Lumia 520 – Updated Notes and Thoughts

wp_ss_20140913_0001  One issue plaguing the “review” industry is the new factor rush to be first.  This isn’t really a review, but more a few notes and thoughts on my Lumia 520 Windows Phone after using it for a month or so.

I want to start off actually by saying, I’m still mostly happy with the phone.  For $50, it’s a really great “replacement” phone for that cracked screen whatever that has a broken speaker making calls impossible to hear.  Windows Phone OS itself is really great too.  I like the interface and the colors.  If I were going out and picking up a nicer phone I’d be really inclined to go for the Lumia 1020, which has a kick ass camera and Windows Phone under the hood.

I wanted to start with this because the rest of the tone of this list will come off as pretty negative since the phone is flawed.  It’s also $50, so it’s easy to forgive the flaws and understand WHY they are flaws.  It’s a cheap and underpowered device.

The Camera Sucks

This is probably my biggest annoyance with the Lumia 520.  If I really need to take Photos on a trip or something, I’ll be carrying my DSLR with it’s 14mp goodness, but I’ve gotten used to being able to use my Cell Phone in a pinch.  The 520 really doesn’t do the job at all though, even in a pinch.  Low light performance is abysmal and it’s slow.

The focus is also really flakey.  I take a lot of photos of small things up close (toys) and it’s frustrating to point the phone, tap to focus, only to end up with the background in focus and not the object I’m trying to photograph.  The auto focus action will bring the closer object into focus briefly as it runs through it’s mechanics though, which makes the whole business even more frustrating because it means that it COULD focus on what I want, it’s just choosing not to.

The end result photos tend to be a little hazy as well.  I’m a little worried that the lens may have been scuffed up some causing issues as well.  The iPhone I carry for work has a completely useless camera since the scuffed lens makes everything uselessly hazy.

It’s Crazy Durable

IMGP2063 I’ve heard a few mentions here and there that Nokia makes durable phones.  The 520 doesn’t seem to be any exception.  I’ve dropped it more than once on hard surfaces and its done just fine.  It explodes into a phone, back and battery, but it’s still not damaged.

I actually think this may be somewhat related to the back design.  The back is curved and wraps around with it’s edges actually on the front face, so it completely protects the phone and is fairly durable itself.  It also pops off pretty easily, so an impact will jar the back off dissipating the energy of the impact instead of damaging the phone.

Storage is/was Too Little

wp_ss_20140913_0003 I have fixed this issue by putting a 32gb microSD card into the phone but I’ve been fighting against storage issues from the start.  Base storage is 8GB.  I want to say the system takes up half of that.  I have not been keeping music or podcasts or audiobooks on the phone either.

I’ve had to uninstall some apps just to keep up with the storage needed to use the phone.  My personal opinion is that these things should ship with at least 16gb as a standard, maybe even 32gb.  Memory really isn’t that expensive, especially if a company is buying it in bulk for manufacturing.  The 32gb card I bought is a nice Sandisk class 10 and it was only $15.  That was on sale admittedly but it also includes all the overhead of Amazon and Sandisk and packaging and putting it in SD card form.

Memory is cheap.  These companies (not just Nokia/Microsoft) need to get with the program here.

The Windows Phone Store Could Be Better

wp_ss_20140913_0004 This is, unfortunately, a problem that will last beyond the Lumia520 if I upgrade to a nicer Windows Phone.  There was a recent news article about how the Windows Phone store is full of scam apps.  I’ve already listed the apps I’m missing and that list is still pretty much the same.

I also kind of hate that I can’t buy an app and opt to not install it immediately.  This came up as part of my storage issues.  Asphalt 5, a racing series I’d played on Android, was on sale but i didn’t have enough space to install it.  When I tried ot buy it just to add it to my account for later use, the phone just told me I didn’t have enough storage and refused to let me purchase it.

I could probably have done it through a website somewhere but that is an extra needlessly inconvenient step.

The Hardware is Underpowered

IMGP2064 This is definitely more a Lumia520 issue than a Windows Phone Issue.  It’s a problem that has become increasingly worse, possibly attributed to the system updates that I’ve done since picking up the phone.

I see a lot of “Loading…..” and “Resuming….” screens.  I get a lot of times where an app fails to load so I get the Loading… screen and it dumps back to the homescreen.  Sometimes this even happens with the home screen, so I’ll be in say, Baconit (Reddit Reader) and hit back to the home screen only to end up back in Baconit.

It’s worse when Baconit then has the same issue and now I end up in some other app I had open previously.

It’s more than a little irritating at times.

I still like the phone and the OS.  It’s a cheap phone, so some issues are to be expected, but the performance of this cheap phone is way better than I’ve experience on a cheap Android phone or tablet.  A lot fo this is helped by solid hardware, something cheap Android devices seem to not have.  Nokia for a long while has been THE Windows phone Brand, and now they are owned by Microsoft, the Windows company.  They have also been making cell phones for ages, I loved the hell out of my old Nokia candy bar phones.  They have been around long enough to know what they are doing unlike a lot fo these newer cheap Chinese companies.

Raspberry Pi Project 01 – Web Server

Raspberry-Pi-Logo So, just as a start, this isn’t a how to of any kind.  There are already plenty of tutorials on how to do whatever with the raspberry Pi.  Unless I’m pushing something unique, I don’t feel the need to provide another explanation of how to do the same thing a hundred other people have done.

I completed my first trial project on my Raspberry Pi of setting up a web server.  This is a pretty simple process that I have done dozens of times before on Ubuntu and Windows so it isn’t exactly an amazing feat.  The most amazing part is that I followed through on it instead of putting the Pi aside for “someday” like so many other projects.

The set up is really straight forward.

sudo apt-get install apache2

sudo apt-get install php

sudo apt-get install mysql

wget wordpress from wherever

sudo apt-get install vsftp

sudo mysql

create database wordpress

Futz with some permissions…

That’s it, pretty much the same as Ubuntu.  I guess this is a hot to after all.  I followed up by setting up WordPress through the WordPress interface.  I added a theme and some plug ins and created a few dummy posts.  Mostly I wanted to gage performance.  Granted, a single user web server sitting inside a firewall on a LAN is probably not the best way to gage functionality.

Everything ran fine though.  FTP uploads were a little slow, but I imagine part of that can be attributed to the memory card access speeds.  It wasn’t unbearably or unusably slow.

The main issue is that, I already run a private web server on a full blown machine inside my house.  It’s useful for playing with web dev stuff, I run a WordPress instance archiving all of my posts online together, I host a couple of other web apps for things like my webcams and Twitter analytics.  It is already running and does more than the Pi is probably capable of doing all at once.

Using my Pi as a single WordPress host is a waste of a good Pi.  It was a nice exercise to get familiar with the mechanics of the Pi, but it’s not really all that useful long term.  So I’ve wiped it out to move on to a new project.

I’ve been debating on what to use it for on my second Project.  I have been flip flopping between an XBMC media player and running Retro Pi to make it into an emulation station.  My main hang ups, the media player won’t be super useful without a media server to back it up.  I plan to buy a NAS later this year and start ripping all of my DVDs to it but that’s months off.  Retro Pi seems like the logical choice then except I have an old Netbook with a busted screen I plan to use to for building a retro arcade machine.  Still, it might be good to compare the Pi to the Netbook for the emulation station.  Also, I have more than one room so I could use two emulation boxes pretty easily.  I thought about using the Netbook guns to build a Stepmania/DDR box anyway, and it’s probably better suited to run Stepmania than the Pi is anyway.

Anyway, as usual, lots of ideas, lots of plans, maybe something fun will come out of it.

Identity, Privacy, Anonymity

identity I had a short conversation recently over on Reddit that got me thinking a bit about the idea of online identity and, by extension, the ideas behind privacy, and anonymity online.  Privacy is a hot button issue in general lately and there has also been a lot of people causing some fuss over the idea of anonymity online. 

It’s ridiculously easy to be anonymous online.  Ok, let’s rephrase that, it’s ridiculously easy to be mostly anonymous online.  You want to be mostly anonymous, it’s trivial to make "fake" email accounts or identities.  You can even be pseudo anonymous by using a pseudonym.  If you were doing something malicious, it wouldn’t be hard to track you down from a simple pseudonym, especially if some large corporation or government wanted to track you.  Chances are you’re pulling cookies around in your browsing, and you’re connection will have a unique, logged IP address complete with time stamps etc. 

Being actually anonymous is trickier but still pretty trivial, spoofed IPs, TOR browsing, using open WiFi access points, especially public ones, in areas where there are no cameras, etc.  I’m not really here to discuss true anonymity online though, more the idea of pseudo anonymity.  This is the sort of anonymity that many more casual users of the internet greatly dislike.  It certainly has it’s good sides and it’s bad sides.

The complaints often come because of "Trolls" who use the anonymity granted by the internet as a means to be rude or mean.  The problem is that the term troll is often greatly misused or misappropriated.  I once wrote a pretty long essay back on usenet about what a troll is but the short version comes down to a few things.  Trolls and straight bullies are not the same.  Trolls and straight assholes are not the same thing.  Being an actual troll does require some effort, just going and telling someone they are "a stupid fag" on an anonymous board doesn’t make you a troll, it mostly just makes you an idiot.  The real point of trolling someone is to speak contradictory to what is being presented, not necessarily to prove an alternate point of view but to disprove or discredit the original view being presented.  There is a point when trolling turns into idiocy and harassment.

It’s simple, people don’t like being disagreed with or having their viewpoint challenged.  If that person can’t actually defend their viewpoint, they may get called out on it, and they call the person calling them out a troll, a "coward" hiding behind anonymity. 

"You wouldn’t say that to my face in person, why do you do it online?"

This is a tricky question on many levels and isn’t really an exact parallel.  If you put masks on everyone involved to make them "faceless", put them in a room, and had the originator read their originating comment out loud, would people still say "mean things"?  What if just the trolls had masks?  Also, a lot of people do say dumb asshole comments in face to face situations.

However, yes, there is something freeing and liberating about anonymity or even pseudo anonymity.  I’m sure there is some actual psychology behind this concept.  It’s basically the same concept of "dancing naked when home alone".  People act differently when they think no one is watching.  It’s human nature.  We pick our noses, we scratch out but cracks, we dance naked, we make rude comments online.  The main difference is that picking your nose doesn’t really hurt anyone else.  Does a rude comment really hurt anyone when everyone is anonymous and everyone has the option to make rude comments? 

"You wouldn’t say that to my face in person?"  Maybe they would.  But what if you could punch back.

So let’s take a site like 4chan (the website not the "1337 hax0r duud"), where everyone is anonymous.  Yeah, it can fall into a cesspool of filth but it also can lead to a lot of good discussion.  Much of the worst is confined to /b/, and 4chan is much more than just /b/.  Even discussion of places like /v/ (Video Games) and /toy/ (Toys) can be more interesting when people feel more free to dislike what they dislike and speak their minds.  You also don’t have to deal with people trying to be some sort of crazy internet celebrity in their area of interest.  Identity is frowned upon in general, so you just get pure discussion.  No one trying to be pretentious about who they are and what they want people to think of them as, just pure discussion.

Does it lead to arguments and shit slinging?  Of course it does.  Does it lead to idiotic arguments that make no sense?  Yep.  It also leads to acceptance.  Acceptance of ideas, because maybe you actually lose an argument, but because you aren’t saddled with the pride of your identity, you are free to accept defeat, even if it just means quitting the argument in disgust.

Then there is the idea of Psudo anonymity.  Your online handle or username if you will.  You still end up with some level of reputation but it’s one step removed from your private life and personal identity.  Its also pretty easy to manage multiple online online "personas".  Chances are if you are managing multiple identities on any one website that website could easily cross connect them to each other but for basic outward facing use, it can serve a purpose.

Take Reddit.  While similar in nature to 4chan, since it’s full of user generated content that lives and dies by how much support it gets, Reddit has an identity system.  Reddit also has an archive, everything on 4chan drops off eventually sometimes in minutes, sometimes in days, but it eventually dies.  Reddit has an archive, and an identity and everything you post is easily attributed to you.  More importantly, Reddit has the "Karma system" where users can up and downvote good and bad posts.  Granted that a lot of people know that Karma is "useless fake internet points" and there are even people who try to get negative karma instead of positive karma, but it does help by giving a tangible indicator to "how good" a person is.  It’s not perfect of course, some people may be good at things that aren’t relevant.  Someone who posts to Gonewild and has 4000 karma as a result isn’t necessarily going to mean anything when it comes to political discussion. 

Hence, "meaningless fake internet points."

Then there is Facebook.  Facebook is where you connect to friends and family.  People you will know for long periods of time, possibly your entire life.  Many of these people will know you better than you know yourself.  They will know when you’re being fake and call you out when you’re being an idiot.  These are most likely the people you want to know and want to be judged by.  There is also a lot of push for having a "real identity" on Facebook.

Facebook is a place where people go to "be real." 

All of these places have elements of each other, and it’s a very tiny sampling of the endless array of websites on the internet.  Each exemplifies a major component of online identity.  A board like  4chan is all about being anonymous, but you can choose to fill in that name field, and there is even a system in place to keep your identity verified.  Reddit gives you a name and points, encouraging you to behave for the most part, but it’s not required and can one can easily start over if there is a major screw up.  Sites like Facebook, want you to be "the real you" but really, nothing is stopping anyone from making multiple Facebook profiles and fake identities.  Hell I have a Facebook Page for my cat that I rarely post to.

The point is, the closer you get to your true identity, the less publicly open you tend to be, at least about your real feelings.  There is a fear of being judged or shamed.  A fear of upsetting the lifetime friends and family we have.  Anonymity still has a place though.  It’s like a confessional, or the comment drop box.  It’s a way to voice opinion without feat of retaliation.  There are often many reasons to fear retaliation.  Assholishness and trolling aside, opinions are often formed that are negative towards people with power.  People with power often have very strong methods of retaliation at their disposal.  There needs to be a means for people to speak out against real injustices.  The side effect is that sometimes you end up with "trolls" and assholes.

Some people just need to accept that sometimes a difference of opinion is a good thing.

A Slice of Raspberry Pi

So, I got a new package and a new toy to play with in the mail.  Honestly I am surprised it took me this long to order myself a Raspberry Pi mini computer, When it was released, I was one of the people scrambling to try to order one immediately only to be disappointed that all of the stores that carry them were UK only.

And now I have myself a Pi.  I went ahead and ordered the suped up starter pack from Amazon instead of just the bare bones Pi and case.  I probably could have ordered the components separately for cheaper but I figured this would be much easier and would sort of guarantee compatibility.  The kid includes a breadboard and some wires and parts to let the Pi work better with the GPIO interfaces, which is something I wanted anyway.  Also it was listed as the seller in it’s category so I figure it’s couldn’t be that bad of a deal.


The Kid includes the Raspberry Pi B+ board, a case and power supply, a broadboard, a breakout cable for the GPIO, some LEDs, some wires for the bread board, a set of 3 heat sinks, an 8GB Micro SD card, a USB WiFi adaprot, and an HDMI cable.  I have several project ideas in mind for the Pi and my plan is that once I set up something that I am satisfied with, I can order another basic board kit and then use the parts on a new project.


I’m kind of glad I waited actually.  The Pi has evolved quite a bit over time and this model, the B+ is definitely better in a few simple ways.  It lacks the Composite video output that the original had, but has 4 USB ports instead of just 2.  The B+ also is designed so all of the ports are on two sides instead of scattered all over the place.  The basic processor and memory are essentially the same though.


The case in this kit is simple but effective, the cut outs all align properly and it snaps in pretty securely.  There are also 3 heat sinks included.  It was a little tricky to figure out where the smallest heat sink went since the photos online are all for the older model.


The completed set up seals up nicely.  Not only does the case have holes for the major ports, it also has slits and holes for the lesser used interfaces, like the GPIO pins and the digital display port.


What surprised me the most was just how light the completed set up is.  It’s a bit thicker than my phone but probably weighs half to a forth of the weight of my phone.  I feel like this board could easily be attached to some sort of kite or glider if one were so inclined.


I’ve already got several Raspberry Pi related books full of projects to try and i have some ideas of my own once I get the hang of how the system works.  Plus there are the projects people have done over on /r/raspberry_pi.  I also am looking forward to seeing what I can come up with to combine the Raspberry Pi and Arduino boards.