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Saturday, 10 June 2017

Switching from the Asus ZenWatch 2 to the Samsung Gear S2

Wow, it's been over a year since my last blog post. While a lot has happened, today I'll focus on one specific change in my recent history: My switch from Android Wear to Tizen OS. Or more specifically, the above 2 smartwatches in the title.

As you may have known, I had the ZenWatch 2 for over a year as well, but it was still not getting the Android Wear 2.0 update, and becoming cumbersome to use. The swipe controls are nice and all, but it was getting slow and I was making mistakes because of that. Phone calls and the like were taking too long to sync, and I didn't want to bother resetting it (again). Therefore, it was time for a new watch!

Since I own a Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, I figured Tizen watches would work out fine (plus that platform is maturing nicely, even surpassing Android Wear in market share). There were basically 2 choices: the Gear S2 and the Gear S3. While there are multiple models of each (which I won't get into), I chose the Gear S2 for 3 reasons:
1. It's not that out-of-date and is still supported by Samsung.
2. The Gear S3 didn't have any new killer features I'd need or really want.
3. It's at least ~$200 cheaper here (even comparing Craigslist).

Now onto the main course, the comparison. What I initially noticed (and read about) is the rotating bezel navigation of the Gear S2 compared to the swipes. All I can say is that it's very intuitive and far more precise. I really like how you can seamlessly scroll through apps and settings, and not worry about making too many mistakes. Calls sync a lot faster so far, and I can answer or reject using the bezel as well. The canned responses are actually pretty smart and changes depending on text received. Plus, I get to reply to messages with not only canned replies, but voice input (of course), emojis, a T9 keyboard, and even handwriting! On the ZenWatch 2, you may need apps for anything but voice input (and I never seen handwriting before).

While the bezel may be great, touch and swipes still work (mostly for choosing options or launching apps). Swiping down from the main watchface allows you to see connection status, battery percentage, open music control, and toggle flight mode / do not disturb / brightness (all on the watch only). Rotating the bezel left lets you see notifications that you can reply to, dismiss, open in phone, or block. Rotating right gives you widgets which you can set up. I currently have reminders, contacts, alarms, weather, and world clock. On the ZenWatch 2, swiping down is very similar, swiping up gives you notifications, swiping left opens app drawer / more details, and swiping right dismisses / goes back. There are no widgets. The Gear S2 have dedicated back and home buttons, while ZenWatch 2 has only home. There are also actions associated with double-tapping or holding those buttons.

One thing that I am missing from the ZenWatch 2 is app support and some features. For example, do not disturb doesn't work for both the phone and watch, and there's no theatre mode where the watch turns completely black and ignores all touch input (you wake up with buttons). I do have all the apps I need though. For example, WatchMaker has really nice watch faces you can design for both platforms. Mine has time, date, day of week, phone/watch battery, weather, S Voice button, steps counter (very inaccurate unfortunately), and Bluetooth / WiFi connection status. Plus, features like always-on screen, vibrate on disconnect, and screen lock are also there. Unfortunately, there is no free app that can read notes taken on your phone, but putting those in calendar reminders work. Then I could go on about the apps I have, but I'll just keep it to one that many may not know (it's for 2FA): https://github.com/tesurijp/TOTP-Tizen

I will go over the Android Wear and Samsung Gear apps on the phone for a tiny bit. First of all, Samsung Gear was pre-installed in my S7 Edge, while I had to download Android Wear from the Play Store. The apps themselves look very different, but functions rather similarly. They both did their jobs fine, connecting and managing the watch to the phone. Since I haven't got the Android Wear 2.0 update, all apps on my ZenWatch 2 was installed from a companion app on the phone. The Gear S2 had independent apps that could be installed from the Galaxy Store (rather than Google Play). Unfortunately, this watch probably won't even get version 3 of Tizen, so my WatchMaker steps count won't work properly. Of course, I can still use Samsung Health, which is excellent at recording my daily activities.

And lastly, the hardware. This is not my area of specialty, so I won't go into it too much. With always-on display, my Gear S2 has worse battery life than ZenWatch 2, but can still last a whole day. It doesn't have a speaker either, but what it does have some sensors that ZenWatch 2 doesn't have: Heart Rate, Ambient Light, Barometer. Also has wireless charging, but not much difference when you still need a wire to the charger. It uses a 20mm strap instead of 22mm, but I bought mine with a decent steel one, so no need to change to my old ones.

There you have it, my long rambling of comparing my 3rd smartwatch to 4th. This post is mainly for my own reference instead of sharing for a wider audience (I'll still share on social media though). Anyhow, I will not resume to writing on this blog in a regular basis, but rather on a whim as I may have said before. Thank you for reading, goodbye.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

No I am not dead, but as for this blog...

Hello all,

Sorry for the lack of content for the longest period yet. I will just say that work has been really busy, and my downtime is usually focused on simpler things due to mental exhaustion.

If you didn't know already, I work as a software quality analyst under Focus Professional Services Inc. We're currently contracted with Vancity, and testing their major revamp of the entire banking system. Yes, that means I'm not just testing something simple (like most web apps) or necessarily enjoyable (like a lot of games). Due to a non-disclosure agreement, I won't go any further on that.

So what do I do these day during my downtime? Well, basically consume media and occasionally hang out with friends. What media? Anime and MMA of course. I know I said I like Biology, but that is not as interesting to me these days as before, and more mentally exhausting than I'd like. What about tech stuff? TBH, I've stopped most of that as well due to the mental exhaustion part.

That doesn't mean I haven't done anything meaningful outside of work. If I feel like sharing them (and actually remember lol), I will post them here. A hint of what may be coming: my experience reinstalling Windows 10 after upgrading my SSD, why I'm moving my music collection to the cloud, Hearthstone and maybe Castle Clash, how I stopped rooting Android and resolved the lack of effective/efficient adblocking, why I rooted my watch and stopped, no more Apple 2.0, etc.

Yes those are mainly tech things, but most of them were done quite recently. I may do anime reviews, but I feel like it'd be not to my standards, and MMA is not something I really know about at all. Maybe I should make this blog more of an opinion thing rather than sharing information (or actually noting my findings before I forget them entirely)...


Tianhui (Jeff) Liu

P.S. If there are any comments, I may expand further. Like the mental exhaustion part, I know I've said what I'm doing these days with regards to that, and how work is a major factor to it. But that's not the only reason. Many of my IRL friends already know, so yeah.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Random findings from recent times that I have not mentioned...

  1. Helped a friend get a gaming PC. Problem is our first choice doesn't have Windows pre-installed. Thought of ways to either move his hard drive containing Windows 7 (sysprep), re-use his license (slmgr), asking university friends for spare DreamSpark licenses, microsoftsoftwareswap from Reddit, etc. Although his installation happened to be Retail, and not tied to his hardware like OEM, it's 32-bit and we wanted at least 8 GB of RAM. Then I thought of enabling PAE, but that requires a lot of patching which wouldn't be much safer than pirating. Friends don't have any spare keys, and Reddit seems unreliable. Ultimately had to pay $100+ for Windows 10 from NCIX (at least they took care of everything for extra $$$).
  2. Watched Dillashaw vs Cruz. Great technical striking, especially in the first round. Almost got into an "argument" with friends about boxing vs MMA hand speed, especially the jab and whatnot. Not that it really matter in real life eh? ;p
  3. Seems like many of my friends and colleagues are hyped up for the games coming this year. Dark Souls III, XCOM 2, whatever, etc. Guess I'm not that into gaming then...
  4. Wanted to buy blank Blu-ray discs. How would I test them without burning data onto it (and possible wasting space/time)? Of course this would be from Craigslist, as I only wanted a single disc or so for my personal hobby & interests. Found this freeware called QPxTool. Of course it didn't work on my Blu-ray movies chock full of DRM, but my burned CD was recognized. Even told me what kind of discs my (now external) Blu-ray ROM drive supported and was portable to boot. Also wanted to try Nero DiscSpeed, but that requires a reboot after installation (in Sandboxie), which I didn't want to bother with. In the end, I couldn't find a good deal for single discs, so I gave up.
  5. Found a Kindle 3 Keyboard in my drawer (technically my little sister's) with working free 50 MB per month 3G, and decided to try putting some manga onto it again. That meant installing Java onto my computer for jPDF Tweak.  JRE 64-bit is mostly compatible with 32-bit Java programs, which was actually a surprise for myself albeit I knew about WoW64 and backwards compatiblity in general. Another Java program, JDownloader, had the required Java components bundled, but it was of an older less secure version. So I reinstalled it without the bundled Java this time.
  6. Finally got back to adding new content to Free Windows Desktop Software Security List.
  7. Watched Deadpool with my friends on a Sunday afternoon. Surprisingly (or not?), the theatre was only 35% full. I'll just say it was crazy fun shit, and definitely not for little ones. Ate double cheeseburger with endless fries for dinner LOL. Then played one hell of a session of TowerFall Dark World with my 4 controllers (all PlayStation or at least based on layout) on the gaming laptop.
  8. My Pebble stopped receiving notifications from my iPod Touch for whatever reason.I rebooted it, but that only made things worse. Couldn't even connect properly after Bluetooth re-pairing, rebooting iPod, factory reset of the watch, etc. Only finally managed to make it work after reinstalling the Pebble Time app as well. Oh and I forgot to mention in my previous article that I installed a language pack for Chinese/Japanese support (since the new Time firmware removed them), so that my music and WeChat wouldn't display gibberish.
There may be more, but I've decided not to share them for one reason or another. That may be because I already mentioned it before outside of my blog on social media, work-related which I'm not sure whether I should post (non-disclosure agreement), or I simple decided it wasn't worth mentioning / shouldn't be mentioned. Now it's the end of this story...

Saturday, 20 February 2016

The perils of Stack Exchange

Yes, I've featured SuperUser on my blog before, but I've since deleted that post for a reason: Virtually all Stack Exchange networks are meant for elites (or when you've got nowhere else to go). Sure if you RTFM, do it yourself extensively first, and formatted the question/answer within all of their strict and complicated rules, then you may have a chance. Otherwise, you'll get downvotes from hell, and the thread being closed and chastised will actually be your saving grace. Forget it if you aren't 100% sure or don't exactly know what you're talking about; that will just be unnecessary in their eyes, and if you're the emotional type, tears in yours.

I've seen many great answers provided on Stack Exchange. I mean Google anything complex or technical, and you'll likely see one good result from their network. That's why I've had such high standards/regard, until I truly experienced the reality check myself. That place is where only the strong will survive, and if you don't follow their mentality, just barely even if you are actually powerful under normal circumstances. The hostility and user-unfriendliness there is on another level, one that you'd expect from anonymous IRC with egotistical hackers and whatnot. Really, I personally will not use their services unless I'm truly desperate. I've been in far better communities, and if there were Yelp reviews on how accommodating Stack Exchange is, they'd be near the bottom of the barrel!

Yes, this is a personal rant that is not really at the same level of professionalism I've exhibited before. There may be exaggerations just to get my point across, but I'm not lying about my experiences there. If you ever happen to need their help, be prepared and don't say I haven't warned you. And watch out for your "reputation" on those sites, which is necessary for the oh-so-helpful voting and virtually everything else other than asking questions, commenting, and providing answers within their elitist guidelines. Yes, newbies are treated as second-class citizens. TBH, I'm aiming for a fair amount of comments this time. I just hope you guys won't have to experience the same frustrations as I have.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Yet another status update of techie goodness

Here it is again, another round of status updates. Let's start with the beginning of the week: Sunday. On that day, I decided to watch anime and 4K videos (unfortunately you cannot easily combine both) on the downstairs big screen TV. It was a test of the capabilities of all my laptops: the MSI gaming laptop, Macbook, and Chromebook.

First up is the MSI gaming laptop. It was the only one that played 4K videos without issues, but the battery life (up to 3 hour-ish?) is too short for long-term anime watching. Next is the Macbook. Although it has the longest battery life (over 6 hours), the Mini DisplayPort does not support HDMI audio due to being an older Late 2009 model... Guess it wasn't the fault of my weird (and cheap) Mini DisplayPort to DVI adapter + DVI to HDMI cable. And finally, the Chromebook. Surprisingly, it plays 1080P video on the TV without any issue (and can last 4.5 hours)! So we have a winner there, and it happens to be the most portable. I did forget to try my dual-boot tablet again, but it should still work fine and only supports mirroring (1280x800). One day, I'd like to try a MHL adapter for my Nexus 5 or something like that. Along with a OTG hub so it can charge at the same time.

Later that day, I noticed my old Pebble Classic smartwatch sitting around unused. Although I did give it my dad, he barely uses it and left it discharged for weeks. That unfortunately bricked it again, and left me scratching my head as the recovery mode didn't seem to work. After many attempts, I finally managed to boot it into recovery mode by holding Back+Up+Select before plugging in the charger, after it completely ran out of juice. Now it's a notifier for my iPod Touch LOL. Yes, I'm wearing two smartwatches (one on each hand). Put a Street Fighter 2 watchface on it, and away we go!

List of apps for my LG G Watch and Pebble Watch in that order (including "built-in" ones, although that sort of depends on your phone):

2048, Agenda, Alarm, Audio Recorder, Authenticator, Calculator, Compass, Find my phone, Fit, Flashlight, Google, Keep, Maps, Notification Toggle, Settings, Stopwatch, Timer, Together, Tool Box, Translate, Weather, World clock.

Settings, Music, Notifications, Alarms, Watchfaces, Mr. Runner, My Steps, My Vancouver Bus, Pokedex, Shake Dice, Stopwatch, Timer, XKCD Comics.

Yes there are some duplicates, but I like to use them according to what's convenient and which one is actively receiving notifications or doing other tasks at the time. Also I replaced Fit (G Watch) with My Steps (Pebble) cause I don't really care for it, and it uses up battery. Surprisingly, which my LG G Watch is stuck with Android Wear 1.3 (Lollipop), the classic Pebble has been updated with new "Time" features via a more recent firmware...

During the busy weekdays where I have work as a Software Quality Analyst, somehow I broke the Bluetooth function on my gaming laptop... It was consistently appearing and disappearing in the tray, Settings app, MSI SCM, and even Device Manager! Seems like a buggy hardware switch, because restoring a system image didn't fix the problem. Therefore, I decided to try to reproduce the problem with a Linux LiveCD to see if it's a software, firmware, or hardware issue. Fortunately, it was fixed when I manually pressed the hardware switch to re-enable Bluetooth in the live environment (doing it in Windows didn't help). Then I updated the Bluetooth drivers just in case, and that seemed to have fixed my WiFi lagging issues as well (both are integrated)!

Lastly, before this gets too long; I decided to put Facebook Messenger back on my phone, because I kept the Facebook app itself there and there's little point separating them (and getting two buzzes on both wrists). So what did I put in its place on my iTouch? FreeTone. This handy app gave me a Vancouver number, and allows free calling/texting to (pretty much) any Canadian or U.S. number without using credits! Of course there's a banner ad, and you'll need to buy/earn credits for international calls, but this is the best one of the group I think. Texts were delivered and received without lag, and I could easily pick up or call others (sound quality could be better though).

OK, you've heard (or in this case read) enough from me, so I will be going now. G'night all!

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Back to iOS as well with the iPod Touch 6th Generation

I like to play mobile games. A lot. And with music running in the background as well. Plus 5 messaging apps, anti-theft, and God knows what. No wonder my phone literally becomes unresponsive as soon as someone calls me. Heck it lags whenever I exit my game as well, and sometimes even while playing it. Even the storage is running low with my hundreds of 320 Kbps MP3 music with cover art and all kinds of metadata.

The issue is that 2 GB of RAM on Android isn't enough for my heavy usage. Yes, I still have my Nexus 5 from years ago. I could upgrade soon or even now, but a number of factors made me decide to get the newest iPod Touch instead. One, I was impatient. Two, I didn't want to go through the hassle of upgrading phones or switching plans. Three, I like how my phone is setup right now, and there isn't a completely guaranteed way to transfer all those settings and data over even with root (not all phones are setup the same or can run the same apps). And four, it's cheaper.

So off I went to Craigslist, Amazon, and other sites, scouring for a deal. Unfortunately, whether that's due to the device being cheap already and new to boot, I couldn't find a good enough deal. So I decided to go to BestBuy which is a 5 minute walk from my place, and purchased a 16 GB one right then and there for ~$280 (includes tax in Canada). I didn't need a bigger size, mainly because I don't keep videos on my mobile devices. My Nexus 5 is 16 GB as well, so I've pretty much doubled my available storage. Still nothing compared to my 2 TB external HDD, 1 TB docked HDD, 2x750 GB laptop HDD, etc.

Anyways, onto my actual usage of the iPod Touch. Other than all my music, I've also moved Facebook Messenger, LINE, Skype, Steam Mobile, and WeChat to the new device. Yes that was a whole lot of things running in the background that sucked up almost all my RAM on Android (plus I removed a bunch of other stuff), now on iOS. Even with half the RAM of Android, the iPod Touch runs surprisingly well, mainly because memory is used differently on iOS (more efficiently one would argue) and I only have like a half/third of the amount of apps running in the background. And I usually listen to music on it with my new Bluetooth headphones (got them before the Macbook).

What's strange is that although I cannot pick up calls with those headphone anymore due it being connected to another device, I don't really miss that. It picks up too much background noise, abruptly interrupts my music (even when there's just messages), and tends to lag before like I said. But now I just pull down the headphones onto my neck and pick up the phone (after checking with my smartwatch of course). Although I do miss notifications on my watch and music control, it's not really too much of an issue because I can still hear them and control the music using my headphones.

I also interchange between both mobile devices for stuff like browsing the Internet, depending on convenience and battery remaining. Since Android has a built-in universal WiFi hotspot, getting my non-text/email messages isn't that inconvenient. Here are the apps I've installed other than the five I mentioned already: Refine (Ad Blocker), StumbleUpon, SoundHound, AppBundle 2, VLC, PCalc Lite, Angry Birds 2, BADLANDS, Candy Crush Saga, Carmageddon, Dumb Ways to Die 2, Quisr, and Send Anywhere (which I have on all my devices now).

Well, I'm pretty much done rambling. Just wish there was a cheap case that could've bought locally, instead of forking over $20+ to Best Buy. Unfortunately iPhone 5 cases aren't really compatible, and I found plenty of them in Dollar Tree LOL. Whatever, peace out.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Finding my 2-factor authentication backup/recovery codes

Although I'm not as paranoid as before, security is still very important in our lives. That include 2-factor authentication (2FA), which basically uses your phone to generate a second "password" code whenever you (or someone else) logs in with a new/unknown device. This code usually appears on an app that refreshes every 30 seconds (software key), or is sent to your phone via SMS.

Don't worry too much about inconvenience, you can always remember your device or app's access to Google, Facebook, or whatever. The main problem would be (legacy) apps that doesn't support 2FA, those require you to go into your account and setup an "app password" (which is just a longer auto-generated password that replaces your normal password).

Currently I have 8 accounts setup the first way (software key) using Authenticator Plus. They include Google, Microsoft, LastPass, Facebook, Amazon, Dropbox, Wilders Security Forums, and TurboTax. I chose that app specifically because it has the most features, which includs showing the codes on your Android Wear smartwatch! There are even more accounts setup via 2FA text message or separate apps, such as Apple, Yahoo, LinkedIn, Box, PayPal, and Steam.

So the story was that I had a text document of all my backup/recovery codes, which allows you to bypass 2FA when you lose your phone, encrypted in a 7z archive. After some time passed, I couldn't remember the password to that archive anymore! Of course I chose good security settings, so those "cracking" tools never worked. So here I am today, trying to get all the codes back.

From my experience, only around half the sites support a backup or recovery key. Fortunately there are other ways to recover your account, but I'd like to see this option just in case. The offenders are: Amazon, Box, PayPal, LastPass, LinkedIn, TurboTax, and Yahoo. As for the ones who do support it, sometimes you have to look deep into account settings or even Google search. I will list them anyhow, feel free to ask any questions if you're having trouble retrieving your own codes: Apple, Dropbox, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Steam, and Wilders Security Forums.

Of course, there are exceptions to pretty much everything. I noticed that eBay claims to use a Security Key like PayPal, but it never prompted me for a code when I sign in from say incognito mode (private browsing). And it seems Launchpad and Norton supports it as well, but I haven't bothered enabling those due to low security risk and usage of their services.

In the end, two factor authentication is a worthwhile security feature that will definitely help prevent others from (maliciously) accessing your accounts. Unfortunately, it also means you can lose that account easier, but isn't that what this post is about (sort of)? Although I could provide more details about how to find those recovery codes, that'll make this article too long and tedious (once again feel free to ask!). So therefore, I'll just end it here and wish you guys an enjoyable day as always.