12 August 2009

No magic dry rice

Filed under: death, E71, Nokia, twitter, Uncategorized — David Wood @ 10:28 pm

Rice potHere’s a tale of my personal naivety.  Hopefully others can learn from my errors.

Last Thursday, at about 6pm, I bent forward.  When I’m not looking at it, my Nokia E71 smartphone usually resides in my shirt pocket.  But because I was bending forwards, it slid out, and started crashing towards the floor.

I was disconcerted, but not too much.  The same thing had happened several times before.  I had learned that the E71 has incredible engineering, and it usually survives falling onto the floor, without even a dent or scratch to show for the experience.  It’s a solid piece of work.

But this time was different.

I was in a toilet, and the E71 landed straight in the water closet.

Things were bad, but they could have been worse.

Thankfully, I had flushed the toilet a few minutes earlier, so the bowl was clean.  (Well, as clean as toilets get.)

Without any conscious thought that I can remember, my hand shot into the water after the E71, and pulled it out.  Immediately.

I shook some water off the phone, and looked at the screen.  Everything seemed fine.  The phone was still switched on, the home screen was still live, and when I pressed up or down, the highlight moved up and down the display.  “What a great device”, I thought to myself.

There was still some water dripping off the device, so I thought I’d better dry it out.  I took off the back, removed the battery, and dabbed every visible area with paper towels.  A few seconds later, I put everything back together again, and pressed the On key.

In retrospect, that was my first big mistake.

The E71 seemed to boot up as normal.  The screen lit up, and the apps started.

Then I saw that there was no signal.  No problem, I thought, there’s poor signal strength in this hotel.  (I was in The Bingham, in Richmond upon Thames, for a work leadership team offsite meeting.  It’s a fine hotel, but we had been remarking all day that the cellular signal strength was poor in the rooms we were using.)

I rejoined my colleagues, and for a while forgot about my phone’s big escapade.  After all, there were plenty of other things to discuss.  (And I felt too embarrassed to mention that I had just thrust my hand into a water closet.)

That was probably my second mistake.

About 15 minutes later, I pulled out the phone again, curious to see if the signal had returned.  This time I noticed some fading at the bottom of the screen.  The two pieces of text for the soft buttons were illegible.  Water vapour had clearly got in behind the screen.  Woops.  So I separated all the parts of the phone again.

When I finally got home, I tried drying everything again, putting everything back together, and switching on.  This time things looked much worse.  The phone still gave the little vibrate immediately after the On button was pushed, and the screen and keyboard lit up.  But nothing else happened.  After around 30 seconds, the screen and keyboard switched off again.

I tried a different battery, and I tried plugging in a mains lead.  The result remained the same.

Then I thought of something different to try.  Twitter.  At 1.22 in the morning I tweeted:

dw2 wonders how long it will take his Nokia E71 to start working again, after dropping it in a basin of (clean) water yesterday

Twitter produced results.  Lots of them.

The first was at 1.23 in the morning:

kevinmcintyre09 @dw2 Would suggest leaving it in the airing cupboard for a few days to dry out

The next came at 1.27:

croozeus @dw2 It took my Nokia N95 a week before it dried out completely! Still it doesn’t charge but works properly…

Then at 1.28:

jomtwi Heh 🙂 RT @OscarB: Everytime I write “Symbian Foundation” I think of @dw2 as Hari Seldon

Then at 1.42:

dan_mcneil @dw2 http://bit.ly/83A1 may have some clues…

Then at 1.54:

jebbrilliant @dw2 Have you tried putting the E71 in a bag of DRY white rice?

And so the stream of tweets continued…

[I confess: one of the above tweets is irrelevant to this particular tale – but it’s so funny I left it in.]

Whoever said “the Internet never sleeps” has a point.  However, I was tired.  I put the E71 in the airing cupboard and retired to bed.

The next morning, I started reading some of the links, and a dawning realisation set in.

The above bit.ly link resolves to “How to Save a Wet Cell Phone” which contains the elementary advice (which I had failed to consider):

  1. Get it out of the water as soon as possible. The plastic covers on cell phones are fairly tight, but water can enter the phone in a short period of time, perhaps only 20 seconds or less. So grab your phone quickly! If you can’t get to it in time, your best bet is to remove the battery while it is still under water. Water helps dissipate heat from shorts that can damage the phone, so most damage occurs when the inside of the phone is merely wet and there is a power source. This can go both ways. Being under water is more likely to short the battery to even more sensitive contacts, so be careful.
  2. Don’t panic. Your phone will probably not be too damaged if you right away take it out of the water. While it’s in the water, immediately take it out.
  3. Remove the battery. This is one of the most important steps. Don’t take time to think about it; electricity and water do not mix. Cutting power to your phone is a crucial first step in saving it. Many circuits inside the phone will survive immersion in water provided they are not attached to a power source when wet.

To repeat: “most damage occurs when the inside of the phone is merely wet and there is a power source … electricity and water do not mix … Cutting power to your phone is a crucial first step in saving it”.

There’s not much more to say, except that I left the E71 in the airing cupboard for several days, with no luck, then I put it in a bowl of dry white rice for several more days, with no luck either.  There are certain kinds of damage that no amount of embalming will fix.

To be philosophical, there are points I could make about the need for prompt and skillful action following an accident to ensure good chances of survival, but I’ll save that for my next blog post.

25 October 2008

"Symbian too old" – a mountain worth climbing

Filed under: Cringely, developer experience, E71, smartphones — David Wood @ 2:03 pm

In case I had forgotten how little mindshare Symbian has in many parts of North America, the recent Robert X. Cringely piece “Why Windows Mobile will die” contained yet another stark reminder.

As usual with Cringely, the piece mixes potential insight with a lot of conjecture and then some fancy. Most of the article discusses Windows Mobile, iPhone, and Android. But it squeezes in a dismissive paragraph about Symbian:

…donning flameproof clothing: Symbian is simply too old. The OS is getting slower and slower with each release. The GUIs are getting uglier and are not user-friendly. The development environment is particularly bad, which wouldn’t hurt if there weren’t others that are so much better. Symbian C++, for example, is not a standard C++. There is little momentum in the Symbian developer community, maybe because coding for Symbian is a pain. Yes, there are way more Symbian phones in circulation, but those phones will be gone 18 months from now, probably replaced by phones with a different OS. Lately, Symbian’s success has been primarily based on the high quality of Nokia hardware, on the loyalty of NTT DoCoMo, and now on the lure of being recently made open source and therefore free. But if open source developers don’t flock now to Symbian (they aren’t as far as I can see — at least not yet) then the OS is doomed.

And if that weren’t a sufficiently strong reminder of Symbian’s lack of mindshare, I found scant encouragement in the 65 comments posted (so far) to Cringely’s piece.

Allow me a few moments to respond to individual points in this paragraph, before I return to the bigger picture.

“Symbian is simply too old” – but it has been undergoing a constant internal renewal, with parts of the architecture and code being refactored and replaced with each new point release. Just a few examples: we introduced a new kernel in v8.1b, a new security architecture in v9.0, new database (SQL) architecture in v9.3, new Bluetooth in v9.4, substantially revised graphics architecture and networking architecture in v9.5, and so forth.

“The OS is getting slower and slower with each release” – on the contrary, many parts of the operating system are humming much quicker in the newer releases, as a result of a specific and pervasive focus on performance across the whole system. Deliverables include speed ups due to smart incorporation of demand paging, file system caching, data scalability improvements, and wider adoption of separation of activity into three planes (data plane, control plane, and management plane).

“The GUIs are getting uglier and are not user-friendly” – but the UI system is increasingly flexible, which allows customers to experiment with many different solutions (whilst retaining API compatibility). New developments such as the S60 Fifth Edition touch interface, and the recently announced support for Qt on Symbian OS, take things further in the user-friendly direction.

“The development environment is particularly bad” – but documentation and tools for Symbian OS have markedly improved over the last two years.

“Symbian C++, for example, is not a standard C++” – but watch out for our forthcoming annoucements about EUserHL that go a long way to address this particular gripe.

“There is little momentum in the Symbian developer community” – but that’s not the impression given by the media reports from people who attended the Symbian Smartphone Show last week.

“Yes, there are way more Symbian phones in circulation, but those phones will be gone 18 months from now, probably replaced by phones with a different OS” – but I beg to differ, based on my knowledge of development projects underway at phone manufacturers across the world. For just one example, consider the recent remarks from Li Jilin, Huawei Communications Vice President (note: Huawei has previously not been a user of Symbian OS):

“Huawei is excited by the plans for the Symbian Foundation. We look forward to participating in the work of the Symbian Foundation and using the foundation’s platform to deliver a portfolio of devices for mobile network operators around the world. We believe that the Symbian Foundation ecosystem will enable innovation which will benefit users and drive increased customer satisfaction.”

“If open source developers don’t flock now to Symbian (they aren’t as far as I can see — at least not yet) then the OS is doomed” – but this is far too impatient. It’s too early to make this judgement. You can’t expect the open source developers to flock to us before more plans are published for the roadmap to put our source code into open source.

As for the bigger picture: despite the above individual points of fact, I don’t expect significant changes in mindset (except among the far-sighted) until there are more Symbian devices in the hands of North Americans.

It was the amazing array of devices at the partner showcase stands at the Smartphone Show last week that caused the biggest buzz of all – bigger than the announcements from the keynote hall next door. Thankfully, AT&T have publicly mentioned their “plan to introduce more Symbian phones“. North American users shouldn’t have too long to wait. And there are encouraging signs of independently-minded North American writers actually (shock horror) liking the latest Symbian phones. For example, the renowned software essayist Joel Spolsky called the Nokia E71 “the best phone I’ve ever had – I’m loving it“.

In the meantime, the Symbian Foundation has a big mountain to climb, in public perception. But it’s a mountain well worth climbing!

Blog at WordPress.com.