There’s been several leaks recently concerning the existence of something which has never formally ‘confirmed’ to exist. After seeing it online, I had to recreate this poster IRL to show solidarity. . .
I’ve been a busy man over the last months, planning for my wedding in a few weeks! That’s going to be a lot of fun and I’m really looking forward to catching up with friends whom I don’t get to see like I’d wish.
Over the last week I did get a chance to put some time into the model railroad and I thought I would post some progress pictures:
It’s been a while since I did a model train post. One thing I’ve been working on lately is a set of blank 45 foot trailers which I’ve been decaling for the Milwaukee Road’s trailer service. They have a number of neat paint schemes which had caught my eye, namely the “Preferred 45″, “Preferred 102″, and “Preferred Pool” trailers. One of each is on display here:
The decals are by Micro Scale and although they have been out of production for probably 10 years, you can still find them floating around (pun intended?). Old decals can be tough to work with, since they like to fall apart on you, but with some patience I think I nailed it. The trailers are also out of production models, from the Promotex line by a Canadian company called Herpa. I went with these simply because I liked the amount of detail on them. The reflective stripes on the sides are probably an anachronism, but eh, whatever, I think it looks neat so let’s run with it.
It was actually really tough to find reference photos taken of the prototype (aka the real thing for the non-modelers out there). Below are two which were shared with me from the slide collection of Mr Nathan Dahms. Thank you for these helpful images Nathan! And thank you for permission to post them here so that others in search of reference images will have something to use :
I got this first image after decaling mine. Although I followed the decal sheet instructions (which are consistent with the image below), this trailer is a bit different. I think for the next ones I do, I will mimic this photo instead…
And lastly, in the process of searching for images, I rediscovered this dude who goes by the handle Mellow Mike. I had seen his stuff on weathering forums years and years ago, then lost track of what he was up to when those forums closed. This guy is seriously god-like with an airbrush (and whatever other secret alchemy sauces he uses). If this kind of thing interests you, his website will totally blow your mind. Anyway I randomly found a trailer he had done via google image search. It’s a Milwaukee Road Preferred 45 trailer which was sold and painted over, although the original scheme remains faintly visible, a state referred to as ‘ghosted’. He said he based this off a photo. So my little decaling project is neat and all, but check out the real master at work:
These are cool:
For years I’ve been wishing for a convergence device between smart phone and high-end point-n-shoot. The perfect camera inches one step closer with the release of two intriguing products from Samsung which come from opposite ends of the spectrum: an android-powered SLR and an optical-zoom equipped Galaxy phone. At this point I think neither device is exactly what I’d find ideal–the SLR is non-pocket-compatible and thus too big to carry 24/7, and the Galaxy S4 Zoom is reported to perform more like a lower-end point-n-shoot, although it does have manual modes. The max aperture of 2.8 is surprisingly awesome on the wide end. It’d be neat to have one of these, even if the reviews don’t sound all that positive thus far… Still. I think it’s awesome that a giant company like Samsung is willing to push this deeply into the small-volume niche markets that both of these devices fill.
I’d like to step back in time a few years to highlight a game that got overlooked at the time but is still as hip and worth-playing today as it ever was: Mirror’s Edge. This review is also prompted partially by the news that–who would’ve ever guessed it–this game will be getting a sequel! So let’s talk about Mirror’s Edge, an off-the-wall concept fit to run against the big dogs of the gaming world…
You play this scrawny girl who lives in a not-too distant future police-state dystopia somewhere in Asia. Your job is to deliever sensitive information between subversive elements of society that are too risky for plain old electronic transmission. You can shoot a gun in this game, but you cannot reload it. That should tell you something already… When you see enemies you can punch them, but you’d be better off to just RUN. Yeah. In this game you can run in ways unlike any other game you’ve ever played.
“Parkour” is the fancy word used to describe the art running ON walls, jumping off walls with special shoes to reach higher ledges; moves which generally seem to defy gravity but are possible if you’re a fearless (!) and lightweight badass. The game will teach you a series of moves at the beginning, then set you loose along sun-saturated rooftops with an aesthetic palette of mainly white, punctuated by bold neon colors. I include the below video just to show that parkour is actually a real thing that people do, in actual real life:
At the time it came out, this game got a lot of bad reviews. I think the reason for this is because those reviewers were trying to classify this game into the same categories that 90% of new releases will fall into. This game does not have a pre-existing category. It’s 1st person parkour with transitive flashes of shooting or punching. People complained about the combat being hard. Yep. That’s the idea. You want to dodge combat wherever possible, and when you have to do it, you’re a scrawny Asian chick with no body armor… so yeah, you can’t absorb bullets like most games allow. This does lead to some tough sequences near the end of the game when combat is unavoidable, but if you’ve been taking the game’s cues along the way, you should have a refined ability to find a pathway where you can take on your foes 1 or 2 at a time, dispatching them as fluidly and rapidly as possible.
Another polarizing thing about the game is that the storyline is largely told through “anime-style” animated cutscenes between missions. I thought this was effective and enjoyable–this coming from a self-proclaimed anime-hater. The dialogue is heavy with hip-slang and in large part the voice acting is top shelf. The lead actress is particularly spot-on. Ambient/IDM artist Solar Fields polishes things off with a pitch perfect soundtrack for rooftop chases.
I totally adored this game and found it to be a startlingly crisp breath of fresh air amongst a sea of sequels and recycled ideas. This is the antithesis to your “Call of Duty 72: Yet Again” type release. Shame on the gaming press for squashing such originality, even if they disagreed with some artistic or gameplay choices. This thing doesn’t fit the mold, and that’s what so great about it. You’ll never play another game quite like Mirror’s Edge.
If I had one criticism, it would be simply “I want more”. The game is short. And with the page-turner of a storyline, you are going to literally fly right through it. The highlights here are very memorable though: sliding down the sloped roof of a skyscraper while a helicopter shoots at you, and running along the outstretched beam of a construction crane and leaping from one rooftop to another across a chasm of city street hundreds of feet below. It’s actually hard not to wince when you fall off the 82nd story of a building, even knowing that you’ll soon respawn. That’s awesome. The action in here is undeniably unique and genuinely tense in its best moments. Even a seasoned gamer will have instants where you look at what just happened and say, “Wow. I really just did that?!” This is at the root of what still makes it worth playing today. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go start up a new game right now….
I’ve written plenty of times on here about my love for Grand Theft Auto. GTAIII is the progenitor that spawned generations of spin-offs; just about any open world game that incorporates driving, social satire, and a nice violent plot owes something to this series. I’ve played each one religiously and thoroughly, mining for the hidden secrets, striving to reach that one obscure area of the map just to say I’ve been there, and replaying them all to hear the dialog and watch the story unfold again. GTA IV was the entire reason I bought both a Playstation 3 and a projector.
So it’s with all that taken into consideration that I say this: the king has got a serious challenger here.
Sleeping Dogs was made by Square Enix, a well-renown Asian studio if you’re unfamiliar. The game is set in Hong Kong, which adds the quirky twist that all cars drive on the left side of the road there. What’s incredible about this game is that it seems like the people who made it have been playing all the other great games recently and taking notes on what makes them fun: Sleeping Dogs convolves the fluid hand-to-hand combat of the recent Batman series, the tense footchases from L.A. Noire, the upgrade system to learn new combat moves from Assassin’s Creed, and even a little bit of being able to choose between being good/evil (aka cop/triad) from games like Mass Effect. It’s a little bit of everything–and some well-chosen bits at that.
Since it’s impossible not to compare to this game to GTA, I’ll go on to point out that some of the major annoyances of that series are absent here: you never seem to find yourself stranded on an empty street with no cars in sight. There are rarely unreasonable obstacles that will maddeningly stop you dead in your tracks if you drive into them–like a 3 foot fencepost that can suddenly halt a garbage truck traveling at 50mph. Or a row of shrubs seemingly made of concrete. And–and!–best of all: the driving mechanics are such that you can actually… Drive! Tapping the e-brake will send you skidding around a corner from which you can deftly recover and thread through traffic like a stuntman. This is Driving, with a capital D, that will make you feel like a badass again. GTA IV, for all it’s amazing successes, had one abysmal, unforgivable failure at it’s core: every car you drove felt like it was driving through mud. I don’t know what in the holy hell they were thinking with those driving mechanics but seriously, I hope someone at Rockstar is playing this game and taking notes. It’s a testament to how amazing the GTA games are–that a shortcoming so central to the gameplay could be overlooked in light of all the other ways it shines… but man you guys… Driving has been going downhill in every entry since Vice City.
Sleeping Dogs only goes further and gets better from there: you can wash your hands in the sink. People standing outside your apartment have conversations that tell a continuing storyline about their lives. When you set a destination on your map, little arrows appear on the street where you’re supposed to turn, so you can concentrate on driving instead of the minimap. You actually get lucrative rewards for obtaining the myriad of “collectibles”. Like health upgrades or more special moves. You can do badass tricks like jump from one car to another to perform an “action hijack” on the freeway. You can shoot in slow motion when you jump over obstacles. And you can kill your opponents in hand to hand combat with a slew of entertaining and/or gruesome “environmental attacks”. My personal favorite was slamming a dude through the glass of a wall-sized fishtank in a nightclub, in a huge explosion of broken glass, fish, and lots of water. Now that was a gratifying finishing move!
The voice acting is top notch. The music is awesome. The plot draws you in but doesn’t glue you to the story so much that you’ll forget there’s tons of cars to try, clothes to wear, types of food to eat, favors to do, girlfriends to call, hidden little spots to discover, security cameras to hack, health shrines to visit, street races to win, lockboxes to fight for–the list goes on! It’s worth re-mentioning that the left-hand-drive in Hong Kong is a novelty that doesn’t wear off from start to finish. And the Asian ‘vibe’ is really recreated with panache. From the banter of pedestrians on the street, to the dingy high-rise apartment complexes on the horizon, water-stained by the Pacific rains, to the colorful advertisements everywhere, and to the lively feel of the night market where you find yourself early on in the game–if you’ve been to Asia, this will all ring familiar.
Sleeping Dogs deserves some real recognition. Going forward, this will be a touchstone for me in open-world crime/driving games. The bar has been raised. You can’t realistically say it’s “better” than GTA IV, in the same way that you can’t really say that a top-notch steak is better or worse than a top-notch lobster. It depends on what you’re hungry for. But I can say this for sure: In some ways it feels like GTA is made in a bubble–oblivious to all the new gameplay mechanics and tricks that everyone else is inventing, Rockstar seems content to simply iterate and make the same game over again. Yeah it’s a winning formula, but the locations are the same, the combat has really not evolved, and the same tired complaints never seem to get addressed. Sleeping Dogs is like a mash-up that folds in the best parts of many superb titles into one colossal experience. It’s got polish. It’s got style. You gots to play this. This is the real deal people. The Dai Lo.
When GTA V drops this fall I know I’ll be playing it upside down and sideways for as many hours straight as I can before passing out in exhaustion. And I also know that, without question, there’s going to be moments where I say to myself “maaaaan, Sleeping Dogs did this so much cooler.”
This week I welcomed another neat vintage piece of gear to the collection, the Panasonic RA-6600. Featuring an 8-track recorder. 8-track, kids! It’s like cassette but bigger! I bought this puppy for $20 from an oddball fellow with a loud-mouthed pet bird way out in the Texas countryside. His girlfriend, who had been sunbathing in the back yard, walked through the living room in a bikini and said sorry. Dude responed “ain’t like this feller’s never been to a beach before!” I tell you I felt right at home.
Anyway at the time I bought it he said he thought it wasn’t working due to blown fuses on the back. Well, I replaced the fuses, still no dice. I noticed that the speaker cones would move all the way out to their max position when I hooked everything up and turned her on. That means DC voltage was going out the speaker terminals, thereby a blown transistor on the power amp section. Fortunately, this receiver uses a modular power amp design, so I just got on eBay and found a replacement STK-040, which clocks in at a devastating 10 watts RMS.
Opened it up and removed the old power amp with the help of me mate Vincente and discovered that the solder pads fall right off the 1970s PCB. Hmmm. Can’t solder anything into a circuit without solder pads. I put up a thread about it on a forum, and the helpful folks at all about circuits said hey no problem, just add some extra wires that follow the traces and connect to the next component lead. DUH! So I added the wires and bam, the right channel started working! The taste of sweet half-success!
I was feeling happy, having replaced the modular power amp and fixed the right channel, but also feeling a little daunted by the prospect of trying to troubleshoot the left channel which was still out. If it wasn’t the power amp, it could be something much trickier to locate. Hmmm. The Panasonic, along with a whole mess of tools and other junk, cluttered up my dining room table for a few weeks. My buddy who helped me install the modular power amp came back for another visit last weekend and we had sat down to chow on some tasty salmon burger action.
I had turned on the radio because it was there, and there was a blues station on. My buddy, a guitarist, decided he wanted to hear this better, so he turned up the volume a bit. A ferocious crackle came from the dead channel… followed by music! Apparently Vince has got the magic touch?!
I had previously tried working the volume control around, wondering if the potentiometer might be dirty, but I didn’t get any crackles at that time. Guess I just didn’t try long enough. Or maybe that inital round of deox-it had a delayed effect? Sweeeet. While the unit was apart I gave the volume pot a good blast of deox-it, and the crackles seem to have gone away. Also replaced the burnt out bulb and the dials light up now too. So it’s seemingly 100% now! I don’t have any 8-tracks to test out the player, but maybe I might get on eBay and pick some up soon. It’d be pretty neat to make some 8-track tapes…..
So recently I was looking to possibly purchase a boombox and, like I always do, I had to go research this matter and determine what is the coolest possible boombox as a point from which to work backwards in determining my final choice. And I totally found the coolest boombox. Ever. In world history. It’s this:
Recently had a music making electronic power session with two buddies which was a combination of fun, educating, inspiring, and amusing. We worked with Propellerheads Reason 6.5 and two keyboard midi controllers, it was a nice setup for electronic composing. Below is a picture of the trio in action, overlaid with a thor synthesizer and the pattern from the tapestry on the wall (visible in the mirror); both of those were other photos I took that night. I want to get some finished audio together and post that up too. More on that later…
So previously I chronicled the construction of a set of hefty bookshelf speakers I built for my brother. They’ve got a new buddy: a 12″, 500 watt subwoofer, in matching green paint! I haven’t written about the process of building this guy near as much because the cabinetry was essentially the same process: cut up MDF, router in the driver openings, glue’n'screw together, router off hard edges, silicone seal all joining surfaces on the inside, primer paint the outside, 4 coats of green paint, and then coat the whole shebang in Enviro Tex for a piano finish.
This time around I used a thicker, globbier primer called “gripper” in the hopes that it would more aggressively adhere to the MDF. When I put it on, it seemed like oh yeah, this stuff is gonna bond. But sure enough: I set the wet surface down on a few triangular wood blocks to dry, then each of them lifted off a small bit of the paint when dried. Seems like nothing can actually adhere itself to MDF, it just covers it. That’s going to be okay though, since the Enviro Tex finish is very thick and will seal any loose imperfections underneath.
This is only my second attempt at building a sub. The first one I built for a roommate in college. It used two Peerless XLS extra long excursion drivers, one active and one passive. Using a passive radiator extends the frequency response and lets you get some serious low frequency. The downside is that since the passive driver is, by definition, uncontrolled by a magnet, it’s free to vibrate however it wants. That will muddy up the sound. That sub was definitely LOUD as hell, and low too. We would bump that thing in the dorms and I’ll be damned if you couldn’t hear it on the other side of the building, 3 floors away. And we’re talking about a cinder-block building too!! So that thing was an outrageous amount of firepower for it’s size, which I would credit to the low frequency extension of the passive radiator. But it could never be described as tight, quick, responsive, or accurate.
As my second attempt, I picked out a driver that could be used in a sealed box, to go for power and accuracy in the audible range. The lowest of the lows are really cool, for sure, but subs with very low frequency output are almost impractical in a sense: that low, low range is going to penetrate ANYTHING, as the cinder block dorm proved in college. You’re going to be irritating anyone within a thousand foot radius when you rock out, no if’s about it. This time around I wanted power in the range of human hearing. Yeah, that’s still going to punch through plenty of walls, but not on the level that <30Hz will.
I went for a 12″ as a compromise between tightness/control and low frequency extension in a sealed box. The lowest audible frequency, referred to as “f3″, should be somewhere in the high 30s. The driver is a Dayton Reference Series 12″ model “RSS315HO-44″ with 4ohm impedance. It’s a dual voice coil driver, although I’ll only be powering one. The T/S parameters of this thing call for a one cubic foot sealed box for its optimum response, which is fairly small for a sub. This would be a superb driver for a car sub, where more amps would be geared toward handling that brutal 2ohm impedance you’d get by wiring the dual voice coils in parallel.
Supplying the power, we’ve got a 500 watt amp made by Yung International, with a +6dB boost at 25Hz. I went for the 6dB boosted model as opposed to the normal model, with aim of pushing the f3 out a little lower than the driver would normally achieve. Why not use that EQ to my advantage!
First impressions? Punchy-est 12″ in recent memory! It’s bass drum hits are concise. Basslines are even, with no ‘bloated’ notes that pop out louder than the rest. And the lowest audible pitch notes are there. The tune “To Feel Good” in the music section is a great test of super low bass, since we used a sine wave bassline at -1 octave to the main bassline synth you hear. That makes for some low, deep notes!
Really digging this puppy so far. Gonna be a hell of a sound system for this fall….