keskiviikko 14. joulukuuta 2011

Angry Birds

Photo: CC BY 2.0 by Melinda Seckington / Flickr
Angry Birds is a super popular phenomenon that keeps on expanding, so I figured I'd collect some interesting Angry Birds links to this post. For example, the latest news on the subject is that the playground equipment manufacturer Lappset starts making Angry Birds playground equipment.

The London Philharmonic Orchestra has played and recorded the Angry Birds main theme which can be listened to on Spotify. Shane Parker has drawn the birds in a real retro ornithology book fashion. People are crocheting Angry Birds like crazy. There has been an attempt to negotiate peace between the birds and the pigs.

A couple of professional footballers, Lassi Hurskainen and Dan Jackson, created a real life Angry Birds video. That's some accurate kicking! Conan O'Brien has also played a live action version of Angry Birds a couple of times. :)

MauroNewMedia has written a quite extensive analysis on the reasons that Angry Birds has become so successful. This includes, of course, "simple yet engaging interaction concept" but also more complex concepts such as the way the game deals with the user's short-term memory management. The Wall Street Journal's Matt Ridley also analyzed the game a bit and figured that people just like predicting parabolic trajectories. The early Homo Sapiens, for example, basically relied on this exact skill when killing mammoths and other animals by throwing spears and rocks.

Finally, you can play the basic Angry Birds or the Fazer Tyrkisk Peber Volcano special levels in your browser. :) You might also want to follow the Angry Birds on Twitter.

The Humble Indie Bundle #4

I have written about the Humble Indie Bundle before, but now that a new one is out again I figured I should blog about the concept again. The Humble Indie Bundle is a collection of indie games (games from independent developers) sold for whatever price the buyer wants to pay. The games are cross-platform and work on Windows, Mac and Linux. Part (or none, or all -- you decide) of the price you pay goes to charity. Each bundle is are available for only a couple of weeks only and new ones are published irregularly, perhaps four or five times a year. Right now it's the Humble Indie Bundle #4 and there are 13 days left to buy it. This time the default bundle contains five games, but if you pay more than the average buyer you'll also get two more games. The bundle includes such games as Super Meat Boy and Gratuitous Space Battles. Go get your games! :)

lauantai 19. marraskuuta 2011

Fresh new look

I have changed the name of this blog from Netbooks, the Universe and Everything to Technology, the Universe and Everything. This is because the previous title didn't quite catch the essence of this blog anymore. When I started this blog I blogged about stuff related to my then new netbook, but it appears that there's only so much you can write about one. Since then I have, for example, bought a new desktop computer and a new smartphone as well and I have written about things related to both of those.

While changing the name I figured that now it would be a good time to renew the looks of this blog as well. Blogger didn't even have the previous look in their selection of styles anymore. I have now also added a box of the most popular entries to the side bar. So, welcome to the same old blog with a fresh new look and name. :)

PS. In case you didn't get, the name of the blog was and still is a reference to the novel by Douglas Adams.

perjantai 11. marraskuuta 2011

The best TED talks

I have compiled a list of the most interesting TED talks I have watched so far. There's a talk about gaming, a couple about data visualization and a few about brains. There's a talk by F-Secure's Mikko Hyppönen and one by the skeptic James Randi. MythBuster Adam Savage's talk is also featured. It's not about robots but there's another one about them as well. Currently there are thirteen talks but I'll probably update the list as I encounter more good enough talks. Watch one or a few, let me know what you think about them and also feel free to suggest new talks for me to watch!

perjantai 21. lokakuuta 2011

TED: Ideas worth spreading

TED is a non-profit organization arranging conferences where the top experts of various fields give short, 10 to 20 minute talks on all kinds of topics. TED is short for "technology, entertainment and design", but the scope has expanded vastly since the original conference back in 1984. I have been watching the TED talks with my smartphone using the TED Air app, but they are viewable at the TED website as well.

If you now got even slightly interested I recommend starting with a short talk and a familiar topic. I'll make it really easy for you and post a suitable video right here. The talk is called Doodlers, unite! and it's just six minutes long:

Now, I haven't watched that many talks yet but they have all been very fascinating. Jill Bolte Taylor's stroke of insight, for example, is, as far as I understand, regarded as one of the best TED talks ever. I'm tempted to give more suggestions on what to watch but as I haven't watched even ten talks myself I'll just give you a link to the most viewed TED talks which should be a good starting point for finding some interesting ideas worth spreading.

lauantai 15. lokakuuta 2011

Dart programming: 99 Bottles of Beer

Dart is Google's new programming language, designed to replace JavaScript. Compared to JavaScript, Dart's main advantages are that it introduces classes and interfaces and removes primitive data types. In fact, typing is completely optional in Dart. Every variable is an object anyway, even those "int" and "bool" variables. In addition to those things Dart has a prettier and more modern syntax than JavaScript.

The downside is that as of writing this no browser natively supports Dart, not even Chrome. You can, however, try the language using the so-called Dartboard program at the Dart homepage. It is basically a Dart interpreter written with JavaScript. Note that currently it only works in Chrome and Firefox!

To test the new language I wrote the 99 Bottles of Beer song in Dart. The link will take you to Dartboard where you can try the program yourself. The program uses the neat one line syntax for getters, one setter (using which looks just like using a regular public variable!), a class with a constructor with one required and one optional parameter, a method with an optional parameter and also an exception is thrown when the wall runs out of bottles.

After writing this program and submitting it to The 99 Bottles of Beer Website I searched Twitter for other versions of the song in Dart and indeed found one from some Japanese blog. That version of the song is somewhat different to mine and nice too, but fails to follow the lyrics in the end.

So anyway, Dart looks nice and easy to learn. It looks like everything that JavaScript should have been in the first place. We'll see when Chrome gets support for it and whether other browsers decide to start supporting it as well. Unfortunately some people apparently tend to use old browser versions for ages, so Dart won't overtake JavaScript any time soon.

sunnuntai 9. lokakuuta 2011

The best Android apps: runner-ups

A while ago I posted my own top 5 Android apps list. Of course, there are more great apps than just those but I wanted a comprehensive list of apps that would benefit everyone while still keeping the list short. Here are the other apps I considered for inclusion to my list of best Android apps:

Locus, another map software. I use it at least as often as OsmAnd, but I chose OsmAnd to the top list for the easier, built-in vector map downloading feature and routing/navigation. Locus contains good features for geocaching once you just load a GPX file of caches into it. It even seems to have an addon for online geocaching.

SoundHound & Shazam. What's that song playing here right now? These programs can answer this question by listening to the music and comparing it against their music databases. I haven't decided which one of these is better, but SoundHound is apparently more tolerant to background noise.

Gesture Search. This app allows you to search apps, contacts and music tracks on your device by writing their names on the touch screen with your finger. Much more convenient than trying to hit those small buttons of the on-screen keyboard. Especially useful if you install a shortcut into the app drawer of GO Launcher EX, where it is always available.

imo. Do you use any instant messaging software, such as Messenger, Skype, ICQ or Google Talk? This app can handle those and some other protocols as well. Very simple and clean yet effective interface.

KeePassDroid & Dropbox. I have written of both KeePassX and Dropbox in the past so it's excellent to have them on Android as well.

Bump. Quit messing with Bluetooth when you want to share files to another device, just bump the devices against each other in your fists and that's it! Bump magically transfers files between Android devices. They also claim that bumping between an Android device and an iDevice works as well! Once bumped, you can also send messages to the other device even when the other device isn't anywhere near.

Battery Monitor Widget. Does what the name implies and does it well. Keeps a history of the battery usage data and shows calibrated estimates on the run-time that's left.

maanantai 3. lokakuuta 2011

The best Android apps

When you google for the best Android apps you get a huge number of lists, each list with a large number of apps. In addition to those lists usually containing way too many apps to be really that useful, the apps are often US-specific, being of no use to 95 % of the world's population. Here's my take on the top 5 Android apps -- these are the apps that I think every Android user would really benefit of:

5. GO Launcher EX. You might not have thought about it, but pressing the home key of your Android device doesn't just "take you to the home screen", it actually launches a home screen program, also known as a launcher. So in your Android device even the features of your home screen are not statically defined but can be changed by installing a new launcher. GO Launcher EX is a versatile launcher program that contains many improvements over the default launchers. For example, GO Launcher EX allows you to resize your widgets to any size you like even if they don't support those sizes out of the box. It allows you to add multiple shortcuts at once and also contains a nice scrollable and customizable "app drawer" at the bottom of the screen. GO Launcher EX also supports scrollable widgets, so Launch-X becomes even more useful. With Launch-X widgets you can squeeze more shortcuts into a smaller space, saving lots of precious screen space. Use, for example, one Launch-X widget for all of your games and another for your best apps, and you'll still have plenty of room for widgets in your main screen!

4. Tiny Flashlight. Ever been in a room with little to no light? Yep. This app lights and keeps on the bright flash light of the camera of your device. You can even install it as a one click widget to your home screen. Always have a flashlight at hand with this app. And even if you don't have a camera or a flash light for it in your device, this app can turn your screen to white and to maximum brightness allowing you to see in its light.

3. OsmAnd. One of the best map programs available. As the name suggests, OsmAnd works primarily with OpenStreetMap (OSM) but also supports Google, Microsoft and Eniro tiles, for example. OsmAnd is special in that it also supports navigation and can even speak the route directions using a speech synthesizer. The program can also download OpenStreetMap vector maps into your device's memory so that you can use the maps offline, for example when you are abroad. Yet another very useful feature is that you can easily find points of interest based on a category. Where are the nearest restaurants or gas stations, for example? OsmAnd can show you. I recommend getting the latest version for free from the OsmAnd homepage.

2. Opera Mobile. A blindingly fast web browser at best, it beats the default browsers in all aspects hands down. Opera Mobile is easy and intuitive to use. It supports multiple tabs and contains a Speed Dial screen to which you can set visual bookmarks to nine of your favorite web pages.

1. Llama. Llama is a Location Aware Mobile Application. Llama introduces profiles and location based events to your device. For example, you might have a profile called "Home" in which the WiFi would be turned on, the ringer volume would be set to medium and the vibration off. Then you might have a profile called "Outside" in which the WiFi would be off, vibration on and ringer volume set to maximum. Llama then knows your location based on the phone masts: you only have to tell Llama that "I'll be in a place I call 'Home' for the next hour" and Llama starts learning the masts. When the learning is done and your phone then connects to a mast Llama doesn't know, it triggers the event "Left home" which switches to the profile called "Outside". Similarly, when you get back home your phone connects to a mast that Llama has learned in the past, triggering the event "Enter home", which switches to the profile "Home". In addition to location, actions can be attached to events such as plugging the device into a charger, entering a certain WiFi network or just on certain times. For example, Llama can be told to automatically completely mute your phone for the night. This is how it should have always been and I find Llama an innovative and extremely useful tool that everyone should have.

This concludes my list of best Android apps. I hope at least a couple of them were new to you and that you find all of them useful. :)

Edit/Add: For some more great apps check the runner-ups I considered for this list!

lauantai 2. heinäkuuta 2011

Furlongs per fortnight: Comparison of unit conversion apps for Android

The Android Market contains software for almost any purpose you may think of. Usually when you search for a program to do a given task you even get multiple hits. The programs can be rated but that doesn't tell much about their features. So, I now present a comparison between free unit conversion programs for Android. All of the programs were downloaded on June 30, 2011 and they are presented in a random order.

First there's Unit Conversion gratis version. The program's main menu has the categories presented in a large and clear light gray font on a black background. The program has a good numpad of its own and doesn't use the default virtual keyboard provided by the system. What bothers me, however, is that when you enter a category there's no usable default conversion selected. Instead the selected conversion is something like "km -> km", i.e. it does nothing. You also need to press "convert" instead of seeing the conversion result change as you type in more numbers. So, all in all not too good.

Second, we have aUnit Converter Free. It also has got a keypad of its own but in addition to that the default Android virtual keyboard pops up if you click the number field. The program is green text on black background -- some people apparently think it's cool but I'm not too fond of the scheme. The program does neatly operate in just one screen as there's first the category selection drop-down box, then the number field, and then the input unit, converted value and ouput unit. So, OK.

The third program is ConvertDroid. Compared to the previous two programs it boasts a way larger number of unit categories: 46. There are, for example, typography, fuel consumption and radiation related units available. The user interface of ConvertDroid feels rather crammed as it tries to display all available conversions at once. You don't select the input and output units from a list but instead just click on the number field for the desired input unit, begin typing and see the result of all conversions immediately. The program uses the default Android keyboard and as a slight annoyance it displays it in the letter mode by default, forcing you to tap it once to switch to the numeric keypad. The program does have a reasonable selection of default units visible in each category and you get less often needed units by clicking "Show all". Not too bad, but the keyboard-thing is annoying.

Next on the list is the cleverly named Unit Converter. The program has a very polished look with green "Web 2.0" icons and black text on white background. As the only program in this selection it has got a button for swapping the input and output units, which is a nice feature. You can also save your most often used unit conversions in the program's Favorites category which is shown at the top of the list. The program also converts currencies, loading up-to-date information from the web on the fly. I like this program, and the only annoying thing is that you have to hit enter or "Convert" to see the conversion result, i.e. it doesn't convert as you type. I might also want to have the categories as a drop-down list at the top of the screen but I'm not too picky on that.

Then, the pithily named Converter. The program operates as pithily as it is named: there are three drop-down boxes, two number fields and a "Clear" button (if you so choose -- you can also hide it from the settings). There is also a separate view for the categories as well but that's not needed at all as you can change the category from the main view as well. I like this one as well. It's simple and plain but has a very decent selection of categories and units. It even does number base conversions, which many of the other programs don't do.

Second to last, we have ConvertPad. The first thing you notice about the program is the insane amount of unit categories: 89! You can do conversions regarding viscosity, entropy, cooking and image resolution, to name just a few. This program would probably be your choice if you had a degree in theoretical physics, astronomy and some third subject as well. For anyone else it seems like an overkill.

Finally, there's another program named Unit Converter. Unfortunately this program also has the questionable honor of getting the last place in this comparison as well. It can only convert units from six different categories, not including such an obvious choice as speed. The Android keypad covers the target unit at least on my phone so at first you only see the "Value" field, "Convert from" text and drop-down box and the "Convert to" text, but not the drop-down box! The program also doesn't have any sensible default conversion values set but happily converts from, say, centimeters to centimeters. When you hit "Convert" the result slides in and you need to hit the Back key to get back to your number field and drop-down boxes. Due to all these little annoyances this program appears almost unusable to me.

There! Now the only thing left is to present the previous information in a nice tabular format. I hope this helps you pick a converter program -- or why not pick two: one for every day use and the other for the odd chance that your life would depend on correctly converting furlongs per fortnight to some sensible unit. ;)

Motorola Defy review

I recently switched from Nokia & Symbian to the Android bandwagon by buying a Motorola Defy smartphone. I got the phone for 261 euros when I also made a new operator contract -- the normal price would have been 299 euros. The price to quality ratio for the device is very good.

Defy is small (107 x 59 x 13 mm) compared to many smartphones, such as Samsung Galaxy S (122 x 64 x 9.9-14 mm) and thus fits nicely into your pocket. The 3.7" screen is also very sharp and clear with approximately 265 dots per inch (10.43 dots/mm)! What I was especially impressed by, however, was the fact that Motorola has made Defy a very durable phone. It is water, shock, dust and scratch resistant, as proven by these YouTube videos where the phone is abused but just keeps on going. Also, Engadget couldn't really think of any downsides in this phone, save for the Motoblur UI, which my version of the phone didn't even have in the first place. My version also does have Android 2.2.

As this is my first Android phone I cannot really tell the difference to any other similar phones, but to me the phone feels fast and responsive, although I have had to reboot it once when it for some reason became very sluggish. Other than that playing Angry Birds, for example, has been a pleasure. Only few levels in Angry Birds Rio, for example, have so much stuff around them at first that the game slows down a little, but that is fixed after you slingshot the first bird out and manage to destroy anything. :)

Multiple home screens is also a nice feature. I have my calendar and SMS information along with the most used shortcuts in the first, a Facebook and a Twitter widget in the other, etc. The pull-down menu at the top of the screen is nice and features many kinds of announcements (mostly just for new email and newly installed programs). In the app menu I would like to sort my installed programs into different folders but that doesn't seem to be possible, although there's probably an app for that too in the Android Market, and using the different home screens for different program categories has been working for me so far.

As nice surprises for me the phone also features a radio (once you connect any headphones to it using a standard 3.5 mm plug) and a magnetometer, which basically translates to an electronic compass. The phone also has a GPS receiver so it knows its location and orientation, allowing you to use cool apps such as the Google Sky Map which is basically a virtual planetarium where you can point your phone into the sky (or the ground for that matter) and it tells you what stars and planets are there in that direction. The phone also has WIFI so you can enjoy fast internet connections wherever you have a WIFI access point.

The virtual keyboard takes a little practice but I guess that's inevitable with the first virtual keyboard you have ever used. When you get used to it it's easy and has been called better than the virtual keyboard in other Android smartphones. Swype is also a neat method for entering text -- if nothing else then it at least provides amusing guesses. ;) A little drawback is that if you want to write an SMS message with the phone in a horizontal orientation (to get a larger keyboard), you don't see the amount of characters used until you exit the writing mode, so you risk writing too long messages and having to shorten them before sending (if you want to fit it all into one message). Even when using the phone in a vertical orientation, you need to write something like 40 to 50 characters until the area for the text is made taller and the character count becomes visible.

All this being said, so far I have been very happy with my phone and can recommend it for anyone looking to buy a new Android phone. :) It has been made durable so I would expect Defy to last more than the two or three years which has been the life time for my previous two Nokia phones.

keskiviikko 15. kesäkuuta 2011

Assembling yet another computer

I recently put together a new computer at work. It consists of an Asus M4A89GTD Pro motherboard in a Codegen M-610 case and some other components, including two 1 TB hard disks in a RAID 1 setup.

Compared to my personal computer, you could definitely tell the case was a cheap one. You were supposed to raise the motherboard up and away from the side of the case with 8 or 9 gold-colored screws, I think, but included with the case there were one too few of those. There was also only some four proper large'ish screws to secure the motherboard to those raising screws, so I had to use some smaller screws for the rest. They were possibly meant for hard disks but had the same diameter anyway.

Also, it was impossible to install the optical drive from inside the case, as the case is small and the power supply unit was too close to the front of the case. As a result, I had to yank off the entire front panel of the case. (Well, it was re-attachable.) There were some rubber things that you could push to the holes on the sides of the optical drive to secure it in place, but those quickly got mangled and I had to shuffle them around a bit to get them to stay in shape while sliding the optical drive past them.

The most show-stopping issue came then: the PSU only had two sockets for giving power to SATA drives! So I had to choose between (a) an optical disk drive and one hard drive or (b) two hard drives. I needed the optical drive to install the operating system (CentOS) but I also wanted a RAID 1 configuration.

This turned out to be a non-issue after all, as the motherboard's RAID controller easily created the configuration after I had installed the system, powered off the computer and swapped the optical drive for the hard disk. It was actually so quick I thought it did nothing, but I had to believe it after I powered the computer off again, pulled off the cable of the first drive -- and successfully booted the computer into the operating system, with a brief warning from the RAID controller.

So, what did we learn? Don't buy the cheapest case around there if you intend to build your computer yourself. The cheap cases are small, they might not have enough screws, and their power supply units will lack connectors. You probably couldn't fit a large video card into this case either. The motherboard seemed OK though, and the RAID controller appears to work very well.

I forgot already, but either the motherboard or the case came with a small socket thing into which you could connect the little wires from the case: the disk activity led, the power button, etc. Then that socket could be attached into the motherboard at once. That's a hundred times easier than connecting all those wires directly into the motherboard and I'm a bit jealous that my more expensive case did not have such a socket, even though it's not a new invention.

Finally, here's a bad quality photo of the case with the motherboard. There's also an AMD Athlon II X4 640 processor with the boxed heat sink and fan installed. You'll see that they are approximately as tiny as with my own quad-core Intel's boxed accessories that I recently replaced.

sunnuntai 15. toukokuuta 2011

Thermalright Silver Arrow in a Nexus Version1 with Asus P7P55D-E LX

In November when I bought a new computer I wrote that I should've also bought a proper CPU cooler instead of going with the boxed heat sink and fan. Now with the summer and warmer weather coming I finally did that. After reading some reviews I chose the Thermalright Silver Arrow which had received some favorable reviews. I checked the specs for the thing and saw that it was 163 mm tall. Well, good! There is approximately 168 mm of space above the motherboard in my Nexus Version1 case, so there's plenty of room (well, 5 mm!) for the cooler. At most I'd have to rip some of the noise absorbing material out.

The installation would have been easy with a brand new computer. However, as I had already once assembled it, I now had to remove almost all of the components so that I could install the supporting prop thing under the motherboard. Without it, the heavy cooler would most likely just bend the entire CPU socket out of the motherboard, destroying it.

Now I had finally disassembled and assembled my computer again. But d'oh! It turns out that the cooler is indeed 163 mm tall, but it is installed to the top of the CPU, about 10 mm above the motherboard! So, now the case cannot be closed as the heat sink extends out 5 mm too much. :(

You wouldn't think a normal case would pose a problem to any heat sink, but the Silver Arrow is just huge! I was more concerned that it wouldn't fit on the motherboard as there are many components that might be too tall and prevent the cooler from being installed. I looked up some random Thermalright Silver Arrow Motherboard Compatible List which said my motherboard, an Asus P7P55D-E LX, would be compatible with the cooler. Turns out, that list was slightly optimistic. In theory the Silver Arrow can be installed in two ways and in those two ways the two fans can have two different configurations. However, it appears that only one fan can be used with the motherboard! The fan would fit above the heat sink but the metal rods that secure it tightly in its place would make a contact with the bottom of the graphics card. The fan cannot face the back side of the case as the Ethernet, USB and other connectors don't leave any room for it. The bottom side is out of question as well because of the interestingly placed hard disk holder of the case, and the fan cannot be placed towards the front of the case either because that's were the RAM modules are.

Luckily the cooler works fine with only one fan that's installed in the middle of it. With the boxed cooler running the system at a 25 percent load would bring the CPU temperature up to 75 to 80 °C. With the Silver Arrow and just one fan the same temperature isn't achieved even at a 50 percent load and even then the noise is much more bearable than with the boxed cooler. The system idle temperature is also 10 to 20 °C cooler than with the boxed heat sink and fan.

Bottom line: the cooler works very well but now I have to use my computer without the side panel of the case. Because of this I unfortunately cannot recommend the Silver Arrow if you happen to have a Nexus Version1 case or any other case thinner than 210 mm or so. With a sufficiently large case, however, it is undoubtedly one of the best coolers out there.

Finally, here are some photos. The first photo shows the boxed heat sink and fan, right there in the middle:

The second photo shows the system with the boxed cooler replaced with the Silver Arrow:

tiistai 12. huhtikuuta 2011

The Humble Frozenbyte Bundle

Last December I wrote about The Humble Indie Bundle #2, a collection of indie games for whatever price you chose to pay. Apparently it was a great success as a new humble bundle is already out: The Humble Frozenbyte Bundle. The games are Trine, Shadowgrounds: Survivor, Shadowgrounds, Splot and Jack Claw. I don't know much about any of them but I bought the bundle anyway. All of the games work on Windows, Linux and Mac. You can also donate part or all of the price to charity. As I'm writing this the bundle has been out only for some 2 to 3 hours and has already been bought more than 27000 times with an average purchase of 5.20 USD. :)

keskiviikko 23. maaliskuuta 2011

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 newbie FAQ/tutorial, part 2

Since my first post I've been playing the game some more and thought I'd share a few more points that I forgot or didn't know at the time of writing my previous post.

1. Use your combat knife to cut through obstacles like fences and doors. The knife is used by default by clicking the mouse wheel. It can obviously also be used to kill enemies should you get close to them.

2. Always play until the end of the round, especially if your team is winning. Winning a round earns you some extra points. You can tell the situation by looking above the mini-map at the lower left corner. Above the mini-map are the tickets left for each team. Each ticket corresponds to one respawn. Medics can get them returned by resurrecting dead teammates, and in Rush games new tickets are earned when M-COM stations are destroyed. In Rush games the defenders have unlimited tickets and the attackers a finite number. If the attackers run out of tickets the defending team has won, but if the attackers manage to destroy all the M-COM stations then they will win. In Conquest games both teams start with the same amount of tickets.

3. I have recently gotten into playing as a medic. Their machine guns are nice as you mostly don't need to be afraid of running out of bullets. You can also earn a fair amount of points by throwing first aid kits to teammates that are hurt or are about to get hurt. Do also resurrect your dead teammates when playing as a medic. Get next to their body and hit them with the paddles. You can see your dead teammates in the mini-map as a kind of an EKG symbol. (Finding the body from the map might prove a bit difficult sometimes, though, as the symbol does not pinpoint the actual location too accurately.)

4. The symbols shown in the mini-map change based on the character class you are playing. As a medic you see the EKGs but as an assault soldier you see ammunition symbols when your teammates need you to drop them some ammo boxes. Do help them. Engineers see wrenches when a vehicle needs to be repaired. I don't know if recon specialists see any special symbols, but anyone driving a vehicle will see an arrow if someone wants to get a ride. When you are on foot you can indicate the need for a ride by looking directly at the vehicle driven by your teammate and hitting the Q-key.

5. Don't be afraid of trying out the hardcore multiplayer mode. The main difference is that there's no mini-map. That might not be bad, though: you certainly won't be able to see as many enemies at once, but at the same time the enemies are less likely to see you!

6. Spot those enemies. I said this in the first post already but I cannot stress that enough so I'll just repeat it here again.

7. Finally, watch this video by Pixel Enemy. The title is Battlefield: Bad Company 2 - How Not To Be A Noob:

torstai 3. maaliskuuta 2011

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 newbie FAQ/tutorial, part 1

I've recently been playing the hugely popular online multiplayer game Battlefield: Bad Company 2. I'm late in this train as the game was released a year or so ago already, but better late than never. The game contains a ranking system with 50 ranks and I'm currently at rank 3 or 4 after clocking some 10 hours in the game. I've noticed that there are some great guides to the game, like the ones Brighthub has (must read!), but I haven't seen a good tutorial/FAQ aimed for those of us who are total newbies to the game. This blog post is my attempt to at least partially rectify that lack of guides aimed for newbies. This way I'm also documenting my own process of getting into the game.

Single player vs. multiplayer

So, what should one know about the game? It's got a single player and a multiplayer mode. I played the first few maps of the single player campaign before moving to the multiplayer. I admit I don't know if the progress in single player makes any difference in the options you have available in the multiplayer, but I doubt that. I'll focus on the multiplayer mode exclusively.

The multiplayer mode can have up to 32 players in a single game -- 16 players per team. The game has a few different game modes of which the Conquest and Rush seem to be the most popular.


The Conquest mode contains areas of interest that the team must capture and hold to win the round. There are a few areas to be captured at any given time. You capture the area by clearing it from enemies and hanging out in there until it switches sides, which may be about 10 seconds. You get points for capturing the area or assisting in the capture. The color of the area (or actually the color of the square marking the area in your mini map, HUD) tells the side which currently controls it: if the square is red, the area is controlled by the enemy. Blue squares are controlled by your team and white squares are still neutral.


In the Rush mode one team attacks and another defends crates that are placed in the map. The crates are shown as squares like the areas of the Conquest mode. The attackers aim to blow up the crates by getting to them and holding the E-key until a bomb is armed. This again takes some 10 seconds. Then a sort of warning time follows during which the square of the crate blinks in the HUD and a red light blinks in the building the crate is in. During this time the defenders must try to disable the bomb, again by getting to it and holding the E-key. The crates may also be destroyed by collapsing a building on it, which requires some heavy weaponry such as a mortar strike called in by a Recon specialist, but more on that later.

Character classes

At the beginning of each round you may pick a character class. You can choose between assault, medic, engineer and recon.

Assault is your typical assault rifle -carrying all-around guy who does most of the dirty job in the front line. I don't really like the class because I find the basic assault rifle too inaccurate and not powerful enough, plus the class lacks the neat gadgets the other classes have.

The Engineer class is something I prefer to the Assault class. The basic submachine gun is accurate and I've gotten many kills with it. The trick here is to use the iron sights - brought up by clicking the right mouse button -- and to shoot in short bursts or even single shots. Full auto will just empty your clip in no time while giving away your position, leading in your quick demise. The engineer also starts with the RPG -- rocket propelled grenade launcher -- which is great for eliminating not only tanks but also enemies that are hiding behind some walls. Remember: you don't need to see the enemy to kill them. You can shoot through fences and thin walls and I've already scored many kills that way. The RPG allows you to kill enemies behind thicker walls by bringing the wall down altogether.

The Medic class is somewhat boring in the beginning: it does not start with the medical equipment, you have to earn them. Sure, the PKM machine gun is neat, but I find that it's not too accurate.

I played most of my first hours as a Recon specialist. The Recon specialist is basically a sniper: armed with a sniper rifle, capable of taking out individual enemies from a distance. Sounds cool, but I've found that the maps don't support this too well, as most of the time they are crowded and have several passages, allowing enemies to sneak behind you. The other issue is of course the fact that if you can see the enemy then the enemy can see you. A sniper's worst enemy often seems to be another sniper, and as most of the players have much more experience and better weapons than a newbie sniper, it's not difficult to guess the outcome.

The Recon specialist's first earnable gadget is the motion detection mine. Use them! They are like grenades but instead of exploding they stay in the ground for a short while, alerting your team about enemies that enter their vicinity. You will also be awarded some points if your teammates kill the enemies spotted by those mines.

The second gadget that a Recon specialist earns are the binoculars. These are used to call in mortar strikes. You don't need to be able to see the enemy to call in the strike. To call in a mortar strike you may first locate the enemy by moving the binoculars so that the white dot in the middle turns red. That's not required, though, so you can just target the wall behind which the enemy is hiding. Then hold the left mouse button until the progress bar below the dot fills and the rounds are on their way. The strike is not instant, of course, but it takes a while for the shells to fly into their target. This is, however, a good weapon if the enemy has, say, parked a tank somewhere and is shooting at your troops from a basically stationary position.

About the guns the recon specialist first earns, the Type 88 sniper rifle is pretty good. It is semi-automatic as in opposite to the basic rifle which is a bolt-action one. The difference is that with a semi-automatic rifle you can shoot your magazine empty without ever leaving the scope view, whereas a bolt-action rifle needs to be reloaded after every shot, slowing your rate of fire considerably. The recon specialist also earns some shotguns which may be used if the number of sniper rifles in a team is limited by the server and if you still want to use the binoculars or the motion detection mines.

Spotting enemies

Talking about spotting enemies, that's a really important part of the game. When you see an enemy without the red triangle over his head, you should always hit the Q-key, or the "Socialize button" as it's called. This alerts your team by displaying a red triangle over the enemy's head and in the mini map. Nothing is more frustrating for a sniper than trying to find out targets without any spotting help when obviously a constant firefight is going on in the front line. The front line warriors also appreciate a lot if you spot enemies that are, for example, trying to flank them. I've found out that spotting works best while using the scope of a sniper rifle or the iron sights of a regular gun, but that's not necessary. Again, you get points for spotting enemies if they are killed because you spotted them. So don't try to kill all the enemies by yourself, help yourself and your team by spotting the enemies as often as possible!

Stationary guns

One of the factors that made me change my primary character class from Recon to Engineer was the fact that I noticed that most of my Recon kills were coming from using stationary machine guns, not the sniper rifles. Some maps have heavy machine guns that can be mounted by going next to them and hitting the E-key. When you mount a heavy machine gun you will want to see better, which is why you probably should shoot down as many of the obstacles in front of you as possible. This includes, for example, trees, crates and walls. By creating a large open space in front of you you force the enemies to cross it without much cover, allowing you to nail them better.


Many maps in the game contain vehicles such as tanks and helicopters. Vehicles are entered by going next to them and hitting the E-key. Tanks have a spot for the driver, who also controls the main cannon, and a shooter, who controls the machine gun. The shooter's primary responsibility is then to spot and kill enemy engineers with RPGs. The tanks also have some spots for passengers, if you want a ride.

Helicopters are very nice but difficult to fly. You should practice flying them in an empty, unranked server, as you are most likely to crash the thing on your first few tries, and that's not something you want to do with a crew inside the helicopter counting on you. The pilot also controls the missiles. The gunner's position is much easier to handle. The Gatling guns the attack chopper has are very powerful and can even be used to bring down walls. Helicopter's worst enemies are Engineers with RPGs and heavy machine guns, possibly mounted on tanks. Skilled snipers may also shoot the crew members of the helicopter, which is pretty bad for the helicopter if the shot member was the pilot.

Finally, some maps have little computer stations that can be entered like machine guns but cannot be used to shoot at anything. They are UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) control stations. UAVs are small, unmanned, easy to fly helicopters. They can be used for reconnaissance and for painting targets for hellfire missiles (which work like Recon specialist's mortar strikes), but I don't have much experience on that.

Other tips

The bullets have a travel time and they are affected by gravity. Gravity means that for targets that are far away you must aim at the top of their head to score a hit. If you shoot at their torso the bullet might drop enough to barely hit their ankles. This is not a concern most of the time but especially snipers should be aware of this. Aiming at the top of the head usually scores a headshot as well, killing the enemy with a single shot. Travel time means that if you are shooting an object that's moving fast, you should aim a little ahead of them. You will know that you have hit your target once an "X" appears at the center of the screen (which is where you always shoot). That happens with all guns, including the stationary machine guns and sniper rifles.

Experienced enough medics can drop first aid kits into the field. The kits are marked by "+" signs in the mini map. They won't heal you instantly but they will accelerate your regeneration when you hang out next to them. Healing teammates like this also earns the medic some points. Similarly, assault soldiers can drop ammo boxes. If you manage to stay alive for long enough to run out of ammo, you should find these boxes. The ammo is grabbed automatically by going next to the box.

Something else that can be grabbed from the field are the kits of deceased soldiers. A kit contains all the weapons and gadgets the soldier was carrying and replaces the kit you were carrying at the moment. This is a nice way of getting a taste of some more advanced technology. A kit stays in the ground for a short while after their owner has been killed so if you want to have one you should make your decision quickly. You will know you can pick up a kit with the E-key when a message in the middle of the screen says so. The symbol next to the message tells you what kind of a kit it is: a circle with a crosshair in it means a recon kit, a "+" means a medic kit, etc.

Finally, here's a neat site that displays statistics about your soldier: Stats Verse. You don't even need to register to get a huge bunch of information about your progress. The official site also has statistics, but they are always more outdated than Stats Verse's where you can even force an update of your stats. The official site might be a bit clearer, though, and it has got textual descriptions of all the guns and gadgets.

So, I believe here are the most important things I've learned about the game so far in my short career. Did I miss anything? What were your biggest aha-experiences as a newbie player? Any other tips or tricks for the newbies? Please discuss!

Edit/Add: See Part 2 for some more tips!

tiistai 22. helmikuuta 2011

Samsung TV Twitter app

Now that I recently got myself a Twitter account I figured I'd finally try the Twitter app in my Samsung BD-C6500 blu-ray player.

The app contains pretty much the same screens as the Twitter web site: Profile, Home, People, Topics. The app felt quite slow to me but it seems to do its job and is definitely one of the best apps available to the system (not that it'd be very difficult to reach that level, though..). I'd use this for my twittering if my desktop computer, netbook and phone all died simultaneously. :) Here are a few photos -- click to enlarge:

lauantai 5. helmikuuta 2011

Twitter revisited

A month ago I got myself a Twitter account just to find out what's all the fuss about. Much to my surprise I now see that I have tweeted some 160 times: that's five tweets a day on average! I'm also following 59 other users and 12 are following me, although I suspect a few of them are not interested in my tweets per se and are instead selling something and trying to get me to follow them as well.

I have found TweetDeck a decent Twitter client. It can, for example, automatically shorten your URLs. It also pops up a message box at the edge of your screen every time you receive a new tweet, which will, however, get annoying if you are actually trying to do something that requires you to concentrate. In these cases I've found it best to just close TweetDeck and to occasionally check the Twitter home page.

What do I tweet about? 5 to 10 percent of my tweets seem to be messages to other users, i.e. comments to something they have tweeted about. I rarely receive any replies to my comments... 10 to 15 percent of my tweets are retweets. That's just forwarding other people's interesting tweets. 20 to 30 percent seem to be my original thoughts about things like movies and everything else. The majority of my tweets are just links to interesting blogs, web pages and articles that I have found from various sources.

Twitter is a convenient way of getting interesting pieces of information and quickly sharing pretty much anything. You can also use it as your sort of public bookmark list by favoriting the most interesting tweets. :)

(Image by Randa Clay)

lauantai 22. tammikuuta 2011

Ordering stuff from Amazon and Book Depository

A while back I decided I needed a new flash light for geocaching. I compared some products and decided to go for the Led Lenser P7, partly because I had seen one in use and was very impressed by its Cree LED. So, the lowest price for the torch in Finland was 55 €. This led me to search it in foreign online stores and sure enough, offered it for £37.00 which is about 43.50 € so I decided to order it. However, at the final page, just before clicking that button that places the order, the price was displayed as "£37.92". In other words, the price had just gone up by almost a pound, with no explanation whatsoever. Huh?

Naturally I aborted the ordering process and mailed to the Amazon customer support instead. It took them a couple of days to reply, during which time the price of the torch had gone up by a couple of pounds. This is because the prices keep changing constantly according to their availability. Apparently there's nothing new in this. "Thanks." (I then waited for a couple of days for the price to drop back to £37 before ordering the torch.)

The customer support was pretty clueless about my original problem with the price being different at the shelf and at the counter, and I had to find the answer via other means: it turns out the price they show in the store has been calculated assuming the 20% VAT (value added tax) rate in use in the UK. However, in Finland the standard VAT rate is 23% so the difference in the taxes is added into the total at the checkout stage.

I also needed a couple of books, but as the VAT rate for books in the UK is 0% and 9% in Finland, the difference between the displayed and the actual price is a lot larger than with other items. Complaining about this to some friends I was told about another online book store called Book Depository. Both books I needed had a lower price there than in Amazon and Book Depository also has free delivery, so I ordered the books from there.

Morals of the story:

  1. Check the final prices carefully when ordering from one country to another: there may be additional costs in the item prices.
  2. When ordering something from Amazon, wait for a few days and observe the price of the item. You'll get an idea on how the price changes (because it does keep changing) and may save a few dollars, pounds or euros.
  3. Even if Amazon is the best-known book store out there, it's not the only one nor always the cheapest one.

lauantai 15. tammikuuta 2011

Death Rally

Great news! I have finally found the perfect action game for netbooks: the 1996 hit game Death Rally! It is actually made by Remedy Entertainment, the same company that created Alan Wake — the game that the Time magazine selected as the best game of 2010.

In case you haven't heard of Death Rally it's a racing game where machine guns are an integral part of your car. You drive through races and try to climb up the ladder of competitors. You can also buy new cars and certain new parts and power ups. Every now and then a shady sponsor will offer you an extra task, such as destroying another player's car in the next race...

Death Rally has been ported to work on modern computer hardware and software. When playing on an Asus EeePC 1101HA (or any other netbook with a lousy graphics chip) you only need to give the game the -nogl parameter to make it play smoothly:

Usually the problem with playing old games on a modern computer is that the game refuses to run because it does not recognize the software that is being used. Probably the support for some old features has even been intentionally dropped from the DirectX drivers, for example. The problem with playing new games on a netbook is that netbooks often just don't have the oomph to play games. Even Droplitz, for example, a nice and simple puzzle game in the spirit of Pipe Dream et al. with a Bejeweled-kind of a twist is just unplayable on an EeePC 1101HA.

The great thing about Death Rally is that it's still exactly the same game as 15 years ago, the only difference with the previous release seems to be the fact that it runs on current computers. :) I must warn you though: by today's standards the game is not that pretty. However, the playability and enjoyability make that up more than well. There will even be an iPad/iPhone version soon so start practicing on the Windows version already!

tiistai 4. tammikuuta 2011

Open letter to Team17 / Worms: Reloaded review

Dear Team17,

Worms 2 was one of the best games of the late 1990s. I remember playing it countless of hours, designing my own maps and even playing some online games over a dial-up connection. Those were the days!

Now, I recently bought Worms Reloaded from Steam. I figured Worms would be a perfect, simple yet entertaining game to play on my Asus EeePC 1101HA netbook. Well, I was wrong. I couldn't even get past the initial profile creation screen, the game wouldn't work well enough. It probably has to do with the lousy GMA500 graphics chip, but still I would've thought that a game whose looks haven't really changed in 10 years would have worked. Lazy programming? I even tried searching through the game's configuration files to see if the resolution could be changed by editing them, but no luck.

Anyway, I then tried the game on my desktop computer and sure enough, this time it started without a problem. However, the first WTF-moment came right in the beginning: I was asked to create a team but I could only set names for four worms?! Four? As in half-of-the-previous-maximum-of-eight? Seriously? More worms equals more fun, so why on Earth would you reduce the amount of worms per team?

Then I tried playing a game with my newly created team. The main menu already has ten different options but I chose the one where it says "Single Player". Now, a menu of seven items appeared:

Huh? I suppose it's good to have some variety, but what are all these Warzones and Body Counts? There's not even a tooltip explanation for them when you hover your cursor over the menu items. Custom Game sounds like some good, old-fashioned fun so let's choose it and ignore the rest. Now the player is greeted with this screen:

Now, pay attention to this. I think this screen is an exemplary example of what's wrong with Worms: Reloaded. Over the time certain standard user interface widgets, such as drop-down boxes and scroll bars, have been developed and established as good and usable features. This screen, however, tries to reinvent everything. It took me a while to figure out how to add teams into the game. Turns out you need to click the team name between the arrow symbols to move it into the Current Teams box. The next question is "How do I get computer opponents into the game?". There's no view of all the available teams, so you need to scroll for more teams. Turns out computer players have a microchip symbol next to their names, but their difficulty level cannot be determined before adding them into the game. So, two major issues in choosing the team alone: you cannot see all the available teams at once and you cannot see the computer team difficulty levels beforehand. This was certainly done better in the previous Worms games. In an attempt to confirm this I even installed and tried Worms 2 and Worms World Party but unluckily neither one of them would even start on my Windows 7.

The next whatchamacallit on the screen is Game Style. What are these? No information whatsoever is given about them here. To find out more information about them one has to abandon the current setup, go back to the main menu, choose Customise, then Manage Game Styles, and then Edit the game style one wants to know more about. It's a bit of a hidden feature and I was surprised you could actually customize the game this much. There are four different categories of options and the menus look like this:

I find it inconceivable that even on 1920x1200 resolution only seven options are shown at once. Team17, you've got more than 2.3 million pixels at your disposal and you waste it by displaying information that could be easily fit into a thousand pixels?! The only reason I can think of is that this game has originally been designed for consoles and that the players are supposed to be sitting on the other end of the room, but you could do so much more for the PC version! The least you could do would be to scale the menus to show more items at once. Possibly the worst example of menu design is the weapon customization menu:

Really? With 2.3 million pixels you could only fit in information for one single weapon at a time? Have fun customizing all the 47 weapons, let alone comparing the settings of different game styles. I certainly don't want to create new styles or edit the old ones with this user interface, so I'm stuck with the pre-created ones. And by the way, what's with that 47 weapons? Worms World Party had more than 60 weapons! Since when have sequels been made by reducing the available options or by making menus more difficult to use? Talking about weapons, here's the in-game weapon menu:

There are less weapons than probably ever before yet the menu takes up the entire screen, as opposed to just one corner like before! Previously, the weapons were also nicely grouped by purpose: bazooka-type of weapons first, then grenades, then handguns, martial arts, explosives, animals, air strikes, and so on. Now, they are all there in one big mess. The numbers are also horribly off: for example, you cannot easily tell if you have got two or three ninja ropes left in the image shown above.

Now, back to starting the game. We have already seen that the Custom Game menu is counterintuitive and is trying to conceal as much useful information as possible. It does very little to actually allow the player to customize a game. So after setting the teams and clicking Start Game, the game, well, does not start. Instead, you get to choose a landscape. The random landscape generator looks like this:

Looks nice enough but you quickly get frustrated: creating a new landscape takes about two seconds. Forget about Worms 2's instant new random landscape button, the ability to enter a textual random seed for new landscapes and the nice and clear landscape profile view. Now, you'll have to watch an animation of horizontal and vertical scan lines going through the screen and then the random objects are placed around the landscape! The buttons that choose the theme and terrain shape also exhibit the "click to cycle" behaviour known from other menus already, so if you know that you want to play a pirate-themed cavern level you may end up having to click many times and watching the new landscape creation animation equally many times. And all I wanted to do was to play a fun game of Worms! Because of the random landscape generator's repulsive controls you might as well keep playing quick games instead because selecting the landscape is not fun.

Anyway, after selecting a landscape you finally get into the game (to be plagued by the weapons menu). Here's an in-game screenshot:

Yep, the entire playing area fits into one screen (if you zoom out). It just doesn't feel right: it has never fit into a single screen at once so why cannot it be bigger now as well? It may be just an optical illusion caused by the large resolution in use but still. And look how sparsely the worms are placed! You could certainly have bigger teams as well. Luckily the actual gameplay is still pretty fun.

As a conclusion, I've got mixed feelings about Worms: Reloaded. I really would like to like it and it seems to be the only Worms that works on the current computer systems. However, the counterproductive user interface is taking much of the fun out of the game. Team17, if you've got a UI designer then why don't you listen to that person? Or if you don't have one then hire one quickly! Finally, and I hope this is not the case, if you do have got a user interface designer and that person did design all those crappy menus, please fire them or at least give them a serious warning. Wrapping up, the most serious drawbacks of the game are:

  • user interface tries to conceal as much useful information as possible
  • weapons menu: lacking many weapons, fills up the entire screen and is not organized
  • the maximum size of a team is only 4 worms

In case you decide to publish yet another sequel then I suggest you call it something like Worms: Resurrection and get back to basics instead of coming up with six new single player modes.


I just got myself a Twitter account: @ZeroOne3010. I don't know if I'll be using it for anything but at least I can say I have tried. Does anyone know any good Twitter clients for Windows 7, or anyone interesting worth following? So far I'm following some news feeds, @MythBusters and @ConanOBrien.