July 13, 2011

KP vs. Angry Birds

I call this: gaming,phones,theatre — Posted by KP @ 6:20 pm

Confession: I suck at Angry Birds. I hurl my birds haphazardly at structures with little understanding of what causes them to destroy or bounce off harmlessly. When I win, I don’t know why. When I lose, I know it’s because… I suck at Angry Birds.

But I drew a comic about my most perplexing Angry Birds moment ever:

December 25, 2010

Why it’s Christmas Day, sir!

I call this: computers,gaming,On the Road Again,tech,theatre — Posted by KP @ 11:26 am

Tis Christmas morning. I have an 11AM (my time) video conference scheduled with my parents for the opening of gifts and exchanging of Christmas wishes. As crazy as that sounds, it actually works quite well. This will be our third consecutive year celebrating in this way. There are maybe a half-dozen presents sitting on my couch right now, the remnants of a large package that arrived at the Guthrie earlier in the week. Some of the contents were meant to be shared, like food, and a cute, and rather beautiful ornament with a palm tree and flamingo that my mom sent so we would have something warm to look at during the blizzard. So that stuff has been in the rehearsal room pretty much all week.

There are a few wrapped gifts that I have no idea about, and those are waiting for this morning. One of them is totally a portable pack of tissues. I’m pretty good at telling my mom’s traditional stocking stuffers just by weight and feel, so I try to pick them up very lightly so as not to give it away. But I grabbed the tissues a little too forcefully and spoiled the surprise. I also got one for Thanksgiving/Christmas, which is the other holiday the Parlato clan celebrates on the Acting Company schedule, in which there is a tree, and presents, and family members all see each other face-to-face and have a big dinner together. The only difference is we celebrate it on Thanksgiving because that’s when I’m in town. That’s when the real presents are exchanged.

Last year my big gift was a super-warm coat from Eddie Bauer. It’s still awesome. I have yet to be cold this year. This year I couldn’t really figure out what I wanted until a few days before, when I decided to get something not very exciting, not something I can take on the road, but practical: a 2TB hard drive and enclosure for my desk at home. I was doing a little too much juggling of files between all my hard drives (aside from my Time Machine drive, which is half a terabyte, all the others are either 160 or 320GB) and it was starting to get dangerous in terms of losing track of data and deleting something. So now I have a place that can hold everything, and it’s also at a different location (usually) than my primary drives, so it’s safe against theft or other destruction. Of course I got an enclosure that’s very Mac-like and attractive. It has USB, FW400 & 800, and SATA. The HD is from Western Digital, which is my go-to brand in the superstitious art of deciding who to trust with your data (Fujitsu is the other brand I’ll buy if I have to, and in fact is what my Time Machine drive is). I only had a week to play with it and dump all my files onto it before leaving town, but so far it seems great.

For myself for Christmas, while ordering gifts for everybody else, I finally bought myself an account for Eve Online. I’ve gone through at least three 14-day trials trying to learn the damn game enough to where I could even decide if I liked it or not. I like the idea of a game that’s impossible to learn, but once you crack it open the possibilities become kind of limitless. The last trial I just finished convinced me that it was indeed fun, although there’s so much I have yet to learn, it’s really hard to tell long-term. The other thing it convinced me of is that it has really low bandwidth requirements, and at least in the small battles I’ve been involved in, can actually run in virtualization so well that you forget it’s not Boot Camp.

It seems like the perfect game for somebody on the road with questionable internet. If nothing else, you can log in for a few minutes a day to set your skills training, and still be progressing all day long. If I were home with a real computer, I don’t necessarily think I’d prefer it over Fallen Earth or Battleground Europe, but it seems to me like a game I can play without feeling like I’m fighting against my screen size, processor speed, lack of peripherals and bandwidth. Great FPS action is nice, but it requires all those things or else it totally sucks and you spend all your time pissed off that you got killed by lag or your connection dropped out just as you were supposed to do something really cool.

Also, despite my ranting about Parallels (I still think they’re greedy bastards), out of curiosity, when I started playing Eve pretty seriously a few weeks back, I tried it in Parallels 5 to compare it to Fusion. Perhaps not surprisingly, it ran a little better. I also really prefer Parallels’ UI, and the feature “modality” which shrinks your windows screen into a tiny semi-transparent floating window that you can keep an eye on and click things in. So having discovered a game I could actually play — and enjoy playing — without ever booting into Boot Camp, I decided that tipped the balance a bit, and I went back to using Parallels. After a few days of wonder at the miracle of virtualized gaming finally being playable, I took my $10 coupon that had been clogging my inbox, and bought Parallels 6 for $40, which honestly is at least close to reasonable. My beef with them is not that they charge for yearly upgrades, but that they charge more than $40. Out of principle I had refused to buy it at all, but honestly I installed Parallels 6 and it was so much better than Fusion that the experience of being able to fully play an MMO while not only booted into OS X, but with enough power left over to use OS X normally, with the MMO running in the background in full screen… well, it’s amazing. So I didn’t even do the whole trial of Parallels before I put the money down. If you’re interested, the upgrade price is $40 until the end of the year. And as I said in that link above, I needed to buy 8GB of RAM to make Parallels really run flawlessly, so that’s another requirement of getting this to work. It was a great investment, though.

Eve really wouldn’t have been worth buying except that it works so damn well virtually. It’s really low-maintenance tour gaming. So I guess you could say Parallels was the other part that made my Christmas gift possible, though I think of it more in terms of being a LORTmas gift. LORTmas is kind of like Chanukah, actually, in that it’s not celebrated only on one day. I celebrate LORTmas every Thursday at midnight for our two months’ time at the Guthrie, when that sweet, sweet LORT B salary drops into our bank accounts. As I interpret it, the point of LORTmas is that it’s a time when if you want something you don’t really have to think about it, you can just say, “Of course I can afford that, it’s LORTmas!” Which ends up being great fun because sometimes you say that about enough things that you lose track of how much extra money LORTmas actually creates, and you’re like, “Where did my rent money go?” But that’s all part of the LORTmas spirit.

EDIT: OK, here’s the ornament:

I hope you’re all enjoying the holidays! Back to work for us tomorrow!

May 27, 2010

Must-See 8-bit Gaming Video

I call this: gaming,tech — Posted by KP @ 12:32 pm

So this guy made a stop-motion video on his desk, recreating famous 8-bit games with bits of construction paper and produce. I heard about this video for the better part of a day, and thought “Meh, that’s probably cute,” before I actually sat and watched it. It is so much better than I imagined, and if you love classic NES gaming, you must watch it, and watch it all the way through, because each segment is better and cleverer than the last.

May 8, 2010

Review: Razer Sphex Mousepad

I call this: computers,gaming,tech — Posted by KP @ 6:10 pm

I’ve had this mousepad a really long time, and never got around to reviewing it. Which is probably the better way to write a review, after you’ve had a product for like a year, and actually have experienced it in many different situations.

The concept of the Sphex is that it’s really, really thin. It’s about the thickness of a piece of paper. After much scientific study with my fingertip, I have determined it’s actually the thickness of two pieces of paper, but I buy cheap paper. If you have some real quality stock of paper, it might be just one. The point is, it’s so thin as to be almost imperceptible on your desk. The other very nice feature is that Razer has priced it very well. It’s only $14.99, which for a gaming-grade mousing surface is about as cheap as they come. Knowing Razer’s penchant for making high-quality gaming devices, but with prices that reflect their quality, when I first read about it I figured it had to be at least $30. I was very impressed that they made it so affordable.

It’s Thin

There are several advantages to how thin it is. It feels a lot less constricting when playing, because the edges of the pad don’t get in the way of your hand. The pad is relatively small for a gaming pad, but I don’t use really big hand motions so it’s fine for me. I also love it because I tend to move things around on my desk, while working and while playing. Sometimes I want to put my laptop down on it, or overlap my keyboard on top of it. Definitely when gaming, I sometimes need to place my joystick and throttle on the portion of the desk normally reserved for the mouse. In all of these situations, I can place anything over it without creating an unstable surface because it’s so thin. It’s more like a differently-texture section of the desk, rather than a separate object. Right now while typing on my laptop, my left forearm is resting on the corner of it. With a regular mousepad that would be annoying, and I’d need to shove it out of the way, but I don’t even notice it.

Being a Razer product, naturally it’s fine-tuned for gaming, and the surface is made of the proper texture to provide good tracking for optical and laser mice. The texture thing can be a personal preference. Some people like their mousing surface really smooth for quick movements, some people like more control, so a more pitted surface that slows down the mouse but allows the sensor to more accurately track its position is better. And then there are those who like soft cloth mats for lots of control, but this is not that. It definitely feels like a hard mat, and leans a little more to the “control” type of texture, which I like.

Because it’s so thin, there’s no room for rubber or anything to keep it in place, so the entire mat is covered in a gentle adhesive. It arrives with a plastic backing which peels away. There’s a little tab on the side of the mat that is not sticky, so you can peel it up easily to move it. The adhesive is not too strong, just enough to keep it from going anywhere when pressed onto your desktop, and is intended to be reusable.

Here is a picture of the Sphex vs. a piece of paper:


I always tour with a mousepad. First of all, I’m just that kind of gamer. I’m aware of the impact my mousing surface has on my gaming, and I want my favorite surface with me all the time. Also, in a hotel you never know what kind of desk you’re going to get from day to day. It might be something really inappropriate, like glass, in which case you’ll probably wind up mousing on top of a brochure about historic Chattanooga or something.

Speaking of Chattanooga, I found this picture that I inexplicably snapped there, of my laptop set up for gaming. The table wasn’t even the kind of work-friendly desk hotels usually give you. It was just a round table, that tapered off quickly outside the photo frame. In this case I am demonstrating how handy it is to be able to overlap your computer (or keyboard, in the case of a desktop) with the mouse pad when working in tight quarters. Incidentally, it also demonstrates why I’m so glad my new Macbook Pro has both USB ports on the left.

But mostly, the main reason I always bring a mousepad is to protect the mouse, which is the real investment. A $125 mouse that’s treated like a $20 mouse will start to perform like a $20 mouse when it gets all scratched up or used on a dirty surface. So I always make sure before I use the mouse that the mouse pad is perfectly clean and smooth, and nothing that can cause damage (food and drinks, objects that could scratch it) is ever put on the mouse pad.

Using a mouse pad also protects the surface from getting scratched by the mouse (which is sort of like saying that not keying a Ferrari protects the keys from getting paint on them), but especially with heavy gaming, it’s good for your furniture, and respectful of other people’s furniture if you’re in a hotel, dorm room, or any other place that’s not yours.

I both love and hate touring with this mat. First of all, I love it because it’s so light. For the purposes of packing, its weight is completely negligible. My previous mat was backed in aluminum, which added a little bit of weight and rigidity to the packing of my backpack. It wasn’t a huge problem, but replacing it with something weightless and flexible was a big improvement. Obviously this is a precision surface and you don’t want to pack it somewhere where it will get crushed or bent, but it has a little bit of give to it, and that’s helpful sometimes. I usually pack it in the section of my bag intended for papers and stuff — most laptop bags have a file-holder divider for this purpose. I’ve usually got a few papers in there (pay stubs, hotel receipts, schedules), and will pack the Sphex between these papers so it’s got a little protection against anything that might rub against it in the bag.

The one drawback for touring is the need to use the adhesive. I kept the plastic backing around because I knew this mat would need to move a lot. So whenever I travel with it, I try to make sure both sides are free of debris, and then carefully align the plastic with the back so all the sticky parts are covered. After many travels, the adhesive loses a lot of its stickiness. I notice it mostly in the fact that the plastic will no longer stick to all of it. If you look closely in the photos above you can see places where it’s lifting off the desk a tiny bit. There’s still enough adhesive on the mat to keep it from sliding around, but there are regions of it that have become worn down, either because the adhesive came off on the surface it was on, or it has attracted some dirt. I should mention that occasionally it will leave a some residue on a desk, which can be cleaned off, but on my home desk sometimes that takes a lot of effort.

However, there is one way to help this problem, in that the mat is designed to be washable. Yes, you can wash it with water and a little soap, and it will clear the dirt off the adhesive side, but I find that it doesn’t go back to being as sticky as when it was new. I figure that’s probably a result of some of the adhesive actually coming off, rather than being covered in dirt.


My recommendation on moving around with it is that it is definitely reusable, and would be perfectly fine for moving a couple times a year, but if it’s your job to be in a different city every day, or you go to LAN parties where your rig is constantly being set up somewhere new, you might get frustrated by it. However, if the prospect of gaming on such a thin surface seems really exciting to you, it might be worth it. Also, the price is low enough that if you really care so much about your gaming experience, it’s not going to break the bank if you have to replace it eventually.

Actually, if I was really going to be thorough, it would be a good idea to have one that stays at home in perfect condition, and one for travel. Any bumps on a mousing surface — either on the mouse skates or the pad — create jittery movement for your game, and a tiny particle of dirt stuck under the pad could create a noticeable bump when playing. I always do my best when re-applying the pad to make sure the table is perfectly clean, and there’s nothing stuck to the adhesive, but the more it moves the more chances there are for imperfections.


Overall this purchase is one I am completely happy with. The only drawbacks to it are a result of my lifestyle not really being suited for the way the mat works, and even then it works pretty well. I’m not sure if I could ever deal with a mouse pad getting in my way again. It’s got all the advantages of mousing directly on your desk, but with the advantages of using a mouse pad as well: you won’t damage your desk or your mouse, and you have a surface designed to help your mouse track better.

April 3, 2010

Son-of-a-Bitch: The PC Edition

I call this: computers,gaming,pc,tech — Posted by KP @ 5:40 am

So you know, I’m home on vacation for five lovely days.

What’s the one thing I want to do on the rare occasions that I’m home? Why, play on my gaming PC, of course. It’s big and heavy and can’t go anywhere, but I’ve put a lot of money into it over the years, and sometimes I’d like to play it a little before it’s obsolete.

Well when I got home, I noticed that it was making a strange sound. It sounded to me like there was something wrong with one of the fans in the back. Upon further investigation, I realized the noise was coming out of the power supply. This got me nervous.

First of all, the PSU is one of the only original parts from when I first built it in January of 2005. I was going to replace it at the same time as the motherboard, CPU, video card, and RAM, back in 2008, but I ran out of money. It’s a 600W, which was really good at the time it was new, and when I discovered it could just barely run the more power-hungry components I was adding, I decided to stick with it until I had more time and money for an upgrade.

Sometimes it does weird things. Sometimes when the computer is off, the lights on my joystick and headset flicker. Sometimes all the case lights don’t come on. A lot of times, the light on the power button doesn’t come on. Sometimes peripherals would light up when the computer was off when they never have before. There doesn’t seem to be any logic to it.

My basic assessment of it has been, “yeah it’s sketchy, and I’d feel better with a PSU that’s really designed to handle newer parts.” But I’ve been on the road ever since the upgrade in 2008, and naturally I haven’t felt it was wise to invest in any upgrades since then, since computer parts lose their value so quickly.

So today I started to really worry about the noise. It rises and falls with the activity level of the PC (i.e. it starts or gets louder when opening or saving large files). I did some research online, and it seems like it’s fairly common in old or cheap PSUs. Something to do with the transistors getting loose. Apparently it’s not a sign that your PSU is going to explode, although the general consensus seems to be that it’s a good sign you should get a new one.

There’s also the strange fact that my TrackIR receiver for some reason stopped working while I was gone (like has no reaction at all to being plugged in, like it’s totally dead). It was one of the things that would light up for no reason when the PC was off. The other strange new behavior is that the computer will not turn on right after the switch on the back of the PSU is turned on. Based on the flickering of the lights on my peripherals (which luckily pretty much all have lights), I can see that it’s as if it’s summoning up the power to turn on over the course of a minute or so. First my headphones will flicker, then get stronger, and finally light up fully, then one side of my X52 joystick, then the other, then once both of those are lit, or at least starting to flicker, then the power button will actually succeed in turning on the computer. Scaaaary!

Oh, and also when saving the BIOS settings, instead of a restart, the computer suddenly shuts down, and again has to go through this building up of power before it will turn on.

I am beginning to seriously worry about what this unstable power might be doing to my peripherals, and if it has indeed killed my TrackIR, I don’t want to lose anything else!

While the expense of a new PSU is an inconvenience, if the damn thing does blow up in the next day-and-a-half, I can’t replace the whole computer. So as much as I want to play while I’m home, the fact is, ordering a $100 part from Newegg after the tour is over is the smarter thing to do, rather than trying to squeeze a few hours of fun out of it and frying $2000 worth of parts that I wouldn’t be able to replace for years. It would all be over — that’s it, kaput — gaming on a Macbook Pro till the end of time.

Speaking of which, those new Macbook Pros rumored to have the i7 chips still aren’t out yet. Mine is behaving lately, so I’m actually OK with the delay. I really still love this machine, although on this last leg of the tour I had some more time for gaming, and couldn’t help thinking how much better it would be with a faster CPU and more video memory.

Anyway, perhaps this unfortunate situation will cause me to spend a little less time gaming, and more time doing productive projects, like working on the database, and some expansions of the site that I’ve had in mind.

March 27, 2010

So Much Interwebs I Want to Cry

I call this: computers,gaming,tech — Posted by KP @ 9:15 am

We have been rehearsing and loading in on the campus of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Yesterday in the rehearsal room we discovered that not only is the interwebs fast, it’s like insanely, inconceivably fast. This score above isn’t even as high as what we got yesterday. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much bandwidth in my life. I don’t know what I would do with it.

I have been excited that our hotel (the Chattanooga Choo Choo) has occasional speeds over 1mbps, which is enough for gaming, and enough to make you doubly pissed when it inexplicably craps out in the middle of your gaming session.

And here we are, with more bandwidth than we have at home through the lowly cables of Time Warner, and we’re at work. Not necessarily work-ing, mind you, but it’s really hard to have a full gaming session with mouse, headset, gamepad and such when everybody else is working.

When I was in college we had dial-up. I don’t want to go back to college, I just wish I even had the option to have this much interwebs in my home.

Most of all, I’m really sick of hotels providing such crappy bandwidth, on purpose. Of course universities get tuition from their students to pay for such services, but their housing fees aren’t the equivalent of $100 per night per student. Why do I pay $100 per night in a hotel and get dial-up speeds? And my favorite is the hotels that provide crap bandwidth for free and then charge for more. Like it really costs them $12/day to provide one guest with bandwidth that you’d still say sucked if it was in your house. It’s like if warm water was free and you had to pay extra for every day you wanted hot water in your shower. Come to think of it, I hope no hotel owners are reading this, because they’d probably do it. And is the hospitality business so inherently unprofitable that buying a TV package that includes the History Channel would put half of them out of business? Apparently so.


Honestly, I don’t mind frequently working 18 hours a day. I don’t mind being away from friends and family for months at a time. I don’t even really mind being away from my stuff. Hotel internet is what makes touring suck.

November 26, 2009

Rorscharch Test

I call this: computers,gaming,mac,On the Road Again,tech,theatre — Posted by KP @ 4:30 am

Screen shot 2009-11-26 at 3.10.52 AM

What does this look like to you?

If you said Luigi driving a Model T, you may be an 80s gamer.

What is it really?
It’s the desktop icon of a PDF with all the plans for Romeo and Juliet. By default on a Mac the icon is a miniaturized version of whatever the front page of the document is.

So is our production set in the Mushroom Kingdom in the early 1900s?
Well no, now that you mention it, I’m kind of disappointed that it’s not.

Here’s a bigger version of how that image got to look like Luigi behind the wheel of a car:

Screen shot 2009-11-26 at 3.15.12 AM

It’s been driving me crazy all day. I keep wondering what that icon on my desktop that so clearly is Luigi driving a car is doing there, when I’m trying to keep only things work-related in front of me. Finally I looked at it and actually realized that what I’m looking at is the Guthrie’s McGuire stage and our set being scaled down to approximately 1/1680th of its actual size.
(disclaimer: I suck at math. I really suck at math. And I don’t have the scale drawings with me).

November 9, 2009

Razer Megalodon Review

I call this: computers,gaming,pc,tech — Posted by KP @ 10:18 pm

razer_megalodonI had been saving up for months so that I could get this headset before going back on the road. Why, you ask? Well for one thing, my surround headset of choice, the Medusa, was a 5.1 surround headset with analog connections — meaning it plugs into the audio out ports of your sound card, or for that matter, any regular audio equipment that accepts stereo mini plugs. I liked this option at the time because it’s compatible with all audio equipment and allows your sound card to do the heavy lifting, which is what it’s there for, after all. The other option, which the Medusa also offers, is to get it with a USB connector, in which case your computer has to figure out how the surround sounds should be sent out to your hardware, creating extra processing work. And of course, you can’t plug a USB connector into your stereo or TV. At least you couldn’t back then, what do I know about these newfangled TVs and stereos?

Then something happened that changed my mind: I started spending way more time away from home than at home, and suddenly my big fancy gaming PC was collecting dust, and I had to cobble together a way to make my laptop satisfying for gaming long-term.

My immediate solution was to connect the Medusa with its analog connections as a stereo headset to my Macbook Pro. First of all, you immediately lose the point of having such a nice headset, because the laptop (or most laptops for that matter) don’t support analog surround sound. So it’s just a really expensive stereo headset with a mic. Oh, and about the mic — the Macbook Pro’s audio-in jack is line-level, it doesn’t support unpowered mics, so you need Griffin’s iMic USB adapter or something similar. It’s a lot of crap to carry around, with no better performance than a cheap $15 USB headset from Radio Shack.

So this past summer, I bought a cheap $15 Radio Shack headset, just to carry to the theatre, and laughed when the guys I play online with said I sounded much better than on my old ($125) headset.

But the true problem I was having with life on the road was the lack of surround sound. The game I play, Battleground Europe, is very audio-dependent if you want to survive for long as infantry, and playing in stereo basically means spinning in circles to figure out where a sound is coming from based on where it sounds loudest. The way I was used to playing is that I could hear a single rifle shot and know if it was friendly or enemy, almost an exact direction, and an approximate distance. With one shot I would know exactly where the enemy was, and could turn right to him and shoot back, or move quickly to flank around him if he wasn’t visible. With stereo headphones that’s not possible at all. So I realized that the circumstances of my life required that I would need a USB headset if I ever hoped to play with surround.

It was around this time that Razer released the Megalodon — a 7.1 surround headset, powered by USB, and featuring a nice control box that allows you to adjust volume and a number of other features with just a few buttons.

I saved up all summer, and purchased it in the fall to prepare for going on the road. And now I’ve used it enough to answer all your burning questions.

Wait – first of all, what is a Megalodon?

Razer likes to name their products after fearsome animals. Sort of like how the Navy names different classes of ships after states, presidents, etc., Razer also has naming conventions. Mice are always snakes, for instance (see my review of the Mamba). Well headsets are… fish. Usually bad-ass fish. Cause nobody wants to brag about how they’re gonna frag your ass with their Goldfish.

The megalodon is a shark (thank you, Wikipedia). As you might have guessed from the name, which sounds kind of like it means “big-ass dinosaur,” it’s a prehistoric shark, a friggin’ huge prehistoric shark, which is estimated to have been up to 56ft in length.

Here’s a dude sitting in one’s mouth. RAAAAWWRR!!

Are you gonna review this thing or not?

Hold your horses, you’re gonna get some educatin’ with your gaming peripheral review. OK, now I’m ready.


The Megalodon connects to your computer with a simple USB plug. According to the specs it does not require USB 2.0, but a powered USB port is recommended. I tried it in my keyboard USB port (which is USB 1.1 and connected through a hub), and it was none too happy.

You don’t have to install any drivers, they are built into the control box and will automatically configure whatever computer you plug it into. Nice, huh?

Because the headphones are USB, they don’t require a sound card, which is good if you’ve got crappy sound in your rig or laptop, or bad if you’ve got a really expensive sound card waiting to be used.

The Control Box

About four feet down the braided-fiber-covered cable from the headset is the control box, which looks kind of like an iPod that’s been attacked by a gaming device. It has a scroll wheel (which actually turns like ye olde iPode, it’s not touch-sensitive). In the center is the Select button, with a nice light-up Razer logo on it.


On the left side is a volume meter which indicates different things depending on what mode it’s in, but usually it’s just your plain old volume.

At the top is a button that says Maelstrom. That’s Razer’s name for the technology that processes the 7.1 surround sound. You can push that button to toggle between 2.0 (stereo) and 7.1 mode, and the appropriate number will light up in blue on the left or right of the button. It will also cause the speaker icons around the box to light up, to show all seven speakers, or just the two at the top. Razer recommends listening to stereo sources in 2.0 mode, because the Maelstrom engine is apparently not helpful unless your source is 5.1 or 7.1 surround, and will just make it sound kind of funny.

There are three buttons on the bottom of the scroll wheel, all of which are mic-related:

  • Mic mute — mutes the mic, of course, and also lights up red when activated, so hopefully you’ll notice that you’re muted and not talk to yourself for 10 minutes like one of my squad leaders is fond of doing
  • Mic sens — while this button is pressed you can use the scroll wheel to adjust the mic’s sensitivity (shown on the volume meter)
  • Mic level — adjusts the volume of your mic’s output

The nice thing about these features is that when they are activated you can hear yourself in the earphones, so you can check right away how it sounds (in the business this is called sidetone, which is one of those terms that makes me feel really smart when I use it to explain what’s wrong with my comm).

Other Features

If you press the center button it will highlight each set of speakers on the control box and let you adjust their relative levels. You can’t independently set levels for left and right, only for each type: center, front, middle, rear, and bass.

There’s also a hidden, undocumented setting where you hold something while pressing something else. I can’t remember what it does, though. But when I find it I’ll add it.

These are all you get — there is no software to install, which also means no control over the finer points of your audio experience. They plug in and they work. I find that really great for being on the road, but it’s a little unnerving as a PC gamer geek. However, I have never felt a strong desire to tinker with the settings, which is more than I can say for the Medusa, which was mostly a product of my sound card (SB Audigy 2ZS) flipping the hell out every time I changed video drivers.

The Hardware

The main difference between these headphones and the Medusa (well basically between the Medusa and any other gaming headphones I know of) is that the Medusa creates surround sound by actually having three separate speakers in each earpiece. Most other headsets use software to figure out how to balance each sound to trick your ear into perceiving its correct direction. I thought the Medusas were pretty amazing, but the Megalodon does a nice job of indicating direction, too.

The first thing I really like about these, especially for travel purposes, is that they’re very light. They look just as bulky, but the materials are very lightweight. If you have an unruly child, or perhaps just like slamming your headset on your desk when you get killed in particularly inglorious fashion, I’d wager they won’t hold up nearly as well. But if you can be a civilized gamer, the build quality seems good, if a little more delicate.

The mic is a single piece of plastic, it doesn’t bend into position. It has a little bit of flexibility in the middle, though I don’t think that allows you to keep the shape you want, it just bends enough so it doesn’t snap accidentally. My professional feeling on headset mic booms, if you really want to know, is that I prefer the ones you can bend into any shape… until they get worn out and won’t stay where you put them. The nice thing about the solid ones is that when you put them somewhere, you can trust that they’re still there the next time you have to call a cue. And I feel the same way about gaming headsets.

The headset seems to shrink down to a pretty small size for an adult head, and expands quite a bit. I don’t know how it would do with a little kid, as thankfully I don’t have any kids here to test with, so I think you’ll have to look elsewhere for opinions if you’re a really cool and/or crazy parent to buy your small child a $150 headset.

The velvet ear pads are very comfortable. The headphones don’t block out outside noise particularly well, but that’s not always a bad thing.


One of the coolest things about this headset, that caught me completely by surprise when I opened it, is the carrying case it comes with. It has a semi-hard shell, molded to fit the headset and control box on the inside, which closes with a zipper, clam-shell style. If you stomped on it, bad things might happen, but it will definitely keep your headset safe in most travel situations, and like the headset itself, is surprisingly lightweight, so there’s no reason not to use it. I can’t wait to go on the road with this thing. I will feel better about traveling with my expensive headset, and will know that the cord won’t be getting all tangled up in my pajamas. Getting pajamas at gametime or headset at bedtime is not productive. It’s going to be a very clear distinction from now on.


My rough scientific analysis which consisted of me stepping on a scale both holding and not-holding the case with headset in it puts its total weight at 1.5lbs. I’ve probably told you I obsess over the weight of my suitcase, so this is very good news. Incidentally, the Medusa weighs 1lb, without a case or control box.

Does it work with Mac?

appleRazer’s official answer on this is kind of, “um, maybe, we think, but we’re not sure.” What I can tell you is that you can definitely plug them in and listen to regular audio with them (you have to select them in your audio settings to make the headphones and mic the active input and output). I don’t have any surround games to play with on the Mac end right now, but on listening to a few minutes of a 5.1 DVD, it certainly sounded like it was working. Which pretty much convinced me that that’s the only way I can ever listen to a DVD on my Mac again.

Does it work with TrackIR’s TrackClip Pro?

Yes. The TrackClip Pro clips rather nicely to the headband, as shown here.




  • light weight
  • simple, literally plug-and-play setup
  • awesome carrying case
  • comfortable fit
  • no soundcard required
  • easy access to volume and mic settings
  • shape is compatible with TrackIR TrackClip Pro


  • no detailed software configuration possible
  • control box adds bulk compared to simpler alternatives
  • I wish there was a simple audio out jack on the control box so I could plug in external speakers or otherwise get sound out besides using the headphones.
  • not compatible with standard audio equipment, or console gaming systems

Overall I’m very happy with it. There’s not much to play with, but I think especially on the road that will be very good. I don’t have a lot of time to play, and if I’m in a hotel at all it’s generally a new one every night. Being able to take the headset out of the bag and plug it in without worrying any more about it for the rest of the night is just what I need.


If the lack of software controls bothers you, there is also the Logitech G35 7.1 headset which has its own control panel and apparently some nice features. Before you get all excited, I will leave you with a picture of what it looks like:

August 11, 2009

15″ Macbook Pro Now Available with Matte Screen Again!

I call this: computers,gaming,mac — Posted by KP @ 12:43 pm

A followup to this post, in which I debate whether I can handle buying a 17″ Macbook Pro, partially as a result of the fact that it was (until today) the only Mac laptop still offered with a matte screen.

Well today I read on TUAW that the 15″ is now being sold with a matte option again.

This is good, since if I decide the 17″ is just too big, I have options. On the other hand, if you look at the other post you will see that although the screen was the dealbreaker, there were other reasons I was still considering the 17″, mostly related to the idea of having a more desktop-like experience while living on the road.

That being said, I have lived my entire professional life with a 15″ Mac laptop, and have rarely used a larger computer or external monitor for work purposes, even when living at home. Of course a larger screen would be nice, but it has never been necessary, and the balance of the 15’s size being large enough to work on for long periods, but small enough to walk around with makes it possibly the ideal form factor.

I could use a larger screen and higher resolution for seeing more of a spreadsheet on one page, coding my website with code on one side and a larger preview on the other, those are legitimate purposes, but the main reason I felt I needed a larger screen was for gaming on the road. I was starting to get a bit of cabin fever gaming in 15 inches for a year on end, and getting ready to go back for at least six months more of that.

Gaming isn’t necessary, but it also is part of my life that I enjoy and I think it is a professional concern, as there have been times when circumstances have prevented me from enjoying certain activities that are normally part of my lifestyle, such as listening to music on my commute, having alone time in the car at Reagle, and when these things are taken away they start to affect the delicate balance that keeps me sane and calm. Somehow I have found a way to enjoy doing a job that most people refuse to do because it’s too stressful, and my continued ability to do my job well requires that I take care of my mental health and give myself opportunities to unwind so that I can go to work happy and with a positive attitude that will filter down to the rest of the people on the production.

I don’t know if an inch-and-a-half of additional screen real estate will make the difference, but if so, the ultimate benefit is that I would not resent my job for taking me away from things that I enjoy, and on a day-to-day basis, I think that’s a huge deal.

On the other hand, I have to consider how much the size of the laptop will negatively affect my work and free time. On the road I find myself actually using it on my lap — or balanced precariously on something else — a lot more often, since I’m often in improvised situations where I have to make a desk out of what’s available, and I will probably be writing the show report from a couch, either at the venue or on the bus.

I looked into how much Tekserve charges for Macbook Pro rentals, and it’s $100 per day, or $200 per week (and upwards from there). As much as I’d love to have an opportunity to run around with a 17″ for a while before dropping $2,500 on it, I don’t think it’s worth nearly 10% of the total cost to have just a week to decide if I like it.

Anyway, the decision is still far away (I hope), but I need to keep paying attention to all the ways I use my computer during the day, and how many of them would be impractical with a larger machine.

August 7, 2009

The Sorry Jar

I call this: computers,gaming,theatre — Posted by KP @ 11:04 am

In our rehearsal room for La Cage, we have some very apologetic people. So much so, in fact, that our director decided early on that every time someone says “I’m sorry,” they owe him five cents. Naturally, being stage managers, Paul and I were put in charge of keeping track of the debt.

I have been working more with Google Spreadsheets lately, which I have grown to love as a result of my involvement with the game Battleground Europe. As a member of the Axis high command, I was first introduced to Google Docs because all the data that keeps the officers organized is contained in some very complex and fascinating spreadsheets. Whenever I meet somebody who has better paperwork than I do, my first instinct is to steal all their tricks, so I had great admiration for the Italian gentleman who created them, who goes by the name of Lince. When Lince retired from the high command, I offered to take on the management of the spreadsheets if for no other reason than to get a chance to play with them and learn from them. Lince and I are still in the process of training (the time difference from here to Italy being a bit of an obstacle at times), but I have learned so much already.

So back to my story.
We began on the first day keeping track of the Sorry fines on a couple of post-its, but of course this wouldn’t work. I also wanted a solution that would be able to be edited in real time by Paul and I, even simultaneously. Google Docs is the simplest way I know of to do this.

So I created a little spreadsheet that has all the actors’ names (and mine, and our director’s), and a column for each day of rehearsal. It totals how much each person owes, and at the bottom displays the total money raised.

You can take a look at it here to see how we’re doing.

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