Friday, September 21, 2007

Trying out Grand Central

Grand Central is a service that Google recently acquired. It looks rather interesting: they give you a single phone number to give to everyone, whether work, home, or friend-related. You can have the number behave differently based on who's calling as far as which of your numbers they get forwarded to: home, cell, work, etc.. The other main point to all this is that if your cell phone changes, say because you switch carriers, you don't have to have everyone alerted to your new phone number. They just keep calling your Grand Central number like before, and you just point Grand Central to the new cell phone.

My initial reservations are: once they have you reliant on them, will they start charging? If so, how much? And, will they be around 5 years from now? Having just seenYahoo Music Unlimited To Go being end-of-lifed, I wonder what it would mean if I really got hooked on this service and it went away? I suppose it wouldn't be too bad, since I would just have to point everyone back to individual numbers, so perhaps more inconvenience than actual "problem" per se?

So, one thing I'm playing around with is the ability to have a 'Call Me' button posted on the web that keeps my number private but lets others place a call. Feel free to say 'hi' if you want. Perhaps I'll leave it around for the fun of it, or perhaps not.... In any case, we'll see how this all goes.

Asleep In Reality

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Power Paper: Energy Storage by the Sheet: Scientific American

Power Paper: Energy Storage by the SheetBy surrounding carbon nanotubes with cellulose, researchers have devised a flexible, paper-thin power source
Power Paper: Energy Storage by the Sheet: Scientific American

Wow, that is something I just never thought would be possible.  I know I've also heard about displays as thin as paper in the past, so maybe they could combine these two things to have a self-powering paper screen!  ;-)

Blogged with Flock

A recent pic of our house

Taken last night when I was using my Nikon Coolpix L3 to try out the new version of iPhoto that's on the also-new iMac I just got. I'm trying to be more active on this blog (yet AGAIN), so thought this would be something good to do:

DIRECTV plugs into broadband over power line

DIRECTV plugs into broadband over power line

This is rather intriguing.  Unfortunately the speeds top out at 3 Mbps.  I download so many demos and things that it would be hard to give up the 8-with-bursts-to-16 that Comcast gives me right now.

Blogged with Flock

Saturday, June 23, 2007

XBox 360: Getting NAT status to OPEN

Like many others I've had some trouble getting my XBox 360 to have an 'Open' NAT status so XBox Live chat (and potentially other functionality) would work correctly. I was having a hard time getting this right, even when I did what seems to be the most common solution to the problem: adding the XBox 360 to my router's DMZ.

Here's one additional step I had to do to get things to work, that I haven't seen mentioned elsewhere: In order to get your 360 into your DMZ you have to have a constant IP address for it. (Which plenty of sites did mention) HOWEVER, at first I was enforcing a consistent IP address for the 360 by setting the *360* to manually demand that IP address each time, rather than use DHCP. Doing that, my NAT kept staying at 'Strict'.

But, when I set my 360 back to using DHCP to get its IP address, and told my router to RESERVE the IP address I wanted for the MAC address of my 360, then POOF, my NAT setting went to Open! So, at least in my case, I had to not only add my 360 to my router's DMZ, but I also had to make sure that I enforced a consistent IP for it at the router instead of in my 360s network settings.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

I need an avatar!

I got this from the Catprin site. I intend to use it on some forums that require a URL for your avatar image, so I'm sticking it here to do that. So, before you ask, NO, that is not one of my cats, and I would never do such a thing to one of my cats. Except maybe when they spill my soda bottle on me. Then anything is possible....

Vanguard: Much improved and soon to launch!

Over the last couple weeks I've been playing the Vanguard beta, and have been amazed at the numerous patches coming out for it. The team at Sigil is obviously working very hard at making this game fun to play while having a rich set of things to see and do, and they seem to be succeeding!

For those who pre-order there is early access starting this Friday, and the game officially goes live on the 30th. I'm very much looking forward to entering their world "for real" this Friday.

Look for Binter Cairn on Florindyl server......

Friday, January 12, 2007

A new MMO: Vanguard

V a n g u a r d - Saga Of Heroes

I've been playing the beta for the upcoming MMO Vanguard, Saga of Heroes. It's claim to fame is that it's being created by several people who were behind the original Everquest, and is billiing itself as an MMO that will emphasize grouping. They want Vanguard to have a sense of challenge (without being too frustrating, of course...), and are looking to slow things down a bit from the rollercoaster pace of MMOs like WoW and EQ2 (as it is now).

In addition to the standard adventuring and crafting as ways to advance, it will add 'diplomacy' as an all new track to advance along. This involves a mini-card-game of sorts that is quite fun. I've only done the first couple diplomacy-related quests, but am enjoying it so far. It does look to be a good change of pace and significantly different from adventuring or crafting.

The graphics are a mixed bag, with some awkward models and textures here and there, but also some gorgeous landscapes and city design. From what other beta players have told me, the world is absolutely enormous too. I've only explored a couple small areas so far, so can't directly vouch for that, but a large world is a big plus for people like me who love exploring.

Overall I think Vanguard looks very promising, and I'll be getting a copy when it's released on January 30th.

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An odd omission

From a recent article in the San Jose Mercury News regarding end-of-year console sales, I found this interesting excerpt:

Among the newer consoles, Nintendo continued to fend off archrival Sony. U.S. retailers sold 604,200 Wiis, compared with just 490,700 PlayStation 3s. And the Wii could have done better, except that it was in short supply, noted Frazier. | 01/11/2007 | Video game sales soar in December

What the article neglects to mention is that the PS3 was in short supply too, but for some reason they only mention the Wii as being in short supply. The fact is that both consoles sold every unit they made available, so the only reason the Wii outsold the PS3 was due to supply.

I wonder why the article's author neglected that fact? The article was supposed to be a brief analysis of console sales, but it would have been very easy to also mention the PS3 was under shortage too. Why not? Did he not know? Did he not think it was relevant?

In any case, I do think the Wii will continue to outsell the PS3 in the short term because of the large difference in price point, and the fact that the Wii appeals to non-gamers. I think longer term (as in a few years) the PS3 will catch up as more people get HDTVs, but for now the Wii will most likely "win the battle". It is odd though, to see media bias towards the Wii. This is not the only article that seems to leave out salient points.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

PS3: The long-term plan

iTWire ran a story about a UK Research firm's prediction that in the long-term the PS3 would win the console wars. The story went on to say how many sites and polls of consumers contradicted that and said that the Wii would come out ahead.

While the Wii is clearly ahead in the short-term, I do think this story will end up being correct, provided people continue to switch over to HDTVs at an increasing rate. Upcoming PS3 games, whose graphic potential is only being hinted at by the outstanding Gran Turismo HD demo, will be very compelling. People will want to see things that take advantage of their new HDTVs, and once you've seen high def cable and DVDs, the graphics of the Wii are going to pale in comparison. The motion-sensitive remote is fun, but I think having games with gorgeous sound and graphics (some of which will no doubt have strong gameplay too) will be hard to resist once most people have TVs that can show them off to their full potential.

As long as the PS3 can hang in there for the next couple years until more people get their shiny new TVs and want new content to run on them, I think it will pick up the pace and do well. Only time will tell, but in the meantime I can play on both systems.... It'll be interesting to see where I end up spending more game time in the coming year. (Maybe my PC, the darkhorse of the race, will win out over all the consoles!)

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Resistance > Gears

I have to admit that Gears of War has the most outstanding graphics of any game this year, but I think when you take all the other factors that make a good game into account, that Resistance: Fall of Man for the PS3 is a superior title.

Both have great graphics, with GoW having a slight stylistic advantage. HOWEVER, I think Resistance has a much better storyline, better writing, better sound, and better gameplay. Gears of War's storyline is sketchy at best, and the dialogue between the characters is juvenile macho chest-thumping at its worst, and entirely lacking in imagination. I mean, c'mon, this is supposed to be another planet at some point far in the future, yet everyone comes across as current-day steroid-addicted jocks? This is about as completely berift of imagination as a storyline can get.

On the other hand, Resistance is consistent in it's use of alternate early 1950s earth, with the scenery, clothing, and dialogue fitting perfectly into the setting. The storyline is much more robust and well thought-out. It does start out seeming to be a Half-Life rip-off, with an alien race infecting and converting humans to more soldiers to fight for them, but it has some interesting twists and turns later on in the game that save it from seeing like a total copy.

Resistance also avoids the repetitive gameplay of Gears of War. 95% of GoW is the same style: jump from one point of cover to another while popping out occasionally to shoot at the enemy. The GoW enemy AI is good, and there are a couple welcome breaks to duck-and-cover, such as a couple vehicle-based sequences, and the Berserker section also servers as a great change-of-pace.

However, unlike GoW, Resistance is constantly changing its tone and pace. It starts out similar to GoW, with an emphasis on use of cover, but has a more Doom 3 / F.E.A.R. feel later in the game, when it goes more indoors. It gets enjoyable creepy, and managed to make me jump a couple times. Later on it shifts to some chaotic outdoor battles with dozens of enemy and friendly soldiers, with mortar shells flying, and more resembles WWII-based shooters. It's constantly shifting, and along with the well-done narration (although, can we PLEASE come up with something other than the all-male soldier game with single-female-as-narrator approach!??!) is compelling and fun consistently throughout the entire game.

Finally, unlike GoW, Resistance has an excellent selection of weapons, each having a unique feel and set of capabilities. Every single weapon has a reason to be used, unlike the rather generic and uninspired weapon selection in GoW.

After seeing all the gaming sites come in with GoW as Game of the Year I have to admit I'm in the minority here, but I think this just points out that when everyone says "It's the gameplay not the graphics", many of them are being more than a little disingenuous, because I think graphics is the ONLY area GoW is superior to Resistance, and that in almost any other measure of gameplay, Resistance is clearly the better game. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say it's now my all time favorite first-person-shooter, surpassing even Half-Life 2 (just by a hair) as my all-time favorite. This is a must-have game for all PS3 owners.

PS3 First Impressions

Unlike the small, modest Wii, the PS3 is a heavy, hulking, imposing piece of electronics. There's something slightly retro about its design, but overall I like it, despite the size. It attracts dust like a champ (you can wipe it off and literally see the dust snap back on the PS3 due to static electricity), but does look snazzy once you do convince the dust to stay off for at least a few minutes.

I ran into one snag which I blame on my Westinghouse TV: when I hooked it up to the PS3 via HDMI there was some flickering white spots on the screen when I tried to view 1080p resolution (the other resolutions were fine). Online postings (especially on the AVSFORUM site) leads me to believe that it is the TVs fault. A firmware upgrade would fix this, but you have to mail it back to Westinghouse (!!!) to get the upgrade. Luckily for me, after one of their updates, the PS3 can pump 1080p signals out its component outputs too, so I got their component adapter and am all set. (The signal is just a tad less crisp than the HDMI output, but given Sony's propensity to have aliasing issues, a touch of softness may not be a bad thing.)

Once I was past my video snag, I checked out their online store, and downloaded a couple games. The PS3's menus are elegant and easy to use. The menu's background/foreground colors change based on time of year and time of day. So, for example in the daytime the mainscreen background is a bland light gray, and turns black at night.

In general, the PS3s colors are vibrant, and at 1080p the resolution is as crisp as it gets. What pleasantly surprised me was how wonderful the sound was too. Like my 360 I'm using the optical output for sound, and I found the PS3 sound to be significantly warmer and richer than my 360. A visiting friend who also has a 360 agreed the sound was noticeably superior.

The launch games are ok for the most part, with Resistance: Fall of Man being the clear winner for currently available games. However, I have to say that in one sense the Gran Turismo HD (free) downloadable demo is the true standout, because it begins to hint at what the PS3 will really be capable of doing. It's truly amazing, even to someone used to high-def PC and 360 games. The scenery (especially the mountains in the background) is jaw-dropping, the number, variety, and detail of the spectators is great, and the look/sound/feel of the cars is marvelous. This is the cutting edge of gaming graphics and sound, and shows that the PS3 has more than enough muscle to be running great looking and sounding games for the next several years.

The SIXAXIS controllers are surprisingly lightweight, responsive and using them will come naturally to anyone used to PS2 controllers. The lack of vibration doesn't bother me too much. The motion-sensitive features aren't really used by any of the games I'm playing, except the arcade game Blast Factor, which uses them minimally. Clearly added as a response to the Wii, perhaps later games will take better advantage of the motion sensitivity in the future.

If you have a 1080i or especially a 1080p capable TV, and send your sound through a Dolby 5.1 or ACS-capable sound system, then the PS3 is definitely a worthwhile purchase. People without a newer TV or sound system don't need to rush to get one. I suspect that I'll be playing the PS3 a LOT, starting with Resistance. It may "lose the battle" with the Wii in the near future, but I suspect that in later years, when more people buy newer TVs and sound systems, and there are more beautiful hi-def games available, that it will gain back that lost ground and come into its own.

Wii Impressions

I've had the Wii for about 3 weeks now, and here are my first impressions:

If you want to try to interest a non-gamer in videogames, then then Wii is your best bet. I brought it to Russ' family Xmas day get-together, and more than once people who had not really been into gaming before said "Where can I get one?!?!" by the end of the day. They all had a blast with Wii Sports (especially tennis and bowling), and got a kick out of Rayman Raving Rabbids too.

The Wii's menus and controls are consistently easy to use, and have a clean, bright, albeit slightly boring, design. The newly enabled weather Globe is a surprise favorite of mine. It's fun, elegant, and a relaxing way to spend a few minutes every couple of days to see what the weather is like around the world.

The Wii's graphics on my 1080p LCD TV looked quite pixellated, even using the component cable. After getting used to seeing my PCs graphics on my TV (a Westinghouse LVM-42W2 that lets me run my PC through it at 1920 x 1080 resolution...EQ2 looks GREAT!) as well as my 360's, the Wii's graphics are, to put it kindly, underwhelming. However, moving it to our older TV (a Toshiba 1080i DLP) improved the look. I know it's common to say "It's not about the graphics, it's about the gameplay", but I guess I've been spoiled beyond recovery by newer hardware, because I'm finding I need a certain level of graphics to truly enjoy a game. Gameplay is still critical, but when you can have both, why settle for just the gameplay?

I'm sure I'll still have lots of fun playing the Wii, but I suspect I'll mostly play it when I'm with other people in person, especially if they're not avid gamers. When I want to sit down for an extended session of solo or online gaming, it will be on my PC, PS3, or 360. With all these latest-generation options, I don't imagine I'll use the Wii as much as the others.