The cost of sending a Samsung emoji

A few months ago, my Galaxy S4 Mini (click this link to go to my series about it) updated to Android KitKat – from Jelly Bean. KitKat was released in 2013, but because Samsung like to fiddle with Android before they roll it out to users – or as I now like to say, apply their Disney layer – kudos to David – it takes a while for their handsets to get the updates.

Apart from a few minor interface changes – some good and some not so good – I didn’t really notice much of a difference with the KitKat upgrade. Some of my icons changed colour, my screen mirroring functionality seemed to stop working and GPS got renamed Location. There were a few other changes but at this moment they escape me.

Oh and how could I forget, that annoying emoji/emoticon button! KitKat added a terribly annoying button to my keyboard, a smiling face, which whenever you accidentally click on it, becomes the default extras button; that’s the lovely little button next to the space key that gives you the option of voice typing, pasting, visiting settings, and now also adding an emoji.

Samsung emoji keyboard

The emoji on my Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini keyboard

Now I’m not against emoji, some of them are pretty cool… :-)

…what I am against is Samsung emoji. The super-duper Samsung upgrade to KitKat may have enabled me to send emoji – yay! – but it came at a cost: MMS. If I want to send an emoji, Samsung very kindly converts my text message (an SMS) into an MMS.

This isn’t a problem if you get a large number of MMS messages included in your contract, but most people (at least here in the UK) don’t. I’m not someone who does either, so when I tried to send a message (no bigger than one standard text message) with an emoji in it, I got charged 33 pence by my provider and worst of all the recipient was unable to receive MMS messages, so they didn’t even get to see my 33p text!

The BBC and Money Saving Expert are just two sites that have recently been warning consumers of the hidden costs linked to emoji usage.

Cue Textra.

Textra SMS

iPhone owners don’t suffer the same fate as I did, because Apple’s default messaging application doesn’t treat emotion icons as images. They may take up more than one character, but you can use them in SMS messages. Not wanting to be outdone, I went on the hunt for a better SMS app.

First I tried Google Hangouts. I have never got along very well with Hangouts, but when I started using it for text messages, I didn’t find it quite so bad. I could send emoji as text messages, and I could type as many characters I liked and it would just send multiple SMS messages; Samsung’s default messaging app converts messages larger than three texts into MMS messages too.

After a week or so, Hangouts’ lack of features and general design started to get on my nerves, so I was out on the hunt again for another alternative. After reviewing a handful of very viable alternatives, I decided to give Textra SMS a try.

Textra SMS quick reply

When you get a new text, Textra SMS enables you to reply quickly, without opening the full app.

To put it simple, Textra is fantastic. You can do pretty much everything you can with Samsung’s standard messaging app, and more. You can customise the look and feel, you can send as may characters as you like without it converting into an MMS, and you can send emoji!

One of the awesome features that got me hooked on Textra is the message preview. Say you are browsing the web and you get a text. Texra has the option of a notification which appears at the top of your screen; the notification is basically a message preview. If you ignore it and it disappears after a few seconds, but if you click on it and it opens a small version of the app over the top of whatever you were doing previously. You can type a reply and then as soon as you click send, it disappears and you are back to what you were doing.

If you are looking for an alternative texting app for Android, I would definitely recommend Textra.

Bacteria, Fungus and Decomposition (and growing new materials)

maurizio close

Bacteria, fungus and decomposition.

Doesn’t sound like a great start for a technology blog. But last week I was fortunate to visit a lab in Utrecht University where rather unsurprisingly I learned a lot about decomposition, fungus and how to grow innovative new materials.

A young Italian designer runs the lab, this is him above, working on the border between art and biology. His name is Maurizio Montalti, founder of the “Officina Corpuscoli” in Amsterdam (2010), whose goal is not only to produce beautiful artifacts, but to stimulate thought about the central aspects of design (above all the use of materials) and to provoke questions about much more. The nature of humans (the relationship between life and death) or the nature of progress and its relationship to the world and its ecosystem.

Materials

The lab is the point of departure. Here he showed me different materials with different properties, all grown from fungi. Some is like plastic, can be transparent and in sheet form, and others look and feel a bit like skin, some looks like polystyrene.

a grown pelet

a grown pelet

The choice of materials is central to the idea of the project. The materials that are currently favoured in design such as plastic, foam and metals, are produced using industrial processes that are detrimental to the environment. Maurizio wanted to raise this issue for discussion, and so he began his fungus interest.

For the designer the beauty and fascination for fungus lies in its role in nature. He told me that fungi are everywhere, in the soil and in the air, but we associate them with revulsion, disgust and danger, and we minimize their importance, whereas in fact they are fundamental for decomposition, transformation and recycling. He is interested in its role as re-cycler of biological materials.

Synthetic Biology

And the holy grail: the System Synthetics project, turning plastic waste into energy. Maurizio was interested in crossing fungal capacities to degrade with that of yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, forcing them into symbiosos, to create a microorganism able to decompose plastic materials and give back energy in liquid form (bioethonol produced by the yeast). It is a synthetic biology program whose objective is to provoke questions about the potentials and implications for this discipline (very much a work in progress, whose aim is to involve a wider public in the synthetic biology debate).

other forms

other forms

I would like to add that Maurizio is part of an informal network of “fungicites”, here find an article of a start up in the USA that is producing bricks from bacteria, cutting out the clay and baking process and making it a much more sustainable product.

Read more about Maurizio here, including photos and an interview.

What’s in Your Computer (and phone, and WiFi)?

gates

Lenovo

This week the news is full of Lenovo, a computer manufacturer that has been selling machines that they have already fitted with what some call Malware or just Adware. Magic in the machine indeed!

The mal/adware in question is made by a company called “Superfish.” The software is essentially an Internet browser add-on that injects ads onto websites you visit. Details here.

Besides taking up space in your computer, the add-on is also dangerous because it undermines basic computer security protocols.

That’s because it tampers with a widely-used system of official website certificates. That makes it hard for your computer to recognize a fake bank website. This means that you are more likely to give all of your personal data away, let nasty things into your computer, and allow people to monitor your use.

No good I hear you say, and all so that they can feed you adverts while you are browsing.

Hidden Extras?

But this news does bring up another question, what else is in the computer? What else is it programmed to do? The simple answer is that I and probably most of you do not know. We have bought a machine that does the things we want it to do, but who knows what else?

Now as I eat my breakfast, I like to read the ingredients on the side of the packet. It is good for language skills as it is usually in several languages. But can I do this with my computer? You don’t get much in the way of documentation with a $400 laptop. Certainly not considering what is inside it.

So the computer company in question have disabled something at their end and the problem is resolved. But if they tell you that they fixed the problem are you going to believe them? After they did something that put your computer and everything saved on it at risk? Or should you put a new operating system on the new machine, wipe the hard drive and start again?

Why do we trust these manufacturers when they consistently do things that are not in our interest? WiFi providers that con your computer into trusting fake certificates so that they can block certain sites (and read your mail or follow your searches)? Samsung that record your voice through your smart TV and send it non encrypted over the Internet to unnamed third parties, social media sites and search engines that collect your data, mobile phone companies that map your every movement, the list goes on.

So if you cannot trust wifi, or computer manufacturers, or Google, or Facebook, or Samsung to treat our data securely and correctly, who can you trust? And more to the point why are we giving them our lives to play with?

Mind Your Language in front of the TV

Samsung-F8500-plasma-review-smart-tv

Privacy

I have a friend who puts tape over the webcam on his laptop while he is working, because he believes that people can hack into his computer and watch what he is doing. I must admit I thought it was a bit strange at first, but then hunting information I discovered that it was not only possible, but a well known crime involving organized gangs.

The UK recently took down a Russian website that was showing live webcam, taken without the knowledge of the people that were taking the footage. The incident not only involved security cameras, but all types of baby monitors and practically anything that has a camera and transmits data wirelessly.

Check out this article here.

Smart TV

But this is small fry really when you read this week’s news. A large TV manufacturer which has a product that recognizes voice controls seems to have been transmitting everything said in front of the TV to a third party.

They do this so that said third party can sieve through the words used to see if a command has been given. But there are many unanswered questions. Who is the third party? What are they doing with my data? Is it secure? The list goes on.

But said company are not trying to hide what they are doing:

Voice Recognition

You can control your SmartTV, and use many of its features, with voice commands.

If you enable Voice Recognition, you can interact with your Smart TV using your voice. To provide you the Voice Recognition feature, some voice commands may be transmitted (along with information about your device, including device identifiers) to a third-party service that converts speech to text or to the extent necessary to provide the Voice Recognition features to you. In addition, ******* may collect and your device may capture voice commands and associated texts so that we can provide you with Voice Recognition features and evaluate and improve the features. Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition.

I am not sure that everyone who buys a TV of this type reads the Global Privacy Policy – SmartTV Supplement however, and they might be giving away a lot more than they would like to without knowing.

The BBC carries an article about this news with all of the names included. I think it is probably true though that if one company do it, then so do all the others.