Democracy Player Now Called Miro, Still Fantastic

sub-logo.pngDemocracy Player is was a video player with an iTunes Store-like interface bolted on. “Gah,” you say, “boring, next!” But the difference is, this player plays your content, video made by countless amateurs and professionals and distributed over the net. The channels Miro offers are somewhere out there, but to find them on your own is nigh impossible. The player makes it easy by grouping content into channels, giving them some order and making them searchable. All content is free (as in beer), and because Miro uses BitTorrent for its downloads, popular content can stay popular without costing the maker a fortune in bandwidth.

Another intriguing feature, in case you somehow got addicted to HD content, is that Miro offers plenty of that. They claim they have more HD movies than any other source, either online or off. I can’t verify that because I’d be waiting weeks for a HD clip to finish downloading, what with my throbbing 600 Kbit connection and all, but I’m sure it’s true.

Even if you’re not interested in downloading any of that stuff, the interface I mentioned makes it easy to sort your own collection of videos and the built-in VLC player can play almost any format ever, ever!

Grab Miro for GNU/Linux, Mac OS X or Windows from the Miro website.

Youth, the Dumpster of Culture

Risking to sound far older and grumpier than I am, I’d say that culture today is something that’s completely wasted on our youth. I base this statement on a number of facts that I’ve been observing for quite some time now, but what encouraged me to write a little blurb about it was this conversation I heard on the train today. Picture two girls, perhaps 15, talking about their German exams. They appear to be reading Kafka right now. Keep in mind that we’re in German-speaking territory, so Kafka is certainly an ordinary read in school at that age.

We’re joining our pair as they are discussing probable exam topics:

Girl 1: “Well, with Kafka I would get a good grade! He doesn’t use so many foreign words!”

Girl 2: “Oh yeah! Hell, I know! That other guy uses lots of them! It’s so shitty, you don’t understand shit!”

Girl 1: “But people now keep telling me that I have to learn foreign words too. But then I think maybe I would get used to them, and I don’t want to, because then I’d start using them myself! And nobody would understand me anymore because you just don’t understand foreign words!”

German, if spoken even with the slightest hint of eloquence beyond the requirements for being a McDonald’s burger flipper, is chock full of foreign words. I’m quite sure that I cannot relay the shock I’m feeling about the above conversation into English properly.

All of this is not just an isolated incident, I think it might be a symptom of something deeper. One of Switzerland’s largest newspapers, the NZZ (Neue Zürcher Zeitung) has a writing style roughly comparable to that of the International Herald Tribune of the US. Several people my age have complained to me that they are not capable of understanding the NZZ’s articles, and that the NZZ therefore is “stupid”.

With that, I rest my case.

Bergtagung 2007: Call for Entries and Invitation

Ever gave a talk while standing on a juicy, grassy meadow, in the middle of the forest, in the middle of the night? Everything around you pitch black, ants crawling on your flipchart, a flashlight the only source of illumination? And all that in the Swiss Alps?

How about speaking in your own little classroom, talking about that FreeBSD-based fruit juicer you’ve invented, with your audience of geeks sitting on small wooden chairs made for six year olds?

Well, I guess now you can have that.

        ........ Introducing the BERGTAGUNG              ..
        ...... A Meeting of Free Spirits and Open Minds ...

        ..... Somewhere in the Swiss Alps             .....
        ...  Involving Beer    (and probably cows)   ......

                                     --[ bergtagung.org ]--

We’re so bloody open that you can dump the abstract of your talk in our wiki yourself.

Submit your talk to: bergtagung.org/wiki/Talks

Invitation

If your mind is reasonably open and your software predominantly free, you’re the perfect participant. If that does not sound like you, don’t worry. We have decent mind-stretching equipment and there will surely be some nerds around to fix you up with a liberated operating system of your choice.

Whatever you do, don’t stay at home!

Bergtagung 2007
(First Annual!)
July 20 – 22

Siat, Switzerland

Coming? Register at: bergtagung.org/wiki/Participants

Moo!

NRK is a Norwegian Treasure Chest

NRK (Norsk rikskringkasting, the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation) has one unbelievably huge website. Hidden somewhere on it is NRK Nett TV. Yes, that’s streaming net-TV. They seem to put nearly all of their broadcasts online for anyone to watch, even going back several months as far as I can tell. Some other national broadcasting corporations, such as the BBC, started doing similar things, but almost always with the caveat that you have to be within their nation’s borders to watch the content. Not so at NRK, there are no restrictions here.

This is a great tool especially if you’re stark raving mad, like me, and want to improve your Norwegian. NRK can’t even imagine what a fantastic present this is for the language learner.

Unfortunately, they use the closed, proprietary WMV format for their files. It would be better with a free format such as Ogg Theora or XviD. But all is not lost, it’s not a problem for mplayer to play the stuff, you can even make a copy (via the -dumpstream option) to your own drive. Whether this is legal, both the playing of WMV and the dumping of the stream, depends on your jurisdiction, of course.

GIA Mirror gets own Forum

If you look at my GIA Mirror these days, you’ll notice a new information bar at the top of every HTML page. Don’t worry, the files are all still in pristine condition, I wouldn’t go and add things to any of them. The message on the top is dynamically added to the page. But what’s probably more interesting is what the message says.

“If you feel like reliving your nostalgia, why not look at our forums? Any news about the mirror itself will be posted in the Meta forum.”

So there! I’m calling all GIA nostalgists and gaming nostalgians to bathe in their memories and mingle with the rest of us. And if you can handle an overdose, try this: Buy the newly released Final Fantasy VI Advance, if you’ve played FFVI back in the day. Ah heck, buy it even if you’ve never heard of it and don’t own a GBA. Then play until right after Narshe, right when all your memories are flooding back, right when you remember the puberty-driven silly names you gave your characters back when you played it the first time, when hearing the overworld music activates a part of your brain that hasn’t been exercised for a decade, bullied by worries about tax reports and juggling real life’s growing responsibilities.

Then read this review. Now cry a little tear for what has been.

Fart a lot? You might be lactose intolerant

Do you feel bloated often, especially after a creamy dessert? Do you spend your days silently placing innocent little farts into your office chair, your sofa, your car seat? And do you like to eat milk products, drink milk or eat chocolate? Don’t be embarrassed, then. You might just have lactose intolerance.

Lactose intolerance is a condition where your intestine no longer produces lactase, the enzyme needed to digest lactose (milk sugar). Instead, you just get gas. A lot of it. In bad cases, and if you don’t stop consuming milk, you get diarrhea and an inflamed intestine.

Actually, you as a human being should not be able to digest milk as an adult in the first place! But in their rather colorful past, northern Europeans and subsequently Americans have developed a genetic mutation that allows them to drink milk even as adults. By far most of the world’s population, however, is lactose intolerant. Entire peoples are. The Chinese, most nations of Africa, the entire country of Thailand and a whopping 75% of African Americans are just a few examples.

What makes things worse is that lactose is used in many non-dairy products, such as sausages or spice mixes, or as a taste amplifier. Lactose intolerant people should be extra careful when shopping. Examine those labels!

Next time you feel uneasy after that chocolate pudding, don’t run to the pill closet and try to battle the symptoms like a fool. Instead, take a break from products containing lactose for two weeks:

  • Stop drinking milk
  • No more cream in your coffee
  • No chocolate
  • No cheese (sufficiently aged hard cheeses are an exception)
  • Stop using cream for cooking or desserts
  • No more candy bars, no Mars, no Twix, no Snickers (real black chocolate is okay, but check label)
  • No sausages (Kosher products labeled “pareve” are okay)
  • No dried meat (same as above)
  • No frozen dishes, TV dinners etc. (check packaging, some contain lactose, some don’t)

If you feel a lot better and more relaxed, if you have less problems with diarrhea and no longer suffer from wave after wave of odorless flatulence: Welcome aboard, you might be lactose intolerant. Perhaps in a later article, I can give you some shopping and cooking hints.

Do check with your doctor to be sure. I take no responsibility for your actions.

Nintendo Wii launched in Switzerland (now with pictures)

wii smallAt least this one time, Switzerland gets to be first. The Wii is available in stores since yesterday night. Specialized games stores like World of Games have sold out even before the launch event, but more general retailers such as Inter Discount still carry some stock. More information about the launch event in that forum thread over there (German). Normally, Nintendo’s marketing in Switzerland is exactly zero, but this time they arrived with a Wii-labeled truck containing two booth babes (truck babes?) and a Santa Claus, next to piles of Wiis and games. It looks like some of those marketing dollars made it here 🙂

I will mosey over to the Inter Discount XXL in Zürich city during lunch break to see if they still have a console or two, and whether there are any playable demos.

wii at interdiscountUpdate: I just returned from the Inter Discount XXL at Zürich’s Sihlstrasse. As you can see in the picture to the right, there are still a couple of Wiis left 🙂

The sales dude said they’ve sold through several hundred consoles during the midnight sale yesterday, but that there’s still some stock and more is expected soon. He also said that 1. They didn’t get any component cables. and 2. They didn’t get any RGB cables.

So if you buy a Wii in Switzerland today, you have to be happy with the horrible composite video signal. Granted, most people don’t see the difference anyway.

A picture gallery of what it looks like in the Wii aisles of Inter Discount XXL and Multimedia Factory.

Update 2: Someone else’s gallery where you can see the Wii truck, the Santa and the Wii girls. Not brainless broad-bosomed bimbos after all, which is good to see.


Digg!

First Photo in this article © Nintendo

The five remaining annoyances in gaming

annoyed eshuThe face of gaming has changed a lot in the last 30 years. Genres appeared, genres disappeared. The industry grew, and with it the audience changed. Through all this time, some annoyances have remained, completely untouched by the things going on around them.

Vestiges of an era where “roleplaying game” meant “draw dungeon maps with pencil” still exist. Remnants of a time when storage space was tight and cramped are still defining when and how a player is allowed to save their game today.

So I’ve identified the five point in modern gaming that annoy me the most and tried to find possible solutions. Not all of this applies neatly to all platforms and all genres, but you’ll get the point.
Continue reading “The five remaining annoyances in gaming”

Impressions from Malawi

Madonna’s adoption scandal may have catapulted Malawi into international headlines, but for my friends Alex Antener, Nathalie Bissig and me, the country has had some significance long before US pop stars have started buying children out of it.

nathalies malawi picture

Alex is currently on his second visit there and Nathalie is joining him on her first. That means that I’m still stuck in Switzerland 🙂

I’m trying to support Alex’ new project in Malawi, “Exterminate All the Brutes”, from here. So as you can guess, these impressions are not my own, they are photographs and drawings made by Nathalie Bissig in Malawi, who is in charge of documenting Alex’ work as well as doing work of her own. Nathalie has posted a blog entry with some more information and a link to the photo album of her sketchbook. The images are free content, released under the Creative Commons ShareAlike 2.5 license.

malawi picture 2

I just wanted to tickle your curiosity for these wonderful images. I will probably write about the software libre aspects of all this at a later date, or in the blog at lix.cc. Over there, I’ve already talked about thin client setups with Edubuntu that the students of The Polytechnic will subsequently be working with.

English-speakers should buy Gothic 1 now

If you understand German, you’ve probably heard very good things about [Piranha Bytes’](http://www.piranha-bytes.com/) Gothic series. If you don’t understand German, you’ve probably heard very bad things. I won’t go into the reasons, but there were a few problems with Gothic’s English-language release. First it was delayed, then no release date was in sight at all, the publisher was barely saved from bankruptcy and then I heard of quality issues with the translation and voiceover.

Now that Gothic 3 is fresh off the press (simultaneously in German and English this time!), it would be nice for English speakers to be able to go back to the series’ roots. With the low sales of the original release, you’d be lucky to still find a copy, but now *Piranha Bytes are re-releasing the English version*! Joy for all!

I have never in my life found a more enjoyable roleplaying game. The surroundings are a beauty to look at, the characters are well thought out and every named NPC truly has a life and mood of their own. And there are a lot, I think I’ve encountered several dozen named NPCs in Gothic 1 alone, and this tradition was continued in Gothic 2. Gothic is not for number freaks, as there aren’t many stats and the character development between the different character classes is not 100% balanced. But if you like a well thought-out story, solid characters and beautiful surroundings, you can’t go wrong with Gothic.

The only complaint constantly lobbed at the Gothic series is that the controls are weird. Yes, weird they may be, but get your act together! If you have a single drop of true gamer blood in you, you will soak up the controls in less than half an hour, up to the point where you don’t even notice that they’re weird. They are very well designed to accomplish what they are there to accomplish: Allow controlling a complex game with only two action buttons and one to call up the inventory screen. Think about it while you play: You can control the *entire* game without ever having to move your left hand from the base WASD position or your right hand from the mouse.

So please, do yourself a favor. Plunk down whatever they charge for the budget-price re-release and drop into the world of Gothic. You won’t emerge again for a month, and you’ll be grinning on your way out.

You can [download the English Gothic 1 demo](http://www.piranha-bytes.com/gothic1/index.php?lang=eng) to see if you can live with the controls. If you can, you won’t regret buying this game.

Also, there’s Freddy’s texture patch which makes Gothic 1 look almost as good as Gothic 2 by replacing nearly all of the game’s textures. You can look at a few screenshots in [my gallery](http://terror.snm-hgkz.ch/photos/v/album04/gothic1/).

PS: Another side effect of its age is that the thing even runs on older PCs. Straddle that GeForce 2!