Monthly Archives: November 2011

Why Windows? (Video Redux)

Hey everyone,

So some time ago, WMPowerUser.com posted their call for video entries for a contest. Seeing as I was writing Why Windows? at the time, I figured I couldn’t go wrong adapting it to video. It answered pretty accurately the call:

Unless your device was supplied by your company, all of us made a conscious decision to buy and use a Windows Phone 7 handset.  Sometimes I am sure the decision is difficult for others to understand, given the small number of Windows Phone 7 users at present.

That is why we are running a campaign this month to help tell the world why we all chose to use the slickest operating system in the world, and to help things along we are offering cash prizes.

The competition is called “The WMPoweruser.com Why I chose Windows Phone” contest and will require entrants to upload a short video to YouTube explaining why you chose a Windows Phone over the other competing devices and operating systems.

So I did.

Here it is, for your enjoyment:

Paddle your own canoe, guys and gals,

Trevor


Beautifying Gaming, Part One

So, late in 2010, I bought myself a SNES.

It was the first console I’ve ever owned. I have seriously fond memories of playing NHL ’94 (at least, I think it was ’94–the one that brought in fights), GT Racing, Mortal Kombat etc. over at my buddy Paul‘s place down the street. Bikes would get piled out in front of the garage and the neighbourhood kids (our group, who I now refer to as “the Briargreen Old Boys”) would get piled up on the couch, swapping controllers between four or six of us.

I never owned the console myself–beyond the PCs that were a constant feature in my house, we were a console-free family. It didn’t make much difference, honestly. There were enough SNESes and N64s around in the neighbourhood that I never felt wanting for games, and I lived on RTS games at home. But the SNES stuck with me, even though Max Payne and the dawn of the XBox. Something about seeking out a cool living room or basement during a muggy summer afternoon. About sharing the time on the console, about arguments about who passes next or what we should be playing. About the interaction that comes from sitting around the same console instead of having Steam or XBL between you.

Anyway, all that nostalgia (as well as wanting to play some of the classics–Metroid and Paper Mario especially–properly for once) resulted in tracking down a used games place in Kingston and dropping a few bucks of my OSAP money on the console, Street Fighter II, and ShadowRun. Immediately, I thought I was shortchanged because Street Fighter did NOT work. That was easy enough to sort out.

Just corroded contacts--rubbing alcohol sorted it out really nicely.

But there is a far more insidious issue that was to befall my SNES.

Something that befalls many beloved Nintendo consoles.

It’s a scourge, eating at the console.

No! Anything but that!

Yes, that.

Console yellowing.

From what I read, there’s really nothing I can do about it. It seems to be a simple oxidation of some of the chemicals in the plastic. Short of turning my console into a sort of hermetically preserved bubble-boy this process will continue. And I can’t have that.

So, it’s time to beautify the console.

My goal is to turn it into a piece that’ll look consistent with other new technology, and be a piece that looks kind of cool. It’s not going to be a casemod (no interest in adding LEDs and whatnot), but a paint job. Some high-gloss automotive black and highly reflective silver. Ultimately I want it to look like the new XBox 360, just a little shinier.

Similarly, without the LEDs.

Part of me thinks that the hi-gloss paint will pick up fingerprints, but part of me doesn’t really care. It’s a full-time fixture and a part-time curio, not really a gaming console.

Anyway, the first order of business after making sure that I had the paints was to remove the case in order to get a nice clean paint job. Of course, Nintendo doesn’t want you jumping into the guts of your console (in case you modchip it or whatever) so since the dawn of the NES they’ve been using what I have lovingly deemed “bastard screws.”

The Nintendo security screws are so tenacious that people sell drill bits and screwdrivers to remove them. What a pain. And not really a homebrew solution. I did come across a couple of decidedly more DIY ways to go about it here. One way is to dremel out the inside of a screwdriver. But there was an even more appealing method I wanted to try. From the article:

Pen version – Tools Required:

  • A pen – the clear plastic type work best. Since about 50% of the pens in the average household don’t work anyway you should be able to find one to sacrifice.
  • Some sort of flame source, lighters, matches, gas stove. Sigh — kids, ask your parents to help with this part.
  • This pen is about to do a far, far better thing than it has ever done. Writing? Whatever. The hack is mighter than the sword.What to do:
    1. Have your Nintendo system ready and close at hand, screw wells exposed and up.
    2. Remove any plastic caps and then light the end of the pen. It should burn quite well. Don’t let any gunk drip onto yourself, it’ll probably hurt. Worse than solder. It will also stink, so open a window if possible.
    3. Once it’s burned for a few seconds and the plastic has kind of melted shut the hollow opening, cram it down into the screw well and onto the screw.
    4. Don’t move – let it cool for about 15 seconds. The plastic is forming to the shape of the screw.

Carefully pull the pen out – you should see the shape of the screw in the plastic.

You can now use this pen as a screwdriver — simply stick it in and twist. Make sure you feel the grooves latch into place, then press down hard as you turn for best results. If the plastic bits strip out you can always relight the pen and make another mold.

That. Sounds. GREAT.

Anyway, I set about doing just that. The first couple of times, the plastic charred a bit from being lit on fire, as suggested in the article. It became brittle and snapped. So I was a little more cautious about it, and just slowly melted the plastic instead of lighting it aflame.

Forming the tool, attempt number two squillion.

The tool, she is formed! Note the good end versus the grody blackened end.

But, alas, even with a nicely-formed tool, there were problems. The plastic in the pen wasn’t nearly as solid as it needed to be–not for these bastard screws that have been sitting for over 15 years.

It stripped immediately. No go.

Not easy to see, but the little white bits are where the security screws stripped the plastic.

So it looks like I’ll be ordering that bit after all. It’s not all bad that I didn’t get this done tonight, though. I should have some kind of hard clearcoat for the paint, especially for the controllers, and I don’t at the moment.

In the meantime, if you have suggestions for the colours of the buttons on the controllers (which will be black), I’m all ears. I’m leaning towards gloss black on the body, matte on the D-pad, silver on the shoulders, and then a single colour for each of the four face buttons. I’m leaning towards an orange colour (like we use over at Bent) but I’m certainly open to other ideas and looking for suggestions.

In the meantime, it may not be pretty, but I’m still glad I’ve got the console.

Paddle your own canoe, guys and gals.

Yours,

Trevor


Throw It Against the Wall (and other housekeeping)

Since it’s now approaching a year since I launched this blog, it’s time to play catch-up with what’s going on!

Podcasts

For those who don’t yet know, Natalie Joy (of A Year of Joy) and I have launched a sorta-semi-weekly podcast called Throw it Against the Wall. It’s a rollicking look at what’s going on in current events, nerd news and tech, food, and our creative projects. You can find the show on iTunes or at the feed, and soon on Zune. Be advised, there is some cursing in this show, though less than in my other podcast. Our episodes thus far:

1: In Their Own Way, in which superheroes land in jail, Fillion’s Fusterclucks are distractingly delicious, we shout out to Ottawa’s best Vietnamese restaurant, pick apart the iOS5 launch, and both NJ and Trevor fight off writer’s block.

2: All People Are Dinosaurs, in which we return to have a serious talk about serious news, check out Windows Phone’s Mango update, eat out of pure necessity, classify people the way dinosaurs are classified, and get back on the writing horse.

3: Craft Herpes, in which we argue the merits of Halloween, make math fun, chow down on candy, debate Joss Whedon’s upcoming Much Ado, and keep plugging on their play and movie.

4: Swimming With the Spishes, in which we take to the high seas to talk about seasteading, critique Kobo, talk about Tegra, introduce (and stuff their faces with) Sweet Pea Treats, and update everyone on their projects.

In other podcastery, Kevin and I continue to rock out on Bent. You can find streaming episodes at the website as well as on the feed and on iTunes. Similarly, coming soon on Zune. Bent is an arts and entertainment revue in which we talk about movies, games, and television, chat about the entertainment industry, and often various varieties of vicious animal. With rotating guests such as Sandy, Chris, Kelsey, Kevmoh, Leslei, and Marco, each bringing their own unique brand of nerdiness to the show, Bent is rarely the same twice. It is, however, ALWAYS fairly raunchy, so discretion is advised. Recent episodes:

September: Septembercast. Nerds are angry in this long-lost episode. With Netflix spiralling out of control, Facebook becoming THE destination for streaming music, and Lucas wanking his original trilogy onto Blu-Ray, Kev and Trevor attempt to find some sanity amidst the madness.

October: Silk and Velvet. A new guest joins the show to discuss Battlefield 3, Max Payne, StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, Blizzard: DOTA, and the Avengers trailer. Things go from bad to worse as Marco’s deranged commentary infects Bent. Can Kevin and Trevor survive?

About Me

I’m going to update the “About” section on the blog, but, in the meantime, check out my new about.me page! Correction: It is now updated to be less awful and now links to my about.me page.

Blogroll

I’m also updating the blogroll to reflect some peoples’ recent projects. My Bent homeboys, for example, Leslei’s new blog, NJ’s blog, etc. I do suggest checking them out, because they’re worthwhile.

Projects

Tron: Morphology is, for all intents and purposes, a dead project, but I’m still considering ways to bring it to life. It’s a cool bit of storytelling and there was a lot of (in my opinion) strong design and concept work happening.  More on this as it develops, but don’t hold your breath.

There’s a WMPowerUser contest for which I will be adapting to video my last blog entry, Why Windows? I’m pretty excited for it. I’ll post it here when it’s done, this week or next. The competition is heating up, but I’m still hopeful.

In TIATW, I have alluded to a screenplay for a short film I’m working on, a post-apocalyptic allegory for capitalism gone awry. It’s clipping along, sort of, but there are more time-sensitive projects I’m after, such as

A play I’m developing and hoping to get some funding for, or at least get my name known a little via the application for said funding. It’s a comedy featuring the Tom Thompson mystery and my family in Algonquin Park in the 1950s. Then there’s the project it superceded, which is

my non-fiction book, a no-bullshit guide for college/university students who want to keep up their writing and develop as writers, packed with exercises and interviews so that there should, in theory, be something for everyone in there. I hope to try for some funding for this, too. But the play money comes first.

So there’s lots going on, as always, but I’m feeling pretty good about the quality of everything I’m working on, for the first time ever, I think. I’m proud of all of my current projects and that’s rare for me.

School

I need to bump up my undergrad grades in order to pursue an MEd and do some thesis work that I’ve had percolating for about six months, and I’m looking forward to starting that process as soon as I can, taking assorted classes to expand my repertoire.

Work

I love being in a school again. I’m underemployed, as are many recently-graduated teachers in Ontario, but the work itself is awesome.

Conclusion

Things are pretty solid right now. I’m generally pleased. I’ve gotten better at managing stress, at managing my time. And I hope that we’ll see that contentedness and time management result in more and better work here in the spillway.

Paddle your own canoe, guys and gals.

Yours,

Trevor


Why Windows?

Since the latest episodes of both Bent and Throw it Against the Wall have seen me mention Windows Phone 7, I think it’s about time I talk about why I like it. I know there’s a lot of scepticism surrounding it. And why not? Most people I know who were considering jumping the Microsoft ship did so in the dark days of Vista, so that’s their last experience with Windows. Anyone who saw their parents working on a Treo back in the nascent days of the Blackberry know the sloppy, malfunctioning horror that was Windows Mobile 6.5.

There’s a messy pedigree there. And with technology becoming increasingly homogenous in terms of features and capability, people are right to ask why they should want to go back.

It took me a while to figure out why I love Windows Phone as much as I do, and why I’m so excited about Windows 8. And it goes back to Windows itself, and the philosophy behind its naming in the early days of home computing.

Imagine yourself in the beige box days of computers.

I was fortunate enough to be in a house that had a computer from the first days (well, my first days)—my folks had one for work and upgraded frequently (from 386 to 486 to an early Pentium, each one becoming more in line with current tech). And at school, we had tons of classic Apple Macintosh computers. So far from being bred into an ecosystem, I got in on the ground floor with both systems. As the home computers got better, we slowly evolved at school into Power Macs, then candy-coloured iMacs and beyond.

While I remember vividly the Number Munchers and desktop publishing on Macs through the years, something about having “Windows” at home spoke to me.

Imagine the pre-internet home computer model (especially from a child’s perspective). You’ve got the computer box, where all the stuff goes.

Then, you’ve got the monitor, which lets you look at all the stuff you’ve got in the box.

The file structure of the computer always seemed a little like different rooms to me. You go in the front door of the big house that is your computer when you turn it on. You go into the foyer, to your desktop, and from there to different rooms.

The Windows name made sense to me. I’m not really in the computer, of course, but I can look into each different room through a special window.

Now, it doesn’t do you much good to have a window going from one room into another. But you were only ever inside your computer in the pre-internet days. When the internet came about, you got the opportunity to get out of the house and run down the street and poke around in other houses, and there was, for Windows users, an icon that became your front door.

Smartphones, at least since the iPhone, are characterized by always-on data connections and being constantly connected to different apps, services, and people. But even when the iPhone launched, we were still working with variants of the rooms analogy, only now, instead of windows, we got doors.

And sure, plenty of these doors had awesome stuff delivered to you when you went through the door.

Sometimes, there’s even a knock at the door to let you know when something’s arriving.

I was really excited by the prospect of Android, following the debut of the iPhone. Not only would you be able to go through all of the same kinds of doors, but you could cover the walls in widgets! And it was all open-sourced and to be built on by the community. But when I got my hands on a couple of Android devices, the spartan hallway I saw with the iPhone started to look like this:

Enter Windows Phone. The always-on data connection of the other big contenders, plus a slightly different philosophy on how you interact with your information.

Windows has always been, in my mind, about seeing into your technology. The desktop OS has been about looking into your computer, occasionally stepping out into the wider world. But there’s always been a door between the two.

Now, with Windows Phone, the curtains roll up. Each live tile is a window, not just into the phone, but into the big wide world.

It’s a better way to do it. It really is the evolution of the Windows brand, and fundamentally it gets back to what Windows was all about in the first place. Letting you look into your technology, or out into the wider world.

And the whole ecosystem is going this way. Windows Phone, Xbox, and Windows 8 – all are going to Metro UI, all adopting live tiles and connectivity in a way that makes it easier to immediately gain access to information and interact with technology.

So why do I like Windows Phone? Because it gets back to the original Windows philosophy, the idea that charmed me back in the beige box days. I want to see something open when I look at my technology—not just a bunch of closed doors.


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