New gallery available

After giving several web gallery applications a try, like Gallery2, Coppermine and Piwigo, I finally switched to ZenPhoto. While writing these words, the gallery is actually getting filled with content. You’ll find the old pictures from the previous gallery installations and soon and a couple of new sets, like HDR and some collections of my latest journeys. I hope you’ll like and enjoy it a bit. I’ve also got some special plans with this new application that I’ll soon announce here in this blog. Enjoy the weekend.

Passions regained

This is the announcement, that I’m back on track. Well, actually, it’s just an announcement that I’m finally back to a fixed, regular schedule for my gym sessions. It’s three days a week in the morning and one day in the afternoon. I’m totally happy and completely satisfied with this new schedule, it doesn’t burn me out too much, leaves enough room to rest and I don’t have the feeling to lose to much free time. Apparently, I’ve to go to bed pretty early because the alarm clock rings at 4:00am but like I said, it’s easy to handle when you have only three days per week to get up that early. I’m also making good progress when it comes to dexterity and pure muscle strength. The dexterity is good so far and much, much better as it was in times where I was a smoker, even with my massive overweight. Even though I’m at the beginning of training my strength is as good as it was the time I let the training fade away. I was also able to increase weight on some stations in the gym. Right now, I’m focussing on chest and neck. I guess it’s pretty obvious and I don’t have to mention it explicitely that I always train belly and back. Nothing’s more important than a well trained centre. Within the next couple of weeks I will also start a protein diet to get a little boost to muscle growth and lose some fat.

Pike's place

Secondly, I’m once again a little bit more into photography. During my trip to London, I haven’t even used a whole SD card for my pics. Compared to previous trips it’s an improvement, because I used like two or three cards within one or two days. A lot of crappy pictures came up these days. Just let us say I reached a border where quality took over quantity. Whatever the case, I personally see me making progress in photography and my picture are getting better. There are still some issues with incorrect focusing and a weird usage of depth of field, but this okay for the moment. I do no longer have these completely wrong exposures. It’s natural to get a couple of pics that too bright or too dark, but you don’t have to forget that some pics are snapshot style and I’m not always rethink light and stuff before a shoot the pic. This happens from time to time.

My besty gifted me on X-mas with a nice book about Lightroom and Photoshop. I’m currently working myself through the Lightroom book and it’s giving me a blast in knowledge about digital photo development. Until a short time ago, I was using Lightroom for collecting and organizing my picture only. The whole editing always happened in Photoshop and it happened a couple of times where the final product was worse than the original picture. Lightroom is fun and it’s so awe-inspiring to see how my pictures can still develop, even those that I already abandoned.

Finally, shame on me, I still owe you an article about XBMC and a couple of nice add-ons I don’t wanna miss anymore. It’s coming. Just be patient.

Game of the week #8/2011 – Amnesia – The Dark Descent

After games have left the uncanny valley, talking about scary does not always mean the horrible graphics, nowadays it can also mean that the game itself and his whole plot and story is scary and frightening. In the early nineties there were games like “Alone in the dark” that scared gamers to the bones. Nothing really was able to follow up this game and the first real horror game that can remember again was the ingenious “Clive Barker’s Undying”. Based on Unreal Engine I the look of the game still was almost artificial, but it was well scripted and was definitely able to give you the creeps. There were lots and lots of bloody and gore rich games in the late nineties and early new millenium years but nothing with a subtile horror feel. Even though games like “F.E.A.R.” and “Dead Space” are scary and claustrophic as well, in my personal opinion, they are still gory action games with a few frightening moments. The only game that had this special horror touch was “Silent Hill”, but it was stuck in the previously mentioned uncanny valley. If you really want to feel a cold chill floating down your back and shaking every single bone of your spine you should, no, you MUST play “Amnesia – The Dark Descent”.

First thing that I really like about this game, you cannot fight, you can only run away. But let’s start at the very beginning, you wake up in a probably abandoned castle and you don’t even know how you got there. You suffer from amnesia, only your name, Daniel, and after finding a note you get to know that your memory was erased with intent and that you’re the chosen one to kill someone in this castle. During the exploration of the castle you’ll find more and more hints that make you come to several conclusions why you are here. Needless to say, that there are lots and lots of bone chilling moments while wandering deeper and deeper through the halls and floors of this mysterious castle.

Like I mentioned before, you cannot fight in this game. You have no real weapons. You can only run away and hide. Another important thing is, that you have to keep an eye on your health status. A rapidly beating heart is everything else than helpfull and also your brain might play some tricks on you. Did I already mention, that Daniel is afraid of the dark? As you can see, lots of elements that are actually needed to give you a nice and intense horror feeling with a nice dash of claustrophobia. I wasn’t actually able to play this game longer than thirty minutes because I found it too scary. Mostly played at the dark hours and home alone. Which is not a good idea, well, in this case it is.

The presentation of the game is up to date. Based on Unreal Engine III you’ll barely have¬†anything to complain about and the level design is done perfectly as well. You’ll also find some nice physics elements which leads to the grade of realism that was missed in the horror genre for such a long time. I missed that aspect personally. So if you’re tired of being a nearly immortal super soldier fighting hordes of monster in the dark with oversized weapons, you should, no, you MUST play “Amnesia – The Dark Descent”. It’s worth every minute of play, because it’s very intense and of course something different in these days of stereotype game mass production.

Froyo Backflip field report

Some of you might remember, I was modding my Android smartphone a while ago and I switched from Android 1.5 to Android 1.6. Actually, not a big step. Afterwards I moved to Android 2.1 including MotoBlur which doesn’t gave me a massive performance improvement as well. But I was finally able to get access to a lot more applications from the Android market. Finally, I found a modded version based on the CyanogenMod for my Motorola Backflip.

It’s an Android 2.2.1 with a lot of bugs needed to be fixed. Camera wasn’t working, which is now fixed. The keyboard wasn’t working correctly, which is nearly fixed. And some GPS issues stressed me as well. I also had the problem, that it wasn’t overclockable, so I had to use a custom kernel, too though. I’m using this particular version on my phone for like four or five weeks now and I’m almost satisfied with.

There are still performance problems which I was able to trick out a little. First of all, I’m using Autokiller Memory Optimizer which handles the whole memory management of Android a little better than it would normally do. Secondly, I’m using a swap file, created with Swapper2, to gain a little more memory space in the backhand. And last but not least, the Android Task Manager, to get a little more on running tasks.

Benchmarks speak a clear language, in comparison to stock Android 1.5 with MotoBlur the new version 2.2.1 almost doubled the performance of the phone. I had like 150 to 180 points in Quadrant Standard benchmark on Android 1.5 and now I gain like 310 to 350, depending on what services are actually running and the CPU clock speed.

During this whole development and experience progress with Android I also bought a couple of applications from the market that I found very usefull though. First of all, it’s Titanium Backup that I mainly used to “deblur” my phone on Android 1.5 and Android 2.1. Sure thing that it gave the phone a blast, but it was also causing some trouble, mainly when it comes to contact management. I’m also a big fan of ADW.Launcher now, which is a fine GUI for Android and I simply thought that it was worth supporting it with a buy. Definitely an improvement. Due to the fact that I also use my phone to listen to some music here and then, I found that PowerAMP is totally awesome and gives some fine audio quality to your ears.

To get this straight, I’m not going public with my modified Android version, this is just a small project of mine to get a little bit more into Android itself. I don’t have time nor the will to release a custom firmware for Android and even support it in any way.

Whatever the case

To be honest, nothing special was actually happening during the last days and this post is only to proof that I’m still alive. Well, some things did happen apparently. One thing that’s really important, my bike is finally fixed and repaired. I personally changed the tires and the rest was done in a repair shop. Brakes are working fine again, the gears can be shifted again and the suspension is now a little harder. I already did a couple of trips in and around my hometown. I’m a big fan of these trips at dusk, driving through the parks, along the river and nothing but windy noises in my ears and a couple of jogging people running by. This much more enjoyment than the gym, which I’m gonna visit again this week. At least two times is the plan. Actually, thinking of the gym brings a lot of boredom into my mind. But according to the digits popping up on the scale, I guess, well, it’s time to take this path again.

I’ve done the complete opposite of being a sports dude, I was even more a couch potatoe enjoying lots and lots of movie I always wanted to see and that are stored on my media centre for such a long time. Besides this I was involved in a few BBQs that were “celebrated” by some friends of mine. The first rays of the sun after a long cold winter are always an undisputed sign to do a BBQ. ALWAYS!

BBQ

Even though it’s nearly two weeks ago, I was off to London over a stretched weekend. All in all, it was a fine trip, if I’d brought the correct pair of shoes with me. I finally had to find out that both pairs that I brought along are not “sightseeing compatible”

You can also say, they were simply too small at this particular point. After giving them the stress test of walking London for like four days, they DO fit. Another pr0blem was, I’m actually having 20kg overweight which does not bring up any comfort when it comes to walk around the whole day and explore a metropolis like London in Chucks All Stars that are like new and half a size too small. Nowadays, they fit perfectly and finally made an agreement with my feet. I guess, I’ll revisit this city when my weight is on a healthier level and I also got the correct pair of shoes with me.

Talking about couch potatoe and overweight, I already made every pre-order for all the interesting games coming up this first half of the year. I recently finished “Bulletstorm”, which was also ‘Game of the week’ (Link)¬†here in this blog. I also started playing “Amnesia” which scared me to death and gave me the creeps. This game is really scary. It’s meant to be scary, it’s not that the game quality is scary, but give it a try on your own. Next game in queue is “Homefront”, but I actually do not expect that much of it. And, most importantly, “Portal 2” is coming out next week and, hell, I’m so excited about this game. The predecessor was so brilliant, but unfortunately way too short, and I’ve got high expectations for “Portal 2”

That’s it for the moment, some stuff about photography and of course the HTPC is coming up within the next seven days and I guess I’ll also be able to do another “Game of the week”.

Game of the week #7/2011 – Bulletstorm

Yes, time for stuff. It does not happen very often that a videogame makes me laugh out loud and manifests a solid smile in my face while playing, but this week’s GotW is one of those. It’s ‘Bulletstorm’, the latest output by Cliffy B., realized with the Unreal engine III and developed by the guys from ‘People Can Fly’, that you might know from the ‘Painkiller’ series. ‘Bulletstorm’ is truely a FPS that puts the fun back into shooter gaming. After playing thousands and thousands of ultra-realistic first person shooters situated in a modern warfare scenario it felt like a kind of deliverance to play this particular game. I was a little sceptical before the release of ‘Bulletstorm’ if this game is not just only a pure feature-gadget-firework that lacks of fun in gameplay. I was seriously wrong.

First of all, for those of you who still don’t know, here’s short story introduction. You play Grayson Hunt, a space pirate from the black-ops squad called Dead Echo. After finding out that their squad was misused by the evil General Sarrano, who let them kill innocent civilians, the squad starts to revolt against Sarrano and calls for revenge. The real plot of the story starts with a crash landing on the planet Stygia and basically two things are left to do. Finding General Sarrano and kill him. And to escape from the planet.

During the escape you find lots of interesting guns and you also get a nice gadget plugged on your arm to grap enemies with a kind of tractor ray. You gain the most of the fun with the so called skillshot system. It’s not just only about fragging enemies it’s about fragging them with style. You can grab enemies with your little arm gadget. You can throw them in the air. You can push them into spikes. You can make them suffer on a slitted throat and gain points for ‘gargle effects’. You can shock them with electricity. You can shoot their balls off. You can slide them off. You can throw them off heights… etc. etc. etc. It’s just so much you can do, to frag your opponents with style and gain points for that. The earned points can be spent for new guns, ammunition and extra charge for your weapons. Each weapon has a secondary fire mode which is much more devastating, and fun, than the primary mode and mostly effective in boss fights. The boss fights itself are challenging, not too tough and of course a lot of fun.

The game is also rich of totally nice and funny events like escaping from a giant, I mean GIANT, mining wheel. Fighting a mechanical dinosaur in a miniature theme park. Fighting your enemies with the help of the mechanical dinosaur. It’s also nice to see, that the pace of the game is not always be held on high speed, and that it offers some moments to let you breathe. Which is actually good because the whole presentation of the game is just awesome. Even though it was made with the “old” Unreal Engine III, the game looks absolutely state of the art. It also does offer Physx, with some manual tweaks, and a DirectX10 render path, also with manual tweaks. For some unknown reason are the config files encrypted so you cannot simply edit them by using a standard text editor, you actually need a decrypter (!?). This seems to me, like the curse of the multi-platform development, hopefully we, the PC gamers, get rid of this with an upcoming patch.

To summarize, I want to recommend this game to everyone who is tired of the common, standard first person shooters stuff that gets released each and every day. This game gives you a fresh breeze into your face that soon becomes a storm of pure shooter fun that you haven’t experienced for years. ‘Bulletstorm’ has so many great ideas included and so many funny things either that your money is well spent on this game. I also want to mention again, this is not just a game that builts its innovation on a couple of newly introduced game gadgets. GO! BUY IT!

Links: Official website

Config decrypter

Duty Calls (commercial game)