Posts Tagged‘Review’

Bring Your Torches and Your Pitchforks, It’s Time To Burn a Broadband Network.

Governments often avoid long term policy goals for fear of never seeing them completed. This unfortunately means that large infrastructure projects fall by the wayside as it’s unlikely that they’ll be finished in a single term, leaving a potential political win on the table for an incoming government. The National Broadband Network then was something of an oddity, forced into being due to the lack of interest the private sector showed in building it (despite heavy government funding) it was one of the few examples of a multi-term policy that would have tangible benefits for all Australians. Like any big project it had its issues but I, and many others, still thought it was worth the investment.

Torches and PitchforksIf you were to believe the Liberal’s rhetoric of the past couple years however you’d likely be thinking otherwise. Whilst the initial  volleys launched at the NBN were mostly focused on the fact that it was an expensive ploy by Labor to buy votes it soon metastasised into a fully fledged attack that had little rhyme or reason. It’s ultimate form was the Liberal’s FTTN NBN, a policy which many saw as a half hearted attempt to placate Liberal voters who saw the NBN as an expensive Labor policy whilst trying to retain the tech vote which they had spent so many years losing. After they got into government however many of us, myself included, thought that it was all a load of hot air and that they’d simply continue with the current NBN plan, possibly with someone else building it.

Oh how wrong we all were.

I mentioned last week that Turnbull needed to start listening to the evidence that was piling up that the FTTP NBN was the way to go, figuring that the unbiased strategic review would find in favour of it given the large body of evidence saying so. However the report was anything but saying that the current NBN plan was woefully behind schedule and would likely end up costing almost 50% more than it was currently expected to. The new NBNCo board then recommended a plan of action that looked frightfully similar to that of the Liberal’s FTTN NBN, even touting the same party lines of faster, cheaper and sooner. Needless to say I have some issues with, not least of which is the fact that it seems to be wildly out of touch with reality.

For starters I find it extremely hard to believe that NBNCo, a highly transparent company who’s financials have been available for scrutiny for years, would be unaware of a cost blow out exceeding some $28 billion. The assumption for the cost blow out seems to stem from an ill formed idea that the cost per premise will increase over time, something which is the exact opposite of reality. There also seems to be a major disconnect between the Liberal’s figures on take up rates and plan speeds which makes it appear like there’s a huge hole in the revenue that NBNCo would hope to generate. Indeed if we look at the 2013-2016 corporate plan the figures in there are drastically different to the ones the review is using, signalling that either NBNCo was lying about it (which they weren’t) or the strategic review is deliberately using misleading figures to suit an agenda.

I won’t mince words here as it’s clear that many aspects of the review have a political agenda behind them. The $28 billion blowout in the FTTP NBN seems to have been calculated to make the $11 billion increase in peak funding for the Liberal’s NBN seem a lot more palatable, even though its cost is now basically the same as the original costings for the FTTP NBN. Honestly we should have expected this when the majority of the new NBNCo board is staffed with former executives from telcos who have large investments in Hybrid Fiber Coaxial networks, something which the new NBN will be on the hook for (even though the Liberals seem to think they’ll get those for free).

In short the review is laughable, an exercise in fudging numbers to suit a political agenda that has absolutely zero groundings in reality. The end of it is that we, the Internet users of Australia, will get horrendously screwed with outdated technology that will have to be replaced eventually anyway and at a cost that will far exceed that of a pure FTTP solution. Of course it’s now clear that it was never Turnbull’s intention to do a fair and honest review and was only interested in being given evidence to support his skewed view of technology.

 

Turnbull Backing Off From Anti-FTTP Stance.

There’s been little doubt in the tech community that Malcolm Turnbull had it out for the FTTP NBN. He’s been quite critical of the program since its inception and has taken every opportunity to point out that it’s behind schedule (even though it’s 3 months in a 10+ year project). The FTTN policy which they campaigned with was universally derided yet Turnbull fervently defended it at every possible opportunity. Whilst I was somewhat optimistic that it was all campaign blather just to secure votes from some select parties, especially considering its non-core status, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that Turnbull really thought his policy was worthwhile, especially when he said FTTP had superseded FTTN.

Turns out that my predictions have largely turned out to be correct.

Malcolm Turnbull DerpIn a stark reversal on his previous positions about the NBN Turnbull has now instead opted to conduct a full review to ascertain how long the current rollout will take and if there’s anyway that can be reduced. Whilst on the surface this would appear to be just the next logical step in taking the axe to the FTTP program however it’s been shown that FTTP would end up costing about the same so any cost benefit analysis would conclude it would be the better option. Of course this also opens the door for Turnbull to take credit for the whole program by only making some superficial changes to it. Whilst this is probably the best outcome I could hope for, especially considering that current fibre rollouts will continue until the review is completed (expected to take 6 months), it doesn’t make up for the fact that Turnbull has taken every opportunity to blast the NBN and now wants to take credit for it.

Of course there’s every chance that he’d could still do a lot of damage to it without fundamentally changing the technology that underpins it. Now that the entire NBNCo board has resigned at his request Turnbull has apparently tapped former Telstra CEO Ziggy Switkowski to head the new board. Anyone who lived through Ziggy’s tenure as CEO of Telstra will tell you that he’s bad news for a telecommunications company as he proceeded to run Telstra into the ground and was ousted late in 2004. He has not been involved in the telecommunications industry since then so any cred he had has long since lapsed and would be far more likely to give a repeat performance of his time with Telstra. This could be made up for somewhat by the fact that NBNCo is still on the government’s leash but I’d rather not have to get them involved every time Ziggy makes a poor business decision.

Talking this over with my more politically minded friends it seems like this will be the only avenue in which we will be able to get the FTTP NBN we want: by letting the Liberals claim it as their own. Personally that gives me the shits as it shows that politicians aren’t interested in continuing large, multi-term infrastructure projects unless they can somehow claim ownership of it. Of course the tech community will always know it was Labor’s idea in the first place but the larger voting public will likely see it as a beleaguered project which the Liberals valiantly fixed, something which is provably wrong. In the end I guess I don’t care what the public perception is as long as it gets in but I’d rather not have to argue the point to convince people otherwise.

So hopefully 6 months from now I’ll be able to write a post about how the review has come back and magically convinced Turnbull of what we all knew: the FTTP NBN is the way to go. Whilst I’m struggling to figure out how NBNCo could do what they’re doing faster and more efficiently I’m sure they’ll be able to find a few percent here or there that will be enough to ensure the overall structure doesn’t change dramatically. With that Turnbull can claim victory that he’s able to do the exact same thing better than Labor and I’ll write another angry rant, albeit from behind a nice, fat 100MBs pipe.

 

Samsung’s Galaxy S2: Powerful, Elegant, Sublime.

I’m pretty fiscally conservative when it comes to my own cash, agonizing over purchases for sometimes weeks at a time before I take the plunge. It’s enough to outright kill some purchases entirely like the Motorola Xoom that I was convinced was worth at least having around just for the “tablet experience” but couldn’t seem to pass my financial filter. There are however times when my inner geek becomes so impressed with something that it overwhelms any sort of fiscal responsibility and I’ll find myself in possession of my object of desire well before I realize that I’ve taken my credit card out of my wallet. The Samsung Galaxy S2 is a brilliant example of this as I had been looking for a new phone for a while (and the Windows Phone 7 handsets available weren’t wowing me) and a quick trip to the specification sheet had me deep in geek lust, and 3 days later I had one in my hands.

The Galaxy S2 is really another world away from any other handset that I’ve had the pleasure of using. It’s quite a wide unit with the main screen measuring an impressive 4.3″ (10.92cm) across the diagonal but it’s also incredibly slim, being only 8.49mm thick. It’s also incredibly light weighing in at a tiny 116g which you’d think would make it feel cheap when compared to other similar handsets (the iPhone 4 is much more meatier) but the construction of the handset is very solid despite it being entirely plastic. The front screen is Gorilla glass which is incredibly resistant to scratches. I haven’t had a single scratch on it despite dropping it a couple times and putting it in my pocket with my keys by accident, something that would’ve ruined a lesser phone. To say that the first impressions of just holding the handset are impressive is putting it lightly, it’s simply an incredible device to hold.

In fact coming directly from an iPhone to the Galaxy S2 I can see why Samsung is in hot water with Apple over this particular device. I’ve covered the TouchWiz interface being strikingly similar to iOS in my Android review but the handset itself is also very Applesque, sporting the same single physical button on the front right in the same location that Apple has. Although its hard to accuse them of outright copying Apple since you can only get so creative with large touchscreen devices, especially when some of the required buttons are dictated by the underlying OS.

Under the hood of this featherweight device lies immense processing power, a multitude of connectivity options and enough sensors to make privacy nuts go wild with lawsuits. To give you an idea of just how jam packed the Galaxy S2 is here’s a breakdown of the specifications:

  • Compatible networks: GSM/GPRS/EDGE: 850, 900, 1800, and 1900; MHz UMTS: 850, 900, 1700, 1900, and 2100; MHz HSPA+: 21 Mbit/s;  HSUPA: 5.76 Mbit/s
  • CPU: 1.2 GHz dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 SoC processor; Samsung Exynos (GT-i9100)
  • GPU: ARM Mali-400 MP (GT-i9100)
  • Memory 1 GB RAM
  • Storage: 16 GB flash memory expandable with microSD (up to 32 GB)
  • Data inputs: Multi-touch touch screen, headset controls, proximity and ambient light sensors, 3-axis gyroscope, magnetometer, accelerometer, aGPS, and stereo FM-radio
  • Rear camera: 8 Mpx with auto focus, 1080p HD video, LED flash; Front camera: 2 Mpx for video chatting, video recording (VGA)
  • Connectivity: 3.5 mm TRRS; Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n); Wi-Fi Direct; Bluetooth 3.0; Micro USB 2.0; Near field communication (NFC); DLNA; MHL; HDMI; USB Host (OTG) 2.0
  • Screen: 800×480 px at 218 ppi WVGA Super AMOLED Plus
It’s this very list that sold me on the phone initially. In terms of computing power the Samsung Galaxy S2 is roughly equivalent to a full PC I owned just 8 years ago, except that this one fits in my pocket and can also make calls. The in built storage is extremely generous, even if 5GB of it isn’t really available to you. What really impressed me was the inclusion of an 8 megapixel camera that was also capable of recording in full 1080p HD, something I had only just recently been able to do after shelling out $400 on my Sony DSC-HX5V. There’s also a pretty decent camera on the front of it too, although I’ve yet to use that for anything. You might then be wondering how the picture and image quality stacks up against my little pocket camera, well I did a quick comparison video below showcasing both of them side by side:

As you can see it actually stands up quite well when compared to my Sony. The video and picture quality is very comparable, especially in well lit situations. However it does fall down in low light and any time there’s motion due to the smaller CMOS sensor and lack of image stabilization. The LED flash on it is also incredibly harsh and will likely wash out any low light photo you attempt to take with it, but it does make for a decent little flash light. It won’t outright replace my little pocket cam any time soon but it’s definitely a good stand in when I don’t have (or don’t want to carry) it with me.

The everyday usability of the Galaxy S2 is also quite good for someone like me who has large hands (…ladies 😉 and used to struggle somewhat with the smaller screens on other handsets. However one gripe I do have with the handset is the lack of physical buttons for the options and back buttons for Android. The Galaxy S2 opts instead for 2 capacitive buttons either side of a the physical home button which does give the device a much sleeker look but can also mean accidental button touches should you brush against them. Samsung has also opted to put the power button on the side of the handset instead of the traditional placement on top near the headset port, which takes a little getting used to but is quite usable.

Where the stock Galaxy S2 falls down however is in its battery life. With moderate usage the battery wouldn’t make it through a second day requiring me to keep it plugged in most days whilst I was work lest it die on me overnight when I went home. This could have been the deal breaker for this phone as whilst I’m not the forgetful type I do like to be confident that I can make it through the day without having to watch the battery meter like a hawk. Thankfully the guys over at XDA Developers came to the rescue again with their custom ROM for the Galaxy S2 called VillainROM. After going through the process of doing the upgrade my battery now lasts about twice as long as it used to, only needing charging once or twice a week. I’ve yet to run Advanced Task Killer to attempt to squeeze even more battery life out of my handset, but it’s good enough for the time being.

It should come at no surprise then that this has been a wildly popular handset with both the tech and non-tech crowd a like. In the 3 months since its release the Galaxy S2 has sold a whopping 6 million units and just anecdotally it seems nearly every single one of my friends who was looking for a new phone has got one as well as almost half of my workmates. I used to laugh at anyone who touted any smartphone as an iPhone killer but with the Galaxy S2 not even being available in the USA yet and already garnering such a massive reception it might be the very first single phone that will be able to come close to touching Apple’s numbers. Of course I don’t believe for a second that any single Android handset will be able to take down the iPhone, not for a while at least.

The Samsung Galaxy S2 has set the bar as to what smart phones should be capable of and it will be the gold standard with which all are compared to for a long time coming. The combination of elegant design, incredible power and features galore make the Galaxy S2 stand out from the crowd in a big way, so much so that buying any other handset seems illogical. For many it has the potential to replace several other devices with its top notch multimedia components, further improving the overall value that you can derive from this handset. Overall the Samsung Galaxy S2 is a wonderfully impressive device and if you’re in the market for a new smart phone I really can’t recommend it enough.

Borderlands: One Word, Badass.

I couldn’t really tell you how many games I’ve played over the years that made me think “The only thing that would make this better was if I could play it with my mates”, I.E. good old fashioned co-op. I haven’t said that much to myself recently though as more and more games have some kind of multi player aspect to them, although few still allow you to run through the main story with a friend by your side. Borderlands is one of those few and after spending a week or so slogging through it and finishing the game at the tender level of 37 I’ve found myself wanting more of the rockstar-eque game play feel where you can truly be the bad ass of the wasteland of Pandora.

Rewind back about a year or so and something appeared on my PS3 that I didn’t recall downloading: the trailer for said game. Turns out that my housemate at the time had been browsing the trailer section of the Playstation store and happened across it. Back then though it was a very different beast to the game it has become today:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yqra7zEBCoQ

That trailer alone was enough to sell me on the game although I barely thought about it until several months afterwards, when they decided to make the jump to cel shading. I wasn’t too sure how that would work out for them as most cel shaded games I’ve played in the past failed to add anything to the game apart from hiding bad texture jobs.

The first day after I had the game downloaded and installed I decided to give it a romp through, starting with single player. I had not been playing more than 10 minutes before one of my friends messaged me over steam to join them in a multiplayer game. This was the first let down for Borderlands for two reasons: first it needs around 4 ports opened to function properly, which is fine but an annoyance none the less. Secondly having to sign up for a GameSpy account is another small annoyance which could have easily been removed from the game since it added no benefit when the game is played via Steam. It is much the same problems that plagued Dawn of War II as you had to run 2 separate game networking programs to actually play multiplayer. Once you get past these difficulties the game does start to come into a world of its own.

Choosing Mordecai as my class I set off with the rest of my team (we had one of each class). After slogging our way through the beginner missions we finally got into our first instance, Skag Valley. I was instantly drawn back to 2004 where I ran my first instance in World of Warcraft and the memories came flooding back. Nothing is more exciting than grabbing a couple mates and beating down a challenge that a game developer has set up for you, and Borderlands is no exception. The instances are well designed and feel expansive whilst not feeling too long to make you dread the walk back to the start (in fact most of them have a quick return path). There is also, of course, the loot.

If there’s one thing that will keep gamers coming back for more its the prospect of getting that next great widget to help them slaughter their enemies with and Borderlands does this with impressive finesse. You can instantly recall the first moment when you see your first blue, purple and eventually orange drop. Even better are the weapons that function abnormally like the shotgun that shoots 8 bullets at a time that bounce off walls or the revolver that can shoot as accurately as a sniper rifle (with scope to boot!). My character managed to finish the game covered in purples with all but one weapons being orange, something which made him an almost unstoppable force when it came to shooting his share of bad guys.

This was were Borderlands really shone for me, the atmosphere set by the graphics and music made you feel like the ultimate bad-ass rockstar that’s decended upon the world of Pandora to make it your bitch. From the first time you see a head explode in a flurry of gibs to the moments when you’re surrounded by 10 raiders only to set them all on fire with your elementally enhanced SMG Borderlands makes you feel like everything’s going to hell in a handbasket, and your the pilot. I can’t tell you how many times our party was wiped almost completely out only to have one of us score a second wind and then proceed to mow down everything that took us out. Even more hilarious would be when Brick would be the one doing it, since he was usually screaming his head off and punching the crap out of something.

I’d love to say the vehicles were an important part to the gameplay but they’re really not. The FPS genre has always struggled with putting vehicles in game as if you make them too weak people don’t want to use them. Make them too strong and it can break the game. In Borderlands they feel more like a means to an end, serving as a fast means from A to B whilst still giving you the impression of a very large and open world. They are a hell of a lot of fun co-op though, but that’s mostly because I’m an ass with them and tended to ram my fellow Borderlanders off the road and flip them at every opportunity I got.

The experience is marred (but not ruined by) a decidedly made-for-console like interface. Now I’ve seen my share of console ports before and apart from those ones developed at the same time as each other the port will always suffer some lagging parts of the UI from its predecessor. For instance many of the game controls in Borderlands require you to press a key to use, instead of the more intuitive mouse click. Confirmation happens with the enter key for most things when again a mouse click would be far more appropriate. Whilst the majority of the action isn’t hampered by this all the menus, vendor interactions and inviting friends to play are plagued with illogical button choices that only serve to slow you down. Had I played this on the PS3 rather than the PC the story might have been different, but then again I don’t think I could have enjoyed it as much (there’s no cross platform multi available).

Overall Borderlands is an amazing game just for the times you’ll share with your friends romping through instances, slaying skags, raiders and Lance infantry. The loot makes the game so enjoyable that you’ll spend hours recounting the times you found that sniper rifle that could one shot enemies from across the map or that shotgun that shot rockets. The game doesn’t take itself seriously at all and this shows with the characters that, whilst shallow from a plot perspective, always bring a smile to your face when you see them.

Rating: 9.0/10

Borderlands is available for PS3, Xbox360 and PC right now for AU$96.00, AU$98.00 and AU$54.00 respectively. Game was played on the PC through to level 37 finishing the game once with the majority of it spent with others doing co-op.

Gigabyte T1028 Mini Review.

For the honeymoon I was faced with a rather difficult choice. The first was to lash out now and get the Macbook I alluded to in another post now instead of later. This would put us in a difficult situation financially as whilst I can write off the majority of the cost I’d still be out of pocket for $3500 until work got around to doing the paper work, something which I couldn’t quite afford with the wedding on the horizon. I therefore relegated myself to finding a cheap netbook that would serve as our journey book for the trip. I then discovered a couple things.

The first was that I was hoping to get one with a discrete graphics chip. Now I wasn’t looking for anything too fancy, just something other than an Intel GMA as they’re not the best for anything but 2D work. I’m not planning to play the latest games on netbook, but it would be nice if I could burl up Warcraft 3 on it for a little DOTA action on the couch. It seems this was not meant to be as the few I could find with such a feature weren’t available in Australia, and I didn’t have 2~3 weeks to wait for one to arrive from overseas.

I then thought to myself how useful a tablet PC would be, as I could use that for various other things once it had served its purpose as a travel journal. Additionally Rebecca had always wanted one so there was definitely some common ground covered by getting a tablet. My search then tracked down two suitable candidates, the Gigabyte T1028 and the EEE T91. A quick comparison shows the T1028 coming out ahead in all aspects (including price, $799 to the EEE $737 according to staticice at time of writing) so the obvious choice was the T1028. I’d had experience with a housemate’s EEE before and couldn’t stand the tiny keyboard and the promise of a 92% of full sized keyboard on the T1028 made it sound usable. I ordered myself one with express posting and recieved it not 2 days later:

IMG_6541

The model I got was the T1028X which apart from a few small things isn’t too much different from the rest of the range. The packaging it comes in is quite attractive and gives the user a hint at what’s to come when you open the box up:

IMG_6542

Included in the box are the standard accessories: power cables, manuals, driver CD, extra stylus and a neoprene carry case. The case is actually quite nice especially if you’re someone like me who hasn’t actually owned any of the laptops he had previously (they were all work ones) and don’t have a hand me down case you can use with it. The X model which I got has the 6 cell battery included which is supposed to give up to 6.5 hours of battery life. I haven’t yet given it a full drain test but general usage doesn’t seem to hit the battery too hard, although it does ruin the lines on it slightly.

The standard installation of Windows XP is included with this laptop however I blew that away to put Windows 7 on it. Since there’s no optical drive you’ll have to install it via a flash drive, easily done by following the instructions here. There was a small problem with my initial attempt as the disc I used must have had some corrupted files as the install would crash halfway through. After retrieving a new copy I managed to get it on there with no hassles at all.

This is where Windows 7 really starts to shine, as every device on the laptop (webcam, multi-touch pad, touchscreen, sound, bluetooth, wireless network) all installed without a wiff of a driver CD, and all function perfectly. I was surprised when the multi-touch gestures just worked without any cajoling at all, as this is usually something you have to wrestle with. The one grievance I have yet to resolve is the fact that the “flicks” feature that was made available to me doesn’t seem to recognise the touch screen correctly, as it the screen has been installed as a generic HID device (mouse). I’m pretty sure this would work fine if I wrangled with the XP drivers, but I just haven’t had the time yet.

The biggest grievance I have with the laptop is the same with most laptops these days: the glossy screen. It seems no matter what kind of laptop you get these days they’ll shine that screen up to make it look more expensive and whatnot. This is especially dumb with things like tablets which are going to have hands and fingers all over them and will display those fingerprints proudly. We have HP tablets at work that don’t have a glossy screen and they’re much more usable in this regard. However they do attract a much higher price tag.

Overall I’m very happy with this tablet. The overall build is solid and the seamless experience in upgrading to Windows 7 combine to make a very usable little netbook. For under $1000 this makes the perfect little travel companion with that little something extra that will make it useful when its travelling days are over. Overall I’d give it a 8.5/10.