Archive for July 2007

Anorexic Web Writing

Published on July 31, 2007

A List Apart fails to disappoint. While I don’t read every article in each issue (not all of them apply to my web development efforts), I have yet to find one that hasn’t taught me something new. The latest issue is a prime example. Two new articles tackle the problem of weak writing on the web:

  1. Better Writing Through Design — by Bronwyn Jones
  2. Reviving Anorexic Web Writing — by Amber Simmons

Both articles are excellent reads, but the latter is my personal favorite. Mrs. Simmons points out a number of interesting thoughts on where writing for the web becomes anemic. One specific example that hits close to home for me is alt text. Improving my alt text writing is a subtle, yet important improvement that would benefit my websites in a number of ways.

Improving iTunes Video Performance

Published on July 29, 2007

I recently installed Apple iTunes for the first time (the QuickTime install on my laptop was having lots of problems). One of the first things I tried out was subscribing to a video podcast (specifically The Totally Rad Show), which was fairly easy to do. As soon as I started to play the latest episode, I noted that playback performance was horrible. I never had this kind of performance problem with QuickTime, so I was a little surprised that iTunes would be so different.

A quick Google search turned up a support article from Apple on iTunes performance in Windows XP and 2000. All of the standard suggestions are there (make sure you’re computer is fast enough, download the latest version, etc.), but one suggestion caught my eye: “Disable Direct3D video acceleration in QuickTime.”

I ventured to the Windows Control Panel, opened the QuickTime item, and turned off the Direct3D video acceleration. To my surprise, performance was restored! Who knew that a simple toggle could solve such an annoying problem?

In loosely related news, I’m getting closer to actually buying an iPod (something I thought I’d never do). More on this later.

You don’t know the power of the Dark Side; I must obey my master. — Darth Vader

Nintendo’s Gamble

Published on July 23, 2007

Nintendo announced a new peripheral at this year’s E3: the Wii Fit. It’s an interesting concept, but one that has sharply divided the gaming community. I’ve read a number of comments saying that Nintendo is further alienating the “hard-core” gaming community; catering to the “soccer-moms” of America isn’t what gamers are looking for, so how could Nintendo sell out like that?

Other comments have praised the device, saying that kids clearly need to get exercise, and this is one more step in encouraging such behavior. I tend to agree with this latter group; the Wii Fit is a great idea, though the ‘games’ they’ve shown for the device seem bland. As far as alienating the hard-core gaming community is concerned, I don’t think Nintendo is doing that at all. It’s simply a matter of broadening their horizons. While Microsoft and Sony are locked in the never ending battle of “bigger, faster, better,” Nintendo is quietly expanding their horizons, gobbling up market share that no one has claimed. And they are making a profit the entire time. Microsoft is losing money like crazy with the 360 (especially after the recent “recall” announcement), as is Sony. Nintendo has made a profit since day 1, and continues to do so.

In the end, I think Nintendo will come out on top. The Wii may not have the flashiest graphics around, but it’s got creativity, something the other guys don’t. What do you think of the Wii Fit? Will it be a success, or a flop?

Understanding the Black Bars

Published on July 22, 2007

I recently stumbled upon an excellent article explaining why the “black bars” still show up for some movies, even on high-definition televisions. Not being the owner of a high-def TV, I had always wondered what really happened in these cases. Now I finally understand what’s going on, and that one shouldn’t panic when the bars continue to show up.

Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow Review

Published on July 20, 2007
Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow Screenshot

Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow is the latest Nintendo DS game that I’ve been playing over the past few weeks. I just beat it last night, so I thought I’d share a few thoughts on the game.

This is the first Castlevania game that I’ve ever played, though the series dates all the way back to the original NES title. For those not familiar with the series, you play as a crusader set out to destroy the evil that has taken up residence in Dracula’s castle. It’s a classic 2D side-scrolling game, and is an incredible blast to play.

Your character has two ways to attack the various monsters throughout the castle: either with a number of weapons or via special abilities which come through harvesting the monster’s souls. Each soul you collect gives you a different ability. Some abilities cost mana to use, while others act as “enchantments” and are active all the time. You can equip three souls at any time (one “bullet” soul, one “guardian” soul, and one “enchantment” soul). There are also a few ability souls collected through the game, which are always active. This specific aspect of the game is quite enjoyable. Collecting all of the souls is much more difficult than you might think. I’ve been playing off and on for several weeks and only have about 75% of the souls collected.

Interestingly enough, there are only two real “levels” to the game: Dracula’s castle and an area (presumably of Hell) called simply “The Abyss.” The castle “level” has a number of stages, and is incredibly large. It took a long time to explore the entire level, and I have undoubtedly missed some hidden rooms.

When your character dies, the game is over. There are no “extra mans” to be had, so you have to be very careful. Thankfully, you can save the game any time at a number of save points throughout the castle. Make sure to save often; I lost a number of hard to get souls last night because I got overconfident.

I highly recommend this game. I’ve had a ton of fun playing it, and I’ve already started the next game (Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin). This is excellent proof that 2D games are not dead (and shouldn’t be). My final rating: A+

How to Get a Complete Firefox Change Log

Published on July 18, 2007

MozillaZine has announced that Firefox has been released (though, as of this writing, I still don’t see it via auto-update). I enjoy looking through change logs (weird as that may seem), so for every new Firefox release, I take a look at Bugzilla to figure out what has been fixed and what is new. Here’s how I do it:

  1. Browse to the BugZilla keywords description page (the link to this page is also available on the advanced search form).
  2. Look for the “fixed[versionNumberHere]” and “verified[versionNumberHere]” keywords. Note that the [versionNumberHere] bit refers to the Gecko version number, not the Firefox version number. For example, Firefox uses Gecko version (as you might guess, the 2.0 release used 1.8.1). Firefox 3 will use Gecko 1.9.
  3. Out to the right of each keyword, you should see a count of the total bugs that particular keyword corresponds to. Click that number, and you will see all of the bugs that use the specified keyword.

Here are the fixed bugs and verified bugs for If you really want to get clever, you can combine these keywords together (separated by a comma) on the advanced BugZilla search page. You’ll need to tweak some of the default settings on that form to get it to work, but it can be done (as this query for Firefox indicates).

There are two special notes about doing things this way:

  1. These queries are looking at fixes in the Gecko engine. As such, bug fixes for Thunderbird and Seamonkey will also show up.
  2. You may not see everything, particularly high-risk security fixes. For all security changes, see the known vulnerabilities page.

MP3 Player Ideas?

Published on July 14, 2007

My Creative Zen Micro only has 5GB of storage and, having filled that up, I’m looking for a new (and larger) MP3 player. All of the major players (the iPod, the Zune, and the Creative Zen Vision M) have their own frustrating drawbacks, like non-replaceable batteries.

As such, I’ve been trying to figure out which way to go, mostly by reading reviews around the web. The more I read, the less impressed I am with each player. What MP3 player(s) do you use and/or own? Any comments or suggestions would be appreciated.

Accessible Link Changes

Published on July 12, 2007

As I recently mentioned, the way I was handling the “skip to main content” links on this site wasn’t as accessible as I had originally thought. I have fixed this issue, and hopefully things will be much better. Please let me know if anything looks odd or out of place.

Accessible Hidden Text

Published on July 10, 2007

I just ran across an excellent article entitled Why “left: -9999px;” is Better For Accessibility Than “display: none;”. It discusses the two primary means by which web developers try to hide text (usually to allow for accessible logos or titles), and why using an offset is (often) better than just simply making it invisible. The author also explains why this is better, using some documentation from Microsoft on Internet Explorer accessibility. Looks like I need to fix my websites!

Optimizing WordPress Performance

Published on July 9, 2007

I’ve come across a few articles on how to optimize WordPress performance (all of the following links come from the first linked story in the list below):

WordPress is by far my favorite content management system, but I opted to use Movable Type over at Born Geek, mainly because it uses static HTML pages (which load faster). Considering the content in the above guides, I may eventually switch from Movable Type to WordPress.

CNN Redesign

Published on July 5, 2007

I’ve been out of town, so I know that this story is a few days old, but I really dig the new look at It’s clean, sleek, and takes up much more screen real estate. The HTML doesn’t validate, nor does the CSS, but I still think this is a step in the right direction.

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