Archive for category Tech Talk

Technical Difficulties: Please Stand By!






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A Glitch At the End of A World

I’d always had a fascination with computer games from early on. First, it was the coin-operated games like Zaxxon and Missile Command, which eventually led to the market for the in home cartridge-based games of Atari, Mattel’s Intelivision, Colecovision, etc. These days we find ourselves living in a world of day-to-day digitized social networking and gamification, almost to the point where the line between real world and game world can appear quite blurry. At some point during the holiday season, we will probably stroll past a department store TV display “broadcast” of game footage of Madden Football or FIFA Soccer, and have to think twice about whether or not we’re viewing live footage from an actual sports event. Game simulations now offer real world applications in public education, and in corporate and military training. Professional baseball executives use statistical elements derived from “hot stove” fantasy leagues to assess actual on-the-field talent.

Groddle Meadow, Glitch, the Game

The Groddle Meadow

About a year ago, my first experience with a “massive mulitplayer online” (MMO) game came to a close when the wonderfully creative and dedicated people of Tiny Speck, Inc. shut down Glitch, the Game and its virtual world of Ur. A well designed MMO captivates the imagination of its players when it makes them feel like characters living/interacting inside of a great TV show or movie. World of Warcraft is the most famous example. Unlike, Glitch, the Game, however, WoW involved a dollar cost to buying the initial software and follow-up costs of a subscription. Most MMOs also demand heavy equipment and computer processor/video graphics requirements to play. Glitch, like Runescape, was initially free to play (outside of optional ugrades) and browser-based.

Unlike Runescape (at least when I last played there), the look of Gltch’s world of Ur abounded with smoothly rendered vivid color animation and sound. The mythic back story of shrines and “ancestral lands” contrasted with whimsical humor and the charmingly  cartoonish look of the characters. A problem with many MMOs is the time involved in creating a character and learning to fit in with some sort of clan or tribe or gang, etc. The folks at Tiny Speck succeeded in offering up Ur as a kind of surrealistic utopia. Obiviously, they had to provide the basic motivational elements common to most comptuer games, level-ups, badges, quest/skill completions, etc. They tied it all together with great forums, Wikipedia resources and even an assistive iPhone app. Unlike the gritty urban worlds of Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty, the “sandbox” play format of Glitch, the Game allowed players to socialize amiably with each other within an ecosystem of lavish landscapes (and seascapes,  even) which made you forget you were playing a 2D side scrolling game!

Spice Trees of Ix, Glitch, the Game

Spice Trees of Ix

Currently, I’ve spent a lot of time playing MLS Fantasy Soccer. That season ends in a couple weeks with a championship match, but as with any sport there is always next year. MMOs on the other hand, eventually come to an end like a favorite TV show (without the reruns). Designers and staff leave, companies get bought out, revenue streams dry up. However, the folks at Tiny Speck, perhaps realized that inevitably too great a thing can’t go on in present form forever. So they came up with the brilliant idea to make all of the vast game resources available as public domain! This way creative minds can use all the beautiful sights and sounds of Ur in any ways imaginable.

Your Glitch avatar lives on in a little iPhone game app called “Glitch Run”.

Previously, there had been some Kickstarter-type projects to market books of the art work and recordings of the music. Much of the public domain files are in SWF format and require Adobe designer software. I’ve often wondered how feasible it would be to re-create a Glitch-world in a smoother running HTML5 format. Presently, I don’t have the know-how or resources for such an undertaking, but all the same, it is very inspiring to see at least the ghost of Gltich, the Game/Ur arise like a phenix from the ashes!

Below is the link to the files of Glitch, the Game. Tiny Speck, Inc. prohibits the use of the logo and copyright to Glitch, but everything else is available (so long as it is used to do “good”). The company is also marketing a team communication service called #slack:

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Apple Polisher?

As Apple, Inc.’s MobileMe product finally ascends into the iCloud, I find myself a bit amused by the company’s choice of words in a letter to subscribers. Personally, I enjoyed the program immensely when it consisted of 10 GB of web space, mail, back up, etc. I could throw together a pretty decent web site easily and still enjoy a great deal of design flexibility and creative options. Eventually, the company decided to go the way of products such as Google Drive and Dropbox and turn the product to cloud storage service with a tiered pricing system (20 GB for $40, 50 GB for $100 per yr.)  and integration with iTunes.

Today’s announcement warned of the downsizing of the 20GB transitional period to 5 GB this September for MobileMe members (who were given a year long extension of the higher amount). I appreciate the fact that all iTunes media purchases do not count against the limit. Fact is most of my music is on CDs anyway and I never really approached the 5 GB limit knowing full well that the program was destined for downsizing eventually.

Letter from Apple

I just find it odd that they need to remind me that they were once nice enough to previously “thank” me for buying their product. The wealthiest company on the planet might want to word their correspondence in a way that encourages me to maintain continuing enthusiam for their wide range of products, despite any anticipated inconveniences due to cost constraitns, etc. Heck, a slightly heftier 8-10 GB might brighten some cloudy days!

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New Improved Flickr With 1TB of Space!


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Long Time Listener, Sports Talk Goes Mobile

Sports talk radio- mainly local Philadelphia sports talk radio- has long been one of my biggest guilty pleasures in life. Historically, sports talk in the 70s and 80s sprung from its earlier roots of game day play-by-play broadcasts.  Eventually it evolved into niche programming on the AM dial, or existed in tandem with either news radio or general talk programming. The advent of round the clock cable TV news from ESPN and CNN began to pull in an eventual greater demand for 24 hour audio sports news and fan talk, especially in huge metropolitan sports media markets like Philadelphia and New York. These days, downloadable music, satellite subscription programming, and of course, Internet radio have severely diminished the popularity of FM major market music radio. Otherwise, sports talk remains a highly innovative programming format on both the AM and FM bands, on the ‘Net, and on mobile devices such as the iPhone. Two of my favorite indispensable apps (both available from the iTunes Store) are CBS Local Audio Roadshow and, ESPN-affiliated The 97.5 Fanatic.

CBS Local Audio Roadshow

Both products possess key enhancements and extensions for a sports program format that operates across the dual bands of AM and FM. This is significant in terms of greater sponsored program flexiblity. During a press conference on AM devoted to hiring or firing a new coach, signing or trading a player, etc. the FM side might simultaneously carry regular talk show chit chat and one of those broadcasts can stream via the app. The same is true during a game day play-by-play, although broadcast rights usually preclude streaming audio play-by-play over an app without purchase of a special paid package, i.e. NFL network, etc.

The CBS app works more like a traditional mobile ‘Net radio player, as it furnishes the listener with not just Philly WIP 610, but a roster of several other sports talk venues from the big major cities such as Boston, Chicago, Washington, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and of course WFAN NY. The latter is also very cool because some on air talent such as Jody McDonald cross over to both cities, and, the NY metro outlet sometimes offers some content geared towards Rutgers fans like myself. Previously WIP was available as a single selection via AOL Radio or Flycast ‘Net radio apps. In contrast, “97.5 The Fanatic” is a strictly standalone app that, while being part of the larger ESPN “mothership”, is devoted solely to the Philly sports scene.

Philly Sports Station Fanatic

So which app is better? I love them both. I especially enjoy going on a Philly or Rutgers road trip and having the ability to access local sports talk anywhere in the country. And actually, local isn’t so local anymore, as quite often fans of Philly teams from all over the world call in to the talk shows from whatever locale is picking up the stream, either via computer or mobile device. Apart from the apps themselves, whenver I’m near an actual radio I tend to like the on-air talent of ESPN Fanatic heavy hitters like Mike Missanelli and Tony Bruno during the week, but prefer the more solidly local angle of WIP on weekends. The Fanatic app seems to have addressed this lately with more locals such as “Harry Mayes ’til Midnight”.

Both apps carry nice interactive features in which fans can post rants or “sound-offs” on an audio bulletin board. The CBS app has a polls sections. The Fanatic overall seems more fully featured with a conspicuous direct call in button, an archived video and audio programming section, and Twitter and Facebook buttons. But ‘IP still carries the distinction of being the earliest venue for Philadelphia sports talk whereas The Fanatic has the weight of ESPN “The Worldwide Leader” behind it thus, allowing them to sometimes attract more nationally renown guests.

Both apps are FREE downloads from the iTunes store. If you are a hardcore Philly sports fan, get them both. If you are a sports fan living outside the Greater Philadelphia area get the CBS app if it covers your particular city. Or take a look/see if one of the national ESPN radio apps is something you might enjoy. Have fun! Play ball!

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Mars Curiosity Has Landed

Really cool Google+ Hangout going on right now.  The landing occurred about an hour ago with a video panel discussion by several scientists/journalists following. Below are two screenshots. The first one I captured almost immediately as it happened (Apple Command Shift 3). The next one was posted a bit later during the Hangout discussion. Everyone can follow news from the science lab on the Martian surface at this Twitter account:


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Why Can’t Siri Sound More Like Zooey?

By now we’ve all seen the iPhone 4S television commercials featuring Hollywood stars Samuel L. Jackson and the gorgeous and multi-talented Zooey Deschanel. Of course, you don’t have to be an actual iPhone user like myself to suspect that Siri’s capabilities are wildly exaggerated in those ads. Oh sure, Siri gets it done for me if I need to adjust iCal or send a text. But she is a little tough on battery life, and, other than attending to hands-free driving-related tasks, most of her skills are matched rather easily by just manually keyboarding whatever needs to be done. I will admit she has, on occasion, efficiently aided me with my pre-configured voice-activated remote blogging to WordPress (textual entries only).

Understand of course, that Siri is beta, a mere work in progress. Still I feel that her vocal tone could ring a little more pleasant to the ear. I think the voice activation diva in my sister’s new Ford Fusion sounds like she and Siri are relatives. Siri quite often sounds very business-like and, if a follow-up request to complete a somewhat complex tasks proves too difficult, she can sound somewhat irritated with you. If you’re terribly lost in your vehicle somewhere she usually sounds like the “self-destruct option” PA system announcement in those old sci-fi flicks. Would it be too much to ask that Apple extend some royalties to our favorite stars so that Siri can at least sound more pleasant, like Zooey, or even irreverently and sarcastically witty like Samuel?

Zooey Apple Ad

Oh well, hey, Siri, order up some concert tickets to see my favorite blue-eyed American cinematic chanteuse on her next tour stop. And maybe a backstage meet and greet with Zooey? Oh, and bring us a couple of Red Bulls (You like a Red Bull, huh Siri?). Ah perchance to dream… of Zooey… and Siri… a congenially, compliant and fully-enabled Siri…

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