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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.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Another status update, this time regarding IT

I won't bother listing all my hardware this time, simply because that would take too long. I will let you know that I've sold and bought around the same number of things, and all the major updates will be covered here or in other posts. Neither will my security setup be listed here, that should actually be updated in Gizmos: http://www.techsupportalert.com/content/free-windows-desktop-software-security-list-my-choices.htm

What I will do is list my OS and hardware specs for all the main devices:

MSI GT70 0NC [17" 1920x1080]:
Intel Core i7-3610QM @ Quad-core 2.3 GHz
16 GB DDR3 1600
128 GB SSD + 750 GB HDD
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 670M @ 3 GB
Windows 10 64-bit (Microsoft account linked) (VirtualBox: Ubuntu 15.10, Windows 7 64-bit, Windows XP [POSReady2009 updates])

MacBook (13-inch, Late 2009) [13" 1280x800]:
Intel Core 2 Duo P7550 @ Dual-core 2.26GHz
6 GB DDR3 1333
250 GB HDD
NVIDIA GeForce 9400M @ 256 MB VRAM
OS X 10.11 El Capitan (iCloud-linked)

Acer C710 [11.6" 1366x768]:
Intel Celeron 847 @ Dual-core 1.1 GHz
6 GB DDR3 1333
320 GB HDD
Chrome OS Beta (Google Chrome profile synced) (Developer Mode)

Chuwi Vi8 [8" 800x1200]:
Intel Atom Z3735F @ Quad-core 1.83 GHz
2 GB DDR3 1333
32 GB Internal Memory + 64 GB microSD card
Intel HD Graphics
Windows 8.1 & Android 4.4.4 (rooted) (Both synced)

Google Nexus 5 [4.95" 1080x1920]:
Quad-core 2.3 GHz Krait 400
16 GB Internal Memory
Adreno 330
Android 6.0.1 (rooted)

LG G Watch [1.65" 280x280]:
Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 @ 1.2 GHz
512 MB RAM
4 GB Internal Memory
Android Wear 1.3

If anyone has or knows where to get a free (or extremely cheap) iDevice, give it to me lol.

Revisiting Apple, now with OS X 10.11 El Capitan

Well, I've finally done it. Revisiting the Apple world that is. This Macbook was bought for $300 (Craigslist of course) in pretty good condition. The RAM was upgraded to 4 GB, but I decided to add more. That would become a problem... Feel free to skip the italics and just take note of the underline.

Let's start by stating all the laptop RAM I have: 2x4GB pair from dismantled laptop (became Chromebook's RAM); 2x2GB pair originally from Chromebook (was actually an upgrade itself, they said it was from their Macbook); 1x4GB "made for Mac" RAM (was in my gaming laptop cause BestBuy nearby only sold that kind); 3x4GB triplet originally from my gaming laptop (2 hard to access so I never touched them); and 2x2GB originally in the Macbook. Note that I use a space between the number and GB when declaring overall RAM of a machine.

I first tried the 2x4GB pair from the dismantled laptop. Macbook gave me 3 beeps and wouldn't shut up until I force shutdown. Then the 4GB "made for Mac" RAM, along with one of the triplets. Same result. How would I upgrade from the 4 GB now? I decided to compromise and ended up with 6 GB in both the Macbook and Chromebook, along with 16 GB still in gaming laptop. I basically put the "made for Mac" 4GB and one of the 2GB Chromebook RAM in the Macbook. That somehow worked! The 4GB triplet was separated from its family and put in the Chromebook, along with the other 2GB. The 2x4GB pair was put in my gaming laptop. And finally, the 2x2GB Macbook RAM was left in a bag (mainly because it was the slowest type).

Moving on, here is how I setup my Macbook. First, I had to integrate my iCloud account for Find my Mac, the App Store, iTunes, etc. That means creating a new account and setting that up on first login. Then I upgraded from OS X 10.9 to 10.11, and noticed very little speed decrease. Office 2011 was installed by the seller already, and he doesn't have the license. That means Time Machine must be setup (too bad I had to sacrifice a spare drive for HFS+ requirement, although I could use SuperDuper!). Adobe Flash is unfortunately still useful... After a bit more customization (like rearranging the dock), it was time to install the programs. Here they are, separated by type:

Internet and Safari extensions:
qBittorent, Skype
Clean Links for Google, LastPass, uBlock, WOT

Avidemux, MediaHuman Lyrics Finder, MP3Gain Express, MusicBrainz Picard, SmartConverter, VLC Media Player.

Utilities and Preference Panes:
ClipMenu, DetectX, Disk Drill, Malwarebytes Anti-Malware, OnyX, The Unarchiver
AppTrap, MenuMeters

Armagetron Advanced, Battle Bears, Frozen Free Fall, Full Deck Solitaire, Music Racer, SuperTux

I was going to install Google Chrome, but decided against it because I thought it would contain too much personal information after I signed in (which was the whole point), because I thought my family knows the iCloud password... Turns out they forgot, and I have signed into Google on Safari anyhow! Guess the reason not to now is for more disk space, less RAM usage, better battery life, and no more Chrome apps cluttering my Launchpad. Fully uninstalling it was more work than I thought:

That was surprisingly anti-Google... Anyhow, I've also tried Sophos Antivirus Home and found it a completely unnecessary waste of resources. Everything was slower, especially opening the Guest account (which creates temporary files every time and doesn't save your settings). Although there are more Mac malware than ever, the same principles apply: Don't download and install anything outside of the App Store or another trustworthy source without at least double-checking using VirusTotal. And always custom install, make sure to uncheck any offered adware. That will prevent 99.9% of malware that an average person will ever experience, minus the rare exploit or mistake.

Lastly, I was surprised by how many programs OS X already comes bundled with. Not only am I talking about the usual iOS-related apps, but things like Disk Utility and Terminal (which are both more powerful by default than their Windows counterpart at least IMO). I can even create encrypted volumes and erase files without installing anything!

Overall I found OS X 10.11 to be a pleasant surprise, but it wouldn't replace my gaming laptop simply due to the factor of hardware and software incompatibility. But otherwise it works surprisingly well, and I won't have many problems living off of it with only essential tasks and casual entertainment. If anyone has any questions, including why I've installed the above software and games, I can clarify that for you. Have a good one and peace out!

*The black thing is my new Logitech Ultrathin Touch Mouse T630. Not only is it really thin and portable, but it supports pairing with up to 2 devices! That means I can switch between my Macbook and Chuwi dual-boot tablet easily without forgetting and re-pairing it.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Sorry for the inactivity, my new job and other stuff got in the way

If you haven't noticed already, I am officially a Software Quality Analyst for Focus Professional Services. I work in a startup company that is currently contracted with Vancity. This means I'm busy during the weekdays, and usually catch up on other stuff like gaming during the weekends.

Of course, that is not the only news. Another tip would be to try out MP3Gain. This software adjusts the audio volume of your MP3 music to around the same level. There is no distortion, and the metadata is directly written on the MP3 file. Plus, it's completely reversible.

Otherwise, I've basically been updating what I already have. I should make a new list of hardware I own lol. The newest addition is a Macbook I got for $300! Granted, it's from 2009, but there isn't really any problems with it and I will try upgrading the RAM from 4 GB to 8 GB. The main purpose for it will be bloody iTunes and family (mostly little sister) use. You should see an article soon about that once I'm done.