Featured

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, which is normally a wonderful thing, but can be a downfall in particular situations.

Some of you may remember back when Dr. Drew (Pinsky) had a radio show, and his advice on relationships was always “More mystery, less history.” Well, let me tell you, he was and is correct. And boy should I have remembered that sh*t. But we both had such an enormous amount of history, that it came to almost define our lives (for a time). I mean, we were mid-late 30s at the time. You don’t get to that stage in life without some scars to show for it.

In what will hopefully become a regular part of our lives, to write and share our own experiences with other people in similar situations, I give you:

Lesson 1: STOP over-sharing.

To clarify, this is not a criticism of her, at all. This one is on me. Yes, we both had life experiences that made us who we are (or were, at the time, anyway), but there is an art and consideration to the way you pull back the layers on that onion of the past which, if done right, and to complete the metaphor, doesn’t make the other party cry. Be considerate of their feelings, put yourself in their shoes and ask, “If I were her, would I want to hear this about past-thing-X?” And be honest with yourself — otherwise there’s no way you can be honest with them.

Anyway. Back to happy story time.

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. And for the most part, this was a good thing. (PS: when it wasn’t, it was almost always me over-sharing and focusing on the past instead of the present. Like I said, lessons learned!)

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 a 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
Featured

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
,

In closing. There is an end to grief. There is a healthy, appropriate, and timely way to move forward and move on. You can, in fact, open your heart again. You can love. You can laugh. And you can be happy.

Life is for the living.

Anonymous

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
Featured

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.
Featured

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

Featured

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.

Featured

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.
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.