Archive for October 2005

Google and OpenOffice Sitting in a Tree

Published on October 31, 2005

So apparently, Google is hiring programmers to work on OpenOffice. Microsoft has to feel threatened at the online search giant’s latest move in the office document arena. Google is the one company that Microsoft simply cannot figure out. And I couldn’t be any happier to see the folks up in Redmond sweat just a little. For too long they’ve been the bully on the playground. But a new kid has come to town, and he’s beginning to look a little bigger than ever.

I don’t have any facts on the matter, but Office has to be one of Microsoft’s largest revenue generators. To have someone announce that they will offer a competitive solution, for free, is quite an obstacle. And it’s Google’s way in to several markets which Microsoft has owned since what feels like the dawn of time. This will certainly be the first arena where Microsoft will face true pressure. Lots of people claim that Linux is a threat to Windows, but that’s just not true (at least not yet). The Linux world is too fragmented. There are too many flavors, everyone has his favorite, and no one wants to try another one. Until the Linux community can get that particular act together (not to mention the ease of use factor), the office application arena will be the main battlefield. And I’m glad to see another player has finally joined the game.

The whole thing should be interesting to watch. I question whether Sun’s involvement will doom the project (seeing as Sun has doomed virtually everything else they ever touched), but perhaps Google’s brains can prevent such a catastrophe. I, for one, salute our (hopefully soon to be) office application overlords.

FF RC 1

Published on October 30, 2005

According to Asa, this Wednesday might be “ship day” for the first Firefox 1.5 release candidate. Once it’s released, I think I’m going to replace 1.0.7 with RC1 as my primary browser. The beta releases weren’t nearly as stable as I wish they had been (I unsuccessfully tried switching to them shortly after their release), but the latest nightly builds have seemed very stable. All of the new features and bug fixes in 1.5 make it awfully hard to pass up.

Star Light, Star Bright

Published on October 29, 2005

One of the greatest things about our new house is the lack of light pollution at night. I’ve seen more stars here at this house than anywhere else I’ve ever been. Our last house was located in the land of cul-de-sacs, and all of the lighting made it nearly impossible to see dim objects. We were, however, able to see a number of fairly bright objects including the International Space Station, the MIR space station (before it crashed into the Earth), and the Hubble Space Telescope. All of this was thanks to Heavens-Above, an awesome website that helps you figure out when and where to look for satellites (and other celestial events).

I stepped outside tonight for a few moments and saw a total of three meteors crashing into Earth’s atmosphere. That’s something I never would have seen at our other house. Sometimes, it’s good to be in the dark.

High Dollar Wares

Published on October 28, 2005

There’s a fair amount of software that I’d like to buy, but every single product has a ridiculously high price tag. First on my list is Adobe Photoshop CS2. Retail price tag: $599. I have Photoshop 5.5 (a truly ancient beast), and I don’t think the upgrade (only $149) supports versions that old. My dad could buy it at the academic price (since he’s a professor), but the license is listed as “basic”; what exactly does that mean?

Next up is SlickEdit: retail price of $284. There’s no doubt this is a great editor (although a tad on the bloated side, one might say), but the price used to be $99! What’s up with that? I’m not sure any programming editor (regardless of how great it is) is worth three Benjamin’s.

Finally, there’s Dreamweaver 8. The upgrade edition (which is the route I would take) is $199. Two hundred dollars for an upgrade? Proof positive that Adobe does in fact own Macromedia.

All of the aforementioned products are great, but are they hundreds of dollars great? That’s an incredible hard call to make. It’s going to take a lot of thought before I drop that much money on something that consists of nothing but 1’s and 0’s.

Content Management Woes

Published on October 27, 2005

I recently stated that I was looking at adding site search capability to Born Geek. And I have indeed been looking, but the solutions I have been able to find are (at least on the surface) somewhat lacking. As such, I have been giving a great deal of thought to moving Born Geek to a more automated content management system.

This blog is powered by WordPress (a great piece of software by the way), which is geared more towards dynamic web content. Seeing as the majority of Born Geek’s web content is static, I don’t think WordPress is the best fit. I have spent some time looking at potential solutions, but it’s so hard to decide what would best fit my needs. I definitely want something that produces well structured XHTML markup, using CSS for the presentation (web-standards are a must). Perhaps Movable Type is a decent solution, but it’s not free (although a free-version is available). Does anyone have any suggestions?

Going Once, Going Twice

Published on October 24, 2005

I occasionally watch any number of items up for auction at eBay (most recently, they’ve all been auctions for Prince Valiant books). And, almost as frequently, I forget to actually bid on the items I’m watching. This happened just today as I was watching five separate auctions, all of which ended this evening. When I left work, I reminded myself to check the items once I got home. Several hours after I actually got home, and well after the items had closed, I remembered my reminder to myself.

I would eventually like to write some sort of Perl script that would do the bidding for me. But, unfortunately, this would involve HTML scraping (the eBay API doesn’t support bidding, for obvious reasons). Such a script would involve a little more work than I’m willing to put into it at the moment, although it would be a neat project to work on. If you know of any (preferably free) services that automatically bid, let me know.

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I Like DreamHost (You Should Too)

Published on October 19, 2005

Nearly one year ago, after a substantial amount of research on the subject, I chose the nice folks at DreamHost to fulfill my web-hosting needs. Having never previously paid for web hosting service (my sites were always hosted for free at various places), I had no idea what to expect. Most everything I read was positive, and they had all the features I needed to bring Born Geek to life. Plus, their prices were (and still are) very reasonable – as low as $7.95 a month!

Now, nearly one year in, I can say with confidence that I am glad I chose to go with DreamHost. Since I signed up with them, they have increased the offerings on my hosting plan, at no cost to me. The changes include:

  • A gigantic increase in disk quota (I started out with between 1 and 2 GB, and I now have 5.7 GB of available space)
  • An increase in my monthly bandwidth allotment (it started at 40 GB/month and is now 162 GB/month)
  • Nearly double the number of available user accounts and email accounts
  • The number of sub-domains and domains I can host has become unlimited

To celebrate this (nearly) one year anniversary, I have created a promotional code which allows me to share my rewards with you. If you sign up with DreamHost, use the promotional code borngeek to get a discounted price. With it, you will save a total of $47.00 on whatever plan you choose, with the exception of the monthly L1, L2, and L3 plans (on which you will save $25.00, $30.00, and $40.00 respectively). A new promotional code has been activated as of January 11, 2006, allowing you to save even more! Be sure to check it out.

This little promotion is just one way I can say thank you to everyone who visits this site. If you are looking for a great web host, look no further than DreamHost. I have been incredibly impressed with their service, and I’m sure you will be as well.

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My Impressions of Serious Sam 2

Published on October 17, 2005

I picked up Serious Sam 2 yesterday for three reasons: to celebrate my new monitor, to continue the Serious Sam saga, and to support a developer who is willing to do something original. Having only played the game for a few hours, I cannot comment on much. But I would like to comment on what I’ve seen so far.

First on this discussion list is the graphics engine. I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen for one reason: it’s original. No, the locales don’t look like something you’d see in real life, but that’s the point. This is a fictitious story about a fictitious character in a fictitious universe. The cartoon-like aspect of the game lends itself well to this formula. Everything is well rendered and the enemies are definitely over-the-top (as they should be).

I was glad to see that the humor in the Serious Sam universe has been retained. Several of the early cut-scenes are funny, and a number of jokes occur throughout the early levels. Unfortunately, there a few low-brow jokes, undoubtedly to satiate the teenage demographic. But (at least so far) these have been few and far between. All of the fun-filled secrets are still around (some of which are fairly difficult to locate), as are the Sam one-liners (which certainly provide a laugh).

All of this good comes at a price, however. The game has crashed on me twice (even with the patch installed), the user interface is still too “console oriented,” and the weapons don’t seem quite as fun as the original. Levels are much smaller than the original (although they are much larger than the demo level), and there don’t seem to be as many enemies this time around. I really enjoyed the frantic pace of having to deal with several hundred enemies at once; here we only get a handful (or two) of enemies at a time.

I still have a ways to go in the game, and I’m looking forward to completing it. The human-hamster ball is worth the price of admission alone (best original vehicle ever!) and the humor makes it all the more worthwhile.

Giddy as a School Girl

Published on October 15, 2005

Yesterday, I received my NEC FE2111SB 22″ CRT monitor from Azatek.com, and I finally got a chance to set it up this morning. What a beauty! The monitor was listed as “not exactly new” on Azatek’s web page. I have found only two flaws with the monitor: the face plate is lightly scratched (you have to be looking for it to see it) and one of the buttons on the front plate is indented (it looks like it’s stuck in the depressed position, but the button is completely functional – it’s just cosmetically out of line with the others). Both of these items are minor; I think they give the monitor “character”.

I only have good things to say about Azatek. I placed my order last weekend (on Friday morning) and was assured that it would be mailed that day. When I received notification from UPS that it had not been mailed, I contacted Azatek’s customer service. They promptly replied via email, stating that the monitor was not able to fit in that day’s UPS shipment (the box this thing came in is gigantic, and apparently the UPS truck was full of other packages). My monitor was sent out first thing Monday morning, and got here (via UPS ground) yesterday. The monitor was extremely well packaged (these folks really know what they are doing) and it’s in awesome shape! If you’re in the market for a CRT, check Azatek out. I was pleasantly surprised by their fast, friendly service. And the low, low price of $337.80 (that includes shipping) didn’t hurt either!

Zen Micro: Three Months In

Published on October 11, 2005

Over three months ago, I purchased a Creative Zen Micro MP3 player. And at the time, I commented on my initial impressions, all of which were favorable. Now that I have had sufficient time to play with it, I’d like to post a follow-up to that earlier article, expanding upon those initial impressions.

On the whole, I still adore this little device. I use it nearly every day at work and I have taken it on a trip or two. Because the Micro is indeed rather tiny, it makes the perfect traveling companion (no more CD wallet and bulky CD player). And with 5 GB of storage, I can take most of my music with me wherever I go. My Zen Micro currently holds 61 albums (851 tracks) and there is nearly 2 GB of available space left!

The battery life is quite good; I can listen to music at work for two days before I need to charge it. However, I am rather conservative on battery usage, so your mileage may vary (I only ever let it get down to one bar left on the battery indicator). One of these days, I should let it run all the way down to see how far I can go.

I mentioned in my earlier report that the Zen’s ear buds were a little too large for my ears. I have since obtained a pair of Sony buds which hang over your ears. They sound great (although the bass is weaker than the Creative buds) and they don’t fall out so easily.

Creative has certainly done a great job with the Zen Micro. Although I haven’t tried all of its features yet (I still need to give the AM/FM radio a go), it has served me quite well. If you are in the market for an MP3 player, I highly recommend this one from Creative. You won’t be disappointed.

Accessibility Improvements

Published on October 10, 2005

It has recently occurred to me that Born Geek is lacking in several web accessible areas (Year of the Code Monkey is not without its share of similar problems). Because I still develop the Born Geek website by hand (old school!), it lacks the most common feature available in automated web-generation systems: site search functionality. The only way users can currently search Born Geek is to perform a site search at Google. How tragic! I am currently looking at two Perl-based site search scripts, and I hope to implement one of them in the very near future.

One other area that needs some updating is the site contact form. I am currently not making use of the <label> tag, which would greatly improve the accessibility of the form. Not only would screen-readers be a little happier, but users could click a control’s associated label to set the keyboard focus (instead of having to actually click inside of the control).

Are there any other blatant mistakes I’m making as far as accessibility goes? If so, let me know about it!

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Once Upon a Time in the West

Published on October 9, 2005

Many months ago, I picked up the collector’s edition DVD of Once Upon a Time in the West at Target (I got it on the cheap – only $7). But I only now have gotten around to watching it.

I’m a fan of classic Western films, and I’m particularly fond of Sergio Leone’s work (I own all of the “Man With No Name” movies starring Clint Eastwood). So this particular movie was a real treat. It has all the classic Sergio Leone moments: tight close-up shots, brutal violence, and a mysterious hero. Charles Bronson and Henry Fonda played superbly in the film, and the score is nearly as good as that of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. I heartily recommend this movie if you haven’t seen it. Take note that it’s fairly long (2 hours and 45 minutes), but it won’t disappoint.

Not Exactly New

Published on October 7, 2005

I have recently been looking at refurbished monitors from Azatek, in an effort to replace my 22″ NEC monitor which got screwed up during my recent move. They have a nice (albeit limited) selection of Grade-A 21-24″ monitors. I’m currently looking at the NEC FE2111SB 22″ model, which they list in Not Exactly New condition. What that means remains to be seen, but at only $289, it doesn’t look like a bad deal at all. I hope to order the monitor today: with any luck, I’ll have it up and running by this time next week.

It’s a shame that CRT monitors are going the way of the dinosaur. I’m surprised that no company has stepped up to fill the niche market of those who prefer the older CRT technology. You would think that there is a fair amount of money to be made by selling to enthusiasts, but apparently that’s not the case.

Update: I’ve ordered the monitor, at a final price of $337.80 ($289 + $48.80 in shipping costs). Not bad for a 22″ CRT!

Lost in an Encyclopedia

Published on October 3, 2005

I frequently get lost in Wikipedia. Not because the site is difficult to navigate, but rather because the stuff I learn there is so interesting. I routinely find myself clicking from one article to another. This is without a doubt the second best (?) time waster ever invented (the Internet in general being #1). Must … stop … surfing …

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October Potpourri

Published on October 3, 2005
  • I still have no connection to the internet at home (although our network has been set up). Running a cable up to my room looks like it will be too difficult, so I’m researching some wireless solutions. I hope to be up and running tonight (tomorrow night at the latest).
  • Googlebar Lite development has been very slow recently. Once I get back online, I hope to make some progress on this front: version 3.0 is long overdue. Firefox 1.5 Beta 2 and Beta 1 support will finally be available in 3.0, so that should please a number of people.
  • My 22″ monitor got hosed during the move. 🙁 I’ve gone back to my 19″ (which can only do 1280×1024), and I’m looking for a replacement (I’ve got to have 1600×1200). Dare I go to the dark side and buy an LCD?
  • I turned 25 yesterday. 😀
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