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Car Stuff

As my fellow REMers [Is that a thing? It is now!] will agree, I'm a bit over the moon with my latest vehicle. I recently replaced an older Civic Si with a newer model and I'm constantly pricing out car parts to upgrade its performance and handling... and maybe add some visual flare as well.

 

In the future, I might post some links here to the progress made on the car, but for now, I'll leave you with this:

 

SiriMoto strut bars vs Megan Racing strut bars? Which do you prefer? SiriMoto offers a stiffer ride, but is it worth the additional discomfort when travelling across railroad tracks?  Leave your thoughts in the comments!

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Electronic Note Taking - Evernote to OneNote

Uh, Oh.

 

Recently, I was delivered notice from the Evernote desktop application that my account was "changing". Evernote would no longer be offering free access to their basic services from an unlimited number of devices. Instead, only two devices would be allowed to access my account which contains hundreds of important notes that I reference for work-related information on a regular basis. This immediately produced a frown upon my face. I began to wonder. Was it time to make the switch to OneNote? How difficult would that be? Evernote has grown on me; will I appreciate the OneNote experience or will I be forced to finally make the jump to Evernote's Premium service?

 

Hmmm.

 

I access my electronic notes from two devices on a semi-regular basis, and one additional device on a daily basis. Those being my laptop, smartphone, and desktop computer respectively. I need access to my notes on more than the two devices Evernote is now offering at their basic service level. It is worth noting here I do realize that if I shell out cash for the Premium service on a yearly basis I can continue to use Evernote the way I have for the past few years. I'm just not convinced that is a worthwhile decision just yet, despite my love for the Evernote user experience. Evernote is simply outstanding at taking notes, whether they are typed out manually or pasted directly from a website. The content is always laid out exactly as it should be and is easy to search. Simply put: Evernote rocks.

 

Aha!

 

Microsoft is now offering a handy import tool for converting Evernote notes to OneNote format. I decided to give this a try. The import tool can be found here: 

 

https://www.onenote.com/import-evernote-to-onenote

 

This tool effectively converted all of my Evernote content to OneNote format and imported it into my age-old Microsoft account, effectively making it immediately available to all of my devices.  As I have just completed this operation prior to starting this blog post, the remainder of this post will be based on my first impressions.  I'll post an update in the future if I feel it is warranted.

 

Oh...

 

Admittedly, I already knew this, but I was somehow expecting more. In my opinion, the OneNote interface is clunky at best. My main collection of imported notes was not imported into the main OneNote note collection, so I had to go about finding them.  Once I did, I had access to everything from before.  However, tags didn't seem to transfer over very well and some notes reported partial errors during the import phase (albeit, I have not yet found any actual corruption in the notes). I suppose I have become accustomed to Evernote's desktop interface to the point that another approach to note taking design is going to be off putting, but I will do my best over the next few days to adjust to this new user interface. After all, I have used the Evernote smartphone application, and short of bewildering sports apps, that is one of the chunkiest user interfaces. It got the job done, however.  Here's to hoping I can have the same experience using OneNote's similar offerings.

 

I'm making a note here.

 

I'll be toying with the OneNote desktop application over the next week and I will attempt to come to a conclusion on whether to make a permanent switch or bite the bullet and buy into Evernote's Premium feature set.  In the mean time, I welcome anyone interested in this topic to throw in their own two cents to the conversation in the comments below!

 

Happy note taking!

 

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How Video Games Influence Network Modelling

An acquaintance of mine recently wrote an increasingly popular article on the negative effects of client authoritative network modelling as it applies to online multiplayer video games. Specifically, the enabling of "cheaters" when client machines are given priority over the server. Glenn Fiedler is a respected software engineer who has worked on several AAA video game titles over the years and most recently finished working as the lead software engineer for Titanfall by Respawn Entertainment before moving on to start his own business where he specializes in network technology for - you guessed it - video games.

 

Glenn's original article discusses the problems with this network model and the reasoning behind developing these solutions from a server authoritative model is the only way to ensure the best experience for gamers:
http://gafferongames.com/2016/04/25/never-trust-the-client/

 

The article has since been picked up by several major online publishers, some of which I have listed here.

 

Ars Technica: http://arstechnica.com/gaming/2016/04/analysis-the-division-may-need-complete-rewrite-to-fix-hacking-problems/

 

Developer Tech: http://www.developer-tech.com/news/2016/apr/27/ex-programmer-respawn-and-sony-criticises-divisions-network-model/

 

PC Gamer: http://www.pcgamer.com/veteran-network-programmer-says-the-division-needs-a-complete-rewrite/

 

Games Radar: http://www.gamesradar.com/why-the-division-is-broken-online-according-to-a-former-god-of-war-titanfall-dev/

 

The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/apr/26/hackers-cheats-ruined-the-division-pc-ubisoft

 

Reddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/thedivision/comments/4gjlh5/network_expert_gives_his_opinion_on_hacking_in/

 

And the list goes on...  I've left out links to articles that Glenn himself has flagged as being too inflammatory or negative in general. Glenn was simply attempting to help the gaming community at large understand what the problem is with The Division from the viewpoint of a seasoned software engineer who has literally written the correct type of code himself with a great level of success.

 

As a software developer myself, I not only find this interesting but also very familiar. When we're developing software at REM we always take into account the potential actions of the client machines accessing our software and the best ways to circumvent problems without negatively impacting the website visitor's experience.

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My stamps! You ruined my stamps!

"... Not to mention five years of therapy!"

 

Maniac Mansion: Day Of The Tentacle (DOTT)

 

Most of you are probably scratching your head at this point. I wouldn't blame you, really. That is arguably an obscure and mostly unknown quote. But it's also one that had me howling with laughter in the early 1990s as a teenager.

 

 

Maniac Mansion: Day Of The Tentacle (DOTT) is and always will be one of my all-time favourite video games. While it can be broken down in definition to a simple, point and click adventure game (a genre that has received many refreshing new titles in the past few years to help bring in new and old fans alike), it's also one of the funniest stories ever told.  I kid you not that I was so crazily obsessed with this game that I used the characters for a family tree project in my grade 9 high school French class. It seemed befitting, given that the zany host of characters this game includes all act like a dysfunctional family that you can't help feeling connected with by the conclusion of this hilarious adventure.

 

Maniac Mansion: Day Of The Tentacle (DOTT)

 

Now, you might also wonder why I'm even writing about this circa 1993 game. I don't typically utilize my blogging time to wax nostalgic about old entertainment products. In this case, however, it seemed like a great time to do so since some of the original developers of DOTT have recently released a "Remastered" version of the game. I snapped it up through Steam and managed to get my four-year-old immediately hooked on the game. This is both good and bad. Good because I am having a blast playing through the game again (for probably the zillionth time) and bad because I have to wait long periods between play times so that he doesn't miss out; four-year-olds and their inability to stay up late and their limited screen time. You may know how that goes.

 

Maniac Mansion: Day Of The Tentacle (DOTT)

 

So, back in 1993 I was lucky enough to own the MS-DOS version of this game that came on 3 1/2" floppy disks.  At the time, I did not yet have a CD-ROM drive for my PC, so the "full talkie" version of the game (as games with fully recorded dialog were referred to back then) was not an option. I probably installed that game a hundred times over the years and always made sure it was included in every new PC I built from there on. If you play through this game one time, you'll understand why it is a beloved treasure of mine.  LucasArts (yes, a division of THAT Lucas, of Star Wars fame) were the original developers of the game, and one of the original designers of the game is also at the helm of the company (Double Fine) that produced the newly released Remastered edition. Shout out to Tim Schafer!

 

Maniac Mansion: Day Of The Tentacle (DOTT)

 

I can't possibly do this video game the justice it deserves in a full review, but I'll leave you with some fun links and videos to check out if you're interested in learning more or picking up a copy for yourself. I can assure you that if you have any sense of humour you will not be disappointed.

 

Check out the official trailer for the Remastered edition: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g6v-zGTzNCE

 

Check out the making of this glorious production:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LjF4eMrYfG0&list=PLIhLvue17Sd6qEN1FU1NmGNJGEQTeDhvt

 

Check out PC Gamer's review of the game:
http://www.pcgamer.com/day-of-the-tentacle-remastered-review/

 

To purchase this game, you can find it on Steam, Gog, and possibly other online retailers, as well as on your PS4 or XBOX One.
Steam: http://store.steampowered.com/app/388210/

GOG: https://www.gog.com/game/day_of_the_tentacle_remastered

 

For more great videos produced by Two Player Productions:

https://www.youtube.com/user/2PlayerProductions

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLIhLvue17Sd7F6pU2ByRRb0igiI-WKk3D

Maniac Mansion: Day Of The Tentacle (DOTT)

 

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Making Smarter Mobile Modules

Smart teams produce smart products.

 

Our mobile offerings are now smarter. This is in thanks to some doubly smart decisions by our team over the past month or so. Everyone on the team at one point or another has put some time into thinking about how to make things work better.

 

Events, Secured Content, and Ecommerce Benefited.

 

These three modules are a showcase of our newest mobile code. Wherever possible, the module will allow switching between desktop and mobile rendering without losing track of where the visitor is in most processes. Although the typical user will never have a need to render both a desktop and a mobile view of the website being visited, the underlying tech that drives our sites does support this model in most cases and makes it easy to view either version without reloading the page.

 

There's more to come.

 

As my actual title suggests, I am actively working on our mobile solutions whenever time permits. We have lots more in store, so keep your eyes on REM. We promise to bring our customers more to love about their websites.

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Work Update: Customer Success Comes First

I'm taking a few short minutes to complete this blog post before I jump back into my to-do list. I'm relatively busy with my work at REM and I'm quite happy about that.  I'm happy to be busy because it means REM is experiencing success. And that only happens when our customers experience success.

 

The work I'm digging into this week revolves around mobile usage scenarios for some of our flagship WebWiz@rd modules. We're actively evaluating the needs of our customers and what will make them more successful at doing what they do best.  Our mobile offerings are getting smarter every day and I'm happy to be at the forefront of this initiative.

 

Happy computing from your mobile device of choice! I'm here to make sure it works the way you expect it to.

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Egg On My Face

The background.

 

So. The story goes that I - not too long ago - came right out as to say that I was not a fan of the Apple Watch because I had no interest in wearing another watch any time soon. I had fully embraced the idea that watches had no place in my life now that I keep a smart phone close to my person at all times.

 

Flash forward to the recent holiday season where I was given a Pebble Time Steel and instantly fell in love with the whole smart watch craze.

 

Notifications! To my wrist!

 

My favourite thing about having a smart watch is the fact that I don't need to pull my phone out of my pocket every time I receive an email, text message, Facebook notification, etc. The joy of being able to quickly glance at the watch to determine if said notification requires an immediate response has already saved me a tonne of time over the past couple of weeks.  I've also set up more reminders for various household and work-related tasks that I normally relied on my smart phone to handle.

 

Bluetooth has great range.

 

I'm impressed with how far reaching Bluetooth can be.  I have now started leaving my phone in various locations around my home and the watch still manages to pick up notifications sent to it without a problem. I've only experienced one problem with the Bluetooth LE (Low Energy) not syncing with the watch for a short period of time which required a hard reboot of the watch.  Other than that, it's been near flawless.

 

Watchfaces are fun!

 

Over the holiday I used a Darth Vader ugly Christmas sweater watchface. Not everyone found it as humourous as I did, but it was the perfect bit of festive joy I needed to carry around with me.

 

Final verdict. Wiping off this egg.

 

The Pebble Time Steel is a stupendous investment. The always-on LED screen makes it easy to check the time without physically interacting with the watch, and the battery life lasts for several days at a time.  I've averaged about 5-6 days of moderate use before needing to charge the watch.

 

I wear it to bed and it tracks my sleep, too. Checking out my sleeping habits has been a great addition to my overall health plan.  Keeping up on the winks is key to living healthy!

 

So, I'm wiping this egg off my face for good.  I used to wear watches full time and I'm now back on the bandwagon. Smart watches are a dime a dozen, so if you have a favourite that you'd like to gush over, feel free to drop a comment below!

 

P.S.

 

The gamer in me must admit that I installed a few, simple games on the watch.  The Flappy Bird clone named "Tiny Bird" is a pretty decent time waster.  (Do you see what I did there?)

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Holiday Season 2015

What is everyone up to this holiday season? I personally can't wait to go skating on the lake near my family's home once it freezes over, and to drink hot cocoa, and to play LEGO video games with my 4 year old son who is quite possibly more adept at playing said video games than his 30-something old father. (Yeah, that's me.)

 

On a related note, I've been busy working on a small pet-project here at REM for our customers and I'm itching to reveal it. In the mean time, I'll leave you with this: Dean Martin said it best.

 

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It's Squeaky Shoe Time

REM is a hard working crew made up of some pretty great people. We work hard and we play hard, but we sometimes need breaks, too.  Since I'm writing this blog post on a Friday following the release of a customer's major site overhaul / redesign / upgrade, I thought it befitting to simply share a funny video that put a big smile on my face this morning.

 

Who wouldn't want a pair of squeaky shoes?  Seriously!

 

Happy Friday!  Or Monday, or Tuesday, or....

 

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Empowered Computing: Leverage Legacy Applications Using Cloud Storage

In my previous blog post I talked about storing Microsoft Outlook data files outside of the default location by utilizing NTFS symbollic links.  As promised, this is the follow-up to that post that will provide you with a simple method for leveraging your existing cloud storage for use with legacy applications.

 

While this is a somewhat advanced topic, it really isn't all that difficult and it may provide you with some peace of mind regarding your data that can now safely be stored in the cloud.

 

NOTE: For this to work you need an existing subscription to a cloud storage provider. Dropbox, Google Drive, or Microsoft OneDrive are all great examples of reliable and affordable cloud storage. Setting up any of these services is outside the scope of this blog post, but there are many resources online that will help you achieve this with a quick search on Google.

 

Practically any application can utilize cloud storage. Some modern applications have been offering support for cloud storage for quite some time, and some even come with their own, built-in solution. Valve Software's "Steam" service is a great example of a popular application that utilizes its own cloud storage to store save game files and settings on the Valve servers so that players can pick up and play on any of their devices at any time. You can't get back time spent grinding through your favourite game, so having your save game files backed up is a definite win.

 

Steam is a wonderful example in this case, and we'll use it for comparison with our own, custom solution here. Let's start by looking at another PC game distribution service named GOG, which can be found at www.gog.com. GOG, like Steam, allows players to download digital versions of PC video games to their computers.  One major drawback to using GOG at the time of this writing is that it does not automatically store save game files on its servers so that you can stop playing on one machine and pickup where you left off on another machine. Steam does this and it does it very well.

 

I happen to own a copy of the game called "Alan Wake: American Nightmare" that I purchased through GOG some time ago. I was really dismayed when I realized that GOG does not store the Alan Wake save game files to the cloud, so I decided to employ the following strategy to leverage my Dropbox account for keeping my save game files safely backed up and available on multiple machines.

 

Let's get started! First, find the location on your hard drive where your application stores the data you want to share across multiple machines. In this case, GOG stores the Alan Wake save game files in a folder under my Documents folder, here:
C:\Users\Ryan\Documents\Remedy\AmericanNightmare_GOG_Version\

 

Here's a screenshot showing the exact location on the drive as well:

 

Now that we know where the files are, let's move them! "Cut" (don't "Copy"!) the entire folder you want to backup from its current location and "Paste" it into your Dropbox folder. Here is where I pasted the "AmericanNightmare_GOG_Version" folder in my Dropbox:

G:\Documents\Dropbox\Game Saves\

 

Again, another screenshot that shows exactly where I pasted the folder:

 

 

Now, the fun part happens. Remember how we created NTFS symbolic links in my previous blog post? Go back and have a read through that post if you have not yet done so as it will help explain this next step.  We're going to create a symbolic directory link in the original location of the Alan Wake save game files that points at the folder that is now residing under the Dropbox cloud storage folder.

 

To do this, we need to open an elevated command prompt and key in the following commands.

 

  1. C:
  2. CD C:\Users\Ryan\Documents\Remedy
  3. mklink /D AmericanNightmare_GOG_Version G:\Documents\Dropbox\AmericanNightmare_GOG_Version

 

That's it! The PC game Alan Wake will now operate  just as it did before, but its save game files are now safely and conveniently backed up to my Dropbox account and are available to be setup on another computer I own in a similar fashion, allowing me to save my game on one computer and pick up where I left off on the other.  Here's a final screen shot depicting the Alan Wake game and its related save game file available for loading as if it had never moved.  Fun times!

 

 

Got any other tips for fans of cloud storage? Leave them in the comments below.

 

Until next time, Happy Computing! Also, if you're a fan of deep story telling in video games, check out the original "Alan Wake" game. It's a surreal experience not worth missing.

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