20 June 2015

The Quadrun, a 4093 synthesizer

https://youtu.be/GBDlLbSwJOA

16 June 2015

Killsynth Raw Demo

Killsynth raw demo: https://youtu.be/JlOqz7js_70

Atari Punk Console

Atari Punk Console: https://youtu.be/AeijwpR2C0A

11 March 2015

Requiem: A Reptilian Microprose

"Where is the video of eukaryotic cells forming?" asked the Megaton Fuchs of the museum curator dressed as a teddy bear.

Noah taped over it with his home movies. It was later stolen by reptoids after the flood drained into their arctic tunnels and froze over. They also took his clothes and used their talons to transmit a sulfite-rich neurotoxin with an effect not unlike a drunken stupor. The vineyards provided a serendipitous cover for the operation.

The tape was recorded over yet again during a late night showing of The Invasion of the Saucer Men on a UHF station in Topeka, Kansas. The plan was to use it as evidence in a copyright suit as the aliens in the film had a defense mechanism not unlike that of the reptoids. Sadly, they were crushed by a barge full of animal by-products on the way to the courthouse due to the tugboat captain's blood-alcohol level.

I don't have a point. I only wanted an excuse to use the word "Reptoid."

Hug your teddy bears tonight or be one for someone else. Good night.

---RMJZ, MMXV CE

28 February 2015

Auvio Headphone Amplifier Review

I like to think I've got pretty good hearing. I don't regularly attend concerts or trade shows, and before I got moved to a quieter building at work, earplugs were my best friends. As such, I've never quite understood headphone amplifiers. I'd heard of them, of course, but only in terms of gear for video and stage crews, people who need that extra boost to hear directors and stage managers over the crowds, pyrotechnics, and walls of Marshalls. As for everyone else, it seemed a bit pointless. Even then, what ones I saw for consumers were specifically marketed as assistive listening devices--hearing aids for people in denial. 
A few years ago, a revelation into the sheer scope of headphone amps available came to me when a game designer I follow posted an image of the FiiO E09K dock into which was inserted an E17. At first, I couldn't even figure out what the damn thing was (I thought the E17 was an mp3 player), literally researching and double-checking my research utterly convinced I was missing something. There was simply no way something could cost that much that was little more than an upgrade to a volume knob. Even considering the existence of bling culture, the handbag industry, and lowriders, it seemed an asurdity. 
I mean, if you had that kind of dough to spend on an amp for headphones, wouldn't it be more prudent to simply buy better headphones? It made me think of that ad for Rhino TuffGrip that showed the signature spray-on spackle applied to a Chevy SSR bed, irreparably coating the hand-polished wood runners. 
It turned out even FiiO thinks their stuff is overkill, and most of their product photos show the amps hooked up to earbuds and strapped to the backs of smartphones.
That's when I kind of got it. 
Remember how expensive the Macbook Air was yet had one of the worst onboard cameras ever made? That's really where FiiO's bread and butter seems to be; lending better audio to devices that skipped out on it despite higher price tags. Granted, that still makes it an impossibly niche market, but no longer a complete absurdity. 
Moreover, I learned that the amps don't merely raise the volume, but actually enhance the sound by picking up the slack for the built-in amps of the device they're connected to. I was skeptical of this, as audiophiles tend to be the homeopathic, free energy flat-earthers of the tech world. There's also the fact that a headphone amp doesn't bypass the internal amp of the device, although I'm sure a sound engineer could fill me in on what I may be missing in this equation. 
Recently, I went to Radio Shack to exploit their financial failings by way of their everyhing-must-go sale and picked up, among other things, a tiny headphone amplifier. In fact, I got two in case I wanted to take one apart. It's from a company called Auvio, whom I'd never heard of before and suspect they may well have been exclusive to Radio Shack. I won't tell you how much the markdown was, but the initial retail price was around 30USD, very close to the now-discontinued FiiO E6. It's about the size of a matchbook with a nice, rubbery finish and capped off with a brittle-feeling clip that I don't trust one bit. Despite its size and notable lack of heft, it's surprising the level of pure tech under that tiny hood. 
Going back to what I was saying about enhancing the audio, it's true that most lower-end headphone amps are simply volume boosters, but some have equalizers built into them. These isolate certain frequencies and bring them to the forefront, namely bass and treble. The trouble with most audio players (specifically devices for which music player is an afterthought) is that the internal amplifier circuits aren't well-made, effectively homogenizing the deep bass and high treble sounds, robbing them of their respective nuances. 
The Auvio's EQ has three settings apart from "OFF" which are indicated by a slick little LED just under the top of the clip and toggled using the power switch. Blue boosts both bass and treble by 5dB, Red boosts bass by 10dB, and pink boosts treble by 5 and bass by 10. It doesn't sound like that much variety (where's the setting that boosts treble alone for, say, spoken word or talk radio?), but the effect on my PSP was surprisingly remarkable. 
For this test, I used three different headphones, all Sony (shameless fanboy here) and all over-the-ear: a low-end mdr-zx300 with a lovely metallic red finish, a mid-range noise-cancelling pair (mdr-zx110nc) and the gold wireless headset for Playstation. The noise-cancellers are my personal favorite, but possibly a bit of overkill with the amp. The mdr-zx300s, on the other hand, sounded great. My testbed, apart from some Pink Floyd, was Falcom's magnificent Ys series, namely Seven and Oath In Felghana. Followers of the flame-headed Adol Christin are likely nodding their heads right now; few franchises have such consistently awesome soundtracks, perfect for testing sound gear. Although none of the settings were really a good fit for either game, they did help give those power rock tracks that added "oomph". The effect was a bit lost on the wireless headset, but that's more a matter of ergonomics than quality. They're not exactly made with the PSP or even the Vita in mind. I can't speak to the volume boost feature, except to say I had it about as low as possible, and it still sounded great. 
Does the amp make the PSP sound better? Yes, but I don't think it's enough to recommend seeking one out. Having the ability to EQ the output was a nice touch, leagues above the presets, but that doesn't make them worth the price tag, even at the marked down price. As I said, it's better to simply get higher quality headphones, ones that emphasize bass boost. If you want the absolute best sound out of your PSP games, the best option is to play them through a VitaTV and use your home sound system. Obviously, that option's only for you if you don't care about portability and your game was a download rather than on a UMD. 
In the end, the experience of using a headphone amp is a highly subjective one, definitely not for everybody. The best advice if you're curious is to borrow one. If you only care about volume and not the depth or fidelity, then you may want to consider making one. The CMOY is a popular hobby project that uses an Altoids tin and a handful of components (no soldering required if you get some conductive glue).

19 February 2015

Get a Room, You Two of Everybody Else!

OR:
Girls, Gyros, and God, what's wrong with me!?

I've made it a personal tradition to refer to the fourteenth of February as Industrialized Exchange of Token Affections Day. I don't pretend this is any sort of subversive social commentary meant to satirize consumerism; I'm a capitalist, of course I want people circulating their money, supporting businesses they like and keeping people employed. The fact is I'm simply bitter because I'm single. It's my own dumbass, manchild fault. I'm bad at flirting, I hate small talk, I'm terrified that the most inconsequential interaction will backfire in the worst way (that one I kind of blame on Tumblr, but that's another story), and no matter what I never end up being realistic about any relationship ever. 
While I like to think I'm far less awkward now than I was in, say, high school, the improvement barely qualifies as "marked". Last Thursday, the 12th, I was at a coffee shop in St. Louis, near Tower Grove Park and nestled between some lovely townhouses. I belong to a "Creative Work Group" that's currently in a state of flux and trying out new locations. We sit around, talking about various writing projects we've got going, and periodically checking in on each other while we work. The night was going well with lots of progress being made despite the group, thanks to a few last minue dropouts, consisting of only myself, our moderator, and her boyfriend. Then, things just started to fall apart for me in the most tedious of ways for the most absurd reasons. 
The short version of how the downward spiral began is that a cute woman sat down at the booth across from us, and I couldn't work up the courage to go talk to her. 
Seems innocent enough, but here's how awkward this got. I went to WikiHow on my phone and legitimately looked up how to approach women. In my defense, I had absolutely no idea what to say beyond "Hi" (apart from the obvious things like, "You're beautiful" or "You have cute hands" but that's not much to build a conversation around, even when you're flirting.) so I don't think looking up icebreaker ideas is all that pathetic. Plus, it's never a bad idea to brush up on warning signs, because some people are just too damn polite to tell you they're not interested, Lords of Light love 'em. After many furtive glances (none of which were returned) while waffling on which approach to take, I resolved instead to take advantage of my phone's position on my keyboard's case/stand and take a clandestine photo before hurriedly leaving. Yeah, I'm just that sad and pitiful... and possibly creepy. I told myself I'd use that "missed connections" section of an ad site, but that never happened because it doesn't help the "approach" problem. 
Capping off the stress of the night was driving down labyrinthine one-way streets to find this Greek place to satisfy a craving for gyros I've had since my trip out to Ohio back in January, only to find out the guys decided to close about twenty minutes early. "That kind of night" eventually turned into "that kind of week" with stresses and frustrations piling up day after day.

In fact, I've been in such a haze since then that I got my days mixed up, and missed the next meetup of my work group. Last night, I texted my work buddy asking if we were still on for tomorrow.

She asked if I was having a rough week.

Yes. Yes, it has been.

30 December 2014

Why so whiny, Whitney?

Sometimes things just fall into place.

17 December 2014

Sega Power Partner (from Tommo) review

This thing rocks. Usually these more novelty-inclined gadgets, especially the flash drives tend to fall short on the productivity side of things, favoring style over substance. This pack, however, is an absolute bargain at 60USD for 9000mAh of power. To give you an idea of what that amounts to, in order to put it to the test, I plugged in both my phone (an Xperia Z Ultra) and PSVita after both had been completely spent. It charged both devices fully and still had enough juice left to top off a Bluetooth and a pair of wireless headphones (All Sony, by the way, because I'm a shameless fanboy). Had the phone and Vita been on while charging, I may have come up a bit short, but as endurance runs go, I'd say it performed admirably. 
The unit itself is bulky, but not unmanageable. A far cry from those little "boosters" you get from those bargain bins at the Walgreen's, it's about the size and shape of an early iPhone with a bit more heft in the weight department. It definitely favors purses, messenger bags, and the like versus cargo pants. Then again, if you're in the market for a power supply with more oomph, the devices you need this for probably don't like your pockets, either. The casing is a hard plastic that frankly feels more like metal. The design is the array of white grid-lines which adorned the early plastic Genesis game cases before they went to cardboard and red stripes. For added protection, it comes with a silicone sleeve molded to shape of the Mark I Genesis console.
Power level is displayed through five blue lights, visble through the "cartridge slot" of the Genesis cover, which is a clever design choice. The first of the lights is a simple "working" light whenever the unit is connected. It is also touch-sensitive, serving as the power butto. The other four represent the remaining charge, and carry on the Sega motif by looking like the chaos emeralds of Sonic fame. Nice touch.
Accessories include a velvet drawstring pouch with a small partition for the handful of cables it comes with, one long and one short. Both are flat, red, and fit very loosely in the three connectors on the top of the unit. On more than at least one occasion, I did find that a cable had come loose during charging, which was a tad annoying. Meanwhile, other USB cables feel like a tight fit, especially my Vita's cable. It took a bit of forcing, and I was worried about snapping the connectors. There is also a small, thicker white cable, but it is a mini-USB, which neither of my devices use, so I couldn't test it. 
As a rule, these batteries usually give out after about 500 charges before they begin depleting their max (Tommo's site says about 75% is the next step down). Unlike some other USB power supplies, the internal cells are not replaceable. So, when this thing goes, that's it. However, given that I've been using it about every other day, that's at least a year away. After that, I'll be upgrading my Genesis to a Saturn.

16 December 2014

Upcoming Upcycling

As much as I don't like posting "previews" or "work in progress" stuff, this one is pretty big. I have another blue one of these in the works that should be done tomorrow.

30 November 2014

Non-Project-A-No-Go... what?

It's the final day of NaNoWriMo and, in short, I have absolutely nothing to show for it. I had two short stories that had been in the works for some time that I meant to finish, only for them to languish despite making some really good progress at my writers' meet-up.
At best, I've made books as opposed to written them. My upcycled blank journals now number eight with at least enough material for three more. After that, I have to resort to my new cover materials, like the VCR dust-cover and an old purse. The purse is a very nice black leather that I'd like to make into a slip cover for a marble composition book, the small pocket-sized ones. I had found a few pre-made ones, ranging in price from less than 10USD to over 40USD.
Historically, October has always been a rather hectic month for me. However, this year November has taken up the charge. It's the good kind of busy, mostly making travel plans for the coming weeks.
So, I've been productive, just not in the areas in which I first set out to be produtive. The stories will be finished, they simply won't be finished today, tomorrow, next week, or maybe even the end of next month. Right now, I'm on a bit of a bookbinding kick, and I plan to ride that out as long as possible until I'm sick of it.