Hands On With NASA’s Robonaut

CNet’s Always On went hands on with NASA recently turned on hands of their robotic astronaut.

Down With The Magical Cloud!

Jacada_NoCloudGraaaagh! As a technically inclined individual, it drives me no small amount of bonkers when marketing terms start to get bandied about by folks who think they actually mean something. Usually I have Apple to blame for crap like this (‘Retina’ display!!!), but this time it is Microsoft that has done pissed me off to no end with their harping on the ‘Power of the Cloud’.

While far from the only offender of citing Clouds as a magic bullet that will change the way we work and play forever, MS’ claim of The Magical Microsoft Cloud increasing the ‘power’ (another ambiguous term that means nothing) of their upcoming Xbox One home entertainment system by 3 to 10 times is certainly the most egregious.

Without any facts or data, the media began to dream up their own ideas of what The Cloud would mean. I’ve heard improbable theories ranging from AI computations to graphical rendering being offloaded to virtual servers in MS datacenters. The truth would be far more possible and a good deal less impressive.

Titanfall was unveiled as being one the debut titles in this new age of Cloud powered gaming machines. The fact? Dedicated multiplayer servers. Yep, decades old PC gaming technology dusted off and republished under a shiny new banner of Cloud Computing.

PCmag defines what Cloud means quite elegantly as “A communications network. The word "cloud" often refers to the Internet.”. Then they totally drink the Kool-Aid and ramble off into nonsense like “However, the term "cloud computing" refers to the services that have enabled the cloud to become so prominent in everyday life.” Man, magazine writers have it easy these days…

If you can’t substitute the word Cloud for Online or Internet and have it make sense, be suspicious. Cloud storage makes sense; You’re using an online server to store files. Cloud computing is a stickier wicket, but in the modern sense refers to utilizing an online server to do work like running an application. Web apps like YouTube or Google Docs are good examples of cloud computing.

The claim that a device will “Harness the power of the cloud to make it better” is marketing FUD and is best left ignored. Or mocked.

Team Fortress 2 meets Surgeon Simulator 2013

The folks over at the studio that made Surgeon Simulator released an update yesterday for free that gives you a new mission to enjoy. This mission is a scene from Team Fortress' Meet the Medic video where your the Medic and your mission is to take Heavy's heart and turn it into the Uber-Charged Heart.

Get Torchlight Free from GOG.com Until Thursday

Indie darling Diablo-killer Torchlight is now free for the next couple days as part of GOG.com’s #noDRM Summer Sale. This is a great pickup for everyone who is looking for a little clicky-clicky, looty-looty dungeon bashing action. Torchlight even sports a netbook mode for those stuck on machines that are a little less than state-of the art.

While you’re there, check out the more than 500 titles discounted in GOG’s Summer Sale (Get starbase sim Startopia, evil dungeon overlord sim Dungeon Keeper 2 , or the greatest strategy game ever, Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, for $3 each!) or grab some more free games like Beneath a Steel Sky or Ultima IV.

Out of Disk Space? Visualize Your Hard Drive With WinDirStat | Tech Tips

What’s using up all my hard drive space? Data storage may be big and cheap, but it still hasn’t reached a point where we can dismiss the limits of our physical media storage quite yet. While working on a recent project, I found myself, once again, bumping up against the limits of my PC’s storage capacity. But what was taking up all those ones and zeros? I didn’t feel like my free space quite jived with what I had installed even after deleting some old programs and data.

WinDirStat, a free utility for Windows PCs, to the rescue!

WinDirStat crawls your storage devices and catalogs every folder on your computer, sorted by the amount of space it’s using. It also creates a graphical representation of your entire directory structure allowing users to easily spot what files are the biggest binary hogs.

Using WinDirStat I was able to identify at a glance storage gobbling folders that would have taken considerably longer to track down manually. 55GB of iOS apps? Time to clean the house iTunes built! Oops, guess I forgot about that 60GB I used to backup my music before it lived on a server in the cloud. I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Blu-ray rips of Blade Runner costing me 34GB. Time to die! I even uncovered 16GB worth of forgotten video from Planetside 2 in which I spent a night trying to part a tank on top of Brandon’s drop ship. It didn’t work. Do I really need a 16GB reminder of my failings? I mean, isn’t that why I have a blog? Winking smile

WinDirStat is available for free at windirstat.info and works on everything from Windows 95 to Windows 7 (and, probably, Windows 8). A recommended alternative for Mac computers is Disk Inventory X or GrandPerspective while Linux users should apt-get their butts over to KDirStat.

Sony Xbones Microsoft Over Online DRM

Three news briefs later and I still have questions over the online DRM issues and workarounds for giving away my old Xbox One games to friends. Fortunately, Sony produced this instructional video so I wouldn’t have any questions about how to handle my PS4 discs.

Natsume's Book of Friends: A delightful journey | AniMaiden'd

I have just finished watching a very charming anime series called Natsume's Book of Friends (Natsume Yujin-cho).

. This show has a very warm feeling to it and a very likable cast of characters.

It starts out with a young boy named Takashi Natsume who has a disconnected past from his immediate family. He inherits a strange book that was owned by his grandmother, Reiko Natsume. In this book, she had collected the names of all the youkai (spirits) she had met in her life. Reiko had forced them to give her their names so she could bind them in servitude to her.

Takashi is not comfortable with this and begins to give these names back to their owners. While doing this, he comes upon Madara, one of the youkai that was bound to his grandmother. Madara becomes a mentor and protector to Takashi. Madara does not not hide the fact that he is really interested in getting the Book of Friends for his own use. He is only protecting Takashi from other youkai that might kill Takashi before Madara can.

Madara, who is called Nyanko Sensei by Takashi, provides a humorous side kick in his disguise as a very chubby lucky cat. He is constantly eating and loves to drink too much sake.
He seems to be a very aloof cat only interested in his own comfort and entertainment – but when real trouble arises, he changes form into a much more formidable spirit and saves Takashi many times.

Each episode covers another adventure for Takashi and Nyanko Sensei as they meet more youkai and learn their stories. As the series progresses, we are shown small pieces of Takashi's past life and how he has moved from home to home without a real family.  We also learn more about his grandmother.  Both Takashi and his grandmother can see youkai.  This makes them different from everyone else and they have both  been outcasts as young children. 

This show moves forward with the lives of Takashi and his new youkai friends at a pace that allows us to see, in a very natural way, how Takashi grows and learns about friendship and family. We follow his discoveries about his own family and how he is not as alone now as he has believed he is.

Natsume's Book of Friends tells a very touching tale and does it gracefully and beautifully. You can watch is streaming at Crunchyroll.com or get the DVDs from Amazon.com.  

Contest Abuse Leads to Epic Kung Fu Beer Commercial With Jackie Chan and Shokotan | Weekend Watchlist

Kirin breweries ran a contest called Nodogoshi Yume no Dream that invited “Ordinary Joes” to submit their dreams for a chance to make them come true. The result was a series of commercials that featured winners fulfilling said desires and becoming a fashion models, rock stars, and dining with sumo wrestlers for use in a series of commercials promoting Kirin’s new Nodogoshi Draft beer.

Kazuo Ishida dreams big. Not content to enter a single request, Ishida submitted a series of 39 dreams that outlined his vision of staring in a kung fu flick (Dream #1) where he faced off against his “buddy from university” (Dream #4) along side Hong Kong cinema legend Jackie Chan (Dream #2) and the Internet’s “New Queen of the Blogs” Shoko Nakagawa (Dream #3).

Kirin took up the challenge. The cast from Ishida’s dreams was assembled and flown out to Shanghai to produce this 6-minute, kung fu epic featuring everything you’d expect from the genre: Wirework stunts, fights using furniture and vegetables, a training montage, Chan’s traditional outtake reel during the end credits, and even heroic theme music to cheer on Kazuo Ishida in his darkest hour.

At the premiere of the featurette, Shokotan reportedly burst into tears and bowed to Ishida. As fate would have it, the production fulfilled not just this Ordinary Joe’s dream, but a dream of the Japanese idol as well. Shoko had always dreamed of working with Jackie Chan.

What follows is Ishida’s original 39 dreams:

North American Hospitals Adding Robots to the Medical Staff

EVA_Robot_3-prvWe’ve looked at telepresence robots before. These remote controlled, video conferencing doo-dads allow users to kick back on the ol’ sofa while still giving the appearance of working. Is it any wonder that this technology would be picked up in short order by American doctors, one of the laziest castes of professionals around?

iRobot, makers of your little floor sweeping buddy, Roomba, received FDA approval for the deployment of the RP-Vita. Now, seven hospitals in the North America have deployed the outrageously overpriced iPads on wheels (Thank you insurance companies!). Dignity Health, Sacramento, CA; Hoag Memorial Hospitial Presbyteria, Orange County, CA; Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center, Burbank, CA; Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, Los Angeles, CA; St. Mary’s Medical Center, Huntington, WV; Ohio State Wexner Medical Center, Columbus, OH; and Instituto de Salud del Estado de Mexico, Toluca, Mexico have all signed up to allow these video laden Roombas free reign of their hospitals.

So what does the RP-Vita do for patients? Much like your normal doctor, very little. It makes you wait while it autonomously cruises the halls, compliments of thirty sensors to keep it from getting in the way of the people actually working. Upon reaching the patient, a camera sporting 120x zoom allows doctors to read the patient’s chart (provided it is properly hung up for everyone to see), look into their eyeballs (provided the patient can open them enough and hold still), then cruise out to tell nurses and technicians to do the real work. RP-Vita has no appendages or tools and is not equipped with any form of medical analysis sensor.  What it does do is allow doctors to pinch-and-zoom their way around to look at stuff, tell patients to take two aspirin and quit smoking, then roll off to berate the staff. The difference is that this is now possible without your doctor putting down his coffee cup, leaving the golf course, or having to be around those yucky sick people! Hallelujah!

Dr. Paul Vespa, director of neurocritical care at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, explains the importance of RP-Vita in this UCLA press release:

"Consumers nationwide are facing long delays in medical delivery, largely because the health care system can't provide enough physicians in enough locations. We need new technologies that revolutionize physicians' capacity to see more patients and greatly expand patients' access to specialized care."

Here’s hoping a breakthrough comes to cure that problem. If only we lived in a world where everyone carried a wireless computer in their pocket with video conferencing capabilities… If only…

Rejoice, Klingon Warriors, for We Are Noobs At Last! (Star Trek Online)

Character advancement in RPG games tends to follow a predictable pattern. You start out as a lowly level 1 scrud and begin the hero’s journey of learning the ropes and climbing the ladder. You accrue fame, fortune, and delight in the dopamine drip of seeing that level indicator climb ever higher. Once that level counter tops out, players clamor for ever more levels and ‘end game’ material in the form of raids, PVP, and daily missions. At least, that’s how it usually goes. Strangely, members of the Klingon Defense Force (KDF) in Cryptic Studios’ Star Trek Online (STO) have spent the past three years asking for the exact opposite: More content designed for lower and lower level characters.

The Klingon Empire, along with their allies the lizard-like Gorn, telepathic Letheans, surly Nausicaans, and the too-sexy-for-their-shirts Orions, have been part of the Star Trek Online experience since the game’s original launch in 2010. Sadly, some players might never have noticed. The original release revealed the KDF faction to be more of a marketing bullet point than a feature. Klingon gameplay only became unlocked after having put considerable time in playing STO’s Federation faction. Should someone tear themselves away from the Fed side long enough to check it out, they didn’t find much. Klingon missions were in short supply and the faction as a whole was widely regarded as only fun for players looking to engage in player-versus-player combat. To compensate for this lack of content, Klingon characters began the game at a much higher level, side-stepping the leveling problems incurred by a lack things to do but making the game half over before it even started. Many players weren’t buying it. Even the allure of flying a Bird of Prey, one of Star Trek’s most iconic starships (masterfully recreated in STO to provide an experience completely unique from every other ship in the game), was not enough to pull players to the other side for long. Developers would add new missions, ships, and end-game content to the faction over time, but the experience based cost of entry and a, not undeserved, reputation for being unfinished kept players away. Fans of the bumpy-headed baddies cried out for the rights most RPG gamers take for granted: To begin at the bottom.

All that changed in May of 2013 with the release of Star Trek Online’s Legacy of Romulus expansion.

Yes, Star Trek Online’s massive upgrade added a slew of new features (Upgraded graphics, a flattened interface, new equipment categories, additional multiplayer missions, raids, and challenges, the Romulan Republic faction, etc.) but it is sci-fi’s favorite space samurai who have the most to celebrate. As new and returning players bask in ever richer loot on the quest to level 50 and beyond, the fiercest warriors in the galaxy finally get their wish: Starting at level 1.

While undoubtedly overshadowed by by the titular new faction of the expansion, Legacy of Romulus made dreams come true for the beleaguered members of the KDF. The varied races of the Klingon Empire finally take their place on every player’s character creation screen beside their Federation and Romulan counterparts. No strings attached. No prerequisites required. No head starts. New missions, ships, and a fresh coat of paint plugs the final gap in the KDF’s early game content. Gone is the tedious walking tour of Qo’noS’ First City that passed as a tutorial. In its place is a new, voice acted adventure that had your character climbing the ranks to captain Klingon-style during a prisoner transfer gone wrong. In addition to new missions, earlier ones have been rewritten, rescripted, and generally overhauled to provide more drama and better fit with STO’s newly expanded expanded-universe fiction. Freshly indoctrinated lowby characters will soon find themselves at the helm of a B’rel class Bird of Prey, a design most widely recognized from Kirk & Co.’s rechristened HMS Bounty in Star Trek IV and formerly only available as a $20 top-tier ship. The opening act has fledgling warriors teaming up with Worf and Alexander to thwart a conspiracy to destroy the House of Martok. Need more? You got it! What’s the best companion in any RPG? Yup, KDF captains are getting a dog! Well, jackal-mastiff. Sliding down the power curve has never been so appealing.

It is one of the strangest stories in gaming. A player base given a free ride to the top clamoring for ever more low level content. Now, after three years of incremental upgrades, the virtual armies of the Klingon Defense Force can hold their heads high and sing, “Noobs at last! Noobs at last! Thank you, Cryptic! We are noobs at last!”

Behind the Blog: June 1, 2013–Down, Not Out

Hey there, Ho there, Otakuteers! ‘Tis I, your ever humble host. It’s been a little quiet around the GUO offices of late. Time to bust out the party poppers and wake this here lil’ corner of the Innertubes up! You’ll have to forgive me for the recent lack of updates. I twisted up my right arm pretty badly and had a rash of small painful blisters on my hands the past week or so. Ah, the joys of yard work… Typing even now is a bit of a bother (i.e. painful and annoying) , but I figured I should try to get something posted. There’s also been a massive update to Star Trek Online, so… ya know, you guys can shove off when that happens Open-mouthed smile. I seem to be light on staff, but was afraid to ask what was going on with that. I’ll get the personnel department to check into it Winking smile

Anyway, even though we might have seemed short by article counts, we sure didn’t skimp on the word count! Three reviews, a live stream, a shopping guide, and console launch packed full of prose all made their way to the front page last month. As is customary, I’ve got a few things to say about a few things I said.