Musing #63: McWatchFace II for Gear Fit2/Pro

I had created and released the original McWatchFace just days after purchasing the Gear Fit2 Pro as I couldn't find a watch face that contained what I was looking for. Thus, it would be an understatement to say that I have been pleasantly surprised by the response to it since its release on the Galaxy Apps Store.

The original watch face, in its two forms, has clocked an average download of 100 per day to rack up a total of over 15000 downloads in less than 6 months. I have no idea of the number of Gear Fit2/Pro users who actively download watch faces, but I find this to be beyond expectataions.

While I haven't released anything new for months, I have been tweaking the design in the background all this time with the aim of pushing the information envelope even further. The result thus, is the McWatchFace II. The changes are pretty much evident at first glance, but the following image sums it up pretty well.

Since these incremental but time-consuming changes were made over many weekends, stealing time from other activities, I decided to put it up as a paid watch face while still retaining the original one for free. It is also an experiment to see whether a paid market for watch faces really exists or people are just content with what they get for free. This decision, unfortunately, makes the watch face unavailable on the iOS app since Samsung has not implemented any means of purchasing watch faces on iOS.

If you happen to purchase this watch face and have feedback to share, then feel free to drop a comment. For others, the watch face can be seen in action in the following video and perhaps it would tempt you to give it a whirl.

Review #55: Lethal White ★★★☆☆

Having grown up reading the classic whodunits, I can never restrain myself from a good mystery. Ironically, this also means that until now I had never followed a series as it was being written. This accolade falls to the "Cormoron Strike" series, though not particularly for its literary prowess.

Had it just been Robert Galbraith, I imagine that I would have never picked up the series since time is the biggest constraint to choice. The media speculation following the revelation of the author is what got me to give this series, then only a book, a go. Even then, the choice of medium oddly fell to audio, as an accompaniment to my daily journeys. Since then, it has become my medium of choice for the series.

To digress even further, Robert Glenister does a stellar job of bring the narrative to life and in my humble opinion, makes the work much better than it is. Albeit a different medium, I can draw a parallel to the work of John Thaw who elevated the character of Morse to a much higher level in the TV series than envisaged by Colin Dexter in his books. Speaking of TV, the BBC series on the book isn't as captivating as it could be because of the source material, but Tom Burke and Holliday Grainger certainly do a good job of salvaging what they can.

I appear quite cynical of the literary aspect of the series and can't justify it otherwise. My perception is based on hearing the unabridged audio version of the book and I can only imagine a reader going through the emotions simply to get to the end. While the audio book can be a good accompaniment to long, boring journeys; the same cannot be said of a printed book being read on the couch. I imagine authors will always try to get away with as many words as the editor will permit, but it is not something a reader begrudges.

Length aside, it seems that the series has fallen in to a rut and the fourth book brings about a dreaded sense of "more of the same". It plays safe and does nothing to further the age-old whodunit template, but what makes it worse is that it ashamedly follows the template established in the earlier books. So, what you get is the intermingling of the unusually chaotic personal lives of its protagonists with a slow churner of a case involving broken relationships, upper-class idiosyncrasies, long-drawn conversations, staying in friend's houses, Land Rover rides and a made-for-TV, action-packed climax.

Somewhere in all the drama, there is a story, and this leaves me to reminisce of the days when whodunits were all about the mystery. An Agatha Christie classic would develop a character to lead and mislead the reader in pursuit of the case whereas over here it is more of a means to have a nine-book or nine-season series. A well-placed drama within the context of the story can still be ornamental but unfortunately that is not the case here. The need to artificially generate it towards the end falls extremely flat and one can be forgiven for mistaking it to be a screenplay. It might be a reflection of the times or simply economics, but a lot of readers would be worse for it.

To give credit where its due, Rowling manages to intricately carve a scene which gets the imagination running. I had never read any of the Harry Potter books, but I can imagine its effectiveness in a make-believe world, if it works so well with real-life locations. Having never been to London, I do regret being unable to generate a mental map of a place, but the descriptions substitute for it quite well. However, this alone does not redeem the book when the content fails to live up to expectations. As a result, I don't feel it obligatory for a reader/listener to part with their hard-earned money in favour of this book.

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

Update #4 (Oct 31, 2018):  I have come to realise that my previous optimism was unwarranted. iOS 12, as a matter of fact, still doesn't support the GF2 Pro.

My previous GF2 Pro detection on 12.0.1 came about on account of the device being already paired on iOS 11 prior to the update. However, unpairing the device caused it to no longer be detected on 12.0.1. Worst still, nothing has changed after the update to iOS 12.1.

Since iOS 11.4.1 is no longer signed by Apple, this means that my GF2 Pro is left to operate as a standalone device till the time either companies decide to do something about it, which going by the recent turn of events, might be never.

Edit: Turns out that it may be more of a Samsung software issue more than anything else. A full reset is usually a last resort and even when that didn't result in the device being detected, it seemed all was lost. However, resetting the Gear Fit2 Pro while also reinstalling the Gear Fit app did the trick as the new device setup finally popped up on the app, following which it is working as usual.

The issue seems to be a mixture of buggy Samsung software and the manner in which iOS operates. As always, it for the consumer to bear the brunt of this unholy alliance.

Update #3 (Oct 8, 2018): I paid more attention to the iOS 12.0.1 change log than I normally do for any iOS release and there was one entry that particularly caught my eye:
  • Addresses an issue where Bluetooth could become unavailable
As a result, I initiated the update from 11.4.1 with more than just hope and sure enough, my belief was rewarded. Incidentally, I had filed a bug report with Apple and would like to believe that it played a part as well, though that's unlikely. Anyway, all's well that ends well and in this regard the frequent update schedule for iOS is certainly beneficial.

Update #2 (Sep 21, 2018): The GF2 Pro isn't detected on the iOS 12.1 beta either. However, it works normally after downgrading to 11.4.1. Surprisingly, it seems that the original GF2 has no compatibility issues with iOS 12 which makes this situation even more curious. Samsung hasn't yet responded to any of my communications through the App Store, Twitter and e-mail, so one can only hope that a fix is in the works.

Update #1 (Sep 13, 2018): With a new iPhone launch comes a new OS. While iOS 12 is a welcome relief for iOS 11 users, it spells danger for Gear Fit2 Pro owners.

I updated to the iOS 12 GM release (16A366) yesterday which is what will be released to the general public on September 17th and it breaks compatibility with the Gear Fit2 Pro to the extent that it is not even detected as a Bluetooth device. All other Bluetooth devices are detected fine on iOS 12 and the Gear Fit2 itself is detected by other Bluetooth devices.

To top it all, there was no forewarning that this would happen as even the last iOS 12 Beta release worked fine with the Gear Fit2 Pro. Hence, it can only be construed that Apple made a change that hampers competing wearable devices, or at least this one from Samsung.

I have already shared the incompatibility details with Samsung and hope that they would release an update soon to address this issue since it seems Apple has already drawn the sword. Prospective owners should wait it out till the GF2 Pro becomes compatible with iOS 12.

P.S.: To follow-up on my previous post-script on Unicode 11.0, I have included the 'Star with left half black' as the fourth character in my star rating. You would be seeing a hollow block until your browser supports Unicode 11.0 which might not happen until the end of 2018 at the earliest, but that's the price you pay for writing in to the future.

Review #54: Credo Protective Case for Amazon Fire TV ★☆☆☆☆

If there is one thing I miss for, it is for the access to multitude of cases pertaining to all sorts of devices. Since its closure, Amazon is the only logical recourse left, especially for Amazon device accessories. This particular case pops up at the top of Google's search results and hence became the natural choice as a cover for the Gen 3 Fire TV remote.

Musing #62: Deleting Facebook account

It shouldn't really be a thing, but I felt the need to mark the day I deleted my Facebook account. Seldom are people able to destroy (traces of) their (digital) life with complete knowledge of its consequences and hence this occasion warrants a mention.

Facebook has been in the news for all the wrong reasons for the past few years, but the latest hack was the last straw that broke the camel's back. I had already dialed up the privacy settings to "11" few years ago and the only reason for the account to exist was for acquaintances to get in touch. However, as I realised over the course of time, most people yearn for a wider, if irrelevant, audience.

As far as connectivity is concerned, my mobile number as well as my current email address predates Facebook by over half a decade so those who want to get in touch, still can. It is no coincidence that a lot of account deletion guides have popped up again but it would be best to refer to the one from Facebook itself. Going through the downloaded data is a trip down the memory lane but it is also an instant realisation of how much information Facebook has accumulated and retained over the years, despite using their highest privacy settings.

As a final relic, I have included the cover photo that I maintained at Facebook for nearly 3 years prior to deletion. I had no misapprehensions of what Facebook was all about but it was unfortunate to see the evil and greed quotient increase exponentially thereafter. As is the case for every decision that Facebook makes, account deletion is based on cost-benefit analysis. For me, the former far outweighed the latter. The cost may have always been invisible but the price paid definitely was not. It's time to move on to a brave new world without Facebook.

Musing #61: Adapting apps for Gear Fit2 (Pro)

While the original post was about the 2048 app, I feel it would be best to have a single post for all my adapted Gear Fit2 (Pro) apps. The original article is still present below for any guidance it may provide in installing the apps on the device. I will be listing the apps along with a screenshot and the link to download the *.wgt files. A short description has been included along with references to the original source/app.

1. 2048: Based on the latest source (Oct 2017) for 2048 posted on Github with suitable interface/colour modifications for Gear Fit2 Pro. Uploaded on Sep 11, 2018.

2. SciCal: Based on an app called 'Kalkulator' or 'Calculator Net 6' for the Gear S, I have renamed it to SciCal as it is a scientific calculator while adding a catchy icon from Wikimedia. The dimensions of all the "pages" of the calculator have been modified so that no scrolling is present. Unfortunately, the interface stays as it is due to the large amount of information involved. Uploaded on Sep 23, 2018.

Original Article (Sep 11, 2018):

It is no surprise that Samsung has artificially stifled the Gear Fit series for it to not steal the limelight from their flagship "S" series. Consequently, Galaxy Apps store submissions for the Gear Fit2 and Pro are only limited to watch faces with partners like Spotify being the only ones allowed to publish apps for the device.

This doesn't imply that the device itself is incapable of running third-party apps. Samsung provides the necessary tools to create, install and run applications for the Tizen platform as a whole and this benefits the Gear Fit2 devices as well. However, without a centralised distributor, it takes a lot more effort to get an app distributed and installed on the device.

The Gear Fit2 is capable of running web apps which are essentially websites stored on the device. Hence, for my first Tizen app, I decided to go with the sliding-block puzzle game 2048 which is freely available on GitHub under MIT license and presents an everlasting challenge, even on the wrist.

Apart from scaling the game to fit the 216x432 screen, I have made a couple of tweaks to the interface so as to optimise the experience for the device. The first is switching the colour scheme to darker colours to preserve battery life on the SAMOLED screen as against the default lighter colour scheme. The second tweak, apart from adjusting the font size and spacing, is to switch the 'New Game' option higher up and to the left to prevent accidental resetting of the game when swiping up, as has happened to me on more than a few occasions.

I have uploaded the 2048.wgt file, as installed on my Gear Fit2 Pro. This implies that the file is self-signed and hence will not install on any other device. Thus, you will have to sign it specifically for your device prior to installation. Detailed instructions on the same can be found on XDA. After self-signing, the app can be installed using the Tizen Studio SDK by connecting to the device using "sdb connect <ipaddress>" and then issuing the command "sdb install 2048.wgt". Details on that command can be found here.

So, test it out and let me know how you feel about it in the comments. You may also share the details of any other web applications that you would like to adapted for the Gear Fit2 devices.

Musing #60: PC Overclocking

Having grown up through the megahertz and subsequently the gigahertz war, I can only say that speed matters. Over the years, I fought to get the last ounce of performance out of the system that was "machinely" possible. This was the case until Sandy Bridge arrived. On one hand, it offered the most value for money in an eternity and on the other, set a trend where overclocking meant buying in to the most expensive processors and motherboards.

Hence, it was a practical decision at the time to go with the i5-3470, a processor with locked multiplier, along with a H77 chipset motherboard that was not meant to assist overclocking. It still offered the option to run all the cores at the turbo frequency of 3.6 GHz instead of the base frequency of 3.2 GHz and that is how it ran for nearly 6 years. It met every requirement I had of the system and a bit more so as to not be concerned about upgrading.

However, as is always the case, my hand was forced, like it was in the past when I upgraded to the GTX 1060. Only this time, I had no intention of upgrading the trio of processor, motherboard and RAM considering the inflated memory prices as well as with AMD's Zen 2 and Intel's 10nm processors around the corner. For the first time, I was left in a rather peculiar situation where I needed to change a component for a platform that has been discontinued for years.

Luckily, there is always the web that one can turn to. Scourging the tech forums for a desired motherboard is akin to hitting the lottery and sure enough I didn't luck out. Then, I decided to go with one of the B75 chipset motherboards that were still mysteriously available on Amazon, only to discover that they were OEM boards with a locked BIOS and lacking compatibility with my RAM. So, after I made the most of Amazon's gracious return policy, I decided to uptake the final resort and go ahead with the purchase of a used motherboard, admittedly with my fingers crossed, on AliExpress.

The shipment had its fair bit of drama over a period of 3 weeks but finally made its way through and was surprisingly well packaged. The absence of dust was a welcome sight, though the rusted socket screws immediately gave way to the fact that the board was used. All things considered, the motherboard was in good condition and thankfully the mounting bracket was included.

The board, an Asus P8Z77-V LX, opened up CPU overclocking opportunities in ages, albeit limited ones on account of my existing hardware. Overclocking can't be thought of in isolation as due consideration is needed to be given toheat. Intel's stock cooler is anything but the perfect foil for overclocking and hence I had to first stock up (pun intended) on an after-market cooler. For this, I again first turned to the used market and amazingly found an open box Deepcool Gammaxx 300 for INR 1200 ($17) as opposed to a new unit price of INR 2000 ($29). It isn't something on any ardent overclocker's wishlist but it gets the job done with its 3 heat pipes and a ginormous 120 mm fan.

To capture the difference that even a budget after-market cooler can make, I ran the stock cooler back-to-back with the Gammaxx 300 on the exposed motherboard. To check the stress temperatures, I simply bumped up the CPU multiplier over the default settings. Even in this setup, the Gammaxx 300 lowered the temperatures by over 20 degrees when under load while also ensuring a much lower idle temperature.

The bigger test however is ensuring lower temperatures in a constrained environment. In that sense, my cabinet (a generic old one at that) is not located in the most optimum position due to cabling constraints. Hence, I was expecting the temperatures to be much worst than they actually turned out to be. It also indicates that using the stock cooler was not even an option, unless you are looking for fried eggs and expensive paperweights.

Being out of the overclocking game for so long, I read up on the motherboard's features while the board was still in transit to fathom some of the newer terms and pretty much decided on a list of settings I would go around changing in my pursuit of performance with the lowest power consumption and heat generation. Thankfully, up until Ivy Bridge, Intel provided limited unlocked multipliers 4 bins above the maximum turbo frequency. This meant that my i5-3470 with a base multiplier of 32 and turbo multiplier of 36 was capable of being run at 40 multiplier. This doesn't imply that all 4 cores can simultaneously hit the 4 GHz mark as it is limited to 3.8 GHz by design. However, what it means is that it can certainly hit the magical 4G mark when one or two of the cores are loaded. I suppose there is some satisfaction in finally getting an old horse to learn new tricks.

Setting the multiplier at its maximum is easy and can even be done using the Auto or XMP overclock option. The difficult part is controlling the temperatures while also finding the limits of the RAM. To that end, I found the Load-Line Calibration to be an indispensable tool in tightening up the voltages and thereby lowering the offset. After much trial and error, I was able to set a stable CPU offset of -0.045V with the high (50%) LLC option which lowered the temperatures by a few more degrees and ensured next to no vDroop.

Running quad-channel RAM from different manufacturers is always a tricky proposition, even when the timings are the same. I had my initial CAS 9, DDR3-1600, 2 x 4 GB Corsair Vengeance teamed up with a similar GSkill RipjawsX set from 4 years later. This meant the job of overclocking the RAM was anything but easy and involved numerous failed boots. Eventually, I was able to get them to run stably at 1800 MHZ, CAS 10 with only a minor bump up in voltage to 1.53V. However, the impact on memory performance was not insignificant.

I suppose it makes sense to go all-in when you have entered the game. Hence, I decided to overclock my GPU as well. For over 2 years, I never overclocked the Zotac GTX 1060 Mini, being as it is, a single fan device. Size can be misleading though and the added CPU cooler certainly aids the overall air flow. It didn't take me long to figure out the memory isn't going to be up to the task, which is understandable considering it is not protected by a heat sink. In the end, I conservatively increased the memory clock by 100 MHz and the core clock by 200 MHz without touching the voltage.

A final tool available in pushing the clock even further is the base clock. Unfortunately, after setting up the overclock for all the other components, I found that the base clock increment to even 101 caused significant instability. Increasing the CPU and RAM voltage brought some modicum of stability but inexplicably reduced the performance across all benchmarks while simultaneously raising the temperature. Thus, there was no use pursuing this path any further.

The performance comparison presents of the overclocked system with the default one certainly provides some satisfaction. The XMP overclock is set to use the maximum CPU multiplier of 40 but it was unable to run the RAM at 1800 MHz at the same time. Going by the incredibly higher temperatures, it is obvious that the XMP overclock pushes the voltages a lot higher. The only upside here is that it is capable of running all the cores simultaneously at 4 GHz which produces a minuscule performance advantage. However, the manual settings are more than a match and come with a significant upshot in memory performance with much better thermals.

While the upshot in CPU and RAM performance is quite evident looking at the table, the GPU performance is not. As it happens, PCMark doesn't stress the GPU much whereas Hitman seems to be constrained by the CPU. Thus, the need of the hour was a GPU intensive benchmark which came in the form of Heaven. As can be seen in the results, the overclock results in an FPS improvement of over 8% compared to the stock speeds. At the same time, it makes sense to set a custom fan curve as it can keep the temperatures down under full load.

To round up the post, no overclock is worth its salt without a stress and torture test. The idle CPU temperature of 27 is pushed up to 63 by AIDA64's stress test and then stratospherically to 77 by Prime95's torture test. However, this is well within the processor's specifications and represents the worst possible scenario that normally doesn't manifest itself in the most taxing of daily use cases.

To conclude, this entire episode was brought about by an unforeseen failure in ageing hardware and hence the overclock exercise is strictly incidental, but the thrill of it as much as anyone would get when setting up a new system.

P.S.: If you followed my earlier post on Meltdown and Spectre, then you'd know it is something I thought of when buying the motherboard. Like with the ASRock boards, there was a helpful soul patching the unsupported Asus boards as well. However, when I went about flashing the BIOS, I found it to be incompatible due to the way it was packaged. Thankfully, Microsoft has fully patched Windows to support the latest microcodes from Intel (1F in the case of the i5-3470). It wasn't auto installed over Windows update and I had to manually install the KB4100347 patch for Spectre.