Sunday, January 08, 2017

The Apple II - Apple's most important computer

I mentioned a while back that I've started up a new YouTube channel, and I'm probably going to end up writing up a post here about every video I create. I may eventually split these posts off onto a new blog that's directly tied to the channel, but for now, here we are. I've done a bunch of videos you should check out, including an IBM Model M keyboard roundup, a look at the $99 Nintendo 3DS, the AtGames Sega Genesis portable, and more.

Last night I published my biggest video yet, in which I hold forth on the Apple II.

I grew up with the Apple II and I still have my original machine (that's it on the right). Most of my videos are a little more spontaneous and have a bit more humor, I think, but I guess I just have some reverence for the subject matter here. This was my first computer and I've held a grudge against the company for decades about how they treated it.

Anyway, check it out, subscribe to my channel, and leave a comment if you want. I'm not yet to the point of actively marketing my channel beyond this, but I am trying to rely on advertising revenue to at least pay for the topics I cover on the channel itself :)

Sunday, January 01, 2017

The PlayStation VR - my... review?

There's a line in "A Christmas Story" about the "best Christmas present I had ever received, or would ever receive." I'm not saying this is that for me, but it's close!

This is the PlayStation VR. My wife had a hard time finding one for me, but I ended up helping her out with that. Only the Sony store in Manhattan seemed to have them in stock at all before Christmas.

I'd love to do a video on this thing, but I don't have the right equipment for it. So for now I'll just write about it here. I might do a video later just shooting directly at my TV set.

I love it. It feels like an entirely new way to play games. I know there have been abortive attempts at VR in the past, and of course the PS VR isn't the only option out there right now. (The HTC Vive is too expensive and requires an entire empty room; I did consider the Oculus Rift but decided I'd rather play in my living room.) But we're finally at a point where virtual reality can really be convincing.

Now, I've ridden a bunch of VR rides at "virtual theme parks" in the past, so I already knew both that I liked virtual reality and also that I didn't suffer from a lot of the negative effects some people seem to. I've been a gamer for a long time, and I think that helps. I never feel any sense of vertigo or motion sickness while wearing my PS VR headset; my body and mind are not fooled to quite that level, or maybe I'm just not prone to motion sickness in general. Your mileage may vary.

But it's still incredibly interesting to me that part of my brain is fooled, that I can't completely disconnect what I'm seeing in front of my eyes from reality, even though I know it isn't real. I suppose this is the same part of the brain that allows the movies we see to cause us exhilaration or fear or sadness, despite knowing we're watching actors recite lines from a script.

For example, the PS VR launch bundle that I got comes with a short demo from the upcoming Resident Evil: biohazard simply called "Kitchen". (Minor spoilers ahead, if you care.) In it, you're tied up sitting in a chair in, well, a kitchen. Your friend is unconscious in front of you. Eventually he wakes up and tries to cut your plastic restraints off. Suddenly, he's attacked from behind by a female infected (aka a zombie), who also stabs you in the leg. She then drags your friend's body away into the darkness before tossing his head at your feet.

From there, you can hear her banging around the room but you can't see her. You can look around, but it's too dark and you're still tied up. Suddenly, she puts her hands over your eyes from behind. When she takes them away, she then climbs on top of you, growling and dripping saliva and blood on your face, her knife ready to plunge into you.

Playing on TV, this would be a typical scene in any zombie game. In VR, it is legitimately scary. The first time I played through it, I actually exclaimed "aaaaaaaaaaahhh!" out loud and moved to the side (though I did laugh at the ridiculousness of it). One thing I somehow didn't realize about modern VR is that it is actual 3D, and the effect is far better than the paper cutout effect you get with 3D movies. All objects have real depth, so when a person really gets in your face in a VR game, it's easy to cower down instinctively.

I've now noticed this trick used in several of the other VR titles, and I hope it doesn't become a cliche, but I'm sure VR will eventually have its share of tropes like any other format.

I later downloaded and played through the longer Resident Evil: biohazard demo, and I have to say that by the end, I felt like I was in a real-life nightmare. Several of the titles that are on the demo disc are also horror titles, and in each one I played, the creepiness builds up over time. My brain almost slowly begins to accept and adapt to the game world as reality. It makes me a little worried about the future of humanity! Eventually, maybe once we get more elegant headsets, a lot of people will be playing games this way and almost living in total alternate realities. What kind of reality will people choose to inhabit, and how will that affect them in the "real world"?

That's a big subject that I'd like to see more written about. Certainly this goes beyond the effects of simply playing a game on TV - that seems obvious. VR really gets to you on a much deeper, more instinctual level, where even if the intellectual part of your brain isn't fooled, the animalistic part is. Whole worlds will be created to suit any taste, or indulge any fetish. Things will become normalized that maybe shouldn't be, and the lines between actual and virtual reality will begin to blur a bit - especially when VR games become more social. This is the same debate we've always had about violent video games, but VR makes even current flat-screen video games seem quaint in comparison, like a child's fantasy.

But it's also really fun, and I'm admittedly addicted already. I've ordered the physical version of Rez Infinite - one of the main reasons I wanted the PS VR to begin with - and I'm sure I'll pick up Rush of Blood, Batman: Arkham VR and Battlezone at the very least in pretty short order. Basically everything I've played on the demo disc has been fun, and nothing feels like the VR's clunky or tacked on. Everything is surprisingly polished and just feels "right" in VR. And PS VR games are generally made to be played either sitting down or standing in one spot, so it's pretty easy to fit it into an existing living room setup.

I do hope that enough people buy these things to make continued development of the hardware worthwhile. I'd actually love it if the PS5 was a VR-based console, with the sensors built into the system, allowing for a smaller headset with either a single cable, or no cables. (Wireless would be awesome.) VR headsets all need to be a little more elegant, easier to set up and not as cumbersome to use.

The PS VR is probably the worst offender because of its camera, processor unit and the four cables connected to it, two of which then connect to the headset and keep you tethered at all times. These cables aren't very long, either, which probably serves to remind you how close you need to stay to the PS camera (which helps track your head movements via lights on the headset). These limitations and annoyances need to go away for mass acceptance to happen. VR isn't something you sit on a shelf; this is something you have to wear and move your head around with. So it needs to be a little less cumbersome. I like PS VR's futuristic look right now, but I predict that in 20 years this generation of PS VR (and all current VR systems) will seem positively clunky.

I do highly recommend it for right now, though. It definitely fulfills the promise of a first-generation product. Despite the almost inherent goofiness of wearing a giant tethered headset on your head, this is really a new kind of experience. I don't think I've felt this way about a gaming platform since at least the switch to 3D consoles from 2D, and maybe not since the first time I played video games at all. We're one step closer to real Star Trek holodeck type stuff here.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

No compromise with Trump's hatred

Since the election, liberals have been told we need to "empathize" with Trump voters, to "come together" and show "unity" with Donald and his supporters, to "give him a chance", or even to "stop whining".

Well, no. I'm not going to "show unity" with a small-minded person who denigrates women and minorities, threatens to deport immigrants (my wife is an immigrant, like Donald's) and wonders why we can't use nuclear weapons against our enemies. I'm not going "stop whining" about a guy who just hired a white supremacist as his chief strategist. I'm not going to "give a chance" to someone who's 2 *million* behind in the vote count, and falling further behind every day. In a democracy, the person with the most votes wins. In any other democratic country, if the person who came in second was installed as president, it'd be called a coup d'etat.

Similarly, I'm not going to empathize with anyone who voted for him. I'm not going to try to "understand" someone who writes graffiti like this:

Or carries a confederate flag to a veteran's day parade:

Or wishes Michelle Obama had been "assassinated":

I have no interest whatsoever in learning more about these people. Hillary Clinton's description of them as a "basket of deplorables" was absolutely correct. And the fact that these idiots' votes count four times more than mine is why we're stuck with a President Trump.

This is not a mentality you reason or empathize with. This is a mentality you fight until it is destroyed. Acquiescence in this case amounts to appeasement. I am not *ever* going to tolerate behavior like this, or the acceptance of it from others. If you voted for this jerk, then you absolutely deserve to feel uncomfortable by protests and "whining" for the next four years. Frankly, you're getting off easy. You're paying a very small price for voting in favor of overt racism and misogyny.

But the rest of us need to keep fighting, not just for liberal values ("liberal values" like, ya know, respecting other nationalities, races and sexes besides your own) but for democracy in general. The huge and actually underreported protests we're seeing now probably aren't going to unseat an illegitimate president who was installed against the people's will. But what they can do is start a movement to abolish the ridiculous electoral college that gives rural voters outsize influence. No American's vote should count more than any other's.

Not my photo, but this was an anti-Trump protest in LA November 12th. This is more than a few thousand people, folks.

In the meantime, I will never recognize Donald as president of anything. He has no moral authority, and was not elected by the people. The people spoke, and we elected Clinton. Every action Trump takes should be recognized for what it is - an undemocratic, authoritarian power grab. As such, he should be resisted at every turn. No law he proposes, no court or other appointment should make it onto the floor of congress.

It's going to be an uphill battle because the rural vote holds more sway than the much much larger city centers in this country. But we should all be writing to our senators and congresspeople telling them not to recognize any non-existent "mandate" by this presidency, and to oppose everything it does. No compromises. No appeasement. No "coming together" with hatred. We should show even less respect to this president than his supporters showed Obama. Whatever you think of Obama's policies, the people voted him into office - twice. Not so with Trump. I will show him no more respect than any other private citizen who also happens to be a racist and admitted sexual predator.

In the future, people will be asking what you did to stand up against this regime, and those that put it there. What will you tell them?

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Riding an ATV through the Bahamas (Carnival cruise ship excursion)

I've got another general cruise video in the pipeline, but the first video I've put together from my recent vacation is this POV of my ATV ride through Clifton Park in the Bahamas (near Nassau). This was a Carnival-booked shore excursion, although the same ride is available through other cruises and other lines. I'm sure you can even book it separately, if you happen to be flying to the Bahamas.

This ride was intense. I wasn't expecting it. I somehow thought it'd be a fun, fast but leisurely ride at 40mph through the Bahamian wilderness. And some of it was that, but a lot of it was really difficult off-road trails that were seriously off-road, I mean just a bunch of rocks and tree branches and walls to climb over, all while balancing on this 500 pound machine beneath you and trying to keep it from overturning. (One of my most dreaded instructions over our radios was "now get ready to climb the rock wall", which we heard about 20 times.) A lot of that didn't make it into this video, because it was nothing but a bunch of blurry shaking. As long as this video is, the total ride was about 90 minutes.

My wife and I were both drenched in sweat by the end of it all. But believe it or not, it was still really fun! My wife said it was the "wildest thing" she's ever done. (That's her in front of me, btw - I think she looks really cute on an ATV!) It was obviously really beautiful - I hope I captured some of that in the video.

We did have a photo op above one of the beaches (you can see a cut there around the first third of the video) and then we had actual beach time after the ride was over. I left that stuff out because it'd probably be a pretty boring video, and also I didn't shoot any of it. But the beach was really quiet and private, and my wife said it had the best water she's ever experienced. (I didn't go in - wasn't dressed for it.)

This was also my first-ever attempt at using a chest mount I'd just bought for my phone, and I really didn't have an opportunity for a practice run, nor could I even see what I was recording as I was riding. This was all in the blind with my phone strapped to my chest. Unfortunately, early on the phone flipped down without me knowing and also switched off, so a lot of the early trails are missing from the video. Apologies that some of the footage is a little too focused on my own machine - that was me leaning forward, which was unavoidable. I just feel lucky I didn't end up face down in a ditch! Still, I feel like it got better as things went on and overall I'm happy with the result.

I've got another video coming soon - it'll be more of a relaxing overview of life on a cruise ship. So wait for that.

About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.

About Me

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I'm married. I like to travel. I have no kids. I have a house... that I'm bad at maintaining. I used to collect classic video games. I own a lot of musical equipment that far outstrips my ability to use it. When I was younger, I was in a band. I like gadgets, and I'm an Android guy. Someday, I would like to live on a different planet.


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