If you’ve got a sensitive stomach, you might want to stop reading this post now.

Still here? The subtitle of this post is “How do you disinfect a tablet?”

The short answer appears to be “You don’t.” But let’s back up a bit.

A few weeks ago, I dropped my Nexus 9 (poor Kei-kun!). It landed on edge (wince) in the litter box (double-wince). Fortunately, I had just emptied the box, so there weren’t any, ah, chunks of ickiness. That also meant the top layer of litter was about as clean as it gets. And, since the tablet was in its case, the only part to come in contact with the contents of the box was the screen.

Have I mentioned that there are many good reasons to keep your tablet in a case that provides full coverage? No? Consider it mentioned.

Step One was to get the tablet out of the case. Easily done. I set the tablet and case on newspaper* and moved on.

* I have one thing to say to my friends who tease me about still reading the newspaper instead of getting all my news online: “Nya, nya!”

Step Two was to wash my hands. Thoroughly. Several times.

Step Three: Research!

I couldn’t find any reputable sites that gave instructions for decontaminating tablets or phones–though quite a few warned against spraying Apple screens with any kind of cleaning fluid. Apparently the coating Apple uses to minimize fingerprint smudges is very vulnerable to cleaners. Since, as far as I can tell, Nexus devices don’t have a similar coating–a quick look at all the smudges on my poor tablet made that obvious–I moved on.

OK, I can’t sterilize Kei-kun. What about disinfection? There are quite a few click-bait articles referencing a somewhat questionable study that claim phones are covered with something like 18 times as many bacteria as toilet seats. Most of the articles take great pleasure in telling you there’s nothing you can do about it; A few suggest using alcohol, though it’s unclear whether you’re supposed to use it to disinfect the device or just drink enough that you don’t care how disgusting your phone is. sigh

How about benign neglect? I tried to figure out how long bacteria live on glass and plastic. Turns out it depends on the specific bacteria, the kind of plastic, the humidity, and probably several thousand other factors. The range is from “a couple of hours” to “months”.

At this point, it had been a couple of hours, and I was suffering from tablet withdrawal. No way was I going to make it for months. I sprayed the tablet and case with an alcohol-based screen cleaning solution–carefully avoiding the buttons, camera, and speakers–and went to bed.

Step Four: Ignore the case. I figured that most of the bacteria on it would either die or get bored and go in search of a more interesting habitat within a couple of days. And, as long as I washed my hands, using the tablet was no more of a health risk than cleaning the darn box. I went through an unusually large amount of soap over the next couple of days.

I also noticed that the tablet was running hot. Mostly just warm, but when installing app updates, it got uncomfortably hot on a couple of points. Since I’d been using in the case, I had no idea whether the amount of heat I was feeling was normal.

Step Five: Return table to case. I was figuring another couple of days of excessive handwashing, and life would be back to normal. A couple of hours after I started using the case, the Nexus rebooted. And again forty-five minutes later. Back out of the case and back to the Internet.

Interestingly, overheating Nexus 9s seem to be a thing. The consensus is that it could be caused by a hardware problem or a corrupted system file, and either condition can be caused by dropping the tablet.

Step Six: Use tablet without a case and switch to a “smart cover” to protect the screen without allowing heat to build up. I figured that would hold me until the Android Marshmallow rollout. Upgrading the OS would then replace the entire system, and–hopefully–resolve the overheating problem. And it does seem to have helped. The tablet is definitely running cooler. I’m just not sure it’s running cool enough to risk putting it back in the case.

Which, of course, means that it could give out on me at any moment, case or not. I had some hope that Marshmallow’s auto-backup system would give me some peace of mind. Early reports were that it would back up all apps unless developers specifically opted out. However, it turns out that’s only true if the app has been targeted for API 23*. Older apps won’t be backed up.

* That is, the app needs to be compiled with the Marshmallow SDK and have the Marshmallow feature-set turned on. This is easy to do, but good software practices require app testing before making such a change. As of this writing, approximately a week after I got the upgrade, exactly two non-Google apps are being backed up: my alarm clock app and Yelp.

So I’m back to using the command line backup tool I talked about back in January. And running with the less-secure smart cover instead of the case. Pray for me and poor Kei-kun.

Google, can we please get a backup system that Just Works?

Interesting Times, Part 1

Well, the year is off to an interesting start, technologically speaking. Oh, not for everyone. I know everyone is looking forward to this year’s crop of flagship phones, whose primary distinguishing feature is that they’re larger than last year’s models. But that’s not really interesting in any sense of the word. My year has started interestingly in the sense of the Chinese curse.

On the sixth, the second hard drive in my Windows computer died. It wasn’t really a big deal. The only things on that drive were my iTunes library, which can easily be recreated, and a staging area that I used for holding backups until an automated routine moved them to the network server in the middle of the night. So I figured I’d ignore it while I worked on more critical matters–my current writing project and, of course, taking pictures of Sachiko.

On the tenth, the primary hard drive died. Normally, I would have jumped on the problem. One drive dying is likely random chance. Two drives dying this close together could be a sign of an underlying problem: overheating, motherboard dying (it’s of the right age that it could have bad capacitors), or some variety of malware. Normally I’d have had the machine open within minutes, but I’ve been dealing with an unrelated problem.

At least, I assume it’s unrelated. On the ninth, about ten hours before the second hard drive went down, my beloved Nexus 7 passed away. According to the autopsy, the flash storage bit the dust. So that makes three drives–on two separate machines that have never been connected–failing in less than a week. Disturbing.

I use the Windows machine a couple of times a week. The Nexus 7 I use several hours every day. It’s my ebook reader, my news reader, and the home of the few games I actually play. Having it out of commission was a serious block to my normal routine. Of course, the first thing I did was a deep dig into the Web to see if it was recoverable. Short answer: no. Longer answer: there are some recoverable failures with similar symptoms to the storage failure, but the flash storage is soldered to the motherboard and can only be replaced by swapping out the entire board.

I called Google’s hardware support to confirm my diagnosis. Kudos to “Dan,” who didn’t read from a script or have me repeat tests I had already done. He asked a few questions to confirm that I had actually done what I said I had, suggested one test I hadn’t tried, and when that failed, he confirmed that my tablet was pining for the fjords.

Since I bought the Nexus 7 in mid-2013–on the first day they were available, in fact–it was long out of warranty. Waiting weeks for a repair at a cost higher than what I paid for the tablet was a non-starter. Google doesn’t sell the Nexus 7 anymore. Getting a new one would mean buying on eBay or from a closeout seller*. Again, not really a path I felt comfortable about with my daily routine on the line.

* I’ve had mixed results with Tiger Direct and similar sellers. Sometimes they’re great; sometimes their inventory is wishful thinking; sometimes the inventory is fine, but their shipper employs snails–not snail-mail, actual snails.

I considered a non-Nexus tablet, but I’m not fond of the UI changes they layer on top of stock Android, and I really don’t want a device cluttered up with their add-on software. Space is tight, and I see no reason to sacrifice space to software I don’t use.

Google offers two choices: the Nexus 6 and the Nexus 9. The N6 is a phone, and I don’t need a second phone, thanks–and, all jokes about phablets aside, IMNSHO, a six-inch screen is a little too small for extended reading.

So that left the Nexus 9. Yes, I got one. I was concerned about the size and weight, and that is a bit of a problem. Reading on the N7 felt a lot like reading a mass-market paperback. Reading on the N9 feels more like reading a trade paperback*. The N7 fits in a jacket pocket–even some generous pants pockets–even with a cover. The N9 isn’t going in the pocket of any garment I’ve ever owned or would be willing to wear.

* Which is still better than reading on an iPad. It’s not just a matter of weight: even with an iPad Air, the sheer size of the screen makes it feel like a hardback psychologically. That’s a bit of a barrier for me. Reading a hardback has mental overtones of studying, rather than reading for pleasure. (Am I the only person who feels that way? Surely not.)

The N9 is fast, yes. The screen is gorgeous, I’ll admit. The N7’s screen was too small for watching videos comfortably, but the N9 is–just barely–large enough to make it work. I’m not sure it’ll unseat the iPad as my portable video player, but it might. On the downside, it is too heavy to hold unsupported for long stretches of time. I wouldn’t want to use it standing on BART. The “double-tap the screen to wake it up” feature is handy, but very easy to trigger accidentally when picking it up or putting it down. Once the case I’ve ordered arrives, accidental double-taps shouldn’t be as much of an issue, and the case* will double as a stand so I don’t have to hold the darn thing all the time.

* I favor the origami-style cases from roocase. They don’t add too much weight to the device, they give a reasonable amount of protection, and–most importantly for me–they work as stands in both portrait and landscape modes.

Once I’ve finished migrating to the N9, I’m sure I’ll be just as happy with it as I was with the N7. But note those key words: “finished migrating”. I got the tablet on Saturday. Today is Tuesday, and I’m still setting it up. Google has made some design decisions for Android that limit users’ control of their data, and that’s a big problem.

Tune in on Thursday for the second part of the story, in which I explain why Google needs to be turned over someone’s knee.

New Toys

So now we know. Yesterday Google announced that the next version of Android will be the deliciously un-crossmarketed “Lollipop”. It’ll roll out around the beginning of next month along with several new devices (more on those in a moment).

Last year, I suggested that this would be an unsponsored release and implied that I thought Lollipop was the most likely name, ahead of the ever-popular Lemon Meringue Pie. So a point for me. We’ll see if the next release is indeed co-branded with Mounds candy.

On to those devices.

We’ve got the expected new phone. Or phablet. The Nexus 6 ups the stakes in the size battle. At 5.96 inches, it makes Apple’s iPhone 6 Plus look tiny. Forget about putting it in your pocket. Consider yourself lucky if it fits in your backpack.

We’ve got the expected new tablet. A nine inch (OK, 8.9 inches if you’re going to insist on precision) model, it’s clearly intended to compete with the iPad Air: slightly lighter, front-facing speakers, multiple colors, etc., etc.

Apparently, Google considers the seven inch form factor to be obsolete. Don’t want a nine or ten incher? Great, get a phablet. All models of the Nexus 7 are showing as out of stock in the Play store, and there are no indications that they’ll be back. That’s a shame. The larger models are, I’ll admit, better for video–I use my iPad for most of my video needs–but seven inches is, IMNSHO, the perfect size for ebooks and web browsing. Six inches is just a little too small to get enough letters on the screen at once to keep up with my reading speed.

So, no upgrade for me this year. I’ll wait until next year, when the size war brings the new phones to seven inches.

Google’s final device announcement yesterday is the Nexus Player, because the world really needed another streaming media player. From what I’ve seen, it’s basically an Android-powered tablet without a screen: install any standard Android app (primarily games, presumably, though of course it’ll come with the usual selection of Google apps, including the media players) and display them on your TV. Oh, and it’s got Chromecast functionality, so you don’t have to find a vacant HDMI port on the TV. Unplug your Chromecast, plug in your Nexus Player, and you’re ready to roll. Joy.

That was yesterday. Today, Apple held another product launch meeting. We’ve got iOS 8.1. We’ve got Yosemite, the new version of OS X. (Sorry, Apple, I still miss the big cats. Much more engaging than chunks of geography.) They work together via iCloud. Which is, of course, perfectly safe. (They also work together via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, which are also perfectly safe.)

Mind you, we already knew this stuff. There’s nothing about the OSes that wasn’t announced at WWDC or the iPhone 6 / Apple Watch launch. The only news is that Yosemite is available today, and iOS 8.1 will be out on Monday.

On to the good stuff (new toys, in other words).

To absolutely nobody’s surprise, Apple’s got new iPads coming. Brace yourself for the iPad Air 2, even thinner than last year’s antiquated iPad Air. Because the most important thing about a tablet is how thin it is. I mean, yeah, it’s faster and has a better camera, it’s got TouchID–but no NFC, so you can’t use Apple Pay in stores. Not that anyone cares about that. The important thing is that it’s thinner! (There’s an unanswered question here: how much does it weigh? Remember, the Nexus 9 will come in at 418 grams, 50 grams lighter than last year’s iPad Air. Weight is at least as important as thickness for long periods of use.)

There’s an iPad Mini 3. It comes in three colors. That’s about all Apple is saying about it.

Moving on.

How about an iMac with Retina Display–yes, that’s the official name. A twenty-seven inch screen at 5120×2880: seven times as many pixels as your HD TV. All the usual spec boosts over previous models. Only $2499–which isn’t that bad a deal if you compare the cost of a 4K TV, or 4K PC monitor. Fans of the late, lamented oviod iMacs will be disappointed to hear that there are still no plans to bring back the rainbow colors.

New Mac Mini. Faster, cheaper.

Is it just me, or are the mini versions of Apple’s products not getting much love this year? I guess they’re just not very exciting compared to the tininess of the Apple Watch. And the lightness of the iPad Air 2.