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Check-in Spam

August 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Perhaps it’s the big storm rolling through, but I’m in the mood for a good rant!

Email spam has always been my biggest problem with the Internet, but to be honest, I’m finding check-in spam to be even more annoying.

Social media apps like 4Square, Gowalla etc. all provide the option to post your check-ins to your Facebook and Twitter feeds, which some have taken to extremes. Both of these apps allow followers, so if I want to know where you are, I’ll follow you there – no need to spam my Twitter feed with the same information.

Many people cite services like Twitterfeed as ruining the experience of Twitter, with essentially ‘fake’ automated posts being credited to the feed owner. I don’t see that as a fair complaint, since it may be information I am not getting elsewhere, and is not necessarily just a repeat from another app. Automated posts from check-in apps are not the same, and are far more annoying.

To make things even worse, we now have an app like GetGlue, which allows virtual check-ins for activities like reading a book, or watching a TV show – even THINKING about something! At least with location based check-in apps, they verify the check-in is legit, GetGlue is a joke. Some users are checking in tens of thousands of times, having ‘read’ thousands of books … right! I would hate to follow some of these liars on Facebook or Twitter, since of course the app allows cross-posting.

I thought XBox Achievement Whores (see previous blog) were sad and somewhat pathetic souls, but at least they work for their achievements. With search engines trying to include more social date in search results, I can only imagine how these useless automated posts are taxing search databases, much like email spam taxes mail servers, and ruins email for legitimate online marketers.

Hopefully common sense will prevail with these spammers, but that hasn’t been the case on the Internet so far!

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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).

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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!)

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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?

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A few more camping pics

Web 2.0 – Technology & Social Media

July 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Technology almost sounds counter to the principles of simplicity discussed in the last blog, but it often takes a lot of work to look like you’re coasting. At its heart, Web 2.0 is about giving the user control, about making it easier for them to interact and engage with your site, or with data online. The result of this is, hopefully, seen in the metrics you use to measure success – whether that is sales, downloads, page views, comments, productivity, lower costs, whatever!

Something as simple as not forcing your page to have to reload all the time can have a great impact on user interaction. Having as much content as possible client-side is great, but can make the initial download of your page slower. Asynchronous calls to your web server, or the use of the iFrame, only replace portions of your page on the fly, and mean a much improved user experience. Ajax is probably the most recognizable ‘technology’, but it is just a group of underlying technologies that act together to provide a framework for the communication and display of asynchronous information to your visitors. If you are familiar with JavaScript and HTML, you’ll have no issues with Ajax.

One of the most effective ways to disseminate information these days is through RSS (currently referred to as Really Simple Syndication). With RSS, your visitors don’t even have to physically visit your site to get new updates, they simply subscribe to a data feed that lets them know when new content is available. They can read the content in an RSS browser, or link to your site and read it directly – either way, pushing information to them like this means more interaction, and a more consistent level of interaction.

It’s not just individuals benefiting from the simple interactivity provided by Web 2.0 technology though. Many businesses are utilizing online software services instead of installing and maintaining expensive software packages. Google Apps are one such example of this ‘cloud computing’, where a simple interface is all that is required – the data, and the software required to manipulate and present it, are maintained online. While some may question trusting your most vital business information to a 3rd party, the cost savings can make a compelling argument.

Social Media has become synonymous with services like Facebook and Twitter, but social media is really just a catch-all phrase to describe any web-based technology that allows social interaction between individuals online. Services like Facebook, which recently surpassed 500 million users, are so prevalent now, that the internet is truly accessible to just about anyone. If you can think it, you can publish it – via blog, YouTube video, podcast, tweet, or Facebook update… however you choose!  Web 2.0 isn’t just about making data on the internet more accessible, it is about enabling users to become contributors. We aren’t just providing our own content either, but are validating existing content from others through retweets, diggs, and other social markers. In essence, we are now determining what is important on the web, not being told what is important.

Businesses have also begun to embrace social media, and realised that it is an effective way to interact with, and influence their users. Social media can become an effective viral delivery mechanism for your message – it can spread exponentially. How many tweets or Facebook posts did you see recently about the Old Spice campaign? Don’t fret if you are a small company either, social media tools level the playing field somewhat, and provide you the same tools and opportunity that the big guys have.

Web 2.0 isn’t a technology per se, it is a philosophy that has driven a whole new generation of tools and technologies. We are only about 5 years into the Web 2.0 shift, yet it has already heralded a fundamental change in the way we use the web, access data online, and how we interact with each other. Exciting times are surely ahead as well.

iPhone App Review – Puzzle Games

February 15, 2010 Leave a comment

I have had my iPhone for quite a while now, several weeks anyway, and while I am somewhat addicted to Twitter apps, I probably have more puzzle games than anything else. These are my favourites, I’d love to hear what you recommend!

Peggle and Bejeweled are PC royalty, and both have excellent iPhone versions. The two can be purchased for a combined $5 CAD – which on a scale of value relative to price, is as close to infinity as you can get! You simply can’t go wrong purchasing these games, and you will devote hours to them. Bookworm, another PC great, is only $3 at the app store, and may be my next purchase.

Boxed In, and the sequel, are $1 games, but the developer recently had a special deal where the games were offered free, all they asked was for you to take that purchase price and donate it to Haiti. Great gesture, and great puzzle games. Another great, and cheap, puzzle game is Cassiopeia. It’s sort of a reverse Minesweeper, and for $1 is a great logic puzzle. My final $1 value game is Relix, another well executed logic puzzle that will give back far more than the $1 it costs.

You don’t always get what you pay for, and these free games are proof of that. You would have to be under a rock not to know about Sudoku puzzles, and the version from publisher Mighty Mighty Good Games is a good one. The free version of Word Warp is a very good Text Twister clone, and you can’t argue for the price. The full version of Word Warp is only a $1, if you like the free one.

The big omission is likely Tetris, but I’m cheap, and it’s $5 – I can’t justify that when I look at the value you can get for same $5 elsewhere. I also just found Alchemize, which is free right now (normally $3), which is a very neat take on a Tetris style game – definitely worth it for free.

I have only included games I have downloaded and paid for myself, or that were free, so If you have any suggestions for great puzzlers I haven’t tried, please leave me a comment.

‘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.