Little Big Awesome Planet

Okay so its Little Big Planet, but its pretty awesome, actually. A 3D sorta 2D platformer puzzle game with layered depth and online scores and collaboration and gestures.

Yes, gestures. Playing a game and being able to make your character dance or give thumbs up or stick his tongue out is remarkably entertaining on its own. Even more so when playing in a group with friends online.

Now, I've got a little more LBP experience than many people these first few days after its launch since I was in on the beta and got to play it with friends and family then too. My daughter is only 6 and loved it, especially playing community levels and then assigning words to describe them.

The community aspect of the game is very well done, and this is most apparent by how upset everyone was the last day or so with the servers not connecting well -- it really affects things being able to play together and share levels.

Yes, you can create your own levels, with logic and puzzles and stories and characters and movement and vehicles and and and ... its very complex and huge and entertaining if you're the creative type.

Speaking of playing online though, in case anyone else ran into this problem, I had to port forward UDP port 56759 on my router to my PS3 to invite friends into my session. It would appear LBP doesn't make use of UPnP port forwarding functionality, which is somewhat disappointing.


Criterion treats you right

Criterion Games loves their users, its obvious. Not only have they committed to "a year of Burnout", a year of updates and free additional features to their beautiful Burnout Paradise, but they keep improving the game's quality and distribution as well.

On the PS3 they've added proper 1080i support, using the processor to render the game at 720p and 1080i (and also added better 480p support for those pre-HD people). On both the PS3 and 360 they've added additional online content, and rules updates and a new news and calendar system. They're soon releasing their next major content update featuring bikes (motorcycles, not cyclists) and they're working on a new island full of additional content too, all for free.

As if all this weren't enough, and in case they weren't selling enough copies already, they've now announced on the official Playstation blog that they'll be releasing the full game as a download from the PSN store for just under $30 so you won't need a disc copy at all.

No, I don't know how big the download will be (although since the full game also ships for the 360 on DVD, it must be under 9GiB, not including updates). Yes, it is very clear for those who haven't played the game yet that the content on the disc version and the download version will be the same, that updates are available to both and that the motorcyle pack and coming trophy update are not for the download version only, so don't worry.

The question is, can I find someone to buy my disc copy for $30 so I can purchase the downloadable one and not need to put the disc in each time I want to play. I already play Warhawk this way, and I love my other downloaded games like Super Stardust HD for this too. I must say though, even though I upgraded my PS3 hard disk to a 120GiB 7200RPM model, its almost full again. Time to upgrade again.


Sometimes users are fun

Anyone who works in technical support is familiar with some of the incredibly funny situations that can arise on the phone when dealing with customers. I was recently shown an entire website of computer stupidities, many of which made me laugh out loud, for real. Take a look, unless you've called tech support because you don't understand your computer, in which case you may find yourself on the list.

  • Customer: "I lost some of my files. I archived them, but when I went to retrieve them, they were gone!"
  • Tech Support: "What program did you use to archive your files?"
  • Customer: "I used DOS -- but now I can't find them!"
  • Tech Support: "Ok, what program are you using to do this?"
  • Customer: "I used 'undelete', but they aren't there."
  • Tech Support: "Uh...what command did you use to archive your files?"
  • Customer: "I used 'del' and the filename."
It turned out that the guy had been deleting files, which would free up disk space (he liked that), and when he wanted a file again, he would undelete it. Apparently he actually got away with this for a while, until he discovered 'defrag', which overwrote his deleted files.

If you have your own stories, make sure to share.


Home, its real, honest

There's no secret to the fact that I enjoy my Playstation 3 immensely, but the long drawn out saga that has been Sony's new Home feature is almost embarrassing at this point. Announced well over a year ago, Sony promised an open Beta by last summer and that never materialized. A website purporting to have instructions 'soon' about how to enter the beta process is now very stale. Some users who got into the closed beta have been leaking information about the state of Home as it goes along, but Sony has been very tight-lipped about it.

Well now it seems there's a new way to get into the beta testing, if you're wanting to do that. Simply download the new PS Home theme from the Playstation Store tonight and you'll be entered automatically. I'm sure quite a few people will jump at that opportunity, despite not knowing the size of this lottery nor how many will make it. I know I will.


Elefunk is pretty cool

It was only five dollars. It also looked cool, but for $5 how can you go wrong? I'm slightly disappointed it didn't come with trophy support, and like several other PSN games, it could use some help with its leader board display (take some hints from Super Stardust and Super Rub a Dub people), but its pretty fun.

Sorry, let me back up a moment, we're talking Elefunk. Its a cute new physics / engineering puzzle game featuring elephants trying to cross bridges that badly need some support upgrades. You add trusses, supports, ropes, wires, spans, etc. in an attempt to make them withstand the weight of the elephants (and other critters) as they cross. You're also trying to beat the clock and use as few pieces as possible if you want a high score.

The game plays quite well. Its not as complex as a bridge building simulator I once tried for kicks, but it appears to have some decent physics as they're implemented for the game. Note, as the game points out, that only joints can break -- pieces in between joints simply detach from said joints. Also, joints are always mobile; you can't make a nice solid beam 20 units wide, its like you've strung them together with putty instead of a good weld, but once you get the hang of it, its quite entertaining.

Have I beaten it yet? Nope. Got through the first few levels (up to one called something like "this is going to be tricky") before deciding to quit for the evening. I'll definitely go back and try levels over to do them faster or more efficiently, although it would be nice to see the stress on your joints in some type of colour coding before they break, to judge how close you got to failure. Also, trophies. Small puzzle games should all feature trophies.

The verdict? Definitely worth $5. Needs in-game music. Needs trophies. Very replayable. Could use higher resolution graphics -- somewhat blurry to me, not as sharp as Super Stardust for example. Music is so so, but crisp and fairly well recorded.


Sony E3 PSP video announcement

So it would seem that Sony has just announced their new downloadable video content for the store is to be available tonight, and transferable to the PSP. Its not quite my wishlist item, but its very cool nonetheless. From their live casting of the presentation:

  • 12.23 - Jack talks about the new video download service. On Day 1 - Sony Pictures, Fox, MGM, Lions Gate, Warner Brothers, Disney, and more will have content available. A huge differentiator - you can take movies and tv on the go via PSP.
  • 12.25 - Eric Lempel takes the stage (you remember him, right), to show a live demo of the video download service - it’s part of the existing PLAYSTATION Store - there’s a new video tab. Each studio has a page. Eric shows how to buy, rent, or preview a movie.
  • 12.29 - “How long will it take to download an SD movie?” The answer is about an hour for a 2 hour movie. However, with progressive downloading, you can begin watching your video almost instantaneously.
  • 12.30 - Eric demonstrates how to copy movies to the PSP. You can do this either through a PS3, or through the PC Store. BTW, this video download service will be available TONIGHT (applause). We’ll be adding new titles each week.

You have to admit that's pretty cool. Its not exactly Netflix on the 360, but its a good start, and we'll see how it goes. Having PSP integration for watching movies on the go is awesome though.

PSP wishlist

I'm the happy owner of a red Kratos PSP, which I got for Father's day (and half for my birthday). I've been enjoying it quite a bit, playing the included God of War game, ignoring the bundled Super Bad movie on UMD, and trying to wrestle it back from my wife as she works her way through Patapon. I have been playing with Remote Play and picture viewing and loving the screen for showing off photos and home videos.

I have, however, come up with some features that I would love to see addressed in the future, and hopefully they will be implemented some day:

  • Saving of music/videos/pictures viewed via remote play to the connected PSP.
  • Optional resizing and transcoding of video/music/photos to the screen resolution of the PSP. The PS3 should be able to easily transcode video it supports into video the PSP can play and transmit the result.
  • Full-time wifi scanner that constantly updates the wifi visibility list until it is stopped instead of timing out and requiring a re-scan.
  • Bluetooth support for two-way headsets as well as headphones and file transfers with cell phones, mini keyboards, etc.
  • The RSS features from the PSP implemented on the PS3.
  • Downloadable day planner and IMAP E-mail applications. VNC viewer if you really want to make me happy.

There it is, if you have any suggestions, feel free to add them as comments below.


Geeking out Linux style

Every following has its events, whether its Daytona and Indianapolis for their respective racing fans, or conventions for various sci-fi followings. As a computer geek who's bent on using Linux everywhere, the one I'll be at this summer is the Ottawa Linux Symposium later this month.

The Symposium brings together Linux people of all areas of expertise including simple fans and programmers, kernel hackers and company reps. As a simpleton myself by comparison, I enjoy hobnobbing with the likes of file system designers and SCSI engineers. The list of events this year is quite impressive, with some very interesting topics including SELinux and Bluetooth audio streaming, energy management, mobile devices and BitTorrent distribution, it should be a very enlightening extended weekend.

My employer has paid for me to attend (I am after all a Linux system administrator and programmer for a living), but I'll be covering my personal, travel and hotel costs. Since it happens that the convention falls on the week of my wife's birthday and a week before our 10th anniversary, we're making an outing of it and having ourselves a little vacation too. No, my wife probably won't attend any of the events (and isn't registered to do so anyway), but she did enjoy meeting some interesting people last time we attended, and getting to ride in a home-made electric car (something Mazda hadn't intended for their Miata, I'm sure).

Since my fellow geeks at the convention will have the building wired for wireless (lol), I may be blogging random updates as they happen starting July 22nd. Check this space for more details, with the tag OLS2008.


In-game XMB will have to wait

Well it would appear that Sony heeded my advice and took down the PS3 2.40 patch. Now, according to Sony, it wasn't to give us something to complain about, but rather because people were complaining anyway. It seems the firmware didn't take for all users, and gave a few some problems, so they took it back down for debugging. Maybe it'll be back up soon, maybe not.

Personally, I was somewhat anxious to check out trophies so I was online Wednesday morning checking for the update and got it just fine, as well as the Super Stardust update with Trophy support. I've been working on unlocking them ever since (PSN ID Maluraq if you'd like to compare).

The in-game XMB access is pretty cool and very smooth I might add. Its not as fast as when you're not playing a game, but I can scroll through my trophies and friends list and look at music titles and such while a car slowly rotates in the background (the live 'screensaver' view from Gran Turismo 5: Prologue). In fact, that's what most impressed me -- the XMB does not automatically pause the game that you're playing, but instead leaves it running (unless the game itself chooses to pause as a result) which makes for some cool background graphics in the case of GT5:P or when running Folding@Home.

I'll be getting those trophies before anyone else can while you guys wait for the firmware to be available again :-)


In-game XMB ruins blog

Seriously, now what will the readers of Sony's official blog whine about? In case you haven't heard, Sony has announced the much-anticipated Playstation 3 firmware version 2.40 for July 2nd of this year (that's 2008 for you time-travelers). The first video details the in-game XMB feature, allowing contact with other gamers as well as some settings and direct launching of other games from within a first game and the second introduces the new trophy system.

Trophies, I'm excited about. In-game XMB, only so much but being able to set up my bluetooth headset while already in-game (Warhawk!) would be much appreciated. I can't wait to check my friends to see what they've actually achieved in some games, and to compare our mad skillz. I hope that already released games with built-in accomplishments of various forms will port their old rewards to the new trophy system though (I mean you, Insomniac and Naughty Dog).

Well, here's to seeing what the next big complaint will be.


Open letter to PS3 haters

What is with you haters? The PS3 has quite a few good games, none of which required Sony to pay anyone anything. Microsoft is the one who pays for exclusives, not Sony. Microsoft bought all of Bungie back in the day to keep Halo exclusive even.

Resistance, Resistance 2 and Ratchet & Clank are exclusives for the PS3 from Insomniac Games. Drake's Fortune is a gorgeous exclusive from Naughty Dog. Heavenly Sword is exclusive and very fun, Warhawk is exclusive and I love the excellent online 32 player battles. Metal Gear Solid 4 is one of the best games of the year, easily, and is exclusive to the PS3 (good luck making a 50GiB game on the 360).

As others have pointed out, a number of the new games are being designed directly for the PS3 now and then being ported to the XBox 360, not the other way around (like LucasArts. That includes Burnout Paradise, which is including software scaling for 1080i support on the PS3 in their next update without losing their 60fps speed, because the Cell has a lot of power left over.

Do I love my PS3? Yes. Do I have anything against the 360? Not really -- but the 9GiB disc limit is a pain, although XBL and achievements are pretty cool. As far as achievements go though, most of the games I like playing have them built-in anyway (see list above) so its not really relevant to me. Just stop claiming the PS3 has no good games, just like the 360 had no good games when it launched either.


Feeling the Escher love

Well if you've been following this blog (and I can't imagine why you wouldn't), you'd know I love the PSN downloadable game Echochrome. If you didn't read my previous post about this game, Echochrome is a cool little 2D/3D black and white puzzle game reminiscent of (and inspired by) M.C. Escher's impossible geometry paintings.

One of the interesting features of Echochrome (and one of the primary reasons I bought it) is that it includes a level editor that allows you to create your own levels which you can then send to friends on the Playstation Network or upload to the servers of the game designers for review and possible inclusion in future updates.

I'll admit, I haven't played the game for as many hours as I thought I might, partly due to being busy, partly because Burnout Paradise and Hot Shots Golf were taking up so much of my time, and partly because some of the more difficult levels required me to take a mental break after beating them. That said, I found myself dreaming up new and interesting level shapes I could build in the level editor. I made four or five basic levels, nothing too fancy, just to try out my skills and figure out the controls and possibilities afforded me. I uploaded the few that seemed to work as I figured, "why not share?"

So just today I see that the Echochrome devs have posted on the Playstation Blog and that there are 30 new levels coming to the game from North America (the USA, Canada and Malta in fact) in the next downloadable update and I figure "ah, some new content" and figured I ought to browse the level diagrams on Flickr and see what's new and interesting. Well imagine my surprise as I'm scrolling through the photos and I recognize one of my levels is being included in the update, rated a difficulty of 2. A quick "Woohoo!" goes through my head and I call my wife to brag about having made one of the thirty included levels when I notice that another of my levels, this one rated a 3, is also being included.

Yes, I'm bragging. Leave me alone, it feels good. My head should shrink back down by tonight when I'm trying to sneak past the automatic sentry machines in MGS4.


Haze fun but not excellent

Haze, the PS3-exclusive first person shooter from Free Radical looked like it had potential. For years. I kept seeing previews and hearing about the game, and the game never emerged until it had all but been forgotten. Then it came out to glorious reviews!

Not quite. As ps3fanboy has summarized, there aren't many glowing reviews. Now as some of the comments have pointed out, its competitors have received strangely high review scores (especially on the single player campaigns) -- COD4 and Halo3 come to mind of course.

In fact, if I could convince them to do it, I'd ask reviewers to review the single player campaign game-play and the multi-player sections of games separately. Some games have excellent multiplayer with no single player plot to speak of (or have none at all, like Warhawk).

That aside, what I hated about Haze was the dialogue -- there were moments that were well-written and there was dialogue I could tell they'd put some thought into. Then there was the other 85% which sucked, was poorly timed and didn't advance the story at all (cutting room floor, anyone?). The lack of load times was a complete lie of course, they were just covered up by transport vehicle moments with aforementioned terrible dialogue. I'd rather have a loading screen with a good story insert or a movie clip with background loading personally.

The story, quite honestly, was good but could have been fleshed out better. There should be more attachment time to your own character at the beginning and more AI-driven decision making (to turn or not to turn -- to shoot your own men or not -- to kill rebels or not, etc.). I miss games letting me make decisions. But besides decision making being made for you by the plot, the overtones of the game, the issues of deciding good and evil, the ending especially make this game worth playing.

As far as actual game play goes, its a fun shooter. I have one and only one real beef with the mechanics of the game -- I know why the Mantel soldiers can self-heal, but how is it that after becoming a rebel I can still self-heal without my Mantel suit and drugs? Also, why is there no cover and sneaking mechanic in a game designed around the bold stupidity of the Mantel soldiers? I should be able to sneak up behind one, knock him down, steal his gun and leave without his buddies noticing since they can't see his dead body after ward.

What about the resolution of the game? Well my eyes are very sensitive to low resolutions and that's why I never played FPS games on previous console generations (okay, I played Perfect Dark on the N64) but Haze gets around its low resolutions by having almost all the action up close and personal. There are very few environments that require you to deal with enemies in the distance and therefore the inability to distinguish between a bird a flower and a mantel soldier at 200 yards is less relevant.

Since playing a couple other games recently, Free Radical could have implemented something like Denied Ops' destination designator instead of the over-used compass mechanic to make life easier in some vertical areas too since when you're directly above or below your final destination, the compass heading is not very useful if you can't find the right set of stairs to use to get there.

Overall, it was a fun game. I rented it for $10 and beat it in a week. I played online a bit and it was actually kinda fun, but nothing elaborately exciting. The layouts are not outstanding nor is the use of weapons crates at spawn points. Play it for the single player campaign then go back to your favourite online shooter for multi player.


PSN Store Late with Qore, Novastrike

As an addendum to my entry on Qore, its worth noting that the PSN store update didn't happen for on Thursday, at least not in EST and that over 5,000 comments were made to the PSN Store update blog entry (which was intermittently unavailable for me this morning). I began my downloads this morning, and will likely have more comments in a new post later.

For now, I'd like to point out that there are some serious cry-babies in the gaming community (as will be evidenced by a reading of the aforementioned Playstation blog. I still see no reason for the hostility some people appear to have toward Qore. Perhaps they spend too much of their time swallowing the opinions of others instead of reading what Qore really is intended to be.

Many people seem under other circumstances to not understand the difference between Sony as a platform maintainer and Sony as a publisher of content, and that may be part of the problem here. Since Sony's publishing the blog and Sony's publishing the PSN store and Sony's publishing this Qore magazine, then it must be the same resources involved in each? Right? Wrong. There's potentially no cross-over in talent or resources at all in fact, much like Sid Meiers probably has nothing to do with the latest Burnout game, despite both being published by EA.

At any rate, I'd love to know the technical reasons for the Store not being updated on time but right now my PS3 is at home happily chugging away downloading several gigabytes of new content, including this month's episode of Qore and the first self-published title on the PSN, Novastrike.


The raw power of game consoles

There is an article on tgdaily about the floating-point speed of a number of game consoles for the sake of a raw numbers comparison. They chose to report on the FLOPs each processor can put out, at peak (that would be 'floating operations per second') which is an industry standard measurement for the speed of CPUs in general.

Of course, CPUs for PCs are not frequently measured in FLOPs -- its normally a benchmark associated with raw horsepower type computers like mainframes and supercomputers. The Top 500 Supercomputers list measures performance in FLOPs (actually, giga and tera FLOPs) of the world's fastest computers.

More thoughts coming ...

My comment from that page for those who don't want to sift through and find it:

To those who claim this article is biased somehow, you obviously don't understand benchmarking. The whole purpose of the FLOP measurement is the ability to compare different CPU architectures in a meaningful way.

FLOPs are a measurement of performance that does not necessarily reflect how appropriate a given platform is for your software however. The Cell processor in the PS3 is much faster doing Folding@Home calculations than a regular Intel or AMD CPU for example, but isn't well designed for other workloads.

And to the SPU haters, SPUs are FULL processors. Look at their specifications. Their only meaningful limitation is how much memory access they have at any given point in time (without making DMA calls to fetch other data to process).

They are not comparable to FPUs at all.



I love a good puzzle game. I buy those little metal Chinese puzzles whenever possible. My wife is still bitter from the first such 3D puzzle she bought me that I solved in an hour or so. Its just a function of how my brain works, and I really enjoy exercising it. As such, I'm very excited about tonight's release of Echochrome in North America on the PSN (on the Sony Playstation Network Store). Its a very cool 3D puzzle game based lightly on the work of Escher.

You basically have control of a 3D view of a simple line-drawn environment with one or more little figures walking around in essentially straight lines on it. There are obstacles and jumping pads and holes in the floor and gaps to cross, all without any direct control of the characters. The really interesting part is that the rotating of the image such that a path looks connected (because the gap is hidden by another piece of the foreground) causes th path to be connected, at least until you rotate it again. The same goes for hiding obstacles or for how jumping and falling work.

Tell you what, try Youtube for a video of it instead, it'll make much more sense.

Now you get it? A little maybe? Very cool, don't you think? Now here's the really cool part -- you can create your own levels in the game, then either share them with friends or upload them directly back to the game makers and let them possibly include your creation(s) in future (free) updates to the game. Check out the official blog entry for more information.


Gaming consoles going nowhere

A recent piece by Alex St. John, an ex-Microsoft worker who was deeply involved in making Windows the preferred platform for gaming back in the 90's and had his fingers in Direct-X and other technologies has predicted the demise of console gaming systems and the rise of PC gaming in the future. Some of you may remember as I do when he wrote a regular ranting but interesting column in the back of Boot magazine, destined to become Maximum PC.

Contrary to how you may interpret my title, and regardless of what you might read in discussions on Slashdot, I completely disagree for a few simple reasons.

First off, there's the fact that this has been predicted before and not been true. Back when Microsoft introduced the X-box gaming platform, it was trying to prove that PC gaming was as good or better than existing consoles for the same price and so the X-box was basically off-the-shelf PC parts assembled with some extra Copyright protection features to make it usable as a gaming system. It had a PC gaming video card, and a PC hard drive, a PC CPU and a PC-like motherboard with PC-standard USB and a PC-like disc drive, PC-style RAM and unfortunately for Microsoft, PC-like cost to build.

Microsoft lost a tonne of money making and delivering the X-box. When they brought out their quite famous second-generation system, the 360, they even completely ceased sales and support on their original system (unlike Sony with the PSOne and PS2). Although it played games reasonably well, and was a pretty good platform and system, and despite how they'd wooed PC game developers with Direct-X compatibility and an Intel CPU, the system simply wasn't a profitable way to do gaming (for Microsoft). As a testament to this truth, he 360 no longer bears almost any resemblance to its first generation's PC roots using a custom external power brick, a custom PowerPC-based CPU (as their competitors Nintendo and Sony do), and a completely overhauled memory and video architecture. The PC-branded-as-a-console was a financial disaster, and is gone.

So why would someone suddenly believe that a PC as a gaming system would now be more successful? More importantly, what really makes consoles successful? One of the big factors in a gaming console is stability. A game developer making a game for the PC targets a random point in the future, and doesn't know what PCs will be able to do. Their game may require huge new $1000 video cards to run (Crysis) or may look terrible (no comment). Users can't be certain of what they'll need to play the games, although the devout frequently lay out the price of a PS3 for a new video card regularly to keep up.

Console game designers have a fixed target. For example, the CPU and HD video card and DVD drive and unified RAM of the X-Box 360, or the Cell processor, HD video card, hard drive, Blu-ray disc, segregated RAM and motion sensitive controller of the PS3, or the CPU, SD video and motion sensing and pointer-like controller of the Wii. They pick a platform, know exactly what they're able to do and are able to perfectly test what the user's experience will be, and then attempt to deliver their game to that audience, knowing mostly what the audience's experience will be like, and not worrying about different capabilities of different 360s, PS3s, or different Wii systems being a problem like PC game developers do.

Now sure, there are advantages to PC game development, such as the constantly higher ceiling of power the systems have for you to work with as a developer. 512MB of RAM one year, 1GB the next, 2GB the next, and so on. There are PC game systems that support up to three video cards now running in parallel for unimaginable graphics power. But consider for a moment which horse you'd place your bets with -- those willing to keep their systems up to date constantly to play the newest games (not to mention dealing with Windows problems, viruses, etc.), or the number able to pick up a Wii controller and play any game they buy with no fuss.

I'm not saying the PC gaming market is going to cease to exist at all, in fact I think it will thrive, but it will become more and more of a niche market as online Java and Flash games take over the low-end and high-end games are only accessible to the most devout gamers while the bulk of games will continue to be produced for gaming consoles of various types.


Make money off your blog

I posted recently about using Haloscan's trackback feature on Blogger without all the extras like comments and reviews. What I find even more people are interested in doing is trying to make some extra money on the side, or even have a profitable website or blog. The easiest ways to earn money off your blog or website would be to accept donations, charge for access, use advertising or some combination of the above.

If your blog or website is already popular and content-rich enough to warrant charging for access, you probably wouldn't be reading this, and begging for donations isn't exactly hard, so I'll be focusing on the third option which is using advertising for revenue.

Adding advertising to your blog shouldn't be difficult, and it isn't. The hard way would be to go out and find advertisers interested in putting ads on your blog or website. The smart way would be to have a personal advertising agent who goes and does this leg work for you. The best would be if this agent were completely automated. That agent would be Google AdsenseTM.

Google AdsenseTM has been around for a while now and is both very easy to sign up for and quite easy to use. In fact, the link to the left for Adsense is itself an Adsense ad inserted into this post with some simple cut'n'paste. With the exception of referrals like that one, what makes Google AdsenseTM so interesting is that the ads are automatically chosen for your website based on your site's content as indexed by Google itself. That is to say, if your website is primarily about cars, your ads will probably be about car products. If your site is about gardening, you'll find the ads are relevant to that audience as well. So how do we put some ads up on our site?

The first thing you need to do is visit their site and sign up. If you have an existing Google account for some other purpose, you can simply use that. Once you've signed up, you'll need to start creating ads that you want to place on your blog or website. When you create ads with Adsense (click 'adsense setup' and then 'get ads', then I recommend 'content' ads for the sake of this discussion), you simply choose a colour scheme (either a pre-made one or a custom one of your choosing) and a size and shape of ad. Since Google AdsenseTM will be filling in the advertiser content automatically from your content, you do not choose the ads themselves, but a shape of space much like renting out a billboard on the side of a highway.

Pick a size and shape that suits the spot you have in mind for placing an ad. Lets say a wide leaderboard ad for the top of your site or a tower ad for the right column like my other blog uses. Once you've created the ad, you will be asked about channels (don't worry about that for now) and then given a piece of HTML code in a little window to cut and paste into your website in the appropriate place.

If you're using Blogger or some other online blog editor, click the 'edit html' option or 'add html' on the layout editor, find a spot where you want the ad to show up, and just paste the code you got in there on a new blank line or in the space provided. If you're accustomed to HTML editing, you can wrap that with a DIV tag or something to place it specifically somewhere else. There, you've added a potential revenue source to your blog already.

"But wait," you say, "I don't see an ad when I look at my website!" No, you probably won't right away. If your blog is new, give it a day or two for Google to index it and figure out what to place there. If you've just created a new Adsense ad type and inserted a new code, it may not show anything for a short while. Don't worry, it should start working within an hour or two. Good luck and hopefully you can earn some money off your site. When you're ready, you can ad some more to your layout (presently up to four standard ads and four text link ads per page) or read some of the Adsense guides and help documents for more information about monetizing your site.

As a final note, in case you didn't read the terms of service on the adsense site when you signed up, you should never click your own ads on your site. That can lead to Google shutting off your account for 'cheating'. Any other questions? Put them in the comments below and I'd be glad to respond to any I can.

See also:


Using Haloscan Trackbacks

Trackbacks are a very cool feature that allow bloggers to essentially reply to an original blog post with a new post of their own. Unfortunately, Blogger doesn't natively support trackback links or trackback pings yet, but there's a free third-party option through Haloscan. Unfortunately for those who prefer Blogger's built-in commenting system, Haloscan's automatic installation option replaces the comments with its own when installing its trackback feature. There are several links on how to get around this using 'old blogger', but after much fiddling it is also possible to do it on 'new blogger' as I've done on my other blog. What you need to do is get into your blogger dashboard and then click Layout next to your blog. Now click the Edit HTML option. At this point you should click on Download Full Template and save it somewhere safe so you can get it back if you screw it all up trying to follow my directions. Once you have it safely saved, click on the checkbox next to Expand Widget Templates and wait for the page to finish refreshing. At this point you want to search for something that looks like:


  <div id='outer-wrapper'>
Just above the </head> "tag", paste the following, replacing myhaloscanname with your Haloscan account name:
<!-- for haloscan trackback -->
<script src='http://www.haloscan.com/load/myhaloscanname'
 type='text/javascript' />
Now you want to scroll down and find (or use your browser's search/find feature to find):
<span class='post-comment-link'>
Immediately after the above, before any other tag begins (tags begin with those angle brackets), paste the following:

<a class='comment-link'
 + data:post.id
 + "/"' expr:onclick='"HaloScanTB(" + "\""
 + data:post.id + "\"" + ");return false;"'>
Again, replace myhaloscanname above with your Haloscan user account name. If you paste it exactly there, exactly as shown above, and you're very lucky and have a similar template to the one I'm using, it should work just fine. You'll end up with a trackback link for each post, much like on my primary blog. See also: Good luck, and if you have any comments or suggestions, please leave them below.


Technological border safety

If you haven't crossed the border lately or read some articles by people who have, you need to realize that a few things have changed since the care-free 80's and 90's. Despite the lack of proof that these systems work at all, border officials now have more rights in many cases than the police do. They can search your possessions without a warrant or suspicion and detain you without a lawyer. Many people have written about the phenomenon and I'm not going to expound on it at all here, except to point out that CNet has written a short but excellent article about keeping your laptop's data secure while crossing the border and dealing with underpaid overstressed border officials. From their article:

The information security implications are worrisome. Sensitive business documents can be stored in computers; lawyers may have notes protected by the attorney-client privilege; and journalists may save notes about confidential sources. Regulations like Sarbanes-Oxley, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, and Gramm-Leach-Bliley may apply. A 2006 survey of business travelers showed that almost 90 percent of them didn't know that customs officials can peruse the contents of laptops and confiscate them without giving a reason.
They recommend various levels of encryption depending on your needs, as well as giving links to actual software for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. Do remember if you decide to encrypt your laptop that border officials may request that you boot the laptop to prove its not a bomb. Make sure you have a way of legitimately booting it without divulging the very passwords and data you're trying to protect. Personally speaking, I refuse to enter the United States any time soon because I actually value my personal rights here in Canada and hope my American friends to the south come back to their senses soon.

Understanding point releases

The computer industry has been using a strange form of decimal numbering for versioning for some time now. You may remember or have heard of Windows 3.0, 3.1 then 3.11 being released for example. If you click on "Help" then "About" in most any Windows program, you'll find a very long release version number somewhere in that display that explains exactly which copy of the software you're running. These version numbers are frequently misunderstood, such as when Sony recently released firmware version 2.17 for the Playstation3. The PS3's previous version also being in the 2.1x series, there was some confusion amongst Playstation Blog readers about why major new features (such as "in-game XMB") weren't included.

What usually happens is that you get a version number like "3.4.6" or sometimes just "3.46". Sometimes a unique serial number is also stuck in there, but we'll ignore that for now. What you need to realize is this is not a standard decimal number in terms of counting. Many "number values" will be skipped in an average software project's lifetime. You'll go from 2.0 to 2.01 to 2.5 to 3.0. This is because of what the digits represent.

Major releases are characterized by the number before the decimal. When it changes, it is often to represent a major change in functionality or some other significant difference. In the case of rarely updated software, you may see a version change from 1.00 to 2.00 for example. What if the software simply underwent a cosmetic change though? You've taken a video game for example and not changed anything but added some online leaderboards. That may be represented by a minor number change -- when the first digit after the decimal changes, such as from 2.00 to 2.10. This may look like 2.0.0 to 2.1.0 but many software makers leave out the second decimal place for one reason or another.

Very minor patches such as a small bugfix with no real change in functionality are marked by a numbering change on the final digit such as 2.15 to 2.16. You may have fixed the balancing of knives versus swords in your online RPG, or added a sorting feature to those leaderboards, nothing really significant to most people. In that case the final digit is updated to show that although its a different version, is barely any different than the one before it.

Also note that you may not see these numbers in a direct sequence as update versions may never hit the public (there may be a 2.07 that was wrapped into a 2.10 release for example instead of being released on its own). You may have been ready with the aforementioned 2.16 release for adding a sort feature to the leaderboards but it turns out the company has several other bugfixes and they're going to roll them all into a 2.20 release instead.

Hopefully that makes some sense out of the issue for you, and although these aren't hard and fast rules, they are frequently true when you see a version number.


Tag those pictures

I take a lot of pictures and upload them to Flickr for others to see. I always make sure to tag them with appropriate labels so that people can find more pictures of, for example Toronto or weddings. This makes finding them easier for me and for others. Google has been indexing photos and images for a few years now and has quite a collection but there's a problem of how to search for pictures using a search engine when most photos don't exactly have labels or keywords attached to them. Well, like some other interesting uses of free human potential, Google has set up a little game of sorts called the Image Labeler where you and a partner to whom you're assigned randomly see pictures flash up on the screen and type in all the label keywords you can think of appropriate to that image. When the two of you come up with a matching word, you're scored on the conciseness of that word and a new image appears. Its actually interesting to try and come up with the most accurate and descriptive words possible for high point values and at same time manage to come up with the same word as your partner did so you can score points (unmatched labels go unused). The result is that Google benefits from both additional tags to the images that you suggest for their indexing purposes and also the high likelihood that the labels assigned are accurate based on two random strangers both coming up with the same words. Go give it a try, there's a couple scoreboards to see how many points you can get compared to others.


Axis of Evil: Sony vs. Microsoft

I don't think any two technology companies have taken as much flak in my lifetime as Sony and Microsoft. Sony and Microsoft are both huge corporations with a large workforce and a very broad product base. While Sony is an older company, Microsoft has grown very rapidly and made its own enemies even faster in my opinion. Now each seems to earn their own fair share of criticism for perfectly valid reasons. The DOJ's case against Microsoft for anti-trust behaviours lead to a findings of fact that included a number of corporate sins against competitors, partners and consumers alike. Sony has historically promised more than they can deliver with their electronics products and has a bad habit of leaving consumers high and dry with obsolete and unsupported hardware. What gets to me is how some people (and in my experience, its often gamers) will grow a specific bias toward or against one company or the other because of past transgressions that have nothing to do with the product at hand. For example, some people wouldn't buy a PlayStation 3 over an XBox 360 because Sony's Beta and Minidisc formats faded into obscurity in their view. Others swing the other way and won't touch an XBox because they don't like the Windows operating system. Sure, within the music listening populace, Sony Music made some enemies putting DRM functionality on some of its CDs that used rootkit software (which is bad), but they fixed it and backed away from that mistake after being called on it. The Sony PS3 on the other hand allows users to rip CDs to its hard drive and even share them with memory sticks or USB drives. Microsoft has a history of being involved in really draconian DRM systems as well. Their own PlaysForSure music won't play on their newer Zune products (ironic, considering the original name). My advice is to look at the actual capabilities of a system you're interested in. If you're worried about sponsoring a company that's "evil" at a corporate level, feel free to protest with your wallet become a monk or go join an anti-technology religious community because otherwise you'll go crazy trying to make product decisions. If you want to know which of those systems I prefer, feel free to stick around for another instalment, I'm sure it'll come up eventually.


Blu-ray rules

I've always been a fan of the Blu-ray format over HD-DVD, and as such I was delighted this week when Toshiba finally threw in the towel on the format war. This talk of Sony bribing Toshiba is silly, in my mind, since they were down to basically one remaining movie publisher using their format which can't be sufficient to maintain a disc format. Unless people were happy only buying Paramount movies (which I suppose some people might), there was no reason remaining to push HD-DVD. Sure, HD-DVD's initial players did come with some features that weren't yet available in BD profile 1.0, but those features were rarely used to my knowledge and with the notable exception of some Samsung (and possibly other) players, older BD players should continue to play new content without substantial problems. Aside from people who already have HDTVs in their homes and were suffering through upscaled DVDs most of the consumer population doesn't care about HD movies yet anyway. Personally, I have a nice 1080i TV with a decent 5.1 sound system and tower speakers all of which actually benefit from high definition movies' sound and video quality improvements over DVD. Should you care? Do you have an HDTV already? Do you notice that your HD shows look substantially better than your DVDs? Do you have good speakers (those little 2" cubes don't count)? Then you'd probably enjoy watching Blu-Ray high definition movies instead of regular old DVDs. And don't worry, your DVD collection will still work in a new Blu-Ray disc player.