Musing #56: My First Smartwatch Face (McWatchFace)


The watch face has registered an average of 100 downloads a day since it was published, despite the fact that I have not publicised it anywhere else. It is simply through discovery on the Galaxy App Store and I am humbled by its popularity.

A smart life deserves a smartwatch, or perhaps it is smarter to be without one. Setting wisdom aside, I purchased my first one earlier this week - Samsung Gear Fit2 Pro. By being 1/3rd as expensive as a WiFi-only Series 3 Apple Watch, it won my wallet, if not my heart. I will reserve judgement on the device for the review, which isn't likely to materialise until I have used it extensively.

This post, then, is about a watch face, to be precise, my first creation of it. Kudos to Samsung for making available an easy-to-use designer, utilising which I was able to create the watch face in hours and survive the royal wedding. Having not found what I was looking for, I decided to create one for myself. The focus in this case was on information density and making the most of the colours on the AMOLED display without straining the battery life excessively.


The result is a crowded watch face that includes all the details that I could wish for. Besides the inclusion of all the fitness information, the icons for weather, music, settings, calendar, step count, floors and heart rate are all tapable with the date redirecting to the 'Today' view.


I was also inclined to keep the display "always-on" and hence chose a minimalist approach for this scenario. It fulfils the purpose of telling time while making it possible to keep an eye on the ever-draining battery. As per the analysis available within the designer, the current on pixel ratio is 1.5% with the minimum being below 1%.

I will mostly publish this watch face in the Samsung Galaxy App Store in the coming week, so be on the lookout for that. On the other hand, if you have some suggestions for future watch faces, then don't hesitate to leave a comment.

(Originally published on May 19, 2018)

Update #1 (May 20, 2018): The higher than expected battery drain in the "always on" mode over the past few hours made me investigate the possibilities of reducing the power consumption while still retaining this mode. A little bit of digging brought up this article which indicates that the next best thing to black is green. Effecting this change for the "always on" mode produces the following result:


The maximum 'Current on Pixel Ratio' is now 1/3rd (there's that ratio again!) of the original one. In fact due to the usage of green, this ratio now remains more or less constant and drops to 0.4% on certain occasions. Finally, I am not open to compromising the "Active" mode too much for power saving, but I have demoted the white to "seconds" which should help a bit.


Update #2 (May 22, 2018): A few more tweaks and optimisations went in to the watch face over the past couple of days and I assume that it can't get any denser than this. With the audience of one being satisfied, I have submitted the watch face to the 'Samsung Galaxy Apps' store and hope that it makes its way through to countless others. For now, I shall leave you with a cover image.

Update #3 (May 24, 2018): The watch face has been approved and is now available on the Samsung Galaxy App store. As an homage to Boaty McBoatface, I have named it as McWatchFace, so you know how to find it.

Update #4 (June 2, 2018): v1.0.2 was published earlier this week and it introduced the option of choosing the 'Distance Unit' besides squashing some bugs. I had started off with the intent of having a single watch face but a bug in Gear Watch Designer prevented me from implementing the 12/24H toggle. Moreover, since the toggle is dependent on the phone, it might be a good idea to have separate watch faces. I might revisit this idea later but for now I suppose I could move towards experimenting with the other features available in GWD.

Update #5 (June 10, 2018): v1.0.3 ushers in animation, starting with the weather icon. I have also published a YouTube video depicting the features of the watch face, as of this version.


Yours truly has also presented own self with a 'signature edition', remarkably named 'MyWatchFace'. Unfortunately, there is no means for user customisation, so this one remains in my sole possession.


Update #6 (June 12, 2018): Samsung seems to have a really inconsistent policy. While v1.0.3 of the 12-Hour version was published without any issues, the similar 24-hour variant was rejected for not supporting Chinese and Arabic.

It would  make sense if the issue was replicable but the emulator as well as my Gear Fit2 Pro show the date just fine in all languages including Chinese and Arabic. It should be mentioned that the language on the Gear Fit2 Pro mirrors that of the phone, so testing the languages implies changing the  primary language of the phone which gets ridiculous real fast.

So, to take the ridiculousness up a notch, I have submitted the same file once again as one can't resolve an issue that doesn't exist. May be I will catch a break and the watch face will pass through as-is or otherwise some minor tweak might be in order.

Review #53: Samsung Gear Fit2 Pro (with iOS) ★★★★☆

00 - Prologue

It is best to clarify at the beginning where this review is coming from. Although I have used a Fitbit One for 3 years, I have never been a fitness freak. It has only been about hitting personal targets of activity every day and hence I value consistency more than accuracy. At the same time, I was on the lookout for a smartwatch that had HR and iOS notification support. All of this had to be accommodated within a strict budget which led me to the Samsung Gear Fit2 Pro, but the question remains - should I have got it?

Musing #57: Steam Link on Fire TV


The release (or lack of it) of the Steam Link app caused a lot of brouhaha in the past month. While it it is meant for mobile devices, it undeniably adds a lot of value to the Fire TV and for that matter to all Android devices. It is a must-have that would have certainly made it to my list of  'The Essentials' were it available back then. It is not officially available on Amazon, so your best bet is to sideload it.

As I mentioned previously in my review of the AFTV3, the Ethernet adapter doesn't make a whole lot of sense as it is limited to 100 Mbps. However, it would be more than enough in this case as Steam Link requires a maximum of 30 Mbps for streaming. Unfortunately, I had to rely on the 5 GHz WiFi network (Steam Link doesn't support 2.4 GHz) with the TV being 25 metres away from the router, separated by a wall. This issue is compounded by the fact the 5 GHz receiver on the AFTV3 is exceptionally weak.

After playing with the settings, the only way I could get Steam Link working on the AFTV3 over such a long distance was by switching the 5 GHz channel bandwidth to 20 MHz. This significantly reduces the throughput but is a necessity for my current setup which I hope to change soon. Over the 20 MHz channel and at a distance of 25 metres, Steam Link works unimpeded in the 'Balanced' mode which uses 15 Mbps. I was even able to get the 'Beautiful' mode, requiring 30 Mbps, to work over the 20 MHz channel but it was inconsistent. On the other hand, it worked exceptionally well over the 40 MHz channel as can be seen below, but the AFTV3 was unable to sustain the signal over the distance, resulting in frequent disconnections. Nonetheless, this is an issue that can be easily resolved through some rearrangement.


Steam makes it quite evident that the software is in beta and that AFTV is not officially tested.


 However, as long as the network is up to it, the AFTV is more than capable of streaming.


Inability of the network to stream properly is indicated with the frame loss and network variance.


Setting up Steam Link is extremely easy as it essentially requires pairing the TV with the host PC using a PIN.


Additionally, the Steam Client on PC requested the installation of additional audio drivers once the setup was done, but I presume this might depend on the setup. I had sold my Xiaomi Bluetooth controller a few months back so I didn't have a controller to pair with Steam. However, I did have my Apple Wireless Keyboard and Logitech M557 paired to AFTV which ought to have done the job. 


While the keyboard worked fine with the Big Picture mode, v1.1.3 of Steam Link that I installed initially didn't support the mouse which was subsequently rectified in v1.1.4, indicating that Valve is actively paying attention to user feedback. At present, the lag isn't too bad, but the mouse controls are too sensitive which I presume is due to the fact that the tuning has been done as per analog controllers. It might make sense to pick up the Xbox One S or Steam controller for universal compatibility.

With the initial impression being quite good, one can only hope for Steam Link to work seamlessly once it comes out of beta. Perhaps the Steam Sale will become a lot more attractive for AFTV owners.

Sundry #12: AI Ads


I have decided to cede further control to the machine overloads so that when the time comes, they shall know I did the right thing. You too shall have no recourse than to blame the machines for the abhorrent ads while I go "ka-ching". However, I have ensured that the human touch remains by retaining the ad under the "Advertisement (Or Not!)" section. Rest all is the machine's doing.

Coincidentally, it is two years since I first enabled ads on the site. I have no idea why I should be musing over ads, so this time it has been filed under Sundry. Ironically, I have Pi-hole as well as uBlock Origin enabled as I write this, so the placement of ads is a mystery to me. However, I managed to catch a glimpse from the mobile app and it seems that the ad placement is limited to the header and side bar rather than the content which is perfectly fine.

However, if you feel aggrieved, just give me a shout and I shall set the machines on to you.

Tutorial #15: Running Comanche Gold on Windows 10


There are those indescribable moments in life when you come across a relic from the past and are instantly flooded with fond memories. This was precisely the case when I stumbled across a mention of Comanche 3 on the web, one of the earliest PC games in my life that I spent countless hours on at a friend's place (though candidly it was more of watching than playing, ala wingman to the PC occupier).

This meant I couldn't resist the temptation of digging through my treasure trove for the Comanche Gold disc. Comanche Gold is essentially Comanche 3 for Windows with few extra missions and being 32-bit meant it could be run natively on current 64-bit PCs without the need for virtualisation. The geek in me couldn't resist the challenge of getting it running once again on Windows 10 (Creators Update Build 15063.413 as of this writing) and hence this guide details out the steps to getting it done.

First things first, you need to have the following things on hand:

1. The Game Disc, of course, though I recommend creating an image of it for sheer convenience. The image can be directly mounted on Windows 10 as a DVD drive, can be archived and used on tablets that lack an optical drive.

2. Comanche Gold Patch Pack: I had come across various mentions of patches for Windows 7/8/10 but most of the links were long dead. However, the most recent mention of it can be found here. All credit is due to the original author(s) and contributor(s) of the patch. Since things tend to get lost with time, I have uploaded a copy of the patch to Google Drive.

3. DXGL: This seems to be the real differentiator in getting the game to run properly on Windows 10 with the correct video mode. As of this writing, the version used was 0.5.11.

The ideal scenario would have been that I just install the game and replace the files with the patch as depicted in the forum post from SimHQ that I have linked to previously. However, that is not how it panned out for me and I had to engage in some trial and error to get the game working. Below are the fruits of my labour laid out in sequence.

1. Install the game to a simple directory structure (eg.: C:\Games\Comanche Gold) using the 'Large Install' option. Installation to the default 'Program Files' directory resulted in the game starting in the 'Multiplayer only No-CD' mode, despite the fact that the patch contains an exe that removes the CD verification.

2. Extract the contents of the Comanche Gold Patch Pack to the root game directory, overwriting files wherever necessary.

3. Install DXGL, add the Wc3.exe file and retain all the default settings. The only change I made was to change the Video mode to 'Aspect corrected stretch' but you can easily change this to 'Stretch to screen' in case you are not a fan of letterboxing.

4. At this stage, I still couldn't get the Wc3 exe to launch as it only lead to a Windows error, none of which could be rectified using any of the compatibility options. Turns out the game needs the obscure 'DirectPlay' feature in Windows to be enabled which is a long deprecated DirectX API.

As it turned out, this was the last hoop I had to go through. Thereafter, the game launched in full screen mode and I was able to push the resolution to 1024*768, though 1280*1024 led the game to crash. Considering the age of the game, I would say it is an achievement to get it working perfectly two decades later. Love it or hate it, Windows compatibility and its legacy support is worth its weight in nostalgia, in spite of all the cruft.

(Originally published on July 4, 2017)

Update #1 (May 12, 2018): The game installs and works fine on the April 2018 Update of Windows 10 (Build 1803) with the same instructions.



Things are now much easier as even the default settings on the current version of DXGL (0.5.13) work fine and Windows automatically prompts the installation of 'DirectPlay'. I would still recommend using the 'Aspect corrected stretch' option as otherwise Windows changes the resolution rapidly and pops up a 'fix blurry text' prompt on first run.


Tutorial #20: Home (Network) Improvement using a Pi


I had previously shared some tutorials in setting up the Pi and putting it to good use. However, the use cases I mentioned then have ceased to exist. The Fire TV has taken care of most of my multimedia needs and I have come to realise that I really don't have much time to go back in time for nostalgia. For the retro needs that remain, the lesser-used Core M 5Y10 equipped Windows tablet of mine does a much better job plugged in to the TV.

Hence, it is time to put the Pi to good use in a different sense. Thankfully, the versatility of the Pi means that it is not difficult to identify its next project. Ads can become a nuisance, especially for the more aged members of the family and hence my first intent was to set up an ad blocker across my home network. However, putting the Pi to such limited use and keeping it on 24/7 would be quite a waste, so I decided to also repurpose it as a download box with centralised storage.

Setting up the tools necessary to accomplish these tasks seemed straightforward. However, the relevancy of publicly available tutorials diminish over time due to changes in technology. In fact, I had to put quite some effort beyond the listed tutorials and hence I have decided to put the same to words for posterity.

Before starting out:

PINN is a great utility when multi-booting across different distributions on the same SD card. However, Raspbian alone fits the bill for the current use case. Hence, writing the raw Raspbian image directly on the card is preferable as it provides more usable space. As far as writing on the card goes, Etcher is the way to go.

1. Pi-hole®

As the website so prominently displays, all you need is a single command.

curl -sSL https://install.pi-hole.net | bash
However, I made a couple of settings that are worth mentioning:

a. The predefined list of upstream DNS providers does not yet include Cloudflare which I found to be the fastest of the lot. Hence, it would be worthwhile to use the custom option and enter the Cloudflare DNS Server IP addresses of 1.1.1.1 and 1.0.0.1.

b. The other part of the equation is setting up the home equipment to use the local DNS server. In case of Asus routers, this implies changing the DNS Server IP address to the Pi-hole one, not only on the WAN page (under WAN DNS Settings) but also under LAN > DHCP Server > DNS and WINS Server Setting. Make sure that there are no other IP addresses present in either of the pages. You could also run the DHCP server on Pi-hole, in which case the latter setting is not needed. However, since I use the router-assigned IP addresses for other functions (eg. VPN), I prefer to have the DHCP server running on the router itself.

2. qBittorrent

qBittorrent has been my preferred Bittorrent client for quite some time with it being open-source and having proper support for proxies as against Transmission. It can be installed easily using APT, though I prefer the headless route.

sudo apt-get install qbittorrent-nox
My primary endeavour was to have the downloaded files ready on the USB 3.0 hard disk connected to my router (and thus acting like a NAS) while minimising the read-write operations. Since it is not a great idea to write to the SD card running the client, I decided to plug in an old 32 GB pen drive to act as the "working folder" by adding it under Downloads > Hard Disk > Save files to location.

The next part was to add the network drive as the final resting place by entering its address under  Downloads > Hard Disk >  Copy .torrent files for finished downloads to. This necessitates mounting of the network drive within Raspbian on boot which can be accomplished by editing /etc/fstab with these details:

mount -t cifs //xx.xx.xx.xx/folder /media/NAS -o rw,vers=2.0,username=abc,password=xyz
where,
xx.xx.xx.xx -> LAN IP address as configured on the router running the Samba server
folder -> Path to the folder on the network drive that needs to be mounted
/media/NAS -> Path on the Pi where the network drive is to be mounted

In my case, I had to specifically mention the SMB version (2.0), without which the mounting would fail as well as the rw argument to be able to write to the device. Also. it is a good idea to update the cifs-util package from APT prior to editing the fstab file, as mentioned above.

Finally, to cover for unexpected reboots, it is preferable to have qBittorrent autostart which can be accomplished using systemd. First, create the startup script using:

sudo nano /etc/systemd/system/qbittorrent.service
Next, enter its contents as follows:

[Unit]
Description=qBittorrent Daemon Service
After=network.target
[Service]
User=pi
ExecStart=/usr/bin/qbittorrent-nox
ExecStop=/usr/bin/killall -w qbittorrent-nox
[Install]
WantedBy=multi-user.target 
Lastly, enable the script.

sudo systemctl enable qbittorrent
3. pyLoad

The final part of the exercise was to set up a download manager. I had briefly given thought to JDownloader but decided against running JRE just for it. Hence, I opted for pyLoad instead. The tutorial listed over here works fine for the most part but needed quite some tweaks along the way. For the sake of completion, I will list all the steps in brief.

1. Create system user for pyload

sudo adduser --system pyload
2. Edit /etc/apt/sources.list to be able to install the dependencies. For Raspbian Scratch, the source URLs are as follows:

deb http://mirrordirector.raspbian.org/raspbian/ scratch main contrib non-free rpi
deb-src http://archive.raspbian.org/raspbian/ scratch main contrib non-free rpi
3. Update package list and install dependencies.

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get -y install git liblept4 python python-crypto python-pycurl python-imaging tesseract-ocr zip unzip python-openssl libmozjs-24-bin
sudo apt-get -y build-dep rar unrar-nonfree
sudo apt-get source -b unrar-nonfree
sudo dpkg -i unrar_*_armhf.deb
sudo rm -rf unrar-*sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get -y install git liblept4 python python-crypto python-pycurl python-imaging tesseract-ocr zip unzip python-openssl libmozjs-24-bin
sudo apt-get -y build-dep rar unrar-nonfree
sudo apt-get source -b unrar-nonfree
sudo dpkg -i unrar_*_armhf.deb
sudo rm -rf unrar-*
4.  Create symlink to get "spidermonkey" working. In my case, I received a "File exists" message for the symlink.

cd /usr/bin
ln -s js24 js
5. Unlike in the linked tutorial, I had to first switch to the stable branch before I could initiate the pyLoad setup. This is done as follows:

cd /opt
git clone https://github.com/pyload/pyload.git
cd pyload
git branch -r
git checkout stable 
 6. The next step, as per the linked tutorial, should have been the initiation of the pyLoad setup using:

sudo -u pyload python pyLoadCore.py
However, doing so produced the following error: "ImportError: No module named pycurl". Hence the next logical step was to install pycurl:

sudo pip -v install pycurl --upgrade
This in turn resulted in the error: "InstallationError: Command "python setup.py egg_info" failed with error code 1 in /tmp/pip-build-IsWfyN/pycurl/". This was resolved by:

sudo apt-get install libcurl4-gnutls-devpip
 As you can now guess, this in turn resulted in yet another error: "Failed building wheel for pycurl" which was remedied as follows:

sudo apt-get install libgnutls28-dev

After all this effort, I was finally able to install pycurl using the command mentioned previously...

sudo pip -v install pycurl --upgrade 
...and execute the pyLoad setup using a slightly shorter command:

 python pyLoadCore.py
The final tweak was to get pyLoad running on boot with the commands executed in a manner similar to what has been already covered for qBittorrent.

sudo nano /etc/systemd/system/pyload.service 
[Unit]
Description=Python Downloader
After=network.target
[Service]
User=pyload
ExecStart=/usr/bin/python /opt/pyload/pyLoadCore.py
[Install]
WantedBy=multi-user.target
 sudo systemctl enable pyload.service
Beyond Home

The benefits of this setup can be extended beyond the home network, though a lot depends on the vagaries of the network setup.

Pi-hole can be put to use on external networks by accessing the home network over OpenVPN, though speed and latency might be factors to consider. It can also be setup as a Public DNS but it is extremely risky and not at all recommended.

qBittorrent and pyLoad can be simply accessed using the IP address and port, provided they have been setup to be accessible from outside the LAN. For dynamic IP addresses, the Dynamic DNS (DDNS) option available on most routers can be put to use and my suggestion would be to pick up a cheap $1 domain from NameCheap for this purpose. However, if you happen to be under a multi-layered NAT network under ISP control like me, then there is no option other than to pay for a static IP for public access.

Thankfully, there is a last resort to access the Pi over a public network. The licensed copy of RealVNC that comes with Raspbian offers Cloud Connect that enables one to remotely control the OS and thereby all applications on it. It is quite cumbersome to use if your intent is to only load some links on qBittorrent or pyLoad, but it is better than nothing.

Thus, the Pi can be extremely useful even when used in a rather sedentary capacity and you grow to appreciate the efforts that everyone has put in to make this possible.