Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Continuing Continuum


If you haven't seen Continuum yet, what's stopping you?

Well, if you were worried about emotionally investing in a Canadian cable sci-fi show, and I don't blame you in that regard, there's one less reason to worry; Showcase has ordered a second season!

So far I have found Continuum to be smart and (relatively) hard hitting.  This is not your average feel good science fantasy, nor is it just about beautiful people running around in the adventure of the week (although Rachel Nichols is rather attractive. . . ).  There are real issues being explored here such as the nature of terrorism, the rising power of mega-rich corporations, and ultimately the nature of good and evil and our ability to differentiate between them.  For example, Kiera (Nichols) is an agent of the future corporate 'government' and she strives to uphold the law and bring the terrorists to justice.  However, through her eyes, we see more and more reason to doubt just how just the system is that she works for.  Her intentions are righteous, but is her effort misplaced?

Yes, the show is also about time travel.  But like all good science fiction*, the science is just there to help amplify relevant themes from our current time, to dissect them and offer them up for closer examination by the consumer.

I applaud that this show is actually set in Canada.  You'd be amazed how many television shows, especially Sci-fi ones, are made here.  Speaking of Stargate Smiley, fans of that TV series should easily recognize two of the stars of Continuum: Lexa Doig and Tony Amendola (one of them is married to fellow Stargate SG1 alum Michael Shanks, I'll let you guess which Smiley).

*That is not to say that I dislike 'hard' science fiction, just that I prefer a bit more social and philisophical speculation to go along with the technical manual of the future.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Another Disappointment From Kobo


I try so hard not to be negative, yet it seems inevitable that every post I make these days is critical.  Perhaps that is why I have not been posting much lately.

Moving along now, it's been a little over a year since I bought my Kobo Touch.  Coincidentally, Firmware 2.0.0 has, at long last, appeared.  Is this a good thing?  You decide.

New Features:
- Custom Shelves (finally)
- The Home screen now has a single carousel (although they kept the wrong one and hid the wishlist again)
- Adjustable font weights (Currently works for most of Kobo's font's but does not work for sideloaded fonts and, in fact, breaks them (see below under Newly Broken Features))
- French Dictionary
- Switch between accounts on your Kobo

New 'Features':
- Improved custom recommendations (i.e. Better Spying)
- Pin books to your Wishlist so you can buy them later (With an obtrusive link on the Home page)
- Find books similar to the ones in your library (Also with an obtrusive link on the Home page)

Newly Broken Features:
- Sideloaded fonts are set to the lowest possible weight with no way to adjust them
- The clock is now buried within a menu, even when reading
- The wishlist hearts no longer work
- Page turns in sideloaded books are now much slower

Still Missing:
- Proper Library sorting options (genre, length, etc.)
- Support for book series
- User adjustable first line indent options
- A Bug free experience

Please Note: This upgrade is known to brick some Kobos.  In fact, the firmware is no longer being pushed to devices until they get it working.

Personally, I'm quite glad that I didn't download this 'upgrade'.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

OtterBox Disappoints Again


So, it seems OtterBox will not be releasing the Defender series case for my phone after all.  Thanks a bunch, guys.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

OtterBox Blues


I eagerly anticipated the arrival of an OtterBox protective case for my new Samsung smartphone.  My sister has one for her phone which is similar to mine.  The phone, that is.  Amongst all the rave reviews I had heard about the OtterBox, not once did I hear that there are two type of OtterBox cases: The Defender Series and the Commuter Series.  I received the latter.

As I opened the box I saw right away that this one was different.  I had been expecting a front and a back that snap together with a built in screen cover.  What I got instead was a rubber layer that grabs the sides and covers the back, a hard plastic layer that covers most of the rubber, and a separate stick-on screen protector.  First disappointment.

"Oh well," I thought.  "Lets try it."

I have one of these sticker type screen protectors on my Kobo Touch, so I'm familiar with the concept.  This one refused to go on straight.  It is also very under-size, the edges of the sticker clearly visible all the way around.  It looks cheap!

Worse still, where the Kobo has a matte screen, my phone has a very glossy screen.  Every flaw in the application is immediately and glaringly obvious.  I have tried cleaning and reapplying the protector four times now.  Somehow a little speck of dust always finds it's way under there.

I would be tempted to just go without the sticker except for three things.  One, the rubber forms a wavy frame around the screen.  Two, the plastic has rough unfinished edges.  And three, most infuriatingly, the screen on my phone (supposedly made of scratch proof glass) already has scratches. . .

I'm done.  This one goes back tomorrow.  I hope the Defender is better because these are supposed to be the best cases available.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Angry Birds In Space


Hmm, Angry Birds goes retro sci-fi. . .

Yesterday I downloaded the demo for Angry Birds: Space.  I admit that I did so with some prejudice, expecting perhaps a simple palette swap.  Afterall, as Penny-Arcade so aptly illustrated, how could the usual sling shot physics work in space?

Well, I'm happy to report that it does work!  While there are some levels where gravity plays no role, most levels are built around small planetoids complete with their own gravity and atmosphere.  This makes for some complex and interesting trajectories.  Rovio has added a short predictive line to the interface to help you place your shot, but the larger and more complex the level, the less this line will help.

The atmosphere is an interesting element.  Mostly it serves to show where the effect of gravity begins, but it also is essential to the pigs who can not survive in the vacuum of space.  There is no explanation as to how the birds are able to survive in space (or why the slingshot's planetoid does not have gravity), but pigs must either live within a planetoid's atmosphere or within a small bubble of air.  Should that bubble pop, the pig will flash freeze and then shatter.

The pigs in bubbles, especially when placed above the atmosphere of a planetoid, are oddly reminiscent of the star child from 2001: A Space Odyssey.  On some levels though, the bubbles are given antennae and are clearly meant to represent old school space helmets.

As an added bonus, you can pop the bubbles on the level selection menu and freeze the pigs there as well.

There has been a sprite swap for the birds in order to bring the retro sci-fi theme together.  The red birds have been given a black mask, the blue birds a lightning cap.  The yellow birds, which are not used in the demo but shown in the cut-scene, are now purple with a Cyclops-esque visor.  The black birds have been dressed in orange suits with wide round collar and they have been given a ponytail that is lit on fire like a fuse.  The big red birds, which also do not feature in the demo, are now big green birds (no relation to boomerang birds).

There is also a bonus level included with the demo that pays tribute to Space Invaders.

Final Thoughts

I installed and played this demo on my computer.  I'm not sure how these expansive levels will look on a tiny iPhone or smaller android phone.

There also seemed to be a long wait at the end of the level of each level.  Presumably this is due to the complex physics.

All in all, I'd say that this is a great addition to the Angry Birds franchise.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Read an E-Book Week


Just a heads up, this is currently Read an E-Book Week. Go on over to the website to find links to a large number of free eBooks.

Ebook Giveaway


Michael A. Stackpole is giving away ebook versions of A Gathering Evil through Amazon for one day only. Open to all world regions!