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.

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.

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! ❤

Just a Quick Note

Hi all, hope you enjoyed the guest post last week. I just returned from a week’s vacation, so at the moment I have no new posts to push out. I hope to resume my normal schedule by Friday. Twice per week is actually quite a difficult pace to maintain, so I think I’ll drop to just weekly, either Mondays or Fridays depending… (on what, no clue!)

Thanks again for hangin in there with me and for reading. It means a lot. Leave a comment if you have any ideas on what I should write about, or any questions or rants you’d like me to read. Love & light ❤

if my husky doesn't like you, i probably won't either
Someone should buy me this shirt.

A Letter to My Favorite Band

And now for something completely different.

This is something of a love-letter, to the band that defined my teenage years and still, even into adulthood, continues to be on regular rotation in my playlist. A band that almost none of you have likely heard of, let alone have heard their music. They never received much radio play. Nor did they garner much media attention. Until they reunited and launched a Kickstarter campaign to tour and ultimately self-produce a brand new album, which at the time and in their particular market was nearly unheard-of.

Growing up, my exposure to music was, let’s say, sheltered.  Quite.  My parents pretty much listened to Country and Churchy music with little exception.  You’d think, having grown up in the 60s – 70s, they’d have at least a bit of disco or classic rock in their repertoire, but nope.  Randy Travis, Clint Black, Alan Jackson, Reba McIntire, Shania Twain, etc.  Now, as most children of the 90s did, us kids had a boom box — a combination CD player, tape player, and AM/FM radio.  And what did we do with this?  Mix tapes, obviously!  But it was never much of a “mix”.  I’d try to ask for the “jazziest” songs from the various western albums.  My dad even branched out to Steven Curtis Chapman and some no-name Christian soft-rap-rock-worship hybrid mess.

Then some of the other kids in the youth group introduced us to DC Talk, the Newsboys, Audio Adrenaline, Skillet, and other acts of the late 90s contemporary Christian alt-rock spinoff movement.  This was where Switchfoot and P.O.D. got their start, you know; before they sold out to corporate or got caught with their pants around their ankles.  These were okay, but ultimately forgettable, like so many waves on the sand.

My friend Michael, from across the street, had an older brother, Brian.  One day when I was over, waiting for Michael to do something, Brian let me come check out his CD collection and his computer games.  I asked if he had any music recommendations, and he pulled out a few albums by this band I’d obviously never heard of called Five Iron Frenzy.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

I was in eighth grade; appropriate, since the first line of a verse in one of these songs was exactly that.  Brian loaned me their first three CDs.  I knew the parents would approve because they were a Christian band, but I’d never heard of this “ska” genre before.  Five Iron Frenzy’s album art was wonderfully done: deceptively simple hand drawings that held such deeper weight behind them.  I got them home to the boombox, and popped in the first disc.  From the blast of that distorted guitar chord, the blare of those horns, and that absolutely biting sarcasm of the intro track, ‘Old West’, I was hooked.  Between the boombox and a couple disc-mans (disc-men?), those CDs played dozens of times throughout my teens and early 20s.

In sophomore year, their next album came out, and boy was I excited.  All the Hype That Money Can Buy was the first CD I bought with my very own dough, hard-earned at the Burger King down the street.  Being a Colorado based band, they were heavily influenced by the Columbine school shooting, which shined through in the track ‘A New Hope’.  Once, in college, thinking I was being profound, I would sneak into one of those larger lecture halls and write the lyrics to its refrain on the big chalk board for the next attendees to find and ponder.  “Peace floods us, by hope we steer; our dark hearts salvaged, we live without fear.”  That line can still give me goosebumps.  Although, it’s not quite as impactful as the conclusion to The End is Near‘s ‘On Distant Shores’, which cleverly calls back to their second album’s final track, and builds to such breathtaking catharsis that I can still feel the lump in my throat every time I sing along with it. But more on that in a minute.

Later, in 2001 or early 2002, I was lucky enough to attend their concert at the Glass House in Riverside, CA.  I even made an iron-on tee with their name on it to wear to the show.  They were horribly late to start; I think we stood there almost an hour and half past the scheduled time.  But it was worth it.  Super high energy, loud, slightly mosh-y, and all my new favorite songs.  I would later come to realize that they weren’t all that spectacular as a live act — they tended to rush tempo during shows to get more songs out in a limited time, and the quality suffered a bit — but still, that was a memorable evening.

Let me take you on a little journey through the ‘FIF’ (as their fans affectionately abbreviated) albums themselves, in a small tribute to the journey of musical discovery that they sparked for me.

five iron frenzy upbeats and beatdowns album cover
The O.G.

The first album, Upbeats and Beatdowns, seethed with sardonic wit like nothing I’d ever heard before, in tracks such as ‘Old West’ and ‘Beautiful America’.  It juxtaposed nicely with the humble sincerity of ‘Where Zero Meets Fifteen’ and ‘Milestone’.  And heck if I don’t belt out those la-la-la’s from ‘Cool Enough for You’ every single time.  Sure, there were some throwaways, like ‘Combat Chuck’, and they suffered a bit from the lack of lyrical enunciation, like most third wave ska did at some point in their career, but it was pretty solid.

five iron frenzy
This one really sticks out to me.

That first album was good, but the second, Our Newest Album Ever, blew me away.  More cutting sarcasm in ‘Handbook for the Sellout’ and ‘Fist Full of Sand’, more silly antics like ‘Where is Micah?’ and ‘Oh Canada’, and more heartfelt sincerity in ‘Suckerpunch’ and ‘Second Season’.  This is where their own little inside-meme began with ‘Blue Comb 78’.  You could also see a developing theme in ‘Banner Year’, where for the second time in as many albums, they denounced the historically covered-up atrocities committed against Native Americans.  But the crown jewel has to be ‘Every New Day’, the final track, which takes upon itself the pressure of striving to be a good example of God’s love yet trying to just fit in with your peers, and builds it up only to release it again with the realization that it’s perfectly okay to not be perfect.

Most listeners, outside the die-hard fans, could be forgiven for forgetting about Quantity is Job 1.  It wasn’t really an album, technically; it was an ‘EP’, old-timey record-store lingo for ‘Extended Play’, meaning somewhere between an ‘Single’ and an full ‘LP’ album.  It mostly consisted of seven-ish tracks parodying all different musical styles with a ridiculous ‘Whose pants are these?’ mini-song.  The two shining stars here have to be ‘One Girl Army’, a sharp anti-chauvinism tune that gave their lone female member a well-deserved spotlight, and ‘All That is Good’, an encouragement to be more open-minded and think critically in the face of blind dogma.  Also, I used the innocently hopeful theme of ‘Dandelions’ as an inspiration for an English paper.

five iron frenzy all the hype album cover
So much ridiculosity ❤

Now, as I said, when their next album released, my anticipation was high.  When I brought home that maddeningly shrink-wrapped disc and its bright orange themed cover with a funny little picture of a white guy in a fro trying to dunk a basketball, I knew this was going to be good.  But I had no idea what I was in for.  It starts with some truly upbeat positivity in ‘The Greatest Story’ and ‘Solidarity’, and you can sense the Latin influence in some salsa-esque beats as their producer yips and yelps ‘Oi!’, culminating in the decidedly Hispanic-flavored ‘Hurricanes’.  We get some expected silliness, and a bit of hair-metal, in ‘Phantom Mullet’, and a self-deprecating banjo-twanged song about their home state.  Plus a batch of freshly crisp criticism of the church’s bigotry and inbuilt phobias in ‘Fahrenheit’ and ‘Four-Fifty-One’.

It wasn’t until ‘Giants’, the bleak outcry against mega-corporations’ takeover of society, that the subtly subversive hook truly sunk in for good.  I knew that I needed more.  And the title track ‘All The Hype’ surely delivered.  Followed by a seemingly random cover of ‘It’s Not Unusual’, which ends hilariously with Reese saying ‘more reverb!’ as his ears get pummeled by bad guitar outros.  Finally, we have the concluding tracks, ‘A New Hope’ and ‘World Without End’.  There is a palpable pain there from the school shooting that, in manifesting our worst fears, seems to have become an American trend.  Yet, it ultimately gives way to a heartfelt peace and love, expressed as a choral refrain with bells, for a reassuring sense that everything will eventually be alright.

The mature thing to do, I suppose… group portrait.

By this time, the band was maturing, knowing that the ska wave of the 90s was ending, so they made a small shift towards pop-punk (with horns).  If the previous album was a whimsical mish-mash of musical experimentation, this was a truly polished experience with a consistent theme and sound.  Vol. 2: Electric Boogaloo, as the name would suggest, signaled a reinvention, a sequel that would be different enough yet still true to its roots; and unlike the movie, not widely regarded as terrible.  This is the album that embossed their talents well, and established that they were not just some passing fad.  The self-deprecating humor returned in ‘Pre-Ex Girlfriend’ and ‘You Can’t Handle This’, the struggle of attempting to live a Godly life in ‘Spartan’ and ‘Eulogy’, and the inveigh upon immoral practices in the name of religion through ‘Blue Mix’ and ‘The Day We Killed’.  Much like ‘Giants’ in the previous album, ‘Vultures’, another blighting critique of excessive capitalism, tipped my fandom from a ten to an eleven.

Three years went by.  College, other musical discoveries, my palette shifting to classic rock.  Yet their special place in my heart never grew cold.  Unfortunately, through some bad combination of ignorance, busyness with college, and obsession with Warcraft 3, I completely missed the fact that they quit touring in 2003.  They released the double-disc set The End Is Here in 2004, a culmination of their last studio album and their final concert from their hometown of Denver.  I learned about it a few years later from a coworker, and while I was a little heartbroken that they were gone, I was absolutely enamored with the work itself.

Right from the start, the blast of ‘Cannonball’ kicks up your eardrums with aplomb.  ‘New Years Eve’ feels so incredibly true-to-life that I literally thought it was about me.  Of course there’s the usual fun antics with ‘At Least I’m Not Like All Those Other Old Guys’ and ‘Wizard Needs Food Badly’.  The searing criticisms, first of religious dogmatism/legalism with ‘Farewell to Arms’, then of fear-based news media in ‘Anchors Away’, still hit home more than a decade later.  And ‘Something Like Laughter’ serves up another faithful reminder that Feminism is not anti-Christian, and visa-versa.

Finally, we come to ‘On Distant Shores’.  At first, it sounds a little too upbeat to be goodbye.  But as it builds, the permeating theme of divine forgiveness in the face of failure, which ultimately defines much of their catalog, rings truer than ever before.  With such beautiful poetry, the pulsing acknowledgement that what we do with our lives is so often marred with selfish intent and shortcomings, cathartically transforms into that quintessential refrain from ‘Every New Day’, as both the listener and the band itself are invited to rest their weary heads in the solace of God’s infinite love and mercy.  In this understanding that every day we live is another gift — another opportunity to build up our fellow man and woman instead of tear them down, and to be that light, however dim or scratched or scarred, to a world that so desperately needs it.

Beautifully simple

Since then, I will admit that I originally missed out on their Kickstarter-fueled 2013 reunion and album Engine of a Million Plots.  Yet, thanks to that same coworker and fellow fan, I knew of it, and I gave it a solid listen.  So far, ‘Battle Dancing Unicorns with Glitter’ is my favorite song title of recent history, and it’s the one that’s stuck in my head at the moment.  ‘Zen and the Art of Xenophobia’ is perhaps their most biting critique of American cultural pitfalls to date, which feels hauntingly prophetic when you realize that it was written before the Trump White House.  And ‘Into Your Veins’ turns the self-parody up to eleven, as they proclaim to feed your addiction to their very words, knowing full-well that it’s a completely ludicrous notion.

Truly, Five Iron has always been ahead of their time.  And as they go about their mid-lives, hold down actual careers while balancing the occasional weekend concert or two, and reflect back on their glory days, I hope they will remember them as fondly as I do.  Because their music had soul, in a market where, ironically, that was lacking; and silliness, in a market that often took itself way too seriously.  It had an encouraging undercurrent of questioning the status-quo, which, however aged and comfortable we become with our tired traditions, is essential to an active mind and a productive person.  Above all, may they never lose sight of what made them great in the first place: love.  For each other, for God, for the youth, for people in general.  And for the sometimes thankless, seemingly futile task of trying to bring some spark of peace and hope to those around them.  Indeed, ‘It Was Beautiful.’

sunset at beach with palm trees

Help! Outlook Keeps Asking for Password!

Yes, my friends, occasionally the world of tech will spill into this blog as well. But this is not related to my career at all; this is something I experienced while helping out a family member. And I thought I would share the frustration — and the solution.

The Problem

He has a Microsoft account, based on a Hotmail address. There are 3 devices: his phone, an old laptop running Office 2013, and a new laptop running Office 365. He has some work email accounts, which all remained working fine, plus the personal email — that being the Hotmail account in question.

One day, he does.. something. Let’s say he forgot the password, or perhaps typed it incorrectly too many times. This leads to a slight spiral of confusing actions, involving a password reset and a recovery code, which he faithfully, per instruction, prints on a physical piece of paper (not that we ever needed it). However, something is still amiss.

downward spiral staircase
down, down, down we go!

Outlook 2013 is now continually prompting him for his password, for the Hotmail account. Strangely, also, this old machine still lets him log on to Windows with the old password, even though it’s running Windows 10 under the MS account (not a local user account).

His phone still receives and sends emails just fine — he didn’t even have to re-enter the password there, as far as I know. Also strange. Or perhaps he did re-enter it at some point shortly after he re-set it, but forgot to mention it. Who knows. The point is, he can’t get his personal emails in Outlook anymore, on the old laptop.

Nor the new one, as it turns out. He just hadn’t tried it until I got there. So during my troubleshooting efforts, we turned on the Surface and discovered it, too, in Outlook 365, continually begged for his password, which we of course entered correctly, to no avail.

I tried a lot of troubleshooting, including repairing the account in Outlook’s account properties, removing it and re-registering it, and even removing it from Windows entirely, followed by setting it up again. None of that worked of course.

The Solution

The actual solution is rather boring, as it turns out. It just took us forever to arrive at it, because MS in no way made it at all obvious, nor provided any direction toward it, until I actually asked for help with Outlook’s support-chat snap-in. The agent replied next-day, which meant I had to tell my uncle to literally let his Surface sit out, open, on, logged-in, all night. Thank God for TeamViewer, is all I can say.

What we found out, thanks to the agent, is that he (the user, not the agent) had somehow enabled Two-Step Verification. This was NOT OBVIOUS anywhere. What it means, apparently, is that after you enter your password, you’ll need a security code that either gets texted to you or uses the MS Authenticator apon your smartphone. This is very similar to Two-Factor Auth, but not exactly the same.

red apple and green apple
Apple-to-apple…ish

So where do you go to check on this? Again, not obvious. Go to your MS account page in a browser — https://account.microsoft.com/. Then click on ‘Security’, of course. Then.. uhh.. wait, there are only 3 big buttons here. “Change password”, “Update your security Info”, and “Review recent activity”. Well those don’t sound like what I want. Maybe the 2nd one, kinda? Nope.

Read the fine-print. I mean it’s not “fine print” like super-dinky legal jargon, but small enough compared to those big 3 buttons that most people would overlook it. Right underneath it says this:

Done with the basics? Explore more security options to help keep your account secure.

MS Clippy

Yep, there you go. Once you click that link, ‘Two-step verification’ is the 2nd option on the list. So, once we disabled that, he was back in business — his current (recently changed) password was now the only thing needed to configure/re-connect all Outlook apps to his Hotmail account.

But Why?

More specifically, why is this a thing? Well, 2-factor authentication is actually a very good practice, security-wise. For example, when you log in to your bank’s website from a computer that you don’t normally use to do so, they generally want to text/call/email you with a “security code” to make sure it’s really you. Awesome! That means if someone guessed your password, they still couldn’t get in, because if you got that text/call/email while you yourself weren’t logging in to do some banking, you’d say “Not today, Satan!” and deny that sucker.

Now, let’s take the Microsoft account. Sure, it probably has some pretty important stuff — billing info, for one thing, if you’ve ever bought anything from them, like Office 365, or a game on the Xbox. But even if not, there’s still a lot of your personal info there. Plus, your email itself can be used for nefarious purposes, such as.. oh right, that banking example! If you hadn’t set up your phone as a “2-factor auth” contact-point, they might be using your email to send you those security-codes. And if you’re no longer the only pair of eyeballs on your inbox.. Ruh-roh.

scooby-doo ruh-roh
Jinkies!

So is this “Two-step verification” thing with your MS account all bad? No, of course not. Like anything, consider it holistically with the rest of your online presence and identity management. If you’re particularly worried about hackers, and you understand the trade-offs, go ahead and use it. If you’re fairly confident in your password strength, and you don’t have a ton of ‘risky’ information/connections involved in the account, maybe it’s overkill.

I personally use the MS Authenticator app, because I work in IT and it’s something I’m accustomed to. I have a lot of devices, and I know that the risk of me losing one is higher than most. But this family member’s situation is much more limited and much simpler. Therefore, we decided, he can live just fine without it; all he needs to remember is his password.

Intro

Some of you have made your way over here from my other blog, and I very much appreciate it. Some of you may be just discovering this from your ‘Reader’ feed, or from Facebook or Twitter or wherever, and I appreciate that too! I love all forms of readership. That’s why we write, is it not? Well, partially.

I also write to understand myself, my head. I write because I often have trouble expressing verbally the complex swirling emotions and thoughts in this superlatively complex symbiosis of science and spirit we call the mind and soul.

What can you expect from this blog? Well! All kinds of things. Fiction. Nonfiction. Flash-fiction (I never claimed to be good at it, but it does appeal to me for some reason). Heartache. Joy. Trials and tribulations. Possibly a rant or two. (Or several dozen.) Memories. Memoirs. Movie reviews. (Yes, I’ll migrate the content over, hopefully!)

So pull up a chair, grab you favorite cozy beverage, and see what resonates with you. If you enjoy it, maybe share with a friend! Thanks for reading. ❤