Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Make a difference.

Support a fantastic, worthwhile cause! Any amount is appreciated. Donate to the American Pharmacist Association at the University of Maryland's Dance-a-thon! Please act quickly. Deadline is Friday, March 27.

From the site:
APhA Dance-a-thon needs YOUR HELP!
This 13-hour dance marathon will take place March 28-29th, 2009 from 8 p.m. to 9 a.m.
Please consider sponsoring the American Pharmacist Association - ASP at the University of Maryland as we raise money for the American Heart Association to foster chronic disease awareness. ALL proceeds go to promoting events which increase awareness about chronic diseases.

The fundraising goal for this year is $5000. Please help us meet our goal!
Any amount is welcome, small or large, although a minimum donation of $10 is suggested. Thank you in advance for your generosity!


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Koobface and more security

One or two of you know that I'm a bit of a security nut. With the Web becoming a bigger and more popular place before our very eyes, it's becoming more and more of a breeding ground for malware. Just to review, malware is the current catch-all word for bad stuff more specifically referred to as viruses, spyware, trojans, worms, keyloggers, and adware.

Unfortunately, our increasing use of social networking sites like myspace, twitter, and facebook has changed our attitudes toward what the Internet is really about. Let me get this straight. I love facebook. I love that it allows me to keep in touch with people hundreds of miles and several years away. I'm just saying that because of places like facebook, we've grown accustomed to freely clicking on things to find out what's going on in our social circle.

Enter Koobface. Koobface is a "worm" that infects your computer and your facebook account. It uses your account to send phony messages to people on your friends list. The message typically says something like "hey check out this crazy video taken of you last night!" or simply "you look awesome in this video." It links to a fake YouTube page, telling the unsuspecting user that in order to watch this video they have to update their Adobe Flash Player, on which Youtube runs. This is the downfall of the malware victim. He or she clicks to update Flash, and ends up downloading and running a piece of crap malware.

Koobface is not new, nor is it the first instance of malware or hackery on Facebook. But it certainly is dangerous. Once infected, it is recommended that one at the very least changes one's password. Remember, these fake messages are sent under the name of the person whose account is infected, without that person's knowledge.

If you receive such a message, delete it immediately and help your friend out by telling him or her what I just told you; they have been infected. You as a recipient are not infected if you simply receive the message. You'd actually have to go through the process of clicking the bad link and installing the fake Flash Player in order to be infected.

The virus affects Windows users only, though if you're running virtualization software like Parallels or VMWare or VirtualBox on your Mac the copy of Windows on the virtual machine can get infected. If you're on a Mac your facebook account itself can also be infected, if your account has been exposed to an infected Windows machine.

This leads to a general point about security. Antivirus (or more appropriately, antimalware) software, can only do so much. You are your own first line of defense in protecting yourself from online dangers. Use common sense. If you get an e-mail message that matches the description above, it's likely the same kind of deal. Don't click!

The thing that really gets people is the fact that these messages often come from people they know and like. You'd be more willing to click a link from a friend than from some random shmuck named Landey B. Shellward, right? Just remember that a message from a "friend" can still be suspicious and dangerous because it is SO easy to spoof a sender's name.

You may be curious about what others are saying and what people have seen of you that you don't want them seeing. But if you were home studying last night and someone claims to have a video of you at last night's wild party, don't be stupid. Don't be the cat that curiosity killed.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Kindle App

I first mentioned the free Kindle App for iPhone in this post. At the time, I had downloaded it but had not tried it out. Today I got some time to play around with it on my iPod Touch, and here's my report.

As I said, the app is free. When you turn it on, you get the Kindle "splash screen" showing a person sitting under a tree reading a book. At the top it says "Amazon Kindle" and at the bottom it says Kindle for iPhone, with Whispersync. More on that later. When I entered the app, it showed me the "Home" screen. This is where the books are, though it didn't come with any books. This list can be sorted by Recent, Title, and Author. On the top right there is a "Get Books" button. I had assumed that it would take me to a mobile Amazon.com store where I can buy books, but instead it showed me a small page saying "Get the best shopping experience by visiting www.amazon.com/kindlestore on your Mac or PC. You can also use Safari on your iPhone to buy books." Well, I wanted to get the whole mobile experience on my iPod Touch, so I avoided going on my computer.

Fortunately, this page provides a link to the Amazon Kindle Store, which will open in Mobile Safari on your device. The Kindle Store is simply a section of Amazon.com dedicated to selling eBooks for the Kindle device (and now for the Kindle iPhone app as well). There doesn't seem to be a mobile-optimized version, so there's going to be some zooming and pinching. Generally not a bad experience though. Not wanting to spend money at the time, I just started looking around, and managed to find a couple user-created "lists" on the left column of the page. These lists happened to be lists of free Kindle books. I was soo there. Currently, the Kindle versions of Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson and Blood Engines by T.A. Pratt are free, so having heard of them recently I figured I'd buy those books... for free.

Keep in mind that you need an Amazon account to even use the app, and of course to buy Kindle books. Your existing Amazon account will do; no need to get a special Kindle account. I clicked "Add to cart" on one of the books, and it said "you cannot buy this item with a cart, please visit the item's info page to purchase." I thought that was odd, but it didn't stop me for very long. On the book's page there's a Buy Now with 1-Click button, which I promptly tapped. The next page I was presented with said something to the effect of "thank you for purchasing this book. It will be sent to your iPhone/iPod Touch the next time you open the Kindle app." Isn't that cool? It knew I was going to use the eBook on my iPod because I'd logged into my Amazon account when opening the Kindle app earlier. I bought both books mentioned above for a total of $0.

So I went back to open the Kindle app, and the Home screen showed an Activity icon, and after a matter of seconds, both books that I had purchased appeared on the list. I picked one randomly, Red Mars. The reading interface should be fairly familiar to those who use their iPod touch or iPhone for looking at pictures. Each page of the book is a screen on your device, and you swipe left to go to the next page and swipe right to go back. Tapping the screen brings up some onscreen controls, including a progress slider, which 1) indicates how far you are and 2) allows you to slide to go directly to a certain part of the book. You can also create and access your bookmarks from here, as well as choose 5 different sizes of text. Great for those who can't read smaller text as well. One neat feature for owners of multiple iPhones, iPods, and/or Kindles, is the sync feature, which gets your current page and synchronizes your reading progress across all devices. So if you use your iPhone on the go but read your Kindle when you go home, when you get home your Kindle will be on the right page.

This is the extent of my testing. It's just a very brief first impression. So far, it works. I don't know if I really plan to do a lot of reading on my iPod, but the fact that the option is here in the Kindle app, along with others such as Classics or Stanza, really improves the versatility of the device. I don't plan to get a Kindle any time soon, but Amazon made a great choice in making this app available to those like me. After all, they will be making money on book sales.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

iDracula Screen Shots

Here are some screenshots of iDracula, as promised. I'll try to get some that are more representative of the action.

Just starting out


Game Over Screen

Senior Day Part 2

Oregon head coach Ernie Kent has complained that his Ducks have had to play UCLA for 4 of UCLA's last 8 senior days. On Senior Day, the home team is all pumped up and ready to play, and the crowd is doubly into it. Kent was right to be concerned, because despite some early struggles, UCLA came out on top, 94-68 over the once again hapless Ducks.

Here are some notes for the statisticians in all of us. This was Darren's and Alfred's 138th game played as Bruins, setting a new school record for games played in. They also set a record with 116 career wins each. It was Josh's 130th career start. These records are near-impossible to beat, since this number of games participated in sort of requires that a team make deep tournament runs in consecutive years, as UCLA has.

The team let Oregon kind of hang around early in the game, unable to put them away quickly. Slow defensive rotations, often the fault of Nikola Dragovic, let to many made 3-pointers by Oregon. Some dude named Drew Willey on Oregon made 18 points, solely on 3's. Oregon led by as many as 5 points, but the Bruins got it together toward the end of the first half, to take a 7-point halftime lead. They never looked back after that, and again Josh had a field day, scoring 28 points, including 4 three-pointers.

Unfortunately the 3-year streak of winning the Pac-10 title was broken because Washington got more conference wins. Darn WSU. Anyway, the final Pac-10 standings, after tiebreaker rules are as follows, and they determine the conference tournament seedings.

1) Washington
3) Cal
4) Arizona State
5) Arizona
6) U$C
7) Washington State
8) Oregon State
9) Stanford
10) Oregon

Remember, the Pac-10 tourney now includes all 10 teams, with the 7th seed playing the 10th seed and the 8th seed playing the 9th seed in the two "play-in" games on Wednesday. Washington plays the winner of the 8-9 game and UCLA plays the winner of the 7-10 game. This means the Bruins play Washington State or Oregon. History tells us that Oregon will lose horribly to WSU, so UCLA will likely have to play the Cougars again.

For a printable version of the bracket, including game times, find it at the Official Pac-10 conference tourney page or download my version here (Updated 3-11-09).

Go Bruins!

Senior Day

Yesterday (3/8) my dad and I went to watch the team's last home game and last regular season game of the year. Naturally, it was Senior Day, so we got there early to watch the pre-game festivities. We didn't get there early enough to see the Super Shot, however, which was moved from its usual place at halftime to make room for the special halftime show. More on that later. But apparently this kid, whose name unfortunately eludes me, managed to make the half court shot, securing himself free tuition for a year at UCLA. Kudos.

The next thing that was different about the afternoon was that rather than running out of the locker room at the northwest corner of Pauley Pavilion to the sound of the public address and the band, they walked stealthily out from the southwest doorway. They even fooled the band leader and security guards.

The players all gathered, standing near the Bruin bench, with Coach Howland at half court. Apparently there were six seniors associated with the team. The first to be saluted and to walk out to center court with his parents on either side was some dude whose name also eludes me. Sheesh. The second was Spencer Onishi, head student manager this year. I've always wondered what the student managers were in charge of doing. He and his parents got a hug from Howland.

The next one was James (aka Jamie?) Diefenbach, who has been with the team on and off as a walk-on but presumably a starter on the volleyball team. He got a huge cheer from the crowd because the crowd loves the benchwarmers.

The first starting senior to be honored was Alfred Aboya, and it seemed like an eternity for the P.A. guy to list all Alfred's accomplishments. Alfred's parents had flown into town this past Thursday and saw their son play basketball for the first time. And they reportedly saw LA traffic for the first time as well, and were thoroughly freaked out by it. About Alfred though, what can I say? Grad student pursuing a M.A. in public policy and the most improved player in the conference. Without Alfred this year's team would be very bad. The crowd was amazing. Everybody was on their feet, and if the Aboyas had any question about Alfred's value to the team, they needed only to listen to the uproarious cheering and screaming and chanting in support of Alfred.

Next was Darren, with his track star parents on each arm. I will miss him but won't miss the media's continuous rehashing of that tired fact. Oh well. And of course Josh followed, with his parents as well as some extra family members in tow. This whole ceremony elicited some of the most intense cheering I'd seen in Pauley in a long time, likely because it was the biggest Senior Day in a while. I heard some of the team staff was tearing up a little. These guys will be missed after this season ends, wherever it ends.

Getting back to the thing at halftime, the 1969 championship team was honored, though many of those involved could not attend. Some of them were represented by their sons. Kareem was there of course, and he and co-team captain/former cohost with Chick Hearn, Lynn Shackleford, accepted an honorary award on behalf of Coach Wooden, who is currently in the hospital recovering from pneumonia. We all wish Coach a speedy recovery. Kareem also received an award commemorating the 40th anniversary of his Naismith Player of the Year award in 1969, the first time this award was offered. Wow, Kareem is so awesome that his awards themselves have awards.

Other members of that team, including star guard Sidney Wicks and assistant coach Denny Crum were in attendance. Just think: when this stuff was going on, I was -16 years old. Though I really don't know too much about these guys, I do understand the importance of them and their accomplishments. These two ceremonies really made the afternoon doubly special and unforgettable. That and Josh's second consecutive career high in scoring (28 after getting 27 on Thursday) and Diefenbach's 2 points.

Ah, what a day. In my next bball post I will talk a bit about the game and do a little Pac-10 tourney preview.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Killing Monsters

Well, now that I've given a boring description of a bad game, it's time to write an exciting review about a good game.

Ever felt like your life is too boring? Wouldn't it be great if you were to walk out into the street and suddenly be surrounded by hordes and waves of monsters? And you were armed only with a single shot musket? Well it ain't gonna happen. Not in real life anyway.

But for the absolute bargain price of $0.99US(at the time of this writing) you can pick up the iPhone/iPod touch game iDracula and live your dream.

Built around blood-boiling metal-type music and Diablo II-style graphics, iDracula is described as a "survival shooter." You play as a Van Helsing type dude who must fight off endless waves of werewolves, vampires, and other mythical creatures. Two "virtual directional pads (D-pads)" are shown on screen; the lower left one is for moving your character around and the lower right one is for aiming the gun and firing.

The two game modes as of this writing are Survival and Rush. First, survival. At the beginning the enemies come in small groups and kind of move slowly so you can easily pick them off. As you kill more, they slowly get stronger, faster, and more numerous. To help you out, the game has the enemies randomly drop items, including health recovery potions, stronger weapons including a crossbow, flamethrower, shotgun, and a BFG, as well as ammo and "omens". Omens are the only items that stay with you between play sessions, and determine your rank as an iDracula player. You gain points by killing monsters, and after gaining certain amounts of points you earn a "perk" which allows you to choose from a variety of permanent (e.g. increase max health) or temporary (e.g. increased damage) upgrades.

Once you get to a certain point the game gets really frantic with enemies coming at you from all over the place. This where the game shines. Even with so much activity, the beautiful graphics engine doesn't hiccup, doesn't skip a beat. And there is a certain great sense of satisfaction in taking out hordes of ugly monsters in your spare time.

Oh yeah, real quick note on Rush mode. In this mode, you are equipped with a really powerful weapon from the get-go (the chaingun when I played) and they just throw tons and tons of werewolves at you right off the bat. Quick and intense.

I'll try to post some screenshots later, but in the meantime get this game before it goes up to $2.99 at some unspecified point in the future.

iDracula: iTunes Store, AppShopper

EDIT: here's a sneak preview video of the upcoming Free update to owners of iDracula

Not Impressed

When the iPhone Standard Developer Kit (SDK) was announced, many companies and individual developers got really excited. Longtime gaming company Sega saw this as a great opportunity to create a game that's perfectly suited to the tilt controls included in the iPhone's feature list.

Before the iPhone Application Store even debuted in July 2008, a working demo of Sega's Super Monkey Ball was shown at an Apple event, and it was said to have been created in about a week.

Let's take a step back. In 2001 the Nintendo Gamecube received a game called Super Monkey Ball, which was a port of a Japanese arcade game by the name of Monkey Ball, released in 2000. You played as a monkey in a ball (go figure) and the goal was to control the ball as you navigate around a twisting platform suspended in the air while collecting banana icons and trying to get to the goal. It was supposedly a ton of fun, but I never played that version.

Sega was right to recognize the iPhone as a perfect platform to port Super Monkey Ball to, since the concept lent itself greatly to being controlled by tilting the phone right to move the ball right, tilting left to move it left, and tilting it forward to accelerate. Super Monkey Ball debuted on the App Store on August 27 at $9.99 to much hype and fanfare. It even reached #1 on the top 10 paid apps list and stayed there for quite a while.

At the time, there still were not very many games to choose from, and there was no "norm" price for this type of game, or any app for that matter. People were a little annoyed by the controls in Super Monkey Ball for iPhone, but since it was one of the only games out there, they took it in stride because no standard had been set yet. This and the hype surrounding it for weeks prior kept it at the top spot on the app store.

Two updates, five months, and a $2 price drop later, I actually became curious about whether it had improved, but I didn't want to spend the $7.99 just to test it out. By then I'd played many great games on my iPod Touch, and wasn't sure it would be worth the $8 for this previously imperfect game.

Well, thanks to the free Lite version released in January 2008, I've been able to find out what the deal is. I'll give you the bottom line now: Don't get this game. Unfortunately, if you were going to get this game, you've probably already gotten it. And I am sorry that you did. And you are probably sorry as well. I don't know what they fixed between the 1.0 and the 1.0.2 versions, but it doesn't seem like anything.

The game is not fun and it feels like a slight little tilt in any direction sends your freaking monkey spinning in a circle. Somehow, for a game that took a week to finish and has had months to perfect, Super Monkey Ball for iPhone is terribly broken, and boy am I glad I was able to try it for free. I gave it a shot. I really, really did. But in the end, I can't recommend this at all.

In the future, my negative reviews will be much shorter. But history lessons are so much fun, aren't they?

Super Monkey Ball: Wikipedia link, AppShopper Link

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Beejive Sale and Free Kindle App

Here's a quick one. There's a multi-service IM app for the iPhone and iPod Touch called BeejiveIM. Out of all the IM apps, it is my opinion that Beejive is far and away the best. Despite the fact that the others are mostly free and BeeJive is regularly $16, if you're going to send and receive a lot of IMs, I would totally recommend Beejive. I will try to do a review of it later, but my point here is to mention that it's currently on sale for $10 for this week only. This is the price I got it for (Black Friday sale, I believe) and it's back down to it now. That's a whole 33% off for what I feel is the most useful app I own.

Now on the other side of the spectrum is the Kindle App. The Kindle is a two-part product from Amazon. One part is a handheld "eBook" reading device (the Kindle itself), and the other is the Kindle Store, where you can purchase books and periodicals that get wirelessly beamed to your Kindle. However, today Amazon released the free Kindle app for iPhone and iPod Touch, allowing those users to buy books and periodicals from the Kindle Store and view them on their iPhones/iPods; no Kindle required. If you like or are interested in reading books on your iPhone or iPod, check out the free Kindle app. Disclaimer: the books are not free.

Beejive Links: iTunes Store, AppShopper

Kindle Links: iTunes Store, AppShopper

Monday, March 2, 2009


So I went on a driving trip to Northern California, which we typically call Norcal. Rain was initially a concern but luckily, it only rained the morning of our return trip home and only for a very short time. Spending some time with the bro for the first time in two months was a highlight, and it's unfortunate that the trip had to be three days, two of which were mostly spent driving. The other highlight of the trip was going to my first ever away game. Yeah, my first ever UCLA basketball game on the road.

Unfortunately, no pictures were taken, so we'll have to rely on the photos residing in my mind's eye. So it's a good thing I'm writing this now and not a week from now. UC Berkeley's (known better in sports as Cal) Haas Pavilion is very different from UCLA's Pauley Pavilion. Where Pauley has a wide, gradual bowl-shaped seating structure, Haas's is much more narrow and steep. Fans get to their seats via narrow, circuitous, crowded indoor hallways, sort of like Staples Center or any other big arena, but without the spacious corridors. The other rather sharp contrast was the fans. I love my Bruins, but Cal fans really seem to be much more into it as far as cheering went. Whereas the home crowd at Pauley was liable to fall asleep for long stretches of play, the Cal fans were always cheering and always making noise. I finally understand what a home court advantage is like - except we weren't at home. There was literally so much buzz that I couldn't hear the P.A. or the band.

I could, however, hear the Cal fan to my right very clearly. He wasn't behaving obnoxiously per se, but his yell of "GO BEARS!" about every twenty seconds really began to get on my nerves as the game wore on. And sometimes it was more like "GoBEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARS!" Geez man, I'm surprised I'm not deaf yet. It was really an intense game, and the hostile crowd really made for a fantastic and memorable atmosphere. But the best thing was that the Bruins won. Don Maclean frequently likes to say that the home crowd is good for about 4-6 points and the visiting team needs to play well enough to overcome not only their opponent but also that crowd advantage. To me it was more like 10 points from the crowd. At least that's what my ears were telling me after the game.

I really wanted to tell the guy next to me "Go BRUINS!" after the game, but thought better of it. Hey, I'm a classy guy.

The Pac-10 regular season is winding down, with only two more games left for UCLA. Oregon State is on the menu for Thursday, followed by Oregon on Saturday. Two not very great teams, but not to be overlooked, since a loss means no chance to share in the Pac-10 title. We'll see how it shakes out.

Oh, and if you want the best egg custards ever, go to Golden Gate Bakery in San Francisco.