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Thursday 31 May 2007

Sexbox 360 [Slim]

Woo, my frankly shit hot wife bought me an Xbox 360 for my birthday this week. I'm a bit late to the next gen, although I've got a pretty nice PC to play the latest and wizzy stuff on. The 360 seems like a sweet deal at the moment, it's priced considerably lower than the ps3, it's got more waft than the wii and has a more complete library than both.
Anyways, hows the 360 to a latecomer? It's ok! Live is, as everyone knows, very impressive and almost seamless. It's var too easy to blow lots of money on daft little games, but the demo's are so well put together that you only blow your wad on daft little games that you've tried and like. The networking is a piece of piss, only had a slight issue sorting NAT out on my router, but a quick google fixed that sharpish.
My hot sexy twin sister in laws (hoping for some google love of that!) bought me Gears and Crackdown, both are great fun, and dead easy to get online with too. MSN messenger computability means I've got a nice full mates list as the service recognizes who out of my contacts is on Live already and hooks me up with em. Anyway, it was easy enough that I got a four player game of gears with some mates going on my first night with me new box, and had a right blast in the process. Gears looks fucking amazing on my big telly, and the 3rd person cover&fire-em-up is a really nice break after playing PC fps's online for the last ten years.
First game I bought off Live Arcade is Catan. A chilled out turn based board game that's a total change of pace from what I was expecting off Live. Never played the real version but it looks quite fiddly with counters and hex cards, this plays a treat with the game taking care of the housekeeping. The sofa's easily a better spot to play board games than my PC desk, so I'm hoping for more games like this on Live. I hear carcassone (fuck knows if I've spelt that right?) is coming soon.
There's some bonkers restrictions with it though, voice comms is seamless and effective, but limited to your team mates only and you can also only voice com out of the game with one person at a time, fucking bonkers. I like to hear the bleat when I'm killing someone! You can talk to everyone in the lobby, but it's just not the same.
Other downers: the lack of a browsers a bit silly, even me wii has one of those. The tiny 20gb hard disk is filling up alarmingly fast with demos. Oh and the box sounds like a fucking Server, what's that all about? Seems to be connected to the DVD drive, as the dashboard and Live Arcade shit plays almost silently but when you bung the gears disk in it sounds like a twatting hovercraft.
Anyway, I'm chuffed with it, I'll just have to turn the volume up!

Wednesday 30 May 2007

Driving Me Mad [Spiro]

I passed my test many, many moons ago, but as I was living in London I had no need to drive a car. Now I find myself, several years later commuting in and out of Cardiff daily, a round trip of about 80 miles.
This was made a lot easier with the purchase of my new car a Ford Focus 1.6 TDCI Sport. I’ve been driving this route since November 2006 and its very easy, basically you follow the A470 all the way. It’s a lovely road, nice tarmac; beautiful bends and nice long straights make for a fun ride in. Driving at about 75 for most of the 1hr drive, compared to London driving it’s a joy.
Except for the rest of the fuckers on the road. I’m right now putting up the Welsh as the worst drivers in the world ever. One of my early morning duties before driving is to switch on the local radio and make a note of all of the accidents on the roads on my way in. This can be anything from 3 to 14, I shit you not, one day on the way home, 14 accidents and the same road, all within 2ish miles. I’ve actually watched a man drive his car straight into the back of the car in front, even though he had more than enough room to stop.
The inside lane seems to be a mystery to the Welsh; I think they’re under the impression that as long as you’re doing over 60 you must drive in the outside lane. But of course the speed limit is 70 so we must be safe and stick to 60 whilst we’re there!!! FFS, move over, the outside lane is for overtaking! The odd few who do pull over when they finally notice you behind them (mainly because my full beams have been on for a while) will then swerve violently across the lanes with out indicating or (guessing here) checking their mirrors.
When pulling out into the outside lane your average Welsh driver will again not indicate or check their mirrors and will have absolutely no fucking idea that them driving at 40 could ever possibly be a problem for the car (whom they’ve just cut up) coming up behind them at 70, all I’ll say is thank god for ESP and ABS.
Another thing is the rain, it makes the roads slippery and it reduces visibility. My new car is Black, as a rule I tend to drive with side lights on (even in full daylight) and if visibility is reduced dipped lights. I’m amazed and shocked and the number of Welsh drivers who will never turn their lights on, no matter how bad the weather. What do they think? using their lights is going to wear them out? Part of my route is through a mountain pass and it’s a twisty turny road especially at night. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve encountered cars travelling the opposite direction with just sidelights on in the pitch black! Not only does this not give them enough light to see but it also reduces the distance that I can see them coming from.
Roundabouts! IS IT SO FUCKING HARD TO INDICATE THAT YOU’RE ACTUALLY GOING RIGHT AND NOT STRAIGHT ON! I’ve almost had two nasty accidents because of this, the car is coming round with no indication so I assume they’re going straight on. I’ve started to pull out or in one case actually had pulled out to find they’re almost on top of me. The worst in this situation is, it’d be my fault.
One last bitch, parking, if you can’t park take some extra lessons. I’d love to name and shame the fuckers who park in the free parking next to the cricket ground just off Cathedral road in Cardiff. The bays provided are capable of holding four cars easily, there are no white lines to separate the individual parking bays but surely common sense will tell you that you’re taking up one and a half spaces? I’ve never seen such a bad display of parking ever. Those of you who have lived in London will know parking is precious and you learn very quickly how to squeeze your car in to the smallest space possible.
And yes I’m talking to you the lazy bitch in the red Kia who can’t park to save her life, get some lessons and sort your shit out.
I have my flaws, I drive far to fast when I can, I can drive aggressively, sitting on your arse till you move, flashing my lights, forcing you to stop to let me out. But I can Park, Indicate, use my mirrors and If someone is coming up faster then me I PULL THE FUCK OVER.
I’m sure there are worse examples than the Welsh, but I’ve yet to meet them. I also probably have more issues and bitches but I’m so angry after having been cut up again this morning I had to rant.
Anyone else have a contender or another driving complaint?

Monday 21 May 2007

How's your mouse? [Lurks]

Ever since the Counter-Strike revival starting with our first proper LAN parties, I've never been happy with how my basic point and shoot stuff has worked. Not as happy as I was with it way back in the day before Source, and all that jazz. Maybe that's just me getting old, I thought, but really I couldn't aim properly at a barn door if my life depended it as it frequently does.
So today I started a bit of monkeying around. I'm equipped with a decent Logitech G5 mouse on one of those fancy textured mats. I run at 2000dpi setting and really no amount of messing with the in-game 'sensitivity' setting made stuff how I liked, so I just kept messing with it sure that this was all that was wrong. After all the rest is good right?
I did a bit of Googling and it seems there's a fair whack of people out there that swear that Logitech's swish mouse stuff is a bit shit. Here's the thing, you generally want this on because it gives you a couple of cool things such as the ability to set mouse sensitivity and, vitally, mouse acceleration in Windows and in game quite seperately. Basically mouse acceleration in Windows is pretty cool. You turn down your overall sensitivity and then you just get to the other side of the screen by moving your hand faster. Probably most people use it, MS calls it 'enhance pointer precision'. Unfortunately if you enable it in Windows, it's enabled in games. In games it's basically fucked because you want to do a smooth 180 kind of independent of how fast you might do it.
I have no doubt some elite gamers somewhere get this right and have mouse acceleration in in game. In theory this would be better. Enhanced precision for sniping, faster movement with a minimum of hand movements for manouvering but I'm just not one of those people.
The thing is though, getting back to people saying the Logitech stuff is shit. I turned it off and selected 'OS implementation'. Turned off mouse acceleration in Windows, whacked down the pointer movement speed loads (soon as you turn off enhance pointer precision you need to) and then went into CS. Bugger me, this is what my mouse used to be like. This is exactly what I had in mind... I was just blindly trusting Logitech to have this shit right, after all it just defies any logic that they'd make gaming mice, make this Setpoint stuff and get all this wrong. However this does seem to be almost an established wisdom if kiddies posting on forums is any indication.
It's probably a personal thing but I'd urge you to try it. Now I can 180 like I used to do and sniping with a rifle isn't so painful as it was with the setpoint implementation. Eg. I'd have my mouse set to 2000dpi, I'd be running on sensitivity around the 15 mark and yet if I moved the mouse a little bitty bit to snipe or whatever, it wouldn't move at all until the mouse moved a bit. That's just broken, it strikes me?
What do you guys use? Mouse, settings, all that jazz.

Sunday 13 May 2007

The Eurovision Phenomenon [Lurks]

Eurovision, at least in this house, is an annual cause for rejoice with it's amateurish kitsch musical abominations rounded off by a hilariously dubious commentary from Sir Terry Wogan. Eurovision has long been considered a bit of light hearted entertainment in the UK not to be taken too seriously, possibly because this country has so little to prove when it comes to music. In previous years it was nothing but an additional hilarity the way that some countries seemingly just voted for their neighbours rather than any merits of the songs themselves.
The problem has been getting gradually worse, as I recall, with the typical troublesome hotspots being Scandinavia and Eastern Europe however Eurovision Song Contest 2007 took it so far that clearly any pretence of the event being an actual song contest must surely be laid to rest once and for all. That's a view echoed by most of the media although, perhaps, some observers in Europe might feel that's a dose of sour grapes for the UK act Scootch's abyssmal performance. Well hardly, I think we would have been more amused if anything if they'd managed to pull the complete nil poi. It's our own fault, we had better songs as candidates and the UK public voted for the cheesy retro Scootch.
However that said the UK has probably the most solid voting credentials with demonstrated history of voting for the songs that people think are the best. Ireland's terrible song didn't waver the needle this time around, nor did France. Also, Scootch's song was clearly a pretty good pop song well executed. A Eurovision winner? Possibly not, there was some other good songs such as Russia's entry and I personally enjoyed Bulgaria's quirky percussion and rustic haunting vocals. But Scootch second from worst song in the competition? Not in anyone's wildest imagination. There were so many songs of just cataclysmically bad quality that it's hard to know where to start, but the French entry would be as good a place as any. Or perhaps Sweden's which could best be categorised as a high-school band's 70's rock caberet at the end-of-year dance. It was super-bad, and all the Scandinavians voted for it. Sigh.
So okay, it is what it is right? Fine. However the thing I'm trying to get my head around is how all this happens. Eurovision is on and it's safe to say short of the Olympics it's pretty much the only pan European contest televised in every country, right? So I think it's a useful barometer. The question is, a useful barometer of what? I would have thought their televised format would be the same as ours. A fun show on, lines open, vote for the song you like the most. But I wonder? Does anyone know?
Whatever the format something fundamentally different happens in those countries than the UK. These guys basically see their bordering country pals put on an act and when the lines open they vote for them with only the tiniest consideration for the quality of the act. What does this say? It says they want to support their pals, that's a given. But what do they think they're achieving by voting for a song that clearly isn't the best and, I'm going to go out on a limb here, they surely can't even consider is the best song either?
Good, bad, native languages, English, different styles, quality, packed with rent-a-totty or, in the case of the miraculous winner Serbia, some sort of 4 foot tall lesbian woman with comedy glasses. Doesn't matter a jot.
So we had the political voting trend already but now it's spread firmly to these guys in Eastern Europe more so than previous years which, when you couple with the densely packed geography and multiple bordering nations and award them all the same points as any other country, ends up with the current scenario. To the detriment notably of the Western European countries. Countries that are not politically voting and are geographically isolated anyway.
Is what we're seeing telling us that they feel a greater affinity with their neighbours and one which must be demonstrated to all of Europe in this once annual display? We can only assume that's true. Is part of it a symptom of the lowering of reputation of the richer western European countries, possibly in the UK's case a US/Iraq influenced thing? Maybe. I think I'd also argue that we're seeing some overall lack of self-confidence in their own stature so that they feel voting for their neighbours song somehow validates them on the International stage.
But I'm just guessing here really. I'd love to just ask some people who voted like that to try work out why. Is it just something we can just write off as Eurovision siliness or is there something more serious here, a rising tide of regionalised nationalism for want of a better word?
I don't know the answer but it certainly seems to be the case that it's critically undermined the Eurovision contest to the point that Sir Terry was having trouble making light of it and I wondered where it was even worth the Saturday evening I had devoted to it.

Saturday 12 May 2007

Spamato! [Slim]

Am I the last one in the universe who's still got a regular old mail client and not Gmail? I've had my trusty old email address for a good ten years or so, it's attracted a fair amount of spammer attention over that time, I need some pretty big anti spam guns to keep it clear of people trying to make my cock bigger.
I'm using the fab Thunderbird email client, and the built in spam controls have been serving me pretty well though I've had to reset the buggers a couple of times when the self learning wizardry went a bit wonky. So I've binned that now in favour of a free solution known as Spamato, and it's really rather clever.
What's nifty about spamato isn't that it does anything particularly new or unique, but that it chugs away behind the scenes combining a bunch of different anti spam filters and methods to decide if your emails are in it's words 'spam' or 'ham'. On top of the six filters, it'll also report back to base and consult a peer contributed database of flagged spam. The result is a rock solid wall to spam that rarely seems to miss a mail. It's also wide open to tweakery in pretty much every way, with all kinds of stats and settings available from it's inbuilt web config screen.

Thursday 10 May 2007

Recomendation: Getdataback [Slim]

Quick smart recommendation for GetDataBack NTFS. When your faced with your boss handing you his laptop with a BSOD unbootable drive c snarling "I don't care about the other shit, just get me my itunes back.", you'll be glad you had Getdataback on your bootdisk. This beauty will rebuild your file table if it's corrupt, finding your files on a buggered disk and allow you to copy em off saving your arse and allowing you to fix the drive with a lower heart bpm. It also doesn't do that on the buggered filesystem, it reconstructs a new one in memory, so wont bollock your already knackared disk any further.
I've had call to use it a few times on disks others have written off as dead and it's not let me down. Have it handy, you'll need it one day.

Wednesday 9 May 2007

Googlereader & the wii [Slim]

There shouldn't be any doubt in your mind that the codemonkey warlocks at google are as we speak weaving procedural spells that will take over all life as we know it. As evidence of this, consider the recent Wii support that's been added the the already marvelous google reader.
I'd discovered these modifications myself while dicking around with my own Wii browser, and was instantly impressed. They'd clearly been written with someone who knows exactly what the issues are in using the wii for browsing, and had considered how to solve them with the wiimote in mind. The result is a full screen of news headlines, with navigation assigned to a button on your wiimote. You dont even need to scroll using the on screen controlls, you simply press the down arrow on the 'mote. This simply rules, you can kick back on the sofa, browse your headlines without even raising your hand to the screen. Your folder navigation is a button press away, and can also be navigated using the arrows.
What's astounding is the way these mods are delivered to the public:

"Some weekend hacking confirmed my suspicions, and the rest of the team also seemed to think it'd be a neat side project. As some have discovered, we recently flipped the switch on this feature. If you'd like to try it out, simply visit on your Wii (you may find it even easier to just do a Google search for "reader"). Keep in mind that this is something very experimental, the labs of Google Labs if you will."

..this isn't even a project at google, it's someone just dicking around! I hope this is a success, I'd love to see a similar interface for picassaweb and gmail and I recon the PS3 browser could be enhanced similarly.

Friday 4 May 2007

Let's Go Fly a Kite [Spiro]

I've been asked to knock up a quick blog about my new found sport Power Kiting. I've only been doing this since the end of summer 2006 thanks to the awful British weather I've not managed to get much experience. As summer is almost upon us I'm hoping to get a lot more in.
I've started off with a bullet 4.5m after trying a mates on the beach. I fly it in 21-25mph winds and it's more than capable of lifting my lardy 15st body off the ground. At this moment all I do is Kite jumping although I'm looking to upgrade to buggying. You fancy a work out this will do it, the first few times I flew my arms, shoulders, legs, stomach, fingers and back all ached the next morning, it's an all over body work out.
I can't explain what it feels like to fly one of these, some days the wind is so powerful it'll rip the controls clean out of your hands or worse, drag you face first across the ground (remember to let go next time). When you get it right and you're floating several feet off the ground it's awesome. I always keep my kite in the car so next lan party if anyone fancies trying it I'll be more than happy to get it out room and wind permitting.
Also if anyone wants to get into this sport best thing to do is find your local Kite centre and have a lesson or two. Then start small, a 4.5m kite is more than enough, Ebay has loads of them for sale just do a search for Flexifoil or power kites, you're looking at about �100 for a second hand kite of this size.
Be aware that there are different types of power kite. Try to avoid stackers or 2-line kites as they're more for casual/stunt flying.
Several items to consider along with the kite are
Kite killers - when it gets ripped from your hands these straps de-power the kite immediately
Ground Stake - ideal for lone flyers or for taking a break (you'll need it)
Protection - helmet, knee and elbow pads, wrist & ankle supports.
Insurance - Get this from the BPKA
Try not to fly alone or in crowded places, once tight the lines are like razors and the wind can easily change speed and you'll be in trouble.
Background and details about Power Kites can be found here
Here is a video of a few guys who're very good, I'd like to claim it was me but no.
I know Floyde has more experience than me and can probably add a lot more to this

Thursday 3 May 2007

Has Greenpeace had their day? [Lurks]

An interesting development appeared recently with Greenpeace launching a campaign aimed at Apple which you can find here. Here's what they say in a nutshell:

"We love Apple. Apple knows more about "clean" design than anybody, right? So why do Macs, iPods, iBooks and the rest of their product range contain hazardous substances that other companies have agreed to abandon? A cutting edge company shouldn't be cutting lives short by exposing children in China and India to dangerous chemicals. That's why we Apple fans need to demand a new, cool product: a greener Apple."

To which Apple puts up a front page article purporting to be from Steve Jobs himself, refuting the claims of Greenpeace.

Apple has been criticized by some environmental organizations for not being a leader in removing toxic chemicals from its new products, and for not aggressively or properly recycling its old products. Upon investigating Apple’s current practices and progress towards these goals, I was surprised to learn that in many cases Apple is ahead of, or will soon be ahead of, most of its competitors in these areas.

Now the bottom line is this. Greenpeace are basing all of their information, claiming that Apple is behind the curve in terms of their green credentials, on public marketing statements by companies. The alternative would be to conduct actual research which I think history tells us has never been a strong-point of Greenpeace when some ill thought-out sloganeering will do just as well.
Now Greenpeace latched straight onto this response and claimed victory with this statement:

"Today we saw something we've all been waiting for: the words "A Greener Apple" on the front page of Apple's site, with a message from Steve Jobs saying 'Today we're changing our policy'."

Which essentially sums up all that Greenpeace is, I think. They're obviously Mac users and they've chosen a high profile target, not for any actual properly research belief that Apple are worse than any other company, but mostly as a pet subject and a marketing campaign. Then when Apple comes out and flatly denies Greenpeace's claims, Greenpeace quotes Jobs out of context and claims the "today we're changing our policy" thing is anything to do with their environmental policy, when in fact Jobs was actually talking about their communication strategy on exactly what Apple are doing.
All this is on a backdrop of the fact that pretty much all of the things Jobs lists as Apple initiatives are things that are being done by the industry anyway like dumping CRTs and removing other hazardous materials which their manufacturing contractors are doing anyway to meet RoHS leglislation. So it's not like there's been some incredible new wave environmental policy from Apple at all, they're just doing the same stuff the entire industry is. They were, being Apple, just less communicative about what was happening versus the famously prolific press release machine gunners of the rest of the IT industry.
And for this Greenpeace targets them with unwarranted claims and when the truth is outted, turns around and claims victory. I think this is the hallmarks of an organisation which is essentially a marketing outfit. Nothing of consequence has been achieved here other than making some people aware of the larger measures being taken in the IT industry, and making Greenpeace look like a bunch of jobs spewing propaganda in the eyes of the mass market of the new environmentally conscious public. I'm not sure that appearing credible has ever really been on their agenda though, has it?
My pet issue is the fact that they're actually opposing Fusion power research which they call an "an expensive and senseless nuclear stupidity" (apparently we should use the money to build wind farms - lol). For that alone they need to be ostracised and relegated to the dustbin of loony crackpots.
Why does not Greenpeace go after world governments who are lagging behind the EU RoHS initiative? This is what really makes a difference to the entire industry, far more than the public statements of the manufacturer of the computer they happen to like. I'll tell you why. It would require some research beyond scanning press releases on web sites. I think just 2 or 3 people at Greenpeace came up with this whole thing including the designer guy (and his Mac) that lashed up the hilarious green-o-meter diagram. Then again, that's apparently all it takes to get something in the news so I guess I can answer the question and by sayinig that it looks like Greenpeace will be around for a long time yet.

Tuesday 1 May 2007

New things wot are good [Am]

There's few things more satisfying in life than coming across something dead useful, cool or neat which you never have before or finding out how to do something much better than you ever did before. So I thought I'd start a periodic blog of line entries for such events. Feel free to add in anything you've found this year and gone 'swipe me why didn't I do / have that before'.
1. Freshly made mint sauce! -
2. Photo card readers instead of plugging in the camera!
3. Lever-pull bottle openers! Death to the waiter's friend.... (but find a cheaper rip-off one)
4. Big-azz wine glasses to free up the boooooooooooquet (ok found this a few years ago but it still rocks)
5. Electric tooth brushes!
6. Powerline adaptors!
7. Robert Harris' Pompeii - a rip snortingly good yarn written by an extremely good author, soon to be made into a major film and going to be a big hit..
8. Sunglasses are good, not a faff!
9. Whiteboards - for enabling easy planning..... "just like we do every night - to take over the world!"
10. Holidays in the sun rather than spending time at home. Oh and the 'Pistols track again while we're at it.