Tag Archives: featured

/e/ : A user Data Privacy respecting operating system

A lot has been written and discussed in the media about the unwelcome intrusion by big business houses into our private lives. Details about the Facebook data sharing scandal with Cambridge Analytic or leaks about the way Google has been ‘Googling’ our personal information and sharing it with its business partners are on news channels everywhere. If you have ever browsed to purchase a product on the internet, then you would have observed subtle hints of this intrusion in action. For days after you would be seeing advertisements from companies selling products similar to the one you were browsing. This happens when your browsing behavior is captured and shared with business houses. These business houses now attempt to coax you into buying their products which are of a similar kind. Welcome to the world of zero data privacy!

To understand the situation better, have a look at your smart phone and the applications you use on a daily basis. On android phones, almost every second application is in some way connected to Google. Gmail, Google maps, Google Assistant, Google Drive the list is endless. When you install these apps they ask you for your permission to access your contacts, your text messages, files, folders, images etc. While on the face these requests may look harmless, take some time and think about the issue seriously. What if the product or service you had browsed was of a personal nature? That information in the hands of a stranger could be dangerous for you in the long run. This pilfering of your personal data is happening through your smartphones and computers every single day, every minute. Google, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon everyone has a finger in this pie. What is even worse is that they are making billions out of your personal information! So now that I have scared you enough you might be wondering if there is a way out of this mess? Do not worry help is just round the corner.

gael-with-eelo

Introducing /e/. /e/ is the brain child of Gaël Duval – the man behind the popular linux distribution – Mandrake Linux. The popular Linux OS is still remembered for its extremely user friendly interface and smooth and efficient functioning. It helped introduce millions to linux. After moving out of mandrake Linux which was renamed to Mandriva in 2006 Gael was the Chairman and Chief Technology Officer at Ulteo. The company is bought by AZNetwork group in 2015.In 2016, he co-founded NFactory.io, an incubator-accelerator of “startups.

The rampant ‘data pilfering’ on smartphone devices by Google and Apple set Gaël thinking. The result was a series of three articles ‘Leaving Apple & Google: my eelo odyssey’. In these articles he announced his intention to come out with an alternate platform for devices. An operating system which would respect the individual and value his right to privacy. A Kickstarter campaign to fund the idea was launched. People from around the world contributed. This was a clear indication that the concept had popular support, all that it lacked was a clear direction.
Gaël has come out with a mission which declares the following as its objectives:

  • We make available independent and open source IT infrastructure products & services, with an emphasis on respect for user data privacy, for the benefit of all.
  • We think that /e/ can have a global, worldwide impact as a major open source project in the public interest. It will help by freeing users from personal data spying and advertising.
  • /e/ is about freedom and privacy in the digital world.

A copy of the manifest is attached below:

e manifesto

To set the record straight, Gaël’s team is not writing the code from scratch. It has picked up a branch from the Lineage code base and has started with it. The lineage code base is a free open source operating system based on the android platform which caters to smartphones and tablets. The code is accessible through GitHub. At present /e/ has a team of about fifteen developers working full time under the direction and guidance of Gaël developing the first release of the operating system. Gaël’s team is currently working on various elements in the operating system which he insists would have a great UI. Those who have used Mandriva earlier can definitely look forward to Gaël delivering on that promise! Various third party applications are currently being integrated . The base OS would have a “reasonable minimum” set of application to begin with. The idea being that a user could always add more applications as per his or her requirement. There would be no forceful installation of applications that sit there unused taking up space and sending back the users personal information!

The team target to release their first beta version of the OS by August end of 2018. The next step would be the opening up of the source code repository. This should be the trigger for developers from around the world to pitch in and add their code as well. Version 1.0 of /e/ is targeted for the end of 2018 or early 2019.

/e/ has come out with a road map for its development activities

  • June 2018: early access to /e/ email for /e/ backers
  • July 2018: early access to /e/ drive for /e/ backers
  • August 2018: /e/ OS beta (MVP) release with several web services (search, app store)
  • September 2018: /e/ OS source code release on /e/ GitLab
  • September 2018: /e/ email and drive open to more users
  • October 2018: smartphones with /e/ OS start shipping to /e/ backers
  • January 2019: smartphones with /e/ OS start selling
/e/ road map

For more information about /e/ go to the web site.

To read more about Gaël Duval

To contribute to /e/ financially

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Announcing the birth of a mobile OS!!!

Logo of /e/ ROM currently in beta

There is a new operating system (OS) for smart phones in town. This new OS, currently in its beta version, goes by the name / e /. Project / e / is the brain child of Gaël Duval – the

A photo of Gaël Duval - the brain behind /e/

man who in a previous avatar scripted the popular Mandrake Linux Operating system.

The project team uses / e / as a temporary placeholder name while the product is in beta. The name for the finished product is yet to be announced.

What is a mobile OS?
To the uninitiated, a mobile OS is the soul behind your smart phone. The brain that runs the hardware. The hardware or the parts of a mobile that you get to touch and hold are the brawn part on your phone.

Who are the current players in the Mobile OS world?

Currently we have two major players in the Mobile OS market. Android (read Google) and iOS (read Apple). Between them they dominate the market. Check out the latest statistics as published by Gartner.

GartnerOSPercentages

Look at the figures for the 2nd quarter of 2018 or the numbers under the column heading 2Q18 Market Share (%).
The numbers show Google’s Android having an 88% share of the world smart phone market. The remaining 11.9 % is with Apple with its IOS. Now look at the numbers for the other OS’s….as expected the numbers are 0.0!!!!

What do these numbers mean?
The numbers mean that the world and we the end users are directly controlled by these two giant organizations viz Google and Apple. Also involved in filtering our web experience are organizations like Microsoft and Amazon.
The smart phone is now an essential part of our lives. From the minute we wake up to the sound alarm on our phones to the minute we go off to sleep after checking check our phones, our phones are our constant companions.

We use phones to check emails, read the news, chat, talk, take photos…. the list goes on and on. Apps like Facebook, Whats app and twitter have become a part of our vocabulary and lives. These social media accounts keep us in sync with our friends and foes from around the world.

While we are busy using these apps, what we do not realize is that we are also leaving a digital footprint behind us. Details of what we have typed, chatted, uploaded or downloaded are saved on servers at these organization. For example Gmail owns your email data and reads what ever you type. How else do we have auto complete and suggestions popping up while we are still typing out the sentences? While these organizations deny this manipulate it is common knowledge that a major source of their revenue is through selective exposure of our data to third party businesses. Ever wondered how ads from Amazon or Flipkart show up on the sidelines of you web pages, vending products you browsed couple of days back? That happens because browsers save our surfing history and then that data is used by these companies to makes sales pitches. Welcome to the world of targeted advertising! All this is done in the name of facilitating a smooth browsing and purchasing experience!
This is where / e / comes in. The idea behind Gaël Duval’s OS was to seal this data pilferage from the mobile OS. Changes are made at the code level and applications made more secure. The idea to is to prevent leakage of our data be if personal or browsing history.

What / e / brings to the table

In its current beta version the OS is forked from the Lineage OS 14.1. To explain further lineage OS is a free open source operating system for smartphones and tablet computers. It is based on the android source code. The current beta version of / e / is based on Nougat. Android has come out with Oreo and Pie two upgrades after Nougat. Development for the upgrade to Oreo or Lineage 15.1 is on at / e /.

Devices supported in the current version of / e /

There are about 25 plus phones which have ROM’s in the beta version. As mentioned before development for devices which work on oreo or Lineage 15.1 is underway and expected to be released soon.

A few screenshots of phones running / e / are given below

Main screen of /e/ ROM
Settings Page of /e/ ROM
eAppSuggestionScreen

For more details on the project take a look at the following sites

/ e / Web site : https://e.foundation/

/ e / forum : https://community.e.foundation/

Read about Gaël Duval https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ga%C3%ABl_Duval

Understand what Targeted Advertising is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Targeted_advertising

To check on the availability of devices and how to install them on your phone check out the web page here:

Interested in building the OS… well check out the details here https://gitlab.e.foundation/e/wiki/en/wikis/build

A Noob’s guide to building a Lineage ROM

As the title mentions, this is a guide by a noob which spells out the steps that build a lineage ROM. What the title does not mention is that this article is aimed at noobs as well. Now lets get down to business.

lineageos-15.1

Disclaimer: Please note that by following the steps as mentioned in this article you can seriously damage your smart phone. There is a good chance your phone would be bricked i.e. effectively be rendered useless and cause a lot of frustration, irritation and make you pull at your hair. If you hit that point later, Please do not look towards me to save you since I am also new to this and like you learning how to traverse this parallel universe of custom ROM development. That being said do not despair. As the saying goes browse and you shall find – Check out the internet and you would find others who have messed up their smartphones and yet somehow lived to tell the tale. In most cases you would be able to revive your phone. Ideally do not use your daily driver for such experimentation.

After reading all this if still want to go ahead then read on.
Objective:
Build a custom lineage ROM for your smart phone. I own a Xiaomi MiA1 and used the same as my target phone. You may have a different model but technically the build steps should be the same for all android phone models.

Requirements:
A linux based or a Mac computer.
Windows computers do not directly support the tools required for this type of development. As such they are not being covered in this article.
The recommended operating system is Ubuntu.

Other requirements:

  • A basic understanding of Linux based OS specifically Ubuntu.
  • Ability to type and use the command line. Write or copy paste commands in the Ubuntu konsole.
  • A basic understanding of programming concepts, read and update XML files, understand error messages.
  • Fast internet access.
  • Steady electricity supply.
  • Lots and lots of patience.

You will understand why the last three requirement are mentioned as you read on

Hardware recommendations – ideally your system should exceed these conditions

  • 64 bit environment
  • 100 GB of free hard disk space
  • 16 GB RAM / swap space.

My hardware configuration:

  • Intel i5 processor
  • 16 GB RAM
  • 1 TB hard disk.
    Please note even with this configuration it takes me about 3 hours to build the code!
    Operating system:
    I used the Ubuntu 18.04 build which is the latest at the time of writing. I will be covering only the Ubuntu OS as part of this article as I do not have a Mac and as such it is out of scope for me!

Steps to build the Custom ROM from scratch
Step 1: Setup Ubuntu
Assuming you have set up the Ubuntu OS if not click this link for a detailed explanation of the installation of Ubuntu.
Step 2: Installation of Java Development Kit
In a console window type or copy past the below commands.
Wait for one line of command to execute before typing or pasting the next

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install openjdk-8-jdk

Please note the sudo command will ask you to enter your password.

Step 3: Installing required packages ( this is a single line not multiple lines)

sudo apt-get install git-core gnupg flex bison gperf build-essential zip curl zlib1g-dev gcc-multilib g++-multilib libc6-dev-i386 lib32ncurses5-dev x11proto-core-dev libx11-dev lib32z-dev libgl1-mesa-dev libxml2-utils xsltproc unzip

Step 4: Configure your smart phone access

These tools will provide you access to the device once you have complete the

build and are ready to flash the Rom.

sudo apt-get install android-tools-adb

sudo apt-get install fastboot

Step 5: Creating your work directories

mkdir -p ~/bin

mkdir -p ~//lineage

Step 6: Installing Repo

The Android source tree is located in a Git repository and is hosted by Google. The Git repository includes metadata for the Android source. Repo is a tool that makes it easier to work with Git .

curl https://storage.googleapis.com/git-repo-downloads/repo > ~/bin/repo

Next type below command to make repo executable.

chmod a+x ~/bin/repo

Step 7: Initialize your lineage source

Now change directory and move into the newly created lineage folder.
You can do this either by Opening nautilus and right clicking inside the lineage folder and selected ‘Open Terminal here’ or by typing the below command

cd ~//lineage

Important: Ensure you are in the lineage folder before executing the next set of commands

Step 8: Configure your Git user

You can set these on the GitHub website. Once you have set your GitHub web site

Type \ paste these commands. Replace the text within “ ” with your credentials.

git config –global user.name “Your Name”

git config –global user.email “you@example.com”

Step 9: Initialize the repo

repo init -u https://github.com/LineageOS/android.git -b lineage-15.1

A successful initialization will end with a message stating that Repo is initialized in your working directory. Your client directory should now contain a .repo directory where files such as the manifest will be kept.

Step 8: Download the source code

This is the step where you will realize the importance of having a fast internet connection. The source code size is about 30 – 35 GB. I have a 10 mbps line and at times the download speed shoots up to 20- 25 mbps!!!  Yet it takes me anything from 4 – 10 hours to download the code!
My suggestion is check the time when your local ISP download speeds are at its best. For me it is during the night. I set the download up at night and go to sleep!

The command to type \ paste to get the source code is :

repo sync -c -f –force-sync –no-clone-bundle –no-tags –optimized-fetch –prune

Optional Step 8 a: Take a backup of your source code

I copy the entire folder and keep a copy on an external device. This is just in case there is any need for me to format my hard disk. I do not copy the .Repo and .Cache folders on to my backup. To check hidden folders press Ctrl + H.

Step 9: Get the source code for your specific device.

This is an important part to understand. The code which you downloaded is generic in nature. For your particular device you would need to get files which are specific to your device.
The source for all these files is github. You are targeting three sets of folders – Device, Kernel and vendor. The git clone commands given below are for the tissot or Xiaomi Mia1 phone. Similarly other phones have their locations on GitHub from where you can get files specific to them.

git clone https://github.com/TheScarastic/andr…msm8953-common -b lineage-15.1 device/xiaomi/msm8953

git clone https://github.com/TheScarastic/andr…_xiaomi_tissot -b lineage-15.1 device/xiaomi/tissot

git clone https://github.com/TheScarastic/prop…_vendor_xiaomi -b lineage-15.1 vendor/xiaomi

git clone https://github.com/Tissot-Developmen…_xiaomi_tissot -b 8.1 kernel/xiaomi/msm8953

The format of the command will remain the same for all phones only check the url and the folder names.

Step 10: Modify Caching to speed up the build process.

Type \ paste one command at a time and wait for it to execute before posting the next.

export CCACHE_DIR=./.ccache
ccache -C
export USE_CCACHE=1
export CCACHE_COMPRESS=1
prebuilts/misc/linux-x86/ccache/ccache -M 50G

Step 11: Configure JACK

JACK is the java compiler and can cause crashes – believe me! A simple fix is this command which you type next
export _JACK_VM_ARGS=”-Dfile.encoding=UTF-8 -XX:+TieredCompilation -Xmx4G”

Step 12: Cleaning up the build folder

make clean

Step 13: Initializing the build

source build/envsetup.sh

Step 14: Starting the build

croot
brunch tissot

Screenshot_Settings_20180705

Now sit back and wait for a few hours. Check the screen, occasionally for what is happening. There will a ton or warnings showing up.Do not worry about the warnings. Read the message displayed on the screen for clues as to what is happening.
The entire build took about 3 hours on my machine with nothing else running. This duration can increase and decrease based on the configuration of your build machine. It can also depend on the files downloaded during the Repo sync process.

Finally you will get the .iso file in a folder labeled out. Check the screen shot above. It shows the build settings screen. Have been using it as on my main driver and so far so good.

Handling Error messages:

There is a very good chance that the build will stop many times. When this happens read the error message and then try googling it. I can guarantee that there would be number of other people across the world who have faced similar issues while building their custom ROM’s. See what solutions have been suggested and try them out. It took me almost a week to get my first build right!
Then in the same day I got 2 builds in a row that were successful! It has a lot with having all the right files in the build environment + a good hardware configuration + lots of luck!

At times the error message which stopped the build could report that a particular file is not found in a particular folder. Do a search in the base lineage folder and see if the file is there in any other folder. Simply copy it to the folder where the build is expecting it. After that run the build commands again and restart the build.

Remember to use your default login. I used su – superuser and ran into trouble while doing a repo with the normal login. So I do not use su for the build and do the entire build and repo sync with my login.  Since i installed the system Ubuntu is satisfied with my credentials.

As I mentioned at the start this is my first shot at building a custom ROM. While there is not exactly much customization being done here as the source code is available on Lineage.com and the files specific to the device were shared by various developers on GitHub. All that I have done is that I downloaded the code and recompiled it on my machine. Having said that there is a sense of pride that you feel when you see your name in the settings tab!!!!

Hope this was a easy to understand guide to help noobs around the world do their own custom ROM development. This article is as I mentioned a guide, you should refer the links given below and get a complete understanding of the process of building ROM’s before you start on your own. So good luck with your custom ROM building!!!

Some important links which you should visit to understand how the experts do it.

Build ROM from source for Tissot 
The Android Source Code
How to build your own custom Android ROM

To download the build click the links below:
Please note that you are downloading and installing the build at your own risk. I will not be responsible for your phone bricking up and also will not be able to support you in case of any issues.

On a personal note I have been using the same build on my daily driver for the last couple of days with no issues. I have GApps installed and am able to use some 46 apps with no issues including Twitter, Whatsapp, Quora, XDA, WordPress among others. The phone camera and fingerprint features are working normally.

Download Links

ROM:
lineage-15.1-20180704-UNOFFICIAL-tissot.zip

TWRP Recovery Installer:
Twrp-recoveryInstaller-3.2.1-2-oreo.zip

GApps Aroma 64bit ( please note all arm64 bit variant work,but i prefer Aroma as it gives me the option to select what I want to install. You can download the latest Gapps from here
open_gapps-arm64-8.1-aroma-20180511.zip

Magisk
Magisk-v16.0.zip

Fix for the camera in case it does not work
Google_Cam_Fix_for_LineageOS_v1.0.zip

The process to flash the build is given here. Please use the same sequence to avoid issues.

Ten Days in a Meditation Retreat

Last month I spent ten days at a meditation retreat. One of the first things I decided after returning home was that I had to write about it. Before I jump into the details of the ten days’, let me tell you a little bit about myself and how I started on this journey of self-discovery.
I was infected by the meditation bug about five years back. It all started when I read chapter nine from the Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga by Swami Vishnu Devananda. The book had been in our family for decades. At home everyone did yoga to the best of their ability. The book helped fine tune the yoga poses. Years later after I moved out of my parent’s house and set up base in Mumbai I purchased the book again. It was all about the yoga exercises and poses described in the book. Then at the ripe old age of 43, I read chapter nine from the book and it changed my life. The chapter was all about how you could make your mind accomplish impossible tasks through the powers of meditation. The chapter spoke about astral bodies and mind control and I was hooked.

If books alone could guide then there would have been no schools – book stores and libraries would have replaced schools and colleges. I tried various techniques of meditation and was going nowhere in my efforts. Then I realised that I desperately needed some expert assistance. Someone who could guide me on meditation and also help me understand its nuances. That was when I stumbled upon Vipassana on the internet. I came to know that there was a group which ran meditation retreats across the world. I decided to go to a vipassana centre near my house.

Vipassana to the un initiated is a style of mediation which was discovered by the one and only Gautama the Buddha. I am a non-practicing Hindu by birth and over the years have become a great fan of the Buddha. Why? Well I have read a lot of the Buddha’s teaching and find him extremely scientific and logical. He never tried to force spirituality down the throats of his followers. He advised his followers to first experiment and try out his methods and accept them only if they were convinced. I do not think any other religion or religious leader ever allows his followers this level of freedom. Any way back to the main story.

Vipassana centres are spread across the world. You can check out their website site here. A simple form on their website allows you to submit your name for the various courses they offer round the years. The submission of the name is the easier part. What is difficult is getting accepted for the waiting list on these retreats is long. I had to wait five years to get selected. I started applying in 2013 and finally got a slot in 2018!

The ashram was about 70 kilometres from where I lived. Descended from a family of nervous people I inherited all the jittery genes in the family. I started packing one week in advance. I assumed that a ten-day stay would require at least three sets of clothes in case there was no laundry service. I did several runs of filling up the one backpack I intended to carry. I timed myself doing it and found out that it took me about five minutes given or taken a minute. I arranged all the clothes and toiletries neatly out on my bed. My wife watched me do this multiple time over the week and eventually stopped losing her temper. Like all wives her behaviour is the exact opposite to mine. In a similar situation she would start packing after the time for the journey had started.

The day of the journey I was asked to report by four in the evening. I started before ten in the morning. I found that the train journey was not as bad as I had anticipated. The 70-kilometre journey took me about two hours. By 12 in the afternoon I reached the ashram. It was tucked away in a corner on a side street. The autorickshaw driver had no idea where he was supposed to go or so he said. Google maps came to my rescue. I later found out that the autorickshaw driver had charged me sixty rupees for a ten-rupee ride!

Day 0 of the camp.
The day we reached the camp was not exactly the start day. It was more of a day to when you got yourself registered and had your accommodation setup. The meditation retreat was in the middle for a ten-acre coconut and mango tree plantation. There were signs everywhere asking asking that people maintain ‘Noble silence’ while in the premises. The ashram was far away from Mumbai and was hot and extremely humid. It could have been about 38°c if not more. Had it not been for the trees covering the ashram it would have been like being in an oven.  A thin bespectacled man came up and asked me to follow him. He took me to small dormitory type room.
“Use this bed for now. Use the bathroom if required. You will be assigned a room later,” he said.

I immediately went out to check. I had a quick bath. By the time I came back to my temporary bed there were more people with carry bags and lost looks on their face. I saw a young clean-shaven man staring at me. I avoided his stare and went directly to my bed and lay down pretending to be asleep. The clean-shaven guy occupied a bed near me and pulled out two mobile phones and immediately started talking on both. Somehow, I knew he was going to be a problem. As if his irritating chattering on the phones was not enough the heat was such that five minutes after a bath I had already started to sweat.
“Come and have lunch,” the spectacled man was back. He had a tag around his neck which said Dhamma Sahayak or Helper in the path of Dhamma. I guessed he was a member of the staff.  The rules in the ashram required people to observe absolute silence. Those who came in were already observing it.

Lunch was rice, chapatti, some vegetables, lentil and curd. I ate like a true monk. I could see that the others were eating like normal people. The plates spoons and glasses were all arranged in a rack out side the dining hall. The inmates were expected to pick up plates according to their bed numbers. We also had to wash the utensils and return them after use.
After lunch our registration started and we were allotted rooms. Luckily, I got a room on sharing basis with a young man. The room had an attached bathroom and toilet. No need to wait in a queue outside the dormitory bathrooms! The number of people who had turned up was twenty-four by now. We were now told about the rules that were to be observed for the ten days while in the vipassana retreat. These were basically five rules which were as under:

  1. to abstain from killing any living creature; – this included mosquitoes and bed bugs. Luckily there were hardly any.
  2. to abstain from stealing; – this included even looking or sharing items from your room mates.
  3. to abstain from all sexual activity; – there was no chance for this as such. There was a clear division of the men and women area of the retreat. We were in total seclusion during the ten days.
  4. to abstain from telling lies; – the total silence took care of this rule.
  5. to abstain from all intoxicants – some of those who came had a history of substance abuse and as such this rule was required.

The one rule about which they were very particular was the observance of silence. The rule was that students of vipassana were not even to communicate with gestures or signals with one another. By now all out mobile phones had been collected and the retreat has started.

Next the group was lead to the meditation hall. It was a rectangular hall which thankfully had an air conditioner. Cushions were arranged on the floor on which we were asked to tag our names. We were asked to use the exact same cushions for the duration of our stay.

The daily schedule which was tagged to the walls was as under

4:00 a.m. —————- Morning wake-up bell

4:30-6:30 a.m. —————- Meditate in the hall or your own room

6:30-8:00 a.m. —————- Breakfast break

8:00-9:00 a.m. —————- Group meditation in the hall

9:00-11:00 a.m. —————- Meditate in the hall or your own room

11:00-12:00 noon —————- Lunch break

12noon-1:00 p.m. —————- Rest and interviews with the teacher

1:00-2:30 p.m. —————- Meditate in the hall or your own room

2:30-3:30 p.m. —————- Group meditation in the hall

3:30-5:00 p.m. —————- Meditate in the hall or your own room

5:00-6:00 p.m. —————- Tea break

6:00-7:00 p.m. —————- Group meditation in the hall

7:00-8:15 p.m. —————- Teacher’s Discourse in the hall

8:15-9:00 p.m. —————- Group meditation in the hall

9:00-9:30 p.m. —————- Question time in the hall

9:30 p.m. —————- Retire to your own room–Lights out

The rule was no one could leave the meditation hall during the group meditation sessions.

Now that we were told about the rules, shown the place we were asked to go to sleep. You see I have a problem. I tend to snore. My wife says that when I am in full flow, the sound resembles the roar of a tiger! Well I cannot say I am proud of that but I definitely am very sensitive about it. Of late at home I had mysteriously stopped snoring. But I was not taking any chances. I waited for my room-mate to fall asleep. By the time he fell asleep it was already twelve in the night. I realized that in two hours I had to wake up. I switched on the alarm clock but then realized that I could not fall asleep!

Day one.

As clearly printed out in the daily schedule the day started at four in the morning. The Dhamma-sahayak would ring a huge bell. Then he would proceed with a torch and a small bell to go to each of the rooms and ring it to wake up those still sleeping! Over the ten day I did not need his help in walking up. I did not sleep for two days. On the days that I slept, I was awake by one in the night. My schedule was to have a bath by two fifteen and then get back in bed and lie there with my eyes shut waiting for the bell to ring at four! Yes! I did drive my room-mate mad with all the light being switched on in the middle of the night business. Luckily, he could not say a word about it. That is where the golden silence rule helped.

On day one we were taught the basics of meditation. Vipassana we were told would take a life time to learn and in these ten days we were given a glimpse of how to master it in ten simple steps.
On day one we are asked to concentrate on our breath. The way it flows in and out of our nostrils. I had a problem here. A lifetime of yoga practice makes one try to control one’s breath the minute anyone says we have to observe it. That is exactly what is NOT done in vipassana. The idea is to watch the natural breath. Observe it without trying to modify, improve or stop it in any way. This sounds very simple but believe me this is extremely difficult to put in practice. Try it if you do not believe me.
Stop reading and try to observe your breath for one minute. Just for one minute, for sixty seconds try to concentration on your breath. It would be a wonder if you could manage it for five seconds without having your thoughts diverted.  The problem is with the way our mind works. Our mind loves to think! That is after all its job. We love to think about what happened in the past – how someone hurt us with their words or how stupid we felt in a particular situation. Our mind also loves to think about the future – we try to imagine and predict how things will turn out in the future. In all this thinking about the past and the future we fail to realize that the present is slipping by. We are almost never in the present. If you do not agree with me, just try that one-minute challenge I mentioned about earlier and see. All that you have to do is focus on your breath for one minute without being carried away in the past or future. The breath as it comes in and goes out is an indication or action which is happening now. In the present. By focusing on the breath, we are simply anchoring our self to the present. All this focusing is to be done on the natural breath. There is no need to say ‘I breath in’ or ‘I breath out’ because once we do that we start mechanically repeating these statements and lose focus on the breath. Try it and you will realize how difficult it is to control your own mind. Our mind likes to be in control at all times. Like a Hollywood movie director, it creates stories for us. It directs and shows us these never-ending masterpieces in our mind. Without any control over our self we follow the chain of thoughts and are soon caught in the middle of this ‘masterpiece’ in our mind.
During the first day itself it became clear that I had absolutely no control over my mind. We were told to expect this. There is a story of a monkey who was jumping around from tree to tree. Now imagine this monkey has some alcohol! Imagine how erratic his actions would be. Now this drunken monkey gets stung by a bee! Our mind is like this drunken monkey who is stung by a bee! We were told not to worry as this was normal for all human beings. In our normal state of existence, we do not bother about this wayward streak of our mind. It is only when we try to control the mind do we realize the chaos that exists in our mind.

There is a senior mediator or an acharya who is available to guide the students. Our group had an acharya who must have been in his early sixties. He was amazing. He would sit ram-rod straight for the duration of the meditation session. While the people before him were groaning and crying out in pain from sitting on the floor, he would hardly move. Every two day he would call you individually and check on your progress. Our acharya was scary. Almost like a school principal! I wondered if he could read my mind. Whenever he called me over I desperately tried to think happy thoughts about him!

As each day ended there is a ninety-minute religious discourse. In that video sessions the founder of the ashram would explain what we have experienced during the day and how we were to cope with those emotions.

Day Two:

I am thinking of leaving the camp. I am finding the room I am in is too small. I feel a constrictive pain around my chest. After breakfast there was a one-hour break and I go out and walk among the trees in the garden. I walk and talk to myself. Then I notice a young man – maybe in his early twenties. He was also walking around talking to himself! I find that reassuring. I look carefully and find that he reminds me of my son. My son just turned twenty. He is in his first year of article ship training. You need to put in three years of article ship before appearing for the chartered accountant final exams. I begin to think what my son’s response would be if I came back home after just a day in the vipassana camp. My son had seen me mediating or trying to mediate for years and he knew how interested I was in attending this camp. If I return after just one day there, I wonder how it would impact him?  Would he have any respect for me? Also, would he not use this as a case study to give up whenever any problem came up in his life. I decide to continue. Nine days to go!

The second day we were asked to concentrate on the triangle formed by the nose and the portion up to the upper lip. We were asked to focus on sensations if any experienced in this triangular space. All other sensations occurring in the body were to be ignored.

palghar

During the lunch break I realize that I have experienced similar desires to run away from situations in my life. As I lay in the room in the sweltering humid heat I went through all those episodes. I had this same constricting feeling around my chest during all those incidents. There were about four or five such incidents, some decades old. I remember them clearly. Then I realized that there was something common in all those incidents. In all of them I was in a closed restricted environment. A room in a hotel, or a compartment on a train or a cabin on top of a hill. I realized that I had something to do with the fact that I am claustrophobic. I jumped up from the bed and changed the position of the pillow on my bed. Instead of looking at the blank walls in the room I was now looking at the window and through it the outside world. I immediately felt a sense of relief. It was as if the room had suddenly opened up. Outside the window I could see the trees swaying in the breeze and squirrels hopping on those branches. I could see the sky. Suddenly I felt ok. I could see my room mate look at me with suspicious eyes but I did not care. If he wanted to stare at the empty walls he was welcome to do so. I was going to sleep looking at the open window.
Day Three:
It was cloudy and the humidity suddenly came down a few notches. Then it rained! The first rains of the year 2018. June 3 was my birthday in all my official records, so I was happy. Rain on my birthday – not a bad gift. I hoped the rains continued. The desire to run away had lessened considerably now that I was facing the open widow. I realized I had that constricting feeling whenever I started thinking about the future – the immediate future. Whenever I thought about the number of days left to spend in the retreat. That was when the thought of running away would come. I stopped thinking about the time remaining.
The mediation now became more focused. On day three we were asked to concentrate on the portion below the nostrils and above the first lip. The portion where you grow a moustache – that is if you wanted to! Since I already had a moustache this was easy for me. I was able to mediate very well using this technique. I was beginning to like the camp.

That day during lunch I noticed the young man who had been jabbering on multiple mobile phones was missing. Apparently, he had left the previous day. I laughed at the memory of the man talking on the two phones. I remembered how I had correctly figured out that he would be a problem. Then I realised that I was also planning to leave the previous day. That feeling brought me down a few notches.

palghar_2

Day Four: If I were at home we would have been celebrating my birthday. It was the fourth of June. That day at the ashram breakfast was all south Indian fare. Somehow, I felt it was another birthday gift. The previous days rain had made the temperature bearable. I went for a walk amidst the trees after breakfast and sure enough the young man who reminded me of my son was there – talking to himself and gesturing at the trees! I gave him some space and did my own talking to the trees bit in another corner of the garden.
This day was special from the mediation point as well. That day we had an extra-long session in which we were initiated into the actual practice of Vipassana. The process was an eye opener.

The story goes that the Buddha practiced under the foremost spiritual masters of his time. He learnt under them for over twenty years. In the end they told him that they had taught him all that was to learn. The Buddha was still not satisfied. He realized he still had the same yearning, desires and cravings as before his training. He realized that there was something more that had to be learned. He meditated on this and finally found the answer. He realized that all sorrow in the world started from the sensation that were create in the senses namely

–  eye and visible objects

–  ear and sound

– nose and odour

– tongue and taste

– body and touch

– mind and mental objects

The buddha discovered that if you could control and eventually remove the craving these senses created you would attain salvation. It is a gradual process first you train your mind to identify these sensations. This was done though the awareness of the breathing. The next step is to isolate and observe these craving and not to be drawn into them. This eventually leads you to the mastery of these senses and that is the step to enlightenment.
This observation shook the roots of my understanding and I must say I am not the first who has been hit by this profound discovery. In a world where we are told to visit shrines and chant verses from holy books this is a very simple approach to enlightenment or nirvana. I liked the theory. This is something I can practice and check out for myself. In a way that is the cornerstone of the Buddha’s teachings. He said that you and only you can help yourself. No God, angel, priest or temple can help you achieve salvation. There is no white robed, bearded man, no angel or woman sitting in the clouds who can help you. Seems a bit rough to think that you are all alone in the universe with no support available. The Buddha said that that at most the guru could show you the way, it is for he disciple to walk the path. It is like saying that just because you have Usain Bolt as your coach does not mean you would win the gold medal at the Olympics! Right in the end you have to put in the effort to achieve success. The Usain Bolts of the world can only guide you not carry you on your shoulder and win your gold for you. I liked the theory! This vipassana journey has been worth it.

Day Five to Seven

We are now asked to observe sensations. The process starts from the head. The portion at the top of the skull. You concentrate on the spot for a minute. If you feel anything then good you move on. If not even then it is good! Slowly this way you make your way down the body, right up to your toes.  In my case I get a feeling as if an ant was crawling on my head. This does not happen whenever I want. It is a faint feeling and comes only when you concentrate for some time. I wonder if there is an actual ant crawling there. I have seen ants on the floor! The meditation requires to slowly scan the body starting from the crown of the head- down through the eyes, nose then lips, neck and so on down to the toes.

The next day we go in the reverse order once we reach the toes. From the toes we slowly make our way back up to the crown of the head. Going through each leg, each arm. It is a slow deliberate process of scanning the body for sensations. The idea is to observe the sensations without being drawn into the type of sensation – if it felt good or bad. Just observing and moving on. Each scan from head to toe should not take more than ten minutes, we were told.

The third day we are asked to change the style of the scan. It could be whole sections at a time. The entire arm, leg or the back at a time. Sweeping our body like a scanning machine in the hospital. If there were no sensations in a body part then that in itself was to be observed. There was no need to panic or feel bad about the experience or non-experience of sensations. There was nothing good or bad it is just transitionary and to be considered as such. The general idea that is meant to be conveyed is that all emotions, feelings, pain, happiness, sorrow, joy …everything was temporary. Nothing remained with us for ever. There is no point in clinging to an emotion. It will not remain the same for ever. That is the message that is somewhere behind this simple exercise of observing sensations.

On day six two boys including the young man who reminded me of my son leave the camp! They were in the room next to me. I felt sad that the young man had left. Then I applied some vipassana to the thoughts and consoled myself that every thing was transitionary!

Day Eight and Nine.
The reverse count has started at least in my mind. Earlier it was like ten day, nine days left to complete, now it is just a couple of hours left in the centre. I realize a few things about myself. I guess it was all the silence that was behind this. I had started to analyse myself. I realized that the simple solution I found to deal with the claustrophobia could have something to do with the vipassana. All that breathing and silence was making its mark somewhere. Then I ran into a more practical problem.

I realized that I could sit for hours on the floor without any problem. No pain in the joints or aching bones to worry about. That could not be said about my stomach. I realized that my stomach made loud grumbling noises when it was empty. This was all good when I was in the world outside but in a sound proof room packed with twenty people all sitting in close proximity these noises can be quite embarrassing!

I was used to an early breakfast at home -by five thirty which I made myself. I left for office early. Usually by six thirty I was at my desk in my office. Then again, I had a habit of a quick snack at about three in the afternoon. Both these timings clashed with the meditation timings. My stomach would register its strong displeasure at these timings not being met. This caused much delight of those sitting around me. I was desperate for the camp to end. It was a catch twenty-two situation for me. I enjoyed mediating but was not able to give full attention as my stomach made noises! I am again counting the hours left for the camp to end!

Day Ten.

The last day on the retreat. This day was interesting. By ten in the morning we were allowed to speak. Within a few minutes people who had been silent for the last ten days started talking and discussing as if they had known each other for the entire lives. By eleven mobile phones were handed back. I called up and told me wife that I would be back the next day. My son wanted to know if I had attained nirvana! Somethings never change. Welcome to the real world.
At the ashram they told us that the idea behind keeping people for a day after the ten days were over was because some of the folks who had attended Vipassana sessions in the past – kept silent for ten days – had problems when they went out into the real world. The one day allowed to talk and interact is a way of ‘cooling’ down the people before letting them out.

The ten-day sojourn as I have mentioned earlier is free of cost. The payment is all voluntary. You can pay as per your desire. On the tenth day after we were allowed to talk, a temporary cash counter was opened up and people queued up to pay. Those working in government organisation asked for certificates to prove back to their bosses that they had indeed attended the vipassana session!  I took the details of the centre and made the payment online through my bank.
Books and publications by the centre were also put up on sale. Most of them were in Hindi so I just browsed. While I can speak and understand Hindi very well my ability to read the language is a bit limited. Bought a few books which were in English.
I could hardly wait for the day to end. I had finally completed the journey and held my nerve. It had been a tough ten-day journey. Meditation is tough. Let no one try to convince you otherwise. It may look easy –  sitting in a spot, doing nothing but believe me when I tell you that it is difficult. It is easy to sit three hours in a cinema theatre. It is also possible to sit a full eight hours in a stadium and watch a boring cricket test match but try to sit for ten minutes and concentrate on your breathing and you will realize how difficult controlling your mind can be. There are some people in my family who say they enjoy sitting long hours and meditating. I can only laugh at their comments. Sitting long hours and dreaming about what happened that day in office or in your house is not exactly meditating. Meditating is sitting in a spot for a few minutes concentrating on just your breath. You want to jump up and run. You want to escape. Your bones start aching. You feel itchy all over and in places you have not scratched in years! Yes! meditation is a lot of hard work!

Day Eleven.
The day at the ashram still starts at four! Only the meditation was replaced by a video presentation. A discourse about the practice of Vipassana. It was a general directive of how to practice what was taught over the previous ten days. After the video we were given breakfast. I skipped it as now I was preparing for the travel back to reality and the real world.

At seven in the morning I left the camp along with my backpack and my roommate. Our destination was the railway station. My room mate was from a village and had absolutely no idea how or which train to get on to reach back home. I volunteered to take him to the railway station and get him on the proper train.

As I left I knew I was never going to come back to a retreat again. It was not because it was not good or the food was bad . It was because I do not see a purpose in going to camps again and again. The whole purpose of vipassana is to implement it in your life. In these ten days I learnt a method of mediation. Now I need to practice it and perfect it in my life.

To read more about topics mentioned in this post click the links below

Vipassana

Vipassana Retreats

To apply for a Vipassana retreat near your home

Installing a Custom Rom on the Xiaomi MiA1

Update:

Read the warning before Installing a Custom Rom on the Xiaomi MiA1

Warning: Installing or Flashing a Custom ROM voids the warranty of your smart phone. So unless you are sure you want to do this and have a basic idea of ROM and how to flash them on smart phones, there is a good chance you may brick your phone. Please proceed at your own risk.

Now that you have been warned and despite it if you would want to risk your sanity and the sanctity of your smart phone then read on…

Process to install a custom ROM on the Xiomi MiA1 has been updated. The process for a clean flash is as under

  1. Open up ADB on your PC. Steps to start or install ADB on your PC are given here.
  2. Check ADB is detecting your phone. There should be a number followed by devices. If it shows as unknown device or something else please read the instructions given here
  3. Remove phone lock if enabled on your phone- this could be a pattern or fingerprint. Set it to none under Settings >>Security & Privacy >> Screen lock
  4. At the command prompt type
    adb reboot bootloader
  5. This should take your phone into the boot loader mode.
  6. At the command prompt type
    fastboot devices
  7. When you see your device showing up type the following at the command prompt
    fastboot boot boot-recovery.img
  8. Wait for a few seconds your phone screen will display the TWRP main screen
  9. Go to the main menu, and tap Wipe.
  10. Now tap Format Data and continue with the formatting process. This will remove encryption as well as delete all files stored on the internal storage.
  11. Return to the previous menu and tap Advanced Wipe.
  12. Select the System partition to be wiped and then Swipe to Wipe.
  13. Place the LineageOS .zip package, as well as any other .zip packages on the root of /sdcard:
    • Using adb: adb push filename.zip /sdcard/
    • You can use any method you are comfortable with. adb is universal across all devices, and works both in Android and recovery mode, providing USB debugging is enabled.
  14. Go back to return to main menu, then tap Install.
  15. Navigate to /sdcard, and select the LineageOS .zip package.
  16. Follow the on-screen prompts to install the package.
  17. Once the Lineage OS is installed install TWRP immediately.
  18. Reboot to recovery. This will take you to the TWRP recovery. This is an important step for the MiA1 as it has two partitions.
  19. Once you are in the TWRP push the other files using adb push commands to the same /sdcard/ folder
  20. You can push the Magisk, Open Gaps and Camera fix zip files. All the urls for all the files are given on this page.
  21. Install in the following sequence
  22. Magisk
  23. OpenGapps
  24. Reboot system

Wait for the phone to reboot. It will take a few minutes to start.

————————————Previous Article __________________

Files to Download before proceeding

  1. Custom ROM of your choice. I prefer the Lineage 15.1 Unofficial version downloadable from here

Please note this is the site of the XDA forum for MiA1. To read more details on XDA and the other ROM options available please scroll down.

  1. TWRP and recovery
    Download both the recovery image and the TWRP installer. Please check which version you are downloading as both the nougat and the Oreo version are available at the site. The choice will depend on which OS you have on your MiA1 currently. For e.g. if it is the Oreo 8.0 version from Xiaomi that you want to overwrite then download the oreo version of TWRP. Click here to download
  2. Google Platform Tools.

Once you have the files installed on your PC copy the recovery img downloaded in Step # 2 about and place it in this folder. Preferably on C Drive. To understand what exactly happens here read this article.
Google Platform Tools download urls

Windows

Mac

Linux

This is a suite of Google applications that will install the framework as well as google applications on your phone. Unless you plan not to use Google applications or do any downloads from google Play you will need a version of GApps as well.

I would recommend downloading the Aroma variant as it has a graphical interface where you can pick and choose which google applications to. For example, you can un select Gmail and Duo and the rest of the Google Apps will still work!

The other combinations to choose are Arm 64 and 8.1
All Variant under Arm64 and 8.1 work. PICO has the smallest size when it comes to downloads.

Gapps Url : https://opengapps.org/

  1. Magisk .Download the latest version from here
  2. The fix for the camera. The stock camera tends to misbehave on custom ROM’s. Remember Xiaomi also provides its own camera along with the default ROM!

Download the Google_Cam_Fix_for_LineageOS_v1.0 from here.

Steps to install the ROM

  1. Copy all the above files in your download folder.
  2. Enable developer options if not already done. To read how to do it click here.
  3. Remove any Pattern or Fingerprint locks you may have set. You can do this from Settings >> Security & Privacy >> Device Security >> Screen Pattern set it to none. It will ask you for the pattern to confirm. Select None.
  4. Power Off your phone.
  5. Wait for a minute for the phone to completely power down.
  6. Now there are two options. If you are installing the custom ROM and TWRP for the first time, then you have to Press the power button and the Volume Down – button together.

To better explain what that mean – the volume button is a long button right? Now press the lower end of it along with the power button.

You should feel the phone vibrate in about 2-3 seconds. Let go of all the buttons.

  1. The phone will boot into the Fastboot screen. This image of a Chinese army hat wearing bunny should appear on your screen with the words Fastboot written all over.
  2. Connect your phone via the data cable to your PC. Open command prompt (CMD) and browse to the folder where you have the Google Platform Tools copied.
  3. If you have not unlocked your phone, then you would need to read this and perform these steps first
  4. On your PC open up the command prompt and type
    fastboot devices

This would show you an ID and a device. This is your phone showing up in the fastboot mode.

  1. Now type at the command prompt

fastboot boot recovery…img

where recovery.img is the name of the recovery file you have downloaded and copied in to the Google Platform tools folder.

  1. This will install the recovery image on your phone. Wait for 2-3 seconds and you will get a message saying success.
  2. The TWRP screen as visible to the right will show up.
    twrp
  3. Swipe to factory reset
  4. Got to Wipe and clear out Data, dalvik,system
  5. Go to Install
  6. Flash ROM zip
  7. Go to Twrp reboot options and switch to another slot (ex. if you are on slot_a then switch to slot_b)
  8. REMEMBER DO NOT REBOOT AT THIS STAGE. You do not have an operating system on your phone and will end up with a bricked phone if you reboot now.
  9. Flash latest Twrp installer
  10. Reboot into Twrp recovery
  11. Flash latest Magisk
  12. Flash gapps zip (platform ARM64 + Android 8.1 + Variant (all gapps will work))
  13. Flash Camera…zip
  14. Reboot to system

Remember the first time it reboots it will take about 10-15 minutes. So have a cup of tea or at least leave the phone alone. Let the OS do its magic. Once it reboots the phone will ask you for the setup details.

Go ahead use a custom ROM and declare your independence!!!

To download the latest build unofficial Lineage build for the MiA1 click the links below:

Please note that you are downloading and installing the build at your own risk. I will not be responsible for your phone bricking up and also will not be able to support you in case of any issues.

On a personal note I have been using the same build on my daily driver for the last couple of days with no issues. I have GApps installed and am able to use some 46 apps with no issues including Twitter, Whatsapp, Quora, XDA, WordPress among others. The phone camera and fingerprint features are working normally.

Download Links

ROM:
lineage-15.1-20180704-UNOFFICIAL-tissot.zip

TWRP boot image :
Boot recovery image

TWRP Recovery Installer:
Twrp-recoveryInstaller-3.2.1-2-oreo.zip

GApps Aroma 64bit ( please note all arm64 bit variant work,but i prefer Aroma as it gives me the option to select what I want to install. You can download the latest Gapps from here
open_gapps-arm64-8.1-aroma-20180511.zip

Magisk
Magisk-v16.0.zip

Fix for the camera in case it does not work
Google_Cam_Fix_for_LineageOS_v1.0.zip

Some important links: