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Friday, December 14, 2007

I had to laugh..

When I checked my RSS feeds and saw the latest comment on my Xbox's blog:

Flint ZA's Xbox - 12/9/2007
It really feels like forever since I have felt the sweet surge of power running through my belly. Is there a nationwide power outage that Flint ZA isn't telling me about? Email me if there is a blackout... oh... wait...
Actually, as luck would have it Eskom is playing silly buggers with us at the moment. We have had two 'load shedding' sessions of two hours each at home this week, and traffic in some parts of Gauteng has been even more congested than usual thanks to the incredibly smart people at Eskom's planning department designating key areas like Sandton and the center of Pretoria for load shedding in rush hour. To all of you wonderful foreign tourists planning on visiting in 2010 to cheer your teams on-bring a torch and lots of batteries :P

Zen Habits on Decluttering your mind

15 Can’t-Miss Ways to Declutter Your Mind | Zen Habits

One of my favorite blogs has an article today that I just have to share on 15 tips for decluttering your mind. For example:

9. Get in touch with nature. Similar to “take a walk” above, but without the bustle of activity. I like to go somewhere with water … the ocean, a river, a lake, even just a man-made fountain if nothing else is available. Or watching rain does the trick for me too. Somehow this can be calming and focusing at the same time.

Some of them I apply already and some I still have to get to (baby steps :) ), but every single one is simple and relatively practical and at worst will be a nice break from the usual routine. I thought a recent pic from the garden would be a nice accompaniment to the above morsel ;)

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Input rant..

In coding -probably more so than most desk jockey jobs- speedy movement around a document without interfering with keyboard flow is essential. As such being able to move the cursor or document focus around without lifting your hands off the keyboard to use the mouse makes a big difference in efficiency terms. I am one of those wierdos that actually likes the integrated trackball in server rack keyboards, and as such I'd love to find a keyboard that includes a trackball and chuck my mouse once and for all. There's just one tiny problem, there doesn't seem to be anything out there that includes this feature and the other essential feature-a natural layout. I grudgingly started using a natural layout earlier this year on suggestion/insistence from one of my coworkers and I wouldn't go back for anything.Unfortunately it seems as if these two features are mutually exclusive. An integrated scrollwheel (present in some of the top end MS natural keyboards) is better than nothing.. but I want a frigging trackball. Grr.

Monday, December 03, 2007

An idea to encourage environmentally friendly manufacturing processes

I was going to ad this as a section in my last post, but I thought it warranted it's own post..

Last week environmental analysts released a report that Sony was the most environmentally responsible of the console manufacturers, this was a bit disappointing to me and I really hope MS gets their act together. Along those lines, I was thinking on the long drive to Witbank yesterday about incentives and so on with regard to environmentally friendly manufacturing. If there is an accepted scale for how 'green' a product's manufacturing process is, why not apply this in a timed program to encourage green production. Let's say such legislation imposes a goal percentage of X% of all output from any company to be green rated at, G% or higher. Any company that does not meet the required percentage pays a tax on the manufacturing cost of the shortfall, and any company that exceeds the percentage receives a return on their excess as an incentive. This has the effect of making green products more attractive to produce, while funding the subsidies from gradually more expensive non-green products. The gradual adjustment of the required percentages prevents the shock from being so massive that non-green companies are driven out of business, while encouraging them to think ahead to keep their business profitable.
To illustrate, let's say the time-line is as follows:

Year Compliance percentage (G) Min output to comply (X) Max output incentive (Y) Tax/Incentive percentage (T)
2008-2011 50% 10% 10% 5%
2012-2015 65% 20% 20% 6%
2016-2018 80% 50% 50% 7%

Then if 5% company A's total output is 50% or more green, it falls short of the minimum by 5%, and will have to pay 5% tax on the manufacturing cost of that shortfall-a total of 0.25% of it's overall costs. Not enough to drive anyone out of business, but enough to be noticed.
By contrast if 18% company B's output is 50% or more green, it qualifies for a 5% return on the manufacturing costs of it's 8% excess-a total of 0.4% of it's costs. The 10% max output limits this effect to 0.5% at this stage, but ensures that the tax gathered from non-compliance should cover the cost of subsidies.
Looking forward to 2017, if company A's compliance has reached 40% of total output being 80% or higher green, it's shortfall is now 10%, taxed at 7%-increasing it's total tax to 0.7% of gross production. If company B has really excelled and reached 100% of it's output being 80% or higher green rated, it will receive a boost of 3.5% of it's overall manufacturing costs.
This system has obvious benefits such as using 'dirty' manufacturing to subsidize 'clean' manufacturing, thereby making the latter far more attractive than it currently is. The are other less obvious advantages as well, such as attracting high tech investment, boosting demand (and potential funding) for highly qualified workers, boosting local research in related areas, green technologies available to locals at a lower cost boosting their use by consumers.. the list goes on and on.

Justin kicked me in the ass..

Well, not physically, but he did remind me I need to start blogging a bit. I actually have a bunch to write about but I'll try not to go totally overboard.

Life, the universe and a veggie patch
In general, everyday life stuff I've been massively busy with our new house. I did post a couple of pics to Flickr when we moved in, and I have loads more I want to put up but that will have to wait until Telkom get their ass into gear and install our line. We've put up a palisade, tiled the kitchen and dining room and tidied up the front garden. My composter is coming along nicely and the veggie patch is turned and will be worked with compost soon. I have also dug a little herb garden for Natz next to the kitchen. This week we're having the carpets in the bedrooms pulled up so we can sand and polish the wood underneath, and then the major stuff is done for a good long while. I've got a seed feeder and fruit up for the birds, and just put up a temporary plastic bath, and so far we've been treated to visits by Robins, Myners, Muisvoels, Loeries, Bulbuls, Barbetts, Bishops and of course the obligatory Sparrows and Doves. We seem to have a couple of Bulbul nests in our trees, and it looks like the Loeries are scouting for a nesting spot too-not bad for our first month :)

Games wise, I've been playing Assasin's Creed, and it's a gorgeous game with an intriguing story. I can see where the criticism has come in with regards to it being monotonous though, the developers seemed to have a couple of really cool ideas, and then tried to stretch them too far. Surely it can't have been that difficult to think of more than a handful of things to do in ancient Jerusalem? The combat is also way to samey and gets old quickly. Despite these issues, I'm still enjoying it immensely. Hopefully I'll get my hands on Dancing Universe this week, I've been looking forward to this since the US DDR release last year, and it's about bloody time we get a PAL version.

Sneaky, sneaky Nokia
Nokia finally released a firmware update for the 'classic' N95 last week. This has tech heads (me included) excited to check out the new features, of which there are loads such as integrated search (so, sooo awesome), better camera software, better speed and memory use, to name a few. There have been zillions of posts about these features in the last week though, so I'm going to skip on these and focus on a particular 'upgrade' that left me with a VERY sour taste in my mouth this weekend.
One of my favorite features on the N95 is the integrated GPS. I would never have bought a standalone GPS, but now that I have one in my phone, I really can't believe how useful it is. I don't use it enough to justify shelling out for the voice prompted navigation service though, and instead always just used the option to plot a route between two points and then track my movement. This allowed me to see the route and keep a visual track on where I am on screen when I need to keep an eye out for a particularly tricky street. Nokia, in all their misplaced wisdom have removed this option from the new software, essentially rendering the GPS component as nothing more than a digital map archive unless you buy the voice prompts. I am very pissed about this and find it to be a really sneaky move on Nokia's part. Nice, another reason to get a Sony Ericsson instead next time I upgrade.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Live for India? W.. T.. F..

Gamasutra is reporting that Microsoft will be launching Xbox Live in India on November 5 this year. Now for those of you that don't know, the '360 was launched in India the day after it was launched here, at the end of September last year. While both Indian and South African Xbox 360 owners have been lobbying for Live support in their respective countries since then, Microsoft's argument has always been (to the South African community at least) that player numbers did not justify this.
What little digging I did revealed an investigation by that revealed by February this year only 839 Xbox 360 Consoles had been sold in India. This is despite a rather large and expensive marketing campaign at launch which included Bollywood-style TV ads aired on Indian TV. Even with the recent Halo hype I very much doubt that number has even approached 5000 by this date.
By contrast, South African sales numbers are estimated to be well beyond 10000, possibly exceeding 15000. An online petition by the local online community to have a South African Locale launched for Live has to date garnered over 1300 signatures. While this may not seem like a particularly impressive number, keep in mind that this is limited to people that are knowledgeable enough to have investigated the problem online and be active in the community. This does not include the countless average consumers that turned on and plugged in their Xbox 360, pressed 'Connect to Live' and gave up when the console reported there was no support for their locale, or got as far as claiming to be American and got stopped short at the address entry stage. Even taking local broadband into account, we must have more online players (and potential online players) than India.

One possible argument that has been suggested in local forums is that the cost to Microsoft (and possibly Telkom) to establish Live locally is not worth it. I have two counters for that. The first is simply that if it's worth it in India with their minuscule install base it should sure as hell be worth it here. My second argument is that the cost need not be that high. Microsoft does not have download servers and maintenance staff in every country in which Live is supported. Sure it would be nice to have a local download and matching server that could be used with a (relatively) cheap local only ADSL account, but the main call from the community is for a South African locale that would allow us to successfully use the awesome Live matching service to find local players and (legally) use our credit cards for gold accounts and Microsoft points. Let's reiterate that second part: we want to give Microsoft our money. Now anyone that has ever done any kind of web based system with multiple locale support knows that this isn't a big deal AT ALL. We're not talking support for a new language here, US or UK english would be just fine thanks. We just want that locale table in the Live database to include a row with "South Africa","en-uk" in it. Please MS, give me remote access to your DB and I'll do the damned work for you FOR FREE. I know it's not quite as simple as that, but you get the idea.
Finally, the only reason I can think of that makes some iota of sense is that Microsoft is perhaps doing this to boost sales of the console in India. If Live support in India will include video marketplace, and specifically offer the hugely popular local (Bollywood) content, I could see how that functionality would boost sales. The same can't really be said here. Microsoft can't (legally) offer us content to compete with local TV. Of course if my theory a couple of months ago that Telkom Media might use the 360 as a set-top box when it launches it's IPTV services next year, that may change-though I'm more doubtful of it at this stage as I'm sure we would have heard some whispers of this. Even if this is the approach that's being taken, it still doesn't explain how the cost (which if localized video marketplace is offered will require additional hardware and manpower outlay) is more justifiable in India than here.

Microsoft, I'm a huge fan of your platform, but you really are being bastards at this point!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Efficient electricity use in the home

As part of Blog Action Day I was hoping to post something bemoaning Eskom's blocking of alternative home energy generation solutions-but I haven't been able to find a reference proving that this is the case do for now it's just hearsay. Instead I decided to look at some basic tips for efficient energy use in the home, which is particularly relevant considering our country's current dodgy electricity situation. Most of the following is from

Use flourescent bulbs
Right next to your every day 100 watt bulbs in your local Pick 'n Pay are funny looking bulbs that look like twisted tubes. These are compact flourescent bulbs (CFLs). CFLs are available in just about every size and shape you need and typically use around 70% less energy than their traditional counterpart while providing the same light!

Use natural light
Think skylights. Many reasonable natural light systems exist that will not only  bring light into your house but will often improve air circulation as well (without making your house look like a moon base).

Ghost loads
I was surprised to discover how much extra electricity 'standby' devices like TVs, DVD players, PC's etc consume over time. New to me was the fact that chargers and other AC/DC adapters chew juice even when they're plugged in but the device they charge isn't. For a household like mine (and probably that of any other gadget whore) that means at any given time ther are probably about a dozen devices and chargers happily sucking up power while doing absolutely nothing useful.

Upgrade your stuff
Sometimes the good old fashioned way isn't the best way of doing things. Newer devices often do as good a job at the same (or lower price) than their old-fashioned equivalents. A good example of this is in-line water heaters which use less electricity than an always-on always-heating geyser.

Gas up
Gas cooking is no longer limited to the skottel-braai you haul out on summer days. When upgrading your kitchen it's possible these days to get an really nice and shiny gas equivalent to that boring old electric plate system you were considering-and you'll still be able to eat hot meals when Eskom decides it's your turn to be load-shedded. Gas based heating and lighting options abound as well, though without a gas utility system they're unfortunately not as practical locally.

First prize
Of course if you want to go all the way (I know I want to when I move into my new place), you can always consider renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power. I still haven't been able to confirm if it's possible (ie legal) to augment your Eskom supply with alternate sources in SA, but at the very least your outside lights can be powered by solar charged reserves,  water for certain purposes can be heated by rooftop heating tubes and those outside plugs are good candidates for a separate 'off grid' power source. I'll probably blog more on the specifics of this when I start doing it in my new place :)

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Driver's license hell

No, not mine.. but a friend's.
My coworker Dave has just started blogging his experiences with the SA licensing department in trying to acquire his license. His story is a testament to why so many people just 'buy' their licences these days :p

Good luck dave!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

So much stuff..

What's up?
Once again I've had a post drought, and of course the reason is.. wait for it.. WORK! The difference is, it's  the new job and I'm loving every minute of it. I haven't felt I've needed some kind of break (be it blogging or whatever). After a discussion on the matter,  I confirmed that I can say  I'm working for Mi Digital, we're doing Xbox 360 development, and I'm the  tech lead on the project. Any more than that and the MiB's might take me away ;) The mix of work so far is great, even though the team so far is just the design and project lead (my old boss Dan from I-Imagine) the art lead (Dave, also of I-I fame) and I, so there's no team management in it for now. The other project management responsibilities are all there-selecting technology, setting standards and of course setting up a development framework and other key technical aspects of the project. In short, it's awesome. I am so chuffed to be back in game dev, out of wall-to-wall coding and on the Xbox dev platform. Obviously NDA limits what we can say, but I have always been vocal about how I feel the platform has the perfect blend of console and PC advantages, and the same holds for the 360.

Home at last
The one downside of the job (there had to be one) is the commute from Pretoria into Joburg, which takes about an hour. Thankfully that is a hole that will soon be plugged, because we really lucked out and found a great house reasonably close to work. I should say Natz found it, she did an awesome job of house-hunting, and her mom was a great help too (she actually saw the ad). We'll be moving in at the end of October, so I only have a few more weeks of nasty commuting left :) I'll post photos when I have them but for now I'll just say it's a great 3 bed 2 bath house with a big garden in a nice area. It's even really close to a lake so I'll be able to take up windsurfing again!

Game on!
Finally, on the game (playing) side, I got through Tomb Raider which turned out to be a pretty good game. It's nothing earth shattering, and lends heavily from many franchises but does so in a way that the title as a whole seems really polished and plays really well and at a good pace. It's like a really well produced action flick that you'll love for it's short duration but won't steal a second thought once it's over. The use of Lara's history in the story was really enjoyable and revisiting some of the core events that shaped her life really helped shape the character.
Last week I started on Bioshock, and while I was generally suspicious of all the hype surrounding the game I am thoroughly enjoying it. The visuals are really amazing in every technical regard, and the interesting choice of period (late 1950's with art and architectural influences reaching back a decade or so) along with strong and focused art direction have resulted in one of the best looking titles ever. The gameplay doesn't feel quite as revolutionary as the game's spiritual predecessor System Shock, but it is solid and feeds well off a level of atmosphere which far surpasses anything I have played to date. The incredible use of sound and dramatic timing lead to a brilliantly nerve wrecking experience that is more thriller than horror. So far the story is compelling as well, and the progressive introduction to the horrific deterioration of idyllic Rapture is completely engrossing, and helped along by top notch voice acting.
Yesterday was the local launch of Halo as well, and of course I had to give that a go. I had planned to dive into the campaign cooperatively online with a group of 5DT players, but when I got online I discovered they had been at it for a couple of hours already having taken time off work. Yes I was more than a bit peeved. Anyway Natz and I got started on it playing splitscreen, and she wasn't really bowled over. She jumped out about halfway into the first level and I found I had to restart the level in the solo campaign. Not cool. Graphically Halo is pretty, but certainly not up to the standards set by Gears of War or Bioshock. The difference of course is that Halo is handling huge open areas rather than the tight environments of those two titles, and has far more characters in battle at any given time. The character models I have seen so far are a bit disappointing, even taking the numbers into account. I have not progressed far enough into the campaign to comment on the story, but it seems to be typical Halo fare. The gameplay too is pure Halo, which is to be expected but perhaps disappointingly simple compared to the rich experiences offered in recent games. I can't comment on Live multiplayer yet, but we did play a LAN deathmatch session at work and that was great fun. Microsoft's hype machine has obviously outdone itself, even in the local market, because of the 30 or so of my friends list that were online last night, there were seldom more than 5 doing something other than Halo 3. The game also shattered all launch day records. With a stateside launch revenue of $170 million, it has stolen the top entertainment launch spot from the likes of Spider-Man 3 and Harry Potter.

And finally..
Jack Thompson is at it again. This time the fool has submitted gay porn as evidence to the judge who will ultimately decide whether he should be allowed to continue practicing law in the state of Florida. Not smart. Read it and laugh.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The final count down

As of today, I have a week left at 5DT. I'm really excited, but at the same time I'm pretty damned apprehensive as well.. there's always so much more stuff to finish up than time to do it in!

They're here!

Natz went off to the coast last week with her folks so that I could get some overtime in and not feel guilty about it, and she brought back an awesome present, DVDs of the great 80's monster comedy/horrors Gremlins and Gremlins 2. These two pull of cheeze like only an 80s flick can and have always been two of my favorite movies-right up there with Aliens and T2. I recently tried to find the two in a box set, but they are all a bit overpriced (before taking shipping into account) and I gave it up for the time being. Natz managed to pick up the two for 100 bucks, what a steal! :)

Raiding the gamerscore tomb

With Natz away, I finally managed to finish Command and Conquer 3 on the 360 (hey I can't work 24/7) as well as Prey. The latter was actually surprisingly easy thanks to the resurrection mechanic, so I finished it in two sittings. The ending is actually quite good, and overall I enjoyed the experience. I'm not typically a fan of mindless shooters though and this was definitely a big enough dose of that kind of gameplay to keep me satisfied for a while. Prey was also really generous on gamerscore, giving up over 650 points just for completing it!

I have now started on Tomb Raider Legend, which seems good so far, with some serious challenges right from the start and a nice variety of locations and gameplay.

Google sorry, Google pay

When Google canceled their video buy/rent feature earlier this month they mistakenly thought their customers would be satisfied with a pat on the back and a Google Checkout refund. Of course the masses weren't too happy with this arrangement, and Google have answered the flood of complaints by giving these customers not only the promised checkout refunds, but refunds to their credit cards as well, essentially a double refund (of course they are probably banking on a fair number of Checkout converts as a result). The videos will also remain available for another six months. Way to apologize for a screwup!

Continuing in the 'sorry we did evil, wont happen again and here's a cookie' vein, Google announced it's change in policy regarding street view privacy. Previously complainants would have to verify their identity before having images of themselves or their numberplates from street views on Google maps, this is no longer necessary and such images will be blurred out immediately on request and without question.

Friday, August 17, 2007


I have a nifty new toy to complement my N95, W850i, or any other Bluetooth-enabled phone I want to use safely while driving. Through the same generous donor that I got the N95 from, I've got a Blueant Supertooth Lite hands free kit. I've been using the device all week, and I cam really impressed with every aspect of it.

Setup of the Supertooth Light was ridiculously simple, just hold down a button and search for devices to pair with on the phone. After that (assuming you allow auto-connection) reconnection is a simple case of turning on Bluetooth on the phone and turning on the Supertooth. The included clip slips easily onto your sun visor, and thanks to the small magnets on the Supertooth the unit can be attached and detached with absolutely zero hassle.

Day to day use is just as simple as the initial setup. When your phone rings, the ringtone plays through the Supertooth's speaker as well, and answering is as simple as pressing the big answer button (which is conveniently backlit at night). Phone voice prompts are supported as well, so once voice prompted quick-dialing is set up on the phone, it automatically works on the Supertooth-triggered by holding down the call button for a second. While it obviously isn't stereo and I would hardly use it for listening to music, listening to podcasts using the Supertooth as an external speaker is great too. The one criticism I have of the unit's design is the volume controls-due to the Supertooth's orientation while in use on your car visor, it's difficult to see the +/- markings. At night it is completely impossible. Otherwise it's a wonderfully easy to use piece of kit that really does it's job well.

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Not so lazy long weekend

From the lack of traffic this morning, it would appear that half of South Africa took leave today to enjoy a long weekend (Yesterday was national Women's Day). I wish I was in the same boat, but obviously with an upcoming switch in jobs I need to take every opportunity to tie up any loose ends I can at 5DT, so I was in yesterday and am Packing Natz off on holiday with her folks so I can put in some serious overtime.

As far as interesting tech things this week, it's been a bit quiet this week. Games wise Xbox Live Arcade didn't even see it's now customary double release, and no retail games hit shelves either. Next week should be the beginning of the build up to the (US) holiday flood though. I am still working through Command and Conquer 3's single player campaigns, and dabbling in a bit of Spyglass boardgames as well (it's wonderful to finally have a chess game on the arcade, I just wish the achievements were not completely broken). The good news is I finally broke the 5k gamerscore mark. Woohoo!  :)

Nothing particularly interesting on the cell front either, other than Nokia starting it's limited Beta of MOSH, a community content sharing system that consists of a website (standard and .mobi version) and an optional application to upload and download content. It will be interesting to see what sort of copyright protection is in place in this system (YouTube, anyone) and also how mobile networks will take this, considering many of them have content portals that would more than likely suffer from the availability of a competing portal with free content. We have already seen removal from branded firmware of applications and links that offer services that might threaten network revenue, so I'm sure the MOSH application will see similar censorship.

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Friday, August 03, 2007

Rant: Out of context reporting

Browsing my RSS feeds earlier this morning, I saw a Joystiq item on an African Women's Blog that has taken offence to recently released footage of Resident Evil 4. I am by no means surprised and had predicted to my colleagues (and fellow gamers) that this title would cause some kind of 'racist' outcry. It got us onto the topic of how non-gaming media seems unable to get away from reporting on gaming and other technology related news without taking context into account.

Games, social websites and virtual worlds often require a significant investment of time to be able to fully understand the context of their characters and functionality. In the above example, one would have to play Resident Evil 5 to understand the context for these enemies, which happen to be black-they are diseased zombies, the need to shoot them has nothing to do with their race. It would appear however, that mainstream publications do not consider this legwork as necessary as if they were reporting on a political story, a new (physical) social spot or even a movie. A reporter that made unsubstantiated claims about a neighborhood coffee shop harboring rabid pedophiles would be brought to task, why is the same standard not held to when reporting about 'virtual' activities? By contrast, when reporting on the likes of supposed terrorist training camps in Second Life or the rise of a 'new' kind of bully online it would appear that any sort of real journalistic investigation is an optional extra.

Second Life has been the target of many such articles, ranging from exaggerated claims of the business potential of the platform, to numerous sexual scandals. The most recent trend in misguided reporting about the platform (note: not game) is that of it having been over-hyped and now being on the verge of collapse. The irony of this is that this supposed hype was all generated by the same publications now predicting Second Life's doom. Of course in terms of subscriber numbers and concurrent users, it is healthier than ever. Reading through any of these articles quickly reveals that -at best- the author has signed into second life and spent a few minutes wandering around the welcome area and does not really comprehend what the virtual world is about or it's potential.

As someone that thrives on technology, I tire of seeing otherwise respectable publications (both on- and offline) degraded to the level of a common tabloid whenever they report on technology. Is it really that difficult to find a staff member that is knowledgeable about technology? Are freelance technology writers that know their stuff really that few and far between? Or does the problem lie higher up the chain, with editors that honestly don't believe editorial responsibility extends to technology reporting?

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Mobile webcam

How many uses can a single device have!? :)

I have been meaning to test this for ages, but only got to it (at last) today during lunch. WWIGO is a really smart combination of PC and Symbian software that allows you to use your bluetooth capable Symbian camera phone as a webcam (provided you have bluetooth connectivity for your pc of course). I tested it out with my N95 and Windows Live Messenger (MSN Messenger for most sane people), and then with YouTube's Quickcapture. Youtube seems to force the detail down or something, but you get the idea. And no, don't expect to get a glimpse of me in this video :p

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Friday, July 27, 2007

The Secret

It's been a while since I made a decent post (and I was on such a roll). The fact is I have loads of stuff I want to post about, but I'm really busy due to a pretty major change in my life. I officially resigned at 5DT last week, and I'll end my time here at the end of July. As a result I've been hectically trying to finish off my outstanding stuff here.

I can't say much about my new job. I can say I wasn't job hunting but when the offer came up I knew I had to give it serious consideration. I lost lots of sleep, and in the end decided it's a chance I can't pass up. All I can say is, it'll bring me back to the industry I love :)

Right, so with that out of the way and with no real answers given, lets move on!

Another toy

Two weeks ago I was up for an upgrade on my phone contract (the N95 wasn't on my contract, it was a gift :)) and I went and picked up my new phone, a Sony Ericsson W850i. I have been eyeing the white model for some time, but it turns out it's not possible to get it on Vodacom except through Nashua Mobile in SA. So black it is. Obviously the W850 doesn't match up to the N95 on functionality, but it's no slacker either.

Being one of the SE Walkman range, a lot of emphasis is placed on it's music ability, so it obviously has a decent music player (though far from perfect) and FM radio. The bundled 1Gb memory stick duo holds a sizeable amount of music, in my case shuffled in with WinAmp's excellent portable player support. While the music player has support for internet radio as well, I'm not about to run my bill up streaming audio over 3G ;)

The included web browser is one of the better standard issue ones I have seen, with fullscreen support and the ability to view pages in landscape instead of portrait mode. I have installed Opera Min of course, but have found myself using the built in browser far more often. It does have an RSS client as well which is nice, but until the day I can get all my feeds from Google Reader as a single feed I will stick to a reader bookmark.

The calendar has support for OTA synchronization, and GooSync works perfectly on it. There is no support for contact synchronization though, which is a pity. Apparently this is a common gripe with the SE UIQ operating system. Speaking of the OS, Nokia could learn a lot from SE's operating system. It is far snappier and more stable than the Symbian OS running on Nokia's latest devices.

The 2 megapixel camera is a far cry from the N95's 5 megapixel one, and there is no autofocus, but one area where the W850 seems to be way better is in the brightness and colour quality of the pictures it takes.

At this stage I've taken to using the SE during the week when I don't need the Nokia's extra features, and the N95 on weekends when the extra bits come in handy being away from a PC. Yeah I know, I'm such a geek :p

Something Fishy

I was quite surprised at how tough it was to find fun, quality 3D games which take advantage of the 3D hardware in the N95. In the end what I did find was a group called Fishlabs that make 3D games for Java. Now this doesn't utilize the N95's acceleration hardware (there were demos available for both my phones) but they do have some really excellent games.

They use a combination of a decent engine (the Abyss engine, go figure :p ), good art direction to hide device rendering limitations and gameplay and controls designed to fit a mobile phone well to create some of the best mobile games I have seen in a while. I ended up buying a copy of their submarine shooter/trader Deep 3D. It feels a lot like X Beyond the Frontier and has a satisfying mix of action and strategy-just what is needed for a good mobile experience. It's east to start up the game, work through a quick mission, save and exit in a couple of minutes.

Block this!

Of course  I had to get a decent game for my SE as well, and ended up being pleasantly surprised by a game which I never really got into on other platforms: Lumines. When I bought the original PSP Lumines game when it first came out, I felt it was a terribly over-hyped and over-priced game. The Xbox Live Lumines fiasco left an even worse taste in my mouth, with the game being broken up and being sold piecemeal for what amounted to the price of a full retail title. I could just never swallow paying the price of a full blown arcade game for a block dropper.

Well Lumines mobile fixes all of that. For less than half the price of the cheapest XBLA game, you get a fun, polished block dropper with loads of gameplay. The only thing missing is a bluetooth multiplayer mode-which I would definitely have paid extra for, but as it stands Lumines mobile is a great buy.

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Friday vid-Stop motion PSP

This is an incredibly well conceived and produced video showing off the many abilities of the PSP. I really don't know if it's an official Sony production or something a really dedicated fan put together, but it's awesome!

PSP "Come To Life" Animation - video powered by Metacafe

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Friday funny.

If you watch one YouTube video this week, this has to be it :)

Friday, July 13, 2007

All Googly eyed

No E3 commentary in this post I'm afraid. I just don't have time right now. If I had to start writing about E3, I'd probably keep going until Monday, and I really don't have time right now I'm afraid. What I can afford some time for while I'm waiting for builds (again) is two quick Google product user tips.

The other Google desktop

I love using Google Notebook, not just to grab references off the web that I might otherwise forget, but as a full GTD system for priority planning as described in this great lifehacker article. I also find Google Calendar to be an excellent all-round calendar tool (especially thanks to it's great quick-add functionality). The problem with web-based productivity tools is that they can be counter-productive simply because you have the distracting temptation of an open browser.

Well Windows XP has a nice way to avoid this temptation-web components on your desktop. This oft-forgotten feature is a simple way to always have these tools available.  To add them:

  1. Right-click on your desktop and select Properties
  2. The Display Properties dialog opens. In the Desktop click Customize Desktop.
  3. The Desktop Items dialog opens. In the Web tab, click New.
  4. The New Desktop Item dialog opens, enter the URL of the site (for example and click OK.
  5. The Add item to Active Desktop (TM) dialog appears, click OK.
  6. Wait for the Synchronize dialog to complete and disappear.
  7. Click OK in the Desktop Items dialog, and again in the Display Properties dialog.
  8. Move and resize the component to your liking.

Now to quickly switch to Notebook, Calendar or whatever you decide to use this way, just hit Windows Key + D on the keyboard.

Note that this will use the IE rendering engine, regardless of what browser you normally use, so it may not already have Google cookies for your ID, just sign in and you should be fine. This also means that your greasemonkey scripts won't be active on the page so you will have to make do with the standard pages.

Some other potentially great uses of active desktop with modern sites could be:

  • A Flickr slideshow as your background
  • Google custom home always available
  • A permanent alternative web OS like YouOS always available.

Any more good suggestions?

Google Notebook for Mobiles (almost)

One of the biggest missing features in Google Notebook for me is a mobile version. I want to be able to quickly jot down notes and always have them available-and view my existing notes. Now while Google has yet to make this feature available, they have created a Google notebook gadget for your custom homepage.

Depending on your phone browser's abilities, this gadget can be used as a read-only view of your notebook on your phone. Simply got to in your phone browser and you'll be able to look over your notes.

If someone figures out how to edit text that would be great-let me know ;)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Gooey Sync

Last week I mentioned that I use the GooSync Google Calendar synchronization service on my phone. As luck would have it I now have a premium account, with all the extra bits and pieces available to me - I could tell you how I got it, but then I'd have to kill you ;)

 As I said before, basically what GooSync allows you to do is keep your Google Calendar and you phone's calendar up to date. It makes use of the phone's built-in synchronization abilities, and simply provides a new synchronization source. With a free account it is possible to sync with your default Google Calendar (from a Google domain or your own Google domain), in a window reaching 7 days into the past and 30 days ahead. All day events, timed reminders and recurring public and private events are synchronized both ways.

Synchronization happens through Google's secure API, so as part of the signup process you are directed to Google to authorize the service to access your calendar. Thanks to Google's spiffy access control, they don't get access to anything else at all.

In addition to the standard functionality, the premium service offers the ability to modify the sync window up to a year in the past and ahead. It also allows synchronization with multiple Google calendars, including shared calendars. Events from secondary calendars may be prefixed with a tag, so for example events on my Birthdays calendar are prefixed with [bday], while those from the (crucially important) South African Public Holidays public calendar have a [hols] prefix. Finally, attendee information is synchronized as well, though I have not been able to figure out how to view it on the n95.

The upgrade price of $19.95 might be a bit much for the casual Google Calendar user that only uses a single calendar (and even then only rarely). For someone that uses multiple calendars, shared calendars and is constantly trying to convert everyone and their dog to gcal to make their own lives easier (yes, like me) it's worth considering.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Branded like cattle

 I was quite excited last week when my newly subscribed N95 related RSS feeds heralded the release of a new firmware version for the phone. Coolest amongst the implemented changes was "Assisted GPS", which if the little reading I did on the subject is correct, allows the phone to first utilize the cellular network to triangulate an approximate location, and then use that to get a satellite lock more quickly than it would have otherwise. What it also means is that if no satellite is available (say, when you are indoors), the cell-network-only location can be used for geotagging! As it turns out, there was an update in April as well, and this included better camera quality and performance. Needless to say, I quickly downloaded the software I would need for the update and hooked up my phone.

And that's where Vodafone came into the picture and screwed things up. Apparently, when a manufacturer releases a new (generic) firmware version, it is sent off to all the networks that have their own branded versions of the device, and they re-brand it and send it back to be made available on the manufacturer's download service. Not only has Vodaphone/Vodacom not managed to get the new version (12) out yet -which would be understandable considering how new it is- they have not even managed to get the previous version (11) out! Again, this was released in April!

It is possible for an N95 owner to fiddle the system, basically they have to hack the product version of their phone to a generic one, and then the Nokia software will make the new firmware available. Of course this voids the warrantee-which is not something you want to do on a ten grand phone!

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Friday, July 06, 2007


I mentioned recently that Natz' Dad got himself a Nokia N95 on his upgrade. Well it took him all of 3 weeks to decide it's too complex for his needs and irritates the hell out of him, so with ten days to go before my own upgrade (yeah, I've been counting down the days) I got handed an uber-device that I would NEVER have been able to get on my contract. Needless to say I have pimped the hell out of it over the past couple of days :)

Built in functionality wise, the N95 is an absolute beast. I can't possibly list all the stuff it does, but the highlights include WiFi, GPS, Bluetooth, 5 Megapixel camera, VGA quality video recording, hardware 3D acceleration (no I'm not kidding), TV out, and much more. This long list has led to something of a mini-war between iPhone and N95 fans, since Apple's claim that the iPhone is the 'phone of the future' is quite laughable considering it's limited functionality by comparison. For example:

Anyway, apart from fiddling with all the standard functionality, I have found some nice alternative themes, and some great apps to really push what the phone can do. I'll just list the ones I have decided to hang onto and keep using :)

Opera Mini (Web Browser): I have mentioned it before, and I still love the added speed and screen space, so it was an obvious addition.

Fring (IM and VOIP): Fring is an excellent IM and VOIP client that supports MSN/Live, GMail and Skype, which can be left resident and used to replace your standard contact list as well.

ShoZu ('Sharing', Downloadable content, Contact management): Shozu has a strange combination of functionality. Unlike the other apps I'm using, it autostarts and is always resident (and cant be seen in the phone's process manager). The primary attraction for me is that it allows easy sharing of photos and videos to a ridiculous list of sites including Flickr, Blogger and YouTube. It's even possible to 'share' to email and ad FTP sites. It has a content download component with a collection of predefined 'ZuCasts' that can be subscribe to. Finally it can back your contents up to the Shozu website. All this can be managed from the app or from a very convenient website and updated to the app. All in all it's a great package.

GooSync (Calendar sync): A service rather than an application, GooSync allows synchronization between Google Calendar and the phone's calendar app using the standard synch function. Very cool.

Calcium (Calculator): A great replacement for the standard system calculator that is far more efficient to use.

MGMaps (Mapping): A mapping app that mashes up Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps, Windows Live Local, Maps and satellite imagery, makes use of the internal GPS (which I still haven't been outdoor long enough to test).

GMail mobile (email): Duh, seriously this is a no brainer :)

In addition to those, I've of course added web bookmarks to all the Google essentials, and completely removed all of those damned Vodacom Live links. I'm still looking for a feed reader that I'm 100% happy with, both for text and media feeds. For the moment I'm juggling between Mobispine and the mobile version of Google Reader for text reading. I have downloaded Nokia's own 'Podcasting' application, but have yet to try it out. 

5 megapixels baby! My first shozu test

Ok, so it's been downscaled, but that's cool too because Shozu drops it automatically for web submission (this can be disabled of course).

Posted by ShoZu

Update: as cool as it is, Shozu does fail to upload tags to blogger :(

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


Natz and I looooove our Sushi. She's not mad about the dishes that have a large proportion of meat in them like Nigiri and Sashimi, but she'll happily chow down on the likes of Maki and California Rolls. I love the whole lot of course! Knowing how much we enjoy the stuff, Natz' sister bought me a sushi 'kit' for Christmas (containing the rice, nori, rolling mat, vinegar and soy sauce), and we've been meaning to use it ever since. We finally got to doing it this weekend. 

Finding the fish turned out to be quite a mission. After unsuccessfully scouring the supermarkets, it occurred to me that Ocean Basket sells their fish uncooked as well. I managed to pick up a huge salmon steak for a measly 25 bucks! It turned out to be overkill too, and we had grilled salmon for Sunday breakfast too. The rice ended up bordering on disaster, as we first tried using a 'traditional' bamboo steam cooker which had the rice rock hard after two hours. Some extra water and a few minutes in the microwave sorted it out, but we were certainly worried for a while. The vinegar mixture was a piece of cake, and actually making the Sushi is kind of reminiscent of playing in the mud as a kid-messy as hell!


While I need a lot of practice to get it looking right (hey, Sushi masters train for years :p) I must say I'm quite impressed with the results of our first try.

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Friday, June 29, 2007

Ninja Dancing craziness!

Here's a bit of wierdness for a friday morning.
Algorith step! Hai!

Thursday, June 28, 2007


I quite enjoy the ease of use of blogger as a blogging platform, thanks to it's relatively simple template system, integration with Google and all those good things. None of the posting mechanisms has ever quite felt 'right' though. Writing posts in the online WYSIWYG editor is fairly straightforward, I prefer to use a 'local' application, and while emailing comes close to what I want, having to hack image addition via my flickr account (and being limited to one image to boot) has always irritated me. I think I may FINALLY have found the tool combination that suits me though!

Windows Live Writer

The Windows Live team (I suppose the same guys that used to be the MSN team) have done the seemingly impossible and actually released a well thought out piece of software. This app, Windows Live Writer, is a dedicated blog writing tool that supports a number of blogging services, including their own and blogger. Setting up to post to a blog is as simple as specifying the blog address and login details, and waiting a few seconds for Writer to download your tag list and evaluate your blog template.

windowslivewriter.bmpFrom then on in it's all 100% intuitive. Write a post as if you were using a fully featured word processor, insert images and other items, specify tags (known as categories in Live La La Land) and post. Alternatively the post can be saved as a draft and posted later. A handy list of drafts and submitted posts allows you to continue working on incomplete posts, or even update posts you have already submitted! The only thing that does seem a bit wonky is the addition of new tags (i.e. tags not in the list downloaded from your blog provider) which has a tendency to hang Windows (after running up the CPU usage). This is beta software though (isn't everything these days) so I suppose a few quirks are to be expected.

Of course blogger doesn't really support images 'out the box' so this does require a little bit of extra work, but this is no fault of Writer's. If you happen to have an FTP server handy, you can specify the details for that and any local images you add will be uploaded to it when you post. Of course not everyone has their own ftp server. Thankfully there is a robust plugin API built into Writer, and it hasn't taken long for a number of useful plugins to emerge-including a Flickr image tool that allows you to select images from any Flickr account and use them in your post as easily as if you had browsed for them locally!


picasa2flickr.bmpThat brings me to the other magic component in my new blogging toolkit. I have written before about how much I like the Picasa application, but prefer Flickr as a photo hosting service. Well some smart individuals that feel the same way have come to my rescue with a Java based Picasa plugin called pcasa2Flickr that uploads to Flickr directly from Picasa (the application..still with me?).  It's not the prettiest solution-using a simple html page with an embedded Java pplet-but it gets the job done, and well at that. With an easy way to upload from Picasa (the app- keep up dammit!) to Flickr, life just got a whole lot simpler for Blogger users torn between yahoo and google's photo services.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Van Gogh in The Matrix

Virtual Starry Night ComparisonWith all the emphasis on the clubs, malls and sexual activity of Second Life in the media these days, you'd swear that was all it was about. Of course early critics of the web also managed to limit themselves to the negative aspects and ignored the rapidly growing body of educational material that was developing. Today I saw another great example of the educational and cultural potential of Second Life.

The Virtual Starry Night Virtual Starry Night Bridge Viewmuseum in Luctesa is a showcase of Vincent van Gogh's works. In addition to a traditional walk-through gallery containing all his paintings (with informative note cards accompanying each one), there are 3D realizations of some of them, complete with impressionist style texturing. One of these is the 'Night Cafe' foyer of the museum pictured here, and the 'Bridge in the Rain' joining it to the main exhibit. This is a prime example of a creative way of exposing new generations to classical works, and well worth a visit.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Super Mario Brothers Theme played on Tesla Coils

This video is just too cool to not blog it!
You know you have way too much time on your hands (and the government is paying you far too much in your research grant) when you can develop musical tesla coils and get them to play the classic Mario Brothers theme!

Monday, June 18, 2007

UPnP You!

Nokia N73
This weekend turned out to be another tech one (yay! :) ). Natz got her new phone, a Nokia N73. She and her mom had initially planned on getting E65's, but it turned out that phone doesn't have an FM radio or a video call camera (gimmicky for some, essential for those two). I spent the better part of Saturday morning tinkering with the phone and setting it up so Natz could get full use of it.
Of course the first step was to get her Googlified. I switched her default home to mobile iGoogle (strangely enough Google didn't automatically identify the phone's browser as one more appropriate to mobile content, so I had to manually put in the mobile URL). With her iGoogle already set up this gives her instant access to a Gmail and Reader overview. In addition to the quick view, Natz can view her GMail in the official mobile GMail client, and can also send mail through GMail with the phone's built in messaging (for the sake of emailing photos). Of course it's all set up with nice shortcuts to keep things usable as well.
Next up was IM. While the new Nokia devices do have an IM client built in, I'll be damned if I can figure out how to get it talking to Gtalk. I assume it's another proprietary Nokia thing, which is a pity since actually being able to use some of the built in stuff would be nice. After trying a couple of IM clients, I settled on Skittle. It has some rather messy info messages while logging in but it seems stable and clean. I'd rather not have to give up google account details, but for now it's unavoidable. Mxit is supposed to have GTalk support (which doesn't require you to sign in with your gmail account) but for the moment it's broken, as soon as it works again I'll switch her to that.
A while ago I set up a blog for Natz to post pictures of our Persian cat Daisy. I never could get the emailing to work from her old phone, but now that her new phone is set up to email photos she can easily photoblog through her Flickr account as well. Now that The Persian Diaries is finally gaining contact, I'm sure the subject matter will attract loads of bored housewives. Adsense income, anyone? ;) I considered setting up Nokia's lifeblog for her, but she wouldn't use that sort of blogging-and it digs into a little too much private info for my liking.
And finally-connectivity and media. The N73 has bluetooth and IR, but Natz machine doesn't support Blutooth and IR is just too damned slow and unreliable. That left USB as an option. I tried the Nokia software, and as usual it's flashy and has lots of bells and whistles-but it's completely unintuitive. Switching the phone to USB mass device turned out to be ideal. Natz is already used to using memory sticks and such, and with Winamp. As I've mentioned before Winamp's portable support is superb, so that basically sorted itself out. Photo copying is of course simple as well with this setup.
On a related note, one of the attractions of the E65 was that it has WiFi functionality, and UPnP compatibility. I was looking forward to setting it up so Natz could stream music from our media server and was a bit disappointed when the N73 didn't sport the same feature. It turns out Natz isn't missing out on anything after all because Nokia's UPnP implementation (even on the high end N95) is nothing more than a control point. This means it's basically possible to access the configuration details of the media server. Big friggin whoop.

Saturday morning was phone time. Saturday afternoon was once again Linux media server time. I set in to get TVersity set up on the Ubuntu box and was, for the most part, successful. I have never used Wine before and was quite impressed with how easily and how well it works. I followed the excellent instructions in a post on the TVersity forums, and short of a bit of a search to find the location of wine's drive_c it went exactly as expected (complete with the initial failure warned against in the post). After starting the service a second time, the config pages were available and I added our media folders (which needed to be mapped to a drive in Wine first). The library update totally owned the Ubuntu machine for about 15 minutes, but when it was done, the library was up and available over HTTP (on the PSP too).
And that's where I hit a brick wall. I started up the Xbox and removed the Twonky library 'Windows based computer' connection and searched for a new connection. Nothing. Some more forum hunting revealed lots of suggestions to restart the service (on windows) so I tried that for linux-numerous times, and just could not get anything out of it. I had absolutely no clue what to do from there, so I browsed around for other options and even installed and tried out uShare, but the end result was rebooting the box and letting Twonky restart and connecting to that again with the 360.
Once again, it's forum time :(

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Number crunching prince

Console Calculator
A couple of months back I went looking for a good lightweight calendar to add to my PortableApps 'toolkit'. After trying a handful of freeware apps, I was grabbed by Console Calculator, aka CCalc because of it's ease of use and intuitive operation (intuitive for a programmer, anyway :) ). I have been using it regularly since then, having bound it to the calculator key on my keyboard. I had no idea though how powerful it actually is.

I noticed today while working something out that it has a "Vars" menu, containing pi and ans (the previous calculation result). I decided to spend a couple of minutes checking through the help docs, and to put it plainly, this is an awesome piece of software. In addition to having a large library of common (and not so common) functions and being able to easily declare and assign custom variables, it supports similar declaration of simple mathematical functions. This functionality is all supported in decimal, binary and hex as well, making it an incredibly useful tool for debugging. If, like me, you hate the clunkiness and inconsistency of the default windows calculator then check it out. Just to support the author's ideal (he doesn't even make a way to donate available) type in "gospel" when you start it too :)

Prince of Persia Classic
The Xbox 360 calendar has been a bit slow of late, and that includes the Live Arcade release list (Pac Man CE, woo frigging hoo), so the release of a new game on the arcade was more than welcome. Having that release be one of the best (and quite possibly the best) arcade release to date was nothing to complain about either! Gameloft (the developers behind many excellent mobile versions of other Ubi franchises) has developed an incredible remake of the original Prince of Persia that wowed PC gamers all those years ago. The basic gameplay and even the level layout remains faithful to the original, but the pink and blue backdrops and raster animated prince are replaced by gorgeous 3D renditions that bring Jafar's dungeons and palace to life like never before. The likes of Namco and Midway would do well to learn a lesson from this title about bringing a well loved classic to modern gamers.

This is an absolute gem of a game, and well worth the 800 point asking price, even if masters of the classic might just breeze through it on their first attempt (which by the sheer nature of the game will take under an hour).

Monday, June 11, 2007

Linux is overrated!

I recently started setting up an old PC to be used as a home media center and a bandwidth router for the whole network (so I can simultaneously make use of a cheap local ADSL account and the usual ripoff international one). From the bit of research I did it quickly became obvious that linux was the was to go for the bandwidth task, so my choice was made for me. After a bit of a false start with an old Ubuntu version from 2004 and a bit of a memory shortfall, eventually got the machine going with an up to date Ubuntu install. It didn't take long to find two candidates for the media sharing job, TwonkyVision and Tversity. I tried TVersity at work first (since it's free and Windows only) and was helluva impressed. I keep it running now so when I'm away from my PC working on our test setup I can stream music to my PSP over our WiFi network. TwonkyVision by comparison was a big mistake. It was the obvious choice since TVersity is Windows only, so I'd have to use wine or something to run it (and I suspect that may be a bit much for the PC at home). Unfortunately after being blown away by the features in (free) TVersity, Twonky (which is 30 euros) was a bit uderwhelming. Besides support for alternative operating systems, Twonky loses on all counts.
A short list of complaints about Twonky would be:

  • Limited transcoding support.
  • Internet radio only supported through their listing system (which is broken), no adding of any old podcast URL.
  • Standard media browser doesn't work on PSP's web browser and the scaled down RSS link only carries feeds for music, so no way to access movies and pics on the PSP.
  • TVersity has WAY more customization options to control network optimization and such.
I now have the Linux box humming away at home, running Twonky, and it's great to have access to all our media from the 360 and music from the PSP (and soon Natz' new WiFi capable phone) but it looks like I'm going to be fighting with Wine soon :/

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Assassin's Creed - Ubidays 07 Trailer

YouTube - Assassin's Creed - Ubidays 07 Trailer
Ok, so some people won't bother clicking the links in my last post. Here's the video embedded for your pleasure :)

You are using Google reader as your RSS aggregator right? Because if you aren't you're missing out on embedded streaming of the video ;)

In command, but not in control

Last week was another deployment week at work. That basically means I got to go down to Cape Town and not spend so much as two seconds enjoying the sights.. Ok in all fairness the view of the mountain from my apartment was quit pretty-especially by the time we got home after working overtime at the client :p
Four of the five us that went down were sick with whatever strain of winter bug infested our offices, and the cold snap that hit didn't help much. I don't remember being so cold since last year in Plitvice, and that's saying something. Anyway, the deployment was relatively successful, which is great, and now we're buckling down for what should be the final two or three month push. Yay, more overtime, maybe I'll finally be able to afford to service my car.

Tiberium's back
Anyway, enough bitching and onto something more interesting. I've been playing a lot of Command and Conquer 3 on the PC over the past week (I had my laptop with me in cape town, so I got far less sleep than I probably should have). I even managed to get some multi player sessions in over the weekend. Wasting an hour fiddling with emulated LANs (the EA registration gave one of the guys issues) and getting teamspeak to work reminded me exactly why Xbox Live is so damned awesome. The game really is great fun, and feels like a healthy mishmash of some of the greatest RTSs. Obviously there's a lot of classic C&C in there (complete with cheezy FMV cut scenes) and a Generals influence that extends well beyond the engine that Westwood (oops, sorry.. EA) has built upon for this game. Some of the micromanagement reminds me more of Warcraft 3 and the unit grouping from Battle For Middle Earth has made it in here as well.
The single player game is far more satisfying than that of Generals, with an actual plot (as standard fare as it may be) and three full interrelated campaigns. Multiplayer is quick and enjoyable, and I can see that games between two players that know their units well could conceivably be wrapped up in under 20 minutes. The relatively scarce resources on the tight two player maps don't encourage long games. The balancing definitely still needs some work though, as surviving long enough to pump out a big batallion of Mammoth Tanks is still a guaranteed way to decimate the opposition-especially coupled with a battle base or two.
I just got the Xbox 360 version of the game, and of course the big question here is the control scheme. Predictably, the developers mostly stuck to the BFME2 control system, and tweaked it slightly for easier use. It works pretty well, considering, but the lack of precision compared to using a mouse is still painfully obvious. I'd love to say more, but since my 360 copy is for a GEAR review you'll just have to read next month's issue ;)

Whats the big deal
After resisting for a while I have finally given into the persistent badgering by certain people to sign on to face book. I must say I'm quite disappointed, after all the hype I really expected more. I would have expected a painfully obvious way to link to my flickr account so I don't have to upload my photos yes again. I would have expected decent support for rss feeds, instead of something that just provides a link to my feeds. This is definitely one of the let downs of 'Web 2.0' for me. Yawn.

But his IS a big deal
Assassins Creed. This is going to be the next game on 360 that will blow people's minds away, trust me. You don't? Fine then, watch this trailer video and be educated. Still not convinced? Well watch this gameplay video then. Just have a sponge handy, your brain might just melt and leak out your ears.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Gmail? Y not!

It's common knowledge that I am a huge fan of Google's products, Gmail chief amongst those. I know anyone that takes their 'do no evil' mantra 100% seriously is being overly optimistic, as Google would most likely do what any other company would do if cornered. They would take the path that would keep them afloat, even if it meant doing something 'evil'. My take on it is, if I need to use online services (all of which have personal security risks) at least stick to the ones that do the job right, and come from a vendor that at least pretends to have a concience.

With that in mind, I have been trying to convince Natz to move from a Yahoo webmail account to a gmail one for ages, and with Yahoo's system slowing to an even more pathetic than usual crawl this week, she finally agreed. I immediately set to work, setting up a new address for her (I created on for her previously, but the name wasn't ideal because at the time she wasn't quite ready to commit to an email alias with my surname in it ;) ). I set up an extra account under settings corresponding to her yahoo address and a label that would be added to mail from this account. I added myself as a contact, and imported all of her contacts from Yahoo and finally I enabled POP to be able to grab all the mail into Thunderbird.
Then I hit a stumbling block. I am so used to Gmail's pop access that I assumed this was now standard across the board. No sir, if you are a Yahoo customer, the 'privelage' of accessing your mail from anywhere but the slow, banner ad infested Yahoo mail interface will cost you $20 a year! Now I'm not about to spend $20 for something that rediculaous, and I'm certainly not about to waste my time forwarding each and every one of Natalie's emails manually.
Thankfully, Google (search) held a solution, albeit clunky. I found a sneaky little application called YPOPS! which connects to yahoo mail, scrapes out the mail data and attachments and acts as a POP server through which this mail can be accessed. Credentials are provided by the calling application (typically a mail client). YPOPS can be bound to any of your ip addresses, but since we only have network IPs I had to bind YPOPS to localhost and use it in conjunction with another awesome little app. Chimera Internet Services in New Zealand has a free forwarding app that connects to any POP server and forwards all email from it, keeping the return and send addressing intact. Just set up the source POP (or POPs, since this app can handle multiple sources!), the destination email address and the SMTP server to use to send those mails. Unfortunately because this solution is dependant on the Yahoo site itself (which as I said before is painfully slow), it's necessary to tweak the sessions to ensure only one mail is retrieved at a time. Once that is sorted out though, you have a working solution to extract all your mails from a yahoo account (and which you can keep running for the longer term to make sure you dont lose any mails).

Now all I have to do is set Natz homepage to iGoogle and subscribe to a couple of celebrity and psychology feeds for her, and I'll have serious brownie points :)

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Xbox Soundtracks local initiative and Xbox Live petition update

Calling all musos
Microsoft is calling on local music talent to get themselves noticed by submitting their work as an Xbox Soundtrack. Some big SA names have already taken part and it would be nice to see both some local unknowns get some exposure, and the Xbox brand getting a push locally because of this. Good luck guys-you rock! (But I bet you still can't beat "Woman" on expert in Guitar Hero 2 :p )

Fighting the good fight
The petition for South African Xbox Live support is doing reasonably well, with a predictable rush of initial signatures pushing the count up to about 600 supporters, and then a drop to a steady couple of signatures a day keeping the numbers rising. The day the petition was created MS responded directly to the team that set it up, and a press response was issued the following day. Both responses can be viewed from the petition site.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Petition for official Xbox Live support in SA

It was only a matter of time before this happened. The frustration of South African Xbox 360 owners that have had to jump through hoops and resort to what essentially amounts to credit card fraud to enjoy the benefits of Xbox Live has finally led to the creation of an open letter/petition to Microsoft to provide official Xbox 360 Live support in South Africa. PS3 owners get official support, so why not us? Sign it here:

And Digg it here:
and here:

Monday, May 07, 2007


Picasa vs Flickr
I had a great experience with another Google product this weekend (Google Checkout) so I thought I'd give Picasa another try. It is the one Google product that I regularly use the competition of (Flickr). One of the things I thought I'd like about it was blogging images without having to use the web editor-since emailing through Flickr limits me to one image as an attachment. As it turns out, this limitation exists on Picasa's 'Blog This! as well, so I could just as well be using an email submission. The Picasa application itself is a very nice way to view your photos, and it's nice and quick. I'm not particularly impressed with the Picasa web service though. The only thing it does better at this stage (from what I've seen) is the ability to share 'private' photos with selected individuals, without requiring them to sign up for the service themselves. Otherwise, Flickr is an infinitely better solution for now. Hopefully Google will step up Picasa soon, and bring it up to Flickr's level.
Second Life asset rights and security
The image I've uploaded is the product label for one of the Second Life items I created, a Bamboo and Steel garden set. Yes it's simple, that's kind of the intention. The items themselves consist of only two primitives each (excluding the pose balls) so they may not be particularly fancy, but they are resource friendly. Everything in second life is created out of parametrised primitives. And while there is no limit on the number of primitives an object can use, land owners (or renters, as in my case) are limited to a certain number of 'prims' on their land, so keeping the prim count low on items can be very important.

The 'Copy', 'Mod' and 'Trans' check boxes in the image represent the rights that buyers have over the item. Since the ability to sell items for currency in Second Life is paramount, controlling resale is built into the asset system. The rights are individually assignable to sub-objects and higher objects inherit the lowest common denominator of rights, keeping things as secure as possible. The 'copy' permission on an object gives the next owner the right to make infinite copies (there is no way to limit the number of copies), trans allows the object to be transferred to another resident, and mod allows modification of the object. Obviously copy+trans is a bad idea as the owner could decide to resell or freely redistribute whatever you have created. Mod permissions are often included at the top level for the next owner to be able to make small changes to fit items into a space or other such requirement. Scripts are very often non-mod, since they are text and should they be set as mod, the next owner could easily copy the text out of the editor window, and paste it into a 'new' script that they have full rights on. There is an interesting quirk in the hierarchical rights system in that inherited rights are only applied when an object is 'rezzed' (basically instantiated in-world). This allows a 'gifting' trick, whereby you can pack non-transferable objects into the content tab of another object (say a box), take the object back into your inventory, and then set the rights on the box to allow transferal. This allows the 'gift box' that is then bought by a customer to be given to another resident, and only when the box is actually rezzed do the no-transfer rights get assigned.

Charge it!
The great Google experience I referred to earlier was with their online payment system, Google Checkout. I have wanted to get hold of a pair of Turtle Beach Ear Force X1 headphones for ages, and with the amount of overtime we pulled last month (and my birthday coming up) I thought it was about time I spoiled myself with them. I went to (which really needs to start getting support from South African online retailers) and did a price search for them. I picked the cheapest listed place (which also had a very high rating) and ended up at I went through the order, sign up and checkout, and got to the point of entering payment details-and there was no Visa option-despite the Visa logo at the bottom of the page!? I sent a support email querying this issue, and was informed the next day that to use an SA Visa card I would have to fax through scans of the front and back of my card, and my ID. So not only was I being treated like a criminal for being from the wrong continent,I had to risk some unnamed web retailer employee having my credit card and ID details!?
Of course I wasn't prepared to do that and was about to beg a friend in the US to pick up a pair at Best Buy and mail them to me. I thought I'd have one last try on Froogle. Then the 'show only Google Checkout' option caught my eye and I gave it a try. What a pleasure, I use my CC details for a checkout account, I don't have to sign up at a retailer site, the retailer never even gets a hint of my card details or even my email (you can optionally hide this and allow them to send all invoice and other data to a temporary Google generated email). It has proper localized support (even warning me the retailer doesn't ship to SA) and allows billing and delivery addresses in different countries as well, and to top it all off I got a 10$ discount on my first checkout purchase, covering the cost of the US shipping and effectively getting the product at $20 less than the official Turtle Beach site price-and that's before adding Turtle Beach's shipping cost.
This is one Google product that has the potential to take over the SA import market, where for ages we have had to make do with unfair security drills, ridiculously overbearing financial laws and being treated like criminals by foreign retailers. All Google have to do now is take over our Post Office..

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