Archive for the ‘Ponderings’ Category

Google Wave

Oct 1st, 2009

I first saw the Google Wave videos a few months ago, shortly after Google first announced the product.

It looked quite exciting, although admittedly it wasn’t something I was entirely sure exactly how I’d end up using. The simple benefit of a communication system which fused E-mail and chat was obvious, especially when it was also media rich, something that is becoming increasingly important in modern communication. However, at the same time I realised that Google were providing a toolset, which would quickly offer up novel uses, discovered by those who used it. Just as my twitter account has morphed over time, and is now used for far more than just simple “I am eating a sandwich” tweets, so I could picture Google Wave expanding rapidly beyond some of the uses concieved of at its exception.

Of course, the only real way to find all these uses is by using the thing, but at the moment Wave is still in its closed stages. Google have started giving out invites, although I imagine my somewhat late discovery of the application form, not to mention my admittedly limited skills in web development, have lead me to being somewhat low down on their list. Fortunately however, I managed to get hold of an “invite nomination” from Andrew Badera, whose blog I happened to stumble across by accident. Andrew was very kind to drop one my way, especially as I admitted to not being a regular on his blog, so I thought it only fair that I drop him a link in return.

I’ll keep you posted on the progress of the invite nomination, and should I get some invites of my own, I’ll make them available here, and via my twitter feed.

Update: I recieved my invite this morning. Unfortunately I don’t have anyone to talk to. If you have a Google Wave account, then feel free to wave at me.

A Collection of Thoughts

Apr 26th, 2009

A few thoughts this week, mainly as none of them were substantial enough for a full blog post.

Swine Flu

Jumping in first on the topic which is most likely to generate general interest, I’d once more like to point people at the post I wrote covering the H5N1 virus. Anton Vowl, over at ‘The Enemies of Reason’ also has a bit to say about the way the media are treating the incident, namely: Aaaargh! We’re all gonna die! Noooooooooooo!

Still, I suppose it makes a break from everyone being unemployed and moneyless.


This week I joined many other internet geeks, reminiscing about Geocities. This week Yahoo! announced that it would be closing the long running web host. In the mid to late 90s, Geocities provided the free, simple to use web space which played host to many a first website, including my own.
The sites were, on the large part, terrible. They had garish textured backgrounds, which made it difficult to read the text, and which often had noticeable seams, or induced stereoscopic effects. Animated gifs were used unnecessarily, with no concern for anti-aliasing and annoying, repetitive midi files played automatically in the background. Some text would blink on and off,whereas other text would scroll incessantly.
Most of these crimes against web design are long since extinct, confined only to MySpace and a few unread blogs. Sure, garish talking flash ads still do their own part to ensure that the web is that bit more annoying to surf, but they are an external influence, not something added directly by the site owner. In the Geocities era it was still terribly annoying design, but it was OUR terribly annoying design, and part of me will be sad to see the back of it.

New Phone

This weekend also saw me upgrading my phone, as well as spending several hours trying to convince three that I really didn’t need two accounts with them. I realise that I should probably have followed their usual upgrade protocol, but the handset I wanted wasn’t in stock, and at the time they implied that meant I’d have to choose another handset. Turns out I could have still chosen the handset I wanted; it would just have taken a bit longer to arrive. When I tried to close the old account they decided to explain all this to me, and encourage me to take the new handset back, to allow me to obtain a new, identical, handset in its place, with all the heading off to strange delivery depots that this entailed. Sure I could keep my number, but considering that I had already sent out masses of text messages giving people my new number, this no longer seemed like such a benefit. I was also unconvinced by the fantastic benefit of the loyalty points I had accumulated, when I realised that the 32p per month saving on my tariff seemed to mysteriously match up with the 2.5% reduction in VAT, which three don’t remove until the final stage of the billing process. It took me a while to convince the ‘customer retention program’ of this, and involved being on hold for an hour to an empty office. Thanks three.

The main reason I was upgrading was to take advantage of an included data-plan, without any increase in my monthly payments. The ability to access the internet on the move would be incredibly useful for things like Google maps, price checking, and of course, twitter. As an added benefit, three also offer unmetered Skype traffic, , which is bound to prove useful.

When I entered the store I was interested in looking at the INQ1, which the three brochure had advertised as the only phone on the plan. The handset looked functional enough, and felt solid in the hand, but I was a little bothered by style, which felt as though it was aimed at a market a good few years younger than me. There was also the concern that many of the features were very embedded in the phone, and although accessing facebook while on the move is a nice feature, I’m not sure that I need it tied in to the very centre of my handset.

Instead I went for the more adult looking Nokia E63. I’ve had good past experience with Nokias, and hoped that the Symbian operating system would prove a bit more flexible than the INQ1’s proprietary system. The WiFi support in the E63 will also be a nice feature to take the load off my, admittedly huge, data allowance.

I had mistakenly believed that the E63 had an inbuilt GPS reciever, after misunderstanding an entry in the menu. However, on subsequently playing with it, I have discovered that its Mobile mast triangulation system is stunningly accurate, and Google maps was able to place me at the correct corner of a crossroads.

Where does the weekend go?

Feb 15th, 2009

The third part of the ‘On art and Games’ series won’t be appearing this week, but instead will be up once its done. That’s not to say I’ve been ignoring it, but these things can take a while to put together, and I don’t want to fling the whole thing together in a rush. I’ve also reconsidered the idea of it being a fixed series, as its a far larger topic than I had first suspected. Instead, I expect the series will be interleaved in with other posts, and each article will be more or less self contained.


So this leaves a bit of a stream of conciousness affair here instead. If anyone actually is reading this blog regularly, you’ll have noticed the ‘this weeks tweets’ post which appeared this Wednesday. As you may have gathered, this is an automated weekly affair and ties in with my use of Twitter. You might also have noticed the ‘lifestream’ tab, a page which summarises my activity across the web, perfect for all you stalker types.

Time and Tide

The title of this blog post refers to the weekend’s tendency to disappear. I had intended to get some food shopping done, but suddenly it was six and I hadn’t got to the supermarket. I was in the lab though, before ayone thinks I was in bed. Odly enough this is probably actually a good thing, as I had forgotten than I was heading home later this week for my Mum’s birthday. I had planned a whole week of food.

The Great Train Ticket Gamble1

Oddly, talking of going home I had a great time playing the ‘find the cheapest train ticket’ game. It turns out that the answer was Megatrain from Edinburgh to Birmingham, and then a standard return from Birmingham to Kemble. I could have actually done it cheaper with an offpeak return, but that would have left 15 minutes to change trains in Birmingham, which is a bit tight if one of my connections suffers a delay. I’m still slightly confused at what happened to one of the tickets offered to me between Birmingham and Kemble, as it seemed to change price. This isn’t unusual for ‘advanced’ tickets, but only standard tickets were availible at that point.

And Now for Something Completely Different

This was originally going to go in On Art anf Games [Part3] but never really fitted. So I’ll stick it here instead, where is still doesn’t fit but at least its surroundings are similarly muddled.

I have always felt the term genre is mis-applied when used to describe computer games. In other media, genre describes the theme and style of a piece, whereas when applied to games it is more often used to describe the mechanism. In rare cases, particularly with some more arty indie games concerned with dissecting gaming mechanics, this may be appropriate, but in most cases it isn’t. I think part of the problem is that game-play mechanics are often far more central to games than any vague themes the game may explore; in many games it would be ridiculous to even attempt to identify any ‘themes,’ particularly in the early days when these terms were coined. However, it would be ridiculous to describe a film genre as ‘animated’ or ‘black and white,’ it is still more difficult to even identify an equivalent concept for literature, prose and poetry perhaps. While overarching game-play mechanics are important in defining the tone of a game, and are likely to be one of the primary influences in terms of appeal, I feel the term genre has been misapplied.

And now, finally to football is over, sao I can start watching Being Human.

  1. I almost went for the great train robbery, but the price was fairly reasonable in the end []

Moral Foundations

Sep 26th, 2007

From the Moral Foundations test:

Harm: 3.5
Fairness: 4.1
Loyalty: 1.1
Authority: 0.6
Purity: 0.3

Its a bit odd as my ideals are completely at odds with my personality. The figures here would suggest that I was a hedonistic and rebellious person, when I am nothing of the sort. (As anyone who knows me well would attest, although I’m fully expecting a mention of Glory Holes from one of the Edinburgh folks on facebook.) But it does still make sense. I find public decency laws a bit silly, but is they were removed tomorrow I wouldn’t immediately take to running around in the nude. Similarly, when my morality is loosely aligned with what authority usually dictates, there is little need to rebel. (Plus there is the whole issue of overcoming fears, which is another matter entirely. Should I ever end up opposing authority it may be very well be while gibbering as a jellied mass in one corner.)

Computing memories…

Sep 16th, 2007

On my (one of my) first day(s) at school I arrived to find a new delivery of BBC Micros. The slightly imposing size of the system sat on its trolley obviously impressed a young me, yet what surprised me even more was seeing the system in operation. I was fascinated, and immediately decided it was something I wanted a closer look at. Thus, on returning home that day I calmly informed my parents that I wanted a computer.

Now, such a request would seem as though it would be met with white faces and dread as my parents worried about financial outlay. However fortune smiled, as an unused and presumed broken Commodore 64 sat in the loft. My parents crossed their fingers, and my Dad took me for a walk as my mum set up the system. As we walked, my Dad told me about the various games that were on the system, and I became more excited. I returned home to find the system largely working, but my mum was having difficultly loading Hangman, and I didn’t get a chance to use they system that evening. But it didn’t matter, I had my first computer.

I can’t remember many games we had on the C64. Maziacs was one, and later my Dad brought a copy of a Sooty and Sweep based ‘Jet Set Willy‘ clone. I think ‘Jet Set Willy’ itself may have been the first game we actually got working, and I was greatly amused by the flapping toilet at the beginning. ‘Ant Attack‘ was another game that we got working on that second evening, and later also obtained on the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, both on tape and microdrive. We never did get Hangman working, and another game ‘Bathtime’ also refused to work.

Come winter, possibly the same year, the car broke down, and we ended up heading out to a garage somewhere to get it repaired. As I played with the icicles hanging from the roof of a shed (seriously) I didn’t realise that the C64 had been left on at home and, ironically given the weather, the power supply overheated. We sent it off to a family friend, who declared it irreparable. What I don’t understand is why we didn’t just replace the power supply, as I’m sure this was where we were told the problem lay. Possibly there had also been a surge which also fried the system, but I don’t recall this being mentioned.

While I dissected the C64 to find out what it looked like on the inside we got a new system in the form of a second hand ZX Specturn, with hoards of second hand games. Among these was the re-appearance of ‘Ant Attack’ and ‘Jet Set Willy’ as well as ‘The Very Big Cave Adventure,’ a simplified version of ‘ADVENT‘ with simple graphics. My parents had previously played ‘Colossal Cave’ together, a story wich the gamer in me finds very sweet. (Apparently they found it on the server at Bath University, I’m not entirely sure what they were doing at Bath University however. I think they also had a copy on the C64.) My Dad also brought me a copy of ‘Popeye II,’ which was the first of many games that we brought for the system. Car Boot sales provided a veritable treasure trove of titles, but we also got many games in the shops. Among my favourites were ‘Knight Lore,’ ‘Spy Hunter‘ and the Dizzy series.

By the time I was eight we had gone through several Spectrum systems, due to both hardware faults and the fact that a few people seemed to farm their old systems off on us. At one point I think we have three working systems, all of slightly different variations. (The ZX Spectrum, The ZX Spectrum+ and a Dktronics keyboard.) However by this point the hardware was very dated and I had fallen for a new beast, the Commodore Amiga.

For my eighth birthday I received a ‘Commodore Amiga 600,’ still my favourite system of all time. My parents had claimed that they didn’t have enough money to afford the system, and given a couple of other large purchases they had made at the same time (Namely a television and a desk for my room. Yes, I know, but I honestly half believed them.) and that I’d just receive a box filled with a few cheap odds and ends. Upon opening my present while sat on my parents bed I was met with the bland and serious packaging of the standard kit, instead of the brightly coloured ‘Wild Weird and Wicked’ bundle which was more commonly on display in shops. While this in itself wasn’t an issue, I had never wanted the more expensive bundle, it meant that for a few moment I didn’t recognise the packaging and seriously thought my parents had filled an old box with a few cheap goodies (I saw the ‘600’ and assumed, for some unfathomable reason, that it must have referred to a quantity of wine). The brief look of confused disappointment on my face must have been devastating to my parents , which was soon dispelled my my cheer of ‘YEEEES!’ and the attempt of my lower jaw to get as far away from the rest of my skull as humanly possible. The system came bundled with Lemmings and the excellent Deluxe Paint III. I proceeded to do handstands on the couch downstairs while my Dad set the system up, again disappointing my Mum that I may be disappointed, when in fact I was just a little hyperactive with excitement.

I returned upstairs to find Lemming running , and probably spent the rest of the day on the system. In ‘Magicland Dizzy’ I remember being blown away by the graphics in ‘The Chapel‘ which completely blew away the Spectrum version that I had previously been playing.

Despite what must have been a very expensive Birthday for my parents, the Amiga was still probably the best value present I have ever received. The hours and hours of use it received must have meant that the electricity to run it outstripped the initial costs several fold. I soon became familiar with ‘Deluxe Paint’ giving a creative outlet, and even played about a bit with AMOS. The Amiga also introduced me to the graphic adventure game (Or Point and Click) including ‘Monkey Island 1 and 2‘ and ‘Simon the Sorcerer.’ I still have very fond memories of the Amiga, and have instructed my parents to hang on to it until I have a place of my own where I have enough space to actually set it up again.

By the time I started secondary school the limited word processing capabilities of the Amiga were proving a bit restrictive (Although this was probably more a limitation of the software and our printer than anything else) and the system was again. Commodore had gone bust, and developers were moving away from the system. The consoles didn’t really interest me, and it seemed that a PC was the next step. However the cost was high and money trees still hadn’t been invented at that point. However eventually the family got its first PC, an AST Advantage 623, which came bundled with several titles, the only decent one of which was Worms. The system had a lowly 8MB of Ram, a Pentium 100MHz processor, 1.2GB HD, an SiS 6205 graphics card, Soundblaster Pro soundcard and Windows 95. The graphics card is probably the most significant of those specs, as initially it wasn’t Direct X compatible, and required a driver update. The only problem was I didn’t know how to update graphics drivers, and for a long time suffered compatibility problems. The first time I got a Direct X game running successfully I was ecstatic.

However the Direct X issues did give birth to one of those moments when you realise your life took a path that it may not otherwise have trodden. I had purchased a copy of ‘Broken Sword‘ from PC World, only to find graphics driver issues prevented it from running. Disappointed, my Mum managed to arrange a refund from Virgin Interactive, after lots of hassle in which no-one managed to tell us of the relatively simple process my which we could update out graphics drivers. (The DOS version also didn’t run, presumably for some unconnected reason) With my refund I purchased a game which has had quite an impact on my life since then, ‘Creatures.’ ‘Creatures’ was a surprisingly detailed artificial life program, which used simulated genetics and biochemistry to generate virtual pets known as Norns. My initial experiences with the game were disappointing, as I worried about lack of depth and longevity. However these concerns soon proved completely invalid, at the game introduced me to genetics, biochemistry, programming, modding and the joys of a vibrant online community. While I had always been intending to go into science, it is this game which caused my shift from physics to biology, and I no small way got me where I am today. I still have a great fondness for the game, although rarely play it nowadays, and the game still influences the way I think about biological systems, as well as the universe itself. I don’t have idols, but if I did, the man behind the game, Steve Grand, would be one of the few contenders for the position.

Since the AST I have had two other systems, a Quantex, and my most recent self-built system. I’ve always been a computer gamer rather than a console gamer, although have owned a PSX and a Wii. However my interest in computers extends beyond gaming to the tweaking, fiddling and even troubleshooting the benefits a PC user. While I will always bee primarily a Windows user due to my gaming, my current system is a dual-boot, and my laptop is a pur Linux system (Kubuntu). I hold a soft spot for past computers in the same way in which others are fond of past cars, although the pre-PC systems induce stronger feelings, thanks to not suffering from the ‘Janitors Broom‘ issue.

[tags]nostalgia, memories[/tags]