David’s Travel Tech Prep

I wrote this up prior to my Birthright Israel trip with Towson Hillel, but the advice here is applicable to any international travel. It covers essential technology and financial stuff that people always forget to do before their trips and regret after it’s too late.

  • Disable any Sim Card security locks that prevent you from using your phone if your Sim is removed.
  • Back up your device to the cloud and/or save important photos and contacts to your computer. Assume the worst can happen.
  • Google Maps – say/search “okay maps” to download the region you are traveling to as well as the route to the airport. The entire country of Israel is approximately 270MB as of June 2022. Waze is commonly used in Israel as well but doesn’t allow offline downloads.
  • Spotify premium or other music services, download your playlists offline in high quality, as streaming licenses may be unavailable in Israel. Enable offline mode. Overkill: firewall-block Spotify from accessing the internet prior to flight.
  • Google Translate, Microsoft Translator – download offline languages for the region you are traveling. For Israel, this would be English, Hebrew and Arabic (under 400MB for both apps)
  • Keyboards and voice typing – Enable Hebrew layout and input, download English voice-typing offline, and Hebrew if available
  • Update all apps, especially WhatsApp and the Birthright Israel app, and any pending system updates to your phone. Do not remove WhatsApp in Israel because you might not be able to log back in if you don’t have access to your phone number.
  • Multi-factor authentication that doesn’t rely on a phone number for accounts such as email and social media. Twilio Authy, Google Authenticator, etc.
  • Determine one or two credit cards and checking accounts that have minimal or no foreign transaction fees to bring on your trip. The Amazon Chase card has no fees, and Ally Bank debit cards have a 1% transaction fee. Discover is not commonly accepted in Israel but Visa and Mastercard are.
  • Write a note with all international and local phone numbers for financial cards you are carrying in case they are lost or stolen. Have this note emailed to yourself or to a family member in case of emergency.
  • Notify your financial institutions that you will be traveling so they can put a note on your account. Have all financial apps installed and logged in and know how to access card locking functionality. Lock all cards you aren’t taking on your trip prior to leaving home for the airport.
  • Decide if you want to keep biometric authentication (facial, iris, fingerprint) enabled on your device. While this is HIGHLY unlikely to occur, Israeli law allows police to forcibly unlock your phone with your biometrics, unlike most of the United States.

guides tech

How to Set Up Bitwarden

Bitwarden is a password manager that is Open Source, (aka Free as in Speech as well as Free as in Beer). The free portion is feature-rich and convenient for most purposes, containing all the features of a solid password manager, including encryption, and synchronizing between devices.

  1. First, you need to create a Bitwarden account. You can create this account on but be sure to store your Master Password in a safe space such as a safe, because this is what encrypts your other passwords.
  2. Next, you can optionally import your passwords from other password managers, including the built-in ones of browsers such as Microsoft Edge and Google Chrome. Instructions for importing passwords from your existing password managers are available here:
  3. After you have imported your passwords, it’s a good idea to install the applications and extensions for Bitwarden on your computer, your web browser(s), and on your mobile devices. Download links for all of these are available here:
  4. To configure the Bitwarden Desktop application, be sure to set configure a PIN login and enable other forms of access, such as Windows Hello on which allows for biometric access on a Windows computer with a fingerprint sensor or a supported infrared camera. You can set the time limit for how long the program will stay accessible before locking out the vault.
  5. The browser extensions can be set to autofill passwords on websites, but this setting is turned off by default. Additionally, the extension has a time-out limit for how long before the extension will lock out access to the vault. Be sure to disable the built-in password managers on your web browser to ensure you don’t save passwords there in the future and be sure to disable any previous password managers you used to use.
  6. On your mobile device, if you are running Android, you can have Bitwarden auto-fill passwords into mobile applications. You can additionally have fingerprint authentication to allow easy access to your vault if you have a fingerprint sensor. Some additional accessibility settings will need to be enabled to give the app the ability to do this autofill capability. iOS devices aren’t currently capable, but the app will still allow you to copy/paste passwords to and from your clipboard.
  7. All websites and apps are listed in Bitwarden with a name, and the URL, and with fields for your username and password. Additionally, there are notes fields, and Bitwarden will keep a password history of previous passwords that were saved. The URL can be exact, or approximate, such as “starting with” or otherwise. For many uses, the default should be fine, but if you have duplicates, you can adjust your settings for individual sites or across the app you are using.
  8. You can protect your Bitwarden account with 2-Factor-Authentication using apps such as Authy and Google Authenticator. Be sure to store any backup codes offline, because if you lose access, you will not be able to restore your account.
guides tech

GOG Activity Feed Experiment

The GOG Galaxy Game launcher has some tricks or flaws in order to get a game to appear in the user’s activity feed. From my experience, some games would appear, and others would not. Because of the open nature of GOG, there are several ways to install games obtained from the game publisher. Sadly, when a player is trying a new game, the “User has started playing Game” item in the activity feed will only show some of the installation methods. Thus I’m running this experiment to determine the successful ways to get this outcome.

Here’s a list of potential ways to install games with GOG in 2020. All of these methods assume that the user has GOG Galaxy Launcher 2 installed and logged into the user’s GOG account.

  1. By using the Galaxy’s built-in downloading method and hitting the play button from the download page.
  2. By using the Galaxy’s built-in downloading method and hitting the play button from the games page.
  3. By installing via the backup archive download from GOG’s site, hitting play from the installer without adding the game to the user’s library.
  4. By installing via the backup archive download from GOG’s site, hitting play from the installer after adding the game to the user’s library but not linking the executable.
  5. By installing via the backup archive download from GOG’s site, hitting play from the installer after adding the game to the user’s library and linking the executable.
  6. By installing via the backup archive download from GOG’s site, hitting play from the Galaxy launcher after adding the game to the user’s library and linking the executable.

Note that there is an occasional delay on how GOG syncs the activity feed.

Items from this list that I have tried for this experiment so far include:

  1. Installing a game and running from the Download page did not successfully add the item to the activity feed, but tracked time.
  2. See below for a discussion on one game that can appear similar to this.
  3. Installing a game downloaded from another GOG account and playing from the installer tracked time but didn’t add to the activity feed.
  4. Installing a game downloaded from another GOG account and playing from the installer after adding to the library but not linking the executable also tracked time but didn’t add to the activity feed.
  5. A mixed conflict discussed below.
  6. Untested directly but potentially indirectly tested, discussed below.

One game had been sideloaded from the archive installer, and later activated on the GOG account. Several hours had been played before direct account linkage. Time tracking occurred, but not achievement tracking. The game didn’t appear on the activity feed. After the linkage, the gameplay was stored in a different directory. Initially, starting the game from the GOG client did nothing, but after Cloud Saves were synced, the item was added to the activity feed as started playing for the first time.

When installing a game from the archive installer, and then leaving the installer open, I added the game to the library and linked the executable in the launcher. I then hit the Launch button from the installer and the game started. After a few minutes, I closed the game. The time tracking had not occurred in GOG immediately. Out of lack of patience after waiting several minutes, I hit the Play button from the Launcher library. After several minutes of playtime, I closed the game. Several minutes later, the item appeared on the activity feed, and the prior playtime had appeared in the launcher. Therefore, it is a mystery whether it was due to opening from the launcher or from the installer that triggered it. Additionally, there may be a time zone locale issue with the GOG feed on the website, as there is a time difference from the more accurate Galaxy launcher.


Personal Computer Setup

Check hardware is functional. Webcam, Microphone, RAM, screen, buttons, ports, etc.
Use a local non-Microsoft account to prevent cut username
Update Drivers with Lenovo Vantage
Change computer name
Update Windows
Check hardware is functional. Webcam, Microphone, RAM, screen, buttons, ports, etc.
Install Graphics Card Software
Install the Windows Subsystem for Linux
Windows Sandbox
Install Microsoft 365
Login to OneDrive

Essential software:
Microsoft Edge Dev

Accessory companion software:
Logitech Options:
Legion Accessory Central:
ThinkPad Ultra Docking Station firmware:
ThinkPad TrackPoint Keyboard II:
Steelseries Engine:

Miscellaneous software:
GOG Galaxy:
Epic Games Launcher:
Microsoft Teams if not included with Microsoft 365:
Plex Media Server:
Plex for Windows:

Licensed Software:
Adobe Creative Cloud:
Jetbrains Toolbox:
Wolfram Mathematica:

Apps from Microsoft Store:
Microsoft Whiteboard:
Microsoft To-Do:
Spotify music:
Ubuntu for Windows Subsystem for Linux:
VMWare Horizon Client:


Dissecting PDB and PRC files (Palm OS)

Say you have a PDB or PRC file from an old Palm device, and it has things you want. Some things this could be include calendar info, audio, text memos, etc. Things of various formats could be stored in these Palm Record files to be read by the device. The problem is that these files can’t necessarily be processed or simply extracted and immediately be useable.

These files typically have some header info, and then the actual file or files contents. Each file is stored in its own record, and larger files may need to be stored in multiple records possibly. Regardless, to break apart these files, I tried many different methods.

First, I analyzed some files with a text editor to inspect the idea of what I was looking at. I had a particular file I wanted to extract, an alarm sound called Concerto, as it isn’t available online in the original MIDI format. After finding the correct PDB file which contained about fifty records of MIDI sounds from a backup, I started attempting to dissect it.

One method included running a Java program to zip the contents as output, but it would create a massive massive file that could not actually be processed. Afterward, I analyzed the PDB file with a hex-editor to possibly break it apart. Some further research and someone suggested using API from a Java program written for Linux users to HotSync their devices called JSyncManager. This older program is open source, but to obtain the source code, I needed to use the obsolete CVS protocol to download it from Source Forge with the free version of CVSNT. The Java module that I needed got me nowhere.

I eventually ran into two lovely programs called PalmDump and PDBMake. PalmDump would output all the data of a PDB or PRC file in both Hex and ASCII form in two columns, into a single text file, and with separate headers for each record. This was helpful and helped me confirm that I was looking for record 3 from the file. However, I was getting lost to the point that I posted on the Reddit SlaveLabour network. But before anyone responded, I found the solution myself.

When taking the hexadecimal data and putting it into its own file using a hex-editor didn’t work. I tried putting a different MIDI of Game of Thrones music into a PDB file and saw something unusual in the header.

I then confirmed my suspicion when I discovered the program of Par. This program essentially lets you properly dump all the records into their own files from a PDB or PRC file, similar to extracting a ZIP archive. When comparing the hex data of record 3 which I knew to be a MIDI, to the Game of Thrones MIDI, I realized the file header for MIDI format required that it start with MThd. The header I was seeing for the file was PMrc..Concerto.MThd.

By removing that header up to the MThd with the hex-editor, I was able to playback the file as a MIDI! Sure, it didn’t sound exactly the same because of the different SoundFont included on Windows, giving it a piano instead of a beep. With WAVE audio files, the header starts with RIFF, but Palm adds its own stuff prepended at the beginning.


Windows Sandbox tips

Recent versions of Windows 10 give users the ability to install a sandboxed version of the OS for running programs you may only need once, or don’t want to be installed on your main disk. When you are done, as soon as you close the Sandbox, everything you have done will be lost. I’m just going to list off some tips and flaws I’ve encountered with this feature.

  • To install this, you would need to install the Feature from the old Windows 7-era Windows Features. You can search “Turn Windows Features On or Off” in your start menu or access it from the classic Control Panel – Programs and Features – Turn Windows Features On or Off. It is listed as Windows Sandbox.
  • While this system logs directly into the interface, there are some rare scenarios you may need the password to the default user of the system, “WDAGUtilityAccount“. The password might be “pw123” however I’ve not had time to test it. What I did when I needed the password, was reset it with the command line, by running the command “net user WDAGUtilityAccount * ” without quotes, and this would allow you to set a new password. Remember that any password changes will, of course, be wiped when you open the Sandbox again next time.
  • There will be issues if you want to run Hyper-V alongside other VM programs like VirtualBox and VMWare. Unfortunately, Windows Sandbox uses a limited version of Microsoft’s Hyper-V, so conflicts tend to occur. I’m still trying to get Sandbox and VirtualBox running concurrently without issue. The new VirtualBox 6 supports Hyper-V but I’ve yet to be able to experience that.
  • At least in my experience, the Windows Sandbox IP address is so if you run any server programs that you want to access on the host device that is running the Windows Sandbox through a web browser. I am unsure if this can be accessed from other devices on the network, by default at least.