Monday, August 09, 2010

Moving! Again

So I'm moving, again. Not that I think anyone is still around here due to my crappy posting schedule. It has been six months after all. I wouldn't be here either if I were you.

I'm now going to be posting over at Todd and Bill's site, The Nut and the Feisty Weasel. That title has to do with college football, or something. I don't know. I want no part of that title so I do not balk at not being represented on the masthead.

One of the things about running your own site, at least for me, is that when I don't write regularly I feel bad for not doing so, like I'm letting down my readers (both of you) and that everyone has left, which then makes me feel that posting isn't necessary because there's no one here. The problem is that I still want to write. Posting with Bill and Todd solves that problem in part because I'm sharing the load with two other folks and entering into a built in audience, even if that audience is for posts of a type I'm not going to make.

It makes sense in my head. Trust me.

So, for the time being, I'll be posting over there and, quite possibly, more than I do here now that the pressure of being solely responsible for content is lifted. At least that's what I'm telling myself now. Next week I'm sure will be a completely different story.

Please come visit me in my new digs that is if you're still visiting these old ones and as always, thank you for taking the time to listen to me blather on.


Monday, February 01, 2010

Podcasting Made (Mostly) Easy

The GameShark podcasting crew cut their teeth on our very first episode Thursday night and boy howdy is it a doozy. Where else can you hear me defend the portrayal of the pope as an incestuous murderer? Probably no where else as I'm sure to be fired by the end of the week.

There were plenty of technical issues including Skype issues, microphone issues and windy Boston weather blowing Danielle's internet out of her house but we managed to persevere through it all and come up with something worth listening to. At least we think so. Hopefully you agree. Take a listen and if you like it, why not subscribe to our handy RSS feed? You can also come here and listen to them via the gadget on the sidebar over there. So many ways do you have to hear myself and others blather on about games that I can see how you might confuse this day with Christmas or whatever deity approved day of gift giving you currently subscribe too.

I enjoyed making the podcast very, very much however they are a great deal of work and I'm saying this without bearing even a tenth of the total workload. That burden fell squarely on Todd's shoulders and he handled it with aplomb taking the mess of audio files we sent to him and turning it into something that somehow, magically, made us all sound halfway competent. Once that alchemy was performed it was nothing but getting it hosted, tagged, linked and posted on iTunes. That last part is proving tricky as iTunes appears to be broken on the podcasting accepting front. Hopefully that resolve itself soon so that our episodes can be dashed against the rocks of Apple's unforgiving coastline. At this point, I'll be happy if we get to 100 downloads. We're more than halfway there already so hopes are high.

Certainly as podcasters we have a lot to learn and you can tell in our first episode that this is the case but the first episode also shows that we enjoy each other's company and are comfortable enough with each other to talk smack. If I'm going to repeatedly stick my foot in my mouth and insult the leader of major religions, I can't think of a better group to do it with.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Sprinkles, Son of Sprinkles

So the new laptop has been ordered, for some time now actually and I'm anxiously awaiting its arrival. Here are the details of this mean machine:

Studio 17 Laptop
Intel® Core™ i7-720QM Quad Core Processor @ 1.6GHz (2.8GHz Turbo Mode, 6MB Cache)
4GB Shared Dual Channel DDR3 at 1066MHz
17.3” HD+ (900p) Bright LED Display with TrueLife™ and Camera
1GB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4650
500GB SATA HDD (7200rpm)
Genuine Windows® 7 Home Premium, 64bit, English
8X Slot Load CD/DVD Burner (Dual Layer DVD+/-R Drive)
Dell Wireless 1520 802.11n Half Mini-card
Microsoft® Works 9
McAfee Security Center with VirusScan, Firewall, Spyware Removal, 15-Months
85 Whr Lithium Ion Battery (9 cell)

I tried to future proof as much as one can in these crazy, technologically advanced times without breaking the bank. I went for something a little more gaming focused as I frequently have to turn down PC reviews and previews because I don't have anything capable of running software released in the past three years. All in all, I think it's a good machine and the 9 cell battery will be a nice change from the thirty minutes of battery power we're currently enjoying. Dell seems to think that the machine won't arrive until February which is a bit of a bummer but at the same time, short of going to Best Buy and paying more money for less of a machine, I don't see what choice I have.

I'm not at all looking forward to the migration of personal data and programs that will take place once the new machine arrives. Short of my Firefox bookmarks, I was able to avoid this entirely when I bought my personal laptop as that's just used for web surfing while playing games as well as my go-to travel machine. I use Google Docs for everything so I won't have much written material to transfer over, but all of the old emails and contact information as well as my entire iTunes library and other things will all have to move. Maybe this will finally get me to clean out our Outlook Inbox. Doubtful, but if anything will get me to do it, a move to a new PC will.

Usually I'm all excited when a new machine is coming as it means I can play new games on it, however I've become so insulated from PC gaming, I have no idea what I'd play in the first place. I hear Torchlight is good, so I may try that one out. Not that I need more games to play when watching TV but I love a good Diablo clone as much as the next guy and it would be nice to have a pet that actually serves a purpose other than taking up the bed and farting. Finally, I won't be limited to only games sold by Big Fish Games. Not that they don't make good games, but when the most your PC can handle is Fairway Solitaire, well, your options are fairly limited.

Nothing to do now but wait, figure out what files and software needs to be moved over and get the other PC's ready for their various moves. One will be moving down to the basement, one will be moving to the recycling center. It's like the circle of life only with more deadly Mercury and less Elton John singing.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

On The Buying of Laptops

We're closing in on five years in Georgia which also means that we've had our laptop, Mr. Sprinkles for almost five years. Unfortunately Mr. Sprinkles is starting to show his age and it's time for us to get a new laptop.

It started about six months ago when things would grind to a halt any time the virus updates downloaded or any time Linda attempted to start IE up. Firefox was faster to launch, but not by much. Now part of this is due to all of the various spyware, adware and other blank-ware programs installed to keep my PC clean as I plunder various torrent sites for new movies. Most of this is from having a PC that's almost 5 years old.

The other problem, which is also the biggest one, is that the battery can only hold a charge for about half an hour. Now as I've grown in years I've found that, depending on the time of day, I can only go about half an hour before having to to go the bathroom so I can certainly relate to Mr. Sprinkles, but whereas I can't get new bladder, I can get a new laptop. Sure I could get a new battery and some more memory and a larger internal hard drive, and upgrade to Windows 7 but really, isn't it just easier to get a new laptop?

So I'm looking for a new laptop and man, what a difference five years makes. First of all these things are incredibly cheap now. Like the one I'm looking for is less than half of what I paid for five years ago and I'm not slouching on parts here. Dell has also started selling pretty much everything with your PC. They've always given you tons of options for things like processors and RAM but now they've seriously expanded all of the stuff that goes with the PC. Want 1000 songs for a nickel? Here you go! How about twenty movies for $150! Take two, they're small! The strangest thing by far though is that once you get through picking what's in the laptop they bring you to the first accessory to buy which is, oddly enough, another laptop. Yes, that's right, the first accessory Dell recommends for your laptop is another laptop.

Now it's a mini, whatever the hell that is, but still, if you're buying a laptop, why do you need another laptop? When I first saw this I thought of Dharma and Greg where Dharma had a dog and her dog had a dog. The mini is supposed to be your laptop's laptop. What does that say about technology and our throw away culture that we consider a laptop to be an accessory for a laptop? Five years from now when you're picking up your new minivan the salesman will tell you "Hey we washed it, gassed it up and threw a golfcart in the back for you." Hell I'd buy another minivan if that was the deal.

So yeah, a laptop is incoming and with it all of the fun of seeing which one of the old programs work with it and which ones don't. I'm sure I'll do what I do with every new piece of technology that enters our home, namely be excited upon it's arrival, then pissed that things don't work than finally accepting of how the thing works once I figure out that it does what it's supposed to do, not necessarily what I want it to do. It's a beautiful cycle, much like a catepillar turning into a butterfly. An angry, bitter butterfly, but a butterfly nonetheless.

Monday, January 04, 2010


Usually I don't make resolutions for the new year, or any time really as when you're as perfect as I am, there's simply no need to. Lately though my perfection has dimmed a bit, and this slight imperfection warrants addressing. With this in mind I resolve to do the following this year:

1. Shut the hell up - I tend to talk longer than I need to when making a point. I do it mostly with my kids, however in my defense their attention tends to come in and out so you have to talk a bunch to ensure they hear the whole sentiment. Still though, I do go on too long and I've started doing it at work too. So, I resolve to make my point and then stop. Like now for example.

2. Swear less - As a result of my casual work place and my level of comfort there I tend to swear more at work than any semi-professional should. I don't think that anyone cares but even so, it's probably not the best thing to have a potty mouth at the work place. I've already started this one and man it's tough. I'll probably spend the entire ride home swearing to get it all out of my system before I interact with my kids.

3. Watch more movies - This is kind of a stupid one, but we've gotten away from watching movies at home and we need to get back to it. I used to watch movies all of the time when working out but have stopped in favor of gaming. I tend to have better workouts when I watch a movie as I don't have to slow down to handle a tricky section of the game, so there's a practical benefit there too. Mostly it's so that I don't feel like an idiot every time I walk past my extensive collection of DVD's that I don't watch. As a corollary to this I have to watch new movies and not the same movies over and over again. Ditto for Linda and I. We watched a bunch of movies over the break and it was nice. Turns out that big screen is good for more than just gaming.

The usual assortment of dieting and exercising resolutions don't apply to me as I already work out five days a week and I like food too much to go all bat shit crazy and give up the good stuff. In fact, I resolved today to learn how to make skillet fried chicken and that doesn't jive well with dieting. Besides, if I'm dieting I'm cranky and if I'm cranky I'm swearing so it's essential that I eat badly so that I can have success in the other parts of my life. No one wants to hear a hungry potty mouth drone on about how all he wants is to eat one fucking piece of goddamned fried motherfucking chicken.

Oh, I guess I should probably write here more too. Fine.

4. Write here more too - Look at me, I'm resolving!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Here We Go A' Caroling

With Christmas almost upon us we're listening to Christmas Carols at the house 24 hours a day and unlike in previous years when we'd rotate through the various Christmas cd's we have we're relying mostly on the radio for our Christmas Carol fix. This has, in retrospect, been a bad idea. Gone are the alt-Christmas nuggets of The O.C.'s Christmakkah mixes, gone are the awesome covers such as Jimmy Eat World's brilliant take on "Last Christmas", gone is Wyclef Jean freestyling over Stevie Wonder piano licks as they perform at the White House. No, they have all been replaced with the banal, lifeless Christmas carols emanating from B95.5, Atlanta's soft rock juggernaut of shitty music.

This is mostly an exercise of convenience as the kids are, shall we say, impatient when the cd ends and we do have some cd's with some very odd choices including a "Very Special Christmas" mix that ends with a Patti Smith rendition of "We Three Kings" that sounds like she's trying to give her musical interpretation of the apocalypse. Keeping the radio on ensures an uninterrupted string of Christmas glee and makes sure that nothing strange gets in. Unfortunately it also means that we're confronted with some truly horrible Christmas music.

When I was but a young lad we had a four album set of Christmas music. I can remember it well because every record was in a different color sleeve and each sleeve had different ornaments on it. My sister and I would sit around the record player and look at the sleeves while the music played. Now there were four records but we only played one of them as one record had all of the good songs such as "Holly Jolly Christmas", "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" and "Frosty the Snowman". When you're six, you want to hear about presents and mythical snow beasts, the coming of Our Lord and Saviour is far less important. Plus those songs were probably performed by the Lawrence Welk singers or some shit and as such were boring as hell. As a result of restricting myself to a childhood of snappier, faster Christmas songs I have zero tolerance for slower, drawn out holiday tunes.

Unfortunately, slower and drawn out seems to be the mark of a good Christmas song these days as I have heard some absolutely awful renditions of songs that are so slow and labored that they make "Jingle Bells" sounds like "Kashmir". Part of this is just shitty tempo choices, but part of this is the artist wanting to add their own "spin" to songs by adding words. A perfect example, James Taylor's rendition of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas". Not only is it dragged on forever by adding his own lyrics, as if the song wasn't quite good enough on its own, James feels that the song isn't quite specific enough as to when you should have a merry little Christmas, opting to add the word "right" to the line "have yourself a merry little Christmas now". Seriously James? Does the the word "now" not convey immediacy enough for you? Or are you concerned that people will be thinking on a glacial or galactic time scale and think that "now" means sometime this epoch and you want it "right now" as in this very instant? I'm willing to give Yolanda Adams a pass on this one because her version kicks ass and girlfriend can sing.

Of course, this is to say nothing of the rampant oversinging that every artist seems to think is their birthright. Maybe they think that their voice is a gift from Jesus and by dragging a note over an eight octave range is their way of thanking JC for his gifts, but whatever it is, it needs to stop. You can sing, we get it, now please wrap it up, I've got presents to buy. Christina Aguilera is by far the worst at this, which isn't surprising as she's not very good at non-Christmas music either.

Finally, some Christmas songs just need to go away and never come back. Over the course of a normal holiday season I'd hear "A Wonderful Christmas Time" three, maybe four times. I think I've heard it at least seven hundred times since Thanksgivingl. I am now convinced that Paul McCartney is Satan's agent on Earth sent to drive us all insane to the point where we murder each other.

Now don't get me wrong, I still love Christmas songs. Give me a good Johnny Mathis song or a Burl Ives tune, or better yet, Run-DMC's live version of "Christmas in Hollis" and I'm happier than a pig in shit. I just need to reclaim our Christmas from the greedy clutches of soft rock.

In the interest of that, enjoy one of the greatest Christmas songs ever made, courtesy of The Vandals. Oi to the world everyone!

Friday, October 30, 2009

PS3 Early Impressions

I've only had the PS3 a couple of days and things still aren't working properly on all fronts, but I've spent enough time with it to have formed some impressions. Overall I'm pleased with my purchase although like most of my consumer electronic purchases of late, I'd like some things to be different. Sony seems to give and take away with equal measure which is annoying, but no more so than most gadgets I've been dealing with lately.

First let's talk appearances. The PS3 slim is a very good looking piece of hardware. The matte finish makes it look elegantly understated. It's much, much smaller than I figured it would be as I had envisioned something akin to obelisk in 2001.

It's a pretty sparse rig with only an eject button and a power button up front to let you know that you can actually do stuff with it. It doesn't even have a disc tray option instead for a "suck it in and spit it out" thingamabob like what you might find on a car stereo disc changer. There's two USB ports up front and some A/V connections in the back. Like I said, pretty sparse, but it still looks damn nice. This is where Sony's years as a hardware company come into play unlike Microsoft who couldn't make a good looking piece of hardware if their life depended on it.

Getting the PS3 set up was fairly easy, until I turned it on. As my receiver is four years old, it doesn't have HDMI switching so I'm relying on an external switch to go between the 360 and the PS3. The 360 initially had problems with the switch however once I started giving the projector time to warm up a bit before talking to the 360 everything worked fine. Not so with the PS3. It simply did not like the switch to the point where the whole console would lock up. I can only assume that this has something to do with the PS3 being a Blu-ray player and maybe there's some HDCP shenanigans involved. I don't know. All I know is that the 360 doesn't give a shit what it's connected to as long as the end result is that the signal gets sent to a device via HDMI. The PS3 only works (now) if it is connected directly to the projector. The switch only cost me 17 bucks, so it's no big loss. I have a slightly more expensive powered switch on the way from Monoprice so hopefully this one will work.

On the audio side, I have everything connected via optical cable which is where my most recent slew of problems started. While checking out my spiffy new copy of Transformers 2 on Blu-ray I noticed that my back surrounds weren't firing. Ditto for when playing Uncharted. My receiver can matrix 5.1 to 6.1 if need be as well as do native 6.1 ala DTS so I knew it wasn't a receiver problem. I've been rocking the 6.1 setup for almost half a decade now with nary a problem. I searched on various PS3 and AV forums for advice which was a monumental effort in and of itself as a lot of the information was from a couple of years ago.

I found a couple of things to work with, namely a setting that tells the PS3 to send audio for Blu-ray as Bitstream rather than PCM. According to some folks, PCM can't be matrixed by receivers so if the mix is laid down natively as 5.1 and sent over as PCM, well that's how your receiver will deal with it. I have no idea if this is true or not, but it sure sounded good. Armed with this knowledge I set out to make things right.

I changed some settings in the PS3 and then fired up Uncharted. After pressing some buttons on my receiver I was able to get the receiver the matrix the signal to the back surrounds. Oddly enough the audio in Uncharted is DTS which my receiver should matrix natively so I wasn't sure why I had to tell it to do so. Armed with this minor success I fired up TF2. Everything was going great, sounds from the back speakers, sounds from the ceiling surrounds but the mix was very heavily weighted towards the right. I mean, like the aural equivalent of having the whole room tip. I went up to the left, front speaker and put my ear right up to it. Nothing. Oh no. Please don't tell me I blew a speaker. I ran the test tones through it, still nothing. Double oh no.

I pulled the cabinet out and looked around back of the receiver and there was the problem, a pulled out speaker wire. At one point I must have been fiddling around back there and I knocked a wire loose. I put it back, put the movie back on and everything was great.

Not content to rest on my laurels I threw in my DVD of Bruce Springsteen live in Barcelona. Now it's been a while since I watched this one downstairs and it is mixed to sound like a concert with a decent amount of crowd noise, but this seemed overly noisy in the crowd department. Usually I can hear Max's drum hits very distinctly but this time they were drowned out. Not sure if my piddly speakers in the family room where I last watched it weren't able to handle the background stuff as well so I wasn't remembering how it sounds correctly, but it seemed off. Next up was Behind Enemy Lines, my choice for best surround sound test disc. The scene at the beginning where Owen Wilson and his pilot are trying to evade the SAM will give any home theatre set up a serious work out. In this case everything was great, both sound and audio.

Finally I threw Uncharted back in and this time the back surrounds had sound coming from them without me having to tell my receiver anything. I wonder if having that speaker disconnected caused problems with the receiver. I don't know. All I know is that things are sounding the way they should be and I'm happy.

Now while I'm thrilled that everything works great, it does bug me that I'm not getting the full audio experience due to my connection type. Oh sure you can connect via optical, but you don't get the Dolby TruHD or whatever the hell it's called unless you send audio over HDMI. Plus, the PS3 seems to limit the bandwidth going over optical which I probably wouldn't notice any way, but now that I know it, it bugs me. Not enough to spend more money on a new receiver, but it bugs me nonetheless.

On an interface side, there is tremendous amount of shit going on in the PS3 interface. I'm used to it due to the PSP but holy Christ, if you were new to gaming you'd probably crap your pants. I much prefer the 360 dashboard, however there's a great deal of familarity there, so that may have something to do with it. I also like how the 360 has your friends and your gaming experiences as a whole more integrated into the interface. Given that the PS3 wants to be a total media hub, I can see why it isn't so focused on gaming but the overall impression is that it's kind of sterile and slightly unfriendly. The 360 dashboard on the other hand is a little homier but generally more comfortable to be around. Think Pam from "The Office" compared to early Caprica 6 from "Battlestar Galactica". Sure, I'd sleep with either, but I'd rather hang out with Pam. For the record, I don't want to have sex with any of my consoles. Ok, maybe with the DSi just a little.

On the gaming front the PS3 has yet to disappoint. I'm only playing Uncharted but so far I'm very impressed. The game looks great, and while I don't like the shooting parts, it is, hands down, the best written, voice acted and mo-capped game I've ever played. I'm also thrilled with how Elena looks like a real woman and not someone trying to smuggle watermelons in her chest. I'm still getting used to the PS3 controller, mostly the lightness of it all. The 360 controller is a beast and with the chatpad attached, as mine is, it's pretty heavy. Moving to a much lighter and slightly smaller controller is something to get used to. On a related note, I love that I can charge up the controller by connecting it to the PS3 however the power needing to be on to do so sucks. Luckily I can charge it off of the laptop that I always have riding shotgun. Sony giveth and Sony taketh away.

Finally, I'm not too happy with the notion of needing yet another remote control but trying to watch movies with a controller is a) unwieldy and b) embarassing. This ain't a dorm room. We're all adults here. I have a universal remote, but the PS3 uses Bluetooth, so my Logitech goes right out the window. Sure I could buy the adapter but I'm not spending 50 bucks for the adapter when I could get the PS3 remote for under 20. So now I have the universal remote, the projector remote for when the projector isn't listening to the universal remote and the PS3 remote. The truth is that I need to map some of the projector buttons to the universal remote and make my life easier but that requires effort whereas complaining is pretty easy. That being said, the PS3 remote is pretty nice and very responsive. As remotes go, you could do a hell of a lot worse.

So far I'm enjoying the PS3. I have a bunch of games to play for it (the aforementioned Uncharted, Uncharted 2 and Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time) as well as the first PS3 R&C game coming for Xmas. All of this on top of Borderlands which I'm still loving the hell out of, Dragon Age: Origins which comes out next week, Lego Rock Band and Left 4 Dead 2 which come out in November. Oh and I just bought Bill's review copy of DJ Hero complete with turntable controller. Not sure when I'll play all this stuff but I can tell you that I won't be watching any movies while working out for a while. I'll just have to figure out how to scratch a record while riding the exercise bike.