Saturday, November 20, 2010

Comment problems

Been poking around on the site a bit and discovered a handful of comments that have been pending, some from as long as a month ago, some from a bit longer. All comments need my approval before they are visible on the site. Apparently I've stopped getting notification emails that I have comments I need to approve.

I apologize to anyone who's comments weren't posted/still haven't been posted. I'll try to keep a better watch out for new comments in the future.


Burnout Paradise and Hot Pursuit

Leading a fairly boring life lately. Not working much, so I'm more or less broke. That does leave me more time for other things, and I hope to have some videos online in a few weeks or so.

In the meantime, I was really looking forward to the newest Need for Speed game, Hot Pursuit. It's made by the same people who made Burnout Paradise, so I figured it would be pretty cool. I liked Burnout Paradise but I never finished it. There were a lot of annoying little things that made me give it up. I hoped NFS: Hot Pursuit would have the incredibly fun driving of Burnout Paradise, with all of the annoying bits ironed out.

The main problem in Burnout Paradise is the camera. Control of your car is constantly taken away from you while they move the camera somewhere else. When another car crashes, you get a slow-mo close up of it. Cool at first, but there is a lot of crashing in this game and after the first few events I was desperately combing the settings, looking for a way to turn it off. There is no way, at least not one that I've found.

The game also insists on showing you slow motion footage of your own wrecks. Once again, cool at first, but some of those cars are made of tissue paper and wreck all too easily. And, to be a little petty, sometimes the game cuts to a slow motion shot of my car wrecking before, in my opinion, it was even a sure thing that I would be in a wreck. Sometimes I'm sure I'm only going to clip a car, or I know I can drift a bit and just barely tap a wall, but before I get the chance the game has taken over and wrecked for me. This is only a second or so before the wreck, but it happens enough that I'm sure at least some of the crashes could have been avoided.

Anyways, the reviews are in. Sounds like NFS: Hot Pursuit has a lot of problems, many of them the same as what Burnout Paradise had. Bad menus (though not as bad), control of your car taken away quite regularly, all that. Also, some people are reporting that it takes as long as thirty seconds in the menus to restart a race. Seriously?

Oh, and it's not on Steam.

Were it on Steam, I probably still would have bought it in a few weeks. The concept seems fun enough to weather most of it's annoyances. As it is, I still have Burnout Paradise in Steam, and Grid, and Blur. Why would I install another game manager for a possibly mediocre game when I have a handful of decent to good games in Steam ready to be played right now?

This exclusivity bullshit has got to end. Eventually publishers need to understand there's no shortage of good video games. We don't need their specific racer or their specific shooter. If you don't make it available to us in the way that we want, we'll just go get someone else's racer or shooter, one that is available on our platform of choice. Even if the one we end up buying is the lesser of the two games.

That's just how it is.


Sunday, October 3, 2010

Somebody's retiring or something...

Last year I was looking for a PC only gaming site. I found Rock Paper Shotgun. I liked it a lot. I read (present tense) it daily.

RPS has a very cool, informal style. They're referential, but not in a way that comes off as creatively stilted. They're just constantly reminding us how something they're talking about fits in the current gaming/pop-culture landscape. Or they're being clever. Or punny.

Some sites have staff writers I hate, and I end up skipping most of their posts. I like all the writers on RPS. I do have a favorite. Kieron Gillen, of course. He seems to be a favorite of many, but that may be because he's announced that he's retiring from writing up video games. Well, he's retiring from doing it on a regular basis.

I have a few weekly highlights. NBC's Thursday night lineup (with Community as my favorite). G4tv's web series Feedback, which honestly hasn't been the same since Patrick Klepek left but it's still quite good. One of my favorite weekly things though is (was?) Kieron Gillen's The Sunday Papers. It's a roundup of notable video game news/opinions and is usually ended with a nod to a certain band or song. Reading it's posts is a great way to spend a nice, relaxed Sunday.

This week's Sunday Papers was followed by an additional installment--a "Gillen-y Supplement". The supplement contains highlights from his 15 years of games journalism, selected by Gillen himself. I was familiar with his writing from my one+ year of reading RPS but that obviously only scratches the surface. This is well worth reading.

If you keep hearing people expressing sadness about his retiring and can't put a face (or article) to the name, the aforementioned supplement is required reading. Really great, fun writing, and I've got a handful of new games to go out and try as a result of reading it.

I'm going to close this by adding a post that's been in my bookmarks for years. Yes, years, because even though I've only been reading RPS for a little over one year apparently I've known of Gillen for quite a lot longer. "How to Use and Abuse the Gaming Press". I stumbled on this article a long time ago--um, I don't know how, or what I was searching for when I found it, or why I didn't start reading his blog regularly, but it's there, in my bookmarks, and I've never forgotten about the article since I first read it. Regardless of how I found it, if you're even a little bit interested in games journalism or marketing in general, you should check it out.

Ahh, finally put his blog in my feed reader. Should have done that ages ago.

You should do it right now.


Saturday, August 28, 2010

OK Nokia, just take all my money.

NOTE: I probably shouldn't even be posting this. As I say later all images/specs of the N9 online are the result of unconfirmed rumors that are pretty widely contested for technical and logical reasons.

The current phone I would like to swaddle and carry around like a baby is the Nokia N9 (picture from SlashGear).

Nothing has been officially confirmed by Nokia yet. We're not even sure the device pictured above is what the phone will look like (there are some pictures online of a black phone claiming to be the N9). EDIT: It sounds like the phone will be available in silver and black (the keyboard will be black on both versions).

Rumored specs: (found here, originally obtained here I think)

    FM transmitter (YES! The one on my N900 has come in handy far more than I ever expected)
    8 or 12 MP camera, depending on where you hear it
    720P video recording
    HD out via HDMI
    Qualcomm processor - (Doubtful, pretty sure Nokia has said they were going to use OMAP 3 processors)
    64GB internal storage, expandable via a MicroSD slot
    720p Super AMOLED screen. It won't have one of these. Seriously, it won't. Probably a 800x480 screen, possibly just AMOLED (not Super).

    Finally, and most importantly, the N9 will have a anodized aluminum finish! YES! Ever since my Tapwave Zodiac, which never got a scratch, never, I've been so hopelessly in love with anodized aluminum finishes. Of course, I do also have a thing for soft-touch plastic...

The release date could be as early as December but will probably be Q1 2011.

Of course, the phone have MeeGo running on it. I haven't made up my mind on MeeGo yet. MeeGo Netbook seems like something I would be willing to put on my T91MT if and when I get some confirmation it works well. I haven't seen enough of MeeGo Handset to make a good judgment on it, but to be honest I haven't really been impressed with what I've seen so far. Also, Maemo 5 is THE BEST mobile OS I have ever used.

I mean, come on. They've been working on Maemo for years, making it better and better. It's finally amazing (to be fair it the N800's Maemo 4 is still light years ahead of anything Microsoft has done, and I still prefer it to the iPhone OS), so they release it on one device, don't properly support it (Ovi Suite anyone?), and scrap it in favor of a brand new OS. MeeGo is coming along nicely, and far more quickly than I had any reason to expect, but it's still a bit of a slap in the face.

I actually stopped in the middle of writing this post to check out MeeGo Handset videos on youtube, and it does in fact seem to have a lot of Maemo 5 qualities. In some places if almost feels like Maemo 5 with a different skin though that's obviously not the case. I just hope that a lot of the things I like in Maemo 5, such as the closing of pop-up menus by touching in the out-of-focus area "behind" the pop-up, make their way to MeeGo as well. Looks like the task switcher, one of my favorite Maemo 5 features, will remain intact, with a few more options.

Also on the Maemo/MeeGo note, the Maemo community is bad-assed and super-awesome. They also seem to love the platform and devices they're developing for. All that considered, I'm sure that if MeeGo's user interface is worse than Maemo 5, and Nokia doesn't work out some sort of a port, then the community definitely will. Because as I've already said, they're awesome.

Okay, okay, okay, this post sat in my browser over night, I did a little more research, and it looks like MeeGo is being built with the expectation that phone manufacturers would like to implement their own UI, and in fact it sounds like Nokia will be putting the UI Maemo 5 has on top of MeeGo. This is what it sounds like to me, and I really hope it's so.

So, all that conjecture and rumor considered, it seems ridiculous that the N9 would have a Qualcomm processor or a 720p screen, as some are claiming, which is fine by me. The one spec I really care about is the FM transmitter. If the N9 doesn't ship with one I might not buy it just out of spite and switch to an Android phone. Everything else looks good. The phone's style is a little hard to place--is it retro? Is it faux-futuristic? It's like something you would see in a sci-fi movie, but probably a rather good one, or at least one with a good design team.

Please Nokia, please make some sort of official announcement regarding this phone. Release the specs. Let me know if I need to start saving money for it. Oh hell, I'm saving up for one anyway.

Till then,


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

2 Cool Animation Programs

Did a little surfing around yesterday looking for new or updated animation programs. Currently in my spare time I'm using Blender for 2d animation, but I try to keep updated on proper 2d animation programs.

Well I saw that Synfig has been updated a few months ago. It now fully supports importing svg files. I tested it out a little bit, it works great. It handled every svg I threw at it, including a few pretty complex ones. The greatest part is it's a proper import, meaning I seem to be able to edit svg files I import the same way I could edit an image I made entirely in synfig. This is really cool.

Synfig, for those who don't know, is a vector 2d animation program that was designed for professional use, abandoned, then open-sourced. It seemed to sit there for a while, gaining little improvement (probably because the volunteer coders were fixing bugs, not adding features) but it's really coming along now, and seems stable enough for me to use for a lot of my projects.

Unfortunately, Synfig still doesn't support adding sound to the timeline, so you'd have to use a cue sheet or something similar to time lipsync movements so that actually match up with an external audio track. Lack of sound support is a big deal for me, though I understand that it will take a lot of work for them to implement.
Sound assumedly used to work in Synfig, but very poorly so using a proprietary and (now) depreciated library.

That said, sound isn't too big of a deal. Remember that 20 years ago nearly all animation was done by hand, so all lip syncing was done by counting out the number of frames. Lip-syncing in Synfig is still easier than it would have been back then.

The other program I stumbled across is Animata. From it's website's description:

Animata is an open source real-time animation software, designed to create animations, interactive background projections for concerts, theatre and dance performances.

Go to the website and check out the videos on it's front page. Then check out the tutorials over here. Pretty cool, huh?

The main problem I can see with Animata is that, as they say, it's real-time and designed for live performances. There doesn't seem to be a way to save an animation as a video file or as a string of still images. I haven't played around with the program yet, but I'll bet you could use CamStudio or some equivalent to record the animation off your monitor and save it as a video. I don't know how good the quality would be, but it could work.

There you have it, two cool animation programs to play with if you're so inclined. Unfortunately I can't at the moment, I'm still too engrossed with Blender to even think about digging into another app.

For now, anyways.


Friday, June 25, 2010

A series of windows

Apparently everyone is wrong. The internet is not a series of tubes. It is a series of windows. Copying a file illegally is apparently identical to breaking a window and stealing physical property. According to US Vice President Joe Biden.

Hey, it least he didn't call proponents of copyright reform radical extremists, then blatantly lie about it, as Canada's heritage minister did (and oh yes, he did call them radical extremists, as the end of the linked article points out, it's on tape).

No no, our VP simply chose to blatantly lie about the damage and impact of file sharing, trying to make it sound like something dangerous and violent--evil, really, when in fact it's something that is mostly harmless ("Downloads have an effect on sales that is statistically indistinguishable from zero.") and largely blown out of proportion--the actions of both sides, file sharers and the RIAA, are more misguided than anything else.

Perhaps more on this later, I've got a rant brewing, but whether it gets posted or not only time will tell.

Till then,


Sunday, June 6, 2010

By all means applaud

(Image blatantly and obviously stolen from

My current twenty-something inch computer monitor has an aspect ratio of 16:10, and it isn't advanced enough to perform any kind of scaling. That means it doesn't work with my Playstation 3, which outputs a 16:9 aspect ratio. A bit of the image is lopped off of one side.

Why don't I just plug my PS3 into a tv? Because the tv in the living room of my new place already has a PS3, an Xbox 360, and a Wii hooked up to it. I'm sure there's a HDMI slot available for my PS3, I just doubt there'd be an available time slot where I could play it on that tv.

I was thinking about getting an HDTV for my room. Oh, but I can't do that, I'm broke.

A much smarter decision would be to buy a LCD computer monitor that will support my PS3's aspect ratio (I will point out that supposedly the Xbox 360 handles a 16:10 aspect ratio just fine, but as I don't have one I can't confirm that at the moment).

So I'm looking at monitors, and saw this one on sale (until the 9th):

That's the Acer B233HUbmidhz, in case the link doesn't work once the sale is over. The sale isn't the important part, though it is a decent sale. The point is, as the above image shows, this monitor comes packaged with every single kind of cable it would need.

Audio cable (it has speakers)
USB cable (it can act as a USB hub)
VGA cable (as if)
DVI cable
Power cable (duh)

I just felt like that's worth mentioning, since most manufacturers of televisions and other high-definition devices (ahem PS3 ahem) don't see fit to provide a $6 HDMI cable. Well here's a $270 (retail price) monitor that comes with every single cable you might need.

Acer, you are awesome. I will probably buy this monitor, partially because it has all the cables, partially because it's getting great reviews, and partially because it has better-than-HD resolution and I'm running out of annoying things to brag about.


Here's the usual disclaimer: I have no affiliations with any other sites. No referral bonuses, no commissions. No money is put in my pocket from mentioning anything like this.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

I'm kind of an asshole.

I am. Really. I know it's hard to believe, but bear with me.

I'm a pretty self-important consumer.

Let's look at gaming. I own a PS3. I want to purchase an Xbox 360 soon, I wouldn't mind owning a Wii, but I like PC gaming best. I can play PC games anywhere I have a computer. I can use nearly any input I want--Xbox controller, PS3 controller, keyboard and mouse, classic gamepad, joystick, etc.

For a while it was enough for me to say that if a game wasn't coming out for PC, I wouldn't buy it. In truth, there are enough good games out on PC to keep me occupied for years. Eventually games like Uncharted 2 came along to make me finally buy a console (the PS3 being a Blu-Ray player I could stream files to from my PC helped make that decision, too).

I still have a bit of a chip on my shoulder. I was considering not buying Red Dead Redemption because it came out for 360 and PS3 but not PC. I probably will buy it soon, but why isn't it out for PC? I'm sure it will be in a few months, just like GTA4 was, but it's still a letdown.

And look at this. Earthworm Jim HD, a remastering of the Sega Genesis game, is coming out soon. And what is it coming out on? DS, Wii, PS3 and Xbox. Also iPhone and Palm Pre. No mention of PC? It's literally coming out on every available platform except for PC? I really hope that's an oversight. If it isn't coming out for PC, what the fuck?

Analyzing myself, it seems I'm okay with system exclusives. Well, I'm not happy about it, but I understand why some games only come out for PS3 or 360--because Sony or Microsoft courts developers and gives them more assistance or better deals if they're developing exclusive titles. That's what I'm assuming, anyway.

I really resent cross-platform games that don't come out for PC. Why? Why not release a game for PC? Don't you want my money? Maybe developers are (wrongly, I think) worried about piracy. Maybe they just can't afford to develop for a third platform. I don't care, it makes me angry regardless.

I know, I know, it's all supposed to be about the game, right? If the game's good enough, then I should get it on whatever platform I can. From that perspective, my insisting that every game come out for PC--and refusing to buy some games that look cool only because they're not available for PC--does make me feel like a bit of an asshole.

And this PC semi-restriction isn't my only rule.

I also put a blockade on certain DRM restrictions. If there's a 5-machine activation limit, I probably won't buy the game (but 4 activations a month or something like that I'm fine with). I certainly won't buy any Ubisoft games if they keep that ridiculous always-online restriction in place.

If the game requires me to use a Games for Windows Live account, I probably won't buy it. Why? It's annoying. G4WL games tend to have online matchmaking instead of dedicated servers. Saved games don't work right if I re-stage my computer and simply copy my saved games back into their old directories. I had to edit save files with a hex editor to get my GTA4 saves to work on a fresh windows install, and it still doesn't work properly (there is the occasional error message).

I mean really! I was using the same G4WL login and everything, but I still had to hack my own saved games like I was cheating or something, just to get functionality every non-G4WL game has. Does Microsoft just not give a shit or what?

I've recently realized that I have another hurdle game developers must jump over if they want my money. I probably won't buy a PC game unless it's available on Steam. Yep.

If you're even a semi-regular visitor of this site, you have probably realized I'm a Steam fanboy. I admit it, I love Steam. I'm not a dick about it, some people think Steam is malware just as bad as I think G4WL is, and I can understand their criticisms. I agree that it was a dick move for Valve to require Steam in order to run CD-based versions of the Orange Box on their PCs. For me though, Steam is a great service and the Steam client is a great all-in-one store/library/social application.

The saving grace of Steam, for me, is it's intelligent DRM. You can install your games on as many PCs as you want, but you can only be logged into one PC at a time--therefore your games can only be played on one PC at a time. It's simple, it's logical, and I have no problems with it. Developers can add more strict DRM on if they want, although many don't, and if the developers allow it you can also set up Steam to play games while offline if you don't have a regular internet connection.

The main reason I will only buy a PC game on Steam is because all my other games are on Steam. What, I want to have three clients open in order to see what games I have available? One library for all my games, that's how I want it. Steam got to me first, so that's what I'm using. Simple as that.

Some people are nervous about putting all their games in one library, because if the service ever goes down, all their games will be inaccessible. I can understand their worries, but I don't share them. I have all my games backed up. If need be, I'm sure I could download a crack or something to play them without Steam. Also, of all the online distribution platforms out there, Steam is the least likely to fail in my opinion. Some might say G4WL would be the least likely to shut down, but Microsoft has shut media services down in the past, leaving all it's users with a bunch of DRM-protected files they've paid for but can no longer use.

Split/Second is the most recent example of my asshole-ness. It's coming out on PS3, 360, and PC. But it's not available through Steam. They've said they have no plans to release it through Steam (actually they said they have no plans to release it through "Stream", was that a fingers-crossed sort of maneuver? Doubtfiul.). I'd like to play the game, it looks awesome. I won't buy it if it's not on Steam though, and I certainly won't buy it on a console if it's available on PC (I have to support my PC brothers, of course). It all puts me in a weird quagmire where nobody wins.

I don't win--I can't play the game.

The developers don't win--they're not getting my money.

And what did the exclusive really gain Split/Second's developers? There were a lot of people in the Steam forums who, like myself, wanted to buy the game but won't unless it's through Steam. I really wonder, did they get anything out of this exclusivity or do they just care that little about the PC market?

You know what? I hate exclusives. I hate console exclusives, I hate pre-order exclusives, I hate store exclusives. It's people trying to earn themselves more money at the cost of our choice.

Exclusives are tolerated in spite of the fact that I don't know one gamer that hasn't been adversely affected by them in some way. I completely dislike them, and I dislike them just as much when Steam is the exclusive seller.

DIGRESSION: Exclusive "Bonus" DLC:

There's really no reason to buy a game at GameStop instead of Walmart or, so they have to try to muscle their way in, and it hurts us twice--it forces us to buy something where we normally wouldn't (for instance I avoid GameStop because they're notorious for selling new games opened, sometimes missing DLC codes), and usually different stores have their own exclusive "bonus" content, so even if we play their game we consumers end up missing out on some content.

I can do without Split/Second. Blur is on Steam. Don't freak out, I know they're not the same game. Oddly enough, I didn't even know Blur existed until people suggested it on a Steam forum post about Split/Second's D2D (Direct2Drive, a competing online game store) exclusivity. That's right, I found out about Split/Second's direct competitor Blur, which even released on the same day, by researching why I couldn't buy Split/Second where I wanted to buy it.

Had Split/Second been on Steam, I would probably be playing it right now, and I still might not know that Blur even exists. I'm definitely going to buy Blur, by the way. For PC. On Steam.

Do you think anyone's learned any lessons from this? Doubtful, but luckily for all of us there are enough great games on every platform (and in every store) that it matters less and less each day. The same way I could shrug off Ubisoft's ridiculous new DRM by just resolving to play the hundreds of other great games in the world instead, I can ignore all these exclusives by turning to something else, very possibly their slightly smarter (and more available) direct competitors.


Sunday, May 30, 2010

Warm and Fuzzy

It's nice to hear about some new online scam or phishing method, worry slightly because it's really clever, but then realize that I'm actually not exposed to it. Well, not as exposed as I could be.

Here's an explanation of a new type of phishing attack. Basically a tabbed malicious page can tell when it's not in focus, and when you're not looking it will change itself to look like a familiar login screen, Gmail for example.

Distracted users click over to that tab, assume they left Gmail open and enter their credentials without thinking about it.

So why am I not exposed? Or as exposed? 2 reasons:

1) I use No Script, the Javascript and Flash blocker for Firefox. You can block or unblock sites. I have Google unblocked, so if I got a notification that Java or Flash were being blocked that would be a helpful yet easily missed clue that I'm not on the site I think I am.

2) I use an in-browser password management plugin. If my user name and password aren't already entered in the form (and it wouldn't be because the domain has to be right for them to enter information), I'll know something's up.

Three password management plugins I have used (and like):

Xmarks - it's decent, I currently use it for bookmark syncing but not password, though I have used it for pasword syncing with no trouble. Xmarks also allows you to view open tabs on other computers a la Weave.

Mozilla Weave - for Firefox only, it syncs passwords, bookmarks, open tabs and history. I stopped using it as it would regularly lock up my netbook during it's scans/syncs.

LastPass - A fairly secure (I hope) password safe that works with most major browsers, and there's a bookmarklet to use in browsers that don't support it.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

A nice pick-me-up.

No updates for a while, huh? Nearly two months by my count.

The sad thing is, I've written a lot of posts for this site, they've all just been scrapped or left unfinished.

You'd think my traffic stats would be dwindling after this long a period without updating, but not so. They've dwindled slightly, but not significantly. Kind of dissolves any motivation to update for the sake of updating.

I've stalled out a bit due to a project I'm working on, which itself has stalled out due to being away from home for a few weeks.

Case in point, finally got down for the day, was hoping to get some work done, and just got called away to do something else.

More posts hopefully coming soon,


Monday, April 5, 2010

SeV: Something I've wanted for a while

I have very specific visions of how I want to use my gadgets. They should be easy to take with me and easy to keep track of. That's not often easy with a bag.

I've thought about finding a jacket and sewing a pocket into it large enough to store a netbook. I've thought about cutting into old jackets so I could run headphones from a breast pocket up to the collar through the inside of the jacket, so I didn't have to mess with the cord getting in my way, or not being able to find the inside of my ear buds.

So I just saw this article on The Consumerist. About a vest with a pocket inside that the iPad could fit inside. That alone piqued my interest.

So I wandered over to SeV, aka SCOTTEVEST's website. They don't just have vests, they have full line of clothes--jackets, shirts, pants, etc. The vests and jackets I looked at have big, (iPad-sized) pockets and lost of smaller pockets for other things.

They call it travel clothing, I just think it's a convenient-yet-inconspicuous way to carry a netbook around with me. I haven't bought one yet, though I'm going to order a jacket either tonight or tomorrow. I'm really curious how the weight of a 2lb netbook will be distributed. Probably not too uncomfortable, if at all.

Not only do they have jackets with large pockets for large things, their jackets and vests also have Velcro loops to use running ear bud cables up to the collar. Even better, they say every pocket has a hole at the top of the lining, so you can actually run wires inside of the jacket--though I'd imagine anything thicker than a headphone wire might bulge out suspiciously.

As I said, I'm planing on buying one of these very soon, I'm really curious about the fit once weighted down.

Once I get it in the mail, I'll try and make a full review.

Till then,


FULL DISCLOSURE: Sometimes I gush over new or newly-discovered products and services. I know that can make it seem like I'm trying to promote them, but in reality I just have a large well of unbridled enthusiasm for cool new or newly-discovered products and services. I have never taken any money from anyone to talk about a certain product or service. It's possible some services I talk about may show up on Google Ads in the sidebar, but if/when that happens I have nothing to do with it, and I am completely unaware of it (when I'm logged in as admin I can't see the ads).

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Another one about the T101MT...and the T91MT

Wow, ever since I heard about the T101MT, I sure have been blogging about it a lot. Well that'll change soon because...well...I got a T91MT. In a round-about fashion I won one. I should have it in my grubby little hands leaving disgusting fingerprints all over it's glossy finish as you're reading this, even though I don't have it yet. You see, I wrote this bit Friday night, to be posted over the weekend while I'm on a little trip in recognition of Easter (I take the Easter Bunny's crucifixion and subsequent rise very seriously).

I had my choice of a few netbooks, and I could have waited a bit for the for T101MT, but I didn't. Why not? Let's compare:

On aesthetics, the T101MT wins hands down. The back of the screen is glossy, but the bezel and the area around the keyboard are flat. A great improvement over the T91MT's full glossy finish. I'd rather had a flat finish, the flat, angular 701 is still the snazziest of the Eee PC line in my opinion, but my 901 is glossy, I've learned to live with it.

They both have the same screen resolution, though the T101MT's screen (and keyboard, I'm assuming) is 1" bigger diagonally.

Battery life? T101MT says 6.5 hours, T91 says 4. Both probably even out around 4 hours. The T101MT has a removable battery. Another win. However, I plan on buying an external battery that also has USB-out, so I can charge my laptop and phone on the go with minimal cords and wall plugs, so it's not a big deal.

The T91MT has Windows 7 Home Premium. The T101MT will have two models, one with Win7 Starter, and one with Home Premium (and more RAM and possibly a better processor). The cheapest model is estimated to be $500. Windows 7 Starter is crap, and doesn't have and multitouch functionality (just single-touch), so it'd cost about $80 on top of that $500 to upgrade to Home Premium. Who know what the higher-end model will cost. I don't know if the T91's price will drop, or if they'll stop making it so it's price will rise, but either way it's cheaper than the T101MT will be with the Win7 upgraded included.

CPU. The T101MT has a newer, faster processor. The T91MT has an older processor but I'm told it has a better graphics chip than then the T101MT does, even handling HD video better than the T101MT. A bit surprising, but I heard it from a trusted source so I'll take it as true.

Some people have reported the T91MT is sluggish. I'm planning on putting a fresh install of Windows 7 on the T91MTimmediately, I'm told that speeds it up quite a bit.

Webcam. Both models have a crappy .3 megapixel web camera. No, not '1.3,' just '.3'. Shameful. Just shameful.

Both have resistive multitouch screens--I've heard they're decent for inking. What's really great, some apps for the T101MT happen to work on the T91MT as well, adding global palm rejection, among other things. This in particular makes the T91MT a more viable candidate than it was.

So T101MT has better looks, a removable battery, and a faster CPU.

T91MT is cheaper, has a better graphics chip, is 9" (a form factor I'm used to, but I've resigned myself to jump on the 10" bandwagon eventually), and my heart.

Also, a long time ago I swore I'd buy one.

Really they're very similar, almost nearly the same device. One's an inch bigger. The difference in processor speeds probably won't make that much of a difference in the real world. I do love a flat finish...oh well.

Could I sand down a glossy finish and end up with a flat one? Could I? Hmm...better not.


Thursday, April 1, 2010

A quick addition: (T101MT)

I posted an article about the T101MT earlier today. I forgot a few things:

-Interestingly, the T91MT got crap publicity and the T101MT is getting quite a lot. Can you guess why? Most articles mentioning it are speculatively comparing it to the iPad. Tech bloggers love talking about the iPad.

-Lots of these people are confused as to whether or not the T101MT has a resistive (pressure-sensitive) or a capacitive (detects human touch) touch screen. One site even said it has a "capacitive resistive" touch screen. I'm pretty sure this confusion comes out of the T101MT being multi-touch. You can have resistive multi-touch, people!!! It's not even that uncommon. The more recent Toshiba Gigabytes, the Viliv S10 Blade, and the Asus T91MT all have resistive multi-touch screens.

Capacitive screens tend to be more responsive and take a much lighter touch than resistive screens. On the other hand, capacitive styluses aren't that great, and if you want to do any "inking" you'd want an active digitizer first (like a Wacom pad built into the screen), but after that the next (and far cheaper) choice would probably be a resistive touch screen.

Just wanted to tack on those additional observations,


The Telephone Game

I'm a fairly new user of Google Alerts, the service that sends you a notice when they come across a word of phrase you've specified.

Right now my alerts are all for gadgets. I have an alert for the Notion Ink Adam hoping to hear a solid US release date and price. I had an alert on the Viliv S10 Blade until it's pricing and features were finally released. I also have an alert on the Asus T101MT, the 10" version of the Asus T91MT netvertible.

I had an alert set up before the T101MT was released in some European country (can't remember, and it doesn't really matter which), and that press release certainly triggered a flood of alerts being sent to me. The release said that the T101MT would be released in the US in April. The first big tech blogs to remark on the upcoming April release have stated that the European version is selling for 499 euro, about $675 USD, but they're speculating that the price in the US, when it's released, will actually be about 500 USD.

Anyone who has set up a Google Alert to follow a new gadget or device has probably realized there are two (probably more) different kinds of posts. You know what, I'll say three kinds of posts:

First, there's the informative post thrown up when a new press release has come up or a site gets a tip from a company insider providing new information.

Second, there's the posts from people who are discussing a device's potential value and success, providing their insight.

Third, there's the giant sea of cookie-cutter blogs that just copy information from Wikipedia, press releases, and other blogs--probably utilizing bots in the process--to try and get a lot of traffic and ad revenue without actually doing a lot of work or in fact adding anything new at all.

I could veer off into a large speech about how this is one of the biggest problems search engines have to learn to solve--filtering out all the bot-generated sites that are masquerading as valuable content but in reality just make finding solid information harder to find. I won't veer off though, except for these two sentences to say that I could.

So if you set up an Alert for some tech item, you're going to get a handful of good blogs, and also a lot of the same info copied and pasted into generic blogs.

Even among the more legitimate sites, it's interesting how information changes as it changes hands.

As I said, the first few blogs that dared to speculate on the T101MT's US release said the price would probably be $500. Now pretty much every new article on the T101MT says it's going to be $500, without pointing out that that's just speculation.

Another annoyance for me, is that I don't consider "April" to be a release date. It's a release month, and anything that vague is usually more likely to change than a specific date would. So many blogs are popping up saying "T101MT US pricing and release date announced" or something like that, and then the actual post says April's the release date and $500 is the official price. $500 may very well be the price, but how would they know? It hasn't been announced yet, and they're not naming any sources.

The T101MT is supposed to have multiple versions released, with different amounts of RAM and a different version of Windows 7. Different prices. So when a site says, "coming out in April, $500," with no more information, I think I can reasonably assume they've just lifted a rumor off a previous blog without realizing that it's just a rumor.

I'll keep my alerts up and running. I'll keep wading through 30 daily posts repeating old (and speculative) information. Hopefully, Asus will make another announcement soon and put me out of my misery.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Damned Indecision!!!

So let's retrace my old steps.

I bought an eeePC 701. Loved it. Don't mind the tiny keyboard. Prefer it, actually, because my fingers are now used to moving and pressing down less than on any of my other full-size keyboards.

Upgraded to an eeePC 901. Bigger screen. Better battery life. Loved the flat finish of the 701 and the beveled edges. By contrast the 901 is just a glossy, rounded fingerprint magnet. With crappy speakers. I don't regret buying it. It does everything I bought it for, and I have watched many a season of TV shows on it during long car trips.

Can't really use either outdoors, in bright sunlight. I've tried.

Got my eye out for a netvertible now. Use it like a netbook, or fold the touch-screen back and use it like a tablet. Hopefully could write on it with a stylus and stop using so much paper. Looking at:

Asus eeePC T91MT. Glossy, poor battery life, non-removable battery. Weak processor. Same price as the S10-3t.
Lenovo S10-3t. Glossy. Decent battery life, removable battery. Capacitive screen--not good for inking. Decent price.
Viliv Blade S10. Beautiful. Gorgeous. Great specs. Expensive. Too expensive. Would love to be able to afford one, though.
Asus eeePC T101MT. Just looked at this one. A large improvement over the T91. Not out yet, don't know pricing or release date.
Toshiba Gigabyte T1000. Like the look of it. Don't know much about it, but Toshiba's netvertibles have a great reputation. Not released, don't have a price or a date yet.

No matter what I get there's going to be some big compromise. Do I wait and see if the T101MT or the T1000 are reasonably priced, then buy one of them? Cause if I resign myself to wait, there's always going to be a great device coming right around the bend.

I figure, even though Asus and Toshiba seem to get it, most companies are catering to people who only seem interested in using a touch screen for pinch-and zoom. Most review sites automatically write-off any phone or tablet that has resistive (pressure sensitive) touchscreens in favor of capacitive (touch-sensitive) touchscreens, even though resistive screens are far better for writing on.

Capacitive touchscreens are more responsive, but I have yet to see or hear about a consistently good capacitive stylus. That means, any writing or "inking," you want to do, you'd have to do with your finger, or use a stylus that can't even consistently draw a straight line. Then again, another benefit of capacitive screens--they can be made of glass, so they're generally more scratch-resistant than any plastic resistive screen.

There's a good video here that shows how inconsistent current capacitive stylus are, although I am curious about the transparent capacitive Dagi stylus shown here.

I think regardless of how good a capacitive stylus works, any touchscreen is going to get a layer of oil and dirt on it that would prevent such a stylus from making good contact.

Another compromise, I couldn't really use any of these "picks" outdoors, either.

So here's my ultimate, "no-matter-the-cost, I really, really, really want this device" pick:

The Notion Ink Adam. Won't be out for at least 3 more months. Doesn't have a hardware keyboard, but let me tell you what it does have.

It has one of those Nvidia Tegra2 processors that are being bragged about up and down every tech conference. It has one of those Pixel Qi screens that everyone should want. The Pixel Qi screen has 3 modes. Full color with backlight on, full color with backlight off, and black-and white reflective mode. The reflective mode is the most impressive, because it allows you to surf the web and read ebooks in full daylight.

That's not the best part. It's only part of the best part.

Now we all know that when a manufacturer says 4 hours battery life that's really 2.5-3 hours. And when they say 10 hours that means 7-8. 16, probably 12-14. How about 140? Hmm? How do you adjust 140 hours to real-world standards? 140 hours is what the Notion Ink Adam claims, I'm assuming this applies at least to reading ebooks in reflective mode.

I'm sorry to say that, in 2010, 20 hour battery life for a tablet is a big deal. 140 hours, with the catch you have to be in a black-and-white mode? Where do I sign up?

This isn't some kludge where you have to reboot in-between color modes. There's a switch on the corner of the device, you can switch modes on the fly. Turn on full color just to watch a youtube video, then go back to black-and-white as you resume surfing.

I can deal with the lack of a keyboard, because I can get a decent eee-sized USB keyboard for fairly cheap. There is a sort-of large hitch. They seem to be mostly supporting Android for the device.

Android, as we all know, is crap. Maybe great on a mobile phone, but if I have a decent tablet I want my standard word and work apps on that tablet too. Open Office for Android? Celtx for Android? Doubt it. Some sites say the Adam will also support Ubuntu and Chrome. I hope that means at least driver support, and hopefully there'll be a dedicated Ubuntu devel team as well.

I'm really, really, really looking forward to this device. Even if it does have a capacitive screen.

When this device goes for sale, if it's cheaper than $500, I'm ordering it that minute. If it's more than $500, I may have to look at my bank account and do some figuring, and of course I'd want to check out the reviews, but I'd still probably buy it. Just not that exact minute.

Hope it comes out soon,


Thursday, March 18, 2010

See, now I feel like a jerk.

So I'm working on another web site. You see, the 400 monthly page-views I get here are just too much for this one site to handle. I need something to fork off my immense readership. A readership that could comfortably fit in my apartment. My apartment is quite small, for the record.

No, this other site is for a very specific purpose, contrasted with this site which exists as a hose from which I spew blather endlessly yet irregularly.

Regarding this other site, every week I think, "Next week, it'll go online." It's not being delayed because the site itself needs work, it's pretty much sitting there waiting for me to finish a completely different bit of work. Once this other bit of work is done, then the site will go up. When that will be, well, my best guess was Wednesday March 3rd, 2010. Weeks ago.

That's why I don't give specific promises, including dates, on this website.

Those delays are beside this particular point. The problem is, I think the other site looks a lot better than this one. I did a lot of work on this site's design months ago. Actually, what, a year ago? Something like that. The point is, I thought I was done with this site for a while. I should have remembered that web design, like life, is never finished. Until you die. Then the site sits in the Wayback Machine forever, a few minor tweaks away from being exactly like you wanted it. isn't in the Wayback Machine, by the way. That's a getting-kicked-while-one's-down sort of thing.

Tonight, as I was waiting for my day's work to backup, I decided to work on's theme (which is really Royale, a free theme I downloaded and tweaked a very, very little bit).

The other site's theme has a fixed width. In theory, having a re-flowing width makes more sense. It fits the space that's made available by the size of your screen. In reality it looks messy and can be a pain to read. Not to mention I'm playing with the idea of putting images at the top of my posts--without having a fixed width there's no way I can be sure how it's going to look on my reader's screens.

On my 1680x1050 monitor, this site is just a sea of text. Perhaps a little overwhelming? That's my excuse anyway. I've played with typesetting before, I know narrow columns are easier to read, I just ignored that knowledge because if I hadn't, I wouldn't had been able to mess this site up.

I have been aware of the whole sea-of-text thing for a while, that's why I've been trying to have only a few sentences before the "break," so the word-wall is broken up a bit. It's gone a ways to help things out, but I've still come around to the idea of a fixed-width site.

Another problem with the theme as it is now: The text on the header acts as a link that will bring you back to the "main" page. Clicking the little iceberg logo next to the text does not act as a link. I know as little about php and css (so little I don't know which I need to know in order to make the image a link) as I did when I set up that theme. My web searching skills must have gotten a lot better since then though because I found out the right way to do it while working on the other unnamed site.

This other unnamed site is also using a free theme, but it's simple and clean and I can't be bothered to care if it's not especially unique. I went for unique for my first ever theme and it looked like someone ate a bunch of sky blue markers and threw up.

Oh look! Wordpress still has a thumbnail of it!!! Look in horror!


Eew, gross. Right? Well at the very least we can all agree I've come a long way since then. Not in being better at color choice and general design, but in that I now know to find a nice template and not touch it in ways it wasn't intended to be touched. That came out wrong, and in the process actually helped get my point across exactly.

But wait, why do I feel like a jerk? Because I keep pushing back my other project's deadline? Well yes, but not right now.

Because most of my site templates have sucked, either a little or a lot? Again, yes, but not at this very moment.

Stop guessing, I'll just tell you: It's because I have a much better theme set up for this site, all ready to go, but I'm not going to activate it until this other site launches. They're the same theme, with minor color differences and different banners. It just seems appropriate to launch them both at the same time.

So every time I add a new post until the new site is up, I'm going to cringe a little bit more than I usually do. Every time my readership spikes a bit and then drops back down, I'm going to wonder if I would have kept those people had the theme been a little better.

And when the new site is up, I'm going to get all sorts of messages from friends saying, "Really? This is the big improvement you were talking about? Really?"

Well shut up, it looks good to me.

Till then,


Monday, March 8, 2010

Let's Hear It! For Cross-Platform Compatibility

A couple of interesting things have been announced recently. Two separate announcements, both pretty cool. Steam is coming out for the Mac, and Crysis 2 is coming out in Q4 2010.

These things in and of themselves aren't big deals, and in fact have been known or at least suspected for some time. The news riding along is what holds the greatness.

First, and most recently, the Steam announcement. Steam, as you may know, is a digital game distribution platform for PC. It was developed and is ran by Valve, the game company behind the Half Life, Team Fortress, and Portal games.

The great news that tags along with this announcement is that the Valve engine, which all their most recent games run on, has been ported from Microsoft's proprietary Direct X to the cross-platform OpenGL. This is good news. This such a great step in the right direction. Although I have no reason to hope a Linux version is on the way, it's a lot more possible now.

Bonus info--PC and Mac users will be able to play together cooperatively on Portal 2. I'm sure we can all agree that's a sure sign of the apocalypse.

Crysis 2 was announced a while ago. We've known it was coming. We knew it was supposed to be on the PC, PS3, and 360. It's finally nailed down to Q4 2010. That means anywhere between October and December.

The cool news tacked onto this announcement--apparently it was announced nearly a year ago, but it's news to me--involves the CryEngine 3 it's built on.

According to Crytek, it's creators, this engine runs on all three major platforms (PC, PS3, and XBOX 360). That means if you develop games with their engine you don't have to worry about porting the game to other platforms. They also claim the engine will be able to run on future consoles, only requiring minor tweaking of the engine itself, so games already written on the engine should work fine.

I'm very curious to see what impact this has on game design in the future. Of course, people are skeptical about this as Crysis, which was released for the PC only, is notorious even today for requiring a lot of processing power to run smoothly. In it's defense the game was beautiful, and their later game 'Crysis: Warhead' used an updated version of the engine that required a lot less resources.

Only a handful of games used the CryEngine 2, but perhaps this cross-platform compatibility and claimed future-proofing will entice more developers to give the 3rd version a look.

I, for one, would very much like to see the end of console and platform exclusivity. That won't happen so long as Sony and Microsoft are there to pressure and entice game companies, but this is a big step in the right direction.


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Quick Notes on the Just Cause 2 demo

So I just downloaded and played the Just Cause 2 demo on PC via Steam. I've got some thoughts. You can read them if you'd like.

It has a huge scale for a demo, you have a large map available to you, but the scale is kind of made ineffectual by a 30-minute time limit. After the time limit is up they boast about how much there is to do in the game, showing how large the map is. I have to ask: If there's so much to do, why only allow 30 minutes? I wasn't sure if there'd be enough time to complete a mission (you have to unlock missions by blowing stuff up and causing enough chaos), so I didn't bother. Instead, I just ran around grappling things and blowing some stuff up.

The grapple gun was fun, though I can't figure out how to para-sail behind moving vehicles. I assume that's possible, you can do that in the first game, can't you?

Controls were usual, with a little tweak in how it handled weapons. Standard WASD movement, E is the use key, R reloads, SHIFT sprints, spacebar jumps. You can single-wield a gun, in which case the left-mouse button fires and the right-mouse button throws a grenade. You can also dual-wield some weapons, in which case LMB fires one weapon and RMB fires the other one. You can get a sniper rifle, which can only be single-wielded, and RMB throws a grenade while the sniper is equipped. I couldn't figure out how to use the scope, if that's possible, but I didn't look it up or anything.

One thing that really annoyed me happened when new missions and black market items unlocked. Instead of having a notification pop-up, a warning flashes on-screen that your PDA is opening soon (your PDA has your map, available missions, amount of chaos wreaked, etc.). Whatever you're doing is interrupted by the PDA opening. This is the biggest irritation so far. I was in the middle of a stunt, only to be yanked out and brought into the PDA screen. Once you exit the PDA screen the action is resumed from where you were, but it kind of kills the flow. I'm assuming you'll be unlocking new missions and black market items throughout the entire game, but I hope these annoying and unnecessary interruptions won't be as common as they were in the 30-minute demo.

Also, I think this is the game I heard about that makes it easy to record stunts and upload them onto youtube. What if my PDA opens in the middle of a stunt? Probably stops/upsets the recording? They probably have that 'hit a key to save a video of your last 30 seconds of play time' thing, I imagine going into the PDA resets that, or you end up getting 30 seconds of you accessing the PDA.

I feel like the demo would have been better if it were 10 minutes of tutorial, then 30 minutes of sandboxing, or perhaps a handful of missions before they drop you into sandboxing.

I'm still not sure how the stealth/alert system (not really a stealth system, hopefully you know what I mean) worked. It seemed to be inconsistent but perhaps it makes sense once I've read the manual.

I'm hoping they immerse you into the game a little more gently in the full version. All that said, I wasn't ever bored, and I get the feeling there's a lot more I could have done, I just didn't quite know all I could do or how to do it. Many times I wondered, is there something else I'm supposed to be doing? They tell you to try and get 5,000 chaos points, which I finally earned by the end of the 30 minutes (I could do it a lot faster on a second play), but missions were unlocking the whole time so I'm not sure if I should have given one a go, or if I'd even had enough time to try.

I'm really going to have to wait for reviews and the full game for this one. Basically this demo just reinforced everything the trailers have said--you have an impressive sandbox available to do cool stunts, and you can kill people and destroy things in interesting ways. It was fun. $50-60 fun? That depends on the missions and storyline. I'm certainly not paying that much for a giant explodey sandbox. I have a whole batch of GTA games that can do that just fine.


Monday, March 1, 2010

It must be nice to be Valve

Valve has made a handful of legendary games. They have an awesome digital distribution system, with DRM that people actually seem to like (compared to it's alternatives). They have a great reputation, mostly from making great games but also because they have do things like regularly updating Team Fortress 2 with new items and weapons (and bots!!!) at no added cost.

But that's not why I'm jealous of Valve at this particular moment. I'm jealous because all Valve has to do is post an update like this for Portal:

Changed radio transmission frequency to comply with federal and state spectrum management regulations

And they get a response like this. 64 pages of posts in 4 hours. Posts full of people scouring Portal for clues of how to use the radios recently scattered across the game, as well as trying to decipher the beeps they emit (morse code, some are thinking).

I promise you this, at this very moment there are a lot of people scouring Portal's game files. Some are checking the levels with 'noclip' on so they can walk through walls and look for newly-added secret areas. Others are unzipping game files to sift through models and maps, looking for anything new and interesting.

Team Fortress 2 gets very similar treatment. I had time sit at the edge of my seat and search for clues of what the last Team Fortress 2 update would bring. Unfortunately I'm too busy to follow the progress with Portal, even though I really, really want to.

Hopefully in a few weeks all will be revealed, and I'll hear about it from one of my feeds or one of my friends.

Til then, I'll try to restrain myself.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Grr for the N900

I'm a simple man with simple needs. The Nokia N900 is awesome. There is a huge body of people developing cool applications for Maemo 5, the N900's operating system. In fact, I only have a few problems, none of them very large problems.

For instance, there's no Shazam app for the N900. I used that program all the time on my old phone to identify music in restaurants and on the radio.

You can't have multiple ringtones on the N900, for instance giving each contact a custom ringtone. Not a big deal, but still odd that the N900 doesn't allow it. In fact, that feature is so common in all phones now, it's not even anything I thought to investigate when researching the N900.

The biggest problem for me was reading RSS feeds in Google Reader. I love Google Reader. On my pc. The interface is a little hard to use on the tiny N900 screen, and using the iPhone's mobile Google Reader interrface doesn't sort feeds by web site, nor does it act at all like I want it to.

This was a problem, and I have even been evaluating other web-based feed readers for a better mobile interface, when I read about Grr.

Grr is an app that brings your Google Reader feeds to your N900. The above link explains where to find it and how to install it. It doesn't have support for marking posts with stars or for sharing items, but I don't use those features anyway.

The best things about Grr, which I hope never change, are:

-It sorts feeds by site.
-It's easy to mark all the posts of a site as read.
-You can choose to view all feeds and entries whether they've been read or not.
-You can easily open a post in your default browser to read or view it there.

That's it. That's all I needed. I told you I was a simple man...

So thank you, developer(s) of Grr, for a simple app that's exactly what I wanted.


Viliv S10 Blade Full Line Priced

Some UMPC Portal commenter with great detective skills has done some digging and found the prices for the whole line of Viliv S10 Blades. Slashgear reports it as such:

* Atom Z530 1.6GHz/60GB HDD/Win XP – $699
* Atom Z530 1.6GHz/32GB SSD/Win 7 – $797
* Atom Z530 1.6GHz/64GB SSD/Win 7 – $857
* Atom Z530 1.6GHz/32GB SSD/Win 7/HSPA modem – $889
* Atom Z530 1.6GHz/64GB SSD/Win 7/HSPA modem – $949
* Atom Z550 2.0GHz/64GB SSD/Win 7 – $987
* Atom Z550 2.0GHz/64GB SSD/Win 7/HSPA modem – $1,079

The ceiling was lower than most people anticipated ($1,200 to 1,500), but the floor is still way too high. Decision: too expensive.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Viliv S10? I guess not.

So it looks like the Viliv S10's pricing is going to start at $699. That's according to Dynamism, anyway. I like the WXVGA display and the 7-10 hour battery life, but $699, and that's for a model with Windows XP and a 60GB hard drive. Yeah, right.

I can get Windows 7 on an Asus T91MT. True, it's got a 5 hour battery life and a weaker processor (1.33 GHz), but it's only $500. Bonus, it's got 2 SD slots, which I think is freaking awesome. And it's 9", my preferred netbook size.

Running Windows XP on a tablet is a joke--ask anyone who has the Asus T91 (the earlier, non-multitouch version). If I'm going to drop $700 on a netvertible, why not just buy a Gigabyte Touchnote? It's got worse battery life and a slower processor, but at least it's got Windows 7 and a 250 GB HDD, right? Also, it appears to have a removable battery, which is a huge bonus in my book.

I'm going to hold out a little more and see what the pricing is for the SSD models and the ones with faster CPUs. I'm 99% sure I'm going to be disappointed. That would be bad news for Viliv but great news for Asus I suppose, because in that case I'll be buying a T91MT. Judging by the comments at the bottom of this article, I'm not the only one.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Fuck Ubisoft

I have, in the past, taken forum talk as "confirmation" of DRM-based restrictions. For instance, I thought Bioshock 2 wouldn't allow you to save games if you weren't connected to the internet. This turned out to be an exaggeration, as you are able to create an "offline" Games For Windows Live profile once you've activated the game. With the offline profile you can save games even if you're not connected to the internet (though, I repeat, you have to connect to the internet at least once to activate the G4WL DRM).

Ubisoft has put some ridiculous DRM into effect that I'm comfortable calling 'confirmed', as the source is the magazine PC Gamer.

The game in question? The PC version of Assassin's Creed 2. The ridiculous restriction? Even though it's a single-player game, you can't play the game unless you're connected to the internet. Yes, that's right.

If you're playing the game and your internet connection fails, you will be kicked out of the game.

Guess what? If their servers go down, that'll kick you out of the game too.

Way to alienate your fan base. Of course, the terrible sales will be chalked up to PC games being a dying market, having nothing to do with increasingly awful DRM.

Fuck that, and fuck Ubisoft.

The story has changed a bit, though Ubisoft seems to be contradicting themselves. Rock, Paper, Shotgun has a really good writeup on the whole situ.


Monday, February 15, 2010

Motorola S9-HD Review and Notes


Just bought the Motorola S9-HD, stereo bluetooth headphones. Thought I'd throw up some first impressions and notes.


How does it sound? In a word, muddy. Not $5 generic muddy, but certainly not as good as even my JVC marshmallows. They're okay for watching movies. Good for listening to well-known music while doing the dishes. I don't think I'd listen to too many new albums with these headphones.


The frame is made of hard plastic that has a little flexibility in order to "cling" to the wearer's head. Getting the proper fit takes a little getting used to.

The earbuds themselves are huge. I'm assuming they're not supposed to fit inside the ear canal like some other earbuds. I'm fine just letting them rest at my ear's opening, not trying to make any kind of seal.

Not very comfortable. As with all earbuds, it takes a while for my ears to get used to them, but after a little over an hour of continuous use, my ears are pretty sore. I may have to report back on this after some more use.


They paired with my Nokia N900 effortlessly. Pairing them with my HP Laptop took a little more work, because I've just upgraded to Windows 7 and hadn't installed the proper drivers. The headphones were recognized, I just couldn't use them until I found and installed the proper bluetooth drivers (not specific drivers for the headphones, but specific bluetooth drivers for the laptop).

The S9-HD has buttons for answering a call, skipping to the next track, skipping to the previous track, play/pause, and volume up and down. These all worked well with my N900.

Note that the volume up/down buttons affect the S9-HD's internal volume, and don't change anything on the devices it's paired to.

Windows Media Player recognized the hardware buttons on the headphones with no digging through settings.

Winamp has an option for "multimedia key support" (under "Global Hotkey" settings in "Preferences"). Turning that on allows the buttons on the headphones to control it's playback, though you can't pause music in Winamp, you can only hold the play/pause button down for a few seconds and stop the music completely.

If, like me, you don't like Windows Media Player, there is a freeware program called "Media Keyboard 2 Media Player" (MK2MP) that forwards the bluetooth button presses to VLC, XMplay, and iTunes.

Final Verdict

I haven't had these earphones long enough to test battery life, so I can't comment on that. Like I said, sound quality is a little muddy, but decent. The earphone-based controls add a little extra functionality and work pretty much as expected.

Is it worth the price? If you're after the best sound quality, no. If you're after some wireless headphones that you can use to watch videos on your laptop without the hassle of cords, maybe.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Editing with Blender's VSE

I occasionally take it upon myself to ramble about how great Blender is. As soon as the 2.5 release is finished I'm sure I'll have a lot more to talk about, though production-wise I'm locked into using 2.49 for a few more months, for safety and compatibility's sake.

I've toyed around with Blender's Video Sequence Editor (aka video editor) previously, but not much. I used it for a slide show once, I used it to put a watermark on a video, but nothing more complicated than that.

It wasn't until this week that I actually used it to do some heavy-duty editing. An 11 minute video, broken up by scenes, and I used Blender's VSE to stitch it all together and tweak the timing.

I used Blender to edit this simply so I could use it on both my Linux and Windows PCs. Had I just been working on Linux I would have used Kdenlive, which looks awesome but I haven't had a chance to use it yet. Had I edited it in Windows...well, there aren't any good open source video editors for Windows, are there? Well, there's one, Blender, and it is awesome!

I used to go back and forth between Blender and Inkscape a lot, and that is maddening. The interfaces are completely different. There's nothing wrong with Inkscape's interface, but Blender is in a class of it's own. Blender is designed for speed, and once you figure out how it works you stop thinking and start doing. That really is the best way to describe it, Blender's interface has a steep learning curve but it quickly becomes second nature.

I have similar problems when I've been using Blender for a while and move to Audacity to edit some audio. I try to scrub the timeline, when of course you can't do that in Audacity (you have no need to scrub in Audacity). Also, the mouse wheel causes panning or zooming in different directions depending on which program you're using, and it's hard to keep them straight.

The point is, going from Blender directly into another app is frustrating, partly because Blender's interface is so capable, and partly because I spend the most time in Blender so that's what I'm used to. This is one reason why the VSE is so great. The hotkeys are the same as they are in the rest of Blender.

Video and audio show up on the VSE screen as "strips". You use the same hotkeys with strips in the VSE window as you do any other objects in the 3D window. SHIFT+RMB selects multiple scrips, G "grabs" and moves them, etc.

At first, the experience is a bit different, and it's pretty intuitive to use the VSE if you're comfortable using the rest of Blender. If you're just trying Blender out for the VSE you'll have a steep learning curve, because it looks and acts nothing like any other video editor.

When you first open Blender, you see two horizontal windows. The 3d window with a cube and a light in it, and below that the Buttons window, which handles most of the object and animation properties. What's cool about Blender is, like most 3d applications, you can customize your windows. You can have four different 3d viewports, each from their own angle. In the VSE you can set up an editing workspace exactly like you want it.

For video editing, you probably want two VSE windows--one for handling strips, one that acts as a preview window--and a timeline. That's the bare minimum. You probably want a buttons window, too, in order to view and edit basic properties of audio and video clips.

Once you get some strips in the VSE, you select them with the RMB (right mouse button). If you then click the middle of the strip, you can move it around on the timeline. If you select the arrow icons on the right or left ends of the clip, you can trim the clip from whatever end you've selected. If you hit 'K', any selected clips are cut wherever the cursor is intersecting them.

I prefer to trim the clips from the ends because it leaves a transparent bar that shows how long the clip was, so if I ever have to fix something and replace an old clip with an updated version, I can see exactly what frame the clip is trimmed to.

Also, after you've trimmed a clip you can drag the arrow back to it's original position to un-trim or tweak the clip at any time. If you use 'K' to cut the clip, all you can do to restore it is undo the cut or re-import the clip.

I'll say again: The fact that the VSE acts just like the rest of Blender will be a hindrance to any outsiders trying to use it. To a Blenderhead, it's great. Probably the most comfortable I've ever been using a video editor, and I've used a lot of them over the years.

I do have a few complaints:

Blender is a 3d program so you can set the resolution to whatever you want, 100x200 or 10,000x20,000, and the VSE is no exception. This becomes a problem in the VSE because in it's preview window, there are no markings to show you where the edge of the frame is. There's just a black background behind the video. The VSE wiki entry says Blender tries to scale video clips to fit the screen. This makes me nervous, and I'd like a title safe indicator like the 3d window's camera has, or perhaps a way to easily dictate what happens to clips that are too small or too large for the chosen resolution.

There's no hotkey to start and stop playback. Out of reflex I tap the spacebar, because nearly every other video player and video editor plays/pauses videos when the spacebar is pressed. In Blender this isn't possible because the spacebar is already used to open a menu. Blender does track what window your mouse cursor is in, and the spacebar doesn't do anything in the timeline window, so perhaps they could get spacebar to to start and stop playback only when the mouse is in the timeline window. If they just bound any key to that action though, it would make editing easier.

Most video editors have a clip bank, a media library, whatever they call it, that shows all the clips you have imported, and it also makes it easy to re-use any clip just by dragging it from the bank and dropping it on the timeline. Not a big deal for me, but it would make the VSE feel a lot more like a traditional editor.

In Blender's VSE, you can't link audio and video tracks. This is a little silly to me, you'd think this would be one of the first things implemented. However, you can select both a video track and it's corresponding audio track at the same time. Cuts, trims and movements should apply to all clips that are selected..

Something that's not a complaint but is something worth mentioning is that you can perform fade in and fade outs as well as dissolves in the VSE, but it's very strange. There are two tools you need to use (that you can add just like you'd add any other strip), Cross and Color Generator. The Color Generator fills the frame with whatever color you select (via a color picker in the buttons window). You can make it black, put it in a channel over your video strip, then select both strips and add a Cross on top of them to dissolve between your strip and the Color Generator. You can also add a Cross to two stacked video clips to perform a dissolve.

NOTE: The Cross uses what order you select the strips in to determine which strip is fading in and which is fading out. The first strip you select will fade out, the second will fade in. This was quite frustrating for me until I figured out how this worked.

I know that seems like a long list of complaints, but they're all minor things and don't dissuade me from using the VSE at all. In fact, I encourage anyone out there who's comfortable with Blender or willing to take the time to learn it to try it out. The fact that it's cross-platform makes my recommendation all the more enthusiastic.


Monday, February 8, 2010

Online Video -with ads

As I said in a really old post, I'm going to start putting videos on a site like someday soon. Naturally, I've been paying extra attention to how other sites have been implementing video ads. In that last post I just talked about some video streaming sites. Now we get to the meat of my current interest, online video with ads.

This isn't meant to be seen as a comprehensive guide of all sites and different types of online ads, just a few notes and thoughts regarding the way I've seen some sites display ads. For extra fun, picture me saying it in the whiny, meandering voice of Andy Rooney.


I like Hulu. The video looks okay, I rarely have to pause it to let it buffer, and it has a huge selection.

Also, because it's big, it has a much larger pool of ads. I once watched a full episode of Bones on Fox's website, and every single commercial break had the exact same commercial. That's bad enough, but it was a pretty annoying commercial with an annoying song. It drove me crazy. I may never watch another episode on Fox's website again.

Recently, before watching a video on Hulu a message came up asking me which of two campaigns I'd like to see ads for. That's a pretty good idea, provided it doesn't lead to my viewing the same commercial over and over again. By giving potential viewers a choice, it actually invokes curiosity about the ads and makes them more likely to be viewed.


Another site doing something new to me is ABC. I've watched all the new episodes of Scrubs on it, and they've got an interesting idea. So far I've seen two different implementations of it.

The first was for some hardware store offering holiday decorating ideas. I saw an html page in the viewing window with pictures and links to ideas on how to create these decorations with the hardware store's help, and after 15 or so seconds I had to click a button in the upper left corner to continue the watching the episode. I had to click the button to proceed, if I didn't click anything the video wouldn't resume.

The second implementation also had a basic html page in the viewing window, but it had a video embedded in the page as well as text. The ad's video was 30 seconds, and this time I could click the button in the upper left corner to stop a 15-second countdown and finish watching the entire length of the ad's video. Meaning, don't click the button in 15 seconds, you go back to your show, do click the button, you watch the rest of the ad.

Both are very interesting ideas. The hardware store ad, even though it was probably much cheaper to produce than a video, gave more specific information and provided more ways to engage the audience.

The second ad, with the video longer than the break I'm sure will give sponsors valuable information as to which ads people want to see in their entirety.

Both ideas were fairly innovative and both in theory, should result in better ads.

Text ads

Then we get to my least favorite online video ads, the text ads. I'm okay with text ads in the sidebar of a blog (obviously). Sometimes a particularly relevant one jumps out at you, but they're off to the side, out of your way and easy to ignore if you don't want to see them.

On a video they're kind of obnoxious. They cover part of the screen, they're actually distracting viewers (I know, that's the point). I'll probably try them out to see how I like them on my own videos, but as a (eventual) producer and as a viewer, I'll take pre-rolls and post-rolls (text or video) over in-video text ads any day. That's not to say I won't enable text ads in my own videos, I'll certainly try them out, but I don't know if I'll stick with them.

So there you have it, a tiny little review of a few implementations of online video ads. Months late, but nobody reads this blog anyways.


Saturday, February 6, 2010

N900 as an Mp3 player

One of the reasons I bought an N900 was so I could put a 16GB microSD card in it and use it as an mp3 player. The N900 has 32GB of storage--about 26GB of that are available due to the N900 needing about 6GB for system files. Adding a 16GB SD card makes 40GB total available for files such as mp3s.

I don't even have 40GB of mp3s on this device, because I need to save space for downloaded files, photos, etc. Right now I have maybe 35GB of music on my N900, split between the internal storage and the microSD card. This, by the way, from someone who nearly ran out of space on a 120GB Zune. 110GB - all music, no videos (the Zune Pass subscription service was primarily to blame).

Right now the device has 8,465 songs on it, according to the N900's default media player.

So here's my situation: Until 64+ GB microSD cards become available, browsing by folder would be unwieldy. "Is this album on the SD card or the internal storage?" I thought about a setup with links to music folders, but even that would probably be more trouble than it's worth, if it's even possible on the N900.

So I need to browse by tag, not a big problem. Since I've owned two tag-based mp3 players in the past, a Creative Zen Touch and a Zune, most of my mp3s are properly tagged.

Now, there are three competent tag-based mp3 playing apps on the N900 that I'm aware of. Canola, MediaBox, and the N900's default media player.

Had I written this within the first few days of getting the N900, this post would be talking shit all up and down the N900's default media player. That would be mainly for one reason, that the default media player's "now playing" screen is kind of lame.

The N900 is a touch screen device. I have, from past experiences, decided how a touch-screen media player app should behave. The volume and track progress sliders should always be visible, one on the left or right side of the screen along the edge, one on the top or bottom of the screen along the edge. That way, without looking you can adjust the volume, restart a song, skip back a bit, etc.

The default media player has a progress bar in the middle of right half of the screen. Tapping on the album art (directly to the left of the progress bar) replaces the progress bar with a list of all the songs on the album/playlist so you can look ahead or easily switch tracks.

Ideally I'd like tapping the album art to pause the song. Someone calls, or you're driving and you hear a noise, you don't want to have to look away from the road for this little pause button. Perhaps this is something that could have been avoided if the N900 had a few more dedicated buttons around it's sides.

Let's get to the good: The N900's default media player is the only one in which you can search your database of music using the hardware keyboard. That's right, no scrolling. Just start typing in the name of a band and it will filter out all the bands that don't have those letters.

A few problems with this: Like most media players, you can browse all artists, all albums, or all tracks. If you browse by artist, once you've selected an artist you're shown all their albums, (or you can play all of an artist's tracks). If you browse by album, selecting an album brings you to a list of all the album's tracks. When browsing by song, all the songs are on one big list. I only browse by song if I want to shuffle all songs on the player.

There are some problems with this. You have to wait a few seconds for the list to populate itself before typing in a search or it won't find what you're looking for. Just a few seconds. Also, you can search while browsing by all artists or all songs, but now while browsing all albums. I don't know why, that's just how it is.

That said, none of the other media players on the N900 search via the keyboard at all, so it's not like I can be too picky about it.

On to Mediabox and Canola. Both have strengths and weaknesses. Both are a little odd. Both support album art, but you have to install a streaming plugin for Canola and then let it crawl your music folders for album art to get it to recognize everything properly.

Also, Canola won't let you browse to any folders and let you specify that as your music folder. It will scan all your folders for ones with music, and you can remove folders from that list, but you can't point out folders that it for some reason isn't aware of. Uninstalling Canola won't make it re-scan for media folders. I almost think it only does this once after it's first install, so if you create a new media folder it'll never see it. I copied my mp3s over after I installed Canola, so I had to go into the file system and delete all of Canola's files in order to get it to re-scan my system and actually find my mp3 folders.

Mediabox lets you choose what folders it does and doesn't look for music in. As most people have said, the Mediabox interface takes a bit of getting used to. I had to try to get it to scan certain music folders over and over again before it finally started finding my music. I was probably doing something wrong, but it wasn't terribly clear what I was supposed to be doing so I won't take too much of the blame.

Mediabox and Canola also have the odd problem of occasionally stuttering. Of course when I'm surfing with a lot of windows open it affects the smoothness of mp3 playing, but Mediabox and Canola stutter a little bit just before the screen turns off. The stock media player doesn't. I don't know if it's because the default media player has a higher priority or if it's just less resource intensive, but between letting me search for music by typing and it's much less frequent hiccups I've settled on it as my default mp3 playing app.

I know Mediabox is under constant development, I think Canola is, and there are a few other decent apps for older versions of Maemo that may end up being ported to Maemo 5 eventually.

As it is, the N900 is a great mp3 player. I was worried I'd be disappointed in a lackluster ability to handle a large amount of files, but it works fairly well. I can't wait until I can get my hands on a 32GB microSD card.


No Innovation /= A Bad Anything

I, as most regular readers of this site know, really enjoyed Uncharted 2. I've read a handful reviews by people who didn't like the game, and most of their complaints I can understand, even if I don't quite agree with them. These complaints range from: the game took to long to get going, it's difficult sometimes to know what to do or where to jump, and then you have people that were rubbed wrong by the games action-movie style and story. I can understand all these complaints. One complaint, however, constantly rubs me the wrong way, and that is that Uncharted 2 isn't innovative.

So what?

Everyone's entitled to their own opinions, and everyone is drawn to gaming by their own specific tastes. I myself much prefer transparent linear stories to those 'good or evil' games that pretend like your decisions matter--like Mass Effect. I enjoyed that game, but the decisions it imposed felt cheap and only affect how people talk to you (sometimes). No matter what you do, the game ends relatively the same way. I mean, no matter what you do in Mass Effect, you're fighting Saren. You can't become so evil you team up with him. You can't kill him halfway through and take his place.

The point is, I tell some people my preferences towards linear games and they look at me like I'm crazy. Non-linear gameplay is the best thing to happen in gaming ever! How can I hate it? You know at the end of Metroid games, when it tells you what percent you've completed? I strive for 100%. I know it's a flaw if it prevents me from enjoying other games, I just want to absorb everything. Just like with "Choose Your Own Adventure" books, I always read every possibility that was offered.

Even though I can't understand the complaints that a game isn't innovative, I don't hold it against anybody. People want what they want, and I can't hold that against them.

But why should innovation be so important? Why does a game have to be innovative?

It seems like every few years there is a new game that re-defines FPS, or RPG, or whatever. Other similar games are referred to as "'defining game' clones," such as "Doom clone." This is a term that used to be simply descriptive. Software hobbyists used to make 'Pac-Man clones' and 'Asteroids clones'. It wasn't insulting, that's what they were intended to be. It was an exercise in programming and a way for people to download popular game knock-offs for free from bulletin boards. After a while "clone" became an insult you direct at a game that's too similar to a popular game without adding anything unique.

It's funny to point out that, amidst all the cries for innovation, many things the first few FPSs brought out still haven't been improved to a degree that it's indistinguishable from that feature from the earliest games. HUDs have existed since the first FPSs, and even before, in platformers. Deathmatch? Midi Maze. Co-op? Doom. Getting keys or hitting switches to open doors, big bosses, weapons upgrades, these things have been around nearly as long as gaming itself.

So what's being innovated? Better graphics, better controls, better AI. Cover systems. Better voice acting. Cutscenes. Actual stories. Increased interactivity.

When's the last time someone's read a book and said, "This author isn't innovating anything. He's still wrapping speech in quotations! What is this, 1509? Why are all the paragraphs indented? Did my great-grandma typeset this book?"

Such talk would be missing the point. People look for all different things in a book--good storytelling, good writing, escapism, a guidebook for life, comedy, drama, whatever. This goes for music, movies, television, and even games. People will always be innovating whatever forms they work in. Good innovation should be applauded, but it shouldn't be confused with good craftsmanship. Kane and Lynch had a lot of innovation, that still left it pretty far from being 'Game of the Year', or even 'Fun Game to Play'.

When I play a videogame, I want a fun experience. I know that's very broad, let me distill that down. I like some puzzles, but I don't like wall-to-wall puzzles. I like the ability to do things I can't or won't do in real life, whether it's something in Batman Arkham Asylum or something in Grand Theft Auto 4. I like a distinct style, perhaps a mood, like you would find in Max Payne 1 or 2. I like the level of concentration and even memorization games like Wipeout and F-Zero require. Some people want a good scare, like Dead Space seems to have provided (I haven't played it yet). Some people want a good story, like Uncharted 2.

Occasionally you have games like the Half Life series where they're able to manipulate the mood and keep you guessing. The juggling act between zombies and militia men in Half Life 1 is still some of the most fun I've had in a game, something they managed to keep going in Half Life 2 and it's episodes.

It is just so foreign to me that if I asked someone what they looked for in games, they'd say 'innovation'. That's such an abstract concept removed from anything I look for in games. Is it enjoyable? Did you "lose time," as I have frequently with select games, books, movies and tv shows? Do you keep saying "one more level" until you look out your window to see hours have passed and the sun has now risen? If so then why?

I like improvement and innovation. Max Payne 2 fixed all my problems with Max Payne 1. It is the better game, in my opinion. Crysis brought with it more realistic enemy AI than I was used to and made me rise to it's level. I was used to games where, if you see someone taking cover, you can shoot the bit of their arm sticking out and they for some reason would step out of cover to shoot at you. No no no, not in Crysis. You shoot their arm in Crysis, they get deeper in cover, because that's what you would do, stupid.

Here's my pet invalid belief: After Batman: Arkham Asylum, Prototype and Infamous, there should be no more "bad" superhero games, like *ugh* Superman 64, or those terrible platformers that we've suffered through for decades. I'm sure there will still be many terrible superhero games, but there shouldn't be. There is a template now, the bar has been raised. Just drop your comic book character into "clones" of any of those three games, and at least it won't be terrible. It can be repetitious, it can be too short, too long, it can have bad acting, it can be too hard or too easy, or have a shitty story, but it should at the very least be playable. The controls are done for you. The graphics should at least be passable.

Uncharted 2 didn't innovate anything. Motion capture has been used in game cut scenes before, there have been climbing sequences in games, and puzzle-driven treasure hunting games wherein people raid tombs. Other games have used arcs to show you where thrown items would go, other games have used a run 'n gun style, hand-to-hand combat, and stealth options as well as a cover system.

What makes Uncharted 2 so fun for me is first, that it's story driven. The game doesn't get in the way of the story, and I also never found myself saying, "Yes, this cutscene is cool and all but I'd like to play now, please!" You have a story-driven objective, you reach a point where you have or haven't achieved that objective, which leads to more story and another objective. What's more, the design team seemed to work very hard on taking things that normally would be relegated to a cutscene, say moving forward on a moving train while a helicopter is firing at you, and making it playable. And fun.

They didn't need to re-write the video game. They didn't need to invent anything, all the tools they needed were in place. They did have a lot of strong writing and design. For example, now that I'm playing Crushing mode I'm starting to notice that they almost always give you a way to take out your opponents in a stealthy way. In some places it's obvious and the story relies on it, later it's just there as another option you can exercise if you choose.

We're at the point now where games can be elegant and even intuitive simply using the framework other games have established. Anything a comic book, tv show or movie can do, a video game can do, developers just need to start realizing that. Sure there will still be innovation. Uncharted 2 may some day seem horribly dated. Talk of innovation fades out in time. People born today won't care in 20 years if Uncharted, Half Life, or Dragon Age were innovative or not. They'll just care if they're good.

You can try to argue with them, 'Oh, but Half Life invented this...' and in the same way it won't matter to them, it doesn't matter now. A game isn't good based on how much it innovates. It's good based on how it made you feel as you played it. Joy or frustration? Concentration or boredom? Why would Uncharted 2's developers go out and look for new tools to aid in providing the experience they want to if it was possible with all the tools available to them from day 1? To satisfy the smattering of people who think, for some reason, that 'good /= gameplay, good = innovation'?


PS - You might have gathered by now that I include games in with all other art forms, because I do in fact think video games can be art. There's a line to draw. Solitaire isn't an art, and it's hard to say, for example, that Doom is art, but it's equally as hard to say that the earliest, clunky silent films are art, too. Just like the silent films begot the amazingly capable art form of cinema, and poems read to lyre accompaniment eventually led to songs as we know them, Doom and Rogue eventually begot current state of games. And come on, if you think any horror films are art, then why isn't Dead Space art? If you think any of the Indiana Jones movies are art, why not the Uncharted games? They're all creative re-constructions of reality that make a point or tell a story.