Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Now this is a car: "new" Dodge Challenger Day!

I know it's been a while since a proper blog post here (one that doesn't just link to my YouTube channel). The truth is that I feel like the world has moved on from blogs for the most part, and I have too.

But a new car is always a momentous event. And the Challenger is a car I've wanted since it was first announced.

This is a 2014 Dodge Challenger SXT Plus 100th Anniversary Edition, Dodge certified pre-owned. This is meant to be our city commuting car and we don't even have a garage, so I didn't really want a new one or one of the higher-spec models - I wanted something cheap that I could beat up and not care about too much, while still satisfying my deepest, darkest desires.

But I love it too much to beat it up. I can't help it. After literally decades of owning tiny little cars meant to be at least as practical as they were fun, I've finally gone back to the kind of car I grew up with. Is this a mid-life crisis? Well, this might just be the mid-life crisis talking, but I've decided there is no such thing as a mid-life crisis. There is only who we really are and who we try to force ourselves to be. And who I really am is someone that loves big American cars with engines that go "VROOM!", not economical little Euro-hatchbacks.

(I fell in love with this car instantly when I first turned it on and it literally roared to life despite its V6 engine. I found out later that it has a custom exhaust system, despite being Dodge certified. They told me it's a good one, though, and they included it in the warranty.)

This is what I always thought of as "a car" when I was growing up. This is still what "a car" means to me now. In the 1970's, my family had a Plymouth Duster (here's me standing in front of it). One of my brother's friends had a Chevy Nova or maybe even a Dodge Challenger or something with racing stripes in the middle of the hood. My own first car was a Firebird (though a neutered one); my second and fourth cars were both 1980 Camaros. (That generation Camaro may not look it, but they were actually longer than a Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham. They were really big on the outside.) By the way, the linked pic of my first Camaro was specifically to show how dirty it got on a trip across the country, lest you think that sorry state was normal - I babied that car! I just have no other pictures.

That second Camaro had been converted for drag racing; it had a double barrel carburetor and a bored out 305 small block V8, and all extraneous weight had been removed (including such things as the arm rests, rear seats, radio and speakers, catalytic converters, mufflers, and the horn). It was loud and fast - 0-60 in under 5 seconds. It didn't really need a horn, because you could hear it coming from a mile away.

This Challenger has a V6 and it's more powerful than that Camaro. (Though because of the car's weight, it's not quite as fast.) Engine technology has come a long way. This is the first car I've owned with more than 300 horsepower, and unlike my Jeep (which has 270, if you can believe it), it's got a transmission to match. After my falling out with the Mini, which was just a chore to drive in NY area traffic, I went back to an automatic. But this one's got paddle shifters if I want to use them, and it's so responsive that I don't really miss the manual even on the open road. I rarely get to be on the open road around here anyway - around here, you're always stuck to someone else's rear bumper. But man, it's nice to be able to zoom around somebody who's doing 40mph in the left lane of the Long Island Expressway when I finally get the chance, and do it like they're standing still.

The Challenger competes with the Mustang and current Camaro but I don't like either of them anymore because they're not what they're supposed to be. If you call a car a Mustang or Camaro, then you'd better acknowledge the history and heritage behind that nameplate. The Mustang did that in the previous generation, but both of these cars are wannabe Euro-coupes at this point, and I'm not a fan. It would be like if Porsche came out with a minivan and called it a 911.

The Challenger is what it always was: an unapologetically American, big bruiser of a car. It's not meant for handling; it's meant for straight line speed and intimidation. (Well, the V-8 versions.) It feels big and heavy, but that's the point. And that's exactly what I wanted after having a Mini for the past three years and a PT Cruiser for the previous eight. (I did love the PT, but I'm just sick of little hatchbacks.)

It's also really comfortable, with the best interior I've ever owned on a car. And it's not all black! I no longer have to feel like I'm driving around in my own little hearse. I've really come to hate black interiors, and almost all cars have them now. When buying a used car, it's like winning the lottery to find a good car with something other than a black interior. And this one's just a beautiful burgundy (Dodge calls it "molten red", but it's a lot more subdued than that sounds).

It's also got a surprising amount of utility. The trunk space is massive - I've already carried whole shipments of clothing to my store in this car, which is something I'd worried about and one reason I'd been buying hatchbacks. You can even fold down the rear seats for more stowage space. The rear seats themselves are actually usable for passengers - my wife rode back there to test it out and said it was totally fine. (I've been back there too but I can't really fit in the back seat of any car that I could actually afford short of a used VW Vanagon, so I'm the wrong person to judge it.) The Mustang and Camaro have back seats really only suited to grocery bags or your pet ferret.

We lucked out with the 100th Anniversary package, which adds a whole bunch of both cosmetic and mechanical stuff, and we got that basically for free given other Challengers in our price range, all of which were stripped base model SXT's. I've come to realize that wheels really make or break the look of a car, and the 20" wheels that come with that package really set this one off. Black Challengers with the stock 18" wheels really tend to look like Alamo rentals; the 100th Anniversary 20" wheels (which are totally unique to that package) make it obvious from a mile away that this is a special car. Something about the rear end of a Challenger only looks right with big wheels.

It's even got the script "Challenger" logo on the grille! For a while I really wanted a Challenger R/T Classic just for the script logo, but even they don't have it on the grille.

The car does have a few minor issues - hey, it is used, and I expected that even from a CPO car. It really needs new tires pretty soon - that'll be my first real outlay, and it's really always a good idea to budget that in with any used car. (Nobody sells a car just after buying new tires, and more often they sell just before they need to.)

The dealer just gave me a brake job for free, so that's hopefully sorted now, though they still seem to squeak a bit.

And it's been an NYC car its entire life, so it does have a few scratches to the paint. It's a hard life for any car, living around here. At least I don't need to worry about the day I get the first scratch, which is always a horrifying day in car ownership.

But otherwise, it's perfect. Even better condition than the Mini we just turned in, which was even newer.

I used to be a car guy, and that faded a bit with my last couple cars. I figured I'd just grown out of it. But now, I think I just had the wrong cars.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

There's music everywhere! Surround sound music formats from 8 Track tape to Blu-Ray

My latest video's the first audio subject I've tackled in a while: surround sound music. I've always had a curiosity about the 1970's quadraphonic era - I lived through it but didn't really experience it at the time. But since then, the industry's released more and better surround sound formats over time, and I look at everything from the quad era up to today's DVD and Blu-Ray audio to see if anything's really worth listening to. (Spoiler: yes!)

This video was actually really difficult to make, not to mention my most expensive video to date. Making videos about sound is not easy - who knew? Tricky to talk about surround sound when you can't actually see it or hear it through YouTube! But hopefully it's an interesting video nonetheless.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Tearing down and repairing my original Apple IIc

My first-ever computer was an Apple IIc in 1985. (Not 1984 as I first thought, and said early in this video.) I loved that machine, but it's been broken for quite a while now.

Well, I finally sat down to fix it. And you can watch!

This video was just a quick one while I work on some more scripted stuff, but it was really satisfying to do.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Is Virtual Reality (VR) worth buying in 2017?

Another new video! In this one, I follow on from my blog post on VR with a video on VR. I think it's actually quite an amazing technology! And spoiler alert: I do recommend it if you can deal with the current headsets with their infernal wires.

From my YT description:

We've heard a lot about the PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive lately. While the Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard make for a good, cheap entry into VR, I take a look in this video at what the experience is like on today's higher-end systems and see whether it's finally worth taking the plunge on a VR system.

Some of the games I show in this video include Rez Infinite, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood, Job Simulator, Here They Lie, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, Danger Ball, Hatsune Miku: VR Future Live, Driveclub VR, Eve Valkyrie, Battlezone, and Scavenger's Odyssey.

btw, that room scale video is a promotional HTC Vive video, which you can find here:

If you're interested in buying one of these systems or games, do me a favor and click through one of my Amazon affiliate links:

PlayStation VR:
HTC Vive:
Oculus Rift:

They have the same prices as everywhere. If you want to help me out, you can actually buy anything on Amazon after clicking one of those links. Thanks!

Subscribe to my channel:

Support me directly on Patreon!:

Follow me on Facebook:

And Twitter:

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Atari Dig - my souvenir from gaming's greatest urban legend

Just posted a new video - getting back to gaming a little bit for these next couple. Many of you no doubt know about the great video game crash of 1983 and Atari's literal dumping of various games in a landfill at the start of it, and I'll bet a lot of you have actually watched the documentary "Atari: Game Over" (though if you haven't seen it, I've got a link in the video description on YT).

But you may not know that some of the games that were finally dug up in that documentary were put up for sale. I have one, and I talk about it in this short video.

This is the first of a new series of short videos I'm calling "Turbo Mode" - these are basically going to be to keep content flowing while I work on longer stuff. (Hint hint... I am working on a longer video right now.)

Subscribe to my channel!

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

What can you do with a $20 laptop?

My latest video takes a look at a thrift store find - a circa-1998 IBM ThinkPad 600X that I picked up for $20. Is a computer like this still good for anything? Watch the video and find out!

Incidentally, I'm going to be starting a new blog for my YouTube channel pretty soon (in addition to Facebook and Twitter pages), so when I do, I'll probably be posting all of these there. Or maybe I'll do it in both places; who knows.

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.

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.


  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by 2008

Back to TOP