A summary of sorts

Very many moons ago, I finished listening the SXSW 2013 track list (as graciously provided by The Unofficial SXSW torrent site. Later today (or week), I will trans-scribe the full selection of reasonable tracks according to my ears. As is traditional, here are the very best five tracks of 2013:

  1. “Sweet tooth” – Kids on a crime spree. Short and heavily inspired by the Spector-sound (vimeo).
  2. “Mosaic” – Fear of Men. Also short, but poppish UK sound (vimeo as well).
  3. “Switzerland” – The Last Bison. Folkish, US sound. Good, but I hesitate to recommend them now that they’ve gone commercial.
  4. “You were never there” – Diego Garcia. Easy listening folk-pop? (Youtube).
  5. “Dreamers” – The Blue Van. Danish band with original sound.

Runner ups: “Ausland” – Camera, “Water against the rocks” – Faye and “Nightmare #2” – Bergara Quartet.

SXSW 2011 best 5
SXSW 2012 best 5

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SF and other unrelated news

After having not used Sourceforge for over 10 years, I’ve decided to move some of my sources back to Sourceforge. The main reason for that is that SF still allows devs to distribute binaries as part of their projects. Google (and GitHub) have slowly moved away from this citing ‘security’ issues. From an open-source perspective, I can understand Google’s and Github’s reasoning. On the good side: SF does support Git these days and frankly, while SF’s main interface looks confusing, I didn’t have a hard time to start committing changes thru git. One major surprise: back in 2003: to start a project it had to go thru a long and elaborate approval process first. This time, setting up Convendro’s project page (and committing sources) only took an hour or so. Henceforth: Convendro’s new project page sans downloads.

I’ve slowly moved to watching videos on YouTube: surprisingly only because it allows me to watch videos I want to watch as opposed to Cable TV. I’ll discuss my subscription list at a later stage but the point of me mentioning this is this elaborate list of videos of the Russian’s point of view of the Second World War (link via MetaFilter). Mind you, it is a Russian documentary (in 18 episodes). If you can stand the patriotic undertones, it’s worth a watch: each episode is around 45 minutes.

And last but not least: I can confirm that we have not had any hurricanes this season yet. It’s almost mid-September and no torrential rains (or gutting winds) have been sighted yet. Accuweather (link to article) blames this on abnormally warm Pacific waters, which apparently have created more westerly winds:

The atmosphere over the tropics thus far has behaved more like an El Nino pattern, where abnormally warm Pacific Ocean waters create westerly winds aloft over the tropical Atlantic. The current sea surface temperature pattern over the tropical Pacific is considered to be neutral.

I guess this may mean that hurricane-related insurance premiums may go down. That is a joke.

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Greenpeace and other stuff

I was sort of impressed with Amy Larkin’s “Environmental Debt” presentation at GoogleTalk. I’m saying “sort of”, only because, what she’s saying is not exactly new. She urges companies to switch from short term profit to ‘long term profit and sustainability’: her primary example is the Thai flooding of 2011, which affected (and still affects) international and local industries. The main cause of the flooding however, was the massive deforestation that happened in Thailand years ago. Cause and effect, simple. Once again, not exactly new, but worth a watch.

Locally, in SJ/NB, we barely got past the July heat spell which brought an interesting weather phenomenon to New Brunswick: The tornado. Without being too alarmist, I believe NOAA reported that once again the heat records were broken this year (link) and subsequently, global warming is frequently tied to extreme weather events (quote):

According to the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP, 2008), “most of North America has been experiencing more unusually hot days and nights, fewer unusually cold days and nights and fewer frost days. Heavy downpours have become more frequent and intense. Droughts are becoming more severe in some regions”.

Both TO and SJ have had their share of torrential rains this year, not to mention, the freak rain incidents back in Alberta. Are they all related to global warming? That’s up for the weather statisticians and scientists to tell (quote Canadian underwriter):

“I think as long as our economic policies are they way they are, and we keep putting more carbon dioxide up into the atmosphere, the temperature’s going to continue to rise, so we will see more of these events continue to happen. If you took a poll of a bunch of researchers, I think they would agree.

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Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes

A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far away. Oh, forget it: “Fallen Enchantress, Legendary Heroes” is the third game in Stardocks line of Elemental games. As you probably know, ELemental’s release was a total disaster: For most people FE was the actual Elemental game. On top of that, just a couple of months ago, Stardock released “Legendary Heroes”, which is (surprisingly) a standalone game for the full price. I was among the people expecting to see this released as a DLC or even as a patch.

Legendary Heroes, as its predecessors is a 4X game in a magical world/fantasy setting with a slight city management background: Additionally, having played some 80 hours on this game the focus is on battle as well. You guide your champion (or sovereign) thru time, enhance your troops thru research and then try to win the game. There are 5 or so winning conditions, ranging from Diplomacy to Domination. Games can take fairly long if you choose the random huge map: anything from 4 to 10 hours for a single game. Without a doubt, graphically the game looks really good and performs very good as well. There are several things in the game that show the attention to detail, from the cloth-style map (zoomed out) to the fine-grained bubbly city views (zoomed in).

There are plenty of things that spoil the fun. The game’s stability (for one) is questionable. It appears to me that most crashes will frequently happen during the beginning stages. Additionally, the AI is very (lets say it) simple. It’s capable, but at times the AI doesn’t act decisively when it should. Often, further in the game, FE/LH can feel unmanageable, mainly because it’s hard to track all your individual champions and cities. Too many random events can also hamper your progress and gaming experience. And last but not least, while (turn-based) combat is fun, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of variation in combat maps. Hopefully mods might take care of this.

Generally, the game allows for extremely detailed management and for plenty of experimentation albeit, against a not very strong AI. If you like a 4X/strategic turn-based combat game, FE/LH will probably fit your boots. If you’re a Civ 5 fan, there’s nothing wrong with trying FE/LH. On my legendary “Frustration” rating, it’s a 6: Things are manageable during the starting phase of the game and before you know it, you’re at the end of your turn because you either lost or you gave up because of some random event spoiled the fun for you. Slightly recommended.

Gallery follows:

Continue reading

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It’s a PC

By now you have already seen and heard all about the next generation of gaming consoles, the PS4 and the Xbox One, which were both demoed at the last E3. Microsoft’s Xbox was panned by many reviewers and tech journalist, mainly because of the DRM and Microsoft’s intended online distribution strategy that would have evaporated the used/rental games market. Sony promised to allow people to share their (old game) disks which they announced thru some funny video.

Just two days ago, Microsoft reversed its position on pre-owned games (Eurogamer on this), a move that was praised by many internet youtube army. However, despite the fact that used-games shops breathed a sigh of relief, I think that both Sony and Microsoft just have set a precedent and that in the near future both will discourage the release of games on disks: printing and publishing disks is and will be always more expensive than digitally distributing games. Valve’s Steam has obviously proven that.

I’ve never been in the market of getting a console and personally, once again I think I’ll pass on this generation of gaming consoles. After all, these next generation of consoles are just dedicated PCs.

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Ubuntu 13.04

Last week, I triggered the apt-distupgrade on both my Ubuntu laptops which effectively downloaded Ubuntu 13.04 (“Raring Ringtail”) to these machines. This was actually sort of unexpected as I haven’t been really following Ubuntu’s latest efforts. I’m aware of Canonical’s push to the mobile market: their case to bring Ubuntu to cellphones and other devices received high praise in the media. That is, if Canonical can deliver on speed (UI) and speed (Roadmap).

The reason why I bring up Ubuntu Touch is that Canonical is aware of the slugginess of their current Unity interface. I’m pretty certain I brought this up in an earlier post (when I installed/upgraded to 11.10): it’s by default, a memory hog. What keeps me switching back to KDE or say, Gnome 3 is that Unity is heavily supported by Canonical. This is the main reason what keeps me away from other Ubuntu-descendants like Mint.

Anyway, what I mean to say is that 13.04 is supposed to be having most of the optimizations of Ubuntu Touch. As the release notes say:

Unity 7 brings a lot of performance improvements, reduced memory consumption and a great number of small UI fixes to bring a better overall shell experience.

Unity does feel like it has been improved (besides the fancy new icons for apps and the changes to the launcher): memory wise, I can’t tell the difference. It just generally still feels bloated. Time permitting, I’ll check out Gnome’s state at a later stage.

Update 1: Rebooted back in Gnome 3 and my first impression is that Gnome desktop takes a lot less memory than Unity.

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I‘ll be honest: I’ve always been partial to AMD’s processors after buying my very first 386 PC clone in the early 90s. I’m pretty sure the PC came with the AMD 386 DX40 processor: at that time, nobody fell for the Intel SX chip trap. Intel chips were too expensive, too slow (intentionally) and mostly, required more power than the AMD processors.

AMD, sort of, always surprised the tech. market. While not the first to have created a dual-core processor (that honour befalls IBM of course), they were the first one to put a server-based dual-core chip on the market. Intel, feeling the heat, rushed out a dual-core processor for the desktop market. If I recall correctly, Intel’s form of dual-core processors were literally Pentiums soldered on a single board (with external logic processors) as opposed to AMD, where their Opteron platform was from the get-go designed to support multiple processors on a die (wikipedia).

AMD’s ATI take-over was another surprise. By now, ATI’s technology has literally been integrated into AMD’s processors in the form of AMD’s so-called APU line (wikipedia). That is a feat that has Intel still smoldering for an answer: I mean, technically, their integrated Intel 3000/4000 HD processor was a half-hearted response.

Which brings us to the now: You’ve heard that AMD is going to provide chips for both the PS4 and new Xbox. AMDs long goal and plan has always been to move the FPU to the GPU leaving the main CPU just for integer processing (reddit discussion), not to much success and adoption from developers though. Now that both Microsoft and Sony are adopting AMD’s chips and the possibility of true cross-platform game development this is going to change. I have this feeling that nVidia will somehow end up in Intel’s hands. Not that it will help Intel, now that the market seems to be going towards low-powered CPUs. Nvidia’s only good move was to branch out to the mobile market with their RISC-based Tegra line.

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SXSW 2013 music part 1

A week ago, I noticed that the Unofficial SXSW torrent site had started to distribute music for some of the major SXSW acts this year (site). Once again there are two torrents involved here: part 1 is the big 6 gig one, with over 900 files). Part 2 has a limited set of around the 200 music files.

Once again, I will be listening to (or attempt to) all the files in both sets: this year with slight interest tho, meaning with scarce commentary. Document 1 covers the first torrent file. Document 2 covers the last torrent file. To this date, I’ve listened to a total of 176 files or so. I’ve not yet heard amazing music yet: that is the wow factor is fairly low-key this year. We’ll report back in another couple of weeks.

One other thing that I keep forgetting is the part of how I export specific MP3 tags. Yes, I don’t type all the song names, artist names and duration of songs manually. Since most of the (legal) torrents are downloaded on my Linux laptops (previously), obviously I use Linux tools to take care of this. I use a tool called ‘exiftool’, which you may need to add to your package manager. For Ubuntu it would look something like: apt-get install exiftool. To extract specific tags I run the following command in a terminal session:

exiftool -csv *.mp3 -sourcefile -title -artist -duration > tags.txt

Note that you can export other MP3 tags as well: I’ll leave that to yourself to find out.

update 1: All related items are filed under the tag SXSW

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In Russia

Earlier this month, a meteor exploded (I guess, literally) above the Russian town of Chelyabinsk causing plenty of injuries and damage. Thanks to car cams installed in (many) Russian cars, amazing footage was captured of the meteor’s entrance and explosion in the upper-regions of our atmosphere (video).

Coincidentally, around the same day, an asteroid was supposed to ‘near-miss’ our planet and various space agencies were quick to report that this meteor had nothing to do with that asteroid. However, initial calculations put the size of the meteor in the 17 meter range with an approximate weight of 10K metric tonnes. Just a couple of days ago, astronomers in Columbia traced the meteor to the Apollo asteroids (full Wikipedia analysis).

Obviously, this event has been compared with the Tungunska explosion (wikipedia again) and it has raised awareness of the dangers of extra-orbital objects and apparently, the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (link) has suggested the possibly set up an “action team for near-Earth objects”. Tracking these objects is extremely hard tho: detecting a 17 meter object in space hurling at us with a speed of 18 km/s is nearly impossible.

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Roll up the Rim 2013

Oh OK. It’s that time again for Canada’s favourite annual contest, Roll up the Rim, which we, at xsamplex, faithfully cover. We might just as well jump at and do some sleuthing at this year’s numbers. A grand total of 260,959,840 winning cups have been produced this year: this is about 25 million (MILLION) less than the year before. Every region is losing here, that is, except for Quebec: it’s gaining almost 4,000,000 more cups. The biggest loser this year, however, is Ontario. The Maritimes however, like 2012, 2011 and 2010, are losing out again: by over 6 million cups this year.

Prize-wise, it looks like Tim Horton’s is going back to the 4 major prizes: We have a car again (the Toyota Rav4 again, which was last sighted in the 2010 contest), pre-paid Mastercards (no electronics and/or TV this year!), the traditional gourmet set and of course, the 100 dollar Tims’ cards. The Prize/Region ratio shows an almost similar distribution as the amount of winning cups: Two regions lose out (Ontario and Atlantic provinces), not including the US. Secondly, there are a whole of less prizes to win than last year. 2012 and 2011 had 5 major prizes. In 2013, it looks like Tim Horton’s is going for a lot less.

My advice this year is like the ones before: if you win a monetary prize, please donate 80% to me. Thanks.

Previous entries: 20122011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003 and 2002. Or click this tag for all posts tagged with ‘Roll Up The Rim’.

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The queen and the country

Acouple of days ago, the Dutch queen Beatrix announced that she is going to abdicate the throne in favour of her son Willem-Alexander (WSJ).The queen has been on the throne for 33 or some years: In the Netherlands, abdication (to make room for a new generation of royalty) is a fairly common thing. In contrast: the last time a member of the British royalty abdicated was because of a scandal, I believe.

Note that I’m not typically a monarchist: while I generally think that monarchies are left-overs from the medieval times, I’m not typically an anti-royalist either. I do recall that there were protests when Beatrix took over the throne from her mother Juliana, way back in 1980. I was a slight teenager and I’m pretty certain that I enjoyed the day off, possibly watch TV for the official (live) events. Looking back; I think Beatrix did fairly well as head of state. Rumour has it that she frequently discussed matters and personally engaged (challenged) the Dutch prime-ministers, that is, politically speaking. I hear that the monarchy did lose their power to appoint a ‘formateur’ (a person who after the general elections is appointed to help form a new government).

So, yeah: that’s it then for Dutch queens for now. For the next 30 or so years, the Dutch will have a king. Typically, female Dutch heirs do better. Well, generally. I think. Whichever.

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Le Tour ne c’est pas

When we were younger, my dad bought a set of racing bicycles, which were used by my older siblings and then eventually handed over to me and my twin-brother. Generally, every Spring/Summer, we biked either to the “Holterberg” (which is the only mountain in the eastern part of the Netherlands) or to the Veluwe. I’m not sure why my dad ended up getting racing bikes, but there was a general interest in the Tour de France: we sort of grew up watching the Tour as it was always broadcast live on television. I slowly lost interest in “the Tour”: this was around the mid nineties, when the American cyclist Armstrong kept winning the Tour and suspicions about doping abuse became more prevalent in the news.

So yeah: I have followed the Armstrong myth for the last decade. That is, even in Europe there were subtle hints that his team and him were just cheating the tour. I was not surprised when Armstrong finally admitted that he used doping (Oprah interview @ the Guardian). I’m sceptic about Armstrong’s motivations to finally open up after two decades: mainly, he has been vehemently denying dope usage since he started winning the Tour. His speech after his last Tour win (2005) perfectly shows what Armstrong is really about. Attacking his critics whenever he could in front of the media (article at the Daily Beast):

“For the people that don’t believe in cycling, the cynics and the skeptics, I’m sorry for you, I’m sorry you can’t dream big. And I’m sorry you don’t believe in miracles.”

Technically, he was correct I guess: EPO does do miracles.

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Random Christmas stuff

Now that vacation is sort of settling in, the following links attracted my full attention. In order of interest and heritage. I think.

The Dutch language is a very ‘adopting’ language: as opposed to the French, the Dutch language allows for the use of foreign words in public publications. Eventually, if foreign words become popular, they may become part of the Dutch vocabulary. There’s an organization handling the official word list and semantic rules: The TaalUnie (“Language Institute”). Just recently, I noticed the following sentence in this Dutch article:

Game of Thrones meest gedownloade serie

For some reason, the sentence looked silly to me: however, apparently it’s correct Dutch. I tend to think that by 2020, there won’t be such thing as a ‘Dutch language’.

On the Internet, mob mentality is the new democracy and while the word ‘mob’ has a negative… sound to it, on the Internet it’s sort of a good thing. Take for example your favourite home page: Reddit. A few weeks ago, the EA devs for SimCity 2013 (or whatever it’s going to be called), did an AMA (“Ask Us Anything”) about the upcoming city simulator. Within seconds, the most upvoted question was the one asking about the game’s hated ‘Always Online’ DRM (permalink to question):

What will happen to the game if I am playing and lose my internet connection – will the game still be playable and update the servers when my internet connection resumes or will it pause and wait for the connection?

The EA devs never really responded to the question and the rest is history (permalink to comprehensive ‘will not buy if’ thread).

A similar thing happened to the game WarZ, which was officially released on Steam last week. It’s a game that purports to put you into a post-zombie-apocalypse setting. The game was inspired by the popular DayZ mod for Arma2 (Arma2 on xsamplex). However, the game (WarZ) obviously didn’t deliver. The first Reddit thread that noted that the WarZ devs were less (say) truthful about the product can be found here, and obviously, it also targets Valve for allowing this game to be sold on ever popular Steam:

Honestly, some of the blame falls on Steam for this one. Obviously the info was written by the WarZ guys and then sent to steam, but it’s obvious no fact checking happened.

The follow-up thread (after the producer changed the description/feature list on Steam) still cried foul and eventually, Steam decided to stop selling the game (Forbes link), offering people refunds. The whole incident reminds me of the ‘Sword of the Stars II’ farce that happened last year (previously on xsamplex).

The moral of the story is that, if you publicly over-sell your over-promised games on the Internet, you will not get away with it. I guess, that Reddit users (and gamers) are a force to reckon with.

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