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 über 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