Gaming, home tech, politics, music, whatever really

Category: Nerdery (Page 2 of 4)

eM Client

Just following up on my last post, my attention has been drawn (or rather, drawn back) to eM Client. It’s early doors, but so far it’s like night and day. So fast. So straightforward. Proper support for Gmail, without arsing around. A proper unified inbox.

All it needs now is for its developers to team up with Tutanota and I will have email Nirvana. How about it, guys?

UPDATE: I just asked it to mark over 12,000 archived Gmail messages as read and it showed me the spinny wheel of Aaargh for a grand total of about 3 seconds before quietly shoving the job into the background and giving me back control. Damn, this thing is impressive. Me like.

It surprises me …

… just what a shit email client Outlook is.

I mean, think about it: it’s been around for 20+ years, it’s been through umpteen versions, it’s expensive, and nearly everybody uses it. So why is it still so crap?

Really need a better desktop email client. Suggestions?

TIBO Bond Mini

I have a stereo in the living room. A proper one, as in I-bought-it-from-Richer-Sounds proper. Yes, that does make me old-fashioned, but the kind of music I like wasn’t mixed to sound good on shitty little speakers, and I still like to buy music on CD. So there.

That said, I do have our whole CD library ripped to our Plex server for ease of access from our phones and cars while out and about, and for a while now I’ve had an Amazon Echo Input hooked up to the stereo and used Alexa’s Plex skill to stream music from Plex to the living room stereo.

It works well, but like many people I’ve started to worry about the privacy implications of Alexa technology. So, I started looking around for some alternative streaming solutions, and based on reviews and so on eventually settled on the TIBO Bond Mini as offering everything I needed except voice control, for a reasonable amount of money.

The first thing that struck me when I opened up the box is just how dinky the thing is – it’s little bigger than a ring box. Setup is, according to the quick start guide, a matter of hooking it up to the stereo, powering it on and following the steps in the companion app to hook it up to the wifi network. Simples.

Or so I thought. Here is where I hit my first snag. It seems that the Bond Mini doesn’t support 5Ghz wifi. My home wifi is dual band and uses the same SSID for both, because the mesh system allows 5Ghz devices to fall back to 2.4Ghz in some of the dodgier areas (old house, thick brick walls, therein hangs a tale ….).

Happily it offers an alternative means of setup. You can use your phone to join a temporary wifi network fired up by the Bond Mini and configure it from there.

Except that, of course, my phone is too bloody clever by half, realises that the temporary wifi network doesn’t have internet access, and falls back to 4G. The only way to get around this seems to be to put it into flight mode and then manually re-enable wifi. With that done, the app could at least see the device, but the device apparently couldn’t see my home wifi network and so the setup wizard couldn’t continue.

There is a third and final way offered to configure it, which is again to hook up to the temporary wifi network and then configure the device manually using its web-based interface. Finally, that worked and I was able to get the thing onto my home network.

It then resolutely refused to see my Plex server through DLNA. I even went so far as to give the Plex server a restart. No joy. So, I restarted the Bond Mini, whereupon the control app stopped seeing it and it apparently completely forgot the wifi config and went back to first setup mode.

It being a school night, I gave up at that point. I will have another go this weekend, but I have to say, first impressions are less than stellar.

UPDATE 29/09/19: I’ve managed to get it onto the network reliably. Still won’t see any bloody DLNA servers though. Gah. I’ve contacted support. We shall see.

GL.iNet 750M travel router

I move around a lot for work, and find myself having to hook up to all sorts of dodgy wifi networks. When all else fails, I end up tethering my phone, which – as any lawyers reading this will know – makes working with iManage like trying to run through a ploughed field in wellies. I need a better solution. One that will insulate me from the vagaries of questionable public wifi, and that will give me a better 4G connection than my resolutely mid-range work phone.

After doing some digging around, I think I may have found that solution in this bad boy.

It’s about the size of a pack of fags, weighs next to nothing, draws 2A from a micro USB power source and is a full-blown 2.4/5Ghz wifi router/firewall. For the untrust port, it can use ethernet, another Wifi network, or a 4G USB dongle (compatibility list here – I have a Huawei E3372 with a GiffGaff SIM and it’s fine).

So far so what, you might think. But this thing has two killer features.

Firstly, it runs on OpenWRT. So, there is a ton of power and configurability there.

Secondly, the GUI makes setting up the untrust port (i.e. Internet connection) an absolute doddle. It’s literally a few mouse clicks. It deals particularly elegantly with those public wifi networks that require you to sign in through a browser before it lets you on.

It offers other features too, like Cloudflare DoH, OpenVPN support (although to be candid I have yet to get that working properly), and file sharing off of a MicroSD card. Quite what you would use that last one for, I don’t know. Ad hoc collaborative working, perhaps.

Either way, for 75 quid this little gem is an absolute bargain. My only criticism, and it is a mild one, is that it does seem to take a while to start up, like 5-7 minutes. Of itself that’s not a deal-breaker – my practice has become to plug it in when I arrive in a hotel room, and then to let it boot up while I unpack etc.

So, yes. Two thumbs up from me.

Commodore 64!

Thanks to the tremendous skills of Mutant Caterpillar Games, the breadbin 64 given to me by a colleague lives once more!

This is another one of those machines that I didn’t have as a kid, and really really wanted. That sound chip … man, it still sounds good today.

I’ll update this post with some pics and whatnot once I have decent daylight.

Meantime, I’m going to go play Armalyte.

A few nice retro pickups

In order to force myself to calm down a bit on the political ranting, I figured I would do one of these. Here for your delectation are a few choice retro pickups from the last few months. Apologies for the bad photography.

First off, there’s this bad boy:

A slightly blurry picture of a Psion Series 3.

A friend of mine had one of these when I was a kid, and I was always oddly fascinated by it. I mean, honestly it’s little more than a socially ambitious PDA, and is oddly less usable than the Cambridge Z88 which predates it by several years, but it’s small, it’s interesting, the hinge is really cool (those icon buttons rotate down into the case as you close it) and I’m having fun getting it to talk to my Amiga. Because reasons.

Second up, I’ve finally got a Saturn light gun again:

A blue light gun for the Sega Saturn, with a copy of Virtua Cop 2.

I never had Virtua Cop 2 back in the day; my Saturn lightgun escapades were limited to House of the Dead (a darned good port as it happens, but stupid expensive now). So far the gun is a lot less accurate than I remember – or maybe I’m just getting old and slow.

Finally, we have this pleasingly batshit action RPG for the Nintendo 64:

A boxed copy of Hybrid Heaven for the Nintendo 64. Slightly tatty.

This is a deeply weird game. I can’t work out if it’s actually good or not. There’s a video about it here that’s worth watching.

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So, that’s it for now. I’ll probably post some more retro pickups as and when I have something interesting to show.

Kingdom Come: Deliverance

This is a game I have been itching to play for ages. A realistic, medieval open world action RPG – what’s not to like?

Turns out: loads. This game has so much potential, but it is completely shot to pieces by the awful, awful combat.

Now, first person melee combat is tricky to get right at the best of times. Vermintide is an example of a game that does it well, as is Dark Messiah of Might and Magic. Skyrim doesn’t do it especially brilliantly, but it gets away with it because of the brilliance of the world. In Kingdom Come, sad to say, the combat is game-breakingly awful. It’s wafty, it’s slow, it’s almost impossible to gauge distance, blocking is a fucking train wreck, and frankly after an hour of the game I want to kill something. Or possible myself. There’s this section where you have to escape from your town when it’s being ransacked, and you steal a horse, and then you get pursued by a load of soldiers with crossbows and there is literally nothing you can do to stop them shooting you dead.

This is where I rage quit. I’m frustrated because the world looks interesting, and the game has the potential to be as brilliant as The Witcher, but it’s just buggered to hell by the dysfunctional combat system.

Oh well. That’s 35 quid I won’t get back.

Stuff that annoys me in games

In no particular order, and (mostly) applying equally to modern and retro games alike, here is a list of things that games do all the time and which really really boil my piss.

  1. Compulsory stealth sections in games with crap stealth mechanics. If you’re going to force the player to navigate a section by stealth, at least have the decency to build solid, fun stealth mechanics. Don’t just shoehorn it in, especially early in the game. It’s annoying, it’s not enjoyable, and as often as not I will just rage quit and play something else.
  2. Escort missions. There has never been an escort mission that’s actually good. No, you’re wrong. There just hasn’t. Ico doesn’t count.
  3. Putting token female characters in completely stupid clothes because “sexy” or some shit. I had thought this cishet-dudebro “hur hur tits” ridiculousness was dying out. Then I saw “Quiet” in Metal Gear Solid 5. I mean, come on people. She’s basically in her birthday suit, and she doesn’t speak. Quiet is to gender equality what Jim Davidson is to race relations. She’s worse than Barbarella, and that was an actual piss-take. And if you find Kojima’s spurious explanation (something about breathing through her skin or some bollocks) even remotely convincing, then I’m sorry but you are definitely an idiot, probably a misogynist and very likely had something to do with Gamergate.
  4. Sub-titles turned on by default. Why. Just … why. I know games have to support sub-titles for localisation or for the hearing-impaired. That’s a good thing. But why are they turned on by default? I can hear and understand English. I don’t need your inane dialogue provided to me in text form too.
  5. Up to jump. One for European gamers of a certain age. See, consoles weren’t really a thing here until the Megadrive/Genesis and SNES era. Before that, we played games on home computers like the Spectrum, the C64 and latterly the ST and Amiga. All of which only supported one joystick button. Which meant that most games which needed both a jump and fire/attack function (i.e. most games) used the single button for fire and up on the joystick to jump. And, rose-tinted nostalgia aside, it was utterly shit. Up to jump is wankballs.

So, yeah. I’m sure there’s loads of stuff I missed. But this is what I could think of for the moment.

The Raspberry Pi 4

I was lucky enough to get hold of one of these within a few days of release, and I’ve now got samba, Nextcloud and Plex running on it and a USB3 RAID box hooked up as storage.

I’ve always had a soft spot for the Pi – a cheap, credit-card sized multi-purpose computer that can run Linux and connect to pretty much anything. What’s not to like? It’s always been a bit under powered for any serious work though.

Not any more. The Pi 4 is – for its size and price – an absolute beast. I can be streaming music from Plex, uploading files to NextCloud (with encryption turned on) and working on files over SMB, all at the same time, and it barely breaks a sweat.

I’m flabbergasted by the thing, really. Performance comparable to a lower-end x86 from just 6 or 7 years ago, in a form factor the size of a credit card, and for less than 60 quid even for the 4GB RAM version.

Eben Upton deserves to be extremely rich.

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