Travian – Worth Playing?

No! Not unless you can get in at the start of a game round. In the village-building and conquest game you control a ‘hero’ character who can go on adventures and build up local resource gathering so you can progress to better structures, defences, unites, and even grow your own guild.

You begin with newbie protection from other “players” (usually just scripted bots) so you cannot be attacked until you’re ready. However, you can never catch up to withstand any attacks by long-standing players and there’s nothing you can do to prevent the botting from whittling away your resources.

The game has many microtransactions and is extremely pay-to-win so if you like throwing money at something this game may be interesting for you. However, if you like to have fun and enjoy building things in games this is definitely something to avoid.

Review of Udemy Online Learning

At the start of 2018 Udemy ran a promotion where courses could be purchased for up to 95% off their original price so, naturally, I had to take advantage of this and picked up an The Complete Android N Developer Course by Rob Percival.

There are hundreds of courses available and I picked this one because I’ve been interested in making mobile applications for a long time but always found the YouTube videos clunky and disjointed to watch. Based on the high quality content provided by Rob in his Android course I picked up a few others on other topics and found that the overall quality of instructors on Udemy appears to be very high. They, or at least the ones I’ve found, take the time to enunciate clearly and speak at an appropriate pace even if English is not their native language which makes their topic much easier to follow and a pleasure to watch.

I will likely make a future post documenting a basic timer app being developed from start to finish or if I feel confident enough maybe even a simple game good enough for the Play store!

Teclast Master T10

I purchased this new tablet through GearBest which is an online retailer specialising in products from China. As you might expect, some things get lost in translation but on the whole this seems to have been a good purchase.

The price changes day by day and I managed to pick it up for £152 with about a 3 week wait. In fact I’m writing this review on the tablet right now.

 

 

 

The device itself is a good size, the screen is bright, it’s mostly responsive to touch, and is lightweight. There were some minor problems though:

  • There was no launcher installed. This meant there was no button to list all apps despite Launch3 apparently being installed. I managed to install it from the play store which seems to be fine.
  • Netflix says it isn’t compatible with this device and so cannot be installed from the Play store.
  • Ingress won’t load because it can’t find the location.
  • Apps will minimise if you double tap the fingerprint scanner which is in an awkward place to avoid.
  • It does not come already rooted.
  • There is one Chinese only app and it cannot be uninstalled. It is some sort of app hiding app from what I can read using Google Translate live translation from my phone’s camera.

Summary

It seems to be a decent device so far and is much easier to read articles and code on than my phone.

Christmas Shopping vs the High Street Business

I’ve almost finished buying gifts for everyone and I suddenly realised I hadn’t entered an actual shop. This year Amazon have almost completely fulfilled the festive shopping which can clearly put a big dent in high street sales. So why is this?

Ads on sites

Many websites have pop-up ads to entice you with special offers and instant discounts but these cover the content and instantly put me off. To make things worse, it seems that once a site has decided to have intrusive ads they go all out and include automatically playing video, newsletter signups, or even the dreaded auto-play audio.

These techniques not only send visitors scrambling for the back button but put them off from ever coming back. Not forgetting the mobile user who may be paying extra data charges simply for the privilege of having unwanted advertisements displayed.

Online shopping

Convenience is the most obvious reason that Christmas, or any, shopping is done online. It is now possible to ask someone what they would like for their birthday or the holidays and quickly order it so you don’t forget, all while pretending to have a casual conversation so they you can keep the gift a surprise.

The likes of Amazon use employ the use of shopping lists but, more than that, they track which products you have viewed and provide related suggestions. This is almost like an automatic, seemingly endless, shopping list of items that most likely will interest you.

Weather, Items, Location

Who really wants to be wandering around in the cold trying to carry gifts for the whole family? It’s just not possible to do in a single trip. What happens if you get out to your car and drop something breakable? How much time do you really want to spend travelling to a crowded place to choose from a limited selection and then fight your way back home through traffic? Physical shops lose out to the comfort of online shopping but always win in one important way: You can pick up and look at the potential gift.

Being able to touch, play with, sometimes open, or try on different items can help ensure you get the perfect present for that special someone so there are no disappointments on the day. In most shops you can usually find an assistant who will be willing to help and try to answer any questions you have about the product. The staff may not be able to beat the wider Internet on technical questions but that’s why you have a smartphone.

Conclusion?

Physical shops are unlikely to ever disappear but I think many would benefit from greater integration with the likes of Amazon, PayPal, or other services that can let them establish an online presence. The bigger names in the street have already done so but spare a thought for the small shops and maybe, if you can, take a visit and see what specialities they’re hiding in their offline world.

SQ10 Mini DV Camera from GearBest

It’s a nice little camera seemingly perfect to attach to your clothes while biking or whatever you want to record (though not waterproof). But the instructions are not in English!

Here’s some things I’ve found while trying to decipher the broken translation:

Getting Files / Using Webcam

Attaching the camera via the USB cable to your PC while the camera is OFF will let you manage the contents of the MicroSD card. Turning the camera ON will let you use it as a webcam. Transfer seemed to be quite slow over the USB cable reaching a maximum of 5.8MB/s.

Setting the Time

To set the time you need to create a file called TIMEREST.txt in the root of the drive with the new time then unplug from the PC and turn the camera on. The file must have the contents of the timestamp it should use like this:

20171118100800 Y

This is the year, month, day, hour, minute, second, SPACE, Y to show the timestamp or N to hide it. After doing this, Windows will tell you the drive needs to be repaired. This is fine and you can let Windows sort it out. It seems to be caused by the camera failing to delete the TIMEREST.txt file.

Recording Audio & Video at 720p

Hold the power button for two seconds and release. The solid-blue internal light will be visible from the hole where the SD card is. Press and release the power button once and that blue light will flash 3 times then go off. The device is now recording 5 minute long movies onto the card at 30fps in 1280×720 resolution with 512kbps audio at 32kHz.

Recording Audio & Video at 1080p

Hold the power button for two seconds and release. The solid-blue internal light will be visible from the hole where the SD card is. Press and release the mode button once. The blue and red lights will now be visible from the SD card slot. Press and release the power button once more to activate recording, the lights will flash three times then go off. The device is now recording 5 minute long movies onto the card at 30fps in 1920×1080 resolution with 512kbps audio at 32kHz.

Enable/Disable Night Vision

Hold the power button for two seconds and release. The solid-blue internal light will be visible from the whole where the SD card is. Now hold the power button down for two seconds and the red light will flash twice to indicate the infra red lamp is now switched on. Hold the power button down again for two seconds to turn off the lamp, the red light will flash twice to indicate success.

After turning the infra red lamp on for night vision you can then proceed to begin recording as explained above (either press the power button once to record 720p or press mode then power for 1080p).

Stop a Recording & Turn Off Camera

Press and release the power button once while recording. The lights will come on solidly. This means it’s stopped and you can then turn off the device by holding the power button down for 9 seconds.

AirFree F40 Silent Air Purifier

Having long suffered with hayfever I finally purchased an air purifier and have had good results. The AirFree F40 is wall mounted and completely silent. Totally silent, zero decibels, no sound at all. It’s not “very quiet” there is literally no sound produced by the device at all!

It is designed to be permanently switched on and works by using a heating element and natural convection to make air flow through the device. The heated chamber allegedly reaches 200 Centigrade and incinerates any floating particles thus breaking them down into their constituent elements (Carbon, etc…).

I thought this might increase the amount of dust but have so far found no problems with it. The external device does get very warm to the touch but it is cool enough to keep my hand on it so should not cause any problems with the wall or any nearby furniture.

My night time symptoms seem to have been eased by using a purifier and I’m finding it easier to get to sleep now. I definitely recommend trying one if you have hayfever and can keep the room sealed except for entering/leaving.

Disney World Orlando Florida

If you find yourself in Florida and can get to Disney I recommend the Tower of Terror!

It’s a vertical thrill ride preceded by a short & spooky tour of the hotel’s history. Be sure to catch the start wars march too.

BE ADVISED!! Alcohol is very expensive in Disney. A double JD and Coke was almost $13 including tax. Walmart has regular prices so you can relax with your favourite booze by the pool back at the hotel 😝

American food in Disney is good and the burgers are far better than anything I’ve had in the UK. One thing to note is that US meals and snacks tend to be much sweeter than you might be used to, Starbucks frappucinos had much more sugar/sweetener and there are some oddly delicious combinations of food like the Sweet & Spicy Chicken Waffel available in the Magic Kingdom.

Tasty, tasty, syrupy waffle sandwhich thing!

The roller coasters are more bumpy and longer lasting than most in the UK which means they’re a lot better, even the water rapids ride has a sudden drop and you absolutely will get wet!

Many of the rides are very dark inside, sometimes so dark you can’t see anything at all while you’re being thrown about. This might be fun for some but I like to see the lighting effects going on and all the artwork/models around the rides.

The Dinosaur ride simulates a time traveling visit to the past when dinosaurs rolled the Earth. It is a tribute trip through time with great special effects and some surprising dinosaurs leaving it if the dark at you.

Tera

I’ve been playing Tera through Steam which is free to play and has a shop you can buy [mostly] cosmetic items from should you want to. After having played Runescape for years and become bored of the MMORPG scene I have to say Tera is nicely refreshing for the first 40 levels.

There’s a lot to learn but you don’t have to memorize information like you would with EVE or other MMOs. I downloaded it and ran the game to quickly find there was enough on-screen help to get me through. So far I’ve completed several quests, done some dungeons, and ran around fighting monsters mostly by pressing ‘F’ when near an NPC (interact key – to get quests) and carrying on clicking on monsters until either they die or I do.

Also, you can be a deranged-looking teddy bear.

Overlooking the courtyard
Sitting on a bench

If you have a HOTAS or other game controller connected you might have performance issues after 30 minutes. This is a bug in Tera that’s been around for years and still not fixed. You can resolve the problem by unplugging the controller before starting the game. Make sure to uninstall or disable any virtual controllers!

By the time you hit level 40 you’ve probably learned all the controls, the NPC attack patterns, and seen the same 3 monster models dozens of times with slightly changed names. It definitely gets samey and boring at that stage but as a free game you can certainly get a nice twist on combat in massively multiplayer online games.

Surface Pro 3 – My Experience

I’ve had my Surface Pro 3 i5 256Gb model for about a month now and I still like it. It has replaced my much more powerful desktop as I can now sit much more comfortably in the living room while randomly browsing the Internet or working instead of being cooped up in the home office.

I’ve found the Surface to be extremely portable to carry about the office and very useful in meetings as I can quickly doodle a diagram to show what I mean or make a note of something easily. Before purchasing I looked around a lot to find cheaper deals or even a different tablet but couldn’t find anything. If you’re going to buy a Surface you will most likely find the cheapest option to be from Microsoft themselves. I got a bundle, including type-cover; Ethernet and Miracast adapter; case; Office subscription, cheaper than I could have bought just the Surface itself from PC World.

The Surface Pro 3 is definitely worth getting in my opinion but it is expensive and it does have some odd bugs/special features.

Oddities

    1. HOT! The Surface gets very warm, to the point of being uncomfortable to touch, if doing anything even mildly strenuous. I believe the processor is in the top right quarter of the device based solely on the heat emanating from there.

 

    1. LOUD! The Surface is an actively cooled device meaning there is a fan inside which will spin up to cool the internal components when needed. The oddest time this fan kicks in, and I really mean kicks in as it sounds like a jet taking off, is when sat completely idle but plugged into mains.

 

    1. WiFi connectivity seems to simply not work for a few minutes after waking up from sleeping. I’ve found it to be more problematic if I sleep the device at one location then move to somewhere else with a different network. It usually takes six attempts to reconnect.
      So, it turns out I blocked DHCP in the firewall like a complete idiot. Live and learn!

 

  1. The case doesn’t let the pro use its multi-angle stand, instead fixing it at roughly 45 degrees. This is fine for general use on a desk but pretty annoying on your lap. It’s easy enough to take it out of the case but who wants to fiddle with that every time?

These four points should not be enough to sway you away from getting one because they are just so useful. I am now free to work creatively wherever I want, even if there’s no WiFi or electricity I can simply sit down with a full charge and tap away in Visual Studio or do a bit of drawing.

The Stylus

The pen is very good to use because it feels just so natural. If you’ve ever used a Biro you’ll be fine with the Surface Stylus – just don’t get the two confused. The included drawing app FreshPaint is great if, like me, you like to draw but the best thing about drawing on the Surface is that you don’t have to know anything special or be any good at all. I’m terrible at drawing and partly wanted a Surface Pro 3 to give the multi-pressure stylus a go and while it’s clearly different to pencil/paint on paper it is very nice to use. The most useful part of it all is the undo function! This is a wildly useful concept only available on an electronic device and really helps those of us who simply cannot draw but would like to try.

Other than drawing, the pen is provides a quick shortcut to OneNote by pressing the button on the top where the rubber (‘eraser’ for the rest of the world) would be on a pencil. This, again, is useful in meetings because I can switch on and get into OneNote before the person has stopped talking so I can begin taking notes straight away.

I would say that the stylus is essential to the Surface and trying to use it with touch-only feels clunky on the normal Windows interface. Simply because a human finger is fatter than the fine point of the pen it’s too easy to click the wrong option or select the wrong bit of text on the high-resolution display but the stylus solves that. Also, it easily attaches to the surface by magnetism on the charging port which is strong enough to hold the pen in place while you move about. I’ve recently used the surface to take notes while standing, holding it like I would a clipboard with my fingers on the screen with one hand and writing with the other. This worked fine in OneNote and because I did not have the type cover or case attached I was able to magnetically attach the pen to the type cover port which all felt great to use, very natural and frankly amazing to have such a powerful device in something the size of a regular clipboard.

 

Wireless HDMI Adapter – Miracast

The wireless HDMI adapter works surprisingly well with the Surface and very easily connects as a second display which can then duplicate, extend, or replace the primary. The only downside is that there seems to be about a 600ms lag (rough guess) which is long enough that action games are not really playable. I also found that some websites reject the use of a second display due to copyright issues which is absolutely stupid and severely puts me off using Blinkbox again but Netflix worked fine. The best thing about the adapter is that it is not proprietary hardware so it’ll happily work with the Surface or my Android phone. Microsoft have made a good product with this though I would not buy one at the full retail price it is well worth getting as part of a bundle.

Ethernet Adapter

It works. It’s a USB 3 connector gigabit Ethernet adapter and it works. There’s not a great deal other to say about it except that it, too, gets unusually warm.

Office 365 Subscription

It’s hard to argue that anything else is better than Microsoft Office because you’d simply be wrong. From a business perspective I’d love to find an alternative, and there are some very good ones, because Microsoft are literally insane when it comes to licensing and often it seems that those who decide how much things should cost are simply reciting a phone number they once heard. However, for a domestic user the cost isn’t too bad and if you actually do use Word/Outlook/Excel the price is easily justifiable. Personally, I like Microsoft Office but probably not enough to renew the subscription next year because there are very good alternatives that are either free or a one-off cost.

Gaming

I looked at a lot of reviews before finally purchasing a Surface and they all pretty much said not to get a Pro 3 for gaming. I wanted one mainly for work anyway so wasn’t too phased but I, of course, ignored the reviews and installed Steam. The only game I’ve really tried has been Elite: Dangerous which does work but makes the fan bellow like an injured lion and I can almost hear “taking heat damage” from the Surface, not the ship, while entering a station. I’ve not tried it in combat because I’ve not figured out a control set I’m happy with on the Xbox controller yet but I can easily imagine it being unplayable. However, Supreme Commander 2 worked OK as did Civilisation 5 but what I mean by “worked fine” is that they loaded and when I got into a game it didn’t seem to lag. The touch interface for games is something that’s still a bit mind-blowing to me so I’ve not spent more than 10 minutes in either. I’ve also tried Don’t Stave which isn’t touch aware but there is a mod that adds this and, again, seems to work OK for the few minutes I played.

Hyper-V

Being a Windows 8.1 Pro installation it comes with the option to install Hyper-V which I have done and find extremely helpful. It’s more of a toy because I can spin up a pfSense and Windows Server 2012 Eval to play with networking configurations or whatever else I like right there on the Surface. With only 8Gb memory I have to be a little more reserved about how much I allocate to each running VM but for most things I don’t need any more than four anyway and, with Linux, 768Mb memory or less is usually fine.

 

Conclusion

Get one if you want something that is easy to carry around but still powerful enough to do pretty much any professional work you want.

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