Computer Games Random


This week, I installed World of Warcraft.

Possibly not my greatest idea ever, because I need extra bonus timesinks like I need a punctured skull, but having ditched Champions Online and not making it out of the Closed Beta of Star Trek Online before being bored with it, I thought I’d give WoW another try before they rewrote the beginning.

I did a 14 day trial of WoW in 2005, but nobody I knew at the time was playing it. I bought a boxed copy in 2006 and spent a while pottering around in it, not really getting very far:

2006-08-28: I’m trialing World Of Warcraft again. After the ease of teaming and working and… everything that City of Heroes gives you, I’m finding the idea of attempting to build an entire social interface for a game as big as WoW on a substandard IRC client hellish. “LFG L31 Pally F RFD” pops up in the chat window. LFG… looking for group, yes. L31 Pally? Oh, Paladin. I’m one of those. Not L31 yet… RFD? Real fucking donkeys? Ready for domination? Red Flowers Die? Alt-Tab GoogleGoogle Razorfen Downs. Right. Ignore that then…

One of the things I really like about City of Heroes is the effortless *multiplayer* bits. That is, you set a flag saying you’re looking for a team (Any team, or a missions team, or a “task force” (er, WoW players can see that as a Raid, I guess), but I logged into my account (mostly to check I still know the password), and it offered me a free trial of Burning Crusade, so I’ve spent a few hours over a couple of evenings levelling up my shiny new Blood Elf:

Mostly, though, I’m noticing how empty the world is.

It’s similar to the problem in LOTRO, but there are supposedly 11 million people playing this game (Although that number is now two years old, and breakdowns per country seem thin on the ground), but there is nobody in chat, and I see other players of anywhere near my level every few hours, and always running in the opposite direction.

Maybe its that Warcraft’s emphasis on pushing the world boundries out along with the level cap is bouncing against my being used to Heroes, where the emphasis is on either rerolling or – more recently – doing content on forks you didn’t take as “Flashback” stories, but the emptiness is kind of weird. Obviously, I need to rope in other people to level with at the same time, or something. Most of the people I know are doing the top-end raid content, though.

Books food

Pears and Sausages

Lets start with a quote. From the Lies Of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch:

The white-robed boys swept back their hoods and Locke saw that they were twins; perhaps a year or two older than himself, and far sturdier-looking. They had the olive skin and black hair of the true Camorri; their identical long, hook-ended noses, however, were something of an anomaly. Smiling, they joined hands and bowed in unison from the waist.

‘Um, hi,’ Locke said. ‘Which of you is . . . which?’

‘Today, I am Galdo,’ said the one on Locke’s left.

‘Tomorrow, I will probably be Galdo,’ said the other one.

‘Or perhaps we’ll both want to be Calo,’ added the one that had first spoken.

‘In time,’ Father Chains interrupted, ‘you’ll learn to tell them apart by the number of dents I’ve kicked in their respective arses; one of them always manages to be ahead of the other, somehow.’ He stood behind Locke and placed both of his wide, heavy hands on Locke’s shoulders. ‘Idiots, this is Locke Lamora. As you can see, I’ve just bought him from your old benefactor, the master of Shades’ Hill.’

‘We remember you,’ said presumed-Galdo.

‘A Catchfire orphan,’ said presumed-Calo.

‘Father Chains bought us just after you arrived,’ they said in unison, grinning.

‘Knock that bullshit off,’ Father Chains said, his voice somehow regal. ‘You two have just volunteered to cook dinner. Pears and sausage in oil, and a double portion for your new little brother. Get. Locke and I will deal with the kettle.’

That’s what I was reading yesterday, and so, casting around for something to do for dinner today, the quote popped into my head. Pears and sausage in oil.

(If you like the book, you can buy it in most decent book stores. If you’re not quite sure, there’s another 29 and a half pages of the book in extract form on Mr Lynch’s site. I’d highly recommend both the book and the sequel).

Tescos supplied me with some “Cumberland style” sausages and a few pears, edibly ripe.

The frying pan has yet to recover from the weekend, so we won’t be frying them. Pears are quite delicate to the taste, and we want to bring out the flavour rather the bury it, so this is going to end up as simple as possible.

A roasting tin, into which we throw four of the sausages, each sliced into three. The pears are peeled (which is a bastard) sliced and then stripped of the core bits, then thrown in without any more slicing. Olive oil is drizzled over that to help it cook, and Onto that goes a sprinkling of basil with a dash of thyme, ginger, salt (Basil because I like it, thyme because I think it’ll work well with the pear, and a pinch of ginger to add an subliminal edge. The salt helps bring out the flavour too); some sliced tomatoes go over the top because I think that’ll help, and then the whole kit and caboodle gets thrown into the oven for an hour and a half on 150°c while I go attempt to work out why so many people like World of Warcraft.

A while later, I come to the conclusion this isn’t quite enough of a balanced meal, throw some rice on, and serve that lot over it about ten minutes later.

Then I have an idea.


Stand back superman, batman, spiderman

The secret origins of Supergran:

And the full theme tune:

Apple computing linux

iPhone vs Android, Part Two

One of my main reasons for getting a new phone was that the iPhone was unable to get a signal in my flat. This is partly because of the construction and materials, and partly because the radios in the iPhone 3G are not particually good. The Desire gets a far better signal than the iPhone does in the same place, with the same SIM.

As an actual phone, they handle much of a muchness. I don’t actually like making phones on a smartphone, I sweat all over the screen, it gets icky and horrible. The Desire and the iPhone are both as good and as bad as each other in this regard. The speakers and microphones work, the quality appears to work, it works as a phone.

The interface is a different thing, though. The android device keeps its “Phoneness” front and centre, with a button labelled “Phone” at the bottom of the home screen. Press it and you get the phone app, complete with last dialled numbers, missed calls and such. Start typing a name in the search box at the top, and it’ll find the number for anything matching that. Press to dial.

Actually, the press-to-dial is the bit that annoys me. Generally, I don’t want to phone someone unless I press a big green button saying “dial”, and I keep – after a couple of months now – accidentally phoning people when I just want to view their contact details – which is what the same action does in the contacts view, which it otherwise resembles – or phoning someone back when I want to find out *when* I missed their call.

The iPhone interface on this is superficially similar, but more consistent. Clicking a contact brings you to the contact’s page, where there’s a clear call-to-action button to dial, message or email. These things seem small and insignificant, but they’re actually most of the big problem with Android (Including Sense) as a interface, all the functionality works, and sometimes works far better than on the iPhone, but even on native apps there are inconsistent reactions, meaning that you have to second thought most actions, think about where you are in the system, before you can do anything.

For example, the Desire has a “Back” button. What does it do? Most of the time it takes you to the screen you were on before you hit this button. “Back”. But that’s contextual, so if you clicked a notification saying “You have one new Twitter mention”, it takes you to the Twitter app (The official one, in this case) and to the page with your mentions on it. You click the mention, it has a URL, you click the URL, you’re in the web browser, you click a link in the web browser and you’re on a new page. Back, you’re on the previous page; Back, you’re on the tweet that mentioned you; Back, you’re on your Twitter mentions; Back, you’re at the home screen again.

However, if you launch twitter from the icon, you get the main menu. Mentions, Tweet, URL, New page. From there, Back to the URL, Back to the mentions, Back to the main menu, back to the home screen. From the “Mentions” page, therefore, you cannot tell what’s going to happen when you press the back button. If you came in from one direction, you get one action; from another place, another action. If you hit the “Web Browser” icon on the desktop, you’ll get the URL from the tweet. Click back from that and you’re at the home screen, consistent user action leads to inconsistent results.

That’s an example, and not one I have a solution for, but because apps define these behaviours, they all do it differently, and even within the core apps it’s not perfect. The aforementioned contacts problem – where tapping a contact might open up more information, or phone them, sometimes text them – is another. Neither are insurmountable problems, but they require someone to treat them as problems and solve them, rather than hope some kind of consistency comes out in the wash.

There’s masses I can do on the Android device that the iPhone can’t even touch. I could have half a dozen different alarm programs going off at different times. I could install an SSH server and run Aquarionics from it. I run IRC connections in the background while I’m websurfing, I can tell what’s using my battery (Maps drinks it). It’s a massively flexible device, but with that seems to come a lack of focus. I can upgrade the memory.

One of my main uses for a “superphone” is as my local music player. For this, the iPhone is great. I already have all my stuff in iTunes, in playlists, smart playlists, podcasts and folders. I tell iTunes that I want these playlists on the iPhone, and it syncs it. As it’s doing so, it installs the latest versions of my apps, trims heard podcasts and installs new ones. The sync is two way, so when I listen to something on the android, it’s marked as “played today” on the playlists, and the smart playlists update with it. If I play a podcast on my phone, it’s marked as listened to.

The default way of sending music to an android device is to drag a folder full of MP3s onto a mass storage device.

The music player finds any MP3s on the storage device and lists them, sorting by album, artist and collection as best as the tags allow, and this is fine.

Doubletwist is great, because it does the one-way sync bit as well as iTunes does, if a lot slower. It imports my playlists as best it can, it manages podcasts to some extent. I understand the problems a lot of people have with iTunes. It’s heavy and hungry, it doesn’t work under linux and it doesn’t even like Windows very much, and it lacks important music management things (like duplicate detection, lists of MP3s it can no longer find, et. al.) but it gets the two way sync right. Doubletwist is getting there, and I hope one day it works as well.

Finally, there’s the future.

Next year, Apple will release the iPhone 5. Anyone who bought an iPhone 4 will feel slightly dejected that their shiny isn’t the shiniest any more, iOS 5 will work on the iPhone 4 (missing some new features), work barely on the iPhone 3GS (maybe) and not at all on the 3G, which will be consigned to the same “unsupported” box that the original iPhone now resides in. Apple will spend from now until then constructing and polishing the unholy alliance of hardware and software they specialise in.

In the time that it took me to get a Desire, HTC had announced several new phones to succeeded it, some of which have launched by now. Some are faster, some have better battery life and some more memory and higher resolution screen. HTC currently appear to be releasing a new set of handsets – bigger, faster, better – every two months, and are significantly less than speedy about releasing the new Android revisions for the older ones.

Froyo – the new Android release – will make my phone feel faster. It’ll give it more features, more things the Android can do that the iPhone can’t. Gingerbread – the one after that – will solve all my problems with the Android interface, giving me a consistent UI I can trust to do what I want it to.

In the future, Androids will conquer the earth. It’s a great system, and it’s open, and it’s a far more flexible base than iOS is. But Android will be great around the corner, the jam will come tomorrow. The iPhone is here now, and it works.

I’m sticking with the Desire, at least for now. I’ve been a bit harsh on it in these articles, in part because it has so much it could be doing much better, but I like the idea of a system I can open up and fiddle with, even if I’m never going to get around to doing so.

If a less technically-minded person wanted a “superphone”, though, I’d recommend the iPhone. It has jam, and it has it in a pot ready to use.



I’m a little backed up on blog posts right now, mostly because there are a couple I want to get _right_ which generally stops me posting anything at all until they are.

Yeah, I’m stupid.

Anyway, I’m going to attempt to clear this backlog over the next few days, not quite as polished as I’d like them to be. Half baked, even.