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CM Nexus Gingerbread for MyTouch 4G

If you’re a regular reader, you may have noticed that my blog posts have become less frequent lately and more about my smartphone than anything of importance. Basically, I’m of the opinion that people shouldn’t write unless they have something to say. You’ll see I have some 500+ blog posts, many of substance, with perspectives not often expressed by others. Generally, though, if I feel a certain way about an issue, and I see that plenty of others have already blogged the same perspective (or if even I have in the past), I just don’t see the point in saying “Yeah, me, too” or “Let me repeat what I said before.”

So this is for the ten MyTouch 4G users out there who are reading. Maybe there are only three of you, actually.

For two years, I’ve been using Cyanogen roms. They’re solid. They’re good. I’ve even donated a very small amount to the project. I used Cyanogen on my old MyTouch 3G, and I used it for my currenty MyTouch 4G.

Just on a whim, I thought I’d try another rom, and I ended up trying [ROM] (v1.3.1) CM Nexus Gingerbread 2.3.5 – Faux123 [Aug-30-2011]. It’s a good rom with some bad defaults.

The good:

  • It’s fast and responsive.
  • It’s very close to vanilla Gingerbread (doesn’t even include ADW Launcher or a custom boot splash screen).
  • Even though the developer says Updates for this ROM will NOT be very FAST or FREQUENT due to my LACK OF TIME…, it actually appears to get updated more often than the official Cyanogen rom. It’s gone through 27 versions since the beginning of April.

The bad:

  • There are multiple download links, but whichever one I picked, the download speed was extremely slow, and the announcing post did not include an MD5 hash to verify the download integrity. In case anyone’s curious, my download appeared to be fine afterwards, and the MD5 hash was cedcfd08aba0b7717f3c9b0237089290.
  • The keyboard default is to make a loud clicking sound (much like a typewriter) with every key press. And before you log in, there’s really no way to turn this off or even adjust the volume. Fortunately, once you do log in, you can turn it off.
  • The keyboard is also an English/Asian keyboard by default, with both Chinese and Japanese input methods. I’m all for accessibility, but this is a bit confusing, since the thread announcing the rom is totally in English on an English-speaking forum, and there’s mention at all in the rom description that it’s a trilingual keyboard. I had to Google how to get rid of it and bring back the standard Gingerbread keyboard (long-press a text input box and then select Input Method).

Another nice thing—and I’m not sure it has anything to do with the rom itself, since I checked the /system/build.prop file, and the phone identifies itself as HTC Glacier, which is the original model name of the MyTouch 4G phone—is that I can natively install Netflix from the Android Market (no need to trick the Market into thinking I have another phone or no need to manually download a copy of the .apk from some random place). So either Netflix finally expanded official support to the MyTouch 4G, or the rom builder included some other workaround that isn’t modifying the build.prop file.

Overall, a nice rom (with a couple of bad defaults), and the 3in1 Angry Birds Backup app was instrumental in making the move over relatively painless.

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Some advice for Google about Plus

Last year, I wrote Some advice for Google about Buzz, and unfortunately Google did not take my advice, and Buzz failed (not saying if they had taken my advice that Buzz would have succeeded, but it might have at least stood a chance). The good thing is they did take some of my advice for Buzz and apply it to Google Plus, by allowing people to start slowly (you just need a Google account, as far as I can tell, not a Gmail address), reducing noise-to-signal ratio (with circles streams), and making privacy settings easy.

But Google Plus is not yet in the clear. I have only one piece of advice for Google at this point for Google Plus: let people sign up already!!!

When the news media first started talking about Google Plus, I signed up for an invite and never got it. Then a friend of mine, who is the social networking master, offered invites on Facebook, and I jumped on it right away. I was able then to invite several other friends before Google clamped down because of “insane demand.”

Look, Google… don’t let this chance pass you by. Right now, Google Plus is getting unanimously glowing reviews in both the tech press and the mainstream press. Everybody loves Google Plus, but Google Plus sucks if no one is using it. I seriously have 12 friends on it, and only about three of them update regularly—doesn’t make for a site I want to come back to often.

So if you really are trying to roll this out carefully, instead of just opening the floodgates and then clamping down on all invites, give each Google Plus user an allotment of two invites per week (invites that actually work). That will be a slow rollout and will play on people’s already existing anticipation.

Be smart, Google. You finally have a good product. If you play your cards right, Google Plus will be a Gmail, Maps, Android, Chrome or Docs (instead of a Buzz, Video Player, or Answers).

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How to “invite” someone to Google Plus

Note: This procedure has worked for me on 30 June, 2011 and 1 July, 2011. Things are very much in flux at Google with this beta release product, so these instructions may not work later, or there may later be better ways to actually invite people.

Google likes to release new stuff as beta testing and start by inviting just a few people. I think Gmail was in beta for four years or something. Right now, Google Plus is in beta, and it doesn’t really make sense that Google is being stingy with the invites. After all, what’s the point of a social networking site if “no one” is using it? So here is how I’ve invited people.

Step 1

Click on Share in the top-right corner and write something (anything). Below that, paste in the email address of the person you’re trying to invite. Confirm it, and it’ll turn blue. Then click the green Share button.

Step 2

The person who got the “invite” will see an email saying you’ve shared something. That person should click View or comment on so-and-so’s post.

Step 3

This will open up a link in the web browser, and then the person can click on Join Google+.

Step 4

Then the last step is to click Sign In and sign in with a Google account.

That’s it. Please don’t post in the comments begging me to invite you. Beg your friends to read this tutorial instead.

Problems?

You may get this message saying Google has temporarily exceeded its capacity. If so, just try again later.

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Cloud Music: Google v. Amazon

I know some privacy nuts are very anti-cloud storage, but I’ve seen enough distraught users having just lost all of their data from a failed hard drive, accidental deletion, or stolen computer to know that even though “The Cloud” isn’t for everyone, it’s still good for most people. Most computer users do not make regular backups of their personal files, and most corporations have redundant backups. So is it theoretically conceivable that Amazon or Google might somehow lose your personal files if you store them on a remote server? Sure. But it’s far more likely you’ll lose your files if you store them only locally.

More importantly, cloud storage doesn’t have to be the only storage. I back up to two external hard drives, a second computer, and the cloud. While I do value my privacy to a certain extent, I don’t have a privacy-at-all-costs approach to life, and there are other things I value just as much, if not more (e.g., photos that cannot be retaken, a music collection it’s taken me decades to build), so I was excited when this spring Google and Amazon each decided to release a cloud-based music player. Here are my pros and cons on the two services.

Google Music Beta Pros

  • Storage of up to 20,000 songs. I have only about 6500 in my collection, and that’s my total collection that it’s taken me decades to amass, so I’m highly unlikely to ever go over that storage limit.
  • Relatively fast upload. Given just how many GB of songs I had to upload, it took only a few days to upload. Not bad.
  • Decent-looking interface. It’s no iTunes (and I know there are iTunes haters out there, but I think it’s a great program, except for having no Linux port).

Google Music Beta Cons

  • Right now it’s invite-only. Eventually I did get an invite, and so did my wife, but I don’t really think the invite system is really necessary, considering the program has the word beta in its name.
  • There’s one song that just refuses to upload. It isn’t the wrong format. I’ve tried the workarounds Google and others have suggested. It just won’t upload. And there’s no way to manually upload it.
  • The upload client is Windows or Mac only. Some clever Linux users have found a way to make the Windows client work in Linux using Wine, but Google really should release a Linux native client. Or, better yet, upload straight through the web browser using a cross-platform tool like Java or Flash.
  • This is the real deal-breaker for me: it isn’t really a cloud back-up solution, since you cannot re-download the songs once you’ve uploaded them. You upload them, and then the only thing you can do is stream the songs or delete them. For me, this totally defeats the purpose of cloud storage. And even when, on my Android phone, I marked certain albums as available for off-line use, the actual music file doesn’t show up anywhere on my MicroSD card, so for all practical purposes, it’s still just a streaming service, because I’m cut off from re-downloading my own music.

Amazon Cloud Player Pros

  • You can download songs after you’ve uploaded them.
  • You get free storage for any newly purchased Amazon songs or albums.
  • You get 5 GB of free storage, but you can bump that up to 20 GB if you purchase an Amazon MP3 album once a year.
  • The Amazon MP3 uploader actually shows you the progress of each individual upload. Google Music Beta will show you just the current number out of the total.
  • You can manually select a location (not just all of iTunes) to upload.

Amazon Cloud Player Cons

  • The upload verification process is buggy. I tried to upload only songs from a particular playlist in iTunes. One time it said it was done uploading but only half of the songs had actually uploaded. Another time it was supposed to simply resume uploading where it had left off, but it started again from the beginning and created a bunch of duplicates I had to manually delete.
  • The uploader itself is buggy. It works just fine on my Macbook Pro running Leopard, but it hangs on Loading… on my wife’s Macbook Pro running Snow Leopard. I’ve Googled but haven’t found a solution to this. Uninstalling and reinstalling the uploader doesn’t help, nor does installing the latest version of Adobe Air, quitting all the other programs, or rebooting the computer.
  • Like the Google Music Beta uploader, the Amazon one is for Windows and Mac only. I’m not sure if it’ll work in Linux using Wine or not. Again, why not just use Java or Flash? Why a separate application?

Oh, and for both Google Music Beta and Amazon Cloud Player, why isn’t there a way to display and then purge duplicate songs? The algorithms for detecting duplicates before upload is deficient for both services, so at least they should make an easy way to clean up after upload.

Overall, I’m pleased that Google and Amazon have started down this path. I’m mainly going with Amazon, though, just because it allows the ability to re-download songs, so the cloud storage is real storage (a back-up solution) instead of just a way to stream songs. Perhaps after Google Music comes out of Beta it’ll be a bit more polished. Then again, Amazon’s Cloud Player is not in beta, and it still lacks some of the polish Google Music Beta does.

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Tux is on a cereal box?

The original Tux Linux, for your all you Windows and Mac users out there, has a mascot. The mascot’s name is tux. Here’s the original Tux. I’ve pretty much never seen this original mascot in association with anything other than Linux.
Revised Tux
This is a more hip, revised Tux. You can see a whole bunch of different kinds of this revised Tux at Tux Factory. You can find Tux as Zelda’s Link, Tux as the devil, Tux as a soccer player, Tux as Chewbacca, etc. That’s all lots of fun.
Cereal Tux I was shocked, though, to find this revised Tux on a real cereal box in a real grocery store. Thanks to my Android phone, I was able to capture the moment. Has anyone eaten this cereal? Is it any good?

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Whitelisting just a YouTube channel

At my school, we block YouTube access for the students. Recently, though, we started up a school YouTube channel and wanted to grant the students access to just that channel and not the rest of YouTube. You would think this would be as simple as putting in a filter for *youtube.com/nameofchannel*

Unfortunately, it’s not. My wife did most of the legwork, but after a lot of trial and error and Google searching, we finally figured it out. So if someone else is searching for the answer and just coming up with a lot of deadends (just as we did), these are the URLs you have to whitelist:

*youtube.com/nameofchannel*
www.youtube.com/crossdomain.xml
*www.youtube.com/get_video*
*youtube.com/videoplayback?*
*youtube.com/profile_ajax*

Then students (or employees at your organization or company) can go to www.youtube.com/nameofchannel and see your school or company’s videos but no other videos.

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Manually updating an Android rom

As I mentioned in last month’s post Rooting Someone Else’s Droid, I set up my sister-in-law with the rooted rom Cyanogen 7 Release Candidate 4 on her Droid. Unfortunately, recently it started acting buggy on her. One of the things I advised her to do was repair permissions. Another was to make a backup and then install the latest stable rom (which, as of this writing, is Cyanogen 7.0.3).

If anyone else is remotely supporting a rooted Android phone user and would like a screenshot-laden tutorial on the update process, here it is.

The first thing you need to do is download the latest stable rom from the Cyanogen website that is appropriate for your phone model (this assumes you’re using Cyanogen—if you’re using another rom, obviously you’d download the latest version of that other rom). Since you’re upgrading and not install a rooted rom for the first time, you don’t need to download the Google apps zipped file. Also, be sure not to unzip the .zip file after you download it. Just keep it as is.

When it’s downloaded, plug in your phone and copy the .zip file to the top-level directory of your mounted MicroSD card. In other words, it should not be inside of a folder on your phone’s storage.

After you’ve copied it over and turned off USB mass storage, you can begin the backup and update process. Now, I know Rom Manager comes with the ability to backup and update from within the rom, but I recommend the manual way outlined here, because there’s no risk of you trying to update files that are currently in use. There also may be some features that are available for only the paid version (which you may not have) of Rom Manager.


Open up Rom Manager, which you should have already installed if you’re using a Cyanogen rom. Otherwise, you can easily install it off the Android Market.


Select Reboot into Recovery


Tap OK


When your phone reboots, use your little trackball or whatever means you have to move the highlight up and down until you’ve reached backup and restore and then press the trackball or selection button to proceed.


Select Backup


Wait for it to backup. This could take several minutes. Be patient.


Now that you’ve backed up, go ahead and select install zip from sdcard


Select choose zip from sdcard


Find the file. If it’s a Cyanogen rom, it’s usually called update-cm-[version number-phone model]-signed.zip


Confirm with Yes


Wait for the update to install


When it’s done installing, press the Back button to get back to the main menu. Then select reboot system now


Then you’re good! You have an update to the rom, and you also have a backup in case, for some reason, the update is screwy.

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Android Battery Saving Tips

Don’t run a “task killer” app
A lot of people think a task killer or app killer app will save you battery life. In fact, you’ll find it regularly in the top 20 for top free apps in the Android Market. When I bought my first Android phone in 2009, the T-Mobile salesperson recommended I install it. And I’ve heard of cases in which salespeople will actually install a task killer app while you’re at the store. Let me be clear about this: task killers will not save you battery life. If they do, all it means that you have a bad app installed that, instead of being killed constantly, should be uninstalled. At best, task killers will do nothing for your phone. At worst, they will cause instability and glitches. For more details, read the following:
Android Task Killers Explained: What They Do and Why You Shouldn’t Use Them
FAQ: Why You Shouldn’t Be Using a Task Killer with Android
Why you don’t need a task killer app with Android.

Don’t bother with all the little things
So after I did quite a bit of research and found out task killers are not only useless but actually detrimental to the proper functioning of your Android phone, I read all sorts of tips espousing little things you can do to save battery: dim the screen brightness, turn off GPS, switch to Edge only (not 3G), turn off automatic syncing. Most of these things all help a little bit but not really enough to make it worth the trouble. And, in the case of GPS, sometimes they don’t help at all. GPS, for example, isn’t really on even if it’s “on” unless you’re using an app that actively uses GPS (e.g., Google Maps, Google Navigation, Yelp). If I constantly dimmed the screen and then made it brighter when I needed it and turned off syncing and synced only when I needed it, I could eke out maybe an extra hour or hour and a half of battery life. It seemed a lot of maintenance for very little return.

Use Juice Defender
It took me a year and a half of using Android before I stumbled upon and finally tried Juice Defender. This app easily doubled my battery life. I used to have my phone run from 7:30 AM to 11:30 PM at night but with only 15-20% of my battery left when I plugged it back into the charger at night. With Juice Defender, I had 50-60% of my battery left at night. There are a lot of things Juice Defender can do if you get the paid versions, which allow you to tweak settings even further, but on a basic level with the free version it turns off your data when your screen is off and then turns it back on again when your screen is on.

Even though I would highly recommend JD to anyone with an Android phone who also wants to get the most out of her battery life, there are a couple of annoying things with the program. Firstly, it insists on having a huge icon in the notification bar all the time. Well, there’s a setting to not keep it there, but apparently if you don’t keep it in the notification bar the Android OS might accidentally turn off Juice Defender to free up RAM. Secondly, it takes a few seconds for data to turn back on after your screen is on. This last little niggle led to me uninstalling Juice Defender and opting for another alternative.

Or just turn off data when you don’t need it
You kind of have to think about your own phone-using lifestyle to see what will make more sense to you—turning data off every time your screen is off (Juice Defender) or just manually turning off data when you don’t need it. For my lifestyle, it makes a lot more sense for me to turn data off manually. I’m grateful for the work the Juice Defender folks are doing in showing me how to save battery life, but the extra few seconds to wait for data to turn back on were just too much for me, the way I use my Android phone.

I basically have some periods in which I’m using my phone pretty heavily (but only in short spurts) for data and then longer periods when I’m not using my phone for data at all. So I have a power widget on my home screen for toggling data. When I’m about to use data, I turn it on. When I know I won’t be using data for a long period of time (2-3 hours or more), I turn it off.

I hope people have found these tips helpful. Post if you have any questions. (Any attempts to promote task killers will be immediately deleted as spam.)

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Rooting someone else’s Droid

I rooted my first Android phone (the MyTouch 3G) within a month of owning it, and I rooted my second Android phone (the MyTouch 4G) within a day of owning it. Rooting is sometimes an easy process and sometimes a bit complicated, but in my experience it’s always been worth the effort. My sister-in-law came to visit and complained that her almost year-and-a-half-old Droid (the original, not X or Incredible) is glitchy, has poor battery life, and is just not that responsive. She wants to get an iPhone but is not yet eligible to switch over subsidized. So I offered to root her phone for her.

Now, I’m always hesitant to try to fix people’s computer problems, and the same goes for Android phones (which are basically really small computers). On the one hand, I know their experience can be better. On the other hand, I know that a successful migration of any kind or major overhaul involves time and some testing. Most of the time, people want a quick fix. And if you tell them it’ll take a long time, they’ll feel guilty about using up your time and just say “Oh, it’s okay. Don’t bother.” Really, though, they’re still not happy with whatever situation they’re in. So I always try my best to find the balance between quick fix and thorough fix.

So I got her to promise me not to install Advanced Task Killer (which was probably responsible for at least some of the glitchiness), I backed up her bookmarks and apps, and then I began to root her phone. I tried to follow the Droid full update guide at the Cyanogen mod wiki, and I ran into a couple of bumps along the way. First of all, the sbf_flash file for Linux gave a segmentation fault, but the guide actually offers a separate download if that happens, so I used that. I also tried to flash the ClockworkMod Recovery, but when I tried to reboot into recovery mode, I got stuck on the Motorola logo, so I had to take out the battery, flash back to SPRecovery, install the Cyanogen rom, and then flash ClockworkMod again.

Immediately, she was impressed with the upgrade. I told her it was Gingerbread, and she had no idea what that meant. I told her it’s basically the next version of Android. She didn’t really seem to care. She just liked the cleaner interface. She liked the battery life displayed when she’s about to unlock the phone. She found it a bit more responsive. The only problem is I forgot to back up her Angry Birds data, so she’d have to play all the levels all over again. So I did a bit of Google searching and experimenting and found out I could get the data out of /data/data/com.rovio.angrybirds/files/highscores.lua, /data/data/com.rovio.angrybirdsrio/files/highscores.lua, and /data/data/com.rovio.angrybirdsseasons/files/highscores.lua. To do it properly, you have to beat at least one level in each version of Angry Birds. Then, instead of copying the file and changing permissions, you should cat one file into the next:

cat highscores.lua > /data/data/com.rovio.angrybirds/files/highscores.lua

Overall, I’m surprised that she liked it. Usually I think of rooting as for power users who like to tinker with their smartphones. It’s good to know end users can enjoy the benefits of a rooted phone as well. Extra bonus is that when you boot up the phone there isn’t that annoying “Droid!!!” robotic voice announcing the name of the phone. And I know she can stay on Cyanogen RC 4 until Christmas when I see her next, and still be ahead of the OTA updates to the Droid. Or she may just get the iPhone 5 by then.

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Chrome fails again – back to Firefox

Every now and then I buy into the hype about how “fast” Chrome is and how much better it is than Firefox and how Firefox’s only advantage is its many extensions. Then I actually try to use Chrome as my main browser and realize how badly implemented it is for my purposes. More details on that from last year’s post The extension that makes Google Chrome bearable, but I left off that list this bit of annoyance: Are you sure you want to open 31 tabs?

I’ve done some Google searching on this, and there appears to be no way to turn off this warning. I have daily bookmarks I open… every day. And they’re stored in one folder I right-click to open all at once. I don’t really need Nanny Chrome asking me every time if I’m sure I want to open all those bookmarks. Thank you, Firefox, for remaining an amazing browser that does everything I need it to.