Category Archives: Computers/Internet

Farewell to Fry’s

I’m going to miss two things about Fry’s Electronics, which shut down this week:

  • Being able to walk in and grab random parts immediately.
  • The decor.

And yeah, there’s nostalgia for the old days, but they’re already gone.

Back in the 1990s and early 2000s they really were a one-stop shop for computers, software, appliances, all kinds of electronics hardware, and the random snacks you might want to munch on while tinkering or upgrading. You could check out, or better yet try out – they had a huge number of computers available for demos – all kinds of cool tech.

I bought a lot of components for my desktop PC over the years, replacing pieces bit by bit. Sure, you could get complete systems at Micro Center or Best Buy or Circuit City, but none of them had the long tail of components that Fry’s did.

(There was also the generous return policy — I knew a lot of people who used the “Fry’s rental” when they needed something for a single project.)

Service was a mixed bag, though. Sometimes you’d get someone really knowledgeable who could help you pick out the best hardware combination for what you wanted. Sometimes you wouldn’t be able to find anyone. And a lot of the sales staff tended to be proto-techbros, so if you were shopping while female, or looking for Apple products — or worse, both — there was a good chance you’d get someone overly condescending.

Fading Away

They’ve been going downhill for a while. They dropped a lot of the middle range and focused on the high-end and low-end markets. All the articles talk about competition from online stores, and I suspect friendlier brick-and-mortar stores like Best Buy took over a lot of the mid-range consumer market.

When I built a gaming PC a few years ago, I tried Fry’s first, but I couldn’t find most of the parts I wanted. I only bought the case and power supply there, then ordered other parts from NewEgg, Amazon, or direct from the manufacturers. And I went back to Fry’s when I tried to put everything together and discovered I had the wrong mounting rails and needed another case fan.

They never really adapted to online shopping. Their website is still terrible (or was until Wednesday). Before 2019, big deal, I’d just walk into the store and browse anyway. But in 2020, after Covid-19 hit and in-person retail shut down, curbside pickup and shipping were the way to go. The search results were a pain to sort through, even for products that didn’t have nationwide shortages (like webcams). Even when I told it I wanted to look for shipping or local pickup, it kept trying to send me to San Jose, hundreds of miles away.

The Fry’s Experience

Ultimately, though, the most memorable thing about Fry’s couldn’t translate to a website. The locations I’ve been to were all converted warehouses or small office buildings. And each one was decorated with a theme.

Burbank’s store had a flying saucer crashed into the front, with statues of 50’s sci-fi aliens with ray guns scattered around as if they were invading the building. A giant squid’s tentacles supported the computer demo tables.

Anaheim had a giant mock-up of the Space Shuttle. If I remember right, the audio demo room was inside it.

Manhattan Beach had a Pacific Islands theme, with tropical plants, tiki statues, and murals based on Gauguin’s paintings from Tahiti.

Fountain Valley’s store was decked out in a classical Roman style, with columns, a mural of Roman gods, and a broken aqueduct that poured into a fountain in the center of the store. (I always thought that was a risky choice for an electronics store.)

Las Vegas had a giant slot machine for an entrance, but nothing special inside that I can recall.

Sad to say, I don’t seem to have taken photos inside any of these locations, though I do have a shot of the Vegas entryway, and of course now I can’t.

Wacom Registration error: “Profile ID Missing” (solved?)

This doesn’t seem to be a very common problem, given that when I searched for it I only found a single result on Google, but in case someone else out there runs into the same issue, I thought I’d write it up so they can find it.

I tried to register a Wacom Intuos drawing tablet. The way you do this is you open the Wacom software and click on the registration banner, which then opens your default web browser to the registration page on Wacom’s website, pre-filled with a serial number and some authorization token. If you’re already logged into a Wacom account, it should just register it immediately. Or you can create an account first.

The problem: I got a banner at the top with the error, “Profile ID Missing.” I went back to the Wacom Desktop Center, which popped up the registration banner again. Clicked again. Same problem.

Google search for Wacom register "Profile Id Missing" with one result, and the we've omitted similar results message.

Technically there was another result…which was another view of the same reviews.

The only reference I found when searching for wacom register "Profile ID Missing" was a German-language review review on the Amazon.de listing for an Intuos tablet. “Was zum Teufel ist eine Profile-ID?” They solved it by uninstalling and reinstalling the Wacom software, and for whatever reason, the registration link worked that time.

Before I got to that point, I tried something I didn’t think would work: I clicked in the URL bar on Firefox and hit Enter, causing it to reload the page. (I forget whether I’d already tried hitting the reload button.) Weirdly enough, it worked, and it registered the tablet. Finally!

Tech Giants’ Core Strategies

The Verge makes an interesting point about Microsoft’s acquisition of Bethesda: for the most part, Microsoft doesn’t care what hardware you run their stuff on, they just want you to buy the software. So it’s less likely to be about trying to gain Xbox exclusives and more likely to be about getting more games for Game Pass.

It reminds me of a blog post I read a few years back comparing the core businesses of various major tech players:

  • Apple sells hardware, and their software and media stores are a way to give you something to do with the hardware.
  • Microsoft sells software, and the hardware is to give you something to run their software on.
  • Google sells ads on services, and their hardware, operating systems, and software (Android, Pixel, Chromebooks, Chrome, etc. ) are there to connect you to their services.
  • Amazon sells stuff, and their hardware is a way to sell you virtual (and sometimes physical) stuff.

That’s why, for instance, you can run Gmail on anything, and Microsoft Office on almost anything, but iTunes, the main Apple program that actually runs on a non-Apple system, is designed primarily to hook you up with an iPhone (previously an iPod). And it’s why you can read Kindle eBooks on a Kindle device, or a Kindle app on an Android or iOS device, and they make it really easy to buy e-books from them, but really inconvenient to import anything from another eBook store.

Facebook is similar to Google in that their core strategy is a service with ads, and their apps and (when they branch out into it with things like Portal) hardware are ways to keep you using their services. Heck, they’re even tying the Oculus headsets to Facebook accounts now.

The post predates the rise of smart speakers and doorbells…but remember how the Echo was originally mostly a way to voice-order things through Amazon? Or Amazon Key, whose primary purpose was to allow delivery services to drop off packages inside your house so you wouldn’t have to worry about porch pirates?

Plus of course everyone wants to sell you subscriptions now!

And yet…it still fits remarkably well.

Minecraft Bedrock Beta vs. the Microsoft Store

There’s got to be a better way to do this. Actually, I know there’s a better way to do this, because Minecraft already does it in Java Edition.

How to try out snapshots in Minecraft Java Edition:

  • Change the version in the launcher.

How to go back to the stable version:

  • Change the version in the launcher.

How to try out betas in Minecraft Windows 10 Edition:

  • Log in as someone who Microsoft knows is an adult, because Xbox Insider only allows 18 and up.
  • Sign up for Xbox Insider
  • Sign up for the Minecraft beta in Xbox Insider
  • Download updates on your Microsoft Store apps and hope it installs the beta.

How to go back to the stable version:

  • Leave the beta in Xbox Insider
  • Download updates on your Microsoft Store apps and hope it goes back to the other version.
  • Back up your saved games, which are buried deep in a hidden folder with cryptic names. Seriously, they’re in $homedir\AppData\Local\Packages\Microsoft.MinecraftUWP_8wekyb3d8bbwe\LocalState\games\com.mojang\
  • Uninstall Minecraft from every account on the computer, which will also erase all of your saved worlds, which is why you needed to back them up first. (oops.)
  • Reinstall Minecraft
  • Restore your saved games

There’s a known issue where leaving the beta doesn’t always work — especially if there are multiple accounts on the computer that have Minecraft installed. The only reliable fix so far is to uninstall every copy of Minecraft (Bedrock edition) on the computer, in every user’s account.

I’m just glad I found out that uninstalling the app deletes all your worlds before having to uninstall it on the kid’s login!

Oop Store

The Microsoft Store for Windows really feels a lot more fragile to me than either the standard run-an-installer paradigm or the Linux style package manager. I haven’t dug into its inner workings, but it seems like something that came out of the mobile and console ecosystems…and hasn’t been completely adapted to running on a general computer.

For example: Applications are only accessible for the user who installed them, like on Android. But sometimes it downloads the app all over again, and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s not even clear how much is stored system-wide vs. per-user.

As near as I can tell, the Microsoft Store will only download the application if it’s newer than a version that’s already on the computer. So if the beta is newer than the stable release, and the beta still exists somewhere on the computer (like in another user’s account), it’ll just use that one instead of re-downloading it.

Unsaved

But regardless of how it handles multiple installations on the same computer, it’s inexcusable that there is literally no way to reinstall a broken copy of the game and keep your potentially years of progress on a world without first digging into a hidden folder, then through seven levels of folders with generic or cryptic names just to find your saved games and manually copying your saved games before you uninstall and reinstall the game.

It shouldn’t delete your games (at least not without asking).

And it should keep them somewhere you can find more easily.

How to disconnect OneDrive on macOS from an extra account that doesn’t exist anymore.

On my work computer I used to have two OneDrive accounts, one Business and one that Microsoft considered “Personal” even though it was used for work files on my work address. Eventually I deleted the extra “personal” account since we were consolidating.

But every time I restarted the MacBook, it would try to connect to both OneDrive accounts for syncing. I could quit the extra instance of OneDrive and forget about it until the next reboot, but there’s no way to disconnect it without logging in – and the account didn’t exist anymore.

Searching wasn’t helpful, since mostly I found info on how to disconnect from an account that did still exist. Or how to edit the registry. Not much help on a Mac. Even uninstalling and reinstalling OneDrive didn’t do it, because it just pulled both sets of credentials out of my keychain again.

I finally found an answer in one of the newer answers on this forum thread. The main answer wasn’t helpful, but it turns out that, hidden inside the resource folder of the OneDrive app package, there’s a command to reset OneDrive! Yeah, you have to reconnect to the account that does still exist, but that’s both easy and fast!

In brief:

  1. Close OneDrive
  2. Find OneDrive in the Applications Folder
  3. Right-click on it and choose Show Package Contents
  4. Go into the Contents/Resources folder
  5. The file will be either ResetOneDriveApp.command or ResetOneDriveAppStandalone.command. Double-click on it to run the command.
  6. Go back to OneDrive and reconfigure the account that you do still have!

Thanks, Nevyn42, for solving the problem!