sunnuntai 22. elokuuta 2010


Dropbox is a neat online service for saving your files. It is basically an online hard drive where you can store any kind of files to be accessed from anywhere. Using Dropbox has been made very easy: you register to the site and download and install a client application, which then displays as a regular folder in your file system. The magic happens when you move or copy files into that folder: they are automatically copied into the Dropbox servers and you can access them from any other computer, either by using the online user interface or by the dedicated client! 

The client is available for Windows, Linux, Mac and even some mobile platforms, so there's really no reason not to use Dropbox even if you use multiple computers with different operating systems. I figure Dropbox is a great way of storing data when using a netbook: even if the system breaks, your data will be safe, plus it will be available for your desktop computer as well. It is also unlikely that you will be handling very large files with a netbook that doesn't have too much power so the default amount of 2 GB that you get should be plenty. Register using this link and you'll even get an extra 250 MB of storage space. :)

I registered to Dropbox in the spring when someone wanted to share some photos with me (yes, Dropbox can easily be used for sharing files too, and no, those who then just want to view your files don't need to register). After that I forgot about it until I tried the Jolicloud Linux distribution which has got some sort of a Dropbox integration. I figured Dropbox would be an excellent place to store, for example, my KeePassX password database file so I could access it from both Windows and Linux, and from both my desktop computer and my netbook. I have now also saved the installation packages of some key software to Dropbox so that the next time I'm installing a fresh system I won't have to browse through a dozen web sites to get all the programs I need.

torstai 19. elokuuta 2010

Steam's pricing policy

Steam is an online content delivery system where you can purchase and download games. It also involves some social networking features. Steam offers some indie games that cannot be bought elsewhere, but it also distributes some big titles. In the past I have written about a few games I've downloaded from Steam. 

Lately I have been contemplating pre-purchasing Civilization V which will be out in about five weeks. I might have purchased it already if it wasn't for Steam's ridiculous pricing policy: the exchange rate of 1 USD = 1 Euro! The basic version of Civ 5 costs $49.99 for US-based customers but 49.99 € for EU-based customers! The current real exchange rate is something completely different and the correct price in Euro would be 38.98 €. With the Civilization V Deluxe Edition the situation is slightly fairer: shopping from the US the price is $59.99 (46.77 €) but for European customers it's not 59.99 € but 54.99 €, which of course still leaves a difference of 8.22 € ($10.54)...

I was able to check the US prices using some proxy servers located in US. Basically my browser connects to a proxy server and asks for a web page, after which the proxy fetches the page and returns it to my browser. The target site (Steam) deduces the country of origin for each request and chooses the prices accordingly. When the proxy server is located in the US it looks like the requests are coming from US and Steam shows the prices in dollars even though it's me requesting the sites from Europe.

Anyway, while I was at it I decided to check the prices for the United Kingdom as well. Turns out Civ 5 is in discount at the moment: the regular version costs £29.99 ($46.78 or 36.49 €) and the Deluxe Edition £39.99 ($62.36 or 48.68 €). Still slightly more expensive than the prices in US. However, these were just the discount prices -- the normal prices are £39.99 and a whopping £49.99 ($77.97 or 60.82 €) respectively!

Alas, while writing this post I just found out I've been doing it all the hard way: you don't need to use a proxy to get the prices from different regions, just install this script to your browser! At least the US prices seem to be displayed correctly. However, for UK it only displays "N/A". For Australia it displays the prices 79.99 USD and 89.95 USD but I wasn't able to confirm those using a proxy. If the prices are correct, however, it's an enormous difference from the US price! I wonder how Steam can just keep doing this? There's even a Steam Community group called 1€ ≠ 1$ with more than twenty thousand members.

tiistai 17. elokuuta 2010

Best mobile games

I'm a Nokia user and every now and then I feel like playing something with my phone. Here's a little list of games of enjoyable games, in no particular order. They should work with other models than Nokia as well as they are made with Java.

Ukko's Escape. A free and addictive one thumb game where your mission is to keep jumping upwards to make Ukko happy. Ukko's happiness decreases if he falls or does not jump and when he's out of happiness the game ends -- unless you managed to actually jump all the way up, in which case you win. The levels get increasingly harder and you can feel how you are making progress when you get further and further with each try. Ukko's Escape has even got a global highscore list at RumbleX and it seems that my record for the Hard difficulty level is still unbeaten. :)

Yet Another Tetris. Just what the title says, but this is the best free mobile implementation that I have come across. The arcade mode keeps the games short and hectic when extra rows are regularly added to the bottom of the screen. :)

Rollercoaster Revolution 99 Tracks. This is a commercial game but I once came across an offer and got it for free. In the game you control the speed of rollercoaster cars and try to collect smileys while avoiding crashing. As the game progresses you unlock new tracks, a couple of new car types and so-called awards, which are just cosmetic but nice anyway. 99 tracks do sometimes make it feel like the game was repeating itself, but if you like perfecting your accomplishments then this game might just be for you. There's also a free online version of the game available.

Tower Wars. I had actually forgotten about this free game, found it again when writing this post and ended up playing it for quite a while. Tower Wars is a tower defense game. In the game you place various kinds of gun turrets in front of forces of Chaos and either try to create a maze for them or to fill the edges of existing mazes with as effective cannon setups as possible. The graphics are good and there's a nice twist in that the game progresses through decades and millenniums: you start with rock-slinging huts and progress all the way to laser turrets and such. My online favorite of the genre is Desktop Tower Defense. :)

Samsung Facebook app

In June I wrote about the Samsung BD-C6500 blu-ray player and its applications, noting that the Facebook app still only said it would be ready "in April". Later on, in July I think, they updated it to say it would be ready "soon". Yesterday I was going to watch a 119 minutes long 'making of Iron Man' document (got the 2-disk blu-ray edition of Iron Man from the library) and figured I'd check the Internet@TV feature first. Much to my surprise, it informed me that it needs to update itself and removed and reinstalled the Facebook app. Probably just to update the message to "Will be ready in December 2012", I thought, but no; lo and behold:

It's actually a working Facebook client in my blu-ray player! (The texts are in Finnish, just get over it.) Sure, typing a status update with just ten or so buttons while having to precisely point the remote at the player eats some of the usability, but at least it's got pretty much all the basic features Facebook has. The most natural use case for this app would be to watch photos, I think. Sure, they look a little small on a 37" full-HD screen but they aren't that big on an 11" laptop screen either, and cannot really be watched by more than two people at the same time. Nonetheless, having the client scale the photos up would be a nice feature.

As a final note, in July I wrote about Samsung support and how it was rather un-supportive. They reasoned that the apps are made by third parties and that they don't know anything about them, but looking at the App Store menu I can clearly see that it says that the Facebook app is made by Samsung. So, the Samsung support team still does not convince me. :P

lauantai 14. elokuuta 2010


After trying Ubuntu Netbook Edition (UNE from now on) and failing I decided to try something else. At the comments of the post someone suggested Jolicloud (JC) so I chose that. Jolicloud is yet another Linux distribution, the current version being based on a not-so-current Ubuntu 9.4. Jolicloud is based on the idea of utilizing the services on the web – the cloud. This should mean it is pretty tightly tied with Facebook, Twitter, Google Docs, Dropbox and such services.

So, I downloaded the Jolicloud Windows installer, followed the instructions from the site and got the system up and running really easily. The installer even created a nice boot menu so I can choose between Windows 7 and Jolicloud when the computer starts. (And I did even validate that I can still boot to Windows, unlike with UNE!) Here's a screenshot of the Windows installer:
Jolicloud installing
The installer forced me to either create a Jolicloud account or to link one with my Facebook account. Well, if the idea of the OS is to utilize the possibilities of social networking, then I suppose I must choose the Facebook option. Turns out none of my FB friends are using Jolicloud... So much for that synergy.

When Jolicloud booted up the first time its relationship with Ubuntu became very clear to me. The top-bar and the mouse cursors were practically indistinguishable from UNE. Like UNE, Jolicloud also likes to maximize new windows automatically (which sometimes results in sad views when the new window is just a small prompt with few words and just one or two buttons). The launcher, which is apparently a popular concept with Linux distributions customized for netbooks and contains the most popular programs, does look different though:
Exciting, huh? Sure, at first, once you realize that those icons to Facebook, Flickr, etc. are actually nothing but glorified shortcuts to your browser (Chromium by default). The shortcuts present the web sites without any of the browser UI such as back/forward/reload buttons or the address bar. Click on a link that would take you to an external site and a new, "real" browser window opens. Also, notice those white dots at the bottom of the launcher? They change the page. Not that intuitive.

At this point I should probably mention that the Jolicloud launcher is made using HTML5 and apparently loads from the net. Thus, if you were using a few different computers and had Jolicloud installed on each of them, JC would keep your launchers synchronized. However, the launcher can only contain programs installed from the dedicated Jolicloud App Center, so programs installed with apt-get (known as "legacy apps" in JC) can never show up in it, which I find distracting. You can't even add a shortcut to the terminal into the launcher! Luckily I found a way to install the shortcut into the top bar. The terminal (and other programs) can also be launcher from the menu which can be brought up using the, well, menu-key of your keyboard (the one that's likely to be located between your AltGr and right Ctrl. Not the one with the Windows-flag, that shows the launcher.) So the profit from having your launcher synchronized (and probably some other settings too) is not too obvious. Sure, JC is a nice, new toy OS but who'd want to immediately install it into every computer they use?

Anyway, let's continue the tour. Above the shortcuts of the launcher there are a few icons: "Add", a satellite dish, a folder and a gear. The folder and gear are pretty obvious, they bring up the folders and some settings (namely your Jolicloud account information). The "Add" button brings up the App Center I already mentioned:
It's pretty much what you'd expect: a selection of apps someone else has picked as being representative. The Communication category, for example, contains about 20 instant messaging and email client applications, etc. I guess someone might have fun trying out all the different apps. However, I still don't approve of the concept of calling simple web links "applications". As noted before, installing the "YouTube application" only creates a shortcut to the site, etc. There are, of course, "real" applications to be installed too, such as the VLC media player, but if the application refers to a web site then it's certainly just a shortcut to that website.

VLC reminds me of another problem with Jolicloud: the audio won't work! I can (most of the time) hear the "jungle sound" that is played at start up but after that the netbook goes mute, sooner or later. You might just hear a faint "plop" from the speaker when trying to play an audio file.

Onwards. The next icon at the top row is the satellite dish, the "Stream". Great! This must be the heart of the system! I bet this is where all my social networking feeds and emails are joined together and displayed to me with little icons! Not quite. Not like that at all, in fact. Turns out the stream, despite having such a great showcase place in the user interface, only displays messages from your Jolicloud account. Remind you, none of my Facebook friends are using JC. My stream is not very flowy:

Thanks for nothing. Even if all my friends were using Jolicloud, what would I see here? "Mr. X likes the VLC media player application" or "Ms. Y installed the Spotify application". Wow, how interesting. And once everyone got ready with installing everything they needed, the stream would just dry out. Seriously, the Jolicloud team needs to thoroughly rethink this stream thing.

The rest of the two buttons I already explained but I'll still comment on the folder button. The launcher works with a one-click principle: hoover your cursor over an icon to highlight it, click on it to open it. The folder view displays your personal Documents, Pictures, Music, Videos and Windows folders with the same style as everything so far. Opening a folder, however, launches the Nautilus file browser which just doesn't match the visual style of the rest of the system. It also works so that you need to double click an item to open it, which is a slightly irritating inconsistency.

So, let's recap. JC is a rather new and young OS. The basic idea behind it is good but seriously lacks in execution. Jolicloud also does not contain a hibernate mode at all, which is a bad disadvantage for an OS designed for netbooks. It also does not support the Fn key combinations of the keyboard so you cannot, for example, adjust the brightness of the screen. Thus you are pretty much stuck with the retina-burning level that also draws the battery quickly. However, Jolicloud is a Linux distribution anyway and for me has it some definitive advantages over the Ubuntu Netbook Edition:
  1. It installed easily on the side of Windows 7 and did not wreck my Windows installation
  2. You can access your Windows file structure from Jolicloud just like that, with no extra tricks whatsoever
  3. The native resolution of the screen, 1366x768, works out of the box
  4. Jolicloud feels faster than Ubuntu Netbook Edition

tiistai 10. elokuuta 2010

Back on tracks

About a month ago I managed to completely destroy my Windows 7 installation. Since then I have been using my desktop computer or the memory stick installation of Ubuntu Netbook Edition on this Asus EeePC 1101HA netbook of mine. Until now, when I finally managed to borrow an external DVD drive. See, the netbook actually shipped with a bootable recovery DVD which happily erased the hard drive and reinstalled Windows. That was rather surprising as I didn't see any obvious hints on the DVD that it would contain a feature like this -- I actually found out by accident that it was bootable at all. Anyway, my Windows 7 is now back up and running again. Let's see if I can find another way to wreck it later. :P