Oct 31 2008

Happy Halloween

Published by DougO under Misc

We visited Remlinger Farm in Carnation this year to buy pumpkins and also check out the park. The farm features an assortment of holiday entertainment, rides, a train and even a mini haunted house. The kids had a great time in the park and we picked out some nice pumpkins.  

pumpkins2-blog.jpg

The next weekend we got busy carving the pumpkins. It’s been many years since I carved a pumpkin and I had forgotten how fun and messy the process can be. Luanna did a great job carving out Spongebob and I decided to carve a rendition of Panda Cub. We put the pumpkins out on the front porch and they lasted nicely through Halloween.

No responses yet

Oct 10 2008

Halo 3 Recon

Published by DougO under Games

Bungie surprised attendees of the Toyko Game Show today by announcing a new campaign experience for Halo 3.halo3recon.jpg

There is very little information available at this time but it has been reveiled that the game is a stand alone expansion and will be set prior the events of Halo 3.

Rather than playing Master Chief, this time you will take on the role of an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper fighting in the Covenant-occupied city of New Mombas. A trailer is available here but unfortunately not much else is known at this time. 

I’m a huge Halo fan and this news was definitely a welcome surprise. I’m looking forward to learning more about this release!

No responses yet

Jun 10 2008

The Worlds Most Awesome Cashews

Published by DougO under Misc

wasabi1.jpgA few years ago I discovered the most awesome cashews while shopping at Uwajimaya in Bellevue.

While in the snack isle I came upon a 21-ounce plastic jar of wasbi cashew goodness. The product is the Dan-D-Pak Wasabi Cashews which, as the name implies, are wasabi covered whole cashews which are both very spicy (in the wasabi way) and extremely tasty. 

The only problem with Dan-D-Pak Wasabi Cashews is that they are frequently out of stock. I spoke to the stock manager about it one day who told me they frequently have problems obtaining the product from the supplier.

If you’re into cashews and love wasabi, I highly recommend giving the Dan-D-Pak Wasabi Cashews a try.

No responses yet

Mar 01 2008

Queensrÿche

Published by DougO under Music

I had the privilege of seeing the band Queensrÿche in concert tonight at the Paramount Theater.  Queensrÿche is a local Seattle band and tonight’s concert was a bit of a homecoming after a long tour. 

The band put on a great sounding show and played a mix of old and new material. Some highlights for me were “N M 156″, “Screaming in Digital”, “Empire”, and “Eyes of a Stranger”.

I managed to sneak up to the front to take a few pictures during the show:

qr1.jpg

 Below is a shot during the band’s cover of ”Welcome to the Machine” and you can just barely see that Geoff Tate is playing the saxophone. The song was featured on their “Take Cover” CD released last year that paid tribute to songs that influenced the band.

qr2.jpg

qr3.jpg

I’ve been a Queensrÿche fan since the first album back in the 80’s. I’ve seen them a number of times over the years and this concert was one of the best.

Geoff Tate’s voice was in top shape and the rest of the band was right on the mark. The mix did suffer a bit at times during songs with a lot of layered sound (typical of songs from their early albums).

qr4.jpg

It was an enjoyable concert and I’d like to thank my friend Chip for supplying the tickets!

No responses yet

Feb 17 2008

Audio Conversion

Published by DougO under Computing, Music

After ripping all my CDs to lossless WMA files I needed to create a mirror directory containing compressed versions of the files for use on portable devices. Finding a program to perform a batch conversion while preserving directory structure and ID3 tags turned out to be more difficult than expected.

I tried 4 or 5 different programs that claimed to support batch conversion before settling on a program named dBPoweramp Music Converter. The other programs I tried all had at least one fatal flaw. For example, several did not support selecting source files recursively which meant I would have to visit each artist and CD directory manually and select the files into a list. That just doesn’t work when you have 600+ directories. Other programs did stupid things like placing all the converted files in single destination directory.

 dBPoweramp provided a nice interface for selecting the files, flexible syntax for specifying the destination filename and path, pluggable codecs, multi-processor support to optimize performance, and finally an error log to report conversion errors.

dbpoweramp.jpg

I settled on MP3 220Kbps VBR as the destination compressed format. The conversion process took close to 60 hours to complete and the resulting files (8,022) took up 57GB of hard drive space. That was down from 218GB from the original lossless files.

A nice feature of dBpoweramp is that when I run the conversion again it will ask me if I want to skip conversion of files that already exist in the destination directory.  This will be very useful when I rip new CDs and need to convert them to MP3.

3 responses so far

Jan 23 2008

The Great CD Ripping Project

Published by DougO under Computing, Music

cds.jpgOne of my projects over the holidays was to rip all my music CDs to the computer in a lossless format.

People typically rip CDs to a compressed format (e.g., MP3 192 kbits/sec) because the resulting files are much smaller. A lossless format is superior to compressed because it provides a bit accurate copy of a song with no loss in quality. The price you pay, however, for that quality is about a 10x increase in file size which results in an average CD taking up around 400MB.

You might be wondering why I would want my CD collection in a lossless format. Couldn’t I just use a good compressed format and call it good? The real motivation is threefold:

  1.  A copy of the audio in a lossless format means never having to rip the CD again. I plan to create a mirror of my CD collection in a medium bit-rate compressed format (e.g., MP3 or WMA) for use on portable devices. It’s possible in 5 or 10 years, a new audio format will become popular and I’ll want to have a copy of my music in that format. Without lossless “masters”, I would have to convert my music from one compressed format to another which would likely degrade the audio quality (similar to making a photocopy of a photocopy). Instead, if a new audio format arrives, I can simply create new files based on the lossless masters without any unnecessary loss in quality. 
  2. I care about audio quality in some listening environments. Compressed audio is okay for background music, in the car, or from my portable music player. However, sometimes I sit down and and actively listen to music either at my stereo or using headphones. In those situations, quality matters and I try for the best sound possible. In these environments I have quality audio gear and the weakest link can easily be the digital audio format.
  3. Some of my existing ripped music files were flawed. They contained small pops or jitter due to the CD being dirty or scratched when the computer read it. I decided that in addition to being lossless I wanted perfect (or near perfect) copies of each CD.

vspace6.png
Because many of my CDs were scratched or scuffed I decided to use an audiophile ripping program that would provide comprehensive error recovery. The program I settled on was EAC (Exact Audio Copy) which is available here. 

eac.jpg

Unlike Windows Media Player, EAC will go to great lengths to extract an error free copy of a CD. It performs aggressive error detection and verification and (at the minimum) reads each sector twice to verify that the data matches. If an error is detected, it switches to a mode where each sector is read 16 or more times and only accepts it if more than 50% of the reads agree.

I severely underestimated the amount of time it would take to rip my collection of roughly 600 CDs. Ripping times using EAC are much slower than other programs due to the overhead of error recovery. An error free disc will take 5-10 minutes to rip with EAC and a scratched disc could take several hours. I typically aborted any CD that took over 4 hours and simply considered the disc a loss.

discdoctor.jpgAny disc that didn’t appear perfect (i.e., no scratches, scuffs, or smudges) was first cleaned with an electric AutoMax CD cleaner/resurfacer and then ripped with EAC. It was a very slow process so at times I had up to 5 computers ripping CDs simultaneously.

The project took almost two weeks to complete with spending 3-4 hours a day ripping. It fortunately didn’t require dedicated attention because discs only needed to be swapped every 10 or 15 minutes. I would save the worst discs to rip as I was leaving to go somewhere so they could take as long as needed.

cdfolder.jpg

Rather than returning the CDs to their cases I decided instead to store them in binders. Each CD was filed away in a binder (by genre) along with the corresponding paper insert (when I could find it).  I really don’t need to look at the CDs anymore, however the binders provide a nice way to flip through the CDs and look at the album art.

No responses yet

Dec 13 2007

BioShock

Published by DougO under Games

Thought I’d finally write a review of BioShock…

Like most people, I found BioShock to be an outstanding game on many levels. The graphics were superb, the enemy AI well done, the combat system inventive, and the story was engaging and often made me think. One of the strongest features of BioShock was the immersive environment. Every level had a hand crafted look that was both beautiful and often poignantly tragic.

bioshock.jpg

Setting foot for the first time into the alternate 1960’s dystopian underwater city known as Rapture felt special. It had the sense of experiencing something new, perhaps a new generation of first person gaming that would extend the boundaries of immersion, characters, and storytelling. For the most part, the game held up to that promise, however there are a number of areas where I think it fell short or wasted potential for greatness.  

The setting of BioShock is really the game’s greatest strength. The city is effectively the biggest character in the game. The back story is of one Andrew Ryan who loathed the state of religious and political oppression in the world and envisioned a self-sufficient underwater city where the best and brightest of humanity could live free from outside interference.

Steeped in Objectivist philosophy and a code of values based on preservation of one’s own individual rights, the game raises many moral and political questions but unfortunately offers few actual choices to the player.

An example of the Ann Rand inspired writing is the opening voice over as the player descends into the underwater city of Rapture:

I am Andrew Ryan and I am here to ask you a question:

Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his own brow?

No, says the man in Washington. It belongs to the poor.
No, says the man in the Vatican. It belongs to God.
No, says the man in Moscow. It belongs to everyone.

I rejected those answers. Instead, I chose something
different. I chose the impossible. I chose… Rapture.

 —Andrew Ryan

As previously mentioned, I thought the game fell short in many areas. One of these was the physicality of the city Rapture. The game was effectively a series of sequential levels set in different parts of the underwater city. Rarely did the player ever go back to a previous area. As the player, I could look out the glass windows and see other parts of the city, however there was no way to actually find your way over there.

This lack of physicality and connectedness really detracted from the overall immersive of the game. I so wanted the game to be a virtual play ground where I freely roamed around an extensive multi-connected city. I even had dreams of possibly leaving the city and piloting an underwater craft and experience the city from the outside.  

These expectations were not entirely unfounded either. I recall reading an interview with the designer of BioShock where he talked about how the player would be free to follow the main storyline or simply take off in his own direction and explore Rapture on his own terms. This turned out to be very much not the case given the games linear level progression that was tied tightly to the main story. 

Something else that reduced my satisfaction with the game was the story twist that took place about ¾ the way through the game. When that happened, I felt that I had been lied to by the game and my connection to the character that had been built since the start was gone. The twist was okay from a story perspective, however it really had a negative impact on me as the player and eliminated any desire to replay the game.
 
BioShock is indeed a landmark game that will almost certainly be remembered as advancing the state of game play to a new level. I just can’t help feel a certain sense of disappointment because the game could have offered so much more by being open ended. In the end the player really only had one moral choice throughout the entire game which is too bad because there was so much more potential. 
 

No responses yet

Dec 11 2007

Happy Holidays

Published by DougO under Games, Misc, Uncategorized

Below is a card I made to wish a happy holidays to friends in my World of Warcraft guild. My main character (a Night Elf Druid) has a Panda Cub pet which is fairly well known in the guild.

For this year’s card I decided to make a drawing of Panda with a mini-weighted companion cube from the game Portal. I know it’s crossing two games, but given the popularity of Portal and the Weighted Companion Cube I figured it might work.

panda-cube-blog.jpg

The above picture was done completely on the computer rather than the initial pencil sketch being done on paper. I got a Cintiq display tablet a few months ago and have been very happy with it.

The Cintiq is a combination 21″ monitor and graphics tablet where you draw with a stylus directly on the screen. So far it has been a suitable replacement for pencil and paper and programs like Painter X and Photoshop really make it shine.

One response so far

Dec 01 2007

Awesome Dragon Cake

Published by DougO under Games, Misc

I attended a friend’s birthday party today who was turning 30. john-snow.jpg

The first part of the day was planned to be a time-speed-distance road rally which is where teams (consisting of a driver and navigator) follow instructions to travel a route and arrive at checkpoints precisely on time. 

Unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate and the rally was called off after the first checkpoint due to snow. We plan to reschedule the rally for sometime early next year.

After the rally we all headed to my friend’s condo in Seattle for the party.  I should point out that he is one of the guys who plays D&D with us each week at my house.  Along that theme, he went all out this year and had a custom cake made by Mike’s Amazing Cakes in Redmond.

The cake was nothing short of amazing both in size and artistic quality:

john-dragon1.jpg

As mentioned, the cake was D&D themed and what could be more iconic than a red dragon? The dragon sat on a Chessex Battlemat surrounded by gold coins (edible white chocolate) and clutched an oversized D20 die in its right claw.

When it came time to have desert it was almost a shame to cut into such a great looking cake. The cake was delicious and completely set a new bar for awesome nerdy celebration. Thanks for the great party and happy birthday Ignatius!

One response so far

Nov 29 2007

Project Studio

Published by DougO under Music

Over the last few weekends I’ve been working to get the project studio cleaned and organized. I never really got things setup properly since moving the studio from my old house. About a quarter of the room was filled with boxes and equipment that had not been unpacked since the move.

A friend of mine who plays guitar moved some of his equipment over recently (e.g., the Marshall stack). Messing around with it has renewed my interest in guitars and the studio in general. My new PRS guitar is a lot of fun to play and another reason I’m spending more time in there.

studio1.jpg

The audio recording side of the studio is still a bit dysfunctional. I need to decide if I want to continue using my mixing console or switch to a model where everything is done on the computer. Since I rarely record anymore, I’ll probably just stick with the existing setup rather than investing time and money in a new system. I do need to sell some of the synths, sound modules, and devices that I no longer use.

studio2.jpg

I must admit, it is really tempting to replace the mixing console (barely seen on the right) and all the outboard gear with a mostly software based DAW setup. Switching to software based synths and sampler would also significantly reduce the equipment.

I expect I could get by easily with just a set of outboard A/D converters and mic preamps that interface with the computer. I would keep the Korg N264 keyboard as a controller for when I need to actually play something live.

No responses yet

Next »