Monthly Archives: June 2006

The world is just so wrong

I find it hard to believe, but I swear it’s true… I can now sync my Windows Mobile Smartphone to my Mac Powerbook, but I still can’t sync it to my XP Pro PC.

Huh?

Fortunately now I don’t care about syncing to the PC anyway – the Powerbook has the calendar and contacts on as it is.

This was all achieved thanks to an alpha version of The Missing Sync which I can confirm happily supports the Orange SPV C600. Well worth $40.

Prey

Allyson recently alerted me to Prey from 3D-Realms due to our mutual interest in the FPS genre. I had a look at the E3 gameplay trailers and thought it kind of looked like fun. The demo was released this week, and I’ve just finished playing through it.

It’s hard to know where to start with this game, I guess I wanted to like it, but I don’t think I will be purchasing it. The good side is that it runs pretty well on my hardware (which is nice seeing as it has struggled with other games based on the Doom3 engine (notably Quake4)) and has some definitely original concepts and content for a FPS. The bad side? It’s hard to sympathise with the protagonist – an native American called Tommy as he attempts to rescue his girlfriend from the hands of aliens which seem to be hell bent on sucking up humans for nourishment. Anyone wishing to look at how character building and interaction should be done in a FPS should just look at how well it is done in HL2:EP1. I could not have cared less when Tommy’s grandfather was eviscerated by the alien machine. The native American slant is hokey and whilst adding an interesting twist to the puzzles (Tommy can ‘spirit walk’ – stepping outside his corporeal form to achieve things he couldn’t otherwise do) doesn’t really sit well – the laughably short training in the spirit world could have been done so much better. Maybe I read too much Carlos Casteneda as a young hippy, but there is a hint that this mythology is merely added to layer on gameplay mechanics. There are elements of the game mechanics that are interesting – the wall walking is kind of fun – at first. Watching characters for the first time moving in orthoganal planes to yourself is slightly head bending, however it is in the later stages that this moves from being head bending, to nausea inducing. Some sections have a definite Escheresque nature that have made me feel physically sick (interestingly in-game your character vomits copiously in one early section, acknowledging this). Now, I don’t like being sick at the best of times, nor do I want to have a game make me feel sick. I know some people suffer from a form of travel sickness when playing FPS games (often said to be caused by the ‘head bob’ of the character) but I am not one of them, and I’m buggered if I’m going to fork out for a game that I have to take breaks from in order to stop me from spattering my keyboard with the remains of last nights espresso martini..

Feel free to play the demo and disagree, but I don’t think this is a great game – the weapons are clearly inspired by the organic ‘guns’ in the original Half-Life and whilst the game engine chucks things around at a reasonable rate it is not nearly as revoultionary a game as the publishers would like you to think it is.

Cancelling your MySpace account

Some time ago I signed up to MySpace, the popular social networking site. Whilst I used it briefly and had some friends on there, it wasn’t as good as Orkut for me. Whilst I freely admit Orkut has *many* problems, being overrun by narcissistic teenagers is not one of them.

I’ve heard many things about MySpace, how it’s full of kids, how it’s being used to launch bands, how people have been busted on MySpace for uploading pictures of their plants or how recruiters have been using it to check up on applicants. I didn’t really care about that, it allowed me to link to a handful of people I know and use it for blogging, and it was nice to have some of my favourite bands link back to me. However there comes a time where I realise I’m not using a resource, and want to delete my account – I don’t like ‘dead’ accounts hanging around – not even on my throwaway spamcatcher email addreses. So I wanted to cancel my MySpace account.

Anyone who has ever attempted to do this will know what a major PITA this is. It was enormously complicated in my case by the fact the site is stupid enough to let you sign up with a fake email address – there’s no ‘click to confirm your registration’ link when you sign up emailed to you. Which makes it doubly stupid that the email address is then ABSOLUTELY required to be active when you want to leave. Poor design.

Emailing customer service is pointless – if there’s a human behind that address I’d be very surprised. However there is a way to get your MySpace account deleted. It’s not pleasant, but it does work with a little patience. I got my start on this road from here:

The Consumerist

I can confirm this method works. I can also confirm you cannot achieve this by uploading videos – they screen and delete but will not ban your account on ground of you uploading questionable video content. Also if you attempt to upload any shock site material, they have pretty good filters to prevent this from ever being displayed. It took a while, one photograph I uploaded and subsequently reported as being offensive was deemed not to be outside their terms and conditions. The second one however got me banned. If anyone is desparate to know what the content of these two photographs were, well I guess you can but ask.

Podcasts

So in my traditional spirit of discovering things months, if not years, after everyone else I have finally discovered the joy of podcasts. I’d always been put off them by a percieved amateurness of most people doing them and the realisation that like any new internet ‘medium’ it would be rapidly filled with advertising content or start flirting with ‘pay-per-listen’ business models. Both of which to be fair, became true.

It was realising though that I don’t really pick up magazines like I used to – sure I have my subscription to The Chap for light relief and to BBC’s Sky at Night magazine to assuage my lust for catadioptrics. But I don’t really read Nature or Science or New Scientist much anymore, when they were quite a feature of my coffee breaks at least. Maybe this is becuase I have people to talk to now or something.. or I don’t actually have time at work to sit around reading magazines, or for that matter making blog posts (ahem).

Anyway I fired up iTunes to see what I could find. Purposely avoiding the overrated Ricky Gervais and his contributions to podcasting and the innane ramblings of the so-called DJ Chris Moyles which seem to be all the rage to listen to in certain demographics, I came across the following which I now get to listen to in the morning on the way to work, or on the way home.

Slacker Astronomy is the only astronomy podcast I listen to, and I love it. It’s exceedingly brief 8-10 minutes and weekly. Presented in a very informal chit chat fashion between two presenters it has a great light hearted style in which the banter can descend quite rapidly into detailed enough discussion about an astronomical phenomenon with enough technical detail to hold my interest every time.

The New Scientist Podcast and Scientific American podcast are pretty much what you would expect. The New Scientist podcast has a news round up and 3 8-10 minute slots for coverage of bigger stories – however you are likely to get coverage again of things you may well have heard in the Nature or Science podcasts. Scientific American however seems to focus on a story per podcast, and I’m not sure this is a great idea. They had a fantastically well done one on net neutrality a couple of weeks ago, then followed it up with what can only be described as a podcast on birdwatching in Central Park with very little scientific content at all. I did however learn that American birdwatchers are called ‘birders’ and not ‘twitchers’. Quite why people can’t just call themselves ‘bird-watchers’ or ‘ornithologists’ however is completely beyond me. Oh and the ‘totally bogus’ section of the SciAm podcast where you have to guess the bogus science story from 4 that you are offered.. it needs to go, degrading the listener and the show in one simple segment.

The Nature and Science podcasts however are uniformly excellent. Although I like the split UK/USA nature of the Nature podcasts, the Science interviewers just seem to have the edge however although it is completely US based. Both feature limited advertising, which is not partuicularly intrusive, and at 25 minutes are perfect listening for a trip into work. Coverage of different strands of science is the strength of these two journals anyway, and it is reflected in their audio output.

Obviously these aren’t any substitute for picking up the magazines but at least I’m more informed than I was a couple of weeks ago… Timeshifting has arrived into my organisational lexicon!

The real noticable thing on the podcast scene is that there isn’t a bioinformatics focused podcast – this seems a little remiss to me, given the prevalence of bioinformatics resources. If only I had the time or inclination to start one ;)

Systems Biology/Bioinformatics OpenCourseware from MIT

Whilst browsing MIT’s OpenCourseware which describes itself as “a free and open educational resource for faculty, students, and self-learners around the world” and is a publication of MIT course materials, I noticed it contains the following items of note for those of us in the above fields (or at least those of us who are meant to educate in such fields ;)):

There’s also a lot out there for the even more computationally nerdy too

Another friend, another blog II

Frank, one of the PhD students in Neil’s group seems also to be keeping a blog. For those perusing bioinformaticians, Frank is responsible for part of the MIAPE spec dealing with 2-D gel images (gelML). He’s currently writing up what will undoubtedly be a fine PhD.

I notice that Frank links to one of the elder statesmen of bioinformatics blogs – Nodalpoint – Always worth dipping into if you’re in the field