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Android venting

I became so incredibly frustrated with Android last night that I had to vent somewhere. Sorry for all of you who have heard this before.

With the hiptop, it seemed that there was some considerable effort expended in asking “what is annoying about using devices on a flaky cellular network?” The OS and applications incorporated all kinds of wonderful features, from aggressive buffering and queuing to a standard “this hasn’t been sent” indication (italics) to the “your web page is done” notification—it all worked well and was a source of enjoyment and delight even when the network was broken.

With Android, this doesn’t happen. Not at all. Standard Android applications (particularly Market) do an astonishingly atrocious job of handling network drops, download failure, etc. A modal dialog telling you “THE SERVER IS DOWN” is completely useless and user-hostile. Operations that seem like they should not require a network connection (like seeing the list of installed applications) load in multiple undefined stages that make you wonder if something broke. Asynchrony seems to be in all the wrong places.

A very obvious example of the difference is the data connection icon. As maligned as it was thanks to T-Mobile network failures, the 3-dot connection icon on the hiptop was wonderful; it was clear to both technical (for whom the dots had actual meaning) and nontechnical users that the process of connecting to a cellular data network had several stages, and that it was quite possible to have a data connection without an operable Internet connection over it.

Oh look, Google Voice just failed to download. The notification says “Download unsuccessful.” So helpful. When I tap on that notification, it lets me stare at a “Loading…” spinner for 30 seconds before I get “Attention: A network error has occurred. Retry, or cancel and return to the previous screen.” I’ve got 3G data with 4 bars.

The words that came out of my mouth at this point are not fit for posting on this blog.

Pester 1.1b8 released

Get it.

Pester 1.1 has been a long time coming. It’s been my own personal battle with the second-system effect. 1.1b8 is a big step towards finishing, though.

-rw-r--r--  1 nriley  users  295049 Oct 14  2002 Pester-1.0.dmg
-rw-r--r--  1 nriley  users  428727 Jan  7  2003 Pester-1.1b2.dmg
-rw-r--r--  1 nriley  users  524911 Apr  9  2003 Pester-1.1b4.dmg
-rw-r--r--  1 nriley  users  749389 Nov 25  2007 Pester-1.1b5.dmg
-rw-r--r--  1 nriley  users  746933 Nov 27  2007 Pester-1.1b6.dmg
-rw-r--r--  1 nriley  users  756428 Nov 28  2007 Pester-1.1b7.dmg
-rw-r--r--  1 nriley  users  881197 Mar 25 23:34 Pester-1.1b8.dmg

The list of new features and bug fixes since 1.1b7 is substantial. Among them:

  • Customizable alert sounds—the most requested feature. It uses QuickTime, so you’re welcome to pick a movie or even a bitmap or PDF to use as well. I’ve used the latter to display stretching exercises on a regular basis, for example.
  • Selectable sound output device and volume for alert sounds. If you have your headphones and speakers accessible as separate output devices, as I do (e.g. if you have a Mac Pro or an external audio device), it’s useful to have the alert sound audible when you’re away from your desk. Change the output device from Preferences. (Note: Pester doesn’t yet respond to audio devices being connected/disconnected while it is running, although you should always get audio output somewhere.)
  • Baseline, ICU-based support for non-natural language dates and times is much more robust (for example, simply “20” or “8p” works to specify 8:00 PM).
  • Support natural-language dates in non-English languages via Date::Manip. I uncovered some bugs here, which the author of Date::Manip is working on fixing, but Catalan, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Polish and Russian should work fine. The date popup is limited to the days of the week, but that’s easily remedied (see below).
  • Optionally wait until you stop typing or moving the mouse to display a message. This is quite helpful so you don’t start typing into the Snooze box when you want to be typing into another document. The feature is disabled by default; enable it in Preferences.
  • Handle time zone changes, many more time zones, and more reliably determine the time zone.
  • Autocomplete common natural-language dates—my favorite new feature.
  • Simplify tab order. I previously tried to do something very complex with the tab order, which confused Cocoa and could cause you to get “stuck” in some area of the window.
  • Better save and restore focus when you’re working as an alarm goes off; will no longer bring unwanted windows to the front.
  • Open the Set Alarm window in the current Space when triggered with a keyboard equivalent or the Dock menu.
  • Switch to tomorrow automatically if necessary when tabbing into “on”. This is a feature I first implemented in Pester for hiptop, which I’m actually happier with than desktop Pester (see the aforementioned second-system effect). The upshot of this is that if you specify a time that’s already passed, while the specified date is today, simply tabbing into the date field will switch the date to tomorrow. It’s easier to use than to describe, really!
  • Allow intervals up to 999 weeks.
  • Display “today” and “tomorrow” in the bottom left corner of the Set Alarm window in case you can’t remember what day it is.

Note that the natural language date’s language is determined by the date format, as specified in System Preferences → Language & Text → Formats.

If you speak Catalan, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Swedish or Turkish, it’d help if you could translate the date popup contents:

/* Date popup */
"today" = "today";
"tomorrow" = "tomorrow";
"in 2 days" = "in 2 days";
"next «day»" = "next «day»";
"next week" = "next week";
"in 2 weeks" = "in 2 weeks";
"next month" = "next month";
"in 2 months" = "in 2 months";
"in 1 year" = "in 1 year";

Feel free to put the results in a comment or email them to me (pester at

If you’ve got any bug reports, comments or feature requests, please let me know. If you’re looking for things to test, read the release notes in the Read Me (Help menu) which summarize the changes since 1.0.

For now, the main thing that needs finishing for 1.1 is documentation (help wanted!). The latest source is on GitHub.