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Tycho / on Mon, Dec 8 2003 at 6:54 am

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Santa’s Little Helpers


Season’s Greetings from Penny Arcade!

Seattle has a reputation for being rainy and dismal that is often exaggerated.  Why, just two years ago I saw the sun, and I recalled - as though it were a piece of obscure, bonus round trivia - that our world orbits a star.  So often going outside as an alternative to staying in is only realistic if you love being damp and actively want to seek out that state.  It is often the case that as a form of entertainment I will wait for something that is supposed to arrive.  Sometimes short-term (pizza), sometimes long-term (alien masters, mandroids) - but imagining how some new force will alter my life is by now a treasured activity.

Brenna and I will often watch programs on your “TLC,” and it has warped us beyond repair.  I have installed a row of shelves, for Christ’s sake.  Brenna made curtains for a profound alteration to the computer room, which now includes a desk for the computer I built her day before yesterday.  She does not ordinarily trust any machine more complex than a sewing machine, but she decided it was time to admit what century we live in.  I don’t know that it will get much use, which is depressing, but what do you do.  It is as though I had a keen interest in the poisonous snakes of the Amazon, and then got her one because I liked them so much.  She has already chosen a Boromir wallpaper for the device, which presents an interesting quandary.  Though she has selected a hot guy as her desktop, he is from The Lord Of The Rings.  It’s like some kind of geek loophole that I’m powerless to negate.       

I’d also brought the Xbox in here, though there’s no television to play it on, because I’ve been waiting for that X2VGA that I mentioned.  Every day, some portion is spent picturing myself running through a field with the adapter, pushing the buttons on top of it and otherwise getting to know each other.  Here is a picture of it, if you would like to see it - it arrived the day I built that Shuttle for Brenna.  It does everything they said it would.

The basic idea, as I mentioned before, is that it turns a monitor into a display for an Xbox.  There were devices like this available for the DC, if you’ll recall - but I never availed myself of one because I never needed it that bad.  Aside from it simply being a matter of convenience, the Xbox is capable of resolutions mortal televisions cannot produce - the saucy 480p, the coy 720p, and the molten 1080i.  So, in some ways, a monitor is superior to a television.  In other ways, it isn’t - but that’s through no failing of the device.  The fact of the matter is that the signal displayed is much crisper than you would see on a television, and so the slight blurring of a television display - sometimes called “the poor man’s anti-aliasing” - actually improves the apparent visual quality of the image.     

I found this somewhat distracting at first, because I’d already seen what these games look like.  With new games, especially ones that support the more advanced 720p and 1080i modes, I don’t think it will be so disconcerting.  And now, after a few nights of play, It’s not really something I notice anymore.  The ability to move directly from browsing the web or Call of Duty and right over into Links or Rainbow Six 3 far outweighs any qualms I might have otherwise mulled over.  It isn’t that the games look bad, they look great.  But for a PC gamer who is used to playing his games on this monitor at 1280, thirty-two bit, it’s just a rough transition. 

There are very few games that the X2VGA doesn’t support, not due to some hardware failing but because the games in question actually don’t support progressive scan modes.  You can see a list here that will tell you - any game that doesn’t support 480p won’t really be playable.  The trouble is, the Xbox displays the Dashboard - its user interface - in 480i, 480p’s evil twin.  It also displays DVDs in 480i.  The X2VGA has a mode called “480i EasyView” which allows you to see your Dashboard and make any changes that need changing, but the effect is very strange and blurry and wouldn’t be acceptable for any sustained purpose.  That’s my only disappointment when using the X2VGA, and that isn’t even their fault.  At any rate, it allows me to play Xbox games on my monitor with no visual artifacts or lack of precision.  They have made fantastic device that probably saved my marriage. 

A quick side-note:  You can now, for the price of shipping, elect to get a VGA switchbox that will let you select your computer or your Xbox just by pressing a button.  In my experience, I get a lot of ghosting on my PC desktop when I use the one they provide.  It might be these cables I’m using to hook it up, I’m still experimenting with it - if I figure out what it is specifically, I’ll let you know.  I’m simply saying that while I vouch for the X2VGA device itself, I’m not overwhelmed by the pack-in switchbox.

When the news crew came out to talk about Child’s Play, I was as frightened of the camera as I would have been by a loaded weapon or perhaps a large scorpion.  So it’s really my fault that they got the impression that Brad and Gabe run Penny Arcade, and that I in fact do not exist.  It’s just not important to me right now.  If that report - which proved my every dark, deeply held conviction about local news - if that report puts this project in front of people then let’s call it good.  To say that we’re at ninety thousand dollars on this toy drive would not be an overstatement.  It would be factual.     

(CW)TB out.

her perfume smells like burning leaves


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