¬†When I broke down and got a fancy new TV, I decided to get the Xbox 360 instead of the PS3 because of the sizeable selection of games you can download for a fee directly from the couch. This includes old arcade classics as well as new stuff. A couple of days ago, a game called “Braid” was released, which is a sort of puzzle game done up like a painting. It started blowing my mind about 5 minutes after I started playing it, and hasn’t quit. Since. Here’s what it looks like:

braid screenshot

The music fits in perfectly with the look of the game. Here’s a little YouTube action so you can get the full aesthetic:


I usually get frustrated in puzzle games pretty quickly, when the difficulty ramp is too steep, or bored, if it’s too easy. Braid is perfect, right in the middle. I’ve solved 3/5 of the worlds, and haven’t been once tempted to reach for a walkthrough. What’s more, Braid doesn’t have any complicated rules–you learn everything by observation, and so the overall experience is very satisfying. It was $15 and has already paid for itself.

return of the slimes

If any of you were like me back in 1989 sitting in front of the TV with your NES powered up, playing Dragon Warrior, then we should talk. Just in case you’re not sure, here’s a Rorschach test of sorts for you:

fight the red slime!

Does that picture make you twitch? Awaken some dark memory in the recesses of your brain? Then you’re like me, and you should definitely check out the latest iteration of this same franchise, 16 years later: Dragon Quest VIII. Square Enix is still the publisher, and there are still frickin’ slimes!

new high-tech slimes

And drackies! You know you remember the drackies. Apparently Square is doing all they can to cash in on nostalgia just such as this and has actually produced a slime controller

slime controller

I’m not saying you should buy this for me for christmas. But I’m also not saying you shouldn’t.

1TB of goodness

I’ve seen many harddrives come and go during my life-long fascination with computers. The first one I used was 30MB, the first one I bought with my own money was an 850MB Conner (remember them?). I even had a classic of HD history, the IBM Deathstar, and mine did end up failing in the classic way.

I stopped stressing so much about storage when I built a 3x120GB array when we moved to California. The idea was to have a bit of redundancy (I used RAID 5 for parity information) and enough storage (actually only 240GB, you lose one disk worth of capacity to get the redundancy). It wasn’t cheap, but also didn’t cost that much and I was able to build an all-purpose Linux file server and router/firewall.

Well believe it or not, It’s been over two years since I built that thing and I was at about 80% capacity with more files coming all the time. Luckily, a hard drive fairy from heaven gave me 4 gently used 250GB Hitachi 7K250 drives. I paired these with a super-cheap four-port SATA card (no fancy hardware RAID or anything) and using the great software RAID setup on Linux, brought the 1 terabyte beast to life:

This pic is from the somewhat painful process of getting my data from the old array onto the new one. Since I only have 3 PCI slots on the board, and they were all occupied, I had to give up internet access by pulling out the NIC while I was doing the transfer. Even better, I had to buy multiple power splitters to get all seven drives going at once. Now the new drives are tucked away neatly and the old 120GB PATA drives are moping in the closet. Of course, I had to sacrifice one drive’s worth of storage to redundancy info, but 750GB is still nothing to sneeze at. Now I’ve got a place to stash all those dual-layered DVDs from netflix until blanks come down in price a bit.

more from my favorite store

Just to let everyone know I’m still carrying the torch, check out this article in the New York Times about what Wal-Mart is doing to help alleviate the health-care crisis in the US (you have to register or just use bugmenot:

An internal memo sent to Wal-Mart’s board of directors proposes numerous ways to hold down spending on health care and other benefits while seeking to minimize damage to the retailer’s reputation. Among the recommendations are hiring more part-time workers and discouraging unhealthy people from working at Wal-Mart.

Also choice: “workers with seven years’ seniority earn more than workers with one year’s seniority, but are no more productive.” Yes! It’s all about loyalty in the end.

logitech harmony 520

harmony 520 pic

I’ve had my eye on the Logitech Harmony 520 for several months now. It’s a universal remote made by a company called “Harmony” that was bought a while back by Logitech. The idea is basically that universal remotes universally suck because they stick you in this paradigm of “press CD, now the remote controls the CD player, press TV, now it controls the TV,” so to watch TV you end up pressing TV, turning on the TV, then switching to your ReplayTV or whatever, turning it on, switching to receiver, etc. And then when you’re watching TV, you decide you want to change the channel, or the volume, and your remote has to be in different “modes” to do these two things. Utter stupidity. Also, to program your remote, you generally have to sift through long lists of manufacturer codes, and god help you if you have a somewhat modern entertainment center that has a game console or PVR in it, because you will not find codes for it. Sorry.

Enter Harmony. Instead of being device-centric, it’s activity centric. So, I tell it that when I watch TV, I turn on the TV, set it’s input to component, turn on the receiver, set it’s audio/video inputs correctly, and turn on the ReplayTV. I then hit one button on the Harmony, “watch TV,” and all of the above happen automatically. Also, it knows that I want to change channels and use the menus on the ReplayTV, but if I change the volume, I want to do it on the receiver. It knows these things.

And how do you program it? You plug it in to a USB port on your computer (it works on my Mac beautifully), go to a website, and tell it all about your entertainment center, what brands and models you own, and it sends everything down to the remote without a single incantation of flashing lights and button sequences. On the off chance that you have some piece of gear or remote that it doesn’t know about (it knew about my Outlaw 1050 receiver, way out of the mainstream), you can teach it any signal from any remote in a nice, intuitive way.

I’ve been using the remote for about a week now. I bought it last Saturday morning, planning to spend the day setting it up and tweaking it. I was shocked (almost disappointed) when it took a total of 10 minutes to get it just the way I wanted. Everything just worked. It’s nice and slim, well-balanced in the hand, with a mix of hard and soft buttons. I really prefer hard ones that “click” when you press them down, and luckily most of the buttons used for our PVR and TV, volume, are of this type. It’s got a nice blue back light, is only mildly ugly (much less so than the bigger, more expensive models), and has totally supplanted our previous four-remote setup.

A couple of small gripes: since when you start an activity (like “watch TV”), it has to get a lot of stuff turned on and set up, you have to sit there for a few seconds with it pointed at your stuff waiting for everything to get going. A couple of times Leslie and I made the mistake of pressing the button then turning away, and it only got halfway done setting things up. But, at the end, it asked on it’s little screen, “is everything working OK?” It was simple enough to tell it that the TV still needed to be turned on (albeit not as simple as just getting up and turning it on by hand). So they have what seems a reasonable solution to that problem. The other little issue is the responsiveness of the volume keys. It doesn’t start changing the volume until a fraction of a second after you start pressing on the button, and keeps changing a fraction of a second after you let off. This can be obnoxious when you just want to change the level a few clicks, which I’m used to doing one-by-one.

Anyway, I’m happy to have finally found something that can kill all my remotes and actually be straighforward enough so that Leslie doesn’t kill me.

it’s, uh… for mix cds.

Leslie and I recently got this new printer, which kicks ass in many ways, but my most favorite has got to be the ability to print directly on special CD/DVD-R discs. Also I have found a handy repository of every imaginable cover image from CDs and movies. So now my when I make totally legal backup copies of my DVDs, instead of being cheesy-looking blanks with sharpie labels now look more like this:

Home made! I love the age of cheap media production.

but now i’m really here

I think I was sort of a half-student last year. I commuted several times a week, I got an advisor, I took some classes, but I wasn’t really going to Berkeley. Now I am here. I go to the office every day, I have these hard classes that I’m less afraid of because I can be around for studying. I feel transformed… not back into an undergrad, but at least back into a college student. Our apartment is a beautiful refuge, so much better than the dorm. Remember dorm food? Did that actually happen? Ick. T-minus two weeks to the prelim.