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I Am Error: The Nintendo Family Computer / Entertainment System Platform (Platform Studies)
I Am Error: The Nintendo Family Computer / Entertainment System Platform (Platform Studies)
by Nathan Altice
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $37.03
52 used & new from $25.48

4.0 out of 5 stars Good, but gets bogged down in details, June 17, 2016
The first book in the "Platform Studies" series was Racing the Beam, which is a really wonderful book on the Atari 2600. Most videogame books are fairly lightweight reads that provide broad surveys of the industry or company at a given time. Many of them also tend to go over similar stories so they start looking predictable. Racing the Beam dodged all that by doing a deep dive on the 2600, telling the story of its creation, how developers made games, its cultural influence, and how the developers did things with the system it was never designed for.

This book attempts to treat the NES the same way the 2600 is treated in Racing the Beam. The book is even structured similarly. The NES is a far more complicated piece of hardware than the 2600, and it had an even greater cultural impact. As such, this book is longer and more dense than Racing the Beam. It's also far more technical, to the point of being laborious at times. Altice does a deep dive on Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros., obviously two landmark games on the system, and one walks away from that chapter with a lot of knowledge on the system and those games. That said, unless you have experience with assembly programming (yes, not programming in general, assembly), this book may require some slow reading to get the details. I am fine with this, because, again, understanding how the NES worked is crucial to understanding how NES games were made and what they did. However, it does mean that this book is not quite the page turner that Racing the Beam is.

The book, like "Racing the Beam" goes into some detail about how the hardware was pushed, putting a lot of words into the Famicom Disk System, mappers, and other enhancements. Pretty interesting stuff, especially as an American who never laid eyes on a FDS. Towards the end, Altice goes into details on the NES in modern contexts, including chiptunes, emulation, speedruns, and so forth. It's here I think he loses the plot a bit. I understand what he is doing - trying to place the NES into cultural terms today - but quite frankly I do not think it works. The audio chapter in particular really bogs down, and it's a tough read. And while emulators are moderately interesting, the discussion on different types, development groups, etc. don't really do it for me. I think those pages would have been better used continuing to talk about the NES/Famicom as it was in the late 1980's. I'd rather read more about the people coding the games than people coding emulators 10 years later.

I was a child during the NES' heyday, so I thought this book also provided an opportunity to relive some nostalgia. Turns out, not so much, but that is okay. I think this is a good book for anyone who is interested in how old computing platforms were structured or anyone who is interested in a deeper dive on the system. Just be prepared to take it slow and absorb the details.

Sterling Rescue (2 Pack) Outdoor Disposable Fly Catcher, Control Trap with Attractant, Insecticide Free
Sterling Rescue (2 Pack) Outdoor Disposable Fly Catcher, Control Trap with Attractant, Insecticide Free
Offered by Great Household
Price: $12.48
10 used & new from $11.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Works... maybe a little too well., June 15, 2016
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I live in an urban area, and one day I walked out of my home and noticed a bunch of bugs flying around. Finding this to be disgusting and unsanitary, I bought these fly traps to attempt to get rid of them. I set one up and it's a pretty simple setup. You fill the bag with water, cut a circle on top, pull open the yellow lid, and hang it. Flies are attracted to the smell, fly in, and drown or get stuck. And sure enough, I checked it one day later and it was full of bugs. Gross! But I was pleased that it was apparently working. However, by the next day, the same area was covered in flies buzzing around. The next day, even worse. Apparently this fly trap was just attracting flies from 2 blocks over and decided to have a party on top of the trap. There were flies inside, so it was still working, but it didn't really solve my problem.

Now, maybe if I stuck with it, the tides would turn and enough flies would die to stay away. But, I have neighbors, and the flies buzzing around paired with the rotting garbage smell would have made me none too popular. I think this may work in a more rural or suburban setting, but for me, I have to try something different. I'm giving it four stars because it does work! However, if they could do one thing to improve it, it would to be able to lock the yellow tab when you're done with it. As is, it closes but does not screw shut. I wrapped it in layers of garbage bags to be safe, but a locking mechanism would be better.

DII 100% Cotton, Machine Washable, Everyday French Stripe Kitchen Tablecloth For Dinner Parties, Summer & Outdoor Picnics - 60x104" Seats 8 to 10 People, Red
DII 100% Cotton, Machine Washable, Everyday French Stripe Kitchen Tablecloth For Dinner Parties, Summer & Outdoor Picnics - 60x104" Seats 8 to 10 People, Red
Price: $32.99
3 used & new from $22.69

4.0 out of 5 stars Functional and nice, June 13, 2016
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I use this table cloth outside. It looks nice, easy to clean, and is functional.

Logitech Harmony Elite Remote Control (915-000256)
Logitech Harmony Elite Remote Control (915-000256)
Price: Click here to see our price
21 used & new from $230.00

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Harmony Elite won me over., April 9, 2016
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I've used Logitech Harmony remotes for many years. This is my fourth or fifth. I've used both low end ones (650, 676) and high end ones (Harmony One, still in use in my house). Over the years, I've been ambivalent, as I often need to hit "help" or it never quite works right. The old Harmony software was very poor and the website used on some remotes was annoying. I kept using them because even an imperfect device is better than using 5 different remotes and switching inputs, and they were really weren't that many alternatives, but it seemed like every remote had the same issues and the same annoyances.

I expected the same with the Elite, and my skepticism increased after I got it. For one thing, the entire setup runs through an app, because everything runs through an app these days. The remote doesn't actually send IR to devices, either. It all goes through the hub. They include some IR blasters to fix some line-of-sight issues, which is inelegant but necessary for some occasions. I really don't know what will stop the signal - I needed to set up a blaster to communicate with some nearby devices while the hub communicated fine with things farther away. The setup is done on the app which then sends the info to the hub and remote wirelessly - an upgrade over having to connect it to a PC. The database is as comprehensive as it ever was and the setup is very similar. I know the Harmony setup can be baffling to some people, but I'm used to it.

The hub brings us two big advantages - built-in bluetooth support and phone control. I had a Harmony adapter for PS3 and it was ungainly. Here everything is integrated nicely as the hub can communicate with BT devices without issue. I have it hooked up to a number of BT devices and it works very well. I'm also able to use the app to control my devices, which is very helpful. From the looks of it, the app can do everything the remote can, but I still prefer the feel of the remote. I've also found the device having far less setup issues than the old IR based ones (cable box doesn't turn on, TV doesn't turn off, etc.). This is surely due to the fact that the hub doesn't need line of sight, and it is welcome.

The remote is well made and has a nice feel in the hands. The screen is big and clear. The interface is more minimal than the One, but it's nice and clear. There's a lot of customization you can do, but I have not really dug into this. The one big issue I have is the battery. I've picked up the remote a few times only to find it dead. Thankfully, it's quick to charge and I can use the iPhone in a pinch.

I'm pretty impressed with the Harmony Elite. It's expensive, but a good device if you have a lot of stuff to control and want flexibility in how it is all controlled. The hub is a good way to control devices and the remote is probably the nicest one Logitech has made. It took a long long time, but I think Logitech has finally figured this Harmony stuff out.

Tech Armor Ballistic Glass Screen Protector for iPhone 6/6S 4.7-Inch
Tech Armor Ballistic Glass Screen Protector for iPhone 6/6S 4.7-Inch
Offered by Tech Armor
Price: $7.95
3 used & new from $4.95

5.0 out of 5 stars great protector for iphone 6/6s, February 17, 2016
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I bought this to replace an old plastic screen protector that stopped sticking. It had bubbles under the screen, it wasn't clear, made my screen look muddy. Obviously it was time for a change. Found this Tech Armor along with all these screen protectors claiming to be made out of glass. Inside this box was wipes and dust stickers to get all the gunk and dust off the screen before I applied it, and applying it was a very simple one-step process. The screen looks great now, almost new. I don't know if "ballistic glass" is real or marketing hype, but I'm pretty satisfied with this protector right now.

Steam Controller
Steam Controller
Price: $34.99
15 used & new from $34.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A nice try from Valve, but it falls a bit short, November 14, 2015
This review is from: Steam Controller (Video Game)
Valve's first controller is very ambitious: it's an attempt to make all PC games playable on a TV, without the need for the setup that PC games have been designed for since time immemorial. I've had a HTPC for a few years now and this is something that really appeals to me, so I preordered this as soon as I could. I've tried it out with a few games and do give Valve credit for putting a lot of ideas into this. Some of them work and some of them do not.

The biggest differentiator from a normal gamepad is the right thumbpad. Theoretically, this would provide some advantages over a normal twin stick configuration, particularly in terms of aiming accuracy and speed. While I think it's faster, I do not necessarily think it's more accurate. It's a bit awkward and the haptic sensor doesn't feel great. I think that, with time, this can be mitigated to some extent, but here's the thing: a lot of games that are on Steam these days were coded and designed around gamepads. I see little reason to play those games with this instead of a regular Xbox pad. The first game I played this with was Bioshock Infinite, and I was yearning to go back to my 360 pad even after a few hours. For action games like Team Fortress 2, though, which doesn't have native gamepad support, I do think the controller does a decent job at allowing one to play it on the couch. I definitely prefer it to using a mouse and keyboard on my lap!

I also played the game with Civilization 5, which is of course a game without gamepad support. It actually played really well. Here the right thumbpad actually acted as a mini-trackpad, with the triggers taking the place of the clicks. Outside of the obvious issues that some may have with playing a game with tiny text on a screen, it was excellent. I don't think it would be good with RTS games (Company of Heroes, Starcraft, etc.), but there's no doubt the Steam Controller succeeds at least partly in getting to where Valve wants it to go.

There are elements of this controller I like. The triggers feel good and the click buttons on the back of the pad are great - I don't know why MS and Sony haven't done this (well, MS sort of have with their Elite controller). The analog stick has a nice feel and the controller has a solid rumble. It has a good weight and pairs quickly. However it also screws up some very basic things. The face buttons are way too small and in a very unnatural place. I found myself quite frequently hitting the wrong buttons in the heat of the moment. I also don't like the outward facing handles - it just doesn't feel right. The left thumbpad has also struck me as mostly useless. It's not an effective d-pad and the weird cross indent they put in actually just drives that point home further. I've also run into some issues where my controller loses sync or stops working (requiring a reboot), but I'm willing to put that up to early bugs.

To bridge the gap between mouse and keyboard and this controller, Valve built a very deep customization system. It lets you easily remap different things and also download profiles. If you really want to maximize this controllers usefulness, you do need to dive deep and get into it. If you are the type of person who loves to tinker and mess around with their PC then this is great. If you're not a tinkerer, then it is just annoying and a hindrance that gets between you and your games. Unfortunately, I'm in the latter category.

Overall, I'll give the controller 3 stars because it does work fine with some games and is a good option for anyone who is looking to set up a HTPC. Unfortunately I don't think it's the best option for any of them, and Valve committed some unforced errors like the small buttons. It's worth a try, but don't expect a miracle.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 15, 2015 12:51 PM PST

Life Itself: A Memoir
Life Itself: A Memoir
by Roger Ebert
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.29
169 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth reading for any fan, June 29, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Life Itself: A Memoir (Paperback)
I spent many years going through Ebert's list of great movies and getting them on Netflix. He aided my cultural enrichment over the years. This book is much like this reviews: an honest accounting of what he feels and how he thinks. He's a great writer and vividly draws his life, especially the Normal Rockwell-esque Americana of his youth and his infatuation with London. You can see the highs as well as the lows.

I appreciate the story of a person who simply pursues something they love and finds a way to make it work. Ebert ended up being an all-time great movie critic not because he loved movies, but because he loved to write. Along the way, he fell in love. This is an interesting twist on the "do what you love" pablum so often handed out to young people. It's worth thinking about.

If I could critique, parts of the book are a bit scattershot, like the same stories being told in multiple sections. It almost reads like he repurposed some blog entries as chapters in the book. Of course, this is fine, as chapters are work and flow well (like, well, columns). The chapters on old stars like Lee Marvin and John Wayne may be lost on younger folk who found Ebert because of his website. The Russ Meyer chapter is great, although, of course, his work is downright tame compared to what we can get today within seconds. But that's the point. Ebert is an old-fashioned guy from a different world and a different time. Even then it's impressive how he leveraged the internet to gain a new audience - something only briefly touched upon here.

Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams
Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams
by Nick Tosches
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.85
94 used & new from $4.65

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars great book about an enigmatic guy, June 1, 2015
Dean Martin, these days, has become an image, a sort of second banana to Frank, an empty shell we dump all our feelings regarding old school, cigarette-smoking, scotch-drinking, broad-humping cool. This book does a fine job of showing how this image came about. It ably tells the story of Dean Martin's rise as the son of an Italian immigrant in an Ohio steel town (today that is most known more for a gruesome rape by high school football player) to an effortless glide through the post-war Hollywood boom years.

What struck me as I read this was how much time Tosches spends talking about the money. He starts with tales of Dean pocketing silver dollars and earning $20 a week to pulling in millions. I think this is because this is how, in the end, Dean saw his work. A means to an end, not a passion. Tosches lays it all out - his drinking, his womanizing, his mingling with shady characters, his detachment, and the no-nonsense professionalism he brought to his job. Everything is centered on the money here.

I didn't know much about Martin and picked up this book after I heard an interview Marc Maron did with Nick Tosches. I'm glad I read it. I didn't know about his partnership with Jerry Lewis, his TV and movie ventures, and the way that, if anything, Frank was a second banana to him. It's a fine look at a guy who succeeded beyond anyone's wildest dreams while also letting nobody peek behind the curtain.

Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin - PlayStation 4
Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin - PlayStation 4
Price: $19.99
135 used & new from $11.99

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well worth the effort!, April 16, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I never played Dark Souls 2, but dabbled in the first game and Demon's Souls (I actually have an imported copy from before it was even slated to hit the US). I'm no stranger to challenging games. The difficulty of the Souls games has always, in my mind, been somewhat overstated. That said, this game is super hard. It's much harder than what I played of Dark Souls and Demon's Souls. This seems like a package that was targeted to fans of the original Dark Souls 2, so you need to know that going in. I did, and am fine with it. Past that, the world is vast, deep, and full of things to see. It's brutal and harsh, which is the point. It's a game that begs to be explored and demands the very best out of its players, but for anyone who takes on the challenge they will be richly rewarded.

On PS4, this is a great package. The graphics look great. The game runs at a nice framerate and everything is very responsive. Load times are minimal and there is a ton of content. You really can't go wrong with this game, provided you are willing to put the time in to learn about the combat, the systems, and the world.

Halo: The Master Chief Collection
Halo: The Master Chief Collection
Price: $23.93
239 used & new from $14.90

5 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A scam product Microsoft rushed out to squeeze some money from their most loyal fans, January 22, 2015
I am a long time Halo fan. I got the Xbox for Christmas in 2001 with a copy of Combat Evolved and played the series diligently since. I loved the 360 entries - Halo 3, ODST, Reach, and 4 were all great great games I had tons of fun with. I even bought and played through Combat Evolved Anniversary and enjoyed the MP they put in that one. So, needless to say, I was as excited for this release as I could possibly be for a game at my age. I preordered it and eagerly loaded it up on day one. Sure enough, the single player Halo in HD and 60fps looked great. The Halo games in single player are the best around, so you really can't beat a package with four exemplary singleplayer experiences (with a fifth to come later, ODST). Multiplayer though? Nothing? Yea, nothing. The multiplayer in this game was totally, completely busted. Even now, two months later, the best I can say is that it basically works most of the time. However, it's not even close to what Microsoft promised and claimed.

As a jaded old gamer, I find my gut emotions about this release to be quite surprising. I feel like Microsoft straight up lied to their biggest fans and supporters by hastily shipping a non-working product. I can't believe they treated their signature franchise this way, and I was so upset I didn't even go near the Halo 5 beta in spite of the positive reception it has gotten. I've seriously considered selling my Xbox One and sticking with PS4, just because I don't want to support a company that will do this to their fans. It's awful. Don't buy this game.

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