Simple Launcher for Android phones

For the past few months I’ve been a voluntary coach at a New Zealand programme called Digital Seniors, which is being piloted here in Wairarapa.

Most of our advice and tweaking during the clinics we hold in the region’s towns relates to mobile devices.

I’ve come across some very messy and confusing home/launch screens on some of our Digital Seniors’ Android phones. Usually app icons are spread over several half-full pages and there’s been no attempt to group most-used apps together. Some of the apps that appear are ones the phone owners will never use – they typically have no idea why the icons are there or what they do. They are usually apps that the phone company (I’m looking at you, Samsung!) has pre-loaded and many of them are of little or no use.

While it’s possible to prune and re-arrange the icon mess in the phones’ own launchers, I recently went to the Android Play Store and investigated simplified launcher programs. There are quite a few of them.

Some use icons that are patronisingly large and some of the apps are either pay-for or contain advertising. After trying several of them I settled on the free and ad-free Simple Launcher, by Cloud Innovation Studio. I trialled it on my wife’s phone, and she’s still very happily using it. So are a couple of Digital Seniors clients whose phones I’ve installed it on.

Finding the app in the Play Store is tricky because several other apps have Simple Launcher in their name. Look out for the light blue icon:

Play Store

The launcher has a main launch page (on the left below) where you put nine most-used apps. Additional commonly used apps can be put on a page (or pages) you can right-swipe to. While the important apps will be put on the launch page, all of the apps installed on the phone are available by swiping below the launch screen – another version of the App Drawer.

Clicking the EDIT link puts the pages into edit mode. In this mode you can add and remove app icons and phone numbers.

Main & contacts pages

Swiping left takes you to the phone contacts screen, shown above on the right. Here you can put instant-dial contacts for family and friends.

Breakout contacts

The screens above show the breakout pages from the Family and SOS icons. One click on these icons starts the phone call – no need to separately launch the phone app. I wish I could have included the emergency 111 number in the SOS calls, but this isn’t possible. Simple Launcher sources phone numbers from the Contacts app and I haven’t found a way to add 111 to Contacts. (Any suggestions?)

Control centre list

The phone contacts/SOS page also includes a Control Center (see its menu on the right).

Generally I think Simple Launcher is great phone improvement for anyone whose needs are relatively simple. It’s not for me – I have many apps and like to group some of them in folders. I use the Nova Launcher.

Simple Launcher looks particularly good on a plain background such as I have here. It won’t look so good against social photos wallpaper, but even then it will be easier to figure out than most launchers.

I do have a couple of niggles. One is the inability to include the emergency 111 number, but to be fair, this is probably also the case with all other launchers. They probably have to source any easy-dial numbers from the Contacts app. It is of course possible to make the 111 number prominent elsewhere – e.g. on the lock screen, but that requires you to open the phone app separately and dial manually. Also, if you have been actively using your phone, it’s hard to get to the lock screen, because the phone may not yet have ‘gone to sleep’.

Another quibble is that it is not possible to long-press on app icons and move them around. It’s a nuisance, but not a deal-breaker.

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How dare they mock him? (How could they not?)

Today’s World Wide Web is full of reaction to Donald Trump’s pronouncement that he’s a “very stable genius”.  You might wonder at a man who is so unaware that he can’t understand that such a twitterclaim would dump him straight into ordure. But not The Donald. He believes firmly that ‘any publicity is good publicity’. He may be right. I may just be another unwitting cypher burnishing his ongoing greatness. Along with the cartoonists, bless them…

Narcissus and the reflecting pool

Buffalo News

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Trump Buffalo News

Trump Wapost2


Baltimore Sun Stable Genius

Baltimore Sun


The New Yorker

Fire and Fury

Trump Wapost



Washington Post

Donald at the end

Wishful thinking



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Traction engine display at the Wool Shed

We’re gradually filling new exhibition space at Masterton’s Wool Shed Museum, and the latest arrivals have been a steam-powered roller along with some explanatory panels. The council offered us a good deal that let us build a new wing, in return for storing their old Aveling & Porter steamroller. It’s a working vehicle that still puffs its way around local fairs and agricultural shows, several times a year.

On the face of it, an urban steamroller makes no sense in an agricultural museum, but there are a couple of – sort of – justifications. First, it was the only way we could afford to extend the museum. Second, the steam roller is almost the same as the many traction engines that played an important role in New Zealand’s rural community between the 1880s and 1930s. Behind the front axle they are identical.

In order to link the steam roller with the traction engines that were used on farms and for road haulage, I spent several weeks researching old newspapers and photos and then designing the enormous panels we’ve put on the walls.


View of the Aveling and Porter steamroller, beside the information panels I produced. The insulation in the ceiling (and behind the wall panels) is, of course, wool.

Still to be installed is a large red button which we think will be popular with kids who come into the museum. Pressing the button will launch a loud “toot toot”, then the sound of working traction engine.


Here’s some information about traction engines I wrote for one of the display panels:
Steam engines were first developed commercially during the 18th century, in Britain. Initially replacing water and wind power for running pumps and machinery, they soon provided motive power for boats and railway trains. The engines were large and very heavy, and it wasn’t until the 1850s that serious attempts were made to make self-powered steam vehicles that could travel on roads and farmland, rather than on rails. Traction engine design developed rapidly until the end of the 1860s, after which the format remained essentially unchanged.
Reports of the new vehicles, their hauling feats and claimed superiority over horse power, appeared in New Zealand newspapers from 1857. We would see our first traction engine ten years later, when a machine built by the Howard Brothers of Bedford, England, was imported by W A Willes. He used it to cultivate his property at Waikara Plains, North Canterbury. A handful of traction engines were imported over the next few years and their novelty kept them in the news.
In 1871 a machine imported by the Auckland Provincial Government attracted many column inches of reportage, some very skeptical. Announcing trials for Auckland’s first traction engine in 1871, the Evening Star (later the Auckland Star) advised: “Tie up your horses, feed them well and lock the stable door, else will the snorting engine find them out and incite them to violent and rampageous rebellion.”
Horses hated the machines, which also caused much damage to roads and bridges. Bylaws required people to walk 200 yards in front of traction engines to warn other road users.
From the 1880s, traction engines were being regularly imported from Britain, with brands including Barrett, McLaren, Fowler, Aveling & Porter and Burrell. The last two brands were particularly common in New Zealand. The machines were usually owned by contractors or local authorities.
Traction engines had a variety of uses. One was hauling loads along roads. Immense tonnages could be pulled – far more than horses could manage. Local authorities used the roller variant, such as the Aveling & Porter machine in this museum, for making roads. They were common on farms until the 1930s, though their use began to decline soon after the First World War, with competition from lighter and more efficient internal combustion engine trucks and tractors.
On farms, traction engines were mostly used as stationary engines. They were driven into place and, using their flywheel and a belt, they powered equipment such as threshing machines, sawmills and shearing gear. They also pulled ploughs and other cultivating equipment. About 2000 of these machines were in New Zealand at their peak around 1920.

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Poppies in Martinborough

Poppies-title--slideWe’ve had a few opium poppies (Papaver Somniferum) in a flower bed for several years. They grow well and look very pretty. Unfortunately they are very good at spraying their seed and spreading. This year a dense swarm descended on part of our vegetable garden. We didn’t get around to weeding them out and then we thought we’d see what a poppy thicket would look like. Nice! At least it does for the moment – we must get rid of the plants before they fire their seed over the rest of the vegetable garden.


Liz picking black currants for the freezer.


Bumble bees are really enjoying the poppies.

While it’s legal to grow opium poppies in New Zealand, it’s illegal to process them into a drug. Which does seem a little strange and overly trusting. You can’t grow marijuana plants as ornamentals, even if you say you won’t use them as a drug (yeah right). Possibly opium poppies are let of the hook because it’s much more of a hassle to turn the plant into opioid drugs. A commercial drug pusher would find it much cheaper to import heroin and other opiates.  Besides which, it’s hard to disguise large plots of brilliantly coloured flowers.

I understand the law in America is less understanding and growing opium poppies, even for ornamental use, is mostly a no-no.

Posted in Gardening, Martinborough, Opium poppies | Tagged | 3 Comments

It’s been a good year for rhododenrons

This gallery contains 5 photos.

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New Denver, British Columbia

We recently scooted through the tiny town of New Denver, British Columbia. One of the highlights was a cute headquarters for the mighty Valley Voice – a bi-weekly newspaper that promotes itself as being proudly “100 percent independently and locally owned.” Good on ’em, and up yours, Rupert.

Valley Voice, New Denver 2017

The windows were filled with community notices, which, among other things, advised of a public meeting about bears in the community, a ‘FibreFeelia’ textile arts get-together, a women’s wellness day, antiques fair, clothing exchange and scrap metals dealer.

Home to 500 residents, New Denver is in south-eastern BC, not far north of the US border. It is eight hours drive from Vancouver and 6.5 hours from Calgary, Alberta.

The town started out in 1892 and was originally called Eldorado. It expected to be the centre of a lead and silver mining boom. Then the name was changed, to claim an affinity with Denver, the genuine mining boom town in Colorado. Alas, New Denver’s boom was only mini and it petered out by 1920.

New Denver’s next raison d’être seems to have been hosting an internment camp for ethnic Japanese during World War II. That period is remembered at the town’s Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre.

Fast-forward to the Vietnam War when, being close to the US border, New Denver became a magnet for American draft-dodgers.

New Denver people protest cellphone installation, 2010

Locals protesting to the Telus installers in August 2010. (Photo: the Valley Voice)

Then the settlement achieved notoriety for being one of Canada’s last hold-outs against the new-fangled mobile phone. In a 2008 referendum, citizens voted against having a mobile service. Their beefs included alleged brain frazzling, and noisy phones preventing the town marketing itself as a tranquil cell-free sanctuary. Others may have just been reacting negatively to the arrogance of Canada’s national telco, Telus.

All to no avail. Two years later, Telus went ahead and installed the facility anyway, arriving in a phalanx of trucks that were met by a peaceful, but ineffective, citizens’ protest.

Lake Slocam2

Slocum Lake, at the end of the main street, was tranquil, cell phones or not.

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An Alaskan cruise

It was our first cruise and to be honest, we joined it because it was the only remotely affordable way of seeing Alaskan coastal scenery. We’d scoffed at the cruise scene in the past – we weren’t going to share a ship with a multitude of people and all that tacky glitz and tantara.

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Our ship, the Coral Princess, waiting for us at Whittier, near Alaska’s biggest city, Anchorage.

The coastal scenery was as fantastic as we’d imagined. And it turned out that the cruise experience was pretty damn good too. We’d do it again, though the cruise location would have to appeal in its own right. We wouldn’t cruise just for the sake of cruising. Many people do, though.

It was really relaxing on board – there’s a lot to be said for a week of zero responsibility or pressure.

Well yes, there was some pressure – to be up-sold on goods and services that weren’t included in the basic cruise charge. But it was easy to ignore such blandishments, because what came with our basic cruise fee was fine by us. There were ample opportunities to hugely increase our overall cost but we refused to play the game. Bad cruisers!

We didn’t pay extra to eat in specialty restaurants. We didn’t buy concession tickets for drinks and espresso coffee. We didn’t get spa treatments, turn up for expensive wine tastings, throw our money away in the casino, have our photos taken by the ship’s photographer, go to lectures about tanzanite jewels (buy! buy!), or put Tag Heuer watches on our wrists. Nor did we participate in an art auction for tacky paintings (we walked out of a ridiculous session early in the week, explaining the auction).

We didn’t even bother with our allocated ‘free’ waiter-service restaurant. We started at the buffet restaurant and stayed there because the food was excellent and there was no waiting for waiters or food delivery.

There were plenty of very expensive shore tours we could have taken. We went on only one special tour – to the mushers’ sled dog camp near Skagway (loved it). We didn’t book it through Princess Lines, which charged more for the same thing. The rest of our shore time was spent doing long walks, some on routes we’d already researched. We enjoyed these very non-Kiwi towns.

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Sled dogs relaxing after hauling us around the Mushers’ Camp. This team and its owner (the woman in green) are working their way through the qualifying stages for the famous Iditarod Trail race

We shared the Coral Princess with 2000 fellow-passengers, but rarely felt crowded. The ship was big enough to lose them. There were lots of  different bars, restaurants, shops and sanctuaries such a card room, casino and library. We enjoyed quiet times in the library, sitting in comfortable chairs reading our Kindles while alpine scenery passed by the window. In the evenings we we enjoyed some quite classy stage shows.

Most of the passengers would have been aged 55+, but there were younger people, including children and teenagers. There was an exclusive kids’ area in the stern of the ship, which we stumbled into when exploring the ship. We were promptly thrown out.

Overwhelmingly the passengers were white Americans, but there were quite a few south and east Asians, especially Chinese. There was a smattering of Latinos. Afro-Americans were conspicuous by their absence and I don’t remember seeing more than about half a dozen of them.

We were in a cheaper ‘Oceanview’ cabin*, rather than a cabin with an outside balcony. But it was good – one of a handful in this cabin class that were as big as balcony cabins and had the ocean view on the wall rather than above the bedhead. There was extra seating, including a sofa, and we watched the scenery in some comfort.

*I can’t bring myself to use the inflated cruise industry term, ‘stateroom’. A cabin is a cabin, even when it’s a flash one.

Having no personal outside balcony was no problem to us – it wasn’t tropical lounging weather and there were plenty of other places we could get outside views.

A potential downside of our cabin location was that it was well forward on the ship, so we would have been thrown around in rough weather. We took the risk and were rewarded with a millpond.

Below are some of the mountains and glaciers included in a a video slideshow I’ve uploaded to YouTube – click here.

Or click here to take a look inside the Coral Princess.

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Not bad to wake up to on our first morning on board. On our way to the Hubbard Glacier.

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Hubbard Glacier. Fortunately a nice day, though it was chilly close to the glacier.

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Hubbard Glacier

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Some hardy souls just wore t-shirts.

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Further south we entered the spectacular Bay of Glaciers National Park. We spent most of the time here, at Margerie Glacier. Park rangers boarded the ship and described the sights in the theatre and out on the deck. The weather was drizzly and cold, but not bad enough to keep us indoors.

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Alaska 2017-cruise exterior-050

Margerie Glacier. From time to time we saw and heard chunks of ice ‘calving’ off the face of the glacier and splashing into the bay.

As well as enjoying the mountain and glacier scenery, we called into three very isolated towns with colourful histories. They included two small towns – Skagway and Ketchikan – and the larger Juneau, which has 33,000 people. Juneau is the capital of Alaska. None of these towns can be reached by road.


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The Coral Princess tied up at Skagway. Click here for a video slide show of our visit to this town.

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Ravens welcoming us at the Juneau dock. These birds were huge and they were everywhere. Ravens are big in Native mythology (though the appellation ‘native’, for indigenous populations is no longer considered PC in New Zealand, in Alaska it’s still what it is). Click here to see the Juneau video slideshow.

Alaska 2017-cruise-Ketchikan-001

Parked in Ketchikan, right on the main street. Fortunately our cabin was on the port side of the ship, which on a southward cruise gives the best views. Binoculars are a must for this cruise.  Click here to view the Ketchikan video slideshow.



Posted in Alaska, Cruise holiday, Cruising | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments