Huawei Mediapad T1

I’ve been contemplating buying a tablet for a year or two now. But had mostly decided against it, mainly due to the lack of use it will get. I had previously owned an IPad 2 which I won in competition in 2012. I had sold it several months after winning it as I wasn’t giving it the use I felt it deserved, and as a student heading off overseas I felt the funds could be put to better use.

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Slots for MicroSD and MicroSIM exposed in top left (tablet’s bottom right)

And I didn’t regret it. Recently however I’ve been travelling more frequently and my future plans appear to contain a lot more travelling too. Specifically flying. I have on several occasions travelled with my laptop. Which is OK. But it’s heavy, bulky and awkward to work on when on the move when you don’t have a desk or somewhere to place it. My phone on the other hand, while being very capable, is not something I’m going to get much work done on.

So for the past few months I’ve been trawling the second hand tablet market. Which in East London is slightly worse than the already poor SA 2nd hand market. Tablets seem to hold their value remarkably well. I’d hoped for an iPad, preferably with a retina display. iPad Air would have been ideal and I was specifically looking for a device with mobile data. The prices however were (for what I was wanting) exorbitant.

3.55mm audio jack, power button and volume rocker

3.55mm audio jack, power button and volume rocker

I tried Android equivalents but they were no cheaper. Eventually resigning my fate to that of a 720p screen. Still in the market I started monitoring specials and deals from the various technology outlets. Eventually settling on a Huawei T1 Mediapad.

And it’s ticked all the boxes. Takealot had it on special for R3000 and with a significant amount of eBucks I managed to pick it up fairly cheap. Takealot advertised it as a 4Gb model without SD card slot. Research however showed this did not exist, so I ran the risk and ended up with a 16Gb unit that I added a 64gb microSD card to. I ordered a black unit but they delivered a white one. Not the end of the world and I chose to not bother with the return procedure.

charging port at bottom is updside down

charging port at bottom is upside down

It came neatly packaged with earphones I haven’t bothered to use and surprisingly only a 1A charger with separate micro USB cable. Not much else needed. The first thing I noticed when turning it on was the resolution. I didn’t think it would bother me, and I’ve gotten over it with time, but 720p on a 10″ screen in this day and age is a crime. My 3 year old Galaxy S4 has 1080p on a 5″ screen. Tablet still works fine, but low pixel density is noticeable.

The tablet hasn’t give me any trouble really. I’m not a big fan of the EMUI (v3.0) interface and may run a jailbreak at a later stage but will stick it out for now. It gives transparent icons a green background and all apps are on your ‘desktops’. No apps menu. I also prefer hardware interface buttons as opposed to the on-screen ones Huawei use.

Why do icon backgrounds go green?

Why do icon backgrounds go green?

The volume rocker sits directly below the power button which means I regularly turn the screen off instead of changing the volume. Both are located top right which works well. The charger plugs in at the bottom, however goes in upside down. Unusual. Headphone jack located on the top. Right hand side bottom hides the micro SIM and microSD cards. Cameras are nothing to rave about, but I won’t use them for anything more than Skype for which they are adequate.

The 4G works well and the phone allows for voice calls and SMS as well. The tablet runs Android KitKat and besides Google Camera not working, I haven’t experienced any other major problems. At times the tablet will freeze momentarily. This is most noticeable when playing music and doing something else where the music will not play for a short time before continuing. This is noticeable in some other apps too when you push a button and it will freeze for a short time. Although slightly annoying it doesn’t majorly impede the use of the tablet and I’m not sure of the exact cause.

Overall I’ve been happy with the performance of the tablet. I’m by no means a power user and am slowly finding more and more uses for the tablet. Another slight annoyance is the lack of locally available covers for the Media pad. I’ve had to resign to doing an eBay order to get one which will probably still take another month (took 6 weeks in total in the end) to arrive assuming SAPO do their job.IMG_20160515_132852

The touch screen is mostly responsive but can be a bother at times, requiring multiple taps, specifically on smaller targets, to register.

Time goes on and as it does I discover more I like and dislike about the tablet. But I won’t be selling this one any time soon.

Google Maps not loading properly

This evening I was looking around at a couple areas on Google Maps, and the maps weren’t loading properly. Initially I thought it was my poor internet connection, but waiting for it, moving around, the problem seemed to be bigger. This was in Firefox, so I tried loading up in Chrome, thinking this might solve the problem. But no dice.

I then checked out the Maps app on my Android Tablet, and I seemed to experience the same problem. The below picture shows what it looked like, then a moment later without me changing anything half the image disappeared.

everything was OK, then half of the roads disappeared.

everything was OK, then half of the roads disappeared.

Outage.Report doesn’t show any problems, although several people have recently reported not being able to access it. I tweeted about this and immediately got a response from another user with a similar problem.

No news from Google yet, but we wait and see.


 

UPDATE: 24 hours later and the problem appears to have resolved itself without comment from Google.

Mars Trilogy (timekeeping)

Look, I’ve only read the first book, well 70% of it, I’m still busy with the rest, but I’m sure the concept of time keeping is not going to change. I’ve mostly enjoyed the book (written by Kim Stanley Robinson), although it’s getting a bit long after the excitement of the first quarter. But anyway, timekeeping, it’s ridiculous. Red Mars is a Sci-Fi book based on the starting decades of populating Mars and making it habitable.

It starts focusing on the ‘first 100’, the first 100 people to arrive on Mars. They were all specially selected out of thousands of applicants to go to Mars. They’re mostly scientists and engineers with skills that they can use to develop Mars once they arrive.Screenshot_2016-05-14-18-16-45One of the early concepts introduced in the book is that of timekeeping. Something which, as they’re a bunch of scientists, I’d think would be rather important. Mars has this problem in that a solar day on Mars is marginally longer than a solar day on Earth. On average 39min longer.

This poses a problem when working on Mars, as how do you keep time? Do you have watches run an extra 39min? So after 24h00 is 24h01 up to 24h39? You can do this, in my opinion it’s a better solution than what took place in Red Mars, but it’s not what scientists do. Not the scientists at NASA anyway. No, they just redefined a second. Or rather gave the Mars Second a definition equal to 102.7% of an Earth Second. And it works! It’s good.

It means that any software can continue to operate on Mars, as long as the clocks they are set to work with are setup to a Martian clock. Well the time will work in any case, dates become a bit more complicated. But that’s not the topic of this article.

In the Mars Trilogy, the scientists’ solution in this situation was to run a clock at the same speed as an Earth clock. Then when 24h00 came along it would stop. It would stop for 39min, and then the clock would start again at 00h01. This time when the clocks were not running is referred to as the timeslip. And took on an element of meaning in the book, but egal.

The main reason they chose to do this is because, as opposed to rovers etc., we actually have people living in this timeframe now, people who are used to the length of a second and whose delicate minds don’t need the extra strain of not knowing how long a second is.

I disagree. From a scientific perspective alone, how do you record things taking place in this timeslip? How do computers react, how much extra effort is it to work around this; when it would be much easier to just make the second marginally (imperceptibly?) longer.IMG_20160514_181814I saw a recent video on YouTube where participants were asked to count to a minute in their heads and say stop when they got there, with interesting results. Mainly supporting my opinion that no one’s going to pick-up a 2.7% difference.

But it’s a book, and maybe I shouldn’t take it so seriously, it’s a nice plot device, if in my opinion a complete bogus conclusion to come to for a bunch of scientists.

If you’re interested, you can view a NASA article on the topic of timekeeping on Mars here, goes as far to include things like timezones and dates. Interestingly, the Wikipedia article on Mars timekeeping includes a mention of ‘timekeeping in fiction‘.

I was initially triggered to read the books after hearing in a podcast (I think it was Still Untitled) that a 10 part series was being produced based on the trilogy. According to Wikipedia it has however again been shelved.

Faulty Guitar Hero Guitar – multiple button presses (disassembly)

A friend recently picked up a 2nd hand Guitar Hero guitar. It worked mostly well, but at times when pressing some of the frets, other frets would also register. This makes playing the games normally a nightmare, as you’re currently being penalised for mistakes you didn’t actually make.

I took it apart but couldn’t find much wrong with it, besides some odd design decisions. /start side rant

There are 5 buttons on the fretboard. So if I were to design it, I would have 6 wires, 1 for each button, and one ground. But the fretboard has 8 connectors. I’m not sure if it allows a wire to be damaged and it to continue to work, but it doesn’t seem so. All I can think is that they had 8 pin connectors, and decided to use them. On the guitar itself, the 8 pins connect to a small PCB, with 6 lines coming from it straight to the microcontroller. It confuses me.

/end side rant

I didn’t have any way to test the guitar, so I gave it back, but my friend returned saying it seemed slightly worse. This was concerning. I got him to return it to me so I could take another look, this time requesting the receiver dongle as well so I could do testing myself.

USB Guitar Hero Dongle

USB Guitar Hero Dongle

The USB receiver is detected by Windows, and shows up as a game controller, so it’s quite easy to test the response of the system. What I found is that when the red button was depressed, the yellow button would trigger for a few 100ms as well. And likewise when depressing the yellow button, the red button would also be triggered for a few 100ms.

Windows sees the Guitar Hero as a gamepad, allowing one to monitor the inputs.

Windows sees the Guitar Hero as a gamepad, allowing one to monitor the inputs.

So again I opened up the guitar, spent some time with a multi-meter probing around, but didn’t find much. The connection from the buttons to the microcontroller all seemed to be in order, without any obvious problems. I don’t know what the problem actually was. The soldering on the board was relatively poor in my opinion, quite a bit of splatter, and several potentially joined lines. I took a scalpel to the board and cleared off any extra residue and solder I noted. Plugged everything back in and it all appears to be functioning 100%.

Main PCB, some solder contamination noted.

Main PCB, some solder contamination noted.

Again, I don’t know what was/is actually wrong with the board. Time will tell if the problem reoccurs, but at the moment it seems to be working well.

Disassembly
The guitar is fairly straightforward to disassemble. The fretboard pops out and is secured by multiple Torx-screws, and inside the PCB is secured by the same screws.

Screws to loosen to open fretboard

Screws to loosen to open fretboard

Two screws holding PCB in place. Slight press-fit.

Two screws holding PCB in place. Slight press-fit.

The body of the guitar is similarly assembled. Remove the face plate and loosen all the screws on the back (11 in total, one is hidden behind a ‘warranty void’ sticker). Take care when separating, as the whammy bar needs to be threaded through, and some wires connect the two halves of the guitar together (namely the battery connector), these can be unplugged fairly easily.

Location of screws to loosen to open guitar body

Location of screws to loosen to open guitar body

The main PCB is secured by screws which can be easily removed to give access to the board.

Location of various items within the guitar body

Location of various items within the guitar body