The Wishlist: 2014 Xbox One game releases

Posted by on Jul 22, 2014 in words | 0 comments

The Wishlist is home to our tech desires. It may be improvements to existing things, or something that doesn’t exist yet, but we really, really want.

Every year after the E3 Expo, I go through the list of new releases for the rest of the year and make a shopping list. This year it’s all on Xbox One, since I’ve already purchased the one PC game that I’m interested in (Elite: Dangerous) via Kickstarter. Some of these are purely because I want them; some are to play with my son…

The Golf Club Game – When I was in junior school a number of the boys in my class were discussing their best scores on the local 9 hole par-3 course. When challenged to submit my best round into this contest, I had no idea what my best round had been – it certainly hadn’t been stellar – so not wanting to be the worst, I plucked a number off the top of my head without any real thought. It was an improbably good score, and would’ve made me the best golfer in the school if not the city, so when my grandfather met me at the school gates to pick me up, my class mates were quick to ask him if I’d been telling the truth. He was just as quick to back me up, and then we said nothing more about it. Since then, I’ve played far more rounds of virtual golf than real golf. I actually preferred Links to Tiger, but I’ve enjoyed them all. This year there’s a new kid on the block and I’m really looking forward to giving it a go. You can get the PC version from Steam Early Access, and the Xbox One and PS4 versions are going through the submission process now, so it’s likely to be out in a few short weeks – it’s been really interesting following the progress of the game’s development at

FIFA15 – I played every FIFA game until a few years ago, when I basically ran out of hours in the week for playing pretty much anything. Since I started to claw that gaming time back, I’ve focused my sports gaming on basketball, especially the last two excellent releases of NBA 2K. Recently though, my son has been playing FIFA on the Xbox 360 and the demo of FIFA14 on the Xbox One. He’s a fan, and looking at this new version, I quite fancy a bit of two player footie.

Disney Infinity 2.0 Marvel Superheroes – We love practically anything Disney in our house, so the only thing that stopped us getting the original Disney Infinity was the lack of an Xbox One version. Now that it’s coming to Xbox One, and with Marvel content in tow, it’s a no-brainer. Pre-ordered! This is likely to be my first disk-based game purchase on Xbox One (if I could digitally download the accessories, I would!).

Halo: The Masterchief Collection – I know that I’ve already played 2.5 of these games, but in advance of the release of Halo5: Guardians next year, it seems like a good idea to go through again and play them with better visuals. I’ve never been a big online Halo player, but it’s fun to jump into from time to time.

NBA 2K15 – As I said above, the last two versions of this have been excellent. Plus I love NBA basketball. Plus the coming season looks to be very interesting with the return of LeBron to the Cavs. There’s no way anyone could talk me out of this one.

Some might say that my list is missing a “Triple-A” shooter or two, but the fact of the matter is that I’m still enjoying Titanfall (and have some DLC yet to come from the Season Pass to keep that fresh for a while longer), and I’ve barely played any Battlefield 4 yet, even though I got it at launch (when it was losing the fight for playing time to NBA 2K14 and Zoo Tycoon*), so I won’t be getting a new Battlefield or Call of Duty game this year. I’m not interested in Forza Horizon 2 because I only recently picked up Forza 5.

Some games that deserve a mention as possible purchases at Metro Redux (which looks excellent and has a low pricetag), Project Spark (although I’m not entirely clear on the pricing structure) and some of the games that are further out and may feature in a similar post a year from now: Rainbow Six Seige, The Division, Quantum Break, Halo 5, Rise of the Tomb Raider and Crackdown.

* Yes, Zoo Tycoon – it’s excellent!

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The Wishlist: Improvements to Xbox One

Posted by on Jun 22, 2014 in words | 0 comments

The Wishlist is home to our tech desires. It may be improvements to existing things, or something that doesn’t exist yet, but we really, really want.

This time we’re talking about Xbox One. It’s been a few months. There have been a small number of game releases since launch, along with some system updates, but what do we feel needs to be improved on Microsoft’s latest console?


I’m planning to largely do my game purchasing by digital download this generation. Microsoft have said that they hear people’s complaints about the negative pricing on the digital downloads (which is countered somewhat if you top-up your Microsoft account with pre-paid cards from someone like, where they can be purchased for around 20% under face value) and they plan to investigate different pricing options, but the thing that annoys me more than the price is the lack of pre-orders for digital downloads. It wouldn’t be difficult for them to allow you to pre-purchase a digital copy of a game, which could be downloaded to your Xbox One in the background before the launch date, but only made visible to you when the clock ticks round to launch day. That means you don’t have to wait until midnight to trigger a download and then wait to play the game, which is better for you, and also better for Microsoft because the load on the servers can be spread over the days leading up to the launch of a new title.

While pre-ordering would be a new feature, my next wish is fixing a bug feature that I regularly face with the system as it exists today. I have a young son who likes to play games, but frequently hands me the pad to show him how to do something. Xbox One cleverly suggests that his pad has disappeared. When playing LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, we’re always having to tell the console to keep playing as him, or hide the controller behind a cushion when he passes it to me. Things have been even worse when playing NBA 2K14 with 6 people sharing 4 controllers. The pads weren’t even changing hands during a game, but the Xbox frequently lost track of which controller should be playing for which team, and ended up thinking that there were more controllers in play than were present in the room (it only ever had 4 available, but started referring to them as 5, 6, 7 and 8 after a while)!


So I had the Xbox One on pre-order for a good 6 months prior to launch (but I suspect I was still slower than Jon!) and I was pretty excited by all of the information coming out about the console, leaked or otherwise. Now my gaming habits have changed significantly over the last 10 years where I went from an avid PC only gamer to dabbling a little bit with consoles to gaming almost exclusively (but admittedly not very much a week any more) on consoles. In the last generation of consoles I had a Wii, Xbox 360 and a PS3 but found I used the Xbox the most frequently. I found the experience of using a PS3 for online gaming to be painful. There was something so neat and easy about the online communication experience with the Xbox. You make an account, add friends via their email and then from that point on can see when they are online, can send them messages, chat with them, join their games, invite them to your games or even have private chat sessions while playing different games. The experience was great, it just worked (and lets not even talk about the Wii online experience!). I was therefore somewhat disappointed when I first used my shiny new Xbox One console and tried to join in with a friends game of BF4 only to find that the chat, party & friend experience had turned into an utter mess!

So what when wrong, surely when Microsoft were building the Xbox One they knew they had to carry all of this functionality forward? Well in theory they did, in practice however the new “appification” of the Xbox core functionality was rather woeful. Chat didn’t work properly, you would accept an invite only to be booted out of the game you were in & get stuck in “audio limbo” unable to talk to your friend. Now don’t get me wrong I can see why moving this sort of functionality out of the OS and into an “app” makes sense – you can iterate the apps much quicker than you can when they are baked in, you can get more flexibility that you had previously and it helps drive forward the ecosystem as a whole by making sure the OS has certain API’s built in that eventually other third parties will be able to exploit to build better experiences.

So what is on my wishlist? Well as you might have guessed a lot of fixes to make the chat & party join experience as seamless as it was on Xbox 360! I have seen the news that they had supposedly fixed this but I’ll wait and see and make my own mind up…

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OneNote goes free, adds awesomeness!

Posted by on Mar 17, 2014 in words | 0 comments

I have a terrible memory, but because I use the heck out of OneNote, that’s not a problem.

OneNote is one easily top of the list of applications that I couldn’t live without, and yet a huge number of people who have Microsoft Office installed on the PC in front of them have never bothered to open it. Part of that is because when it first appeared, it was marketed as a great companion to one of those Tablet PCs that hardly anyone bought. I’ve always maintained that you didn’t need a stylus or a touch screen to make the most out of OneNote. It’s just a really good way of storing information in a well organised and easily searchable way, and with your notebooks synchronised across all of your devices, it keeps all of that as accessible as could be.

Microsoft MVP Thomas Maurer tells us why OneNote is awesome on his blog. Even though I’ve used every version, I discovered some great tips from this post.

Microsoft has kindly made OneNote permanently free across all platforms, including a new Mac version. You can go and get it from – I urge you to give it a try.

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Continuing to use Windows XP – how much of a risk is it really?

Posted by on Mar 14, 2014 in words | 4 comments

In my post “Get the hell off Windows XP! NOW!”, I talked about why it’s probably not safe to keep running Windows XP when Microsoft end support for it on 8th April 2014. I talked there about vulnerabilities and exploits, like the IT guy that I am, but what are the real risks if you’re someone running Windows XP at home, or on a work computer supplied by your employer?

There are a load of answers to this, some of which are worse than others, so let’s look at a few options. Some of them are a bit scary – that’s on purpose, but I’m not just being sensationalistic – I just want you to know so that you can make an informed decision as to whether you need to do anything. Look, it’s likely possible to carry on quite safely if you’re running with the computer properly locked down, and you’re taking every precaution in using it (using a modern browser, don’t run Java, don’t run as admin, etc), but making sure that it’s really hardened against attack isn’t easy, and only time will tell if it can be done at all. When you’ve read this, you need to decide if you’re confident in taking that chance.

There’s every chance that someone out there has found a way to get some code of their choosing to execute on your computer, taking advantage of an as yet undiscovered loophole, which Microsoft aren’t going to close. As soon as someone malicious can execute code on your computer, it isn’t your computer!

Your computer could become part of a botnet, set to work sending spam emails, or trying to take down other systems by flooding them with network traffic.

That doesn’t hurt you yet. What else..?

Your files could be lost or held to ransom. If you’ve got your only copy of anything on your computer we need to talk anyway, but lots of people do. Let’s say you’ve got all of your family photos on there. The fact that you’ve got all of them in albums on Facebook isn’t a great backup. There’s a possibility that some enterprising soul could install ransomware on your computer; encrypting all of your files and demanding that you pay them real money to give you access back, otherwise they’re gone for good.

Your best defence against that is to have multiple copies of anything that has value, so that if anyone does take control of your computer, you can flatten it and start again, with an operating system newer than Windows XP. The fact that you have physical access to the machine still gives you an edge over the remote attacker, but only if you have backups.

Side Note: Doesn’t up to date anti-virus/anti-malware software protect me against this stuff?

Maybe. If you’re going to pin your hopes on “maybe” then we might as well not be having this conversation.

So we’re at a point where you may lose something of value. Perhaps you’ve got some software that you purchased and can’t easily retrieve again, or your collection of mp3s, or the sentimental value of your digital photo collection (which is by far the most valuable digital content that I own personally). Maybe they won’t touch your files. Perhaps they’ll just watch what you’re doing and collect your passwords with a key logger. If you do your online banking on that computer, you just gave them access to your bank account. Oops. They’re also in your email and social networks. Do you have anything in there that you want to keep private?

That’s at home though. What about at work?

So the same applies – if somebody else can run code on the computer. They can own the computer. Does your computer hold, or have access to, anything that’s of value to your company, or its customers, or its competitors. Would your password give somebody access to anything that could harm the organisation? Does your manager’s password? We know the CEO/COO/CFO have access to that stuff. Are they using Windows XP too?

Not to be dramatic, but can you foresee a situation where someone could get access to your systems and do enough damage to the company that it loses a stack of money, or a stack of value off the share price, or get a massive fine for leaking confidential data, or loses the confidence of its customers? Would the company be able to bounce back, or would you and your colleagues be out of work?

If you’re working for a company that is planning to carry on using Windows XP after 8th April, have you asked the management whether they’ve considered the risks of this? I know I would. You need a job more than you need those family holiday photos, right?

How certain are you that some script kiddie isn’t going to spam all your contacts, steal the music collection that you took years to build, ransom your own files back to you, then wipe then off your hard drive anyway for a laugh even after you’ve paid up, upload your fruitier selfies to a revenge porn site, and use photos of your significant other to catfish your best friend, sell your company’s secrets and client list to its competition, meanwhile opening it up to litigation from said clients and regulators, making your stock options worthless and leaving you looking for new employment?

Don’t worry though, it probably won’t happen.

It’s up to you.

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Get the hell off Windows XP! NOW!

Posted by on Mar 7, 2014 in words | 0 comments

One month from today, support ends for the Windows XP operating system, and Office 2003.


This is why…

There are still a lot of people running Windows XP. There are bad people in the world who try to find vulnerabilities in Windows (and Office, and anything else with a decent user base). Those people know that any vulnerability that they find is only useful to them until it is patched. If they keep their newly discovered vulnerability to themselves until after 8th April 2014, it’s not going to be patched, so it will be useful to them forever (until people stop using Windows XP)! Therefore, it’s incredibly likely that people have been stock-piling zero day exploits for months if not years, waiting for this.

So, in case it isn’t clear yet, let me summarise: If you are running Windows XP this time next month, it is likely that very soon, someone with bad intent is going to take control of your computer (unless it is completely isolated from everything else).

The good news is that you have a month to do something about it. The bad news is that, depending on the size of your organisation, that pretty much makes it a DIRE EMERGENCY! Stop reading blogs and do something about it.

These links might help you:

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Oh, you’re trending on Twitter? Tell me more about how amazing you are.

Posted by on Aug 19, 2013 in words | 0 comments

Many moons ago, every other person on Twitter called themself a “social media guru”. At the time we laughed, but it turns out that they probably weren’t all too far wrong, as evidenced by the fact that since Twitter went mainstream it’s now largely populated by people who have no clue how social media can best be leveraged, and many of those people work in marketing or some other social media role.

The mainstream media now seems full of mentions of things trending on Twitter, and it appears to be on the bucket-list of every other tween with an incurable condition, so it seems trending has become the main KPI for life on Earth!

Except it isn’t.

You can easily see what’s trending now, but I defy anyone to tell me what was trending last week, unless it was also trending in all other forms of media. Unless we’re talking about some massive event, there’s no hope that you could say what was trending on Twitter 6 months ago.

Georgina Lewis is the Digital Engagement Lead for Microsoft UK. She had this to say on the matter of trending as a goal:

Trending is synonymous with the short term nature of the way people sometimes think about the planning and success of social media. It takes time, resource and much planning to develop a long term-strategy to ensure you show up in social media. A single tweet, or a single instance of trending is equivalent to nothing more than a quick glance at someone as you pass them by. What you should strive for is seeing that person in the street, knowing them by name and being able to have a conversation about how their mum is, how was their holiday and their plans for the weekend. To do this, you need to connect all the elements of an individual’s connections with your brand (purchases, customer services etc..) and understand them as an individual (their interests, behaviours etc..) in order to be able to build a relationship with them. I heard someone quote recently that we want to move them up the “ladder of engagement” because once they are so far up that ladder, it is easier to keep going up than come down (thanks Jesse Stanchak).

This is of course the nirvana and there are so many theories and tools that promise this realisation. We have some way to go, but for now we start with a solid foundation of people speaking to people.

Fortunately there are some people and companies that have grasped that the benefit of social media is in engagement rather than broadcast. For instance, there are many good and bad examples of  dealing with bad press on Twitter. The good ones put their hands up, engage with people and say sorry. The bad ones stick their heads in the sand and hope it’ll blow over.

There’s currently a very broad spectrum of corporate Twitter use. That’s partly because some organisations are slow moving, partly because it’s difficult to quantify the value of pouring resources into your Twitter presence, and partly because even when you do try to do the right thing, it’s still really difficult to do it consistently. I recently raised two issues to the same corporate Twitter account. I one instance I was engaged properly, with a conversation trying to help me out. On the other occasion, I was pointed to the URL of their FAQs, saying why what I was trying to do wasn’t supported. The second experience was almost bad enough to negate what happened with the first.

And that’s the crux of the point. It doesn’t matter that you might be able to bask in the glow of the Twitter trending topics list for a fraction of a day – it’s not something that can be maintained, and if somebody has a bad experience on social media with you today, it doesn’t matter that you were trending yesterday – you’ve still gained a detractor. It’s only by sustained engagement that you turn people into friends/allies/evangelists. Trending may give you some short-term satisfaction, but really it’s like eating empty carbs.

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Filtering the internet is never the solution

Posted by on Jul 24, 2013 in words | 0 comments

Ineffective, easily circumvented, dangerously misleading and a very bad precedent.

Much has been said this week about UK PM David Cameron’s proclamation about cracking down on online pornography, specifically child and rape porn. The whole idea being that he’s planning to stop the corrosion of innocence while simultaneously removing any encouragement that such content gives to potential/current sex offenders. Oh, and he might bundle in self-harm websites for good measure.

The Daily Mail campaigned for this and celebrated on their website with lots of sexed-up imagery of celebs in bikinis. Personally I’d suggest that their column of semi-clad reality tv stars  is also harmful to impressionable children (who can end up with body-image issues); at least as harmful as images of grown-ups enjoying themselves in perfectly legal ways. The photographs of topless women on page 3 of The Sun won’t be subject to this filtering because Mr Cameron thinks that they aren’t too pornographic*. Written content apparently won’t face the same default blocking that images and videos will – evidentially you can’t write a hardcore story that’s as vile as a photograph.

I guess it’s quite a subjective thing then, David! Computers are bad at working out what is the right and wrong thing to filter subjectively. They are good at following well-defined rules, but in this case it’s impossible to define the rules, because even David Cameron doesn’t know what they should be. People are already suggesting the problems of accidental filtering of sex education/medical content and even renaissance art, and Cameron acknowledges that implementing this will be problematic, but don’t let that get in the way of rushing a half-assed system into place in order to appease the media, eh?

Incidentally, I’ve seen some people suggesting that it’s mainly men who are speaking out against the porn filtering, but there are people of all genders with whom I would disagree about what was acceptable on both ends of the spectrum. I don’t think I’d want any of them deciding what anyone was allowed to look at.

The stuff that is rightly illegal won’t be impacted by any of this because it will just all disappear onto the darknet, so the barrier to entry may be higher, but that’s just reducing the visibility, not the problem. Almost like brushing it under the carpet. Far better to use the money being wasted on this approach to focus on hunting and bringing to justice the people who are actually harming/raping children and other adults.

I have children and I will be making sure that our home doesn’t have filtered internet. If children are properly educated and supervised, they don’t accidentally come across harmful images/videos on the internet. Certainly no more harmful than those that they would see on news sites of violent events. If you’re worried about your child’s online safety, don’t let them use the internet totally unsupervised and make sure that you are the one that teaches them about sex before they get the chance to hear it from someone else (whether that’s in the school yard or online).

When it boils down to it this shouldn’t just be about pornography; it should be about equipping children to deal with all sorts of bad things that happen in the world. It’s as much about them being able to see pictures on the news of a massacre and understanding that that isn’t ok. Filtering and monitoring may help, but they aren’t the complete solution. The solution is educating children and being open to them, so that they know they can ask about things that they don’t understand. I wonder how many parents will stop worrying about their kids being online because they think that the government has made it safe? Our streets are policed too, but that doesn’t mean they’re totally safe for little children.

However, that’s not even my biggest beef with this. The whole thing, apart from being an unimplementable farce, just gets the public used to the idea of a filtered internet that’s there for our protection. Once you start to accept the idea that someone else gets to decide what you’re allowed to see/access/know, then it’s easier for them to decide to filter other things that suit them but aren’t necessarily for your own good. They might decide that it’s in the interests of national security that nobody knows about PRISM, for example, so that there can’t be a public debate on whether or not it’s a good thing, etc. The trouble with filters at the ISP is always going to be that you don’t get to know what you aren’t being allows to see. As a friend of mine put it, “if we let someone else filter what we see, then we might as well move to North Korea”.

One of the greatest things about the internet is the availability of information. I will never agree with filtering that availability. This is nothing short of government censorship – the sort of thing that we deplore when it’s other countries doing it. I would strongly support greater penalties for people who abuse children – isn’t that a better problem to solve? There’s little point trying to implement a technological solution to a social problem. It’s not the first time that I’ve had to make that argument…

Over the years I’ve had several discussions around web filtering inside many organisations. The sorts of places that want to make sure that their employees can’t access Facebook, because if they don’t, their employees will waste all of their time on Facebook. That, like the PM’s newly proposed filtering, is applying an unworkable solution to the wrong problem. Where I work, in a university, if we were to block Facebook it would take literally minutes for the students to share the many, many ways that you can work round filtering. In companies that block certain “time wasting” websites, I sincerely hope that they’ve also stopped people bringing in books, newspapers, smartphones, oh, and banned people from looking out of the window, chatting about their weekends or other things that are so dangerous to productivity.

Hell, if the only way that a company can get their staff to actually do the work that they’re paying them for is by blocking their access to Facebook, then what on earth are the managers doing? Either they’re employing the wrong people, or they aren’t giving them the right targets to hit or appropriate motivation (which may include “if you’re spending all your day on Facebook, you get fired”). Either way, filtering the internet isn’t going to stop disenfranchised employees from procrastinating! Where a company is sending a message to its staff that it can’t trust them to not waste time on the web, they’re doing it wrong. In talking to people from such organisations, I’ve never heard a single one saying “it’s a really good thing that they filter the internet.”

For a great example of the ineffectiveness of internet filtering, we need to look no further than The Pirate Bay. The music and movie industries campaigned to have it taken off the internet, and in the UK at least you can’t visit The Pirate Bay’s primary URL through several ISPs. Of course they just added a bunch of other URLs and proxies that aren’t blocked because there’s no way that the legislation or ISPs can keep pace. The blocking of the site also triggered the Streisand effect, raising awareness and actually increasing traffic to it. A job well done!

The bottom line is that the way that the internet works means that it is great for making information free and available. It’s actually really, really difficult to stifle information on the internet, and most of the time that is a very good thing. It means that it’s harder for people to become oppressed. It’s harder for people to fall victim to propaganda. Yes it makes it possible, even easier in some cases, for people to commit crimes, but it is basically just a means of communication. Those crimes are still crimes whether the internet is involved or not, so prosecute the crimes, because trying to filter the internet is not going to work. Ever.

* Full disclosure: I also don’t believe that women’s breasts/nipples are to be feared (any more than those of a man). However, I don’t believe that they are news either.

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