Archives for : Android


Medication can be great, it helps you get better and can help you cope with pain.  The trouble is, almost all medication has side effects.  It can colour your urine, make you constipated, induce seizures, get you stoned and if it’s not yours it can even kill you.

Some medication must be taken at certain times of the day.  I have one tablet at midday, and again at midnight.  I have some tablets which need to be taken around 9pm, while others are taken as and when needed.  The trouble is, all of my tablets have side effects, some of them quite severe so I’ve found a solution.  No longer can I forget to take my meds.  No longer can I wonder if I’ve taken them and take them twice.  While the solution is a little over the top, it’s a solution, and one that works well for me.

For this, you’ll need:

First of all, create a folder and a text file in Dropbox.  It doesn’t really matter what they’re called, but I’ve kept mine as \Reminders\Meds.txt as I use the Reminders folder for various things.  Once the text file is created, go to the Dropbox app and favourite it.  The file should then have a purple circle with a white star at the bottom right.  This is done so that the file is available when there is no network connection.

File Manager
Use your file manager to go to SD Card (internal if available) \Android\data\\files\scratch\Reminders you should see Meds.txt (or your variation if you’ve changed the names).

Once confirmed, you can load Tasker.  I always have Tasker’s Beginner Mode unticked to ensure all of the options are available (Menu, Preferences, UI).

  1. I started by creating a variable called Meds (Vars, +).
  2. Then created a Profile called Meds Day which was time based, from 12:00 to 12:01,
  3. and created a Task called Medication.  The Task has the phone say “It’s time for your medication” – Misc, Say, using the Alarm stream so that it’s independent of the Ringer/Notification volume.  This is also pushed to my watch using an app called Pebble Notifier (amongst other things, the Pebble saves me stopping the wheelchair in order to get my phone out).  Using Task, Wait, the phone waits three seconds before Variable Set changes the variable Meds to 0.  I later arranged to have the buttons on my watch display the options ‘Meds Taken’, ‘Dismiss’, and ‘Meds Taken’, courtesy of PebbleTasker.  (I needed to add the Task ‘Meds Taken’ before I could do this).

You can also create the Profile Meds Night (for example) and link that to the Task Medication. By selecting set times you can create as many of these as you’d like.  If you wanted specific medication mentioned, simply repeat the steps two and three and name them appropriately.

Next, I created a new Task, named ‘Meds Taken’.  Using Variable Set the variable %Meds is changed to the value ‘1’. PebbleTasker then changes to the default options and a message is flashed on the screen (Alert, Flash) acknowledging ‘Meds Taken’.  The date and time are updated in the file (File, Write File) Android/Data/ with Append and New Line ticked.
By doing this I am able to keep check of when I’ve taken my tablets and the file is automatically synced with Dropbox on my other devices.  In the bottom right corner I’ve also added an icon resembling a tablet, this was necessary for me to create a shortcut from the phone’s home screen.  It’s so much easier tapping an icon on the phone than going to Tasker just to change a single variable.

Meds Taken

Of course, life gets in the way sometimes.  It’s not always convenient to take tablets exactly at the intended time.  With this in mind (learned the hard way), I created a nag system:

The creation of a Profile and Task, each called Meds became my nag system.  The Profile is set every twenty minutes throughout the day, starting at 00:10 to ensure I had time to take my meds before it started nagging me, but sufficiently apart so I didn’t become annoyed with it, especially if I was somewhere that I couldn’t take my meds. The Task simply says “Have you taken your medication yet?” (Misc, Say) and has PebbleTasker open the options for ‘Meds Taken’, ‘Dismiss’, and ‘Meds Taken’ again.

Meds Taken

[Note, the other band on my wrist is an NFC tag which, when scanned, shows my name, NHS number etc.]

The whole process has evolved over time to include and exclude various aspects.  If in future any changes are made to it, I’ll post in the comments.  Of course, because Tasker is a one-off payment, hopefully it won’t incur any further costs.

Big Brother Birds

A couple of days ago, @Engadget posted about how GCHQ and the NSA may be scouring data obtained from mobiles with Angry Birds (and likely other popular games) installed.  It doesn’t come as a shock.  The NSA was recently outed for wanting to read emails.  There have been numerous posts about Apple secretly obtaining GPS data and the permissions of apps [see my post on Facebook’s app] wanting permission to access parts of your mobile which may or may not be used to obtain copious amounts of data from your device.

I lock out a lot of permissions that apps claim to require in order to function.  Many more require my approval each time the app wants to access my location or SMS history.  I can’t see why an app such as Bad Piggies wants to know my location, phone number, phone’s and SIM card’s serial numbers, access my network etc.  There’s just no need.

I use an app called LBE Privacy Guard.  Although a variant is available from the Play Store, the Chinese version is considerably larger.  Thankfully, someone at XDA has translated the Chinese version to English.  Just sideload the translated version and retrospectively alter the permissions of your apps.  [Some functions may not be available unless your device is rooted].

Of course, this won’t stop the powers that be from acquiring information about you should you find yourself in their crosshairs but these steps may help minimise the risk of your personal data (and mine if you have it) from being uploaded from your phone and sold.


Those who know me are painfully aware that I have no love of Facebook.  It feels as though Facebook is where the English language goes to die.  I don’t mean people in the States claiming their own bastardisation of the English language is English, annoying as it is, I’m referring to people who drop as many letters from a word and still claiming it has some resemblance.  It feels as though Facebook is the low-brow incestuous offspring of the village idiot and their mother.

So, why have an account if I dislike it so much?  I have friends whose primary means of keeping in touch is Facebook.  There are companies whose laziness or greed means their primary online presence is on Facebook.  It would appear that a Facebook account is not just a means of keeping in touch with people, but is a passport to much more.

We give Facebook so much information about ourselves.  We complete extensive profiles, detailing our every interest.  We give our name, date of birth, birthplace, current town of residence, photos of ourself and friends, and so much more required to identify ourselves.  We then give them answers to much more personal questions in the name of security, mother’s maiden name, first pet’s name etc.  Why?  Because we invest so much time in giving Facebook every detail about our lives.

It would appear, however, that this isn’t enough.  Facebook wants more.  I took a read through some of the permissions required by Facebook if you want to use their app on your smartphone.

SMS records: The first permission shows it wants access to all of your texts.  It doesn’t matter who they’re from or how personal they are.  Facebook wants to know who you’re texting and what you’re talking about.  [How dare you not use Facebook chat!]

Storage: Facebook wants full access to your SD card. [They can see which music preferences you’ve not told them about, and which photos you’ve not yet uploaded to them.  They can also create/delete anything.]

System Tools: Facebook wants to be able to

  • change your network state – turn on or off your 3G, 4G, WiFi, Auto-sync, read (or change) your WiFi connections, etc.
  • Draw over other apps – pop up with notifications on parts/all of your screen, not just the notification bar.
  • Prevent your phone from sleeping – keep it running while the screen is off.
  • Re-order running apps – this changes priorities of your apps, it can ensure it has greater priority than your antivirus or launcher.
  • Retrieve running apps – Facebook wants to know which other apps you’ve used recently or currently.
  • Toggle sync – Facebook wants to ensure it, and every other app, is up to date at all times, even if you’ve turned it off to save battery and data.

Location: This is not only which cellular transmitter or WiFi router you’re connected to (used to identify which town you’re in), but it also wants to know which number of which street you’re at.  [You’ve already told Facebook where in the country you live, but it also wants to know your home/work address and the addresses of your friends, where you’re drinking etc.]

Services that cost you money: Basically, Facebook wants to call or text numbers for you, or without you knowing.

Hardware controls: Which includes:

  • Changing audio settings – volume settings and which speaker is used for notifications.
  • Record audio – this means Facebook can turn on your microphone at any time.  Big brother is not only watching you but can listen to you as well.
  • Take pictures and videos – not only can Facebook read the photos, videos, music etc. on your SD card, it can take pictures and/or videos from either camera on your phone at any time, for any purpose.

Accounts: Facebook not only wants to know which accounts you have on your phone (which members of the family can use a phone/tablet, but it also wants to be able to add/change/delete the account and/or the password).

Your personal information: By approving this, Facebook can:

  • add/modify/remove calendar events and email anyone to invite/revoke as guests without your knowledge
  • Modify your contacts – not only does this allow Facebook to read a contact’s name, but their phone numbers, email addresses, home/work addresses and how often you’ve communicated with them, but also gives permission to add/modify/delete any contact(s).
  • Read calendar events – it doesn’t matter whether the privacy setting in your calendar has marked the event as private/public, Facebook can now see what you’re doing and when.
  • Read call log – Facebook can not only read who you’ve called, when, and how long for, it can keep a copy of the call log for its own purpose.
  • Write call log – not only can Facebook write entries to your call log, but it can cover its tracks if it wants to make a call without you knowing.

Full network access – This permission allows the Facebook app to create customised links.  Any data that the app has access to can now be uploaded without having to ask you.

Phone calls: Read phone status and identity.  In short, if you hadn’t given Facebook your phone number, they’re going to get it anyway.  Not only that, but also the serial number of your phone/tablet, and the type of device you’re using.  Not just whether it’s a phone/tablet, but the make and model of the device.

Default: Modify battery statistics.  If Facebook has used over half of your battery to turn on your 3G, upload your contacts, call logs, text messages and scour through your SD card, it can change the battery statistics to make you think another app has pillaged your battery instead.

System Tools: This can mean anything from adjusting your wallpaper, its size, expand/collapse the status bar, install shortcuts so you go to sponsors sites, read your sync settings, run at startup, or send sticky broadcasts.

Network communication: 

  • Facebook can now secretly download anything it wants to your phone/tablet.  Ideal for filling your SD card with videos from sponsors.
  • View WiFi connections, not only does Facebook know which network you’re connected to but it will see what time you connected/disconnected and potentially who else is on the network with you.  Facebook can see whether you’ve ever connected to McDonald’s or Starbucks WiFi.


Obviously people are aware of these permissions.  They’re shown before you’re able to install the app, but how many of us realise the implications of the permissions.  I’m aware that the above focuses on the negative and I’d like to think that even Facebook isn’t that nefarious when it comes to this sort of data farming, but there have been reports of Facebook selling our information, so who knows?

Each time Facebook changes the privacy settings everyone is up in arms about it.  We share it with everyone we know, the frustration dissipates and we continue sharing information in full knowledge of how it’s used.  We’ll use fake names, withhold our phone numbers, create email addresses exclusively for use with Facebook etc., but as outlined above it doesn’t matter.  Facebook can see your phone number, your real name and who you’ve talked to.  You can take all the steps you want to keep your personal information private but if you use the app it may all be a waste of time.

I just thought you might like to know.

Facebook Permissions

Facebook Permissions



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 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 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.

Quiet time

My son and his best friend are inside playing Sonic. The noise has been recorded at volumes approaching a rock concert. Something had to be done.

I’ve utilised an old phone so when it reaches x decibels an alarm sounds. Both boys know if the alarm goes off so does the game and both will be sent out to play. It’s a nice day after all.

It’s astounding how quietly they’re playing now.


It’s no secret that I’ve been a fan of Nokia and their smartphones since they were released.  I’ve had Nokia phones since January 1996 and a smartphone since the N-Gage was released.  When Nokia saw that the developers stopped coding for S60 Symbian they had a decision to make.  Despite contradicting rumours they opted for Windows Mobile instead of Android.  They made the decision to take my business elsewhere so much easier.

The options available were Android, Blackberry or iPhones.
iPhones were ruled out as they only allowed apps to be installed via iTunes.   I’d used iTunes before and unless you used a Mac it operated in the same manner as a virus.  The rigidity of Apple soon put me off.  I’m grateful.
Blackberries operated much the same as Symbian with good options, more businesslike and the push technology was appealing but I was concerned they may be heading the same way as Symbian.
Android were becoming more popular which to my mind meant that the developers would be there to stay.  I’d heard nothing but good things about Android, they offered custom ROMs, full touch screen phones and most importantly were open sourced so people would undoubtedly be releasing their own apps and ROMs.

Following advice from a good friend I opted for the HTC Desire, a decision which resulted in much ranting at the phone as it ran out of memory within an hour of being fully charged.  My previous phones, X6, N96 etc. had given me the option to install apps directly on to the internal storage.  Not part of the app but all of it and I nearly gave up on Android there and then.  Thankfully I upgraded early to the Samsung Galaxy S2 and I haven’t looked back.

I now use an S2, S3 and a Nexus 7 tablet.  I’ve been using Android for a few years now.  I thought I’d offer some tips if you’re just starting out or want to try out some recommended apps.

There are hundreds of sites that explain what this is and how to do it.  To save you searching for them, it just means that you get full access to the system files on the phone.  If you use Windows on your PC you may know about Users and Administrators.  Rooting removes a restriction to upgrade you to an Administrator by removing the block in the phone which prevents you from accessing essential system files.  It can be risky, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing as you can turn your phone in to a paperweight.  If you want to use all of the apps available to you though, you’ll need to root it.

First of all, get yourself a decent virus killer.  Even if you never need it, it’s a good idea to have one.  These days virus killers don’t just kill viruses.  If you’ve rooted your phone (see above) then you can get access to firewalls, block annoying calls/texts and even change the permissions of apps.

Avast: Avast is a virus killer on steroids.  Assuming you’ve rooted your phone (or had someone do it for you) you can access all of its features.  Virus Scanner, Anti-Theft, Privacy Advisor, Application Management, Shield Control, SMS & Call Filter, Firewall, Network Meter.  Without wanting to go in to all of its features, you can block annoying calls and texts, stop apps from accessing WiFi and 3G, and most importantly install an app from Avast that will let you track down your phone if it gets lost or stolen.
[This app is free]

Android Assistant: This is a Swiss Army Knife of apps.  It monitors your phone, advising you of free memory, battery life, phone and SD card space, running processes and has several tools.  You can control volume, tweak settings to extend battery life, clean cache (temporary files), clean the system, file manager, batch installer/uninstaller, edit apps that start when the phone does (this will extend battery life and speed up your phone), see battery usage, system info, move apps to the SD card, backup and restore apps, and see which permissions your installed apps have requested.
[This app is ad supported but there is an advert free version for around £1.20]

Team Battery Bar: It’s one of those apps that’s so simple but so useful.  It simply colours the top of your screen with a line indicating your remaining battery life.  Irrespective of what you’re doing, watching a video, playing games, it is always there.  If you have some time to kill but don’t want to drain all of your battery, this little app will keep you right.  It’s fully customisable with different colours available and you can edit the percentages at which it changes colour.  E.g. Red 0-33%, Yellow 34-66%, Green 67-100%.
[This app is free but the pro version is only around 60p]

WiFi Manager: Unless you use hidden WiFi networks you don’t really need this app but it’s useful to have.  If you do use hidden networks then it’s essential.  As you might expect it finds WiFi networks around you, saving the ones you have access to and marking them as favourites.  If the network is hidden your phone or tablet may not always recognise it, WiFi Manager finds it and connects.  It also has useful widgets showing you if you’re connected, which network you’re connected to, signal strength and IP address.
[This app is free]

SMS Backup+: If you’ve ever had an ex that stalks you, texts you with obscene messages or work for a company which audits you then you’ll want to keep a record of each text that comes in.  SMS Backup+ does just that.  It creates a label in your Gmail inbox called SMS and backs up all of your texts.  It can be set to automatically back them up at regular intervals and/or each time a new text is received.  Although I’ve never needed it, there’s a restore function as well.  Useful if you’ve just upgraded your phone.
[This app is free]

Dropbox: Most people have heard of Dropbox.  If you haven’t, or don’t know what it is, it’s an app that lets you synchronise files between your phone, tablet and PC.  You don’t need more than one device, you can just use it to back up files or photos from your phone but it comes in to its own when you have it installed on two or more devices.  You get 2GB free and can expand that by referring friends, uploading photos or by buying space.  If you want to sign up, click here.
[This app is free]

App Cache Cleaner: Cache, temporary files created by apps.  This small app can be set to clean your temporary files, cache, every so often or you can do it manually if you wish.  It frees up storage on the phone.  If you have an entry level phone this app is essential.  If you have a high end phone it’s still useful.
[This app is free but ad supported]

Fast Reboot: Simulates a reboot.  If you have a crashed app, need more memory (RAM) or want that ‘just booted up’ speed then install Fast Reboot.  It won’t shut down your phone or pull your battery for a full shut down but you won’t always need to.
[This app is free]

No Signal Alert: If you live in a poor signal area or you don’t want to miss that vital call, download No Signal Alert.  It’s a simple app that notifies you when your signal disappears.  You can customise it with different ringtones but I’d recommend a short one as once the signal gets choppy it can go off several times in a minute.
[This app is free. The pro version is around £1.50]

Tiny Call Confirm: If you’ve ever called someone by mistake or had a phone bill showing calls you’ve not made there’s a good chance you could have benefited from this app.  It simply puts an ‘are you sure?’ type option on the screen before it dials out.  Especially useful if your screen has turned on in your pocket.  There’s a pro version with more features but this meets my needs.
[This app is free.  The pro version is £2]

Tasker: I cannot recommend this app highly enough.  It’s not free but it is definitely value for money.  It’s an app that does things for you.  Just about anything you can do with the phone, it can do for you.  It’s an automation tool.  You can have the phone read texts when you’re driving, reply to the sender that you’re on the move and will respond properly later, all based on travelling more than 10mph.  Perhaps unlock the phone when you get home, locking it again when you’re away from your router, photograph someone using the phone when they get the code wrong and uploading the photo to Dropbox.  Perhaps you want to have the phone silence itself when you have a meeting?  Synchronise files when you’re at work/home? All of this done for you without having to pick up the phone.
With the available plugins (AutoRemote, AutoNotification, SMS Backup+, etc.) this app becomes more and more invaluable the more you look in to it.
[This app is £3 but is worth every penny]

Google Sky Map: Whether you’re an amateur astronomer or just curious about the night sky, Google Sky Maps is a good start.  Stars, planets, constellations are all visible and will move on your screen as you move the phone about.  It also has a search facility to quickly show you where Jupiter (for example) has got to.
[This app is free]

Barcode Scanner: I debated whether this should be classified as essential or just recommended for a little while, it’s certainly one of the apps that I’ll install on phones or tablets.  It isn’t just for scanning in barcodes in shops to see if you’re getting the best deal.  I have my router’s WiFi code on the wall in the form of a QR code (those square barcodes that nobody understands).  It saves guests typing in the code, it’s regularly changed and is convenient to generate the QR code.  Of course with bus stop adverts, leaflets etc. now using QR codes it pays to have an app that will decode them and regular barcodes on your phone.
[This app is free]

Titanium Backup: If you want to back up apps and your data then get this app.  You will need a rooted phone but it’s worth it if you’re changing ROMs (putting on a new version of Android) or if you’re upgrading and don’t want to look up every app yourself.  The Pro version is around £4.50 but it soon pays for itself as it doesn’t prompt you to install each app and comes with more functionality.  You can upload your backups to Dropbox, Box or Google Drive automatically or manually and the ‘quick backup/install’ option is available.
[This app is free but it’s worth paying for the Pro version]

Cloud Print: Ever needed to print directly from your phone/tablet?  Cloud Print understands your frustration.  If you have a cloud ready printer you can install this and be printing in a few minutes.  If your printer isn’t cloud ready, don’t worry.  If you have Chrome installed on your PC you can go to the advanced settings in Chrome, sign in to Cloud Print and off you go.  You’ll need to ensure the PC is running to print if your printer isn’t cloud ready.
[This app is free]

ES File Explorer: There are a number of file explorers in the Play Store but this is the one I use the most.  It lets you access your Dropbox, Drive, SkyDrive, Box etc, your LAN (shared folders on your home network), FTP server, as well as your device.  There are so many functions to ES it wouldn’t be practical to list them here but it’s worth having a good play with it.
[This app is free]

Glympse: I love this app.  Put simply, it’s one of those apps that makes you think “this developer has given this some thought”.  Glympse lets you share your location without the world being able to see it.  You can share via text message or email, automatically shut down when you reach your destination or after a preset time (or both), and it will send the person/people you’ve selected a link to view where you are.  It also allows you to link to your calendar so if you’re due to be in a meeting but you’re stuck in traffic you don’t have to set up everything, just pull the information from your calendar.  We’ve used it when the weather has turned nasty – flooding, fog etc. and it gives us a little peace of mind.
[This app is free]

Worthy Mentions
Bus Scout: Every now and then an app comes along that you look at and think “This person knows what they’re doing”.  Bus Scout is such an app.  It’s simple to use, just tap on a bus stop for information about which services use that stop.  Delve further to get bus timetables.  Of course, if you’re using Arriva buses then the timetables are simply a work of fiction but Bus Scout is useful if you’re not in familiar territory.  The developer has recently added a feedback function for if your bus company retires a service or starts a new one.
[This app is free]

Pushover: A useful app for notifying you of events.  If you’ve not used IFTTT then you should take a look – IF This Then That.  In short, you can have customised notifications pushed to your phone based on your criteria.  For example, if I get an email with attachments, I want them automatically downloaded to my Dropbox; if the weather changes I want to be notified on my phone; if a new version of Android is released then let me know; if my download has finished, notify my phone; if someone bids on my eBay listing, notify my phone.  You get the idea.  Pushover saves you time and effort.  It’s not cheap but it can be very useful.
[This app is around £3.20]

GPS HUD: GPS Heads Up Display.  GPS HUD shows you your speed, date and time, address, weather and economy indicator.  If you have a cycle mount you can see how fast you’re travelling.  Settings allow the display to be flipped so you can place the phone on a car’s dashboard.  In this mode your windscreen will reflect the phone’s screen so you can see your speed etc. without taking your eyes off the road.
[This app is free but is ad supported.  The pro version is about 60p.]

Barclone: If you have more loyalty cards than you can count on one hand or your pocket/handbag is bulging with cards then you may want to take a look at Barclone.  It stores your loyalty card barcode and can show it on the screen when required.  It doesn’t just take a photograph, it will generate the barcode so you’re not getting pixelated versions when you try to zoom in.  Just load the app, select your loyalty card and choose the phone’s orientation (landscape will result in a much larger barcode).
[This app is free but ad supported.  The pro version is about £1]

Catch: Catch is what Evernote tries to be, but it works.  It boasts an automatically synced shared spaces so you can share notes with your partner, your kids or your colleagues.  You can also share individual notes across other installed apps.  They’re available on any browser via their web site and it has a Catch Sketch plug-in for Samsung devices.
[This app is free]

Wake On LAN: If your computer’s network adapter (WiFi / ethernet) supports Wake On LAN you can put it in sleep mode, save power and use this app to wake it.  It’s especially useful if you’re at work.  Simply connect to the WiFi and run the app.  Your computer will be powered up by the time you get to your desk.
[This app is free]

I hope this collection is useful.  If you know of any apps that you think should be on this list, please let me know.