Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Rubik Cube

Solving a Rubik's Cube has never been fun for me, but this genius contraption, the appropriately named Cubestormer 3, certainly takes the fun and mystery out of the world's favorite mind-boggling cube.

Prior to this, the world record for fastest time solving a Rubik's Cube is 5.27 seconds back in 2011, courtesy of a, well... robot too, the Cubestormer 2, developed by Mike Dobson.  This year, the Cubestormer 3, powered by a Samsung Galaxy S4, did it in an astounding 3.253 seconds last month.

By comparison, Mats Valk, the fastest human to solve the puzzle managed a respectable 5.55 seconds last March 2013.

Obviously, it took the creators a hell lot more time to rig and set up the machine and then pack everything up afterwards than for the machine to twist in perfect coordination.  Don't blink now, the video above is so fleeting you might miss it if you look elsewhere for even a second.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Mario Inside Happy Meal Boxes, Atop Poles, Wreaking Havoc in Your House

I've never liked fast food, and have always munched on my fries with a combination of guilt and gusto. So when McDonald's Happy Meal comes out with its Mario-themed freebie toys this April, I'm suddenly all for heavily-processed greasy junk food. It's Super Mario for chrissake!

There's six to collect in the series, but I've got my eye on just two. Apparently, the bestseller is the Mario action figure all poised to hit the ? block. The guy at the counter of tells me it lets out a nice clinking sound, faithful to the game. I can understand the appeal of the mystery held by that levitating ? block. 

Unfortunately, McDonald's Philcoa was out of said Mario. So I take the other Mario figure, the one where he straddles the goal pole. Slide Mario down and the flag promptly goes up, and vice versa. It's a bit phallic, I know, but we'll pretend we're six years old and have no idea about its Freudian implications.  There's no accompanying triumphant sound like the Mario with the ? block, but this one actually looks good on my desk.

Anyway, because I'm a sucker for DIY, the Happy Meal box came perforated with cut-and-fold characters. I dutifully cut and folded and tucked the tabs inside as indicated, and now I have an anonymouse panda and penguin from an unknown cartoon. Beats me where they're from.

Back to Mario. Here's what generally happens when Mario lets himself loose in our world.  The short is called Mario is Destroying My House, by John Huffnagle.  Via Gizmodo.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Monument Valley Is Out!

Monument Valley is now out, at least for iOS.  M.C. Escher would be so proud now.  Of course, I can't wait till they port it to Android, and hoping they actually do it in a month's time.  Why the interval anyway?

I actually use a screenshot from Monument Valley as my phone and notebook's wallpaper, pleased with its beautifully black and white understatedness.  But I think I'll change it now to something with a bit of color just for kicks.  Just like this one, courtesy of Polygon. 

So, back to the game.  It's $3.99 for 10 sweet levels, somewhat fleeting but it never was meant to be a saga anyway.  The cone-hatted character you guide into the quirky, ever-shifting Escheresque world actually has a name, Ida, while those quietly sinister black crows serve as annoying impediments to your goal from point A to B.  Seriously, enough describing this--let's play already!

This Glen Baxter Is One Stoned Guy.

I've always been a huge fan of Gary Larson and his Far Side series, but stumbling upon Glen Baxter's The Impeding Gleam, I think I now have a new favorite guy. 
Never mind who begot whom, who copied whom, who inspired whom.  They're both aces in my book. 

Anyway, this Glen Baxter is one stoned guy, churning out this single-framed cartoons with the same wry, bizarre, and deadpan humor as Larson's Far Side comics, sometimes more inscrutably so.  Just like Larson, Baxter plays with his favorite subjects--cowboys, pirates, sailors, school kids in particular.  And the man's obsessed with wimples besides, instantly imbuing his simplistic drawings with a medieval, old-school effect.  

Yes, The Impending Gloom is absurd and weird, and absolutely has no redeeming social value.  All the better.  It defies explanation, and a lot of times has me scratching my head from time to time as I try to figure out the humor.  If The Far Side is absurd enough, The Impending Gloom is cruelly insane without batting an eye.

Just don't read it when you're depressed or suicidal.   

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Why I Love My AKG K311

One fine day in October last year, I went to the mall and bought something I didn’t need, as is the case whenever me and Edge have a spat. Spend some bucks here and there to forget whatever it is I’m pissed about.

I ended up with a pair of earbuds. Don’t worry, they’re not ridiculously priced, they’re not Beats, and actually they’re just a little under P1,000. I already have a pair, the default ones which came with my phone, but I’ve been reading about stuff like drivers and frequency response and soundstage, which the generic earbuds reportedly don’t have, so I figured I’ll get something new.

Previously I’ve been trying various overpriced Sony headphones, and to be honest I could detect only the slightest difference from my generic buds. The bass was good and a bit pronounced. Or maybe it’s just placebo effect—I’m simply hearing things because I’m aware of the price. Or I just don’t have keen enough ears. So there goes my claim to being an audiophile. But I do pride myself for a religiously tagged music collection, with lovely metadata from artist name to year to genre.

So anyway, the earbuds. It’s something from AKG, the AKG K311, which I got from the JBL store in SM North EDSA. At P799 it’s reasonably priced, though initially my main concern was, should I be getting something from a price range of P3,000-P5000 if I expect stellar sound quality, and just skip this reasonably priced buds? Actually, what sold me to the buds was the color—Artic Blue, which I realized moments after I took them out of the box, was just a fancy way of saying Baby Blue.

Either way, the AKG K311 sounded superb to my expectation. The bass had the right boom, not overpowering or exaggerated at all (I realized I’m really not big on bass), the treble was crisp, and the midrange was just perfect. While I don’t have an array of award-winning headphones to compare with, I’ll say this, I liked the way they sounded and that’s enough for me. Seriously, I’m not comfortable describing highs, mids, and lows, the way some people extol notes in wine or perfume. We should all just get on with listening to our music and our wines and perfume.

The other thing I liked about my AKG earbuds was the fact that they’re not in-ear. Say what you will about extra noise from the outside world leaking in, but I like my earbuds nestling just a bit in my outer ear.  I find that I don't have the same patience with IEMs; with them plugged deep inside my ears, I feel suffocated that I want to rip them out of my hears after just one song. 

Because the earbuds aren’t stuffed inside the ear, sound has a wider span, which means a better soundstage—rather than having those drums and guitar sound like they’re coming from inside my head, they sound like they’re just in the room with me. I just have to remember not to turn the volume up at its loudest, especially when I’m outside commuting. 

One of these days, I might find myself preferring the in-ear version after all, but for now it’s earbuds for me. The AKG K311 might be quite big for your taste, but they actually fit snugly in my ears and don’t easily fall off.

Five months later, because I couldn’t stand the Baby Blue buds anymore, I bought the Arctic Black version which is just a fancy way of saying Black. The black is understated, minimalist, and well, you can’t go wrong with black.

Crisp, balanced sound, Reasonable price, Lovely understated design, Not in-ear

Not-so nice:
Wasteful packaging.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Lego Keyboard FTW!

A working Lego keyboard.  It's quirky, it's fun, and thoroughly geeky every square inch.

For those times you need to type, and build, and type some more, and rebuild.  If it gets dusty and linty, simply lift it up and clean, and you're good to go.


Monday, February 24, 2014

Running Away from Martians

If you haven't downloaded The Great Martian War 1913-1917 yet, please do it now. 

Yes, it's another runner game--same endless running with no goal in sight, same dodging obstacles and same picking up points like all the runner games out there, but this time it's giant Martian robots chasing after you, with their spindly tentacles and metallic squealing. (Think War of the Worlds by HG Wells.) 

The nice thing about The Great Martian War is its beautifully-rendered war-torn milieu-- stylized in red and black.  You as the soldier have to go through a treacherous landscape of thickets of forest, gone dead from all that bombing.  You dodge trees, logs, landmines, fences, barbed wires, barrier spikes, and the occasional Martian spider robots.  Instead of gems, you collect supplies for your journey in the form of yellow and blue crates, the latter being a Martian technology called victisite.      

You'd think a Martian-themed game would seem corny, but the devs have done an amazing job here.  The graphics and soundtrack have that cinematic feel to them, making every moment tense.  Temple Run must really need to step up their game.  Unlike Temple Run which feels like a chore from all that pointless running, here you're burdened with a mission to cross the border in a last ditch attempt to defeat the Martian invaders.  Like all running games, it's hopeless and there's no end in sight, yes, but the dread of the moment is what keeps you on your feet.

The best part is there's actually two POVs in this game: the classic one where the camera is behind, following you, and a new tricky version where the camera is in front, dollying out as you meet it head on.  The effect is disconcerting, as various obstacles suddenly bloom in front without warning, and the Martian spiders give a chase from behind. 

Apparently, The History Channel, ever so bent on fusing history with fiction, backs up this game (you'll notice its logo on the opening splash screen).  It's a nice and interesting rewriting of history, and we can't wait for what's next.

(Image courtesy of TechnologyTell)

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Great Toy Divide

excerpt from The Trouble with Toys, from the New Yorker

"The least plausible moment in “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”—a generally implausible film—is one in which Ben Stiller’s protagonist convinces a group of Icelandic teens to give him a three-hundred-dollar skateboard in exchange for a ratty old action figure he happens to be carrying in his briefcase. Is there a teen-age boy on Earth who would be so eager to acquire a doll? If Mattel’s and Hasbro’s latest returns are any indication, the answer is no."
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