November 22, 2011

Kindle Fire: "sideloading" Google apps

In my previous post, I mentioned sideloading. In the case of the Kindle Fire, this means locating the .apk file for the app you want, putting that file on a PC, transferring to the Fire via USB cable, and then installing the file. Yup, it's a hassle, but for apps that are not available from the Amazon Appstore, this is the easiest way (of which I'm aware) to get the apps installed.

Get the install files: For the Google apps, the first thing you need to do is get the Android install files. Thankfully, these have been posted already. Download gapps.rar from ...You'll need WinZip (there's a free eval version) or a similar program to extract the .apk files (the Android app install files) from the .rar file. I suggest extracting the files to an easy-to-remember location. Maybe create a folder called "Google Android Apps" on your desktop.

FYI, here's the Google files that are included in that .rar:

  •    << That's the same as GoogleServicesFramework.apk
  • GoogleServicesFramework.apk    << That's the same as

Grab a couple of free utility apps for the Kindle: From your Kindle Fire, go to the Amazon Appstore and get the free ES File Explorer app and the free Easy Installer app and install them on the Fire.

CopyToKindleCopy the Google files to the Kindle Fire: Connect your Kindle Fire to your Windows PC with a USB cable. After a moment or two, you should see the Kindle appear as a drive available from File Manager. Select the Google files from your PC folder and drag/drop to copy them to the download folder on your Fire. Once the files are copied, you can disconnect the devices; press the Disconnect button on the Kindle and remove the USB cable.

Install the apps on the Fire: Remember the Easy Installer that you snagged from the Appstore and installed on the Kindle? Open that app. It will list the apps that are available in your downloads folder. IMPORTANT:  Before you install any other apps, first install the Google Services Framework. Locate that file in the listing showing in Easy Installer, press to place a green checkmark at the right of the filename, and then press the Install Selected Apps at the bottom of the screen. Once that install is done, you can go back and select any of the other apps you want to install, and click the Install button for those as well. If you've selected multiple apps, as each one finishes installing, click Done; if you click Open, you'll be popped into the just-loaded app and will have to go back to Easy Installer and again select /install the other desired apps.

What about other apps, like Listen? Just as with the Google apps that were included in the .rar file linked above, you need to have the .apk install file for your desired app. In my case, since I already had the Listen app on my Android phone (an HTC Incredible), I used the free ASTRO File Manager to backup the install file, and then sideloaded that file from the phone - to the PC - to the Fire, and then again used Easy Installer to install the app. To back up an app, open ASTRO and press Application Backup. Select the app(s) you wish to back up and press Backup. This places the appropriate .apk file(s) in the /mnt/sdcard/apps folder (on my phone, anyway), which appears simply as the apps folder when connected to the PC with a USB cable and browsing the files via Windows File Manager.

Astro_appBackup   Astro_Listen

After the files are all sideloaded and installed, I have a Kindle Fire with a sweet suite of apps :)


So why did I suggest that you load the ES File Explorer app on the Fire? Well, there's been a time or two when .apk files I've sideloaded do not show up in Easy Installer. No worries! You just open ES File Explorer, open the download folder, and tap the icon for the desired app to install it :)

Disclaimer: I had previously rooted my Fire whilst doing other things, and had installed most of these apps while it was rooted. To test things tonight, I uninstalled all of those apps, and with the Kindle Fire not rooted, I sideloaded and installed the apps and took the screenshots seen here. Please comment if you try these steps and they do not work for you.


Posted by Joe Litton | November 22, 2011 in Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (5)

November 20, 2011

Kindle Fire: Is this the droid you’ve been looking for?

KindleAppsAs much as I hate ending a sentence with a preposition, I make an exception here, and offer my answer to the question: Yes for me; maybe for you.

My pre-ordered Kindle Fire arrived last week on Wednesday, 16 Nov. After sideloading several apps, doing a temporary root to load more apps, then unrooting the device once the desired app were running (video streaming does not work if the device is rooted) …I now have what I have looked for in a tablet. Total cost was $200 for the tablet, and about $10 for a couple needed apps (described below). Oh, and I'm using a cover that my son gave me.


Kindle Fire without modifications: The Fire is about the same size as the Kindle 3, and slightly heavier (I measured the difference at 4.4 ounces). As a short gent (5’4”) with small hands, I like that I can hold either device quite comfortably in one hand. The display on the Fire is brilliantly crisp and clear. But although I keep the brightness turned down to less than half when inside, even with the brightness cranked all the way up, the Kindle Fire is not as easy to read outside as the Kindle 2.

Kindle std outsideThis pic shows the 'regular' Kindle outside. Very easy to read!




Kindle Fire outsideHere's the Kindle Fire, brightness up all the way, reading the same book at the same outside location. As you can see, the screen is quite reflective. I can absolutely read this, but the standard Kindle is definitely easier to read outside.



The Fire includes a link to the Amazon Appstore. Here’s what’s disappointing:  the Android Market offers over 250,000 apps; the Amazon Appstore – if you access it from an Android phone or your PC – has 4,000 apps (maybe more, but significantly less vs the Android Market). From the Fire, the Amazon Appstore only makes some of those 4,000 apps available, and it seemed that several of the apps I wanted were not available. By the way, I was rather appalled to read multiple online articles and posts mentioning the "must have" apps for the Fire and offering reviews of the device …when it is now obvious to me that these authors did not have the actual device! The articles described apps that are not available for the Fire, and ignored some of what I consider to be very nice included apps. The authors had erroneously assumed that anything available from the Appstore from a phone or PC would be available from the Fire. Wrong!

I’ve tested reading books and magazines on the Fire and I like the experience. That is, for the content I could load. Books and magazines purchased from Amazon for my prior Kindles all downloaded fine and the experience is quite nice, especially for content that normally includes color photos or charts (which render in grayscale on the earlier Kindles). Gaining access to the digital versions of some other periodicals was more challenging and required sideloading the Zinio app.

Video streaming on the Fire via Amazon Prime is amazing. I’ve tested a few videos now (tried a couple of TV shows and a movie) and in all cases the video and sound played just as smoothly and clearly as if watching content via normal TV.

Apps included with the Fire allow you to access your email, read books / periodicals, listen to music, read/post to Facebook and Twitter and other sites, and browse the web.

I was not familiar with Pulse, and this has been a happy discovery among the pre-loaded apps on the Kindle Fire. I am slowly getting this content aggregator configured and tuned and find it more useful each day.

So why would I want to modify things?

Swype: I have a droid phone for work and a droid phone for personal use and I use Swype on both of those (allows me to very quickly drag my finger from letter to letter, ‘stringing’ words together. I refuse to be limited to pecking out text a character at a time. You can “sideload” Swype on the Fire, and it will happily install – but it is not available as a text input option, so you are still left with the sole input option of the Kindle Fire soft keyboard.

Google apps: Gmail is my personal mail provider, and I am quite accustomed to running the Gmail app on my phones; Gmail is not among the available apps from the appstore on the Fire. I also use Google Maps and Google+. I have no idea why Amazon and Google aren’t playing nice here. Android comes from Google, and the Fire runs a modified version of Android.

A better web browser: The Fire comes with a browser, but I don’t care for it. This definitely comes down to personal preference, but now that I’ve modified the Fire and am running the Dolphin Mini browser, I like the web experience much more.

I would not want the Kindle Fire if I were not willing to do some tweaking. And I am willing to do some tweaking (my personal phone is rooted; heck the night I brought my brand new car home a few years ago, I tore off the front bumper assembly and other parts to do various upgrades). This is much easier than tearing into a car!

Here’s the approximate process I followed (I researched and experimented a bit, so this is not necessarily the exact and complete description of my fumbling)...Post a comment or email me if more details are needed.

  1. Grabbed my HTC Incredible (my personal Android phone), and used Astro File Manager to backup some apps (the associated .apk files were stored in the Apps folder on my phone's SD card). Among the apps I grabbed were Zinio reader, FiOS Remote (let's me manage my Verizon FiOS DVR), Swype, ...basically anything I had on the phone that I might want on the Fire.
  2. Using the phone, bought SQLite Editor ($2.99 and only needed if you want Swype) and Root Explorer (File Manager) ($3.99 and worth every penny). Backed these apps up using Astro File Manager once the apps were installed on the phone.
  3. Connected the phone to my PC via USB cable (most of my machines are linux, but I have one desktop with a Windows partition), and copied those saved .apk files to a folder on the PC.
  4. From Amazon Appstore, installed Easy Installer on the Fire
  5. Followed the instructions in these articles to root the Kindle, sideload the desired apps (including various Google apps and the Android Market):
    1. Root the Kindle
    2. Getting the Android Market (and other apps) working on the Fire
    3. Getting Swype to work
    4. MarketOpener app ...This simply puts an icon among the apps on your Fire - to let you easily get to the Android Market once you have the Market loaded.
    5. UN-root the Kindle Fire (instructions are in the "Root the Kindle" article linked above). This step is required in order to allow content to stream from Amazon.

Rooting requires that you have the Android developer kit loaded (instructions are in those linked articles) and that requires a Windows machine with Java. All the instructions are in the articles, and if you don't have Java yet, the Android dev kit installer will detect that and help you.

Do read all of the text of all of those posts / articles before you start messing with your Kindle. Bear in mind that you do risk bricking your device, so care is needed. BUT, if you prepare carefully, and give yourself the time to enjoy the process, you can - as I have - end up with a wonderful tablet and reading device for only $200!

I am happy.

Posted by Joe Litton | November 20, 2011 in Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (4)

December 06, 2009

Replaced my iPod battery for $25

My 30GB video iPod has been a trusty device ...until the past month or so. The HOLD button stopped working. OK. I can deal with that. But the battery life had also started tanking. I could charge the iPod and after an hour or so it would still show as full or nearly so and then suddenly drop to the red zone and then die. I could have sent the iPod to Apple, but they charge $59 or more, it would be a couple of weeks before I'd have an iPod back, and it wouldn't be the same iPod --  Apple returns a different iPod of the same model. Not acceptable.
IpodBattKit So after a little research, I ordered a battery replacement kit for $25 (including shipping) from Milliamp. The kit shipped within a day and was here one or two days later. A pic of the kit appears at the left (click to see full size). The kit includes a tool to open the iPod, very detailed instructions with pictures, the new battery, and a small screwdriver (which I didn't need).
IpodSurgery I admit it was a little spooky to split my iPod open and perform the surgery. But the entire process only took about 10 minutes, and I had my iPod back together with a new battery. Did I mention that it is my iPod? All my files are intact, my custom engraving and skin is still there, and I did not have to go for days/weeks without the device. The ribbon cables are quite delicate, and one does need to be careful, but it is definitely a very doable task ...and much cheaper vs sending off to Apple.
Oh, and if you buy a kit from Milliamp, they allow you to send them your old battery and they'll recycle it. Nice!

Posted by Joe Litton | December 6, 2009 in Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 19, 2009

Updating podcasts to iPod using Ubuntu

Flickr stream showing how to update iPod when running Ubuntu I've been running various versions of Ubuntu on my home machines (a desktop, a laptop, and a netbook) for some time now. But in the past, I'd had a devil of a time managing my iPod from Ubuntu. OK, it wasn't horrible, but I had to use a couple of applications: Rhythmbox, which seems to always be included with the default install of Ubuntu; and Amarok, which has to be added separately, but which I used to really like.

Well, Amarok was recently upgraded, and I truly hate the new interface. Especially on the netbook - which has become my main machine:) - the new Amarok interface with its clunky graphics and (to me) harder-to-use interface was just no longer an option. So I decided to see if the latest versions of Ubuntu and Rhythmbox could work alone.

Amarok had never seemed to be able to see the iPod on its own. I'd connect the iPod, Rhythmbox would open, then I could shut Rhythmbox and use Amarok from that point on.

Well a week or so ago, I upgraded the netbook to Ubuntu 9.04 (aka, the Jaunty Jackalope :) ...What I actually installed was an Ubuntu 9.04 remix from Dell. I'll do a separate post about the problems I had with the (non-Dell) 9.04 Ubuntu Netbook Remix; that's a separate story.

Hoping to be able to just use Rhythmbox, I did a very little bit of fumbling and happily discovered that! So...I've posted a Flickr stream (7 screen shots) showing the very easy steps. Trust me, this used to be harder...honest!

In case you don't want or need to look at screen shots, here's the instructions:

Copy the desired podcast link to your clipboard. Then...

  1. Select Applications > Sound & Video > Rhythmbox Music Player
  2. Select Podcasts. Any feeds that you already have will display in the right-hand pane. Rightclick in the Feed pane and select New Podcast Feed.
  3. Paste in the link to your new podcast, and click Add.
  4. Right-click on the podcast name and select Update Podcast Feed. This will populate a summary line for each podcast episode, but this does not yet download the actual podcast.
  5. Right-click on the desired episode and select Download Episode. Now the actual sound file will download.
  6. Grab your iPod and USB cable. Plug the USB cable into the iPod and turn on the iPod. Once the iPod comes on, plug the other end of the cable into an open port on your computer. Rhythmbox will recognize the device and you'll see the name of your iPod appear in the Devices category. Click on the Podcasts category and drag the desired podcast episode(s) onto the name of your iPod.
  7. Once your iPod is updated, locate the iPod icon on your desktop. Right-click on the icon and select Eject Volume. Once your iPod screen displays its normal menu, you can disconnect the USB cable from the computer and from the iPod.

Sweet :)

Posted by Joe Litton | May 19, 2009 in Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 04, 2009

Dell Mini 9 - my new netbook /main machine

I've put a couple of posts (1, 2) about this over on my tech blog. And I've tossed some pics up on this Flickr stream. My Dell Mini 9 arrived last week, and I am digging it!

Before ordering the machine, I was chatting online with Dell Support. At work and at home I use an HP L2045w 20-inch monitor running a 1680x1050 resolution. The Dell Mini 9 displays 1024x600 on its little screen. I wanted to know if the Mini could display 1680x1050 on the external monitor. The person with whom I was chatting went off to ask someone else and came back with the answer: no. Well, guess what? I'm blogging this using a wireless keyboard / mouse patched in to one of the 3 USB ports on the Mini, and viewing the blog post in 1680x1050 resolution on the HP monitor. The Mini is doing the computing and communications, but it is sitting closed on the desk.

So that was one discovery: the Dell Mini 9 does handle higher-resolution when hooked up to an external monitor. At least in my particular setup.

My Mini is running Ubuntu 8.04. I paid extra upfront for 2GB of RAM and a 60GB solid state hard drive (you can do this cheaper after the fact, but I just wanted it to be done and working). I added a 16GB SD card to hold my tunes. I use Amarok to download podcasts and manage the tunes (now on the SD card) that used to be my iTunes library on a hard disk. And I use Amarok to update my iPod.

For word processing, spreadsheet, I use OpenOffice, which I've been using on Windows and Ubuntu systems for at least a couple of years now. Graphics is via GIMP. Twitter is TweetDeck (runs on top of Adobe Air). Skype recognized the built-in webcam and mic right away. Pidgin is what I use for IM, just as with other Ubuntu and Windows systems at home and work.

Web browsing is done with Firefox (with a number of extensions). Because I make my living developing in the IBM Lotus Notes/Domino arena, I've loaded Notes 8.5 on (running natively on my Ubuntu linux).

I cabled my old HP Scanjet 3970 to the Mini, and XSane recognized it and did my test scan with no issues. Likewise, I popped the USB cable from the Canon PIXMA iP4000r printer into the Mini, and printed a perfect test page.

Our home network is wireless, and the Mini was configured for our WPA2 setup in about 2 minutes (just provided the SSID and password if I recall correctly).

So the point is that (with the exception of Notes), I'm using free open source software for all my computing needs, the Dell Mini 9 running Ubuntu has connected with no worries to our network and peripherals, and I now have a very small and lightweight machine to replace my aging laptop ...with a 4.5 hour battery life and a 20-second boot up :)


Posted by Joe Litton | March 4, 2009 in Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (8)

September 15, 2007

SkiniZi: cool iPod skins

Link to Skinizi site I've had my video iPod protected with a skin for a while now. My wife has just selected the skin shown in the pic here to protect her iPod nano. Aside from protecting the device from scratches, they just look cool :)

Skinizi is a venture from a gent I've met through my tech work, none other than Lotus Notes wizard and blogger, Mr Julien "domlike" Bottemanne. I've just placed the order for the skin Shirley selected, and it was quite easy. Julien uses PayPal to handle the checkout (and you do not need to have nor create a PayPal account to use the site) ...and that means that the charges are converted from Euros to US dollars (if you're in the United States), so you can easily see what you'll be charged before finalizing the order.

Check out Skinizi. They've hooked up with some great artists for some very unique and fun designs.

Posted by Joe Litton | September 15, 2007 in Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 01, 2007

Verizon FiOS: great connection- TERRIBLE cust service

A couple of months ago we signed up with Verizon FiOS for our Internet service. BrightHouse (local cable provider) had been OK, but could not match the speed/price of Verizon. I've had to power-cycle (turn it off, wait 30 seconds or so, and turn it back on) the router several times a week, but that's no big deal.

Until today.

I don't know what time our service cut out. I work a lot in the Lotus Notes/Domino arena, and part of the beauty of that is that I can do a lot of work without being connected to the 'net. But when I did try to replicate some work with the server, I noticed the connection was gone. I tried rebooting the router a few times, but knew after the first try that it would not work. So I called Verizon 'support' (for FiOS that number is 888-553-1555).

Can you say, "painful"? A recorded voice asked me several questions and then attempted to fix the problem from their end ...which of course didn't work. After 45 more minutes on hold waiting for a human, listening to the same fractured fragment of a horrible song, ...I noticed the green light on the router pop on, indicating a connection. I never did get connected to anyone. I've been warned by others about how horrible the customer support is. Now I know.

Brighthouse can't match the speed and price of Verizon FiOS. But they answer their phones.

Posted by Joe Litton | September 1, 2007 in Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 26, 2007

We've switched to Verizon FiOS

After plenty of debate (all inside my bald little head), I finally signed up for Verizon FiOS on Wednesday the week before last. David from Verizon came out on Friday of that week and got us up and running. Here are a few pics showing (from left to right - click a thumbnail to see larger image) the line to the house (it was buried on the following Monday), the box on outside of the house, additions inside the garage, and the modem/router (an Actiontec MI424-WR).

Fiosline Fiosbox_2 Fiosgarage Fiosrouter

Being a control freak, I asked David to just get the connection working (he was able to use our existing internal coax, and our BrightHouse connection for TV still works fine, since it's different bandwidths). I was then able to turn off broadcast of the SSID, enable MAC address filtering, and turn off WEP and turn on WPA encryption. On the PC side, the speed initially was rather poor (better than it had been before, but not by much - except on upload which was now 4Mbps+). But after downloading and running TCPOptimizer, I am now seeing between 14Mbps and 18Mbps download ...from Verizon's test site. Here's the result from Verizon's speedtest:
Verizon Speedtest results


Posted by Joe Litton | June 26, 2007 in Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (4)

June 05, 2007

Cable modem vs Verizon FIOS?

We're currently using a BrightHouse cable modem to connect to the Internet. The connection has been getting rather unreliable, and I'm considering switching to Verizon FIOS.  So I'm looking for any feedback anyone has about experiences pro or con with these services.

With our BrightHouse connection, I've swapped out the modem a couple of times (by schlepping it to the local BrightHouse office and exchanging it). There's no cost involved, but it's a hassle and should not be necessary. I've also changed coax cables a couple of times. What's odd to me is that our cable television feed seems to work almost 100% of the time (we typically will have some minor outages during the hurrican storm season). So I now (again) have a BrightHouse technician scheduled to come to the house and see if they can figure this out.

The fiber connection from Verizon is enticing. For US$50 a month, we can get 20 Mbps down/ 5 Mbps up ...which is about double what we currently have for throughput. I'm trying to verify with Verizon that the wireless router that they say I would have to use will allow me to disable SSID broadcast, use MAC address filtering, and use WPA encryption. The sales folks are quite friendly, but know very little of the technical details ...which is a whole 'nother issue that I'll choose to ignore at the moment :)

So... anyone have any feedback?

I'll continue researching and will post findings and whatever we decide to do. Cheers :)

Posted by Joe Litton | June 5, 2007 in Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (29)

January 28, 2006

Xanga does RSS ...who knew?

My good friend and flaming liberal (which is a very good thing!), Dr Lavine (listed among the Links over on the right-hand side of this page), has his blog hosted by Xanga. Well, I do the vast majority of my blog reading (and reading of news, for that matter) via an RSS reader (most of the time I use SharpReader, but there are many; my wife uses BottomFeeder on her iBook). And usually, when I want to configure my RSS Reader to pull in the updates from someone's web site, I look for the XML icon or RSS icon or other link on their site indicating the URL for that feed. Or I'll open their site, use the View Source feature to see the HTML behind the scenes, and look for a line containing something like: <link rel="alternate" type="application/rss+xml" title="RSS" href="" />

The LINK tag with rel="alternate" is what I look for to spot the URL that will point me to the XML feed for a given site, and I then enter that URL into my feed reader so that the site is added to the many sites that I already read from one single aggregator.

But Xanga doesn't make it as obvious, and all this time (years) I've thought that Xanga sites just didn't have RSS or Atom or other XML feeds. Without an RSS feed, I would sometimes go for days without checking the blogs of my Xanga friends. But that has now changed.

Dr Lavine's RSS feed is at ...and the RSS feed for any Xanga site is found at

So how did I discover this? I finally simply Googled on "Xanga rss" :)

Posted by Joe Litton | January 28, 2006 in Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (1)