Planetary Annihilation Screenshot Wallpaper Commander Termintated

Planetary Annihilation: Unleash the Spam.

Total Annihilation was probably one of my favourite games when it was first released 17 years ago. It wasn’t the massive swarms of units, or the epic scale of the battles, no I loved building up the superpower units that could decimate an entire army in one fell swoop. I’d spend hours crafting the perfect base, one that no one could break through so I could sit there crafting my doomsday weapon. I even downloaded TAUIP to give me even more units and a better AI, sending me further down the TA rabbit hole. It’s spiritual successor, Supreme Commander, was also one of my favourites, even if the sequel fell short. You can then imagine my excitement when I saw the Planetary Annihilation Kickstarter which I couldn’t back fast enough. Here we are, 2 years later, and Planetary Annihilation has finally launched and I’ve spent the last week playing through it.

Planetary Annihilation Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

Humanity has long since left this universe. You are a relic of a war that has long since past, a machine built with a single purpose in mind: to annihilate everything that stands in your path. You will travel to the far reaches of space, seeking out new technology that you’ll incorporate into your unrelenting war. However your foes have the same goal and they will stop at nothing to ensure that you are wiped off the face of this universe permanently. Do you have the strength and skills to beat them before they get the better of you? Or will you fall to the same unrelenting fervour that you are a slave to?

Visually Planetary Annihilation is definitely a step up from its predecessor (for the sake of argument I’m going to say that’s Supreme Commander 2) although the art direction now tends towards the stylized/cartoony. Considering the purpose of Planetary Annihilation this isn’t much of a surprise as one of the long running problems with any of the Annihilation series was that performance often suffered the longer the game went on. Suffice to say that even with the slight improvements it still manages to remain quite smooth over the course of longer games. The interface is also much more streamlined, making it far easier to get acquainted with everything than it was in previous titles.

Planetary Annihilation Screenshot Wallpaper Commander Termintated

Like previous installations in the Annihilation series Planetary Annihilation puts you in charge of a single unit, the Commander, to start off with and then lets you loose upon a world to build an army to destroy your foes. However you’re now no longer constrained to just a single planet, escalating the potential warfare to planetary levels. This introduces a whole host of new mechanics like orbital units, teleporters and whole planets which can be used as weapons. Notably absent from the game however is the inclusion of a single player story campaign which has been replaced by a procedurally generated series of AI skirmishes called Galactic War. Finally there’s multiplayer to be had which is likely where most people will be spending their time, although it’s done in the older style of “find a lobby to join” rather than the newer style matchmaking.

Long time fans of the Annihilation series will be instantly familiar with the core gameplay of Planetary Annihilation as all the units are essentially the same with your standard air/vehicle/bot/naval choices immediately available from your commander. The tech trees have been reduced from 3 tiers to 2 which significantly reduces the number of units you’ll have at your disposal. However this is made up for by the inclusion of the new types of units and was probably done because you’ll likely be splitting your concentration across multiple planets with multiple warfronts. The same mechanics are at play, you’ll need metal and energy in order to be able build things, however they have also been streamlined with only 2 types of energy generators and metal extractors. So overall the gameplay is largely similar but streamlined with a few mechanics thrown in to elevate the combat to a planetary scale.

Planetary Annihilation Screenshot Wallpaper Work Work

However unlike previous Annihilation titles there’s no factions to speak of so all the units are exactly the same for every player. For me this was one of the defining features of the Annihilation series as it meant that each race had it’s own strengths and weaknesses and different strategies were needed to cope with each different race. In Planetary Annihilation that’s not the case however and all you really need to do is figure out what kind of units your opponent is building and make the counter to them. This, especially when competing against the AI, means that the game favours those who rush their opponents with swarms of a certain mix of units early, even more so when you’re on the same planet. Indeed there are very few opportunities to craft super units that can devastate armies, a trademark of the Annihilation series, thus eliminating much of the strategy that I came to love about these games.

In fact I think this is reflected in one key metric: the length of each game. Games in Total Annihilation and Supreme Commander could easily go on for hours as everyone tried various tactics against each other, all the while hoping to build that one unit or structure that would give them the upper hand. In Planetary Annihilation most games will go for 20 to 30 minutes before it’s obvious who’s going to win. Again this was something that I loved about the Annihilation series as it always felt more strategic rather than tactical and was the primary reason many disliked Supreme Commander 2. The planetary scope had a lot of potential to recapture that feeling that so many previous Annihilation titles had but it unfortunately fell way short of the mark.

Planetary Annihilation Screenshot Wallpaper Metal Planet

This is only exacerbated by the incredibly lackluster single player campaign. Whilst the idea behind Galactic War sounded good on paper in practice it’s not much more than one AI skirmish after another, ones that are either easily won within the first 10 minutes or others which are an uphill battle due to the fact that the AI is given a head start over you. It’s made worse by the fact that you can get shoehorned by the technology that you collect during the various missions, sometimes putting you in a spot that’s nigh on impossible to bypass. Like, for instance, if you’ve got all naval and air tech but the enemy starts on another planet you’re likely sweet out of luck as you won’t be able to use the teleporter to get them across. Instead you’ll have to rely on shooting nukes over there and hope that they haven’t got more anti-nuke facilities than you have missiles.

There’s also some niggling issues around the game itself. If you start an AI skirmish or Galactic War there’s no way to restart a battle if it isn’t going your way so you’ll have to quit and restart Planetary Annihilation in order to start over again. I can somewhat understand that not being in the Galactic War (if it’s meant to be a Roguelike experience, although I have no idea if that’s the case) but for AI skirmishes it seems like a really glaring omission. Things like that are supposed to be about testing builds or trying out units that you haven’t seen before and so restarting the battle quickly and easily is key to that. Having to boot the game over every time you want to do that is a right pain in the ass and not something I expected from veteran developers like Uber Entertainment.

Planetary Annihilation Screenshot Wallpaper Victory

Planetary Annihilation feels like a game that’s still in beta mode, lacking the polish of it’s spiritual predecessors and ultimately failing to deliver on the tried and true Annihilation franchise experience. The core aspects of the series are there, the massive units, larger than life scale, etc. but the game itself just doesn’t play like the titles of yore. This isn’t a case of the game not living up to the hype, after backing the game I ignored pretty much everything to do with it until I heard of the official release, more that too many things of what made the previous Annihilation titles good have been left out and what remains just isn’t enough. I really wanted to love Planetary Annihilation but it just feels like the official launch came way before it was ready for primetime with a lot more work to be done before I can say that it’s up to the calibre of its predecessors.

Rating: 6.5/10

Planetary Annihilation is available on PC right now for $29.99. Total play time was 6 hours. The writer backed this game on Kickstarter at the $250 pledge level.

The Speed of Light vs The Speed of Sound.

There’s a saying that goes “The speed of light is greater than the speed of sound, which is why some people appear bright before they open their mouths”. Whilst I’m sure that we can all remember someone who fits that description exactly not many people appreciate just how vast the difference is between the speed of light really is. Indeed in everyday life you can pretty much consider light to travel instantaneously since it could reach any point on earth in under a millisecond. That also means that visually observed phenomena can help us determine other things, like how far away the boat in the below video was from the volcano that erupted:

From the first point where you can see the eruption beginning to the time when the shockwave hits the camera approximately 13 seconds elapses. Taking into account that the speed of sound in air (roughly 341 m/s, although it could be slightly faster depending on the temperature) that gives us an approximate distance of 4.4 km from the eruption site. To put that in perspective the light that brought the picture traveled the same distance in about 0.01 milliseconds, an imperceptibly short amount of time. If you were so inclined you could also figure out all sorts of other kinds of information from this video (like the height of the plume, it’s velocity, etc.) but they’re an exercise I’ll leave up to the reader.

This video also showcases one of the coolest (in my opinion) visual phenomena related to massive explosions like this. You can see the shock wave propagating out from the epicenter very clearly, something which always happens but isn’t usually visible to the naked eye. Here you can see it travelling outwards thanks to it compressing the air in front of it which changes the refractive index of light. With explosions of this magnitude the amount of compression, and the resulting shock wave, are enough to produce a significant bend in the light passing through it.

I probably wouldn’t want to be that close to the explosion though!

NASA Commerical Crew Transportation Program

NASA’s Choice of Chariot: SpaceX and Boeing.

As of right now there’s only one way to get humans into space: on board a Russian Soyuz craft. It’s an incredibly reliable spacecraft, and probably one of the longest serving spacecraft ever, however it’s ability to only send up 3 astronauts at a time does limit it’s capabilities. Couple that with the fact that the going rate for a seat on one of them is about $70 million you can imagine why there’s an imperative on NASA to find another way to get themselves up there. Whilst there’s been a lot of internal work to develop the next generation of crew transportation NASA has realised that the private space industry will very soon have that capability. To that effect they created the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCTCap) award, a $6.8 billion dollar contract to provide crew transportation services.

Today they announced the winners: SpaceX and Boeing.

NASA Commerical Crew Transportation Program

The contract split gives $2.6 billion to SpaceX and $4.2 billion to Boeing. Considering NASA’s long relationship with Boeing it’s not surprising that they got a larger chunk of the pie (and the fact that they’ve already sunk about half a billion into the program already) however I’m sure SpaceX won’t be unhappy with that much business coming their way. Both companies are already well underway with their respective crew transports, Boeing with the CST-100 and SpaceX with the Dragon, which is likely why they were chosen in the first place. This program won’t replace the work that’s currently being done by NASA with the Orion capsule (under contract with Lockheed Martin) and will instead function as a supplement to that capability.

Being awarded work under CCTCap isn’t all roses however as NASA is looking to have at least one of the capsules up and running by 2017. That largely lines up with the timelines that SpaceX has for their Dragon capsule, with the first flights scheduled for late next year with crewed missions to follow shortly after. As to how that fits with the current CST-100 schedule is less clear as whilst there’s been some mockup tests done a couple years ago I haven’t seen much progress on it since. Boeing isn’t the same kind of company that SpaceX is though so there’s every possibility that the CST-100 is just as far along its development pipeline as the Dragon is. Still the CCTCap only calls for one of them to be ready by that time and if I was a betting man my money would be on SpaceX.

Both company’s solutions are of the reusable capsule variety which might seem a step backwards but it’s actually the smarter way to do space travel, especially if cost is a primary factor. The Space Shuttle, whilst iconic in its shape and unmatched in its capabilities, was a compromise between far too many objectives that were at odds with each other. If you’re goal is just getting people up and down then capsules are the way to go. It will be interesting to see if the economies of scale kick in with these craft as the Dragon is designed to be launched many times per year and the CST-100 can be reused up to 10 times before it needs a full teardown.

Needless to say this is an incredibly exciting announcement. I’ve long been of the mind that NASA should leave things like this to the private companies who can deliver the same service at a much better price without compromising on saftey. That then leaves them free to do the big picture stuff that will inspire the next generation, the kinds of things that we all remember the NASA name for. The CCTCap is the first step towards them rekindling that spirit and, as an avid space geek, that makes me so wonderfully happy.

PlayStation 4 See The Future

It’s Been Almost a Year, But My PS4 is Finally Getting Used.

Ever since I bought my PlayStation4 a year ago it’s sat there next to my TV, begging me to play it. The problem is that pretty much every game that I would play on it has also been available on PC and since that’s my platform of choice the PS4 unfortunately falls by the wayside. It also doesn’t help that the one launch title that I wanted to play, The Witness, has since been delayed to “when it’s done” status which means we’re not likely to see it for some time to come. However one of my mates convinced me to go and play Destiny with him and since it won’t be available on PC for sometime I figured this would be a good chance to give the PS4 a burl.

PlayStation 4 See The FutureFor starters it seems that the PS4 exhibits some rather strange behaviours when it’s not connected to the PSN, usually when it requires an update. I was trying to put the disc in to get everything going but, for some reason, it just wouldn’t grab it. I’m not sure if this is because Sony don’t want you installing games offline or something like that, but it was rather frustrating to see what I had assumed would be default functionality turned off when it couldn’t contact home. A quick Google shows that this particular issue has plagued others as well, although what leads to it happening seems to be somewhat random.

Another gripe I have is the game installation and update process. Whilst the initial installation seems to be relatively painless (it just does it in the background) the update process is rather cumbersome. You’ll automatically get any updates for the game added to your download queue however you don’t apply them from within the game. Instead you have to wait for the download to finish, find the download (a chore in of itself) and then tell it to apply. You can’t simply sit in the game, watch the download and then apply the update from there like you could with the PS3. Honestly it feels like a huge step backward in terms of usability and I’m not hopeful that it will ever get changed if it’s still like this almost a year down the track.

The gaming experience is pretty good, however. It didn’t take long for me to get into a party with my mate and to get voice chat going although the quality of the included mono headset is probably about as mediocre as you can get. I was somewhat sceptical about the new controller design, it looked a little goofy, however it does feel very comfortable in the hands. The stick buttons were a little hard to push down (a little annoying as that’s sprint in Destiny) but that might just be them needing a little breaking in before they become usable. I didn’t get a chance to check out the inbuilt sharing features unfortunately as that’s something I definitely want to see in action.

I’ll probably touch more on the PS4 experience in the greater Destiny review (coming in the next couple weeks) however my first impressions are good, if marred by some issues that really should have been sorted out by this point in time. Whilst I lament the fact that it’s sat there for the better part of a year unused I’m at least somewhat happy that it has managed to provide a good gaming experience once I did find a title for it. I’ll develop a more fully formed opinion of it whilst I bash my way through Destiny and will hopefully be finally able to tell you if it’s worth buying or not.

Better late than never, right?

 

Tailoring Stuff

When Will Buying Clothing Online be as Good as Offline?

I’m not exactly what you’d call a fashionista, the ebbs and flows of what’s current often pass me by, but I do have my own style which I usually refresh on a yearly basis. More recently this has tended towards my work attire, mostly because I spend a great deal more time in it than I did previously. However the act of shopping for clothes is one I like to avoid as I find it tiresome, especially when trying to find the right sizes to fit my not-so-normal dimensions. Thus I’ve recently turned towards custom services and tailoring in order to get what I want in the sizes that fit me but, if I’m honest, the online world still seems to be light years behind that which I can get from the more traditional fashion outlets.

Tailoring Stuff

For instance one of the most frustrating pieces of clothing for me to buy is business shirts. Usually they fall short in one of my three key categories (length, sleeve length and fit in the mid section) so I figured that getting some custom made would be a great way to go. So I decided that I’d last out for a couple shirts from 2 online retailers, Original Stitch and Shirts My Way, to see if I could get something that would tick all 3 categories. I was also going to do a review of them against each other to see which one of the retailers provided the better fit and would thus become my defacto supplier of shirts for the foreseeable future. However upon receiving both shirts I was greeted with the unfortunate reality: they both sucked.

They seemed to get some of the things right, like the neck size and overall shirt length, however they both seemed to be made to fit someone who weighed about 40kg more than I do with the mid section being like a tent. Both of them also had ridiculously billowy sleeves, making my arms appear to be twice as wide as they should be. I kind of expected something like this to happen with Original Stitch, since their measurements aren’t exactly comprehensive, but Shirts My Way also suffered from the same issues even though I followed their guidelines exactly. Comparing this to the things I’ve had fitted or tailored in the past I was extremely disappointed as I was expecting as good or better service.

The problem could be partially solved by technology as 3D scanning could provide extremely accurate sizing that online stores could then incorporate in order to ensure you got the right fit the first time around. In fact I’d argue that there should be some kind of open standard for this, allowing all the various companies to develop their brand of solutions for it that would be interoperable between different clothing companies. That is something of a pipe dream, I know, but I can’t be the only person who has had this kind of frustration trying to get the right fits from online retailers.

I guess for now I should just stick with the tried and true methods for getting the clothing that I want as the online experience, whilst infinitely more convenient, ultimately delivers a lacklustre product. I’m hopeful that change is coming although it’s going to take time for it to become widespread and I’m sure that there won’t be any standards across the industry for a long time after that. Maybe one day I’ll be able to order the right fits from the comfort of my own home but, unfortunately, that day is not today.

The Sims 4 Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

The Sims 4: Narcissim Simulator 2014

The Sims have always been something of an anomaly. The game play really is unlike anything else on the market, putting you in charge of a virtual household and the residents that dwell within. Whilst many players quickly devolve into seeing how much pain and suffering they can inflict on their poor subjects just as many attempt to provide the best life possible for them. Most interestingly it’s one of the very few games where the player base is predominantly female, representing a staggering 60% of the total. This is not to say it’s squarely aimed at that demographic, far from it, as it appears to have widespread appeal across all the world. The latest release, predictably dubbed The Sims 4, comes 5 years after the release of its predecessor and brings with it a vast number of improvements to the tried and true franchise.

The Sims 4 Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

As with all previous The Sims titles you’re the mysterious god that floats about the world that the Sims dwell within, guiding their actions when their less-than-stellar AI behaviour falls short. Depending on how you crafted your Sim they’ll have different wants, needs and career paths in life and it’ll be your job to ensure that they can meet all of them. Along the way you’ll interact with dozens of other Sims, forming relationships, breaking others and engaging in other humanesque behaviours. What kind of Sim will you create? The rich and handsome playboy that could have everything he wants? Or the struggling single parent who wants nothing more than to see their child succeed? All of this, and so much more, is possible within the world of the Sims.

The Sims has never been a graphical masterpiece, preferring simplicity so that the game would run well on almost any PC that you could throw at it. The Sims 4 continues this tradition as the graphics, whilst vastly improved over its predecessors, are still fairly rudimentary. There’s been improvements in the lighting engine, higher polycount models and better textures to be seen everywhere but they’ve still been heavily stylized to give it a cartoony feel. The Sims 4 keeps the same visual aesthetic that the previous titles had with the clean interface design that favours solid, clear cut colours. Overall it’s pretty much what you’d expect from a Sims game so no disappointments here.

The Sims 4 Review Screenshot Wallpaper Out on a Date

Like the previous Sims titles The Sims 4 puts you, initially, in charge of a single Sim that you craft through a rather detailed process. In there you select traits, characteristics and aspirations which define who your Sim will be in this world. Then you’re given a token amount of money and let loose to find a property or lot that you want to purchase. You’ll need to make some tough decisions here though as your choice of house, and the fixtures contained within it, will have a direct effect on how your Sim fairs. Once you’re in your new house you’ll unlock a veritable cornucopia of different things to do, all of which have some form of impact on your Sims mood, desires and needs. All of the activities that you’ll do will feel familiar to long term Sims players although the breadth of what’s possible has increased significantly.

One thing that I feel bears mentioning is just how well designed the new interface is. My vague memories of The Sims 3 reminded me that it took quite a long time to figure out where everything was, drastically increasing the time it took me to get anything done in that world. By comparison The Sims 4 interface is amazing with everything being readily discoverable and being incredibly easy to use. The search and rooms features on the construction menu are fantastic, allowing you to easily track down the exact product you’re looking for without wrestling with the interface. After about an hour I was pretty confident I had a grasp on pretty much everything with the few finer points covered off in help tips whenever I came across them.

The Sims 4 Review Screenshot Wallpaper DIGITAL SPORTS

The core game play aspects of the Sims series are present in The Sims 4, giving you a variety of different objectives complete. Whilst there are some staple things you have to accomplish in order to keep your Sim happy, like feeding them or making sure they use the bathroom before its too late, you’re pretty free to pursue whatever you want at your own leisure. I primarily like to produce career focused Sims and so my playtime usually revolves around that. However if that’s not your style there’s plenty of other things to keep you occupied although, honestly, I couldn’t really tell you much about the things outside the career focused ones.

And yes getting someone to move in with you is a career choice (don’t have to leave the house for the social need, score!).

Like most Sims games it’s pretty easy to cheese your way through certain things if you make a few key decisions in the right way. For instance, if you’re so inclined, purchasing the best sink you can get means your Sims barely have to shower as simply washing your hands will keep them going for a very long time. Similarly you can eliminate a lot of wasted time by cooking party sized meals and just eating them over and over again. Indeed your Sims don’t seem to get tired of eating the same thing repeatedly and once your cooking skill is high enough they’re just as satisfied with eggs on toast as they are with a gourmet blackened salmon dish.

The Sims 4 Review Screenshot Wallpaper Sit Ups in the Bathroom

In fact that’s probably my biggest gripe with The Sims 4. Whilst there might be a huge variety in what you can do it all starts to feel really samey after a not too long period of time. This becomes all too obvious when you’re trying to befriend someone and you’re constantly spamming all the different options with the results usually being the same gibberish response and a ++ in the friendly column. This is usually when most people start to unleash their sadistic side on their Sims, removing doors, making prisons or denying them food and facilities until something horrible happens. I’ll admit that I was too attached to mine to do anything (I even enabled cheats to reverse the aging of one of my Sims, forgetting that you can turn that off in the options menu) but I can’t say I wasn’t tempted.

There seems to be a lot of gripes circling the Internet regarding the features that have been taken out, like toddlers and pools, as well as the somewhat unusual decision to not send out review copies. I think most of these criticisms are valid as whilst there does seem to be a lot to do in The Sims 4 it does feel a little limited compared to my vague memories of its predecessor. In all honesty it didn’t affect my playthrough too much (although I’d love multiplayer in this) but then again I wouldn’t consider myself the biggest Sims fan out there. Indeed I doubt I’ll barely touch it past this review as I’ve pretty much done all I really wanted to do in it.

The Sims 4 Review Screenshot Wallpaper Dave Pops The Question

The Sims 4 is an evolutionary step forward for the Sims franchise, bringing with it all the trimmings you’d expect for recent release of this classic series. The graphics, interface and overall playability has been greatly increased making it much less of a chore to get into than previous entrants into this series were. There’s an incredible amount of depth to the mechanics that made it into the game however the criticisms around lack of content and certain features do feel like valid concerns to me. Overall I enjoyed my time with The Sims 4 and whilst I won’t be sinking many more hours into it I’m sure fans of the series will get a lot of enjoyment out of it.

Rating: 7.5/10

The Sims 4 is available on PC right now $89.95. Total play time was 8 hours.

BBC Derp

The BBC Thinks all VPN Users are Pirates.

If you want Netflix in Australia there’s really only one way to do it: get yourself a VPN with an endpoint in the states. That’s not an entirely difficult process, indeed many of my less tech savvy friends have managed to accomplish it without any panicked phone calls to me. The legality of doing that is something I’m not qualified to get into but since there hasn’t been a massive arrest spree of nefarious VPN users I can’t imagine it’s far outside the bounds of law. Indeed you couldn’t really do that unless you also cracked down on the more legitimate users of VPN services, like businesses and those with regulatory commitments around protecting customer data. However if you’d ask the BBC users of VPNs are nothing but dirty pirates and it’s our ISP’s job to snoop on them.

BBC Derp

In a submission to the Australian Government, presumably under the larger anti-piracy campaign that Brandis is heading, the BBC makes a whole list of suggestions as to how they should go about combating Australia’s voracious appetite for purloined content. Among the numerous points is the notion that a lot of pirates now use a VPN to hide their nefarious activities. In the BBC’s world ISPs would take this as a kind of black flag, signalling that any heavy VPN user was likely also engaging in copyright infringement. They’d then be subject to the woeful idea of having their Internet slowed down or cut off, presumably if they couldn’t somehow prove that it was legitimate. Even though they go on to talk about false positives the ideas they discuss in their submission are fucking atrocious and I hope they never see the light of day.

I have the rather fortunate (or unfortunate, depending on how you look at it) ability of being able to do my work from almost anywhere I choose, including my home. This does mean that I have to VPN back into the mothership in order to get access to my email, chat and all other corporate resources which can’t be made available over the regular Internet. Since I do a lot of this at home under the BBC’s suggestion I’d probably be flagged as a potential pirate and be subject to measures to curb my behaviour. Needless to say I don’t think I’m particularly unique in this either so there’s vast potential for numerous false positives to spring up under this system.

Worse still all of those proposed measures fall on the ISP’s shoulders to design, implement and enforce. Not only would this put an undue burden on them, which they’d instantly pass onto us in the form of increased prices, it would also make them culpable when an infringing user figured out how to defeat their monitoring system. Now everyone knows that it doesn’t take long for people to circumvent these systems which, again, increases pressure on the ISPs to implement even more invasive and draconian systems. It’s a slippery slope that we really shouldn’t be going down.

Instead of constantly looking towards the stick as the solution to Australia’s piracy woes it’s time for companies, and the Australian government, to start looking at the carrot. Start looking at incentives for rights holders to license content in Australia or mandating that we get the same content at the same time for the same price as it is elsewhere. The numerous Netflix users in Australia shows there’s demand for such a service, we just need it to match the same criteria that customers overseas expect. Once we get that I’m sure you’ll see a massive reduction in the amount of piracy in Australia, coupled with the increase in sales that the right’s holders seem so desperate to protect.

Apple Watch Space Black

Now We Can Stop Talking About the iWatch.

I honestly couldn’t tell you how long I’ve been hearing people talk about Apple getting into the smartwatch business. It seemed every time that WWDC or any other Apple event rolled around there’d be another flurry of speculation as to what their wearable would be. Like most rumours details on it were scant and so the Internet, as always, circlejerked itself into a frenzy about a product that might not have even been in development. In the absence of a real product competitors stepped up to the plate and, to their credit, the devices have started to look more compelling. Well today Apple finally announced their Watch and it’s decidedly mediocre.

Apple Watch Space Black

For starters it makes the same mistake that many smartwatches do: it follows the current design trend for nearly all other smartwatches. Partly this is due to the nature of LCD screens being rectangular, limiting what you can do with them, however for a company like Apple you’d expect them to buck the trend a bit. Instead you’ve got what looks like an Apple-ized version of the Pebble Steel, not entirely unpleasing but at the same time feeling incredibly bland. I guess if you’re a fan of having a shrunken iPhone on your wrist then the style will appeal to you but honestly smartwatches which look like smartwatches are a definite turn off for me and I know I’m not alone in thinking this.

Details as to what’s actually under the hood of this thing are scarce, probably because unlike most devices Apple announces you won’t be able to get your hands on this one right away. Instead you’ll be waiting until after March next year to get your hands on one and the starting price is somewhere on the order of $350. That’s towards the premium end of the smartwatch spectrum, something which shouldn’t be entirely unexpected, and could be indicative of the overall quality of the device. Indeed what little details they’ve let slip do seem to indicate it’s got some decent materials science behind it (both in the sapphire screen and the case metals) which should hopefully make it a more durable device.

Feature wise it’s pretty much as you’d expect, sporting the usual array of notifications pushed from your phone alongside a typical array of sensors. Apple did finally make its way into the world of NFC today, both with the Apple Watch and the new iPhone, so you’ll be able to load up your credit card details into it and use the watch to make payments. Honestly that’s pretty cool, and definitely something I’d like to see other smartwatch manufacturers emulate, although I’m not entirely hopeful that it’ll work anywhere bar the USA. Apple also toutes an interface that’s been designed around the smaller screen but without an actual sample to look over I really couldn’t tell you how good or bad it would be.

So all that blather and bluster that preceded this announcement was, surprise, completely overblown and the resulting product really does nothing to stand out in the sea of computerized hand adornments. I’m sure there’s going to be a built in market from current Apple fans but outside that I really can’t see the appeal of the Apple Watch over the numerous other devices. Apple does have a good 6 months or so to tweak the product before release so there’s potential for it to become something before they drop it on the public.

Supermoon_comparison

Just How Super is a Supermoon?

It seems I can’t go too long without hearing about everyone’s favourite celestial event: the Supermoon. It’s a somewhat rare event, typically occurring once every 14 months or so, but given the amount of attention it seems to get on various news and social media sites you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s more akin to a total solar eclipse. Considering what actually happens during this event, I.E. the coincidental alignment of the moon being full whilst also being at it’s closest point on its orbit around Earth, you wouldn’t expect there to be much interest in it but everyone seems to be wowed at just how huge the moon appears when this happens.

Problem is though that it’s not that much bigger at all.

Supermoon_comparisonAs you can see the supermoon on the right hand side isn’t really that much bigger than the more regular moon on the left. Indeed if I could somehow show you both of them in the sky at the same time you probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between them. Still come tomorrow morning I’m sure there’ll be dozens of pictures showing the moon in all of its super glory, towering over buildings and dwarfing every other source of light in the night sky. So the question is then where do all these pictures come from and why is the moon so gosh darn huge in them.

The answer is somewhat complicated, and we don’t have an exact answer for it yet, but it comes down to something we’ve dubbed the Moon Illusion. Essentially any stellar object in our sky, be it the moon, sun or even stars, will increase in apparent size the closer it is to the horizon. All those amazing pictures you’ll see of supermoons around the globe tomorrow will likely be taken when the moon is rising when this effect is at its most pronounced. This makes the moon appear much, much bigger than it would normally but over the course of it’s full rotation it’ll begin shrinking back down to a more reasonable size. This is why you don’t see any pictures of it up in the middle of the sky, it just doesn’t look as massive as it would otherwise.

Photographers are also somewhat guilty of exacerbating the moon’s super-ness during this time by using telephoto lenses that compress the visual space significantly, often putting other objects near or in front of it to make it appear much bigger than it would with your eyes. Don’t get me wrong it makes for a stunning picture but it also feeds into the idea that the moon appears that huge at all points in the sky. The reality is unfortunately nothing like that.

I know I’m probably being a killjoy for some people mentioning this but honestly things like this fall into the same realms as those claiming we’d have 2 moons when Mars was at its closest approach to Earth. Sure it’ll be bigger than it would be otherwise but the effect is usually beyond our ability to perceive and the photos just give a false impression of what a supermoon actually is. To be fair though the term supermoon isn’t a scientific term at all (it comes from astrology) so I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised about the smoke and mirrors that surrounds it.

Professional Memory Holder

DDR4 Appears on The Market; I Realise I’ve Been Under a Rock.

Whilst I don’t spend as much time as I used to keeping current with all things PC hardware related I still maintain a pretty good working knowledge of where the field is going. That’s partly due to my career being in the field (although I’m technically a services guy) but mostly it’s because I love new tech. You’d think then that DDR4, the next generation in PC memory, making its commercial debut wouldn’t be much of a surprise to me but I had absolutely no idea it was in the pipeline. Indeed had I not been building out a new gaming rig for a friend of mine I wouldn’t have known it was coming, nor that I could buy it today if I was so inclined.

Professional Memory Holder

Double Data Rate Generation 4 (DDR4) memory is the direct successor to the current standard, DDR3, which has been in widespread use since 2007. Both standards (indeed pretty much all memory standards) were developed by the Joint Electron Device Engineering Council (JEDEC) who have been working on DDR4 since about 2005. The reasoning behind the long lead times on new standards like this is complicated but it comes down to a function of getting everyone to agree to the standard, manufacturers developing products around said standard and then, finally, them making their way into the hands of consumers. Thus whilst new memory modules come and go with the regular tech cycle typically the standards driving them remain standard for the better part of a decade or two which is probably why this writer neglected to keep current on it.

In terms of actual improvements DDR4 seems like an evolutionary step forward rather than a revolutionary one. That being said the improvements introduced with the new specification are nothing to sneeze at with one of the big improvements being a reduction in the voltage (and thus power) that the specification requires. Typical DDR4 modules will now use 1.2V compared to DDR3’s 1.5V and the low voltage variant, typically seen in low power systems like smartphones and the like, goes all the way down to 1.05V.To end consumers this won’t mean too much but for large scale deployments the savings from running this new memory add up very quickly.

As you’d expect there’s also been a bump up in the operating speed of DDR4 modules, ranging from 2133Mhz all the way up to 4266Mhz. Essentially the lowest tier of performance DDR4 memory will match the top performers of DDR3 and the amount of headroom for future development is quite significant. This will have a direct impact on the performance of systems that are powered by DDR4 memory and whilst most consumers won’t notice the difference it’s definitely going to be a defining feature of enthusiast PCs for the next couple years. I know that I updated my dream PC specs to include it even though the first generation of products is only just hitting the market.

DDR4 chips are also meant to be a lot more dense than their DDR3 predecessors, especially considering that the specification has also accommodated 3D layering technologies like Samsung’s V-NAND. Many are saying that this will lead to DDR4 being cheaper for a comparable amount of memory vs DDR3 however right now you’ll be paying about a 40% premium on pretty much everything if you want to build a system around the new style of memory. This is to be expected though and whilst I can eventually see DDR4 eclipsing DDR3 on a price per gigabyte basis that won’t be for several years to come. DDR3 has 7 years worth of economies of scale built up and they won’t become irrelevant for a very long time.

So whilst I might be a little shocked that I was so out of the loop I didn’t know a new memory standard had made its way into reality I’m glad it has. The improvements might be incremental rather than a bold leap forward but progress in this sphere is so slow that anything is worth celebrating. The fact that you can build systems with it today is just another bonus, one that I’m sure is making dents in geek’s budgets the world over.