Making the White Pandigital 7″ Novel Useful (Without rooting it, hacking it, or doing anything else risky)

Here’s a video showing the general performance and feel of this device:

I always told myself that once Android tablets dropped below $100, I’d pick one up. That has now happened with the $85 PanDigital 7-Inch Tablet Computer – White. I’ll skip the review and the full tech specs, as those are widely available. The only caveat I will add is that you should ignore complaints about the original item’s locked down software. The device, as it ships today, is infinitely more useful than the original.

If the review you are reading shows images of the device looking like this, then ignore the review.

The reviews you should pay attention to are the ones written after the major upgrade to this device of January 2011, and images in the review should look like this:

If your device looks like the second image above, ignore this paragraph. If you already have an older one and it looks like the first picture, then the first step in making it useful as more than an e-book reader is to click here if you are a Windows user or here (link 1 and link 2) if you are not a Windows user. I’ll assume for the rest of this article that you are not using the locked-down firmware either because your device is more recent, or because you’ve loaded the more recent OEM firmware.

We will not be rooting our device. Many guides are available for that, this instead will document how to make this device useful without taking that risk. I’m going to sharing a few tips and pointers that I’ve found made this device much more useful than intended, including by breaking free of the Barnes & Noble and SlideMe duopoly over the software available to the device.

App Stores that Work On This Device.

As you have probably already realized, the Pandigital 7″ is not officially supported by Google and so all of the “standard” Google apps are missing — including the Android Marketplace. If you open this article on your Pandigital and click these links, you will be guided through the process of enabling these various alternatives to the Android Marketplace.

  • Amazon Appstore. One paid app for free every day, and a fairly wide selection of apps in general – It is of sufficiently high quality that I have this installed on my cell phone that does have the official Android Marketplace too. This is probably the closest to a drop-in replacement to the Android Marketplace currently available. The biggest downside is that if an app doesn’t officially support our device, then it will not allow us to even attempt to install it. This includes, mind bogglingly enough, the Amazon Kindle app.
  • Opera Mobile Store. But fear not! The Opera Mobile Store does allow you to install the Kindle App onto your Pandigital and it works just fine. Though it has a smaller selection, there appear to be many cases wherein the Opera Mobile Store will let me attempt to install an app that the Amazon Appstore does not.
  • Soc.io Mall. This seems marginally better than the SlideMe app store, but worth including because it is still nonetheless better. You must go hereon your desktop computer to register before you can log in on your Pandigital, as there seems to be a bug in the app itself.
  • Freewarelovers. Use this to manually download .apk files for those apps that are not available in any of the above, but that are still normally free from the Android Marketplace.
  • Thepiratebay.org. Do not use this unless you live in Sweden and have the written permission of everyone that has ever published an app in the official Android Marketplace. It works just fine for everyone, but if you don’t meet the two above criteria and use it then you are a bad person and going to hell after being put to death by DMCA agents who will fastrope into your house in the middle of the night and shoot your dog. I’m going to trust you on this one using the honor system, mmmk?

Some Useful Software Now Available to you.

The following are available at one or more of the above stores, and I’ve confirmed that they work on the Pandigital 7″.

  • Kindle. Best-in-breed e-book store reader. Available from the Opera Mobile Store.
  • TV.com. Allows watching of a few TV shows, including the original Star Trek series. Available from the Opera Mobile Store.
  • Opera Mini. Best-in-breed web browser for Android. Available from the Amazon Appstore.
  • Skyfire. Web browser with mediocre flash video playback capability.
  • Dropbox. Available here, this is the easiest way to move files back and forth between your desktop and your device without plugging things in and unplugging them, and without moving SD cards back and forth.
  • Launcher Pro. Replaces the default home screen with a much nicer one and is the best-in-breed alternative home screen. Available here.
  • Star Traders RPG. Available from the Amazon Appstore, it’s a fun little game that can kill time.
  • Bathroom Reader. Takes you to a semi-random Wikipedia article, such as “Random Sports Article”, “Random Celebrity Article”, “Random Technology Article”, and several other categories. Available from the Amazon Appstore.

Well, that is most of what I have discovered about the possibilities of this $85 device so far. What have you discovered?

Making the White Pandigital 7″ Novel Useful (Without rooting it, hacking it, or doing anything else risky)

Comic-o-Matic – Easily Generate Quick 3-panel Comics

UPDATE: I made a website to support and encourage the use of Comic-O-Matic. Check it out, and participate!

Original Post Follows:

Nina Paley is the amazing artist behind the film Sita Sings the Blues that you are encouraged to watch or download for free. Pairing some of her artwork with some clever coding by Margo Burns, and we have the Comic-O-Matic, a phenomenally easy to use toy (or tool, depending on your perspective) that allows for the quick and easy generation of 3-panel 2-character comics.

Here is my first comic created using the Comic-O-Matic, a very simple response to the recent idiotic rioting in the otherwise fine and proud city of Vancouver.

(Click for full size)
Cat says with sad face: Boston won! This is Bullshit! Alien says with stubborn face: Ya, it kind of sucks. So close. =( Cat says with sneaky happy face: What can we do about it? Alien says with happy cheerful face: Lets destroy Boston! That'll show those yank fuckers. Cat says with eyebrow raised: Dude, I don't have that kind of gas money. Alien says with crazy eyes and a smile: Fine, Vancouver it is!

I do hope those injured recover fully, and that the criminals are captured and see justice.

That is both a plug for an artist I enjoy, and all I have to say about the tragic events in Vancouver last night.

Comic-o-Matic – Easily Generate Quick 3-panel Comics

Facing AT&T’s new 150GB Monthly Cap, How to Monitor/Calculate your Usage

AT&T internet customers now face a monthly bandwidth cap, and will have to pay additional money per month if they exceed that limit. This is especially of concern for daily Netflix users, but frequent .torrent users may also have cause for concern. The specific target of this action on AT&T’s part is Netflix users; people who pay AT&T for internet service and Netflix for TV/Movie service. AT&T would rather you pay them for both and Netflix for nothing, so they are going to charge you a little extra for your disobedience.

As frustrating as this may be, the current United States Congress (R) and folks appointed by President Obama (D) all agree that this is an appropriate, allowable, and legal thing for AT&T to be doing.

If you wish to be obedient to AT&T, this link will take you to what AT&T offers to replace Netflix with.

If you would rather monitor your internet usage to avoid the disobedience fee, keep reading.

I made a picture, and I think it explains it well enough. There are per-computer bandwidth monitors, but these must then generally be installed on every computer in the household connected to the internet — including your Netflix-enabled DVR that probably will not allow this. The method presented below works regardless of how many computers or devices are using your internet connection.

If you use a sample time period that is not representative of your normal internet usage, this method will fail. Use the internet how your normally do for several days, and then do your calculations.

What you need:

  • Your computer, connected to the internet at your home, with a web browser.
  • A calculator (the one on your computer works fine).
  • This assumes you are using the standard “2wire” router that most AT&T customers are using. If you are using something different, you may have to enter a different number into your web browser. If that is you, and you figured out what that number was, please list the model/make of your router and that number in the comments section.

Synopsis of this method:

  1. Enter ‘192.168.1.254’ into your web browser.
  2. Navigate to ‘broadband link’ and then to ‘statistics’.
  3. Note the number of bytes received, and the numbers of days that was collected for.
  4. Divide the first number by the latter for your average bytes per day.
  5. Convert that number to gigabytes by dividing it by 1 billion. Multiply that by 30 for your predicted monthly bandwidth usage.
  6. If that number is far below 150, then you have nothing to worry about.
  7. If it is close to 150 and you need more precise calculations, use data from a larger number of days and google to find a byte to gigabyte calculator.
Facing AT&T’s new 150GB Monthly Cap, How to Monitor/Calculate your Usage

Bin Laden DNA Test in a Few Hours?

One of the big questions emerging from the death (or alleged death, if you prefer) of Osama Bin Laden is this: “How could they have done a DNA test so quickly?” with the implied answer of “They couldn’t, ergo it must have been a conspiracy and a lie.”

I’m not so sure about that. It isn’t 1985 any more for one thing. Our cell phones are several orders of magnitude more powerful than the computing power required to land on the moon, but we still think it takes several weeks to run a DNA test? DNA testing is not exactly something I could do in my bathroom with a cotton swab and digital camera, but a properly equipped facility can certainly do it in a matter of hours. If the operation in Pakistan was planned ahead of time (it obviously was), it is very likely that such personnel and such equipment would have been on hand at SEAL Team 6’s operating base in Afghanistan.

What happened (or allegedly happened, if you prefer) was something like this: Raid was a success minus one modified (stealth?) Blackhawk that went down, the body of Bin Laden was brought back to that operating base in Afghanistan, some blood or saliva was taken from the corpse, the corpse was then sent off to the USS Carl Vincent to be buried at sea while the DNA test was simultaneously being run back in Afghanistan. Within an hour or two of Bin Laden being dumped overboard (as predicted by me several hours in advance 😛 ), the test results came back.

It may not have happened exactly like that, but that is certainly a plausible scenario. Seeing the news report on Monday with all of that having already been done before the sun came up in the States on Monday may have felt fast and fishy (excuse the pun) to some, but those folks may be underestimating the resources available to the United States Department of Defense, and the amount of contingency planning that has been going into “what if we actually do get him?” since well before September 11, 2001.

Want proof that, if money is not a factor, a DNA test can be done in a few hours? Well, for $99 you can have a DNA paternity test done overnight. There are many websites like that, and many scientists are publicly stating that it is entirely possible for DNA testing to be done in about as much time as it takes to watch the first two Godfather movies. I haven’t seen a single knowledgeable scientist come out and say that DNA testing must take several days – in fact, more scientists have come out and said that Global Warming is a myth than have claimed that the several hour DNA test in 2011 is a myth.

I’m not a scientist, and I’m assuming you aren’t either if you are checking the blogosphere instead of a scientific journal for information on this. So, we laymen must rely on our own judgment and what scientists are saying. We must do the best we can to account for biases some scientists may have (such as those employed by Tobacco or Oil corporations) but otherwise assume the vast majority of them are acting in good faith. Based on that, the inescapable conclusion is that DNA testing can indeed certainly be done in a handful of hours. And, we are more certain of that than we are about global warming (alleged global warming, if you prefer) or the negative health effects of tobacco (alleged negative effects, if you prefer).

This doesn’t prove that Bin Laden is dead, but it does shoot down that one conspiracy argument that centers around the false notion that rapid DNA testing is impossible.

Bin Laden DNA Test in a Few Hours?

Che Guevara the Boxer versus Hexbug

The Boxer, Che Guevara, takes on a Hexbot Nano!

These things are fun, and cost about $10 each. There are bigger ones that respond to light and sound, and smaller ones that are dumb and just skitter around.

It probably isn’t a good idea to put small and interesting mechanical objects within paws reach of a dog, so be sure to keep a close eye if you do something like this. Eventually, the dog will grow some balls and attempt to eat the thing.

By the time I filmed this, Che had already gotten enough confidence to keep it in his mouth for a few seconds. He probably won’t be allowed to play with it much longer.

Che Guevara the Boxer versus Hexbug

Android -> Linux Desktop Remote Control (better documentation than official)

I just went ahead and used URemoteDesktop to turn my Android phone into a remote control for when I am watching movies or listening to music on my computer, and don’t have immediate access to my keyboard.


(Image Credit: From here, published under this license.)

The app I used and its Linux support is good, but the official English documentation is not that great.  Also, much of the website is in Spanish (something I can not read!). The official English documentation works if one is already savvy enough to understand it all, but still leaves the user having to type numerous terminal commands to get it going.

One advantage of this app over others, in my opinion, is that it doesn’t try to be smart and tailor itself to specific desktop software. It sends generic play, volume up, etc, commands and leaves it to your computer to interpret. It seems to work everywhere that the identical buttons on my keyboard work. I like that, because it doesn’t place barriers between me and trying new software out.

Hopefully these instructions will simplify the process, and require only one terminal command on your computer. It will even tell you your current “Host IP Address” needed by the Android phone. I hope these directions are basic enough to be accessible to all – if not, please let me know what I need to clarify.

These directions are for Ubuntu. If you aren’t using Ubuntu, you probably already know how to translate the directions into your distribution’s lingo. If you aren’t using gnome, you probably know how to translate directions into gnome.

Install Instructions:

1 ) Install the app on your phone. You can search the market for “URemoteDesktop” on your phone, or point the barcode scanner here:

2 ) Download the needed .zip file from here. That is the desktop server that talks to the app on your phone. Double click on that .zip, and extract it to your home folder so that it is at /home/YOURUSERNAME/URemoteDesktop_Server.

3 ) Install the xautomation and curl packages, needed for the server to work: sudo apt-get install xautomation curl

4 ) Go to places -> Home Folder -> URemoteDesktop_Server

5 ) Right click on launch.sh -> Properties -> Permissions -> Verify that “Execute” is checked next to “Owner”. Do the same process with vd.sh.

6 ) Type this in a terminal: gedit ~/.bashrc

6 ) Copy and paste this line of code at the end of .bashrc, replacing ‘whatever’ with whatever you want (I used ‘amote’), but leaving the rest the same:

alias whatever='echo My IP is && curl http://www.whatismyip.com/automation/n09230945.asp && echo && cd ~/URemoteDesktop_Server && ./launch.sh

7 ) Save and exit.

8 ) CLOSE THE TERMINAL, and you are done. If you leave the terminal open, you aren’t done yet.

Use Instructions:

1 ) Open a terminal (you did close it when you were done installing, right?).

2 ) Type ‘whatever‘ or ‘amote’ and hit enter.

3 ) On the next line in the terminal, it will tell you your IP address.

4 ) Turn your phone’s wifi connection on, connect to your home wireless network. Start the app on your phone.

5 ) Put the IP Address from step 3 into the app.

6 ) Works!

Android -> Linux Desktop Remote Control (better documentation than official)

iOS (iPod, iPad) Devices on Linux – Long Term non-jailbreaking Solution

Outline of the Problem.

Many people would like to have their iOS devices, such as iPods and iPads interact with their Linux devices. Apple clearly lists Microsoft Windows or OS X as a requirement for such devices, but I can nonetheless understand why someone may wish to get use out of a gift they received or similar instead of selling it or giving it away. There are several reasons why I personally avoid such devices, but I can respect the choices of others.

Those that have chosen to own iOS devices and not use proprietary desktop operating systems are frequently met with frustration when trying to sync them or have them otherwise communicate. A method is developed by a clever open source volunteer programmer, it works for a few months, then suddenly stops working with an iOS update. Rinse, repeat.

There is already a long-term solution that, while legal, voids your warranty on the device and is often difficult for non-techy types.

A Humble Proposal.

There generally is no long-term approach outlined to break this cycle that doesn’t involve voiding of warranties, so I will outline and propose one.

  1. Look into methods to cease software/firmware updates to the device.
  2. Wait for the open source volunteer programmers to work around Apple’s shenanigans as of the last time you did get an update, and thus your device will eventually work again.
  3. Continue to not update the device.

I have no idea if this is currently possible without jailbreaking an iPhone with an active data plan that is always internet-facing, but I would encourage the aforementioned open source volunteer programmers and casual tinkerers to focus on a method wherein the device is not fully jailbroken. Only any forced system update software needs to be turned off, disabled, or have its knee caps busted with a sledge hammer. Ideally, the semi-skilled bureaucrat at the Apple Store will not be able to tell at a that this was done when casually going through the itemized warranty verification checklist.

The simplest method of avoiding updates for an iPod is to simply never connect it to iTunes.

Worth Noting.

This long-term solution could be implemented in addition to the current short-term solution that works, as outlined somewhere on the internet so that you can get your device working today. I cannot link to the current method because that would render this post obsolete exactly one iOS update from now, but I can offer you a hint: for the short-term solution that currently works, you need to be looking at how-to guides and discussion forum posts more recent than the date of the last iOS update you received.

Remember that the short-term solutions are cyclical and temporary. Don’t be surprised if the method that worked last month no longer works today.

If your iOS device is receiving updates, one will eventually break all currently existing non-iTunes & non-Steve-approved support.

Limitations.

This difficulty is by design, not accident. The entire point of many of Apple’s so-called security updates is to maintain or re-introduce Apple’s security and control. Over you.

The base problem that causes the problem outlined in this article is a social problem – how people treat people, such as how the folks running the Apple Corporation treat customers. Thus, what I propose here falls into the realm of a technological solution to a social problem. In itself, that presents a problem. A smart fellow just the other day pointed out that technological solutions to social problems are generally imperfect (much like military solutions to social problems). This proposal, even if implemented perfectly, will still be imperfect. It will still require extra hassle on the part of the end-user, for example.

If you have come across this blog entry, then you have also probably read a relevant Wikipedia article or two, or maybe even three. Thus, I trust that you already know that there is a series of social solutions to this social problem and ones like it. Please respectfully and tactfully advocate for such a solution, when you see such an opportunity present itself.

iOS (iPod, iPad) Devices on Linux – Long Term non-jailbreaking Solution