Ramblings

Soylent – Is it really possible to move past food?

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We live in a world of harsh realities.

There are some hard facts that the we have to live with such as world hunger, imbalance of wealth, global obesity levels and gender inequality (among many other more contemporary issues such as ‘privacy in the modern world’). Read the rest of this entry »

Primordia – The game that renewed my faith in adventure games

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It was 2am at the weekend when I finished playing Primordia, a point and click adventure game by Indie Developer Wormwood Studios, and Publisher Wadjet Eye Games. This game is simply amazing.

Truly amazing.

Primordia Titlebar

One of the best things about this game is its art style combined with the low-res, pixel-graphics engine used in the game, which adds and ‘old school’ feeling to the game in a way that is refreshing not jarring. At first I was sceptical but I picked this up in a Steam sale and after the first few minutes I couldn’t look back…

According to Steam, I’ve racked up over 10 hours playing this game, but I feel that I’ve been playing it much more. I think its more like 20, and it was great.
It’s an amazing game and has reminded to me the amazing potential of both adventure games and indie developers alike.

This game is full of so much character and attention that it appears to pour from every part of the game. It is a polished experience that needs to be experienced.

The puzzles are hard, but not ridiculous (I did get thoroughly stuck at one point however) and the pace of the game is consistent, fun, engaging and genuinely saddening in parts and especially when its over because no other reason than its over. I want more, really, but alas.

If you’ve ever liked ‘point & click’ adventure games (Monkey Island, anyone?) then you will love this.

Its available on Steam and GOG.
In the very least, I recommend you add it to your wishlist and buy it on sale.

You wont regret getting this.

Going Dutch – The stupid foreigner

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I’ve decided to start writing about a new subject, which is my experiences of ‘Going Dutch’. My first update is living life as the ‘stupid foreigner’.

By that I mean we’ve all been there, in that situation where we are completely out of our depth in a place or with people that we can’t connect with because they share (with each other) the common interest of being from the same place or simply speaking the same language. In this situation, you’re the odd one out, and it is so obvious to you that you cant ignore it.

We’ve also all been on the other side of this: either in a social gathering or in public. There is always that person, usually ‘not from around here’, that doesn’t really have a grasp of your language and it’s frustratingly hard work to communicate with them. Or you’re in public and you chance upon the clueless tourist who is lost and is often simply in the way of those who have a better understanding of the local surroundings.

So here I am what I consider to be, on occasion, the stupid foreigner.

I’ve been living this way for about a year now, since last August, when I moved to the Netherlands. There have been some good, bad, and many more awkward moments (with a few truly awful experiences in there) but on the whole is has been positive. I would say this is loosely related to my easygoing attitude to most things unimportant, and my tendency to laugh at myself and the awkward moments I find myself in.

An example would be one of my pet hates that many English-speakers perpetrate; assuming that those around them speak English, or at least speak it well. It isn’t always the case even in England that the average person has a good grasp of the subtleties and nuance of the English language, so it amuses me that some get so impatient when in a foreign country.

I, of course, have been guilty of this myself as I’m sure everyone has at some point regarding someone who doesn’t speak their own native language well.

Now let me say this much, Dutch is not the easiest language to learn.

Its very confusing, and I would advise anyone (Especially English-speakers) to possibly try something else that may be easier to absorb, like German maybe…
As an English person, Dutch sounds similar in speech to English but is also fiendishly difficult to learn for the same reason. Of course there are some obvious differences, such as the pronunciation of ‘G’ (And sometimes ‘sch’), which essentially translates to the sound British make when ‘clearing your throat’. Its something that is common, because it basically replaces ‘G’ and makes pronouncing place name such as ‘Scheveningen‘ (A nice seaside town of The Hague) into a difficult task to the untrained Dutch speaker.

Next there is of course the seemingly backwards grammar which catches me out regularly and without remorse.
Remembering to say ‘I will here sit’ (Literal translation) when indicating my seat preference is backward, if a simple example of what I’m talking about.
Language word logic is also somewhat of a confusing thing to get used to and when describing this problem I have often used my own example of the fact that, In English, there is a unique word for nearly everything.

What I mean by this is that you have an apple, orange, pear, cherry, potato, etc.
In dutch you have an apple, sinasapple, peer, kers, ardapple, etc.
These are very simple examples, and show my somewhat simple understanding of ‘Nederlands’ (Dutch). I’m improving though, and my understanding is growing with it.

Of course, this isn’t to say that Dutch is a bad language, its just ‘different’.
Also, this isn’t an indication of what this series will be about, but I do digress so bear with me in those moments.
Something I do want to describe is the various aspects of my own Dutch integration experiences and hope that someone out there will find it useful, or in the least, amusing. I hope I can infuse some of my own feeling of confusion into this, and not seem too much beyond help.

So to conclude this rambling on my struggles with Dutch, I’d like to describe one such experience I had just the other day at a local hobby store I sometimes go to for supplies for my painting/modelling hobby.

On my way to the hobby store, while riding my bike, I practised how to ask for something. Navigating the streets, idly wondering how I should follow up the starter of “heb je” (Do you have). Upon arriving I thought I had resolved my opening sentence, and perhaps even a follow up before it would start to get out of my comfort zone and I would present a sample I brought with me to see if they have one like it. “This is simple…” I thought to myself, and smiled thinking I’ve got it all figured out…

So it is that my struggle with Dutch is such that at this point of my learning I feel I’m at a bit of a ‘twilight moment’ whereby I find that I have learned enough that people don’t (immediately) laugh at me, and also that I can get around, shop, travel, read signs and generally ‘live’. However, I’m not quite there where the language makes sense in a grand scale yet, which makes conversation difficult. I’m at that point that I need to seek lessons as I feel I’m near the limit of what I can learn purely socially.
This experience catalyses through moments, which often happens to me, where I will completely and utterly have no idea what to say. This is not that I don’t know words or the basic composition of a sentence to make my point, but that I am so unsure that I am able to it effectively and such the processing time required to form a usable sentence takes too long.

It was that I walked into the hobby store and saw the the owner who I often have spoken with in the past was busy, and I was instead required to speak to (who I think is) his wife… At this moment, I realised that I’ve never spoken to her before, but there was nothing I could do about it at this point. Of course, my words escaped me as she kindly asked (In Dutch, naturally) how she could help me with that expectant look that people give you when they expect you to not be a complete idiot. It is in this moment that I personified that which I hate most, after standing there awkwardly staring back at her, uselessly trying to compose a sentence in Dutch. Its as if my carefully constructed sentences and words were now some kind of difficult child who refused to cooperate. So I spoke in English, but not simply English, but instead the ‘Denglish’ sub-language I’ve often seen employed by other non-natives. This was, for some obscene reason, the best I could do after apparently losing my words.

I stood there, nervously smiling back at her.
There was a short pause as clearly she was not expecting this and after an almost imperceptible brow furrow, proceeded, in Dutch.
This was now a little awkward and we proceeded this way for a few minutes where I cheerfully presented the sample of the item I was looking for.
Its at this point that she switched to English, most likely seeing it as too much hard work to understand me.

Luckily, I have a fairly good relationship with these people, as I regularly go there and shop and have on occasion special-ordered things from their establishment.
The owner recognises me as an English speaker, and usually treats me accordingly, or speaks Dutch possibly to test me… Or because he feels like it. I cant blame him.

And so I endure, getting there slowly, and practising.
I find there is a somewhat misleading assumption in the Netherlands that Dutch isn’t ‘that hard’ to learn, but in reality it is a very confusing language to non-natives.
Something also taken for granted, and much appreciated by me, is the abundance of English in the world and in this country. There is something to be said for the exposure to English that a typical Dutch person experiences (Especially in the West of Netherlands), but outside Netherlands there is zero exposure to Dutch. It’s a real shock, let me tell you, how different the culture and language is.

As time goes on, I hope to record my musings on my interactions with Dutch culture.

So I’ll end my nonsensical bran-dump with this: Dutch is hard.

Farewell Boxee Plex is better – RasPlex also

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Well, its official, I’ve finally dropped Boxee after a long time of dragging them along with me.

It almost hurts me to say it, but Boxee missed a real opportunity with their fans that other projects embrace…

yes, I’m talking about Plex, which is single-handedly taken my home media experience to the next level. I say this after nearly a year of using Plex full-time as a solution and watching it get better in that time.

Boxees fall from grace?
Well, it became obvious that they forgot where they came from and who supported them to start with, and they instead wanted corporate fame. Current recent announcement confirms also that Boxee has officially been purchased by Samsung.

It all started a long time ago when the Boxee Box (Which I was really looking forward to) was being released.

After nearly a year of delay, it finally arrived, at the expense of the Desktop application which made them so popular to begin with. By that time many people (Myself included) had become disillusioned with the lack of updates and fixes to their application and had begun to look elsewhere already. The disparity between the Boxee Box and the desktop application was clear as day, and Boxee had made it clear that the Boxee Box was the only way to go for their fans… Even those who were not ready.

I remember voicing my concerns on the Boxee Forums all those years ago, only to be shouted down as a heretic by the Boxee community who doggedly followed them. I was one of them too, at one point. I believed in Boxee, but now I know better.

So, Plex then?
Yes, Plex! It works so well and has a clean and consistent interface that works across all my devices and platforms. The platforms that I use are Windows, Android and I have recently discovered RasPlex, which is still in alpha but I have running on my ‘release’ Raspberry Pi and works as my bedroom media center. Besides this Plex runs on a whole bunch of things from iOS, Windows Phone to Google TV and there is even a Windows 8 native Metro App.

This is the variety of platform choice and ecosystem that I wish Boxee would have attempted to achieve, but they have gone in their own different direction.

In future I hope to talk some more about my Media Center and Media Server configurations, and how I use Plex in my own way, but for now I’ll leave this with a couple of YouTube vids I found.

Plex:

RasPlex:

Xbox One announced, much complaining ensues, world keeps turning

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Follow-up to my post about the PS4 announcemnt.

xbox-one-group-pic

So I watched the live global announcement of the Xbox One and wanted to add something about my own opinions on it. Now that the dust is settling, a week or so after the announcement, I thought I would put together some details of what I’ve seen so far. Read the rest of this entry »

What happens when the servers are gone?

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Late last year I read an article on Gizmodo that discussed one mans experiences of running a blogging service, that was then taken offline for personal reasons. He told his story of his web-based service that he took offline, tried to bring it back online, failed and then tried to get users their data back as a last resort. he tells about the outrage and inevitable negative response he received from the community, and decided to issue a warning to the world, one that would tell people to beware of the hordes of media being uploaded into social media networks such as Facebook and/or Twitter.
Although his story was full of woe, there was a moral that he tried to leave at the end of it:

In a way I’m writing this to encourage everyone who’s profiting from this stuff now to set aside some of the money to help the users in what is sure to come. But also to the users to wise up and also to stop being such children.

There’s a lot more to the article and the extract above is a tiny fragment of that, but it is mostly written from the perspective of that of a provider, not so much from that of a user of such a service (Even though these are clearly the people reading the article). As I was reading this on the train, I finished reading, and stared out of the window dreamily attempting to imagine how my own life would be affected by such a world-changing event such as Facebook or Twitter disappearing. As an (Occasional) user of both Facebook and Twitter among many other ‘cloud-based’ social media services I eventually came to the conclusion that, surprisingly, I’m mostly quite prepared for a social media apocalypse.

So why write about this? Whats the point here?
Well, bear with me and I’ll try to get to that (I may repeat myself but meh).

Firstly, consider that the way our world and social society currently work are unlike anything that we have ever had in human history. We have accepted a normality regarding releasing control of our media and identity-related assets into a ‘cloud’, which we have little idea how this data is used.

After considering my own contingencies and backups of my own generated media (And feeling a little bit good about my natural distrust of social media networks), my mind wandered to others. Those who stood out the most especially were those who’s losses in the same potential catastrophe would affect me in their unpreparedness. This may sound selfish at first glance, I admit, but I ask that you think about this… If your wife/husband/other-family-member loses (for example) your childhood photos or other important media such as the baby photos of your own children, does that not affect you? Of course it does.

Remember, this can happen at any time. PCs crash, hard drives die, fire happens, etc… I dont mean to sound like a scaremonger here, but most of us apparently at some point lost interest in keeping huge photo albums of pictures in and instead place gigabytes of photos, taken from mobile camera-phones on Facebook as backup (Once again, Facebook is NOT your friend). A lot of people don’t backup separately either, just to Facebook. Somewhere in this process, we lost the part where our parents and grandparents would meticulously maintain physical photo albums and store them in the safest of safe places.
So, if for example, my own girlfriend were to lose our holiday photos then this would be an issue for me. Likewise, I would expect it to be an issue for her if I did the same. As such, I will certainly be making sure her laptop and photos are backed up like mine are already.

This is why it is important to plan for these things, make backups, and don’t fall into the mindset that so many others (Especially the younger generations among us) that Facebook cares about you. They really do not, and I’m often surprised at those I meet that imagine Facebook as this consumer dreamland created just for them (Yes, I’m that guy that reminds people that Facebook is an evil corporation). Why else would Facebook sell your data to anyone willing to pay them enough? Worse, what happens if they throw in the towel when the next Facebook (Remember MySpace?) comes around and people move to that?

Realistically, Facebook wont last until the end of time, or even the rest of your life, so what happens then?

My Solution?
I put the redundancy of my digital content at the top of my list.
I have a home server which I backup my phone and PCs to remotely via Dropbox/Google Drive.
My PCs and laptops also backup directly to my home server automagically when at home.
My home server backs up my photos to external local storage nightly.

Where does this leave me?
It means I can leverage the ease of cloud based services to facilitate my own remote backup purposes.

How can you do this?
Well, it’s actually not that hard. All you need is a place to backup to (Your PC will do), a Dropbox account (Which is free upto 2GB to start) some free software and you’re good to go. Alternatively, you can backup directly to your server via WebDAV (Web folders), which takes out the middleman and also means you do not need your private photos going through some cloud company. This is an approach I’m moving to, as having complete control of my own data is important to me.

New Year & New Life

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Well, its 2013.

I feel like I’d just got used to 2012 and now here I am a whole year later…
So many things have happened in the last twelve months, and I can already see so much more will happen throughout 2013, so much so that I’m writing this to solidify some of my goals and review some things I wanted to do. Read the rest of this entry »