Category Archives: Digirati

How to setup Android tablets for offline Amazon video and browser whitelisted parental control

These instructions are for Android 4.4 on two Lenovo TAB 2 tablets bought in the US. I’m also using a 32 GB microSDHC card for each so we can download more.

Aims

  • Allow videos that were bought for watching on Amazon’s website to be watchable while offline (e.g. on a plane)
    • Caveat: There is no option in this app to password-protect all sections other than Downloads in order to keep children from watching trailers and such. There are parental controls that can be enabled, and we did, but this leaves the choice of what’s appropriate to Amazon’s editors.
  • Allow children to access websites that we choose and no others
    • Caveat: We installed an app named Kiosk Browser to do this, but it’s not perfect. Mostly, it’s designed to be the only app that non-admin users of the tablet will be able to use, while we want to allow access to Amazon Video also. Also, if you use the hardware power button while Kiosk Browser is running, which should be a normal thing to do, after startup Android will prompt which launcher app you want to use instead of remembering if you don’t want it to be Kiosk Browser (so that your kids can get to Amazon Video easily)
    • We just learned of Android Chrome’s support for Supervised Users, and this might be a better solution
  • Disable access to all installed apps, including Settings and Play Store, except for Amazon Video, a browser, and maybe Skype for calling relatives
    • Caveat: As of the end of 2015, neither¬†Android Settings nor the Android Play Store offer a way to set a password for access to them specifically, and I could not find any app that I would trust to do this. So this aim isn’t solved yet.
  • Prevent anyone but us parents from changing any of these settings

Steps for offline Amazon Video

  1. Create a Google account to be used only for the children’s apps.
  2. Enable 2-factor auth on that Google account, which should help prevent your child from installing anything. To be sure you can get these codes while on a flight, install the Authy app on your phone and use it to photo the QR code shown when you enable two-factor auth.
  3. On each tablet, go into Google Play app and login.
  4. We have a tablet for each child, so to identify the devices, we bought color-coded cases. And went into Play Store using desktop browser > Gear button > Android Device Manager > Pencil button > (added case color to name)
  5. In the tablet Android Settings, disable location services so Google and perhaps others cannot track your child
  6. Disable loud sounds https://forums.lenovo.com/t5/Lenovo-Android-based-Tablets/Start-up-sound-idea-s6000/m-p/1298239#M13520
  7. Make sdhc the default storage medium so you can download more: Android Settings > Storage > SD Card.
  8. Uninstall or disable as many apps as you can except the Play Store and Android Settings (and maybe Skype for calling relatives)
  9. (Necessary only for non-Amazon Fire devices) Using your tablet’s browser, go to https://www.amazon.com/appstore_android_app which will download the Amazon App Store app for Android. Use it to install both Amazon For Tablets app and Amazon Video app (exactly as spelled here, not Instant Video).
  10. Amazon Video app shows “We’re unable to show this content. Please try again later.” I see this while outside the US, so I installed the Android solution of my vpn service https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.privateinternetaccess.android&hl=en then while connected through it, Android Settings > Apps > Amazon Video > Clear Data.
  11. Logout of Amazon For Tablets, then log back in. Visit ‘Your Orders’ and confirm that it shows actual orders you’ve made — before logout it may show Recently Viewed Items, which indicates it’s confused. You should still be on VPN.
  12. Start Amazon Video and verify your video library is accessible through the menu. Download all your purchases that you want while offline.
  13. After downloading, we could view all the downloads without the vpn and without any network connection at all.
  14. Set Amazon Video app’s parental controls http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=201423060

Setting up a browser that enforces a whitelist

  1. Using laptop browser logged into same Google account as the tablet’s Play Store, installed Pro version of https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.procoit.kioskbrowser because it’s a browser app that has a url whitelist, and is based in a country I trust (UK)
  2. Signup for free trial of the remote management service at https://www.kbremote.net/Home/Start Then in the app go to Settings > Remote Management > Login/Signup > Login and use the same userId and password. In a few minutes, logging into the site will show the device.
  3. Setup which urls should be allowed https://kioskbrowser.userecho.com/topic/908050-profiles/
  4. To make one device’s profile slightly different from others (e.g. different default url), use Profile Overrides https://kioskbrowser.userecho.com/topic/847081-profile-overrides/
    Sign up for a Kiosk Browser forum account at https://kioskbrowser.userecho.com/

Working all this out took me a day and half, so I hope sharing it here saves some other parents some time to prep for their travel!

Installing Windows7 on a 12″ Motion Computing M1400 TabletPC

My job involves reading and annotating a lot of PDFs, and doing so on a tablet seems much more comfortable than using a laptop. The tablet would have to support handwriting recognition, of course, because a laptop’s keyboard would be far superior to a virtual keyboard at an odd angle right at my pelvis. As of Fall 2011, there is no native handwriting rec ability in either Apple iOS nor Google Android, and apparently none in their app stores, either. Besides, their largest displays are 10 inches (diagonally), while an 8.5×11 inch page ideally needs a 14 inch display. Also, my favorite PDF annotation tool, Tracker Software’s PDF XChange PRO, isn’t available on those platforms. Fortunately, there are tablets dating from the early 2000s that have 12 inch displays, native handwriting rec support, and designed to run the OS that my PDF tool requires (i.e. Microsoft Windows). As an added bonus, those tablets can now be bought for around US$100 even though they sold for thousands when first released.

I’ll focus here on Motion Computing’s M1400 tablet. I found one for $99 on eBay with its original digitizer pen and Windows XP installed. One or two owners before me had experimented with it, because there was no apparent way to open the Input Panel to use handwriting rec, the device buttons didnt work (except the power button), and the virtual keyboard would open only if I booted with an external keyboard attached and entered Ctrl+U during boot to activate the Utility Manager and turn on the virtual keyboard. A further problem with the hardware itself was that it got quite hot while in use, too hot to keep in one’s lap.

Installing Windows7 (the lowly Home Premium variant is sufficient) solved all of the software problems, and the device no longer gets more than mildly warm.

One new problem is that the display cannot be rotated to portrait orientation, because Intel refuses to release an updated video driver for this CPU chip for Windows7. However, some people have had success running the video driver in XP Compatibility mode, which requires installing the Professional or Ultimate variants of Windows7. I recommend installing Comodo Time Machine after the OS install and before any changes to drivers or registry settings, so you don’t have to reinstall the OS in case of an error.

By the way, I had never heard of Motion Computing before buying this device, but I am very impressed by them. They provided free tech support for a product they hadn’t sold in 5 years, it was very quick, and very thorough. If they offer a 12+ inch Windows8 tablet, especially if it has a color eInk/LCD dual display, it’ll be the first one I consider buying.

If landscape-only orientation is okay with you (and possibly no audio), here’s what you need:

  • Motion Computing M1400 tablet
  • Windows7 Home Premium installer software
  • external usb-connected keyboard with arrow keys
  • CD/DVD external usb-connected drive (or 4GB usb drive + laptop/desktop with CD/DVD drive)
  • Ethernet cable to your router

Follow these steps:

  1. The following procedure will NOT leave your files on the tablet in place. Many of them will be moved to c:windows.old, but you should probably make a backup copy of any that you would hate to lose.
  2. If you use PDF XChange 4.0 (but not the portable version), and if you have a session that you want to remember (i.e. a set of open PDFs), then be sure to note down the filepath of each (in addition to backing up the file itself in step 1 above). Although this PDF viewer is great, they don’t yet support session backup (nor syncing).
  3. If you don’t have an external CD/DVD drive, you’ll need to make the usb drive bootable. Don’t forget to copy all the installer software to it.
  4. Connect the external keyboard and the external drive.
  5. Make sure that the tablet can boot from the external drive:
    1. Reboot the tablet and the white Motion Computing screen appears, hold the digipen tip to the screen. A context menu should appear; select Launch System Setup.
    2. The PhoenixBIOS Setup Utility should open. Tap the Boot tab along the top.
    3. If you’ll be using an external CD/DVD drive, then “CD-ROM Drive” should be listed higher than “+HDD”. If it’s not, then look at the bottom and tap the white down arrow to the left of Select Item until CD-ROM Drive is highlighted in white, then tap the + to the left of Change Values to move it up the list.
    4. If you’ll be using a bootable usb external drive, then tap the white down arrow until +HDD is highlighted in white. Tap the white Enter to the left of “Select > Sub-Menu”. A submenu should open below HDD, and the external usb drive should be listed above the hard drive; if it’s not, tap the white down arrow until the usb drive is highlighted in white, then tap the + to move the usb drive higher in the submenu.
    5. When finished, tap the white F10 at bottom right to save and exit. A yes/no confirmation dialog will appear. Click yes. A beep will sound and you should exit to the Windows bootup process on your external drive.
  6. At this point, the digipen was no longer recognized for me, but the arrow keys on the external keyboard did.
  7. When you are prompted whether to enable WindowsUpdate, I recommend not doing so. It’s a great feature, but when I did this procedure the first time and turned this feature on, the installation of Windows7 SP1 introduced a bug that made several applications give errors about not having the right permissions, or not having enough space on disk, and I could not uninstall some apps like Comodo Time Machine, either.
  8. During the install process your machine will reboot, and if you booted from a usb drive, you’re going to boot from it again (unless you’re quick and yank it). If you do boot back into the install dialog again, just move the power switch to off, yank the usb drive, and power on. Installation will pickup from where it should.
  9. Once Windows7 is installed, use the Ethernet cable to connect to your router so you can get drivers, especially a wifi driver. The external usb drive and keyboard can be disconnected.
  10. To get drivers, go to Start | ControlPanel | DeviceManager, hold down the pen button while clicking on Display Adapters (i.e., do a right-click), and select “Scan for hardware changes”. This should trigger a search on Microsoft/manufacturer sites for all the drivers you need, not just display adapters. If you turned off WindowsUpdate during install, you’ll get no drivers at this point and should click the Change Setting button, then the Yes radiobutton. You should get drivers for:
    • Intel PRO Wireless 2200BG Network
    • Motion Computing Tablet PC Buttons
    • AuthenTec AES2501 (fingerprint sensor)

    Even with this, I could not get drivers for:

    • Video controller
    • Multimedia Audio Controller
    • PCI Modem
  11. You should now have wifi connection ability, so the Ethernet cable can be removed.
  12. By default, if one holds the digipen to the screen for a short while, it will be interpreted as a right-click. This is a problem if one uses a multi-level dropdown menu and wants to select anything other than the first item in one of its submenus. To disable this, go to Start | ControlPanel | Pen And Touch | Pen Options, highlight “Press and hold” in the list, and click Settings. Turn off the “Enable press and hold for right-clicking” checkbox.

Tips if you’re moving out of the USA temporarily

Banking

Transferring cash back to the US to pay bills can be a big pain. I found out the hard way that it can take a month for a deposit to appear in one’s US checking account if one writes a check to oneself and mails it to the bank, and in the meantime your online account summaries are likely to show no mention of the progress of the transfer. One can also try international wire transfers, but these might require a trip to the bank and seem more expensive than what I’m going to recommend.

Citibank has a “global transfer service” which allows for transfers with a normal checking account to which one adds the free “global executive” feature. Transfers are free if the accounts at both ends are held by Citibank, and I recall there is a US$10 fee per transfer for accounts with other banks.

It’s a good idea to open a Citibank account, either checking/saving or credit card, before leaving the US, since your overseas branch won’t need proof of local permanent residence. Afterall, you may not have a permanent residence for a month or more while you look for the right home.

Passports

Make sure that all the people moving with you have passports at least six months from their expiration at the time you plan to arrive. If they’ve expired, then the wait for new ones can take weeks even if you pay for expedited service. Your employer may need you to have current passports well in advance of your arrival in order to apply for work visas on your behalf.

Absentee voting

Print out forms from VoteFromAbroad.org and take them to your local courthouse before you leave.

Income tax

If you make less than US$87k in 2008 from a foreign employer, then you don’t have to pay US income tax on it; but if you make more than that, you do. (Note that there are other conditions, too, such as being physically present in the foreign country for 330 days. See the instructions for IRS form 2555.) But I’m not a tax expert and I’m not offering professional advice; better to check out the IRS’ Federal Tax Information for U.S. Taxpayers Living Abroad (PDF).

I’ve been a very happy user of TaxActOnline.com for years because they ask a series of questions and fill out tax forms for you, which you can print as PDFs at the end. They charge just US$15 or so to e-file, and they handle the case of having US employers and foreign employers in the same year.

Health insurance

Your foreign employer may offer health insurance at a good price, but it may not cover incidents that occur outside your employment country, and may not cover high-cost items such as neonatal intensive care. IHI.com came highly recommended to me; they provide coverage for any country you might visit, they cover items like neonatal ICU, and their high-deductible (US$5k) option is pretty affordable.

Paper mail

EarthClassMail.com provides a low-cost service where you can get a PO box in a major US city, and all mail delivered to that address will have the front of its envelope scanned. They send you an email for each piece delivered with a link to their website where you login and tell them whether to scan it (free for the first 100 pages or so a month), shred it, recycle it, or ship it to a real address.

You won’t want to use this address for magazine subscriptions, parcel deliveries, or anyone who might send you a check, since shipping options are currently a little expensive (around US$8 for 1-10 thin envelopes).

Package mail

If you happen to be moving to Singapore, their postal service offers VPost, which provides a PO box for you in the US, in the UK, and in Japan. This is intended for package deliveries, and you need to forward invoices from Amazon and other sellers to VPost when you make your online purchases. Shipments from those PO boxes to Singapore are at reduced rates, but still pricey in my opinion.

Movers

If you’re moving from the San Francisco Bay Area, I recommend using Meridian.

If you’re moving to Singapore, I recommend HeluTrans, (65) 6225-5448.

Netflix

Of course you won’t be having DVDs shipped overseas to you, but wouldn’t it be great if you could use Netflix’s streaming service? It offers many fewer titles than the DVD service, but is still great. Unfortunately, Hollywood requires Netflix to check the IP address and system clock time of your computer to make sure you’re in the US because they haven’t found a way to protect streams from piracy. There is no exemption for US military bases, either. Hollywood forces Hulu.com and Video.aol.com to do the same checks. I don’t have a recommendation for this one yet.

You might want to check out these services, too:

Mobile phone plans

You’re likely to use a GSM phone network outside the US, which means you won’t be able to use a phone you bought from Sprint or Verizon (which use a different kind of network, CDMA), but you may be able to take your AT&T or T-Mobile phone if you “unlock” it from your carrier. Unlocking is something done to the software on the phone, and you can pay a local mobile shop to do it for you. There are also sellers on Ebay who will send you instructions and take a certain number of questions via email for a fee.

I have not been able to find any way of getting voice+data service for just occasional visits back to the US. The US carriers will want to charge you monthly whether or not you use their service.

Electric appliances

Before setting aside any electric appliance for the movers to pack, check if it will work with the electrical system of the country you’re going to. This applies to computers, TVs, razors, blenders, fans, etc. Even appliances that seem like they would have just a motor and no electronics might still have some tucked away. And even though adapter plugs and transformers can help, there is no solution if the Hertz rating doesn’t match. For example, US electric is 60Hz and Singapore is 50Hz (following the UK example, I believe). This difference will lead to blown fuses and smokey burned-out appliances. (I’ve never heard of a fire starting, though.) Even if your computer or printer says it will work on the new Hertz, you still should check your user manual to see if you need to move a switch before plugging in.

If your appliance doesn’t fit the bill or you’re unsure, you’re probably better off saving the shipment weight cost and just donating to GoodWill or recycling with GreenCitizen.

Pets

This is too wide-ranging a topic to cover here, but I do ask that you consider finding a good friend to adopt your pet instead of bringing it with you. I know from personal experience that long flights and new climates can be very hard physically and psychologically on a pet, and that doesn’t even count the effects of a quarantine period.

If you do bring a pet, be aware that any domestic stops on your journey will subject you to temperature limits by most airlines. That is, they won’t let you check a pet if a stopover city is too hot or too cold, out of concern for your pet’s health. You probably want to move during spring or fall for this reason. Taking a pet as a carry-on seems unfair to your fellow passengers, and the pet would have to be a kitten or puppy to be allowed in one of the small carriers (which are the only kind they allow as carry-ons).

Social support

You won’t want to believe everything you read, but message boards can be a great source of info about the country you’re moving to, written by people from your same part of the world who have already moved there. Go to google and search for country you are moving to + “expat”. There are probably several message boards of the kind you’re looking for.

Microsoft Research project “MyLifeBits” at PARC 2/2004

A comment on: MyLifeBits.com

Gordon Bell was once one of the main engineers at DEC working on the PDP-11 and VAX mainframes. Now, he’s at Microsoft Research in a project aiming to capture much of his life digitally — scans of all books and papers he’s written, photos from his life, and recently, copies of all emails, IMs, phone calls sent/received since the project started. And even some TV shows he watches. (The scope here isn’t as wide as for some “ubiquitous computing” pioneers, who wear AV recording equipment virtually 24/7.)

This is an extreme version of a trend that’s been happening for all of us, and the aim is to identify ways of managing the storage and retrieval.

A program on Gordon’s laptop captures all of this flow and stores it in a db on the laptop. It’s accessible via iPhoto-like thumbnails and SQL queries. They’re working on creating auto-classification mechanisms…there seems to be little meta-data for these resources, either. (Just “Dublin Core” for papers and books.)

Surprisingly, Gordon talked of the difficulty of copying lots of photos to his daughter’s hd, but they haven’t thought much about automating sharing with the people experiencing the events recorded this way. (This is typical Microsoft/Apple mindset: solve it on a PC rather than a server (or peer network).) The sharing challenge seems just as difficult as the indexing/retrieval challenge.

A good point from the audience:You’d want to enable diff authorization for diff pieces. For example, you wouldn’t want everyone to see footage of you in the bathroom, but you might want to allow your doctor.

Creating the interface for such massive storage, to allow casual users to easily find things, regardless of whether it’s an email, photo, music track, etc seems like the next great “killer app” challenge.

Computer History Museum overview by director John Toole, ~2004/02/02

Director Toole presented a very general overview of the Computer History Museum’s mission and holdings, which includes mainframes, PCs, software, documentation, and ephemera such as computer-related coffee mugs. (This museum is located in Mountain View, CA and this overview was given at Xerox PARC, Palo Alto, CA.)

Part of the mission is to give visitors as much hands-on experience with the holdings as possible. The fragility and irreplaceability of much of the tangible holdings presents a big challenge. But what interested me most was how they plan to exhibit the software, especially server-based software such as portals and networked games.

It appears that the museum has very few holdings in this area, and Toole’s best guess of an exhibit would be screenshots. While I don’t have any suggestions for this problem, it seems a real shame that these experiences will soon be inaccessible. Wouldn’t it be great to try Google as it was in its first month, or AOL/Yahoo/MSN in their early stages, or networked computer games, just for a sense of how far we’ve come and what lessons have been learned.