photocell that is mounted on little breakout board, making it easier to use in a project. There are three pins: VCC, GND and Signal. Signal would connect to any of the Analog pins. When in use, it not only will let you know if it detects light, but also returns the intensity. The higher the value, the more light it detects. Reading it easy and you do not need any libraries. See the HalfByte Tiny Basic example below.

100 CLS
110 L=0: # PIN A0
120 P=13:# PIN 13 LED
130 A=AREAD(L)
140 IF A>299 DWRITE P, 0
150 IF A<300 DWRITE P, 1
160 CURSOR 0,0
170 ?”Intensity: “, A,” ”
180 DELAY 250
190 GOTO 130

What this little piece of code will do is turn on the LED if the light level drops below 300 and turns it off if it goes above 299. It also writes the level to the screen.

if you add a line, say 155, you can test for no light:
155 IF A=0 CLS: ?”NO LIGHT DETECTED”:DELAY 2000

Or, you can test for too much light:
155 IF A>=600 CLS:?”THE LIGHT IS TOO BRIGHT.”:DELAY 2000

There are many things you can do, for example, control a servo that turns an armature to open a food door to distribute dog food to a dish when the sun comes up.

You can use it to log when the sun comes, goes down. Use it control lighting, etc.

Here’s the Arduino sample:

/* OSEPP example of measured ambient light intensity from photocell .
depending on brightness, an LED brightness is changed.
more light = brighter LED. */

int photocellPin = A0;    // photocell sensor input
int ledPin = 11;      // select the pin for the LED
int photocellValue = 0;  // variable to store the value coming from the photocell val

void setup() {
Serial.begin(9600);

}

void loop() {
// read the value from the sensor:
photocellValue = analogRead(photocellPin); 
photocellValue = constrain(photocellValue, 200, 800); //adjust depending on environment.  
   
  // change brightness of LED depending on light intensity of photocell
  int ledbrightness = map(photocellValue, 200, 800, 0, 255);
 
  Serial.print(“incoming value from photocell sensor =”);
  Serial.println( photocellValue);
  analogWrite(ledPin, ledbrightness); 
  delay(100);       
}

TOUCH SENSOR

• 3 pin outs: G (GRD) V (VCC) S ( Signal)Basic wiring scheme for all three sensors.
• 3-5 V operating range
• 5 mA minimum current requirement.
• Capacitive touch detection

The touch sensor detects when you are touching the plate on the breakout board.  As long as you are touching the sensor, it returns a value.  You can test the value and determine if there is someone touching the sensor.

Arduino Code:

/*

OSEPP Touch Sensor Module Example

Serial monitor prints values output from touch sensor
when body conductivity applied.
*/

int sensorPin = A0;    // select the input pin for the potentiometer
int sensorValue = 0;  // variable to store the value coming from the sensor

void setup() {
  Serial.begin(9600);
  // declare the ledPin as an OUTPUT:
}

void loop() {
  // read the value from the sensor:
  sensorValue = analogRead(sensorPin);
  Serial.println(“Touch Sensor Value = ” + sensorValue);

}

Tiny Basic Code:

100 CLS
110 L=0: # PIN A0
120 P=13:# PIN 13 LED
130 A=AREAD(L)
140 IF A>100 DWRITE P, 0
150 IF A<100 DWRITE P, 1
160 CURSOR 0,0
170 ?”Value: “, A,” ”
180 DELAY 250
190 GOTO 130

The Tiny Basic, very similar to the light sensor code, will turn the LED on and off each time you press the sensor.  On my setup, the values switch between 22 and 1023.  Your mileage may vary.

IR Sensor12792206_974716205931468_7006422127672690003_o

• 100% Arduino Compatible
• 3 pin outs: G –Ground V – 5V S – Signal
• Operates at a frequency of 38khz

The IR Sensor allows control of a circuit via an Infra Red remote or other IR source.  It works very much like the other two sensors here: has a ground, voltage and signal pins.  It returns values based on the IR signal received.  Admittedly, I have not yet done much with the sensor, so I have limited experience with it.  You can use the same Tiny Basic example from the Touch Sensor above.

Arduino Code:

/*
infrared sensor reciver. connect signal of infrared to analog pin 0. as the distance
from an object to sensor increases/decreases, you will increase/decrease
speed of led blinks from HIGH to LOW

*/

int IR_Pin = A0;    // select the input pin for the potentiometer
int IR_Value = 0;  // variable to store the value coming from the sensor

void setup() {
  // declare the ledPin as an OUTPUT:
  Serial.begin(9600);
}

void loop() {
  // read the value from the sensor:
  IR_Value = analogRead(IR_Pin);   
 
Serial.println(“delay value for LED = “+ IR_Value);  //what value are we reading once an IR led is detected?

// IR_VALUE  = constrain(IR_VALUE, 0, 100); // optional to add a strict range
}

In each of the examples above, the sensors are connected to the HalfByte Console (or your Arduino compatible) via pin A0.  You can use what ever analog pins you want, just change the reference in the code.  You can use them together as well.