I had Monday of this week off, which I spent upgrading my computer. My options were either going to be upgrading the whole motherboard so I could buy a mid-range PCI Express graphics card or buy a top-of-the-range AGP graphics card. Both options would have come in at the same price but with different results

AGP is dead. End of the line. Outclassed.
While a top-of-the-range AGP card is still pretty impressive stuff, they’re as rare as hens teeth, require their own power supply connection and can’t benefit from stringing them together to improve graphics further.

However…

If I buy a new motherboard today, it will be outdated soon as the new quad core processors require a different motherboard and different memory. Also, a mid-range PCI Express graphics card (all I’d be able to afford after the motherboard purchase) would probably drop off the bottom of the Minimum Specification list within 14 months and the last 6 months of that would be painful for any new game.

And so I bought the top-of-the-range AGP card, or more specifically, the . And wow… The fact the a brand new game (Titan Quest, review soon) can run at the maximum resolution with all enhanced features switched on is pretty impressive. I’ll have to try it on Elder Scrolls 3: Oblivion tonight as I recall that being particularly punishing for graphics cards, but I’m really not worried. I think I can quite safely say that, other than maybe a RAM upgrade to 2Gb next year, I’ve bought over two years of gaming potential for the computer.

She’ll need a new name methinks. Hmm…

BBC NEWS Technology Podcast numbers cut through hype: “People downloading to podcasts are still in a minority, despite the hype surrounding them, research suggests. “

What a shock! To enjoy podcasts you need a) the right technology, b) some tech savvy, c) actually find a topic you want to hear about and d) like the speaker enough to listen to them on a regular basis.

I have the tools and the knowledge, but not the desire in any way to listen to podcasts. Unlike text, I can’t scan the article for tone, content and style to see if I’m going to give it my full attention.
Also, I’ve never really been a fan of talk radio, which is basically what most podcasts are, just without the phone-ins. So without the comments or feedback, it’s shere vanity publishing.

And as for those people who podcast their selection of music, I find it of limited appeal. Sure, you’ve the chance to discover new music from someone elses collection, but I’m a bit isolationist in my music taste. I much prefer listening to my existing collection rather than somebody elses.

Your telephone line has been enabled for broadband. Arranging delivery of your modem.
Nice!
It was Tim’s birthday on Saturday and I headed into town to see him, celebrate a little and meet his other friends. The ones that are not piratical or eat pot pourri. Nice people and I’m glad I’ve finally met his siblings. Now we just need to break down the barriers between Tim’s groups of friends so we can become one large, homogenous mass!
Also this weekend, as well as starting to assemble furniture and marvel at the worlds smallest sofa, I played about with my new PVR, the excellent Humax PVR-9200T. It has a 160Gb HD, two tuners and a USB port for outputting MPEGs to computer or putting MP3s or phots onto the harddrive. Excellent piece of equipment, easy to use and very useful. If I were to try and improve it at all, I’d make it WiFi compatible.

: “Microsoft is planning six versions of the next incarnation of its Windows operating system.

Microsoft said the six versions were designed to match the demands different users have for its software. No details have been given about the pricing of the separate versions.
The six versions are:
Vista Business
Vista Enterprise
Vista Home Basic
Vista Home Premium
Vista Ultimate
Vista Starter “

Well, it looks like if you want a version of Vista Home that does anything of any use, you’ll want the Home Premium to get the functionality of XP Home. To get the full functionality of XP Professional, you’ll need Vista Ultimate; Their most expensive version of course. XP Professional cost about £200 but no figures have been released for Vista pricing.

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[Updated 23/02/06 14:34 after Alex updated me a little]
[Updated 27/02/06 15:30 after a weekend of playing with new features]
[Updated 15/02/06 13:00 with minor updates]
[Updated 30/03/06 10:33 with updates from the Game Developers Conference]

[Updated 10/04/06 10:30 with info on loading playlists from Itunes]

So, for my 30th birthday I received by Sony PSP. It was much desired before the day and greeted with much joy, but how does it measure up in the real world context of actual use? Has it become a very well designed paperweight, packed with electronics never used? Let’s break it down:

Games

It’s an obvious way to start, since games are what people buy a PSP for; And I certainly do play games on it.
Games for the PSP can be quite expensive at £35 a pop. Sure, that’s cheaper than a PS2 game, but still about the price of a new PC game. So for this reason I have only two games so far. These are:

Star Wars Battlefront 2: A good fun game that got mixed reviews. Due to having only one analogue joystick, it takes a while to get used to control system of this FPS, especially for console players. Personally though, once I got used to the system, it was great fun. Waiting for a train? Jump into SWBF2 and kill some ewoks, gungans or jawas. Very satisfying!

Lumines: Ask anyone, this is the must-have game of the PSP; A ridiculously simple Tetris-like puzzle game, where the better you are, the more backgrounds, skins and music you unlock. Yes, I know this sounds like it’s of limited entertainment value, but you’d be amazed, it really does suck you in. Very addictive indeed.

Prince of Persia: This is a full 100% port from the PS2 version with no differences at all. Sadly, the smallness of the screen and the resolution limitations mean that it’s sometimes hard to distinguish features of the background. Crucial for solving some puzzles.

Lemmings: What can I say… It’s cute, it’s clever, it’s simple, it can be pleasantly easy or brain-curdlingly hard and apart from the slight increase in difficulty in selecting the little green-haired suicide artists, this game confirms my nostalgia to be entirely justified. Lemmings rocks!

Other games I’m considering for the future:

  • Ridge Racer: It really looks like racing games have been the easiest first batch converts to the PSP and they look great. This looks like one of the best.
  • Battle Chess: I know, I’m sad, but I can’t help it.
  • Untold Legends 2 – The Warrior’s Code: A Diablo-style hack-n-slash RPG

In short, yes, games are good on the PSP. There aren’t a gigantic pile of games out there and most are dodgy PS2 converts, but the console has only been out a for a limited amount of time and things are getting better.

Alex’s comment: I’m personally looking forward to Outrun 2006 at the end of March at the moment, along with Every Extend Extra (the new music/shooting game by the Lumines guys).

Movies

I’ll begin by discussing UMD movies. It depends on how old\popular the movie is, but UMD movies will cost around £15 +/-. As you can imagine, this is rather a rip-off, when you consider how cheaply you can get DVDs these days and paying £25 total to get the movie in both formats is bobbins. What about imports I hear you ask? No go I’m afraid. We might all have multi-region DVD players, but there’s no such thing as a multi-region UMD player and all UMD movies are region-encoded. So while there are some okay movies out there to buy for your PSP, it’s an expensive and somewhat frustrating experience. Although, I quite like the music video\concert UMDs, but there are very few of those. (Apart from Depeche Mode, bizarrely, who have about three out. Other than that you’ve got Goldfrapp (which I have), Iron Maiden, Kylie and Coldplay. That’s it).

So, is the PS doomed as a movie playing device? Well, many of us have respectable DVD collections, but DVDs are encrypted and it’s illegal to decrypt them (for example by using the DeCSS decrypter). But if, by some terrible accident, your DVDs randomly decrypted themselves (what? It could happen!) then you could use the software to convert the resultant VOB file directly to PSP sized and formatted MP4 video. End result? 7Gb of Fight Club DVD would become 250Mb of PSP viewable movie. Nice! Suddenly flights, hotel stays and train journeys are no great chore. In fact I wish they’d last longer so I could watch more movies!

(Did I ever mention how very happy I am that my PSP came with a 1Gb Memory Stick? No? Well I should. Because I am)

Note: When transferring movies to the PSP they must be put in the directory \MP_ROOT\100MNV01 and must be numbered rather than neatly named. However, 3GP Converter will do the renaming for you. And if the movie file had a sensible name to begin with, the title is retained when viewed in the PSP.

Music

So the PSP plays MP3s. In fact, if you manage to connect to the internet (see below) you can even enable WMA access too (but I can’t tell you how frustrating it was, realising that I had to go online to agree to an EULA just to play WMAs). But while I use my PSP to listen to music (or even audiobooks) a lot, it’s because I always have the device with me, rather than because it’s particularly good at it. No playlists, no way of seeing what the next track will be, no visualisations, no way to control the order of play (other than random). It does work, but it needs some refinement. But, as I said, I use it to listen to music anyway.
I may even consider audioblogs (podcasts) at some point.

Update: Alex points out that you can do podcasts now with the current firmware, but unfortunately it’s streaming only. Not much use when you’re on the Underground or in an aeroplane… However, this is alledgedly going to change with the upgrade to the 3.0 firmware in March.

(Quick unrelated aside: I like visualisations with my music; they’re pretty. But beyond that, I found out a few years ago, at a house warming party, that a device playing mellow music and visualisations was the ultimate stoner trap. They were gathered around, their reverent silence only occasionaly broken with an awe-struck “Wooahhh”. One day the police will use this to arrest stoners in their hordes, mark my words.)

Update: Using Itunes with your PSP
I recently started using Itunes instead of Windows Media Player and I must say I like it a lot. Especially since I learnt how easy it was to transfer music from playlists to the PSP, which can’t be done fro WMP.
If you make your playlist (I use the party shuffle) and select the files you want to copy to your non-ipod player, right click and select “copy”. Open a folder where you would like to copy your mp3s to, and “paste” in that folder. The files will copy over. Easy as pie.
I’ve yet to experiment with AAC format (without DRM) and also I heard on the grapevine that it was possible to con Itunes that your PSP is actually an Ipod Shuffle. Watch this space!

Photos

A functionality I never thought I’d use, but it turns out I quite like having selected, treasured photos with me. (No, not porn) Furthermore, I take a screenshot of important timetables, my diary etc on there too, so I never have to worry about losing softcopy of my schedule.

Update: If you want to have perfectly sized images that fit on the PSP screen without scaling, e.g. for wallpaper, the resolution needs to be 480 x 272.

It’s a shame that the PSP currently won’t read TXT, PDF or RTF files, but in the meantime there is a workaround. The text files can be converted using to images of the right size, which can then be read quite comfortably on the PSP. I haven’t tried this product yet, but it seems to be simpler than some of the workarounds I’ve been using. Best combined with files from something like the , or your own documents.

Update: I’ve tried Jpegbook now, as well as it’s closest rival, . Both are somewhat flawed, but JpegBook less so. PP has the advantage that you can “print” from any application, so images are embedded. However, the text area cannot be shrunk to PSP size, so you have to scroll around. Annoying.
JB is only for converting TXT files to JPG which it does admirably and of the correct size. The downside is that sometimes it doesn’t wordwrap properly if you have more than 72 characters per line.

Further update: Can’t find the free ebook you’re looking for on the Gutenberg project? Well, the US copyright laws are quite tight in terms of what can be released into the public domain, so the is a very good bet for works by Shaw, Orwell and other authors of this century who were published after 1926.

Internet

You need to get online with your PSP. Without a net connection, firmware upgrades are awkward, you can’t enable WMA playback (mutter, grumble, grrr) and you lose out on a chunk of functionality of your device. How to get online? There are three options:

  • Have a wireless network at home
  • Wander the streets, periodically hitting ‘Scan for wireless network’ and hoping for some muppet with an unsecured wireless network (your odds are better in large towns. In Aldershot I think they’re still not sure of electricity, nevermind wireless networks, whether secured or not)
  • Pay for either a one-off voucher or a subscription to someone like (which can be expensive unless you use it a lot and the wifi hotspots are pretty few and far between in Surrey, but London is fine)
Update: A bit of a plug for coffeeshop in Woking. Decent coffee and free WiFi? Unbeatable!
So now you’re online. Now what? Well, here are some of the essential URLs for you:
  • – Like , but optimised for the mobile browser. Very useful indeed. Also good to use for blogging, as the input window of won’t remember what you ‘typed’ if you lose wifi connection, while Gmail has an autosave.
  • – Do you read blogs? The news? Webcomics? Subscribe to all their rss feeds and then read the updates all on one page. Invaluable.
  • – A social bookmarking and bookmark-tagging site. Keep all your bookmarks online, share them (across people and, more importantly, machines) and tag them like a Flickr pic. I have a tag link set up just for which I have verified work on the PSP.
  • – Use the AOL instant messenger from a PSP enhanced webpage. This works, but nobody I know uses AIM. How annoying.
  • BBC News – Works well as is on the PSP, but your browser is best set to small fonts and Just Fit screen size.
Some other URLs I originally thought would be useful, but weren’t:
  • – Online wordprocessor with online storage. Especially useful as the PSP cannot save non-graphical files to the memory stick. Failed! Could not even log in with PSP browser.
  • – Online spreadsheet with online storage. Especially useful as the PSP cannot save non-graphical files to the memory stick. Failed! Could log in, but not access spreadsheets with PSP browser.
  • – Online calendar. Failed! Links to log in or edit calendar entries fail. However, if you use CalendarHub from a different computer and want to view your address entries, you need to use this login page.


Homebrew

No, not a kind of beer! There are a huge number of unofficial apps, games, emulators and whatnot out there. Unfortunately the vast majority require an ancient firmware update that is no longer available and you can’t downgrade. I hear that there is now a hack to make hombrew software work with the newest firmware version, but to be honest there’s nothing out there fantastic enough for me to take the risk of turning my PSP into a brick. (And yes, there is a trojan that will do this. 100% unrecoverable)

Alex’s comment: Homebrew: will work on all PSPs now with the new loader that’s just come out (Brown Ale, amusingly enough) but you need a copy of GTA to be able to use it.
Update: There are mutterings that Sony will unlock the PSP to allow 3rd party code to run on it, but this is a rumour I, for one, intend to take with a big pinch of salt.

Future enhancements

There’s a few official enhancements due out sometime in the future:

  • GPS – Sounds somewhat useless, but could have it’s value. It depends how expensive and large it is. Game manufacturers have the opportunity to make very intriguing location based games. Real life monopoly? A London-location based who-dunnit?
  • Keyboard – Since they’re going to be releasing this, I think I can assume that they’ll be adding a document editor too. Otherwise it’s of low value. Update: Logic3 have cancelled their keyboard project, citing difficulties in getting API information from Sony. However it looks like Sony will develop their own.
  • Access to – Joy, another opportunity to buy music and video that you can’t use on any other device or format at an unrealistic price. You can buy individual episodes of Lost or 24, but at $1.50 each, you could buy the DVD box set at the same total price. £7.99 for a whole album that I can’t play on my PC or stereo? I’d be better off buying it on Amazon. Alex’s comment: Sony Connect is going to be relaunched next month apparently, along with the 3.0 firmware. Rumour has it that you’ll be able to download game demos, a bit like on Xbox Live Arcade on 360, which will be good if it’s true. Update: Sony have confirmed that PS One games will be available for purchase and download from Connect for playing on the PSP. Update from the GDC: Winter.. around October, we’ll introduce a further key innovation: the ability to download and run software directly from the Memory Stick. UMD will continue, but we believe that we can do true e-distribution of content straight to the machine without the need for a disc. Content server – to memory stick – to PSP. This will be augmented by having the PSone content available through an archive server. We’ll have an emulator, and you will have access to the entire PSone library.
  • A PSP version of the Eyetoy, in effect a webcam for the PSP. Update from the GDC: Another great innovation will be the addition of a video and stills cam for the PSP coming this October. The obvious application for this is a wifi videophone – we’ll have VOIP built into the OS.
  • An addition to the RSS reader. Not for text, but to allow it to consume video blogs as well as audio blogs. Rumour has it that this will be in download format, not just streaming. Update from the GDC: The next update has RSS feeds for audio and text, plus a flash-enabled browser, really enhancing that internet experience there.

Travel

I’ve mentioned above that I use the PSP extensively for travel. Here are some of my findings:

  • You can use the PSP on the plane, but you must have it switched off during take-off and landing and you must have the WiFI switched to off for the whole duration.
  • In general, keep the WiFi switched off when travelling as it uses up more battery power.
  • If you’re listening to music, switch the key lock on and use only the remote control to change tracks. This will allow the screen to stay off, preserving battery power.
  • UMDs (movies and games) use more battery power than reading from the MemoryStick, so avoid them if you can.
  • Saying that though, an airport (in the UK at least) is the best place to buy UMDs or games as they are sold tax-free (even for trips within the EU), saving you a rather nice 17.5%.

In conclusion


The PSP is great. It fits my lifestyle very well and if it gains document viewers and a PIM then I’d never need anything else ever again. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect for everyone, but for me it’s the right device and I love it.


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So, Pioneers of the Inevitable LLC, creators of , have created a new media player called . It looks quite pretty, much like Itunes, and has as it’s major selling points that it can\will be able to access multiple online music stores and can play lists of music on a webpage directly as playlists. Neat.

Technologically, it’s built on the Firefox UI engine making it very solid and extensible.

Features missing so far are the very necessary CD burning & ripping and of course extensions themselves. The former is a must before I convert (for I surely shall), and the latter could make Songbird a real must. I’d want an extension for web\satellite\DAB radio, PSP synching and an interface into (yes it’s still legal and will be until September so get your cheap, downloaded, DRM-free music fast) and (and this bit’s a little sad) good visualisations including a party mode where the machine is locked but still playing the playlist.

In short, watch this space and I’ll give you a review of version 0.2 when it’s out, for version 0.1 shows immense promise but there’s no point for me yet.

Microsoft were in a quandery about how to show or signify RSS feeds, both in IE7 and the rest of their RSS enabled portfolio due next year. Then, in a wierd and unprecedented shift, the entire team decided to take a trip to Mozilla, had a chat, and are now standardising on the Firefox feed icon

Will this last? Or is it a case of “Well we had to collaberate on something sometime and it may as well be something as irrelevant as an icon.”

Only time will tell…

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BBC NEWS | Technology | Self-destruct SMS proves popular: “Thousands of people have subscribed to a self-destruct text message service which started on Sunday in the UK, says the firm behind the system. The commercial service allows sensitive messages to be destroyed 40 seconds after being read.

‘The technology behind StealthText is derived from military technology, so the comparisons with Mission Impossible are justified,’ said Carole Barnum, chief executive of Staellium UK.

Privacy comes at a price. Each text using the system costs 50 pence, though users have to sign up for a minimum of 10 messages.
People interested in using the service to send messages have to register and download a small program onto their mobile phone.
Once a message has been sent, the recipient receives a text notification showing the sender’s name and a link to the message.
After they have opened it, the message disappears after 40 seconds.

Despite the fact the message will be removed from phones, users cannot entirely avoid a data trail.
For legal reasons, a log of the message will remain on a secure server to which they have no access. “

So it’s not really an SMS then, but let’s not split hairs.
I find this interesting that people are willing to pay five times as much for a text message to avoid embarressing situations where the recipient of an SMS does not delete it. It won’t protect from litigation, as the company must hold all messages for legal reaons, so it really is an expensive modesty protector.

And of course as it seems to be some kind of Java appm it won’t work on everyone’s phones, nor is it guaranteed that the recipient can go online to read the message. Talk about niche…

: “Ok, try this:
In Windows, should you run such a thing, create a new folder. Try and give it the name ‘con’.

Can’t be done, can it?

We dunno why. Nor, apparently does Bill Gates. “

First night in a local B&B last night and the combined joys of an en-suite power shower, getting up while its daylight and being given freshly ground coffee with my breakfast has really set me up for the day! Now I can stop drinking that ridiculously weak machine coffee that Ive been trying to con my body with. WEAK!

It seems the EG user registration still doesnt work; we seem to have a permissions issue. Dagnabit. Authors can still edit Encyclopaedia, News and Content, but you need a user account to post to the forum. Bobbins.

Im going to try and recreate the lost logo as well today.

Im really glad of my USB memory stick. Not just for carting my files around, but Ive got Portable Sunbird on there too, so I always have my calendar with me. Just as well, considering I alternate between the clients computer, office computer, my computer, Pennys computer, library computer etc. Its just a shame that I dont get to spend more than a few minutes at my own home computer anymore.

Ive found out that the local library is open until 8pm on Tuesdays so Ill head there after work. Ill try and use their computers and maybe read some. Itll keep me out of the pub for a little while…