Category Archives: Hardware

Joining the Smart Phone World

Mr. Yoshida did me in.

It was some of his tangy sauce that leaked out of my lunch container and got all over my aging LG Rumor 2 phone, rendering it a sticky mess.

I was able to clean the outside pocket of my laptop bag well enough, but the phone itself was never quite right after the spill.  After putting up with it for a couple months… I don’t make that many calls with it… I decided it was time to replace it.  So I headed over the the Virgin Mobile site to see what el cheapo model I could get to replace the sticky LG.

At the Virgin Mobile site though I found out they really aren’t into phones that are just phones any more.  They have one simple flip phone model these days.  However, since I am as likely to text as talk, I generally try to get one with the slide out keyboard, as I have no mind to master the whole dialing from the keypad thing.

And I didn’t want to go to another vendor, as my VM account was topped up with enough cash to last me a long time.  I have been putting $20 on the account every 90 days for years to keep the phone active, but use maybe a $1.50 of it every cycle.

So I decided it might be time to bite the bullet and get a smart phone.  While there were certainly some el cheapo choices on that front, I figured if I was going to go that route I had best go with a phone that is supported, which left me with the Samsung and Apple options.  After some hemming and hawing, I decided to go the Apple route, in large part because everybody in my family who has a smart phone has an iPhone.

And, of course, there was a cheap option.  The 16GB iPhone 5s was only $199.  So I ordered one and it arrived late last week.

iPhone 5s

iPhone 5s

This also happens to be the same phone my daughter has so… and it has come to this… she can show me how to use it correctly.  When did I become my father?

The phone itself seems to be a pretty nice piece of equipment.  My only problem so far has been getting a case for the unit.  There are so many case options out there, I am not sure how anybody decides, aside from just hitting choice fatigue and taking whatever looks okay just to get on with their life.

Quote of the Day – The Optics of VR

The games with peripherals that do the best are highly social games that demo well at parties – think Rock Band or the Wii.  Both were compelling experiences that made observers immediately want to rush home and buy their own.  VR, on the other hand, makes you look like an idiot to observers.

Damion Schubert, I’m Still Skeptical of VR

GDC came and went last week up the road in SF and Virtual Reality was a major topic (and gimmick fest) at the event.  Mr. Schubert was there and came back with a few bullet points for one post and then a whole post about the harassment potential of VR in multiplayer experience that needs to be addressed.

Out of all of that, probably the most trivial bit, how VR looks to other people that tickled me.  It isn’t as bad as made out by that Time magazine cover…

Time Magazine

Time Magazine

…which became such a meme that my Google search to find a copy of the cover was almost nothing but parodies.

Feel the Bern... erm... Burn!

Feel the Bern… erm… Burn!

Nothing right now is going to get you up and running around and jumping in your living room with that tethered headset.  Not without some lawsuits.  VR right now is about your head being in the game, so to speak, with the player being able to orient their view in the way we do in the real world.  It will be a long time before it is something akin to bad interpretive dance.

But even then VR is something that you cannot really get a sense of until you are the person sitting there in the sensory deprivation mask and headphones actually experiencing it.  Watching somebody else don the equipment and begin to play is a bit eerie or comical or silly as you watch them move and react to things to which you are not privy.  Having the mask on, being the person in the gear, is a very solo experience.

How Much to Play EVE Valkyrie?

So the big news yesterday, I suppose, was the opening of the Occulus Rift pre-orders and how much the unit costs.

The magic number is $599… plus sales tax (varies by location, but for me it adds up to $50) and $30 shipping.  Call it a round $680.

For that sum… which is more than a PlayStation 4 and a couple games… or more that a Wii U and every good game for the platform… you will get:

  • the headset
  • a head-tracking camera
  • an Xbox One controller
  • the Oculus remote
  • the cables to hook it up, a spiffy carrying case, and two included games: space shooter
  • the game Eve Valkyrie, a cool space shooter
  • the game Lucky’s Tale, a platformer
Not picture, spiffy carrying case

Not picture, spiffy carrying case

Of course various forums on the internet exploded with unhappy reactions to that price point. (Though, if you backed the Kickstarter at the right level, you were probably pretty happy.  Good for you if you backed it at the right time.)

Personally, I wasn’t all that shocked by the price point despite past price estimates. (Though clearly many felt otherwise.) I’ve done hardware projects before. This is the first run of the hardware, this new hardware has to be very good to get people to accept VR as more than a gimmick, the hardware itself is unique and complex (as noted by the team, as they apologize for the price yet again), and they have to hand a bit of money to the software devs for the bundled items.  It was going to be a big ticket item.  Likely, a year or two from now there will be a cost reduced version with a more efficient manufacturing process and likely no controller or remote for less.

Which doesn’t mean that I am going to run out and pre-order.  I played EVE Valkyrie at EVE Vegas and it looked really good… but not $680 good.  I was actually a little worried that CCP was going to try to extract a bit more money from people with the EVE Valkyrie Founder Pack they started talking about yesterday, but that appears to be included with the pre-order.

Founders Pack with the pre-order...

Founders Pack with the pre-order…

We’ll see when that becomes an extra-cost option, but for now it is just another incentive to pre-order today.

Of course, $680 might not be the only expense you’ll incur getting into virtual reality.  Your computer also has to be up to snuff with the following requirements:

  • Video Card NVIDIA GTX 970 / AMD R9 290 equivalent or greater
  • CPU Intel i5-4590 equivalent or greater
  • Memory 8GB+ RAM
  • Video Output Compatible HDMI 1.3 video output
  • USB Ports 3x USB 3.0 ports plus 1x USB 2.0 port
  • OS Windows 7 SP1 64 bit or newer

I happen to be in luck for most of those requirements.  When my power supply zapped my computer, taking out most everything directly connected to it, I ended up getting an Intel i5-4590 for the replacement.  I am also good on the operating system, RAM, and USB ports.

The video card though, there I come up short.  A quick search on nVidia GTX 970 shows that to be a $300+ investment which, with sales tax and shipping, puts the whole bill for playing EVE Valkyrie past the $1,000 mark for me.

That is way too rich for my blood, even if I can use it with Elite: Dangerous as well.

That price, for all the loud complaints it has yielded, doesn’t seem to be hurting the popularity of the pre-orders.  The quote at the top of the post is unironically true in its own way.  I saw somebody from the team state that they sold more in the first ten minutes than they thought would go in the first hour.  Meanwhile, later in the day, I saw somebody a bit annoyed that the ship date on their pre-order was slated for June, the queue presumably having eaten up all the March, April, and May dates.

For me though, the VR experience will likely be limited to the Google Cardboard set that the guy in the cube across from me has for some time to come.

Blog Banter 68 – Rig Check

This month’s EVE Online Blog Banter, number 68 in the series, is titled This is my Rig.

This is my Rig, There are Many Like it…
What do you play Eve on? I’ll show you mine if you show me yours! Are you pew-pewing on a laptop? Plotting universal domination on a 12 monitor set up? Mining away on a 50″ TV? Is your set up located where your other half can speak to you or do you lock yourself away for hours in your Eve themed shed? How do you play your important internet spaceships?

So I looked at my desk setup and realized that not much has changed over the last few years.  I did a post on a very similar topic back in 2007 and found that not much has changed on my desk.  So much so that I am not going to bother taking a new picture, because the old one still pretty much reflects my desktop situation.

The table is unusually clear in this picture

The table is unusually clear in this picture

Also, I would have to clean up the stacks of papers that tend to accumulated on either end of my desk for a decent picture.

But otherwise I have the same Dell 20″ 1600×1200 (4:3 ratio) monitor (still with the same desktop pattern), the same Logitech G15 keyboard (though the back lighting is going out on half the keys), the same Kensington Expert Mouse (though the ball was marred when one of the cats decided that biting it was a good idea), and the same Logitech speakers (which now have a loose wire in the volume control so I have to wiggle it sometimes to get sound).  Even the power strip and the holder for envelopes are the same more than eight years later.

EVE Online Jump Gate

Desktop picture for many years…

I am a couple of headsets down the road, though I still have the pair in the picture, a Plantronics .510 set, I just use it at work for VoIP calls rather than at home.  At home I have a Logitech g930 wireless headset, which I wrote about in another post, and which I am only moderately fond of.

And I have gone from a 3rd generation iPod to a 3rd generation iPod Nano, which I purchased not long after that picture was taken, so there is no longer an iPod dock on the desk, just a cable with the old style connector which works with both the iPod and my iPad 2.

What is under the desk has changed a few time since that picture was taken.  The big purple Alienware case is long gone.  The Velocity Micro system I got at the end of 2007, with an early Intel Quad Core processor, replaced my wife’s last computer and is still mostly suited to her needs.

The big black and well ventilated Cooler Master case from the system I built back in 2010 is still there.  However, after the big disaster of a year ago, when a power supply I had been thinking about replace went out and took almost everything connected with it, there was a pretty substantial rebuild.

So here is what is driving my gaming today:

  • Gigabyte GA-Z97X-UD5H motherboard
  • Intel Core i5-4590 3.3GHz Processor
  • nVidia GeForce GTX 960 video card with 4GB of VRAM
  • 12GB of RAM
  • Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
  • 240GB SSD for the OS
  • 2TB internal HDD for storage
  • 2TB of external HDD for backups (all those screen shots gotta live somewhere)
  • 1 BluRay/DVD/CD Read/Write unit that survived the power supply incident

All of which is enough to give the system a Windows 7 experience score of 7.6 on a scale of 1 to 7.9… because why would we do something crazy and use a 1 to 10 scale or something. (The scale is different on Windows 8 and Windows 10 if I recall right.)

Windows7ExpScore

I also like how your score isn’t a weighted average or anything, but just the lowest item on the list.  I smell a marketing decision.

All of which gives me sufficient resources to run most games I play with the graphic settings turned up pretty high.  Specifically, I can play EVE Online in pretty graphics mode in a big battle with two clients running and things seem to run okay.  Windows 7 does insist on turning off the Windows Aero desktop graphics when I run two clients, but that is fine by me.

So that is what I am running.  Ergonomically I am still playing in 2007, while under the covers I do have enough horsepower to play what I want to.  I’ll probably need a new keyboard at some point, and I dream of a bigger monitor some day, but for now I am still set, and there are a lot of other things on the list that come ahead of new toys for me.

Others participating in Blog Banter 68:

Kickstarter – The EVE Online Control Panel

Possibly the greatest Kickstarter project that I will never back: The EVE Online control panel.

EVE reduced to a 15 control interface

EVE Online reduced to a 15 control interface

I think this is both hilarious and completely practical.  I have no doubt that if this were on my desk, I would use it.

The only problem is that to get on to my desk it needs to be about $99.  That is the mental price/utility threshold for me.  Instead it is about $250 for a kit to build it yourself and closer to $300 for a pre-built one.  I say “about” because it is coming from Canada, so I have to convert from Loonies to Greenbacks to figure it out.  And, because it is coming from Canada, that also means a shipping charge, a fee from customs, and probably a visit from the agents of Homeland Security to inquire as to the purpose of such a device.  I mean, it says “weapons” and “drones” right there on the front panel!

Still, I do think the whole idea is pretty awesome.  And there are 20 days left to go on the Kickstarter.  Maybe there will be a demo version at EVE Vegas that will convince me that it is totally worth the price.

A Couple Days Left for the Mineserver Kickstarter Campaign

The Mineserver Kickstarter campaign is coming down to its last couple of days. As I mentioned in a previous post, this is a home hardware solution allowing you to run and maintain your own Minecraft server.

MineserverLogo

This project has my interest because of my somewhat less than stellar success with Minecraft hosting services. They have met the basic requirements of being able to have a shared experience, which I enjoy very much, but haven’t lived up to their performance promises.  And the price of an established hosting service definitely puts the rent vs. own equation back into play.

The specs for the servers are reported as:

Both are ARM-based. The Mineserver™ has a four-core processor running at 1.5 GHz, one gig of DDR3 and eight gigs of SSD. The Mineserver Pro™ has an eight-core processor running at 2.0 GHz, two gigs of DDR3 and eight gigs of SSD.

The campaign itself is well past its base goal of $15,000, meaning it should close successfully, and currently shows pledges for over 260 standard servers and over 30 pro servers.  The Kickstarter wraps up at approximately midnight Pacific time on Tuesday (it actually ends two minutes into Wednesday) after which we shall see if this project can fulfill its promise of a fast, inexpensive, and easy to manage home Minecraft server… delivered before Christmas.

Addendum:  And it is done.

MineserverDone

We’ll see if/when/how post-Kickstart sales kick off soon I suppose.

Mineserver – A Minecraft Hardware Solution

Having fled from the impending demise of NetherByte… which was still up and running the last I checked… and its “$22.50 for six months” pricing to find refuge at MCPro Hosting, which has a better reputation, but charges about that much a month if you add on the ability to do server backups, and for less RAM, the whole “buy or rent” question has surfaced in my head again.

At what point is it worth just buying some hardware and hosting the server myself?  Visions of Intel NUC boxes float through my head, but the cost even at that end puts the return on the investment a bit too far out in the future.  If I could just put together something that would handle our group, wasn’t a complete pain in the ass to manage, and had a ROI point of about 12 months, I would be very interested.

On to this fertile mental pasture… and remember, fertilizer is traditionally most shit… lands a post about the Mineserver Kickstarter campaign.

Mineserver, according to the campaign, is a hardware and software package that gives you a headless server that you can plug into your network, administer through a web interface, can be made accessible/discoverable outside your network (so your friends can play), and even has an Android/iOS admin app that allows parents to control access from their ever present phones and tablets.

For this, the three primaries in this operation Channing, Cole, and Fallon (ages 13, 11, and 9 if I have the names in the right order) want only $99 for a Mineserver capable of hosting 20 player, or $199 for a Mineserver Pro, which is billed as being able to host 50 players and still keep its cool.  Less if you order early.

Pull the other one, right?

The tale is more plausible when you bring their father into the picture, Mark Stephens, more commonly known as Robert X. Cringely.  A long time staple of Silicon Valley, his column in InfoWorld was a must-read though his primary claim to fame is his book Accidental Empires, a history of Silicon Valley and the early tech industry, very much a must read in my cranky old opinion (along with Rick Chapman’s In Search of Stupidity, which fills in some of the missing lore), which was turned into the PBS documentary Triumph of the Nerds.  His blog, I, Cringely, is a regular read of mine and is linked somewhere down in my blogroll.

Anyway, Cringely and his tech connections and knowledge and backing of the whole venture makes everything more plausible.  The kids have clearly had access to the right sources and mentoring from the right people in order to put this sort of project together.  This gives the project credibility.

Still, I look at it and I have a few doubts.  In this sort of venture it seems to me a good plan to emphasize your strengths and obscure your weaknesses.

The strengths they are running with are cost, ease of administration via their custom software, security and safety for your kids, and server speed.

However, on speed, they are focused almost entirely network speed because the Mineserver will be plugged into your local router. (Though there is a WiFi option for people who want the box to sit somewhere else.)  That is a speed boost for people in your house, maybe not so much for anybody remote.

Things they have not brought into the picture include any details about the admin software, the discoverability aspect, the Linux distro, the Minecraft server version, the long term viability when it comes to updates and support for ongoing Minecraft development, and most important to me, any hardware specs whatsoever.

The last to me is doubly vexing.  First, as I have learned fairly quickly that, at least for hosting services, saying a config will support X players is often hopelessly optimistic.  I refer back to MCPro Hosting where, during their setup I told them I wanted to be able to host 20 players for vanilla Minecraft and they immediately recommended a 30 player option where we are constantly at edge of processor and RAM usage with four players in-game.  So when they say a Mineserver can accommodate 20 players, whose measure are they using?

Second, hardware isn’t something this project should be competing on, yet when asked point blank about specs, Cringley has declined to answer because he says he doesn’t want to project to be reverse engineered. (Comment on his blog post.)  But the secret sauce on this burger is the software, the stuff that they clearly see as the strong part of their pitch.  Hardware is a commodity and ought to warrant two lines at the bottom of the page with basic specs simple to prove that the platform has the moxie to do what they say it does.  Doubly so because whenever I show the Kickstarter to anybody in tech, the first question they ask when they see the hardware is, “Oh, is that run on a Raspberry Pi?”

Screen grab from the project video

Screen grab from the project video

I hope it isn’t a Raspberry Pi, or if it is, that they have been able to really optimize their software as I am not sure that would run anything beyond 10 players very well.  Also, Raspberry Pi as a server has been tried and talked about before.

Still, the doubts I express might just be mine.  As somebody who works in enterprise software and frets about such details professionally, I tend to have a skewed outlook.  For somebody who wants a home server this may very well be an ideal solution.

The project itself looks like a slam dunk to fund.  They opted for just a three week campaign and here, a couple days in they are just inches from their funding goal of $15,000.  (The joy of having a father people listen to, something my daughter will never experience.)  That will get them cases to kick off production, as everything else is reported to be done, so that they can start shipping out units before Christmas.  That would have to be some sort of short turn-around record for a Kickstarter project more complicated than potato salad.

It looks cool, sounds cool, and I want to believe, all the more so because of the enthusiasm of the kids in their project video.

What do you think?  Worth a go or not?  Certainly something I will keep my eye on.

Mineserver Kickstarter page

I also wonder what the guy who did the Mineserver software distro thinks about the project.  So few good names to choose from.

Addendum: The project passed its goal somewhere between when I wrote this and when it posted, so congratulations to the team.  Now where will thing go with stretch goals and such?  I hope they stay focused where ever they head.