Begrudgery

Adrian Wreckler - Meet the Monaghan lass with 345,000 Twitter followers

Sinead Duffy is a lifecoach (with her own company, Great Minds) who has set up the mother of all Twitter accounts. Called Greatest Quotes, it's an auto-tweeting feed of... greatest quotes. Astonishingly, Greatest Quotes is growing by 10,000 followers per week. That's almost as much as Ashton Kutcher.

Ah, you think -- that's a bit of a swizz. Sure, just set up a few RSS feeds and let it take off; that's not a real account.

Think again. Because of this account, Duffy is getting business online. And it's cash upfront. "I coach select overseas clients via Skype and charge through Paypal," she tells me. "It's mostly through Twitter that potential clients find me."

Who's laughing now?

Coaching. "Select overseas clients". From a Twitter account that spews out 'greatest quotes'.

Sometimes I think this recession hasn't hit hard enough.

Blu-Ray Hassles

Marco Arment:

In fact, aside from the fact that Blu-Ray’s high definition picture is so ridiculously gorgeous, the whole format is demonstrably worse than what came before it.

Khoi Vinh

Agreed. I’ve only used Blu-Ray on a PS3, which is probably better than most standalone players, but all of the consumer-hostile “features” of DVDs — unskippable logos, previews, warnings, and disclaimers, long animation delays before menu activation, custom-themed interfaces that make everything more difficult — has advanced to new levels of hassles, delays, restrictions, and annoyances. Granted, I probably own more Blu-Rays than I should (I'm slowly weaning myself off physical media), but each time I pop a new disc into my PS3 and wait the full three-to-five minutes for my movie to actually begin, I say "This is why people pirate movies".

Although recently, I'm noticing a disturbing trend in the pre-movie junk. Where there used to be the "You wouldn't steal a car" warning, some studios are now putting a message to say "Thank you for buying a legitimate copy of this movie". Except the whole thing is done in a comedy voice, kind of like the E4 announcer, which makes the whole thing seem really insincere. Which is a step in the right direction, I suppose -- at least they're no longer treating consumers as potential criminals -- but it's a long way from what consumers actually want, which is quick access to the movie they just bought.

Youtube Considered a TV Station in Italy

We'd just been talking about how much we're going to miss living in Rome. Now this happens.

According to a story in La Repubblica, under Italian law, Youtube and other similar sites, such as DailyMotion, are now considered TV stations (bizarre English translation here).

What does this mean? Well, naturally it means a tax (this is Italy, after all - some money has got to change hands). It also means that these sites will be obliged to prohibit access to content inappropriate for children in certain time slots. More importantly though, it means that the sites are now legally responsible for all user-content uploaded to them, meaning that if some half-senile old fuck who controls half the media in the country finds some of their content on there, he finally has someone to sue.

I have to be honest, if the owners of these sites decide that the easiest way to solve all these problems is to just block access from Italy entirely, I wouldn't even be slightly surprised. That guy from YouReporter.it nailed it: "This is a legal absurdity and violence done to reality."

Christmas Traditions

One of the most difficult things about getting married is how to bring together two family's worth of Christmas traditions into one cohesive whole. For example, on Christmas morning, my wife's family wakes up and has breakfast of smoked salmon on brown bread. Very dignified. In my family, our Christmas breakfast is usually an entire selection box, inhaled more than eaten, with the wrappers picked out of your teeth when you finally wake up from your diabetic coma a couple of hours later.

Okay, that's a no-brainer. We'll adopt my wife's way. And hey, to add our own personal touch to the proceedings, why not have Bellinis for breakfast too? There we go, that's breakfast sorted.

In my family, our Christmas dinner is turkey and ham. In my wife's family it's just turkey. Since it's just the two of us, and we have enough trouble finishing an entire turkey by ourselves, we can safely ditch the ham (although there is nothing -- NOTHING -- quite like a Stephen's day sandwich of leftover ham on batch bread, so we retain the option to introduce the ham at a later date).

Then there's the Christmas presents. In my family, I would wake up at about 4am, make my way down the stairs, shaking violently with barely-contained excitement, and finally proceed to tear open all my presents in just a few seconds flat. A wrapping-paper massacre of epic proportions. In my wife's family, the kids are not allowed open their Christmas presents until after the whole family had come back from mass. They were allowed open their Christmas stocking, but that's it.

This is something that we'd been going backwards and forwards about. My wife argues that it's better to do things her way, because it teaches delayed gratification. That's one argument, I suppose. Personally, I prefer instant gratification, and I believe that Christmas is the one day which should be entirely about instant gratification. You want to eat that entire box of Cadbury's Heroes in one sitting? Go right ahead, it's Christmas!

I think this year has taught my wife the danger of her way of doing things.

My wife's sister (who also comes from the school of 'no presents until after mass') brought her two young children to mass on Christmas day. They sat right up at the front of the church. The priest saw them, and them being two of the most adorable-looking children ever, started asking them about Christmas.

"And what did Santa bring you?"
"An orange!"
"Oh! And uh... anything else?"
"A cookie!"

Score one for instant gratification.

Precociousness

Watching A Miracle on 34th Street last night, my wife kept cracking up at Mara Wilson's ultra-precocious 7 year old. You can't really blame her. Only John Hughes could have written a child like this:

Kris Kringle: Oh, Susan. Just because every child doesn't get his or her wish doesn't mean there's not a Santa Claus.

Susan: I thought you might say that.

Kris Kringle: Did you? Yes. Well... A house is a very big order--

Susan: And very expensive.

Kris Kringle: And a baby, well a baby takes almost a year to, uh, to, uh...

Susan: nine months. More if the lady's late. Less if the baby's a preemie.

The funny thing is, I would bet cash money that my wife was exactly like this when she as 7 years old too.

A Stranger in a Familiar Land

In the Assassin's Creed games, your character, Desmond, spends his time hooked up to a "genetic memory reading" machine, where he relives the memories of his ancestors. You remember Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the way Jim Carrey is forced to travel through his memories to find a safe place to hide Kate Winslet? Well, it's sort of like that. Except you're looking for something, not hiding it. And the 'memories' all took place at least 500 years ago. At the beginning of the latest game, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, Desmond emerges from a memory of being at his ancestor's villa in the year 1500, to find himself at the same villa in 2012, trying to get in. It's his first time to actually visit the place in real life, and he makes a remark about 'remembering' a secret passage. The joke being that he's 'remembering' visiting a place he's never actually visited.

I know exactly how he feels.

Herself indoors was working in New York for the past couple of months. I decided it might be nice to head across for a week once she'd finished up, so we could take a couple of days over thanksgiving to visit Washington while we were at it. I had never been to either place before (West Coast is the Best Coast). In fact, I've always said that there are two places in the world I was terrified to visit. The first is Las Vegas, mainly because I'm afraid what horrible qualities would emerge in me (am I a secret compulsive gambler? a huge fan of Cirque du Soleil? Who knows!). The other is New York. I was just afraid of being one of those dopey-faced tourists that look like walking "Mug Me" signs because they're walking around gawping at the scale of it all,. I mean, it's completely alien to someone who grew up in a country where the tallest building is only 233 feet tall.

It's amazing what two months away from your wife will do to your irrational fears.

Something that made it easy for me to get over my fear was the fact that, despite having never been there before, the whole place was so familiar to me. Between all my years playing the various Grand Theft Auto games (Liberty City being the game's equivalent of New York City), and the general immersion that comes from watching movies and TV shows set in NYC, I never really felt that disorientated. I never got that overwhelming sense of strangeness that usually comes from visiting a new city. I knew how this city worked. I spent most of my time pointing out the various bits and pieces. Hey, there's the Library from Ghostbusters! Hey, there's the Getalife Metlife Building. New York City being the default setting for games and movies meant that I had learned the geography of that place by osmosis.

Washington wasn't much different. Shortly after arriving, I demanded that our very generous hosts drive us 15 minutes in the wrong direction just so I could see the Exorcist steps in Georgetown. This grounded me, gave me a central location to base my understanding of the geography fromAlthough, did you know there's an Exxon at the bottom? This wigged me out no end. I would have expected a statue to the mighty Lee J. Cobb or something.

The White House was the weirdest of all. We came at the building from the east side, hitting the press area first. Again, having never been there before, I was able to point out certain areas to my wife - there's the press area, there's the rose garden. How did I know this? Splinter Cell: Conviction, where your character sneaks through this area to get into the White House and, eventually, the West Wing.

And speaking of the West Wing, I've been watching a lot of that show recently, and that's given me a weirdly intimate understanding of the way the place worksEven if it's deliberately not a completely faithful reproduction of the layout of the office area. But it had another, stranger effect on my experience of the White House in general. Rather than seeing it as the centre of power for arguably the most powerful nation in the world, for me the White House actually felt more like a movie set, like the Psycho house at Universal Studios - a really elaborate facadeInsert your own political commentary here, you fucking wag.

Super Meat Boy

Super-Meat-Boy-Punch-580x361.jpg

People have been calling Super Meat Boy 'one of the hardest games ever made'. Over at GamestyleOne of the most underrated videogame blogging sites around, Bradley Marsh described it as "a game made by sadists, for masochists".

With all due respect to Bradley, and to everyone else who has been focusing on the difficulty of Super Meat Boy, you're wrong.

There's no sadism involved. This isn't a game designed to punish you. It's not a game like Trials HD, where the pieces have been placed in an clever, but nearly-random order and you have to forcibly wrench a victory from the game, like taking a gun from Charlton Heston's cold, dead hands. Super Meat Boy has been designed by geniuses. I haven't finished it yet (I'm still stuck in the post-Halloween glut of gaming), but every single level I have played so far has been designed within an inch of its life so that there is one completely perfect run-through that can be achieved in the minimum amount of time, usually just a few seconds. It's when you dawdle that the game gets difficult. In other words, if you aren't playing this game with the 'run' button permanently held down, then you're not playing it properly.

Finding this perfect path through the level is tricky, and for the most part, it's a matter of trial-and-error. But at least the game is smart enough to have almost no loading times so that when you die, you instantly restart the level. Frustration never gets a foothold. And when you finally do succeed and finish the level, you're treated to a replay, showing all of your attempts to beat the level simultaneously, a glorious jamboree of death and failure and eventual triumph.

One thing though, no-one is wrong about how good this game is. Easily the best platform game I've played in years. I can't recommend it enough.

Phone Feature Request

Wired has a story about an Android app called 'No Text While Driving', which is designed to automatically reply to incoming texts when you're driving. According to the inventor, the reason people text when they drive is because texting is such an immediate medium of communication, and people don't want to be seen as being rude by ignoring texts. An automatic text to say "Driving. Can't text" is better than no text at all. Great idea -- in theory. The major downside that I can see is that you have to remember to launch the app before you start driving. To me, this seems like a step in the wrong direction. If you're the kind of person who has enough discipline to remember to launch an application before getting into the car, then you're also the kind of person who probably knows not to text while driving. In other words, you're not the audience for this application.

Back in 2004 or so, when I was a happy little sysadmin filling my days with all sorts of nerdy things to keep myself amused, I hacked together something to make my life a little easier. Using Bluetooth, I was able to have work computer detect when my crappy Sony Ericsson phone came into range and automatically start a bunch of processes for me. Some of these were work-related, such as launching my Nagios dashboard and pulling up my to-do list for the day. Others were just for show. Like automatically playing 'Back in Black' by AC/DC, essentially giving myself a soundtrack as I walked into the officeThis didn't last very long - awesome as it is to have your own soundtrack, it's also incredibly annoying for people working around you. This seemed like the kind of thing we'd be seeing of a lot more, the idea of using your phone as a sort of electronic passport to the computers and gadgets around us.

For example, my car has Bluetooth and is paired with my phone. So wouldn't it be great if I could hook it into 'No Text While Driving' and automatically activate it for me? But wait a second, Bluetooth is, like, sooooooooo 20th century. Let's go all 2010 on this: GPS. What I'd really love is complete location awareness using my phone's built-in GPS. By this, I mean being able to define certain GPS coordinates as 'home'. When the phone realises it's within this area, it automatically switches on wifi, turns off 3G etc. Likewise, there could be a 'work' location, where it automatically switches to 'silent' and 'vibrate'.

I think this would be terrific. Imagine the possibilities! We could mark cinemas as sections where our phones are automatically switched to silent! Our phones could automatically pull up our shopping lists!OmniFocus sort of does this - you can define a location as significant and have it pull up a particular to-do context for that location. So a shop would pull up your "errands" context. It's genius Then again, when we can't even be bothered to make the effort to switch our phones manually, then we're just one step closer to the future predicted in Wall-E.

Shared Items – December 2, 2010

Seriously, I am actually really freaked at this. All because they just got a huge hit with the Zzzzzzzzzzz-fest Walking Dead.

Furious.

Medal of Honour

Medal of Honour reminds of the joke at the start of Annie Hall. You know, the one about the two women eating dinner at a resort, where one turns to the other and says "Boy, the food here is really terrible" and the other says "Yeah, I know, and such small portions". Medal of Honour -- EA's entry into the 'modern warfare' arena -- is like five hours of absolutely nothing. A 'nothing' with a multi-million dollar budget, so it's a really flashy-looking nothing. Still, it's hard not to come out of it underwhelmed.

Actually, that's not entirely fair. There is one stand-out, genuinely memorable moment in the short single-player campaign. At one point, you find yourself completely overwhelmed by enemy forces who swarm around you, gradually whittling down your supplies of ammunition. No help is coming and there doesn't seem to be any end to the number of enemies, so your entire squad resigns itself to the fact that this is the end. It's sort of like the incinerator scene in Toy Story 3. Game over, man. It's a pretty powerful sequence and one which is executed perfectlyCompared, say, to the epilogue of Halo: Reach, which is mechanically inconsistent with the rest of the game. You spend the first 99% of the game playing a super-powered super-soldier with recharging shields that enables him to be a sort of bullet shield. Suddenly, your super-powered super-soldier breaks down if he stubs his toe. I got that shit over and done iwth soon as I could by just throwing a grenade at my feet..

Unfortunately, the rest of the game is just a string of disappointments and missed opportunities. You jump from character to character fighting the brain-dead enemies and the brain-dead game engine which they inhabit. This is 2010. We are 10% of the way through the twenty-first century and we still have enemies that do nothing but follow their scripted path, dutifully duck in and out of cover the same way regardless of what is going on around them. Bad enough, but... do you guys know what a 'monster closet' is? They're fairly common in videogames, the places where enemies appear from until the player reaches a certain point or performs a certain actionThey get their name from the fact that you'll see thousands enemies come pouring out of a particular door, you get there and it's barely bigger than a cupboard. Hence 'monster closet'. The more you know.. For example, in the scene I just described, there were probably a few of these 'monster closets' hidden in the rocks, where the player couldn't see the enemies spawning from, and in this section, the monster closets worked fine. If only the rest of the game had been so smooth. On more than one occasion in Medal of Honour, I apparently went off on a path that the game hadn't anticipated, so I was greeted with the sight of watching enemies spawning out of thin air in front of me. Which would have been an amusing and completely forgivable glitch except because I hadn't gone the direction that would otherwise 'turn off' the monster closet, the magically-appearing enemies never stopped coming. This didn't stop the game auto-saving right on top of their spawn point, so that when I died, I was instantly surrounded by eight enemies firing directly at me whenever I restarted.

Frustrating bugs in a videogame are one thing, and it's easy to pick on them and write a blog post like this that says "WAH. This bug that hardly half the players will run into has completely ruined the game for me". I mean, Mass Effect had some of the worst bugs of any game I've played, but I loved that game in spite of themtowards the end, almost because of them - ah, the geometry stretching bug where something went screwy in the maths and my character's face slowly started to explode over the course of a five-minute cut-scene. This image will forever haunt my nightmares.. Why can't I give Medal of Honour the same freedom?

Three words: Call of Duty.

Medal of Honour has virtually no identity of its own. Almost every moment in the game is a direct copy of something that happened in one of the two Call of Duty: Modern WarfaresWhich makes me wonder how you can copy so furiously from two 10+ hour games and still only end up with a 5-hour campaign. A vehicle level? Check. A sniper level? Check. A level where you're sneaking around a snowy mountain while guards search for you? Check. If the developers are trying to win players away from the Call of Duty camp, it's probably not a good idea to present them with third-rate knockoffs of the game you're so slavishly trying to imitate. It's like an artist trying to show his talent by giving us a paint-by-numbers version of the Mona Lisa. It just doesn't work. Unless you're deliberately trying to present some post-modern commentary on the nature of art. I'm fairly sure that's not what the developers of Medal of Honour were trying to do. As a player, I just find it frustrating to play a game that was aiming so low and so clearly could have been much better, had the developers been given a little more time. But, thanks to Call of Duty, that's one thing they didn't have. In essence, Medal of Honour's release date was set not by how complete or how polished it was, but by the release of Call of Duty: Black Ops. EA had to release the game before then. And in a way, they were probably right. See how quickly Medal of Honour has been dropped from the conversation since Call of Duty: Black Ops came out.

I've no doubt that the game has done enough business to warrant a sequel, and maybe then we'll see some real innovation and it will be something actually worth talking about. Until then, we're left with a piss-poor jump-start of a franchise that has no idea who it's trying to appeal to.