Archive | Blog

RSS feed for this section

Blog Posts.

It has been four days since my last Dota 2 game

…and I’m not sure I remember how to play the game anymore.

Here’s where I’m coming from: since I’m currently unemployed, that gives me a lot of free time during the day to do pretty much whatever the hell I want. A lot of the time, that involves playing way too much Dota, either by myself exploring the depts of the solo queue trench, or with a few friends and absolutely smashing the other team.

I have to admit, I was kind of tempted to play Dota at the freeplay PC area at PAX, but careful consideration meant I realised there were better uses for my time (plus, I could just wait a few days and play it at home).

It’s not that you forget how to play, but certain skills in the game do require practice. Last hitting, for example, can differ from hero to hero, and if you haven’t played a certain hero in a while, you can suck at farming which can potentially change how the game turns out. Same thing with landing skillshots.

While I’m not really into League, the serious numbers of people at PAX watching the Oceanic regional finals of some big tournament is totally understandable. I’ve watched a fair amount of Dota over the past few months, ever since this year’s International, and I can see where they’re coming from — League (or for the matter, Dota) played by professionals is a completely different thing to the Dota and League played by your or I.

Unless you happen to be a pro at either of those games, in which case, you’re the one that should be on stage.

These words part of Blogvember, a thing I just made up right then about getting back into blogging. You can read more words about Blogvember right over here, but the gist is that I'll be attempting to post something up on the blog every day in November 2014. Read other Blogvember posts.

Blogvember 2014? Sure, let’s do this.

Those were the words I opened with as I sat down with the person who was going to teach me how to play Magic: The Gathering at PAX Australia 2014. Not the “Blogvember 2014” part, but the “let’s do this”, after I threw down the gauntlet, informing him I knew how to play Magic but might have been a little bit rusty at it. A story for another time, I’m afraid.

It feels like so long since I’ve written regularly on ye olde blog. I’m not really sure what happened — it’s not that I’m not writing, because I do that every day and get paid for it, but it’s been so long since I’ve written about personal interests. Not that those have changed drastically, either: I play Dota most days, I’ve been really enjoying Shadow of Mordor lately, and I could probably write at length about those, but every time I’ve told myself to write about something other than Apple or consumer technology, hitting that new post button just seemed way too daunting.

So, here’s what’s going to happen in my return to blogging. Every day in November, I’ll be publishing something on my blog. Since I’ve just returned from PAX Australia 2014, a tonne of these stories will be related to that even — little anecdotes from things I saw/did/experienced at the show. Like many others, too much of my writing has gone into Twitter, and while I won’t go as far as saying “Twitter has killed my ability to write”, it’s definitely had an impact on the greater-than-140-characters content I’ve produced, especially on my blog.

The reality is, there’s plenty of stuff that could be written about. Twitter is great for brevity, but loses in terms of permeance. Twitter is too fleeting, and people tend to live in the moment. That’s fine, but I think the opposite is important too; having somewhere you can come back and read something substantial about what you were doing/living six months ago.

Jason Snell at Six Colors sums up the problem nicely:

If you had something interesting to say, but it really couldn’t bear more than a few paragraphs, you had two choices: Just swallow it and not write anything, or fluff it up with empty filler until it seemed more substantial than it actually was.

Plenty of stuff is bigger than a tweet, but there are times when you just don’t feeling like tapping out an 1800-word essay on the Nemesis system in Shadows of Mordor. It’s not that the Nemesis system in that game isn’t worth discussing to the tune of 1800 words, it’s that you could say “it’s bloody awesome” in a tweet and leave it at that.

I thought about imposing an upper word limit on the posts, to prevent me from going overboard and over extending my efforts on any given day, but we’ll see how we go. I have no posts in the queue currently, so all the content will be hot out of the oven, so to speak — sometimes it’ll just be a photo about something that happened at PAX, other times it’ll just be a paragraph or two about downright unrecognisable cosplay, or the differentiation between TF2 players and those with fancy hats for the Melbourne Cup.

At least I’ll be writing on the blog again.

These words part of Blogvember, a thing I just made up right then about getting back into blogging. You can read more words about Blogvember right over here, but the gist is that I'll be attempting to post something up on the blog every day in November 2014. Read other Blogvember posts.

New Mouse

Logitech Anywhere MXWell, kinda. But we’ll get to that in a bit.

For the past few years, I’ve been using a Logitech Anywhere MX. It’s been my wireless mouse of choice whenever I’m using my MacBook Pro at my desk, and it’s served me pretty well.

There are a couple of things I like about it:

  • It’s compact. I don’t have huge hands, so I don’t need a huge mouse. I prefer to grip with my fingertips instead of with my palm, and the compact size of the Anywhere MX means I can do that easily without having to exert much force to move the mouse around.
  • It uses AA batteries, not some proprietary rechargeable Li-ion pack.
  • Scrolling is awesome. The Anywhere MX has two modes of scrolling, one which has the normal clicks, and one where the ball just spins — and spins, and spins, and spins. The scroll wheel is weighted so it just keeps going, and this makes scrolling a long list of anything as easy as flicking your finger and letting the wheel do the rest of the work.
  • The dual side buttons are a pleasure to use. At first I was really used to middle-clicking links to open them in a new tab, but the Anywhere MX has no middle click (one of its only faults). Using the included Logitech software, you can customise the three programmable buttons (two on the right hand side near your thumb, one on top behind the scroll wheel) to be almost any combination of button or modifier key. I’m currently using what defaults to the back button as my “middle click”, and the what defaults to the forward button as my back. The button on top is usually an application switcher, but I’m using that to take and upload a screenshot.

For the past few years, the Anywhere MX has been faithful. The programmable buttons make a difference in my day-to-day workflow compared to my previous mouse, the bluetooth Logitech V470. That too was a nice mouse — if I had one other complaint about the Anywhere MX, it would be that it doesn’t connect via Bluetooth and has its own separate USB dongle, but that’s not a big deal in the grand scheme of things.

As you can see in the picture above, I now own two Logitech Anywhere MX mice.

Continue Reading →

Losing (and winning)

One of the things that annoys me the most about the programming is the zone of suck, and how very large and expansive it can be. Probably because I’m a mediocre programmer, at best, but a lot of the time it feels like I’m single-handedly trying to fight backdoor protection on the other team’s ancient as Faceless Void.

Losses in Dota 2 feel like that, too. Sometimes you’ll realise you have nothing to stop the other team’s push strategy, other times you’ll know that your entire team can’t deal with one hero on the other team who got a few kills early on, and by that time, the game is pretty much over. I hate calling “gg” early as much as the next guy, but fighting against a split push with little farm and little to no hope against of coming back is incredibly frustrating1.

Yes, I’ve been playing a lot of Dota 2 recently, and while it might sound like I say that a lot, it’s the truth. Last weekend, a couple of friends and I gathered at my place for some five-stack ranked shenanigans. Incredulously, we somehow managed to win 10 of the 11 games we played; an impressive win rate on a good day, a downright amazing win-loss ratio on any other.

After a warmup game, we refined the strat we were running. We’d insta-pick the heroes we wanted when All Pick came up, and tried to not get them banned in Captain’s Mode. Provided none of us got off to a particularly bad start in the laning stage, we guaranteed kills with a triple-stun trilane, a mid Drow, and solo Invoker. And even if one of us was killed a few times during the early game, we usually had enough recovery mechanisms to get back into the game; usually involving the other players making space for the fifth to farm. Split pushing, adding pressure around the map, stacking neutrals, that kind of thing. By the time late game rolled around, we would be ready.

We did have a bit of trouble against some really good Tinkers. With no real mechanism to catch him out, an enemy Tinker ended up split pushing every lane while we were taking 4v5 teamfights, which would favour us most of the time. Eventually the Tinker would make a mistake and we’d pull him up on it, securing the kill, and because not even an incredibly farmed Tinker can carry a game single-handedly, we’d go on to win the game off the back of those pick-offs.

For the most part, our strategy carried us through games. Our team hero composition allowed us to be a little lazier in terms of items; Wraith King’s lifesteal aura helped out our team early-game with HP regen, and Maiden was the same was her mana regen. By running two position threes, both with the potent carry potential, any time a game went late always favoured us. At the same time, because our Invoker was building Necronomicons and doing his best to push down towers any time he was away from a teamfight, we’d usually have such a gold lead that one or two farmed heroes on the other team didn’t matter that much. Of the 11 games we played, only four went longer than 40 minutes — and of those four, the three we won we were playing against a Tinker, master of the split push.

But despite our impressive win-loss ratio, the game we didn’t win still sticks out like a sore thumb. Thanks to some combination of the Von Restorff effect and likely some negativity bias, I remember that game more than any of the others, despite the fact we won 10 of the other 11 games we played that night. It hurts even more to know that we could have won that game, too — the scoreboard showed kills that were more or less even all the way through, and we punished them for their mistakes every opportunity we got. Every time they got greedy and tried to push for more kills or objectives after using their ultimates, we’d wipe them, but couldn’t seem to take any objectives off the back of our kills.

Continue Reading →

Rite of passage – All this →

My older son had to go to a meeting at work this morning. He works at a grocery store in town and I assume the all-hands meeting was called to prepare the staff for an especially busy day because of a big sale.

Thing is, my son’s a bag boy.
via Rite of passage – All this.

Dr Drang doesn’t believe his 17-year old son should have gone to a store meeting with little to no relevance to him as a bag boy, but I disagree.

As someone who got their first job at 16, I know what it’s like to go to meetings that have little impact on what you do, day-to-day. I was still a high-school student at that time, and on the weekend, I’d work a few hours at the local Apple reseller.

I’ve been to my fair share of meetings that I probably didn’t, strictly speaking, need to go to, being a filthy casual and working one day a week. But here’s the thing, I always wanted to go because it meant I kept in touch with my colleagues I didn’t see every day, including all the ones I wouldn’t see regularly, due to them not working on the weekend. Going to those meetings kept me in the loop with all that was going on in the business and ensured I was seen as the reliable guy who’d turn up for meetings he wasn’t necessarily needed at.

Sure, I didn’t need to go to those meetings. But I’d like to think I’m a better person — a better employee — because I did.

— permalink to this post

Evolution

MacBook Pro Retina unboxing

At the start of the year, I picked up a MacBook Pro with Retina display. Half late-graduation present, half-birthday present to myself. It’s the best Mac I’ve ever used, but then again, why wouldn’t it be?

I mean, you would think that given the innumerable and considerable technology advancements since the last time I purchased a Mac (March 2011), that any new Mac would improve upon every aspect of my previous Mac and then some. I don’t know about you, but I would definitely be questioning what the tech industry was doing if there were regressions of any kind.

Thankfully, there aren’t. I’m excited to say that the MacBook Pro with Retina display gets pretty damn close to my perfect machine. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted from a portable Mac. It’s powerful without being too bulky or heavy. It has great battery life without sacrificing portability, and while it may not be as upgradeable as I’d like (more on this in a bit), that’s a compromise I’m willing to accept for a machine that is otherwise everything I’ve ever wanted out of a personal computer, especially seeing as Apple offer configure-to-order options that satisfy the vast majority of customers, including your truly.

Because specs matter, my MacBook Pro comes with 16GB of RAM and 1TB of flash storage. The amount Apple charge for the 1TB flash storage upgrade borders on the extortionate, but there’s a price for everything, and that was a price I was willing to pay for some of the highest-performing flash storage around. Yes, my new MacBook Pro cost me a pretty penny, but considering this is a computer I’ll be using for hours at a time, every day for the next three to four years, I think the price was pretty reasonable. And since my Retina MacBook Pro now supports 4K displays at 60Hz, I don’t think I’ll be upgrading from this machine any time soon.

Continue Reading →

Spectator Sport, Part II

As one World Cup ends and the other begins, I’m wondering how I managed to cope with The International 2014 Playoffs, where 123 games of Dota 2 were played over four days, starting at 2am our time and going for a solid 12 hours.

It was pretty mad.

Alright, so it’s not exactly the FIFA World Cup. But it might as well be: the total prize pool for this year’s The International Dota 2 tournament is going to get pretty close to US $11 million, making it bigger than the Tour de France ($3 million) and the US Masters ($9 million)1. Not bad for a game that’s free to play — and especially so considering everything bar the original $1.6 million has been contributed by players, representing a quarter of their total contributions to the game since May this year. To be fair, Dota 2 is the most played game on Steam by a long shot, but make no mistake — it’s making money, hand over fist, for Valve.

Ever since I started playing Dota 2, I wasn’t really sure what Valve were doing putting an emphasis on watching the game being played, as much as they did on actually playing the game. I’ll probably never understand why random pub matches can have hundreds of spectators, unless there’s some kind of video-game watching club on the internet somewhere that I’m not privy to. But after watching The International playoffs and soon, the main event, I now know that it’s about watching as much as it is about playing.

Continue Reading →

Who won the World Cup (of arm folding)? →

The way those three players timed their turn brings up another important point. You’ve got to turn to your left, sure. But how? Like a disapproving dad, a la Iran’s Javad Nekounam? Like a terrified bunny rabbit, as we see from Croatia’s Luka Modrić? Like an automaton, like Ecuador’s Jefferson Montero? Like a man hugging himself after a long therapy session, like Ghana’s Kwadwo Asamoah?

Further World Cup reading: Lionel Messi is very impressive, on the field and in the stats. The World Cup, redesigned looks at what an aesthetically-modified tournament would look like. And last but not least, an Australian-developed wearable is giving Columbia the technological edge. (Too bad they’re out, James Rodriguez’s first goal against Uruguay was bloody fantastic.)

Unique

Once I figured out I wasn’t good enough to play Dota 2 competitively (like the majority of Dota 2 players, I guess), I started playing for fun. And for some really cool, unique items that granted custom hero animations, like the super-cool custom Frozen Nova animation you see above for Crystal Maiden.

My piece over at AppleTalk writes about how I’m mostly OK with in-app purchases, including the ones offered by free-to-play titles like Dota 2, which offer no gameplay benefits other than minor cosmetic changes:

But eventually there comes a point where you realise you should spend something on a game. For me, I reached that point after spending a few hundred hours in Dota 2 without paying a cent

I started off by completing Drow Ranger’s Jewel of the Forest set, something I already had most of the items for. And then it kind of snowballed from there. I remember one of the earliest items I “had to have” was this one game where a Juggernaut had a Blade Fury animation that looked different to normal — watching the replay, I found out about the Fireborn Odachi, which I then hunted down on the Steam Community Market and purchased. Later on, I found out about Juggernaut’s Kantusa the Script Sword, only available with a limited edition SteelSeries mouse or via the Steam Community Market — as luck would have it, I managed to find the exact mouse during a recent trip to Malaysia.

Then it was Necrophos’ Scythe of Twin Deaths, with it’s 360-no-scythe animation when casting his ultimate, Reaper’s Scythe.

Continue Reading →

A plate of leftovers and some discarded Easter egg wrappers

For all the times that I marginalise this blog in favour of writing elsewhere, every time I come back to it to write in a little text box somewhere feels like a breath of fresh air. Because I own the platform, it means I can write whatever drivel I want here. It’s an outlet, a place to tell stories, or sometimes, to say a few things about a little box of liquid breakfast.

DSC01006

I took this picture with my Sony RX100 II during my recent trip to Malaysia. It’s exactly what it looks like: a plate of leftovers after my grandmother’s birthday celebrations. There’s bits of prawn, some strange stringy stuff that I don’t know the name of, and various other bones and other non-edible entities.

I took the photo because at the time, I wondered who was going to tell the story of this plate of leftovers, after the event was done and dusted. It looked kind of lonely, all by itself, in a large dinner hall that had emptied of people long ago. It would get cleaned up later on by staff from the restaurant, of course, but for the time being, it was just sitting there. Overflowing with the leftovers from a fantastic banquet, but just sitting there.

Turns out, I’m the one telling the story of the plate of leftovers. I’m the one saying that, of all the conversations the plate was privy to during the night, perhaps the most interesting of all is the one about food. There are other stories that could be told — the one about how my grandpa stormed out because he wasn’t feeling up to celebrating his wife’s birthday, or the one about how relatives from two separate continents met up for the first time in years — but the story of food is the one that connects all other stories.

Think of the prawns, for example. Where did they come from? Who was the chef that cooked them, and what was his story? Who served them, and what did they eat for lunch that day? I’m thankful that I’m the one that gets to ask these questions, even if no-one else is asking them. I have neither the time or inclination to follow any of the questions up, but asking the questions in the first place is an important step.

IMG_1533

This photo was taken much more recently. Like the one about the plate of leftovers above, it’s exactly what it looks like: a collection of Easter egg wrappers.

Like every other individual at Easter, I eat chocolate eggs. My Easter eggs of choice are usually Cadbury mini eggs, since I find hollow eggs are annoying to eat — first you have to break off pieces, then eat those separately, break off more pieces, then eat that; the repetition gets to you, after a while — but one of the downsides to mini eggs is their individual wrappers. Each egg comes in a thin sheet of aluminium foil, coloured on one side and the normal silvery aluminium on the other.

Normally, I just throw the wrappers away as soon as I unwrap the egg, like any other person. But the question then becomes: what do you do with the wrappers if there’s no a bin nearby? Throwing them back into the packet of eggs isn’t an option; that just creates more mess later on and frustration when you’re trying to find an actual easter egg. Scrunching them up and then throwing them back into the packet is an option, but this time around I decided to keep them around, un-scrunched and building into a little pile on my desk.

No particular reason. Just because.

And like the plate of leftovers, once I was done with the eggs I took a photo, threw the wrappers in the bin, and wondered: who was going to tell the story of the Easter Eggs?

That guy, as it turns out, is me. I’m going to tell the story of a little box of liquid breakfast, a plate of leftovers, and some discarded Easter egg wrappers. And this blog is exactly where I’m going to do it.

Frivolous Internet Purchases, Part II — PlayStation Move

The PlayStation Move SharpShooter accessory.

The PlayStation Move SharpShooter accessory.

My first experience with the PlayStation Eye was at Harvey Norman. There was a store near my old church, and every so often I, along with a childhood friend, would run down after a church service and spend Sunday afternoon there, playing on the demo consoles they had. You know, back when demo consoles in brick and mortar stores were actually a thing.

This one time there was a PlayStation Eye demo setup, running some kind of demo content that showcased how input from the camera could be used in actual games. As I cleaned the screen of fog by wildly waving my arms around like a lunatic, I marvelled at how my crude body movements were being translated and having a real impact on the game, something that wasn’t possible before with a simple controller, but now was thanks to the addition of a camera.

Fast forward a couple of years, and now people are so sick of cameras being included with their consoles that a console coming without a camera is enough to make news. The Xbox One has Kinect, and the PlayStation 4 has the PlayStation Camera. We’ve come a long way since the silly hand-waving of the PlayStation Eye demo I played back in 2007, to the point where people are creating entirely new genres of gaming around motion-tracking — Johann Sebastian Joust and Zero Latency being two examples.

Ever since I saw the PlayStation Move ad where there’s a girl using two Move units to do some archery, I kind of wanted to see what the Move was like. Unfortunately, Move has always been prohibitively expensive, making my Move experimentation a little far-fetched for something I was likely going to play a handful of times and then never again.

But then, something strange happened. Move got cheap. Starting around September/October last year, you could pick up a PlayStation Move Starter Kit (one Motion controller, one PlayStation Eye camera) for $46. I did so, then grabbed an extra Motion controller for $18, a Motion Controller for $22, and a few other accessories: the PlayStation Move SharpShooter and a few Move-enabled games (more on these two in a bit). Oh, and a Move Charging Station for an entire dollar, for good measure.

I spent the good part of a day playing Move Sports Champions 2, doing some archery, golf, and other fun games. They say the best thing about the Wii is the motion controller, and the funny thing is, the PlayStation Move gives you a very similar experience with a (in my opinion) vastly superior console for actual games. I practised some foolish wand waving with Wonderbook: Book of Spells, but the part I was really looking forward to was Time Crisis.

Continue Reading →