Category Archives: Reviews

Turtle Beach XL1 Headset Delivers Great Sound At a Great Price – Review

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Over the past few weeks the boyfriend and I had the chance to try out the Turtle Beach XL1 headset. Despite the fact that we have different gaming styles, his more on multiplayer games with friends and mine a solo adventure, we both got an excellent experience.

The Turtle Beach XL1 XBOX 360 headset is the perfect entry-level headset for gamers looking for immersive game sound and crystal-clear communication at a great value. With premium 50mm speakers and oversized circumaural ear cups, the Turtle Beach XL1 delivers superior audio quality and extreme comfort.

First I will start the pros of the XL1 headset. It is INCREDIBLY immersive. Not only does the sound from the game play in the headset but so does the gamer chat if you happen to be in one. Whether you are playing “BioShock,” “Call of Duty,” or even just an arcade game such as “Toy Soldiers,” every little sound will come through crystal clear.

The headset features a quick access to independent game and chat volume controls as well as a built-in bass boost feature that adds depth and realism to the game audio. These capabilities enhance the gaming experience and surprisingly increases the depth of videos.  As a test, I watched a show on Netflix (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to be exact) with the headset on and it sounded better than when the sound comes through the television.

*Please note that you will need to connect this headset to the stereo outputs from your TV or audio receiver for game audio and use the Kinect® for game chat with Xbox One.

One of the biggest pluses of the headset is how conducive it is to gaming without people in the room. As a girlfriend I can vouch for how annoying and frustrating it can be when trying to read, work, or even sleep while someone else is gaming. Thanks to the XL1, the boyfriend can game all night while I sleep and I don’t hear a thing. And even better, he has a glorious gaming experience at the same time.

Even though the boyfriend and I LOVE this headset, there are some cons. The wires are very bulky and cumbersome. If you have a choice, I would recommend springing for the wireless version. I cannot count how many times I tripped on the wires and my cats raced through them causing the XL1 to go flying.

Also, I am a tiny lady. I found the headset to be a bit bulky. The ears were far to big for mine and even on the smallest setting I looked like a fighter pilot. But by no means does this mean I will not use them.

The Turtle Beach XL1 Headset is on sale now for $39.99.

“Mind’s Eye” Examines How Far Science Can Go – Review

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From the first page of “Mind’s Eye,” author Douglas E. Richards draws you in to his tale of ESP, conspiracy, love, and a future that seems more probable every day.

When Nick Hall wakes up in a dumpster–bloodied, without a memory, and hearing voices in his head–he knows things are bad. But they’re about to get far worse. Because he’s being hunted by a team of relentless assassins. Soon Hall discovers that advanced electronics have been implanted in his brain, and he now has two astonishing abilities. He can surf the web using thoughts alone. And he can read minds. But who inserted the implants? And why? And why is someone so desperate to kill him?

As Hall races to find answers, he comes to learn that far more is at stake than just his life. Because his actions can either catapult civilization to new heights–or bring about its total collapse.

Much like the protagonist, Nick Hall, we are thrown into a world with little to no information about what is going on. Richards skillfully forces you to empathize with Hall as neither of you have any idea what is happening or why our main character is in such a predicament at the beginning.  So what do you do? Like Hall, you keep on trucking forward as you slowly find out more about the main character and why he is special. It is a brilliant way to connect the audience to the story while illuminating that things are not what they seem and be prepared for one hell of a journey.

Richards also shows us a future that could likely be happening as we live and breathe.  Hall literally has the internet surgically implanted into his brain and optical systems to create a mind controlled internet with extensive technological capabilities. Not only does Richards explain the theory behind this concept in a way that is both believable and interesting, but he reminds us of the danger that such abilities could have.

Whether it is because of the resulting ESP or implanted internet, everyone considers Hall to be dangerous as well as a threat to National Security. Not to mention the social implications including his desire to have some peace and quiet every now and then.

Overall, “Mind’s Eye” is a jaunty and fun ride that keeps you entertained through every page. Richards chilling and thought-provoking look into just how far science can and will go borders on prophetic.

“Year’s Best SF 18” Compilation Will Wow Sci-Fi Fans – Review

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I began this year as I begin most years, reading science fiction. So when Tor Books announced they were releasing a compilation of 2013’s best science fiction short stories, I was thrilled. “YEAR’S BEST SF 18″ was edited by the critically acclaimed, award-winning editor and anthologist David G. Hartwell. In his collection he includes astonishing stories from some of the genre’s most respected names as well as exciting new writers to watch.

“Year’s Best SF 18” has some amazing writers including Michael Swanwick, Paul Cornell, Bruce Sterling, Ken Liu, Yoon Ha Lee, C. S. Friedman, Gene Wolf, and many more.

I can safely say that there is not one short story in the collection that is better than any others. Each one is uniquely interesting reflecting the authors who wrote them.

Starting off the collection is “Old Paint” which takes you into a future where cars drive themselves while being fully equipped with artificial intelligence. The world portrayed by Megan Lindholm is getting closer to reality everyday as cars become more complex and easier to manage. Lindholm reminds us how easy it is become attached to the technology in our lives and then takes it a step further by giving the technology a mind of its own. Don’t worry though because even artificial intelligent cars get a happy ending.

In case you are more of a fan of dystopian futures with an underground resistance and uprising, “Prayer” by Robert Reed might be more your speed. We see a future where weapons can talk to their owners and adolescents are another soldier in the fight. The brilliance of this short story is that sometimes we forget that there are not always just two sides to a war.

My science fiction love always lays with time travel and through out the entire compilation, no story quiet affected me like “The Ghosts of Christmas” by Paul Cornell (you might remember his name as one of the writers of “Doctor Who”.) The story follows a young woman about to become a mother. At her day job, her and her team have almost perfected time travel via an electronic crown they wear on their head. However, there is one catch, you can only travel to the same day every year of the future. Against her better judgement, she uses the crown to visit her future Christmases to see if she becomes a good mother. After viewing love, heartbreak, depression, pain, and redemption, she takes the crown off a final time knowing she still has all the awful things to live through a head of her. After reading the story, it remains one of the more powerful short stories I have ever read.

This book is also perfect on the go. Only have time for a little bit of reading, get a whole story rather than stopping in the middle of something.

If you need your science fiction fix fulfilled, I highly recommend this compilation, “Year’s Best SF 18.” For a full range of science fiction variety, you can’t go wrong. Hartwell has done a fantastic job of picking some truly outstanding short stories in the world of science fiction. Pick it up from Tor Books, you won’t regret it.

Astronomy and Science Highlights For 2013

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2013 was an amazing year for science and space. We as a culture fell in love with astronaut Chris Hadfield and our top scientists took us several steps further in space exploration. Included below are some of favorite and coolest things that The Pop Culture Pulse saw over the year. We can’t post every single ISS time-lapse but I can share my favorites!

The Most Accurate 3D Map of Our Galaxy to Date

One of the most GORGEOUS pictures I have ever seen, two groups of astronomers pooled their data to create the most detailed map yet of the galaxy’s core — and its shape came as a surprise.

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The Spinning Moon

Using imagery collected by its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, NASA created this gobstopping video of the Moon rotating 360° about its axis. It’s a view of our satellite unlike any ever seen from Earth. It is both beautiful and hypnotic.

Hadfield took to Reddit in an AMA to answer and demonstrate users requests.

Probably one of my favorite things Ive seen in my years as a reddit user. Hadfield answered everything from the mundane to incredibly interesting often including video proof as he tweeted and answered from the ISS. You can see the full AMA here.

*Hadfield is now retired but still totally awesome.

The Chelyabinsk Meteor Rips a Hole in Russia’s Skies

Probably one of the most notable and well-known events from 2013. Details are still emerging about the fireball that entered Earth’s atmosphere over Russia on February 15th. The near-Earth asteroid blazed through our skies at upwards of 41,000 miles per hour, injuring hundreds and incurring more than a billion rubles (~33-million U.S. dollars) in damages. The event was captured on dash cams everywhere across Russia. (One of which you can see below)

Apollo F-1 Engines Recovered From the Atlantic Ocean

In March, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ eponymous Bezos Expeditions successfully recovered F-1 rocket engines – used during the Apollo missions – from the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. This combines two of my favorite things: spaceships and deep underwater pictures.

“I want to thank NASA,” wrote Bezos. “They extended every courtesy and every helping hand – all of NASA’s interactions were characterized by plain old common sense, something which we all know is impressive and uncommon.”

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The Clearest Photo of a Sunspot Ever Taken:

The unprecedented view was released in August by scientists at Big Bear Solar Observatory in the mountains of East L.A. Imaged by the New Solar Telescope (aka the “NST”), the photograph is among the first to be captured by the NST’s newly equipped Visible Imaging Spectrometer (VIS).

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Cassini Captures a Rare Overhead View of Saturn

On October 10th, the spacecraft’s wide-angle camera captured a set of 12 RGB “footprints” (36 photos total, acquired with red, green and blue filters which, when combined, approximate true color) of Saturn and its rings, as seen from above. Software developer and “amateur” planetary image processor Gordan Ugarkovic converted the photos into the composite you see here.

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The First Complete Map of Mercury

Instruments aboard NASA’s Mercury-orbiting MESSENGER spacecraft revealed a rich variety of chemicals, minerals and physical features in the first-ever complete map of our solar system’s innermost planet.

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The Planck Telescope Discovers Extra Dark Matter in the Universe

In March, the Planck Satellite team announced major findings from over a year of observations of the Cosmic Microwave Background (the radioactive sludge that lingers in our universe from the beginning of time, right after the Big Bang), and released the map pictured below, which depicts the oldest light in the Universe with unprecedented precision.

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IBM Creates the World’s Tiniest Stop-Motion Film

Called “A Boy and His Atom,” the one-minute clip was compiled by manipulating a few dozen carbon atoms on a copper surface. See below!

Astronomers may have detected the first moon outside a star system

According to “A Sub-Earth-Mass Moon Orbiting a Gas Giant Primary or a High Velocity Planetary System in the Galactic Bulge,” We may have detected our first exomoon outside a solar system. It orbits a gas giant 1800 light years away from us, and it’s half the size of Earth.

 

“The Cure” Offers insight into Psychopathy While Delivering A Jaunty Science Fiction Tale – Review

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The newest science fiction tale from writer Douglas Richards effortlessly weaves in a believable modern-day setting with a race to save the world from ourselves in the face of sure destruction.

THE CURE ponders the questions, what if you found the cure for the psychopathic condition? Would you break the law to use it? Would you force it on the world’s psychopaths, even if they didn’t want to be cured? In Richards’s riveting new novel, after a series of twists, turns, and escalations, the answer to these questions has a major impact, not only on the future course of human history, but on the future prospects of all intelligent life in the galaxy.

In “The Cure” Richards gives us Erin Palmer, a young but brilliant student whose life was shattered as a young girl when a psychopath took her family from her. As an adult she studies psychopaths and what makes them tick. She is revealed to be working with a world-renowned scientist who may not be all that he seems. Soon Erin finds herself embroiled in a worldwide conspiracy to cure Earth of psychopaths for the good of the entire universe.

Right off the bat, Richards does two things right with his main heroine. The book begins with a truly devastating event. A psychopath kills both her parents and her little sister leaving Erin as the sole survivor of the tragedy. The immediate back story allows the reader to instantly identify and empathize with Erin when we see her as an adult. We can understand why she has dedicated her life to such a macabre topic. Knowing her struggles and her back story also allows us as a reader to continually root for her throughout the entire novel. We want her to succeed, we want her to be happy, and we want her to have the happy ending she deserves.

The second thing Richards does is that he uses her work to delve in to the science of psychopaths. He gives the reader background in the way the brain of a psychopath works, they way they think, and more importantly offers reasoning of why they are so dangerous without giving away the later plot twist. By the time the central theme of the book is revealed we, the readers, are already aware of how dangerous psychopaths are and thus immediately on the side of Erin and her partners Drake and Kyle Hanson.

However, the best part of “The Cure” is the questions on morality that it presents. How ethical is it to cure people without their knowledge when it could save the lives of billions? Is the safety of humanity and universal exploration worth intervening into the course humanity is set to take? Knowing that as much as 1% of the population can be classified as “psychopathic” is the threat large enough to take away those people’s basic freedoms even if they haven’t committed a crime? Richards presents these issues along with a highly relatable main character who often questions her own morals in regards to these questions.

“The Cure” is a quick but enjoyable science fiction read that will keep you on your toes while exploring the savage brains of psychopaths. Douglas Richards appeals to all kinds of readers with his new novel from sci-fi enthusiasts to thrill seekers and even a little bit of a love story.

The (Possible) Truth Behind How Chris McCandless Died

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You may have read the novel “Into The Wild,” the 1996 non-fiction book written by Jon Krakauer, or have seen the film adaptation. It followed the brief life of Christopher McCandless and his unfortunate and untimely death in the Alaskan wilderness. The novel took me through a wide range of emotions from anger, frustration, sadness, and overwhelming discontent. Not to say it wasn’t well-written, just a disconcerting tale of a young man lost too soon.

21 years ago, in September 1992, the body of McCandless was found outside the northern boundary of Denali National Park inside an old, rusting bus. A note was left on the outside of the bus regarding his weak condition and extreme need of help. Since the discovery, one question has been studied over and over again.

How did Chris McCandless die?

21 years later, it seems like we may finally have that answer.

According to coroner, the official cause of death was starvation though what prompted this starvation remained a mystery. In the novel, Krakauer came to the conclusion that McCandless has accidentally poisoned himself by eating seeds from a plant commonly called wild potato, known to botanists as Hedysarum alpinum. His theory was that a toxic alkaloid in the seeds weakened McCandless so much so that it was impossible for him to leave for help or continue hunting for sustaining food which led to his starvation.

However, this theory was initially thrown out by most scientific experts who claimed that the plant was a nontoxic species.

Then, last December, Ronald Hamilton posted his theory on the death with new facts that seem to back up the initial idea from Krakauer and put a definitive answer to how McCandless died.

Regarding the daily diet of McCandless, Krakauer says,

The diary and photographs recovered with McCandless’s body indicated that, beginning on June 24, 1992, the roots of the Hedysarum alpinum plant became a staple of his daily diet. On July 14th, he started harvesting and eating Hedysarum alpinum seeds as well. One of his photos depicts a one-gallon Ziploc bag stuffed with these seeds. When I visited the bus in July, 1993, wild-potato plants were growing everywhere I looked in the surrounding taiga.

On July 30th, McCandless wrote in his journal, “EXTREMELY WEAK. FAULT OF POT[ATO] SEED. MUCH TROUBLE JUST TO STAND UP. STARVING. GREAT JEOPARDY.” Before this entry, there was nothing in the journal to suggest that he was in dire straits, although his photos show he’d grown alarmingly gaunt. After subsisting for three months on a marginal diet of squirrels, porcupines, small birds, mushrooms, roots, and berries, he’d run up a huge caloric deficit and was teetering on the brink. By adding potato seeds to the menu, he apparently made the mistake that took him down. After July 30th, his physical condition went to hell, and three weeks later he was dead.

In “Into the Wild,” Krakauer attributes the death to the fact that the nontoxic potato plant actually contains a very poisonous alkaloid. He wrote that this alkaloid was perhaps swainsonine, a toxic agent known to inhibit glycoprotein metabolism in animals, leading to starvation. However, for years this theory was dismissed.

Then several months ago, new evidence from Hamilton was produced that stated the wild-potato plant is indeed highly toxic in and of itself, contrary to the belief of every other expert who has ever weighed in on the death of McCandless. However, what makes it toxic is not an alkaloid but rather an amino acid called beta-N-oxalyl-L-alpha-beta diaminoproprionic acid, a compound commonly referred to as beta-ODAP or, more often, just ODAP.

Hamilton wrote in his paper that ODAP “affects different people, different sexes, and even different age groups in different ways. It even affects people within those age groups differently …. The one constant about ODAP poisoning, however, very simply put, is this: those who will be hit the hardest are always young men between the ages of 15 and 25 and who are essentially starving or ingesting very limited calories, who have been engaged in heavy physical activity, and who suffer trace-element shortages from meager, unvaried diets.”

ODAP was identified in 1964. It brings about paralysis by over-stimulating nerve receptors, causing them to die. As Hamilton explains,

It isn’t clear why, but the most vulnerable neurons to this catastrophic breakdown are the ones that regulate leg movement…. And when sufficient neurons die, paralysis sets in…. [The condition] never gets better; it always gets worse. The signals get weaker and weaker until they simply cease altogether. The victim experiences “much trouble just to stand up.” Many become rapidly too weak to walk. The only thing left for them to do at that point is to crawl….

Hamilton was convinced that this was the cause of death for McCandless. Krakauer read this and decided to see if this was indeed the definitive answer. According to him, he “sent a hundred and fifty grams of freshly collected wild-potato seeds to Avomeen Analytical Services, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for H.P.L.C. analysis.

He states,

“Dr. Craig Larner, the chemist who conducted the test, determined that the seeds contained .394 per cent beta-ODAP by weight, a concentration well within the levels known to cause lathyrism in humans.”

It appears very likely that due to the high levels of ODAP that McCandless contracted lathyrism from eating those seeds and then starved to death in his weakened state.

Hamilton adds to the his paper,

He was a young, thin man in his early 20s, experiencing an extremely meager diet; who was hunting, hiking, climbing, leading life at its physical extremes, and who had begun to eat massive amounts of seeds containing a toxic [amino acid]. A toxin that targets persons exhibiting and experiencing precisely those characteristics and conditions ….

It might be said that Christopher McCandless did indeed starve to death in the Alaskan wild, but this only because he’d been poisoned, and the poison had rendered him too weak to move about, to hunt or forage, and, toward the end, “extremely weak,” “too weak to walk out,” and, having “much trouble just to stand up.” He wasn’t truly starving in the most technical sense of that condition. He’d simply become slowly paralyzed. And it wasn’t arrogance that had killed him, it was ignorance. Also, it was ignorance which must be forgiven, for the facts underlying his death were to remain unrecognized to all, scientists and lay people alike, literally for decades.

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Why Haven’t You Played This Yet?: Dark Souls

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Some of you have heard of the game “Dark Souls.” Whispered tales so vile and spirit blackening that few can finish their tale without shuddering. Look hard enough and you may find an individual sitting alone with a glassy look in their eyes staring into the distance. Their souls crushed and reborn anew in the Darkness of Lordran. Continue reading Why Haven’t You Played This Yet?: Dark Souls

3 Reasons “The Last of Us” Could Be Game of the Year – Review

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The Last of Us is the first game I have ever actively sought out to play despite not owning the system it was released on. As someone who typically sticks to the Xbox 360, seeing this as a PS3 exclusive meant there was a very real possibility I wouldn’t play it till it was way spoiled for me. I couldn’t let that happen, so I borrowed my friend’s PS3 with their copy of the game and did nothing else during my free time for a week. And honestly? It was incredibly worth it. Naughty Dog, the game’s developer, is doing something right with this game from the storyline, the game mechanics, and the depth of detail that makes it a fucking masterpiece of gaming.  Continue reading 3 Reasons “The Last of Us” Could Be Game of the Year – Review

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance – Review

 

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I recently sat down to play and review the newest “Metal Gear” game, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, and I have to say the game is surprisingly fun and addicting. If you are not a fan of the series or are a new comer to the games, here is a little background. Revegeance is the ninth game in the he Metal Gear series, with a plot set four years after the events of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. The story focuses on the cyborg ninja, Raiden, in a fight against a private military company known as Desperado Enterprises. Continue reading Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance – Review

Starkiss – Dairy Queen – Red, White, and Blue – Stars and Stripes

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The elusive Dairy Queen Red, White, and Blue Stars and Stripes Starkiss frozen confection. Well maybe not all that elusive as it seems the Food Network show Unwrapped showcased them recently, to which my mother replied “Wouldn’t they make a good dessert for the 4th of July?”. Well I guess they would, too bad all of the Dairy Queen’s are over 20 minutes away from us. She would not be deterred though and we made the trip yesterday to a Dairy Queen freezer for the limited time treats. See, it seems that you can not buy these anywhere else and at the prices they charge I can see why. As of 2009 4th of July Holiday they at $7.50 for a box of 6, which I guess is not the worst considering what you can pay for stuff at the ice-cream truck. It seems they do have the regular flavors all year round as well so no real worries on finding the Starkiss if you have a DQ out your way.

The vegan community finds these a real big deal as the PETA blog has given these little tasty treats the thumbs up. What I did notice on the wrapper of the limited edition Stars and Stripes version is that is says it may contain trace amount of milk protein. From what some Dairy Queen people are saying, the only reason it says that is that it is made in the same factory as some of the other Dairy Queen products, which is why they have to put that disclaimer on the wrapper. Either way this is not going to really concern most of the people consuming the product, but anytime you can make those vegans happy I guess it is a plus.

Let us talk about the actual product now . . . it is a three colored bar on a stick that is made to taste like cherry, watermelon, and blue-raspberry. You can see from the picture it is in the shape of a star, which gives this fun treat the name of Starkiss. The flavoring of the three colored variety is ok, with the cherry portion being my favorite, watermelon second and blue-raspberry bringing up the rear. I think in a treat like this, more natural tasting flavors would have been better to compliment the cherry, but none of the flavors was bad. I was surprised since I did not look at the box before I took a bite, that the white color was not lemon though. Watermelon and Blue-raspberry do make me think of summer, so that vibe of the treat is covered regardless. Really though the texture is why this treat is such a winner, it gives you a very good impression of ice-cream because it is creamy without having milk and rich without going overboard. It is also pretty low in calories so dare I say it could be used as a treat while on a diet? That is where the rich part of the Starkiss does well in satisfying a craving. I am going to go on some second hand information here as I did not get to watch Unwrapped where they covered this, but it seems that they can accomplish this by infusing air into the treat. Think of a real good italian ice that has been infused with air to make it creamy tasting. Sounds good huh, well that is what we are talking about with the Starkiss. Big props to Marc Summers by the way who is the host of Unwrapped and used to hold it down in my childhood with Double Dare. My kids thought the Starkiss tasted like fruit flavored ice-cream, so I guess that is as good a compliment as you can get from my two boys.

So the Starkiss is a hit in my book and it seems I will be loading up on the cherry varity next time I hit the DQ with the kids. If you want the Stars and Stripes version though you better hurry. You should check out the Dairy Queen freezer, I was surprised at what else they had for take home, but make sure if you have the coin, you do not leave without a box of Starkiss.

Note: I could not find a picture of the Starkiss on the web, so photo credit goes to me for taking a picture on our kitchen counter