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Movie Wednesday: Midway

Let me take you back to an older time. A simpler time. When smoking was cool and airplanes didn’t have covered-glass cockpits. Before all missiles were laser-guided and computerized. When a ship-mounted anti-air gattling gun took 3 people to operate. When those “damn dirty Japs” sunk our battleships as they idled in sunny Pearl Harbor.

Reminder: I’m not endorsing racist slurs, I’m merely quoting the sentiment of the time, that point in history, so stop taking everything so seriously and read with CONTEXT.

N.

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midway main movie cover art
One of these things is not like the others!

One of the main takeaways from this film, for me, is how ploddingly slow war combat was in the 1940s. Compared to anything from this century, the difference is mind-boggling! The technology feels like another world, another lifetime. Which it IS, in fact. Most of those who were alive at that time, at least those involved with the war, have passed on. And this film is, in many ways, a tribute to them, their bravery and sacrifice, and their heartbreak. Roland Emmerich is certainly qualified to handle this material.

Who dat?

midway main character screenshot
Kill Japs and chew gum at the same time? No problem!

Oh look it’s Ajax from Deadpool! Yes, folks, that’s up-and-comer Ed Skrein, probably most famous for playing the tropefully-British-accented villain in our favorite anti-hero movie of the past decade. It’s interesting hearing him do an American inflection now… it definitely sounds less natural. Obviously, since his native tongue is the Queen’s English. Gotta respect the man’s work, though.

Speaking of actors.. Dennis Quaid really doesn’t pull this off well. Perhaps its the way they wrote the character, but I just don’t believe it. I believe most of the others, including Woody Harrelson’s Nimitz (which was a tough sell). I don’t know, maybe it’s just me. Nick Jonas ain’t winnin no prize either.

Do one thing and do it well

midway bomber-gunner
Open cockpits? Check. Manual aim? Check. Nick Jonas as a fearsome and relentless gunner? Umm…

But overall, Midway accomplishes its goal. It doesn’t focus unnecessarily on Pearl Harbor itself, but presents the tragedy with enough gravitas that we feel the motivation of our fallen brothers to seek righteous vengeance upon those who perpetrated it. It gives adequate treatment to the intelligence side of the equation — the “code breakers” — as well as the combat side. It even presents the Japanese forces and officers in a neutral and respectful light; in fact, it comes off as much less of a “rah rah, ‘Merica!” nationalistic stars-and-stripes-fest than many of its kin. So I respect that. Sure, it’s still an American film, but it doesn’t beat you over the head with patriotism.

The Verdict

One solid thumb-up.

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It’s a Hack! Part Deux

In today’s hack, we take a look at a slightly newer tablet than last time, and find out just how much more difficult it is to crack open an Android 7.1 “Nougat” device than it was just 2 major-OS-versions ago.

Spoiler-alert: I did NOT actually end up successfully removing the FRP lock. Instead, I insisted that the owner try harder to find the appropriate Google account info for the device. Which they did, thank God. I am currently waiting on them to set aside some time to walk through the remaining recovery steps.

N.
samsung tablet frp bypass quote easy-way
Spoiler-alert #2: THERE IS NO “EASY WAY”.

So instead of actually hacking (removing the FRP lock), this is simply a link-dump and giving credit to the sources that helped me get it back to a usable state.

Brief Overview

Now, you may be wondering, how is this useful? Well, dear reader, allow me to explain.

  • Scenario A: You need to factory-reset your tablet, but it’s been borked/bricked by some strange 3rd-party firmware or a bad update.
  • Scenario B: Like me, you’ve managed to use Odin to flash it to “factory binary” firmware (kinda like diagnostic/debug mode), but you forgot to store a backup of the actual firmware first (the one that a normal human can use).

As a reminder, the standard startup-button-combos are as follows:

  1. Recovery mode (standard): hold Home, Volume Up, and Power.
  2. Odin mode (aka firmware download/re-flash): hold Home, Volume Down, and Power.

We’ll talk about #2 first. This has a nice warning screen about how tech-y it is, so you can “abort mission” by pressing Volume Down if you made a mistake coming here. Otherwise, you hit Volume Up, and continue into “Odin mode”. From there, you use the Odin program on your PC to flash the firmware. Obviously, you need to have the tablet connected to the PC with a standard USB cable.

Recovery mode, #1, also looks kinda techy, with the black background and orange & blue text in a sort of old-school Matrix-y way, but it’s really not complicated. You have options like ‘Wipe data/factory reset’, ‘Wipe cache partition’, and ‘Reboot system now’. You navigate up and down with the Volume Up & Down buttons, and make a selection with the Power button.

What do you mean, Theoretically?

Again, I was not successful in actually removing the FRP lock (which was the goal and outcome of the previous post on this topic, albeit with the older tablet). But in theory, if you needed to go that route, this is a decent place to start from. Because if you make a mistake or “brick” the tablet, restoring the stock firmware should get you back to square 1, where you can try ‘hacking’ at it again.

Lesson 1

Always always always. ALWAYS. ALWAYS. Correctly sign out of and wipe your devices when you’re done with them (giving them away, throwing them out, selling them, etc). It never gets any easier trying to recover that stuff or work-around it to “break into” a device that you’ve turned into an expensive paperweight by forgetting your owner-login info.

This means, while your tablet is still on and accessible to you (i.e. you can unlock it, use it, get into Settings, etc.) — use the Settings menu to do the wipe/reset!! It varies slightly between devices, but it’s generally under Security somewhere. Just Google “<your device name> factory reset”.

Lesson 2

Get your account recovery options up-to-date and keep them that way. Same for your loved ones and relatives. Spouse, parents, etc. By setting up and maintaining proper account recovery options (alternate emails, phone numbers, 2-factor authentication), you can be reasonably secure and still able to work on someone else’s behalf in terms of device ownership and recovery.

If you’re not sure what I mean, drop me a line on Facebook, Twitter, or right here in the comments.

That’s all for now folks! Stay safe out there.

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Top 5 Underrated Actors, Part 2

And now the actresses! Oh, I mean, uh.. actors.. who are.. female.. because they identify as such. Right? K. It’s so hard to keep track these days.

Oh, and guess what? If that offended you, you’ll probably want to stop reading now. Because I’m going to comment on their LOOKS as well as their talent. BLASPHEMY!! CRUCIFY HIM!!!!

Rhona Mitra

bill nighy and rhona mitra in rise of the lycans
You KNOW what he’s looking at.

As a long-time fan of the vampire/werewolf universe, I should surprise nobody with this pick. She almost looks as if she could have fangs hiding under those lips, her mouth and cheekbones with that ever-so-slight jut in that one spot. And she’s gorgeous, of course. But more importantly, she plays a really convincing blood-sucker. I may have already mentioned the ill-fated show The Gates, and of course she played the great predecessor of Kate Beckinsale’s infamous Selene. We mustn’t type-cast, however. That’s the trap these kind of actors often fall into — they become “too good at” playing a particular kind of character, so they have trouble finding other roles. I hope that doesn’t happen to her. Looking over her IMDB page, I see mostly TV gigs, which kinda makes sense. I’ll always remember, though, hers were the first bare pair I saw on screen in Hollow Man. Good times.

Olivia Wilde

olivia wilde in the lazarus effect
He’s holding his Jew-fro’d head in his hands, in anguish, because he’ll never be even close to the same league as her.

Thirteen. That’s all I need to say, really. House gave us a lot of good stuff in its 8 year run. But one of the best things had to be skyrocketing this beauty to the big time. I mean sure, she had a few movies beforehand, and some TV gigs, but I feel like this made her A-list. As such, I wasn’t even sure if she belonged on this list, but she kinda hasn’t been doin a lot of acting lately. She’s been producing and other stuff, which, great for her, but I’d like to see more of her back on the other side of the camera. I mean, have you seen The Lazarus Effect? Just.. go watch it. Now. It’s phenomenal.

Kat Graham

kat graham as bonnie bennett
B*tch please.

More vampires. Well, she played a witch, but on a show about vampires. And honestly, she was one of the few original main characters that I could stand. Seriously, give me this firecracker over ANY of the Stephen/Damon/Elena/Catherine bore-fest. At least she wasn’t a codependent puddle. But where I really fell for her was when she did a guest spot on Ridiculousness — you know, the show where a washed-up skater and his buddies watch found-footage of people doing ridiculous things (and usually injuring themselves) and make fun of them? She had such a playful chemistry and a great attitude. Not taking yourself too seriously, remembering that you’re first and foremost an entertainer? Yes, more of that please.

Mila Kunis

mila kunis stares into your soul
I have no words.

Speaking of not taking yourself too seriously. This gem has been doing that since she was a teenager. Again, not really sure if she belongs on this list, but that Jupiter Ascending garbage was just so terrible that I feel like she deserves so much better. I wasn’t a big That 70s Show guy, but I did fall in love with her voice and her banter on the Family Guy DVDs, especially in the commentary tracks. It wasn’t until.. probably Forgetting Sarah Marshall, that I really had a crush. But it was all over with Friends With Benefits. I was hooked. Then, Bad Moms and The Spy Who Dumped Me? Thank you ma’am, may I have another! A lot of it is the attitude, the chemistry and delivery — but those smoky dark eyes and contagious smile certainly don’t hurt.

Kate McKinnon

kate mckinnon
She’s just plain fun.

And finally.. speaking of The Spy Who Dumped Me (hmm, I wonder if I have a review of it somewhere).. Have you met our ex-first-lady-slash-ex-presidential-hopeful? Oh, sure, easily confused, her SNL impersonation was that uncanny. But really, I could watch this lady do just about anything. She made the Ghostbusters reboot worth watching. Same for the sleeper-hit Rough Night with ScarJo — I mean, let’s be honest, I watched that for my favorite buxom blonde with a “seductive husky voice” (not my words; it’s right there on her IMDB profile), but I stayed for the Australian-accented antics of this comedically brilliant woman.

Enjoy! Leave me a comment if you watch any of these movies or recognize these ladies from other works — I’d love to see more.

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Movie Wednesday: The Invisible Man

the invisible man promo image
Reasonable. Perfectly reasonable for a handprint that’s not mine to show up on the shower door. It’s all good.

One of the first films I’ve seen this year that was actually released this year. I think. Well, put it this way. One of the newest films I’ve seen this year after the theaters closed due to the pandemic. God I miss the movies.

Anyway. Let’s chat, shall we?

The Setup

Unlike the H. G. Wells novel that inspired it, the antagonist here is a charismatic and insanely wealthy gentleman, whose fortune and status owed to his brilliance in the field of ‘Optics’, which is to say, vision and sight-related technology, like cameras and image processing and light manipulation. The protagonist is his battered, controlled, and (at first) entirely victimized girlfriend. Of course, she realizes how bad her situation is and makes a daring escape from their compound-like home (which apparently doubles as his optics lab, I guess.. when you have enough money, you just merge your work and living space into one bougie-hipster-fest of a mansion?).

old black and white invisible man character
Someone’s wasting precious toilet-paper…

She holes-up with a good friend of hers, sees her sister, and starts trying to live a normal-ish life. Douche-optic-sci-guy dies and leaves her a ton of money. His brother, a sniveling lawyer with a little too-convenient story of their own strange relationship, serves up the will. She celebrates with some well-placed generosity and seems to be doing well.

Great, I’m with it so far.

The Plot Thickens

But. Always a but. She starts sensing a presence. An unseen entity pulls off her bed-covers while she sleeps, and a pair of foot imprints, seemingly standing on the edge of the blanket as she pulls it back, jump-start the insanity.

So this is not what I’d call “pure horror”, but it’s more of a horror-thriller hybrid. And it’s very well-done. The characters are developed, the story moves at a good pace, and the building sense of fear and psychosis is demonstrated with the right amount of visuals, musical cues, and dialog. Some of the best bits are when Cecelia simply converses with the empty space in front of her, knowing it’s not truly empty, but unable to find even the slightest crack in the facade to prove otherwise.

We could draw some comparisons to Hollow Man here (first R-rated movie I ever watched, no joke!), with similar pacing and action. Although in terms of the targets of affection, I think Kevin Bacon got the better deal by far — Elizabeth Shue AND Rhona Mitra? Yes plz. (I might have mentioned her before.) That’s not fair of me, though — Elizabeth Moss is fine too, but her character here is supposed to look like she’s been through hell, because she has!

kevin bacon hollow man in hoodie
Agent Smith meets Gumby.

Look Ma, No Hands!

As we build toward the climax, a couple things go wrong. First, the injuries that C. inflicts on herself should have been much more life-threatening. Second, once we learn how the invisibility suit actually works, it stands to reason that it being shot with multiple bullets would cause some serious malfunctioning, not this half-baked “self-healing” technology that seems to keep our killer both lead-proof AND eye-proof without a flinch. But hey, maybe I’m behind the times.

Despite me “calling it” before the last “mini-twist” was revealed (I’m trying to emulate K. here, but her gift for foreseeing story elements, plot-twists, and endings was absolutely astounding), I still enjoyed the fact that they went there. It helped bump C. over that last little ledge of neurosis, while giving her the motivation she needed to start actually fighting back.

That Ending, Tho…

But really. For all we’ve learned about Adrian, can we really believe for a second that he wouldn’t suspect her of being wired while they converse awkwardly over a reunion dinner? Or that he’d just LET her wander off alone to “freshen up”? Come on.

I did administer a few self-fives for predicting dialog just before it was said, so that was entertaining.

barney stinson self-five
You know, it’s not easy being this awesome.
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Top 5 Underrated Actors, Part 1

While enjoying some movies lately, and realizing I’ve missed on some epic ones, therefore taking the necessary steps to correct that (downloading it to my Plex library)… I realized that some of actors I truly enjoy seeing on the big screen are NOT your typical A-listers. Also, the fact that both of those movies feature Ewan McGregor is purely coincidence. COINCIDENCE I SAY!

Ahem.

Let’s get on to the list, shall we?

Disclaimer 1 (Feminists take note): Yes, these are all men; in Part 2, I will get to the ladies. K? So don’t flame me just yet. At least wait til you see my picks for the opposite sex. (OMG he used that word! CRUCIFY HIM!!!)

Disclaimer 2, this is heavy on the IMDB links. If you have a problem with that for some strange reason, just.. don’t click? Whatevs.

William Fitchner

william fitchner in prison break
You can’t hide from me, Michael!

The first of a few New Yorkers on this list, you may recognize him from, as mentioned above, Black Hawk Down, or Armageddon, or the TV show Prison Break. All excellent viewing choices. His voice and countenance are pretty unmistakable, once you’re dialed in to it. He brings an authenticity and sincerity to every character he plays, even when they’re ridiculously drawn. One of his lesser known (and highly underrated, and cut far too short of its potential, if you’d asked my wife) projects was a little ill-fated show called Invasion, about, you guessed it, body-snatching aliens invading earth. Which sounds, obviously, quite cliche, but he has a keen eye for suspense and personal drama, and that’s what shines through.

Paul Bettany

paul bettany in legion
*smoldering intensifies*

The token Englishman of the bunch. This guy can bring gravitas to ANYTHING. His role as the self-flagellating priest in The Da Vinci Code? As a fallen angel fighting for humans’ second chance in Legion? As the riotous Chaucer in A Knight’s Tale? Yes please; thank you sir, may I have another! Now, there is only so much one man can do. He couldn’t save the pseudo-dystopian-horror-Blade-knockoff that was Priest, God love him for trying (get it?? God? Priest? #ohbehave). But come on. He’s freakin Vision.

Kyle Chandler

kyle chandler friday night lights
CLEAR EYES, FULL HEARTS, CAN’T LOSE!

Another New Yorker! But you’d never have guessed it if you saw how flawlessly he pulled off that southern twang in Friday Night Lights, would ya? No, honestly, I defy you to watch that show and NOT get inspired and fired-up by Coach Taylor. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Oh, and the fantastic sleeper-hit, Game Night — sure, Bateman and McAdams are the stars, but you are absolutely drawn into Chandler’s rich-big-brother charisma like moth to flame. Funny enough, that movie also featured Landry from FNL as a creepy neighbor who takes things way too literally and way too seriously. Highly recommended.

Frank Grillo

frank grillo
turns out he actually IS a badass..

Our THIRD New Yorker of the bunch… wonder if that’s a pattern? Does it say something about me, or the actors I like? Hell if I know. Grillo is one of those guys that usually plays a similar character, but to a rare degree of perfection. It’s generally a cop or cop-like role, someone in some position of authority or enforcement — an Army guy, perhaps, or an investigator or an ex-somethin-or-other. The Purge movies, for one. That super short-lived series The Gates (Rhona Mitra ME-YOW!). And Prison Break, again.. hmm. COINCIDENCE! Also, End of Watch, amazing police-cam-style movie with a heart-wrenching finale. Amazing piece of work, that.

Michael Peña

michael pena meme from ant-man about 2020 disasters
plus Kobe died… and race riots… really, things can only go up from here, right?

Speaking of End of Watch, here’s our token Mexican. Oh stop. Really, I’m kidding. So sensitive, you people. But yeah, he’s amazing. Whether he’s knee-deep in the trenches of political intrigue in Shooter (moar Rhona Mitra.. hmm, ideas for Part 2 post starting to formulate!), making us laugh our our noses in Ant Man with his overly enthusiastic blitzkrieg-plot-recalls, or — spoiler alert — taking a bullet for his brother-in-arms in the middle of a gang-war-zone alley… He’s got my vote.

Honorable Mention

Not in the top 5, but here because he was the absolute PERFECT fit for this role — Death, in Supernatural: the one and only Julian Richings. Any other characterization of Death on-screen will be forever weighed against his, and I doubt they will measure up.

death in supernatural, snacking on pickle chips
He sure did love his pickle-chips. And, ya know, killing stuff. Cuz he’s DEATH.

Now go watch some movies! ❤

Xbox One S internal storage upgrade

Featuredxbox one hard drive example

This is mostly just a link-dump and credit where credit is due. I won’t bother repeating the whole process ad-nauseum.

The big kahuna:

User ‘XFiX’ is amazing.

XFiX’s (aka Tai1976 on this particular forum) more detailed thread about the PowerShell script bundle: https://gbatemp.net/threads/xbox-one-internal-hard-drive-upgrade-or-repair-build-any-size-drive-that-works-on-any-console.496212/

It’s worth noting that, because I do have so many drives connected to main main PC, I did have to manually edit one of the scripts in the section related to drive letters. Easy enough.

A little supplemental guide in case you run into errors or trouble.

(Note that I, however, simply went back and repeated the entire original clone process and it seemed to work the second time.)

A brief note from Microsoft on the offline-system-update process: https://beta.support.xbox.com/help/hardware-network/console/system-update-solution/offline-system-update

End-result: My Xbox One S is now running a 1TB Samsung Evo 860 SSD. Granted, it’s connected via a Sata 2 interface (3Gbp/s), not Sata 3 (like you have in the Xbox One X), so I’m not really getting that much of a performance benefit, if any. BUT, it sure beats replacing with another mechanical drive, because who the heck would even buy one of those these days anyway? (Yes, for huge capacity, I get it. Not for this use-case.)

Lesson: tinkerers and geeks are awesome!

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Movie Wednesday: The Island (2005)

Reader! It’s been too long. I figured that I should get back to what I’m good at… watching, and subsequently reviewing, MOVIES!

“Good at” is debatable.

Shut up, voice-in-the-head. Nobody asked you.

Anyway, today we’re talking about the 2005 nearly-a-box-office-flop dystopia-action flick The Island. Let’s dive in!

But wait. If you wanna be REALLY entertained, just go read this review. It’s bonkers. In the best possible way. It made me laugh way more than I laughed at myself while writing this.

Wow, you’re really shootin’ for the stars there, huh?

The Who?

On paper, this movie has a lot of good things going for it. The cast, for one — eye-candy ScarJo & EwanMcG, the incomparable Sean Bean, the gravitas-laden Djimon Hounsou. Okay I guess that’s mostly it. No, wait… why does this guy look and sound so familiar? This friend of Ewan’s character, in the lab with the tubes. With the almost-comically-large nose. His mannerisms, his speech… it’s like something out of my teenage years. OHMYGOD it’s frickin’ Neelix! From Star Trek Voyager! I KNEW that guy was familiar. Ha! Neelix…

The problem is, these two incredible (-ly good looking) lead actors are asked to play these very naïve, child-like humans in this artificially homogenized semi-futuristic environment, but they can’t quite make it seem real. And I’m sure it’s not entirely their fault — Michael Bay isn’t known for being a master of eliciting pure emotion, so much as he is for making big stuff go boom. But the dialog often feels stilted and off-beat. I could forgive it if it were consistent, because that would actually suit the narrative and the plasticity of the utopian environment; but there are contrasting moments that sort of take you out of the immersion and make you remember “Oh, right, these are actors. Acting.” I’m not saying that’s wrong, just that it should happen less.

Did you really think you could walk away without it?

The What?

Let’s talk about the plot. I mean, if you’ve heard of a book called “Never Let Me Go”, or been at any point exposed to similar dystopian stories — heck, even if you saw the trailers for this movie — you’d kinda have an idea of where things are going. It’s not that complicated. But you watch because you want to go on that journey — you want to be teased a bit, to experience a touch of mystery and a glimmer of uncertainty.

But you kinda just know, from the moment the camera pans past a classroom of fully grown adults reading “Dick and Jane” aloud as if they’re actually learning it for the first time, that something’s very Soylent-Green here. You get the tease, sure, and you’re supposed to be in shared-suspense with Lincoln as he questions all the delicate order and pristine-ness of his proverbial ivory tower. But by the time he crawls up that ventilation shaft…

It’s always a ventilation shaft, isn’t it?

And by the time he watches in horror as the new mother is injected with death-serum as her baby is carried off to another mother who looks exactly like her, waiting in a neat little room with her handsome husband and some well-appointed paperwork… You already knew. You saw it coming. At least, you did if you were paying any attention. And again, when you watched with disgust along with the computer technician (who IS in-the-know, of course, but doesn’t change the fact that he’s not thrilled with everything his employer does) — and by the way why does he need to be so gross and greasy? I mean really, talk about your stereotyping. Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, watching in disgust, as they cut open the waterbed-sized embryonic sac to reveal a “newborn, fully-grown” human. Even that, you should have seen coming. Oh, did I mention spoiler-alert? Right. Spoiler-alert!

That’s really what makes Buscemi’s character so incredibly unnecessary. I mean sure, he befriended Lincoln (for some strange reason) — probably seems him like a son he never had — but there’s absolutely no need for his over-expository recital of the movie’s key premise to the characters who are sitting on his couch dumb-founded as if they didn’t just experience exactly what he’s telling them. I mean, I get that they’re immature, but are they really THAT dumb? Are WE? I’d like to think not. Yet this scene just kinda felt like an unnecessary condescension to the viewer, as if the filmmakers were saying “Here, we were just SO CLEVER, but we’re gonna get you caught up now so you REALLY know what’s going on.”

You mean we’re not real people? Just actors?!? LIES!!

The Why?

Now, the point of a dystopian story is always to turn the mirror on its audience, to ask “How far will you let science/technology/ideology/etc. go?” To present us with a grim picture of the future where some thing, in this case genetic science and biotech, is taken to the Nth degree for selfish reasons by the world’s wealthy elite, and ask us the proverbial question, “Was it worth it?” So we get that. It may be shoved down our throats just a bit, but we do get it. The film makes a noble effort to enunciate its message without sounding terribly absurd or preachy. Is it effective? Eh.

So we’ve made it this far without actually explicitly stating the plot. Ready? Are you sure?

They’re cloning humans to use as organ donors, so the wealthy original humans (who the clones are made from) can live longer and overcome things like liver cancer, heart disease, etc. Gross, right? But also… kinda neat. In theory.

Now of course we could get into the typical questions like “But do they have a soul?”, “Do they feel love?” etc. It’s all very dramatic and existential. Great. But remember, this is Michael Bay. The Mister Torgue of movies. Which means this movie was about 40 minutes too long, and the second half was largely a mish-mash of gunfire, large explosions, vehicular manslaughter, and bad dialogue screamed over LOUD NOISES. But hey, at least you get to see John Coffey wake up from open-chest surgery and go on a brief rampage.

No, I swear, it’s a surprise. Really.

The End

Length does not work in this movie’s favor. I was actually hoping it would end on a cliffhanger — and I don’t generally enjoy cliffhangers — but it would have felt justified, in this case. Like, the star-crossed clone lovebirds suit-up to go back to the compound and wreak havoc and try to free their soulless brethren, and maybe we get up to their dramatic re-entrance to the surgical facility with the suddenly-turned-sympathetic black merc at their side, and we freeze-frame with guns drawn and cue the music. But no, instead we have to endure another 20 minutes of explosions, running around chasing people, and this incongruous City of Angels conclusion with all the clones in their white track-suits staggering out onto the hilltop with the sun blazing on the horizon.

But obviously, we had to kill Sean Bean. So there’s that.

I thought you said you were done.

Now you might have read all that and thought, “Wow, you really disliked this movie, huh?” Not at all! In fact I quite enjoyed it. I just had lots of thoughts and words. So I had to get them out and share them. Would I recommend the movie? Yeah, if you’re into this sort of thing, absolutely. Would I watch it again and again? No, probably not. It’s not like Gladiator or Forrest Gump. It’s a popcorn flick. The fact that I didn’t actually consume popcorn while watching notwithstanding.

PS: The product placement was SO laughably awful, I almost didn’t even want to go there. I mean seriously, it’s ridiculous. iMacs, Xbox, Michelob, Cadillac, and MSN. Just… wow. And MSN was like, an important thing IN the plot. I mean sure they called it the “Information Directory”, but, good lord. Pathetic. In hindsight, at least. 2005 was a long time ago, maybe Google wasn’t really the colossus it’s become. My memory’s a little hazy, that was college.

Anyway. Cheers! And welcome back to movie-time. =)

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25 Years, Still Going Strong

Descent.

When I say that word, what do you think of? Perhaps the 2005 horror movie based in a cave? Good film. Not quite there.

Descent 1 intro briefing
Descent 1 intro briefing

“Prepare for descent…”

How about now? If you just got goosebumps up your joystick arm and tickly tingles in you trigger fingers, you’re my kind ‘a people. That’s right, my fellow four-eighty-six pilots, I’m talking about THE game. The game of the year; nay, of the decade. The one that changed shooters forever. The ever impressive.. the one-contained.. the often imitated but never duplicated oh shi–.. Descent!

Yes, this game will forever live on in my memory as the pinnacle of 3D gaming from my childhood. The mid-1900s saw some killer game releases. Top shooters included Doom, Quake, Goldeneye, Wolfenstein, Half-Life, Unreal. But NONE of these could hold a candle to the mind-bending stomach-churning six-degrees-of-freedom true 3D shooter that was Descent. Bonus, since it didn’t involve killing humans (and thus, no gore) — evil robots were the enemy here — it was perfectly acceptable to my parents for a young 9-year-old Nate’s innocent eyeballs. The sheer rush of adrenaline as the ‘bots tried to ambush as you barely escaped with evasive maneuvers and turned around to blast them to bits… Pure nostalgic gold.

Descent D1x-Rebirth level 1 Lunar Outpost
Descent D1x-Rebirth level 1 Lunar Outpost

“But what the blazes are you going on about”, you may ask. Excellent question. Please see YouTube. It’s not the absolute greatest representation of the true 6DoF potential, but you’ll get the idea. And if you get a little queasy, a little motion-sick, that’s perfectly normal. Anybody who’s never played one of these before is likely to need some.. perspective.

Open-Source Developers are Awesome

Here’s why I love developers. Gather a few of ’em together around something they’re passionate about, and watch magic happen. Descent is 25 years old this year. It was made for DOS and Windows 95, as well as a few consoles. Heck, I even have the original CDs from the “Definitive Edition” pack (re-released a few years later). But there’s no way in heck they would run on modern computers with modern operating systems.

Enter open source. Thankfully, the Descent 1 & 2 source code was released to the public at some point. That’s like Christmas Day to developers — anybody with any programming skill could now peek and tweak at the code, even rewrite it from scratch. Two separate projects — called “source ports” — spawned from that seed: DXX-Rebirth, and D2X-XL. The former is simpler and more true-to-form, retaining as much of the original gameplay look & feel as possible, while still enabling it to run on modern systems and adding a few nice conveniences for the 21st century player. The latter is more of a “let’s see how far we can take this” philosophy, in that the author has consistently added many changes and enhancements to the core game mechanics and graphics that, while some players find appealing, I personally take it as “noisy”. But due to its popularity, there are even a number of levels (aka ‘missions’) that will only work with this version. And don’t get me wrong, the work is impressive, by any developer’s standards.

D2X-XL gameplay on D1 level 1 revamped
D2X-XL gameplay on D1 level 1 revamped

A Legacy Lives On

As with most legendary hit games, a dedicated “mapping & modding” community sprouted up around it. To this day, DescentBB forums are active, and a few members are even still making levels. I even tried my hand at it a couple times. I remember almost begging my parents to buy the re-packaged game box because it included the “Descent Mission Builder” software that let you make your own levels. Hours upon hours spent manipulating cubes and flying through tunnels to test. But nothing compared to the fun of playing through the true masterpieces of level-design produced by the most prolific builders of the day — they pushed the game so far beyond what the creators originally imagined, yet likely dared dream of.

a waterfall from a custom level in Descent 2
A waterfall in custom level “Alhambra” for Descent 2

OMG I Must Play!

Then have I got a page for you! Includes download links and step-by-step instructions for Windows users. Bonus, it’ll soon include my own hand-picked custom-levels pack (so you don’t have to sort through the piles of crap that accumulated from half-baked “level contests” and “archive servers” over the decades).

A Challenger Appears

Overload, a spiritual successor to the Descent series, and involving the very founders of Parallax, was released in 2018 after a successful Kickstarter campaign. I haven’t played it yet, but from the footage and reviews I’ve seen, it’s right at home in this game-hall-of-fame.

Overload gameplay screenshot
Overload gameplay screenshot

So what are you waiting for? Catch me on Twitch and watch me play, or go download all the goodies and check it out yourself!

See you in the mines!

Favorite tagline of many hot-shot pilots and level-designers.

A Journal Revisited

Featuredearth, green and vibrant on one side, fiery and desolate on the other

The start of the new decade is brought to you by Steven King, Dean Koontz, and that episode of Supernatural where the globe was plagued by a virus starting with ‘C’ and a post-apocalyptic Chuck told past-future-Dean to hoard toilet paper like it was gold.

No, dear reader, I’m not joking. Look it up. Kinda freaky.

But let’s go back a bit. Winter started with more snowboarding. January was a fairly successful season, as was early February. I took the guys to the slopes. Chuck had a hell of a time learning, while Rex picked it up again after many years away. We decided to make the podcast seasonal, so we topped off season 1 and started making preparations for season 2. The new website is live, along with a fledgling YouTube channel.

Making friends with worship and sound crew at church led to something I never would have expected in the past ten years. But somehow, I think because of your exceedingly musical spirit, it makes perfect sense. One morning, as I arrived just a bit late to practice, F. was already at the board, and he just said “hey Nate, grab that mic.” And the rest of the team encouraged me — “egged me on”, if you will. So I did. And I stood up there and looked at the songs and the words. And I just sang along with them as they practiced. They started telling me how good things sounded with a low male voice in the mix — Rex is of course a low-mid tenor and the ladies are, while not particularly high (in fact, P. is quite low), still distinctly feminine. So I believed their encouraging words. And I kept singing. And that’s how I became part of the worship team.

As the winter got warmer and the snow started to melt, it was pretty clear the ski-season was going to be cut short. I used up almost all my prepaid tickets, thankfully, and got a few more middling-average days in. I screwed up my right shoulder though — doc says it’s probably the rotator cuff tendon. Super. At least nothing was broken though. I do have a gnarly new scar from the fall, just above my right eyebrow. If it were at all jagged you could call me Harry Potter.. but it’s basically just a straight 3/4-inch vertical line, with an ever-so-slight arc. You might find it sexy.. or you might have made me treat it with anti-scar ointment and prevented it in the first place. God I miss your doting.

Oh, and then. Get this. Kobe Bryant died. In a freak helicopter crash. With his young daughter. It shocked the world, for sure. And of course you, being the empath, would have no doubt been in sharp mourning as well. I mean sure, he was accused of rape.. Who knows if that woman was telling the truth or just after money and infamy. But he played some of the damned finest basketball in history. And just like that, GONE. Plastered all over magazine covers and newspapers and headlines, but gone. Legends never die, they say. Tell that to his widow and other children.

But all that pales in comparison to March 2020. The world has become engulfed in the throes of the worst viral disease outbreak it has seen in modern memory. It began, as many things do, in China. Not a xenophobic statement, just a fact — they are the most populous and most industrious country in the world, and if something is going to start, it simply, statistically, will likely be there. Coronavirus, COVID-19, took hold and spread like wildfire. At first is was isolated to Asia. But tourism and trade soon brought it across the globe, to our very shores, even to our own neighborhood. And of course our incompetent imp of a president failed so spectacularly to respond, to prepare and arm the public with concrete factual information, that we’re charted along with some of the worst-handled outbreak scenarios of the 1st-world nations — Italy, Mexico, Spain. “Tremendous” is a word he keeps throwing around, as if it means anything other than the magnitude of his own failure as a leader and a public servant.

Obviously most of this belongs in my memoirs, not in this journal to you. Yet I find it helpful to write to you as if I’m telling you stories of the world that you’re missing while you bask in paradise. It’s unthinkable that there could be any other eventuality.

tonight at 11.. DOOOOM
Aha ha ha… Thanks Morbo. In other news… Oh wait. There is no other news. EVER.

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of change and breaking news. Counties issue “lock-down orders” only to rescind them the next day. The state and federal governments change their guidelines for “social distancing” — a new colloquialism that will surely go down in history as a defining moment of this decade and the generations living through it — as well as self isolation, quarantine protocols, and limitations on gatherings, almost every other day. People panic-buy bread and toilet paper en-masse as grocery stores and warehouses struggle to keep shelves stocked. Schools close. Businesses start to follow suit. The economy, having started the year quite strong, stronger than most would give the current administration credit for, is now in utterly unprecedented free-fall.

Finally, on March 20th, today as I write this, California joins New York and a couple others in declaring a state-wide “shelter in place” order. Meaning, citizens are to stay in their homes except for emergent or urgent needs, or beyond that, to stay close to home and forgo all forms of travel, barring critical events and life-or-death situations. Which means, obviously, that most non-critical industry is on some level of partial or non-operation for the next several weeks. My employer, thank God, has a sensible and morally upright CEO, who has kept communications up during this time and has enacted payroll protections and measures to ensure employees do not panic about their immediate future. What things will look like, how things will change, if the governments continue to enforce lock-down policies, is a another matter entirely.

All this means, of course, that many people suddenly find themselves having to work from home. As I and many other tech workers have done for the past several years. Teachers, for example — God love them for their creativity and their get-shit-done attitudes — have had to literally re-architect educational processes overnight. And successfully, by all accounts, which is nothing short of a miracle.

Imagine if we’d had had children. I mean, they’d only be toddlers, right now, but still. What a world to be raising them in. Is it wrong that I almost wouldn’t wish that? That I’m almost relieved that that is not our reality? I can’t discard all of my cynicism, after all. Your optimism and light-full spirit did wedge its way through my cold heart, but a man does not change so irrevocably, completely, utterly, wholly and absolutely, in one lifetime.

Something I did accomplish today, that I’m slightly proud of, is that I did my usual 2 and 2/3rds mile run with an average pace of 8 minutes and 59 seconds per mile! YES, under 9 minutes per mile!! I never thought I’d see that happen, at least not this quickly. This comes after a recent doctor appointment informed me that I weighed in at 155 pounds. Unfortunately, my cholesterol was still a bit high, but only slightly. So, anyway, yay!

I’m writing all this because I realized how long-winded and philosophical I’d been in some recent text or email exchanges, which of course means that my brain needed to get its thoughts out onto the page. I can’t really explain why this happens. Is it still your spark? Is it me, just growing my own spark? Do we nurture this fledgling seed together from opposite sides of some metaphysical veil? Such questions are not productive.

I loved you. Pray for this world. Pray for our families and friends. I’ve said it at your passing, and I say it now in unison with millions of others: Things will never be the same.

a hand holds a globe, green and vibrant on one side, hellish and desolate on the other.
We will not all perish, but we will ALL be transformed.
-1 Corinthians 15:51
Featured

It’s a Hack! (Android tablet edition)

Recently I inherited an older Android tablet from a friend. It’s a Sprint AQT100, to be precise. It runs Android 5.1, aka “Lollipop”. For those of you unfamiliar with Android OS version history, that’s 5 major versions behind current, version 10 (in which they stopped publicly proclaiming them with cute dessert names and just stuck with the major #).

sprint slate 10 tablet
It’s an older tablet, sir, but it checks out.

However, like most old tech, it could still be useful given a little TLC and appropriately leveled expectations. Being that this thing is a bit light in the hardware department (1GB memory, 1.1GHz CPU), it’s not going to be playing the latest games or watching 4K Youtube. But for basic web browsing, ebook reading, note-taking, and email-checking, it should suffice.

The first things I did were a) fully charge it, and b) remove the old SIM card, via a little pop-off panel on the rear top left. Under this same panel is a micro-SD slot, in case I ever want more than the native 16GB* of storage.

*Actually works out to just under 10GB of usable storage, due to the space taken by the Android OS itself. This is universally true on all mobile devices.

The next and most important thing I did, as I do with all inherited/obtained/gifted devices, was factory-reset. On this device, and similar tablets from the past several years, if you don’t know the PIN or password, you can boot into “recovery mode” with a combination of button-holds while powering on.

Aside: I linked to a helpful article that walks you through recovery-mode-boot and factory-reset. It’s quite simple: Fully power off the device. Then, hold the power and volume-up buttons to power it back on and into “recovery mode”. To navigate the old-school-console-style menu (which definitely looks like something a hacker would use), use the volume up & down buttons to scroll up and down, and use the power button as the ‘Enter’ or ‘OK’ button.

Now, the problem was, this device was not fully wiped nor disconnected from the original owner’s Google account. Much like modern iDevices have the “iCloud activation lock”, it seems that Google devices have a similar lock, what they’ve called ‘FRP’ – Factory Reset Protection. The idea here is, if the device is lost or stolen, we want to make it more difficult for the finders-keepers or thieves to wipe it clean and call it their own. So even after using the hardware-button-driven approach to reboot to recovery mode and perform a factory reset, the device still requires the Google credentials of “a previously registered account”.

In this case, the previous owner was not reachable by any means. So I started the requisite Googling. I came across a lot of Youtube videos that involved various tricks like “disconnecting your internet right after it transitions from this screen to the next” (during the setup process), or using a computer with the Android SDK and an ‘OTG’ cable, or downloading mysterious APKs (those are Android app installer packages) from random strangers’ Google drives; and I just thought, wow, there’s gotta be a better way. And of course, there was.

Before I dive way down deep into the rabbit-hole, the brief summary overview goes something like this:

  • Open the camera from the lock screen, take a picture, and Share it to an app like Maps where you can go view a boring legal disclosures doc.
  • Use the built-in “Web Search” functionality that pops up when you select text in a document, to open the device’s native web browser to get to the Settings menus.
  • Use Protected Apps to launch Chrome to download and install two APKs.
  • Use the APKs to fire up a new Google Login screen that bypasses the FRP one.

So it’s really not that complicated, from a broad perspective, but as they say, “the Devil’s in the details”. Which is why I’m writing this!

Ready? Hold your nose and take a deep breath…

Enter this helpful post on the XDA Developers forum. Now, it’s not quite the whole picture, but the thing he calls out importantly is the fact that you need to go to “Protected Apps” to be able to launch Chrome once you’ve gotten past the Settings part and enabled ‘install from unknown sources’. You should definitely read the post, but I’ll bring you my excruciatingly detailed commentary here.

  1. After factory-reset (via the buttons method earlier), walk through the setup process until you get past the “connect to a WiFi network’ stage. Yes, you DO need to connect to WiFi so you can download stuff.
  2. Lock the screen. On most devices, this simply means tapping the power/sleep/wake button. On some devices, you’ll want to wait about 10 seconds before attempting to turn it back on (with the same button) for the next step, because there’s often a setting to “leave it unlocked for X seconds” for your convenience.
  3. Turn the screen back on (using that same button of course), and you should see the lock screen.
  4. This screen should have a camera icon near the lower-right. On my Slate tablet, I had to swipe it from right to left to open the camera. So, open the camera.
  5. Now that the camera is open, take a photo of anything (or nothing). Tap the photo’s thumbnail in the lower right corner after it’s taken.
  6. Hit the ‘Share’ button (it looks like a sideways-V with dots). Tap the ‘Maps’ app to share the photo via Maps (lord knows why you’d ever do this in real life…)
    • Similar steps (7-11) may work in context of another sharing app, but as most tutorials recommended Maps, I stuck with it, and had success.
  7. You’ll be asked for an account, but at this point you can ‘Cancel’ the sharing action and the Maps app should remain open.
  8. In the upper-left corner there should be a “hamburger” menu icon (three horizontal lines); tap that and tap Settings.
  9. Go to Terms & Privacy, then to Terms (possibly called Terms & Conditions).
  10. Hold your finger over a word in the boring legalese until it’s selected/highlighted.
    • Who’d a thunk that silly stuff would actually come in handy someday? =P
  11. You should get a pop-up at the top of the screen with options like ‘Copy’, ‘Share’, and ‘Web Search’. Tap on the latter, ‘Web Search’.
    • The point of all that was to get the device’s default web browser to open up. Because, unlike in, say, Chrome, your device’s native browser should allow you to navigate to its device Settings screen.
  12. So now, in the web browser, tap inside the address bar, delete whatever’s in there, and just type in ‘settings’. You should get at least one option that pops up below it, as a ‘suggestion’ — the ‘Settings’ screen. You will probably also see ‘Google Settings’, but you don’t need that right now.
  13. If you’ve been using Android devices, the Settings screen should be pretty familiar to you. Go to ‘Security’ (which is under the ‘Personal’ grouping), and enable ‘Unknown sources’ under ‘Device administration’.
    • This allows installation of apps from unknown sources, which is what we’re about to do. But DON’T PANIC! These are legitimate, community-vetted, well-known and respected sources. They won’t steal your cookies and mine all your private information. 😉
  14. Now hit the ‘back’ button in the upper left to return to the main Settings screen. (NOT the back button at the bottom navigation-bar of your device — that would be sad, because you’d probably have to repeat some of these steps.)
  15. Go to ‘Apps’ (under the ‘Device’ grouping). It will show you, by default, your ‘Downloaded’ apps. Don’t care. Go to the top right and tap the 3-vertical-dots icon (it’s a context menu).
  16. Tap ‘Protected apps‘. You will have to set a protection PIN or pattern — do so.
  17. Here, you’re presented with a screen that lists your main apps, one of which should be Chrome. Tap it once to check the box (that it will now be a ‘protected app’).
  18. Now, the line for Chrome should have a new icon on the far-right, which looks like a box with a diagonal arrow pointing up & right. THAT’s what we want, because that will launch the Chrome browser (as opposed to the native one), which will allow us to one-click-install our APKs (Android apps).
    • This is where a lot of the other online tutorials failed, because they assumed that you could just launch Chrome from the MAIN apps screens (like the ‘downloaded’ or ‘installed’ lists).
  19. And now we switch tutorials, to this lovely guy, at Step 14 to be precise.
    • More specifically, when you search the web for “Google Account Manager” and “QuickShortcutMaker”, you will want to make sure you download them from a good source. My personal preference is APKMirror.
    • When you search for Google Account Manager, make sure you also include the Android OS version you’re running. Mine was, as mentioned, 5.1. If you aren’t sure how to find this info, go back to the Settings screen and find the ‘About tablet’ (or ‘About phone’) section.
    • QuickShortcutMaker 2.4.0, which I will now abbreviate as ‘QSM’, should work regardless of OS version, but it probably hasn’t been tested on the absolute newest (9 and 10) because it’s not actively maintained by the developer. That’s ok, we won’t use it for very long, and we’ll get rid of it as soon as we’re unlocked.
  20. First, download the Google Account Manager APK. Chrome will prompt you on what to do with the file. Obviously, ‘Open’ it. This will get it installed. You don’t need to open the app itself, so just cancel/back to the Chrome browser screen you were on before.
  21. Then download the QuickShortcutMaker APK and do the same thing – ‘Open’ it and let it install. But this time, after it’s done, Open the App itself too, if prompted! If not, that’s ok. You can back-out to the Settings screens from before (Step 15-18) and go to the Protected Apps screen to enable QSM and then to launch it using that arrow-in-a-square icon.
  22. Here’s the real fun. On QSM’s ‘Activities’ screen, instead of typing in what they tell you, just type in “Type Email and Password”.
    • Pay attention to the fine-print below it — you do NOT want the one that says ‘Edu’, because that’s a slightly different flavor of setup than you standard personal device.
    • The one you want says, in full, com.google.android.gsf.login/com.google.android.gsf.login.LoginActivity
  23. QSM will take you to the next screen where it wants you to ‘Create this shortcut’ with certain properties. Don’t worry about all that; just hit the ‘Preview this action’ button to actually launch the action.
  24. Finally, FINALLY, you should have a screen that prompts you to enter your own Google Account credentials.
  25. Once that’s done, restart the device. It should resume setup from where it left off before, bypassing the “Enter a previously registered account” nonsense.

Phew! That was a lot of steps. But it’s really not as hard as it all sounds. I promise. And it’s less tricky than trying to shut off your whole internet at the exact moment a screen passes by (which I tried to no avail), or buying a cable and downloading a bunch of junk to your PC.

Good luck! Hope this helps someone out there.

Speaking of legal nonsense, it should go without saying that this is NOT ethically responsible unless you are the legitimate owner of the device in question. But you’re a smart reader, and you knew that already, didn’t ya?

N.