Sunday, November 22, 2015

You Get What You Pay For: A Review of the Nextbook Ares 11

    Back in my early twenties, when I was inexperienced … oh who am I kidding! Back when I was young and dumb I used to buy everything in the cheap, store brand versions. That included shoes, which I used to buy from Walmart for $10. I didn’t care how bad they were, ten dollars was a great deal I couldn’t pass up for work shoes. I was just going to tear them up anyway, right? That’s right and tear them up I did. Every month those cheap shoes had to be replaced with another cheap pair. Well it’s only ten dollars, surely I can spare that every month but after eight months of replacing these cheap shoes I realized how I had spent what I could have spent on one pair of good shoes to last the whole year. And if you include the gas I spent to go to Walmart seven additional times, really the cheap shoes ended up costing me more in the long run. It was a lesson I learned the hard way but the fact is you get what you pay for, and it’s wise to invest in quality.
    Wait, I clicked this link for a review of the Nextbook Ares 11! What the heck does this guy’s stupid shoe story have to do with anything …”
    The Nextbook Ares 11 is the Walmart store brand of tablets, and like those shoes you get what you paid for. From the box it looks comparative and promising for a $197.00 price tag. It has a sleek look to it’s design, with the blue edging and blue backlight to the keyboard. It has 64GB of storage which can be extended to 128GB with the use of a Micro SD card expansion. The tablet has a crisp looking 11.6” display running at a 1366x768 pixel resolution. There’s a modest but capable Intel BayTrail-T CR Quad-Core 1.83 GHz CPU and a GEN7 GPU processor inside. One of the greatest selling points for me at it’s price is the inclusion of a backlit keyboard attachment. And the tablet has lots of ports including 2 USB ports in the keyboard, a Micro HDMI port, a Micro USB port, and also the Micro SD slot I already mentioned. It runs on Android’s Lollipop 5.0 operation system. Oh did I mention it’s under $200!! What a deal!
    Then  we get home with it and start to use it, and the shoe begins to wear thin quickly.
    The first issue with the device is memory. It can handle singular tasks fairly well with a bit of longer load time than your average tablet, but once you try to run multiple Apps at once the background apps begin to shut down. For example when facebook’s Messenger App pops up with a message the App can shut down as you're in the middle of typing your reply. You have to stop what you’re doing and load the App as the main application of focus to have a chat session. This is especially annoying if you’re someone like me who likes to listen to music while you browse the Internet or type documents in your word processor. I’ve fiddled with the settings as much as the OS allows. I’ve minimized my Apps to just two, the music and my simple word processor, and still after about a minutes time of typing the music quits. So kiss multitasking goodbye!
    The rest of the issues seem minor again considering the tablet is so modestly priced. Yeah it’s bulky and gets hot. Sure the keyboard is a little awkward to use and the mouse pad actually gets in the way if you’re typing too fast. I consistently hit the mousepad with my spacebar thumb, popping my typing text to a random spot on the top of the screen. The speakers are a joke, as is the camera but what’s my battle cry here … you get what you paid for. The load times can linger on, and the gaming performance is a bit laggy on the graphically intense games.
    Did I mention the bang for your buck? For singular tasks it gets the job done and the display is very nice all things considered. Video play is bright and crisp, as long as your video App is the singular application running. The keyboard setup is very handy for a writer like me, with an easy detachment to switch the tablet to a convenient, but heavy, reading device. For a Walmart brand device it could be worse, but one could easily argue it could be better. Is it a worthy investment, hell no! But for someone who’s struggling financially it offers some nice features that the $200 market usually doesn’t get. Choose wisely because, one more time, you get what you paid for.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Knowledge Is Power: a Review of Andy Weir's "The Martian"

    Space, the boring frontier ...
    No, I'm kidding. Space is immensely interesting. And dangerous, which is what makes it such an exciting environment for a thriller. Well at least for a space geek like me, but what about the mainstream? Where is America's interest in space exploration now and what would it take to invigorate it? Well Andy Weir gives us one nightmarish example of a fictional situation that could turn the attention of everyone to NASA and to space.
    In his novel "The Martian" astronaut Mark Watney is stranded alone on the planet Mars after a manned exploration mission is abandoned due to a dangerous dust storm. During their evacuation strong winds blow a satellite dish into Watney’s side, damaging his space suit and convincing his team that he had met his demise on the martian surface. But he survives and reaches the safety of the NASA Habitat to begin his adventure of survival, beginning with a log entry of "I'm pretty much fucked ..."
Watney's Path on Mars

    And that's the avenue the novel uses, reading as a collection of Mark Watney's recovered log entries. It gives the book a cool "found footage" feel I've never experienced in a novel before. Spoiler alert, eventually the narrative turns to a more traditional third person writing to tell the tale of the events back on Earth as NASA discovers Watney's still alive. It gives the reader a nice change of pace to the reading. Just when you're starting to find the log reading a little dull, the book brings you into the drama back at earth. There's also some nice back story breaks on the building and science behind NASA's equipment, just in time to understand how and why it breaks.
    The meat of the novel though comes in the entertaining character of Mark Watney. Watney's delivery is edgy and hilarious in a nerdy kind of way. Maybe it helps being a nerd myself to catch all the references to Dungeon and Dragons, 70's sitcoms, and comic book character Iron Man. It's Watney's geeky enthusiasm for engineering and science that gives the novel a tone of adventure and fun that lessons the dullness of scientific detail. It reminded me of reading a Michael Crichton novel. Superb, real feeling dialogue with nuggets of science sprinkled in between. And if the novel teaches the reader anything it's that knowledge is power. And while I'm no astronaut, the novel comes off as well researched and accurate. My favorite science lesson moment in the book is when Watney decides to make his own water out of his oxygen tanks and the Hydrogen from the MAV's rocket fuel. It's basic chemistry, but still being accustomed to a society where everything is pre-made and canned it was a kick of inspiration to think, "wait you can MAKE WATER!".
Author Andy Weir

    The enthusiasm, humor, and engineer's attitude of Mark Watney I'm suspicious is a bullhorn for the genuine personality of author Andy Weir. Weir’s do-it-yourself attitude can be seen just in the publication of the novel. Weir independently published The Martian in 2011 as a free download off his personal website. As it gained Internet popularity, readers requested a Kindle version to be released. Weir complied, giving the book the most modest pricing Kindle would allow, 99 cents. It became a bestseller, gaining the attention of publishers and the movie industry. The first set of rights were sold for an audiobook version by Podium Publishing in 2013, followed by the hardback printing by Crown Publishing in 2014 and then the current feature film released by 20th Century Fox in 2015. Not bad for a first novel!
    As of this writing the movie version has earned 207 million dollars, while the paperback novel is second on the New York Times Bestseller list. So I take back my earlier assumption, it look’s like america does still have interest in space. Well, at least in fiction we do and why wouldn’t we with the quality of science fiction making a comeback with books like "The Martian". Speaking of which … STAR WARS!!!! Woo hoo!! Who’s excited? This guy.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

White Folk Be Acting Crazy : A Review of The Purge

Let's face it, Denver's homeless issue has gotten out of control. They fill our streets. They plague our mall. Asking for handouts, while fine hard working folks like ourselves have to earn our credits. It's disgusting. This problem has left the realm of annoyance, and has become a spiritual burden. There's nothing left to do but to cleanse these poor souls from our streets.

We thank them for their sacrifice. God bless the new founding fathers on this Purge day.

Sounds kinda like ... I don't know, racist elitism. That's exactly the vibe of James DeMonaco's The Purge. Once a year, America's police look the other way for 12 hours so the populace can let their dark side lose by committing any crime they want. While the "holiday" is sold as a way to let our animalistic personalities be expressed, the movie viewers are slowly exposed to the truth of the holiday. It's an excuse to wipe out the poor and lower class. Hence the recovering economy and lack of crime.

While it's not the most original idea (Star Trek did it in "The Return of the Archons" episode, circa 1967), DeMonaco has given the idea a nice touch of modernity by relating it to the 1% versus the 99%. The have's get to remove the have not's.

The film does this through a nice reminder of the racism that used to (and arguably still does) exist in America. The poor are represented by the only African American of the film, performed by Edwin Hodge. While we initially spend the film questioning Hodge's honesty, by the end the characters find themselves questioning their own morality with what to do with this homeless man on the run. Do they sacrifice him to the elitist Purgers, or do they risk their family in helping to save a life?

My rantings above may make it appear as if this movie is a psychological thriller. Let me assure you, IT IS NOT. The Purge pretends it has layers of political commentary, but at it's core it's just a fun, suspenseful thriller. We spend half the film looking for the black guy in the dark, and the other half is just action-packed with elitists fighting each other. The last bit being one of the best nose breaking scenes in my cinema recollection.

Oh, I did I mention the bad guy's are hilarious. Rhys Wakefield really sells his character's demented appeal. I almost started rooting for him and his masked crew. They just want to have a fun night, like any good All-American group of college kids.

If you're in the mood for a fun thriller with a hint of political commentary, then you should Purge yourself.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Why I chose a game of D&D over William Shatner at Denver Comic Con

Everyone has their geeky side. It doesn't have to be comic books or a science fiction series. Your personal outlet of escapism and enjoyment could be american football. Maybe your outlet is through romance novels, or prime time television drama's. Either way, we all have things we "geek" out over.

For the 48,000 attendees of Denver's second annual Comic Con convention, our outlet was comic books, science fiction and fantasy series, and board games. For 3 days we celebrated the awesomeness that is being a geek.

I attended a couple of panels where the topic was essentially the growing worldwide acceptance of our obsessions with these alternate medias. It was refreshing to feel that connection with people. I'm not alone, and we are not alone.

The highlight of these panels I attended was Wil Wheaton's. Wil Wheaton is widely known for his role in Star Trek: The Next Generation as Wesley Crusher. What's not as well known is Wheaton's lifestyle as a geek, especially in tabletop board gaming. He's a player of such games as Dungeons & Dragons, and Fiasco. Today, Wheaton hosts a YouTube show called "Tabletop" where he and guests play and review board games.

During the panel, Wheaton told a personal story of why tabletop gaming was important to him. It involved a dark emotional time for his family, when the only peace they ever had together as a family was during board game night. During that time, when they were throwing dice and moving board pieces around, all the troubles of the outside world were put aside for just a few hours. All the drama was left at the door, and despite all the problems they were a family again for the duration of the game.

This was significant for me. It reminded me of how much I loved these games and how much I missed playing them. To me, there's nothing better than the creation and escapism of a good tabletop game with friends. Especially tabletop roleplaying games like D&D, Heavy Gear, and Vampire: The Masquerade. I left this panel determined to go to the gaming arena of the convention that night, and join in on a game.

That night I played Dungeons & Dragons with group of people I've never met before. I was nervous at first, but as the game went on that universal feeling of acceptance swept through the room and we had a blast. There were many laughs, some interesting roleplaying, and in the end we had a challenging battle against a Warforged. I left the convention that night with a huge smile on my face, and a determination to experience that again on Sunday. So that night, I went ahead and signed up to play another game the next afternoon.

Now you may be wondering, what does all this geek squabble have to do with William Shatner?

William Shatner was the guest of honor of the convention. Which meant that his panel, scheduled Sunday afternoon at the same time as my D&D game, was one of the few limited engagements of the convention. Only VIP badges were guaranteed admentince. For the rest of us, we had to be part of the first 500 or so to enter the convention floor that Sunday morning to receive a special wristband to gain entry.

To my surprise Sunday morning, I was one of those lucky few who received a wristband to Shatner's panel. Which meant I had to make a choice. Do I go to Shatner's panel, or do I go to the D&D game I had already signed up for?

It may not sound like a very tough decision, but for me it was like choosing between parents. Do I spend time with Dad, or with Mom? In the end, my conscience made the decision for me. I had already committed to play this game. The other emotion tied to this decision is one I struggle to explain. Simply put, I knew I would have more fun sitting around a table of strangers pretending to be warriors and priests searching to solve the mystery of disappearing villagers. I love shared storytelling. To me there's nothing as creative and exciting as that. This was a once in a lifetime experience, where as the Shatner Panel I can probably watch on YouTube later someday.

So as the line for William Shatner's panel started to form, I went out looking for someone to give my wristband away to. I found off to the side of the main line a smaller line of maybe twenty people. I asked the man at the lead of that smaller line what they were lining up for.

"Oh, we're just lining up hoping to fill any empty seats after they let all the wristbands in."

I pulled out my wristband, "Well, I have a wristband and it turns out I can't go. Would you like to have it?"

I'll never forget the look of glee in that man's face. At first it was a questioning look to see if I was serious, but once I handed him the wristband he thanked me excessively and practically skipped his way over to the other line. My heart swelled as I realized I had just made this man's day, if not his Con.

No offense to the awesomeness that is William Shatner, but I'm glad I sacrificed that wristband to give that fan a day he'll probably talk about for months. Plus, I'll always remember the fun I had playing Dungeons & Dragons that afternoon.

So thanks for reading, and as gift to you here's a video of Shatner at Denver Comic Con reading "Where The Wild Things Are" to the kids in the Comic Book Classroom.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

#DCC2013 Day 3

When the convention ended at six o'clock today, I felt immediate remorse. My last walk out the main hallway was slowed by the weight of it's significance. This was the end of a most, excellent journey.  While the convention did have it's problems (cough, morning entrance lines, cough, cough), the sheer awesomeness of the attendees and guests overshadowed those issues.

Again, it's the end of a long day and I must be brief in my telling of it. From an outsiders perspective, my last day is kinda boring due to 60% of it being a game of Dungeons & Dragons. There's more story to this, but put simply I gave away my William Shatner ticket so I could play in a game I already committed to. That may sound lame, but I made someone's day when I surprised them with a ticket. The look of gratitude on his face made it worthwhile.

So BatFans, WILL he take the time to write a summary blog of Comic Con?

CAN he tell you the important details without creating a blog too long to read?

Does he have the charisma, the passion, and THE EGO to presume there's even enough viewership to support such a feat?

We'll find out soon friends ... same Bat Network, same Bat Domain!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

#DCC2013 Day 2

I've somehow conveniently found internet in the Denver Comic Con as I wait here in line for Will Wheaton's panel. The random "line" picture seen here is what the line looks like ahead of me. I'm actually in a good spot all things considered. Plus, I now have internet to entertain me as I wait so I thought I'd share a few photos.

Yesterday must have just been a Cos Play warm up, because today there's some seriously impressive costumes.

Oh, and I met George Takei ...

More to come!

Friday, May 31, 2013

Denver Comic Con : Day One

In short, my first day at Denver Comic Con 2013 was amazing.

It is now midnight. I just got home. I'm getting up at 7am tomorrow so I can catch one the first panels. That is why I must be brief, and why I'm writing a blog from my tablet for the first time. I'm curious to see how well I can edit the pictures in here.

Hmm, looks like I can't. Oh well, so here's a quick commentary followed by some pictures of the day.

This is the first convention I've ever dressed up for. As I walked through downtown Denver sporting the Federation Uniform, I felt that odd outcast sense from the residential stares. Then I arrived at the line for Comic Con and felt right at home. The Cos-Play scene at this Con is very rampant, and very friendly.

I've met an official AMC walking dead zombie, and a professional voice actor (Hal Rayle). I've been introduced to new card games in development. I've seen Felicia Day from a far. I've attended a great panel on the battles of earning a place in the cartoon voice industry.

The highlight though is the strong vibe of respect and acceptance among the crowd of attendees. This really is a celebration of "being" geeky. It's only day one, and I've already had multiple nerdgasms.

OK, enough late night blabber. I'm off to sleep for Day 2. Enjoy a few pictures from my day ...