Tom Pittman's WebLog

2018 October 23 -- I Want a Smart Phone

I have a stupid phone. I probably told you about it, it's made by that Least Good, Largely Garbage far-east company trying hard to be Chinese junk but not quite succeeding. My friend tells me the cell phone people are planning on discontinuing the tower service for this model of phone, so they can go to pure internet -- Voice Over IP, the same crummy service I have on this cable-hosted landline: it's like when they threw away the high-quality analog TV transmission and replaced it with low-quality ("quality" being defined as "conformance to specifications" which in the case of TV means that you get to see the picture and listen to the sound) frozen 1" square blobs of color and stuttering sound, compared to a snowy but watchable picture and a hiss over the sound that covered whispers but everything else was understandable.

So I need a smart phone that is at least as smart as the Low Grade model I have. Like high-quality digital TV and high-quality blue-ray players, such things don't exist. But I'd prefer to be positively surprised.

On this phone, when I close the lid, it turns off. Sometimes it beeps at me when it rolls around in my pocket -- I used to have a belt clip, but it wore out -- I think the beeps are intended to mean it didn't do whatever it thought I was pushing the buttons for -- which was nothing. The glass brick phones I looked at do not have a robust way to turn the bugger off between calls.

This phone, when I push a button, I can feel it pop, and it knows I pushed the button. The glass bricks, they are supposed to be touch sensitive -- which means if you wave your hand somewhere near the screen trying to find where the icon is that you want, it activates some other icon that you never touched, but when you tap the screen it goes into what I call "Unix mode" where it does nothing at all, no beep, no button pop, no nothing. I found I was banging away on the icon five or six times before it would take, then it would think "Oh, he wants another one," and convert my tap into something else. One of the guys at church, he has a stylus to tap on his phone screen. If it works, that would be almost as good as a real, high-quality physical button.

This phone, all the people I want to allow to disturb me I have programmed a distinctive recognizable tune for their ring tone. The tunes came with it, about a half-dozen songs I recognize, and another dozen or so that all sound the same. The last so-called "smart phone" I looked at had no recognizable ring tones, they were all undifferentiated noise. Apple seems to be the worst, everybody's iPhone has only one ring, so you can't even know if it's your own phone ringing. They tell me you can download ring tunes, but I couldn't find any worth paying for, and nothing but more noise for "free".

The Last Gasp phone did some things wrong. If you want to look at the time, it's wrong: what kind of time is 18:88 in the morning? Unix programmers (are there any others -- besides me -- any more?) are idiots. When I'm looking at numbers, I need to see the difference between zeroes and eights. Zero has a hole in the middle, eight does not (actually two holes, with a bar across the middle separating them), so they are easily distinguished except in computers programmed by idiots. I almost never need to tell the difference between the letter Oh and zero, so that can be more subtle, like the letter can be fatter or slightly square. My first pocket timing device was a calculator. Mostly I don't need a calculator, but it's nice when I do. I think this phone can do that, but I don't know how. Alarms are nice: this phone has three and a half, but more would be better. This phone came with a belt clip so I could read the time with one hand, but the clip broke. 90% of what I do with this phone is read the time, and I want it to be easy, which pulling it out of a pocket and pressing buttons or flipping it open is not. I wouldn't mind upgrading this defective Lost Gambol to something smarter, but not at the cost of everything else.

One of the fine features of command-line computer systems (especially Unix, but command lines were old when Unix first came out almost a half-century ago) is that if you are clumsy like me, you make mistakes -- and it does it! Pre-Unix systems would say "OK" like it did something, but never tell you what it thought it did; Unix tells you nothing at all (maybe it did something horrid, maybe benign, maybe nothing, there's no way to know). The (classic) MacOS lets you design your user interface so that the things you need are where you put them (and they stay there), and the things you don't want to accidentally hit can be hidden out of the way; Windoze comes close, but OSX is Unix, the orangutans who designed it think they know more about what you want to do than you do. My current phone is like Windoze, it has a zillion buttons that do things I don't want, except exactly one button I can program to do what *I* want. Most of the so-called "smart" phones are Unix inside and out, they won't let you do what you want to do with the user interface. I want a phone that is smart like my Mac, so the stuff I don't want to use -- especially I don't want them there to bump into -- can be hidden out of the way, and the stuff I need often are on top where I can find them quickly.

I spent most of the last 30+ years avoiding the Unix operating system, and failing often enough to remind me why I should avoid it. So the primary requirement when I bought my first eunuchs-only computer was that it can be sandboxed, a third-party product called DeepFreeze that locks the hard drive, so that when you reboot it -- that needs to happen more often in unix than other systems I experienced -- all the viruses, all the mistakes, all the wrong commands, everything that wasn't there when you locked it -- goes away. It worked great for a while, but one of the most significant features of unix is that it's unstable, always changing. Google no longer works on it. The system cannot be upgraded without losing the protection. So it's a doorstop. My Lumpy Grumpy phone cannot be upgraded, so it never breaks -- it did once, when the lawn sprinkler got into its battery connector, but after a month or so it dried out and works again. Everything I know how to do with on this phone today, I will still be able to do it tomorrow -- except when they shut down the cell towers. Give me a phone that is smarter than that, if you can!

There is no right to "privacy" in the original Constitution, but as long as King Scotus wants to tell us it's there I plan to make use of it. When I seek out a medical provider, I always look for one who is not going to enter all my private information into some national database (as mandated by ObamaCare) where every liar (or politician, same thing) and thief in the whole world has access. Yes, I know about Hippa, but that just keeps the honest people out; the only way to keep the liars and thieves out is for it not to be there where they can find it, and those are the people you don't want to have access. Anyway, one of the requirements I gave the system integrator who sold me the Old Stupid Former (Oh-Ess-eX) computer is that nobody ever phones home without my permission. He still left a couple trapdoors in, but mostly nobody phones home. Google asked from time to time, and I always said no. So-called "smart phones" all have unix under the hood, and those are the thugs you don't want phoning home. I want that all turned off. Except the browser sometimes. The browser on my work computer never phones home, no viruses (aka JavaScript), no cookies, no nothing. Nobody is willing to sell you anything these days that doesn't phone home and steal your data unannounced, but my Less Great phone is at least smart enough to know that *I* make the decisions about what goes or comes over the air, not some unknown villains in Redmond or Cupertino or Moscow. Can you get me a phone that smart? I didn't think so.

Rev. 2018 November 2


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