Wednesday, 31 August 2005

The Ilearth Stone

Another month inexorably draws to a close. September sees the release of PSP, Autumn/Fall and the, inescapable, commercial conveyor belt transporting consumers toward the holidays.

Holiday 1996. Following a visit to the Reuters stand at Earls Court, I took the opportunity to visit London's Oxford Street and made a bee line for HMV! In the games section eye catching WarCraft II: Tides of Darkness point-of-sale tempted me into a purchase. Games publisher Blizzard bought me wholesale!

In the spring of 2004, whilst beta testing the Mac client of World of WarCraft, I alluded to the forthcoming release of Diablo II and StarCraft Mac OS X installers and updated patches. Now that these are robust and freely available to consumers, both games are eagerly anticipated from eBay (brand new). The last time I played these signature Blizzard titles was on my iMac DV SE in 2000. Retrospective reviews to follow.

LEGO is a world class toy brand. But, an overemphasis on film franchises has diluted the company's unique selling point - creativity and imagination. In a bid to recapture the minds of children and adults alike, LEGO has launched Digital Designer for Mac and PC. As a lifelong LEGO (second only to Star Wars toys) lover, it's a smart move.

Feel the love! Google has released Gmail Notifier for Mac OS X. A neat application, that resides in the menu bar. Most (if not all) users may already have POP3 setup in their prefered mail client, but I like advanced warning. Expect Google Talk sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, 24 August 2005

E.T. Phone Home

Google Talk is now in beta. Whilst there's no sign of an official Mac client at time of writing, Gmail account users can access Google's IM service via iChat's Jabber protocol:

Password: yourpassword

If you can't login, disable SSL.

I'm aggrieved that Google continues to behave in a manor indicative of a bias towards market forces. All it would take is for a competitor to exploit this "Achilles' heel" and sway Mac users into a robust family of products. Yahoo! give it your best shot.

Tuesday, 23 August 2005

Fahrenheit 451

Why should anyone buy Toast 7 Titanium if they're already using iLife '05 and/or Toast 6? A simple answer is problematical. However, after putting Roxio's latest iteration through its paces, I can't imagine not seeing Toast 7 taking pride of place in the Dock!

Firstly, Toast now incorporates the DVD compression features showcased in Popcorn (presumably defunct). Copy and compress a 9GB dual-layer DVD to a standard 4.7GB recordable DVD disc. Avoid artefacts by extracting the movie, language and audio format of your choice only.

A DivX Pro codec license is available out-of-the-box and interpolates with iMovie HD and Final Cut HD. The DivX format is reaching critical mass and DivX HD DVD players are all the rage. On the strength of this new feature alone, I'll be purchasing a DivX Certified DVD player and will post my experiences.

Toast 7 Titanium’s video conversion doesn’t end with DivX, either. You can convert videos to versions suitable for playback on 3GPP-equipped cell phones and handheld devices, H.264 players and Sony’s PlayStation Portable (PSP). Now that Sony's PSP is clearly a global phenomenon and UMD (contradictory to expectations) is meeting little consumer resistance (Woolworths' aisles are flooded with pre-order movie product). The AVC encoding facility maybe enough to compel users to upgrade.

I've experimented with converting H.264 to Sony's specified codec with subjectively pleasing results, but will be better placed to judge its effectiveness when review hardware arrives: the teaser trailer for Serenity was reformatted from 480 x 204 to 368 x 208 and black bars automatically inserted.

The only fly in the ointment, aside from a few quirks (to be expected with any new software release), is the acquiescence to Apple's dictate regarding music purchased from iTunes Music Store; you cannot burn a CD or DVD using songs legally downloaded! This 'feature' was introduced in Toast 6.1.

Do you want more?

Saturday, 20 August 2005

360° of Separation

Thursday was Mum's Birthday. So, we took her (with a care nurse) to Budleigh Salterton (an affluent Devon seaside town) and were treated to an ice cream courtesy of Uncle Allan. Next stop Dawlish.

For generations Budleigh has been favored by both sides of the family - my parents pencilled it in as a potential retirement destination. A most enduring memory was peering into the window of It's A Small World and spying a Speeder Bike, Biker Scout, The Emperor's Royal Guard, Leia Organa (Boushh disguise) and Jabba the Hutt Playset (1983).

Now that Microsoft has announced the price points of both Deluxe and Core Packs for Xbox 360, I'm in a consumer quandary! The proposition of a wireless PowerPC games console is most enticing; even one sourced from Redmond (just joshing Bill). The biggest pre-order hurdle is that I couldn't sell my original Xbox on eBay* (due to the 'fire' hazard) to offset the investment in new hardware. If Microsoft could broker a deal then Dead or Alive 4 may yet fall into my hands this upcoming holiday season.

Remember Super Cycle (1986) from hardware and software luminaries Epyx (creators of Atari Lynx)? The nearest the Commodore 64 got to Sega's Hang-On (1985). These days, whenever I'm in need of an arcade thrill ride (a la arcades at Britannia Pier, Great Yarmouth), nothing comes close to the exhilarating Super Hang-On (1987) courtesy of MacMAME. Asphalt-action ably underscored by Tangerine Dreams' theme from Street Hawk played really loud.

Roxio's Toast Titanium 7 debuts August 31st. Standout improvements include DivX HD and PSP encoding, Motion Pictures HD and iLife Browser. I'll be reviewing this updated application, which negates the need to purchase Roxio's Popcorn, in an upcoming post.

[*Since trading on eBay sales have been brisk. Thank you for your custom.]

Tuesday, 16 August 2005

Open All Hours

You might have noticed the new link to my eBay page in the sidebar! In 2003, prior to a personal tragedy that is still in 'shakedown', I signed-up with the intention of buying elusive memorabilia and selling items (always in excellent condition). Please drop by and happy bidding (terms and conditions apply).

With the transition from established website management tools (including Macromedia Dreamweaver and Adobe GoLive), to an extensible blog publishing platform, gaining momentum. I thought it was beneficial to undertake a trial separation from GoLive (my preferred client since 2001) and spend some quality time with BBEdit. This blog's template is now exclusively hand-coded in Bare Bones' award-winning product. It doesn't suck.®

The web should be platform agnostic. Yet the Mac plays second fiddle to Windows and Blogger for Word add-in is the latest offender. Come on we demand better. Google rant over.

Monday, 15 August 2005

Hidden Hawaii

What a most splendid haunted house theme park ride Lost is! The signature scene, something screaming in the jungle, was on a emotional par with the T-Rex attack from JP - nerve shattering... The 'live' jet engine on the beach... The derelict cockpit - where were the Raptors and Dilophosaurus? And isn't there an aura of Spielberg meets Chris Carter about it all?

After reading that Channel 4 has cut the UK episodes (intense scenes et al) and the cynical R2 two-part box set release (£27.99 each) due to a lucrative deal with Disney's Buena Vista. I've already ordered the R1 complete box set from CD-WOW @ £31.99 (no import duties). Hopefully to be savored post real life trauma or in the very midst of next month! If you're interested here are the delicious details:

*7 Discs
*Never-before-seen, extended uncut version of the original pilot
*Exclusive, in-depth behind-the-scenes looks at the making of the show
*Backstage with Drive Shaft all-access pass behind the music
*The art of Matthew Fox featurette
*'Before They Were Lost' original casting tapes
*Blooper reel
*Rare deleted scenes
*Multiple filmmaker audio commentaries

David LaChapelle's Lost promos have met with mixed critical reaction. The conventional US trailers pander to the needs of the lowest common denominator. As an artist (myself) accessibility has its place, but sometimes it's desirable to challenge the viewer too! Wouldn't you agree?

Sony Online Entertainment now offers Mac gamers a 'free' (credit card details required) trial of EverQuest. Having played both EverQuest and Blizzard's World of WarCraft, there's no prize for guessing which one I prefer!

Although the key pads are an acquired taste, I adore Sony Ericsson mobile phones. My trusty T-310 still elicits coos of delight from avid admirers! The new W800i Walkman™ model could be a suitable future successor.

Tuesday, 9 August 2005

The Final Countdown

The year 1996 forms a convenient segue from the last post and ties-in with today's safe return of space shuttle Discovery. Prior to completing my final year at Bournemouth, I graduated from console gaming (only to return a few years later with the purchase of a PlayStation) to PC/Mac.

My Macintosh Performa 5200 introduced me to the rich CD-ROM tapestries weaved by LucasArts at the peak of their powers. Dark Forces (favorite FPS), Rebel Assault II - The Hidden Empire (completed between sending off an application to Reuters and accepting the position) and The Dig (demo). The latter remained an enigmatic curio (I'm familiar with Alan Dean Foster's soft cover novel) until this morning, when I obtained a copy of the full game (PC) and played it via the venerable ScummVM.

Based on a story by Steven Spielberg, with dialogue written by Orson Scott Card (The Abyss), the apocalyptic narrative presages Hollywood's meteor movies Deep Impact and Armageddon. The Dig's hand-drawn and animated game art looks fresh and inviting in 2005. Surely this was a franchise in the making replete with animated/live action series and merchandise?

Whilst UK television viewers await the debut of Lost (teasers directed by Madonna and JLo photographer David LaChapelle) on Wednesday night. A few films, that are worth watching more than once, are being repeated. Jean-Claude Van Damme (AKA The Muscles from Brussels) is not an 'action hero' I'm particularly fond of. Yet Timecop (1994) is a riveting yarn from Dark Horse Comics scribe Mark Verheiden (whom responded to a letter I wrote Dark Horse in 1994). Even the wooden Mia Sara can't detract from the forgettable fun to be had. The first time I ever saw Timecop was on a NTSC THX-Certified DTS Laser Disc. The image and sound surpassed VHS and analog broadcast transmissions of the day.

A few of my observations concerning Flickr and Firefox were shared during last night's JMUG meeting. Appreciated.

Thursday, 4 August 2005

Pure Shores

Last summer I was featured in the Alumni Association magazine, The Talbot, a Media Careers special (PDF download). Eight years prior to this, as a BA (Hons) Media Production student I savored the sights, sounds and salty air of Bournemouth beach. Today, I returned for the first time since 1996 in the company of very gracious hosts who kindly treated my Dad and me to a cod and haddock banquet in West Beach. The rival of any shoreside restaurant in the USA, one wouldn't be surprised to bump into the likes of "LC" and Lo (from MTV's Laguna Beach). Topics traversed Apple Computer, Bauhaus and the cinema of Steven Spielberg. Thank you for embellishing a memorable occasion.

Being a Mac user means I can't leverage Blogger's Picasa button! No fear because in steps Yahoo! with Flickr. An exceptional photo publishing platform. Flickr Uploadr is available in Mac OS X flavor too and is the perfect citizen. A flash-based photo gallery has been integrated into the sidebar.

DivX is increasing its market and mind share. And, as with RealPlayer, I can now author DivX content. Although the company's Mac support is far from startling, their lab indicates future improvements. Currently preparing demo clips.

eBay has made purchasing a breeze with tighter PayPal integration. Handy for those memorabilia bids.

Sony UK have announced official support for Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger in PlayStation 3. Can console gaming get any better than this?

Monday, 1 August 2005

True Lies

First day of a new month and I was invited to spend it, on Exmouth beach, with relatives. The endless sand dunes evoked memories of playing with (and inevitably losing) Action Force/GI Joe and Star Wars figures - Hyena Tank (Cobra H.I.S.S.) and AT-ST attacking a Rebel seashore encampment. The rock pools contained untold terrors that reached their zenith with the advent of 1984's The Bluebottle or Portuguese Man-of-War invasion. This became an infamous urban legend! Out to sea? You'd better ask Police Chief Brody, Quint and Hooper!

The above recollections jolted a childhood faux pas made at Budleigh Salterton. A friend lost his Muton action figure (a repainted Deep Sea Diver with the helmet resculpted to allow for the radar, gun, and eye piece to be stuck on.) after he'd carelessly left it in his bucket. This had become a temporary home for a dying squid! Thankfully, I had a spare Muton (in my toy collection) and the tears soon stopped. A close call.

Although my encounters with sharks have been limited to marine aquariums and a basking shark (face to face whilst boating in Spain). The weekend we were in Hayle, a mako was spotted in St. Ives shadowing a group of children who were undertaking a surfing lesson. The instructor took them to safety because the mako is a predator and is known to attack humans in shallow water.

Successfully bid on the rarest Masters of the Universe exclusive: a ToyFare 2003 Faker MIB. No, I didn't pay an extortionate price. The key is patience and track auctions.

Dream Arcades has announced an official licensing deal with the MAME™ developers to include MAME™ software! Fans of arcade classics will be able to order arcade cabinets (including StarROMS) in time for the holiday gift giving season. If anyone gets stuck for gift ideas, then you know what I want under the tree this year aside from an automatic transmission Mercedes-Benz Convertible!

Within a month or so SCEE will release the much vaunted PSP. This may sport the recent OS update and include the browser out-of-the-box. I'm really looking forward to reviewing the first clutch of software releases.