Ethereality News & Weblog

May 31, 2009

Trip coming to an end soon

Uploaded some new photography in the photography section.

Ed Levin Lake – Some photos I took while strolling around Sandy Wool Lake in Ed Levin County Park, Milpitas:

New Kitty Cat Diary entries (some new additions in the older dates as well):

We just got the notice for Elena to go in for the swearing in (in about two weeks), and after that we just wait for her new passport and our trip would come to an end. This does mean that from now on we both have to leave China every seven to nine months as both of us are now considered foreigners. The upside is that we get to go shopping in Hong Kong and we love the food there.

We went and got Elena a new Compaq Presario CQ60-202US laptop from Frys, and it’s actually quite nice for such a cheap model, with tasteful design and enough horsepower for every day computer use. Our old laptops will go on ebay.

I’ve been pretty happy with my new Sony Vaio FW-390, but I’m not at all happy about the amount of bloatware Sony installs on their laptops, as I’m still discovering useless crap that I don’t want on my computer. It’s been a pain trying to figure out what can be uninstalled and what you need to keep in order to use all the special Vaio functions. I wish these companies would actually allow you to choose and pick what to install into your laptop when you make the purchase.

While at Guitar Center the other day, I tried out the new Boss Me-70 guitar muti-effects board, and I think it sounds noticeably better than the previous ME-50. The distortions in particular don’t sound as synthetic and overly processed. I also spent some time comparing the Boss Metal Zone MT-2 and Metal Core ML-2, and it’s actually really hard to pick one, as they both sound good but different. I’ve heard the online sound clip of the MXR Dimebag Distortion pedal and I wasn’t all that impressed. I may actually end up getting a Korg Pandora PX5D since I thought the video of Sevendust demoing it sounded really good, plus its a full-blown multi-effects processor, not just a one-trick pony.

I was looking forward to try out the new Korg microKORG XL, which replaces the older model, but as I was going through the presets, I just kept feeling like the days of getting hardware synths is really over. I could easily get equivalent sounds from many of the software synths I use, and I already have MIDI keyboard controllers so I don’t need another one. I don’t gig, so I have no reason to get a small portable synth, and if I travel, I just bring my laptop and my Korg Nanos. It’s actually kind of sad since I really love hardware synths, but they just aren’t all that practical when today’s software synths have gotten so good and cost so little.

I really wanted to like Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, since it gets such rave reviews, but after a couple of hours I was totally let down, just like I was let down by the other similar games like Fallout 3 and Morrowind. At this point I just have to admit that I will never like those types of games. The idea of a sandbox is great, but if the NPC’s that populate the sandbox are paper-thin, with horrible animation and voice acting, and with really clunky game mechanics of interactions, it turns the sandbox into a kitty litter. I also cannot stand NPC’s that look like perfectly normal people–not psycho freaks or mutants, but as soon as you’re spotted they will start screaming and attacking as if you had just killed their family. What is that all about? Why can’t there be an option to talk to or negotiate with those NPC’s? It’s a symptom of lazy design that feels very similar to how the Japanese will put random battles all over the place in their RPG’s. Outdated and illogical. Bad designer, no cookie!

I never thought linear games were bad, because the linearity is crafted carefully to be a compelling experience (Half-Life series is the perfect example), whereas a sandbox cannot guarantee that kind of expertly crafted thrill ride. No sandbox games has ever been able to deliver the kind of emotional immersion that finely crafted scripted games could, because in order to create a compelling experience, the writer/designer must be able to dictate the pacing and the order of events, and that goes against the idea of a sandbox game (and cinematics don’t count–I don’t consider cinematics gaming). I need to just stop trying these sandbox games from now on.

I gave Halo 3 a try and it didn’t take, just like the previous games. I actually did finish the first game on the PC years ago, and it did try my patience in some parts due to the repetitive levels, but I enjoyed it enough to finish it. With the second one, I really just couldn’t care less about the part where you had to play as one of the aliens. Emotional immersion is the most important part of a game for me when it comes to single player games that cares enough to have a premise and a storyline, but when you pluck the player out of the body of the protagonist and shove him into a character that the player just couldn’t give a rat’s ass about, you immediately lose the player’s emotional investment. It’s a bad call and I really do feel that the people who are writing and designing the Halo games don’t know what the hell they’re doing. The silly midget aliens with cartoony voices also piss me off to no end. Even the one-liners the aliens spout off during battle sounds so cheesy and clich├ęd. You just do not put slapstick elements into a deadly serious premise–it’s a total mismatch of tone. Humor can exist in a serious premise, but it has to have the right tone that match, and I think the Halo people are just don’t understand that. With the third one, the game remains a series of “go from point A to point B, then battle it out, then move to point C.” Whatever story it had, it was only thrown together to move the player to the next battle, as opposed to really telling a compelling story with great pacing and emotional impact. I also dislike the cinematics, especially when they depict what is happening on the alien side, because it disconnects the player emotionally from the story of “you” living in the body of Master Chief. This is a unique aspect of video games that many designers don’t understand. It’s not a novel, so don’t approach it like one, because the player is not an observer like a third-person point of view novel, but must experience everything first-hand, especially in a FPS–that’s the whole point of a FPS. This is something the Valve people understand instinctively and has championed with the Half-Life series, and it’s one of the most effective storytelling approaches that exists in video games. The Halo fanboys love to trash the Half-Life series, which to me is a bit like people who eat at Denny’s laughing at people who eat at the French Laundry. I need to just stop trying the Halo games from now on too.

I stopped by Japan Town the other day when I was in San Francisco (picking up a pair of sunglasses I had lost in a restaurant the day before). I picked up a few CD’s while there:

GijonYMO -Yellow Magic Orchestra Live in Gijon 19/6 08
Excellent two-disc set of their live show. If you are a fan of YMO or its members’ solo works, you’ll likely enjoy this one. They performed some classic YMO songs in their set, and with age, their use of electronics is a lot more subtle, and they try to incorporate them in a very organic way with acoustic instruments. I think it’s a good approach.

Olivia Lufkin – TrinkaTrinka
It’s not as strong as her previous albums or EP’s, and the title song is probably the strongest. I still think she needs to work on her lyrics since her writing is still awkward as she doesn’t seem to have any idea that rhyming is actually quite important to most song structures. Melodically her recent songs also don’t seem as strong as her past works–she’s starting to sound like she’s running out of interesting melodic contours and grasping at straws in some melodic progressions. I think Jeff Lufkin needs to release a solo album because it’s obvious that the songs he contributes to are the strongest ones. At this point I’m actually doubting Olivia’s ability as both songwriter and musician, as I don’t recall ever seeing her being credited as the sole writer, instrument(s) performer, or arranger of any of her songs–she appears to rely on the ability of others way too much. Maybe it’s unfair for me to expect singer/songwriters to be able to do it all–compose, arrange, perform, produce..etc.

Olivia Lufkin – Olivia inspi’ Reira [Trapnest]
Mix of both songs completely written by others, and some that Olivia co-wrote. The ones that others wrote were actually the strongest songs on the album, which I think is a little disappointing. The whole reason why I even bother with songwriter/singer types is because they display ability beyond those of puppet pop stars manufactured and controlled by record companies that groom them and design their every single move. So when a singer/songwriter starts to look more like someone who just sings songs others write, and does not perform any instrument to acceptable level of expertise, I have to wonder if someone like that is all that different from the manufactured pop stars. Disillusioned is the word on my mind right now.

I’m probably being too harsh, but I really did expect her to grow and improve as a musician and songwriter, but she apparent hasn’t, except that her live singing is actually now tolerable as opposed to being horrible like in the past. At this point her siblings (Caroline and Jeff) are exhibiting more talent and skill than she has.

Nokko – Hallelujah
I’m a big fan of Nokko’s previous band, Rebecca, and this first solo album of hers from the 90’s doesn’t sound much like her, since her wild and expressive singing style has been tamed to the point of being almost unrecognizable. The music is not bad–acid jazz, funk, and dance club mixtures. I’ve seen Youtube videos of her later solo work and they sound much more interesting.

Morikawa Miho – Her Best
Collection of songs from her earlier albums–basically the period when she was still a teenager and a little older. There are actually a few songs I don’t have and they’re pretty good. I’m still impressed now when I listen to her earlier songs, as she has really good control over her projection and can manipulate the timbre and tonal quality of her voice with a mastery that many singers twice her age couldn’t.

May 22, 2009

Kitty Cat passed the test!

Yesterday was the big day–the reason why we’re back in the States, and Elena passed her citizenship test! She’s been studying so hard for it non-stop and it all paid off, but of course she had to fulfill all the citizenship requirements in the first place to even get to take the test. To be honest, we really only had about 70% confidence that she would pass, since she’s still so behind on her English, and the American history, government, and reading/writing tests are so extensive (to the point that most Americans would probably fail if they took the tests). She was so relieved and ecstatic–laughing and smiling from ear-to-ear the whole day yesterday, and she’s still giddy now. I love seeing her so happy–it makes me feel like the world is in a perfect state. Now, we just wait for the letter that tells her to go take her citizenship oath, and then the passport would be on its way. We miss our beautiful and cozy home in China, but we also love being in the States. In a perfect world we’d be able to transport our home in China to the Bay Area and the cost of living would resemble something saner.

I have wanted a Zendrum for years, and always felt that it was too expensive, but after struggling with programming drum tracks on keyboards and rubber pads since 1998, I’ve finally decided to take the plunge and join the tribe of Zendrummers. To my delight, they have updated their circuit board this year, so my Zendrum will be the most sensitive version ever made, making even snare buzz rolls possible on a single trigger–that is something impossible to do on keyboards or rubber pads. I’ve picked the LT model since I’ll using it sitting down a lot, but it could still be worn on the body with a strap, and I’ve ordered the Honey Rock Maple, which I think is the best looking one of all the colors they offer (although some of the more natural wood finishes are quite nice too):
Zendrum LT

I did think about maybe ordering a custom color (which costs $50 more), but the more I think about it, the more it seems it’d be hard to top that yellow and black combination, which has that high tech sports car vibe. All black would be pretty cool too but playing it with dark lighting might make it hard to make out the triggers.

So the Kensington Laptop Riser arrived, and I’m happy to say that it lived up to my expectations. Not only does it raise the laptop to a comfortable eye-level, it is also quite sturdy and does not wobble when typing. When I stack a few books under the front side (for more ergonomic typing without adding an external keyboard), it remains sturdy. Here how I’ve set it up:
Kensington in use

What I also love about it is that it’s adjustable and very portable–folds up nicely so you can just slip it into your laptop bag:

With all the other more expensive and bulky laptop stands/risers out there, this one by comparison is so simple and portable. The only thing I wish it had is an adjustable front riser so I don’t have to prop the front up.

I have completed my Korg Nano series collection. I must say, I’m liking them more than I thought I would. Here they are in my mobile setup:
Zoom MRS-8 and Korg Nanos

Temp Workspace

I originally got the white versions of the Korg Nanos because that’s all they had in stock, but I really wanted the black ones and Elena didn’t like the look of the white and blue at all–she said they look like the kind of cheap fake products sold on the sidewalks in China. While I do think the color scheme of the white versions is part of the charm and are supposed to look a little toy like in order to charm the pants off of laptop geek musicians, I have to agree with Elena that the black versions just look like higher quality products.

After testing them out, here are my thoughts:

-I mainly got them because I’m in the middle of traveling and I think they are the perfect size for traveling with a laptop and audio interface. They make even the smallest normal sized keys MIDI controller keyboards look huge and clumsy.

-I initially only got the NanoPAD because I wanted the X/Y pad and the roll button for programming fast repeating glitchy beats–there is just no easy way to do that otherwise. But then I realized adding the other two wouldn’t be redundant (considering I already have a full-blown rig at home), since when not using them while traveling, they can simply expand the range of my Novation ReMOTE 25 SL on the desk–for example, I don’t have to hit the octave buttons as much because the NanoKEY adds two more octaves on the desk (and I don’t have to turn on the big 61 and 88-keys keyboards just to try out some ideas or test a synth patch).

-After having all three and using them in conjunction with each other, I realized that to me, they really are made to be used together (unless you are integrating them into an existing rig that’s already got MIDI controllers). For example, the NanoKEY cannot do smooth/slow modwheel or pitchbend rides, but if you pair it up with the NanoPAD, you can use the X/y pad on it to do mod/pitch smoothly/slowly, or if you paired it up with the NanoKontrol, you could assign the knobs/sliders on it to do them.

-One interesting thing I discovered is that if you have both the NanoPAD and NanoKEY, don’t bother using the clumsy rubber pads on the NanoPAD to program/play drums–they are practically useless for that. The rubber pads are very insensitive and cannot handle fast repeating notes or fast alternating dynamics well. Unexpectedly, the NanoKEY is far superior as a drum programming/playing tool because the velocity sensitive keys are way more sensitive and playable than the rubber pads on NanoPAD–I can even do very fast sustained snare rolls on the same key, which is impossible to do on the rubber pads. UNFORTUNATELY, you cannot play drums on the NanoKEY and still use the roll button + X/Y pad on the NanoPAD at the same time, since the roll button only responds to the rubber pads and not to other MIDI controllers.

-You cannot play the NanoKEY like you would any typical keyboard. There have been keyboards with tiny keys before, but this is a whole different problem, since the white keys only extend up to 50% of what should’ve been the whole length of the keys, and do not exist between the black keys–that makes it impossible to play any kind of chords where your fingers must go between the black keys at the upper 50% of the key length. The only way to play those chords now is to use two hands, or do very awkward finger bending and use your fingernails to play some keys. In general, you must think of NanoKEY as a totally different instrument and approach it with a different playing strategy, or you’ll be miserable trying to play it like a traditional keyboard.

Overall I think it’s a really neat set of toys that can be used to do some pretty interesting things, and can even handle full-blown music production if you know how to use them right. The NanoKEY is probably the most awkward one of the series, and it’ll never replace full-sized keys, or even miniature keys like those on the Korg Kontrol or microKORG, but it’s still far better than using qwerty or a mouse, and the portability is unbeatable. The velocity sensitivity is actually quite good, but sometimes pressing away from the center may not register the intended velocity, which isn’t too much of a problem since the keys are so small it’s hard to really hit off center.

My verdict–I like them, and they are exactly as advertised–fun, cute, very portable, and surprisingly usable for serious music production.

Also in the photo above is the Zoom MRS-8 8-track digital recorder (right above the Nanos). Originally I picked up the Boss BR-600 8-track digital recorder because the MRS-8 has been discontinued. But after trying the BR-6 out for a few days I decided I rather try my luck and hunt down a used MRS-8 on the internet than to be stuck with the BR-600. It’s not that the BR-600 is bad–it’s actually quite good–it’s just that the MRS-8 kicks its ass in a few important areas. Some of the key differences that are important to me were:

-MRS-8 can have 100 markers per project, while the BR-600 only allows one. WTF, you know? ONE marker for an entire project? Were the designers at Boss smoking crack?

-The MRS-8 is visually better designed upon first glance, with better layout and visual clarity of each section, not to mention more information in its LCD display (although to be fair, once you have read the manul for the BR-600 and have used it for a little bit, its interface becomes very clear and easy to use).

-The MRS-8 has MIDI out, which means it can control other sound modules, which greatly expands its sonic palette.

-MRS-8’s lossy compression is not as aggressive as BR-600’s (I read that somewhere in one of the musician’s forums, but I’m not 100% sure if it’s true).

-The MRS-8 has 27 sounds in a drum kit (but 18 of them are the same for all the kits, while only the first 9 sound of each kit might be different–in fact sometimes only the bass and snare changes when you switch kits). BR-600 only has 9 sounds per kit, missing the 18 extra sounds of the MRS-8 have like splashl, hand percussion, tambourine…etc.

-The MRS-8 has bass sounds in additional to drum sounds, and you can play the bass with the drum pads and select different scales to play in.

The BR-600 does have some things over the MRS-8 though, such as being much lighter and thinner (only about 50% of the MRS-8), and the onboard mic is stereo instead of mono like the one on the MRS-8. The BR-600 also has USB connection, which is not a big deal to me since I have a card reader for the MRS-8’s SD cards. The one feature the BR-600 has that I wish the MRS-8 had is the ability to record/import custom drum sounds, but the MIDI out on the MRS-8 kind of makes up for it since I can just use an external drum module.

I never meant to use a mutitrack recorder to do finished tracks anyway though–it’s meant to be a sketch pad to get ideas down quickly without turning on the DAW computer (I don’t turn on that computer unless I know I have a big chunk of time to devote to making music, as that computer’s dedicated to music production only). More than likely all recorded material on the multitrack recorder will be re-recorded with the DAW sequencer anyway, so it’s not that important to have great sounding drums or effects during that phase. Another important reason I wanted to get a multitrack recorder is because I miss making music with simply my ears instead of being influenced by the visual representation of musical data in DAW sequencing software. I find that when I see visual data, my creative thinking gets influenced because I’m a highly visual person, and when I’m working without that visual aspect, I would often make different creative decisions, and I think it’s important to keep that aspect of myself alive.

I’ve been trying to narrow down my audio interface upgrade choices, and it’s quite interesting that the more you research, the more it seems like the vast range of choices out there all seem to be missing one important feature you need. I used to think it’s ridiculous how many audio interfaces are on the market, and now I wished there were more, just so that I can up my chances of finding the perfect one for me. I’m actually not asking for much, just an interface that’s reliable, has low latency, has good quality preamps (ideally 60db or more of clean and clear gain), has at least one pair of stereo inputs, and one pair of stereo outputs, and instrument inputs. If it has onboard DSP or some kind of direct monitoring effects front end (like the Gearbox/Pod Farm for Toneports from Line 6, which is what I have now, but can be unstable at times), all the better, since I would be able to add some light compression and monitor with reverb–all without any outboard gear. I could always do software direct monitoring in Sonar (and as far as I know, most DAW sequencers allow it), but it’s more taxing on the CPU and there’s always the problem of slight latency. At the moment, the interfaces I’ve narrowed down to are really just the TC Electronic Konnekt 24D and MOTU Ultralite MK3, but the Konnekt doesn’t have 64-bit driver yet (which is not a problem for my desktop DAW as that runs WinXP Pro in 32-bit, but is a problem for my new Sony VAIO, which is running Vista 64-bit), and the Ultralite is actually a bit of overkill for my needs. The Focusrite Saffire could’ve been a contender had Focusrite just given it one pair of dedicated stereo inputs, but for some reason they made the stupid mistake of only having a pair that doubles as instrument inputs. How the hell they came up with that configuration I will never understand, because it’s just stupid to think that people would want to pull out their input from a mixer or a keyboard just so they can plug in a guitar or bass.

On a related note, my Toneport UX2 is doing an OK job on the new Sony VAIO FW-390, even though I still sometimes get audio drop outs or the ASIO driver would fail to initialize, but in terms of latency it’s actually doing better than when I used the Toneport on other computers I have. Maybe it’s the latest drivers that’s improving things, and if that’s the case, perhaps I don’t need to upgrade, but until I get home to try the new drivers on my main desktop DAW computer, I can’t know for sure, and by then it’ll be too late since buying audio interfaces in China costs far more than buying them in the States.

My Creative Zen 32GB has returned from RMA, and apparently it was easier for Creative to just replace the unit, because that’s what I received–a brand new Zen. I can’t believe they didn’t even bother peeling off the screen protector I had on mine and send it back to me–now I have to use the new unit without a screen protector until I get home and install one, or waste money to buy another pack. I’m happy that the new unit appears to be problem-free, and after uploading the contents from the previous unit (I had the foresight to backup the unit before sending it in for the RMA), it’s working flawlessly. Count me as a happy customer.

I had high hopes for Eternal Sonata, but after playing it for a couple of hours I just got bored out of my mind. I can’t stand random battles since I see them as lazy game design, and I can’t stand the format of transporting the characters to a battle stage–all of it feels so dated and clumsy. I also can’t stand heavy-handed writing that doesn’t pay enough attention to the finer details of dialog and flow (which strangely enough, has the same clumsy vibe as bad writings in porno films, except without all the cheesy double entendre). I nearly lost it when the two young male characters faced battle with the rats for the first time, the younger boy turns to the older one and asks, “Uh, how do you fight battles again?” as I was presented with the choice of redoing the battle tutorial I had already done with the main female character in a previous chapter. No one talks like that–not even in a fantasy world. It’s the symptom of lazy writing and design. I don’t like it when the in-game story is mingled with the mechanics of the game because the designer/writer is too lazy come up with a better way (and there is always a better way), unless we’re talking about it being done on purpose, like in Conker’s Bad Fur Day where the game mechanics and the in-game story are intertwined in a clever and humorous way. Anyway, whenever a game makes me feel like I haven’t been presented with any compelling reasons to continue playing, I stop. In the two hours I played the game, at no time was I presented with any motivation to find out who the hell the characters were or why I should give a damn about any of them, or if there’s even a story or premise I should care about. The pacing was horrible, and the only interesting things I’ve found out about the game were through game review sites that talked about the premise. If a game fails to draw me in on its own merits after an hour or two, then I just assume the reviewers only played on because it’s their job, and even if the overall enjoyment derived from the entire game is positive, to a gamer who isn’t forced to play on and finish the game, it’s too little and too late. The number of hours it takes a badly designed game to shape into something enjoyable is time I could’ve spent doing a ton of other more interesting things. Another thing that kinda bugged me a little is the obsession that Japanese has with doe-eyed young characters. Don’t get me wrong, I grew up on anime/manga and they are a big influence on me as an artist, writer, composer, and director, but seriously, why the strange fascination with Lolita complex and bishonens? Why must every character look like big-eyed dolls and act like cringe-inducing burikos? Sure, we all know the Japanese love cute and adorable designs, but this fixation just becomes uncomfortable after a while. I guess they must wonder about America’s fascination with costumed superheroes and talking animals as well.

I finished reading Let the Right One In, and I have to say that the book isn’t nearly as good as the film, as it has a lot of details that I’m glad was cut out of the film. I think the film picked the best elements from the book to concentrate on, and omitted or changed elements that weren’t conductive to the heart-warming yet morbid beauty of the film. If I had a choice I would choose to never had read the book, because it only taints my memory of the film.

Quickie film/TV reviews:

Star Trek (J.J. Abrams reboot) – The film was fun and disposable entertainment done right in the way that Iron Man was done right. I’ve never been a Trekkie, and while I did watch The Next Generation sometimes when its on, I wouldn’t really call myself a fan. This film didn’t change anything for me in general. The premise is a little forced since revenge stories are so trite, and the reason for this particular revenge is just silly. There are also some eye-brow raising coincidences that borders on jumping the shark, but I think most mainstream films have them these days. The film could’ve used another 30 minutes of character development for the supporting crew members, since we don’t really get to know them at all, with all the attention being focused on Kirk and Spock (but the film is already quite long in length, although it felt just right in the theater).

Mad Men (season two) – Mad Men is fast becoming one of my favorite TV shows. It’s a fine example of what a serious attempt to bring literary quality to television looks like. There are so many layers and unspoken moments that could only be described as visual equivalent of a great American novel. The characters are all fascinating, and it’s refreshing to have a main character that’s just a complete mystery. I mean after two seasons, I still barely know anything about Don/Dick–what makes him tick and who he really is. I’m looking forward to watching season three.

May 5, 2009

Sony VAIO FW-390 arrives

I’ve had my Sony VAIO FW-390 (customized with 1920×1080 HD display, Core 2 Duo 2.4 Ghz, 4 GB RAM, Blu-Ray reader, 7200 rpm 320 GB hard drive) for a couple of weeks now, and so far I really like it. It took a while to customize Vista (it came with 64-bit Home Premium Edition) to my liking, and also to install all the necessary software for doing graphics, music, and other utilities I usually use for backups and system diagnostics. All laptop manufacturers install a bunch of crap before shipping out their laptops (they make money from installing trialware from software partners), and it can be annoying to find out what all those crapware are and how to get rid of them for good (if you’re not careful you could end up losing functionality of your laptop’s special functions like the FN and multimedia keys).

So far, I’m very happy with how quiet and how cool the temperature remains–compared to my previous laptops this is a huge difference. I would have preferred a laptop that could take two separate physical hard drives, but the one model I found that could didn’t meet the other requirements I had, and none of the VAIO models can take two physical hard drives. The glossy screen isn’t as bad as I feared, but then again I’ve only been using it in a dark room where the light sources are all strategically placed to not cause any glare. I suspect as soon as I take the VAIO out of such a planned environment the glare will be all over the display. Squeezing 1920×1080 into a 16.4″ display is a bit hard to get used to since everything becomes so tiny, but the detail is very sharp and the colors are beautiful–no complaints there.

The VAIO has a Blu-Ray ROM and I bought the director’s cut of Dark City and Black Hawk Down to give this whole Blu-Ray thing a whirl. It’s my first time dealing with Blu-Ray (apart from seeing the demo’s in store displays), and I have to say it is very impressive. It’s funny how when DVD was all we had, it seemed like they were enough, but as soon as we’re exposed to much higher resolution, all of a sudden DVD’s didn’t look so hot anymore. At this point, I have literally three full bookshelves worth of DVD collection, and I don’t know if I’m ready to just stop buying DVD’s and start buying Blu-Ray from now on. After all, the only Blu-Ray player I have at the moment is the one from the VAIO, and I’m not sure if I’d want to boot up the laptop every time I want to watch something at home. I suppose the best strategy is to slowly buy Blu-Ray versions of only my favorite DVD’s, while the rest of my collection will remain DVD only, and then future releases will be Blu-Ray only. Maybe I should get a Playstation 3 to kill two birds with one stone. I’ve never had a Playstation (of any generation) and it’s probably about time I did anyway, especially now the PS3 exclusives are picking up pace while the Xbox 360 ones don’t seem as impressive.

The hard drive in my old Toshiba Satellite had kicked the bucket, and I tried the freezer trick and it worked–I got most of the important files on it copied to the VAIO. I suspect it has something to do with the moving parts expanding and contracting from the temperature change, thus allowing the hard drive to function like it used to for a short while–until it expands fully from the heat again. While it’s totally frozen, it doesn’t work either–I’d have to wait for it to get slightly warmer for the hard drive to show up. I’m just glad I got the last files I was working on for the workshop off the old hard drive–it would’ve been a solid week’s worth of work wasted. I actually started to rewrite the missing material while experimenting with freezing the hard drive, and it’s interesting that later when I compared the rewritten material to the recovered version, it appears the when I wrote the same material for a second time, I dove into more detail and the coverage was more comprehensive. I suppose having done it once already makes it easy to expand upon the first attempt, even if you don’t have it in front of you to reference.

I always hated how laptops make your neck/shoulder sore because you’re always looking down, and I tried a temporary solution of propping it up with books and DVD’s, but it’s not very stable. I finally decided to buy one of those laptop stands/risers. I tried the Targus Portable LapDesk and it was too wobbly when typing and didn’t raise the laptop high enough. I then ordered a Kensington Easy Riser, which I hope will live up to my expectations. I’d still have to raise the front end with something though, since I don’t want to use a separate keyboard (not practical when traveling), and not raising the front end would make the wrists bend too much when typing. Here’s how I’m propping up the VAIO at the moment–using the box from the Korg NanoPad for the back end, and book/DVD’s for the front end:
VAIO Propped

I tried out Bullet Witch last week, and even though I already knew it got bad reviews, I was intrigued by the character design and the idea of using magic along with weapons. I was actually surprised by how bad the game was once I started playing–it felt like a leaked alpha version with no polish whatsoever, and the presentation was also very disappointing and dated. If the damn thing had a good story I might have suffered through more of it, but even the telling of the story is horrible–you just couldn’t give a shit about any of it because they didn’t bother trying to make you care. I couldn’t even make it past the first level because I just couldn’t stand how bad the game was. I suppose I’m extra picky because I made games for a living, while the average consumer probably could tolerate bad games more readily because they just don’t know any better. There are actually some user reviews online that were very positive–some even claimed it’s one of their favorite games. Different strokes for different folks, eh?

I’m now trying out Eternal Sonata, and it’s pretty charming so far, though I have to say, I’m generally not a fan of the Japanese approach to game storytelling–so much of the execution just feels random and not conductive towards telling a compelling story. We’ll see how I feel after I clock in more hours.

Quickie Film/TV Reviews:

Dead Set – I had read about this British horror mini-series somewhere and decided to check it out. It turned out to be better than my expectations, and was in fact, quite good. It’s pretty damn hard to do anything original in the zombie genre these days as so much has been done already, and if you stray too far away from the established conventions, you lose the flavor that makes the genre great. 28 Days Later was probably the last real breakout original in the zombie genre we’ll see in a long, long time. The amount of gore and violence in Dead Set rivals any zombie film ever made, which is quite surprising because you just don’t see that in TV shows, even if they’re cable shows. I wish the series could’ve been longer, and the character development more fleshed out, as the whole thing seemed to rush by and just when it started to get really good, it ended.

On a related note, Brad Pitt’s production company bought the rights to Max Brook’s awesome zombie apocalypse book, World War Z, and I hope it doesn’t get stuck in development hell.

Heroes (season three) – I tend to feel that some writers are careless when it comes to plot twists. When you so easily and quickly change the allegiance of characters and their beliefs, it becomes gimmicky, and that lack of sustained conviction and faith from the characters makes the audience care less, as we simply just can’t root for or care for people who changes sides all the time. It seems through all the changes, only Hiro and Ando remain faithful to their noble intent, and maybe it’s no coincidence that they are the most child-like (naive and innocent) in their outlook.

I had a problem with Battlestar Galactica as well in season three, when a lot of the character development felt almost arbitrary and gimmicky. This is something I think Lost does a lot better. The writers on Lost can inject excitement and changes into the show without having any of it feel arbitrary, and if there were changes of allegiance, it happened slowly, with reasonable justifications, and you see the characters struggle with their doubts. Realism is the key here, and I guess often writers just forget how people behaves in real life.

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