Book Review Soon to Come: “Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson

I must thank my good friend Russ (custom local jeweler – Dare2Dream) for passing me “Snow Crash” to read. I have been rather addicted to reading it when I am on my lunch breaks at work and well… It makes my vision of dreams more than plausible. It’s one that any computer or internet geek should read, because it almost paints a picture of what the internet could/should be in a decade or two. I have had days where the ‘net just seems no fun to me so “Snow Crash” is a rather nice way to wind down before bed. Keep a look out for the blog and my thoughts on a great book.

Thoughts on the Sony Ericsson XPERIA X1’s Potential Impact on the Future Market

Mobile Burn has a pretty good pair of videos that they posted on YouTube showing their encounters with the Sony Ericsson XPERIA X1 communicator. Though in some of the other Mobile World Congress video clips on YouTube, the Sony Ericsson representatives are rather tight-lipped saying that they are bound by both Sony Ericsson corporate and Microsoft that even demoing the phone dialer application can not be demonstrated as quoted by Magnus Anderson (Sony Ericsson’s brand marketing team) in this YouTube video from msmobile.com and mytreo.net. Processor specifications, amount of RAM to be put into it, and even other specs have not officially been revealed other than what is publicly available to the press of the Mobile World Congress event out in Barcelona, Spain.

The main gist of the videos featuring Magnus Anderson seem to be that the XPERIA panels are to represent every “experience” you have in life. An idea that each panel represents each “experience” focal to a part of your life. When you apply that principle, it could be quite useful. One panel may have your work and productivity applications and maybe a big clock applet for your “at work” panel with a default looking Windows Mobile 6 Home Screen. Another panel could have the Sony XrossMediaBar (XMB for short) looking interface with direct access to your music, movies, and photos when you’re in for an “experience” to relax. Another could be the GPS application’s home screen for when you need directions. The possibilities are almost ENDLESS and the experiences becomes tailored to the user. A corporate grade communicator that does not force the user to conform to just one interface puts the XPERIA X1 as a communicator with a sense of fun.

The matter that the XPERIA X1 will be using the microSD form factor for memory cards isn’t much in Sony’s interest, but it does make way for a bigger impact as far as media capacity is concerned. At the time of this article, NewEgg has microSDHC (the HC acronym meaning “High Capacity”) cards go as high as 8GB for about $79.99 with 4GB microSDHC cards going as low as $24.99! For me, personally, this is much better than being “hard locked” in to a device that is limited to 8GB on board with no opportunities to expand the memory. By allowing users to expand their devices at their own paces, it gives them an opportunity to “catch up” with the trends. This can easily be seen with the iPhone camp with regards to the 4GB and (as of recently) the 8GB model… Imagine being that poor soul who bought the 8GB at Christmas and then hearing the announcement last week that Apple is now pushing the limits with a 16GB iPhone. It would probably irk you to no end, unless you find someone who wants yours and will pay a pretty penny so you can dump out for the upgrade. With how rapidly miniSD is developing, I do not doubt that a 16GB card could be out by the time the XPERIA X1 goes live and on sale. This gives mobile phone users the choice and ability to grow to their needs rather than being bottle-necked and then having to get into the kink of reselling and rebuying.

The platform of the device being a Windows Mobile 6 device rather than a Symbian UIQ device really changes things up. Currently, the market of corporate applications caters more to the Windows Mobile or Palm OS. This has somewhat of an impact on me, as medical/drug databases like Epocrates do not cater to UIQ users. The convenience to have a database of drugs on my phone rather than carry a bunch of books about them or even things like pharmaceutical law are rather important with my future profession. Add to this mix that with a Windows Mobile 6 update due out in 2008, things like a “full browser experience” like the iPhone should be due for mass consumption. Keep in mind that the next Windows Mobile release codenamed “Photon” is probably due soon, if Sony Ericsson is not about dumping their consumers off a bridge by providing a free update… the XPERIA X1 may be rather future-proof.  Want to see an example of a company angering consumers, check out Apple charging $20 for some additional software to early adopters of the iPhone. Sony Ericsson’s reputation of taking care of their fans has been demonstrated when some fans of the P990i had noted the “final” firmware update to their phones that cause rather poor stability. Users had made their complaints public to a UIQ web forum that Sony Ericsson developers have been known to drop by and say hello… Surprisingly enough, they decided to make things right and release a proper “final” firmware release to stabilize the usability of the P990i.

For media capabilities, the XPERIA X1 looks like it may be a rather fun device. I don’t know if anyone will take much advantage of the device for mobile gaming applications, but if they keep in mind about the touch interaction, that could make for some fun games. As far as music, movies, and photos… On one of the images of the XPERIA panels, one of them looks very akin to the design principles of the XrossMediaBar of the PS3/PSP’s fame. If that keeps true to the final product, accessing media may be a rather painless experience. For the audiophile that has it all, the XPERIA has a 3.5mm jack port for those nice Shure E2C earbuds you shelled an expansive amount of money on. This is also great if you want to still be able to use that line-in adapter or FM radio broadcaster for your car. If you’re a Bluetooth audio fanatic like me, you’ll definitely be glad to know that A2DP, AVCRP and the other Bluetooth audio/video control standards are all present with this device. The vibrant high definition 3″ VGA screen will make viewing photos and movies in a broad 65,000 colors a pleasure. Bundle in the Cybershot grade 3.2 megapixel camera on the XPERIA and it’s quite a media device if you decided to go big on the microSDHC cards.
Connectivity is a big focus with Windows Mobile devices. The XPERIA is equipped well around with technologies like 3G (UMTS) and HSPDA to ensure for fast data streaming and provide true speed to mobile internet usage. Stack on top being able to do secure connections and transactions without having to worry about encryption errors would make a device like the XPERIA a good integration device that can play nice with the corporate setting, especially with consideration to Blackberry Enterprise Server usage. Add to that, Sony Ericsson’s PlayNow recently signed distribution deals with a bunch of record companies and adding 5 millions new tracks as of lately… You can also throw on top of that the aGPS module on the phone and more than likely ways to keep the maps fresh and updated. This lethal cocktail of features in connectivity makes for quite a robust device.

The big thing that I will say will level the playing field will be that the phone should be that the XPERIA will be available in unlocked form. For American folks, it will allow them the freedom to keep their provider while enjoying a great communicator device that will not have hindered functionality (rather than forcing users to pick who their provider is). I will make a guess to say that if Sony Ericsson is clever about shaking up the market in America, the unlocked version should be going for about $500 – $600 unlocked at any Sony Style shop or official Sony Ericsson vendor. Though with all due respect, I don’t doubt that with AT&T and T-Mobile being highly compatible with this device that it could be released to both carriers and branded/locked. With the branded ones, the devices with a 2 year contract and some data plan of some sort could break the device into the S350 – $400 price range. The subsidized pricing on a contract and XPERIA X1 purchase could put fuel to the fire for the “smartphone” category.

Zero’s Pearl of Mobile Phone Advice: If you have not bought an iPhone, Blackberry device, Nokia’s N-Series, or an HTC communicator, I would wait until the XPERIA X1 comes out. For what it is packing, it could be one of 2008’s best buys. Sure, the iPhone’s second generation is rumored due out close to the end of this month (iPhone Updates site), but the iPhone may need more than another storage upgrade and 3G baseband chips if they want to play the smartphone market like how Sony Ericsson is with the XPERIA X1.

Technology Preview: Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 Smartphone

So I think I may have found the phone that I’ll be chasing after… No, it’s not the “Jesus Phone” or iPhone depending on who you talk to. Oddly it’s not an HTC device either. It seems Sony Ericsson have formed an alliance with Microsoft to use the Windows Mobile platform on their next PDA phone. The thing that struck me as odd was the device has a shape much like the one of the P5i concept images… The only thing that didn’t compute was that device was powered by Windows Mobile. I had remembered all of the hype saying that the new P-series phone was going to be using the next iteration of the UIQ Symbian interface. As far as a release date…

The Sony Ericsson XPERIA™ X1 will be available in selected markets from the second half of 2008.
Source: Sony Ericsson Corporate Press Release for the Xperia X1, 2/10/2008

The release date makes it seem like it could hit the Asian and European markets by late summer or early fall. That could lead to a domestic American release by late fall or Christmas this year. (Take my estimates with a grain of salt – Zero)The device has some rather impressive specifications… It is thinner than the HTC TyTN II/Kaiser and has a screen just a little bigger. Here’s the specs courtesy of the official Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 product page.

Size
* 110 x 17 x 53 mm
* 4.3 x 0.7 x 2.1 inches

Weight
* 145 g
* 5.1 oz

Available colours
* Solid Black

Screen
* 800 X 480
* 65,536-colour TFT

Memory
* Up to 400 MB Phone Memory
* Memory Stick SanDisk Micro™ support
Actual free memory may vary due to phone pre-configuration

Networks
* GSM 850
* GSM 900
* GSM 1800
* GSM 1900
* EDGE
* HSDPA
* HSUPA
* UMTS 850
* UMTS 900
* UMTS 1700
* UMTS 1900
* UMTS 2100

Camera
* Auto focus
* 3.2 megapixel camera
* Photo light
* Video recording

Music
* Bluetooth™ stereo (A2DP)
* Media player
* Music tones
* PlayNow™
* Windows Media Player Mobile
* 3D games
* FM radio
* Java
* Video streaming
* Video viewing

Internet
* Internet Explorer® Mobile
* RSS feeds

Communication and Messaging
* Polyphonic ringtones
* Speakerphone
* Vibrating alert
* Video calling
* Email
* Picture messaging (MMS)
* Predictive text input
* Text messaging (SMS)

Design
* XPERIA™ panels
* Optical joystick navigation
* Navigation key
* Picture wallpaper
* Touch navigation

Organizer
* Alarm clock
* Calculator
* Calendar
* Document editors
* Document readers
* Flight mode
* Handwriting recognition
* Notes
* Phone book
* Tasks
* Touchscreen

Connectivity
* aGPS
* Bluetooth™ technology
* Modem
* Synchronization
* USB support
* WLAN

Windows® Mobile® Operating System
* Microsoft® Outlook Mobile: email, contacts, calendar, tasks
* Microsoft® Office Mobile: Word, Excel, PowerPoint
* Internet Explorer® Mobile
* Windows Media™ Player Mobile
* Windows Live™
* Exchange ActiveSync®
* Voice control
* Utility Applications: file explorer, calculator, pictures & video, notes
Source: Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 Product Site

It’s got a rather good specifications and when compared to the size specifications of HTC’s TyTN II, it’s very well compacted! I am really looking forward to the release and with Sony Ericsson not playing by exclusivity rules (ahem Apple), I will be picking one up once they hit the States.

Wonder why the Xperia X1 looks so familiar in style or design? According to Engadget, it’s made by (no surprise here) ODM company HTC.

Enough with my word porn… I’ll make with the pictures! Credit goes to Sony Ericsson’s Xperia X1 product mini-site for the images.

Here’s a YouTube that I found on Engadget of the advertisement for the Xperia X1: http://www.youtube.com/v/O0z8F6jUzVc
(Embedded clip removed, it borked my layout)

Enjoy the media folks!

Internet Sharing Evolved: Tomato Router v1.15, Powered by OpenDNS

So I decided to potentially put a bullet into my router in an attempt to “roid up” my router. Why? The poor thing is almost 5 years old and it lacks a lot of things that are great to have when you live in a home where sharing the web and trying to function without killing another person for bandwidth. That and I didn’t want to make an expenditure that would be taken for granted.

My buddy Maczimus would tell me about how his newly upgraded Tomato router has been just awesome to him. On reading their compatible routers, I found that my Buffalo WBR2-G54 is compatible for the upgrade! So Maczimus had challenged me to upgrade the router to enjoy the web again and have less bandwidth showdowns with my sister and her YouTube addictions.

First off, for the Buffalo routers, there’s a bit of trickery involved… Buffalo encrypts their firmware to prevent unauthorized firmwares being installed to the router. The upgrade cannot be done wirelessly, it must be done while you’re hardwired to the router. I highly advise downloading the Wikibooks Manual to the Tomato router as it details the EXACT procedure to fool the router and inject Tomato into it if you’re using a Mac or Unix/Linux machine. Windows folks have it easy with running a .bat file, so no funny messes for you all. After the router does its thing and processes the upgrade… It will kick you out and then ask you to reauthenticate the session.

After providing the user name and password, you’re welcomed into a web interface that’s powered by SVG images. The interface is simple and to the point. The fun part is being able to tweak and tune values. From your basic settings like security settings to even things like the amplitude of the wireless antenna! The amplitude is far from “just a number” as with tweaking it, I have found that I am able to make it so there is no dead spots in my family’s home. That’s a seriously cool feature!

The bandwidth monitoring features are almost something that you would overlook, but to see where the bandwidth is going and from what computer or internet device is amazing! The ability to do a Quality of Service (QoS) lockdown is very nice as it can solve some of the more severe arguments because it effectively balances out the bandwidth in a fair manner. This is something that any bandwidth heavy families or small businesses should have, because it is simply that good!

I will make one caveat aware. Make sure you know the default MAC addresses of your router’s interfaces. On upgrading to Tomato, the firmware changed one hex digit of the last pair and Verizon had a panic attack. They wouldn’t let me on until I changed the address to the proper one.

The next step to perfecting my newly created Tomato router was to change the default Verizon powered DNS addresses to the OpenDNS addresses. The OpenDNS configuration is easy and free to anyone, although signing up for an ID allows you remote control of your network. Control being things like the ability to filter out sites of your choosing or even blocking out sites that are potentially dummy sites set-up by phishers. The benefits of using the OpenDNS addresses rather than your internet service providers are that they can resolve mistyped web addresses much quicker and even suggest similar sites more efficiently. The change of the DNS address is such a small thing, but it is seriously worth it for the light boost in speed. Combined with the Tomato router, it’s a combination that has made broadband sharing at home a much more pleasant experience.

The only thing left to make browsing even better is to get my family to consider upgrading to FiOS by Verizon… The speeds below with the Tomato router and OpenDNS have opened up the gateway. Hell, I wish they’d consider my offer to pay for the upgrade myself…

Technology Review Teaser: Doing a Network Overhaul

Tonight I did one of the best things I could have with my free time tonight… It has made my internet experience even faster and more streamlined as possible. It took some bravery and logic, but it is well worth it. I turned an old Buffalo WBR2-G54 that my parents bought back in 2002 and turned it into a $600 super router with a hack to use the Tomato firmware. To sweeten up the speeds, I changed my DNS addresses to OpenDNS’s numbers for a much more clean experience.

I’ll go into more detail about my install as well as provide advice and tips about things tomorrow. Keep your eyes out until then!

What’s the Big Deal with Valentine’s Day? [Editorial]

Valentine’s Day in America is one of the most busy days for flower shops and confectionery specialty shops. Flowers, cards, and candy are abound all over. The occasional fool how has messed up romantically and frantically trying to find a gift can be quite the humorous sight to see. Lovers usually book up all the reservations to the nice restaurants… Of course, with human nature and all, there are those seeking to get lucky after the vast show of romance. 😉 The single folks will lament or just roll their eyes… Though the perverse have “struck back” at the ideal of romance and made a counter-thesis to Valentines Day called “Steak and Blowjob Day [NOT SAFE FOR WORK!]“.

Wikipedia’s article on Valentine’s Day is interesting as it shows the origins of the event being very ritualistic rather than the romantic event we know now. Check out this piece below in the block-quote:

Lupercalia, of which many write that it was anciently celebrated by shepherds, and has also some connection with the Arcadian Lycaea. At this time many of the noble youths and of the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped in delivery, and the barren to pregnancy.
Source: Wikipedia article on Valentine’s Day

For those who want a lazy Cliff’s Note’s summary of the excerpt above… Men basically got stripped down naked while wielding thongs to whip and slap women for fun and laughs, while women got in the way of the herd of naked men in hopes to be impregnated in the fertility ritual of Lupercalia. Not really a flowers, love notes, and sweets sort of image for our modern day concept of Valentine’s Day. From the Wikipedia article again, the streets were anointed in the sacrificial blood of 2 wolves and 1 dog for the festival. Lucky for the civilized world that we don’t have the festival of Lupercalia every February 15th, because random wanton sex in public with folks that should NOT be naked in public would be rather disgusting.

The article also goes more into detail about the event was more about courtly love and friendship, rather than the material aspect of it. Yes, originally, trolling for tail was typically not the ultimate goal. Recognition of friends is one of the focuses of Valentine’s Day in elementary school. I was not the “popular” kids, but I got my fair share of cards from being a stand up person. Though I have heard some stories where there have been cruel or mean spirited kids making concerted efforts to make the unpopular kid a cast out by making sure they get no cards or ones with cruel messages. That causing some school teachers to enact policies to ensure that kindness is promoted.

On the commercialism tangent, you can’t go but about half a step and you hear some ad about Valentine’s items on sale at a local retailer. Hell, the retail jewelry business laps up Valentine’s Day due to the fact misconception that you “need” jewelry to put a physical representation of love on the person you’re enamored with. Card companies like Hallmark and Carlton Cards make a killing in profits when cards run about $5 – $7 a piece depending on decorations and other miscellaneous things tacked on to them. Is it really worth the trouble to fight all that mess just to express one’s feelings? Personally, I don’t think so.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, people should be considerate to those who are single. There’s nothing wrong with being in love, but at the same time it doesn’t hurt to cheer up those who are single. With how most people in the States are so centric on Valentine’s Day being a “holiday” about the ideal of romance, the secondary meaning of friendship is just completely lost. We can all joke about Valentine’s Day being known as “Single’s Awareness Day”, but the truth is we should be aware of those who are single. For some single folks, the day could serve as a jumping point to meeting that special someone.

Play nice and be merry on Valentine’s Day, no material gift should be a “prerequisite” for love and romance. Just think about it… Lupercalia could make a freaky comeback with the random wanton sex in public.

Cocktail Recipe – Death Rx

In the movies, James Bond has his drink called the Vesper in honor of his late love Vesper Lynd. Most friends of mine have their own drinks and etc. I realized I don’t have my own drink. So tonight at Main Street Bistro in Richardson helped me craft mine… I call it the Death Rx (Prescription).

1 oz Disaronno Amaretto
1/2 oz Vodka
1/2 oz Contreau
1/2 oz Crown Royal
Garnish with a thin slice of lemon

I went with the Contreau rather than the Jagermeister to go with the flavors. To my surprise, it enhanced the drink! It is worth it to savor the flavors. It makes a drink with a powerful bite and then mellows out nicely.

My thanks to Chris, my bartender at Main Street Bistro for mixing my signature drink.

Critical Toxicity Level Reached – Divorcing Friends, Years Later.

When we reach our teenage years, we finally open our hearts socially and embrace friendships with people of similar or different walks of life. These bonds become the foundation of our own social and moral fibers. The ones who stand tall and support you usually end up being the ones who are the “real deal”. Often through our vulnerable years, we fall victim to those who betray our trust and show their deceitful colors as traitors to the ideals we have formed. What happens when someone who you have turned to for trust, security and advice ends up slowly poisoning your life? How do we find strength to figuratively put a bullet into the relationship that was productive, but now just making your life a living hell?

LifeHack.org had a great article about pulling the plug on friends featured on Monday. The article brings about some really great points on the “criteria” you as a person should consider about your friends. At the same right, it does bring some factors to the table that you also have to take into account. One could almost break it into the concept of “friendship appraisal”. Like how when you bring a vehicle to the dealership for an appraisal before trading it in or cashing it out, it is a through evaluation that inspects almost every facet of things to make sure that there are not things that could subtract from the starting value. I would say the big “values” of a friendship are time, respect, integrity.

Time is important, because like the adage goes: “Time is Money”. Money can be replaced respectively with productivity, if you think about it. Look back on all the time and history that you have built a friendship over. Has the time invested in the friendship been good? Is it full of memories that have been uplifting and productive on a mutual basis? Obviously, if the friendly relationship has been full of drama, delayed agony, and strife that have only served to benefit the means of your “friend’s” ways… They are probably not worth your time. Conversely, if your friend has made an effort to try to be mutually impacting in positive facets, then you know that the friendship is definitely a good investment of time.

Respect, a value that no person should ever sacrifice. We have to remember that we should be equals to our friends. We should never let our friends trample on our beliefs or values, all just to make a friendship work. We have to stand up for what we believe in, because values form who we are as humans. If we have friends who criticize and pick apart the things we believe in, rather than pointing out things and respecting our choices regardless. If a friend can respect you for who you are, rather than completely ripping your respect to shreds… then they are true to the word. If a friend has been slowly breaking you apart to mold you into their “perfect” vision and forcefully injecting their own values into you… they probably don’t care if you’ve sold your soul just to be their friend.

Integrity, the idea of “doing the right thing even when no one is watching”. Integrity is also being consistent with one’s beliefs. Much like respect, this should never EVER be compromised. A friend with integrity is one that could care less about the drama for helping you, because you’re a friend. The same friend would do their damnedest to render aid to you should things get tough… The same friend would also be there for you at any time or hour, provided that real world obligations are not stopping them. The most important thing, a friend with integrity is not swayed by the “angry mob” because they have their own mind. The integrity is the bit of value that really determines if your friend is an asset to you. If they are one to turn a dagger on you or just change because popular opinion, they simply aren’t worth the effort to salvaging a friendship.

The above points also make it tough, because if your best friend ends up being the one that you have to debate with… More than likely, one of the above will be breached. There are some cases where you can try to compromise and reason, but it’s not a guarantee. I know it was hard to turn a sword to some people that I had confided in, but when the matter of respect was breached… I couldn’t allow myself to be trampled on. Sure, the initial pain of watching my former friends basically stab me to death… but being able to stand up and say “I will survive” while others mocked my assumed rigor mortis was something far more valuable than anything else out there.

From rising up after drowning in a bloody pool of social drama, I relearned how to make quality friends. Sure, I wasn’t as “cool” or “popular” as the social butterfly with 400+ friends on Myspace and/or Facebook, but I could care less! The reward of having friends who have been straight-up truthful as well as strong with me has held lots of merits. I have made friends for life that the bonds will get stronger as time passes by.

It is like the old saying goes… “Friends come and go, but true friends last a life time.” It may be nice to be “popular”, but once the flame dies, is the lack of substance really worth it? Friends who have not a clue about you or even the time to invest back to you. Having to sell your soul just to keep them around. Investments that only lead to ruin, it’s just not worth the time and effort! The world is far from over, you can always recover… I am living proof of that testament.

A Semi-Sane Blurb Before I Go Nutty

With the chaos of my job at the office, corporate cannot rally reinforcements to aid me. Due to this, I am going to be at the office for an entire 12 hours. I do get two 30 minute lunches as the law requires, but a person must have something to look forward to endure a mental flogging of sorts. Me? I do my 12 hour shift tomorrow only to walk in 12 hours later and work 9am to 5:30pm Thursday. I may possibly be disgruntled and maybe a tinge insane, only if things at the office mess up continuously. I know the past Friday, I was on edge from the fax machine imploding on itself from the paper feed mechanism choking on itself with me trying to service the machine and juggling phone calls with other offices and clients… I can only hope that I can try to hold my sanity through. I mean, I had an insane Friday and then an insane Monday, so the worst is over for now? I just hope so.

I don’t mind the money, because the more cash… well, the quicker I can get to my 60,000 mile maintenance parts. Considering it’ll be $550 in parts and supplies, I could use all the money I can get. Lucky me, I will be doing the 60,000 mile service with my friend Radioactive from the Dallas Miata Enthusiasts, which saves me $800 – $1,100 in shop labor fees as well as 2-5 days of downtime. My main cost will be 10 – 12 hours of laboring on my car with a buddy who will keep me laughing and conversing. I do look forward to my car running like a properly maintained machine… after the 60,000 mile maintenance, oil change, new spark plugs and wires, new synthetic gear oil… I expect to be seeing a side of Devil that I have possibly never seen. I have never had a chance to ride with Devil in near brand new status and even with a brand new batch of gear oil either. After that, my next task will be to get new tires to ensure I get a proper contact patch on driving. My next major expense for Devil will be the drop top maintenance. I am seriously debating on buying an upgraded cloth top with new seals as I hate the vinyl top limiting me to days warmer than 65F.

I may have to hold off on getting a phone upgrade from my considerations to doing maintenance and potential upgrades to Devil… As fun as it would be to get an HTC Touch Dual, TyTN2, or even a Blackberry device, it’s not necessary as my P990i does the job well enough. Gaming expenses will definitely be taking a hit for me… I may look into DS and PSP hacking and modifications, but that’s a while away. I hope that my school will play nice with Ubuntu Linux, especially with regards to the proprietary Windows applications for some of the CD’s packed in academic textbooks out there… There’s always the route of getting VMware on my laptop, should things get desperate.

Hopefully the office can let me just do weekend shifts while I am at school to get a steady source of income to pay for my car note and insurance. If they can’t… it’ll muck things up a bit more. I just need to make sure before anything… If they can’t I may need to request a transfer to another division where I can be guaranteed weekend shifts on a weekly basis. It does suck to have my car note and insurance payment as my only encumbrances, but far better than being in constant debt. Though for me, it puts insult to injury as I will be the “poor, starving college student” with reducing my work load in exchange for an education.

The Illicit Fantasy – Need for Speed: Carbon “Own the City” (PSP)

Note: Certain racing terms have been linked to explain concepts to those not automotively inclined. Credit goes to Wikipedia for that.

As gamers, we love the idea of fantasy. Be it something simple as being a skilled hero versed in magic to the wanton killing machine, it’s a concept that has move gamers towards certain titles. Role playing and simulation make the gamer feel like they are part of the game. The popular media has had a bit of an infatuation of using games as a scapegoat for society’s ills. Like the occasional stories that some kid that played a little too much Grand Theft Auto III decided to murder someone or how a kid who died crashing into a toll booth was a rabid player of Gran Turisimo 4. But many gamers are able to separate the lines of fantasy and the real world.

The Need for Speed franchise originally was a computer game line for the PC gamer that was a simulation like the Gran Turismo site. Once Gran Turismo came out, EA Games had to take a new angle to entice gamers to their series. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit would come out and EA would just quietly release titles… Until the tuning and tweaking community really got steam around 2003 in the real world. EA would then revamp the entire franchise as Need for Speed: Underground. The idea was to make a game that encompassed the underground tuner culture with the flashy cars, tweaked and gassed engines, glory, and cash. The first foray into this direction got a lukewarm reception, though EA would listen to the gamers and quickly work on the sequel to make it the racer’s paradise and being able to cruise on the streets instead of being stuck in bracket racing. That would lead to Need for Speed: Underground 2 which was a leap forward in EA’s new life for the Need for Speed franchise. The “Most Wanted” sequel afterwards would reincorporate the police chases from Hot Pursuit and even give a slick little Matrix-esque “bullet time” effect for intense stunt work to evade the cops on free roam. This brings us to the Carbon sequel, finally.

Need for Speed: Carbon mainly takes to the racing movement in America with the obsession of the Japanese touge with the “Canyon Race” competitions. The game includes things like your normal fare of lap races, sprint races, eliminators, and all but it does have some influences from the drift culture. The portable rendition for PSP with the subtitle “Own the City” does not have the the canyon races, but just focuses on a story where someone from a mysterious race gang crashes into your brother killing him and hospitalizing you for a good while. The motive to race? Revenge and vengeance for your late brother.

With Own the City, there is no “manual transmission” option by default unless you choose to play the game with the analog stick. You can summon during races. The gang members of your gang can be recruited from defeating rival gangs to add a better selection. In addition to that, the gang members have their talents. Here’s a break-down:

  • Brawler – Their main purpose is to crash into the target and disable them from the race temporarily.
  • Drafter – They fly by you so you can catch into their slipstream so you can build top speed and push to the limit.
  • Assassin – They do a flyby to get ahead of the target and lay down a spike strip to blow out the tires of the competition
  • Fixer – A subclass of gang member that can boost your pay-out provided you win a race.
  • Mechanic – A subclass of gang member that secretly enhances your car to push even harder.

The henchmen/women can be helpful but also can botch a race too. I have had occasions, for example, where the brawler’s fly by while they are hitting the NOS and crashing into you during a turn. At the same right, they have saved my bacon from losing a race. The gang members can “level-up” depending on your performance in a race on technical metrics; with better performance and use of them, their abilities increase.

The game is in a free roaming mode or you can hop in and out of races with the race map chooser. The open world does have police that will engage you for misconduct on the roads, I have not had the pleasure of it, but I have gone pretty wild. The city will have the graffiti tags of the gangs in control of the territory. Once you begin taking over, your gang’s tag will replace the defeated gangs. Throughout the map, there are crates you can find in the open roaming mode which will unlock promotion art when found. They are hidden pretty well as I have only found only 1 of 30.

The customizations are pretty basic. For under hood performance, there are engine, suspension, chassis, turbo, and nitrous oxide for parameters. Cosmetically, there are body kits, spoilers/wings, tint, wheels, paint, and vinyls. If you want your gang members to be emblazoned with your paint and vinyls, you can apply them over their cars. Particularly, the body kits, wings, and wheels do not do anything to modify the car’s performance with regard to aerodynamics or traction from what I have noticed. This is different from the autosculpting feature of the console versions. I will provide my disclaimer here: if you’re hoping a mobile version of the console experience, this is not it. It’s not an easy game either, the game does require skill and finesse on some races. I know I have barely won some races just from nitrous getting me a split second ahead of my competition to the finish line.

The game fares well as a mobile racing game. The sensation of speed is very real… You almost can feel the intensity of the velocity when you’re in 6th gear and firing the nitrous while hitting 170+ mph. The sounds could have been better, but they aren’t bad at all. Graphically, the game is not quite as polished as say, Ridge Racer 2 (PSP), but it looks good no less. Although I have experienced an odd graphical image glitch where the game will have the race track’s graphics disappear yet other details like road block offs, billboards, cars, and backgrounds are intact… The worst part is this bug will lock up the entire game when you try to exit the race and try to save progress.

With respect to that glitch, I have done everything EA Games Customer Support has asked me. PSPdemon of Gamecootie has also tried to help me with the glitch, but he too is baffled. Especially as loading should not be an issue for the PSP slim from the extra RAM it has to cache graphics head of time. It has not afflicted me lately, so I am counting on my prayers.

Own the City has come a very long way from the shoddy likes of Need for Speed Underground Rivals and 5-1-0 for PSP. It really has me curious about the new Need for Speed ProStreet game that was delayed for a PSP on February 19th of this year. ProStreet looks impressive on the high end consoles, but it just has me wondering why there’s a delay on the PSP version. If the delay is to address things like game enhancing details, it could lead to a promising sequel.

Zero’s Rating: 3 of 5 Stars
Zero’s Closing Thoughts: With the game being sold as a Greatest Hits title, the price is not bad. It is a bit difficult and it can be plenty fun if you don’t take the game seriously like Ridge Racer.

Life, Games, Logic, and Tech