Saturday, March 26, 2011

Free Android apps for living with rolling blackouts and aftershocks

There has been a bit of discussion here regarding the earthquake alerts. It appears some smartphones are getting them and some aren't. I am not well versed on the technical details. If you're not getting the alerts, or if you want to know more about the blackout schedules, check out the apps below.

なまず 速報 β Recieves earthquake push notifications

Version: 0.2.5
Requirements: 1.6+
Dev: @ayunyan
Misc: Don't change default keep alive settings.
Features: Wake on notification; cancel silent mode on push; restrict notifications by richter magnitude, Japanese "shindo-scale," and/or distance from epicenter

The Dev warns that this app is very experimental, so your milage may vary. It worked but killed my battery because it appeared to open a sustained connection to an external server and prevented the phone from sleeping.

Based on this comment by Yin Lung Lee and the app's excellent rating, I recommend downloading it and giving it a try.

Using Spare Parts, go to Battery history and select "Other usage" and "Since last unplugged." Clicking "Running" will tell you how long your phone has not slept. If you have the same issue as I did, to uninstall, you may need to go Settings/Applications/Running services and kill it first.

東京電力供給情報ウィジェット TEPCO Power Supply Widget

Version: 1.0.1
Requirements: 1.6+
Dev: Shin1201
Misc: Not an official TEPCO app
Features: Uses the TEPCO power supply API

I saw this come across the @OffcialTEPCO the other day. It gives a pretty good idea if there will be a need for major blackouts that day by showing a comparison to the current usage relative to the previous day's usage, as well as the total capacity.

The widget.
The usage.

As far as apps for searching which areas are scheduled for blackouts, there are a bunch, but I haven't found any of them particularly useful. Much of this is likely due to TEPCO's scheduling. (This is why I've been using the above widget.) Here are a few of the more popular ones on the market:

Developer: @patorash
Version: 2.3.1
Pro: Uses GPS
Con: Has permission to make phone calls (for calling TEPCOs blackout info center according to the dev), which I personally don't like.

Version: 9.00
Pro: Has no scary permissions
Con: Has no special permissions at all - no GPS.

Developer: inc.
Version: 1.2
Pro: Uses GPS
Con: Don't know. New app. Haven't used it.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Archived radiation data from Hino, western Tokyo

UPDATED with the excellent chart from and dosage in sieverts on a second y axis, assuming 120 CPM = 1 µSv/hour

Dr. Hiroshi Ishikawa(石川宏 博士)has a geiger counter in Hino that is posting realtime radiation readings. He is also posting raw data to an archive page (so far through 3/18). I graphed and posted those data below. I'll update this if/when Dr. Ishikawa posts more raw data.

From Dr. Ishikawa's English FAQ (translated by Alex Boyd), here is information for converting to sieverts.
Thank you for providing continuous data on radiation levels. I am much relieved by the data you publish.

I am not an expert, but I do work with radiation, so I researched the CPM / Sv/h conversion.

I expect the biggest issue now is radioactive Iodine 131, which is created by Uranium fission. Iodine 131 produces gamma radiation principally with energy of 365 keV, and according to the graph on the manufacturer's homepage this gives a relative countrate of approximately 1. Therefore 1 CPM ~ 1 mR/h = 0.01 uSv/h is appropriate.

It isn't clear what the relative countrate is relative to, but the values given for Cesium 137 (Gamma at 662 keV) and Cobalt 60 (Gamma at 1.17 MeV / 1.33MeV) are roughly the same so there should be no problem.
I've been checking this page often, and since the two spikes, I have seen no other excursions. To put this into perspective, even the spikes were not dangerous.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Docomo data plans will be expensive for phones that support tethering

I've been holding off posting anything about something so trivial as phones given the situation, but with what seems to be a situation getting under control at the plant, here you are:

From April 1, Docomo is scheduled to begin allowing overseas phones, including the iPhone 4, on its network. But there are some catches, potentially deal-killing catches.

First, according to a Docomo press release, there will be some restrictions on which devices can get access to the packet houdai for a reasonable price. Any phone that is capable of tethering (hot spot) will be charged the premium rate, bringing the full price to 10,395 yen for unlimited data. (Along these lines.) Otherwise, a phone can be used with the tiered plan for 5,985 yen for month or the flat rate plan Nicholas announced for 5,460 yen.

Next, there is still the issue of certification (lightning +〒 mark =技適マーク画像). Juggly-kun reported (just prior to the quake) that uncertified phones would be allowed but would be charged the premium price.
ちなみに、SIMロックフリー端末で技適マークのある端末(例えばiPhone 4)であれば、パケット定額プラン上限5,985円で利用できるとのこと。技適マークの無い端末では10,395円。技適マークがあってもテザリングは10,395円。技適マークのチェックがドコモショップで行われるそうです。
But this must be wrong. According to the press release.
They could be flat out denied, and I expect they would be. I understand from @havill that phones like the nexus one are entirely comprised of bits and pieces (except for the battery, which can be changed) that are certified for use in Japan. It will be interesting to see how these phones, which don't bear The Mark, will be treated.

Docomo will update their site with information regarding which phones will be allowed, which won't, and which will be charged a premium. In the meantime, if you were planning on installing that update that gives you the ability to tether, I'd hold off if you plan to put your phone on Docomo. If your current Android ROM has built-in hot spot support, I'd suggest to start doing research into ROMs that don't include that feature.

The details in the press release are subject to change, and probably will change. Given the current situation, the entire thing could be delayed, especially if the plant that was supposed to be stamping out microSIMs is shut down to save power.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Google crisis response donation site

Google has a site up and ready to accept donations from 100 to 25,000 yen. All donations will go to the red cross in Japan, who haven't gotten their act together just yet.

In English:

And Japanese:

via juggly コムギちゃん and others.

Softbank temporarily makes wifi hotspots free for all

Softbank announced the following in the wake of the earthquake:
  • All domestic SMS messages are free for a week from 3/11.
  • From 3/12, restrictions on making voice calls are in place for some locations.
  • Softbank Wifi spots are open for all to use for free - not limited to only SBM customers
Effected area: Parts of each of the following: Aomori, Iwate, Akita, Miyagi, Yamagata, Fukushima, Tochigi, Gunma, Ibaraki, Chiba, Kanagawa, Tokyo's Shinagawa ward and Machida City.
※ ソフトバンク携帯電話から送信するすべての国内向けのSMSを、3月11日(金)から一週間、無料でご利用いただけます。

※ 2011年3月12日(土)午前8時頃に、音声通話の一部で通信規制を実施しております。

※ 現在災害伝言版を提供しておりますが、iPhoneでも災害用伝言板サービスを利用できるアプリ「災害用伝言板」の提供を開始しましたので、ご利用ください。

※ 公衆無線LANサービス「ソフトバンクWi-Fiスポット」を無料で開放しました。


Saturday, March 12, 2011

I survived, phone didn't

As more and more videos of the tsunamis come in, I am left absolutely speechless. I hope all of you are safe.

For about 20 seconds there, I wasn’t sure if it was going to keep building and bring everything crashing down. Ended up walking home 40 km. Got lost. Got tired. Slow pace. Took 12 hours.

The walk was absolutely surreal, though.

I figured that the trains would start and I'd hop on one so I started walking along the tracks, but they never started. So, I just kept walking using sky tree as a landmark because my phone got smashed in an inelastic collision with sometime much heavier, leaving me with no GPS. I was against the flow of foot traffic leaving tokyo, which was the only thing flowing because the roads were absolutely jammed. I walked for hours and hours through total gridlock that was backed up into all the side streets. People were even pushing their scooters because the gridlock was too much to weave in and out of. I passed a donki that was open and in the process of selling out of bicycles. Saw a guy on a sport bike come around a corner, jam the throttle for no apparent reason, spin out and lay it down on the pavement, get up nervously half bowing his head at all the people staring at him. That was weird.

I actually at some point found my self scanning all the bikes along my route for one that was unlocked. If I'd found one, I would have had a bit of a dilemma, but (un)fortunately, none were... um... available.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Slowly working towards moving to a new domain

Thanks to Nicholas, we're making preparations for moving to a new domain. Actually, so far all the preparations have been done solely by Nicholas. It's darn good to have people around who actually know what they are doing!

Hopefully we'll both find sometime to get this done sooner than later, but I can't really give a timeline. So consider this a heads up if anything wonky goes down, like the comment system (or the entire blog) going temporarily MIA. (You can always check @SBSdroid for updates if the site is down for what seems to be longer than normal.)

We are also testing a few options, such as potentially adding a forum as well.

For now, I'll be keeping this standard, stock template because I certainly don't have time/can't be bothered to create something better and cooler. Of course if anyone out there is motivated to contribute some nice custom html and css for a new template - or even some of those fancy glassy effect images that everyone uses nowadays - we could probably find a way to say thanks.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Japanese mobile phone SIM unlocking procedures

LATEST UPDATE 10/28/2013: fixed info on price, discounts, and eligibility of current handsets.

Here is another wiki style entry to go along side the general information post. As more information comes out, I will update this post.

Unlocking of Docomo Handsets

Docomo's official SIM webpage indicates the following:
  • Date Effective: From April 2011 but current handsets are not eligible. 
  • Eligible Handsets: All handsets that originally go on sale from April 1, 2011, which is effectively the "summer models" to be released in June 2011. All phones sold since April 1, 2011 except the iPhone.
  • Ineligible Handsets: Every handset sold prior to the release of the summer 2011 models.
  • Eligible Unlocking period: No restrictions (unlocking immediately after purchase is allowed)
  • Service Charge: 3,150 yen
  • Procedure: Requires visiting a Docomo Shop (no unlock code sent)
  • Unlocked Handset Price: Same as locked handset
  • Unlocked Handset Discount Eligibility: Fully eligible
Cost of an Unlocked Handset

The price a buyer must pay in total will NOT INCREASE.

On 3/14/2011, the previous subsidy program "Handset Purchase Support" (端末購入サポート)was discontinued in favor of a "Monthly Support Program"(月々サポート). The main differences is the monthly support program discounts the cost of service, not the cost of the handset, but does so for the exact amount of the monthly handset payment. Contrary to a really bad article in the Mainichi Docomo WILL NOT remove discounts on unlocked handsets.

After unlocking, all discounts services such as the Family Max 50 and the hitoridemo 50 can be continued. However, if service is cancelled, cancellation fees will be applied and monthly support will be cancelled.

Overseas Handsets on Docomo

From April 1, 2011, Docomo began selling microSIMs and allowing approved handsets to access the flatrate data plans for less than 6000 yen. However, currently no handsets are approved for use pending determination by Docomo of which ones are capable of tethering. Therefore, all handsets brought to Docomo will be incur 10,395 yen data fees currently, which is the exact same price that would have been charged previously.

Nothing other than the stamping of micro SIMs has changed as of 4/3/2011.

It is well known that Docomo prevents non-Docomo-branded handsets from connecting to the flat-rate data APN by filtering the connection by IMEI number. (There is an option for data on these devices but it is so expensive and so slow that we don't refer to it by name.) Docomo does not register IMEI number of phones they didn't sell, making it effectively impossible to use a phone for anything other than voice.

Requirements for an overseas phone according to Docomo:
  • being physically stamped with the certification mark, or
  • displaying the certification information on the screen, or
  • having someone sloppily slap a sticker on it with the proper information (OK, he didn't say that, I did).
iPhones meet these requirements, but I'm unaware of any overseas android that do.

I recently purchased an unbranded Huawei Ideos from B-Mobile for work because it is 1) unlocked and 2) supports 850, 1700, 1900, 2100 MHz, which covers every W-CDMA carrier I can think of in the world. Check out the back. Yup, that's a sticker. EMobile sells the same handset, which probably sports the same sticker.

Unlocked Apple iStuff on Docomo

The US FCC disclosed that the iPhone 4 supports UTMS Band VI (800 MHz), which would make it a pentaband W-CDMA phone (800, 850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz). Docomo uses 2100 MHz (FOMA) and 800 MHz (FOMA Plus), so the iPhone 4 will be better supported by Docomo than Softbank which has no Band VI allocation.

It also appears that, due to the overlap between Bands V and VI (850 and 800 MHz, respectively), the iPhone 3GS and iPad will also work in the FOMA Plus Area. In addition to several claims to that effect, wikipedia ja user Osakanataro (awesome name) discussed the FCC reports in the relevant wikipedia talk page. In short, it appears to depend on the specific frequency range of a particular device's radio, so other 850 MHz handsets may or may not work.

Before starting service with Docomo, if you are unsure, a good way to test if your unlocked Apple iThing works in your area, especially if you live in the FOMA Plus Area, is to buy the cheapest, slowest, B-Mobile U300 microSIM.

You'll want to check out Hong Kong for the best prices.

Unlocking of Softbank Handsets

Update: Softbank to begin unlocking from August, 2011 with the 008Z by ZTE under similar terms as Docomo.

The MIC has created a "guideline" that urges but does not require all carriers to unlock phones beginning in FY2011. Unlocking is therefore supposed to be a two way street, but Softbank's Son has already said he has no intention of unlocking the iPhone and that perhaps he'll unlock one or two other handsets as a test. However it is my understanding that the MIC always issues guidelines and never forces the carriers to do anything, but the carriers have historically always complied, even though they are just guidelines.

During an interview with the Yomiuri, a couple of Docomo execs insinuated that Softbank would unlock phones. At least I think they insinuated. We never really figured out what they meant. They said that if the other carriers hadn't agreed to unlock, then neither would have Docomo, but at the time there had been no official word from any of the other carriers.

I'll leave it to you to decide what all this means.

My feeling is that softbank will comply, eventually, probably after winning some sort of concession. If it is indeed really true that all of Apple's exclusive contracts with carriers are finished, then there is less reason not to unlock, since Docomo could start offering the own iDoodads. But when Apple talks in absolutes, history tells us that it absolutely does not necessarily apply to Japan.