Archive

Archive for the ‘Gadgets’ Category

Camping 2.0

August 12, 2010 2 comments

I just got back a few days ago after a full week camping (at Point Farms Provincial Park, on Lake Huron in Ontario, Canada – great site if you are interested).

camping 2010

It was more fun than this, really!

For me, camping is all about a tent, the odd tarp, and having to scrub the smell of wood smoke off you when you eventually get home. I don’t buy into using trailers, small or otherwise, if you’re not at least somewhat exposed to the elements, why bother? The main appeal is that it’s just you and the family, no TV, internet, or other distractions. A good chair or hammock, and a good book is also recommended – I got through 2000 pages last week, loved it! I read “Order In Chaos” (book 3 of the Templar Trilogy from Jack Whyte), and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (by Stieg Larsson), and highly recommend them both. Cards and board games by lantern, sitting around the camp fire, and days on the beach (well, beach for the women folk in the family, I just burn, so avoid beaches!)

camping 2010 camping 2010

Did I mention the S'Mores? Or the Beautiful Lake Huron sunsets - free with each site!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Les Stroud (Survivorman), or Bear Grylls either, but I do like my camping reasonably authentic. That’s why I read with some consternation recently, that Ontario Provincial Parks are looking to introduce WiFi to the campsites. In fact they are trialling it at The Pinery, near Grand Bend, not far from where I was in fact.

My wife works remotely now, so has her laptop and Blackberry, and she is on both constantly. I’m also on my iPhone ALL THE TIME. This was a week where we could not worry about those devices and really get away, with no temptation to go online, since there was no signal – neither her Blackberry (on Telus) or my iPhone (Rogers) got even a single bar 🙂 I’m a Twitterholic, and a big gamer, but I didn’t miss my Wii, Xbox, or PS3 for the week. The kids are big online addicts too, especially my older daughter, yet I don’t recall seeing her laid in the fetal position, twitching, with withdrawal from Facebook… I don’t think she even mentioned it. If your kids are bored while you are camping, you are doing it wrong!

The Provincial Parks are citing a loss of customers to private camp sites that offer free wireless service, specifically mentioning the KOA ones. Every time I see a KOA site they look like a bed episode of Top gear, with trailers parked in some field somewhere right next to each other – waiting for Richard Hammond to set them on fire! The Provincial Parks on Lake Huron are great, with spacious lots, many of them quite private, and easy access to fantastic beaches. Why do people need wireless?

camping 2010 camping 2010 camping 2010 camping 2010 camping 2010 camping 2010

A few more camping pics

What techy/nerdy things were ‘must haves’ for you over the last decade?

February 12, 2010 3 comments

There are far too many things I consider that I can no longer live without! Some gadgets, some trends, all life savers in their own way. The Top 5 are below, with some honourable mentions.

And in no particular order …

1) TV on DVD
With the shortening of the window from broadcast to DVD release, TV on DVD really seemed to come into its own in the last decade. (Stargate Universe is taking the you-know-what though, releasing a ‘Season 1.0’ DVD before they even complete the season!) I have to admit, I love me my TV shows, but I simply can’t stand half of the crap on these days. It’s mostly reality shows I hate, and there seem to be a LOT of them. Finding a good show you missed the first time round, and then being able to sit night after night and just enjoy it all is fantastic. It also gives you a chance to unearth some real gems – like the UK version of “Life on Mars”, and the follow-up “Ashes to Ashes” (both available from BBC worldwide). Catching up on a still-running show is a pain though … we are now fully caught up on Chuck and almost so on Dexter. After weeks of continual enjoyment, waiting a week for the next episode seems an eternity 🙂

2) TiVo / PVR
If you have to watch a current show, a PVR is the way to go. It’s not just for the odd time you miss a show either, being able to skip ads, or fast-forward through them if your TV provider only offers crappy low end PVR’s. I would be lost without my PVR. Pausing live TV, skipping back to re-listen when the kids start fighting and you miss something – it’s a God-send if you’re a parent. When you think back to the days of VHS tapes (or Beta if you picked the loser), and SP, LP, SLP, snapping tapes, crappy recordings etc. etc., the PVR just seems so civilized. TiVo wasn’t available in Canada when I first got my PVR, perhaps any users can enlighten me to what I’m missing, and whether it’s worth moving up to?

3) Universal Remote
Much like the PVR, I didn’t know how much I needed a Universal remote. I have a rechargeable Logitech Harmony model, and it easily replaced four remotes. The setup is not quite as easy as they make out (you need a net connection, to install the required software, to know the models of all your equipment, and be fairly tech-savvy). Once set up though, your profile allows changes easily, and you can transfer the profile easily if you upgrade or switch models of remote. The only thing it can’t control is my PS3, but I know Logitech does offer an adapter. RF models or adapters are also available if your equipment is out of line-of-sight. You may think why bother, but getting a decent, high-end Universal will more than pay you back.

As an aside, I would like to thank all the useless 10-pin bowlers at Dell Canada. My wife won our Harmony remote by bowling a meager 135 at a Dell event!

4) Xbox 360
Avid followers of my blog will know that I was a pretty hardcore PC gamer until fairly recently. Even after my first 360 RROD’ing it’s still my primary game platform now though. The vast library of games, and those damn achievement points, make it virtually indispensible – in fact, we have two of them in the house. I don’t share well with others, so the kids had to get their own! I sometimes worry that my kids’ childhood memories of ‘playing’ with their father will be of co-op Left 4 Dead, and not picnics, swings, and such – but as long as they are happy memories, is that a bad thing?

5) PS3
We are a 3-console household, having all the next-gen consoles … you will note we are now at #5 on the list, and no Wii though. The PS3 is simply a great piece of hardware. Not only is it rivalling my 360 in terms of game-hours played, but being our Blu-ray player and media server, it is definitely used more than the 360. The wireless streaming of content to my TV from the TVersity software on my PC is virtually seamless. A little IP spoofing later and voila, Hulu direct to my TV. The 360 was useless wirelessly for this.


Honourable Mentions

We still play the Wii now and then, but the lack of serious games make it more a novelty. Wii Sports still gets played the most, and to be honest, I’m disappointed I got Guitar Hero and Rock Band for the Wii, instead of waiting until I had the other consoles. Wii Fit had some potential too, and it’s failure probably says more about my lack of willpower than anything bad about the product – although it did rather rudely tell me I was fat. I guess the truth hurts!

I never embraced on-the-go Internet, I never saw the point of it. I finally got an iPhone just this Christmas, so one week of the last decade is far too little time to make this list. Having my first data plan, and a smart-device capable of easily making use of it, has been great though. I’m not sure if my Twitter followers like the idea of me being able to share so frequently,  however.

I consider Xbox Live as a separate beast from the 360 itself, and what a beast it is. 20 Million users, and unlike Twitter or World of Warcraft, I don’t see it plateauing any time soon. My Gold membership is up next month, and to be honest, I won’t miss it. I play online so infrequently now it won’t get renewed. yes, it’s only $5 a month, which is nothing for what it is, but that’s at least three extra coffees from Tim Horton’s every month!

The indisputable winner as gadget of the last decade was the iPod. Again, I never had one. I had mp3 players, and loved my Sony-Ericsson Walkman phone, but rarely used it, as my commute is short, and I’m not often away from direct sources of music (read that as ‘rarely off the couch’).

‘On Demand’ will probably be the way of the next decade, but made enough impact over the last  few years to signal its intention. TV shows and movies have been On Demand for a while now, and it sure beats the days of waiting for that movie or show to start on pay-per-view. On Demand is all about control, and the digital infrastructure is now in place for it to really make an impact. Digital delivery and On Demand may be the death knell for the neighborhood video store.

I’m often told that once you go High Def you’ll never go back. I have had a HD capable TV since the last soccer World Cup in 2006 – I love LG, really I do! I have just never gone that extra step and got the HD-PVR and package to utilize it. I’m pretty happy with the definition I have. Perhaps it’s like the Harmony, I may not be able to live without it once I go that route, but for now, I can’t miss what I don’t have.

Blu-ray movies are pretty much the same as above. We own about a dozen Blu-ray movies now, and while I see the quality, it’s more the capacity that excites me. The disks mean lots of room for special features, extra content, additional commentaries – the works! So why are companies cashing in by re-releasing old movies with little or no content on Blu-ray? I guess I answered my own question there – but I’ll still watch First Blood about every month 🙂

What do you consider indispensible in your life?

My iPhone Review

January 17, 2010 2 comments

All the hype lately in the smartphone space has been around android, google, and nexus one – Well, I’ve had my 16Gb 3GS iPhone for about three weeks now, and I think that’s long enough to form a cogent opinion … but read on, and you decide.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m male, so gadgets make me happy – and I was pretty damn happy when I unwrapped my phone on Christmas Day.

To start with, setup was pretty easy, although it seems strange to have to install and connect iTunes on your computer before being able to do anything at all. On the topic, I’m no fan of the iTunes software. In my case, we also bought iPod touches for my two daughters, and iTunes does not seem to support multiple iDevices well. I run Win7, and had to create different user accounts, each with it’s own install of iTunes, so the three devices could manage their own libraries. Not a huge issue, but why can’t iTunes just easily allow multiple devices? (If it does, and it’s just PEBKAC, please post links or hints.)

Apple has always been renowned for it’s simple interfaces, and the iPhone is no different. All basic functions are easily at hand, and you don’t need a manual to get started easily and quickly … being male, this is great, as we detest manuals. However, when you do dig deeper, you will find much more functionality, and add to your experience with the phone.

On to the apps and games. This is where the iPhone really gets touted, and rightly so. The selection, and quality, of apps and games is astonishing. Even if you just get free apps/games you will be happy. My only beefs with the app store are due to my location in Canada. Firstly, Apple approves apps for sale in the Canadian app store that are clearly only of use in the US. Not my first experience of big US companies only seeing Canada as an afterthought, but annoying nonetheless. Secondly, for some reason I’m yet to find out, you cannot purchase apps/games with funds from an iTunes card in Canada – you, of course, can do this elsewhere. WTF? You can buy music, movies etc. from iTunes in general, but not anything from the app store. Ridiculous.

I could go on for a while about apps and games, and discuss the app store more, but this is enough for now – perhaps I’ll do a separate app blog later.

Yes, I hear you saying, it’s cute, and plays a mean game of Peggle, but how is it as a phone? Well, it’s really my first ‘smartphone’, but it works a treat for me. Contacts are handled easily, calls are easy to make and handle, and data services are no issue – other than cost, of course. My carrier is Rogers, who mostly suck, so I started with 500M per month for CAD$25. With the wi-fi access I’m nowhere near even that after three weeks. The 3GS is very fast, so posting pics to Twitter, Facebbok etc. Is a breeze. A quick note: having dedicated apps for these services is great, I can’t imagine doing as much as easily using a web browser.

So, it’s easy to use, has great apps/games, easy access to (legal) music through iTunes, good camera, and is still iPod quality as an mp3 player. Are there ANY negatives?

Well, battery life is very poor, in my opinion. The idea is to use all these great features, including apps, games, and videos on the beatiful screen – problem is that all chews battery life FAST. You’ll need to recharge daily. That said, charging is very fast.

I have friends that have had crashing and technical issues with their iPhones, but I’ve seen none of that yet. Perhaps that was an issue with older versions of the iPhone OS? I’m running 3.1.2

My biggest issue? Being interrupted by an incoming call while in an app or game. Imagine the frustration if you were, hypothetically, at 290,000 points in Bejewelled and lost it to an incoming call – you’d swear too 😦 Hypothetically. Some apps seem to be able to recover from this, and if there is a way to avoid this, please post! Listening to music is no issue though, it just fades out, then back in after the call.

The best points? Contacts are easy to manage, and synch flawlessly with Outlook – as does all your data; it kicks ass as an mp3 player, of course; the touch screen is great, and I have fat fingers; text input & editing are a breeze*, with a very itelligent autocomplete**; and did I mention it’s a gadget?

I’m sure there are other features or topics I’ve not touched on, so please comment.

* I wrote this entire blog post using the WordPress app on my iPhone!
** Neat autocomplete quirk: it will complete iTunes after the N, but never completes iPhone. It also seems to learn, now completing karembeu after the M, which is nice! it even punctuates for you, suggesting it’s if you type its, for instance.

Categories: Gadgets, Tech Tags: , , , ,

‘Noughty’ & Newsworthy – Part 4: Video Gaming

December 30, 2009 1 comment

The past decade has really been a great one for video games.

PC Gaming

Over the decade I have gone from a staunch PC gamer to a totally cross-platform lunatic. I finally got my dream rig this year – an Alienware PC – just in time to finally accept that gaming has moved to the consoles. So I now have a 360, PS3, and a Wii. Most big cross-platform titles are still available on PC as well, but you have to wonder for how long. World of Warcraft (WOW) still keeps over 10M subscribers glued to their PCs every month, but role playing titles, often only found on PC, have been showing up on the consoles too. Even a game like Civilization came to the consoles – with a very solid port, and garnering many positive reviews.

I’m not sure if PCs can compete on the big titles anymore, but as long as games like WOW keep updating and providing new DLC, gaming rigs will still survive. I’m afraid I have turned to the dark side though, I just can’t justify the constant upgrading to keep up with the latest games when I know they will all run flawlessly on my consoles.

The Xbox 360

A console is only as good as the games available for it, and that simply makes the 360 the best around. It still boasts the biggest library of titles available, many top exclusive titles (none bigger than the Halo and Gears of War franchises), and a great library of DLC from Xbox Live Marketplace. Couple all that with fast load times, quick updates, and the addition of social networking, and it’s a tough act to follow. 2 Million users logged into Facebook through Xbox live in the first week of its introduction alone.

Microsoft also had a VERY strong E3 this year, with a couple of Beatles, some great game announcements, and, of course, Project Natal details. Things look good for the console for the foreseeable future. Online is still where the Xbox kicks some serious ass, and the Xbox Live community is staggeringly big. Halo 2 kicked it off in 2004, passing 7M users in 2007, 10M users in 2008, and now standing at somewhere in the region of 20M users! Now, you have to balance those numbers with the recent banning of up to 1M users from Live for using modded consoles – but that still leaves on hell of a lot of people looking to kick your ass online!

One of the most overlooked pluses of the Xbox is gamer points. I’m not one that desperately hunts achievements, usually preferring to get them as they come. but it’s hard to pass up going after that achievement when it comes close. I’ve been playing lots of Left 4 Dead 2 recently (see my Raptr.com profile for proof!) and I found myself seeking out clowns, swampy mudmen, incendiary ammo, and I swore to beat that damn Moustachio! It’s hard not to get caught up in getting those in-game achievements … and that means more gametime, and more attraction for the console. PS3 trophies just don’t have the same appeal yet, and I’m not sure if they ever will.

The PS3

We got a great deal on our PS3 – my wife works for Dell, and it was open box. Without that deal I would not have owned one – and I would have missed out BIG time. I am now officially a Sony fan-boy. What a great piece of hardware the PS3 is… and there’s the problem. It’s a great bit of kit, but until recently it was only being used for Blu-ray movies and as a media server, streaming content from my PC to the TV. The PS3 kicks the 360’s ass in terms of a media server by the way. the TVersity software and the (built in) wireless capability of the PS3 is a great media server combination.

For me, though, I still played most games on my PC, or the 360. Then Uncharted came into my life, and Little Big Planet. I started paying more attention to the PS3 for games. This year alone Killzone 2, InFamous, and my game of the year, Uncharted 2 all made being a PS3 owner a wonderful experience. Add the (rather useless IMO) exclusive content for Batman:Arkham Asylum, and it was a big year for PS3 exclusives.

Sony also had a good E3, and then to finish the year, Sony finally tore down the last barrier to PS3 ownership, dropping the console price with the introduction of the new slimmer (and cheaper looking/feeling) console. There is now no reason not to get a PS3. So go get one!

The Wii

Nintendo really did something amazing in the ‘noughties’, bringing a whole new generation of people to gaming – your grandparents! Okay, so the Wii isn’t just for kids and grandparents, but Nintendo really made a fantastic family-friendly product, and there is nothing funnier than seeing your grandma kick someones butt at Wii bowling! The Wii made gaming accessible to everyone, bringing casual gamers to the console more, and making millions of others into casual gamers. Anything that gets your butt off the couch can’t be all bad.

The Wii also heralded a new direction in the console wars with its innovative control system. This year at E3 it was notable that a lot of time was devoted to showing off the Sony motion control and Microsoft’s Project Natal. The Wii balance board also took things in a new direction, with Wii Fit trying to not just get you active, but coaching you toward fitness goals. I got one, it pretty much just sits there now, mocking me … which is a lot nicer than when it rudely told me I was fat.

Portable Gaming

Games on the go have become big business, with the DSi and PSP Go being the most recent hardware to allow you to play great games virtually anywhere. The evolution of portable hardware is too complicated to go into in detail here, but new hardware now offers great graphics and gameplay, and game publishers are making sure that top titles find their way onto these smaller screens, in one form or another.

Apple’s iPhone also deserves special mention here. The iPhone has now come of age as a true gaming platform, but more than that, the App Store has allowed small developers to get some great games into our hands. The future is bright for the little guy with a big idea if he is willing to go the iPhone route.

Gaming Comes of Age

On the back of the success of consoles, gaming has gone from the realm of nerds and geeks to being seriously mainstream. Video game revenue now surpasses movies (and has since 2007), and gaming was one of the sectors to see the least shrinkage during the recent economic meltdown. The line where gaming and mainstream media meet is becoming seriously blurred. Uncharted 2 plays like a blockbuster move, which was the intention, and Left 4 Dead was conceived along similar lines. Movie stars now routinely voice game characters, and story is seen as just as important as game play. Games are becoming a media experience, not just a diversion.

The only problem I see is that since games have become such big business, it is virtually impossible for a small software house to invest the time and money required to produce a top game. You NEED to be aligned with a big publisher, and small shops have been absorbed into bigger ones, or disappeared altogether. The iPhone may become the last bastion of truly innovative, wacky games – as big software houses can’t take the risk on something that may not go big. It almost sounds like the way movie industry went.

I won’t bore you with my list of ‘games of the decade’, as there are already hundreds of lists out there – suffice to say that as a gamer this has been a wonderful decade, and I eagerly await the next one. Who knows, perhaps Project Natal won’t be lame, and Alan Wake will really get released this time.