Archive for February 2006

Quite Progressive

Published on February 24, 2006

Over the past year or two (or three) I’ve become quite a fan of progressive rock. My journey into this genre of music began with Yes, thanks to my mother who became a Yes fan in the 1970’s (she even saw them in concert during that time!). The first studio album I got into was Close to the Edge, one of the band’s finest works. Other albums followed that: Relayer (my personal favorite), Fragile, Time and a Word, and others. Two other groups have since followed: Genesis and Rick Wakeman (the keyboardist from Yes). Both are incredible.

But just yesterday, I received two albums from Amazon.com that are too incredible for words: King Crimson‘s In the Court of the Crimson King and Emerson, Lake, & Palmer‘s self-titled album. Oh. My. Goodness. Both albums are mind-bogglingly good. I absolutely cannot wait to get more from both of these artists. You may see such items appearing on my wish list in the very near future. It’s that good.

Firefox Cache Bug

Published on February 22, 2006

I’ve run across an interesting bug in Firefox recently, but it’s unfortunately the kind of problem that is incredibly difficult to track down. The header image here at this website wasn’t showing up in my main Firefox profile on my PC. Other profiles worked, Internet Explorer worked, and the installation on my laptop also worked without a hitch. Trying to view the actual file in the problematic install (by entering the exact URL to the image in the address bar) only resulted in a “File Not Found” error page.

Doing a Bugzilla bug search, I ran across bug #312908, which seems to reference a similar issue. The comment in the bug reports that clearing the cache manually, then reloading the page, causes the problem to go away. Sure enough, that worked like a charm for me. Is this simply a cache problem? A more subtle rendering engine problem? It’s hard to tell. Trying to reproduce the problem should be interesting.

If you run into a website that all of a sudden doesn’t render properly, and you know the site isn’t at fault, clear your cache and try again. Hopefully this is a bug that will get squashed as we head towards Firefox 2.0.

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today

Published on February 21, 2006

Today happens to be the 20th birthday of what may be the greatest game of all time: The Legend of Zelda. It appears that there are several special features taking a look back at this incredible game. I’ll never forget saving all of my money when I was a young kid, and going to the store (a Sears as I recall) to buy the game. The sales clerk was quite surprised when I dumped a mountain of change on the counter, along with a few paper bills. When I got home and opened the package, and saw that the cartridge was golden, well … I nearly went berserk. Words are not sufficient to describe my joy in playing that one game. I’ve never been the same since.

In other gaming news, it appears that Half-Life 2 will have a second expansion pack, amazingly entitled Episode 2. What do they think this is, Star Wars? I hope this isn’t a sign of bad things to come. It seems as if Episode 1 will only be 4 to 6 hours long, not nearly sufficient for my taste. I want a good 15 hours of gameplay … any less just feels cheap.

A Gaming Desert

Published on February 18, 2006

In September of 2005, I let my subscription to Computer Gaming World run out. What had once been one of the finest computer gaming magazines published had degraded into sloppy writing, low-brow humor, and increasingly questionable ratings. Although it had its problems, CGW at least helped me stay on top of the gaming landscape: what games were being released, what genres they fell into, and what offerings I should expect in the near future. Now, I feel lost. I rarely know what games are on the horizon (although I do read Blue’s News daily), and I even more rarely know what’s recommended.

I don’t surf the multi-review sites like MetaCritic and Game Rankings near as often as I should, but I really feel like I’ve lost touch with the gaming world. Now that I’m working full time, I have way less time (and energy) to devote to gaming, something I dislike greatly. Part of the problem is that fewer and fewer decent games are being released for the PC. I’ve never been a fan of the “modern” gaming systems (XBox, PS2, etc), so that doesn’t help matters.

I’m yearning for more Half-Life 2. Not since the original Doom have I been so enamored with a game. Unfortunately, the Aftermath (now Episode 1?) expansion pack seems like a long ways off (in fact, I don’t even know when it’s planned for release). And there isn’t much else on my radar at the moment. If you have a suggestion, please leave a comment. I’d love to know what games folks are playing and recommending these days. I’m open to most any genre.

Inaccessibility Hurts

Published on February 14, 2006

Jeffrey Zeldman called it. His book Designing With Web Standards pointed out that inaccessibility might get you in trouble (if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend that you do so). And just recently, a blind student sued Target for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act for providing an inaccessible website.

As much as I respect Target, and as much as I enjoy shopping there, I can only feel so sorry for them in this situation. Creating an accessible website is incredibly easy. To get it wrong, and subsequently discriminate your customers, is tragic. If you run a website, learn to incorporate accessibility into your design. Disabled users will thank you for it.

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Tax Time

Published on February 12, 2006

For the first time in my life (that I can recall at least), I have completed my taxes early. I usually wait until the last few weeks before the April 15 deadline, and subsequently have to wait to get my refund (due to the volume of returns the IRS has to handle). But tonight, in a little under two hours, I completed both the federal and state forms. Interestingly enough, I owe the feds some money this year, also a first for me. Thankfully, I’m getting a sizable refund from the state, so that should cover it.

It’s really incredible to me that the North Carolina state tax form is more complicated than the federal form (the 1040-EZ that is). I spent the majority of my time on the state form tonight, trying to figure out all of the nuances for charitable contributions and the like. What’s more, the PDF form that allows you to enter the data from your computer doesn’t allow you to save your work! You have to complete the form entirely in one sitting (unlike the federal form, which allows you to save). What could their justification for such a terrible “feature” be? I’m just glad that I didn’t lose all of the data once I was done; having to redo the thing would have driven me crazy.

Firefox 2 Tidbits

Published on February 10, 2006

The minutes from the latest Firefox team status meeting provide some interesting insights into what’s being considered for the next release of Firefox. From Firefox Places, to tabbed browsing improvements, and a visual refresh; all kinds of things are on the table. There are a number of really exciting “potential” items that I hope make the cut: inline spell checking, a built-in session saver, and improved RSS support. And it looks like further extension manager updates are planned. Could extension development get even easier?

Convoluted Computer Hardware

Published on February 8, 2006

I have recently been toying with the idea of upgrading my personal computer (although I don’t use it near as much as I used to). I’d like to double my system memory, get a faster processor (a new motherboard as a result), and replace my SATA hard drives (which have been surprisingly disappointing).

The problem is that computer hardware is complicated, and it’s getting more so all the time. I remember spending weeks researching various options for my last major upgrade; and that was well over two years ago! Since that time, processor model numbers have become increasingly complicated and motherboard options seem to have multiplied several times. Adding to my frustration are hardware review sites such as Anandtech and Tom’s Hardware, both of which make the assumption that readers spend each and every day staying up to date with hardware trends. Don’t they realize that there are those of us who look at hardware on an incredibly infrequent basis? Thankfully, Tom’s Hardware has some charts that they keep updated on a semi-regular basis for graphics cards, processors, and hard drives. The benchmarks within them are handy for people like me, who just want to get a feel for where things are.

I am thinking about moving to an AMD processor this time around. I’ve always used Intel Pentium chips, but the AMD solutions seem way more affordable. Can anyone recommend an AMD CPU / motherboard combination that would work well for gaming? It clearly needs to be faster than my current setup (P4 – 2.8GHz), but I don’t want to pay thousands of dollars for it. Why can’t any of this stuff be easy?

Live Bookmarks

Published on February 7, 2006

One of the hidden gems in Firefox is the live bookmarks feature. I have only recently begun using it, and I can’t see how I ever lived without it. Keeping track of multiple blogs and websites has never been easier, and the integration right into the bookmarks system is so incredibly seamless. I don’t doubt that there are more powerful feed aggregator applications, but this feature is just what the doctor ordered for my needs. Now to find more sites to add to my list…

Super Bull

Published on February 5, 2006

Every year, I forget how cheesy and how over-produced the Super Bowl really is. It’s not until the pre-game show really gets going that I sadly remember. This year’s tragedy with the legendary Stevie Wonder is a testament to how cheesy things have gotten. Let’s let Stevie play two of his songs: all the way through. Playing 10 second interludes of 50 songs, while rotating musical “stars” on and off the stage, is an insult to Mr. Wonder’s incredible talent. It cheapens what he’s done for the music world. Can’t we save the embarassment?

Sadly, the Super Bowl isn’t the only thing that’s this cheesy in the sports world. The Daytona 500 is just as over-produced. All the “pre-game” hype is just that: hype. I can’t believe that there are sports fans out there that want to see touchy-feely stuff before the game. Who exactly are they trying to market this stuff to? I’m clearly not the intended audience. Or perhaps I’m just too high brow.

Update: Well, there appears to be some hope. The half-time show with The Rolling Stones was done exactly as it should be. A few songs were played all the way through … and a good time was had by all.

Mods for Half-Life 2

Published on February 4, 2006

I checked out a couple of single player modifications for Half-Life 2 this morning. I highly recommend both.

MINERVA
Although there’s only one level at the moment, MINERVA’s episodic content concept is interesting. The story is intruiging, the level is very well designed, and the action feels very much like the original game. As you progress, you receive cryptic messages from an unknown contact. Is it the G-Man? Or someone else? I guess we’ll have to wait to find out.

Eclipse
This might be considered to be a “total conversion” more than anything else. Eclipse is unlike Half-Life 2 in every regard. Although it’s a little short, the gameplay is fun, the effects are well executed, and the artwork is incredible. The levels ran a tad slowly on my machine, but it was a fun diversion. The single weakest point in my mind is the story line; it’s as thin as any I’ve played in a long time. But this mod has to be played to be fully appreciated. There are a few puzzles that will make you scratch your head at first, and the game makes excellent use of the Source engine’s physics capabilities.

Are there any other recommended single player mods out there? If so, please let me know!

Developing in Firefox 1.5

Published on February 3, 2006

I am finally taking the time to update my toolbar extension tutorial for Firefox. The new version will feature all of the great new development improvements featured in Firefox 1.5 (development has gotten a whole lot easier). In updating the tutorial, I’ve already learned a few things that I didn’t already know. For example, extensions no longer need to make use of GUID‘s; the format extensionname@yoursite.com can be used instead. That change alone makes things so much easier to understand.

I have no idea when the updated tutorial will open up to you, the reader, but it will hopefully be sometime soon. I’m currently working on rewriting section 2 (Creating the Framework). It just so happens to be the section that requires the most revamping. As a result of the tutorial focusing on Firefox 1.5, I’ll be throwing support for Firefox 1.0.x to the wind. My decision to do so is based on the new development features provided by 1.5. They alone outweigh the loss of 1.0.x support in my eyes; hopefully you agree on that point as well.

The Holy Grail Found

Published on February 1, 2006

The holy grail of CSS layouts has apparently been located by one Matthew Levine. Although I personally had never been searching for it, I was aware that people were. A number of potential grail candidates had apparently surfaced over time, but none have been as simple and elegant as the one found most recently.

This finding illustrates one of the main problems with CSS: columns. Placing content into columns is tough to begin with (even if we make use of illegitimate table layouts). Fortunately, CSS3 plans to add native column support. Unfortunately, support for that is still years down the road. And Microsoft is likely to never support it; they only support the “standards” for which they are sole author. Regardless, a tip of the hat to Matthew for sharing this gem with us. The world will never be the same.

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