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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).

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

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The Avatar Blues – Sex and the Single Alien

April 30, 2010 Leave a comment

This blog brought to you by the letter ‘B’ and the colour ‘Blue’.

It’s been about a week since I picked up my copy of Avatar on Blu-ray, and a few related things have influenced this blog over the last week. I was not a huge fan of Avatar when it came out in the theater. It was a good movie, but way over-hyped in my opinion. It has to be said though, Avatar is stunning on Blu-ray. It looks and sounds amazing, and to top it off, the Blu-ray + DVD combo pack was only $20 at Best Buy! There are no special features though, and many people seem to be waiting for the special editions that will be coming out … and you know that there will be several of them, to cash in as much as possible.

Matriarch Benezia

Matriarch Benezia

One topic I have seen talked about at length is whether there will be any Na’vi sex scene in the special editions, or discussion of Na’vi sexuality. I don’t get the big deal. If you want some good blue alien sex, get Mass Effect! I just finished my 2nd play through of the game recently, and one thing I did finally figure out was getting the Paramour Achievement, which basically means you got to sleep with one of the female characters (or the male character if you play as a female). To make it more interesting, BioWare even created a little love triangle between the human characters and the Asari scientist, Liara, who is of course blue. Even Liara’s mother, Matriarch Benezia, gets the sexy blue treatment. She wears the dress shown above, revealing her true biotic, er, talents.

If you play the game right, you even get once scene where the two women confront you, forcing you to choose between them. Commander Shepard, with a glint in his eye, even asks about the chance of a threesome, but gets shot down by the human… the blue alien seemed up for it! Choose the Asari, disappointing Chief Ashley Williams in the process, and you will end up with a VERY steamy sex scene involving Shepard and Liara (well, steamy for a video game – see it below), complete with bare blue buttocks and a hint of much more!

Are You Embarrassed by Your Video Games?

April 17, 2010 2 comments

I have a long and inglorious gaming history. My Twitter profile states I am an “Avid (but useless) gamer”, which is pretty accurate.

Online games are pretty easy places for an old fart like me to get embarrassed, but I was pretty bad back in the days of my first multiplayer experiences – Hexen on the corporate LAN after hours. I did better playing the original Worms multiplayer, which is still one of the most fun online games ever.

Fast-forward a few years and Battlefield 1942 was the next online lowlight for me. Perhaps using a tag of ‘fragbait_newboy’ was asking for it. I spawned so often in that game I considered changing my tag to frogboy!

I’d like to think my online inabilities are due to age and declining reactions, so perhaps Microsoft need to take pity on folks like myself. Forget “Live”, let’s petition them to create a service just for us old folk, so we don’t have to put up with all those young kids with lightning fast thumbs.

Walrus
Walrus

Interactive gaming has perhaps the greatest potential for embarrassment, though. We have a Wii Fit Balance Board, which appraises your levels and makes your on-screen avatar, or Mii, look how it thinks you are. Wii Fit told me I was fat, and morphed my Wii into something resembling a Walrus.

Nintendo also has a vitality sensor now, designed to monitor you during physical activity. Some games can now use the sensor to detect your ‘fear’ level and back off on the scares. So not only does it insult you physically, the Wii is now capable of questioning your manhood!

We are now approaching a new era in embarrassing possibilities, though, with the advent of Project Natal from Microsoft. A recent demo of Natal was impressive mostly for the fact that the motion sensing system detected the gamer as female!!! How the hell does it do that? More importantly, will it detect my man-boobs and perform gender reassignment!

Batchelor Life – I Survived!

April 12, 2010 Leave a comment

Okay, so as any of you who follow me on Twitter know, my wife (Twitter: @Fi_ca) and kids have been in England for the past 10 days attending a wedding – so I was doing the batchelor thing.

Batchelor Haute Cuisine

batchelor haute cuisine

There were some tense moments, such as tuna helper, Timbits, and Pinot Grigiot for dinner one night (see, really!) but on the whole I fared okay. Granted, there were lots of frozen items being defrosted, and eating 120% of your recommended salt intake in one meal may not be too smart, especially after my last physical, but I did learn a few valuable lessons.

One: It is entirely possible to use only one plate, one pan, one cup, one water glass, one wine glass, and one set of cutlery for an entire week … and yes, I do mean by washing them each day!

Two: Teenagers produce more garbage per week than you will see in an entire level of Katamari. I just put out the garbage for the week and it is so much less than when they are here.

Three: Cats may seem all aloof and solitary, but I have been mobbed all week by ours. This isn’t helping the paranoia I have developed regarding their intentions (see previous blog). Either they are about to unleash their evil plan, or they miss the wife and kids… if you don’t see another blog after this one, you know what happened.

menage a trois

menage a trois

It wasn’t all good eats and no garbage though. I invited a buddy over last Friday night to watch a movie – my new copy of Goodfellas, the fancy Blu-ray 20th anniversary edition. The wedding was actually last Friday, so it was also an excuse not to drink a bottle of wine alone. If I admit that it ended with Menage A Trois would you be shocked? I was, who the hell names a red wine Menage A Trois? I now understand that movie “Sideways” a lot more, and it still sucked.

skillet sensations

skillet sensations

Anyway, I have survived, and I hope that all you old farts who can’t cook and get left alone for any length of time can take heart from my experience.

You can do it, and you can have fun while you do. Perhaps playing Mass Effect until 1am isn’t your thing – but then you probably wouldn’t be reading my blog if it wasn’t.

I did also complete my week in style, by actually having vegetables with my final meal alone. I can tell you are all proud of me. Okay, so it was out of a packet, one of those Skillet Sensation meals, but it was very nice.

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?

The (Video Game) Worlds Worst Vacation Spots

January 25, 2010 4 comments

With crappy weather dominating this January, the mind starts wandering to getting away from it all – but be careful where you decide to vacation. Hopefully this guide will help you to avoid those spots that will ruin your trip, assuming time and space are no impediment. You won’t find many of these locations on SellOffVacations, but what the hey!

We’ll start with the kids. If you’re in the deep south, be sure to avoid Whispering Oaks Amusement Park. Although the ride lines will be short, there are health risks – above and beyond those generally posed by deep fried food and collateral damage from civil war re-enactments. You might find the odd garden gnome, but don’t assume that means this place is Travelocity recommended!

Pandora might look like a beautiful vacation spot, but there are reports of unrest from the indigenous inhabitants. Reports also suggest that James Cameron is considering buying the whole planet as a second home – and I don’t know anyone who could stand a full week of Cameron talking incessantly about his latest project.

If adventure holidays are more your style, you could be considering a Himalayan odyssey… Don’t. A Mr. Sullivan from Uncharted 2-ers was recently arrested for fraud after bilking several groups of tourists out of monies paid in advance for guided mountain tours. His associates are still at large.

If urban decay is okay with you, you may be considering City 17, Jacinto, or Karachi. Even google maps won’t help you if you book your trip to Karachi with Infinity Ward Travel. The locals won’t be much help either, since all the street signs are in Arabic, and they speak English or Urdu. City 17 is no better, and Jacinto – well, unless you’re into bugs & worms, or want to try out the seismograph app on your iPhone, give it a miss.

With renewed interest in Renaissance Italy of late, package tours to Florence & Venice are very popular. Beware though, pickpockets are rife, and an increased crime rate means you will be lucky not too see the odd dead body. The chances are that someone in your party will also be hurt by falling archers!

The best idea is to just stay at home and play more games!

Suggestions for additional locations are welcome, just leave a comment. Also, any places you WOULD like to go on vacation from the video game world?

Achievement Whoreing

January 13, 2010 4 comments

I freely admit I am a nerd, never denied it. I also answer to geek, and a few other names I’d rather not share on a public forum … an achievement whore, however, I’ve never been called.

nullI just “finished” Assassins Creed 2 (yes, I was bloody confused as well, even after seeing the whole Truth video), yet my PS3 Trophy list shows I am at 90% complete. As usual, there are a few achievements/trophies I don’t have yet. I don’t mind missing ones like having to kick a guard while in the flying machine, I have enough issues just getting through the missions, never mind doing it with flair! It’s those damn collectible ones I hate. I currently hate feathers. It’s not that I don’t have the patience, well, not if someone has kindly provided a detailed map of the locations (yes, that’s how I got all the shards in inFamous). Actually, I guess I don’t have the patience, at least not to do it myself. If it’s not part of the game per se, I simply don’t have the motivation. It got me wondering, who does?

A while back, I saw this story on Kotaku.com, and I kid you not, I was genuinely saddened. I wasn’t jealous, I wasn’t mad, I felt genuine pity for that girl and her comrades in the “boosting” club. She freely admits that she doesn’t even enjoy 65% of the games she plays. So what’s the point? Why would you subject yourself to horrible games, and spend a TON of money, just to get a ridiculously high gamerscore? Prestige? Are you impressed, or, like me, just find it somewhat repulsive, or unfathomable?

In a former life, I studied psychology, so I started wondering why people do this. Now, granted, this is more the realm of sociology, sociobiology, or anthropology – but hey, I may as well use that 9 years of university for something. Now, try and stay awake, who knows, we might learn something. It strikes me that this finding feathers lark is somewhat similar to the same mentality that drives people to collect those God-awful porcelain plates, or stamps – the “hunter-gatherer” mentality. We, as humans, probably lived as hunter gatherers for more than 2 million years, so is it any surprise that some of that behaviour still lurks in our DNA somewhere, I think the term is vestigial … game designers figured this out a while back, although I’m sure they described it in a far more interesting way!

Now, some collectibles do offer something, like the shards in inFamous that helped you level up, or Cog Tags that expanded the back-story. They offer something more than just the achievements you get for finding them. The Glyphys in Assassins Creed 2 are a great example of this. You can play through the game without ever finding a glyph and do just fine, but finding them all gives you a great insight into the background of the game world, and the puzzles, while frustrating at times, can be fun too. The Assassin Tombs are also good. You can finish the game quite easily without finding one, but getting Altair’s Armor is pretty cool, even if it does make the game a bit too easy at times.

If it weren’t for true in-game achievements, however, my gamerscore and trophy collection would be even weaker than they already are. By this, I mean those achievements that you get for simply playing through the game in single player and finishing the main story line. Each DNA strand complete, each chapter, each mission, depending on the game, gets you achievements, and at least rewards you in some way for continuing. The problem with these is that you should want to play through for the fun of it, not simply to get rewarded. It almost cheapens the experience. Giving you a reward for doing something you planned to do anyway actually makes it seem less rewarding, if you follow me. Getting additional achievements for completing the game on harder difficulty levels seems fair to me, for some reason. Perhaps it’s my guilt at the fact I always play on normal 🙂

Activity achievements are the ones I have a real love-hate relationship with. You know the ones, kill 50 people with weapon X, or kill 3 people at once using a particular move. They can be fun, rewarding, frustrating, and downright annoying – all in equal measure it seems. I played through Uncharted 2 a second time just to pick up some of those trophies, although that game was so good, it really didn’t seem like a chore. Some of these also seem really arbitrary though, and really forced. Killing 20 people with grenades WHILE hanging from a wall? Er, okay. These seem to reward the especially skilled and patient, so I’m SOL, and it explains why I only completed 87% of inFamous.

The achievements that the boosters really cheat on are the online and co-op ones. I don’t play a lot online, I had so many bad experiences that I just can’t be bothered anymore. I will never come close to “completing” a game like Left 4 Dead 1/2 or Gears of War 1/2, as they feature so many online achievements, and that’s fine. I got my moneys-worth out of each of those games, and still enjoy playing them. The GOW single player campaigns were epic and wonderful.

With 20M users on Xbox Live, developers would be silly to ignore online only achievements and trophies. Let’s not beat around the bush either, Microsoft manipulates developers to include those online achievements to keep Xbox Live ticking over, as if it needed the help! Cheating to get achievements by allowing your opponent to kill you, beat you, or whatever, seems to be the way of the boosters, and is what I really don’t understand. If your life is so empty that you can only gain self-esteem by having a higher gamerscore than someone else, I think you have far bigger problems than being an achievement whore.

My bottom line is that games are meant to be enjoyed, they are, after all, games! If you enjoy hunting down those last 2 treasures in your Villa (hint: check out the well), that’s fine. Personally, I won’t be looking for the last 20+ feathers in Venice, though, it’s simply not fun for me.