Month: January 2009 (page 1 of 2)

Home

Home on the PS3 has been out for well over a month now. Since then there have been updates to the software plus additional content so it seems more appropriate to scribble down my thoughts.

Home is downloaded and installed on your PS3. It’s accessed from the XMB as if launching a game or separate app. Initially I couldn’t connect to Home but after the first update I’ve been find. Some of my friends have still been unable to connect though. After 5-6 weeks. Sony admitted recently that they had released Home too early – it certainly looks that way based on my experience.

Once in Home you start off in your house. You can buy other homes and also furniture for your current home. I used the word buy – get used to it. While there are some things for free in Home, a lot of the content is pay for only. One other aspect to get used to in Home is waiting.

As you move from your Home to the shopping centre, cinema, bowling alley, arcade games, basically any new area, you need to download and install that area. I found this tedious and took away any feeling of inversion in a virtual world. Even worse, the bowling alley, pool tables and arcade machines – you need to queue to use them. If they are in use you need to wait your turn. I do not jest.

In a virtual world Sony have implemented queue’s. Unbelievable. Who thought this was a good idea?

It would be bad enough if the games were worth playing but they aren’t. Virtual Pool on the iPhone is leaps and bounds better than the pool found in Home. A new addition is Red Bull Air Racing but this is no better than a few years old Flash game. Very disappointing.

Add to this a cinema where you can watch movie trailers and quite a few shops where you can buy clothes, furniture and features for your house and you have one of the worst features of the PS3. I can’t believe this was once talked about as a dashboard replacement.

Cochno Hill and Jaw Reservoir

Today was my first hill walk. It was a walk in the Kilpatricks, Cochno Hill and Jaw Reservoir to be precise. Myself, Danny and Jim set off around 11:30 in drizzly rain and a small breeze. By the time we got to the top of Cochno Hill we had been through strong winds, heavy rain, hail and snow. Nevermind, the sun came out eventually!

Jim and Danny

The route is based on one of the walks in the book Glasgow: 40 Town and Country Walks which is a great little pocket sized book for beginners like me. We set off from Duncombe Avenue (safer parking for the cars) and it wasn’t too long before we were walking up through some fields. The rain started to get a bit heavier at this point and looking further ahead you could see some lying snow. Glad I took Danny’s advice and stuck on my waterproofs.

The ground was pretty muddy around here and on the way up to the first point of interest – Grey Mare’s Tail Waterfall. Wasn’t the biggest but it was nice to see and the first major waypoint on our walk. We kept climbing up to Jaw Reservoir. By this point the wind was really starting to whip up and the rain/sleet/snow/hail was starting to sting my face. The photo doesn’t really do justice but the water was being whipped away from our standing point.

We followed the reservoir round to supposedly reach Cochno Hill summit but we walked off the path and detoured slightly but we got there in the end after quick stop in a little sheltered valley. Time for some hot soup! We walked to the hill summit and by this time the wind was dying down, the rain and snow had passed through and there was the first sign of some sunshine. The views were good but limited due to the weather. We walked over to the northerly side of the hill and got some good shots of each other.

Me with a view

We then starting to head down the east side of Cochno towards Greenside Reservoir. A very slippy and muddy descent meant we took our time – no point doing anything silly at this point. We then followed Loch Humphrey burn, descending all the time back to Duncombe Avenue and our cars. Despite the weather it was fantastic to get out and about. It was a good test of all the gear I’ve picked up. Despite the weather I kept warm and dry. I was pretty surprised at how good the waterproofs were and also the wicking shirts which kept me dry. The shoes were excellent although my heels are a little sore as they haven’t broken in properly yet. The full set of FLickr pics can be found here.

RunKeeper

The iPhone also worked well using Runkeeper. It accurately tracked the entire walk. The only thing I have to remember is to pause it when we stop or take a couple of minutes to look at the map. The only snag is the battery life. I had the iPhone fully charged and it was down to under 10% by the time we had finished and that’s was with wi-fi disabled. I’ll be ordering a battery pack which will hopefully arrive in time for next weekends walk which is double the distance. Just need to try and keep it dry – in the paclite jacket condensation was forming in pockets so I’ll need to keep the iPhone and charger in a bag.

I was also surprised at how quickly, on a small hill, the weather changed and drew in. We had maps and one of us has done lot’s of walking but it was an eye opener at just how quickly the weather can change and disorientate you. Next up is Dumgoyne starting at Strathblane. Higher and longer than today…and my legs are aching right now. Can’t wait!

Spotify

I’m a bit late to the party but now that I’m here I’m so glad I came. Spotify is a music service that, via a small local client, gives you access to a massive library of music. Legitimately. For free. The music is streamed but the quality is excellent and also very fast. This would be so so if the music library was small but it’s not. Having done deals with Universal Music Group, Sony, BMG, EMI Music, Warner Music Group and others means there is a massive amount of content. There are some noticeable absentees like The Beatles, latest Radiohead etc but that’s not a big surprise nor detracts from Spotify.

Spotify Artist Radio

So in the short time I’ve used it what do I like about it? Firstly the massive library. I’m looking for obscure tracks and more often than not you find them. The application itself is easy to use with a simple and clean interface. Reminds me of Pandora which you can’t get in the UK anymore unless you work around it’s blocks. The home page let’s you see new additions (how bad is the new U2 track?) and also see top tens from everywhere or by location. The link to the U2 track is a Spotify link – click on it to listen to the track in Spotify – a nice way of sending music to friends but not the only way.

Spotify Playlists

You can create playlist’s in Spotify just like you can in iTunes. Create a playlist, search for tracks and then drag them to the playlist. Nothing too ground breaking. Once created though, right clicking on a list will allow you to select an HTTP link or a Spotify URI. You can then send the link to friends or publish on the internet. Clicking on the link will load up the playlist in Spotify – really simple and a lot better than a mixtape or best off list – here’s my tracks of 2008. Another option available is Collaborative Playlists. Selecting this will turn the playlist into a shared list that any user can contribute to. So at the moment I have a Lickers playlist that our gaming community can share music in and an Ian’s Inbox playlist. Hopefully other people will use that playlist to send me music that they think I will like or should try. That idea looks to have stemmed from here originally.

Spotify Artist

Searching for an artist will quickly bring you to the artist page which shows their tops hits, discography and a biography. Searching for Chemical Brothers as above shows all the tracks available on Spotify from their albums and EP’s and also compilation albums that have their tracks – great for listening to similar types of music and finding new artists. Also available is Artist radio which plays tracks from the selected artist and also artists similar to them – Last.fm has much the same service. Speaking of Last.fm, Spotify client also scrobbles to your last.fm account which is handy. You can also use the Radio in Spotify which has some nice simple filters. Select a decade ot two, then select a few genre’s and press play. Great variety although with that there are some real stinkers that are selected for playback. Even though it’s a streaming service it’s quick to click on to the next track with little or no pausing between tracks.

Spotify Radio

I mentioned that Spotify is free but that does mean accepting adverts being displayed in the client and also audio adverts every 10 or so tracks. So far they haven’t been distracting and are far less intrusive than the commercial radio stations in the UK. There are also two pay for access options. The Day Pass costs £0.99 and gives you ad-free access to Spotify for 24 hours. Premium costs £9.99 per month and removes the ad’s and also gives you access to a lot more invites. For now free is working great for me.

While Spotify has really impressed me there’s always room for improvements? Playlist’s need folders as I can see that growing massively over time. I’d also like some more info on the collaborative playlists – highlight new tracks added, show the user who added them and how many people are subscribed to the playlist. I guess that’s the surprising miss so far – no social networking aspect. I’d have thought a friends list within the app or website would be a must – see what friends are listening too, automatically share this playlist with all friends, make a collaborative playlist friends only or public. Would become quite a powerful tool with those additions. Collaborative rating of tracks anyone?

It would be fantastic to stream Spotify music to 360’s, PS3’s or DLNA supporting boxes. I’ve created some playlists on the PS3 for Wipeout. I’ve got 3 or 4 covering the original versions of the game plus a couple for new rock and electronic music. How great would it be if I could create the playlist in Spotify, be able to play that back on the PS3 and also share that list out so others could use it too. Mmmm. I wonder if I could use Connect 360, iTunes and something like Nicecast to stream Spotify to the 360? Nicecast to create the audio stream from Spotify, subscribe to it in iTunes and listen to it via Connect 360 on the Xbox 360. Might try that later today.

I guess adding features would start to clutter up the client which I like due to its simplicity. No equalizer and minimal control set. Currently Spotify is only available on Mac and PC’s. No web streaming available and no mobile client either. I think this would be great on the iPhone and offer unique features that the other music streaming app’s don’t currently offer. No official word although the support forums hint at something may be coming soon to the iPhone. Here’s hoping.

There’s also a number of web sites springing up to help with the sharing of playlists. Spotifylists.com, Listiply, Spotylist and Spotyshare all offer much the same playlist sharing functionality. Topsify shares the current UK Top 40 as well as Swedish and US charts. I also have it on good authority from Windows users that Replay Music is a great way of saving mp3’s from Spotify. Not tried it myself so ymmv. Another app worth trying is Mixifier which let’s you easily share Spotify playlists with Facebook friends.

Highly recommended app and service. I have a few invites left at the moment so drop a comment with an e-mail address and I’ll send out invites to whom I can. If you do join, or are already using Spotify, drop off some recommendations in my inbox.

London Calling

While down in Peterborough over New Year visiting Shakeel instead of the usual spend on gadgets and playing of games we took a trip down to London, booking the London Eye and taking advantage of a cold but sunny winters day. It was also a chance to get some photography done – we were tourists for the day!

Sir John Betjeman statue at St. PancrasFirst stop was St Pancras station which has been newly redeveloped. It really is quite magnificent. There’s something about glass roofs that I really like. There’s also a nice mix of old and new architecture and the restoration is pretty faultless. I guess we were lucky as when we were there the station was very quiet so we got to take our photo’s without too much hassle. Full set can be viewed on Flickr.

Capsules at the London EyeAfter some pictures around Westminster it was on to the London Eye. After lot’s of queueing we finally got on, although we did manage to ‘jump’ about half of the queue which was nice – it was too cold to feel embarrassed. The hazy winters sun started to clear as we ascended and we got quite a lot of good pictures. The view in the summer must look amazing on a clear day. What was strange was there was no real sense of motion – it moved so slowly that you didn’t feel it at all. The full set of photos can be seen here. One shot I really wanted to get was a panoramic – stitching together lots of photo’s to get a wrap around view of London. It didn’t quite work out due to the low sun and the ever changing perspective but the result isn’t too bad as long as you don’t look to close – it’s also pretty wide at 18702 x 1614 pixels!

After that it was a walk around Horse Guards parade, St James’s park and Buckingham Palace. All very nice but by this time I was getting extremely cold. I really should have wrapped up a bit better than I did. It was a great day though and really enjoyable. It took quite a while to get the photo’s sorted and uploaded. I initially took over 600 photo’s but ended up with 140 published on Flickr. I also used Lightroom for the first time and I’m now hooked. So much more control over the image than in iPhoto. Just a shame that iPhoto 09 is coming with really nice albums and iPhone syncing. If only iPhoto worked like Picasa and managed photo’s in there own locations without having to suck/copy them into iPhoto’s library. I hate duplication.

Panoramic London from the Eye

Couple of things I need to remember when taking a photo. I don’t spend enough time watching where I’m taking a photo from. Lot’s of photo’s were slightly off centre from what I wanted to or were from a bad angle just because I didn’t think the photo through. I also need to work on not shaking as much – even with image stabilisation switched on I had a couple of disappointing photo’s. My favourite photo from the day though is the one below of Shakeel in the London Eye capsule. Just captures him really well. His full set of photo’s from London are also up at Flickr – he took some really great shots, even some of the ones without me in the picture are good. Hopefully this is the start of a lot more photo’s this year as is something I really enjoy doing.

Shakeel at The London Eye

Twitter Goes Mainstream

Over the last few weeks there’s been a noticeable change while using Twitter. Not in the service itself although it has had a few hiccups which I haven’t really seen for months. No, it’s in the people using it. Non geeks are using it. Celebrities are using it. Heck, even the British press have found out about it and are now quoting it. Great.

Well, I thought so. However I’ve read a few blog posts and tweets saying that Twitter has lost it, it’s jumped the shark, it’s time to leave, the world is ending, I don’t know how I can cope. The usual blogger faire. While you can’t stop people having their own opinions on this the bit I don’t get is Twitter, like all social networking tools, is whatever you want it to be. If you use to connect with friends then follow only them and keep away from the celebs, the news networks and the tech industry trendsetters that can be quite noisy. Don’t like someone’s tweets – unfollow them. I really don’t see what the issue is?

I follow people I know in real life, bloggers that I enjoy reading, some of ‘the celebs’ who are actually conversing on Twitter (@stephenfry, @wossy, @bobbyllew ), some of the Mac community and some of the noisy tech crowd. At the moment this is giving me a great mix of tweets and I get a lot out of Twitter. The only real dislikes I have are the spammers that are trying to build massive networks and folk who keep on tweeting about their latest blog posts. It’s called RSS!

Another aspect of Twitter that’s been discussed elsewhere is it’s news carrying worth. This week has had a few ‘popular’ news stories. The deaths of Patrick McGoohan, Ricardo Montalban (KAAAHHHHHHHHHHHNNNN was a fairly popular tweet) and then the Steve Jobs illness all exploded on Wednesday. I couldn’t believe how many people were tweeting on Steve Jobs as it broke, first questioning it, then confirming it and then adding their own comments. However those stories were nothing compared to the Hudson plane crash landing. Oh, and this picture. Taken from an iPhone of all things. Yes, the one with the crappy camera. Just shows that being in the right place at the right time is what really makes the difference. I’m a bit of a news junkie so having stories break and unfold in real time is very addictive. That picture was doing the rounds on Twitter while mainstream news sites were just breaking the story never mind showing pictures. It was the same during the Mumbai attack – Twitter and Flickr provided so much on what was really happening on the ground from people really affected. You just have to watch as people will take advantage and lie about what’s going on, making it difficult to separate fact from fiction.

The Twitter picture made the BBC 10 O’Clock news yesterday and has been blogged about too by the BBC. The real question from mainstream media is around Twitter being a reliable news source? For me it’s as reliable as any blog (so take some things with a pinch of salt) and how do you determine if mainstream media is accurate? Would you say that everything in the papers is true? The Daily Record have been using Andy Murray’s tweets as the basis for a few articles recently, quoting that Andy ‘has told the Record’ where in actual fact he’s published a tweet. No doubt the Daily Mail will turn Twitter into some sort of national threat, a place full of shady folk doing shady things. A breeding ground for sexual deviants. What, you mean it’s not? Already the press are crawling over Jonathon Ross as in a tweet he asked for a word to drop in during the Bafta’s as if it’s oh so shocking and it shouldn’t be allowed. Sigh.

Now that I’m tweeting regularly I don’t think I’ll be stopping any time soon – I enjoy it too much. It’s another tool to communicate with like IM, e-mail, blogs and forums. Just don’t believe everything you read and unfollow what you don’t like. Roll on my 1000th tweet.

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