Archive for the ‘Apps’ Category

Oh yes… That I still do. I used to love my iPad… but now… Now I want to throw her out of a window. Preferably one that’s on the top floor of the Canary Wharf towers. When there’s a massive carter at the bottom for it to fall into.

There has been yet another new update released: v8.1… and despite high hopes it would fix the so many issues that it has, it… well… hasn’t. Once again, I made space, downloaded the update, and… nothing. After a weeks of barely tolerating all this, I’m now really am ready to go up to the top floor of that tower – no update has fixed anything that’s wrong with it.

It has not become any better, even after update 8.1. If anything, it may be even worse. And for this privilege I even had to give up an extra 1GB of precious space in my 16GB iPad, leaving just barely 12.5GB left. What a waste of space. Literally.

... Wanna join me?

… Wanna join me?

I even gave up a few games to make the space for this. Hearthstone was particularly difficult to let go of. I no longer have space to download my Audible books, and I there’s no space install any music from iTunes anymore, either. And for some reason, it saves my pictures twice – and I can’t even get at the Photo Stream service, nor understand why it has to save it locally twice on my hard drive. It’s supposed to be on iCloud. A server. Not local. I have no idea what they’re doing – and, frankly, I don’t think they do either. For some reason, I must endure their new brand of crazy, and now have to very carefully pick what I want to keep on my girl at any one time – and for something to stay, something now has to go. It’s like musical chairs. But with data. Data that I want to keep on her, but I’m not allowed to, because they took all my space… and also some my sanity.

I was looking at the iPod Touch range the other day on the Apple store website; just browsing the pages that were there to tell you all about them. Towards the bottom of the main page, there was a boxed out bit that advertised them with iOS 7, and I immediately thought that if I got one and it shipped with iOS 7, there was no way on earth I would ever update it. Ever.

It was  right then that I realised just how much I resented the massive difference in quality the OS brought, and how user unfriendly iOS 8 really was. My iPad has gone from something I loved using to something that was bordering on being virtually unusable. No longer fun. No longer nice. Now… now that new OS is just a nightmare.

It reminds me more and more of my Windows Vista laptop… and that was another thing I would have gladly thrown from a skyscraper and into a crater for just how abominable that system was.

 

Issues…

The difference in the way my iPad operates between now and before the update unfortunately screams instantly in anyone’s face. I would like to add, “from the moment you turn it on”… but even that part is difficult to do now. She used to wake up like a dog that’s just heard a gunshot. Now you’re lucky if she wakes up at all without freezing. Actually, you’re lucky if she does anything without freezing.

Getting the feeling this has something to do with the problem...

Apple Tech? Seems legit…

From therein on, it just gets worse. The wifi system is terrible and you’re lucky it even picks up a signal. It doesn’t even always auto-log into my home wifi… forget anywhere else. It certainly can’t hold a signal properly, or use it. Safari is a pointless nightmare that never works properly, and along with the wifi, seems hellbent on conspiring against you ever accessing the internet. Between them, it feels like you’re back in 1996 and trying to get into a dial-up connection that refuses to work no matter what.

This particularly comes screaming into your day whenever a new search in run on Safari. It won’t respond when you tap on the website you wish to go to. That’s if Safari actually brings you anything at all, of course. Quite often it will get bored halfway through a request and just never goes anywhere; it freezes. Sometimes it crashes. Sometimes even a Force Quit and reboot won’t fix the issue. Sometimes simply attempting to do anything straightforward on Safari becomes absolutely pointless, to the point of frustrating absurdity.

Occasionally, it might work, though – if you can successfully scroll up and down the results page. Then it allows you to tap the results. But almost always the touchscreen becomes completely unresponsive, and you have to do something to remedy that.

I’ve all but given up on a game that I loved, because it can’t seem to load it properly anymore, and when it does it is usually unstable and really slow. Even apps as simplistic as the BBC News or Asda Groceries apps are difficult to manage. The touchscreen will always, at some point, become entirely unresponsive of its own accord, regardless of whatever you may be doing, or which app was involved. Most apps are slow to load, and then even slower to close. Hitting the Home button in front brings everything “home” in such slow motion, I think it’s going to crash. The new system’s absolute lack of ability to manage anything is truly astounding.

Twitter and G+ apps even joined in the fun. They have apparently been harvesting a crapload of data in the background onto the local drive for absolutely no reason whatsoever. Nearly 1GB of data they stuffed into themselves. Each. When I saw that they were adding to my space problems, the iPad very nearly really did go out the window. Only deleting the app and reinstalling actually aborts the data, so that’s what I had to do. Even then, Twitter still has issues loading properly at times. I have absolutely no idea if it’s going to continue to hoard data again as I continue to use it, either, which doesn’t fill me with much confidence.

Will they ever get it right...?

Will they ever get it right…?

As well as all this, the jump to iOS 8 has screwed up my Pages app (Apple’s answer to Word – which is a pretty great software, by the way). I use this app a lot and – for some reason that is entirely unfathomable to anyone but themselves – the Pages designers decided the iOS 8 update would no longer be able to read certain format documents, rendering a good amount of my documents unusable on my iPad. The only way to fix it? Log into iCloud via the browser end, opening the document(s), and re-saving it again under the new format. You can’t even do it on the OS X app – it can only be done via the Pages Beta app on iCloud.com. Genius.

You can tell they thought all this through long and hard over all this. What makes it worse was that this, like other little niggles, wasn’t widely mentioned by Apple, or particularly specified properly in the update information; I only found out through searching through Google and Apple forums. I would have expected Apple to have offered more information and specifics, even advice for porting, regarding various changes to the system and apps than they did. The information wasn’t exactly widely available, and what was there wasn’t too easy to find… As in it wasn’t obviously there amongst the other shiny paraphernalia offered in the OS release website pages. There was a lot of posturing and pretty images on their website – everything you needed if you were a newbie purchasing a new system from scratch. Not too much for someone upgrading. Apart from how “different” it all was… and forgetting to mention how those changes were going to bugger up your systems. I have very high expectations of this company,  but… well… it seems that my high expectations of this company seems to have set the bar too high for them this time.

 

Rotten Apples…

iOS must be, without doubt, the most unstable OS I have encountered. Except Windows Vista. Vista may be worse. Maybe… And that is most certainly something I thought I would never say about an Apple product, system, or software.

I’m horrified and astounded by how unbelievably glitchy and unstable it is – even after 3 updates. They haven’t managed to stabilise it – it’s certainly not just me, if the hits on Google are anything to go by – and if anything, they may have made it worse. My iPad certainly still seems extremely unhappy to have it, and she’s not getting any better, either.

I probably need to learn how to do this...

I wish I knew how to do this…

Coupled with the almost equally-inept OS X Yosemite, it seems that Apple appears to be focused on effectively punishing anyone who doesn’t have a new model of a computer or mobile product. This new pair of operating systems seem to be entirely designed for the high-end newer products that are also brand-new out of the box. Older models who are migrated onto it seem to be having nothing but trouble. They’re clearly not optimised well enough for the older processes to manage to run them properly, and the migration itself is also flawed… well, mine was. A whole bunch of stuff doesn’t work on both platforms, and both are 2012 models; only two years old. But that may as well be lightyears.

The older models clearly aren’t able to quite manage to run these things. Certainly in the case of iOS 8, this is particularly evident. Simply put, my iPad just cannot really cope with the new operating system. She gets easily upset by anything, and not only freezes or crashes the apps, she even freezes and crashes her entire system, especially when there’s space memory for the CPU (the brain) available. I haven’t been able to open files on iOS Pages app that I created before the upgrade, and the one game I have left (whilst having to delete the others to make space) doesn’t work properly.

n the other side, as well as other irritating niggles, on reboot after the new OS X Yosemite update, it screwed up my Gmail account in the Mail centre of my Macbook, and also forced my Macbook Apple ID apps into launching under their designated default setting of my iCloud account, as opposed the Apple ID account I actually do use – leaving me wondering for while why the supposed upgrade to having everything sync wasn’t working (the iPad was set to the proper Apple ID I use). I been unable to view screenshots I created from games on my Macbook with OS X Yosemite (although other platforms or software are perfectly able to manage them). The wifi doesn’t connect or work properly (and there’s more, but they’re over here). The point being that my Macbook doesn’t work properly anymore, either.

I regret updating both of them. A lot. I feel guilty for putting my girls through it. My poor sweet things are being forced to endure such difficult working conditions, and I can’t undo them. Well… I could – but I won’t. I guess I just really hope that my faith in Apple as a good company will come through and will fix the problems.

Naive, I suppose. But until then, I will continue to still rant about it…!

 

Not Worth the Jail Time
 

I thought updating to other iOS platforms was bad…

This latest on has been simply nothing but a nightmare!

Apple iOS8 for iPhone, iPad & iPod Touch. For too many people worldwide, the above statement is a very short sentence that quite a lot of people have thought and felt, and (in not so many words) said. Possibly even saying the words iOS 8 would make their hackles rise and leave them foaming at the mouth… And I can’t really blame them. The rollout wasn’t just a bit of a PR disaster, it was a nightmare for pretty much every single iOS owner that ever was.

It’s been 3 or 4 days since I installed it. My iPad has been rather a grumpy git since then, and sometimes I kinda wish I’d never bothered. I’m beginning to think my mother has the right idea when she keeps saying, “oh, I’ll do it eventually…” – because when “eventually” turns up, they probably would have fixed everything that’s bugging me (and it) by then. On the other hand, it’s a new operating system, and these things do happen.

What shouldn’t happen is that it’s shipped out without much of an explanation or any instructions from Apple as to how you should deal with the software upgrade.

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The Magic Number…

Like me, most people were probably far too keen to get this going and install it now. We didn’t wait, we didn’t think, we went straight into Settings and went to download it. Then we realised just what we were in for, and probably sat and stared when we saw just what was required to get it.

Kitten and Keyboard

“Noooo… Seriously??!… Meh…”

That space thing was a real charmer. I simply stared at that number that was nearly half the entire onboard space on my iPad (Retina). I literally had to empty nearly everything in the poor thing to shoehorn that damned update onto it… And 5.8GB of space is a lot to ask from any device that’s only 16GB onboard the first place.

It took ages going through each set of apps, checking the Usage total, then deleting some more and checking again – over and over again, until there was virtually nothing left.

I even listed all the things I took off: The final count was 61 apps and 6 games. Not all of them bounced back with everything, which definitely added insult to injury. I am still working on getting it back together again.

Dog-Tired

“Are we nearly there yet…?”

It was only after a long time of repeating the delete-and-check thing so many times, I finally saw the magic numbers “5.9GB” – there was finally enough space free on that damned thing! So I breathed a sigh of relief and despondency, and tapped the Install icon. It only took a couple of hours to get there, now it was finally time!…

Is it supposed to be somehow my fault for “just” getting the 16GB edition? It certainly feels like it – but I really hope that’s not how Apple thinks. And if it is, I strongly suggest they make the 128GB the same price at the 16GB, because that’s the only way these huge updates are going to be managed. What else is there to assume, that I’m almost being punished for having the smallest iPad edition, when I have to have near half my onboard storage allowance dumped to manage this upgrade? (And this is not the part where you point out anything about the PC/Mac option – that’s really not the point right now…).

The actual space used was 1.1GB. The rest of it was installation space. OK, it did need all that extra space to “unpack” the package and install the new iOS onto the device. But that doesn’t soothe the sting of having to effectively upend my iPad into a virtual bin and shake it until there was enough space to fit it in.

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More Problems…

The pain didn’t just end there, though. I squeezed the new operating system in, brought up my list, reinstalled all the apps and games I had deleted, and breathed a sigh of relief.

Insulting ComputerBut it wasn’t over. It wasn’t until the day after that I found out my Messages app wasn’t working properly on my iPad anymore. It was only when I opened the Messages app on my MacBook (which I rarely do, but luckily I did this time) that I realised I even had messages. Damn important ones too, which I missed. I wasn’t too impressed about that.

After all the effort I had already gone to, to delete and then reinstall them again afterwards, it was rather an irritating byproduct of the new upload and seemed rather sloppy on their part that such a glitch would exist.

Rebooting helped a little. It at least sorted out the conversations already going on the Mac’s Messages app that were already open. But anyone that didn’t have an open conversation on the iPad couldn’t get a message through to it. I had to open conversations, sending Testing messages to see that it would still at least work then. I’m unfortunately fairly sure that anyone I still haven’t got open conversations going with won’t get through to me on my iPad.

To add some insult to the “injury” of the difficulty of dealing with the nightmare that is iOS 8, my iPad has also become rather slow and a bit clunky afterwards. I’m a bit unconvinced that the whole thing was a rather good idea at all.

I must admit that I was very lucky regarding how long it took. The entire process took maybe an hour or less, perhaps helped along by the high-speed broadband I am fortunate enough to have. I managed to avoid the reported 12+ hours (minimum) that others were reporting. Once the mass deleting was done, the entire thing ran smoothly and took about as long as expected. I’m not sure, given what has happened, that I would choose to do it all over again, though…

IMG_0748*

Space and Size Matters

The best way to avoid most of all the hassle of updating the operating system is to run it via iTunes. You can avoid the storage issue by simply connecting the device(s) to a PC/Mac, and iTunes will pretty much do the rest for you. No mass deleting required. It’s straightforward enough in theory – but 6GB of data is a lot of work for the average broadband package, whichever option you choose.

The problem in most places, certainly in relation to the UK, do not even have access to decent broadband, let alone get the choice to pay got anything over 20mb. Running at full pelt – and when does it ever do that? – it still may take quite some time to crunch through 6GB. In more rural areas, 8mb is the best they can hope for and 2mb is common… Is it no wonder people are having difficulty with it? The problem always has been that Apple live in the future, and BT’s broadband rollout isn’t even trying to keep up in the UK. In some big cities here, including London, up to 300mb broadband is available – for an eye-watering price, of course. Unfortunately Apple seems to believe it’s everywhere in the world, and everyone has it.

Hooking up your device to a computer may solve the storage space issue, but if you don’t have the bandwidth it’s not going to go too great. Broadband is going to have to grow up a bit, as will the providers, for everyone to keep up with technology in the way they want to. Unfortunately, the providers aren’t really doing such a spiffing job of this as everyone wished they would, and ergo we keep having these issues each time people are faced with huge download sizes to very (im)patiently sit through.

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Hate iOS 8? 

Actually, I don’t hate iOS 8. Or Apple. At all.

In fact, I wouldn’t blame Apple in the least for the teething problems of iOS 8 (well, apart from screwing up my Messages app… but that’s just normal teething problems). It’s not their fault that most of this country doesn’t have the broadband capacity to deal with much more than email and YouTube videos. I have higher broadband; I had no trouble whatsoever with the download and installation of the software.

Yet everywhere else here, there is an uproar because so many people are struggling to manage to do it. Anyone complaining about storage should just use iTunes… At the time I wanted to install the new system, I didn’t have access to my MacBook, so I just bit the bullet and did what I had to do to get it installed. OK, I still complain, but I’m aware I had choices, and I could have waited and done it through the computer if I cared that much.

The basic matter of the issue is that people pay several hundred pounds for their Apple devices. For MacBooks/iMacs/PCs, Smart TVs/TV boxes… Yet they are still not supported by the broadband width required.

Once installed, iOS 8 has the usual minor teething issues of a new operating system. It runs well, looks nice, streamlines and adds a few things – and of course there’s all that “added security” in it (or you could just not take naked pictures… no one would ever care  about the crap I have in my PhotoStream, which probably mainly consists of about a thousand pictures of my dog on his beanbag or rolling around on the floor… And if they do hack it – enjoy, they’re so cute!)

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Lacking Collaboration…

I certainly don’t hate iOS 8 for this. I had even initially thought that what has happened with iOS 8 would make me feel rather weary of updating my MacBook to OSX Yosemite, coming “This Fall”… Probably around October/November. But it doesn’t. I’m looking forward to it. I have that luxury of knowing that I don’t have any issues with downloading and installing products (when there’s onboard space for them…).

There is really no problem with the actually operating system itself. Once installed, there are some minor, yet irritating, issues and glitches with iOS 8. But that’s all, and that’s to be expected. It’s normal for a new operating system rollout. It would be odd if that didn’t happen. But the point is, there is no real issue with iOS 8 itself, the installation process, or with space (if you’re willing to be savvy about it and plug it into the computer, or you have the 128GB edition).

Probably a smarter than the average broadband tech...?

Probably a smarter than the average broadband tech…?

I say if you’re going to look to anyone for accountability to the downloading issues of this system, look to your broadband provider – for being so ridiculously incompetent and overpriced, offering ridiculously low speeds for their relatively high prices. I don’t pay that much more for high-speed broadband, though even that price would be out of most people’s reach, I would think – but more importantly that that, most people don’t even have that option. I’m very happy to sacrifice some things to afford the higher speed package… But I at least had all the options available to me.   I imagine there are people out there who would do the same thing. I imagine after having paid out for their iOS device, they would quite like to be able to install its new software without having to wait a week whilst it downloads.

In an ideal world, tech companies should be collaborating and strongly encouraging the broadband network providers to keep up with them and their requirements, locally, nationwide, worldwide. High speed broadband needs to be everywhere. Microsoft famously had to retract their “always-on DRM” for gamers when they effectively booed it all over the internet. And why did they do that? Because their internet never works properly, they can’t afford it a good speed, or they don’t have it in the first place because it’s expensive. For Tech to move forward, the broadband network providers have to as well.

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Thoughts of the Future…

I am now a little concerned that Apple have now set the precedent for future updates… I’m not sure how much more of these kinds of download sizes a little 16GB iPad can take. I can imagine the next one being bigger… And what if they get one that’s 10GB? I imagine this is the time I should be thinking about getting the 128GB edition – and if I had a spare £700 knocking about I would certainly be getting it now… Although I have to admit I’d quite happily bet I’d stuffed even that so full I’d have to delete stuff to get a 6GB update onto it!

Apple - Think Different

Apple – Think Different

I can see where Apple is going with this, and I imagine a 16GB edition will very soon be obsolete and not even offered. These days even 32GB is not enough for what we expect to be able to download onto our mobile devices, particularly when the system takes up a larger and larger percentage of that space just for itself. We also need to hope that broadband providers will also be along for this ride, otherwise we’re really going to be struggling with the bigger download expectations coming from the hardware companies.

If the tech and the broadband access became in sync, we’d all be much happier campers in the world of gadgets, gizmos, and tech thingies. We would probably be more confident and happier to invest in these things too. My parents live in a rural area that has such a bad internet service my phone has better online access on its 3G network than they do via their landline package. I have no idea if they’ll even be able to update their devices. If they have any sense, they’ll come here and do it!

In an ideal world, these sectors would start working together, in collaboration, to get their products out to the people who want them. One requires the other to manage. I’m fairly certain that lightbulb will not go off in any their heads, but I hope it does – and it certainly should.

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Cancer Research released an amazing app from an ingenious idea – a basic mobile app game that could also analyse complex cancer DNA data at the same time: Genes In Space (covered in Gaming More Than Games). When my friend read about it, she was amazed and incredulous  – she couldn’t work out how this could possibly be done. She is a cynic and expected it to be untrue – I expect many without some idea of how tech applications can work, and who have never heard of such things before, would not believe that a simple space-travelling game could help geneticists unravel DNA codes of cancers.

So I have the very simple answer right here, for those of you who care to know.

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The Background

The story behind this particular model for data analysis is based on one simple fact – the human brain is better than any computer. Scientists can run lots of certain data analyses on computers, but some things can only be seen by people:

… this research produces colossal amounts of data that need to be analysed.  Advances in technology mean our scientists can process data faster than ever to identify new patterns and faults in tumours. But much of it still needs to be analysed by people rather than machines. The human eye can detect subtle changes that machines are not programmed to look for – leading to serendipitous discoveries providing clues to the causes and drivers of the disease.

This work is currently done by our trained scientists and can take years.  But with the collective power of hundreds of thousands of people across the globe helping our scientists to analyse this data we could drastically speed up research – hopefully saving lives faster.

Citizen science is a new way of including the public in our scientific research outside the laboratory.

The upshot of this is that they need to develop a way to get as many people as possible in on this – and this is the best way to get a hell of a lot of people – with absolutely no knowledge of science, but a wealth of commuter time to kill – to help them do as much data analysis as possible.

But then you may be left with the same question my friend had – just how did they do it? How is this complex data mapped and analysed by a simple game? Amazingly enough, she worked it out herself after a brief interlude of logical thinking, having played the game and slept on it (she wanted to work it out on her own). This part is for everyone else who doesn’t share her enthusiasm for solving logical problems for the hell of it.

This idea first started back in March 2013 with a GameJam (for those who do not live in tech-land, this is a group brainstorming session for game developers, programmers, designers, and the like – where they all get together and brainstorm ideas on how to develop something new). This GameJam was arranged because they already thought turning the analysis program into a game was a good idea:

The first step [was] for forty ‘hackers’ – computer programmers, gamers, graphic designers and other specialists – to take part in a weekend ‘GameJam’, or hackathon, to turn Cancer Research UK’s raw gene data into a game format, with a working title of GeneRun, for citizen scientists to play.

To make something like this – a game that is more than just a game – is not even a new idea. Others have already come before to use this model: Fold It is already an established organisation that has been evolve with this in mind, with the subtitle of:  Solving Puzzles for Science, and available on Windows, OSX, and Linux platforms. There are others.

It is therefore no wonder that Cancer Research UK decided this was a really good way to go. But just how did they manage to turn a massive data analysis project into a little spaceship game?

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Here Comes The Science…

It took some time to go through this idea (the full story can be read by clicking on the quote above). The result of this lengthy collaboration process resulted in the game we now finally have: Genes In Space. The collaboration for this game involved behemoths of the online industry, including Amazon Web Services, Facebook and Google developers, who joined academics, scientists, gamers and designers. The final product, a year later, was Play To Cure: Genes In Space.

The process of its data collection focused on two key aspects:

      • firstly when you map your route through the Element Alpha
      • secondly when you fly your spaceship through the intergalactic space course to collect this substance

 

What happens behind the scenes of the game is that these functions correlate to analysing data the scientists require:

In the game, you take the helm of a spaceship to collect valuable and powerful ‘Element Alpha’. The stroke of genius is that in doing so you are actually helping our scientists to analyse piles of real life data.

… the game is actually a fun interface to allow the public to assist our scientists in the serious business of spotting patterns in gigabytes of genetic information from thousands of tumours.

… in a nutshell, by finding the best route to pick up the most Element Alpha, you’re actually plotting a course through genuine ‘DNA microarray’ data.

In other words, the real data the scientists are working on is entered into the game, then these data sets are “translated” into the flightpath of the in-game spaceship, to fly through in space.

By plotting the key points for your flightpath to maximise the collection of “Element Alpha”, you are in fact actually plotting your way through the real cancer DNA code, to maximise analysis of the DNA data they have – as you can see below in the comparison between the two versions:

Real Data

Real Data

Element Alpha FlightPath

Element Alpha FlightPath

By playing Genes in Space you’ll be analysing significant amounts of genetic data which would have taken scientists hours to do. This data can then be used to develop new life saving treatments.

Once you know how it’s done, it’s not so mystical, is it? Like a magic trick, knowing how it’s done makes it far more realistic. So now you know how it’s done, you might realise that now you – yes, you! –  can actually help in the battle for the cure for cancer. You might realise it’s completely realistic that you can actually do something proactive to help. You can actually help fuel treatment methods to fight against cancer. You can help your friends, family, colleagues, other fellow human beings – Heaven forbid, one day help yourself – in this long battle to keep our lives from this silent enemy.

Innovations like this give us some of the power back – we can each of us do something useful to help. Hopefully, you may already do something useful – donate money (even sporadically into one of those little plastic pots for a pretty sticker), take old stuff to Cancer Research charity shops, volunteer in helping people… But this is even better. This is helping do something we really otherwise couldn’t do. The battle for cancer is in the lab, and we all can’t fit in there (and nor are we all scientists to do the work required…) – but we can all take a few minutes to launch a game and drive a cute little spaceship through an asteroid field to suck up as much Element Alpha as possible. If we all (with compatible devices) did just one of two of them every other day, imagine how many of those data sets would be getting analysed for the scientists who need them done?

I really like the idea of these things. I imagine a world in the future where Triple-A game devs and publishers collaborate with scientists and charities to run some kind of data analysis into the big-name games that millions of people play hundreds of hours of, so games can do more behind the scenes than just be played. Imagine if the 100+ hours you sunk into Skyrim, or all that apparently pointless scouring for minerals in ME2 actually went into things like treating and curing illnesses like HIV and cancer? Or managed mass analysis for scientific breakthroughs we can’t even dream or. Or even helped raise money for starving children, or victims or war? What if analysis of playing COD play on real-world maps analysed safer ways for solders to fight in combat in the background?… Computers can never replace how a real human thinks – we have our own logic, and computers can’t replicate that.

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The Incredibly Loose Analogy: 

Yes, it is fickle to say you can help cure cancer in your lunch break, or on your commute – but it’s not that wide off the mark. With each data set analysed, these scientists who work tirelessly to unlock the secrets of cancer to find its weak spot, so it can be conquered, come one step ever closer to defeating it.

If you think about it, the journey to curing cancer is not that much different than playing a Bioware videogame (just humour me here… this is just how my brain generally works… skip it altogether if you prefer!) – there’s something of ME3 in here I would say… There’s an evil, a “big boss” fight out there, one that threatens humankind, one that the protagonists must defeat to save us – enough lives have been lost already. To do this, they will require as much help as possible to do so – using science, data, friends, allies, and anything else they can think of that will help overcome their adversary. With each addition to their cause, their “Readiness” grows ever stronger. They learn secrets, weaknesses, ways of conquering the strong monster that infiltrates silently and can kill so quickly. Innovations such as the Genes In Space game will inevitable boost their readiness to take down the enemy once and for all.

If the scientists are Shepard and his crew, we can be the allied support desperately required. If this is so, Cancers are the Reapers – a deadly enemy who only wants to destroy and annihilate all organic life and leave us extinct. If we can actually help to defeat and conquer this evil that takes the lives of our loved ones, then we should take the opportunity to do so. We should stand by those who are smart enough and strong enough to take this enemy on, and one day destroy it. One day we might see cancer as unobtrusive as other once-lethal diseases that we now walk away from unscathed, and with our lives. Unlike ME3, though, we will have a happier ending where we all survive, and no sacrifice of more lives will be made. This will only happen though, if we stand together, work together, and help those who are fighting it in the small ways that we can.

This is one of them.

Games can be more than just “games”. Games have been used for different things – and for reasons other than teenagers and young men wanting to shoot each other’s army into oblivion on a multiplayer map. I use them to help me stave away depression and deal with chronic pain. Others have used them as a basis for scientific research of team play, reflex action, etc. Many introverted people use them as a way of coming out into a form of social interactivity they cannot otherwise manage.

Cancer Research has decided to use gaming to help them analyse a mass amount of data, using everyone and anyone with an iOS or Android device.

With this Cancer Research have done something innovative and amazing: They created a game that proves to all of us who already know this – playing games can mean more than mindlessly shooing people in COD multiplayer maps, or knocking down fat green piggies with fat little birds.

They have shown that playing a game can be meaningful – and a fun, lighthearted way to do something important. By using a cute and simple mobile game in the front end, while in the backend, something innovative and amazing is happening.

They created a lovely little spaceship shooter game – but the difference is that behind the pretty and simply graphics is an amazingly ingenious data analysis program. You’re actually not just shooting asteroids and harvesting Element Alpha – you’re helping geneticists analyse the DNA of cancer.

 

They say:

Last week saw the launch of our new mobile game Genes in Space, which hit headlines across the globe from the BBC to The New York Times.

This revolutionary new app helps our scientists in their life-saving work by speeding up data analysis. As you steer your spaceship through the cosmos, you’re really analysing the genetic faults in cancer samples. So you can now help beat cancer on your train journey home or while waiting in a queue at the supermarket. And it’s fun too!

The more players we have, the more data we can analyse. This means more DNA faults can be identified, helping us beat cancer sooner. So if you haven’t downloaded the game for free yet, it’s time to join the mission! All you need is an Apple iOS or Android device.

 

It is definitely fun. Played on the iPad Retina, the graphics are lovely in HD, and rendered in cute 3D for spacecraft upgrading, with the spaceship slowly rotating. The upgrade screen and spaceships are pretty, with bright colours and nice graphics, and being thrown into the game itself is basic silly fun that can get addictive, because it is so simple.

Gameplay
The basic premise of the game is something of a space-invaders style of gameplay – the mission: to harvest Element Alpha and shoot and avoid asteroids and debris.

First the game asks you to create a flightpath to collect as much Element Alpha as possible. To do this, they present a data cluster that looks almost like DNA PCR results, which you need to plot a path through to maximise Element Alpha harvesting. Once the path is plotted, you’re thrown into Space to weave your way through the path to harvest as much of EA as possible, all the while shooting asteroids and having to avoid the fragments (or they’ll hurt your spacecraft shields).

Gyroscopic (tilting) or touchscreen controls to drive your spacecraft and you shoot the laser guns from the spacecraft to destroy asteroids.

At the end of the harvest, having put all that effort into it, they then throw you into a huge asteroid field, resulting in a rather intense asteroid-dodging game – the punishment for dying being that you lose all that Element Alpha you just collected. So far I have exploded each time I have tried it and have not managed to retrain the fruits of my labour. That ride at the end is stupidly exhilarating for a simple little game – with no Element Alpha, there’s no XP or credits for upgrades either!

You can upgrade your spacecrafts (you get a second ship at level 20) when you have enough credits, gained from XP which can be stored, or spent to gain credits.

It comes with fun 90s space trance-style music which adds to the space atmosphere – but of course, it can be turned off if that’s not your thing.

It’s basic, fun and simple – you get the hang of it easily, even if the mad-dash through the asteroid field isn’t so easy! It has all the things we love about games – upgrades, levelling, customisation (you can change the colour of your ship(s) as well as customise through upgrades), and the fact that it’s so easy you can while away the time on it without having to shoot guns or birds.

It’s cute, it’s quick, and it’s innovative. It’s also an imaginative and incredible way to implement games for something much more special that just a gamer score, achievements, and getting XP for upgrades. What it actually does is actually help Cancer Research. What is does is help scientists understand genetic models better. For once, you won’t just be pointlessly tapping away just to get through your commute – every time you launch yourself into space for Element Alpha, you’ll be doing something useful – vital – for people in the Cancer Research labs.

I have cancer victims, and I have cancer survivors, in my family. The survivors are still here because of scientists like these that each and every game enthusiast can help.

 

Do something amazing today – download the game, play it a lot, and maybe – just maybe – you might have helped save a life.