Thursday, July 6, 2017

What a simple Nokia 1616 featurephone can do

I have a very sturdy Nokia 1616 featurephone that I got as a present from a sister.

The phone has an FM radio, a flashlight, a 3.5mm headphone jack that supports compatible headsets, and great battery life.

Its built-in software includes a speakerphone (basically an external speaker), an alarm (duh), a talking clock ("Time is..."), a calendar with reminders, a timer, stopper, calculator, converter, an expenses ledger, three games (Sudoku, Forbidden Treasures, and Solitaire), and the possibility to add preset images to favourite contacts.

And, of course, phone calls and SMS messages, including picture messaging (rarely used now, but this is not MMS).

The clock and calendar also work beyond 2016 and 2017, unlike the two Samsung featurephones I have.

Of all things, an FM radio (with RDS) in a phone of any type is a given feature outside the United States (and maybe the entire North America).

I wrote this in response to a post shared in Google+.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

How to get Skype on the Web to work in Firefox in old Android

As you may already know, Microsoft ceased Skype app support below Android 4.0.3. This covers Android 3.0 and Android 2.3 Gingerbread.

Maybe some of you probably cannot upgrade from these OS versions to Android 4.0.4 or greater, or that you can't upgrade your device. So, I've got a possible solution, but it's very technical, and might not work with every affected device.

If you feel adventurous, then bear with me.

The solution only works on certain devices that have a screen big enough, and a CPU and memory combo that's big enough, too.

What you need

* A reasonably fast device. Slow devices are those with a CPU with 800 MHz or less, and 512 Mb RAM or less. This was my experience, and slow means very slow. In my case, I got Skype on the Web to work, but as it loads in Firefox, the browser takes the entire resources of a device, forces other apps to quit (per Android design), and the entire interface takes three-to-four minutes to load from login to UI.

* The screen resolution must be greater than 320x480 px, because Skype on the Web was not designed for small screens.

Your mileage may vary.

* Another requirement is installation of the NoScript Anywhere extension in Firefox. Technical users already know about this extension. If configured correctly, then NoScript allows reducing overall resource usage while browsing the modern web.

The hardest part is allowing/disallowing sites in NoScript on a subdomain level, because it requires Vim Touch for advanced text editing. (Someone please write an extension to alleviate this issue.)

The soup

Firefox for Android comes with this neat feature, that one can specify site-specific user agent overrides in about:config.
The user agent is a piece of text that a browser sends to a website as identifying information about itself. It contains operating system name and version, and browser name and version. All browsers do that since the first browsers on the web.

about:config is the advanced settings page in Firefox, GNU IceCat, and other browsers that use the Gecko rendering engine. You can access the page by typing about:config in the address bar.
Since Firefox 47 is the most recent version for Android 2.3, you need to modify the user agent string to make Firefox appear like a newer version to allow Skype on the Web to load.

In about:config, create a new setting string by tapping the Plus (+) button; then specify, that the setting is a string, then add the name to the setting:

general.useragent.override.skype.com

For a time, you can leave the string part empty, until you paste the one I suggest here:

The UA string needs to show that the browser is a desktop browser and of a reasonably recent version. The one I use on my device is this:

Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux armv7l; rv:52.0) Gecko/52.0 Firefox/52.0
Some of the items mean the following:
* X11 is the platform part, and means X Window System, the most widespread graphical environment in UNIX/Linux.
* Linux is the OS and the OS kernel name. Because Android uses the Linux kernel, stay with X11 and Linux (though Android uses a different graphical subsystem).
* armv7l — the CPU architecture in my device. Most mobile devices running Android 2.3 and 4.0 have that, and it's the one variable that you can change.
If your device is based on ARMv6, then it's more rare and physically less fast, and the most recent supported Firefox for that is version 31.3.0esr (also for Android 2.2 Froyo). You can use ARMv6 in the string, if you know the correct nomenclature naming of the architecture (I haven't looked it up), and it's actually in your device.
* rv: stands for revision;
* Gecko is the name of the browser's rendering engine;
* Firefox is the browser name. Note, that Skype on the Web does not officially support alternative Gecko-based browsers, such as IceCat, so use only Firefox in the UA string. This means, that you can use GNU IceCat, but you'd still need to enter the Firefox-based UA string.
* Firefox/52.0 is the current official extended support release (ESR). As above, the version number must be 52.0 everywhere.

Domains to add for useragent override


You must continue adding UA strings for a number of Skype and Microsoft domains as described above, so here's what I think is the full list of those:

skype.com
skypeassets.com
live.com
microsoft.com
s-microsoft.com
msecnd.net
gfx.com
gfx.ms
trouter.io
bing.com

Domains to whitelist in NoScript


Generally, you can whitelist all of the above domains, and be happy.

But if you want to tinker on a subdomain level, then you must edit the line in about:config at

extensions.nsa.policy

To edit that line, I strongly recommend using VIM Touch, which is available from the F-Droid repository of FOSS apps for Android. For detailed instructions on how to do this, read A primer on whitelisting subdomains in Firefox NoScript. This is compulsory.

I compiled the whitelist with the help of NoScript for desktop Firefox, which lists the below domains for all to see.

then you must edit the JSON string in VIM Touch. So here's what I got what I think is the full list of subdomains to whitelist:

"config.skype.com":1,
"drip.trouter.io":1,
"lw.skype.com":1,
"secure.skypeassets.com":1,
"https://api.asm.skype.com":1,
"https://api.skype.com":1,
"https://apps.skypeassets.com":1,
"https://auth.gfx.com":1,
"https://auth.gfx.ms":1,
"https://browser.pipe.aria.microsoft.com":1,
"https://c1.microsoft.com":1,
"https://client-s.gateway.messenger.live.com":1,
"https://config.skype.com":1,
"https://consumer.entitlement.skype.com":1,
"https://contacts.skype.com":1,
"https://cs.microsoft.com":1,
"https://drip.trouter.io":1,
"https://flagsapi.skype.com":1,
"https://go.trouter.io":1,
"https://apps.skypeassets.com":1,
"https://avatar.skype.com":1,
"https://c.bing.com":1,
"https://i.s-microsoft.com":1,
"https://kes.skype.com":1,
"https://login.live.com":1,
"https://prod.registrar.skype.com":1,
"https://prod.tpc.skype.com":1,
"https://s4w.cdn.skype.com":1,
"https://static-asm.secure.skypeassets.com":1,
"https://static.asm.skype.com":1,
"https://support.skype.com":1,
"https://swx.cdn.skype.com":1,
"https://web.skype.com":1,
"https://www.skype.com":1

The list is in JSON format: domains are surrounded by double quotes, with :1 meaning to allow that domain (:0 is to forbid, but you won't need that with these).

I typically also add the https:// protocol prefix to make sure, that only the secure version of the site is whitelisted. This is useful in case a non-secure version of a domain is compromised, but a secure version isn't, as domains with http:// and https:// can serve different content.

Domains in double quotes are those that use variable subdomains, which makes using the protocol prefix moot. Double-quoted domains support both http:// and https:// versions of a site. Sometimes, these are also made to serve non-secure content. The profuse use of the secure protocol prefix is really for security purposes.

Whitelisting only these domains means, that other Microsoft properties are not script-enabled.

The entire exercize worked for me, but the Skype for Web UI was extremely slow on my device. There are newer, more powerful and better devices with only Android 2.3–4.0.3, so people with those might have more luck.

A primer on whitelisting subdomains in Firefox NoScript

In Firefox or GNU IceCat, go to about:config, look for the

extensions.nsa.policy

settings string. Search for nsa.po to get the correct match.

This configuration line is only one line in JSON format, so it must be edited in VIM Touch.

Vim Touch (stylised as VIMTouch) is a port of VIM to Android, available from the F-Droid repository of FOSS apps for Android. You do need experience with vi/VIM.

First copy the line by long-pressing the setting in about:config and selecting 'copy value'. Paste it into VIM with <"*P>.

(Hereonafter to avoid ambiguity: In places, where other punctuation is also used, I use < > with Vim commands that must be typed with the virtual keyboard. These are not to be typed.)

Save the line for backup:

:w /sdcard/yourfolder/NoScript_Firefox_whitelist_backup.txt

Always be careful with JSON syntax for that line, because a typo might bork it. That's why it's useful to save the original (working) line first as backup.

Then, in order to separate the domains part of the JSON line, break the line where the domains begin, and add a linebreak to separate the right wavy bracket } at the end of that line into a new line.

Then copy the domains line into a new window: <Shift+V> to select the entire line in visual mode, then press <y> to copy (y = yank). To copy outside Vim, use <"*y>.

Then create a new window with <:sp new> in the Vim command line. Tap into the newly-created window, and paste the copied text with <p> or <P>. I usually use the lower-case p (paste) command to save time.

Then break this one long line to separate all the domains each into their own line:

:s/\&,/&^M/g

:s — substitute. This is the find and replace command in Vi/Vim. The basics on how it works here.
\&, — search for commas
&^M — Add a newline. The ampersand & is for adding text, then press Ctrl+V and Enter/Return on the virtual keyboard to get ^M. Use Hacker's Keyboard, because it has the function keys of normal keyboard, such as Ctrl and Alt. Hacker's Keyboard is also available on F-Droid.
g — search through the entire current line

Screenshot:

NoScript Anywhere does not have many domains built in, but there are some added by its developer. The domains, each now in their own line, are formatted like this:

"https://web.skype.com":1,
"https://www.skype.com":1

The very last domain must never have a comma at the end. Upon pasting it into the original file, the wavy right bracket } goes there.

You add subdomains that you like into each new line:

"www.website.com":1,
"ads.website.com":0,

1 is to allow, 0 to forbid. This means, that the website you add has its www part working, but not its ads subdomain.

Generally, you only need to whitelist the www part, and all the other subdomains (such as ads.website.com) are not accepted for running scripts.

That's the entire soup of subdomain-based whitelisting, in that one can whitelist only the subdomains needed for scripting. Suppose m.website.com is script-heavy, but you want to visit www.website.com with scripts allowed, and m.website.com with scripts specifically disallowed:

"www.website.com":1,
"m.website.com":0,

As you add more and more domains, you need to sort the list, too. In Vim, use the

:sort

command. This sorts all the domains alphabetically.

Suppose you have the right expanded collection of subdomains you want to accept:

"ads.website.com":0,
"https://web.skype.com":1,
"https://www.skype.com":1,
"www.website.com":1

Note again, that the last line must be without a comma at the end.

To join the domains into one line, select all text with ggVG and key in gJ to join all text. Note, that case is important.

ggVGgg goes to document start, V selects the entire (first) line, G goes to the very last line, and thus expands the selection to there in conjunction with V.

Select all text again with <ggVG>, then copy it with <y>. Tap into the original Vim window with the pasted JSON settings line. Make sure the text cursor is in the domains list.

Select the entire domains line with <V>, and paste over it with <p>. Join all three lines with <gJ>.

Save the expanded line into a new file:

:w /sdcard/yourfolder/NoScript_new_whitelist_for_Firefox.txt

I usually add the date, and in one word also what I added:

:w /sdcard/yourfolder/20170705_NoScript_whitelist_for_Firefox_(Skype).txt

Copy the expanded settings line to use outside Vim (to be pasted into Firefox) by selecting it with <V>, and use <"*y> to copy it into the external buffer.

Go to Firefox (or IceCat's) about:config page. It should still be open. If it's not, it may reload on its own.

Locate the extensions.nsa.policy setting by using nsa.po to search.

* Tap on the setting to select it.
* Tap into the setting value to focus the text cursor in it.
* Tap into the line again, to get Firefox text editing tools:
* tap the select all (window-like) button to select the entire line,
* tap the paste button to paste the copied line,
* press Enter on the virtual keyboard.
* Go to about:blank in the address bar.

That should do it, and the added configuration line takes effect right away. Go to a website to test it, and the NoScript menu item should reflect the results.

Note, that Firefox/IceCat have a tendency to reload the about:config page from time-to-time, so it's more useful to copy and paste settings names and values instead of separately typing them, as occasional about:config page reloads break the new setting creation.

The basics of VIM find and replace

The basics of VIM find and replace work like this (for one line) —

:s/searchable/replaceable/optional_commands

The slashes separate the searchable and replaceable and the optional commands.

To search/replace for all occurences of searchable in the same line, use the /g option —

:s/searchable/replaceable/g

To search/replace through all the lines in the entire file, use the percentage sign before s

:%s/searchable/replaceable/g

To append (add after text) or prepend (add before text) instead of replacing, use the ampersand, and pay attention to its location relative to replaceable text:

:%s/searchable/&add_after

:%s/searchable/add_before&

If something goes wrong, press the <u> key to undo. Ctrl+R to redo.

Vim uses regular expressions for advanced searches. To test if a match works, use the simple / (slash) command in the Vim command line to find out if the searchable matches what you need to look for:

/searchable\/

looks for the word searchable that has a forward slash appended to it. Because the forward slash / is used in the search and replace syntax with subst, then it has to be escaped with a backslash \, like this: \/

If the searchable is highlighted, type :noh to turn it off for the time being.

Quitting Vim


Unlike strictly text-mode versions of Vim, Vim Touch has a more accessible quit command in the app's Android-native menu.

Some other basics of operating Vim:

Vim uses two modes: editing mode and command mode. The former is used to write text, the latter to manipulate text and files by way of entering commands outside editing mode.

The command mode uses two types of commands —
* those that begin with a colon, followed by additional commands and options :
* those that don't.

Quitting Vim with the virtual keyboard:

:q — simple quit. Uses confirmation.

:q! — quit without confirmation or saving files.

:qa! — quit all open files without confirmation or saving files.

Insert text:

i — before cursor
a — after cursor

I — at beginning of line
A — at end of line

Shift+R — insert text in INS mode (overwrite)

Press Esc to switch away from text insert mode.

Undo/redo:

u — undo
Ctrl+R — redo

:q

Friday, June 16, 2017

Web brands, e-mail, and their centerpiece services

As an anonymouse reply to a thread

For many things, e-mail is now one of those infrastructure/utility things that is now one of many that complements a different centerpiece service, such as music video delivery and stuff.

My case:
For Yahoo, it used to be GeoCities (remember, that GeoCities offered their own e-mail address, too), and they migrated their GeoCities userbase over. E-mail was then a useful add-on to the Yahoo portal and search. For a time, Yahoo's e-mail was great, until spam overwhelmed everyone.

Yahoo later bought Launch, and became the first large-scale music video delivery service—with ads and all, and the difficult ways to get Windows Media Player to play for sure on Mozilla and then Firefox 1.0. But Launch.com was the property that made Yahoo great. Until they began putting ads between each music video, which was horrid.

(Yahoo later bought flickr and tumblr, and while these have added value, then Yahoo has had a haphazard time getting to monetise those two.)

After Google bought YouTube, which quickly became the primary music video delivery service (along with Vevo), the Yahoo Launch site lost relevance. Maybe only die-hards swear by it. While Flash at the time was way more resource-intensive than a plug-in, then Flash was available for Mac and Linux, and arguably cross-platform on the desktop, thus managing to play videos without a hitch (YMMV). Using Flash from the outset made YouTube great. YouTube is now the centerpiece of all of Google's web properties.

A similar service to YouTube was msn video, but it was a pioneer vaguely similar to Launch; while msn video had plenty of user-created videos, I don't recall it ever having music videos.

* For Google, the centerpiece is YouTube. E-mail is still great, and many people also use Google Docs, and some even Google+. Android complements and extends the whole bunch.
* For Microsoft, it's probably a combo of Office Online, OneDrive, Skype on the web and a few other tidbits.
* For Yahoo, the centerpiece services are news, flickr, and tumblr (in no particular order).
* Apple could be best described as a non-service. It does offer services all right, but none of them has killer web features compared to above players.

Both Yahoo and Microsoft did social networking, and for a time, both were reasonably good, but seemed to have been shuttered after Facebook became a thing.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Google Plus app won't work in Android 2.3 any longer. Use Firefox.

This came up as an issue for me recently, and I wrote this as a reply to another person who wasn't able to access Google+ content in their app anymore. This post is meant for seasoned Android users.

Since mid-to-late February 2017, the Google Plus app wouldn't work any longer in my phone, which runs on Android 2.3.6 Gingerbread, and can't be upgraded to a newer Android version.

While the Google Plus website still works on the mobile web, the stock web browser ("Internet") is far too outdated to visit Google+ and other modern sites.

The solution — or workaround, if you will — is to download and install Firefox for Android. Try from Google Play Store first. If that doesn't work, you need to download Firefox from the Mozilla archive.

• Temporarily switch on third-party app installs.
• Below is a breakdown of which Firefox version is compatible with which combination of ARM CPU architecture and older Android version. Each Firefox version links to the appropriate Mozilla archive directory.
ARMv6 devices —
Android 2.2, 2.3: Firefox 31.3.0esr
ARMv7 devices —
Android 2.2: Firefox 31.0
Android 2.3 (on a slower phone, <1 GHz): 44.0.2
Android 2.3: Firefox 47.0
Then from the Mozilla Add-ons website, install an adblocker to block ads. I suggest uBlock Origin, because it has built-in support for anti-adblock lists; this needs to be turned on separately, but works.

Friday, February 24, 2017

A small ARM primer

Android devices' CPUs are by and large ARM microprocessors, as these were chosen for their low-power features.

The ARM family consists of different architectures, each of which is named ARMvX, where v stands for 'version', and X is the architecture version number.

CPU architectures can be incompatible with one another, as each have different instruction sets, and programs made for one architecture won't run on the other (or there's a heavy performance penalty).

Most Android device CPUs are based on ARMv7-A (usually shortened to ARMv7) or greater, but a bevy of older devices have ARMv6.

Consequently, not all Android device CPUs are based on ARMv7 or greater, and that's why it's important to pay attention to which architecture an app was compiled for.

ARMv7 is subdivided into series of architecture profiles, of which Android devices use ARMv7-A (Application profile). The ARMv7-A grouping is also known as Cortex-A.

A deeper subdivision in each architecture is a core, and these are named differently. Cores within the same architecture are mostly compatible between one another, but differ in performance.

Each device manufacturer or maintainer of a compatible Android fork makes their own compilation of the operating system; first for a particular architecture, and then optimised for each processor type, graphics adapter (GPU), and other hardware features.

I'm specifically pointing cores out because of naming similarities between cores and architectures; for example, ARMv7 should not be confused with ARM Cortex-A7, since the former is the architecture, and the latter a core that uses said architecture.

Respectively, ARM11 is the microprocessor core using ARMv6 architecture; as ARM Cortex-A5 and ARM Cortex-A7 are under ARMv7.