Upgrading to the Pixel 6 Pro

After several Nexus phones, a Pixel 3 and a Pixel 3a, the new Google Pixel 6 was an easy upgrade choice. I’ve been very happy with both the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3a, especially the image quality, so much so that I virtually stopped using my cameras. Just about the only thing the DSLR still did better was the optical zoom. The new Pixel 6 Pro has one dedicated telephoto lens that should help narrow the gap. I ordered it in December and it arrived in the new year.

I chose to migrate the contents of my Pixel 3 to the Pixel 6 Pro, since that was my main camera phone before. The new phone has 512 GB of flash memory vs. 256 GB in the old one so there are no storage issues. Copying files across using the upgrade tool and a USB-C cable was relatively straightforward. I wish the migration did not default to Japanese (my old phone was set to English), but that was no major obstacle and I could change the language afterwards.

Moving Line and WhatsApp chats across via a Google account was not difficult either, I just had to do some searches to get the backup and restore steps right. I moved the data-only SIM card from the old phone to the new one before I started. With the data-only SIM card I use a Google Voice account for SMS-verification but I will soon swap the SIM card for a voice-enabled SIM that directly handles SMS with a new phone number.

On my Pixel 3a I am using Pasmo/Suica for contactless payments and train fares since it has the Mobile FeliCa chip needed for “osaifu ketai” (wallet mobile phones). My US sourced Pixel 3 does not have this functionality. I wasn’t sure if the Pixel 6 purchased from the Japanese Google online shop would have the chip or not, since I could not find any explicit reference to it. However, it seems to work.

First I tried to directly charge the phone with cash at a machine at train station but the phone wasn’t recognized when I placed it into the charging cradle.

Then I tried to install and setup the Mobile Suica app, a truly horrible piece of software that must have roots in the pre-smartphone era. No joy! It turns out there is also a Pasmo app in the Google Play store. Uusally I treat Pasmo and Suica as synonymous since they’re different brand names for the same technology but in this case they’re not the same thing. The Pasmo app was really easy to install and set up. I selected the configuration without personal details (i.e. not linked to a bank account or credit card) and everything went smoothly. Charging it at the train station worked and so did a payment at a convenience store.

So how about the camera, the main reason I bought the phone? I tested it on Monday, which was a public holiday (Coming of Age Day), on a 162 km bicycle ride in west Izu. The weather was perfect for the numerous Mt Fuji views. I took shots from morning to after sunset, many of them telephoto shots zooming into Mt Fuji (see image above and below).

I will be able to make good use of this on my bike rides.

wget: “Issued certificate has expired” after September 30, 2021

Two websites that I download data from using automated processes stopped giving me new data from October 1. When I investigated the problem, I could see an error message from the wget program in Linux:

Connecting to SOME.HOSTNAME (SOME.HOSTNAME)||:443… connected.
ERROR: cannot verify SOME.HOSTNAME’s certificate, issued by ‘/C=US/O=Let’s Encrypt/CN=R3’:
Issued certificate has expired.
To connect to SOME.HOSTNAME insecurely, use `–no-check-certificate’.

The quick fix, obviously, was to add the –no-check-certificat to the command line, which allows the download to go ahead, but what’s the root cause? My assumption was that the site owner had let an SSL certificate expire, but after it happened with a second site from the same date, I got suspicious. It turns out, Let’s Encrypt which is used by many websites for free encryption certificates previously had a certificate that expired on September 30 and which has been replaced by a new certificate but many pieces of software don’t retrieve the new certificate. That’s because it’s signed with a new root certificate that a lot of older software don’t trust yet. They need an updated of the root certificate store.
In my case, running

sudo yum update

would update the ca-certificates package and that allowed wget to trust the new certificate.
Please see these links for more information:

Vaccination Progress in Japan

The City of Setagaya (東京都世田谷区) has announced the dates when vaccination will be expanded beyond the current group 2 (residents aged 65 and above). Between June 15-19, coupons will be mailed to group 3 which includes:

  • people with existing medical conditions
  • people aged 60-64 (anyone born no later than March 31, 1962)
  • people working in elderly care

Group 1 were the health care workers, if you are wondering!

Currently about half a million vaccinations are happening in Japan per day, about 2/3 of them aged 65 and above, 1/3 health care workers. As of Friday, 2021-05-28, over 92 percent of healthcare workers had received at least one shot and over 60 percent had received both. That leaves them only about 350,000 shots short of full coverage for first shots. About 1.55 million healthcare workers have only received one shot, so fully vaccinating them with a second shot in the next three weeks will be the bulk of the remaining vaccinations for this group.
Of the people aged 65 and above, 12.46 percent have received at least one shot and 0.86 percent have received both. Meanwhile the Olympics start in 52 days…

Setagaya also announced that more reservation slots would be opened at mass vaccination sites for people aged 65 and above, recommending people in that group who currently have dates in August to move them to July (i.e. cancel in August, make new reservation in July). This will then free up those slots for the next group.
This means there’s a good chance that both my wife and I (who were born before the March 1962 deadline for age 60-64) will get vaccinated in August.

In my last post I had pointed out that daily vaccination totals for healthcare workers and people above 65 was being handled differently. One set was being updated retroactively, the other set only once per listed date.

Basically, for healthcare workers the government publishes daily numbers (on weekdays, excluding public holidays) of the number of total shots given since the previous published total. That’s why numbers only get added for the final date, once a day. It is also why no vaccinations are listed on Saturday, Sundays and holidays — not because no healthcare workers were vaccinated on those days, but because no results are published on those days. Consequently, healthcare worker stats do not show how many healthcare workers were actually vaccinated on a particular day.

For people aged 65 and over, they precisely track the totals by the date the doses are used. So there are entries for Saturdays and Sundays, even though it may take until Tuesday for them to be listed on the website. Furthermore, unpublished counts of shots already given weeks ago are still finding their way to the Prime Minister’s Office and are then added. Here’s the total given for April 14, as listed on the day the numbers for a given recent date were also added:

May 18: 2,533
May 20: 2,666
May 27: 2,793
May 30: 3,078

A near 20 percent increase for vaccinations that already took place over a month ago is quite surprising, considering that vaccinations are tracked with Android tablets with software specifically developed for the purpose. How can a computer-based system be so slow? It actually makes fax machines look good by comparison (yes, they are still widely used here in Japan)!

Tracking Vaccination Numbers in Japan

The website of the Prime Minister’s Office in Japan (Kantei) is providing a daily update of vaccination progress in two categories: medical staff (doctors and nurses) and senior residents (age 65 and above).

To track these vaccinations, the government has issued tablet computers running software known as the Vaccine Recording System (ワクチン接種記録システム, VRS). It was developed by Milabo, a small privately held company founded in 2013. It describes itself as:

A start-up that provides child-rearing support services such as DX, immunization, health checkup, checkup scheduler, electronic maternal and child notebook, health center reservation system, mainly for local governments.

It had previously worked with the cabinet secretariat on the “MyNumber” personal ID system that assigns a personal identification number to every resident of the country. The budget for developing VRS was 385 million yen (about US$3.5 million).

The software in the tablets is used to scan bar codes and forms when people receive their vaccine doses. Theoretically this should allow the government to accurately track the progress being made.

However, the numbers published on the website keep changing even after they are published. For example, on Monday, May 17 the Kantei website listed a total of 69,526 doses (first and second doses) given to seniors on Monday, May 10 and 57,172 on Saturday, May 15. Two days later, on Wednesday, May 19 the numbers for those two days had been revised to 71,543 and 83,311 doses, respectively. That is an increase of 2.9 percent and 45.7 percent several days after publication.

What this suggests is that the software does not track the numbers and automatically uploads them to a government server at the end of the day (say, via a mobile data connection with a SIM card). Instead, there must be manual steps involved. Comparing the results published two days apart and looking back across 4 weeks worth of data, it turns out that daily totals still change after a whole month, for example by 46 doses from 2,533 to 2,579 for Wednesday, April 14 between May 17 and 19. I mean, really?

In rare cases the numbers have also decreased by 2 or 3 doses from the previously reported totals, which would be hard to explain by late reporting: the numbers should go up but not down! This could be cases were mistakes were made that made vaccination unreliable and so the cases were purged from the total.

The good news is that currently about 77 percent of healthcare workers have received at least one dose while 42 percent have received both doses. At the current pace of second doses it should take less than two weeks for all remaining healthcare workers to have received their first shots and three weeks after that anyone willing to get the first shot will have had their second shot too. For some strange reason, the healthcare worker counts seem unaffected by the late count updates and I don’t understand why.

One thing to look forward to is for the Moderna vaccine (mRNA-1273) to receive approval in Japan at the end end of this week. It is very similar to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in terms of safety and efficacy. It has already been imported into Japan since the end of last month.

There are about 7 times more senior citizens than there are health care workers, so the number will have to increase much more. There should be enough vaccine by the end of June/early July to vaccinate about 36 million of them, but will the local governments be able to keep up with setting up vaccination sites? Each prefecture and city has been left to figure it out on its own. There is no national vaccination reservation system, each local government was left to build its own system. If the bottleneck is not vaccine supplies but organisation then the Moderna vaccine will not help all that much.

If Japan manages to vaccinate all its doctors and nurses by early June and most of its people aged 65 and above by the end of July, that still leaves about 70 million people to be vaccinated after that, with no date yet when this is expected to start and how long it is expected to take. It looks like a long road ahead to herd immunity and for life to return to normal.

Pixel 3a: “Analogue audio accessory detected. The attached device is not compatible with this phone”

Three months ago my wife and I both changed our local smartphone plans and changed to a Google Pixel 3a.

Within a week she had a problem where her phone would suddenly shut down when the battery still had 50-60% charge left, while doing nothing. This even happened after the phone had been factory reset, with no third party apps installed. It took a few weeks before Softbank Mobile replaced the phone under warranty.

Now it’s my turn it seems. Recently I would find the phone with less than 50% of battery left in the morning when I had left it hooked up to the charger (so it should have been at 100%). I would reconnect the phone but it would not show the charging symbol. I then tried different cables and chargers and also rebooted the phone. Eventually it would charge again.

Today it showed the following error:

Analogue audio accessory detected. The attached device is not compatible with this phone

Nothing was plugged into its headphone socket or into the USB C port. There was no analog audio device connected. I googled the problem and most results suggested it was a problem with the USB C port. That makes sense, since it would explain both the charging issues and the audio warning, as one can plug an analog device into the USB C port via an adapter.

Other results suggested a factory reset may get it working again, but that did not work for me. After the factory reset I could charge the phone with the charger from my earlier Nexus 6P and a USB C cable when powered off. However, after I powered it up and started the system restore, it no longer charged from either that charger or from the Pixel 3a charger or a Pixel 3 charger. The problem was back.

Time to take it back to the Softbank Mobile shop, I guess 🙁

Needless to say, I am not impressed with a 2/2 failure rate for our Pixel 3a phones so far. The Pixel 3a was great while it worked. The picture quality seems as good as for its more powerful sibling, the more expensive Pixel 3 and battery life was decent too. But that is all meaningless if it randomly shuts down or you can no longer charge it.

UPDATE: Softbank Mobile sent the two months old Pixel 3a in for testing and repair. A couple of days later they quoted almost 20,000 yen (US$190) for the repair of the unspecified damage, which they said would not be covered under warranty 🙁

Strava Cycling Climbing Challenges

Strava is a popular service for logging bike rides and other activities, which provides a way of comparing one’s achievements with those of other cyclists and runners. Competition is a powerful stimulant and a main driver behind the success of the service. Monthly “challenges”, such as a Gran Fondo (a ride of at least 100 or 130 km, depending on the time of the year) or a monthly cumulative distance or elevation gain challenge, are particularly popular on Strava.

While I regularly participate in the Cycling Distance and Gran Fondo Challenge, I do not normally sign up for the Cycling Climbing Challenge, which is meant to encourage you do ride hilly courses. I love hilly courses. In fact, most of my weekend rides are hilly, usually going from close to sea level to over 900 m and back.

Last year I averaged one century ride (at least 160.9 km / 100 miles) about every other week, so the Gran Fondo challenge is not really that much of a challenge for me. My typical centuries are about 170-190 km with 1800-2100 m of elevation gain. Yet at 7500 to 8000 m the goal for the Cycling Climbing Challenge is set so high, I could do a hilly century ride four Saturdays in a row and still miss the climbing goal. So how do other people, who do not ride 170 km into the hills every other weekend complete the climbing challenge?

I think the Strava climbing goals are designed for people who record their rides with phones or other GPS devices that rely only on satellite data for elevation. GPS-based elevation data is much less precise than lattitude-longitude data. Other popular GPS units like the Garmin Edge 1000, Garmin Edge 520 (or my o_synce Navi2coach) use a barometer for more precise elevation tracking. The problem with GPS-based elevation is that it’s noisy, it will go up and down pretty randomly but all those little ups will be added up by Strava, resulting in a considerably inflated climbing total. If you’re using a GPS device measuring relatively accurate barometric elevation, you can’t really compete against all that noisy data 🙁

I could confirm this in group rides with other people who were using mix of equipment, where I had a chance to compare the posted stats on Strava afterwards. The iPhone or Android-app recorded totals were often 50-100% higher than the Garmin-recorded totals, for one and the same course.

Here is one random example of 4 people doing the same course up a volcano in Tenerife, Gran Canria yesterday. Note, this not my ride, I just randomly stumbled on it while looking at high scorers in the March Cycling Climbing Challenge on the Strava website. Two of these cyclists were using the Strava iPhone app, the other two were using a Garmin Edge 520:

Strava iPhone App:

Strava iPhone App:

Garmin Edge 520:

Garmin Edge 520:

As you can see, the two cyclists using the phone app posted almost double the total climbing for the course as the Garmin users, despite riding the very same roads and posting the same elevation profile for the activity (i.e. no hill repeats).

Based on evidence like that, I don’t think elevation gain competitions on Strava are happening on a level playing field! 😉

Huawei Nexus 6P Battery Upgrade

I’ve had my Huawei Nexus 6P for about two years now. The combination of a great camera, an excellent screen, good performance and decent battery life has made this my best smartphone ever.

However, a couple of months ago something happened as the battery capacity appeared to have collapsed dramatically. Sometimes the phone would shut down only 5 hours after I had disconnected it from the AC charger when I left home, starting off supposedly fully charged! I had to always carry a USB battery and cable with me to not risk losing the use of my phone in the middle of the day.

Attempts to recalibrate the capacity indicator helped only insofar as the phone would shut down at 14% charge instead of say 55% charge, so there was slightly more warning, but the number of hours was still too short. This actually seems to be a common problem with the Nexus 6P, which otherwise is still a great phone.

It’s not uncommon for Li-ion batteries to significantly lose capacity after about about three years, but if it happens after less than two years as in my case, that’s not very good. Fortunately, replacement batteries are available and any competent phone repair shop will be happy to do the necessary surgery to replace a battery that is on its way out. Unfortunately the days when you could simply pop open the phone case without any tools and swap the battery yourself are long gone. This is a trend started by Apple and almost every other phone maker has since followed suit. I think it’s meant to get people to buy a new phone sooner, which is good for Apple and its competitors, but bad for consumers and for the planet.

There are Youtube videos that will show you how you how to open the Nexus 6P case and disassemble the phone to swap the battery. This involves the use of a hairdryer or heat gun to soften the glue that holds it all together as well as a plastic card and a small screw driver. As I did not feel adventurous enough to attempt this myself, I contacted several phone repair shops here in Tokyo. Repair King Japan replied. Though they they didn’t have the Nexus 6P battery in stock they were happy to order one for me. Once they got it, I dropped the phone off and two hours later I could have it back with a new battery. So far it’s looking good: It’s been 40 hours since the last full charge (with battery saver mode inactive) and it’s still showing 64% with about 3 days of power left 🙂

UPDATE: At 72 hours, it still had 23% charge left. At that point I connected it to a charger.

Hopefully with the new battery my Nexus 6P will be a great phone again for a few more years!

Getting Rid of the EMUI Launcher on the Huawei P9 Lite

Last time I switched mobile provider here in Japan, I signed up for a contract that included a Huawei P9 Lite. My biggest grip about it is its non-standard EMUI interface that runs on top of Android 6.0.1.

Previously I was using a Nexus 5, which had worked OK for me, though the picture quality of its camera was rather mediocre. One nice thing about the Nexus 5 was that it runs stock Android, with no customization. Its user interface is identical to that of my other phone, a Nexus 6P.

I really prefer stock Android without OEM customization. For one, stock Android means you can get version upgrades sooner and for longer (or at all!).

I found the EMUI launcher confusing. For example, I did not see any easy way to launch an app that didn’t have a desktop link.

It’s possible to switch from EMUI to the standard Google launcher. Here are the steps I performed:

1) Install “Google Now Launcher” via Play Store.

2) Swipe down, select Shortcuts and then Settings

3) Enter “def” into the search box at the top (may have to scroll up first)

4) Select “Default app settings”

5) Select “Launcher” and pick “Google” instead of “Huawei Home”. Ignore the warning that tries to scare you into sticking with EMUI (you can always change back by following the same steps and selecting “Huawei Home” again).

6) There you go!

The irritating long push home button

Another irritation that seemed to happen more on the Huawei than on my other phones was the Google screen that pops up (seemingly randomly) when I just try to go to the home screen. It has a “Want answers before you ask?” prompt at the bottom and a Google search box with voice search option at the top. I really don’t need this screen because the standard Android home screen already has a Google search bar at the top. I’d rather have the home screen with all my app shortcuts come up reliably whenever I push the Home button!

It took me a while to figure out that this Google search screen comes up on what the phone thinks is a long push of the Home button, which has a different meaning from a regular short tap. If that happens, just tap again and it will go to the home screen. Or just make it your habit to double tap the home screen to go to the home screen, then this should never happen 🙂

Nexus 6P Flashing Charge Icon

Recently the USB-C quick charger that came with my Huawei Nexus 6P appeared to stop working. I normally leave the phone charging over night, but one morning I found its battery charge was low and it hadn’t been charging. When I disconnected and reconnected it to the cable (which is reversible with USB-C connectors on both ends), the lightning bolt inside the battery charge indicator kept blinking (flashing on and off), rather than being solid on as it normally would while the device is charging.

Disconnecting and reconnecting the device or unplugging and reconnecting the charger to the wall socket made no difference whatsoever. Reversing the cable direction did not help either.

My only way to still charge the phone was to use a USB-A to USB-C cable that draws power from a PC USB socket, which is a much slower way to charge the phone. So I decided that the charger must have failed after less than a year of use. I already started looking for USB-C quick chargers on Amazon (they exist but are much more pricey than USB-A chargers), but didn’t order one yet.

Today I decided to Google for the problem and found others who had the exact same issue. It turned out that simply powering down the phone and powering it up again will fix the problem: Yepp, it will charge again!

I’m not sure what the fundamental issue is, but it seems I won’t have to rush out and buy a new charger (which wouldn’t have helped anyway!), as the issue is on the phone side.

If a simple phone reboot fixes it and it doesn’t happen too often, I guess I can live with that. The Nexus 6P has worked great for me so far.

Google Maps Engine brings back custom routes

Last year I stopped updating Google Maps on my Android phone because Google had dropped important functionality with Google Maps 7.x. Google Maps 6.x for Android was a great tool for following mapped routes on long bicycle rides, especially randonnes of 200 km and more. After an update I had to revert to Google Maps 6.x to get it back. This also meant I could no longer allow Android to install all available updates in one go. I always had to manually confirm all updates except Maps to not lose 6.x again.

Finally Google has brought this functionality back. There are still missing bits, but at least the product seems usable again for my purposes.

On Android there is an app called Google Maps Engine, which supports loading custom maps. Select “Open a map” in the menu. You’ll get a list of maps created by you or shared with you.

This menu can be populated from a desktop machine. There you can import existing maps created for Maps 6.x. Go to https://mapsengine.google.com/map/ and select “Open a map” (you need to be logged in to your Google account). Select “Classic My Maps”. You’ll be able to select one of your existing maps and import it in to Maps Engine. After that it will become available to the Google Maps Engine app on your Android and you can use it for navigation. The route will show as a blue line and special locations, such as my brevet PCs (“points de controle”, route check points) will show marked with a pin.

One drawback of Maps Engine on the Android compared to the old Google Maps 6.x is that it doesn’t seem to support displaying a ruler on a map yet. Thus when you zoom in or out you won’t be able to tell how far you are from any point you see on the map, whether one cm on the screen corresponds to 100 m or 10 km on the map. This is the same problem that Google Maps 7.x had when it was launched last year. Hopefully it will be fixed soon. Still, it is disconcerting that Google misses out such basic functionality when launching products. Are all their eyes on monetization these days?