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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