Thursday, February 15, 2007

More Xbox 360 Love

Here's a few more reasons why I'm really enjoying my Xbox 360, and have more or less stopped using my other game systems (for now). I won't repeat stuff I've already raved about earlier, except as introduction to related topics.

Xbox Rewards - Earlier I mentioned how cool achievements and gamerscores are. Well, even if Nintendo and Sony haven't figured it out yet, the Xbox team does, and they're ready to crank it up a notch. First, they're adding the possibility of connecting achievement points to downloadable content, so if you buy some extra levels for a game, they can come with extra achievements. While some people see this as a way to force people to pay more for games, I think it's a great chance to extend a game after release.

A brief digression... while I do see the danger inherent in for-pay downloads, I think the possibilities outweigh them. If a publisher develops a full game, then breaks it into a high-priced "core" and makes you pay for the rest, this can artificially inflate the price of the product. The market needs to respond negatively to such tactics. Adding extra content after the core game has been released is just cool, though. PSP's Wipeout Pure did a fantastic job of adding tons of content (for free, which is even cooler), but this hasn't really taken off on in general yet.

Back to achievements, another new innovation on Xbox is the Xbox Rewards site. This is creating meta-challenges outside the game - goals related to gamerscores in general and not just specific games. The first "challenge" is to get 1500 points in 2 months for some fairly minor prizes, and the launch was, well, horrible - saturated traffic, cranky users, the works. I'm grading this one on potential, though, and I think it's huge.

Xbox 360 Mashups - The Xbox exposes information about my last several games played through an open API, which includes what I've played, how long I've played, and what achievements or scores I've gotten. This is a totally cool thing to do, which allows other sites and projects to build without needing Microsoft's direct involvement. This is an area which is still growing, but already includes cool sites like MyGamerCard, My360Stats, and others. You can set up your own stats reports to compare your scores with your friends, and this is just the beginning. Whichs leads to my current favorite...

My Xbox 360 Blogs - Yes, that's right. My 360 has started its own blog where it encourages me, criticises me, rewards me with special badges, or just plain acts snarky. Soon I'll be able to add comments to my 360's blog, although it may be awhile before it can start reading them. For more info, there's a spiffy article on blogjects, which is way more fun word than Web 2.0

Do Sony and Nintendo have some catching up to do? Oh yeah...

BTW, if you have an Xbox, I recommend the Gamerscore blog as an interesting source of news.

Somewhere down the road, I'll need to find time to complain about my Zune, lest I be criticized of becoming a Microsoft fanboy. And don't even get me started about Vista...

Friday, February 09, 2007

Wiireless Controllers... Now With Wires!

Ok, check this out. The thing in the middle is a wireless Xbox 360 controller. The thing on the right is a wireless Wii controller. The thing on the left is... a wired controller connected to the wireless controller. So Nintendo's next generation has created the innovaction of recreating the wired experience by having a wireless controller flopping around in your lap while you play a game. (I'm sure there's a patent in there somewhere.)

Really? Please tell me someone lost their job over this idiocy...

P.S. - the wired controller provides "normal" controls for the Wii, so you can play the retro downloable games with a real controller. See, the normal Wii controller drops those controls to force developers to be innovative. Unfortunately, the fine engineers at Nintendo managed to rig this so that even if a game has support for normal old-style controllers (Gamecube controllers), the "classic" controllers still need to be supported in the actual game software. So some titles might with with Gamecube controllers or classic controllers, but not vice versa. Head spinning yet?

Monday, February 05, 2007

How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Rebooting My iPod


Consult technical support before beginning this or any other exercise program


Running may be hazardous to your iPod's health

You might be familiar with the Nike + iPod Sport Kit - this allows you to put a sensor from Apple into your shoes, which can send statistics back to your iPod, tracking things like running speed, total distance, and calories burned. I thought this was a pretty cool idea (especially if you could use something like the MusicIP Mixer to create custom running mixes). But, the shoes from Nike (called "Nike+ ready") cost something like $100, the iPod doesn't support MusicIP, and in all honesty, I'm not much of a runner, so I didn't pay too much attention.

Well, a few weeks ago, I came across ("If loving my iPod is wrong, I don't want to be right"). One of the posts was about a product called the Shoe Pouch, which for 8 bucks (shipping included), lets you strap the sensor on to any pair of shoes with laces. The timing, as they say, was right - I'd just started playing with my Xbox 360 Gamertag (over there to the right), and noticed how encouraging it is to watch those points go up and up. If I could get the same thing from exercising, maybe that would motivate me more (Ooooh - Gamertag points for running would be even cooler, but alas unlikely).

Luckily, I already have a Nano (ordered the day they were announced, scratched like crazy by being stored in a pocket with the headphones), so I placed my orders, and waited for exercise nirvana to show up in my mailbox. The sensor came first, so I set up my Nike account, dropped the sensor into a plastic baggie, and tucked it under my laces to get started. To get the full experience, I downloaded the Ok Go Treadmill workout from iTunes, even though I'll be running outside, and not on a treadmill. My first "run" was for 1.49 miles, in 22 minutes and 26 seconds - in the rain! Not a bad start.

Next, I started exploring the features offered on the Nike site. They were having some issues with bugs around that time, but they got sorted out. I set up two different ways of tracking - first, a goal to do 10 runs in 4 weeks. Second, a challenge to do 100 miles cumulative. The shoe pouch finally arrived, I laced them in, and I was raring to go.

Well.... this wouldn't be much of a story without an adversary so queue the appropriate gloom and doom soundtrack...

After some more testing, my iPod started to freeze up. To get to the point, after some googling I learned how to reboot my iPod for the first time (after many ipods and many years). Here's a cheat sheet if you ever get stuck in the same situation. The price to pay for getting healthy, right?

After that, I went running on the next Saturday to put the system through its paces. Started off to a good pace using a soundtrack by Podrunner. A few minutes in, I got a phone call, so I paused the workout, and took the call. After the call, I started running again. A bit later, I check the workout status - oops! forgot to restart the tracking. Curses, push the button and keep going. A couple minutes later, I check the timer again - stuck, reboot. This workout ain't going so hot. Restart, keep moving. Getting a bit bored of the soundtrack, hit the Power Button to get something peppy. That's more like it - put on some speed. Run, run, run! The song ends, the iPod freezes again. Sigh. Walk back to the car and admit defeat. By the time I'm back, the iPod is magically unfrozen. I unplug the Nike sensor, and my iPod dies. Dies as in the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz. Won't restart, pops up an error message about needing to be restored.

Back at home, I use iTunes to restore, and I get a dreaded message: "An uknown error occured (1418)". A quick google yielded this unpromising URL: Drat. Time to call Apple, then. What's that? Sorry, your iPod is broken, out of warranty. We can fix it for you for only 250 dollars. Uh right, I say, that's, you know, the price of a new one. Correct, they respond, would you like to place an order? No, I say, I'd like to go back in time and not buy a product which will break my iPod. Sorry, fresh out of time travel passes, later! Grr....

Well - it's true I'd pretty much abandoned the Nano for a long time, and that was the first workout it'd gotten in awhile. Running shouldn't hurt a flash device, but I was determined to try and exercise, so I bit the bullet, and ordered a nice new black 8GB Nano - at least this gave me an excuse to update the branding I always place on the back (the old one is on the left, the new one is on the right). And if it goes belly up again, it'll be under warranty and I can hopefully get it dealt with.

Another week gone towards my goal of 10 runs in 4 weeks, though, not to mention my best run to date having no data.

Does this story have a conclusion? Not yet - I started writing this in the morning, and went out for a run while it was still in the editor. About a mile in, I check the Nano, and it says I've gone .2 miles. Arg! No clue why it stopped tracking the pace properly, but near the end it seems to have unstuck and started working again. The uploaded data is completely borked except for the last bit - bogus speeds, distance, the works. Since then, it mostly works, but I still have to reboot my iPod every now and then.

Maybe it's time to look at getting a Garmin Forerunner

At the time I wrote this, my official (incomplete) total was 5.9 miles, and I had a Gamerscore of 1795 - that's 304 gamerscores per mile or gpm. If you notice a gpm number in future posts, that's what I'm referring to.

Fat Momma and Feedback

Ok, if this doesn't grant me credibility as a geek, nothing will.

Today I took the kids to meet a REAL LIFE SUPERHERO. No, not the fireman, policeman, or rescue worker type - the spandex wearing, villian spanking type.

While on vacation last year, we happened upon an episode of Who Wants To Be A Superhero. A reality show about, well, superheroes? To make a long story short, the winner was Feedback, a.k.a. Matthew Atherton. As winner, he's going to be featured in a comic book written by Stan Lee, and a made for TV show on Sci Fi Network. That's him up there on the right, with another contestant from the show, Fat Momma (whose power is growing up to five times her normal size, as long as she has a supply of donuts - hey, I'm not the one making this up...). You might recognize the goofy looking guy in the middle as well.

Feedback (Matthew) and Fat Momma (Nell) were doing signings and photos at a local comic shop - both Matthew and Nell were really nice, and they were raising money to help charities, so kudos to them on that. You can visit Feedback's official home page if you want to pretend to be as much of a geek as I am, or download audio episodes about the adventures of Feedback. He gets his powers from video games, so it's not totally off-topic for this blog, see?