Monthly Archives: March 2013

Google Play Region Locking

Sadly Android is giving me further reason for dissatisfaction with the discovery that Google Play refuses to correctly detect the current country I’m in and is blocking content from them.

Being citizens of New Zealand and living in Australia, both Lisa and I have a mixture of applications for services in both countries –  a good example being banking apps, where we tend to want to be able to easily manage our financial affairs in both countries.

The problem is, that all my phones are stuck as being in New Zealand, whilst Lisa’s phone has decided to be stuck to AU. This hasn’t impacted me much yet, since the Commbank application isn’t region locked and being treated by Google as being “inside” NZ I can install the ANZ Go Money application from within AU.

However because Lisa’s phone is the other way around and stuck in AU, she’s unable to install both the ANZ Go Money and Vodafone NZ My Account application, thanks to the developers of both applications region locking them to NZ only.

What makes the issue even more bizarre, is that both of Lisa and my Google Accounts were originally created in New Zealand yet are behaving differently.

Thou shalt not pass!

Thou shalt not pass!

There’s a few particularly silly mistakes here. Firstly ANZ shouldn’t be assuming their customers are always in NZ, us Kiwis do like to get around the world and tend to want to continue managing our financial affairs from other countries. The app is clearly one that should be set to a global region.

I suspect they made this mistake to try and avoid confusing AU and NZ ANZ customers with different apps, but surely they could just make it a bit clearer in the header of the app name…


Secondly Google… I’m going to ignore the fact that they even offer region locking for applications (urgghhg DRM evil) and going to focus on the fact that the masters of information can’t even detect what fucking country a user is in properly.

I mean it must be so hard to do, when there are at least 4 ways of doing it automatically.

  1. Use the GPS in every single Android phone made.
  2. Use the SIM card to determine the country/region.
  3. Do a GeoIP lookup of the user’s IP address.
  4. Use the validated credit card on the user’s wallet account to determine where the user is located. (Banks tend to be pretty good at validating people’s locations and identity!)

Sure, none of these are guaranteed to be perfect, but using at least 3 of the above and selecting the majority answer would lead to a pretty accurate system. As it is, I have several phones currently powered up around my apartment in AU, none of which are validating as being in AU at all:

Hey guys, I'm pretty sure my OPTUS CONNECTED PHONE is currently located in AU.

Hey guys, I’m pretty sure my OPTUS CONNECTED PHONE is currently located in AU.

Instead there is an option buried somewhere in Google’s maze of applications and settings interfaces which must be setting the basis for deciding the country our phones are in.

But which one?

  • The internet suggests that Google Wallet is the deciding factor for the user’s country. But which option? Home address is set to NZ, phone number is set to NZ – have even added a validated NZ credit card for good measure!
  • Google Mail keeps a phone number, timezone and country setting.. all of which are set to NZ.
  • Google+ keeps it’s own profile information, all of which is set to NZ.
  • I’m sure there’s probably even more!

To make things even more annoying is that I can’t even tell if making a change helps or not. How do I tell if the phone is *reading* the new settings? I’ve done basic stuff like re-sync Google, but also have gone and cleared the Google Play service cache and saved settings on the phone, to no avail.

It’s a bit depressing when even Apple, the poster child for lock down and DRM makes region changing as simple as signing into iTunes with a new country account and installing an application that way.

Restricting and limiting content by geographic regions makes no sense in a modern global world and it’s just sad to see Google continuing to push this outdated model instead of making a stand and adopting 21st century approaches.

If anyone knows how to fix Google to see the correct country it would be appreciated… if you know how to get Google to fix this bullshit and let us install the same applications globally, even better.

Android 4.2.2 Issues

Having just flown from Sydney AU to Christchurch NZ, my Galaxy Nexus suddenly decided to finally offer me the Android 4.2.2 upgrade.

Since I got the phone in 2012, it’s been running Android 4.1 – I had expected to receive Android 4.2 in November 2012 when it was released by Google since the Galaxy Nexus is one of Google’s special developers phones which are loved and blessed with official updates and source code.

However the phone has steadily refused to update and whilst I was tempted to build it from source again, seeing as 4.2 lacks any particular features I wanted (see release changes), there was little incentive to do so. However after 4.2.2 was magically revealed to me following changing countries, I decided was nagged to death to update and ended up doing so… sadly I wish I hadn’t….


Google have messed with the camera application yet again completely changing the UI –  the menu now appears where ever you touch the screen, which does make it easier to select options quickly in some respects, but they’ve removed the feature I use the most – the ability to jump to the gallery and view the picture you just took, so it’s not really an improvement.

Secondly the Android clock and alarm clock interface has been changed yet again – in some respects it’s an improvement as they’ve added some new features like stop watch, but at the same time it really does feel like they change the UI every release (and not always in good ways) and it would be nice to get some consistency, especially between minor OS revisions.

However these issues pale in comparison to the crimes that Google has committed to the lock screen…. Lock screens are fundamentally simple, after all, they only have one job – to lock my phone (somewhat) securely and prevent any random from using my device. As such, they tend to be pretty consistent and don’t change much between releases.

Sadly Google has decided that the best requirement for their engineering time is to add more features to the lock screen, turning it into some horrible borg screen with widgets, fancy clocks, camera and all sorts of other crap.

Go home lockscreen, you're drunk

Go home lockscreen, you’re drunk. So, so, drunk.

Crime 1 – Widgets

The lock screen now features widgets, which allow one to stick programs outside of the lockscreen for easy access (defeating much of the point of having a lock screen to begin with) and offering very limited real benefit.

Generally widgets serve very limited value, I use about 3 widgets in total – options for tuning on/off hardware features, NZ weather and AU weather. Anything else is generally better done within an actual application.

Widgets really do seem to be the feature that every cool desktop “must have” and at the same time, have to be one of the least useful features that any system can have.


Crime 2 – Horribly deforming the pattern unlock screen

With the addition of the widgets, the UI has been shuffled around and resized. Previously I could unlock by starting my swipe pattern from the edge of the device’s physical screen and drawing my pattern – very easy to do and quick to pick up with muscle memory.

However doing this same unlock action following the Android 4.2 upgrade, will lead to me accidentally selecting the edge of the unlock “widget” and instead of unlocking, I end up selecting a popup widget box (as per my screenshot) and then have to mess around and watch what I’m doing.

This has to the single most annoying feature I’ve seen in a long time purely because it impacts me every single time I pickup the phone and as a creature of habit, it’s highly frustrating.

And to top this off, Android now vibrates and makes a tone for each unlock point selected. I have yet to figure out what turns this highly irritating option off, I suspect it’s tied into the keyboard vibration/tone settings which I do want…


Crime 3 – Bold Clocks

We’ve had digital clocks for over 57 years, during which time I don’t believe anyone has ever woken up and said “wow, I sure wish the hours were bolder than the minutes”.

Yet somehow this was a good idea and my nicely balanced 4-digit 24-hour clock is unbalanced with the jarring harsh realisation that the clock is going to keep looking like a <b> tag experience gone wrong.

I’m not a graphical designer, but this change is really messing with my OCD and driving me nuts… I’d be interested to see what graphic designers and UX designers think of it.


So in general, I’m annoyed. Fucked off actually. It’s annoying enough that if I was working at Google, I’d be banging on the project manager’s door asking for an explanation of this release.

Generally I like Android – it’s more open than the competing iOS and Windows Mobile platforms (although it has it’s faults) and the fact it’s Linux based is pretty awesome… but with release I really have to ask… what the fuck is Google doing currently?

Google has some of the smartest minds on the planet working for them, and the best they can come up with for a new OS release is fucking lock screen widgets? How about something useful like:

  • Getting Google Wallet to work in more locations around the world. What’s the point of this fancy NFC-enabled hardware if I can’t do anything with it?
  • Improve phone security with better storage encryption and better unlock methods (NFC rings anyone?).
  • Improve backups and phone replacement/migration processes – backups should be easy to do and include all data and applications, something like a Timemachine style system.
  • Free messaging between Android devices using an iMessage style transparent system?
  • Fixing the MTP clusterfuck – how about getting some good OS drivers released?
  • Fix the bloody Android release process! I’m using an official Google branded phone and it takes 5 months to get the new OS release??

The changes made in the 4.2 series are shockingly bad, I’m at the stage where I’m tempted to hack the code and revert the lockscreen back to the 4.1 version just to get my workflow back… really it comes down to whether or not the pain this system causes me ends up outweighing the costs/hassle of patching and maintaining a branch of the source.

NZ Easter Plans

For my friends/followers/stalkers in NZ, I’ll be coming home for Easter – here are the key dates:

Thu 28 March: Sydney -> Christchurch
Fri 29 March: Christchurch *
Sat 30 March: Christchurch -> Wellington
Sun 31 March: Wellington *
Mon 01 April: Wellington
Tue 02 April: Wellington -> Sydney

* == no drinking establishments unless dining due to archaic NZ laws around Easter

I’m keen for coffee in Christchurch on the 29th (Fri) or 30th (Sun), get in touch and we can make a time. :-)

I’m also keen to see everyone again in Wellington, I expect to be in the CBD evening of Sat 30th for a few drinks and in town and around at other times for coffee/drinks/etc. I expect to be around the CBD for most of Monday.

Feel free to drop me an email/IM if you’re up for a catch up in particular.

Black Mirror, Cloud Atlas and other awesomeness

It’s not often that I blog about video content, however I’ve seen a few really good items lately which has been a welcome relief from the murky sea of trash typically produced by networks.

Black Mirror


Firstly, Black Mirror – this UK series currently has 6 released episodes of what I would describe as one of the best things I’ve seen in the last year.

Whilst the production effects and quality of the show itself is excellent, unlike many other shows the story lines are original and thought provoking – it’s a nice change when I’m on the edge of the couch being unable to predict the ending, or even being unsure whether I like or dislike the protagonist.

Essentially the show features current or near-future technologies and how they could change society and the ways we live, not always for the better – in many ways, it’s very much like a modern version of the Twilight Zone with plots to make you think and question everything.

There’s an excellent write up about the show on the Guardian that is well worth having a read of. I personally found the first episode a little bit average, but the subsequent ones have all been excellent.

Cloud Atlas


A collaboration by the Wachowski siblings and Tom Tykwer, Cloud Atlas is a complex interweaving of multiple plots that end up all interlinking in interesting and thought provoking way.

The film examines human nature and the continual re-occurrence of events and lives in an interesting, entertaining and thought provoking manner and leaves the viewer pondering human nature.

SSH via SOCKS proxies

Non-transparent proxies are generally a complete nuisance at the best of times and huge consumers of time and IT resources at their worst. Sadly proxies are a popular feature in corporate IT networks, so it’s not always possible to avoid them entirely.

Ideally the administrators will have the HTTP/S proxy running transparently, so that users never need to know or configure proxy settings for browsers or other HTTP using applications.

Unfortunately some networks also make use of SOCKS proxies, to block all outgoing TCP and UDP connections unless otherwise authorised. Whilst the feature set of SOCKS is very similar to a firewall, unlike a firewall it’s not network transparent and your applications need to be aware of it and configured to use it.

There’s a lot of information on the web about configuring SSH to *create* a SOCKS proxy, but not a lot about how to use SSH *via* a SOCKS proxy. Because I don’t want to waste any more minutes of my life on the mind-numbing pain that is proxies, the following is the easy command to open an SSH connection through a proxy server:

ssh -o ProxyCommand='nc -x %h %p' \