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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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Friday, May 04, 2007

Oy vey

Sheesh, yet another month with no significant posting. Same shit different day I'm afraid. Oh well, let me keep it simple and text based..

On the work and home life side of things, nothing much has changed. We've been very busy at work trying to finish off the project (the milestone deployment in Cape Town had mixed results, and over that week we racked up almost 30 hours in overtime). We've been very lucky in terms of going away. For our anniversary Natz and I went for a nice stress-free weekend out at my dad's place in the bush (minus Dad of course ;) ). Easter weekend was spent down at the Vaal with family and that was a great jol. It's the first time all the cousins on that side of the family have been together in a long time, and we had a great time. One of the boyfriends even brought along a couple of crayfish and some awesome salmon steaks-just the way to suck up in this family =D We actually had leftover crayfish! Then this last (long) weekend we joined Natz sister and her fiance at his house down at the coast.. that was great for the first couple of days, but a massive domestic between the two of them kind of spoiled the weekend-to the point of us all leaving early and spending 6 hours in complete silence on the drive back. Fun. Their wedding is next week, so I really hope they sort their issues out soon, the stress it's putting on poor Natz is just horrible.

Game wise, Natz is utterly addicted to Guitar Hero 2 and we're having a ball with the multiplayer. It's a great game, though the song selection is maybe a bit too samey with an excessive focus on very heavy rock and death metal. I finished GRAW 2 for review, and the multiplayer has been awesome on Live, it's just a pity there aren't more locals playing it. I've been playing C&C3 on the PC in bits and pieces, and thats really awesome. I think we have the new RTS champion :)

On the second life side of things, I have managed to squeeze in a couple of half hour lunch time sessions at work and make a little progress on things. I'm pretty firmly indented as a tiny now, and very rarely revert to my human avatar. I have a handful of items I have created and put up for sale, you can actually check them out on slboutique, though I get way more sales in-world. I also met another South African in SL for the first time ever-someone that owns two islands no less! SL itself seems to have become a lot more stable since a recent major update, though there are some lingering messaging issues. This is apparently a traditional quiet period in the year for SL, so hopefully Linden Labs will get a bit of time to bang some of the issues out and streamline things.

Right, now lets hope I dont go another month without posting.. it's just not cricket ;)


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