Sunday, December 28, 2008

Smartparts 7" Digital Picture Frame Review

7" Digital Picture Frame from Smartparts

Digital frames these days are very popular, they are everywhere, but stores usually only have the larger brands, but there are bargains to be found. This would be a pretty good buy for the lower end of price range and it works really well if you were to place it on a desk.

The pluses to this -
Good price point.
Picture quality is very good and sharp, not as great as the more costly units but still very good.
Has an internal storage of 128MB, which is good to get you going and also if you give this as a present to put your photo's on there before wrapping it up.
It doesn't use much power and you can set the times for it to come on and off.
The frame is a nice wood and feels sturdy, it's a great looking digital frame.
Many slideshow options.
This can read the high capacity SD cards and MicroSD cards used in an SD adapter, so you can have more than 2GB cards.
Can be wall mounted or the stand can place it landscape of portrait.
The power adapter has a small foot print.

The cons to this -
There's no internal battery, so you do need it plugged in at all times to work.
The frame doesn't auto rotate if you set it to portrait, so the pictures unless you've set them as landscape will be shrunken to fit in landscape and be slightly cropped, though it does do this well if your running a slideshow of pictures, using the PC software should correct this for you though.
There's no USB slot for a thumb drive.
Memory slot is a bit close to the edge of the device and no easy way to remove the cards once they are slotted in.
The control buttons are on the real, are small, feel cheap and aren't all that intuitive to use as they are in reverse to what you see on the screen.
There's no remote control, this isn't a big thing though.
There's no option to load photo's in a random order, it goes through them in alphabetical order, you also can't display both internal memory images and images on a memory card, it's one or the other.
The power cable gets in the way if you placed this in the middle of a coffee table, or on a window sill, so having it at the back of a table/desk is really the only good place to keep this.
You can't change the frame style like you can, though this isn't a bad thing for me personally.

Over all - This is a great little gift, it's a nice size and very simple to use. You don't need to use the computer, just stick a memory card in and your good. The software is basic if you do plug the frame into your computer, but it does the trick, optimises the images down to size to save space and sets orientation if needed as well as saying if a photo isn't a good option for the frame such as the resolution or the size. It'll then transfer the images onto the frame for you.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Creating trees and generators...

The big daddy in tree generators probably has to be Speedtree by Powered Games. For big budgets, it's not a bad choice in that it goes for around $10K a license, but it's a little much for smaller indies. It does do the job, but issues with it, it can be a bit difficult to put into your engine, the backend is a bit clunky and at the end of the day, the trees are pretty much billboard based so relies on the quality of the alpha channel work on the textures and it can put out a lot of polys.

Easy Tree Generator
- This is a bit of a no thrills option, but at $20 it really isn't bad money for value, but with that, it is a little limited in the output, well you can and will spend a lot of time playing around with the slider settings before getting good looking trees that look varied. This also is pretty much a billboard style to the foliage, but at this price range not bad.

Ivy Generator - Okay, this isn't a tree gen, but it's cool all the same, creating ivy that grows around your mesh and looks awesome. There's also a similar max plugin.

Dryad - This is another university option that came about from Standford university and is worth having a look at.

A Siggragh 2007 Paper
- "Approximate Image-Based Tree-Modeling using Particle Flows" This is just very cool and also worth a read.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Wireless Router - Netgear

Having tried many and having a functional, but rubbish speeds from a Belkin, which was replaced by a D-Link, which worked pretty well until it died, just after the warranty expired.

With lots of research into various routers out there, and of the various firmware hacks available that offer more features, such as the DD-WRT firmware hack, good instructions here.

In the end, I got the Netgear WRN2000 because Netgear came highly recommended, also it was at a good price and had loads of features.

So far it has worked a treat and was really easy to set up and keep up to date. The only cons to it, you can't change the user name for the settings, the password and all other fields are easy though. There's no wall mount which is a shame and there's no 1000gigabit feature which comes on other models. The blue glow can be a bit over powering too if it's in your bedroom, but the power button is a nice touch in the event you want to turn it off or have to do a reset, which I've not had to use so far.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Baby Nappy Tip

Now it's the winter...keep the wipes inside rather than in the car, they freeze in the cold...not fun...

Monday, December 8, 2008

Daylight Simulation White Papers

Autodesk has released a series of white papers about daylight simulation in 3DSM which are well worth a read.

4D Artists has a pretty good write up on the use with Mental Ray as well.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Getting your own Business Cards

Pretty pretentious I know, but when networking, it's pretty handy to have, especially in this economic climate where job security isn't all that stable and you might not want to be using your work cards for personal use whilst job hunting.

There are loads of places that offer the service, but I recently used VistaPrint and I was impressed with the service, the standard slow service where they say would take 21 days took less than a week. The quality of the cards were nice and they offer good deals. To get the best deal though, sign up an account as you'll an email with a better deal, then when you create your card, it'll keep the design. You can use your own logo and design, or use a template or create your own with their own creator.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Imagine Cup for Students

The Imagine Cup is a global student technology competition focused on finding
solutions to real-world issues.

You can win some fantastic prizes and travel to the finals in Egypt. And it gets
even better you can win prizes just for registering!

Make new friends.

Great addition to your CV and portfolio!

Join to keep up with latest news, information and promote your projects!

Enter Competition in following categories:
  • Software Design
  • Embedded Development
  • Game Development
  • Robotics and Algorithm
  • IT Challenge
  • MashUp
  • Photography
  • Short Film
  • Design

Some good opportunity for students to get something potentially impressive on their CV over just having some school project.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Baby Portrait Photos

Well it's that time of year to get the family photo's done, even though a little early, we've got presents to get ready to send out if we don't want to pay stupidly expensive shipping costs.

All I can say, good job too, because there's a two week wait from when you get the photo's to when you can pick them up, with JC Penny's photo service at least.

There are many places that offer the service, the price seems to be pretty much the same, Sears, Babies R Us, Target etc.

The best advice, look for a coupon in the weekly papers or coupon mail spam because it's the one coupon that is so worth it.

Without the coupon, there's a $20 sitting fee per person which is waived, you also get a 8x10 print free. The handful of different print sizes and amounts we wanted with the coupon came to $36. Without the coupon this basic service would have come to $85 and had we wanted the "premium" service, which just adds a vignette filter to the image and you can centre or zoom into the photos, the price would have been $145. The holiday style borders or collages of photos' and cards etc would all have been additional prices.

Looking into the prices, pretty much all the major players offer a similar deal and price range, it just comes down to which ever place you have a coupon for and which is more convenient for you to use.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Baby Bottle Reviews

There's a load of them out there, quite over whelming to be honest, so here is a review of the ones we have tried.

Dr Browns Natural Flow -This has a air venting system which is simple and works very well, we use this bottle a lot and rather like it, but it does have some issues.

The cons to this, there are a few parts that come apart to make it work, which is more hassle to wash, also the lid doesn't pinch the nipple but relies on a disc that you put into place behind the nipple to stop it leaking when your on the move, this is a major hassle to take out and not lose when in a hassle, and this is the main draw back to this bottle. Also the neck of the bottle is fairly narrow so you have to be careful about pooring in formula or you could make a mess. The pros, it does work very well in venting the air and minimising burping with our baby and the bottles are study and don't leak when you use the disc. 3/5

Playtex Ventaire - This we got as a free sample and though we would like because it has a vent system to reduce gas and the angled head means it is easy to tilt up and feed the baby, it also doesn't have many parts and is easy to clean. The major downside to this though, if there's any moisture or air in the base when you screw it on, the bottle won't seal and the milk will drain right out of it, which can be a problem when your tired at 2am trying to make a bottle on the quick. The bottle also feels fairly flimsy so it might not take to as much abuse. 2/5

Green to Grow - This is now our favourite and prefered bottle. It's an organic bottle, BPA free and all that, so nice and healty. It's also fairly study and the lid clamps on the nipple to prevent it from leaking and works well in that regard. The cons to this bottle, there's no special anti gas feature, but we generally don't have a problem with gas. The other problem is the curved shape of the lid, which means when you put it down it has a habit of rolling away and could get lost which will make a mess of the bottle, this really isn't a major problem, but it could be if you are on the road. Also when you buy the larger sized bottles, it comes with a stage one nipple when you'd generally be wanting either a stage two or three for that sized bottle. 4/5

Adiri - This originally was our favourite bottle and it worked great when our baby was first born and very small, because of the soft rubbery feel and appearance, it was most breast like for the baby to get used to, so it worked great when the baby was lying down, also the wide opening makes this very easy to fill up with forumla or milk. The problems with this bottle, you can't change the nipple stage size, so you have to replace the whole unit and it's fairly expensive for a one off bottle, also the capped lid doesn't do a great job of clamping the nipple which causes this bottle to leak quite a bit when on the move. The way that it is made also means you have to fill it up upside down, this can be a bit awkward to do late at night to read the measurements. The venting base does work quite well though, but like the Playtex bottle, it can cause a milk leak if put on when wet. For newborns at home 5/5 after a few months 2/5

First Years Soothie - This bottle came with the breast pump and what we like is the wide opening which made it easy to fill up with formula, and also it's quite short and stout, which makes it very stable, which is great. This bottle travels well too as the lid fits onto the base of the bottle so you won't lose it when it use, but the extra wide stance of the bottle does make it difficult to fit in many of those insulated bottle holders. There isn't any real con to this bottle apart from not being BPA free, there is a slightly creepy face in the nipple, had we not been given other bottles we probably would use more of these. 4/5

Think Baby - This is another great bottle, more as a transitional bottle between breast feeding and bottle and from bottle to sippy cup. It's another BPA free etc health bottle, but has a soft nipple that's shaped more like the tip of a sippy cup. The one we are using has handles to help the baby hold it up as a cup which she seems to really like. This also has a wide opening making it easy to fill and the lid locks firmly into place to stop leakage and also has a flat top so the lids won't roll away on you. 4/5

Boon Spoon Squirt - This isn't actually a bottle, but it's a great spoon to help start feeding of rice cereal and for feeding whilst on the go. You fill the handle up with the food and you squeeze to pour a drop of food onto the spoon. This does work really well, but the plastic cap that seals it for travel is a bit tricky to snap into place and there's no where to keep it safe whilst you are using the spoon. 4/5

Friday, October 24, 2008

6 Month jabs

Well it was time for some immunisation jabs as well as a bit of a catch up, but those went well. Also had a flu jab on top, which I also had as well, taking an aspirin really helps there.

The jabs went pretty well, though worth having an outfit that you can get the legs out easily in. Also having it done around feeding time is quite good, because you can be giving the bottle which helps sooth the baby, well with ours it certainly helped.

The bottle, and a cuddly teddy to take her mind of things, holding her hands and staring into her eyes while she got jabbed, seemed to help minimise the stress and crying. Still a horrid experience, but it did seem to help bring her back to her jolly self pretty quickly.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Baby Travel Tip

When going away and filling your big nappy bag...make sure all the nappies are the right size, by swapping out the nappies now and again, that way, you won't end up with a couple of size 1 nappies at the bottom of the bag when your baby now is a size 2 nappy wearer...

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

TrendNet TEW 424UB Wireless USB adapter

TrendNet TEW 424UB Wireless USB adapter.

I've had mine for a while now, a bargin at $20 a while ago, seems to be found for between $15-25 these days.

It has a few flaws that people complain about, mostly relating to it over heating which causes it to do a memory dump and blue screen your computer, especially noticeable with Windows Vista for some reason, even using the latest Trendnet drivers, or using the Realtek generic drivers, no difference.

I had this problem happen to me a fair bit, but I discovered it is easily fixed. It comes with what appears to be a useless extension that the device plugs into and which then goes into a usb port, this puts the device about 5 inches further out. Bending this flexible extension into a "L" shape allows the device to free stand in the air, away from any surface. This has kept it cool, and I've not had a crash with it since doing this.

It doesn't like being plugged into the back of the desktop if there isn't any air flow, nor does it like resting against the desk if plugged into a USB hub, which was how I had it set up, but now free standing in the air, it's golden.

The speed of the device is consistently good. The software included with it is basic, but it works, and you really don't need it with Windows anyway. Certainly very easy to connect and get working.

I'd recommend it as certainly good value for money if you need a simple wireless connection for your desktop/laptop.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Acer Desktop Update

Well I've had a lot of fun with my new desktop, not.

After a couple of weeks, the system started to fail. The screen would garble up after about 20 minutes and the system would freeze and when hard booted up, do the same again until the system had cooled down. It was a suspected blown graphics card and should have been a simple fix but it wasn't. What happened, I went through technical support via Acer online web support. This went on for a couple of weeks, being told to do things I had already done to see what the actual problem was, which involved a system restore, re-install graphics drivers, check graphics card and memory were seated properly and to try other monitors. Not of that fixed the problem. Though to be fair, the person replying was polite and did respond in a pretty reasonable time.

He was just unable to provide me a contact number or arrange any help there after. The contact number to arrange me sending in the machine at first was disconnected. Later in the week, it had a pre-recorded message to go online and hung up on you rather than putting you on hold to speak to a rep as instructed in the email support. is the website to go, which wasn't where I was pointed towards initially. Anyway, I arranged the repair and went to UPS for ship it back to them, out to Texas, which cost me $40. I really should have just bought myself a new graphics card, but that's beside the point, it was under warranty.

A month later, I get my system back, the repair report said they had re-seated the graphics card. Low and behold, twenty minutes after I booted my system, it failed again. It would seem that they ignored my repair report that the system fails after 20 minutes.

Email support got me no where, just told to send my machine back. I wasn't impressed, another $40 and a month for some knob shite to not fix it again? Just slightly pissed and unable to get anywhere.

I first found The Acer Guy who seems to want to help and has a great blog about what is happening with the company, but he's based in Europe. He did after I emailed him offer to try and help.

I also went to the Better Business Bureau and they were fantastic. I lodged my complaint, they contacted Acer, and within a half hour of that, someone from Acer called me up to arrange for a prioritised fix on my system, which is within 5-10 days rather than the 2-4 weeks. They also paid for Fed-Ex shipping, I just had to drop my machine off at the local Fedex store.

The system arrived yesterday and they did replace the faulty graphics card and so far, seems to be running well again.

The details you'll need to make the BBB complaint, to the company US headquarters, which is in California, so you would file at that BBB chapter -

Company details:

Complaint against :
Acer America Corp

Acer America (USA only)
Acer America Corporation
333 West San Carlos Street
Suite 1500
San Jose, CA 95110
(408) 533-7700

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Mudbox 2009

Autodesk has been releasing some sneak peak videos of Mudbox 2009 which look awesome and some really handy new features.

The old Siggragh preview is also worth a peak as it shows a lot of things in action.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Boston Post Mortem

The IGDA's local chapter, the Boston Post Mortem September monthly meeting was sponsored this month by GamerDNA so a big hand of thanks to them for the talk, the food and the free drinks.

Jon Radoff who heads the organisation gave the talk, which was about gaming trends covering the big hits of COD4, GTA4 etc and the world of MMO's.

It was interesting to see how Rock Band faired against Guitar Hero in the long term in the amount of usage spent by players.

There was a lack of coverage on the indie market which I felt was a shame because it would have been interesting to hear how indie developers fair against similar competition - How Castle Crashers compares with other indie released games in regards to sales and level of actual game time players put in, because it is another realm to the large marketed big budget games, and for many studios, this kind of data would be far more valuable.

The venue, the Skellig is a charming venue though with a good bar and space at the back for the event to take place, but these events are busy and seating is limited, this means it can be difficult to actually ask questions in the Q&A session after the talk. Jon was willing to answer questions privately, I just didn't think that benefitted the audience as much as it could.

The crowd was made up with a good mix of professionals in the industry, the location being fairly central and with a lot of free parking just behind the pub helping out a lot in this regard. There were a large number of students or recent grads from a local games art school there, they were interesting to talk with, but did make networking and job hunting more diluted for those already in the industry.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Baby Carriers

Now that the baby is four and a half months old, with my mother over for a visit, we decided to get a baby carrier as it seemed like a handy thing for lugging the baby around if we didn't want to use the push chair.

After trying out quite a few from various baby stores and from some friends, we decided on getting the Lascal M1 carrier. The price doesn't appear to have any variation from website to website or store to store.

Well worth it after having it a few weeks. It's easy to put on, nice and comfy to wear and the baby loves it, to be able to look out at things or to snuggle up and sleep while your out doing your grocery shop.

It's so convenient to use when going to the market or parks that don't have smooth pathways as well as grocery shopping, not having to worry about the baby seat fitting in the trolly etc.

This carrier is well made, very sturdy, easy to clean and made with soft bamboo fibres that don't chafe and breathes nicely in the heat, which was a problem we found with the cheaper ones that we tried out, because having a baby right on your chest who puts out a lot of heat isn't particularly comfortable when your out and about in the heat.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Home Desktop System

Well it was time to finally replace the home desktop, so I got Acer Aspire M5100, which is the spec says has- AMD Phenom X4 9500 Quad Core Processor 2.2GHz, 3GB DDR2, 500 SATA II, DVDRW, ATI HD2400 Pro, Gigabit LAN, Vista Home Premium.

It's not a bad budget desktop for $600 you do get a lot of machine, but my thoughts on it -

It should have included SP1 at the very least, as there were loads of windows updates to do.

I've uninstalled nearly all the acer software except NTI burner, which ain't to bad for free though it isn't very good for everything as it doesn't burn images, so a freebie from filehippo was found, the rest of the software was rubbish except the back up stuff.

Vista found my Samsung printer and set that up easily enough and getting the network dongle working was pretty easy too, and it automatically set my tablet up, but it was rubbish until you got the proper drivers for it.

Over all, the system ain't bad and certainly good value for money.

Pluses -

  • It's uber quiet, which is lovely, as my old system sounded like a jumbo jet
  • It's pretty swift and even if the graphics card could do with upgrading, it's still pretty good for my needs right now
  • The speakers are usb powered and quite cute
  • The keyboard ain't to bad
  • There's only the power light and Aspire name that glow, so not to annoying.
  • 8 USB ports and a firewire port
  • Easy to open the case up
  • A lot of hard drive bays

Cons -
  • There's no restore dvd's out the box
  • Documentation was none existent, would have been nice if they told you what the software they included was about and how to do the restore dvd's.
  • The speakers are a bit weedy in power and the wire isn't long enough to have them far apart on the desk, just one monitors width, very annoying.
  • No restart button (though on the plus, you can't accidentally hit it either)
  • The mouse is rubbish
  • The graphics card could have been a model or two higher
  • Could have included SP1 and newest version of software/drivers (acrobat 7 for instance? wtf)
  • Vista 32 bit, wtf was the point of that?

The things that bug me, vista, the constant do you want to install, move, delete thing, driving me barmy, that would be the UAC. There are loads of ways to switch this off, but this was a good way to switch it off. You'll be left with a warning that it has been switched off every time you boot up however until you do this.

The tablet panel is also rubbish once you've installed the drivers for your tablet and I found this to get rid of it, here.

Opening in a new folder when you click on it, it doesn't open it in a new window unless you've got the navigation option turned off, which can be found under the organise tab.

The menu bar and whole windows look, waste of resourses in my opinion and don't add anything to the OS, so I switched everything to the classic view, which works pretty well, but some things are a little funky. Not being able to move all my start bar menu links around was annoying, but that can be fixed by changing the folder permissions to adminstrator and allowing full rights.

Some great tips on Vista can be found here.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

USB Hard drive caddies

Well I got a new desktop and didn't want to stick the old hard drives inside the new machine, but wanted the flexibility of an external USB drive, so I bought a caddy, on the cheap.

Sabrent 1 Bay (ECS-STU35) USB 2.0 External Drive Case.

That's what I bought, $25 odd, in black. It's handy and it does the job, but you certainly get what you pay for.

The manual in the box has so many spelling errors it's not funny, and it doesn't actually tell you how to use the caddy, good job it's pretty easy. It includes a set of screws, which aren't any good because you can't screw your hard drive into the case, so the hard drive sits a bit loose inside, so not great if you don't have a steady surface to keep the caddy on.

The power adaptor is huge too and very clunky, a shame they didn't go with USB power for the drive.

The case itself is also not very sturdy, the whole thing falls apart when you remove the top surface to put the drive in and the electronics inside don't feel very well made, but there is enough cable to plug your drive in. You also can't stack the cases if you had more than one, which would have been a nice feature.

Pluses to the drive though, it's cheap, it does work , there are IDE and Sata connections and it is pretty easy to swap drives around, so a handy device to have for occasional use perhaps, but it might be worth spending a little bit more money for a nicer caddy for every day needs.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Get $10 free for kids summer reading program

TD Banknorth are doing a summer reading program for children, anyone under 18.

Don't need to be a current customer, but if you are, that's okay too, just set a savings account for the child and they read ten books by the end of September and they get $10 put into the account.

To open an account, you need $25. It's also a free account until the child hits 18, then you need a minimum balance of $250 or it's a $3 a month fee.

For a free $10, what the heck, and your kid gets to read a bunch of books.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Bath time!

This should be a time of fun, but with the wrong tub, it can be hell.

What we were given at our baby shower was by Safety 1st Infant Tub. Similar to the one linked. In theory it sounded great, which is why we registered for it, it's got an easy drain plug, it's got non slip grips and a thermal sticker to gage the water temperature.

The reality was, it was rubbish, the sticker never changed colour, the non slip pads didn't really hold the baby at all. The tub also wasn't deep enough to have enough water cover the baby, so she was always cold, and the water would cool very quickly. This resulted in pissed of nuclear baby on the epic proportions, which was not good and also heart breaking.

Someone recommended the Tummy Tub, this looked awesome, nice and small, the baby slips in and feels comfortable, the water doesn't get cold and you can easily bathe the baby, only problem was, it was close to $80 when we first looked, it's now around $60. This is a lot when the usual bath tubs are around $25-30.

We found a cheaper knock off on Amazon, the Prince Lionheart WashPod, which is basically the same as the Tummy tub, but $25.

It has been one of the best buys for the baby so far, she now loves bath time which makes the whole process a lot easier and not a strain, plus she can play in the water and stay warm and far less mess.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

3D Connection

The Space Navigator as most are probably aware is a peripheral device that is supposed to help with navigation in a 3D environment. The basic model, at $60 is certainly affordable and was the reason it was tested out, but unlike software applications, there isn't a free 30 trial, so this was tried and if it were good, the higher up models would have been evaluated afterwards.

It turns out, if this was an introduction to the product, it was off putting enough that after every artist tried it, it just got dumped on a shelf, never to be used again and put paid to any notion of bothering with any other products.

The theory is good, being able to seamlessly navigate your scene, rotate, zoom and pan all at the same time and have simple shortcuts at your finger tips.

The reality, it was too clunky to control, the drivers were rubbish and interfered with any custom layouts and short cuts. It was tried out with 3DSM 8 and 9, ZBrush 3 and a few other programs. It could well have improved since then, but the actual hardware interfacing with the device just wasn't very comfortable either.

I will say, it worked really well with Google Earth though, and it could be worth a poke if it has been significantly improved since it was evaluated. It's a shame that this device didn't live up to expectations nor filled us with confidence to spend the considerably more money on the higher range line of products.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Yeah, the thrilling world of breast pumps.

A couple of hints, get whatever one you fancy online, or if at a store, check the return policy, this could be a good purchase to make at Walmart. Certainly not at Babies R US, because they won't accept a return or exchange, even on a broken unit unless it is new, unused and sealed in the box.

We went with the cheap and cheerful "The First Years" by the Learning Curve. The natural Deluxe single breast pump. It worked pretty well for a month, before dying. This is where the company came good, kind of. The website FAQ is junk, and emailing them for help is a waste of time, call them up, and they are pretty helpful, we had to send the unit with all the parts back, including a copy of the birth certificate because we lost the receipt and they'll send us a replacement unit. Apparently from talking to the person on the phone, our unit was funky from the get go. We still have to pay postage to send it to them though which is a shame.

One thing they don't tell you about, all these electric breast pumps sound like a belt sander, really scary stuff, but they work quite well. I'd recommend a double pump though because it's a slow process and you might as well do both sides at once if you can.

So over all, $50, can't complain to much, it does the job, it was cheap, it's easy to clean and use. I wouldn't want a hand pump though, that would get tedious fast and I'm not sure why some of the other pumps cost $300 or so, a tad pricey, cheaper than renting in the long run though.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Baby Travel Tips

Just a couple of things I've found to have made life easier, so much so. Get a good nappy/diaper bag.

You'll probably be given a few freebies from all the free formula samples that you get sent, those are great for loading up with baby clothes, blanket and creams. The bag then weighs a bundle. Keep it in the car, you'll need it.

What you'll need more though, just a small one that can be thrown in a purse, or on the handle of the pushchair. A small bag that holds a few wipes, nappies and changing sheet. You'll end up using this far more for those every day short trips to the grocery store etc where you don't want to carry a big heavy bag over your shoulder.

Also the changing sheet is great on the changing table if the table pad doesn't come with a material cover, the plastic sheeting is really nasty feeling on the baby and the baby doesn't half slip and slide. Ideally you would have taken those pee sheets from the hospital because those are superb to use.

Car mirror for the back seat. I use quite a small one so I can see the baby in the mirror, it works a treat with a suction cup to hold it in place. I've tried a large Eddie Bauer one, that sucked, because it had a cord that goes through the seat to lock it in place, but it didn't hold the mirror very well. Other large ones I found to be too intrusive, blocking the rear view, but those might work better in a bigger car like a family van thing.

Monday, May 5, 2008

What ever happened to Fair Use, Piracy and Draconian DRM?

There has been a lot of blog and forum posts about piracy and the evils that it does to the industry, and there can be no doubt that it is not good for the industry, but is the subject so cut and dry being on one level playing field?

This is just my personal opinion and observations and I've nothing to back this up, but it's something I wanted to scribble down all the same.

Piracy has always been around, but I remember back in the day that "fair use" was around and a good thing. If a friend bought a music tape, CD, movie or game, you could borrow it, make your own copy and all was good as fair use of the product. That generally isn't the case. You can still borrow a book and that's okay for some reason, people still borrow a movie, but heaven forbid if someone wanted to borrow a game or a album.

That I think has led to part of the growing problem today, maybe not so much in the numbers involved, but in the empathy felt by people that do it.

Back when I was at university, when games were easier to copy, plenty of folks would chip in to buy a game together and they would either copy it amongst themselves or get a no CD crack for it. That is one sale from a group of three people, which is better than no sale from three people who might download the game now, but back then the cost of a game between a few friends was only a couple of pints of beer and a bag of crisps and copying the game wasn't a hassle so there was less need to search a download. What worked with this approach to having it easy to copy, you still needed your own copy to play a game online, this meant that after single player action was done, you could only play it online in shifts, which meant that most people if they liked the game at all would then go out and buy their own copy anyway, so that's now brought the potential from one to three sales instead of zero sales lost to downloads.

That's obviously a very simplistic approach to combating piracy and increasing sales, but allowing fair use and not crippling peoples ability to copy a product amongst their friends is a simple solution to potentially increasing sales, whether that works or not remains to be seen, but perhaps it should be looked at.

The real issue that these draconian DRM systems were put into place were meant to stop the professional pirate, those gang syndicates or whatever you wish to call them. The problem is, they haven't worked in stopping them, they still copy games easily and sell them to the public via markets, car boot sales, down the pub, or in some countries openly in shops.

These people are the real problem because they are selling a cut price product that you the developer isn't getting a slice of the pie from, and that people who are actually willing to spend some money on the product are giving their money to someone else.

Tackling this area I believe is where the most gains will be found because there is little point in going after the home downloader, chances are they aren't going to pay for the product anyway and will find away of getting it for nothing, and if they couldn't, they would probably end up getting it from that dodgy bloke down the pub, thus not really giving you a sale at the end of the day regardless.

So how can this be tackled? One way is to convince people who are willing to spend money buying a dodgy copy on spending their money on a legit copy, this could be either by lowering the cost of the game, which is an unlikely approach these days and the other approach would be to offer further value for money. This could be as simple as including an audio CD of the music in the game, including a T-shirt of the game or even simpler, a coupon for $10 at Amazon or Cafe Press or whatever. The publisher needs to buck up here because they are the ones in a position to do something, not the developer, because they could negotiate a discount rate for these extra products to be included in the game for minimal cost that would add a lot of extra value to the end buyer. Also, include a proper manual with nice graphics, printed on nice paper, with colour. It's cheap, tacky and cheats people of value when all you get is a CD in the box and perhaps a crappy little tatty black and white printed manual that is useless.

That's one approach, the other, also more publisher focused. Buck the fuck up and put money in to go after those professional pirates, be mercenary if you have to, get private investigators out there to gather evidence on these organisations, compile a neat case that will lead to convictions and seizure of assets and provide it to the legal authorities so that they can take these people on.

Sure that is going to cost money, but do something about the problem rather than waste money on measures that don't work like the DRM's in place. Sure the government and authorities should be doing something about this issue on their own and they do, but it's costly, it's pretty much considered a white collar crime and Joe Public doesn't care, so it's going to get less attention and budget, so help provide that budget and be proactive.

Perhaps a little naive and certainly a simple view and approach to things, but something new has to be tried to encourage people to spend their money because appearing to be the big greedy money giants isn't going to encourage people to not download your product, that approach completely failed in the music industry and something new emerged, iTunes and the ilk. The games industry is a spectacle of talent and innovation and yet some how we are falling short in this area, an area of great importance, WTF?

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The first doctors visit...

Well the first pediatricians visit. We got the medical insurance statement for that first visit, and the check up cost the insurance $220 plus the $20 co-pay.

Fair enough maybe, but the visit was 10 mins, which included a nurse weighing the baby and measuring the baby and then the doctor prodding the babies pelvis, running a nail up the spine and down the ribs to check for reflexes, listening to the heart and lungs and then looking at the ears and eyes.

How the hell does that work out at $220? That's over $1300 an hour, WTF.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Whip Lash...

Well the baby is home now, has been for a short while...impressive how tiny and how much they grow in a short period of time.

One thing that you don't get told about though when doing the car seat, or at the hospital is that when you leave the hospital, you really can only accelerate at the rate of a snail because even when well snug in the baby car seat, with the big sausage head cushion to keep head wedged in place, the wee little head still bounces forward quite scarily, but you get the hang of that pretty quickly I guess and so far all is good.

Oh, and while your at the hospital, grab as much baby stuff as you can like the sponge bath bowl, changing sheets, nappies and whatever else, you'll probably be given some stuff on top too, but it's for the cost of the hospital co-pay, you might as well as get your monies worth and whatever you have at home won't be enough.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


Well the deadline is coming up next week for everyone in the US and US citizens abroad to file their taxes. It's a pain in the arse, but one of those things.

We did get a refund from the state this year, a little smaller than expected because we boofed on one of the deductions.

One good thing though, if the head of the household earns less than $54K a year, the IRS has a link to free e-filing options which is pretty handy so you don't need to splash out on Turbo Tax etc.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Car Seat Fun

Well the big day is getting close, so finally gotten around to installing the base to the car seat.

We got a pushchair that included a rear facing child seat that is good for up to 25 pounds, this car seat has a base that gets installed in the car that the seat attaches too.

Following the instructions though is one thing, but it really needs to be checked out by someone in the know to see if the movement of the seat is way to much or just right and as it's pretty important, it's worth doing.

This is where the National Child Protection Safety Certification (CPS) site is handy. This site will help you find a CPS officer that will be able to do these checks and is currently certified. You can usually find an officer either in your local police station or fire station. Sometimes they have an open day where you just show up on a certain day of the week or month, or in some places you need to make an appointment.

It is something that shouldn't take to long, but should be done a couple of weeks before the due date so that you are comfortable with installing the car seat when you need to and not have to worry to much about it when you first take your baby home, which is going to probably be stressful enough.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Diaper Changing Classes

Nappy changing to us Brits.

Did a class lastnight, it was a free class by BabiesRUS, sponsored by Pampers. It lasted about 20 or so minutes and involved watching a short video about products ranging from nappies, wipes, creams and changing sations. Also we were shown how to change a nappy, clean the baby and help deal with nappy rash. We then got to practice on a doll before being shown around the store, pointing out where the nappies, wipes and other products related to the class are kept.

Even though the class was sponsored by Pampers, the person doing the class wasn't that bothered by brand to much, though did recommend the pamper line of nappies from personal experience, saying that Huggies weren't so popular because they tended to leak and more people had instances of nappy rash for some reason. When it came to wipes, and creams, we were shown a good variety of makes, though a personal favourite had to be the Butt Paste line of creams, the name is great, you know what exactly what it's for and it's supposed to work really well.

It was a worthwhile class, certainly for free and I would recommend any expectant parents to check one out, certainly to see what other free classes are available, because our local hospital do similar classes, but they certainly are not free.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Crib...

This weekend saw our landlord finally getting around to replacing the broken window we had in our dining room, which will now be the babies bedroom. It's only taken him a couple of years, even though it was cracked all the way across even before we moved in apparently.

With that done, I got around to putting our crib together. We got an Ellis 4-1 crib by Simplicity a while ago on sale for a pretty good sum we thought from Baby As it turns out, it's always on sale. It also is supposed to be a 4-1 bed as the name suggests, being a crib going through to transitional and day bed through to full size bed. What is failed to be highlighted on the product description is that in order to turn it into a full size bed, using the parts and tools included in the box, would be additional steel bed frame, wooden side slats and mattress support slats all sold separately which is a bit cheeky.

Anyway, on towards putting it together. The directions were fairly good, though important notes could have perhaps been placed a head of the section direction, such as where to place the mattress support for the crib, the directions say and show the bottom set of holes, then in the notes afterwards you are told you can place them higher up instead to make it easier to reach the baby and adjust the height as the child grows. Well sod that, it's at the bottom, and that was way to fiddly to put in so not much chances of that being un-done and put back in at a different height. So apart from that being a bit awkward, and setting the crib mattress support together at the start, the rest of the assembly went quite well. You certainly do need more than one person to put it together though or you'll go barmy, ta to fiddly for one person alone, but it didn't take that long, an hour or so.

It looks good and has a nice finish, so I'd recommend it, certainly for the money.

So yay, we have a babies room at last, lacking in a comfy feeding chair and has a cheapo student fold out fabric bubble chair from Target because we're now very skint and watching the pennies.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

On the job hunt?

Well it's a tough thing to do, but something that always needs to be done in this industry, either because you've been made redundant, the work atmosphere just isn't very good, or you need to bump jobs for a decent pay rise as well as for any other reason.

Connections are a great way to find leads, so sites like Linkedin are a great way of keeping in touch for colleagues as they move around in their careers. There are numerous job sites from the general to the more direct, Gamasutra is quite a good source for game industry jobs, but other sites can be handy too, such as Creative Heads.

If you get a selection of places, you'd probably want to find the skinny on them to see what they are really like. There are quite a few sites that review companies, such as the new site, RevYr and the Workplace amongst others. They all have their pros and cons as to how valid the information is and how current they are. So asking around on the Chaos Engine is a good thing too if you are a member because chances are, if someone doesn't work there, someone will know someone who does.

And whilst your at it, give us a job cos I'm in the first camp.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Duels as a Casual Game

Duels an online game that is vaguely a strategy game with some vague action involved. When I came across this, I thought it was a great little casual game that you could play a little over lunch, have some fun and have some immediate feedback. The first few days were a lot of fun, and the over all concept is quite a good one, but after a while, it becomes tedious, there is less draw to bring you in and you lose interest.

The game. Well you sign up, it's free, you create your basic character, there are quite a few styles to chose from. You have a bunch of ability type points that you can put towards certain character strength, the usual such as stamina, strength, perception, speed and others. How you use them affect how your character performs and which kind of path you want to follow from being a warrior to a magician typer person. This is all quite fun and you can build on this quickly by gaining experience points from having fights.

Fighting is down to a few groups, basically a skirmish which is a quick one, doesn't affect your win/loss ratio but you also don't gain as much experience or gold. Fights, which allow you to gain more. There are also tournaments and ladders, they are basically the same thing but you can gain more gold etc.

You gain tokens which you can use to "buy" packs that include potions and weapons etc, theses you can either use or trade for gold allowing you to buy other things such as armour, animals and weapons. You can only carry so many things and equip your character with so much depending on the level of experience, this is where the balance is a bit lacking.

When you begin the game, it doesn't take long to level up, allowing you to use more items and get a better character. This is quite satisfying. As you go along and reach certain levels you are then allowed to wear more types of armour and follow certain paths to get more skills such as an assassin. Level 25 allows you to use what is called action scripts, these are spells or abilities that you buy and when used in a fight can gain you a huge boost in experience points. The problem is, by this point in time, it is taking more and more experience points to level up, so it becomes less of a thrill for a quick lunch time thing, and as your character gains more and more health, the fights which you have no control over but are pre-calculated based on your stats that you can view take even longer to accomplish. They were a lot of fun to view to begin with, but after a while, they just took to long so personally I couldn't be bothered which took a lot of the fun out of the game. I was only playing during lunch after all, if you were a kid at home it might have a larger hold where you could spend more time trying to perfect your character, but I lost interest as it became a chore to go through. I still check in on my character for a quick couple of fights because I do want to reach level 40, the final level to see what happens, but I really don't care any more.

Other points that make this game interesting is the idea of "noble stones", these are things that you can buy with real world money that can be used to enhance your characters abilities, or change abilities that you have previously selected. You can also use them to buy weapons and armour. These can be bought as one offs, or as a pack. You also have the option of a subscription, this provides a number of these stones a month and depending on the level of the subscription gives you more features.

I don't think it adds anything to the game and playing it for free is just as much fun, but it is an interesting concept, it could do very well especially if the game was very engaging, allowing you to tweak your character much further than you could by playing it without a subscription. The only problem I see is that the game isn't that engaging that those with the money would be willing to spend the money. Those who seem to get into this are under age to pay for the subscription, so they are losing out on the core market. On the plus side, there are no google adverts, which is a plus to you the player I suppose, but for the makers, a loss of revenue perhaps, but as the game isn't quite as engaging as Desktop Tower Defense which has a huge volume of people clicking too on a daily basis, which really does earn the maker a good sum of money from google adverts.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Hospital Tours and Baby Classes

It's been a few weeks since we did the baby course at the hospital, pre-natal classes that is. The option to do a few hours over several weeks or all day over a weekend, we opted for the latter.

Apart from going all the handy stuff like breathing exercises and the whole process of giving birth, there was a lot of other little practical bits of advice that you might not even think about like what to bring to the hospital, including phone cards because you can't use a mobile phone there and the phone in your room is only good for instate calls, which to some might not be a problem, but for us, when family is either in another state, or country, makes quite a lot of sense.

Another great advantage to this course, for us at least, it included a tour of the hospital, to see the birthing rooms and where everything is and how to register and all that fun stuff. That was great, because if you didn't do this course and wanted a tour, that would have been $45 a person, cheeky buggers.

This is another thing where it's worth checking out the details of your medical insurance, because our policy allows the mother to claim her costs of the class back, which is $90 a person. The husband or who ever else turns up doesn't, but it's better than nothing. Some plans won't give you anything back, some others will cover the whole couple.

Other hospital classes include basic baby medical classes, breast feeding classes, how to wash/change baby etc. Your insurance might pick the costs up for these classes too. Ours doesn't though.

Breast pumps we found, can be covered if you get a subscription for as a medical need, other wise you'll have to pay out of pocket, and for an electric one, those can be very pricey.

Getting reimbursed by the medical insurance can be pretty quick, we already received the cheque after a few weeks of sending in the forms.

Friday, March 14, 2008

What hardware?

Small and compact but with more options to upgrade than a lap top, the Shuttle, for the money, it is pretty good and it is a nice small machine that can pack a lot of punch.

Quad cores were played around with, but got way to hot, duel cores were the way to go, but graphics cards were an issue, can be quite tricky getting a good one that'll fit.

Also sticking parts inside can be tricky as there isn't much room. There is plenty of usb sockets which is handy.

Placement of the thing is important, because it gets hot, really hot, well to be more precise, the air it kicks out. If you keep it by a desk and keep sweets in the draws, they could well melt.

Using the machine as something to take home if you have the option of working from home with work hardware works quite well, but it's a lot more hassle than originally expected, mostly because there isn't much room to plug and unplug the stuff out back, perhaps if there was a quick interface thing along the KVN line that would be great.

As it is, I'd prefer a dedicated work and home rig, but I wouldn't want to use my home rig for work purposes, software licenses being one of the problems, that and it is just easier having a rig all set up to work with source control that IT can figure out etc without being your responsibility.

Working from home is great option, especially for people with families or those who have a long commute, but just allowing it isn't enough without offering to really support it.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The importance of Networking!

There can be no under estimating the importance of networking. There are many ways of getting that job from hitting the usual job websites such as Guru, Careerbuilder, Monster etc. there are loads of them around and you probably already know most of them. There are even more specific games websites a plenty.

They all can work, as can recruiters for some people, though some people have a distaste for them, I personally haven't used on in the past, but I've heard some horror stories, but also some good things so it's a case of checking the small print on that one and using a recommendation.

Which brings me onto the most important aspect of the job hunt, recommendations from friends, colleagues and acquaintances. With such a relatively small industry, knowing people can help with passing on contact info to apply direct or having someone that can pass on your information to who ever needs to see it rather than having to filter through human resources.

Linkedin is a great resource, hook up with as many of your co-workers past and present, hook up with people that you went to school with etc, you don't know where the contacts might lead and it's also a good way of keeping in touch with people as they progress along their careers. Other websites are around for this sort of thing, but they tend to be gimmicky or not as valuable as a professional resource. Facebook can also be another valuable resource with keeping in touch with friends, though I tend to look at this as more of a social network than a professional network, it can still be handy asking your friends for leads, and the marketing section to the site is worth a peak as well which has job listings.

Inside the games industry, there's no better site to be a part of than The Chaos Engine, this site is for industry insiders only and you have to go through a verification process to get in, or be vouched for if you don't have a current industry email. The wait can be long, but is very much worth it. Resources available are so valuable from finding the skinny on various companies, job postings especially those that might not be widely advertised. Plenty of information is available from art, code and other disciplines within the industry, and even quite a lot of business information if you wanted to become a start up.

The good folks inside also can be a big uplift for your spirits if things go downhill and will help out with contacts which is really helpful, so the more you put into the site the more you probably get from it, but it's a great place to catch up on the buzz of the industry during your morning cup of tea or coffee.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Industry websites

Here I will list a whole pile of websites that are useful to the game industry professional. Some I have mentioned before, but putting them all in one place is pretty convenient. This is information overload.
There is enough information there for even the keenest budding game industry professional. Please add any great industry sites you may know using comments. Bloggers and journalists feel free to copy this anywhere you want.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Shoot 'em up

The movie, Shoot 'em up, random, weird movie that felt very much like it should have been a FPS video game with it's dark style, cheesy dialogue and linear play out and awful story line.

It was both terrible, cheesy and yet fantastic all at the same time. A pointless movie that is just a bit of fun, something to enjoy if you don't want to think about anything, which hit the spot for me.

Monday, March 10, 2008


Well we've all been there, especially in this industry. Why? It's complete and utter bollocks.

We've just ended a few weeks worth of crunch to meet the alpha milestone and we're expecting to crunch a bit more in a couple of weeks before beta and gold, this is a lot more crunch than on the previous project.

It should not be that hard to figure out how to avoid crunch if your experienced enough, especially on an iterative project. You've got x amount of assets/features going into the game. You've got y amount of dev staff. Z amount of time expected to complete tasks = z(x/y) in a very simplified fashion. That means you have three options to get stuff done to meet the mandated deadlines if that doesn't match up -

  1. Hire or contract more people in house
  2. Cut features
  3. Move deadlines
Otherwise you are scheduling for crunch, this should not be happening in this day and age of developement, yes it's a fairly young industry, but it's not that new to have worked these kinks out so why haven't they?

It still happens mainly because we're pillocks and they can get away with it. If your lucky, you've got laws protecting you from slave labour, which is what unpaid work essentially is such as in the EU. We don't have that over here in the US, and being in a right to fire state means your job is more of a commodity and your easily replaced for some other eager beaver. That'll help keep the trend going, that and having new people so happy to be in the industry that they don't mind so much.

There is a time and a place for it, shit happens and you've got to get the product out of the door, you can't help it if everyone gets sick or people get poached en-mass. You should how ever plan for contingencies, people will get sick, especially in this cold part of the country in the winter. People also have babies and people just plain move on.

The last project, I didn't mind so much about the crunch because a couple people were off work for a long time with various illnesses and the like that couldn't have been planned for and with bad timing and over all it wasn't that much crunch.

At the moment on the other hand, after spending time looking for contract people that we could call on a bind, the place just hasn't been calling those people. People have been sick for the long haul, people have left for bigger and better jobs, or because they are just sick of the cold, mostly everyone that's out of state, so people I had something in common with, so friends leaving. That is across the disciplines from code and art.

We were until the new year looking for more staff, that doesn't seem to be happening any more, and we're not contracting out, that means we're expected to crunch, not exactly the family friendly face that the company puts out and to be fair is generally quite good about. It's made all the more worse that there's no milestone bonus, no project complete bonus, no annual bonus, no performance or sales base bonus and no paid over time. I'm not sure if I like this honesty or the usual carrot and the stick that is offered, at least there is hope in that situation I suppose. They did do a bit of flex time for people working the weekends on the last project, but they haven't done that this time around.

Shall have to see how this pans out when my review comes around in the summer. Made balls all for difference last year and that pissed me off, so we'll see, but then again, held hostage to the job because of the medical insurance benefits and with a baby on the way that's even more important. That's such a sad state of affairs.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Getting things ready...

It's been a few weeks since we had a baby shower, which is a weird thing, especially for the guys, well I wasn't invited anyway, but we got some swag, not much of the important big things, but handy little things.

I've spent the last few weekends putting things together so it won't be totally over whelming having to do it at once. The pushchair, that wasn't that bad, still need to send off the registration for the car seat attachment so we can find out about any re-calls and the like, and still need to figure out how the base bit attaches to the car and find the car manual to figure out the latch system, but that's another weekends project.

Boppy seat thingy, that's great, also not that hard to put together and supposedly hours of fun, I'm not so sure about that myself and it takes loads of batteries, which are a pain in the arse to put in.

Got the baby changing station put together too, that was interesting. I don't get why expensive furniture needs to be assembled, requires screws and still gets a crap manual. Anyway, that's done, so we've got some place to put the baby clothes, which we've been washing in small batches over the last few weeks.

The cot is next weeks task, and that should clear out the hall way that is filled with boxes of various bits and pieces. The recycle man is going to love us this week, shame it only gets picked up once a fortnight.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Finding out it's time to grow up

So obviously its been a while since I found out the missus is pregnant, what with the baby due next month.

Scarily my first thought on finding out, I think should either be happiness or a bit of fright, but I was thinking "fuck, how much is this going to cost..." Being so used to the NHS, and not being sick, I've not had much use for my medical insurance and have tried to avoid dealing with doctors over here, as they aren't cheap, and before moving to this neighbourhood, were pretty shite, taking ages to get an appointment and all that, but around here, it's been pretty good. This was the time for me to really look into the small print of my medical insurance, as it's really the one big benefit I have to be honest. It turns out to be really good.

On the cost side, we're spending a small fortune on parking costs at the doctors office, and a couple of $15 co-pays. Since then the costs have gone up, but that's another story. The cost of delivery will be with the new costs will be $250. It's pretty good, and that thought is scary, because in reality, that's still crap because it's free on the NHS (minus tax, blegh). Anyway, I shouldn't complain because a friend else where has paid $750 for pre-natal check ups so far and a simple delivery will be a few grand.

So that's the hook, the insurance is really good, the salary is pretty mediocre, actually crap, but I don't want to lose this insurance because it's only costing me $65 a month, and that's the family plan including dental, part of why I haven't accepted an offer to move else where and part of why I haven't been looking, though I know I probably should.

I'll rant some more tomorrow because it's good therapy, and no one else is reading this anyway.

Intro rant?

Well after a couple weeks of crunch, I figured it was about time I started a blog, especially since I'm supposed to be grown up now with a baby on the way, hence the snappy blog name. I'm not much of a writer, so this will probably be more along the lines of incoherent ramblings of some geezer going insane.

I'm some bloke who moved over to the US from England after uni thinking it was a great idea, well ain't all crap, but it certainly wasn't the paved golden roads to finding an easy job, helpful and easy immigration and cheap living that the tele soaps certainly make it out to be. Those Eastenders researchers need a kicking.

So here I am, a bunch of years later, living in Mass, broke as they get, but it ain't all bad, I keep telling myself that at least, but I'm happily married, the job is okay and there's a baby on the way.