Adding a Dimension: The New Nintendo 3DS XL

This weekend I picked up Nintendo’s New 3DS XL (yup, that’s the real name).  Most online sources were sold out, so I schlepped around Silicon Valley until I found one at a store.  It had been a while since I purchased something like this at a physical store, and I was pleased with the experience.  Everyone was friendly and helpful (big thanks to the guy at the Cupertino GameStop who called several nearby stores until he found one in stock and convinced them to reserve it for me!).  It would have been nice for someone to mention that these devices do not come with a power cord.  Back in the car and out to a nearby Fry’s for a power cord so I could charge this puppy up and get a look at glasses-free 3D.  And, as long I’m already in Fry’s, why not pick up a larger SD card too?

Back at home with the amber charging light warmly glowing, it was time for initial configuration.  No problems, very intuitive, and easy enough to type with the stylus.  I like the fact that they spread out the tutorial info by sporadically sending a notification that explains a single aspect of the system.  Of course, the user is greeted by the standard chirpy Nintendo color schemes and sounds.

One system update and few hours of charging later and I was finally ready to see what this thing could do.  Note: yes, I could have tried a game during charging, but I wasn’t sure about positioning the device in front of my eyes and the power cord was plugged into an awkward spot in my house.

So, how is the 3D experience?  I was immediately blown away.  It works.  I tried tilting a little to the side, moving my head a little, repositioning the device a little bit.  It worked.  It all worked.  The little speakers on either side of the device also make a convincing three-dimensional sound.  I thought it might feel like a gimmick, but most games acquire a sense of depth that adds to the immersion.  The device is peppy and responsive even with 3D turned on full blast.

What didn’t I like about the device?  Watching Hulu Plus or Netflix is a bit of a let down compared to the retina screen on my iPad or phone.  This doesn’t affect the games much as they as designed for a smaller screen at this resolution.  The depth and music and gameplay pull you in, and it’s easy to forget the graphics are at all underpowered.  No issues there.

Biggest surprise?  The 3D works and feels right in the games.  Ocarina of Time now looks how I always imagined it should look.  Little flecks of dust and pollen float across your field of vision, seemingly out of the screen, and lend a sense of being in the forest.  This is how RPGs and fantasy games should be played.

Second biggest surprise? The games catalog is fantastic.  If you like these types of games (Nintendo first-party, casual, platformers, RPGs, especially JRPGS), you will have no problem finding many great titles to play.

I’m pleased to see Nintendo getting something so right.  I have a WiiU, but it mostly sits unused between the one or two Nintendo first-party releases each year.  The PS4 and Xbox One get much more use.  But, I had always heard the Nintendo’s strength was in handheld gaming, and now I can see why.

It’s a Book About Nothing. And Everything.

friend of mine was visiting from Detroit.  While we enjoyed the beautiful California weather, the subject of books arose.  After comparing notes on the fantastic things we had recently read and talked about current reads, the Other Brian suggested that we choose something to read together.

I selected Karl Ove Knausgaard’s memoir.  Well, the first volume of this massive tome, My Struggle: Book 1.  Literary circles have certainly been buzzing about this book, literary experiment, literary revolution, tedious rambling, or whatever it is.  It was on my list of books to check out, but it wasn’t at the top of the list.

A few podcasts mentioned the book last week.  It came back to my attention.  So I grabbed the Kindle sample and read it.  Proust.  The word kept floating across my consciousness as I read the sample.  This feels like Proust.  Perhaps a bit sharper.  I couldn’t put it down.  I wanted more.  In my brief reading sessions yesterday, I must have highlighted five or six passages.

It’s still early.  The book could fizzle out, veer off in a different direction.  But, if the current trajectory holds, it’s going to be a great read.  I’m sure I’ll post more on this later.


Content to Pay for Content

I think I’ve developed a mild psychological allergy to advertising.  Since I cancelled my cable subscription a few years ago, I’ve gotten out of the habit of sitting through ads.  This probably explains why I have trouble with Hulu Plus (you pay, but the shows still have commercials).  Most of my programming comes through purchases from Amazon Instant Video or watching Netflix, which are both commercial free.  YouTube exists in some middle ground between these two models.  They show a commercial at the beginning, but then get out of the way.

Every week we read new announcements about networks starting to offer their content via direct subscription (cutting out the cable service middleman).  HBO, Showtime, ESPN, CBS, and others have already launched or will be launching soon.  I got excited about this until I read that I would be paying for programming that sill contained commercials.

Creating good content takes time, energy, creativity, and money.  I don’t expect to receive these goods for free.  Let me state clearly: I am willing to pay for content.  However, I am not willing to pay for content that has already been paid for by advertising. Pick your model, folks.

Despite my tone, I am optimistic about the future.  We are still living in the early days of this shift.  Hell, it still seems novel to us that Amazon and Netflix make their own (award-winning) shows.  As content creators experiment with different models, I’m sure many of them will arrive at some mechanism for cultivating a direct relationship between the producers and consumers.  Sell me content piece by piece.  Better yet, allow me to subscribe to a season or a channel.  You will know more about your viewers and keep more of the profits.

Podcast Renaissance: It’s Overcast and I Like It

When I commuted into New York City, much of the time spent on buses was spent listening to podcasts.  Sure I played a few games on my iPad and read the occasional audiobook, but the majority of the time I gorged on one podcast after another.

Then I moved to California, and my commute went down to a few minutes spent during a short drive.  I stopped consuming podcasts and, in typical human myopia, I figured the Age of Podcasts had ended, and they were no longer a thing.

Recently podcasts have reentered my life, arriving in kind of a goofy way.  No, it wasn’t the massive popularity of the podcast, Serial that brought podcasts back to my attention (though I did eventually listen to that podcast and enjoyed it).  Living in Silicon Valley, following the news often means tech news.  One day I was reading the umpteenth mention of Marco Arment’s new podcasting app called Overcast, and I decided to download it to see what the hype was about.  I mean, how could an app that plays podcasts possibly be “revolutionary”?  This is a problem that has been well and truly solved.

So I tried it.  Yup.  It’s awesome.  The app makes it easy to find podcasts, subscribe, and stay up to date.  It alerts me when new episodes of my favorites are available.  Overcast has an uncluttered modern design, but that’s not why it’s awesome.  The real power is in the controls, which can be set on a podcast by podcast basis.  One button, voice boost, gives noticeable audio enhancement.  In an even moderately noisy environment, this makes an enormous difference.  Another button, smart speed, shortens the silences that naturally occur when people are talking.  Of course, you can manually adjust playback speed– all the way up to a peppy 2.25x.  It’s got a Netflixesque setting to play the next podcast when the current episode finishes.  The app has a sleep timer as well as handy buttons for jumping thirty seconds into the past or the future (useful for when a loud truck outside muffles a good part).

Now, rarely a day goes by when I don’t listen to one or two podcasts.  Some great shows are being produced.  Rather than the age having passed, I would suggest that we are in the golden age of podcasting.  I am so glad they found their way haphazardly back into my life.

Disclaimer – I am not affiliated with the Overcast app in any way and have never met Marco.

In Search of the Magic Bracelet

It’s no secret that I’m a fan (though not rabid) of the quantified self movement. I’ve tried various services and gadgets over the years, but I always find that the more automated something is, the more likely it is to stick. tracking my music listening is a good example. Goodreads is an exception. Up until recently, one needed to enter books into list manually. Now Goodreads has started providing minimal integration with Kindle.

Over the past year, I feel like I’ve tried almost every fitness device available. To be clear, this does not include GPS running watches. No, here we are discussing ubiquitous fitness trackers. Think Fitbit or Jawbone Up, that sort of thing. They need to be light and small if I am supposed to wear them all day including when I sleep.

With the Apple Watch coming out in April, it feels like all the other devices are competing for second place. (I have many Apple devices and years worth of apps, so I am invested in this particular ecosystem). They make fantastic hardware. App developers will probably flock to the new platform too.

In the interim, I am currently testing the new Fitbit Charge HR. So far, I like it. It meets the basic criteria of being lightweight and comfortable. The heart rate monitor is good enough. The sleep tracking is okay. Steps, distance, and flights of stairs are solid, of course. The apps are slick and usable. The competitions challenges are a fun addition. IFTTT integration is cool. The battery life could be a little better, but it’s not terrible.

I think I’ll be going with the Charge HR for the time being. It is going to be a fun year for gadgets.