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12.23.2014

Grandpa Leonard's Crabmeat Spaghetti Recipe

It's nearly Christmas.  Every year my wife's big Italian family gets together for dinner on Chrismas Eve.  It's always the same meal.  Grandpa's crabmeat pasta w/ shrimp.  Grandpa passed away a while back, but we've kept the tradition going and still work from his original recipe.   If you would like to share our tradition with your family here are the instructions: 


Using:   1 lb. pasta
½ lb. crab
¾ lb. shrimp

Preparation of Shrimp:

Place aluminum foil on bottom of broiling pan.
Raise edge of foil to form a pan to contain all juices.

Coat foil with Olive Oil.

Place shrimp on foil.

Cut about ¼ lb. butter into pats and place on shrimp.

Sprinkle shrimp with about ¼ cup white wine.

Sprinkle juice of ½ lemon over shrimp.

Sprinkle paprika over shrimp.

Sprinkle garlic powder over shrimp.

Do not broil shrimp until sauce is prepared.

Preparation of sauce:

Place 2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil in pan.

Place ½ lb. butter in pan.

Heat gently.

Add ½ can Campbell’s Tomato Soup.

Add ¼ cup milk.

Stir mixture in pan over light heat.

Add ¼ cup white wine.

Salt and pepper to taste.

Heat mixture to slow boil – not too hot.

Add ½ lb. crab meat.

Cook about 5 minutes stirring constantly.

Add broiled shrimp with all shrimp juices.

Cook pasta.

Mix and pray.



2.27.2013

Sennheiser PC 333D G4ME Headset Review


First order of business.  I need to say I’m super sorry that this review has taken so long to get posted.  I’ve been meaning to post this review for a long time, and life, various technical issues, and a few lost files got in the way.  So, starting over from scratch here is my review of the Sennheiser PC 333D GAME (or G4ME) headset/mic. 
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If you don’t know Sennheiser, they are a huge player in the pro audio industry and in the mid to high end headphone space.  Folks who get their headphones from the phone/MP3 isle at Target or Wal-Mart may not have run into them before.  Sennheiser has been making really good headphones for a really long time.  They make some of the best audiophile headphones out there.  This means they have a big portfolio of patents and designs for very good drivers and headsets.  The PC333D is what happens when Sennheiser takes some great tech and repurposes it for a new market.  They used some of their great headphone elements and the HD205D DJ headphone design and spun off a new version for gaming.  
Fit & Features:
The PC 333D has good build quality, it’s made of sturdy plastic, and doesn’t feel cheap or flimsy.  Metal parts would be a bonus, but this headset feels solid. (and I’ve had some metal headsets that are totally flimsy and bend or kink)   Finish is nice, the chrome elements are a nice touch.  The top of the headband and earpieces are nicely padded and cushy.   The headband is adjustable for size.  I have a rather large noggin and this headset fits fine.  The inward pressure of the headset is a little more than I care for, but I can wear these for 1-3 hours before I really feel like my ears are getting squeezed against my head. Smaller headed folks would probably be more comfortable.  This type of fit is pretty typical for supra-aural headphones that sit on the ears instead of circum-aural headphones that fit around your ear.   The mic boom swings down from the left side.
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There is a clever bit of tech in the left earpiece that mutes the mic when you fold it upright.  This has been very handy when I want to talk to someone in the room and not broadcast it in game.  The mic sounds good, and works great for game chat.  It has a noise canceling feature built in so it cancels out ambient room noise.  The signal from the mic comes through loud and clear, no need to artificially boost it in the control panel.  The right earpiece has a small circular ring on it with a dent for your finger.  Rotating this ring adjusts the headset volume.  I love this feature.
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I just keep my laptop volume to medium and do all the volume adjustments on the headset. The right earcup also has a DJ rotation feature.  You can swing that side forward or back to uncover your ear.  I wear the headset this way during LAN party nights or when my kids are in the room while I game. 

Sound:
This headset sounds good.  You’re not going to miss that these are high quality drivers.  They have a pleasantly bumped up bass response, with just enough thump to make explosions sound good in game, but not so much as to make music sound unpleasant.  High end and mid range are clear and crisp…If I didn’t look like a dork wearing a chat headset at work, I would use these more often as my music listening headphones.  The headset includes a USB to Dual 1/8” sound card / Dolby Headphone expander.  IMG_5211
This little guy is a USB audio interface.  It tells your computer that you have a multichannel audio device hooked up, then takes that 5.1 or 7.1 audio stream and encodes it on the fly into Dolby Headphone.  The surround effect is very nice, and believable.  It’s not true surround like headphones that have multiple discrete drivers.   It’s more of a very wide very clear stereo field.  Where normal headphones give you a stereo effect that feels like it’s in front of you, this Dolby Headphone effect feels like surround effects spread 180 degrees from ear to ear.  You can turn the effect on and off by sliding the top of the USB dongle.  I have had true 5.1 headsets with their tangles of cords, and while the sound was more directional…they generally sounded pretty tinny and not so great.  I now prefer the Sennheiser drivers and Dolby Headphone effect.  I can still tell where the baddies are in games like Left 4 Dead and Skyrim from their placement in the soundstage.  The USB dongle is way less cable mess, and much easier to move from computer to computer.  The only setup needed is installing a small driver on each machine.  The headset still has the normal 1/8” mini connectors for mic and headphones, so you can use the headset with non USB devices too. (sans surround feature).
I’ve been using these phones for more than a year now and I’m very happy with them.  I’ve logged countless hours in Skyrim, L4D, and TF2 using them.  The only minor minor gripe I have is with the tight fit, and I blame that on my big head…not on the headset design.  It’s still something I can totally live with.  I have no hesitation recommending them as your primary gaming headset.  I'm happy to see a company like Sennheiser putting a lot of thought and care into designing a product for the gaming market.  If the price tag of this headset seems too much for you, evaluate whether you need a mic, surround, or volume control.  If you don't, you should consider the HD205D II headset, same good audio quality, but as headphones only.

11.29.2012

Wii U first impressions

I should have gone out the morning after the Wii U launch to try to find one at a smaller retailer.  I know that not everyone knew it was coming out, and since this is a smaller town I should have been able to score one at a Target or Meijer store that didn’t hold a midnight launch.  I waited a couple of days and while I was at the mall on another errand I asked the guy at GameStop if they were still doing orders for them. He told me they had a backorder list that would last through Christmas for the 32GB Deluxe package, but he had received 6 of the 8GB model that morning and had 2 left.  I grabbed one and took it home.

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The Wii U is solidly built, no weird stands or flimsy doors on this one.  The gamepad and the deck both feel solid and have a nice fit and finish. My only gripe is that the sensor bar has only changed in color since the original Wii, and while I haven’t broken mine, I’ve always worried about how thin the cord to the sensor bar is.  The new power brick is different from the old one.  It’s bigger..but not as big as an XBox 360 brick.  The system is hooked up using 3 cables.  Power, HDMI, and Sensor Bar.  The HDMI cable is included.  The new deck is a tad bigger than the original, it’s deeper.  Setup took me about 5 minutes to be up and running and about 25 total to have controllers all paired, wifi setup, and updates started downloading.

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The remote looks big, but it’s pretty light, and feels very comfortable in your hand.  The dual sticks are very much like the ones from the Wii Nunchuck, the buttons are snappy and responsive.

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The gamepad uses a simple capacitive touch panel.  Resolution looks good.  It’s not retina quality like an iPad3 or 4, but it looks nice.  I’m not sure if it’s true high definition, but it looks good enough to me.  Pairing the remote to the deck is done via an icon system.

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If you get a new Wii U…you may have heard nightmares about the system update.  Don’t sweat the update, it can download in the background and you can play games without it, you just won’t be able to stream video or use MiiVerse until you download those updates. Play your new games, then start the update before you go to bed. The updates can be slow to download due to the demand on Nintendo’s servers right now.  Updates take a minute or two to install once they’ve been downloaded.

If you want to import any download games from your old Wii, Nintendo has added a tool to the store on the old wii to move your games to a memory card and import them to the new Wii, the process looks confusing, but it’s pretty simple.  You download the transfer tool in the Wii Menu (a virtual Wii on the WiiU) and the old Wii. Then you use that to prep an SD card on the WiiU.  That SD card is used to go back to the old Wii and move the games.  Then you put the loaded card back in the WiiU and a batch of Pikmin will haul your games out of storage and into the NAND memory on the WiiU.

I got the 8GB WiiU, some folks are saying to only buy the 32GB unit because the download games will fill the NAND memory up really fast.  Well kids, that storage is really meant just for your saves, Miis, and casual download games.  Not for the big digital releases.  The 8GB unit will only have about 3GB free after system update.  The 32GB unit will have about 27.  Most of these new games can be 6 to 25GB in size depending on the kind of game and how much high def texture data is in there.  If you plan to do download titles from the eStore on this box, you need to just plan to add a USB 2.0 Hard Drive to the system.  Any standard USB 2.0 drive will work.  It needs to either be powered by a single USB port, or by a power adapter.  I dug my old SATA to USB 2.0 dock out of storage and set up an old 300GB SATA drive.  I plugged it in, the WiiU asked if I wanted to format it in their special format, wiping the drive.  I hit yes and it was ready to use in about 5 seconds.  I purchased Trine 2 and Nano Assault Neo from the eStore…both downloaded in about 5-10 minutes each and took about a minute or two to install.  (you tap to install once the download completes…the system will notify you when background downloads are done)

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Nintendo was smart to allow use of any USB drive.  They’ve don’t want to discourage you from using the eStore and there is no point in them trying to mark up the cost of storage.  Having access to AAA titles on the download store the same day as retail will be a nice bonus.
I have to say I’m really impressed with the graphics so far.  Nano Assualt Neo, New Super Mario Bros. U, and Trine 2 all look amazing in 1080p and frame rates seem super smooth.
My family is loving the ability to turn the TV over to another channel or system and let me or my daughter keep playing via the WiiU remote’s small screen.  We like the TV button on the remote that allows you to use it as a universal remote.  I hope the big N gives us more advanced configuration options for the remote soon.  (I want to control my sound bar too)
The remote is also pretty cool when you’re using it to drive one of the video playback applications. Menus and show data are shown on the remote.   I’m interested to see how this works when WiiTv is rolled out.

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The negatives thus far?  The system seems based around the Wii’s channel model.  I suspect that under the hood each individual area on the system is a separate application.  This means when you switch from a game to the WiiU menu or MiiVerse, there is a delay while that app loads.  It’s usually 5-10 seconds or so.  It feels a little slow.  I’m sure software updates may speed this up.  All the video channels are added via individual updates, so it takes a few minutes to get them each up and running, that’s a one time annoyance. 
So far I’m really happy with the purchase and with the games.  I’m looking forward to more Indie developers selling on the WiiU store. 

9.04.2012

The IKEA Gaming Table

We just moved to a larger house.  With the larger house comes a big empty basement.  We planned to make this the rec area...a good place for big board games and the occasional LAN party. At our old house card and board games had to be crammed around the dining room table.  So we began the quest for a good 2nd table for the game basement.  We saw a lot of cool pub height tables at the local furniture stores, but they all ran $600+ including the chairs and some of them were still going to be a little skinny for more than 4 players.  This also seemed like a lot to spend on a table that’s only going to get used by kids craft projects and board games in the basement.  So I started researching what I could build from IKEA parts. 

I found the VIKA system on their site and did some quick measurements on desktops.  I found this VIKA Amon desktop and paired it with the VIKA KAJ legs. We used two desktops and 8 legs.  When you put the desks together you have a square just over 59” on each side.  The legs can telescope up, so you can raise the top from desk height to pub height if you want to use stools.  We are planning on using on some inexpensive office chairs to seat all the players. One bonus of using two desks like this is that when we want to have a LAN party we can split the desk in two and seat 3 players per table with their PC equipment. 

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3.18.2012

Geektip How to tell if AA batteries are still good.

You need batteries for one of your many gadgets…you stare into the abyss of the junk drawer and wonder which of the Alkaline and rechargeable AA’s are still good/charged up.  If only you had a battery tester…or a multimeter handy, that would help.  But you don’t.

Well, if you wave a Nintendo Wii, you might just have one. 

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Throw those batteries in the Wii remote and flip it over.   When you tap the A button there is a brief flash on the lights.  1-4 lights.  This is telling you the charge in the batteries in 25% increments.  Once the remote connects to your Wii the light changes to indicate your player number, so you have to watch before it changes.

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Looks like these were full charged when I put ‘em away.

 

3.16.2012

PowerGen Mobile Juice Pack Ultra Review

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It’s that time of year…the frantic month before the Penny Arcade Expo East.  Time to start packing your PAX bag, find your chargers, mobile devices, memory cards, and portable games.  Last year at PAX we ran our iPhone batteries dead several times over.  It’s a geeky gathering and everyone there has a tendency to tweet, photograph, surf, and otherwise play around with our phones during 3 very long days of the convention.  Last year my wife and I came prepared with a backup battery.  It was a Griffin TuneJuice.

It’s a handy little battery pack.  It takes 3 AAA batteries & puts out enough USB power to top off an iPhone.  I think most of the time I could usually get back to full from 20 or 30% on an 3GS using it.  It eats through your charged batteries fast, and recharging Lithium-Ion cells in your hotel room isn’t a very fast process.  At the end of the day we’d usually stick one of the phones in the room on a charger while we used the TuneJuice to nurse the other phone during concerts or dinner.
This year I’m planning ahead and we’re going to carry a little better solution.  I picked up a PowerGen Mobile Juice Pack Ultra based on Amazon feedback.  I also considered the Mophie Powerstation brick, but decided to give the PowerGen a shot due to the much lower price.
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The PowerGen battery arrived yesterday, so I gave it a charge (it came 2/3 full) which took a couple of hours. The packaging says it takes 5-6 hours to fill the pack up from empty and that it can fill an iPhone in about 1.5 hours. Included in the package are a wide array of phone and device adapters, covering most of the major devices including iPhone, iPod, iPad 30-pin dock connector, all flavors of USB, and 2 USB cable pigtails to use with the adapters.
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Pushing the button on the pack displays the battery level lights, double tapping turns on the LED flashlight.  The pack shuts off charging after 6 seconds if no device is connected. IMG_4058
Case quality, fit, and finish are all good.  It’s shiny, and gets smudged easily, but who cares, it’s going in your laptop bag and you know it.  It charges via a micro USB port on the side.  The included charger is a AC to USB wall plug capable of charging the pack at 1W / 1000mA (so you can probably use it as a spare iPad charger) Charging via computer USB would take longer because of the lower Amperage on most computer USB ports.
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To charge a device, you just assemble the cable you need using one of the two different length USB pigtails and one of the ends, or use your existing device cable with a USB A connector on it.  Plug in the device and tap the “home” button.
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JuicePack iPad test
To sum up you get about 55% of an iPad charge over the course of 3 to 3.5 hours. The reviews and packaging say you should be able to get about 2 iPhone 4/4S charges out of it, and after running it out on the iPad I believe it. This pack does output the full 1000mA that iPads and other hungry devices want, so you can charge and use it at the same time. It’s small enough to keep in a pocket.  I test charged my wife’s iPhone 4S up from 9% to 95% in 1h 45min, it only lowered the battery pack gauge to 3 lights / 75%.
The plan is to take this little guy with us this year.  We should be able to top off both phones from one charge, and it charges fast enough to fill up overnight at the hotel room.  I also picked up DS and 3DS USB charge cables so I can charge them if needed. (The 3DS is a battery hog and using standby mode & street pass all day will probably run the battery down)  I tested charging these as well and it worked fine.
If I needed to charge faster I’d probably look into the Mophie pack. It has higher amperage and should work faster.

2.20.2012

Running Steam from a small Solid State Drive

Solid State Drives are the future of storage.  Everyone knows it, but they’re still just too dang expensive for most people to use for much more than a laptop system.  I would like to move my whole desktop system over to one, but it’s just not plausible.  I don’t want to fuss with reinstalling windows, and I don’t want to drop the cash for a really large SSD when 7200RPM hard drives are still pretty fast.  Then I got to thinking, what tasks do I really want to accelerate with the SSD?  Well, mainly my desktop is used for gaming, web browsing, and photo storage.  I play a lot of games on Steam.  I started to consider getting a 80GB or 120GB SSD just for my Steam install, but that didn’t seem practical from a price perspective.  Fast forward a couple of weeks…I’m at Fry’s with a friend and we find out they have some medium quality 32GB Patriot SSD’s in stock for $50 each with a $10 rebate.  Now we’re talking.   I picked up one of these for my Steam games experiment. 

I used the mounting tray from my Intel 320 retail package, but there are lots of solutions to get a 2.5” drive into a 3.5” drive bay. 

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I installed it on an extra SATA 2 port and got it firmware updated, formatted, and partitioned in Windows.

Once I could see the drive in Vista, I downloaded SteamTool.
http://stefanjones.ca/steam/

I use SteamTool to move just the 1-2 games I’m currently playing over to the SSD.  SteamTool handles moving the files and creating SymLinks so that Steam thinks everything is still on the main conventional hard drive. 

This method is cheap, pretty simple to implement, and a 32 or 40GB SSD will hold several reasonable sized Steam games. 

I’ve been running Skyrim this way & it’s working great.  Load screens are shorter…still not instant, but faster than on the old drive.  Small loads like houses, and courtyards happen almost instantly.  I’ll be testing this as time goes on and seeing how the performance changes in other types of games that use different file structures.  I should see the most benefit on any games that load lots of small files in a random fashion. 

More Cheap SSD's on Amazon that would work for this Project

12.11.2011

Why am I always overencumbered in Skyrim?


You’re playing along  in Skyrim, minding your own business, when you pick up a spoon and suddenly you get a message that you’re carrying too much weight and can’t fast-travel until you drop items.
So, you probably drop some axes and armor, and eat all the cheese in your inventory to make weight, and then run back to town to drop off all those books and sell all the weapons and armor.  30 minutes later, it happens again.  Why does it seem you can’t drop enough gear?

Enter your inventory, scroll down to MISC.  Look in there.  Are you carrying some Dragon Bone and Dragon Scale?  Every time you kill a dragon you get a bunch of this stuff…and you probably did a “take all” and didn’t think about it again.  Well it’s HEAVY.  See:
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Every dragon drops multiple pieces.  You’re probably carrying around like 100lbs of dead dragon that you forgot about because it’s buried in the MISC group.   So go dump that at home, or sell it, so you can travel light again.
If I’m stuck in the field, I usually down whatever potions I can, because they’re like a half-pound each.  Then put any heavy weapons or armor in my sidekick’s inventory until we get back to town.  Also, cheese wheels and some large meat items can be 2lb each…so they can add up.


Other tips from elderscrolls.wikia.com:
  • Walking forward and using a melee power attack (charge) while encumbered helps the player gain additional ground, making for easier travel while encumbered. Also using the Whirlwind Sprint Shout in combination with power attacks will work even faster.
  • Normally, fast-traveling is disabled while encumbered. However, on a horse, this does not apply, making for easier trips back to sell carried goods, especially in towns which allow horses inside the walls.
  • Another option is to dump all heavy equipment into a corpse and reanimate it using a spell, staff or power, such as the resurrection power gained by The Ritual Stone. The player can then fast travel to any destination and the corpse follows. If the time it took is enough for the spell to run its course, the corpse will 'die' again upon reaching the destination, and the player can loot its body for all the equipment they gave it initially.
  • Followers and Spouses can be used as pack mules.
  • Using the Beast Form power allows the player to disregard encumbrance and move quickly, as well as adding the benefits of a large stamina pool and high sprint speed.

12.07.2011

How can I find my home computer’s IP address for VNC/Remote Desktop?


You’re at school, work, a friends house and you need a file from your home computer.  Now you have remote desktop, or a VNC server set up on that machine, but you can’t remember your IP address.  Maybe, your IP address is dynamic and has changed since you last checked.
Want a quick way to find out what it is?   Install Dropbox on the home computer.  (You probably already have)
Log into www.dropbox.com and click on the Account tab.
Click on My Computers
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Find your home PC or Mac in the list.
Hover over the “info” icon.
The current IP address is displayed.
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If Dropbox.com is listing that it hasn’t connected to the other machine in a while and you don’t think the IP address is current do this:
Create a small text file.  Enter some text in it.  Put it in the dropbox on the remote machine.  It will push the text file to the home computer and the IP address will update on the web.
Now just use the IP address you recovered to connect to the home machine with your favorite remote computing client.

11.18.2011

Fix for AlienWare M11x display dimming and not returning to full brightness

 

I noticed this problem on my M11xR1 and have heard of other Alienware owners having the same problem.  Your display goes dim when the laptop sleeps or is idle, then when you touch the trackpad or keys, it doesn’t go back to full brightness unless you use the brightness function keys.   Here is how you fix it.

Launch the Alienware Command Center application.

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Click on Alien Fusion.  (these are the Alienware custom power management profiles)

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Find the Power Plan you are currently using and click “Quick Settings”.

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Under the Quick Settings turn “Auto Dim” to “Off”.

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If you still want your display to go off after a set period of time, you can set that up under Windows Power Management instead of in the Alienware Command Center.