Why and how I installed a new ROM for my Moto G

On my 23 birthday, I damaged my phone due to over drinking the day before and had to get a replacement phone. I decided to get a Moto G because it had the title of being the best budget phone around. I was hoping my old phone could hold up till I get one of the better phones such as LG G3 or OnePlusOne but that didn’t happen and I realised I couldn’t survive a day without my phone (I tried, for 3 hours and failed). So began my quest for an affordable replacement.

To save money, I got a O2 locked version which thankfully worked with my giffgaff simcard. The phone did meet up to my expectations especially after reading many reviews. I liked the responsiveness of the phone and the long battery life.

For a month and a half I used the stock ROM and was generally quite happy with it. The only thing I wished was for it to have more storage space, expandable or not. I use up about 3GB for offline wikipedia and dictionary, which doesn’t leave me much for other media.

I read somewhere that Google is having phones that have in built memory instead of expandable ones is to steer people towards using their online cloud services. As a sidetrack, in the US, online streaming services, and cloud storage are very popular and having phones with in built memory makes sense. In Asia, most people take their media with them, and that’s why companies like Samsung whose phones mostly have expandable storage are doing so well. I would think UK is somewhere in the middle in the take-you-media vs streaming spectrum so such phones can influence the market.

Anyway, back to the story. One thing I hate about stock Android ROM is that when an update is available, the OS nags you to update. It stays in the notification bar and it keeps prompting me to update. I appreciate the reminder to keep software updated. But I would like the option of staying on older versions and not be constantly nagged about it. After a few days I gave in to the annoyance and updated to the new Android Kit Kat and boy was that a mistake…

The biggest annoyance is the lost of signal from my giffgaff sim. I suppose the new OS had some stricter network checking. This in turn affected the battery life because it spent more time trying to look for a signal. Secondly, it affected my mobile data because when a signal is lost and reestablished, the mobile data connection might not work anymore. This means I had to frequently restart my phone just so I can have mobile connection. These problems were described in this article too.

The annoyance built up until one day I decided I had to do something. I would have stuck with stock ROM if there was an option for me to revert back to the stable OS. Doing a factory reset would mean losing my data, and if I have to lose my data, I might as well start anew with a custom ROM, and so I did.

The process was very straight forward compared to the old days when installing custom ROM required you to scour forums to understand what you are doing. The process is summarised below:

  1. Unlock bootloader (which allows installation of other ROMs)
  2. Root the phone (giving full access to the phone)
  3. Install a custom recovery (to provide the interface for installing stuff)
  4. Find a ROM

I decided to go with Ehndroid ROM because it listed the improvements so I could judge whether it was ideal for me.

 

Clicking on red boxes will reveal your interests

I came across this interesting site that cross references your browsing history with the popular feed reader feedly to determine one’s area of interests. When I first visited the website, I was curious about it’s mechanism. I wasn’t sure what to expect; it asked me to click on red boxes and claims that it will determine my interests based on some advanced neuroscience. I did as told because it seems like a harmless thing to do. As I was mechanically clicking boxes, I was wondering how on earth would clicking red boxes reveal anything. Could the order matter? Could the number of wrong clicks reveal that I am somewhat rash, or have some sort of compulsive disorder?

As an aside, I noticed that when my mouse hovered over the boxes, it showed that they were links to websites that I have visited, I thought that it might be one of those click jacking websites, but closer inspection of the source ruled that out.

When I was finally done, I was presently surprised about the result. It did match my interests to a large extent. So I became more curious and peeped into its inner working. Essentially, the boxes represents websites with a category tag, red boxes indicate visited websites, clicking it adds it to a list, ranking the interest is just ranking the tags.

I thought it was a neat idea and wondered if this can be done automatically instead of having the user manually do the clicking. So I thought about using JQuery to select visited links, and realised the query returned nothing. I then tried changing the CSS to only show visited links, or to make the text way bigger for visited links so that it is easier to click on. None of these worked either, and so I started to do some research.

It turns out what I was trying to do has security implications. The feature I want can be used by malicious website to detect a user’s browsing history, and we know that’s not good ;). If that were allowed, it expose a covert channel, which is an unintended channel which information can leak through. For example, detecting whether a link is visited or not acts like a litmus paper with which information about the browsing history can be leaked to the website.

The methods in these articles describing how that could be done.

One can come up with a list of websites and use Javascript to select those that have been visited before and send them to a server, and this can be done automatically when the page load.

If that is not allowed, one can still work around it if links were allowed to be different in sizes. Because the status of links can be learned by querying other elements of the page which may have been resized because of the difference in sizes.

These holes have been fixed and we can have some confidence that our browsing history is still private, for now.

Obsessed with free space

Being a 90’s kid, I remember being concerned about the amount of free space I get when signing up for free services. My first email account was from Hotmail. They offered free storage from 2 to 4 mb, I remember having to periodically clear my inbox so emails don’t get bounced. Then came Gmail, which offered a whooping 1GB when it was first released. The ethos was that you don’t have to delete your emails ever again. So in those days, there was valid concern then about the size of email accounts, and bigger = better seems to be the adage. But nowadays, services are throwing practically unlimited storage to the average user so most people never have to worry about running out of space. But even though I know I will probably never use up half of the given free storage, I can’t help the mentality that more storage means it’s better.

It all started when cloud storage was introduced. Dropbox was very popular because of its convenience. It provides 2GB of free storage for any user. That seems decent. Then shortly after, substitutes start to pop up everywhere. I personally signed up for two other services at the same time: Sugarsync and Box.com. The latter actually provided a promotional 50GB for life. What I was thinking when I signed up was: More space can’t possibly hurt.

However, although space wasn’t an issue anymore, there was a new problem: these services don’t work well together. I suddenly needed to remember where I had stored my files. I find myself myself asking “Did I store it in dropbox, or was it in sugarsync or was it in box?!” and sometimes I have to log into all three services just to find out which one I used to store my file. I suppose it works fine if you compartmentalize your files so that perhaps all your hobbyist documents go to one and all your other personal document goes to the other but it takes a lot of organisational skill to ensure things don’t get mixed up. Backing up using two different file storage system is also not trivial. One option would be to duplicate files on both services, but that would imply having two copies of the same file on your desktop, a huge redundancy. Keeping both files up to date is also another problem. The solution to duplicated files is to have only one copy of the file, but have a symbolic link in the other watched folder. This solves the problem of having two copies of the same file. But the problem is when a file is changed, the syncing software doesn’t recognise that the file that the symbolic link is pointing to has changed. So it doesn’t upload the newer version, causing inconsistency issue. This problem occurs in Windows, I am not sure if it exists for Linux since the symbolic link implementation is slightly different. But if one is using Windows, there is no easy solution at the moment.

Since each service provides a certain set of features, it’s sensible to use each services for a particular purpose rather than coalescing all the space together. For example, when box first came out, it did not have a desktop program to automatically watch a folder and upload change file. Even though it provided 50GB of file storage, it was difficult utilising the storage. There was a hack to mount the drive onto the desktop and so it will act like an external hard drive. But it was unstable and it didn’t work after awhile. So I abandoned it. I primarily used Box to archive some of the files, so that I have access to them over the internet.

Fast forward to 2013, a few other services were born. A few worth mentioning are Tresorit and Copy. Tresorit aims to tackle the problem of schronising private data with focus on privacy and security of the files, Copy aims to allow sharing of media such as Photos without the parties involved paying the full storage ‘cost’.

Recently, I learned that flickr decides to offer 1TB of storage for all its user (free users included) in order to compete with other services such as Facebook etc. At first I was like “WOW, I need to get this.” But upon further analysis, I unveiled the catch behind this offer. The caveat is that daily upload is capped at 300MB.  To put it in perspective, it doesn’t really matter whether flickr had offered 1TB or 9999TB, because to utilise 1TB fully, one would need to use flickr for at least 3334 days ~ 9 years. At the rate technology is progressing now, that’s like a lifetime. I am willing to bet that in the next 9 years, there will be other services that can match the offer flickr is making or even provide something better. It is an ingenious marketing strategy to attracting people with the 1TB. It is analogous to advertising free burger, knowing that people would flock to the store and queue up for hours just for a burger that cost less than £2. It is not so much about the burger than it is about the publicity.

Not only has flickr provided virtually unlimited storage, picasa in collaboration with google plus photo, has changed to allow users to upload unlimited pictures that are under a certain size. In my opinion, it is essentially the same concept as flickr, but without the gimmick.

Summary of links

Dropbox 

Sugarsync

Box.com

Tresorit

Copy

Gesture-related technology

Technology has allowed us to move away from interfacing the computer with just keyboard and mice. The advent of touchscreen gave birth to a plethora of new applications and games that uses touch interface. Now, gesture recognition is the latest fad. The Kinect is an excellent example. It has two cameras, so it is stereoscopic – able to detect depth – like the human eye.

One of my friends got a Dr. Who sonic screw driver remote control, which is basically a gesture based remote control. It is quite interesting to play with, but if you’re not a Dr. Who fan, it’s just a very expensive universal remote control.

Dr who sonic screw driver gesture based remote control

There are also other upcoming technologies in the gesture realm. Interested readers can search on websites like kickstarters for similar product. The following are some of them.

Myo – https://www.thalmic.com/myo/

Leap motion – https://www.leapmotion.com/

Wisee – http://wisee.cs.washington.edu/

http://www.nbcnews.com/technology/wi-fi-your-home-can-track-your-moves-xbox-kinect-6C10194118

The last one is of some interest because using WiFi signal other than to transfer data, which is unheard of. There has been some research in using wifi signals to track vision.

http://www.businessinsider.com/researchers-can-see-through-walls-with-wi-vi-2013-6

These new concepts have raised some privacy alarm. Because WiFi devices are ubiquitous and the signal information is free to access, people are concern that it makes spying on people easier. I think that at the moment it’s still too early to comment on the potential of using these technique to spy on people. However, this new development is certainly interesting to me.

Music player pick

I have been using itunes for awhile now because I possessed some apple products such as itouch and ipad. I have this obsession with having complete album art and lyrics and itunes was rather lacking in that respect; it could not accurately retrieve album arts for most of my music and updating lyrics was not practical. I got a third party add-on called minilyrics that did the job but it wasn’t perfect. For instance, it doesn’t solve the problem of saving the lyrics.

Recently after getting my new laptop, I had the opportunity to try out other music player. The first player that came to mind was miro, which I discovered while looking for itunes alternative for linux. However, after doing some research and reading reviews, I concluded that it wasn’t a good substitute. So I decided to try other alternatives. Then I found songbird.

While it does not natively meet my two requirements of cover art and lyrics, there were add-ons that were perfect for the job. The add-on I have now automatically searches for the lyrics, and provides an un-obstructive button that will save the lyrics to the music file, which is in my opinion pretty neat! The cover art add-on brings back the itunes-like cover flow viewing, which is always nice to have.

However, there are a few things which I did not quite like about the program. Firstly, many of the add-ons are depreciated or discontinued. Yet, these add-ons are searchable yet not downloadable. It gets irritating when I find a plugin that seems promising only to realise it is not compatible with my latest version of songbird. It reminded me of the rapidly improving firefox that had so many versions that many add-on became incompatible as a result. However, there is a filter available within the program to restrict the add-ons to those that are compatible with the current version, I did not realise this earlier and that caused me some inconveniences.

Another thing that I think this program comes short of is the support for apple products. It does not support apple driver, so it cannot replace itunes in managing portable media players such as ipod or ipad. However, since I’m using other software to manage musics/videos on my apple devices (because these software allows me to add and remove music from the device without syncing, which introduces the possibility of losing some music files).