Monday, August 12, 2013

A Very Good Summer

Hello everyone. It's a rainy Tuesday here at Lake Joseph. So far, my vacation has gone well. It got off to a bit of a crazy start what with everyone checking in around six or well after that as in my case. My friends Mark and Wendy were kind enough to drive me up to the facility and it has become a pleasant tradition that I treat them to dinner at a burger place. We all enjoy our hamburgers and it gives us time to get caught up with each other. I was therefore able to get organized in my room before the evening really got going. The staff were exhausted after having run a fundraiser just prior to our arrival. I have nothing but sympathy for those good folks.

It's Wednesday morning now. Somewhat overcast and rainy. I'm sitting in the lounge writing this blog entry on my laptop. It's gotten a few hours of use already due to an evening's worth of programming which failed to interest me. My iPHONE has seen a great deal of action. It serves as my pocket watch and only means of Internet access. The CNIB Internet has been down so nobody heard about the flooding in Toronto or other news until well after it happened. I got a call from Steve who thought to check if I was alright. He didn't know I was up here. I don't think I have much cause for concern. I imagine the power came back on pretty quickly in Mississauga so my freezer food ought to be fine. Not much else to worry about when you live on the seventh floor.

I lucked out and have a room and bathroom to myself this year. Very luxurious and peaceful. I've had far better sleep here than I had any reason to hope for. People-wise, I seem to have drawn a mostly good bunch of fellow campers. Only one of the people here is a long-standing completely unwitting annoyance. Another young lady with questionable marbles has proven at all irksome. I'm not the only one to find this. She's a case in point of why I don't volunteer here. She got fixated on another new camper who doesn't feel the same but she simply can't grasp how nerve-wracking she can be. I reached the point of telling her she was getting on my nerves yesterday. It takes quite a lot to push me to that point. Volunteers have to grease the wheels and can't attempt escape. Sadly, the poor soul who has proven to be my unwitting equivalent of a missile decoy has a kind of autism and finds this lady very hard to cope with. The staff are quite good with her and try to keep her happy while also keeping her from annoying anybody too much. I really feel for her. Perhaps, in previous years, I might have stepped up to be more helpful. Now though, I find I just don't have the same patience for that sort of thing. I have to choose my moments more. Perhaps, after some time doing different things, that patience will return. I can't say I really feel guilty for this loss of patience. Things have just changed for me. I guess a part of the source for that patience was a need for more company. That need has at last been more fully met in my life.

There's a young lady named Stacy who turns out to be a splendid piano player. I've just taken an audioboo with her music in the background. Hope it comes through clearly. As usual, the food has been excellent here. The bread is just splendid.

Thursday is here. This week is going past very quickly. Still, I'll be happy to be home again. I have lots to do in life these days. It'll be good to properly get online and catch up with everything. I've kept an eye on email thanks to my iPHONE and therefore am aware of a number of them which I should scrutinize in full once I'm back. Had I not been able to keep watch on it, I would likely have missed them in the deluge.

Tonight, I'll be going to the Legion. It's usually an entertaining trip and the beer is enjoyable. Provided the sun is out this afternoon, I'll go for another swim. Ariadne, the GPS app I use most often, was helpful when I went on a longer stroll around the camp. They lay everything out quite well but it's still possible for me to get disoriented. Thanks to my iPHONE, I was able to get back to the boardwalk without needing help. I thought I'd do more reading up here. Mostly though, I find I've been listening to music. Every once in a while, I still come across songs I wasn't aware I purchased. I tend to grab whole albums if I like a particular artist as well as the occasional compilation. Last night, they had Bingo and the laptop got a solid bit of good use. Another couple of people took an interest in an audio drama I listened to while sitting in the welcome centre. I don't anticipate using it much from this point on other than for brief blog work like I'm doing now. It's so much easier just to take the iPHONE with me and hang around people. The Aftershokz headphones are great for that.

Yesterday's panel discussion was poorly situated in the welcome centre. People were coming in and out. A good number of people lost patience and left. Having it on one of the porches or somewhere else more isolated from the comings and goings of others would have born better fruit I think. I advocated for a better stance on technology as well as more intellectually stimulating programming. Not certain how far that'll go given the majority of clients but one can hope.

I have Sara to thank in absentia for improving my stay. A couple of ladies who are mentally challenged briefly took a rather too serious interest in me until they learned that I was already spoken for. They may not be playing with full decks but some of them can really tell when people are being dishonest in order to gently get rid of them. It's like a sixth sense or something.

Friday evening has arrived all too quickly. I'm sitting alone on the porch of my cabin. Tonight, there's the talent show and the dance. Usually, I've attended the talent show weathering the deluge of horrid singing attempts, bad jokes and long-winded sundry items out of a kind of sense that one really ought to. Not this year. It seems that I must face the fact that my inclination to be that endlessly patient supportive camper who grins and bears it for the sake of the fragile eagoes of those less fortunate in the mental department has dried up considerably. The slight guilt I feel at not attending just isn't enough to propel me there. I've set much firmer boundaries around me and numerous campers who, unwittingly or not, fall into that annoying or vapid category. As a result of that, I feel much more well-rested than I have other years. The cost of this restored sense of well-being is a slight guilt that I haven't stepped up to the plate as much as I ought to or once did. I must face the fact that a capacity within me has dwindled with age or overextension. I don't believe I've become a taker exactly. I don't tend to need the staff here all that much and believe I've added to their quality of conversation. I just haven't been as willing to act as a buffer or peace-keeper when it comes to the mentally challenged. I've only really lost my patience completely in one situation so I still did alright this week. I think I just need a good span of time to pass where I go on more trips with sane and intelligent people. It feels horrid to write that, but I wouldn't be honest if I didn't. There's so much I'd like to experience even locally in Ontario like festivals and things. At last, I think I've reached a point in life where I actually have friends who'd enjoy doing some of that with me.

It turns out that one of the people who I had presumed to be a volunteer or staff member was actually just another camper with more capacity for empathy and patience than I had this year. While I ducked out of the way and avoided one particularly irksome lady with an unfortunate series of interconnected difficulties which frayed the patience of many of us , he has tirelessly stepped in shielding us from her and her from the hurt of being unwelcome in conversations. His voice sounds like someone shot his throat full of holes and I think that's the result of being constantly there for this lady. Trevor and I have exchanged emails and if I can ever be of help to this kind and conscientious soul, I'll certainly do so. He has set a very powerful example for me as I've fallen somewhat short of the mark I set habitually for myself. Hopefully, I'm correct in my thinking that a respite from coming up here year after year will restore a little of the poise, grace and patience I feel I've somehow lost. Certainly, I'm no longer in such desperate need for socialization as I have been. What with expeditions to downtown Toronto, visits with Sara, trips to Canada's Wonderland, and other outings, Lake Joe no longer has quite the same pull on me. There are other options for me now at long last. I guess it's time I explored them more fully. Much like giving things up for lent, it's time I shelved this place for a year or two and let the rest of life take its course. I know I'll eventually want to come back again. This place has always been just as much about growth for me as it has been about vacationing. It makes you stretch your definitions of friendship and good company. This week, I've met a young man who feels judged and criticized by most people due to Aspurger's combined with blindness among other factors. He's desperate to find somewhere he will be accepted for who he is. Another lady I got to know was ecstatic to be moving in with her mother leaving a less safe situation behind. You hear all kinds of different life stories. I know that my own stories have entertained and inspired both campers and staff. It feels good to have contributed even if not to my former standards in all respects.

It's now Monday, July 22. I've been taking it easy this past week. Thankfully, unlike other years, I haven't found myself stricken with any sort of illness. I feel pretty confident that what happened in prior years was in fact allergy related. Taking Reactin each day seems to have done the trick. I wasn't troubled at all. I was pretty successful when it comes to packing. Should have taken a pair less shorts and perhaps one or two more short-sleeved shirts but it's hard to be certain of good warm weather particularly during late nights and evenings. Didn't end up needing pants, sleeves or jacket at all. I'd rather be prepared than stuck without items though. My pack distributes weight very well. Sadly, my Gerber Dime multi tool broke while I was helping a somewhat befuddled lady close her pack. There was a tag which had a tendency to stick out through the zipper. She didn't have the coordination to push it back in while closing the zipper past it. The small scissors of my multi tool are perhaps its most frequently used feature and they chose that moment to break apart. I was able to pick the fragment of broken blade from the floor so nobody will be injured by it but it has proven to be impossible to fix the blade. The remainder of the scissors stick out slightly and form a snagging hazard on the multi tool rendering it unwise to carry in a pocket as I've done since purchasing it. Upon my return, I ordered a replacement multi tool. I don't often get confused when online shopping but sadly did in this case ordering the incorrect tool. To return the wrong tool and obtain the one I should have ordered requires getting a drive down to Mountain Equipment Co-op and making the exchange. A wallet I ordered which got good reviews online has also proved unsatisfactory and I'll have to return that as well. On the bright side, the Eton Boost Turbine2000 I ordered was an excellent purchase. It's somewhat more bulky than the external battery I got more than a year ago but the battery can be connected using the iPHONE's USB cable. That'll make it far easier to use and less prone to slightly unplug as happens frequently with the older battery. The hand crank turbine will allow me to charge the battery of both the unit as well as the iPHONE if need be. This would be a fairly lengthy arduous process and I'll likely use the internal battery cranking occasionally in spare moments which I'd certainly have during a protracted period without electricity.

It's now Tuesday morning. I've had an early rise at around four AM but went to bed at a little after ten last night. Hopefully, that's enough sleep for the whole day. I've been working on Land of Trivion. Progress is slow but I'll sure take that over a completely dry spell. It's a splendid day to work out here on the balcony. I'm therefore putting my new Thermo Cafe thermos bottle from Mountain Equipment Co-op to its first test. At seven this morning, I made a latte with my Tassimo machine and poured it as quickly as humanly possible into my thermos bottle using a small measuring jug. The drink doesn't really fill the thermos anywhere close to full. I didn't want to add any extra hot water beyond what the Tassimo permits for fear of wrecking the test. The Tassimo heats drinks to a good drinking temperature which doesn't scald you. In theory the thermos bottle ought to keep my latte drinkably hot for hours according to reviews I've read. Shortly now, it'll be precisely nine o'clock and I'll then pour out a small cup full and give it a try. Long before now, had I left the latte in a large cup as I've done in the past, it would be un drinkably tepid at best. In around half an hour, we'll see how good a solution the thermos actually is.

The Thermo Cafe bottle has passed the test with flying colours. I can pour a hot drink without spilling and both cup and bottle are cool to the touch. The drink has remained nice and hot despite the length of time it has resided in the bottle so far. A splendid and inexpensive solution to my previous problem of heat dissipation.

The cables I ordered from the Apple store arrived two days early. That's terrific because on Thursday, when they would have been expected, I'll be going to see Michelle and Gerry. I haven't visited those two in quite some time and will be interested to see what's new in their lives. Doubtless their computers will need some tender loving care. Speaking of that, yesterday was their seventh anniversary.

The visit went quite well. Michelle is getting very good at taking care of their computers. Jerry wants to get a copy of Qcast to make pod cast listening easier. To do that, he'll need a Pay pal account. He'll have to wait until deposits are made to his bank and he can verify it. I believe I can talk him through the procedure or attend to it myself if need be. This Summer is shaping up to be pretty busy. I'm hoping to see Sara for around four days starting August 1st. We'll see if that pans out or not. Later in the month, there's the cottage trip with Steve. That ought to be splendid. I find it hard to believe how much life has changed since last year when I went up there. I feel like I've really hit my stride in so many ways. Unfortunately, sleep can still be problematic. I've been up since a little after three this morning and I'm starting to flag. I guess it wouldn't really matter if I conked out for the afternoon but I've always hated to just capitulate. It's like when you're eating a crumbling taco and a little stuff falls out. You know the situation's nearly hopeless and that nobody would think any less of you as a person because of the mess other than yourself. Something in me just demands I try and finish the taco with as little mess as possible anyway. Giving in and hitting the sack before a reasonable hour sort of feels the same way. I do tend to get too focused on minute details at times. This is particularly true when it comes to game creation and other writing.

It's now Thursday, August 8. The rest of July was very pleasant but seems to have up and vanished on me. I've been seeing friends, acquiring more game development books, and attending to other projects having totally forgotten that I left my long overdue blog entry unfinished. I was very pleasantly surprised at Mountain Equipment Co-op. The return went very smoothly despite my not having my Mec membership number handy. They even took back my broken Gerber Dime and credited me for the items. That was enough to pay for the correct tool, a Leatherman Wingman, plus a replacement Gerber Dime and contribute towards turtle flashlights for my nieces. Sara is now enjoying the use of this unexpected replacement. Once I was able to feel how sturdy the Wingman and the tools it contained were, I realized that I was quite unlikely to need a backup tool. Sara can make far better use of it.

This past week has been easily the highlight of my excellent Summer. Unfortunately, the cottage trip had to be cancelled and this was a sort of quickly improvised backup plan. Sara came over last Thursday and we also enjoyed Steve Murgaski's company for most of the time. Sara and I listened to a great many pod casts including the Overnightscape as well as a number of CBC Radio Summer programs. It's positively awesome to have someone who'll not only listen attentively but be inspired to talk about what we've heard together. I still find that an incredibly novel and thrilling experience. We really seem to be on the same page on a great many things. After a relaxing day or so here, we went to stay with Steve and visit friends in Toronto. We all had an excellent time and ate splendidly. Steve's parents and other family members were away so we had the house to ourselves. Mostly though, we were out and about seeing friends and visiting restaurants. I believe they call it a "staycation" these days. Nifty how these new terms bubble up and become fashionable. I have a now empty and cleaned out keepsake in the form of what's called a "growler" which once held some exquisitely refreshing Summer Ale from the Granite Brewery. . I spent a most enjoyable evening there with Michelle Mcquigge, a blind journalist who has become a very dear mutual friend to all of us. The food is great and so is the atmosphere. We were able to have a good conversation and truly relax. I felt so much more respected as an adult than at Lake Joseph.

How did I get here? The joyful amazement struck me full as I sipped at my Summer ale. There I was in the middle of precisely the kind of trip I had spent so many years wishing I could go on. I had somehow beaten the odds and found a talented and wonderful girlfriend to share this trip with. Instead of a one-off thing, this past week has built a memory which both of us will treasure as a foundation stone of something greater. We've been talking far more openly about eventual marriage. Given how well things are going, I begin to hope that "eventual" will be much sooner than I would have dared to hope even a few months ago. Add to that the amazing people who I can call friend. Such a collection of experience both on the margins of society and, in one case at least, from its more so-called successful core.

Both Sara and I marvelled at how quickly and pleasantly time had passed while sitting in a McDonald's with Meko, Earle, two adorable little kids, and company. Earle and Meko are both very intelligent and conscientious people who have taken on the responsibilities of parenthood to the best of their ability. In both cases, the relationships which resulted in the children have sadly foundered. Despite that, both remain absolutely committed to their children. It shows in the happiness and kindness displayed by the little ones. They've done incredibly well so far with quite thin resources. To my way of thinking, people who can do that as cheerfully as they can are worth their weight in gold. The school of hard knocks has taught them at least as much about what really counts as I ever learned in university. There's a kind of genuine earnest down-to-earth quality to them which I find very refreshing.

Having those two experiences so close together would, one might think, be quite the contrast. I didn't find that to be the case though. Both while sitting on a padded stool at McDonald's and while sitting on a comfortable chair at the Granite Brewery, I was in the company of friends who each shared and understood aspects of my peculiar life. Whoever thinks that blindness affects people the same way would only need to spend a day with each of us to see just how wrong that is. The same goes for people who experience a long period of unemployment very likely to be permanent due to factors and misperceptions beyond their control. So much of that depends on what gifts and character traits one brings to the table. Becoming chronically angry and bitter at people who are more fortunate is a very natural and, in some cases, a very justifiable response. It's pretty hard to argue that there are a whole lot of vastly overpaid undeserving people. Good hard honest work should absolutely be rewarded. Especially when jobs are more dangerous, there ought to be suitable compensation. You also want to reward people who stay honest despite strong temptation to do otherwise. However, I'm pretty hard-pressed to think of many cases where people truly deserve to be multi-millionaires.

For so many of us, there are no ways to even get into the work force on the bottom rung. There really doesn't seem to be a bottom rung anymore. For sighted people, there are service and delivery jobs. Even there though, the options seem to be less than they once were. My friends and I simply can't avail ourselves of these entry level jobs and therefore can't prove our worth to anyone. Soul-searching and attempting to keep a positive attitude in a world which doesn't seem to need us are the closest thing many of us have to a full time occupation.

I've long since concluded that it just isn't ultimately helpful to go the angry bitter route. I've seen what that's done to me even over short time spans and how self-destructive it has been for others over longer time spans. Thankfully, my family, friends and faith have also helped me to find a measure of contentment and purpose in life. A positive, honest, and responsible approach to life does indeed ultimately prove rewarding in many different ways. Not the least of which is having time and modest resources with which to pursue one's own interests. The only clock I'm on is God's. Seeing from the outside just how stressful life is in the working world, I've gradually come to see all that time as being very valuable indeed. Now, the real trick is to help my soul-searching friends and others in similar circumstances do the same.

I'm ever so glad that from now on, I need not call Peel Housing every time someone is staying overnight here unless it's going to be for a long time. I now feel free to keep someone here if they're too tired or, heaven for fend, too drunk to safely go elsewhere. I only need inform them in circumstances where someone is staying for ten days or so. That's a whole lot more reasonable an intrusion into one's private life.

Speaking of which, said life has now somewhat returned to what passes for normal. It's Friday morning. I've been waking up early at around four thirty or five these past couple of days. I have a dentist appointment in less than two hours. While I can't say I've been a model client in terms of flossing every day, I have done it a good many times. I can only hope it makes some sort of tangible difference. I'm now back and out on my balcony. It appears I have indeed made a tangible difference. The cleaning was notably less painful and there were no comments on the wretched state of my gum ns. That's pretty much as good as dental appointments get.
I have a lot of reading ahead of me. This morning, I started Quicksilver, the first book in Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle. It seems I'm in for a very interesting series. I've also begun reading a number of books related to game development including The Lazy Dungeon Master by Michael E. Shea, Tome of Adventure Design by Matthew J. Finch, Eureka: 500 Plots

to Inspire Game Masters by Martin Ralya, and Uncertainty in Games; Playful Thinking by Greg Costikyan. These are just a few of the titles I've obtained and begun to explore over this past while thanks largely to the Amazon Kindle app. I believe I have put together a good collection of material to keep me moving forward steadily if not swiftly with Land of Trivion. I really don't want to go through another protracted creative dry spell. More for pleasure reading but possibly of benefit, I've acquired a few books on game history including Dungeons and Desktops by Matt Barton and Twisty Little Passages; An Approach To Interactive Fiction by Nick Montford. Soon, I hope to be able to purchase Dungeons and Dreamers when its second edition is released next month hopefully in an accessible format. There's also a Beginner's Guide to Inform7 which I hope will eventually be released in accessible format for iBOOKS or Kindle. I've been able to acquire so many books thanks largely to my grandmother's generous financial gift. They will be providing me with food for thought for years to come as I attempt to find and apply the wisdom of expert game designers to my own hopefully unique creation.

It's a pleasantly cool Saturday morning. I've decided to try one of my ice coffees from Tassimo. Making one of these requires quite a bit of ice since the heat melts so much of it as the coffee falls upon it. After brewing was finished, I added what few ice cubes I had left into the water bottle I thought I'd use. The resulting drink is refreshing and less watered down than I would have expected. Wish I thought to have this stuff handy prior to the heat wave. Very nice. I'll definitely keep some on hand for the next hot spell.

Saturday was very pleasant. I managed not to doze and stayed up until after ten. Rose came over for a brief visit. Things are looking much better for her in a few key areas at long last. A few things are still somewhat up in the air but I've never heard her sound so hopeful and positive about things before. I'm glad I was able to contribute in a small way to add a bit of practical positive fuel to what I very much hope is the beginning of a new chapter for her. That should become more clear over the next couple of months and quite possibly much more quickly.

Those kebobs from Longo's are wonderful. I grilled a few of them and cooked up some potatoes. That pretty much does two good meals. It was also nice to listen to the Bear's Lair and other online radio shows. I'm looking forward to the Mosen Explosion this afternoon as well as a few pod casts as the day progresses. Church, however, is next on the agenda. Back after a wonderful week away. I may also be seeing my parents for dinner later.

It's Monday afternoon now as my laundry is hopefully drying like it ought to. It didn't quite feel like it was vibrating as much as I expected but it's hard to tell when the one beside it is also being used. Every once in a while, one of these sort of nagging doubts will assail me. Usually, nothing is actually amiss. The next order of groceries has been entered and should arrive on Wednesday. My freezer is still quite well stocked so I could spend mostly on other things. It should last me at least a week into September. A new sale should start soon at Audible. Most likely, I won't purchase any more books this month but they do occasionally have good Summer sales that include books I'm interested in. I don't expect anything much to happen this week. It ought to be fairly normal and relaxing. Land of Trivion will get some much needed attention. I'll also get in some walking around the lake and time out on the balcony. I'm indoors today as there's work being done on the building's garage. Did a mission from Zombies Run on my elliptical machine a little while ago. Good to get back to that again.

This time, that nagging doubt about the dryer not functioning correctly was justified. Closer examination of the dryer revealed one of those out of order signs that I had neglected to check for this time. My fault entirely. My close were still quite wet so I've put them into another dryer which thankfully sounds as it should. I'll do my other load later this week. The good thing which came out of this dryer mishap was that I was able to hold the elevator door open while a lady got her groceries off more easily. She seemed so pleasantly surprised that I would do this simple thing for her. I'd think most people in the building would have done the same. They might not go out of their way to meet neighbours but all in all, I've found that people are quite nice here. As I've often tried to convince other cynical people, it really does ultimately pay to be a nice and helpful person whenever possible.


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Pleasant Times

Hello everyone. Thought this rainy Wednesday morning might be a good one for blogging. Things are going pretty well these days. Other than my continued sleep troubles, no illnesses have plagued me. I suppose allergy season could be coming up any time now. I believe I'm prepared for that.

Sara and I ended up getting together in April after all and enjoyed a good portion of the Mushroom FM murder mystery weekend. It was a dream come true to have someone there who actually enjoyed an online event like that with me. They outdid themselves this year. Good music and conversation, well-handled trivia and other game elements and a surprisingly good actual mystery. I shamelessly confess I failed utterly to figure out who did the dastardly deed before the weekend was over.

It doesn't feel like a month has gone by since my last blog posting just after the sleep study. A fair bit has happened. The conference on disabilities went pretty well. I learned some new things and met some very interesting people. I've actually missed a couple of Sundays at church due to my disrupted sleep. Eventually, I'll have to meet with the deacons and elders to figure out whether any of the material I still have to read over will be of use to the congregation. So far as I can tell, things are ticking along pretty smoothly so I don't feel too badly about taking my time engaging in this new role.

Carine and Kevin took me to Canada's Wonderland for the first time this year. It was good to be back and on the roller coasters again. There were no difficulties with my season's pass. It seems that each of us is in a stable relationship with a significant other now. We've all been busier. I hadn't seen Kevin in ages and it was good to catch up a little with his happenings. Doubtless, we'll do a number of trips to Canada's Wonderland over the coming months. It's nice to have already paid for the season's pass what with all the changes in economic priorities this past while has thrown at me. One does have to alter spending habits once a serious relationship gets underway. Each time I've had one, I've been in slightly different circumstances so it's not really something that gets more polished. I have a very strong sense that this one's for keeps though and that a lapse back into single life isn't going to happen any time soon. Thank God and Sara for that.

Thankfully, I'll be missing this Sunday's service due to actually being away visiting Sara for this long weekend. My sleep has somewhat settled into reasonable if not perfect timing. It's always nice to have something special to do for these long weekends. They could really drag some years when it seemed that everyone but me had people to celebrate with. My backpack and other travel gear are certainly getting used. For this warmer part of the year, I've gotten a new hat, waterproof iPHONE case, and new karabiners for attaching my water bottles to belt or pack if need be. The reviews on Mountain Equipment Co-op stood me in pretty good stead over all as they tend to do. I'm very pleased with the Outdoor Research Sun Bucket hat. The chinstrap was easy to remove. I've always found those things a nuisance. It's a light comfortable hat with a good crushable but stiff brim. Easy to stick in a pocket when indoors. It doesn't interfere with hearing what's around me anywhere near as much as my Roots hat did. Provided it stands up to some years of use, I'll likely get a similar replacement when needed. The case isn't tat all what I expected when I ordered it. However, I've taken it out for walks a few times and have found that the GPS is far more accurate when hung around my neck than when in my pocket. It's also possible to make use of the compass and manipulate the app. The lanyard is thick and secure enough that I don't worry about the iPHONE dropping. A good thin case for travel but not a good permanent case given no hole for earphones and no way to charge it unless the case is open. Last but not least are the karabiners. Overall, I'm pretty happy with them. They're just a bit too small to hang from my belt. I'd have to get a thinner one. However, I can slide them onto my belt like I do with my cane holster. The hooks work very well. It's easy to hang and detach a water bottle or whatever one might hang from them using one hand. They have no sharp parts so I don't have to worry about damaging the rubber loop joining the cap to the bottle top. A very satisfactory purchase although I'm by no means convinced there aren't even more suitable karabiners out there.

Nearly two weeks have gone by now since I started this entry. The long weekend with Sara was terrific. We went to an Indian restaurant having a delicious dinner on the Friday night. On Saturday, we were at one of her aunt's 60th birthday party. That also went quite well and I got to meet some of her extended family. So far, I seem to be doing alright with her folks and family as far as I can tell. They're good people. I have yet to meet her friends. They're even more scattered and busy than mine I think. On Sunday, we were unfortunately unable to go to her church so I still have that whole crowd to meet. Despite that collapsed excursion plan, the day was still quite pleasant and busy. We had a relaxed morning and afternoon listening to some radio dramas and Mushroom FM. The evening featured a very good dinner followed by fireworks and cards. Her family is particularly apt to play card games. Cards aren't my strong suit so to speak. Luckily, I can somewhat manage a few games like Texas Hold em, Poker, and Blackjack. Despite all the activity, Sara and I had plenty of time alone.

I used my large backpack for the weekend. It worked on the whole but the lap desk tends to stretch the day pack more than I'd like. Once you reach your main destination and get the day pack organized, things go pretty well other than that lap desk problem. There just isn't quite enough width for a perfectly comfortable fit. Also, you can't zip the day pack onto the main pack if it's at all full. For future trips, I think I'll bring my computer case. It can seem like overkill but things are better protected and it all fits in so nicely.

Last week just seems to have flown past and snuck away. Part of that was due to my sleeping and waking times being all screwed up. I've done a whole lot of reading and worked some on Land of Trivion. Zombies Run has gotten some play time as well. They've really improved that game over the past while in terms of accessibility and how missions are handled. You have a lot more control over how much space it takes on your i device now. Hats off to that crew for taking accessibility into account and not leaving their blind customers in the lurch. Swamp, that more sedentary but frenetic zombie game, has also gotten some more attention. I'm in an area that's an actual swamp within the game. Lots of trees blocking movement around and zombies are very tough. My character has died countless times but I just keep coming back despite all my complaints about very broken game balance. It's just such a good way to socialize and blow off steam.

The Kindle app has just become extremely accessible for blind people. I had to check that action out so I signed up with Amazon and bought a few books. One of these books was Fallthru by Paul H. Deal. What a splendid read it is. A scifi fantasy hybrid that actually works well. I only wish the game could run on modern Windows machines. It's a real treat having the game world I came to appreciate so much all fleshed out. It's quite a long and interesting read which I have yet to finish. I also bought a couple of game design books. Once Sara figured out how to use the table of contents properly, a whole lot of very interesting and applicable books suddenly became accessible. I had originally heard that it wouldn't work at all but this proved not to be the case. You have to feel around until you find the chapter you want and then double-tap on it. You can't flick left and right between chapters within the table of contents though. Once that mystery was solved, it made real sense to get some of the game design and history books suddenly made accessible to me. One of my purchases was Stephen Kent's Ultimate History of Video Games. My parents got me the print book for a birthday present which I tried to scan. I failed to keep the 624 pages in order and could never read the complete book. Thankfully, I now have it on my iPHONE in completely ordered and accessible form. Reading sections of another book, Kobold Guide to board game Design has already cause me to change my board layout in Land of Trivion. Some very good stuff in that one. At long last, I've finished reading the Hyperion books. Simmons does an excellent job of explaining his universe and how things came about. Those books raise a lot of interesting issues about religion, faith, hope, heroism, etc. Plenty of food for thought there. Over the last weekend, my parents celebrated their 44th anniversary. Quite a remarkable achievement keeping things as stable for themselves and us for as long as they have. Even while growing up, I had a sense of what a treasure such a stable long marriage was as I met more kids from divorced families. Once you've gone through a divorce yourself after only five years of marriage, you appreciate it all the more. That's one area of life that I still very much hope to be successful; a long stable happy marriage where both of us have room to be who we are and to change on our own terms. I'd like to think the lessons I've learned will pay off there eventually.

It was good to be back in church on Sunday. I've missed nearly a month due mainly to my sleep difficulties and being away for one weekend. Looks like I may indeed be going to the multiethnic conference again this year. It's always been an interesting trip. I just wish there was more of a sense of progress being made and less a sense of pulling at stubborn teeth. Churches should be world leaders in terms of any justice-related stuff but they never really seem to be. Perhaps, I'm too idealistic for my own good. I've certainly been accused to that often enough. It's just hard to tell where the church leadership stands on it what with the Belhar confession being reduced to some sort of spiritual document rather than the force for real positive change it could have been. Are they interested in actual change for the better, or are we just some sort of steam valve releasing pressure to a point where it won't cause damage? A question requiring wiser heads than mine to answer I fear.

It's hard to believe another month is about to begin. Sleeping through chunks of day really does some odd things with one's sense of time. I slept in until around ten o'clock this morning. Guess I really needed the sleep. I was dozing off toward the end of last evening. Hopefully, this week will be more productive than last week turned out. It's nice being able to work out here on the balcony. There hasn't been as much noise as I thought there might be. We have pool maintenance and renovation on the ground floor of part of my building going on. I think the pool stuff was mostly over the lat couple weeks and it might be finished now. Hard to tell at times especially when some stuff gets bumped and rescheduled. They're good about giving us notice when they expect things to happen though. Overall, I very much like how the staff maintain the building and interact with us pennants. I know that's a blessing many of my friends don't share.

Hearing about the ongoing troubles of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has given me a lot to think about. For one thing, it's a good illustration of how questionable decisions made even by others you're related to earlier in life can come back to haunt you later. I wonder which way the pendulum will ultimately swing as more of what once was private life and youthful indiscretion becomes a matter of public record. Will everyone's expectations simply adjust so that people actually have room for the odd mistaken venture and can grow from their mistakes? Or, will people basically be in a situation where anything they do while young might serve as a ball and chain later on and people who have learned their lessons through experience simply won't be able to attain positions where those lessons might help others? We seem to want utterly perfect people in office rather than people who are sincere and try their best to work with what's there. I've never really liked Rob Ford but I can somewhat sympathize. Have the kids I've spoken with at the Dam already done things which employers will consider fare reason for not hiring them? A young person's criminal record is wiped clean after they turn 18 if I remember right. The Internet, however, is a different matter. Overall, I think society in general has a lot of sorting out to do regarding forgiveness and should better figure out what people want from the punitive side of justice. Do we want our criminals simply removed from society? Do we want them to realize the harm they've done and to become better citizens? Both, I think. Somehow though, we have to get things sorted so people who are defending themselves or their property don't end up being made powerless due to the fear of getting sued. Criminals do cross a line with their actions. Victims should be better able to defend themselves and get more than they often seem to from the justice system. Perhaps, more psychological examination should come into the picture so that people who really have a desire to reform could get the chance to while others who just wouldn't benefit from such programs could be punished in a way which would better make them think twice.

The sun is starting to make the balcony a tad uncomfortable as six o'clock approaches. I've moved in onto the couch. I have CBC Radio1 coming through on the TV. It worked quite well on the laptop over the afternoon but I figure I may as well save a little bandwidth. I've almost never gone over my cap but I'm spending a lot on books this month. I just purchased another one about psychology and board games. Moves In Mind; The Psychology of Board Games had a whole bunch of authors including Fernad Gobet. From its description, I think I'll learn a lot of useful stuff. I have to create a game which will keep people engaged and interested yet still allow for socialization. The game can't demand total concentration on it for the whole time it's being played. People have to want to take an interest while it's not their turn but not be overly disadvantaged if they don't or can't. Doubtless, the game board and other elements of Land of Trivion will feel its force. It had better. This one weighs in at $41 and that's quite heavily discounted on Amazon. People might find it interesting to know that this isn't the most expensive digital book I've ever purchased in my attempt to learn the ins and outs of game design. That record stands at $53 spent on Fundamentals of Game Design by Ernest Adams which I bought from Peach Pit Press. Thinking this over, I don't believe I've spent anywhere near as much on books about game design and history as I've spent on royalty-free music and sound effects to be eventually used in the game. Those two categories probably have gone close to $1500 spread out over the past ten years or so. I won't really derive any pleasure from these assets until and unless I can use them in a game. I do, of course, get the peace of mind knowing that they're available and I'll have the rights to use them even if it takes another ten years to reach that point. Actually, they might get used a little in Sparkle too. There's another project I've badly neglected over the past while. With the books, I get some benefit regardless of whether I succeed or not. I gain a deeper understanding of the games I play or hear about others playing. I also find that I can often spice up conversation with some of the more interesting techniques, observations, insights and general psychology behind the games we treasure. It's a lot like my English degree. It's added a lot to my character as I've read and attempted to apply what I've learned. Games are at least as relevant as anything I studied in university. Even if all someone can appreciate is dollar potential, games have been raking in even more than movies for years now. Any way you slice it, they're relevant to society, culture and life in general. Even if I never see a penny in compensation for all my effort and expense, this quest to create a good game that other's enjoy and learn from has already added immeasurably to my life and allowed me to add to the lives of people who have chosen to get to know me. Especially when you don't have a job, I think it's pretty important to have at least one grand hobby or ob cession. It keeps you growing as a person and propels your thinking in different ways. It's something that can keep you from going nuts when it seems like nothing you do counts for anything. I can't say that it has lead to a large boost in self esteem although it certainly helps when you feel your understanding gradually growing deeper. If anything, I think I've become a more humble man as I've learned just how much thought, effort and knowledge goes into creating the games some people all too quickly dismiss as wastes of time. One gains a kind of mature gravity as decisions made and why they either worked or didn't work become more fully thought through. I don't think it really matters what one's grand hobby or ob cession is as long as others have shared it and made provision for others to learn from their journey.

It's getting later. Closing in on midnight in fact. I've been writing this and taking the odd break to get a wonderful cup of Screech tea and pace up and down the balcony. It's grown a tad too chilly to sit out there without resorting to a jacket but the odd brief pacing cession helps keep the thoughts fresh. I still have quite a bit of Screech tea from the sixty bags I ordered all those months ago. In this world of constant consumption, it's a damned nice surprise when something lasts longer than one expects. What with my sleeping issues, books are going at a very rapid rate. On the bright side, there hasn't been any need to spend on technology in a while. There haven't even been any gadgets of particular interest. The only area I keep a real close watch on lately is that of backup power generation. I keep thinking that it might be good to get something which could generate enough electricity to keep my laptop and iPHONE charged, power my microwave, etc. It's an area I wouldn't mind spending a reasonable amount of money on but nothing has come up that strikes me as very reasonable or practical yet. Other than the external battery I have for my iPHONE, everything else just strikes me as mainly too expensive and/or too dependant on sunlight. I'm not certain how well that would work despite the intensely sunny evenings my balcony experiences. If I could get one of these solar panel things and hook my laptop with its battery depleted, I could get a better sense of how practical a completely solar solution would be. I'd feel much better if foot pedal or hand cranking generation were also possible though. I think wind power holds too much danger in an apartment setting although I'd be interested to find out how much power a wind turbine could generate on the roof of the building during some of the more windy days we've had.

I haven't been able to remember many dreams lately. I seem to be slowing down creatively also. Hopefully, the sleep study has revealed something that might help me get more reliable sleep. Guess I'll find that out on June 3. I need all the dreams and interesting thoughts I can get my hands on.

Monday, April 15, 2013

New Starts

Good Tuesday morning, everyone. I've been up for quite a while, since around five in fact. I've been awake since around three thirty but stayed in bed hoping for a tad more sleep which never came. Sleep and my lack of it have been taking centre stage lately as the day draws near for my sleep study. I'll be spending Thursday night in Credit Valley Hospital hooked up to God knows what and be expected nonetheless to sleep. Over the past while, I've had to keep careful track of when I eat, consume alcoholic or cafeinated beverages, eat anything which has cafein like chocolate, etc. I guess it's only natural to try and minimise this sort of thing when one is under a kind of observation but I've made a real effort not to change from my usual consumptive habits too much. It's a sort of microcosm of how knowing God watches us changes how we behave, hopefully for the better. Only in this case, of course, the objective is not to let the act of observation change your habbits at all. One thing's for shure. They'll certainly see that I'm not wasting their time. I've been through a lot of long days and nights lately. Plenty of time to think on pretty much everything under the sun as the seconds and minutes stretch out. Sara and I are growing ever closer in spirit if not in distance. She's got a busy month since her Easter is coming up and Lent factors into her church's calendar somewhat more promanantly than it did for my church. As choir director and because of the special services attendent on this season, it's one where she very much wants to attend her church. She feels guilty about our not getting together this month but she has also been sick recently. For me, there's no reason for guilt. During long distance relationships when you're not close enough to just pop out for coffee somewhere, that's going to happen. Our worlds have yet to fully integrate. It was wonderful seeing her in March and having her meet a good number of people who mean a great deal to me. At this point, we're very much in love. We can deal maturely with our differences and disagreements, have a lot of common interests, and a similar ethical outlook. Of course, I've felt this certain of another woman twice before. We'll take our time and build a good foundation before making any large life-altering commitments. Audioboo has been an excellent way for us to keep in contact and exchange ideas although the new app does seem a bit more prone to not upload longer messages in timely fashion. I've just finished a very nice tall Chai latte. Yes, damn it! It *was* worth the paperwork as was the beer I enjoyed yesterday! ! This is thankfully the last day of recording all the minute details of what sadly passes for my routine washroom, sleep, dinner and beverage-wise. I'm feeling quite good this morning. That's good since I'll be getting together with Linda, a lady who I've helpped in the past to understand her technology. Today, it's her new iPOD. I've never actually felt the latest generation of iPOD and never had access to Seri, one of its larger features. However, Voiceover, the appstore, and other such things are still new territory for her. These little gadgets can do an aweful lot and I'd like to be ultimately shure that she's getting the most possible bennefit from her investment. I think she has been hearing a lot about various apps and has visited Applevis. That's such a wonderful resource to have at one's disposal. As long as she knows to check on an app's accessibility first before obtaining it, she won't end up deleting a bunch of inaccessible apps. I don't mind a certain amount of clutter and am willing to stick my virtual neck out once in a while on the off chance I'll discover something worth informing others about. I get the sense that she wants to keep things very simple and uncluttered. I'm alright with that. My big thing is the awareness of one's choices. I want to make certain that people have the knowledge to share in what I've found so useful. In this case, that isn't nearly the issue that it was with the computer. People seem to have a much better sense going into the Apple universe of the kind of capabilities that their devices can attain. Change is certainly afoot pretty much all through life these days. I'll be taking on the role of disability contact person for my church. That'll be different and will better inform me of other peoples' needs and wishes. I hope to learn a lot and to help this spiritual community that has added such a rich depth to my life. I've also plunged into a new project. I'm going to design a kind of fantasy adventure trivia racing boardgame. I'll then attempt to program it using Inform7. As I'm far from certain of my ability to do this, I'll design the game so that I can run it manually if need be using my laptop and a dice rolling program. Provided I can actually program it in Inform7, it'll make for a productive way of testing many of the capabilities and procedures I'll need for Enchantment's Twilight down the road. Needless to say, running the game would be staggerringly easier if it ran itself. I also want to have a game that I can run for groups of people including possibly for fundraising events and such. There's the familiar itch to do something which has some sort of impact that doesn't look to swallow up the rest of life as I work on it. Hitting the sweet spot of still having trivia be at the heart of the game while making something substantively unique and different which adds genuine excitement but doesn't bog people down in details will be tricky. I have to keep things moving and try to have it so people enjoy listenning in to other people's turns. Game mechanics must be easily grasped as play progresses Everything has to be quick. Decisions must be important but uncomplicated. I have a basic idea of how to achieve this. It's now saturday afternoon. The sleep study has been done. It looked briefly like it would be cancelled due to technicians being sick but I got my slot back. The room I slept in was very comfortable and quiet. I ended up sleeping more than I expected to but that still didn't constitute a great sleep. Not surprising given all the wires I had attached to me. I now know what being a Borg would feel like. They ran a very quiet orderly lab at Credit Valley hospital as far as I could judge. They got enough recorded sleep time to do the study thank goodness. My technician was a kind Indian woman who was surprised to learn that I could live and manage on my own. I get the sense that she would have had many more questions for me had circumstances been different and I weren't supposed to wind down and go to sleep. She, in turn, answered some of my own. Like a lot of immigrants, she found that her medical credentials didn't count here unless she took exams. Needing to take care of her family, this career as a sleep technician was the closest she could manage given that she couldn't find time to do the exams. It must be a very frustrating choice to have to make. Do the right thing and be essentially penalised for it. How much collective good does our great and wonderful country keep stifling and throwing away? Beyond knowing that I slept for long enough for the purposes of the study, I'm just as ignorant about the nature of my sleep difficulties as I was before. I likely won't know more for the next four to six weeks. After all the data the slurped from me, this seems quite unfare. All that fuss and then, silence while life returns to what passes for normal. Still, I'm glad I got the damned thing done. Figuring I would likely need a day or more to recover, I didn't plan anything for the weekend. What ended up happenning was that I completely crashed late yesterday afternoon and slept through til around nine in the evening. I had a couple of hours of wide wakefulness and went to bed around eleven feeling tired. Of course, I woke up fully at just short of five A.M. I've been thankfully awake ever since with no erge to doze at all. I got my groceries this morning. No substitutions and nothing missing. It's all stowed away and ought to last me into May. Quite unexpectedly, I find myself with the strong desire for friends to be with and no way of whipping some up at such short notice. Online conversation will simply have to suffice presuming I find some later on. Luck just hasn't been with me on that score so far today. On the other hand, I've enjoyed four or five splendid podcasts. Two episodes of Spark and two of Under the Influence were all top-notch. I still have at least one of From Our Own Corespondants awaiting my pleasure. It's now sunday evening. The podcasts treated me very nicely indeed yesterday. Spark was particularly good as was the April 13th episode of From Our Own Corespondant which ended up with a very thoughtful reporter who visited a very special forested region of the Italian mountains where there are trees a thousand years old. It is from such places that the wood for those expensive violins is taken. A very poignant and thought-provoking ending. It was a special day for Cadets and Jems, two youth ministries of our church and presumably the wider Reformed dinomination. The kids did a terrific job and spoke of their experiences with obvious passion. This afternoon was given over to another top-notch Mosen Explosion show on Mushroom FM. Sara also tuned in so we tweeted to each other once in a while as the show progressed. Yesterday, finding myself not nearly as zonked out as I had feared I would, the absence of any company was pretty keenly felt. Today has largely made up for that. Church provided a good chunk of that sense of belonging as it nearly always has for these past years. Although still largely a connection limited to sundays, that feeling of being all but forgotten the rest of the week has faded over time. Things like the Mosen Explosion really help to take the edge off these sunday afternoons with nothing in them. However, I'll feel so much better when there's really someone else there who appreciates it too. I've longed for that and now, thanks to Sara, I find that I can really imagine a time when that dream will become real. This apartment is more than big enough for two people. She and I have found a steady kind of belonging with each other which has made itself felt far sooner than I would ever have expected. It doesn't seem like such pie in the sky thinking anymore. More like something which is almost certain to happen given the right time, effort, patience and natural process of building a solid foundation for a life well lived together. I've learned some pretty painful but necessary lessons about that over the years and thank God for giving me another chance to get things right. I have a whole lot to look forward to over the next while. This week will be pretty ordinary unless something really unexpected happens. However, saturday will see me taking my first big step into a new role as disability contact person for my church and the local area or group of churches. I'll be attending a conference on disability concerns. I expect to be getting more of the material emailed to me through the week. My laptop will doubtless see me through the day in fine style. Thanks to a nifty program called Qread, I can have all of the documents open and instantly accessible. Jarte will be my word processor of choice. That snappy little piece of code has become my writing platform of choice ever since I wrote Personal Power using it. Hard to believe that was published five years ago now. Monday morning has gotten off to an early five A.M. start. I played some more Swamp. The new version has some serious issues in terms of balance and painfully slow permanent progress. You lose everything whenever you get killed which is quite frequent in my case. It's hard to earn enough reputation to keep yourself supplied with ammunition let alone buy anything new. Character points come only when you advance a level which takes ages unless you have the rep or fuel to go on missions. Of course, in missions, there's no chance at all of finding loot. Still, there's enough of a draw for me to keep playing. It's a hard nut to crack as a game designer. You want people to really care that their character has been killed. Death simply must have its teeth. However, in a persistent multi-player game where the goal is to have people keep playing, there has to be some sense of building on prior accomplishment. Swamp gets that balance fundamentally wrong in my oppinion. It's too easy to be overrun and killed in circumstances where skill and reflexes just don't count for anything. Losing everthing you've gathered is too harsh a penalty when such fates are so likely. I think I've figured out a plausible happy medium for Land of Trivion. It's a tad brisk and not sunny but I figured it was time I cleanned off the balcony table and set the chairs back outside. EVen tucked away in a corner, it still ends up surprisingly dirty after Winter. Windex did a nice job as far as getting the dirt off goes. I won't know for certain until some working eyeballs have a look at it but it's certainly feeling smooth and clean now. If it warms up some more, I may go for a stroll around the lake or set up shop outside and enjoy the afternoon on the balcony.

Friday, March 1, 2013

A Wonderful Week

Hello everyone. For much of the start of this year, I've been ill with the flu. It kept me exhausted, stuffed, and not hearing much properly for a good number of weeks. I had to cancel my New Year's party and I can't even remember the last time that happened. Despite everything, I finally managed to get my review of the USB speakers finished and posted. Nice to have at least one new project up there. Not the best timing to do that as I had to pick my moments when my hearing seemed nearly normal and stop when it often became markedly degraded. I don't want to hear a good number of things for a while. Most especially, the movie Tomorrow Never Dies. I used that one for battery drain testing and will probably go two years before wanting to hear that story. Other than that, I can't say I've gotten a whole lot done other than reading. Books have kept me sane. Books as well as tweeting with friends. I went through quite a stretch when those things were about all I could focus on beyond basic chores. There was also a week in between illnesses when I felt good enough to go visit Sara and her family in Brantford. I had a great weekend with them. Sara's family are every bit as supportive and caring as my own. They were very accommodating. I very much look forward to getting to know more about them as I continue to get to know Sara. I believe I made a reasonably good impression overall. Her uncle Steve is a splendid tease and makes an interesting doubtless very helpful balance to Sara's tendency towards seriousness at times. He's mastered the art of getting her goat wonderfully. Where my parents have both retired, her's haven't yet done so and live very busy lives. They're very conscientious about their work as well as their family life much as my parents were before they retired. I often found myself thinking how sociologically interesting it would be to observe how they'll handle that same transition. One similarity between families is a high degree of cohesiveness. They had a party to co inside with the big football game. I got to meet other family members who came to celebrate. I also dozed off while sitting on a card stool. I caught myself before falling but it did alarm people I think. That sort of thing has happened to me before when I become uninvolved or disinterested in conversation or just tired. This was the first time I've ever felt that it might be somewhat dangerous though. I've since seen my doctor who is now going to book me into a sleep study to determine what's going on. It's one of those things that doubtless should have been looked into earlier but which I presumed was solely due to my blindness. Between that and my apparently loud snoring which I presumed had abated long ago, I've finally gotten to the point where I'm motivated to see where all this leads. Now that I'm in a relationship and likely to sleep in close proximity to at least one other person more often, it's worth getting a handle on this aspect of life. We had a pretty relaxed time hanging around the house, talking and listening to things I had on my laptop. Rocky was such a relaxed calm dog. Their other dog Angel was more excitable but never seemed to rouse Rocky to any great lengths. We didn't end up going anywhere in Brantford this time but I think there'll be more of that in future visits. Our outing to Sara's church was cancelled so I have yet to see what an Orthodox service might be like. Sara came back with me to spend a week away. Part of that was spent in my apartment. We had a good relaxing day there before Steve joined us for another evening and half day. We went out for brunch with my parents who had yet to meet Sara and were also delighted to see how Steve was doing. That went very well indeed. Sara made a very good first impression on them. They're very happy for us. Of course, ?Steve has gotten to know my parents about as much as I've come to know his over the years. It's one of those friendships that has really stood the tests of time and periods of separation very well all around. There's that sense that he and his family will be there through thick and thin come what may. A comforting pillar in life. I hope I've proved the same for him over the years Proceeding from that delicious brunch, we went into Toronto. Meeting up with Ramla, Steve's special lady, we spent the afternoon going to a specialty tea shop called David's as well as a Tim Horton's. I felt much like a bull in a china shop standing there with my full pack and laptop case on. Sara was also carrying her travel gear. In future excursions, we'll probably drop that gear off first. However, I believe I've finally concluded that my larger backpack is far better suited to these trips even when they're relatively short. I can put everything in one well-balanced bag. We hooked up with our mutual friend Michelle Mcquigge for a very good dinner at a nice pub. The food and company were both excellent. Michelle certainly has a good knowledge of what's where in Toronto. She also remains perky and a great conversationalist even after a day of hard work. The next day was Thursday. Despite a somewhat unpredictable storm we knew was on the way later in the evening, we stuck with our plans and went out to meet Earle, Shane and Meko at McDonald's for the afternoon. We all had a great time despite being a bit more spread out than I think any of us expected to be. Everyone got on well with each other. I had never before gotten to meet Shane despite chatting with him via electronic means and encountering his name often in emails. It's always fascinating when you get to put a voice and personal presence to the name you've heard read electronically and mentioned often by others. Like filling in the middle of a jigsaw puzzle. Sara fits in with my friends wonderfully so far. She's known some of them like Earle for stretches of life just as I have. Those stretches just didn't overlap as much. The blind community has that sort of small world property about it. It was great to see all of them. After we left McDonald's, Steve thought we should go for dinner at a Mexican place he knew. It was an excellent choice. Clearly, the friendly owner was familiar with my old friend. The special that night was some delicious beef stew. We all enjoyed our food and good conversation. Later, the storm was getting started in earnest. Steve wanted to get some drinks from the LCBO taking advantage of Sara and my "expertise" as he said. I suppose I have become somewhat widely experienced when it comes to beer. Sara knows more about wines and such. We certainly ended up enjoying what we chose. On the other hand, this last excursion meant that by the time we got to the point where we could walk back to Steve's parents' house, there was too much snow to do so safely. Thankfully, Mr. Murgaski was able to extricate us from that predicament. There was just no point in going anywhere on Friday. The full storm was still in progress and had dumped a lot of snow everywhere. This resulted in a very relaxing comfortable day hanging around the house. Rocky took centre stage getting plenty of pats and attention from Steve's nieces and pretty much all of us. He's just such a calm well-behaved and patient companion for Sara. I don't think I've ever encountered a more placid easy-going dog. She had to ration his food a bit to make it last an extra day and he took even that in perfect stride. I never really want to own or be responsible for a dog's well being but I already have a sense that I'll miss Rocky once he's retired at last. We stayed up quite late that last night with Steve. Ordering from proved to be a bit more of a lengthy process since the first place we chose had to reject our order. Their driver got into an accident due to the snowy conditions. Thankfully, our second choice worked out well. We enjoyed a dinner from a Canadian place which had everything from burgers to wings to pizza. We also enjoyed the alcohol Steve had bought the day before. Despite that day of rest and luxury, I was still somewhat tired when I reached home after we dropped off Sara in Brantford. So was Sara apparently. It was a marvellous week. I couldn't have asked for a better one to really start off our relationship in proper fashion. We had plenty of time to talk to each other and also plenty of time with other company to get to know how we might fit into each other's circles. I very much look forward to having Sara come down for another visit to my apartment. There are plenty more people for her to meet who are keen to make her acquaintance. I'm happy for that and will certainly oblige as circumstances permit. For me though, I'm still just revelling in having found someone with whom I can share some of my formerly solitary pursuits of reading, listening to audio dramas, and truly thinking about and discussing what we hear without fear that my partner will grow bored. It's not just some passing attraction. I think that's been well and truly established now. We really are a couple at the start of a journey of growing love, respect, trust and attraction. Life doesn't feel so on hold for me as it has in years past. The only down-side to the whole thing was that I seem to have caught a second flu or something right after I was certain of having gotten over the first one. That kept me from getting much done for another chunk of time. I drifted through the days and nights as insomnia also took a toll. However, by the time I actually got to see my doctor, I was pretty much getting over that second illness leaving just the sleep issues as an ongoing concern. Going for a sleep study will be interesting but I have a hard time picturing myself getting a lot of sleep with all sorts of stuff hooked up to me. Still, if they can figure out what's going on and steer me to ways of correcting the problem, I'm willing to try nearly anything. This seems to be one of those times in life where I'm being offered a chance at more engagement and interactivity with others. I've wanted such changes to take place for quite some time now but just couldn't seem to make it happen or hook up with people who were interested. I seem to have at last reached a kind of critical mass. After spending so much time alone in the apartment sick over the past while, I'd normally be feeling all sorts of cabin fever wishing I had more people to go places with or visit. However, there are enough people who'll do so when opportunity permits that I no longer have that disconnected sense. My time alone is less and less the prison it used to be because I know it won't normally stretch on for most of a month at a time. It's the first of March as I finally close in on the end of a blog entry that should have been done early in February after our wonderful week. I've had quite a lot to think about since then. A good many fascinating books I've read including the excellent Lost Fleet series. I've heard some great podcast, had nifty conversations with friends, and attended a couple of excellent church services. Mark Charles was our guest last Sunday and had a lot of really thought-provoking stuff to say. He's really walked the walk living in a traditional Native hogon with his family for years. One idea he had that really resonated with me was how the only reason we could relate to Jesus at all was because he did what most of us never do and didn't use the lifelines open to him. Instead, he completely and utterly chose God's will over his own and had the fortitude to see the messy business of earning our salvation through. He didn't have to, but he did. Mark pointed out that there's no value in our current consumeristic culture for not taking advantage of one's lifelines so as to better be able to relate to others less fortunate than ourselves and to deepen one's trust in God. I don't believe I could intentionally turn away from the blessings in my own life like that. I'm very glad that Jesus is an understanding fellow and forgives me my fears and worldly insecurities. My parents have given me a much appreciated early birthday present in the form of the money to purchase three sound effects collections from Sound Ideas. Thanks to this flexibility, I now have all the sounds I'll ever need to try my hand at podcasting as well as provide appropriately medieval sounds for both of the fantasy games I'm currently working on. The Boom Medieval Weapons library is a treasure trove of things like sword sounds, arrow flights, catapult shots, etc. None of the other sound effects collections I've acquired, the game-centric SFX Kit included, has enough of the medieval sounds to do a battle sequence or even personal weapons and armour real justice. At long last, my sound effects library seems very complete and suited to my needs as much as this is possible with these large multi-purpose royalty-free sound effects collections. At the moment, getting more seriously into sound editing is something I'm dreading a little. I know that things would go a lot better if I were able to master this skill though and not have to rely on another person who might not grasp how I want the game worlds to sound. Thankfully, Sara knows how to use Goldwave which is a reasonably powerful and accessible sound editor. She's offered to give me some lessons and I'll gladly take her up on that. God seems to keep moving the pieces I need into place. It's still hard to imagine even getting the design document fully worked out let alone having a finished functional game. However, that sense of utter impossibility is diminishing. One up-side of having been ill and insomniac for much of the last while is that there are these times of getting better. My sleep is more or less hap penning in the time slot I'd like it to. The flu or whatever it was has gone and my hearing is back to normal. I really should have gotten this blog entry out a week ago but I've been carried away by books and such. One of these was the Life of Pi. The film featured prominently in the early part of the Oscars that my family and company watched during my mom's birthday celebration at their house. I couldn't put the book down and read through it voraciously. I also got carried away with the Lost Fleet books. It's a well-realized possible far future universe with some excellent space battles. The characters could honestly do with some rounding out but they're not bad. I've just obtained the Hyperion series of books and look forward to beginning that apparently excellent journey. I've had numerous people recommend them to me. Over the past couple of days, I've finally read the last two books of the Hunger Games trilogy. I just couldn't put those down either. Hense, my hammering away here on Friday night. There's probably a whole lot more I should have blogged about. However, it's all sort of blurred into that zone called the foggy past. A whole lot of great moments of reflection, nifty conclusions, good points and thought-provoking stuff. My life abounds with such thank God. It's one of the many ways in which I'm truly fortunate; downright rich beyond measure. Increasingly, as I spend the days more awake and healthy, there's that drive to do something and give back somehow. I've begun going to the Dam again for movie nights now that I'm well enough not to conk out or something. Sparkle really needs my serious attention. That's going to be next week's big focus creativity-wise. That and being whatever help I can be to friends. The weekend beckons. There's church on Sunday and I may be getting together with Mark and Wendy tomorrow. Sara and I are beginning to think about when to get together this month. As things stand, she's likely to come my way. I love having her in the apartment here, and more of my friends want to meet her. That's always interesting for me to put people together and see what happens. We're both very prone to analyzing and thinking about people, language, religion, and all that stuff. Despite all the illness, this year's off to a very good start indeed. It's time to spell check and post this entry, kick back and let the weekend carry me along.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

USB Speaker Comparative Roundup

USB Speaker Comparative Roundup By Michael Feir ++ Introductory Remarks: Being totally blind, I'm a man who truly appreciates good sound. Much of my time is spent writing, communicating, shopping, staying informed, reading books, playing games, listening to music, documentaries, described movies, audio dramas and pod casts on my computer. While acquiring good speakers for desktop computers is pretty straight-forward, finding a truly satisfactory set of USB speakers for use with one's ultra book or laptop has proved to be a harder proposition. While I don't expect the same quality of sound from travel speakers as from desktop computer speakers with sub-woofers and residential electricity, I want the best sound I can get while away from home. Having a sounds cape similar to one's normal working environment can help tremendously when it comes to getting into the right frame of mind for taking advantage of inspirations I have while travelling. I often find myself in situations where other people are doing things which I either can't do or have no interest in. When such circumstances arise, people tend to feel better if I can amuse myself while they're thus engaged. Also, being a collector of audio entertainment, I often have occasion to want to let others hear what's on my hard drive. Audio dramas, pod casts, or music can add wonderfully to time spent in good company. Having a good set of speakers is akin to having a colour TV rather than a black and white one. You're likely to notice a lot more sonic detail and enjoy what you're hearing more with a better set of speakers. Being on a fixed income means that I need to be pretty careful how I spend money particularly on luxury items. I read lots of reviews and carefully go through the rationale behind different approaches or choices. Every once in a while, I can save or otherwise acquire a little extra money and can set my sights a little higher than my usual low to mid-range. This time around, I chose to hedge my bets and buy both a high-end pair of speakers whose innovative approach intrigued me plus another kind which was more in my usual price range. This gives me a total of four varied approaches to the problem of how to get good sound from the limited power available through a laptop's USB port while taking portability and style into account. I don't find myself in such circumstances very often in life. With such plentitude of choice and time, I've let loose my inner geek in hopes of being helpful to others in search of good sound while on the move and on a budget. People will naturally wonder what my definition of "good quality sound" is. In my humble opinion, good quality sound does not consist in excessive volume or bass as common commercial wisdom would have us believe. It should have enough bass to do justice to explosions, bass instruments and such. One should be able to hear the overall position and detail of soundscapes; the wind rustling through the leaves of trees, birds, animals and insects in a forest. Too much bass generally means that the waves on an ocean and the creaking of ropes pulled tight by sails tend to unduly bury the call of gulls. Too much bass also tends to make conversations harder to hear over lower ambient noise given unnaturally greater presence by bass bias. Anyone who has gone to a movie theatre and come away with a head ache can testify to the detractions of too much volume. One tends not to be able to hear dialogue over louder noise and music. Chances are pretty good that while travelling, you aren't going to want speakers which put out as much volume as speakers designed for home use. Other people in the next hotel room/cabin/city block likely won't want to hear the same sound that you do. Sound imaging is crucial. One should be able to tell where things are located within a scene. Good stereo separation matters a great deal if you use speakers for more than merely filling a room with background music. It becomes absolutely indispensable when considering audio gaming. In that realm, one's prowess and pride hinge upon being able to have a keen awareness of where enemies or obstacles might be. To summarise, good sound has reasonable levels of volume and bass as well as good balance and sound imaging. When seeking a good pair of USB speakers, good sound naturally comes first in priority. However, there are other considerations including size, ruggedness, ease of setup and use, weight, and price. With each set of speakers, I'll provide descriptions, specifications and my thoughts on how these other considerations are addressed. Once these details have been dealt with, it'll be time for the main event. I'll take you on a crash tour of the gauntlet of tests I've taken these speakers through. Rather than a blow-by-blow recounting, I'll describe each test and then point out where speakers either excelled or came up short. For now though, we'll introduce the contenders: + The Tried and True: Logitech V20 Speakers These speakers have been my travel companions for well over five years. Slightly rectangular in shape, each speaker has a kickstand that folds out of the back making them about as stable as whatever surface they're set up on. They come in a protective travel case which zips closed having three compartments. One for each speaker plus an area in the centre for the two cables to be safely stored. The buttons on them are raised and easy to feel but are quite small. I've only made use of the volume buttons. The following more technical blurb was taken from the Internet: The Logitech V20s generate their sound with high dynamic headroom circuitry for enhanced volume with less distortion. Each speaker has Bass 2 Max-X high-excursion drivers and 3 pressure drivers. This optimizes bass response. Product Identifiers Brand Logitech MPN 970155-0914 Model V20 UPC 097855034038 Key Features Number Of Speakers 2 Max. Power Output 1 watt (RMS) Connection Type Wired Subwoofer Without Subwoofer Technical Features Speaker Frequency Response 70 - 20000 Hz THD 0.05 % Dimensions Speaker Width 6.25 in. Speaker Height 6.44 in. Speaker Depth 1.5 in. Speaker Weight 1.23 lb Miscellaneous Exterior Colour Black Release Date August, 2005 These have clearly been around the block a while. My pair still functions but is starting to show its age. The kickstands are getting a bit looser. The rubber feet on one speaker have come off and gone missing. Direct contact with a hard surface adds a slight but notable extra vibration to sound coming from it. These things aside, the speakers have stood up quite well to extensive heavy use. The sound you can get from these speakers is excellent provided that you don't push volume too high. Past around 70 to 80%, you will hear things get distorted especially when more bass is required. Even without really being able to function at maximum volume, the fullness and quality of sound produced is roughly that of a medium-quality boom box or built-in TV speakers. There is that sort of compartmented sense common to smaller speakers that detracts from realism but one becomes accustomed to it. The kickstands are part of the speakers and fold into grooves in the back of each speaker. The cables run out from each stand. The thicker cable ends in a USB connector which plugs into your laptop. The thinner cable ends in a plug which goes into a hole on the side of the other speaker. You can store the speakers in the case with this thinner cable always connected. Having the cables run through the kickstands and be essentially irreplaceable is the only worrisome drawback of these well-designed speakers. Should either the cables or kickstands break, you have a pair of useless speakers on your hands. Provided you can find a pair in good shape, you can expect quite good durability from them. Prices on Ebay seem to be in the $70 range. Even used, you're pretty much going to get your money's worth from these speakers provided that you care for them properly and don't tax them attempting to get more volume or bass than they can offer. These speakers offer some interesting enhancements for those who look in the speaker properties. There is a tab for tone allowing you to adjust the bass and treble output. The V20s also have built-in AGC or automatic gain control which can be found in the "custom" tab. All normally offered enhancements are also available for use. + Portable Taken to Extremes: Logitech Z305 Sound bar The Z305 is shaped rather like those boxes which hold a tube of toothpaste only with the corners and edges nicely rounded. This thick solid durably constructed plastic bar measures precisely 30 cm or one foot in length. The unit isn't heavy but is solid and has enough heft to let you know that you've got something of substance. If your laptop has especially weak hinges, this may not be the ideal solution for you as the extra weight might prove sufficient to shut your laptop's screen onto your fingers should the opened angle not be great enough. As long as there's some resistance to the movement of your screen, you'll be fine. The single necessary USB cable tucks neatly into a track-like groove running around the inside of the bottom of the speaker. The cable is relatively thick. Two grooved rubber pads cover much of the back of the Z305. They allow it to rest firmly on the back of your laptop without slipping sideways. Between these two rectangular pads is a fork-like two-pronged spring-loaded clamp which secures the Z305 to the bezel on the top of your laptop. The ends of the claw extensions are padded so you don't have any direct plastic on plastic pressure or vibrations. The reason the clamp is divided that way is so that the sound bar won't interfere with the small built-in web cams commonly housed near the top edge of laptops and net books. The top of the Z305 is where the clamp extends from. The only other feature is a small patch in the exact centre where a logo is. The front of the unit faces directly away from you when the Z305 is mounted on your laptop. It has three thankfully tactile slightly recessed buttons. Going left to right, they are volume down, mute, and volume up. The bottom of the Z305 has the cable storage guide and a small jack for plugging in an external audio source. Keep in mind that you'll still need to be hooked into a USB port for the speakers to have power. The left and right ends of the Z305 are where you'll find the square speakers capping the ends of the bar. This very simple very tactile layout makes the Z305 a refreshingly accessible addition to one's laptop kit. It's as portable as it gets perched securely on a laptop's monitor requiring no additional space to set up. Dimensions (H x W x D): 324 mm x 40.3 mm x 41.8 mm Couldn't obtain frequency range but I have yet to encounter any issues there. Current prices range from $36 to $59 Canadian. + Stow, Twist and Go: The Altec Lansing IML247 Orbit Speakers These two speakers are designed with maximum portability and neatness in mind. They travel locked together as a cylinder-like shape roughly the size of a tall can of beer with a little added diameter. The two cables are stored in hollow cavities in the rear of each speaker. Thankfully, you need not be overly fastidious when storing these cables. The compartments are large enough that you can sort of stuff them in rather than try to coil them as neatly as they come from the factory. The USB cable is built into the left speaker while the RCA cable attaching the two speakers issues from the right speaker. Thankfully, the USB cable should be long enough to make it possible in most cases to attach to a USB port not on the left of a computer. The RCA cable gives a little less than a metre of separation between the speakers. This is enough to create an adequate sound stage for someone sitting directly in front of them. These speakers can be had for around $30 Canadian. The following blurb was found on the Internet: Crystal-clear sound Two full-range neodymium drivers deliver pure, distinct full-spectrum audio. Surprisingly deep bass - Front firing ports deliver lows you can feel. Twist and split to listen, reconnect to pack + Hip to be Cubical: The Ufi Ucube Speakers Sleek, well-built and by far the most bulky, the Ucubes are also priced well above any of the other contenders. Expect to pay around $140 Canadian to get your hands on a pair of these puppies. The rugged build and easily replaceable cables speak to the LONG-TERM THINKING which has gone into these three-inche cubes. The grills at the front are sturdy and each has a very small symbol or logo embossed near the bottom centre. The other sides are smooth durable high-quality plastic. A thumbscrew on the back of each speaker allows the easy attachment of an angled aluminium stand which has a rectangular gap for the cables to pass through. The two cables themselves are notably thicker and higher quality than any found on the other speakers tested in this review. The real magic happens inside these boxes of sound. Ufi claims that these speakers deliver a full 170 degrees of stereo image due to their special balanced mode radiator [BMR] drivers. They also store up energy during quiet parts of audio in order to allow their Class D amplifiers to deliver 15W sound when called upon to do so. Does all this electronic audio wizardry truly yield better bang for the extra hundred bucks? Lets start the testing and find out. ++ Round 1: Bring On The Tunes Music is by far the most likely use to which people will put their speakers, so we'll start our battle royal on this familiar ground. I've tried to select songs and pieces of instrumental music which would help test both how extremes were dealt with as well as more average musical offerings. We'll start with Michael Logosar's piano piece called Linger. It's a simple delightful tune which reaches more into the higher ranges of the piano at times. The Altec Lansing Orbits give a sense of artificiality. To call it tinny wouldn't really be fair but it lacks body. The Logitech Z305 actually does more justice to the piece despite the smaller speaker size. The Ucubes come through very nicely giving you a much richer more polished feel. The V20s do fantastically as well but there's that compartmented sense that screams "small speakers!" that the Orbits are also somewhat guilty of producing. Next up was Kristine W.'s The Wonder of It All. This thought-provoking pop/dance track features a good pallet of guitar and keyboard plus a notable perhaps too heavy bass drum. This actually caused the Logitech V20s to distort whenever it sounded. None of the other speakers had this issue even when at maximum volume. The Orbits do give the symbols a degree of prominence that strikes me as somewhat odd. A high-pitched stringed instrument was also pretty much buried by the Orbits. The Z305 and Ucubes brought everything out very nicely in the piece as did the V20s. Five For Fighting's Slice gives more of a bass line and again features symbols. The Ucubes did splendidly with this track keeping everything sounding natural and in balance. The Logitech Z305 did well but the symbols stuck out a tad more than I would have expected. The orbits didn't have that problem but just didn't bring out the more bass elements very well overall. The V20s and Ucubes did a very good job with this track. King Conga's Something Good is a cheery track that should have more than a hint of bass plus mainly mid-range singing and instrumentation. The Orbits failed miserably with this track reminding me strongly of an old underpowered radio I once owned. The Z305 actually handled this track about the best pumping out enough oomph to have you feel the bass elements without steeling anybody else's show. The Z305 claims to put out 360-degree sound and lives up to that with enough power to fill a dorm room or office nicely. For music, it stacks up remarkably even against the Ucubes. These Ucubes gave this piece a more live less processed sound. Natural is the word that most easily springs to mind. The Z305s leave one with a sense of compression where the Ucubes give a more spacious feel. Over all, I'd say the Ucubes came out ahead. Their sound staging and balance just can't be beet and you easily might think them a pair of mid-range fully powered desktop speakers with the subwoofer turned down. The power is a bit lacking at times but the tone and spaciousness are splendid. To be fair here, the Logitech V20s offer more flexibility which can really reward a listener who knows how to put the various enhancements and extras to good use. Sadly, despite my extensive experience with them, I am simply not such an audiophile. While you'd always have a more contained sound than the Ucubes, it could be tweaked to very good quality. However, the older drivers of the V20s mean that modern systems can't deal with higher volumes as well leading to distortion. However, for strictly listening to music, the Z305s offer an incredibly portable boom box equivalent as an alternative. I was very impressed with the amount of bass one could get from its small speakers. I expected the Orbits to fair better than they did with these tunes. They too often leave one with a powerful sense of their smallness. However, at their lower $30 price range, they're still a good cut above your typical built-in laptop speakers. This is even more especially the case with today's ultra-thin laptops. ++ Round 2: Going With The Show "What we do in life echoes in eternity." General Maximus concludes his speech to the Roman soldiers under his command. An archer fires a flaming arrow into the air as a signal to the main body of the army. This arrow actually seems to go upwards when you listen with the Ucube speakers. Undoubtedly, this is partially due to the upward angle that their stands set them at. The same goes for the Logitech V20 speakers. With the orbits, there's no upward sense despite the slight upward angle the kickstands put them on. However, there's at least a good two-dimensional sense of where things go. The Ucubes and V20s make the forest surroundings obvious to the astute listener. The Z305 and Orbits make it somewhat less clear that maximus is anywhere near a forest. A little later in the battle, Maximus and his cavalry charge from behind the barbarians but into the firestorm being unleashed via catapults and archers. The thunder of charging horses is portrayed wonderfully by the V20 speakers and Ucubes. The Orbits and Z305 do a comparatively passable job of this. The Orbits can't quite manage the same bass as the Z305s but offer far better sound staging. The Z305s suffer from that critical weakness with directional information. You get all the noise with more punch than the Orbits but it's stretched out left and right like a canvas. Other than left and right, there's just no telling where something might be within the sound bubble produced by the Z305s. It's designed to surround you in an envelope of sound. All well and good for filling a room with music but lacking clarity much as a black and white TV might for sighted people. A police raid is led by Inspector James Mclevy. A whistle is blown and officers burst into the house. The inspector makes his way upstairs alone in pursuit of a criminal named Henry. On the Ucube speakers, you can quite easily tell the difference between rooms from the main room to the one in which Mclevy finds his quarry. This change is also quite obvious on the V20s and Z305. The Orbits fall short of the mark here. Without change in noise level like going from a crowded to a quiet room, it can be harder to tell that a change in setting has in fact occurred. When Henry decides to attempt to leap out a window towards a building that's too far away, his anguished cry of despair clearly comes from outside. The subtle street ambience and quiet thump when his body falls upon that street clearly register on the Ucubes. Again, the Orbits and Z305 offer a choice between more directional awareness on one hand and more distinctive bass on the other. Later in the episode, Inspector McLevy has gotten himself into a rather bad spot. He finds himself wounded, bound and gagged being rowed far enough out to sea so he can be inconspicuously murdered by a psychotic criminal gleeful at this unexpected chance for revenge. Mclevy can only moan due to the filthy rag blocking his speech while the fiendish Allan Grant rows and talks. The waves come through well enough on all of the speakers but the creek of the oars was easier to pick out and more convincing on the V20s, Ucubes and Z305s. The seascape sounded somewhat confined on the Orbits. When the police boat comes onto the scene, I noticed the engine rumble perhaps a second sooner on the V20s and Ucubes than on the other speakers. The time our poor dogged inspector spends under the water nearly drowning has muted watery atmosphere as we follow him down into the depths which is more detailed on the Ucubes. The V20s overrode the subtle elements of water with the bass wash as did the Z305s. The Orbits actually came out ahead of the Z305s here letting more of that subtlety be heard. Aboard the stealth boat owned by the sinister Elliot Carver, James Bond is facing Mr. Carver in a war of words and wits as is customary before death and destruction. A British destroyer is firing on the stealth ship. The cannon shells fly through the air and pummel the ship. The Ucubes and Z305 do a great job of giving cannon shots and shell flights a degree of heaviness. As usual, the Z305 provides more bass while the Orbits give directional clarity to the mayhem. One problem with the Ucubes which became rather apparent in this movie numerous times was that the quieter sections of dialogue could be hard to hear. I know what you're thinking. "Quieter sections of a James Bond movie?" Surprising as it might seem, there actually are some. I suspect that during such quiet portions, the power output is lowered a little too much in an effort to store power for the louder portions. Turning on the loudness equalization enhancement within the speaker properties dialogue of Windows seems to help somewhat with this but doesn't entirely eliminate the problem. I have yet to notice this problem come up in music or even audio dramas which you'd think would be long enough to have it occur. Our final scene takes us into the first class dining car aboard a sabotaged train where the great detective Sexton Blake and his "plucky assistant Tinker" are investigating murders which have taken place. Sexton has made his arrival and accused Professor Q of these crimes. This is in fact correct as the professor himself admits. He then shoots at Sexton and escapes onto the roof of the train. The Ucubes portray this big budget audio drama in full glory with people nicely spaced in the dining car, railway sounds, a brief but fierce volley of bullets that you'd think would kill everyone in the dining car, and the professor's flying auto gyro whirring up and around as he escapes into the air. The Logitech V20s also do a capital job. In fact, they seem to give a better sense of weight and height to the sound than the Ucubes. As usual, the Orbits lack bass punch but do well with sound spacing the Z305s favour the reverse circumstances. Over all, I would have to give the Ucubes the win here with the Logitech V20s taking second place. The Z305s offer such awesome portability and bass despite their small size that I'd give them third place despite the sacrifice of good sound imaging. You could listen while in the back seat of a car and everyone could enjoy the surprisingly rich audio. The Orbits offer superior directional awareness. Provided you have a stable surface to set them up on, they would be preferable where sound motion is an important feature of the content being listened to. ++ Round 3: Gaming Smack down To be suitable for gaming, speakers need to deliver good situational awareness to the player in front of the keyboard. Failure to do this makes a set of speakers suitable only for games in which good sound positioning isn't a factor. The Z305's only Achilles's heel pretty much removes it from this section of the competition. All well and good if sound is simply window dressing. Trivia games, text adventures, and other kinds of game can fall into this category. In that case, the Z305s will more than suffice. For games demanding good reflexes and hearing, we must look to our other three options which we'll do for this round. Lets start at the race track. Top speed 3 is an excellent free multi-player car racing game put out by: The track and where you are upon it is conveyed via the loudness and position of your engine. The quieter that engine gets, the closer you are to an edge of the track. At the same time, optional announcements give details of how sharp upcoming turns are and where your nearest opponents are. You also hear where any close opponents are via their engine noise. It's quite easy to become confused as to which engine is yours. If that happens, you have a horn which will reveal your left-to-right stereo position allowing you to hone in on the noise of your own engine. The Belgium track is a favorite of mine. It features a moderate left turn followed immediately by a nasty hairpin turn to the right. It takes nerves of steel and a very good grasp of how close you are to the edges of the track to take this hairpin turn at anywhere near full speed. Provided one's opponents are close when you enter the turn, it is possible to cause the computer controlled cars to crash into the side of the track while trying to negotiate the turn. This gives you a vital head start before they can recover from crashing and achieve top speed. Practice makes perfect they say. With that in mind, I tried to win a seven-car race on Belgium track multiple times with each set of speakers. The Logitech V20s and Ucubes truly shine when it comes to sound imaging and sound quality. This makes playing sound-intensive games natural and intuitive. On the Orbits, sound staging is harder to judge at the edges. I had several collisions or drove off the track due to not being able to quite judge where things were. Q9 is a simple sidescroller which has you, a cute little alien creature jump over pits and fight monsters in order to find your way off Earth. It's very suitable for play with speakers. The Orbits are a little more problematic due to their somewhat inferior sound staging. I got smashed by monsters who I couldn't even detect until they were nearly on my game character. There just wasn't enough time to react. Given enough time and attention, people should be able to accustom themselves to the Orbits. It may simply take longer than it would with the V20s or Ucubes. The Ucubes have proved to be most excellent for audio gaming. I've never had a pair of speakers which staged various game elements so nicely. They even beet the V20s substantially. I had initial concerns that the BMR drivers and DSP adjustments to sound might inhibit proper game play. However, this doesn't seem to be an issue. ++ Conclusions: As I had anticipated, the Ucubes from Ufi clearly came out on top in terms of sound quality. Their notable bulk and the inability to control the DSP effect and procedures which make the speakers so energy efficient are a minor nuisance at times as when quiet dialogue within a movie is, I strongly suspect, being rendered too quiet by them. However, most of the time, this lack of optionality won't hinder one's enjoyment in the least. One can still employ all of the standard enhancements offered by Windows or whatever operating system one is using so a good deal of fine-tuning is still quite possible for the discerning listener. This balanced mode radiator technology is still in its early days in terms of general public use and will doubtless be improved upon over time. The Ucubes introduce it at a higher price than I'd judge warranted. One can get very nearly as good sound from the Logitech V20s which have existed since 2005 given a little familiarity with the adjustments made available through the Windows speaker properties and enhancements. Doubtless, there are also blue tooth or other wireless battery-powered speakers offering similar sound quality for a comparably cheaper price. However, that being said, these speakers employ the technology in fine style giving wonderfully clear stereo sound via USB port. The cables detach and are easily replaced with regular RCA and micro-usb cables. I have already had occasion to be profoundly thankful for this since I failed to re-pack the micro-usb cable after using them away from home. The speakers themselves are sturdy and well-built. Mid-range and high sound is produced absolutely splendidly and bass isn't really all that lacking at least to my ears. Also, the sound produced doesn't have that small speaker boom box sort of contained quality. It fills a room with very natural ambience. Overall, I'd give these speakers a 9 out of ten. They could easily have gotten a perfect ten had more control over the DSP processes been offered perhaps via small buttons on the speakers themselves so that no software download or CD would be required. There's much to appreciate about the whole plug-and-play philosophy. People who take pleasure in good sound will definitely get their money's worth from these speakers. They're clearly built to last. Despite their age, the Logitech V20 speakers have stood the test of time remarkably well. They're lighter and less bulky than the Ucubes and come in a very practical protective case. Depending on one's skill and knowledge of Windows adjustments, they can even out-shine the Ucubes in some contexts. A treasure very much worth pursuing. The real race was between the Logitech Z305 and Altec Lansing Orbits. The winner here depends on how much directional awareness of sound matters to you. If it does, the orbits deliver that far better than the Z305. When it comes to surprisingly good sound and unbeatable portability, you have to give the budget speaker victory to the Z305. It can ride atop one's laptop eliminating the need for a larger lap desk or other stable flat serf ice. Due to their very different uses, I travel with both the Ucubes and Z305 in my laptop bag. Although better for directional sound, compact and solidly built, the Orbits simply can't keep up with the competition and must take last place in this testing marathon. You truly do get what you pay for. That pretty much sums it all up. I hope this comparative review of USB speakers has been as enjoyable and informative to read as it was to produce. I welcome any comments or questions either via email at: or left as comments below this blog entry.