Category Archives: Tech

Beefcake! BEEFCAKE!

“I actually don’t treat life any differently than an RPG. I’m always thinking of leveling up myself, which in this case, is actually myself, not my World of Warcraft character.” -Brian Wang, co-founder of Fitocracy.

What can I say? Someone has unknowingly answered my wishes. I alluded to the lack RPG-type real life achievements in the last couple of sentences of the first Sebaattori post, more than half a year ago. If I had had any functional knowledge in coding I would’ve attempted to create such a service myself. It would appear that in addition to not being possible, it is also no longer needed. Fitocracy is a service that has now been in beta since February. It offers its users experience, quests and achievements for logging real life physical exercises and sharing them with others. Tsumari, it’s like a HeiaHeia for gaming nerds and objectively the greatest invention since those cat ears that read your emotions.

At least that’s the image I’ve gotten from surfing around the site. I’ll need to test it in practice later tonight but it’s needless to say that I’m enthralled by the mere concept. Originally I was slightly reluctant to go to the gym today because it’s raining and the place is boring, lacking in fundamental equipment and whatnot, but the possibility of leveling up from doing a couple upper body exercises is far too tempting. Therein also lies the danger.

Yatta, yatta!

According to Owen Good of Kotaku, “[Fitocracy developers] are of course exploring ideas like mobile applications so you can ‘play’ at the gym; the community constantly asks if nutrition will be integrated into the XP system, and they’re considering that too. The manner in which I created my new weights workout was absolutely intended, and Fitocracy wants to grow that out in the quest system. “Character classes” or something approximating that are also a possibility, for those who want to specialize in, say, running, or weight training, weight loss or toning up or whatever.”

If Fitocracy is as effective an incentive as I currently believe, I may well die from exhaustion in the next couple of months while relentlessly trying to multiclass into a Runner/Leaper. I wish I was pumping iron already. That’s a first.

-Antti

Update: Reached level 3. Ding! Grats! Ding! Grats!

Legendary Lost Treasure of Mêlée Island

Gaming on the iPad

Aside from Rovio’s Angry Birds, there is in fact quite a lot of other goodies available in the entertainment ecosystem that Apple has so graciously provided us with. Anyway, some months, maybe half a year ago I realized that there is a bunch of old, quality point-and-click adventure games available on the iPad. Games such as Monkey Island. Needless to say, I bought the full suite. And a few others.

These recent developments have not gone unnoticed in the media. The one and only Finnish gaming magazine, and my all-time favourite called Pelit (i.e. Games) has recently been publishing more and more articles and reviews of games made for the iPad. From what I have read (and also experienced at firsthand) it seems that even the most cynical journalists have approved of iPad’s capabilities in this area. And why would they not? For those of us interested in older PC games (or even console games for that matter) the device kind of feels like an old PC with its 1024 x 768 resolution and simple graphics compared to modern video cards.

The latest revolution has been the adaptation of both old and new board games to the digital world. Titles like Carcassonne and Small World are now in their full glory on the iPad. And judging from the reviews alone, the change of platform has been a successful one. Unfortunately not all games work. Playing first-person shooters such as Doom and Duke Nukem 3D is possible, but moving and aiming at the same time without a physical controller has proven to be a bit frustrating. The same goes for a bunch of driving games and other types of shooters.

Accessories for Gaming

The iPad has Bluetooth connectivity so it would be possible to use gaming controllers for modern consoles (such as the Dualshock 3 made for Playstation 3) with it. In theory, at least. The system being closed I would not hold my breath for anything to happen on this front anytime soon. Perhaps Android-based Playstation-enabled phones (and perhaps tablets in the near future) will have this kind of functionality. I guess the technology enthusiast collective could cook up something similar with jailbroken iOS devices. Then again, it may not be something to attract a large enough audience, as jailbreaking requires some effort and technical knowledge. Ironically, right now the iPad is only as good as Apple allows it to be.

There have been some tries to make the touch interface a bit more suitable for fast-paced action gaming (such as the Fling joystick quickly viewed by Engadget). I have not tested any of these yet, but they could prove fairly useful to those of us wanting to broaden the capabilities of our gadgets and get the most out of the gaming experience. For point-and-click games and the ever-growing genre of games for the iPad such extra gimmicks are of course useless.

Now, if only Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2 (and their excellent expansions) were available on the iPad. Then I would be set for life. At least for the time being. Now where did I leave my Carsomyr +6?

- Joona

Defective Buyer’s Goggles

VR

Lately I traveled to Turku and back by train. To my astonishment, the trains were late only by roughly 5 minutes. I suppose that is an acceptable performance on a warm, sunny Easter afternoon. Anyway, what I did not agree with is the reason (or lack thereof) why it costs more to take the Pendolino train instead of the Intercity 2 train. Normally the Pendolino would be a bit faster (maybe 5 minutes on this distance) so the difference in price (like 15% more) would be somewhat acceptable, but now the online reservation system (which still cannot be used during the night) suggested that the traveling time would be the same no matter which train I took. Great.

Unfortunately I did not want to wait for at least two hours before the next cheaper train comes so I decided to hop on the more expensive alternative. So what was I paying for? My guess is that because the two types of trains are equally fast, one of them costs more. Or maybe I pay more to have the exquisite on-board WLAN capabilities and no possibility to transport a bike at my disposal. Sweet.

It gets better with differing regional tickets from long range tickets. To be honest, I do not even know if it is possible to buy a single ticket from Turku to the nearest train station to where I live (update: you can). If not, I have to buy another ticket, the regional one, which may cost quite a bit compared to the ticket I already had. Even though, looking at the trip on a map, I might have just passed the station I was going to. Ah, if only we were in Japan where it usually only matters where you get on and where you get off. That way passing one station and then going back would not result in a penalty. Sounds fair, right?

Bubble Bobble 2

One of my all-time co-operative favourites, Bubble Bobble, finally came a while ago to Xbox 360 as an arcade game. Of course, I bought the game, after reading a couple of assuring reviews saying that the same good old playability was still there and that the new version merely had new graphics, maybe extra music and perhaps some new and innovative gaming modes. If anything, I hoped the game to be like the good old versions of NES and Amiga.

However, what the reviews did not say (or pretty much lied about) is that the playability is nothing like it used to be. How can they even claim that? Not even having a million monkeys and enough time would make the game playable in any commonly understood way to understand the definition of playable. To be blunt, I would have rather burnt the money.

DRM

Ah, the wonderful ventures of software companies and Digital Rights Management. The idea is good (no piracy), but unattainable in real life: DRM with software usually just ends up bugging the Average Joe. Maybe the only way to get rid of this is to make it easier (users are lazy) to actually buy the product instead of using one’s favourite BitTorrent client and service to get it. Perhaps application stores that are tied to the operation system will provide an answer to this dilemma.

Now that Sony has some trouble with their Playstation Network, it seems that some people even have trouble playing their games offline on their own consoles. And that is partly due to excessive DRM systems. Not to mention Sony’s earlier achievements in making people angry. Anyone remember Sony’s rootkit-based protection system on some of their CD albums? The system was not only illegal but it also spawned new malware to abuse the holes left by the rootkit.

The irony is that pirates play the games and listen to the albums without ever noticing such minor caveats.

I probably need to start to wear my set of Imagination Goggles +6 to understand the full logic behind these business decisions. Or maybe they could ask me or any other possible customer next time? I know, it is doubtful, but I could gently point them in the better direction.

- Joona

Bad User Experiences

“Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM equipment” – from Wikipedia’s Fear, uncertainty and doubt article

Ever tried searching from a big company’s web site using their own search? The closest comparison I can come up with is smearing your hands with poo and wondering why no one comes to shake hands with you. Usually the results of such shameful endeavors are either non-existent or ridiculous at best.

Recently there has been quite a bit of trouble with the hosting company that provides Sebaattori with its server framework and WordPress platform. Last week there were some 503 server errors due to broken firewall settings on the host’s part (or so they informed us). In addition, today I encountered a database connection drop when I was trying to write my post. Unfortunately it seems that cheap hosting equals problems with such simple requirements as performance, reliability and availability.

Uncertainty in dealing with IT systems is, well, one of the top sources for my daily frustration. In my case the uncertainty is not always related to my ability (nor inability) to use the system but instead to the system’s qualifications to properly serve my needs. For example, I find it very annoying having to ctrl + copy this text (that I am typing right now) every now and then to the clipboard and paste it to my favourite text editor. Why? Because I cannot trust the connection/computer/web browser combination to stay alive long enough for me to finish typing, post everything back and not lose anything while doing this.

More problems arise when multiple users are munching and lurking around in the system at the same time, looking for creative new ways to force the poor software architecture to a standstill. Multiple users tend to do their stuff at the same time, perhaps even in the same place and whilst working on the same items. From a system designer’s standpoint that is, if not the worst-case scenario, pretty close to being just that. What if the users open, modify and save one resource at the same time? There is no simple right answer to how to handle this. Should we lock the resource so that only one may write and others read? Or maybe we should do like Google Docs: allow multiple users to work on the same resource and keep all changes. In the ideal case we might not even give access to non-tech-savvy users at all (or we could remove access rights from annoying users who try to break the system’s rules).

It is really easy to spot not only badly designed and annoying software products but also systems where it seems that their basic design principles are just plain wrong. Cumbersome, counterintuitive systems (with corporate policy written all over them) make me ponder the real reasons for their seemingly meaningless existence. I highly doubt that it is in the best interests of any company to purposefully make it harder for their employees to do anything meaningful with their time at work. Despite the large amount of bureaucracy involved in (and mostly even required) keeping a company running, people should still be able to be more productive than ever before. And IT systems, especially, should be there to help management fight these problems and facilitate end user access to shared resources.

IT industry should always be based on expectations of working systems. I totally agree with that goal and it would be wonderful for it to be the status quo. As long as the system is reasonably fast, is each time available when I need it and does what I need it to do in an understandable manner, I will be fairly satisfied and I will not have much to complain about. In the end, it all comes down to some very basic questions in software development: user needs, requirements and specifications. If these can be fulfilled effectively in a manner that makes the users want to use the software, we have come a long way. Unfortunately, we are not quite there yet.

In case you are interested, try comparing any major webpage (or software suite) against Nielsen’s heuristics. The results can be quite frightening – and those are just the very basics of any user experience. Communication over the web fails far too often.

- Joona

PS. An example of a badly designed site I came across earlier today:

Futurecity.fi – Helsinki WDC (World Design Capital) 2012 stamp suggestions open for voting. The page looks cool, but from a simple usability standpoint it is unbearable. The site loads the next 25 pictures (out of over 1400) each time you scroll to the end of the page with no option to load all of them at once. Of course, there is no way to search for a single suggestion. In addition, there is no opportunity to link to just one work of art (preferably with voting link). Moreover, I could not even find a link to the English version of the site. World has to stand for something in WDC, right?

End of Procrastination

In psychology, procrastination refers to the act of replacing high-priority actions with tasks of low-priority, and thus putting off important tasks to a later time. – Wikipedia

True enough, that is exactly what I have been doing at least for the past month and a half, or the time I have been back home from my odd travels in Japan. However, lately I have felt this urge to try out new things. Or maybe this is another, more sophisticated, form of procrastination. For my own sake, in the end, I hope that is not the case.

Alright, writing in English is not exactly a new thing. Nonetheless, actually doing it with no ulterior motive and no exact, tangible motive, is just something I do not normally do. I do read blogs though, especially technology-oriented ones. All those well-written pieces of first-hand experiences of some new gadgets or programming techniques: I could spend all day just hopping from blog to blog. The sheer amount of people writing about their daily lives, projects and opinions is in the hundreds of millions. Then again, that is the point. Most people would not care, but the ones who do will care a lot.

First Steps to Writing

This is my homage to my arch nemesis Antti. I dare not compare my endeavours to the difficulties he may have encountered during the past few weeks of his stay in Japan. Yet, he has been able to produce legible, understandable and well-written English. I thought maybe I could try that as well. Nothing big and fancy at first. I want to improve as a writer and the only way I know to do that is… Writing.

Upon finally deciding to begin my work on my master’s thesis, I have been attending this course, in Finnish, on different techniques and tools to creating a successful oeuvre d’art. The lecturer made a fair point: creating is important and should be practiced by producing text, photos – whatever it is you need to ultimately create. In the end, the thesis is not my raison d’être and definitely not the reason I have spent the better part of my adulthood skipping classes and earning ECTS. I prefer not to slowly and aimlessly wander in the state of laissez-faire. It certainly is easier to not make an effort, or divert one’s concentration and efforts to something easily achievable, like playing and watching TV series.

The difference between talking about (and thinking of) doing something and then actually doing it is simply breathtaking. I realized that lately there has been too much of thinking and not enough of doing. I want to get to the source of this problem, ridding myself of my comfort zone.

Welcome to the Creator

There has been (or rather, there is and there always will be) a gap between where I am and where I would like to be. I would like to have a blog with cohesive posts, rants and whatnot. Overcoming the first step is to start writing. I do not think it even matters what you write about as long as you are being sincere. Perhaps later, looking back at my old washed-out thoughts and banal vanities, I might be taken aback on how naive I was. I believe in all honesty that I will be delighted to read those again some day.

Half a year ago I could not see myself writing. Yet even back then I had ideas on what to write about. I will aim to polish my rusty English and writing skills. Maybe, from this moment on, little by little, tout va s’arranger.

- Joona

Boost Social

I just got back from the Boost Turku‘s social meetup and for some reason I felt like blogging about it. Yes. An event I decided to attend on a whim. Blogging seriously for the first time in 18 months. Miracles do happen.

I had to leave right after the guest speaker, Richard von Kauffmann of Zipipop (the last part isn’t actually his name), had finished his main presentation, which is unfortunate because it would have been interesting to stay and chat with him for a while afterwards. While he was no Seth and could use some additional presentation tips from Garr, I was still impressed enough to write about it, so I guess I have to admit that the presentation was, dans l’ensemble, very well done.

Technology, the internet and gaming have interested me since I cannot even remember but social media only really came in slowly with internet forums, IRC, web messaging and later on Friendster, Bebo and Facebook. Eventually, I made viral marketing in online communities the goddamn subject of my undergraduate’s thesis, which came out awesome.

For some reason I’ve been getting more and more involved in social media lately, although I initially have refused to join twitter, posterous or other places I just haven’t found any use for. Richard mentioned Yammer as a platform they use at Zipipop and I got the sudden urge to try it and shove it down all my friends’ throats in order to enhance communication. Apparently it requires company email adresses though, so fuck it.

In almost, but not completely unrelated news, I’ve now been following a plyometrics training program regularly for 8 weeks. Nobody cares, but this is a segue so keep reading anyway. Now, I don’t actually remember ever practicing any sport without laziness-induced interruption for this long, not even as a kid when my parents were in charge of taking me to practice different sports they felt were important but I couldn’t give two shits about, like field hockey. This leads me to a point Richard also briefly mentioned during his presentation: positive feedback and gratification. Although there are several reasons as to why I’ve suddenly taken up sports again, the reason why I haven’t quit is on the web, namely HeiaHeia. For me, it’s a brilliant means to keep track of what I’ve done, see what others are doing, cheer for them and get cheered on. The system is not perfect and I could think of a dozen of useful user interface features to add but it’s still good enough for me to keep using it.

Similarly to achievements in gaming, I would also need some kind of program that would reward me with achievements whenever my master’s thesis reaches a certain amount of pages or references or whatnot. I need those little virtual medals to be effective! You just don’t put as much effort into something that you’re not really sure is advancing at all and that won’t be finished in the foreseeable future as you would into something that would reward you step by step as you get closer to your goal. That’s why life really needs some kind of achievement collection feature. HeiaHeia is a good start but I’d love to see more.

-L