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My Further Experience With (Trying To) Use Astro Slide As My Main Phone

This entry is referencing the entry 'Planet Computers' Astro Slide'.

After having owened and used both previous PDAs by Planet Computers (the Gemini PDA and the Cosmo Communicator), I partly knew what to expect from their new modal, the Astro Slide. I knew it wouldn't be a robust, top-notch state-of-the-art smartphone. Planet Computers makes devices for a pretty small niche and needs to sell these devices for a reasonable price despite their low quantity. After having used it as my main phone, I've come to the comclusion that there are reasosn to be disappointed by the outcome of the device anyway.

I've written about my initial impressions of the device. This entry just adds what further experiences I made while using the device as my main phone for ~42 days. tl;dr: I'm still disappointed.

The build quality is relatively low. But I underestimated and/or misremembered how annoying those buttons with no pressure point whatsoever are. Thy aren't even protuding, nor do they have a different color or texture from their surrounding. That means every times I want to turn on the screen of the phone without opening it, I have to either stumble around the edge of the device with my finger for a while, or I need to have a close-up look at the side of the device to locate the button, then fumble around with my finger for just a little while. That turns of the touch-screen. But unlocking it by using the touch-screen doesn't always work. Sometimes the touch-screen just doesn't seem to be in the mood to respiond to being touched in certain places. I also forgot how annoying it is to have a phone without working adaptive sc reen brightness. I have to turn of the brightness way up, above a sensible poiunt, to make sure it's readable in sun-light. Sometimes, adaptive screen brightness just turns it to 0 for a while, which effectively means it turns off the screen. I guess there's a reason why automatic screen brightness is turned off by default.

The screen is okay, but not very bright, hardly readable in direct sunlight. Colors aren't very accurate. And sometimes contrast and colors shift as if some filtwer was applied, for no reason. The speakers are small and not very loud, lack low frequencies completely (no bass). The headphone output is prone to CPU noise while the screen is turned on. The fingerprint reader is so unreliable it's best treated as if it didn't exist. It's useless. The sliding mechanism feels surprisingly sturdy. I didn't break it yet. But I'm sure something will break or come apart soon, as it was the case with my previous Planet Computer PDAs. The software isn't much better. Ecven though there are security updates available and a notification makes sure to permanently inform me of that fact, no updates can be loaded. The OTA update is fundamentally broken. Apparently Planet Computers didn't think it would be a necessary feature to be able to update Android!

I don't know if it's the Mediatek chipset that the device uses (Maybe Android support for that chipset really is that bad.) but using Android on the Astro Slide is just as buggy on the Astro Slide as it was on previous Planet Computers PDAs. Some apps aren't available for the platform. After every time Android boots some internal app whose function isn't clear to me crashes. Sometimes notifications disappear for no reason. Sometimes a notification sound plays for no reason. Sometimes the screen turns off and locks for no reason. Sometimes the device reboots for no apparent reason. It can be said that Android does run on it. But it's not the experience one expects from a system that is supposed to be native to and ships with a device.

The camera quality is just beyond embarassing. The sensor was obviously chosen by number of megapixels and price only. It's been a long time since I've seen such smushy and noisy pictures even from a <100€ phone. Battery life isn't as good as you might expect from a clunky devoce like this. My Google Pixel 4a with not even half of the battery capacity, despite being over four years old and in daily use, lasts longer than the Astro Slide with (very roghty and estimated) similar use.

When backing the Indiegogo project, my intention was to use the Astro Slide as a small Debian laptop for my packet. A mobile machine for SSH, FTP, some web stuff and for texting. It would have replaced its predecessor, the Cosmo Communicator, in that role. But Planet Computers stopped supporting any OS other than Google Android. Not only is there no official buld of any Linux distribution, the package mirror that used to provide DEBs for the Cosmo Communicator also quietly diasppeared. There doesn't seem enough interest in the device in the Sailfish community. Maybe some Linux support will come from users at some point. But I don't see any on the horizon.

With the previous Planet Computers PDA, the Cosmo Communicator, I had a fallback use case: an occasional PDA for SSH stuff while travelling, sometimes a tiny fileserver at events. But lacking availability of any non-googley OS, I feel compelled to ask: What is the Astro Slide for? I, personally, don't seem to have a suitable use case for it.

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Analogue, Digital, Meaninglessness

((Oh, I forgot to fill this one with a content part until now.))

Yeah, I have some peeves about the use of language. I don't think it's just being unable to accept that language changes. I get and accept that. I use words and phrases that wouldn't have made any sense and sometimes noticeably aren't understood by earlier generations. I use nouns as verbs. I use abbreviations where it isn't necessary because it sounds more hip or carries the right (e.g. ironic) undertone. I sometimes use sentence structured that weren't accepted as being correct when I was in school. I use words that, without context, have a different meaning from what I intend them to mean because the stand in a context that I expect my listener to accept as giving the term a different meaning or connotation. I use the singular them and other things many people find wrong. And I don't mind if other people are doing the same things. What I think unnecessarily changing a language by using it wrongly is using a word to mean something it doesn't mean and has never meant because the speaker is confusing the work with another, similar one. It's misspelling a word because the author assumes that spelling doesn't matter. It's placing a comma in a sentence because it looks better, not because it belongs there. It's mixing up and combining proverbs or other expressions as if they didn't have any meaning. It's using a word that has meaning as a filling word, or just because it sounds good, and expecting the listener to know that the speaker didn't mean that (despite saying it). I don't always speak and write in my first language and I know other's are using languages that are fairly new or very new to them.

In other words: I mostly consider it wrong use of language to use a phrase or word to say something else than what almost all or all speakers of that language had already accepted that phrase or word to mean. I don't mind people writing "tho" instead of "though" or "thats" instead of "that's" (although a "its" can hinder my reading flow). But writing "would of" instead of "would have" or "would've" is a really bad habit. "Would" and "of" have a meaning. And while my mind tries to figure out what the author is trying to say by using those words before coming to the conclusion that they aren't, my brain could have processed three more sentences instead. I don't mind it when people only use lower case letters. But switching case every other letter is just inconsiderate to the reader. I don't care how wrong you spell the word "figuratively". But if you spell it "literally" (which literally means the opposite) then you're just using the wrong word.

One of these mistakes (according to me) that has made it into the daily usage is "analogue". That word has completely changed it's meaning, which I find fascinating. I mean, there are worse examples of words having their meaning changed over time by being used differently than before. But this one appears relevant to me because by being used with its new meaning it conveys less information that the words that already existed before "analogue" was used in this way. I suppose it started with "digital". Digital: of or relating to the fingers or toes. Okay, that's an even more original meaning that what I mean here. "Digital" has been used in electronics for a long time to describe data that is recorded or displayed in a form of a countable number of steps. The digital clock displays the time in distinguishable steps of 60 minutes per hour (and 60 seconds per minute if it has a seconds display). There is no in-between. The analogue clock ("analogue" being used as a sort of opposite of "digital" here) on the other hand (picture a sundial here) only always shows the exact representation of now, which may be between two seconds, between femtoseconds, between whatever digital (/countable) unit you make up. Every moment in time has an analogue on the sundial.

So saying a recording (be it a cardiogram or a piece of music) is analogue or digital means exactly that. It's either stored as sound waves on an analogue medium or by storing numbers from a limited predefined range on a digital medium. That's why it's sometimes said that analogue audio recordings sound better than digital recordings.

So, what does that have to do with the internet and mass-communication? As far as I can figure out nothing except vague connotations in one area or another. Implied associations relying on context that ranges from "how this person has used the term before on this channel" to "what has been discussed on other channels on which the person using the term has read and participated in over the recent years" (which listeners can't or at least shouldn't be expected to know). "Digitally" is often used to mean "something related to or involving electronic devices", or "using technologies that are capable of mass-communication", or just "in a modern way in which it hasn't commonly be done in the past". But it can also just mean "digitally", in which case "machine-readable" can also be implied but not said. Without explanation and/or a large lot of context, it's usually impossible to know what's actually meant by the word. "In person", "on paper", "using a device not connected to the internet", "similar to something else" - those are all meanings for which the word "analogue" is used today. Sometimes, the user of the word really doesn't know what they want to say, except that it's somehow related to not being online, not using modern communication services. I suppose then it can be the right word to convey "something with electronics and the internet". But in all cases where I read and head the word used, I wish the speaker or author would be more specific and let me know what they actually mean. "Digital communication" seems to include messages of any format that are sent over social network platforms, audio messages that are uploaded to a remote computer and downloaded from there by another computer, and text messages regardless of the medium that is used as long as it's electronic. The same audio message spoken through a phone (which first digitizes it and then sends it over the same wires using the same internet protocol and the same server infrastructure than the rest of the internet does) is not considered digital. A fax is digital, but excluded by the modern usage of digital. A digital message written on paper is also not considered digital.

Why change the meaning of the words? What's the advantage? Isn't this always confusing and obfuscating?

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Political Correctness

When I first realised that the disagreements about political correctness aren't just yet another sign of political camps having opposite views about societal coexistence and interactions but rather a debate in which proponents and opponents of political correctness are situated in the same communities, I was a bit confused. When I realised that free thinkers and rationalists repeatedly spoke out against political correctness as a whole and against individual examples of it as well as recent developments in western societies that I view as positive, I was surprised. This year I have finally heard enough to get me to look into why that is. More than a few times I have heard people whose world view I share or whose opinions I value either condemn political correctness or rant about something that in their depiction went wrong or is going wrong because of political correctness. But they seemed to assume that the reader/listener/dialogue partner is on the same page and didn't go into detail or defend that view enough to make me understand it. Ultimately it was the hate in the sound Stephen Fry's voice that made me search for the cause of the clash of opinions between his and mine.

My view on the topic has always been a bit simple but nonetheless felt mature to me. It's not like I've never read or thought about political correctness and relating topics before. Simply put, I don't see a good reason to do something incorrectly on purpose. There are many reasons to be politically incorrect apart from sheer self-purpose and intentional offence. Ignorance, a lack of awareness, understanding or time to think about matters like this and other human imperfections are all very widespread and understandable causes for political incorrectness. But they aren't good reasons to be incorrect. I'm trying to write this without using any examples because I fear that it would make me go way too far down into detail. So, in short: When making a conscious decision to do something one way or the other, one should, all other things being equal, ideally, always choose the one that, to their knowledge, has the least potential to cause offence, oppress or support existing inequality. Yes, I know. But I said in short. Let's keep it at that for now.

What I found when I looked into this debate was, well, first of all a lack of a definition in almost every case, which makes debating on it a lot less efficient and more prone to misunderstandings, leading to misrepresentations and wrong assumptions of other's opinions and thus a lack of a result of the whole debate. But trying to look past that, I got the feeling that the motivations for rejecting what I perceive as positive progression through political correctness are often rooted in a fundamental dislike for change. I should be able to relate to this even more than I do as it is. But I don't see this as a rational argument against political correctness. And it isn't used as one. It's just what I assume behind many cul-de-sacs in discussions because no clear, rational reason is given. Even people with a well-deserved reputation of being rational thinkers create the impression of arguing out of personal offence (at which point the opponent often points out the irony of the one arguing for the freedom of offence being the one who is offended by rational arguments, which usually leads the discussion to leave the path that looks like it could lead to useful insight).

But there is one argument that I hadn't really taken into account before: The claim that it just doesn't work. Empirically, what did political correctness bring us directly? How much progress was caused or influenced by it? And how much hate, tribalism and radicalisation has it caused and still causes it on the right? I don't know. But that is an interesting part of this discussion. I don't think I have anything useful to contribute to this. So I'll leave these questions entirely unanswered before reading more.

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All Those Bike Attachements

I think bicycle accessaries are of these things that developed over time past the point where it would have been sensible to rethink how things are done. I think it would make sense the rethink how all those bike attachments are integrated.

A bicycle without any attachments is already nice. It can be used without them and none of the things are necessary all the time. So it can make sense to have them detachable. But probably most people use their bike mainly for one thing - transportation, mountain-biking, sports - and need the same combination of attachments most times the bike is used. (Minus the lights when it's not dark.) I think it's rather peculiar that people buy, attach and use all these extras without questioning the crowded state of their bicycle frame. Let me list the things that I find useful myself.

  • Bell (*)
  • Front light (*)
  • Back light (*)
  • Phone/GPS holder
  • Phone charger
  • Action camera
  • Remote for indicators (in helmet or jacket/shirt)
  • Horn

(*): required by law when driving on the street

So, in this configuration, when you get back from riding your bike, you have to turn off the front light, turn off the back light, turn off the helmet indicator, turn off the indicator remote, check the charge of the front light, the back light, the phone charger, the GPS, the helmet, the helmet control, the horn and the action cam, detach the things that need charging, bring them in the house and plug them in for charging one after another. You may also have an electronic lock, additional front lights, a breaking light, the remote control for the breaking light and a headlamp. Half of them still have a micro USB port and none of the batteries last for dozens of rides (unless you ride mostly when it isn't dark). Sure, that comes with the benefit of having these devices, people seem to think. But they don't do all of this when they get out of their car. Because it wouldn't make sense to have a separate battery for every electronic device in a modern car. Neither does it make sense on a bike.

It would be nice to have a central battery for everything on my bike and a single on/off switch. But I don't use it enough to see me investing in building it myself. Because if I'd do it, I'd want it to be safe and secure in any weather, look good and not be too clunky or heavy. So I'd have to invest time.

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The Web Sucks

Not all of it. But definitely most of the world wide web sucks. I recently stumbled upon a blog post that puts many of my thoughts about the modern web into words well and that I'd like to share:

The Web Sucks by Chucho.

25 years ago I imagined what would be possible if I had access to the internet. 20 years ago we were excited about and enjoyed the possibilities of the web It was better than imagined. 15 years ago we were excited about so much more interesting and useful content, "Web 2.0" and the new possibilities that really started to become useful tools in everyday life. 10 years ago pretty much everbody was online, it had become too crowded but we knew where to go, which browser extensions to install and what to filter for a good experience. 5 years ago I started to realise how fucked the web had actually become.

It happened so slowly that it felt normal. But eventually the vast vast majority of content on the web was and still is commercial websites that mainly serve a purpose other than educate the reader, share experience, knowledge or other content. Almost all of the sites that appear or claim to exist for spreading information contain more paid content than actual content. It has long become impossible to filter out the pieces of the web with a less-than-creditable intent. I think way back when you considered to install an ad blocker for the first time, that's when a major line was crossed. It became so much worse so quickly that I can hardly remember how benign a large potion of the web was years ealier.

More people than ever share content in good faith on the internet today. But even this urge to share experiences, be it for the gratification of an urge to present the author's thoughts and feelings (like this entry) or for altruistic reasons for a greater good, is commercialised and directed into channels optimised for profit maximisation. You can't even access most of it without signing a legal contract that you definitely don't understand (because specialised legal experts aren't even sure how to interpret many of the most important parts) with one of the subjectively most evil companies in the history of mankind.

No wonder many people try to abandon the web as much as it is still possible (which is becoming less and less). No wonder the Gemini project was founded with built in feature contraints and has their users argue and decide against implementing basic features into the protocol that would help make browsing the gemini space a more comfortable experience. From the technological view, openness to new festures, the extendibility of the protocol, has made the mess the web is today possible.

Of cource I'm ignoring many things here the modern web enables and that I use and choose to continue to use. I'm still wondering wether any of it is worth the trouble. From relatively small trouble, like megabytes of at best useless Javascript to larger trouble, like huge companies using AI-created algorithms that have never been evaluated for anything but how much money they potentially could produce when put to use, and intentional policy choices, pressing most of humankind to produce less helpful but more profiting content and, more and more commonly, intentionally harmful content on a scale science is starting to realise is impairing quality of life, empathy and may even have notable bad impacts on international politics.

Seriously, what are we doing allowing to be done with this technology?

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Real Life

Of all the things people do wrong in the usage of language, this is probably my pet peeve. Maybe because I believe that I can reasonably argue against it.

People use the term "real life" ("IRL" and, very similarly, "real world") as if it would mean the opposite of "online" or "over the internet" or "using some electronic medium". Hereafter I will call this the wrong usage of the term. It is done so often and regularly that it actually does mean one of these things. Before I describe what I think the problem with it is, let me try to explain what I'm talking about, exactly. Both of those words (real and life) have meanings on their own and using them together is absolutely in line with those individual meanings. I don't find it absurd to expect that the phrase means "the life that is actually true, as opposed to fictional". In fact, I consider it better to expect this meaning because not only did this meaning exist first, it also continues to be used. "The real world" is used meaning the opposite of a virtual world. I suppose the internet was considered to be a virtual world in the beginning and assume that that's where the wrong usage of "real world" stems from.

The main problem that I see is that when people regularly and naturally apply the wrong usage, the notion that the internet is not part of the real world, the real life, is reinforced, which I fear may influence the perception and the expectation that what happens on the internet does not have the same meaning or effects on life as things that happen without the internet playing a major role. In some ways they are (e.g. greater possible audience on social media than on a soapbox), but not in the way the use of "real world" as the opposite implies.

A conversation in a chat room can be much more real than a conversation offline. E-Mails, their meaning and effects on the world aren't less real than those of letter written or printed on paper. A confession over a video chat platform is not unreal compared to a confession over a telephone call, which is not unreal compared to a confession given in close physical proximity, just different. A threat posted in a Whatsapp group doesn't have less impact than a thread yelled at a schoolyard or under four eyes.

I imagine that the more this wrong usage is ignored the more its wrong implications get internalised by society and individuals. I wouldn't go so far to assume that there is a relavant relation between the wrong usage of "real life" and "real world" and the prevalence of "cyberbullying", online harassment and other extreme forms of modern trollship. But I also don't think the possibility that language influences the thinking and by that extension the actions of humans should be overlooked. I wouldn't be surprised if there was some connection to be found. But I don't know of any research on this nor would I expect to find any.

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I feel like I'm not using modern technology and other privileges that are available to me today to it's full potential. I think that nobody is even able to. I mean, I'm sitting here on a bench in the fields writing a blog entry and uploading it to "my" web server via SSH, listening to an independent web radio over the internet in-between browsing the web (that really is almost world-wide) for any information that interests me at that moment, with a "phone" capable of so much more than I would have thought 20 years ago even desktop computer should be able to do. But still, so much would be possible with today's technology (mainly the internet and small, battery powered devices). Humanity, what are you doing, wasting your own inventions? steeph, what are you doing wasting your time and resources on listening to some random person talking about something just because it fulfils your momentary desire for information about that topic while typing this sentence?

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