Tech: My Tech Picks (Spring 2017)

I last posted a “tech picks” update back in the fall. So, I figure that it’s about time to refresh my hardware and technology picks for those who read the site and are curious about such things. – Since the fall, a lot has changed, but a lot has also stayed the same. Here’s where I’m at these days:

Computer Platform:  Windows PC – Just as I was in the fall, I’m still using Windows as my platform of choice. MS continues to baffle me with some of their recent decisions, however. Windows is a solid and stable option, but they continue to throw a wrench in what would otherwise be a well oiled machine. (In-OS advertising, etc). I’ve been both a PC and a Mac owner, and I can tell you without hesitation, the only thing keeping me on the PC platform is upgrade-ability and the level of customization that a PC provides.

OS: Windows 10 ( 64 bit Version 1703) – Since my last Tech Picks post, Windows 10 has received a refresh. The most current version is now “Windows 10 Creator’s Update”. Much like the “Anniversary Update”, this update is pretty solid. But again, it is not without it’s faults. It seems MS is getting greedy and sneaking in advertising anywhere they can manage: notification, file manager, start menu, etc. Luckily, these can all be disabled if you do a little poking around. But overall, it’s a pain in the ass. The OS itself does seem a bit more polished in terms of UI. Gamers will want to pay attention to the new “Game Mode” offered in this build of Windows.  But thus far, I’ve seen very little improvement by enabling this setting.

Hardware: No updates to my main rig since the last post, with the exception of my monitor.  I did upgrade to a new ViewSonic screen – larger and with a better response rate. This monitor also features “freesync” technology, but I am unable to take advantage of this since I run an Nvidia card.

CPU: Intel i7 950 @ 3.07ghz

Mainboard: GA-X58-USB3

Physical RAM:  12gbs

Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 960

Sound: SoundBlaster Z

Storage:  Main: Seagate 2TB Hybrid SATA    Secondary:  Hitachi 1Tb   External:  Seagate USB 320gb

External Media:  DVD RW & Memory Card reader

Power: 750watt

Monitor: ViewSonic VX2457-MHD 24″ (2ms 1080p FreeSync Gaming Monitor)

Mobile: Android  – Google Pixel (Android Nougat 7.1.2) – If you read my last Tech Picks update, you’ll remember I switch from Windows Phone to Android. At the time, I was running a Nexus 6 – I have now taken the full Google plunge and adopted the Google Pixel as my daily mobile device. I love this phone beyond words. Everything about this device pleases me. I like the looks of the phone (even if it is an iPhone clone), the Pixel Launcher provides a great UI and integrates with vanilla Android perfectly.  My own personal preferences led me to select the standard Pixel over the larger Pixel XL.

Tablet: Microsoft Surface No change here. My personal needs for a tablet are very limited. I mainly only use a tablet for reading comic books and doing some light searching while in the living room. Despite now using an Android phone, I see no offerings in the tablet area that tempt me to make a switch to Android. For my purposes, the original Windows RT surface is perfect.

e-Reader: Kindle Paperwhite – No change here.  The Kindle Paperwhite is an elegant and universal option that serves my needs perfectly. Yes, there are newer Kindle options available. But the Paperwhite remains my go to device.

Virtual Digital Assistant: Google – I make full use of the Google Assistant that is available on my Pixel.  This is true both in speech and now with the virtual “assistant” chat bot that Google offers. I use my phone for 100% of these needs. Despite using Windows on my desktop, I do not engage Cortana on my desktop any longer. (A shame, I felt there was much potential there – but MS seems to continue to cripple Cortana by limiting her interaction with non-MS services).

Web Browser: Chrome– While Microsoft continues to improve Edge with each new version of Windows, the browser still pales in comparison to nearly any other. Chrome continues to be my browser of choice due to it’s performance and integration across all my devices.

Search: Google – Google has become my main search engine of choice. I still applaud Bing for providing result that are just as good, but for me – the integration with other Google services wins out over the pretty interface that Bing provides.

Email and Calendar: Google/Gmail – Widely supported and extremely efficient. Those who are concerned about ads and preference sharing may still find Outlook/Hotmail to be a better option. But these are not concerns that I hold.

Office Suite: Microsoft Office 2016 Nothing beats it. As far a desktop application suite, Microsoft office is the best.

Cloud Storage: OneDrive and Google Drive – As a Windows and Office user, I’ve found OneDrive to be a very convenient online storage solution. It integrates well into both Windows and Office 2016. OneDrive works great with Android and other platforms as well. These days, I use OneDrive mainly for PC Back ups, and I use Google Drive for photos and general storage. But, both are within arm’s reach at any time.

PC Gaming Services: Steam No change. For PC games, I’m pretty much a Steam only guy. The only time I buy anything on GoG or other platforms is when it’s not available on Steam.

Music Management:  MusicBee – No change here either. I have a large digital music library, all tagged and sorted. To manage such a huge collection, I need the help of software. MusicBee is my music manager for the desktop. It integrates with my phone and makes it easy to transfer files to Google Play Music on my device.  For streaming, I use Google Play Music, Sirius XM and IHeartRadio. I still keep and maintain a local MP3 collection, but I enjoy the vast stream-able library that Google Play Music offers – I turn to the other services for live media.

Wearables: Fitbit Charge HR–  I still own and use my older FitBit Charge HR model (albeit not as religiously as I should). Lately, I’ve been engaged in a special “Wii Fit U Project” so I’ve often had a Wii U FitMeter clipped inside my pocket as wll.

Home Gaming Consoles:  Currently at our house we own the following: Wii U, PlayStation 3 (First Gen), PlayStation 4, Xbox 360   (there’s a spare Wii in the closet).

Mobile Gaming: Both my children and I have a Nintendo 3DS. I also have an old PSP collecting dust.

Review: Punch Club

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Sometimes it’s good to take a break from the normal and veer off on a tangent. So… I’m going to take a moment to review a game that’s occupied my time when I’ve not been grinding through Final Fantasy titles…  Punch Club.

Punch Club is a short, retro-sim boxing-tycoon style game. It originally landed on my radar due to it’s throwback-style graphics, but after spending just a little time with it, I was hooked on it’s unique blend of humor and overall gameplay.

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Punch Club is a game where you play as an up and coming boxer. As a child, your father was mysteriously murdered and you’ve made it your goal to uncover the identity of the killer – how so? By working hard, and kicking ass. As the game progresses, the storyline can branch in a few different directions, but the ultimate goal is always to climb the ranks in the boxing underworld with the intention of ultimately uncovering those behind the death of your father.

The game itself is chock full of hilarious 80’s & 90’s pop culture references. These range from video game to action movie references. Everything from the game’s retro 16-bit look, to it’s chiptune soundtrack are pumped with a health dose of nostalgia.

As far as gameplay goes, it’s pretty basic. Your character has three main stats that he can improve to unlock new moves and abilities. These are improved by training (working out). The only problem is, your character gets hungry and tired. So, you do have to stop working long enough to eat and sleep. Of course, eating requires food… which requires money. So… you have to work as well. All of this cuts in to your training time. So the whole game is really a big balancing act. Work enough to earn money to eat – so that you have the energy to train – so that you can win fights. All the while, the in-game calendar ticks by. If you don’t workout frequently enough, you slowly grow weaker.

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So what we really have here is a stat-based time-management game of sorts, with a very entertaining storyline. To be honest, there’s A LOT of grind to be found in this game, and it’s far from perfect. But the entertaining storyline motivated me enough to keep my attention. I just wish there was a way to speed up the clock during some of these monotonous activities. Being able skip through repetitive workouts would be a godsend.

The game itself is fairly inexpensive. Currently, it’s available on Steam for under $7.00. A new “expansion” was just released that adds a few new story-based activities to the main game. Plus, the development community seems pretty active and the game itself is patched frequently.

Punch Club is not the type of game I usually play, but it was unique enough to grab my attention and good enough to keep it for the long haul.

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Difficulty: Average –  This game can be a little tough to master at first. Patience is the key. There’s quite a bit of grind involved in this game, but it’s not as bad now as it was when it was first released. Upon completion of the game, you unlock Hardcore Mode – this ramps up the difficulty considerably.

Story: The story in the game is comical and filled with purposeful cliche’s. It’s not meant to be taken seriously. With that in mind, it’s quite good and very entertaining.

Originality: Punch Club takes a lot of ideas that have been seen before and rolls them into one really fun and unique title. It’s the presentation that makes this game feel new and original.

Soundtrack: The soundtrack in this game consists of old retro-era chiptunes and they are wonderful. The music in the game is catchy and very well done.

Fun: This game is very grindy. That can be a turn off to a lot of people, so be warned. But despite this one complaint, I found the game to be quite enjoyable overall.

Graphics: This title has a 16-bit look and feel. This is done purposefully, and can even be enhanced by enabling a simulated “tube television” effect. There’s certainly nothing new and groundbreaking here when it comes to graphics. But, considering the intentions behind the game, it works very well.

Playcontrol: This game can be played entirely with a mouse on the PC (touchscreen for the mobile version), no issues whatsoever with playcontrol.

Downloadable Content: YES – Free periodic updates. So far, one update “The Dark Fist” has been released. This added a new playable side quest to the main scenario. Note: this update requires you to start a new game to experience the content.

Mature Content: Minor language, crime and violence.

Value:  This game has a lot packed into for the <$10.00 pricetag it now carries. Well worth it.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – This game is a refreshing option in a market that often takes itself too seriously. Punch Club is unapologetic entertainment, pure and simple. I recommend this game to anyone who enjoys retro gaming, pop-culture, or just looking for something new.

Available on: Steam, iOS and Android.