Wii Thoughts

So I’ve been in Peterborough for three days now – every night has been in the Wii. The short verdict is it’s brilliant.

At first I felt a little bit self conscious waving the controller around but that quickly disappears. The simple graphics don’t matter – it’s just not important. The games are all about fun and having an HD output doesn’t make any difference to the Wii. Four player tennis was just great. The bowling actually feels very realistic. Although you don’t actually have to bowl the ball and get down on bended knee it just didn’t feel right without doing it. At first I felt the games were all a bit arcadey but there is some depth there with certain features not explained allowing you to find out these through experimentation and further play.

We also played some Super Monkey Ball. The party games included were a bit hit and miss but some were hilarious. You do need quite a bit of room for anything more than one person though. I managed to skelp the wall a couple of times (left a bit of a dent) and one of Shakeel’s models took a bit of a bashing and was moved before any permanent damage was inflicted. You just need to make sure that you’ve got plenty room to swing. Hopefully I’ll get some photo’s online over the weekend – some are hilarious.

Like the DS Nintendo have an absolute winner with the Wii. They’ve made something different that the competition just doesn’t offer. This has been the most fun in years that I’ve had on a console and whats key is that the console isn’t just for gamers – anyone can pick up the remote and play. Will I be getting one – maybe. Firstly in Glasgow I hardly do any real world multiplayer – it’s all online so some of the fun would be lost. Secondly I’ve said maybe as I have a habit of backtracking on not getting gadgets so this gives me a bit of leeway. However I’ve no doubt that if you’ve got kids or there are two or more (potential) gamers in your household then the Wii is a must buy console, certainly ahead of a 360 or PS3 in the purchase list. Enough of this – time for some baseball…batter up!

Old Faithful

Over the last few months I’ve been loving Flock due to it’s integration with Flickr, RSS feeds and del.icio.us while delivering Mozilla rock solid browsing. However a wee bit of instability meant I returned to Firefox. That return is now permanent as I’ve not had one Firefox issue, browsing feels snappier and it’s quicker to launch. Also, I’ve found some better replacements for Flock’s built in features.

Google Reader has been out for a while and recently had some updates. I didn’t pay much attention as I used Flocks built in RSS manager. However using Google Reader for the past couple of weeks has been great. Far easier to manage multiple RSS feeds, quicker and no checking locally of every RSS feed has meant this is now my RSS manager. RSS feeds now available on the move as Google Reader has a mobile version for use on phones.

Sharing of bookmarks has always been a bit of an issue for me. I’ve tried different services over the years and never got one I liked. Foxmarks Bookmark Synchronizer for Firefox looks to be the answer. Once installed it allows you to sync your bookmarks between multiple machines with the sync happening silently in the background. You can also visit their website and see your bookmarks meaning your bookmarks should no longer be out of reach or sync.

Web Development Evolved is the bold claim for the Firebug extension. The length of features it offers is vast – inspection/edit of HTML, CSS editing, CSS metrics, debug, logging and editing for Javascript and the one I’ve used so far – Network Activity.

Firebug - Slow site load

This site is fairly sluggish and using Firebug I’ve found three Javascript files that the theme loaded but never used. So that’s trimmed some time out of the load. I’ll be visiting some of the other pages round this site to see if I can trim any more fat away. A great tool, especially for having a nose at other people’s sites to see how they were constructed.

As for Flickr uploading, I’ve went back to the Flcikr uploader which is a universal binary and works a treat. So goodbye Flock – a nice browser that’s been too slow to develop with too many superior competitors.

Xbox 360 Network Issues

I know a few folk that have recently or are about to get a 360. While it generally works a treat without much issue, getting on Live for the first time can be problematic depending on your router or use of Internet Connection Settings. Annoyingly it may work and you think everything is OK but it’s only when you start playing games with others that you really find out if it’s 100%. The following steps should help make the experience a little better.

1) Check your NAT
Whether you connect to Live first time or not, visit the System blade on the dashboard, then Network Settings and finally Test Xbox Live Connection – here’s a link to the official Microsoft help page detailing this step. The key setting I’ve found is NAT. There are three possible values for NAT settings – Strict, Moderate and Open.

  • Open NAT means that either the port-assignment policy is minimal or the device has a fully compliant version of UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) enabled by default. This is the ideal setting and should give mostly trouble free online gaming.
  • Moderate NAT means that the port-assignment policy is minimal, but the device is filtering addresses or ports. Will work with most people but can lead to conflicts.
  • Strict NAT means the port-assignment policy is aggressive. Can lead to lot’s of issues. No voice, disconnects from games.

A more detailed explanation of NAT can be seen in this Microsoft help page.

2) Fixing NAT
If your NAT is open then your fine. If moderate or strict then try the following, but don’t mix and match and try a few of these in parallel. Try them in order as they are presented here, switching back to where you started before trying the next option. Also, reboot router and 360 after making changes to make sure that the changes are in place and have been detected by both router and 360.

  • UPnP – Universal Plug and Play. This networking standard should allow the router and the 360 to open the correct ports and communicate efficiently. If your router supports this then enable it.
  • If that doesn’t work then try forwarding the Xbox Live ports to your router. The ports that require to be forwarded are 88 and 3074. Every router works differently but there’s an excellent website called PortForward that allows you to select your router and the application or service (Xbox 360) you want to use. It then provides step by step help in how to configure your router.
  • If that fails then try putting your 360’s IP address in your router’s DMZ. DMZ stands for Demilitarized Zone and means (for me) that a device in the DMZ is taken out of your protected network, allowing it to connect to the internet without restriction while maintaining your PC and other devices behind a secure firewall (Wikipedia DMZ explanation). Couldn’t really find many guides on the net so this looks like a ‘consult the manual’ job.

3) Still Having Issues?
The best advice from Microsoft and others is to go and buy a new router, or if your using Internet Connection Sharing, definitely go and buy a router and make sure it’s one on the Microsoft Xbox compatibility list. In fact this is Microsoft’s first step but I reckon this is always a last resort if you’ve already got a router and it works fine for everything else. Still, if your mad keen on gaming this may be the only choice. Note that the list contains those routers that have been tested and certified by Microsoft and also those that have failed and been deemed incompatible. If your router isn’t on the list it doesn’t mean it won’t work – just that it’s not been submitted and tested by Microsoft.

If your on cable broadband try connecting the 360 directly to your cable connection, cutting out any router or other equipment. This will at least tell you whether the issues your getting are down to hardware or your broadband connection.

Finally, a link to a really good site – Xbox Live – The Guide. It contains lots of useful information and has some guide’s on NAT settings and DMZ setup’s for popular routers. An excellent site and I should probably just link to that site and remove all the other text here, but it’s written now. Hope this helps.

Ruby Monday

The inner geek has been satisfied today. Since getting the Mac I’ve had an urge to do a bit of programming. Nothing fancy but I really wanted to play around with Ruby on Rails to see just ow easy it was to get a nice web app up and running. The only problem was getting a development environment. My web host offers Ruby skeleton and I couldn’t get command line access. No worries – install it all on the Mac. Todo that meant installing MySQL also. Firstly I followed the excellent post on Hivelogic, Building Ruby, Rails, LightTPD, and MySQL on Tiger. This takes you through everything you need to get Ruby up and running. This was also my first proper use of Mac terminal. I loved the following warning…

We trust you have received the usual lecture from the local System
Administrator. It usually boils down to these three things:

#1) Respect the privacy of others.
#2) Think before you type.
#3) With great power comes great responsibility.

Anyway, the install went well and I’m now at the point of starting to dabble but that will have to wait until later in the week. One final tip – there’s an excellent set of MySQL GUI tools available from the MySQL developers. Handy if your not familiar with command line MySQL.

Flickr Christmas Gifts

My first Christmas present – Flickr have upgraded Pro users accounts so that we now have unlimited uploads – no more 2 Gig monthly limits. Free accounts have been upgraded to a not too shabby 100Meg per month limit.

There’s also a Christmas Easter Egg – add notes with ho ho ho hat or ho ho ho beard to add a festive theme to your pics.

Flickr Christmas

One more goodie I didn’t know about – calendar view. Add date-taken-calendar/ to your photostream URL to get a calendar view of your photo’s i.e. http://www.flickr.com/photos/ian_d/date-taken-calendar/. Another great feature which is also available via the archives link once logged into Flickr.

Recommended Mac Apps

When I moved from Windows to Mac I set aside some cash to purchase apps that I’d admired from a distance or those that I really needed. Some also came free which is a bonus but the cost of buying app’s when moving platforms shouldn’t be underestimated. Where possible I’ve added links to helpful resources that will get you up and running quickly with these apps. Anyway – on with the list. Many of the app’s have featured on other lists so I’ll start off with some lesser known app’s.

Unsung Hero’s

delicious.jpgDelicious Library
http://www.delicious-monster.com/
$40

I’ll admit this is a very non-essential app but was the first I bought for the Mac. Delicious Library allows you to catalogue, store, rate and search your music, films, games and books. There are many other media cataloguers out there but none look so good as Delicious Library or carry out the task with such elegance. Using the iSight I can scan in media barcodes for easy compiling of the library. The virtual shelf allows for browsing of titles, the app comes with spotlight support, a widget for easy title searching and option to export the library to iPod. There isn’t much in the way of web exports though (although the DeliciousSQLExport utility allows for exporting of the library to MySQL) and you can’t add your own media types. Hopefully these features and more will be addressed in version 2.

kit.jpgKeep It Together
http://reinventedsoftware.com/kit/
$24.95

This is an app that groups together miscellaneous items into one place. The developer describes it as a magic scrapbook which it is but I think of it like a big swag bag. You can easily create a category and drag in images, audio, video, text, web links – it’s ideal for small to medium projects. You can also add your own text notes within the app and media images can have text descriptions added to them to help searching at a later date. It could be argued that this info could easily sit in a folder and be found by using spotlight or just directory browsing but I had loads of little text files with info on windows and I didn’t really see a way around it on the Mac until I started to use Keep It Together. The categories work like tags and I find it great for grouping connected but disparate files together. Has certainly helped me in getting more organised and in building up info for blog posts like this where I’ve done some digging around over a period of weeks and want to collate the information.

connect360.jpgConnect360
http://www.nullriver.com/index/products/connect360
$20.00

One of the great features of the 360 is media sharing. Via Windows Media Player 11 or Windows Media Centre you can view music, photo’s and WMV video’s on the 360. It’s great to switch on your own music instead of some of the guff you find tacked onto games. I always wanted to see my iTunes playlists though – not something you could do easily without copying playlists over to Media Player. When moving to the Mac I’d assumed I would lose media sharing altogether – that’s where Connect360 kicks in. This allows you to share music, photo’s and video from the Mac. Not only that it supports iTunes, so playlists are available and playing music on the 360 updates play counts. It’s a great little app that’s essential for all Mac and 360 owners.

I had some small problems with sleep modes with this program – I had to set it to disable sleep mode when accessing Connect360. This has only happened recently (maybe when the software was updated to support WMV) and it’ a small price to pay for getting access to my music. You also need Flip4Mac installed to access WMV content.

Usual Suspects

transmit.jpgTransmit
http://www.panic.com/transmit/
$29.95

If you need an FTP application on the Mac then this is the one I’d recommend. It’s been 100% reliable since I switched and is bursting with nice features. I frequently update to a couple of sites. Instead of loading up the application, signing into the server and then navigating to the folder I want I just drop the files on the dashboard widget that Panic provides – files transferred with ease. I can edit files directly on the server with either Transmits built in editor or any editor that I’ve installed locally on the Mac – another step and time saver. That’s not just text files – images too. Folder synchronization is supported allowing you to sync your local files with your remote server as well as linked folders – browsing a folder locally also moves the remote server to the folder assuming they share the same structure.

Quick to connect to servers, easy to edit file permissions, ability to calculate folder sizes and in general very easy for a new user. One slight snag was that I couldn’t see .htaccess files on my servers. Goto View and click Show Invisible Files – problem solved. Highly recommended even over the free Cyberduck.

unison.jpgUnison
http://www.panic.com/unison/
$24.95

While this newsgroup app provides lot’s of functionality it does one key thing (for me) very well. NZB support. NZB files downloaded from sites like Newzbin allow for easy downloading of binary files from newsgroups. Unison has really great NZB support and has been trouble free over the last couple of months. The app provides lots of feedback on files outstanding, transfer rates, problems with files and does so via a clear interface. Message support, whether reading or writing is there but I’ve used it only once as I tend to use Google now for non binary message browsing.

To help with NZB downloads grab MacPAR deLuxe which supports PAR2 files and unrarring and Split & Concat which MacPAR makes use of when joining downloads together. All three apps provide a great newsgroup user experience.

textwrangler.jpgTextwrangler
http://www.barebones.com/products/textwrangler/
Free

A great feature rich text editor which is also free – Textwrangler. Has met all my needs bar none although if I was doing more hacking (which I plan to be next year) I think Textmate would give this a run for it’s money. Nice support of regular expression pattern matching and grep from within the editor, integrated support of Perl, Python and Unix shell scripts and also syntax colouring depending on file. Far more flexible than Mac’s built in Textedit.

superduper.jpgSuperDuper!
http://www.shirt-pocket.com/SuperDuper/
$27.95

Backup. Everyone should do it but how many really do? I was always a bit dodgy when it came to backups. Every so often was my motto and luckily it turned out ok. Moving to Mac and I decided to do backups a bit more regularly. SuperDuper! helps in that explains what it’s doing in plain English, supports backup to many different devices and allows for incremental backups.

Firstly you can download and run the app for free. Using it you can create an image file or just backups of various files. As mentioned it’s explanations at each step of the process demystifies backups which in all honesty should be straightforward to run. However the free version doesn’t support the smart (incremental) updating of an image or scheduling of a backup. The smart update makes a massive difference. My first backup (to a NAS device) took around 11 hours. My weekly smart update of that image only takes around 1/2 an hour – a massive difference. Scheduling takes the chore out of backups. You can also have many different backup routines running (if you wish) so copying data to different volumes. I’ve used it a couple of times to create a separate backup of media only and it’s worked a treat. There are some excellent support forums and while I’m happy with the product so far I’ve yet to actually use my backup image to restore my machine. If that day ever comes I hope it works 100%.

disco.jpgDisco
http://discoapp.com/
$14.95 (Beta price)

This ones maybe a bit controversial but I’m sold on it. Disco lets you burn cd’s and dvd’s with ease, all for a fairly cheap price. It does so through a lovely interface although many Mac fans are unhappy at the non Mac like gui that has been developed. Who cares – it looks good and more importantly works well. Supports burning and creating of images and also has a couple of useful features. You can span burns across multiple discs with Disco working out how to best fits files across those discs. The Discography feature allows you to search across your burned discs to easily find files and the discs that they were burned too.

The one feature that got everybody blogging was smoke. As the app burned, 3d smoke would spew from the top of the app which would move with your mouse cursor or as you blew into your mic. I think this is the real reason there was a lot of scorn around Disco – why add this to a disk burning app? I had no real intention of playing around with it but it would have been nice to see…however nVidia graphics cards aren’t supported at the moment. The real clincher for me is that at $14.95 it massively undercuts Toast. Well worth a try and if you download it you get 7 trial burns. The interface is clutter free and after spending years watching Nero drown with new feature upon new feature that I never used it’s great to get back to a simple, quick burning app.

quicksilver.jpgQuicksilver
http://quicksilver.blacktree.com/
Free

A unified, extensible interface for working with applications, contacts, music, and other data.

That’s how Quicksilver is described on it’s website which doesn’t really sound like much. What does it do? It allows you to search for data but more importantly act on that data quickly and in a variety of ways. Through plugins it’s easy to find a file, search for a contact and send him the file. No app’s need to be launched part from accessing Quicksilver itself. I have it installed and accessible via a mouse click and like much of the Mac system it lets me get things done quickly and easily and reduces the time taken to think about how to do a task. It’s one of those apps where words don’t do justice. The overview docs give you some idea of what you can do but if your not convinced or need some help to get going with Quicksilver try these youtube videos – Quicksilver Tutorial 1, Tutorial 2 and Tutorial 3. Macrumours has a great guide, 43 folders has many Quicksilver tips including a good setup guide and Dan Dickinsons QuickSilver – A Better OS X In Just 10 Minutes really sells the app well. Like all my really favourite app’s there’s a healthy support forum too. I found it took some time to adjust to Quicksilver but now that I’m there it’s the one app (apart from Expose) that I miss on the pc at work.

mainmenu.jpgMainMenu
http://www.santasw.com/
Free

Although the Mac is easy to use, it’s built on Unix and it does need some maintenance especially if you don’t reboot frequently. Log files can grow and from time to time index’s may need to be rebuilt. MainMenu takes the pain out of maintenance with daily, weekly, monthly clean-up scripts and the ability to repair disk permissions, rebuild the spotlight index, clean user and browser cache and a number of other low level clean-up utilities. This is more feature rich than MacJanitor and has been pain free over the last month of use.

appzapper.jpgAppzapper
http://www.appzapper.com/
12.95

This app hurts. One of the many Mac myths is that applications don’t leave files all over the O/S removing the need for an uninstalling app like ‘Add/Remove Programs’ in Windows. Bollocks. Look around after removing an app and you see folders in your user directory, libraries etc. The reason the app hurts is your paying $12.95 for something that should be included on the O/S and should be free – a way of uninstalling the mess that an application leaves behind. Rant over. AppZapper is a great tool that fills the gap. Drag an app to AppZapper and a list of files will be shown. One more click and the app and it’s associated files are in the trash. You can also generate a list of app’s so that you can see what’s installed and what can be removed. Needs no more explanation – it’s just a shame you have to buy something like this to remove applications fully.

vlc.jpgVLC
http://www.videolan.org/vlc/
Free

A great cross platform media player. If Quicktime struggles with a file then try VLC. Also supports streaming media which can be handy for pushing media across you home.

Others

Other apps well worth grabbing are Flip4Mac (allows you to view WMV’s via Quicktime), DivX (allows you to view DivX encoded files via Quicktime), Adium (if you use more than one chat protocol) and Flock (read my views on this great browser).

Don’t forget the widgets

Finally some handy desktop widgets. Screenshot Plus which takes the pain out of capturing desktop snaps, iStat Pro which details a wealth of information on your Mac and Twidget which makes for far easier Twitter updates. Both are only a mouse movement or F12 away.

Garbage Out

Lot’s happening but not a lot of time to write about it, so in no particular order…

  • Gears of War – done! Well, on hardcore anyway. Now playing through it on insane – a lot tougher. Act 5 (last level) is very short though and while the train seems novel at first it doesn’t have the variety of earlier acts. There’s also some inspiration from the Matrix in that level but I guess it’s no bad thing. Two short games of multiplayer in the last week have confirmed what a fun game it is. Still an overall feeling of a rushed game.
  • Pro Evo 6 has been patched. It fixes the online button lag but the game still feels…wrong. Never did get my thoughts up on the 360 version but in summation – a good game with flaws…Konami is the new EA.
  • Another howling night of wind and rain. A quick trip out this morning and there was a lot of surface water around Glasgow – there will surely be quite a bit of flooding in the next few days. It’s also so mild – who said global warming isn’t making a difference.
  • After Shakeels accident on the Kingston Bridge last weekend there have been two motoring deaths this weekend on the bridge. Puts things into perspective…good to still have you around Shak.
  • Three weeks tomorrow is Christmas Day. Next week I finish work for the Christmas holidays. I C A N N O T wait…the last few months have been pretty frustrating.
  • My Lifestream is now online. Early days yet but shows some promise. Plugin here.
  • Tiger Woods 07 on the 360 is a very good game. Much improved over previous Tiger games from EA, this is actually hard as long as you play it at Tour difficulty i.e. turn off the arcade shite that EA feel they have to add to a golf (well any sports) game. My golfer is now looking disturbingly like me. Yep – that bad.
  • I resisted buying a Macbook on Friday. The temptation was strong but having to pay for MOT, service, road tax, car insurance, house insurance in a four week period (oh – and Christmas) means funds aren’t what they should be. Next year though…it shall be done. I’m still loving the Mac in case you need a hint, despite not being cool enough to own one.
  • I’m back watching Lost. First three episodes of season 3 have been pretty good – hope it continues.
  • Did I mention that I stop work on the 15th Dec to return on the 8th Jan? Bliss.

Gears of War - where's the depth?

The post title is pretty negative so let’s get the good stuff out of the way…

  • Gears of War (GOW from now on) is a fantastic looking game – not seen anything on the 360 that gets close. Some of the textures and effects are very realistic. Loving the rain in act 3!
  • The single player mode has got me gripped more than I expected and certainly more than Halo 2.
  • Online co-op adds so much to this game. Playing through chapters with friends over the last few nights has been great – hopefully more games in future will allow you to play any level via co-op.
  • The look and feel of the levels so far (half way though the game) has been varied with some stunning cityscapes and architecture on display. You can easily see the influence that cities and in particular London have had on the game.
  • Lack of story. Yep – thats a positive for me. I’d rather a company focused on gameplay and good content throughout the whole game than a good story, great cinematics towards the start and then a rehash of old content and textures towards the end of the game as publishing deadlines start to bite.
  • Weapons! The chainsaw on the gun is inspired – I’ve still to tire from killing and covering my screen in blood. The active reload of ammo is also far better than I expected. As you reload you need to time a button press to get a faster reload and increased ammo power. Miss it and your gun will jam – get it right and you do more damage. On paper it sounded really tacky. In practice it makes for a great feature that adds to the pressure in the heat of the battle.
  • Online has been fun. Loving the destructible furniture and the encouragement of good team play. Been some great finishing moves to the matches too.

Sounding good so far but now my moans…

  • Biggest and loudest is multiplayer. Three measly options which are all derivatives of team deathmatch. Through play we tend to end up only playing warzone which really is team deathmatch.
  • Online Maps – although there is a fair number there isn’t much variation, probably due to the style of gameplay. Hide, shoot. Hide, shoot. Hide/Camp, chainsaw.
  • Best way to play the game is with friends. Can really take advantage of people’s strengths and weaknesses and employ some tactics. Think a slightly dumbed down Ghost Recon or Rainbow Six. So it’s good to know that I can’t play ranked games with friends. Only with randoms. Thats very poor, especially when ranked games with friends is rumored to be a feature being worked on while another story said you couldn’t do ranked games with the True Skill features in Xbox Live. Thats just bull.
  • Ultimately a lack of depth. Although I’m enjoying the single player mode and co-op, and online has been fun, I’ve been finding it a bit tiring after an hour or so. Very samey gameplay with not much variation. It’s got some teamwork depth but thats about it. Halo was is far more satisfying.
  • Forward rolls are the new jump. I remember when Perfect Dark Zero came out. rejoice – people can’t jump. True but they can forward roll all over the place. Has lead to some quite bizarre fights with 3 or 4 players rolling, shooting, rolling away, taking stock, rolling, shooting etc etc etc. What a pain in the arse. Far more annoying than jumping.
  • Downloadable content is inevitable. How much?

Should you buy the game? Absolutely. Fun will be had, the single player mode rocks and the online side is fun but limited. Just don’t expect to be playing this in two years time. A recent interview with Bungie shows why I think Halo 3 will still be the game to beat on the 360. Can’t wait.

Flickr Love

Flickr MobileFlickr added some new features over the last day or so, one of which combines my love of stats and technology. Firstly the two mundane updates. They’ve updated their Flickr mobile site (http://m.flickr.com) making it easier to type and use while adding some new options. This feature hasn’t changed in ages so it’s nice to see it getting some attention.

Also new is ‘Guest Pass’. Invite up to 50 other guests to view your friends and family pictures. A great way to invite non Flickr members to see your photo’s. The nice part of this feature is that you are in control of who gets the pass, what they can see and how long they have access for. Finally onto the geek feature.

Camera Charts

Using Camera Finder you can see the most popular camera’s in use at Flickr and also find photo’s from actual users of the camera your thinking of buying. What better way of confirming a good review than seeing other people’s results for yourself. Whats nice is that browsing through each camera (my DSC-P200 for example) you can filter not only interesting shots but also from a range including macro, night and landscape. Great to see what each camera can be capable off in the right hands.

Flickr’s use of photo metadata is really smart – it will be interesting to see how new camera’s affect the charts over time and also what other stats and search options can be added to Flickr. Can it get better? Yes! Subsets please! While I’m alkinh photo’s, interesting post on The Truth about Digital Camera’s – comments also worth a read.