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Mass Effect October 8, 2009

Posted by baldricman in Baldric-Man, Tech.
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Hi there! It’s been so long since I last posted, I could barely find the “New Post” button 🙂

So, what’s been keeping me so busy? Well, apart from lots of work, an unexpectedly large tax refund, some illness here and there, and an awesome camp away in Franschhoek this past weekend with other young adults from our church…. Oh yeah, for my birthday a few weeks ago, Deems and family very kindly gave me a voucher to Kalahari.net, which after much deliberation (and I mean “much“…) was converted into two new games for the old ‘puter (much to wifey’s understandable concern)

So I got me paws on “Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth II” and “Mass Effect” (wow, what a crappy site…). Now, I know, those aren’t exactly the latest releases, but I run my games on my work laptop, which, while no slouch, is not exactly gamer’s paradise. So I’ve gotta delay a little on the titles, k? Anyway, in short, LOTR is ok. It seems cool, and I can’t find anything huge to fault it on, really, but it just doesn’t grab me either. I suspect my love of the Middle Earth setting is what *almost* saves it…. I played a few missions of that, then figured I’d try out Mass Effect.mass_effect

Wow. Right now, I’m terrified that the game is going to end. Which would be a bad thing. A quick description to bring you up to speed, if you haven’t seen it: it’s a Sci Fi Roleplaying game. You play the role of a military Commander (in the “Starfleet Alliance” or whatever it’s  suitably predictable name is, who cares….?), and basically race around the galaxy in your ship, in your armoured terrestrial lander, or on foot, solving mysteries and blowing up aliens. Nice.

Ok but seriously, the ambience is typical Sci Fi (grand scales, yet a little moody), and so far the game seems to have reasonable depth (I’m really not sure yet that it will have the same depth as RPGs like Neverwinter Nights, for example, and in fact Mass Effect might turn out to be more like an Adventure game….. time will tell) The combat is cool and interesting (minor squad control with issuing of orders, special abilities etc), and interestingly, though the combat control appears to be First-Person Shooter, it really requires more of a strategic approach. The characters are all interesting (both played characters and NPC’s), and the dialog options are smooth and sensible.MassEffect-screeny

Anyway, the game has poor performance on my crappy laptop, but even with my reducing all graphics settings to Atari-like look & feel, it’s still great fun to play. I highly recommend it to anyone who is even vaguely interested in Sci Fi games OR in RPGs.

So, thanks Deems, it’s been a long time since I was excited about getting home to play a game 🙂

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New Gadget: Sony Ericsson XPeria X1 September 13, 2009

Posted by baldricman in Tech.
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My new XPeria arrived on Thursday, and now that I’ve had a few days to play around with it, I thought I’d share some of my initial observations on it. This is not a review, just some impressions – I don’t pretend to know much about smart phones, so if I compare two phones and get it backwards, remember this is just my opinion 🙂

x1-1When selecting a new phone, I had had quite a broad range of choices, most notably between the XPeria, the HTC Touch Pro 2, one or two Nokias, and of course the iPhone. To cut a very long story short, I had not had much face-time with any of the phones, and only had user reviews to go on, as well as past experience with the different brands, and of course the price tag 🙂    My two previous phones were both Sony Ericssons, and I was more than happy with both of them. I’ve never been much of a fan of the Nokia range, and the whole iPhone software model I think is stupid. Also, (and many think I’m crazy for this part), I *wanted* a phone with Windows Mobile on it: being a .Net developer, I figured it would be handy to try my hand at some of the SDK functionality available (more on that in another post). Finally, the HTC Touch Pro 2 looked like a damn fine contender, but considering the price tag (more than double that of the X1), the few extra features were hardly convincing.

So, what is my initial impression? Basically, it’s a very cool piece of hardware.

The performance seems great so far (far, far superior to previous P990i on Symbian), and the touch screen is fine (granted, it will probably never come close to the iPhone, or so I’m told, but its perfectly functional) The QWERTY keyboard is excellent too. Interestingly, I had never held the QWERTY keyboard as a priority, but that is probably because I had never found one easy to use, and so had dismissed it completely as a viable input method. I am now converted! The camera is capable, though not important to me, and unfortunately the sound is a little soft. The connectivity (3G, HSUPA, Wifi etc) are all excellent, and extremely easy to set up. (I’m already connecting to the internet through 2 wifi networks, and then hsdpa/3g/gprs etc etc etc…. all seamlessly and automatically, with near-complete control. Something I could never quite get right on the p990i)

On the physical side, it’s a great looking phone: it’s got lots of metal bits rather than plastic, which feels great. It’s light enough not to pull your pants down, but heavy enough to feel like a real phone. It’s also not a brick, like many smart phones, and I think the size is perfect. The screen is very easy to read (though I suspect not so great in daylight, like most smart phones), and colours look great. (IIRC, only 65K, but I still believe more than that is of no real benefit. At least not for me…)

I’m still getting used to not having the standard keypad on the front, so dialling while driving, for example, is quite difficult (which is probably a good thing).

xperia-x1Ok, finally, I can’t write something about the X1 without mentioning the Panels. Panels are probably the most unique and strongest selling point of the X1, and with good reason too. Basically, think of a Panel as your default, or “home” screen. Usually, most of us will use a default panel showing the time, weather, appointments, missed calls, and a pretty background. However, you can quickly (as in, 2 “clicks”) change your panel to, say, the Skype panel, or a GPS panel, or the Radio panel, Facebook panel, etc…. Its difficult to describe it in a way that does it justice, but so far its proven to be pretty cool 🙂

Maptor: the GPS Map-Projector August 27, 2009

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Tired of ignorant people telling you to ask for directions, when you know you’re not really lost? Do you find using a map awkward and clunky? Does your wife fold the thing incorrectly? Well, the Maptor might be a novel solution to all that.

Maptor
I got sent a link to this cool new gadget earlier this week by Deems, and thought I’d pass it on. Basically, the Maptor (from “Map + Projector”) is a miniature portable projector – it can download and store maps and then project them onto a nearby surface. However, this in itself is not new. So the designers at Samsung’s Art and Design Institute have added an integrated GPS unit that will pinpoint your location, on the projected map.

You can watch a short video of it below, but I suggest you turn off your sound. There is no speech, just music that was used in the concentration camps for misbehaving residents…

So will it be useful? I’m not really covinced it has any real value beyond being a cool option for sight-seeing in a foreign city. But, it IS cool…

You can read the original cnet article here.

Gadgets: Optimus Keyboards August 19, 2009

Posted by baldricman in News, Tech.
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I got sent a link to this page earlier this week (thanks Tim 🙂 ) which showcases some funky designs of various items ranging from mugs, to hoodies, and to keyboards. Most of the product can be purchased from the site, but some are still in concept stages, which makes for some very interesting browsing.

Anyway, to get to the meat of it, there are 2 keyboards which are just full of awesomeness. The first is called the Optimus Maximus (I think because it has a butt-load of optimal awesomeness). The trick? Each key on this baby has a standalone OLED screen, to display the function associated to it. Yes, you read correctly. The keys are completely customisable using the bundled software, which allows complete flexibility in what applications you use the keyboard for, and indeed in which languages. You can purchase this one for around $1600 or so…

optimus_maximus_01w

The second keyboard, which is even cooler I think, is called the Optimus Tactus (I think because there is no tactful way to tell your friends you have one, without them beating you senseless to get their greasy little fingers on it…). This keyboard is still in the concept phase, but the idea is to remove the restriction of fixed, physical keys. It is a “one sensor display keyboard”. (I’m thinking a big-ass iPhone-style screen, without all the irritating phone functions). To quote:

Optimus Tactus does not have physical keys, which means there are no restrictions on their shape and size.

Any part of the keyboard surface can be programmed to perform any function or to display any images.

optitact-textoptitact-color

So, who wants one? Go check our the Art Lebedev Studio site for some more awesome stuff. And be sure to check out the other Optimus keyboards while you’re in the neighbourhood.

IT Pro’s and Their Cars August 17, 2009

Posted by baldricman in Baldric-Man, Tech.
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Following on from my last post, …It’s a Feature! (as in, not a Bug), I thought I’d put together a little compilation of vehicles I think are appropriate for the various roles in IT. (For some context, I’ve been working in IT for the past 10 years or so, almost entirely in bespoke software development….) So, I hope you enjoy it…. On to the list!

Graphics Designer

But, if it looks this good, nobody will notice the performance!

But, if it looks this good, nobody will notice the performance!

(more…)

Afrigator launches Gatorpeeps May 11, 2009

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Well I just got word this morning of a new micro-blogging platform that has been launched to blog users making use of Afrigator’s blog tracking and aggregation services (aimed primarily at African blogs, as the name suggests). The new Twitter-like tool is called Gatorpeeps.

So, why create another tool when Twitter is so widely-known, and effective? Well, according to Afrigator’s MD, Justin Hartman:

I believe this is even more true in Africa as we simply don’t have the penetration that other developed countries have. Also take into consideration that the mobile phone remains the African version of the PC and as such micro-blogging addresses both penetration and accessibility problems. If you take Gatorpeeps into this context, couple it with the fact that less than 5% of Afrigator users have Twitter accounts then you’ll see why launching a micro-blogging platform to our audience is in fact a wise move.

See Justin’s blog post about the move over here:Afrigator tried to buy Twitter, we launched Gatorpeeps instead.

So, I’m going to try it out for a bit and see how things pan out. And, I guess we’ll have to create a whole new set of jargon to replace “tweets” and “twits” and so on…

Here’s the link again: Gatorpeeps

**UPDATE
Ok folks, I’ve been playing on Gatorpeeps on and off now for the past few hours, and have to say I’m really enjoying it. This coming from a guy who still isn’t convinced about Twitter. Or maybe I’m just biased towards a lekker-local product eh? Seriously, if you’re at all interested or active in blogging or micro-blogging, try it out. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Also, for another take on it, check out Stii’s post here. Stii is the self-professed “Code Monkey at Afrigator”, so he probably knows what he’s talking about… 🙂

 

Laptop Rage accounts for 10% of damage April 21, 2009

Posted by baldricman in Tech.
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A recent study by the Ponemon Institute, has shown that a major cause of laptop damage is from our all too human anger and frustration being taken out on the poor little beasties. The study, entitled “Business Risk of a Lost Laptop”, drew opinions from 3100 IT pros in several countries; some of the more interesting results include:laptop_hammer_1

The British say only 6% is attributable to poorly-managed anger, with most of the damages due to improper care during travel.

The Yanks had rage up at 13% however, and perhaps most amusingly, more than half of it was apparently due to food and beverage spillages (*snort*)

Anyway, you can read a fuller article on the report over here.

Also, please be aware that the study is based on opinions, and not on hard data from support centres or anything like that.

Visual Studio 2010 – Feature List April 15, 2009

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With the first Beta release of VS2010 widely expected sometime mid-May, there is still a lot of discussion around the final feature set to be included. Microsoft Technical Fellow, Brian Harry, has started a series on Team System features on his blog, and he has kicked it off with a high-level feature list (and he promises to “drill-down” into these items in subsequent posts)

The features are grouped into

  • Architecture
  • Dev & DB
  • Lab Management (basically Virtualisation)
  • Test
  • TFS

Of course I’m most excited about the Architecture Explorer (and related functions), cos it just looks so damn cool. (Check this out for more)

Check out Harry’s full list of high-level features here.

Twitter: Worm Attacks April 14, 2009

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This past weekend saw social platform Twitter experiencing sustained and serious attacks, from at least 3 worms, all of very similar nature. The attacks were exploiting cross site scripting (XSS) bugs in Twitter, and manifested in “booby-trapped” profile pages of certain users. Users viewing these profiles would then essentially flood the network with thousands of tweets promoting a site, StalkDaily.com.

Twitter subsequently received a fair amount of flak, not only for the bug’s existance, but more for the slow response time, and then most importantly, the fact that subsequent attacks succeeded, thereby indicating that the Twitter fixes were merely symptomatic, and did not address the actual bug.

Luckily for Twitter, and its users, the worms were not particularly malicious. But, it serves as a useful warning to those of us who implicitly trust content and urls on well-known sites. What I find particularly concerning in this example is the likelihood of the average user (myself included) to click on those shortened urls so prevalent in Twitter.

See original post on The Register here.

Conficker Goes Active April 9, 2009

Posted by baldricman in News, Tech.
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Last week Deems posted about the Conficker worm that was set to strike on April 1st. Researchers, at the time, reminded us that the virus probably wouldn’t “go active”, at least not overtly, but would be more likely to wait it out a little longer till all the hype died down.

And so yesterday, at just over a week after its “wake-up”, Conficker started making some rustling noises in the bush. From an article at JCXP:

Researchers at Trend Micro have been tracking the worm since its discovery, and found that yesterday, the worm had awakened, and was dumping mysterious payloads on to victim’s computers. The payloads, suspected to be keyloggers of some sort, comes in the form of a .sys file, hidden behind a complex rootkit. Due to heavy encryption, researchers are having a difficult time analyzing the code of the program.

If your anti-virus and anti-spyware tools didn’t block it or cannot remove it (because the worm attempts to disable these tools), see the manual-removal instructions here.