A Kindle Fire

Technically it's not really mine. My sister and I gave it to my mother for her 82nd birthday 3/15/2012 but since I live with her I get to use it sometimes, and load things on it, try to provide user support, etc. You get the idea.

It's an Android!. It's my first exposure to an Android device of any sort. It's interesting, but a great waster of time. I've spent a lot of time over the last 5 weeks mostly getting frustrated with the technical competence of anything I've been able to find so far on the web about it. It reminds me of trying to find answers to Windows questions, a lot of "the blind leading the blind". Many cell phones are based on the Android "operating system" and of course cell phones are popular with teenagers, so guess where most of the advice comes from. Yup, very frustrating.

The Android operating system is based on Linux. I'm not sure how they got around the spirit of the GNU license whereby you start with an open source product and agree to provide sources for everything you do with it. Maybe they do, but they bury them and make them so inaccessible that you spend forever trying to get anywhere. I guess that's to discourage teenagers. If you want to get serious about finding out anything start with http://developer.android.com/sdk/index.html but even that's difficult.

One of the frustrating things about this is that I'm on a modem, with no hope of faster internet out here for a couple more years. The Android development stuff is easy to get started with, for either Linux or Windows, but they seem to assume the machine you're installing on is connected to the internet. Well, it is, sort of, but only by modem and only when I'm booted into OpenBSD. I gave up figuring out Kppp so only OpenBSD uses the modem.

The usual way to get programs ("apps") for Androids is to browse to an app store like Amazon or Google, click on what you want, and it gets installed. Only if you've got a fast internet connection with WiFi attached. Hook WiFi to a modem and everything times out before anything finishes loading. The people who set all this up have no concept of what life by modem is like.

There are a few sites I've found that you can download from directly, like by using wget. I haven't tried any of them for resuming an interrupted download. If it's anything over 1 meg or so I use my free shell account on devio.us as a staging area: I download quickly to there using their wget, then I get it at my own pace from there.

One of the first sites I found is http://www.apktops.com which has what seems to me like a fair number of apps and I've been able to copy URLs and feed them to wget. In some cases they have an HTML page with a counter on it or something, but wget figures it out and it works. Some of their links are to an app store or "market" so don't use those, watch the status line in your browser and see where the link is pointing.

The other two sites I've used less, mostly because a lower percentage of their links are direct to the files, but also because Apktops is fast. Their pages seem to have minimal graphics and load quickly. One of the others is http://www.freewarelovers.com and the other is http://www.androidpit.com. I think Androidpit may be in Europe, not that it matters much. Both of these sites need more care in being sure the link you click on is actually to the file, not to some "market". And for ham stuff see http://www.wolphi.com who makes DroidPSK among others.

With the Fire you have to connect at least once by WiFi to Amazon to register it. You can register on the website, but it won't know it's been registered, and a lot of things are locked out until it's registered. While you're there, grab one of several programs that can install other programs. If you've got a program there's no way to install it without an installer, which has to be installed via WiFi, just the first one. There's an app called "Easy Installer" and since that's all it does it's fairly small. Several file manager apps can also do installs, including Total Commander.

Android fans have their own peculiar jargon. One term is "rooting" which seems to be anything to do with becoming root, the superuser on a unix machine, or installing programs that can run with root privileges. Another is "sideloading" the process of installing programs not from a "market" over WiFi. This is why you need an installer app. There isn't even a working su, and people are posting binaries compiled on one system for other people to use on others. And rooting voids the warranty. On OpenBSD:

freebie# whereis su
/usr/bin/su
With OpenBSD, FreeBSD, Linux, maybe Mac OS X, su is a standard program. I suppose there's no such thing as booting into single user mode and running passwd to change root's password. Or using sudo. They've managed to lock owners out of their own computers.

The Kindle itself, as far as doing what it's made for, works fine. I've only used free (out of coyright) books from the Gutenberg Project and it's worthwhile getting them in Kindle (.mobi) format. The .mobi format is partly based on HTML so it word-wraps to fit the screen very nicely, no matter how much you zoom the font size up. With the Kindle Fire at least you can turn it to any position and the book is right side up, whether it's in portrait or landscape mode, and the lines wrap to fit the screen. It can view PDFs or web pages and zoom those, but keeping things on the screen is a little more tricky. Zooming is cute: it's a touch screen so you put two fingers on the screen and move them apart. That makes everything bigger, pictures and text. Move two fingers together and things get smaller. No controls to fiddle with in zooming; it's very intuitive. I've got 3 DVDs full of books in text and HTML format but it's worth downloading them over again in .mobi format. War and Peace only took 10 minutes by modem. You'll spend a lot longer reading them than the time it takes to download them, so they might as well be right.

But Kindles have been used for reading books since they were invented, it's what else it can do that sets the Fire apart. It can surf the web, show videos and pictures, play music, and games. Because it's WiFi intensive, I've got a couple of apps that among other things will show the signal strength from my WiFi access points so I can walk around the house with a signal strength meter. Solitaire, chess, Jezzball to name a few games that I got free apps for early on.

So I've gotten hooked on playing with Androids. The Fire is actually a pretty nice little computer, or would be if it had a real keyboard and a hard drive. There's an SD memory card built in, but it's only 8 gigs. They could have squeezed in a laptop hard drive and had a terabyte or two.

For forums with technical info on various phones see http://android.modaco.com/forum/363-device-specific-phones/ For info on rooting see http://forum.xda-developers.com Here's a program that claims to be able to root the Kindle Fire and several others: http://northmendo.com/breakdroid/downloads/ personally I think it's a little ominous that it's called Breakdroid. I'd be curious to look at it, but it's a 9 meg download.

The assumption by writers of apps that internet connection is available and free is very annoying. I just spent 5 hours, over 2 days, downloading a 50 meg game and the first thing it wants to do is connect. Deleted. Useless.

AB1JX / toys/ Fldigi