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Messages - gidds

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Astro Slide - Hardware / The Importance Of Screen Cleanliness
« on: April 22, 2023, 05:15:52 pm »
On a few occasions, my Astro has started behaving strangely, leading me to wonder about the hardware or firmware. For example:
  • With the physical keyboard open, my text editor started popping up the ‘Choose input method’ dialog a couple of times a minute, for no apparent reason. And if I tapped on the screen to move the cursor, the onscreen keyboard would pop up too.
  • Another time, it didn't always respond to taps on the right-hand quarter of the screen, and drags would become erratic and sometimes got ‘dropped’ almost at random.
  • Another time, drags or taps would sometimes cause enlargement/reduction or rotation.
However, in each case, after giving the screen a really good wipe (with a microfibre cloth impregnated with cleaning solution), the problem vanished, and everything behaved normally again. So the cause must have simply been dirt on the screen. 

So if your Astro starts behaving strangely, give its screen a good clean before starting to worry!

Now, I generally keep my Astro's screen pretty clean anyway, with no visible/tactile dirt or smears. So, surprisingly, all the problems above must have been caused by dirt that was too small/thin to be seen while the screen was on.

How common is this sort of thing? I haven't used any other smartphones, so I can't compare. (I don't recall seeing this sort of issue with the Gemini, but of course its screen was better protected.) Does anyone know whether the Astro is particularly susceptible to this sort of problem, and whether I might have done anything to encourage it, and/or anything can be done to avoid it?

New products and alternatives / Re: MNT Pocket Reform
« on: March 24, 2023, 05:49:49 am »
I'm with Varti, I'm afraid. In my experience of using palmtops (almost three decades: various Psions, including a 5mx that I used until getting a Gemini, and now an Astro), all other things being equal, a machine which is with you is always better than one which isn't. (That's why so many photos are taken with phones these days, even by people who own much better cameras: phones are there when needed.)

An Astro fits into a trouser pocket. (I'd prefer a bit thinner and lighter, of course, but for me it's a reasonable compromise; the 5mx was bigger still.) And so it's always with me: at home, at work, on the train, visiting family and friends, wherever. That means it gets used.

A device the size of this MNT simply isn't carryable in the same way. That would make it far less useful for many of the things I'd want it for. I don't need a powerful mini-laptop at home; I already have a far better desktop machine. And what would be the point of a device for taking notes or looking up info, which isn't there at the point you suddenly find you have notes to take or info to look up?

Yes, upgradeability and use of standard components is great; but in this case the cost is heavy in terms of size and weight — much too heavy for me.

However, I'm sure it'll work for some people, and I wish them all the best for it!

Gemini PDA - Hardware / Re: Gemini won’t charge
« on: March 16, 2023, 03:22:48 pm »
Nevertheless, it is sad to know that one day my Gemini and Cosmo won't boot again because there will be no replacement battery to buy :(

Indeed — but isn't that pretty much the situation for any phone (or indeed any device with built-in, custom batteries) these days? Of course, the most popular devices will be supported for longer, but nothing lasts for ever…

(FWIW, I used my Gemini every day for 5 years, and the battery never misbehaved or lost any appreciable capacity. I attribute that to a) charging it every night, without waiting until it looked low, and b) using a bog-standard slow 5V 0.5A USB1 charger and not a fast charger. All batteries warm up a bit while charging, but heat kills them, and so to a very rough approximation the slower you charge, the longer they last.)

An alternative is to use a sticky material such as Blu-Tak.

Massage a smallish blob until it's flexible, press it down fairly hard on a key, and pull it up fairly sharpish — the keytop should come away with it. You can then pull the keytop off the Blu-Take without leaving any mark.

I haven't needed to do it with my Astro yet, so I can't guarantee; but it worked well on the Gemini (though I don't think the keys were attached quite so firmly), and on Psion keyboards before that; I've also used it on a couple of full-size keyboards (though again, its safety may depend on the exact model).

For calendar/agenda, I can thoroughly recommend Calengoo, as that supports many keyboard shortcuts. It's also hugely configurable, and works well both for syncing with a remote server and also for stand-alone local use, using standard formats. (The author is very responsive and helpful, too.)

I've used it since getting my Gemini; now on my Astro I can confirm that it works well in both orientations. Its notifications are very configurable; it can even set the phone to vibrate-only or silent for the duration of every appointment. Plus it does to-do lists and lots of other stuff I don't use.

I used to use the Psion Series 5/mx Agenda app, and when I checked, Calengoo was by far the best replacement for it. (I even wrote a couple of programs that let me export 25 years of stuff from the Psion Agenda and convert it to standard .ICS format that Calengoo imported…)

Astro Slide - General Discussion / Re: Community issue tracker & wiki
« on: March 02, 2023, 09:11:57 am »
Is there any place for discussing the wiki pages?

For example, some of the instructions on the rooting page aren't very clear to me — and I can't improve them via a PR if I don't understand them!

Good question, indeed!

A mini desktop doesn't really interest me (probably not powerful enough to be a headless video-encoding engine, plus I already have one of those; not powerful or full-featured enough to be my main desktop, plus it's not portable like my MacBook Pro; yet too big, powerful, and complex to be my media centre). But there's nothing else like the Astro — nor even anything very much like the Gemini or Cosmo — and that's a class of device I've been using for almost 30 years, and will continue to need for decades to come, so I _really_ hope it doesn't end with the Astro!

I don't know enough about mini-desktops to judge how this new device compares to the competition… Is the spec competitive? Ditto the price? Is it likely to appeal to the professionals, developers, gamers, and/or content creators that they claim?

Astro Slide - Android / Re: Rooting the Astro Slide
« on: February 26, 2023, 05:34:43 pm »
I want to use rooted android.

See my instructions earlier in this thread for details of how to root Android on the Astro; it works fine for me, including mobile voice and data.

(I know nothing about installing Linux on it.)

Astro Slide - Hardware / Re: Screen Protector
« on: February 25, 2023, 10:25:22 am »
Thanks, I'm reassured :)

In both cases, the factory screen protector picked up significant scuff marks from the keys. I'm sure glass would be less inclined to scuff like this

Yes; in my experience, the Gemini's keyboard has no permanent effect on its bare screen. (It often showed faint marks from the keys — but they always wiped straight off, leaving no trace, even after 5 years of continuous use.) I guess that shouldn't be a surprise, given that one is toughened glass and the other medium-soft plastic.

I've never noticed a difference in sensitivity or friction. Perhaps that's to do with the particular screen protector.

Maybe so. (Are you will have gathered, I have almost no experience with screen protectors, so I can't tell whether that one was particular cheap or badly made… just that I'd certainly find it very noticeable, and not in a good way!)

Astro Slide - Hardware / Re: Screen Protector
« on: February 25, 2023, 09:24:57 am »
Stepping back a bit: what's the use case for a screen protector?

I never used a protector on my Gemini (nor for various Psions before that), as the screen is not exposed when closed — and I never suffered any screen damage while open. I'm taking similar care with my Astro: it lives in my trouser pocket (screen inward), and since I never put anything else in that pocket, I expect it to be perfectly safe. And when it's in my hands or on the desk, I can't see it being in any more danger than any other device.

I've encountered a screen protector on someone else's phone, and found it an annoyance, with reduced sensitivity and increased friction.

Given that the Astro uses Gorilla Glass, which is tough and scratch-resistant, would I see any real benefit to covering it with a protector?

Off Topic forum / Re: 2020 game :)
« on: February 25, 2023, 07:45:40 am »

Much more fun than most other games, and much less of a time-waster  :D

Astro Slide - Android / Re: Fingerprint issue
« on: February 14, 2023, 09:33:46 am »
The FP sensor is active *all* the time, even when screen is locked.

Yes, I discovered that when I found it would sometimes unlock while I was still centring my finger before actually pressing the button…

In fact, it seems that the screen is just about the only device which gets turned off: the fingerprint sensor is always active, as are the other buttons, Bluetooth and wifi* connections, the processor, etc. — though at least some of those go into some sort of low-power state while not in active use.

Fitting in with your experience, best practice seems to be:
  • Disable ‘wake on lift’.
  • Register all the relevant fingerprints.
  • Keep the sensor clean.
  • To wake, simply rest one of those fingers on the sensor (and hold for a couple of seconds if needed) without pressing the button.
  • Try to avoid touching the sensor with fingertips, fingers, palms, clothing, or anything else at all other times!
  • If you see ‘Too many attempts, try later’, unlock by using your password/pattern/PIN to reset the counter and avoid the sensor being disabled completely.
  • If you see ‘Too many attempts, fingerprint sensor disabled’, the only way to re-enable it is to reboot. (By holding down the power button or Fn+Esc, and selecting ‘Restart’ — luckily that's fairly quick and won't lose any saved data/settings.)

It's clear that the sensor registers almost any touch as a fingerprint attempt, so it's a shame that the sensor isn't indented further to reduce accidental touches, and/or allows more failures before locking up…

I have a few related questions, though:

Does anyone know the best orientation for fingerprints? I started by holding my finger perpendicular to the screen (as that'd be the most obvious position when the Astro is open and on the desk — the position I'm use to from the Gemini), but I've also registered some fingerprints in the other orientation, with the finger resting along the edge of the screen. It's hard to tell, but I suspect the latter may be recognised more consistently, maybe because that gives a slightly more consistent finger position (less scope for lateral movement, and you can feel the end of the sensor) and/or because it gives a slightly greater area to recognise — but I'm not really sure. Any thoughts?

(I'm assuming that if you want a finger to be recognised in both orientations, it's not smart enough to realise it's the same finger, and so you need to register it twice, once each way.)

Also, when I wake up in the morning and remove the charging cable, my Astro never responds to a fingerprint (not even with a ‘not recognised’ message), and I always need to open it and enter my password. Am I doing something wrong, or is ignoring the sensor expected after disconnecting power and/or after many hours of being locked?

I also note that you can set Android not to lock when in a certain location or connected to a certain Bluetooth device. However, I don't usually enable location sensing (for privacy and battery reasons), and the only Bluetooth device I use it with is a pair of earphones that I take with me and so aren't suitable for indicating location! Is it possible to prevent locking when connected to a certain wifi access point/network? Or is there a type of Bluetooth device I could get purely to prevent locking, that wouldn't have any other functionality or battery impact, and wouldn't prevent also using Bluetooth earphones?

(* I run an SSH daemon so I can connect to my phone from my desktop. The Gemini was connected to wifi only when the screen was on, so I'd always have to unlock it first and wait for it to connect — but the Astro always responds, even when it looks completely asleep.)

Astro Slide - Android / Re: Editing hosts file
« on: January 17, 2023, 09:44:27 am »
To answer my own question:

This is easily fixed by enabling the Magisk built-in module ‘Systemless Hosts’.

Magisk was already installed on my phone. (I had patched the boot image with Magisk, as per the procedure here, and the first time I tried to run su it triggered a full install of the Magisk app.) I started the Magisk app, opened the Modules tab, and the ‘Systemless Hosts’ module was already listed; I just had to enable it and reboot.

After doing that, /etc/hosts is fully writable!  :)

(There seems to be a lot going on under the covers… First, /etc is a symbolic link to /system, so /etc/hosts really means /system/etc/hosts. Second, it looks like Magisk mounts a huge number of separate filesystems — e.g. one for every executable in /system/bin, and loads of others I don't understand. Enabling the ‘Systemless Hosts’ module causes one more filesystem to be mounted, on /system/etc/hosts itself. And that filesystem is writeable — no need to remount it each time — and seems to have plenty of space.)

One caveat: only /etc/hosts is writable; no other files in that directory are writable (because they're on a different filesystem). This means that if you use e.g. vi to edit the file, it will give an error because it can't create a swap file in that directory. The workaround for that is simply to tell it not to use a swap file, with vi -n.

(Another idea I had was to make (/system)/etc/hosts a symbolic link to a file that I could write — but I couldn't get that to work. I eventually found a location to write a hosts file that could be read by all users, and symlinked to it, but it had no effect: the system just didn't use it for looking up hostnames (as confirmed by commands such as ping). I'm not sure why. I suspect that the hosts file must be a regular file and not a symlink; I've seen that claim on platforms such as macOS and Docker, though not on Android.)

Anyone interested in controlling hostname lookup should also be aware of AdAway, which is an app that takes care of mapping host names for you.

It can work by setting up a hosts file (if you have root), or by setting up a local VPN (which works even if you don't have root); it can run a local webserver (if you redirect to; and it has a huge list of adservers etc. that it updates regularly.

I tried it, and it seems to work well. (In fact, it was through researching an error it initially gave me that I discovered the Systemless Hosts module.)

(I probably won't be keeping it, though, as I have a fair number of personal entries to add for to devices on my LAN or at work, and although AdAway can do that, it's quite fiddly. Also, I already have a hosts file on my desktop machines, so it's easy just to copy that across whenever I update it.)

Astro Slide - Hardware / Re: Keyboard Backlight
« on: January 12, 2023, 03:39:01 pm »
FN + SHIFT + N ( increase ) and FN + SHIFT + B ( decrease ).

Aha!! That's well worth knowing, thanks!

(Interestingly, after sleeping the screen, it seems to accept 4 further keypresses, but no more. That's sufficient to turn the keyboard backlight off only if it's not at the two brightest levels…)

Astro Slide - General Discussion / Re: First impressions
« on: January 12, 2023, 03:28:53 pm »
Additional annoyance that I noticed: The curved screen corners eat away pixels at screen corners when using Termux/Connectbot or anything really.

In Termux, one workaround is to increase the vertical margin.

Edit the file ‘.termux/’, and add a line like:
Code: [Select]
(I found 12 pixels a reasonable compromise between being able to see most of the bottom-left char, and not wasting too much space down the LHS. Of course, you an experiment to see what you prefer.)

Then either restart Termux, or run ‘termux-reload-settings` to see the effect.

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