Tuesday, May 29, 2012

BBC Says Master Chief to Fix Syria?

The BBC made a slight boo-boo. In a segment about the conflict in Syria, they erroneously used a UNSC logo. Thinking they, perhaps, were showing the logo for the United Nations Security Council...they missed their mark. The logo shown in the segment belongs to the fictitious United Nations Space Command from the beloved video game Halo. Might want to supervise the interns a little more closely when they are sent to "google" logos.

Click on this photo and check out Master Chief's right breast.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Ultimate Grill

I've been very happy grilling on my $329 Weber Performer. But my grill does seem inadequate when compared to Grillworks' new Infierno Outdoor Grill. You need to be packing some serious cash to take this monster home...this grill will set you back $30,000.

The fire cage in the middle of the grill is for burning huge, honkin' logs. As the logs heat up and drop coals, you sweep the hot coals to either the left or right grills (or both if you are having the relatives over for Memorial Day).  For heat modulation, the grills  can be cranked up or down 16 inches with just a quick spin of their wheels.

If you are a lover of the Argentina style of grilling and want the ultimate piece of hardware in your back yard, the Infierno is just your cup of tea. Sell your Bentley and plop this work of stainless steel art on your back deck. Check it out here: http://www.grillery.com

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Sonos Subwoofer

For those of you that read my Sonos review,  (http://grogs4cogs.blogspot.com/2012/05/i-was-late-to-this-party.html), you know I was very impressed with their system. Now they've gone and added a subwoofer to their speaker line.

The reviews on this new sub are coming in very strong. Like their regular speakers, you just plug it in, synch it over your Wi-Fi network, and then you are good to go. But be forewarned, you likely won't be buying a Sonos sub for every room unless you are pulling down Joe Mauer money. These babies clock in at $699 apiece.

You can check them out here: http://www.sonos.com/ 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Getting Better All the Time

This game came out last November. Since then, I have logged 336 hours in multiplayer combat. That's 336 hours of bliss. Talk about entertainment value...I paid $59.99 for the game...which means that all this goodness is costing me but 18¢ per hour! The sheer joy of this game is due in large part to the love and innovation that Activision, the publisher, keeps pumping into this game.

Call of Duty: MW3 is actually a huge number of different games within a game. Probably the most popular is straight-up Team Deathmatch. Two teams, six players to a side, square off to see who can get the most kills. This is my least favorite game. The lobbies here are populated by 12 year old castratos with lightning quick reflexes.This is no place for a geezer gamer to hang out. They should change the name of the game to "Be quick or be dead....and when you're dead...I will make fun of you in my best prepubescent, boy soprano voice".

When the game first came out, I spent all of my time playing "Domination". Here again there are two teams, six players to a side, but strategy plays the biggest part of the game. There are three flags on each map. Whichever team holds the most flags for the most time wins. Killing the opposition helps, but only to the degree that it helps you hold a flag. Coordinating with your team members is the only way you are going to consistently win. This game is a lot of fun. And while I still can't outshoot most 12 year olds, I am, at times, able to outthink them.

After I tired of Domination, I moved on to "Kill Confirmed". This was a new game type introduced with this generation of the game. We play the "hard core" version of the game, which means that all damage is cumulative and just one or two bullets will kill you...kind of like the real world. Same deal...two teams...six players to a team. The object is to kill people on the other team, but the "kill" does not count unless you collect their dog tag. But you can't just kill and run in to grab the dog tag, because smart players hunt in packs and the pack will take you down if you run in. So again, another game with a lot of strategy and team coordination required if you want to win. Great fun.

But then we moved on to what is now my favorite game, "Search and Destroy". We play the "hard core" version as well. Again...two teams...six players to a side. On each map, there are two bombs. If you are on offense, you have to grab a laptop, take it to the bomb, arm the bomb and then defend the bomb until it blows up. If you are on defense, you do everything in your power to keep the other team from arming the bomb. If they do, you can defuse it to win the round. This game is all about strategy...kind of like chess with an assault rifle and hand grenades. To make it more interesting, you only have one life in each round. If you die, you are done...you are a spectator until the next round begins. Because the game rewards strategy over reflexes, there is a complete absence of 12 year olds in the game. It's only older, mature gamers playing that comprehend the concept of patience. First team to win four rounds wins. This game is a fascinating, adrenaline-pumping rush...and incredibly frustrating if you screw up and die early in the round.

Yesterday, Activision introduced four new maps with a whole new game type called "Face Off". The maps are really small to promote a lot of very intense firefights. In my favorite version there are two teams, but only two people on each team. The action is beyond frenetic and the only way you can consistently win is by careful coordination with your teammate. It is also helpful to have a really good teammate who was a Sergeant in the United States Army, with tours in Afghanistan and Iraq under his belt (thank you Tim Blackstone, aka BlackHawkDragon). If you are looking for a game that perilously elevates your heart rate and makes you sweat like you are wearing a rubber suit and down parka in a sauna, you'll love "Face Off".

I've been playing Call of Duty games since 2003. The amount of creativity and innovation that the game has shown through the years is nothing short of remarkable. In it's latest iteration, we are getting new maps and/or game types each month... an amazing, technological achievement. It's no wonder that it is the most popular game of all time. As of February 9, 2012, there were 40 million active players across all of the Call of Duty titles. 40 million! That makes for a huge number of castratos...which is precisely why Microsoft created "private chat". With the push of a button, millions upon millions of castratos fall silent. Which allows this geezer gamer and my friends to simply just enjoy the game.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Farewell Carroll Shelby

One of my heroes died yesterday. Carroll Shelby, a chicken farmer turned race car driver turned performance-car maker, passed away at the age of 89.

For me, his crowning glory will always be the creation of the Shelby AC Cobra. The car weighed just 2,000 pounds and had a 335-horsepower Ford V-8 stuffed under the hood. It could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just 3.6 seconds....an amazing feat for a car built in 1962...something only a handful of modern Ferraris are able to achieve some 50 years later.

After creating the AC Cobra, Shelby modified the Ford GT40 and Henry Ford used that car to crush Ferrari, winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans in both 1966 and 1967. His legend lives on today as his company continues to create high performance cars for Ford...the Shelby Mustangs.

Carroll Shelby always danced to his own drummer. Back in the day, he was a highly successful driver and even drove for Ferrari. But he refused to wear the Ferrari driving suit during the races. Harkening back to his days as a chicken farmer, he would race in bib overalls...which gave his sartorial splendid boss, Enzo Ferrari, absolute conniption fits. Rest in peace, Carroll.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra 2

Back in 2000, I had the wonderful opportunity to have my right hip replaced with a new polymer and titanium joint (my punishment for 30 years of daily racquetball matches). Doing so ended three years of chronic pain. Doing so also ended my involvement in any high-impact athletic endeavor. No racquetball. No volleyball. No running.

Recovery from that operation took a year. It's at that point I took up walking. For the last ten years I have walked every day, typically between two and four miles a day. I'm lucky that I have a wife and dog that also appreciate walking. It's a great way to get some sun, fresh air and get the metabolism cranking first thing every morning.

Just like runners, it's important to have the right footwear for walking. I'm fanatical about my footwear and spend a great deal of time studying and reading about the different technologies. Because I am prone to plantar fasciitis (my punishment for years of wearing flip-flops), I need a walking shoe with a lot of support. To get that support, I buy trail-running shoes instead of plain running shoes.

Trail-running shoes are beefier than regular running shoes. Because they are designed to be used on uneven terrain over widely changing surfaces (e.g., loose rock, mud, etc.), the shoe has a lot more structure and a harder sole. That's not to say less cushioning, it's just that the sole material that comes in contact with the terrain has to be a lot harder than that used in running shoes. So while they are more expensive than running shoes, they tend to last longer.

For years, Montrail was my favorite trail shoe. The Montrail Vitesse, which was my shoe of choice, was an incredible shoe that enjoyed cult-like status amongst trail-runners. Unbelievably, they discontinued the shoe in 2007. I bought several pair when they announced the shoe's demise, but they have long since worn out. In May of 2011, I bought the Montrail Mountain Masochist (shown below) as my summer trail shoe, but they did not hold up very well.

Realizing it was time to move on from Montrail, all of my research led me to Salomon. While I was familiar with the company from my skiing days, I was unaware that they also specialize in trail-running shoes. My research pointed me to the XA Pro 3D Ultra 2 (note to Salomon: you need help naming your products) as the best summer shoe for me. As you can tell from the two photographs, the Salomon is a much more substantial shoe than the Montrail.

The shoe has a breathable mesh upper (a must in a summer shoe) and thermoplastic urethane overlays to secure the instep and lock the heel in place. The entire shoe is polyester lined, which wicks away moisture and keeps your foot dry. One feature I love, which is common in most trail-running shoes, is the gusseted tongue that keeps debris out of your shoes. There is a thermoplastic urethane control plate built into the sole which protects the foot and stabilizes the shoe in all three dimensions (hence the 3D in the name).

My biggest hang-up about the purchase was the Kevlar Quickfit lacing system. Prior to this, all my of my shoes had conventional laces and I was a little nervous about making the leap. But I have found their lacing system to be genius....just one quick tug gives the shoe a perfect fit. Once snug, you just tuck the tightening mechanism into the pouch in the tongue. It's a remarkable system...and never again will I have to pause on my walk because my shoe is untied. See it in action here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2OnV-TftvEg&noredirect=1

These shoes have proven to be a fantastic purchase. They offer great support,  they are incredibly comfortable and have a build quality that is second to none. The shoes retail for $130. I bought mine at Zappos (owned by Amazon.com). Because Zappos offers free overnight shipping both ways (for shipping to you and returns), I ordered both a size 9 and 9 1/2 so I could determine which shoe fit me best. I kept the size 9 and sent the other one back. You can check the shoes out here: http://www.zappos.com/salomon-xa-pro-3d-ultra-2-black-black-autobahn

Monday, May 7, 2012

Brand New Xbox for Just $99!

Well, here's a move that will set the gaming console business on it's ear. Borrowing a page from the wireless phone industry, Microsoft is subsidizing their console....to the tune of $200. Yes, you are reading that right, a complete Xbox set-up with Kinect runs $299....and now you can get it for just $99 at any Microsoft Store.

The kicker is that there is a mandatory subscription to Xbox Live involved. You have to sign up for a two-year contract and pay the $14.99 monthly fee for 2 years. To me, that is an unbelievable deal. First, because I think the Xbox is the best gaming console on the market. And second, because I think Xbox Live is the greatest thing to ever happen to gaming.

Microsoft absolutely hit one out of the park when they created Xbox Live. Nothing is more fun than gaming with your friends and Xbox Live makes it incredibly easy and fun to hook up. If you've ever tried to connect with friends on the PlayStation Network...it's a big steaming mess of horse poop. In addition, there is such a wealth of gaming and entertainment content available over Xbox Live, it's just a great deal at $14.99 per month.

This should put a nail in the coffin of the pathetic Nintendo Wii. That stupid machine is an entire generation behind in graphic and computing power. For the casual gamer or parents looking for motion-based games for their toddlers and little kids, it's a no-brainer. An Xbox console with Kinect for $99 or a steam-powered Nintendo for $199....gee, that's a tough one. Xbox is the best gaming console on the planet. And now it's the cheapest.

A $799 MacBook Air?

DigiTimes is reporting this morning that Apple may introduce a new MacBook Air in the 3rd quarter of 2012 at a $799 price point. If true, that should send shivers down the spines of all of the "Ultrabook" manufacturers.

The cheapest MacBook Air is the 11.6 inch model and it is currently priced at $999. Judy has this computer and it is an amazing piece of hardware. It's essentially the size of an iPad but sports a lot more horsepower than what you can get in a tablet.

If the rumors from the Apple supply chain are true, that would give Apple a MacBook Air priced lower than the high end iPads. That would be devastating news for the PC makers, who would have to get their Ultrabooks down to the $699 price point to be competitive...something they have not been able to do yet.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Sonos: I Was Late to This Party

I'm a music lover. I like to listen to music all of the time. Walking around the lake, driving in my car or just sitting in my office, I've got music going.

I do a lot of reading and writing, so my taste in ambient music is primarily instrumental. That way it does not interfere with the task at hand. It's in the background and contributes to a nice, relaxing atmosphere.

As I go from room to room in our house, I like having the music move with me. So I had the house set up old school...with a receiver and speakers in every room. That ended up being a lot of electronics and hardware spread all over the house. Throw in a few subwoofers and we are talking about that stuff taking up a lot of space. A lot of space...seven receivers...fourteen speakers...three subs.

So I just exited 1973 and stepped firmly into 2012 with the addition of a Sonos system in our house. The amp you see pictured above is $499. It is the brain of the world's slickest music streaming system. You can use it to access your iTunes music collection, Pandora, Rhapsody, Napster, Spotify or several thousand Internet radio stations. Any type of music you want on the Internet can be accessed through this little beauty.

The system is wireless...it works over your home WiFi network. As I go from room to room, I use my iPhone to turn the system on and off and select the music I want to hear. I can be in the kitchen listening to The Brandenburg Concertos while Sean is down it the workout room listening to Rack City by Tyga.

If a room doesn't have a speaker system, you can add Sonos ZonePlayer speaker system. You just plug it into an electrical socket and synch it up with your WiFi network and you are good to go. The big speaker, pictured below is $399. A smaller speaker is available for $299.

I really was late to this party...but I could not be happier that I finally arrived. I was able to get rid of a lot of hardware and put in a whole-home system for not very much money. It's a remarkable system, so clean and elegant and simple you'd swear that Steve Jobs designed it. I don't think there is any higher praise than that. Check it out here:  http://www.sonos.com/