Retro gaming: After Burner II

When I was around 13 or 14, they had this arcade in my town which I loved visiting and spend some money. My absolute favorite game was After Burner II. They had this deluxe cabinet with a moving seat and stick control with triggers. It was quite the contraption. Here’s a photo:

I spent a lot of money on this game and I still love playing it. There’s something about the fast paced action and music combined with recognizable patterns which makes this game so addicting. You develop strategies to combat each wave of enemy planes until you get it right and you move on to the next and repeat the learning process. Only on my RetroPie with free “money” I made it all the way to the end.

Sega made an updated version of After Burner II and released as part of their Sega Ages collection for the Nintendo 3DS and I’m crossing my fingers they’ll release for the Switch as well.

Of course, you can play it online. My favorite arcade version unfortunately doesn’t work properly – the left-right control are not working so I’m sharing the Sega Genesis version which close.

Play After Burner II

Replacing Path with a finsta

A couple of months ago, Path – the social network – was shut down. I guess it was inevitable, but it left me without a social network to share. Facebook isn’t a social network anymore and beyond them, there isn’t much else. Except maybe Instagram.

A month ago, I setup a private finsta account. I asked my Path “friends” to join and I’ve been using it for a while now. It works well I’ve to say. Even my parents get it and use it now. My mom wasn’t on Instagram at all and my dad just kicked out all of his “Facebook” Instagram followers and set his account to private.

It’s interesting how Instagram really tries hard to get me to follow a billion other people and given the follow requests, they’re actively “marketing” my profile to others. But barring those “annoyances”, it does work. I do miss the ability to just check-in into a location and post a random thought, but most 90% of my posts were photos anyway so it’s close enough. For check-ins, I just make a screenshot of Apple Maps and post that.

I’m glad that Instagram doesn’t have the silly real name policy Facebook has and allows you to create multiple profiles. The app makes it easy to switch from one profile to another. Also, Instagram doesn’t have any features which make a post accidentally go to a large unintended group of people. I’m good.

At least with Instagram I know it’s not going away. I can live with the ads.

New toy

Four times a year, I treat myself with a “toy”. Usually, at this time of the year, it would’ve been a new iPhone, but this year I got myself an Oculus Go. It was on sale on Cyber Monday and I’ve been eyeing it for a while. Yesterday it got delivered.

My first impressions are super positive – I’m impressed. The headset is pretty comfortable to wear for such a big contraption. I played with it for a couple of hours and it never bothered me. But what impressed me the most was the level of polish. The setup was a breeze and the UI works well. A testament to the polished nature was when I handed it to my partner and she understood it with just a few hints about the controller buttons. Well done Oculus!

I tried Epic Roller Coasters, but it makes me nauseous. Cool, but not for me. Watching Netflix and Hulu is pretty cool though and actually more interesting than I expected. Netflix presents you with a virtual room and a giant TV. It’s a very immersive while useful experience. Definitely more fun to watch TV like that than on the phone. Unfortunately, the app doesn’t support downloading shows so forget about using it on a plane. I do wish you could choose your environment. I’d love if I could choose my own seat in an Imax theatre and watch a movie.

I thoroughly enjoyed Gunjack. It’s a Galaga-style game but adapted for VR. Basically, you get to shoot spaceships from a fixed gun position on a big mining rig. You aim by looking at the spaceships and then pull the trigger. Simple but addictive.

That’s about all the time I got to play with it. The battery life is only a couple of hours.

I particularly like it’s standalone. There’s no fuss with tethering it to an existing device like a smartphone or game console. This decision brings a slew of limitations like processing and battery power. But it’s like the Nintendo Switch. The ability to use it independently while being optimized for a particular use case definitely has its advantages. (When I write this, I wondered if these are the first signs of unbundling the smartphone?)

It’s still early for VR and the library of apps is limited. It especially misses large budget triple-a titles, but what is available is fun. It’s still too early to recommend that everyone should get one, but if you’re curious about VR and want to experience it, it’s a great product. The $200 price tag helps too.

That time we broke the internet back in 1994

When I was college a long time ago, we once broke the internet and made headlines worldwide for a day. I was a member of the computer club of the Technical University of Eindhoven, The Netherlands called Stack. It still exists in some form today.

At the club, we ran a multitude of servers. These servers were mostly hand-me-downs from the university or private donations. They all ran some form of Unix like Linux, *BSD and SunOS. People were using them for all kinds of experiments. From IRC bots to FTP sites and mirrors. I remember that we had login limits and sometimes you didn’t even get to log in to a server because of capacity problems. We didn’t have the unlimited computing power we have to our disposal today.

One day, we thought it was fun to create an FTP site populated with all the images coming from Usenet to make them more easy to browse through. Usenet was a distributed network of discussion groups. People chatted about everything under the sun and that included sharing of photos. Not surprising, a significant portion of those photos was the NSFW kind.  You can guess where this heading right?

So, somehow, sometime, the availability of this FTP site became known in the US. It went “viral” before it was even a term. Overnight, the traffic to the US exploded. It completely overloaded the transatlantic internet cable from NL to the US which was at the time only one of two. The other one was in France. Eventually, that one got clogged as well and the internet came to a complete standstill.

The site was running under the internet domain umbrella of the university and using an IP address they owned. The university got contacted and they were not amused, to say the least. The next day, the press got wind of it and a major newspaper in NL ran a frontpage headline like “Eindhoven university going into porn business”. That rattled a few cages.

It was decided there and then that the site should be taken offline and the computer club would get their own internet domain so they wouldn’t be automatically associated with the university.

You know what was the funniest thing? The server never crashed. It kept humming along. The network capacity constraints at the time and some careful tweaking of the FTP server parameters kept it humming along just fine.

For us, we never regarded the impact of the internet in the same way. I realized that it would be big and transformational.

Wikipedia fundraiser

Wikimedia is running their yearly fundraiser. I donate every year. Wikipedia is one of my favorite internet projects and I use it often. I’m grateful for all the work all the writers and editors put in and I’m in awe of what they created together collectively. My donation is my way of giving thanks and recognize their accomplishment.

I love rules to automate decision making so I don’t have to spend any brain cycles on it. A decade ago, I decided to donate 1% of my disposable income to charity. I’ve stuck to that ever since. Regardless of the percentage, it’s nice to be able to set aside a budget for donating. It’s the right thing to do.

Donate Here

Apple app store antitrust case with SCOTUS

Today, SCOTUS will start hearings on a lawsuit brought against Apple’s practices to limit distribution of apps to their IOS devices and leaving the only option to distribute through Apple with a 30% surcharge.

I’ve written in the past that Apple’s walled garden is going to be problematic for them in the long run. With a 62% market share in the US for their smartphones, Apple effectively controls a large portion of the mobile app market and distribution. They charge a 30% markup for any sale and similar for subscriptions – though that one is tiered over time.

By no means can Apple substantiate the 30% margin they take. Their costs for distributing apps is nowhere near that. On the other hand, it’s their store and they can do what they like. It’s not that consumers do not have another option available to them. Right?

Wrong. The problem is that Google with their Android play store is doing the same. So effectively we’ve two players who control 99% of the market and charge an exorbitant fee to gain access to “their” consumers. The fact that the fees are similar is a dead giveaway and smells like price gouging.

At least the EU is on it and is forcing Google to “unbundle” Android and mandatory shipping of their Play store – Google’s Android has a 70% market share in the EU so that’s why they started looking at Google. I’m not sure if it’s enough. It feels a little like the unbundling of Internet Explorer and the web browser choice which was forced upon EU users when setting up a new Windows computer. I don’t think you can contribute Chrome’s popularity in the EU to this decision. But what it does do is signaling. It’s telling the owner to treat carefully in the future. Microsoft basically abandoned IE and got caught off-guard with the switch to mobile computing. This made the problem go away.

We’ll see what SCOTUS decides here. It’s clear that the app market is controlled by only two companies. It’s unhealthy.

 

Artificial Christmas tree & tradition

Yesterday, we did the yearly “pilgrimage” to Wyckoffs Christmas Trees farm with a group of friends. It’s a tradition. You get to select your own tree, cut it down yourself and bring it over to the packing station. It’s super busy and there’s even a crowd tailgating – I know, it was only 32F out.

The day includes visits to other local Christmas destinations including a bakery, pizzeria and a brewery. It’s a fun day.

Plus everyone gets a Christmas tree – except us.

There’s something about cutting down a tree and put it inside to die which upsets me. It takes 3 – 7 years – depending on size and tree type – to grow the Christmas tree and then we kill it in 4-5 weeks. I just can’t get over that. It’s a personal thing – I’m ok with everyone else doing it. For that reason though, we’ve a fake tree for many years now and I love it.

Retro gaming: Bubble Bobble

I love to play games I grew up with. I’ve a Raspberry Pi running RetroPie, but there are also the upcoming Sony Playstation Classic and Nintendo Classic from last year. You don’t need all of them though. Many games are available right here in your browser which is pretty cool.

One of my favorites is Bubble Bobble. I love wasting away 15 minutes of my life on the weekend playing this game. It’s so much fun.

Play Bubble Bobble

Djoomba: a simple RSS feed aggregator

A while ago, I built Djoomba. It’s a hobby project to solve my own problem. I was looking for a simple RSS feed aggregator to follow a bunch of blogs. I wanted something which just presented the articles on a roll like Techmeme and I couldn’t find anything I liked. I’ve been using it for 6 months now and I’m happy with it. It does what it needs to do. I no longer have to go down my bookmark list and see if something got posted. I used  Blogtrottr for a while which delivers the posts in your inbox. It’s great, but it cluttered my inbox after adding ten or so blogs. I wanted something I could ignore when I was busy and visit when I had a moment.

You can easily add or remove feeds to Djoomba. It tries to be reasonably smart in detecting feeds on its own. You just enter the URL and presents you with a list of feeds you can subscribe to. After subscribing it checks once per hour every feed for new articles. If you want, it’ll notify you via email if there is anything new and you haven’t visited in a while.

I currently have 21 blogs in my feed and I’m super happy with it. It’s interesting that I got more interested in following blogs than I did in the past. I frequently end up on blog posts via shared links but never got around to revisiting them regularly. Now I just add them to Djoomba and Djoomba does the following for me.

Feel free to play with it.