Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Moto G: A phone worth buying

A plethora of phones have come out over the years, but none have really been worth recommending. Until now. Motorola has just announced the Moto G. It's a mid-range phone that's going to cost less than $200 brand new and unlocked.

Can you buy a cheaper Android phone? Sure, but not with these specs, and not with such a recent version of Android. Can you buy a nicer Android phone? Sure, but you're going to pay at least twice as much, and most brand new unlocked phones cost over $500.

The great thing about this phone is it's everything you need, nothing more, at an incredible price. Features like:
  • Near-stock Android 4.3 with a guaranteed update to 4.4
  • Great battery life
  • A quad-core processor
  • Front and rear-facing cameras
  • FM radio
  • Multi-colored changeable backplates
Speaking of the backplates, here's an idea of the color selection:

The Moto G is available for order now, and starts shipping in a week or so. You can read more about it here: moto-g.com

Monday, November 25, 2013

com.google.process.gapps has stopped

If you are getting the above error on your Android device, try the following to fix it:
  1. Go Home  Menu System settings Application manager  All
  2. Scroll down to Download Manager and click on it
  3. If it's disabled, click Enable to enable it
  4. If it's not disabled:
    1. Scroll down to Internet
    2. Click Clear cache
    3. Click Clear data
That should do the trick. If it doesn't, try narrowing down the problem:
  1. Go Home  Menu System settings Accounts  Google
  2. Under Accounts click on the account
  3. Check and uncheck each item in the list. One of them should trigger the error. Once you find that item, use the above instructions to clear the cache and data for that item, and that should fix the problem.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Why I'll never buy a Kindle, or an eBook from Amazon or Apple

I've long stayed away from buying an Amazon Kindle or buying eBooks on Amazon or Apple. I recently read something that sums up my own reasons for doing so really well. Rather than rewrite it, I'm just going to copy and paste the whole thing:
Here’s a quick and dirty summary of what ADEPT EPUB is and why it’s important (footnotes at the bottom for extra stuff that isn’t required knowledge but is still interesting).
The first thing you have to understand is that the vast majority of ebooks sold in the United States are encumbered with DRM. This is done at the publisher’s or rights holder’s request.(1)
EPUB is a standardized format developed by the IDPF for reflowable electronic documents. The specification is open for anyone and everyone to use, and it has thus been adopted as the standard format for ebooks by everyone except Amazon (more on that later). On top of the standard file format, Adobe developed a roughly standardized DRM schema called ADEPT that allows a consumer to unlock an ADEPT EPUB for use on any device that supports the format, regardless of where the book was purchased.
As of right now, every ebook vendor that sells DRM encumbered ebooks in the United States exceptAmazon and Apple use a form of ADEPT EPUB DRM on their ebooks.(2) This includes Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google Play, Sony, Smashwords, and dozens of other smaller vendors. Apple uses EPUBformatting for their books, but encumbers them with a proprietary DRM (“Apple Fair Play”). All ADEPTEPUB ebooks can be used on any reading device or app that supports the format.
Amazon is the only major vendor that does not use EPUB format for their ebooks. They instead use an older format, Mobipocket, encumbered with a proprietary DRM to create the .AZW format. The DRMschema for .AZW is a trade secret of Amazon – no other vendor has access to the encryption codes and thus can not legally sell books in .AZW format.
The advantages to ADEPT EPUB over .AZW should be immediately apparent.
1. Nonexclusivity- If I own a NOOK or Kobo ereader I have the ability to shop at any vendor who sells books in ADEPT EPUB format. So if Google Play is having an awesome sale and a book I want is far cheaper than I could get it at BN, I can simply buy the book from Google and load it onto my NOOK.(3) This is not possible with a Kindle device. Since Amazon uses a proprietary DRM that they do not share, it is impossible for another vendor to sell a DRM encumbered ebook for Kindle owners. Buying a Kindle ereader means you have a single choice for who you buy your books from – forever.
2. Portability- Just as with shopping around for books, ADEPT EPUB users can shop around for devices. I personally own one of the old NOOK Simple Touches, and my girlfriend is strongly hinting that I’m going to be getting an upgraded model with a light for Christmas. I have a choice for what device I want to buy – if I’m not enamored with this new NOOK model I can happily go buy a Kobo Aura HD or a Sony PRS and transfer all the books I have previously bought onto the new device. This, again, is not possible with a Kindle. If I was a Kindle owner I could only buy a new Kindle device or have to give up every book I had previously purchased.
3. Futureproofing- One of the main reasons I hear people on the internet don’t want to buy a NOOK device is because they are “not sure if BN will be around in 10 years”. With ADEPT EPUB books this isn’t a problem at all. All the books you’ve purchased can still be easily read on any other compatible device. So even in the unlikely event that BN goes under, I can purchase a nice new Kobo or Sony or whatever else have you and still read my books. Amazon, while dominant now, could eventually face the same pressures that BN is seeing today. If Amazon did fold someday in the future, the proprietary .AZWbooks would be useless on any other device. And that isn’t even dealing with their incredibly draconianDRM schema that prevents the user from legally backing up their own books.(4)
EPUB is a major point in favor of going with vendors other than Amazon (and Apple) when buying ebooks. It is a standardized and open format that lets vendors compete on price, experience, and extras, without hurting the consumer with locked-down systems. It should be the main selling point of devices like a NOOK, and yet it is never once brought up in any of the articles on The Verge (and rarely elsewhere, sadly).
And that is why I’m going to keep bugging them until they acknowledge it.
(1) As of right now there is only a single imprint of one of the “big five” publishers that doesn’t use DRM on their ebooks – Tor/Forge, an imprint of St. Martin’s Macmillian. The “big five” publishers – Random House Penguin, Harpercollins, Hachette, St. Martin’s Macmillian, and Simon and Schuster – are responsible for roughly 85% of the trade books published in the US. There are smaller publishers that choose not to use DRM, famously Baen and O’Riley, but they are small and cater to niche markets.
(2) BN technically doesn’t use ADEPT DRM, rather opting for the BN Social DRM. However, the only difference is the encryption code – BN Social uses a credit card number, while ADEPT uses an Adobe account ID. The two DRM schemas are completely interoperable and thus can be treated as the same format.
(3) Loading an ADEPT EPUB book onto a different brand ereader requires going through a free computer program called Adobe Digital Editions, which unlocks the DRM on the ebook for a device. It is also the software used for library lending for devices without access to the Overdrive/3M library apps.
  • Amazon’s DRM schema encrypts each file with a different unlock code for each device. So even if I have a Paperwhite, a Nexus 7 with the Kindle app, and a PC with the Kindle app all buying books from the same account, the files will only function on the device they were downloaded on. I can not, for example, download the book onto my PC through the app and then sideload it onto my Nexus – the Kindle app on the Nexus will not unlock the book because the encryption code is different despite both being tied to the same account. It makes it legally impossible for a Kindle owner to back up their files on their own – they have to rely on Amazon’s magnanimity, which has hurt consumers in the past.
Lastly, I’m well aware of how patently easy it is to strip DRM and convert ebooks using programs like Calibre. However, at the moment this is still illegal in the United States. I in no way endorse the use of DRM (it’s a stupid anti-consumer technology), but I do accept the world as it is right now.
Source: Barnes & Noble's new Nook GlowLight is lighter, faster, and full of ideas

Friday, November 8, 2013

Flashing your BIOS in Linux using a USB flash drive

These instructions are specific to Ubuntu and Ubuntu derivatives (like Xubuntu and Elementary OS), but they should work on just about any version of Linux. Just modify the steps for installing GParted and UNetbootin as necessary:

  1. Get the current version of your BIOS by running this command in a terminal:
    sudo dmidecode -s bios-version

  2. Find the BIOS update file for your computer. These are generic, but should point you in the right direction:
    1. Get the exact make (Lenovo, ASUS, Dell, etc) and model of your computer. The model will be a combination of letters and/or numbers and is either somewhere on the top or bottom of your computer.

    2. Open a browser and go to the website for the manufacturer of your computer.

    3. There should be a support section where you can navigate to the drivers/downloads for your computer. You'll probably have to search for your computer using the model number you looked up.

    4. From there, find the BIOS update file for your computer. If it's the same version as what you already have installed, you're already up-to-date and you can stop. Otherwise download it. If it comes as a .zip file, open it and extract the .exe file from it that's used to do the actual BIOS update.

  3. Get a USB flash drive that you don't mind erasing. If necessary, copy everything off of it first.

  4. Now, we'll use GParted to erase your flash drive to prepare it:
    1. Install GParted
      sudo apt-get install gparted

    2. Open GParted. If nothing happens, try opening it by typing this into the terminal:
      sudo gparted &

    3. On the upper-right side of the screen, select your flash drive. In the Mount Point column, it should have something starting with /media. Be very careful that you choose the correct drive in this step! If you don't, you could wipe your whole hard drive and lose everything. If you're unsure, you should probably ask for help. askubuntu.com is a great place to get help.

    4. Right-click on any partitions, and click Unmount. Then right-click them again and click Delete.

    5. Right click in the large box at the top that says unallocated and click New.

    6. Change File system to fat16 and click Add.

    7. At the top, click the green checkmark to apply all operations, then click Apply. Remember, this will fully wipe your USB drive!

    8. When it's finished, click Close and exit GParted.

  5. Next, we'll use UNetbootin to make the USB drive bootable:
    1. Before you'll be able to use UNetbootin, open the file explorer, right-click on the USB drive, and click Mount.

    2. Install the latest version of UNetbootin
      sudo add-apt-repository ppa:gezakovacs/ppa
      sudo apt-get update
      sudo apt-get install unetbootin

    3. Open UNetbootin

    4. For Distribution, select FreeDOS

    5. At the bottom, make sure Type is USB Drive

    6. Click OK

    7. When it's finished, click Exit

  6. Go to your USB drive in the file manager and copy the BIOS update .exe file that you downloaded earlier.

  7. Now, you'll need to figure out how to boot to the USB drive. Normally this is done by pressing a special key at the boot screen (the first screen that comes up when you turn your computer on) to open a boot menu. Common keys are: Esc, F1, F2, F10, Enter. You may have to press Esc first to then see which key you need to press. If all else fails, Google it :)

  8. Once you've figured out how to boot to the USB drive, with the USB drive still plugged in, reboot your computer, and boot from your USB boot drive.

  9. At the UNetbootin menu, press Enter

  10. At the FreeDOS boot menu, select FreeDOS Safe Mode and press Enter

  11. Now change to the C drive by typing:

  12. Get the name of the .exe file you copied by typing:

  13. You should see a list of files, and one should have EXE in the second column. Flash your BIOS by typing the name of that file that's listed in the first column. For example:

  14. Once it's finished, turn off your computer, remove the USB drive, and turn it back on.

  15. Get the version of your BIOS again, and this time it should show the new BIOS version:
    sudo dmidecode -s bios-version