Well, it’s been a month.

Hey there everyone. It’s been a while and I haven’t posted anything despite my saying otherwise in a previous post.

I’ve become much more busy dealing with both school, work and now family. It has become extremely hard for me to work on any blogging now. But I can inform you guys of the progress I’ve made concerning my new year resolutions.

As for resolution #1, to lose 20-30 pounds, it’s going extremely well. I started using myfitnesspal to count Calories and I have lost 15 lbs already. The website says that I am currently eating at a 1000 Calorie deficit and should be losing 2 lbs a week but I think the excess loss is due to my inability to properly calculate my Calorie expenditure. It’s difficult for my to properly gauge how much I’m exercising due to my busier and more physically demanding schedule. I’m assuming that I am probably at a much more higher deficit that is being recorded. But I’m happy that I’ve lost such a significant amount of weight and intend to lose much more weight than originally intended. From here I plan to lose 26 lbs more (and maybe even more).

Resolution #2 hasn’t exactly gone as well as planned… I began this month by trying out the C25K program. A simple workout program which helps people go from sitting on the couch (C) to (2) running 5 kilometers (5K). And I managed to keep doing this for about 2 weeks. That is until the workout intensified and I realized that my calves began to either cramp to hard or begin to tear after an extended workout session. It seems that I won’t be running a marathon this year after all. I’m really quite depressed about this as I’ve always wanted to be able to run. As a child I’ve always been unable to run due to lung issues and general improper health. So learning that I’ll probably never be able to overcome this one failing in my life is unfortunate.

Fortunately however, I have begun to do body weight workouts. Which are not easy to say the least. But I can feel myself becoming stronger. I managed to do my first pull up a couple days ago and now I can do a few in a row. I know it will take me a long time to fully develop these muscles that have never been exercised but already, I can feel them growing. Although I can feel that my muscles are exhausted after a workout, seeing that I am making real progress is assuring.

And the final resolution, to finish learning c++. That has not exactly gone to plan either. Instead I will be jumping into c#. I can detail the reasons why here but I think it will be for the better and I am making decent progress in doing so. Most of the programming principles remain the same across languages and the only thing that really changes is syntax. So I know that what I’ve learned in c++ can be transferred to c#.

So that’s been my first month of this year so far. A couple of ups and downs but I’m feeling better, more so than usual.

On a sidenote. I’ve pre-ordered my first game/console. The Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, New Nintendo 3DS bundle. Terrible name for the new 3DS but I’m excited to play with the few friends that I’ve made last year. I hope everyone reading is doing ok and I’ll try to post whenever I can.

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Sorry for the absence and a happy new year

Deep apologies for the extended absence. I’ve been having quite a few issues regarding both school and family which have made it difficult for me to put out anything that I feel is worth posting. I do have a few articles that I’ve typed up but none of it are well edited or fully fleshed out yet.

I’ll be posting more regularly (although significantly more droll content). I think I’ll use this blog to keep myself regular.

I made a few new year’s resolutions. I’ve always felt that this sentiment was useless but thinking a little more about it, I think I can make use of it. I generally see people make resolutions which are fairly vague but well intentioned. I’ll go for much more specificity. I’ve set three primary goals.

1) Lose 20-30 pounds until I’m back to 180.
2) Run 5 kilometers and run a marathon this year
3) Finish learning C++

Well, that’s all I really have to say for this article. If you have any questions or requests, I’ll be happy to receive them. I have a review of a tablet (winbook tw801) that needs some editing but I’ll have it up when I can.

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Thoughts on Q.U.B.E.?

This is a comment that I wrote that I wanted to share. I will be posting a comprehensive review in a little while. These were just some quick thoughts I had after completing both the original and director’s cut edition of the game.

I’ve had the game in my library for quite a while now and when I first got it (I believe I saw a video by Totalbiscuit which initially drew my interest), I did play for about an hour, clearing up to sector 5 but stopped there and didn’t touch it for quite a while. I recently started going through my library and saw qube. Seeing and remembering the debacle about the director’s cut, I decided to play it.

https://i1.wp.com/indie-fund.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/QUBE.jpg

While playing the director’s cut, there was quite a few things in the game that I didn’t remember the game having before. Namely, the voice overs. Which are, in my opinion, actually really well done. I quite liked it. The two characters were enjoyable and I liked what they added to the game despite my initial skepticism. While the story wasn’t something particularly “out of this world”, it kept me playing and interested to hear what was going to happen next. I didn’t like how it all ended (I hadn’t completed the original beforehand so I didn’t know what would happen) because it seemed to lead up to some grand conclusion but surprise, it wasn’t really anything at all. Which I guess, if it has any merit, it took me by surprise. After playing both games, I will say though, I massively preferred the silence of the original. Although people enjoy context of what’s going on, I don’t think it particularly worked in this case. I don’t know whether the story was made before or after the release of the original but it seems like it was created after. The story seems like it was just sort of shoved into the game, while it isn’t bad, it ruins some of the elements that made the original good. I liked the mystery, of not knowing. Of wondering, “why on earth am I in here and solving puzzles?”. Those elements are still present in the director’s cut but the narrative is misleading, intentional or not. As I don’t want to spoil the story for those who haven’t played (though I doubt anyone who hasn’t played would be reading this) I won’t go too far into the details.

There is one thing I have to complain about though, the player controls. Just a short criticism but I disliked that you are limited to about 1 click a second. Although it can introduce a bit more “strategy” to interacting with the puzzles, it was frustrating to miss occasionally and miss the timing window to solve the puzzle; this is especially frustrating as the later puzzles are more heavily dependent on timing windows. And missing isn’t something due having bad hand eye coordination or any sort of hardware issue. The aiming reticle is very small and precise, making (at least me) miss on more than one occasion when you have to move around either the character/player or the camera to get a proper view of what is going on. That said, I understand why the reticle is small. Simply because some of the clicks have to be precise. But I still wish they hadn’t limited the actions to that ~1 second delay.

The game is beautiful, to a certain degree. I don’t know why but I didn’t particularly get tired of the setting. It’s not particularly colourful or have some sort of impressive setpiece, but there was a charm to the game. I was constantly interested in seeing what the developers would think of for the arrangement of the cubes. I wasn’t to see what they could do next. But I feel like a lot more could have been done, not only with the game but the puzzles themselves. The introduction of the balls was interesting (the introduction, not the first puzzle utilizing them). The lasers were some of my favorite puzzles and I wish more was done to expand upon them. I quite disliked some of the magnet/physics based puzzles (just talking about the last two/one with the four cubes). It was just frustrating and unintuitive at times. Playing the director’s cut and the original, there are very few differences between them considering gameplay (there is the removal of one of the physics based puzzles). I don’t know how many more puzzles the developers would have in them but I really wanted to explore the place longer. It was really interesting crawling through the game. The question of “what is this?” kept me interested in going forward. That doesn’t necessarily mean I want to know what specifically the place is but I just wanted a longer experience. Again, the game just has some sort of charm that I loved. There’s nothing that particuarly makes me want to replay the game but the one playthrough, I feel, was enough to warrant the purchase.

As for the puzzles themselves, most of them are very well designed. I’d even say extraordinarily so. The game very nicely doles out it’s mechanics to the player, so there’s a nice learning curve. I believe the beginning to the middle (about sector 5) is probably the highlight of the entire game. The game is very slow and deliberate, akin to savoring a bite of some precious food. There isn’t any real action or moments that require quick thinking. It’s very much so, sit back, relax, think, act (although that could be said of almost any game).

If I remember correctly, the game had very heavy comparisons to Valve’s “Portal”. Which I don’t think holds merit other than both are heavy on a white coloured setting and both being puzzle games. These are two very different games and going in expecting a Portal clone would be a mistake. I think the Q.U.B.E is very unique in what it does, not necessarily the most original mechanics but a very nicely polished game in both aesthetics and gameplay which achieves something fun and interesting. I think what the developers created is what will probably be, not the highest on the list, on my favorite games. I really enjoyed myself and though I prefer the original, the director’s cut add’s an interesting narrarative that some will enjoy. But I do come across this problem, can I recommend it to others? That’s a hard thing to say. I quite enjoyed myself and on a sale, I’d probably recommend anyone who enjoys puzzles to pick it up. But for those people specifically and I don’t know many who do specifically enjoy puzzle games other than myself. A game like portal can be easily recommended because of it’s humor and more fast paced and potentially more interesting gameplay. Q.U.B.E. is not the most beautiful game and is of a genre that can infuriate a lot of people. So it’s difficult. While I enjoyed it, I recognize that not many will.

But I really enjoyed myself. I like the individual elements of the game and how they’re put together. I think the developer did a great job with this and really, I hope to see more from them. (There are some bugs but I did not encounter anything game breaking, just mildly annoying) Thank you both those who read this and the developers of the game for creating this.

Does anyone share or disagree of my opinion? I can’t seem to find any general consensus on the game so I was curious what others thought of it and wanted to give my own opinion.

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Review and Mobile Setup

After all those trials and tribulations, I finally have everything working and my mobile setup is a success. For a moment I wasn’t sure if this would work out. But it seems to work pretty darn well. I do lament the loss of a 1080p monitor but compared to any other mobile monitor, the Motorola Atrix Lapdock is really the only option.

2014-09-19 11.55.45

Using my mobile setup at my Uni’s Library.

Now for my thoughts and a mini review on the Motorola Atrix Lapdock as a portable monitor solution. I have seen quite a few reviews on the Lapdock but none that really quantify it’s use as a monitor/keyboard/trackpad/etc. But of course, this isn’t to be unexpected since it is a peripheral of a phone. But before I go into that, a quick overview on the Motorola Atrix Lapdock Specifications.

  • 11.6 inch 1366×768 resolution display (hdmi)
  • Keyboard and trackpad
  • 2 usb ports
  • Internal battery rated at 8 hours

The lapdock is quite a beautiful little thing. Nice brushed aluminum everywhere, very little plastic at all. Although this contributes to it’s relatively hefty weight of 2.6 lbs, it feels extremely solid in my hands and I’m not worried about it’s durability (although I won’t be throwing it around carelessly). Functionally, this is a nearly perfect device. The viewing angles on the monitor are quite decent with minimal colour shifting. I’d approximate about 90 degree range of viewing angle. The screen is very bright and colours are decent. The monitor does not have the greatest contrast, blacks are not the darkest but that’s me comparing the screen to my note 3 which has an amoled display. The hinge is extraordinarily solid and a very nice thing about it is that when opening the lapdock, you don’t require to hold both ends and open like a book. You can simply take your finger and life the screen to open the lapdock. For those who have laptops with decent quality build, this isn’t a particularly new thing but my experience in using cheaper laptops, this is a welcome thing. There is minimal flex on the screen itself, requiring quite a bit of force to actually get it to twist at all.  Overall, build quality is very nice. Keyboard and trackpad are fully functional, although the trackpad lacks multitouch functionality and any gesture’s that you might want for windows 8. The most important thing about this though, is it’s battery life and it is impressive. Although I have not fully discharged the battery yet, I have generally gone 7 hours without having to recharge the device and there is still much more to go. Battery life is really no concern at all. But if you’re paranoid and want to bring the charger with you, it’s not a hassle as it’s very small and will fit in your pocket.

But the issue with the lapdock are a bunch of little problems. Problems that really don’t matter but you certainly will notice using the lapdock. The first issue I come across is that the screen does not open very far back. It probably only opens about 100 degrees and stops there. Although I can understand to a certain degree why Motorola didn’t design it to open up much further, it is something I wish they did. Next is the keyboard. While it is certainly much nicer to type on than a phone (I’m typing this up on the Lapdock’s keyboard now), the keyboard dimensions are a bit unfortunate. If you have a netbook and are used to small keyboards, this may not be too much of an issue. But as I use a mechanical keyboard for most of my time, using this keyboard is a bit uncomfortable. I will say that I am fine with the removal of the “f” keys and assigning them as function keys on the numeric row. Even the action/depression of the keys is ok, not as nice as a mechanical one but generally enough for me to register that I’ve actually depressed the key. My problem is the “width” of the keyboard (esc to ctrl, not esc to backspace). I don’t thing I have very large hands but when typing I expect some more space for my fingers to move so I keep overshooting the position of my finger. It’s incredibly awkward at times. But I suppose that is some of the sacrifices if  you use a device this small. And finally, darn fingerprints. This thing is a fingerprint magnet. Well, perhaps not fingerprints but the oils and sweat that our skin secretes. It gets everywhere and it shows. Right now I have a paper napkin under my palms so that  I don’t get this too dirty. It’s unfortunate as it’s such a beautiful device yet so easily gets dirty.

So that’s what I think of the device, wonderfully functional but is held back simply due to design constraints and it’s small size. Perfectly functional as a mobile monitor and probably better than any other solution out there considering it’s price to features ratio. And at 65 dollars (including shipping) for a new one, it’s a steal.

My current mobile setup consists of the Zotac en760, Motorola Atrix Lapdock, and my trusty Logitech g400. In the photo above, I do have the Logitech f310 gamepad but that’s not something I will bring with my on a daily basis.

In my next post, I will probably talk about Monster Hunter and how it’s a pretty darn good game.

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Update: Motorola Atrix Lapdock

I got all the cables and the lapdock itself. Excitedly, I plugged in the cables and it worked. Small screen though, very small. I’ve been using a 23 inch monitor for the past several months so trying to read text in an 11 inch screen with several times the pixel density, it wasn’t easy to adjust to.

But (there’s always the but) the hdmi connection on the lapdock itself is faulty. Curses. I guess this is a lesson about buying used products from ebay. But this was an interesting experiment which worked briefly. And seeing as how buying another lapdock would only be 60* dollars, I’m tempted to purchase another one. But I think impulsively purchasing one may be a bad idea. I could always take the lapdock apart and splice the hdmi cables to get it to work, but that may be a bit too much effort for me. At least, right now.

*It seems the price has fallen even further to a measely 45… Agh, the decisions.

Edit: I purchased another one, not “used” this time. Hopefully it goes better and I can take documentation.

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The Motorola Atrix Lapdock?

I purchased the Motorola Atrix Lapdock. For those that don’t know, Motorola created a docking station for some of their phones known as the Lapdock. One would dock their phone into the Lapdock and the phone would provide processing power to a larger screen with it’s own keyboard and trackpad. This essentially turned your phone into a laptop. A pretty novel solution. But this came at a cost. Initially, these lapdocks cost around $500. Although you could find rebates that would lessen the cost down to $300, you had to exclusively deal with AT&T and purchase a compatible phone for $200 and a 2 year contract. This was pretty expensive. So the phone and the idea flopped to a certain degree and the product line was discontinued. That’s when we step in.

About a year later, these docks are still circulating. But instead of $500 or 300, they are now selling for a paltry $80-60. That is an amazing deal. Why you may ask. Because for $80-60, you get a 11.6 inch 1366*768 resolution display, a keyboard, trackpad, two usb outs, stereo speakers (which are terrible but hey, they’re included), and its rocking a high capacity battery that gives it 8 hours of battery life. That is amazing.

Ever since purchasing the Zotac ZBOX EN760, I was looking for a portable monitor solution. And there are quite a few out there. But the downsides to most portable monitors are either, they are far too expensive (ranging from $500-200) or are limited to usb input (which is terrible for displays, at least in a more practical setting due to the high latency in pushing that much data over usb). So I’ve been scouring the internet for solutions. I was even tempted to rip out the display in my old laptop and jerry rig that to use as a portable monitor. But then I stumbled upon an article. These Motorola Lapdocks are being used in conjunction with Raspberry Pi’s to become portable Raspberry Pi laptops. Interesting. After doing a little more digging, I find that they can be used with computers as a secondary monitor. Even more interesting. Then I find that they can be used as stand alone monitors (by watching someone play a few wii games hooked up to this). Absolutely fantastic.

So I purchased the Motorola Atrix Lapdock variant and the required cables/adapters. The dock has two inputs, which are male micro usb and male micro hdmi and are very close together. This is a bit of a problem as there aren’t any female micro usb to male standard usb cables and the same for hdmi. So what I did was purchase micro usb and micro hdmi extension cables and female micro to male standard adapters. This is so that I don’t need to insert fat adapters next to each other, which would require shaving the plastic housing on the adapter in order to make both fit at once. All in all, this cost around $20 so the total cost for everything was only $80. A pretty good deal.

I’m pretty happy with this solution. Although it wasn’t strictly necessary for me to do this, as both the place I work at and school has plenty of monitors and keyboards I can just hook my computer up to. But there are places without such resources that I have to visit and I don’t want to lug my 22 inch monitor and mechanical keyboard. So this is nice backup solution that I’ve found. I’ll post more substantive results once I get the product, which should be in a week’s time.

One quick note though, there are three variants of the Motorola Lapdock. There is the 100, 500 and the Atrix variant (released 2011, 2012, and 2013 respectively). But if you look at the specification for the lapdocks, one might ask, why not get the 500 edition instead of the Atrix. It has more usb ports, sd card reader, an audio out, kensington lock, ethernet, vga out, a fuller keyboard, a larger screen (although still 1366*768)… I’m almost convincing myself here. But I don’t need all that. I wanted something small and very light. Not to mention, the Atrix variant looks much nicer. But all that added functionality is really unnecessary for my uses as I’ll be plugging in my computer which already has all said functionality. Perhaps for those with a compatible phone or with a laptop might find that the 500 edition is more practical but that’s up to you to decide.

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My New Computer: Zotac ZBOX EN760

I purchased this product from newegg for 499.99 USD and was delivered to me on July 18, 2014.

NOTE: After purchasing this computer, you must update the BIOS available from the zotac website. There is incompatibility between the cpu i5-4200U and the GTX 860m which causes the video card to stop working with the newer video driver and preventing its use.

I got this computer because I wanted something cheap but powerful and a very portable form factor as I need to travel between work, school, and my home very often. I didn’t want a laptop because they tend to be overpriced considering the specifications and tend to have a low quality monitor, keyboard and touchpad. So I decided to get this as a transitional computer from a laptop to a desktop.

I must say and I nothing but pleased with this computer. Performance is top notch, while I was worried whether the cpu would bottleneck the cpu, I have had no such problems. I get a consistent 60 fps (with vsync on) at 1080p on high settings on all games so far, and ~45-50 fps on the highest settings. There are no performance issues that I can speak of. Although I would not recommend this computer on the basis for video processing or anything particularly cpu intensive, for those looking for a well performing machine that can run all the latest games (as of the time this review is written), I can not more heavily recommend this computer.

Temperature is a non issue. The highest temperature that I am getting on load is the lowest temperature on my laptop on idle (albeit it was a terrible laptop). When opening the device, you can see an absolutely huge heatsink (relative to laptops) which will not let you down. On Idle I am getting 35-40 degrees celsius and on full load (ex; benchmarking with furmark) I will get maximum 75-80 degrees but while gaming the temperatures generally stay around 60-75 (gpu and cpu respectively). One note is that depending on whether you choose to use the included stand or to mount it on the back of the monitor, mounting it will cause temperatures to rise about 5 degrees due to the decreased airflow. I haven’t encountered any throttling while doing this but that is something I wanted to note. Bravo to the engineers who designed this.

This machine is quieter than whisper quiet. This thing is ridiculous. Although I do not have a meter to measure the decibel output I literally can not hear this machine. And no, I am not using literally in a figurative manner (yes, literally can mean figuratively now). When idle the machine does not make a sound. I can not hear it at all. Even when putting my ear next to the fan, I can not hear it. No the fan does not stop at idle, I can both see it moving, feel the air being pushed, and monitor the rpm in hwmonitor. This thing isn’t even ridiculously quiet. It makes no sound. Although, I can’t say that if you happen to live in a sound proof box, all my time I have used it, I have never heard the fan when sitting in my chair. And yes, that includes while benchmarking or gaming. The only downside to sound is that while benchmarking, I can in fact hear the fan, when I put my ear next to the fan (that was a joke, it’s not a downside). So even while gaming, this machine is below whisper quiet. Sound is not an issue.

There is plenty of connectivity in 4 usb 3.0 ports, a dvi and hdmi video output, two ethernet ports, one spdif audio output, an sd card reader, ir sensor and 3.5 mm audio in and out. I do wish they included a displayport rather than hdmi but that is a small nitpick. It is interesting that they included two ethernet ports but I suppose one of them could be used in a NAS setup. I have not fully populated all the usb ports but I do have a usb 2.0 hub which I am using for my keyboard and mouse.

There are two options of storage in the form of a msata ssd slot and room for a 2.5 inch hard drive or ssd. Both can be populated at the same time. I am currently utilizing a msata 240 gb ssd as a boot drive and a 1 tb hard drive for media. And booting off of this ssd, is amazingly fast. I have used ssd’s in other setups (albeit not in any raid configurations) but none were as fast as this computer boots up. I am using Windows 8.1 as my primary operating system and Windows 8 does have some booting optimizations (If I recall correctly) compared to Windows 7. But gosh darn does this both boot up and shut down quickly. I was actually concerned at how fast it was, start up and shut down times being less than 5 seconds. I thought that the computer had some fault to it. If you are interested in what msata ssd I am using, it is the MyDigitalSSD. I have not used a hard drive as a boot drive so I can not comment on that. I did have difficulty when trying to install my msata ssd because the standoff was not properly secured to the pcb, requiring me to secure the standoff with a pair of pliers in order to remove the preinstalled screw.

Other small comments I can make about it are that there is a glowing orange circle on the front of the machine that looks quite nice but can be disabled in the bios if desired. And almost the entirety of the machine is covered in a high glossy reflective coating. It could not attract fingerprints and smudges more and is unfortunate that they didn’t go with a matte finish. But I don’t care too much about the fingerprints but I know some people will.

The only real complain I have against the machine is that the plastic used for the casing feels weak. I’m not sure how well this computer would last in more rougher conditions. Not that I expected a carbon fibre enclosure with titanium supports but it does feel a bit flimsy. But I haven’t experienced any cracking or breaking of the plastic so time will tell.
The final thing I have to say is the pricing, god damn is this inexpensive.

The device itself costs 500 dollars, if you already have a hard drive, monitor, keyboard and mouse, and a pair of headphones, which I’m pretty sure a lot of people do have, this is a steal. Even if you need to purchase said items, (50-80, 100, 20, 5-10 [educated guess of cheap prices] = 210 + 500), it is still less than purchasing a laptop of equivalent prowess (And equivalent laptop going for ~1200 or 1000 at the cheapest if you can find it). This thing is a bargain

Pros:
1; High Performance
2; Low Temperatures
3; Low Noise
4; Low Price

Cons:
1; Shiny (fingerprints)
2; Not the greatest build quality.

Overall, a very well made and well performing device. I can heartily recommend this even as there are almost nothing wrong with the device. Although I wish it wasn’t glossy and used nicer plastics for the casing, I’m really happy with this purchase.

I will update this post to include some pictures and benchmarking information at a later date.

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