When I was with Dawn I would often get asked whether I wanted to watch a film while we ate our dinner. The answer was almost universally “no”.

Listening to last week’s Giant Bombcast made me think about it again from another angle.

I was never able to grasp why this was such a difficult concept to understand but perhaps it’s actually an interesting quirk of my reaction to a techy society.

When I play video games it usually takes the form of either lengthy marathon sessions or short bursts of between forty and ninety minutes. Unless I’m playing a multiplayer game (fairly unusual) I can pause at any time. Games have been designed with that functionality in mind for decades.

Watching TV shows is fairly similar. They’re between twenty minutes and an hour and often created to be shown with ad breaks. That is to say lulls in the plot where things can be temporarily put on hold.

Films on the other hand expect the viewer to sit still and watch from beginning to end. Pausing isn’t part of the deal. There are no points designed to bring the viewer back into the experience.

I’m just not willing to commit several hours to something that might not be all that good any more. My evenings can generally fit in one film or any number of other things.

Most of the time I pick the other things. Then I write about them.

Also the new Wolverine film isn’t all that good.

Something I often hear advocates of 3D printing is that soon we’ll all have them. That isn’t to say in thirty years, it’s five to ten according to them.

The issue I have here is that 3D printers just aren’t that useful to the average person, in my view. It’s not an issue with the technology, it’s an issue with our culture and people’s approach to products.

Long ago things were built to be repaired. These days “no user-serviceable parts” is so ubiquitous that we don’t even bother labelling things with it any more.

I’d love to have a 3D printer and can think of many things I’d do with one, that said I doubt it’s sensible to get one at this stage. 3D print shops on the other hand seem perfectly sensible and I wish there were more of them.

Setting one up would certainly be interesting but I just can’t see it being sufficiently lucrative right now and dealing with the public would probably be all kinds of nightmarish. That said maybe others will be willing to go through that. I’m not so keen on using sites like Shapeways due to the lack of personal contact. In terms of 2D printing I find myself exasperated when dealing with print shops due to their near-universal incompetence but with 3D I’m only one step up from herpderp. Eloquent, I know.

This post was an attempt at venting. I cannot fathom how these advocates have such a colossal blindspot. People barely understand what 3D printing is, let alone what it’s useful for, and even when they do they don’t have the mindset to add 3D printing to their mental toolkits for problem solving.

So, like, it’s carved out of resin or something?

I bought Double Fine’s Costume Quest a while ago for £2.86 and I must say I feel it was an excellent purchase.

This isn’t a review of the game, more a commentary on the format of what I experienced.

First off, the price was low – a pint would cost me more and be less fun.

Secondly, the game was short. I don’t mean I was displeased with its length, merely that it didn’t outstay its welcome. Between the main game and the bundled DLC, Grubbins on Ice, I spent a total of eight hours.

The mechanics were straightforward, the gameplay welcoming, the world charming, and the difficulty low.

For some people I know that such a game is the complete antithesis of what they like. I’m not suggesting games like Dark Souls shouldn’t exist, simply that I would like more games like this one.

Things I can play for a few nights, have fun with, and then put down feeling I’ve got all the good content from. When I deleted the files I didn’t feel I was giving up due to disinterest, lack of skill, or frustration. I was removing them because I had finished my meal and it was time to do the dishes.

I’d like more games where I don’t feel hundreds of hours are required to receive a satisfying experience. Making smaller games is surely an art form?

DLC Quest was a bit too short for my tastes. Sure, I got my money’s worth, but I would have liked to play an hour or two more than the couple I got out of it.

On the flip side The Binding of Isaac is clearly a game with vast amounts of depth. I put in an hour here and there when the mood takes me but it’s not something I feel I would be satisfied playing longer term in order to feel I’ve reached the end of it. If anything I would end up with the problem I had in Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas – apathy through oversaturation. The worlds were too big, the fabric of the story too vast.

Stepping away from it for any period of time totally disconnects me from whatever goes on in it. Getting back into it requires quite a while to reacquaint myself with it all. That’s rarely worth the trouble though as the reason I stopped in the first place tends to rear its ugly head – I simply do not feel sufficiently invested in their worlds. They’re flat and dead with some scripted NPCs spouting key words coated in flimsy layer of prose.

The trick is to make me want to forget about that. Over a few hours I can play and have fun, enjoy the world for what’s presented and then move on. When it’s tens or hundreds of hours the facade simply cannot hold itself up at the moment.

In summary – I’d rather watch a single great series of a TV show than slog through seven seasons of increasingly mediocre gunk. Except with videogames. Yeah!

Someone put a bow on this post for me, would you?

At the end of last month I bought a new camera from a friend. He’d not been using it much and wanted it to go to a better home. He’s also rather generous so I got it for a fraction of its value (which was fortunate given that I had next to no cash!).

This video isn’t all that “frame perfect” due to the format I was editing in (AVCHD) and the way the software I used handled things.

OpenShot needs some serious work done on the way it handles these things. Some sort of caching would help, methinks. With any luck that stuff will be fixed in the 2.x branch that’s coming out later in the year.

There is something fun (for me) about this video – it’s the first occasion in modern times I’ve messed about with colour grading. We used to do it in the old days but even then only a little – it was something I was learning about towards the end.

This time I used Shotcut to play around with things and found myself immediately impressed with the results. Sure, my skills are primitive for the moment, but the difference between the stock footage and the finished stuff is night and day.

Anyway here’s the first pilot:

Procedural content isn’t really a new thing. The earliest example I can think of is Elite for the BBC Micro and Acorn Electron. I’ve not really tried playing it but it was an impressive concept, particularly for the time.

1290440726-00

These days procedural generation is back in vogue with notable examples like Minecraft acting as figureheads for the concept. More recently there are efforts to make more stylised worlds such as in Sir, You Are Being Hunted:Sir-You-Are-Being-Hunted

Something that bothers me when playing such games is the lack of desire to explore. The world is entirely generated by an algorithm and my mind can’t get past that. I don’t feel I’m exploring a world I just feel I’m wandering through the output of a glorified random number generator.

This shows an interesting parallel with how I feel about multiplayer games that use a fixed map. The world feels dead to me; little more than a paper-thin set on which to experience game mechanics. They were carefully constructed by a person but in some way they become nothing more than butterflies pinned to a board once the development process is finished.

Nevertheless the maps don’t feel as dead as the endless worlds that can be procedurally generated due to the human touch. Human players swarm all over them leaving a distinct impression of life. Once the server is empty the place goes back to being cardboard.

To me the pointlessness that overshadows procedurally generated worlds for me is diminished somewhat if there is a distinct narrative or path to follow. Wandering endlessly until the player character dies or quits through boredom doesn’t sound like a satisfactory end to a play session to me.isaac-mom

Beating a final boss after a following a mostly linear path helps, I feel (like in the game The Binding of Isaac).

Something I’d like to see is multiplayer versions of this using procedurally generated content. Players could only leverage experience with the games mechanics under those circumstances, rather than intense familiarity with the map, to gain an upper hand against new players.

I also wonder what impact humans instinctual desire to make a mark on the world they habit will have on this kind of play style. Presented with a fresh world and some suitable play tools I would expect users to customise the space in some way. Letting them do precisely that in addition to other game mechanics could make for a much more “lived-in” place and I would love to see it.

I had a quick play with a tablet today while I was at one of the internet’s many showrooms.

To date I’ve not really seen one with a ~300 DPI screen (this one was 299 apparently).

If you don’t know what that means think about this – how much detail is there in a printed picture compared to one on a screen? Printed media tends to be at least 300 DPI whilst screens are usually 72 DPI.

That’s why things people print out from pics found on the internet generally look like upscaled crap to anyone who knows what they’re talking about.

As a result wherever possible tUGS releases PDFs in 300 DPI. Occasionally there’s a bit of upscaling but we try to keep things looking crisp when printed. Of course, viewing them on a monitor they look great even when zoomed in as a result.

Well on a 300 DPI tablet things stay looking absolutely gorgeous. It’s really impressive actually. What’s strange though is the fact that navigating to the PDFs goes through the main site that’s at 72 DPI.

The text of the site looks great but the graphics end up looking badly upscaled. It’s hilarious in a somewhat infuriating way!

I’m not sure what to do about this in future though. Will desktop machines start to increase in pixel density like tablets are? Will we have to start releasing higher resolution webpage graphics to compensate for this technology?

If it results in a better looking web I’m fine with it, even if it is a hassle.

I’m not a big fan of gossip columns but occasionally something comes up that’s deeply disturbing.

The current government seems to be pushing a particular MP’s agenda. Yes, porn is evil and wrong, Mrs Perry. Just keep chanting that mantra to yourself every day and perhaps it’ll come true one day.

The disturbing part is her jaw-dropping ignorance.

Here’s the story.

The BBC have also covered it now. Personally I hope (but cynically doubt) that it’ll lead to some national dialogue about technology and the understanding of it by people attempting to make policy decisions.

Is it any surprise that our legislation is a complete shambles on this front when even MPs can’t seem to wrap their head around the basics of internet usage, let alone more advanced concepts like decentralised file sharing?

ZDNet’s article on this issue did alert me to one ISP’s stance on this daft attempt at legislated morality though, Andrews and Arnold Ltd:

Last night I finished Portal 2 again. It’s still fun although it does drag a bit at times but the thing that stood out to me was the texturing.

Occasionally they weren’t quite crisp enough but mostly they were excellent.

This game came out in April 2011 running on an engine that debuted in June 2004.

Here’s a screenshot I took whilst playing:2013-07-24_00002

Here’s it at 100%, well, a slice of it:2013-07-24_00002

Back in December 2012 I moaned about Dishonored and its piss-poor graphics. People have argued that it has a distinctive art style that excuses the texturing. I disagree. There’s art style (reminiscent of paintings) and there’s sloppy upscaling and low-poly models:

Dishonored

Dishonored

Things further away are lovely but look at the rowlocks! What’s with that hexagonal bedroll?

How about the texturing on the boat?

I should also point out that the screenshot I picked of Dishonored isn’t the worst example by a long stretch. It’s actually extremely generous. I may seem to be nit-picking about the texturing but think about it this way:

EVERYTHING that is closest to the screen at any one time looks lousy. Further away it’s fine but that’s not where the player’s actions are happening, are they?

Perhaps I should go back and actually finish Half-Life 2 to see how it compares. It came out in 2004, more than eight years before Dishonored. Maybe it’ll still look okay.

Tachyon is a fun word.

23 July 2013

“We all went through it, what’s the problem?”

I’ve not been a teenager for quite some time and I must say hearing attitudes like that one from the older generation expressed really gets me down.

Being a teenager is difficult. Would they have complained bitterly if someone had worked to make their teenage years better? Instead it’s someone else’s problem and therefore not important.

Others make ludicrous comparisons to war-torn countries and the plight of their young people. If we make that kind of comparison then none of our problems will ever get solved because there will always be someone facing harsher troubles.

I walked away from the process I was being pushed through as a teenager. I made a token effort in my A-levels and mentally stepped away from further education after finding that the road ahead of me was not something I could submit myself to.

That was prior to the economic collapse. It must be even worse for them these days with such an atrocious job market.

Other members of the older generation make reference to a sense of over entitlement. I would certainly agree that a great many have issues on this front, but it’s an issue for a much larger section of society than merely teenagers.

A significant problem is the disconnect between the opinions of young people and what actually happens to them. Too much choice is obviously an issue but I know that as a teenager I felt that whatever I did was irrelevant to anyone with power for the most part. We were brilliant and yet were rarely given any opportunity to actually put our skills and opinions to use. Instead it was all idiotic “exercises”.

By the time I was doing my A-levels I’d had enough of it. Nothing had any consequence. If I didn’t do the work someone would chase me. I’d been told that if I didn’t do the work I’d just fail. That was a lie.

It’s hard to stay invested in a society that lies to its young people and masquerades tyranny as choice. We were something to be kept distracted until we could be shipped off to university and onwards into the corporate treadmill.

Couple that with a very materialistic society, lack of prospects, and constant pressure to succeed and one gets a rather toxic place for young people, I feel.

But hey, we all went through it.

This morning I checked the BBC and saw this:

Online pornography to be blocked by default, PM to announce


Please, for the sake of the children!

Dear gods, surely we deserve better than this?

Anyway, this post isn't about my outrage at the notion of sweeping draconian legislation. Remember how my MP in Edinburgh was the always responsive Alastair Darling? Well my frustration with him is at an end. Hopefully my new MP will prove a little less arrogant.

Of course it remains to be seen whether my new representative will be any better but I'm at least going to give her a chance, just like I gave that git one. The reason I'm somewhat more optimistic is the fact that she is a Liberal Democrat. Party affiliation in this case matters because they are both in the coalition and not exactly doing that well - that hunger is a good thing!

Mr. Darling's seat was essentially bullet proof due to the nature of his constituency. Stand with Labour backing and one could as well be a serial rapist as a saint, from what I could see. The Lib Dems on the other hand have a very real chance of losing power - I'd rather write to them and see if they're willing to champion a cause. They may well refuse but at least they have motivation to try to win popularity.

I don't really believe in democracy - I don't feel I've ever seen it work as intended. That said I don't feel like starting a revolution today and so I've written to my MP. I would encourage you to do the same.

Not sure who your MP is? Try using this tool:
http://www.writetothem.com

It’s odd. I lived in Edinburgh from ~Q4 2006 to Q3 2013. That’s quite some time for a young adult to stay in one place.

Every year the festival would come around and every year I’d never see more than a handful of shows. In fact I’d avoid leaving the house for much of August.

I played a lot of video games, watched a lot of TV, and wrote the odd essay or two.

There were occasional nights out, parties, and gigs. I ate terrible fast food and drank colourful things from test tubes.

But there’s one thing I never felt: like I belonged.

Edinburgh was “my” city by familiarity but never emotionally. I found myself disconnected from local issues for the most part. Writing to my MP was a waste of time*.

I saw this, for example. I understand all of the points but none of them resonate with me on anything but a superficial level. In some way, despite barely leaving, I was never truly part of Edinburgh.

Well, I gave it a shot!

(* as in I tried it several times and it didn’t work out)

It's been quite a while since I did any real video editing.

Back in the days of the Napier Subculture Podcast we'd film to tape and then rip it using Kino.  Over time I learned to edit with Kino and found myself capable of things one might not even think possible using it.

The interesting thing about Kino is the fact that it isn't an NLE. Most video editors show several tracks of video and allow layering. By stark contrast Kino offered one track forcing one to edit very differently - everything has to be done sequentially.

As a result I had to learn to be able to think in that kind of editing. Frame-perfect cuts were a necessity.

Today I'm having a bash at editing some footage from my new camera using OpenShot. I've been watching its development and thought it'd be a good choice by now. Sadly I was mistaken.

The issue here is that every update of OpenShot seems to include vast swathes of new effects. One might ask me what the problem with that is and the answer is simple: how many times does the average user actually use an effect?

They're built to look flashy and novel. After you've seen them that's kinda it - they become stale and tacky.

By contrast it took a long, long time to get colour grading implemented in any form!

Colour grading is one of those tools that is used virtually every time. It allows for fine tuning of mise-en-scène - a fairly crucial thing in film making!

Similarly but as yet unimplemented - moving clips around the timeline is a joke. Scanning through them requires a wait for every clip as it has a little think about it. Also clips cannot be moved as a group.

That last bit may seem trivial but think about it this way - I sometimes edit the final section of a video first. It's the bit I remember most clearly and the bit that the viewer sees last. If I do it at the end I'll be tired and may not do as good a job of it. Having it ready to just be slotted into position means when I've done the meat of the video I can drop it in and relax.

Well, I would be able to if I could actually move footage around properly! The video I've just finished editing has a few big gaps in it that I'm going to have to excise using Avidemux because there's no good way of moving groups of clips around!

For me this is very disappointing - I had expected a video editor that got the fundamentals right before diving into novelty territory. I like having a lot of different options for effects but at this stage it might as well be primarily an effects machine, like a poor man's Adobe After Effects, rather than a stand-alone video editor in its own right.

The al-ighty ollar?

19 July 2013

The system works!

That is to say I pirated a game before and felt it was worth buying. Once it came down to a price point that suited me, I bought it.

I’ve ranted about this before and I’m sure I will again – it seems that many people, executives included, cannot grasp that digital goods can be priced at a very low price point and still make a significant profit.

It comes down to a combination of low marginal cost and the technology adoption cycle:

20110714211709!DiffusionOfInnovation

Ooh, and bit of Bottom of The Pyramid: Anti-capitalism_color

The current/old way of thinking stipulates that the goods have a value and below that price point one either a) makes a loss or b) “devalues” the product.

What this way of thinking doesn’t take into account is the fact that a) is no longer relevant in the realm of digital goods due to the aforementioned negligible marginal cost and b) is nonsense.

Take Assassin’s Creed Revelations for Windows. I bought it for £3.74 today. It is still being sold for £15 at various big name retailers.

Does an influx in sales seem likely at this stage? It came out in Q4 2011. By annual video game franchises that’s pretty old. The notion that the series should command that kind of price tag at this point is somewhere between arrogant and moronic. It’s a good game but at that price it’s competing with much newer, better things.

On the other hand, how big is the market that would pick it up for £3.74? I’ve often paid more than that for a pint.

Publishers seem to be slowly realising that there’s little point in demanding what they feel an old product is worth. They can spin all the snake oil tales they like, the crowd is just walking away. Make us an impulse-buy offer and those of us who want it will buy and those of us at the bottom of the pyramid can also finally afford the damn things!

I don’t really look forward to new episodes of the Ubuntu UK Podcast. It’s vaguely informative but it’s just not all that good. Unless my memory is playing silly buggers I think I finally know why.

It’s terrified of offending anyone.

Perhaps due to its branding it feels the need to be slavishly inclusive. Humour has to appeal to everyone and news has to be delivered as objectively as possible.tinman

For all my Tin Man issues I am still human. Humans are biased, they’re abrasive, and they’re (at times) offensive. Sometimes they’re remorseful and apologetic for said offensiveness too!

The point being that the show seems to try to remove the negative sides of humanity to the point of undermining the positives they aim to reinforce.

A bit more friendly banter, a bit more acceptance of their inherent bias, and ultimately a bit more opinion would do wonders, I feel. Instead there’s something that just ends up quite bland.

Instead of “family friendly” I prefer layered. Watch some old cartoons and there’s this rather creepy vibe when seen through adult eyes simply due to the saccharine innocence of the world they portray. Other shows avoid this entirely by collaging multiple levels of humour together allowing them to remain entertaining for adults.

Also, if I write into the show as you often beg your listeners to do, please don’t glibly dismiss the issue I was trying to raise.

Here’s an article of interest:

Technology firms say the UK has a 'digital skills gap'

It doesn’t really surprise me in the least bit.

I’m in my mid twenties and cannot say that at 18 I would have been much use to a primarily digital firm, at least not on the front lines. I can do plenty of things but virtually all of them are self-taught. Formal education provided me with virtually no useful technology-related skills (and I didn’t go to a bad school as you may well know).

When visiting universities computer-related courses were suggested but they all looked so distant from my skillset as to embarrass those doing the suggesting. How could I hope to go to Cambridge and study anything like that without any real grounding in the principals earlier in my education?

Due to my recent move and all the challenges that has presented I’ve not properly got back into Harvard’s CS50 yet but it remains on my to-do list. Thus far I see no reason it couldn’t have been taught in school.

In fact the only thing even resembling programming I remember doing was Logo on St. Michael’s set of Acorn Archimedes. In recent years I recall someone telling me how valuable Logo was as a teaching tool. Apparently pupils need to learn that the computer will only do what it is told, no more, no less. It didn’t occur to me that anyone would be foolish enough to think otherwise. Under normal circumstances an oven will not heat up without being told to do so. It doesn’t magically know the correct temperature. Why would a computer be any different?

I didn’t encounter a single teacher, IT or otherwise, who actually knew more about computers than I did whilst at school. I did encounter people who knew more but they weren’t teachers. Things seem to be shifting a little in more modern curriculums but it’s still common to see a focus on Microsoft Office rather than portable skills.

Is it really that surprising that our sys admins steer clear of teaching given the wages and stresses involved?

Mmmm burrito…

16 July 2013

When it comes to government infrastructure it seems a great many people fear it going digital. For me this is a real melon scratcher.

Some comments I’ve seen say things like “there’ll always be people who can’t use computers”. Perhaps that’s true, but there’s also people who are illiterate. It’s half way through 2013. Basic computing skills are expected.

Eventually the older generations who refuse to learn aren’t going to be around in any meaningful numbers. I mention this simply due to this fatalistic “there’ll always be…” statement. There won’t be – times will change and the basic adult skill set will include computing. It already does with the exception of a few outliers.

Another thing that seems to hold such digitisation back is fear. The privacy and security of the data seems a major concern lots of the time. I’m not sure how a well implemented security solution is perceived as less safe than a bunch of papers (or copies of papers) that need to be physically guarded at all times. There’s different challenges, certainly, but there’s no real reason that security should be an issue as long as we make that an actual priority.

Personally I can’t wait for the UK government to get a better handle on how they handle their websites. I’ve seen things about Netscape Navigator as a browser on some of them, for gods’ sakes!

Here you can read a bit more.

When I was little grown-ups would say things like “When you’re my age you’ll be doing this too” when they were doing certain things like faxing paperwork.2013-07-14 16.33.27

These days I’m in my mid twenties and can see my niece growing up. She recently turned six and is finally getting to the stage where I can vaguely have a conversation with her, even if it barely hangs together. Hopefully in another year or so she’ll be able to understand nonsense humour a little better – I can be quite funny if the audience is capable of grasping non-jokes!

Anyway, she’s growing up in a world that is changing far faster than the one I grew up in. That said the world I experienced still advanced much more quickly than the generation before me. She and her peers have never lived in a world without high speed internet access, for example.

This post isn’t really about the pace of change though, I feel that’s been talked to death to some extent. I’m more concerned with this idea of adults telling children to expect the problems they’re facing to be the same ones the kids will have to deal with when they come of age. Lucy’s world will, in all likelihood, be very different from the one I’m experiencing. The best we can do is teach them problem solving skills and encourage them to adapt quickly, I guess.

The way this stands out for me is that my parents drive cars. I’m a grown up, I have a license, but the world in which driving is normal for me doesn’t seem to have materialised. High costs and wages that haven’t increased with inflation have left that world out of reach for many of us.

On the other hand we do have much better access to public transport and cycling seems to be much easier and safer these days. Who knows what it’ll be like in another fifteen years?

Horsey sauce.

14 July 2013

Something occurred to me while updating my mother’s TomTom this afternoon. It wasn’t a big something but it was rather ominous in its own quiet way:

I simply expect any mainstream product’s software to be a badly built.

Any reassurances about its features are barefaced lies.

It’s not even arrogance – it’s more a malevolence through indifference. The software is good enough. It doesn’t perform that well but so what? The consumers might moan to the internet but as long as it’s not stupendously broken they’ll put up with it.

Similarly any time I see something in a “professional” tone I immediately feel that whatever is said needs to be taken with an ocean of salt. “A commitment to high standards” might as well be this:demotivational-posters-free-candy

Essentially companies are rarely hungry. They’re not trying to be the best at what they do. Apparently it just doesn’t make good business sense to sincerely work towards providing something that is better than any customer could expect. As long as they buy it and don’t moan too much, it’ll do.

As I’ve said before, I’m not a perfectionist, “good enough” will do due to the law of diminishing returns. “Good enough” means 95%, not 70%, so to speak. That extra 5% is going to come down to the end user’s personal quirks – getting it right is damn near impossible. On the other hand an extra 25% is going to make the whole thing seem great even if the end user can’t quite put their finger on why.

Of course, in reality it’s not that simple but surely we should aim to be somewhere where basic professionalism doesn’t automatically convey a sense of thinly-veiled disdain?

I may be somewhat sunburnt.

Thankfully it’s not too painful as it’s not that bad – I’m just ridiculously pale.

I did apply suncream, twice, but apparently it wasn’t enough. I can’t imagine living in Scotland since 2006 has really helped my ability to tolerate sunlight either

We were out on a boat for the whole afternoon, from noon, getting back to the dock around 1830.

In recent years as they enter retirement my parents have decided to take up a relaxing hobby – sailing. Boating is all well and good but there’s something about the way vertical surfaces become horizontal that rather rattles my cage!

orHOvmW

We motored from Landshipping to near Stack Rock Fort before putting up the sails and heading to far enough out from St Ann’s Head to see Skokholm and Skomer.

Boats I’m fine with, sailing, erm, not so much. Perhaps in time I’d get used to it. Fear of deep water and the fact that current mobiles are neither waterproof nor floaty are stumbling blocks!

One fun thing though – we passed Dale Fort Field Centre. I’d forgotten about that place – I was there for a week many years ago with my mother on a YOC thingy. I remember unearthing a demo version of Desert Strike on the computers there (Either Amigas or Macs, I’m guessing – I recall that the file explorer was different). That kept a lot of us entertained in our downtime between activities. I also recall that one of the group leaders was called “Jeanie”. There was also something called an “Earth Walk”.

How very dramatic.

Me brain ‘urtz!

12 July 2013

I like elegant solutions. This is not news.

A little while ago in response to my need for a flexible podcasting solution I devised a fairly complex setup that gave a very straightforward end result.

To keep things from interfering I set them up in a virtual machine (a VM). The idea was to create a podcasting appliance that I could fire up as required. I already had a VM running Windows XP to hand for some unrelated nerdiness so it became my base. Assorted bits of software piracy later and I had something workable.

Normally my audio podcasts are created using Mumble. It’s easy to use and outputs separate audio streams for each voice. Running a server is relatively easy and doesn’t require insane amounts of bandwidth.

Why don’t you just use Skype, dude?
-Various

To put it bluntly, Skype is garbage when it comes to audio quality. It varies wildly and group calling is a mess. Outputting that audio as separate files is again an issue, and, how can I put this? Well, I’ve heard podcasts recorded that way and they’re, without exception, trash.

Mumble provides decent audio quality and nice tools to boot. Setting that bit up is a doddle though and an appliance isn’t necessary for that.

The clever bit is the re-routing of audio.

On the VM I run the server and a client. The client sits in the channel (like a chat room) and reroutes the VM’s audio.

The speaker output is rerouted as microphone input. There’s a few other tweaks too but basically it means that sound effects played on the VM can be heard by everyone in the channel. Handy for podcasting.

But what about Skype?!

Oh, fine then! It too works. Someone calling the podcast drone on Skype can hear everyone in the channel and talk to them too! Happy now?

It’s kinda hard to explain and apparently I can’t quite wrap my head around it right now either, but trust me, it works.

I tried to explain this setup to a few other people but for the most part it falls on deaf ears. Recently I spoke to my friend, Chris, and he seemed to think it was actually interesting. This got me thinking about being able to share this appliance.

Now of course I couldn’t share it with all that pirated software on it and cleaning out my other projects probably isn’t worth the hassle. So, new plan!

I’m going to attempt to recreate the virtual device under Linux. I chose Xubuntu as the base and will be attempting to create something equally user-friendly. Once I’m done I plan on sharing it online for anyone who wants it. I don’t want to have to do lots of support stuff though so it’s not going to be a set of packages – it’ll just be a VM image so that I can go for a “it just works” approach.

I’ve been trying to tidy up the mess of files on my hard disk. Gods forbid someone else ends up trying to go through it in the event of my untimely death. That sounds morbid and prompted by recent events but it’s more just a turn of phrase.

Last time I was at my childhood home I picked up a load of old files in order to properly archive them. I have all sorts of odds and ends, many of which probably shouldn’t see the light of day. At the time they were written they were fine – these days they might make the authors cringe.

What interests me though is that during that period technology was also awkward. Floppy disks hadn’t quite died out due to the cost of flash disks. They were becoming affordable but sharing them wasn’t uncommon. Other times floppies would be cleared and reused (but not shredded, leaving residual data).

As a result I have some odd files whose origin I simply cannot put my finger on.

For example, I have a file from June 2004. It’s an Excel spreadsheet created by or for my old housemaster. It has all the names of the boys in the boarding house and whether they’d be away for “study leave” or not. I seem to recall “study leave” was essentially an week off before external exams (GCSEs, AS, A2). It seems to have been created for him, perhaps by one of the house tutors? I don’t think I had a laptop until the end of 2004 though so it’s a tad unclear as to how this file got onto my machine.

That at least has a connection to me. There’s other things like “On Call.xls” that leave me truly perplexed.

It was created by “Mr. Hanley” and features the phone numbers for three locations:

  • HillGate Farm
  • The Stubbs
  • Crows Nest

I’m obviously not going to publish the numbers. I’m more interested in what this was all about. They all seem to tie into Da Capo Caring For Kids. From what I can tell it’s a tiny independent school “for pupils who have complex special needs” (source). How did I end up with an old rota for it? (Ostensibly from 2001 or so)

Did someone I know once work there?

Mundane to others, I guess, but trying to piece together the narrative rather interests me.

I can’t say I’ve ever really played an MMO before today. Well, now I have.

The MMO in question was the open beta of Firefall.

Short version: I am not impressed.

Being a beta I didn’t expect it to work perfectly. I didn’t expect it to be without issues.

What I did expect was something that one could at least see the potential enjoyment the finished product would present. I did not see that.

When starting the game I was greeted by an intro cinematic. It was rather fun but looking back I am entirely at a loss when it comes to relating it to the game. I haven’t the foggiest how it connects to the game world. Apparently a human ship crash lands on Earth.

Meanwhile in Firefall there’s a world that looks like another planet with high tech stuff, alien creatures, and “chosen” enemies. I don’t know what that means.

The game’s tutorial is amazingly useless. At times it provides instructions that might as well be “walk across the room” and at other times I felt inundated with jargon. By the end I was at a complete loss as to the game world, the game’s mechanics, and what I was even supposed to be doing. Other players told me that if I wanted something easy I should play World of Warcraft.

Please excuse me for confusing “open beta” with “user testing”. Clearly it’s more of a drive to drum up free (ish) publicity than to gather any sort of meaningful feedback.

As I’ve said in the past and will say again – entertainment should entertain me. If it feels like hard work and I’m not getting any benefit out of it then why would any sane individual continue to do it?

Finally there was one interesting option in the graphics settings: resolution scaling. The game will scale the output resolution down as required to maintain the target frame rate.

Did I mention that it runs like a heavily sedated snail? My hardware may not be cutting edge but this game looked dreadful! I’ve seen papercraft with more detail!

Avoid.

Attempting to not let yesterday’s news get me down today I thought about various positive game things in the future.

First off I saw a section of wall in a GAME store in central Cardiff dedicated to the Ouya and Gamestick. I did not expect that kind of penetration. I don’t care about either system but it was surprising to say the least.

Secondly it looks like Crytek are working on a Linux version of their engine – not something I’m specifically interested in. It’s interesting to see what might be a trend coming together though, ain’t it?

Thirdly the second half of 2013 has a lot to look forward to for me:

  • More Sons of Anarchy
  • The conclusion of Breaking Bad
  • A pirate-themed Assassin’s Creed game
  • A new Saints Row game
  • Wasteland 2
  • Grand Theft Auto V

There’s other things too but I’ve not even thought of them yet. I’ll save them for tomorrow. Onwards!

This evening many of us got some sad news. Apparently Ryan Davis (of Giant Bomb) has died. He was 34 and had just got married.

Jenny and I were listening to last week’s Bombcast and Ryan’s absence was notable, but we hoped he was enjoying his honeymoon. It would seem he was already dead when said that.

I don’t know what he died of yet but I was concerned about his health in the past. He was a big fat guy with a sedentary lifestyle. He was also hilarious, insightful, and a brilliant journalist.

Back in the day I used to listen to LUGRadio and GameSpot’s The Hotspot podcasts whilst walking to get the bus from my family home in Wales. It was a half hour walk (and of course half an hour back). It made the walk very pleasant.

Later Gerstmann Gate happened. Fortunately Arrow Pointing Down arose from the flames which later seems to have turned into Giant Bomb.

LUGRadio is long gone, sadly. I was so pleased that Ryan and Jeff were still around. Now it’s just Jeff and I haz a sad.

After watching the GB guys do their E3 stuff it reminded me of just how much I enjoyed doing that stuff. I had secretly hoped that one day I’d get to attend one of the panels with Jeff and Ryan. Guess that’s another for the broken dreams pile!

I hope his widow has sufficient support. I don’t know what I could do to help but I’m sure I’m not alone in being concerned for her wellbeing in the aftermath of this tragedy. Ryan lit up everyone’s lives.

I always remember him like this and I think it’s what he would have wanted:

From some people’s perspective there’s a bit of my past that should be a sordid secret:

I owned a Nokia N-Gage.nokiangage2

n-gageApparently this is something that should be considered a “confession”. One of the main issues the internet seems to have with it is the angle it had to be held at to make a call.

I don’t quite grasp why this was such a problem for folks unless they had the self-esteem of a fourteen year old girl. Everyone is not staring. You’re not that important to you and they simply do not care.

There’s plenty to take issue with on the phone but that? Really? Are you really that much of a bloody wuss?

The original (not the N-Gage QD) had its card slot behind the battery. Changing games meant removing the case, yanking the battery, and then pulling the card (followed by reassembly!).

Its screen had an aspect ratio that really wasn’t all that suitable for gaming.

It didn’t have particularly great battery life.

Series 60 Symbian was amazingly clunky. A solid platform in some ways but ergonomically it was like a cow in a shopping trolley.

Getting new apps for it was like pulling teeth.

But the angle it had to be held at was a bit unusual? Really?

On the flipside if one was a teenager with a lot of time to spend researching it then the device could be amazingly awesome for the time.

It could play some rather awesome games (Frozen Bubble, Worms World Party, Asphalt Urban GT, and various others), it could playback video (RealMedia and Xvid using SmartMovie), audio (MP3 and Ogg Vorbis using OggPlay), chat on MSN messenger using GPRS (Agile Messenger), browse the web (Opera), and assorted other nifty things.

The amount of work to get it to do all that stuff was more than the target customer could be expected to do, in all honesty, but I’m really surprised that more geeks don’t see how ahead of its time it was.

These days people seem to think Smartphones were invented in 2007. They weren’t – the category existed long before people were saying “What are all these app thingies? I just want to make calls!!”.

I guess ten years just isn’t long enough.

I discovered something both bland and interesting earlier – Coreheim.

“Bland” seems rather cruel, I know, but one of the things I absolutely adore about Mordheim is its twisted artwork. Every page is adorned with perverted fanaticism and fever dream oddities:tumblr_ljagiu5I7p1qhel5yo1_500

Admittedly that’s one of the tamer pieces but I can’t dig out my book to scan something better without unpacking another box.

Coreheim currently just has workman-like rules. That’s great, sure, but the soul isn’t there. I don’t know whether that can be solved though, sadly.

What really caught my eye was this though:

About Donations
Coreheim is a non-profit that runs entirely off (small) donations (and rules feedback) from players all around the world. As per agreement with the copyright holders of Mordheim, we are allowed to solicit donations as long as the donations do not exceed the costs of running and operating the Coreheim project and we think we can safely say that we are in no danger of that happening.

Donations aren’t the bit I care about, it’s this snippet:

As per agreement with the copyright holders of Mordheim…

 

This means that the copyright holders officially know about their project and clearly haven’t taken legal action. I’m wondering how they (or he) went about that. If tUGS could be given permission to create a similar project the potential is of considerable interest.

My thoughts (I’d embed them but there’s currently no convenient way to do that through Google Drive):

You and Yours and data storage

For reference, around the 28 minute mark.

Whilst looking for a video of a particular line from The Cleveland Show I stumbled onto a TV Tropes article that seemed rather relevant to my life as a student.

One-Hour Work Week

Under the “Real Life” section UK students (well, English and Welsh ones at least) get a mention. It’s really rather accurate.

When I was at uni taking three modules per semester I had roughly two hours of lectures a week, per module. There were tutorials too but mostly they were basically optional and added at most another two hours per module. That meant I was on campus a couple of days per week, at most.

On the one hand, academically speaking, it was a total waste of time. On the other hand it meant I had lots of time to do things I wanted to do – film podcasts, consume vast amounts of media content, and run a student society.

The notion of exchanging that kind of free time for a paycheque doesn’t really fit into my idea of a fun life. Exchanging some of it, sure, but time = money is a one-way exchange. Money does not convert back into time!

We’re never going to be this young again – being a bit poor whilst enjoying life seems to be a far more fun proposal for happiness and contentment than a bit of extra cash to buy whatever trinkets are currently popular.

I’m going to go back to perfecting my chilli recipe now!

I spent a little while playing DLC Quest over the last few days. I bought it on sale for a pittance and had a lot of fun with it.2013-07-03_00002

Sure, the mechanics are simple and as a game it’s not all that special, but on the other hand it made me laugh and smile. It makes fun of many things we’ve come to consider fairly normal (like day one patches for games) and weird quirks of game design.2013-07-03_00001

To date we haven’t had much luck solving the NPC problem. After their dialogue is exhausted they tend to revert to saying the same thing over and over again, never reacting to how the world has changed.

It makes me think about what I was saying about Scarface – sometimes dialogue should exist just to colour in the world. An NPC who stands there saying the same thing regardless of changing circumstances actively detracts from the believability of the game world. Once the world falls apart one might as well be playing poker or putting together a jigsaw puzzle as the game loses its narrative elements.

Of course, not all videogames need narrative elements but as there are NPCs I’m going to go ahead and assume it’s a game that has a setting and therefore some sense of story.

On another note believability doesn’t mean realism – it simply refers to the idea that a game world immerses the player. Psychonauts isn’t realistic at all but its world is enchanting.

DLC Quest’s world is fairly simplistic but it definitely amused and entertained me. I was also pleased to see that it used Creative Commons content in its creation. Very cool.

Wait, what?

02 July 2013

Occasionally I’m really pleased about something techy.

Today it was the fact that I managed to get my camera to interface with a rather ancient Toshiba DVD player. I bought it on eBay quite some time ago to act as a monitor whilst filming but found that it didn’t come with the necessary AV cable.

I hunted around and couldn’t find the accursed thing – I even found a technical manual hoping I’d be able to discern what kind of input it expected. No luck.

More recently I thought I’d found what I was looking for, or at least the size. I held on to a 2.5mm mini jack cable thinking it was right – turns out it wasn’t. What was actually needed was a 3.5mm mini jack with 3 channels: audio (L&R) and video. Of course my ol’ camera outputs to RCA jacks, a fact I’ve been using for many years to provide audio to headphones for monitoring whilst filming (the Panasonic GS300 doesn’t have audio output for headphones).DSCF3795

Upon realising that the input was just 3.5mm I pulled the female-to-female adapter off, plugged the yellow RCA jack into the adapter and bam:DSCF3796

In fact, with the 2.5mm adapter I’d tried I was even able to hook up my bridge camera:DSCF3797

Not overly useful for photography but a rather fun little novelty, I must say.

It should be noted that the disc drive in the device is completely buggered. I bought it with this in mind and specifically looked for a device that was broken to keep the price down. What use is a portable DVD player in this day and age, after all?

The screen is only 480x234, sure, but it’s larger for composing shots and focusing the camera. It has its own battery and takes standard input (although it looks like lots of players only output). The idea being that eventually I hope to have a 35mm adapter built but focusing one on a tiny screen is rather difficult!

Given that I now have a new camera it might be worth getting the AV cable for that to cable into the player but I’d best check the battery life first. It was built in ~2004 after all!

Unless I’m really bored  don’t tend to look at what’s going on with the Twitter feeds I follow.

Generally speaking it’s not because they’re not interesting – it’s simply that to pull up the feed is extra effort. A screensaver wouldn’t do me much good either because when I’m at my PC I’m usually using it (and so the screen is always in use).

I’m thinking that it might be interesting to see a screensaver for XBMC that I could run on my Raspberry Pi. That way when the TV is on but not showing anything it could be displaying the latest from the microblogosphere.

Perhaps I’m not alone in this – unless it’s easy I don’t consider Twitter important enough to bother checking most of the time. There might be some funny titbits but it’s fairly mundane much of the time. Even if I changed who I follow I doubt it’d liven things up. I barely check Facebook for similar reasons – the amount of effort simply doesn’t justify it.

Reddit on the other hand provides plenty of content and browsing it is easy. It’d be nice to be able to have profiles or similar though – I subscribe to a lot of boards and sometimes their content gets swamped by all the NSFW stuff! Being able to filter things a little might help.

That said, perhaps that’d result in the effort being too great to justify looking…