Archive for July, 2013

Teaching a Phone New Tricks

July 14, 2013 Comments off

Samsung Galaxy S2

Wherein I flash firmware and successfully petition the Allfather for root access.

Mobile phones are essential for life here in India.  More than essential: Vital, indispensible, crucial.  Without a phone you can’t reliably meet with anyone, travel anywhere, or conduct any business.  I came here with an HTC Sensation that I got on my plan in USA with T-Mobile; by popping in an Airtel India SIM card I was good to go.  This is a pretty good phone, 2-core 1.2 GHz cpu, 540 x 960 LCD screen, and HTC’s enhancements on top of Android, HTC Sense.  This phone is close to the iPhone 4 in capabilities and performance.

But I can’t say it’s a great phone.  Battery life is no more than average; in fact on trips I power-down the phone for long periods so I can be assured that my phone will have power when I get to my destination.  And here in India it sometimes acts flaky, getting into a mode where it flashes back and forth between full signal and no signal.  So in the hopes of longer battery life and greater reliability, I started looking for a new phone.  My ultimate pick was the Samsung Galaxy S2.  It specs out better than the Sensation in both talk-time and standby-time, and various reviews put it a bit ahead of the Sensation.  And, since I didn’t feel like spending the big bucks for an unlocked iPhone 5 or Galaxy S4, the S2 at its medium-bucks price was my choice.

One thing I was concerned about was the Android version on the phone.  The S2 came out in 2011, which means Android 2.3, aka Gingerbread.  My Sensation has 4.0.3 (Ice Cream Sandwich) and I was not about to go back. Some quick googling verified that the S2 could do Android 4.1, Jelly Bean, so I was off to Amazon to buy my new phone.  My rose-colored glasses showed me a vision of the future where my phone, being new, arrives with the newest Android pre-installed.

I should have been using my Peril Sensitive sunglasses, as phone arrived with antediluvian Gingerbread.  But not to worry.  I am a tech guy after all … I’ll just fix it.  A bit more googling shows that the upgrade can be done OTA by using the Samsung PC utility Kies.  Was able to get that installed no problem, only to find “Your current firmware does not support upgrading”.

Back to Google again.  Now I find there is a program, Odin, that allows you to replace the firmware of your Samsung phone with a new image.  Got Odin installed and after a bit more searching got a generic UK image for the S2 and Android 4.1.2.  Put the phone into “download mode” (power-on by holding down-volume, home and power simultaneously) and Odin was ready to work his magic:

Odin utility

Why a Korean tech company has a software utility named after Norse god, I have no idea.  Norse countries are heavily involved with mobile tech.  I guess I should be happy this utility wasn’t named Väinämöinen.

Regardless, Odin worked.  The phone rebooted and there was the Jelly Bean UI, all ready for me.  Yes!  Phone not bricked and X $s not wasted!  Put in the Airtel SIM card, setup my accounts, all my contacts synched down, installed a few more apps, and in short order I was ready to go, at parity with the data and functions I had on the Sensation.

Actually, not quite.  When you get a new phone, you dink around with the options, right?  One of the first things I dinked around with was the Lock screen. None of the settings did anything, the phone just would not lock.  Then I noticed that there was no warning when you press power-off – the phone would directly shut down.  That was not good, I could butt dial my phone off without knowing it.

I guess Google is the new hardware store.  If you are a home owner I’m sure you have had the experience of doing a project – fixing a mailbox or screen door, for example – and going to the hardware store once, thinking you have all you need, only to find later that 2nd, 3rd or 4th trips are needed.  So once again I go to Google, this time looking for “galaxy s2 lock screen problem”.

And once again, Google worked.  I quickly find that the lock screen and power-off problems can be corrected by placing a file named “keystr”, containing the characters “ON” in the right place.  Doing this, however, required root access to the phone – just like on Unix and Linux, on Android a plain ‘ol user can only see some of the file system.

And actually rooting the phone?  Odin can do this too, you just need the right kernel, which I got and flashed.  Once rooted, the app ES File Explorer allowed me to see the whole phone file system, and to put the needed file in the right spot with the right permissions.  One more reboot, and there was my lock screen.  Yay!


Moral of the story: Stuff is getting easier.  I have been looking at dev guides and how-to’s for phones for years and frankly, back then, they were pretty daunting, mostly involving a lot of *Nix knowledge, terminal sessions to your phone, that sort of thing.  Now, even “prosumers” can flash ROMs and root their phones by using GUI utilities.

Especially on Samsung, aided by Odin.  No human sacrifice necessary.

Categories: Technology

Pen-Ultimate: A Speculative Fiction Anthology

July 7, 2013 4 comments

Writing tip #1: Start in the middle of the action.

“Hey!” Kathy shouted.  Her clear voice cut through the traffic noise and the oblivious guy ahead turned, saw her coming at speed, and slammed his car door shut just in time.  The guy’s head spun watching her pass, barely six inches between him and the right handlebar of Kathy’s bike.

No time to look back.  Kathy had to get there quick or all the copies would be gone.

Writing tip #2: Show, don’t tell.

3 am.  There was no getting around it, sleep was not happening.  Just one more story, Kathy thought as she took the book from the nightstand and clicked on the LED bookmark.  The white glow reflecting from the turning pages gave her face the look of a ghost, an apparition.

The story ended and still not sleepy.  Well then, one more.  Then another, and then she reaches the end and still not sleepy.  I’ll go back, I want to read some again.  But which?  The robot story?  The troll-ship story?  Then she realizes, no need to choose.  I’ll just re-read them all …

Writing tip #3: Revise, revise, revise.

“Hey!” Kathy shouted.  Her clear voice cut through the traffic noise just in time for the oblivious guy ahead to hear, turn, and slam shut his car door; the right handlebar of Kathy’s bike nearly grazed him as she leaned into the pedals for yet more speed.  In her wake the oblivious guy cast angry shouts characteristic of oblivious guys everywhere.

No time to look back.  Kathy had to get to Readercon quick or all the copies of Pen-Ultimate would be gone.

These and a great many other tips come  from the Ultimate Science Fiction Workshop, which I attended in 2008.  Why, you might ask?  The short answer is, I want to be a writer and despite dinking around with it ever since college and producing some bits which I rather like – amidst much larger volumes of utter junk – it was clear to me I needed some basics and some examples.  Run by Jeff Carver and Craig Shaw Gardner, the USFW was exactly the right thing.  The workshop, which ran each Fall from 2006 to 2011, is on a break just now, while Jeff and Craig do actual writing.  If like me you have the writing bug, look for the USFW when it comes back.

I’m afraid I have ignored writing tip #4: Get To The Point.  Here it is:

Pen-Ultimate: A Speculative Fiction Anthology

Neat cover, huh?  Through mailing lists, FB, etc. alumni of USFW maintain a loose level of communication.  About a year go the idea came up of an anthology of USFW graduates’ stories.  There was also quick consensus on what to do with the proceeds of any such work:  All would go to the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America Emergency Medical Fund, which helps SFWA members facing unexpected medical expenses.

The result is Pen-Ultimate: A Speculative Fiction Anthology, just now available at Amazon and other outlets:

The story from yours truly is a short one, loosely inspired by some experiences I have had in India.  But all the stories here are great.  I particularly like the ones from my fellow attendees in the 2008 session.  The workshop experience is quite personal – you’re sharing and critiquing each other’s thoughts, after all – and hearing the voices that I recall as tentative and new back then, now coming up with these confident, creative and cool stories is just great, and gives me hope for my own work.

So, good stories, good cause – catch a copy of Pen-Ultimate.  And it really will be at Readercon, July 11-14.  Like the Kathy in my mini-story, if you get there quick you can snag what I’m sure will someday be a valuable first edition!


I’ll end with, Writing tip #5: Finish with the reader wanting more.

Fundra put the thunderbird to sleep, her tips pressing the two-meter wings into hundred-fold angles. Bird bone spines and feathers fused into layers, the whole animal sliding paper thin and easily rolled into her community pocket. She made a gesture of sixteen tips because she felt sad, because she had fallen in love with the bird’s eyes, glassy dark and wise.

If you want to find out what happens next, get Pen-Ultimate.

Categories: Writing