Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Jack O Lantern Idea

I can't claim credit for coming up with this. I saw it on Facebook or Pinterest or something like that. For pumpkin carving this year, kiddo and I shamelessly ripped off the idea of buying small ghost pumpkins (sometimes referred to as "Baby Boo" pumpkins) and using plastic vampire teeth for their mouths. The thing to remember about Baby Boo pumpkins is that, since they're small, they tend to rot faster than their larger counter parts. Personally, I think that a little bit of rotting makes them look even scarier.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Minecraft 1.7.2 The Update That Changed The World

A new version of Minecraft came out on Friday, one which includes a number of interesting changes. Referred to as "The Update That Changed The World". A bunch of new biomes have been added, most notibly the various flavors of mesa biomes. You'll also find that glass can be stained a bunch of different colors and that the various dyes to do so are derived from a bunch of new flowers. Fishing has also become more interesting in that there are now several more kinds of fish (I've already caught salmon, clown and puffer fish) and that junk and treasure can be obtained randomly through fishing.

I spent a few hours last night playing 1.7.2 and it has already proven to be a very fun enhancement to the overall game. A list of everything that has been changed is below: 


(This update includes 1.7 and 1.7.1)
+ Added lots of new biomes!
+ Added “AMPLIFIED” world type
+ Added Acacia and Old Oak wood types
+ Added Stained Glass
+ Added Packed Ice, Red Sand, Podzol
+ Added a bunch of new flowers, including double-height flowers and grass
+ Added more types of fish
+ Fishing rods can be enchanted
+ Achievements are now world specific
+ Gaining achievements now announced to other players
+ Added a few new achievements
+ Servers can now have a “server-icon.png” that is displayed in the multiplayer list
+ You can see who’s online before joining, just hover the player count number in the server list
+ New /summon command
+ Added Command Block minecart
+ Links in chat are now clickable
+ Click on somebody’s name to send a private message
+ Added a bunch of new graphics options
+ Added some shader tests (click on the “Super Secret Settings” a couple of times…)
* Biome placement has been improved, and oceans are smaller
* Portals to the Nether can now have different shapes
* Fishing is now more interesting
* Maps in item frames are now extra big
* The achievement screen is zoomable
* Preparations have been made to offer name change in the future
* You can now have multiple resource packs loaded at the same time
* Resource packs can now hold sound effects
* Servers can recommend resource packs
* Network code has been rewritten
* Sound manager has been rewritten
* Many many bug fixes…
- Removed the Rose flower
- Removed Herobrine

Thursday, October 24, 2013

I Drew My Own Blood

I'm fairly used to the process of getting my blood drawn. It has happened so much over the last year that I can go through the motions simply by relying on muscle memory. I go to the receptionist. She always recognizes me, and tells me to have a seat and wait until my name is called. I wait for about five minutes. A nurse walks into the waiting room, calls my name, and I follow her to one of the lab rooms where I sit, make a little small talk, get a needle stuck in me, give up three vials of blood, and then get a band-aid over the wound. I always thank the nurse for making it a painless process, even if it wasn't.

Yesterday, however, the process changed for a bit. The nurse was new and, after she led me into the lab room, she left for what I thought would be a brief moment. Some ten minutes later, I got bored. I picked up a piece of scrap paper and began to doodle. A few moments later, the nurse walked in and the following exchange occurred:

Nurse: Are you ready to have your blood drawn?
Me: Oh, that won't be necessary. I've already drawn my blood for you.
Nurse: WHAT??
Me: (Showing the picture I drew of my red blood cells at a rave). Here. Have a look.
Nurse: (Definitely not laughing) .......
Me: What? I didn't have time to color it.
Nurse: Hold out your arm.
Me: Don't you want to tape it to the fridge or something?

And THAT, dear readers, is why my arm still hurts this morning.

They're Supposed To Be Red Blood Cells, Not Donuts.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Psychic From Sears Calls Again

It has been six months since I first started looking for options on my kitchen remodel. Out of all the companies whose forms I've filled out, Sears has been the most aggressive. I have politely told them several times that since they insisted on using non-local employees to do the work, then we wouldn't be doing business as I wanted to use my funds to help out the local economy.

Sears calls every few weeks and I've long since stopped being polite and have kept messing with them at every opportunity. They called again last night and I acted like I thought she was a psychic seer who somehow divined that I was in need of a kitchen remodel (possibly through contacting my dead grand father). The rep on the other end took it with surprisingly good humor until I accused her of going through my trash and stealing my old hard drives.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Samsung Optical Reader Via Verizon Galaxy S4 Update

My Verizon backed Samsung Galaxy S4 got a system update early this morning. I had hoped that it was the Android 4.3 update, which I am anxious to receive since it supports Galaxy Gear connectivity. Alas, no, it was just a cruddy build update that Verizon is using to placate a number of customers who bitched about the Samsung Optical Reader app not being available on its initial Galaxy S4 release. That's not to say that there aren't a number of bug fixes and feature enhancements in the 150mb update, but, it's all minor stuff. The Samsung Optical Reader is what stands out the most in this update. And, I have to ask: Is it really necessary?

On the surface, it sounds like a neat little app. You take a picture of a business card with your rear camera and the Samsung Optical Reader puts the information on the card into a contact on your phone. It will also translate printed foreign language phrases for you. I was interested enough to launch the app so that I could test it out. The second you launch it, though, it tells you that it needs to download more files in order to run. And, for that, you have to sign in to the Samsung App Store. Great. Yet another lame attempt by Samsung to force customers into using the Samsung App Store. I haven't logged in to it since I bought my Galaxy S4 and don't ever plan to again. Besides, Google Goggles does everything that the Samsung Optical Reader claims to do and more. I'm told by some of my fellow Samsung enthusiasts that the Samsung Optical Reader has a better UI than Google Goggles, but, that's not enough of a motivation to get me to sign in to the Samsung App Store in order to find out.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Dinner Time For The Praying Mantis

There have been a number of praying mantises all over town this past month. I've seen them on the sides of cars, on playground equipment and on lawn furniture. I encountered this particular praying mantis on my porch the other day and found him dining on a cricket yesterday afternoon. Unlike many other insects, the praying mantis doesn't inject its prey with a fluid that liquifies its internal organs. The preying mantis eats its prey alive. I'm not sure which of the two options I find more terrifying.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Pandigital SCN02 Photolink One-Touch Scanner Review

Example of an image scanned by the Pandigital SCN02
After inheriting a number of photo albums belonging to my grand parents, my folks now have thousands of old photos tucked away in albums in various states of disarray. My siblings and I delight in looking through these albums whenever any number of us are visiting my parents. These things aren't going to last forever, though, so I wanted to preserve these memories digitally as quickly and as easily as possible. Using a flatbed scanner is far too time consuming, so I went looking for a portable scanner that I could use to get the job done.

For less than $50, I purchased the Pandigital SCN02 Photolink One-Touch Scanner which allows you to autofeed your photos into the mechanism and then scans the image to a memory card while feeding it through. The instructions tell you to use the included clear plastic sleeves to scan your photos, but I would not bother with them as they tend to either not catch properly on the unit or will create lines on the photo. I was fairly pleased with the results of my scans. You get a 300dpi 1.5 mega pixel jpeg for 3x5 and a 2 mega pixel jpeg for 4x6's. This is fine for displaying on a digital frame or posting on social media but not nearly high enough resolution to do any real editing to or print enlargements.

There is one rather pervasive problem with the Pandigital SCN02. There seems to be a tendency for scanned photos to start exhibiting scan lines after some time. I've had the issue myself and found that the problem was due to static holding dust on the scanning mechanism. This problem can be fixed by moistening the included cleaning pad with some anti-static screen cleaner. I hear, though, that the most effective solution is to simply fog your breath into the slot like blowing on an old Nintendo cartridge.

Overall, I'd say that the Pandigital SCN02 is a great item for the price, especially if you're willing to take good care of it. If you're looking to do a bunch of quick photo scans, I would recommend it. However, for extensive photo editing, you'll have to stick with the old flatbed scanner.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Minecraft PE vs Survivalcraft

I recently won a $5 Google Play credit through the Hershey's Android KitKat promotion. With that credit, I decided to purchase Survivalcraft which is a game in the same vein as Minecraft Pocket Edition. I had heard that Survivalcraft is much like Minecraft PE yet with more features. And, I can honestly say that, truly, Survivalcraft has a lot more features than Minecraft PE and feels much more like the PC version of Minecraft than Minecraft PE does. One does have to wonder why Survivalcraft is able to include such goodies like electricity, caves, fire animation and so much more while Minecraft PE is lagging so far behind that it only offered buckets and eggs three revisions ago. Survivalcraft also allows you to directly download additional content like maps and texture packs while Minecraft PE does not. Let's also not forget that Survivalcraft beats Minecraft PE on the price point as well.

As much as I love Survivalcraft and think that it represents a lot of what Minecraft PE should be striving for, there are a few things that I simply cannot get past. Survivalcraft takes an age to load and, every time I start a new game, I'm met with that stupid introductory sequence where the ship leaves my avatar on the island. Okay, I get it: They won't be coming back, so I'm stranded and I need to survive on my own. Does the game really need this sequence? Can't I just jump right in to playing? The user interface on Survivalcraft is much clunkier than the one on Minecraft PE. Perhaps I am biased because I started out on Minecraft PE, but I have a very hard time navigating the Survivalcraft interface and have a difficult time even moving around the Survivalcraft world. The ultimate deal breaker, however, is the lack of multiplayer on Survivalcraft. One of the reasons why I bought Minecraft PE in the first place was so that my daughter and I could collaborate together via our tablets. It's so much fun to be able to explore, build and play with someone else and I find that it's almost essential to this type of gaming experience.

Pros and Cons of Minecraft PE and Survivalcraft aside, I'd like to stress that they are both great games. There's room in this world and on your device for both. That being said, I think that, if you're going to be playing alone, Survivalcraft is probably the better option. If you're hoping to play along with someone else, then Minecraft PE is for you. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

I Survived Yet Another Opening Weekend

I wasn't doing to well during our rehearsals for "The Foreigner" last week. Working all day, then cooking dinner, helping my daughter with her homework and then running off to rehearse for four hours before coming home and going to bed had been taking its toll on me. By Thursday night's final dress rehearsal, I was dropping lines and missing ques. I performed so bad that Friday night found me trying to force lines into my head a mere 10 minutes before curtain went up like some burned out college kid trying to cram before a final.

At some point, every actor has to realize that they've either got everything down or they don't. So, as the lights went on, I put my script down, grabbed my props and hit the stage. There must be something about having an audience that makes my synapses fire correctly, because I was spot on that night. It's almost like I was riding their laughter like a wave from line to line.

After the opening night show, the director came back stage and said to me "I knew once I got you in front of a packed house that you'd run away with it!". And I did the same thing with the next two shows during the weekend. We've got three more shows to do this upcoming weekend, and, once our run of "The Foreigner" is over, I'm heading over to the theater across town to pick up a minor role in a brand new play being produced there.