Archive for November 2006

A Fresh Perspective

Published on November 30, 2006

Surprisingly, the occasional downtime from computers and the internet is a good thing. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I spent time down in Georgia at my grandmother’s house, apart from the world wide web. I came back refreshed. More importantly, I had a new perspective on some of my ongoing projects. Not that I spent any time thinking about said projects; not thinking about them is what helped me the most.

I’ve nearly flip-flopped again on my decision to use WordPress for my planned overhaul of Born Geek. Two particular articles have nearly persuaded me to give Movable Type another chance. Site performance is still a large concern for me (though I’m not entirely certain it should be), and this is where Movable Type really delivers.

The next release of Googlebar Lite will also have a little more tender loving care than I previously had imagined. Much better localized search results are in the works, thanks to my decision to drop all the awkward top-level domain options currently used. In place of all of that will come a simple drop-down menu, allowing the user to select the Google site they wish to use across all search types (just like the official Google Toolbar). I think this will be a real improvement over the current scheme. Hopefully, users will agree.

The Swollen Eno River

Published on November 22, 2006

One last post before I take some much needed time off.

The recent nor-easter that drenched our area caused the Eno River to rise up to 12 feet (higher than it’s been since my family moved to the area). As such, my dad and I went out to take a look at it. I brought my camera along and this album is the result. Enjoy.

Nintendo DS Lite Review

Published on November 22, 2006

For my birthday this year, I got a Nintendo DS Lite. Now that I’ve had some time to play with it, I’d like to give you my thoughts on the system, along with the various games that I have picked up so far. I’ve given each a letter grade, for whatever that’s worth.

The DS Lite System (A+)
What first wowed me with the DS Lite was the screen brightness. Having never seen an original DS, I can’t make a comparison between the two generations. However, I can say that my Gameboy Advance SP doesn’t touch the DS Lite brightness levels. It’s literally like night and day. However, the brighter you run the screen, the faster the battery drains. I use brightness level 2 (out of 4, if I remember correctly, where 4 is the brightest). I have been very pleased with the battery life at this level; I charge the system after several hours of play (I haven’t timed it, but I’m guessing somewhere between 6 to 10 hours between charges). And the sound in the DS Lite is incredible. I don’t know how they packed such awesome speakers into a tiny package, but they are really crisp. The added bonus that there are two speakers, and that they utilize stereo to great effect, is even better!

The touch screen is a novel idea and works well, though I find it a little hard to use the stylus in a game that also uses the buttons. And while I’m on that topic, let me say that I am glad that Nintendo included the X and Y buttons. The lack of X and Y on the Gameboy Advance SP really hurt the SNES game ports. Hopefully the DS will help fill that gap. It’s also nice that Gameboy Advance games can be played in the DS (though the X and Y buttons still aren’t useful for those older games). It’s nice to only carry one system around but have support for games from multiple platforms.

Since I’m the only one I know with a DS Lite, I haven’t tried the multiplayer stuff (with built-in wireless). I hear it works pretty well, but I can’t comment since I haven’t used that aspect of it.

There isn’t much negative to say about the DS Lite. Each time you start it up, you get a weird “Health and Safety Warning” that requires a tap of the touch screen to bypass. I find this odd, and a minor annoyance, but I guess Nintendo is trying to get people to be mindful of what they do. Also, the shiny casing is nice, but it shows fingerprints very easily (at least on my black model).

Overall, I nothing but good things to say. I highly recommend the DS Lite as a gaming platform.

The New Super Mario Bros. (B)
This being my first game, I was highly excited about it initially. It evokes classic gaming memories from the NES days, and the game’s action is as fun as ever. But, sadly, Mario’s adventure is a little short. The levels are surprisingly small, and are rather easy (to say the least). New power-ups help ease that pain a little; the giant mushroom and tiny mushrooms are a blast to use. I dislike how worlds 4 and 7 are completely optional (and a little difficult to access; they are only available through secret boss-level exits). The included mini-games are cute, but they don’t draw me back to them again and again. Final verdict? This is a fun game, and a must have for Mario fans, even if it is indeed a short endeavor.

Tetris DS (B)
Six game types are available in Tetris DS, and most of them are decent enough. The only two game types that don’t really excite me are the catch mode and mission mode. The other four (touch, push, puzzle, and standard) are really fun, and I would imagine are a blast with multiple players.

Kirby Canvas Curse (A)
I’ve never played a Kirby game before this one, but I must say that this one is highly entertaining. It uses the touch screen and stylus entirely; you never make use of the game pad buttons. By drawing “rainbow bridges” for Kirby to roll on, you must defeat an evil witch who has turned the world into a painting. Artwork in the game is phenomenal, and the action is pretty intense in some places. The stylus is used to great effect, and was a great twist on gaming. I highly recommend this title.

Yoshi’s Island DS (???)
I haven’t assigned this game a grade yet, because I only yesterday received it from Amazon. The original Yoshi’s Island for the Super Nintendo was a blast, and this one looks like it will follow in its predecessor’s footsteps. It uses both screens to show the game world, which is mildly annoying; there is a physical gap between the screens on the DS Lite, and so there’s a “gap” in what the game shows you at any one time. Hopefully this “feature” won’t be too much of a burden as I go forward. Time will tell.

It appears that I have written a lot on the subject, but hopefully you’ll find this information to be of use. I’ll be taking time off from my posting duties over the holiday weekend so until then, Happy Thanksgiving!

Color Blind

Published on November 19, 2006

For me, one of the most frustrating aspects of web design is the actual design step. Coding a given design? Easy. Making that design standards compliant? No problem. Actually coming up with the design concept itself? Mind-numbingly difficult. I occasionally check the Color Schemer Galleries for decent schemes, and there are a number of nice ones there, but determining how to use each color is a task I struggle to succeed at.

Does anyone have any strategies they use? Any pointers to decent resources? I already know about the Color Harmonies site and the Visibone Webmaster’s Color Lab. Can anyone do this, or must one be an ‘artist’ to excel?

Down the Pipeline

Published on November 16, 2006

There are a number of things I’ve got planned for the next several months:

Googlebar Lite 4.6: Better context menu customization support, a stand-alone toolbar button to show and hide the Googlebar Lite toolbar, and allowing the user to customize the keyboard shortcut for setting search box focus are the items currently slated for this next release.

Born Geek Overhaul: I am slowly getting the pieces into place for moving Born Geek to the WordPress platform. I’m really excited about this, but it will definitely take some time to complete.

CoLT 2.3: A new release of CoLT would be nice, improving the “Copy Link Text and Location as” capabilities.

Advanced Toolbar Tutorial: I’ve wanted to complete this project for a long, long time now, but I have yet to even start it. Perhaps after I overhaul the Born Geek website, I can get this going.

Improving Accessibility in Monkey Album

Published on November 11, 2006

I am in the process of improving the accessibility of my photo album here at the site. My primary goal is to make the alternate text representations of each image something worthwhile, instead of the filename cop-out that I chose a while back. Each image now has an associated alt-text data record, and entering these by hand one at a time (there is no mass-update capability at the moment) is taking quite a while. As of this writing, I have provided alt-text values for six of the ten albums that I have posted. I hope to have them all completed by tomorrow.

You will find that the alternate text for the album thumbnail is rather weak at the moment (‘Thumbnail for album XYZ’). This is due to the unfortunate way I constructed the various database tables. I essentially cannot obtain the alternate text record for the album’s thumbnail image, since I store the filename for the thumbnail, not the corresponding image ID. Later on I may improve this text, but I’m going to leave it as is for the moment. The alternate text for each full size image, along with each image’s thumbnail, has been greatly improved, and that was what I set out to do.

CMS Search Continues

Published on November 10, 2006

Last year at this time, I was thinking about various content management systems for user over at Born Geek (sister site to this blog). I never made a decision, mostly because so many of the available options seemed weak to me. One year later, very little has changed and I’m still looking to migrate the site from the hand-built system I use today to a database driven solution.

Currently, I’m leaning towards using WordPress, the same package I use here at this blog. I like the interface that it offers, its documentation is top notch, and I’m already quite familiar with it. The only real downside I can see with the package is that pages are built on the fly. Every month, Born Geek averages 1.56 GB of data transferred, 542,818 hits, and 17,955 unique users. With this much activity on the site, I’m a little concerned about database accesses and the subsequent processor time needed to generate each page. A caching plug-in is available for WordPress, and I hear decent things about it. But will it be enough?

I’m seriously thinking about giving it a try later this winter (converting the site will take some time). So keep your eyes peeled. In the mean time, if you have suggestions for CMS-like systems that might fit the bill, let me know. I’m certainly open to suggestions.

End of a Legend

Published on November 9, 2006

The Concerned web comic, which is based on and set in the Half-Life 2 game world, recently ended for good. It’s a shame that it had to end so soon, but the goal all along has been stated in the comic’s description (“The Life and Death of Gordon Frohman”). If you haven’t read the comic, I highly recommend it (note that you should start reading from the beginning to best appreciate it). The writing was top notch, the visuals were great, and I will sorely miss the updates that I used to look forward to.

Backyard Burn

Published on November 5, 2006

My dad and I had our first leaf-burn of the season yesterday, and I took some photographs of our work. It’s quite fun to live out in the country where this kind of thing isn’t against a city ordinance (and is, therefore, quite legal). Judging by all the leaves still on the trees, there will be a number of fires yet to go. Good times!

On an unrelated note, I’ve been tweaking the style used at this blog. Most notably, the line spacing here at the site has been increased. I think it makes things a little less cluttered looking, and easier on the eyes as a result. Comments? Suggestions? As always, let me know.

Developing Nothing Forever

Published on November 3, 2006

Some readers may be surprised to learn that I was once heavily involved in the Duke Nukem 3D gaming scene. During that time, I had the good fortune of taking over and maintaining the map editing FAQ, which eventually made it on to the official game CD (which was quite an honor). At the time, the game was revolutionary and incredibly fun. How excited, then, must we all have been when Duke Nukem Forever was announced?

That announcement date was almost 10 years ago (April 27, 1997), and we still have no game to play. DNF has single-handedly become the laughing stock of the gaming community, having been torn down and reconstructed multiple times. I can’t help but think that the game will fail miserably when (or if) it launches. The fan base from the original game has grown up. I fondly recall my days with the Duke, but I have a hard time envisioning myself getting as interested in that gaming line today as I would have years ago. What went wrong? Here’s my theory:

DNF is announced with much fanfare, and development work begins. The Unreal gaming engine shows promise, so the development team switches, adding delay. New, innovative games begin appearing using this and other engines (Half-Life, for example), and the DNF developers think “wow, our game isn’t near that good … let’s start all over.” Development begins anew, adding more delay. As work nears completion, more innovative games are released, and the weaknesses in DNF become apparent all over again. Rinse. Repeat. It’s an unfortunate snowball effect. Just as soon as the developers are ready to release, another product beats them to the punch, outshining their efforts. This is a battle that is very difficult to win.

If DNF ever does see the light of day, I’ll probably at least give it a look. But my feelings for that brand just aren’t the same. Time has moved on, and I’ve grown to appreciate more mature material. But here’s hoping that the Duke will shine again. Those days of old were certainly fun.

Vista Predictions

Published on November 2, 2006

I’ve recently had the fortune of playing with Windows Vista release candidates at work. Though I haven’t spent much time with them, I can tell you one thing for certain: it doesn’t feel any different to me than XP. Sure the windows are translucent and shiny, but shouldn’t there be more to this? Come on Microsoft; what have you been doing for the past decade (or however long it’s taken you to get this thing out)? The new start menu is horrible. Something that basic should have been left alone at the very least; not made worse.

Anyways, now that Vista has a release date, I’d like to make some predictions for the OS. Due to the headaches that will be coming down the pipeline based on all the new security stuff, I’m betting that few people will adopt the new operating system at first. Those that do adopt will essentially be “beta testers” for Microsoft, helping to work out all the last minute bugs. Things will go rough for several months, MS will reduce the price a time or two to help boost sluggish sales, and people will slowly turn on to it. I’m guessing that it will be another year (or maybe two) before the ball really starts rolling and substantial numbers of people start converting. Corporations will easily take that long before they begin rolling it out. So much has changed in this release that I doubt any large company will be willing to risk converting immediately.

Microsoft isn’t helping things by offering seven different versions of the OS. Which version am I supposed to choose? And why should I go with that choice over the other six? Two versions seems complicated enough in XP (the Home and Pro editions). Why must we make things harder here?

To me, it all comes back to the way it feels. If I don’t feel substantial change, why should I switch? What I’ve seen so far doesn’t impress me, and I don’t plan on switching for several years.

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