Replacing my Gaming Laptop at Last

Humorously, one of the more recent posts I made on this blog was when I purchased my Asus RoG Strix Scar II in 2019, over four years ago. That laptop served my needs for those four years and was a major upgrade from my old Alienware m17. However, at the beginning of 2023, I started streaming on Twitch for fun, thanks to my XBox Game Pass giving me access to a large library of games that I previously would not have access to or would not otherwise want to play.

At the same time this began, my RoG developed a strange illness in which its power supply would randomly not charge the battery. This means that when you unplug the laptop from the power supply (even if the battery shows a charge), there is a 50/50 chance that it will die instantly. Furthermore, the Bluetooth module (which I use for my mouse and gaming controller) would randomly just disappear in Windows for no apparent reason. I usually had to fix this by completely opening the laptop, jiggling the Bluetooth module, closing the laptop, and hoping that it will work.

Thanks to a gift from Uncle Sam, I had some money ahead after the tax season, so my wife agreed to let me pick up a new gaming laptop within a certain price range. I spent weeks researching and ultimately decided to return to the world of Alienware. My first gaming laptop (as you will likely remember from a previous post) was an Alienware laptop, which lasted for a long time. Most of the top gaming laptops I researched (including the newer ASUS RoG, MSI Titan, and Razer Blade) have a very long delay for delivery – I am talking months before I could even get my hands on any of them. The few that I could order directly were lower powered than the Alienware or much more expensive (some topping out at $7k+).

So finally, I selected a very high-powered laptop that was custom made for me by Alienware and it has already been delivered! Here are the specs:

Processor13th Gen Intel Core i9 13900HX (24 Core, 36MB Cache, up to 5.4 GHz).
GraphicsNVidia GeForce RTX 4090 16GB GDDR6 GPU
RAM64GB (2x 32GB) DDR5 4800 MHz
Display18″ QHD (2560 x 1600) 165Hz DCI-P3
KeyboardAlienware CherryMX Ultra-Low-profile mechanical keyboard

Suffice it to say, I am very excited to test out the capabilities of this monster! I have already done some testing with some of my favorite games and even completed a stream on Twitch with it. It has had no issues at all with what I have thrown at it.

If you would like to watch the stream where I unbox the laptop and share the story that got me here, please check out the YouTube video below!

I am now freelancing!

Hello friends and readers! I have not posted much here as there really has not been much to post. I am working full time, raising the family, doing martial arts and all the other stuff. However, my wife’s job is in jeopardy due to some new laws so she does not have as many students to teach.

I have decided to try to fill the gap by offering myself as a proofreader/writer on Fiverr. So if you need any help with getting your term paper, article, book chapter or whatever reviewed and edited, please check out my seller page here:

I promise I won’t turn my blog into an advertising site, this is just a way to allow my skills to be used and earn some extra cash in the process! Take care friends!

Moving to Warp Speed

Hello friends! It’s been a while since I posted here and honestly, I have not had much to talk about in the IT world or the gaming world. My job has now transitioned to me being in charge of the Security Incident and Event Manager (SIEM) for our company and not any IAM stuff at all. I am still teaching my Liberty classes albeit with some dips from time to time due to class availability. However, I finally have something interesting to post about… I got a new gaming laptop!

As many of you might remember from a post way back in 2011, I purchased a brand new Alienware R13 gaming laptop and kept it as my primary laptop for many years. Then, in 2015, I added new hardware to the laptop instead of spending the $2k it would cost to buy a new laptop. This helped me get by for a few more years and I just settled for sub-par graphics and performance to still enjoy games.

Fast forward to March 2019, my laptop is now 8 years old with some minor hardware upgrades made 4 years previous. I generally keep my laptop near my living room chair so that I can easily grab it and start gaming when needed. This is usually behind a table in the living room. That is where it stayed. However, my children decided to bring popcicles into the living room. One of my kids did this and forgot their snack on the edge of the aforementioned living room table. The end result is that the frozen popsicle eventually melted and drained… right into the USB port on the side of my laptop.

For a week or so, the device kept working normally with only a few minor hiccups. However, I started noticing that none of the USB ports on the side that received the drip seemed to work properly. Even the USB receiver for my trackball was starting to randomly not work or forget that it exists. I knew that the drainage did more damage than I had initially planned. So, after much negotiating, my dear wife decided that I could officially purchase a new laptop.

I did weeks of research, asking countless friends for their suggestions. I also watched many YouTube reviews, read hardware articles, etc. Ultimately, I decided on the ASUS Republic of Gamers (ROG) Strix Scar II. I have loved Asus for years and put their motherboards in many of my home built PC’s. I even purchased their router (not the best one I admit) and their monitors (surprisingly hearty). I didn’t buy the absolute highest end device, but I got one that is pretty darn beefy.

ProcessorIntel Core i7-8750 Hexa Core CPU
GraphicsNVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 6GB DDR6
RAM16GB DDR4 2666mhz
Display17.3″ 1920 x 1080, 144Mhz

Wow! This thing is really moving my gaming into warp speed. The performance increase in graphics is so ridiculous that I can’t even remember what it was like before this. Granted, some of my favorites such as Star Wars: The Old Republic, have not had much of a change in the graphics since 2011, but the world does look more vibrant. The change in performance on Skyrim was pretty noticeable as well, the world is 100 times more realistic and enveloping than I imagined.

The place I have probably seen some of the most improvement is in my go-to brain relaxer – The Sims 4. While it’s true that although I have some minor mods to change appearance, the Sims still do not look like true humans, they look more realistic than before. For example, one of the characters added with the “City Living” expansion is a character named Miyo Oko. She’s obviously designed to follow Yoko Ono as the basis, but then they added some very Anime-esque elements to her including hot pink hair and a silly kawaii shirt. When I was looking at her close up last night (using the cool new “First Person view”), I saw…layers in her hair… it was crazy. You can see individual layers of her hair and it doesn’t just appear on her head as a glob of pink. Plus, the “Get Famous” expansion causes certain Sims who have become stars to have a “Fame Shine” based on the level of fame they have. When one of the sims reaches “Global Superstar” they have enough stars glowing in the air around them to make the vampires from Twilight nervous. With this hardware, the shine seems to wash over the character and reflect off their bodies. I cannot explain how ridiculous that is on a video game.

I also found that the graphics on some of my other standby games has increased as well. For instance, I fired up World of Warcraft to do some mindless fighting for a bit. Blizzard made a texture enhancement about a year ago to all the base characters in the game. My old laptop was not really able to show much difference there, but the new one, it is quite pronounced. As the characters move, their clothes flow and bounce much like you would expect in real world conditions. The textures of their bodies, faces, hands, feet, etc. seem much softer and more detailed. But more than that… the world itself is 10x more immersive on this new gear. The sky, the grass, the leaves, the water, etc. it’s all so realistic that it is crazy.

I have one more big thing to try. I was offered the ability to pick a new game from a list of complimentary games as a bonus for purchasing my laptop. I ultimately decided on “Anthem” which was released only a few short months ago. I have not yet fired this game up to see what it looks like on the hardware, but I plan to do so very soon.

So far, I am very pleased with this new gear. I just wish I could remember to install the second SSD soon… running out of space very quickly.

Until next time, goodbye!

Sims 4: Get to Work – But Only Retail!


I know that this is normally my technology blog and I have a separate blog all about retro gaming but I have a gaming conversation that is not retro, only gaming. I have been a fan of The Sims games for years, having played every major installment of the game and most of the important expansion packs that came out. We are currently in the era of Sims 4 but I do not think any word has come out about Sims 5. Originally, I only purchased The Sims 4 base when it came out. I later purchased The Sims 4: Get to Work because I liked being able to follow my sim to work. Just recently, I saw a good deal from EA and purchased “Get Together” and “Vampires”. Obviously, when I have new game content to play with, I have a period of time where I want to play more of the game to enjoy it.

So I’ve already had fun with Get Together EP because it allows me to be a DJ and allows me to create any number of things, including crazy cults if I so chose. Vampires is a whole other item entirely. I did enjoy playing it for a bit but decided that while I was happy to try the vampire life, I was glad to discover the cure for vampirism and return to being a normal Sim even though I’d forgotten how much time the sims spend going to the bathroom and making/preparing food. But I had another reason for curing my vampirism – opening a business.

I had expected that by working my character’s ability up to the  max level in DJ that I could get a job as a DJ but you cannot. I then figured that I could open a club and then be “self employed” as a DJ. This also does not work, at least not in the way it should work. You see, “Get to Work” only allows you to create a “Retail Lot” where you must sell things. You cannot even buy a lot marked as “Nightclub”. You CAN create a retail lot, send it to your library, then replace it on the world and mark it as a “Nightclub” but then you cannot own it. So unless I’m mixing and selling drinks (which you can do but it is really hard to do), you cannot run a night club.

However, I finally came up with a good idea – make a vampire-themed store. You see, I still have lots of vampire items (Plasma Packs, Plasma Fruit, Wolfsbane, Sixam Mosquito Seeds, and Garlic) that now, as I’m no longer a vampire, do not need. My trees still produce the fruit/seeds, so it’s easy to restock. However, the main item everyone keeps buying from me is a vampire-themed chair. This is a standard item that I’m selling even though you can manually buy it from the “Buy Mode” but I guess the NPC’s in the game can’t. Oh well, making $2k per night selling chairs is pretty good living for a former vampire. Now, if I can only make the DJ stuff more financially feasible.

I hope you enjoyed this interesting distraction from my normal posts.

Life Transitions

It is long overdue time for my super delayed update to this blog and my obligatory excuse but this time I actually have good reason for real! As of March 21, I left my comfortable position with the University of Oklahoma to take on a new adventure… this time in a whole other state! I accepted a position with a financial services company in the Kansas City, MO area and started on April 2nd. This was not a decision that I took lightly as I did feel like there was much left to be done at OU but the more I considered some of the key issues – underfunded education for my children (see OK Teacher Walk Out), considerable process changes at OU and the state of the IAM program, I decided that the time to make a move had come.

I had been feeling the pain of the tightening budgets in Oklahoma (remember that OU is technically a part of the government of Oklahoma which is broke), lack of potential funding for future projects, and considerable power struggles that are par for the course in higher education, I decided to open myself to new positions… specifically ones that were not in the state of Oklahoma. I was in the running for positions from Palo Alto, CA to Austin, TX to Philadelphia, PA and… two in Kansas City, MO. Turns out that one of the positions in KCMO (as locals call it) had been looking to fill a position like mine for almost a year. After 6 months, the leadership found me and began watching me and waiting for the right time. Finally, they sent their HR team to ask me about the potential interest for the position. In looking at things, the city was only 5 hours away from Oklahoma so I could be close enough to my dear sweet mom and friends should I need them. With the potential salary offered, I could see a great potential to improve our life standing if I played my cards right.

The interviews occurred at breakneck speed. I had a phone interview with their HR person on a Monday. Then, on Wednesday, I had a phone interview with two technical people who I would work closely with. Then, on Friday, I had an interview with the hiring manager. A week later, I hopped in my car and made a perilous drive to Kansas City, MO (in the midst of ice and snow) and did my in-person interview. By the time I left KCMO, the manager basically said “you got the job, we just have to put the offer together.” So I waited and got an offer a few days later. The initial offer was heartbreaking because it was not what I had been told I could get and might not make the financial situation much better. I came in with a high ball offer and we met at almost my offer. The deal was sealed.

The next thing you know, I am working like a mad man to dejunk our house so that the paid relocation movers wouldn’t haul a bunch of junk. My wife and even my kids stepped up and started reducing. Fast forward to 3/26 and I am loading a UHaul trailer with the basic belongings we needed to start life until the movers came. I packed my two oldest kids into the car and I left Oklahoma. I wish I could say that I was a tough guy but I absolutely cried to leave my wife, three smaller children and exchange students at home. I spent the last week of March living like a single dad with two kids until I started my job. There were plenty of ups and downs including the trailer refusing to detach until I hit a bump at the school and sent it soaring into my muffler, ice and snow, flaking nannies and countless other things. However, the tide is slowly turning.

I now live in a house with Gigabit Fiber (unlike my 1 mbps line of sight internet), I have three floors of house space, it takes me less than 5 minutes to get to basic things and only 20 to get to even bigger things in my car. My commute is a bit more grisly as I spend about 20 minutes in bumper to bumper traffic to get into town. However, I can start to see the better school for my kids, the cheaper cost for most basic things, and most of all, a huge opportunity for growth. That’s where I have been and where I am going to be. My family will be fully reunited in June but until then, I feel the pain of a single, working dad with two kids. By faith I persevere.

Bundling choices with Twine

Hey there my dusty old blog! It’s been too long since I last put some information out here. I am still actively involved with IAM at OU, still teaching at Liberty, and still doing things like watching Doctor Who and playing SWTOR. I was recently selected to be the Higher Education coordinator for the Identiverse 2018 conference in Boston and I am very proud to be making some efforts at getting presenters and content available. But what else have I been doing? Would you believe that I am writing programs again? Well… sort of.

For this to make sense, I want to back up just a few months. I have never been that avid of a mobile gamer. I have two phones (one for work and one for home) and certainly keep them on me frequently. I have a few fun time wasters like Subway Surf, SongPop, and Bejeweled Stars. But beyond a brief foray into Game of War: Fire Age (which I had to quit because it was an extensive waste of my free time), I really did not do much in the way of games. That is, of course, until an Ad in SongPop showed me a game called “Choices” by Pixelberry Studios. If you are old enough to remember the “Choose your Own Adventure” books where you read a section and then, decide to either turn to page 301 if you fight the giant or go to page 29 if you ran for shelter in the caves, then you will have a taste of what Choices is like. Basically, the game is really a meta game with many ‘stories’ included (many of which are frequently having new chapters added weekly) where you get to read text, make a choice, and the game reacts accordingly. Add the fact that you have some very nicely done artwork and cool (if somewhat predictable) music, and you have a game that is very interesting.

I started playing through the game “The Crown and the Flame” which is a medieval fantasy RP about a princess and her childhood friend who are attacked by an evil empire and ousted from their home. You play the estranged Princess (well, ahem, Queen) Kenna in parts of the story and in others you play her rough and tumble “person of unknown history”TM friend Dominic Hunter. There are some incidentals where you play other characters but these are usually short term. The story unfolds across 3 books that are at least 12-15 chapters each. I couldn’t get enough of this game because every choice I made allowed me to do new things and see this grand tapestry unfold.

After finishing the series, I jumped from “The Crown and the Flame” to “Endless Summer” which, by the cover art appeared to be a ‘spring break party’ story and ended up being what I lovingly call “Lost: The Video Game”. However, with its air of mystery, catchy soundtrack, and deeply troubling storyline, I was hooked hard core. I have since completed the entire Endless Summer series but was woefully unhappy that you can’t really ‘win’ the game if you aren’t willing to pay. Many games have ‘freemium’ features that are designed to make the game more interactive or fun, but they usually do not prevent you from completing the game. That is not the case in Endless Summer. I spent hours glued to the game trying different choices and occasionally opting for premium features, only to get to the Epilogue and find out that I can’t actually see the full end of the game unless I pay 60 credits to recover six items that are needed to see the full ending. I still haven’t paid this and I feel lied to. Now I am on to “High School Story” which is another two-parter but so far I have played through one book without any issues with the paywall.

So what does this all mean for programming? Well, as you all know, I have been an RPG fan for years, I even run a Retro Gaming Blog where I talk about various RPG’s from the Nintendo, Super Nintendo and Sega. However, I am also an avid tabletop gamer… or at least I was until my personal and professional life made time for tabletop gaming virtually impossible. I have created many different games in my years as a teenager and as a young adult that I played with my friends. In some cases, I even wrote an entire RPG system (called the Realm Wars system) connected to my original homebrew series, Realm Wars. I have also served as Game Master (GM) or Dungeon Master (DM) depending on your vernacular in popular systems such as BESM 2 and 3, Dungeons and Dragons 3rd, 4th and 5th Edition, Rifts, and several systems my friends created including the Super Anime Wars (SAW) system and many others. As if my nerd flag was not raised high enough, I originally created a nautical-themed Multi-User Cyber Kingdom (MUCK) with a nautical theme from which my original web server, Darkseas, earned its name. Even more? Yes… there’s more. I am also a closet writer who has created many stories, books, and poems over my life. I find that writing stories is extremely enjoyable work and I often viewed the various RPG’s that I ran with my friends as forms of creative story writing, just with a team of people instead of on my own.

Surely you see what this is leading up to… right? Well… I am bundling all that together (see the title). There is a neat program called “Twine” that I was exposed to as a technology used at my university employer to help “Gamify” learning material. It is basically a technology that allows you to create self-contained webpage games that let you… MAKE CHOICES! Ultimately, you can make your own adventures with a very simple language that includes elements of HTML (something I learned to hand code in my early college years). You can also make it very creative by either writing your own JavaScript modules/code to help you program things or use the built in functions of one of Twine’s built in languages (Harlowe, SnowMan, and SugarCube). If you know some Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), which I learned enough to be dangerous with but never particularly excelled at, then you can make this game very shiny and interesting. That’s what I have started doing!

Now, I should say that I am still learning the more complicated aspects of Twine thanks to several awesome YouTube videos, but I can spin up a very basic game without much trouble. In fact, you can sample this by checking out my first full game that was a modified version of the Space Explorer game I learned to code on YouTube. I call it “Space Jump” and you can go out and give it a go if you’d like. As I get better at programming in Twine, I hope to take many game ideas in my brain and turn them in to fully playable Twine games. Maybe you’ll see one of my stories such as “The Meranite Chronicles” or “Osiris” turned into a Twine-based game. We’ll see.

That’s it for now! I am diving back into coding with Twine!

Finally! An IAM Certification

Today is a very exciting day! I was informed today that I have been accepted as a Certified Identity and Access Manager (CIAM) from the Identity Management Institute. This is a nationally recognized, vendor-neutral certification showing that I am qualified to design, build, manage and maintain an Identity Management program for any organization. It focuses on strict adherence to professional guidelines and best practices in the field with a strong focus on the security underpinnings of the technology.

I have always said that it would fantastic if there was a certification outside of vendor certifications and it finally happened! Very excited to add this credential to my title!

Minecraft Experimentation – Creative Mode Building Height

If you saw my recent post, you would see that I purchased an XBox One for my family as part of our ‘shared’ Christmas toys. Given that my kids have friends who have access to Minecraft and that they have played it with their friends, it only makes sense that it would be one of the first games that we purchased. We did purchase it and my two oldest kids have created their own worlds to build in. Given that I am a former LEGO master builder, I find playing the game to be very interesting and relaxing.

In both my oldest child’s world and in my middle oldest child’s world on the game, I attempted to create a house (building a house is one of the first things people do in that game it seems). I quickly found that it was very easy to build a house in Creative mode and then completely forget where it is as I was wandering the world. So, when I started my own Minecraft world, I wanted to build a house that I would have a REALLY hard time losing sight of on the map. So, I began to build a huge tower from the ground up and following a very OCD color scheme as I went.

As I built, I never thought much about the physics of the game but they were unimportant at the time. By the time that I had built a house about 45 stories above the world, I had started to make all walls out of glass so I could enjoy the view of my brick-like kingdom. It was here that I had a sudden thought – how tall will Minecraft allow me to build my house in Creative mode? I decided I wanted to build my own ‘tower to the heavens’ and see if I could somehow build above the heavens in the game. Luckily, the actual width of my first building is not that wide (I tried to squeeze it into a valley near the center of the map) so building it was not a herculean project but required about a week’s worth of time (in small, 1 to 2 hour blips).

By the time my house reached about 70 stories (with each story being about three bricks high), I was starting to get slightly fatigued and slightly frustrated that I couldn’t figure out where the limit was. I decided to take to the interwebs and found a few posts that indicated that the maximum height of a building in the game was approximately Y: 256 (256 bricks from the ground up). This would make my building about 85 stories high. I let my hand rest briefly and then continued building.

Unfortunately, I lost two dogs on the way (I had domesticated three). I had domesticated three dogs and a horse and let the dogs stay set to “Follow Me.” The game will do everything in its power to make the dogs follow you but I don’t think the logic was designed for people who use the “Free Fly” or “God Mode” in Creative. You see… my building was already about 80 stories up when I had my three dogs follow me up from the ground. I had taken a brief ‘fall’ to the surface and walked around a bit to make sure that my mammoth tower was visible clearly even in the highly forested area in which I built it. The dogs followed me back up, all 79+ flights of stairs. I would usually build the first level of a story while standing on the floor inside the tower and often would continue to use a floating stance to build the second level of the floor. By the time I got to the third level, I discovered that it was much easier to build this level by hovering outside of the building. My dogs would often “teleport” to the block area I was working on. Usually I could handle this by leashing them and then having them “sit” somewhere near me. But on a few occasions, they would teleport RIGHT when I dropped a block, this caused them to be forced outside of the wall. Dogs don’t enjoy free floating powers like humans and my dogs hit the ground with a loud “Splat”… eww. I lost Pooch 1 about floor 81 and I ultimately lost Pooch 2 at about floor 83. Yet I KEPT building.

It turns out that the game gives you a bit higher limit on the XBox than on the computer version of the game (which most of the players who announced the 256 limit used). The end result? You can evidently build to Y:260 before the game cuts you off. I wondered if I would get some weird glitch but that never happened. Basically, once I got to Y:260, I tried to place a block on what would have been Y:261 and I simply did not have a “place” option. I tried at least 15 different angles and zoom levels but the game simply will not let you do any building beyond that level. So that’s the level where my massive tower ended.

What next? Well, I had a vision that I wanted to create a sort of “Sky City” where I could build various towers at different locations around the map and connect them all with a ‘sky sidewalk’. So once I built the core tower in the virtual center of the world, I began building a skyway southward. I plan to build a tower as close to the “South Pole” of the game map that I can. I will then go back to my center tower and build out North followed by the other cardinal directions. I am not sure what I will do after that, but I want to try and build some “sky pastures” and see if I can convince any animals to be lead up there and take up a residency in a pasture that is very high up. Of course, I will try to build some good restraining walls so that they can’t just fall off the map and die as my dogs did. I also talked about building a mine cart ride between a few of the areas as something like a roller-coaster but I have not practiced much in building these yet. We’ll see how far I get.

Unfortunately, I lost Pooch 3 yesterday. I started building a 4×4 sidewalk southward. I would then come back after building the ‘floor’ of the sidewalk and then build the retaining rails to the end of the floor and then start adding another batch of sidewalk. Pooch 3 followed me but had (wisely) stayed back about 10 squares from my current ‘dead air’ zone. Unfortunately, as I built the last block of the retaining rail, the game decided to teleport him RIGHT as I placed the block. He made a whimpering noise and then a splat. Man… my character may have a hard time agreeing to have any dogs for a while. Luckily there is a huge world below with lots of wolves hanging around. I may eventually wander my sky city surrounded by a wall of dogs. LOL.

I see why people like this game so much!

Next Generation Gaming

It’s time for my obligatory, once per year post. (Just kidding but I do have a notable track record.) Life has simply been too busy for me to spend much energy on posting to my blogs. I would love to post more regularly but any brief pauses I have are usually times I try to rest before the next round. I am still making a good pathway as an IT Director in my current position and though it has had its ups and downs, it’s been a fun experience. I also have been continuing my efforts as a teacher with Liberty University and that’s been a fun and unique walk in of itself.

But this post isn’t about life, you can read that on my Facebook and other places. It is, however, about tech. As some of you might remember, I purchased a Nintendo Wii (original, not WiiU) about  6 years ago so that Mady could have a game system that was kid-friendly. It has served its purpose for some time and was even the first way we could ever watch Netflix. However, as our other children have grown up and want to play games, the Wii’s library of available games continues to wane and the game discs are starting to act up more and more. I noticed, over time, that Adrian spends his down time after church playing the Lego games on the church’s XBox 360 systems and seems to enjoy it. It was financially silly to purchase an XBox 360 given that it is on its way out and probably running older (or almost as old) hardware as the Wii. That being said, I finally broke down and purchased an XBox One as a late family Christmas gift.

I found it extremely humorous that the first thing it wanted to do when I set it up was download updates. That’s Microsoft’s mantra I guess. Even though our internet at home is getting better over time, it’s still maxed out at about 3.5 Mbps and a 4 GB update will take a LONG time. So, I brought it to my office and plugged it into the Student network to let it get the updates. It only took about 5 minutes to get the rest of the update that would have taken hours at my house. It then grabbed several new updates culminating in an hour long download cycle. At last it was updated and I used some of the bandwidth to download a few games as well.

I was initially concerned that the library of games available was highly limited for younger gamers (most games are E-10+) but there are a few games such as the ever so popular Minecraft, a few Lego games, and an interesting game called “Ori and The Blind Forest”. I sucked in the Megaman Legacy game (has all 6 of the Original Megaman games in one) and a “Family Game Night” at my sister in law’s suggestion.

This thing is pretty slick so far. Yes, my friends are mostly PlayStation gamers so I certainly got my fair share of comments at choosing the system that is not their favorite but I think the library for PlayStation 4 games that are kid friendly is even smaller – not to mention there is no Minecraft. I like the fact that it does an HDMI pass-through on my cable box so I don’t have to sacrifice the other devices connected to my TV’s shocking 2 HDMI ports nor do I have to reattach the HDMI switcher box as it was prone to forgetting when devices were connected. My wife, our exchange student and I had a great bit of fun playing Monopoly on the Family Game Night game and I had fun beating Mady at Scrabble. The kids have enjoyed playing Minecraft as well… or at least the bigger kids and our bonus kids.

Right now, I feel like this is a good piece of tech to purchase but we’ll see if I have buyer’s remorse after a few months.

Zounds! A New Phone?


Hello all! I know… I know… you probably got tired of waiting on me to update. Sorry, I have been busy with finishing a very challenging teaching term at Liberty, going through holidays and countless other things. I have not done a whole lot of tinkering around or techy things worthy of mention on my blog outside of installing three monitors to connect to my iMac in the DJ6i studio. However, something has happened that is useful. My wife was tired of dealing with her aging iPhone 4s and it made no sense to upgrade her phone and not upgrade mine. Her phone was running out of space and the camera was starting to lag compared to other modern tools. My phone was working relatively well but the camera never worked inside because of some bug in the Zoe software that caused all indoor pictures to have a purple/red hue. Considering that photos of my kids and photos as a whole are a vital part of of our lives, I wanted to replace my phone too.

In the end, she ended up going for a Galaxy S6. I thought I was getting an HTC One M9 (the direct successor to my M8). I ended up realizing later (because the case I ordered did not fit) that I had actually purchased the A9 which is even newer than the M9. I still have no Otter Box case for it (it is so new that no such case exists) but I found an acceptable case for the short term. That being said, I felt it would be fun to discuss my findings about this A9 phone. However, since the only thing I have to compare it to is my M8, forgive me if the review seems somewhat biased.


The phone is almost the exact size of my M8, though the screen is bigger (mostly due to the fact that there is only one hardware button now instead of three so the screen is ‘stretched’ father than the old phone. It is about the same weight as my M8 but feels lighter since it is not in the Otter Box case that I am used to. One of the first things I noticed from the use is that the phone only has a single hardware button that is basically a ‘home’ button. No longer can I double tap my home button and get the display of all open windows. I now have a windows soft button on the left, a home soft button in the middle and a back soft button on the right. This lack of double tap home still confuses me even though I have had the phone for two months or more. However, with the inclusion of the soft buttons, it does seem that my apps tend to be much more standardized as far as which button does what and this is a great improvement over the old Android OS. There is still a hard ‘lock’ button on the right side of the phone and hard volume up/down on the right just above my lock button. This took some getting used to since my M8 (and almost every smart device I have had in recent years) had the lock button on the top. I still instinctively push the top and sometimes get confused when it does nothing but that’s getting better. Another ‘button’ interest that I found is the fact that the hard home button also serves as a fingerprint sensor to unlock the phone instead of the standard pattern lock that I am used to (though this is also still available as a backup). It took a few tries to get it to accept my fingerprints but in the end I got it working. This screen is BRIGHT, there is no doubt about it. Even if I set brightness at level 2 of 3 (instead of Auto which I found to be difficult sometimes with Android), it will freaking blind you in the morning when you are bleary eyed and trying to turn off your Sleepbot alarm clock (everyone uses that, right? If you don’t then you should!). I have the option of using a native flashlight app (better than the now questionable flashlight apps that appear to sell unneeded information to third parties) but I rarely have to because that screen will give you all the light you need (provided you use a lighter theme as I tend to). The multiple processors and improved onboard RAM make this a snappy phone in a performance test (see bootup and other stats in the Software section). Speaking of lights… holy cow this camera has a bright flash! I am very glad to see the much improved camera without the annoying purple haze but if you want to take a picture in the dead of night, that flash is likely draw moths to you for a few seconds. Don’t even try to take a dark picture on an unsuspecting photo subject, even if they are asleep, that flash will wake them right up, camera sound or not (not that I tend to take pictures like this other than my children if they are sleeping in a funny position).

About the only real negatives I have found thus far are the power plug type and the speaker. My old phone had two speakers, one on the top and one on the bottom which allowed for a ‘stereo’ sound when listening to videos or using speaker phone, etc. This new phone only has one speaker on the bottom. The main concern I have for this is that it makes audio harder to hear than my old phone. Granted, I am not the person who spends all day playing movies, games and music aloud on my phone; I prefer to use a headphone jack whenever possible and even then, I rarely watch anything more than a YouTube video here and there on my phone. I do play some video games on the phone and the speaker makes it somewhat harder to hear when I am not using headphones; it also seems to be a very small speaker as I have found that if I hold my phone with one finger horizontal along the bottom of the phone and another on the left side, perpendicular to my other finger on my other hand, the speaker is easily garbled or almost muted by my finger, a simple move of my finger slightly further back on the bottom fixes this but it is awfully strange. The power plug type itself, is also slightly different. I understand that almost all new phones are using the advanced microUSB because it makes charge time a lot quicker (from almost empty to full in about 4 hours). Yes, my standard microUSB plugs (which I have in great supply as I acquired them over the 3+ years I owned my old phone) do ‘fit’ and they don’t give me some message about charging slower because of the plug (charge itself is almost identical regardless of plug) but the fit doesn’t feel as ‘clean’ as it used to. The new plug on my phone tends to grip down hard on the charger you plug in (good to avoid spurious disconnects of power when accidentally bumping your phone) but it disconnects just as quickly with the ‘new cable’ that it came with. On my old plugs, this charger connection bites down on them like a rabid pit bull and a simple tug on the cord is no longer sufficient to disconnect. I have actually stripped the head off two of my old chargers by accidentally trying a quick disconnect on the new phone. The only thing that seems to work is to physically grip the sides of my charger by sticking my fingers in the small gap between the charge connector and the top of the charger, and gently pull it loose. This may not seem like a big deal but if you are rushing to get ready in the morning and forget to do this, you may kill a cable or worse yet, have a MicroUSB head plugged in to your phone but stripped from all wires that requires you to engage in cell phone surgery to remove.


From a software perspective, there are a number of updates that I found interesting. One of the first things was the fact that it automatically encrypts the device after you have it established. I am actually very excited about this fact because my old phone did not do this without a considerable amount of effort and when I did so, it seemed to add 10 to 45 seconds on to the boot up process. With this native encryption, I do have to put my pattern in twice after a full power off cycle (once at the encryption stage and again to log in to the phone after boot), but it only adds about 5 seconds on to the boot up time and is considerably more secure to boot. Being an IT Security guy, this is a good thing. The actual boot time from completely powered off to fully operational seems to be no more than about 15 seconds which is pretty fantastic overall. The performance of Android Lollipop is greatly enhanced as well. There are a number of buttons and widgets that live in a different place now but I was able to restore most of the same functionality I had with my old phone and then some. My old friends were still readily available – HTC Sense, HTC weather, Facebook Widget, system icons (brightness, wireless on/off, bluetooth on/off and account sync on/off), and various others. I already shared the hard versus soft buttons and the new button locations so those bear no repeating. I will elaborate on the seemingly more universal button use now, however. Historically, a big complaint about Android devices is that the back and home buttons tended to have no universal standard for functions across the Play Store app library. Sometimes, hitting the back button would take back a screen (in your web browser or in a software application) and other times hitting it would kill the app completely and send you to the home screen. The ‘Home’ button would usually send you back to the home screen but might also return you to the main navigation page of the app you are in and of course, if you accidentally double-tapped it, it would give you a task manager. This has been changed (and improved overall) with the Lollipop. I now have three soft buttons, period, and they are always there in the bottom of my usable space. The back button seems to have finally gotten its act together and will universally send you back a page in any application you are in. If you happen to press it at the main page of an app, 95% of the time, the app will tell you that if you wish to exit, double tap the ‘back’ button. Yay! No more complete and total loss of data if you accidentally hit that button. Home, will always return you to your home page or essentially serve as a ‘minimize all windows’ type button. Of course, the ‘task’ button will always show other tasks you have open and simply allow you to close one but they have also included a nice feature that says “Clear All” which I REALLY like considering that I am OCD about closing all apps when not in use. Rarely do I find that I leave some battery sucking app open that does not wish to be turned off when I go to my Home screen. I hit the Task button and now I can close a single window or all of them.

I really don’t have a lot of bad things to say about the Android environment itself. As with any new change to the familiar way of doing things, I had to re-learn some ways that I do things but this was very minimal. I did not find many applications that didn’t work except my TaskManager Pro application that I bought back when I had my old M8 because I was tired of the aforementioned battery sucking apps. I can load the app and it still shows the list of applications that are running, but using the ‘force close’ option no longer does much but this doesn’t really matter because I can use the “Task” soft button and it will do this. I ultimately ended up uninstalling Task Manager Pro and I haven’t missed it. I did still run into some common errors such as the ‘Link Contacts’ issue wherein I can have a contact that is saved in my phone, I try to link them to a Facebook or LinkedIn only to find that the link refuses to work from time to time. Most of these issues are related to how the individual apps deal with linking rather than how the Android OS deals with it. In fact, Facebook even told me that the linking option on contacts was having issues but was being repaired. Unfortunately, I found that this option was removed by Facebook however, I found Sync.Me which seems to do the trick.

User Experience

The User Experience with the new phone, though much the same as the experience with my old phone, has certainly improved. As mentioned in the hardware section, this phone has a very snappy response and almost all of my apps are quick to open (though they may take a second longer if they have to use internet to validate something). I can seamlessly switch apps without issue and even having 10 to 15 apps open at once does not seem to hamper performance. The Swype keyboard (which has become a requirement for me anymore) still seems to struggle with interpreting my keystrokes when I go very fast but this is more of a Swype/finger state issue than with the phone itself. Of course, Android itself is pretty much Google OS so if you do not have a Google account to link to your phone, you will be high and dry. The phone does seem to allow me the distinction between a GMail account and a Google+ account but the differences between the two are relatively nonexistent anymore. The phone does still have a bit of an issue if you have three or four Google accounts connected at once but this is usually just limited to Google+ related things and these more or less work themselves out with account switching. My contacts from Google, LinkedIn, Twitter and G+ work really well and the inclusion of the Sync.Me application allows me to sync Facebook as well so my phone contacts are doing great.

The only main downside from a UX perspective I have found seems to be limited to the performance or registering of taps, double-taps and swipes on certain applications. The most prominent example of this is one of my obsessions, Subway Surfer. If you are not familiar with this, look it up, it’s a great 3D platform game available on Android and iOS and lets you run around and jump over subway cars while collecting coins. This game is something that is easily one of my biggest time dumps on my phone as I tend to play it when I am waiting on anything (like an appointment), when I am bored at home and other places. The game does suffer a little jitter on graphics when a new game is first launched after the game has been closed but otherwise performs great. However, I have found that because of the sensitivity of the A9 phone’s touch pad, sometimes I don’t do enough motion for the game to register which causes me to smash into an oncoming streetcar or miss a critical jump. I have found that I have to make my motions more pronounced (aka more distance between start and end points when swiping up/down/side to side) this usually goes away but it is highly frustrating when I am close to beating a top score and then the game suddenly fails to detect a critical motion because I didn’t move far enough. I have notified the game developer, though I do not know if I am the only person experiencing this or not.


When it’s all said and done, I am very happy with this new phone. It has a few minor annoyances but the overall performance and style is awesome! I just wish Otter Box was faster at developing a case. I keep thinking that the screen will shatter any time I drop the phone since the current case I have does not have a front screen protector. Otherwise, this is great!