Archive for April 2007

Patchonomics

Published on April 27, 2007

Back in February, I mentioned a few games that I was planning on purchasing this year. Two of the titles, Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles and Silent Hunter: Wolves of the Pacific, have already been released. So what’s preventing me from rushing out the door and picking them up? Sadly, each has a host of problems.

The primary Shivering Isles bug causes saved games to become corrupt, causing gamers to lose all their saved progress. After investing literally hundreds of hours in the game, that’s not exactly a risk I want to run. Sure a patch is available, but it’s in a ‘beta’ state. I didn’t sign up to be a beta tester here!

Even after a couple of patches, Silent Hunter apparently still has a number of lingering problems, several of which result in crashes to the desktop. A number of the most critical bugs in the initial release have supposedly been fixed, but I hear that not every bug has been squashed. And I’ve read that saved games aren’t compatible after applying the latest patch. What?!? If I’m going to put time into a game, I don’t want to lose my progress after applying a patch.

I really want to play these games, but I also don’t want to be disappointed by half-baked products. So I’m going to wait a little longer in the hopes that these issues get ironed out.

How to Take Screenshots of Menu Items

Published on April 26, 2007

Taking a screenshot of an application is a simple task: the “Print Screen” key can be used alone (to grab the entire screen), or one can use the “Alt + Print Screen” key combination to take a snapshot of only the active window. But taking a screenshot of the active window, while an application menu is opened, is a little tougher. Sure you could use a third-party solution to do it, but suppose you don’t want to (or cannot) use such a tool. What is one to do?

One option, which isn’t very appealing, is to take a screenshot of the entire screen (using the “Print Screen” key) and then crop out the active window using some image editor. Again, this involves using a third-party application to do the cropping (although Microsoft Paint can be used to some minimal effect).

The better answer, as I accidentally discovered myself, is very simple. Any application worth its salt uses keyboard accelerators (access keys, to be exact) to allow keyboard users to access application menus. The problem is that most applications make use of the “Alt” key to invoke these access keys. For example, “Alt + F” in Windows Explorer will open the File menu. Suppose I want to take a screenshot of a highlighted menu item within the File menu. If I open the menu and press “Alt + Print Screen” to take the screenshot, the menu is dismissed, since the application thinks I’m trying to invoke another menu. But we can work around this limitation!

  1. Hold the Alt key down and press the corresponding access key to open the desired menu.
  2. Keep the Alt key pressed!
  3. Move the menu selection (using the arrow keys on the keyboard) to the desired menu item.
  4. Press the Print Screen key.

Voila! An active-window screenshot with a highlighted menu item, using no third-party application. Here’s an example:

Menu Screenshot Example

Thunderbird 2.0 Released

Published on April 19, 2007

It looks like the next generation of the Thunderbird e-mail client has been released. Although I have not yet updated my client at home, I will certainly be doing so tonight. Thunderbird is a fantastic client, and I am really looking forward to all the new features (not to mention the boat loads of bug fixes).

The Bell Tolls for Windows XP

Published on April 17, 2007

It looks as if Windows XP will be phased out by the end of the year, despite a continued strong demand for the operating system. Though Microsoft claims that sales of Vista are high, this rush to stop shipping Windows XP seems to say the exact opposite. In a recent Harris poll on over 2200 US adults, only 12% showed any interest in actually upgrading to Vista. This is bad news for Microsoft, and might be one reason why they are rushing XP out the door. My attitude is, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. As such, I intend to stick with XP for several more years. There are far too many problems in the current release of Vista than I’d like to deal with (not to mention all of the overhead for those fancy transparent windows).

Bad Vibrations

Published on April 14, 2007

I’ve noted over the past few weeks that my computer at home has picked up a vibration. Every so often, it gets to be so bad that the case actually rattles. The only possible cause is one of the many cooling fans, and I’m guessing that my Zalman VGA cooler is the culprit (though I’m not completely certain). When I installed the Zalman, I opted not to use the variable fan speed control, choosing instead to run the fan at full speed all the time. What’s odd is that my last video card, which also ran with a Zalman cooler, didn’t have this issue. Perhaps this second cooler isn’t as well balanced? Should I install the fan speed control to throttle down the fan speed? Or could it be another fan altogether? Whatever it is, I’ve certainly got to spend some time troubleshooting the issue; it’s driving me crazy!

Update: It looks like the Zalman cooler is not the culprit (score another point for Zalman!). I installed the FanMate speed controller, turned the speed all the way down, and the vibration was still present. I’m now suspecting my stock CPU cooler (the one that came with my AMD processor). Also, when I was inside the computer, I noted that the case’s side panel supports were bent out ever so slightly, so I bent them back. Now the vibration has turned into a constant hum! Perhaps it’s time for a new case?

Is HTML 5 Vaporware?

Published on April 12, 2007

An article over at Slashdot mentions the news that Apple, Mozilla, and Opera have requested the adoption of HTML 5, a successor to HTML 4 and XHTML, both of which are aging. The draft spec for HTML 5 is courtesy of the WHATWG, a group that formed for the very specific purpose of creating a successor to what we use today. It seems that the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has been wasting time working on an incompatible replacement to HTML and XHTML, a decision that I feel is destined to fail (backwards compatibility is a definite requirement in moving the web forward).

Adopting HTML 5 is a great idea (HTML does need cleaning up), but unless Microsoft climbs aboard, we might as well start building the HTML 5 coffin. As much as people dislike hearing it, the fact is that Microsoft owns this kind of thing. If it doesn’t get into Internet Explorer, you might as well forget it. And I doubt that IE will migrate to something like this anytime soon. I mean, they just fixed their CSS box-model bugs! How many years did we wait for that? And after all that time, the rendering engine is still broken.

Perhaps Firefox will continue to take share from IE, giving the ‘little’ guys like Mozilla a voice in what direction to take the web. I’ve certainly got my fingers crossed.

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Video Killed the Radio Star

Published on April 10, 2007

I’ve recently been listening to some music by The Mamas & The Papas, and it got me thinking. Cass Elliot, one of “The Mamas,” was rather heavy-set to say the least. Would a person like this make it in today’s music scene? I’m inclined to say “no” since so much of music today is visual. As I see it, Cass just doesn’t have “the look” to compete in today’s market.

She’s not alone. Roy Orbison is another candidate in my list of performers least likely to make it. Anyone who’s listened to any of Roy’s work can’t deny that he has an incredible voice. But he’s certainly nothing to look at. He would most likely be overlooked if he started today. Who knows how much great music we’re missing out on because the artists aren’t the Ken’s and Barbie’s that producers want them to be?

Rocket Slime Review

Published on April 5, 2007

Several weeks ago, I purchased Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime, a role-playing game for the Nintendo DS. Though I have yet to finish it, I feel like I have a good enough grasp to give a short review.

I’ve never played any of the Dragon Quest games, but the protagonist in Rocket Slime is apparently one of the characters from that series. The story line should be familiar to every gamer in the world: an evil group invades a peaceful land, captures its inhabitants, and only the brave hero can save the day and restore order. Although formulaic, the story does have some charm. The writing is witty; puns are scattered all over the place.

There are two phases to game play: dungeon crawls and tank battles. The dungeon crawls are reminiscent of the classic Zelda games: top-down affairs where you run around battling bad guys and collecting items. Tank battles are somewhat different. Each team (yours and a member of the evil Plob) has a tank with a certain amount of hit points. Both tanks have two cannons, one which shoots straight out and one that shoots in an arc. Ammunition randomly spawns at a number of spots in your tank, and you must ferry it to the cannons to be shot at the enemy. The early battles are fairly easy, but the later ones (where I’m at now in the game) are very difficult. As such, this part of the game can get a bit frustrating. Every item you find throughout the game can be used as ammunition, and each one deals a differing amount of damage. The amount of strategy to be used in the tank battles is more than meets the eye; I have yet to master this part of the game. As the game progresses, you can even direct up to three other slimes in the tank battles, assigning them to various roles.

I can only think of two down sides to the game. First, the action gets a little repetitive, especially in regards to the tank battles. Second, the music isn’t nearly as varied as it should be, nor is it as catchy as the music in similar games (such as Zelda).

I could expand further on Rocket Slime, but there are plenty of other sites out there that have done that already. Overall I’d definitely recommend this game to all Nintendo DS owners. My final rating: B+

Breaking WEP in Under a Minute

Published on April 4, 2007

An article posted yesterday at Slashdot mentioned a new way to break 104-bit (aka 128-bit) WEP keys in less than 1 minute. What’s more, this new method requires capturing less than 10% of the packets required by the previous best method. This kind of discovery should hopefully help people move to more secure schemes, like WPA.

My family and I still use WEP around our house, but we’re thinking about changing to WPA instead. One benefit of where we live is that our neighbors houses are fairly far away from ours. So, if anyone is using our access point, they are likely to be sitting out in our front yard, something we are likely to notice pretty quickly.

WordPress 2.0.10

Published on April 3, 2007

I have upgraded this website to WordPress 2.0.10, so let me know if anything is broken.

I’m avoiding upgrading to WordPress 2.1, based on a single point raised by Matt Cutts in a recent blog post. The oh-so-handy “Preview” and “Edit” links on the write post page have been removed, which really stinks. There’s apparently a plugin to put back what the developers have taken away, but that seems like such a hack. I’ve heard of a few other problems with 2.1 as well, so I’m going to spend more time on the 2.0.x branch for a while. Maybe 2.2 will fix some of these issues; I guess we’ll see later this month.

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