My Blu Life: Two Months In

Posted on May 17th, 2015

Filed under: General Noise,Reviews — Karl Olson @ 12:00 AM

For a computer scientist and a nerdcore rapper, I’m not terribly big on device upgrades. You’d think I’d always chase new gadgets, but I’m still using the same desktop computer I’ve been using since 2009 (barring a processor upgrade before the socket was discontinued and Black Friday SSD and RAM upgrades.) Had I not run into various problems with my previous phones, I’d probably still be using the Galaxy Nexus I was given at Google I/O 2012. It did everything I needed more or less until the screen cracked. From there I’ve been on a Lumia 521 and a Moto G, both of which were less than stellar with battery life, and both of became erratic after firmware updates (dialer crashes in the middle of calls on the Lumia, force closes due to bad memory management in Android 4.4.4 on the Moto.) Still, I would’ve kept them if they didn’t get weird on me.

My ideal solution: buy a phone with a huge battery built in, and while I’m at it make it a dual sim one since I’m currently bouncing between the US and Canada. Hopefully the firmware never goes sideways, but if it does, the phone should be so inexpensive so that I don’t have to worry about the cost of replacement. Previously, this would’ve been a tall, if not impossible, order. However, as it turns out, a phone was released this spring that fit that bill brilliantly: the BLU Studio Energy D810U, which goes for a mere $150.

This is the point where I expect you to be like “the what phone?” and really that’s quite justified. BLU is a young company out of Florida that more or less puts their badge on designs from various Chinese OEMs, then sells them unlocked directly via retailers like Fry’s and Amazon. However, BLU has been clever about carefully selecting and wisely tweaking the more interesting models from those OEMs, and the Studio Energy is no exception. With it’s outstanding 5000mAh battery, this phone can swing a couple days of reasonable use like it’s nothing, and even with brightness turned up fully and processor intensive work like writing and rendering multiple songs in Caustic 3 and streaming anime off Crunchyroll, I’ve never put it on the charger lower than about 40 percent. That means it’s gone from 8am to 1am (or later) with a workload that’s completely inconsiderate towards battery longevity. It’s not going to play the very latest 3D Android games, but it’s otherwise entirely functional, and most importantly, it’s functional all day long – no range anxiety, ever.

Sure, it’s not without compromises. Hardware wise, the massive battery life means it’s not svelte (though it’s thinner than you’d expect,) and that battery isn’t swappable. It’s only capable of HSDPA speeds, and it’s bands are so limited you need a different model to get those top speeds depending on your carrier. Further still, it only has a MediaTek MT6582 processor with 1GB of RAM and 8GB of internal storage, half of which is soaked up by Android, though a MicroSD card slot alleviates storage concerns. Still, it’s not buttery smooth all the time, and that’s technically a trade off (though, it’s not like the Moto G it replaced never stuttered.) Those looking for top specs beyond battery will be let down. Software wise, it’s lightly skinned, but if you’re coming from stock Android, you might find yourself running to get everything as close as back to stock ASAP.

However, I think for most smartphone users, battery matters way more than any other consideration, whether they realize that or not. Besides, given it’s current competition in this price point, it easily holds it’s own on performance, camera and storage. I would take this over the current Moto E, Moto G or low-end Lumias any day of the week, and they’re really only phones that compete with this currently. More importantly, it’s worked great in real world usage as my sole phone for the past couple months. It does the jobs it should do, and it’s even changed my use behavior with my phone. Since I don’t worry about the battery life, I’ve already written a few EPs in Caustic 3 while commuting on the train using the Studio Energy (by the way, this means the DAC is alright too.) I wouldn’t do that on any other phone without having a charger at work if not an external battery pack. Even pounding the battery with GPS and high brightness are no longer worrisome scenarios. I haven’t taken the car charger out my car yet, but the only time I bother to throw it on is if I’m making a day long drive, and really, I don’t have to, I just feel like I should.

One day, this phone will come without its tradeoffs, but that goes for the flagships too, and until the day I can have no tradeoffs, I’m going with the phone that can still provide directions after a long flight or late concert. The fact that it costs a fourth of what a top flagship does is just a victory lap.


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Posted on January 28th, 2012

Filed under: General Noise,Reviews — Karl Olson @ 3:55 AM

I figured that after dragging myself unexpectedly through the ringer this last week with Katawa Shoujo, watching a movie might be nice break. It’d be some light mental junk food to cleanse my palette. At least that’s what I thought the opportunity came up to watch Scott Pilgrim vs. The World with Nursehella. I mean, it’s based off a fairly cartoony looking comic I hadn’t read, and it was directed by Edgar Wright (of Shawn of the Dead and Hot Fuzz fame.)

See article title.

Yeah, instead I was treated to an amped up version of some of my own experiences with surreal fight scenes interspersed. I could spell that out, but the people who know me probably get it, and the people who don’t know me aren’t owed details. A lot of the plot points and best lines might as have been shuriken or piano wire. When they hadn’t been said/done to me, I’m the one who had said/done them. It almost violated the film’s sanctity. I figured that at worst, my critical side would’ve been picking apart the special effects, and best I would’ve just been enjoying the story. Instead, I was pretty much just indexing actions and lines against my own experiences past a certain point. It was unnatural.

I wish I’d read the comic. I might have saved a lot of good people some trouble since my life isn’t as warm as the film’s end. The things I can take from it are lessons I was already taking from the rest of this week’s self-inflicted emotional roller-coaster. The good endings come from doing things for me while still being considerate of the perspective and feelings of others, even when I can’t fully fathom that viewpoint. It’s a pretty odd set things to take to heart in someways.

Might as well watch Ano Natsu’s second episode and see if that’s a kick in the ribs too.


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Over-Analyzing Katawa Shoujo

Posted on January 26th, 2012

Filed under: Reviews — Karl Olson @ 2:03 AM

Frankly, I should probably go back and bundle this all up a little more cleanly as review for, but for now, I think I can indulge myself in some more relaxed writing. In fact, if only because I’m supposed to blog for my writing class, I feel I can voice my opinions here and then double dip later. Nobody really reads this page anyway.

Back on topic, I’ve gradually stumbled through some more of Katawa Shoujo. I’ve been playing it honestly, and rather than aim for a character, I’ve let the chips fall where they may and answered everything honestly. The result actually has surprised me. I completed the path for Emi Ibarazaki with the good ending, and that alone kind of felt unexpected. I am not an athletic person by nature, but I made the decision I would’ve made if in the same situation – if it’s run or die, I’ll get up and run.

The more richly surprising part is the extent that certain aspects of the Emi path have mimicked my own relationship history. I didn’t expect my responses in game to lead to a progression with parallels to my real world habits. I almost feel like I’m gaining new insight into my own behavior and choices. I’m not sure exactly what that says about the writing in a quantitative sense. If nothing else though, it has me suckered in. I want to play through another route, and see whether it’s just the nature of the game, or something deeper.

In fact, maybe the game isn’t good at all, and I’m just having too much fun thinking about the Lacanian aspects of the visual novel medium for the first time as I play. Is a visual novel only good so long as you see yourself reflected the visual novel’s Other? Does the player only feel like they been reflected because they want to believe their choices impact the Other? Does this mean the player will enjoy the game without regard to it’s objective qualities because of the very structure of the game? I mean, is it only good because it’s fitting what I’ve been led to believe are the patterns I’d fall into naturally? I don’t know because I’ve never thought about it before. I do think there is a certain rose tinting that comes into play here, but that’s the human condition to some extent. Where does one’s limited perception end, and the manipulation of that limited perception begin?

Of all the things I would’ve thought could engage my contemplative side, Katawa Shoujo should’ve been at the bottom of the list. Maybe that’s the best I can expect since the game probably wasn’t intended to spark these questions. I guess that constitutes quality.

On the flip side, it breaks up my over-intellectualizing up with some genuine humor in between the odd and possibly imagined parallels. Laughs are laughs, and even if some of them are a bit morose or surreal, they are there. How bad can a smile be?


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Posted on January 21st, 2012

Filed under: Reviews — Karl Olson @ 7:15 PM

So, like many other internet savvy otaku, I have long been aware of the Katawa Shoujo project. At least a few of my friends have cosplayed as characters from the title, and I had seen the little fan comics that have floated around the internet about it. However, I imagine that like most people, I figured nothing would really come of it.

After all, countless internet forums have had their goofy ideas for projects created by forum members, but usually you’re lucky if you get passed the idea and concept art stage. If that it doesn’t stop there, you’ll maybe see a very mediocre first level or some very rough animation at best. In fact, I can think of at least 2 or 3 I’ve been involved with myself in some small way. Usually, creative projects on the internet are most productive when one or two people do something with little-to-no external input.

Yet, here we are with a full visual novel game with good art and good music, all inspired by single page joke from a decade-old doujinshi. It’s a miracle that it exists at all. However, that won’t stop me from nitpicking.

While a lot of the aesthetic aspects of the game are remarkable for an independent, no-budget project, the writing starts off very, very slow. It’s vastly too wordy (perhaps like these blog posts?,) and the tone is a little too inwardly focused on the protagonist. To make matters worse, that inner focus is a bland self-loathing, the kind that you’d think an otaku-made project would avoid considering how commonplace that complaint is in regards to anime and manga. It’s also a bit inauthentic. One gets the feeling sometimes that the writers lack the life experience to communicate the right feeling in some of these scenarios. Maybe that’s to be expected a bit as well, but while it may make for an interesting meta-commentary, it’s a hassle to sit through walls of text that don’t really engage the player. To make matters worse, there are a lot of different dialogue options, especially early on, and that feels off for a game like this. Being able to take some ownership of the protagonist is critical in visual novels, and I wouldn’t have minded a bit more in Katawa Shoujo at all.

Troubles aside, I can’t seem to really let it go now that I’m into it. It’s clearly a little undercooked, but I still can’t help but marvel that it was served at all. There are also a few sharp bits of characterization and humorous dialogue that manage to string the player along in spite of themselves, and that’s quite impressive since those pieces have to override the drawbacks. I’m certainly glad that I did a little tribute track to the game which will turn up on my next record because, if nothing else, it’s a nod to the efforts of people who beat the odds for fan projects on web forums.

Good show.


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Critical Hit

Posted on January 19th, 2012

Filed under: Reviews — Karl Olson @ 8:00 PM

So, I have a new review up on about Usagi Drop. It figures that long after I’d put the review to bed, it turns out the manga manages to have a bit of a train wreck ending, but the anime cuts it off while it’s still heart-warming and sweet. A rare moment where I really must say the show is better than the book.

Speaking of reviews, it looks like one of mine has been quoted on the front page of FUNimation’s site for Princess Jellyfish (screencap here.) I really do hope the title does well for them. It’s a bit of a risk since it’s a fairly offbeat title. I suspect if it doesn’t payoff, I may not be quoted on another FUNimation webpage anytime soon, as I seem to have a habit of latching on to the offbeat lately, and they did post my review of Princess Jellyfish to their facebook page as a means of gauging whether a DVD/Blu-Ray release should be done.


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