Is Minecraft the digital version of Lego?

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When Minecraft first came out I immediately dismissed it because of its 8-bit-like graphics. I admit I’m kind of a graphics snob. Having spent quite a bit of money on building my gaming rig to play the latest games in glorious “High Definition” with all of the parameters set to high, a game that defaults to huge cubes filled with low-res textures was not my idea of a fun experience.

Recently though the game has exploded on iPads everywhere. All my kid’s friends were playing it and pretty soon my kids were begging for me to install it on their iOS devices.

So I did… and oh my goodness… The things they build in this little virtual world of theirs are amazing: Roller-coasters, castles, houses, trap-doors, hidden tunnels, etc.

As a ex-Second Life junkie I know first hand the appeal of building three dimensional objects in virtual worlds. The iOS version of Minecraft is a much simpler version of a Second Life sandbox. And kids relate quickly to building things with blocks that have some virtual material attributes to them. It’s almost like a digital Lego set, except that different blocks have different behaviors you can assign to them.

It’s really interesting to me to watch my kids play in this simple virtual world. Perhaps the self-imposed limitations of the game are what make it more approachable than say Open-SIM, which is an open source version of Second Life. Maybe those limitations, and the fact that your builds in Minecraft are toy-like,  is what makes it so appealing to children in particular.

I’m just amazed at how these virtual playgrounds resemble the Lego sets we grew up with… Except now they’re virtual and you can literally play (in 1st person) in the set world that you’ve built.

Sierra Online Games

I’ve been teaching Marco to play old adventure games. We’ve started playing King’s Quest I (I have the rest of the King’s Quest series ready for him). I play the gold games using SCUMMVM on the Kid’s iMac.

It’s such a drag that nobody’s making adventure games like this anymore, they seem perfect for iPads… although I kind of like the older ones where you had to type your commands out because it teaches kids to have patience and type.

What is it with music?

Am I becoming old? I’ve always been very musically inclined. I took piano lessons when I was 4, practiced every chance I could. Didn’t really have the talent or the patience to become very good at it, but to this day I dabble with music as a way to amuse myself, relax, and have fun with the kids.

Music’s always been a very important part of my life. throughout my youth I was always a fanatic radio listener. A TOP 40′s fan. I would listen to the local radio stations count down the hits, my finger on the record and play buttons of my stereo, ready to record the songs that I really liked. Songs that I’d later play back over and over and over on my Walkman headphones.

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Songs that somehow meant something to me. I think it has a lot to do with the passion one has during their teens. Passion, romanticism, unconformity, girl troubles (to me girl troubles was falling crazily in love with somebody who would inevitably already be in love with someone else). The one “release” for the frustrations of adolescence was music (at least it was to me). There would always be that ONE song that explained exactly what I was feeling at the time – or so I thought.

I can remember a breakup with a girl in High school and later going home to listen to Sinead O’Connor sing Nothing Compares to You over and over again… crying.

As I look back to that time in my life, I realize that what I though were life ending traumatic experiences were really nothing more than the passion of youth and hormones raging through a body that’s not used to so much chemistry. A small brain still dealing with an inadequately, fast-growing body. An awkward race to find acceptance in a different world from the one you grew up in. A world that suddenly gives a lot of importance to “being cool”. A world that I was destined to be an outcast from, luckily I was outcasted with a bunch of really good friends who were just as geeky as I was, and whom are still my good friends to this day.

Now that I’m a busy adult, dealing with raising kids of my own, busy being productive and trying to leave some sort of mark on the world, I realize that I’ve lost a lot of the passion and romanticism for music I once had. I realize now, after having written a few songs of my own, that the very few artists are actually in it for the ART… Music business is really just a business after all. And songs are really just products to be licensed, relicensed, remixed and resold as many times as possible.

The mega-stars seem to not really car too much abot the music, but more about the bling. And the real artists who are trully geeling out on the music and creative aspects are not relly getting the airplay they deserve. Because, when you really think about it, after it’s been compressed, canned masterized for crappy sounding headphones, all music kinda sounds alike. And psycology has told us that all you really need is a catchy hook, and you’re set… Which is how the music industry has been “cranking out the hits” since the 60′s.

They follow a pattern of success… a formula if you will, and wait for the money to come in. Will this change? Perhaps, but it will take more than new distributions methods and paradigm shifts regarding the market. As long as it’s all run by people more interested in making a buck than by making really good music, it won’t change.

Headphones: in-ears vrs ear-pods

Apple in-ear

I’ve been using in-ear headphones for a while now. These are the type with the changeable rubber funnel that blocks out a lot of the outside noise. As soon as I saw that Apple had made their own version of the in-ear headphone (with microphone and volume control) I spent the $75 bucks and got it… boy was I disappointed with the sound quality.

They sound tinny and not much bass. They do fit really well, though, very comfortable, although when I run they do start to slip out… which is very uncomfortable. And slipping them back into your ear-canal when you’re running and sweating is  not a pretty sound (and I’m sure not good for your eardrum as well).

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A friend of mine bought a pair of the new Apple ear-pods. He told me he loves to use them while riding his bicycle and that they fit comfortably and don’t fall out. So I bought some. They cost $35 and they sound amazing! So much better than the in-ear model. They fit really well, and today I decided to try them out on the treadmill.

The first thing I noticed is that in a noisy environment the pods do a lousy job of blocking out the exterior noise. Very quickly you end up raising the volume almost to the maximum to overcome the exterior noise… which I’m certain will make me go deaf even quicker than the in ear model!

As for the comfort, yes they are definitely more comfortable than the in-ears, and thy don’t slip out at all… but having the volume up so loud and still having trouble to listen the music is not something I’m willing to repeat.

The in-ears are coming with me to the gym and when I’m out and about… the ear-pods have been relegated to my night-table, for listening to music or movies at night and not bothering the missus!

 

Will 2013 be the year of desktop linux?

20121217-093014 a.m..jpgNo.

I don’t think we’ll ever see the year of the Linux desktop… that bird has flown. Besides, the desktop is old, and pretty soon will only be available as a tool for very niche applications. I think the writing’s on the wall: the future is mobile. And Linux is one of the leaders of mobile, as the heart of Android, it’s poised to be powering everything from phones and tablets to televisions and cars.

What is sorely needed now is a “pure” open experience. Android is amazing and all, but the fact that Google develops it in a very closed way and bundles its closed-source apps with it kind of hurts the spirit of the OS. Of course I’m speaking from a purely philosofical point of view. But it makes me all sorts of nervous when I think of the possibility of Google suddenly closing off Android, and saying it’s no longer open-source (many will argue it’s not really Open Source now).

I’m and Ubuntu user and I try very, much to stay up to date on what Canonical is doing. I’ve read the news about the Ubuntu rebake they’re working on for mobile phones, but to be honest I doubt very much they’ll have the clout needed to get their OS on brand-name handsets. I would love to see a new Samsung phone running Ubuntu, but in my mind, the chances of that ever happening are slim to none. Same goes for Ubuntu (or any other distro for that matter) on tablets. I think the world will be sticking with Google.

20121217-093404 a.m..jpgSo, am I sad that we never really had a “year of the Linux Desktop”? Not really. I’m very glad I was able to use very good Linux Desktops to get a lot of my work done. I’m very gad that I still have (and will probably still have in the future as well) many choices of Linux desktops for the projects I’m working on. But I’m now more of a realist. The desktop is going away and focusing too much on it rather than on the newer paradigms of computing will be a waste of time for the community.

I think the community would be better served if we started to think of ways to get true open-source interfaces and kernels on mobile devices. Android is awesome, but it’s dangerously close to being closed source… In my mind, we should either fork a version we can claim as the true open branch and get behind it, or put all our muscle into getting Ubuntu on brand-name handsets.

Is Flickr too late to the party?

The war in mobile photo apps is heating up. Instagram (considered by many as the leader) is duking it out with Twitter, which yesterday updated it’s app to include filters. The new filters were announced on the heels of Instagram removing integration (at API level) with Twitter. To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of intagram-like aps. To me, they seem mostly as very cheap (in a bad way) solution to make mediocre photos look “artsy”.

In my opinion, it takes more than filters to turn a bad photo into a good photo. Framing, lighting, and, most importantly, subject matter need to be good in order to make a good picture… after you have all those elements, you can fool around with filters. But mostly you’ll notice that if you have the fundamentals right, you will not even need to muck up the picture with filters.

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I didn’t take these pictures.. I wish I had, but sadly they’re not mine.

This morning I found that Flickr had updated it’s iOS app to inlcude… yes, filters!

Flicker’s long neglected iOS app now makes a lot more sense. To me it makes even more sense because my iPhone las turned into my daily use click-and-shoot camera, and even though I pay a yearly fee to Flickr to be a PRO acocunt user, I never use Flickr. My daily photos end up on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter… and almost never on Flickr. Honestly, I think the last photos I had uploaded to Flickr are about 2 years old… or maybe less than that because Instagarm lets me send the pictures to Flickr from their app (but I always forget to do that).

The question, though… is it too late for Flickr? Had Flickr done this a year ago I have no doubt they would have become the leader in mobile photos… but now, they seem to be way behind Instagram and Facebook.

I think that for me, and the rest of the Flickr Pro users, this new app is a godsend, and has the potential (after a bit more polish to the UI) to become my go-to app for mobile pictures. WHat do you think? Is there a version with the updates for Android yet?

The problem with Microsoft.

I’m driving in my car listening to my music on the spiffy new entertainment system. It’s amazing, it has a touch screen, it syncs to my iPhone, and as soon as I get into my car it connects via bluetooth to the phone so that you can make and receive calls and play the music that’s on your phone. Amazing stuff really. The sound is great, and the controls on the steering wheel let you keep your eyes on the road.

I must say I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Microsoft was the company that Ford chose to make their on-board systems because, like many, I’d long disregarded Microsoft as an innovative company.

The pleasant surprise however, didn’t last long. Quite quickly I started to notice the problems with having Microsoft behind the wheel, so to speak, of Ford’s entertainment system. The time, for example, is never accurate. I navigate my way to the settings screen, set the correct time, and as soon as I turn the car off and on again, the time has magically drifted to something completely different. As with most other Microsoft products, it has very little regard to the user… by this I mean that when it decides to reboot itself, it does so without warning. This frustrating experience happens at least once a week (based on my own personal experience).

Hooking up my phone to the car’s system to play music is also a hit-or-miss ordeal. 50% of the time it just works, the other half of the time it hangs the entire system while it tries to connect only to come back a few minutes later announcing it’s failure. This is regardless of weather you’re using bluetooth or a USB connection.

The promise of having a kick-ass in-car computer to manage your experience quickly dies horribly when you realise that Microsoft made the software.

What is it with this company? Why can’t Microsoft make something that genuinely works great most of the time, rather than making products that work well 20% of the time?

Have you stopped to think that Microsoft makes the most expensive desktop operating system out there? It’s the market leader, with a ridiculous lead on everybody else. It’s also the most bug-riddled, inefficient, hard-to understand and terribly designed piece of software out there.

Microsoft has single-handedly taught the world that it’s OK for your computer to crash every once in a while. When their customers complained about their software causing your computer to hang for no apparent reason, they “solved” the problem by making your applications “Auto-save” your work because crashes are inevitable! And we the customers thought: well you know, they’re the experts… I guess all software crashes.

No, dammit! Software does not need to crash! Macs don’t crash as much as Windows machines, Linux doesn’t hardly ever crash! And, both Linux and Mac are a heck of a lot easier to use now than Microsoft’s software, both Linux and MacOS are better designed graphically (in Linux you even get your choice of the desktop paradigm you want to use), they both have had easy to use App stores to easily install the software you need to get your work done… something that Microsoft has taken a few years to finally implement (half-assedly) until Windows 8.

I’ve come to the conclusion that Microsoft’s problem is it’s blatant disregard for it’s customers. It almost feels like they don’t use their own products.. of if they do, they have all been brainwashed into thinking that it’s OK for software to suck!

Work, family life, and geeky projects.

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