A Farewell to Paragon

It was with some sadness – and quite a bit of surprise – that I saw the news yesterday that City of Heroes was closing down. I’ve not played in a few years now but I still check out what’s going on once in a while and it can have only been a few weeks ago that I was reading about the latest updates and what was in the works. Now, it’s all coming to an end.

My tale began just after the EU release of the game back in February 2005. I’d never played an MMO before but something (I’m not sure what) had caught my eye with this one months before and uncharacteristically for me I jumped in early on. My home was always the Defiant server and my first character was Faultline (not to be confused with the in-game story character who became more prominent as the game expanded). I was Faulty to my friends.

I remember avoiding other players for the first few days – if not weeks – whilst I found my bearings. If anyone even said “hello” to me I’d run a mile. But as I became more familiar with the game and less worried about looking like an idiot for not knowing what people were talking about, I started to team. That was where the game really shone. The world was full of total beginners like me and a few ‘veterans’ that had already worked there way to level 50 and were back helping out the newbies.

I have so many fond memories from the four years I ended up playing but most came from the early days. I played every minute of every hour that I could – some would say I was far too obsessed and I’ll not admit to how many hours Faultline took to get to level 50 – but I kept finding new things to see and do.

I remember seeing the Paladin striding through Kings Row for the first time. I remember getting hover and (very slowly) launching myself into the sky and looking down on the world in awe. Doing the Eden trial and being stunned at the vastness and beauty of the caverns. Tackling Lusca (anyone for sushi). Finding the first Keldian player in Atlas Park and desperately wanting one as he/she showed it’s ability to change forms.

I remember how busy the Hollows was back then, with ‘Taxi’ players helping the new folks get to where they needed to go in safety (although any old school player knows the valuable lessons that were learnt on how to avoid aggro whilst running to the Hollows mission). How many times did I do FrostFire in that zone? And how nice did it feel when I became the veteran player watching over the zone – a guardian angel that would swoop in, heal them seconds before a faceplant and dissapear before they even noticed.

Then there were the players, easily the best part of the game. Aerie – a defiant legend and probably my longest running friend in City of Heroes. Petit/Dawnrazor (Paragon DJ) who I met in my first super group (the mighty Vigilante Earth in our green and purple outfits) who teamed with me for many hours on my way to 50 for the first time and who I went on to form our own supergroup with. That was P.I.E (the Protectors of Innocence and Equality) in case anyone remembers us. There were so many more folks that I struggle to remember the names now but a few spring to mind. False Fiction, Flush, Elfuh, Godswrath, Blue Dragon, Hellraiser, Organi, Zoot, Spudcadet, Cutting Edge, SaiyaMan and Protector X.

And maybe people out there remember me. Faulty was my first but there were other characters I was known as. Sundae, Penelope Comelightly, SoundQuake, Professor Crumhorn, Bob D Buffer and a few others I dabbled with.

So as I write this I’m downloading the game again. It’s free to play now and last time I checked my characters were still all there so hopefully I can have one last super leap around the city I called home for so many years. I think I’ll feel a bit of a stranger returning home after so long but it was only whilst writing this that I realised that I’d not like to loose the memories I had in CoH. So time to dust of the capes, helmets and spandex for some of my characters for a few screenshots to remember them by.

And maybe it isn’t all over yet. By all accounts the end came suddenly. No shutting down of servers and downsizing the staff. The gradual slowdown in the release of new update. One day all was well and good, the next the game was closing and the staff all need new jobs. So maybe a change the other way is not beyond hope and many are taking action. I’ll keep my fingers crossed as I run a few last missions.

Bob D Buffer and some of his Supergroup friends from Foxbase.
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Photo Stitching

It’s not uncommon whilst being on holiday to find yourself at the top of some building or perched on the side of a hill somewhere looking out over a beautiful view. Wanting to capture the moment, you take a few shots with your camera but unless you have something suitably expensive that does wide angle shots, the photos just don’t quite work. You just don’t get the same feeling from them. But there is something you can do about that….

For many years now I’ve been snapping a few shots as I pan the camera and then pasting them together when I get back home using a piece of software that comes with all (or at least all the ones I’ve had) Cannon cameras called PhotoStitch. It was easy to use and although the results weren’t brilliant the panoramas that it created looked okay as long as you didn’t look too closely. I never actually thought to check if there was something free and better out there that I could use. Until I got back from holiday recently that is.

Sure enough there are a number of freeware packages that’ll do the job but one of the first I tried that produced seamless results was Microsoft ICE (Image Composite Editor). It’s small, easy to install and I really was impressed by the images that it created. PhotoStitch would often have slight dark areas down the stitch lines and there would be some ghosting where the two images had not quite been merged correctly. I can’t say I can even tell where the stitch line is with ICE, and I have looked quite closely!

So even folks with expensive SLR cameras that are considering shelling out a small fortune for a wide angle lens, maybe just consider taking a few pictures and then joining them all up for a cheaper alternative? You may be surprised at the results.

Stitched Photo created with Microsoft ICE

Skiathos harbour created from two pictures – click for a larger (but reduce in size from the original) version.

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An article that is sure to divide opinion but also generate a discussion –I wish my mother had aborted me.

Personally I think she touches on some interesting points.

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In the news

As a man that has spent a fair bit of time wondering around with a power meter and plugging various figures into excel spreadsheets, I was a little skeptical when I saw the news story the other day that UK households wasting up to £86 a year leaving things on standby. Of course the bit to note is “up to” which is a figure derived from measuring the power consumption of the test households at 3-4am and using that as a maximum figure for standby and hidden energy consumption. Which is a bit daft. One household has a consumption of 800W at the time of the morning so they have obviously left numerous things on or are making lots of cups of coffee! And it’s things like that which make the report less worthwhile.

The actual average waste – measure by adding up the average standby power of all the devices they could find – was 47W which works out at just under £50 a year. I’d guess that removing the few power hogs from the average would lower that even more. Just take a look at the graph below relating to the ‘audiovisual site’. One household is using more power in a year just for their TV, DVD player and XBox than most households use on powering absolutely everything in the house – 4000kWh.

AV Energy usage

Whilst I’m not a statistician, I’m guessing you would shave off the extreme results at either end of the scale especially with a sample size this small (250 houses). Or using the median.

I’m not the only one that was skeptical however and The Register also took a closer look. I’m not sure I agree with them however when they say “Of course this study was so shoddily carried out that it doesn’t really tell us anything.”. I think there is actually some interesting information contained in the report if you take the time to dig a little. Such as the biggest energy savings can be found by switching to low energy fridges and freezers and not drying clothes so much using tumble driers. It’s just a shame that they seem to make a bit of a mess with the analysis of the data, miss some glaring errors and that the only thing that made headlines in the press were potential savings for switching things off at the plug – the “War on Standby” as the Register says….

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The travelling Playbook

I sang the praises of my Playbook tablet on here just after I purchased it about 4 months ago and I’m still finding it very useful as a sofa based browsing device. In a few weeks time however Miss C and I are off on hour summer hols and I’ll get to find out just how good it is a travel gadget.

As we are off to one of the Greek Islands – possibly a less than wise choice given the current economic climate out there but who knows – we are looking at a three and a half our flight so one thing I wanted to do was load my Playbook with a few movies to keep me entertained. It’s been a while since I’ve done any DVD ripping so I spent a few days looking around for software that gave me just the right mix of functionality. On the one hand I like easy to use software but I also like having plenty of settings to play around with if I choose. After a bit of research I ended up using XMedia Recode although Handbrake was also very good.

The XMedia Recode comes with a large number of preset profiles for all sorts of devices so you can – if you want – simply select your device and go with the settings it recommends. If you want to dabble a little you can start tweaking those settings like I did. As I only have a 16GB model of the Playbook I wanted to make sure I had good quality at a reasonable file size so I could fit a good eight DVDs on there and have a little choice in my viewing. What I finally ended up with was:

Profile: Main
Level: 4.1
Preset: Slow
Tune: Film
Framerate: Original
Rate Control Mode: Constant Quality
Quality: 20

I had little idea what the rest of the settings did so left them at the default. With those settings I could encode a DVD in about 1hr to 1hr 20 minutes on my quad core Athlon II 3.2GHz machine and end up with good quality movies at a size of about 700-900MB depending on the length and type of film (Animated films came in at less than 500MB). Of course this was just the encoding stage and I did actually have to rip the DVD first to end up with a file to encode.

For that I used the old – but still brilliant – DVD Decrypter. It is pretty straightforward to use once you get around the basics but there is a good guide here which shows you everything you need. The two important things I’d mention are:

1. Use IFO mode and select the input stream with the time that corresponds to the length of the move (the rest are extras and menus). Then untick the last one, or possibly two chapters associated with that stream as that will probably be the credits and some piracy warning at the end of the film and there is no point encoding them unless you really want to watch them later (launch the DVD to check chapter numbers to see if the last chapter is the credits if need be). The piracy warning usually only reduces the DVD length by 10 seconds or so, so is easy to spot.
2. Make sure IFO mode is not set to automatically split the file in the Option menu.

The ripping doesn’t take too long and isn’t very CPU intensive at all so once you have one VOB file created (that’s the default output) and being encoded in XMedia Recoder you can start ripping the next DVD at the same time to have a little production line going. Only other thing is DVD Decrypter makes an awful racket when it finishes – scares the crap out of me every time if I have my headphones one so beware… 😉

So now I’m all set for my flight. I may also download a few eBooks to give me some extra entertainment options and I already have a some good free games to keep me busy (such as the very addictive Robotek. Best not forget my charger….

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Alpacas with various haircuts. They look like such cheery creatures!

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Should Apple move production to the US?. Not a great article but interesting none the less. And reading the comments is always fun.

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A trip to… Glasgow

Generally the response I got when I told people where I was going for a few days break from work was “Why?”. So I will admit I was a little unsure when Miss C and I set off on the 5 hour drive to Glasgow on what to expect when we got there. I need not have worried as I honestly had a great time with plenty to keep us occupied for the four days we were there.

The Kelvingrove art gallery and museum was a good place to while away an afternoon with lots to see and the Huntarian museum at the university – whilst much smaller – was still worth a look. And both are free as well.

Kelvingrove art installation

I am not one for big nights out but there was plenty to satisfy my more modest tastes. Italian restaurants seem most popular but every other taste is catered for as well. Bath street seems to have most bars, hidden down below street level and we had some very interesting cocktails in the Pony (a Fennel Destination for me). The place that made me grin most though was Arta. There seemed to be a constant stream of hen parties arriving/leaving, whilst very loud classical music blared out of the sound system. The decor meant I’d have not looked out of place relaxing on a chaise lounge with someone feeding me grapes!

If you’ve never been, don’t be put off by what people might say and give it a try.

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Science and Technology

Scientists resurrect Ice Age plant. Next up, Mammoths.

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Silent UK – urban explorers. Check out the video for an idea of what they do.

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