8 Ways to Use Your Old Smartphone

nexus one

So you got yourself a new octa-core smartphone. And you’re feeling kind of weird putting your old trusted Android phone in the cupboard, because you won’t be using it. Because, you know, you’re sentimental about the phone you used to have so much fun with.

Well, you can still use it. Not as a phone maybe, but as the powerful computer that it always has been.

Here are a few ways you can use it in:
1. Make a wireless music receiver connected to your sound system
If you have a dumb sound system (dumb as in no smart microprocessors, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi etc., in it. A simple analog sound system with aux input) at home, you can hook up your smartphone to it (make sure to connect a charger to it so it doesn’t just run out of juice), and use it as a wireless music receiver & player. You can stream your music to it through iTunes on your computer, your Wi-Fi enabled iPod/music player, or your iPhone.
AirPlayer works wonderfully well for me.

2. Run a PHP/mySQL/nginx server
And run a website off it. Maybe even install WordPress!
NAMP nginx android web server

2. Make a SMB/FTP/web/proxy/server
To share files in your home network, and/or operate a firewall.
Servers Ultimate

3. Download torrents
Take the load off your laptop, and put it on the handset that lies at home all day. The only thing you need to do is get a huge memory card, or find out a way to connect an external storage to it (through USB-OTG).
µTorrent® Beta

4. Sync your iTunes playlists with it, and use it like an MP3 player
You can take off the media player functionality off your main phone, and use your old phone instead, thus ensuring you never lose connectivity because you ran out of battery because you listened to too much music.
iSyncr Lite for iTunes – Mac
iSyncr Lite for iTunes – PC

5. Access your website via FTP and edit the files there
Why not? Well, you can do this with your primary Android phone as well.
AndFTP (your FTP client)

6. Use it as a computer by adding a keyboard, mouse, monitor and storage to it
I’ve always wondered if we can do this. The Motorola Atrix was one handset which let us do it. The Ubuntu phone OS has a flavour which lets you use the phone as the computer when you dock it with desktop peripherals. If you have a Nexus One lying around (like I do), this is worth a shot.
Nexus One USB Host Mode Driver

7. Fix it in your car’s dashboard, and use it as a GPS navigator
Google Maps is one of the best navigation systems out there. And now it does turn-by-turn voice navigation as well. Some people have tried fixing their Android tablets into their car dashboards. I say if you have an old phone lying around, you can use that as well. The screens are decently big, and all you’d need is a SIM card with a data connection on it.
Google Maps

8. Use it as an ebook, articles & feed reader
Like with #4, using your old handset as a reader frees up your primary handset’s battery. And no more screens vanishing when a call comes, and no more getting out of the reader when you hear a message beep.
Amazon Kindle Reader
Google Play Books
Feedly Reader

Evolution for Dummies

(…aka Evolution for Techies, Geeks & MBAs)

Six years ago, a few of us were trying to debate evolution on an online forum, and were surprised to find that many people had so many misconceptions about what Evolution really is (‘theory not law’, ‘monkeys are humans’ ancestors’, ‘microevolution vs macroevolution’ etc.). We were really tired of asking everyone to do some preliminary reading about it before declaring it absolute truth or a hoax. We were also tired of hearing the same arguments/misconceptions again and again and again. So I wrote this post, to make it simple for everyone to understand what Evolution is in its barebones form.

So here goes, with a few minor tweaks & changes:

Evolution by itself is not a theory, it’s a phenomenon. In organisms it is a slow process, with certain jumps that speed it up. In other things you may see it at a good pace.

Natural selection happens everywhere – organisms, substances, compounds, companies, societies, corporations, bands, artists, theories, technologies. Anything that interacts with its environment is affected by evolution.

An example close to my heart is that of cameras. 10 years back film cameras ruled the world – right? Now they don’t. In another 10 years time they’ll be extinct. How’s that? Cameras are objects that interact a lot with their environment – no, not the pictures they take. Cameras need supplies to function – a power source and a storage. Before digital imaging came along the storage function was fulfilled by film rolls only. Then digital imaging was developed, and now consumer levels cameras have also gone digital. Similarly, Ni-Cad batteries have given way to Ni-MH.
So cameras have ‘evolved’ from film to digital.

Does that mean a Nikon film camera literally turned into a Nikon digital camera? Or that someone opened its casings and then changed the parts therein? then how is it that in 1980’s the cameras were film only and in say 2020, the cameras will be digital only and film cameras will be ‘extinct’?

It’s because of the environment. There may be people who prefer film over digital any day. They keep film alive even today. But they’ll be able to keep doing that only till they find new film in the market – a factor of the environment. When, say, a few of them encounter a stock-out of 35mm in the town, they’ll either stop shooting or buy and start using a digital camera. Maybe they’ll like it better, maybe they’ll not. But they’ll still use it now because if they want to shoot using film, they won’t be able to because of the film stock out (they of course are aware that digital has become the rave nowadays and the stock out isn’t going to go away sometime soon). The markets will sense that the demand for film is decreasing, so they’ll reduce their output of film, and keep churning out digital storage media. Eventually all shops in the world will stop stocking film, and then film will be extinct. So wil the film cameras. Natural selection. Digital cameras ‘adapted’ to the environment (that they were built to adapt, or that the markets were catering to them is not the point here… still if you want to know why, just post a reply, I’ll answer that as well), film cameras weren’t equipped to ‘adapt’ to the environment. Thus film will be dead in some time. The cameras from 1980s without film and power will become fossils of their own ‘living’ self in 2020. I can show you fossils of my dad’s cameras which used film that’s not available today.

Now on to companies. Say there existed a company which was the world leader in film. But never cared enough for digital imaging – myopia, stupidity, whatever. It thought that it could sustain itself on the film lovers mentioned above. It forgot that its distribution doesn’t reach EVERY shop in the world. So some of these film lovers do not use film made by this particular company. Now there comes a day that all the other film companies have either shut down or moved to digital. Say there were 10 film lovers. When 4 of them find out that the film they were using regularly isn’t available anymore they move to digital. The remaining 6 still use our company’s film. But the market has shrunk – you have 100% market share in a decreasing market… eventually the remaining 6 are going to move to digital. And the company cannot sustain itself long term on a diminishing market. Pragmatism prevails, and the company is closed down. Natural selection – the company failed to adapt to its environments.

Now on to the question of lineage etc.

Say that there was another company that was a market leader in film, say Nikonica. Its leaders foresaw the digital imaging future, and decided to start producing digital media ‘as well’. So as happens in corporations, a factory & department is made to handle digital operations. So the VPs of the film & digital department are called VP, Nikonica Classic and VP, Nikonica Digital respectively. Time goes by and by the natural selection explained above Nikonica Classic loses customers in a diminishing market. One day the company board decides to shut down Nikonica Classic. In the meanwhile Nikonica Digital has been doing roaring business – is a top market share holder, and is now the entire business of the company. The company Nikonica has ‘evolved’ into ‘Nikonica Digital’. Treat the original company as a parent species and the two, Classic & Digital, as the children – both different in their characteristics, fit for different environments. It’s just that the environment was more favourable to Digital than to Classic.
I love open markets… they mimic nature and its laws so closely that it fascinates me. They also follow evolution, and even the Theory of Evolution fits them quite nicely. Only that the evolution in case of markets is way way faster than that in living organisms.

Disclaimer: Evolution doesn’t necessarily mean ‘improvement’ or isn’t a process to become ‘superior’. It’s just a process of becoming ‘better adapted’.

The FizzBuzz Test

While reading Jeff Atwood’s blogpost entitled Why Can’t Programmers Program? I thought of testing whether I can pass the simple FizzBuzz test for programming he mentions. You can read the details of the test on his blogpost.

So I wrote a script in PHP, the language I am currently active in, to do what the test asks us to do.

But then, why stop at just solving the problem when you can optimize code for timepass?

I began with a 24 line-long (without counting empty lines) chunk of indented code, using a simple for loop and a bunch of if statements. But then I wanted to reduce the size of the code, so I decided to use the shorthand for if, and get rid of variable assignments that don’t “do” anything really. Now I am down to 5 lines of code, including the two lines of the for loop.

Turns out I am a programmer (though not formally educated as a programmer), and a good one at that – I passed the FizzBuzz Test!! 🙂 Do I get a job as a programmer now? 😛

Here is the output of the script (yes, the script ran when you loaded this page):

for ($j = 1; $j<=100; $j++) {
$fizz = ( $j % 3 == 0 ? 1 : 0 );
$buzz = ( $j % 5 == 0 ? 1 : 0 );
echo ($fizz + $buzz == 0 ? “$j
” : ($fizz == 1 ? “Fizz” : “”).($buzz == 1 ? “Buzz” : “”).”

Update to Cripple?

Today my Windows XP auto-update told me that there is an update ready for my system.

Windows Genuine Advantage Notification
The Windows Genuine Advantage Notification tool notifies you if your copy of Windows is not genuine. If your system is found to be non-genuine, the tool will help you obtain a licensed copy of Windows.

Now if I have read it correctly, what it means is that if I am using a pirated copy of Windows, I will be chided that I am doing something wrong, and would probably be given a link to an online store selling a legal copy of the operating system. On the other hand, if I am using a legal copy of Windows, nothing would happen – I would probably get a pat on the back from the update, probably.

I’m sorry, what was the purpose the auto-update was solving again? If I am a genuine Windows user, why would I bother to waste my bandwidth and download something, which… does nothing for me? And if I do not use a genuine copy of Windows, does Microsoft think I am a bumbling idiot that I would waste my bandwidth and download something that could potentially cripple my computer?

The only scenario in which the auto update would do something is when it finds a non-genuine copy of Windows, in which case the user does not bother with genuine software or Microsoft’s revenue in the first place. Why would they install that update then is beyond me. Can you figure?

Chrome: is it… worth it?

So Chrome is out. Wonderful. Is it good? Or is it like the others in the market?

To find out I tried a very simple (some might say simplistic) test to see if I’d like to shift to Chrome.

I am most concerned with memory usage and stability in all my applications, and since the browser is the one software I use the most, well, I’d like to test this new kid on those two counts.

And if you remember that I was dissatisfied with Firefox 3, I have been on the lookout.

So here we go.
check memory usage
a. of each of the following browsers: Microsoft’s IE7, Mozilla’s Firefox2 (I had FF2 only, remember FF3 crashes so often on my machine, Mozilla would sue me for this post :D), Apple’s Safari, Opera and Google’s Chrome.
b. with 1, 2, 3 and 4 tabs open
c. comments about observation and usage etc.

So here are the stats:

One window: facebook.com (my profile page)
IE7 – 206kB
Firefox2 – 92kB
Safari – 107kB
Opera – 53kB
Chrome – 38kB

Two windows: facebook.com (my profile page), flickr.com
IE7 – crashed!
Firefox2 – 81kB!
Safari – 116kB
Opera – 67kB
Chrome – 38kB + 21kB

Three windows: facebook.com (my profile page), flickr.com, gmail.com
Firefox2 – 101kB
Safari – 148kB
Opera – 68kB
Chrome – 38kB+21kB+16kB

Four windows: facebook.com (my profile page), flickr.com, gmail.com, xkcd.com
Firefox2 – 105kB
Safari – 153kB
Opera – 93kB
Chrome – 38kB+21kB+16kB+36kB

So? Do you want charts for me to tell you which is better? Well, if you don’t consider Chrome right away, Opera was the lightest browser around, but I don’t know why, to me it always seemed to be heavy.

Now what’s unique about Chrome is that every tab comes up as a separate process, though on the taskbar it’s only one icon. What it means is that if one of your tabs is not responding, then only that tab needs to be shut down, not the whole browser. So even though with a high number of tabs (over 3 on average) Chrome has higher memory usage than other browsers, what would you do with slightly lower usage for statistical purposes if for one malicious tab your entire “slightly lower memory usage” browser goes down? Atleast Chrome is better on that count. And if you want to just check your mail and facebook updates, you won’t have to block some 100 kilos of memory.

Touch and feel:
I agree to the Google Chrome comic when it says that the browser needs to get out of the way (and in my opinion, so should the Operating System) when the user is working. Chrome works well on those counts.
More screen space – good.
No status bar – but its functionality is there – with temporary status boxes which appear on a need basis.
No menu bar – but there are two buttons which club all the functionality of the menus. Smart thinking – it’s a browser, not an illustration package where you need detailed menus to list out everything.
The favourite/bookmark bar is also not there – bookmarks appear when you open a new tab, which also shows an Opera like, but dynamic dial-space listing out the most visited/last visited pages. Ofcourse if you want an always-visible bookmark bar, press Ctrl+B.

The browser feels nimble and light. The clicks are quick, actions are taken instantly. I like it.

On my machine, where FF3 crashed everytime the population of the world hit a multiple of 3, and FF2 and Safari also would go for a toss every couple of hours (let’s not talk about IE at all shall we, after seeing the “test results”), Chrome has not crashed ONE SINGLE TIME so far – 5 days, and not even a tab has crashed. Rock solid so far.

I’ve heard about search issues, but I’ve not needed that functionality so far, so can’t comment. But yesterday when I was browsing techmech.wordpress.com, I realised that the browser window did not have a scroll bar, the wheel did not work, even the up & down arrow keys did not work.Well, the content did flow beyond the first fold, because when I clicked in the window and dragged down, the content did slide up. I’m sure this is a minor bug, which should be rectified soon, if brought to Google’s notice.

Hypnos verdict:
Lighter than others. Stabler than others. I’ve faced a slight glitch, but I think I can live with that right now, given that I’m living a more peaceful life due to the two big plus points I already mentioned.

I'm not a fanboy

Yes you read it right.

Though I am a big fan and user of Mozilla, I am not a fanboy. Why do I say that? Well, because I went back to Firefox 2 today.

Though I use Thunderbird in an office full of Outlook, Entourage and Outlook Express users, though I was one of the millions who pledged and downloaded Firefox 3 on download day (and I have a certificate to show for it), it didn’t work out for me. I had sort of grown fond of the improved address bar, and I simply love the improved zoom feature, but the basic reason I use Mozilla or GNU software was lacking in this release – it wasn’t stable. FF3 crashed – everyday, some 10 times a day, on unfortunate moments. I tried searching online for the reason this would happen, and potential solutions. All I could gather was that there was a conflict between some Google software, and if this software is uninstalled and installed after FF3, the problem would go away. But surprise! I never used that Google software, so what would I uninstall in order to solve this problem?

Then came the second release of FF3, and I hoped that this would solve the issue, but nothing doing. FF3 kept crashing. And I could do nothing about it. To avoid using the “inherently evil” browser, I used Safari, and liked it. But I still kept missing FF – the plugins, greasemonkey, and zotero. So out goes FF3, and back it comes – FF2.

So what do I think went wrong? Mozilla, known for its superstable software and responsiveness to consumer feedback, released a piece of software that is unstable for quite a few users as I gather. Could it be because they gave in to hype-mania – of releasing a not-yet-stable software on a particular date and setting a record? Now where have I seen this before? Hint: it’s a big company producing a software that is FF’s biggest competition. Set deadline, create hype, rush to release without testing. And then release another version which still has the problem.

If I were a fanboy, I would have gone ahead and blamed myself, my computer for the problem and been heartbroken. But since I’m not one, I simply uninstall FF3 and start using FF2. And it’s been working so far for me – I am writing this on FF2 (without the fear of it crashing midway 🙂 ).

Till the time Mozilla comes up with a super stable release, which is its hallmark, I’m sticking with FF2 – only that I miss the zoom 😦