Asus Xonar DX

Well I was getting a bit nervous about my newly acquired quad core processor and motherboard after I started getting the BSOD lately.  It turned out (as I should have suspected) that it was my old Creative Soundblaster X-treme Gamer sound card that was dying off.  So, after finally expiring last week, I decided to head to Micro Center this weekend to pick up a new one.  I went to my reliable tech guru and he handed me the Asus Xonar, a well-rated sound card under $100.

Opening it was somewhat underwhelming because it looked exactly like my old sound card and didn’t come with a sticker to put on the front of my desktop… but soon it was hard to care about that.

After installing it and realizing I had to feed it extra power from my power supply, I downloaded the latest driver and booted up Winamp to test it with a few various tracks.  I started up the Asus Xonar control panel to see what sound settings I could play with.


I was pleased to see that they have their priorities straight in what sorts of locations people prefer to listen to music in.  Some of the settings were hilarious and it seems like some of them were built in for people listening to music when high, such as the “blurred” and “dizzy” settings which just caused the music to reverb and get wobbly.

I know I probably won’t use some of these settings often but just the fact that there’s a large variety to play with makes me happier with my money spent.  The sound quality itself is brilliant.  Even right now I’m listening to songs I’ve heard hundreds of times and they actually, if possible, sound better with this sound card.  For 89.99 this card has already proved itself more worthy than my old Creative X-treme gamer card and now I’m off to find how it fares in games.

Observation #6: Frustrating Faucets

While visiting my aunt and uncle’s giant home in North Carolina over Thanksgiving break, the routine task of taking a shower became something of a hassle.  When I leaned into the shower to turn it on, I was confronted with this view.

First, I was hesitant about which levers to pull on as neither of them were labelled “hot” and “cold” and there were no hints using color, letters, or anything.  Once I had the water running, my real challenge was toggling shower mode.  There was no little handle on the faucet that I was accustomed to pulling up on.  There was also no button to press.  I fiddled with that small silver lever for a while, but it did nothing.  Feeling as if I was getting nowhere down here, I looked up to the shower head as if it would enlighten me.

Upon Inspection, I figured maybe the small twistable-looking knob would turn this feature on, so I tried to turn it.  Again, I received no feedback whatsoever.  Getting frustrated, I tried turning separate parts on the showerhead itself, like the front circular plate.  Feeling as if I was wasting water and missing some sort of obvious option I hadn’t attempted, I then began randomly hitting and tugging at everything again.  Finally I gave up and walked out into the hallway to yell downstairs to people and ask how to turn the blasted shower on.

“You pull down on the thing on the faucet,” they yelled back at me, followed by, “… and you’re a student at Georgia Tech!”

To this, I responded, “It’s not my fault.  It’s poor design!”

As Don Normal says in The Design of Everyday Things, it is no longer fair to victimize the user for being unable to figure out a device by interacting with it.  There should be clear visual hints to enable us to use it properly.

Observation #5: Insanity

Insanity is claimed to be the hardest workout program ever put out on DVD. However, after having finished the P90X total body training program over the summer with my mom, I was confident that I could tackle this new program with ease.

I could not have been more wrong.  5 minutes into the warm up for the fit test of Insanity and I was breathing hard and sweating as much as I did during the normal cardio for P90x.  But I was determined to keep going because of how inspired I was by others’ success stories and how highly people spoke of the program.  One of my favorite things about the program is how compact and simple it is.  Shaun T, the trainer, fits the program into a mere 60 days to get you in the best shape of your life. You don’t need weights to do it, heavy equipment, or resistance bands.  All you need is yourself and a lot of determination.

The schedule is easy to follow.  It simply tells you which workout to do each day and there is a check box to mark each one off.  I printed it and keep it on my wall because having it there in front of me really kicks my butt into doing it each day, even if I’m tired and beaten from the day before.  The only confusion I have with the program is on the sheet sometimes it says “Plyometric Cardio Circuit” and sometimes it just says “Cardio Circuit”.  Others agreed with me that at first they thought this meant there was a separate “Cardio Circuit” video even though there is not.

I would probably not recommend this program to most people.  It was very difficult for me after I had been exercising all summer.  However, if you exercise fairly regularly and you’re ready to take your body and fitness level to the next level, this is the program that will get it done and get it done fast.  I am currently on day 12 and am already seeing the changes.  I will be continuing the rest of the program with a strong will… and a sore back.

Observation#4: Call of Duty Black Ops

Observation: Call of Duty Black Ops

Not only was Black Ops rushed to be released by Treyarch who was obviously trying their best under the cracking whip of Activision, it should be obvious by now that their work is completely unlike our favorites such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Modern Warfare 2.  What’s wrong with the game, you ask?  There’s a long list of things I noticed right off the bad that I didn’t like about the game:

Aesthetics:

  • The NPCs in Black Ops look like they did in World at War… like sweaty, souless zombies who are always bug-eyed and scary looking.
  • All of the textures are flat and less rich-looking.  The guns actually look worse than before.
  • The shading and lighting in this one is much more poor than the previous.  There’s no “drama” being created, and everything is very crisp and defined rather than more blurry and cinematic-looking like the Modern Warfare games.
  • The atmosphere of the game overall feels lacking.  In maps like Nuketown it just doesn’t feel convincing enough that this is a new, updated product.

Gameplay

  • The Multiplayer Maps seem quickly thrown together.
  • The AI seem less smart than before.  I literally had to pause the game in the second level of Single Player because if you hang back a little bit (as you are told to follow the NPC) the NPCs will literally run into a room, disregard any form of cover, and break out into a wide open firefight with the enemies until someone gets shot.
  • I’m not going to make a sound category, so I’m going to mention that here.  Where is the sound? I have a SoundBlaster x-treme gamer sound card, so when BFBC2 came out, my ear drums just about exploded.  But it seems that no matter what I do in Black Ops, every gun sounds like it has the potency of a BB Gun and every NPC in the main storyline is literally whispering in my ear.
  • Running seems “heavier” and movements seem less fluid than in Modern Warfare.
  • I’m displeased with the addition of the “RC car” in Multiplayer as a killstreak reward.  Black Ops takes place in a time earlier than Modern Warfare, so somehow it doesn’t make sense to me to add a bomb-strapped remote control toy to the mix.

Well the problems don’t even stop there.  If you are one of the “unlucky few” like me who still spent 60 dollars on their broken product and happen to play with a GTX 260, they only use 1 core to handle graphics apparently.  Therefore, most people’s CPU usage is hiking up to a dangerous 100% while they play.  I even get lag spikes in the MP menu because of this.  So even on the first day, those Treyarch programmers are spending their celebration by fixing what they left undone.  It’s safe to say they knew they were releasing a broken product for 60 dollars and that greatly disappoints me.

 

 

 

Observation #3: The iPhone 3G

Before my girlfriend was kind enough to repair an iPhone 3G for me, I was using the Nokia E71x smart phone.  I have to admit, I was fairly excited to use the shiny black and white Apple product to test its features, apps, and touchscreen.  That said, after my first week of using the iPhone I was restraining myself from chucking it against a wall.

I was able to jailbreak the phone easily enough using Apple’s officially released sn0wleopard.  This allowed me to set a custom Fallout theme which made me happy.  The nokia e71x was very limited in customization in the menu.

My first frustration with the phone was figuring out how to silence it.  I tried going to settings but the options there were fairly ambiguous.  You were able to turn Vibrate on/off for Ring and Silent?  It didn’t make sense.  I tried to lower the ringing volume all the way, but it still rang.  I was then told that you could silence the phone by toggling the mute button on the side of the phone.  Had no one told me, I probably wouldn’t have figured this out for another week or so, but it did seem fairly obvious after that.  However, my girlfriend didn’t fully repair the phone and the toggle switch glitches on and off.  This causes the phone to have seizures on occasion and vibrate in my pocket during lecture.

My other complaint was that I could not find “sent calls” in the recent calls menu.  You can only view received and missed calls.  It was very well organized on my old Nokia but impossible with this new iPhone.  It really upsets me when Apple gets the small things wrong because they boast thousands of features when they can’t even get the basics of a phone right.

While I have a lot of complaints regarding the iPhone, I also enjoy many of its features that my Nokia simply could not give me. The web browsing, for one, is a lot easier and makes it a breeze to check my email from the sofa, in class, or when I can’t pull myself out of bed in the morning.  I like how they organize text messages by contact, making it easy to go back and find things that were said if you’re looking for a specific message.  But I have to say that my favorite feature is the ability to subscribe to podcasts (such as Tiesto, Paul van Dyk, GameTrailers, Machinima) so that whenever I hook up my iPhone to my PC, it will upload the most recent podcasts.  I may complain about the phone a lot, but it offers much more than my Nokia e71x did and as long as I don’t have to pay for a data plan, it comes out the winner.

Observation #2: Logitech G15 Keyboard

I was recently quite fortunate to receive this keyboard as a gift from my girlfriend because my old Logitech G11 that I had been using for 3 or 4 years now decided to stop deleting characters.  We were lucky to find this keyboard for a steal at 69.99 at Fry’s Electronics.  In its price range, it matched the capabilities of many of the higher end keyboards that featured programmable keys, an LCD display, and backlighting.

It's a computer peripheral as art.

As usual, I opened the G15 as soon as I arrived home like an excited kid on Christmas morning.  I immediately shoved my old, lint-filled keyboard aside to be replaced with this shiny new one that was backlit with orange instead of blue.  (Orange is the new Blue?)  The first thing I noticed about the G15 after installing the drivers and such was that the LCD came with some pre-set programs on it such as a clock with the date.  This feature, as simple as it may seem, is very handy as a student who plays games who also can’t afford to lose track of time when indulging in the hobby.

The most useful function so far.

The drivers for the G15 also support a handful of games and supply a small listing of stats, rankings, map names, progress, and so on right on your display.  Granted, this is all information that can be obtained within the game, but having it right there for you to glance down at (and perhaps show off a bit to any onlookers) is a nice novelty feature.  The ‘hub’ at the top also features media keys to be able to control your winamp, iTunes, or other audio program while in a full screen application, another personal favorite feature.  On top of that are two USB ports that are very handy for quick access when plugging in external HDDs, flash drives, and printers.

The G15 is surprisingly easy to use right out of the box.  The now commonly featured programmable G-keys are easy ways for gamers to save their favorite macros without creating them in-game or getting arthritis trying to mash frequently used combinations.  The designers were thoughtful to include different ‘modes’ that the user can toggle through at the top (modes 1 through 3) so that this number of G-keys is not just 6, but 18.  As someone who doesn’t play MMOGs these days, the G-keys aren’t often used unless I’m trying to spam voice-commands in a game for fun or other random actions, but it’s a very nice addition to modern keyboards for gamers.

Overall, the G15 keyboard is the best bang for the buck when you compare it to keyboards of its class.  It has all of the functionality of other gaming keyboards on the market right now and if you find it at a sale price (which isn’t too difficult), it’s the best deal you can find on a gaming keyboard without burning a hole in your wallet.  I’m looking forward to gaming with this keyboard for a long time… we’ll see if it holds up!

Observation #1: Dell Studio 16 XPS

I decided to do a quick observation/evaluation on my laptop because I’ve had it for almost a year now and I’m just now coming to know it better. When I first got this laptop from the Dell website, I was a little misguided with what to expect from a laptop. Until I purchased this one, I had only interacted with my desktop, which I custom built, so I was extremely attuned to high speed and power to handle just about anything I threw at it. I designed my studio laptop hoping it could be a similar powerhouse(but mobile).

The first thing that drew me to the laptop, aside from the fact that Dell has a great reputation for electronic goods such as this, was the design of it. It’s a very visually appealing laptop with a simple, modern design. The screen is 16 inches at a 1920×1080 resolution. I really liked how the keyboard was laid out with the simple media keys that are ‘touch sensitive’ laid out at the top. There is also a webcam built into the monitor.

During my interactions in the beginning with this laptop, I was a bit frustrated with it because unhappy with its performance in games. After an amount of time, I came to realize it was my fault as the user for trying to run high graphics games on a 1920×1080 resolution with a laptop. I should have realized the constraints of such a device and not expect desktop performance from it. Now, if I just lower the resolution in games and the visual settings, it performs quite well. I also had to learn to turn down some of the frivolous theme and appearance settings on the desktop and wound up almost tripling the battery life when unplugged from the battery source. Once I figured that out, I became much more fond of my laptop. I had to realize how to take care of it and what to expect from it to really get the most out of this studio xps laptop. Since then, my interactions with it have been much more rewarding.

Studio 16 XPS Laptop