Archive for the ‘reviews’ Category

Palm Pre vs. Treo 700p with SERO Plan

Posted by matt on July 27, 2009

palmpre3.jpgWhile there have been countless comparisons of the Palm Pre to the Apple iPhone, I haven’t seen many comparing the Palm Pre to the Treo line of products (Treo 650, Treo 700p, Treo 755p, Treo Centro). There are still tens of thousands of old Sprint SERO customers on a Treo 700p (or similar) that like me, are looking to upgrade to something. The old Sprint SERO plan was at it’s peak around 2-3 years ago, so many Sprint customers are either rolling off their plans, or at a minimum, definitely ready for a new phone.

I was a Treo 700p user for 3 years with heavy use on a $30 SERO plan (upgraded later to $45 with unlim. text). For over a year of that, I also extensively used email, RSS, web, Twitter, Twitpic, Facebook, etc. I made the move from the Treo 700p to the Palm Pre in early June 2009, and decided to put together the comparison of what you have to look forward to (or what you have to give up): NOTE: this comparison was written on 7/27/09 and is based on Palm Pre WebOS v1.1

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted under how to, reviews, tech gadgets

10 years of Sunspot Pictures (the band, not the sun)

Posted by matt on June 11, 2009

SunspotIt’s hard to believe, but I’ve been friends with Madison, WI rock band Sunspot for over 10 years!  Since tomorrow they are releasing their 5th full-length album, Singularity, I thought I would post some of my favorite pictures I’ve taken of Mike, Ben and Wendy over the last decade.  Out of over 8000 (!) that I’ve taken, here are 130 ordered chronologically that are my favorites.  Check it.

Almost as crazy as attending one of their live shows is the number of digital cameras I’ve owned over this same time frame…it’s pretty nuts:

  • 1999-2001 Largan Lmini 350 – 0.6 MegaPixel – this thing was terrible in most every way, but it was digital, which is what a digital guy needs.  Yeah, 0.6MP.
  • 2001-2003 Sony FD-90 – 1.6MP – Great optics, but sloooow camera.  Made you slow down, but almost too much.  I still have some pictures I really like from this camera.  If it only had 10x the sensor quality.
  • 2003-2005 Olympus 5050z – 5.0MP – My first prosumer camera, this taught me the photo basics, mainly aperture, shutter speed and ISO.
  • 2005-2006 Canon Digital Rebel –  6.3MP – The first in a crazy-upgrade cycle of Rebels.
  • 2006-2007 Canon Digital Rebel XT – 8.0MP – I started selling stock photos and the upgrades in both lenses and cameras now were ‘funded’.  It’s nice when your hobbies pay for themselves.
  • 2007-2008 Canon Digital Rebel XTi – 10.1MP – Sensor cleaning = good!  A great camera, I only really upgraded because in stock photography it helps to have higher MegaPixel for increased size for increased $$.
  • 2008-2009 Canon Digital Rebel XSi – 12.2MP – While still a very capable camera, I’ve vowed this is the last Rebel I’d buy… the 50D (or 60D) or 5D MarkII product line is next for me, but I’ve been investing in lenses lately.
  • I had a Casio Exilm EX-Z57 which I used only for a couple of shots at shows (since I had the Rebel then).  What’s most interesting about this camera, is it is what Wendy uses for her “Drummercam” photos!

Finally, I also have a video of Sunspot from their March 2009 show at the Frequency. They are playing their song “Neanderthal” and they segue into some Megadeth.

It’s shot with my Canon Vixia HF100 HD video camera.  It’s flash based, small with a great quality picture, even in low light.

Be sure to check out Sunspot live if you get a chance–they don’t disappoint!  Pick up their new album too!

Posted under music, photos, reviews, shows

HGTV’s Man Land: Vegas City Style Casino Basement

Posted by matt on June 5, 2009

Over 2 years ago, my friend Chad Draheim was contacted by HGTV for a show they were doing entitled “Man Land” (they found his ‘casino basement‘ blog post).  After the long wait, it was on HGTV last Saturday!  Even though it is episode #2, they played it as the premier episode.

Since most people aren’t watching TV @ noon on a Saturday, (and it’s nowhere to be seen online) I decided to rip it from my DVR.  I edited it down to 7 minutes which is just the part featuring Chad and Kitt’s Basement:

In the clip is Chad, Kitt and Keely Draheim, the host George Gray, Chad’s brother Brian, Apollo Marquez, Matt Griswold and me!  It was a lot of fun to film, and it was interesting seeing how much time, effort and footage goes into just 7 minutes of television (i.e. they edited my interview down to about 7 seconds, which is probably a good thing since I don’t really remember what I was talking about).

Man Land is available in HD on HGTV and looks like it will continue to be on Saturday’s at 1PM eastern and pacific, noon central.  Enjoy!

Posted under how to, reviews, TV Shows

Album Review: Silversun Pickups, Swoon

Posted by matt on April 8, 2009

Silversun Pickups - SwoonArtist: Silversun Pickups
Album: Swoon
Wikipedia Genre(s): Indie rock, Dream pop, Shoegaze
Matt’s Fav Tracks: Panic Switch, Growing Old is Getting Old, Sort Of
# times listened: Moderate (10 – 25 times)
Matt’s Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Album: Amazon
MP3’s: Amazon non-DRM

I was introduced to Silversun Pickups a few years ago listening to XM radio, of all places and really dug their album “Carnavas“.  With the 2 obvious hits on that album, it was a little more inconsistent than I would have hoped, and I ended up putting the 2 tracks on playlists rather than listen to the entire album.

Enter Swoon.

I’m going out on a limb saying that Swoon will be one of the best alternative albums of 2009.  You listen to it and you instantly know it’s Silversun Pickups, but it still has a great newness to it.  The songs are more solid, yet explore the familiar, dreamy territory that is all their own (with a sound that Smashing Pumpkins wish they could have morphed into).

800px-silversun_pickups_01.jpgI was afraid that after the success of Carnavas that SP would mellow out, but am quite glad they didn’t go that route.  While some quieter moments exist on the album, other parts sound good REALLY LOUD.  They rock out with the best of them, and even with ‘indie’ as one of their genre labels, they don’t wuss out like too many other indie bands do on their sophomore album.

Lead singer singer Brian Aubert still has that off-beat, androgynous voice that works well with their sound.  Many of the melodies and guitar solos are quite simple, but unbelievably catchy (like the main riff and baseline in “Panic Switch”).  They’ll be running through your head all day after just a few listens.  SP is really good at the distortion-noise stuff too, if you are into that.

Check out the video for “Panic Switch”:

If you are bored with much of the music out today (who isn’t) grab this album (it comes out April 14th, 2009) for a fresh look at a genre nearing it’s 20th birthday.  It’s close to 5 stars for me, but giving it 4.5 out of 5 stars until it grows on me a little more.

Posted under music, reviews

How to play old arcade games with a MAME machine

Posted by matt on February 21, 2009

Ahh, arcade games.  Last summer, I posted my “What’s your top 1% video game“, and it got me thinking that I haven’t played too many games lately…

Over 6 years ago, I decided that I wanted to build an arcade cabinet that would play all the old-school arcade games.  While my MAME (Multi-Arcade-Machine-Emulator) machine has gone through at least 3 rounds of iterations, it has been out of commission for over a year (after some hard use at my last Karaoke party… kind of a long story).  Until last week…  I finally got around to putting in an old workstation that would update the CPU hardware for the first time in about 4 years and get everything else back working.

It’s hard to believe, but I’ve been messing around with MAME for over 10 years.   Growing up in a 12-machine video game arcade at my parents campground in the 80s was a dream come true.  Today, it would be too hard to figure out which specific arcade game to buy, so in the 90’s when MAME came out, having the ability to play many games on the same machine had huge appeal.  How many is many?  As of early 2009, how about over 6500 working games!!

While there are many paths to going and getting one of these machines running, I’ll tell you what I did:

tankstick_sm2.jpg1) Controls ($200 or less) – Back in 2002, I purchased an X-arcade Joystick.  This is arcade quality, and if you just want to use MAME with a normal computer it works well.  If you plan on having a cabinet, a better way to go would be to simply buy the controllers and build your own board.  I ended up ripping up my X-arcade and put it in a custom board.  I’m lucky that my good friend Cory was able to make me a board and layout.  Check his modern arcades site for more of the cabinets he has built!

2) Computer – (cheap/free?) Many people have an old computer lying around.  The one that is usually in my MAME cabinet is what typically becomes of my primary workstation after I upgrade (typically every 2-3 years).  While some games don’t even work with the newest hardware, you can easily play over 4000 of these games with almost any machine.  Remember, these games are from the 80’s, so emulation of them isn’t that intensive.  The first computer I used was a 486 running Windows 95 and it easily played all the early 80’s classics like Galaga, Pacman, etc.  Today I’m using a middle-of-the-line Athlon 3800+ with 1GB of RAM and a 256MB Radeon HD 3450 video card which also works quite well.

lowerhell-MAME-Custom-Arcade-cabinet-by-Matt-Apps3) Cabinet – ($varies, mine was $175 delivered) The biggest commitment is the cabinet.  Rather than try to build my own, I went to a local games distributor and asked if they had an old cabinet.  They did, and I ended up with an old Zenophobe cabinet (it had been later turned into Combattribes).  If you know of a game vendor in your area, chances are they have old stuff around in a warehouse that can be had for cheap.  Check craigslist too.  You might find a working machine that you could convert fairly easily.

4) Monitor ($varies) – I used a computer monitor that doesn’t look the best in my cabinet, but there are a lot of options.  With LCD’s so cheap, taking one out of the case and mounting in a cabinet may work well for you.   You can probably get a CRT almost free these days.

5) MAME Emulator – It’s free, just download it.  This is the program that acts as the hardware for all the different games by using your computer.  It’s been in active development for over 10 years and continues to improve.   I use the MAMEUIFX32 as it has some features over the official builds (like high-score saving).

6) ROMS and CHD’s –  These are the actual games and use use the MAME emulator to play them.  While the copyright on many of these games has expired or the potential interested parties are no longer interested, you will officially be entering a grey area playing any of these games.  There are groups of individuals that have been around for years that will get the roms to you for cost of the media.  Doug Burton is one of these guys.  You also may also consider bittorrent. Please don’t ask me–I’ll just direct you to this post.

Recently, the size of all the games has grown astronomically with the addition of CHD (compressed hard drive) files.  I mentioned before there are 6500 working games (about 7500 total that don’t all work).  If you sort by size, the first 3000 games only add up to 90MB!  But they go up from there…  To get to 5000 games, you need 611MB of disk space, and to get to 7400 you need 17GB!  Finally, if you include a couple of hundred games with the CHD files, the archive grows to almost 150GB!!  Drive space is cheap these days though, so even at that size it shouldn’t be an issue.

Check this Youtube video of me playing M.A.C.H 3, an old laser disk came from 1983.  While emulating Galaga and Pacman isn’t that hard, MAME has come a long way to be able to emulate old laser disk games too.

Posted under tech gadgets, Video Games