Xbox One S internal storage upgrade

xbox 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!

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. =)

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.

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.

Movie-time: Starship Troopers

cropped movie cover of starship troopers

I’m doing my part!

Federal Propaganda

I’m back baby! And I finally understand those memes. Yes indeed, I’m talking about the one, the only, 1997 socio-political commentary disguised as big-budget sci-fi xeno-war Starship Troopers! And it did not disappoint.

i'm doing my part!
Yes you are, you little super-vaguely-ethic and kinda-androgynous thing you!

Do you want to know more?

Let me just start by saying the interjected propaganda bits are pure gold. It’s part of what elevates the film from your standard, near-B-grade sci-fi, to a legitimate topical satire. It doesn’t hurt that Barney Stinson is one of the scientists bandying about bug brutalization and badassery.

Look closely at how frenzied the mother is as she watchers her kids stomping on cockroaches. Or how the mobile infantry recruitment tactics bear a striking resemblance to decades-past American armed forces ads. This isn’t a movie about noble humans fighting evil bugs. This is a movie about runaway big-militarized-government and ruthless imperialism, with a dash of blind nationalism for good measure.

And it’s surprisingly relevant, even today.

rico with orange bug guts on him
I killed it. ‘Merica.

Welcome to the Roughnecks!

If you start paying too much attention to the visual FX, you’ll probably say it looks a bit dated. Now, this was 1997, 1 year later than Independence Day, for example, so you may be onto something. But remember, too, that this was only the late 90s. So I would say, actually, go back and watch other sci-fi from around the same time, and you’ll find that it actually fits right in.

The war-time scenes, both in training camp and actual combat, are average at best. There is a decent amount of guts and gore, mixed with some tongue-in-cheek humor and interpersonal drama, and sprinkled with the standard lead-character heroics. However, you get frustrated with lack of tactical sense and storm-trooper-level firearm competency (that is to say, very little, for those of you who’ve never seen Star Wars). But again, this actually screams ‘parody’ to me, as though they did it this way on purpose to show how laughable most sci-fi action really is.

The characters are, generally, a bit one-dimensional. But some of the actors play it so well that you’ll forgive them for it. Like the drill sergeant and the stump-arm commander. Make no mistake, a lot of the acting IS quite bad. But is it bad.. on purpose? Think about it.

The enemy cannot push a button, if you disable his hand!

And can we just take a moment to acknowledge how incredibly forward-thinking this society was in one very small yet very significant way? Gender equality! The football team, the infantry, the co-ed showers. I mean, there was literally NO friction caused by the fact that men and women were completely equal in these environments. Hats off to that, my friends, hats off to that.

the cast agreed to do the shower scene only if the directory would film it naked too
[citation needed]

MEDIC!

Here’s the main problem I had with the character arcs and story. Right from the jump, Dizzy is framed as a strong, kickass woman who knows what she wants, and doesn’t put up with your crap. She proves it in bootcamp, and again in the field. And yet, spoiler-alert, her death scene is just so terribly weak. I mean sure, she also played up the silly schoolgirl crush on Rico, but she definitely wasn’t the lovelorn doe-eyed damsel. Maybe I’m reading the character wrong. But COME ON. “It’s OK, because I got to have you”?? PLEASE. And your competition is literally in the front seat, maybe even within ear-shot.

If I were to see this movie remade, and I had any input, this scene would be my rewrite. Oh don’t get me wrong, she’d still die horribly. But ol’ Carmen would be close enough to hear Diz’s very last words, which would be something to the effect of, “But hey, Rico, I rocked your goddamn world!”, sending that metaphoric knife-to-the-heart for Ibanez. And she would NOT beg that candy-ass of a man to “hold me” or anything as she drew her last breath.

diz gets spiked by a bug
I was also disappointed by the lack of Wilhelm Screams.

Come on you apes! You wanna live forever?

Two thumbs up, but beware the dated CGI and bad acting.

PS: OMG is that freakin Father Gabriel from The Walking Dead!?! IT IS!! Hah. Oh I can not see him as a soldier. But he tried, God bless him, he tried. =)

A Random Assortment of Dreams

Driving. Driving at night. I’m in a crazy souped-up sports car. I literally recognize that I’m in a dream; I even remember that I’m sleeping in a motel (on the way up to visit Oregon, but that’s not part of the in-dream realization!). So I floor the gas and do all kinds of crazy Fast & Furious -esque tricks, even jumping over and through traffic. Nearly flying, I would say. I’m racing against… No one. Myself. Time.

Porsche 919 Hybrid (18), Porsche Team: Romain Dumas, Neel Jani, Marc Lieb
How cool would that be?

Cut scene.

I’m on a reddish desert landscape near an industrial complex of some sort. I’m talking to myself, in the dream. Acknowledging that it’s a dream. So meta. But the other self is a sort of fictionalized, almost Iron-Man-like figure. As if I’d created a robotic clone of myself. I almost said my own name. But it came out Ned. Or at least, it would have, if it had been audible.

mars outpost concept art
Like on Mars. Basically.

Cut scene.

I’m looking at a mirror. It shows my own face, yet quickly warps and distorts in shape and form. I know this is not real. I tell it to “shut up” and turn around, attempting to shatter the mirror in the process. I break through a glass wall, but find myself stuck in a cluster, or maze, of never-ending mirrors. They keep re-materializing, despite me repeatedly breaking them. Like a carnival-funhouse-turned-horrifying-nightmare.

hall of mirrors maze
Because THAT’S not at all creeptastic.

I soon find myself trapped between mirrors and unable to move, as my malformed reflection continues to warp and grotesque-ify. I never looked into the eyes until the last second. They became pitch dark and deep, like black holes. I struggled to breath and wake myself.

A false-start or two, but I finally awoke, gasped in a chest-full of real air, and took a drink of water. And then I wrote my dream notes. So that you could enjoy this post! ❤

Dreamwalker 1

It begins, as most dreams do, in the middle of it. Meaning, you’re not really sure how you got there. It just.. IS.

gothic house interior living room
Looks… cozy?

The place starts to feel familiar as the walls and rooms start to solidify. You’re in a hotel; no, a bed-and-breakfast. A mansion that’s run like a bed-and-breakfast. The feeling of familiarity is fleeting and vague, yet you know it’s there. Like a word on the tip of your tongue that just won’t quite come out. 

You’re a ghost-like presence, a translucent being wandering the vaguely defined rooms and halls. This room has a secret passageway, which leads to… the pool! Oh what a glorious pool, with ornate marble statues and granite trim. Yet it is not for you. No, you slide back through the room and wonder how to keep yourself busy. You read notes in the guestbook, written to the innkeeper, with words of praise or suggestions. None of it is memorable. You find some dishes out of place and bring them to the kitchen to wash. Apparently you can hold objects, despite your less-than-corporeal state of being. 

But perhaps you aren’t so ghostly. You feel that you’re meant to tell somebody something. To pass on a message. Your gut tells you that you will be able to touch and be seen and heard by those you’re meant to see. A voice – is it your own internal monologue, or something else – waxes philosophic: “We are sometimes asked to put into words what no human should have to; and so, in the end, we decide it’s best not to.” Still, you must get a message to someone. 

You begin to talk with a man sitting by the pool – he must be the one you’re meant to speak with! He sees you and hears you. Your touch is cold but your voice is warm. The man is having lunch with his family near the pool. He attempts to introduce you to others, but not all of them can see. Not all are meant to see. One woman does feel your presence and hear your voice, albeit quite softly, if you rest your hand on her shoulder. But you are not here to tell her anything of importance. It was merely nice to be heard by more than one person.

Before you have a chance to convey your message to the first gentleman – nay, before you even understand what said message is supposed to be – you become aware of another dreamwalker. His presence feels unnatural. He resembles Joshua Jackson, the actor, for some strange reason. Your instincts tell you that his name is Danny. 

Suddenly.. “Danny’s bad. Danny’s BAD!” A young boy’s voice cries out. 

man running down a dark alley

Danny’s eyes darken to pure cold black spheres, and he lays chase to the boy. You now feel it is your duty to save the boy from whatever fate this Danny has in store for him. He only has one arm, you realize, in an abrupt and macabre revelation. 

You toss and turn through material and immaterial barriers as you try to catch up. You phase-shift through doors but have trouble keeping pace.

Alas, you awake too soon. You hope and pray that the young boy is safe, and Danny is merely a figment of someone’s imagination.

Please note: I have no qualms with anyone named Danny. Dream-interpreters would likely have you believe that there’s some trauma in my past related to a person with this name, but I can assure you there’s not. It is funny that, in most of my dreams, names are rarely, if ever, a thing that gets remembered. But I don’t usually write down notes immediately after waking up, either — in this case I did, by which I constructed this story. So take it how you will. Even if your name is Danny — I still like you, and I don’t think you’re a child-mutilating psychopath. =P

N.

Movie Monday: Men In Black 4

Sure, it’s called ‘International’, whatever. It’s still the 4th one.

frank the pug from men in black
No dogs were harmed in the making of this review. Except this one. But he did it to himself. He smoked too much, drank too much, stayed out too late, partied too hard.. you know how these Hollywood types are. I can’t be held responsible. No blood on my hands. Still, I’ll miss the little mutt.

Make no mistake, I’m a fan of the series. The original was, like many Will Smith blockbusters of the late 90s, a force to be reckoned with. The elegance was in the simplicity — Smith at his standard boyishly charming cocky rookie game, Jones as the weathered old wise master, taking on a big bad with the unexpected help of an innocent-victim-turned-almost-femme-fatale. Overseen by Rip Torn at his finest. And Vincent D’whateveryoucallit amped up the ick to 11.

Men in Black Mr Jones and Mr Smith
The original. Accept no substitute.

5 years later, we get a surprisingly decent sequel. Nearly a full cadre of the original actors, and some fresh blood like Rosario Dawson added a healthy ‘oomph’ to the second step in the series. Plus it’s always fun to see Puddy do something ridiculous. Now don’t get me wrong, it was far from perfect, but overall there’s more to like than dislike.

men in black 2 agent J and K in mailman uniform
Spoiler-alert: amnesia (duh)

Another decade, another sequel. The third installment was.. passable. Again, lots of positives. Josh Brolin, Emma Thompson; the touching story of how K first discovered J as a child [spoiler alert!]. A bit more negatives, though — the villain, for one thing. I just couldn’t get past his.. everything. I mean, ‘ick’ is one thing; ‘just plain gross for gross’ sake’ is another. But the “I can see all future possibilities at once and it’s made my brain a little frappuccino-y” dude was really cute, and as I said, the timeline intersection subplot was worthwhile. So would I watch it again? For sure. Would I watch it more than a couple times? Ehhh… maybe, but I wouldn’t be ecstatic about it.

men in black 3 young J with dad's pocket watch
Probably the best scene of the whole film.

Now, we come to 2019. First of all, good luck getting ANY of those people to come back for round 4. I mean, at least one of them is dead. RIP, Rip. (And yes, that was literally on Twitter.) Fair enough; I didn’t really expect to see them anyway. No, this is a departure from the trilogy. This is… well, it’s like a remodeled apartment. The same foundations, the same basic framework, but with a lot of upgrades and a fresh coat of shiny new paint.

For starters, our new headliners — Hemsworth and Thompson (Tessa, not Emma; no relation) — are pretty. But the great thing is, she (particularly) doesn’t need to flaunt it. As the thematic undercurrent alludes to, this is no longer a ‘boys club’. This is the “Men and Women in Black”. A bit unfortunately, she still goes a little schoolgirl ga-ga over him — at first. She doesn’t let it stop her from being a badass, so it all evens out. Props.

men in black 3 chris hemsworth tessa thompson
the beautiful people, the beautiful people…

Now, the villains are immensely superior to anything we’ve yet seen, which is both refreshing and expected. On one hand, we know it’s going to take a lot more to stop them from bringing about our doom; but we kinda had to know that going in, otherwise what’s the point of another sequel? The side-story and featured NPC aliens (that’s RPG-talk for “neutral party characters” i.e. ones that aren’t the main bad-guys but aren’t necessarily at the beckon-call of our heroes either), are pretty decent.

Finally, we have this whole ‘internal intrigue’ / ‘mole in our midst’ plot. To me, it almost seemed like they wanted to make H out to be the mole, but then they wanted us to think it was C, then finally ol’ crusty boss-man. Now, this may seem like responsible mystery storytelling, right? And yes, I get it; you DO want the audience misdirected before you get to the big reveal. Obviously. But that traitor-y vibe, for me, lingered a bit too long on H’s character. I’m not sure if that’s the filmmaker’s fault or mine. Regardless, the storyline definitely does its job in taking us on the journey to a happy ending. It just felt a little too forced.

The thing I’m missing, I think, is the heart — that spirit of wonder and mystery that propelled the first film forward in a way that only truly good sci-fi does. This was more flash than function; more spark than fire. BUT! Still enjoyable. Good times.

And damn if that scene where he picks up the hammer ain’t a perfectly executed self-trolling-cameo.. I mean COME ON! You can’t not love it for at least a few seconds.

Spoiler alert: it’s not quite over…

One thumb up. Have fun out there friends! ❤

Disclaimer: None of these images are mine and I never claimed any rights over/about/related to them whatsoever. 😉

Under Fire, Once Again

Have I written on this subject yet? I feel like I have, but it may have been via Facebook or something. Apologies in advance for the language. You’re an adult, you can deal with it. =)

So here we are, in the aftermath of yet another series of deadly, tragic, terrorist shootings. Oh, they were white you say? THEY’RE TERRORISTS. Full stop.

There is no excuse, no rationalization, no equivocating. Just like the radical Islamic terrorists that suicide-bomb the gathering places of those they hate, so too did these white racist extremists assault and slaughter those who they hate, just as vehemently and just as irrationally.

Oh, the 2nd Amendment you say? Well guess what, you ignorant asshole. Assault, automatic, and semiautomatic weapons WEREN’T FREAKING INVENTED when they wrote that. So shove it up your NRA-loving ass. To be clear, I fully support your right to own a handgun and a hunting rifle, after passing a thorough background check, psych eval, and safety training. Heck, I want good people to be able to protect themselves. Concealed carry? Sure! If you’ve proven you’re mentally capable and fully invested in the greater good of society, awesome.

But you look me straight in the eye-holes and tell me that we should sell AK-47s and their ilk on the shelves of Walmart in Texas, or at Bass Pro Shops, with a straight face. Go ahead. Be sure to explain why, too; I’d love to hear it.

Oh, the shooters obtained them illegally you say? NOT THE POINT. Not even CLOSE to the point. Obviously, that whole issue is complex, and we’re not going to solve it by arguing about it on the Internet. But you know how else we won’t solve it? You know how else we’ll make literally zero, even negative, progress toward the goal of reducing this kind of violence and carnage? By doing NOTHING. Absolutely nothing. Just as we’ve continued to do for decades. Because our government is too damn lazy, and too damn full of themselves, and too deep in the pockets of super-PAC lobbyists, to be bothered to get off their old fat asses and do something real about it.

Oh, mental illness you say? Nope. Sure, you’ve gotta be pretty fucked up in the head to do this kind of thing. But there are plenty of mental patients who wouldn’t dream of it. No, this kind of behavior comes from one thing and one thing only: HATE. Pure, unadulterated, fear-based media fueled, fiery political and social rhetoric induced, intolerant, ignorant, bigoted, uneducated, unchecked and unbridled hate.

fear is the path to the dark side. fear leads to anger. anger leads to hate. hate leads to suffering.
No comment necessary.

Now I’m not a psychologist. K had that degree. I’m just a tech geek. But even I can understand that this is a complex and multi-faceted problem that requires critical thinking and hard choices. Mental illness, as a societal ill, is certainly a large problem that we need to wrap our heads around. But again, it’s not the point, and it’s not what we’re talking about right now. We’re talking about reinforced mentalities and behaviors of intolerance, bigotry, and hatred of fellow humans. And I’m too damn tired of this crap being swept under the rug as if it’s “not news” or “not something we can do anything about.”

You know what the families of these victims are really tired of? INACTION. They’re sick to death (literally) of their government representatives’ plain and simple lack of motivation to DO something about this shit. They don’t want your “thoughts and prayers”. They don’t need your tweets and your Facebook sympathies and your hashtags. They need vindication. They need to know that their loved ones’ deaths will not become yet another sad statistic in an ever-growing black stain on the American dream.

But they will. They already are. Do you know how long it takes for us as a society to “move on” from this kind of shocking tragedy? A day or two. Sometimes less. Isn’t that horrifying? We will have already forgotten about it by the time the next viral trend hits our feeds.

UPDATE: it’s already happening. Everybody’s moved on to this ridiculous “30-50 feral hogs” meme. Shameful. Disgustingly shameful.

Society is broken. Morals are broken. Justice is broken. Do we sit idly by and let it disintegrate further? Or do we stand up and cry out, “Enough!” and take action?

Write, call, and email your representatives. Tell them enough is enough. Action is the only acceptable answer.

And may the victims rest in peace. May their families and friends and loved ones find comfort in each other’s arms, and in their faith, of whatever sect or religion or creed they hold, in this time of unconscionable tragedy. And if you do know any of them personally, reach out and offer your love and support, in a concrete, compassionate, caring manner.

compassion is the wish to see others free from suffering -Dalai Lama
Foreign concept to most people, sadly. Especially politicians.

Rant: Google Photos

I don’t mean to go on a rant here.. Oh wait, yes I do. I’m about to moan & groan, whine & complain, and raise my angry fist and pitchfork at Google for their horrendously bad implementation of what should be — and IS, in another (or more unified) tech-ecosystem — a simple workflow (ordered set of related tasks).

The Workflow

Here’s what I want to do.

  1. Take pictures with my iPhone.
  2. Upload/copy them into {cloud account of choice}.
  3. Create a new {cloud account} photo album from my recently uploaded photos.
  4. Share that {cloud} photo album with family/friends/etc.

Sounds stupidly simple, no? WELL! This is a story all about how my life got flip-turned upside-down Google screwed this up, and how Microsoft actually did it much better.

Well OF COURSE you had trouble, you luddite! Everyone knows that you just need to stay within the Apple ecosystem and everything will be happiness sunshine kittens and rainbows!

Sheeple

Yeah.. no. That’s not the point. Apple exposes the same APIs to both of these other vendors, and as limited as they may be, Microsoft still did better in its cross-platform-usability-ness. Plus, this is 2019. No single vendor gets to mandate that tired old ‘walled garden’ approach anymore and hope to survive. So don’t gimme that nonsense.

First, the “good” implementation.

Now, when I go into the iOS Photos app, I can select many photos at once and hit a ‘Share’ button at the bottom-left of the screen. The list of apps to ‘Share’ with, or more accurately through, is dynamic based on how many photos you’ve selected. Microsoft OneDrive’s limit is 30. Wow, that’s cool! Some apps, like Mail and Notes, seem to have no limit (or at least a very high one). Sadly, Google Drive’s limit is 10.

But this is where I’d normally start Task 2. In iOS Photos, select pics, hit ‘Share’, and upload to {cloud service of your choice}. So as I said, with OneDrive, I pick 30 at a time and upload away. Great! And they get there FAST, too.

Now I go open up the OneDrive app. My photos are present, exactly where I put them. At the bottom right of the app, there’s the ‘Photos’ section (tab, screen, whatever you wanna call it). I go there, I select the photos, I hit the three-vertical-dots (‘Options’ is probably what they’d call it) at the top-right, I say “Create Photo Album” and give it a name. BOOM! I hit the Albums button, I select my new album, & I hit the ‘Share’ button (top-right again, just not quite as far to the right as the 3-dots). BAM! I can send it via text message, email, share it to Facebook, whatever. Life is good!

Now the terrible one.

Right, so as I said, the limit on how may pics from iOS Photos can be Shared to Google Drive is 10. Oh and guess what else? Google Photos isn’t even an option here. They literally didn’t integrate it. LAME.

But fine, I can do 10 at a time; I only have about 40 for the current project. So I select, hit Share, hit Google Drive, pick my folder to deposit them in, and go. And… sad trombone. Some of them failed! “Please try again.”

Not trusting that uploading the same pics again won’t result in duplicates, I pull out the trusty laptop, fire up the web browser, and head to Google Drive to check what succeeded and what didn’t. And I re-do just the ones that were missed. And then I wait. Because for whatever unholy reason, Google’s tubes are slower than Microsoft’s; the OneDrive wait was about 2 seconds; the Google wait is about 10, for all of the pics to show up online.

Cool, now for the album. So I have a folder in Drive with all these pics that I want to put into an album, but, uh… where’s the option to do that? Yeah, IT’S NOT THERE. Sad trombone #2. Oh go ahead, you can try to find it yourself. I’ll wait. While you’re there, check out this absolute garbage help-article that includes a pointer to the now-obsolete option that this article tells us is going away.

(Said pointer being, from drive.google.com, go to the gear (upper right), hit Settings, and enable “Create a Google Photos folder”. Don’t do it now; it’s obsolete, like I said!)

Confused yet? Great, we’re on the same page! To the Interwebs for answers! Oh god. OH GOD. They’re even more confused than we are! Somebody call Google. Wait… you can’t. You literally can’t.

Let’s back up and take a deep breath. There’s gotta be a better way, right? So instead, I go now to photos.google.com, hit the ‘hamburger menu’ (top left; yep, gotta love that lack of consistency!), hit Settings (the gear). AHA! There it is, the option to “Sync photos & videos from Google Drive”. Do we have liftoff? Eehh…

Okay yes, the photos are starting to show up at the top of my main screen (photos.google.com) — again, now I’m in laptop-land, not fiddling with the phone at this point. So I select the pics, starting with the little semi-transparent checkbox in the upper left of the first photo — then and ONLY THEN am I allowed to use my Shift key to select many at once. Then I hit the ‘Plus’ button in the upper right and say “Add to Album”. Give it a name, presto.

Ooh, I can actually “Add to new Shared Album” and immediately be prompted for who to share it with… but OH WAIT, this is on the laptop, I can’t send it in a text message. (At least, not without getting the link first and then somehow sending it to my phone, which is another process that’s way more complicated than it should be at this point in our tech revolution, but I digress.)

Let’s check things out from the iPhone again. So I open up the Google Photos app, and… WTF? Why do I see duplicates? Aaaahh.. Some have the ‘crossed-out cloud’ symbol, aka the ‘not in cloud’ or ‘offline’ symbol. Those are the ones on my device (my iPhone) ONLY, whereas the others (with no symbol on them) are in Google Photos cloud already.

Riiiiight.. cuz THAT’S not confusing for someone who wouldn’t know any better. So now if I wanted to create my new album to share, straight from here (the app), I’d have to be very careful about selecting the correct pics — the ones without the ‘offline’ symbol.

Fortunately, I’d already created the album using my web-browser on the laptop, so all I had to do was go to Albums, select it, hit the 3-dots menu in the upper right (horizontal, not vertical like Microsoft.. surprise!), hit Share, and do the usual (text message, email, Facebook, copy link, etc).

Don’t be confused by the list of Contacts that show up here either — those are your Google account contacts, not your phone’s. (Well, at least, not your iPhone’s, aka your iCloud contacts — people with real phone numbers that you can text. Your Google contacts are, most likely, just emails, unless you’re a super-nerd and keep everything in-sync between the two, which is just plain bananas!) (Apologies for the ear-worm.)

Hmm, now wait a minute, I have these photos both in Google Drive and in Google Photos. I’m pretty sure, if I read the help articles right (which is a big ‘IF’ because they’re, again, surprisingly baffling), they ALL (both) count against my storage quota. (Well, if I don’t go off and enable the ‘high quality’ storage option where Google claims to offer free unlimited photo storage if you let their robots compress your pics a little bit.) But anyway, storage. O noes! I better go to delete them from Drive. So I do that, just before half-heartedly checking Google Photos again to make sure they didn’t disappear as a result. Thankfully they did not. Phew.

Wow, is it beer time yet?

Seriously, does it need to be this complicated? Google, you got some smart-ass people working for you. I mean, some of the best and brightest. Can you maybe make some of this experience less terrible? Plz? K thx.

Haters Gonna Hate

Because I couldn’t resist just one more ear-worm. And because someone will inevitably say “Well you know Nate, you could have just done it all with iOS Photos and iCloud Photo Sharing and iCloud Shared Albums” and lah-tee-dah and tea & crumpets and matching space-grey turtlenecks and BLECCHHH. Not the point.

OK I’m done. Have a pleasant week everyone! ❤