The 4 month saga to the perfect gift

So, back in the late spring/early summer a new regular popped up in the League of Legends subreddit. His name was /u/Xplo85 aka ThatJewelryDesigner (more properly known as Christopher) and he was doing a kick ass job designing jewelry based on champions from League of Legends (and now other games too).

I thought about it a bit, and realized this was my chance to finally one-up my girlfriend, Victoria (@Aoitsukihime), on all the PAX presents she has gotten for me each year and put myself in the black on the balance for a long time to come. 😉
So, I reached out to Christopher and we started a dialogue about what I had in mind. In short, I wanted something Sona inspired, with blue sapphires (blue being her favorite color and appropriate for the design).

Sona, for those who don't play LoL

He got to work on some initial ideas, and came back with some amazing renders. I opted to go the route of white-gold, given that she is most prone to wearing that over yellow gold, even though the yellow is more in line with Sona’s color scheme. (This, by the way, explains why for months now people on Reddit have been begging him for a Sona inspired design, but he keeps deferring the requests for “reasons”… he didn’t want to spoil the surprise!)

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I gave him some feedback and he noodled over the design a bit more, and after a while he came back with an excellent rendering of the ring that I was totally sold on: The crown is covered in filigree that represents Sona’s etwahl (her instrument that doubles as her weapon). The outer edges of the band is covered in similar designs that match her instrument as well as her clothing. The interior of the band itself is covered in a chain of her iconic hair pieces that hold her pigtails, and while the outer band in the original design had a row of Tears (Fully stacked Tears of the Goddess!) they were omitted from the final for practical reasons. Lastly, the gems… the original design called for yellow-gold with blue sapphires, to evoke her gold and blue color palette of both her and her etwahl, but as I said I opted to change the gold to white-gold for practicality, as my girlfriend does not really wear yellow-gold.  (As some have pointed out, Blue, Purple, and Green gems to represent her key abilities would also have been neat.. but as I was going for an every day piece to wear I wanted to keep it simple to her favorite color and gem.)

At the time, he was working at a jewelry store back in GA not far from where I used to live in Atalanta, so I quickly commissioned them through him to make it a reality!

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They made an initial run of the materials, and came back with a casting that was not ideal, but a great first attempt to help them find some of the flaws in the design. This allowed him to refine things a bit and retool it for maximum awesomeness. After some changes, they were subject to yet another processing run. About this time, Chris moved on to freelance on his own to take his new found passion of gaming-inspired designs to the next level, but he was absolutely amazing in making sure this was not lost in the transition and worked tirelessly to keep tabs on the project with the store long after he left.. a true dedication to the craft.  From there, I continued working with the owner of the store, Angie, directly.

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After the subsequent run, some of the issues still remained and it became clear the design had some inherent flaws. Namely, there was just too much filigree and wire-work and not enough substance to hold the structure soundly or the gems in place. This was not really Chris’s fault and I can’t blame him. He was a burgeoning designer and as a 3D printing Maker myself, you learn quickly that a lot of the limitations when designs become reality are not inherently obvious and you only learn how to anticipate them from trial and error over time based on pure experience. Angie, the owner, was great about resolving this and enlisted the service of a master craftsman the shop has used for decades to retool the design into something a little more amenable to the laws of physics. Sadly it meant losing some of the pure filigree and converting it to a decorative surface on a solid materials, but none of the sexy lines or slimness of the design was lost! They sent over some gorgeous re-designs, (seen below), and I was happy to approve them for what was hopefully going to be the final casting.

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The result? Well… it made her cry so that’s a good start! I think it’s gorgeous and so does she. (The video doesn’t show it cause she hid from the camera squealing, but she began flapping her arms like a happy little penguin, and orbiting around me while simultaneously twirling in place like a cute little moon, giggling nonstop. It was adorable.)

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The only problem?

I really painted myself into a corner with how high I set the bar for a future engagement ring…

So I finally got around to The Witcher 3

I was a bit late to the Witcher 3 party. I’ve owned the game in my expansive (5 figure count) steam library for some time, but just never played it. I saw the praises, I saw the awards, I saw the review scores… but for some reason nothing ever made me feel compelled to play. Then, this summer, I took the plunge.

Wow.

I know you’ve probably read a million reviews, or played the game yourself. Still, I want to write my thoughts down, if anything, for myself. I understand the praise now, I truly do. I play a lot of games… a lotYet nothing compares to this experience. I truly feel, without any hyperbole, that this game was the best game I have ever played.

RPGs are tricky beasts. You want a lot of engaging content, but that means you need to fill that content out thoroughly. Usually, even the best games of the genre have this quasi three-tier system to their content: The main story, the secondary stuff, and the tertiary random filler. The first of the three usually has well thought out, well scripted, well voiced content that’s fully engaging and advances the story. The second, usually is a little less on those marks, but still of an okay quality and sometimes affects the story as an option. Lastly, the third is basically quickie throw away “go fetch me X number of Y” content, sometimes without even VO and interactions. With this game however, it’s more like a two-tier system, with the second tier only barely sitting below the first. Even the most fluff of fluffy filler content felt compelling, engaging, fun, and I had to stop to think to even realize it wasn’t actually part of the main quest. The “secondary” quests felt every bit as well thought out and written as the primary arcs, and there was never a time, ever, where I was off killing something or collecting some item going “why the heck am I doing this? It means nothing to the end-game! I should be getting back to getting into Yennifer’s pants!”

Few of the games mechanics or systems felt like they were without thought or careful design as well. The one complaint I had was, quite frankly, that I’m a busy person and I don’t have time to devote to “busy work” within a game like I used to. Because of that I loaded up a few basic mods to make my life easier… I removed the rather restrictive weight limits and enabled the ability to fast travel from anywhere, not just a sign post. That was pretty much about it, other than graphics tweaks however.

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The scenery and views were amazing, I caught myself framing perfect shots for my collection just because. (having a beefy enough system to run the game at max helps with this!) The world is so open and fluid that it was a genuine treat sitting on top of a fortress on a mountainside, looking miles off in the distance, across the water at times, and seeing buildings and towns far away that I knew I could just walk right on over to any time I want.

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The characters were endearing, well fleshed out, and quite personable. I found myself looking forward to engaging with them and continuing the story, and did not find myself perusing romantic engagements not on a whim but because I had a natural desire to see my Geralt grow as a person and find some sense of harmony in his turbulent life.

Then there is the writing, the VO, the Lore, the environment design, just… man it’s overwhelming, the content and world.

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For the first time in my life, I have put down a game and felt a sense of loss. There is a part of me that now feels empty and hollow because I am no longer Geralt of Rivia. I wore him like a second skin in my free time for weeks, and now it just feels weird to close that chapter for good. (DLC not withstanding!)

Before I go though, I have to admit one thing, the game is not without it’s bugs. Aside from one that broke a side quest that basically prevented me from accomplishing something major that I really wanted to do for the game-world to make it a better place, they were mostly comically and quickly went away. I think I’ll share my favorite with you because it left me in stitches for the entire day…

The DMV should not be this hard to deal with in 2016

You might think that by the year 2016 some of the more backwards and bureaucratic aspects of dealing with the CA DMV would have evolved. You would be wrong.
So the first week of April I got a notice in the mail (at my current address.. I updated it when I moved) from the CA DMV that my drivers license expires in June and the instructions on how to renew it online. I then thought to myself “my car registration is due in May as well, might as well do both at once!” This is a rare instance of being a proactive adult in my life and I’m rather proud of it.
 
I hop online, renew my ID and my registration both in one transaction, and pay all the various associated fees. A few weeks later the shiny new ID card shows up, in the mail, but no sign of my registration paperwork or new sticker. After a more than a month goes by and now its the renewal date for my registration, I call in to find out just what exactly is up. I’m told there is a 2 hour hold time, and naturally opt for the “Call me back later” option.
 
I get the call back, and after giving my info the agent on the phone, she informs me that the renewal was sent to the wrong address, not the one I just gave her “Weird” I say “I updated it at the same time I updated my ID back when I moved in February, all at once”. I’m told it apparently didn’t “take” for the registration part, and am advised to do it again online, and that once it’s in the system to call back and they will resend me my sticker and paperwork. I ask if I can just change it with her over the phone and she says the system does not allow for that.
 

I hop off the phone and go online and do so..  but it took a few days and another phone call to the DMV get it done. When you update the car’s registered address, you have to include not only the license plate number and VIN, but also the “Effective of” date of your current registration. Since I had paid my renewal in April and we were now past my renewal date of May 20th, it was now in the system as a given day sometime in May 2016, not the 2015 on my old paperwork that I was mistakenly referencing. I didn’t think about that at first and it wasn’t until i began to randomly try various dates in a week long window around the date stamp on my email receipt for my renewal that I finally got it to accept the update submission.

I then decided to wait a week or two, because lord knows government systems are probably slow to share info among themselves…  and call back in today. After putting my number in the queue and getting a call back, I explain my situation to someone and ask to have the sticker resent to me. He asks for my my address again, which I give. I’m then asked for a possible previous address I may have had… oh boy.. here we go.  I give my previous address, but I’m told that’s not on file either. I then offer up my address before THAT, my first one in LA and where I lived when I bought the car in 2014. He says THAT is the one on file.

Flabbergasted, I ask how this can be. I updated my contact info when I moved in Nov 2014, and again in Feb 2016. Clearly it worked because my ID contact info was mailed to the right place! He informs me that online updates do not work for leased vehicles. What?!? I ask why is it the system behaves as though it works then, and why it does not give me any error telling me this.. (also for the record, you online profile for the CA DMV does not reference your address to verify what’s on file. This is by design, I’ve been told.)

He then tells me I can *only* update the address by coming into a local DMV branch in person, (if you live in CA you know what THAT entails, if not, just look at the pic below!) and that I have to fill out a change of address form by hand to do so. After which, I’ll have to fill out another form for a duplicate registration copy, which requires a $50 fee.
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Seriously… I did everything they told me to do in the way in which they told me to do it (proactively I might add!) and now I have to pay a fee for a second copy because *they* gave me bad instructions.

In 2016, I can’t believe dealing with the DMV is still this convoluted and archaic. The only relief is the fact that my registration IS up to date, I just don’t have the piece of paper to go in my car and a shiny new sticker to go with it.

UPDATE! @ 4:50pm 6/9/16

Whomever said complaining about something on twitter doesn’t fix it clearly underestimates the CA DMV!

So I emailed the address in question with my email and phone number. Just now, about 15 minutes ago, and *exceptionally* nice lady called me and asked to hear my story. I ran her through the whole shebang, and she was super apologetic and asked if I would be willing to fill out the PDF of the change of address form and email it to her. Once I did, she would process it within the next business day and have the new registration in my mailbox within the next 7 business days.

Wow! The CA DMV is NOT whom I expected this kind of personal touch from! The systems and processes may still be a little convoluted and janky, but at least there’s a light at the end of the tunnel!

My franken-code

So i have this little hobby, 3D Printing. You may have seen one or two (or fifteen) mentionings of it before. I love it, and I even make a reasonable amount of money on the side that covers the costs of my hobby and then some.

The one thing I love is numbers, tracking, and data all nicely packaged up in nice report with charts and graphs. Since plastic filament is the one main consumable in this venture, and it’s important to know how much filament you have left on a spool before starting the next print, I made a mildly complicated spreadsheet to help with this.

It’s a fairly straightforward spreadsheet. One tab holds the data for each spool of filament I own, another is a list of every print I have made over the last year (time spent, amount of filament used, profit/cost of prints, and so on. Lastly, a pretty little tab that shows cost/expenses, wear and tear on particular nozzle heads and other consumables. All in all it does the job, but the one thing that bugs me is that it’s just a spreadsheet. I want a web app that I can use anywhere any time, even mobile, to help make it easier (so I’m not batch logging prints days later because I’m lazy or was in a hurry) and more importantly one that supports multiple users so that others can use this same thing. I tried poking around on the web, but just couldn’t seem to find anything of the sort.. I find this kind of weird, but also may just be that due to some of the common search terms that have some crossover meaning here I might just have a blind spot in my google-fu.Screenshot 2016-05-28 22.12.51

Enter my project, AnvilTracker. It’s basically an attempt to convert the functionality of that spreadsheet to a Ruby on Rails app. The fun part?

I have no idea what I am doing.

Basically I’ve gotten it to a mostly functional state. It’s not pretty (virtually no styling or UX work at all has been done) and the functionality is basically 75% of the spreadsheet minus a few cosmetic enhancements. I more or less started off with following some tutorials, cherry picking stuff that did what I wanted (just had a different use case) and renamed some stuff, gave variables more contextual names, and commented things up properly. So far so good..

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I think the biggest thing from holding me back is the freaking UX. I don’t have the patience to learn CSS on top of everything else. I’ve also created a monumental backlog of features I want to add, learning them incrementally as I go. So far it’s going ok, but the backlog is getting progressively harder and sooner or later I’m gonna hit my skillcap… oh yeah, don’t even ask me about Unit Tests ok? 🙁

Anyone care to lend a hand?

https://github.com/sargonas/AnvilTracker/issues

The (not so insane) case for omitting Punkbuster in Battlefield 1

The early 2000s were a dark time in the FPS world. In the days of old, cheating was rampant, as anyone from the original Counter-Strike days can tell you. There is a saying in the anti-cheat world: “Build a better mousetrap, and they will build a better mouse.” The problem, however, was that for a many number of years, no one was even building mouse traps.

Enter Punkbuster, a creation of a coalition of angry gaming community people who were tired of the rampant cheating. At the time time, it was a godsend. You, the run-of-the-mill server administrator, could drop this module into your game server, tweak a few settings, and now the mice had a mousetrap to contend it. Was it perfect? No. Was it infallible? Nope. Did it at least help? You betcha!

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The mice evolved, and so did the mouse trap. Over time the storied tug of war of hacks vs. anti-cheat escalated as they always do, but this option held back the great unwashed masses of many an offender. There were false positives, there were people who would steal others GUIDs (Global Unique ID) and get them banned for fun, and there were other headaches… but it was an opt-in system. A game server admin could elect to turn on or off any part of the system at will, (or the whole system entirely). The cost benefit analysis was up to the server admin and their community to agree upon, so there were few surprises and consequences were manageable.

This brings us today… 2016. A far, far cry from the early 2000s. These days, first party anti-cheat systems are on the rise… and they are quite impressive pieces of technology. Blizzard’s “Warden”, Valve’s “VAC”, and so on, have set the standard for first party solutions. These systems outclass Punkbuster in many ways, especially in the false positive category, but most importantly, they are in house. The studio using them, also controls them. This is key! Accountability of the actions (and results) of these systems lie within the same walls as the platform on which they operate. It’s quite easy for Blizzard to go “oh crap, something went sideways for this guy, let’s reverse this ban.” or, as has happened before here at Riot, for a player to be banned for botting, only for our support staff to see clear evidence of an account compromise during that time frame and go “yeah it’s plain as day this wasn’t you” and reverse the ban during account recovery.

So, let me explain why this whole thing is in my head, and why I think Punkbuster has no place in Battlefield 1…

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In 2011, when Battlefield 3 came out (and repeated again with BF4 in 2013), DICE made the curious move to incorporate Punkbuster into the game as a required component. If a Battlefield 3(or 4) server is publicly accessible (meaning, not flagged to private and locked out to most folks), PB *must* be enabled on the server. No exceptions. This wasn’t, to the best of my knowledge, common before now. Some other studios had indeed bundled PB with their game’s dedicated servers, sure, but a forced-on implementation was a new one, at least from my understanding. Now, to be sure, it helped. It kept the game a lot saner than it could have been, that’s for sure!

Now, BF3 was one of the first major EA releases to come out in 2011 after the launch of Origin, and as such, was only available on that platform. One of the side effects of this was that your GUID tracked within Battlefield (and consequently PB) is keyed off of your Origin ID. No longer a hash of your computer hardware and game-specific username, this new format essentially “follows” your Origin account wherever it may be logged in, regardless of the computer in question.

For a while, when Origin was new, it was a bit behind in some technical areas. Having been around the team during that time, some really tough decisions had to be made about what was required for launch and what could be added down the road. This is a common decision making process at any studio and tech company, to ensure something was there for players in time for some key milestones and dependencies. This meant account security was a bit hit or miss for the first two years due to a lack of 2 Factor Authentication, for example. As a result, in late 2013 or early 2014 (my memory is hazy) there was a rash of account compromises in bulk that were seemingly part of some form of data breach. I, like many people, had my account compromised by (what at least appeared to be) a conglomerate of Russian hackers.  This went unnoticed by me for a few months, as no new releases came out to garner my attention and warrant logging into Origin. Then, along comes Dragon Age: Inquisition, (SUCH a good game by the way!) and I tried to log in. Uh oh! I went through the account recovery process, turned on the newly established 2FA, and life was good.

Then recently, in a wave of nostalgia with friends, I fired up Battlefield 3. Imagine my shock when I find out that every server I connect to instantly kicks me. Reading through the logs on a server I had control over, I come to find out my GUID is on the Punkbuster master ban list, and was added to it in early 2014! This ban extends to not only BF3, but *ANY* game that leverage Punkbuster who’s authentication methods stem from Origin. (IE all Dice games).

I have a string a documentation proving my account was compromised, Origin willingly acknowledges this issue. Punkbuster? Not a care is given to this. If one tries to appeal to Origin, they response is always the same “We have no control or authority over Punkbuster and all concerns on that need to be addressed to Even Balance.” On the Punkbuster side, any appeals to Even Balance fall on deaf ears. “We have no ownership over account security for Origin. Our only concern is that your GUID was linked to cheating, and placed on the master ban list. All decisions are final and irreversible.”

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So, this brings me to the point of this post: EA/Origin, by way of DICE, has turned over the keys to the kingdom for account bans for a subset of games to Punkbuster, a community controlled system. This third party, with no accountability or liability to EA, has the ability to say “you are hereby banned from all Origin games using PB” (which is this case is all DICE titles), because We Say So.

How is it, that a multi-million dollar publisher thinks it is a player-friendly, pro-consumer policy to say “you know what, let’s allow this other company whom we have no influence over to unilaterally ban our players, with no avenue for recourse by them or even ourselves.” Seriously. How does this make sense to anyone? If Battlefield 1 decides to ship with Punkbuster support, my account will be locked out of playing in any public online servers because of an account compromise that was beyond my control. Why on earth would I pay money for that experience?

Cheating is bad. It needs to be guarded against… but why can’t Dice/EA/Origin, make an in-house solution instead? One that they can have oversight on? Blizzard does it. Valve does it. Riot does it. Tons of studios do it. You are telling me EA thinks this is a better plan? Please.

Edit – 5/17/16 @ 10:23am: Curiously enough, when I woke up this morning I discovered my GUID was no longer on the master ban list. How it was removed I do not know, and I while I am grateful I can play again, it doesn’t really change how I feel about this situation, or the intent behind my post. Still, I am grateful to whomever looked me up and removed it.

The wrong way to recruit

Recruiters really baffle me. I’ve gotten some silly reach-outs before, but this one takes the cake and I felt compelled to share it. First off, let me link you to my linked-in. I’ll be here when you get back.

Now then, I hope you have at least some sense of what my background is? I mean, you probably didn’t dive too deep, but you skimmed it at least yeah?

Now today, I get the following email in all it’s glory:

J!
I came across your LinkedIn and I’m crossing my fingers you’ve got an interest in talking to me
I’ve got an opportunity with a SICKKKKK (unprofessional, I know, but really, it’s that exciting) company in Culver City that’s looking for a Network Gameplay Engineer to join their team ASAP.
They’re creating the software that HTC, Sony, and Oculus Rift hardware will be capable of using as well as some hardware to compete with it. Full integration of the varied VR platforms. Cool. Stuff. Man. Debut coming at the end of the year with all their hard work. THIS IS THE FUTURE.
If virtual reality is your thing -AND HOW COULD IT NOT BE- let me know a good time to contact you and I look forward to hearing from you! ( or if I can’t convince you, got any friends??
Now, first off, I have zero issue with the tone or levity. It’s a refreshing change of pace from a two para run-on sentence of industry buzzwords and corporate speak. (Though it does seem a bit over the top and forced after a bit.. maybe dial it back some?) However, I have to ask… WHAT ON EARTH ABOUT MY PROFILE SAYS NETWORK ENGINEER TO YOU?
Now, I’m not a stupid man (contrary to what some of my posts may lead you to believe). I know recruiters don’t actually read whole profiles. I know they are paid, or graded, or in some cases job-gated even, by the number of return emails/calls they field in a given week. And THAT is my complaint. How is that practical? That’s not how you build talent. That’s not how you curate an award winning, convention challenging team. That’s how you stock a puppy mill…
If you have 50% less recruiters, spend 50% more time focusing on key leads, stop scatter shot approaches, and maybe, I don’t know.. give it a honest personal touch… maybe, just maybe, you’ll find the ideal candidate faster than you imagined.. and maybe if you do that enough, you’ll build a team you never thought possible.

People are talent.. not cogs.

/Rant.

Fail Mail

I have had countless issues with the USPS. When I order something online, and they send me a tracking#.. if it is a USPS number I more or less immediately assume I have a 50/50 chance of ever actually getting the item at all. It’s so bad, that I try to make sure I always have it shipped to the office instead. We have a full scale mail room and loading dock, and the postage to here is delivered via direct truck from the local facility. At least then you can remove most of the “human factor” that screws me over on the delivery aspect.

The most common problem I’ve had was at my old Apartment I recently moved from. We had a gate on the side of the house, about 4 feet tall. Outside the gate was the bank of mailboxes (the usual small kind). Past the gate was a foot path with the doors to our units. Now, that gate was only chest high and had no lock on it. It was clearly not “secure”. Yet without fail, if a package came to our address, 90% of the time the status would update “unable to deliver” and after two attempts we’d have to go to the post office to get it.. where invariably they would take forever to even find the package, sometimes requiring 2 trips to get it. We’d always be told the same reason “the carrier couldn’t access our unit to securely deliver it.”

B.S.

Move forward to a few weeks ago: I ordered something on Amazon, and due to a series of unrelated events, the default delivery address of my office got “un-defaulted”. I didn’t realize this (my fault) and the package was addressed to my apartment. I realized after the fact and immediately understood this was going to be an adventure.. I did not, however, learn just how adventurous.

The package was out for delivery on the 25th. Mid day, I got a notification that it “could not be delivered as addressed.” So I reached out to Amazon chat support, to look into it for me. The agent spoke to the USPS and was informed “the address was illegible.” Now, I don’t know if you have ever ordered something on Amazon.com, but those labels are pretty crisp. Laser printed, big font, and the address is usually in more than one place.

He said he had given them the correct address, (and I tried to change it, but USPS wouldn’t allow it) and that it was rescheduled for delivery the following day, Friday the 26th. Naturally… it didn’t arrive Friday. Or Saturday. Or Monday. As a matter of fact the status remained time stamped on the 25th with “rescheduled for delivery on the following day” for a week. At that point, last wednesday the 2nd, I contacted Amazon again. They offered to re-ship the order to my office and just wash their hands and mine of the whole ordeal, and I happily agreed. I even got a $10 credit for not getting my guaranteed 2 day prime delivery. (I love you Amazon Customer Service!)

Fast forward to today, and SUDDENLY the tracking is updated. This is where it gets interesting:

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Somehow, the package went off the radar entirely (from the USPS facility in my zip code), then magically appeared again 11 days later at a facility 15 miles away east of downtown. Um, okay?

Now, it’s back at a DIFFERENT facility in another zip code (albeit the zip code adjacent to the previous, where my apt sits on the street dividing them.) In theory it’s back out for delivery as well… but oh, did I mention that during all this radio silence I moved about 4 blocks down the street?

Yeah it’s a good thing Amazon replaced this package cause I’m never gonna see it.

MakerBox.me – Not for me.

So a few months back I saw that someone finally put together what might hopefully be the first awesome 3D Printing monthly box service. A fan of Loot Crate, I thought it should check it out and see for myself. There was still time to sign up for the inaugural kit before the deadline, so after mulling over the rather pricey (but understandable) $69.99, I committed.  After taxes though this brought it up to $76 and some change. :/

(It’s worth noting, we’re talking about a 1kg spool of filament, which typically retails for $30-50 plus shipping on said 1kg and other stuff, so the price didn’t seem TOO unreasonable at the time.)

This is what Maker Box touts:

  • A new specialty filament from only the top renowned and tested manufacturers including: Made Solid, NinjaFlex, Taulman3D, 3D Fuel, Form Futura, 3Dom and more!
  • Upcoming materials may include Glow In The Dark, Metal, Wood, Bronze, Carbon Fiber and Flexible Filaments.
  • Maker tools one would need for tinkering such as screwdrivers, scrapers, pliers, wrenches, duct tape, etc.
  • Fun 3D downloads, reference sheets and guides.
  • Exclusive deals on free apps, printers, website coupons, courses and more.

Unfortunately, there were quite a few delays leading up to the shipping, (though they were proactive in explaining the delays to weather, and promised a free gift to be sent out after delivery of the box.) It finally arrived however, and I have to say I’m pretty disappointed. Make no mistake, I’m not unrealistic… I expected like most monthly subscription crates for there to be a bit of wiggle room and certainly NOT to hit some kind of “wow this is worth way more than I paid” jackpot. That said, the results have been lackluster at best.

The box itself was packaged in what was clearly meant to be an attempt to be clever, and I applaud that. The painted on Maker Box name was witty and neat, though the actual execution left it looking messy and cheap. I am not a designer, and I am not well versed in how to critique the application of a design idea to function in a well verbose way, but I do know when something has “missed the mark” which this sadly did. I can tell what they aimed for, but sadly it fell short. (There’s also excess blue paint accidentally smeared over other portions of the box as well.) The mailing label was duct taped to the box, on only two sides, leaving the rest of the label loose and exposed. Anyone who has ever shipped something USPS knows this is a recipe for disaster, with the way they handle packages.

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Moving into the box, there were two flyers, one advertising something and the other being a code for 3 months service for Trinpy.com. Not terrible, but considering these are 2 of the 5 things in the box we’re running out of value real quick here. There was also a scraper, a common and much needed tool to remove stubborn prints from the bed, everyone needs one.. but really once you have one or two, you’re pretty much set. No harm in sending one, but it’s definitely of the exceptionally cheap variety and likely less than $1 or $2 in value at most, especially considering a very stubborn print will easily bend this type of metal instantly.

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Next up we have an interesting tool. It’s a hand held, I guess, hole boring tool? Hard to say really, especially since there is no literature at all tagged with it? After a little digging around, it turns out it’s a pin drill set. Quite neat, but not really useful for me and my applications. At first I thought it was a set of nozzle cleaning heads, but when I opened the case and looked closer I saw all the bits were drill bits… it’s neat, looks nice, likely of some decent value, but.. well, a miss in my book.

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Lastly we have the intended crown jewel of the box, a spool of filament. This one appears to be from 3D Fuel, and is a biodegradable Algae filament. Interesting for sure, but nothing to write home about, and I don’t really consider biodegradable PLA to be on par with say, Glow In The Dark, Wood, Metal, or other “alternative” filaments. That said, I *do* recognize it’s technically a “unique” filament, and currently I understand it is rather pricey compared to PLA as a result. Unfortunately however, even though I am signed up for the 3mm diameter plan (3mm and 1.75mm being the two standard formats) this filament is 1.75mm… making it completely useless to me unless I swap out a significant portion of the hardware on my Ultimaker 2 in order to support it. :/

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I tried to look up the filament to get a sense about what it is more, and a better understanding. There is a URL on the box, but unfortunately the site shows this when you visit it:

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Definitely not at all confidence inspiring… Even less inspiring is all my research I can conduct indicates this filament ONLY comes in 1.75mm, which means they more or less just said “fuck it” to everyone who signed up with a 3mm plan. Thanks guys.

In the end, I pretty much canceled my subscription about 5 minutes after going through the box. It was a neat idea and if they can refine the process down the road I may get back on board, but right now I really feel like I got far less value out of this than what I paid (especially when their site claims “The MSRP value of every box will match or exceed the price.”, and when combined with a clear disconnect between them and the customer experience, I just felt like this isn’t for me.

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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