Blog: February 2023

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Pixel fail: followup

The replacement phone arrived Wednesday (faster than they said, good). I'd already done a manual backup on top of the automatic one, but migration from one phone to another of the exact same type and OS version is easier: connect them via a cable and wait. Basic data transfer happened within an hour, though it took a few hours for apps to get installed and Chrome was being especially finicky for some reason.

My settings were almost all there; I expected to have to do more manual configuration (including re-laying out the icons where I wanted them). Nope, that was all fine. I had to set up each individual app again, though; sometimes that was just a matter of logging in (for example, Tusky or Authy), but sometimes it required redoing everything (email client for my non-Gmail accounts). Chrome had a weird bug where tabs didn't work (!) but the update ("new version available", it kept saying) would hang; after a few reboots it sorted itself out.

There was a feeling of trepidation as I kept asking myself "are you sure you have everything you need?" before doing the factory reset on the old phone, but I finally did that today. It started doing the flashing-display thing during the reset, so I just left it for a while. The documentation says a factory reset can take an hour, so after a couple hours I power-cycled to see where it was.

I was greeted by the "new phone" setup screen, so that worked.

And then it started flashing again. Ha.

Yes, support person, I was right: that's a hardware problem. After another power-cycle (so I could see what I was doing) I shut it down and boxed it up, and tomorrow I will take it to FedEx.

The replacement they sent me was marked as "refurbished", but they are holding the price of a new phone against my credit card, which feels wrong. It's only a problem if the package doesn't arrive in time (which is why I will hand it to a human at FedEx and get a proper receipt), but it's still sleazy. And yes, if they were to charge the card they would add shipping charges, so it's not to offset that.

I've never had to make a warranty claim on a phone before, so I don't know how my experience with Google compares to what I would have had with other vendors. It's something I should try to find out before I buy my next phone, which I hope will be several years from now.


I asked my spouse to pick up a couple bagels and he came back with this and I had no idea this was even a thing. Very festive; no idea what the bakers had in mind.

Image without description

Description: Two colorful bagels, one sliced open to reveal swirls of red/orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. The outside of the other is mainly green and orange.

Section 230

The Supreme Court will soon hear a case that -- according to most articles I've read -- could upend "Section 230", the law that protects Internet platforms from consequences of user-contributed content. For example, if you post something on Facebook and there's some legal problem with you, that falls on you, as the author, and not on Facebook, who merely hosted it. This law was written in the days of CompuServe and AOL, when message boards and the like were the dominant Internet discourse. While there's a significant difference between these platforms and the phone company -- that is, platforms can alter or delete content -- this still feels like basically the "common carrier" argument. This makes sense to me: you're responsible for your words; the place you happened to post it in public isn't.

Osewalrus has written a lot about Section 230 over the years -- he explains this stuff better and way more authoritatively than I do. (Errors are mine, credit is his, opinions are mine.)

When platforms moderate content things get more complicated, and I'm seeing a lot of framing of the current case that's rooted in this difference. From what I understand, that aspect is irrelevant, and unless the Supreme Court is going to be an activist court that legislates, hosting user-contributed content shouldn't be in danger. But we live in the highly-polarized US of 2023 with politically-motivated judges, so this isn't at all a safe bet.

The reason none of that should matter is that the case the court is hearing, Gonzales vs. Google, isn't about content per se. It's about the recommendation algorithm, Google's choice to promote objectionable content. This is not passive hosting. That should matter.

The key part of Section 230 says:

No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider. (47 U.S.C. ยง 230(c)(1)).

The court can rule against Google without affecting this clause at all. The decision shouldn't be about whether Google is the "publisher" or "speaker". Rather, in this case Google is the advertiser, and Section 230 doesn't appear to cover promotion at all.

I'm not a lawyer, and I'm not especially knowledgeable about Section 230. I'm a regular person on the Internet with concerns about the proper placement of accountability. Google, Twitter, Facebook, and others choose to promote user-contributed content, while platforms like Dreamwidth, Mastodon, and many forums merely present content in the order in which it arrives. That should matter. Will it? No idea.

Moderation is orthogonal. Platform owners should be able to remove content they do not want to host, just like the owner of a physical bulletin board can. In a just world, they would share culpability only if objectionable content was brought to their attention and they did not act. At that point they've said it's ok, as opposed to saying nothing at all because nobody can read everything on a platform of even moderate size. This is how I understand the "safe harbor" provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to work, and the same principle should apply. In a just world, as I said, which isn't the world we live in. (I, or rather my job title, am a registered agent for DMCA claims, and I have to respond to claims I receive.)

I really hope that the court, even a US court in 2023, focuses on the key points and doesn't use this case to muck with things not related to the case at hand.

Pixel fail

I got my Pixel 5A in March of last year. So, fortunately, it is still in its warranty period.

This is the weirdest failure I have heard of. Yesterday, I took my phone out of my pocket, woke it up, and was greeted by a flashing screen. What it was flashing was a screen full of "snow", like what you get on a TV that's tuned to a station that's not broadcasting, but static -- the whole screen was flashing but the snow wasn't moving around. Hmm, very odd. As I tried to shut it down gracefully I could see that the "underlying" image was responding to me -- there were the usual buttons for "restart", "shut down", and whatever else -- but so fleeting that I couldn't catch them with my finger or read them. On to the hard reboot via the power button.

I Googled this but did not find answers.

I hoped it was a one-time glitch, but I wouldn't be writing this post if it were. Almost every time, but not every single time, since then, recovering from "sleep" mode gets me not the usual desktop but this flashing thing from which I can only hard-reboot. Rebooted about 20 times yesterday.

After the first reboot I had a new notification of a pending OS update, so I applied that. No change. I uninstalled the app I most recently installed, which should have been safe but it's basic troubleshooting. No change. I had, I think on Friday, gotten a batch of miscellaneous app updates, but I don't see a way to review exactly what now. But also, it wasn't right before this behavior. None of that was; that app (from my bank) was sometime last week.

Off to chat support I went. The agent I spoke with told me both that it's a software problem and that I would need to take it to their designated repair place for a hardware repair (for which you must first do a system reset); I asked her to reconcile those two things but she didn't. I pushed back on the repair place, noting that earlier in the warranty period I'd had a problem for which they said that was the solution, but the place couldn't help me and was kind of rude about it and it never got fixed. I asked if the software problem was something I could fix but her script didn't have any info about that. I said in that case, since it's under warranty, I want to exchange it, and I know they have a scheme where they send you the new phone (with a hold on your credit card), you migrate to it and send back the old one, and they release the hold. After I sent her a video of the behavior (an adventure of its own, as she was assuming I could do that from my phone and share it and I was like "uh, this is a video taken with my partner's iPhone and no it's not in my photo gallery and I need to upload or email it to you"), she collected some information from me and came back a few minutes later to say something like "good news, it's under warranty" (I knew that), and then gave me instructions for mailing back the phone and then they'd send me a new one, "or if you like, we could do" (exactly what I'd just asked for). Yeah that, I said.

Meanwhile, I installed Authy on my tablet lest the phone become completely unusable, because I wouldn't want to be locked out of anything that requires two-factor authentication. Today I noticed a seeming pattern where the phone would be fine so long as it was active, and if I set it on the desk next to me I could then wake it up but if I put it in my pocket we'd be back to the snow. This is, uh, the same pocket position I always use. But then the snow thing happened while I was using the phone, so apparently it's not that either. I am mystified.

It's going to be an aggravating several days, methinks.