Soma's Blog

January 3, 2012

Fail to the King Baby

Filed under: Games — somanov @ 03:02

I am writing this as the end credits of Duke Nukem Forever roll. I spent half my life waiting for this game. In the beginning expecting it to be the greatest game ever made, later dreading its release well knowing how bad it was most likely going to be.

So, how bad was it then? I am afraid I need to chime in with the critics and say “pretty bad”. Disappointing? Well maybe, but that would be only half of the story. Lets get some gripes out of the way first: Yes the graphics are outdated, the level design is inconsistent and for a game that should be about shooting aliens there are far too many forgettable puzzles, platforming and driving sequences. (okok the game is also pretty sexist and immature but thats hardly a surprise now, is it?).

But the biggest problem is that playing the game mostly feels like a chore, not like entertainment. No matter what I did the game never started to feel like FUN. Even on the lowest difficulty level the game is downright frustrating. Unfortunately the challenge does not come from clever enemies or tough battles: the number one cause of the Duke’s untimely demise was getting stuck in terrain, closely followed by sluggish controls and drowning (whoever had thought that an underwater bossfight with a limited air supply sounds like a jolly good idea should get his head checked). Many of this unnecessary annoyances should have been found and fixed during playtesting. (Perhaps the controls-situation is a bit better on the PC but on the console the game almost had me rage-quit a few times..)

Long story short.. if this had been released in 2001 it could have been an ok game. But today.. not so much.

The truth is I am not even disappointed, after all I have read enough reviews and knew what to expect (one of the reasons why I waited so long to play it). The word that best describes my state of mind would be “sad”. Sad for all this game could have been. If you take away all the annoyances, all the minor problems and bugs what remains is a game that has its heart in the right place (and its big manly hand firmly on the boob of some cheap blonde bimbo). You can feel the love that went into making this game, at the bottom of this mess is an honest attempt to create the great sequel we all had hoped Duke Nukem Forever would be. It saddens me that they failed so badly.

All the more I would hate it if the story of the mighty Duke ended like this. How about another installment of the franchise? Here is an idea: get the engine from Red Faction Armageddon. Build a huge open world city. Then let the Duke and a horde of aliens wreck it. I just hope this doesn’t take another 15 years or I might be too old to hold a controller in my arthritic hands…

December 13, 2011

Android Tablet App Guide

Filed under: Android,Tech — somanov @ 21:01

Ok I gave in to the hype and got myself a Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 as an early christmas present. And I have to say its a nice piece of hardware. There are a lot of reviews out there so I am not going to bore anyone with another one. But I would like to share a list of my favourite apps

 
  

Media Consumption

This is my main reason for getting a tablet: Having a nice portable device for entertainment such as reading news, comics or browsing the web

Pulse

An innovative and pretty news reading app in the same vein as “Flipboard” for the iPad (which is one of the main reasons why I wanted to get a tablet in the first place). It has a nice, compact UI and organizes your feeds in rows and columns. Until very recently it was the closest thing Android had to show as a Flipboard cone. That was until Google Currents came along…

Google Currents

A very nice Flipboard clone. Prettily organizes your news feeds and presents them “magazine style”. The only downside is that this thing is still in beta: it is currently pretty slow when updating/syncing and I have experienced an odd crash every once in a while. Oh, and it is only available for US users .. at least from the market. Shame on you google! Luckily a quick google search (how ironic) turns up a few links to download the .apk

ezPDF

The best PDF reader I have found. It offers a lot of features  (text highlighting, comments, even drawing)  which make this the perfect app for reading and annotating papers on a tablet. Highly recommended and definitely worth the few bucks. Get it from the market

SManga

Easily the best free manga reader out there. Can browse a lot of popular manga sites or download chapters for offline browsing. This app has been pulled from the market for some reason but is still available for download from the developer’s site

InstaFetch

Free Instapaper client for Android. Whats not to like? Check it out at http://instafetch.immortal.pl/

TED Air

Watch TED talks on your tablet. Highly recommended way to pass half an hour with something not completely braindead. Check it out

Chant

For your daily 4chan fix :)

 
  

Work

Not sure if I will get some serious work done on a tablet (the thought of typing more than 4 words without a physical keyboard still makes me cringe). However there are some nice apps available

Thinking Space

Create mindmaps on the tablet. Pretty neat. And free.

Evernote

Create, Edit and Share notes across multiple devices (and the web). Evernote is a nice tool and the Android client is free and well worth checking out.

Docs

View Google Docs. Editing is there as well but  it is a painful experience and best avoided. Linky

 
  

Utilities

Some utilities I find helpful.

ES File Explorer

The best file explorer app I have found so far. Nice UI. Preview for many filetypes. Support for network shares(samba). Free and recommended.

SwiFTP

Have you wondered how to get files on/off your tablet without a USB cable (and Windows)? Why not start an FTP Server on the tablet and use an FTP client from your desktop computer? SwiFTP is an FTP server app that is very easy to set up and use. Yep WIFI file transfers can be slow. But it still beats the crap out of looking for an USB cable (and rebooting).  Android Market

Dropbox

Dropbox client for the tablet. One way of syncing your local files with the cloud. Luckily it lets you choose which files to upload/download. Get it from the market

 
  

Games

Okok thats my other main reason to get a tablet :)  There are a LOT of games out there and I only had time to check out a few.  While I love playing shooters  on PC or console I dont think this will ever be the killer genre for a tablet. There are already some really nice strategy and puzzle games out there and I would love to see a few original point-and-click adventures for tablets. The interface should be perfect for it, no?

Angry Birds

Ok everyone knows that one. Still it is good fun and a great way to kill time.

Apparatus

Physics based puzzles in the spirit of “Incredible Machine”. I did the first few levels last night and they I will definitely be coming back for more. Market Link

World of Goo

Innovative puzzle game which has been released for a lot of platforms. Pretty fun and well made. The full game is about 4.00$ but a lengthy demo is available in the market.

Geed Corp HD

Turn based strategy game in the spirit of Advanced Wars (Battle Isle, History Line for the old people among you;). Very good visuals, looks pretty polished and its free.

Great Little Wargame

Another turn based strategy game. Good visuals, cute comic style graphics.  Only tried the first few levels and it has been fun so far (not too challenging though). Available in the market for 2 bucks.

UniWar

Turn based strategy multiplayer game. Have not tried this one yet but it offers singleplayer and multiplayer gameplay. Probably worth a look. But costs about 3.50$ in the market.

Space Squadron

Tried the demo yesterday and i LOVE the concept of this game. Think Wing Commander style space battles but turn-based. Unfortunately the UI is kind of clumsy and the game generally lacks polish. I played through the demo yesterday and I would definitely fork over 5 bucks  or more for the full game if the dev put some more work in polishing and balancing the game. (Market)

May 5, 2011

Problems with Kubuntu 11.04 (and some fixes)

Filed under: Linux,Ubuntu — somanov @ 23:36

Kubuntu 11.04 has been out for a few days now and I could not resist the urge to give it a try on my Dell Latitude E6400. I have been a dedicated  Kubuntu user for many years and -with the exception of certain low points- I think the user experience has always been pretty solid. The newest release however has been somewhat ..complicated.. I ran into a few obstacles and would like to share:

Installation

I decided to install the 64bit Version of Kubuntu 11.04.  After booting into live mode and  playing around for a while I was ready to install. Alas, the installer bugged out every time I tried to run it. Turns out the installer is currently unable to install from  live mode. I had to reboot and choose the “Install now” option during boot.

Firefox + Flash

Having finally managed to install the system I went on to install some essential programs that are for some reason still missing from the default install (is there anyone out there who honestly prefers Rekonq to Firefox/Chrome ? ). Anyway Kubuntu luckily provides a foolproof installer for Firefox and the Adobe Flash Plugin (flashplugin-nonfree) can easily be installed from the package manager. Unfortunately the Flash version in the Ubuntu repo is currently a mess. Some video sites (like youtube) work fine, while others (like the Nostalgia Critic for example) are inexplicably broken. The videos flicker and stutter and are a pain to watch.  The only fix I found was to install a different version of Flash. Check out the instructions here which can easily be summarized as:  To fix Flash for Firefox 4.0.1 (64bit) do

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:sevenmachines/flash
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install flashplugin64-installer

Crashes when resizing windows
Turns out installing the proprietary nvidia driver (nvidia-current) is currently a bad idea. The driver has a serious bug which causes the whole desktop to freeze / crash whenever a Konsole window is resized (in my particular case making the window smaller worked fine but making it larger predictably caused the whole computer to freeze). There is already a launchpad bugreport with a lengthy number of comments. Until this gets sorted out here are a few workarounds:

  • Use the noveau driver. The driver comes preinstalled and using it  is actually the default behavior. It works fine unless you regularly switch between 1-monitor and 2-monitor setups. In which case nvidia-settings is probably your best friend and you will want to use the nvidia driver.
  • Uninstall nvidia-current and use nvidia-173 instead. This seems to work but it comes with some slowdowns.
  • Turn off all Desktop Effects. Yes it takes away a lot of the pretty eye-candy.. but it also provides a simple, stable and fast solution for the problem.. at least until the issue with the nvidia driver gets sorted out.

Power Button – Freeze

Pressing the power button currently causes my laptop to freeze for about 20 seconds. Afterwards things start working again, but nothing else happens. Curiously, if I press the button again it suddenly works as expected and Kubuntu shows the logout menu. Again there is already a bugreport and this will hopefully be sorted out soon.

All bad?

All in all it took me quite some time to get a stable and usable version of Kubuntu 11.04. However now that everything is up and running I am pretty happy with the result. KDE4 has come a long way. There have been many big and small improvements over the last releases. Dolphin feels snappier than ever, the problems that have plagued the network manager in the past  have disappeared and I am actually starting to like Amarok again.  Yes there are still some bugs to squash and it currently takes some effort to get your install stable and usable. But these birthing pains are totally worth it. If you have not yet tried the newest version of Kubuntu. Go check it out now!

April 7, 2011

Test Users Wanted

Filed under: Research,Tech — somanov @ 20:20

Short Version

If you are interested in testing an innovative travel information service for mobile phones, please register as a test user and help support a research project I am currently working on.

(We currently support Java phones, Windows Mobile phones and the iPhone.)

Elaborate Version

With the emergence of services like google maps (bing maps, yahoo maps etc.) the world seems to get smaller by the minute. Detailed geographic information is just a a few clicks away. Planning a route to any possible destination has become a trivial exercise. Provided you are going by car.

If you are looking to travel by public transport however, things are not looking half as bright. Services like Google Transit poorly cover public transport route planning, especially in Europe (on this site most locations  in Europe are marked with “Transit layer only“. This means google only provides a static overlay with the most important transit lines, but does not offer journey planning). Admittedly there are a lot of reasons for that, and some of them are possibly not Google’s fault.  However the timetable data to perform public transport journey planning is usually readily available in the local area. And this is just the beginning: Public transport operators typically have detailed real-time information about delays and last-minute changes in their systems. And in many cases they would be willing to share.

Pretty much the same can be said about real-time traffic information (jams, delays, road blocks,etc): Communities like ITS Vienna Region are perfectly capable of providing high-quality traffic information for local areas, but this data is currently neglected in today’s route planners.

And here is where an ongoing research project I have been working on joins the game: The In-Time project pilots a pan-European approach to Real-Time Traffic and Travel Information  services. Six European pilot cities have agreed to share their real-time traffic information over a common interface. Demo applications have been developed which make use of the provided information and showcase the possibilities on a variety of mobile platforms. And the best thing about this is: the demo apps are free and we are looking for test users.

The In-Time demo is available for the regions Brno, Bucharest, Florence, Munich, Oslo and Vienna. It operates on Java phones, Windows mobiles and iPhones. The service helps you to plan trips by means of public transport, bicycle or car. It can show you the fastest way from one place to another by intelligently using real-time traffic information.

If you are interested in testing this travel information service on your mobile phone, please register as a test user. You will be asked to complete a questionaire before you are forwarded to the download site. The data in the questionnaire provides us with valuable feedback to  improve the services and polish our project results.

I would very much like to hear your feedback about the application and the project in general. Please keep in mind that the applications are still in beta state and we are in the process of squashing bugs and improving the overall user experience. Any kind of feedback for helping us to do so will be greatly appreciated.

Thanks for your support and enjoy using the In-Time application.

April 6, 2011

Taschenkontrollen im Saturn..

Filed under: Uncategorized — somanov @ 18:53

Gerade eine Mail an den Saturn Kundenservice geschrieben. Bin gespannt ob nich ne Antwort erhalte

Sehr geehrtes Saturn Team,

ich gehe jetzt schon seit vielen Jahren immer wieder gerne in Ihre Filialen. Besonders schätze ich dabei die große Medienabteilung, die zum stöbern einlädt und sich wunderbar dazu eignet kürzere Wartezeiten zu überbrücken. Seit einiger Zeit gibt es die Praktik am Eingang von Saturn Filialen Mitarbeiter zu postieren, welche beim Verlassen des Geschäftes -meist durchaus höflich- darum bitten einen kurzen Blick in eine mitgebrachte Tasche bzw. Rucksack werfen zu dürfen. Obwohl es mir -aufgrund der sowieso schon elektronisch gesicherten Waren- überflüssig erscheint, habe ich damit prinzipiell auch kein Problem.

Heute wurde ich nach einem Besuch einer Ihrer Filialen allerdings darauf hingewiesen dass ich meinen Arbeitslaptop beim Betreten des Geschäftes hätte als “mitgebrachte Ware” deklarieren müssen, und das ich mir sowas nicht nochmal erlauben solle (!). Ich verstehe natürlich das Bestreben, Missverständnissen vorzubeugen, indem man seine Besucher auffordert, wo anders gekaufte Waren vor betreten einer Saturn Filiale vorzuweisen. Ich dachte bisher aber immer dass es sich dabei um Dinge handelt, bei denen ein realistisches Potential für ein Missverständnis gegeben ist (wo anders erworbene Neuware, Sachen die noch Originalverpackt sind etc.). In meinem konkreten Fall handelte es sich um einen 2 Jahre alten Dell Laptop (eine Marke die von Saturn gar nicht geführt wird) mit deutlichen Gebrauchsspuren. Ich wäre nie auf die Idee gekommen das bei einem solchen Gerät der Verdacht aufkommen könnte ich habe es aus dem Geschäft entwendet.

Ich bitte darum mich richtig zu verstehen: es geht mir in keinster Weise darum mich über den leicht übereifrigen Security zu beschweren, ich würde nur gerne in Erfahrung bringen welche Art von Geräten man denn tatsächlich deklarieren soll bevor man eine Ihrer Filialen betritt? Meinen 2 Jahre alten Laptop? Was ist mit meinem Handy? Mp3Player? Ebook Reader?

Wie oben bereits erwähnt schätze ich es an Saturn Filialen sehr, dass ich einen spontanen Abstecher in die Medienabteilung machen, ein paar Minuten totschlagen und abundzu mit einer neuen DVD oder CD im Gepäck weiter zu meinem nächsten Termin gehen kann. Wenn ich in Zukunft aber gezwungen bin, jedes elektronische Gerät am Eingang anzumelden (und mich dazu erst noch in der Schlange vor dem Info Schalter anstellen muss) dann mindert das meine Motivation Ihre Filialen für Spontankäufe zu nutzen ganz erheblich. Darum wäre ich sehr daran interessiert, wie Ihre Policy gegenüber mitgebrachten Geräten im Detail aussieht. Ich freue mich auf Ihre Antwort.

mit freundlichen Grüßen

March 7, 2011

Still alive..

Filed under: Life the Universe and Everything,Python — somanov @ 23:23

just a quick update to prove I have not gone the way of the dodo just yet.

But admittedly I had little time and motivation for updates in the last few months, mostly due to work overload and a complete lack of something interesting to blog about.

To make this blog entry a little less meaningless let me share a little gem of free software:

Spyder

“Spyder (previously known as Pydee) is a free open-source Python development environment providing MATLAB-like features in a simple and light-weighted software, available for Windows XP/Vista/7, GNU/Linux and MacOS X.”

http://code.google.com/p/spyderlib/

This amazing IDE combines the power of the IPython shell with a variety of features I love in the Matlab GUI. Among many other cool features it contains a rather powerful source code editor with occurence highlighting, class/function browser, code completion and calltips. So if you love Python but are still looking for the perfect IDE, check out Spyder. You wont regret it.

July 5, 2010

Military Intelligence?

Filed under: Life the Universe and Everything — somanov @ 17:42

Need another reason why the military should be kept away from science? Take a look at the experiments planned by the US during the cold war. Basically it boils down to a simple formula: Find something interesting and Nuke it

Some examples:

I mean whats the worst thing that could happen, right? Right? *facepalms*

July 4, 2010

Futurama is back

Filed under: TV — somanov @ 09:45

Good news everyone… One of my all time favourite TV series is back. And like a lot of die hard fans I have been worried if the new season will still be Futurama as we all know and love it. After watching the first three episodes I am relieved to say: it still is…. wait let me rephrase this: It still is BUT….

Warning: minor Spoilers ahead!

Although the first episodes have been rather mediocre they still got the distinct wacky feel of true Futurama episodes and I got a few good laughs out of each. Bender still has the “right” attitude, the professor is mad as ever and Zoidberg is still the funniest side character in the history of TV ( ” Aha that explains the growth on your drive shaft! “). I still have a few gripes:

First of all as Futurama runs on a different network now they can probably get away with a lot more stuff. This was plainly visible in the first two episodes where there was a lot more explicit nudity than ever before. Dont get me wrong, I dont mind nudity on TV ..especially not of characters like Leela or Amy (and of course Zoidberg :P ) .. but I sure hope they will not overuse this.

My bigger gripe so far is the writing. Although I will admit that there have been weak Futurama episodes in the past, and none of the new episodes have been terrible. The writing on “Rebirth” was pretty solid. The story felt a little rushed but they had a lot of ground to cover. The first part of “In-a-gadda-da-Leela” was pretty strong (death spehere , invisible stealth craft piloted by Leela and Zapp) but the second half of the episode was kind of a letdown. The Leela/Zapp interaction just did not do it for me, and the conclusion of the episode felt just plain WRONG. Leela eagerly volunteering to “take one for the team” was completely out of character. I loved the final punchline though … “Was it as good for you as it was for the human race?” I gotta try this one myself some day ;)

The “Killer App” episode was solid Apple/Twitter bashing. Which is not a bad thing by itself and I kind of enjoyed it. But it feels weird to have Futurama do a whole episode of social commentary about current day phenomena. The show is set roughly a 1000 years in the Future, today’s technology and hypes will be ancient history by then. To think that social media will not evolve beyond Twitter and viral videos in the next 1000 years appears unimaginative and short-sighted to me. A lot of the jokes in this episode seemed random and reminded me more of Family Guy than Futurama (A singing boil named Susan? Come on writers you can do better than that.)

Also it feels like the writers have no idea where the Fry/Leela relationship is going, and thats pretty unsatisfying to me. Give them a chance I say (or kill the whole thing off and show them move on). But please be clear about it.

But despite these gripes I am pretty happy to have Futurama back. I just hope the writing in the upcoming episodes will be stronger and more akin to the “old classics”. Please dont go down the Family Guy road and dont focus on social commentary .. Family Guy, South Park and Simpsons already got that covered pretty well. At its core Futurama always was a Science Fiction show, and there are a lot of SciFi things out there that need to be made fun of. I have always loved Futurama for their strong well-told stories, great characters and inside jokes. So what better way to end this post than with an appeal to the writers in the words of their very own show: “Good humor based on character and real situations, not random crazyness.” (Amazon Women in the mood)

April 28, 2010

Regaining disk space on Android phones

Filed under: Android — somanov @ 22:56

Today after I installed Opera Mini on my G1 I ran pretty low on interal storage. I went to Settings->Application Settings->Manage Applications to remove some of the weightier apps from my phone. To my surprise I discovered that some Apps seemed to occupy a LOT more space than advertised in the Android Market (for example NewsRob used a whooping 12 MB instead of the 1.2 MB shown as install size in the Marketplace). Out of curiosity I uninstalled and re-installed the application. Afterwards it used the 1.2 MB that I expected it to take –> I gained about 10 MB of free space

The same thing seemed to be true for many of my other applications: they used a lot more space than the Android Market suggested they would. Uninstalling and re-installing the application fixed the problem and freed the excess space. Now I have the same applications installed as before, but about 25 MB more free internal storage.

I wonder how this can happen. I noticed that many of the “overweight” applications were installed for a long time and I think they have seen quite a few updates. So perhaps something could be wrong with the way Android (1.6) handles application updates? Maybe some old files dont get deleted when they should be? (No clue really, just guessing).

Anyway I thought this observation may prove useful for other G1 users struggling with disk space shortage.

April 13, 2010

Matlab for Dummies

Filed under: Matlab for Dummies — somanov @ 19:58

I am starting a new category called “Matlab for Dummies”. I was recently forced to start using Matlab at work, and I  have run into a lot of little annoyances and WTFs. And I intend to share.

I am planning to use this category as a way to write down things I had a hard time figuring out, and which might be useful to others. And also to vent my frustration about the inconsistent, ugly piece of s……oftware that matlab appears to be. So.. stay tuned :)

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