Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Era of Farming Sims.

For years there has been a strange obsession with farming style games. Most notably when Zynga brought Farmville to the most popular social media website to ever hit the internet. More recently there has also been an ever growing series of Farming Simulators, almost in the same ilk as Madden or FIFA.

For me it all started with Sim Farm on the PC, way back when I was just a young, dumb kid that wanted to while away the hours looking at a computer monitor. Addictive, yes, but Sim Farm was quickly ruined when I found the best crop to grow. I just made a few massive fields and grew nothing but that and there never really seemed to be much challenge. Sure, they would sometimes go bad before the field was fully harvested, but what I did manage to harvest and sell ended up netting me more cash than I ever needed to use in the game.

Another farming style game that caught my attention was Harvest Moon. I was in my early 20's, looking for SNES RPGs and kept seeing Harvest Moon pop up on lists of beloved SNES RPGs. The name conjured fantasy imagery in my head of a dark mount rising into the sky to slightly eclipse a full moon as dragons and warlords took to the sky to do battle. Harvest Moon harbors none of this, it was an adorable little farming sim.

Throughout the years I've played and loved many Harvest Moon games. With their open ended game play you can get tired of the repetition, but there are also many other things to keep you occupied and to keep your eyes peeled for. Harvest Moon offers such variety in the things you can do outside of tending to your farm that I felt it was quite possibly the first life simulator, in some ways.

Then came Animal Crossing and while Animal Crossing isn't strictly a farming sim, you have elements of Harvest Moon incorporated into the game. You can buy tools to do a small bit of farming, planting, harvesting, etc. Animal Crossing is more about socializing and helping make the town in which you live a better place, but there are some elements of farming you can do as well.

Most recently, however, I decided to look the horse straight into its mouth and purchase myself Farming Simulator 15. This wasn't my first romp with a Farming Simulator; the addiction took hold when I downloaded the free Farming Simulator 14 on my tablet and lost so many hours, days, weeks and months to that game, I felt that a console version might be more fun to play. If only I knew the truth.

The truth is yes, it is more fun, but at what cost? DEAR GOD AT WHAT COST!? You see, I don't necessarily have an additive personality, I find myself far too apathetic and lethargic to be addicted to much of anything. Things will catch my eye, I will play them to the point of repetition and get sick of them and cease all association with it. Farming Simulator 15, however, took control of me on a near molecular level.

I started playing as I did the free mobile app, but I soon found myself doing all kinds of things like running around to collect lucky coins, cutting down annoying trees, planting saplings to grow up to become even more annoying trees that I may very well someday cut down.

I would run the game as much as possible, and even more when I was making more money than I was paying out. Farming Simulator 15, and quite possibly the rest of the Farming Simulators, is an addiction I've not found repetitive, not yet at least. I'm not saying I won't, but I truly fear if and when I do I may not stay gone for too awful long.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Why I'm ok with Greatest Hits Video Games.

Why does it seem that most video game collectors hate Sony's Greatest Hits editions of games? I don't see that much opposition to Nintendo's Classic Series on the NES, their Player's Choice on SNES, N64 and Gamecube, nor their Nintendo Select for Wii and Wii U. It seems as though Sony is the only brand collectors actively enjoy bashing for offering a lower price on an already proven great product.

When the original Playstation first launched I was a teenager, which means I didn't have much expendable income to throw around carelessly. My tactic was either to buy used from video game stores or swoop in and pick up a $19.99 Greatest Hits edition of the same thing that was sitting on the exact same shelf beside black label versions for $49.99. To me the choice was obvious.

The only difference was the bright green edge, which never really bothered me. However, this was before the time of DLC and other such things, so if you move into the world of PS3 (I know we're skipping PS2, just bear with me) you'll find a bright red case, but this will often times be the best version of the game to buy, since it will also include DLC packs. Sure you don't get the satisfaction of being among the first people who play the game at launch, but then again that's not really a distinction that matters because literally millions of other people are doing the exact same thing.

Sticking with PS3, I'm not sure why people don't complain more about PS3 spine labels because they're not very cohesive anyway. You will find original releases having a red horizontal PS3 logo at the top, which later changed to a black vertical PS3 logo. These aren't even Greatest Hits, these are just standard releases! Although I haven't dug very deeply I've never seen a single person complain about this, but if the case is red because it's a Greatest Hits edition, whoa boy! Fuck that shit! Right?

Now the PS2 Greatest Hits don't seem to garner as much hate as the original PS1 and PS3 games, but I have witnessed the occasional "Boy them red labels are ugly!" comment. Even if I was a case snob I would have to say the PS2 isn't that much of an offender! The label structure stays the exact same, only the color of the PS2 logo and the SLUS number are turned red. Not even an eye offending red, just a much different color than the original black labels.

What people are forgetting is regardless of how groomed your shelf may look, it's the same game at, often, a lower price that includes more content than the original did. If you prefer black labels, more power to you, but I'm a cheap bastard and I want as much as I can get for the lowest price I can get it for. Even if that means taking shit brown colored cases and placing them among shiny platinum cases, as long as I got the best deal I could. Again, because it's the same game!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Quick and Dirty DIY Footswitch

Sometimes it's not about saving money; it's about doing a project just to prove you can do it. And also a little about saving money. Either way today's project was super quick and super cheap. All the parts came from, you guessed it, the Goodwill outlet store. For about $1 I built myself a footswitch for my Fender Mustang Mini.

After I bought the amp I started testing to see how to setup a footswitch, which turned out to be far more simple than I ever imagined. A simple on/off switch would work, that's all the amp needed to go between both selectable channels. I already had a latching push switch so all I needed to do now was find a cable with 1/4" end and a housing to put everything into.

The housing began life as an Archer RF amplifier. The basic shape, even though it's significantly smaller, reminds me of a guitar effects pedal, so that's why I bought it. After a brisk steel wool rub down all the markings and the little bit of tarnish that had accumulated was removed. It may not look it in that picture, but it's a fairly mirror finish.

The next step was to eliminate the flares on either side that the Archer used to attach to wherever it was attached to. In what I can only call a sheer stroke of genius I folded the top flairs in and the bottom flairs up so the unit closes up tightly, as well as giving me two simple screw holes to keep the whole thing shut once it was all done.

The next piece of the puzzle was the cable. I just so happened to find an XLR to mono 1/4" cable, which is honestly not going to be useful for microphones, so I decided to remove the XLR end and use it as the cable I needed. Nothing special, it's unbalanced and it wouldn't have been ideal for microphone use anyway.

Finally came the switch, which is nothing more than the only latching push switch I had at the moment. It's all plastic, it's all cheap but it all functions. All functions? WTF? Anyway, as the saying goes "If it works but looks stupid, it's not stupid.", or something like that.

After modifying the housing, again by folding the flairs, drilling some screw holes, making the switch hole bigger and removing all the lettering and tarnish, I was ready to put it all together. I simply put the switch in, slid the cable through the slightly modified wire restraint system that sticks out of the side of the box and soldered everything together. Easy peasy!

The finished product is a thing of beauty!
Admittedly, this isn't perfect but it was a quickly put together, and above all functional, project that I wanted to attempt. In the future I'm pretty sure I'll be changing the switch to a more heavy duty footswitch as well as swapping the cable to one with a 90 degree angle. This project also gave me the idea to buy more Archer boxes from the outlet store, when I see them, to use for future guitar pedal projects. I mean look at it, it's perfect for a guitar effects pedal! I would have to miniaturize the guts and find the right parts but I think that's totally a doable project.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Saving a 2GB Flash Drive.

I know, I know! Today's technology far exceeds a 2gb flash drive. You can pick up 32gb flash drives at the dollar store these days! Why are you bothering to save a 2gb? Because I can, it's that simple.

Admittedly it's nothing special, I'm well aware, but this Duracell branded 2gb flash drive was something I had picked up from the outlet store a month ago. I love to pick up flash drives, because I love old technology and because I can always use more ways to quickly transfer files from one computer to the next.

Upon getting this little booger home I noticed it didn't work at all. This is an extremely rare occurrence because I've found tons of flash drives and they all worked first try. I've found normal flash drives, promotional flash drives and even a 32gb flash drive. Once I find a flash drive from the outlet store I IMMEDIATELY format it. I'm not a pervert or a voyeur, plus you never know what you might find on these things.

Since this one didn't work I decide to just crack it open and see what was the matter. Carefully I pried the casing open and pulled the main board out to see the oscillation crystal was shorting itself out. After carefully realigning the legs I popped the bare board into the USB port and it sprang to life, with a rather cool blue LED no less. 1.91gb of the 2gb wasn't bad, I've seen 4gb flash drives with merely 2.8gb on them after formatting, so I was pretty excited.

Not being fully happy with the way I had realigned the legs of the crystal I gave it one more try... and broke it... off the crystal! Nothing left to solder, no way to reattach it. It was done; it was dead. The only alternative was to find a replacement crystal, which I did!

After taking apart a pair of completely crap Vivitar HD camcorders I found the crystal I was needing. After a few short seconds of soldering the crystal back onto the flash drive, I plugged it into my computer and noticed it acting like it wanted to mount, but it didn't. Upon closer inspection I noticed a solder bridge between the two solder points, after I wiped that clear I attempted to mount the flash drive again. SUCCESS!!!

Again I know a 2gb flash drive is archaic to most of you, but I'm glad I could resurrect it. Even though it's 2gb I can still use it to transfer data from computer to computer, when I don't need something as big as a 32gb. This all makes perfect sense to me, and that's all that matters.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Nintendo DSBoy Advance Tutorial

A few years ago I bought a battered (fat) DS from the Goodwill outlet store, with hopes of restoring it with parts from an online supplier. Sadly the online supplier never restocked the housing I wanted, so it just sat in my closet until I used it to piece together a single working DS. What am I suppose to do with the leftover parts? Well, I'll tell you.

Now that I have a working DS I felt it was time to turn the spare parts into something I had seen five years prior. Back then I still retained the need to restore the console, but now I'm ready to transform the leftovers into a project I have dubbed the DSBoy Advance! Since the DS and DS Lite play GBA games, as well as DS games obviously, I feel it's a good choice to be a backlit console to play my GBA games, without cramping my hands around a tiny square. I'm referring to you GBA SP!

This is where the DSBoy Advance is born! You can use either a DS or DS Lite; I'm choosing the fat DS because the GBA cartridges fit flush into the console, but the trade off is that the original DS screen doesn't offer as much brightness or clarity as the DS Lite. This really comes down to what you prefer. Maybe in the future I'll also make a DSBoy Advance Lite, just to see how it is, but that cartridge overhand really annoys me.

After you remove the battery cover and battery here are all the other screw locations.
Green = Top screen ribbon cable
Red = inner screw locations
After you've disassembled your DS you are going to need to detach the top ribbon cable from the motherboard, or in my case what was left of it. Once the ribbon cable has been removed the console will not boot without a slight modification, which just means putting a 330 (or about) ohm resistor into the circuit to trick it into thinking the top screen is still attached. You can use normal resistors, but I decided to check around in my parts box and use a surface mount resistor. These take up much less area and don't require any case modifications, which you might need to do if you use a normal resistor.

It's a small spot, this is why I used a surface mount.
Solder the resistor to the pads just right of the Select and Start buttons like this.
Now that your system boots up without the top screen you will need to figure out how to get sound. Remember? The DS speakers are in the top portion of the console and are attached to the top screen circuitry. This isn't difficult at all; in fact I managed to wire a single speaker for stereo. It may not be true stereo, but it sounds good enough for me, with enough volume that I'm not worried about having to wire and fit two speakers.

It's not pretty, but it works! In the end, isn't that all that matters?
Once your speaker is wired up it will now need a home. Luckily there is a nice little space big enough for a speaker just below the action buttons. This is a perfect fit for the speaker, and there is even a small channel through which you can feed the speaker cables up to the soldering joints to where they need to be. Once this is all done everything fits together as if it was completely stock.

Like a glove!
One problem you will have with the original DS case is that the original DS housings are exceedingly brittle! You're going to need to modify the case in a few ways, most notably adding speaker holes and removing the hinge areas at the top. I held a thin wire with needle-nose pliers and ran my soldering iron across it as I slowly, but firmly, pressed it into the plastic to melt some starter holes for my speaker. You'll notice mine aren't the prettiest so be more careful than I clearly was.

Really wish I had taken more time with the
speaker holes, but at least I can hear.
Well, that's essentially all you'll need to do. You can modify the case however you want now. Some people remove the X and Y buttons, some people add two speakers, some people cover up the DS cartridge slot, and some people go completely crafty on the housing face and make it look professionally done. I'm perfectly happy with the way my console turned out, crappy sound holes and all. Since you can use the D-pad and actions buttons to navigate the menus I removed the touch sensory part of the touch screen, but left the glass in as added protection for the display. 

Converting an old DS or DS Lite is a fairly quick and easy modification. The only odd tool you'll need is a tri-wing screwdriver, which can easily be bought online these days. If you are using a DS Lite you'll need to find the DS Lite specific tutorial because I'm pretty sure the solder joints on the DS and DS Lite are different. I'm not entirely happy with the screen on mine, but it was a fun project and it works! Maybe I will do that DSBoy Advance Lite sooner than later, you know, just in case.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

My experience with guitar technology.

When I started playing guitar it was a very archaic time. Sure, there were tons of cool gadgets for guitarists, but if you weren't a touring guitarist you were mostly stuck with a solid state Crate or Peavey buzzing at any volume, AND YOU LOVED IT! Fizzy, shitty, buzzy tone was all the rage in the mid-90's, all thanks to the grunge era where tone didn't matter, tuning your guitar didn't matter, hell knowing how to play didn't matter!

It wasn't until the early 2000's that I really started to seek out something better than my Crate GX-30M. I don't mean a better amp, because to me my Crate combo was the best amp I could have at that time. The GX-30M would remain my baby for many years to come, but eventually I did sell it off and upgrade, at least I think so.

Before I sold the Crate I decided to try and make it sound better, so I bought a Zoom 510 Distortion processor. Originally I wanted a Danelectro Black Coffee mini pedal, but I couldn't find a store that stocked them, and I found the Zoom 510 on ebay for the same price, but it seemingly offered so much more! The Zoom 510 was chock-full of buzzy, fizzy and shitty tones for me to explore, and I absolutely adored it!

Eventually I bought a Boss GE-7 to help shape the tone overall, but the fact remained I was still using a Crate GX-30M with a Zoom 510, there was no way to make it sound any better than it did, or even remotely good. The signal chain was my guitar plugged into the 510, to the GE-7, to the GX-30M, which made me feel like a rock star. I could sound as good or as shitty as I wanted, again mostly shitty.

After having so much fun with the Zoom 510 I decided it was time for me to find another processor to fiddle around with. Would it be a Digitech? Would it be a Zoom 707, which I have always wanted because of the expression pedal, and truth be told I still want one! No, it was a rare blue Zoom 505.

The Zoom 505 was the standard Zoom processor and it offered more than just distortion. I could add chorus, flange, delay and all kinds of goodies to my already horrible tone! HUZZAH! The signal chain now was my 510, for distortion, into the 505 for other effects, into the GE-7 to level it all out and onto the amp. I truly felt like I was a touring guitarist with all this gear, I dared to even call it my rig, which was a bold overstatement.

At this point in my life I had the Crate GX-30M and I had a Crate G600XL head with my brother's Crate 2x12 cabinet. With all the gadgets cluttering up my space I decided it was time to clearance everything and consolidate. This was especially spurred on by the fact that my Zoom 505 was growing ever more finicky and deciding on its own when it wanted to work, which was mostly never.

When he let me borrow his 2x12 cabinet, my brother was been bragging about picking up a Line 6 Flextone 3, which to me sounded like a great option. I too wanted to have all the most popular amp tones of at my finger tips, and be able to quickly and "accurately" switch from a Fender Deluxe to a Soldano SLO-100 all by simply turning a knob. After all, I had just come from a Zoom 510 and 505 setup where I could quickly and easily change my distortion and effects within seconds.

After selling off everything, except the Crate G600XL which I gave away, I went to work on finding out what I could afford and what offered the most bang for my buck. After all was said and done I had narrowed my choices down to the brand new Spider 2 HD. Still reeling from the fact that I didn't get all the cash I expected from the stuff I sold, and heavily regretting selling my Boss GE-7, I walked into Guitar Center on Super Bowl Sunday 2006 and sought out the Spider 2 HDs.

Strangely, both Spider 2 HDs they just pulled out of their boxes, right in front of me, decided neither of them wanted to work, so I was forced to look elsewhere. Behind the counter sat a used Line 6 Flextone 3, like my brother's, which they said just came in and could not be sold for 2 more weeks. My brother tried to persuade them to let me try the amp, but the salesman kept saying no. I think my brother really wanted me to have the same amp as him.

After walking around the store I found a Line 6 Flextone HD that really piqued my interest. With a Jackson Dinky and a Peavey 5150 speaker cabinet I tested the Flextone HD, falling in love with it almost immediately. I wasn't worried about the overall tonality; I more overjoyed with the familiarity of having so many options in one place, and was more so infatuated with the idea of what I could do with this amp. I walked in wanting a Spider HD but walked out with a Flextone HD on layaway.

The following years were filled with happiness, actually. I've had quite a good time with my Flextone HD, even going so far as to buy the long floorboard to unlock more options and a Mesa Boogie 4x12 cabinet so that it sounds the best it possibly can. And even though I didn't get a Flextone 3 like my brother, he did end up buying a Flextone HD like mine. This, however, is not the end of the story, as with technology being ever-changing I've had a few chances to see what the modern age of guitar amps/simulation has to offer.

So far you know I'm perfectly happy with digitally modeled guitar amp simulation, but even though I still love my amp, that's almost 20 years old, modern amp simulation has really taken a hold and become less expensive, far more accurate and easily obtained. My first experience with modern guitar amp simulation is when I found an Amplitube Stealthplug at the Goodwill outlet store. I was quite impressed with the way everything sounded but didn't feel like being nickled and dimed to add a tube screamer or a new amp to my options, so I quickly uninstalled Amplitube and packed the Steathplug away.

Most recently I picked up a Fender Mustang Mini from the outlet store for $8. I knew it was a more modern modeling amp, but I still wasn't completely sure of how it worked. Once I got it home and plugged it into my computer, after having installed the required software, I was completely blown away by what I was experiencing.

Which the aid of an Amplitube style program I was fine tuning the amps from my computer in real time. The Mustang Mini has a 6.5" speaker, so the tones clearly aren't going to be the greatest, but for a practice amp this thing is absolutely amazing to me. I can upload, download and fine tune presets and take the battery powered beast anywhere I want. Fender offers a website for the community to submit all their settings, most of which are horrible but I still find it extremely enjoyable to download and give them a try, before ultimately deleting them and downloading more.

I'm sure I'm still far behind the times in terms of being on the cusp of amp simulation technology, but even so I'm really excited to have what I have. I still enjoy my Flextone HD, but I can only imagine what a Fender Mustang HD would sound like through my Mesa 4x12. Maybe in the future I'll acquire one, but for now I've got a half stack for bedroom jams and the Fender Mustang Mini for everywhere else. These are all I feel I'll ever need, currently. What an amazing time to be a guitar player!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Tablet Shootout!

A few years ago my mother gave me her first gen Kindle Fire, after she found a really good deal on an HP tablet. Up to this point I was a PC or laptop person, I had never used a smart phone or a tablet for any extended period of time. I find getting new electronic devices extremely exciting, but since it's a Kindle Fire that excitement was quickly quelled. Perhaps I could say that fire was extinguished? It's my blog and I'll make stupid jokes if I want!

The first things I noticed about the Kindle Fire were that I was locked to their browser, no Firefox or Chrome for me, just some lame, cut-rate browser that worked OK. Secondly I was greeted by the absolutely abysmal app store Amazon offers. Many apps I wanted just weren't available and I'm assuming never would be, without rooting the device.

Not wanting to take a risk and root the damn thing I trudged on with the tablet, hey at least I had one. As the excitement waned I just let the thing sit on its own and didn't touch it for weeks on end. The few apps I had grown attachment to were now abandoned, based solely upon the performance of the device and not the quality of the app itself.

Eventually the Kindle Fire would become a thing of the past, all thanks to a tablet that isn't built anywhere near as well as the Kindle Fire. I present to you the Apex Solo 7i, a tablet that truly feels like it might fall apart in your hands. At least this one is full Android, and not a truncated version controlled by an online shopping website.

The Apex was yet another amazing find at the outlet store, but it didn't come in perfect shape. A few scratched here and there, but overall the tablet is in working order and is actually quite nice. Quickly, even despite it's build quality, the Apex has become my tablet of choice over the Kindle.

The Apex Solo 7i runs Android KitKat, meaning I can access the Google Play store and download any friggin app I want! The screen is quite vibrant but shows how cheap it is when trying to view it from most angles that aren't straight ahead. There are both front and rear facing cameras, although they're such low rez they're absolutely useless, but the option is nice, and the tablet allows for Bluetooth connectivity.

To sum up the Apex's faults I would say the build quality is pretty lacking, the screen isn't great from all angles, the battery seems to be moderate, but not great, and anytime I watch videos on anything above 480p the tablet absolutely craps itself, although so did the Kindle Fire.

Where the Kindle Fire made up in build quality it completely lacks in functionality, usefulness and overall desire to use the damn thing. If you want a tablet strictly for watching videos on the go, or you don't need a large library of games, the Kindle Fire might be worth picking up used, although the newer versions have to be better and they're actually quite cheap these days.

Where the Apex Solo seems like an extremely cheap piece of junk, it's actually quite a good little tablet. Admittedly I've accidentally dropped the thing a few times and it seems more sturdy than I originally thought, although I wouldn't drop it from great heights onto hard surfaces. Since the Apex is running KitKat it's limitations, thus far, are few and far between. There are so many apps, browsers, etc. that I can use it's almost limitless.

Is the Apex Solo 7i better than the first generation Kindle Fire? Simply based on how useful it is, yes! Leaps and bounds yes! The Kindle Fire might have been an amazing little tablet, had it not been restricted so ludicrously by Amazon. Even so, I used the heck out of the Kindle until I realized there was a much larger and better world out there, a world ran by Android.