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  • The Walking Dead game season 2
  • [Tweet] [Facebook] [Google Plus] [LinkedIn]Thu, Aug 28 2014 5:52:42 PDT - [Permalink] - Category: gaming - by: Patrick Lambert

    This week was the finale for season 2 of The Walking Dead game from Telltale. I reviewed season 1 and found it to be an excellent, refreshing type of game. After playing through season 2, I have to say that they maintain their style and fun factor.

    This season, we followed Clem in her adventures through zombie infested landscapes. Just like the TV series, as the story advances, the focus is less on the undead and more on conflicts with people. This is one of those rare games where choice matters, or at least appears to. The illusion that our decisions in the game affect the story is just as strong as before.

    Of course, for any veteran gamer, that illusion is obviously fairly thin. Anyone who replays a game like that realizes that there aren't a whole lot of diverging paths, and most decisions are only of short term influence, but the game disguises that better than most. Interestingly enough, the finale does have some very significant story branches. In fact, I would say TWD has more endings than the Mass Effect trilogy, which is both funny and sad at the same time. It makes me think that next season will focus on different characters, which wouldn't be surprising since that's what happened between season 1 and 2.

    If you like the show, or like role-playing games with actual choices, or just enjoy killing zombies, then you really should give this series a try.

  • Revisiting Microsoft OneNote
  • [Tweet] [Facebook] [Google Plus] [LinkedIn]Wed, Aug 27 2014 20:16:36 PDT - [Permalink] - Category: tech - by: Patrick Lambert

    If you've been following the OneNote Blog, and yes I know for most people that's extremely unlikely, you may have noticed things have clearly started to change since late last year. I'll give you a hint: In the past two weeks, OneNote has received two major Android updates, one major Windows store update, and improvements in online sharing. This free product, which used to be the tiniest part of Microsoft Office, is getting a faster cadence of upgrades than most other products from the company.

    I've been using OneNote on and off for quite a few years, and I have to say, the current version looks nothing like what it used to be a year ago. Whether it's the desktop, online, or mobile version, they have all been given a lot of care and attention, many features coming directly from user feedback. It's interesting how differently this one product is evolving compared to, let's say, Windows. Could Windows 9 follow the same model, and not be the fiasco that 8 was?

    That isn't to say OneNote is perfect. But let's start with the improvements. I've always liked a clean and simple interface for a note taking app, something which I feel Evernote lacks (even though I know many people love it). These updates continue in this line, and add what used to be glaringly lacking features, like the ability to create sections and do other tasks which were only available on the desktop, and can now be done on any client. They also made all the clients, from desktop to tablet and phone, have the same look and feel. It can export any note directly as PDF, and finally it can also accept pretty much any type of content including image, video and audio attachments.

    There are still some issues with this product however. One thing I'd like is if the iOS version had an option not to capitalize every sentence. I've also seen a weird bug where section titles didn't synchronize correctly with the web version until after I click on them, and the next time I reload it, they still show the old one. Finally, the online version seems to have no export or download function. The desktop OneNote client does, however it often complains about a full sync being needed, even after doing a full sync.

    Despite these bugs, I will be using OneNote as my main note taking application from now on. Making every version up to date and free, even the desktop one which doesn't even require Office, is a pretty effective way to get us on-board.

  • SWTOR: Galactic Strongholds review
  • [Tweet] [Facebook] [Google Plus] [LinkedIn]Mon, Aug 25 2014 6:10:58 PDT - [Permalink] - Category: gaming - by: Patrick Lambert

    This past week SWTOR released its latest major content patch to subscribers, Galactic Strongholds. Overall, I thought it was a pretty decent piece of content. I've been critical of SWTOR in the past but I feel this is a much better release so far. There are several features included:

    The biggest part are the strongholds themselves, the ability for players to have their own home on Nar Shaddaa, Tatooine, Dromund Kaas and Coruscant. Many people worried about the hook system for decorations, but I find it leaves plenty of freedom to get a unique look and feel. They also spread the various decorations out throughout the game, from flashpoints to quests, PvP and operations, so this content will likely have some legs.

    The second part are the guild ships. Again, a lot of people complained about the 50 million price tag, but I've already seen many guilds have their ships, so I don't think it's that big of a deal. I do worry however about the long term relevance of these things. They can be of use for guild meetings, but that's about it. I feel most people will instead select to focus on their own homes.

    Conquests are another part of this patch and this ties into the strongholds and guild ships. I think introducing unique mounts and other incentives to participate will keep this going for a while, but it's doubtful that a lot of people are going to put in the time to complete the full conquest missions each week.

    Finally, the Mannan flashpoint is the last part of this content patch. I found the planet itself quite nice, with great graphics very reminiscent of KOTOR. It's quite small but there are signs that Bioware may expand on it at some point. The flashpoint itself is fun and in line with the last ones we got, the Korriban and Tython invasions. Again, some of the rarer rewards require quite a number of runs through this flashpoint so it will likely stay relevant for some time.

  • It should be acceptable to use older versions of Windows
  • [Tweet] [Facebook] [Google Plus] [LinkedIn]Sun, Aug 24 2014 10:32:26 PDT - [Permalink] - Category: tech - by: Patrick Lambert

    Let's say you're a car collector. You drive a splendid '87 Buick GNX, one of the most praised vehicles of the 1980s by collectors to this day. You love the look, the feel when you drive it, and it simply works for you. Sure, newer cars have electronic gadgets that the Buick doesn't have, they come with added safety measures, but you know how to keep your car running, and you don't miss that modern comfort.

    What would be the general sense of those you come into contact with? What do people tend to say to collectors? Is the first topic of conversation about how hard it must be to keep the rust off? Or how much they are missing out by not having an on-board computer system? Typically not. So why is it that because software update cycles have been so fast in the past decade, that everything needs to keep progressing at the same pace, with no thought being given to the fact that perhaps, software too can reach a point of perfection, at least for some people.

    Windows XP is almost 14 years ago, yet more people still use it than Windows 8, despite the tech industry's massive effort to get people off of the aging OS. Now, Windows 7 is very likely to produce the same effect, and it's seen as a big problem. But why do people stick with these versions? We don't quite see the same thing happening with Windows Vista, ME, or other types of software like web browsers or email clients. The fact is people stick with Windows XP, and now 7, because they like it. Because it works for them, and changing would be a major process which isn't worth it for them.

    I would be among the many to argue that while Windows XP had its flaws (bad security model, low memory limit with the 32bits version, ugly default skin), Windows 7 on the other hand is pretty close to perfect. Does it mean Microsoft can't innovate, or that Windows 8 and the upcoming Windows 9 won't have valuable new enhancements? Of course not, but what we have now is more than good enough. Just like some will flock to the latest car models, others feel that the car industry reached its peak in the 80s, 70s, or even before.

    The main argument for always going to the latest versions is of course security. There is something to be said about how dangerous it can be to run an unpatched system. But the so-called XP apocalypse didn't happen after the end of support back in April. Sometimes old, proven code just doesn't have that many bugs anymore. Do I advocate people who buy new systems go back and install XP? No, not really, but at this point it does feel for many that Microsoft is changing things for change's sake, like the whole Metro fiasco that, for many, made Windows 8 just as hated as Vista was.

    The next time you see someone running XP or 7, before jumping to conclusions and advocating the latest release, investigate as to why they are using an older version, and whether they know how to take care of it. Look at whether that person runs some type of security software, knows how to behave online to not get bitten by malware, and whether they run this software by choice or out of laziness. Not everyone needs the latest features from Windows 8, just like not everyone should be upgrading Office every year, or Adobe Photoshop. There does come a point where software becomes mature enough that you just don't need it to do any more for you.

    Software makers accomplished something car salesmen only dream of: make using an older product socially unacceptable. Everyone can differentiate between an old rusted car who belongs in a scrapyard, and a collection piece. Don't make all software older than a few years into rust buckets.

  • Cloud services as shared libraries
  • [Tweet] [Facebook] [Google Plus] [LinkedIn]Fri, Aug 22 2014 14:05:44 PDT - [Permalink] - Category: tech - by: Patrick Lambert

    Have you ever had to install Microsoft SharePoint, Lotus Notes, or any other large enterprise software as an IT administrator? I can tell you, the dependencies they rely on are staggering. From the server OS, to a web server, back-end SQL database, runtime environment, sometimes a JIT compiler, libraries, and all sorts of other addons that make this giant, complex system work. Even for smaller software packages, we're used to having installers do quite a bit of setup work in the background, from installing Visual C++ libraries, the latest version of DirectX, or the Java runtime environment. Linux isn't immune to this either. Fortunately, package managers have become quite good at resolving dependencies, where installing a single RPM package may trigger your system to download a dozen others.

    Of course, shared libraries were introduced as a way to have many applications share a single resource. You don't want 15 identical instances of a single library running on your system. But there are also problems that come with an over reliance on dependencies. It makes the installation and update progress longer, and introduces potential incompatibilities. Overall however, it's a recognized benefit that most software makers adopt.

    But what is the cloud equivalent to dependencies? Not long ago, there was very little out there. If you built a web app, for example, you might rely on Perl or PHP libraries, but those are items that you would install on your own server along with your app. JQuery was one of the first web libraries to actually encourage developers to link to their web site instead of installing it locally. Even in what we now consider as a proper cloud setup, a virtual machine running on AWS or Azure, we typically treat it the same as if we were sitting in front of the machine, installing all that software locally.

    The landscape may well be changing, however. Not long ago, Microsoft introduced the early preview of a RemoteApp running in the cloud. This follows in the same footsteps as Google's App Engine, another Platform as a Service (PaaS) offering, a place where many developers host their own custom apps. Now just this week, Microsoft unveiled two of their own remote apps called DocumentDB and Azure Search.

    I think this is a significant progression in the realm of PaaS, and with cloud services in general. A lot of people have built custom apps on App Engine and other cloud solutions, but these are typically used internally, or by their own clients. Ask most web developers these days what they do when they need a database back-end for their latest project, and most will tell you that they install their own instance of MySQL, MS SQL, or enable such an instance on their host's panel. If they need a certain library or service, they install it themselves. This is even more true for desktop app makers. In fact, the only local apps that heavily leverage cloud services made by someone other then themselves are typically iCloud on iOS, or Google Services on Android. But I can easily see this change in the future.

    One big reason developers are wary of leveraging third party cloud services is the fear that it may go away. Even Google isn't immune. But as large companies like Google and Microsoft makes this concept more prevalent, this fear will go away. I can easily see a typical app of the future being provided not on a 4GB install disk, but perhaps 200MB, with a dozen libraries, addons and sub-packages being instead replaced by cloud services. Data saved in one cloud's database, the UI being powered by libraries and assets from another cloud service, documentation and training videos out on a media server, and so on.

    Do I think this is a good outcome? I'm not sure. I remember when Electronic Arts released their latest SimCity title and how many people complained it was an online only experience. More and more, companies are making their apps to be ever more connected, even if they don't actually need to be. But if the apps actually can't run without the cloud, that's a scary prospect. Yet when you look at benefits like lower costs, always up to date software, and centralized control for the manufacturers, I doubt it will be a difficult step for them to take.

  • Making cross platform binaries
  • [Tweet] [Facebook] [Google Plus] [LinkedIn]Fri, Aug 15 2014 19:16:40 PDT - [Permalink] - Category: tech - by: Patrick Lambert

    I don't consider myself a software developer, even though I've been writing code for well over 15 years now. I started on Linux, using the pico editor and coding in C. I produced things like a text editor, an IRC bot, and so on. This old code will most likely not compile anymore but it's still available on this site. Still, it's always been a hobby, not something I wished to become a full time gig.

    Since then, I've done everything from web development work in PHP and JavaScript, making Batch scripts, to playing with Visual C# and lately, a lot of Perl coding. Like many geeks, I use various systems, from Windows XP all the way to 8.1, Windows Server and Linux, both in VMs and out on the cloud through SSH or RDP. So I began looking for a way to make cross platform coding easier, but still retain the ability to produce native binaries. I've always hated Java from my short-lived experiments with the language many years ago, so JIT techniques left a bad taste in my mouth. I wanted something that could produce no-dependency binary code that could run on any platform.

    This is when I came across Perl packers. I've tried two of them, one free and one commercial. The free one is PAR::Packer, and the commercial one is Perl Dev Kit by ActiveSate. After having some issues with PAR's binary package not liking the version of some of my modules, then refusing to compile, in the end I settled on Perl Dev Kit for its ease of use, the wonderful way it deals with modules, and because it simply works.

    This is what the interface looks like:

    First, a brief overview of what a Perl binary does. Basically, Perl is an interpreted language that has to be run through the Perl library, which in turn loads the modules that are needed. The Perl Dev Kit simply takes the script, the Perl library, and any module your script requires, and packages it all into one nifty executable. Through the interface, you can download this environment of libraries and modules for every target system, and use them to create binaries. This means that on one Windows machine, I can use a single script and output binary files for Windows, Linux, OS X and so on.

    The benefit is obvious. Perl is great because it already is one of the most widespread language out there. It has hundreds of modules making any type of coding a breeze for the developer, and its inclusion into many popular systems means any web site will likely be able to run your scripts as-is. So being able to take that same script and make binaries that anyone can run without even having to download Perl and the required modules is very nice. Also, you only have a single file to distribute, while most modern software come with tons of dependencies that get installed at the same time.

    All is not rosy however. To run, the binary has to unpack its Perl library and modules before beginning execution. So this does mean the start-up process is slower than native code made with Visual C# on Windows, or GCC on Linux, for example. Also, your file size will tend to be bigger since you link the modules that you need statically, instead of having a small binary with a lot of supporting files.

    Overall I'm pretty happy with the result. Speaking about Perl, I would like to say kudos to ActiveState for making PPM, the best module manager I've seen, which simply works, unlike CPAN which seems to fail on every platform I've tried it on (although some Linux distributions have started to include Perl modules in their own software repositories which is ironic). You can see some of the things I've made in the downloads section.

    On a final note, now I'm going to need a way to turn Perl code into native iOS and Android apps, to make this process truly complete. I've actually found a project to do this for Android but it seems in early beta. I can always hope..

  • How to lose a potential user
  • [Tweet] [Facebook] [Google Plus] [LinkedIn]Sat, Aug 2 2014 17:12:21 PDT - [Permalink] - Category: tech - by: Patrick Lambert

    I saw somewhere an interesting image while I was checking out Twitter on my iPhone, and read that more were available on Flickr. This Yahoo service is an interesting study in undervalued web properties. It was and still is one of the primary locations where people go to share photos, and since Yahoo decided to reinvent themselves, they have been trying hard to get people to use their services.

    Anyways, I thought it was a good opportunity to download the Flickr app and see how things are. Here is how it went:

    * Download the Flickr app, launch it, see the pretty 'getting started' screens.

    * Try to go explore, notice that you can't do anything in this app without logging in. I have no real interest in uploading anything to Flickr, just to explore what others have to offer. Still, I suppose I can't fault them for wanting to convert users.

    * I don't have a Yahoo account, or rather I haven't had one for over a decade, so noticing the Facebook sign on link, I figure it's going to be the fastest option.

    * That turns out not to be the case, as after I'm done logging in, the app informs me that Facebook isn't good enough, and I still need to create a Yahoo account.

    * I decide to use my throw away password, since I'll likely only use it this once to check things out. But my throw away password doesn't have lower case letters. The app informs me that I need both lower and upper case letters.

    * Fortunately I have a stronger throw away password with lower, upper case letters, numbers, and over twelve characters. Then of course the app informs me that my password is no good because it doesn't have punctuation.

    * I decide that I already lost enough time trying to just access some images. I close the app and delete it.

    So what did we learn from this little UI nightmare? Flickr is already known as a place where photos are shared publicly. Why can't someone just explore them without creating an account? Why is the app offering Facebook login as an option when Yahoo decided no longer to accept this method of logging in? And why does Flickr have a password policy stronger than most banks?

    I may not represent the majority, but somehow I suspect that my experience is just the tip of the iceberg behind why Yahoo is a small shadow of what they once were in people's eyes. And honestly, I don't think my requests are unreasonable. I may extend my absence from Yahoo services for another decade...

  • Image editing on the go
  • [Tweet] [Facebook] [Google Plus] [LinkedIn]Sat, Aug 2 2014 12:14:44 PDT - [Permalink] - Category: tech - by: Patrick Lambert

    In a world where we have powerful computers in our pockets, you would think that something as basic as image editing would be a solved problem. You would think our smartphone platforms should be filled with options of powerful editing software. Yet when I recently looked for something better on iOS, I was sorely disappointed.

    The AppStore does have a ton of editing apps, don't get me wrong. Unfortunately, it may as well only have one. Most of the photo related apps out there are almost identical: Lacking in features, focusing on trivial details. By trivial, I'm talking about those famous filters popularized by Instagram.

    Sure, Instagram was innovative. It still is very popular, and the one touch ability to add strange filters to photos is arguably the reason why. But every app since then that has copied them is not innovative. Even Photoshop Express, the Adobe app which one would think should be made by people who know image editing, is bare. It has less than what I consider to be a minimum for editing software: Cropping, red eye removal, brightness control, sharpen tools and, of course, filters.

    After a long time looking, I finally found a decent app called PicShop that I think worthy of being called image editing software. It has all the basic features of other apps, but also levels, image tilt, blemishes, straighten tools, the ability to add frames, draw on the image and add text. Finally, you can actually choose what resolution to save as, not just with a 'low, medium, high' slider but actual pixels. All things I need whether I prepare images for a blog post, to embed in a document, or simply to make a photo more presentable.

    I find it amazing that most companies figure that the main use of smartphones is to take funny pictures at the club or share photos of your food, and whether it looks purple or is displayed through a sepia lens should be the main feature of their apps. We need more innovation and less cloning.

  • My Wolfenstein review
  • [Tweet] [Facebook] [Google Plus] [LinkedIn]Mon, Jul 28 2014 16:53:23 PDT - [Permalink] - Category: gaming - by: Patrick Lambert

    Wolfenstein 3D was one of the first FPS games I played, and it had a key role in PC gaming history. So when Wolfenstein: The New Order came out, I already knew I wanted to play it. Like most games, I wasn't about to buy it full price, but surprisingly enough Steam had it for half price a few weeks back, not that long after release, so it was time for me to play.

    I would say that these days, not a lot of action games impress me, but Wolfenstein was pretty good, better than I expected. The gameplay was nice, with weapons feeling as they should, although I'm not a fan of weapon wheels. The graphics are very nice, and there is a lot of attention to detail. The difficulty level is correct, with bosses not relying too much of tricks to be able to kill them, and the time to completion was just right, taking me 16 hours to get through it.

    It doesn't beat something like Mass Effect, on gameplay nor depth, but it certainly is a worthwhile game to play. Overall, I would give this game an 7.5/10.

  • Local Bitcoin wallets have no future
  • [Tweet] [Facebook] [Google Plus] [LinkedIn]Fri, Jul 25 2014 14:42:51 PDT - [Permalink] - Category: business - by: Patrick Lambert

    There's no denying that Bitcoin is becoming big, from Dell now accepting Bitcoin as payment, pundits seeing a bright future for the currency, and more. But for the average user, Bitcoin is still a mystery, and can be a giant pitfall if they aren't careful. One of the virtual currency's most fabulous feature is also one of its biggest drawback, and that is the concept of a Bitcoin wallet.

    If you download a traditional Bitcoin client and then start receiving coins, whether from sales, currency exchanges or otherwise, those coins now exist in only one place: in a single file on your hard drive. That fact is immensely important. First, it means that Bitcoin is anonymous and free from external sources. Those coins are yours and no one else knows where your personal wallet is. However, it also means that should you lose that file, then all of your coins are gone forever, and no one can restore them.

    Let's be realistic. People are awful at keeping track of their digital goods. We lose documents and files all the time. Even the biggest organizations can lose crucial financial assets when they are in digital form. Just think what it would be like if losing your ATM card or credit card, arguably one of the most precious item on your person, meant you lost all your money. So if we're going to ask people to save all of their cash in a single digital file, it's going to end up in a disaster, regardless of how many techniques and suggestions we have on how to create an offline wallet, doing backups, and so on.

    This is why cloud wallets are the future of Bitcoin. Not because it's better for the virtual currency, it most definitively is not, nor is it better for security or anonymity, since you're basically trusting some company with your coins and all of your transactions. But simply because of human nature. Today Coinbase, perhaps the biggest site for all things Bitcoin, has introduced a new feature called Bitcoin Vault, which is basically a cloud wallet that can be used to store larger quantities of coins, with all of the modern security features like two-factor authentication and co-signers.

    I think if Bitcoin becomes popular in the mass population, which it has a big chance of becoming, we will need this sort of solution to avoid a disaster. A local wallet can work for people who know the technology, professionals who routinely make backups, but for the average person, secure and easy to use cloud solutions are the future. Despite the potential problems, such as a centralized place where coins are kept, having to trust an external organization, and the potential for breaches being much greater since no FDIC is going to insure your cloud wallet, it may be the only way forward for Bitcoin.

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