Monthly Archives: May 2013

Graduating

My daughter graduated from pre-kindergarten. She is now a kindergartener.

She also graduated to a new level of adorableness.

Xbox One and Done

This year is a great time to switch game consoles. Neither the Xbox One nor the PS4 offers backwards compatibility. Anyone who lived through Apple’s switch from a PowerPC processor to an x86 processor knows that PowerPC apps do not run on x86. Apple’s solution was a years long project called Rosetta that allowed most PowerPC apps to run in emulation on x86 chips. Microsoft and Sony are not doing that, and in exchange for their laziness, they have lost any lock-in they might have had with current console owners.

For the sake of this comparison, let us completely ignore the option of the Wii U. The Wii U looks like a bargain at $350 for the version people want. The Wii U has costly accessories, however, such as external hard drivescontrollers, and extra $150 gamepads. The less expensive Wii U could easily cost $500 or more with all accessories. (The Wii U does offer a price advantage for prior Wii owners, as it is the only console with backwards compatibility.) The Wii U is disparaged as little more than a souped-up Xbox 360 with slightly better graphics. So far, Wii U sales are terrible and the biggest game developer is not making games for the Wii U. Nintendo made the same mistake with the Wii U that Sega did with the Dreamcast. The underpowered Sega console could not compete with the expected release of the more powerful Sony Playstation 2. Microsoft avoided this problem by being first with a powerful Xbox 360 in 2005. This move helped Microsoft move from third to second total console sales and third to first console sold per month. The Wii U is currently last in all respects.

From a hardware perspective, neither Microsoft nor Sony provides a compelling reason to choose one console over the other. The folks at AnandTech have a nice comparison,  and they concluded the consoles are identical except for 30% more graphical power in the Playstation 4. Both consoles will have some sort of motion gameplay and second screen support. The Xbox One and PS4 are also both rumored to cost about $500. The two remaining differences between the consoles are total cost and games available. The Xbox One will require Microsoft’s $60 per year Xbox Live service to use the internet. On-line gaming and Netflix will cost $60 more on the Xbox One in the first year and $300 more after five years. The PS4 is undoubtedly the better value. As an admitted Halo fanatic, I have to favor the Xbox One for games. Halo and a quite a few other popular game franchises will only be available on the Xbox One. Sony has obtained a few great exclusives, but none are as popular as Microsoft’s exclusives. On the whole, though, the most popular game series of all time, “Call of Duty”, and one of the most anticipated games this year “Destiny”, are cross platform. Sony also has the ability to provide exclusive media through it’s Sony Pictures and Sony Music divisions, and if the next generations works out like the last did, there will honestly be enough content on both consoles to consume all of a person’s free time.

The Xbox Live fee is troubling, though, as the cost continues year after year. If you truly use the Xbox One as the one single media center for your living room, you must pay the $60 per year fee for as long as you own the console. If you keep the console for 10 years, the extra cost could be an astounding $600. On the flipside, if you do not want to pay $60 per year for Xbox live, then your Xbox One could never be your one single media center, as it will likely sit next to your fee free Netflix player. A PS4, on the other hand, could serve as a singe media center at no extra cost. (The Blu-Ray equipped PS3 could also service as a single media center at no extra cost.)

Based on cost alone, I recommend the PS4 over the Xbox One. Because of the lack of backwards compatibility, there is no drawback for Xbox 360 owners to make the switch. I also recommend waiting a year after launch to buy into a PS4.  The first set of games on any new console are little more than higher resolutions versions of games on the prior generation of consoles. Many of the first games for the new consoles, such as “Call of Duty: Ghosts” and “Destiny”, will also be available on the old consoles. The similarities between the Xbox One and the PS4 could induce a price war, and you could very well see a less expensive PS4 before Christmas of 2014. Another benefit of waiting is seeing which console really is better, and perhaps Microsoft can once again convince me to pay more to keep up my Halo habit.

Tornadoes Suck

rose colored rainbow sky

Storms are a fact of life in my part of Iowa. A typical summer will see them come and go nearly ever day. The warm sun evaporates the water from the rivers, lakes, and crops. Big puffy clouds form in midday. By night, the clouds have banded together into huge storms that bring winds, hail, thunder, rain, and then peace. Seeing the heavy clouds of a storm front cover the sky like a dark blanket is a thrill, one that most midwesterns enjoy. Absent children, the adults will crowd around the windows, hoping for a glimpse of the extreme. Despite the destructive potential of a storm, we love its fury. For a midwesterner, the storm is our perilous moutains, our raging seas, our reminder that the earth is great and we are small. 

The last two nights, during my kids bedtime, we have heard the tornado sirens. On the first night, I faintly heard the high pitched whine above the normal rabble of my family. I asked my wife if she heard it. She thought it might be the water heater. My son thought the whistling might by our whiny vents, whistling as the central fan pumps cool air throughout the house. Then we opened the door and the noise was unmistakable. Here in Iowa, the cities test the sirens every week. 

The first night’s rush to the storm shelter was frought with anxiety. The kids were the anxious ones. My wife and I have been through these sirens a couple of times a summer for our entire lives. My son grabbed an armful of stuffed animal friends, and held them so tight his knuckles were white. My daughter started crying. In the crampt basement room, I held them both tight while my wife read them a story. My son says “If you are outside in a tornado, you should lie on the ground in a ball.” Then the siren ends and we break into small groups for bedtime.

The second night’s siren was less of a surprise. My wife was tracking an incoming storm system, and I saw a wall cloud on my way home from work. The storm was north of us, travelling north, with nothing dangerous dragging behind. Nevertheless, when the siren wails, you have to take you kids to the storm shelter. My son grabbed his stuffed animal friends but did not hold them so tightly. My daughter wanted to be held close, but did not cry. The boy had cried wolf once, and was about to cry wolf again. Yet we know the wolf will come, and we must listen to the boy, no matter how many times he cries false.

Posts for iPad

Apps Gone Free, my absolute favorite iOS app, advertised Posts fo iPad as one of today’s freebies. This app is normally $10, and the high prices is the reason I bought the $5 Blogsy instead. Who can argue with free?

This is how Posts handles images, in this case, some pictures of kite flying at the grandparent’s acreage:

Have to say adding images is easier in Posts. Blogsy might not live much longer on my iPad. And the kids had a huge amount of fun in the country.

iPhone 4S Case Roundup

This is the awful way I shop. When looking for a slimmer and trimmer iPhone case, I looked at every alternative. This is what I found:


Splash RaveSkin for iPhone 4s

$25. This is the case my wife uses. Fantastic trimness and grippiness.

RaveSkin


Griffin FlexGrip Punch for iPhone 4 White

$9. Nice price.

Griffin


Incase Men’s Perforated Snap Case V2 for Iphone 4, White, One Sizeby Incase Designs

$10. Interesting look.

Incase


Slip Stopper [Marble White]

$20. The uncase.

SlipStopper


Slice 3 for 4S (thinnest case at 0.35mm thin)

$26. So thin. Is it grippy enough?

Slice


Zero 5 PRO Clear Collection UltraThin case (0.5mm rubber and plastic case)

$20. Thin with a rubbery side. Looks great.

ZeroPro


Grey AeroGrip Edge (bumper)

$15. The bumper’s dimensions are greater than some cases.

AeroGrip


Skinit Infinity Case (custom images on back)

$25. Made for use with custom images.

Skinit


Hex X Supra Core (black or white fabric case)

$16. Great look and feel to these sturdy and grippy fabric cases.

hex-supra_blk_back3_2


Tech21 D3O® Impact Band

$35. Futuristic. Complaints that the buttons are too hard to press.

Tech21


Kensington K39278US Band Case for iPhone 4 and 4S

$15. A simple and thin bumper. Grippiness may be an issue.

Kensington


egrips® / Gecko Strips Apple iPhone 4S non-slip kit

$20. Another un-case. If you never drop your phone, you do not need a case.

egrips


Zoom Lens Case

$35. A slim and trim case with a detachable zoom lens.

zoom lens


ZooGue Social Case Pro

$10 Grippy edge and it comes in white.


No name case off Ebay

$4 Completely cheap feel. Too Slippery.

photo

I chose the terrible $4 no name bumper from Ebay. At $4, it is probably overpriced. The case was far to slippery for ordinary use. After a little internet research, I found a tip to help make it grippier. Rub it with a scouring pad. After about a half an hour, the glossy plastic became a bit duller and much grippier. The case also took on a green tint from the scouring pad. You know the old saying. You get what you pay for.

The Perks of Being a Coming of Age Story

★★★

There are some genres that draw my skeptical gaze. Coming of age stories and stories about budding writers are near the top of the list. Personally, I believe the whole concept of coming of age in one year, one summer, or one crazy weekend is total bunk. As for stories about writers, well, they are written by professional writers and can be more than a little self serving.

Other than my distaste for the genre, one quibble to address is the time period of the movie. The music, cassette tapes, and vinyl records in the film are from the early 1980s, the clothes are from the mid-90s, and the haircuts are from 2012. As I myself graduated high school in 1992, I found the anachronisms distracting. Perhaps the film intentionally mixed time periods so the nostalgia factor could spread across several generations (marketing!). Let's make this two quibbles: all of the actors were too old to play teenagers. Perhaps the intent was to portray the movie from the perspective of a high school freshman, in which case a high school senior might as well be played by a wrinkle faced twenty year old. On the other hand, the high school freshman in question is played by a 21 year old man, so I cannot really buy into any of it.

Now that the quibbles are behind us, let us discuss my distaste for the entire genre. The trope of a precocious young writer in this movie is presented as the usual fragile sad sack with no friends. This is very familiar to movies such as “Almost Famous” which was about a precious teenager who dreamed of becoming a professional writer and learned a bunch of life lessons from a group of newly obtained older friends. Much as “Avatar” was a rehash of the adventure tropes, “Perks” is a rehash of the regularly released young writer coming of age movie. The protagonists in these movies are presented as blank slates with no history or personality, yet a self aggrandizing awareness. There is a mental health subplot that dredges up the protagonists distant past for a rather sad and touching moment near the end of the film. Yet I have trouble reconciling the protagonist's troubling distant past with his complete absence of a recent past. Near end of the film, I would not have been surprised if the entirely film was revealed as a lonely kids fantasies, and flashbacks from another point of view would show a disturbed youngster talking to himself in the halls of his schools and explaining the complete and total alienation of his peers. The film doesn't even explain the perks of being a wallflower. The older kids that our protagonist befriends all participate in school dances and are literally not wall flowers. Instead, we see the perks of having friends who are older, more confident, and ultimately more interesting.

Following “Perks”, my wife and I had a discussion about the merits of coming of age stories. My wife tells of a dramatic senior year of high school that failed to provide meaningful life lessons. I remember my five year high school reunion where one of my former classmates made a point of showing me the senior picture I signed for him. I had written something about him achieving more than he thought he could (or something like that). He told me this message spurred him to become a medical professional, which led him to traveling the world and meet his future wife. Maybe he was being generous for my benefit. If true, though, his coming of age moment was solely based on his own desire to better himself, and not a serious of meaningful experiences. Life changing events are not reserved for youth. Former U.S. president George “Dubbya” Bush stopped driving drunk and started taking life seriously after his 40th birthday. Robert Downy Junior also stopped abusing substances in his 40s and became box office gold. Plenty of other people made their mark later in life, and not after a defining moment in their youth but after half a lifetime of experiences. And then you have the new parents who are never the same again. Coming of age is a muth and “Perks” is nowhere near as good as “Almost Famous”.