kerimsatirli.com

(semi) public meetings of geeks - one month later.

posted in Tech Talk on September 14th, 2007

Exactly one month ago, I launched xdaflameusers.com, a micro community aimed at providing XDA Flame users (d’oh) with a place to discuss, rant and rave (about) their Pocket PC.

During the last weeks, the site managed to attract some 90 users, who, collaboratively, created 824 posts. While this might not seem all that much when compared to, for example, xda-developers.com, I am still very proud of what XFU (our hot, internal acronym) managed to accomplish.

On a more technical note, I am quite happy about the fact that we rank #1 on Google for not only XDA Flame Hacking but also XDA Flame Forum.

We have a #1 spot for XDA Flame User and XDA Flame Users and we even managed to enter the forums with the rather generic Flame Forum.

We had the #1 and #2 spots after only ten days, which is quite a feat considering that we did not do anything in regards of SEO.

That said, while I spearheaded the idea of the site itself, I am certain that I we would not have made it this far without XFU’s awesome team:

Thierry and cwkj have both been great moderators, asking interesting questions, coming up with great solutions and helping as needed.

My Second-in-command (so to speak), leek, on the other hand has not only focussed on providing great advice in the forums, but also kept himself (and, on occassion even me) busy with enhancing the forum in any way possible so that people who would use their Pocket PC to access the site would have the same (great) browsing / reading / commenting experience as those that would use a PC.

leek of course is Lee Killough, famous not only for his ports of the computer game Doom, but also for his other works, such as, oh, working on supercomputers and other stuff I can not even begin to understand.

I feel privileged to be able to work with these guys and am glad that xdaflameusers.com turned out more hot than not.

Here’s to you guys, XFU would not be what it is, without you.
Thank you.

 

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Ramping up the air time (Aspyr Tony Hawks Pro Skater 2)

posted in Reviews on September 9th, 2007

Approximately eight years ago, a company called Neversoft released a title that would shake up the sports game market. Aiming for a new audience with their game, Neversoft hired Tony Hawk and tried to bring the excitement and fun of skateboarding to the living room, while at the same removing the injuries-factor from the equation and thereby keeping parents happy.

After immense success, a follow-up tittle was released, called Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 (THPS2) and now, in 2007, released a mobile version.

Ever since I was first exposed to this game by my host family during my first stay in the US of A, I have been in love with this franchise and as such, I expect quite a lot from the Pocket PC version.

Trucks and Wheels

When I first started THPS2, I was greeted with that familiar look and in fact, the whole interface feels and looks like its bigger (and older) brother.

The game provides you with a variety of options, such as a very entertaining Career Mode with which you can unlock levels that can then be played in both the Single Session mode as well as the Free Skate mode.

Other than the various game types, the main menu also provides you with access to the Create-a-Skater tool and you can even build your own skate parks.

Naturally, the first thought that you might have is “great! a nice way of extending the game” but let me shatter your dreams right here, right now. Building a skate park is no easy feat and trust me, I have tried on both the Playstation version and on the Pocket PC version.

Nonetheless, I should note that actually interacting with the park editor is quite easy. The buttons are set up in an easy to understand way and you have access to just about every item from the game itself.

Sophisticated crate scooters

THPS2 provides the user with a variety of unlockable options such as new board designs, which really only serve a visual purpose, but the money you earn by completing various goals can also be used to buy stats and tricks.

When you upgrade your skater’s stats, you gain a range of new skills - such as more balance while grinding or longer airtime, which, in turn, means that you can earn more points, combined with a few new high-value tricks, you will be hitting those high scores in no time.

Slides and Grinds

Both the PC and the Playstation version of THPS supported joypads and in general, you needed one to be able to carry out all those amazing jumps and not get wiped out because you did not turn fast enough. The Pocket PC on the other hand does not support a joypad, simply because Windows Mobile is not set up for that.

The guys from Aspyr solved this problem by creating a hybrid control system where you utilize both your hardware buttons and three on-screen buttons for flip, grab, grind as well as a larger button for jumping.

Depending on how you set up your game, the right part of the screen will either be blacked out and only display the buttons, or, if you crank up the graphics a little, you will see the buttons as an overlay of the environment, similar to this:

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2

 

The system, in either configuration, works so well that you will be able to hit off huge combos with lots of points easily, although, you should probably not take my skills as an indicator for this.

One thing that is identical to the PC / PSX version however, is the amount of levels - THPS includes each and every (default) level that was also present in the original version, no kidding.

The only thing that is missing, as far as I know, are the bonus levels, but apart from that, you can enjoy every skater, every trick, every board design and loads of great music in the Pocket PC edition.

Skateboard Showroom

For a Pocket PC game, THPS2 has awesome graphics if you ask me, most of all because it is 3D and and you can interact with the environment in a number of ways - you can knock over things, crash right through them, grind on rails and try to play catch-up with vehicles.

I believe that THPS2 is one of those games you have to see to understand the beauty of it really, so I created a three minute clip that showcases a run through the first level. All you have to do is (left) click on this link and a new window will open with the video in it. A note of advice: the clip is 23mb in size, so you might not want to do this on a mobile connection unless you really are dying to see THPS2 in action.

Tail guards

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 for Pocket PC is one of the best, if not the best, port of a PC-to-PPC game I have ever played. The control functions were ported in a very creative, yet usable, way and the game includes just about everything the original Playstation version included.

If you are looking for a (nearly) free roaming experience combined with a great sport, great graphics, the $20 you could spend on this game will seem a steal, considering the amount of joy you will get out of this title.

A thank you goes out to Kevin van Beers for volunteering his skating skills so I could record the clip.

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iPhone Price drop

posted in Rants on September 5th, 2007

iPhone prices dropped by one third yesterday and apparently customers started reacting. This is just crazy:

In response to yesterday’s iPhone price drop, a number of shootings in Apple stores across the country have been reported. Preliminary reports suggest that at least 15 people lost their lives in the line of duty.

Only two hours after the shooting, local police forces, working with the security firms that provide perimeter security to Apple stores, have been able to identify all the assailants and while no video footage has yet been officially released, our sources report that all gunmen appear to be early adopters of the iPhone platofrm.

Eye witness reports from different stores all claimed that the gunmen stormed into the store, armed with customer-level submachine guns and filled the iPhone demo stands with bullets. When approached by so-called Apple Geniuses and asked, in a calm, manner, to stop the shooting and put down the gun, many of the attackers seemed to snap and started shooting at the store’s employees.

Although many police departments deployed SWAT teams on-site almost immediately, the massacres could only stopped after the shooters ran out of ammunition, all the while police forces had to watch helplessly and try to contain the situations as good as possible.

Due to the large scale of this rampage, the FBI has taken interest in the case and will be conducting investigations.

A FBI spokeswoman would not give us any more comments at this time, stating that until a thorough investigation was conducted, everything was simply speculation. The FBI also would not comment on the backgrounds of the killers and their, possible, affiliations with each other.

Once again it becomes evident that Apple’s way of toying with it’s customers is not the right way to treat customers. Liberated in thinking by famous customer-related weblogs such as The Consumerist, this time, customers really did bite back, with lead.

I wonder when companies will realize that the first adopters are, in part, the most important customers a company has, not only because they help iron out any bugs that made it through quality assurance, but also because these are the guys (and, of course, gals) that help create a buzz around your product and ensure that more people feed the machine…

Please note that the above article is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. No harm, misrepresentation, libel, malice or copyright infringement is intended. At no time is this meant to be construed as reality.

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Pest Infestation (PDAmill Maggot Attack)

posted in Reviews on September 2nd, 2007

More than 130 years ago, a revolution occurred: The first Pinball machine was released to the public. It would take another half century before these machines would turn into a commercial success, but once they hit - they hit hard.

These days, there are only a handful pinball table manufacturers left, some reports even say that there really is just one company still in the business of providing the populace with this kind of entertainment.

Anno 2007, people do not seem to have lost interest in those games, but finding good ones gets harder and harder - sure, you could use the Pinball Locator to find one and waste your money on that, or … you could read this review about Maggot Attack, a pinball simulation from PDAmill.

Good ol’ Times

When you first start Maggot Attack, you will most probably feel like you are going to play a Starship Troopers branded pinball game: the splash screen shows a huge, definitely dead, maggot and a soldier with a high powered rifle.

The main menu itself looks like one of those old dot matrix displays and gives you access to the various options of the game, such as a high score listing, a basic explanation on how to play the game and a button mapping feature.

The mapping feature actually deserves a short mentioning: I tried the game both on my HTC Blueangel (slide-out keyboard) and on my O2 XDA Flame. While I could map just about any key on the Blueangel’s keyboard / button array, I find that on the Flame, I can only map the D-pad and the camera / connection manager buttons.

Technically speaking, you can still use a stylus to activate the flippers and that way, it is actually a tad faster, but I still would not mind being able to use all the buttons.

Multi-Ball

Very much like Bowling for Burgers, the story in this game serves purely as a theme and even though there are a couple of missions that are related to the name, the main objective is to have a lot of fun.

Maggot Attack features one mode and a number of special areas that let you rack up your score.

Maggot Attack

 

For example, the eggs at the top center of the playfield are the entry to a high-speed egg destroying mission, which can get you anywhere from 50k to 250k points. Whereas the area that is located top left of the field will, most certainly, give you bonuses in the millions - the only thing is that actually getting there requires an amount of skill I do not have (yet).

The better you are, the more sophisticated your weapon (located dead center) will get and the more sophisticated it gets, the more special missions you get. You can see my attempt at upgrading if you compare the previous screenshot to this one:

Maggot Attack

 

Replay

Maggot Attack is retro-gaming at its best. With no learning curve at all and a number of nice little extras, this game is a real no-brainer.

Not only because you can get it at a very affordable $15, but also because Maggot Attack requires little to no mental effort to fully enjoy it and makes for a great filler for those short down-times when you have to wait somewhere.

I hope that, in the future, PDAmill will release more pinball games and my guess is that, if they do, these games will feature space themes (Anthelion, Flux) as well as a medieval setting as can be seen in the Arvale Franchise.

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Base, we have a 10-78 (Sprite Backup 6)

posted in Reviews on August 31st, 2007

For a long time now, the guys (and, of course, gals) from Sprite Mobile have protected your data. As the veteran developers that created Symantec Ghost, this company has all the knowledge in-house that is needed to create a working backup solution.

The Goold Old Days

Right from the start, Sprite Backup has presented itself as a powerful, yet easy to use solution. Sprite Backup stems from a time when there was no Persistent Storage available and OEMs included a (good) backup solution with every device.

These days, Pocket PCs come without any backup solutions; neither Active Sync 4.x nor Windows Mobile Device Center include any kind of backup facility and while Persistent Storage is capable of backing up (most of) your PIM data, for most users, this simply is not enough.

Enter Sprite Backup 6, a no-nonsense solution to backing up and (later) restoring your data.

Four, Five steps to safety

The Pocket PC version features an easy to use interface with items listed in order of importance. Starting out with backup and restore, the lesser needed items such as schedule and options are located on the second row.

The creation of a backup is very straight forward: first you select the data you want to backup. Logic dictates that, the more you backup, the bigger your backup will be and the longer your backup will take to finish.

While there is nothing wrong with going with the default settings, it is always a good idea to have a look through the various items and check / uncheck those that are unneeded in a backup.

The second step involves some basic (meta) information. By default, Sprite Backup creates files with a naming scheme of “Backup_” to make it easier for you to find your backups at a later time. Other options include the location where you want to store the backup and adding some notes. The notes feature is particularly useful if you have separate backups for your PIM data and applications data but can also be used to enter device-specific information in a corporate / multi-device environment.

In order to create a backup, Sprite Backup restarts your device. This is done to clean up the RAM of your device and remove any temporary files. Once the backup starts, you will see a timer and some more status information.

Part of that information is the size of the backup and while that information is certainly useful, it would be better if users would be presented with that information prior to starting a backup. The reason for that is that, should you choose a location without sufficient free memory, you will get an error message and will have to start over.

With today’s storage cards, this should not be a real problem, but it would nonetheless be nice to be presented with this information prior to actually starting the whole process.

After completion, Sprite Backup once again presents the user with various bits of information. Unless your backup fails, this information is really just statistical data without too much value.

Operation: Restore Hope

The idea of making a backup is to have access to important data if (and when) disaster strikes. Time is money they say and so it only makes sense to be able to get to your data quickly.

Sprite Backup offers you the option to create self-running backups, which means that, even if you do not have Sprite Backup installed (for example: after a hard-reset), you can still use the backup file and get your data back.

Once the correct backup file is selected, you are given access to a selection screen which allows you to selectively restore data. The application reboots and proceeds with restoring your data. The amount of time that is needed to (fully) restore your device is largely dependent on the amount of data your backup contains as well as the compression level that was used.

Consider your options

Even though Sprite Backup 6 is powerful enough by default, there is a good chance that you are missing out on an array of great extras if you do not take the time to go through the various options.

For the lazy (or overly cautious?) users, Sprite Backup includes a feature that lets you schedule backups; in combination with the Desktop version, these backups can be stored on a (non-Pocket) PC and provide you with a selection of restoration options in case the need arises.

The scheduled backup option is especially handy when you are too busy to backup data yourself. Once set, your device will continue to create backups at the pre-set times and you will always have access to your latest data - a great fire-and-forget solution.

Another thoughtful feature are the options to limit the amount of space that is used for backup files as well as limiting the amount of individual backup files.

In case you are one of those users that needs to restore their device often, the Backup Card function is something you should take a look at. With it enabled, an autorun setup will be created on your storage card of choice which will automagically start Sprite Backup whenever the card is inserted.

There are a couple more options which definetely are worth looking at, such as encrypting the backup or selecting the upgrade mode, but these items are outside the scope of this article.

One option that is, however, worth mentioning is the Phone SIM Unlock option. The way Sprite Backup is set up requires your device to be restarted at least twice during a backup process and if you are on a Pocket PC Phone Edition device, that means entering your PIN multiple times. With the Phone SIM Unlock option, you can store your PIN and have Sprite Backup enter the PIN for you.

This feature is particularly handy when you use scheduled backups and do not want to come back to a device that did reboot but was not able to sign in to a mobile phone network.

Upgrades and Updates

Mobile Devices have become disposable products to many people. In general, a life-cycle lasts between 14 and 18 months and moreover, during this time, there will be at least one ROM update for your device.

Usually, when you create a backup on one device and then either replace said device or upgrade your ROM, your backup will be useless. Sprite Backup 6 however, includes a feature that will allow you to keep using your backup, no matter what. The feature in itself looks very simple, but the looks are deceiving. Luckily, there is a good explanation in the help section.

Location independent data

A wise man once said that only wimps use backups, real men just upload their important stuff to a FTP server and let the rest of the world mirror it. While I neither agree with the first, nor second statement, there is some truth in mirroring your data off-site.

Sprite Backup 6 offers you just that; the new version includes a built-in FTP backup option which is very easy to use. Considering that every ISP offers a bit of webspace with every subscription and many people have dedicated webspace, this is a great way of making sure that your data stays safe.

The great thing about this options is that, no matter how your FTP server is set up, you will be able to use the FTP backup option because of the high customizability.

On a related note: storing backup data in a different geographical location is one of the best ways to ensure that you still have access to whatever files your backup includes, even if disaster strikes.

One More Thing

… that deserves to be mentioned is the very detailed help file. For example, the functionality of the Phone SIM Unlock feature might not be obvious to someone right from the start, so take a minute to read through the included help file and you will understand the feature a lot better.

The cost of data

Good things don’t come for free, but they most assuredly come at a very affordable and seemingly unchangeable price. In fact, the price of Sprite Backup has not changed since as long as I can remember and that goes back to 2003.

Starting at $20, you can get your hands on the Lite version, which has all the above mentioned features except for the Desktop conduit.

For $10 more, you will get the full(er) version, which includes the Desktop conduit and excludes some extra sorrow on your part by means of automatic, off-device backups.

For the curious: the title of this post refers to the police radio code for “backup / assistance” needed.

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