Monday, October 27, 2008

Why I don't trust the weatherman

Since moving to NC, I've kinda turned into a weather nut, especially in the last year or so. I started with (The Weather Channel) and then moved onto Weather Underground (the weather site parodying the extremist group, not the extremist group, lol) as well as Google Earth from time to time (OK, its live weather is really lame). But still, while WU is slightly more accurate than TWC (it's got more localized coverage), it can still be dead wrong as much.

We've had some crappy weather the last week or so, but WU promised partly cloudy today with a week-long 10% chance of rain, dropping off at 0% by Saturday. So I was partly surprised when I woke up and we had some pretty heavy wind, and not long after, heavy rain. And the funny thing is, WU still says, and I quote:

Through 8 PM...a strong cold front will continue moving through eastern North Carolina. Scattered showers will move northeast along the front with amounts averaging only a few hundredths of an inch.

Scattered showers, my ass. It's pouring out there. I was thinking of going over to my brother-in-law's place, maybe playing some Rock Band, but now - no way. I'll just stay dry. And only a few hundredths of an inch? Where do they get these people?

There is one nice feature about the WU site. You can access the very same weather data your weatherman on the news has. Pretty much, anyway. I think WU's is easier to read. First, go to, plug in your zip code or city and state, whichever's easier. Now, WU won't always get your exact location if you're real rural - it'll get their closest associate. For example, we live in Chocowinity, NC and plugging in 27817 brings up Washington, NC. So it's not too far off, but it's still 6-7 miles at least. Anyway, you got your local page up... Over on the left, you click on Wundermap. This gives you a pretty Google Maps-based map. Below it, for best results, 1) uncheck "Weather Stations". 2) Move the second slider down all the way to the right. At the leftmost position its caption will read "Animate (Num Frames" but at the rightmost, it'll read "Stop (Num Frames)" but I think they're backwards (bad coding?). 3) Find your zoom level on the left side of the map and click on the ladder rung two down (zoom out two steps). Now you can grab this map and move it around. You can zoom in or out as you like.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

My playlist

You've probably seen the playlists that have been taking over MySpace for the last few months. Instead of just one profile song, you can have up to 200 songs at once. Here it is:

Now, you probably noticed it's not playing anything. You have to do that on your own. I didn't want my blog playing music automatically. No worries if you don't recognize half the stuff up there. I'll explain each song (though more may be added at any time):

"Wishmaster" by Nightwish - Awesome symphonic/opera metal band, perhaps their best song.

"Still Alive" by GLaDOS - This plays when you beat the PC/Xbox game Portal. It's great, and it's sung by the computer you fight.

"Key of the Twilight" by Yuki Kajiura - Japan's answer to Enya. New Age music which is simultaneously optmistic and pessimistic, kind of a yin-yang thing I guess, but her music is really good. And here you can hear it for free.

"Far Away" by Nickelback. First song by a popular artist or band. This is "our song" (Jen and I).

"Through the Fire and Flames" by Dragonforce. Ah, the "last level" of Guitar Hero 3. This song is brutal, but it's also very beautiful.

"The Pursuit" by Evans Blue. The most underrated band of the deacade. This song closes their second album, and while it's all good, the ending is one of the most perfect endings to a song I've ever heard.

"Runaway Train" by Soul Asylum. Since this came out in 1995 or 1996 it's been my favorite grunge or perhaps just plain 90s rock song. Can't say I identify with it per se, but I enjoy the hell out of it.

"Salva Nos" by Yuki Kajiura. Ms. Kajiura has remade this song four times for a total of five versions. I wanted the fifth version but could only get the first version. Oh well, it still rocks.

"All Summer Long" by Kid Rock. The hottest song of the summer! Kid Rock samples Warren Zevon's "Werewolves in London" and Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" in this rock ballad about summers past.

"Crazy B-----" by Buckcherry. I love this song. It's a little more profane than I'd normally prefer... I mean... "You're crazy b---- but you f--- so good I'm on top of it"... you just gotta hear it. It's not censored on the song, I just chose to self-censor here.

"See Who I Am" by Within Temptation. Another good symphonic/metal band's best song (in my humble opinion). They're no Nightwish, but they kick the crap out of Evanescence any day of the week.

"Wild Child" by Enya. Only because they didn't have "Flora's Secret". I make no apologies for being a fan of Enya... she just makes some of the most beautiful music I've ever heard. I've always thought she should sing for a metal band, like on the side.
But that's pretty much what Nightwish is, so I CAN have my cake and eat it too!

"Wander" by Kamelot. This symphonic metal band sounds like they're European, but they hail from Florida, USA.

"L.A. Woman" by The Doors - one of my favorite songs from the stoner poet Jim Morrison and his legendary band. Did you know the mid-song chant "Mr.
Mojo Risin'" is an anagram for "Jim Morrison"?

"Fortunate Son" by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Sure, I could have picked a better song, but this is the one we have on Rock Band, so it catches cool points.

"Jack and Diane" by John Mellencamp. Most people prefer Springsteen to Mellencamp but I was raised on the Cougar. Yeah, I know he doesn't like to be called that, but whatever.

"Small Town" by John Mellencamp. It was so hard picking just one, so I picked two.

"I Dare You" by Shinedown. Back to modern music. I fell in love with this song when I heard it at the end of WrestleMania 22 and I've loved it ever since.

"Stand" by Rascal Flatts is the best song on the country crossover band's album, and it's a shame it's been mostly passed over by radio, because it's absolutely beautiful.

"D'yer Mak'er" by Led Zeppelin. Did you know the apostrophes indicate pronounciation and it's supposed to be said the same as "Jamaica"? That's why it has that reggae song. Apparently it's part of a joke where the punch line is "Did you make her" but said to sound like "Jamaica" so it has a double meaning. I always just called it "Dyer Maker"...

"One Winged Angel" by... ah hell I don't have his name handy. The composer of the Final Fantasy games. This song is awesome, and it's the metal remix made for the straight-to-video Final Fantasy movie Advent Children. While the movie sucks, this song is great, and the movie does look good in HD.

//edit: Some songs have been added since I wrote this. Here's what's up with them.

"Addicted" by Saving Abel. We saw these guys at X-Fest 9.5 last month (October 2008). Good catchy song.

"I Tried" by Akon and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. The Bone Thugs made one of the best rap songs of the 1990s, regardless of what you think of rap. "Tha Crossroads" spoke to everybody about the frailty of life. They return with modern hip-hop/R&B legend Akon for another great song. Maybe not as timeless as "Tha Crossroads" but still a great song.

"Mad World" by Gary Jules. This slowed-down cover of the 1980s Tears for Fears song was used in the film "Donnie Darko". It's creepy but it fits.

"Faith of the Heart" by Russell Watson. This Rod Stewart cover is used as the theme for the newest Star Trek show, Enterprise (later Star Trek Enterprise). Well, the first verse and chorus are. It's the first Trek theme with lyrics, as the first two featured the famous "Final Frontier" speech and the next two just had instrumental music. Hell, sometimes I can't tell it's not Rod Stewart. In Season 3 (when they changed the name of the show) they added a techno beat to the song - this is the original. You can thank me later for not exposing you to that newer version.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Dark Reality's Backloggery

While browsing the forums (where I go for DS modding news and information) I saw a curious image in a user's signature. It's like one of those trackers which shows the music you're listening to, only with games. I clicked on it, and it took me to the root site. This site is called Backloggery, and it lets you track games you're playing and your progress through them, either for bragging rights, or to show people what you're playing, or maybe so you don't forget about games you have played but haven't beaten.

So I said OK, I'll make an account, and get started. It's currently tracking 23 games I'm currently playing or have played in the last year (no sense in going back to my NES/Super NES days but I won't rule that out down the road), so it's kind of cool. At a glance you can see what I'm up to, what kinds of games I like, stuff like that. Xbox 360, Xbox Live Arcade, Nintendo DS, PC, Game Boy Advance, and PlayStation - I didn't know my gaming was so varied. Though to be fair I play GBA games on my DS and I haven't played the PlayStation in years, but felt the need to add Final Fantasy VII because of its sheer awesomeness.

Backloggery also gives the user code to post a sort of visual log, though the code is only friendly to message boards. However, I am a nerd, and I can adapt it for this blog. Here ya go:

There we are. If you click that, you'll go to my profile and you can look up all the games I'm playing. I don't know how it determines what games are listed, maybe they change up. U in red means the game is uncompleted, I still have work to do. B in silver means I've beaten the game, but only the minimal approach. C in gold means I've completed the game, done everything there is to do. If you see the fourth icon, an M in a blue Superman-shaped icon, that means I've mastered it. I only put that on one game though. And of course the letters refer to the system. XBLA means Xbox Live Arcade, NDS is Nintendo DS. PS is PlayStation (the very first one). PC is... well, it's PC. Computer games.

So, if you're a gamer and you think you'd like to track your gaming progress online, similar to what I've done here, just click the image and make your own account. You can add me as a friend there, too.

PS - While I'm up here and on the subject of signature images, I'd also like to share another image I got from someone's sig on that led me to make my own. It's like a bookcase of bragging rights, of brands and techs one is affiliated with (typically through ownership). I did not like the graphic that the site put out, so I took a screenshot and made various changes (e.g. N DS to NDS Lite and Windows to Win XP, AMD to AMD64, things like that). Here's that:

It's kinda lame... It represents some of my interests but leaves out related things I'd rather have. For example it has Subway but not Taco Bell, 7-Up but not Mountan Dew, no love for Deus Ex, Nero but not ImgBurn... but whatever. It's still cool and makes you tilt your head and read it all and pass judgment on me based on each item (if you're a geek).

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Nintendo can keep the new DSi. Here's why.

If you haven't heard, Nintendo today announced the third DS model, DSi. Successor to the Lite and Phat (what we tend to call the first, bulky DS), this model most notably adds a camera. Sounds pretty good, right? Well, I don't quite think so.

Last week, a Japanese speculatory article was published in a magazine not typically associated with a lot of credibility. The article stated that Nintendo would announce a new DS, with two touch screens instead of one, a camera, and the ability to play music. The Internet went crazy over the news, at least in the portable gaming circles.

Portable gaming is pretty serious business. I own a Nintendo DS Lite, and my wife owns an Xbox 360. And I wouldn't trade her any day of the week. While the 360 is nice, there's something to be said about being able to carry your games with you. And then you mod it... Modding an Xbox 360 looks to be a lot of work, and then all you can do is play copied games. Tsk tsk. A fully modded DS can play DS games as well as games for Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, and NES. It can play some Super NES games, and it can play Sega Genesis games without sound. I hear it can play Sega Master System and Game Gear games flawlessly, but I haven't tried that. Also it can play multimedia (which a stock 360 can do anyway) and run homebrew applications. So there are a lot more options. And on the other side of the fence, the PSP is interesting in its own right. It's better for movies, and its games look better, if you prefer graphics to gameplay. It also, apparently includes a browser. You can get a few browsers on the DS (one is official, others aren't) but none of them are fully functional. A PSP can be modded, too, and apparently it can do even more, being a more powerful machine. But a PSP can only be modded into a better gaming/entertainment system, where a DS can be modded to basically be a handheld computer.

And now a portable gaming system is going to get a camera. It wouldn't be the first time; the Game Boy systems have had cameras, and even a printer! Neither were very popular, Nintendo would do well to remember.

So let's take a look at the DSi. The DSi is basically the same form factor as a DS. The hinges appear to be a little bulkier. The DS logo is completely gone from the outer shell of the DSi. The screens are slightly bigger. The DSi does not support Game Boy Advance cartridges natively, which means it also does not support the official browser, or the new Guitar Hero games. It also doesn't support GBA to DS linkage, a rarely used feature supported in some Pokemon and Castlevania games. As I said, it has a camera. It actually has two cameras. One is on the outer shell (reportedly 3 megapixels) in the lower-right corner, and the other is on the inner spine (reportedly 0.3 megapixels), where the mic is on the DS Lite. The speakers are changed; they look smaller but are said to be better. The power button is no longer a slider switch on the right side above the stylus slot; instead it's a button you push on the left side, under the D-pad. The power indicator light on the right shoulder is gone; on the DSi, three indicator lights will indicate Wi-Fi connectivity, charging status, and battery status, respectively. Most interestingly, however, the DSi will feature a Secure Digital (SD) card reader on the right side, where the power switch is on the Lite. This will store photos taken by the cameras, and can be loaded with music, which can be played through an updated home screen.

All in all, the DSi seems like a nice update to the 2-year-old DS Lite. But pitted against my fully modded DS Lite, it doesn't look as sweet. Here's why:

1. It's got a camera. Nice, but does it have a flash? I have a 2MP camera on my phone, and it doesn't have a flash either. The pictures are great in good lighting but terrible if I don't have good lighting. I expect no better out of the DSi. And a 0.3MP camera is worthless. No two ways about that. I have a fairly nice Canon Powershot from 2005 (4.2MP) which serves me quite well. My digital camcorder can take stills at 5MP, but I never use it because it's not very good, ironically. So I have three cameras, two of which I use. I don't see myself taking pictures with a DSi.

2. It doesn't support Game Boy Advance games. This is a huge turn-off for me. I can't stress that enough. My three favorite gaming franchises are Castlevania, Legend of Zelda, and Metroid, in that order. So let's run the numbers. Game Boy Advance has three Castlevania games, four Zelda games (even though 2 are NES ports), and three Metroid games (1 is an NES port). The DS has two Castlevania games, one of which is inherently broke (there's a part where you have to defend a character who is casting a spell which takes 30-45 seconds to cast... against two screen-clearing bosses), though a third is on the way. It has only one Zelda game. It has two Metroid games. One sucks and the other is Metroid-themed pinball. So the DSi can play less than half of the games the DS Lite can from my three favorite franchises. Also, since the Guitar Hero games use the Game Boy Advance slot to connect the guitar grip controller, the Guitar Hero games won't load on the DSi. I have the first one, and if you start it without the guitar grip, it tells you it can't proceed. The second one comes out in the next couple months and I fully plan to get it as well. I repeat: No Guitar Hero for DSi owners. DS Lite owners will have 58 songs to play on the go (25 in the first one, a reported 28 will be in the second one) by this holiday season. Guitar Hero is nothing compared to Rock Band, which Jen owns all over on the Xbox 360, but for portable... hell, I'm glad to have Guitar Hero! Again, not on a DSi though.

3. It plays Mp3 files. Wow. This might actually be neat to see. Oh, but wait. My DS Lite already does this. Yay for modding. I can also play video. If the DSi can play video, they haven't announced it. If one of the biggest new features of the DSi is that it can play music, that doesn't say much about the rest of the system. Being as that music playback has been an underground feature for years.

4. The power button is on the face. This is a huge turn-off for me. I see myself accidentally hitting it, and that's not cool. I've never accidentally turned off my DS Lite because the power switch is out of the way, not... in the way. Well it's not RIGHT in the way, but it's close enough that it's in a stupid position.

5. I have a perfectly fine, fully operational, fully modded DS Lite. It's awesome. Some speculate that the DSi will feature technological countermeasures to prevent modding. While that will end up bypassed soon enough, if true, it means that besides the camera, Nintendo plans to make the DSi more limited than the DS Lite, in which case it would not be upgrading, but downgrading.

6. Better features were passed over. Here is where I start whining. The DS has a touch screen... how about a text writer, for taking notes on the go, keeping a journal, or maybe writing poetry or a story? How about an address book? A calendar? All of these are software solutions they can add at any time with no hardware update required. I would trade the camera for a good text writer. And how about video playback? Video playing is sketchy on a modded DS, and all of the solutions to make the required DPG files are half-broken hacks which don't work half the time. If the DS could play video in an established format dozens of programs could write to without concern of failure, that would be awesome.

So, all in all, it's interesting that Nintendo has a new handheld on the market, but until something changes down the road, I believe I still have the best handheld Nintendo has to offer.

Oh yeah - you wanna see it? The North American website has no mention of the DSi; to see it, you have to go on their Japanese site and navigate without knowing what the site is saying.

Here's the link.

The page will load, and you'll be presented with a starting image showing off the camera. The tabs I'll refer to are along the bottom.

First (home) tab. Nothing but the other tabs to click on here. Look, and move on.

Second tab is first on the left on the Home tab (Home tab is the NintendoDS logo). This just shows off the camera, probably explains what they can do. Again, look and move on.

Third tab has two symbols and a dash (-) then a bunch more symbols. Here, you can finally do something! Click the icons in the upper right corner to change the view.

Fourth tab actually says DSi at first. We'll call it "First DSi Tab". This must be the new home screen, with a lot of new options to play with. Nothing to actually do though.

Second DSi tab focuses on photo manipulation. Move your mouse around the pictures to scroll. Cool, eh?

The third DSi tab will make you wish you knew Japanese, because it talks about what you can do with music. Looks like you'll be able to interact with it somehow.

The last DSi tab shows a new web browser (guess they overcame the 16MB RAM expansion requirement?) and something I can't tell what it is.

The last tab, the one that says DS Lite, is a lot of fun. On the left you have the DSi; on the right, the DS Lite. (This may seem backwards, but it's not. The Japanese read right to left so it's fitting that the new model is on the left, not the right.) Move the mouse around. You can compare the consoles side by side using the middle, which I guess is supposed to be like a mirror. If you click the icon in the lower right, you can see the top and right-hand side (no fancy mouse movement). Also, if you click the link in the lower left, you can read the specs. Well, if you could read Japanese, you can read the specs.

Thanks for reading. You now know as much about the just-announced DSi as I do.