Foursquare closes another door

With the latest update to its Android app, Foursquare now forces check ins to be done via Swarm (my workround involving uninstalling Swarm no longer works). This means that points are harder to get for frequently checked in locations. It’s still possible to get them if Foursquare itself recognises the location you’re at and invites a check in. But otherwise you have to check in via Swarm, and it’s a points lottery. It remains to be seen if, when the new Foursquare app is finally rolled out, it’s possible to earn points at all!

Tablet shortcomings, or should I keep taking the tablet?

About a year ago I posted about taking a tablet on a research trip to Vienna in place of a laptop. I was pretty positive about the overall experience. At the time I was using a budget Coby Kyros tablet, but it managed to do almost everything I needed it to do. Since then I have replaced the Coby with a Nexus 7, and although I have taken it on some short trips, the conference I have just attended in Canterbury was the first proper test of its capabilities as a laptop replacement. How did it do? Well, the WiFi at the University of Kent was uniformly excellent, so there were none of the connectivity issues I sometimes experience. It was great for email and for reading most attachments, but I made an interesting discovery about reading and writing word documents. I have QuickOffice and Documents to Go installed, but neither were capable of reading, let alone editing and preparing, a document containing Greek letters, equations and symbols. Microsoft Office for Android still hasn’t been released for tablets (although it may appear later this year, apparently). Now, normally this wouldn’t matter, but while I was at the conference I had a couple of requests for resit exam questions. I devised some questions, and then set about trying to type them up. At that point I realised it couldn’t be done with the software installed, and I had to send apologies with a promise to get them done on my return (so a job for tomorrow). I did investigate one work round app, called CloudOn, which seemed to make reading the documents possible (a start) but it’s not available offline, which basically makes it pretty useless to me. So just now I’m wondering if I might have to go back to taking a laptop with me on trips longer than a couple of days. This could be an excuse for an upgrade (and there are some impressive lightweight options available), since my current 4 year old netbook is getting a bit flaky. This needs careful consideration, but I am a bit disappointed that the tablet couldn’t deliver in this respect, at least not yet.

Charged devices and air travel

We have learned in the last few days that passengers boarding US-bound flights from Heathrow and Manchester (and presumably other airports) will have to show that their electronic devices are charged before being allowed to board. This policy sounds simple and possibly even sensible, but it has the potential of causing serious problems to ‘power users’ who may have spent several hours before their flights working, with the result that their device(s) may be low on power by then.

For example, these days I travel with a smartphone and either a tablet or laptop. The tablet (a Nexus 7) has an impressive battery life, but the phone and laptop do not! My phone, a Samsung Galaxy S3,  typically only lasts 8 hours or so between charges, so I carry a spare battery and an external charger. Supposing I have a 12:00 flight from Heathrow to the US, my phone will have been in use for at least 5 hours prior to departure. When the battery gets low I either change it or plug in the charger, but neither of these activities are particularly compatible with going through immigration! And quite what the reaction would be if I opened up my phone to change the battery on a flight does not bear thinking about! So I am very concerned about these developments,  which will no doubt be rolled out to all flights and destinations soon. It will make things difficult for those of us who need to use our electronic devices before, during and after travelling. We’ll see how it affects my next trip.

Another Foursquare workround

In my last post I mentioned that the latest update to the Android Foursquare app forces you to check-in using Swarm. The main problem with this is that you don’t always get points. I thought about this, and wondered about uninstalling Swarm to see if that would get Foursquare checking in back. Yesterday I tried it, and it works, at least for now. You keep getting requests to install Swarm, but they can be ignored!
So for now, and hopefully until the ‘new’ Foursquare app rolls out, this is a solution which at least enables points to be gained for all check-ins.

Foursquare: latest changes to the Android app

I have noticed that the latest ‘update’ to the Android Foursquare app, which I downloaded this morning, now forces you to check-in via Swarm. I had found a workround (see last post) which enabled Foursquare itself to still be used, and points to be obtained, but this no longer works.

Checking in via Swarm sometimes gives you points and sometimes doesn’t. It seems that the Foursquare team’s plan to remove points completely (as they have already done for mayorships) is taking effect. As I said before, this is a great pity. I’ll continue to use it to record where I travel, etc, but a lot of the fun of using it has gone.

Using Foursquare: the current position

It’s just over 3 weeks since the Swarm app was introduced, and slightly longer than that since Foursquare started making changes to the way their app was used (specifically removing ousting of Mayorships, and reducing the number of points scored for Mayor check-ins). For the first 2 weeks I used the Swarm app, and because I had ticked the ‘New Foursquare Sneak’ box in the Foursquare settings, checking in was being done via the Swarm app, and mostly no points were being obtained for check-ins.

About a week ago I decided to stop using Swarm, and untick the ‘New Foursquare Sneak’ box on the Foursquare app. The result was that, for now, I have something resembling the ‘old’ Foursquare back. The main difference is that (mostly) only 1 point is awarded for a check-in, although you get more for checking in at a new location, or for 3 check-ins in a week at one location.  My points tally is once again looking reasonably healthy, although nothing like what it was. Foursquare still remembers when I return to a location, which is useful, so if you use it mainly as an online travel log, then it is still useful in that respect.

It is probably too much to hope that Foursquare will leave the app as it is; further Swarm integration is surely planned. But for now I can live with the app. For information, I’m using the Android version of the app on a Samsung Galaxy S3.

Why the UKIP result isn’t as important as the media would have you believe

In the results of the elections for the European Parliament that have been announced overnight, UKIP got the highest vote percentage in the UK, with Labour second and the Conservatives third. Once again the media are banging on about how important this result is, and how it will affect the EU and next year’s General Election. I think neither is the case, for the following reasons:

(i) In the European Parliament, MEPs try to form groups which sit together and vote en masse; it isn’t clear which group the UKIP members will join, and if such a group would have any influence. The various far right parties, including the FN on France, don’t tend to agree on much. Thus they will be at most a noisy distraction to the normal business of the parliament and are unlikely to change very much.

(ii) Turning to next year’s General Election, it is important to realise two points:

(a) The voting system will be different; first past the post as opposed to the form of proportional representation adopted in the Euro elections. Thus an overall percentage has less meaning.

(b) Less voters will choose UKIP in the General Election, where EU membership is likely to be largely a non-issue. I’ve heard estimates of around 14%, which is hardly significant. Nigel Farage may well boast that they will win seats, but on current trends it seems unlikely!

So, in spite of the protestations of the likes of Nick Robinson, this result will have little effect in the long term, in my view. We’ll see if I’m wrong!

Chemistry, Academia, Travel, Technology, Politics and Music


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