Book Review: Salvation – Book 1 of the Salvation Sequence

Salvation is the first book in the Salvation Sequence, a brand new trilogy from Peter F. Hamilton. Instead of the physical copy, I got the Kindle version because of my recent transition into e-books.

My first exposure to Peter Hamilton’s work was Judas Unchained, which I got the chance to read several years back. Since then, I have read The Void Trilogy, Chronicle of Fallers, The Night’s Dawn trilogy, Manhattan In Reverse and Great North Road. But I digress.

This book consists of two story threads. The first story thread was set in the 23rd century where humans have pretty much colonised multiple worlds, asteroids, and moon with their portal technology that made spaceships redundant. The second thread was set in the 51st century, focusing on a group of children who were trained to be warriors in an upcoming war with an alien race. The story threads finally linked up and we got the chance to see who was the real enemy humans faced throughout the book.

With this book, you will get the same prosaic writing style expected from Hamilton, a style that I love. For some people, they may find it rather boring. There isn’t much bombastic words to tell a story, world building or character development, which in my view, made the reading a little easier. But that’s not to say that there were some words that I actually had to pull out the dictionary to understand what it meant.

And unlike the earlier books by Hamilton where I could get lost with the sheer amount of characters and subplots to follow, Salvation actually has fewer characters and subplots. It makes following them easier especially with the way the stories are laid out on the pages. The transition between different viewpoint is also well done in my view. In fact, the switching of perspectives was done on chapter basis with individual title summarising what you will read next, which makes it easier for me to recap what I’ve read before. It’s especially so for the 23rd century story thread. The 51st century on the other hand, because the stories are placed far apart from each other in terms of pages, you may have to go back to re-read again if your memory is poor. Good thing about e-books is, you can jump around rather easily.

Now I honestly couldn’t remember the structure of his more recent books. So if this well-structured manner of presenting is also present in Chronicle of Fallers books, then I apologise for not being able to make a better comparison. It’s been a year plus since I read A Night Without Stars.

I also noticed that with this book, the amount of sex scene is minimal and are mostly set in the 51st century because those characters are younger. I remember vividly the amount of sex found in The Night’s Dawn trilogy. In Salvation, the relationships can be said to be believable with the usual ups and downs but it’s obvious they aren’t exactly intimate with each other, especially for the 23rd century story thread. I suspect it’s because the characters are much older and seen a lot of shit in their respective lives that made sex not a priority. This contrast is definitely welcomed.

With Salvation, you will also get the noir-detective story telling manner that I have come to enjoy with Hamilton’s books. In Salvation, the characters were investigating various things that was going on until the subplots merge and give you the conclusion. It reminded me of the Commonwealth Saga where Paula Mayo tried to investigate multiple crimes that culminated in her acknowledging the existence of Starflyer and participated in the war against the alien as well as arresting criminals for what they did. I’m also reminded of the book Great North Road where the police had to investigate the murder of a clone of a wealthy North family that also concluded an alien was involved.

I will give this book 5 out of 5 stars because I really enjoy it and it didn’t disappoint me at all.

Now, I just can’t wait for the next book, Salvation Lost, to be released next year.

Initial Review – Creative SoundBlaster Roar Pro

Introduction

Today I got myself the Creative Soundblaster Roar Pro after much consideration. I wanted a small speaker system that sound really good, support both bluetooth and wired connection so that I can use it with my PC and my Apple devices.

It’s selling at SG$349 in retail but that was not what I paid as it was on promotion and I got it for SG$199, which I thought was a steal.

Unboxing

On first look, the black on white box looks great.

But upon opening up the box, the first thing I felt was, “Oh, this thing look cheap.” The accessories weren’t packed as neatly as I would like. It is definitely not that ecologically friendly with the heavy use of plastic to pack the cables and the manuals. Then there is the eye sore of the product manuals. Red on white but the product box is black and the product is black. Where is that consistency?

I guess I’m spoilt by Apple since the internals of their boxes are always so well designed and done. Even their manuals, which I know most people don’t read, are at least consistent with the overall theme. Apple do make you feel like you are opening up a great product and that is important to the overall user experience.

The box came with a charging adapter, a USB cable for you to connect the speaker to a computer, a AUX cable to connect to another Roar Pro or audio device. The charging adapter also come with two different kind of plugs that you can swap depending on your power socket. In Singapore, we will use the three-pin plug.

And here is the actual product.

Other than the rows of buttons and switches at the back, the overall speaker is pretty clean and well-built. The black matches well with my desktop setup of mostly black and grey. On the top where the main function buttons are, I would prefer the use of touch buttons instead of physical button. Nonetheless, they don’t detract much from the overall design.

Performance and Experience

I’m no audiophile but I know enough about the various sound range and the type of sound I enjoy listening to. I can tell if there’s crackling caused by the driver’s inability to transform the input signal to sound, if certain sound is muffled, not crisp and clear or if there is an overlap.

I always prefer a good mid-range and bass. To test, I played a few songs like Monody by The Fat Rat, Fountain and Hunting for Pearls from the album BLUE by iamamiwhoami, and Whatever it takes by Imagine Dragons. The Roar Pro with its 2.5 inch mid/bass driver located at the center and pointing up definitely delivers on that front. The mid range is crisp and the bass has enough dynamic range that it doesn’t sound muffled or too low. I suspect the two passive drivers on the side has been well-tuned to help with the bass reproduction.

The high range on the other hand seems rather ok but then I don’t listen to music that has a lot of that because how they hurt my ears and give me a headache. My predominant genre is electronic and pop. And they definitely have higher ratio of bass and mid-range compared to maybe classical music or symphony.

The pairing process with iPhone or Mac is pretty easy but not as easy as AirPods. You will have to power on the device, press and hold the bluetooth button for 3 seconds and see the LED light beside it flash. After that, go into the iPhone’s bluetooth setting or Mac OS’s bluetooth preferences and click connect.

It doesn’t take long for the connection to be established. Once it’s done, you can start playing music off it.

Conclusion

I have not start exploring playing games with it and when I do, I will update again. There are a few things that I have yet try. One of them is the use of the other functionality like playing music straight from an SD card. Another would be connecting it to another Roar Pro to via the AUX IN port for MegaStereo.

Yet, I really enjoy the sound coming out from this speaker and I couldn’t tell the difference from a SONOS Play 3 based on trial play in store. For the price of SG$199, I think it’s really good though the packaging could be better.

5 Things I Love About iPhone X

iPhone X is now my primary phone since Jan 27 and I have since put my iPhone 6s and iPhone 7 Plus into storage. I got the 256GB version of iPhone X for $2249 and that was inclusive of Apple Care.

Although it’s expensive, I still feel that it’s valued for money.

Here are five things that I love about the iPhone X.

Face ID

Using Touch ID to unlock your phone with it is pretty convenient, compared to typing in your passcode, especially when your passcode is more than 6 characters long. However, Touch ID doesn’t really work when your fingers are wet. It’s particularly irritating if you are suffering from hyperhidrosis because your fingers are wet most of the time. I spent half of the time unlocking my phone using my passcode. Face ID changes the way phone is unlocked.

With Face ID, I just need to glance at it when the display is on and swipe up. It works correctly like 98% of the time. The times it doesn’t work is when I didn’t put the phone far enough for the camera to detect my face correctly. All you need to do is to cancel the passcode screen, reposition the iPhone, and swipe up again. And it will work again.

Super Retina HD and OLED Display

Apple made the OLED Super Retina HD display way better than the competition. The OLED used made blacks really black. When you play games like Inside, you actually feel like you are in a dystopian world because of the OLED display. Combined with the Super Retina HD, everything looks crisp and sharp.

With the wide color gamut, colors from videos and games are just popping out and looks great. It just made the whole viewing experiences much better than iPhone 7 Plus.

Overall Design

The all screen design with the thin bezels immerses you into whatever you are viewing. The way it follows the edge of the phone, joining up to the highly polished stainless steal band which then transit to a glass back made everything look really seamless. It is almost like the whole device is one solid thing.

And the controversial notch on top of the phone? It was one of the most unique and striking feature of the phone. It made the phone easily identifiable. In someway, it looks like the phone has very nice looking horns. I love just how original it was.

Size

At 14.36cm tall and 7.09cm wide, iPhone X is smaller than iPhone 7 Plus at 15.82cm tall and 7.79cm wide. It is much easier to hold and with it’s all screen design, screen estate is not compromise. You still get to see as much content as you can on a iPhone 7 Plus.

On the other hand, iPhone 7 or even iPhone 8 is way too small. The bezels and the home button take up much of the screen real estate and make webpages, images and videos too small for comfortable viewing.

Speakers

iPhone X has better sounding speakers than iPhone 7 Plus. With the volume bar set at center, it’s is louder. The sound are crispier and the bass is more perceivable. Even at a 75%, the sounds produced don’t crackle.

Bonus: Performance

With its new A11 Bionic chip, the phone is snappy and doesn’t have noticeable slowdown when watching videos, or playing games, and listening to music.

Switching between apps when multitasking also doesn’t feel slow and could keep up with me, enabling a more productive day.

The Evil Within 2 Initial Review

The Evil Within 2 is a survival horror game and the the second game in the series produced by Shinji Mikami. He is also known for creating other survival horror games like Resident Evil and Dino Crisis.

I played the first game, The Evil Within, previously. For that game, I did stop playing for nearly half a year because I just didn’t feel like playing it anymore. And when I did finish the game, I only felt a sense of relief that I finished a game but it wasn’t that memorable.

Yet, I decided to give The Evil Within 2 a try on Saturday, 6 Jan 2018, several months after it was released because I felt like playing some new games.

Until now, I have only finished up to chapter 3 and below are my thoughts so far.

Game Environment and Atmosphere

Like the first game, The Evil Within 2 has a great in-game environment. Almost every location as far as I have been to invoke the feeling of dread and trepidation.

The game also rely a quite a fair bit on foggy environment, which is not that different from Silent Hill.

The game also has a great deal amount of gore, blood, and violence. There are bodies and blood pools everywhere. All that contributes to the sense that the world is going mad. Since the game take place inside of a mind-like world and given the game title, the bodies and blood pools is quite fitting.

Game Creatures

There are different kind of enemies. Most of the time you will encounter zombie like creatures which can be quite tough to kill.

Then there are near un-killable creatures like the following that could appear during certain game moments or events.

It is usually enemies like this kind that send chills down your spine and you just want to run.

Story and Gameplay

I have not gone that far into the story. What I have experienced so far does feel like it’s been done before. It’s not that particularly interesting nor was it boring.

To tell the player a story, the game relies on flashbacks quite often. Those flashbacks show you what had happened during the in-game 3 year period and certain key moments from the first game. The transitions are very well-done. It was no different when the game attempts to move on to the next chapter. With that, the experience is not detracted in anyway.

The gameplay saw some minor changes in this new game.

For a start, weapon upgrade has changed. You get to craft items and upgrade weapons through the use of workbench. In the previous game, weapon upgrades can be done through the same menu used to upgrade your abilities when you go back to the safe room. With workbench, they are more numerous in the game world that allow you to upgrade more often. That is a good thing. With that, you don’t need to find the mirror, which serves as a portal between different areas of the game and make the jump.

The world is also more open that allow you to roam around. With that, you get to do side quests. That was something missing from the first game. With side quests, often you will get more ammunition, access to certain areas, find those locker keys, etc. The first game mostly forces you to move along a fixed path. Personally, I prefer a limited open-world setting rather than forcing you to go from point A to point B linearly. So the second game definitely is better with the current open-world implementation.

Graphics

The graphical settings are pretty much maxed out on the machine I play the game on. With that kind of settings, it did help to bring out the game atmosphere. Normally, for modern games, I would expect playing the game on 1440p will result in some choppiness in scenes with more action. Thus far, I haven’t faced any and that’s a good thing. This just show that the game engine is pretty well-polished by the game developer.

Overall

I think this game is better than the first. It is more polished, the gameplay felt that it has matured, and the characters are kind of better developed compared to the first game.

To me, this is a great example of what happens when a game studio focus on what make a survival horror game great instead of trying to appeal to a bigger market.

Apple Magic Mouse 2 Review

It’s been more than a year since I last got the Apple Magic Mouse 2. I got it because I wanted a unified experience. It went into storage for a few months before coming out from storage again because I decided to give it another chance after using Razer DeathAdder Elite mouse for nearly a year.

Usability

I put the mouse in storage was due to its poor ergonomics. The mouse is too low and won’t be comfortable for someone to use if they grip their mouse like how one would when playing first-person shooter games. That’s how I use my mouse and didn’t know any other way.

The other issue was its capacitive touch surface. The mouse tends to send a whole bunch of signal to the computer that could cause the computer to perform a variety of unintended actions. For example, zooming on a webpage that you are reading, or having the context menu show up even though you performed a left click. If you are someone with sweaty hands, the mouse will also not respond very well.

Pricing

The price is another aspect of the mouse some of you may find fault with. For S$118, you could get a decent mice from a reputable company like the G603 gaming mouse from Logitech. Microsoft also makes equally functional and comfortable mice that cost much less like the Microsoft Modern Mouse or the Sculpt Comfort Mouse

Power

The mouse on a single full charge can last you anywhere between four weeks to six weeks depending on how often you use it. That’s a good thing. The charging method is a little unconventional and if you have the iPhone charging dock from Apple, it could make life easier. And when the mouse is on charge, you can’t use it but the charging time isn’t that long. A single charge of fifteen minutes allow you to use the mouse for at few hours.

On the topic of power, mouse like the Sculpt Comfort Mouse from Microsoft last about three weeks on two AA batteries. The only issue is you have to carry batteries with you. Gaming wireless mice are a whole different thing because of the high-powered lasers and won’t last longer than a week before needing a charge.

Overall design and size

The other good thing is its simplistic design and remains functional. If having a unified aesthetic is important to you, this mouse is for you because it matches very well with grey MacBook Pro or iMac. If you are using the new 2016 or 2017 MacBook Pro and have them in Space Grey, the mouse may look a little out of place. Gaming mice with good ergonomic don’t look that nice in my opinion.

Lastly, magic mouse 2 is small, smaller than some of the mouse I have used. That could be a saving grace too since it will fit nicely in a small carry case or even your laptop carrying pouch. But it is also not a good thing for those with bigger hands. In my case, it’s alright.

How I use it?

I have also since learned a new way to use the mouse and that’s by gripping it with my thumb and pinkie finger and the rest of the fingers rest on top.

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It’s surprisingly useable once you got use to the new way of holding your mouse. After you are comfortable with the new way, you can easily switch to using gestures if you enable them for your Mac or back to treating it like a normal mouse.

If you are using a MacBook Pro like me, the mouse is only useful if you want finer control like dragging stuff around in a document. If you are using a iMac, it’s the mouse that you get right out of the box. So you don’t really have much of a choice unless you decided to buy a different mouse.

Conclusion

You either hate or like it. To make any decision, you have to actually use it. But if you got it and discover that you don’t like it, you would have wasted your money. So it’s a catch-22 situation. So the general advice is this: get wireless mouse from Logitech, Razer or even Microsoft. Most bluetooth mouse should work fine with the Mac just fine.

But if you don’t mind spending the money, are willing to learn a new way to use the mouse and like the overall design of the mouse, then you should give Magic Mouse 2 a chance.