Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Installing Cerberus on Nexus5

Update: Came across this link (http://www.kingoapp.com/android-root/devices.htm). Looks like rooting just became easier. Haven't tried this software though.

Note: I have been struggling with this for a few days now. This is the first time I have tried to root an android phone & install an app as a system app. As such, I could not quickly grasp the lingo used in different DIY (do it yourself) articles which explained this procedure. The aim of this article is to explain the procedure in as many steps as you may possibly need to understand it without feeling intimidated.

Note: At any point, if the phone asks to grant superuser access to ROM Manager, Clockworkmod or Cerberus, choose 'Yes'.

Warning: This procedure involves rooting your phone. If your phone is already rooted, you can skip that step. If it is not, then rooting will erase all data & essentially RESET your phone. So backup all your data before rooting. Once the phone is rooted, it will remember all your apps & reinstall them. However, the data in the apps would be absent. So for example, Whatsapp will not contain the messages that are in it now, your SMSs will be deleted, call logs will be deleted, etc.

What do you need

1. Nexus5 is the phone that I have used. You can read this article & then refer to articles specific to your phone.
2. Data cable to connect the phone to pc
3. Phone's USB drivers need to be installed on your PC. This will help the PC identify your phone & show your phone's memory/SD memory as a drive in 'My computers'
4. Rooting your phone
5. Loading ROM Manager
6. Copying the Cerberus Disguised.apk to your phone
7. Installing through ROM Manager
8. Post install actions

Detailed steps

1. Don't need much battery but try to keep atleast 50%

2. Connect the phone to the laptop using the phone's data cable

3. My phone requires the Google USb Drivers (https://dl-ssl.google.com//android/repository/latest_usb_driver_windows.zip). This is available at (http://developer.android.com/sdk/win-usb.html)

4. Now the tricky part. I used this tutorial (http://nexus5.wonderhowto.com/how-to/root-your-nexus-5-an-easy-guide-for-first-timers-0150493/) which uses a utility called CF-AutoRoot. To explain this tutorial simply, please find steps below:-

    4.1 Download autoroot to your desktop
    4.2 Open the autoroot folder on your desktop, press Shift key & right click in the folder & select ' Open command window here'. This will open a DOS command prompt window.
    4.3 Restart phone in bootloader mode. For nexus5, you need to press 'Volume Down' & 'Power' keys together & hold them that way for 5-10 seconds to restart in bootloader mode
    4.4 Once phone has restarted in bootloader mode, goto the dos prompt on the pc. type 'root-windows.bat'. now just sit back while your phone is rooted.

5. To install cerberus as system app, i used ROM Manager. To install it, simply goto Google Playstore from your phone & install it.

    5.1 ROM Manager will suggest installig a Recovery Manager if not already installed. I used Clockworkmod. Install the free one. You can install it from within Rom manager or from Google Playstore

6. Download the Disguised version from here (https://www.cerberusapp.com/download.php). Copy it to the phone

7. Open ROM manager on the phone. Locate & install the disguised cerberus zip file. Check this tutorial (http://www.technobuzz.net/use-rom-manager-install-cwm-recovery-android/)

8. The phone will restart & optimize apps. Once phone starts, open cerberus, create an account & do the necessary settings.

8.1 It is likely that Cerberus icon wont be present in your app drawer (The different screens that you scroll through to see apps, is called app drawer). Instead, there will be an unusual green android icon. That's cerberus. Open that to access cerberus from phone. Once inside, click 'hide from app drawer'. This way, no one will know that you have cerberus installed. Also, remember/change the dial code. Once you hide cerberus from app drawer, you can goto your phone's dialpad (from where you dial numbers/make calls) & simply dial that number and try to call the number. That will open cerberus app.
8.2 you can also launch cerberus from the website (https://www.cerberusapp.com/dashboard.php). 
8.3 Try different commands from teh website (like track phone) & enjoy the fun :)

Using Cerberus
1. If your phone's data or wifi was switched off when you lost it, the cerberus website wont be able to track it. You will need to turn on data/wifi on your phone first. You can do that by sending sms commands to your phone, from someone's else's phone (https://www.cerberusapp.com/help.php). This website provides list of SMS commands.

2. Once data/wifi has been turned on, use the website to track the phone :)

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

The Broken Evaluation System (A Rant)

"All's fair in love, war and politics" is a new one I heard recently.  Interestingly, the novitiate in this cliched idiom, 'Politics', doesn't just refer to the Constitutional Political System, but to the politics of life in general.
It got me thinking of the various forms of politics we encounter in our lives.  The most quaint one to me is office politics.  Now politics generally has a negative connotation to it.  I will be neutral in its usage for the purpose of this post.

Having working in the IT service industry for quite some time now, I have experienced and suffered and played my share of dirty politics.  I must admit I am terrible at it, costing me dearly at times.  But like it or not, foul politics in office environments is here to stay, and people unskilled at it had better train to at least safeguard themselves against any malicious attempts.

I will be talking about the IT work culture in specific.  In corporate IT environments, where there are 10 candidates for each position of promotion or each position of evaluation (e.g. good, above avg, avg, bad etc), and all the candidates considering only themselves as the most worthy, the talent managers have an arduous task of picking people.  This is where it gets filthy.
The kind of rating system wherein each talent manager (or a project manager or anyone for that matter) gets a fixed bucket of evaluation numbers is called Stack Ranking.  It implies that the person in charge has to pick people and put them in buckets of Good, Average, Bad etc., and there's no way they can exceed the pre-decided number for each bucket.  This usually annoys me to the core.  Say, for instance, you join a firm and are placed in a team of 10 people.  No matter how hard you work, you are sure that three out of the ten are going to be rated as the best, five as the average and two as bad.

What's wrong with this?  To begin with, this system pits one team member against the other.  It means people in the same team distrust each other and even go to the length of sabotaging each other's work (It happens, all the time).  Ironically, corporations spend a lot on team building training exercises.  Stack ranking means the decision about your pay hike or promotion is completely based on the perception of one person, which might easily be influenced by someone else (who is either in direct competition with you or just dislikes you).  From the corporations' perspective it's bad because it fosters a toxic intra team environment, while the ideal case would be teams competing with each other for excellence.  You win as a team and lose as a team.
In a recent Vanity Fair article the author takes a rancid shot at the Stack Ranking system and how it caused the famous 'Lost Decade' for Microsoft.

In essence I claim that the Stack Ranking system is inherently inefficient, at least in the IT and software development areas which are a talent based and creative kind of work.  This system would work flawlessly in production line jobs and labor works where evaluating performance is simple (number of light bulbs packed per hour, number of screws bolted per day etc.), but it fails at measuring the output in terms of software value produced.  That's the reason IT needed a new kind of project management methodology, aka Agile.  Waterfall and other tested models didn't succeed much.  Almost all Software companies use either Agile or Iterative as the basic methodology of development.

As a conclusion, I state that the priority of any corporation (IT especially) should not be forcing its employees to compete against each other, but motivate them to work towards a common goal, a common team goal.  This works in every creative industry.  Leadership by intimidation and by virtue of designation will only cause harm by losing talent.  Period.

Monday, 2 January 2012

An apple a day no longer keeps the doc away!

 This time I'd like to take a shot at Apple fanatics - the blind mice who follow the late piper named Steve Jobs and jump into the ravines and swim through the muck every time he wants them to. They are mesmerized by his aura. If Steve Jobs says that Rome was built in a day - we agree! In fact, we'd even like to buy Bihar at the price of Rome if Steve is selling it :)

I came across this awesome feature on Android, named "widgets". Wiki defines a widget as "a placeholder for a manufactured device". In the case of operating systems, it refers to an area on the dashboard/desktop/mobile home-screen where an application is running instead of simply having a shortcut or an icon there. For example, look at the below "todo" widget by Astrid.

In any other mobile operating system (I have not checked the new Windows Mobile phones, but I speak of Symbian/Apple/Blackberry), especially your beloved iPhone, there is no such feature. You can't add widgets to the home-screen of your phone. I have been desperately looking for such a feature for so long! I often forget todo items, birthdays and am always at the mercy of gadgets like smartphones to remind me of them. But if I add a todo item to a todo app, I always forgot to open the app and check the list. Similarly, if I set a birthday-reminder, if I am busy i snooze/kill the reminder and forget about it. Now with widgets, the todo items/reminders will always be on my home-screen. Now I pay my bills on time, can see my GPRS/3G usage on the screen all the time and even have important phone-health data being showed on the screen in real-time.

I still use icons/shortcuts for applications like email, contacts, messaging - widgets are not required for everything. But things like reminders/todo/birthdays/live tweets/fb updates can now be seen on the screen all the time - this was an orgasmic discovery for me! Sadly, there weren't any tech-geeks around me when I found this feature :( But I did dash to my sister and tease her to my heart's content. She's one of those bhatke hue log who have iPhones :)

There are many more pleasures that your iPhone cannot offer you. More on Steve Job's forbidden pleasures in the next post.

Friday, 30 December 2011

The end of a pin!

Years ago, as a naive kid I was lucky to receive these wise words from an elder - "learn from the mistakes and miseries of others, don't wait for your turn". I have periodically reminded myself of this adage since then. But that did not stop me from committing a crime that a techie should abstain from - I got baptized into a Blackberry Boy! And boy was it a disappointing ride all along. But nothing could have prepared me for the crashing dead-end in sight.

I don't know what it was that made me go for a Blackberry in the first place. I knew that it is not just a phone - it is a framework, an architecture designed for corporate use with the focus being security and exclusivity. Maybe I just wanted to be that rebel not-a-corporate who used a BB nevertheless :) I was never a fan of the BB services (email, messenger) since they came at a price too heavy for a student thriving on pocket money. But when it comes to jazzy gadgets, sense and sensibility don't have a quota reserved for them (unlike our democracy) in the decision making cabinet called the consumer's-mind.

Slowly but steadily, my entire online & offline identity was the BB. I stored my passwords, usernames, bank account numbers, credit card pins and every other verification/identification related information on my BB for the below reasons:
  • i can't carry a paper with me at all times, with the details written on it, this being for yet another 2 reasons:
    • paper is destructible (now I know its not as undependable as the BB)
    • paper is not password-locked: anyone can read the contents (the BB wins here)
  • my phone is always around me, either in my pocket or on my desk. With my data on the BB, I have my info with me at all times
  • the info is password-protected: the BB has a pre-installed application called PASSWORD KEEPER. You can use this application to keep all your confidential data like passwords, etc and lock the application with a password. This way, you only need to remember the password of the application to open it and read your data.

I always knew that the BB is unreliable. People who had been using the BB since 2008 have constantly faced glitches, slow-downs and repeated crashes. But they weren't techies and were not in a position to find alternative devices which could meet their needs - I was. I should have known better.

I bought a BB Curve 8900 in June 2010. Being a student living on a limited inflow of dispensable cash, I didn't activate the BB services (messenger, email, etc) and used the phone as-is for calls and messaging for almost a year. The very first thing that I did after my job is activate the BB services. Initial hysteria and jubilation of a brand new domain of apps and messengers on mobile kept me elated for a few days. And then my smartphone started showing signs of fatigue. Speed slow-downs, constant progress-icon displays, restarts became a known-issue. I would be so paranoid of installing a new app or doing any kida with it, that the phone regressed to what it originally was - a phone!

Last week my BB crashed while I was installing the twitter app from BB app store. The phone restarted and kept displaying a white screen with the message "Reload Software: 552". I visited the BB website and was momentarily relieved to discover that I could connect the phone to my PC and try to rectify the problem by updating the OS. That was not to be.
So I paid a visit to the BB store and explained my predicament to them - if I don't get my data back then I will be teleported to the stone-age. Their prompt response was "we can't recover your data. Your smart-phone has already formatted itself.". Wow! A smartphone that formats itself for no reason! Now why would I pay through my nose for such a phone I wonder. But then, stupidity and rash decisions are the hallmark of romance and impulse purchases alike :)

For a while I blamed myself - maybe I have been too rough on the phone; maybe I haven't showered it with enough love and adoration and the phone died on me out of neglect. But I could not help noticing that the 30 mins that I was seated in the store, sulking in one corner, a total of 15 irate BB owners walked into the store with handsets new and old, complaining of a crash! Curiosity got the better of me and I sat amongst these guys in the customer lounge and we got talking. Turns out, the BB can crash for any reason whatsoever. Two guys were playing games on their BBs when they crashed. Another was installing an app. Yet another guy simply unlocked his BB in the morning and it turned its back on him. One of the depressed souls had a convenient answer for all this - "nowadays all these things are made in China no...its not BB's fault". Hail the all-knowing ignorant Indian consumer :)

In that one-odd hour in the store, I saw it all - customers demanding replacement, some demanding refund and everyone sulking (the store told every customer that data-loss is imminent and that the store can't help them get their data back). The only one in the store who showed signs of empathy was the security guard - he got a stern rebuke from the manager & was reminded that his concern should be the well-being of the store, not the customers :)

I was so depressed all day that in anger, I committed myself to a new attachment; in an action of rash vengeance - I walked into the Samsung store and bought an Android Phone - Galaxy R.

Now I had been researching about android phones for over 6 months and had amassed fair awareness of the android world to know that this is the phone that I want. Though the decision making process was hasty and rash on that day, the decision itself was long pending, awaiting a signal - and I had got the signal that day in the form of the BB crash & the data loss that followed.

While i sat at the customer service desk, brooding and blankly staring around, the technician who had come out for a coffee break gave me a heart-rendering consolation - "you should always backup your data on the PC (this is stupid and impractical). You can alternatively try BB Protect". That rang a bell like one never rung before - I had installed BB Protect many months back! Reason - it was free & was recommended by BB. Face it, we Indians are suckers for free stuff :) But free is not always bad as I discovered in this case.

Now friends, I cannot stress enough on the importance of this app. BB Protect is a free app that you can download from BB app world. Its by Blackberry and is one app that you should have on ur BB. It schedules regular backups of your contacts, messages, calendar entries to BB server.

BB Protect
I hastily installed BB Protect and checked the BB server for the last backup - it was 3 days back! This means almost all my messages, contacts, calendar entries (yea i will wish you for ur birthdays now :) ) are safe. It took me just a few seconds to download all my BB data back on the phone. But this app doesn't sync data from the Password Keeper app which had all my usernames, passwords and other sensitive information :( Why BB, would you not sync that when you are syncing my supposedly sensitive and highly confidential emails and contacts? You guys are a pain x-(

Learnings from this episode
Android Logo
This episode was the final push that I needed to fulfill my longtime ambition - buy an android phone. I have learnt something valuable through this mishap though which I would like to share with you. Though I did get back much of my data (the contacts and calendar entries were important to me), I have to now go on a clicking spree for "forgot my password" and "reset password" links on I donno how may websites x-(

  • its a phone god damn it! its not your PC. Don't keep your life on it; if you do, sync it on cloud.
  • no matter what brand your phone belongs to, it has to weather much more than your PC. It is out on coffee tables, in factories, near electromagnetism generating phones/gadgets, has to deal with physical shock (we often dump our phones on beds/tables/sofas/desks instead of gently placing them). Our phones are abused on a daily basis - so count on them to die on you someday. Add to that the time spent in conflicting climatic conditions (rains, air conditioned rooms/cars followed by hot humid/dry climate when you step out, etc) which is not good for any gadget.
  • If you prefer to use your phone as more than a phone and keep a chunk of your identity on it, use a phone that has cloud-syncing capability like the android phones. For example, since android is by google, all my media and contacts are synced with my google account. I can burn down my phone right now, buy a new one and just login with my google account and i have my contacts and media on the phone in no time :) Messages are not synced by google but i sure do hope that they give us the option of doing that in future.
  • use a wallet program on your phone which has cloud-sync capabilities. The BB Password Keeper comes under the category of wallet programs but has no sync capabilities. There are many paid wallet apps on android with sync capabilities.
  • though you can sync ur data using BB Protect, the sync is not real-time (it happens every week/month). With android, your contacts, calendar entries, media is synced in real-time(right away). But android doesnt sync your SMS/MMSs unlike BB.
So bask in the glory of your nondescript pin while the party lasts. For there will come a day when you will break free from the shackles of the tyranny of your unreliable pin and will be liberated in the arms of a more reliable technology. Until then, sync and be safe. Or just, use the old-fashioned paper and pen for your reminders and passwords :)