I’m not done hacking my Android devices

May 27, 2013

Android Superuser

Android isn’t an one size fits all platform. Android allows for many choices from smartphone hardware, to smartphone software. Shopping for a smartphone can actually be a pretty daunting task. For most consumers, having such a large variety to choose from is enough customization to fit their needs. Others however, like to take their customization one step further by rooting and running custom firmware on their Android devices.

Recently, one of our colleagues in the mobile industry over at Mobile Syrup wrote that he was done hacking his smartphone. Daniel Bader wrote that he no longer needs the customization that ROMs such as CyanogenMod bring to the table. Daniel made some good points that major OEM user experiences have gotten better over the years. They offer a wide variety of software features that differ from one OEM to the next. OEM user interfaces themselves have even gotten much better. Take a look at HTC’s Sense UI. It’s gotten faster and much simpler as of late.

Call me old fashioned, but the thrill of the chase — that perfect Android experience — through a custom ROM is just no longer there.

I’m going to have to disagree with you, Daniel. I’m not done hacking my smartphone. In fact, over 5 million users have installed CyanogenMod and there’s plenty more installing other custom ROMs such as Paranoid Android or AOKP. The custom ROM scene on Android is thriving. More and more users every day are rooting their phones and running custom firmware for various reasons.

A nightly build isn’t stable software

Let’s take a look at Daniel’s example, the HTC One. HTC has finally hit a home run with Sense 5, in my opinion. It’s minimal, it’s fast, and it has just the right amount of features to not feel overly bloated. Sense 5 has a very nice laid out user experience that millions will enjoy. The HTC One is still a fairly new device, launching about a month ago. In fact, the HTC One just received official CyanogenMod 10.1 support via nightly builds on May 10th.

the HTC One benchmarks lower on CM10.1

You can’t compare firmware that was ran, tested, and tweaked for months internally with custom software built from the ground up (without full source mind you) that is only 17 days old. If you’ve been around the custom ROM scene for a while, you know that device stability and support grows as time goes on. A nightly build, especially during the first few weeks or months, is experimental software. It’s bleeding edge technology, showing that better things are to come as time progresses.  Official CM10.1 support doesn’t mean it’s instantly amazing (it should be dammit!) it means that a developer was able to get the hardware functioning and the CM code was able to be merged without breaking everything.

Over the next few weeks or even months (no ETAs!) these nightly builds will get more and more stable. Sometimes you’ll see increased frame rates, lag reduction, sometimes you’ll see better working hardware such as better camera support, maybe even better Bluetooth connectivity, WiFi or data connection. My point is, there’s still tons of work left  and developers are hard at work doing what they do best, squashing bugs.

Why do we do it?

Why do we sacrifice stability and OEM software features for instability and different software features? It boils down to choice and the lesser of two evils. As I said in the beginning, Android isn’t a once size fits all platform.  Not everyone likes Sense, even though it’s gotten much better. Not everyone likes Samsung’s TouchWiz UI experience.

Where do you fall in line?

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  • You love your smartphone’s software and hardware. Everything just works and rainbows and unicorns (not to be confused with AOKP) are pouring out of your phone.
  • You love your smartphone’s hardware, but you don’t like the software. Maybe you think it feels bloated. Maybe you like a more minimal approach. Maybe you like the way that stock Android looks and feels.

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If you fall into the second generalization, you’re left with choosing a lesser of two evils. Do you stay with software you don’t like, but generally works great?  Do you move to software that you do like, but has the slight chance of not running as good as your stock, out of the box experience? Those of us that love customization and love a stock feeling Android smartphone will deal with a few bugs here and there while we wait for our custom ROM to reach it’s full potential.

No one wants to be stuck with a device they don’t like.

If you want a stock experience, buy a Nexus device, right?

It’s not always that simple of an answer, sadly. Some people need more local storage and can’t rely on the cloud. Some people need microSD card support. Some people, such as myself, live in areas without any GSM service and can’t use the Nexus 4. Some people can’t change carriers for various reasons.

Just because you can’t own a Nexus device doesn’t mean you should be left out of the true Android experience. You can try to take matters into your own hands with custom ROMs. You can attempt to make your device feel like a Nexus. While the experience won’t be exactly the same, and you might have to deal with a bug or two along the way, you do what you have to do to make yourself happy with the hardware you have to run.

Lastly, I believe hardware manufacturers are starting to realize this. We Android users might love your hardware experience, but aren’t set on your packaged software. Samsung and Google are working together to sell a Google Edition, stock experience, Samsung Galaxy S4 in the near future. It’s also been reported that HTC is going to join in on the stock Android experience with their HTC One in the coming weeks. Maybe we’ll see similar initiatives from other major players such as LG and Sony in the future. Who knows. Until then, Android allows us to choose the hardware that works for us and if need be, run the software that works for us too.

Are you running a custom ROM on your smartphone or are you happy with what your hardware manufacturer gave you out of the box? Let me know in the comments.

Comments

  • jayydoggy

    I have had s2 and s3. For me there isn’t any stable roms… not everything works right or all the time. Frustrating. Either wifi works. Blue tooth doesn’t. Maps works 4g light doesn’t.. it sucks cause I like to root, but won’t any more cause it’s just simple not stable.. I need a daily driver and I haven’t found any Rom that provides that for me. Believe me I tried them all.

    • S2556

      I have a Canadian/AT&T GS3 and there is tons of support

      • mobilemann

        i have the i747 too. One of the worse ones FYI.

    • Shadow Ronemus

      Showstock 3 is rock solid on At&t Gs2 with everything working. AokpTask650 on At&tgs3 is amazing and there are tons of rocksolid ROMS for all GS3 models.if you prefer stock you can run custom kernels that improve virtually everything.

    • Deli

      Agreed. Tried ten different roms with gs3,always something not right – don’t even get me started on the AOSP based ones. I’ve been flashing since the HTC Dream, when it was so fun to do so, but it’s getting less exciting and more bothersome.

      • http://google.com/+derekross Derek Ross

        Some devices have better support than others, sadly.

    • http://google.com/+derekross Derek Ross

      I have a buddy that has an S3 on Verizon and feels those pains. He looses data connection from time to time. That’s the whole lesser of two evils scenario. Do you deal with bugs so you can have get rid of bloated TouchWiz or not?

      • mobilemann

        i have a i747 version, (of the gs3) and i’ve had some really annoying times with it; but i feel quite good with it now on RC2. (cm10.1)

        Why doesn’t this article go into any of the negatives? It’s not like tons of ROMs don’t have APN issues, or flickering in every AOSP based rom.

        Not to mention giving up dedicated customized drivers for your camera and other hardware parts of your phone.

        It paints an image of an overly excited little kid, flashing his first rom. I also don’t get the 2 or 3 kids here who freak out about how often the change roms. Grats on how much time you waste restoring your phone rather than using it?

        Truth would help this blog a ton.

  • Asaf Nagar

    One other thing about why users (myself) like custom ROMs: juicehogs. If I can make my device run a minute longer without a charge, I’ll do what needs to get done.

    • http://google.com/+derekross Derek Ross

      Everyone has a reason. I think trying to squeeze a little more UNF out now and again is fun. It’s a hobby ;)

    • Miguel Pais

      Yep! That and a custom kernel, undervolting a bit, going for a conservative governor and BAM! Double your time between charges when needed! :)

    • IHATEHIPSTERSSS

      It’s sad that android is so poorly coded it forces users to create their own buggy version.

      • JS

        Comments like this really show just how little a person knows.
        1) You assume the desire for others to create anything is borne from frustration at existing solutions.
        2) You assume all 3rd party creations are “buggy.”
        3) You assume Android is “poorly coded” – thereby implying that you actually understand modern coding standards, and have seen Android source.

        PS, before making this reply, I had a browse through your previous comments on this site (and those linked by Disqus). Given your chosen screen name, I feel obliged to point you to UrbanDictionary – see definition #5 for “hipster” – it seems to fit you very well.

        • IHATEHIPSTERSSS

          TL;DR

          • JS

            Thanks for aptly proving my point. :-)

          • IHATEHIPSTERSSS

            that’s k.

        • mobilemann

          i guess the readers of this forum don’t understand the concept of not feeding trolls.

      • SeraZR™

        aahh n00bs never learn do they now?

        Apple fanboy

      • http://google.com/+derekross Derek Ross

        Android isn’t poorly coded. Android’s greatest strength is choice and a not one size fits all design. The fact that you mix and match is great. Sure some 3rd party ROMs are buggy, but not all of them are. I mentioned in my article that trying a new ROM in the early phases will be buggy. That goes for ANY software.

  • Tony McAfee

    Custom ROM since day 5!

    Before I even knew anything about rooting I used Odin to flash a custom AOSP Android 1.6 onto my Samsung Behold II. Had my Vibrant for a week before I broke down and started learning about rooting and modding. Another month after getting AOSP onto the Vibrant I installed my own front facing camera and made it work with some simple “lib” files. Amazing device, Running ICS so early that when I upgraded to the GSII (although I swore I wouldn’t root it due to how the CM9 alpha kernel bricked my Vibrant) I actually had to live with Ginger Bread for another month before there was a stable 4.0 ROM. Even with the lack of development for the S2 at the time, I still only made it about 8 hours before rooting and getting a custom ROM installed.

    Flash forward 4 months to my upgrade to the Galaxy SIII: Rooted in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart where I purchased and flashed to a Paranoid Android nightly. Never even messed with the Samsung features until I encountered an issue down the line which required flashing back to stock.

    Also, a HUGE reason a lot of us use custom firmware aside from wanting total control is privacy. When I call T-Mobile for support, nothing thrills me more than them swearing that I’m using a non T-Mobile device because they can’t see into my phone.

    I worked for AT&T, trust me, it’s scary how much they can see into your phone and do without your permission.

    I will never stop modding my devices.

    • Infinite7154

      And that my friend is the post of the day! We do it because we can, because we want to tinker, because we want control, because this is exactly what Android is meant to do!

  • Carl Draper

    I’m currently running Avatar (Jelly Bean) ROM on my Atrix 4G because Motorola abandoned it at Gingerbread, and despite the lack of decent camera it still runs far faster on JB than it ever did on Gingerbread! My previous Android phone, a HTC Hero is running CM7, I rooted and ROMed it the day I purchased it!

    • xracer

      you need to try epinter’s new rom with the new kernel, almost everything work, and finally the camera is functional, there is a tiny bit amount of lag but almost non-existent, hardware acceleration is also back, the finger scanner framework is there but the scanner itself is not working just yet. give it feels like a new phone all over again :)

      • Carl Draper

        I can’t seem to find a download for that ROM, could you post a link?

  • Jimmy Le

    Ever since I have my first android tablet, to the total of three right now. All of them have custom ROMs. Since there are so many custom ROMs on the, I feel like trying out each one for different months, perhaps maybe every other week.

    • http://google.com/+derekross Derek Ross

      It’s an addiction, isn’t it :)

      • Justin Swanson

        Totally!

        I only go about 2-4 weeks before trying a new ROM. Spent a lot of time with aokp, then root box, now rocking pa with halo.

      • mobilemann

        if you’r 12 and you’ve never done it before, yes. When you hit 32 and your doing it to get away from touchwiz, you start to question google.

        /gets ready for torrent of down votes buy said 12 year olds.

    • SeraZR™

      every week!!?? i switch roms very 2-5 days O_o!

  • gavin

    I just got my nexus 4 the other day. I have T-Mobile. Rooted second day with newest paranoid android. Pretty darn smooth. I had att one x unlocked for last 6 months. Never did root. Forgot what I was missing. WOW! wish HTC made a one nexus….. Before I bought this one…

  • S2556

    Mt first smartphone was an android. I bought a Motorola Milestone from Telus and loved it for the first 2 weeks. It was running 2.1 at the time. However not long after it started rebooting randomly and got really slow. I was promised a 2.2 upgrade that would fix my issues within a month of the time of purchase but got one almost one year later that was only half featured and didn’t fix any of the bugs. I then went straight to XDA and started rooting my phone, got a 2.3 ROM(CM7) on it not long after and was never happier with my phone. I used it all the way until the launch of the GS3 which I bought the first day it came out and rooted about 8 hours later. Within a month I was on a touchwiz based rom and once Tasks 4.1 AOKP was running good enough to be a daily driver I used that. I am still using his 4.2.2 ROM today and it is great. When I buy my GS5 or HTC TWO or Moto Xphon or what ever my next phone will be, I will do the same to it.

    • http://google.com/+derekross Derek Ross

      I’ll try to keep my X-Phone stock for a month, just for the experience. Then, I’ll have an itch that need scratched. :) TO THE ROMS!

  • Miguel Pais

    I have a nexus 4 and I tried a week of stock. Then I missed the features of Nova Laucher so I changed the launcher. Then I thought “I can just install Nova Launcher over any rom, so…” I unlocked the bootloader the next day, then flashed an enhanced stock kernel, keeping the stock rom and got to change the display colours (which are quite badly calibrated on the stock kernel by Google) that became amazing! Then everyone was talking about the features of Paranoid Android and I had to give it a try. So I flashed it and I was instantly amazed! Per-app UI, per-app full screen size with PIE controls and now the recent Halo are just amazing things that stock just can’t (will it ever?) provide. Then overheating and cpu throttling were a problem in the stock kernel, so I had to flash Matr1x kernel and then Franco kernel, which are both great (sticking with Franco now, it’s better overall IMO), and I was able to reduce overheating by slightly undervolting the cpu with absolutely no loss in stability and I don’t even detect any throttling (although some exists to protect the cpu, it is not ultra-strict like with the stock kernel and settings.
    Even if you customise your experience, you are always experiencing the beauty of Android. Even with a nexus device, you don’t need to use Google’s view on Android, you can use your own view. Pick a launcher you prefer, pick a wallpaper, an icon pack, pick a kernel you prefer, pick a rom you prefer and build your own experience! That’s what I like about Android. :) I like to be able to control the cpu voltage, underclock to save battery, select more conservative or more aggressive cpu governors to switch between gaming and day-to-day usage, etc., so I can do just that if I want! If I want to keep it simple, then I keep it simple. Not keeping things stock is not at all offensive to Google or to Android or whatever, it is just as valid if it suits the user. You must be happy with your phone or tablet. If stock doesn’t do enough for you, Android gives you the freedom to choose an alternative path without much effort, and that’s what “pure Android” ultimately is.

    • http://google.com/+derekross Derek Ross

      Exactly. Do what makes YOU happy in the end. It’s your device. YOU paid for it.

      • RarestName

        Since this is the Internet, I’m going to have to have to valiantly disagree with you while regurgitating tendentious point of views masked as random and reputable facts. In fact, it will be insufficient if it lacks a few unoriginal and derogatory quotes about your mother, whom in fact is a respectful person in real life.

        lol jk I agree with you

  • http://petercast.net Peterson Silva

    My experience with modding is with Linux distros. I once had 3 running at the same time on my laptop (the terrible, thank-god-it’s-gone gOS, openSUSE and Gentoo). I never stopped messing with my laptop, the inner workings of the system, I love it and would never go back to something like Windows :)

    … However, I don’t feel the same way about a phone. I don’t know, there are all these restrictions, I don’t know what’s gonna happen to my paid apps, all instructions on how to do things are scattered across the web (seriously, once I had trouble finding out where to download Odin from), and mainly all the tutorials on how to root / flash a new ROM, etc all go like “look dude do what you gotta do but when your phone burns don’t blame me”, so I just… Don’t feel safe enough. I’ve repartitioned my PC a thousand times, but I feel really hesitant of doing it even once on my phone.

    • Miguel Pais

      What I did was begin with a relatively cheap phone (a Galaxy Gio), then going over to xda forums and writing down every step I needed to do to root the phone, flash a custom recovery, steps to do before and after flashing a new rom, etc. Once everything becomes clear, then it’s time for action. With a custom recovery you can do a backup image of your phone to the SD card in case you mess up. Just flash the image using recovery mode and you are back where you were. :) As for apps, they will always be there for you to install from the playstore. You only have to pay them once. If you want to back up your app data and game progression use titanium backup or similar. It just backs up all your user apps and data to the sd card, so then you can root, flash a new rom, go back into titanium backup and restore your apps and data. Apps are automatically linked back with the playstore (if you use the playstore) and everything continues from where you left. :) After the Gio, I went for a nexus 4 and not only did I feel more confident with tinkering, it was much easier to do everything. Unlocking the bootloader, rooting and flashing a custom recovery is automatically done with a PC toolkit and a usb cable and you just have to sit back and enjoy as everything happens in front of you :) Then you can flash new roms or kernels that will let you control cpu voltages, underclock, overclock, choose cpu governors, control display colours, sound, etc. etc. You can find help at xda or other forums if you feel unsure about some steps. It’s best to wait for an answer than to try and “see if it works”. So far I have never had a single problem with the Gio or the nexus 4, never had a bootloop, never had to flash a backup image, but I always do a backup before trying anything. :)

      • http://petercast.net Peterson Silva

        Thanks, mate! Unfortunately I only have one phone, but as it gets older I’ll build up the guts to mess with it more frequently =P

        As for the paid apps, I assumed that there was a limit for downloading the apps again; I even heard that limit was 3, like you could install a paid app on 3 devices tops. And then I figured Google had no way to know the newly flashed system was the same device I had before instead of a new one… But if it can, then it’s alright :D

  • Anirudh

    “the HTC One benchmarks lower on CM10.1″ This says a lot about our aim of installing custom ROM no longer worth the effort(addiction lives).
    Nowadays top companies put lot of system engineers to get the most out of these SOC’s.
    All that’s left now is carrier bloat ware.

    • http://google.com/+derekross Derek Ross

      While that may be, the quote from above which you mentioned was directed toward a ROM for a device that was less than 17 days old. The fact that it even ran AOSP code is amazing. Those benchmark numbers will improve over time. But, to be honest, it’s not all about the numbers. While I can’t back this up with facts, it’s been speculated that some OEMs build their software to perform well during benchmarks.

  • MasterMuffin

    I use CM10.1 because I’m addicted to ROM changing, so it’s the only thing that keeps me away from changing because nightly updates everyday so when my hands start shaking and I need to flash something, I can just update and still be happy :)

    BTW the mobile page is having a hard time to show text correctly again: [list_color style="arrow_green"] and [/list_color] show themselves as text o.O

    • SeraZR™

      dude i flash ROMS while crossing the street :O :O O_o!! xD

      I have ORD (Obsessive-ROM Updating Disorder)

      • MasterMuffin

        I don’t admit that I have ORD :D And I’m “normally” just like that (and I’ll probably quit this CM updating when it won’t be enough anymore and hands start shaking again :D).

    • http://google.com/+derekross Derek Ross

      Thanks for the tip, I’ll let our web dev know mobile needs a bit of a touch up.

      • MasterMuffin

        While you’re at, there’s a problem with Disqus: some mobile browsers (Chrome for example) can’t login to Disqus using Disqus account! Stock browser allows you to login and stays that way, but Chrome allows you to login once, then next time you come to another AA article, it has logged off but when you click that D logo to login to Disqus, it just shows three wheels spinning and closes the login window and doesn’t login. I can’t use Chrome or some other browsers because of this! Weirdest part is that if I get a reply to a comment and click the link in my Gmail to see the reply, then Disqus shows me as if I’m logged in! If I change article, it magically is logged off again and the same thing as I said before happens.

        This is most certainly a problem with Disqus, because this happens on AP too, but just wanted to tell this weird thing to you because I don’t know who to say this annoying bug!

        Whoa that was pretty long comment :)

  • Doug

    Well said. I like the freedom to pick the hardware I want, then add the software experience I want. I also like being able to have my software experience change every few months. The idea of Google Edition devices on the horizon is very good for the platform. I hope it will make it easier to own a flagship phone without leaving the Nexus experience. I just ordered a Nexus 4 to replace the Galaxy Nexus I use as a business phone. The first thing I did was boot it into bootloader mode and install TWRP, unlock bootloader… I’ll never keep good hardware on stock software.

  • Mystery Man

    as long as Att, Verizon, and tmobile keep filling their phones with bloat root will always be needed

  • siliconaddict

    After I’ve bought a new Android phone, I test it for about a week, and if it runs without (hardware) issues for one week I then root it and install a custom ROM. Always a stripped down manufacturers ROM, without any bloatware (custom HTC ROM, custom Sammy ROM). My experience is that AOSP and AOKP ROMs always have (much) lower scores in benchmarks, probably because they dont’t contain optimized drivers because the manufacturer hasn’t release the source code of those. I too would love to have a plain vanilla Samsung ROM on my S III, my current phone.

  • Garry DeWitt

    My HTC one will probably be sticking with sense, but I love me some custom kernel action. Dat oc and uv

  • Shane

    I usually custom ROM it, if there are features to uncover. Ex: phone call recording, tethering, etc. If I do not custom ROM my phone, then I will always at least root it..I absolutely HATE bloat ware.

  • JS

    I personally fit the bracket of looking for hardware I like, then worrying about the software later.
    Current phone is a HTC Desire HD (I know it’s old now). That managed to last a couple of months before it was rooted & I started trying varying ROMs. I waited because I liked the look of Sense. I eventually settled with CM7, though that’s now updated to CM10 (nightly). It’s stable enough for my uses (and it’s used excessively for tethered data – typically ~250Gb/month!).
    Also own a 7″ Tab 2 – that lasted a matter of hours on the stock Samsung ROM. While I liked the features that came with it (such as ‘split screen’) it just wasn’t nearly customisable enough. For example, I couldn’t change USB mounting mode, and it wouldn’t stay rooted between reboots, which meant that DriveDriod was useless (and DriveDroid was a primary reason for buying the Tab).

  • Dave Weinstein

    Actually, I usually switch to a custom ROM when the manufacturer doesn’t release a timely update to a new version of Android.

    If PA, CM, or some other AOSP group comes out with support that is newer than the Android version the manufacturer is using, then I switch.

    Samsung has lost my loyalty by purposefully being slow with software updates. While miraculously being able to port to a new phone in days or weeks, it takes them 9-12 months to get an update out to devices in the field. Shameful.

  • _

    On my previous device, which was 1.5 originally, updated to 2.2 I felt the need to install custom ROMS to get every ounce of performance and customizability out of my phone. Now that I have a Note2, I am perfectly happy with all of the stock ROMs features. Thats not to say that I won’t ever flash a custom rom, but the level of UI and tweaks inside Android 4.1.2 is simply amazing compared to Cupcake.

  • Peter

    Thank you, I completely agree. I read that article when it was posted and disagreed and this outlined much of what I was thinking. Great read

    • http://google.com/+derekross Derek Ross

      Thanks!

  • gommer strike

    There is a growing contingent of us who are experiencing flash fatigue. I know what you’re gonna say. boohoo 1st world problems. boohoo you think you have it rough? what about the devs who slave away to bring you these ROMS.

    Well you know something? Let them do what they do. We, the joe users, are starting to just want a stable phone. Having been someone who flashed every single night over several months, flash this, flash that, OMG finally this got fixed, BAM flash. Oh guess what, something else is broken, or suddenly I’m getting weird force closes that never happened before.

    I’m leaning towards the ROM releases that are marked stable, I flash it ONCE, and won’t flash again for another good 6 months. And that’s what I’m gonna do from now on.

  • Jason Bailey

    I have a Note 2 LTE set up for dual boot between the latest Paranoid Android beta and the stock Samsung Rom. Best of both worlds :-)

  • CBrowngirl X

    A couple of months ago, I did not know anything about rooting or flashing custom ROMs. I have a SGS3 and I could not stand looking at the blue interface, so I decided I needed to change the ROM. Apart from being able to change the interface, I like the fact that I don’t have to wait for software updates from Samsung or my carrier. I am in total control!

    I have flashed at least eight ROMs so far, three of them I had issues with. For the most part, I was flashing ROMs because I wanted to see what they offered. I have being running Axis for the past two weeks, it offers a lot of customization and it’s stable.

    I found that there are so many advantages to hacking; I love it, and will continue to do so until.

  • IanDickson

    I’m on the fence. I LOVED flashing my SGS. It was easy, fun, and worked great.

    Got my S3, and flashed it…meh. Had problems GALORE, and tried multiple ROMs. Nothing seemed as stable as the stock.

    Now with my Note II (i317), I’ve looked…but really…this thing doesn’t work, that thing doesn’t work, and my Note II right now HAS TO WORK.

    So in the end, what’s REALLY the point of putzing around with the devices now?? Oh no…the carrier knows where I am and what I’ve been saying or texting. Really?? People…you use a credit card, or debit card, or give your loyalty number to your local grocery store or gas bar, you turn on your TV, or surf the internet…seriously??? You expect people to NOT know where you are, what you’ve bought, what your interests are, when you’re home, what you’re doing, your schedule….

    We live in that age. The only way you’re going to get away is become a nomad in the forest.