Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Goods En Route: Accessories & Etsy

After my latest Timex Weekender acquisition (which has since expanded to the black and grey dialed versions, currently on their way from Amazon), I decided to turn my consumer's eye toward accessories like leather bracelets and rings.  Etsy proved to be a copious source for such things, and I have several items on their way.

The first thing I looked for was a leather bracelet that could complement the members of my watch box.  This purpose imposed certain criteria: no magnetic closures (lest the bracelet magnetize the watch) and a minimal amount of metallic hardware (to minimize the potential for nicking and scratching).  I'd spent somewhat ludicrous amounts of money on a couple of bespoke leather cuffs from Canadian leather workers Palmer & Sons, which were nice, but far too large now that my wrist has shrunk to a 6-inch circumference.  (A nice gentleman on eBay inherited my cuffs at a substantial discount.)  Etsy provided a number of vendors with attractive offerings, and I settled on Dstello, a Spain-based merchant who nevertheless offers free U.S. shipping.

I purchased a simple, thick brown leather bracelet with a hook closure, and a custom tweaked version of their blue leather bracelet with the antique-gold hardware swapped out for silver tone.  Despite the bracelets being tailored to my 16cm requirements, I received a shipment notification only a day later, and should receive them in 1-2 weeks.  A review will follow swiftly thereafter.

I then turned to titanium rings, and found several with a lacquered blue band that I thought was very attractive.  The problem, however, was that I remain unsure of my ring size, which has dwindled from the 7.5 I used to be when I purchased my college class ring.  I should be somewhere between a 7 and a 7.25, and decided the resolve the matter by availing myself of a clearance-priced size 7 from the titaniumknights boutique.  (It's similar to the one at the top of this post, but slightly thinner, at 6mm wide as opposed to the 8mm pictured.)  With free shipping, the ring should turn out to be an excellent bargain, presuming my size gambit pays off.  But if it doesn't, then at least I'll know what size to order when I go for the blue-banded one, from ClassicTitanium, that originally caught my eye.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Buying Computers: Building Your Own Rig

My main computer is a desktop that I put together myself with economy parts about two to three years ago.  Even then, the parts were somewhat dated - hence the discounted price.  Of my original set up, the most expensive component was the hard drive, a 640GB one at $79.  The Pentium Dual-Core 2.0 Ghz processor was $69, and the Asus motherboard was an open-box special at $75.  The total cost for the computer itself (I'd already picked up a 24" monitor that I'd been using with my laptop at the time) was less than $500.  Today, with a subsequent upgrade to a 128GB SSD, a Radeon 5600HD, and having overclocked the CPU to a stable and relatively cool 2.8 Ghz, my budget build handles everything I can throw at it, from large illustration files in Photoshop to The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim . . . all the while powering three screens.

Needless to say, for my first foray into assemble-it-yourself computing, I'm very satisfied.  The key to my success in building my own rig wasn't my personal knowledge of the hardware I choose (I had none) or extensive experience with computer assembly (beyond a good intuitive grasp of how things work, there was no experience to speak of).  No, I managed to succeed in the sometimes difficult realm of self assembly by relying on the advice of experts and knowing where to source information and user experiences I could count on.

For the basic framework of my rig, I looked to an article on building your own budget PC.  As the featured components, I knew that they had to be extremely compatible with one another and a good benchmark for ideal performance levels.  I then searched for various computer forums - being one of them - with sections and members who make a hobby of building their own rigs, and searched for posts about the components in question, or other similar components that I'd considered as substitutes.  (Case in point: the Pentium Dual-Core I choose was older, slower, and cheaper than the Core Duo processor the author suggested, but I chose it because of its sterling reputation as an overclock-friendly CPU.  As my own machine's 2.8 Ghz operating speed attests, that reputation is well-earned.)

There's a certain amount of risk inherent to building your own rig.  There's no customer support safety net if one of your components doesn't work well with the others, beyond its original manufacturer's warranty or the return policy of your vendor.  But if you do your homework and purchase from vendors with a good return policy, you can get a system that meets or exceeds your own personal needs at a fraction of the cost of what it might cost you to go the prebuilt route.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

It's On Amazon: Western Digital WD TV Live Streaming Media Player - WDBHG70000NBK-HESN

These days, most the media I watch these days is on my computer in one of the usual video file formats: avi, mov, mp4, mkv, etc.  For the past few years, these files made the jump from my computer to the TV by being burned to DVD-Rs and then played with a Philips DVD player that was capable of reading data DVDs and video files with DIVX or XVID encoding.  Sadly, that player gave up the ghost a few weeks back, and when I scanned Amazon for a replacement, I failed to find one that would do the job and be likely to last as long as its predecessor, which gave me a good 5 years or so of service before passing on.  Also, which I like to back up my files in DVD format to hedge against the inevitable corrupted hard drive or two, with files sizes growing ever larger, the DVD's 4GB or so of storage space is quickly becoming an uncomfortable bottleneck for my archives, which already span three colossal CD folders.

I'd always considered switching to a Media PC setup, but didn't want to spend an exorbitant amount of money, or end up with another computer.  (I already have three: the main desktop, a MacBook Air, and a handheld UMID - and that's after I winnowed the pack a bit by selling the weakest links on eBay.)  So I looked at the various media player options available - sort of like lobotomized Media PCs, with basic interfaces - and decided on the Western Digital WD TV Live Streaming Media Player.
You know we've come a long way when the controller is nearly as big as the device itself.
 The device is a simple little box with two USB ports, an HDMI port, and an AC port.  Plug it in, hook it up to your TV, and attach the external storage of your choice, and the WD TV will play your files.  The setup was attractive to me because I had an extra external hard drive, and because I prefer to have modular storage as that means your files won't be put in jeopardy if the media player itself conks out, or vice versa, the media player won't be useless if your hard drive gives up the ghost.

Set up was relatively straightforward, and despite a contrary account from one of the Amazon reviewers, firmware updates were relatively speedy and painless.  It takes a while for the device to catalogue your files, but you can access them even while it's sorting things out.  It plays virtually every file I throw at it (except the new 10-bit encoded mkvs that some anime fansubbers have switched to), and essentially has obviated my need for a DVD player.  (In a pinch, my Xbox 360 or ancient PS2 could pinch hit for a DVD player.)

My only gripe (which might just be me not having figured out how to do it yet) is that it plays your files one at a time, meaning that if you have a bunch of episodes in a single folder, you can't simply press play and have it cycle though the entire folder's contents on its own.  Otherwise, the WD TV is a nifty device for bringing your media from your computer to your TV, and is a fair deal at just under $100.  If you're as dependent on internet sources for your media as I am, it's well worth the investment.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

When the Pen is Mightier: Pilot Hi-Tec-C Cavalier Review

I admit it: I'm a pen addict.  If it's a tool for writing or drawing, it's already captured my attention.  As I write this post, all I need to do is look up to see an acrylic pen holder with twelve slots - all of them taken, naturally - filled with fountain pens, drafting pencils, and a fine-point multi-pen.  And those aren't even the tip of the iceberg - they're just my go-to implements, which also happen to look the best on display.  Of the twelve chosen implements, all but one of them are from the Japanese domestic market.

Like many ill-gotten habits, this one began in college.  My school was within reasonable driving distance of a Kinokuniya bookstore, where I got my fix of manga and anime artbooks.  Kinokuniya's stationary section featured rare treasures from the Land of the Rising Sun like drafting pencils in .3mm and .4mm sizes, corresponding leads in softer grades than I'd ever seen in U.S. stationary stores (.3mm 2B lead, anyone?), and fine-point rollerballs with tips so fine that, when a philosophy prof gave us our final exam question ahead of time and allowed us a single 3x5" notecard's worth of notes, I pre-wrote my essay on the card and simply copied it into a bluebook on test day.  My A-earning effort had been made possible by a .25mm Hi-Tec-C pen and the magnifying-glass vision of my nearsighted eyes.

Naturally, when the opportunity to visit Japan arose several years later, I budgeted a significant portion of my trip money for raiding stationary stores and departments like Ito-ya, Tokyu Hands, and - of course - Kinokuniya.  My efforts yielded several pencils and notebooks that I have yet to see available outside Japan, and cemented my belief that consumers in Japan have access to a treasure trove of goods that others elsewhere in the world can only dream of.

More than any other online store, Jet Pens has done the most to bring these cloistered treasures of the Far East to the internet masses.  Seven of my twelve implements on display were purchased from Jet Pens, and it remains my primary source for replenishing supplies like the aforementioned .3mm 2B pencil lead.

I used to make purchases from Jet Pens on a nearly weekly basis, but have managed to wean myself down to once every few months.  My most recent purchase was influenced by a series of illustration tutorials I've been reviewing.  In one, design artist Feng Zhu expressed his preference for Pilot Hi-Tec-C pens for inking and pen sketching, noting the evenness of the lines produced and the general indelibility of the ink used.  With my test-taking (and micro-transcribing) days long over, my own supply of Hi-Tecs has dwindled to one black and one red in .25mm, which is too fine for my drawing purposes.  I opted to try the Hi-Tec-C Cavalier - essentially a heavier, classier metal body for the standard Hi-Tec-C pen cartridge - in part because I have a preference for heaftier implements, and in part because the pen plus several refills would satisfy the criteria for Jet Pens' free shipping on all orders $25 and up.

The Hi-Tec-C Cavalier is a slim body pen with classical styling that looks more suited to the boardroom than the clear plastic of regular Hi-Tecs.  The core of the pen is made of brass, giving it substance and formidable balance.

It comes with a .4mm cartridge, which is the perfect size for sketching, line art, and even note taking, as I find it strikes a balance between the thinness of the line drawn and ink flow.  The slim body might be a bit less comfortable in larger hands, but for those with smaller mitts (like me) it provides excellent control and is far more portable to boot.  The cap posts securely, extending the length of the body and rebalancing the pen for those who prefer the center of gravity to be closer to the back of the pen.

Though a bit pricey at $16.50, the Hi-Tec-C Cavalier is a great pen and an excellent example of the fine writing implements with which Japanese domestic consumers are blessed.  Jet Pens is doing their best to even the score in that respect, and for that they have my eternal gratitude . . . and patronage!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

It's On Amazon: Timex Weekender Slip Through Strap Watch

As I mentioned in my Watch Primer post about affordable watches on Watches to Wear, Timex is a great, dependable brand when it comes to affordable, workhorse timepieces.  As their collaboration model with J. Crew has demonstrated - both by it's popularity and exorbitant-for-a-Timex $150 price tag - the military watch on nylon strap is a versatile and stylish combination that can look good with work attire as easily as it does with jeans and a t-shirt.  There's a line of watches available for $30 on Amazon that can fill the same niche in your watch box for only 1/5th of the price.

Pictured above is my pick of the line: the T2N654KW, with off-white face and blue/gray NATO-style strap.  Really these models are inexpensive enough that you could easily buy both the white and black dialed versions. And - though I'll have to test it myself when I receive the watch in the mail - I suspect these models would dress up quite nicely if you swapped out the NATO for a respectable leather band of the same width (which, according to Amazon, is 20mm).

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Quick Buyer's Tip: Dress Shirt Collars

Having recently tapped some of the Black Friday deals to get better-fitting items in my wardrobe, I thought I'd offer a quick tip about dress shirt collars: the farther the stitching is from the edge of the collar, the finer the quality.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

An eBay Primer: Using the Free Market to Your Advantage (as a Buyer)

I opened my eBay account at the same time that I was learning about supply and demand curves in AP Economics. More than a decade has passed since then, but eBay remains one of the best examples I know of the raw forces of a free market system at work. The bottom line in a free market is this: the price at which an item will sell is the price at which a buyer is willing to purchase it. On eBay, however, in order for this principle to apply, there must be at least two buyers bidding on the item in question. Without the competition between at least two buyers, a given item will sell for its asking price--presuming it sells at all. Further complicating matters is the quantity of the item available for purchase. As in the classic supply-demand curve, where demand remains constant, the greater the supply, the lower the price of the good in question, because the greater the supply, the more sellers will compete against one another to attract a buyer for their items. Also, buyers may be willing to let a few auctions go in order to secure the item at a lower price if they can be relatively sure that more auctions featuring that item will be coming down the pipeline. Where the item in question is rare enough that an auction may represent the only opportunity for most buyers to acquire it, all bets are off. If the item is likely to have a dedicated following, a heated bidding will almost inevitably ensue, with the winning bidder paying top dollar for the honor of bringing home such a rare prize. Just as it takes two to tango, it takes at least two to start a bidding war. Nevertheless, I've done my part on more than one occasion, with the most egregious examples stemming from rare - and usually Japan-only - Rockman/Mega Man-related items. I paid roughly 150% MSRP on a Rockman DASH artbook during my first year on eBay, and a year ago, fought (and won) a ferocious bidding war on a garage kit Rockman model that predated (and, in terms of sculpting if not articulation, bested) the mass production model kit from Kotobukiya. I believe I paid roughly double the original price you'd have paid if you were lucky enough to attend the garage model convention at which the kit was sold, but seeing as my max bid was nearly double that amount (because it seemed to be - and to my knowledge has been - the only kit ever sold on eBay), I still enjoyed a considerable consumer surplus. So what can you learn from free market principles, bidding wars, and my Rockman fanaticism?

Know the Market, Play the Market

Whenever you conduct a search for an item, before you even place your first bid on an auction, you should refine the search parameters to show completed items only.  The results you obtain from this refinement will reveal the state of the market for that particular item.

If there have been several completed auctions in addition to several live ones, then the supply of the item in question seems pretty healthy.  If the completed items reveal that one of the sellers of the live auctions has listed the same item repeatedly in the past, then the likelihood that more of that item will be available through that seller also increases.

Determine Your Max Bid Before You Make Your Opening Bid

If a number of the completed items sold for a relatively consistent high bid, then congratulations: You've discovered the current market price for the item, which should serve as a price ceiling for your own maximum bids if you don't intend to overpay.  Often times, though, you'll find a range of high bids that vary according to random factors like the timing of the auction, the number of people who bid on the auction, and the disposition of the auction's high bidders.

If the supply seems a bit tentative, then depending on how badly you want the item, you may need to be prepared to enter a max bid a bit higher than the market price.  And if the item is virtually one-of-a-kind as far as eBay goes, and you absolutely must have it, then be prepared to enter into a bidding war and end up paying top dollar (read: potentially up to as much as you can afford) for the honor of claiming the prize as your own.

Establishing a max bid amount beforehand forces you to assess how badly you want the item in question, as well as how much money you want - or at least can afford - to sink into it in order to make it your own.  It removes the fevered adrenaline rush of raising your bid in the last few seconds of an auction - otherwise known as sniping - and the likelihood that heightened emotions get the better of you and you end up paying so much for an item that you ultimately regret having won it.  There's nothing intrinsically wrong with sniping - in fact, that'll be the topic of a future Primer post - so long as you establish your well-considered bid ceiling beforehand, and stick to it, regardless of what your adrenaline-amped sensibilities might try to convince you to do otherwise.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

An eBay Primer: The 3 Most Important Things A Buyer Should Know

This post will be the first in a series intended to provide advice for those looking to buy or sell items on eBay.  I've been using eBay for both purposes for over ten years now, and over the course of thousands of transactions I've never had a negative feedback from a buyer - or have had to give negative feedback to a seller.  eBay is an incredible resource for locating hard-to-find items or for paring down the clutter in your house, and the rules of thumb by which I've learned to operate on eBay can help anyone get on the 'Bay with the least amount of trouble.

1) Feedback Matters

Feedback scores, though far from perfect, is still one of best and most expedient ways to determine whether a seller is trustworthy enough to do business with.  And while any seller with a large score and a feedback percentage better than 98% is usually trustworthy, some of the power sellers who meet eBay's strict criteria earn "Top-Rated" seller status, which is an even stronger indication that they'll do right by you in any given transaction.  Especially when you're starting out, avoid buying items (especially large ticket ones) from sellers with less than 98% positive feedback or only a few feedback points to their name.  Not all of those who fall below 98% or are just starting out are bad sellers or out to swindle you, but those who are will have lower feedback and - possibly - a fresh account to distance themselves from past bad transactions.

eBay's feedback system is a little different than it was back when I started.  Sellers can no longer give buyers anything but positive feedback, and some users believe this creates a power disparity that helps to protect "problem" buyers who don't pay for their items or attempt to defraud the seller.  But the current feedback policy also removes the chilling effect that retaliatory seller feedback could have on a buyer when an item fails to materialize, or shows up markedly different than how it was described at auction.

Sometimes a rare item you desperately want may only be offered by a questionable seller, or the price might be incredible.  At those times, it may be useful to go deeper: look at the negative feedback that lowered the seller's score, or look at the few transactions (if any) they've already completed.  If the negative seems to be an isolated incident, or item they're selling is in line with the things they've sold successfully in the past, determine whether the item is worth the risk.  If it is, and you go for it, and the seller turns out rotten after all, then at least you'll still be covered by the next rule:

2) Know the eBay Buyer Protection Policy

If there's a golden rule to doing buying things on eBay, this is it.  eBay's Buyer Protection Policy is one of the strongest safeguards in place to protect buyers from unscrupulous sellers, but in order to use it, a buyer should be fully versed in its provisions.  It can be tedious and difficult to understand at times, but it's there for your benefit, and the better you understand it, the better it can be there to protect you when a transaction goes south.

One of the most critical provisions: eBay/PayPal only allows you to open a dispute within 45 days of your original payment for the item.  If you wait until the 46th day to open a dispute, then all your rights under the Buyer Protection Policy evaporates into thin air.  So even if your seller is begging you to give him just a few more days to resolve your issues, if the 45th day is looming near, make sure you open your dispute before then.  If the seller comes through shortly thereafter, then you can close the dispute with no harm done; but if he's just trying to make your BPP rights expire, then you'll have headed him off at the pass, and are ready to take the next steps if he doesn't make things right.

3) Search for "Completed Items" to Get a Sense of the Market

In my early years on eBay, I would often find myself getting into ridiculous bidding wars with other buyers that ended up with either them or me paying way more for the item than any rational person should.  The best safeguard against this is to do some research on how much the same item has sold for on eBay in the recent past.  Taking the same search terms but filtering the search to show "Completed Items Only" will show you all of the recent completed listings that match your terms.

You can learn several important things from these search results: How much, on average, does the item go for?  How many of this item have been sold recently (and, by extension, how likely will it be that other listings will offer this item in the future)?  Has this seller sold the same kind of item before (and would he be likely to sell another one shortly after the current listing)?  All of these factors can help you determine what a sensible high bid should be, and in that way avoid overpaying as a result of a frenzied bidding war with no clear price ceiling.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

It's On Amazon: Iron Chef: The Official Book

In the already diverse world of food shows, Iron Chef's place is a distinctive one.  Back when Food Network was still a fledgling television channel without its current stable of celebrity chefs/cooks, it was this strange import from Japan that drew in audiences with its gladiator-like duels between culinary professionals.  Its popularity in the U.S. spawned the short-lived Iron Chef USA and the currently airing Iron Chef America, but to me no subsequent iteration has successful captured the unique entertainment value of the original Ryouri no Tetsujin.  It is one of the greatest disappointments in my life as a consumer that (as far as I know) this series has never been collected into DVD sets in either Japan or the United States.

Those who share my consternation (or just wonder where such a left-field TV show concept, even by Japanese TV standards, came from) might be interested in Iron Chef: The Official Book, which was released several years ago and is currently available as a bargain book on Amazon.

The book offers insight into the making of the Iron Chef series, with insights from the titular Iron Chefs, announcers, and production crew.  Among the enduring questions answered by the book: why, if every other voice was dubbed for U.S. audiences, was the Chairman (the inimitable Takeshi Kaga) subtitled?  If that mystery has been niggling at you for years, you'll find the answer here.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Mega Mania #01: Mega Man Tribute Artbook (Udon Entertainment)

Those who familiar with me know that I am a complete fanatic as far as Mega Man (or Rockman as he's known in Japan) is concerned.  I've owned and played all ten of the original series' games, as well as the five that were ported over to the Game Boy.  I have every issue of the short-lived Mega Man comic book series by the now-defunct Dreamwave Comics, and admit to following Archie Comics' present series.  I've added virtually every Rockman manga published in Japan to my bookshelf - and have Hitoshi Ariga's Megamix series and most of his Gigamix series in English as well.  UDON Entertainment is the U.S. publisher of the Megamix/Gigamix manga, and they've also ported over the Complete Works series of artbooks.  But they've recently released their first (as far as I know) original Mega Man artbook: Mega Man Tribute, featuring fan art solicited from all across the globe.

As you can see from the example submissions above, the artwork spans a wide range of artistic styles and media, just as the assembly of artists span the entire globe.  Besides being a great collection of Mega Man-themed artwork, Mega Man Tribute also stands as a testament to the profound cultural impact that the Mega Man franchise has made on our global society in its 24-year history.  (And as 2012 marks the Blue Bomber's 25th Anniversary, I'm sure this tribute only marks the tip of the iceberg of what UDON and Capcom whas in store for fans, despite the disappointing cancellation of Mega Man Legends 3 and Mega Man Universe earlier this year.)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Upcoming Buys: Ray Solar USB Charger

Living in Hawai`i, I'm reminded every day of the awesome power of the sun.  (It's no coincidence that my solar-powered watches never drop below their "high" charge setting.  I once spent three weeks out and about in central Japan in the winter with a G-Shock that remained perpetually in the "mid" setting.  It took all of 15 minutes back in the hot Hawaiian sun to get it back to "high" upon my return.)  With that kind of energy at my fingertips, I've been on the lookout for a good solar charger that would be able to recharge my USB devices easily and efficiently.  I've seen - and been tempted by - previous attempts, but they all inevitably struck out in terms of price or functionality.  

Which is why I'm particularly interested in the Ray from Quirky.  It's a solar charger for devices that use a USB connection - which has been done before - but what separates Ray from other solar chargers is an integrated suction cup that allows it to be affixed to a window or windshield

so that it can collect solar energy without actually being outdoors, or having to constantly fiddle with its stand (which is also included, in case a convenient window isn't handy.  On top of that nifty innovation, the price is certainly right: $49.99 at MSRP, but only $39.99 if you commit to buy it through the current presale.

[Ray: Recharge Naturally, from Quirky, $39.99 on presale.]

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

My Water Bottle: KOR One Hydration Vessel

This week's review looks at a product that I've used for roughly a year and a half: the KOR One water bottle.  These days proper hydration is a must and disposable plastic water bottles are both expensive over time and an environmental concern when they're thrown away rather than recycled.  Reusable water bottles are better for both the environment and the pocketbook, but I've found that the screw threading Nalgene bottles so popular in the 2000s is a nightmare to keep sanitary (and a bit unwieldy in a pinch), and as much as I liked a spout-topped aluminum bottle that my former workplace provided (complete with its logo on the side), I find it psychologically more comforting if I'm able to see the water I'm drinking.  I also found that the spout nozzle made it difficult to taste the water, which meant that I'd have difficulty in determining when the water filter in my refrigerator needed changing.  Drinking from an open top eliminates that problem, and the quick opening lid of the KOR One makes for easy one-handed opening, swigging, and closing.

The KOR One is made with BPA-free plastic and can hold 750ml of water.  It's sleek, impact resistant, and the curved handles at the top of the bottle easily accommodate a carbiner for attaching it to other things.  (A small advisory: although my lid has never opened accidentally, I'd attach the carabiner to the side with the hinge, as that minimizes the amount of stress put on the side with the button mechanism.)  The only thing that has given me trouble in its year and a half of use is some warping of the rubber ring used to form the lid's seal.  It's readily replaceable, though, and after a quick email to KOR about the problem they sent me a replacement ring free of charge.  A+ marks for customer service and follow-up in my book, on top of an already solid product.

The Kor One is a little pricey at retail: $29.95, but is also available at reduced prices on Amazon.  If you do decide to pick one up from KOR directly, you can use the following coupon code to get 15% off: KWS-12802.  The KOR One is $25.46 with the discount.  The code also works for any of their products, including the newer models in 500ml size - 

KOR Delta ($16.96 with discount):

the stainless steel KOR Vita ($18.66 with discount):

or value-priced KOR Aura ($9.31 with discount):

The Delta, Vita, and Aura also come in 750ml size.  

In any iteration, the KOR is a well-designed, aesthetically pleasing water bottle with excellent environmental undertones.  In fact, KOR donates 1% of every sale to its Thirst For Giving Program.

Get them through KOR directly (and don't forget to enter KWS-12802 for 15% off) or via Amazon: 

Do you use a reusable water bottle?  If so what brand/model's your favorite?  How do you think KOR's offerings compare?

Monday, September 26, 2011

It's On Amazon #001: Mimo UM-720S Touchscreen USB-Powered Portable Monitor

This post is the first in a series I'm calling "What's On Amazon," which will feature a product available on which I've purchased (usually from Amazon as well) and highly recommend.  These posts acknowledge that, while virtually anything you can think of or hope to find in a brick-and-mortar store is available on Amazon these days, that same massive selection can make it difficult to know exactly what goodies are for sale there, unless you actively search for them or are lucky enough to have them pop up in your recommendations.  "What's On Amazon" seeks to help fill that gap.

First up on "What's On Amazon":

This is a MIMO USB-powered 7" portable LCD monitor.  It uses DisplayLink technology to connect to your computer via USB alone--no VGA plugs or AC adapters needed.

It folds down so that the stand functions as a screen protector, and at 7.25" x 5" x less than 1", it's superbly packable:

As with nearly all my electronics, it has anime-related decals.

DisplayLink is plug-and-play for Windows 7 and Mac OS X Lion, as the MIMO works perfectly as a fourth (yes, fourth) monitor for my desktop and a secondary monitor for my MacBook Air.  I used to have a first generation Asus Eee PC Surf, so I've dealt with 7-inch displays before, and while the screen real estate is a bit cramped as a primary monitor, it works fine as a secondary one that you can use to refer to another document while working on your main screen, for playing videos, or as a dedicated mini screen for iTunes or uTorrent:

The MIMO is a perfect size for a dedicated iTunes screen.

It's also great for torrent clients like uTorrent.  
As of late, I've been positioning various settings windows on it while working on my doujinshi in Manga Studio 4.

The only critique I can level at the MIMO is that it could use a touchscreen interface, especially when I'm using it to display the settings windows from Manga Studio.  I've caught myself more than once trying to tap the screen with my Cintiq's pen to adjust the settings.  The virtually identical MIMO UM-720S model addresses this problem by adding touchscreen capability:

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Blast From the Past #01: The Bruce Campbell Edition - Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. & Jack of All Trades

This post is the first in the "Blast From the Past" series, which highlights series that have long departed the airwaves but are worth a second look.  Particularly, BFP will feature series that have since been released on DVD or made otherwise available for those looking for a bit of nostalgia or catching up on something good that they missed the first time around.  Going back to rediscover a cancelled series on DVD is how I came across Joss Whedon's inimitable Firefly (also on Blu-Ray), currently at the top of my list of best TV series of all time, so it's my hope that Blast From the Past may direct my readers toward finding some new-old favorites of their own.


The impetus behind this installment's selection is some Bruce Campbell nostalgia.  Currently one of the stars of the USA hit series Burn Notice, Bruce Campbell is a celebrated B movie actor who's known for his snarky quips and prominent chin.  (Case in point, his memoir: If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor.) My earliest encounter with his work was on the wacky Jack of All Trades action-comedy series, which Wikipedia considers noteworthy for "being the first American non-animated action series to be produced in the half-hour format since the 1970s."  Set in a post-Colonial-War-era on the fictional French colonial island of Pulau-Pulau, it features Campbell as U.S. secret agent Jack Stiles, who uses his alter ego "The Daring Dragoon" to foil Napoleon's interests and help the people of Pulau-Pulau.  The series features an insanely catchy opening theme which was nominated for an Emmy back in 2000.  Hear it once, and you'll find yourself humming it for days.

On the other hand, while I remember seeing ads for The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. when it first aired in the mid-90s, I never caught an episode while it was on the air.  Brisco County was Campbell's break-in television role and features a variety of appearances from other well-known TV actors, like Christian Clemenson (famous for playing Jerry "Hands" Espenson in Boston Legal) as Socrates Poole and John Astin (of The Addams Family fame) as Prof. Wickwire.  Both Brisco and Jack of All Trades are excellent examples of the sharp-tongued hero roles that Bruce Campbell has carved his niche out of, and if you like one you're almost certain to like the other.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My History with Keyboards & Keyboard Review #001: Filco Majestouch-2 Linear R Limited Edition Tenkeyless FKBN87MR/EB2

My fascination with mechanical keyboards began with the metallic twang of the Model M attached to the first computers I used as a child.  But my initiation into the realm of modern, mechanical-switch keyboards can be traced back to a visit to Akihabara in 2008.  My primary business in Akiba was at the Mandarake doujinshi store, but once I'd finished up there, I explored that particular back street and found the Clevery 2 computer store, which specializes in peripherals, particularly keyboards.

(Sadly, going through my pictures folder, it looks like I didn't snap up one of the store itself.  Guess I was too starry-eyed at the time.  This image comes from the Clevery website.)

I tried my hands on every keyboard they had on display there, and in the end, a sturdily built (and $100+!) 104-key model with the name "Filco" emblazoned on it won me over.  Only the fact that I had come to Tokyo on a midnight bus from Osaka--and that I would be further laden down by the stacks of doujinshi I'd acquired from Comiket 73 on the trip back--kept me from purchasing it then.  Upon my return to the states, armed with the magical keywords "Filco" and "Majestouch," I discovered the forums, and was initiated into the world of cherry mechanical keyswitches.  I soon determined that the keyboard that had won me over had Cherry Black linear keyswitches, but that most typists preferred the softer touch of the tactile Cherry Browns.  Trusting the consensus, I purchased my first full-size Majestouch, with Brown switches, from beNippon. Over time, I would sell off the full-size for a tenkeyless model (one without the number pad), and expand my collection to include tenkeylesses with Black and Blue (tactile with a *click*) Cherry switches, along with a Topre Realforce 87U and a Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional 2.

I thought my foray into mechanical keyboards would end there, until I discovered through geekhack that Filco had released a tenkeyless model with the elusive Red Cherry switches--and, more than that, that it was available through Amazon.   I immediately searched for it, and--despite a general moratorium on purchases I've imposed around tax time--purchased it.  There were twelve left in stock when I came across the product page, meaning that after my purchase there were 11.  I briefly wondered if I'd been too hasty, adding yet another $100+ keyboard to my stable. 

The remaining 11 keyboards were gone by the next day.

My hope in purchasing this Cherry Red keyboard was to find a middle ground between the smoothness of the linear Blacks (which was my favorite Cherry keyswitch) with the lightness of the tactile Browns.  This was the general description of the Reds on geekhack, so I felt fairly confident that I'd finally found the best of both worlds in this keyboard.

Now, as I type this review on it, I can say that I have.

The "Limited Edition" keyboard came with the red WASD keys, while I had a spare red ESC from my other Filcos.  The keys depress with the same light touch that are the hallmark of the more well-known and widely used Cherry Browns (also used, for example, in the Kinesis Advantage Keyboard), but without the tactile "hump" in the resistance curve that I personally find detracting.  Within an hour of switching to it, typing has become more natural to me as it has on any of the myriad keyboards I've used before.

 (Close-up of the red WASD keys)

(As with the Filco with Black linears, the caps and scroll LEDs are red in this 'board.)

I've yet to use this 'board for gaming purposes, but as I tend to be a button masher, I suspect that the Black linears are still king in that department for me.  Nevertheless, I feel quite confident that I've finally found the keyboard I've been looking for these past three years.  As a writer and editor, the keyboard really is the definitive tool of my trade, and having one that suits my typing style so well makes every task that much more enjoyable.

(The 'board comes in a understated black box with simple lettering.)

Beyond the keyboard itself, the other gem of the experience is learning that Filco keyboards are now available on, as they are sold by the Keyboard Co UK (and fulfilled by Amazon, meaning that super-saver shipping applies!).  The tenkeyless version is sold with both regular printed keys and a "ninja" side-printed version, as well as the full 104-key version.  Also available are tenkeyless versions of the 'board with tactile Browns, linear Blacks, and clicky Blues, as well as full 104-key versions with Browns and Blues.