iPhone Apps store is the devil

Kristie recently got an iPhone and we have been wrestling for control over it for the last week. After taking recommendations from friends who already have iPhones and downloading most of those, I’ve also spent some (too much) time browsing the apps store and grabbing anything which looks cool. There’s some really amazing stuff available and while the iPhone has some limitations (no MMS, no copy & paste, no multitasking, WTF Apple?!) they are more than made up for by the support of the apps developers who keep producing an unprecedented number of apps for the iPhone platform. It’s true that 95% of the 22205 applications (current count as of 24 Feb 2009 according to appshopper.com) are complete garbage, even if that rate is 99% that still leaves 100ish gems in the rough, if you can find them.

So, I present here a list of my favourite app store games (I’ll make a new post some time for other non-game apps) from my first week or so of using (ok, borrowing) an iPhone:

Paid Apps

My impulse buy threshold is $1.19 (the lowest cost of paid apps, which is our equivalent of the US apps store $.99 and strangely much cheaper than US$.99) but I have on occasion stretched it to $2.49 for the right app/game (noted below).

I originally had the second page of icons on the iPhone reserved for the games we’ve spent money on (so I know not to delete them without thinking), I’ve had to add a second page for paid apps and I’m getting towards needing a third (but shuffling the pages around is a pain), it’s just too easy to click BUY when it’s only $1 (slightly easier when pre-paid iTunes cards are on sale for 25% off – and even easier when the apps are free).

The amazing thing is, I don’t think I’ve paid for a dud yet, the quality of the games which are coming out at this price is just amazing (prices in the app store change frequently, most of the below are $.99 at the time of writing):

  • Flick Fishing – Exactly what you think it is, a well implemented fishing game making full use of the accelerometer and touchscreen.
  • Pocket God – torment your followers on a small island with natural disasters, coconuts and gravity, mindless fun, updates which add new features are frequent and free.
  • Alphabetic – sounds lame, but isn’t. You are presented with a jumble of animated letters on the screen and you need to tap each letter in alphabetical sequence, harder than it seems and with additional game modes (try the Z-A mode!) to add longevity.
  • SlotZ – (just went back up to $2.49 but still worth it, use appsniper to get it when it drops to $1 again) a slot car racing game with downloadable player made tracks, simple controls, nice graphics and challenging AI.
  • Heavy Mach – side scrolling shooter, think Metal Slug where you’re never on foot.
  • iDracula – twin stick shooter with amazing graphics and shallow gameplay, it was hoped to be the first decent Diablo clone for the iPhone but didn’t quite deliver, still, worth a dollar!
  • Enigmo – build an incredible machine to transfer drops of water from one container to another, very challenging, very pretty.
  • Bebot Robot Synth ($2.49) – polyphonic musical synthesizer with a cute robot, what more could you want for 2 bucks?
  • Scoops ($2.49) – Simple yet addictive pick-up-and play with about the best implementation of the accelerometer I’ve seen so far. The aim is to add ice cream scoops to your cone to progress higher in to the sky, great kids game.
  • Lux DLX ($4.99) – There is a free version of this but this game is so good I figured it was worth paying the (relatively) high price for, it’s a RISK clone but a very well done RISK clone.

Free Apps

The list below are “lite” free versions with corresponding paid upgrades (with more levels or features or whatever), the lite versions of these are great but the paid versions cost too much at the moment (this is where Appsniper comes in – see below):

  • Yard Sale: Hidden Treasures – Essentially a “find the hidden item” game, without any twists but it’s very pretty and Kristie like it, but $4.99 is too much for the full game (thanks to the 1Up podcast for the recommendation on this one)
  • Textropolis – This is a goon made game (as is Scoops, noted above, from the Somethingawful forums) where the aim is to create words from letters which makes up a set of nine letter city names, with some additional game player features like how your city population grows as you progress (as does the picture of the city in the background) and you can “spend” population for hints. I love the graphical style and how there is no time limit.
  • Puzzle Quest – the classic originally from the Nintendo DS ported to just about every platform on the planet and now iPhone, from what I can tell there’s only a free version available via the apps store and I’m not sure if it’s crippled until the full version is released.

Even the truly free (non-lite) ones are great:

  • Space Deadbeef – stupid name, great game. R-Type clone but with very good touch screen implementation of weapons and movement.
  • Dactyl – defuse the bombs before they go off, seems to induce a trance-like state, my highest score is 370, somehow! (there is paid version called Dactyl 2 which I’ve added to my appsniper for when it drops to $1)
  • Trace – use the touchpad to guide your little guy around obsticles by drawing your own steps, ramps and barriers, hand drawn graphics add to the charm.

This list is entirely made up of games, but it’s interesting to note that my most used application isn’t actually a game, well, I treat it like a game of sorts, what is it? Appsniper. Appsniper allows you to set up a watch list of applications/games and a price threshold, when that threshold is met by a price drop Appsniper highlights it on the Appsniper icon so you can snap up the bargain. Appsniper also has a very well put together top listing for all the genres in a much nicer interface than the app store.

I think part of the reason I have been able to wade through the 21000 crap apps is due to the user reviews on the app store, sometimes they’re clearly bogus but my bogus radar is getting pretty good and they are usually a pretty good guide to tell if an apps lives up to the description.

My only bad purchase so far has been Fast Contacts (not a game)– It’s harder than you’d think to find a contact management app which doesn’t suck, or isn’t just a complete rip off the of built-in contacts app, this one is a complete rip off but with the added feature of a birthday reminder function and some nifty filtering options. NOT WORTH the $4.99 I paid since there are plenty of free birthday reminder apps and a good example of how the description for the app and the reviews are a complete deception. It does do a good job with the birthday reminders but it’s not worth 5 bux just for that.

ScoopsFlick FishingDactylEnigmoAlphabetic
TraceBebotYard SaleLux DLXiDraculaHeavy MachSlotZPocket God

Discuss this on the AOB forums

Popcorn Hours vs XBMC follow up

After having a chance to play with the popcorn hour a little more I have some more observations:

1) MKV playback is patchy at best. I originally blamed the skipping, jittering and audio drops outs on the heat of the day but in cooler temperature most of the MKV’s I’m trying still jitter to a certain degree. It plays back all the sources I have transcoded to WMV flawlessly, it just hates the equivalent MKV. Still looking for a solution or cause for this one. I’m looking in to the fan mods people have done which apparently solve this problem but one of the selling points of the PCH is the fanless, quiet design.

2) The upscaling code/hardware sucks compared to XMBC. This could maybe be a result of XMBC auto softening the image since it was going to the TV via S-Video and the PCH is using HDMI so the flaws in the lower res source are more evident but the XMBC just seems to produce a nicer picture, figure that one out.

3) Playing music videos though myiHome (so I can shuffle) every clip is missing the first second or two of audio, this is kind of annoying.

Of course, all these issues dissolve away when I’m sitting in front of the TV watching a HD movie (when it’s not skipping), but I haven’t unplugged my old xbox quite yet (and I’m still considering selling the PCH and replacing it with a 360 since it seems like I have to continue transcoding all the MKV’s anyway!).

Communications with AMWAY

SA8

Ugh, we’ve been using one Amway product for many years now, the oddly named SA8, a super concentrate washing detergent which costs a bomb but last for ages (we usually buy two 3kg boxes so I don’t have to re-order for up to a year or more). Unfortunately this system falls down when Amway feel the need to clean up the user accounts on their web site every 12 months and further frustrates when you’re not allowed to make a new user account without knowing an existing Amway distributor!

So, upon trying to place an order this time I find that my user account is no longer valid and I send Amway support an email.

I have tried to log in using my ID number which I have recorded as XXXXXXX but the logon form tells me that userID does not exist. It’s been a while since I ordered anything, could it have expired or something?

The next day:

I am sorry to advise that on checking our details I am unable to locate any details regarding your membership.  It could have been deleted due to non-renewal as you are required to renew your membership each year.

If you wish to rejoin the Business, you will need to do so from the start and purchase another product pack and be registered into the Business by an existing IBO.

We are happy to put you in touch with a senior Amway IBO who is located close to you.  They will be able to discuss options with you and answer any questions you may have.

Naturally, I’m all WTF, I don’t want to “rejoin the Business” (notice capital B), I just want to buy some shit, so I reply:

I just want to buy some SA8, not sign up to be a member of the pyramid selling system. I think it is ridiculous that I need to know one of your cult members to actually create an account in order to simply buy something and I go through this nightmare every time I need to make a purchase. I suppose this is a by-product of SA8 being so amazing and lasting so long that my account dies between every order, very frustrating!

Can you let me know the number of some random drone which I can use to create an account so I can buy some washing detergent!

No answer yet.

Popcorn hour vs XBMC, battle of the century?

 

vs

 

I know there are a lot of people who are currently running XBMC on an original XBOX and as a recent convert from XBOX+XBMC to Popcorn Hour (PCH) my experience is a bit mixed, here’s a short list of stuff I’ve noticed during the transition which you may find interesting:

Things XBMC does better than PCH (these obviously only apply to SD content where relevant), also note that some of these can be solved by installing and customising your own themes and indexes

  1. SMB Navigation and general menu speed is WAY better in XBMC, the PCH seems to read from a share every time it accesses it so if you hit a share with a lot of files it takes a while to show the contents, scrolling up and down long lists of files is also noticeably slower than XBMC. 
  2. Skipping during play back. The PCH does have the number buttons which skip 10%, 20% etc but the up/down/left/right buttons on XMBC to skip 1/10 minutes is much more responsive. 
  3. Music playback + visualisations, PCH only has a simple album art screen, no shuffle function, no traversal of subdirectories and no ability to create playlists. 
  4. Screensaver – I really miss being able to use photos from a network share as the screensaver. 
  5. Shuffle play – does not exist in a standard PCH, there are themes which you can install which enable a shuffle of sorts, I’ve had mixed results with this on the PCH but will persist until it works because this is an important function for me. 
  6. No limit on SMB share connections – You can only configure a total of six SMB/NFS shares on the PCH, this can be overcome somewhat by install the media streaming app on your home PD (myiHome
  7. Audio configuration – I haven’t yet seen an option in the PCH which lets you offset the audio and video for files which are out of sync, although, I am yet to encounter a file with this problem (perhaps it auto corrects?)

Things PCH does better then XBMC

  1. HD content, of course, the XBOX can’t play any HD content. I’ve had a few issues with skipping and the unit hanging up on certain files but I think it’s entirely to do with heat, I was first testing my unit during a heat wave with 40c + temperatures. 
  2. Very quiet, no fans, minimal HDD noise but does run quite hot with a HDD installed (probably about the same heat output as the XBOX) 
  3. You can turn it on and off with the remote. 
  4. PCH has all the file operations you have with XBMC (delete, rename) with the addition of being able to move files and create folders. 
  5. It’s tiny, about 1/3 the size of an XBOX. 
  6. Very good firmware and community support (so does XMBC, I know). 
  7. With a HDD installed you can use it as a torrent client (which has an associated web gui), web server, NAS or even as a media streamer. 
  8. It has a (slightly flaky) web interface for all config options. 
  9. Easy upgrade to a new/bigger HDD, support for external HDD’s, USB sticks, USB keyboard, Wireless adapter (don’t try streaming HD content over wireless). 
  10. Community created content for browsing movies/music using a jukebox type interface are mature and easy to use and look great. Community created themes and custom indexes are also quite good (XBMC has these too, I know).

There are more but these are the major ones.

My ultimate plan was to replace my SD TV set top box (I’ll play back content which is recorded on my PC), XBOX and DVD player (PCH can play DVD ISO/VIDEO_TS) with the PCH and I’m not quite there yet. I can live without the music playback and photo screensaver and the rest of the problems I can live with or solve with some customisation. If it’s any indicator at all, I’ve had the old XBOX unplugged since the PCH arrived and have only has one occasion when I felt the need to turn it on (admittedly this was when I had the PCH in pieces on my desk while transferring files to the HDD).

Overall I can see the PCH doing everything I want it to and while it has (and continues to) taken a long time to configure and set up thinking back to when I first modded the XBOX, setting up XMBC took just as long to get exactly how I wanted it. So overall the PCH is a winner.

One other thing, this speaks more to the service I’ve received from www.mediaplayersandmore.com.au (where I bought the PCH) than anything else, but the power supply on my PCH died the day after I got it and has been intermittently alternating between working and not working since then, it seems like a dud, shit happens, so I contacted Ross at www.mediaplayersandmore.com.au and he was very responsive and has already sent out a new power supply which should hopefully solve the problem, I couldn’t ask for more than that.

Oops, double post

My mistake, oh well, here are the pictures I was trying to upload yesterday.

deer_1 deer_4

In other news:

She doesn’t really look like someone who would keep birds, but whatever. For the record “tits” is not an abstract noun, it’s a concrete noun. Examples of abstract nouns are: Bravery, Relaxation, Dedication and Trust, not Tits.

Do No Evil

If this is the most Evil thing which people can manage to find on Google Street View then I’d say the people responsible for vetting the images have been doing a damn good job up until now.

As you follow the street view scene down Five Points Road in Rush, NY, you can see the deer run out in front of the car, get hit and then see it on the side of the road before the car pulls over. And that’s the end of the Street View data for Five Points Road.

This article (also see it for images, wordpress wont let me upload images at the moment for some reason) mentions the Google motto is “Do No Evil” and I’m sure animal rights hippies are all crying in their organic shaved wheatgrass tea but millions of animals are killed every day on the roads. So, I don’t understand the outrage over these images, it’s not like the driver actually swerved to hit the stupid deer. Google removing the images was more likely a mechanism of their privacy policy than any sort of hippie love bullshit.

Of course, no mention of the good which has come from Street View. The fact that the images for that road stopped immediately after the deer was hit means the driver actually stopped to render assistance, not the act of an evil empire, I think.