Giveth with one...taketh with the other

More Virgin Media news and this time you really do wonder what’s going on! The one that grabs most headlines is that they are to pilot a scheme working with the BPI to send letters to users downloading music illegally via P2P. The pilot is not up and running but according to the Telegraph is starting soon. In some ways it’s no big surprise as there’s been lot’s of talk about a proposed three strikes and your out system. Indeed some ISP’s have already sent letters to users warning them about the content or bandwidth they are using. As long as there are no false positives and the action they are taking is clear, transparent and applied to all users can anyone really complain? Not really, although I’m still surprised that they will act in cases of ‘suspected’ piracy. I would damn well hope they act when they have concrete evidence and it’s not just a way of targeting heavy downloaders and their Linux iso’s.

What makes this all a bit more odd is that Virgin Media are beta testing a new Usenet service. In conjuntion with Highwinds they are looking to improve their newsgroup offering. What are newsgroups – well according to Virgin they are:

…discussion forums (usually on a specific topic) but can also be used to download and upload files such as photos and videos.

No shit Sherlock. Their binary retention will be at least 7 days and text retention over 90 days. Not bad for a free service although nothing like the service you get from providers like Giganews. Notice also that newsgroups are great for photo’s and videos. No music to be found though. Or applications, games, books etc. Just photo’s and video’s.

This doesn’t bother me as much as it used to. What happens with one provider will eventually happen to all. What I want is a reliable fast connection at a reasonable price. On reflection this isn’t what Virgin are offering although I must admit to it being prety bullet proof compared to ADSL. Time to switch?

PS3 - PC In Disguise

The whole point of a console is to provide great looking games that are guaranteed to work without the hassle of installing the game, patching it, opening up firewall ports and configuring server and friend lists on a per game basis. It’s what I’ve become used to with the original Xbox and then the 360. So why is the PS3 so fucked up?

Before I rant on I should say this isn’t a Microsoft fanboy love in post. The PS3 is a great media player and there’s lot’s of things I really like about it compared to the 360. However the amount of firmware updates it’s now had are bordering on the ridiculous. Even worse, I still can’t access my friends list, chat to friends, playback music or easily swap to another game while in a current game. I need to quit and go back to the XMB and then I can chat etc. It feels so backwards when compared to the 360. Sony are promising in game XMB this year but I’ll believe it when I see it.

Another growing trend on the PS3 is installation of games. If you download anything from PSN then you then have to install it. This applies to all games, from the small 40Meg games up to gigabyte installs for Warhawk and GT5:Prologue. However more and more games insist on an install before you can even play the game. Most Capcom games and now GT5:Prologue want to install content on the hard drive. While this allegedly improves performance this step is taking up to 20 mins – hardly a console experience. Makes me chuckle when I think back to MS launching the original Xbox and how Sony sneered that it used a hard disk and was really just a PC. How times have changed.

Further annoyance with GT5 was an update you had to download before you could play the game. This took about an hour for me to download but I was lucky. I know a couple of people that had to try many times before the download actually worked. Grrrr. Once in the game GT5 lists ports that should be opened as well for online play. I’ve not had to do that for a game in years. How many people would know what to do?

I think that’s my major annoyance on the PS3. It feels bitty compared to the unified experience on the 360. It feels like PC gaming. Simple tasks on the 360 are made difficult or impossible on the PS3. Headset’s are a given on the 360 yet on the PS3, because they aren’t standard, you get issues. Quiet games or worse, compatibility issues within games. It’s for all those reasons, plus the fact that the majority of friends are using the 360, that non platform exclusives are always purchased for the 360 and there is nothing that Sony are doing that look like changing my mind. Shame.

Wordpress 2.5

WordPress has just updated to 2.5 and despite having reservations the test blog worked fine so I upgraded this site just a few minute ago. Functionality wise there isn’t a tremendous amount changed on first inspection. However digging deeper reveals some major changes that make running a blog easier and have also meant a reduction on plugin dependency which is always a good thing.

Wordpress DashboardYou’ll first notice the changed admin and dashboard screens. I still feel pretty mixed about the changes. I think the dashboard is a lot better and now allows you to control what feeds to display without hacking the back end. Plugins, options and management screen layouts are also improved. One nice little add-on is that the dahsboard can now be skinned too and no doubt we’ll see some great colour scheme’s over the coming weeks.

Write Page

I’m not sold on the write page though. Previously you could drag and drop panes to show/hide the options you needed. This meant I could have tags and categories where I couldn’t miss them. Now they are pushed down the page and I know I will miss setting them from time to time. I guess in the grand scheme it’s not a major issue but it feels like a backward step. Another nice add-on is better tag management so I’ve disabled the plugin I was using to help with tags. Feeds should also no longer break at the more tag, reversing an unpopular change…and again removing a plugin I was using.

Another step in making things easier is plugin installs. Instead of just informing you when a new plugin is available you can now install the updated plugin from the dashboard. This only works for WordPress hosted plugins but is a really nice feature. Gravatar support is also built in so no need for separate plugins although some changes to themes are required to support this.

Although there are many more changes the final ones that may affect you are to the visual post editor. It now doesn’t break your HTML code anymore and it also has a declutter mode which allows you to focus on the writing.

Overall there are more +ve’s than -ve’s and I’m sure plugins will help to tidy up the write screen so I can get it just the way I like it. Get 2.5 here. Note the WordPress site has also had a lick of paint too. Nice.

Shady Virgin

Virgin have been running STM (Subscriber Traffic Management) for a while now. To be honest I haven’t felt much impact although it certainly hasn’t increased my speeds any by affecting ‘the top 3%’ of users downloading or uploading at peak times. I’ve got no real problems with the rules but I do have problems when Virgin apply them when they like at times of their choosing.

Now Virgin have confirmed to a user that STM applies at different times at bank holidays and weekends. That would explain why I was throttled when grabbing some Oracle iso’s a few weekends ago. I put it down to general slowness in the area but it picked up quickly a few hours later. I guess it shows how bad the service can be if I people are throttled without really realising it. Of course there’s nothing on Virgins official page about this. This all smacks of Plusnet when they had to deal with the increased pressures of downloads against cost to user. While the STM is sensible in principle at least tell us how and when it will be applied. Honesty makes a big difference.

Some of the other posts in the link above got me thinking though. Is it really a slippery step to a pay as you go broadband service? Great speeds both down and up but you pay per GB? Is that the most fair way of moving forward with broadband in the future? I’ve no clue but it will be interesting to see how the next 12-18 months change the landscape (if at all) with the increased usage of video and the move to HD by more and more people. 25GB download for just one film? No thanks, not at today’s speeds. I’m sure the music and film industry would love a move to that kind of model. I’d just like to see more consistency for my money…current speed is 3MB which certainly isn’t what I’m paying for.

Easter Eggs

As it was quite a nice day yesterday I took a walk down to Maplins for a couple of bit’s and pieces which also meant I got to see the annual Easter Egg Run to Yorkhill Hospital. There were thousands of bikes!

Endless

The noise was superb and even 30 mins after it had started there were still bikes passing by. I can remember when this event started. I was living in Argyle Street and over 3 or 4 years it grew from a few hundred to a few thousand bikes. Estimates yesterday were of over 10,000 bikes from across the UK. Impressive.

Great Trike

Full set of blurry pic’s can be found here.

Sony Logic

Gran Turismo 5 prologue hits the UK at the end of March. £24.99 for the Blu-Ray disk out on the 28th but available for the same price as a download on PSN for…£24.99. So the same price for the same game but one that I get to own on disk and one that lives as a download on my PS3. I could pay the same price and get it a day early. Cool. Not really…just flawed logic.

I can order the game from Gameplay or Amazon for £17.99. So I can get the physical media version cheaper than a download. I’ll also probably get it on the 27th as Gameplay ships early. Surely a downloadable version of the game would be cheaper for Sony than distributing a physical blu-ray disk? You really do wonder sometimes.

Grifball

Bungie updated the Halo 3 playlists last week and added Grifball. I hadn’t heard of this mode before but it is great fun.

Grifball

The full rules are here but basically teams of four play 5 rounds trying to pick up a ball and score it at the other end. Every player has a gravity hammer and sword, health reduced, damage increased and whoever had the ball has 150% speed, 3 * overshield and turns orange.

Grifball

It’s total carnage for the whole match and there are some great tactics to the game. It’s also a killing frenzy and I got my first Killimanjaro (kill 7 opponents within 4 seconds of each other). If you’ve not tried Halo for a while then it’s time to dust off your copy…it’s hammer time.

Cautionary Tale

You should always be careful when handing over usernames and passwords to programs downloaded from the internet. 99% of the time it will be fine but sometimes it could lead to ruin. Not true? Then visit Coding Horror and read about how a programmer was hiving users Google e-mail passwords. Now think how many people use the same password for everything. Scary.

If you fall into the group of one password for all sites, try 1Passwd (not trying to be ironic). Great product which should help protect your many online accounts.

iPhone SDK

I was so impressed watching the iPhone SDK launch last night. As usual with Apple there were some slick demo’s, some headline grabbing quote’s and some ambiguity but watching the 2 week old demo of Super Monkey Ball was a real clincher. This is a great mobile computing platform, not just a mobile phone platform. The full SDK launch is online but I’ve copied just the Sega demo below.

[qt:http://www.iand.net/media/iPhoneSega.mov 474 266]

Firstly the enterprise additions to the iPhone are vast and will surely meet almost any enterprise requirements. The addition of push e-mail, calendars and contacts looks great – very fast. I also liked the remote wipe which again adds to the security.

However of most interest was the SDK. Harnessing the best of OS X and utilising XCode the SDK is now available for anyone to download and try, as long as you have a Mac. More developers moving to Macs per chance? You can develop an app and use a virtual iPhone on the Mac to test it or hook up an iphone and download you app to the Mac.

Software distribution of your app is via Apple only using a new app called App Store. It will sit on the iPhone and allow you to download free and paid for iPhone (and iPod Touch) software wirelessly. It will also let you know when updates are available for your software. I guess the worst thing about this is how easy Apple have maid it – one click purchases etc. If your app is a pay for app, Apple will take 30% of the money for hosting, distributing etc. Sounds steep but there’s not been too much backlash about it. To publish an app you need to pay $99 to register as a developer. That charge is for the developer, not per software so not really that steep.

More confusing is what will be allowed. No VOIP over Edge was one of the answered questions, no porn or malware, no chipping app’s but no clarification on how protective Apple will be on something like iTunes. From Daring Fireball, Amazon MP3 store on iPhones? It also looks like there are restrictions that make the SDK only of real use in the USA. There are some blog’s stating than non US residents can’t download their app’s to the iPhone.

For me it really sparked something. I just wanted to download the SDK and start hacking. It will be difficult finding the time but I’ve already got a couple of small app’s in mind that I would like to put together, just to learn how it all works. The SDK, coming in at over 2GB was downloaded this afternoon. It’s playtime. Just a shame all this along with iPhone software v2.0 and the non beta SDK isn’t released until June.

One more thing…I’ve still not bought an iPhone. I’m closer than ever to spending cash on one except I’m convinced 3G isn’t far away. Decisions decisions. It’s really the wrong time for my yearly bonus to appear!