Saturday, August 15, 2015

Android Nirvana Through Music

For the moment, I am content. This has been a long time coming, as I've been trying to replicate the best features of gadgetry in my life with new bits I find along the way to enable my "phone" to perform tasks seamlessly with little interaction needed on my part, while managing to increase my overall quality of life. Today, I'm going to talk about music.

If I look back at my earlier life, I've loved having music with me at all times. Much of my leisure time was spent curating my music collection, and while I haven't dedicated nearly as much to that pursuit in the last few years, my wife and children have helped fill in the gaps. What I have now are a few apps that help make my phone a musical monster. I've got tunes on as I'm typing this, in fact, pumping through some of the finest headphones you can get for a reasonable price.

My preferred jukebox is Google Play Music, because I can administer my music from any web browser and download any of it to my phone at any time. I'm sure there are others that many would argue are better for any number of reasons, but I value it's level of portability most after spending many hours with various playback devices and media storage schemes. As in many features I have configured for my phone, I have done my best to get the actual software out of the way so I can simply enjoy the music, wherever and whenever I want.

Just as there are many choices for media playing apps, there are many choices for sound enhancements. Some integrate their own equalizers and effects, while others ignore this completely, leaving it to the device manufacturer or user to fuss over such details. My go-to app for universal sound enhancements on the "phone" is Viper4Android. There is a price to be paid for this free app, however, in that it needs root privileges to be installed and is further complicated when you are running the latest versions of Android. We'll get into that in a bit, however. The point right here is that Viper4Android can replicate any effect you can think of, even going so far as supporting profiles for specific models of headphones to help correct for their shortcomings. It is flexible enough to offer separate settings depending on the output being used (headset/phone speakers/Bluetooth/usb dock).

Many effects apps offer convenient ways to change the mode of operation, but Viper does not, so in order to maintain such audible clarity and flexibility I've had to come up with with my own scheme to interact with it. I use Tasker and AutoInput to enable and disable the headset EQ depending on the device connected to my "phone". I haven't figured out a way to give Tasker complete and seamless control of Viper (still looking, if you have any tips), but AutoInput simplifies the process greatly by sensing the context of visible controls to make sure Viper is driven appropriately.

Tasker is also the glue used to start and stop most media playback and associated volume control changes. Whenever a cable is attached to the headset jack, the phone comes to life and gives me activity choices based on the connector inserted, then adjusts the volume and EQ settings as needed to begin playing music.

The last piece of the puzzle is something occasionally supported by phone manufacturers out of the box, long pressing the volume keys to navigate tracks. I became very attached to this feature years ago, thanks to Sony Ericsson, but I've found it is much harder to find with Android phones. My experiments with custom ROMs have shown me that there are plenty of other people that value this feature, though. While I'm using a custom ROM at the moment, it is based on parts from stock LG ROMs, so by default the volume buttons start the note-taking app or camera. The way to get around this is to install Xposed, an app that allows access to features buried deep in Android that are normally hidden away. Developers can write modules for Xposed that allow new or different functions than what was originally provided by the ROM. The module I am using has had a few iterations and names, but is now known as Physical Button Music Control. After using the option provided by my ROM to disable the default volume button shortcuts, PBMC lets me assign short, long, double, and triple presses to different media functions.

Having finally found the right combination of theses apps, I'm never far from my music, and that makes me happy.

Google Play Music  

Sunday, October 27, 2013

STRINGS is here!!

In celebration of the release of STRINGS, by Allison M. Dickson (a brilliant lady I know, she lets me fix her appliances), I thought it would be nice to release a little extra promotional material that people could carry with them.

As my latest obsession on my phone was to optimize productivity and minimize any unnecessary clutter, I've been going through a number of apps that allow you to set up your own self-created widgets, since most that I've found don't quite do enough. My first was Minimalistic Text, which is great with all it can do, but a pain to set back up when you flash new ROMs on your phone as much as I do. I believe I've found a happier home now with UCCW (Ultimate Custom Clock Widget), which allows more functionality in a single widget, as well as being able to display graphics. The best thing for all the STRINGS fans though, is that it allows me to take the skin I made for STRINGS and put it on the Google Play Store for you to install and enjoy!!
There are a few things to cover in setting this up on your Android home screen:

  1. You need to install UCCW first before you can expect to do anything with my app.
  2. Simply installing my app won't get you anywhere, as you can't run it and expect something to happen. It's only a skin for UCCW, basically a few images and instructions to tell UCCW how to make a home screen widget the way I want it made.
  3. The first part of UCCW that you will need to concern yourself with in order to get this all up and running is the app portion, where you run it from your App Drawer and configure the weather settings to feed the right weather service data, temperature measurements, and rate of updating the current weather information.
  4. The second part of UCCW to work with, after installing the STRINGS skin is to set up your home screen widget. This can happen any number of ways, depending on your phone or tablet's launcher. Some can be selected from the home screen with a long-press on an open piece of desktop, others let you select them from the home screen by pressing your Menu button, and others allow your to select them from the Widget section of the app drawer. In any case, you need to select UCCW, then UCCW will ask you what size you want the widget to be. A good default is 4x3 (Columns x Rows), but feel free to make it what you have room for on your screen. Once you have selected the size, UCCW will present the list of skins, which is where you will find STRINGS with a BIG picture, waiting for your selection.
  5. Once you have made your selection, you'll be taken back to your home screen and you'll see a hand inviting you to touch the screen to start the widget.
Now, you should have STRINGS on your home screen waiting for you to enjoy both its form, and function. The colors of the 3 red circles and 3 gray circles can all be independently set. Pressing the "hidden button" (in light green below) toward the top of the right-most (darkest) red circle, will open up the UCCW editor, where you can change the colors AND functions of the hotspots to better fit your needs.
I hope you enjoy the skin, and recommend it to your friends to help spread the word about STRINGS!!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

STRINGS in the dark...

Because sometimes you want to help promote a book without ruining your night-vision.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

New Home: New Home Network...

Here's a little bit of home networking history for my household. Somewhere around 1998, I had the opportunity to switch from using a Dial-Up Modem to a Cable Modem, and as with most people, the world became a different place. When I met a nice lady kind enough to consider marrying me, and we bought a house (in 2000), I used the awesome Internet Connection Sharing feature built into Windows (98 and/or 2000) to get the second computer we had onto the internet. This quickly became a problem, so we went and looked for an appliance to manage the internet connection for both computers.

SMC Barricade
We found the SMC Barricade, device for which there is no elegant way to physically arrange (due to its having connections or switches on ALL 4 of it's shorter sides), but was well equipped for the time and I still have in case of emergencies. Not only was it a capable network router for broadband applications, it was also equipped with a parallel port for printer sharing and a serial port that you could configure for a Dial-Up Modem (which we did use for a stretch when our first child was on the way). The Barricade saw us through a brief stint with 802.11a wireless networking, when we bought an SMC access point and PCMCIA wireless card to get our laptop connected from the living room, when we had all of our computers and other devices in the bedroom previously. Sometime around 2003, when these early wireless devices became a little too problematic, and everything seemed to be shifting away from 802.11a, we went looking for a router that not only was faster, but had an 802.11b/g access point built in.

Linksys WRT54GEnter the Linksys WRT54G. Not only was this a very capable router right out of the box, but it ran Linux. There was a growing number of people dedicated to making it better and adding new capabilities. This router saw us through our times with Vonage after we dumped the local POTS, and helped us fool our DirecTivo into thinking it still had a phone connection to connect back to DirecTV. Later it moved with our cable modem from our bedroom/office to the entertainment center in the living room, where it could be directly connected to our Tivo HD ,XBOX 360, Powerline network adapter (for our other PCs in far reaches of the house), and Home Theater PC. The WRT54G served us for many years and still hasn't completely croaked on us (even though it tried to on a few occasions). Currently, it serves most of those same devices, in addition to a number of laptops, Android devices, a network All-in-One printer, a Blu-Ray Player, and occasionally our TV. It has had a long and full life.

TP-Link TL-WDR3600Now (2013), on the verge of us moving to a new (bigger) house we are probably going to need a second access point to fully blanket the house with our WiFi signals. We would also like to be able to take advantage of the HUGE speed increases we have been largely ignorant of in both wired and wireless networking. So we're getting a new router, but one that can run the same custom firmware as the trusty WRT54G, called DD-WRT. The new router is the TP-Link TL-WDR3600, and not only is it bigger/faster/stronger (gigabit Ethernet and dual band 300Mbps wireless), but it adds back some expandibility we've been missing in the form of 2 USB ports, which can be used for printer sharing or storage right out of the box. We'll see what other tricks I can set them up for later on. For now, it will become our main router, and the WRT-54G will retire to a lighter load as auxiliary access point and network switch. We'll be able to have the same interface to administer both, and shouldn't have any issues connecting to WiFi at the end of the house furthest from the router any more.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

New Life-Partner

For the better part of the year, I've been without my Sony Ericsson K850i. I'm okay with that. Allison and I dropped our feature phones and hopped on the Android bus, and we're both quite happy about it. While I had been well invested in hacking, mods, and generally wringing every last ounce of usability available from my K850, it was getting long in the tooth. It held up well with its compact form factor, great camera, and integrated posting to Blogger. I even found a great (free) bit of GPS software that I could use for geocaching and mapping my hikes.

We have slowly become aclimated to the Android way of life, checking the free app of the day from Amazon, and finding new tweaks to change the ways our phones do things. I've rooted both of our phones (I have an HTC Inspire, and she's got a Motorola Atrix) , and have flased some serious mods on mine.

This post was going to be a long review of all the features we love about our phones and our favorite apps, but after sitting on the first two paragraphs for about two weeks and not getting any further, I can see it needs to be broken up. Stay tuned for more. I'll be discussing the advantages of rooting. finding te right apps for what you want to do with your Android phone, and MAXIMIZING BATTERY LIFE.

This should be fun!