Dec 2017 gadget update

Every 6 months I do an update on the state of my gadgets and what I use

Computers

Lenovo Thinkpad TP25

The 25th anniversary edition of the ThinkPad is almost a perfect balance a laptop as you can get. It doesn’t have the OLED display or convertibility of the X1 Yoga (which is why I still keep that one), and its not meant for heavy gaming or workloads (which is what I use my Alienware for), but it is still one of the most balanced laptops. Let’s see the comparisons here.

-compared to Razer Blade / MSI Stealth / Gigabyte Aero / other slim gaming laptops – the TP25 obviously does not match the power aspect but makes up for it by being lighter and having better thermals as well as business features like WWAN and removable battery.
-compared to Porsche Design Book One and Microsoft SurfaceBook 2 – the TP25 is not a hybrid and you cannot detach it and use it as a tablet – but it does have way more ports and business friendly features. Also it is about $500 cheaper than either of those laptops.
-compared to XPS 13 / Asus Zenbook / HP Spectre / X1 Carbon / other premium ultrabooks – the TP25 is not as thin and light as some of those but makes up for it with its array of ports, business features and dedicated graphics.

The TP25 is almost the perfect laptop:
-3.5lb weight – perfectly portable
-fingerprint reader, removable battery and WWAN – crucial business features
-retro 7 row keyboard and trackpoint – a feature not found in virtually any other modern laptop. The keyboard is the best in the business.
-16GB RAM and 512GB SSD – this is basically on par with my Alienware
-i7 7th gen CPU and Nvidia 940MX graphics – sure its not the latest 8th gen processors or MX150 – but its still way better than integrated graphics and beats most business laptops in its size
-14″ 1080p IPS – yeah its not the 1440p OLED like the X1 Yoga but it is still a touchscreen. 4:3 aspect ratio would be nice but thats a pipe dream (that itch is scratched by my iPad Pro anyways).
-a perfect array of ports. 3.5mm combo jack, full size SD, T3, HDMI, 3 USBA ports, full size Ethernet. The only thing arguably missing is miniDP and VGA but thats handled by the T3 port anyways. Plus a mechanical docking port as well.

Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Yoga

This replaces my Thinkpad X240, and Thinkpad Yoga 14. A light, convertible laptop, weighs only 2.8lbs (substantially lighter than the Yoga 14 which I previously had), docks with a one link dock connector and wireless dock, has that traditional Thinkpad robust build quality and great trackpoint keyboard, and is convertible which means I can watch movies in 4 different modes, and comes with a gorgeous 1440p OLED screen to boot. It loses the dedicated graphics (Nvidia 840M) of the Yoga 14 but improves on it everywhere else including ports, display and weight. Compared to the X240, it loses the VGA, full size SD and Ethernet ports but is much lighter, has a much better display, and is convertible.

Alienware 15 R3

This is my main gaming and VR computer now, replacing my aging HP Envy Beats 14 and hefty Asus G751. I decided I wanted a 15 inch because of its lightness and portability, yet its still powerful enough to have a GTX 1070, power my Oculus Rift (VR ready), hooks up to my external monitor, plays all the latest games, and looks great at home on a laptop stand.

Macbook Pro 13 (2016)
My replacement for my Mac Mini as a programming/entertainment/workstation computer. It’s light (3lbs) and runs macOS making it great for development and the lack of ports is made up by my Dell USB-C Dock at home.

Tablets/Phones
10.5 iPad Pro

The iPad Pro has replaced my aging iPad Air (which easily is the oldest device I use frequently). Part of the reason why I got it is because it has the capability to be a light portable travel companion. Yes I have the Macbook Pro, Dell Latitude and X1 Yoga too – but the iPad Pro is basically a hybrid computer that is both a tablet and a laptop – while it has a mobile OS – multitasking has improved a lot in iOS 11. Its not going to be my main device but as a travel device its great. It has a splendid 4:3 aspect ratio which is better for reading documents and webpages and has LTE (which is WWAN) so don’t need to use my phone hotspot, plus paired with the Brydge keyboard I have it does a neat looking Macbook Pro impression. Plus its way cheaper (I got it for $700 total with the keyboard) compared to Surface Pro or Eve V.

Google Pixel 2
Making an already great phone even better. It looks almost the same – except the internals got huge upgrades. It has the best smartphone camera in the business and it got water resistant as well. Shame about the headphone jack but thats why I use the Xperia as well.

Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact
My replacement for my iPhone SE and Xperia Z3C as a small (4.6″), compact water-resistant phone. I’ve been waiting for a good replacement for a small powerful phone for a while now and Sony has finally delivered! This has also replaced my Sony Walkman NWZA17 as my primary music player because – why not? It has all the features built in already only its running Android, its bigger and the battery life isn’t quite as good – but its fine enough. So I went from Xperia Z3C to Pioneer XDP to Walkman back to Xperia again…

Music

Fender FXA-5 in ear monitors
My main pair of in ear headphones – really nice sound out of these guys! and from my favorite guitar company as well 😉

Monster Gratitude Earphones
My secondary pair of earphones for listening on the way to work / at work – tuned by one my favorite bands, Earth Wind and Fire!

Audeze EL-8O

These open back planar magnetic headphones are my at home studio monitors, replacing my old Audio Technia ATH-M50X for studio recordings (using the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 as a recording interface, Shure MV51 as my mic and FL Studio as my DAW) and hooking it up to a Brave Audio Ocean tube amp for listening to those sweet sweet high res files 🙂

Sony MDR-1000X
These are my main closed back wireless/noise cancelling headphones which replaces my Denon MM400 (which were stolen at work) and my Bose Quietcomfort 25s (which broke). Compared to the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless and Bose Quietcomfort 35s, The sound quality is comparable to the Sennheisers but the noise cancellation is better. The noise cancellation is on par with the Bose and the sound quality is better, but its slightly less comfortable. Plus I got the Sonys for much cheaper so its win-win all around! Plus it works well with my Sony Walkman + Xperia devices!

Bose Soundlink Revolve
This is my portable bluetooth speaker, replacing my Creative Soundblaster Roar 2. It is smaller than the Roar 2, although it lacks alot of the Soundblaster features it makes up for it by looking and being very simple.

Creative SoundBlasterX Katana

Now used as my computer speakers for my Alienware. It’s the first soundbar designed specifically for computer use. RGB lighting, bluetooth, 7.1 virtual surround and a bunch of other options – what’s not to love?

Klipsch Promedia 2.1

Klipsch Pro Media 2.1
Klipsch Pro Media 2.1

Absolutely fantastic computer speakers. Now using it for my TV and gaming systems since I found it has better bass than my Klipsch R-4B. The bass and overall sound quality is fantastic. Replaces my non-functioning Creative T4Ws which shorted out :(, and the Samsung and Klipsch soundbars that I used before.

Klipsch the Three

This speaker is really cool and retro looking especially with the Ebony wood finish, and pairs well with my Google Home (using Chromecast audio) and my Fluance record player to play some nice vintage tunes!

Yamaha TSX-B72

Yamaha TSX-B72
Yamaha TSX-B72

This is my alarm clock radio that I use by my bedside to wake me up each morning 🙂 and yes it has bluetooth and can charge my phone too.

Cameras

Sony A6000
My DSLR camera for serious video making which has replaced my Nikon D5100.. it is much lighter easier to carry, and better video quality. I also replaced my Samyang 24mm T/1.5 cine lens (which was bulky) with a great quality and lighter Sony Zeiss 24mm F/1.8 lens. works great.

Sony Action Camera AS300
Replaces my Sony Music Video recorder and GoPro Hero 3 as both my action camera and my wide angle camera that I can use for blogging, travel videos, action videos, etc and has optical image stabilization which no other action camera has! Also waterproof/dustproof as well and quite small, making it great for situations where my Osmo+ would be too heavy.

DJI OSMO+
My go to camera for taking cinematic walking shots, travel video, and completely replaces any camcorder. The Plus model now has optical zoom capabilities with it too.

DJI Phantom 4 Advanced
Replaces my DJI Phantom 3, better sensors, obstacle avoiding, takes better night shots etc

Main Computer collection
10.5″ 2228×1668 – iPad Pro – Apple A10X, 4GB RAM, 64GB Flash, iOS 11, 7MP f/2.0 camera, headphone, lightning, LTE – main tablet / travel computer
13.3″ 2560×1600 – Apple Macbook Pro 13 – 6th gen Core i5, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, 3lbs, macOS, 3 ports: 2 USBC, headphone, 3lbs – secondary portable laptop / main programming laptop
14.1″ 2560×1440 – Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Yoga – 6th gen Core i7, 8GB RAM, 180GB SSD, 2.8lbs, Win 10, 7 ports: 3 USB3, miniDP, HDMI, microSD, headphone, 3.1lbs – main travel / multimedia / entertainment laptop
14.1″ 1920×1080 – Lenovo Thinkpad TP25 – 7th gen Core i7, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD, 3.5lbs, Win 10, 8 ports: 3 USB3, HDMI, T3, SD, headphone, Ethernet, 3.5lbs – main business / portable laptop
15.6″ 1920×1080 – Alienware 15 – 6th gen Core i7 quad, Nvidia GTX 1070, 16GB RAM, 2TB SSD, 7lbs, Win 10, 8 ports: 2 USB3, 2 USBC, HDMI, miniDP, Ethernet, headphone, 7.3lbs – primary gaming laptop
17″ 1920×1080 – Asus G751 – 4th gen Core i7 quad, Nvidia GTX 970M, 16GB RAM, 2TB HDD, 9lns, Win 10, 10 ports: 4 USB, HDMI, miniDP, VGA, SD, Ethernet, headphone, 9.5lbs – secondary gaming laptop & workstation

Main Phone collection
4″ 1136×640 – Apple iPhone SE – Apple A9, 2GB RAM, 64GB Flash, iOS 11, 12MP f/2.2 camera, headphone, lightning – secondary camera phone
4.6″ 1280×720 – Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact – Snapdragon 801, 2GB RAM, 16GB Flash, Android 8, 20.7MP f/2.0 camera, headphone, microSD, microUSB, IP68 – main music player / secondary phone
4.5″ 1620×1080 – Blackberry KeyOne – Snapdragon 625, 3GB RAM, 32GB Flash, Android 7.1, 12MP f/2.0 camera, headphone, microSD, USBC – backup
5″ 1920×1080 – Kyocera Duraforce Pro – Snapdragon 617, 3GB RAM, 32GB Flash, Android 6, Dual 13MP camera, headphone, microSD, microUSB, IP68 – backup
5″ 1920×0180 – Google Pixel 2 – Snapdragon 835, 4GB RAM, 128 GB Flash, Android 8, Dual 13MP f/1.9 camera, USBC – main phone

Other devices

Video game systems: PS3, PS4, PSTV, Nvidia Shield Pro

Handheld game systems: Cybiko Xtreme, Nokia Ngage, PS Vita, New Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Switch, GPD Win, Nvidia Shield Portable, PSP Go, Xperia Play

UMPCs: GPD Pocket, Toshiba Libretto W100, Vulcan Flipstart, Sony Vaio UX280, Sharp Netwalker, OpenPandora, Fujitsu UH900, Fujitsu U820

Backup Laptops: Onkyo DX (duals screen netbook), HP Elitebook Revolve 820 (convertible), ThinkPad X240, Dell Latitude 7370 (Linux), Thinkpad X61 (Win XP), Dell Latitude D600 (Win 98), Dell Precision M4800

Smartwatches: Huawei Watch, Pebble Time Steel, Fossil Abacus, Neptune Pine

Tablets: Sony Tablet P, Nvidia Shield Portable, iPad Air, Lenovo Flex 20

PMPs: Philips PMC, iPod Nano, MS Zune, Sony Walkman A17, Creative Zen vision m, Pioneer XDP100, Archos 7

Flip Phones: Lenovo A588, Motorola Razer, Samsung Alias 2

Vertical Sliders: Sony Ericsson W995, Nokia N95, Dell Venue Pro

Horizontal Sliders: HTC Dream, HTC Touch Pro 2, MS Kin 2, Sony Mylo 2

Unique form factor: HTC Universal, Motorola Flipout, Nokia E70, HTC Advantage 7500, Sharp Sidekick, Nokia E90, Jelly Phone

PDAs: Palm TX, Sharp Zaurus, Sony UX50, Zipit Z2, Casio BE300, Sharp YO180P, HP iPAQ 210, Psion 5MX

Unique OS: Amazon Fire Phone, Nokia N9, ZTE Open C, Samsung Z1, HP Pre 3, Blackberry Porsche 9981, Blackberry Passport, Nokia Lumia 1020, Intex Aquafish, Nokia N810, Nokia N900, MS Lumia 650, Nokia E7

Displays: Mobile Monitor 2 Go, Royole Moon, Avegant Glyph, DJI Goggles, Oculus Rift

Cameras: Sony HDR-AS300 Action Cam, DJI Osmo+, Sony A6000, DJI Phantom 4 Advanced

Headphones: Master and Dynamic ME03, Monster Gratitude, Fender FXA5, Sony MDR1000X (wireless/NC), Audeze EL8

Speakers: Yamaha TSXB72, Creative SoundBlasterX Katana, Klipsch The Three, Bose Soundlink Revolve, Sony Smart Bluetooth Speaker SP60, Google Home Mini

Microphones: Sony wireless bluetooth mics, Shure MV88, Shure MV51, Shure SM58, MXL50

Storage: 1 Synology DS412+, 2 Synology DS416j, 1 Synology 416slim (48TB all in RAID 1)

Back to boring everyday living again…

These days trying to save up as much money as I can to help purchase a place in Vancouver hopefully next year.. ideally I want to 1) get my mortgage down to $200k 2) leverage my current SF home to get a home equity loan of at least $310k and 3) save up at least $60k this year in cash.
I want to take advantage of the US dollar strength because $310k + $60k = $370k which equals roughly $500k CAD which is just enough to get a decent 1 bedroom condo in a decent location in Vancouver. Of course, I want to purchase a home back in Canada for several reasons.

One is that the US is not particularly friendly to immigrants and especially so since Trump took office, and I get harassed every time I go across the border, since I am not a green card holder, and the TN visa is not a dual intent visa which means I cannot apply for a green card on that visa. Furthermore, recent changes to the H1B, the only dual intent working visa, have made it more difficult for programmers / software engineers to obtain. This means that my time in the US is likely limited.
Two is that Canada is the place that I want to start a family and retire anyways. I have often said before after all my travels, is that America is the best place for working due to the high salary and low taxes and low cost of goods; China and Europe are the best places to travel due to all the history and natural beauty; Korea is the best place for nightlife and having fun; and Canada is the best place to start a family and actually live, since it has a combination of European and American culture, the tuition fees are lower, the healthcare costs are lower etc. And Vancouver is unique as the warmest city in Canada as well as being on the lovely West Coast, and having lots of Koreans (Long term workers not just students) there doesn’t hurt my future plans either.
Three is I want to finally be able to purchase my own place with my own money. I always felt like my SF home is kind of my parents home, since they helped out with 40% of the cash. I want to finally purchase a place all with my own cash and call it my own.

So I’m trying to save a lot of money, but of course this being myself I do buy some things still… among the things I purchased recently is the Milkman Amp 1 Watt Plus model. This is a Class A Tube Amplifier that was handmade in San Francisco so I thought I might support a local shop here. But don’t I already have a Class A hand-wired tube amp? Yes I do, the Swart Atomic Jr. But this one has more wattage (10W vs 5W), 12″ Alnico Blue speaker (vs the 8″ Ceramic in the Swart), built in attenuator (goes from 0.5W to 10W) and is better for traveling due to the tubes being covered (the Swart has uncovered tubes which makes it risky to travel with it, despite being lighter).

It definitely has more headroom than the Swart does. I’ve also finalized my pedal board! My pedalboard contains 10 pedals. I’ve gone through tens of different pedals in my career, and I’ve finally settled on this configuration (for now): (from first to last in the chain)
BBE Wah -> Boss Waza Tuner -> Dunlop EP101 Preamp -> Wampler Euphoria -> RambleFX Marvel Drive -> Keeley Magnetic Echo -> Xotic SP Compressor -> BBE Sonic Stomp Mini -> Hermida Reverb -> Boss RC3 Looper
Retired my Maxon TBO9 (served me well) and the Keeley Oxblood Germanium (might use as backup to the Euphoria), and had to get the Hermida Reverb due to the Milkman amp not having onboard reverb. It was a compromise I had to make, the bigger Half Pint model had onboard reverb, but it was also 5lbs heavier.

And I want to get rid of my Gretsch White Penguin and Traynor Amps, even though the Gretsch is a great guitar, it has intonation problems, and is still a bit heavy for my tastes. It’s definitely the best looking out of all my guitars though. So ideally I want to keep the custom Partscaster that I built (Fender Telecaster Thinline ’72 deluxe with Filtertron/WRH pickups) as my main jazz/blues guitar, with the Fender Stratocaster doing rock and blues as well, and the Martin OMJM as my acoustic doing mostly pop tunes.

I’m doing a lot of jazz guitar these days. I love it! Playing a lot of Larry Carlton and George Benson these days. And I also love that John Mayer’s new album (Search for Everything) has great funky jazz-type riffs like ‘Moving on and Getting over’ and ‘Still feel like your man’. That man is a genius. Best album for me since Battle Studies (Continuum obviously still everyone’s favorite). Here is my ranking of John Mayer albums btw (from best to worst) as well as my favorite songs from each album.

1. Continuum (blues/pop masterpiece) – Best song: Slow Dancing in a Burning Room
2. Room for Squares (great acoustic pop) – Best song: St. Patrick’s Day
3. Try! (his best guitar album, great blues/rock songs) – Best song: Gravity
4. Battle Studies (more great guitar-pop) – Best song: Friends, Lovers or Nothing
5. The Search for Everything (blends all his previous styles + adds funk/jazz) – Best song: Moving on and getting over
6. Born and Raised (acoustic-folk pop) – Best song: Walt Grace’s Submarine Test 1967
7. Inside Wants Out (like Room for Squares but more raw) – Best song: Victoria
8. Heavier Things (some songs are great, others not so much) – Best song: New Deep
9. Paradise Valley (not many songs I liked from this album) – Best song: Who you love

In other news I’ve also been playing games with my friend, being bored a lot at home these days makes you do that. We still play Far Cry 4 a lot despite it being a 3 year old game just because of how amazing the co-op experience is. I think I have like 30 videos on Youtube of our play sessions together. I even made my own map and published it!

Other games I’ve been playing are the fantastic JRPGs Persona 5 and Yakuza 0. I’ve loved both these series (wayyy more interesting than Final Fantasy XV for me) so that’s no surprise. Also finished Root Letter (it was alright, but the ending was unsatisfying), and both Blazblue Central Fiction (love that series) and Steins Gate 0 (also love that series as well). Also bought Ghost Recon: Wildlands and Mass Effect: Andromeda mainly because both of them have co-op but both of them were letdowns for me. And of course still playing Hearthstone, which just released a new expansion (Journey to UnGoro).

Also looking forward to: Fire Emblem Echoes (3DS).. Akiba’s Beat (Vita).. Agents of Mayhem (PS4).. Quake Champions (PC).. Super Mario Odyssey (Switch)

And that’s the state of my life right now.. everyday work, go home and play games, and save money. Boring existence. When’s my next trip to Korea?

Building my own guitar

I’ve been wanting to build my own guitar as a project for a while now… at least since high school. So now, I finally had the time and resources to do it!

Keep in mind I haven’t soldered much outside of fixing my old Thinkpad Yoga laptop 2 years ago, so I had to find a ’72 Telecaster Thinline wiring diagram and solder it up. Here are the components:

-Fender Lonestar Deluxe Stratocaster neck (70s style, Maple, 22 frets, Modern C shape)
-Pots, Caps, Switches etc from Emerson
Warmoth Body (Cherry Sunburst, Tremolo Bridge, ‘F’ hole, humbucker pickguard)
Lollar Pickups Lollartron Neck model (4.4k)
Lindy Fralin Twangmaster Bridge model (8600 turns)

I was really interested to see the combination of a Filtertron style pickup (the Lollartron) with a Wide Range Humbucker style pickup (the Fralin Twangmaster) to see what that combination would sound like. I don’t know of any production guitars that combines those two.

For reference, here is a list of all the different production pickups in order of increasing strength:

Single Coil:

-Strat style single coil (used by Fender Stratocaster, Telecasters etc this the most common single coil design)

Strat style single coils
Strat style single coils

-Lipstick style pickups (used by Danelectro guitars and a few others)

Lipstick style pickups
Lipstick style pickups

-Charlie Christian pickups (used by Charlie Christian’s Gibson)

Charlie Christian style pickups
Charlie Christian style pickups

-Jazzmaster pickups (used by Fender Jazzmasters)

Jazzmaster Pickup
Jazzmaster Pickup

-DeArmond / Dynasonic (used by Gretsch guitars)

Dynasonic Pickups
Dynasonic Pickups

-Gibson P90 (used by Gibson guitars)

Gibson P90 Pickups
Gibson P90 Pickups

-Blade style / stacked single coils (usually noise cancelling single coil alternatives to humbuckers)

Joe Barden bladed pickups
Joe Barden bladed pickups

Humbuckers (dual coil hum-cancelling pickups)

-Filtertron (used by Gretsch guitars)

Gretsch Filtertron
Gretsch Filtertron

-Wide Range Humbuckers (used by the ’72 Fender Telecasters)

Fender Wide Range Humbucker
Fender Wide Range Humbucker

-Gibson PAF style (used on Gibson Les Pauls, SGs etc this is the most common style of humbucker)

Gibson Burstbuckers
Gibson Burstbuckers

Anyways thats alot of different styles but I chose to combine the unique Filtertron style with the Fender WRH style…

Building a custom guitar
Building a custom guitar
Building a custom guitar
Building a custom guitar

…And the results speak for themselves!

Oh, and I’m now finished porting my Java based stock simulator (such a hassle to download csv’s from the deprecated Google Finance API and install a JVM on the computer to run) to React/Node so now it has a complete graphical UI and fetches in real-time. Which is nice, but it still needs stock index fetching capability. Github repo link here check it out.

… and also had enough time to make a video about all my UMPC gadgets! yay!