Monthly Archives: October 2013

Dream_Chaser_pre-drop_tests.6

Dream Chaser: The Other Shuttle Replacement.

The International Space Station hasn’t really been struggling since the retirement of the Shuttle with it still being able to maintain its full 6 person crew even with the significantly reduced launch capacity. Indeed the bevy of alternative craft that have been visiting the ISS, such as the SpaceX Dragon and the Orbital Sciences Cygnus, have meant that it’s also been well supplied in the absence of a largo cargo tug like the Shuttle. Still there is no current replacement for getting humans up there with that responsibility falling solely to the Russian Soyuz craft although NASA is funding some alternatives. I’ve covered most of them in the past but one of the main contenders, Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser, just passed a significant milestone, albeit with a few issues.

Dream_Chaser_pre-drop_tests.6Their craft bears a striking resemblance to the Shuttle, sporting the same thermal tile underside and similar aerodynamic profile. It’s quite a bit smaller than the Shuttle however, being about a quarter of the length and a seventh of the mass, mostly due to its lack of payload bay. It can still carry up a comparable number of astronauts however, up to 7 in its current configuration which is only 1 shy of the Shuttle’s maximum. The design is also quite interesting as whilst it looks like any other space plane it is in fact a lifting body with those wings being on there for control purposes only.

Lifting bodies are an interesting type of craft whereby the craft’s design makes it one giant aerofoil, eliminating the need for big wings in order to generate lift. Indeed NASA has quite a history with lifting body craft having designed and built at least 3 of them in the past. The idea was solid enough for it even to be considered as one of the alternative designs for the Space Shuttle itself although the other requirements (primarily from the Department of Defense) meant that it wasn’t used in the end. Dream Chaser’s design then uses the lifting body for simplicity and efficiency, allowing for their smaller craft to do the one task of ferrying humans into orbit well without any of the additional cruft that plagued the Shuttle.

Dream Chaser recently underwent its first unmanned drop test to confirm its flight characteristics and to give all of its systems their first shakedown. For the most part the mission was a success with the lifting body performing as expected and the remote control systems functioning perfectly. However upon landing the left landing gear failed to deploy causing the craft to spin uncontrollably when the left wing contacted the run way. It’s eerily similar to the landing skid failure that SpaceShipOne encountered during one of its shakedown flights, although that one had a person inside it at the time (he was unscathed, however). It’s not a show stopping issue but it will probably mean furthering testing will be delayed until they can figure out why it happened, and make repairs to their prototype.

For what its worth I think the future of space travel will be in craft like Dream Chaser, ones that favour simplicity and efficiency over trying to make a multi-purpose craft. Indeed all the current contenders in the private space industry are doing just that, building craft with a specific purpose in mind and ensuring they do it efficiently. Whilst this first drop test might have had some hiccups it’s shown that the lifting body idea is aerodynamically sound and that there’s no fundamental flaws in their idea. Once they’ve worked out that landing gear kink I’m sure we’ll see dozens of successful drop tests to follow and, hopefully, some fully powered tests in the not too distant future.

 

Motorola's Project Ara

So Motorola Is In Cahoots With Phonebloks: Meet Ara.

The tech world was all abuzz about Phonebloks just over a month ago with many hailing it as the next logical step in the smartphone revolution. Whilst I liked the idea since it spoke to the PC builder in me it was hard to overlook the larger issues that plagued the idea, namely the numerous technical problems as well as the lack of buy in from component manufacturers. Since then I hadn’t heard anything further on it and figured that the Thunderclap campaign they had ended without too much fuss but it appears that it might have caught the attention of people who could make the idea happen.

Those people are Motorola.

Motorola's Project AraAs it turns out Motorola has been working on their own version of the Phonebloks idea for quite some time now, over a year in fact. It’s called Project Ara and came about as a result of the work they did during Sticky, essentially trucking around the USA with unlocked handsets and 3D printers and holding a series of makeathons. The idea is apparently quite well developed with a ton of technical work already done and some conceptual pieces shown above. Probably the most exciting thing for Phonebloks followers ;will be the fact that Motorola has since reached out to Dave Hakkens and are hoping to use his community in order to further their idea. By their powers combined it might just be possible for a modular handset to make its way into the real world.

Motorola’s handset division, if you recall, was acquired by Google some 2 years ago mostly due to their wide portfolio of patents that Google wanted to get its hands on. At the same time it was thought that Google would then begin using Motorola for their first party Nexus handsets however that part hasn’t seemed to eventuate with Google leaving them to do their own thing. However such a close tie with Google might provide Project Ara the resources it needs to actually be successful as there’s really no other operating system they could use (and no, the Ubuntu and Firefox alternatives aren’t ready for prime time yet).

Of course the technical issues that were present in the Phonebloks idea don’t go away just because some technicians from Motorola are working on them. Whilst Motorola’s design is quite a bit less modular than what Phonebloks was purporting it does look like it has a bit more connectivity available per module. Whether that will be enough to support the amount of connectivity required for things like quad core ARM CPUs or high resolution cameras will remain to be seen however.

So whilst the Phonebloks idea in its original form might never see the light of day it does appear that at least one manufacturer is willing to put some effort into developing a modular handset. There’s still a lot of challenges for it to overcome before the idea can be made viable but the fact that real engineers are working on it with the backing of their company gives a lot of credence to it. I wouldn’t expect to see any working prototypes for a while to come though, even with Motorola’s full backing, but potentially in a year or so we might start to see some make their way to trade shows and I’ll be very interested to see their capabilities.

AIRO Wristband

AIRO Might Not Be Total Bullshit.

Much like my  current aversion to smartwatches I’m equally disinterested in the idea of a fitness tracker. As a man of science I do like the idea in principle as anyone looking to better themselves should track as much data as they can to ensure what they’re doing is actually having an effect. However all the devices on market don’t appear to be much more than smart pedometers with nice interfaces something which doesn’t really track the kinds of things I’m looking for (since most of my exercise isn’t aerobic in nature). I don’t discount their value for others but if I was going to invest in one it’d have to do a lot more than just be an accelerometer attached to my wrist.

AIRO WristbandI may have found one in AIRO, a rather Jony Ive-esque device coming from a new 3 person startup. For the most part it sports the same features as other health trackers, presumably through the same method of an incorporated accelerometer, but its real claim to fame comes from its apparent ability to detect metabolites in your blood, without having to cut yourself to do so. AIRO also claims to be able to detect the quality of the food you’re eating as well which, from what I can tell by looking at their website, seems to be related to the macro-nutrient breakdown. As someone who regularly struggles to get enough calories to support their goals (yeah I’m one of those people, believe me it’s not as great as you might think it is) and really can’t be bothered to use a calorie tracker this is of particular interest to me, something I’d consider plonking down a chunk of change for.

Of course the sceptic in me was instantly roused by the idea that a device could non-invasively determine such things because such technology would be a boon to diabetics, not to mention any research program looking at monitoring caloric intake. Indeed something like this is so far out of left field that most of the mainstream coverage of the device doesn’t go into just how it works, except for referring to the fact that it measures calories and macro-nutrient breakdown based on light. It sounds like a great theory but since there’s no source material provided to show how their method works, nor any validation using standard means like doubly labelled water or even short term experiments with strictly controlled caloric intake.

I was going to leave it at that, and indeed not even write about it since I wanted to see some validation of the idea before I said anything, but then I stumbled across this article from ScienceDaily which links to a German study that has been able to measure blood glucose with infrared light. The function of their device sounds different to the one AIRO purports, instead using the infrared light to penetrate the skin and cause a resonance in the glucose within the bloodstream which their device can then pick up. Their device sounds like it would be anything but wearable however with a “shoebox sized” device planned to be released within the next few years. This doesn’t validate the idea behind AIRO but it does lend some credence to the idea that you’d be able to extract some kind of information about blood metabolites using light pulses.

So I’m definitely intrigued now, possibly to the point of shelling out the requisite $159 to get one delivered when they come out, but I would love to see some validation of the device by the inventors to prove their device can do what they say it can do. It’s not like this would be particularly difficult, hell if they send me a prototype device I’ll happily engage in a tightly controlled caloric diet in order to prove it can measure everything, and it would go a long way to convince the sceptics that what they’ve made really is as good as they say it is. Heck I bet there’s even a couple other startups that’d love to do some testing to prove that their products also work as intended (I’m looking at you, Soylent) and having that kind validation would be extremely valuable for both involved.

 

OAuth2

OAuth2 and C# Desktop Apps Don’t Seem To Get Along.

I hadn’t been in Visual Studio for a while now, mostly because I had given up on all of my side projects due to the amount of time they soaked up vs my desire to do better game reviews on here, requiring me to spend more time actually playing the games. I had come up with an idea for a game a while back and was really enjoying developing the concept in my head so I figured it would be good to code up a small application to get my head back in the game before I tackled something a little bit more difficult. One particular idea I had was a Soundcloud downloader/library manager as whilst there are other tools to do this job they’re  a little cumbersome and I figured it couldn’t be too difficult to whip it up in a days worth of coding.

How wrong I was.

OAuth2The Soundcloud API has a good amount of documentation about it and from what I could tell I would be able to get my stream using it. However since this wasn’t something that was publicly available I’d have to authenticate to the API first through their OAuth2 interface, something which I had done with other sites so I wasn’t too concerned that it would be a barrier. Of course the big difference between those other projects and this one was the fact that this application was going to be a desktop app and so I figured I was either going to have to do some trickery to get the token or manually step through the process in order to get authenticated.

After having a quick Google around it looked like the OAuth library I had used previously, DotNetOpenAuth, would probably be able to fit the bill and it didn’t take me long to find a couple examples that looked like they’d do the job. Even better I found an article that showed an example of the exact problem I was trying to solve, albeit using a different library to the one I was. Great, I thought, I’ll just marry up the examples and get myself going in no time and after a little bit of working around I was getting what appeared to be an auth token back. Strangely though I couldn’t access any resources using it, either through my application or directly through my browser (as I had been able to do in the past). Busting open Fiddler showed that I was getting 401 (unauthorized) errors back, indicating that the token I was providing wasn’t a viable option.

After digging around and looking at some various resources it appears that whilst the OAuth API might still be online it’s not the preferred way of accessing anything and, as far as I can tell, is mostly deprecated. No worries I’ll just hit up the OAuth2 API instead, figuring that it should be relatively simple to authenticate to it since DotNetOpenAuth now natively supports it. Try as I might to find a working example I just simply could not get it to work with Soundcloud’s API, not even using the sample application that DotNetOpenAuth provides. Trying to search for other, more simplistic examples left me empty handed, especially if I tried to search for a desktop application workflow.

I’m willing to admit that I probably missed something here but honestly the amount of code and complexity that appears to be required to handle the OAuth2 authentication process, even when you’re using a library, seems rather ludicrous. Apparently WinRT has it pretty easy but those are web pages masquerading as applications which are able to take advantage of their auth work flow, something which I was able to make work quite easily in the past. If someone knows of a better library or has an example of the OAuth2 process working with a desktop application in C# then I’d love to see it because I simply couldn’t find out how to do it, at least not after half a day of frustration.

Beyond Two Souls  Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

Beyond: Two Souls: You’re Never Alone.

Before Heavy Rain you’d struggle to find anyone who knew about Quantic Dream and the types of games they create. They were a little ahead of themselves with the concept when they released Fahrenheit back in 2005 being largely ignored by the gamer populace even though it received wide critical acclaim. Since then however they have developed a solid reputation for developing games that dispense with game play in favour of creating a deep, rich story whilst also teasing everyone endlessly with their technology demonstrations. Beyond: Two Souls is their latest release which goes back to their roots in paranormal thrillers done in their signature cinematic style.

Beyond Two Souls  Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

On the surface Jodie appears to be just like anyone else but ever since she was born she has been tied to another entity that she only knows as Aiden. For a long time that’s all he was, just a presence that was always there watching over her. However over time he developed the ability to interact with the real world and, like the caged animal he was, he began to lash out at every opportunity. This had caught the attention of the CIA who, of course, were looking to exploit this potential power for their own ends. Like anyone else all Jodie wanted was to be part of the regular world but her attachment to Aiden made sure that would never happen.

Quantic Dream have really outdone themselves with Beyond: Two Souls as it aptly demonstrates what the PlayStation3 is capable of. The graphics are simply phenomenal showing that the 3 years since their previous release have been spent pushing the hardware to its limits. The biggest improvements come from the small things that add on exceptional bits of realism like the way skin looks and moves or the way tears roll down the character’s face. It all runs smoothly as well although that’s mostly due to the restricted nature of most of the environments. It allows for a lot of detail  but you’re not going to be play in wide expansive environments that are teaming with NPCs.

Beyond Two Souls  Review Screenshot Wallpaper Choice Menus

Beyond: Two Souls retains Quantic Dream’s signature interactive film style with you spending quite a lot of time being in the back seat to the action that’s happening on screen. The dialogue choice system hasn’t changed dramatically, offering up a variety of options which you can choose from and that will influence how the story progresses. The combat sections have been reworked slightly and puts a little more guesswork into completing the interactions successfully. The addition of the Aiden mechanic adds a completely different perspective to the game and also allows for some pretty novel and interesting game play.

From what I can remember of Heavy Rain you, for the most part, got unlimited time in which to make the decision about which dialogue option you chose. Beyond: Two Souls on the other hand will often begin to fade the choices out after a small period of time, leaving you with only a single option which will be automatically selected for you. I will admit that this helps with pacing as you can sometimes be paralysed by choice but you can sometimes end up regretting taking to long to think about what you wanted to say. Of course this also means that subsequent play throughs could be quite rewarding as even when you get to choose the  options you want there are still many others that you’d potentially want to see.

Beyond Two Souls  Review Screenshot Wallpaper Quick Time Combat

The combat/quick time event system  has been changed significantly with the the visual cues being almost completely removed. For combat sequences you’re now instructed to follow Jodie’s motion on screen using the right analogue stick. This does eliminate the majority of the rather immersion breaking pop-ups that alert you to what button you need to press however it also adds a layer of ambiguity to what action you need to perform. It’s relatively forgiving as I often found myself getting things right when I was pretty sure I just mashed the stick in a random direction however I just as often found myself getting it wrong when I was sure I got it right.

There are still times when you’ll be pressing buttons, holding down combinations of them or doing things with the controller that the prompts on screen are telling you to do although they’re usually regulated to the non-action sequences. Its also during these sequences that you’ll go hunting around for white dots which detail something you can interact with which also suffer from the not-so-precise detection method of pointing with the right analogue stick. Whilst I don’t have a better system in mind it does feel like it’s somewhat pointless for some sections.

Beyond Two Souls  Review Screenshot Wallpaper Aiden

The biggest deviation away from Quantic Dream’s traditional style is the inclusion of the Aiden mechanic, a disembodied spirit that has the ability to go through walls, throw things around and even kill or possess people should the need arise. For the most part he functions as another puzzle mechanic, allowing the developers to create rather intricate puzzles that require some lateral thinking in order to complete. You’re also given a little bit of choice as to how you play Aiden as you can either make him out to be the benevolent watcher or the dick that attempts to screw with every aspect of Jodie’s life. For the most part the game seems to encourage you to be a dick, making abstaining a torturous exercise.

Aiden also functions as the writer’s get out of jail free card as whilst his powers are initially limited to throwing things around it becomes evident that he’s really some kind of all powerful demi-god who can do pretty much anything he wants. Whilst this allows them to put Jodie in a whole host of situations that would otherwise be somewhat unbelievable it does make you question why some things happen to her and some don’t. Thankfully though Aiden isn’t a complete deus ex machina but it remove a good chunk of believability to the game, even for someone like me who’s able suspend disbelief in aid of a good story.

Beyond Two Souls  Review Screenshot Wallpaper Crying

From a story perspective Quantic Dream has done an amazing job of bringing these characters to life; no small part of which is due to the amazing acting by the Ellen Page and William Dafoe. It says a lot that all the emotions I felt whilst playing came rushing back while I was reviewing my footage for screenshots, my heart aching for the pain they endured. Even though I was satisfied with my initial play through I still feel like there’s another side to this game that I’ve yet to experience due to the wide range of dialogue options available. This means that just like Heavy Rain before it Beyond: Two Souls is a game that will reward subsequent playthroughs. even if the overall story is known.

PLOT SPOILERS BELOW 

However I feel like Quantic dream kind of screwed up the relationships in Beyond: Two Souls, specifically with Ryan. Whilst Joide makes it clear that she thinks she might be falling for him initially it appears that he’s not completely interested in her, especially considering how he left after she had a flashback to when she was almost raped. The confession then of how he loves her, and indeed in the final scenes when he continues to say he loves her, seem tacked on and hollow. The other relationships by comparison have deep and rich back stories to them that develop over the course of the game and I actually felt something for them, even if some of them were a little shallow. Its possible that I might have felt more if I had pursued the relationship further and its definitely one of the reasons that I’m considering a second play through.

SPOILERS OVER

Beyond Two Souls  Review Screenshot Wallpaper Beyond or Life

Beyond: Two Souls reaffirms Quantic Dream’s domination of the cinmeatic game genre, pushing highly interactive gameplay aside in favour of deep and engrossing story that comes alive thanks to the brilliant acting of all the characters. It’s also a return to their roots in fantasy, almost feeling like a spiritual successor to Fahrenheit, and whilst it does suffer a little bit because of this I still find it hard to find fault with it. If you’ve ever played a Quantic Dream game and enjoyed it then you simply can not go past Beyond: Two Souls as it aptly demonstrates just how good they are at building titles like this.

Rating: 9.25/10

Beyond: Two Souls is available exclusively on PlayStation 3 right now for $78. Total game time was approximately 8 hours with 46% of the achievements unlocked.

NBN Take Up Rates

So Consumers Do Want 1Gbps, Fancy That.

In defending the FTTP NBN I’ve seen nearly every argument imaginable as to why we shouldn’t be doing it. Whilst I can understand the concerns around rollout times and the total cost the NBN stands as one of the few multi-term, nation-wide infrastructure projects that has tangible benefits that will last for decades to come. Some of the more esoteric arguments I’ve received have hinged on the idea that consumers are quite ok with the current state of Australian Internet and that anything above that is a wasteful exercise that will only support consumers of pornography and illegal downloads. This could not be further from the truth but it still seems to remain as a valid talking point for anti-NBN stalwarts.

NBN Take Up RatesShown above are the take up rates from NBNCo released back in March this year and it’s pretty easy to discern a common trend here. Whilst there are a couple places showing stagnant growth most are showing very strong upward trends. Indeed most of them track the 2 highest take up rate areas pretty closely and so it is reasonable to conclude that they will eventually all see similar adoption rates. Considering that the service is still in its infancy overall take up rates of 30% are pretty amazing and will only get better as the offerings from various ISPs improve. So there definitely seems to be a demand for the NBN although the question then becomes do people want higher speeds or are they just looking for a more reliable Internet connection?

The report that NBNCo presented to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Broadband network contains some pretty in depth analysis of the current consumers of the NBN and the data is quite telling. Initially it was thought that the bulk of the NBN’s customers would be on the lowest plan possible (12Mbps down /1Mbps up), on the order of 49% or so with the next biggest sector being 25/10 at 27%. Actual deployed numbers differ from that significantly with the lowest sector accounting for 39% and the next biggest sector being the top tier plan (100/40) with 31%. This means that there’s a large number of Australians who want the fastest Internet they can get their hands on and the majority of them want speeds above what they’re currently getting.

This echoes the sentiment that’s been seen oversees with similar projects like Google Fiber in Kansas City. This runs contrary to the Liberal’s position that 25Mbps would be enough for the average household as it seems like many would like to take advantage of higher speeds. Whilst its looking more and more like the NBN will remain untouched in its current form (although it might end up being rolled out by Telstra) those ideas still seem to permeate the rhetoric of NBN detractors. As the numbers show Australians are craving faster, more stable Internet connections and given the opportunity they’ll take the best options available to them.

Honestly I know this shouldn’t bother me as much as it does, especially considering that the rhetoric has died down considerably since the election, but the idea that the NBN isn’t needed, or even wanted, by the Australian public is just so wrong that it borders on offensive. The NBN is going to elevate Australia to being one of the most connected countries in the world, rivalling some of the top technologically advanced nations. I know that I, as well as many of my technically inclined friends, have big plans for when those high speed connections become available and I’m sure many businesses will have the same.

Pebble Smart Watch

Sell Me The Smartwatch Idea.

I like gadgets, to the point where it I can get a little weird about things if they have just the right technological bent. My geek lust has seen my wallet open itself for all sorts of purchases I wouldn’t have typically made for myself just because the gadget geek in me fell in love with a piece of engineering or ingenious technology. It’s curbed somewhat by my desire for all things to have an useful function but that still means my house is littered with various objects which have caught my fancy at one point or another. With that in mind you’d think that I’d be something of a prime candidate for a smartwatch but I just can’t see the point of having one.

Pebble Smart WatchI’ll admit that I was somewhat impressed by the Pebble when I first saw it, mostly due to the fact that it used an e-Ink screen rather than a small LCD (which are notorious for being crap). I came in late to the Kickstarter however and missed out on my chance to get one but I figured it wouldn’t be too long before I could snag one at retail. Of course long delays ensued and many competitors have since released similar products but strangely enough I found myself looking at all of them and then wondering what the use case for them would be. Sure some of them looked cool (I’m something of a sucker for watches) but I couldn’t see the advantage of getting one over a traditional watch, especially if looks were the deciding factor.

The majority of the functionality seems to be focused towards at-a-glance style information coming from your smartphone like alerting you to messages or other application alerts. Whilst I can see some use for this most of the time those messages would require some action on my behalf something which these watches aren’t designed to accommodate. Using it as an external mic/speaker for my phone is something I don’t see myself using either as the quality is always going to be below that of what my phone itself can provide. Couple all this with the fact that it’s yet another device I’ll have to charge and I can’t really see the point of getting one, at least not in their current incarnations.

I could be convinced on the idea if the smartwatches included some functionality like the FitBit One and Jabone UP in them, possibly alongside an implementation of MYO. Whilst I’d love to do more metric tracking so that I could better hone my fitness program the idea of having another wearable, chargeable device always poses a significant barrier. However if a combination of all this tech could find its way into a single device then I could see myself warming to the idea as then it would be providing a whole host of functionality that my phone does not. At the same time I probably wouldn’t even need the traditional smartwatch capabilities if a fitness tracker, MYO and watch were all combined into one but if you’d already integrated that much tech it’d be inevitable to just go that one further step.

Of course I know hear the caterwauling of people thinking “Scratch your own itch! Build it yourself!” but honestly I’m not that wedded to the idea at all, just more musing over what it would take for me to come over to the smartwatch camp. I’m happy for someone to try and sell me on the idea though as I’m never adverse to spending money for good tech, so long as it serves a purpose.

 

Airbnb Logo

Airbnb’s Secret Sauce is That it Works, and Works Well.

For PAX Australia this year my friends and I were left in a rather unenviable position. All of the Melbourne residents didn’t have the space to accommodate the 6 of us visiting and trying to find accommodation that would suit us was proving troublesome.  Sure we could’ve booked multiple hotel rooms but the price wasn’t particularly great, on the order of $200 per night per room (of which we’d need 3). Whilst we’d previously used holiday homes for other adventures our usual websites weren’t coming up with anything, at least nothing in a reasonable price range. After mulling over the options I finally relented and gave Airbnb a go and the experience was pretty amazing.

Airbnb LogoSearching around for places that were close to PAX I found a couple places that were available for that weekend which could accommodate the lot of us. From the pictures most of them didn’t look like anything special but we weren’t going to be doing much there at all so I wasn’t particularly fussed. After jumping through a couple login hoops and laying down my credit card I had booked 3 nights accommodation for 6 people for a grand total of $600. If I had booked hotels to cover the same time period the cost would have been almost triple that, something which my travelling compatriots were very pleased with.

We were quite unlucky when it came to fly down as the weather saw many of the afternoon flights cancelled. I was worried that we’d get there too late and end up annoying our hosts but arriving at 9:30PM I was greeted by the couple who owned the house plus one of their friends. After dropping off all my gear I asked them if there was anywhere local I could get dinner and, to my surprise, they offered up the left overs from the dinner they had just packed up. They also gave us breakfast every morning, not that we stayed for it since we were usually meeting up with everyone at PAX.

Talking it over with our hosts it seemed like this experience wasn’t exactly uncommon as they had had several Airbnbers through previously all of which said similar things. Indeed all my friends who have used Airbnb since have commented on just how smooth the whole process is and how cheap the accommodation is when you compare it to hotel rooms of the same quality. This is even in a country where Airbnb doesn’t have that much use when compared to local equivalents (like Stayz).

It came as little surprise then that Airbnb has been shown to have positive effects for tourism in the areas in which its prevalent with guests often spending a lot more in the area than their hotel counter parts. I know that for myself personally the money that would’ve otherwise been spent on accommodation did end up in other places and I felt far more at ease with spending more knowing that my entire accommodation budget was only $100. At the same time I know that some of my friends might not have attended if the accommodation price was too high and Airbnb made it possible for them to come and not have to worry about it.

What Airbnb has above everyone else is the fact that their service just plain works, taking away all the barriers that would otherwise be required to book a stay at a non-hotel location. I was able to find a place, check it out, book it and send an email to everyone coming all in the space of 30 minutes, even without having used the service before. The only improvement I’d love to see (and feel free to correct me if this already exists within it) would be the ability to split the payment up and have everyone pay their share directly. It wasn’t too much of an issue for me however but it’s something that I’m sure a lot of people would love.

Now we just need Uber to start making their way around here, then I’ll be able to do all my travel needs from my smartphone. Now that’d be awesome.

 

Gravity 2013 Wallpaper

Gravity: An Amazing (Albeit Highly Unscientific) Film.

It should come as no surprise that my favourite movie genre is science fiction. Even though I was born long after the original Star Wars trilogy had finished watching it with my parents is still one of the fondest memories I have and that has long since bloomed into a passion for the genre. Of course this also feeds into my love of sciences as whilst I also enjoy fantasy, in all its forms, nothing quite compares to plausible futures that are based on real science. Whilst I understand that scientific accuracy will often take a back seat when the narrative requires it I can’t help but feel compelled to point out some of the more obvious flaws, especially when it’s such a big movie like Gravity.

Gravity 2013 WallpaperNow before I launch into this let me just be clear: I absolutely enjoyed Gravity. Whilst I was sceptical about George Clooney and Sandra Bullock being able to bring life to the roles they were given it didn’t take me long to warm to their characters. I was also very surprised by how much tension I felt for multiple different scenes, something which I don’t typically feel, at least not to that extent. All this, combined with the beautiful cinematography culminates in a movie that’s thoroughly enjoyable even if you take the hard line with science like I do. With all that being said though there are some points which bear mentioning and should have you not seen the movie I’ll advise you to skip reading on.

PLOT SPOILERS AHOY

The first thing that I, and several others, have taken issue with is the notion that from the orbit of the Hubble Space Telescope you’d be able see both the International Space Station as well as the Chinese Tiangong station (which is way more developed than current plans indicate, but that’s another story). Even if all of them shared identical orbits, which they don’t, the Hubble is in an orbit that’s some 200KM above the ISS and Tiangong making any naked eye visual impossible. Following on from this the idea that you’d be able to then travel between them becomes somewhat difficult as the energy required to do the plane change manoeuvres would be far above the capabilities of Manned Manoeuvring Unit. Indeed the backup plan NASA had for a shuttle that had suffered a catastrophic failure event such as the one in Gravity was to send another shuttle up there to rescue them, dubbed STS-400, which was the reason why we saw 2 fully fuelled shuttles on their respective launch pads the last time we serviced the Hubble.

I’m sort of able to forgive that for the sake of story however one moment that I won’t was when Bullock is holding onto Clooney’s tether and he says he has to let go or they’ll both be doomed. You see at that particular point there’s no more forces acting on them as once they got tangled up and stopped moving all their momentum had been transferred to the ISS, rendering them at equilibrium. If Bullock had simply tugged on the tether slightly Clooney would have then started drifting lazily towards the ISS and Bullock could have pulled herself back along the parachute cords. I would’ve let that slide if it was a minor side point but it’s one of the main turning points of the movie and unfortunately it just has no basis in reality whatsoever.

One thing I was also going to pan Gravity for was the use of fire extinguishers as thrusters since I figured the amount of delta-v available in them wouldn’t have been enough to provide any meaningful thrust. As it turns out, depending on what kind of extinguisher you have, there could be as much as 100m/s in them, a heck of a lot of thrust by any means. Whilst you’d be far more likely to send yourself into an unrecoverable spin if you were using them in the way shown in Gravity it does lend some credence to the idea of using it to correct your trajectory in order to intercept something else.

PLOT SPOILERS OVER

There were also numerous other minor details but compared to the previous few I mentioned I don’t think they’re worth digging into. Whilst there really were some cringe inducing moments from a science perspective it is a highly enjoyable film, even if you’re not into the whole space scene. It’s also worth it to see it in 3D, something I don’t say often, as the producers have taken care to use 3D as a tool rather than slapping it on in order to increase the ticket price. It might not be super hard sci-fi but then again not many films are and ones of Gravity’s calibre are even rarer.

 

The Wolf Among Us Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

The Wolf Among Us: It Ain’t Easy Being a Fable.

Telltale Games has a reputation for taking IP that’s either old or from another media and translating it into a new game experience in their very distinctive style. If I’m honest I had avoided many of their titles as whilst it was cool to see things like Sam and Max make a comeback I had long left adventure style games behind, preferring the more fast paced worlds that FPS and RTS offered. Still it was hard to ignore the fervour that surrounded their interpretation of The Walking Dead and my subsequent play through of it showed me that Telltale was able to deliver a deep and compelling story. So when I heard about The Wolf Among Us I was sold on it instantly as the brief taste that 400 Days had given me of the signature Telltale experience had left me wanting for so much more.

The Wolf Among Us Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

The days of the fables living in their own world has long since past and they now attempt to fit into the world of humans through a kind of magic called Glamour. This allows them to take on human form so that they can blend in with the wider world, enabling them to live out their lives in relative obscurity. You play as Big B Wolf (affectionately referred to as Bigby) charged with being the sheriff of the Fabletown community, keeping everyone in line  and ensuring the safety of all the fables that have made the transition to the real world. However the magic of glamour doesn’t change past deeds and many old rivalries are still going strong. It was only a matter of time before everything started to take a turn for the worse although you’d never expect Bigby, even with his chequered past, to be at the centre of it.

The Wolf Among Us brings with it Telltale’s trademark style for transitioning comic books to the PC gaming medium, favouring a heavily stylized world that’s light on the graphics but heavy with detail. Every scene feels like a pane pulled straight from a comic book with the only thing missing being giant speech bubbles above all the characters. The art direction has improved quite a bit over The Walking dead with the lighting having an almost oil painting like effect on everything. It’s hard to describe but The Wolf Among Us definitely has a similar feel to other Telltale games but there’s an air of refinement about it that their previous titles lacked.

The Wolf Among Us Screenshot Wallpaper Bigby Wolf

The main game mechanics remain largely the same from their previous titles with the majority of it taking the form of a point and click adventure that’s peppered with quick time events for the more action oriented scenes. Like the artwork it feels a little more refined than their previous titles with the mechanics having improved UIs that are a lot more responsive. Of course the level of game play in The Wolf Among Us is deliberately simple as the focus is heavily on the story rather than anything else which may frustrate some players. I personally enjoy it, especially after such heavily interactive titles like Shadow Warrior and Grand Theft Auto V, but it’s definitely one of the more valid criticisms that are often levelled at Telltale games.

The dialogue system has seen a small change as now instead of the options being on top of each other they’re laid out as a bunch of squares and no longer begin to fade as the time runs out. The “say nothing” option also seems to be far more prevalent something which you can use to great comedic effect if you feel like doing so. These changes definitely make the options a lot easier to scan and choose between, especially when you don’t have a lot of time to make a decision, and I’m not quite sure how to put it but the flow of dialogue definitely feels different to previous Telltale games. I like it and I’d be interested to see what long time Telltale fans think of the changes.

The Wolf Among Us Screenshot Wallpaper Book of Fables

Whilst I think Telltale are probably the only company to do episodic content right this is the first time I’ve come in at the ground level for one of their IPs and, if I’m honest, it’s actually a little frustrating to start this early. Each episode is a bit sized chunk, on the order of 2 hours each, and whilst they’re quite entertaining in their own right I’m not the kind of person who likes to go back and revisit games for DLC and the like. I most likely will for The Wolf Among Us but it still feels like it’d be somewhat better to wait 5 months until all the episodes are out and then binge on them over a weekend. This can be made up somewhat by the fact that multiple play throughs can be quite a rewarding experience with Telltale titles as the game can play out very differently depending on what seems like minor decisions.

I’m not familiar with the source material behind The Wolf Among Us so I can’t comment to how true to form it is (although I’m told The Walking Dead was essentially like for like) but the story is gripping and thoroughly enjoyable. Of course that’d be all for nothing if the voice acting wasn’t up to scratch but the casting has been done exceptionally well with Bigby’s gravely voice fitting his character perfectly. I really can’t wait to see how it develops over the coming episodes as the first episode was action packed enough and the small teaser they give you at the end is almost cruel in how many questions it raises.

The Wolf Among Us Screenshot Wallpaper The Dark Night

The Wolf Among Us continues Telltale’s success with translating IP material onto the video game medium with skill that few other game developers can match. The current instalment is more than enough to get you hooked into this new world, leaving you clawing at the walls for more that won’t be coming for another month. Whilst the simplistic game style won’t be for everyone the story more than makes up for this, providing an extremely rewarding experience for those who take the small amount of time to experience it. Whilst I’d probably recommend holding off until all the episodes are out it still stands on its own as a great experience, even if its a little short.

Rating: 9.0/10

The Wolf Among Us is available on PC, Xbox360 and PlayStation 3 for $24.99. Game was played on the PC with around 2 hours of total play time and 16% of the achievements unlocked.