February 25, 2007

Rocket UFW-12

I was lucky enough to win one of the gracious prizes given out this past holiday season by Secrets, a Rocket UFW-12 subwoofer. This is a 12" sealed design in an enclosure with internal volume somewhere around 4.5ft3. It's powered by a 1000W RMS plate amplifier that includes one band of parametric EQ, and is veneered in South American Rosewood with piano black top and bottom caps. It also weighs 137 pounds. I replaced the Velodyne SPL-1200 Series II subwoofer I was using upstairs with the UFW-12. This is sort of a horizontal upgrade, rather than a vertical one.

The reason I consider this more of a horizontal upgrade is because while I think the UFW-12 provides better performance than the SPL-1200 Series II, it also includes a 23Hz, 10th order subsonic filter. I believe the SPL-1200 Series II incorporates a slightly lower filter, possibly set around 20Hz. The difference in frequency response can be seen in the Secrets UFW-12 measurements and a brief statement in the Audioholics SPL-1200 Series II conclusion. So you get better performance above 25Hz and one band of PEQ with the UFW-12, but the SPL-1200 Series II goes a little lower.

Irrespective of the above, the UFW-12 performs excellently from 25Hz and up. It seems to reproduce sounds with more authority than the SPL-1200 Series II, although perhaps they are fairly equal in terms of distortion and maximum SPL. Certain low frequency sounds simply sounded better and clearer with the UFW-12. But the difference in low frequency extension can be audible. I found my in-room response matched very closely the measurements at Secrets, although with some peaks and dips due to the room.

The included PEQ may help tame a peak if you have a large one, but you need closer to five or seven bands to produce a really flat response in most rooms. Having to select the center frequency, Q, and amplitude via analog dials means you do have to go through some trial and error to get your desired filter set up. I used the PEQ to fix one of the 5dB boost, but overall the response was very good even without EQ and it would have been good even without that filter.

Overall, I find the UFW-12 to be a good subwoofer for its current duty, which is as part of our secondary system used for video games. I would not, however, be satisfied with it or even a pair of them in our home theater setup. This is mostly for cutting out so quickly around 25Hz, because above there I think the performance is excellent as long as you have enough of them to meet your SPL requirements without distortion or compression. I think for most music the UFW-12 would be an excellent choice, but you need something that goes lower if you enjoy large drums, pipe organs, or electronic music with deep bass lines.

Cosmetically, the UFW-12 is beautiful. It's also large and could be used as a low end table if you wished. The only drawback is it makes the Castle Avon speakers look too small.

Posted by josuah at 11:20 PM UTC+00:00 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 23, 2007

Onix Reference 3

A couple of years ago, Kris Deering wrote a glowing review of Onix Reference 3 speakers. Since then, I've seriously considered them as my ideal upgrade step, in part because at Internet-direct pricing they provide a lot more value than anything else. I've just completed that upgrade with excellent results. Our theater now runs Onix Reference 3 for mains, Onix Reference 100 for the center, and Onix Reference 1 for the surrounds.

In comparision to the Onix Reference 1 (read my impressions), the Onix Reference 3 has better very high frequency reproduction, better off-axis response, and feels less dry to me without losing any of its accuracy. The Ref 3's happened to arrive in the middle of a smoke alarm sequence and the alarm sounded more realistic on the Ref 3 than the Ref 1. I feel the Ref 3 audio reproduction is slightly better, probably due to the smaller operating range of the two woofers. That may be why the sound was less dry.

I have also set the Ref 3 crossover at 50Hz, although 40Hz was a close contender and in other rooms I'm sure you could look at a 30Hz crossover. In comparison, the Ref 100 crossover point is 70Hz which is also close to where you can set the Ref 1 crossover. I try to avoid using ports because of the issues with group delay and in my room ports don't contribute much at these high frequencies. I've only experienced rear-ported speakers in this room.

I did some non-blind subjective comparisons of tweeter response with and without the grilles using one of the early scenes in Moulin Rouge where they're first rehearshing Spectacular, Spectacular. There are some strange high frequency sounds there and at this scene I found the very high frequency reproduction to be slightly attenuated with the grilles on. My non-blind grilles on/off tests on anything below may have revealed a slight difference but I can't be sure. I am fairly sure on the very high frequencies as without the grilles my ears felt a little harsh. I have since removed all grilles from all of the speakers.

The Ref 3 and Ref 100 reproduce the vocal range extremely well. It is much easier to distinguish and also identify in the first place when there are multiple voices singing together. This can be heard on any music tracks that involve a backup singer who was put in to add body or character to the primary singer, and also in Moulin Rouge where many of the pieces are sung in chorus. Cabinet resonance is very good although not completely inert at normal volumes.

I was a little worried that the Ref 100 would not match as well with the Ref 3, but the timbre is pretty much perfect so far as I can tell so far. The Ref 100 may be a tiny bit off from the Ref 3 and closer to the Ref 1, but I have only heard that phenomenon a few times and it may have been due to Dolby Pro Logic decoding. Using Dolby Pro Logic IIx decoding removed that symptom. I was also a little concerned about the MTM design of the Ref 100 over a WMTW design, but it doesn't seem to be an issue after all. It was definitely an issue with the Monitor Audio Silver SLCR center chanel; the SLCR sounded closer to the Monitor Audio Silver S8 when positioned vertically instead of horizontally.

Overall, the Ref 3 provides very accurate audio reproduction across its entire operating range including over the very high and low frequency bands, great off-axis response, and a seamless soundstage. My recommendation is to remove the grilles but you'd be hard pressed to consider it a real issue when the grilles are on.

Posted by josuah at 9:28 PM UTC+00:00 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 20, 2007

Luna's Birthday Lunch

Shannon and Yvonne had school off today and Mei-Ling also had work off today, and they said today would be the only time they could get together to celebrate Luna's birthday. So we had lunch with them at King Eggroll and then I went back to work while they took Luna home and played with the kitties for a couple of hours.

I thought Luna would like to go to a Chinese restaurant so we tried to go to the plaza off Story Road. But it's the Spring Festival and it was unbelievably packed. Impossible to find parking without stalking someone, and hard to stalk someone because there were so many cars. People were parking wherever it might be possible, not just in parking spots.

So we gave up on trying to park there and instead parked nearby where there are some Vietnamese restaurants. But the only place Mei-Ling had heard about was King Eggroll so we walked there to eat lunch. It's really a fast food type of place though, and the tables weren't clean because the people eating there didn't bus their own trays like they should have. So we had to wait for them to clean the tables.

While we were there, Shannon and Yvonne and I played a game where someone would say a quote and the other people had to guess where it was coming from. I wasn't very good at coming up with quotes because I can't remember things like that. I need my memory to be triggered by something, and then I can remember it.

Posted by josuah at 4:10 AM UTC+00:00 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 18, 2007

Shadow Hearts

I just finished playing Shadow Hearts, a gothic RPG set in 1913 shortly before World War I. It features some traditional RPG concepts like elemental magic and standard dungeon exploration and combat. The biggest differences are in the mood which is more spiritual and religious while set in realistic environments and the use of a "judgement ring" as your key to successful action both in and out of combat. It's also a little shorter at about 30 hours, in part because it eschews world travel in favor of moving directly between individual locations.

The storyline and environments are interesting and fully realized. Since you move between locations without having to manually traverse the distance, and the locations can only be seen from one angle, they are fully rendered with detail and care. Over time, you'll come to understand the motives of both your archnemesis and the protagonists in a very natural and fluid manner. And at the end, when everything is revealed, those motives are ones you can sympathesize with.

The judgement ring deserves special attention since so much of what you do involves it. It's most often used during combat to successfully execute the action you chose from the battle menu. As a spinner turns, you have to time your button press as it passes through certain areas. Depending on how well you an time things, you may or may not succeed at performing your selected action, and you may be able to perform the action with a bonus like extra damage or stronger magic.

The ring is also used at various parts outside of combat to open doors and win items. This secondary use is somewhat pointless as there isn't any real penalty for failure since you're always close to a save point and in most cases you don't lose anything—you just have to try again.

Unfortunately, the judgement ring is probably the only thing that keeps combat from becoming a boring button pressing session. Since you have to constantly focus and concentrate on timing, the ring keeps your attention. Otherwise both you and the enemy will end up performing the same actions over and over again. There is little need for variety in attacks since your choices are so limited (there are not a lot of spells or special skills to choose from). That's not to say combat doesn't require some strategy and thought. It's turn-based and the enemies are strong enough that you'll have to pay attention to healing and status abnormalities.

Also, some of the bosses are difficult because they have unique attacks often with status effects and there is no way to plan ahead for protection against those effects. You'll only find out the best form of preparation after you've entered battle, and by then it's too late to change your equipment or characters. Since you are limited in what accessories you can equip, I often found myself in trouble for not having the right things equipped, and there aren't enough of the rarer items to keep them equipped on characters all the time. Eventually I was removing all accessories before swapping a character out.

Graphically, the monsters and characters aren't all that great. The polygon count seems low, although perhaps not for the time, and the movements a little jerky. Plus, all the monsters look very strange. They're often some form of deformed ghost or spirit, and even normal enemies that you would expect to be human become some sort of monster during combat to reflect strange occult experiments that were performed on them or their mental state.

I did like the music. It fit the mood and environments very well, although they are not the best compositions.

Posted by josuah at 12:29 AM UTC+00:00 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 17, 2007

Le Portrait de Petite Cossette

Luna got me the two volume manga Le Portrait de Petite Cossette for my birthday. She really liked the anime, and I think the story is a little interesting and well done for such a short work, but it suffers from some technical problems. The first volume introduces Cossette and Eiri and sets everything up. Cossette was murdered and is cursed to linger for eternity due to the hatred of her worldly possessions. She needs Eiri to gather her possessions together and free her soul. But the second volume introduces an unexpected twist that suddenly paints the whole situation in a different light.

I like the gothic artwork, mood, and emotional aspects, but it can be extremely hard to keep track of what's going on. Sometimes there are two dialogues going on at the same time across several panels which makes it a little harder to follow what's going on unless you want to read through it twice. And panels often don't flow together correctly, with changes in angle or movement that takes effort to decipher. There's no indication of scene changes or gaps in time, so you may not realize that the location or time has changed until later on when more context is revealed.

Posted by josuah at 7:28 PM UTC+00:00 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 16, 2007

Logitech Harmony 550

I got a Logitech Harmony 550 remote for my birthday, to control my second setup which consists of a GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Dish Network. It was the addition of Dish Network that brought the number of remote controls from two up to four. And made things annoying. The remote is very good and very convenient though, and a great birthday gift. Thanks Alla, Dantam, and Ellen. :)

I had some trouble with software installation on Mac OS X when using a user account that has its home directories NFS mounted. This user is also not in the group that allows administration, so the software was actually installed as a different user. Basically, the software would just quit or sit there doing nothing without crashing or any messages at all, after it started up. So I ended up having to install and run the software as the non-NFS mounted user that also has administrator privileges.

But once that was done, it was very easy. They've got a huge database of devices, including the GameCube, PlayStation 2, Sony STR-DE597 receiver, Panasonic PT50LC13 television, Impact Acoustics 3-Play, and Dish 381 set-top box. So I didn't have to make the remote learn anything manually. I even gained remote on/off access to the PlayStation 2, which doesn't come with a remote by default.

Now things are very nice with four macros: PlayStation 2, GameCube, Watch TV, Listen to CD. It works extremely well and I just hit one of the macros to start up the components and set their inputs/settings automatically, and everything's running.

Even though I didn't do any heavy customization, the software does allow for it. You can assign different functions to different buttons in any of the modes. And if you choose not to use macros, you can still access devices directly by pressing the Devices button on the remote.

Posted by josuah at 3:46 AM UTC+00:00 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 15, 2007

Galaxy Angel

I finally finished watching the four-disc set of Galaxy Angel. It took so long to finish because I started watching Battlestar Galactica with Luna. Not really a problem since I thought the series was okay but not great. Each standalone episode is short and contains what might be considered typical bishoujo comedy but I don't find those recycled antics that amusing.

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February 14, 2007

.hack//AI Buster

.hack//AI Buster is a novel originally written in Japanese and translated to English. The storyline takes place in the .hack world, which is a MMORPG taken to technological extremes. While the book is decent, it's real target audience is much younger. I'd say around ten-years-old. The writing style, manner of basic and obvious explanation, and straightforward narrative match that audience. Even the print is large and well spaced to be less overwhelming.

The author seems to have a decent understanding of how things could work from a technological point of view, but the mythology of .hack is very simplistic and betrays the non-technical background of its creators. The claims and ideas that the .hack world is based upon are homogenous and idealistic without much basis in reality. Still, the central arc of the story is interesting if cliché. Although I'm sure it would come across as very exciting and new to someone without a technical background and of a younger age.

Posted by josuah at 3:55 AM UTC+00:00 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 13, 2007

Adjustment of Status Application

I mailed out Luna's Adjustment of Status application today. This is the application we need to file for her conditional permanent resident status, or green card. It took us about a month to put together all of the documents, figure out what those documents are, and everything else. But finally we had everything we needed and I sent it out with delivery confirmation and certified mail. I don't know how long it will take for the paperwork to get processed, or when Luna will have to get fingerprinted, but this means we're done for now until we have to file to remove conditional status two years after we get the conditional status.

We mailed the following documents:

  • I-485: Application to Register Permanent Residence of Adjust Status
  • G-325a: Biographic Information for Luna
  • G-325a: Biographic Information for me
  • I-797: Notice of Action (photocopy)
  • I-864: Affidavit of Support
  • I-693: Medical Examination of Aliens Seeking Adjustment of Status (sealed)
  • Supplemental Form to I-693: Document of Immunization (sealed)
  • Luna's Passport (photocopy)
  • Luna's I-94 and K-1 Visa (photocopy)
  • My Passport (photocopy)
  • Two passport photos of Luna
  • Two passport photos of me
  • Most recent bank statement (photocopy)
  • Most recent pay stub (photocopy)
  • Most recent W-2 (photocopy)

This was all mailed to the Chicago lockbox address of:

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
P.O. Box 805887
Chicago, IL 60680-4120

Posted by josuah at 10:24 PM UTC+00:00 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 11, 2007

Breakfast of Champions

Calvin got me the book Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut for Christmas a while back, but I'd placed it on the bedroom closet shelf and forgotten about it until I came across it the other day. So I decided to read it as I'd gone through just about everything else and had nothing new to read. Unfortunately, it reads like vintage Vonnegut and I've never liked his style. He's got a lot to say, and there's humor for those who can appreciate the style, but it's not for me. It's a satirical work of fiction that hits home in a lot of ways but for myself I'd rather read something else.

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27th Birthday

I had my 27th birthday party today. Luna and I cooked Italian food, including spaghetti and meatballs, some fried salmon, and a tomato-based chicken dish. We had bread and cheese, some green grapes, and ice cream cake for dessert. Alla showed up, of course, as did Ellen, Tintin, and Samir and Jamie. Dantam couldn't make it because she was caring for one of her friends who was sick. A lot of people arrived late, and then Ellen left early because she had plans to go dancing in San Francisco, and Samir and Jamie left around the same time as her.

Alla, Ellen, and Dantam pitched in to get me a Logitech Harmony 550 remote control for the upstairs system. Samir and Jamie got me Xenosaga: Episode III, and Tintin got me an interesting little postcard for Neon Genesis Evangelion. Luna got me the two volume manga of Le Portrait de Petit Cossette and a copy of .hack//AI buster.

Since Alla and Tintin stayed around, we played a game of Puerto Rico. It moved a lot faster this time since we knew what we were doing, and we also discovered that some of the things we'd done the first time were incorrect. This time Luna won. For a short period of time in the middle Tintin and Alla weren't paying much attention because they started talking about French movies and the language.

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February 10, 2007

BT - This Binary Universe

I've always liked BT's music, and recently picked up his This Binary Universe DVD/CD combination album. The DVD features music in DTS 5.1 audio format, which adds a new dimension to the composition since it was designed that way to begin with. I found the surround version more immersive and engaging than the stereo version, no doubt because BT had that format in mind to begin with. This album is a little different though, because it's less of an ambient or trance work. Instead, it has more in common with classical, jazz, or an opus with electronic flavors. Some, including myself, may find this less appealing than his earlier works.

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Dinner with Calvin

Luna and I had dinner with Calvin tonight as a sort of late birthday dinner. We would have gone last weekend, closer to my birthday, except I was sick. We went to Cupertino Village, which is about 20 minutes away, and had dinner at a fancy Chinese restaurant. The menu said Cantonese food, and we ordered a bunch of dishes. Most of it was very good, although pricey because it is fancy, except for some fried tofu where the outside had a large and heavy coating. Afterwards, Luna bought some packaged chestnuts from 99 Ranch.

Posted by josuah at 3:32 AM UTC+00:00 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 1, 2007

Battlestar Galactica Season 2.0 + 2.5

Whereas season one of Battlestar Galactica dealt primarily with survival and escape, I think season two deals more with the politics and economics of the new fleet civilization. Now that they've managed to escape the constant fear of Cylon attack, things turn inward. Episodes in season two deal with the political landscape, economics and morals in a time of war, and internal military conflict. This season also goes in depth into the Cylon civilization, way of thinking, and also culture (to some extent). I think the most interesting issue dealt with here is also the idea of Cylons as individuals instead of a collective.

In terms of production quality, season two is of the same high caliber as the previous season. Unfortunately, I ended up originally purchasing on season two point five because I assumed it was sort of like season two with some extras, notably the extended version of the Pegasus episode. But in fact the full second season must be purchased in two disc-sets. Which is both pricy and annoying. Because we finished season one, and didn't have season two, we ended up buying it from the store for about $10 more than if we'd ordered it online.

Posted by josuah at 7:11 AM UTC+00:00 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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