A Year with the Mac

It was one year ago today that I took delivery of an Imac, my first ever Mac. While I’d had an iPod for a couple of years and used a Mac at university, this would be my first time away from pc’s and Windows. While the learning curve was steep’ish I took to the Mac really well and even though I’m still learning I’m now a fan of the Mac operating system and the hardware that Apple make. While Apple products are not to everyone’s taste and they are always accused of being expensive I can’t see me moving away from the Mac platform anytime soon.

The hardware has been great so far (touch wood). I was slightly apprehensive about buying an iMac due to it’s all in one non upgradable design. However I’m a console gamer now and have no real need to upgrade the hardware a bit at a time. The hardware’s most impressive feature is how quiet it is. You hardly notice it’s on which I certainly can’t say about most PCs that I’ve owned and used. One year on and it still feels fast as it did on day one even with new software that’s come out over the last couple of months that usually push up requirements.

The iMac is used every day and wakes from sleep in a couple of seconds while taking the same time to sleep at the end of the day. It sure beats the experience I’ve had using Windows and the slow start-up times or slow times when setting the machine to sleep. Even when i have to reboot for software updates and the like, the start-up times have remained consistently quick. It’s obviously slower than day one due to the apps I launch at start-up but it doesn’t slow down as much as Windows does over time. I guess what I’m trying to say is…it just works. Always. Not had a problem yet. I’m not saying there are no problems, but I’ve had none…yet.

One issue I do have are Apple mice. They really do suck. I bought a wireless Mighty Mouse and I lasted three weeks with it before putting it aside and plugging in my Logitech. From reading elsewhere seemingly Steve Job’s hate’s clicks and buttons but really – only having one mouse button is really limiting. The Mighty Mouse has a virtual right click and also a squeeze click but I found the squeeze was difficult to do and the virtual right click awkward as you had to lift from the left click for this to work. The Mighty Mouse is now an occasional laptop mouse…very occasional.

The operating system is also a lot more user friendly than XP and although I haven’t used Vista enough to be sure, I’m off the mind that it has a better set of features than it too. Through the use of Expose, Dashboard, Spotlight and Preview I find that day to day tasks are more easily carried out on a Mac than on a PC. I can get more things done and I’m also more pleased with the end result. It’s very hard to put into words why it feels and works better, but it does. I also make far more use of the built in app’s like Mail, Address Book, iCal etc than I did on Windows although I think Vista built in app’s are far more useful than XP’s. The O/S is also more fun than Windows and looks/feels a lot more stylish and has a lot of polish. Again not a big feature but it’s another little plus point. Oh, no spyware or virus worries either. It’s also about to get better (I trust) with Leopard coming out in the next month or so. What helps the O/S and Apple are the third party app’s found on the mac.

Some of them are Mac only exclusives and it’s no secret that I craved a couple of the app’s so much that they helped seal my move to the mac platform. Many are tightly integrated with the mac platform so much so that they feel like part of the O/S which I can’t say for many app’s on the Windows platform. Another little push came from Parallels, virtualisation software that meant I could move to the Mac but be safe in the knowledge that a fast and fully working XP was merely a button click away. I also think there’s a myth surrounding third party app’s. Before I switched I was told by a few people and also a lot of blogs that there isn’t as much shareware/freeware/third party on the Mac platform. While that’s true from a quantity point of view I’ve found the quality and range of app’s to be excellent and there is nothing that I feel I’ve missed in moving platforms.

So there you have it. A happy switcher one year on. During that year I’ve also seen a couple of friends move to the Mac who also have similarly positive experiences. Maybe it’s the Apple halo effect, maybe it’s the positive press that Apple garner on the web or maybe it’s just that the alternative to Windows and PC hardware is a better end user experience – can so many people be wrong? There are definitely some issues, it’s not a platform for everyone (gamers for example) and not everything is wonderful but in general a Mac makes for a great home computer that I would highly recommend. A few months after buying an iMac I also bought a Macbook Pro which again has been a good investment. Next Apple product will probably be an iPhone but not the first version. I reckon I can hold off until a 3G phone comes out in 2008. My only regret about switching a year ago is this…I wish I had done it sooner.

Halo Update

Still loving it, campaign on legendary is very hard, multiplayer is very very good and the ability to download maps and game variants that other people create and share offers so much life. We played a rocket racing mode tonight which was great fun.

There have been lot’s of reviews but I’m wondering…another 10 from Edge? I think it would be justified and would also be the first game series to be awarded two 10’s.

JBL Creature II's

Creature IIMy old external speakers failed so I picked up some new speakers for the iMac yesterday. The JBL Creature II’s have picked up a lot of good press over the last year so i was confident of a good sound. However I wasn’t prepared for just how…bad they sounded. I always thought the left/right speakers were too small and my gut feel looks to be right – they were very very poor.

No matter what settings I used I either got a very tinny sound with some or too much bass, or I got no treble at all with the same mix of bass. Very disappointing and they were returned this morning for a full refund. I did luck out though – the old speakers have started to work again (they were throwing out a lot of static with no inputs) so that will do for now. However I’ll keep my eye’s on these Audioengine A2’s (cheers Shakeel for the tip) as they look ideal for my needs.
as they look to be exactly what I’m after and they’ve had good reviews so far. Just not out in the UK yet.

So despite good reviews elsewhere, from what I heard with my own ears I would recommend staying well away from these speakers.

Halo 3 Rocks

So I’ve had 3 or 4 hours on Halo 3…enough for a quick opinion but not much else.

It’s a very pretty game. There’s been a lot of talk that it’s not up to par with Gears or Bioshock but in those games you only see a few enemies at a time and the levels are small and enclosed. The maps in Halo are very big, have lot’s of enemies, ships flying around, vehicles etc and I think it looks stunning. No glitches, always smooth (although I haven’t played much) and a very solid feel. They are also far more colourful than the drab, but detailed, Gears and Bioshock.

Halo 3

I’ve only played through a tiny bit of the campaign (screenshot from my campaign trial this afternoon) as I’m keeping that for co-op only. The sections I did play were pretty tough and the AI seemed much improved. I also kept running out of weapons and didn’t get to see any new weapons at all. Still, early days for the campaign. I played on heroic although fancy doing co-op on legendary to keep the challenge high. Looking at my friends list today there were a couple of folk running through the game on normal….looks like they took 6-8 hours to rattle through the game. So play on at least heroic to enjoy the game at it’s best. Thank goodness co-op mode was added as this will probably be the first Halo campaign I will actually complete.

However the campaign is the smallest part of Halo 3 – the emphasise looks to be on multiplayer as that’s what will keep gamers occupied for the next couple of years. I say years as I played and enjoyed Halo 2 for over two years and I hope this latest version has as much depth online as the previous version.

Halo 3 - Sword Action

I’ve only really played Team Slayer (4 vs 4) and on 4 maps so far. Firstly, no lag to be seen. Second, no cheating either. The new weapons offer quite a varied arsenal and it will take a while to get used to them. Old ones have also been tweaked. Sword for example does not last forever and also takes longer to pull out and use – it’s still powerful but not as much as in Halo 2.

Gameplay hasn’t changed too much but that’s a good thing as there wasn’t too much wrong with Halo 2. Bungie have addressed some community issues though. No more listening to morons on Live screaming, swearing, shouting, calling you gay, asking if you want a cup of tea and a scone. There’s a variety of options including not hearing opponents and being able to quickly mute your team. They’ve also introduced push to talk which has quietened things down too. It made for a far more enjoyable online experience.

Halo 3 - Flying Sword

There seem to be many more online game modes with the ability to create your own and share those creations with friends. Rocket Warthog racing anyone? I’ve not had any time to dabble with Forge which is a game mode in it’s own right that allows one team member to drop weapons, vehicles, change spawn points – basically customise the map to their hearts content. This is another option that should give longevity to the title.

Bungie have also increased web and community integration. Using the theatre mode I can share film and screenshots with friends and also via the Bungie website. I can download screenshots from Bungie and also select in game clips from the website to view on the 360. As the movies use the in game code you can only view the movies in game on the 360. How lovely (but massively bandwidth intensive) would it have been to save movies to a Bungie Youtube equivalent that could have been used to share in game movies with anyone? They have also made it easy to see what your friends are playing and how far they are in their game and they’ve upped the post game analysis details on their website.

The screens above are all from my short play time this afternoon (Flickr set here and will grow over time). The top picture shows the level of detail seen in the campaign mode. The next two are from one game of Team Slayer. The second picture is me wielding a sword and about to double kill another red guy. The last picture is an in air kill, again with the sword. You can also see a team mate sniping form right to left. The level of detail (bullets, blood etc) in incredible and a great example of how good the Halo 3 engine really is.

That’s about it really. A cracking update to the Halo universe and something I’ll look forward to playing for many months. Call of Duty 4 though will provide some stiff competition as it’s online mode is excellent. I probably played my last game on it tonight though as most of my friends will be picking up Halo 3 tomorrow. Let the big team battles begin.

Silly Season

Why has the games industry compressed a year long sales window into three months? Take the 360 for example. From January to end of August the only games I bought were GRAW2, Crackdown and Forza 2 alongside a few Live Arcade titles.

In the September to November months this is the likely list of games I want to buy:

  • Bioshock – bought
  • Tiger Woods 08 – bought
  • Madden 08 – bought
  • Halo3
  • PGR4
  • Orange Box
  • Pro Evo 2008
  • Call of Duty 4
  • Mass Effect
  • Assassins Creed

That is just too many in a short space of time and also leaves out games like Skate and Sega Rally which have OK’ish demo’s but are lost in amongst the flurry. I understand it’s holiday time but surely having so many AAA titles launching in the same period can only hurt there sales. Imagine how crowded it would have been if GTA IV was launching in October? It would certainly make more sense to stagger these releases over the year. Well more sense to me as it owuld give me more time to enjoy each game.

However this is shaping up to be a vintage year for games. The game’s over the last few weeks have been excellent. The Call of Duty 4 beta has been a superb taster for the game, Halo 3 is out on a few days and in October alone PGR4 and Pro Evo 8 are both big big titles. Only caveat with Pro Evo is that the demo is a little odd. It plays faster than previous versions and that can end with real pinball sessions in the box. Still, it’s smoother and a lot prettier than previous versions although no doubt online will still have some issues. It also has a dive button. Finally.

You’ll notice there’s no mention of the PS3. A few of the games above are also out on the PS3 but due to Xbox Live and also friends with 360’s it makes sense to get the 360 versions of the non exclusive games. Heavenly Sword was pretty disappointing and Metal Gear Solid, Little Big Planet and GTA IV are delayed until next year. So what’s left for PS3? Killzone 2 does look very nice and Uncharted – Drakes Fortune picked up a lot of buzz at E3 but both would need pretty stellar reviews to make them purchases. There is also a bigger demo version of GT5 that does promise online racing for up to 16. I’d normally be sceptical of those numbers but Warhawk has been a great multiplayer game on the PS3 with 24 and 32 player games. Server support makes all the difference and hopefully it will come to Xbox Live soon, especially as it’s a paid for service unlike PS3 which is free.

So next up is Halo 3. Considering I was playing Halo 2 over two years after release there’s an argument that I should only be picking up one more title this year. I’ll post up some thoughts on Halo next week…if I get time that is.

Halo 3 Countdown

Not long until I get my grubby little paws on Halo 3 (some already have it). A new video released by Bungie today called Cinema Paradiso highlights the features outside a normal FPS that should keep me coming back to Halo time and time again. The Forge is a map editor that allows the placement of weapons, vehicles, spawn points, turrets and objects to be user controlled. It looks amazing although could take some time to get to grips with.

More impressive is the game replay, film creation and photo creation tools. Call of Duty 4 has a death camera that shows where you got shot from. Halo 3 takes it one step further allowing you to review the entire game, see exactly how you were owned in a game and then save and upload your best bits for other gamers to see. I’d talked about something similar during Halo 2 and it’s great to see something along those lines finally come out.

This video also highlights some great multiplayer action – the hammer looks amazing. Just as well I’ve got a few days off to enjoy the new game.

Hospital Visit

It’s been pretty quiet around here for the last few days as I spent Monday and Tuesday trying out a hospital bed at the Western Infirmary. Over the weekend I’d been in some discomfort with some pains in the chest and also some pain travelling down the left arm. Although there were alarm bells ringing the pain was neither sore nor that frequent. Still, disconcerting but I put it down to a muscle strain.

Sunday it got a bit worse, Monday morning at work the pain was felt elsewhere including the legs. Something was not right so I phoned the GP and got an appointment that morning. Fast forward three hours to lunchtime and although the doctor agreed it was probably just a muscle strain she couldn’t rule out a possible heart attack or related heart issues and I would have to go to the Western’s A&E for an ECG. Nice. I’ve never actually been to hospital as a patient so this was going to be an eye opener as well as a potential shock to the system. An hour later and I was waiting in A&E. An hour after that I had been given an ECG, blood had been taken and I had been thoroughly examined. The verdict was that the heart is strong, there are no signs of any problems but a blood test and x-rays would be required to confirm the pain isn’t heart related. All sounding pretty positive and to be honest I was relieved.

Roll on another hour and the x-rays were complete and I was admitted to the Western, probably overnight as the tests would take a while. Fast forward to Tuesday, another set of blood tests, another ECG and confirmation that it’s not heart related but some sort of muscular viral infection that should clear with time. Happy days. Sort of. I’m obviously relieved that it’s not a heart problem and it’s great to hear that all the tests have confirmed it. Just hope the aches and pains subside as I’ve been warned that if they continue or it flairs up again I’ve to return to A&E to get some further tests. Hopefully not required.

As it was my first time as a patient in a hospital it was interesting to see how it worked, how prejudiced I was and how my views changed over the two days. When I entered i was expecting to be waiting for hours before being seen. I was dealt with very quickly by the whole A&E team and I can’t fault them at all. I also saw first hand the range of people they have to deal with and the difficulties they face. They do an amazing job – something I could never do and it impressed me no end. Hat’s off to the team at the Western.

As I was pushed through to x-ray and finally to level 8 I caught myself trying to find dirty areas, trying to find faults, trying to nit pick in my head, analysing what was wrong with the place. All pretty negative, carrying baggage from sensational newspapers with no personal experience to back them up. On the whole the Western was pretty clean and I had no major issues with dirt. The staff all the way through to level 8 were great. Level 8 is where you are usually sent to from A&E before they assign you to a longer stay ward so the floor has a massive turnaround in patients. In my room alone (4 beds) there were 8 patients in a 24 hour period. The volume and range of illnesses shocked me and really highlighted the difficulties that medical teams, nurses in particular face day to day. Also highlighted the problems of drink, drugs, smoking and obesity that look likely to blight the NHS for years to come. Some examples…

  • A was in with a balance problem. He could walk for 20 yards or so but would then need to hold onto walls and fences to go any further. Worked all his life and was pretty bitter about his illness. Admitted to liking a drink but not so much now. Doctor transferred him to neuro ward for a brain scan and asked was he a heavy drinker as all the signs are that drink has affected his brain and ability to balance. A real shame.
  • J1 was in his seventies and had suddenly been hit with breathing problems. He was bemused by the suddenness of it all and that his only vice was 20 fags a day since he was 16.
  • J2 was also in his seventies. He readily admitted that drinking, smoking and lack of exercise had left him in a mess. He also admitted that he wish he’d dies in his 50’s as the last 20 years were hellish. A series of problems were only made worse with testicular cancer three months ago and now a problem that prevented number two’s from appearing.
  • R was a young guy in his late teens. Admitted late on Monday night he had drunk himself silly and was brought in via ambulance. On a drip he told me later in the night he had taken 50 paracetamol as well, egged on by mates and also because he wanted to feel free. A lecture from doctors and a visit from psychiatrists didn’t seem to have helped him when I left – he was just annoyed at missing the Celtic game. If only he’d have thought the night before.
  • T was another old chap who was beyond looking after himself and whose speciality was groping any nurse in the vicinity. Dirty old bugger.
  • W was brought in an hour before I left. He’s the first guy I’ve seen who although younger than me looked about 10 years older. I must admit I pre-judged him based on his face and speech. Turns out he’s a 20 a day guy, usually at least 10 pints a day and was a drug user until 6 months ago. Once the nurses sorted him out, attached him to various devices, made sure he had a bottle to relieve himself as he said he couldn’t walk….he then pulled everything off, removed his drip and started to walk to the toilet. Nurses come in, tell him off and re-attach everything. I ain’t using an f’in bottle. Give me some f’in painkillers. Where’s the f’in doctor? Nurses assure him he is very unwell and doctor is busy but he will be there soon. He then removed everything again once the nurses had left…and they came back and re-attached everything again. As I left he was putting two fingers down his throat as it makes him feel better. If I had a gun I swear I would have used it on him and saved nurses all the grief and no doubt other people who he will hassle/rob/annoy in the future. Scumbag.
  • Then there was me. 33 year old with chest pains…and obese who probably was too lippy with the nurses for his own good and thought he always knew best.

Although I’ve painted it pretty black the guys in the room were all OK apart from druggie boy who came in near the end. Interesting to hear the old boy’s and their stories form yesteryear and talking to people who I’d normally never meet.

However hearing all their medical issues was pretty uncomfortable as the doctor did his rounds. Putting up with 72 year old guys walking around naked in the middle of the night, oxygen tanks failing and a toilet covered in urine as they older gents struggled to control themselves was also pretty taxing but I was only there for one day. The staff have to put up with that day in and day out, at the same time doing their job and trying not to be judgemental. So, so impressive. The nurses are doing a great job and on what I saw, using limited resources as they always seemed stretched and were always busy. Sometimes I thought they were pretty harsh but with hindsight they are trying to get the job done as quickly, easily and safely as possible while at the same time looking after a lot of people and you need to remember that patients aren’t always the easiest to deal with.

Doctors in general were OK but not very forthcoming with information. It was like a test to see if you could prize info out of them. Maybe I was just unlucky but it was always a struggle to find out what they thought could be wrong. Maybe they didn’t know, but I’d rather they said that than fobb you off with a glib statement.

Also of concern is A&E in Glasgow. The Western on a Monday afternoon was busy enough but think what Friday and Saturday nights must be like? The Western A&E is closing in 2010 replaced by the Southern General. That’s a big area covered by one hospital. What happens when the Clyde Tunnel is busy or closed? That’s some detour. I don’t know if it’s too late to reverse the decision but it will cause deaths. I’m in no doubt.

So that leaves me. This has been a bit of a wake up call. Sitting in the ward gave me a lot of thinking time. Priority is to tackle my weight and thankfully that’s something I had already started to address. I hadn’t posted anything here as I was embarrassed about even mentioning diets and exercise but needs must and it’s something I faced up to 5 weeks ago. So since mid August I’ve cut back on junk food and started exercising more. The result has been a 1/2 stone drop in weight to just under 19 stones….120kg. Not much but it’s a start and I intend to continue. There’s a long way to go. It’s also good to know that the heart has been checked out and is healthy. A big weight form my mind. Hopefully that’s the last post on this topic for a while…back to games and gadgets – Apple.