Unity

October 24, 2011

I use Ubuntu at the office. I started with 10.10 and installed it half a year ago when I was stuck with Windows 2000, and there were not enough Windows 7 licenses being bought. It was a vast improvement.

My work is not really dependent on any proprietary applications. I mostly just need a text editor and FTP client. As well my company subscribes to Google Apps, so I just use that for documentation.

I upgraded to 11.04 when it came out and was greeted with Unity. I was so pissed off by how inflexible it was, I immediately changed to the “classic” environment. I actually replaced the Gnome shell with AWN and was immensely pleased with my new work environment. The aesthetics, functionality and customisation were fantastic.

Now Ubuntu 11.10 is out, and Unity is allegedly better. I have really truly tried to adapt to it, but god damn this thing is so wrong-headed. Why do I have to adapt to my computer?

The single worst feature that I just cannot get over is that the dock is permanently fixed to the left-hand side of the screen. (It hides when a window would be covered by it.)

My work desktop

My work desktop

The Ubuntu and Unity teams seem to spend more time justifying this contentious decision than coding the damn thing at this point. People rationalise it saying stupid things like, “99% of people have widescreen monitors anyway“. In a widescreen environment, yes, it would save more space. You know what are still popular? 17″ 1280×1024 5:4 monitors, which are even taller than traditional 4:3 screens. The fact that the user isn’t given a choice is what baffles me however.

Another oddity is that I cannot seem to have two windows of the same application open at the same time. For example, instead of tabbing, if I wished to work in one browser window while referencing material in another. The workaround is to just run two separate browsers.  (October 29 edit: I don’t know if I uncovered a bug or something, but I cannot reproduce this … multiple windows work fine and as one would expect.)

Not tied to Unity, but another odd Ubuntu decision is to bundle Gwibber as the main Twitter/social networking client in its distribution. The programme is terrible. Why should it take 30 seconds for the damn client running in the background to pop up? Ubuntu is snappy as hell on this office Core2Duo, but that client is ludicrously slow.

All that said, and the left-hand-fixed-launcher will be enough to drive away many users, there are some great design ideas to Unity. First, the overall aesthetics are very nice and pleasing to my eye. I don’t mind the MacOS/OS X window-manager style where all programmes’ menus are located at the top of the screen — it saves some space and can be gotten used to.

I really like the subtle notification system. If you look at the screenshot, there are a few icons sitting in the tray. THEY DON’T EVER FLASH OR STEAL FOCUS! When I get new mail, that envelope turns to a pleasing shade of blue. That is it. I can click on it to check my mail, or I can ignore it and continue my coding. Simple and brilliant.

After a couple of weeks, I am slowly getting used to having the launcher on the left. I still look for the hidden panel at the bottom of the screen half the time though. I do plan on sticking with it for a while to see where Ubuntu goes with it, but I still don’t like it.

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Standard neglected blog post

October 24, 2011

Every infrequently updated blog has one last-gasp post explaining why the author has been away, and how he or she promises to write more.

For me, it has really come down to self-censorship. I would love to write about my job, but choose not to overlap work with my personal life. I have previously written about things I feel I can contribute to, like the art of classic shaving, but I reached a point there where I could no longer speak authoritatively.

The next logical post would have covered consumables: shaving creams, soaps, and aftershaves, however I have been using the same tub of shaving cream for over two years. (The product description says it should last close to a year; however much of this time I have only been shaving 2-4 times a week.) It’s great and insanely efficient, but I simply have not had a chance to try a large enough breadth of products to write about their strengths and weaknesses.

I’d like to write about politics, but don’t have the time nor patience for the inevitable arguments or discussions.

I do not like to post unless I feel I have wholly explored something, but often my drafts get too unwieldy. I put them aside, but usually take so long to edit them that the article would no longer be relevant by the time it could be posted.

Heavy Metal jet team

I actually have that problem with photography too. I got into it in such a big way this year, I was attempting a 365 project where I would take at least a picture a day. After that, several concerts, and a few weddings however, I was so inundated with photos to edit I just had to take a vacation from it.

At once point I gave up on taking a picture a day in favour of concentrating taking what I have, and posting a well processed image a day. Even though I have taken something like two months off now, I probably still have plenty to make up for the lost time. I will post more about photography and what I have learned.

Some other stuff that has come up in this break that I would like to and will write about includes:

  • health – illness, training, biking, standing desk
  • fountain pens – highly recommended to anyone, but especially lefties
  • web programming
  • civil service
Anyway, at least one more post coming tonight.
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My $350 mistake

April 9, 2011

This is pretty much the stupidest thing I’ve ever done and perhaps the most costly mistake I’ve made. Good thing I don’t own a car…

On Wednesday I received late notice that I would be able to bring my camera to a show I was terribly excited to see (Iris + Mesh + De/vision + Assemblage 23). I was really hoping I could bring it as it had been a while since I was able to shoot a show, and had since upgraded my equipment and technique a bit.

I only needed to clear my SD card, but Windows wouldn’t let me delete for some  reason. “No big deal,” I thought. I figured I could just go and format the card in my camera. As soon as I put it in the camera though, the screen flashed “WRITE-PROTECTED.”

Clearly the little tab on the side of the card had been switched accidentally. I removed the card … only to discover the tab was completely missing. Shit.

I was on the verge of being late for the show. I run around the apartment desperately looking for some Scotch tape, but couldn’t find any. I found something a little thicker and figured “ah what the hell,” may as well try it. First mistake.

The card slid into the camera with a little bit of resistance, but not a huge problem. Unfortunately the screen showed it was still write-protected though. The card was stuck though and I couldn’t get it out. Second mistake: I pried the card out with a screwdriver. Gently and from the edge … it came out with two much trouble. Unfortunately it took the ejection mechanism with it. F— f— f–.

In some stupid bout of even huger idiocy, I tried putting the card back into the damaged mechanism, but really, it was already completely screwed at that point.

I took it to Henry’s today for repair, but discovered Olympus of Canada has recently shut down. For repair, the camera would have to be sent to New York. It would cost roughly $350 and take 8-10 weeks.

Frack. I started thinking, “well, I could go back to shooting film…,” but $350 is a lot for a repair, and there’s no guarantee what the final cost would be or how long it might take. I said I’d have to think about it.

In the same store I discovered they have a used version of the same model for $350 … a no-brainer compared to having mine repaired at least: same, concrete, cost and instant-gratification.

I had to consider though, a more modern, but a “lite” version of my camera is the E-PL2, and is $600 brand-new. It probably makes more sense to spend the money on that instead of buying a used camera which I have no idea how it has been treated. As well, I can sell my old small flash as the new one includes one.

The new camera would have some pretty significant advantages in having a much higher-resolution LCD, an included flash, smaller & lighter, and a better stock lens. On the other hand, it’s a cheaper build quality and has one less control dial which is annoying. Still, the advantages probably outweigh the negatives.

Just annoying to have to rebuy something. I was hoping to buy a cyclocross bike soon.

Heck, I may really still decide to just shoot film in the interim. The m4/3 format cameras are starting to show their age and a more significant hardware refresh may be on its way. The newer models are still using the same sensors as the original ones from two years ago.

I guess the lesson here is that I should have just left the camera alone and gone and enjoyed the show. I should have been more relaxed and rational about it. I could have mitigated this whole thing by just dashing to BestBuy (a block away) and buying a new $20 SD card. Hindsight is 20/20 and all, but I was aware of this even at the time… just thought I could get it working even faster.

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Pulled-pork

April 1, 2011

I forgot to update my food log last night. I was too busy eating this:

The pork came out decently, but the sauce made from the drippings was just incredible.

I got the recipe from here: http://www.goonswithspoons.com/Pulled_pork

Now I need to find more things to do with liquid smoke…

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Bike trials.

March 29, 2011
Tags: , ,

This year I made a point of buying the tools I needed and fixing my bike up completely by myself. Allegedly to save money.

I knew that the shifting needed to be tuned, but more significantly the rear wheel was bent. My chain had already broken twice at the end of last season, so that was on the replacement list. Examining the teeth on my cogs though, they seemed. (Not a surprise, I was terrible with maintenance on this bike so the chain aged considerably faster.) Once I got started, I discovered that the rear-derailleur hanger and the derailleur itself were bent.

Determined to make up for past transgressions in maintenance, I started with a $140 stand from MEC. I’m glad I chose it over the $180 version, it’s plenty tall enough, sturdy, looks nice (in person) and quite easy to store (it becomes compact, though still fairly tall). I can’t believe I’ve gone so long without a stand, it makes all other maintenance tasks so much easier: no more cussing and frustration when the upside down bike topples over. As well, much easier access to the derailleur limit screws.

I then spent $40 at Canadian Tire on car wash detergent, sponges, brushes, rags, steel-wool, grease and touch-up paint and followed these guides and washed three years of crap out of it … in my living room. My building doesn’t really have any kind of facilities or place for doing this kind of thing. I did the wheels in Heather’s bathtub. To my credit, she was only suspicious because the tub was scrubbed cleaner than it was. I expect to be doing this in friends’ driveways once it’s nicer out.

Anyway, though I had to be careful with dripping, I was surprised at how easy it was, and how shiny and new even the cogs looked after I was done. While I had several gouges in my frame, no rust had formed thankfully. I sealed them up again with touch-up paint. I just discarded the chain.

I used this $80 stand to true the rear wheel. This was surprisingly quick and straight-forward. I’m pretty sure the reason everything was bent in the first place was because of my building’s terrible storage situation where I’m required to keep my bike in a bike-rack in a packed communal room. I’m pretty sure the derailleur and wheel got bent from my lovely neighbours shoving my bike out of the way. I figure I’ll have to fix the wheel somewhat often. I need to write the building management and try to figure out some better solution.

Other expenses at this point were $15 on a chain and $5 on a degreaser from MEC.

As I started tuning the bike following these guides, I discovered that the entire rear-derailleur system was bent. The hanger and the derailleur itself. Shifting to the lowest gear would actually insert the derailleur into my wheel. As well, the lower jockey wheel (the little gears that pick up chain slack) was seized unless I unscrewed it’s bolt a bit. After consulting some sources, I decided that I was best taking this to the shop, that I wasn’t going to buy the $50 tool for repairing the hanger myself.

It turned out to be a $4 part and $9 of labour at Curbside Cycles. I asked about the mangled looking derailleur and seized-if-I-tighten-it jockey wheel, but was told it was supposed to be like that. Righto. My bike was otherwise functioning great until my second ride to work, where the rear derailleur completely fell apart and launched the jockey wheel somewhere into traffic. Shit.

$70 (inc. tax) later for a new derailleur at Sweet Pete’s, shockingly easy to install myself. I did struggle to finally get it perfectly in tune, but it just came down to yanking the cabling through it with enough strength.

The bike now works possibly even better than when it was new.

Last weekend I also added $30 fenders from MEC. BUT THAT’S IT.

 


 

So that works out to about $430 tax-in. I’m looking at 5 months of biking almost every single day to work to break even at the end of August. Obviously I save more for any extra trips. The tools I acquired should also last forever so I’ll be ahead of the game in all future years. Even the consumables will last a long time.

2011/03/30 edit: I had a stupid accident with my helmet (not while wearing it), though really it was due for replacement anyway. Another $70. Lost a winter glove at a party and the mornings are still too cold to ride with bare hands. $50 for cool-weather biking gloves. $136 together with tax for a new grand total of $566 to recoup.

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The 4-Hour Body + food log

March 28, 2011

The 4-Hour Body is a new book by Tim Ferriss, or at least it was new when I first started writing this post at the end of last year

I bought it because I liked the excerpts I read on Gizmodo. I’m extremely pleased with it and endorse it wholeheartedly, though there is some weird stuff that is probably safe to ignore. Word of warning though: it’s a massive tome. You only need to read small sections at a time (concentrate on one goal at a time), but it’s a little impractical to carry around because of how unwieldy it is in hardcover. I wish I’d bought an e-book version, but originally thought this might be something I’d want to share with people. I frankly want to keep it all to myself, hah.

Back in December, I’d barely started with the recommended diet, but switching to only eating legumes for carbs had made an immediate difference in my wakefulness and alertness. The difference was night and day. I was often still sleeping like crap, but I was vastly more productive during the days. I also lost a significant amount of weight pretty quickly.

Since though, I started falling into bad habits again. While most of my meals are still of the protein+legumes+vegetables variety, I’d started eating junk food again as well.

So it’s time to get back on the wagon. Since willpower didn’t work, I’m trying one of the weirder ideas in the book: take a picture of food before you eat it, and better yet, post it somewhere to keep yourself honest. We all carry cameras around with us on our phones nowadays so it’s simple. The idea works in embarrassment and potential shame ha. Do you really want to take a picture of a hamburger? And it helps to have people keep you honest.

So that said, my food log can be found at:

http://www.markosaar.net/category/food-log/

I’ve set up WordPress to not post those to the main page. For some reason the photos don’t show up until you actually open each entry. I’ll figure that out.

 

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The kind of spam a crappy neglected blog gets

February 23, 2011
Tags:

Real posts coming soon I swear!

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Chapterhouse + Ulrich Schnauss + Fjord Rowboat: Lee’s Palace on 06/10/2010

November 14, 2010

Fjord Rowboat 2Only a month late on this.

Less than a week after James, I got to see the greatest complete line-up I’d ever seen: Locals Fjord Rowboat, and my all-time favourite electronica wizard, Ulrich Schnauss, opened for classic shoegazers, Chapterhouse.

A friend I was going with knew Fjord Rowboat personally, and he gave me their albums a couple weeks in advance so I would know what I was in for.  Their albums were outstanding.  They could easily qualify as a major-label act.  I got a mid-career Catherine Wheel vibe out of them.  A particular stand-out track was Paragon (Click to listen).  The only thing is maybe they were a little too similar sounding to those early 90s shoegazer bands (of which Chapterhouse qualifies as too), but it was great to hear here and now.

 

Fjord Rowboat 3

Regardless, it was the first time in ages I actually wanted to see an opening act.  They played as if they’d been doing this for years.  Everything sounded and looked great.  Nice equipment too, which they were actually lending to Chapterhouse.

Ulrich Schnauss is someone I discovered a couple years ago courtesy of my brother, and Kim at Penguin Music, and just became completely infatuated with his music.  Chapterhouse was an influence to his sound, and Schnauss has often tried to bring the indie aesthetic to electronic music.  (Check out Goodbye: I think he succeeds incredibly well there.  Previous albums are more pure electronics and more ambient.)  Reviews of the event (see bottom) have alluded or mentioned that Schnauss was actually largely responsible for this reunion tour.

Ulrich Schnauss 1

Unfortunately, his set did not seem to go over particularly well with the crowd.  They were there for guitars, and he just sat at his computer mixing in Ableton Live, occasionally throwing in a live keyboard accompaniment.  He played a long time and people seemed to start getting bored.  I heard several remarks about how he could have just hit ‘play’ and left the stage.  He had visuals of European cities and vistas shot from a moving vehicle, but the screen was too large for the Lee’s stage and sat off-kilter behind drums and other equipment.  The effect was much better when I saw him perform at The Rivoli three years ago.  He should tour with a vocalist.

I knew all his albums backwards and forwards yet the only track I recognised was Never Be The Same, the introduction to Goodbye.  I managed to catch a clip:

Before publishing under his own name, he’s been known as ‘View To The Future’ and ‘Ethereal 77′ and probably several other names I’m not aware of.  I recorded the following because I absolutely loved the sound of it, but I have no idea what it is.   I don’t know if it’s coming to a forthcoming album, or if he was just mixing some of his older music:

And then came Chapterhouse.  To be honest, as slick and amazing as their albums were, I didn’t know what to expect from a reunion tour 20 years later.  I walked in completely blind.  (YouTube footage had actually scared me off from going to go see The Happy Mondays, but they are a special case…)

Chapterhouse 1Chapterhouse 4Chapterhouse 3

I was completely blown away.  The years had been entirely kind to them, though it certainly helped that the band were only in their very early 20s when Whirlpool first came out.  They still looked reasonably youthful, but more importantly sounded amazing; their voices still sounded syrupy and young.

It was a vastly better experience than seeing shoegazer legends, My Bloody Valentine was.  I guess it was my fault for not doing my research before, but I had been unaware that MBV had a reputation for holding some of the world’s loudest ever concerts.  It was so insanely loud that people were passing out and vomiting in the crowd.  I was worried this was a shoegazer thing, but Chapterhouse didn’t depend on the volume gimmick, just textured swirly psychedelic, even danceable, guitars.

Chapterhouse 13

Chapterhouse 20Schnauss came back out to perform Pearl and Love Forever with the band, and once again for Inside of Me at the end of the encore.

The show was phenomenal and certainly made me re-evaluate (and raise) Chapterhouse on the scale of legends-of-shoegazer.

The rest of my photos can be found here.  Before the show I contacted the venue and asked on the Facebook and Last.FM pages if anyone knew what the camera policy was.  Andy Sherriff of Chapterhouse was kind enough to contact me and let me know the band wouldn’t mind.

 

 

Some other reviews of the event:

• Lithium Magazine
Panic Manual
Chromewaves.net
GTA Music Scene

Something nifty that came out of this: the gentleman that runs gtamusicscene.com noticed these photos and asked if I’d mind contributing to his blog in exchange for concert tickets. The first show I did for him was Bruce Peninsula.

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James: Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Toronto on 30/09/2010

October 13, 2010

I got to see James for the second time at the end of September.   Unable to find any regulations about cameras, I brought mine in:

[flickr id="5041227962" thumbnail="medium" align="left"]

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[flickr id="5041175572" thumbnail="medium" align="left"]

I was done shooting anyway, but unfortunately security accosted me and made me put the camera away because it had “removable lenses.”  Apparently having a sub-SLR isn’t enough any longer.  The rest of the pictures I took are here.

It was unfortunate because a bunch of friends happened to get invited to dance on the stage during Laid (not my video):

The show was outstanding.  It started out with a simple, stripped down version of Sit Down (official, but non-album version video), with Tim Booth walking down the centre aisle from the back to the stage.  When I last saw them at The Phoenix two years ago, they just started with a double-speed version of Born of Frustration (nonsensical fan video), which was unfortunate because it’s my favourite track by them.  Still, at least I got to hear it once as it was the only time I got to see it live: they skipped it this time around.

Despite that minor setback, the show was phenomenal. They played a few new tracks, but lots of favourites such as Ring The Bells, Seven, Getting Away With It, Tomorrow, Stutter, Say Something, Sound, Out To Get You and Sometimes. Their newer tracks, Dust Motes, Crazy, It’s Hot, Porcupine and Tell Her I Said So went over just fine considering how quiet they were to begin with.

The only shame was that the crowd went nuts after their encore, but that was it. It almost seemed as if the band would come back with the lights dimming again, but disappointingly the venue’s piped music came on and the crew started disassembling the band’s gear.  On their blog they commented:

The show in Toronto was amazing.  The audience clapped forever, calling for endless encores.  Too bad there was a curfew…

Mr. Booth commented on Twitter:

The manager at the toronto venue said he hadn’t seen any audience make such a noise in 10 years of owning clubs.

Maybe next time they’ll choose a better venue.  The Queen Elizabeth Theatre wasn’t the worst place I’ve seen a show, but it inhibited the band.  Considering it was seated, no one I knew there complained about their view of the band, and the sound, no pun intended.  That said, the assigned seating really impeded the energy.  People really just want to be able to dance and/or make fools of themselves.

Other takes, as I discover them:

BlogTO (great photos)

ChartAttack

awmusic

Lithium Magazine

LiveInLimbo.com (also great photos)

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Jailbreaking & unlocking an iPhone 3G with any firmware and a PC

June 29, 2010

This post is mostly intended for someone to come across via Google having trouble unlocking his or her phone.  There is a tonne of misinformation and lots of scams out there.


My girlfriend had been using an unlocked 1G iPhone for a while.  That phone was locked to AT&T in the USA while she has beens using a cheap Bank of Montreal phone plan here in Canada.  She doesn’t want to pay for a data plan; she’s happy just using wi-fi on the iPhone whenever it’s available.

The 1G had started to die though, with error messages constantly popping up.  Each time the message would pop up, the screen would turn on, so the battery could only last a few hours.

She bought a used 8 GB 3G iPhone locked to Rogers to replace it, however the previous owner had updated it to official Apple iPhone firmware 3.1.3 which did several things to make unlocking it to other cellphone networks impossible.

With iPhones, there are two distinct hacks: jailbreaking means that you can run home-made software on your iPhone without needing to go through Apple’s official App Store.  Unlocking, like with any other cellphone, means that you’re not restricted to any one particular cellphone carrier.

In addition to the main iPhone operating system, (now known as “iOS” as it’s shared with the iPad), there is separate firmware that controls the modem in the phone: the part that actually connects with the cell network.  This firmware is known as the baseband.  Finally there’s a bootloader as well, which may be governed by the hardware iteration rather than software, but I’m not sure.  The jailbreak used to be mostly dependent on the operating system, the unlock used to be mostly dependent on the baseband version.  The bootloader determined whether or not you could restore your iPhone to older versions of baseband which could then be unlocked.

The sum total though was that with old hacks, it was impossible to unlock my girlfriend’s 3G iPhone to work with her cell provider.

Once iOS 4.0 was released however (June 21, 2010), the brilliant hackers that figure out how to jailbreak and unlock these things published exploits they had been withholding.  They’d been waiting for iOS 4.0 to come out to get more mileage and not waste them on an otherwise minor firmware update.  These current exploits work with ALL iPhones from 3G onwards, all basebands, and all bootloaders.

To unlock your 3G:

  1. Sync your phone with iTunes.  Make sure it creates a backup.  If it doesn’t (from ericajoy, found with Google):
    • Open iTunes
    • Go to Preferences
    • Choose the syncing option
    • Remove the iPhone backup
    • Press OK and exit Preferences
    • Sync your iPhone
  2. Update your 3G to the proper full iOS 4.0 with iTunes. It should be prompting you to whenever you connect your phone to your computer with iTunes open.
  3. Download and run Redsn0w from the Dev-Team Blog.  The earliest version that works with iOS 4.0 is 0.9.5b5-4.  (Click the Windows link on the post I linked.)
  4. It will ask you to point it to the IPSW file of your CURRENT FIRMWARE (which will be 4.0 now if you followed step 1.)  The file is called iPhone1,2_4.0_8A293_Restore.ipsw.
    • In Win7 it will be found in C:\Users\<YOUR USER NAME>\AppData\Roaming\Apple Computer\iTunes\iPhone Software Updates
    • In WinXP it would be found in C:\Documents and Settings\<YOUR USER NAME>\Application Data\Apple Computer\iTunes\iPhone Software Updates
    • Alternatively, you can just download it separately from a site such as this one.  (Look for the iOS 4 section at the bottom of the page and click the iPhone 3G link.)
  5. Redsn0w will take some time to process the IPSW file, then it will prompt you for some options after you hit ‘next.’
    • The option you must select is “Install Cydia.”  Cydia is the programme that installs all the non-Apple approved iPhone applications, and will be required to actually unlock the phone.
    • On the 3G I recommend you also enable the “homescreen wallpaper” and “battery percentage.” The 3G isn’t really fast enough to do multitasking well, but it’s up to you.  Leave everything else unchecked.
  6. Your iPhone should be connected to the PC already.  Turn it off by holding the power button on top, and swiping across the screen when asked to.  Hit ‘next’ and follow the rest of the on-screen instructions.  Redsn0w is going to ask you hold the power button for a few seconds, then hold the power & home button for 10 seconds, and then let go of the power button while still holding the home button for 30 seconds.  You can let go of home once the screen changes and things start happening on your phone.  If gives you another chance to do it over if you screw up.
  7. The rest of this is automated.  It can take a while to finish.  Redsn0w on your PC will soon say it’s done, that the rest takes place on your iPhone.  You can close redsn0w at this point.  I believe it took about 10 minutes for the iPhone to finish it’s business.  You now have a jailbroken iPhone 3G.
  8. To finish the process and unlock the phone, run the Cydia app on your homescreen.  It will take some time to update itself.  (Roughly five minutes.)
  9. Click on the search tab, and search for “ultrasn0w” (the “o” is a zero, like in redsn0w).
  10. Install it, and select reboot once it asks you to.  Your iPhone 3G is now unlocked.

From now on, do not install any new official Apple firmware until you’ve absolutely confirmed that you can jailbreak and unlock it.

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