Its the simultaneously best and worst thing about Android- that giant cliff you have to fly down to get into it. I'm not in the San Diego area, but I can certainly try to help you out.
One of the first things many guides tell you to do is install Clockworkmod or Team Win Recovery Project. I'm a fan of TWRP. You can get it from: TeamWin Projects - TWRP 2.6 - | TeamWin
I do not know the precise method to put it on a GS4, but I imagine its not dissimilar to the method on the Galaxy Victory- you'll probably need Odin, a free tool. TWRP's site also has installation guides, but they may only work on rooted devices. That being said: once you have a custom recovery, either CWM or TWRP, they can make what is called a 'nandroid' backup of your ENTIRE system that can be restored in the event of a cataclysm (phone bricking). That's where I'd start.