Go Pokemon Go!

Last week Pokemon Go was released to the public. Kevin and I have been playing the Field Test version for a couple months, so we had a good head-start on it. Our accounts were reset though, so we had to start over when the public release came out, but at least we had a lot of time to learn the basics and watch it turn into the cool game it is now. Boy has it taken the world by storm though!! It seems like almost EVERYONE is playing it, with crowds of people found at Pokestops and gyms all over the place, meeting up and playing together.

It’s fun knowing where this all came from, and knowing we, as early Ingress players, played a big part in it. It seems a lot of Pokemon Go players have yet to learn how it all came to be. When I talk to Go players I explain what Ingress is, and that Ingress is kind of a “Pokemon Go Origins”. Niantic (creators of Ingress) and Nintendo got together and shared their gaming data to create a new sort of Pokemon/Ingress hybrid game. They used all of the basic GPS mapping data and features and Ingress “portals” to create all of the Pokestops and Gyms in Pokemon Go. Having a good knowledge of the entire area’s portal locations from over 3 years of playing Ingress gives us “old school” gamers a distinct early advantage in Pokemon Go, but with so many more people playing, virtually everywhere, and many of them much stronger and better Pokemon players than us, the overall favor still tips things in their way it seems.

Most of the portals that Ingress started with were created by Niantic using the data from the Historical Marker Database on the Internet (http://www.hmdb.org/). But they were few and far between when the game was first released. So we, as early Ingress players, were allowed to submit hundreds of locations players might find interesting while playing Ingress, and after a sometimes-very-long acceptance process by Niantic, each portal was either rejected or accepted. If accepted, it became a “portal” when Ingress players could go to build it up for their faction, either for the blue team (The Resistance) or for the green team (The Enlightened). Personally, I am responsible for the creation of nearly 200 portals in the game, all in and around the Kenosha, WI area and near my work in Waukegan, IL. I have also made it to the top Ingress level, L16, so I feel I know Ingress fairly well.

Ingress is sort of a capture-the-flag GPS-based game with two factions fighting against one another, worldwide. Niantic would periodically hold “anomaly” events in different cities around the globe, which would draw in hundreds or thousands of players from all over the area and around the world to participate in close one-on-one and team-on-team battling for a day.

I had thought Ingress had gotten pretty popular itself, until seeing the effects of this past week’s Pokemon Go release! It’s almost like having an “anomaly” event every day at the moment… hundreds of people flocking to clusters of portals (known as Gyms and Pokestops) to Pokemon Go players… It has already been on the front page of the Kenosha News, all over every TV news program, and even on TMZ! It’s getting everyone up and out, walking around, being social, and getting some exercise, playing with their kids, and getting active. Many say so many adults are playing because they grew up on Pokemon, and are sort of reliving their childhood at this point. Whatever the reason, it’s getting people out exercising and socializing like never before, and playing a game with their kids again. I can say, personally, that it has had the same effect for me. Kevin, my son, now 18 years old, played Ingress with me a few years ago, reach level 10 after about a year and got bored of it and stopped playing. Since Pokemon Go came out, he is now excited to go back out and play with me, and we’re often out playing together again!

Kevin and I heard about this game’s “Beta Testing” a few months ago, way before it’s public release last week, and we signed up to “Field Test” the app. Luckily we were both accepted for the field testing… From what I heard, many others in the area that also signed up never got accepted, so we felt quite fortunate. We actually got a chance to play some very early versions of the game, and watch it evolve a little until the final version was released to the public. We saw some pretty interesting changes come and go in the game–some of which gave us great insight into how the data from Ingress is implemented in Pokemon Go. But perhaps I should leave those nitty-gritty details for another article…if anyone is interested.

Anyway, Niantic (creators of Ingress and an app called Field Trip) got together with Nintendo, and together they created a new version of Pokemon for smartphones, and all of that data for “portals”–most of which was created by us, it’s players–was used in Pokemon Go to create all of the Pokemon Gyms and Pokestops in the game. This includes the photos we took of each location. So based on Ingress gameplay, we created several “farm” areas all over the world. These are small geographic areas densely-populated with many portals, which groups of 8 or more of one of the two teams would often build up to the strongest level for their respective team and then “farm” that area’s portals for top-level gear.

So now, in Pokemon Go, these farm areas are fast becoming hugely-popular meetup areas for vast numbers of Pokemon Go players! For us Ingress players, it’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before (except for the rare anomaly events held in major cities). Go players will cluster around a group of Pokestops (which are also Ingress Portals), plug Lure Modules into them, and just stand or walk around and watch the wild Pokemon come to them so they can capture them. Lure Modules are pretty rare in the game, but you can purchase them with coins (and you can buy coins for the game with real money, or earn coins in the game without paying with real money). Lures will attract Pokemon to that Pokestop for a period of 30 minutes, and players seem to just continuously deploy new ones on these popular Pokestops when one wears off, giving everyone around them the benefit of catching many Pokemon with very little effort.

Having been an Ingress player for over 3 years, and watching it only get rare new players, it’s a little overwhelming to now see TONS of new players, constantly playing this new game. Pokemon Gyms, which players can fight and train on, and claim for their team, somewhat like portals in Ingress, are flipped to a different team so often, it’s hilarious! Players have the potential to earn 10 coins in Pokemon Go for each Gym they have a Pokemon deployed on, every 21 hours. This is known as a Defender Bonus, and is the only way you can earn coins to purchase items in the game’s store, aside from spending real money. I think, since most players know this, this is one reason it’s so difficult to keep ownership of a gym for any length of time. Until the game settles down a bit more, all gyms will probably be constantly changing hands multiple times every day.

In Ingress, players would try to locate remote hard-to-get-to portals and try to use them as “Guardians” so they could own them for several months to earn one of their badges in the game. This eventually led to some players harvesting Ingress data and analyzing it to determine how long players have been on each portal, which would tell them how close these players were to earning that badge, so they knew exactly which portal(s) were a particular player’s guardian portal. These players were referred to as Guardian Hunters, or “Gunters”, to steal a term from the great book (and soon-to-be movie) “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline.. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ready_Player_One

I’m sure the “newness” of this craze will die down over time, and things will then start leveling off to a level a little closer to where Ingress is. Then again, with how much more popular this game is compared to Ingress right at its start, who knows! If they improve the performance of the app and keep adding better features and options like they did with Ingress, it might just gain much MORE popularity! I can’t imagine how that would be possible, but I guess we’ll see. I envision having “ops” much like we’ve had in Ingress, with groups of players from each faction planning massive attacks to take over gyms throughout an entire geographic area, and a nice world map like Ingress’ Intel Map so we can see how our team is doing, region-wide and worldwide compared to the other two factions.

Hold on to your Pokemon, people…this is just the beginning!

Oh, and just to throw in a shameless plug for our Kenosha group and my team of choice… Please signup to join our Slack Team at KenoshaGo.com. All teams are welcome! There are several public channels there for everything Pokemon Go, from news, gyms and meetups, to just general game discussion. Or you’re free to create a private channel just for your friends or for your own team to private discuss plans or meetups. Go Team Mystic!

Going Subsonic

Ok, MOG is out.  After a thorough analysis of the app and the service itself, I have decided to drop it.  I have found several services now that offer the same “on-demand” music streaming, all have millions of songs, and offer their own variation of the same features.  These include Rhapsody, Napster, and a few others.  So there really isn’t a lack of this ability available, and they are all around the same price, about $10/month, so they compete fairly evenly.

One of the hitches with MOG (and probably the others as well) is that you can only be logged into one device at a time. Since all of our family’s devices use the same accounts, I set it up on all of them, but if I start MOG on my phone and Kevin happens to be listening to it, Kevin gets bumped off the service, and vice versa. Very annoying. At least one of the other services offer an upgraded tier of $15/month for use on up to 3 devices at once, so at least there’s an option out there, but still pricey.  Also, the MOG app on the Android seems a bit buggy. I often get bumped off of the service when I know Kevin and Sandy aren’t using it, and other times it just stops streaming mysteriously and hangs.

Since I’m a long-time Slacker subscriber, and still am, I’ll stick with it for awhile and see how their on-demand service works when it finally comes out (if ever).  Meanwhile, I’ve discovered an amazing alternative! SUBSONIC! It’s a music streaming server (yes, I said “server” not “service”) that you install on your own computer, and it streams your entire music collection (and much more!) to any of your devices! Since everything is served from your own PC, you don’t have to rely on any other service for your access.  And the price?  Free for 2 weeks, then you have to make one small donation (of any amount) to get a permanent license.  That’s it, and you never pay another fee.  The Android app is free too, and written by the same developer who wrote the Subsonic server itself.  The iPod apps (there are two or three currently available for the iPhone) are around $4.99, but that’s a one-time fee as well.  These were written by other developers, and I think they may support a few other services and/or servers as well as Subsonic.  The one we’re using on our iPods is “Z-Subsonic”.

So Subsonic gives us all full access to everything we have on every device we use, for a total of a few dollars!  It works great, and I have yet to see the apps crash–on any device.  The apps give you a lot of options too–you can adjust the amount of space to reserve for your cache, you can set how many songs to pre-cache, etc., and even subscribe to Podcasts on the server and it handles downloading those automatically and serving them up on your devices.  You can even setup as many user accounts on the server as you want, each with their own restrictions (or full admin freedom), and use those accounts on any device as you want to.

It is really nice (and comforting) to know we can be anywhere–even right at the desk on our home PC serving up the music–and we can drop an iPod into a sound dock and stream any album or playlist we want, instantly.  No more sync’ing, iTunes, or space issues on any of the devices!

The Woz Picks Android to Beat the iPhone

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak thinks Android will eventually beat the iPhone as a mobile-phone platform in much the same way Windows computers squeezed Apple’s market share in the PC market, he said in an interview with a Dutch newspaper.  In an interview with De Telegraaf reporter Alfred Monterie, Wozniak said that Android will become the dominant smartphone platform. He didn’t write off the iPhone completely, however, saying it “has very few weaknesses” and that, “when it comes to quality, iPhone is leading.” While he admitted the quality of Android phones hasn’t been consistent, he championed the platform, saying “Android phones have more features” and that eventually the quality of the experience will match iOS. Full story

Netflix adds instant streaming to iPhone & iPod!

Netflix has finally added instant streaming to the iPod and iPhone!  Last Thursday (somehow I missed this last week) they release the app in the app store.  You can now use your iPod or iPhone to watch any movie or video available on Netflix Instant!  This is huge for me–I’ve been drooling for this since the iPad was first released.  Netflix had the app available for the iPad several months ago when the iPod was first released, but they held back on releasing the app for the iPod and iPhone for some reason, until now.  My guess is that they made an exclusivity deal with Apple so they could sell more iPads for the first few months of its release.  Arrg.  Anyway, it’s here now, and I’m much happier.  I now have thousands of movies and TV shows available almost anywhere I am, instantly!–WITHOUT having to jailbreak my iPod.

Slacker

My latest obsession on the iPod is Slacker Radio (often used when I’m playing Words With Friends). I’ve tried a lot of different radio apps on the iPod. Several of them I liked, but a big feature that I found with Slacker that kept me using it is it’s station caching. Since I use the Touch and not the iPhone, Im not always connected to a network. This alone eliminates the functionality of most radio apps, but with Slacker’s station caching, all I have to do is choose a cached station in Slacker and I can play everything just as if I were connected to a network. It can take several minutes to cache a station, but that’s expecte. From the details I’ve read, Slacker will cache 100 songs for a station initially, and gradually increase the cache as you listen to the station and refresh the cache. They do some nice shuffling in the background apparently, because I can listen to a station over and over and it seems I always hear songs I haven’t heard before, yet I still sometimes hear replays, but most of the time it’s only for songs I’ve “hearted”, which you do when you hear a favorite you like. When you refresh your cached stations (you have to do them all at once, you can’t pick and choose which ones to cache and any given time) it seems to take longest to re-cache stations you’ve listened to since you last cached, so I would guess it’s dumping the songs you’ve banned, adding more new songs, and syncing your listening preferences with the Slacker servers. Every time I visit the website on my PC it shows me everything I’ve listen to, so it certainly “remembers” everything. Other features include many curated stations from Slacker, including a couple of very good Comedy channels (one Explicit, one ‘clean’), search features to find exactly the artists or songs you want to hear, the ability to build your own custom stations, bios, lyrics, and reviews of the songs and artists as you play them, large thumbnail of the current song playing (WHOOHOO! Love it!) and much more. A few of these features only work in “Slacker Plus”, the subscription service, but that’s expected. Since the service is only $4.99 a month (or $3.99 a month if you pay yearly), it’s well worth the price for the features you get, in my opinion. There is also an web version of Slacker, which is actually much easier to use for building custom stations than the iPod is, and fortunately every station and favorite you save immediately appears on both your PC and your iPod, since it saves to your Slacker account itself. They also list many stand-alone digital radio devices that now support Slacker, which is a good indication of their stability as a company. Overall, I highly recommend Slacker as a music streaming service, it ROCKS. Here’s some screenshots of it from my iPod, and here’s the Slacker website

CLZ Movies

Due to my infrequent posting here, I think I’ll start posting a little about one of my favorite iPod apps each week. So, to kick it off, the first one is CLZ Movies from Collectorz.com. I have owned and used Movie Collector for the PC for several years. It allows me to easily catalog all of my DVDs and provides a vast amount of detail for each movie I add. All I have to do to add a movie is type in the title or a portion of it. Movie Collector then grabs everything about it off of the Internet and all I have to do is add my index # to it and any personal information I want, and that’s it. I can print lists of all my movies””with or without images. Kevin prefers them with the images, I prefer them without, simply because it saves ink and makes the complete list seem a lot shorter.

Anyway, the CLZ Movies app ($9.99) is a companion to Movie Collector. CLZ Movies allows you to instantly look up any of your movies and find out everything about them. For Kevin and I, the most important feature is the ability to instantly find out what index number a movie is. We use that number to sort our movies, so with it we can tell right away where a movie is located…IF a particular someone put it back in the proper order, if you know what I mean. It provides both a listing by title (with tiny thumbnail images) or a image-only list that’s kind of fun to fly through, if you like finding movies by their box art. This is Kevin’s favorite way. You can sort the list by title, index #, or year, list them by format (DVD, Blu-Ray, etc.), by genre, etc.

Exporting your list from Movie Collector is very simple and straightforward, and pretty quick, even with hundreds of movies. It’s a pretty simple app, actually, and it works very well. It gives us one more reason to grab the iPod instead of jumping on the computer and loading up Movie Collector just to find one of our movies to watch. I just wish they’d expand the built-in search in the app to include actors, directors, etc., instead of just words in the title of the movie. I’m sure there’ll be updates down the road though, there always are. Oh, and here’s some screenshots:

Confessions of an iPod Touch junkie

I’m hooked. Totally addicted. I confess. Since I purchased an iPod Touch, I have become one of the millions of “digital zombies” out there everywhere–head slumped forward, both hands clutching a small device, thumbs moving frantically over the device… you’ve seen ’em, they’re everywhere. Totally immersed in whataever they’re doing. I hear most of them are texting, but I’m not. At least not yet. I’m hooked on the games at the moment. And the music. And the police radio. And e-mail. And everything else, except texting. I have neglected my website, my photo albums (I still have plenty of Arizona Trip photos to go through and post), and I’m getting behind on my chores at home. The fish in the aquarium are starting to look at me funny, as if to say, “Hey, man, we’re swimmin’ in poop here, ya know! What’s the deal?”

The game I’ve become the most addicted to, righty now at least, is called “Flight Control“. Simple game, and I remember playing another one exactly like it on one of my old Atari computers way back when. It’s an air traffic controller game. You’re viewing a map from above and you’re the air traffic controller for the area. You need to guide each plane and helicopter to their appropriate destinations as they enter and exit your area, hopefully avoiding an air disaster along the way. This game also takes this a step further by adding an optional multiplayer mode. If you play multiplayer, each person is in charge of their own adjacent air space, and each will have to direct aircraft to their own runways as well as passing them off to the other player’s air space. The game ends instantly when two aircraft collide. Gee, I wonder why, it’s only a small mistake… Anyway, I don’t know if it’s because I played it years ago and I’m thrilled to be reliving a part of my childhood, or what, I just gotta keep playing to try to get a little bit further and get a higher rank. That aside though, I’m finding the overall usefulness of the Touch to be awesome. I can see how the iPhone would be even that much MORE useful, since you have a connection pretty much everywhere instead of just wifi, and there’s a bunch more you can do with it, but I just can’t afford the extra monthly cost yet. The Touch is a great compromise though, having many of the same features without the monthly commitment. Maybe down the road a bit…like when my current cellular contract expires. So there ya go. A blog entry. Took care of that problem, didn’t I? Now back to my airplanes…