Archive for July 2006

Baby Steps: Part II

Published on July 27, 2006

I couldn’t resist making one more post about my new camera. Tonight I took a few shots that turned out way better than last night’s horrible results. The images are all 1024 x 768 again, with the exception of image 12 (it’s 1600 x 1200). Enjoy!

  • Photo 06: A nice colorful image of part of our driveway (one side of the loop).
  • Photo 07: Another nice colorful image of the summer flag in front of our house (the flags change with the seasons and various holidays).
  • Photo 08: One of the new rims I got for my car. These look way better than the factory wheels.
  • Photo 09: An awesome macro shot I took of a tiny birdhouse in one of our potted plants.
  • Photo 10: Hummingbird picture 1 (kindly posing for the camera).
  • Photo 11: Hummingbird picture 2 (warily looking for that pesky male).
  • Photo 12: Hummingbird picture 3 (in flight and a little blurry as a result … if I knew what I was doing I would have used a faster shutter speed).

I’m going to look into Flickr as a possible resting spot for these (and future) photos.

Baby Steps

Published on July 26, 2006

I received my Canon A620 today in the mail, and I’ve been playing with it since I got home from work. I still know absolutely nothing about this thing or how it all works, but I’ve taken my first five photographs, which I will now share with you. The images are 1024 x 768, so be warned about the larger than normal download size. And keep in mind that the originals are all 3072 x 2304 (the detail in these shots is great at high-res).

  • Photo #01: A lousy shot of a portion of my living room.
  • Photo #02: Another lame shot of our hummingbird feeder, sans any hummingbirds. Hey, I tried.
  • Photo #03: Can you spot the hummingbird in this next lousy photo? I’ll give you a hint in just a moment.
  • Photo #04: The fourth pitiful shot of some giant insect that was flying around our back door.
  • Photo #05: A decent picture of part of our backyard.

Did you find the humming-bird in photo 3 above? If not, here’s a major hint. And here’s a closeup of the bird. Those stupid birds are so hard to photograph! I guess a newbie like me can dream. I’ll have some more shots up here before too long. I’ve got to figure out how best to organize my photos here at this blog, but I’m looking forward to some photographic goodness in the near future.

Worst Buy

Published on July 24, 2006

It’s time for a rant that I’ve been saving for some time now.

I spend more time these days walking the virtual aisles of Amazon.com than I do the aisles of a brick and mortar store. And I couldn’t be happier. No lines, no travel, and no hassles from the sales staff. But I have become startlingly desensitized to the actual shopping experience. I recently went into the local Best Buy in the hopes of looking at a Canon A620. Not only did they not have a Canon A620, their camera selection was literally worse than the Wal-Mart next door (I know because I drove over there to look).

Immediately upon entering the Best Buy camera department, one of the oh-so-helpful sales staff came up and, unsurprisingly, asked if I needed help. I said no, he said OK, then followed that with something which I have yet to fully understand (he said it all so fast). The only part I truly remember were the words “non-commission.” After realizing they didn’t have what I wanted, I began to wander around the store aimlessly, pondering the Best Buy shopping experience as a whole.

The particular store I happened to visit is surprisingly small. As a result, each aisle is, quite literally no more than 2 or 3 feet wide. Two people can barely pass each other on any given aisle, making it difficult to even browse their merchandise. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the more obese shoppers occasionally get stuck, requiring the aid of the local rescue squad and the Jaws of Life to extract them from their predicament.

As I’m wandering around, I casually glance at their CD collection. They have absolutely nothing from my wish list. Which isn’t too surprising, considering that I’m into some rather obscure music. But I’ve been to Best Buy stores in the past looking for the staples, stuff like Abbey Road and Pet Sounds, and they didn’t have either. How shocking is that?

As I’m leaving the store, disappointed in my quest and vowing never to return, a Best Buy manager busily chased after another guy who was also leaving. This particular individual had a bag with what looked like both an item and a receipt, but the manager kept insisting on writing him a citation. If the local police force is turning to Best Buy employees for help, we’re all doomed. Doomed I tells ya!

This final little charade a least brought a smile to my face. Something that the Best Buy shopping experience has never done. Or never will do. Why go to a store that doesn’t have what I want, charges higher prices, is cramped, and has surly employees? Until I can find an answer to that question, I’ll be doing my best to avoid all Best Buy outlet stores. I couldn’t be happier.

Using Firefox Profiles

Published on July 23, 2006

Last night I posted a Firefox profile tutorial. The guide describes what profiles are, what they are good for, and how you can make use of them. I’ll probably add to it over the next week or two. Some troubleshooting tips would make a good addition, and hopefully some readers will have suggestions on ways I can improve things. As always, let me know of any problems you might find.

Fun With Linux Development

Published on July 20, 2006

After graduating from school with a bachelor’s degree of computer science, I must admit that I knew virtually nothing about developing *NIX based applications (that’s UNIX / Linux based applications for the non-geeks out there). Granted, I did do a little bit of non-Windows based programming while in school, but it was always incredibly basic stuff: compiling one or two source files, or occasionally writing a make-file for larger projects (three or four source files). Having never had a Linux or UNIX box to play with outside of school, I just never got a chance to get my feet wet. Thankfully, my job at IBM has changed that.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been doing a great deal of Linux programming, thanks to the cross-“platformedness” of one of the projects I’m working on. And this project is way more complicated than your typical school assignment. I’m now horsing around dynamically linked libraries, also known as “shared objects” in Linux land, like nobody’s business. Not only that, the project itself is essentially a multi-threaded shared object, making it all the more exciting. I’ve learned more about g++, ld, and ldd in the past few weeks than I ever knew before.

Unfortunately, debugging multi-threaded shared objects is easier said than done. The debugging tools in Linux (at least the ones I’ve played with) all suck so horribly. They make you really appreciate the level of quality in Microsoft’s Visual Studio debugger, or better yet, in WinDBG (this thing is hard core, and it’s what the MS developers actually use in practice). Fortunately, printf() always saves the day.

One cool trick I recently employed to debug a library loading problem I was having, is the LD_DEBUG environment variable. If you set LD_DEBUG to a value of versions, the Linux dynamic linker will print all of the version dependencies for each library used for a given command. If you have a Linux box, try it out. Set the LD_DEBUG environment variable, then do an ls. You’ll be amazed at the number of libraries that such a simple command involves.

Although Linux development can be frustrating at times, I’ve already learned a great deal and consider my experiences a great success. If I come across any more useful tips (like LD_DEBUG above), I’ll try my best to post them here (as much for my sake as for yours). Until then, you’ll find me knee-deep in my Linux code. I’ve got a few more bugs to squash.

When News Breaks

Published on July 18, 2006

Checking out of the local Food Lion tonight, my eye happened to catch the second page of an opened copy of that most trusted news source, the Weekly World News. The story that happened to grace that page was one of hope, innovation, and pure genius. It seems that an enterprising woman has discovered an affordable alternative to plastic surgery. You see, having a limited income prohibited this woman from being able to realize her dream of true beauty. So she whipped up an easy, simple, and (apparently) affordable solution: using small amounts of C-4 to reshape her face. Yes, that C-4. I have to admit that the results were quite surprising. A homely woman had become a beauty queen in no time at all. She too seemed pleased:

I couldn’t be happier with the results, and my hearing should return in the next day or two.

Edit: For those not already in the know, the Weekly World News is a tabloid newspaper, but they do have a website. Unfortunately, this particular story has not yet been published there (and I’m not certain that it ever will). Maybe I’ll buy a copy of the paper and put up some scans…

A Major Milestone

Published on July 17, 2006

Early this morning (at 1:03 AM to be exact), I bid and won on volume 35 (Doppelgänger) of the Prince Valiant series published by Fantagraphics Publishing. This volume completes my Prince Valiant library, a goal I have been trying to reach for some time now. Once the book arrives, I plan to read it and then go through them in order, beginning with volume 1. I can hardly wait!

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A Little Behind

Published on July 16, 2006

I’ve been battling several minor medical problems recently, which has slowed my blog posting efforts. With any luck I will get back to normality sometime soon. The Firefox profile tutorial I’ve been working on is nearly done, and a new release of Googlebar Lite is on the horizon. I’ve also had an idea for a new Windows application that I might write, should I find the energy and motivation to do so. Writing C++ all day for The Man sure makes it tough to do so in one’s spare time.

In other miscellaneous news, I recently purchased some new rims for my car. They replaced the original factory wheels (the standard steel ones with hub-caps). Over time I had lost or broken several of the caps, so I eventually took them all off. As a result, it looked pretty bad. The new rims have improved things quite a bit. I’m looking at buying a Canon A620 digital camera in the very near future, so I’ll try to get a shot or two of them. Lots of picture goodness is heading this way; I can’t wait!

Firefox 2.0 Beta 1

Published on July 8, 2006

Bug 343825, “Enable official branding and set version to Firefox 2 Beta 1 for upcoming release”, was recently checked in to the 1.8.1 branch. This can only be good news, and a sign that the first beta build of 2.0 is on the verge of being released. Perusing through the change logs over at The Burning Edge, as well as the nightly build notices in the Firefox Builds forum at MozillaZine, yields some cool new features and fixes. The ability to undo closing a tab has recently been added, although you should be forewarned of bug 343801, which causes the history menu to intermittently disappear. Also, passwords are now auto-filled before all images are loaded. This is a great bug fix; no more eBay login trouble!

I am really excited about Firefox 2.0, and when the first beta is officially released, I’ll certainly switch over. The nightly builds have been getting more and more stable, and they’re certainly a joy to use. Thankfully, release day is only getting closer.

Zalman VF900 Review

Published on July 7, 2006

I recently ordered a Zalman VF900 VGA cooler for my NVIDIA GeForce 6800 GT. As I previously mentioned, the temperatures I’ve been seeing on this card have been incredibly hot. It would probably be safe to say that this was the primary factor in my frequent system crashes, but only time will prove that theory. Well, yesterday the cooler arrived and I installed it. Read on for my thoughts on the card, the results I’ve seen so far, and more.

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No Strategy

Published on July 4, 2006

Out of what could only be described as sheer boredom, I recently reinstalled the strategy game Rise of Nations. My dad picked this up for free at a conference he attended years ago, and I remember playing through it quite a bit at the time. But I now see why I uninstalled the game: I really suck at it. I’ve never been a fan of strategy games, mostly because I can never figure out how to win. Oh sure, I know the winning conditions, but getting there is another story. On the easiest difficulty setting, I have no problem beating the computer. But ramp up the difficulty just one notch (to the “Easy” setting) and I immediately enter a deadlock. The computer’s army gets too large, and no matter how large I try to make mine, I can’t turn the tide. Out of frustration, I end up cheating and dropping nuclear bombs on the enemy, wiping out their entire population (an act which is surprisingly enjoyable).

I’m certain that the word “strategy” has some part to play in beating the computer, but I apparently don’t have that ability. Give me fast and furious action please. This strategy stuff is for the birds.

Prey Demo

Published on July 1, 2006

I’ve played through the Prey demo a couple of times now, and I must say that I am truly impressed. Unlike any game before it, Prey actually exploits the third dimension. Wall and ceiling walking are commonplace throughout the demo (for both you and your enemies), and the effect is somewhat disorienting at first. But the result is nothing short of incredible. You literally have to keep your eyes open in all directions at once, upping the tension level considerably. And the gravity shifts make for some interesting puzzles.

The other neat piece of tech featured in this game is the portal concept. Sprinkled throughout the various levels are portals to other areas of the map. In most cases, you can walk entirely around a portal, proving that it is indeed flat. But enter through it and you are seamlessly transported to another area. The effect is well done and also offers up some intriguing puzzles to solve.

Apparently, Prey will be released on July 10. If I can get my system to stop crashing when I play games (I’ve ordered a nice Zalman VGA Cooler for my graphics card) I’ll definitely pick this title up. If you haven’t played the demo, I highly recommend it.

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