A website. With stuff on it.
October 17th, 2007 at 7:51 pm
Posted By: Jay
Posted in: Rambling

Well, almost perfection. Seriously! You could be forgiven for having reasonably low expectations of a game that is being bundled merely as ‘extra content’ with Valve’s much publicised Orange Box collection, which of course stars Half Life 2, Episode 2 and Team Fortress 2. However, Portal is an incredibly polished, well thought out game that leaves you open mouthed at times with it’s ingenuity. It certainly doesn’t lack a story, either. I won’t spoil it for you, but suffice to say it’s extremely engaging and has a fantastic climax. It’s evident this project is a labour of love for Valve.

The premise itself is fairly unique, presenting the player with a series of obstacle course style levels where they must simply travel from the entrance to the exit, mostly utilising the very cool Portal gun (it’s not actually called a portal gun!). Once you get the idea after playing through the well paced introductions to the various concepts and techniques you’ll need to use in order to accomplish the task, it does indeed become fairly simple. Sometimes you’ll spend a minute scratching your head until it suddenly dawns on you what to do, but generally it isn’t particularly taxing or frustrating… just a lot of fun to play.

If there are any down sides, they are that a) it’s being distributed via Steam (bleurgh. I loathe Steam) and that b) it’s altogether too short. I mean, really short. Like, you can comfortably play through the entire game in one sitting. There are a few nice little extras to be unlocked once you have completed the game – there are three types of challenge, which variously involve trying to complete previous levels in the least time, the least footsteps, or the least portals. There are also 6 advanced levels, which introduce new twists on some of the later levels from the game. Where I had very little difficulty completing the main game, these had me sitting staring blankly at the screen most of the time.

Still, there is apparently a level editor to come very soon, which undoubtedly will be a marginally modified version of the Hammer editor for the HL2 engine. So I really hope to see some new user built levels to play through. Unfortunately, and I may of course be displaying an undeserved lack an faith in level builders here, I suspect that they won’t measure up to the sheer genius of Portal’s default game levels.

To sum up: get it. Now!

Links:

Portal Trailer on Youtube

Official Website

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October 15th, 2007 at 12:56 pm
Posted By: Jay
Posted in: Rambling

In my previous post, I talked about my wish list for a WordPress plugin that would display contextual embedded Amazon aStore chunk to follow posts and pages.

Let me tell you how I’m currently implementing the category specific (kinda!) aStore into WordPress without a plugin – at least, for pages, which is adequate for my needs at the moment. It’s a bit of a manual process, but it works. So if you wanted to implement it, you already can. You could also do this for other templates, such as ‘single posts’, but you would need to add it to your original single post template, and wouldn’t have the same customisation options since you can’t select a per post template, so it’s very much an all or nothing affair without the as yet fictional plugin.

As I said previously, I chunked up my aStore itself into categories containing 3-6 related products so that I’m not bombarding the viewer with a dozen products in a huge long scrolling page.

I made a copy of my ‘page’ template, and obviously renamed it. After the loop, which probably ends in

<?php endwhile; endif; ?>

I added the code for my astore (in DIV tags which mean I can specify a css if I want to).

<div id = “astore”>
<iframe src=”
http://astore.amazon.com/yourstore” width=100% height=1000 frameborder=0 scrolling=no></iframe>
</div>

Now, whenever you want your aStore to appear within a page, you can simply select the aStore Page template when writing a page instead of the default page template.

To take it one step further towards my original needs outlined for the plugin, I then duplicated this page a number of times and renamed them according to the products they would display, substituting the default code above with a specific permalink to a given aStore category. The format of the permalink will look like this:

http://astore.amazon.com/yourstore?%5Fencoding=UTF8&node=1

where ‘node=1‘ relates to the index of your category. As I said before, you can get the permalink to each of your categories from the category section of your aStore.

So I uploaded these new pages to my theme, one for each chunk of the aStore I want to display, appropriately named. So, for example, you might end up with aStore-Page-Cheese1, aStore-Page-Cheese2, aStore-Page-Chocolate etc.

Now, as before, you can simply choose which template you want to use when you post a page. Hey presto, a very clumsy implementation of targeted products per page! Which I think adequately demonstrates the need for the proposed plugin ;)

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October 15th, 2007 at 12:18 pm
Posted By: Jay
Posted in: Rambling

So, as the title possibly hints, I’ve been looking for a plugin for WordPress that allows you to display all or parts of your aStore along with posts or pages. The idea is for another site of mine, and what I’m looking to do is add a ‘further reading and resources’ section that’s relavent to the posts. So far, I haven’t found anything that will let me do this, which is kind of surprising, really, given that it’s a really good way to monetize your blog or site with relavent content that isn’t tacky!

So I’m thinking of writing the plugin myself. Assuming I do, I figure I may as well release it for anyone else looking to do the same. So, I’m going to kind of spew my ideas here and ask a couple of questions. If you’re looking for a plugin to do this, maybe you could contribute to the comments? If you already know of a plugin that will basically do what I outline here, please let me know! I don’t want to reinvent the wheel, especially since I’ve never written a WordPress plugin before, and will have to learn that first! :p

By the way, I am aware of various Amazon associate plugins, which for the most part seem to relate to the individual product link method of presenting your product content. I’m also aware of at least one plugin that will randomly pull in links from Amazon without any user interaction. These are great, but I want to make use of the aStore option specifically, and target my audience with my own carefully chosen products.

So here’s my thinking on the nature and features of this as yet fictitious plugin:

Firstly, whilst the Amazon aStore gives you a link to your main store when you do ‘get link’, it also shows a permalink to any given category in the category management view. You can use this link to display only a subsection of your store. Now given that you can embed an aStore right into your page/theme using their slightly awkward iframe code, this suddenly gives us some really cool options… which is precisely what I’m looking to exploit.

So as I briefly outlined above, what I initially conceptualised is that you would set up links to various categories at your aStore to tally with your categories on your blog. So that every time you post about, say, Cheese, it then lists a bunch of books about Cheese beneath the post, which neatly links to your aStore checkout etc.

That’s pretty neat, and incredibly simple, especially since it basically requires no user interaction, but it has limitations. Firstly, it only allows for one aStore category to link up with one WordPress category. Oh, sure, you could give the user space to put in more than one and randomly link them, but how many slots do you supply per category? Two? Three? Ten? I dunno! Also, it would mean that, at least with a default WordPress install where pages (as opposed to posts) don’t have categories, you couldn’t utilise it on a page.

So then I started thinking that category based is maybe not the way to go at all. Maybe the better way is to just allow people to have as many aStore categories as they wanted listed, and probably a drop down box on the post and page write/edit screen to select which bit of your aStore you wanted to display.

There are other advantages to this, too. Firstly, aStore is not all that configurable in terms of layout. As far as I can see, you can only present your aStore in a 3-across format, displaying all of your products in that category. Which kind of sucks, because you’re going to end up with a huge long page of products which entails endless scrolling at the bottom of your pages and posts. And that’s sure to annoy your visitors, if nothing else.

So my thinking is that you would divide your aStore up into more manageable pieces, utilising the categories to chunk up your content into the specific items you want to include with a post or set of posts. So if you’re still blogging about cheese, you can link directly to a subcategory that contains only 3 or 6 cheese related items, rather than spew dozens of products into every post. You will then potentially have 3 or 4 or even more Cheese related categories, and you can use these for variety and to maximise your sales potential on different posts and pages.

A further thought is that you (well, at least, I) don’t really want to display US based Amazon products to viewers in other countries. I’ve already implemented IP2Nation on my WordPress install so that I can make an educated guess at the geographic location of the user. I figure, once I sign up to be an Amazon Associate in the UK and possibly other countries, it’d be much better to present products they can actually buy! This ought to be fairly simple to do – your plugin admin page would allow you to enter alternative URLs for different countries based on the two letter country code, and display the correct link based on the viewers location.

That, I think, will certainly work for my needs, and I think is a very neat solution to easily monetizing your blog with useful products that your viewer just might be interested in, rather than spewing vaguely related Adsense ads into every page. The beauty of utilising aStore is that it’s very easily configured and set up… far, far less work than using the individual product link alternatives, and therefore the available plugins that cater for this.

So anyone have any input? Category based or not? Some hybrid of the two? With the advent of tags in WordPress 2.3, maybe tag based instead? That way you can utilise it for both pages and posts. But then how do you determine which  is more relavent? Display an aStore chunk for the first tag only? Allow user selection?

Can you think of a better implementation altogether? Or features it should have? Want to write the plugin? Comment below!




September 20th, 2007 at 12:53 pm
Posted By: Jay
Posted in: Site News

Since restarting the site, all of a week or so ago, I hooked it up to Google Webmaster Tools and had a look at the stats. I was quite surprised to see a number of 404’s related to people trying to visit the very ancient and long dead Sim*Stars site that I used to run, which featured celebrity Sims created by me and a few tutorials on skinning.

Personally, I stopped playing The Sims many years ago (I moved onto Second Life in 2003!), and originally the reason I shut the site down was that I was annoyed. I was annoyed that people were republishing my work without credit. I was annoyed that people would leech my downloads in a frame or hidden link, taking great care to make it look like it was their own content. I was annoyed with people passing off my work as their work, actually going as far as to say ‘I made this!’. I was annoyed with people selling CD’s of my Sims on Ebay. I was generally annoyed at giving up my own time and effort providing something for free and getting, well, sh!t on for it.

But now I don’t much care, and I’m far more sceptical these days – I recognise there will always be people out there who are just out for themselves, trying to get recognition and/or money for other people’s efforts; I see evidence of it all the time, all over the web. Indeed, I still see my skins in various places, largely without credit or passed off as someone elses… so they’re pretty much in the public domain anyway, but it seems people are definitely still coming in their numbers to find the original site.

That said, I also recognise that there are many more people who are basically decent, and punishing the majority for the actions of a minority is something best left to Governments and lawmakers.

So, like, is there still a demand for these things? If I can find it all, should I bother to put Sim*Stars back up? If I do, it will be purely archives – I don’t envisage creating any new content.

If you have an opinion, leave a comment!




September 20th, 2007 at 12:04 pm
Posted By: Jay
Posted in: Rambling

To blog or not to blog. That is the question.

Hello! Today I am struggling with the nature of blogging… now that I’ve resurrected it, what should I actually say on my personal website blog thingy? It’s a tough decision. Ideally, I think I need three or four personal websites with no discernible links or affiliations!

Ok, now you’re probably wondering why I need multiple websites, what the hell I’m talking about, and why it’s a tough decision on what to say here. (Either that or you could not care less and have already moved on to read something that DOES make sense…)

Still here? Then I’ll try and explain!

» Read The Rest

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September 17th, 2007 at 9:57 pm
Posted By: Jay
Posted in: Pearls of Wisdom

Did you know that Google Earth has a built in flight simulator? It’s great fun to play with!

Keyboard controls and how to access it from within Google Earth are here:

Google Earth Flight Simulator

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September 17th, 2007 at 9:17 pm
Posted By: Jay
Posted in: Pearls of Wisdom

You know all those annoying websites that want you to sign in just so that you can read one bloody article you’re interested in? Well, bugmenot.com provide generic user logins that you can use to save yourself the bother. Definitely a handy one to remember!

They also provide throwaway email addresses that you can use if you find yourself having to give email addresses to receive verification links or the like at email.bugmenot.com

It might also be worth mentioning that if you came by an article that refuses to let you read it from a Google search, very often there is a cached version indexed that IS fully readable! Instead of clicking the main hyperlinked title from your Google results, just click the link that says Cached just beneath the link description.

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September 17th, 2007 at 8:05 pm
Posted By: Jay
Posted in: Pearls of Wisdom

I thought I’d write this up, because it always surprises me how few people I talk to know about it!

You can download any Youtube video to keep and watch at your leisure from your hard drive simply by going to kissyoutube.com

Even better, if you’re already on youtube watching a video, just add ‘kiss’ before youtube.com in the URL and it will immediately take you to the kissyoutube link for that video.

Videos are saved in .flv (Flash Video) format, and links to a free player are included on the video download page, but there are plenty of free .flv converters out there if you prefer another format

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September 17th, 2007 at 5:38 am
Posted By: Jay
Posted in: Site News

Yes, I have some content! w00! Mainly because it was really quick and easy to add, and is my most recent useless contribution to the world (read: the two other people for whom the article is relavent).

So what is it? Well, it’s instructions on how I managed to make the non-MIDI capable but otherwise rather excellent value for money ION iED05 USB Digital Drum Kit work with all kinds of MIDI software… for free! So, yes, as I said, this probably doesn’t apply to a whole lot of people, to be honest, but for those that are seeking to do the same, well, here it is!

Using the ION iED05 USB Drum Kit with MIDI capable software




September 17th, 2007 at 4:46 am
Posted By: Jay
Posted in: Site News

It’s been a fair while since wibwobweb.com had any content, and to be honest, there isn’t a whole lot even now, but something is more than nothing!

Basically, I dumped my hosting company some time ago and just never bothered to resurrect the site – partly due to time constraints, partly due to lack of interest. It’s never really been anything more than a personal dumping ground for my various stuffs, such as artwork, music, experimentation with AI and the like.

Eventually, I hope to put back some of the more useful and fun stuff I had here before, like the particleIllusion site featuring tips and free emitter libraries. Like the wibwobwebbot. Like my tips articles on obscure stuff you didn’t know you wanted to try. And of course I’ll repost my various artworks, which now include quite a number of new renderings since anything was last here.

I’ve also moved on to new interests, so I guess some of the content will reflect those when I get round to it. That might be quite soon… time isn’t really an issue these days since I’m currently unemployed :/