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£0.00

It’s staggering to think that a mobile phone company blocked calls, texts and data because a customer’s account was overdue by £0.00, but that’s exactly what happened.

Computers are brilliant, I don’t need to go into everything they’re capable of because it’s common knowledge. They’re fantastic tools, but they’re only as good as three people:
* the person who built it
* the person who programmed it; and
* the person who uses it.

Most of the time in your personal life it will be the latter. We shake our heads aghast at the person who turns their screen round so the computer can ‘see’ the printer, in the ignorant hope that the error message well go away.  The person who wants to know why the printer doesn’t work when it’s ran out of toner or ink.  The person with a wireless mouse who presses the buttons harder when the batteries are dying.  The fact is that if you’ve used a computer, you’ve almost certainly fallen victim to this sort of thing.  I know I have.

EE Blocked 0.00

Screenshot of my account. Only altered to remove account and phone number.

In business though, it can be embarrassing to the company when something goes wrong. If, say, a company automated the system which blocks an overdue account then you’d expect a bit of logic, such as if the account is at least a full penny overdue then block it. You’d not expect a block activating due to an overdue balance of £0.00. Unfortunately EE did just that.

I’ve only just had it lifted after EE charged me for hidden charges they promised wouldn’t exist, but here we are again.  I’m confident that it’s a value like a quarter of a penny or something like that, but it doesn’t excuse the action of blocking calls and texts. It really concerns me that this sort of thing can happen.

I rely on my phone as a panic button.  If something happens, I need to know I can rely on my phone to do what it’s designed to do – get in touch with people.  After EE’s last let down I opted for a secondary panic button system. It’s been a bit of a wake up call.  We all assume we can depend on companies providing communications services, and not just because of a disability, but because of security.  Confidence that we can reach our kids, elderly family members and people we care about. In order to preserve that, companies need to know when they’ve made a mistake.  If we don’t tell companies they’ve let us down then they won’t know they need to change.  It looks like I need to call EE. Again.

Lifeproof

It surprises me that more phones haven’t been waterproofed. A few years ago, Jason Bradbury featured a Samsung Galaxy S2 being submerged in water without any adverse effects after being coated with a nano-coating by P2i. Nowadays, a few phones will claim to be splashproof, but currently only Sony make fully waterproof phones. Despite the obvious appeal of a naturally submersible phone, I really don’t want a Sony product again.

There have been a few cases on the market to protect your phone. When the Lifeproof case was on special offer, I seized the opportunity. Lifeproof has a great reputation. I’ve seen their products for iPhones in the past but this was not only a Lifeproof case for an Android device, but for the same one I use. At least for now.

When you first pick up the box you immediately feel as though Lifeproof have given thought to their product. The box is tactile, a door on the front opens to let you view the product through the transparency. What impressed me was the magnets (top and bottom) which snap the door shut.

Lifeproof cover and test unitLifeproof internal sealThe rear of the box boasts the case will protect your phone with a rating of IP68. It can be fully submerged up to 6½ feet. Unfortunately, I can’t say I hold much confidence in this claim.

Lifeproof base, showing waterLifeproof include a phone’s “test unit”, a blue plastic mock up matching the dimensions of the phone it’s designed to protect. The manual suggests testing the case using the test unit for 30 minutes, weighted down to fully submerge it in water. I
tested it for 15 minutes using their test unit and found the product leaking water.

Lifeproof base, wet lockThe case was dried off, checked for anything that could be preventing the Lifeproof case from working properly. I could see nothing that would cause the leak.
The second test lasted only 5 minutes. Unfortunately the case was unable to resist the water using the provided test unit.

Another check for any dust, dirt, cracks in the rubber, anything at all proved fruitless. I checked and double
checked the test unit. Even under a jeweller’s magnifying glass nothing showed that could account for the leaks. To say it came as a disappointment was an understatement.

The final test was done under full observation in the hope the source may be found. No such luck. There was no obvious point where air could be seen escaping. After ten minutes it was clear that nothing would give away the weak point. With some surprise I learned the third test was successful.

I’m aware the only consistent factors in these tests have been the same case, the same test unit and the same person. Being truly objective, I cannot rule out me missing something between tests, however small. To the best of my knowledge, in each test nothing had changed. The test unit was settled in place. The case was snapped shut with the same force as before. Even the order of it closing matched the previous tests.

Pros: The Lifeproof case is sturdy. It feels like a quality product. The rubber on its back makes gripping it very easy. Despite only having contact with surfaces with its four rubber feet it doesn’t easily slide (tested at various angles). The speaker and microphone aren’t obstructed due to a waterproof membrane, music can be heard as before and nobody called knew the phone was in a case. Rubber covers over the buttons stand out proud from the base making finding them easy, but prevent the phone activating without your knowledge.

Cons: Some charging cables no longer work due to the smaller aperture at the base (see yellow plug on the case). None of the OTG cable fits. Only a third of the tests with the test unit passed being submerged in water.

Outcome: The Lifeproof case tested with the Samsung I9305 feels like a quality product. Even the box has had serious thought put in to it. The case will block dust, dirt, sand etc. (involuntary test) with ease.  [You’ll understand me not testing the waterproofing with the phone.]  Using the official cables and not cheap ones from eBay, the phone performs exactly as it always has.  Bumps and drops on to hard floor tiles are taken in its stride.

I’d recommend Lifeproof cases to anyone who asks. Cheap cases may save your phone from knocks and drops, but they can’t offer anything like the protection of a Lifeproof case.

Two phones, one Pebble

I’d been in the market for a new watch for some time.  I looked at three watches – Samsung’s Galaxy Gear, the Pebble, and Sony’s Smartwatch 2.  I’ve used Sony’s LiveView watch before and it promptly joined a long list of Sony’s products that have either acted up, not worked or broke.  While a colour, touch screen watch might be nice I wanted something that I wouldn’t regret and that didn’t fit Sony’s bill.  The Galaxy Gear is an impressive enough watch but funds wouldn’t stretch that far and I knew the Pebble would integrate nicely with apps I already use, especially if I was to have notifications pushed to the watch from more than one phone.

Whether you have two phones because you need to carry a business phone, or you have a family member whose needs necessitate a separate emergency phone, it’s possible to have your Pebble receive notifications on multiple devices.  First of all, you’re going to need a few apps.

Anything you can do with both Pebble Notifier and PebbleTasker can be done in AutoPebble.  It’s a single app, cheaper, does far far more than what is shown below, but it is slower to respond and takes longer to learn how to use. If you want to quickly read and respond to a text I’d recommend using Pebble Notifier and PebbleTasker. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy AutoPebble at all.  If you have the time to spend setting it up, do so.  It’s much quicker to set up if you want to set up lots of options in one go.  It certainly doesn’t disappoint.

Some of the above apps aren’t free but they’re not going to break the bank.  I spent under £8, and the apps can be used for more than one purpose.  I’m assuming you’ve never seen the above apps before.

First of all, set up Tasker.  You need to access the menu, Preferences, Misc, and tick Allow External Access.
Tasker-Menu
In AutoRemote, you need to authenticate the two devices.  For this you can either tap the phone icon, and type in the goo.gl/XXXXX code or just use the barcode scanner.
AutoRemote-FourQnet
Once AutoRemote is authenticated you can start setting up the profiles and tasks in Tasker.
Let’s assume you have your Pebble connected to your personal phone and you want to bridge your business phone to it.

On the business phone:

  1. Enter Tasker
  2. Click on the + icon at the bottom, [you may be prompted to enter a name, if so call it Texts], and tap the tick
  3. Event, Phone, Received Text [you can set restrictions on the texts here by entering parameters phone numbers or words in the text; if you want all texts forwarded then leave it blank and tap the back arrow at the top left]
  4. Tasker will now prompt you for a Task to perform when you receive a text. Click New Task, type in Texts, tap the tick and you’re ready to add the Task.
  5. Tap + Net, Mobile Data, On.  Then + Plugin, AutoRemote Message, then the pencil icon found to the right of Configuration.
  6. From here select the device you want to send it to, and in Message, enter “Business text from %SMSRN at %SMSRT, %SMSRB” (without the quotation marks) and tap your phone’s back button.

On your personal phone:

  1. Enter Tasker and add a profile, State, Plugin, AutoRemote, Configuration, and tick Event Behaviour.
  2. In Message Filter enter “Business text from” (without the quotation marks), and tick Case Insensitive.  [This shouldn’t make any difference if you’re careful but I’ve had the first letter of a word change case because I’ve went back to change it]. Press back a couple of times and type in a name for the new task.
  3. Add, Plugin, Pebble Notifier (not Pebble Notifier settings), Configuration, Body and type “%armessage” (this should be in lower case and again, without the quotation marks).  In the Title, type “Business SMS”.

That’s it. All the time both phones are connected to the net your texts should be pushed from one phone, to another and on to your Pebble.  In most cases this is enough, but there are always times when you want two way communication.  This takes a little more time, but not too much.

If you’re unable to take out your phone and respond to a text properly there’s a good chance you’re going to want to keep things simple.  Your responses need to be set up in advance.  I have set up:

  • Ok
  • Yes
  • No
  • Thanks
  • I’m busy at the moment, I’ll get back to you shortly.

Obviously you’re able to select whatever responses are suitable for your own life, just don’t forget which one’s which.
On the business phone set up a profile, I’ve called mine “AR SMS Ok”.

  1. Add, State, Plugin, AutoRemote,
  2. Tap the Configuration pencil and tick Event Behaviour
  3. In Message Filter, type in “Pebble Reply Ok”
  4. Tick Case Insensitive and Exact Message
  5. Tasker will then prompt you for a task, select New Task, enter “AR SMS Ok” and tap the tick.
  6. In Number, enter “%SMSRF”
  7. In Message, type “Ok”, and decide whether or not you want the text to be stored with your other texts.
  8. [In case you accidentally reply to a tweet, you might want to add If %SMSRN doesn’t match 86444 (Twitter’s phone number)]

You’ll need to do the above for each response you’d like to have available in the Pebble.  I’d be wary of cloning the profiles as it won’t change the task assigned to it, and you won’t get the experience.  Once they’re all done, return to your personal phone.  Add a new Task, I called it ‘Pebble (phone model) SMS’.
Add, Task, Wait, 3 seconds.
Add Plugin, PebbleTasker, Configuration.
The top task, I assigned ‘Reply OK’ with the long press ‘Reply Yes’. Close watch app on use.
The middle, ‘Reply Busy’. Close watch app on use.
The bottom ‘Reply Thanks’ and the long press ‘Reply No’. Close watch app on use.
Close on idle, Reset on idle were ticked and the app should Open Watch App so the options are loaded for you without having to go through the Pebble’s menu.

Obviously you can have the remote phone confirm the messages have been sent by having AutoRemote send a message to the personal phone and having Pebble displaying it.  It just depends on what your personal requirements are.

It’s worth noting that once you’ve bought Tasker and AutoRemote you can do any number of things.  Making your PC interact with your phone, and by extension, your Pebble is easily doable.  You can sleep, shutdown, restart, lock, mute etc. a PC by pressing a few buttons on the Pebble.  If you like, you can even be notified when your child is using their phone/PC, and which apps they’re using.  Not to mention getting their location, locking/unlocking the device, opening/closing apps or having messages pop up on their screen.  In no way do I condone using these apps for April Fools pranks.  I would never do that.  Ever.  Well, perhaps one or two.

Notifications

Most people with smartphones are familiar with notifications.  Whether you have an Android, iphone or Windows you’ll be getting notifications.  Most of them can be categorised as general/custom/nuisance.  The general category includes emails, texts, missed calls etc. Nuisances are mostly advertising/adware/malware, they’re all big business and the companies that invade your privacy can be extremely annoying.  There are, of course, means of blocking them but they’re not the topic of this blog entry.  While it’s important to acknowledge them, it’s custom notifications I’m writing about.

Pushover and AutoRemote are two of the more popular apps.  Each can be configured to push notifications of your choice to your phone or tablet.

Pushover:
Pushover is useful, I have it linked to a home server via an independent bit of software called MyPush.exe .  Feel free to Google it or you can download it from here.  You’ll need the Pushover app, an account and optionally MyPush.exe .  One of the most trivial uses is to notify me that the dishwasher’s finished so I can open the door to let the dishes dry.  For this I’ve utilised Homeseer, some X10 modules, and the above.  You can email notifications of your choice via your own personal Pushover email address or link sites like IFTTT to get more functionality and diversity.

AutoRemote:
AutoRemote does the same as Pushover, and more, but in a completely different way.  It offers much more functionality at both the send and receive stage.  Depending on which options have been selected the notification can change the sound, vibration pattern, URL (web address) to be opened if you tap the notification, icon URL, LED colour and blink frequency, and whether or not the notification can be shared using the ‘share via’ menu, amongst others.
When AutoRemote is used in conjunction with other apps by the same developer, or especially with Tasker, AutoRemote becomes far more enhanced.   By linking Tasker (a comprehensive automation app) with AutoRemote I’ve linked my phone to my tablet.  It’s useful if the phone’s on charge as texts, missed calls etc. can be pushed to the tablet.  It’s not an easy task with a SIM-free tablet but AutoRemote makes short work of it.
With a Linux/Windows version and EventGhost it’s possible to have both notifications of activities on your PC and control of the PC.  Ideal if your kids are at an age where they want unsupervised access to the computer.

I acknowledge that these apps aren’t free but they’re definitely value for money.  Remember, this isn’t about inundating you with information overload.  This is about providing you with information you control to one device when it happens instead of you having to look it up.  How you use it is up to you.