03 November 2015

A Sad Day For The Classics

It was recently announced that Classic Game Room, produced by Mark Bussler, is scaling back significantly. For starters, their store is closing by year's end, though Mark hinted that T-Shirts may still be available in some way, and overall output of reviews and videos will be less frequent. In the past year, following the successful Kickstarter for a compilation DVD and Blu-Ray of CGR's best reviews, Mark has been bitten by the art bug, the one that led to the creation of Agent 0040oz in his past, and has now brought us both Lord Karnage and Ethel the Cyborg Ninja
Most tragically of all, though, is the closure of CGR Undertow. Undertow was the companion spin-off to the main show, run almost exclusively by Derek Buck and ultimately outliving its counterparts CGR Toys, Garage, Overboard, and Comics. It was meant to be a kind of snack-pack edition of the main channel's reviews, with several shorter reviews posted throughout the week. They often weren't as funny as Mark's videos (Sorry, Derek), but they were every bit as informative and insightful as any other game review site out there, arguably more so since CGR has been fundamentally community-driven from the start. 
I don't want to speculate on any behind-the-scenes drama or controversy, and I've no reason to believe there was any beyond Mark simply wanting to go out on a bang and focus on other projects. As for Derek, he said it himself, every toad must leave the swamp. He's a young guy with his whole life ahead of him, and while I envy his role on the site, I wouldn't want it to define my life, either. Furthermore, amid all the actual drama and controversies surrounding other gaming news sites such as Gamergate, CGR has managed to dodge every single bullet left and right with no effort. It's kind of like Red Dwarf, immensely popular and omnipresent, yet somehow cult and obscure at the same time. They fancied themselves as the cure for the corporate review, and as much as that kind of sentiment may not gel with my politics, they backed that boast with gusto. 

Derek, Mark,
if we ever meet in person, I'll buy you a drink. 

Thanks for the memories and I look forward to the new ones. 

30 October 2015

An Open Letter to Russia

“It will be particularly interesting in terms of psychology. They say that in one kitchen, two housewives find it hard to live together.”--Institute Director Igor Ushakov

Dear Russia,
What the Hell?!
Sincerely,
The 21st Century

P.S.
No, seriously, what the Hell!?

P.P.S.
I mean, you used to be cool. You gave us vodka. You put the first man in space. You gave us the films of Andrei Tarkovsky. You helped create an entire field of photography around the principle of "So bad it's good". Have I mentioned your movies, yet? Mir was the first modular space station. You made soft landings on Venus.

19 October 2015

The Littlest Link Dump


So, here's a fresh new discovery... that happened about two weeks ago. 
I was browsing the App store to pad out my wishlist when I happened upon a new app from one of my favorite software companies, Autodesk. It's called Graphic, a vector drawing application for the iPhone and iPad which threw me for a loop at first because:
1) despite the trademark "A" and white border on the icon (sorry, guys, RCA did it better in the VHS days), the developer listed was some band of yahoos called Indeeo
2) I couldn't find anything on the Autodesk site about it. 
That second point isn't too surprising; that main site is a brochure laid out by someone who's never read a brochure in his life. Seriously, it's like they're ashamed of some of their mobile apps. Finally, simply putting "Autodesk Graphic" in a search turned up a dedicated site emblazoned with the typical trappings of an Autodesk page. There, all was made clear (emphasis mine): 
Introducing Autodesk Graphic. Formerly called iDraw, Graphic is a professional vector illustration application for Mac OS X and iOS. We're passionately focused on making it one of the best design applications available, and we'd love to hear your feedback and suggestions!
There you have it. An old app got a fresh coat of paint, and a new sponsor. Normally, I'm a tad leery of such "new acquisitions" as it feels like the ultimate betrayal of any startup or other small company's implied mission statement of staying small and focused, expanding only on their own strict terms for better or worse. Then again, in this tough economic climate, it's important to be realistic, and a little rebranding goes a long way. Sellout is a hideous word that should be banished from existence, or at least reserved for the kind of betrayals that end with bodies getting dumped in rivers. I have no problem giving Indeeo the benefit of the doubt that they're still producing a quality app, now with better support than they ever could have hoped for. 

I look forward to giving this new kid a tour of my studio. 

06 October 2015

Reverse Cryptomnesia?

Also, an inadvertent monograph on the Quinnspiracy and TvW at the UN because that's what happens when you get into a flow talking about programming... 

I talked years ago about the embarrassment of coming up with an idea only to find not only does it already exist, but it's so immensely commonplace and ubiquitous in your own life that it probably took more mental energy to forget it exists than for you to come up with it. This is putting a twist on that idea. 
I don't know programming. I don't know programming at all. I understand some of the ideas around it, but the leap from text in C++ to HD graphics is almost abstract for me. I've tried writing text adventures, but HTML is about the best I can do, and Depression Quest* is pretty much the kind of game I would want to create, though not nearly as pro-social or insightful... or worth playing. 
At one point, after hearing about all the various tools available, I had an idea to use one of these drag-and-drop interfaces to put together the laziest, most bare minimum "Hello, World"-shaming programs and then charge an absurd amount of money for it. Of course, I'm not saying I'm any kind of genius, much less that there's anything more than petty and opportunistic about such a venture, but I figure it's like snuff films; just because the idea is simple and plausible enough doesn't mean anyone's taken it all the way to reality. I know there's a proper name or attribution to the notion of, "if you've imagined it, someone else has likely made it" a more Zen-like perspective on the patent joke "anything that could be invented already has been". As for my "invention": 
Even the most expensive Android app, which is capped at 200USD (but is available as a six app set), is at least a set of desktop themes. I wouldn't call that essential, but at least the developer has enough skill to not look like a shameless opportunist. Meanwhile, one of the most expensive apps on Windows phones is only a mere half-step above the app that I would create. Mine would even be called "the 1000 dollar app that does nothing" (this was before I found out about the price cap) along with a myriad of disclaimers in the description that this is literally a kind of half-hearted social experiment/get-rich-quick scheme. My thinking was that, by the law of averages, I have the power someone would buy it just to burn money and have the dubious honor of having spent a ludicrous amount on a frivolity. 

*For the record, I have no problem with Zoe Quinn. I think the controversy around her has been absurdly blown out of proportion. It did turn my stomach a bit to see her alongside Anita Sarkeesian at the United Nations. As I've said about Sarkeesian, and as much as I legitimately like some of her videos such as the Lego one and even Ms. Male Character, she completely lost my respect with the Women as Background videos with their embarrassingly transparent misrepresentations of the games in question on top of the absurd premise of connecting real-world behaviors to in-game violence. Put simply, she's the worst person to champion her own cause, and while she certainly does not deserve death threats, I feel as though her issues overshadow Quinn's, who has been the victim of a massive, coordinated cyber attack and been accused of attempting to profit from the suicide of Robin Williams. To make matters worse, while I may not care about her personal life, the fact that there are so few women in the games industry does put her in an awkward position where her every inconsequential action carries absolutely onerous consequences. She shouldn't have to be an example, yet I don't think her position is discussed nearly enough. 

I guess you could say the reason I care more about Quinn than Sarkeesian is that Quinn is making legitimate efforts to enact changes in the games industry, blazing trails between the paths less-traveled while Sarkeesian is a bloody backseat driver. 

To put another way: 

If a film critic and a filmmaker were drowning and I could only save one of them... Well, I like The Island and even Age of Extinction had its moments. Sorry, Leonard. 

Final note: double-checking the definition of monograph to make sure I was using it right (you tell me), led me to this site which seems pretty damn awesome at first impression. 

29 September 2015

Don't You Trust Me?

Gave my left hand a challenge. Granted, vector art relies on mouse movements and manipulation of primitives, so it's hardly daunting, but it turned out nowhere near as daunting as anticipated. 

01 September 2015

Profane Offer

This was a tedious nightmare, but good grief was it fun.

17 August 2015

IDEAS HAVE NO IDENTITY

Made in LibreOffice

I probably spend way too much time on Google+ having deeply intellectual debates with idiots. It's one of those cases where the other person almost has a point, but take it a little too far to the point of absurdity, cutting off their nose to spite their face while writing it off as "just a flesh wound". I don't have a problem with opinions, but I think Harlan Ellison put it best,

"You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your INFORMED opinion."

There's always at least one curious turn the discussion takes that often reminds me why I left Tumblr (which I've learned is Slavic for "Trigger"). The other person takes their foot out of their mouth long enough to start asking personal questions, even though I don't really go out of my way to hide my identity (I'm pseudonymous, not anonymous). Basically, they're trying to root out my agenda (which is Icelandic for "Privilege"). This might be fair if they weren't trying to filter my position through a strainer woven from false dichotomies, as in, "I'd only speak in favor of teaching evolution in schools if I hated God by way of some personal tragedy, a la the Epicurean Paradox*."

The fact of the matter is that devoutly, pedantically religious people are afraid of ideas. They're afraid because God is an idea, an idea for a benevolent creator deity concocted by scared, lonely shepherds in the Middle Eastern desert to reconcile their insignificance with their existence. What scares them is that many other people the world over had the same idea. It may not look that way because the idea is dressed up in culture and history and conflict, but underneath all that, they're all alike. When people realize this, suddenly they become harder for those in power to control and dance to the beat of their particular drum. Marilyn Manson put it best, "I don't hate God. I hate his fan club." In the end, if you're focusing on the medium instead of the message, it means you're all out of ideas.

Flat version

I normally try to avoid gradients in vector art (except maybe for backgrounds), but I think it's really fitting for this one.

*(which is an old Iroquois slur that roughly translates to, "God can't hear you and he probably thinks you suck anyway")

14 July 2015

Cue the Green Slime!

I am on a roll with picking up cigar boxes. Went to another grocery store a little farther away than my typical one, and found these two (this Camacho box is practically furniture, it's so decadent). Had to kinda play the squeak-wheel-get-grease game which I hate playing; I hate being pushy like that and I hate putting people on the spot when they're just doing they're jobs (and I've worked retail and customer service, so I speak from experience). In my defense, I had no intention of pushing the issue if it was a legitimate store policy (like sending them back to the distributor as proof of sale or something). Also, the kid just handed me the keys to the case from over the customer service counter. That's plain irresponsible. Lastly, given that our dialogue on the matter boiled down to:

"If you don't give them away or sell them, what do you do with them?"
"I don't know."

I don't think it's unreasonable to set a precedent. To his credit, he offered to call up the head honcho and get some clarification. He came over and said it was cool to give them away as long as they were empty. I guess they've had a problem with people simply offering to take the boxes before their contents have been sold off. That's understandable given that some of these boxes are humidors.

12 July 2015

Fortune Smiles Upon the Resourceful

Score!
It's not the brand I was looking for and there's a small crack near the lid, but it's got an interesting shape and it didn't cost me a dime. A quick grocery run for some frozen vegetables and a watch battery led to me finding this empty box atop the cigar display case near the customer service counter. A rep asked me if I needed anything out of the case. I turned to him and said I was interested in the box. He seemed a little disappointed, then thought a moment before saying, "You can have it." I was all set to interrupt his thoughts with an offer, but I lucked out.
Incidentally, I was ready to put the cigar box idea on hold that very morning when I got the idea of using decorative tape on a Christmas tin for another quad synth. I've also decided to sacrifice a Star Wars tin I got with a pen to the cause.

07 July 2015

Waiting on a Habit

My Arduino-based synth is effectively bricked for the time being. It's not because of technical difficulties beyond the makers of a toggle switch not wiring their own product properly, but because if I'm going to do this, it's got to be done right. Plain project enclosures are fine for starting out or maybe if you wanted to sell your electronic creations. However, instruments should be unique, even if it's all cosmetic customization.
After looking around at some lacquer Bento boxes, which hold promise, pretty much all DIY synth tutorials and enthusiasts led back to the same resource: cigar boxes.
Specifically, the kind I'm looking for is from a company called Cohiba. I like them because the boxes are black (I'll save the wood grain for more Atari Punk Consoles) and, most importantly, their name looks and sounds an awful lot like Toshiba. The first time I saw their name, I did a double-take; even the font is vaguely similar. It's too good a piece of irony to pass up. Of course, eBay is a good resource for empty cigar boxes, but there's a small tendency for markups. Cigars are meant to be savored, so there's not much turnaround. Cohiba in particular seems to be quite popular with collectors (I wonder how many of them are making synths as well), so I thought I'd be clever and try to find some cigar boxes locally. I went to a nearby grocery store to scout out the selection and see who I had to sweet talk into selling me one. Smoke shops have this down to an art form, as I understand it.
When I got there, I discovered something that would have never occurred to me would be a genuine thing people do.

There's a waiting list.

Some boxes have Post-It notes on them with names and numbers, plainly visible. Seriously, the fits people throw over privacy agreements on Facebook and Playstation Network, and here's someone's name and number in a glass case by the checkout lanes at a grocery store. If I want a cigar box from a grocery store, I have to wait until that particular brand is sold out before I get a call, during which time my name and number will be on display. I somehow doubt even the greenest cigar aficionado thinks of the place they buy beer and steaks as their go-to spot for cigars, so I'd be waiting on that call for months on end.

So, eBay it is, then. Harumph.

Prelude to An Incoming from A Far Off Place


Tydirium Unplugged (fun with a crossfader)


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.