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Android

Every few months I come back here, it seems, and most of what's going on recently involves Android phones, so here's a guide so easy even I could follow it to getting your Samsung Galaxy Tab running Cyanogenmod. Why did I feel this was necessary? Because my phone randomly bricked itself. I don't know how.

In order to get started you'll need Odin and Heimdall. You won't need Odin most of the time -- Heimdall is more flexible -- but Odin's user interface is vital for a rare but nasty case, when you can turn on your phone but the screen and buttons stay black. In this case, Odin detects the state of your phone, and makes it possible to boot into download mode with a lot less guesswork.

When using Heimdall, first connect your phone in download mode (turn off the phone, then turn it on while holding down the volume down button), then use Heimdall's zadig utility to install the drivers Heimdall needs. Select Options/List All Devices, then choose your phone, then hit "Install". Heimdall is now good to go. When using Heimdall, for the most part just copy the command lines other people give you. If you want to actually understand Heimdall, don't look at me.

If you completely brick your Galaxy Tab (the older P1000 model; I have no experience with the newer ones) then you have two options: install a stock ROM, or a custom one. It was much easier for me to find and download the custom ROMs, especially for the P1000N. Be very careful; if you have a P1000N and you install stock P1000 firmware, you'll get the problem described above, where the phone will kind of turn on, but you'll get no screen. The P1000's hardware is a little bit different in just the wrong place, it seems.

If you want to install a custom ROM, Cyanogenmod is a fairly stable and safe way to go, and it will bring your phone into the Gingerbread era. Cyanogenmod 7 is easy to flash and there's a Heimdall package for it on XDA developers. You'll need Google apps for Gingerbread, too (known as gapps and available at goo.im -- gapps-gb-20110828-signed.zip is the latest for Gingerbread).

Follow the instructions on the XDA developers page, taking note of the kernel and bootloader to use for P1000L and P1000N, and you'll have a Gingerbread tablet with very little hassle. You will need to flash a new modem if you use this ROM with a P1000N, though, and that might break your GPRS/data. It broke mine. The JP3 modem is the one you most likely want for a P1000N.

If you want Ice Cream Sandwich, it's a bit trickier, especially if you have the P1000N. The easiest way is to get HumberOS's builds, since he makes builds compatible with all the P1000x models. His blog is in Portuguese but the posts about Cyanogenmod are in English. Find the latest one of those and grab HumberOS's build. This will be flashed using the recovery mode on the phone; put the zip on the phone's internal SD card, reboot into recovery, and let the installer do the rest. You need to follow HumberOS's instructions carefully, though, especially about flashing the CwM recovery ROM first (the stock ROM and the ROM installed with Cyanogenmod 7 above are both insufficient for installing Ice Cream Sandwich).

Long story short: if you really want custom ROMs on your P1000N, don't. It's not worth it. But since you won't listen to me (I didn't, after all), I've given you most of the links you need to follow.

And backup your data first; I lost all the apps I'd downloaded and all my contacts (the Heimdall flash will do that, it's like getting a brand new phone).
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House of fire

In seeing yet more reports of NATO bombs going astray, I've come to think that military technology needs to be subjected to the same rigour that civilian technology does.

More and more often, the major world powers do not fight many wars themselves, but often peacekeeping or humanitarian battles on behalf of another agency. Considering this role, the occasional civilian death due to malfunction or operator error is no longer acceptable. Military technology, and the control and use of it, should be subject to the same kind of examination that other technology upon which human lives depend is. A good example is the space program -- given the difficulties that can arise if anything goes wrong, anything that goes up is analysed to death and has at least two backup systems.

In reading about the recent incidents in Libya, at least one seems to be caused by malfunction. This is said to be extremely rare -- it's only happened once in the conflict so far. That, I believe, is still far too much. Consider the failure rate of your average web server, upon which no human lives depend, and which is guaranteed to be operational 99.999% of the time. Compare that to the track record of any recent NATO action.

It's well-known that both machines and humans can fail. Software can crash, gears can jam, people can push the wrong button. It's the job of a good engineer to design around that problem -- failsafes, backup systems, bombs that simply don't explode if there's an error during the launch process. In an ordinary war, perhaps you want your bomb to go off whether or not it hits the target perfectly, but in days where the people you are trying to help are dying, a new methodology is needed.

The current failure rate is not acceptable, and is preventable. Let the world know that you will not accept substandard military technology used in peacekeeping missions, that needless civilian deaths should not be tolerated whether they're at home or overseas.
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I'm fat, I'm fat, you know it, uh!

This is why I can't take nutrition seriously: today I had McDonalds for brunch (already had breakfast, I'll have a late lunch later on), and I saw the little nutrition info things on the boxes. For the record, I had a spicy chicken burger, medium fries, a coke, and two pineapple pies (they have pineapple pies over here, so awesome!). Here are the totals (not including the coke):

Calories: 1480 (70% of recommended daily intake).
Protein: 51% of recommended daily intake.
Fat: 123% of recommended daily intake.

That last one makes me laugh. Where is all that fat going? Even the calorie intake is pretty ridiculous, and I figured out that the McDonalds packets are using an average of the adult women's and men's recommended intake (2000 calories per day), but even if you give me an allowance of 2200, it still seems a little small. I eat twice that some days.

I know nutritionists are doing their best to figure out how this stuff all works, but it's not all there yet, and those little labels on the back of your food? They're the equivalent of a prescription for bloodletting at the barber's. In rocket science at least the laws of physics are very well known, even if they're not easy. The chemical alphabet soup that is the human body? Good luck, you'll need it.
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Your tears don't fall

So it turns out I've made a rather big mistake. I thought I was stronger than it seems I am -- or I thought I was weaker than I turned out to be. The result is the same. I think I thought myself clever, or I just assumed too much. The result is the same.

And I will not be the only one to pay penance. I'm so sorry, all I wanted was a warmer, friendlier world. I'm sorry.
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The grass is green

Jianmeicao (健美操) is a kind of dance aerobics, and in the past four days I looked at some videos and choreographed a routine for it. Now I have to teach all my workmates the routine - it's easy enough, it should be possible to learn in under a week. Because that's all we have, the show's on Monday. Lovely people these, know how to plan ahead, all that.

The word itself is funny, because although written down it's different, when spoken it's almost an exact homophone for "looking at beautiful grass" (it becomes obvious once you put the missing words in to make a less ambiguous sentence: "kanjian mei de cao"). I also taught myself to make a paper rose - now that's something that will come in handy.

Yoga's getting hard - there are all sorts of things I hadn't thought about before, and keeping everything in mind when practicing asanas is not easy. Still, if it was easy then we'd all be gurus, right?
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Lemonnnnnnnnnnn

I found lemon balm! In China!

This is remarkable. If you're not familiar with Chinese cuisine, it almost universally (North, South, East and West) prefers not to use any kind of herbs (in the culinary sense of the word, not the botanical). Coriander/cilantro is the only herb I've ever seen used, although some spices and other seasonings are used regularly (chilli, salt, and MSG being the most common).

So how did lemon balm get here? You'll never guess what function the deliciously lemony-smelling lemon balm plant serves in modern Chinese society. Go on. Guess. I'll wait. I'm on the internet, I'll wait until the connection resets.

It's used to "detoxify" paint fumes (it most likely just covers up the smell; I have my doubts that it really has any detoxifying effects) in newly refurbished apartments. Its Chinese name is, in fact, "poison-inhaling grass" (xiducao, 吸毒草).

So I bought a plant and I'm going to use it TO MAKE TOAST! For Science!
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See my baby walking down the street, I see red, I see red, I see red

The cable (the ever-so-nifty Apple® cable that only Apple manufacture (and because they're the only ones, do it at a rather steep price) because their computers are the only ones with this absolutely brilliant video out port while all the other laptops are stuck in the dark ages with a so-standard-it-hurts VGA out port that almost any monitor can be connected to, I mean what fun is that) that connects my monitor to my laptop has decided that blue and green are optional, and unlike the last couple of weeks, creative positioning of the cable to get whichever wire is loose to unloosen has failed to work.

In other words, my monitor only shows red.

The really interesting thing about this, though, is that the things my brain remembers the colour of are still that colour, so long as I don't think about it too much. Some bits turn invisible, of course, if there's no colour in the red channel, but otherwise, I'm getting the distinctly strange effect of having some shades of red appear as green or even blue.

Just when I think I understand colour. Maybe I should break another cable and see if I can get it to show only blue.
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Robot robot robot

Since he's been writing, and winning awards, for ten years now, I must have been living under a rock to not have heard of Ted Chiang. More surprisingly, given the awards he's received (the Nebula award among them), many of his stories are available on-line. I just read The Lifecycle of Software Objects, and it's a brilliant piece of fiction. It doesn't sound like it from the title; just ignore the title. It's surprisingly deep, almost entirely character-driven sci-fi, and it's hidden behind very utilitarian prose. This isn't the kind of story to sweep you in with amazing turns of phrase and moments of description that will make you weep with beauty. No, this story is not that at all, and yet it is this way because the prose serves the story, not the other way around.

But this is not a review. Just go and read it. It's not long.