March 19, 2013

Android, Bootloaders, and Innovation.

Since getting my first android phone in May 2011, I have been extremely into rooting and flashing ROMs onto my phone. My first phone, the HTC Droid Incredible 2, was easy, due to it's unencrypted bootloader. This makes root (superuser) exploits easy, as well as the installation of custom recoveries and ROMs. The bootloader on my current phone (the Motorola Droid Razr) is encrypted. This makes gaining root, installing custom recoveries and ROMs significantly harder.

A bootloader, at it's most basic does nothing but load an OS. However, a bootloader can be used to verify software and things like that.

In terms of android, the bootloader checks the signatures of the files being loaded. If a signature fails the check, the phone doesn't boot. Often, people confuse the difference between "locked" and "encrypted" bootloaders. A locked bootloader is something every phone has out of the factory. An encrypted bootloader a locked bootloader with a layer of encryption that prevents you unlocking the bootloader.

***NOTE*** from here on out, a "locked" bootloader will refer to an encryped bootloader, unless explicitly stated.

Many phones have unencrypted or lightly encrypted bootloaders that are easy to crack. Yet other phones have factory-sanctioned unlocks, allowing the end-user to decrypt and unlock the bootloader.

As of late, there has been some major discussion in the developer community about the future of bootloaders. Most people argue that having a locked bootloader restricts what can be done with a phone. This is where my phone (and previous Motorola phones) comes in. Every android Motorola phone has had a locked bootloader. This has not stopped a select few brilliant devs working on porting ROMs and creating custom recoveries. Some of the things they have come up with just blow me away.

For example, the recovery solution that the developers have come up with is phenomenal. It is called safestrap, and in safestrap 2, one was able to dual-boot one custom ROM alongside the Stock ROM. Well, in safestrap 3 (which is all touch), you can now have 4 custom ROMs alongside the stock ROM.

Another exciting development is the use of a KEXEC (Kay- eksek) kernel. KEXEC is not particularly new to Linux, but to the android community, it is fairly new. This allows developers to make kernels for each ROM, without having to flash a new kernel (which has the potential to brick your phone).

The point is: is having a locked bootloader really all that bad? Yes, it does adversely impact the initial ability to develop for the phone, including rooting. However, having a locked bootloader requires innovation on the part of the non-OEM developers. In any industry, innovation is a driving force. The changes that get made to any android device do get noted by Google, and do eventually get integrated into the Android OS (See the settings toggles added to the notification menu as of Jellybean [4.1]). What's to say that the innovations made today won't be integrated into tomorrow's OS?

What do you think about locked/unlocked bootloaders on mobile devices? Please discuss in the comments section!

March 13, 2013

Set up a High-Quality Development Box for Under $1000 (Part 2)

Being a college student, money is always short. I'm going to walk you through setting up a high-quality development box with Fedora 18. If you don't mind getting super-involved, you could use Arch Linux, however Fedora is really easy to set up and will get you up and running quickly! This is part 2, which covers the installation of Fedora. Part 1, which is about choosing hardware can be found here.

***NOTE*** For this installation, I'm assuming that you have a wired connection.

First: Acquire the installation media
The link to Fedora's installation .iso can be found here. Choose the .iso that looks nicest to you. I'm choosing GNOME for this tutorial.

***NOTE*** For Reference:
GNOME looks a little bit like OSX in terms of layout, while KDE is laid out more like Windows.
Don't let this influence your decision too much though!
Although I am more experienced with Windows than OSX, I tend to prefer GNOME to KDE.

Second: Burn .iso to USB or CD
I'm using the LinuxLive USB Creator to burn the .iso to USB, however this is for Windows only.

Instructions for Linux and Mac can be found here.

Third: Boot the installation media
While your computer is off, insert your USB drive into a USB port. Press the power button, and look for a prompt at the bottom of your screen saying Hit [Some Key] for boot options, or something similar. Common keys are F2, F9, F11, F12, Delete, or Escape. If you're having trouble finding which key it is, google "[your computer model] boot option key" or something to that affect (Or it is effect...? I can never remember...). And select your USB drive.

Fourth: Base install
Once the media has booted, you are presented with a login screen. Just select Live System User (it should be the only option). Once logged in, if you want to play around with Fedora for a little before committing, click on "Try Fedora". Otherwise, choose "Install to Hard Drive".

First you are asked for the language you would like to use during the install, choose whichever language suits you (the default is English (US)). Click continue.
Under storage, click on "Installation Destination" and configure your hard disk. I suggest sticking with automatic partitioning, but you may have to make some changes if dual-booting or choosing to have a separate data partition. When returned to the screen that reads "Localization" and "Storage," click on Begin Installation.
On this screen, all you need to do is set a root password by clicking on the key icon and entering a password twice and clicking done.

***NOTE*** This should be a secure password! It allows root access to your system and can be used to do naughty things by naughty people (get your mind out of the gutter)! we wait for Fedora to finish installing.

Once done, reboot and remove the installation media. When the system comes back up, you are greeted with a welcome screen. Just follow the prompts and choose the default options and you'll be fine!

Fifth: Do a system upgrade.
To perform a system upgrade, we will use yum, Fedora's package manager. Run

sudo yum upgrade

to upgrade all of your packages. It will take a long time, but is highly suggested (This isn't strictly necessary, but it keeps you up-to-date.).

***NOTE*** This step is not necessary for everyone!
Next, we will get wireless working with a Broadcom wireless card. To find out if you have a wireless card, do

lspci -nn | grep 14e4 (14e4 is Broadcom's vendor ID)

If nothing comes up, you can skip to installing development tools! Otherwise, add the rpmfusion repository following the instructions here. Add both free and nonfree.

Then, install broadcom-wl like so

sudo yum install broadcom-wl

...and reboot when done. On reboot, wireless should come up.

Install any development tools you need (Java, Python 2.x or 3.x). You know your needs best, but common tools are an IDE (I suggest Eclipse if you don't have an IDE in mind), and a good text editor like Sublime.

To install Eclipse, do

sudo yum install eclipse

By default, Python 2 is already installed on your system (Version 2.7.3), however you can install Python 3.3.0 simply by running

sudo yum install python3

to run a Python 2 module, run

python [path to module].py

... likewise, to run a Python 3 module, do

python3 [path to]

Congratulations on your new development environment! If there's anything I missed or you want me to cover, please put it in the comments and I'll add it in!

March 11, 2013

Set up a High-Quality Development Box for Under $1000 (Part 1)

Being a college student, money is always short. I'm going to walk you through setting up a high-quality development box with Fedora 18.
***NOTE*** This will be a 2-part tutorial, with the first part about choosing the hardware and the second part about installing Fedora.

Picking your hardware:
Computer hardware is an extremely hard choice to make - doubly so when looking for a machine to run Linux, because nobody offers linux as a default OS option. (Okay, Dell does. Kind of. But I'll cover that later.)

Time to look at specs:
Processor: Anything from an Intel Core 2 Duo to an Intel Core i5 (or if you feel like overkill, go for an i7), you could also go for the ever ambiguous AMD Dual-Core or an AMD Athalon II. I would stay away from the AMD A-Series (for now) though. Although the A series is great for Windows systems, from what I've read there are still issues with Linux systems.

Unless you're doing something crazy or gaming, integrated graphics will do just fine. In fact, it may be preferable because the Intel integrated graphics are well supported for Linux, whilst NVidia is more or less unsupported. In fact, NVidia was called out by Linus Torvalds for being spectacularly bad about open-source drivers. AMD does have open-source drivers available, but I really don't know anything about them.

A decent dev machine should have at least 4GiB of RAM, but feel free to go with anything up to 8GiB. I also suggest getting DDR3 (which is the current standard - chances are that anything you choose will be DDR3).

From there, hard drive space, screen size and cd/dvd drive is up to you. In terms of the original OS, I suggest staying away from Windows 8. Windows 8 introduced something called Secure Boot, which is akin to a locked bootloader and makes it harder to install Linux.

For reference: My Current Linux Machine (Currently runs Arch)

My current machine tackles anything I need to do without thinking about it, although it is a bit old.

In terms of brand, it's really up to you. I tend to avoid Dell because I've had nothing but bad experiences with their hardware. I favor HP and Lenovo.

The cheapest option ($270): The HP 6910p
My suggestion ($501): The Lenovo ThinkPad Edge
The over-the-top option: The Samsung NP700Z7

These are by no means the only machines you can use (Linux will run on just about everything), so feel free to look around on your own!

March 7, 2013

The Wonderful World of Arch (Part 5) [Wireless]

This isn't really a continuation - it's more just my notes on getting wireless working with a Broadcom Wireless chip.

*** LONG ***

First thing first - do *another* system upgrade (I am assuming you are logged in as a normal user and have sudo installed - also assuming you have wired access):

sudo pacman -Syu

This ensures that you have the latest linux headers - required for broadcom wireless.
At this point, I would usually redirect you to the Arch Wiki, but I won't. Unfortunately, the wiki is kind of contradictory about broadcom chips. I'm going to post what worked for *me*. I can't promise that it will work for you, but hopefully it'll give you a good start.

I have a little aside to make now: Installing packages from the AUR (Arch User Repository).

To install a package from the AUR, open a browser (you can install one with pacman: sudo pacman -S chromium). Any browser from here will work. And search google with the string "AUR [package]". Either download the tarball in-browser or wget it from terminal.

cd to the directory the tarball downloaded to and run

tar -xzvf [archive name]

to untar the archive and cd to the directory created. Then run


...this will create a *.pkg.tar.xz file which can be installed with

sudo pacman -U [package name].pkg.tar.xz

...this will install the new package.

***NOTE*** You can take a shortcut for installing things from the AUR with a package like aurget. The usage is very similar to that of pacman, hwoever it does not need to be run as root.

Step 1:
Install firmware
Begin by installing b43-fwcutter:

sudo pacman -S b43-fwcutter

Then install b43-firmware from the AUR.

Step 2:
Install broadcom-wl (the wireless driver [proprietary])from the AUR.
Remove b43 and ssb from the kernel with rmmod:

sudo rmmod b43
sudo rmmod ssb

***NOTE*** b43 and ssb may not be loaded - this is okay.

Load wl:

sudo modprobe wl

Check that lib80211 was loaded by wl with lsmod.

sudo lsmod | less

(hit q to exit) If not loaded, load it with

sudo modprobe lib80211

..and update dependencies

sudo depmod -a

Step 3:
Make the module load at boot by creating a file for each module in /etc/modules-load.d with the naming convention [module name].conf
Inside that file, write the module name. For example if you wanted to load wl at boot you would do

sudo nano /etc/modules-load.d/wl.conf

and write wl in the file. Save and exit nano.

You need to load wl, lib80211, and virtio-net at boot.

Configuring Wireless
For configuring wireless, I've chosen to configure everything manually rather than using a network manager like netcfg.
wireless_tools should already be installed. If for some reason it isn't, use pacman to install it.
Additionally, you should install iw and wpa_supplicant, both with pacman.

At this point, you should still be connected to your wired network. You can run ip addr to see the names and connection statuses of each of your interfaces. Make note of the interface that has no ip address - that is your wireless interface. From here on out, replace [interface] with the name of your interface.

***NOTE*** If trying to connect to an ad-hoc network, use "sudo iw [interface] set type ibss" to set your interface to ad-hoc.

Activate the interface with

sudo ip link set [interface] up

...and scan for wireless networks with

sudo iw dev [interface] scan | less

Take note of the SSID, and look for anything referring to WPA or WEP - it will be important when you configure the wireless connection.
The next part is dependent on what kind of security is on the network. Instructions can be found here.
Information on configuring wpa_supplicant.conf can be found here. I can't walk you through this is because it will be different for every network. If you're having trouble, some google-fu will definitely help.
Instead of running

sudo wpa_supplicant -i wlan0 -c /etc/wpa_supplicant.conf should use

sudo wpa_supplicant -Dwext -i[interface] -c/etc/wpa_supplicant.conf -B

-D specifies the driver to use, -i specifies the interface, and -c specifies the configuration file.

From here, you're ready to grab an IP address with

sudo dhcpcd[interface]

...and check that it worked with

ip addr

If you see a line beginning with inet, you have an ip and everything is working!

The next (and final!) step is to configure the network to start at boot.
Create the "/etc/systemd/system/network.service" file with a text editor and make it like this:

Description=Network Connectivity

ExecStart=/sbin/ip link set dev [interface] up
ExecStart=/usr/sbin/wpa_supplicant -Dwext -i[interface] -c/etc/wpa_supplicant.conf -B
ExecStart=/sbin/dhcpcd [interface]


Save, and enable with

sudo systemctl enable network

...and reboot! Remove your ethernet cable and wireless should come up on boot! You can check by issuing ip addr.
Congratulations on your fully functioning Arch install!

March 6, 2013

The Wonderful World of Arch (Part 4) [Post-Install]

This is a continuation of my three previous posts, found here, here, and here.

Login using your username and password NOT as root! root should under NO circumstance be used as a normal user.

At this point, we've rebooted and we're ready to configure X.
First, we need to do a system upgrade (to get the latest linux headers) and install sudo.
For the moment, we need to login as root by typing su, then Enter, and then your root password at the password prompt.
Now we can upgrade the system, install sudo, and install X.

pacman -Syu

to upgrade the system, and then:

pacman -S sudo

to install sudo.

Now we have to configure sudo to allow your non-root user to issue root commands.
The usual way to do this is by using:

visudo /etc/sudoers

...however this uses the editor vi, which I do not currently know how to use.

***NOTE*** There is a very good reason for needing to use visudo, which is explained here.

There is a solution to this though:

VISUAL="/usr/bin/nano -p" visudo

That command will open nano as the visudo editor.

In this file, you will need to uncomment the line that reads

# %wheel ALL=(ALL) ALL

by removing the # before the line.

Exit nano, and then type exit to get out of the root shell.

Now we install X.
X (or X11) is a window management system. Ubuntu, Mint, and SUSE all use X under a desktop environment to manage windows.
First, we have to install X from the Arch Repositories:

sudo pacman -S xorg-server xorg-xinit xorg-server-utils
pacman -S mesa

This will be different for everyone, so i'm not going to cover it, instructions can be found here.
If you have a laptop, you should install the synaptics package like so:

sudo pacman -S xf86-input-synaptics

Now to test X. First we install the test environment:

sudo pacman -S xorg-twm xorg-xclock xterm

and then run X:


...and exit by exiting all of the open terminals (there should be 3).

Now that we know X works, it's time to install a GUI!
The desktop environment you choose is up to you - the instructions probably differ for each one. This page has a list of desktop environments (bear in mind that there are more than just those), each with install instructions. I chose Cinnamon because I think it looks gorgeous. The instructions for each DE are fairly straightforward, so I'll leave you on your own for those.

Next comes the display manager, which is essentially a graphical login screen. I chose SLiM, but there are many others. As with the desktop environments, these are fairly straightforward to install and i'm not going to go into the installation.

My next post will be about wrestling with getting WiFi up and working with a Broadcom Wireless chip! Now found here!

March 5, 2013

The Wonderful World of Arch (Part 3)

This is the continuation of my previous posts found here and here.

We left off having created a standard user, and now it's time to install the bootloader. I have decided to use GRUB.
First, install GRUB for BIOS systems:

pacman -S grub-bios

***NOTE*** The following process is for BIOS systems only. If your system uses UEFI, please refer to the documentation found in the Arch Beginners' Guide.

Next, open a virtual console with Alt+F2 and type root at the archiso login: prompt.
Now, create a BIOS boot partition as follows:

cgdisk /dev/sda

Select the 1007.0KiB empty partition and choose new (n).
Hit Enter twice, and when asked for the filesystem type, enter EF02. Do not name the partition.
Hit w to write the filesystem, and quit cgdisk.

Switch back to the original console with Alt+F1 and run grub-install like so:

grub-install --target=i386-pc --recheck /dev/sda
cp /usr/share/locale/en\@quot/LC_MESSAGES/ /boot/grub/locale/

Now to configure GRUB, there's not actually much for you to do here, except run a command.

grub-mkconfig -o /boot/grub/grub.cfg

Now onto rebooting! type exit to exit the chroot environment, and unmount the partitions:

umount /mnt/{home,}

...and then reboot:


...sacrifice your best goat and chicken to the Arch Gods (and remove your installation media)...
...And hopefully it'll boot back up! Mine did!
Next post is about some post-installation stuff. Coming soon! Here!

March 4, 2013

The Wonderful World of Arch (Part 2)

This is a continuation of my previous post found here. Enjoy!

We left off looking at /mnt/etc/fstab in nano. We have the base system installed to sda and now we're going to configure the installation with

arch-chroot /mnt

I highly suggest following the Arch Beninners' Guide whilst doing this.
Now that you're in chroot, there are some files that need to be edited, locale.gen and locale.conf.
First, do

nano /etc/locale.gen

...and uncomment the line(s) with UTF-8 of the locale(s) you desire, in my case en_US.UTF-8 UTF-8. Then exit nano, saving the edited file.
Next, run


The next file, locale.conf doesn't exist yet, so we're going to make it with:

echo LANG=en_US.UTF-8 > /etc/locale.conf
export LANG=en_US.UTF-8

***NOTE*** Replace en_US.UTF-8 with the locale you chose if using a locale other than English
Next, we will set the time zone.

ls /usr/share/zoneinfo

to see all available countries, then list the directory with your country, for example:

ls /usr/share/zoneinfo/America/

Choose the city nearest you (New York for me), and create a symlink:

ln -s /usr/share/zoneinfo/America/New_York /etc/localtime

Then set the hardware clock:

hwclock --systohc --utc

Now, I'm going to set a hostname by doing

echo EXAMPLE_HOSTNAME > /etc/hostname

Next, we're going to configure the wired network interface to start at boot.

***NOTE*** The following section has been FIXED. This is now unnecessary.

***NOTE*** The Arch Beginners' Guide points out that there is currently a bug in the install .iso that sets the interface name to something different after a reboot than the one used during installation. They have provided a script that will act as a workaround for now. That script follows here:

for i in /sys/class/net/*; do
echo "==$i"
udevadm test-builtin net_id "$i";
done 2>/dev/null

In the following configuration, the value of ID_NET_NAME_PATH will be used in place of [interface]
We will be using netcfg for wired connections.
Install ifplugd with

pacman -S ifplugd

...and change the value for WIRED_INTERFACE to the value of ID_NET_NAME_PATH like so:

nano /etc/conf.d/netcfg

and change




...and finally enable the service:

systemctl enable net-auto-wired.service

Also, enable dhcpcd to run at boot:

systemctl enable dhcpcd

***NOTE*** I am intentionally skipping wireless for now, as that it a BEAST to configure on the 6910p (If anyone's curious why, check Arch's wiki on Broadcom Wireless [yes, they have an entire section of the wiki specifically for Broadcom])

Next we're going to configure pacman (no, not the game, the [pac]kage [man]ager).
There are tons of articles on using pacman, but for now we're just going to be very basic and simply configure it.
***NOTE*** This only applies if installing x86_64 (a 64-bit system)
Selecting repositories:

nano /etc/pacman.conf

...and scroll down to the line that reads #[multilib].
Uncomment that line and the two line following it and run

pacman -Sy

Next, set a root password with


Please make sure that this is a strong password as it is your root password. If you don't know what root is, this is a good explanation.
Next, we will create a normal user with useradd, like so:

useradd -m -g users -G wheel -s /bin/bash [username]
passwd [username]

Let's break that down:
useradd - add user command.
-m - makes the user's home folder at /home/[username]
-g users - the user's primary group, in this case, users
-G wheel - any supplementary groups, wheel for this user
-s /bin/bash - the user's login shell
[username] - username, must be alphanumeric (letters and numbers) and all lower case
passwd [username] allows you to set the password for [username]

In my next post, we'll be installing the bootloader and rebooting! Coming Soon! Here!

The Wonderful World of Arch (Part 1)

So I decided today that I was going to try installing Arch Linux. Again.

For anyone interested, I'm installing on an HP Compaq 6910p with 3GiB RAM and a Core 2 Duo

A lot of this is also me making notes so that, if I decide to try again, I won't have to go back to the wiki (found here), so please bear with me.

It's best to start with an empty hard disk, however I was installing over (not alongside) an Ubuntu 12.04 installation.

I used the Linux Live USB Creator (LiLi) to install the arch .iso (2013.03.01 if you're wondering) to a USB key - this is the easiest part (in my opinion). The only thing is that you have to rename the USB label to the the value of archisolabel found at /loader/archiso-x86_64.conf. You can open this with any text editor. You also have to change the value in the autorun.inf to that same value. You're now ready to boot!

To boot from USB, I have to hit F9, but it's different for pretty much every system. Common keys are F2, Del, Esc, F11, and F12.

When the live disk boots, you will be automatically logged in as root. At this point, you have a decision to make - which partitioning scheme to use. Your two options are MBR and GPT. I'm by no means an expert, and you should look elsewhere for more information on MBR vs GPT, but suffice it to say that GPT is newer. I chose to use GPT. You can create GPT partitions using:

cgdisk /dev/sda

The ncurses interface is actually pretty decent, and is fairly self explanatory, so i'm just going to give an overview of what to do:
Step 1:
Delete any and all existing partitions. This WILL delete ANY data on the disk. MAKE A BACKUP!
Step 2:
Create your "/" (root) partition. This should be around 15-20GiB
***NOTE*** This will also create 1007KiB of free space. This is normal.
Step 3:
Create your "/home" and any other partitions you desire - feel free to fill up any remaining space on the disk!

(Q)uit cgdisk, and format the partitions. I used ext4.
If you're having trouble remembering which partition is which, you can use lsblk. sda is your primary hard disk, sda1 is (generally) your root partition, and sda2 is your home partition. If you're still having trouble distinguishing partitions, check the sizes to help you differentiate.
You can format the partitions with:

mkfs.ext4 dev/sda1
mkfs.ext4 dev/sda2

Next, mount the partitions: ***NOTE*** This is different for people with UEFI motherboards

mount /dev/sda1 /mnt
mkdir /mnt/home
mount /dev/sda2 /mnt/home

Next, you may want to check your pacman mirrorlist (but not absolutely necessary):

nano /etc/pacman.d/mirrorlist

Once you're done with that (or if you decided to skip it),
you're ready to install the base system:

pacstrap /mnt base base-devel

This is a script that does the installation for you!
Generate an fstab with:

genfstab -L -p /mnt >> /mnt/etc/fstab

and edit with

nano /mnt/etc/fstab

Like I said, I'm not an expert, so go here for more help. Also, the Arch Beginners' Guide is fantastic!

Part 2 coming soon! is now here!

March 2, 2013

Macbooks and Windows

One of my less tech-inclined friends has a Macbook Pro (from 2011). Recently, he was complaining about not being able to play games. I suggested that I could install Win7 with BootCamp. Apparently that wasn't *quite* what he had in mind, and I was asked to replace OS X with windows.
First, I made a bootable copy of his entire disk, onto an external HDD.
Next, since my only installer was on a USB drive, I needed a way to boot from USB. On a Mac. That doesn't support booting from USB.
For anyone that wants to boot a Mac from USB, rEFIt makes quick work, hooking into the bootloader and allowing USB ports to emulate CD/DVD drives.
The actual installation was probably the easiest part of the whole process, just delete all of the partitions and go from there!
Once Windows was installed, there were almost no working drivers. The screen worked, but only at a resolution of 800x600, the keyboard worked, mostly. The mouse pointed, and occasionally clicked (sometimes when I *didn't*), and neither wireless OR wired worked.
After a little more research, I figured out what the hardware was and started looking for the required drivers. It turns out that, even though I wasn't using BootCamp, all the drivers I needed could be installed with ONE .exe found inside the .dmg file used to install the windows drivers from the OS X partition.

All in all, it was a fun little project. It took me about three hours, and when I was done I felt that I had learned not just how to install Win7 on a Macbook Pro, but also a little about how Macs work.