At Mindstorm I am on the Stormcast team. Stormcast is Mindstorm’s foray into portable multimedia with software that goes into or onto cars, specialized stereo systems, and portable devices that allow it to play local digital files or streaming audio from a handful of sources*. What I didn’t know when I took the job was that Mindstorm was working on cell phone implementation. This presented a bit of a problem for me because I had, up till taking my job, stayed away from smartphones. Smartphones are phones with more comprehensive operating systems that allow you the ability to do more than the relatively few tasks on a regular cell phone.

Up until recently, I was phone having two devices on my belt. I liked being able to upgrade one product without having to worry about the other. I liked not blowing $600 on a stupid phone no matter how smart it was. Since I never knew what I was missing out on, it was never a problem. But it’s never a good thing for my pocketbook when I have better toys at work than I do at home. I first upgraded to a 15″ monitor at home because I had one at work. I got my first 17″ and 19″ monitors for the same reasons as well as targetting my computer upgrades at home as being “better than that at work!” So when I was given a device to work with at work that was better than what I had at home, I had a feeling what that would ultimately mean.

I might have been able to hold out had it not been for one additional thing: Mindstorm’s security policies prevent me from bringing any sort of processor-using device that can be hooked up to a computer… except a cell phone. So in other words, while my Pocket PC was banned, if I had a cell phone that performed the same functions, that would not be banned. I could go back to listening to music or TV while rewiring this or that. Since Mindstorm’s approval is notably more important to me than Soyokaze’s (my last employer) was, I decided that I would be more conservative in any event, but music is generally more allowed at Mindstorm than Soyokaze so I wasn’t as hesitant as I might have been.

Security policies aside, it was mostly a matter of playing with gadgetsat work and watching my coworkers play with their beta gadgets. Though there was no way that I would be able to get an actual Stormcast with phone capability since I don’t have field-testing privvies and seeing as how I can’t buy it retail because the product does not exist yet, getting my hands on a Smartphone running Mindstorm’s software was the next best thing. Better, in some ways, because there are a lot fewer bugs since it’s an actual released product and all that and doesn’t have the gargantual functionality blind spots that products often have before they’re… you know… finished.

Also helping me along is that I was involved in testing precisely the functionality that I was interested in: multimedia, bluetooth peripherals, and compatibility with the retail operating system that my company puts on cell phones on the market right now. Further, knowing precisely which models were used for testing told me which models I would want to get! I also had access to all sorts of bluetooth hardware and my ear to the winds and knew which brands to get and which to avoid. I would come into this with much, much less risk than I shouldered when I bought my first Pocket PC. So I bought the exact device that I had reason to believe was the most likely to work off eBay.

It’s dreadfully ironic, knowing all that I knew, the little bits of information that I did not know. I’ll get to that.

Getting my SIM card switched over to the Smartphone that I got was a breeze. Before I knew it, I could make and receive calls and 2/3 of my address book had been absorbed into the system (the other third, oddly, is still on my old phone. I guess it got stored into memory rather than onto the SIM card). The trouble began when I tried to listen to music on an approved headset on an approved device. It didn’t work. Following the exact same steps I followed on my Pocket PC, I could not hear any audio that did not directly involve phone functionality. Further, it became apparent that I would not be able to listen to anything non-phone unless I bought a new headset. That was not part of the plan!

I spent an entire weekend trying to figure out what I needed to do. I didn’t want to buy a new headset. But even headsets with stereo functionality (which is apparently what I needed, even though I didn’t need stereo sound and the headset I had worked both with the Stormcast software being tested and the old software on my PPC) weren’t working. Sound would cut out after a couple seconds.

So then I googled the problem and that’s where the trouble began.

I found a little application that would pipe all audio to the headset. Yay! But once I turned a headset off it wouldn’t work again until the system restarted. Boo! Also, and this was particularly distressing, even when I did get it working, the audio was extremely weak. I could barely hear it in even relative quiet. The reviewer of the application said that sound wasn’t great, but this was barely tolerable. I found better and better applications to pipe audio into the headset, but the volume problem remained. Then I became like the hypochondriac surfing WebMD. Every volume problem described seemed to describe my what my phone was doing so I would install this hack or that hack (figuring that I had the OS backed up if I needed to go backwards). Nothing. Worked. In fact, the option to turn on stereo, the only thing that had originally worked before (before the sound cut out), was suddenly gone.

I can’t even remember how I discovered the problem. I knew the second that I saw the screen that I had, but I can’t remember how I got there.

Turned out there was a double-secret way to get the volume louder. It’s called “Volume Settings” and the command entails doing something called “turning the volume up”.

Pretty wicked, no?

Of course, of course, of course I looked under volume settings. It was one of the first things that I did and the volume settings told me that volume was amped all the way up. What I did not realize is that there were two volume settings. One for the phone (which was all the way up) and one for the rest of the device (which was on its lowest audible setting). So when I turned it up, it worked marvelously and I could hear everything about as clearly as I could with the old Pocket PC.

Of course, much was damaged in the process and restoring the system did not fix it. So having discovered this amazing thing called Volume Settings (Screen #2!), all of the functionality-adding I had sought to do actually cost me functionality. It does what I need it to do, but it’s less flexible than it would be if I’d not mucked it up.

I console myself by telling me what a good software tester this whole affair demonstrates me to be. I troubleshooted until I discovered 100,000 things that the problem was not. But mostly, though, I experimented and broke things. That’s what a good tester does.

A shame that I broke my thing, though.

* – A lot of you know who I work for. Do not take any information I give on this blog in regards to my employment as being strictly factual. I am making it accurate enough so that my real experiences make sense. I may not be talking about what you think I’m talking about. I may be making aspects of the product up to explain some odd peculiarity of my job. While this post is true as it pertains to me, it is only as accurate as I need it to be as it pertains to my job and my employer and not a bit more accurate than that.


Category: Server Room

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8 Responses to Dumber Than My Smartphone

  1. Brandon Berg says:

    Up until recently, I was phone having two devices on my belt…

    I’ve noticed that you tend to make unusual errors. For example, instead of mistyping a letter or making a common spelling error, you’ll sometimes substitue a word that sounds like the word you really meant (e.g., “fine” => “phone”). Do you use voice-recognition software? Or maybe a spell-checker that changed “fone” to “phone”?

  2. Transplanted Lawyer says:

    Congratulations on your 1,250th post, Will.

  3. ecco says:

    Do you find paying for cellphone data worthwhile? The actual cost of the smart-phone doesn’t stop me, but I can’t justify the extra thirty dollars a month. I don’t travel constantly and I don’t get a business subsidy like my other coworkers, so how many times would I actually use a smart phone. Also, you’d be surprised how common your testing heuristics are in areas other than software.

  4. David Alexander says:

    Will, given that you refered to having a phone with a SIM card, I’m amazed that you didn’t aim for the iPhone. OTOH, it’s less of a smartphone, and more of a iPod with Phone and some so-so PDA-esque functions included, and it may not meet all of your needs. Plus iTunes 8 seems to be a bear to deal with. Otherwise, I’m rather happy with my imitation iPhone (aka iPod Touch), and if I was working full-time, I would seriously consider abandoning Verizon Wireless and my family plan for an iPhone. IIRC, it’s the only phone on the market where my blog actually renders as intended…

  5. trumwill says:

    I’m not sure why I do that, Brandon. I’ve noticed the same thing. I don’t use any voice software nor do I run any formal spellcheck. Firefox underlines misspelled words so maybe typos are more quickly recognized, though I’m not hugely prone to typos. It’s probably a combination of the fact that my mind works slow but my fingers type fast and that I am probably a more phonetic writer than most (I’ve been known to move my lips when I type).

  6. trumwill says:

    Thanks TL! How did you know that it was my 1,250th post? Even I didn’t know that. The post is #1378 and WordPress says that I have 1,268. There are good explanations for why those would be off, though (I must have deleted 310 posts/drafts and spiked 18 that I didn’t want to post and didn’t want to delete).

  7. trumwill says:

    Ecco,

    I don’t have data service on my phone, actually. I use the non-phone aspects primarily for media files the same way I did with my Pocket PC. My friend Kyle has unlimited data service, though, and when I told him I bought a Smartphone tried to convince me to get it. There’s apparently a lot that you can do with it in conjunction with Orb and other services.

    I might recommend getting a Smartphone if you use or think you would use a portable media player or Pocket PC or something like that. Pocket PCs are one of those things that I didn’t know if I would use it when I bought it (so I bought a really cheap one for my first one) but now have difficulty imagining going without (though I got a crash course in that when my PPC was banned from work).

  8. trumwill says:

    David,

    You assume that I am with AT&T! Of course, I’ve probably mentioned that I am at some point on this blog so maybe you remember. Since I am a loyal AT&T customer I actually considered an iPhone when it first came out. However:

    1. It’s an unknown device. I’ve never owned an iPod. That I previously had a Pocket PC meant that a smartphone based on the same software was much less of a leap for me. Even before my current job, I was at least familiar with the underlying OS. I can read about what all it can do, but when it comes to these things it’s usually the things I forget to look for that burn me. I have the same hesitation about a phone running the Android OS. I’d want to test drive it.

    2. Too expensive. When it first came out, anyway. I might be able to get one for as much as I paid for my smartphone now (though it’s doubtful), but back then it was unthinkable that I’d spend that much on a phone. Particularly given the “unknown” factor.

    3. I don’t trust Apple. I don’t trust the vendor of the software on my current device, either, but I trust the army of hackers out there to prevent DRM from making me do what I want to do. There’s also less freedom with the iPhone when it comes to procuring and installing applications, from what I understand.

    4. I don’t want to be on the grid. The same reason I basically didn’t buy a phone at a discount from AT&T. I wanted an independent device that AT&T doesn’t know that I have. I don’t want any “special updates” that cripple functionality in the name of DRM or because they find some new way to charge me for things I don’t actually use them for. That may make me paranoid (and maybe iPhones give you more ability to “opt out” than I realize), but the initial terms and conditions of an iPhone contract when it first came out scared me off but good.

    5. Feature set. I use it for more than a media device. Or at least I want to. It’s like how I prefer a computer that can play games to a game system that can be made into a computer. On this score, I have to admit that it would be nice if my device were at least a little more media-minded. That I had to do what I had to do to get sound to work on a Bluetooth (non-stereo) headpiece is aggravating.

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