Why Computers Suck

Computers are a big part of my life, and I have a lot of gadgets. But at the heart of it I like to think that my needs are fairly simple. Phones, tablets, and laptops aside, when it comes to desktop computers, I use:

  • A Mac on which to keep my iTunes music library, the photos from my iPhone, and any other various files I need to keep around. I’ve bought in to the Apple ecosystem, and it’s handy to have a central place to keep all my data. Makes backing it up easier, too.
  • A Windows PC for gaming. I don’t trust Windows 10 with my important data, but it makes a great gaming platform, especially since I can get really good games for cheap from Steam sales and Humble Bundles.

For the past decade, these two needs have been served by a single computer: a PC that I built from parts and Hackintoshed so that it can dual-boot into macOS or Windows 10. I won’t go into the details, but the short of it is that Apple simply didn’t make a desktop computer that I wanted to buy. And I like to tinker, so getting macOS running on a PC was a fun challenge.

But I’m getting tired of that challenge. A small system update can wreak havoc with a Hackintosh, making it fail to boot and throw enigmatic error messages that would require me to pore over the tonymacx86.com forums until I could figure out what went wrong and how to fix it. I haven’t been able to upgrade my computer to macOS Mojave because it has an Nvidia Geforce 970 graphics card in it, and Nvidia hasn’t yet released drivers that work with Mojave (and there’s skepticism whether they ever will, as Apple has moved to ATI). And, really, I was getting tired of always having to reboot to switch between macOS and Windows whenever I wanted to play a game, or copy photos off my iPhone, or play a different game, or sync my music…

Continue reading

More adventures in virtual reality

Last month I wrote about my initial foray into virtual reality … but I got distracted. Instead it turned into a crash course on hacking Android phones, and I learned more than I set out to learn about how Android and Android-based devices work. But finally I decided to get back to why I was doing all this in the first place.

Continue reading

Unlocking

So my new Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 phone came installed with Xiaomi’s operating system “MIUI”, their variant of Android. MIUI comes with a bunch of custom apps that are useful, helpful, and – given that they are made by a private Chinese company – completely untrustworthy, in my opinion. My goal was to replace the operating system with LineageOS, a vanilla installation of Android.

Here’s how that turned out.

Continue reading

Virtual Reality

Jill and I enjoyed “Ready Player One” at the theater last week. We didn’t set a very high bar for its plot (and we weren’t disappointed), but the idea of wearing a VR system and interacting with other people in an imaginary world really caught my interest. I’ve also been watching the anime “Gun Gale Online” (a spinoff of “Sword Art Online“) that has a similar concept about donning a headset and becoming a different person in a different place. I believe that VR is the future of how people are going to interact with computers, and I think we’re only now seeing the very start of the technology that’s going to do it.

And I want to get in on it.

Continue reading

We Are Out Of Duck

(I facebooked this when it happened to me three years ago. Apparently the story has become legend around the office. I’m putting it into my blog for posterity.)

You say the message you’re seeing on the site is ‘we are out of duck.’ Are you absolutely certain?

“Yes.”

You’re completely sure? That’s the wording? ‘we are out of duck?’

“Yes.”

That is the EXACT message? You can reproduce it?

“Yes.”

Send me a screenshot.

We Had to Duck Out

Building a PC

Eve has been wanting to build a gaming PC. We finally found time for me to help her do it.

She’s been using her work laptop for playing Guild Wars 2 with us. It’s got a decent graphics chip, but a slow 5400rpm hard drive (encrypted, too!), so the game has been slow and flaky at times. I gave her a USB3 flash drive to run the game from because that’s actually faster than the internal HD, but it doesn’t help much. So this was good motivation for her to want a new computer – along with her feeling that building a PC will give her “geek cred;” it’s just something that a true computer geek must do at some point. (I called it “building her lightsaber.”)

It’s my belief that building a PC is better than buying a pre-built one. Besides the learning experience (and it is a learning experience), a PC can be built from good, reliable parts that’ll last a long time and that can be upgraded easily. She spent about $1300 on the whole thing, but later she can upgrade the graphics card if she wants to, or even replace the processor, motherboard, and memory while keeping the case and power supply. It’s a good foundation that’ll work well for her. I looked at the prices of pre-built PCs on Amazon, and while they save a few hundred dollars and have good specs on paper, the reviews often complain about glitches or shoddy workmanship or cut corners. I don’t think they would last nearly as long.

Another benefit of having a gaming PC is that there are so many inexpensive good games on Steam that she might never have any desire to buy a console!

So these are the parts we decided on, and why:

Continue reading

StreetPass

Jill and I each have a Nintendo 3DS. They’re great little systems for some quick gaming now and then. She likes the Mario games, I like puzzle games (especially Professor Layton and Ace Attorney), and we both still visit our Animal Crossing villages every now and then.

One of my favorite features is StreetPass: when I carry the 3DS around with me for a while, the number of steps I’ve taken and the other 3DS owners I’ve walked past will “power up” some minigames. It’ll give me the names and home states of the people I meet this way. Carrying one around a Disney park will usually get us a few connections, though not as many as it used to.

Best Buy stores have something called a “Nintendo Zone”, where bringing a 3DS into the store will “meet” other 3DS owners who’ve been there recently. (This used to also be offered at McDonalds and Starbucks as well as a few other places, I think.) But I’ve long been curious about how exactly this works, and how to set up a Nintendo Zone in our own house so we can make lots of these connections much more often.

Turns out it’s easy! In short, all it needs is an open access point named “attwifi”, with a MAC address that’s set to the same thing as being used by other access points. More detailed instructions at “https://www.reddit.com/r/3DS/comments/1k0g58/setting_up_a_streetpass_relay_at_home/“. It can be done with a laptop, or a wireless base station, or a Raspberry Pi, or a wide variety of other devices.

I set one up yesterday and I’ve already “met” people from Canada, France, Japan, Australia, and lots of other places.

Fake

I got another call from an Indian credit-card scammer today. I had some time, so I decided to play along.

Before he asked me anything at all, he gave me the usual spiel: he has reviewed my credit card history and sees that I pay at least the minimum every month, sometimes more, but that I still can’t make much progress towards lowering my balance. All lies, of course; he’s not really looking at anything. But I agreed with everything he said, and gave him a fake credit-card expiration date and a fake phone number when he asked for each. And then he instructed me to read off my credit card number to him.

Continue reading

Backing up

The best backup software I’ve found for Windows is Acronis True Image.

Unfortunately, the software really sucks.

Let me illustrate the problem. I told Acronis (on their Facebook wall) that I want a simple “set and forget” backup that doesn’t require a lot of configuration and maintenance, and I asked what the latest version of their product can do for me. Their reply:

An incremental backup stores changes to the data against the latest backup. So you need access to previous backups from the same chain to recover data from an incremental backup. To clean up an older backup chain (Full backup + dependent incremental backups) you’ll need to create a new full backup as a base for next incremental backups. Here you can find different clean up schemes available in the custom backup scheme: http://www.acronis.com/…/document…/ATI2017/index.html… For your scenario I’d suggest using an option “Keep size of the backup no more than [defined size]” – to limit maximum size of the backup. After creating a new backup version, the program checks whether the total backup size exceeds the specified value. If it’s true, the oldest backup version will be deleted.

This is the year 2016. I shouldn’t have to deal with “full” versus “incremental” backups. I shouldn’t have to worry about what will happen when my backup disk fills up. I should just be able to plug in a backup disk, hit a button, and have the backup software take care of the rest.

Continue reading