When life goes flashing by…

It was about a month after I got my new phone, and five months after I was made redundant, that I started flashing custom roms. And once I started, I just couldn’t, still can’t, stop.

I was bored, of course, and had plenty of time to muck around. The phone had pretty much stopped ringing a few weeks back and no-one seemed to need any sort of urgent email response. That’s what happens when you’re not working - emails are a diversion, not a minefield.

So if my phone was out of action for an hour, or more, it wouldn’t matter to anyone but me. And so I flashed it, and reflashed it, and flashed it again, and again, and again.

At first I tried to justify myself by claiming that I was looking for better battery life, or different features from stock options, or better audio performance and all of this was, to an extent true. It is, after all, a benefit of the open source nature of Android that it allows customizations and modifications, both by OEMs and by independent developers. And it turned out that the phone I had bought was particularly ‘developer friendly’ with dozens if not hundreds of aftermarket ROMs available for the needy, the curious and the experimental.

I started off gently, applying a custom kernel (‘legendary battery life guaranteed!) to stock rom. But unlocking the bootloader leaves the door to a garden of possibility alluringly ajar and once I’d taken that first small step, I was off and running, no destination in mind. And as my early missteps showed, nothing was irreversible - a factory reset and return to stock was always possible, though as the flashes accumulated, that would seem like an admission of defeat.

So Franco’s kernel beget Sultan’s Unofficial Lineage, Sultan’s LOS beget Vertex, Vertex beget Carbon and then back to Vertex. Then onto the kanged Resurrection Remix variants, Zenity (En and Sultanized RR (though never a stopover at official RR). And after OD'ing on the customization possibilities and the innumerable toggle options there came a return to simplicity (you can have customizations or stability or performance, but rarely all three!) with a flashing of Pure Fusion, then Paranoid Android and a brief flirtation with AOSPA extended, though that might have lasted minutes instead of the more usual days.

Around then the first custom OREO roms started to drop and I couldn’t help myself taking a dip in these uncharted waters. So far so smooth though neither Nitrogen nor OMNI worked for me as a 'daily driver’. So I’m stuck on Nougat for now, though I know that builds of Dirty Unicorns, Vertex 8.0 and Carbon Oreo are out there, being tested in secret, soon to be released, downloaded, flashed. Like junkies jonesing for a fix, there are rumours and leaks and speculation - some good shit is on its way, hold it together just a little longer.

On the way I’ve learnt to tweak build.props, pass google’s safetynet restrictions, squash bugs , uninstall systems apps, tweak kernel governors force apparently incompatible sound mods to work together for truly outstanding bass and manage dozens if not hundreds of tiny annoyances to create a truly satisfying android experience that is mine, and mine alone, at least until I get bored of this week’s configuration and try to chance things up a little. Again.

I’ve also discovered communities out there, on reddit, and on slack and on telegram and especially on XDA forums and even on Google Plus. And these developers and hackers and modders can be helpful, and boastful and accommodating and dismissive of n00bs. And sometimes they’re busy with RL or exams (these dudes, almost always dudes, are way young) and don’t drop an update or fix a bug for days, and the way they are treated with reverence by their acolytes would actually be funny, but I can’t laugh at them because I’m jonesing again and need them to reup, like yesterday.

And I’ve discovered that I want it all - smoothness and customization and battery life and stability - and that I’m unlikely to get it and so I’ll keep scratching that itch, studying the forums, reading the tea leaves, chasing the dragon, looking for that perfect, neverending software high.

Or perhaps I’ll get a job, and the email floodgates will reopen and I’ll have important meetings and full days and purpose to fill the void and pass the time. And I’ll look back at this time with a wry shrug of my shoulders, like a mild mid-life crisis, a failed attempt to learn electric guitar, climbing lessons abandoned after a month.

Most likely my phone will say enough is enough, and one day will refuse to boot despite increasingly desperate applications of untested unbricking tools. And in the third drawer down I’ll find that iPhone 5 with the only slightly cracked screen, and I’ll boot up iOS and grimace at the rows of uncustomizable, Apple approved apps and resign myself to life as a normie.

But until then…..