Monday, May 27, 2013

Turning Gingerbread into Jelly Bean

The time had finally come. How could I possibly label myself a geek of any sort if I voluntarily stuck with my old Android Gingerbread 2.3 operating system? My Samsung Galaxy Note needed to be updated and besides, I needed a nice, juicy project. I was waiting for Google to announce Android 5 at Google I/O 2013. When no announcement was forthcoming, it was time to take the bull by the horns and turn Gingerbread into Jelly Bean.

I have never upgraded a phone's operating system before. I was mildly afraid of bricking my phone, although I knew that if anything bad happened, I could take it to "a guy I know" to sort it out. But to be truly geeky (and to save the cash), I knew that I had to embark on the Android OS upgrade adventure on my own.

The first thing I did was look on-line for some instructions on how to perform an upgrade. There were a number of different flavors of Jelly Bean 4.2.2 available, but I settled on the ibtimes.co.uk website, which provided all of the files and instructions to complete this task. I read through the cautionary text and verified that my phone was compatible.

I downloaded the files.
Image: mobotechie.com
I performed a backup.
I followed the instructions to perform the upgrade.

Expecting the process to take hours, I was surprised that it was all over in 30 minutes. That half hour included time spent Googling terms that were not defined in the instructions. For example, I didn't know what it meant to take a Nandroid Backup.

The expectation level was at maximum as I watched a gentle beam of light caress the lower-case "android" text, presented in a futuristic, Start-Trekky font. As the phone blinked on, I knew instantly that I had done more than update an operating system, I had breathed new life into my phone, much like Dr Who regenerating. I had given birth to a brand new device.
Image: best-tablet-converter.com/

There is actually more truth to that than you may realize (um, it's not what it sounds like). Firstly, the Samsung Touch-Wiz overlay to Android was gone. The downside to that was that all of the Samsung applications disappeared. I was a bit sorry to see the S-Memo application go, but I quickly downloaded Papyrus, which does the same thing, and may even be better. Aside from the Samsung applications, all my data and apps remained on my phone. I didn't lose a single thing. Painless.

The phone's interface is different in almost every way. I installed the SlimBean Jelly Bean interface. It is slick, really slick. I love the fact that now I have to re-learn how to do everything. I know, most people would shy away from making changes that require them to re-learn how to perform basic functions like activating GPS, setting silent mode and making a phone call. But I'm not like that. New is better (obviously) and the more different it is from the old way, the more I like it. And I like it a lot.
Image: http://droidfirmwares.com

SlimBean (and Jelly Bean, itself) gives you a million ways to do everything faster. There are quick ways to access apps from the lock screen. You can access apps from SlimPIE, a futuristic, semi-circular menu that you pull from any side of the screen. You can customize the pull-down drawer to contain links to a myriad of apps and functions. In fact, everything is customizable. The best feature is the voice search, which is accurate, even with my Australian accent (I love calling Home without pressing any buttons - although my kids are getting sick of me prank-calling them). I'm still discovering lots of new features, which I hope will prove to be an endless source of fun.

What I like most is that everything works - and it works well. The interface is super-smooth. My year-and-a-half-old first generation Galaxy Note has no trouble whatsoever with running this latest version of Android. I seriously feel like it's a brand new phone. I had so much fun joining the 21st Century, I don't think I'll wait so long before upgrading again.

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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Sweating to Read

Lately, I have taken to listening to audio books while jogging. Thumping, pumping, energetic music helps to get the legs moving, but surprisingly, a good novel can do the same thing.

The first audio book I listened to was Kidnapped, written by Scottish novelist, Robert Louis Stevenson, and read by Mark Smith of Simpsonville, South Carolina (a Librivox recording). At first, the narrator's voice grated on my nerves. After all, the story is set in Scotland, yet it was read in an American accent. However, Mark's reading style is so easy, that I soon became swept up in the story and forgot about the accent.

I never studied English Literature, but I have an appreciation for good writing. Robert Louis Stevenson had an amazing talent for building up the story and creating suspense. His characters were so rich and full of life, I could almost see them standing before me.

I promised myself not to listen to the audio book unless I was jogging. And because the author's writing was so compelling, it was easy to motivate myself to get out onto the street and go for a run. I finished each running session at the end of a chapter, never wanting to leave the story before a natural break in the story-line.

I am now on my second Librivox recording. This time it's the 19th Century science fiction novel From the Earth to the Moon, by Jules Verne. Although the plot is entertaining, it seems that the author was addicted to lists - almost every description in the first two chapters was in the context of a list.
Lofty pillars formed of cannon, superposed upon huge mortars as a base, supported the fine ironwork of the arches, a perfect piece of cast-iron lacework. Trophies of blunderbuses, matchlocks, arquebuses, carbines, all kinds of firearms, ancient and modern, were picturesquely interlaced against the walls. The gas lit up in full glare myriads of revolvers grouped in the form of lustres, while groups of pistols, and candelabra formed of muskets bound together, completed this magnificent display of brilliance. Models of cannon, bronze castings, sights covered with dents, plates battered by the shots of the Gun Club, assortments of rammers and sponges, chaplets of shells, wreaths of projectiles, garlands of howitzers-- in short, all the apparatus of the artillerist, enchanted the eye by this wonderful arrangement and induced a kind of belief that their real purpose was ornamental rather than deadly.

When the translators translated this novel from its original French, I think they missed quite a few words. The poor narrator (Alex Patterson - he doesn't say where he's from), is forced to read labyrinthine sentences riddled with tongue-twisting Latin and French phrases. Fortunatos omnibus nobis (translation).

Also, I think Mr. Verne might have missed a session or two of his writing course. He chose to write chapters 3, 4, and 5 completely devoid of interaction between characters, seemingly breaking a basic rule of balancing action, narrative and dialog. However, Jules Verne had an uncanny talent for raining an endless torrent of pseudo-science, mathematical calculations, and fictitious nuggets of wisdom upon his reader, while still keeping the story interesting.

I'm only on chapter 5 and, curiously, I'm hungry for more. I have about 67.5 km before I reach the end of this novel, so I'd best get sweating.

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