Friday, April 10, 2015

No, lack of maker-branding is not a sign of xenophobia

Android Authority has a posted a shockingly bad piece of click bait by an author who appears to know absolutely nothing about the Japanese mobile marketplace. Either that or this is an April fools joke nine days too late.

His logic seems to be as follows:
  1. NTT docomo and KDDI versions of the Galaxy S6 lack Samsung branding.
  2. Samsung is a South Korean Company.
  3. Therefore Japan is xenophobic.
um, what?

Commenters diligently pointed out that, since the very beginning, Japanese mobile phones have typically lacked any branding whatsoever. It was also brought to the author's attention that NTT docomo model numbers distinguish between makers (e.g., F = Fujitsu, SO = Sony, SC = Samsung, SH = Sharp).

To this, I'll add that maker-branding on phones subsidized by and available from Japanese carriers is a relatively recent phenomena.

Because these facts – facts which the author deftly brushed aside with a brilliant non sequitur about domestic versus international models – are plainly obvious to anyone who has lived in Japan long enough to remember the golden age of galapagos feature phones, the commenters perhaps assumed the author was simply unaware.

It is particularly stunning how a set of observations can be interpreted in a way that leads to such flawed conclusions.

Monday, April 6, 2015

JR East mobile app pinpoints your location on the Yamanote Line

At about the same time Japan Airlines released a revamped mobile app that was actually useful, so did JR East. Many train companies have their own apps, but I rarely install them because they are only good for navigation within that particular rail network. Yeah, they probably have station information, route maps, and the like, but do you really need an entire app for that?

The JR East app is set apart from other train operator's apps by determining your exact carriage on Yamanote Line trains based on the MAC addresses of the on-board wifi access points (APs). This is exactly how your phone gets a location when GPS is unavailable. (Moving mobile APs on trains can also be the source of erroneous location information when one of these gets mapped into a location database.)

As you can see in the above screenshot, I was riding in car 4, which was slightly more crowded than the surrounding few carriages. Car 4 had the temperature set milder (弱) but the interior temperature was not significantly different from the other carriages at a pleasant 19˚C.

One of the things that completely annoys me to no end is the scarcity of carriage information posters in JR stations. You know, the ones that show which cars are close to which exits at each station along the line. If you're lucky, you might walk the entire length of a platform designed to accommodate a 15-car train and find between zero to one of these important posters, whereas the subway operators place them every few 10s of meters.

This app can also show you the platform information for upcoming stations, so that if you're on a tight transfer, you can head towards the carriage closest to where you need to be.

Unfortunately, all these cool features are limited to the Yamanote Line. I imagine that will change because it's possible to do this with any train that has on-board wifi. It's of course only available in Japanese, but as the 2020 Olympics approach, expect an English (at least) localization.

The app's home screen is expectedly a bit cluttered, and it's difficult to know exactly where to go to access these features. To get to the features I described, access the 山手線トレインネット.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Updated Japan Air Lines mobile apps are surprisingly useful

Japan Air Lines doesn't have the best web page, even for a Japanese entity. It's not as bad as trying to find a product on some random Rakuten page, but it can be difficult to navigate and prone to error. JAL's mobile apps had been similarly difficult to use, but their domestic flights app has been drastically redesigned. It's actually quite beautiful now (though still only in Japanese).

Domestic flight app

The JAL 国内線 app is the only one to be updated so far, and it is still just a front end to JAL's mobile website, but there are now dedicated buttons along the bottom of the screen that allow you to more easily navigate. There is also a small 'X' button in the lower right that will drop you back to the app's home screen from anywhere. Previously, it was easier to just kill the entire app and start over again.

The one thing that totally makes this app worthwhile is the ability to switch arrival and destination airport with a single button, which was previously not possible from the initial search screen (and is still not possible on their PC home page). Another new feature is that all the regions are collapsable, meaning that you don't have to scroll through every airport in Japan to get to Okinawa. There is also a map for selecting region.

Other useful JAL apps

The countdown timer is also nice. It displays the current status of the next upcoming flight on a home screen widget, as well as the remaining time until boarding closes (10 minutes prior to departure). Whether the flight has been delayed or is scheduled to depart on time is also displayed. The app also gives you periodic notifications beginning two hours from departure, and the boarding status is displayed on the widget.

If you are using Haneda airport, you can pull up still photos of the current situation at the closest security check point to your gate.

If you like using your phone for mobile payments and such, then you'll probably also like the touch and go app. This allows you to walk up to the security gate and tap in, just like entering a train station, with no need to check in. When doing this, you receive a receipt that resembles a boarding pass, but you still board the plane using your phone.

It would be nice if these were combined into one single app, but perhaps that's impractical. The touch and go app is not available for Apple devices because the hardware lacks FeliCa support

Monday, February 16, 2015

Screen sharing between Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite and Ubuntu Gnome

There are actually a number of posts and video that rank highly in google search results for doing this, but none of them explicitly state all the requirement to make this work. Since I just spent the effort to configure it like I want it, I'll dump it here (mainly for my own benefit since I'll forget what I did).

This is using the screen sharing application in Apple CoreServices. If you are on an unsecure network, don't do this because it requires disabling encryption.

Client: OS X 10.10.2
Sever: Ubuntu Gnome 14.04 LTS

1. Install dconf-tools:
sudo apt-get install dconf-tools from the command line
or use that ugly Ubuntu Software Center to search for and install "dconf editor" (why that thing has a white background with lime green text is a mystery to me)

2. Open dconf editor and navigate to org > gnome > desktop > remote-access. Here you will make TWO changes. Most all the posts I saw only mentioned one change.

a. deselect "require-encryption"
b. change authentication-methods from 'none' to 'vnc'.

Do not select "set to default"

While a VNC client can connect with no authentication, mac OS expects a password, and attempts to connect will just hang if you don't set this.

3. from a terminal run vino-preferences and select "Require the user to enter this password:" and type in a password of your choosing.


vino broadcasts a hard-coded user@host name through zeroconf (avahi), meaning that in the mac finder sidebar, you get a separate entry for each service broadcast from the Ubuntu box. This is a rather annoying and old "feature". There's a nice workaround here that disables automatic broadcasting. You then create separate entries for each service using only the host name. This allows all of these to be grouped together under one "computer" icon in the finder sidebar.

sudo nano /etc/avahi/avahi-daemon.conf

find the line:


and change it to:


while remembering to uncomment the line (which I forgot to do the first time).

Next, create a vnc.service file (don't misspell the file name like I did and wonder why it doesn't work).

sudo nano /etc/avahi/services/vnc.service

and paste in the following as is:

<?xml version="1.0" standalone='no'?><!--*-nxml-*-->
<!DOCTYPE service-group SYSTEM "avahi-service.dtd">
<name replace-wildcards="yes">%h</name>

Restart avahi:

sudo /etc/init.d/avahi-daemon restart