Archive for November 2005

FF 1.5 and GBL 3.2

Published on November 29, 2005

Firefox 1.5 has been released! If you haven’t updated already, get to it!

To help celebrate this most excellent occasion, I’ve released a new version of Googlebar Lite. Version 3.2 adds a new Catalan (ca-ES) translation, the ability to remove individual items from the search history, a few usability tweaks, and several bug fixes. Next stop, some updates to the toolbar tutorial!

Quake 4

Published on November 26, 2005

So I did indeed pick up Quake 4, and at quite a bargain price ($30 at Target on Black Friday; there were shockingly fewer people out shopping than I had anticipated). So far, this game has been very enjoyable. The action is fast paced, the story is moderately interesting, and the levels aren’t quite as dark as in Doom 3. In short, this is the game that Doom 3 should have been. One of the in-game sequences is incredibly painful to watch. Without giving too much away, let me say that you will most likely wince in pain as you watch what happens. I know I did.

Time for a New Game

Published on November 21, 2005

Having run through all of my computer games, it’s high time to get a new one. But I’m not quite sure what to get. Splinter Cell 3 looks nice, but the copy protection software Ubisoft used for the game sounds eerily reminiscent of spyware. F.E.A.R. looks cool as well, but the demo was a little sluggish and I hear the game is very short. The top runner for me is currently Quake 4, of which I’ve read good reviews. Any suggestions for a new game? All genres are welcome (although I’m clearly an action fan).

Quest for the CMS

Published on November 20, 2005

I gave Movable Type a brief try this weekend, and it doesn’t look like it’s what I need for Born Geek. MT is too “post driven” and doesn’t seem to handle static pages very well. I think the main problem is that Born Geek isn’t a blog, and MT was made especially for the blogging paradigm. As such, I am continuing my quest for a decent CMS.

After doing some brief research, I have found two solutions that might work well: Drupal and Typo3. Both are open source CMS’s (which is appealing), and both have relatively nice looking interfaces. The Drupal website is a little cleaner than Typo3, and I found Drupal first, so I think I’ll give it the initial try. I am somewhat tempted to just use WordPress (the system that powers this blog), although I dislike the fact that it builds pages on the fly (something I’d like to avoid with Born Geek’s static content).

Do you know of an inexpensive, reliable, CMS system that would work well with a static, page-based website (i.e. Born Geek)? If so, your comments would be greatly appreciated!

Sony’s Woes

Published on November 18, 2005

Sony just can’t catch a break, can they? First, we hear reports about the Sony DRM installing a rootkit. Then comes news of said rootkit phoning home, as well as indications of a trojan exploiting this technology. And finally, there’s news of a giant security hole in the rootkit removal software.

Although I’ve owned a few of their products, I’ve never been a fan of Sony. They try too hard to force their own proprietary ‘standards’ upon the industry, yet they always seem to fail in this endeavor. Sony certainly must have a substantial back catalog of failed technologies (as I’m sure many large companies do). Somehow, I don’t feel sorry for them during this time of crisis. In these days of juggernauts like Microsoft, Wal-Mart, and McDonald’s, it’s nice to occasionally see one of them stumble and fall.

The Ultimate Sherlock Holmes

Published on November 17, 2005

I’m a great fan of the late Jeremy Brett, who is the only Sherlock Holmes I will ever recognize. His portrayal of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective is as good as acting gets. In my humble opinion, no other actor has ever portrayed a character as accurately as Mr. Brett portrayed Holmes. He captures every nuance from the books, and matches exactly what I feel Conan Doyle was striving to create. I have only one collection of DVDs to go in completing my set: The Sherlock Holmes Feature Film collection. And I can’t wait to get it!

Open Source Accessbility

Published on November 16, 2005

I came across an interesting article written by Peter Korn, accessibility architect at Sun Microsystems. In it, he discusses the accessibility problems facing the open source world, specifically as it relates to OpenOffice. Recently, the Massachusetts government decided to move towards using an “open document format” (essentially switching from Microsoft Office to OpenOffice). Government agencies are required by federal law to support accessibility guidelines. Unfortunately (for the OpenOffice guys), it appears that Microsoft’s office solution is far ahead in terms of application accessibility. This is an interesting tactic being used by Microsoft, but it illustrates a very real, very serious problem. If users with disabilities are ignored, open source software can never gain a foothold in the governmental sector (where accessibility is a requirement). Hopefully this particular problem will wake up the entire open source community, and result in improved programs for the disabled. It’s certainly a problem that cannot be ignored.

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Half-Life Expansions

Published on November 15, 2005

I’ve been incredibly busy at work lately, and my programming drive is burned out at the end of the day. As such, I haven’t made a great deal of progress on any of my previously mentioned goals. But I have been having a little fun (which is always a good thing).

Two expansion packs were released for the original Half-Life several years ago: Opposing Force and Blue Shift. I never purchased either, but recently decided that I would. While browsing Valve’s ‘Steam’ content delivery system, I found out (by accident) that my original Half-Life CD key enabled me to access both expansion packs for free!

Opposing Force, being the first expansion released, was the one I played first. It was an interesting expansion (several of the new weapons were moderately interesting), but overall felt very empty. You only catch a glimpse of Gordon Freeman once, and the ending is somewhat of a let down (although it will be interesting to see what Valve does with the main character from this expansion).

Blue Shift is the real gem. Although it’s incredibly short, there are a ton of “Oh, wow – that was so cool!” moments. Playing as Barney Calhoun, the player relives the Black Mesa incident from a different angle. You run into Gordon a number of times, bringing back a flood of memories from the original game. The connections between the two are incredible, making an already excellent game even better.

It’s sad that it’s taken me this long to play through these expansions. But they were very interesting and helped fill in some of the details of the Half-Life world in my mind. Hopefully the Aftermath expansion for Half-Life 2 will show up soon. I certainly can’t wait to play it!

Brain Storm

Published on November 11, 2005

I have had a number of unrelated ideas lately, all of which I’ll share:

  • I’m thinking about upgrading my processor and motherboard. Some of the latest games (the Lost Coast demo for example) have really shown a bottleneck in that region. I have no idea what to upgrade to, however. Suggestions are welcome.
  • I hope to get a new build of Googlebar Lite out soon.
  • I also hope to put together a downloadable version of my toolbar tutorial. After that is done, I’ll begin work on the next incarnation of said tutorial (which should be a big improvement).
  • This weekend, I’m going to begin playing with Movable Type. My ultimate goal is to move the main Born Geek website away from hand-coding, which would be very convenient for me. I may provide some links to my testing, so that you can see what’s going on.
  • The Lost Coast demo for Half-Life 2 has inspired me to play through the game again. I’m approximately 2/3 of the way through, and am enjoying every minute of it.

RC2 Available

Published on November 10, 2005

As Asa indicates, Firefox release candidate 2 is now available (at least through the auto-update feature in Firefox).

The Importance of Background Color

Published on November 9, 2005

Many websites use an image as the background of a page element (take the header of this website, for example). And all too often, those websites do not provide a corresponding background color to go along with that image. Take, for example, the games section of Slashdot. The purple background for each headline is an image. In order for the headline text to be readable on this background, the text color is set to white. The following rules are used in the corresponding CSS file (the image URL has been chopped for formatting reasons):

.generaltitle h3
{
    margin: 0;
    padding: .3em .8em .2em .8em;
    color: #fff;
}

#slashboxes h4, .article h3, .generaltitle h3
{
    background: url(<path>) repeat-x;
    padding: .3em 0;
}

Note that no background color has been specified for the h3 element. What is the effect of this omission? If images are disabled, we end up with white text on a white background, rendering the page illegible! “But who would turn images off?” you ask. People on dial-up may turn them off (to speed up download times). Some low-vision users may also turn them off, to prevent distracting backgrounds (and presumably improve text contrast). And keep in mind that the image file may be corrupted, or the server that actually serves up the images (if they are located separately from the site content) may go down, causing images to be inaccessible. Regardless, a specified background color would fix this problem. The image would override the color (when images are available and enabled), but the color would get used when images are disabled.

If you ever develop a website, and you use images to specify a certain region, make sure that you also specify a corresponding background color. Web users the world over will thank you for it.

Home Improvement

Published on November 6, 2005

Nearly 40 days ago, my family and I moved to a new house. And sadly, there are still boxes nearly everywhere you look. But we’re definitely a long way from where we started. Most everything major has been repaired, and several exciting new features are coming this week: our backup generator and wood-pellet stove.

Just tonight, I actually got around to unpacking a couple of boxes in my room (something I’ve been horribly negligent about). I just counted, and was shocked to learn that I still have 13 boxes left to open! Fortunately, the majority of them are in my sister’s room (which isn’t being used). With any luck, I can make more progress on the unpacking front this week. Most of the remaining stuff will go through the following decision making process:

  1. Is the item in question something I need to keep? Yes: keep it. No: proceed to 2.
  2. Is the item valuable enough (and in good enough condition) to auction off on eBay? Yes: auction the item off. No: proceed to 3.
  3. Can the item live somewhere else? Probably not, so proceed to 4.
  4. Throw item away.

Lost Coast

Published on November 5, 2005

I recently downloaded the tech-demo level Lost Coast for Half-Life 2, and all I can say is … wow! This level is a fantastic piece of work. The game play isn’t anything new (you fight a few Combine soldiers, those ultra-freaky head-crabs, and a Combine gunship), but the technology behind the level is simply amazing. The high dynamic range (HDR) lighting is stunningly gorgeous; it makes the HDR technology in Serious Sam 2 look like something a child came up with. The effect is surprisingly effective, and it adds an incredible amount of realism to an already excellent game.

Half-Life 2 is one of only two games released in the past several years that really impressed me with its graphics capability (the other game being Far Cry). Half-Life 2 just feels real. And HDR only makes it more so. The wet sand on the beach in the Lost Coast level is truly dramatic, as is the lighting in the monastery. Also, the new character (the old fisherman) is so well done … you just have to see it to believe it! Be warned that you need some serious horse-power to play the level in all its glory: an ATI x800 or NVIDIA 6800 (or better), 1GB of RAM, and a 2.9 P4 or AMD 3000+. My processor (at 2.8 GHz) is a little under-powered, but got the job done beautifully thanks to my 6800 GT.

The in-game commentary system is also an excellent addition. It was cool to hear the thoughts of the developers, why they chose to do some things and not others, as well as what technical challenges they faced. Hopefully they will include this feature in future games. All I can say is that I simply cannot wait for the Aftermath expansion; I’ve got to have more HDR!

Fixing the JavaScript Console

Published on November 4, 2005

For those who don’t already know, the JavaScript console is one of the greatest tools built in to Firefox. It makes finding JavaScript errors a breeze, and can be a life-saver for extension developers. Unfortunately, the console has become rather bloated in Firefox 1.5. Not only do JavaScript errors appear, but now CSS errors (which are way more likely to appear on various websites) are also logged. This results in a terribly cluttered console, making it hard to find what you’re looking for.

Thankfully, I was recently pointed to the Console2 extension (which only works in Firefox 1.5). This extension makes it possible to filter out CSS errors, in addition to a number of other great features. It smartly renames JavaScript Console to Error Console (CSS != JavaScript), and is an excellent light-weight solution to the bloat added in 1.5.

Unintended Audience

Published on November 3, 2005

In looking at my site statistics this morning, I noticed that my previous post on Google and OpenOffice actually made it to NewsForge. That was surprising to me (albeit a pleasant one), but I certainly didn’t expect such a wide audience for my thoughts on the matter. Had I expected such a turnout, I would have put a little more thought into the post before actually publishing it. As such, I’d like to clarify a few of the points I made.

My ultimate point was that, in my opinion, the office application battleground is likely to see more cut-throat action in the short term than operating systems are. I certainly cannot support this claim with fact. But operating systems seem to me to be a much more difficult problem to solve, simply because they are bigger, more complex beasts. As a result, it seems like it would simply take longer to create an excellent OS than it would an excellent application.

I also believed I oversimplified my stance on the Linux community. The points made by Greg Raiz in his recent article on Linux are exactly how I feel. Linux is certainly poised to encroach on Microsoft’s territory. But desktop users need to have a reason to want to switch. As Mr. Raiz pointed out, a unified environment, where there’s One Way to do things, would appeal to many people (particularly “newbies”). Apple was heading down that very road before they made the switch to a UNIX base.

A unified environment, where the user interface paradigm is the exact same for every application would be awfully appealing. I would certainly consider switching to such a solution. I want Linux to succeed. The more developers can weaken Microsoft’s iron grip on the market, the better the universe will be for everyone. But there’s a long road to ride down before we reach that point. Let’s get to work!

Greg’s Linux Thoughts

Published on November 2, 2005

There’s a story over at Slashdot that points to an article written by Greg Raiz, a former Microsoft employee and user-interface designer. In it, he discusses what’s wrong with Linux, and how Linux can catch up (and perhaps surpass) Windows. His points not only hit the nail on the head, they drive the nail into the board.

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, a number of Linux fanatics are doing nothing but whine in the article’s comments. This only illustrates Greg’s point even further. Operating systems are no more than religion. You have your beliefs; I have mine. And just like with actual religion, it turns out to be rather difficult to convert people to your point of view.

Firefox 1.5 Release Candidate 1

Published on November 1, 2005

The first release candidate for Firefox 1.5 has just been released. Exciting times! I’m thinking about trashing my default profile (gasp!) and starting fresh for 1.5. Recreating my profile will take some time, but I think it will be worthwhile in the long run.

In semi-related news, I hope to have Googlebar Lite 3.1 available very soon (I’m only waiting on one more translation), so 1.5 RC 1 users can continue using GBL. CoLT should be upgraded soon as well.

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