Finding old friends on Facebook

Since I joined up with Facebook a week or so ago, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the amount of my friends who use it. This goes against my experiences with the likes of Twitter and LinkedIn for instance, on which my network has been mainly made up of other people from work. One nice surprise today was to get a friend invite from my old mate Nick Grundy. I’ve known Nick for years through watching Watford, and playing football, but have lost touch over the last few. He also came to work for IBM for a while, but then decided it was far too corporate for him, and instead he went off to delve into the world of medicine. Nestling nicely in his Facebook profile was a link to his blog from which I glean that he appears to be in the fourth year of his medical degree, and in typical style is documenting it for all to see.

Published photo

Merry go round

A few months ago, I got an nice email from a Michael Pumphrey, who saw the above photo on my flickr stream. It turned out he was helping to run the steam engine powered carousel at Borough Market over Christmas, and wanted to know if he could use a couple of my photos for the East Anglian Traction Engine Society newsletter. He was writing a piece about the engine for the next issue. I was more than happy to oblige, and today a complimentary copy of the pamplet style newsletter arrived in the post. It has a colour cover, and the whole back page is taken up with the photo above, with another one in B&W on the article inside. It’s really nice to see one of my flickr photos used in this way, and especially nice of Michael to send me a copy.

Which reminds me, the Southern Daily Echo haven’t paid me for the photo they used a couple of months ago!

Back in love with the XBox 360

My XBox 360 is back in full action after going through a lull in usage for the past few months. Firstly, it has been promoted up to main DVD player in the lounge after my Denon player became a bit too unreliable. As such it seemed like a good time to grab the HD-DVD drive add-on, especially given the fact that they’ve become more available of late.

The drive itself has been reviewed elsewhere, including over at Pete’s blog. Linked up to my Sharp Aquos 32″ LCD I’ve not been wowed by a sudden increase in quality from normal viewing distance. This is most probably down to have a relatively small screen. Afterall, normal DVDs look very good on it in the first place. Once you get close up then the extra HD resolution does show, and things like graphics and titles are obviously crisper. In short though I imagine you only really see the benefit once you get up to larger screen sizes, and especially if your display does native 1080p. One thing I have meant to do is swap back from the VGA cable to component to see what difference that makes.

As for HD-DVD software, I currently have Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Fast and Furious Tokyo Drift, The Departed and Full Metal Jacket. All are impressive transfers, and the special features are notably better than DVD, both in terms of being (mostly) available in HD themselves and also in the overall integration into the viewing experience. You can bring a menu up in-movie to select scenes and enable/disable extras. Fast and Furious Tokyo Drift does especially well here with things like GPS map displays during the race scenes.

On the game side, two titles have really caught my attention. Crackdown is a simply superb sandbox roam-anywhere type of game with an interesting take on growing your characters super-human powers. Like most of these games the more OCD side of me tends to come to the fore as I spend more time trying to find the agility and hidden orbs to maximise my powers than I do actually following the storyline. The control system is very good, with very quick weapon swops making it easy to jump, fire a rocket then switch to rifle to polish off any survivors from the tanker you just blew up. All in all a great game.

Guitar Hero 2 on the other hand is a game that really, really benefits from the achievement system and leaderboards which you get with XBox Live. I bought and played the original GH on PS2 and whilst it gained my interest enough to get through the easy mode I quickly lost interest. Sure, it came out for the odd social gaming session with friends, but otherwise it gathered dust. GH2 however is a different beast. As a number of friends have it I am compelled to try and match or better their achievements or scores. For instance I noticed that my friend Dave had gained an achievement for getting a song 100% note perfect. This I had to match, to the point where I spent 90 minutes last night trying to get it on Foo Fighters’ Monkey Wrench. Not the easiest song, but one I love and know well. The middle eight kept biting me and ended up in that constant restart situation which gamers know and love. In fact, it was even more compulsive than trying to complete the cone challenges on Project Gotham Racing. That “just one more go” type of gaming experience at it’s very best.

With the Halo 3 beta and Forza 2 on the horizon, it looks like the ‘Box will be getting a lot more use. Hopefully I’ll get back in front of Ian on gamerscore. And just to think my day-one XBox is still going strong with not so much as a hiccup!

Thoughts on Beryl

I’ve had a pretty hardcore day of getting a design doc done today. I started at 6:30am and went straight through until about 7pm. All day was spent slaving over my Thinkpad, with it’s shiny new Beryl window manager running. I have to say I am extremely impressed by the experience of using it.

I start off taking advantage of an empty office to duck into one of the conference rooms to make sure that my Thinkpad and Linux would play nicely on a projector. Unsurprisingly it wouldn’t and I couldn’t get the Fn-F7 combo to work. After a bit of googling and a check of the internal forums I found a solution involving aticonfig –force-monitor=crt1,lvds

With that sorted and the projector displaying I fired up a presentation and displayed it. I then had an epiphany and realised that for the first time, virtual desktops make sense to me thanks to Beryl. Previously I’ve found having to click on an icon somewhere or remember a keyboard shortcut a little too tiresome, and ended up piling things on one desktop. However with a simple Ctrl-Alt and the push of the mouse I can watch my virtual desktops swish past in an OS X Quartz Extreme cube effect. It is so powerful to use in presentations. For instance I can have the full screen presentation on one desktop whilst a demo is set up and ready to go on another. No longer do I have to Alt-tab or escape out of the presentation to get to the demo, just swish over to another virtual desktop whilst my audience gaze in wonder at the Beryl eye-candy. I’m now even more impatient for OS X Leopard and it’s Spaces virtual desktop concept to arrive, but it doesn’t look quite so funky.

Talking of OS X, the other invaluable part of Beryl which I found myself making extensive use of during the day was the Expose-like ability to see shrunk versions of every open window, then click on the one you want to work with. The way it can show all windows across virtual desktops or just the ones in the desktop you are in is way cool, and so is the automatic (and much faster than normal) flipping over to the desktop hosting the window.

All in all, on an intense days work I’ve been nothing but impressed by RHEL, the IBM Open Client and Beryl. It is certainly a league above Windows XP for being able to get things done productively, and as much as it hurts to say it, it gives OS X a good run for the money as well. It seemed to run fine on my T42p, 2GB RAM and 128MB ATI Mobility FireGL T2 as well.

Linux switcher

In my day-to-day role as a software engineer at IBM I spend most of my time working on design docs, code and a variety of other things which don’t particularly require me to use any one platform or operating system. As long as I have Eclipse, Word (or equivalent) and a variety of productivity tools including Lotus Notes and Sametime, I’ll be happy (along with the ability to VPN into work from home) The one thing I am limited to is hardware, which by default is a Lenovo/IBM Thinkpad. As such I can’t obtain my nirvana of doing my day-to-day work on a Mac (or at least I can’t without buying the hardware myself!)

So, the flexibility I have boils down to operating system. For the most part I’ve stuck to Windows XP, mainly through familiarity and laziness. I have a desktop machine which runs Linux, but aside from running a few services which I make use of in development (LDAP, Tivoli Access Manager, DB2 etc.) it remains untouched, happily running the World Community Grid.

Every so often I get the urge to get my hands dirty in the world of Unix, in an attempt not to lose forever the skills I gained long ago at University whilst working on Silicon Graphics workstations. This urge is partially sated by Mac OSX and it’s BSD underpinnings, but I recently came to the conclusion that if I am going to maintain and extend my knowledge of Unix, it would be best to do it on a full-time basis, so the only option was to use it for my day-to-day work. Hence why I am writing this entry on my Thinkpad which is now running Linux.

The decision was easy to make seen as all my primary needs in terms of development and productivity apps are now available in the form of Eclipse, the beta of Notes 8, Open Office and Sametime 7.5. Notes in particular has been a long time coming to the world of Linux. So it was that earlier this week, after backing up the stuff I wanted to keep, I trashed Windows and installed the IBM Linux Open Client.. This is an internal beta of the RHEL5 based client, which comes loaded with Notes, Sametime, IBM productivity tools and lots more. The goal of the open client initiative is to produce a consistent stack of software on top of a variety of operating systems. As such, I could have chosen to install it based on SLED 10 or even Ubuntu. I chose to go with Redhat as it is the distro I’m most familiar with.

So far I’ve been kicking the tyres and getting my development environments configured. Everything has gone pretty smoothly, and I’m happy to say that my knowledge of vi commands and shell scripting is slowly returning to the forefront of my brain. One thing I have done is to configure it to run Xgl/Beryl to get some nifty windowing and OSX-like cube effects. How long it will stay on depends on how much it slows down my aging T42p.

So, I’ve added another category to this blog to cover anything I might write about my new adventures in Linux. So far so good!