Ethereality News & Weblog

April 22, 2009

New laptop on its way

Elena and I are currently staying in Milpitas, California. She’s been studying hard for her citizenship test, which consists of reading, writing, oral exams centered around U.S. history, government structure, current officials in the government, American ideals…etc, and I think it’s ironic because a large portion of Americans you grab off the street will probably not pass the same test.

As for me, I’m still working on the course material for the workshop I’ll be teaching. It’s taking far longer than I could’ve imagined, and I’m just going to keep going one day at a time until it’s finally done. ETA? Ha! I’m not even going to try to guesstimate an ETA. I’m not even done with the text/images portion, so that means I haven’t even started on the video portion yet. One of my pet peeves is boring tutorial videos, so I’m going to have to make sure mine are fun and informative. I’m not much of a comedian so I guess my students will just have to settle for “not boring.”

The Toshiba Satellite laptop I got from ebay last year’s been freaking out on me–random shutoff’s and excessive CPU spikes, and I finally snapped and decided it’s time to replace it, and this time no ebay as there’s just no sense of security when buying something like a used computer–too many things could possibly be wrong, and you could never know what it’s prior history was. With new products, at least there’s a manufacturer’s warranty and no abuse from previous owner.

While shopping for a new laptop, I noticed that glossy displays have taken over the market. It’s nearly impossible to find options for matte displays anymore. A few models here and there may offer it, but if they’re not the models you want, you’re shit out of luck anyway. In the end, I had to give in. I’ll just buy one of those matte screen film protectors if I really can’t live with the glare on a glossy screen.

The laptop I ended up ordering is the Sony Vaio FW-390 series. The FW-390 had the best options for customization among other similar laptops from other companies, and when I went into one of the Sony Style stores, I liked the similar laptops they had on display. I personally think the Vaio’s give the Mac laptops some stiff competition in terms of both build and style, and PC’s are inherently cheaper. This is how I configure mine:

Intel® Core™ 2 Duo Processor P8600 (2.40GHz)
Microsoft® Windows Vista® Home Premium 64-bit
4GB DDR2-SDRAM (DDR2-800, 2GBx2)
320GB SATA Hard Disk Drive [7200 rpm]
Blu-ray Disc™ Read Only Drive
ATI Mobility Radeon™ HD 3650 with 512MB vRAM
LCD 16.4″ (XBRITE-FullHD™)
Total = $1,229

I would have much preferred Windows XP, but it’s not really offered anymore these days except from esoteric boutique shops that cost an arm and a leg. I’ve read a lot of complaints about the ridiculous amount of bloatware that ships with all Sony computers, so I know I’ll have to deal with that when it arrives.

Overall I’m not thrilled that I had to get a new laptop, as I only really use laptops when I’m on extended trips like this current one, but at the same time I’m kind of glad because I’ve always picked really old and used laptops to buy when I needed one, and they always performed horribly compared to my desktops at home. This time, I’m finally allowing myself to splurge on a laptop that could be used as a desktop replacement when necessary. It’s not as beefy as my current default DAW machine (which is a quadcore 2.4Ghz with 4GB RAM), but it’s certainly faster than my current “internet and everything else except music and games” machine (which is a P4 2.8Ghz with 2GB RAM). I can even add it to my home setup as extra CPU/RAM muscle when composing large scale orchestral tracks by using MIDI over LAN or FXTeleport. Now with a more than decent laptop, my mobile music-making rig can finally run smoothly (where as before it was very limited and full of headaches). I’m going to test how it handles streaming large sample libraries off of an external hard drive–if it works, then my mobile music-making rig will rock pretty hard.

Speaking of mobile music-making, I returned the EMU Xboard 49-keys because I realized I just won’t have any time to work on music for the next few months, as the course material for the workshop just keeps bigger and bigger. By the time I’m done with the course material, we’d probably be on our way back to China. I really enjoyed having four octaves on the desk though, and once back home, it’ll be back to two octaves (Novation ReMOTE SL 25) on the desk and a 61-key (Korg Triton Le) and 88-key (Kurzweil PC2X) on my left. I really don’t like having to turn my body to the left when I need to access more octaves fast (as opposed to punching to octave up and down button on the ReMOTE SL). Maybe I’ll get another four octave to bring back with me and swap out the ReMote SL? I think I can fit a four octave keyboard in my current layout. I’d like to sell the ReMOTE SL 25, since after having it for a few years I realize I really just don’t use the knobs and sliders and buttons all that much–I still just use the mouse and keyboard hot-keys mostly.

My brother Dennis urged me to try Gamefly while I’m back in the States, and I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks now. I like it thus far, although the wait time is kind of annoying. If in-store rentals for games had similar pricing packages I’d much prefer in-store instead.

I rented Dead Rising and Dead Or Alive 4 for my first round, and I didn’t bother finishing either. I’ve mentioned before how much I hate punishing save systems, and Dead Rising has one of the most punishing save systems ever–you only get one save. I could have lived with that had the various saving spots all been available to me right off the bat in the game, but all the restrooms in the damn mall needed keys to get into, and only the security office was available, so that means I had only one save, and only in one location in the entire game. I had no idea when I’d come across the keys to the damn restrooms, and while running around on the various missions, I’d get killed and have to start over again. If I’m on the opposite end of the mall, getting back to the security office to save is just much too far away–I’d probably get killed just trying to make my way back. There’s just no fucking way I’d allow myself to be punished like that. I play game to have fun, not to be frustrated to the point of wanting to throw the controller at the screen. I can’t say that the game itself lived up to my expectations either–it really wasn’t nearly as absorbing as I thought it would be, and this is coming for a huge fan of anything to do with zombies. Some of the NPC’s were just annoying–to the point of grating on my nerves. If I could kill those NPC’s, I would’ve done it. I’d probably have enjoyed killing those NPC’s more than killing the zombies!

DOA4 is really not that different from the previous DOA games. I guess if you liked the previous ones, you’d like this one as well, but I don’t know if the additional characters and features really is worth buying a whole new game for (I don’t play online anyway). I guess it’s kind of like software versions–sometimes if you skip a version or two you’d feel much better about upgrading. I personally feel that DOA3 and DOA Ultimate were really good, and DOA4 is not really worth it if you already have those other two games (unless you just absolutely must have online play)–just wait for DOA5. But now Itagaki is no longer with Tecmo, there’s a chance DOA5 might be missing some of his magic. One thing I hope the next version will change is the stupid juggling (A DOA tradition I hated since version 2), as I have very low tolerance for any kind of cheapness when it comes to gaming. When you get juggled by an opponent, there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it, and I think it’s a really bad design decision because it creates a feeling of helplessness and frustration, and gamers don’t usually play games to feel bad–they play to feel good. In real life, you could at least block or parry or do something to reverse the situation, and I don’t see why DOA doesn’t approach it from that angle. Well, it’s not like I play these fighting games for the gameplay anyway–I most just like the graphics and the fluid animations. I still remember vividly the first time I saw Virtua Fighter back in 1993 at the now-defunct arcade in the Fashion Island mall in Foster City, California. It was like a ton of rocks hit me–the smooth and realistic animation made all the 2D fighters such as Street Fighter II look quite low-tech and clumsy. No wonder 2D fighters never grew on me, while as soon as I saw my first 3D fighter, I fell in love instantly. I think to date the 3D fighters that I have the fondest memories of were Virtua Fighter 2, Soul Calibur, and Dead or Alive Ultimate (never really cared all that much for the Tekken series, though I always enjoyed the cinematics).

I’m in the middle of reading Warrior Soul by Chuck Pfarrer. Warrior Soul is a Navy SEALS memoir, and it’s a pretty good read so far. Some of the operational details can get a bit dry, but it IS a memoir and not fiction, so it’s not as if the author could just spice up the pacing as he pleases (which is something that other ex-special forces authors sometimes do, and they always get bashed publicly by the special forces community for fudging the truth). Pfarrer appears to be honest, as I didn’t see any negative criticism about his book by the special forces community. I also like the fact that he’s quite modest–not a show off like some of the other ex-special forces authors.

The Unit (season two) – I decided to give season two of The Unit a try, and I’m still in the middle of it. There are actually a few really good episodes in season two–far better than the ones in season one. It’s kind of easy to tell when an episode is based on authentic special forces knowledge/experience–those episodes are just so much more compelling–while the filler episodes just screams of both bland writing and improbable plot lines solely based on some writer’s runaway imagination (like the last episode in season one–what a fucking disgrace). I’m going to finish up season two and decide if I even want to bother with season three. It’s not like there aren’t a bunch of better TV shows available. We’re living in the golden age of television and there’s no shortage of good shows. Lost, Heroes, Breaking Bad, Dexter, Entourage, Mad Men, Prison Break, Battlestar Galactica–television has never been this compelling.

April 18, 2009

Temporary detour ends

Filed under: Site News — Rob Chang @ 11:34 am

For a few weeks my WordPress database malfunctioned–it happened while I was trying to upgrade to the latest version, and during that time I resorted to using the blogging feature of MySpace temporarily (LiveJournal was actually my preferred choice, but since it’s now banned in China I had to pick one that I knew still was accessible in China).

The entries I made at MySpace blog can be read here.

All the links on the WordPress page still leads to error pages, so I’ll need to get those working again, but at least new entries are now visible.

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