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Jun 24

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The problem with being an early adopter is that you’re the one finding the problems with the first revision of the hardware. I’ve missed a few weeks’ update of this site because my Dell m1330 laptop experienced severe stability problems, then died and had to be sent to repair. Now that it’s back and working again, I figured I’d give some details about my problem in case someone else suffers the same.

A couple of weeks ago I started getting weird computer errors: the screen would freeze for a few seconds, the colors of the picture strangely messed up, then the screen would flicker a few times, go black and everything would return to normal after a few seconds. Vista then showed me an error message telling me that my video card driver — specifically the file nvlddmkm.sys –  had crashed but was recovered successfully. Updating my video card driver didn’t help and my BIOS was up to date.

With time, those crashes became more and more frequent, so I called Dell’s support. The m1330 is a XPS laptop — Dell’s flagship gaming line of PCs — for which they have a special service line. I’d heard bad things about Dell’s service, but I didn’t have any problem: a technician answered the phone quickly and directed me to uninstall my video card  driver then reinstall it while in Windows’ “Safe” mode. Since the problem only happened once in a while, the technician told that he would call me later that  week to see if the problem was solved.

It wasn’t. The driver clearly wasn’t at fault since I kept having the same problem. I did some research online and found out that a lot of the m1330 laptops with the Nvidia GeForce 8400M GS video cards had this problem. After 6 months or so they’d start showing the nvlddmkm.sys error message and about a week later the laptop would be dead, the only remedy being sending it back to Dell so they could put a new motherboard in.

Not the kind of news I was hoping to read. I called Dell’s service again. As I was going through more advanced diagnostics, my laptop began agonizing. When I rebooted, the screen would fill slowly with colored lines and nothing else would be visible. If I was lucky enough to reach my desktop, the video card driver would crash over and over until the screen just stayed black. The Dell technician quickly agreed to arrange for a pick-up of my laptop so a new motherboard could be put in (the m1330 is so compact that the videocard is embedded in the motherboard itself and can’t be changed separately).

I was told that the repair would take 5 to 7 work days, but it was much faster than that. I’m actually surprised at how fast and without trouble Dell handled this. It’s worth paying extra for a XPS PC if only for the service.

I can’t say such good things about Dell’s engineering team, however. I’m rather frustrated about this whole issue — I buy a top of the line laptop and I have to send it for repair after less than a year. Now I just hope my computer won’t die again in 6 months time. Good thing I took the 3 years warranty…

Apr 28

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Clay Shirky has a transcript of an interesting talk he gave about the over-abundance of free time people now have because of modern technology and how it’s wasted on watching sitcoms.  This surplus of cognitive capacity is slowly being redirected toward more productive activities. Instead of being a passive audience, some people now spend time editing Wikipedia or organizing guilds in World of Warcraft rather than watching TV.

So how big is that surplus? So if you take Wikipedia as a kind of unit, all of Wikipedia, the whole project–every page, every edit, every talk page, every line of code, in every language that Wikipedia exists in–that represents something like the cumulation of 100 million hours of human thought. I worked this out with Martin Wattenberg at IBM; it’s a back-of-the-envelope calculation, but it’s the right order of magnitude, about 100 million hours of thought.

And television watching? Two hundred billion hours, in the U.S. alone, every year. Put another way, now that we have a unit, that’s 2,000 Wikipedia projects a year spent watching television. Or put still another way, in the U.S., we spend 100 million hours every weekend, just watching the ads. This is a pretty big surplus. […]

And this is the other thing about the size of the cognitive surplus we’re talking about. It’s so large that even a small change could have huge ramifications. Let’s say that everything stays 99 percent the same, that people watch 99 percent as much television as they used to, but 1 percent of that is carved out for producing and for sharing. The Internet-connected population watches roughly a trillion hours of TV a year. That’s about five times the size of the annual U.S. consumption. One per cent of that is 10,000 Wikipedia projects per year worth of participation.

I think that’s going to be a big deal. Don’t you?

via Slashdot

Mar 6

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Few people had as much influence on gaming as Gary Gygax. Dungeons & Dragons, his creation, inspired countless games and turned many young people into gamers. Truly, a great man passed away.

Mar 3

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There’s a fascinating interview at GhibliWorld.com with Enrico Casarosa, a storyboard artist working at Pixar (he storyboarded Ratatouille). The interview covers the differences between the Japanese and American approaches to making animated movies — between Studio Ghibli and Pixar — among other subjects. It’s a very interesting read; you can find it here.

Feb 11

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I just came back from the Video Games Live show as I write this. For those who don’t know, it’s a show with a full orchestra playing video game music live. It was great fun — geekery of the highest order. Where else will you see a jam-packed crowd do a standing ovation to a guy who plays the Mario theme on piano while blindfolded? Where else would the crowd wave DSs and PSPs rather than lighters?

Lots of great music was played, from Metal Gear Solid to Halo, Kingdom Hearts to Zelda, Civilization 4 to Beyond Good and Evil. It really showed just how great video game music can be — that it has its place alongside any other type of music. I highly recommend that you check it out if it comes in your city.

Feb 7

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Why is the “Start” button not named the “Pause” button? No really…

Jul 21

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The Nintendo DS is a huge hit, the PSP isn’t doing too bad either and there are persistent rumors that Microsoft’s working on their own handheld. The next generation of handhelds could be very interesting indeed. What kind of characteristics can we expect in a system coming out, say, 2 years from now?

Here’s my wish list:

  • Two screens, DS-style, in a clamshell design.
    • The bottom and main screen is a 6 inch LED-backlit widescreen supporting multi-touch. It has a resolution of 720×480 (full DVD resolution) or better.
    • The top screen is an e-ink screen that swivels like a tablet PC screen, so you can keep it visible while playing and while the system is closed. E-ink screens don’t update quickly, but they can keep showing the same information indefinitely without using any battery power. While playing, this screen would show information that doesn’t update very often – maps and such. The cool thing is when the system is sleeping: you could have this screen show you information throughout the day. The system could wake up every minute to update the screen with your RSS feeds, the status of your realm in a MMO, the weather, whatever.
  • The 4 face buttons (usual X, Y, A, B buttons) have small (16×16) OLED screens in them, so they can show icons of the effect of the button. Instead of pressing the X button to shoot, you press the button with a gun icon – much easier.
  • Wifi with connectivity options similar to Xbox Live. You can go buy and download games directly from the system.
  • VOIP
  • Bluetooth support for peripherals, like a headset for VOIP for example.
  • TV output so you can play on a large screen when you’re not on the go.
  • 3rd party applications are supported in a sandbox to avoid problems with viruses
  • 800 MHz CPU
  • GPU
  • 512MB RAM
  • 16GB SSD
  • Slot for other flash cards for additional space
  • 6 hours battery life
Jan 8

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Not quite game related, but Microsoft’s research labs have released an online interactive demo of a very cool piece of software called Photosynth. From the site:

The Photosynth Technology Preview is a taste of the newest - and, we hope, most exciting - way to view photos on a computer. Our software takes a large collection of photos of a place or an object, analyzes them for similarities, and then displays the photos in a reconstructed three-dimensional space, showing you how each one relates to the next.

In our collections, you can access gigabytes of photos in seconds, view a scene from nearly any angle, find similar photos with a single click, and zoom in to make the smallest detail as big as your monitor.

Dec 4

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It seems spam filters have reached the point where they cause more problems than they solve. My ISP (Videotron) changed some settings in their spam filter it seems — I didn’t even know that thing was on — and it started killing every single email I received at my pagtech.com and gameideas.org addresses. Basically, nearly all the emails I was sent never reached me — and of course these morons don’t keep any back-up of the filtered emails.

SO, if you’ve tried to email me in the last month or so (or maybe even before) and I didn’t answer, it’s not because I snubbed you but rather because I didn’t receive your email. Please send your message again.
Now I really hate my ISP. I’ve been looking for a job and trying to start a business with non-functioning email. Not exactly conductive to success.

Nov 11

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So, I had a chance to try out the Wii at the local Arcadia Festival yesterday. I wasn’t blown away with the festival itself (the only new thing there was the Wii and entering ended up costing 17.50$ rather than the 10$ the website claims), but it’s always nice to try out new games before their official release. I was taking a “wait and see” approach to the Wii, so that was a nice opportunity to see if the hype was warranted.

I played Wii Tennis and Excite Truck and watch others play Zelda, Raving Rabbids and Warioware. As I expected, the graphics were nothing exceptional — they were about the level of good looking Xbox (the original) games. But hey, it’s all the revolutionary controls, right?

The two games I played were quite simple: Wii tennis could be played with a single button instead of the wiimote (you don’t even control the movement of your character) and Excite Truck is an arcade racer with an accelerator and a boost button. Warioware looked just as simple. Raving Rabbids is a gun shooting game (with a cursor on screen) with some mini-games. The people I watched play Zelda didn’t seem to use motion sensing for much, but I didn’t watch them for too long.

I didn’t see anything really revolutionary — nothing that couldn’t be done easily on previous consoles. Sure the games are accessible to non-gamers (the target market for the Wii), but it’s because of the simplicity of the games and not the new controller. Would Excite Truck be much harder to play if you pressed left and right instead of holding the controller like a steering wheel?

Talking about Excite Truck, it had a control problem that’s unique to the Wii: lack of feedback. On a regular controller, you know if you’re turning as hard as is possible because you’re pressing the joystick fully. On the Wii, you turn the controller like a virtual steering wheel, but it’s not clear how much you need to turn it: is a quarter-turn enough? Is it 180°? 45°? Hard to say because there’s nothing to stop your movement.

Likewise, it isn’t obvious in Tennis that flicking your wrist results in much more powerful hits than full arm movements. I’m sure I’d get used to those two quirks, but it goes to show that there’s a different type of learning curve with the Wii: learning to do the motions correctly.

Nintendo’s motto is “Playing is Believing”. I played, I still don’t believe. I’m sure games taking full advantage of the Wii’s capabilities will come out eventually, but none of the games I saw really impressed me. Aside from Zelda, they mostly felt like mini-games. Zelda is also coming to the Gamecube, and (I’m probably the only one to think so) I think the Zelda formula is getting stale after 10 gajillion games. So I guess it’s still wait and see for me.

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