Gas station without pumps

2022 March 21

NY Times is really out of touch

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 19:57
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I try to buy one issue of the New York Times each week—the Tuesday issue that has the Science Times section.  You can’t subscribe to just Tuesdays, so I have to bike down to Bookshop Santa Cruz in the morning to buy a copy (they’ve usually sold out by the afternoon, and even CVS sells out when the bookshop has run out).

It often takes a week or more for me to get to the less interesting sections (like the business section), so I only today got around to reading “Apple’s New SE Is the iPhone Built, and Priced,  for the Anti-Consumer” (which is available online as 

In the article, Brian X. Chen makes some truly ridiculous statements, which either he was paid to do by Apple or because he has absolutely no understanding of anti-consumerism.  He claims that the iPhone SE is “a no-frills phone … for a reasonable price” and that it is “a budget phone”—oops, that is “a budget iPhone”, which is not at all the same thing. 

The phone costs $430, which is not a budget phone by any stretch of the imagination.  A budget phone is a $24 Cricket burner phone from Walmart.  But let’s say you want a decent, no-frills smartphone—for $49 you can get a Moto G Play (2021 model) from Google Fi, and get a cheap Google Fi phone plan as well (we pay about $43/month for two phones, including taxes). An anti-consumerist mobile phone would be a flip phone for <$10 from Goodwill. Under no stretch of the definition is any iPhone anti-consumerist—the iPhone brand is built entirely on consumerism and conspicuous consumption, with even their “budget” models 5 to 10 times the price of the competition.

Brian does, grudgingly, mention Google’s Pixel 5A, which is a similarly over-priced “low-end” phone ($300 with Google Fi, $400 otherwise).

It seems like the editors of the business section of the NY Times are so out of touch that they let Brian’s piece pass uncorrected.  I’d already given up on the opinion page as being so right-wing it hurt to read, and I knew that the business section was unapologetically addressing the wealthiest 5% in most of their articles, but pretending that an iPhone is anti-consumerist is going way beyond the bounds of responsible journalism.


2020 April 4

New, unique ringtone

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 23:00
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Ever since I got my first cellphone in December, I’ve been thinking that I ought to put a custom ringtone on it.  This was reinforced a few weeks ago, when a student’s phone rang with the same standard ringtone that I had chosen (the “Sparse” ringtone on the Android phone).

I did not want to buy a ringtone (I’m cheap), nor steal one (I’m honest), nor even use an open-source ringtone.  I wanted a truly custom one that no one else in the world could have.

Many years ago, I composed some renaissance dance music and in 2007 I had put the scores into Finale Notepad on my Mac.  So my thought was that I could just take the music that I had composed, convert it to an audio format and store it as my ringtone.  Simple and unique!

Problem 1: The version I have of Finale Notepad does not run even on my old laptop, and Finale no longer makes a free tool for Macs.  I did have an old (but not quite as old) version of Finale Reader that would run on my old Mac, but it is an extremely crippled piece of software—it can play music out to the speakers and show the score on the screen, but that’s about it. I did confirm that I still had the music files, though and that some of them might make ok ringtones.  That old laptop is pretty broken (wifi broken, SD card reader broken, hinge for screen broken), but it is the most recent Mac I have that would still run Finale freeware—everything else has been upgraded too much.

Success! There is still a Finale Notepad for Windows, and I do actually have a Windows machine in the house—a magenta HP laptop that I paid $75 for in order to test PteroDAQ on a Windows machine.  My wife dubbed it the Barbie laptop, because of the color and the toy-like feel.  I mainly use this laptop now for running pronterface to control my 3D printer, but when I was finished printing my second nose clip for a face mask, the laptop was free for other uses.  I downloaded Finale Notepad to it and copied the score files (via flash drive) from the Mac to the Barbie laptop.

Success!  Not only could I play the music score files on the Barbie laptop, but I could convert them to less proprietary formats: musicxml and MIDI. But these are still not audio files.

Problem 2: I tried playing one of the MIDI files on the Barbie laptop, but the result was terrible—Windows Media Player was not able to handle it. So I used the flash drive again to transfer the midi files to my new (early 2014) MacBook Air.  Nothing on that machine plays MIDI files! I tried downloading some programs from the web, but they were either just ads asking for me to buy $100 software or non-functional.  I removed all of them (I hope), and started looking for online converters.  Based on what I had read—that Android phones handled all the standard music formats—I decided to look for converters from MIDI to M4A format.

Success! provides such a converter.  I tried a couple of files and the results were rather quiet, but seemed usable.

Problem 3: only lets you convert two files a day, unless you pay them big bucks. I looked some more for other converters.  I found one that crashed,

Success! I found one that worked:  I converted the files (twice, because I found I needed to fade the music in and out, which had not been necessary with Finale Notepad).

Problem 4: getting the files to my phone. The files were in my Dropbox, but I did not want Dropbox on my phone.

Success! I finally decided to use Google Drive for the transfer, as I already had Drive on the phone, and transferring the file from my computer to Drive and from Drive to my phone was straightforward.

Problem 5: the instructions I saw on the web suggested moving files into the RIngtones folder from the Downloads folder.  This is harder than it might seem, because you have to go to the Downloads folder that is inside the internal storage in the Files app, not the crippled Downloads folder at the top that doesn’t let you move files.

Success! I got the m4a file into the Ringtones folder, and tapping it started the music playing!

Problem 6: The new ringtone did not appear as an option in my phone settings for ringtones.  Not even after rebooting the phone (which some of the advice on the web said was needed with some Android versions).

Problem 7: I saw that it was possible to add ringtones directly from Drive, so I deleted the m4a file and tried adding the ringtone directly from Drive.  Now the problem was that the file was greyed out—there were no selectable files.  I’d been lied to about Android accepting all the music formats—sure it could play m4a files, but it couldn’t use them as ringtones.

Success! converted the MIDI file into an mp3 file, which I could add as a ringtone from Google Drive using the Sound Settings on the phone.

So I now have a 35-second galliard of my own composition as my ringtone—it is definitely a unique ringtone, and may even have been worth the trouble it took to get it onto the phone. (And, no, I’m not going to play it for you on the blog.)

I have not put on a new ringtone for text messages, though, as a text ringtone needs to be very short, and the shortest piece I have is an 18-second single repetition of a bransle. I’ll have to think about what I can do for a 1-second or 2-second text ringtone.

2019 December 16

Landline discontinued

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 10:08
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As I mentioned in First cellphone, I have finally bought a cell phone.  Today I got the landline number transferred to that cellphone, so that I can now discontinue landline service.  That could be a minor nuisance during the next major power outage (during the last big power outage, landline service continued uninterrupted, but several cellphone towers went offline, so cell service was disrupted).

I have one more task to do in setting up the phone, and that is to transfer my wife’s phone (which was associated with my e-mail address) to be associated with my wife’s email address.  I don’t know how difficult that will be, but I anticipate a few hours dealing with Google Fi technical support, as their web pages do not provide any way to do this yourself.  It is particularly difficult in this case, as the billing was associated with that phone, and my new phone was an extra on the account, while I want to make my new phone be the primary on the account (so that I can continue billing to the same card).

2019 December 5

First cellphone

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 14:08
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My wife finally talked me into buying a cellphone (she’s been using one for a few years, and upgraded to a smartphone last summer).

I bought a Moto G7 to use on Google Fi, because the phone was on sale through Google Fi for only $100.  My wife had already been using Google Fi with a Moto X4 (Android One edition), though the phone was in my name, because I had a Google account and she did not.

The idea was to set up a Google Fi group account, transfer the Moto X4 with its phone number to her, and add the new phone to my account.  That turned out to be impossible, or nearly so.  Google does not easily support transferring phones, and if the phone number had been moved to her account, I would have lost the promotional price on the Moto G7.

After a long time on Google support chat with “Andy”, we finally came up with a plan that seemed like it would work.  I would keep her phone associated with my account, open a new email account, invite the new account to join the Google Fi group, accept the invitation, and then activate the phone and get a new number for the new phone.

Even that turned out to be harder than expected, as my first attempt to open a new gmail account associated the account with my existing Google account, so I could not invite it to join the Google Fi group—it had just replaced the email I had associated with the account with the new email.  After making sure that I was logged out of all Google accounts, I set up yet another gmail account, logged back in under my original account, invited the new account, and accepted the invitation.

So after, about 4 hours of struggling with Google’s limited view that person=phone number and all email accounts should be associated with the same person, I finally activated the phone.  Since then, it has gone through about 3 system updates—I understand that doing many serial system updates is standard whenever a new Android phone is activated.

I’ve installed 2 apps on my phone: Lyft (which I’ve not tried yet) and CS Customizer, which can be used to adjust the profile for my hearing aids (“personal hearing amplifiers”, since they weren’t sold by an audiologist).  I have tried CS Customizer, and it seems to work ok, which is good, because it had stopped working on my Mac after one of the macos upgrades. Incidentally, over the summer I created an instruction sheet (hearing-aid-instructions) for recharging the hearing aids, since my dad has the same model and the assisted living center he is at was not doing a good job of keeping them charged.  I understand that the instructions have been printed and posted in his room, but I don’t know whether they are doing any better at keeping his hearing aids charged.

I’ve also rearranged the app buttons on the home screen, as Motorola and Google seem to put the most useless ones as the favorites.  I now have Contacts, Phone, Chrome, Maps, and Lyft on one row, and Duo, Messages, Settings, Photos, and Camera as the second row.  I also made the top row of Quick Settings be Wifi, Do Not Disturb, Mobile data, Flashlight, Location, and Airplane mode.

I’ll try the phone for a week, then move my landline number to it.  I’m losing the landline because I’m upgrading my internet service from DSL (which includes the landline service) to a higher-speed microwave link (both from CruzIO, a local ISP).  The DSL line gets about 11Mb/s download and 0.8Mb/s upload, and I’m expecting about 70Mb/s each way with the microwave link.  It will come into the house in a different location than the phone lines, and the rebar in the concrete walls of my house blocks wifi signals, so there may be some trouble in placing a router so that both the book room and the breakfast room (where my wife and I work) are covered.

The Google Fi group account increases our cell phone bill from $20/month to $35/month, but the microwave link will cost the same per month ($75) as the DSL would, because the DSL is going up in price.

2013 April 30

First cell phone

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 23:26
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Our family just got our first cell phone (we’re late adopters of most technology, though we were early adopters of Macintoshes—I had one of the first model with 128k RAM).  The cell phone is not for my wife or me (neither of us likes talking on the phone), but for our son, who needs it to be a “prefect” on the school trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  The prefects have to keep tabs on a group of about 4 other kids who share the same hotel room and serve as a node in a phone tree if plans change. Last year there was a last-minute change of schedule moving one workshop 2 hours earlier, and the phone tree worked well for alerting all the students.

Because this is our first cell phone, we wanted one with low initial cost and no long-term contracts.  What we ended up with was a $30 phone and an AT&T $2/day plan, that offers unlimited minutes and texts and no monthly charges, but charges $2 for each day that the phone is actually used. Since he does not expect to use the phone much, we’re more worried about time we’ve paid for expiring (the $25 we prepaid will expire in 3 months, unless we remember to add more money before then). One nice feature of the AT&T plan is the lack of roaming charges in the US, especially as he will be using the phone mainly while traveling.

Since he is planning to use the phone only for the school trip and for emergency calls (like letting us know that he’ll be late because of a flat tire on his bike), we are paying for the plan.  If his use changes and he starts using the phone recreationally, he’ll be responsible for paying for the plan (and he’d likely change to a different plan, since $2/day is expensive if you use the phone every day, though cheap if you use it rarely).

Data transfer is very expensive at 1¢/5KB ($2/MB, $2000/GB), but we got a cheap phone (with a keyboard) which will not tempt him into much downloading (we hope). This plan cannot have a data plan added to it—we’d have to switch to a $25/month with an extra $15/200MB or $25/GB. At those prices it might be worth looking for a cheaper phone company.

If he goes to college with this phone (possible, but not very likely), he’ll probably take an iPod Touch with WiFi as well, so that he can do web browsing—most college campuses have pretty good WiFi coverage for students, though the coverage off campus would be poor to non-existent.  It’s possible that by then he’d want a smartphone, even if the contracts cost $70/month ($30 for 3GB, $40 for voice).

At lot of parents of college students on the homeschool-to-college email list have been recommending that college students take a phone with texting capability to college with them, even if they haven’t been using one in high school.  Not only are emergency alerts used on many campuses sent more quickly with text messages, but a lot of social organization seems to happen by text messages, as students don’t seem to rely on face-to-face meeting to arrange their lives any more. Now that my son has a texting phone, we’ll see if it makes any difference in how he does things.


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