Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Acura TL Type-S 2007 Automatic

- Got it for $384 over invoice. I probably could have saved maybe another $200 if I shopped around but it just wasn't worth the effort.
- you can read all the specs here:
286hp, 0-60 in 5.7 but that's on the MT.
0-60 in 5.7 on AT using paddle shifting, 1/4 mile in 14.2sec at 99mph.
- xm pricing planes
$12.95 per month + $3.99 for xm nav traffic.
$9.95 for just xm nav traffic.
- community sites:
- I'm going to mostly comment on the technology and other gadgets in the car.
- carbon gray was our favorite color but unfortunately it's not available in type-s. Carbon bronze was a bit too "bronzey" for us so we just fell back to good old safe silver.
- The only options added were wheel locks and tinting. Everything else included was standard.
- Full nav (nice big screen) with real time traffic/construction/accidents, rear view camera when in reverse, leather, 5 speed automatic, sequential sport shifting (manual without the clutch), paddle shifters, moon roof, stainless steel pedals, 6 disc slot loading with mp3 support (cd-r/rw), dvd audio, dts, dolbpy prologic 2, 5.1 speakers (6 speakers total including a sub), xm (3 months free trial which was already activated and ready to go), homelink, auto dim rear view mirror.
- Several settings are tied to driver 1 or 2 based on the key used to open the car. This includes all the seat and mirror settings, options like when the doors auto lock/unlock, light dimming timers, and even all the stereo presets for fm and xm.
- The car really lets you customize a lot of options. Almost every automatic option there is also the ability to shut it off/go manual if you want.
- TPMS shows the individual tire pressure on the multi information display.
- Tires are "W" rated (168mph). I've read there is a speed governor at around 150mph.
- hands free lets you control pretty much everything including all apsects of the audio system, nav system, and a paired blue tooth cell phone. There's a pretty extensive vocabulary I need to learn. Also, a lot information is provided through voice. I feel like I need to play the Knight Rider theme with all this talking back and forth.
- There is no voice training needed. In fact I recorded a phone book entry with my voice, and my wife was still able to call it.
- Setting up the blue tooth phone was pretty easy. You go through a pairing process giving each phone pair a unique 4 digit code. You can pair up to 6 phones to the car. If more than one paired phone happens to be in the car you just hit a button and say "next" to cycle through each phone. You give each phone pair a name which you hear when cycling through phones.
- The phone thing came in more handy than I expected. Example: today we called Mommy at work while the kids were in the back. We could all talk and hear Mommy at the same time. The kids really got a kick out of it.
- With just a few button presses I was able to download the entire phone book from my cell phone (older sony ericsson t637) to the car. Then you can add voice names to the phone numbers you want to call by name. It all worked pretty well. You can store multiple phone books so multiple phones can be imported into the car.
- Voice quality going out was pretty good and the incoming voice was nice and loud and clear.
- mp3/wma support works quite well. It basically flattens the directory structure and then lets you navigate by folder/file. You can repeat/random by track/folder/disc. There is also a list view to let you easily browse folders and tracks. Long filenames are supported. Unfortunately mp3's burned to a dvd+r using UDF did NOT work. DVD-Audio is supported. Looking at the sampler disc I noticed it was just a bunch of vobs. I tried sticking in a movie dvd to see if it would play the audio but it didn't. CD-RW support is excellent. 80min 10X cd-rw worked perfectly. You can easily fit over 50 albums worth of music on 6 cdrw's. Resume on disc works when switching between other audio modes like fm/xm/aux and back to disc. It will pick right back up on the last disc/track/second. If you hit any of the disc buttons 1-6 then that it starts at the beginning of the disc. Resume is nice but I wish there was a true bookmarking feature.
- There is a standard stereo 1/8" mini jack at the bottom of the center console. There are holes to let your route the cable (you supply your own. 3 foot cable is good) out of the console with it closed. I love the aux jack which lets you use your own mp3 player (like my archos) though the placement of the jack could have been better.
- nav system is stored on a dvd9 and is pretty complete. You can pin lock all addressees (phone and nav) so in case somebody steals your care they can't just say "go home" and come knocking on your door. You can even speak the pin.
- Real time traffic works great and shows different colors on major freeways for the speed. Accidents and construction show up as icons or you can display them in a list.
- so far I've spent more time messing with the electronics than I've actually been driving the car.
- the paddle shifters are pretty cool. I've read that in manual mode the car will NOT shift you out of a gear unless you tell it to. That means you can red line it all you want. The only thing the manual says is the engine will start cutting out to you know prevent it from blowing up. I of course can't verify any of this since I'm still breaking in the car. The only thing it does automatically is shift down to first gear if you come to a complete stop.
- Oil change reminder is expressed by a percentage and this gauge takes into account the way you drive (stop and go vs highway) vs straight mileage.
- trip computer also computes range in miles you can drive based on fuel left and computed average mpg.
- volume is tracked independently for each mode so for example you can have aux at volume 25 and xm set to 7.
- has a feature (multiple levels of settings) where it will compensate for driving noise. The faster you go the louder your stereo, the slower you go the more quiet it gets. You can turn this feature off if you want. It's kind of subtle even on high setting but it does help.
- The real time traffic flow colors are sometimes a bit hard to see since highways are represented by red and so is very slow traffic. You have to look for that slightly different shade of red line next to the other red line which represents the actual road. You can still tell them apart with some effort at the max traffic level zoom. Any further out and it's just a bigger red line. The other colors like green and yellow of course show up fine.
-I like how the nav map background colors goes to an inverse of black when the headlights are on so it doesn't blind you as much. There is also a max brightness button that covers the entire dash plus nav that is great when you have the headlights on but it's not quite that dark yet (dusk or during a rain storm) so you still need all the displays to be bright.
- Setup my phone to work with AcuraLink which communicates with the acura server to send messages to your car through your phone over gprs (at least I think that's what it's for). I used the quick connect cingular MediaNet profile and verified the connection without issue. You can set it so it prompts you before connecting vs automatic. That way your car won't rack up bandwidth charges without you knowing. You can customize delivery options and setup service appointments at Acura Owner Link site.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Gametap (PC)

- Signed up for their 99 cents for the first month deal. $10 a month after that or around $84 for the year.
- Subscription based gaming service where everything gets unified through a single client interface bringing a pseudo console feel to the pc. Hundreds of older games (and more getting added all the time) including quite a few emulators and lots of edutainment/children/family titles which is the main reason I signed up (more on that later). Don't expect latest releases though there is some exclusive content like the Sam and Max series.
- I tried a pretty large variety of games. There is a pretty good control mapping support including gamepads. For this initial test I only used keyboard though.
- Some controls didn't work as well. Take centipede for example. The mouse is usually a good fit for trackball games but here it was almost like the mouse emulated a keyboard instead of sending the full range of mouse data like acceleration and speed to the game. It played ok but not great. You'll actually get better results on something like Mame.
- Several games run under emulation. Some systems I tried were: all the sega stuff (genesis, sms, game gear, 32x, dreamcast), neo geo, atari 2600, c64, 8-bit (seemed like NES), and several aracade titles including many older capcom games like the street fighter series and final fight. These all ran great and at full speed. Even crazy taxi on dreamcast ran perfectly smooth. Some of the emulators are built into the front end while others are spawned off as separate processes (like 8-bit stuff). Dos games work well and most seem to be speed limited and include full soundblaster/adlib support.
- Don't expect any classic nintendo games since I'm sure those are all saved for the Wii Virtual Console where they can milk you dry.
- It can make your software firewall complain alot since it needs to validate your account a lot before starting a game. Sometimes supporting dll's on certain emulators also complain for outbound access.
- Each game has its own volume directory but there is no EXE there. Everything must be launched from the unified gametap client.
- Downloads are slow. You can have up to 3 background downloads at the same time. Either way total download rate is capped at 2mbps for all of gametap. I never once saw it go much higher and I have premium cable RR with 8mbps down (which I can get regularly with other services). Some of the more recent larger games like Baldur's Gate II could take the better part of a day to download so some of that instant gratification is taken away. The best thing to do is just dedicate a day or so to just downloading games you might be interested in and then check them all out later.
- You can create up to 8 sub accounts which you can then login on other machines. Each machine can d/l and play different games all at the same time so it's kind of nice that the whole family can enjoy gametap for one price. It would have been nice to be able to quickly copy over the files for a downloaded game to another machine. I wonder if copying the volume directory would work. I might have to give that a try. There is also a nice set of parental controls you can apply to the accounts.
- There are lots of children educational games. What really sucks with some of these older games (say 1999) is trying to get them installed in winxp. That's the big value of something like gametap where they clean up the installer and make other modifications to the original game is it just easily runs under the gametap client. The time and headache saved right there is almost worth it. This holds true for everything else they do. Sure you could go the emulator,dosbox,mame route but they really did do a pretty good job of packaging all this stuff into a simple unified easy to use system.
- The kids games run on a pretty low end machine. Right now I've got it running on a p3-1ghz, 512meg ram, gf3 ti200. Reader Rabbit runs great. Just make sure you meet the min requirements. I had a geforce2 gts in there at first (not on gametap's list) and the client kept crashing. It's been fine with the gf3.
- Some games could have used a bit more polish than others. Most kids games only run full screen at 640X480 (it doesn't scale). The original Prince of Persia requires you to download the pdf manual to get by the copy protection. But most work just fine.
- There's some streaming video content that I didn't care too much about. A few games had some cool extras with additional background, interviews, or trivia information
- some games have online leader boards or even online play though I didn't test any of this.
- Forget about installing any mods to any gametap games since I bet all the game files are encrypted/drm'ed out the wazoo.

Overall It's not too bad of a value especially if you have younger kids. If it was just for me I'd probably pass.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Crackdown (XBOX 360) with Halo 3 Beta

- I played the demo for about 45min.
- 1.25gb download.
- Loving this game so far. I've already got my pre-order in. I took down the first gang leader and a few resupply points but I haven't noticed any interiors. Does this game support gun fights/missions inside of buildings? That was one of the cool things about Saints Row.
- I can't figure out how to shoot while driving. Could they have possibly left this out of the game? Maybe you need a certain weapon proficiency or maybe a specific weapon.
- Renderware engine looks nice but I can't help but wonder how it would look using something like the Unreal engine. I usually don't like cell shaded games but this one actually looks pretty good.
- The lock on system works ok. It's better than GTA but I think Saints Row still does gun play better. It's nice that once you lock on you can aim for specific body/car parts. You can also manually aim while sniping.
- The demo has accelerated attribute power up progression. This is where the game really shines. They really nailed the big jumps and super strength letting you throw around big objects. There is a lot of vertical scale to this game. It's a bit like a puzzle trying to figure out how to reach some of the higher placed power up orbs.
- I miss the GPS that Saints Row had.
- It has jump in/jump out co-op that I still need to try.

Definitely go check out the demo. I thought it was very impressive. I just wish they would have stole some of the better ideas from Saints Row.

UPDATE: 02/20/07
I just picked up the retail copy. I'll have more impressions soon. If you were curious here is how the halo 3 beta items look. On the outside of the box is a sticker:

and the card on the inside of the box:

UPDATE: 2/21/07
- a bit over 4 hrs of play. Single player only. I want to level up my character before doing some co-op.
- Finished killing off all of the Los Muertos gang, all attributes at 2 stars except driving is at 1 star. My agility is just a couple of orbs shy of three stars.
- I highly recommend you level up to 2 stars on agility before you really start taking out the gang bosses. Try and mix in melee kills with guns and explosives so you can level all those attributes up to 2 stars rather quickly. It doesn't take too long to get to 2 stars. 3 stars takes quite a bit longer. Time trials are also a good way to level up strength, explosives, and firearms.
- Finding orbs are just addicting. The mesh between the best of acrobatic platforming (think Prince of Persia X 10 meets blade meets the matrix) with sand box makes a really simple yet addicting game play element. Getting the secret orbs helps all your attributes not just agility. This game is as much a platformer as it is a sand box gta clone.
- Once you up agility enough you run and jump so fast it's almost not worth driving much. It's just quicker to leap around the city.
- Try and grab a grenade launcher early and stash it into a resupply point so you can use it at any time. It's the easiest way to level up explosives. Also, watch out for collateral damage since killing innocents will lower your rating.
- Driving felt a bit too floaty for me. I think saints row really nailed the driving physics for a gta style game.
- Draw distances are incredible, frame rate is good most of the time.
- I think if you save the races for until after you clean out that part of the city it should be easier since there won't be any hit squads coming after you.
- Save at anytime, and it also auto saves at key moments in the game. There is very little penalty for death. Since there aren't any "instanced" long chain missions (like gta and saints row) there is ZERO frustration when you die. You just jump back over and try to take out the boss with a different approach (and there are always several options available depending your your attribute levels). I never finished gta because of the frustrating rigid mission structure. Saints row improved on that but there were still some missions you had to replay over and over. This game doesn't have that issue. You never have to repeat a set chain of objectives just because you failed the last one in the chain. Here you are just tasked to take out these gang bosses in any order and in any way you see fit. This makes a HUGE difference and really separates this game from all the other gta clones.
- When playing co-op, only the host is actually completing the game. The person that joins is helping the host clean up the host's city.
- No load times once in the city.
- I've learned to like the auto targeting system more. Zooming and targeting the head makes a big difference (love that sniper rifle). I also like that once you are locked on you can jump/move any way you want and it doesn't affect accuracy that much (crouching does give you a bonus to accuracy). So you can make these hulk like jumps while targeting and taking out multiple targets while in the air then land in the middle of a mob. When you land hard you crack the ground (oh yeah you have to fall pretty darn fall to get yourself killed). Let loose a few roundhouse kicks then toss a few grenades. It's all seamless, and all these abilities just work great together.
- You have a pretty tough shield that auto regenerates just like in halo. It's a pretty tough shield and will take multiple targets concentrating firepower on you before it goes down. Just make sure you hide and recharge if it gets low because once that shield goes down your health drops off rather quickly. Health will also recharge but at a slower rate.
- One of the few games that gives you a real sense of vertigo.
- Not much of a story.
- I wish activities like races, etc showed up on the map. I still miss the saints row awesome gps/map system.

VERY HIGHLY recommended!!!

UPDATE: 2/22/07
- played another 2-3hrs this time co-op.
- So somebody joined in and helped me pretty much finish the Volk. It was really smooth and ran problem free until near the end of our couple of hours of play. We were down to the final main kingpin on the the oil rig. Not only would the boss not spawn but neither of us could trigger the dossier. I walked all around the oil rig and the enemies would never spawn. We tried leaving the area for a while and came back but still no luck. After quiting the game and going back in solo sure enough the dossier triggered immediately and I was able to complete the mission.
- I like how in co-op the orbs are tracked completely independently. You only see the orbs you have left to collect and the other player only sees his orbs left to collect.
- Music is entirely forgettable.
- I'm level 3 agility,strength, and explosives. I've got a ton of agility orbs to go collect now.

UPDATE: 2/23/07
Another late night with crackdown (about 3hrs from 12:30am - 3:30am). Dang this game is addicting!
- Agility, strength, explosives are all at 4 stars now. firearms and driving are still at 2 stars.
- Agility hit 4 stars right around 300 agility orbs and 60 secret orbs (cleared most of the visible orbs in Los Muertos and Volk). I have not completed any races yet so this is just from orb collecting.
- Working on the Shai Gen. 2 bosses down so far.
- Favorite weapons: firefly rocket launcher, HMG-90, Cluster Grenade. You can get the hmg-90 in the Volk. Firefly (guided rockets) and cluster grenades I picked up in Shai Gen. Head to the top right of the map. Grab the supply point. There should be a low level boss in a giant dome. You should be able to get the cluster grenades in there. After I finished that boss and went back to the supply point a bunch of gang members spawned with firefly rocket launchers. You'll know if they have them b/c I got hit 3 times in mid air before I even knew what happened.
- I picked up a few achievements.
- For body juggler I started with a body on top of a building. Throw it up in the air. Shoot 5 firefly rockets after it. Done.
- Shot-putter: just throw a body off a tall building
- global impact took a while since the guys kept dodging
- high flyer/base jumper: took me a while the first time. Once you get to the stairs of the first tower look up and see where the catwalks don't overlap. Just jump up to the next set of catwalks and then run around the tower and jump over to the second tower. The rest was pretty easy. Now I can make the trip in under 5 min (which is the race time). The base jump is pretty easy since you've got a good few seconds of free fall to guide yourself into that little pond.

UPDATE: 2/25/07
- 4 stars on all 5 stats
- completed 33/43 achievements. The only other achievement I might go for is master agent.
- Once completed you can head back into the city with either enemies or no enemies.
- The points help push me over the 1500 gamer points I needed to complete the old spice challenge so I cashed in on my level 2 awards.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception (PSP)

- I use to play and finish every Ace Combat game that came out but I've kind of fallen out of the series lately. I haven't played the last two on ps2. For some reason there seemed to be a spike in difficulty level since I had a hard time on normal difficulty.
- This PSP iteration is no different. I made it up to Mission 8 and got pretty much stuck on normal to the point of frustration. I ended up starting the game over on easy (which gives more free unlocked planes to start with).
- Plays great with the psp controls for once since you don't really need a second analog stick. The graphics are nice and clean. Good sound and music with a lot of voice radio chatter (enemy and friendly) that really adds to the atmosphere and story.
- Mission time is limited to 15 min.
- There are some interesting boss battles.
- Story is progressed through anime stills and voice overs.
- Something to hold you over until After Burner: Black Falcon is released.

Overall this game translated very well to the psp and is highly recommended to any Ace Combat fan. Just consider starting the campaign on easy.

Elite Beat Agents (Nintendo DS)

I started playing this but was surprised how involved you get with tapping the screen along with the music. Man it gets crazy hard. It's not very forgiving. You can be going along perfectly, miss two or three taps and it's very hard to recover. Some of these songs take more than 10 tries to complete. I just finished the baseball fire golem level on normal (I refuse to go to easy...nope not going to do it). These little stories are just way out there (which is part of the charm). Anyways, I found this little game surprisingly addictive.

I might have to check out the Japanese prequel.

I'm now on what I think is the final level. This level has multiple songs to it but unfortunately it doesn't save between songs. So if I turn off the DS I have to start back at the first song of the level again. It's kind of annoying.

Highly recommended to anybody interested in music rhythm games.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Call of Duty 3 (XBOX 360)

- Length is about the same as cod2 (finished on normal in 8hrs or so)
- Definitely more of the same and not quite as good as Call of Duty 2. It shows a bit that infinity ward did not develop this title.
- Graphics are almost identical with very minor upgrades. I guess the smoke looks a bit better.
- The epic set piece battles didn't seem quite as well....epic. The intense pitch battles when defending against an assault were a bit less intense. Overall difficulty was quite a bit easier on normal than in cod2.
- The final mission was a pretty big let down. It just wasn't as big in scope or as frantic as taking that last hill in cod2. In fact I had no idea I had just completed the last level until the credits rolled.
- Still a solid WWII shooter but yeah I'm getting pretty burnt out on WWII shooters.
- grenades do a LOT less damage and being able to throw them back is pretty cool.
- I like the melee dragon's lair type sequences. They are pretty easy but look cool. I wish it had a few more.
- Driving jeeps were ok but I think I had more fun shooting in cod2 than driving in cod3.
- I haven't tried multiplayer yet.

Easy, accessible, competent by the numbers WWII shooter. Recommended if you aren't sick of the genre yet.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Kill-a-Watt Electricity Usage Monitor


Picked up one of these, and I've started taking some measurements around the house. I assume 15 cents per kwhr for the calculations.

- Delonghi PAC10 Portable Air Conditioner 8500 btu
7.40 amps
1.81 kw/h for 2:18
.787 kwhr per hour (12 cents per hour)

- Nintendo Wii
standby: .18 amps, 13 w, 0.013 kwhr per hour (.2 cents per hour at 15 cents per kwhr so about a nickel a day to keep the wii in standby)
during zelda: .27 amps, 20 w

- HTPC idle at desktop (athlon 2200 xp)
1.58 amps
2.91 kwhr for 23:52
0.121927 kwhr per hour
44 cents for 24 hours (about $13 a month)

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Psyclone Wii Chill Station

- $20 at Circuit City (thanks Ed for the info)
- The wings are optional (yeah!). I hate those worthless wings so I leave them off. The base is still very stable (as stable as the original stand) without the wings attached.
- Lots of rubber feet on the bottom
- Single fan (pretty quiet, you have to get pretty close to hear it) that is usb powered. It hooks right into the back of the Wii which has two usb ports. There is also a pass through on the back of the connector so you don't lose the use of that port. Kind of odd that the wire comes off the the connector from the top instead of from the bottom but no big deal. The cable is just about the right length.
- The stand is still angled like the original stand. If you look at the bottom of the wii you'll see where the air intake vents are located near the rear of the Wii. The fan doesn't quite line up with that air intake but the grill is very long and it doesn't block the air intake either. In the end it's not any worse than the original stand and the fan can only help (just not sure how much. The fan blows up toward the Wii which I'm guessing is trying to force more are into the Wii air intake). I left it in stand by all night and the Wii still felt a bit warm in the morning (still warmer than when it's on and you are actually playing a game).
- Maybe the alignment is done on purpose so you don't end up filling the Wii up with a lot of dust if you plan to leave the fan on 24/7 like I do.
- With the Wii in stand by the fan stays on. If you turn off wiiconnect24 standby mode, then the fan completely shuts down along with the wii. Hopefully this keeps the Wii cooler while in stand by mode since that is when the Wii is the hottest since it's own internal fan is off.
- There is a blue glowing wire that wraps completely around the rim of the stand. It's really noticeable in the dark. It's pretty subdued in the light. There is a manual switch on the back to turn the light off if you don't like it. No manual switch for the fan though.

This stand would be about perfect if the fan aligned with the air intake better. I'm kind of on the fence with this one. Not sure if I should keep it or return it. Maybe a better cooler will be on the market soon but I do like the light.

UPDATE 01/04/07:

Thermaltake Jog USB Fan With Light
- $11 at compusa
- snake usb led light (white) and fan. There is a switch to turn on/off the light.
- Kind of ghetto looking
- Does a pretty good job keeping the left side (under side) of the Wii cool under stand by. Seems to work better than the Chill Station using the highly accurate hand test method.

UPDATE: 01/07/07
- returning the thermaltake. Found an HP usb fan for $10 at frys and it's more quiet.