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Weddington

Say what?

I think it started with a typo she made in a text, but it became one of our inside-jokes, where we started ending things with “ington”, like Paddington — Campington (our first family camping trip), Yardington (our backyard landscaping plans that we built for the wedding), and of course, Weddington itself.

The day was a blur, in the best possible way. We actually stayed at our hotel the night before, as well as night-of, to get some time away from kids. Thankfully Grandma and Grandpa had flown in early to keep them busy and fed and loved while we had our couple-time. That morning, I departed for home to help with wedding setup while she had her gals come do the bridal thing. You know, mimosas, hair & makeup, silly selfies.

The vendors – floral, catering, photog & video – started to arrive at the house, while the nanny wrangled kiddos. I loved being able to help my little boys with their ties and suspenders. Plus I got a sneak-peek at the food and flowers before anybody, which was pretty sweet! Yet in the midst of the scramble, I realized that I had no white undershirt for my suit. Thankfully my sister was able to pick some up on her way in from the airport. I paid the favor forward to our eldest teen who didn’t have a button-up shirt to wear; I had a nice hunter-green number that we’d luckily left out from our furious honeymoon-packing.

When she was arriving to “finish” getting ready (read: more mimosas and formal pictures), I DID avoid peeking, respecting the tradition that I not see her in her wedding dress before she walked down the aisle. (Although I did see it when she picked it out at the store.. Sshhh it’s a secret!)

We’d written a note to each other to read on the morning of, in the hours before the big event. Hers was the sweetest, most thoughtful and precious thing I’d read. And of course, being me, I bungled mine like a big doofus. Thank God she loves me anyway.

So I’m standing out in the backyard, which has now become a wedding venue. (Well, really the whole house was; and this was no small task, involving several hours of deep cleaning and herding kids from one side to the other so they didn’t ruin the aforementioned cleanliness, and booting the dogs out to boarding camps for several days. This is why people pay for venues. But we truly loved the way we did it, despite the sprinkled bits of chaos.) My dad and I step up to the.. what do you call it? The arch, the flower-adorned wood frame under which we’d perform the ceremony and declare our eternal love and devotion. (No, not me and my dad; me and HER! Jeez people.) The arbor. Thanks Google.

Anyway, we chat idly for a bit while people take their seats. It’s a beautiful day, not too hot, and our best man C. is workin the pre-wedding playlist. (Link to follow!) J and I picked out all the music ourselves, including an instrumental Star Wars themed aisle-walk piece that was, honestly, so special to me because she knew how much I loved Star Wars and wanted me to have this big part of myself in what most of our culture considers a primarily (if not solely) bride-focused event.

But I’ll tell you what. As soon as she stepped out that back door into the aisle, I forgot about the music. I didn’t even hear a sound. I lost track of where my feet were.

She. took. my. breath. away.

I’ll never forget the way she looked. Deep adoring brown eyes. Lustrous brunette locks in gentle waves, crowned by the most delicate white pearl & lace. And the dress! Oh ho. The plunging neckline, the white silk, the gorgeous subtlety of so many tiny lacy leaves. And her lovely ivory heels with matching delicate detail. Perfection, she was. Beauty and love and desire and devotion. I could barely stand! I took her hands as soon as I could and held on for dear life, because this moment– this WAS life. She IS my life.

I barely remember my dad’s officiating, which really is no knock on him; I was just so hyper-focused on my beloved bride, J, standing there, seeing me like nobody ever has, accepting me like nobody ever could, and loving me like nobody ever did. We read our vows with trembling voice and breath, tied our Cord of Three Strands, and exchanged our beautiful hand-picked rings. That moment she said “I do” was the happiest moment of my life. Followed immediately, of course, by “You may now kiss the bride!”

We also had a Star Wars song picked out for exiting (walking down? up?) the aisle together, but again, I barely remember hearing it, because I was so ready to escape for a moment into our bedroom (which had become the bridal suite) for a moment alone to breathe and embrace and cherish that moment with her. Then of course we had to assemble for formal pictures — and we got some super adorable ones, including our whole family together (me and her and our kids), which was no small feat with a toddler in a tux mind you!

Thankfully, after that mad scramble, we came back to ourselves with our first dance. “Love Me Like You Do”, a remix by Sleeping At Last; very sweet and intimate song. And once again I simply shut out the world around us and it became just her and me, in warm adoring embrace. I know this will always be where we return to, in times of trouble or tribulation. This is home for my heart and soul. She is my safe place, my calm and peace.

We spent some time with our guests, as you do, and loved on our kids because we knew we wouldn’t be seeing them for a few days (honeymoon time!). Then we ditched the party to finish our photos at the winery where we were staying. Our villa was literally right next to the vines! We got so many amazing pictures, made memories and did adorable, romantic, silly things together. Then we met some of the fam for dinner, since a lot of them came form out of state and didn’t get much time with us. Yet again, though, we ditched them to be alone — are we sensing a pattern here? Hey, we’re allowed to be a little selfish; it’s our wedding! It was a night to remember.

Our honeymoon took us to the most adorable little cabin in Idyllwild, complete with private hot tub. We toured the town, bought way too many things, cooked and ate delicious food, and spent hours talking in the jacuzzi. We even beat Jenga! Yes, literally, we took the tower as high as it would go having no layers of 3 remaining (all 1’s and 2’s). And of course I made fire. In the fireplace, that is.

Doing all this has taught me something. When God answers your prayers, and blesses you with an incredible, amazing partner, you don’t wait and see what happens. You get grateful, you get busy, and you give her your all. Because she’s giving me her all. She is my wife — my supportive, loving, caring, kind, generous, beautiful, smart, giving, best-friend, equal-partner, team-mate, self-sacrificing, treat-me-like-a-king, WIFE. And there’s no denying that. I love her more every day.

So. What have we been doing since then? Well, you’ll have to stay tuned! But, as they say in Harry Potter, “I solemnly swear we are up to no good!” =P

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New Beginnings Part 2

So where did we leave off? Oh yes, ourstory.

She wore blue jeans, black boots, and a black blouse. We drove in my car to a Thai restaurant in Temecula. We talked for hours, yet the time flew by. It felt as though we’d known each other in some previous life. (Those readers who don’t believe in such things, feel free to replace the metaphysical reference with something more palatable.) Also, this “talking for hours” thing would become a long-standing pattern. We’re both communicators, after all!

We dated fairly consistently for the first couple months. On our second date, another dinner out, she actually brought along the toddler, which was a refreshing experience to me because, while I had met the kids casually, I had yet to experience a full-on outing with any of them. Thankfully this would start happening more in the near future. We’d generally go back to her house and spend hours talking at her kitchen counter over drinks/tea/coffee. I think we stayed til almost 2am one time.

We knew that we had a lot of “catching up” to do, as it were. Because of our age and our life journeys, we didn’t have time to mess around with casual “let’s see if this goes anywhere” style dating. So we talked. A LOT. I felt like I could tell her anything, and she felt likewise.

As I’ve mentioned, whenever I was with her, it felt like home. I played with the kids, hung out with her friends and our mutual friends, and cooked a lot of burgers in her back yard. I found myself missing her during the week and wanting to spend more and more time with her. We had undeniable chemistry, both physical and mental.

It was easy to fall in love. In fact, she even predicted it. We still laugh about that. Not because she was being self-aggrandizing or over-confident. But because it was (and is) true. She was (and is) exactly the woman I need, with the sense of self-worth and self-realization that perfectly balances my own.

I knew that I loved her when she threw me a karaoke party for my birthday with our closest mutual friends. I mean, I had felt the feelings, the spark, before that, but it was truly cemented in my mind with the way she cared so deeply and thoughtfully as to make my birthday something that special and memorable. It was the most fun I’d ever had in one night, that’s for sure.

But true love is loving someone for who they are, not what they do. This was merely an item on the timeline that I could point at and say “yes, there!”. She IS kind and generous and thoughtful and fun to be around. She IS supportive and driven. She IS the light of my life, and an embodiment of good energy, beauty and intelligence.

Three months later, I asked her to move in with me. Now, when we tackle our “helping others by our experience” project, this will be a much larger chapter of lessons-learned. But for now, I’ll just say that I had some work to do and she helped me do it, the right and healthy way, and she stuck with me even when I pushed back unreasonably. Again, focusing on the positive, she made this house our home. She put an incredible effort and energy into redecorating and making sure that I liked everything that she did, and I feel that we truly have a special partnership in the way we create a space together.

Two months after that, we were engaged. We picked out the ring together (yes, I highly recommend this), and I proposed the week that it came in from the jeweler. The next day we shared the wonderful news with our family, friends, and church family. Shortly after that, we started trying to pick a date. And all the other planning that goes along with that.

As anybody who’s self-planned a wedding will tell you, it’s a big project. We’ve drawn-up at least half a dozen outlines of timing, vendors, decor, and guest-lists. But we’ve finally settled on just about everything. (Not a moment too soon, as I write this approximately 2 months out!) Through this journey, we’ve learned a lot about each other. And to paraphrase some superb advice we read in a couple’s devotional book, “Don’t let the wedding planning consume your life.” In other words, don’t let it get in the way of just living and being with each other. This is especially true in cases where the timeline is somewhat compressed, as ours is. And I feel like we’ve done a pretty good job of following that advice.

I’m excited to marry her. It’s the most certain decision I’ve ever made. Backed by the truest love I’ve ever felt. And the most real life, which we’re building, with each other.

selfie in the woods
Also, we go camping together. =D
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New Beginnings

Dear readers. It’s been a minute. I need to start by saying that the content you may have been accustomed to is no longer a part of my story. Because I’ve begun a new story. A new life. An amazing, wonderful, joy filled and fulfilling life. And I’m here to tell that story. To actually tell it RIGHT. And even to correct a few misplaced, misinformed opinions.

As you may have noticed from my header image, I’m happily engaged (well, the picture doesn’t show a ring, but we are), and soon to be married, to an incredibly special, wonderful, brilliant, beautiful, kind, caring and loving woman. A woman of God, of faith, of character, and of family. Family is one of the biggest parts of this story. Because I now have one to call my own — by de-facto adoption, step-parenting, “bonus dad”-ing, whatever you want to call it. I have the amazing challenge and opportunity and gift to help her raise her — now our — children. And I love being a father. I had an incredible example and role-model in my own dad, my own parents. I try to live up to that every day.

But this isn’t about my dad or my childhood memories of camping and playing with tools and riding on the back of the motorcycle. This is about the love of my life, J. (pictured, as noted, above!)

We met through church, in a sense through mutual friends but in another sense, entirely by God’s divine providence. She’ll tell the story much better than I can, but essentially, she was driving with her kids down Scott Road (the ex-burb street our church property sits off of) and felt the true-life pull of the Holy Spirit to come check out the church in the white tent.

Side-note, if you do happen to live in or be familiar with the area, we are not the spiritual-cult next-door with the large white tent and the mini-compound of mysterious buildings; we in fact no longer have a tent, but that’s another story for another time.

Anyway, there she was, checking out our church. (I say ‘our’ in the sense of myself and my parents and siblings, since we’d all grown up in it, even though said siblings had moved away and said parents were nearly ready to retire up north.) So, in an effort to welcome the new family, we, the ministry team (such as it was) took them out to lunch at a local pizza place after the service. Little did I know that a number of months later, we (J. and I) would be dining together at the same pizza joint, in much the same capacity — joining our ministry leaders in welcoming another new young couple to the fold.

Backing up a bit. The first time I actually got up the nerve to speak to her was when I noticed that she came to church unaccompanied, and I went to say hi. But the first time I really got to talk to her was when she got baptized a few weeks later, along with her second son, and we had a get-together BBQ at her house with our church friends. I remember being excited to go there and have a conversation with her and meet her kids. And let me tell you, even though we didn’t know we’d end up together, when I walked into her house, I felt at home.

So for one, we have God to thank, for bringing us together. For another, we have her former roommate, to whom she’d rented out her spare room after getting divorced. This person, as girls talk, had found out that J. was attracted to me, and when I helped this person with a computer issue, she said as much. Which of course gave me the courage-boost to ask her on a date!

And the rest, as they say, is ourstory. (Yes, I did just portmanteaux.) But really, all I mean by that is wait for another post, because this one is getting a bit lengthy. But I will leave you with this.

I am happy. I am blessed. I have found the love of my life. She is the most beautiful woman in the world. She has a deep, deep soul. A unique mind. A heart of grace and kindness. An incredible story of healing and of darkness to light. And she is mine. And I am hers. For the rest of our lives.

love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies, by Aristotle
,

Dream Overanalysis

I recently experienced an interesting phenomenon, and wonder if any of you have as well.

I was having a dream which, like most of my dreams, occurred in my childhood home in Temecula. My buddy, who was ostensibly staying the night because we’re going on a vacation together soon (that part is true), had left his electric toothbrush running, and it was just sitting there buzzing on the staircase. As if he’d vanished into thin air. Sure enough, I call out for him and start looking around the house, and realize EVERYONE has vanished (parents, etc.). There were even the empty piles of clothes laying crumpled on the ground to prove it.

Here’s the fascinating part. My higher level brain actually stepped in and said “Oh look, a ‘nobody exists’ / ‘everybody vanished’ Twilight-Zone-esque dream.. cool, never had one of these before.” Literally. It also fought with the subconscious a bit at some point, where the latter was like “don’t go in there, it could be scary!”, but the higher thought said “full speed ahead, charge!”. Or maybe that was vice-versa. Anyway, it was REALLY interesting to me looking back on it — how those two different planes of consciousness worked and interacted with each other.

Dreams are weird, man. But also really neat. If we ever invent the technology to record and replay our dreams in vivid detail, I… well, we’d drive ourselves insane, realistically. But it could be fun! =P

a blue winter dreamscape with trees and mountains and a planet in the sky
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Welcome (again)

Since WP’s ‘Page’ creator was being a recalcitrant child (to borrow a phrase from my Australian coworker — you’re required to read it in an accent, obviously), I’m writing this post to ‘stick’ to the top. You see, dear reader, I handed out a few impromptu business cards recently, advertising myself as a “small scale IT service”. Which really means I get to play with other people’s computers for money. And not much money, either, let’s be clear about that. Heck, sometimes I do it for free. But we’ll get to that in another post. Also there’s a lot of mansplaining “The Cloud”.

So, to anybody finding this page for the first time. Hi! Welcome to my personal site / blog / thing that I sometimes write stuff on. On which I sometimes write. Thank you grammar 101. You’ll find a lot of posts (that’s what you call a piece of writing in a blog, a “post”) about movies. But hopefully you’ll also find some humor, advice, and even a bit of tech help once in a while.

On to the point. Hopefully, I can help you (or someone you know) navigate this tech-infested world a bit better. This Zoom-tastic, TikTok-loving (God knows why), Twitter-ranting, post-millennial socially-distanced hellscape we call Earth.

Boy I sound a little doomy-gloomy, no? I promise I’m not always that way. In fact, I’m a goddamn ray of f*cking sunshine, most days. I’ve been described as ‘chipper’, by a friend and former colleague. (Not the Aussie one, but she’s never met me in person, so I can’t blame her.)

Anyway, here’s what I’ll leave you with. Contact me on social media or using either my blogs’ Contact pages. The one over here has more complete info. We’ll have a chat about what your technological pain-points are, and figure out if they’re something I can help with. And trust me, if they’re not, if you need a professional, I will be the first to tell you.

I don’t know everything. In fact I know very little about TikTok and Minecraft and how exactly Amazon seems to know what you’re thinking about before you even shop for it. (Actually that last one’s not too hard, but it’s still mind-boggling if you start down the rabbit-hole of human-machine relationship ethics, but I digress. Again.) But I know how to Google the heck out of stuff, because people a lot smarter than me have usually figured out the problem you’re trying to solve. I also love analogies. So if nothing else, I can at least explain to you how your computing device’s memory is like your stovetop and cutting board — the amount of food you can cook/prepare at once — while its storage space/drive/system is like your pantry and cabinets and fridge — the amount of ingredients and food you can store and keep long-term in total. Then you’ll have to stop me from ranting about how “Marketing ruins everything” because they call your phone’s storage its “memory”.

Oh, and use a password manager. For the love of all things holy. It can literally be a paper notebook, if you must, but please. Know your dang passwords. I can’t read your mind and I can’t hack your iPhone. It’s not that difficult to recover forgotten ones, so I can help walk you through that, but srsly. You’re not dumb, you’re not crazy, you just have way too many frickin’ things to remember. Password managers solve this specific problem and they solve it well. Get one.

Fifty percent of the time, it works all of the time.
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Facebook Chain-Posts

Seriously ‘Boomers. Just stop. Did you fall for those old chain-letters back in the day that came through the actual mail? No? Didn’t think so. So why do you continue to fall for the digital version?

brace yourselves copy-paste memes are coming
One does not simply WALK into a copy-paste meme.

Sure, I could provide you with links upon links upon links of why these don’t work and why they’re stupid. Even our old favorite myth-debunking site, Snopes, which has been around forever and was literally founded people of your generation, tells you it’s bogus.

But you’re not going to read those are you? You’re probably not even going to finish reading this article. So if you take nothing else away from this, just hear me once, right now, yelling this into my keyboard.

STOP POSTING COPY-PASTE SPAM, CHAIN-POSTS, AND FAKE NEWS. JUST STOP.

every time you copy paste a fb chain message god kills a kitten
and Satan tortures a puppy. But that’s just a normal Tuesday.

Now, for those of you who care to read further. There IS a reason this stuff “seems” to work. Because it’s true, if you and your friends do copy-paste that god-awful chain-post and keep it going, you will find yourself seeing posts in your feed from friends that you don’t normally see/hear much from. So perhaps you’re asking at this point, “Well Nate, if this works, why is it so bad and why are you saying it doesn’t work?”

Facebook is a social network. That means its primary goal in life is to make you interact with what they consider to be your social circle — your “Facebook friends”. Your main interactions with Facebook are via your “News Feed” (or just “Feed”). In your Feed, on any given day/hour/minute, there is literally too much content (too many posts & updates) to see “all at once”. So Facebook tries to do you the favor of “prioritizing” them. They tend to bump the more popular and more potentially “meaningful” things to the top. Like any other social network, it’s basically a popularity contest.

With me so far? Now, let’s think about what happens when you do that whole “copy paste this to your status and all your long-lost friends will come back!” nonsense. It’s roughly the same post-content each time. Which, to the robots at Facebook, means it’s the same “topic” or “story”. You’re actually encouraged to add your own words into the mix, too, which has another purpose that I’ll get to in a minute. But again, essentially, it’s the same “topic of conversation”. It’s now “trending content“.

So now that you and your friends are ON the same “topic”, you’re “talking about the same thing”, Facebook’s robots say “Oh look! They must want to interact with each other some more! I’ll bump up their posts in their friends’ feeds so they’ll show up near the top!” (Yes, robots use lots of exclamation points!)

Make sense?

batman slaps robin for asking him to copy-paste a facebook post
Even old-timey Batman knows.

Here’s why the spam-posts encourage you to change/add words. Because if they were all literally the exact same thing, Facebook’s robots would do something a bit different. They would consider it ACTUAL SPAM. And de-prioritize it (make it drop to the bottom of the feed). Similar reasons to why you’re instructed NOT to “share” or “re-post”, but rather, to copy-paste. If you merely shared/re-posted, you’d just be “adding to the noise”, and it wouldn’t be considered a “meaningful interaction” that Facebook wants you to have with your long-lost friends.

So what have we learned today? Facebook is a complicated beast, and technology in general gets more complex all the time. However, it’s not that complicated to spot a hoax, scam, spam, chain-letter, or any other form of ridiculous miscommunication that passes for content these days. Seriously. It’s NOT THAT HARD. Use your brain for a second, do just a teeny little Google search, and you’ll be just fine.

i don't always copy and paste, but when i do, i don't research it
Seriously, is Googling something really that hard?

But I know, I know you think I’m being dramatic. Too salty. Too angry. Right? What’s all the fuss about anyway, it’s harmless! And so what if it doesn’t work they way it says it does — it still made some of my friends show up that I hadn’t heard from in forever! Right?

Why the big querulous rant? WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?!?

Because it makes you look dumb, frankly. And it makes me look foolish too.

It makes you look dumb, because you’re admitting that you are technologically illiterate, that you’re prone to falling for misinformation, and that you’re likely a good target for more insidious forms of attack like social engineering, phishing, ransomware, and other scams (yes, like, actually involving real money!). You’re effectively drawing a big red target on your back that says “Look at me, I’m gullible and technologically fallible! You can probably bilk me out of some money if you know how to push my buttons just right!”

parody of facebook status update about dragging the earth into the sun
Because it makes about as much sense as THIS, that’s why. Also, I’ve got some ocean-front property in Arizona you might be interested in…

Furthermore, it makes me look foolish, because it means I, as a member of the technologically mature & innovative generation — the “Millenials”, even though frankly I identify more with Gen-X most of the time — haven’t done a good enough job at educating you on how all this tech around you actually works. It underscores the fact that we, collectively, as the people who build and maintain this tech, are increasingly and alarmingly leaving older folks behind, completely oblivious to their needs and limitations. I could go on about this, but I’ll have to save it for part 2.

So please. For the love of all things holy. Next time you see one of those silly copy-paste spam posts come across your feed, don’t do it. Ignore that urge. Instead, use those 3 little dots near the top-right of the post, and tap “Hide post”. This will help Facebook learn that you don’t like those stupid spam posts, and hopefully, if enough of you do this regularly, the fad will die off. And you’ll be a better ‘netizen’ for it. (That’s “Internet Citizen”, just in case you forgot.)

Otherwise, I’ll be re-posting this again next year. And the year after that. Until you get it through your thick skulls. Or die of old age. There’s always that to look forward to.

sam jackson from pulp fiction dares you to copy-paste
Do you know what they call a quarter-pounder with cheese in Facebook Jail?

Oh, but stay safe and healthy! =P

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COVID-19 Update

Because click-bait, why not. But seriously, who else is tired of these? Yeah, we get it, your PR team wanted to make sure your company looked good and seemed like they were making some effort to do “the right thing” in this pandemic crisis, whatever that is. You can stop frickin’ pretending now. We still see your commercials. We still see you selling your products to people who really don’t need them but are convinced they do by your partners-in-crime, the Marketing department.

Oh, and let’s be clear, I’m not talking about my company. My company’s business is doing fine, but that’s because we serve a fairly unique segment of the population and we’ve established ourselves as THE leader in our market niche. And we have a CEO who knows his shit and doesn’t pander to ignorance or FUD.

Let me put one particular company on blast. (Right, because I have SO MANY READERS, AMIRITE??) Partly because this turned into a rant-y text to one of my friends who works there.

boycott disney logo

Disney. Disney as the ultra huge mega-corporation that owns like 90% of the modern American entertainment industry.

Disney had, and still has, the resources to:

A) Make a massive difference in the fight against the pandemic. Mask & PPE production & delivery via repurposed factories and logistics resources. Scientific research funding and vaccine development funding. Etc.

B) Keep all workers employed WITHOUT re-opening the parks (said re-openings having led to new outbreaks and hot-zones). Rides and facilities still need maintenance even without customers. “Cast members” (gag me with a spoon) could have been outfitted to give virtual tours and rides to people who could watch and even participate from their phones or connected devices. Not hard to come up with this stuff, seriously.

And obviously any & all workers capable of performing their duties from home, should have been given the means to do so. For a company of that size, with such resources and innovation at its disposal, surely SOME kind of role-restructuring and digital transformation efforts could have turned the tide for even MORE workers anxious to remain employed yet unsure of their legacy job’s effectiveness-if-turned-remote.

But no. Disney has done nothing of the sort. They furloughed my friend, and hundreds of others like them. And that’s just a corporate office desk-job position. Imagine the ones in the trenches — the food service and sanitation folks, for example — lord knows if they even got their vacation hours paid-out before they were (likely permanently) shown the door.

The FACT that Disney has done nothing helpful — actually they’ve been harmful, as I said, by prematurely re-opening parks — is a reflection of modern corporate greed in our society, of which Disney is one of the biggest culprits and practitioners. Amazon, Facebook, and several others are right up there with ’em, so don’t get it twisted. But Disney is inarguably one of the worst offenders.

And why? Why do they continue to operate this way? More importantly, why do they get away with it? Because they OWN your kids now. Everything your child loves to watch and play is, as I said, about 90% likely to be some product or offshoot or relation to Disney. Not only that, but their pockets are deep, and deep pockets pay the political bills. Think about it. Nobody in their right mind on Capitol Hill is going to want to regulate (or to the extreme, break-up and force restructure of) a gargantuan titan like Disney. They’re “Too big to fail!”, as we heard in the financial crisis of the late 2000’s.

Two quotes/sayings I want you to remember right now.

The fish rots from the head down.

and…

The love of money is the root of all evil.

Let me close on a positive note. The company I was going to order some audio equipment for the podcast from, Behringer, stopped making their products around March. Went completely offline. They’re not a huge corporation, and I’m sure they had to make some tough decisions about their workforce. But at least they tried to do what was right. Now I hear they’ve spun back up, at least in part, and the thing I wanted should become available soon. But that’s neither here nor there. Unless you’re a fan of the podcast, then it’s kinda exciting.

Be good to each other. See ya next time.

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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.

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!

Featured

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.