Friday, January 31, 2014

[Rant] Bought the Code Masters Humble Bundle

Today (31st of January) is my birthday. Usually I would buy a gadget of some sort as a self-gifted birthday present. But this time, I bought it early. That's the Plantronics BackBeat GO 2 wireless headset for the iPhone because the Apple Ear Pods suck!

What I really want is a new graphics card but there are two issues with it. A new graphics card is outrageously expensive for what they deliver. And the resale value of my current graphics card has dropped considerably in the last few months. (It’s around $160 now! It’s not funny!!!) I can still get an AMD R9 290 graphics card for just ¥40,000 - which is not a bad deal at all - but that is just the reference model, which I don't want. The same graphics card with a non-reference  cooler costs about ¥10,000 more (the Gigabyte one with Windforce 3 cooler). I checked the price of a GTX 780 as well but the prices haven't moved - not even a bit. Heck, I'll wait for the Maxwell powered cards later this year. It's not as if I can play a lot of games anyways with the baby.

But I couldn't just not buy anything. When I woke up in the morning, there was a new Humble Bundle Weekly Sale available. 8 games from Code Masters. Two were pretty big hits. DiRT3 and DiRT Showdown. Other games didn't really concern me much but hey, they are there. All this if you spend $6 or more. Of course I wouldn't spend more than the minimum $6. Without thinking twice, I bought the bundle.

Humble Weekly Bundle

Monday, January 27, 2014

[Unboxing] My Plantronics BackBeat GO 2 wireless earbuds finally arrived

Few days ago, I ordered the Plantronics BackBeat GO 2 wireless earbuds from Dospara. It was a great deal. The earbuds carry a MSRP of $79.99 (as of 2014-01-26), but I only had to pay JPY4,687 (or about $45) from my pocket. The caveat was that it took a while to get delivered. That’s no biggie. I could wait.

Finally the wait was over. The earbuds arrived at home early in the morning.

I took some photos when I unboxed the earbuds.

The first thing I did was to plug the earbuds to the USB charger. I didn’t check the manual at first, so I didn’t know what the LED indicator meant. I later found out that the earbuds carried a full charge out of the box. You can also check the current battery level by pressing the volume buttons when your are not listening to any source. The earbuds will speak it out to you.

They came with the medium sized “eartips” installed, but they felt too loose in my ears. As a result, there bass was very poor (because of sound leaking to the outside). I changed them to the large sized ones, but they felt a bit too large in my ears. Bass was much better however. Perhaps I only need some getting used to. I remember same thing happening with my old Sennheiser CX500’s a long time ago.

The pairing seems pretty quick. It can remember up to 8 paired devices. I have only paired it with my iPhone 5S so far but it should work with the tablet as well as the MBA.

IMG_0652

Actually there are a lot of things you can do with the earbuds. I need to check the manual and learn about all of them slowly. This is my first Bluetooth earbuds, so there are weird things happening at times. When I want to play podcasts from the built in speakers in the iPhone, it doesn’t play, because the earbuds are paired. The audio plays back from them. When I make a call, the default speakers are the earbuds. I get the option to choose which one to use, but the call goes through via the default speakers – the Bluetooth earbuds – even though I had not chosen which one to use.

Tomorrow I will put it to full use. I will be listening to podcasts using them while I commute to and from work. I will get a good idea about the battery consumption as well. Even though the specifications say that the battery will hold for 4hrs, people were saying that was not the case. In reality, it was about 3-3.5Hrs. Still, that’s ample time for my commute. But let’s see how things go.

I’ll be sure to update the post or write a new one about my experiences once I play with it for long enough.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

[Gadget] Ordered the Plantronics BackBeat Go 2 Bluetooth Wireless Earphones

Woohoo, I can get rid of the stupid Apple Ear Pods now!!!

At last, waiting for a price drop paid off. Today I was checking my emails when I saw an email from kakaku.com website. Actually there were two emails. One notifying the price drop on a GTX 780 graphics card and the second one notifying the price drop on Plantronics BackBeat Go 2 Bluetooth earphones. I was not that interested in the GTX 780 because that’s a lot of money. I spent a record amount of money this month. I cannot afford to spend another JPY50,000 or so.

But the BackBeat Go 2 had a huge price drop – percentage wise. The cheapest price of it was holding steady at JPY6,350. But the new price was “only” JPY5,187!!! That’s a 18% price drop. Plus, the shop offering this deal was Dospara. I had JPY500 worth points with them. I didn’t know what to do with those points anyways. That’s not all. Shipping is also free because the price was just over JPY5,000. The shipping is free when the amount of goods exceeds JPY5,000. Everything fitted perfectly to the equation.

Wait, there’s more. I would get 1% points, or maybe more – thanks to the points campaigns Rakuten Credit Card is offering these days.

2014-01-21_22-43-21

So I jumped on this opportunity without any second thoughts. The ones I ordered were the black ones. That’s really what I wanted, as I have the space grey model of the iPhone 5S. I like the stealth look.

For the price, this was the best set of wireless earphones that I could find – even at JPY6,350. But I only had to pay JPY4,687. Is this my self gifted birthday present? We shall see. There’s more time.

It will take about 3-5 days for the package to arrive. Hey, I waited this long. I can wait a couple of more days.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

[Life Event] Finally I'm a dad!

IMG_0278-4

My wife had been pregnant since last April. We didn't tell many people about it, so for most people it should come as a surprise. We tried to live as normal as we could, even though it wasn't easy for my wife in the first and the third trimesters. The second trimester was easier. We tried to enjoy this period as much as we could. We went on trips whenever possible. I bought gadgets as money was no problem. I followed some online courses via Coursera. I even started doing a podcast with Kalinga. I updated the blog quite frequently and played a lot of games as well. Basically, I didn't let anyone know that there were a lot of stuff happening underneath.

You see, this is also why I bought my new DSLR. We wanted to take a lot of photos of the baby and I needed a faster camera than the Canon PowerShot S95 point and shoot camera that I already owned. Without going for another point and shoot, I went all out and bought the Canon EOS 70D DSLR. I didn't really want to play with multiple lenses so I went with the 18-135mm kit lens. I felt I almost gave away that something big was going to happen soon.

Anyways, making January even more awesome than it already was (at least for me), our baby arrived in January. My birthday also falls in January and so does my wedding anniversary.

We admitted to the hospital on the 15th morning but the baby didn't arrive until 16th evening. After that my wife had to spend another 4 nights before she could come home. I don't know about other hospitals but that was how Suzuki Clinic operated. They would take care of the baby the entire time. The only thing the mothers had to do was to go and feed the baby during the predefined periods. You can either feed at your own room or at the common feeding room. The advantage of feeding at the feeding room is that there are supportive staff personnel.

Basically, the staff takes care of most of the work during the time at the hospital and that allows the moms to recover from the delivery. They also give a nice meal as well. But the heaviest meal is the dinner because the dinner is served at 5pm. Of course you can eat till 7pm or so.

I visited the hospital everyday and I stayed with my wife from 9am to 7:30pm. Those are the visitor hours. Also my wife's mother is also with us now - she arrived a month ago - and things are easier. Hey, at least I don't have to cook anymore. Sadly, that luxury will only last another couple of months.

On Monday the 20th, we brought the baby home. On the previous night I had to decorate the entire apartment with wall stickers to make it look like a nursery. It was hard work. I ordered the wall stickers from eBay. I sometimes think I overdid it. We shall see. The baby looks at them maybe only because they look contrasty on the white wall. I'm sure he cannot see them cleanly yet. He also looks at the TV that is mounted on the wall because it pops out clearly from the white background.

I'm sure there will be a lot to talk about the baby in the coming days. But for now I have to go and caress the baby.  

[Rant] Maxwell to be introduced as GTX750 Ti

Sad news for all the enthusiasts who wanted to see a GTX 880 soon. Well, this isn't completely news because in a previous post I mentioned that the first GPU core they are coming out with, is the GM117. It's not GM100 or GM110 which would normally be the top of the line GPU core. So it should be low end, but how low end is it?

It seems the grpahics card model that houses this chip would be called the GTX 750 Ti. Now we can assume the performance numbers and pricing. It is definitely slower than GTX 760, which sells for $249. It would probably be as fast as a GTX 660 Ti. Or it can probably only be as fast as a GTX 660. Who knows? We don't have any GeForce 700 cards below the GTX 760 to get an idea about the floor of the performance. But it would hopefully be faster than a GTX650 Ti Boost. That would be good enough for gaming at 1080p using high medium to high settings. Probably not ultra settings. Still, you can tweak the setting to strike a balance between quality and performance.

The let down for the people would want to buy this graphics card would be the fact that it carries the same GeForce 700 series moniker. You won't feel that it is a new GPU architecture, right? But I'm sure NVidia has their own reasons for placing it in the existing series.

The big question is, when will we see the big brothers? And for me personally, how long will it take for them to show up in the Japanese market? I doubt we will see them within the next 6 months though. Nvidia doesn't need to release a new family of graphics cards anytime soon. Their current generation graphics card are competitive with AMD's recently released R series graphics cards. They'll probably try to milk more money out of the current gen graphics cards while they can. We all know that the development is going to eventually slow down when we hit the physical barriers of the process technology. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

[Rant] NVidia GM117 - Looks like the early Maxwell samples would be low end SKUs

About a month ago when I reanalyzed the situation about my GPU upgrade dilemma, I came to the conclusion that the real upgrade would be a next generation GPU from either team. NVidia would be coming out with the Maxwell architecture this year and the rumors were that we would see them as early as March. Heck, that's only couple months from now. I can wait for them. I don't have to get a new card from the current generation. A Maxwell card, something like the GTX 870 would be a huge upgrade over my GTX 670.
 
Today I learned that this was not going to go well for me. Yes, Maxwell cards are coming out in March, but no, they won't be anything close to what a gamer would want. These would replace the cards like GTX 640 and the lower end. The GPU core they are going to release in March is called GM117 core. What a gamer would need is the GM100 or GM110 cores. These are the big guns. The GM100 would power the GTX 870/880 and the GM110 would power the GTX 970/980.
 
 It is a bit weird that NVidia is releasing the low end models earlier than the high-end models. Last time, they released the GTX 680 first, then GTX 670 and gradually unveiled the rest of the family. I wonder why they are going this the opposite way this time around. It could be perhaps Kepler in the high-end is very competitive with AMD's high-end solutions. Or it could be because AMD doesn't have anything big coming out anytime soon. Or it could be because NVidia wants to extract more money out of the current gen cards. Or it could be all of the above.
 
What I know is I am hugely disappointed. The GM100 cards might come out this year still. But we don't have a time frame. Or GM100 could never see the light. Remember how they couldn't make the GK100 chips and they release the mid-range GK104 as the highend GTX 670/680 SKUs. It might happen again.
 
So that means, I still have to look at the current gen cards. I still want to see AMD's Mantle APIs in action before making a decision. It's a shame that EA had to put off the Mantle update for Battlefield 4. It could have been the revelation that I needed. On the market side of the things, the GTX 780's price in the Japanese market hasn't changed in the last couple of months. The cheapest GTX 780 still stands tall at $550. But the cheapest R9 290 is going for $420 currently. (It even went down to $399 once!) We have seen a couple of custom cooled R9 290 cards show up on Kakaku.com's radar, but still they are massively overpriced. Currently you can only find the Gigabyte R9 290-OC in the market, but XFX's Black Edition Double Dissipation card also was available a little while back. But the best cooler for these AMD chips is made by Sapphire in their Tri-X line up of cards, and they are nowhere to be found in the Japanese market. Bummer!
 
Well, I guess that I can wait a couple of more weeks. My birthday is coming up on the 31st, and I would be happy if I could get a new graphics card by then. If not, hey, it's not the end of the world. I can still play a lot of games at 1440p with the GTX670, although I cannot play all of them at max details. I think I can live with that. The only issue with be knowing that my PC is not living up to my expectations.
 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

[Rant] AMD FreeSync?

Nvidia-Gysnc2Couple of months ago, NVidia came up with a new technology called G-Sync to solve a problem gamers had been encountering for decades. Stuttering. What they do is they tell the display to refresh once a new frame has been finished rendering by the GPU, instead of the display refreshing at a constant interval automatically. For this, they had to modify the internals of the display. They had to replace the scalar module with their own G-Sync module. DIY lovers will be able to buy the module separately and modify their own display, if that is supported. General public will have to buy a new display with G-Sync support built in. Since this module is expensive,a G-Sync supported display will carry a price premium of $100 or so.

Thus, there are two issues with G-Sync.

  1. You need to buy a new display and that display is more expensive than a comparable display that doesn't support G-Sync
  2. You need to have a NVidia graphics card as NVidia won't be licensing this technology to AMD or anyone else in the near future.

freesync

And comes AMD's solution. AMD is not actually doing much other than releasing a driver update. You won't need a separate hardware module in the display, because it seems the VESA standard already supports controlling VBLANK intervals. (VBLANK is a “name” from the old CRT days, but is still used in LCDs as well) VBLANK interval is the time that the display waits till until the next refresh cycle starts. The problem here is that none of the displays currently available does not support this. This is just an optional feature in the VESA standard. Thus you still need to buy a new display that supports this, but nobody knows when displays that support this feature would come out. But when the display come out, they won't carry the premium of the G-Sync like module. And if it really works out well, it will be just as good as G-Sync.

The good news is that the upcoming Display Port 1.3 specification requires to have it implemented, hence the day won’t be that far away. But then again, G-Sync won’t require you to get a display with a Display Port interface. The modified scalar board (yes, that’s the G-Sync board) will take care of it.

AMD showed a preview of Free Sync at CES 2014 using a laptop. This laptop supports controlling VBLANK intervals, but not for getting rid of stuttering, but to save power by lowering refresh rate when you don’t need it – like when you are watching 24fps movies in full-screen. AMD is simply exploiting that. Most laptops don’t have it implemented either. One reason why this is available in some of the laptops is because there is no need for a scalar board because you don’t get inputs from different interfaces like DVI, D-SUB, HDMI etc. The input interface is fixed and already decided, thus it doesn’t require many of the circuitry that a normal desktop display needs to handle multiple interfaces.

Click here to read more about FreeSync at PCPerspective.

Now, that makes me wonder if there is some hope for these Korean displays (which I own one already) which don’t have a scalar board inside. They seem to have a bypass board though, but I don’t know what that does.

Monday, January 6, 2014

[Rant] Renewing the internet connection after 2 years

The last time I called OCN (my ISP), it was vacations for them. They were supposed to resume work today, the 5th of January, so I gave them a call to confirm that I could disconnect the internet connection without getting charged for early termination. They said everything was fine and that I should disconnect before 31st of January.

Then I told them my story. I told them that I wanted to disconnect because I wanted to get the discount when getting a new connection. It seems that if I disconnect and get the same connection under my name, it would still be fine. By fine I mean, I could get the discount.

apply_01

But the ISP is just one part of the story. There is the infrastructure provider: NTT in my case. They also give a discount when you get a connection from them for the first time. But when I called them, it seemed that if renewed the connection under my name, I would not be entitled to the discount because it’s the same person. If I wanted to get it under my own name, I would have to wait a year before applying again.

But the good news is, I can apply under my wife’s name. That would give me the full discount. But people at NTT recommended me that I apply after disconnecting the existing connection, so that there won’t be any complications.

I haven’t asked them to terminate the connection. I don’t know what will happen if I tell them to terminate the connection now, or if I could possible do that. But I will call them in the next weekend and ask them to terminate the connection. Then they will tell me what will happen.

Either way, I will be applying through kakaku.com. Usually you have to add some other features like Hikari TV (kinda like SLT PeoTV) and a fixed phone line when you apply from the ISP’s website or from places like Yodobashi. But no such hassle when you apply from kakaku. Of course you can call them can unsubscribe from those addition features, but is still a hassle.

All I want is the discount and the internet connection.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

[Unboxing] Canon EOS 70D-W with 18-135mm IS STM kit lens

It finally arrived early in the morning yesterday. If you looked at the title carefully, you will see that there is a W at the end of the name of the camera. That means this model comes supports wireless connectivity features. The other model is the EOS 70D-N which doesn’t support wireless. This is because in some countries, use of wireless devices is illegal.

Time for some unboxing photos. They were taken from the Canon PowerShot S95 point and shoot camera.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

[Rant] Ordered the Canon 70D DSLR

70D_18-135Today in the afternoon, I bought the Canon 70D DSLR with 18-135mm STM kit lens. It took a lot of consideration. A lot of hesitation.

First I was thinking of getting the camera using the discounts when renewing the internet connection. But I figured that getting the cash-back instead would yield a bigger profit. Hence I decided to buy the camera with full forefront payment and get the cash-back from the internet connection separately. This way, it would total to about ¥57,000 in return if I get the full amount. If I bought the camera with the discount, I would only get ¥40,000 worth discount. It would take a bit longer so I decided to get the camera ASAP.

The camera cost me ¥127,000. This is the most amount of money that I have spent at once – ever!

I bought it from EC-Current. I had not bought anything from them before but buying stuff in Japan is pretty safe, especially if the shop is listed on Kakaku. There was a couple of cheaper options, but I couldn’t use the credit card with those shops. It doesn’t really matter because when I use the credit card, I get 1% point from Rakuten, which would amount to ¥1,270 for this particular purchase. It brought own the effective price to ¥125,730 which was only slightly more expensive than the cheapest option. But it didn’t stop there. There was an offer from Rakuten credit card service where if I split the amount into two and paid it over two months (with no interest), they would give me ¥1,000 worth of points. I guess they do this so that you get the taste of splitting the amount into multiple turns. They start charging interest when you split it into 3 or more turns. Anyways, this meant that the whole points scene made it the cheapest option.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

[Rant] It’s time to upgrade the internet connection

I’ve been using my internet connection for almost 2 years. I can cancel it without any extra charges now and get a new internet connection. Otherwise it will automatically get renewed.

So why would I need to get a new internet connection? One reason. Discounts!!! When you get a new internet connection here in Japan, they give us a big discount on select products OR sometimes give cash back. I’m after that! In fact, if I buy it from kakaku.com, I can get discounts on even more goodies. Me loves goodies!!! A new graphics card, anyone? A new camera anyone? Yippie!

But there is one catch. It takes them a long time to give me the internet connection. I cannot live without a internet connection. It is just like living without electricity. But it is fine, as there are many friends living in the same building and I can use their wireless internet connection until they give me the connection.

Wireless connection, I said. What about my desktop PC, the PC that I use mostly. It doesn’t have wireless. But then I remembered, I don’t have to worry about it. When I moved to this apartment, I had the same issue. I didn’t get internet connectivity until a couple of weeks had passed. So I had to use a friend’s WI-FI connection. For that, I bought a USB wireless adaptor which cost me JPY1,257. It is supposed to support 802.11n but you never get the full speed anyways.

So I went through my stuff and found the dongle. I connected it to my desktop via a USB 3.0 port. It got recognized and then I could simply enter the WI-FI access key of my own WI-FI connection and connect to the internet. It worked! At first I was a bit worried that it didn’t work.

IMG_6061-1

I ran a quick benchmark to see how good the dongle was. Here’s the speedtest result.

[Rant] My new year gadget buying resolutions

It's new year folks!!! The year 2014. Year 2013 came and went really fast. But a lot of things happened during that year. Affairs in the personal life are outside of the scope of this blog. This is all about tech.

I bought a lot of gadgets as well.
 
Man, that's a lot of money. Sure, some of them were bought by selling the old gadgets. So it's not a huge expenditure. Still, I think I could have saved quite a sum if I made the right choices at certain times. For example, I should have waited on the Tablet. I should have kept the 2600K CPU. The headphones – the Roccat Kaves were too much. Should not have bought the Leap Motion controller as well.
 
So what's it going to be this year? I already have a list.
  • New camera: Canon 70D + 18-135mm IS STM lens kit
  • New video card: AMD Radeon R9 290 (custom cooled) or GTX 780 or GTX 870/880 (Maxwell)
  • New mouse: Logitech G602 wireless gaming mouse
  • New keyboard: Logitech G710+ mechanical gaming keyboard
 
I’m still not sure if I should get the Canon 70D. The camera itself is amazing, but if I cannot put it into proper use, it would be a lot of money spent badly. The darn thing costs $1260 as of today. I don’t think the prices would go down any time soon. Usually the prices hold their ground until a new model comes out. But considering the fact that Canon doesn’t put out new semi-pro or pro cameras every year, I guess the price will hold. So waiting any longer is not the wise thing to do if I am solid on the purchase. I’m still trying to learn the S95 camera and I have learned a lot of things in the last few days.
 

[Rant] I wish Logitech would make their mice more durable

I have been using Logitech products for a long time. When I came to Japan, I had a G5 mouse which I broke after a while. I bought a G500 to replace it and it also broke. The middle mouse button stopped working – stopped clicking. This is exactly what happened with the G5 as well. Logicool, which Logitech calls themselves in Japan, replaced it, no questions asked. Then after a while it broke again. This time it was the left mouse button. Everything else worked perfectly. They replaced it again. This time they didn't even ask me to send them back the broken mouse. In the previous occasion they asked me to return the defective mouse. They, of course, sent the new mouse in advance. Funny thing was, the mouse they sent me had a defect as well. The tilt action of the scroll wheel didn’t work properly. I had to ask them to send me back another mouse. Man, this G500 mouse that I'm using is pretty expensive.

Anyways, I've now been using this mouse in the last few months without any hardware issues. But there is one issue. The issue is that the coasting of paint on the mouse where I rest the thumb fades away. Look at the pic below. (Ignore the dust though) This is not something that just happened with this mouse. The previous G500 mice that broke also had this issue.

IMG_6023-1

Is this same with other mice as well? This makes the resale value of the G500 go down the toilet. I mean, the mouse may perform perfectly well but the looks are important. If people see that the mouse is worn out, they will ask to drop the price down. That sucks.

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