recent musings

Sep28

Convinent Doohickies with minor headaches

I’ve been starting to use my trusty Blackjack as my main music player. It may not be as great as an iPhone, but it works and is always on me. When my Zen Micro started to die on me earlier this year, and I saw myself with two long distance trips looming in the future, I decided to do the frugal thing - buy a memory card and use my phone as my personal media player. I haven’t looked back, but I’ve been adjusting.

After finding the phone a trusty companion during long trans-continental flights, I wanted to see where else it could guide my music listening, and naturally thought I could give my collection of burnt mp3 CD’s the boot and just use my phone. At first, this was simple and straightforward - just use the same aux connection I was using with my Zen Micro with my phone - but this turned out to be awkward for one important reason:

  • If anyone calls, I need to unplug the phone to be able to have a meaningful two-sided conversation. Otherwise, while I could hear the person calling me, they wouldn’t be able to hear anything I said.

Now, I’d been looking at ways of getting Bluetooth in my car before, as answering phones without a handless devices such as a headset is not only illegal in many states, it’s also very dangerous and hard to do in a manual. It’s actually been rather recent when good intermediate devices have been getting more affordable, and after some quick research picked up a Jabra SP700 speakerphone. Unlike a headset, it does not make you look like a duchebag, since it is meant to stay in your car – specifically, hanging from inconspicuously from a shade. But also unlike a traditional one earpiece headset, it has the following features:

  1. The ability to play stereo music from a phone
  2. Transmit whatever it’s playing to any FM radio through its FM Transmitter.

While the sound quality could be better, its lack of wires to play booming phone music is definitely a win! Sure, you could say that lone headphone cable that connected my phone to my car’s head unit was simple and easy to use, and it’s true, but the obtrusiveness of the cable plus its incapability of allowing phone conversations made it annoying and a chore. Now, I think of these 3 button presses (one to turn on Bluetooth, one to turn on the speakerphone, and the last to turn on the FM Transmitter) when I enter my car as a ritual that will allow the most awesome music to emanate forth.

jabrasp700bluetoothspeakerphone3.jpg

I was actually pretty impressed at how seamless and automatic (outside of my 3 button press ritual) it all was, once the devices are connected, my Blackjack sends all my calls and music to the speakerphone. Though pairing up the device with my phone did send me searching for the manual. And when a call comes in during a song, I no longer have to worry about both breaking the law and unplugging and then plugging back my phone, since the call music will transition smoothly to my conversation when I answer the call. It’s actually rather neat - Kate actually tried it while in the car to see if it would work, and was impressed!

There are downsides, sure; I’ve had many conversations were listening to the other side through my car’s speakers was very tasking. I’m not sure if that had anything to do with the FM Transmitters rather low strength (I have to set the volume pretty high just to listen to music) or from the other parties unconscious effort to keep from sounding like their being overly loud. I’ve also been forced to work around the unit’s low transmitter strength: by both removing my cars external radio antenna and creating a makeshift antenna out of USB cable that dangles a little from the rear view mirror. Though after finding an FM band without too many stations around it, 105.5 seems to be working well, I’ve at least not had any more issues with interference or the sound fading out.

I’m still trying to decide what to do next. I would like to have better and louder music then I do now, but that might mean messing around with the internals of my SP700. I could also save for a new head unit, but I think I would prefer a new bed instead. So, there might some things that I could think could be better, but while it’s not perfect, it’s easy to set up and does just what I need. Think I’ll leave this setup for a little bit longer.

10:41 pm | Gadgets and Hardware
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Aug18

Dealing with Ikea Beds

Kate and I have become big Ikea Fans - so far we’ve got a whole bedroom from them, as well as a convertible bed and several other smaller things. We’ve been pretty pleased with what we’ve gotten so far and are hoping on replacing our pricey and now broken couches with some from Ikea – If they only had a fabric that Kate liked I’m sure we would already have them. Unfortunately, I’m still without a good resolution for Aspelund Bed problem.

aspelund.jpg

When we acquired our Aspelund Bedroom furniture (including the drawers and night stand) it was a pretty straightforward setup. We made sure not to forget any important things (like the mid beam which is sold seperately) or the slats (also sold separately) or the bed (also sold separately but at least we already had this part). We liked the idea of using slats as opposed to a box spring - the bed frame can be used with either type of support - since we were fresh out of box springs thanks to a friend who made a rather unfortunate mistake of forgetting how much force his body can create with gravity. Unfortunately, this one decision was what has led us to have problems with this bed. But, outside of some problems attaching the backing to the night stand, there were no problems getting the entire set assembled in the guest bedroom the day the frame was delivered. We both thought it was pretty comfortable and almost thought about switching beds.

It wasn’t long afterwards that we started experiencing a problem that many have with similarly designed Ikea frames, the mattress kept falling. Of course, this usually happened in the middle of the night while someone was sleeping on it – thankfully, no guests had that problem. It was sort of strange though, but it was something I had thought could be a problem. While assembling the bed, I felt like I couldn’t quite fasten the support beams quite to my standards, but I didn’t think too much about it. I probably should have, as after a couple more incidents we realized the slats were falling off the mid beam!

While there are a great many people that are quick to point to shoddy design, or crap manufacturing, I still think that it’s probably something assembled incorrectly. The main problem is that the sides of the frame keep bowing out. The bed has crossbeams to keep the sides from bowing out; they, however, keep loosening due to a push/pull force that’s caused by the mid beam whenever someone gets off and on the bed or rolls around quite a bit. Since the variable length mid beam is not fastened at a certain length, whenever anyone older 5 is on the bed, the mid beam will expand and bow down, causing the head and foot board to move, causing the crossbeams to become lose. So how is this not a design failure? I’m sure that there’s a step in the manual that’s not emphasized more. There could be several steps:

  1. Exactly how to tighten the cross beam? Which hole should the screw go in?
  2. The screws look like posidriv screws, which while they may look like Philips, but aren’t.
  3. Maybe there is a way to secure the mid beam, but the manual just doesn’t cover it?
aspelund-crossbeam.jpg

I’ve tried using different configurations for tightening the cross beams but nothing seems to keep them from loosening. I also don’t own any posidriv drivers so I can’t tighten the screws as best as one should be able to. So, I started looking at what other people were doing to keep their mattress from falling in their beds. And I was not disappointed as I found many creative work-a-rounds to keep the slats from falling. You can:

  • Drill and screw the slats in to the mid beam
  • Solder the cross beams
  • Attach the crossbeams in a different manner
  • Use rope to keep the sides from bowing out
  • Adding wood pieces in between the spaces of the slats as the bed bows out

We went for the simplest solution we could think of, mostly because we already do this on our bed, throw money at the problem! $600 worth of college text books that is. It’s been working rather well, adding the text books under the mid beam keeps it bowing down under the stress of any kind of weight so the slats have stopped moving around. The cross beams also seem to be maintaining their firmness, though there’s still more slack in them then I would prefer.

08:56 pm | On Life
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Sep17

Fixing a broken key

I got a new notebook. I decided to pick up the HP Pavillion tx2500 convertible notebook. I was looking at some netbooks including an Asus EePC or the HP MiniNote. But there was a pretty good deal on the tx2500 at the time, I couldn’t the resist the larger screen or the tablet. I’ve actually been using the tablet mode to surf the net very frequently. It’s very nice to see more of a longer view of the page.

i did run into one little problem though. After a couple of times of use, one of the keys fell of. I was able to snap it back into place temporarily, but it continued to fall off. It was very annoying, this needed to be fixed, but I didn’t want to have to send the notebook in for something that looks to be a simple thing to fix. So, I had to look it up. Found a good site that explains how you, if you’re gutsy enough, can fix that pesky key problem for yourself.

09:09 pm | Gadgets and Hardware
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Sep07

Rock Band 2 Cometh

rockband2.jpg

I’m really exited about Rock Band 2. While there hasn’t been much Rock Band playing at our place of late (due to my stupidity in breaking the drum pedal), Kate and I jump at every chance we get to play. We recently helped out some bands out at Chris and Fla’s house and at Nakfoor’s place as well. It’s really such a great Party Game, or make you feel good game, that almost a year after release, we’re still playing. It’s no surpirse that we’re both looking forward to Rock Band 2 coming out in a couple of weeks.

While looks to be the Rock Band 1 that should have been:

  • No weird leader for bands
  • World Tour playable by offline and online players
  • No vestigial “Guitar Hero” solo tour
  • Solid instruments.

We’re not going to pick up the special edition this time. Sure our pedal is broken, and it would be nice to have wireless drums and guitars, instead we’ll be enhancing our experience with the Omega Pedal. While it’s been extremely unfortunate we’ll be getting our new pedal a solid two months after we ordered it, I still can’t wait to get it and play some drums. Sure, Rock Band 2’s drum pedals will have a supporting metal plate, but even they won’t compare to the difference of the pull springs in real drum pedals as opposed to the push spring of the game instruments.

If you’re looking to enhance your drumming in Rock Band, there are several other modded pedals you can find online (there’s the Destroyer Pedal or the Rock Pedal). I decided to go with the Omega Pedal mostly because I couldn’t find a matrix with the difference of all three pedals, and because of the good review from Ars Technica.

It’s really great that Harmonix and MTV could get most of Rock Band 1’s songs transferable to the sequel, as well as all of the DLC. I’m sure Kate won’t be missing the three songs that won’t be transferable, I am a little sad that “Paranoid” was in that short list. It’s no matter, I don’t mind losing those songs in comparison to the total list of Rock Band 2’s songs. I’m in particularly looking forward to enjoy:

  • “Feel The Pain”
  • “Everlong”
  • “My Own Worst Enemy”
  • “Come Out and Play”
  • Spoonman”

And if they release The Colour and the Shape like rumoured I’ll be in Rock Band Heaven. Just take a look at the gameplay trailer that features “Everlong”. That single clip made me wish September was actually much earlier.

08:30 pm | Video Games
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Aug13

The UI Still Burns. UI Problems in Soul Calibur IV

I’ve been enjoying Soul Calibur IV the past couple of weeks, it’s been frustrating but fun and challenging in such a way that I’m still coming back to try to perfect it. Unfortunately, my online game has been horrible and as such I’ve sworn off it. Instead, I’ve just relegated myself to only using grabs against the CPU - especially when fighting against Vader’s Apprentice - when I get too frustrated that I can’t land any moves at all!

But there are some things that are really distracting me when I’m playing the game, and I’m sad to say that It’s the UI. Sure it’s nice and polished, but there’s just too much of it sometimes, and sometimes there’s not enough.

Story mode is nothing more than a series of predetermined fights sandwiched by flat loading screens with random text and icons. I was really disappointed by the execution of this mode. It definitely seemed like one of those ideas that was never going to have enough time to execute properly, so it gets added with minimum fuss with the use of UI. For example, the beginning story on most of the characters could have been cut in half with the other half done as in-game cut scenes. The character showdown/loading screens could have been as nicely polished as the Arcade version, but instead is left as a dull screen with icons and skill points. And the chapter screens: do they really have a point? There isn’t a lot of extra plot dialog before and after the fights for them to make any sense! Like I said, this mode was really disappointing.

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Story Mode loading screen with character info. Very Flat compared to the Arcade loading vs Character shots. Image source: Kotaku.

On the other hand, the Character Creation mode could have done with a little more options and information to keep it from being overwhelming. Starting off, you’re taken to the same Character Selection Screen as any other mode, but if you’re new and you’re not reading the manual, how do you know that selecting a regular character just creates a new wardrobe for that character but to create your own character you need to select the button with the male and female portraits in the middle?

If you do end up selecting an existing character, it might then be a surprise to see that the several options in the Model Information page are disabled and unchangeable. This makes sense in context since you aren’t creating your own fighter but adding a wardrobe to a current one, but how are you supposed to know that? This is a usability problem that I’ve yet to see a good solution for. Should you just not show all the options if they are unavailable? Show them but leave them to be selectable or unchangeable? Show a hint somewhere as to how to enable them? Are they unlockables? I think on this case, it would have been better to only show the options that can be changed for the current fighter. I know a couple of people who were puzzled by their inability to change these options their first time creating a character.

creator-enabled.png

Custom Characters have all options available

creator-disabled.png

Notice the black options on the left side

Also, you have to be careful when creating a brand new character. Depending on the decisions you make for your fighters basic traits, changing one piece of clothing could leave you without enough skill points for a skill that was added depending on your traits. I’m not sure what the idea behind this was, but I was surprised that the mode wouldn’t let me save and exit after creating my first character because I didn’t have enough skill points to fill a skill! It was odd, because I had yet to assign any skills to this character, yet I was already over loaded on them!

These are really just minor points. The character creator is rather well done over all, allowing you to change most of the major colors in just about anything, selecting from a variety of equipment, and allowing you to pick different skills for each character you create. But there were definitely some minor areas where they could have polished the experience a little more to alleviate some possible areas where users could have become confused and frustrated.

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Is this really necessary? Can you tell what it’s for? Image source: Kotaku.

11:02 pm | User Interface , Video Games
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Aug06

Another credit under my belt

It’s just 4 more weeks until Tiger Woods 09 will be available for sale. Because I’m not a seasoned veteran just yet, I’m still somewhat excited about the third game I have helped create and the first title I’ve worked in its entirety. I came in close to the end of the cycle for last year’s Tiger Woods 08, so while I was excited I had done some work on it I feel even more so for all the extra work that I did for this years release.

Very excited at what the public is going to think of our features this year. Take a look at what we’ve got prepared in 09:

While this years release of Tiger Woods isn’t on my birthday, like it was last year, it’s still coming out around that time. You can expect to see it on store shelves August 26.

10:26 pm | Video Games
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