In an effort to compare the ink quality alone, I have put the refills of the most known brands in my Pilot G2 Limited. Despite being Pilot branded, it can hold the refills of any pen with a bit of manual trimming with scissors at the plastic end. In my comparison, the Pentel EnerGel comes out as the clear winner, lacking any particular deficiencies and writing very smoothly.
Pentel EnerGel: This gel refill gets praised on Amazon for its lefty-friendly, smear-free ink. I also found the writing quality of the ink to be absolutely phenomenal. It writes extremely smoothly, never too tight nor too loose to run away from the writer. I have not encountered any skipping with it. The only con for these refills is in their availability, part number LR7BP2A, which cost $9 on Amazon or $7.50 on another website recommended by Google Shopping. I would call it worth the price, though.
Mont Blanc: This rollerball refill for the $200+ Mont Blanc pens fits just fine in the Pilot Limited with a trim for only $14 for a 2-pack. Reviewers on Amazon rave about the writing quality of the refills, and they do in fact write smoothly and without skips. However, it writes with more resistance than the gel inserts and gives the writer the feeling of having to "over-write" to push the pen along, rather than just allowing the pen to glide along with your hand acting as a guide.
Pilot G2: This gel ink writes with a good, average smoothness neither too tight nor too loose, but skips a lot. It also feels a bit more prone to smears than the Pentel. The biggest thing going for the G2 refills is their availability, which can be found at Walmart, Staples, Target, etc. and extremely cheap online like $1.50 for a 2 pack on Costco.com.
Zebra Sarasa: This final refill is another gel pen of high quality, lacking any skips, but it writes with too much smoothness, feeling loose and forcing the writer to feel the need to over-correct or risk being sloppy and messy. This refill might work well for people who right extremely rapidly, but isn't for people who take care in their writing. Refills alone are pretty much non-available, but the whole pens are pretty inexpensive at just over $1 a piece.
Recently for my History of Popular Music in the United States course, we were prompted to create an essay on a piece of music or musical event that created a large impact on our own individual lives. I chose trapstep and discovered quite a bit of interesting history of the genre and its relation and ties to its parent genres of trap and dubstep. Here are some relevant excerpts to give a taste to anyone else interested:
Considering the extremely modern nature of the music, most trapstep artists gain recognition by gathering a following on SoundCloud, the Instagram of music, where artists upload their new creations to hungry followers who listen, share, and assemble mixes that include their beats on user-created sites like 8tracks.com. This follower dedication led to my discovery of the small genre in 2012. While deployed to the Kuwait and Afghanistan areas of military operation to perform my duties as an Army court reporter, I often found myself needing to go out for a long run to break up the long, sedentary sessions of courts-martial transcription. Having already been a fan of dubstep for a year or two, and exhausted with Pandora’s limited selection, I searched around and stumbled across the user-created mixes on 8tracks.com. Due to the nature of the site, the mixes often contained super modern, unique dubstep mixes with up-and-coming artists that could never be found on sites like Pandora or Spotify.
One of the best users at distributing top, new artists is BassFrogTCU, a physical therapy student at the Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. While following him after discovering some of his great dubstep mixes, I noticed a rather regular trend of other mixes labeled with “trap” or “trapstep,” usually containing the cover art of someone running. Intrigued, I checked out the mix and discovered a perfect new type of music for running. I soon found myself exhausting his supply of previous trapstep mixes and eagerly awaiting his approximately weekly new trapstep releases.
The power of trapstep to give energy to a runner, or any other athlete of a rigorous, rhythmic sport, comes mainly from the dubstep portion of its roots: the strong, bass-heavy beats. Dubstep songs usually have a verse of often synthetic, machine-sounding lyrics with a slow, subwoofer pound in the background that eventually leads to a pause, followed by the pound of an even lower frequency, heavier bassline in conjuction with a chorus. This “bass, pause, lower bass” combination is known as the drop of the song and often becomes the defining moment of the song when referred to by critics or other listeners who evaluate the appropriateness of the timing and “awe factor” when listened to on a strong speaker system.
Trapstep abandons the lengthy verse and chorus of dubstep in favor of a repeated word or phrase, although sometimes lyrics are omitted entirely. With much fewer words to clutter up the pounds of the subwoofer, they becomes more of the foreground than in dubstep. Whereas dubstep usually follows a verse to the drop, the listener is carried to the drops in trapstep by the relatively rapid acceleration of the pounding bass, or “wubs.” While beginning slowly, the bass wubs increase in intensity as the repeated words or phrases appear in more rapid succession until, finally, it all drops to a brief silence before an extremely low, powerful bass tone jolts you out of the silence. The music then typically follows back into a repeat of the initial, slowly accelerating bass-heavy beat pattern. Occasionally, immediately after the drop and before heading back to the initial beats, trapstep inserts a trill, or a rapid alternation of nearby notes, of a higher pitch. Still other times, masculine vocal “barks,” feminine voices shouting “gnarly,” or even a short moan follows the drop. All of these followups serve the same basic purpose: to emphasize and accent the power of the bass drop before the song returns to the slow pattern that will gradually carry the listener away to the next drop.
While the beat patterns in trapstep are rooted in its dubstep history, trap influences serve to add character to the music so that the elements are not merely the bass wubs, drops, and repeated lyrics. Trap music emerged as a successful genre mostly due to the success of hip hop artist T.I.’s album Trap Muzik in 2003. These songs lacked the pace and characteristic drop of dubstep, but still had the background bass wubs, often called “808 kicks,” named after the success of a 1980s synthesized drum machine that could produce a variety of extremely low-frequency sounds. Trap music also had a unique element: repeated hits of the hi-hat cymbals that coincided with the bass wubs. These bass wubs and hi-hat hits were the background to lyrics about the “trap,” a term initially referring to the site of drug deals and eventually broadening to cover the culture around drug use, such as making money, pimping, and sex.
Trapstep adopted the 808 kicks from trap along with the hi-hat hits, which accelerate towards the drop in perfect harmony with the dubstep-esque bass wubs. It mostly abandoned the lyrics relating to sex, drugs, and money, although some of the recurring phrases in the songs can be very vulgar. Typically, however, the focus of the phrases repeated in the trapstep songs is on the almost erotic fascination with and power of the bass drop. Most often, the lyrics are along the lines of “let it drop” or “I got your *DROP*” where the bass drop literally serves to finish the sentence.
The song “Make It Drop” by artist JSTJR, featured as the second track of the following mix: http://8tracks.com/bassfrogtcu/lex-tr-pek" href="http://8tracks.com/bassfrogtcu/lex-tr-pek, embodies these features of trapstep. It contains the beat-focused repetitive lyrics, trap-influenced cymbal hits, and deep bass wubs, all of which accelerate rapidly approximately 1 minute into the song until the drop, in which the music pauses briefly before a strong, low bass wub follows with a repeat of the lyrics and then the emphatic masculine vocal bark.
The strong emphasis on beat as outlined is what attracted me to trapstep and has influenced my life by creating a stronger desire to run. The consistent acceleration of the beat, drop, and repeated buildup makes for a great rhythm for running, particularly for interval training involving slower runs interspersed with sprints that can match the same rhythm of the song. Globally, however, the impact of trapstep is felt far less than that of its encompassing genre dubstep, which has a far more mainstream influence that has worked its way into top hits today like “We Can’t Stop” by Miley Cyrus, “Heart Attack,” by Demi Lovato, “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons, or even the well-known dubstep artist Skrillex. The popularity of dubstep has skyrocketed in success since its mainstream debut in approximately 2009, with trapstep being one of many popular subgenres that I’m fortunate to enjoy.
In honor of the blog title, Streaming Freebies, I'd like to share a little money hack on how to make the most out of the American Express Membership Rewards points and work around the limited selection of redemption options.
After following the blog The Points Guy in order to keep up with the greatest credit card bonuses, I signed up for the American Express Premier Rewards card with a 50,000 point bonus, only to find out that my redemption options for my points were limited to gift cards for a few merchants, goods, and travel. What I really wanted was Amazon.com credit, but American Express cuts the point value in half if you shop with the points through Amazon, slicing my $500 in points credit to $250.
Fortunately, getting Amazon credit or even regular cash is as easy as buying $500 in gift cards with a high resale value and putting them up online. I chose to resell my cards through CardCash due to the very good value and solid BBB.org rating.
Using CardCash's website and comparing the value of each gift card available through the Membership Rewards, I found that the cards ranged from as low as $34.65 Amazon credit per $50 to as high as $47.25 Amazon credit per $50. I compared each card and have posted the values in the table below.
Important edit: These values change AT LEAST weekly, so make sure to do your own comparison!
Gift Card Value Comparison
|Dell||$47.25 Amazon credit per $50|
|Home Depot||$45.68 Amazon credit per $50|
|Tiffany||$45.15 Amazon credit per $50|
|Staples||$45.15 Amazon credit per $50|
|Nike||$44.63 Amazon credit per $50|
|Neiman Marcus||$44.63 Amazon credit per $50|
|Saks 5th Avenue||$43.58 Amazon credit per $50|
|Coach||$43.05 Amazon credit per $50|
|West Elm||$42.53 Amazon credit per $50|
|Lands' End||$42.53 Amazon credit per $50|
|Williams-Sonoma||$42.53 Amazon credit per $50|
|Pottery Barn||$42.00 Amazon credit per $50|
|Banana Republic||$42.00 Amazon credit per $50|
|Gap||$42.00 Amazon credit per $50|
|Victoria's Secret||$42.00 Amazon credit per $50|
|REI||$42.00 Amazon credit per $50|
|Old Navy||$41.48 Amazon credit per $50|
|Gap Options||$40.95 Amazon credit per $50|
|Pottery Barn Teen||$39.38 Amazon credit per $50|
|Restoration Hardware||$39.38 Amazon credit per $50|
|Bergdorf Goodman||$39.38 Amazon credit per $50|
|Bath and Body Works||$38.85 Amazon credit per $50|
|Cole Haan||$34.65 Amazon credit per $50|
Surprisingly, the card with the highest value is Dell, which can ultimately be redeemed for $472.50 in Amazon credit, or $450 in cash, for $500 in cards.
I wrote a simple DOS batch script that loops through the 'ping' command to test the network connection repeatedly at the user's instruction. I wrote it to test my flaky Android tethering connection.
As I read through one of Amazon’s best selling free Kindle books, Simple Living: Thirty Days to Less Stuff & More Life (Amazon Link) by Lorilee Lippincott, I realized with each passing chapter how much Dropbox had already solved multiple problems Lippincott challenges us to tackle in life. Her book provides us with 30 steps we can take towards a minimalist life, keeping everything organized and out of sight. What’s more out of sight than storing everything digitally, in the cloud, yet having it still available wherever you have a computer, iPhone, Android device, or any other gadget with a web browser?
Briefly, you use the software Dropbox (referral link is that of a friend of mine) as your “My Documents” folder. As you save and organize your files in this folder, they are automatically synced to Dropbox’s servers, where you can access them on the web, another computer logged into your Dropbox account, or smartphone.
Here are some clutter-reducing tasks that Lippincott recommends which, with a little effort, are easily and permanently solved with Dropbox.
- Creating an organized, simple, semi-automated menu for meals
Lippincott urges her readers to turn meals into a weekly or monthly recurrence, having the same meal every Monday night or one day a month. Inside a “Cooking” folder in your Dropbox, you can save great recipes that you stumble across online, along with a weekly/monthly menu incorporating those meals.
Add a new meal? Revise your menu on your laptop and it will sync to your “recipe tablet!” Discover a great recipe while traveling? Save it on your laptop’s Dropbox and it will go live when you get an internet connection!
I personally don’t do much cooking for myself (hey, I’m a college student!), but I use my cooking folder to keep track of the cheapest places to buy simple foods and snacks (PS Harris Teeter wins over Kroger any day).
- Organizing your filing system
Filing cabinets? Bah, don’t make me laugh! Why use such a space waste when you can have all of your documents on the cloud? As minimalist as you can get, with the added bonus of easier digital searchability rather than the nightmare of rifling through filing cabinets.
Keeping any document on Dropbox is easy. Most documents are sent digitally nowadays, but even when you run across paper documents, scan them to yourself and give them a good, descriptive name with multiple keywords that you know you’d probably use to search for it someday in the future.
Don’t have a scanner to do that? My favorite deal site, SlickDeals.net, listed a $40 all-in-one wireless printer/scanner/copier just 10 days ago. Just follow this link and find your own steal.
- Storing all of your favorite pictures
I’m a travel nut. I like to see as many awesome new places as possible and, of course, take many pictures to remind me of the great experiences. Dropbox makes it easy to store my pictures for easy access anytime, anywhere, along with providing features to easily share links to my folders with friends and family.
Additionally, I have Google’s Picasa on my desktop computer set up as a screensaver to slideshow through photo folders on my Dropbox. If I take a picture with my phone or save one on my laptop, my desktop computer instantly gets it and inserts it into the slideshow. The simplest, coolest digital photo frame ever!
Personally, I’m a college student, part-time employee, and Army Reservist currently deployed overseas. Managing these three separate lives certainly provides a challenge. However, Dropbox saves my life time and time again by ensuring every document I ever save is available to me each moment I need it, forever and ever. Of course, remember to set a powerful password!
Quote for today:
“They let us play with markers. But I kept trying to draw infinity.” - Say Anything
Click to download (Updated to v1.1 on 16 August 2013).
I decided to try to fall asleep listening to Pandora from my laptop instead of from my Android phone last night (on which I use SleepTimer). Much to my surprise, I could not find a Windows application for closing a specific program after a certain period of time. I've been eager to put my (albeit very basic) year-college-edumacated programming skills to use, and so I finally had my chance.
I wrote this simple batch script that takes a user-entered time period (or defaults to 15 minutes) and a user-entered program (or defaults to firefox.exe) and closes just that specific application after that period of time. Any program can be entered into "sleep timer" mode, unlike other Windows-based sleep timer applications that turn off the entire computer.
Update on 16 August 2013: Thanks to a suggestion by a user, I have included an option to shutdown your entire computer after closing your Pandora or other player.
Click to download (Updated to v1.1 on 16 August 2013).
Who knows, maybe one day I'll put a GUI on it!
There's nothing quite like tech envy for someone obsessed with gadgets. When my non-tech savvy friend showed off her iPhone paired with her A2DP stereo system in her Kia Optima, I knew that I was behind the curve. But there's no way I was installing a new stereo or, worse yet, buying a new car for this set up.
That's when I stumbled across the perfect DIY solution for A2DP! This Blackberry bluetooth gateway plugs into a power source and then end of an aux-in jack (which I also had to DIY with a GROM adapter into my Prius when I first got it). Using this wonderful gadget that turns one car charger into two and two USB ports, a mini USB type B cable, and the adapter, I had everything set up in my glove compartment and good to go in no time...
...until I turned it on and discovered the bane of the Prius stereo system: ground loop hum. Because of the electronics within the Prius, anything connected to both a power cable and an audio cable simultaneously tends to emit a shrieking, high-pitched whine that requires a psychiatrist's help to remove the splitting headache caused by the noise.
Google referred me to a series of PriusChat posts recommending a ground loop isolator. The recommendations came with a warning of supposedly slightly reducing sound quality, but the highest quality one was supposedly on Crutchfield by PAC, so that's the one I got--although, I purchased mine from Amazon.
I was more than disappointed when I plugged it in and my audio sounded clear but much lower quality. Despite the whine, I was originally in awe of the quality of the bluetooth set up. It sounded pretty good until I attached the ground loop isolator! I knew this quality-reducing solution wouldn't work.
This is the point where I finally decided to use my own brain. It surprised me when it came up with the idea of a ferrite choke. At $1 and some change from Digi-Key, it surely couldn't be wrong to give it a try, so I ordered three!
I waited a couple days and, when they arrived, I attached them all and turned the car on. I began to accelerate with bated breath - would the hum appear when the engine kicked on? The engine whined into existence, but the sound coming from the cranked-up stereo remained crystal clear and clean! Tada! I eventually removed different chokes to test the effects, and found the one pictured below with the mini USB cable wrapped several times through it to be the most effective:
Now I'm happy! My solution works as good as an integrated solution in a stereo, and I have the massive satisfaction of having done it myself. Not to mention the cost savings of a $60 solution. BAM! (Sorry, that's the satisfaction of my tech envy coming out!)
Voice recording. Yet another crack in my otherwise beloved Android experience where Google fails to deliver an impressive stock experience. The stock voice recorder application suffers from limitations such as confinement to the pathetic quality of the rarely supported 3gp file format, no built-in sharing features, and interruption of the recording with any pop-up notifications such as GO SMS text popups, with no ability to resume recording.
To illustrate, here is a demonstration of how, ahem, feature-rich the Android "Sound Recorder" application is:
And an audio clip from the stock recorder (converted with minimal loss to MP3 for sharing).
Fortunately, the openness of the Android Market one again fills the void of the stock Android features. RecForge Lite, a free (with pay version available) app for voice recording, increases the choices tenfold while still maintaining simplicity. It includes features for sharing with a multitude of services including, my favorite, Dropbox. It includes file format selection of MP3, OGG, and WAV, and also includes the ability to re-encode to another file format after recording. Other nifty features include a CPU usage meter and, best of all, it doesn't stop recording when focus changes due to a pop-up notification or even when the phone is locked either intentionally or unintentionally.
The features do not detract from a very straightforward interface:
A sample of the wonderful, yet still nicely compressed, audio quality:
All of these features are included with the free version with the only limitation being after 3 minutes of recording, it pauses, and can easily be resumed by hitting the record button again. The full version is (currently) only $3.99. Market link: RecForge Lite (Free version).
I was thrilled when I got a Kindle Fire for Christmas! Of course, after modding the heck out of my Samsung Captivate with custom ROMs and, when it was finally available, CyanogenMod 7 (CM7), I knew that I wasn't going to be happy with the Kindle Fire's stock firmware from Amazon. I had been watching the XDA-Developer's forum eagerly for any word on the Kindle Fire development. Fortunately, unlike the Nook Tablet's locked down bootloaders, the Kindle Fire was fairly easy for developers to mod, and CM7 is available in an almost fully functional state! Here's a review.
After being constantly annoyed by the awful-sounding front speakers in my 1996 Subaru Legacy Outback (the rear speakers had already been replaced), I decided to buy the Polk Audio db6501 component speaker system. I found it on Crutchfield, but I wasn't about to pay $200 for it when it was $110 on SonicElectronix.
The speaker system, being a "component system", includes main speakers (woofers) that go in the traditional speaker spot inside the door, little circular speakers (tweeters) that had to be mounted somewhere on the pillars, dash, or sail panel, and finally the crossovers that separate the audio feed to both the woofer and tweeter.
My dad has done audio mods before (the aforementioned rear speakers), so I waited until this weekend for him to be free.
The entire installation went rather smoothly, and took about 4-5 hours. It began with:
1. Removing the inside door panels. This was relatively simple, just going around the edges of the door with a flathead screwdriver popping out a bunch of clips. I also had to remove a few screws.
After the clips were popped, it was as simple as gently pulling the panels up and off and popping out the power window panels.
I set the panels aside and didn't use them again until I installed the crossover in step 5 and 6.
2. Removing the old woofer. This was as easy as unscrewing them from the mount. That made it easy for the next step.
3. Mounting the new woofer. The new woofer had to be attached to a mount included with the system, which was then attached to the Subaru mount.
4. Mounting the tweeters. I decided to surface-mount the tweeter on the door sail panel as shown:
5. Feeding all of the wires into the door panel. The previously removed door panels had a storage area, so I drilled a hole into it and fed the wires through it. The crossover will be placed in here. While feeding the wires through, it was easy to snap the door panels back on in the same step.
6. Wiring the crossover. My dad stripped the ends of the wires for the tweeter, woofer, and input and put them into their spots in the crossover.
7. Mounting the crossover. As mentioned previously, the crossover was going to be stored in the door panel's storage area. But they are not supposed to be loose as vibrations can be damaging. So I took some velcro strips and used them to stick the crossover to the side of the storage area in the door panels.
Project complete! My dad and I were surprised how amazingly smoothly it went. And the sound: absolutely awesome. These speakers are well worth the upgrade from the stock audio!
Quite a long time ago, I upgraded my EEE PC 1000HA wifi card with a nice Atheros 5008 card that supports Backtrack 3, Wireless N, and a third wifi antenna.
Inspired by Vinhtvu2's external wifi adapter on the eeeuser.com forums, I decided to do a similar mod of my own. So I bought the antenna on eBay. Unfortunately, with my small EEE PC case, I didn't want to do the exact same mod as it sticks out too much. And I was afraid to hack away while the warranty was still valid.
So finally, a year and a half later, I was inspired by a random modding blog to try putting in the antenna recessed into the ethernet port.
And it worked fantastically!
The process was tedious (took about 4 hours), but rather simple:
1. Disassemble the entire EEE PC (excluding the LCD screen), which consisted of removing the bottom hatch, the hard drive, RAM, and wireless card, the keyboard, separating the plastic casing, and removing the motherboard and all of the connectors. There are many guides online; that's not what this tutorial is for.
2. Finally, once everything was separated, I had full access to the bottom of the ethernet port. I used a dremel with a cutting head and cleanly cut off the very bottom. I turned the motherboard upside-down and placed the RP-SMA connector down in the port and used Loctite 1-minute instant mixing epoxy. I used a nice amount and it hardened very well; I don't think the connector is going anywhere.
3. I gently sent the motherboard back into the casing to see how it would fit. There wasn't enough room for the antenna's RJ-SMA connector to fit inside, so I took the motherboard back out and took the dremel to the plastic case and made the hole a bit wider, as you can see in the picture of the final product.
4. I checked to make sure that it fit now. It did! So I put everything back together (putting the ribbon cables for the touchpad and keyboard back in was not fun) and locked it up tight.
5. Nervously, I pushed the power button. It booted up and everything worked - whew! There were a lot of connectors that I was nervous about (I luckily took a picture of the motherboard before I removed it.) With everything working, it was now time for some hands-on testing!
All of the power results are from testing in Backtrack 3's terminal.
2 internal antennas only: ~25
External antenna only: ~22
External AND internal antennas connected: ~40
So, as you can see, the results are quite good! It was a fun mod, and it was interesting to see the EEE PC internals. The extra signal will be nice sometime when I am in the middle of nowhere on vacation and want to check out my emails! After all, what good is a netbook if you can't get on the 'net?
From the pictures in my post about installing Windows 7, many people were curious as to what the nifty little keyboard was in the leftmost portion of the photos. I had been meaning to do a writeup on it anyways, so I thought it was appropriate timing!
I grew up playing video games on my PC. I'm glad I did! A PC can be so much more powerful, and cheaper in the long run, than a console. But that's a long, drawn-out debate for another day.
So anyway, as I grew up playing Jedi Knight Dark Forces II (awesome game!), I used the arrow keys so that I had access to the numpad and the box above the arrow keys for extra buttons, which I always used for force powers. And therefore, when I got into games that required fewer keys, like Half-Life 2 and Far Cry, I began to get annoyed with using the arrow keys. I always ended up pushing the keyboard clear across the desk because my hands were too close together when I was using the arrow keys and the mouse. I began to regret that I didn't start with the WASD layout, but it just didn't feel right to me.
And then I saw the WolfKing Timberwolf keyboard, a complete keyboard with an extra section on the left, that contained just a set of WASD keys and some surrounding keys. I wanted it so badly from the moment I saw it!
But, as a full keyboard, it was rather expensive and unwieldy. And so I gave up on my dream. But shortly after, I noticed a deal on Dealnews.com for a WolfKing Warrior Gaming Keypad. A light went off in my head: I surely had heard this brand before! I quickly went to the link. Sure enough, it was the WolfKing Timberwolf, minus the keyboard part! And it was cheap! It was more than I could have asked for; I bought it immediately, and awaited with anticipation for it to arrive.
And finally, it did! And it was all that I could have imagined. It has the feel of the arrow keys, but the accessibility and function of the WASD keys. All the keys are beautifully positioned to allow for terrificly ergonomic and efficient button-mashing.
You can see for yourself how the keypad is set up:
So maybe, if you're a PC gamer like me, you'll make the wise choice to pick one up for yourself! The only con: without sale, it retails at $40 on Amazon.