Posts Tagged ‘review’

SkyTV iOS App

The SkyTV iOS app is free, and I rarely use it, but on occasion is is very handy.  The application is mostly a TV Guide – since SkyTV refuses to let anyone else have their listings, but they do have all the free-to-air channels, it’s clearly the best guide.  However, I don’t really have much use for a guide, because I’m never looking for something to watch (everything I’m interested in is scheduled to record).

Where the app is occasionally useful is that it can be connected to your MySKY box, and you can remotely schedule a program to be recorded.  This is essential for those times when you’re away from home and remember that a new program is starting in a few hours and you forgot to schedule it.  The scheduling is limited (e.g. you can’t set up a series link), but it’s good enough for these situations.

As you’d expect from SkyTV, the process of setting this up is incredibly painful.  You need to enter your SkyTV account details and the unique ID of the smart card in the MySKY box, and although this should be a smooth process, it never works first time – and then, without anything being done at all, will ‘magically’ start working at some later date (I’m guessing that the linking process takes time, and the app fails to tell the user this, leading them to believe they did something wrong).

Once it is finally set up, though, it’s very simple to use – just find the program you’re interested in recording and a few taps later it’s scheduled.  Test it at home first, of course!  (But not right away, because, as above, it doesn’t appear to work until a few hours have passed since the initial setup).

If you’ve got MySKY and an iOS device, then this is absolutely an app that you should have installed (it is free, after all!).  If you don’t have MySKY, but you do want to use a TV Guide on iOS, then this is the more comprehensive one for New Zealand listings, so (again given that it’s free), it’s worth having.

Note that the app doesn’t offer any sort of iSKY (on demand video) access.  It would be extremely nice if that was added in the future, but I’m skeptical that it will be.

PyPad

PyPad is a Python interpreter for iOS.  This sounds incredibly exciting, right – finally I can do proper development and run Python programs on iOS!  Unfortunately, that’s not really the case (mostly due to Apple’s restrictions).

PyPad lets you create multiple modules and execute each of them.  However, only a subset of the standard library is available, and there’s nothing iOS-specific available (so you can’t access the camera, or touch information, and so on).  Getting code in and out of the app is done via copy and paste.  The standard keyboard is provided, with start/pause/stop buttons.

I keep the app installed so that I can (via AirPlay mirroring) demonstrate simple Python snippets.  However, if I have an Internet connection available, then I can do that in Prompt (ssh’d to a server that has Python installed) much more elegantly.

The app is clearly limited by Apple’s restrictions as to what’s acceptable for iOS.  However, it does seem like it could do much more (e.g. see Codea) if more of the standard library was available (this would mean rewriting chunks, I presume) and if there were special iOS-specific modules available for accessing things specific to the device (especially for accessing touch and graphical output).  It could accept .py and text files from other applications, making it easy to get code in (e.g. from Dropbox) and share files (as text) – although perhaps that crosses Apple’s boundary for what’s ok.  It would be nice to include the Python documentation, too (I have a separate app for this, but it makes sense to have it in once place).

The app is only $2, so if you’ve any interest in Python on iOS, then I’d recommend buying it to have a look and to encourage more development.  You probably won’t end up using it that much, however.

TomTom New Zealand

The TomTom iOS app was recently updated to be universal (i.e. support both iPhone/iPod and iPad resolution in a single app) and this, combined with yet another navigation argument, was enough to convince me to buy it – at $95 it’s by far the most expensive iOS app I’ve bought (although as a percentage of the total app expenditure it’s not very much!).

I gather the interface strongly resembles the dedicated TomTom hardware.  It’s useable, but not as clean or elegant as I imagine Apple’s app will be when they finally reveal it (but I strongly suspect that Apple’s one will be iPhone only, at least at first).  Given that most of the time you’re glancing at the map or just listening to the turn-by-turn directions, the interface isn’t overly important anyway.

It’s done well with directions so far – no errors, and easily correcting when mistakes are made.  The maps have sufficient coverage even in Warkworth and Ahuroa, and being a proper navigation app there’s no need for a cellular connection (unlike with the built-in Maps app), which is essential in Ahuroa, since there’s barely any coverage.

The app is certainly better than having to rely solely on another person to navigate.  Although I don’t often need instructions (since I’m usually driving somewhere I’m familiar with), in the cases where I do, it’s useful to have, and over the course of a year, I think that’s probably worth $100.  (The monthly traffic subscription, however, is not – I haven’t even bothered trying this out).

I’ve tried various free/cheap navigation apps, and although they’re ok, they’re absolutely inferior to this one.  I’d recommend it to anyone that thinks that they’ll get $100 of value out of it, especially over the next year (it seems very likely that iOS 6 will have a built-in app).

Quarrel Deluxe

Quarrel Deluxe (Quarrel DX in Springboard) is a cross between Scrabble (which I don’t love, although I did, like many people, play Words with Friends for quite a while) and Risk (which I do love, but rarely play non-digital because of a lack of people to play against), and may well be better than either.

The setup is essentially like Risk: a board of locations (countries in Risk) that each have a number of armies and varying numbers of neighbouring locations.  The options in a turn are similar as well: attack, fortify (i.e. move armies from one country to a neighbouring one), or pass.  Even in fortification Quarrel beats Risk – rather than only being able to fortify at the end of your turn, you can do it throughout the turn, but once you’ve moved armies from one location to another, neither of those can then fortify or attack later in the turn (they can receive armies from another neighbour).

Attacking is where Scrabble comes in – rather than relying on the luck of the dice, like in Risk, each player is given the same eight letters (that always form at least one eight-letter word, as well as many smaller ones) and whoever makes the highest scoring word wins the battle.  Not only is there more skill (and less luck) than in Risk, there’s more than in Scrabble, too, since you always have the same letters to work with as your opponent.  The length of the word you can make depends on how many armies you have (so if you have three and your opponent has seven, you’ll need a pretty awesome three-letter word). All the ‘double letter’, ‘triple word’, ‘use a letter from another word’, ‘make multiple words at once’, and hard limits to board size elements from Scrabble are gone: these are the parts I hate most about Scrabble, so for me that’s a clear win.  It’s all about making the best word (i.e. longest and with the highest point letters).

Speed is also a factor – if your word is the same number of points as your opponent’s, then whoever finished first wins.  This comes into play quite a lot – it’s often better to go for a high scoring word really quickly than take a bit longer trying to find the best word possible.  Games can also be against the clock, which adds considerably to the difficulty.

There are many other subtle elements to the game, which clearly indicate that it has been well thought out.  In addition, the graphics and sound are very well done (cutesy little stylised fighters).

I’d recommend this game to anyone that likes word games and/or strategy games like Risk.  There’s very little luck involved (none, really, if you exclude the computer opponent behaviour), and a lot of strategy required.  Games can be quite simple but also range to very difficult.

I’d love to see a future version include a multiplayer (i.e. multiple iPad) game option.  It could also possibly borrow the concept of “continents” from Risk and have some additional larger boards where there are locations that give additional reinforcements if you’re holding the entire island.

Graceling (Kristin Cashore)

Olyvia purchased this on my behalf – I had been given a voucher for Dymocks, which is a terrible choice, because there are so few Dymocks stores, and they are so far away from anywhere I go.  Time passed, and eventually reached the point where I one day to spend the voucher or lose it – losing it seemed a terrible waste, so Olyvia offered to go to Dymocks and purchase a book – basically she read out names over the phone until finding something I didn’t own.  I had never heard of Kristin Cashore before, and I like finding new authors, so it sounded fine to me.

I was more skeptical when Olyvia arrived home with the book.  For a start, it was a softcover edition, which I particularly dislike (I like paperback, because it’s comfortable to read, and I like hardback, because it looks nice and ages well, but softcover has none of the advantages and many of the disadvantages).  In addition, the cover is terrible – it has a moderately attractive women in light armour holding a sword – it looks like a bad book trying to attract teen readers.

However, once I got around to reading it, I was pleasantly surprised.   The ‘magic’ of the world is that some people have extreme talents – rather than just being really good at something, they are ‘magically’ good at it.  In a really nice touch, the talent might be anything, even the mediocre (it reminded me of the heroes with mediocre talents in Lafferty‘s Playing for Keeps).  Although the central characters have talents that are far more impressive, the general way that ‘graces’ were developed was very enjoyable.

The central characters, Katsa and Po, were both well developed, and enjoyable to read.  The antagonist was a little weak – we never really get to know him, so there’s less at stake than with a more developed villain.  However, his ability was suitably impressive, and his lack didn’t detract from the story’s other strengths too much.

(Minor spoiler alert). I did feel that the book ended rather suddenly – although it was obvious that it was getting close to the end (there weren’t many pages to turn), the story only seemed part-way through.  I was really expecting a partial conclusion with a sequel (or two) to finish the story off – although this is probably partly due to the ubiquity of trilogies within the genre).  However, with only a small number of pages to go, the story is completely resolved.  Although it ended cleanly and it did create a real echo of surprise to match the character’s surprise, it still felt quite rushed.

In general, this felt like a really good story by a slightly inexperienced writer.  I think someone with more experience would have been able to flesh out the antagonist more and create a less rushed ending – although these would probably both have meant a longer book.  The story changes a little abruptly about a third of the way through, and I think a more experienced writer would have tied the parts together a little better as well.

Overall, it was a very enjoyable read (it’s unfortunate that the publisher didn’t find a better cover artist), and I highly recommend reading it.  I hope to read more from Cashore in the future, and expect that later novels will have more polish than this one, while hopefully retaining the originality and great character development found here.

Foxmask (Juliet Marillier)

This is the sequel to Wolfskin – to understand the relationships that underlay the characters, it would certainly be best to have read Wolfskin first, although this is a standalone story, not part two of two (or three), which is certainly refreshing.  I purchased this at the same time as Wolfskin, so I wasn’t then aware that I’d love that book so much.  By the time I got to reading Foxmask, though, I had reasonably high hopes for anything from Marillier.

Although I enjoyed Foxmask, it wasn’t quite as fantastic as Wolfskin.  The basic story has a lot of promise, mostly as a result of the earlier book – Somerled, the antagonist from Wolfskin, was so clearly the villain of the piece, but also clearly had the potential for redemption.  Here, we can find out whether he did manage to redeem himself – but Marillier made the sensible decision to place the story a little later in time, so that although the story answers that question, it’s not actually the central focus of the story.  That means that Foxmask is more of a standalone story than a direct sequel, which is a benefit, in my opinion.

Although Thorvald, Sam, and Creidhe are interesting characters, I was never as drawn to them as the Wolfskin characters – and the antagonist of Foxmask is far more on the black side of grey than Somerled ever was, which makes him a lot less interesting.  You can see how he might have made the decisions that he did, but they are still more evil.

The weakest part of the book was the character Keeper.  For some reason, I was never interested or attracted to this character, and that made it harder to understand the relationships that he formed with the other characters.  The strongest part was the development of Thorvald’s character, particularly the leadership development with the other men of the island.

The magic in Foxmask is a little more overt than that of Wolfskin, which also detracts slightly from the story.  It’s also a little darker in some ways (although there’s probably less death, the reader knows the characters that die or suffer better, so they are more intense).

Overall, however, this is still an excellent novel.  If this was the first Marillier novel I read, I’m not sure I would be so eager to seek out more of her work – probably I would just hope to remember to buy one next time I see it, rather than actively looking for it, but I absolutely recommend reading it, especially since it wraps up the Wolfskin story a little more.

Wolfskin (Juliet Marillier)

The main reason that I bought Wolfskin was because I noticed that Marillier was a New Zealander (or at least was born here, although she lives in Australia now), and there’s not really very many NZ sci-fi/fantasy authors or books, and I’d like to support the locals as much as possible.  (As an aside, my favourite NZ book is Beak of the Moon, by Philip Temple, also of Dunedin).

So I wasn’t really expecting that much – it wasn’t quite charity, but I would have been happy with a pretty mediocre story.  However, I really loved this book.  I’m not sure why so many fantasy authors feel the need to set their stories in/around the UK, but it’s so common that it didn’t really bother me here.

The characters in Wolfskin were excellently developed, and a pleasure to get to know.  The antagonist was nicely grey – although you really could despise what he did, you could also understand his motivation for the most part.  The magic was pleasingly subtle, and the battles sufficiently short.

One minor note that bothered me (minor spoiler alert): early in the book, a girl is attacked, and the attacker isn’t identified.  The implication is that it’s the antagonist, Somerled.  The way the scenes were written, it seemed likely to me that it would turn out to not have been (directly) Somerled at all, but rather the girl’s friend, led to a bad decision by listening to Somerled (so he was at fault, but only indirectly).  Even later in the story, when the friend is re-encountered, nothing in the events seemed to contradict this theory.  However, the book ends without coming back to it, so I suppose that we’re meant to just believe that it was Somerled who did the attack.  I think it would have suited Somerled’s character, and improved the story, if we had discovered that it wasn’t directly his fault.

The story ends well, with the story nicely resolved, and although there’s clearly a hook left for a sequel, it’s subtle enough that the ending is satisfying and yet the hook doesn’t seem like the only purpose for that element is the sequel.

Overall I highly recommend reading Wolfskin, and intend to keep an eye out for anything else that Marillier produces.