Tech + Lifestyle

games, gear, and googleplexes (joke)

In Interim

I’m home. As in really, truly, home. It feels strange, but oh so good – like returning to some really comfortable clothes after not wearing them for a while. Yeah, that’s nice.

China was cool, don’t get me wrong, but half of my time there was spent learning to make do with inferior products and amenities. Music? All through the speakers on my MacBook. Don’t get me wrong, they’re actually pretty decent as far as laptop speakers go, but woefully inadequate compared to my surround sound setup (which in truth isn’t even that great, but compared to a laptop? Auditory nirvana).

Also, my 24″ monitor looks positively gargantuan against the 13″ laptop screen. Believe it or not, there were several times in China when I started thinking that my laptop’s screen was nice and big. ‘Cause, you know, who needs more than thirteen inches? On that note, I’ve had my bigger monitor connected to my laptop for ten or fifteen minutes, and only just now did I think to actually take advantage of all that space and move a window over. That makes me feel silly. Continue reading

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August 11, 2009 Posted by | Personal | , , , , | Leave a comment

Life Lessons With Brian: In Which I Teach China About The Internet

Alright China, we need to talk. No, not that talk. Judging by your population, you already know plenty about the birds and the bees. We need to have the internet talk.

You’ve been restricting my access to the internet since I got here on February 23rd. WordPress was blocked, for starters. Then a few weeks later, YouTube is inexplicably unavailable. It’s been that way for four months, China. How am I supposed to watch videos of ninja kitties or waterskiing squirrels if I can’t use YouTube? Then there was Twitter, Flickr, Hotmail, and briefly, Google. Then the most recent batch was unblocked, only for you to block Twitter again yesterday, and Facebook today. What gives? ***Update: The recent Twitter and Facebook blocks are due to riots in the Xinjiang region; current counts indicate at least 156 killed, 800 injured, and over 1,400 arrested.***

Facebook is currently blocked.

Facebook is currently blocked...

...and so is Twitter

...and so is Twitter

Continue reading

July 7, 2009 Posted by | Humor, Politics, Tech | , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Beacons of Post-Rock: Tortoise

NotesThis piece was first published on Independent Clauses. Too read my original article, click here.

I’m writing this review from Xishuangbanna, a region in southwestern China. It sits along the Mekong river, not very far from the borders of Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar. It’s hot, humid, and currently raining almost every day – monsoon season and all. You know how it goes. Anyway, the general attitude is very laid-back, not so much lazy as unwilling to move fast in the heat. I like it here. I like sitting here and drinking chilled mango juice, and I like listening to Tortoise’s new album while I’m doing it.

Beacons of Ancestorship is the name. It’s out June 23rd, fully five years after their last release. This thing has been a long time coming for fans of the band, and trust me, there are lots of them. Quick history lesson: Tortoise is a hugely important band. They’ve been around a while. Back in the early 1990s, they helped to create what is now known as post-rock. If you’re not familiar with the genre, it boils down to music that isn’t rock, but is played on rock instruments. It’s primarily instrumental, and almost always experimental. I like to think that post-rock bands don’t create songs, so much as things that grow and develop as the music continues. If that sounds silly, go listen to some music from the likes of Explosions In The Sky or Slint. You’ll know what I’m talking about.

That being said, Tortoise is a little different. Continue reading

June 17, 2009 Posted by | Music, review | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

…Only To Be Dragged Out And Placed In Internet Quarantine

That’s not a perfect metaphor from my previous Twitter post, but bear with me. It’s been a long past twelve hours, involving a nine-hour bus ride and three police checkpoints. That’s China for you, or rather, this is:

They recently made the unnecessary and completely idiotic decision to block Twitter, because forget all the spammy crap on Myspace or the hours wasted on Facebook – it’s the 140-character tweets that’ll really bring this nation to its knees. My usage of the service is temporarily suspended for a period not to exceed two months (when I get back to the US), though hopefully sooner than that. Also: it seems as though China has two levels of internet censorship they employ. The regular one just prohibits the average person’s access and can be easily circumvented by using a proxy server. The second, more nefarious level just flat-out keeps the service from being accessed from any computer ever under any circumstances, and is responsible for the lack of access to things like YouTube and Twitter.

I loathe the CCP. One week after I got on Twitter, they kicked me off of it.

June 7, 2009 Posted by | Humor, Tech | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Like a Boy Scout, Man. Like a Boy Scout.

Plan (T+L)

Plans. Plans are good.

I’d like to think of myself as a decent gamer. I’m not too hardcore – I actually get outside from time to time, for starters. That being said… I dabble. A twenty-four hour gaming session now and again, the occasional Mountain Dew IV drip; nothing too serious, you know?

That’s why all these recent Team Fortress 2 announcements have me shaking in my boots. The Spy? Really? Really! I feel like I’m at least decently proficient at most of the classes in TF2, but the Spy? For all the sneaking and skulking around I do in other games, for all the times I choose to be a rogue, or thief, or solar-powered ninja, I’ve never been able to wrap my head around the Spy. The backstab? Haven’t mastered it. Disguising myself and making it to the other team’s intel without being detected? Can’t do it without half the people on the other team taking one of those just-in-case shots at my head, even when I’m invisible. No, scratch that. Especially when I’m invisible.

That’s why the Spy freaks me out, man. I can’t defend against him. How can I when I’ve got no idea what a typical Spy would do in any given situation? One time the same Spy killed me 39 times in a row. I didn’t touch my computer for a week after that. My therapist said that’s an understandable emotional response to emotional trauma. Then I told her that I’ve started to hit my friends whenever I see them, just in case it’s a spy in disguise. She referred me to a specialist. Continue reading

May 23, 2009 Posted by | Gaming, Humor, PC gaming | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Weekly Shenanigans #1

It might be fun to add some sort of structure to the old blog, right? At the moment, I just sort of slap posts up as they come to me, with absolutely no consistency or discernible pattern. I’d like to try to change that. Maybe I won’t be totally successful at first, but eventually I’ll chisel out something of a schedule, with weekly columns and whatnot. Theoretically I’ll put out something like mobile gaming posts on Mondays, tech tutorials on Tuesdays, etc. Stuff like that, but without the horrific 1950s-style alliteration.

Sounds cool, right? I think so.

Now, it’d be all logical to just start organizing the posts that I already make into categories, but that would be boring and not very T+L-esque. Instead, I’m starting at the end, and writing up a wrap-up of tech and media items of note that caught my eye during the week but weren’t quite post-worthy, as well as some personal tidbits. Furthermore, I’m starting the posting of this column, entitled Weekly Shenanigans, on a Tuesday (because that’s when it makes sense to post something that is part wrap-up, part update, and part caffeine-fueled musing). Never fear, you intrepid logic junkies – that’s only going to be temporary. The following Weekly Shenanigans will go up on Saturdays, or possibly Sundays. I haven’t really worked all the kinks out yet.

Oh, and in the interest of full disclosure, and because some guy somewhere once said “know thyself” or something along those lines, I’m estimating that there’s a 28% chance that this will be the first, last, and only ever Weekly Shenanigans. That’s how I roll (28% of the time).

Okay. There. The column has been sufficiently introduced. Without further ado, and in no particular order, I present the contents of Weekly Shenanigans #1. Continue reading

May 19, 2009 Posted by | Personal, State of the Blog, Weekly Shenanigans | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

In All Fairness: Games For Windows Live

First of all, let me start off by saying that I haven’t been too kind to Games For Windows Live in the past. Among other things, I’ve said that nobody is even aware of its existence, that it’s useless so far, and that it needs to be scrapped completely and replaced with something new.

Recently, I’ve made an honest attempt to put my own biases aside and look at the situation objectively. On the one hand, GFWL doesn’t approach the utility of Steam, not by a long shot. That being said, most Steam users have a rather short-term memory about these things – for the first several years of Steam’s existence, it was roundly mocked and derided as little more than Valve’s version of DRM. I’ve had some bad moments with Steam personally, most notably when my computer is temporarily without internet access – Steam throws a righteous fit. GFWL also has some challenges that Steam hasn’t faced, like trying to adequately interface PC gamers with console gamers. Continue reading

April 17, 2009 Posted by | Gaming, Tech | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Private Browsing Might Actually Be Good For Something

I’ve been meaning to post some of the pictures I’ve taken with my new Nikon D60, but unfortunately my internet access has been absolutely terrible of late, particularly when trying to use WordPress. It doesn’t help that China blocks access to my beloved blog to begin with, but I’ve been forced to use proxy servers to bypass the Great Firewall of China, thereby further slowing an already-slow connection. Lo and behold, I think I may have stumbled across the solution today.

While fiddling with the settings on Firefox in a futile attempt to tweak what limited bandwidth I’ve got access to, I happened upon Private Browsing. Normally, I’ve really got no reason to use it, but I started it out of morbid curiosity and a little quiet desperation. I was thinking to myself, private browsing is mostly used to prevent any sort of browsing history from being stored on your computer. What if it does more than that? What if it also encrypts outgoing packets, or something similar? So I entered the link for my admin page on here, hit enter, and watched with faint amusement, expecting to see the “server is taking too long to respond” message that signals a blocked site in China. Instead, the dashboard pops up! I almost did a little dance of joy. Almost. Continue reading

April 6, 2009 Posted by | Photography, Tech | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

They Always Come in Groups of Twenty

In an effort to beef up my content a bit, I’m about to start on a rather ambitious project to score some interviews, albeit electronic ones (I’m in China, what do you expect?), with some decently-big names in geekdom. I don’t want to spell out exactly who I’ve got in mind, mostly because I’ve got no idea how successful I’ll be, but it should prove interesting, to say the least. If you’ve got any specific requests or ideas for people to talk to, leave a comment or shoot me an email at techpluslifestyle@gmail.com.

Also, I accidentally woke up my roommate because I was laughing so hard at this, so I thought I’d share it:

As usual with Cyanide and Happiness, it’s hilarious, but oh-so-wrong…

March 25, 2009 Posted by | Humor, Personal | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Tech in China: Bootlegged DVDs

Most people, at one point or another, have heard about how easy it is to buy bootlegged DVDs in China. I’m here to tell you that what you’ve heard is true – sort of.

Almost anything is available, if you know the right places to go, but quality is something of a mixed bag. I’ve had some DVDs that I purchase work perfectly, while others make a horrifying rattling noise for minimum thirty seconds when my laptop’s optical drive tries to spin up. I think perhaps they’re unbalanced, but I’m not positive. Anyway, the dumb drive is persistent and makes a valiant effort, I’ll give it that, but it doesn’t know when to quit. Continue reading

March 23, 2009 Posted by | Tech | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments