Archive for the ‘wm6’ Category

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This iPhoneless Life #11 – iTunes’ Secret Agent

August 27, 2010

iPod To describe my life as iPhoneless is a slight exaggeration. There is definitely an iPhone in my life, my wife’s iPhone 4, and it robs me of sleep.

My wife is addicted to Angry Birds.  It has not quite taken over completely from reading in bed at night (I can thank the late Stieg Larsson for that) but there seems to be an unwritten rule that we have to get through at least 2 or 3 levels of the aforementioned smash hit game before calling it a night.  I am often called in to help out clearing a level if my wife is stuck on it and wants a break to read another chapter of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I am expected to keep going until every last grunting green pig has been blown to bits.


So I know all about the iPhone 4, it’s beautiful “retina” screen and gorgeous build quality. But for my own use I still have my old, battered Windows Mobile phone – an HTC Tytn II (in O2 “Stellar” livery).  It has done a job for me but now enough is enough and I want a modern phone.

Largely out of sheer bedevilment, I am determined not to become an iPhone user like everyone else in my family. And I’m wary of being a Windows Phone early adopter, much as I believe that platform holds out great promise. How could I forget what it was like to be an early adopter of Vista, when the pain of it is still faithfully documented in this blog? So I will go Android, at least for the foreseeable future, and currently favour the Samsung Galaxy S.

It was while I was checking out what the podcast client options look like in the Android world that I came across a free open source application called iTunes Agent. The idea is very simple. It makes your random non-Apple music device look, to iTunes, like an iPod. That means you can use iTunes directly and seamlessly to synchronise music and podcasts with any mp3 player or phone.  iTunes Agent has been around for quite a while and I can’t think how I missed it, particularly when I was casting around for a podcast solution for my HTC WM6 phone. As explained in an earlier post, I have a more than workable solution using iTunes for podcast capture and WMP for synchronisation, but iTunes Agent looked like a neater fix and I thought I should try it out.

I had no trouble installing and running iTunes Agent on my Windows 7 PC, and it hooked up immediately with iTunes. The difficulty I had was getting iTunes Agent to link up to my phone when the latter was connected to the PC via USB.

The way it is supposed to work is that you specify the folder on your music device where you want your synchronised music to live, in my case a folder on the HTC phone’s micro SD storage card. When you connect your phone, iTunes Agent is supposed to detect that this folder  is available on the Windows file system and therefore knows your phone is ready for synchronisation.  The limitation is that iTunes Agent requires your phone or music player to have been allocated a drive letter by Windows, but Windows was just listing my phone under “Portable Devices”. I could easily navigate through the phone’s folders and files using Windows Explorer but no way could I persuade Windows to allocate a drive letter.  And without a drive letter, iTunes Agent refused to accept any folder on the storage card as synchronisation target.

This stumped me for a while until, by dint of frantic Googling, I discovered the difference between the MTP and UMS protocols for connecting storage devices over USB. My phone naturally connects to my PC using MTP (Media Transfer Protocol) – a technology which is reckoned to offer the widest device compatibility with media players – as opposed to UMS (USB Mass Storage) which is targeted more at USB keys and SD card readers. Unfortunately Windows only allocates a drive letter with UMS devices, not with MTP.

More Googling and I found out about two applications that can be installed on a WM phone to make it emulate a UMS device and thus qualify for a drive letter, W5torage and Softick Card Export.  The former was written by a lone developer and is free whereas Card Export is a commercial product. Both were created so that you can in effect use your WM phone as a card reader.

I tried W5torage first.  It installed fine on my phone and appeared to be running, but in UMS mode my PC was not able to detect my phone at all. A quick uninstall and I tried Card Export, which is free to trial for 21 days. I took an instant dislike to the latter because it automatically added an annoying status display to my Today screen and an icon in the notification tray. It did however work. My phone now appeared as the G: drive and at last I was able to configure my phone in iTunes Agent. My HTC now showed up as a device in iTunes.

This did not though constitute a happy ending. Before going much further I was determined to rid my phone’s Today screen of the unwanted Card Export status display.  I went into the phone settings and unticked the Card Export option from the list of Today items. This resulted in my phone locking up. A reboot later and the Today Screen was free of Card Export status, but now my program icons were missing. There was clearly some clash between Card Export and the application manager software from O2 which came with my phone. Now the O2 software is lot more important to me than use of iTunes Agent – my researches in that direction were more curiosity than need – so it was Card Export that was going to have to go.

It took about 10 reboots before the phone was working normally again, with no trace of Card Export, the Today screen displaying all the right items and no lock-ups when I tried to access the Today settings.  There was a moment when I thought I was going to have to ditch the phone as a write-off, or at least restore factory settings.

That is, unfortunately, one of the most problematical issues with Windows Mobile. Lots of apps but easy access by developers to the deep innards of the operating system, which can readily become unstable as a result. I don’t know why iTunes Agent had remained a secret to me for so long but I could have done with it remaining a secret.

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Rocky Gibraltar Earth

October 5, 2009

Books Finding time for reading has been hard for years, and to compound the frustration most of my recent book choices have been disappointments.

Normally I have both a paper book and an audiobook on the go, thus using technology to extend “reading” time to commuting, dog walking and the like. Now a third front has been opened with ebooks on my Windows Mobile phone. I was getting fed up with my increasingly absurd “dead tree” book, The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld, and had nothing else to read so bought Gibraltar Earth by Michael McCollum in PRC format (mobipocket), based on a ringing endorsement by SF fan Steve Gibson of Spinrite and “Security Now!” fame.

Buying Gibraltar Earth as an ebook made it both cheap ($5) and near instantaneous by the miracle of Internet file download, followed by a dangerous dabble with WMDC (aka ActiveSync) to straddle the final, short hop from PC to phone. I’d have preferred to get it on a Kindle but such delights have yet to make their way across the Atlantic.

My wife has denounced my ebook venture as a terminally geeky thing to do. She insists the very idea of attempting to read a book on a phone, even one with a large high-res screen, is wacky beyond redemption. I was sure to wreck my (already pathetic) eyesight. I pointed out that I can adjust the font size so that it is bigger than the paper book I was reading, as readily proved by a side by side comparison. You end up with rather fewer words per screenful than you would have on a page of a paperback, but navigating from screen to screen is very easy with the phone’s “joystick”. The wife remained unconvinced, even when I pointed out that I no longer needed to worry about losing my place or fannying around with bookmarks, as the software would always keep my place.

I can even do a text search, so if I come across the name of a character in the story and can’t remember where they last appeared, I can search for previous occurrences by name rather than having to scan the pages of a physical book by eye. Best of all, because my “book” is in my mobile phone, I always have it with me so if I have a spare moment, say waiting outside school to collect my daughter, I can steal a few minutes of reading time. So whether or not reading a book on a phone sounds or looks ridiculous, it is perfectly feasible and has many enumerable advantages.

Sadly, though, this did not turn out to be the hoped for happy solution to my reading material crisis. Not because of any particular issue with mobipocket books on Windows Mobile phones in general. It’s just that the book itself turns out to be dire.

It is such a let down, after the build-up Steve Gibson gave it. The premise sounds riveting. Centuries from now, mankind makes first contact with alien life but discovers that the galaxy is ruled by an all-powerful cruel race which enslaves or destroys all other life, so humans are only still around and free because they have yet to come to the super-aliens’ attention. But it is only a matter of time before they are discovered, which raises the question of how mankind will deal with the problem. Fascinating concept, which unfolds over a trilogy.

But the writing is so amateurish and cliched. Almost stomach-churningly so. I may stick with it a bit longer but am finding it hard to take.

I had been tempted to start reading some SF by Peter F Hamilton, based on Steve’s effusive praise, but have been put off as I’m not sure I can trust his judgement. This is possibly unfair on Hamilton who is a far better known and more prolific author. Maybe I’ll sneak a read of a couple of pages in Smiths or Waterstones just to make sure it’s not another complete turkey.

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This iPhoneless Life #10 – Almost enough to make me buy an iPhone

August 10, 2009

iPod As I have been documenting over the last few months, I have got my WM6 phone pretty much doing all the same things as an iPhone but with the added advantage of wireless stereo Bluetooth earphone support.

Of course there are some downsides.  The device, an HTC TyTN II, is not as svelte and elegant as an iPhone and the user interface, being based on Windows Mobile, is not as slick and well integrated as the Apple equivalent. Also, the looser software/hardware integration of Windows Mobile devices, and in particular the greater reliance on third-party utilities, is more likely to cause grief.

A case in point is the clash between Windows Media Player Mobile (WMPM) and Audible.com’s player. For reasons best known to themselves, Audible will not allow their audiobooks to be played on WMPM, instead requiring users to install Audible’s proprietary audiobook player. Maybe it’s because WMPM does not support bookmarking. It  would not have been that much of a problem to have to use two separate applications for music/podcasts vs. audiobooks were it not for the fact that they conflict with each other causing the phone to crash.

The culprit appears to be the Audible player.  Once it has been run, it seems to result in some persistent locking of resources which interferes with the operation of Windows Media Player, even after the Audible player application has been closed.  You can still open and use Windows Media, but when you try to close the latter down, as you would if say updating your podcasts or synchronising your music, the phone locks up and requires a time-consuming soft reset.

I have tried installing various bits of kit to try to troubleshoot or debug the problem, but whatever it is has its hooks too deep down within the operating system and I cannot fathom it.  It is very annoying but I guess I’m stuck with it for the foreseeable future unless anyone has any bright ideas.

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O2 should give the Zest a rest

July 17, 2009

iPod A hideous disappointment, and that’s being kind. Describing it as a steaming pile of camel droppings is not too harsh. I’m talking about O2’s XDA Zest, the only XDA branded phone to date not made by HTC.

The Zest is made by Asus, better known for motherboards and notebook computers. Their first foray into the smartphone market has not been auspicious.

It looks cheap, feels cheap and the battery won’t hold enough charge to keep it alive overnight. I got my son Alex one of these as a stopgap, to replace his dead LG phone and dead iPod Touch. The plan was to find a phone that would also handle media, in particular being able to take a large (32GB) micro SD card. On paper the Zest fitted the bill, despite being an unfashionable Windows Mobile phone. As I recently found, you can get WM phones to perform perfectly well as media devices.

In practice, twice in a row his alarm failed to go off in the morning because the battery had died, despite having been fully charged the evening before. I wondered if GPS might be on all the time or the power/display options were screwed, but was able to eliminate all issues of that type.  Maybe the battery was defective. Even so, the plasticky build quality compared with every HTC-built XDA I have ever seen was enough to deem the Zest a reject.

It has this morning been collected by the courier.  Good riddance.

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Geotagging for DSLR users

June 18, 2009

There are masses of geotagged photos in cyberspace nowadays, by which I mean jpegs with location information (latitude, longitude) included in the embedded EXIF data. It’s all thanks to the popularity of the iPhone with its camera, built-in GPS unit and ready connection to the Internet. Social networking sites and interaction with on-line map services such as Google Maps all help to fuel the fun.

The geotag bonanza is not limited to iPhone users. Modern Windows Mobile phones and other platforms all have the same capability, if not the surrounding hype. And we are starting to see GPS units incorporated into point and shoot cameras, for example the Nikon Coolpix P6000 which geotags pictures automatically before they ever leave the camera.

But what about DSLR users? When do we get in-camera GPS? And why would we want it?

I for one don’t see it as a gimmick. For people who take a lot of photos on their travels it can be hard to keep track of exactly where you took every photo. It’s not as if the Eiffel Tower will be in every shot. For example, I took the picture below on a Far East cruise two years ago. I shot this from the deck of the ship as it was making its way from Nagasaki to Osaka, meandering around the Japanese islands.

I was fascinated and bemused by the unexpected sight of a mock-up of Venice. I’d love to know what it was all about and where this was. But I don’t have the details of the route the ship took, so my chances of finding out are probably slim.

GPS-enabling DSLRs would be such an obviously useful thing, but as of today there are none. The closest we have come to it is Nikon’s GP-1. This is a stand-alone GPS unit which attaches to the hot-shoe of the D90 D3, D300, and D700 cameras and adds automatic geotagging of photos. Nothing at all yet for Canon, Sony et al. So what to do?

Purpose-built geologging devices

Well there are dedicated devices for geologging, that is keeping a log of your geographical position by taking regular GPS readings and writing them to a file, along with a corresponding timestamp. The idea is you later use suitable software to match the photos to the location data, by reference to their respective timestamps, and the EXIF data updated to include the geotag. There are also fancy geologging devices which accept an SD card with your photos on it and add the geotags automatically. But such wonders do not come cheap. This one from ATP is about $90.

Windows Mobile phone used as geologging device

I wondered whether I could do the whole thing for free by using the GPS unit built into my Windows Mobile phone, instead of buying a dedicated geologger. My phone (HTC TyTN II) certainly includes GPS in the spec, but did not come with any satellite navigation software and I had never bothered with any, so the GPS unit had probably never even had juice through it. Still, maybe it had not totally atrophied from months of being ignored.

I hit upon a free application, GPSToday, which is essentially a clone of the Google map application for mobile phones. Crucially it has a geologging function. You can set it going and, as you walk around, every 30 seconds it writes your location to a file. You can change the frequency of readings or let it vary it “intelligently”. I guess that means it takes more readings when you are moving about more.

This sounded desperately promising, so I installed it and got it working. It works perfectly, happily latches onto legions of satellites when you are out and about, and on request records your travels in a text file (I elected to call it geolog.txt) in the following format:

time,latitude,longitude,altitude (feet),speed (mph),heading
06-16-2009 17:14:48,34.361445,21.317156,440,0,0
06-16-2009 17:14:59,34.361486,21.317144,407,0,0
06-16-2009 17:15:10,34.361502,21.317144,404,0,0

That’s the first snag. It’s just a flat file, not in any recognised format for location data such as GPX or NMEA. How could I expect it to be recognised by any suitable photo geotagging software? GPSToday assure us that a future version will output in GPX format, but for now we’re stuck with the existing non-standard format.

Getting the location data in a recognised format

Enter GPSBabel, a free software application that translates location information between a myriad of formats (including all the proprietary SATNAV manufacturer systems) and even “custom” formats such as the one used by GPSToday. Mind you, it is hardly straightforward. You have to use the “xcsv” mode and create a “style file” to tell GPSBabel how to interpret the non-standard location data.

This is how I did it. I created a folder on my C: drive called GPSBabel and in there put all the files downloaded from the GPSBabel site. I also copied the location data file geolog.txt from my phone to the GPSBabel folder. I then created a text file called GPSToday.txt, in the same folder, into which I inserted the folowing text:

# Format: GPStoday

DESCRIPTION GPStoday
EXTENSION txt

#
# FILE LAYOUT DEFINITIIONS:
#
FIELD_DELIMITER COMMA
RECORD_DELIMITER NEWLINE

PROLOGUE time,latitude,longitude,altitude (feet),speed (mph),heading
IFIELD ISO_TIME,””,”%s” # time
IFIELD LAT_DECIMAL, “”, “%f” # Latitude
IFIELD LON_DECIMAL, “”, “%f” # Longitude
IFIELD ALT_FEET,””,”%.0f” # altitude
PATH_SPEED_MPH,””,”%.1f” # speed
PATH_COURSE,””,”%f” # heading

I saved it and changed the extension to .style so the file became GPSToday.style.

Now I should explain that I did not arrive at that style file at the first attempt. Most of it wasn’t too bad but the time field setting was a nightmare. I tried just about all the options in the GPSBabel help system and none worked. GPSBabel could not understand the date/time data in the format output by GPSToday, no matter what I did.

In the end I decided to use the ISO_TIME option and run a script to rearrange the date/time information into a format that would be understood by GPSBabel in conjunction with the ISO_TIME setting. In practice, this meant writing a bit of Visual Basic code. For convenience I did this from Excel.

This is the code:

Sub FixTime()

Dim TextLine As String
Dim LineBuffer As String

Open “C:\GPSBabel\geolog.txt” For Input As #1
Open “C:\GPSBabel\geologISOTIME.txt” For Output As #2

Line Input #1, TextLine
Print #2, TextLine

Do While Not EOF(1)
Line Input #1, TextLine

LineBuffer = “”
LineBuffer = LineBuffer & Mid$(TextLine, 7, 4) & “-”
LineBuffer = LineBuffer & Mid$(TextLine, 1, 2) & “-”
LineBuffer = LineBuffer & Mid$(TextLine, 4, 2) & “T”
LineBuffer = LineBuffer & Mid$(TextLine, 12, 8) & “Z”
LineBuffer = LineBuffer & Mid$(TextLine, 20)

Print #2, LineBuffer

Loop

Close #1
Close #2

End Sub

On running this VB macro, a new file, geologISOTIME.txt is created in the same folder, with the same data as geolog.txt but with the date/time format changed so that it would be acceptable to GPSBabel.

You can then run GPSBabel, by double clicking the file GPSBabelGUI.exe. You have to point it at the input file, geologISOTIME.txt, and specify that it is in xcsv format and also specify the style file, GPSToday.style. Give the output file name as say geolog.gpx and specify the gpx output format. Then run the translation process to get your location data into a standards compliant format you can use with a photo geotagging program.

Applying the geotags

The final step is to feed both the gpx file and your photos to a program which can do the timestamp matching and write the geotags to the photo files. I picked a free open source program called GPicSync.

It is fairly self explanatory in use. If you managed to cope with the format conversions then running it will not be too taxing. It creates new versions of your photos, with the geotags written into the EXIF data, and saves the untouched originals in a backup folder. Job done.

Proving the geotagging has actually worked

As an independent check I downloaded Microsoft’s Pro Photo Tools 2 suite, again free. If you open one of your geotagged photos in that application you can use the built-in map function to locate where the geotag is saying the picture was taken.

I did that and was amazed to find that my pictures were all correctly geotagged. Having done the hard work I now have a proven workflow for geotagging photos taken with my DSLR, and it did not cost me a penny.

Using the geotagging solution in practice

It’s simply a matter of making sure you take your phone on your photo trips and the geologging function is in operation from before you take the first picture in a batch, and until after the last picture in the batch. You can keep starting and stopping the logging function. You don’t have to change the logging file name, GPSToday just appends new time/location records without overwriting.

It is important to make sure the GPS is logged in to some satellites before starting shooting. Best to turn the GPS on in persistent mode (see GPSToday help) and just leave it on for the day. And check periodically it is still locked on. You don’t want to be caught out by finding the GPS is off or not latched onto a healthy bunch of satellites as you are about to start taking pictures.

One important point: time zone. The workflow will only work if the timestamps on the photos and the phone are in sync. Make sure, particularly if you are travelling abroad, that the time settings on both camera and phone are in sync.

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This iPhoneless Life #9 – Waiting for the zPhone

April 17, 2009

iPod I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that with a little bit of effort you can set up a WM phone so that it can do all the things you would expect from an iPhone.  Maybe not with quite the same slick style and chic design, but there are some compensations.  Pocket Outlook is a better calendaring and contacts tool than comes with the iPhone, much better suited to business needs.  And the Pocket Office applications, although limited, are occasionally useful.

The whole balance may change though when the ZuneHD comes out, particularly if the rumours are true that the Zune software will be made available for WM phones, effectively creating the ZunePhone. I don’t know if that will be new WM phones only, but I can always claim an upgrade.


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This iPhoneless Life #8 – Full circle

April 13, 2009

iPod Having tried a number of Windows Mobile audio player programs I am back with Windows Media Player Mobile (WMPM), at least for everything apart from audiobooks.  And I am back to AudiblePlayer for the latter.

As I explained in a previous post, I had moved away from AudiblePlayer because it did not support my bluetooth A2DP earphones properly, with the result that the audio (which is mono) was coming out of the left channel only.  I had therefore embarked on a tour of proprietary media player solutions, in the hope of finding one that would play audiobooks properly and (ideally) handle my music and podcasts as well.

I had all but settled on Pocket Tunes, which ticks most of the boxes but is quite expensive. It also offers syncing direct with iTunes, as opposed to my current two-stage solution of  using  iTunes for podcast capture followed by WMP for syncing with the phone. Ironically, it was my attempt to get this iTunes sync functionality working which ultimately did away with the need for Pocket Tunes at all.

To explain how this came about we need to introduce my old nemesis, ActiveSync, into the story. Strictly I should call it WMDC, as Microsoft have rebranded it for Vista in the hope that we’d all be fooled into thinking it really isn’t as bad as we remember it. It turns out that when I installed WMDC on my Vista PC a year ago it was missing certain key drivers.  An updated version was released later but not rolled out automatically. Of course, I had no way of knowing that. But I had noted that some applications for the phone refused to install over WMDC, giving error messages of various descriptions. Where CAB files were provided by the vendor I could use them to get software installed on my phone, but in other cases I was stuck.  For example, I had not been able to get the latest versions of Audible Manager and AudibleAir installed on my PC and phone.  The installs failed and, at the time, I didn’t understand the error messages. It wasn’t stopping me enjoying audiobooks at that point so I didn’t waste time trying to get to the bottom of the problem.

Of course, when I attempted to install the Pocket Tunes iTunes sync software I hit the same issue again, the error message being “Can’t find CE Application Manager“.  This time I was less inclined to give up.  Googling took me to this website. Now being aware that I had an out of date (and incomplete) installation of WMDC I installed the current version.  This had the benefit that I was at last able to install Pocket Tunes iTunes sync and establish that it worked very nicely.

And while about it I also installed the latest Audible software, both to my PC and my phone, now that the path was clear.  This included an upgrade from AudiblePlayer 5.5.0.6 to 5.5.0.7.  And guess what? The new AudiblePlayer supports bluetooth properly so audiobooks play on both channels.  Still mono of course but at least in the middle of my head rather than in one ear only.

Conclusion? I don’t need to spend money on Pocket Tunes. I have gone back to WMPM and am using the latest AudiblePlayer for my audiobooks. Problem solved for an outlay of nil, plus a modicum of perseverance.

Mind you, ActiveSync/WMDC had the last laugh. After I installed the latest WMDC, it wouldn’t sync with my phone unless I removed one of the two established relationships.  I wasn’t sure which one was the one I needed so picked one more or less at random. After the next sync every single appointment had been wiped from my Calendar in Pocket Outlook. Thank you, WMDC. So kind. At least it had the good grace to leave my contacts alone.

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