Friday, August 28, 2009

Facebook 3.0 for iPhone/iPod Touch

Blog posts that get imported to Facebook get truncated. If you're viewing this in Facebook on your computer, click View Original Post or just go to

Most of us who have iPhones or iPod touches also use the Facebook application for iPhone. Well, yesterday, the folks at Facebook released a totally retooled version of the iPhone app, bringing much more features and improved usability (in my opinion, anyway). I've only used it for about an hour so I'm not sure that I've found all the changes. But here is a list of the changes and feature additions that I've noticed.

Note: Delete the app and reinstall if it doesn't work for you after the update. Don't worry, it's still free.

-Layout of "home" page. There is now a "home" page similar to your "Home" screen on your iPhone/iPod touch. It allows quick access to your nine main features: News feed, Profile, Friends, Inbox, Chat, Requests, Events, Photos, and Notes.
-That's right, you can now read and write Notes from the iPhone app. Text is copyable in notes. You cannot, however, view pictures or comments in notes. Watch out for imported, truncated notes. Notes imported from an external blog, such as this one, get truncated, and unlike the desktop browser version of Facebook, there's no like to "Show Original Post" in the Facebook app.
-Can now view "fan" pages. Access them by touching "Friends" and then tapping the Pages tab at the bottom of the screen.
-Can now "like" things AND view existing likes. The previous version of the app was not designed to support either of these.
-There is now a separate button for adding comments and viewing existing comments, although you can still add a comment while viewing them.
-Friends' info pages now can list their friends, the friends they have in common with you, and the "fan" pages to which they're subscribed.
-For links/photos, you must now touch the link text or actual photo instead of just somewhere in the "box". This is kind of hard to explain - you have to see it to understand.
-Can now pinch-zoom photos like in every other iPhone app.
-Refined News Feed filter. Remember before there was this strange scrolling bar near the top of your news feed to filter it to show only certain entries? Now it's just an unobtrusive button that you press to bring up an iPhone-style menu. Neat.
-Can now add shortcuts to pages in main interface, sort of like the iPhone Home screen.
-All pages but Home now available in landscape mode.
-Typing *seems* less laggy (unconfirmed)
-Now has built in browser for unsupported pages such as Facebook apps (mafia wars, superpoke) or external sites. The option to view in normal Safari is there with the push of a button.

There's probably way more that I missed, but that's all I've got for now. Overall, a very nice update that brings it much closer to the functionality of the full desktop browser version of Facebook. Kudos to them.

Mac or PC?

No preface here. Just going to jump right in. This is in reply to Naomi's question.

Here's an unbiased answer from a Mac user.

It comes down to a few things.

In my personal experience and in the experiences of my friends and relatives, price does not equal value. Yes, the upfront price of a Windows machine is less than than of a Mac, but are you getting more for your money? Macs, especially the current line of Macbook Pro laptops, are more sturdy and well-built than any other computer I've seen. Are you going to get good customer service in case something goes wrong? There are so many configurations of PCs that it's often hard for third-party tech support to help, and good luck getting quality support from the Dells of the world (Please see laptop tech support Showdown, Aug 5, 2009: With a Mac, you know you're going to get help from a local Apple Store because Apple made the thing. I've even heard of Apple replacing things out of warranty if you ask nicely enough.

Speaking of support and problems, when you get a Windows PC, you get immediate access to all the latest and greatest... malware. With the rise in popularity of Macs, I do foresee some bad stuff being written for them just out of spite. But I don't see that happening for some time. Macs have always been more secure, and in my 15+ years of using them, I've never run an antivirus - though I probably should in order not to infect my PC using friends. Now, people will tell you that they've run Windows for years without problems. And I believe them. But sometimes even the most security conscious PC users get bitten sometimes. Do you want to deal with this? If time is money, add the time spent checking for and removing malware to the nominally lower cost of a Windows PC. Better deal? Hmm...

And maybe your question isn't whether you want to deal with Windows security issues or not. The next question is what you're going to do with the computer. Unless you're using some specialized program (or games), Windows or Mac OSX will both be fine. Things like MS Office are on both, though I'm beginning to realize that I really didn't need Office all these years just to write essays, as there are free alternatives (Wordpad on Windows and TextEdit on Mac; OpenOffice on both). For gamers, there's no question Windows is the way to go. Some financial applications and business apps require Windows. If you're just going to use the computer casually, there's no reason you "need" Windows, but then again there's no reason you "need" Mac OSX either. Also take a look at what software would come on your PC laptop and what comes on a Macbook Pro that you'd have to pay extra for on a PC - a DVD playing application, things like iMovie, iPhoto, iDVD, Garageband, etc. These things may or may not matter to you, and I realize that there are alternatives on Windows - but it's just so much easier to have them integrated.

You'll notice that I have actually gotten into the usability comparison between OSX and Windows. I'm not going to go into that because while I find OSX much more intuitive to me, it's really a matter of what you're used to and what you're willing to learn. I've found that Windows users sometimes have a bit of a learning curve learning OSX because they're use to doing things a certain way, though your mileage may vary. Go to an Apple Store or your local student store to check out the Macs (hardware and software wise) to get a feel for whether you like it or not. Go to a Best Buy or a friend's house to see if they have Windows 7 installed. You know Windows 7 is coming out, but many don't know that Apple just today released their newest OS as well, 10.6 Snow Leopard (they name them after big cats, you see). I've heard very good things about Windows 7. Technology guru Leo Laporte, whom I really respect, says Windows 7 is the best release of Windows... ever. Funny thing is, Windows 7, like Snow Leopard, is simply a tune-up of the previous version rather than a traditional full, hundreds-of-new-features update. In other words, Vista Reloaded! Not that this is a bad thing. Vista was a good idea with bad execution and the current version (Service Pack 2) isn't so bad (I actually use it.. more on that below).

The other value of getting a Mac is that you can run both operating systems... even at the same time. Apple provides a utility called Boot Camp so you can boot into Windows, providing you the best (or worst) of both worlds on one computer. This is a good choice if you like Apple's hardware/want to use Mac OSX but still want to use Windows for some things. You can also run Windows in, well, a window on your desktop using Parallels Desktop or VMWare Fusion (both $80) or VirtualBox (Free) + the cost of Windows.

I have an iMac which I bought myself a few months ago. I run Windows Vista on it under Boot Camp just for games and of course OSX for everything else. I've had no problems with Vista, except for some incompatibilities with certain games - but as a software developer myself, I know that you can't support everything. Vista is not as horrible as others have made it out to be, especially now. It's just different from what people were used to with XP. And just like in society, people hate things that are different - Ugh, I hate that.

Well, there's a (not-so) quick overview of what to look out for. Some things I mentioned are an oversimplification, so others can feel free to add to it, ask questions, or give their side of the story. I could go on forever discussing the merits of each side. Is Windows 7 better or worse than Snow Leopard? Depends how you use it and what you like in a computer.

Hope this helps. Make the right choice for yourself.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Classy Yelp

So I was just checking out the Yelp application for iPhone/iPod Touch on my iPod. I typically don't use it, because without a persistent internet connection while on the go, it's really of no use to me. But I was bored while waiting for something, so I checked out reviews for restaurants near me.

One neat feature of this Yelp app is that it has a button on the business' page to call them from within the app. Well, being on an iPod Touch, I wanted to see what would happen if I pressed that button.

I gotta say, they were really classy about it. If I were the dev, I probably would've said something snarky like "No, you moron. Why are you trying to make a phone call with an iPod?"

But then again, people very often ask me to do things with my iPod touch that only the iPhone can do, assuming it's an iPhone... like when we're on the road, "look up the map to see where we are" or "Can I borrow your phone?" while pointing to my iPod. Yeah, I wish I could do those things, but I can't. So stop asking and making me feel bad.

Yes, the Yelp app told me what I already knew, but I think it was a nice touch. That dialog box is better than, say, doing nothing at all. The only thing that would've made it better would be if it pretended to make a call and then say "Haha, just kidding."

Bizarre Holidays! Part 4!

Because today is "Just Because Day," here's another installment of Bizarre Holidays!

Today, August 27th, is Global Forgiveness Day. As in, forgive me for writing another one of these blog posts.

Tomorrow, August 28th, is Crackers over the keyboard Day. Why the 29th is not Clean Your Keyboard Day is beyond me. But at least we have the 30th, which is National Marshmallow Toasting Day. Man, I haven't done that in quite a while.

To finish off the month, we have Love Litigating Lawyers Day on the 31st. This is also known to no one as "L-literation Day."

Well, folks, that's all I have for today. Tune in next time, whenever that is.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Gone Phishing

I don't know how many of you use MSN Messenger... most people who correspond with people in different countries use it (if they're not using Skype) but people here in the US mostly use AIM.

Anyway, I just got an IM from one of my MSN buddies, but she was offline at the time, and judging by the link and the text of the IM, I know she wasn't actually the one who sent it. I can only imagine that it was a phishing attempt, though I don't know by whom.

So I just wanted to remind all two of you who reads this: if you receive IMs from your buddies that have links in them, be cautious about clicking them. It could be a phishing scheme (asking you for your personal info for seemingly legit but actually bogus reasons) or could give you a virus.

I found this link to a thread on Yahoo! Answers where someone else had a similar experience.

Have fun, and always remember to surf safely.

Post #100!

Well, since it's very, very likely that no one is as excited about this as I am, for good reason, I'm not going to dwell on the fact that this is my 100th post on this blog.

I'm really here to write a little about creative uses of the iPhone I came across. For a while now, musicians have been putting out apps to promote their music. They've had interesting ideas too.

Death Cab for Cutie, for example, has a Death Cab app that provides in-app music and video streaming, including 9 songs that you can listen to (when you have an internet connection). Lyrics, album art, tour dates, and photos are also included. For sure, this stuff is mostly for people who are already fans, but it's nice of them to give these freebies out.

The band Nine Inch Nails has an app called "nin: access," which has a rather interesting community aspect to it. From the app description:

- Engage in location-based conversation and share photos with other NIN fans around the world.
- Access the latest NIN news and blog updates.

- Listen to a variety of streaming NIN music, including exclusive playlists and thousands of fan-created remixes.

- View, save, and share images and videos from’s vast fan-supported media archive.

- Get exclusive free wallpaper images formatted for iPhone & iPod Touch.
- Access to’s thriving forums.

- Login with your free account, or create a new one directly from the app.

- Send & receive private messages and view user profiles.

True, this stuff is mainly for marketing purposes but I think it's a fantastic way to keep the fans more involved while on the go. It provides a level of interactivity I haven't seen before in the realm of cell phone and fandom. I'm not a fan of NIN, but if I were, I'd probably love this app.

Finally, the oddest one I've seen is the Coldplay app, designed around their new single Strawberry Swing. Like the other apps, it requires an internet connection even to open the app, and once in, requires a connection to receive ads (hey, how else do you think this thing is free?), stream the Strawberry Swing music video, and submit your high scores.

That's right, there's a game. But not just one game: three games. Marketing at its craziest. See, in the video, the main guy (presumably frontman Chris Martin) is some kind of Superman-esque superhero, flying through the sky, swimming through dangerous waters, and walking through the clouds to rescue the "Princess" from the diabolical Squirrel King. It's really a really neat, artsy video, and I'd recommend checking it out if you haven't. Well, that cartoony edge to the video really lends itself to cheap promotional video game creation.

All three games are locked when you first get the app. Once you watch the music video, the first game is unlocked. Playing through the first game once unlocks the second game, and one playthrough of the second game unlocks the third. The first game is a clone of just about every game that came out when the iPhone app store first opened: you tilt your device left or right to move the guy, flying through the air, avoiding biplanes and collecting stars and umbrellas. At the end of the stage, you have to dodge the Squirrel King's arrows.

In the second game you're swimming under water. Once again you tilt the device to move him up, down, left, or right, collecting stars and keys (same as umbrellas, to be honest) and avoiding junk that has fallen into the ocean, like hat racks and dressers (yeah, hat racks).

The third game is a side scrolling platformer where you (yup, you guessed it) collect stars. But also there are skeletons. You jump on their heads and they fall apart, allowing you to pick up the skull to use as a weapon on the next skeleton that comes along.

The app is free, but if you believe that Time is Money, then the time I spent playing these cheap promo tricks is probably worth more to me than the "nothing" that I paid for this app. In other words, try it out if you're curious, but all the while keep in mind that you're not really supposed to be having fun while playing. Instead, you're supposed to be wanting to buy the music video on iTunes, or better yet, buy the album that Strawberry Swing is on.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Don't stay the same.

The second most popular sentiment I used to find in my middle school and high school yearbooks, aside from the decidedly uncreative "have a nice summer, see you next year" was "Don't ever change."

At the time, my reaction to people writing this to me probably ranged from satisfied to ambivalent. I figured it meant that they liked me just the way I was. And that was good, especially for a kid who, at the time, had just started to build his self-confidence.

But the thing was, most of that confidence was in the realm of the classroom. I was always one of the smart kids. I was never one to brag to anyone, but everyone knew what kinds of grades I got. Those A's were what kept me going - in life, really - not just in the classroom. They were what kept me motivated to keep doing my very best in everything at school.

But because that was my focus, it just so happened that my performance in class was inversely proportional to my social life. Inverse means that when one aspect is high, the other is the opposite - low. Sure, I had my friends and all my school club activities. But even though there were those people I really appreciate being around, I never opened up to them. We rarely hung out outside of some school functions. I never really got close to anyone, and there was no single person or group of people that I could call my bed friends.

Unlike for most people, ironically, high school for me was for getting an education, with the social interactions being somewhat of a side benefit.

Looking back I would have done many things differently, but that's not my point here. I've recently given some thought to the numerous messages of "Don't ever change" I'd gotten over the years, many from people I only barely knew, to whom I'd scarcely said more than three words in my life.

I came to the conclusion that those people were not, in fact, implying that they really liked me the way I was. They knew me simply by reputation. They figured "nice" and "smart" was fine, and I was never threatening or annoying to them. They probably assumed I was pretty cool, being in honors classes and numerous school clubs. But a single "conversation" with me would have ruined that image pretty quickly. Let's put it this way: right now, if I were to be the same person I was 6, 7, 8 years ago in high school, I'd be much, much worse off.

Back then I was really socially awkward, afraid to change things up and be spontaneous, narrow-minded and judgmental, unobservant, and totally unable to voice my opinions when it mattered. My sense of humor was limited. And I was a bit stubborn and selfish.

Thank goodness I changed. Thank goodness I ignored all my classmates' advice and let myself grow and improve.

Did you ever get that message in your yearbook? Did you change?

Monday, August 17, 2009


So I woke up this morning to the most unexpected sound.. and sight. Not the usual birds chirping, dogs barking, or train tooting its horn. These were savage, confrontational sounds. I couldn't place them, so naturally I opened my Venetian blinds about a foot to see what the din was.

On top of the wooden gazebo-like structure in my backyard was a very angry squirrel, belching out high-pitched "RAB RAB RAB! RAB RAB RAB!" at about 60 miles an hour. Apparently it didn't really appreciate the looks the dirty, mangy cat sitting on the brick wall was casting in its direction.

That's right, I woke up to a standoff between a squirrel and a cat.

I would love to have stuck around for the fight, but I had to go to work. Maybe I should've called in sick... at least for an hour.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Quick Time Waster

Paper Toss, Free (App Store,

As amazingly detailed and in-depth iPhone/iPod touch games have become these days, the fact remains that it is still a mobile platform. And when people have a lot of time to spend playing a game, they're probably going to be spending it on their computer or on whatever version of Playstation, XBox, or Nintendo system they have. Therefore, the best model for an iPhone/iPod touch game is one that is simple and one that you can pick up real quickly and put down at a moment's notice. Many in-depth games (like Zombieville USA and Virtual Villagers) have the nice autosave-on-exit feature so you can pick up right where you left off.

Paper Toss is not the kind of game that really needs that, because its premise is as simple as it gets. You have a metric buttload of crumpled papers, which you presumably created while bored at work. The objective is simple: throw the crumpled paper balls into the trash can by flicking your finger upwards on the screen. The one catch is that a fan is randomly blowing left or right, affecting the trajectory of your paper projectile. So you need to compensate for this.

That's it! The game keeps track of your current score and latest high score and there are three difficulty levels. The game takes place in some kind of office, and there's a bonus Easy level located at an airport, in honor of the release of their paid "sequel," Paper Toss World Tour.

If you have a few minutes (or even seconds) where you're waiting for a printout or something, download Paper Toss (again, it's free) and dispose of some hapless papers.

And yes, that guy on the Backflip Studios logo is creepy for some reason...

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Bizarre Holidays! Part 3!

Hey, we're back with another installment of Bizarre Holidays!

In case you missed "Bring your child to work day" a few weeks ago, you have another chance to do something like it.  Monday the 29th is "Please take me children to work day."  Actually, now that I think of it, I don't think it's the same thing at all..

I'm not sure what the origin of this one is, but the 30th is Meteor Day.  Take cover in your fallout shelter.  You do have a fallout shelter, right?

For all you Canadians out there, July 1 is Canada Day. I have no idea what that means, but I'm sure Wikipedia does.

Boy, is 2009 going fast.  I still write "2008" by accident now and then.  But nothing serves to reinforce how fast it's going like this Tuesday, which is "Second half of the year day."

Wednesday is the perfect day for those with amnesia or senility.  That's right, folks, July 2 is "I Forgot Day."  Just... don't be celebrating that one when you get called into your boss's office.

My favorite holiday of the week is July 6, "Take your webmaster to lunch day."  I guess I'll be taking myself to lunch. How fitting, then, that July 6 is also National Fried Chicken Day.

See you next time!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Crappy feather

On my way back from running today, something caught my eye. It was a white and gray feather on the ground, in a sparsely grassy area.

Upon a closer look, I noticed that there were 3 or 4 pieces of, um.. cat feces on and around the feather.

I can only assume that the neighborhood cat bully beat up a bird, took one of its feathers, and pooped on it as a warning to all other birds not to mess with him or her.

Bizarre Holidays! Part 2!

Okay guys, it's back.  Bizarre Holidays!

Tomorrow, June 22, is National Chocolate Eclairs Day.  I am totally getting up early to eat some donuts before (or at) work.  It's also Stupid Guy Thing Day.  Hey, none of my guy things are stupid.

Tuesday the 23rd is National Columnists Day and Take Your Dog to Work Day!

The 25th is National Handshake Day.  Shake someone's hand.  Just don't forget to wash your own.

Friday the 26th is Forgiveness Day.  So be the better person and forgive someone this week.

After bestowing the forgiveness, celebrate Decide to be Married Day on the 27th.

See you next time!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Not creepy, but tons of fun

The Creeps! $0.99 In-depth review

I have to admit it.  I'm finally getting tired of Tower Defense games.  I did a review and strategy feature on a few of them several months back, and since then I really haven't played much.  That is, except The Creeps!  Now, I'm not yelling at you.  The exclamation point is actually part of the name.

What's so different about The Creeps! that gives it such longevity?  Well, several things.  Read on. If you saw my reviews of Tap Defense, Fieldrunners, and 7 Cities (post 1, post 2), you'll know that different companies are pretty good at developing new and interesting approaches to the same old (new?) tower defense genre.  Fieldrunners and 7 Cities both contained two game types: one that ends when you beat all the levels and one that keeps on going until you lose all your lives.  The Creeps! does one better: it has 3 gameplay modes!  Okay, now I am yelling at you.  But let's go back a bit and talk about the game itself.

The Creeps! is a tower defense game.  And like all other tower defense games, you have enemies moving along the screen attempting to get to a goal.  You place towers, which cost money and come in different varies, to destroy your enemies before they get through.  If you let too many enemies get through, you lose.  Simple.

In The Creeps! you are the intrepid defender of... this little kid's bed.  He's creeped out because there are monsters literally coming out of his closet to get him.  Yeah, I'd be scared too.  The monsters move on a set path to the bed, where the kid's head is poking in and out from under his covers.  A recent update to The Creeps! from its creator, Super Squawk Software, adds some new towers and maps, adding to the longevity.  Now there are several graveyard maps, Mars maps, and undersea maps.

Regular maps can be played in Survival Mode, where you play a map for a certain number of waves and then you're done.  They can also be played in Endurance Mode, where you play an unending number of waves... well, unending until you die of course.  I'll get to the third mode in a bit.

The cool thing about The Creeps! is something I hadn't seen in any previous tower defense game: the ability to target certain enemies.  When it gets crazy, sometimes it's good to be able to tell your towers who to fire on, especially when one monster is just about go get to his goal.  With other games, you just have to rely on the game's A.I. to decide who your towers want to kill.  But that's not all.  The Creeps! features other inanimate objects that sit on the map that you can target with your towers.  There is some delay time in between waves of monsters that you can spend to get extra points and money from destroying these random objects.  They include trees, headstones, rocks, coral, and other stuff.  When these obstructions are destroyed, you can build towers in their place.  In harder levels, this adds an extra element of strategy in that you cannot win w/o clearing out most or all of these objects - there simply would not be any room to place your towers otherwise.

The above is especially important in the new and cool mode that Super Squawk added in the newest update.  It's called Doorbuster Mode.  As I said before, enemies come from the possessed closet door and move along a path to get to the kid's bed.  In Doorbuster Mode, your main goal, aside from destroying enemies, is to destroy the door from which they come.  The door takes a long time to destroy, so you need to get your hits in in between waves of enemies, and you need to upgrade your towers accordingly.  In some doorbuster maps, you cannot even place a tower close enough to reach the door until you've destroyed enough inanimate map objects.  Lots of fun.

I've written this much and haven't even talked about the enemies and the weapons!  I'll go through those really quickly.  The enemies as well as all the surroundings are really cartoony and colorfully drawn.  The game is fun to look at, really.  In the Mars and Graveyard maps (of which there are plenty), enemies include ghosts, zombies, vampires, mummies, and other horror film staples.  The sound effects, especially the sounds the enemies make when they die, are superb and hilarious.  I especially like the vampires saying "Ow, zat hurts!"  You really have to hear it for yourself.  In the underwater maps, you encounter creatures like sea urchins, eels, crabs, tiny whales, and snail-like things.  In all maps, every once in a while you'll run into bosses, which are simply larger versions of the regular enemies.

The towers really go along with the cartoony theme of the game.  Your main weapon is a toy ray gun that shoots blue laser beams.  There is also a boomerang, which homes in on enemies and causes explosion/splash damage.  The tower I like a lot from a creative and stylistic standpoint is the glue bottle, which is this game's version of the "goo tower" that slows enemies down.  I mean, it's a freaking bottle of glue!  How cool is that? Anyway, we also have a flashlight, which is kind of like a lightning/tesla tower, and a paper ninja star.  Ooh, those paper cuts hurt.  All regular towers can be upgraded up to a third level, which makes them faster and do more damage.

There are also super towers that work for a limited time only before needing to recharge.  These include a UFO that does massive damage to whoever it's hovering over, a giant black widow that does super glue effects, a tornado that can carry enemies backward or just keep them in one place for an easy kill, and an oil can that allows you to muck up the path that enemies travel along.  All these super towers cost a lot of money but can really be game changers. They also make use of the iPod touch or iPhone's accelerometer.  You tilt your device to control their direction.

The Creeps! is good enough for me to ramble on and on about it in this post, and at $0.99 it's really a no-brainer for anyone interested in Tower Defense.  If you didn't think the others were for you, you may want to reconsider and try this one out.  I believe there is also a Lite version.

One year out

I went to the UCLA College of Letters and Science commencement last night. Yeah, it's that time of year again. This means that it's already been a full year since I graduated (from the school of Engineering, not the aforementioned one). The ceremony was pretty darn good, despite having to sit in the nosebleed "yellow seats" and not being able to see anything.

It did feel a little awkward though, to hear the first two speeches, one by an apparently fantastic community icon who received the UCLA Medal last night, and the other by the UCLA Student Body President. Both were women, and both very well spoken and energetic, but I got the strange sensation that I was at a political rally rather than a graduation ceremony. Now, I have nothing wrong with motivating "young people" (ugh, I hate that term but it's the most appropriate one here) to become active in shaping their community and nation, but I would expect such a widely-attended event to be a little more neutral. That's all I'll say about that.

The keynote speaker, Brad Delson of Linkin Park fame, was very, very, very good, and that's 3 "very"s more than I had expected. He was well spoken like the two ladies, and, being a fellow UCLA grad, albeit class of '99, was able to throw in familiar references to early Rieber dinners (I'm not sure which dining hall is open early these days) and late night Puzzles runs for good measure. When finding out he would not be able to keep the "honorary" cap an gown, he decided to take it off to reveal a custom UCLA basketball jersey and shorts underneath, with the number "09" and the name "Keynote" on the back. Then he played an exclusive, never-before-heard (and hopefully never again heard) acoustic guitar rendition of Britney Spears' "I'm not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman." I must be getting old because I didn't recognize the song until it was practically over, and all the kids knew what it was almost right when he started. All in all, Mr. Delson gets an A for the night, and was much, much more engaging than the boring guy who spoke at my boring graduation who broke his promise not to be boring in the first 3 boring minutes of his boring speech.

Anyway, being back at UCLA always gives me a weird feeling now. I've been back there several times for various reasons (mostly, but not all being basketball games), and I'm really seeing the campus in a different light. Before attending UCLA starting in 2003, I mostly identified the campus as "that place w/ the cool student store and the historic Pauley Pavilion." Yeah, UCLA merchandise and basketball. That's all it was. When I started attending, I got more familiar with the entirety of the campus. As much of my time was spent going to class or doing homework, the place just made me think of work. No matter how much fun I was having, there was still that feeling that I was there to go to class and to get a degree. Come to think of it, that might have been the wrong approach.

Lately I've been thinking back to what the college experience was like. A lot of the specific factual knowledge that I gained in classes in order to survive my exams has all but gone away from my brain. What's left is just the capacity for critical thinking and the desire to dig deeper when things don't make sense. College is about the experience, and college courses are all about learning how to learn because in the end, you won't be valued for your useless knowledge about obscure topics, but rather how you can apply what you've learned about approaching problems and situations in life. I think if I had kept this in mind, I would have studied differently - possibly more efficiently, and also less. And I would been able to allow myself to have more fun when not studying or going to class.

I'm one year out of college, and UCLA is now, along with its other purposes, a place of memories. My mind no longer associates the campus with me having a massive things-to-do list. Now the studying and classes and test taking are all in the past, and I am able to relax and have more fun when I go back. But the thing is, I just about never go back there just for fun, making this new state of mind pretty much irrelevant. "Stop and smell the roses" is cliché but so true. Too bad you can't go back in time and smell the roses of the past.

One year out, and I'm realizing I missed out on college because of the classes, and because of my mindset. Well, at least we'll always have Ackerman, and we'll always have basketball.

...after they're done with the Pauley Pavilion renovation, anyway.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Bizarre Holidays! Part 1!

Here's the first installment in a new series: Bizarre holidays! Here I will just list some interesting holidays that, for whatever reason, are not widely observed. Enjoy.

June 1:
-National Go Barefoot Day! If you're at the beach, you're probably already observing this one.
-Dare Day. I dare you to eat an entire pie. In one sitting.

June 2:
-Leave the Office Early Day! Yeah! I'm totally doing this one. And you can tell my boss too.
-Yell "Fudge" at the cobras in North America Day. If you see a cobra, be sure to pass this message onto it.

June 3:
-Repeat Day. Repeat Day.

June 4:
-Hug Your Cat Day. Also known as Get Violently Scratched Day.
-Applesauce Cake Day. I've never had Applesauce Cake. Is it good?

June 5-6 (First Fri/Sat in June):
-Donut Day. Yup. Sweeet.

June 6:
-Doo-Dah Day. Yee-haw!

Information courtesy of:

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Defending the not-so-friendly skies

It's review time again! One thing the iPhone/iPod Touch, with its touch controls and accelerometer, would seem to be the perfect platform for the classic vertical overhead scrolling shooters, such as the 19xx or Raiden series. Apparently developers feel the same way, and have come out with a multitude of these types of game. Today I'm going to focus on two, though an honorable mention goes to "Siberian Strike" ($0.99), which was highly reviewed over at the Touch of Gaming podcast. A horrible mention goes to Sky Thunder, which I'm not going to link to. It's too hard and not fun.

iFighter, $0.99
Anyway, first up today is iFighter. You pilot a WWII-style plane that has autofire enabled, so your job is simply to maneuver your plane to shoot enemies and avoid their fire. There is also a Bomb button to press to deal extra devastation to everything on the screen. Defeating certain enemies reveals medals and stars, which you collect to increase your score.

Some scrolling shooters are such that when you touch an enemy you immediately lose a life. iFighter is not such a game. With each life you have a certain amount of "health", which goes down by some number when you get hit. Take enough damage and you lose a life.

iFighter's creators provided three different control schemes to match your play style. First is "Joypad" mode, where a virtual joystick is superimposed on the screen and you "move" it around with your thumb. This is the control scheme being used in my screenshots. Since the joypad shown is very small, the smallest thumb movement can make your plane move farther than you wanted it to. It takes some getting used to in this regard. On the plus side, as opposed to Swipe mode (see below), Joypad mode doesn't cover up areas where your enemies might show up and surprise you.

The second control scheme is "Swipe." Here you keep your finger on the screen and your plane will go to where your finger is. Normally this would be my control scheme of choice, but the plane tends to lag behind the speed of your finger so it's a bit inaccurate to me. Still, this method is best for putting the plane exactly where you want it to be. The downside here, as mentioned above, is that putting your finger on the screen can cover up things that you'd want to see for survival's sake.

Finally the "Motion" scheme allows you to use the accelerometer to tilt your device to make the plane move. Motion is pretty responsive and probably my control scheme of choice, though the plane still doesn't move as fast as enemies do, even with sensitivity set all the way up. The other problem with Motion is that it doesn't work too well if you're playing the game in a moving vehicle.

All in all, if you like this genre of games, iFighter is good, but the controls can be a problem. Enemy planes move really fast and you start out with a pathetically weak weapon. The variety of control schemes is nice, but all have their upsides and downsides. At its current $0.99 price, it's hard not to recommend it.

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Sentry Alpha, $0.99
The other scrolling shooter I'm reviewing today is Sentry Alpha. Unlike iFighter, Sentry Alpha is set in a more futuristic setting, and your enemies are alien ships. You start out with a standard dual blaster, but you quickly earn lots of weapon upgrades just by defeating a bunch of early enemies at the beginning. You have unlimited homing missiles, of which you can shoot more at a time when you get them upgraded. Bombs in Alpha do not span the whole screen, but rather are designed to hit the otherwise-inaccessible ground-based targets.

Like iFighter, Sentry Alpha features a multiple lives + energy system, so getting hit once doesn't really kill you. The game does, however, count how many times you got hit in each level, along with the number of enemies killed and number of medals collected.

Sentry Alpha only features one control scheme, accelerometer controlled. This is definitely a problem if you're in a moving vehicle, but when you're not, it seems to work very well. Autofire for your blasters is enabled, but if you hold your finger down on the screen your ship will fire faster. Bombs are activated by a sideways shake, while missiles can be fired by an up-down shake. Alternatively, there is a missile button on the lower right and a bomb button on the lower left of the screen.

I found Sentry Alpha to be slower-paced and easier than iFighter. I keep waiting for it to get more challenging, but there's no lack of fun to be had here due to the ever-increasing number of weapon upgrades I keep getting. Enemies come at you slower and you normally have ample time to get into position to hit them or get out of the way. The heat seeking missiles sure help too.

At $0.99, it's bargain. Interestingly, the app description on the app store says Sentry Alpha is on sale for $0.99 'til May 1. Here it is, May 24, and it's still on sale. Get it while it lasts!

Heck, might as well get both iFighter and Sentry Alpha while you're at it.

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Stupid iPod Touch tricks

When you first get your iPod Touch you are blown away by the slick interface and all the neat features that you now can't do without. It's chock full of features, though some of them might not be very obvious. Some are in the instructions (which I rarely read, and I'm not sure that you do either) and others are not.

1) Music controls anywhere: a neat thing about the iPod Touch is that you can use other programs besides the music player while you are listening to your music. This is easily done by getting your music started and then pressing the Home button to return to the Home screen. From there you can choose whatever app you want to use - Mail, Safari, and even games that support you providing your own music. But what if you're using that app and you run into a song you don't feel like listening to? Double-tap the home button real fast. This'll bring up the music controls wherever you are, allowing you to pause, skip forward, or skip backwards. Tapping the Close button will dismiss the controls and return you to your regularly scheduled app, or touching the Music button will quit your current app and bring up the full fledged Music player app. The only downfall to this feature is that if you don't double click the Home button fast enough, or if you give it 3 clicks instead, it behaves as if you pressed it once, returning you to the Home screen.

1a) The double-tap feature also works if you're at the "Slide to unlock" screen.

1b) Sometimes apps (usually games) support you playing your own music but by default will silence your music upon startup and play its own music instead. To get around this, double tap the Home button while in the game and press Play. This will silence the in-game audio and resume your music instead in most (but not all) apps.

2) Screenshot: This is self-explanatory, but it's a real killer feature. Say you have something cool or hot on your screen and you want to save it for posterity (or at least to show your friends). You can save an exact picture of what you're seeing in your Photo library. Keep in mind that you have to be fairly quick about this. While holding the Sleep button, press and release the Home button, and then immediately release the Sleep button. The screen will flash white and you'll hear a camera sound. The iPod touch doesn't have a camera on it like its older sibling the iPhone, but you can still capture memories on it.

3) Auto-Pause: Say you're listening to something on your headphones and someone important walks up. You want to pause the audio because you don't want to miss the rest (as is often the case with audiobooks and podcasts) but you can't be bothered to quickly bring up the audio controls (either in the Music app or via the trick in #1). All you have to do is quickly unplug your headphones. You'll notice that the audio automagically pauses itself, because it knows you're not listening anymore. Sweet. When you plug your headphones back in, it doesn't resume automatically, which makes sense because while unplugged headphones = not listening, plugged-in headphones does not necessarily = you have the headphones on your ears. Bring the audio controls back up to resume listening.

4) Rearranging/deleting apps: tap and hold on any app's icon on the home screen until everything starts jiggling. Yes, that's right, jiggling. You'll notice that all the third-party apps will also now have "x" buttons on them, allowing you to delete them from your iDevice. Also in this mode you can tap-drag icons to arrange them to your heart's content. Remember that the bottommost row holds apps that are shown no matter what page you're on, so keep the most frequently used apps down there. Press the Home button to exit Jiggly Mode.

5) Quicker page changing: Once you get enough apps to fill several pages (believe me, this will happen pretty soon with all the free apps available), you may find yourself swiping your finger across the screen over and over to switch between pages. There is a little invisible area to the right and to the left of the "page indicators" at the bottom (the white and gray dots) where if you simply tap, it'll change the page. So if you tap just to the right of the page indicators, it'll go to the next page, and if you tap to the left of them, it'll go to the previous page. Also, if you're on any page other than page 1, pressing the Home button will return you to page 1. Handy if you have more than 2 pages of apps.

6) Battery saver: The killer feature of the iPod touch in my opinion is the wifi. Even when not connected to an access point, however, the wifi drains battery. If you go to your Settings app you can disable your wifi. I highly recommend doing this while not using wifi - for example, when you're driving somewhere, so it doesn't keep draining battery looking for access points. Turn it back on when you know you're going to use it.

6a) Auto-brightness: Along the same lines, you can find the Brightness setting in your Settings app. Nothing too fancy. You can adjust the brightness. Turn it down in dim lighting, and turn it all the way up in bright lighting. The interesting feature here is "Auto-Brightness" which uses the light sensor located near the top of the iPod's face. This feature can also help to save battery by sensing the light level in the room.

All of these tricks also work with the iPhone.

Tune in next time for some app recommendations and some more neat features.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Do I know you?

I have 209 Facebook friends as of this writing. I only communicate with about 20 of them more than once a month. Of those 20, only about 10 of them are real friends whom I see or talk to daily/weekly over IM or e-mail. The other 189? I haven't talked to them in ages.

Now, I'm not the kind of person who goes and adds friends willy-nilly without good reason. If you request to be my friend, I actually consider it very carefully before clicking Add. I first ask "do I know you?" Well, I don't ask you, but I ask myself regarding you. I'm not on Facebook to make friends, just to keep them. There have been one or two exceptions, but I won't mention those.

But do I really know those 189 people I never talk to? I don't know about you, but when I see someone in person whom I haven't talked to in years, it's usually more or less a big deal. Sometimes it's full of handshakes, hugs, smiles, but mostly it's the whole "catching up" thing. Before I even talk about any kind of business or plans anything current, I find it important to make up for the period of time in their lives and my life that needs to be filled in. But this mentality came from the old days before Facebook and these other social networking things, when I wouldn't regularly "see" what 209 people are doing several times per month.

It's a strange new thing - knowing what people are doing on a regular basis even when you haven't talked to them for years. I see their activity in my news feed: pictures, statuses, notes, posted links, wall messages and I often want to comment on them. But I feel really, really awkward just randomly commenting because it's basically doing exactly what I don't like doing - addressing an old acquaintance without saying "hi," "it's been forever," "what's new?"

Am I alone on this? Do you care if someone you haven't even thought about in years just up and comments on your page without so much as a "hello"? Is this the direction we are going, where no matter how far away we are from each other, talking for the first time is no big deal?

What do you think?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Mac Mini Adventures, Day 31

Where was Day 1? Well, it was supposed to be 31 days ago, but I'm a major slacker. So it's here. Let me back up.

Last month my dad got a Mac Mini for the purpose of making it a Home Theater computer, also known to others as a Home Theater PC (HTPC). The Mac Mini shall not be called an HTPC from here on out.

The mini is perfect because it can play 1080p video (high definition, 1920x1080 resolution) without being too pricey or taking up too much space or being unsightly in the TV room. Here are some of the pictures I took the night we first opened it up.

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So far, the experience has been great. The only issue with the Mini itself is that the power cord is a little loose. So if we move the computer while it's running, it's liable to shut off due to disconnected power. While this is generally not a problem with a normal "desktop" computer, the mini is such a portable machine (6.5"x6.5"x2") that it just begs you to take it with you to the next room. My dad is quickly finding that it blows the doors off of his nearly 10-year-old Power Mac G4, a tower more than 4 times the size. The only thing keeping him from using the Mini as his main computer at this point is that it's connected to our 32" LCD HDTV. It's connected via a couple adapters. The Mac Mini has both a Mini-DVI connector and a Mini-displayport connector, the latter of which is a display standard created by Apple, who hopes that it will become an industry standard in the near future. We are using a Mini-displayport to DVI adapter connected to a DVI to HDMI adapter to display the video on the TV. The audio also goes to the TV, via a standard 3.5mm stereo jack, much like the one in your MP3 player of choice, although on the other end the audio is split into separate left and right channel plugs.

This setup works great. The only problem for me is that the TV tops out at 720p (1280x720 resolution) which is insanely weak for any sort of normal computing. For reference, if you have a 17" computer monitor your resolution is typically 1024x768, and for a 19" monitor you're typically seeing 1280x960 or 1280x1024. 720 rows of pixels on a 32" screen is great for video, but crappy for anything else. Fortunately, the Mini is there so we can watch movies and downloaded TV shows, and that's about it. We've found that even though the TV can't show anything bigger than 720p, the Mini itself handles 1080p video just fine, stutter-free, and I'm actually able to tell the difference between it and 720p video. I can't explain how that works, but it does.

I've tried to play Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy on the Mini, and it runs smooth as butter. I'm used to playing the game on my 5 1/2 year old Power Mac G4, which plays it well but not exceptionally. But for gaming, the mini is just a taste of things to come for my next computer...

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Free stuff-limited time

Edit2: Acorn is spoken for.

Edit: added iSale to the list and changed the expiration date.

Sorry to sound like an ad, but read this and ACT NOW.

I'll make this simple. I'm buying a MacHeist software bundle and it's got some apps that I may not necessarily use. So if you want the eBay page creation app iSale,the photo editing app Acorn, the picture touch-up app Picturesque, or the animation suite program Kinemac for FREE, let me know and I'll gift it to you. Google them if you don't know what they are and want more info. There are other apps in the bundle (see link above) but the ones I mentioned are ones I most likely won't use. You can look at the list and ask me about any of the others if you're interested. Please tell any Mac-using friends too.

These programs are Mac only, so sorry Windows users. I need to know as far in advance of Tuesday, 4/7, midnight Eastern Daylight time as possible, preferrably 9pm eastern, 6pm pacific on 4/7, so I can gift them to you during the buying process. This is "first come, first serve". All I need is your name and email address.

Zombies on your street

Zombieville, USA

Okay, so I've done some tower defense, I've done a sim game, and I've done a puzzler. Now here's a shooter. No, it's not a first person shooter or a flight simulator. Just a side-scroller featuring a tough guy with a gun. Or rather a few of them.

The story, if you can call it that, is that this suburb becomes invaded by zombies, and this guy with a very square chin is seemingly the last one standing. Armed with a pistol and a killer instinct, he goes out on the streets to shoot him some zombies.

Gameplay is very simple. Your guy can move left, move right, and shoot his gun. Movement is achieved by touching the right arrow or left arrow shown on screen with the appropriate thumb while the other thumb presses anywhere else on the screen to fire the gun. Along the street you encounter three different kinds of zombies: standard green zombies, fast-moving (but weak) gray zombies, and slow but very strong dark green zombies. You earn money by killing them, and the amount you earn as well as the difficulty increases each level. The levels contain neighborhood houses which you touch in order to enter. Some contain money, and others contain ammo, and all can be used to temporarily elude enemies.

After each level you arrive at a shack that sells new guns or upgrades to existing ones. The shack also sells health packs that fully replenish your health meter, but you want to play well enough so that you can survive to save up your money to spend on the more worthwhile weapon upgrades.

The weapons include a pistol, a shotgun, an explosives launcher, a gatling gun, and a freaking awesome gun (my words, not theirs). Each weapon can be upgraded a maximum of 4 times, each costing a larger amount of money and making the weapon more powerful. An upgraded pistol simply does more damage, whereas an upgraded shotgun becomes an automatic shotgun where you can hold your finger down on the screen rather than tapping repeatedly. The explosives launcher starts off launching grenades, which do a lot of damage but the range is limited - it won't hit any zombies if the zombies are too close to you or too far away. Higher levels give you rockets, which have a better range. The gatling gun is self-explanatory - hold your finger on the screen and it empties rounds and rounds of lead into oncoming zombies.

And finally, the freaking awesome gun. It starts out as a chainsaw. Yes, that requires you let the enemy get really close before you attack, but it does a ton of damage. When you upgrade it, however, it becomes a flamethrower (awesome), and another upgrade turns it into a blue beam gun that utterly demolishes anything in your way.

Zombieville USA is very simple, yet very entertaining, and any scrolling shooter or zombie fan will love this one.

Full version is $1.99 and there is also a free lite version.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Litely Puzzling

Puzzle Prism Lite

I'm just on a freaking roll. Anyone who likes Tetris will like Puzzle Prism. It's sort of a 3-D Tetris type game. You have different-shaped falling blocks that need to be fit together in order to make rows disappear. But since it's in 3-D, the rows are more like "sheets." From the top, it looks like a 2x2 grid.

There are three control schemes, two of which place buttons on the screen to rotate and drop your current piece. But the default control scheme is the best. You flick your finger right to rotate counter clockwise, left to rotate the piece clockwise, and down to drop the piece. There really isn't much else to say about this game. I've only played the free Lite version of the game, which has a single game mode: Time Trial. The full version has more game modes.

Puzzle Prism is a fun diversion that is great for pulling out to play when you're waiting for your overly greasy fast food lunch, or when you want to ignore your annoying coworkers. It's a win-win situation. Download the Lite version to try it, and buy the full version if you like it enough.

Sorry for all the scrolling. I can't figure out how to put two pictures on a single line.

App Store Link
App Store Link (Full Version) (on sale for $1.99 for a short time only)