Creating a bootable USB drive with Rufus

A bootable USB drive is a stand alone drive that a computer can boot from or use to install an operating system. If you have ever needed to install Windows on a new computer, this is the way to do it.

A tool called Rufus for Windows allows you to burn .ISO images to a drive and makes it bootable.  There are various images that you can download including Windows, Linux, Mac etc.

For demonstration purposes, I have an .ISO for a popular disk partitioning software (GParted) which I am going to boot as a Live CD. This allows the computer to run directly from the drive with no installation. After inserting a flash drive with a high enough storage capacity and backing up any data on it, you can open the rufus.exe file.

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After this, select the USB device from the Device dropdown section. Choose your Partition scheme and target system based on your computer’s BIOS. Name the volume label and then select your ISO image. After you have done it all, you can click START.

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If you get a message like this, select ISO image mode and click OK.

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Be sure you have no files that you need and then click OK because all your data will be erased.

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After the bar is completely green, shutdown your computer and then click the F8, F11, or F12 button as it varies. Try all of them to see which one works. Then select your newly created drive from the screen.

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Once you do, you are free to do whatever you want in the Live CD environment or to install your OS.

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This is a very useful tool and can be used for troubleshooting your PC or to use special software that needs to be run directly, not on top of an OS.

What is a USB OTG cable?

A USB OTG cable or adapter is a small dongle that allows you to plug in full size USB port devices into your phone or tablet. On Android, this can serve many purposes and expand your devices functionality.

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This is a USB C to USB Female adapter that can be plugged into your device.

File Transfer

One of the most useful is to transfer files from your phone to a USB stick or the other way around. This is useful for reading media off another drive and not using your devices internal memory. Using a hard drive, you can effectively add multiple terabytes of storage that your phone can read and playback on your phone.

Charging other devices

As you can see from the image above, you can also charge other devices using your phone’s internal battery. For example, if your tablet was full charged and your phone was running low, you could transfer some power over to it.

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Connecting a mouse and keyboard

By connecting a mouse and keyboard, you can navigate throughout your device while also being more productive if you are trying to type an essay or email. Also, if your phone screen ever cracks and is unresponsive, you can use a mouse to save your important files or until you can replace your screen.

This is a GIF of a mouse connected to a phone and navigating around it.

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Playing games with an external controller

If you have games that support it, you can easily plug in a wired XBOX or PS controller to play the game. This can emulate the feel of having a console and can make game play much smoother.  Many Android Emulators for older consoles and handhelds can map the buttons to whatever in game action you would like.

This is Minecraft Pocket Edition running on a tablet with a controller attached.

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While these are some of the main functions, there are many others such as…

  • MIDI device to make music
  • Control DSLR cameras
  • Connect an ethernet cable
  • Use a USB based camera
  • Use USB accessories that require power, like an LED or Fan

A cable for your device can be found on sites such as Amazon or eBay. In the end, buying a simple $5 dollar cable or dongle can greatly improve your experience with Android and the way you use your device, so I highly recommend it.

Turning on your computer with voice: Alexa and IFTTT

Amazon Alexa is a powerful voice assistant that is capable of connecting to services such as IFTTT, which allows you to “create chains of simple conditional statements”. This allows you to do many things by connecting your voice to various other web services. To turn on your PC however, you need a couple of things.

Once you get all of these, open the IFTTT app and enable this applet. You also need to connect your Amazon account by signing in.

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After this, open the Wake on Lan app and add your device from the list, or enter the MAC and IP address manually.

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Then, follow these steps to configure the router to be able to send magic packets to wake your computer: HowToGeek.

After that’s done, shut down your computer and test it through the Wake On Lan app. If it turns on, then you have done everything successfully and can proceed to the Tasker setup.

Once you open Tasker, you need to navigate to the Tasks panel and then click the plus button at the bottom. After naming it (Alexa WOL), you click the plus, Plugin and then Wake on Lan. Choose your computer from the list and then back out of the menu.

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Swipe to the leftmost panel (Profiles),  and click the plus. From the list, choose Event, Phone, and then Received text. Enter the text: “PC is booting” and then leave the sender portion blank. Back out and then select a task for that to trigger.

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Now go to the IFTTT app and set the text phrase to be “PC is booting” as we did earlier. It has to be exact, or it won’t work.

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If all is correct, you can now go to your Alexa device, and say “Alexa, trigger pc on” and it should respond by saying “Sending that to IFTTT”. If your phone receives a message and your computer boots, you have successfully configured everything correctly.

Here is a video of it in action.

This is just one of the many useful functions of Alexa as well as IFTTT. You can check out many more applets and uses for voice commands to make your life easier and become more productive.

 

Video Game Emulation

Emulation is the “reproduction of the function or action of a different computer, software system, etc.” Video game emulation is similar to running virtual machines of other OSes on one computer, but can be much more complicated as there are some architectures that are very hard to code due to a lack of documentation.

By re-creating a system to work on another platform, you need a lot more power than the original system to run it. As game system’s are getting more and more advanced, creating emulators for them is much more complicated.

There are a variety of emulators from very experimental to stable, depending on the console, difficulty, and developer base. Today, there is usually a stable emulator for every retro console, and many are also working on newer consoles.

For example, the Wii U is Nintendo’s 8th Generation console, designed to compete with the PS4 and Xbox One. Surprisingly, there is already an emulator in development to recreate such a complex system. It has a lot of bugs, but many games can still be played thanks to raw GPU power allowing for the system to be brute forced.

To start the emulator, all you need to do is download CEMU from http://cemu.info/ and then obtain a WUD/ISO file of the game you want to run. These files can be found on the internet, but you should only download it if you own a copy of the game.

After you open CEMU and load up the game, you can map the game to your keyboard or USB controller and play.

Here is Smash Bros. Brawl for Wii U running on a computer with Windows 10, i7-6700k, and an NVIDIA GTX 1070. It runs at a smooth 60 FPS and is very playable.

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There are many other emulators, for almost any game console you can imagine. They take a lot of time to create, but they preserve the console for years to come. Even without original hardware, the games can be played in the future using one system that can run various emulators. As consumers, you can now experience consoles without any hardware, just by downloading from the internet and trying it out.