Google’s Project Fi

So a while back I was invited to Googles “Project Fi”. For those who don’t know what it is, the short answer is “Google Fiber for cell phones”. Which, as an elevator pitch, is pretty compelling! 😉

It works like this, you obtain, either on your own or from Google one of their “Fi capable” phones. These are newer model Nexus phones (the 5X and 6P specifically) that have newer radios in it that support the magical Fi network. What makes this network special is two parts: One, they are adaptive. It leverages both the Sprint and T-mobile’s 4G networks, and combined with them and any available WiFi network will always work to put you on the most optimal signal. Two, it’s cheap. There is a $20 basic service fee for your phone that includes unlimited text and calling. Then you pay an additional $10 per month for each Gigabyte of mobile data you want. Go over? You pay $10 rounded up to the nearest Gig for the extra used. Go under? They credit back the unused amount to your account for the data you didn’t use… PER MEGABYTE!

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Whaaaaaat?

Yeah, you read that right. Currently I’m paying $79 a month for my iPhone with Verizon for 2Gb of data. Naturally, this was a compelling experiment to try since the comparable service would be about $30-$40 a month based on usage. I decided to accept the invite and purchased the 5X, mostly because I had no desire in having a second cellphone on me that was more than 2 times the size of my iPhone, but also because all in all it’s a pretty damn good phone (and being a Nexus means I get bloatware free, bleeding-edge OS support straight from Google.)

There’s a few other perks too, such as being able to use it as a hotspot, getting the same cost rate around pretty much the entire world (roughly 120 countries at current count), no contract, and some pretty stellar customer support. (They dropped the price on the Nexus 5X about 4 days after I ordered mine. I hit up their support via chat (took about 30 seconds) and they immediately credited my account the $50 difference without hesitation.)

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I’ve now had it for about a week, and I am *already* having to constantly restrain myself from immediately porting my iPhone number (that I have had since ’99) over to the phone.  I likely am going to, regardless, but I want to put more thought into it and not making it a knee jerk reaction. That said, the service is amazing, the phone is killer, and the pricing is stupidly good. If you get an invite, and especially if you are already an Android user.. I highly recommended you consider the swap!

Oh yeah, here’s how you request an invite!
https://fi.google.com/signup?u=0

RetroPie – Quick and easy rundown on your own Pi based Retro console!

I recently made a facebook post about setting up my RetroPie, and it spawned a lot of questions from folks on how I did it, how hard was it, etc. I figured if I just made a rundown on here about the whole process, it would be much easier to link to it than to repeatedly regurgitate the info over and over again.

…I’m lazy like that.

So, first off, the magic of having a retro “console” with a plethora of various platforms easily at your disposal comes thanks to the magic of the tried and true Raspberry Pi. Pi’s are powerfully little computers on a board the size of a credit card. The latest and greatest, known as the Raspberry Pi 2 are surprisingly powerful, with the B model (which have more USB ports) clocking in with a 900mhz quad core. They also have 1GB of ram, a dual core GPU, 4 USB ports, HDMI output, Ethernet, and a multiport GPIO block for various “shield” modules to be attached (TFT screen anyone?), all powered over a standard micro USB port… for about $39.00

In the case of mine, I went the “easy” route and got the CanaKit
off Amazon. It has a RaspberryPi 2 B, a power adapter, wi-fi adapter, 8GB micro SD card, HDMI cable, and plastic housing all-in-one for only $69.99. It basically covers everything you need to make a RetroPie, minus a controller! (May I suggest an Xbox 360 controller for that part?)

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After snapping it all together, the card already has Raspbian, the custom Pi-friendly flavor of Ubuntu, and you’re technically ready to go to setup RetroPie the “hard way”. To make life easier however, I just downloaded the latest RetroPie image off their repo over at github, as it has a Raspbian install with all the RetroPie components as well as the slick UI called EmulationStation ready to go.

Once you image the file to your micro SD card with the tool of your choice (I just used the tools native to my Macbook Pro) you simply boot it up with an Xbox 360 wired controller plugged in, while connected to your TV, and you’re set! It really is THAT easy! It will auto boot right into EmulationStation, calibrate your controller, and then load right in. There are however a few extra steps to get the very most out of it. These are all covered step by step in the RetroPie how-to, but essentially it’s just a matter of going through the menu and expanding your file system so that the install sees the max SD card space available, and configuring your WiFi to remove the need for an ethernet cable.

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To get ROMs onto your Pi, there are a few options available to you. The Pi will show up as a network share, and you can just drop the ROM files directly into the folder for the relevant console emulator from your PC/Mac. Alternatively, you can plug a blank USB thumb drive into the console and give it a few seconds to sync. Once done, you can pull it back out and place it into any PC/Mac you want, and you’ll now see that there is a new folder tree, named for each emulator platform. By dropping ROMs into the right folders and plugging it back into the RetroPi, it will automatically synchronize the folders with your Pi each time you do so. It’s handy, but I personally just stuck to dropping files into the network shares.

That’s really all there is to the basics. There’s a lot more customization and such you can do, but it’s sort of beyond the rundown I intended to provide here. This is more of a quick and dirty recap for my friends than meant to be an all-inclusive how-to for the internet at large, but there are TONS of other resources out there if you need more info.

One last thing.. if you *really* want to kick things up a notch, you can buy a module that plugs into the GPIO ports on the Pi and add SNES controller ports to your console. I’ve thought about it, but truth be told I’m pretty happy using an Xbox 360 controller. That said, I’m currently working on 3D Printing a new case that’s shaped like a (miniature) classic NES. Let me know if you want one printed! 😉

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Happy gaming!

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Star Wars VII Theory

Last night I had the privilege of seeing Episode VII with my co-workers. If you think seeing the first new Star Wars movies in a loooooong time is awesome, imagine doing it in a theater packed with nothing but friends and co workers. The energy was awesome!

Now, I won’t make this a full movie review… I might come back and edit some in later, but for right now I want to talk specifically about Supreme Leader Sillyname. (And no, I don’t want to talk about the borderline silliness of his actual name. Let’s just get that out of the way now.)

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, well, don’t click below to show more then if you don’t want some stuff potentially spoiled!

Continue reading Star Wars VII Theory

Steve Jobs, 1955-2011

This is important enough of an event today that I want to earmark it to look back on and remember where I was. Often famous people die, and most of the time I shrug and go about my life dealing with far more important issues. This one is far more important to me though, both due to the significant impact he has had on the tech world, my world. Also because I got the chance to meet him (even if only for seconds) once.

Yes, he was quite the controversial figure, and arguably even a jerk. He still had a profound impact on technology however, in ways that have triggered all sorts of advancements that impact every aspect of how we live our lives today.

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My 3DS Streetpasses it’s first convention

So this weekend is wondercon, the San Francisco branch of Comic Con. The one thing I was more excited about than anything else (even hot girls in spandex outfits!) was the chance to really put my 3DS’s StreetPass through its paces. I suspected there would be a healthy dose of 3DS owners there, and I was right!

I have to say, Nintendo really improved on the whole peer to peer encounter thing that they first tried with the original DS. I really liked it on the old system, but it was fairly impractical. You had to have the game you wanted to enable it on loaded up, at a specific screen, and then put to sleep in that mode. A lot of finagling had to take place to get things ready and you can only enact it with one game at a time. With the 3DS the biggest improvement, to me at least, was that you can enable streetpass for multiple games simultaneously even if the game isn’t even in your unit at the time. It’s always on all the time, whether your system is sleeping or actively gaming.

I threw my 3DS in my messenger bag on sleep mode with both SSFIV and the normal Mii StreetPass enabled, and headed down to the event. I learned a few things from this little experiment. Firstly, if you are out at an event where you expect a LOT of activity, like Wondercon or PAX or E3, check your system often. Each type of StreetPass (Mii, SSFIV, etc) seems to have a 10-encounter limit per title. Once you max out, it stops accepting any new encounters until you clear our your queue. If you don’t load it up and clean it out, you might miss out on a lot of activity. Secondly, you can only use Miis you have encountered for the mini RPG or the Puzzle game if no one new has arrived yet to “push them off” the list. In my case, I acknowledged the 10 new visitors, and then closed the unit and went about my business, completely missing out on the puzzle pieces they had and the fights they could have done for me. Both of these issues I am sure have perfectly logical technical design reasons/limitations behind their implementation, and I am ok with them now that I understand them, just wish I had known it sooner. (Then again I never bothered to thumb through that massive King James Bible sized manual so the fault is my own really.) Finally, in the case of Super Street Fighter IV, those mini figure battles have to be processed in the Log in order to accumulate the points earned. Sadly there is no way to speed through it, and sitting down and watching through all those battles is fairly time consuming and annoying. Fortunately though you can let up to 20 of them sit in your log before it fills up and you need to clear some out.

All in all, this weekend totally made owning a 3DS right out the gate all the more enjoyable. I was thinking all week how awesome StreetPass would be come E3 or PAX, not at all thinking about Wondercon. I’m glad I got to experience this now, as to get a better idea for how I plan to approach those other events this year once I have a fair amount of various games loaded up for StreetPassing, so as not to miss out on anything awesome. Most importantly, I want to point out that at the end of the day, after logging 30 or so SSFIV matches (and watching them all) and about 50 Mii exchanges (and clearing that queue 4 or 5 times) I ended the day with about 50% battery life. Considering how fast this thing drains, and how comparatively crappy its over all battery life is, thats fairly reassuring.

Corsets and Katanas and Guns, Oh My!

So I just saw Sucker Punch a few minutes ago….

wow

No, seriously… wow. Let me put it out right up front, if you are looking for a deep and insightful story that will crawl into the dark corners of your mind and toy around in there for days after, you will be disappointed. On the other hand, if you want a Damn Good Time™ that is just pure Audio/Visual/Cinema-graphic Porn that gives you a sensory orgasm and makes you feel like a 12 year old fantasizing about an action movie, you will be in for a treat.

1 Part Moulin Rouge, 1 part Anime flavored action, 2 parts Michael Bay, with a dash of Inception; this movie was the best 2 hour investment I have made in my life in several months. Don’t get me wrong, there IS a story there, and it’s not that weak. Its not story of the year stuff, but it is a solid bit of glue to help bind together all of the off the wall action sequences that are pure joy to watch unfold. I mean really, who here doesn’t want to watch a Samurai Schoolgirl take on a trio of 30 foot tall Ronin, one of which is wielding a Gatling gun?

That reminds me, something I want to thank the creators on; while the movie is over the top action packed, they do an artful job of avoiding any blood or gore without making it seem like they are obviously censoring the movie. Not that I have some strong aversion to that, it’s just that it has been such a strong point on so many over the top action movies of late, it was a refreshing change.

So moral of the story, spend the cash and go see it. I genuinely think everyone will enjoy it, so long as you approach it as a good, enjoyable action flick with a decent story and dont try to place any undue expectations on it. Take it for what it was meant to be: geek cinema porn.