A Weekend with the iPhone X

Post by Mark

Thursday night I picked up my iPhone X from Digits in Marina Mall. They’d given me early access to buy one so that I could review it on the blog, but they made me promise that I wouldn’t turn it on until Friday morning 8AM. Apple is pretty strict with these things so I understood their concern. I know someone who had gotten an iPhone X a few days earlier, and when they turned it on, Apple sent the authorized reseller he had gotten the phone from a warning that they had 2 hours to shut it down or else. I wasn’t in a rush, I didn’t mind waiting till the next morning to play with the iPhone X, I was just glad I had my hands on one and didn’t have to wait in any line to get it.

I’m not the kind of person that upgrades phones every year, I was actually using an iPhone 6S until last week and was perfectly fine with it until my company handed me an iPhone 8. The iPhone X is the first iPhone in years that I’ve really wanted, and after using it over the weekend, here are my first impressions:

No Home Button
The iPhone X no longer has a home button and I was worried it would take time to get used to the new swipe up to go home gesture. But, I got used to it within the first few minutes of using the phone. To me it feels natural and so much slicker and faster than clicking down on the home button. So goodbye home button, you won’t be missed.

Face ID
This is probably my favorite feature in the iPhone X. It just works. The best way to describe it is that it’s as if your phone doesn’t have a passcode. To unlock your phone, you pick it up and then you swipe up to go home. Super simple, super fast. If for some reason your phone doesn’t wake up when you pick it up, you just tap the screen to wake it up and then swipe up. Again super fast. But Face ID has other advantages than just using it to log into your phone. When I get to a website that asks me to log in with my username and password, the phone checks my face and when it recognizes me automatically fills in my username and password. Another cool feature of Face ID is with notifications. When you get say a whatsapp message on your phone, you won’t see a preview. Pick up the phone and Face ID will recognize you and then show you a preview of the whatsapp messages [Example]. That’s a really smart feature because it means you can leave your phone out in the open and not worry about anyone reading your notification previews, but it also means you yourself can still read those previews. If you’re also wondering, Face ID works under different lighting so if you’re in complete darkness or out under bright sunlight, Face ID will still be able to read your face. Face ID was still able to read my face even though I had sun glasses on and even when my face was half stuffed deeply into my pillow.

The Screen
It’s huge and I’m loving it so far mostly because the blacks are so black. One of the biggest advantages of OLED screens (which is what the iPhone X uses) is the blacks are pure black. That’s because unlike LCD’s, to get the color black on an OLED screen it shuts off the pixels that are supposed to be black. So black is parts of the screen not lit up. Am I making sense? Imagine a room with no windows and one light bulb, to turn the room black you just turn off the bulb. No light = complete darkness = black. The “notch” on top of the screen isn’t annoying at all by the way, in fact I barely notice it. I mean its there, but it doesn’t hinder the experience of using the phone in any way. For those of you who are also concerned that not all apps are yet adapted to take full advantage of the iPhone X, from all the apps I use I think only 2 or 3 still display a black border on top and the bottom of the screen. The rest of my apps all display full screen and so it’s not really a big issue, and whatever apps don’t display in full screen I’m expecting them to by their next update.

Wireless Charging
I picked up a Belkin Qi charger from Xcite for around KD6 and have it on my bedside table. I noticed compared to the iPhone 8 the iPhone X has a larger wireless charging sweet spot. With the iPhone 8 it wouldn’t always start charging when I placed it on the charger but I haven’t had that issue with the iPhone X. If like me you use a magnetic mount for the phone it can still work with wireless charging. I have the metal plate sandwiched between my silicone cover and the phone, but I moved the plate all the way to the bottom of the phone and turned it sideways. That way the center of the phone is clear and the metal plate won’t interfere with charging.

Size vs iPhone 8
The iPhone 8 and X are virtually the same size. The iPhone X is slightly taller and thicker but too minor to even notice.

The Camera
Finally the camera, probably the most important aspect of the phone for me. I was always jealous of iPhone Plus owners since they had two lenses on their phones, the regular wide one and a more zoomed in one. Other than the added advantage of being able to zoom in closer to a subject (while maintaining the image quality), having two lenses allowed Apple to create the “portrait mode” feature in which it blurs the background making it look like it was shot with a DSLR. The iPhone Plus is too big a phone for me so I never considered getting it, but the iPhone X has the same camera system as the plus, with more features like a brighter aperture (f/2.4 vs f/2.8) and optical image stabilisation for both lenses not just the wide one. I haven’t really taken that many shots with it, just a few of my brothers cats and some of my friends and so far I really am loving the portrait mode.

So yeah as you can tell, I’m really loving the iPhone X so far. Although it was a big chunk of change to spend on just a phone, I think its worth it. If you’re looking to pick one up, Digits sold out their stock on launch, but are getting another shipment in around a weeks time. They currently have a waiting list so you can go and reserve a phone. The prices of the 64GB version is KD353 and the 256GB version KD405. A friend also just picked up a phone from Zain this morning but I think you have to sign up to a plan or something to get it (i.e. don’t think you can just straight up buy it from them).

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CAPSULE Virtual Experience Center

Post by Mark

Yesterday I got invited with my brother to pass by CAPSULE, a new virtual experience center thats opening next week. A virtual experience center is a place that allows you to experience virtual reality games, basically something like a VR arcade. My only previous experience with VR was using the Sony VR headset, so I was curious to see how much different and better this experience would be.

The moment you walk into the place you’re already in a different world. The interior of CAPSULE was designed to resemble a spaceship and it really adds to the whole VR experience. After getting a brief tour of the place and the different kinds of games they have, I let them know I tend to get motion sickness with VR games. They told me we would start off with a standing game which had a less chance of getting me motion sickness. So they strapped a rumble pack onto my back, handed me two motion controllers to hold and strapped on a VR headset so I could get started right away. I wanted to play a shooting game so they put on a game called Space Pirate in which I have to shoot down droids before they shoot me. My first impression before I even entered the game was wow. I started off in what looked like a living room, I looked down to my hands and I could see the controllers I was holding inside the virtual world. As I moved them around in my hand they were moving in the VR world as well. I then took a few side steps and I was now moving inside this VR world as well. This was exciting because I hadn’t experienced VR this way before, I could walk around in real life and my movement would be replicated in this VR world.

They loaded up Space Pirate for me and I was now on a platform in a space environment with two laser weapons in my hands. If I took my left hand back behind my shoulders and brought it back forward, my weapon would turn into a shield. When I didn’t want the shield anymore I’d take it back behind my shoulder again. As the droids started flying towards me and firing at me, I was moving around shooting them down with my two weapons. When the fighting was getting intense I’d use the shield on my left hand to help avoid the lasers they were shooting towards me. Sometimes as I’m about to get hit by one of their laser beams, the game would slow down matrix style to give me a chance to move out of the lasers way. To move out of the way you literally physically have to move out of the way in the real world. The VR system they have setup can track your movement so on multiple occasions I ducked, or jumped left or right out of harms way. I was immersed inside this virtual world and I finally understood what all the fuss with VR was about. And the best part was, I didn’t get motion sickness.

After playing around with the standing VR for a few minutes I then decided to try one of their virtual racing sims. I asked them what tracks and cars they had and they basically told me nearly all of them. I asked if they had the Bahrain GP circuit and they told me they did and that I could race around it in my Lotus if I wanted to. Since I had raced around the track in my Lotus before I was really interested to compare it to this VR experience. The whole setup is meant to be as real as possible from the seats, to the steering wheel and even the gearbox they’ve installed for these car sims. I sat down, put on the VR headset and suddenly I was inside my Lotus, even the interior color of the car in the game was similar to mine. Once I was done looking around my car I stepped on the gas and headed down the pit lane so I could get onto the track. Once I was out of the pit lane and started turning I started getting motion sickness right away. I figured it might go away and tried to continue on but I just couldn’t take it anymore and removed the headset. I was so disappointed since I really wanted this to work. They told me to take a bit of a break and then they’d put me into their extreme race car sim which tended to cause less motion sickness.

Their extreme race car sim is meant to simulate the experience of driving an F3 race car. It has a replica steering wheel and even two fans that blow wind into your face as you go faster. They were right about the fact it caused less motion sickness and I was able to experience it for a longer duration then the first race sim. But, I think because I was already feeling sick because of the previous sim I couldn’t get through this one. In the end I took off the VR headset again and decided racing sims just weren’t for me.

The whole experience was great and I’ll definitely be going back again to play around with the standing VR unit again. CAPSULE is located in the same building as MAS Arena in Al Rai near Avenues. Here is their location on [Google Maps] and they’re opening this coming Sunday. If you’re interested in checking the place out then follow them on instagram to stay posted on their launch @capsulevec

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Azgardian – The Comic Book Store

Post by Mark

If you’re into comic books and graphic novels you really don’t have that many options in Kuwait. Azgardian is a small store dedicated to just comics and according to them, they’re the first comic book store in Kuwait. The store is located in Rihab Complex but they also have a delivery service if you don’t want to drive into Hawalli. For more information and to check out some of their collection, visit their instagram account [Here]

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First Impression: The DJI Spark Mini Drone

Post by Mark

I wasn’t planning on posting about the DJI Spark until I got to use it on my upcoming trip, but because of the amount of interest I got on it from my instagram story and twitter over the weekend, I decided I’d at least post my first impression. First full disclosure, DJI released the Spark last month and when I saw Xcite had a preorder page for it, I got in touch with them and asked them if they could send me one over to review. They couldn’t get me a Spark from their first shipment since it quickly sold out, but Thursday they got in touch with me to let me know they secured me a drone from their second shipment and I passed by and picked it up.

The DJI Spark is tiny, like super tiny. Its around the same size as my iPhone 6 and it weighs just 300 grams. But don’t let the size fool you, this isn’t an indoor drone and it’s packed with advanced features of its older brothers. I’m not going to go into too many details since there are a ton of YouTube videos that do that, but I will highlight some things in this post which I think are cool.

There are three ways to control the Spark, either with your phone, with the optional remote, or using hand gestures. The last one is a bit of a gimmick but it works and it can be useful.

Hand Gestures
The Spark has a sensor at the front that will recognize your face and then detect your hand gestures which you can use to control the drone. You wave goodbye at the drone and it will fly up and hover away from you. You want it to snap a photo of you? Just give it the correct gesture and it will take your photo. This is pretty cool because it keeps things simple for those who don’t want more out of the drone other than snapping selfies. You can watch the video above of how this works.

Using Your Phone
The Spark doesn’t come with a remote control, instead you can download an app onto your phone and use it to control the drone using wifi. This means you don’t have to carry a remote around which keeps the Spark portable. The only downside is that the Spark’s flight height is limited to 50 meters and the flight range to just 100m when using the phone due to the wifi’s limited range. The top speed is also limited to 20km/h.

Remote Control
The first thing I did after picking up the Spark was buy the optional remote control. Personally I can’t use virtual control sticks in apps, maybe I’m old fashioned but I like physical buttons and joysticks. The second reason I wanted to get the remote control was because it increases the flight height from 50m to 500m and the flight range from 100m up to 2KM. That’s a HUGE increase. With the remote control you can also put the drone into sport mode which increases the top speed to 50kmh. Really impressive specs for something so freakin tiny. I still can’t believe how high it can fly.

I spent the weekend playing around with the Spark and as a complete drone newbie, I did find the experience overwhelming at first but that’s probably because I didn’t read any instructions and just winged it. Friday morning I woke up early and headed to my favorite open area in the desert to take some photos. There was an overcast so my photos were coming out very flat and dull, but I did manage to take one photo which I added to my instagram story. Saturday morning I decided to take the drone near Scientific Center and fly it there, that was a pretty scary experience because when I told the drone to come home and land, I freaked out because I got worried it would decide to land in the sea. It did’t thankfully and instead came back down to it’s original launching point. That same afternoon I wanted to see if I could fly the drone from my hand and then have it land back in my hand when I was done, all without having to leave my car. It worked! Because the drone is so tiny you could use your palm as a launch and landing pad.

If you’re a beginner like me, the drone has a bunch of automated and smart flying modes that will make your videos look professionally shot including:

Active Track: You highlight the subject you want the Spark to follow and it will follow it
Tripod: Keeps the drone stable and slow allowing you to film cinematic shots
Rocket: Starts filming you from eye level and then flies straight up while still focusing on you
Dronie: Starts filming you from eye level and then angles out and away from you while still keeping you in focus
Circle: The Spark films you while rotating around you
Helix: Rocket + Circle combined

Battery life is my only issue with the Spark so far. The total flight time is just 16 minutes which isn’t a lot especially if you factor in the time it will take you to get to the height you want, position your drone and also the amount of time the drone needs to fly back down to you. You’re definitely gonna need more batteries and I already ordered 2 from Amazon and they’ll be waiting for me in L.A. when I get there end of the week.

Overall I love this little thing. It kinda feels like having an invisible photographer friend with you everywhere you go. When I went out to the desert to take some photos, I tried the active tracking feature and had the Spark follow my car around shooting video of it while I was driving. In the winter when I go snowboarding I could have the Spark follow me shooting video of me face planting all the way down the slope. It’s tiny and light enough to take everywhere with you which is why I’m looking forward to using it on my trip.

If you’re interested in the DJI Spark, Xcite are selling them for KD169. Here is the [Link]

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Arduino and Raspberry Pi Kits in Kuwait

Post by Mark

If you’re interested in coding electronics and are looking for Arduino or Respberry Pi kits, RTC Electronics in Hawalli have kits as well as a pretty decent selection of components to go along with them. I’ve posted about RTC on this blog before, they’re a large electronics supply store and they really have everything you could think of from transistors to equipments for events.

Their prices aren’t that cheap though, the Raspberry Pi3 kit costs KD32 (includes a case, hdmi cable, power adapter and SD card) while the Genuino starter kit costs around KD35. But like I mentioned, they also carry components like RGB color sensors, servo controllers, temperature and humidity sensors just to name a few and those wouldn’t be worth buying online, not unless you were shipping them with other stuff since they don’t cost much anyway.

If you’re interested in passing by RTC, here is their location on [Google Maps]

Update: Just found out you can also find Raspberry and Arduino kits locally [Here]

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Digitizing Old Videos

Post by Mark

Like with the pager in my previous post, while going through old boxes at my parents place I also found a bunch of old Video8 camcorder tapes. Luckily I also found my old camcorder and although the battery no longer works, the camcorder still functions properly when plugged into power. So last night I decided to digitize some old tapes.

If you want to digitize your old videos that are on VHS tapes or camcorder tapes, its actually not that complicated to do so. I’m using the Elgato Video Capture which I bought around 7 years back and it works on both Mac’s and PC’s. The way it works is also pretty simple:

1) Plug the Elgato device into your computers USB port
2) Connect your old VCR or camcorder to the Elgato just like you would to your TV
3) Run the Elgato software on your computer and press record
4) Press play on your VCR or camcorder
5) Thats it. Once your’d done click stop and the software saves the file

So if you’ve got old tapes lying around it’s really not that hard to digitize them and if its important stuff, I’d try and get it done as soon as possible. Here is the Amazon link to the Elgato video capture device I use [Link]

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Kuwait’s Cosplay Scene

Post by Mark

Cosplay (コスプレ kosupure), a contraction of the words costume play, is a performance art in which participants called cosplayers wear costumes and fashion accessories to represent a specific character. Cosplayers often interact to create a subculture and a broader use of the term “cosplay” applies to any costumed role-playing in venues apart from the stage.

The video above by UrbanQ8 is of all the cosplay from last months ComFest event that took place here in Kuwait. From all the previous videos and photos of similar events I’ve seen, it looks like the local cosplay scene is growing pretty rapidly and I’d say we’ve got a pretty legit scene at the moment. It’s also not male dominant as you’d imagine it being, it’s probably close to a 50/50 split. [YouTube]

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Double Jump: Nintendo Switch, Two Months Later

Post by Patrick

It’s been almost two months since the release of the Nintendo Switch and in this latest podcast we discuss our overall impressions of the console, why we’re loving it, what issues we’ve had with it and how its changed our gaming habits.

Play in Browser | iTunes | Android | Download | RSS

Post by Patrick

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Backing Up to the Cloud and More

Post by Mark

A few days ago a friend asked me how I backup my computer files and I realized its a subject other people might be interested in. Everyone should have some sort of backup and if you aren’t backing up your files then you should get on it asap. My setup is a bit complicated just because I’m extra safe and super paranoid about hard drives failing and files getting deleted. So, I currently have all my data backed up to the following:

In my house:
2 x 1TB External Hard Drives
10TB Synology 5-Bay Server (pictured above)

Cloud Storage:
Apple iCloud
Amazon Glacier
Microsoft OneDrive

For those of you who don’t know what Cloud storage is, it’s basically storage over the internet.

Home Backup
First just to give you an idea of what I’m doing at home in terms of backing up. I have two Macs, my main workstation which is an iMac, and my MacBook Pro laptop which I use mostly for browsing the web and working on client designs every now and then. I don’t backup my laptop since I don’t save any files on it but my iMac on the other hand gets backed up daily onto two external hard drives. Why two? Because in case one drive fails, I have a backup drive. What doesn’t get backed up onto this hard drive are my clients design files. I do freelance branding work and all my clients files are stored on my 5-bay server. The reason for this is so I could access them from both my computers at home and also access the files from anywhere over internet (my server is connected online). The server has 5 drives but 1 drive is a safety net, so in case one drive fails on the server, the 5th one saves the day and I don’t lose any of my clients work. So when it comes to backing up locally at home I’m pretty much doing ok, but I also feel a lot more comfortable knowing all my important files are also saved to the Cloud.

Apple iCloud
The only important files my iMac has is my iPhoto library that contains nearly half a million photos. Basically nearly all the photos I’ve ever taken since my first digital camera. Because I’m pretty paranoid about losing the photos, other than the two hard drives the photos get backed up onto daily, I also back my photos onto Apple’s iCloud. That way in case my house burns down, I still have access to my photos. The reason I am using iCloud and not another service is because its one of the few ways to retain the file structure of the image library. It’s also the easiest way of backing up my photos to the Cloud.

Amazon Glacier
Now another thing you should know about me, I hate deleting files, I have nearly every file I’ve created or downloaded since the late 90s. I guess I’m a digital hoarder of a sort. I don’t have any use for these files anymore other than for nostalgic reasons and so these files are located on my home server which I can access anytime I’m looking for anything specific. Just to be safe I’ve also backed up these files onto the Cloud. They aren’t files that get updated and they aren’t files that I need access to frequently so I’m using Amazon’s Glacier service to back them up into the Cloud. Amazon offer a number of Cloud options, Glacier is their cheapest one but comes with limitations like it takes 3-5 hours to retrieve a file from the Cloud. But since I only need to retrieve data in case of a server failure at home, that isn’t a big deal. How cheap is Amazon Glacier? $0.007 $0.004 per gigabyte per month, so around 100fils a month for 70GB.

Microsoft OneDrive
Finally, I use Google Drive to backup all my clients branding work. I have my home server setup to backup all my clients files onto the Cloud every 30 minutes. This has a number of benefits. For one it’s a safety measure, in case something happens to my server at home, my clients files are safe in the Cloud. The second benefit is in case of a power outage. Last year I faced a number of long power outages in my neighborhood and during one incident I was working on a clients project. I ended up having to push back a deadline (I never pushback deadlines) because my iMac switched off and so did my server so I didn’t have access to the files. If I had my files on OneDrive as well, I could have just gotten on my laptop, connected online and gotten access to my clients files and continued working on them. The reason I’m using OneDrive and not Google Drive for this is because I get 1TB of storage with my Microsoft Office monthly membership. I could use Google Drive, I have no personal preference they’re both great.

So what should you use?
I don’t think there is one solution that fits everyone, it really depends on what you want to do and what you want to backup. Mac users will probably find iCloud the most convenient but because it doesn’t give me much control I actually find iCloud super complicated to use. I barely understand how the whole iCloud photo sharing/backup system work and I’m constantly worried I’ll click on a wrong button and end up wiping out all my photos. So iCloud freaks me out that way.

Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive would probably be the easiest for majority of users. Everyone has a Gmail account so you already have Google Drive and if you’re legally using Microsoft Office, then you also already have OneDrive. You can use both these services like external hard drives where you just drag and drop folders and files onto them or use software to automatically backup your files daily or as often as you like onto them. At the very very very least, if you’re not backing your stuff onto the Cloud you should be backing up your files onto an external hard drive. It’s super easy to do, on Mac’s you just plug in a new empty hard drive and it will ask you if you want to use it as a backup drive, that’s how easy it is so there is no reason why you shouldn’t be backing up your files.

Let me know if you have any questions.

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Double Jump: A Pirate’s Influence

Post by Patrick

After a long hiatus Double Jump is finally back. When we launched the podcast we were following an uninspired format that was problematic for a couple of reasons. Recording once every week was an issue and so the topics we’d discuss were outdated by the time we sat down to talk about them. We took a break to figure out what direction we wanted to take the podcast in. What we decided on is to focus more on conversational topics that we think are worth discussing and that are less time sensitive.

In this weeks episode we talk about video game piracy and how it influenced our taste in video games growing up. What genre’s or what games we played that we normally would not have tried if we had to pay full price. Back in the 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s, piracy in the Middle East was the norm and it was everywhere. As kids we didn’t know any better and our parents didn’t really care, it was something we were all used too. You’d go to Rihab and the majority of the stores sold pirated games until it evolved into what it is today.

Play in browser | iTunes | Android | Download | RSS

Posted by Patrick

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