Cyanogenmod – Success, Followed by Stress, Then Success Again.

It started with a geeky chat in a phone shop. My other half wanted to upgrade her iPhone 3 to a newer model, so we went off to see a nice man in a shop.

I had recently changed my phone, and was newly re-enamoured of all things Android, but went along to act as technical advisor in case the questions got a bit too technical.

I was pleasantly surprised that the sales guy had the ability to walk that line between customer service and technical nouse, and we had a good chat. I ended up telling him that I had an iPod, but that it was hacked to run Rockbox (so that I could play ogg media files), and that my Kindle was hacked so that I could add my own screensavers. He then asked me if I had installed an alternative Android build on my phone.

At the time I baulked at the idea. My phone was still very new, and I was basking in the speed increase that I had enjoyed moving to my Samsung Galaxy SII. The idea of risking bricking it (however minor that risk was) meant that I wasn’t going to risk it.

But that was then, and now, I have got used to my phone, and, in all honesty, it was beginning to feel a little sluggish. It was time to look at the alternatives.

The suggestion from the phone shop guy and his erstwhile colleagues was Cyanogenmod. This seems to be a popular Android build, well supported on my Galaxy SII and with a busy community forum which would prove useful if I ran into any problems. I followed various bits of instructions, but most of them came from the Cyanogenmod site itself. There aren’t any releases which are marked as Stable at the moment (a fact which almost caused me to abandon the whole idea), but the release candidates are popular, and reported to be pretty stable.

The process takes a couple of stages (full instructions here):

  1. Download ClockworkMod Recovery and Heimdall Suite and install them on your computer. These programs are available in Windows, Mac and Linux versions, but obviously I was using the Linux version in my case.
  2. Turn off the phone, connect it to your comuter via USB, then turn it on in download mode (this involves holding your phone in a Vulcan death grip!)
  3. Install the kernel zImage using heimdall (see the wiki instructions for the full command). I had to use the 32-bit version as the 64-bit one wouldn’t work for me.
  4. Reboot the phone into clockwork recovery mode using a different Vulcan death grip.
  5. Copy the Cyanogenmod code to the phones SD card. If I do this again I will make sure that I also copy over the ‘gapps’ programs at the same time. These provide the core Google Apps, and are very useful in getting the phone back up and running properly.
  6. Boot the phone to the Recovery mode (Vulcan Death Grip!)
  7. Select ‘install from the SD card’ to install the new software.
  8. Reboot and enjoy your new installation.

Observations.

Most of this process went without a hitch. However, when I booted the phone I found that the SD card was unreadable. This had a number of knock on effects. The most obvious was the extremely limited functionality that the phone had at this point. Things like the camera refusing to work because there was nowhere to save the files. It also meant I couldn’t install the gaps software. When I tried to use the Google Play site to install apps I was unable to do so. Partly because there was no place to store them, and partly because the Play website was of the belief that they were already installed.

The solution was to reboot the phone into Clockwork Recovery Mode and then format the SD card. This wasn’t a problem as all the contacts information was stored in my Google account, and all the photographs and videos are uploaded to my Dropbox.

Once I had done this the SD card was accessible, and could be used to install gaps. Another ‘normal’ reboot and a Google login later the phone recovered all my contacts, and the Google Play app was making it easy to re-install all my other apps.

I have been selective about what apps I install. I haven’t played ‘Stupid Zombies’ for ages, so that doesn’t get a re-install, things like that.

But I did hit a bit of a snag, which took me a little while to circumvent.

Authentically Awkward.

As I log into a lot of different websites, and I also lecture users on their user security, it is beholden on me to use best practise in terms of security. I have strived to use different passwords on different sites, and I do this with the help of a password manager. I use an online manager as I am often on different computers, and on different platforms. My single password for the manager is long, and secure, but as this is an obvious possible vulnerability in my security setup, I have configured a two-stage authentication using Google Authenticator. I will write about this in another post, but for the time being, its an app that runs on my phone and gives a new six digit code every thirty seconds. This is synced with the sites that are protected in this way.

Unfortunately, when I had to reinstall Google authenticator there were lots of hoops to leap through to get it working again.

The password manager required me to disable the two stage authentication, then sign in and re-enable it from scratch. WordPress required me to email them and get a reset code. And as for Dropbox’s website? I’m still working on that. Fortunately Dropbox is still working as a service, but I can’t log on to the website as things stand!

Summary.

The whole process has been pretty straightforward, and early indications are that the phone feels fresh and sprightly again. How much of that is down to a clearing down of the installed apps I’m not sure yet, but time will tell. The customisations are a little different, and I’m still working them all out. But I’ll get there, and in the meantime, it is happily functioning as a phone, and, most importantly, as far as my daughter is concerned, the YouTube app is back in place, and she can watch videos.

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