Playing With My Weiner

Gaming at the mercy of miniature daschunds.

Review: Rock Band 2 September 16, 2008

Rock Band is back (as if it ever left). The new disc offers about 100 new songs, including Bob Dylan’s first foray into videogames and Harmonix in-house band Speck’s dork ode “Conventional Lover”. For folks who have been rocking out since last year, its more like a huge song pack than a sequel, and that’s just fine.

 

It’s getting better all the time.  The visuals are a bit shinier, the band members a bit more customizable, and the interface a little more streamlined. For example, you can switch between instruments with the same character without having to do a restart. For folks who want to just rock out and have fun, there is a “no fail” option.  For those who complain that the nerf bat was used too liberally in Rock Band 2, there are now options to speed up tracks or take out the visual lines entirely.

 

The updated instruments are the real coup here. The new drumset is a sea change from the day of release set I’ve been rocking since last year. It is solid where the original was flimsy, generally quiet where the original was loud, and provides a better, more satisfying play experience. I’ve been excited about these skins since we tried them at PAX, and I am glad to have them home.

 

The new hotness.

The new hotness.

The guitar is likewise excellent. Gone is the “mushy” strum bar of Rock Band 1. Here to stay is a great feel and wireless rock. An improved accelerometer picks up Overdrive cues nearly without fail. This is a great plastic instrument.

 

Faux woody

Faux woody

The microphone is much the same as the original. It does the job, and picks up as well as it should. Harmonix still hasn’t implemented phoneme recognition, though, so you can recite the Declaration of Independence and still get 100% on the Beastie Boys’ “So Whatcha Want”.

 

All in all, though, Rock Band 2 is a lot of fun. And, because the Rock Band 2 and Guitar Hero World Tour instruments are now interoperable with their respective games, you can pick and choose whose sets you like best and enjoy the loads of content on the discs and beyond.

 

Now if you will excuse me, Gwyddia, The Stig, and the rest of Pathological Monsters! are playing for our airplane in a few minutes.

 

 

 

For listening to their fans and cleaning up what needed to be cleaned up, plus providing a ton of excellent songs to enjoy (500 by Christmas, they say), I am giving Rock Band 2 five weiners out of five.

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Review: Cradlepoint CTR-500 portable broadband router September 15, 2008

From our tech in the field, funjon, comes this review of the Cradlepoint CTR-500 portable broadband router. Tired of paying $10/hour at a Starbucks, funjon decides to blaze his own trail.  Gaming on the go or no go at all?  Read on.

A funjon.

A funjon.

 

Funjon:

 

In early July I bought a Cradlepoint CTR-500 portable broadband router. Its quite the useful little device – can set up and share mobile broadband anywhere, including the car. Great toy, if you’ve got a USB data card or ExpressCard/34 data card. Which I do – the Novatel Wireless Merlin XU870. Which as served me wonderfully over the past year.

 

Except it’s not supported by the CTR-500.

 

It worked from the start, sort of. The router saw it. With the appropriate AT commands, it would connect. But it crashed and rebooted, a lot. I think the longest runtime was 2 minutes before it went boom.

 

All is not lost! It appears that with the new (August 08) release of firmware, 1.3.1, the CTR-500 likes my Novatel Wireless Merlin XU870 ExpressCard. Obviously, it continues to not be officially supported, but it will connect. It connected before, too, but this time it doesn’t crash. Or at least, hasn’t yet. In fact, I’m posting this through the CTR-500/XU870 combo right now.

 

Of course, I went and bought an Option GT Max card used on eBay for $120, so I’d have -something- that worked with it right now. Which, I’ll probably keep for the time being, it never hurts to have a backup (or an officially supported device). With the Merlin, I don’t get the nifty signal-strength feature, but it does seem to be working.

 

Now I just need to find something to put the router in while it’s in my backpack so it doesn’t get scratched to hell. Oh, and I really need to fix the cigarette lighters in my car, so the router will work on them.

 

Official support would be even cooler, but making it not crash on this unsupported modem is MUCH APPRECIATED. I’m glad I didn’t spend $350 on a data card (and $200 on a router) in vain.

 

Now to get a couple of mag-mount antennae put on the car for super mega signal.  The router -and- the Merlin card both have external antenna connectors. Hooray for a 80mph WiFi hotspot!

 

All in all, I’d probably give it 4 weiners out of 5. There have been some teething problems (occasionally config options dont get saved to flash), but it has additional features I’m not using. You can also plug in a USB broadband card, or you can use a phone as a modem, and there’s a wired ethernet port that can be either a WAN or LAN port, configurable in software.

 

The Cradlepoint CTR-500 retails for around USD $179.99.