Archive for December 2005

Chaos Theory

Published on December 31, 2005

I bit the bullet and bought Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, which was only $19.99 at my local Best Buy (much to my delight). So far, I haven’t seen any tell-tale signs of the StarForce copy protection system, and I hope things remain that way.

The game itself is phenomenal. It came loaded on a single DVD (as all games should) and included an automatic updater, which patched me to the latest release. Chaos Theory is leaps and bounds ahead of the original Splinter Cell and its sequel Pandora Tomorrow, both graphically and in terms of game play. The movement mechanics have been greatly improved, especially in terms of sneaking through crawlspaces (such a great visual effect). As with most Tom Clancy titles I’ve played, the story is unnecessarily complex, and seems rather uninspired. But the game itself more than makes up for this rather lean narrative. I’m only about half-way through it, but I’ve enjoyed every minute so far. Oh, and the game is way less buggy than the second title. Which makes it all the more enjoyable.

Christmas Progress

Published on December 25, 2005

I’ve made progress on two fronts today:

  • Googlebar Lite now sports an auto-complete search box, just like the URL bar in Firefox. Although it’s still a prototype, I have a good feeling that this is what I’ll be going to in the future. The new interface should also allow for some interesting new options.
  • Only 10 books remain unpurchased in my Prince Valiant collection. I hope to update the corresponding page sometime soon, providing more information on each volume. I’d also like to track how much I’ve been spending on these, just for kicks. It will most likely be a shocking amount in the end.

I’m off to my grandparent’s house in Georgia tomorrow, but I’m taking my work laptop. Perhaps I can make some progress on non-work related stuff. I definitely plan to do so later this week, when I return.

Less Like Christmas

Published on December 24, 2005

This Christmas season is the first one in my life that hasn’t felt like Christmas at all. I’ve just had the most difficult time this year actually believing that it is December, and that the holiday season draws nearer and nearer. Most of this is due to the lack of a winter break. Every year for as long as I can remember, December has meant time off from the daily grind (which, for the most part, was school). But this year, I didn’t get to take any time off, mostly because I didn’t have any time to take. Today was my first day ‘off’ from work, which says absolutely nothing, seeing as it’s a Saturday. Thankfully, I’ll be taking all of next week off, but this break is coming a little late for me.

Moving into our new home is also partially responsible for my lack of any Christmas spirit. We have done a ton of stuff to the house since we moved in (it seems everything needs fixing), and I still have a number of unpacked boxes in my room. Maybe this week I can recharge myself enough to actually get some stuff done. Unfortunately, I brought some of my work home with me (deadlines are looming) and that might take some of the restfulness out of this break. We’ll see how things progress over the coming few weeks … hopefully I can get back to a more normal routine soon.

Games of Yesteryear

Published on December 23, 2005

Out of what was mostly boredom, I recently loaded up two of my games from years ago: No One Lives Forever 2 (NOLF 2) and Quake (that’s Quake 1 for you kids out there). And I have to say that I’ve had a tremendous amount of fun running through them again. I had forgotten how nice the NOLF 2 engine looked (especially at a high resolution), but I did have it crash on me a number of times. I’m not sure what that was all about, but I got through those hiccups and finished the game just a few days ago. The game combines two playing style genres: sneaker style (like Thief or Splinter Cell) and full fledged action. Both styles complement one another nicely, and make for an incredible experience. And I had forgotten how hilarious the dialogue is throughout the game; clearly this game has one of the best scripts of all time.

Quake is what I’m plowing through at the moment. So many wonderful memories are flooding back to me as I make my way through each of the four episodes. QuakeWorld was my first experience with online game play, and I got pretty hardcore for a while. Every level I pass through brings back fond memories of late-night capture the flag tournaments. And oh the fun I had with Creeper CTF! For those who don’t know, Creeper was a capture the flag variant that added a number of new runes to the game. And each rune gave you a different power: some runes altered the way weapons worked, others altered the amount of health or damage you could take, and yet others would give you new objects (a grappling hook for example). And it was an incredibly fun and addictive mod to play. One particular moment has always stuck out in my mind:

I was playing Creeper CTF and had obtained the Sun rune (which makes the nail-gun ammo super-hot, doing more damage). I also had the double-damage rune (players could carry two runes at once, if I remember correctly) and had loaded up my super-nailgun. With both the double-damage and Sun runes, my nails did four times the damage of the normal nailgun! I then picked up the quad damage in the map we were playing, raising my damage to an incredible 16 times the normal level. Needless to say, in the span of about a minute I scored somewhere from 40 to 60 frags and captured the other team’s flag in the process. It was the single greatest online gaming moment I think I’ve ever had. Wow … what great times!

Upcoming Software Releases

Published on December 22, 2005

There are a couple of exciting new software releases that I am anticipating:

  • Thunderbird 1.5: Firefox’s little brother is finally getting some major updates, some of which have been sorely needed from the beginning. The brand new software updating system introduced with Firefox 1.5 is coming to Thunderbird, which should be a great way to stay on top of critical security updates. Inline spell checking is also coming to town. Other great features include: auto-complete ordering based on address usage, built-in phishing detector, deleting attachments from messages, auto-save email drafts, and more! I’m really looking forward to this release. Thunderbird is an awesome client, and these updates should make it even better.
  • WordPress 2.0: A major update to an excellent blog publishing system is coming soon, and it’s going to make some great changes to the way things are handled. This feature list highlights the best parts of this upcoming release. Of interest to me: the improved post-preview, the theme previewer, and a built-in plugin for backing up your database. I’m going to give this a few weeks for any major bugs to shake out, but I’ll eventually update this site to 2.0. It should be well worth it!

I feel like there was something else on the horizon that looked great, but at the moment I can’t remember what it was. Anyways, with an exciting lineup like this already forming, 2006 should be a great year!

Got Them Outbid Blues

Published on December 18, 2005

Tonight I bid on 4 hard to find volumes in the Fantagraphics Prince Valiant book series: volumes 34, 35, 38, and 40. And I lost every single auction. What’s interesting is that, if I had won all of the auctions at the prices I was willing to pay, I would have spent $958.50 … for four books! That’s an average of nearly $240 per book; books which cost a mere $16.95 when they were published. It’s hard for me to justify paying such a hefty sum for a single volume, but I am simply smitten with the Prince Valiant comic. And to have come this far in completing my collection dictates that I go all the way. Perhaps I just need to become bolder in my bidding. There are clearly people out there who want them more than I. And at these prices, they must want them pretty bad.

Copy Protection

Published on December 16, 2005

An interesting article on games that use the StarForce copy protection scheme showed up on Digg the other day, and it got me thinking about the topic. I’m all for copy protection schemes, but this particular one seems a little fishy to me. All of the negative press behind it has to have some grain of truth, right?

From what little I know about it, StarForce is apparently a low-level driver that gets installed alongside some of today’s games (and even game demos!) to prevent software piracy. And a number of complaints about it indicate that said driver can cause a number of problems: from blue screens to disappearing CD or DVD drives. And what’s more, StarForce software doesn’t get uninstalled when you uninstall the product it came with (sounds a little like spyware to me). So, I was fairly disappointed when I learned that several games I was looking forward to playing (Splinter Cell 3, Silent Hunter 3, and F.E.A.R.) all made use of this new copy protection scheme. But are these rumors of system crashes and instability fact or fiction?

Unfortunately, it’s incredibly hard to tell. The vast majority of comments in the Digg article were people voicing their disgust against this scheme. And interestingly enough, most of these posts were laden with vulgar language, egregious misuse of the English language, and the occasional bit of l33t speak. These facts incline me to believe that a number of “kids” were posting their disgust about the system; kids who most likely spend their time downloading cracked versions of games. Since this particular system is turning out to be difficult for hackers to bypass, fewer games that use the system are available as downloads. So, are these people angry at StarForce’s questionable install practices, or are they simply frustrated that they’ll have to start actually paying for the software they buy? I’m not sure anyone can provide an honest answer to that question.

I have yet to purchase a StarForce protected game, so I don’t yet know if it really causes problems or not. Splinter Cell 3 is high up on my list of games to play, so I might bite the bullet and get it – if only to see if these complaints are valid or not. I’d like to believe that this cacophony of opinions is similar to those voiced when Valve’s Steam system was introduced. As an owner of Half-Life 2, I only have good things to say about the Steam platform; so might I not be just as pleased with the performance of StarForce? We can certainly hope.

Bogged Down

Published on December 15, 2005

Time seems to be in short supply this time of year, and I’m finding that especially so this season. I’ve been working later hours recently, and my drive to do anything computer related (after work) has been very small. After spending hours each day both digging through and writing code, I have little desire to work on any of my extra-curricular activities. In all honesty, I have yet to even begin working on the updated Firefox tutorial, and updates to Googlebar Lite have yet to be made (several bug fixes certainly need to be made). Fortunately, I’ll be taking some time off soon, and I hope to make some progress on these fronts. As long as I can sleep in a little bit, I’ll be happy. To quote a Beatles tune, I’m so tired.

Firefox Places

Published on December 13, 2005

Now that Firefox 1.5 has been released, we can begin awaiting the next incarnation of our favorite little browser: Firefox 2. One of the more exciting features that will hopefully make it into 2.0 is known as Firefox Places. This unified approach to bookmarks and history is particularly interesting because all of the modern browsers I can think of treat them as separate entities. Not only will merging these two elements improve findability, but I think it will greatly improve bookmark usage. As websites are found through the traditional search or navigation methods, it should become remarkably easier to mark said websites for future reference.

The Mozilla wiki entry for Firefox Places is still rather lacking in information, but what is there is particularly interesting (especially the user interface documents). I’ve been seeing several pieces of the Places puzzle fall into place in the nightly trunk builds, so that provides some hope for this feature making it in to Firefox 2. It should be interesting to watch how this idea develops, and how it transforms our browsing future.

Digg vs. Slashdot

Published on December 10, 2005

It’s an extremely rare day that I don’t take a look at Slashdot, and recently it’s been the same with Digg. And I’ve recently noticed an interesting trend between the two sites. For the past several days, a number of the stories that made the front page of Slashdot were previously reported on at Digg (in some cases, several days earlier). I find it interesting that the democratic approach of Digg results in faster story publishing than the moderated format of Slashdot. But this process comes at a price. A larger number of duplicate and “junk” stories appear at Digg than at Slashdot (although the latter isn’t without its share of problems). And Slashdot seems to carry more technical articles than Digg (it is, afterall, a techy news site).

I have seen some discussion recently about whether or not Digg will replace Slashdot. Personally, I don’t see that happening. Too much is broken at Digg. You can’t set many personal options, duplicate and “junk” stories are too plentiful, and new content seems to take longer to rotate through the system. I enjoy both sites (although I read them with a grain of salt), and I think both will be around for a long time. Fortunately, they complement one another nicely, and that couldn’t by any nicer for the geeky crowd.

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Internet Explorer Sucks

Published on December 7, 2005

I’m taking part in a Qt class this week at work, and the only web browser installed on each computer in the classroom is Internet Explorer. And the more I use IE, the more I realize why I switched to the best little browser in the world. While browsing through my web statistics before class, I clicked on a strange referral link (some sort of poker site), and was immediately drowned in a sea of pop-ups. I had forgotten that IE doesn’t support pop-up blocking natively (although it may very well do so in Windows XP – we’re running 2000 here in class). I had quite a difficult time getting out of the site without a million more pop-ups appearing. And the site didn’t even have a link back to my website (so how did that referral string appear in my stats?).

And oh how I miss tabbed browsing! I must have tried to open a new tab at least a hundred times or more. Why anyone still uses the hunk of junk browser out of Redmond is a mystery to me. If you haven’t switched to Firefox yet, please do so today. Won’t you think of the children?

Drawing Valiant to a Close

Published on December 2, 2005

My collection of Prince Valiant comics is nearing its completion, as I have purchased the last of the books available at the Fantagraphics store. I have 13 remaining books to purchase, all of which (with the exception of volume 32) fetch incredibly high prices on eBay. Interestingly enough, volumes 38-40 are the more difficult books to find, and often sell for nearly $200 or $300 a piece! The earlier books (vols. 3-8) also command high prices, averaging anywhere from $60 to $200. So I expect that filling in these last few holes will cost me a pretty penny.

One of my more expensive purchases recently was a collection of 6 DVD’s, containing scans of the Valiant strips from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s (including the year 2000). These strips aren’t available in print, so I was willing to shell out big money to obtain them. And the scans are absolutely marvelous! So far, I have read up through the end of 1987, enjoying every strip along the way. The story lines are gripping and the artwork is, as always, stunning.

I plan to eventually update my Valiant library page, including more information on each book in the series. There are so many characters, that it would be interesting to note in which books they get introduced to the story. And a general summary of each book couldn’t hurt either.

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