Kingston HyperX Cloud Gaming Headset Review

Millions of consumers know Kingston for its memory products. Most of you have probably purchased PC RAM or a memory card from the company. Kingston is trying to make a name for itself in the gaming world and one of the company’s latest gaming-focused products is the HyperX Cloud Gaming Headset. I’ve been using a pair for the last few weeks and while it’s not the best gaming headset I’ve used, the HyperX Cloud Gaming Headset offers a lot for a sub-$100 set of cans.

What’s in the Box: A rebranded version of the QPad QH-90, the HyperX Cloud Gaming Headset comes with the unit, two sets of ear pads (one leatherette, one velour), a detachable microphone, an audio control box, and a carrying pouch. The packing and presentation are handled in a classy fashion — much more elaborate than what you see with most competing headsets in this price range.

Construction and Build Quality: The HyperX Cloud Gaming Headset’s body is made primarily from aluminum. The aluminum construction allows the headset to be strong and light. The unit is very well made, with build quality that surpasses many competitors in the sub-$100 price range. Many European gamers I know rave about QPad’s build quality, but the brand is uncommon in America, so I haven’t had any experience with the company’s headsets. After using the HyperX Cloud Gaming Headset, I see what all the fuss is about. It “feels” more expensive than a $99 headset.

The one minor complaint I had with the unit’s construction was with the rubber cover for the microphone port. It comes off completely from the headset and I can see many gamers eventually losing it. It’s not a big deal at all, just a tiny annoyance.

Comfort: The most outstanding feature of the HyperX Cloud Gaming Headset is its comfort. You can wear these babies comfortably for hours and hours. The combination of a light frame and great padding (headband and ear cups) works fabulously. I’ve worn this headset for several three-hour sessions and didn’t feel any stress on my ears. After using it for six hours straight, the strain was minimal. The velour pads are more comfortable, as long as you don’t sweat a lot or use this headset in a hot room. While I generally abhor leatherette (made from the menacing Naugasaurus Rex), it was my preferred choice; it was more comfortable for longer play sessions and the sound it shaped was a little bit better than what the velour cups produced.

Kingston HyperX Cloud Gaming Headset Review Front

Sound Quality: To help break the headphones in, I left the headset on for a little more than two days playing a looped playlist. After the break-in period, I was able to get a better idea of the headset’s sound production. Mid-range tones are the strength of the HyperX Cloud Gaming Headset. The bass is good, but not overly emphasized (see Beats by Dre). The highs could have been better. Generally, I preferred the leatherette ear cups, as they helped produce a more detailed sound than what the velour cups offered.

For sound quality, it really depends on the application. Obviously this set is meant primarily for gamers, so in that respect I was happy with the output. This headset worked quite well with the various PC and console games I played. While it doesn’t give you as much separation as a 5.1 or 7.1 gaming headset, the HyperX Cloud Gaming Headset does a very good job with positional audio. I had no problems in shooters or stealth-action games with this unit. Directional sound was reasonably reproduced.

The headset works well for most movies too, though for action movies you’ll want to turn up the bass on the EQ. For music, I found the headset lacking, though this is a subjective area. I prefer a flat response for listening to music (see Etymotic) and wasn’t pleased by how the HyperX Cloud Gaming Headset performed. The lackluster highs were more obvious with music than other applications. EQ can help compensate, but it can be tricky to get great musical sound out of the HyperX Cloud Gaming Headset. This wasn’t a big deal to me, as it’s a gaming headset first and foremost.

Microphone: The mic quality is good, but shy of great. Most of the people I played online games with said that I sounded clear and the voice reproduction was solid. There were a few instances when my online gaming companions said that my voice had a little bit of echo or some tinniness, but those instances were infrequent and there were other variables that could have caused those problems.

For other reference points, I used the HyperX Cloud Gaming Headset for an hour of Skype calls. In these cases, the people I chatted with said that I sounded good. None of the friends I spoke with reported any echo or tinniness.

The microphone isn’t noise-canceling, so it will pick up some background noise in busy environments. Overall, the voice production of the HyperX Cloud Gaming Headset is very good. I wouldn’t use it to record a podcast or anything, but for the price range and what it’s meant for, this headset delivers.

Kingston HyperX Cloud Gaming Headset Review Microphone

Conclusion: The Kingston HyperX Cloud Gaming Headset offers a lot for a sub-$100 unit. I was impressed by the build quality and comfort. The sound quality was good for gaming, but not the best for music. The microphone was solid too. In this space, I’d also consider the Razer Kraken 7.1. It’s not as comfortable as the HyperX Cloud Gaming Headset, it’s made primarily from plastic, and the default balance is ridiculously bass heavy, but it offers better sound separation in the same price range. If sound separation isn’t a big priority for you then you’ll probably appreciate the aluminum construction, great comfort, and solid audio quality of the HyperX Cloud Gaming Headset.

Vaping Diaries #208: Vapor Jam Review

Vapor Jam is an e-liquid company that was started by a gentleman that worked as an executive chef for two luxury hotels. Prior to his career as a chef, the owner was a touring rock-and-roll musician. He combined his passions and expertise to form Vapor Jam. The company’s line of “Rockin’ Flavors” features e-liquids with names like Stairway to Vapin, Beatle Juice, and Bohemian Raspberry. As a fan of rock and puns, these flavors caught my attention.

Several months ago, I vaped three Vapor Jam e-liquids: Comfortably Plum, One Louder, and Stairway to Vapin. I appreciated the distinctness of these flavors and it was apparent from the juices’ layers that they were made by someone with a culinary background. The juices vaped cleanly and are suitable for all kinds of atomizers.

Unusually, these juices are available at nicotine levels of 0mg, 12mg, 18mg, and 24mg. For sub-ohm vapers that are used to vaping 3mg and 6mg e-liquids (i.e. SoCal vapers), these Vapor Jam juices might pack too much of a nicotine punch. That’s unfortunate, because vapers that prefer lower nicotine levels will miss out on some unique juice. On a positive note, Vapor Jam e-liquids are inexpensive at $3.99 for 10ml bottle and $9.99 for a 30ml bottle. As for the flavors themselves, here are my tasting notes.

Comfortably Plum: As you’ve probably figured out from this juice’s name, plum is the primary flavor of this e-liquid. The fruit is complemented by honey and vanilla notes. The flavors come together marvelously, especially for vapers that appreciate subtle background notes. Plum is a fairly uncommon flavor and I think Vapor Jam rocked (get it?!?) this juice. It’s a great blend of sweet, sour, and tangy. While the plum makes this juice stand out, the layered taste made it my favorite of the three juices covered in this review.

Juice Specs: 12mg nicotine, 0/100 PG/VG

One Louder: There are a ton of coffee juices on the market, but I haven’t come across too many Irish coffee e-liquids. That’s exactly what One Louder is — a unique concoction of coffee and whiskey, with a touch of nuttiness. I found the coffee flavor to be very good, but just shy of great (though to be fair, I’m a total coffee nerd and what I think of as coffee flavor is different from what most people expect). Although the whiskey and nut notes are background players, they really make this juice stand out; these flavors give One Louder layers and a nice kick. If you’re a fan of Irish coffee then you should definitely give this Vapor Jam juice a shot. Although I liked Comfortably Plum a little bit better, I would certainly pick up One Louder again.

Juice Specs: 12mg nicotine, 0/100 PG/VG

Stairway to Vapin: While I really enjoyed the first two Vapor Jam e-liquids covered in this review, I wasn’t as impressed with Stairway to Vapin. It’s certainly a unique tobacco juice, with a touch of walnut that helps it stand out from most other e-liquids made with tobacco absolute. The tobacco absolute used in this juice is an original blend, not the common Bulgarian mix many tobacco juices use. It’s definitely one of the better ones I’ve tried, but it’s still tobacco absolute. As a huge fan of juices made with naturally-extracted tobacco, the tobacco flavor of this juice just doesn’t compare. While I appreciate that Vapor Jam did something original with this juice and it’s not bad by any means, I greatly prefer tobacco e-liquids made with naturally-extracted tobacco.

Juice Specs: 12mg nicotine, 0/100 PG/VG

Vapor Jam Review Comfortably Plum

Steeping and Review Notes (Updated December 29, 2013)
On the advice of Wlad from Ahlusion, I’ve been trying a new steeping method as of December 27, 2012. When the e-liquids arrive, I leave them uncapped for five minutes. Previously, I left them uncapped for about two days. After the liquids are given a few minutes to oxidize, the caps are put back on.

RPad.TV e-liquid reviews focus on the flavor of the e-liquids, since throat hit and vapor production can be altered by the PG/VG ratio and nicotine level selected. Each juice is vaped over a period of days in a bottom-coil silica atomizer (The Russian and Aqua), various rebuildable dripping atomizers, and a clearomizer.

Vaping Diaries #206: Surefire Vapor Dusted Brass Knurled King Mod Review

Surefire Vapor has been cranking out top-quality American mods since 2013. As a fan of made-in-the-USA mechanical mods, I’ve always been a supporter of the company, but its initial mod wasn’t my cup of tea (hated the “hex nut” look). Since its start, Surefire Vapor has refined and revised its designs. One of its latest devices is the Dusted Brass Knurled King Mod. It’s a handsome mechanical mod that features fine craftsmanship and strong performance, but comes at a premium price.

Build Quality and Construction: The Dusted Brass Knurled King Mod is made from a fairly thick cut of brass. It uses copper negative and positive contacts. The brass has a finish that’s being labeled as “dusted,” but most vapers will see it as brushed brass. Whatever the label, the finish is well done. As far as materials go, Surefire Vapor did a nice job with this mod.

The workmanship is high quality too. The threads on all of the tubes are very, very smooth. The knurling on the top and bottom caps is well done. The design of the positive pin is especially impressive. Unlike many telescoping pins on the market, the pin in the Dusted Brass Knurled King Mod has tight action and a firmly secure feel. This is great for two reasons — the tight machining helps with conductivity and you don’t have to worry about the pin coming loose and falling out when the mod doesn’t have a battery in it.

Design and Ergonomics: Since then end of 2013, several mod makers have chosen to go with minimalistic designs, releasing comparatively short devices. The Dusted Brass Knurled King Mod is not one of those devices. It’s big, bold, and beautiful. Compared to some of the minimalist mods in my collection, the Dusted Brass Knurled King Mod is up to an inch taller in 18650 mode. While I didn’t mind the size at all, vapers that prefer shorter mods will want to skip this one.

Taking a step back, this is a modular device that comes with three main tubes. It can be configured to accept 18350 up to 18650 batteries.

Aesthetically, the Dusted Brass Knurled King Mod is best described as handsome. Branding is blessedly restrained, with the lion logo on the main tube, the Surefire Vapor logo on the firing button, and the text “Made in the USA” also on the firing button. There are a number of special editions of this mod with additional engraving, such as the #IMPROOF and #LONGLIVETHEKING models. No matter the edition, the Dusted Brass Knurled King Mod is a classy device that, in my opinion, is much better looking than the original King Mod.

As far as the caps go, I mentioned in the previous section that I was very impressed by the mod’s positive pin. It’s easy to adjust and very secure. The bottom cap is nicely designed too. The button is recessed (which I prefer) and it has a lock ring (which can be a lifesaver). The firing button has a short throw and medium-light feel.

Performance: I was surprised by how hard the Dusted Brass Knurled King Mod hit. I was expecting good performance and relatively low voltage drop due to its brass body and copper pins, but my expectations were exceeded. Generally speaking, modular-tube mods have the potential for more voltage drop than single-tube mods (my personal preference); every time you add a junction, you have more potential for voltage loss. This potential voltage loss can be limited through deft engineering and workmanship, and that’s what Surefire Vapor delivered with this mod.

The mod’s copper contacts are highly conductive, though silver is a more conductive metal. Copper also tarnishes faster than silver and is a bit harder to maintain. To ensure optimum performance with this mod, regular contact maintenance is necessary.

Despite its modular design, the Dusted Brass Knurled King Mod is a very strong performer. Again, a brass body and copper contacts are a great combo, but this mod’s performance surprised me a bit and exceeded my expectations. While there are copper mods with silver-plated contacts that hit harder, most vapers will be content with the solid power this mods offers. It hits as hard as some, but certainly not all, of the copper mods in my collection.

Surefire Vapor Dusted Brass Knurled King Mod

Verdict: The Dusted Brass Knurled King Mod is one of the best devices Surefire Vapor has made. It looks great, the craftsmanship is very good, and it hits hard. The only issue I had with it was its price. It’s available for $230 through authorized Surefire Vapor resellers and if you want silver-plated contacts then you’ll have to pay extra. There are many competing mods that cost around $200 and come with silver-plated contacts as a standard feature.

While I was very happy using the Dusted Brass Knurled King Mod and certainly recommend it to anyone looking for a quality made-in-the-USA mechanical mod, the recommendation comes with a caveat. It’s a great mod that’s slightly overpriced.

[Special thanks to The Vape Source for letting Johann and me film there!]

Vaping Diaries #205: Bay City Vapor XXIX Review

In a very short period of time, Bay City Vapor has become one of my favorite mod makers. The company’s SurfRider mod was one of my favorite vaping devices of 2013. A couple of months ago, I received the Bay City Vapor XXIX. It features everything that I loved about the SurfRider, one minor change, and beautiful C101 copper. Best of all, it’s made right here in the USA. Let’s take a closer look at killer copper mod.

Build Quality and Construction: The Bay City Vapor XXIX features excellent build quality and materials. As I mentioned in the intro, it’s made from C101 copper. This is an important distinction, as many copper mods are made from lower grades of copper. Using top-quality copper helps the Bay City Vapor XXIX hit harder and last longer than many of its competitors.

Many vaping enthusiasts are aware that performance isn’t based on materials alone. Craftsmanship is an important performance factor and it’s another area where the Bay City Vapor XXIX excels. The threads are well made and engineered wonderfully; you’ll notice the smoothness when you unscrew the mod and appreciate the tight tolerances when you feel its power.

Design and Ergonomics: Fans of minimalistic mods will love the Bay City Vapor XXIX. Physically, it’s a very compact device. The 18650 model I’ve been using is nearly an inch shorter than many of my other 18650 mods.

Aesthetically, the Bay City Vapor XXIX is subtle. It has a small XXIX logo at the bottom of the tube and the Bay City Vapor logo on the bottom cap. If you like flashy mods with lots of knurling or plenty of intricate engravings then this device isn’t for you. If you lean towards subtle and classily understated designs then you’ll dig the looks of the Bay City Vapor XXIX.

The most unique feature of this mod is its hybrid-style top-cap. It’s a smart design that helps keep the mod compact and gives it awesome performance. There’s no 510 connection, as with the vast majority of mods on the market. Instead, the top cap screws directly onto the atomizer, allowing the atty to connect directly to the battery. It’s just a clever design that works well on several levels.

The original SurfRider and XXIX mods had some tricky fits with certain battery and atomizer combinations. One difference between the SurfRider I reviewed and the XXIX I reviewed is an updated switch. The bottom button and firing pad have been updated to accommodate a wider variety of atomizer and battery combos. For my part, I didn’t experience any incompatibilities using Samsung INR 18650 20-R and Sony VTC3 batteries with The Russian, Kayfun 3.1, Aqua, and several dripping atomizers.

The only aspect of the Bay City Vapor XXIX I didn’t love was its button feel, which is a totally subjective area. I prefer buttons with a short throw and light feel. While the firing button definitely has a short throw, the spring is a little stiff for my liking. It loosens up over time, but I still wanted something a bit lighter. Thankfully, the company will be offering magnet upgrades for people that want to go that route. I’m hoping that the magnets will address the one facet of the mod that I merely liked.

Performance: The highly conductive C101 copper body, excellent construction, and hybrid-style top-cap add up for stellar performance. I used the Bay City Vapor XXIX with atomizers built from 0.5-ohms to 1.2-ohms and experience zero voltage drop. That’s not a typo — zero voltage drop. If high performance matters to you then you should definitely consider this mod. It’s one of the best performing devices you can buy.

Bay City Vapor XXIX Review

Verdict: The Bay City Vapor XXIX is simply one of the finest copper mods on the market. It hits hard, is extremely well made, and has beautifully understated looks. While design is subjective, performance and workmanship are not. As far as those two categories go, Bay City Vapor has knocked it out of the park.

The single-tube version of the Bay City Vapor XXIX was originally available for a direct-from-manufacturer price of $160. The company is moving to a retail model, so expect to pay a little more at brick-and-mortar and online stores. While I don’t expect the mod to cost too much more, I’m certain that the Bay City Vapor XXIX will be a superior value to competing mods that cost $200 or more. My recommendation: if you see one, snatch it up quickly!

Vaping Diaries #203: Vapor Liq Review and Unboxing

It seems like a new e-liquid subscription service pops up every other week. Like so many other areas of vaping, the space is getting highly competitive. One of the newest juice subscription services is Vapor Liq. It’s also one of the best that I’ve come across. In this review, I’ll go over the many reasons Vapor Liq impressed me.

Like its competitors, Vapor Liq has you start by creating a flavor profile. First, you pick the type of equipment you vape on (cartomizers and clearomizers all the way up to rebuildable atomizers). Next, you select the categories of flavors that you like (desserts, fruits, tobaccos, etc.). From there, the categories are broken down even further, allowing you to select specific flavors you like or dislike. The whole process is handled in an elegant way; it’s simple and highly visual, while also being effective.

After your profile is created, Vapor Liq sends you three 15ml bottles of juice. Excellent packaging is another reason why I enjoyed my Vapor Liq experience. The box has snappy and fun branding. The inside of the box is lined with artificial hay, which looks cool and protects the bottles. The bottles are individually wrapped and sealed with a Vapor Liq sticker. Also included are a welcome card and coupons you can use on your next purchase or give to friends. The flavor descriptions come on a packing label, which seems incongruous with the other elements of the package; I mentioned that to the owners, so perhaps that will change in the future. Sterile packing label aside,  presentation is fun — the box is something that will make you happy when you receive it and something you’ll look forward to the following month.

As for the juices in the box, I received a trio that totally hit my flavor profile. As a huge fan of tobacco e-liquids, I was pleased to find Amber from True Leaf Vapor. Most of the subscription services I’ve come across have tobacco juices, but Vapor Liq and Drip Club are the only ones I know of that have tobacco e-liquids made with naturally-extracted tobacco, rather than tobacco absolute. Considering that naturally-extracted tobacco juices are my favorite types of e-liquids, I really appreciated Amber’s inclusion (hmmmm, should I name my next band Amber’s Inclusion?).

My profile also noted that I was into savory desserts. I received Nirvana Vapor’s Pali Pumpkin, which is a blend of pumpkin, exotic spices, and cream. I also received Lion from Illuminati Vapor. As a Filipino-American with a sweet tooth, I really enjoyed this lovely mix of ube and custard.

As with other subscription services, you receive three new juices every month. If you come across a flavor you absolutely love, you can go to the Vapor Liq web site and have it included with your next subscription box.

Vapor Liq is focusing on the top brands in the business. In addition to the three companies I mentioned earlier, the Vapor Liq lineup includes Alpha Vapes, Cyber Liquids, 7 Drops, and The Vial. There are some other top juice companies that are not listed on the site, which was a decision made by the owners. The company is always on the lookout for more top juice companies. While the current Vapor Liq lineup isn’t as expansive as that of Craft Vapery’s, it’s a strong list of juice makers that should be even better in the future.

Vapor Liq Review and Unboxing

Overall, I was quite happy with my Vapor Liq experience. The web site is intuitive, the packing is fun, and the selection of juices I received was great. As a company, I like what Vapor Liq is trying to do and the direction it’s headed in. At $35.99 a month for three 15ml bottles of juice, Vapor Liq isn’t the cheapest subscription service around, but it’s one of the best I’ve encountered.


Vaping Diaries #202: Angelcigs Kayfun 3.1 Clone Review

Angelcigs is a relatively new company that offers inexpensive vaping products from China that ship from local warehouses. It offers prices similar to the popular Fasttech, but with much faster shipping. The company recently sent me three atomizers to check out. The first one I’m reviewing is the Kayfun 3.1 clone. This $24.99 replica is a great deal. It offers a vaping experience similar to that of an authentic Kayfun 3.1, but for roughly 1/7th of the price. As long as they have reasonable expectations of build quality, many vapers will be happy with what Angelcigs Kayfun 3.1 clone brings to the table.

What’s in the Kit: The Angelcigs Kayfun 3.1 clone comes with the atomizer, one optional stainless steel tank, one optional 510 drip tip adapter, extra o-rings, extra screws, a juice bottle, one pre-made coil, extra silica wick, a keychain tool, and the instruction manual. It’s a complete kit that has everything novices need to get started. Experienced vapers will, of course, want to trash the keychain tool, coil, and wick.

Design: As you’d expect, this atomizer is pretty much a 1:1 replica of the Svoe Mesto original. For those of you not familiar with the Kayfun 3.1, it’s a bottom-coil silica atomizer that’s the most popular product in its category. The good news is that this copy looks and feels like a reasonable facsimile of the original. Unfortunately, that also includes the Svoe Mesto logo. I’m not a fan of clones that copy logos, markings, etc.

From afar, it would be fairly easy to mistake the Angelcigs Kayfun 3.1 clone for the real McCoy. When you open up the atomizer, the differences become more apparent.

Build Quality: Obviously this product doesn’t match the build quality of an authentic Kayfun 3.1 or even The Russian atomizer. At a fraction of the price, it would be foolish to expect comparable workmanship. The threads aren’t machined as finely; you can hear and feel the friction whenever you unscrew the tank. The o-ring material is cheaper than that of the original’s too. The threads on the polycarbonate tank felt particularly flimsy (though I didn’t have any leaking issues). The stainless steel tank felt much more secure.

All that said, for a $25 product, the quality is pretty good. While it doesn’t compare to an authentic Kayfun, the Angelcigs Kayfun 3.1 clone is as good or better than most other clones I’ve seen.

Performance: The Angelcigs Kayfun 3.1 clone offers performance that’s comparable to the real deal. You get the great flavor production that many vapers love about the Kayfun, as well as excellent juice capacity. The airflow options aren’t as broad as the original’s, but it’s fairly close. Vapers that prefer a medium to stiff draw will be happy with what this atomizer offers.

Like the authentic model, the Angelcigs Kayfun 3.1 clone is relatively easy to work with and to maintain. Building coils for the atomizer is slightly more involved than building coils for a dripper. Whether you use silica, cotton, kanthal wire, or kanthal ribbon, the atomizer is very accommodating. It’s also easy to maintain, though clumsy people (like me) should be careful when washing it over a sink, as it has several small parts and screws.

Angelcigs Kayfun 3.1 Clone/Replica

Verdict: Out of the three Angelcigs atomizers I’ve been using for the past few weeks, the Angelcigs Kayfun 3.1 clone is the best of the bunch. While it’s not made as well as the original, it vapes similarly and is much easier to acquire. The price is excellent and the product is backed by generous service. It’s a solid deal for newcomers that want to experiment with this type of atomizer and for longtime vapers looking for a good “beater” atty. As long as you don’t have any issues with clones and companies that copy logos, the Angelcigs Kayfun 3.1 is definitely worth a look.

Random Thoughts on Game of Thrones Seasons 4, Episode 2

This week’s episode of Game of Thrones has a few major happenings. Firstly, the episode was written by George RR Martin, the author of the books. Secondly, it has a royal wedding! If you’re a fan of the show then you know that major weddings in Westeros are often dangerous events. The first half of the episode has several location jumps, while the second half is all about the royal wedding. While some fairly important plot points were established in the first half, some of the scenes were dull and full of plot-summary soliloquies. The royal wedding was fun and I’m sure that Game of Thrones fans that hate-watch King Joffrey will love it. Here are some random thoughts on Game of Thrones s4e2. Be sure to turn on your spoiler shields.

Reeking in the North: That bastard Ramsay Snow is hunting a young girl, while the captive formerly known as Theon Greyjoy is now called Reek. This brief scene shows how sadistic Snow is (as if his numerous torture scenes from last season didn’t clue you in) and also shows how low Theon has fallen. Theon has been completely beaten down physically and mentally by Snow. He has no sense of the noble-born human he once was and is now the barely-human Reek. Finally, Snow lets his hounds devour the young girl, as Reek watches.

Brothers’ Breakfast: Meanwhile, back in King’s Landing…the Lannister boys are eating breakfast and speaking in plot summaries. Jaime is still moping over his lost hand, while Tyrion gives a convenient recap of where things stand as of Game of Thrones s4e2. As expected, Tyrion gets in a nice zinger when he refers to his family as, “the dwarf, the cripple, and the mother of madness.”

Jaime confesses that he can no longer fight. He feels empty, as his legendary swordsmanship was a huge part of his identity. In a change from the books, Tyrion tasks his henchman Bronn with teaching Jaime how to fight with his left hand. I’m sure some purists will hate the change, but I’m totally down with it. Bronn owns.

Bolton Family Matters: Back in the North, Roose Bolton has arrived home to Dreadfort. For those of you that don’t remember, Bolton (no relation to Michael) betrayed Robb Stark and helped engineer the infamous “Red Wedding.” Ramsay Snow is Roose’s bastard son and yearns to become a legitimate Bolton. Daddy Bolton scolds his bastard for torturing Theon Greyjoy when he could have been used as leverage.

Snow shows how thoroughly beaten down Reek is by allowing his slave to shave him. It’s pretty ballsy to let a man that you’ve tortured hold a razor to your neck. Snow provides some convenient plot summaries, revealing to Reek that Robb Stark is dead and revealing to Papa Bolton that the other Stark boys are still alive.

99 Problems and a Whore is One: Heading back to the Westerosi capital, spymaster Varys tells Tyrion that Queen Regent Cersei Lannister knows about his whore lover, Shae. The Queen Regent has told their father, Tywin Lannister, who once promised to hang the next whore he found with Tyrion.

In a pre-wedding shindig, guests are presenting gifts to the soon-to-be-married Joffrey Baratheon. Joffrey’s future father-in-law, Mace Tyrell, looks like an ancestor of the Burger King. He gives the boy king a fancy goblet. Tyrion gives his nephew a book and Joffrey feigns gratitude. Tywin gives his grandson a Valyrian steel sword, which Joffrey uses to gleefully chop up the book his uncle gave him. Dick. He then names the sword Widow’s Wail, to “honor” the beheading of Ned Stark. Uber dick.

Back in Tyrion’s room, Shae checks on her beloved lion. Tyrion tries to get her to leave for Pentos. He’s concerned for her safety, but acts cruel. He repeatedly calls Shae a whore and tells her that she’s unworthy to have his children. Shae is crushed, Bronn comes in to bring her to a ship, and Tyrion is heartbroken. The scene was short, but powerful.

Burning Man: Over in Dragonstone, the followers of R’hllor are holding a lovely ceremony. They’re burning infidels as an offering to their god. Stannis Baratheon continues to be stubborn, his wife continues to be a zealous believer, and trusted advisor Davos Seaworth continues to be one of the few voices of reason in Stannis’ camp.

Stannis’ daughter, Shireen, is being discussed at a post-sacrifice dinner. Priestess Melisandre visits the girl after dinner. The “Red Woman” tries to educate the lass on the “true” religion. The creepy scene ends in an abruptly creepy way that leaves you worried for Shireen.

Over the Wall: In the far, far, far North, Bran Stark is warging, enjoying life through his wolf’s eyes. His companions warn him that too much warging will make him go blind is dangerous. If he stays in his wolf too long then he’ll lose all sense of himself. This will, of course, ruin their mission to find the three-eyed crow and figure out how to bring peace to Westeros. Considering that the party consists of a bunch of kids and a mentally-disabled half-giant, I don’t have much faith in their plan. It’s like entrusting the Scooby-Doo gang to bring peace to the Ukraine.

Bran uses his mystical powers to communicate with a godswood tree. A trippy scene of flashbacks, future events, and assorted imagery ensues. He gets a completely obvious clue that the gang needs to head north. Well, duh.

A Nice Day For a Dead Wedding: It’s wedding time at King’s Landing! Joffrey weds the sexy (and power hungry) Margaery Tyrell. After the ceremony, Tywin Lannister and Olenna Tyrell trade barbs. Yeah, they’re two of the oldest characters in the cast, but they’re also two of the coolest.

Tyrion and Bronn chat about their plan to send Shae to Pentos. Bronn tries to assure everyone’s favorite dwarf that things went as planned. Tyrion has his doubts and is concerned for his beloved whore. Bronn ends their chat with the wise advice of, “Go drink until it feels like you’ve done the right thing.” Yeah, I love that Bronn has a bigger role in the television series than he does in the books.

Joffrey is acting like a spoiled brat. Unhappy with the entertainment, he cuts off a dull rendition of “The Rains of Castamere” by hurling coins at the musicians. Queen Margaery announces that the leftovers for the wedding will be given to the poorest people in King’s Landing. Yay generosity.

Loras Tyrell and Jaime Lannister have a brief exchange. Jaime is unhappy that his sister/lover Cersei has been promised to Loras. Being not-so-secretly gay, Loras isn’t thrilled with the arrangement either. Jaime threateningly says that Loras will never wed Cersei. Loras blows off the strong statement with, “And neither will you.”

Brienne of Tarth and Queen Regent Cersei have a conversation. Cersei unveils that fact that Brienne is in love with Jaime. This is an interesting change from the books. Brienne’s feelings for Jaime are implied in the books. In the TV show, it’s said outright…which brings me back to this column.

Maester Pycelle, being a dirty old man, is perving on a young lady. He offers to examine her personally in his quarters. I’m going to have to try that line. Cersei cuts off the proposition and instructs Pycelle to give the feast’s leftovers to the hounds. So much for Margaery’s charity.

Oberyn Martell has a brief but effective scene. He confronts Tywin and Cersei Lannister. Digs are made and differences in the treatment of bastards are revealed. Oberyn not-so-subtly hints that he’s still angry about how his sister and her children were murdered, and also suggests that Cersei’s daughter could be in danger in Dorne. This guy is a bad-ass.

Joffrey cuts off the merriment and presents his own entertainment. He has a band of dwarf mummers perform “The War of the Five Kings.” The show pokes fun at Renly Baratheon’s homosexuality, Robb Stark’s trechourous murder, and more. Joffrey is cracking up at his distasteful show, while Tyrion, Sansa, Olenna, and others look on in disgust.

Joffrey wants Tyrion to join the show, while Tyrion wants his nephew to show off his martial prowess (of which he has none). Embarrassed by his uncle’s clever words, Joffrey pours wine over Tyrion’s head. He then has Tyrion serve as his cupbearer. Joffrey drops and kicks away his goblet before Tyrion can fill it. He calls for Tyrion to kneel and things come to a standstill.

Thankfully, the ceremonial pie arrives. Joffrey goes off to slice the pie with Widow’s Wail. Tyrion and Sansa attempt to slip away quietly, but Joffrey calls his uncle back to refill his wine goblet. Mysteriously, Joffrey’s goblet has been infused with poison. He chokes to death, Fool Dontos helps Sansa escape, and Tyrion is blamed for the murder.

While this wedding wasn’t as shocking as the “Red Wedding” from last season, it sets up the rest of the season nicely. Many fans of the show will feel great satisfaction over Joffrey’s death and some will wonder how the goblet got poisoned. Fans of the books will wonder how the showrunners condensed a fairly intricate plot into several minutes of television. While I didn’t enjoy this episode (especially the first half) as much the season premiere, Game of Thrones s4e2 lays the groundwork for future episodes.

Random Thoughts on Game of Thrones Seasons 4, Episode 1

Now that I’ve watched it thrice, it’s time for some random thoughts on Game of Thrones s4e1. Out of the four season premieres, Game of Thrones s4e1 had the peppiest pacing. The previous three lagged a bit, due to necessary setup, while this episode moved at a brisk pace. Old characters came back, some new ones were established, and a somewhat important character hasbeen recast. Overall, it was a very strong episode that left me thoroughly entertained. It showed me where this season is going, had me wondering how the time flew by so fast, and left me excited for the next episode. Warning: There be spoilers ahead!

Hot Open: Instead of the customary opening credits, Game of Thrones s4e1 starts with a cold open, that was full of fire and blood. The world isn’t done screwing with the dearly departed Ned Stark. Tywin Lannister imported a smith from Volantis to reforge Ned’s sword — the great sword named Ice, made from rare Valyrian steel — into two weapons for the Lannister family. Twyin then throws a wolf pelt into a fire and stares at it with a look of satisfying triumph. Charles Dance has pretty much made Tywin Lannister the coolest cat in Westeros.

Don’t Call Me Lefty: Jaime Lannister is back in King’s Landing, sans right (sword) hand. Papa Tywin wants Jaime to leave the Kingsguard and go home to rule Casterly Rock. Jaime wants to stay in King’s Landing to bone his sister, Queen Regent Cersei Lannister. Tywin delivers one of his patented takedowns and disowns Jaime for refusing his family duties. Yeah, Tywin is getting even cooler with every minute of Game of Thrones s4e1.

My Name is Oberyn Martell…You Killed My Sister…Prepare to Die: At the edge of the city, Tyrion Lannister is waiting for the arrival of the Martells for King Joffrey’s wedding. Ser Bronn is there for excellent comic relief and sexual dynamo Squire Podrick is there to give nerds hope.

Prince Oberyn Martell is introduced in a surprisingly effective way. He’s hanging out a brothel with his paramour and it’s established that he has a voracious (bi)sexual appetite. He messes with some lower Lannisters for having the gaul to sing “The Rains of Castamere” in his presence, establishing him as a bad-ass. Finally, he has a great conversation with Tyrion that establishes his background and motives. Yeah, he’s speaking in plot summaries, but it comes off in a (mostly) natural way that’s dramatic and effective. You’re left knowing a lot more about Oberyn Martell and hoping to see more of this kick-ass character. Normally, I hate when characters in TV, movies, and comics speak in plot summaries, but this was well executed and especially beneficial to viewers that haven’t read the books. Huge credit goes to Pedro Pascal, who owned the screen as the Red Viper of Dorne.

(A lot of people have equated Oberyn with a sexier and nastier version of Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride. I don’t fully agree, but I get it, ergo the title to this section.)

How (Not) to Train Your Dragons: Over in Pentos, Daenerys is tending to her lovely dragons. The scene shows how big and uncontrollable the dragons are getting. It’s also a nice opportunity to show off some incredibly sweet dragon CGI.

Meanwhile, her army is being held up by a childish standoff between Grey Worm and Daario Naharis. A new actor is playing Daario…and I still don’t think he’s handsome or exotic enough. The book version of Daario seems exponentially cooler. Daario does get in a nice jab to Grey Worm about not having balls. Making fun of eunuchs is always a good time and I’m glad it was slipped into Game of Thrones s4e1.

Back to King’s Landing: Sansa Stark isn’t eating, which isn’t surprising. Her brother and mother were killed in a vile act of betrayal in s3e9, so her lack of appetite is understandable. Tyrion is trying his best to console his wife, to no avail. Everyone’s favorite imp is getting stressed out by life in King’s Landing — his wife hates him, his nephew wants to kill him, his father and sister loathe him, and his whore lover wants more attention. While I’ve always been a fan of Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion, I’m surprised by how much Sophie Turner has improved as Sansa. She started as a stupid little girl and has grown into a tortured beauty that you can’t help but feel for.

The Man with the Golden Hand: Book purists are whining about this scene taking place before it should, but whatever. Jaime is getting his stub fitted with a golden hand, courtesy of mad scientist and former Maester of the Citadel, Qyburn. I totally cracked up when Jaime waived goodbye to Qyburn with his fake hand.

Jaime wants to get busy with Cersei, but she isn’t having it. She suggests that she has found new lovers (spoiler: she has) and no longer wants Jaime in that way. Cersei is becoming more depressed, more of an alcoholic, and more unbalanced. Lena Headey has always owned as Cersei Lannister. I’m excited to see her descent into madness.

Where the Wildlings Are: The wildlings south of The Wall are regrouping after Jon Snow’s betrayal. The Thenn Tribe is introduced…and they are scary. The Thenns are a brutal branch of wildlings that enjoy carving scars on their faces and chowing down on a lovely cannibal meal, but they’re also smarter and more aware than they’re scarred visages would suggest. These guys scare the bejeezus out of me. I’m pretty sure one of them mugged me in Queens once…or maybe that was Anthony Mason.

Jon Snow…Acting: Kit Harington pulls off his best acting to date in Game of Thrones s4e1. The Jon Snow he plays in this episode is complex and conflicted, while showing signs of developing strength. He’s mourning for his beheaded brother and dealing with accusations of betrayal. It’s tough being Jon Snow right now. The Night’s Watch leadership has a number of pricks in it since Lord Commander Mormont was killed. Two of them — Alliser Thorne and Janos Slynt — would love to see Snow killed. Thankfully, Maester Aemon is there to look out for Jon. Oh yeah, during Jon’s questioning, he manages to deliver a wickedly sharp line to Slynt. That was cool.

Olenna Tyrell Owns: What is it with old people being so cool in Westeros? Fossils Tywin Lannister and Olenna Tyrell seem like the coolest people to hang out with. Lady Tyrell is clearly the sharpest woman on the show right now and probably the second-most cunning person in King’s Landing.

In a transition scene, an awesome statue of King Joffrey is shown. He’s standing triumphantly with a crossbow, with his foot is on a dead wolf. I want one of those statues.

In another part of King’s Landing, Jaime is planning security for the royal wedding. Joffrey is shown being unreasonable and borderline insane. He name drops some famous characters that will delight fans of the books. He also blasts his uncle/secret father, taking a jab at his age and one-handedness.

Daario Loves Dany: Back in Pentos, Daario is trying to educate and seduce Dany at the same time. There’s another Easter egg for fans of the books. Otherwise, this was a throwaway scene (mostly because I don’t yet like the actor playing Daario).

Enter the Fool: Brienne and Jaime are arguing about what to do with Sansa, watching over the Little Dove as she prays. I love the dynamic between these two characters. The actors have fantastic chemistry.

After finishing her prayers, Sansa’s Stark-sense goes off and she feels that she’s being followed. She is…and it’s former knight and current fool Dontos Hollard. He gifts her with a necklace. Fans of the books will know what’s coming and why it was important to establish him in Game of Thrones s4e1. Viewers that haven’t read the books will like seeing Sansa getting a brief moment of happiness in her tortured life.

On the Road Again: “The Hound” Sandor Clegane and Arya Stark are on the road again. This pair is fantastic. Their banter is delightful, with the actors playing off of each other wonderfully. Like many viewers, I would watch an hour of Arya and the Hound on the road. The Hound’s unintentional humor in this scene is brilliant, with him questioning what a “Lommy” is and giving his opinion on people that name their swords. Rory McCann’s deliver is awesome.

The scene is a mashup of happenings from the books. The timing and characters have changed, but the result is effective television. The climax has Arya getting back her sword, Needle, and getting some revenge on Polliver. It leaves you with so many emotions. It’s cool seeing Arya become an effective killer. It’s sweet seeing a Stark finally go on the offensive. And then you realize that she’s still a little girl and the person she’s becoming is completely messed up. Watching Arya’s satisfied smile as she rides off on the road at the end of Game of Thrones s4e1 is a conflicting moment. You’re happy, sad, and afraid for her all at the same time.

Random Thoughts on WWE WrestleMania XXX

After a subpar WrestleMania XXIX, WWE roared back with WrestleMania XXX. It was an important show on several levels. Obviously 30 is a nice, round number and WWE often pulls out all the stops for “anniversary” shows. Last year, smarks blasted WWE for its fan-unfriendly booking. This year, the company (mostly) listened. On a corporate level, WrestleMania XXX was the first major show to take advantage of WWE Network. To my delight, the stream was flawless on my AT&T U-Verse connection. As for the show itself, WrestleMania XXX was a mix of great matches, bland bouts, and bizarre happenings. Here are some assorted thoughts on last night’s show. I’d love to hear yours in the comments section. (Also, spoilers ahead!)

Hogan’s Hot Start: The immortal (not really) Hulk Hogan kicked things off as the host of WrestleMania XXX. He got the crowed hot…until he gaffed and called the Superdome the Silverdome. Pundits have used thousands of words arguing on whether or not the Silverdome gaff was a simple mistake or a result of Alzheimer’s. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin joined in and got the crow even hotter. He even played up the Silverdome error and turned it into a fun rib. Finally…The Rock returned to WrestleMania. Kicking off the show with three of the biggest pro-wrestling stars of all time was tremendous. The live crowd loved it and it played well on TV.

Daniel Bryan Plays the Game: The opening match was predictable, but mostly good. Triple H is a part-timer these days and there were several moments where he looked rusty. His timing was slightly off, making for action that wasn’t as crisp as it could have been. It’s one thing for Hunter to pull off a great match with someone that he’s been wrestling for years, like Shawn Michaels or the Undertaker. With a relatively new opponent like Daniel Bryan, the results weren’t his best. As for the artist formerly known as Bryan Danielson, he was tremendous. I am of the opinion that he has been the best in-ring performer on the WWE roster since HBK retired.

Overall, it was a solid match, the right guy won, and it got the crowd going. The post-match beat-down was also very good. Stephanie McMahon’s legs were pretty distracting. It was difficult to concentrate on the wrestling when naughty thoughts about the MILF-y Stephanie McMahon kept invading my mind.

The Shield vs. Some Old Guys: This was a short squash. The Shield has been one of the hottest acts in WWE for the last year or so. Sadly, they didn’t get the opportunity to shine at WrestleMania XXX. Oh well, they’re young and I’m sure there will be several chances for them down the road. As for the New Age Outlaws, I like that they were brought in to shake things up in the tag-team division, but they should hang it up as regular performers. I’m probably in the minority, but I dig Corporate Kane. He’ll never do this, but I wish he’d incorporate some of his real-life libertarian views into his gimmick. That would rule.

WWE WrestleMania XXX Cesaro

Andre the Giant Battle Royal: As many of you know, I’ve been a huge mark for Cesaro from back when he wrestled as Claudio Castagnoli in Ring of Honor and other independent wrestling promotions. I was delighted to see him win the WrestleMania XXX battle royal. The match itself was typical WWE battle royal fare — mostly boring with some cool spots by Kofi Kingston (I was amazed that he landed on the stairs) and Dolph Ziggler. Cesaro slamming Big Show out of the ring was pretty spectacular and I’m sure that clip will be replayed hundreds of times over the next decade. Most importantly, the win and the highlight slam helped establish Cesaro as a future WWE player. I loved that WrestleMania XXX was used to elevate Cesaro to the next level and hope WWE doesn’t botch the followup.

John Cena is Tempted by the Dark Side: A lot of wrestling fans are blasting this match, but I enjoyed it. The psychology was unique and the storytelling was strong. That said, it had some flaws. I’m certain that it played better on TV than it did live. The announcers did a great job of enhancing the storyline of Bray Wyatt trying to get Cena to give into his anger and ruin his legacy. Obviously the live crowd doesn’t get the benefit of that enhancement. There were slow moments that appeared to be tense on TV, but probably looked dead to people at the show. On the downside, the loss damages the Wyatt family act a bit, but they have the ability to bounce back. While I respect Cena’s work ethic, I was happy to see him in the middle of the card instead of the main event.

WWE WrestleMania XXX Undertaker

Brock Lesnar Breaks Undertaker’s Streak: This WrestleMania XXX match…I didn’t get at all. I didn’t expect a great match; Undertaker is old and in constant pain — dude can’t go like he used to. Lesnar is phenomenally gifted, but he’s never been great at carrying opponents. The action was brutally stiff at times, though awkward and lumbering at others. The result doesn’t make sense to me. Lesnar is a part-timer and he gets a huge rub for ending “The Streak.” Wouldn’t it have been better to give the rub to a young up-and-comer that can capitalize on it for the next decade? I don’t see the point in using “The Streak” to elevate Lesnar, a guy that wrestles three times a year and will probably be out of the business within the next few years…

…unless he was Undertaker’s personal pick to end “The Streak.” In that case, you can’t really say anything, can you? Undertaker has earned the right to go out however the hell he wants to.

Divas Clusterf*ck Match: I’ve loved AJ Lee for years. I called out her hotness back in the NXT days. I was happy she won, but WWE’s use of Divas…kind of sucks right now. I’m happy that they all got a WrestleMania XXX paycheck and some exposure, but there was so much wasted talent in the ring. The Divas roster is stacked with women that can work great matches — AJ, Nattie Neidhart, Naomi, Emma, etc. It would have been nice to see some female talent (that’s not on a stupid reality show) elevate at WrestleMania XXX.

WWE WrestleMania XXX Daniel Bryan

Daniel Bryan Conquers Drax: This was a good match that was better than I thought it would be. Yes, it had the completely-expected moments of Batista sucking, but Randy Orton and Daniel Bryan helped covered up Big Dave’s enormous sucktitude. That Batista-Bomb-into-an-RKO spot was pretty gnarly. I was worried about Orton when he landed (unplanned) on a loose monitor after the spot. The near-finishes at the end were exciting and dramatic. Most importantly, the right guy won to open and close the show.

Some fans felt that the match was over-booked towards the end, with interference by The Authority and a shady referee being inserted into the match. I disagree with those folks. While I expected Bryan to win the match, the interference planted some seeds of doubt. The booking had me wondering if the writers were going to blow it again. I liked that doubt crept in for a few brief moments.

As a big Bryan Danielson fan and someone that hated some of the booking decisions behind Daniel Bryan, I was thrilled to see him finally emerge victorious at WrestleMania XXX. The live crowd reaction wasn’t as big as I thought it would be, but part of that was the audience still reeling from the shock of ‘Taker’s streak coming to an end. Naturally, the crowd went home happy and millions of smarks were left happy. I enjoyed the match and loved the result. Hopefully the writers don’t screw this one up.

Vaping Diaries #183: Drip Club Review

E-liquid subscription services are the rage right now. They offer vapers a convenient way to try a variety of juices from a number of vendors. The latest juice subscription service I tried was Drip Club. This company aims to bring the experience of a high-end Southern California vape shop right to your door.

If you’re not familiar with the Southern California vape scene, the region has the highest concentration of vape shops in the world and a large number of e-liquid companies. As a SoCal resident, I feel fortunate to have easy access to great vape shops that let me sample e-liquids from loads of quality juice makers. Drip Club offers a similar sampling experience and lets you pick up larger quantities of the juices you enjoy.

Like competing e-liquid subscription services, Drip Club has you start by setting up a flavor profile. From there, the company sends you a selection of more than 45ml of juice. Current plans range from $27.99 to $29.99, depending on the number of months you commit to.

My Drip Club subscription box came with e-liquids from Fearless Vapor, Gemini Vapors, Potion Vape, The Mitsu, Trabuco Vapors, and Vape Craving. All of the flavors fit with the flavor profile I set up on the Drip Club web site. I enjoyed all of the juice selected and would buy larger bottles of three of them — that’s a pretty good percentage. I’ve gone to vape shops and sampled dozens of juices, only to like two or three. I was impressed that Drip Club sent me some several juices I liked and some that I loved.

In addition to the e-liquid brands from my sample box, Drip Club has a number of quality juice makers in its roster. Alpha Vape, Vape Chemist, Dr. Mike’s Rad Vapors, Cyber E-Liquids, Long Beach Juice Supply, Organliq, and E-Juice 2 Die 4 are some of the vendors you can sample. Since the e-liquid market changes so fast, the owners are constantly considering new vendors and adding new juices to the roster.

In the past, I’ve covered the Craft Vapery subscription service. The Craft Vapery approach is very hands on — like having an e-liquid personal shopper. As I mentioned earlier, Drip Club is like having a great vape shop’s juice section brought to your door; you can try a number of great juices and buy the ones you love. While Craft Vapery and Drip Club are similar, the approaches are a bit different. I don’t think one is better than the other — it really depends on which approach works better for you.

Drip Club logo

Overall, I was happy with my Drip Club experience. The juices fit into my flavor profile and were from top companies. I enjoyed all of the e-liquids that were selected for me and love that the company makes it easy to buy the three that I found especially tasty. The owners of Drip Club want everyone in America to experience the juice section of a top notch SoCal vape shop and they’ve succeeded with this e-liquid subscription service.