Thanks for the free games @Valve

For the release of their latest game Portal 2, Valve went to great lengths marketing wise. They set up an “Alternate reality game” (ARG) with tips and puzzles hidden in 13 independent games (to promote indie games). Some of the games even added extra levels just for the ARG.  Solving puzzles, finding passwords, and triggering special events led to the possibility to gain “potatoes” as a sign of progress. If all 36 potatoes were found in the 13 games involved players got a golden potato.

After the ARG was solved by the community, Valve added a countdown a few days before the release of Portal 2, allowing the community to get Portal2 to release early by collecting potatoes and (in the end phase) playing the 13 indie games.

Last Friday Valve announced in the official blog “There’s also still time to collect all 36 potatoes. Anyone accomplishing this feat by the time Portal 2 launches will receive a very special, non-hat-based reward.” An extra incentive for people to play the games involved and collect the potatoes. I spent most of the last days collecting all 36 potatoes, got the last one just hours before the deadline.

Today everyone with a golden potato  got the reward, a valve complete pack and a copy of portal2. I’m honestly impressed. I never would have expected them to not only give out all their previous games ($100), but also a free copy of their latest game they just released yesterday ($50).

Impressive move Valve, even if I was irritated at buying the game on steam on pre-order and then seeing Amazon and Best Buy drop the price shortly before release by 10$, the ARG and the potatoes blew everything out of the water. So now I have a few copies of games I already owned to give out 🙂

Moving to the USA

I haven’t posted here for a while. One of the reasons is that I started posting more day-to-day stuff on facebook, but the main reason was that the last few months my wife and I have been busy organizing stuff. She got a job offer over here, so December and January we were busy getting everything organized to move from Germany to USA. In December we flew over for a week to get an apartment rented, buy a car, set up a bank account, insurance, … all the fun stuff you go through when moving to a new place. Let it be said, that christmas time is not the advised time to organize such stuff :-p
Steffi flew in on the 15th, and I came over a week later. And now our new home is in (the cold) Twin Cities 🙂 Our internet conenction isn’t going to be installed till Feb 1st (along with phone and TV), so I don’t have much to do except for cleaning the appartment, assembling furniture (IKEA is just around the corner) and shopping … and of course keeping an eye out for interresting jobs here. I’ll keep you all posted on how things are going here, If the sun ever comes out I’ll go out to shoot some photos.

Windows reinstall and Adobe fun

I never got around to posting it, but a few weeks back the hard drive of my PC with Windows on it died … a little bit. Technically a large chunk of the harddrive is simply unaccessable. after poking and pushing I at least got windows to boot up again, but a large part of the software was dead. I bough a new drive and went through the fun process of installing a fresh windows, patching it, and then installing all the software again.

I didn’t get around to installing my video and picture software on the new windows until this morning, and it turned out to be lots of fun. Due to pure luck I found the license key for sony vegas (it is shown in the splash screen when starting up, shortly before it crashes due to my harddisk malfunction). Any Photomatix was where I keep most licenses stored. But my Photoshop license was more of a challenge. Adobe only allows 2 activated copies of the software per license, activated copies are bound to hardware … you probably see where this is going. I couldn’t deactivate the old installation since the harddrive was kinda dead, and the new installation says “different hardware (new harddrives), must be a different computer”. Yay, fun. The bright side was that the support was easily contacted and they could reset the activation counter (after lecturing me about using it on “2 computers” and deactivating, bla bla bla). I learned one thing: the more expensive the software, the more problems you have with licenses. A shame I never liked Gimp for photo editing.

a bit of Baking

Wife did some baking tonight, so I whipped out the camera and took some shots. Unfortunately I noticed that the flash hot shoe seems to have gone unresponsive after a fall a few weeks ago, but using the built-in flash as a commander to control an off-camera flash still works fine.


Pictures from the Mediterranean cruise

We shot over 600 photos on our cruise. Anyone who missed it on Facebook: we visited Savona (Italy), Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca (both Spain), Tunis (Tunisia), La Valletta (Malta), Cantania and Rom (both Italy). Anyway, here is a selection of some of the photos. Took me the better of the day to sort out which photos were worth while posting, and then post-processing them.






Adobe Lightroom 3

I always shoot in RAW + JPEG. For normal point-and-shoot vacation stuff I’m generally satisfied with the JPEG the camera spits out. But I would never shoot only JPEG. The additional information of RAW shouldn’t be underestimated, and to be honest I often tweak around. It makes a difference if you are working on the original RAW data, or if you are working on the JPEG copy the camera has already processed.
Up till now I’ve been post-processing my images with Adobe Bridge and Photoshop CS3. Since I was planning on post-processing a whole load of pictures I decided to see what software there is out there to streamline the work flow a bit (Bridge and CS3 do the job, and the raw converter in CS3 does offer a wide variety of options, but it is still tedious switching to be switching between both programs and working on multiple RAW images at the same time). While I was away, Adobe released Lightroom 3, so I checked out the reviews and it sounded good. I downloaded the 30 day trial version and to sum it up my experience so far … I’m impressed.
I haven’t worked with Lightroom previously, so I can’t say how much has changed in this version. But I really like the details that make life easier when handling collections of images. Being an Adobe product it also offers interfaces to various Photoshop functions (I only own CS3, I could imagine it offers more options if you have the current version CS5 installed). I could go on and on with things I like about it, but I’ll just sum it up and say: It really streamlines the work flow of post-processing photographs from import to print/upload/web/presentation and if you are shooting RAW it has a whole lot of fun stuff to play around with directly built in.
Since I shoot with a Nikon D80 that tends to produce a fair amount of image noise if I go past ISO 400 I liked the noise reduction features of Lightroom, both color and luminance noise can be reduced greatly with sliders for fine tuning.

It’s a good piece of software, and when the 30 day trial ends I’ll probably go buy it.

Grid clicker script

I finished up my “grid clicker” script. it is intended to simplify testing of games where you have to click certain patterns (a grid). Typical facebook games like farmville or funfari are great examples of this. just download the file (here is the sourcecode), execute it, and an eye should appear in your task bar. Double clicking on the icon in your task bar will start the script, just follow the instructions and everything should be fine.

And while I am at it: here is a spreadsheet I started for plants/trees/animals in funfari: Google online spreadsheets

Wedding & Photography

I haven’t posted anything here in a while. Mostly I’ve been busy preparing a photo-shoot and -documentation of a wedding of friends. As a photographer you will always notice things, when looking at the finished fotos, where you say “hmm, maybe a differnet aperature/iso/flash/exposure setting would have produced an even better result”. but all in all I’m satisfied with the results.

Hiking in the Black Forest

I had Monday off work, so we went hiking in the Black Forest (southern Germany) the last 3 days. The first day we started hiking around Blumberg (I managed to twist my knee after a few km, didn’t really make things easier), then we took a steam locomotive (Sauschwänzlebahn) up the hill and hiked back to the car. Afterwards we drove up to Titisee where we booked a hotel for 2 nights.

The next day we drove over to the Wutachschlucht and hiked a very nice trail. Since the weather was good and it was a Sunday there were a decent amount of people hiking. In the late afternoon we finally arrived at our destination, sat down and rested our feet before we took a bus back to where we parked the car.

On the last day we were a bit tired for hiking the last 2 days and the weather was getting  a bit rainy, so we decided to take the scenic route home, and stop by waterfalls and ruins on the way.

a bit of bouldering

On the way home from work today I made a little detour to a playground where there are two rocks for bouldering (seems like they are from this company). Yes, I know playgrounds are for kids, but if you ignore the holds the rocks can be a real challenge. Even if they are only about 3m high (a bit less than 10ft), getting to the top without using the holds can be a bit challenging. Sorry for the crappy picture, I only had my cell phone with me …

bouldering [urldisplaymode=nomap]