Yes, I would love to charge my phone or car within 5 minutes or less!
I hope these were done with a laser cutter.
A bionic man, complete with working artificial organs, synthetic blood and functioning limbs has been built by robotics experts.
"DIEGO-SAN", by Hanson for the Machine Perception Lab at the UCSD Institute for Neural Computation. With a face by David Hanson and Hanson Robotics, which mounts on a body by Kokoro, this robotic baby boy was built with funding from the National Science Foundation and serves cognitive A.I. and human-robot interaction research.
When I read end of the year album reviews and best of the year posts, I am not looking to make sure my favorite albums made the list. Well there is a bit of curiosity about that, but what I really look for are albums I may have missed, second looks at albums I did not spend enough time with, and simply, more new music to listen to.
The double edged sword of music today is that there is so much out there and not always enough time to listen and enjoy. I could not possibly discover everything new that I would like to. I am thankful that my musical taste spans many genres. The end of the year is a wonderful time to cherry pick new music.
With my picks for best music of 2012, I selected the albums that I connected with most and played the most.
Polica - Give you the Ghost
This album hit my ears toward the end of Winter which is a time where a handful of albums will really stick due to the changing of my least favorite season (Winter) into one that I like (Spring). The song "Lay Your Cards Out" really drew me in to Polica's style. This album is just one rare example where I do not mind autotune at all. Every song is thoroughly emotional mixed with fresh beats and instrumentation. Others have compared Polica to certain bands, but for my money, there is no substitution or close enough relation to this collection of songs. I had this album on full repeat heavily this Spring. When I hear any song off of it now, it instantly transports me to Spring of 2012. This is powerful music that reminds of days, smells, and certain outside air.
Crosses - EP 2 (EP)
This set of songs feels like a an extension of EP 1 which is probably the best thing possible. If you like Chino Moreno's voice and cool, moody electronic type pop with hooks only Chino could sing, EP2 is it.
Michael Kiwanuka - Home Again
This album caught me by surprise. What I heard was not what I was expecting to hear. Kiwanuka's voice is like something brought to us from a soulful past via a time machine. I thought of Otis Redding, but even as old timey as these songs can feel, you can still tell that they are fresh and new. "Tell Me a Tale" is the single and rightfully so. I played that song a thousand times before I gave the rest of the album a chance.
Tennis - Young & Old
Tennis has a great sound. It has a bit of a retro pop feel to it but at the end of the day, the vocal melodies are what make Tennis a true standout. This album as well as Cape Dory previously, is simply enchanting.
Icona Pop - Iconic (EP)
For me, this EP sounds like something I would not normally like at first. Then, I think of La Roux's "Bulletproof", C.S.S, and even Santigold. This EP is filled with moxy and undeniable hooks. "I Love It" and "Manners" are fantastic. But the real standout is "Sun Goes Down". It starts off sounding like you left your back car window open and then the beat just gets downright dirty.
Passion Pit - Gossamer
This is possibly the best track 1-2-3 pop punch to start off an album this year. This album is full of easy-on-the-ears hooks. I got caught up in "Torches" by Foster The People last year. I think of this album as somewhat of a continuation of that.
Exotic Animal Petting Zoo - Tree of Tongues
This album is amazing but what is more important is that this band is amazing. I would put Exotic Animal Petting Zoo in the same category as Fair To Midland and Protest The Hero, not in terms of style necessarily, but in terms of how happy I was to discover them. Every now and again a band like this comes along with a heavier edge but offers so much more with their writing and style. I cannot wait to hear what they do next because this album left me inspired.
Deftones - Koi No Yokan
Deftones is one of my favorite bands of all time. Every one of their albums has a special place in my music library. Koi No Yokan though, is the best record I heard in 2012. It is the most complete rock experience I have had in a long time. It means a lot when an album comes along and it is the only thing I could listen to, front to back, on repeat for weeks. That kind of thing does not necessarily happen to me very often. It is one of those albums in which my favorite song changes as days passed. Deftones have been doing their own original thing for a long time now and I hope they continue for a long time to come.
These albums were merely the tip of the iceberg in 2012. Here is a playlist that includes more of my favorites from the past year.
I set out to buy 2 brand new Apple products this past weekend. Simple enough, right?
First up was a 4th gen iPad that was on promotion at Target with a $40 gift card. I had just sold my original iPad and returned my iPad 3 (the reason is further along in this post). I went to my local Target and purchased an iPad 4. I got out to the parking lot and opened the unit. I noticed the protective plastic over the screen was very marred and scratched which struck me as odd. I was surprised it would have come out of the factory like this.
Once opened, there was quite a bit of dust and particles on the screen that I had to wipe away. Once I did, I found a sizable white particle trapped underneath the screen. No amount of wiping made it go away and once turned on, it was worse than the size of a bad pixel. There was no way I was going to be satisfied with this unit. Whether it be my OCD or future resale value, I could not let this stand.
I went back in and explained my issue. The customer service representative did not fully understand and could not see the particle. Regardless, I was requesting a new unit to replace the defective one. A different sales rep walked a new unit down to the sales desk for me and after a bit of confusion, I walked out and proceeded to open this new unit in my car.
To my grand dismay and surprise, this unit's plastic sheath was marred and scratched the same way and also had dust and particles all over the screen. In a different spot on the screen, a white particle was trapped under the glass. Are these units not assembled in clean rooms?
I was absolutely amazed and frustrated and so was the Target rep at the service desk who rolled her eyes at me in disbelief as I walked towards her. How dare I return another one because of a white dot! She immediately mumbled something about security and a manager. Several minutes later, a manager came out and I explained the issue. After consulting with someone in the back, he agreed to open one more unit together, with me. Both reps reminded me that these units had to be returned to Apple as if it were an inconvenience. These were defective units. What else did they think should be done with them?
Lo and behold, this unit seemed fine. I thanked Target for their time and gave my opinion that they seemed to have received somewhat of a bad batch. This comes only weeks after I had purchased an iPad 3 at a different Target and returned it because the aluminum bezel edges were not fully machined and even had aluminum dust and chips on some of the edges.
At the very least, my opinion is that there is something going on with Apple's manufacturing process in addition to their quality control. I cannot be the only isolated case.
Or can I? On Friday night, I purchased an iPhone 5 at full retail price on Apple's web site, but used the feature that allowed me to pick it up the next day at the Danbury Apple Store which is about 30 miles away from my house and even further from the Target I had just been to, but it was the closest store with stock. I made my way to the store the next morning and was helped within 15 minutes. By 11AM, I was almost done with my transaction. As I left the store, I began fully inspecting the body of the phone. Once more, to my great dismay, I discovered a some defects in the form of a handful of scattered white dot chips on the back of the phone. Unbelievable!
Some customers must be overlooking this stuff. I guess you really do have to look for it, but at the premium prices we pay for tech products these days, we SHOULD be inspecting each and every device (investment) with a fine toothed comb. I headed back to the Apple store to immediately exchange it. That is where the quality control story ends and my Apple Store frustration begins.
I was put back in a customer queue which meant I was to stand next to some Macbooks for another 10-15 minutes. I thought this would be a quick and painless exchange but I stumbled onto a new limitation of ability of Apple Stores. (On a side note, when I went to buy an iPhone 3GS at an Apple Store, I was not able to purchase it because Apple did not have the ability to process the orders of AT&T customers who happened to have a company discount on their account).
As the helpful Apple employee deactivated my scratched up iPhone 5 and attempted to activate a new one for an even exchange, he began running into errors. Something no one in the store had seen before. After about 20-30 minutes of consulting and trying, the employee then called Verizon who instructed him to try a different sim card. Still, no dice and they refused to let me leave the store with the phone unactivated. I was then told I needed to allow Apple to credit me back for the phone and charge me a whole new amount. I reluctantly allowed this which meant that i would have $1382 tied up on my debit card until the refund came through. I was assured this would work. After a few sim card swaps, the new unit appeared to activate and I left the store.
I went to have lunch and as I was eating, I noticed there was no Verizon label in the top left of my phone so I rebooted. An error came up saying my phone could not activate. Beyond frustrated, I went back to the Apple Store and was helped again. A manager suggested the employee walk me down to the Verizon store to see if they could help. I was then put in the Verizon queue and the Apple employee left.
About 30 minutes later, Verizon was able to go in and change the sim ID to what it was supposed to be and I was activated. Apparently, this was not something Apple has the power to do. This was one of the most frustrating experiences I ever had. What should have been a 15 minute trip to the Apple Store turned into literally, a 4 hour affair. All of the humans at the Apple Store and Verizon Store were very helpful and understanding.
Between defects in manufacturing and Apple's limited ability to offer full service when it comes to at least one of their carriers, this customer experience was less than stellar. Both of these issues could and should be addressed. Maybe the manufacturing defects have something to do with Foxconn trying to keep up with demand. I honestly do not know, but what I do know is that I had a very difficult time buying 2 Apple products in November.
The most important take away from this story though is: Always thoroughly inspect your gadgets and devices before leaving the store. We pay way too much for anything less than flawless devices at this point.
small group of friends, I am the only one playing World of Warcraft's
latest expansion, Mists of Pandaria. Everyone else is either not
interested or lacks the necessary time. These are people who have all
played WoW in the past and conquered all previous expansions alongside
me. The part of not having the time is based heavily around being older
and being recovering MMO addicts in addition to an interest in trying to
not get sucked into just one game. The part about not being interested
revolves somewhat around the idea that pandas are corny and I imagine
this is not uncommon.
feel sentiments of both of those ideas to an extent. Time is a precious
commodity for everyone and an MMO requires more time than most other
types of games. Beyond that, I was never excited to see pandas in WoW. I was content
seeing them on the WoW homepage during April Fool's Day as a joke, but it ended
there. I purchased Mists of Pandaria differently than any other World of
Warcraft game in the past: Alone, online, basic version, no fanfare,
and almost in an obligatory fashion. I thought about ending WoW
altogether or trying a different MMO instead, maybe Guild Wars 2. But I
already knew the outcome of that choice. I would buy Guild Wars 2 and
get bored of it then buy Mists of Pandaria. So I just purchased MoP and dove in on day one.
I did not have terribly high expectations. I actually presumed I would not like it. It is now a month after release and I have not stopped playing. Mists of Pandaria is truly a return to form and then some. It is so much more than anything Blizzard has ever done with WoW. Over the last several years Blizzard has changed, tweaked, added, and deleted so many features and systems that it almost seems precisely planned that MoP is some sort of grand culmination and maturing of all previous changes.
This expansion could not be what it is without the maturity of the Dungeon Finder and Raid Finder. Both were evolutions of the idea of solving the issues of getting people into dungeons quickly by grouping them automatically and allowing them to join these instances from wherever they were in the world and took away the need to be on the same server. These systems also place players nice and neatly back to what they were doing before the encounter. It did not always work that way. Now, it is another facet of the game that is expected and it just works.
There are several new dungeons to conquer. My preferred method is to queue up for 1 or 2 dungeons per day as I am leveling. This gives some quick XP boosts in addition to adding some blue gear to help leveling even more. It is not necessary to do this by any means as many quests offer hearty gear upgrades as well, blues included. These new dungeons are straight up, "to the point" with the least amount of trash mobs as ever before.
At level 90, with an average item level of at least 450, players can
begin heroic dungeons which offer slightly greater challenges and
slightly better loot. One of the best tests of a dungeon's staying power is whether or not you mind returning to its heroic version for numerous subsequent runs. In Cataclysm for instance, I was never thrilled
about going into Grim Batol Heroic due to its longer duration than other
dungeons. It sometimes felt tedious. None of the new dungeons feel this
way to me in MoP. Completing your gear drops from heroics will lead you to getting your average item level to 460 for raids and so on (470 for further raiding).
Just last night I was able to hop into a Raidfinder version of Mogu'shan Vaults
for the final boss encounter. It is a similar experience to the Raid
Finder content in Cataclysm except you win your own loot instead of
rolling against the whole raid which is a welcome change.
game feels like it was directly tuned from all of my previous positive and negative expansion
experiences. Leveling feels just right. Leveling is made up of standard WoW questing fare: Collection quests, kill quests, and an occasional bombing run. Every once in a while a quest might stand out and make you smile like the one featuring Master Bruise Paw in Paoquan Hollow which plays like mix of Karate Kid and Kill Bill training. More care has been taken to make sure multiple quests happen closer together so it is easier to stay more organized and productive. Once an entire quest hub is completed, you are offered a ride to the next one. This helps to keep up with the natural questing progression if you so choose to follow it.
The star of this
expansion though, is the game world. The zones are some of the best that
have been crafted in any MMO I have ever played. The zones are vast,
beautiful, detailed and made with care. Each area is memorable which
means the designs were well thought out. Even though I do not care for
pandas, their home world is fleshed out with ridiculous amounts of
culture and story. It is difficult to not be pulled into it
and care a little. Blizzard has created an entire continent
that I actually want to spend a lot of time on. Whether it be a rainy
afternoon by the Lake of Stars or a bright sunny morning near the Great Wall, the world is
a true marvel to behold. As a testament to the vast beautiful
continent, I never fly too far from the ground so I
do not miss any of the character or charm.
This appreciation for the new zones could only facilitated by the inability to fly until you are level 90. At first I was frustrated to learn that the ability to fly had been taken away yet again as I began my journey, but as I experienced the game from ground mounts only, I understood why flying was taken away and I did not mind. I actually preferred it. I feel like I would have missed out on so much. It should be noted that I have been level 90 for about a week and I have been flying all over Pandaria and I still have not seen it all. Needless to say, the charm of exploration is more alive than ever in this expansion.
character progression options are nearly endless. Cooking has become more desirable and fun. This is a product
of the happenings in and around Halfhill. Halfhill is a cooking hub that
offers a plethora of things to do in the cooking profession. It certainly does not hurt that the new player farm feature is just across the field which
integrates directly with cooking by allowing you to grow crops that are
required by the newest recipes. In my experience, this area is a very
popular place and only one piece of the huge progression puzzle MoP
offers players. On a personal note, going into MoP, my cooking skill was
a mere 82. Halfhill offers a helpful first for WoW professions: True power
leveling for cooking. There are all new recipes with ingredients that
can be purchased and found easily. I was able to level cooking to over
500 within a half hour. This is something totally new. Blizzard is
telling players "We want you to experience what we have done with
cooking and we want to make it easy for you to catch up".
other profession has seen its level cap raised to 600 including the
newest profession, Archaeology. Archaeology has seen some new lore
groups added in Pandaria which means new artifacts to find and also a
new system that allows players to trade in commonly found artifacts for
goodies to help with the profession. With that, another profession that
has seen great additions is fishing by way of The Anglers which is a
group of fishermen, including Nat Pagle, in Pandaria who offer you more
fishing dailies. Fishing is amazing in MoP. There are so many lakes and
rivers to fish from and there are more fishing pools than ever. Not to mention, many of the new fish are used in man new cooking recipes. In the
right MoP zone with the right background music playing (and possibly while it is raining in-game), fishing is peaceful and one of the most unique ways to immerse yourself in Pandaria.
are several factions to gain rep with which spans every department and
corner of Pandaria. The rewards, as always, speak for themselves and
many dailies intertwine in terms of giving Lesser Charms of Good Fortune
as rewards which eventually yield Elder Charms that give you bonus
rolls in raids (another new mechanic). There is an entire quest
line that enables you to eventually obtain a Cloud Serpent mount, which I just recently started. If it is not apparent, MoP offers more of everything. There are also all new entire sets of achievements. So much to do, so little time.
all of this meaty content, there are a ton of things I have not even
touched yet in my first month like: Battlegrounds, rated or otherwise. I
only had time for one scenario so far. I did not touch Challenge Mode
yet. I did not roll a monk or check out its starting zones. I only took a
short amount of time to try out Pet Battles (level 5). On a personal
note, I have always loved taking part in Brewfest and Hallow's End which
happened back to back the last few weeks. And forget about making it
out to the Darkmoon Faire anytime soon even though I need to hand some quests in. There is a lot to do and that is what players look for in an MMO.
Reviewing an MMO is always a tough task. It took me a
whole month to experience enough content to feel confident enough to
write something substantial. One thing that strikes me is that the game
does not seem to be getting the attention I feel it deserves. The only
way to describe how that makes me feel is this: I feel bad for anyone who
decided not to pick this expansion up simply because anyone who was ever a WoW
player at any time deserves an expansion this good. I know many will not
come back to this 8 year old game for numerous reasons, but I think
anyone who does not experience Pandaria is missing out on one fine MMO
expansion (not just a Warcraft one) and none of that sentiment has
anything to do with pandas except for the name.
Bottom line: Anyone that has any kind of fire left for WoW should pick up this expansion. MoP sets the bar very high for future WoW expansions or any expansion for that matter. It is chock full of content and is well worth $40. Patch 5.1 is already on the PTR which will add even more things to do.
I have stated publicly in the past that I wish and hope a better MMO will come along and steal WoW players, myself included. I have eagerly tried as many MMOs as I could (Age of Conan, Guild Wars, Tabula Rasa, Matrix Online, DDO, LOTRO, Rift, City of Heroes, Warhammer Online, etc.) to hopefully find a game that I could enjoy in equal or greater amounts. It has not happened…yet. Star Wars: The Old Republic was only the latest game in which I focused this hope only to see it fail to pull me away from WoW.
I got on board with SW:TOR, and I got in early. The first thing I noticed about the game was that the production values were super high. Maybe too high? The first 10 levels alone were filled with great voice acting and story lines that seemed almost unnecessary, yet very well done. For those first 10 levels, I felt like I was playing a fantastic single player game (SW:KOTOR). I usually call it Trial of the Isle, thinking back to the first levels of Everquest II which drops the player on an island of early levels before you were able to join the likes of the real world. Many MMOs do this in some sense, and it is because of this that it is usually hard to get a feel for what the rest of the game is going to be like.
My problem with SW:TOR is that the early zone feeling never went away. Many of the world zones were one way in, one way out. Mountains or structures blocked you in and this takes away much of the exploration aspect of the game. In short, there really is none. Paths are on rails somewhat similar to Guild Wars. I cannot speak to later zones, but this identifies a major flaw in the game. The likes of early zones like Tython and Coruscant turned me off so much that I eventually quit. I can see how a zone like Tython might follow an "Isle"-like flow just to get a player going from level 1 to level 10. But as I arrived at Coruscant, not much changed in that sense.
Sure, you get your own ship and can explore outer space, but it's not the same. I still think a good MMO is one you could literally get lost in at some point, of course, ignoring all of today's map technology intelligently infused in almost every game. To be honest, I did get lost in SW:TOR but that's not because the world was vast and enchanting, but because the map system was lacking and the amount of instancing made certain areas confusing to get to and confusing in trying to understand where zones fit in the grand scheme of SW:TOR's world.
In contrast, as an Undead, the Deathknell zone is WoW's version of the "Isle". You are greeted with a generous open layout, even though you are "locked in" to a small zone considering the rest of the game. Once you reach level 7 or 8, you move onto Brill. Brill is a beautiful zone (even after the Cataclysm) complete with graveyards and creepy forest land that sets the tone for the surrounding zones as well. And it's open. Roam through the trees or swim to the bottom of Brightwater Lake. Explore to your heart's content. Brill is neighbors with The Undercity a major capital city and hub, the road to Silverpine Forest, and the roads that lead to the Scarlet Monastery and the Eastern and Western Plaguelands. The beauty is that you can go wherever and whenever you so choose. This means that players are escorted into in the real world from the get go. This is the kind of "charm" other games lack. Of course, beginning zones like those of the Blood Elf and Draenei are still unique exceptions, but while instanced, those zones still offer the same exploratory experience as any other zones attached to the world.
One anecdote I always come back to when comparing the world feel of other MMOs to WoW is something that happened to me way back in 2004 while leveling my first WoW character which happened to be my main character I still play today. The following anecdote speaks to my definition of the charm of exploration I find in WoW:
Not knowing very much about the entire world within WoW, I took a break in leveling at a mere level 17. I noticed blimps that you could get on and they appeared to bring you "somewhere". With a certain innocence and lust for exploration, I unknowingly, but excitedly boarded the giant airship to Grom'gol, Stranglethorn.
When I arrived, I was in awe of the jungle-like setting and base that the Horde set up here. With not a care in the world, I left Grom'gol basecamp hoping to find…something, but really, I just wanted to look around. Within the first few minutes of leaving the base on the north side I saw creatures that resembled dinosaurs. I thought: "Oh wow this is cool!". Seconds later these, what I now know as raptors, aggroed me and I was dead before I could see the skulls next to their nameplate. But I wasn't angry. I was happy to have the option of freely and innocently exploring that zone and finding out on my own, that it came with the risk of dying to much higher level creatures.
Looking back now, I cannot remember having a similar experience in any other game, where I felt this charmed by exploration. The only other time it happened was when I mounted up in WoW: The Burning Crusade right after its midnight launch, in Hellfire Peninsula and rode all the way to Nagrand just to see what awaited me in 5 more levels. It was a great exploratory experience and of course I was one-shotted by a higher level mob and of course, I didn't mind.
To be fair, the lack of “charm of exploration” was not the only reason I left SW:TOR. But it was the first reason. An MMO has to feel “right” from the beginning and throughout your entire experience, and then some, if the game company expects you to thrive and be happy in its end game. SW:TOR did some things right. It had a decent sense of character progression (your character feels progressively stronger as levels increase). There were numerous choices for gear and items on your way up to the end game. The story lines were very well thought out and produced. In the end, after 4 weeks of play, the game lost me and I cite the world as the first tipping point.
WoW is still the giant shadow hovering over this genre because it has set the bar so high on so many levels that we expect new MMOs to have learned all of the mistakes. We expect MMOs to build better systems and ideas than WoW right out of the gate. We are also fine with a new game literally stealing what it needs to from WoW to gain familiarity with the players. We unfairly expect EVERY new MMO to accomplish this.
But was it such a tall order to expect SW:TOR to accomplish, at least some of these things? What, with its huge budget ($200 million), huge publisher (EA), super successful developer (BioWare), and one of the most storied franchises in the world (Star Wars).
It helps us grudgingly conclude that what we suspected for quite some time, may be true. The only company that can pull us away from World of Warcraft may quite literally be Blizzard themselves.