Media Server Not Serving Your Media?

June 29, 2014

I have the Plex Media Server running on my 27″ iMac Desktop System, and stream videos stored on my Mac to my Android Tablet through my home WiFi system. I usually do this at night while in bed, watching a TV show or part of a movie just before I go to sleep. I noticed a few months ago that while I was watching a streaming video, it would routinely just stop and hang. Pressing the pause button with the video player app on my tablet and then the play button would only play the video segment for about 2-3 seconds before it halted again.

Thinking this problem might be with the video player, I tried a few others available for my Android tablet– same thing happened. I also tried using a different media server as a test, switching from Plex to Universal Media Server but I still got the same stoppage of video playing.

After some Googling, I discovered that my iMac Desktop system might be going into sleep mode and possibly shutting down my WiFi connection. However, under my Mac’s Preferences for “Energy Saver” it was set to never sleep for the computer and for the display to sleep after 45 minutes. Hmm, maybe the sleeping display setting did more than just turn off the display?

Well, something was stopping or preventing my media from streaming from my Mac, so I tried using a OSX command called caffinate to keep my Mac alive and awake when I was in bed watching my streaming videos. To do so, you would type in the UNIX command in a Terminal window,

caffeinate  -t  10800

Here, I’m telling my Mac to stay awake for 10,800 seconds (3 hrs) beginning when I initiated that command. Since I wanted this command to happen automatically everyday at 9 pm, I added it to the Crontab file on my system (Crontab was actually replaced by a process called launchd on the Mac OSX, but you can still use crontab settings). To make this change easier, I used a GUI called CronniX which looks like this,

Screen Shot 2014-06-29 at 6.04.58 AM

Here you see that I’m having that command start at 21 hours (9:00 pm) and it occurs everyday. The “&” symbol at the end of the command statement had the process running in the background. So far, this seems to have fixed my streaming video stoppage, so hopefully this is a permanent solution to my problem.


Amazon’s Fire Smartphone: Success or Flop?

June 22, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-06-22 at 8.31.36 AMIt’s been know for the last several months that Amazon would be coming out with a new smartphone for the masses. Very little was know about it, but people speculated that it would be released in a similar fashion as the Kindle Fire Tablet. That is, it would be a well constructed device running Amazon’s custom version of the Android OS, and sold for a below-market-value price. The thought being, Amazon would make up for the low price by getting people to use more of it’s paid services.

I was surprised to learn of the actual details of the “Fire Phone” after Amazon’s press release this week. Jeff Bezos talked about all the great technical wizardry of their new phone, with the 4 front facing cameras for head tracking and the “Dynamic Perspective” mode for a 3D screen display. The “FireFly” app was also touted as a way for this new phone to quickly identify bar codes, phone numbers, email address, etc. But in my opinion, all of this was gimmicky. Cool tech stuff, but still gimmicky for the general public.

All of these advanced features do make me wonder two things: (1) How much compute power is required to do the Dynamic Perspective, and at what cost to battery life? And (2) How much of the FireFly processing is done by the Amazon online servers and would require large amounts of data the user’s cell phone data plan? None of this was mentioned in the press release, but it makes me wonder what resources and cost is required to use this advanced technology.

The Fire Phone itself didn’t look very advanced from the outside. It actually reminded me of an minature 1st Generation Kindle Fire Table. It was smaller, but looked like a thick Kindle Fire. With other smartphone companies like Apple, HTC, and Samsung striving to make their phones thinner, lighter, and with less bezel area, I was surprised to see the Fire Phone looking so antiquated.

Finally, there’s the cost of the Fire Phone. I thought it would be priced below what comparable smartphones are selling for today (being heavily subsidized by Amazon), but it wasn’t. Instead, the cost seems on par with most Android Phones. This seems strange since the trend is to have cheaper smartphones (i.e., Motorola’s line of phone and OnePlus).

Will I consider switching to the Amazon Fire Phone. Even without seeing the phone in person, my answer is probably no. I’m perfectly happy with my current HTC One M7, and I anticipate my next phone to be lighter, have more battery life, thinner, and have more storage space and faster processor. Unfortunately for Amazon, that future phone is not the Fire Phone.


Useful Android Apps

May 10, 2014

Here’s a few Android apps that are on my favorite’s list:images

Agent – This is a nice background-running app that controls various settings on your smartphone during the day. For example, when my calendar shows that I’m “Busy” in a meeting it will turn off all notifications. When I’m sleeping at night, it will turn off alarms, the ringer, and notifications (unless they are from someone identified as a VIP). It also will read out IM messages through my connected Bluetooth system in my car, save my last car parked position, and has various features for battery saving. Works very well, and silently in the background.

Today Calendar – A great replacement app for the stock calendar app on my HTC One. Very clean with a beautiful interface. Well worth the nominal cost of the app.

Play Newsstand – This is Google’s news app which I’ve found to work pretty well. Lots of available content, so you’ll never run out of news to read while eating your lunch at work!

Google Remote Desktop – Absolutely excellent remote desktop app for Android. With this app, I can very, very easily connect to my home desktop iMac system and do some basic activities remotely on that system. I’ve tried numerous different remote connection apps, but this works the easiest and smoothest. Works amazingly well on my HTC One smartphone with a LTE cellular connection.

SkipLock – This app will turn off your smartphone’s lock screen if you’re connected to specific WiFi networks or connected to your car’s Bluetooth. Very convenient when at home or driving in your car.

 


Smartphone Battery Drain – SOLVED!

May 10, 2014

Although my HTC One Android Smartphone works very well for me and can last me an entire day with a single charge, I noticed that the biggest battery drain on my device is something called “Google Play Services”. From what I’ve researched on the Internet, apparently you need to have this service to do basic Android-related functions so you can’t simply disable or uninstall it. Also, it seems that Google Play Services has high “wake locks”, which mean it turns on your device periodically to do some kind of checking or reporting (e.g., checking for WiFi hotspots, your location, etc).

Perusing through the various Android forums have revealed that this is a common problem with lots of Android smartphones. One suggested solution (for KitKat 4.2.2 OS), was to go to “Settings->Location->Google Location Settings” and turn off “Location Reporting” and “Location History”. Apparently, this stops the Google Play Services from constantly waking up and sending info to Google Headquarters. I found that this does help, but Google Play Services is still the highest battery drain on my HTC One.

Next, I tried turning off the “Location” option entirely, but that resulted in the BlinkFeed homescreen on my HTC One to show the “Location Service is Off. Tap to See Weather” notice.

set1

 

 

However, I noticed that Google Play Services was no longer the highest battery drain. In fact, this service didn’t even show up in the top 10 list of battery drainers! So, I knew I was onto something: Google Play Services must be being used by something to wake up and check my device’s location way too much.

I also noticed that using the option, “Use Wi-Fi and mobile networks to estimate location” resulted in very high battery draining, as I assumed my device periodically turned on it’s WiFi to scan for nearby hotspots to determine it’s location. Switching this to “Device Sensors” only and turning off my GPS seemed to stop this location searching method.

set3

The final solution that I decided to use, was to turn off  the “Google Now” option completely. I did that by going to the Google Now home page, tap on the overflow menu (three vertical dots at the bottom of the screen), and deactivate Google Now.

set2

I also turned on the “Location” Services and turned on, “Use Wi-Fi and mobile networks to estimate location”. This resulted in much, much better battery life and Google Play Services was no longer listed as a significant better drainer for my device.

With this configuration, my Blinkfeed homescreen still showed me my local weather and Google Play Services was not draining my battery. My battery life is now much better. The only downside, is that I no longer have the function of Google Now. But that’s ok for me, since I didn’t use that service very much.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


PushBullet – Great Message Mirroring App

January 26, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-01-26 at 8.06.06 AMIf you have an Android tablet or smartphone, you check out an app called PushBullet. It had a companion extension for your Desktop PC’s Chrome Browser (and Firefox, I believe) that allows you to wirelessly push information between your Desktop PC and Android devices, or between the Android devices themselves. So if you have a web page link, web address, file, or short checklist that you’d like to transfer from one device to another (or all) you can do it from PushBullet. The app does all of this by using the Google Messaging System that is available for free by Google’s Servers.

One really cool feature of PushBullet, is the ability to mirror notifications that appear on your Android phone or tablet to your Desktop PC. So, when I get a notification on my HTC One smartphone (like a CNN or USA Today breaking news), a small dialog window pops up on my Desktop Mac system in the right top corner of the screen with the same message. Other notifications like when someone is calling me or when I get a text message also appears on my Desktop Mac as well. Really cool, since I don’t have to stop and look at my phone when I get these notifications.

Definitely worth installing and checking out if your in the Google Android ecosystem.


Great Background Images

December 8, 2013

I like to have different background images for my Android Smartphone, Tablets, and iMac computer screens to keep everything looking fresh. It’s amazing how changing the background to something you stare at frequently can affect your mood throughout the day! I have an app on my tablets and smartphone that will automatically change the background images on a regular basis which provides a pleasant daily surprise to start off my day.

Here’s a link to some great hi-res backgrounds available by Microsoft. During this time of the year, I like to rotate a series of Christmas-themed backgrounds to keep in the holiday spirit. Just something to help me prepare for December 25th!


Acer A500 Tablet Lives On!

December 8, 2013

acer_a500

My first tablet was the Acer A500 Iconia running the “Honeycomb” Android OS 3.0, which has a 10.1″ screen, full-sized USB port, and a mini-HDMI port. This tablet has worked great as my laptop replacement around the house, allowing me to view web pages, check emails, play games, and watch movies. I normally use my smaller Nexus 7 Google Tablet when I leave the house (because of it’s size), but the Acer tablet is still my first choice at home.

Since Acer has decided to not support future OS upgrades past “Ice Cream Sandwich” Android OS 4.0, some developers have taken it upon themselves to create custom ROMs which can downloaded and installed on the Acer A500, extending it’s life with the latest Android OSes. For the last 6 months I’ve been using the ROM called CM10_Flex_V6Supercharged_Rev3.4 which is a version of JellyBean 4.1.2, and it has been running just fine. Today, I decided to upgrade to a newer ROM called TegraOwners JB M42 ROM V4 which is JellyBean 4.3.1. Fortunately, the Google Play Store will reinstall all my previous apps automatically when I sign in my tablet under my previous Google Account. So after 15 minutes or so, I should have all my apps and data restores and I can take my time adjusting the basic settings to my liking.

It’s great that these developers are working hard to bring these custom ROMs to the general public so we can keep our older devices running with the latest Android OSes.

The Acer A500 tablet lives on!