Pebble Smartwatch

The pebble in Watch mode.
The pebble in Watch mode.
I find it somewhat suspicious that in the last couple of weeks, as the 70,000 people who backed Pebble’s Kickstarter start to get their rewards, that the interest in an Apple branded smartwatch has reached fever pitch.

The Pebble is a smartwatch in the same vein, a bluetooth-connected extension to your phone, so that notifications from it can appear on your watchface, you can control your phone’s music, and basically your watch becomes a remote control for your phone.

My Pebble arrived yesterday, and I’ve been prodding it a bit. More long-term thoughts when I’ve been using it for a while, but here’s my first impression.

Let’s start with the hardware. The face is a bit chunky. I haven’t measured it exactly, but it’s about a centimetre thick, and takes over most of my wrist, as you can see below. It seems solidly built, with a nice curve to the screen, and comes with a rubber watch-strap of standard size (which I intend to replace quite soon). Charging happens over a magnetically attached USB cable, the design of which allows the casing to remain waterproof down to 180ft. Since my bath’s not that deep, that should be enough for me…

The screen is a backlit e-ink kindle-style screen of sufficently high resolution that I don’t notice any pixels at normal viewing distance. The backlight (which can either be activated with an ambient light sensor or by activity) is bright enough to the display by, but neither dazzling or distracting, and you will probably not be able to use it as a torch, for example.

The setup process is a bit unwieldy right now. You’ll need to install the Pebble app for your phone first,  attach the thing in your phone’s own Bluetooth settings (where it says “Verify the Pebble is showing this set of digits” when it doesn’t appear to be able to do that until the new firmware is installed), and then back to the Pebble app to activate it and upgrade the firmware, which takes about five minutes.

After that, you have a watch which will buzz and display your most recent text message/email incoming.

The iPhone app’s not very good, right now. It suffers from a “clever” navigation structure where you can swipe to get to different areas of the app, or back to the menu, but with no clue as to what “direction” anything is. Currently the only thing you appear to be able to do is add new watch faces. Pebble’s hopes of getting the SDK out early enough for people to have written apps for the watch appear to have been (aha) dashed.

There’s platform variation too. Apple only expose email and SMS/iMessage notifications over Bluetooth, so until the Pebble app can send notifications in the background (which I hope will be soon), only Android can send arbitrary notifications for whatever apps you want (Personally, SMS & email are fine for me for now, though I’m interested in future apps), and I’m not sure if this is a pebble bug or because I’m using exchange-synced contacts on iPhone, but the callerID seems not to be working very well.

There’s a bit of beta quality about most of the software and firmware, in fact. The phone ships with the light-sensor for the backlight disabled, because when you enable it any button click toggles the backlight, including scrolling the menus, turning the device into an SOS beacon. The “Tap” functionality to light the backlight at night also doesn’t appear to be there yet.


Music_IntegrationThat all said, the basic functionality is working, and all the problems I’ve found are very much software issues, things that can be fixed with future firmware and app updates for the most part (save any limitations Apple put on the communication. Android users are generally going to find generic integration better, I think). The music functionality, where the watch will display the track name and artist for the currently playing song, as well as Skip, Pause & Rewind, is working very well, even for Spotify and arbitrary music players (though I’m told this isn’t generically true for Android right now).

…and right now I can’t recommend you get one.

I preordered mine in April last year, for $115 + P&P, which is kind of outside my direct “I paid x for this” mental connection, but I’m not currently convinced that if I were to buy one right now for that price, I’d be happy with it. In fact, I probably wouldn’t get one. If the apps start coming though, and if it becomes more useful (being able to see what’s on my phone without digging around in my pocket? Handy, but not £80 handy), that might change, but there are too many “not currently working”, “Only on android”, and “not quite there yets” in the paragraphs above for comfort.

We’ll see how much of an everyday necessity it becomes in the next few weeks, and I’ll report back then.

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Computer Games


This is Salique. She’s a Human Engineer in Guild Wars 2:



My first MMO was Ultima Online. For a long time, I tried a lot of MMOs for a trial period, until I eventually hit City of Heroes and found one I liked. Since then I have got a CoH Scrapper to level 45, a Cataclysm-era Warlock to 65 in WoW, and a LOTRO Minstrel all the way to 33. My Secret World Illuminati is lost in Transylvania and my Rift Sabotage Rogue’s lost somewhere about two thirds though the original content. My Star Wars Sith and Smuggler are both somewhere in the mid-30s, too.

But if you click on that screenshot, you’ll see something different.

Salique is the very first character I’ve ever made who hit the level cap. I didn’t even screenshot it when it happened, but it almost certainly looks like this:


Note the large flamethrower, the cool hat, and the large amount of flame.


So, since I tend to get bored of MMOs around the mid-level mark, what’s different about GW2 that avoided this problem?

I think part of it is that the level didn’t actually matter.

Level Scaling

Because in GW2 you’re always never more than slightly overpowerful, the thing you’re doing – be it an event, or a renown heart or… Oh, yeah.

Guild Wars 2 Works Differently

So, the Quest Hub method of progression has been popular since the early days of D&D. Arrive in a new area, speak to an NPC or NPCs, get some things to do, go forth into yonder wilderness/castle/swamp/fields/ocean wander back, gain new NPC to move to new area. Repeat. GW2 has no NPCs who give out things to do. Instead, when you wander within range, you get a notification that that NPC over there wants people to kill ten rats, to heard these geese, to water these plants, to hunt those worms. Sometimes these involve transformations, special powers, new implements, new mechanics. When you’ve done enough stuff for them, you can move on to the next heart. Scouts give you an idea of what the area’s like, and what Hearts are around in the area.

The second major thing driving you from place to place are events. A wagon might appear with some supplies in it, and want some escorts to keep bandits from getting at the stuff. Escort the wagon, fight off the bandits, gain XP.

But when the wagon gets to the destination, it means the captain has enough weaponry to start a raid on the lost garrison over yonder, and would you mind helping? Storm the garrison, rescue the residents, save the day, gain XP.

But after holding the garrison for a little while, the bandits start trying to claim it back, increasing waves of fights trying to get back inside. Kill the bandits, defend the keep, gain XP.

If you hold off the bandits, it’s a good time to stage a hit on the bandit base. Escort the captain, kill the bandit, kill the boss bandit leader, gain XP, gain a loot chest.

And everything’s quiet, except the bandit raids are stepping up again…

These are all over the world, and while they maintain themes, they’re all scripted differently, they’re mostly all new. Some are funny, some you’ll win, some you’ll lose. Some you can’t trigger until you have loads of people in the zone, some only require a few. Sometimes you’ll catch a symbol out of the corner of your eye and talk to an NPC, and start a quest chain that leads to fifty PCs fighting alongside you as you try to destroy a giant beast from beyond time.

Then you move on.

Level Scaling

And because you can only outlevel an area by a couple of notches before the level scaling kicks in (You never lose abilities, but your hit ability and health are scaled down to the level for the area), you never feel overpowered, and you never are forced to move on. The difficulty curve remains almost entirely flat unless you start hitting the big end game content, or things designed for more people than you have.

Also, it doesn’t hurt that I think I’ve leveled Salique in roughly half the time I’ve spent getting my LOTRO minstral to Level 33. But that’s not the aim, really. The aim is the aim I set, which… well, 100% map completion looks good. All the hearts, all the extra skill points. 46% done…



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Happy Returns Rebounding

A while ago, I appear to have fallen into the habit of wishing people salutations on the aniversary of their birth using “Many Happy Returns” rather than the more standard “Happy Birthday”. This is entirely because of my desire to be slightly different to everyone else, but it occurred to me to wonder where I had picked up the habit. A short read of Wikipedia later, and I have worked out which beacon of illuminated discourse I stole the tendancy from.

It is Winnie the Pooh.


“You seem so sad, Eeyore.”

“Sad? Why should I be sad? It’s my birthday. The happiest day of the year.”

“Your birthday?” said Pooh in great surprise.

“Of course it is. Can’t you see? Look at all the presents I have had.” He waved a foot from side to side. “Look at the birthday cake. Candles and pink sugar.”

Pooh looked–first to the right and then to the left. “Presents?” said Pooh. “Birthday cake?” said Pooh. “Where?”nine

“Can’t you see them?”

“No,” said Pooh.

“Neither can I,” said Eeyore. “Joke,” he explained. “Ha ha!”

Pooh scratched his head, being a little puzzled by all this. “But is it really your birthday?” he asked.

“It is.”

“Oh! Well, Many happy returns of the day, Eeyore.”

“And many happy returns to you, Pooh Bear.”

“But it isn’t my birthday.”

“No, it’s mine.”

“But you said ‘Many happy returns’–”

“Well, why not? You don’t always want to be miserable on my birthday, do you?”

“Oh, I see,” said Pooh.

“It’s bad enough.” said Eeyore. almost breaking down “being miserable myself, what with no presents and no cake and no candles, and no proper notice taken of me at all, but if everybody else is going to be miserable too—-”

This was too much for Pooh. “Stay there!” he called to Eeyore, as he turned and hurried back home as quick as he could; for he felt that he must get poor Eeyore a present of some sort at once, and he could always think of a proper one afterwards.