Playmobil City Life airport security check-in

Playmobil City Life airport security check-in
Playmobil City Life airport security check-in

This evening I’ve been laughing so much at this review of the Playmobil security checkpoint on Amazon.

I was a little disappointed when I first bought this item, because the functionality is limited. My 5 year old son pointed out that the passenger’s shoes cannot be removed. Then, we placed a deadly fingernail file underneath the passenger’s scarf, and neither the detector doorway nor the security wand picked it up. My son said “that’s the worst security ever!”. But it turned out to be okay, because when the passenger got on the Playmobil B757 and tried to hijack it, she was mobbed by a couple of other heroic passengers, who only sustained minor injuries in the scuffle, which were treated at the Playmobil Hospital.

The best thing about this product is that it teaches kids about the realities of living in a high-surveillance society. My son said he wants the Playmobil Neighbourhood Surveillance System set for Christmas. I’ve heard that the CC TV cameras on that thing are pretty worthless in terms of quality and motion detection, so I think I’ll get him the Playmobil Abu Ghraib Interrogation Set instead (it comes with a cute little memo from George Bush).

I’m still trying to figure out exactly what I think about this toy.

As I write the Playmobil City Life Airport Security Check In, “with conveyor belt to screen luggage and metal detector”, is currently available on Amazon UK for only £437.71.

Our three year old kept waking up too hot during the night. What we did will blow your mind!

Open window. (Photo credit: Mattox on Free Images)
Open window. (Photo credit: Mattox on Free Images)

Those Upworthy style headlines that have been popping up everywhere are annoying, aren’t they.

I’m not the only one to found this. Dean Burnett from The Guardian has. Duncan Stephen from the University of St Andrews digital communications team has. They got CNN into trouble a couple of months ago, when used rather irresponsibly.

Anyway, young Isaac (3) has been repeatedly waking up during the night pouring with sweat: far too hot. We’ve had to change his pyjamas sometimes twice during the night.

What did we do to sort it out? Erm… we opened his bedroom window a little bit and got some air circulating in his room.

Mind blown?

Chord! guitar app for Android and iOS

Chord! The definitive guitar app.
Any chord, all the fingerings!

I don’t get to play my guitar as much as I did before I had children, or at least I haven’t yet made it a priority. I have a couple of acoustic guitars (a four-string bass and a six-string electro-acoustic) sitting in my study behind me which I pick up now and then and play along to a song on my PC, or I sit in my chair with my guitar and play whatever comes into my head.

The reality of having children is that I have less time to dedicate to my own projects (which I’m not complaining about, I love spending time with my three boys) so I have to choose which I want to focus on. Right now I’m working on a couple of websites: one for me, the other for the lovely Jane. But somewhere on my backlog there is mention of my guitars. One day…

When that day comes I have a shelf-load of guitar books; some books on theory and technique, more, however, note-for-note tablatures of some of my favourite albums and artists. I also have this application on my phone: Chord!

Chord! is the closest thing I’ve been able to get for my beloved Chord Magic by Andy Gryc, which was a 16-bit MS-DOS application from the mid-1990s. What I loved about that was I could dial in absolutely any chord, at any point on my fretboard and it would show me the fingerings. Or if I found a cool-sounding chord while jamming, I could indicate on the virtual fretboard which notes were being played and Chord Magic would tell me the name (or variant names) of the chord.

You can do much the same on Chord! Unlike many applications it’s not just a dictionary of chord positions, it knows music theory so it calculates everything on the fly. It’s been such a useful tool already, and it looks great on a tablet too.

You can buy Chord! on the Android store (£2.99) or on the iTunes app store (US $4.99) or visit getchord.com.

Playing LEGO games across two monitors with SoftTH

LEGO Marvel Superheroes on 2 x 1920x1080 monitors
LEGO Marvel Superheroes on 2 x 1920×1080 monitors

This afternoon we had a visit from Isaac’s godfather, the fabulous Mike McQuaid. As we stood in my study watching the boys playing LEGO® Marvel™ SuperHeroes on my PC I remarked to Mike that I wished that there was an option to use both my monitors, rather than squeezing the two-player co-op onto one 1920 x 1080 screen.

Mike was pretty certain that should be possible and after a quick ‘google’ he unearthed information about NVIDIA® Surround, which “joins multiple displays into a single immersive viewing surface”, typically used for full-screen gaming or watching full-screen video. However, we soon discovered that it requires three displays and I have only one.

This evening, not taking no for an answer I did some internet searching of my own and discovered SoftTH which claims to do the same thing as NVIDIA® Surround but on any number of monitors regardless of whether their resolutions match or not, and so long as they are plugged into a PCI Express graphics card.

How to…

I read somewhere that configuration could be a bit cumbersome but it actually turned out to be fairly straightforward. The trickiest bit, to be honest, was locating the game files (see below).

  1. Download SoftTH.
  2. Unzip the two files: d3d9.dll and readme_SoftTH2.txt somewhere handy.
  3. Locate the directory where the game EXE file is located.
  4. Copy the d3d9.dll file into that directory.
  5. Run the game.
  6. SoftTH runs and checks for the location of a config.SoftTHconfig file. If it doesn’t find one it creates a default configuration file.
  7. Once the game loads (on one monitor) adjust the screen resolution two the new default setting (in my case 3840 x 1080), and the aspect ratio to “From Screen-Res”.
  8. The screen resolution will change, stretching across both monitors and now two player co-op uses one screen for each player.

Locations of EXE files

We have quite a few LEGO games installed so I had to hunt around for their various locations within C:\Program Files (x86):

  • \LucasArts\LEGO Clone Wars
  • \LucasArts\LEGO Star Wars – The Complete Saga
  • \Steam\SteamApps\common\Lego Indiana Jones 2
  • \Steam\SteamApps\common\LEGO Marvel Super Heroes
  • \Steam\SteamApps\common\The LEGO®  Movie – Videogame
  • \Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment\LEGO® Batman™ 2
  • \Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment\LEGO® The Lord of the Rings™

Caveats

I have a fairly decent graphics card (NVIDIA® GeForce GTX 660) so this worked for each LEGO game I tried. I didn’t play each game for long so I couldn’t attest for how reliable this is played over hours, but I couldn’t see anything that might suggest that it wouldn’t. A few notes from my 30 minutes experience of this…

Taskbar on monitor two

I discovered when returning to the games that if I had any other applications open on monitor two (I’m running Windows 8 here) then once SoftTH was running it still showed the taskbar.

My workaround was to right-click the taskbar before the game started and select “Auto-hide the taskbar” which slid it safely out of the way.

Character tables

The first real niggle I had was when selecting a new character why does the game present the character table in such a squashed-up way?!

With so much screen real estate why are the characters squashed up so much?!
With so much screen real estate why are the characters squashed up so much?!

The same is true when both players change characters at the same time.

What is going on?! You have a width of 3840 pixels... USE IT!
What is going on?! You have a width of 3840 pixels… USE IT!

Not suitable for one player

My second caveat is that as beautiful as the periphery scenery looks while playing, game play isn’t very sustainable if you are playing a single player game because your character stands right in the middle of the screen, and so is divided between the two monitors.

Cut screens?

My last word of warning is more of a hunch than from experience: I imagine that certain pre-rendered cut screens throughout the game may display in a strange way as they are not optimized for such a wide screen.

UPDATE: Actually, the cut screens on the whole were okay. You do lose some detail as you’re essentially viewing them through a huge letterbox, but it’s mostly viewable.

Targeting is disrupted a little

UPDATE: One thing I’ve noticed is that targeting with certain objects is now a bit off with the double-screen set up. For example, on the opening level with Hulk and Iron Man you need to target a water cannon at Sandman: where you direct the cannon and where it actually sprays are two different locations. On the next level you need to target one of Captain America’s locks, but it’s near impossible to line it up properly without quickly nipping back to a 1920 x 1080, single-screen resolution.

Conclusion

On the whole, I was really impressed. It was simple to set up, with absolutely no configuration from me.

I’ll show this to the boys tomorrow and see what their verdict is: usable or not? Then I’ll report back.

Comic Neue

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog in Comic Neue
Say hello to an unlikely hero

As we all know some people have very strong feelings about Comic Sans.

Might Comic Neue be the answer?

Comic Neue aspires to be the casual script choice for everyone including the typographically savvy.

Are you typographically savvy? Would you use Comic Neue?

I have to say that I like it, especially the Comic Neue Angular variant… not sure, though, if I’d ever use it. Unless, of course, I plan on designing a comic.