The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Category Archives: Technology

iOS 10- Initial Impressions on a Mid-Autumn Festival

“The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall.” —Che Guevara

Released just two days ago, on September 13, iOS 10 is the latest iteration of Apple’s mobile operating system. With my years of experience in updating to the newest versions of iOS, I can easily say that this year’s update was by far the smoothest: I plugged in my devices, ran the installers and followed the on-screen prompts to load iOS 10. When completed, I was immediately welcomed with iOS 10’s latest feature: a redesigned lock screen that allows access to a plethora of widgets and the camera. The notifications system has also been given updates, making it easier than ever to respond to new events as they occur. Similarly, the control center has been given an overhaul, giving users separate panes to control their devices. Together with the new widgets menu, iOS 10 makes it easier than ever to quickly glance at one’s email inbox or the weather. The music app has also been given some updates and changes in organisation. I was rather fond of the system implemented in iOS 9, and the new music app feels a little unintuitive by comparison, although I imagine that with time, I’ll get used to things. I’ve only been playing around with iOS 10 for half an hour, so there are plenty of new features, including an improved iMessage client, multi-lingual keyboard and changes to the built-in email client, but so far, the experience has been relatively smooth.

  • My home screen hasn’t actually changed all that much since iOS 9 (or iOS 8, for that matter). I still organise my apps the same way I did back in 2013, although my collection of games and utilities have grown since then. One of my favourite apps is PDF Expert, an incredibly powerful and useful apps that allows for PDF organisation and annotation. I’ve utilised it to keep track of schedules during conferences and revisions to my thesis, although now that I’m done my graduate program, I’m not too certain as to whether or not I’ll use PDF expert frequently.

  • Instead of zooming in fully to a folder, the new visualisation system in iOS 10 expands a folder over the home screen as an overlay. It’s a very subtle change from iOS 9, although I’ve grown rather fond of this functionality. Pages and Keynote for iOS are visible here, now with powerful new features. I made extensive use of both apps during my thesis: I had backed up my defense presentation to iCloud as a countermeasure for if my MacBook Pro should fail, and also was quite prepared to defend using my iPhone, but fortunately, the defense proceeded without a hitch. I later would bring my iPad to Cancún for the ALIFE XV Conference and gave a pair of presentations there.

  • The new control center is much more expansive and spacious compared to previous incarnations, and I’ve immediately taken a liking to it: all of the features are out in the open now, making it very easy to make small adjustments to the iPad or iPhone even on the fly. The usefulness of the control center is such that I now can’t imagine operating an iOS device without it: it makes turning on the WiFi or Bluetooth significantly easier. The new widgets center is also a pleasant improvement, as is the new notifications center, but because tonight’s been a quiet evening, I haven’t seen it in operation yet.

  • The new music app feels a lot more rudimentary than its iOS 9 counterpart, with its increased use of white space and larger font sizes. I can still find and play songs with ease as I did with the previous music app, and while I’m not too fond of the new, larger UI elements, I can adapt. However, iOS 10’s music app has one critical omission: lyrics are gone now for all songs loaded onto the device. It’s a move reminiscent of what happened in iOS 5, and while I’ve not used the lyrics mechanism in iOS for quite some time, its absence is rather noticeable.

  • The iPad Air 2 can still handle multi-tasking flawlessly with iOS 10: I’m browsing through a webpage, reading a Wikipedia article and watching the first episode of Sora no Woto here at the same time, and each app handles smoothly. I think this is the longest I’ve gone without posting an anime-related post in quite some time (the past four posts have dealt with games to some capacity, and the Planetarian review was written nearly a month ago). With that being said, New Game! is reaching its conclusion, and surprisingly, I’m reasonably caught up, so a post will be coming out within a week of the finale’s release near the month’s end.

Besides seeing my upgrading to iOS 10, today also happens to be the Mid-Autumn festival, celebrating the autumn full moon on the lunar calendar and the associated harvest celebrations. While this year’s schedule precluded a full banquet, there’s always time for Moon Cake. Further to this, the weather this year has been remarkably pleasant (after nearly a full month of rain in August), and the harvest moon looks marvelous, with its golden hue. It’s far cry from the events of two years ago, where a massive snowstorm rolled into my AO hours after sunset on the evening of the Mid-Autumn festival. Returning back to iOS 10, as with my assessment of iOS 9 from last year, the latest iOS turns out to be a pleasant upgrade from its predecessor; both my iPhone 6 and iPad Air 2 handle the new system with ease. My devices lack a 3D-touch sensor and the M9 processor, so I won’t be able to capitalise on some of the more novel features that come with iOS 10 (speaking to the pace at which these incremental changes are made), but all of the minor updates, coupled with the fact that they don’t seem to detrimentally impact the performance or battery life of my older devices, means that iOS 10 will be a fine update for frequent use in the upcoming year.

iOS 9- Initial Impressions

Apple’s iOS 9 released back on September 16; since it was announced back at WWDC 2015 back during June, iOS 9 has been one of the more anticipated of Apple’s mobile operating systems. Numerous new features, including split-screen multi-tasking for iPad Air 2 (and other useful multitasking operations that allow me to watch my anime and chat with friends in Facebook chat or Skype simultaneously, or go back to the last opened application), an improved keyboard that makes it easier to type and under-the-hood optimisations that boost battery life by an additional hour and a powerful new Notes app that allows for rich-text notes, check-lists and even drawings. There’s also a content-blocker program in place now, making it possible to download apps that block apps, streamlining the web-browsing experience. Siri is also more powerful, and the notifications centre has been updated so all of the information is more visible. All of these new features come just in time as the iOS programming course I’m TA’ing is kicking into high gear: we’re just moving past the basics of programming in Swift 2.0 (which is quite differnt than Swift 1.2 and admittedly, any other language I’ve worked with so far) and I’m just about done grading the first batch of assignments, which deals with Playgrounds in Xcode. Xcode 7’s also out now, so the students will be able to develop in Swift 2.0 for iOS 9 (their first iOS app will be due this Wednesday). I’m quite happy that the updates came when they did: I still recall that they released iOS 5 in October 2011, which would’ve been a ways into term. Had this been the case, it would’ve been more difficult for the students, who would need to upgrade midway into term.

  • Outwardly, iOS 9 doesn’t look too different than iOS 8. However, there are subtle hints that this is an iPad rocking iOS 9: the spotlight icon makes a return from iOS 6, and on the iPad, folders now store apps in four by four, rather than three by three, increasing the capacity of each folder. Since my last talk in iOS 8 and the iPad Air 2, I’ve picked up several new games that merit their own discussions at some point in the near future.

  • The new notifications centre properly capitalises on the iPad’s space to display information in a more compact manner. I prefer it over the notification centre of iOS 8, and yesterday evening, it promptly notified me of Beakerhead’s Beakernight event yesterday evening. I met up with a friend and we partook in the signature “flaming skee-ball“, watched a band perform with novel instruments, and viewed some E. coli artwork being exhibited. I ran into several friends and colleagues later in the evening and picked up a hot cocoa as the air began to cool.

  • The new iOS keyboard changes to indicate whether or not a user will be typing in lower or upper case. Though a long-present feature on Windows Phone 8 and Android, it was absent from iOS for the longest time and made it difficult to tell whether one had the shift key engaged. Though a small change, this is much appreciated, especially since the keyboard is oft-used. Siri and Spotlight are much more powerful now, and there’s even a search option in the Settings, making it easier to find certain settings to configure. With a hardware keyboard plugged in, Apple-Tab actually allows for apps to be switched between like on a desktop, and Apple-Shift-H returns users to the home screen.

  • Only available to the iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 3 and upcoming iPad Pro, split-screen is a powerful addition that allows the iPad to do two things at once. Though it’s limited to a handful of apps at present, such a feature will be immensely useful for productivity (such as reading a PDF and writing a paper in Pages simultaneously, or running a Skype conversation while browsing the internet). Once developers capitalise on this feature, split-screen multi-tasking will become an indispensable feature on an iPad. Whilst we’re speaking of fish and chips, I returned to Billingsgate Seafood Market on Thursday for a fish-and-chips dinner prior to this season’s first Nerd Night: the light, crisp batter and tender, flakey fish was tasty, as were the freshly-cut fries, and the Nerd Night talks were as engaging as dinner was delicious.

  • Though I’m unlikely to actually watch Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka? and read Tom Clancy’s Theat Vector at the same time, I am thoroughly enjoying the picture-in-picture feature, which is quite useful for when I’m watching a video and chatting with friends in Facebook chat or Skype. Coming up next will be a talk on the final episodes to Non Non Biyori, followed by a review of Metro: 2033 Redux, which I beat yesterday.

iOS 9 is an incremental update to iOS 8; despite offering no major overhauls, the subtle changes made to the operating system here and there confer major benefits to the users that far exceed the differences between iOS 6 and iOS 7. All of these subtle changes make the iPad much easier to use for both productivity and recreation. There are a few bugs here and there (such as bookmarks disappearing from the favourites bar in Safari, or the wallpaper turning black for a half-second when exiting a folder), as well. On the whole, though, iOS 9 is quite stable while providing new features that make it easier than ever to get something done. All of these features are available for the iPad Air 2 and latest iPad Mini, as well as the upcoming iPad Pro, but surprisingly enough, the iPad 2 is capable of running iOS 9, albeit with limited features and probably with a much lower performance. I predicted that the iOS 8 would be the latest operating system the iPad 2 could run, but it is somewhat impressive that Apple is continuing to support updates for the iPad 2. For the present, though, the iPad Air 2 has replaced the iPad 2 as my workhorse tablet, and rocking iOS 9 means getting more done, more efficiently.

The Real iPad Air 2- A Reflection

“It’s the iPad Air 2, mankind’s first step into space colonisation. This device is so advanced, I’m shitting my pants. Here’s the secret: it’s the A8X processor. Safari opens in no time at all, PDFs come up in an instant, fuck whatever load times were for games.” —Cr1t1kal-style impressions of the iPad Air 2

For the past four years, I’ve been fielding an iPad 2. This tablet was one of Apple’s longest running lines, having active support from March 2011 up until February 2014, and while it offered several new features over the original iPad, it was cited as being an incremental upgrade rather than anything revolutionary. Nonetheless, this was the iPad I would use and since May 2011, my trusty iPad 2 has seen everything from Sora no Woto and Break Blade during my first studentship with the university, to being the very device that gave my undergraduate thesis defense presentation. Despite having this much mileage on it, the tablet is still going strong; granted, some apps do load more slowly than they had done previously, but it still runs smoothly and the device retains the battery life it did from the day I got it: it consumes ten percent of my battery per hour of average use. This would be a device I would use until it failed completely, although circumstances change, and I’ve acquired a brand-new iPad Air 2 with the gold finish. The iPad 2 had been thinner than the original iPad and felt remarkably lightweight to use, but compared to the iPad Air 2, even the iPad 2 feels like a brick. Armed with the same retina display as the iPad Air, the iPad Air 2’s display blows the iPad 2’s display out of the water. iOS 8.1 runs like dream on the iPad Air 2, which packs Apple’s A8X triple-core processor and 2 GB of RAM. I’d been noticing the iPad 2 was feeling a little sluggish (but still very usable) in day-to-day tasks, and by comparison, the iPad Air 2 leaves it in the dust. I do miss the lack of an orientation lock button, and glory in the inclusion of a TouchID sensor, which allows me to unlock the device with my thumbprint. The iPad Air 2 is a worthy successor to the iPad 2, but the question remains of what I can do with so much hardware packed into so little a space.

  • I’m finally rocking iOS 8 now, and although it’s not too different than iOS 7 from an appearances perspective, there are numerous new features that I haven’t begun to take advantage of yet. Some of the features I have noticed and enjoy include the updated notification centre and predictive typing (a feature that my Windows Phone has long had and one that I love using).

  • Spotlight search is quite useful, and in the new iteration, will even link to online resources such as Wikipedia if it is available. Overall, I’ve had no troubles using iOS 8, and it’ll probably take me a little while to learn all of the new features that the iPad Air 2 can access. I absolutely love the partial transparency some menus have: iOS 8 does make subtle changes to things to improve the visual fidelity of the user interface.

  • The only thing about the iPad Air 2 that is a little disconcerting is the lack of a physical button for orientation lock/mute. I understand that Apple’s quest for ultra-thin devices is motivated by ergonomics, but admittedly, I would’ve been okay with a slightly heftier device (like the iPad Air) if it meant more hardware and improved battery life.

  • This is what the blog looks like out of Safari for iOS 8. The bookmarks and history bar has been moved to the left, rather than the right, and since I use Google Chrome as my primary browser, this is a little unusual, although Safari for Mac OS X also has its bookmarks bar on the left. Safari for iOS 8 feels amazing and handles well on the iPad Air 2: tabs have become more visual now, and on the iPad Air 2, the additional RAM finally means I can chat with a friend in Skype and browse the web at the same time.

  • While Siri remained little more than a curiosity in the past, I’ve since grown to view it as a very novel feature that brings to mind the robot from Thunderbirds that Brains had been testing. Back in the 1960s, voice-activated commands were very much a thing of science fiction, and in the space of five decades, we’ve gotten to the point where we can ask our devices what our schedule is, or have them act as a worthy opponent against us in chess; the technological advancement we’ve had never ceases to amaze me.

I typically treat tablets as an ultra-mobile computing solution for things like being able to read slides along with a lecture as it progresses and make annotations, read and annotate papers while away from a computer, browse the internet and keep in touch with people by means of social network applications. I also watch anime on tablets, use them to create presentations and work on my assignments, and on some occasions, game on them. The original iPad 2 excelled in each of these areas; during the summer of 2011, I even watched the Disappearance of Suzumiya Haruhi while waiting for guests to arrive at a friend’s LAN Party, and using a video, gave the impression I was playing Halo Reach on the iPad. The iPad Air 2 is remarkably powerful and, while decidedly less powerful than an Xbox 360, is capable of putting out some impressive graphics: three-and-a-half years ago, I joked about the day when tablets could match consoles in graphics, and in a sense, the iPad Air 2 is getting pretty close. With the new iPad Air 2, I probably will use it as I did the iPad 2. It will be an excellent platform for reading papers and following lecture slides, for casual internet browsing and watching anime; the hardware powering it is more than sufficient for doing all of this. In fact, there are very few apps out there that can make full use of all this hardware. This is expected to change as developers begin making more of the Metal API, and games on the iPad, already impressive for a tablet, will begin to rival games like Halo Reach in terms of graphics as mobile hardware continues to improve. For the present, though, with its overpowered hardware, the iPad Air 2 is quite future-proof, and I look forwards to doing much with this machine.

Deer Hunter 2014- The Lost Temple and Glacial Bay

“You know, if you need 100 rounds to kill a deer, maybe hunting isn’t your sport.” —Elayne Boosler

A few weeks ago, Glu Games released the latest update to Deer Hunter 2014, adding to the game a host of new features, including bows and crossbows and special stealth hunt challenges. Moreover, bounties were added, encouraging players to play through older regions again to complete specific tasks (e.g. take down so many animals with lung shots, etc). Successfully completing a bounty yields gold and consumables. While the bounties and new weapons are exciting on its own, things get even more interesting with the addition of a new hidden region called the Lost Temple, which is unlocked by completing rare hunts and bow missions in regions four and five. As well, region ten, Glacial Bay, was released, as well, adding new weapons and hunts to the game.

  • Here, I am equipped with the crossbow, which deals more damage than the compound bow but also has a reduced firing rate and suppression effect. The projectiles from the bow and crossbow behave like bullets, so there’s no need to compensate for bullet drop. When I first began using the bows, I thought that gravity would need to be factored for and missed many of my shots, although having worked with physics engines for my research projects before, I cannot hold it against Glu Games for not implementing a physics engine in Deer Hunter 2014.

  • Old temple ruins overgrown with vibrant vegetation and tropical forests define the Lost Temple region. I’m inclined to say that this region is either set in Myanmar or Thailand because of its architecture: Aztec and Mayan temples have a different style.

  • Players will need to invest Platinum Eagles into both their crossbow and compound bow to complete the eighty missions and five trophy hunts. The only way to earn them is via rare hunts and other special event hunts, making it a slower process. Gold can be used instead, although even with new new bounty missions, gold is still slow to come by, making progression through the lost temple much slower than through the conventional regions.

  • I’ve been hearing about how some individuals were disappointed about how the Spring Break challenges and updates made the game lean increasingly in a pay-to-win manner, although I counter that I’ve gotten quite a bit of enjoyment from Deer Hunter 2014 without spending a single penny: of note was the particularly lucky discount I got on a special assault rifle that let me unlock a region 10 break-action shotgun, and because I had a Halloween event pistol leftover from way back, I’ve now unlocked the region 10 pistol, as well.

  • That just looks beautiful: take a moment to gaze at the night sky and marvel at the shooting stars that occasionally streak by.

  • The trophy hunts in the Lost Temple are very demanding in that a large number of platinum eagles are required to upgrade the crossbow and compound bow to the specifications. The best trick is to play as many of the regular missions as possible and do rare hunts as they appear to continue acquiring platinum eagles for upgrades.

  • While Deer Hunter 2014 might call them customisations, the upgrades are mandatory. By the time one is finished the hidden region, they will have a maxed out compound bow (minus the infrared) and a maxed out crossbow.  With fully upgraded weapons, the trophy hunts aren’t anywhere near a challenge, and in fact, the biggest challenge is finding the target.

  • Upon completing all of the trophy hunts, the Barton Hawk is unlocked. At this point in time, I see no reason in upgrading it, but one way or another, I do have all of the bows and crossbows now. I realise that players are dropping off comments asking me how to unlock certain things in the game, and to that, I can only say that 1) if you’re not playing on iOS, these regions don’t exist, and 2) if you’re having trouble unlocking things, patience is your friend, since there are no shortcuts in Deer Hunter 2014 besides paying coin for gold.

  • Just for completeness’ sake, here’s a picture of me armed with the region ten shotgun in region ten. Glacial Bay is set in the far north, and like the Klondike region, only has one unique area. Of course, the moody and cold hills are quite nice, reminding me of some of the moments in Survivorman.

  • The G&H Seeker assault rifle I have from the event is powerful enough to be useful even in Region 10: carefully placed shots allow me to down opponents that supposedly need a more powerful rifle. As it stands now, I cannot say I’m particularly inclined to continue writing about Deer Hunter 2014 when I have a vast collection of other games (for both iOS and PC) that I would eventually like to get around doing.

Set in the lush Southeast Asian jungles, the Lost Temple looks absolutely beautiful and is well worth the effort taken to unlock it. The region requires both the standard bow and crossbow to complete, and these are upgraded with a new earnable currency known as the Platinum Eagle, which is rewarded for successfully completing bow hunts and rare missions. These new additions to the game are refreshing and offer the incentive to continue playing, breathing new life into a game that quickly can become repetitive; at present, the lack of a cloud save feature is still the game’s biggest detractor, given that any error could undo months of progress in-game. Nonetheless, Deer Hunter 2014 remains a solid game, and I’m enjoying the inclusion of these new gameplay mechanics, although I think my time would be better spent blogging about other things.

How to earn the Steam Hardware Candidate Badge

I’ve actually been out of the loop for quite a long time with Steam-related stuff, but today, I was looking through my profile when I realised that there was a badge that looked like I could quickly attain without much effort on my part. I am referring to the Hardware Candidate Badge, which is given out for completing four actions. The fifth action awards the Enthusiast badge, although since that expired on Friday, I won’t go into much details about it. However, attaining the first badge itself is very straightforward. There are four requirements and four correspondingly easy actions: some of these requirements may already be satisfied and won’t require further action on the reader’s part, while others will require at most five minutes to complete.

  1. Join the Steam Universe group- This is easy; at the URL, there’s a button to join the group. Just click that to complete this requirement. Those wishing to opt out later can find a “Leave group” button on the side of the page.
  2. Make 10 friends- Ask around and see if anyone wants to be friends. Most people should already have this one unlocked.
  3. Create a public Steam Community profile- Most players should already have a profile; players with a public profile will already have this one unlocked, but people like me, who have other privacy settings, will need to go into their profile privacy settings and set their profile to “public”. This will unlock, and then one may switch back to their previous settings.
  4. Launch and play a game using a gamepad in Big Picture mode- This is the toughest one to unlock, but even then, it’s quite easy. Download VJoy, a virtual controller, and install it. Readers will need the one with the key to the joy application. Once it installs, open the program’s settings and map “Button 2” to any key, preferably “A”. The next step is to open Steam’s Big Picture mode, choose a game, and hit “A” to run it. The achievement should unlock, and those wishing not to keep VJoy can uninstall it.

  • That red ring around my level number is pretty dapper. What’s my favourite badge, one asks? That would have to be the Steam Sightseer one, because it is a cool (virtual) keepsake reminding me of how pro the Steam 2013 Summer Sale was.

  • Thanks to that showcase window, my profile looks awesome. A year ago, I was sitting at level five and was rocking a 19 inch 1280 by 1024 display, and for one reason or another, Steam’s Big Picture mode wouldn’t work on it. I’m guessing that either my screen was too small, or my resolution was too low.

After acquiring this badge, I have finally reached level ten and have a cool red ring surrounding my level number. Being level ten isn’t any different than being level nine, but I do get a showcase window that offers a bit of customisation option. Right now, I’m using it to exhibit some of my favourite screenshots, although the showcase window can also exhibit one’s favourite games, rare achievements, recommendations or even a personal message to the community. Additional levels unlock more showcase windows (level 20-29 players get two, level 30-39 players get three, etc.), increased chance of dropping card packs and allow more friends, but for the time being, I’m quite pleased to have reached level ten. Of course, leveling up from here on out now requires 200 XP points, but I’m going to take things one step at a time.