Thursday, August 23, 2012

Minor Device Mysteries

I have a couple of mildly annoying, though thankfully not crippling, issues with computing devices. Honestly, the fact that I cannot figure them out (the mental itch I cannot scratch) devils me more than the issues themselves. Interestingly, they may both turn out to be sleep disorders.

MythTV


I have a PC running Mythbuntu and dedicated to recording and playing back TV shows. I've written about it before (click "MythTV" in the label cloud, bottom right, if you're curious), including setting it up to wake from a G3 (unpowered) state to record shows or capture program database information. As I mentioned in an earlier post, neither of these works correctly. I find that I have to reload the database manually, and I occasionally find the PC waking for no apparent reason. The latter always seems to happen at 8:00 p.m. local time, which (I think not coincidentally) is 0000 GMT. I'm not positive, but I suspect it only happens when the MythTV front end is showing no scheduled recordings. Initially, I thought this was when MythTV was going to grab program data, but when the PC starts at 8:00 pm (and no recording is scheduled at that time), I check the MythTV front end, and it says that MythTV is idle (which the more detailed information provided by the back end confirms).

Instructions for setting the BIOS alarm clock (see the ACPI Wakeup document for MythTV) specify that the alarm should first be cleared, as the following line from the setwakeup.sh script illustrates:

echo 0 > /sys/class/rtc/rtc0/wakealarm      #this clears your alarm.

I'm left wondering if some script is writing a zero to wakealarm after the last scheduled recording takes place, and if this somehow translates into a (persistent) wakeup call for midnight UTC.

Update: I've fixed this; details are here.

Android


I have a Toshiba Thrive tablet, which by and large has served me well. For months after Android 4 ("Ice Cream Sandwich", also known as "ICS") came out, the Thrive stubbornly remained on Android 3 ("Honeycomb"). A week or so ago, Toshiba finally rolled out the update to ICS.

I'm not sure what all the hoopla about ICS was, but I suspect the improvements most important to me (if any) are under the hood. The user interface got new icons (woo-hoo) and a feature to unlock the device using facial recognition (except this did not make it into the Toshiba version). There's now rather usable handwriting recognition built in, but only on the Google search page in the Google browser (another woo-hoo). You can now close apps by swiping them out of the list of running apps, which is a nice feature.

I use an iGo Stowaway portable Bluetooth keyboard (no longer listed on iGo's web site, so I suspect it's been discontinued). It worked fine before the upgrade, but after I installed ICS I started running into problems where the Thrive would not recognize the fact that I was typing on the keyboard (but did tell me, in the Bluetooth settings, that it was seeing the Stowaway and treating it as an input device). Eventually I deleted and paired the Stowaway, and that seems to have reduced the frequency with which it is ignored ... but not eliminated the problem completely.

The more annoying issue, though, is battery life. Google "android ics battery life" and you quickly discover that a variety of people, on a variety of devices, are complaining that their battery life has decreased greatly since installing ICS. In my case, I'd guess that it is roughly halved, although that's a very subjective estimate. (Yes, I believe in the importance of analytics. No, I haven't bothered to track this, at least not yet.) Some people have issues with their screens not turning off, but that is not the problem on the Thrive. The power indicator should blink when the Thrive is in sleep mode, and with Gingerbread and then Honeycomb it did so consistently. With ICS, sometimes it does, sometimes it does not (meaning the power light stays on, even though the screen does go dark). Either way, a surprising amount of the charge drains when the device is sleeping (about 25% over ten hours). So I have to be diligent to recharge early and often.

I just checked the battery settings. (This is another plus for ICS: it give more detailed information about the battery. Now if I could only find out how to interpret it ...) The Thrive had been on battery for 16:44 (all times here are hours:minutes -- ICS gives seconds as well, but that's rounding error to me). It was down to 72% of full charge, so 28% bled off while it was sleeping. According to the battery info, Android OS accounted for 75% of battery use. Drill down, and then turns into 1:26 for "CPU total" and 5:44 for "Keep awake".

Now I have the device in airplane mode when it sleeps, so the WiFi and Bluetooth should both be off. Why the "keep awake"? Is this because I have antivirus (Avast, which I happily endorse) installed? Is it because I did not shut down all possible apps before sleeping it? Do Google Reader or the Google Play Store try to keep the device awake when there is no Internet connection and it's supposed to be sleeping?

I guess I'll have to try to remember to clean out all running apps before I put it to sleep tonight, and see if that affects battery life.

Update: Apparently running apps are not the culprits. I shut down everything I could last night (antivirus, for one, being excluded) and let the Thrive sleep. After 15.5 hours on battery, 26% of the charge drained. Battery use by Android once again dwarfed use by anything else, and the ratio of keep-awake time to CPU cycles was 4.5:1.

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