Categories
Android Hacking Hardware Linux Science and Technology

How My Love Affair with Google Ended When I Decided to Stop Being their Unpaid Beta Tester

(This blog post was originally started back in 2016 when I decided to give up on Android for good. I never got around to posting it, even though it’s basically finished, and I still agree with it today! You can pretty much just replace any mention of “Nexus phones” in your head with “Pixel phones” and the argument still works.

With Google seemingly losing interest with Pixel phones in mid-2020, the post is just as relevant today as it was nearly five years ago.)

Logo for Android Version 4.4

The Passion of the Android

Spend a little while on any site that focuses on anything Android, whether it’s phones or apps, and you’ll quickly realize that the Nexus phones produced by Google are held in esteem above all others.

Their specs are lauded.  Their problems glossed over.  Their ability to “always have the latest OS version” (an ability iPhone owners take for granted) unlike phones you get directly from cell phone companies (think AT&T and Verizon), is held in the highest regard, especially.

To the visitors and commenters on these sites, the ability of a Nexus phone bought from Google, to have the newest version of Android before all other phones in the massive Android universe is more important than anything else, be it a sacrifice of 1) speed (because of the higher memory usage of newer software versions), 2) reliability (because of the presence of hidden bugs inherent in all new software), or 3) compatibility (because of app makers not always being able to get new versions of apps release in time to support new versions of Android, if something has broken the app).

All sorts of reasons are brought up for why this is best.  “The phone companies don’t want to upgrade the Android versions on their phones in a timely fashion because they’re lazy and don’t care.”  “The phone makers (also called OEM’s) don’t want to upgrade the Android versions on their phones in a timely fashion because they want you to buy a new phone.

Since version 2.3 of Android, the version of Android running on your phone has been far less important because of Google Play Services

While there are very important reasons that upgraded software on your phone is important (like security fixes, patches, etc), the insane concern for the version number on your phone always being the latest defies all understanding.  Since back in the Android 2.3 days, the Android team at Google even moved most of the important parts of Android (the fun parts that get updated) into a standalone app called “Google Play Services” a few years ago to combat the problem of OEM’s and cell phone companies not updating the Android versions of their phones.

If you have an Android phone, you can go into the full list of apps installed in your settings and see “Google Play Services” there — you can’t stop it from updating, and no one, including the cell phone companies and OEM’s, can stop it either.  This way, even older phones running older versions of Android can still have compatibility and quite a bit of neat new features that newer versions of Android get (like the Android Device Manager, Android’s answer to the iPhone’s “Find My Phone” feature).  The changes to this hidden service layer are subtle, well tested, and ensured to not cause any problems in the massive universe of different Android phone types.

Getting a fully new version of Android is less important in this way, but still offers some benefits here and there (like encryption being a default setting in Android 6.0).  Still, cell phone companies and OEM’s only release full new versions of Android for their phones after months, sometimes a year or more, of testing.  Why is this important?

Yo, do you even test, dude

When you’re a company like HTC (my favorite Android phone maker), or a cell phone company like Sprint, you live and die by your core product. If you work at HTC and your phones suck when it comes to reliability or user experience (or UX), you’re toast.  If you work at Sprint and your service is slow and the phones people buy from your stores don’t work (even though you don’t make them), people stop buying your phones and recommending your service to their friends.

The iPhone/iOS team at Apple does this behind the scenes for months with their products, both phones and operating systems.  Car companies do it for their car software.  Your microwave uses software that was tested for years to make sure the buttons always worked when you pressed them, and to ensure that it didn’t set your food on fire.

Why I bring this up is because I’m reasonably certain, after years of using Nexus phones, that the Nexus team at Google either doesn’t do this type of UX testing, or does it very, very little.

And why would they?

Google doesn’t make money selling phones.  It’s a B2B (business-to-business) company that makes 90% of its profits selling ad space to commercial entities (I went through the work of looking through its investor documents, found here (page 32): https://abc.xyz/investor/pdf/20160331_alphabet_10Q.pdf)  Everything else Google does is minor, and whatever minuscule amount of profit it makes from selling Nexus phones is an even smaller part of that.

Google doesn’t make money selling phones.  It’s a B2B (business-to-business) company that makes 90% of its profits selling ad space to commercial entities

…and there’s nothing wrong with that.  The employees of Google are very good at what they do.  They should focus on their core business, and put the bulk of their resources into effectively selling ads.



		
Categories
Computing Hacking Internet Linux Programming Science and Technology Ubuntu

OpenVPN One-Command Server Install Script

I have been looking for a script like this for about a year now:

https://github.com/Nyr/openvpn-install

For some reason that I never understood, installing and setting up an OpenVPN has always been a pain in the ass.  I’ve had one I’ve been using for about a year, but it’s on Amazon’s AWS as was installed through an appliance install, and I really wanted to learn how it worked myself.

Every tutorial I saw either didn’t make sense, or the steps didn’t work.  I set about to try and create a one-script install myself, and then thought, “No — somebody has to have done this before.”

And lo and behold — that’s where I found the above github repo.  It’s amazing, and it works.  I’m going to donate to this person, because they saved me a good bit of work.

 

Categories
Hacking Linux Programming Science and Technology Ubuntu

Using Dreamhost’s VPS as a MySQL Server

[Editor’s Note: Dreamhost no longer allows sudo access on their VPS servers, so the below is no longer possible. If you’re reading this, you might want to check out Amazon’s AWS. Nowhere near as user friendly as Dreamhost, but MUCH more powerful.]

I’ve been a happy customer of DreamHost for many years now — for $9.95 a month, I was able to get loads of diskspace and unlimited bandwidth, all from a great company that was staffed by great people who were very technically competent.

It is “shared hosting,” however — that means you’re getting it that cheap because you’re sharing server CPU power, available RAM, etc, with many other people who are also getting a great deal. You’ll notice this in any WordPress sites you may run on Dreamhost’s shared hosting — there’s about a 7-10 second delay between when you navigate to your site and when your page actually loads, mostly because your server processes are waiting in line behind everyone else’s.

So, Dreamhost does offer a “VPS” service — with this, you’re getting an absolute amount of RAM, CPU power, etc, that will only be used for your sites. It’s a tiny bit more expensive, at $14.95 or so a month, but it’s worth every penny.

If you’ve run WordPress installations on a Dreamhost site, though, you know that your mysql databases are on a seperate server entirely, and that may slow things down as well. Even if you move your WordPress installs to a VPS, your mysql databases will still be on shared hosting. DreamHost offers a “MySQL VPS,” but it costs another $15 a month (minimum), and you have no control over it at all.

A better solution would be to run your own MySQL server on DreamHost’s main VPS, since they give you root command-line access. There are a few hiccups in this process (some put there by DreamHost itself), but otherwise you should be able to do it.

  1. First, create an admin user for your VPS that has sudo abilities, and log into your VPS with that through ssh.
  2. Second, you have to tweak apt so you can even install the mysql-server package. It appears as if part of installing packages through apt involves temporarily storing files in /tmp and then running them from there.Unfortunately, the /tmp directory is mounted on DreamHost’s VPS servers with the noexec option, which means that you can’t run files that are present in that directory. That basically prevents you from installing the mysql-server package until you tweak apt to temporarily stage files in /var/tmp instead. Do this by:Creating a file called apt.conf in the /etc/apt/ directory, and edit it so the contents are the following:
    APT::ExtractTemplates::TempDir "/var/tmp";
  3. Then, install the mysql-server package:
    sudo apt-get install mysql-server;
    

    (When it asks to set a root password, make sure and set one.)

  4. Now, edit the file /etc/mysql/my.cnf and set the following options:
    bind-address=psXXXXX.dreamhostps.com

    (Replace psXXXXX with the name of your dreamhost VPS.)

  5. Restart your mysql service:
    sudo service mysql restart

At this point, you should be able to log in to your new mysql server:

mysql -u root -p

and then perform what SQL functions you need to.

A great thing to do is to install phpmyadmin using the tutorial here: http://wiki.phpmyadmin.net/pma/Quick_Install

First you’ll want to create a user (that isn’t your root user) to log into phpmyadmin:

mysql> CREATE USER ‘newusr’@’%’ IDENTIFIED BY ‘your_password';
mysql> GRANT ALL PRIVILEGES ON *.* TO ‘newusr’@’%’ WITH GRANT OPTION;

At this point, you can sync your old databases to your new mysql server using the built-in sync tool that’s in DreamHost’s installations of phpmyadmin.  Then, just edit the wp-config.php file in the folder of your WordPress installations, and change the line that says the following to your DreamHost VPS:

define('DB_HOST', 'psXXXXXX.dreamhostps.com');

Sources:

Installing mysqld on Dreamhost VPS

https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/debconf/+bug/90085

http://serverfault.com/questions/72356/how-useful-is-mounting-tmp-noexec

 

 

Categories
Android Hacking Hardware

Creating a QI Wireless-charging Case for the Moto X (or any phone, really)

The Moto X (2013) is one of the best Android phones there is — it’s thin, it’s light, and the battery lasts nearly two days.  It’s got passive, voice-activated features that you can use even when the phone is locked and in your pocket.  You can launch your camera just by flicking your wrist in a certain way.  It’s got a lot of great features… but (eventhough there’s actually space inside the phone for it) QI-compatible wireless-charging was left off that list.

There are mods out there to take apart the Moto X and install a QI charging bad, but it renders you unable to charge your phone via a conventional cable when necessary, so I didn’t want to take that route.  Even if I have access to wireless charging pads at home, there’s going to be a situation where I’m going to need to charge my phone away from home, and modifying your phone in that way would prevent that (without disassembly).

When looking for wireless-charging compatible cases for my MotoX, the pickings were slim — I found one that was compatible with Duracell’s (proprietary, and not very well supported) Powermat technology, however, I’m wanting to take advantage of the huge mount of QI-compatible wireless-charging devices already out there.  QI is a technology that’s already been used by Nokia and Google for years now, and it’s licensed much more easily than Duracell’s technology.

So, I set about making my own QI-compatible wireless-charging case, using parts you can buy easily on Amazon.

#1) Buy your parts

Moto X and QI wireless charging pad, side by sideImportant: Get a QI-compatible charging receiver with the USB plug that faces up.  The case doesn’t matter, as long as it’s one that leaves enough room between the phone and the case so that there’s room for the charging pad.

#2) Test fit your charging pad in the case

Charing pad just sitting in case.

Try placing the charging pad in the case, and plugging the connector into your phone (at the bottom).  The case will “pinch” the connector cable a little — this is okay.  It’s durable, and very thin.

When you’ve figured out where the pad will sit when sandwiched between your phone and the case when it’s plugged in, move to step #3.

#3) Glue your case (or attach with tape)

Glue on four corners of charging pad

When you’re ready, put four drops of glue and place the pad into its final resting position that you decided upon in Step #2 (or just place it there and put four pieces of clear tape over the corners — this is what I had to do eventually when the glue wouldn’t hold).

#4) Seat everything together

Phone with case on with charging pad installed.

When your glue has dried (or your tape has been placed), carefully insert the QI charging pad cable into your phone’s USB port, and place your phone into the case.  Everything should sit together nicely, which just the little extrusion for the USB plug.

#5) Charge on a QI-compatible charger

Moto X with QI charging case on wireless charging pad.

When I placed my phone on the Anker charging pad, it started charging right away!  The phone even reflected so on the battery icon — I had heard from similar tutorials that sometimes this was not the case.  The phone would be charging, but the icon on the home screen would not show it.

I think this is due to whatever combination of charging pad and QI insert these individuals were using was not sufficient enough for the phone to reflect it, even though an actual current was being delivered to the phone.  I have experienced this in the past with Android tablets, if you’re using a charger that didn’t come with the tablet — the tablet would charge, even if the tablet’s UI didn’t reflect it.  It would charge very, very slowly.

So, good luck, and happy charging!

Categories
Hacking

Tip: Auto-Login Your Windows 7 User Account

Tip: Auto-Login Your Windows 7 User Account | Cool Stuff | Channel 9.

Just a little tip on how to get your familiar Windows XP “no logons” necessary behavior in Windows 7.  Basically, you just type “control userpasswords2into a command prompt, and uncheck the checkbox!