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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Moving On

So I've been at this URL for many years, and it's served me well.  But I recently decided that it's time to move on.

Thus, this blog will now be located at http://humbleitblog.co.za.  Please come and join me there...

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Android Gaming... Yes, Seriously

Whew, this post is long overdue.  But since I'm on my way back into the IT industry full-time, I think it's justified to get it nice and active again.

I'm a gamer at heart.  Always have been.  And the PC has always been my platform of choice.  Not that I have anything against consoles, as such (so don't crucify me yet, Playstation and XBOX fanboys).  I've just always had a PC, and never felt the need to live off breadcrusts for a month or two in order to buy a console.

However, over the last three years or so I haven't had much time to play games.  Mostly because, when I get home, I'm tired.  I want to spend time with my family, and then go to bed and relax there.

I recently got myself a tablet.  Those of you who remember my post from March 2011 will understand how huge this is for me.  I've never been a fan of tablets, not really seeing their purpose.  But times have changed, and so have my opinions.  Yes, I can admit that I was wrong.  So anyway, I got a Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7".  It runs Android 4.0.4, with a 1GHz CPU and 1GB of RAM.  Humble specs by today's standards, but all I really need.

So as I was playing around with it I started noticing some games.  Now I'm not talking about Candy Crush and Flappy Bird and some of their millions of variants.  I'm not talking about "low budget" games.  I started noticing some really serious, fun games, the kind of games that I like to play on PC, but compact, affordable, and mobile.  I've heard about some Android-based consoles that are currently in development, so I know that Android has potential as a gaming platform; but surely not on a humble tablet like mine?  Well, I started experimenting.  And I was very pleasantly surprised!  I am solidly hooked on Android gaming.  My PC hasn't seen me in a while.  I now spend much of my free time (which I don't have a lot of) in bed playing games on my tablet!

Here are a few of my current favorites:

Archangel

According to the Play Store:  "The forces of evil are mobilizing in defiance of heavenly rule. As an Archangel your task is not merely to halt their rise – you must inflict a justice so brutal and uncompromising that none will ever again defy the will of Heaven. Black Tower Studios and Unity Games conjure visceral action tailored for touch in this epic clash between good and evil."

Price:  R22,49.  And well worth every cent!  This game has been keeping me entertained for more than a week.  Beautiful atmospheric graphics, epic storyline, and excellent gameplay.  I wholeheartedly recommend this!  Despite how it looks, don't expect something similar to Diablo.  I can't really compare Archangel with anything I've played before.  Just enjoy it for what it is!


Dead Effect

You are on board a space ship, in a cryo chamber.  When you wake up your crew are already awake and mostly dead.  Some more dead than others...  This game reminds me of Doom 3, but with zombies instead of demons.  It really has that kind of atmosphere.

Two pieces of criticism so far.  Firstly, the controls are kind of weird, but I believe that's just because I'm still getting used to playing FPS on a touch screen.  It has nothing to do with the game or its developer.  (I want to get myself the new Samsung Gamepad, that should improve things considerably.)  Secondly, it has some corny voice acting... But that's understandable.  And at this price tag, I can't complain about that minor detail.

Price:  FREE.  (My favorite price range. ;-D)  It has optional in-game purchases.  But I've progressed pretty far by now, and I haven't felt a real need to purchase anything yet.

Dungeon Keeper

I used to play this one back in 1998 when I was still working for {insert highly hated but very famous IT retailer here}.  For those of you who don't know it, you are a Dungeon Master, in charge of raiding other dungeons, recruiting and controlling minions, and occasionally slapping your minions just to get them to be more productive. :-D

True to the original, but with a clean modern look and nice touch interface.  Makes the slapping feel more real, somehow...

And at the great price of FREE, I wholeheartedly recommend it!




Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

Yes, that is indeed the complete game as it is on the PC.  Same graphics, same storyline, same awesome 80's soundtrack.  (By the way, GTA3 is also available.)

It sells for R54,15.  It's huge though; over a GB of data to download, but this really cannot be helped.  My only other criticism of this game is the fact that its controls are awkward and takes a while to get used to, but again, it comes with the territory, I guess.  It's like Console-to-PC ports; some of them have weird controls.  Same here.  Playing it on touch is just... Strange.  But once you get used to it, it's good GTAish fun!



Injustice: Gods Among Us

From the makers of Mortal Kombat, here's the opportunity to have many of DC Comics' heroes and villains kick one another around.  Similar to the PC and Console version, but with controls optimized for touch screens.  Performs surprisingly well, and it has really addictive gameplay!

Again, it's huge, but free of charge.  Offers in-app purchases, though, but not in an intrusive way.  A really, really good game!






Order & Chaos Online

I was really surprised to find this one in the Google Play store.  If you like MMORPG's like World of Warcraft and Lord of the Rings Online, you will love this one!  This is a perfect little MMORPG in the same league as WoW and LOTRO.  Excellent controls, story line, game play... It is truly amazing what they did with it.  It even offers PvP gameplay!

Criticism?  None really.  I guess size is a big thing.  If you don't have a modern version of Android, allowing you to install apps on your external SD card, then you may not be able to install it.  It also requires a pretty good CPU and 512MB of RAM, so it's quite resource intensive, but it runs with zero glitches on my humble tablet so it's not a big problem.  And frankly, at R11,00, it's practically free.  Definitely worth it, if it's your type of thing.

So, to summarize.  Gaming on Android is getting better, and I definitely have hope that it's only going to improve even more from here on.  Soon LANs may not be limited to PC's only.  Who knows?

Anyway.  Until next time,

BE the change.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Activate Dot Net Framework 3.5 in Windows 8

y apologies; this post is long overdue. Unfortunately I can't commit to posting once a day (or even once a week) as my plan was. (As soon as I can get paid a salary to blog, that will change... Any takers? Hint hint... Wink wink... Oh go on! At least click on an ad or two when you visit! ;-))

So anyway, for some reason Microsoft decided to ship Dot Net Framework 3.5 with Windows 8, so you can't install it manually. But they also decided to deactivate it by default so you couldn't use it (despite the huge number of software packages that require it). And then they decided that you had to have an internet connection in order to activate it... *Epic facepalm*

So anyway, in case you are one of those people (and we have quite a few here in South Africa) who are using Windows 8 without a very good internet connection (maybe you only have internet access at work, or on your phone, for example), here's a way to get it activated without an internet connection:

1. Insert the Windows 8 disc into the drive, and take note of the drive letter.
2. Go to Start and start typing "cmd". You will see "Command Prompt" appear on the left hand side of the screen.
3. Right-click Command Prompt and select "Run as Administrator" from the list that appears at the bottom of the screen.
4. Now in the elevated command prompt, type the following: "dism.exe /online /enable-feature /featurename:NetFX3 /Source:Z:\sources\sxs" (Without the quotation marks, obviously; also, replace the "Z" with the drive letter that contains the Windows 8 disc).
5. Voila! A few minutes and you have successfully installed the Dot Net Framework 3.5 in Windows 8!

Monday, October 29, 2012

How to Activate Windows 8

As I said in my last post, I struggled quite a bit to get Windows 8 activated. I use the VLK edition, and I'm not 100% sure if this problem that I encountered is limited to only this edition; I suspect so. But anyway, here's the story.

Whenever I tried to activate my Windows 8, I got the message "Error 0x8007007B The File name, directory name, or volume label syntax is incorrect." This irritated me to no end. I assumed (correctly, as it turned out) that it had something to do with the fact that I was never asked to enter a product key, and Microsoft didn't include a "change product key" option as they did in previous Windows versions.

So whenever the Windows GUI fails me, it's time to get down and dirty with the Command Prompt. If you're having the same problem, here's what you should do:

1. Open an elevated command prompt by going to Start, then typing "cmd". The Command Prompt option will appear on screen. Right-click it and then select "Run as Administrator" from the bottom of the screen.

2. In the elevated command prompt, change your product key by typing the following: "slmgr.vbs /ipk XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX" (Obviously replace the X's with your product key.) Then press Enter. You will see a message pop up on-screen indicating that your product key has been changed.

3. Next, still in the elevated command prompt, activate Windows by typing the following: "slmgr.vbs /ato". A message should pop up indicating that Windows is activated. Voila!

It's as simple as that. I trust that this will help someone!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

My Thoughts on Windows 8

Microsoft released the latest version of their Windows OS on Thursday, and it was met with mixed feelings.  Some people are very excited about it; others think that it’s a disastrous change.  Interestingly enough, as I read blog posts and reviews online, people are generally excited once they’ve actually used Windows 8.

So today I decided to throw my thoughts into the mix and tell you all what I think about it.

Let me first tell you that I’m not writing from only 3 days’ experience.  Since the High School I work for has a license agreement with Microsoft, I already got my hands on it (and started testing it, for the sake of science of course! Winking smile) more than a month ago. 

I also want to mention that I am not easily swayed to a new system.  After the release of Windows XP, I kept going back and forth between XP and 98 for more than a year (yes, a whole lot of formatting was involved).  After Vista was released, the same thing happened.  Even with Windows 7, I wasn’t completely sold on the OS until a few months later (although I have to say that the final migration happened much sooner than with any other OS).  I’ve even been trying to switch to Linux as my main OS for years now, and though I love Linux, I’m still too attached to my Microsoft-operated comfort zone.  This isn’t limited to PC’s only; I’m constantly switching between my BlackBerry and a Samsung Galaxy Pocket, unable to decide which one I prefer.  So the point is, I don’t switch to something new easily.  Quick to test, slow to adopt.  That’s me.

With Windows 8 (I’m talking about RTM, not one of the test versions) I adopted it as my main OS right from the start.  And I’m not missing Windows 7 AT ALL.  This last month it’s become a real joy for me to log into my laptop!

As I did with my review of the preview a while ago (in another blog that will be cancelled soon), let me list my likes and dislikes.

Me Likey:

  • Bootup time.  This is something that they fixed since the Consumer Preview.  My laptop boots up completely in under 15 seconds!  And no, my laptop is by no means a powerhouse.
  • The new Metro interface.  Yes, the Start menu (at least as we used to know it) is gone.  History.  The new interface is much better!  Since I sign in with my Microsoft account (which is linked with my Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google accounts), the moment I log into my laptop I am greeted with some Facebook messages that I might have missed, my Gmail inbox, the day’s weather, a slideshow of my photos, my calendar, and a whole bunch of other things, without even clicking on anything.  All of this in my “Start menu”, right next to my apps.  YES, the interface is different.  BUT once you get used to it, it actually works faster and makes a lot of sense.  Sceptics were (or are) afraid that it’s so optimized for touch screens that a mouse won’t make sense anymore.  This is definitely not the case.

Metro

  • The desktop is still there.  You don’t have to use all of your apps in Metro.  The Desktop, with its familiar taskbar, is still there.  Just better than it used to be.
  • When you move your cursor to one of the right-hand corners of your screen, there’s a pop-up menu with quick access to Start, Search, Devices, Share, and Settings.  This menu is context-sensitive; especially Share and Settings will display a set of functions that’s determined according to what you have open on-screen at the time.

Desktop Popup Menu

  • Windows Explorer now has the Ribbon interface that we got to know in Office 2007.  And it works.  It makes things much simpler and easier.  Again, the items in the ribbon is context-sensitive; it is determined by whatever you have selected in Windows Explorer.

Windows Explorer

  • Windows Live integration.  You now have the choice between local user accounts, and integrating your Windows Live account (or Microsoft account).  If you choose the latter, it means that your profile picture and details are automatically integrated into Windows (especially Metro).  But it also means that your apps, info, documents, settings, etc, can be synced between your different Windows 8 devices, as well as with SkyDrive.  Similar to what Google did on Android devices with their Google account synchronization.  Really cool!
  • Compatibility.  As when Windows 7 was just released, I had no need to install any drivers.  All my devices were automatically detected and installed.
  • No hardware upgrades needed.  This is really a very cool feature, and I think kind of a first in PC history.  If your system runs Windows 7, it will run Windows 8.
  • Stability.  It just works.  I’ve encountered very few problems, and those that I have encountered were easily dealt with.
  • The new and improved Task Manager is heaven for computer technicians.  It’s highly detailed, showing graphical displays of CPU, RAM, HDD and Network performance in real-time.  It also shows which programs or processes are running and how much of your system resources they hog.  You can cancel and stop any of them straight from the Task Manager (most of these things you could even do in the old Task Manager, I know, but the new Task Manager gives you more information, making your job that much easier).  The Startup option, previously included in msconfig, is now also a part of the Task Manager, and it even monitors how long each item takes to load.

Task Manager

  • Software support is quite good.  Thanks to the Metro interface and its apps, there’s even a PDF reader built into Windows.  No more Adobe Reader installations needed! Open-mouthed smileThis also goes for antivirus software.  Microsoft’s Windows Defender has been updated to literally be Microsoft Security Essentials, so you have excellent anti-malware software installed by default!

Me No Likey:

  1. Administrative rights.  In Windows 7, once you disable User Account Control (which I do on my PC immediately after installation since I’m clued up enough to know what I want to do and how to do it), you’re hardly ever bugged with administrative rights again.  It assumes that you are running most things as Administrator.  Not so with Windows 8.  I have to manually elevate every app that I run to administrator, or configure it to automatically do so in Compatibility settings.  I’m sure there has to be a way around this problem, but I couldn’t figure it out yet.
  2. Metro apps don’t close.  You can’t click a little red “X” or something to make it go away; you have to Alt-Tab to switch to another app, or Alt-F4 to make it disappear, but when you look at your Metro Start, you will see that it’s actually still running in the background.  They say that this is because Microsoft developed a new dynamic resource control system.  Literally, Windows 8 allows the apps to remain open in the background, but limits the amount of CPU and RAM it uses to a bare minimum, making it scale very well.  It seems to be working well; I’m just a control freak.
  3. Windows Activation was a bit of a drag for me.  I think this might be a problem only with VLK editions (not 100% sure though), but I couldn’t just activate.  I had to use an elevated command prompt and run a script to first change my product key, and then to activate.  (I will post more about this later.)
  4. Windows 8 is very internet-reliant.  For example, to install .Net 3.5 you have to be connected to the internet (or use a workaround that I will tell you about in the next few days), and that’s a bit of a problem for many people.  For example, a friend of mine has a Vodafone 3G dongle, using Vodafone Mobile Connect software, as his only internet connection.  The VMC software needs .Net 3.5 installed.  And .Net 3.5 needs the internet to install.  I manually downloaded the .Net installer, but it still wouldn’t install in Windows 8 without either an internet connection or the workaround that I found.  This is a little bit stupid, in my opinion.
  5. I have experienced some slight problems with the 64-bit edition.  I suspect this is more of a driver issue than anything else, but I installed the 64-bit edition on a PC, and the display was distorted and full of lines.  After installation it wouldn’t even boot up.  So I tried the 32-bit edition and it worked perfectly.  So I’m not sure if I can lay the blame for this one at Microsoft’s feet, but it’s a problem either way.

So, to summarize: despite a few problems and issues, I am a very happy Windows 8 user.  I won’t go back to 7; I see no reason to.  Windows 8 provides me with a very pleasant computing experience, and I’m looking forward to more!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

How To Keep Your Passwords Secure

My Facebook account was hacked this week.  Again.  That’s the third time now.  This time someone posted some rather rude comments about the size of certain female body parts.  Which isn’t like me.  Though I do appreciate the female body, and all its parts, I specifically like them on MY WIFE, and find it very rude when people talk about them in public.  So my password was definitely hacked.  And trust me, I use very secure passwords.

So I decided that, in all probability, this post is justified.  Here are a few ways to make (and keep) all of your online accounts secure.

  1. Don’t “Keep me logged in”.  EVER.  Most sites have the ability to do that these days, which could be very convenient.  It uses cookies on your system that “remembers” your username and password and the fact that you’re logged in, so the next time you connect it automatically takes you into your account.  The problem is, many people tick that box out of habit, and then they tick it at work, at school, at a friend’s house, etc.  Quite a few people have found their Facebook statuses changed to “I’m gay” because of this…
  2. Always log out.  This is just an extension of the first tip.  If you are no longer logged in, people can’t gain access to your account to manually reset your password or change anything.
  3. Don’t use the “Log in using Facebook / Twitter / Google / Whatever” feature.  Many websites allow you to log into their own sites using your social networks’ login details, saving you the trouble of creating yet another account (9gag.com, for example, does this).  But this is a big security risk.  Do you really know who the people at the other end are?  Or how secure their server is?  You can never be too safe.
  4. Create a secure password.  Make your password as long as you can, with a combination of letters, numbers, and other characters.  This doesn’t have to be as complicated as it sounds.  You can take a word or phrase and make some subtle changes to it.  For example, let’s say you use the phrase “Lourens is an awesome guy” (yes, I know, I’m incredibly humble).  Change that slightly and make it “l0ur3n5!5@n@w3s0m3guy”.  There’s a 21-character password that won’t be too difficult to remember, but a nightmare to hack!
  5. Remember that no password is ever 100% secure, so change it regularly.  How regularly?  That depends.  My previous Facebook password was 16 characters long and very strong, a combination of letters, numbers and characters.  It was hacked after about 12 months.  So don’t EVER think that you’re safe!  The hackers are always working, so to quote Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody: “Constant Vigilance!!”

There you go.  Five very simple steps to keep your online accounts and profiles safe and private.  A secure password is the first step to a secure online presence.  Make sure that you’re safe!

Until next time, BE the miracle.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Ridiculous Apple Lawsuits?

I don’t know about you guys, but I am starting to find Apple’s lawsuits ridiculous.
No, I’m not dissing the iPhone, iPad, iPod, iMac, or iAnything.  They are all good products, if possibly a bit overpriced (and in some cases slightly impractical in South Africa).
For those who don’t know, let me share a bit of background.  Apple as a company are notorious for their lawsuits.  And I mean they’re notorious even by American standards (and that’s saying something).  Back in the days of the big PC boom (almost 30 years ago) this all started when Apple sued Microsoft for “stealing their design” (the graphic user interface and mouse), but in fact both Apple and Microsoft got those ideas from Xerox, who designed it.  Later Apple changed their approach and sued Microsoft for stealing their GUI design and violating their working agreement (because Microsoft had secretly been developing Windows).
This just carried on and on and on.  Some of the companies in Apple’s list of targets over the years include AT&T, Apple Corps (a record label founded by the Beatles), Cisco, New York City (“The Big Apple” – yes I’m serious!!), Woolworths, Amazon, Hewlett-Packard, eMachines, HTC, and most recently Samsung.
Over the last few months some people have even been saying that Apple can’t come up with any original ideas anymore, so they decided to rather start making money through lawsuits.  Though it’s usually said as a joke, I’m afraid that there is an undertone of “it’s not impossible” in there somewhere.  Let’s face it, they haven’t really come up with anything exciting since Steve Jobs’ death.
Yes, I understand that Apple Inc. is known as an aggressive protector of its intellectual property rights.  But could there be a fine line between intellectual property and craziness?  The internet is full of jokes about the subject these days.  This just proves how ridiculous it has become.
I will end off today’s post with some of my favourite “Apple Lawsuit Memes”.  Enjoy!
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And one of the bests, that’s a bit to big to post here: http://9gag.com/gag/5250310