Monthly Archives: December 2012

Root Explained

As anyone familiar with this blog knows, I have a Samsung Galaxy S3. And is it rooted. Before that, I had a Motorola Droid X2. And it was rooted.

I don’t make a big deal of it; I know that most people neither know nor care about rooting. However, sometimes it comes up in conversation, so I thought I would explain rooting and some if the commonest questions here.

What is rooting?
Rooting is enabling “Root Access” to the system areas of your phone’s operating system. It is the equivalent of running as “Administrator” in Windows.

Is Rooting the same as Jailbreaking?
Not exactly. While Jailbreaking may include rooting, it also includes altering your iDevice so that you can get your apps from sources other than Apple’s App Store. Apple do not want you to do this. Unlike Apple, Google have no problem with this: while Android devices are locked to The Android Market (I still cannot bring myself to call it the “Play Store” with a straight face), clearing a checkbox in your device settings (usually under “Developer Options”) will allow loading of apps from other sources (such as Amazon’s Appstore).

Is rooting insecure?
Only if you’re stupid. There is much talk about the potential for malware on a rooted system, as a badly-behaved app can do far more damage to a rooted system, but only if that app is explicitly granted root access. Unlike Windows Programs or Apple apps, every Android application has to specify what permissions it requires when you install it.

Permissions1

  A visual inspection is enough to identify any funny business — like a game that requires the ability to make calls, for instance — and you have the opportunity to refuse to install it.

Permissions2

And while you can configure apps to update automatically, if permissions change you have to manually upgrade. If an app tries to access functions that it isn’t supposed to have, Android will shut it down, and in exceptional cases, Google can remotely remove misbehaving apps. Also bear in mind that not every program needs root access — programs that want root access have to request it from you; you can grant it on a one-time or permanent basis.

Root Request

The bottom like is that as long as you are paying attention and thinking about what you are doing, you are fine.

Is rooting dangerous?
There is a small but distinct possibility that a botched attempt at rooting your phone will “brick” it, leaving you with an unusable phone and a hefty bill for its replacement. But that usually has more to do with your hardware supplier’s efforts to prevent you from rooting than with the rooting process itself. But there are plenty of resources out there to help you root with confidence — if you are skilled enough to install Windows on a PC’s Hard Drive, you probably have the necessary skills to root your device.

Doesn’t rooting void the warranty?
In theory, yes. In practice, “don’t ask, don’t tell”. Phone companies ted to discourage users from rooting, and they often trot out the “warranty void” line to scare users away. But most devices can be returned to “stock” (out the box, unrooted) configuration just as easily as they were rooted in the first place. So if you have to take your phone in for warranty service, simply return it to stock, and it will be difficult — if not impossible — for them to tell that it was ever rooted.

This is as it should be. In my opinion, rooting should not be a good reason to deny warranty coverage unless it was the rooting that caused the problem.

So why doesn’t my phone carrier/supplier want me to root?
In a word, money. Rooting diminishes your Carrier’s control – and profitability. So carriers will have a tendency to steer you toward purchasing their products and services over the (invariably better and often free) competition. Locking down the phone is an effective way to do this.

At the time of writing, my carrier just rolled out a system upgrade that fixes a few minor bug, adds a few “shovelware” features I neither need nor want, removed Google’s “universal search”… and adds a “Google Security Patch” that just happens to break root. Thanks but no thanks.

Should I root?
Generally, if your device does everything that you need, the answer is “no”. Rooting is not for everyone: You have to know what you are doing and why you are doing it. You have to care about it enough to keep backups and do research. If you want to just use your phone for basic stuff and will buy what they are selling you without question, don’t bother rooting – stay with stock. Mind you, if stock is what you want, you probably need an iPhone…

So why root?
There are many things that you can only do if your device is rooted. For instance, on some devices, you cannot take a screenshot unless the device is rooted. Here are my reasons for rooting:

  • Backups! Titanium Backup can backup and restore your apps and data/ This comes in useful if a new version of an app does not work on your phone and you have to roll back to an earlier version. you can backup and restore individual apps and their data. This is particularly useful if you are moving a game to another phone and want to keep your settings and high score. As far as I can tell, the Android Mark… er… play store cannot do this.
  • Remove Camera Click: There are times that you may want to take a candid shot without your camera making a loud “Click!” to alert them of the fact. Phone companies will not generally allow this feature, but once your phone is rooted it is easy.
  • Remove bloatware/shovelware/crapware. My carrier (Verizon) loves to bundle “useful” (i.e. profitable) apps, such as VZ Navigator, Blockbuster, Slacker or City ID, to name but a few) into the phone that cannot be removed (left in place but rendered inoperative) or uninstalled… unless, of course,  you have rooted your phone.
  • Replace that garish vomit-and-epileptic-fit-inducing Verizon LTE boot animation with something a little more stylish (i.e., anything else).

There are many other reasons too root, but these are mine. As you can see, none of them represent criminal behavior, nefarious purposes or a clear and present danger to National Security.

Now you know.

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Move over Elvis

Michael Jackson

He’s alive! Alive, I tell you!

As America Mourns

A week has gone by since the terrible news came in from Connecticut. One week on, small bodies are being buried, and parents are saying goodbye, burying their hopes along dreams along with small coffins containing the remains of their little ones. My thoughts and prayers are with them.

No, it’s not “ok”. This is not fair, and it’s not right. And it is NOT God’s will, of that I am certain.

And after the tears comes the anger. And with it the anguished questions: Why did this happen? How could this happen? How do we protect these little ones?

The Dads of America — and real men everywhere — will wish that they could have been there. Maybe they could have done something. Perhaps they could have taken down the shooter, or taken a bullet meant for someone else, and thereby saved at least one young life.

The “Mommies” of America will want to take all of the guns out of the hands of the villains. They will repeat their call, more shrilly than ever, to ban all guns. This is understandable, particularly with assault and automatic weapons.

But it is not reasonable, for the simple reason that villains cannot be counted on to obey laws. The perpetrators of this evil deed, and others like it, broke so many laws that a ban on guns would only have been one more trivial hurdle to surmount. I’ll say that again. A complete ban on guns would only serve to take guns out of the hands of the law-abiding.

I do not own a gun. I have no wish or need to buy one. But if someone was breaking into my house by night, I would rather have a loaded gun at my side than a cop on the phone. While I respect the police, I do not cannot bring myself to them with my life.

Self-reliance is a quintessential American value.

I stumbled across a couple of definitions of Gun Control that bear repeating:

  • “The theory that people who are willing to ignore laws against rape, torture, kidnapping, theft and murder will obey a law which prohibits them from owning a firearm.”
  • “The theory that a woman found dead in an alley, raped and strangled with her panty hose, is somehow morally superior to a woman explaining to police how her attacker got that fatal bullet wound.” — L. Neil Smith

And here’s mine: “The theory that you can trust the Government to protect you more effectively than you can protect yourself.”

How (not) to sell stuff on Craigslist

I recently got an iPad for her Ladyship (no, it was not a trade). I purchased it from a seller on Craigslist. After more than a week of sorting and searching through listings, I finally found the deal I was looking for.

The reason this was so irksome was because so many ads on Craigslist – particularly high-demand items like iPads – are scams, meant to entice you into responding to an e-mail, thereby harvesting your e-mail address for spamming, phishing and other nefarious purposes. So for those of you who are trying to sell an item, I make a few suggestions.

  • Put in the important details, like what the item is (including make and model number), where in town you are and why are you selling it.
  • Link to the manufacturer’s product page – don’t just cut-and-paste it.
  • If you are selling a laptop, don’t call it a “labtop”, a “laptob”, or, God forbid, a “labtob”. You will be lumped in with the I’m-too-stupid-to-spell” crowd, and worse, our searches will miss your ad.
  • Include a picture. I have seen so many ads from people who have a $400 iPad to sell… but apparently don’t have access to a camera or camera-phone. That’s screams “SCAMMER” or “IDIOT”.
  • Don’t use stock pictures. I have seen dozens of iPad ads, all with the same pictures — all shot down in minutes by enthusiastic flaggers like me.
  • If you are selling a big-ticket item, put in a phone number. Most of us initially reply by e-mail anyway, but if I am about to buy an  expensive item, a lack of a phone number looks like the seller does not want to be found. It just smells wrong.
  • Don’t say “I don’t accept e-mails”. This is annoying as those corporate emails that end with “this message was sent from an unmonitored mailbox”. You just posted the ad on the Web, for Heaven’s sake – use it!
  • Don’t advertise your business, pawnshop, computer repair store, flea market or eBay auction on CL. There are a thousand hustlers like you, all trying to Freeload off Craigslist – and no, you are not the exception. Pay for a proper ad on eBay.
  • Don’t put up a whole bunch of ads at once. One a day is fine. Any more and you will get flagged.
  • Don’t put up “Wanted” or “Begging” posts in a “For Sale” area – there is an “Items Wanted” area for that.
  • And finally, Take the ad down when the item is sold. Unless you want to be bothered by folks weeks or months later…

The Poor and the rest of us

I just finished reading “The rich and the rest of us” by Tavis Smiley and Cornel West. Not exactly my bag of shrimp, but it was recommended to me by a friend.

The book begins by tracking poverty over time, since records of such things began in the last century. It looks at the rates of poverty, particularly with regard to the political winds of the time. In the Poverty Timeline table on Page 17, it labels the 15.1% poverty rate in 2010 as “the largest percentage of ling-term poor in five decades”, while ignoring the same figure in 1993 and 15.2% in 1983.

It goes on to point out that there is more than one type of Poor. They make the valid distinction between “the homeless poor”, “the old poor”, and “the new poor”, those who have fallen out of the middle class after losing jobs, mostly in manufacturing and production. Those jobs have gone overseas, and are not coming back. So far so good.

One thread that I see interwoven throughout the book is that for most of us, our lifestyles are not “sustainable”, they are dependent on our continuing to earn a salary without interruption. And yet they never mention frugality. Most of us – myself included – have forgotten the meaning of frugality. The last generation that had to learn that the hard way is almost gone. Today’s grandparents grew up on easy credit and “live-today-pay-later”. Today’s parents are simply too busy; spending money to save time, in a desperate attempt to keep up.

It is a sad fact that most of us do not save enough; financial pundits advise a three- to six-month emergency fund to live on in the event of unemployment or illness. Yes most of us have less than one month’s savings — we are, in effect, one pink slip from poverty.

Returning to the book, the authors express their disgust at the number of poor living from hand to mouth, and they say “something must be done”. I agree. But that is where we part company.

Your Politics are Showing

Throughout the book, they make the usual liberal assumptions: Capitalism=Greed=Corporatism, Democrats Good, Republicans Bad, that sort of thing. As I have said before, there’s not much difference between the two major parties.

Where we part company, is their idea of a solution. It is clear that they place their faith in the Government – particularly the Federal Government, presumably on the grounds that they have lots of money. But I have looked through the Constitution, and I cannot find anywhere that empowers the Feds to take responsibility poverty — or drugs, or health, or food, for that matter. Helping the poor is a noble goal, but it is my contention that Governments are incapable of nobility — it is simply not their job.

So whose job is it?

  • The States? Possibly.
  • The Counties and Cities? Maybe.
  • The towns and villages? You’re getting warmer.
  • The communities and churches? Getting warmer still.
  • You and me? YES.

You will never eradicate poverty with Government money. For Government  money is other people’s money – and there is not enough of that to go round. Many European nations have tried this strategy, and some have even succeeded in reducing poverty somewhat. But the cost of doing so has been great — none of those nations have given as much to the world as the United States of  America. The vast majority of the advances in technology, medicine and science have come out of this country.

Yes, it is possible to reduce poverty — particularly with food and education — but massive government programs are not the way to do it. A wise man once said “You will always have the poor”. I believe that the cost of trying to prove him wrong is high enough to turn the greatest, most successful nation that the world has ever seen into an also-ran.