Wii Internet Browser mini-review

I sat down the newly released Wii browser (free trial) this morning and did a bit of fiddling. I wouldn’t feel so confident writing a mini-review after only an hour, but the browser is so simple and feature-limited that I will be so bold to say that I’ve seen most of its functionality.

Here are some keywords:

* **View modes:** You can switch to single-column display of web pages by pressing the 2 button. This is similar to what Opera Mini does on mobile phones, it compresses wide pages so that you end up with one narrow, long column of content that you can scroll. The net result is much more readable text, especially on text-heavy websites, but of course broken layouts on pages that are using heavily table-based designs.
* **Page scrolling:** Hold the B button and move the pointer around. Woo, it’s basic mouse pointer functionality. This does the job, but why not take advantage of the tilt sensors in the Wiimote or (see below) the nunchuk for this?
* **No Nunchuk support?** No matter what I do on the nunchuk, I get no response from the browser. Page scrolling could be put there, so both of your hands could do some of the heavy couch nerding work.
* **Zoom:** Use + and – to zoom in and out on pages. No big surprises here. Perhaps Nunchuk-controlled variable zoom levels for the next version?
* **No proper fullscreen mode?** The navigation bar with “back”, “forward”, “stop/reload” and “home” seems to always be present in the lower part of your screen, taking up pixels, which are a scarce resource on a TV. How about auto-hide or a hide button? Watching YouTube movies in fullscreen would be much prettier that way.
* **Flash bugs?**: Many of the YouTube videos I tried failed to load fully. The Flash player would skip to the “Share/Play Again” screen at the end of the clip, after only seconds of loading. I will have to see if this is due to my connection or due to the browser itself. Other pages and a lot of Flash content loaded fine, though.

But all in all, the thing is fast, functional and free (for now). With web-based RSS readers that have special layouts for mobile devices, you can even read news comfortably, no squinting necessary. Same goes for webmail services. The rest of the web, well, it’ll just have to deal with the fact that it’s either squeezed or zoomed.

Wii Internet Browser? Mission accomplished.

Are you looking for screenshots? Chris McElligott has posted some on flickr. You can see the unreasonably huge and low-contrast navigation bar there, too.


Wii web browser debuts on Friday

I sat on my comfy, warm sofa countless times, feeling the urge to read news feeds or e-mail, but woefully unable to move my arse off the couch due to a severe attack of laziness. Even digging up the laptop from this or that cushion fold would not please me in such moments, as it requires monumental shifting of my own body weight.

But this Friday, Opera for the Wii will be available as free trial. Those moments will be but a fleeting memory. From that day on, Wii-owning couch-dwellers will be able to clix0r around the webz0r without any immediate arse-movement requirements. Joy!

In the second half of 07, the full version of Opera for the Wii can be bought for EUR 5. Or 500 points, whichever currency you fancy.

Via Gamekult and with more details at Kotaku.

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.


First Photo in this article © Nintendo

Thin client handover at the Polytechnic, Malawi, Africa

alex antener thin client handoverAlex Antener yesterday managed to wrap up this year’s stage of his Free Software project in Malawi, Africa with the official handover of the two complete thin client networks donated by the University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Zürich (my dear employer).

In the picture you see Martin Thawani, librarian of the Polytechnic Library, accepting the symbolical gift “Free as in Freedom“. That book “interweaves biographical snapshots of GNU project founder Richard Stallman with the political, social and economic history of the free software movement”. The GNU project is what makes GNU/Linux and the GNU tools possible in the way we know them today.

Alex Antener’s approach to helping the African nation cross the digital divide is different than that of many other organizations and individuals. Instead of dumping northern computer trash on poor schools that certainly won’t ask for something better, he flew across the continents with 70 kilograms of the latest geek toys in his hand baggage. Highly modern servers based on the Intel Core 2 Duo CPU as well as state of the art thin clients by Fujitsu-Siemens — machines newer than what is used in most European organizations! That’s what we use here, why should we cover Malawi in our outdated tech trash? That’s just a convenient way for northern nations to lighten their consciousness and their recycling budget.

Instead, Alex set up the thin client network based entirely on Free Software, then made it transparent how the whole thing works, how it’s maintained, what the nuts and bolts are and where to find help to help yourself. These things would be impossible or severely limited had he used proprietary software. Additionally, the servers he installed make sure that the Polytechnic gets the most out of its prohibitively expensive Internet connection. Firstly they offer proxy caching services, meaning that things downloaded from the Internet are downloaded only once, later the locally stored copy is served and the Internet connection is not taxed anymore. Secondly, the machines are immune to viruses, spyware, trojans and other malware, so the plague of bandwidth-swallowing infected machines is over.

I also took part in the project with some consulting, because I believe the way large western and northern corporations treat African nations of Malawi’s rank is appalling. Africa is often merely abused by private institutions and NGOs to siphon development aid money out of their own (or foreign) governments. Then there is the cultural pollution that comes from large companies like Microsoft and Cisco. They try to impose their proprietary technology, then teach their proprietary thoughts. It’s apparently easy to take a network engineering course in Malawi, but try to learn any other technology than Cisco’s and you will soon run full-speed into a concrete wall. Africa is not supposed to learn about its possibilities. Africa should be thankful! Thankful that we lower ourselves to its ridiculous level and teach it about our wonderful American products. Only Cisco routers shall they know, only Microsoft operating systems shall they use. Operating systems that African companies can gladly buy from us. Oh, don’t worry about payment, my friend, development aid has you covered.

Alex has demonstrated that there are other ways to bridge the gap, to give access to knowledge that is useful in any context, not just inside one single company’s little sandbox. Free Software was nothing new at the time. GNU/Linux and open standards like the ISO standard OpenDocument format were nothing new either. But the average Malawian computer user does not know about these things, even though it’s a Linux distribution by an African man’s company that is the most popular in the world at this moment.

The Polytechnic now has all this information, and it stands as an inspiring example of what is possible. A few hundred people have learned about their possibilities in these last two months, and thousands and ten thousands more still have the opportunity in the coming years.

Photo © 2006 Nathalie Bissig

Emergency escape from planet Typo

Until about half an hour ago, I was a relatively happy user of the [Typo](http://www.typosphere.org) blogging engine. However, there are a few things about Typo that have started to not smell right to my nose. Their Trac is taken offline, the typosphere.org page has been saying “coming soon!” for several months and upgrading to the latest svn version has destroyed all comments in my Typo blog. Granted, the migration warned that I should backup my database, which I did, but for the moment I decided I just don’t have time to live on the bleeding edge. Without a working Trac, it becomes hard to follow Typo’s development. I don’t want to have to run a three tier architecture just to thoroughly test upgrades to my blogging system before I roll them out.

So for the time being, I’ve converted to WordPress. [Stuart Johnston’s conversion scripts](http://ctrlclick.co.uk/articles/2006/06/26/automatic-migration-from-typo-to-wordpress/) helped me move from Typo to WordPress. If you use them, keep in mind that they were made for Typo 2.x. If you try to migrate a Typo 4.x setup, you’ll have to rename Typo’s “categorizations” table to “articles_categories” and do some fiddling with the post and comment counters.

Since I’m used to Markdown, I’ve found [Michel’s PHP Markdown plug-in](http://www.michelf.com/projects/php-markdown/) for WordPress quite useful, too.

Oh, and please bear with me while I write a new WordPress theme. This migration came quite unplanned,

Some brainlessness in rsnapshot

I love rsnapshot, for the most part. It’s one of the most efficient and straightforward incremental backup solutions I’ve ever used — much more reliable than some of the commercial solutions I’ve tried. It leverages the power of GNU cp, your filesystem, rsync and others and smashes them all together into a big happy chunk of reliability.

However, it must contain some idiocy, and I guess it’s somewhere in parse_config_file. I just set up another server, the same way I usually do, but it needed a slightly different rsnapshot.conf. So I edited the one that was there and known to work because it automatically comes off my server images. Afterwards I wanted to do a test run of each of the backup intervals, because that’s what you do. But rsnapshot didn’t agree. It didn’t disagree either. It didn’t do *anything*.

The next step was to increase its logging verbosity and look for hints in syslog. Interesting: It seems to read its config file successfully and it even writes a pid file. Next, it checks for stale backup directories it might have to rotate. That means it parsed its config file and is happy, no? No! The thing wouldn’t copy anything into the backup. Not a single file!

As a last resort, I straced one of those test runs but forgot to include the tracing of child processes. That probably would have given me more of a clue — the way it was, it just added to my confusion.

In the end I decided to unpack a fresh, distribution-approved config file from /usr/share/doc/rsnapshot/examples and to make the required changes by hand. At that point, I scrolled back through my bash history to relaunch the test runs, but with my other hand I was already preparing to submit a bug report, when… It worked! The thing performed all the backups reliably, packed up and went to sleep until cron wakes it tomorrow.

There must have been **some** character **some**where in my config file that deeply confused rsnapshot, confused it so much that it claimed the config file syntax was OK but silently refused to work.

Perhaps config file parsing in rsnapshot has to be rethought. The way I see it, this is sad indeed. It’s the least reliable bit in an otherwise very reliable package, but it’s always the weakest link that breaks the chain, and other assorted age-worn sayings.

TurboGears: Web development done right

gearRuby on Rails is still the Hot Thing of the Moment for at least 68.4% of web developers, according to my highly scientific poll which involved asking no one at all. But while Dave Heinemeier Hansson was busy basking in his (entirely deserved) glory, other easy web development frameworks have come sneaking up from behind. “Yeah, those metoo projects,” you might say, “they try to mimic RoR in PHP and COBOL! Fools! They don’t realize that the Ruby bit is essential!” And you’d be making a good point. That’s why I chose a project with a different philosophy into whose direction you may kindly orient your nose now.

TurboGears is as fresh as a breath mint after a week-long diet of anchovies in garlic oil!

Continue reading “TurboGears: Web development done right”

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.

Forgotten Games: Trace Memory (aka: Another Code) (NDS)

another code box shotAnother Code: Two Memories (known as Trace Memory in the US) is a lightweight little adventure game for the Nintendo DS that should be hitting bargain bins soon. Why am I mentioning bargain bins? Because there is one key weakness that you’ll read about in reviews everywhere: The game is short.

But if you pick this game up at a bargain price, you can treat yourself to one of the more ingenious adventure titles to appear in the last few years, one that’s only possible on the DS. And that’s not marketing talk there.

You’ll be guiding 14 year old Ashley around a pretty desolate island. How do teenage girlies with white manga hair end up being stranded on an island? Ashley has received a mysterious package from her dad. Who she thought had been dead all these years. The package contained a relabeled Nintendo DS with a fingerprint reader. Once examined, it lured her and her aunt onto a forlorn little island that seems to have ghosts on it, and a past as tragic as Ashely’s own. You get to uncover her past, that of the island’s inhabitants and that of her father.

What’s charming, and a relief, is that Ashley deals with these circumstances in a more or less mature, coming-of-age story-like manner. Of course you’ll read sentences that seem like “WHAT!!! OMG WHY MY DAD DO THSI TO ME WTF!!!11” from time to time, but all in all the dialog is mature enough not to bore an adult to death. This is refreshing — look at Children of Mana or Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime. That’s kiddy dialog right there, and it annoys the hair off my scalp.

Ashley’s very beautifully drawn, in a slightly blurred and softly shaded style that’s not so typical of the mainstream anime I know. Her animations, while only intermittent, are smooth and rather natural. No V-for-victory signs and little arcs for smiley-eyes here, just a normal lanky teenager. With white hair. Grah, so they did have to sneak an anime cliché in there. Look at the box shot for an example, she’s drawn the same way in the game itself. Again, a nice and courageous change from the primary-colored Dead or Alive softporn girls with small noses and humongous breasts that the market cherishes so.

Unfortunately, the style of the 2D art doesn’t seem to extend to the 3D one. On the lower screen, you see the scene in polygonal 3D from a top-down view, where you can move Ashley around with the D-pad or stylus. On the upper screen there is static imagery or the scarcely-animated 2D portraits of people you talk to, and of Ashley herself. While the 2D style is convincing, the still 3D renders of the places you can look at seem like something out of a beginner’s tutorial in 3D modeling. Using POVray. With scenes written by hand, in a text editor. Think “Myst” and you’ll be thinking of prettier vistas still. This is further confused by the polygonal 3D style on the overhead map. It’s not horrible to look at, but it adds yet another style! So we’re dealing with three different graphical styles clashing together in one game. On the other hand, the still images get their job done very well, and Ashley is simply charming. So there.

I’m being all negative here, but that’s actually opposite to the purpose of this posting. What I’m trying to say is that this game, despite it’s shortcomings of, err, being short and utilizing three contrasting graphical styles, is very, very enjoyable. Not only is it a new commercial-grade adventure game, something that is rare in its own right, but it also brings a few innovations to the table, in an era where innovation is often equaled to monetary loss for publishers and when no one wants to take the risk of being the innovator anymore.

I’m talking about a few of the puzzles. You’ll be facing puzzles that involve using your very own Nintendo DS, physically, in completely new ways. And they don’t involve any stylus scribbling or mic blowing at all! I’ll let you find those on your own though, because it’s a very rewarding and surprising experience that makes your heart smile and your mind believe in the vitality of the adventure genre again. On the other hand, you won’t find any brain-wrecking exercises like in, say, an Infocom text adventure. That’s why I said lightweight: You’ll see through most of the puzzles in a few minutes to an hour, casually. If you’re looking for a true brain-teaser, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

To sum it up: The short lifespan of this game would make it disappointing at full price, but if you have any sort of sympathy for the adventure genre, you owe it to yourself to try finding this at either a bargain price or used.