Bioshock Infinite – an amazing shooter with neat role-playing touches

Bioshock_Infinite_LogoBioshock Infinite is the third installment in the award-winning Bioshock series, and whilst there is no continuing storyline from its previous incarnations, fans of the brand will notice that the stunning visuals and intuitive gameplay remain very much at the heart of the game.

This time round we control Booker DeWitt, a former Government agent who – to pay off an unknown debt – is sent to the floating city of Columbia to rescue a captive called Elizabeth.

Set in 1912, the game features at its core a civil war between the ‘founders’ of Columbia and the ‘Vox Populi’, a rebel gang looking to seize control of the city. Whilst Columbia is gloriously easy on the eye, we quickly learn its inhabitants have an appetite for destruction. The protagonists are drawn into this battle as Elizabeth is highly sought by both of the rival factions, who wish to use her unique psychological powers for their own ends.

original

Bioshock Infinite is, in essence, a first person shooter, but with some neat role-playing touches that will please ardent RPG fans too. Following a well-trodden path, the game combines both linear plot points and the ability to free roam, allowing you to really immerse yourself in the atmosphere and politics of Columbia.

Whilst Booker has a number of destructive melee weapons and firearms at his disposal, he can also utilise vigors that offer a number of additional skills, including telekinesis, the manipulation of electricity and animal control to discombobulate opponents, and these – in grand RPG tradition – can be fully upgraded.

The player can also make the most of Elizabeth’s strengths in battle sequences, although she does remain CPU controlled throughout the game. The character of Elizabeth is built with a really intuitive AI model, which ensures she is of benefit rather than a hindrance – something you often find in ‘buddy’ shooters.

Using her spiritual abilities in combination with Booker’s skill in combat can lead to a number of devastating – and very satisfying – attacks. She’ll even chuck a few power ups your way when she’s not directly involved in the action herself.
The only blot on Bioshock Infinite’s copy book is the gun battle aspect, which feels clunky and a little dated when compared to many other recent point and shoot titles. But this is more than made up for in the sheer number of aforementioned ingenious battleground tactics that can be deployed.

If you’ve never played Bioshock before then you are in for a treat, and seasoned campaigners will be happy with the series’ continued commitment to sublime graphics, dense atmospherics and multi-layered battlegrounds.

Whether you are a tactically-minded player or an ‘all guns blazing’ merchant, the depth of Columbia and the responsiveness of your enemies gives the game a replay value so often lacking in first person shooters, whilst still being fun and easy to ‘pick up and play.’

The intricacies of the relationship between Booker and Elizabeth, as well as the dystopian environment they find themselves in, result in an immersive storyline packed with depth and promise. You really will want to see this one through to the end.

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How I Jailbroke my iPhone 5 for all of 27.5 Minutes

I stuck my foot outside the walled garden, and quickly pulled it back in…

cydia-appA few days ago, Apple released iOS 6.1.3 to address a discovered and published lock screen bug that allowed someone to gain access to your contacts and other private information by placing then cancelling an emergency call and then doing a whole other bunch of hokey stuff. Shortly after the fix was released, another lock screen bug was discovered that allowed users to bypass the lockcscreen, but this time with a paperclip.  Apparently, NOTHING is sacred anymore.

The iOS 6.1.3 update not only patched the one security hole, it also appears to have patched the vulnerabilities used by the Envisi0n jailbreak tool.  If you have a jailbroken iPhone running iOS 6.1.2, you’re not going to want to upgrade to iOS 6.1.3 just yet. Envisi0n can’t jailbreak iOS 6.1.3; and according to the development team, they aren’t going to fix the tool, instead wanting to prep and be ready for beta releases of iOS 7 and the iPhone 5S.

So, before I upgraded my iPhone, I decided to venture outside Apple’s walled garden of safety and took a plunge into Cydia and the world of jailbroken iOS software.

I’m glad I’m back.

I’ve been working with custom ROM’s and rooted phones for years. I got  into flashing my smartphones back in 2004-2005 when Windows Mobile was still Windows Mobile and not Windows Phone.  I know there’s a ton of really crappy software out there.  Oh my… it can be REALLY bad. So I was prepared, but not prepared enough, apparently.

I think I had my iPhone 5 jailbroken for just under ½ an hour before I decided to stop trying to force a piece of misbehaving software to behave. iPhones are just supposed to work. I’m not supposed to have to argue with the thing to get it to run the HTC styled, lock screen weather display I was interested in; and at the end of the day, I wasn’t going to stay jailbroken if the phone acted strangely…

For me, it was a clear and simple reminder – the iPhone is the way that it is, because Apple has specific quality standards for its products and the software they run.  An iPhone is just supposed to work. You’re not supposed to argue with it to come out of “safe mode.”  The software is supposed to do what it says its supposed to do.  Specifically, in my case, it was supposed to work.

It didn’t. It put the phone into safe mode and it wouldn’t come out of safe mode and the lock screen wouldn’t work. So instead of trying to muscle through it, I remembered why I got into the iPhone in the first place…so I wouldn’t have to deal with gimpy software that only worked when the stars aligned correctly…and I promptly put my iPhone back in the cradle and fired up the update for 6.1.3, and jumped back over the fence…

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Windows Blue Leaves Me Feeling That Way

I have seen the Windows Blue overview and its left me feeling, well… blue.

Windows-9I’ve been using Widows 8 since the release of the Developer’s Preview. I’ve written comprehensive reviews of both the Consumer’s Preview as well as the RTM version of the new Microsoft flagship operating system. I feel I know it well enough to voice a justified opinion.

 

I’m waiting for Windows Blue.

I don’t want to say that I’m hanging my hat on the next release because Windows 8 is unusable. It is usable, but that usability comes with some serious caveats.

 

  • Pick an interface – ModernUI or Desktop Mode. Mixing both in a single computing session or experience is confusing and leads to a disjointed experience.
  • Desktop Mode is where most 9-5-er’s are going to be productive – ModernUI apps just aren’t there yet, nearly a year after Windows 8’s release
  • The touch metaphor doesn’t work on a PC without a touch screen – This seems like a no-brainer to everyone else OTHER than Microsoft. Hello..! A touch pad is NOT a touch screen and can’t sub for one.

The list goes on. The OS itself isn’t bad. It’s fast. Its stable. The problem Windows 8 has is that its UI really sucks. It’s a drastic step back to Windows 1.x. Seriously. Those of us that can remember what THAT convoluted mess was like have been likening the flat, inefficient screen usage and what appears as a massive step backwards in UX (user interface design) experience between the two computer experiences. It’s confusing, really.

Windows, codenamed Blue, is the latest release of Microsoft’s PC operating system. I initially typed, “desktop,” but that’s not really the case anymore. While it’s not clear yet if Windows Blue is a service pack for Windows 8, or if it’s supposed to be Windows 9, it was generally thought that there were supposed to be some serious UI changes in the OS…and there are. Unfortunately for those of us that don’t like ModernUI, the changes are disappointing.

Windows Blue really reinforces ModernUI. It tries to improve on how the UI works; and perhaps it will improve the experience, but Windows 8/Windows Blue still has some very serious issues. The bulk of Windows compatible software available is still written for either Windows 7 or for Windows 8’s Desktop mode. The Windows 8 software store is relatively empty. The apps available there aren’t very good or don’t provide the value that legacy apps do.

With the “improvements” to ModernUI, Settings, Charms, etc., users are still going to continue to swap back and forth between the two interfaces as they spend more and more time relying on ModernUI to handle more of the OS level tasks.

According to my good friend, Paul Thurrott of The Windows Supersite, the release of Windows Blue sheds a great deal of light on the strategic direction Microsoft is taking Windows in; and it involves the complete elimination of the classic Windows Desktop.

To quote Paul, “Microsoft still sees the touch-centric Metro environment as the future of mainstream computing.”

This means that they have not addressed what many pundits in the tech industry have called a serious schism between MS-based touch-centric computing – ModernUI – and where hundreds of millions of Windows PC users are productive every single day. If you remember, Microsoft did this to us twice before with WindowsME and with Windows Vista. Both were supposed to place new user experiences on the desktop and both were a serious flop. They moved things. They changed the way people worked. The cry went up unto Redmond and Microsoft heard the wailing and gnashing of teeth and “corrected the problems.”

They either don’t seem to care or don’t seem to want to at this point. This combined OS that they seem to think is good for both a tablet and as a tool to get serious work done isn’t working. It just isn’t. I’ve been a Windows user since Windows 1.x, and a serious proponent since Windows 3.x. I was on their technical beta team from Window 95 through Windows XP (That includes Win95, Win98, Win98SE, WinME, Win2K, AND WinXP); and I can tell you, When Windows Vista hit, it was a train wreck.

The difference here is that Microsoft took what the industry and their users were saying into account. It’s clear that they have made a conscious choice to stop listening; and it’s sad. Which is why I noticed that Windows blue has left me feeling that way…Blue.

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Dell Latitude 10-ST2 Windows 8 Pro Tablet – Review

Billed as a full Windows 8 Pro tablet and Microsoft Surface Pro competitor, is the Dell Latitude 10-ST2 the device for you?

Introduction

Tablet computing is IT right now. Apple has their iPad and iPad mini. Samsung has the Android powered Galaxy Tab and Galaxy Note; and Microsoft has Surface RT and Surface Pro. Dell also has a Windows 8 Pro tablet – The Dell Latitude 10-ST2. How does it measure up to the expected tablet experience? Is it a good alternative to either the 64GB or 128GB Microsoft Surface Pro tablet? Let’s take a look and find out?

Dell Latitude 10-ST2

Device and Hardware

The Dell Latitude 10-ST2 tablet is all black and covered on 5 sides with a slightly rubberized backing. The front is Gorilla Glass. It has a 10.2 inch diagonal screen pushing a 1366×768 resolution that defaults to landscape orientation. Its basic hardware specs can be found in the table below. After all is said and done, the device had a Windows Experience Index value of 3.3, attributed to its gaming and 3D business graphics.

Category Component
Processor 1.8GHz Intel Atom z2760
Memory 2GB, 800MHz DDR2
Hard drive 64GB SSD
Graphics Intel GMA
Dimensions (WD) 10.8×6.9 inches
Height 0.4 inch
Screen size (diagonal) 10.2 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 1.6 pounds / 2.1 pounds
Video Micro-HDMI
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone combo jack
Data 1 USB 2.0, SD card reader, 1 Micro-USB charging port
Networking 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth

While the Atom processor has a high enough speed at 1.8GHz, it doesn’t have a lot of horse power. In fact, it’s pretty anemic. The system is optimized for a few specific apps – Microsoft Office being one of them – but don’t expect it to power through anything else though. The weak processor performance even seems to affect network traffic, disk I/O and display performance as well, though obviously system interaction between dedicated subcomponents will also factor in.

It was especially noticeable when trying to download content from Microsoft TechNet. I was a bit disappointed with it all.

Continue reading…

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iOS 6.x Woes – What Apple Needs to Do

Apple needs to do a LOT to fix the problems it has with every public bugs.

iOS-6.1Apple is definitely in a period of transition both from a stock price perspective and from a leadership perspective.  They also seem to be wobbling a bit when it comes to strategic direction for its mobile OS.  When you move from a high quality to rapid release methodology and then do an about face, you can count on a number of different problems cropping up.  Apple definitely has its work cut out for itself as it tries to refocus its release philosophy back towards the, “it just works” point of view.

With the exit of Scott Forstall, Apple is moving away from what appears to be the industry popular rapid release oriented Agile/Scrum development methodology that focuses more on the introduction of features and functionality rather than quality of code and delivery.  With Leopard, Apple had 11 point releases. With Snow Leopard, Apple delivered 8 updates. With Lion, there were 5 releases.  It’s clear.  Apple is ratcheting down the number of releases and is focusing more on quality rather than quantity.

Given its direction with its desktop OS, I have to wonder what the heck is going on with its mobile OS. Things don’t seem to be righting themselves there. There have been six (6), seven counting the iPhone 4S only 6.1.1 release, releases of iOS 6 since its release in mid-September of 2012. That’s an average of just over 1 release per month.

If you ask me, that’s excessive; and it CLEARLY indicates that Apple’s methodology changes haven’t trickled down to the mobile OS team yet. Development methodologies like Agile/Scrum concentrate more on the release of new features rather than quality of delivery. When problems are encountered or identified, you release a new version and roll the code base forward. There’s little to no time to do any regression testing (testing to insure previously squashed bugs stay squashed). This is the major reason why the lock screen bug that was “resolved” in iOS 6.1.3 reappeared.  It’s also the major reason why it was recently discovered that 6.1.3 didn’t completely resolve the issue.

According to Apple Insider additional methods of bypassing the iOS lock screen have been discovered in iOS 6.1.3, even though this release was designed and engineered to specifically lock the lock screen down.

The lock screen bugs, both this new one and the previous one are not easy to reproduce. You really have to be one demented and dedicated tester, and understand the device, its OS and applet behavior in order to successfully reproduce the exploits.  However, it speaks to a much larger problem – one of development methodology.

This isn’t so much a coding issue as it is a leadership issue.  Apple coders and testers must be allowed to spend the time necessary to come up with these kinds of use cases and scenarios so that proper test requirements can be documented and then tests created and executed.  The key word there is “time.”  Unfortunately, it’s the one thing that Apple doesn’t have an abundance of.

Apple needs to squash bugs, and squash them quickly.  Most importantly, it needs to make sure that the bugs they say they’ve squashed, stay squashed. Finding a way around the released fix one day after its release doesn’t lend confidence that Apple is doing the due diligence to resolve and robustly test the code they’re releasing.  It’s even worse when it seems as though everybody else but “you” knows what to do to get around your code.  Apple needs to change how it develops, tests and more importantly, plans its releases.  If I were Apple’s QA director, I’d be worried for my job at this point.  I’d also march myself into Eddie Cue’s office by the end of the week with a solid plan on how testing is going to insure buggy software doesn’t get released.  This is getting ridiculous, and isn’t going to help Apple’s stock (AAPL) price, either. It’s down 35.5% since its 52 week high six months ago.

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Garena – Connecting World Gamers

Chat and game with your friends using this gaming platform for Windows.

GAR-01Gaming is one of the biggest reasons behind computer sales. One of the biggest trends in gaming right now is the need to communicate with team mates within your gaming party. That’s one of the reasons why I like Garena. It’s a gaming communications platform for Windows.

Garena is a game platform similar to an instant messenger. Garena allows gamers to develop buddy lists, to chat with friends and to check on game progress and achievements. Gamers are able to form groups or clans, and chat with multiple gamers simultaneously through public or private channels. Garena has also provided a great GTalk platform which is useful for gamers to interact with.

Like other online game services, Garena uses Shells for a virtual currency. Gamers can create their own unique identity by customizing their avatar or changing their names. Users can also use Shells to purchase Gold memberships for instant access to the platform anytime, to create clans, or to buy themselves back in to the platform or to a game or clan.

Garena is a decent PC gaming platform. It allows you to not only play but to communicate with clans and hoards while you play with and against them. It’s a bit on the pricey side, however, as 3000 shells cost $60 USD, and Gold membership will cost you 1900 shells a year.

garena_ss1

Information on what games are available and what they cost, over and above your gold membership fee are unclear, and not readily available on the site. Its difficult to understand what might be available and what it might cost.

download Garena

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Samsung Galaxy S4 – Life Companion

Compared with the very successful Galaxy S3, the brand new Samsung Galaxy S4 is by far the greatest smart phone from the market. Samsung raised once again the standard before any of its competitors did.

S4I don’t think they focused on very much on the case quality, because, as they say, the plastic won’t brake so easy as the glass does. So, it’s light, big and very fast. The display size is a bit bigger than the S III, and it’s now 5″. Also, the resolution was raised to Full HD 1920/1080 with Super Amoled display.

No Speed limit?

Well, it is a limit… But the good news is that is very high, and you have some awesome features. And the processor you either get an 1.9 GHz Quad Core, or an 1.6 GHz Octa Core, depending on the market you’re in. In my case, I would like the 1.9 Quad Core, because the Octa Core is quite a big energy consumer. Speaking of energy, the battery capacity is now bigger (2600 mAh) and they have constantly working on software tweaks to ensure you get the most of your battery.
The RAM memory is 2 GB and internal storage is 64GB and supports another 64 on SD-Card. Really, you can’t get more than that in a single phone! The phone cameras were also improved to 13 Megapixels rear-facing camera and 2-megapixels forward-facing camera. One particular new feature is that Samsung S4 allows you to take a photo or a video with both front and rear camera at the same time. This new feature is called by Samsung, Dual-Shot. Another cool feature is Cinema Photo, similar to Cinemagram, which lets you choose on piece of your photo to move, while keeping the others still.

Software improvements? Yes, there are plenty of great improvements. Samsung S4 is running the latest Android version, 4.2.2 Jelly Bean with other particular Samsung software.
Smart Scroll feature, allows you to scroll through websites by tilting your phone. The Smart Pause feature lets you control the screen with your eyes. The feature stops and starts a video based on whether you’re looking at the screen or not. This feature is similar with LG’s Smart Video feature. Also, if you’re watching a video and you put the phone down to do something else, video play will stop until you return and look at the screen.
The S Translate feature helps you translate your text messages or emails into nine different languages, using text or voice translation. The feature can also translate from both speech-text and text-to-speech.
With Air View you can hover your fingers over an email, S Planner, or image gallery to view a larger preview of content before selecting it, and the Air Gesture feature allows you to change a song, scroll through a web page, or answer a call by just waving your hand. Also this feature is awesome if you wear gloves, or your fingers are full of chocolate and you don’t wanna touch the phone.

Group Play – Now this is fun. You can share music, photos, videos and games with the people near you. You’re in a parking lot and you wanna turn the party ON? Transform the phones into a cool surround system and all the phones connected and playing the same song at once, will sure heat the things up!

So, Samsung is not focused on very much hardware improvements, because is already high-end, and they make their hardware to run spectacular with innovating software. All right, not all the features and softwares are original ideas, but they managed to gather all the cool features from many other phones, and set up an awesome engine under the new S4’s hood.

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Organize, tag and edit your MP3 collection with Zortam MP3 Studio

I have a passion for music. It’s a major part of my life and I like to carry it with me where ever I go. Organizing my music collection just got easier. Zortam MP3 Media Studio is a music organizer for Windows that may just be the right tool for you, too.

Zortam MP3 Media Studio is an all-in-one MP3 organizer. It has a number of modules such us an MP3 Organizer, an ID3 Tag Editor, an MP3 Player, an MP3 Normalizer, and an MP3 to Wav converter. With Zortam MP3 Media Studio, you can batch auto tag your MP3 files using Zortam song database. Batch auto tag processing gets cover art, lyrics and other song info from our database and automatically auto tag new MP3 files. Within few minutes, you tag all of your MP3 files with cover arts and lyrics.

Zortam Mp3 Media Studio

If you have a mobile device, you can sync your content to it. Supported devices include iDevices like the iPhone, iPod or any Android mobile phones. On your PC, Zortam MP3 player enables you to play your tagged MP3 files with cover art and scrolling lyrics along with different visualization effects. An advanced CD Ripper is also included ripping your CDs to MP3 files. As I mentioned earlier once ripped, Zortam MP3 Studio will automatically tag them with cover art and lyric from Zortam’s database.

Zortam MP3 Studio will also manage your MP3 play lists. With it, you can quickly search for specific music files, rename files using ID3 tags, synchronize ID3v1 and iD3v2 tags, search for duplicate MP3 files etc.

Zortam MP3 Media Studio is a decent alternative to some of the old standards out there, like iTunes and Windows Media player. It comes with mobile device support built in and will even sync to your iDevice, if you wish. The interface isn’t bad, but its very busy, and large. If you’re looking for something different than what most are using, Zortam MP3 Media Studio may be just what you’re looking for.

Download Zortam MP3 Studio

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