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Friday, February 22, 2008

Indy FTW

For many long time gamers and game developers, one of the biggest concerns about the size and success of the industry today is the effect such success has on creativity. With video game teams these days consisting of dozens of full time workers and more than a handful of contractors, and development budgets in the tens of millions of dollars (or more) taking risky chances on new ideas is not always possible. This sort of experimentation has typically been the domain of hobbyist programmers, and their (often great) projects have very seldom been enjoyed my more than a couple of people.

Microsoft took the first steps towards changing that with the release of XNA Game Studio Express in 2006. This allowed hobbyist developers not only to rapidly develop games with a toolset that saved a lot of time and hassle, but also to experience multiplatform development by deploying their creations to their Xbox 360 and share it with the rest of the Creator's Club community.  In this week's keynote at the GDC, Microsoft's John Schappert announced the next step in this 'democratization' of game development: XNA Game creators will now be able to share their games with the 10 million plus strong Xbox 360 owning public through a service on Xbox Live. Games will be filtered by peer review, with Microsoft keeping their distance as much as possible.

This amazing move will undoubtedly expose gamers to great new game ideas that otherwise may have disappeared into obscurity, and will allow fledgling developers to get some great experience in the process.

The first couple of community games is already available for download, including Dishwasher, the winner of the “Dream. Build. Play.” competition held last year. Besides being a really fun game, it has a level of polish that only a handful of XBLA have thus far achieved. It's unique visual style is a testament to the kind of freedom independent development offers developers. Another visually unique title is Jelly Car, a driving puzzle game that reminds me of a LocoRoco/GripShift hybrid, but rendered as if it is a children's drawing.

After playing these demos, I can honestly say I'm excited to see what else the community will come up with next and I'm certain that recruiting developers will be keeping a close eye on the service to see what prime talent they can pick up. Kudos Microsoft!

Friday, February 15, 2008

I haz a habit

I've mentioned Zen Habits before, the great personal improvement blog that won the 2007 Performancing Awards best overall blog award. Well the great blog has a companion forum, of which a large chunk is dedicated to monthly challenge threads. These are a geeks way of using peer support to build good habits or kill bad ones.

The idea is simple, at the beginning of the month, post your personal challenge for the month and each day log your progress. The knowledge that there is a community watching your progress and that you have to log your successes and failures helps to reinforce your new behaviour.

I used this last month to establish a daily habit of sitting down and planning for the next activities. It's kind of like a GTD weekly review, except I do it daily so the review itself is much quicker and my to-do list tends to be a lot more current. The challenge forum was a great help and as a result I'm doing it again this month, this time to reestablish my Tai Chi. I have committed to doing 15 minutes of Tai Chi first thing in the morning every day. So far I've only missed one day out of 12.


Another site that has been helpful in my habit-forming is Joe's Goals which I mentioned in my last post. This simple site lets you add recurring daily goals you want to achieve, and tick them off every day. This allows you to visually monitor your progress, both on the site and with a badge image that is generated.

Finally, to help me refresh my memory for this month's tai chi challenge I found a fantastic collection of videos on YouTube by a Tai Chi master from San Diego who also sells instructional DVDs from his website. With a bit of video conversion wizardry, they are available for reference any time I need them on my phone. As an example, here is the video of the Tai Chi stretching and warming sequence "Eight pieces of treasure":

This simple sequence is a great way to start the day :)

Thursday, February 07, 2008

8 glasses of water

To balance my last, very negative post, I thought something constructive was in order. It's very simple, laughable even, but I see that "drinking 8 glasses of water" is a popular goal on JoesGoals and it makes an appearance on the Zen Habits forums on occasion too.

Being a post-transplant renal patient my water intake is really important, so that 8 glasses a day limit is something I really have to stick to even more than most people. Unfortunately with the busy lives we lead today it's not like we all sit around waiting for our next water-drinking opportunity.

I have a couple of very simple ways to ensure I get it done:

1. Have a glass with breakfast. It's good to slow down your meal with a drink anyway, I also consider mixing in a multi vitamin.

2. Take advantage of times you're already away from your desk. As examples, when you first come into the office, during your lunch break or even when you get up to go to the bathroom, pick up your drink on the way back.

3. Double up. When you go and get a glass of water, drink it immediately then fill it again and take that to your desk. You'll drink it before you even realise it.

4. Have a last glass when you walk in at home. Obvious, then you don't need to worry about it any more.

Simple, but effective. Good luck :)

And the Winner is..

I have decided to dish out an award this week: the "Big Pile o' Poo to match your crappy service" award. We have two finalists for the award today, let me describe their qualifications

The usual suspect

What would a bad service award be without Telkom. They earn their place in the race for the dubious BPOP badge for managing to break my ADSL every single time a technician comes out to our area and tinkers/bangs on whatever is in those exchange boxes. A callout fee is levied if you lodge a complaint and it turns out there's no fault though, so we wait a day or two to see if they accidentally fix the problem (yeah, it happens). The cherry on the cake though is actually trying to reach their support, my last (unsuccessful) attempt had me waiting for 40 minutes on the line. While their single, irritating call waiting music loops, they taunt you with the suggestion to report the fault on their website. Let's see, what could be wrong with the idea of reporting a DSL fault on a website.. hmmm.

Upon actually going to the website (at work of course, my home DSL is still down) it turns out that it's possible to report telephone faults, and TelkomInternet (ISP) faults, but screw you if you want to report a faulty DSL line.. call the helpline, suck it up and grow old in the queue.

Bank on stupidity

The second contender, First National Bank, stumbles it's way into the finals by having some of the most convoluted processes I have ever come across. Their staff are great, they really want to help, it's just a pity that whatever moron designs their processes seems to delight in torturing both them and their customers by overcomplicating everything.

Reactivating my administrative account on their internet banking service after losing the password (doh!) was the first hitch. It is physically impossible, thanks to their overcomplicated ideas, to even walk into a branch with all my ID documents AND the original documents issued with the account and sort this out in one sitting. You have to have a reactivation form which they can't print (WTF!?), but you're not allowed to insert a USB stick into any of their machines to allow you to access the site so you can't print the form out at all in the branch. Once you have this form, you have to get it to the bank-but they still can't do the activation, all they do is sign it and forward it to Internet Banking, who then do the activation (eventually). Completely, unnecessarily overcomplicated.

The next problem is that you then have to request the ability to make payments separately-as if anyone wants internet banking without that facility. This involves yet another form and the same idiotic process as above.

All of this is aggravated by the fact that none of the support staff could tell me any of this upfront. I had to discover it all by trial and error.


So out of these two who get's the poo? I suppose FNB have to get some credit for eventually getting the job done, no matter how roundabout the route. Telkom, on the other hand, still haven't fixed my line. I am now switching to WebAfrica for my line access portion as well in the desperate hope that they can light some fires for me.

Congratulations Telkom, you get some poo! Come visit me at home and I'll take great delight in feeding it to you.. I just need to harvest it from the cats' litter box. 


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