Sunday, June 24, 2012

My thoughts/review of Marvel: Avengers Alliance Facebook Game

I enjoy playing the occasional video game and one of the "free" games that I am currently playing on Facebook is a game called Marvel: Avengers Alliance. Marvel Avengers Alliance is a simple flash game based on various heroes from the Marvel universe.

The game involves your team of 3 characters comprising of a SHIELD agent and two heroes. In Chapter 1 of the game, you start the game with Iron Man, Hawkeye, and Black Widow. Each hero belongs to one of five classes (blaster, bruiser, infiltrator, tactician, scrapper, and generalist). Your SHIELD agent starts off as a generalist but you can change it at later levels by research and purchasing the appropriate uniform.

It is a "free" game in the fact that it is possible to play this game without spending any real money on it. When I first started playing it, the only game commodity that you could directly purchase with money was gold. This gold could be used to purchase silver, SHIELD points, or command points. Currently the two game commodities that you can purchase directly with real money is gold and silver. Gold is the more scarce commodity and is rewarded every time your agent gains a level and every time you get 4 stars on a particular mission. Silver is gained via sending your heroes out on the flight deck as well as during battles (and visiting allies). The more allies (Facebook friends who also play Marvel: Avengers Alliance) you have, the easier it is for you to get silver and SHIELD points. As you progress in the game, the game requires a minimum of 3 allies/friends in order to obtain the 8 level 1 ships on the flight deck. If you don't have enough allies, you will have to use gold in order to get the ships or upgrade the ships which is not recommended.

In my opinion, you should only use gold to get weapons and inventory items (mainly ISO-8 items which increase the statistics for your heroes/agent). The only other time I would use gold in the game is if there was a limited hero/uniform that you did not have enough command points to purchase directly before the deadline expires. Command points (which are used to purchase new heroes or uniforms for the heroes) seems like hard items to get is somewhat easy to get by going to a particular battle in a chapter mission and fighting these hidden "epic bosses" and once they drop their command point, you let your team get killed. Although very boring, you repeat this until you get enough command points to purchase your hero or a hero's uniform. Currently, hero prices range from 15 command points to 90 command points. Generally, the high tier heroes have better abilities/powers or are more popular. An example of a high tier (90 command points) hero would be Spider-Man while an example of a lower tier (15 command points) would be Invisible Girl.

Heroes gain special abilities when they reach level 2, level 6, and level 9. Their abilities/powers have various strengths and weaknesses.

There is so much about this game that it is impossible to write one blog entry that covers this game entirely. As such depending on the interest, I might write additional blog entries regarding Marvel: Avengers Alliance.

If you like the heroes in the Marvel universe and you have a Facebook account, you can give this game a try. The game has its good points and bad points. One of the bad points is the random sales/pricing that the game developers seem to often practice. What this means is that sometimes when you see an item for sale in the store for a certain price, it is possible that another player has a different (lower or higher) price for the exact same item.

If you have any comments/questions regarding this blog entry, please don't hesitate to leave me a comment in the comments section. Please note that comments are moderated and any comment that contains a URL link (whether embedded or not) will be flagged as being spam and will not be posted.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Google Authenticator & Google's 2-Step Verification Process Review

Since I sometimes log onto public PCs to check my Gmail account and I wanted a bit more security because I didn't know what was installed on those PCs (keyloggers, Wi-Fi snooping, etc.), I configured my Google account to use the 2-step verification.

For information about 2-step verification process, please refer to Google's YouTube information video about it below.

How this works is when accessing your Google account (like Gmail), after entering your Google password, you are prompted for a specific algorithm generated PIN. This PIN is displayed on a program called Google Authenticator which can be obtained for Blackberries, iOS devices (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad), and AndroidOS devices or it can be sent to your cellphone via SMS or it can be configured to call your phone where the PIN is given to you via an automated voice system. Since I have multiple phones, I sometimes use the automated phone system to get the 1-time usage PIN on the phone that doesn't have Google Authenticator activated with my Google account (for example: I might have the Google Authenticator program on my personal cellphone whereas I would configure the automated phone system (or SMS) to use my work cellphone. You should be aware that when the Google system calls you, the incoming phone number will be a blocked/private number. If your phone is configured not to accept blocked/private calls, you will have to allow for blocked/private calls if you want to receive the automated phone calls from the Google Authentication system.

I've installed the program on all 3 phone platforms but it will only work on 1 phone at a time because the Google Authenticator program must be configured for the Google account on 1 device only. If you change devices or want to use Google Authenticator on another device, you will have to go into the 2-step verification set-up and select "Remove/Replace" for the device.

What I like about Google Authenticator is that it allows you to get an extra level of security for your Google account where it displays the 2nd password (PIN) on your phone. The Google Authenticator program doesn't require data or WiFi and the code is generated via algorithm so if you don't have WiFi coverage and/or you don't have a data plan, you can still use the Google Authenticator application. In a lot of respects, it is similar to the security card that we use where I worked called a "RSA SecurID card".

What I don't really like about the 2-step process is that some applications don't support it and you will have to generate these application specific passcodes for these applications. Every application specific passcode that you create is another method of gaining access to your Google account so you have to be careful where you enter these codes. The good thing about these codes is that they can be revoked if necessary.

One another thing about the 2-step verification process is that you can generate 1 time usage passcodes. These passcodes are similar to the application specific passcodes except that once you enter them once to access your account, the passcode expires and you can't use it again (even on the same computer/browser or with the same application).

What makes Google's 2-step verification system and Google Authenticator great is that even if someone manages to guess/hack your Google password, without your cellphone (or the associated Google Authenticator program), they won't be able to get into your Google account.

If you have any questions/comments regarding this blog entry, please don't hesitate to leave a comment in the comments section below. Please note that comments are moderated and comments that contain a URL link will be flagged as being spam and will not be posted.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Touch (cross phone platform chat) Application Review

I wasn't sure what to write about this week but since I had reviewed a phone cross-platform chat (instant message) application called Kik about 2 years ago (which since has undergone a lot of changes making that blog entry almost useless except as a matter of historical perspective), I decided to write about another cross-platform chat program called Touch (formerly called PingChat). As of this blog entry, the version number of Touch on the Blackberry is v3.1, on the AndroidOS is v3.1.2, and on the iOS (iPhone) platform is v3.1.2.

I was using PingChat (primarily on my Blackberry Bold 9700 but also used it on my Sumsung Nexus-S and iPhone 3GS) when they upgraded/changed their program name and revamped it almost entirely to call it Touch.

The first thing I want to mention is that even though I have the application installed on 3 different phones (running 3 different phone OSes), the program can only be active on one phone. This means that even though you can have the program installed on many different devices, you will only be able to log onto the Touch server with 1 device and chat using that 1 device. You can swap between devices by logging out of one device and logging into the other device.

I primarily use this program on my Blackberry but when I travel, because of the need of a data plan and it being somewhat difficult to get a Blackberry compatible data plan when traveling, I will use it on my iPhone 3GS or my Samsung Nexus-S.

I find that the program works relatively well and I use it to chat with my friends on the phone regardless of what  popular smartphone they use (Windows phones excluded). What I like about this chat program is that it has "read" receipts. What this means is that when you send them a message, you generally will know when they've read it because there will be a "R" next to the message after they've gone into the message.

Depending on the receiving phone model, the person can still read the message without the read receipt showing up correctly but I find it better than using the carrier's SMS where you generally don't know if the person read your message or not (or whether your message was received on their device) unless the person actually responds to your SMS text message.

Another thing that I like about Touch is that it is 100% free (except for the need of a data plan or WiFi).

I have occasionally noticed an occasional problem with Touch where the message doesn't get relayed to my phone immediately but I've only noticed this problem when I use my Blackberry and I've never noticed this problem on my iPhone 3GS or my Nexus-S. I believe that this problem on my Blackberry is due to the fact that I don't have a lot of free memory on my Blackberry Bold 9700 after I upgraded the OS from v5 to v6.

One of the things that I also use Touch for is to send an image/picture to someone in the middle of our chat session. I find that it does this relatively well.

One thing that I didn't like when PingChat became Touch was that there was no longer a way to link the addressbook contact with the Touch contact. What this means is that the name that appears on the Touch contact will be what your friend chooses and not what you want (since there is no way to rename the Touch contact either). In my opinion, this causes the Touch contact names to be inconsistent where some friends might decide to only use their initials in Touch whereas some friends might use their complete names, a made up name, a nickname, and/or a combination of these.

All in all, I'm mostly satisfied with the performance of Touch on my various devices which is why I continue to use it. It is better than using MSN Messenger or GoogleTalk on my various devices in the fact that it has read and delivery receipts. However, I still use those instant messaging programs on my phone primarily because my contacts/friends use those programs.

If you have any comments/questions regarding this blog entry, please don't hesitate to leave a comment in the comments section below. Please note that the comments are moderated and any comment that contains an embedded hyperlink or a non-embedded hyperlink will be flagged as being spam and will not be posted.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Acer Iconia Tab A100 Android Tablet Review

I got my hands on an Acer Iconia Tab A100 Android tablet a few weeks ago and since that time, it has received approximately 2 official updates. Originally, if I remember correctly, the Acer Iconia Tab A100 out of the box came with Honeycomb (3.2.1). The first update brought it up to ICS (Ice Cream Sandwich) and then a few days ago there was another update that brought it to 4.0.3. I believe that the first update brought it to 4.0.1 if I'm not mistaken.

The Acer Iconia Tab A100 is a 7" Android tablet with a resolution of 1024 x 600. Mine is currently running 4.0.3. I had previously rooted it when it was running Honeycomb since it was so easy to do with this tablet but since upgrading it to ICS, I haven't rooted it yet because it requires the use of a computer to root it. With Honeycomb, it didn't require the use of a computer. All you needed to do was get ~3 files onto your tablet and then run a command. Since I only use 1 program that requires root access, there is no urgent need on my part to root it.

Previously, I was using a no-name resistive touchscreen Android tablet which I found to be okay but didn't like the fact that it was slow and that the screen was resistive (and not multi-touch capacitive). For anyone unfamiliar with resistive screens, they require pressure on the screen in order for the system to register that you want to do something. Because of this, they are usually slower and don't allow for the "2-finger zoom". I didn't really mind the size (it was ~10") and I did like the Android OS so when I received the A100 at a deal too good to pass, I got it.

I use the Iconia Tab A100 most of the time to read PDF documents/books. I find that it works very well for this because of the size. It is also very responsive. I also use it for the occasional browsing, Slingbox viewing, Netflix viewing, Facebook access, etc.

The battery life on this tablet is what I would consider as "okay". I can watch an entire online/streaming movie from Netflix and still have enough power to do other things before requiring a charge. I say that the battery life is not as good as the HP TouchPad tablet that I reviewed earlier *HERE* but it is still good.

It also connects to my all various routers without any issues. The A100 has a dual core CPU but at times I find it very sluggish. Excluding the sluggishness, I have not had any major issues with my A100 such as random reboots.

The A100 has a slot that supports a micro-SD card and it also has a micro-HDMI port. I routinely connect my Acer Iconia Tab A100 to my HD television in order to watch Netflix using a micro-HDMI to HDMI cable and never had any issues.

The unit comes with a front facing camera (2 MP) as well as the main back camera (5 MP). I really haven't used either of the cameras often so I can't really comment on the quality of the pictures. Suffice it to say, if you wanted to take a very good picture, you wouldn't use a tablet to take that picture.

I'm not sure if this is Acer's customization of ICS since there is no such feature on my Samsung "true" Android Nexus-S but there is a setting for encryption that allows you to encrypt the entire filesystem. Once you encrypt your filesystem, you will need a password or PIN every time you power it on (separate from the screen password/PIN if you activated this). I encrypted it a few days ago and didn't notice any issues with speed or performance. The only thing is after encrypting it, I'm not sure if you can unencrypt it without wiping out the system since during my brief look at the setting menu options, I don't see an option to unencrypt the filesystem.

One negative comment that I have regarding the Acer Iconia Tab A100 (excluding the sluggishness which I've already mentioned) is that it charges via a what appears to be a proprietary charger. For me, I would have preferred it to charge using a standard micro-USB (or any type of USB) cable.

Another negative comment that I have regarding the Acer Iconia Tab A100 is that even with ICS (Ice Cream Sandwich), it does not allow you to transfer applications to an external microSD card. In order to do this, you will have to root your device.

There is not much I can say/write about the Acer Iconia Tab A100 tablet since it functions to my expectations and the Android applications that I use with it work relatively well so if you have any questions/comments regarding this review, please don't hesitate to leave a comment in the comments section. Please note that comments are moderated and any comment that contain a hyperlink will be flagged as being spam and will not be posted.