Sunday, December 22, 2013

Heavy Rain Piano Suite

Sorry for the background noise.  My wife was wrapping Christmas gifts while I was recording this.

found the sheet music here:

Monday, December 16, 2013

Toy Story 2 - When She Loved Me (Piano)

sheet music is here:

Monday, December 09, 2013

Lord Of The Rings - In Dreams (piano)

Chock full of hobbity goodness! (and a few mistakes).  Not quite as good as second breakfast.

Terminator - Love Theme (Piano)

This was a fun one to mess around with.

Tomb Raider - Main Theme (piano)

Such a simple tune but it sure did stick with me.
Tomb Raider and Last of Us are easily my favorite games of the year.

sheet music here:

The Last of Us - Main Theme (Piano)

This is probably my favorite game of the year next to Tomb Raider.  I make a few mistakes, and it's a tad slow.  Hope you enjoy it.

Sheet Music is found here:

Obihai Obi200 - Free or nearly free home phone line

- I picked this up on sale from amazon for $40 (it's currently $50).
- This is basically a unlocked completely open highly configurable voip box.  It works with up to 4 sips with a variety of voip providers.  The unique thing about this box is it also emulates google talk which lets you use the free google voice as your voip provider.
- You get all the benefits of google voice like screening, voice mail transcribe, blocking, conference calls, etc for completely FREE as of this writing (though google seems to renew the free deal every year so hopefully the trend continues).
- You don't get E911 though but it's easy to add that for $12-15 a year (and it takes up one of the 4 sip slots).  There are no other hidden fees or taxes like ooma's supposedly free tier of service.  Obi makes it easy to sign up for E911 using this company.
- Setup took like 10 min and was very easy to do.
- This model only has 1 physical phone jack that works with any regular land line phone.  If you plan to use the other sips then I guess you'll have to stick to soft phones like using a pc or the iPhone app.  You can jump up to the 202 model which has 2 physical phone jacks but it also has some useless router features (who doesn't have a much better router these days anyways).
- It has a usb port if you want to add wifi or usb storage (didn't test).
- It also supports T.38 fax (didn't test yet).
- The box is tiny and about the same size as an appleTV.
- Voice quality is excellent (as good as my current voip provider phonepower which I think I'll let my contract expire).  I've used it for several work teleconference calls without issue.
- I setup QoS on my asus router based on the obi200 mac address and gave it highest priority.
- The biggest drawback over a service like ooma is number porting.  Currently, google voice only lets you port from a cell number not a land line number (and that includes all voip numbers).  The cumbersome workaround is to port your land line to a pre pay cell and then from a cell to google voice and then drop the cell.  That sounds like way too much effort for me.
- The other risk is google changes something that breaks compatibility with the obi device but obi has sold a lot of them so I would expect a pretty quick response.  Still, we are only talking about a $40-60 initial investment which isn't all that much.
- Faq with lots more information including a tutorial on setting up google voice.

Highly recommended.  For a truly unlocked voip adapter you can't beat the obi.  You can deep dive into it's setting pages if you want (which gives peace of mind that this will support pretty much any voip provider) but basic google voice setup is a snap through the obitalk site.  

The free google voice train is going to end in 6 months:

Looks like they are partnering with somebody to offer $40/yr plans (that includes all fees and taxes)

That puts it pretty close to ooma which is is around $45 with a calculated $3.74/month in fees and taxes.

Friday, December 06, 2013

PageFlip Cicada Bluetooth Pedal Automatic Page Turner and forScore iPad App


- $90 from amazon.
- I use my iPad for a lot of things and one great use is for piano sheet music.  There is a great app called forScore that I highly recommend.  I've scanned in quite a bit of my music as pdf.  It has full dropbox support, cropping so you can remove all margins to make the notes as big as possible (if apple ever makes a 14" iPad I would so buy it just for forScore), you can duplicate and arrange individual pages (makes handling repeats, first ending, second ending easier to navigate by just having to flip pages forward), and a variety of annotation tools.  It's really a fantastic app.  I just wish the iPad was a bit bigger but if you have good eyes you should be ok.  The other issue is page turning and that is where the PageFlip comes in.
- It's basically a 2X AA battery powered (or any mini usb power adapter.  This is a good quality one by motorola but you'll need your own mini usb cable.) blue tooth keyboard emulator with 2 keys which are the 2 pedals.  You also have flexibility on what keys are sent (like page up/page down, arrow keys, etc) when you hit those pedals.  You can also hit a button to force the on screen keyboard so you can still type for like searching (though forscore has this feature built in too).
- Now, I just put this pedal to the left of the piano pedals and use my left foot big toe to flip pages forward.  It takes a little practice to time your left foot for page turns but once you get use to it, it really works great.
- The pedals aren't very loud to me at least but if you are going to do performances or studio work or something you might want to check out airturn.  The proprietary not user replaceable battery turned me off though.
- Pedal quality seems fine.  I don't have any worries it's going to break or anything.

Highly Recommended.  If the idea of carrying around with you your entire sheet music collection in a iPad sounds appealing to you then get this thing.  I bet you could even pair this up with a pc and use it for push to talk on ventrilo but I haven't tried that yet.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Foscam FI8910W Pan & Tilt IP/Network Camera with Two-Way Audio and Night Vision

- I picked up one of these around black friday for $55.  They usually run for around $75.
- I always wanted to mess with a wireless IP camera but really didn't want to spend that much.  It's really more for fun and to keep an eye on our finches than for serious security.  We have a fully monitored security system for that.
- This model isn't the latest one. This is a older mpeg model that is still very full featured and cheaper but video quality suffers a bit.  Framerate is a bit low too.  This model is suppose to be the most reliable though.
- Pan and tilt a wide range of motion.
- No optical zoom but you can digital zoom with the iphone app I use.  Foscam has a free one that is very basic but I recommend this one:
- Set it up by connecting through ethernet and point your browser to the camera IP.  It's mostly pretty straight forward: setup pw, wifi settings and if you want email smpt (gmail supported) and ftp to send pictures when it detects motion.  I tested both and it works pretty well.  You can adjust how sensitive motion detection is or just turn it off.
- You can setup a custom port.  It has it's built in dynamic dns that you can use printed on the label.  You'll need to setup port forwarding for the single port you specify.
- Once it's all setup you really don't need a computer on.
- The night vision IR LED that turns on/off automatically depending on the amount of lighting works very well except if you put it in the same room as a security system PIR motion sensor it's going to trip it and you will get false alarms.  At this point I just disabled the IR LED which is too bad.
- Not the most secure device.  It's not even https.
- Supports audio both ways.
- For more serious surveillance software you'll have to buy Blue Iris for another $50.

Recommended.  If you are interested in a relatively cheap IP camera.

Belkin WeMo Switches

- These are basically iphone app over the internet controlled power switches.  These won't integrate with Harmony remotes since it's not IR but that's not what they are designed for.
- To setup you just install the iphone app, change your wifi network to the actual wemo device (creating a little adhoc network), enter wifi settings to get it onto your local network through your router, switch your iphone back to your standard ssid and you are good to go.  Now you can basically turn something on/off from anywhere in the world.  Make sure you do all the firmware updates.
- You can setup a schedule too and use it like a fancy timer.  You can set specific times for on/off as many as you want for each day of the week.  You can also pick sunrise or sunset and it knows automatically when that is once you set your zip code.
- They seem pretty reliable so far.  I had to reboot one to get it on the first time I moved it but so far they work well.  The first one I bought I used with a 120mm fan that sits on top of my ps4 (yes, I'm obsessed about keeping electronics cool).  I use the wemo to remotely turn on that fan when I'm using my Vita to remote play.  This setup works great.  I recently picked up 2 more which are controlling the outside Christmas lights.
- They are a little price at around $50 each but I picked up a pair for around $55 during black friday.  There is also a fancier newer version that has a built in kilowatt to monitor power usage.

Recommended.  If you find a need for one of these devices it sure comes in handy.

XBox One (and some comparisons to PS4)

XBox One

- Downloads are a lot slower on Xbox one compared to ps4. On the ps4 overnight I had ghosts, bf4,Resogun, Killzone, contrast, dc online, blacklight, warframe, and a bunch of apps all done by morning. In contrast I really couldn't play anything the first night things were downloading so slowly. I got enough of crimson dragon to try out the first level and then it was too late and I was too tired and went to bed. By morning ryse was done but Fortza was only half done and dead rising was still in the queue. Hopefully when I get home tonight everything will be downloaded. What happened to those 300,000 servers they bragged about?
- Xbox one really needs a reboot option.  Sometimes things get laggy coming out of sleep.  The only way I know how to do that through the menus is going into settings and turning on power saving mode, power cycle, then put it back on suspend.
- You can't stream your own custom music in the background during games currently unless you snap the music app but then you aren't full screen anymore.
- Tried getting subsonic to work through IE but couldn't.  I even tried mini mode.
- Party chat was a bit fidgety to get working but once it did voice quality was quite good.
- There needs to be a way to sort/order your pinned apps.
- There needs to be a way to manage storage space or at least mark apps you want to always keep.  500GB is way to small.  I hope they add external drive support soon.
- Dead rising 3 looks and plays fine.  There were no framerate issues that impacted my play or enjoyment.
- Kinect sports rivals does show off how sensitive the new kinect is but your arms just get tired after awhile.  I miss wave race 64.
- Scanning the QR Code for the launch day edition achievement with the Kinect was worth $100!!!!  (ok maybe not but it's still way cool).
- Kinect isn't really used in any meaningful way in the major games currently.  Voice command works ok I guess.  The face recognition for sign in works pretty well in a kind of scary freaky way.
- Both new systems are very quiet but still push out quite a bit of heat.  Make sure the area you keep it in is well ventilated.  As always I drop extra 120mm fans into the cabinet to keep airflow going with a minimum amount of added noise (in fact you can't hear them at all with the doors closed).
- I don't think I've gotten far enough into Dead Rising 3 for the second screen stuff to kick in yet.
- Xbox glass app is still great for typing.
- I still much prefer the use of standard 2XAA batteries for the xbox one controllers.  Just drop in a couple of low discharge NiMH rechargeables (like sanyo eneloop) and you are good to go.  Keep a few sets always charged up so you can quickly swap whenever you want so there is never any downtime.  Contrast this to DS4 where I have to remember to always plug in the controllers when I'm done for the day (I have drained a DS4 completely in a single day before, good thing I have 2 of them).  Also, if they are anything like DS3 even voiding the warranty replacing the batteries yourself once they no longer hold a charge is not that easy.
- The new Kinect has a fan (though I can't really hear it).
- Ryse, forza 5, and even dead rising 3 really show off what the system can do.  They really are some graphically impressive games.
- No twitch live streaming yet.  Recording clips are too short at 5 min (vs 15min on ps4).  There is NO background uploading (which ps4 has).  You are stuck just watching the upload progress.  Sky drive support is nice and I was able to watch the few clips of Ryse I put together and uploaded on the iPhone app.  They also play nicely in a browser and the quality is quite a bit better than ps4 facebook.  It has a few more editing features than ps4.  Here is a sample:
- Load times for games seem quite a bit longer than PS4.
- USB Keyboards only work if plugged in before a cold boot.  You can't hot plug a keyboard.

For the hour I played ryse I really like it. I liked it quite a bit more than I expected looking at the reviews. I like the timing and counters and chaining. The graphics are great. It kind of feels a little like assassins creed combat wise. The clip saving and uploading to sky drive worked ok but WTF no background uploading like ps4. Just sit there and watch an upload bar. I then used the sky drive app and watched it on my iphone. Clip is limited to 5 min compared to 15 min on ps4. 1:48 clip was around 55 mb.

So after some significant time with xbox one (ryse, dead rising 3, forza, kinect sports rivals, crimson dragon) I'm pretty evenly split between the two systems. I really don't care about the media stuff since I have far superior dedicated streaming boxes for that.

Forza 5: This is probably the first more realistic driving game I've played since the first forza games and a tiny bit of dabbling in early Gran Turismo games. I'm loving all the risk reward trade offs you can make with all the assist toggles and drivatar AI settings. I'm trying on veteran now (figure I should learn things the correct way from the start) except with damage on cosmetic b/c if my Drivatar is accurate I'm the opposite of Xemu and tend to run into lots of things on accident and on purpose. The Drivatar thing really is a game changer and makes this game so much more addicting. I might have to check out the trueno because I did watch pretty much everything Initial D. Instead I picked the Acura Integra Type R because the Integra (stick, non type R, was poor) was the first car I drove out of college. Mine was an earlier model than the one in the game (the one with the rectangular headlights) but I loved that car. The rewind feature really does take a lot of the frustration out of the game but the penalty does stack up pretty high if you use it a lot.

PS4 - More horsepower, vita remote play which is all kinds of awesome, drastically improved controllers but still not great. With all the hype and praise around the new DS4 I was expecting something that would at least be as good as xbox 360. That just goes to show you controller preference is pretty personal.
xbox one - games look and play pretty much as well as ps4 though I'm playing different titles on each, xbox downloads take forever, great controllers (the new bumpers don't bother me all that much, and didn't take long to get use to).

Something about DS4 still bugs me. It feels too small and cramped in my hands. After a few hours I get claw hands and odd pain points where pressure is applied to my right hand middle finger. It's a combination of the triggers feeling a bit too close and a bit too small (would want a slightly taller controller), the wings need to flare out a bit more and be a bit longer, the lower positioned left analog stick doesn't feel as natural, L3 and R3 are a bit too hard to engage (think lots of running in cod). My hands aren't all that big but the DS4 really doesn't fit all that well. Maybe I can get use to it or adjust my grip but it doesn't seem likely. It's not horrible but the XBOX One is just so much better at least for me. I was going to make the ps4 my primary platform for cross platform titles but now I'm not so sure. Vita + better framerate/graphics/resolution vs a better controller. It's a really tough call, and I'm not sure what to do yet.

Right now I'm going of leaning to getting cross platform titles on PS4 as I continue to adjust to dual shock 4.  Out of the current launch games I think XBox one has better exclusives lineup: Forza 5, Dead Rising 3, and Ryse are all very different and IMO good solid games worth playing.  I'm sorry PS4 but as beautiful as Killzone is it's not really a system seller.  Meanwhile I'm surprised how deep Forza 5 has it's hooks into me these past few days.

Both PS4 and Xbox One are Highly Recommended!  I'm really enjoying all next gen has to offer and have no regrets buying either system.

Finished Ryse:
- I have no idea why this game is scoring so low with the reviewers (62%) but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
- Graphics are really great.  It's nice seeing crytek engine being used in something other than a shooter.  The environments and characters are gorgeous.  Some faces are still a bit odd looking though.  I think the only thing that looks slightly better would be frostbite 3.
- This game is gory.  I mean really violent and bloody.  I love it.
- Combat felt good to me.  There is a nice rhythm and timing to it.  Sure, you could button mash but you'll do a lot better timing your rolls, blocks, attacks, and bashes.  Things get a bit more challenging later on when you have more difficult enemies that vary up their attack.
- Difficulty and pacing felt just right.  I never got bored.  There was just enough variety in gameplay to keep things interesting.  I especially liked the formation segments which were at least something new I haven't seen before.  The turret stuff was less so.  Length felt about right at around 6 hrs.  It could have probably used another couple of hours.  I didn't feel like there was any padding though.
- It could use some more enemy types.  It can be seen as either cutting corners and reducing assets needed or as a gameplay feature.  It's sort of like final fight.  You can quickly recognize the enemy you are fighting by how they look and know what attack patterns they will use and how to counter them.  If they all looked different it would probably make the game a lot harder and frustrating.  So I'm ok with the land of a 1000 clones.
- Sound effects are great too especially all the slicing and dicing.  You really feel the impact of your hits.
- Music was appropriate if a bit forgettable.
- Story wasn't that bad if very predictable.  I thought it serviced the game just fine.
- The last bit of gameplay on the last level is a bit weak.  Think farcry 3 boss battles and I'll leave it at that.
- The character progression and upgrading in single player was a bit meaningless.  None of it had that big of an impact on gameplay.
- Tried some multiplayer which is basically gladiator arena co-op combat.  There is the whole leveling thing too.  It's actually pretty fun.

Highly recommended.  This is a very competent and stunning game though not all that original.  Sure, it's not masterpiece like Last of Us or Tomb Raider but I still found it very worth playing.  It's like a big summer blockbuster with the production values to match that is easy to digest.  This is one case where it seems most reviewers had their mind made up even before playing it (probably based on the E3 showing).

Here are some observations from finishing the game (default middle difficulty):
- A is a priority button and overrides every other action and animation. As soon as you hit it, it will interrupt whatever attack animation you are in and block/deflect and open the enemy up for counter attack.
- The timing for hitting A is pretty lenient especially if you aren't going for perfect blocks (timing a block right before it hits). You can hit it very early in the enemy attack animation and you will still block. In fact if you aren't too sure on the timing you can kind of mash A to ensure you get a block and is also handy when 3 or more guys are all chain attacking you.
- So typically if you get mobbed you wait for somebody to attack and hit A. Then I lead into a counter shield bash, attach, bash, attack, etc. Usually while I'm doing this attack sequence another enemy will attack, and I'll have to hit A to block, sometimes twice in a row b/c they are chaining attacks on me. After blocking everything you can start a counter and attack on the last person you blocked or use the analog sticks to go back and attack the first dude to try and finish him off quickly. This is very similar to how I play Assassin's Creed. Basically every attack begins with a block so you always (well most of the time, I do make some exceptions) wait for the enemy to make the first move.
- I left execution bonus on health gain for 90% of the game. It just makes things easier and the character upgrades aren't all that helpful. So you really want to get in as many executions as possible to keep regaining health.
- For the bigger warrior guys after a block I usually open up with a charged strong shield bash into a couple of strong attacks.
- I suck at blocking arrows with A so I usually roll dodge instead after I fire an arrow. That seemed to work better for me.

Overall, I found this game quite a bit easier than say god of war with it's rapid fire button mashing QTE that got old really fast. Most of the timing is very forgiving IMO. Even the colored execution QTE is optional except to keep your chain bonus multiplier going. As long as you get the execution started, that target is going to die with or without your continued input.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Playstation 4 (PS4)


- Ordered the launch edition within ours of the announcement from Amazon.
- Luckily I got a working one.  No blue line of death so far knock on wood.  I've probably put in about 12 hrs of use so far without too many issues.

Upgrading the hard drive:
- Right out of the box I wanted to upgrade the hard drive to the largest available size.  The largest one I could find that would fit (< 12.5mm) was this 1.5TB 5400 rpm laptop drive for about $120:
HGST Travelstar 5K1500
I picked one up a few weeks ago so I would have it all ready for launch day so I could swap out the hard drive before I even do a first boot.  I plan to go all digital this generation mostly for the convenience and less physical media to store.  I expect to use the PS Vita remote play quite a bit and the ability to switch games without having to go upstairs and swap discs in the ps4 sounds very appealing.
- Here are some good instructions on how to do it:
- Initially, I kept getting error ce-30776-3 when trying to reinstall the system software from a usb flash drive.
- Most usb flash drives won't actually fit because of how narrowly recessed those ports are on the front. Pretty stupid design if you ask me. I hope you have a usb extension handy.
- Two different types of sandisk usb flash drives (16gb ultra, 16gb cruzer) gave me the above error for some reason. I properly formatted to fat32 and created the proper dir structure (\PS4\UPDATE\). I finally had to use a sd card reader and an old 1GB sd card and that seemed to work.
- 1.5TB hdd shows 1314 GB free.  That should be able to fit at least 29 or so full sized games.

- Dual shock 4 is pretty great.  I still prefer the xbox 360 location of the analog sticks but the DS4 is very pleasant to use vs the DS3 which was pretty horrid.  The triggers and analog sticks are much improved.  After many hours of use though I do find the controller a bit small for me and the way I grip it the left side of my right hand middle finger tip is getting sore from constant pressure being applied there.  This never happened on the xbox 360 controller.  I still hate how the batteries aren't user replaceable and they are too cheap to include a usb cable with additional controllers purchased.
- The speaker built into the controller is pretty neat.
- I did pick up the camera but haven't used it for much.  I setup the facial recognition but really it's just easier to pick your profile with the controller so at this point there really is no point in owning one except to say you have it.
- I tested streaming live broadcast to twitch while playing Contrast and viewing it on my iPad.  It worked fine at High quality setting.  When I set it to best I had the video was very stuttery.  It might be my 3 mbps upstream limit that it is hitting.  Overall, it was very easy to setup and get going but probably not something I'll use very much.  Disable view comments to get full screen while streaming.
- Sharing video clips only works with facebook and the quality is only average even when viewing with HD on.  It's no where as good as 1080p youtube which I hope they add in the future.  You double tap the share button to mark the start of the video and then tap share again to stop it.  To view it locally you can go to your profile | files section and view it there.  Sharing will queue it up for upload to facebook in the background.  You also have some limited trim editing.
- PS Vita remote play worked on everything I tried including all the games listed below.  You want to make sure you have a very good wifi router and good signal strength.  If the bandwidth drops off it's very noticable with heavy artifacting and loss of control.  It works very well most of the time and is even quite playable in shooters like CoD.  I did try multiplayer briefly but man it's way too hard to aim quickly with those tiny analog sticks and finding targets on that tiny screen but it does work.  For campaign it's not bad.  They even customize the control layout in the options and shows a vita which is a nice touch.  Tactical items are triggered by on screen touch icons.  It has L1,L3, R1,R3 mapped to 4 quadrants of the back touch surface which kind of works.  I don't really like it since I usually rest my fingers back there when I hold it.  For simpler games it's great like Resogun and Contrast and is still serviceable on the shooters.  You can also remotely turn the ps4 on and off.  I find if you have a better than -50 RSSI you'll have excellent results.
- Heat.  Seems most of the heat is in the back right side of the console.  I stuck a fan above it to keep air moving and it seems to help a lot.
- Party chat up to 8 people.
- Download status is buried in notifications.

- Robotron -> Geometry wars as Defender -> Resogun
-Graphics are great and so are the controlls.  It's free to PSN+ members so grab this first since it's a quick download and you can play it while your other games download.

- It's the other free PSN+ game.  It's pretty original and quirky but the controls are very twitchy and imprecise.  I've only spent a few minutes in it so far but the use of light and shadow is pretty interesting.

- Graphics are pretty impressive.  I was able to play after the first 7GB downloaded and you can see which chapter it's currently downloading from withing the game menu.  I've played the first few chapters; haven't tried the multiplayer.  The multiple uses of the little flying sidekick robot does add some new welcome mechanics except hacking alarms....that just gets annoying after a while.  It's one of the few exclusives out at launch so what else are  you going to pick up.  I've only ever finished killzone 2 (#1 I got to the last level and quit, #3 I quick about half way through).  I'll probably finish this one just for the eye candy.  Overall, a competent shooter with kind of a lame tutorial/intro level.

Call of Duty Ghosts
- So I bought the pc version and the ps4. PC has some issues: some graphical glitches when it rains and I have the latest nvidia drivers and the occasional odd hitching. It's really frustrating bc it often happens when an enemy suddenly appears around a corner so it definitely will get you killed. And this is on a killer rig: 4770k, 660 ti, 16gb ram, Samsung 840 pro ssd. It also looks like ass on anything other than the extra setting. It seems to internally render at a lower res then scales up to the resolution you set in anything other than extra. Performance is quite a bit worse too on lower end hardware and it really doesn't look all that next gen.
- Ps4 runs like butter, no hitching, and no graphical glitches. I'm 1.26kd on ps4 vs .86 on pc. Ps4 version all the way if you ask me.  It's crazy that a $400 machine plays this game better than my $1300 PC.
- So apparently there is no way to mute the mic on the camera.  So that means in cod matches everybody gets to hear anything said in the entire room.  One work around is to create a party with only you in it.  Make sure it's on party chat vs game chat and volume is set to normal (instead of party priority).  That way you are only talking to yourself.

Battlefield 4
- I also own this on PC and PS4.  Frostbite 3 engine is absolutely gorgeous and the best looking game that really shows off next gen.  It looks fantastic on PC and almost as good on the PS4.  It did crash my ps4 one time with some error message though while I was doing remote play through the vita.  This corrupted my single player save and erased it.  Luckily I only had finished the first mission but man it's annoying.  PC version is even more crash prone and buggy but they just released a large client side patch that I need to try.
Update: So BF4 on PS4 actually makes the PC version look solid and bug free. It really is a mess and unplayable at this time. I had my save file corrupted 3 times now so apparently you have about a 0% chance of actually finishing the campaign for the unlocks before you get your save corrupted. You can only join certain smaller game types in multiplayer and expect to get disconnected at anytime for no reason. So really there are no aspects of the game that I would even call playable at the moment.  It's good to see EA upholding their reputation as worst company ever.

Need for Speed Rivals
- It's another frostbite 3 engine game so yes I must have it!  It does look and play great.  It's got 2 stories you can hop between: cops and racers.  It has the whole open world thing going and constant online.  So far I like it.

- There are still a few free to play games I need to try out.

Highly Recommended.  I'm so glad next gen is finally here, and the PS4 is off to a great start.  Most of the key elements are all here besides not really having any must have exclusives but the hardware seems solid if you got a good one.  We'll see how the XBOX One does next week but I'm pretty sure the PS4 is going to be my primary console this generation.

- Here are some handy tips.  What is really cool is only one person has to have psn+ and then anybody on that console can play online multiplayer.  This is handled so much better than microsoft.
- Battlefield 4 multiplayer:  20 player games seem to work fine and is pretty stable.  I do like how there are a bunch of DICE official dedicated servers.  I could never get a 64 player game going.  It seemed like the server would keep restarting right after the match would start.  Also, it doesn't seem to have server queues if you try and join a full one like the PC version does.  I would also get odd messages like commander slots are full when I'm just trying to join as a regular player.  Overall, BF4 is pretty darn buggy even on console but when it works it seems to play well.
- Killzone multiplayer:  I played it for about 10 min.  I'm still wrapping my head around it.  At least it works well as far as joining and getting into the game.
- Playroom: 3 mini games to mess around with the camera.  Come play the most expensive version of pong ever though twisting the board by moving the controller is kind of neat.  The dance club inside the controller is neat too with you pressing buttons to control the lights.  It feels very kinect 1 ish but should be amusing for a good 30 min.  2nd screen functionality with the iPhone app doesn't seem to be working yet.
- Live on playstation: watch others play games.  I watched a bit of angry joe.  Video quality is meh.  You've got text comments and it seems to have the ability to interact but that was disabled.
- Warframe: Graphics aren't bad but the artwork is kind of ugly.  3rd person shooter/melee online free to play with 4 players.  I did one mission. It played pretty well but it's odd that is 3rd person without a cover mechanic.  Melee has no impact.  It doesn't feel like you are hitting anything and instead just go through everything.  There is pretty much no feedback that you hit anything.  This game hard locked my PS4 for the first time while it was doing it's update.  I had to hold down the power button for 7 sec to shut it down.
- Blacklight Retribution: F2P also on PC.  Says it's still beta.  It could never find a game to join.  Played around in training with bots.  Very meh when there are so many better paid shooters available.
- DC Online: F2P action MMORPG.  I really enjoyed this.  This was my first time trying it out.  I like the action oriented combat and the graphics were pretty good.  It has great character customization too.  I was pleasantly surprised by this game.
- The web browser is pretty speedy though it doesn't do flash.
- Picked up Assassin's Creed 4 Black Flag for some 1080p native solid framerate goodness.  I finished the first story mission on Havana and did some side stuff.  I've only played and finished AC 1 and 2.  The ship stuff is fun.  Combat is a bit deeper now with break moves instead of just counter and attack.  The game runs at a very smooth framerate at a full 1080p resolutions.  Textures and rain are nicer too.  It's not a huge leap over current gen but it's a nice little upgrade and the best way to play AC4 right now.
- The more I use the system the more I love it.  PS4 really is turning out to be a fantastic console.  XBOX One is going to have to do a heck of a lot to impress me this Friday.

- Tried vita remote play over the internet.  My home connection is a 24/3 fiber to the premises uverse connection.  Vita was on a wifi network with very good bandwidth and signal strength.  I was able to power up my PS4 and connect without issue.  No port forwarding needed (upnp is enabled on my asus rt-ac66u).  Overall I was really impressed with the video and sound quality.  It was better than what I expected.  Input lag was quite noticeable.  I played a few games of Resogun and it felt like a slow LCD HDTV that wasn't put in game mode.  It wasn't unplayable but it definitely impacts gameplay.  Still, very cool it just worked.
- Manufactured in Yantai Sept 2013
- Logitech bluetooth ps3 media board pro keyboard paired and worked just fine.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The $10 / month cell phone plan (pure talk and Samsung a157v)

So my older kid just started middle school and I figure it was time to get him an actual working phone.  For the past year he's been using my old iPhone 4 (at&t model) like an ipod touch (no call capabilities).  I did some research and wanted the cheapest plan possible with voice and some texting.  At this point I don't think he needs any kind of data plan yet (that will come in probably a few years).

I ended up going with (at&t network).
$10 per month (all taxes and everything included.  You set a hard maximum and you will never be charged more than this amount).
130 min per month that rolls over forever (never expires)
300 sms messages per month.
no data.

At&t has an online form for unlock but for some reason it didn't work for me.  A phone call and 10 min later though I was unlocked.  Good site to check the lock status:
If you are using an at&t phone I believe unlocking is optional.  Either way I wanted the iPhone unlocked just to avoid any potential issues and to increase the resale value when I do eventually sell it.  I did go through the entire itunes backup/restore steps too.

Got the micro sim in 3 days and it was easy to setup.  Activating the sim on their website took maybe 5 min.  Micro sim cost was $5 but included 150 bonus minutes (which will of course roll over if we he doesn't use it all).  They also have a family share plane for $5 per additional line that adds another 60 min into the pool.  You can split the minutes between phones anyway you want.

There are cheaper plans out there that are voice only like on t mobile.  Virgin mobile has some cheap plans too but really if you want complete coverage you have to go with at&t or verizon.  Plus, I really wanted some texting included in the plan.  If you need data then straight talk is probably a better deal.

Highly recommended.  I think it's a great plan for a kid's first phone or somebody who doesn't need data (there is always freedompop (sprint network) if you want some free data).  I'm very satisfied with the service so far.

Testing out h2o which is another at&t MVNO.

picked up a micro sim from amazon for < 10 cents:

Activated it, charged up $10 on it, install iphone app, install data apn profile to get data working (the app makes this easy to do).

So the big difference here is everything draws money from your $10 bucket (which expires in 90 days).
5 cents/min calls
5 cents/text
10 cents/MB

I really like how data is rolled in there. Nice feature for find my friend/find my iphone for a bit more security especially for kids. The disadvantage of having it all draw from one bucket is if your kid watches a few youtube videos on 3G it could empty the account and then he won't even be able to make or take a call. I guess it comes down to how much you trust your kid to control himself.

There is an h2o app to check balances and recharge.

I like how after every call it flashes how much you spent on that call, remaining balance, and expiration date. So there should be no surprises. I'll probably recharge $10 every time he hits $5 balance.

So for $10/month - 3 months you actually get everything in very tiny portions. Heh.

Puretalk also just added a 150MB data plan that also rolls over for an additional $10/month. Both sims are still active so I'll test H2O for a bit, check how fast his account drains, and then decide which to keep.

The spammy red messages that keep popping up every time money was spent out of your account got to be too much.  It would sometimes even do it with a $0.00 deduction which is just stupid.  It's probably the biggest complaint on the amazon reviews and there doesn't seem to be a way to turn it off.  You will constantly get interrupted when doing things like just reading or using gps.  It really reduces the usability of the smart phone.  Since then I've gone back to puretalkusa and added the data plan.  H2O is cheap...too cheap for our use case.  Also, we got a lot of strange phone calls with H2O which never happened on pure talk.  Their web site is pretty horrible with confusing verbiage and very unclear/lack of usage/charge reports.  Everything about H2O screams sketchy.  But hey it does work and it is about the cheapest thing out there for very low usage situations if you can live with all the annoyances.  For me I'll pay a bit more and use puretalk which is very clear and straightforward.

My son only used 55 MB of data over the last 30 days on puretalk so 150 MB/month should be plenty.  This is with very light use with mostly just some google hangout chats.
UPDATE 8/25/2014:
If you need a dirt cheap basic GSM phone (for kids and such)  the Samsung a157v is pretty great for $13-$15 (goes on sale once in a while for < $8).  Fry's, walmart, and I think best buy all carry this locally.  It takes all of about 5 min to unlock:
Then you can use whatever sim card you want (puretalkusa, h2o, etc). This phone uses a full size sim card so use adapters if you need to up size a micro or nano.  For just talk and text this is a really nice phone at a really good price.
If you want to add your own wallpapers just format a jpg or png file at 128X160 resolution.  For ringtones a 30 sec or less mp3 file will work.  Just plug in a micro usb cable, select transfer on the phone when prompted, and copy the media to the appropriate folders.  You have around 107MB of free space to play around with.

Both my kids have a Samsung a157v now.  I called up puretalk and converted my $10 flex plan to a $15 family plan. They shipped me a new sim card for free.  It was a regular/micro sim depending on which size you punched out..  I kept my 1300 minutes I had left in rollover.  For the extra $5 a month I pay I also get another 60 min that goes into my family pool which I can easily allocate between the 2 lines on the website.  So for $15 total a month I get 190 min for 2 lines with rollover.  That really is a fantastic deal.  They also track texting differently now.  Instead of separate buckets for minutes and texting, every 3 texts = 1 min used.  I guess I'm ok with that since my kids don't really text that much (at least yet).  It does simplify things.

Monday, August 05, 2013

House 2.0

So we moved to a new house 9 months ago so I saw it as an opportunity to revamp and upgrade all the electronics in the house.  Here is an room by room breakdown with links to quite a few items covered in my previous blog postings.  All the tech you see here we hand picked and installed/built/modified ourself. 

Master Bedroom:

- Yamaha RX-V473 Receiver (with airplay audio)
- Energy Take classic 5.0
- Monoprice 12" subwoofer (PID 9723)
- Soundcast SOU-SCK510 SubCast Wireless Transmitter/Receiver System for Subwoofers
- Monoprice Dual Band IR Repeater (PID 9895) (not pictured)
- Pinpoint Mounts AM20
- Furniture: Rooms To Go

So we got a full 5.1 surround system setup in here.  The front and rear speakers are prewired.  I used the Pinpoint AM20 speaker mounts which mounts directly to the single gang junction box for a clean look.  WD TV Live lets me stream all my media from the main server in the house which is on 24/7.  Silly me should have prewired for a sub but I thought the sub would if in front of the room.  After the furniture arrived from Rooms To Go it took up more space than I expected.  I moved the sub to the back corner and the Soundcast does a great job of transmitting LFE channel in pure digital format so there is no loss.  It does add about a 45ms delay so the auto calibration on the Yamaha picks up on that and adds the appropriate distance needed to compensate (12' = 10ms).  There is a very slight low hum though but you can only hear it if you put your head to the ground right next to the sub.  It's not audible otherwise.  The Yamaha has airplay for audio only but we hardly use it.  We just use the WD TV Live and stream pretty much everything.  It was hard for the harmony to reach all the components in the cabinet so I added an IR repeater which splits out the signal to 4 different emitters.  I also drilled holes for better ventilation and wiring in the back of the cabinet using a hole saw attachment for my drill:  3" for the smaller ones and 4.5" makes a perfect size for a 120mm fan.  I added 2 X 120MM low rpm fans for additional air circulation.  With the cabinet closed there is almost no noise and it keeps it nice and cool.  Fans are powered by a standard external hard drive power supply that came from a SATA / USB bridge adapter which outputs the usual 4 pin molex.  The fan power supply is routed through a Universal IR Remote Controlled AC Outlet for Appliances (110V) switch.  This gets all programmed into the harmony so the fans turn on and off with the rest of the system.  I used banana clips and matching face plate for all the prewiring that comes out of the wall (monoprice).

Family Room:

- LG Infinia 55LW5600 55-Inch Cinema 3D
- Pioneer VSX-1021-k Receiver (2 zones.  Zone 2 powers a pair of outdoor speakers on the patio).  (with airplay audio)
- Energy Take classic 5.0
- Monoprice 12" subwoofer (PID 9723)
- WD TV Live
- XBox 360
- Comcast HD STB 
- MK808 Android PC
- Monoprice Dual Band IR Repeater (PID 9895)
- Logitech Harmony Remote 550
- Pinpoint Mounts AM20
- Furniture: Ikea BestA 

This is a similar setup to the master bedroom using the same fan and IR switch system that I'm so fond off.  We pretty much standardized on the harmony 550 throughout the house for greater WAF.  Everything was prewired in this room including the sub.  Putting on your own RCA tips was interesting and required a bit of soldering.  More banana clips and wall plates from monoprice were used.  WD TV Live is the center piece for delivering media.  The xbox gets a little use here but not much.  The MK808 was my attempt at finding a substitute for an HTPC.  It's hard to see in the photos but it's really small and is sitting directly behind the wd tv live.  It was definitely an interesting project but overall it's still a bit underpowered for general web browsing.  I'm using the Logitech Wireless Touch Keyboard K400 with the MK808.  I see a tiny Hazwell ITX htpc build in the future.  I just recently added another IR Repeater (not pictured) to improve IR reception on all the devices.

Media Room:

- Sharp 52d64u (52")
- Onkyo TX-SR707 receiver
- Energy Take classic 5.0
- Monoprice 12" subwoofer (PID 9723)
- WD TV Live
- XBox 360
- PS3 60gb with HW backwards compatibility for ps2 (upgraded hdd to 320gb)
- Nintendo Wii (with hdmi adapter)
- Logitech Harmony XBox 360 Remote
- 4 x pc's
- asus rt-ac66u wireless router
- Pinpoint Mounts AM20
- Furniture: Ikea BestA, billy bookcase, desks

This is the dedicated media room with a half wall vs those that you see that are fully enclosed.  We don't like watching a lot of stuff in pitch black so this more open concept works better for us.  I turned this media room into basically the men cave (me and the 2 boys).  On the left are the kids pc's running intel q6600/radeon hd 5850/4gb ram (upgraded this build) and intel q8200/ geforce 650 ti/8gb ram (upgrade this build) and 24" displays.  On the right we have my man cave: The pc on the left is the main server hooked up to 2 X 4 bay raid towers (though I use them as jbod with 5 of the hard drives in a 12TB drive pool using drive bender).  This houses around 27TB of total storage holding all our music, movies, tv, kpop music videos, photos, backups, etc.  One of the raid towers only has 1 drive in it so I have 3 empty bays for expansion.  Everything is over port multiplier esata so performance is pretty great.  Also on this corner shelf is the bw samsung laser printer, scanner, and 2 X sata docks for quick access to archive hard drives that aren't online 24/7 (also hooked up via esata).  The server is on an old intel core i7 860/ati 7790/16 gb ram (upgraded this build).  I just built a new Haswell 4770K, nvidia 660ti,16 gb ram gaming rig.  I've got a samsung 27" display and an old dell 2001fp 20" which is great for running my vent on.  The two displays are hooked up to two hdmi switches so I can redirect each monitor independently to either the gamer or the server.  Keyboard and mouse are hooked up through a kvm to share between the gamer and server.  I also have a long hdmi cable connected from the gamer to the 52" sharp and a xbox wireless receiver for some next gen like "console" gaming using steam big picture mode.  Audio goes through the hdmi on the 660 ti and everything just works great.  I drilled many holes into the BestA.  No fans needed this time since I went with no doors leaving everything open on the BestA which I prefer.  Everybody has headsets and headset/speaker switches.  Kids are usually using the headphones though they do have 2.1 altec lansing speakers.  I'm on a logitech z5300e 5.1 THX speakers but I haven't figured out a good place to put the rear speakers.  The asus router is daisy changed off the at&t uverse RG (basically making their RG into a dumb modem by dmz my asus router).  It was convenient have dual cat 6 drops in the media room that gave me the flexibility of placing the asus on the half wall counter top.  This allows the wireless to reach all corners of the house after increasing the transmit power.  I added a small ikea billy bookcase to hold my current gen games with some space left for next gen.  All the desks are from Ikea.

Game Room:

- Vizio m801d 80" HDTV (passive 3D)
- Yamaha RX-V473 Receiver (with airplay audio)
- Definitive Technology ProCinema 1000 Plus: 4X ProMonitor 1000, ProCenter 2000, ProSub 1000
- Monoprice 12" subwoofer (PID 9723)
- Monoprice Dual Band IR Repeater (PID 9895) (not pictured)
- monoprice 5X1 HDMI switch
- MED600X3D media player
- XBox 360 with Kinect
- PS3 20gb (upgraded hdd to 320gb) with Move
- Nintendo Wii U
- furniture: BDI Avion 8529 (espresso), Ikea expedit, pax
- Logitech Harmony 550 remote

This is what we use as our main home theater room.  Gaming is great too on the 80".  All the motion (wii u, kinect, Move, rock band) based games are here since we have the space.  It's good for when families are over and they want to play Wii or Dance Central.  I kept tossing around the idea of a projector but this room has a ton of windows, and I've just never been that fond of projectors.  Center speaker is in the center drawer of the TV stand.  I have the same fan system setup here too.  The devices are spread rather far apart I added an IR repeater here too.  My best speakers are in this room (which was in the main family room in the old house).  I'm considering adding a table tennis table too.  The future ps4 and xbox one will go in this room too (I have launch day preorders for both).


- 2 X Asus VE248 - 24" LED LCD Monitors:  Cheap and good.  About $180 each from frys after $20 MIR.
- Logitech mx560 wireless wave combo.  Not as drastic as a split keyboard but more comfortable than a regular straight one.  Frys had these at a great price of $40.
- Logitech Z313 2.1 speakers.  Frys $40.  So small yet they sound so clear with a nicely balanced subwoofer that fills out the low end nicely without being over powering.  Has a convenient headphone jack on the volume puck.  Satellites have a nice protective mesh but the down firing sub is unprotected.  It's odd how a lot of the higher end logitech speakers are now completely unprotected.  What is up with that?!?
- Ikea Malm Desk $150 black brown.  Sturdy, a nice size, drawer and cabinet.
- Basyx VL701ST11 Chair
- Monoprice in ear earbuds 8320 $7.  Amazing sound for the price.
- Using what use to be my server (q6600, 8gb ram, nvidia 8800gt).

This is the Ikea show case with Expedit, Hemnes, and BestA.  I've got a little dual 24" asus LED setup with my old q6600 server which I trickled down to the office.  I mostly only use this pc to remote into work.  My wife is on a mbp 13" and an old samsung 17".  So yeah this is the room where actual work happens.  The hp 2600n color laser and fax machine is also down here sitting on a shorter BestA with yes more holes drilled out the back.  Have I mentioned how much I love my hole saw?

Guest Bedroom:

- Samsung lnr-409d (40")
- WD TV Live
- logitech harmony 550 remote

This is a pretty basic setup.  This room has my first HDTV I ever bought which cost $2700 and is only 720p!  It has a WD TV Live for media streaming.  There is an ancient athlon 64 3000 (venice) sff pc that I just need to gut and rebuild someday.  It's not even plugged in at the moment.  I might just give it away.  The Samsung 40" had it's one and only hdmi port detach from the main board.  To work around this I use a Cable Matters Active HDMI to VGA M/F Cable which basically converts HDMI to vga and is even hdcp compliant.  So I have this coming out the wd tv live and into the VGA port on the TV.  It's ghetto but it works.


- Craig 15" hdtv.  We won it for free at a Bullritos store opening.
- Raspberry Pi

Not sure what to do with this horrible TV.  It has some of the worst viewing angles I've ever seen on any display.  I had it in a nook in the master bath but we never used it.  I moved it here in the kitchen with my Raspberry pi running openelec with mpeg2 and vc1 licenses installed (optimized OS that just runs XBMC) so it can stream most of my media much like the wd tv live.  I use the xbmc app on iphone to control it.  The raspberry pi is tiny and hides nicely behind the tv.  It works well enough but again we don't really use it much.

Guest Bedroom Closet:

I basically took this closet over.  The wiring is a complete mess but I have a 24 port rosewill gigabit switches in there (dirt cheap at around $78 at newegg), phone power voip, uverse, security, 3 X hd homerun with 2 tuners each, 6 tuner hd homerun prime with 2 cable cards in it, and tons of media and computer parts with each container numbered and all contents databased for easy look up.  rcTV which is a tivo like program I wrote myself runs on the server and records all those cooking, wedding, and dress shows my wife likes to watch.  With 6 tuners with access to all my cable channels I never have to worry about conflicts.  The hdhr prime also acts like a DLNA server exposing all the channels as media.  This means all 4 of the WD TV Live's I have in the house, med600x3d, and the 2 X ps3's can watch live TV streaming directly from the hdhr prime.  This is all without the additional cost of renting more cable STBs.  Can you spot the virtual boy in the photos?


I used a free program called Sweet Home 3D which lets you scan in/upload your floor plan and then set the scale properly.  From there if you have the measurements you can add furniture that is to scale and move stuff around and see what fits.  Our family room came out pretty close to what we originally planned.  The upstairs we were tossing around the idea of getting a pool table with a ping pong top but we ultimately axed the idea.  The master bedroom, Media room, and kitchen came out as planned.  The study we just kind of winged it.

Next project is the patio: grill, outdoor kitchen maybe, full AV setup maybe.  Then, finally organizing the garage, and we should be done.  But as far as all the electronics in the interior of the house goes I'm pretty much done.  Hopefully you found this overview interesting and maybe even picked up a few ideas.