One of the features of the PlayStation 3 has been the Home "game". I use game in quotes because it isn't really a game, per se, but a virtual environment where PS3 owners can mingle, see previews for game, movies, and accessories, as well as socialize with their brethren. If you have ever heard of SecondLife, PlayStation Home is a much scaled down version of that.
I've spent a few hours dabbling in Home. It's certainly an interesting idea: provide a 3D virtual environment that recreates a campus atmosphere and let players use it however they like. Unfortunately, it isn't a new idea, and it has rarely worked in other scenarios. Remember VRML? It was supposed to be the next big thing in web interfaces back at the turn of the millennium, allowing users to mingle at a 3D website together. Or more recently, how about Google Lively? Never heard of it eh? It was another attempt at 3D virtual social environments that just never had legs. Second Life has succeeded by filling a particular niche well. That niche being the ability for someone to anonymously fulfill whatever bizarre kink they like to indulge (furries much?) Oh, and some folks manage to make a living at it, but mostly it is about sex.
PS Home doesn't have that aim. Worse, it doesn't have any aim. After spending several hours listlessly wandering the sterile environments (a personal apartment, campus plaza, bowling alley, mall, and theater) I found absolutely nothing compelling to do. The few games that are available feel half-baked, and aside from Echochrome, there is no reason to play them (playing Echochrome wins you a new outfit). Like SecondLife, there are shops where you can use real money to purchase upgrades for your avatar, such as new clothes or furniture for your apartment. Unlike SecondLife, there is no way to earn that money, or to get the virtual items without spending cash. As such, it feels like a shallow attempt to nickel and dime the players ($7 for a santa outfit you have to buy a piece at a time!!!)
Let me take a step back and describe my first experiences. The night that the beta was opened to the general public, I logged on around 11 in the evening to see what the fuss was about. After a few minutes dressing up my avatar with the paltry set of clothing and shaping selections (the Wii has this totally beat for being able to create a recognizable representation of your likeness) I was delivered to my apartment. A sterile, empty place with a seaside view, and all the furniture facing the wall. I'll leave out the bits about the application crashing (it did, a lot). After familiarizing myself with the controls, I stepped downloaded the rest of the environments and stepped out in the plaza. Here I was met with probably hundreds of other likeminded curious gawkers. Most were milling about, wandering from place to place to see what Home had to offer. The bowling alley was chock full of folks waiting in line to play the games that were available at the lanes and in the arcade. This post and comic from Penny-Arcade sum up that experience pretty well. The Mall environment had a few stores, but I wasn't about to start spending 50 cents to $2 for the privilege of "personalizing" my avatar or apartment.
Twenty minutes later I had seen everything in home, and was unimpressed. I went to the plaza again to see if I could find any interesting conversation going. That's when I noticed that the demographic of the plaza was 99% male. The one poor female avatar had a crowd of 20 or so other avatars dogging her around from place to place, kicking on dance moves whenever she would stop. Of course, this quickly led to the act of gender-bending pranks now known as pulling a Quincy. When I did find a group of folks with a conversation going on, I found it really hard to participate. I have a bluetooth headset, but only a few others were using voice chat. Most were text chatting, but doing so with just a controller was very difficult. By the time I had entered my comment, the subject of my comment was already off the page and so I came off as non-sequitur. Annoyed at this and the over-all feeling of meh, I gave up and just played a game.
A couple of weeks later now, and I have a new PS3 Wireless Chatpad to assist me in communicating, so I decided to give Home a second look. There was a new update, and I notice that one of the changes is that voice chat has now been turned off for all but private zones (your apartment, premium gaming clubs). On entering the plaza I see not the hundreds of avatars from before, but possibly ten. The demographic is now closer to 60/40 male/female, but I'm fairly certain that most of the "girls" are just boys waiting to pull a crying game prank. A new movie is playing at the theater. I picked up with a small group in the plaza that was just having a amicable chat. Participating with the chat pad was much better than the joystick entry I was using before, and I was actually able to be a part of the conversation. This was certainly a viable way to pass the time and potentially meet other players with similar interests. One frustration in chatting was the draconian word filter. A lot of words are banned from use, and result in a your text appearing as **** where the banned word would be. Unfortunately, there is no contextual help. Even if that banned word appeared as part of another word, it got the star treatment. So Hello became ****o and Christmas became *****mas. It frequently broke up the flow of conversation as we tried to figure out what the speaker meant (and the speaker gets no indication that their word was filtered either). Worse, there is no way to disable this feature. A second frustration is that the ability to add a new friend to your friend roster is not part of the interface. The whole point of Home (in my mind) is to meet with other folks and find new friends to play with, yet Home doesn't facility either adding friends nor launching games. It's a major oversight in functionality.
I can't say that I'm disappointed in Home. It is a free application, and I'm free to not use it. I can't say I'm surprised by what I found in home, as it was about what I expected from my experiences in Lively and SecondLife. I am a little surprised at how much effort Sony is putting into this environment though. If they want it to be a success, they need to make it integrated with friend making and game launching. Above that, they need to find a hook to make spending time in Home worthwhile, and not just another empty virtual environment.
One element of C# that is very useful is the Property member. Back in the days of C you would declare a struct and the members of that struct (the fields) were all public. When C++ came along it gave use the concept of hiding our fields behind accessor methods, namely getters and setters. Java continued this design. C# introduces a new member type called the property, which makes managing your field getters and setters a little bit easier. So where you might have Java code like:
I am giving up my BlackBerry in at work and reverting back to the use of my PDA (thus the previous posts looking for a cell phone). As part of this process, I've been looking into different ways of keeping sync'ed, both with my work items and home items. I tried an open source product called GMobileSync from RareEdge. On paper it had everything I wanted - it would pull appointments from my Google Calendar and put them on my PDA calendar, and would also push appointments on my PDA to my Google Calendar. This would allow me to use my PDA as a single source for all of my home and office appointments (and would allow my wife to easily check my availability for doctor's appointments or schedule me as away for any family related things). Unfortunately, the execution is quite there. The code is at version 1.3.6, and while it will update my PDA with appointments from my GCal, it won't go the other way (NullReferenceError). I considered grabbing the code and debugging it, but I'd rather have a solution that just works out of the box.
I got a couple of interesting suggestions on that last post. The parameters of my search have modified slightly. I have the following choices before me:
- Choose any phone I want, and any plan I want, but I have to pay for both
- Choose any phone I want from Verizon and get voice only service, completely free to me
I'm in the market for a cell phone, and I need some recommendations. Here are the base requirements:
- Voice communication
- Personal E-mail support (gmail, yahoo, hotmail, etc.)
- Work E-mail support (exchange-sync)
- Instant Messaging support
- Internet browsing
- Full QWERTY keyboard
- Candy-bar form factor (sliders are ok)
- 802.11g/b support
- SMS Texting
- MMS Texting
The television issue has a happy ending. As a result of very good customer service on the behalf of both Samsung and HH Gregg, I have a replacement set in the basement now. The day after my last post I plugged in the set and it wouldn't come on. The power indicator was lit, but it never showed a picture. I was at day 11 on the set, and HH Gregg policy says they don't do returns after 10 days, so I was afraid I was going to be stuck. I called anyway and was thrilled that they would replace the set. I put it in the back of the van and within two hours was back home with a new unit in back. This was a much better solution, because once something breaks, even after repairs you'll always wonder how much longer it has. The new set is working just fine.
All is not well in the land of the new TV. The first week I had the set, it gave me a scare. After a few hours of playing Burnout Paradise on the PS3, the TV picture suddenly went black. The set would seem like it was trying to power the picture back on, going from a dark black (off) to a powered on black (light black?). It would make a short buzzing sound, then back to off again. A few seconds later the cycle would repeat. I let it do this for about a half an hour but the picture never came back. I tried to turn the set off, but it wouldn't respond to either the remote or the power button on the front of the set. In the end, I just had to unplug it. After it was unplugged for about ten minutes, I plugged it back in and everything was working again.
My wife asked me a great question last night, "Are we really in an economic crisis, or are we only in trouble because the news is telling us we are in trouble?" In other words, are all the layoffs, plant closings, and personal penny pinching going on around the country truly a reaction to the current economic condition, or are we just reacting to what we are seeing on the news (a self-fulfilling prophecy). It is a little of both in my opinion, but you have to really look at what has happened to our economy to understand why I say that.
I've had a few days now with the new television in the basement, and I have a few thoughts. If you want to lookup the specifics yourself, the television is a Samsung HL61A750, which is the 61" DLP set in the 750 series. I've gotten a lot of the same questions, so I'll try to answer them here.
If you've been into any major electronics store lately, you probably couldn't pull yourself away from looking at the enormous, beautiful televisions on display. With the economy in a slump the prices on these units have come way down. For several years I've wanted to put a nice big HDTV in the basement, but finding the money for one amid all of our other needs just wasn't in the cards.
Vista is a well beaten dead horse. Microsoft is embarassed of it, and is rushing to get Windows 7 out the door in the hopes that the world will forget Vista ever happened. In the meantime, the world is largely ignoring Vista and staunchly sticking to their XP installations. Personally, I've installed Vista on my work laptop and on my home PC, while leaving the PCs that my wife and kids use on XP.
I've run into a bit of an interesting problem with some code I'm working on. It deals with asynchronous reads on a stream. Here is a simplified version of the problem:
The delay since my last post is due to a business trip I had to take. It involved a couple of really long flights on really large planes. It left me with a couple of thoughts. So this post is in the outstandingly unlikely hope that some influential person in the airline industry is reading and acts on these comments.
- Wider arm rests
- Chocolate milk
- Better in-flight entertainment
- Power outlet at the seat (even a powered USB port would be good)
- Foot rests
- Get a (thin) U-shaped travel pillow
- bring a small bag with entertainment to stow under the seat
- Use the airline blanket like a shawl, not like a blanket. Your legs will be warm because you are wearing pants like a sane person. Your arms will be cold, so wrap the blanket around your back and neck and drape it across your arms
- Use the airline pillow for lumbar support
- Books can be read at anytime, unlike electronics that must be switched off
- An iPod can be enjoyed with your head leaning back unlike a book where your head is pitched forward.
- Bring a snack. You may not like some of the food, or you may just get hungry. Cookies keep well and are easy to stow in the seatback.
Last night I got my first chance to watch a Blu-Ray movie on the PS3, and to be honest, I think I was hoping for a little bit more. Maybe the difference is more stark on a 1080p television, but on my 1080i set not so much. The biggest difference was in sound quality. I couldn't support the best audio option out of the PS3, but the bitstream option sounded better than our current DVD player does. The picture quality, while better, wasn't amazingly better. We have a progressive scan (480p) DVD player now, which looks great on our set. Our television is rear project 55" set that is about 5 years old. It uses the tradition 3-tube setup (3 monitors at the bottom, one red, blue, and green, converged by a mirror onto a screen), not the newer DLP, LCD, or plasma that are common in larger sets. Maybe with one of those newer technologies at the higher 1080p resolution it would really shine, but as it stands I'm less than blown away. The price premium for a Blu-Ray film vs. a DVD is anywhere from 50-100% depending on where you buy. So is it worth buying the movie twice to see this upgrade? For me, I'm not there yet. Hopefully the price of Blu-Ray movies come down over the next year as the price of players also fall and become more common place. Another hope of mine is to get a new big screen 1080p set so I can test my theory of the better picture on the newer set. Unfortunately, I don't see that one happening anytime soon :-P
So after my rant about the lack of good games on the market, I lucked out and received a PlayStation 3 and LittleBigPlanet as gifts. After spending a day playing around with the system and game, I have some initial reactions. First, what a beautiful machine! The PS3 certainly has a professional look to it. It looks right at home among the other A/V equipment on the shelf. The main system interface is a little polluted, but not difficult to learn and navigate. The controller is going to look immediately familiar to anyone who has play a PlayStation 2, as the buttons and layout are identical. The only difference is the cord - a detachable USB cable. The controller that came with my unit is the new DualShock 3 controller, which has both rumble and the six-axis waggle.
After updating to the latest firmware and signing up for a PSN account, I scheduled a bunch of game demos and movie trailers to download. Here is where I think the PlayStation 3 has a real leg up on the Wii. The Wii Channel is meant to give you a way to view trailers and download demos of some DS games. The PlayStation Network (PSN) is so much better. Not only can you get demos for the PSP and PS3, but you can also get trailers for movies and a slew of great content. Downloads can be performed in the background, unlike the Wii where you must complete the download before doing anything else. I got a couple of trailers for Wall-E (I love that movie) as well as the demos for Mirror's Edge, LEGO Batman, and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. The downloads were huge (over 1GB in the case of Star Wars), but it was nice to be able to do other things while they downloaded. I let the controller charge and went outside with the family while it finished the download.
The first demo I played was for Mirror's Edge. This is a FPS game that has you running and jumping much like a free-runner from rooftop to rooftop. This was also must first taste of the six-axis control, which I found to be grossly inferior to the Wii controllers. Really, if this is the best it can be used for, Sony should just save the cost of the parts and remove it from the controller. The biggest problem is that while holding the controller your hands simply can't move in a natural way to "waggle". Tipping forward and back is about the best you can manage. I was glad to see that none of the games I tried depended on this feature.
Graphically, the PS3 is night and day better than the Wii. This wasn't really a surprise, as the Wii has been described as two GameCubes duct taped together. Still, the system really brought out the best in our HD set. The HD trailers I downloaded looked phenomenal, as did the games. We haven't watched a movie on it yet to see how well it upconverts. I suppose the only drawback is that the crispness and brightness of the picture has me thinking about getting a 1080p set for the basement so I can see the machine perform at the highest resolution (our current set is 1080i).
This brings me to LittleBigPlanet. LittleBigPlanet has gotten a ton of media hype over the last few months. It's a simple platformer with gorgeous graphics. So what makes LBP so special? The interactivity and customizability. From the get-go, LBP is giving you the tools and showing you tricks on how to construct a fun level for a platform jumping game. You can either play the levels created by the game designers - there are 50 of them and the few I've seen are a lot of fun, or you can create your own levels. In addition, you can sign on to your PSN account and play levels that others have created, and other players can join you. It opens the door for some fantastic user-created content, and Sony is really pushing folks to come up with interesting levels. I think this will do wonders for the replayability of this game. The family has given it a try, and everyone is enjoying it so far.
If you have a PS3 and a sense of humor and fun, I can definitely recommend picking up LBP. If you are in the market for a Blu-Ray player and also enjoy games, the PlayStation 3 is a solid appliance. If you are in the market for a gaming system....I haven't seen enough to give a firm recommendation there. Between the Wii, the XBox 360, and the PlayStation 3 (not to mention the DS and PSP), you have a lot of choices to make about your personal preferences and style.
People who enjoy video games have a certain stereo-type:
- Pale and Pasty
- Socially backward
There are a variety of dance games out there, but the most popular are the Bemani games published by Konami under the nam
e Dance Dance Revolution (DDR). In these games you must follow a pattern of footsteps displayed on the screen in synchronization to the beat of the music. You can start out light with just a few steps and a slow song, but you can really work up a sweat if you turn up the beat. Many iterations of the game include a workout mode that will count your steps and give you an estimated number of calories burned.
The Wii Fit and the PlayStation Eye Toy both are used in games that encourage a full body workout. In the case of the Wii Fit, the accessory is intended fitness directly. The game that comes with it steps you through a variety of simple exercises and tracks your progress. The eye toy has a variety of uses, but in DDR games it can be used to also track arm movements. In this way you get a full body workout rather than just your legs.
There are a lot of options out there now for folks to change the stereo-type of the gamer. And guys, if you need a little more encouragement to jump into this, here you go.
Each night I read books to the kids before they go to sleep. The Dr. Seuss books are my favorites to read. If you haven't read any Seuss in a while, you might enjoy heading to the library or bookstore and leafing through a copy of the Lorax. This tale of industry vs. the environment has a lesson for everyone, and it is one of my favorite Dr. Seuss stories.
These two clips are some nice comedy relief from our two presidential candidates.
I'm a gamer. I love to play video games. For as long as I remember I've looked forward to browsing through the latest game offerings and wishing I could play everything. Lately, though, I feel like I've been in a slump. Where are all the great games? Store shelves are stocked with variations on a theme: Generic First-Person-Shooter 7, Generic 3D Platformer 9, Nostalgia Retro Mashup 4, SPORT! I take a look through the list of games coming soon and I don't get the least bit excited. I was considering a PS3, but after looking through the paltry list of titles worth playing, that's out. An Xbox 360 has a better selection, but nothing incredibly interesting. We have a Wii in the house, but the most excitement we've gotten out of that lately are LEGO games. I'm not looking for a ultra-violent blood soaked adventure. I'm not looking for an exercise / brain training game. I'm looking for something fun and innovative. Something that makes you smile when you play it. Something that doesn't require an immense investment. Where are you fun games?
If you are like me, when you bought your computer it had an enormous amount of hard drive space that you thought you would never fill. As time passed and you continued to use the machine, you saw that seemingly impossibly large drive accumulate more and more cruft until one day you get the dreaded "Insufficient Disk Space" message. Then you make a mad scramble to see just what you can delete safely and not regret later.
I mentioned in an earlier post that I was getting irritated with GoogleTalk. I decided to go back to my old friend GAIM to give it another try. GAIM was the name of an open source instant messaging application that allowed you to communicate on a variety of messaging networks at once. GAIM has since changed it's name to Pidgin. The concept is still the same though. If you find yourself running multiple instant messaging clients (such as GoogleTalk, AIM, MSN Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, ICQ, etc.) this single client can eliminate a lot of clutter for you.
My Aunt referenced me to the site GENi. GENi is a free genealogy website where you can create your family tree and invite your family to continue to fill in the details. The interface is very easy to use, which is good for when the family historean and the family computer wiz are not the same person. You can enter dates for any special events for your family, including births, deaths, weddings, and any other occassion. You can upload photos and videos and tag them to members of your family.
One of my co-workers is finishing up his graduate project, and the results are looking good. He has created a mapping plug-in for WordPress that allows you to associate a location on a Google Map with the blog post. You can check it out here: Discovering Fishers. The site is just a reference implementation for the mapping plug-in, but it is pretty interesting to see all of the green resources that are available in our area.
Being a geek, there is a certain canon of literature you are expected to have read. Hitchhiker's Guide is one of the books on that shelf. I saw the movie some time ago and really enjoyed it. It was wacky and fun, and didn't take itself seriously. I bought the collected works of the series so I could fully immerse myself, not just dabble. After finishing the collection reading straight through, I think this was a mistake.
It's not that the books aren't enjoyable, because they are. It's that the style is sledgehammering consistent throughout. The wackiness of the storyline just starts to wear. I think I would have enjoyed the collection much more if I had simply read one book, then carried on about my life for some time before trying the next. As it stands, I don't think I fully appreciated each component of the collection. The first book "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe" I enjoyed very much. Life, the Universe, and Everything kept me turning pages as well.
I think part of the problem is that there is simply no plot. The stories follow the life of one Arther Dent. A wholly unremarkable fellow who is forced through an incredibly remarkable life. Reading over 800 pages in succession without any form of plot to pull you along can get a bit tedious. Which is why I heartily recommend that if you want to truly enjoy this series, read one book, then go away and do something else for a while. Do read it, though, as Douglas Adams use of the English language and storytelling are very enjoyable. As to this edition of the book (The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide - Deluxe Edition), I can only recommend it in so much as it will be mistaken for a Bible when you are reading it on a plane, and people will treat you nicely for it.
The Total Home Digital Video Recorder (THDVR) is here! When we first signed-up for AT&T U-Verse service, the tech mentioned that two big features were scheduled to arrive this year. As I reported back in March, one of the few things we didn't care for about U-Verse service was the limitation of a single High Definition stream. We could watch or record one channel in HD, but the rest had to be standard definition (SD). The second issue was that each home was limited to a single DVR. With Comcast we had two DVRs. The tech said that both of our irritations would be addressed with future software rollouts planned for this year. Two months ago we noticed that AT&T had switched on the 2HD/2SD service, which allows us to watch two high definition streams and two standard definition streams simultaneously in the house. Last week I noticed that the non-DVR equipped sets had the option to view recorded programs. Yeah, the THDVR has arrived!
For folks who use DirectTV, this is nothing new, but I'll explain for those who don't quite know what I mean. In our house, we have one TV that is connected to a DVR, and three TVs that are connected to standard set top boxes (STB). The TV with the DVR can schedule recordings and play them back. The other TVs cannot. Now that the DVR and STBs have been upgraded we can schedule a recording from any TV in the house, and watch it from any TV in the house. So if I'm sitting in the living room and I see that Battlestar Galactica is going to be on later, I can schedule it to record. The next day, when I'm on the treadmill in the basement, I can watch that recording. Not only that, the kids could be in the family room watching a recorded episode of Dora, while my wife is in the living room watching the latest episode of Pushing Daisies in HD.
It's nice to see our service provider keeping a promise and rolling out new features without increasing our costs. This just affirms for us that switching from Comcast was the right decision.
Earlier this year when I was on a business trip, one of my colleagues and I got to talking about the books we read. Turns out, we have a lot of common interests. I have a wide range of interests, but the majority of what I read for fun are science fiction books. He also enjoyed science fiction books, and had recommendations on authors I might be interested in. Before I left, he referenced me to his Good Reads account, which lists all of the books he has read, as well as any thoughts he might have on them.
I played with the site (http://www.goodreads.com/) for a bit and signed up for an account. It's a neat service. You can list all of the books you have read, are currently reading, or plan to read in the future. You can view what other people are reading, and their opinion on books they have read in the past. You can setup a friends list, which acts as a sort of MySpace style linking between accounts. It's a nice way to share your book reading interests and to get tips from friends.
I do have a couple of beefs with the site though. First, the friend invite feature is a bit confusing. I intended to send an invite to a handful of folks that the site found were already in my yahoo address book and were also on the site. One click too many led to me inviting everyone on my yahoo address book (182 addresses!) to the site. Not what I intended to do, and I apologize for the spam if you got one of those invites. In addition, getting general recommendations based on what you've read in the past is not very intuitive. I can view one of the books I've read and see a list of comments from other readers. I can then see what those other readers have read, but there is no aggregation to say something like "80% of people who rated this book the way you did also rated another book highly". So you either have to find someone else with very similar interests, or do a lot of digging on your own.
Overall, I do like the site, and from time to time as I remember I keep my account up to date. I've added a link to my link-roll on the right so you can get to it easily and see what I'm reading. I also like that I can make notes on books I would like to read in the future, as I often hear of a good recommendation, and then forget about it later. If you are a book reader, you might find this site useful.