Alien Frontiers – Colony paint complete

Well, I finished painting the colony components. Looking at the photos, they kinda look messy. Note to self, don’t rush, even if you have 40 of the little buggers to paint.

Alien Frontiers Colonies

Alien Frontiers Colonies

Ah well, on the game board at normal viewing distances they look ok.

Alien Frontiers colony repaint

I didn’t want to paint the originals that came with the game so I had 3 options:

I went for the Upgrade pack, even though my first choice was the Factions Expansion. It looks like a neat addition to the game but it’s damn hard to find, either online or locally. Both the Factions Expansion and the Upgrade pack include the extra components to allow a five-player Alien Frontiers game, using the publisher’s expanded rules. So on to the painting.

Before I started painting, I looked at a lot of space colony images like these for inspiration.

Then I primed the components – 2 coats, first a dark to fill in the shadows, then a white, from above only, to provide highlights.


I wanted to test some colour schemes first, so I mocked them up using some image editing tools on the iPad. I took photos against a white background, converted the images to black and white, then kicked up the contrast.

Alien Frontiers MiniAlien Frontiers MiniAlien Frontiers MiniAlien Frontiers Mini

Then just overpainted the image on the iPad until I found an appealing colour scheme.

Alien Frontiers - Colony mockup

I like this technique. It lets me work anywhere, gives reasonable results, and doesn’t cost me any paint to trial it.

Alien Frontiers Colonies

Alien Frontiers colony repaint

Next up, the Field Generators. And I’ve got some ideas for the Rocket Ships too.

Free photo app Instagram just got better

iglogo.jpgThe free and popular instant photography sharing app for iOS, Instagram, just pushed an update through — and it’s a nifty little update too!

Aside from some bug fixes, two new filters were added in the 1.0.7 update;



And one has been retrieved from the cutting room floor after a bit of a populous revolt;


I love the filter upgrades, but the app upgrade didn’t go off without a hitch.

In my case, Instagram lives on my iPad, which I use for post-production editing and sharing of my photos. I like to think of it as my iPad Darkroom.

And this update to Instagram had me worried for a moment — it wouldn’t read any images from my photo roll or photo albums.

But after a full shutdown and restart, whatever database issues it had seemed to clear up, and I’m happily playing in the darkroom again.

iOS devices seem to be the most prolific when it comes to mobile digital darkroom apps, for now. I’m thinking that once more developers get busy working on the other devices, there’s going to be a whole lot more awesome photography happening out there… and I can’t wait!
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Apple just made my iPod Touch even more useful – not

Today Apple (well, Steve Jobs) announced a number of things at WWDC (Apple’s World Wide Developer’s Conference).

The one caught my attention  was the announcement of iOS4 – the operating system previously known as iPhone OS. Sure, there was a new iPhone, and a bunch of other stuff, but I have an iPod Touch (2nd Generation) and want to keep using it… so was looking for news that would let me keep my Touch humming along. And I found it.

Or so I thought.

The Apple iPod Touch page is big on promised features, but at the bottom, in the standard disclaimer grey area the text pulls back some of the lovely benefits mentioned above.

Not all features are compatible with all devices. For example, multitasking, custom wallpaper, and Bluetooth keyboard support are available only with iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, and the third-generation iPod touch (32GB and 64GB models from late 2009).

So, the cool features that I’ve been looking forward to will not work on my iPod Touch. Bluetooth Keyboard, Multi-tasking, Folders…all very cool features. And my device does support them — if I Jailbreak it. But not using the official update.

Well then, it is a free upgrade, and I’m sure I’ll get *some* benefit from it, but I’m not ready to retire this iPod Touch yet. Maybe Jailbreaking is the way to go.

Legacy Hardware loses flagship application

Five years ago I modded my first Xbox to create a Media Centre. The software I ran, and still run is the uber awesome XBMC (for Xbox Media Center).

But now it seems that the days of using my original Xbox as a media center are numbered — the developers are stopping work for that hardware platform.

So now there will be no updates, no new ‘official’ features or bugfixes for what has become the cornerstone of my entertainment system.

And this means that I’d better start looking at a replacement that offers:

  • Multimedia playback
  • Huge library of media codecs
  • Native network awareness for Windows, OSX and Linux shared drives
  • Simple and easy-to-use interface

But I’m in no rush. My original modded Xboxen still run the last build of XBMC just fine. And will likely continue for some time. But now I know, the days are numbered. Something else just got added to my todo list. Lucky for me it involves tech 🙂

How to add a network activity monitor to Windows 7

I like Windows 7. But there’s one thing that I noticed missing right off the top, a network activity monitor in the Taskbar.

Sure, you could ad a gadget/widget thingie to the desktop, but when you’re working on something, odds are you’re at full-screen resoulution and the monitor is behind whatever y ou’re working on.

Well, thanks to this cool little site (and the pointer from Download Squad) Windows 7 now has a working taskbar-mounted network activity monitor, complete with animated blinking screen. To quote the developer:

This utility is a standalone executable. Run the program, you’ll see a new system tray icon.

Now you can monitor your network traffic in Windows 7 using XP-like ‘two monitors’ icon in the System Tray.

To customize program settings right click the mouse on the System Tray icon.

Pretty straightforward, and functional. And light weight! The Network Activity Indicator for Windows 7 weighs in at a tiny 57kb download.

You can download it here


How to easily install essential applications on a new Windows 7 computer

It doesn’t matter if you’ve upgraded from Vista or XP, or if you’ve bought a new Windows 7 based computer, you’re going to need to install some basic and essential applications on your new baby.

And this awesome website makes it so, SO easy. 4 easy steps:

  • Visit the site
  • Select which applications you want
  • Press the button to start a download
  • Run the downloaded application

Visit the site is a very cool web app with a single function: to make a custom downloader and installer that will save you time and mouseclicks to install commonly used open-source and free applications.

The page looks like this, a long list of applications and utilities, divided into sections by application type.

Ninite includes everything from office suite applications (Open Office, MS Office trial), image and  audio editors, to system maintenance utilities, virus scanners, and media burning tools.

Get your applications
This couldn’t be simpler. Click on the apps or utilities you want. Unfortunately there’s no link to a product overview so if you’re not familiar with the application you will need to Google it.

Press the button
This initiates a bit of back-end magic at the site. A custom download/installer application is built and sent to your computer. It contains all the information necessary to, when run, download and install (in background) the applications you selected in the previous step.

Make it so
When  you run the installer, a window opens showing you the progress of the process. If you’re curious, you can ‘show the details’ and each phase of the install can be viewed.

The big benefit for me is the time saving and the click saving. What would normally take over an hour for a new install, basically takes 2-5 minutes of my time, the rest happens in background while I do something else. To quote from the developers:

Ninite runs on Windows XP/Vista/7 and works
in the background 100% hands-free.

We install apps with default settings and
say “no” to browser toolbars and other junk.

All we do is install the latest versions of the apps
you choose. Not even Ninite is installed.

How can that not be cool?

Essential things to do before upgrading to Windows 7

Windows 7 is on its way so I thought I’d document some steps to take to prepare for a Windows 7 upgrade.

Depending on the state of your current computer and the version of Windows you’re currently running, your Windows 7 upgrade could consist of:

  • in-place upgrade over top of your existing OS (Only supported for Vista, but you can do it with XP through Hardlink Migration)
  • clean upgrade replacing your existing OS (format and overwrite)
  • alongside upgrade booting and running off another partition (two Windows versions on the same computer – I use this until I notice that the majority of my work is done on the new OS, then I nuke the older OS)

Microsoft provides this handy chart on their upgrade page; it’ll help you decide which path is right for you.

And, the upgrade could take a while. But, regardless of the upgrade path you choose to walk, here’s a few things you can do that will make your upgrade smoother, and safer should something go wrong.

To be safe, (and if you’ve got the drive space) you may want to make a full system backup.

If that’s not practical, determine what your most important data is — things like documents, photos, home videos etc. Things that are not replaceable.

Most likely, you’ll find them in ‘C:\Documents and Settings\YOUR USER NAME HERE\My Documents’, but you may find some in ‘C:\Documents and Settings\All Users as well’.

Once you’ve identified all your important and irreplaceable work, copy them to a separate directory on your computer. Don’t worry about copying your application programs (I find that when I upgrade my OS, it’s far better to reinstall them from scratch), but do check the application directories for any custom settings, purchased plugins, modifications etc. You’ll likely want to back them up as well.

Depending on how you roll, you can burn your important files to a CD, copy them to a USB thumb drive, or install an online backup client (like Mozy) and let it backup over the internet. If you’re especially concerned, combine these.

Now that our essential data is safe, we’re going to clean stuff up.

First, launch your control panel and uninstall every application, game or utility you no longer use. If you’re unsure, then just leave it, but I find that I’m always installing things and haven’t used them for months. Best to get rid of it now.

Next, run Disk Cleanup. Depending on your OS, you could find it in a few places, but I find the easiest way to launch it is by:

  • exploring to your C: drive
  • right clicking on the drive
  • selecting Properties from the drop down
  • then clicking on Disk Cleanup in the properties window.

Once Disc cleanup runs, you’ll be presented with a series of checkboxes of ‘stuff’ that windows wants to remove. Review it carefully, unchecking everything you want to keep. Then let it continue.

Finally, empty your trash.

Now, lets make your hard drive the best it can be for a new OS installation by defragmenting it. Rather than reinvent the wheel, here’s Wikipedia’s explanation of defragmentation

defragmentation is a process that reduces the amount of fragmentation in file systems. It does this by physically organizing the contents of the disk to store the pieces of each file close together and contiguously. It also attempts to create larger regions of free space using compaction to impede the return of fragmentation. Some defragmenters also try to keep smaller files within a single directory together, as they are often accessed in sequence.

On my system, here’s how I defrag a drive:

  • explore to C: drive
  • right click on the drive
  • selecting Properties from the drop down
  • select the Tools tab at the top of the window
  • then click on the Defrag Now button.

A defragged drive is a happy drive.

Ok, once you’ve done all this, you’re computer is in much better shape to proceed with your particular flavour of Windows 7 installation.

Good luck! Mine went fine, and I’m now busily reinstalling my applications, as I need them.

Update: Oct 20, 2009 Life Hacker has this much more detailed overview of the update process and preparing for it