Archive for May 2008

Who Doesn’t Use Anti-Virus?

Published on May 30, 2008

Are there any readers here who use Windows and don’t make use of an anti-virus client? I’ve been thinking about ditching my anti-virus client altogether on my personal system, and after reading an interesting article on the subject, I’m wondering if anyone else out there has taken this route. In my experience, anti-virus solutions are slow, ineffective (I’m not sure they’ve ever flagged anything for me over the years), and are generally a bother to keep up with.

If you’ve ditched anti-virus, why’d you do it? And what have been your results?

NC Transportation Museum Photos

Published on May 26, 2008

To celebrate the new version of Monkey Album, I have posted a new photo series of a trip my family took yesterday to the North Carolina Transportation Museum. I highly recommend the museum for anyone who is even remotely interested in trains (or other forms of transportation). It’s located in Spencer, NC, an easy drive from either the Triangle area or from Charlotte (and points in between). The museum is absolutely free to visitors, though you’ll have to pay to ride the train or the turntable.

I hope you enjoy this photo series.

The New and Improved Monkey Album

Published on May 26, 2008

Over the past few months, I have been hard at work on a new version of Monkey Album, the software I use to display my photography at this site. The new version is now live, and includes the following changes:

Per-Picture Comments
This is a feature I’ve wanted to do since day 1. Visitors to this site may now leave comments on each picture, via a handy WordPress-style comment form. Akismet is being used for anti-spam purposes (it will be interesting to see how well it works), and several built-in WordPress functions are being used for sanitization purposes. I’m a little nervous about turning this feature on, but I will gauge how well it works over time and adjust as necessary. Thanks to the magic of cookies, you only need to enter your author information one time.
Better Album Previews
The previous album selection page was sorely in need of an update; it wasted too much screen space and generally looked bad. No more! Album previews are now handled in a much more professional manner, and I’m proud of the results. I really like the wide-screen style preview image, and I hope you do too.
RSS Feeds
Two feeds are now available for my photo album: a feed following new albums, and one following new comments. The latter is probably not as interesting to you as the former, but I’m making both available.
Cleaner Presentation
The overall presentation of my photos should be a little cleaner now. Vertical space has been improved, color schemes now match my primary site theme, and other minor tweaks have been made here and there.

In addition to these changes, a number of administrative changes have been made, all of which will make my life much easier. As always, if you find a bug, please let me know. So much has changed in this new release, that I’m sure a few things fell between the cracks; letting me know about them will help get them fixed quickly.


Officially Switching to Firefox 3

Published on May 23, 2008

It’s official: I am switching to Firefox 3 RC1 as my primary web browser. All of the extensions I use are now compatible in some form or another (Firebug and Linkification are still in ‘beta’), so that’s no longer holding me back.

One interesting note about Firebug. The new version has removed the ‘Disable / Enable’ feature for individual sites. Or so I thought. This functionality has now been moved to the Network Monitor and Script Debugger sections of the extension. In other words, I can now explore the DOM tree for any site, without having to pay the performance hit from the network monitoring code. Woo-hoo!

Exiting Batch File Contexts

Published on May 22, 2008

While working on a Windows batch script earlier today, I ran across an interesting side effect of the call and exit commands. Let’s take this simple example, which we’ll name script_a.bat:

@echo off

call :function

goto :functionEnd
    set foobar=1
    if "%foobar%" == "1" exit /B 1
    goto :EOF

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Kensington Digital FM Transmitter Review

Published on May 12, 2008
Kensington Digital FM Transmitter

Back in November, I picked up a Kensington Digital FM Transmitter for my iPod Classic. And on my way back from Dustin and Sarah’s wedding yesterday (congratulations, you guys!), it occurred to me that I hadn’t yet posted a review of the device.

Having never used an FM transmitter before, I was unsure about the reception quality. Thankfully, this specific Kensington model is top notch. It’s rare that I encounter static, and I’ve noted that it most often happens when driving under a particularly large overpass. The audio quality is excellent, though I find that I have to turn up the volume on my car stereo a little higher than I normally would with the corresponding audio CD. This might simply be related to the compression that MP3’s provide, but it’s a minor nuisance.

The unit provides 3 preset buttons, which is very useful to lock in multiple unused stations. This feature was really handy when I went to the mountains last Thanksgiving; one of the preset stations I was using in the RTP area was being used in the Asheville area, and switching was simply a matter of pressing a button (and then tuning to the right place on the receiver).

While your iPod is attached, the unit charges the battery. Unfortunately, there’s no option to not charge the battery, which would be useful for battery conditioning purposes. I don’t use this unit every day, so this minor problem doesn’t impact me as much. One other minor annoyance is that the iPod-style connector doesn’t lock into place. This makes it much easier for the cable to fall out, though I have only seen this happen a time or two.

Overall, I really like this unit. According to the Amazon product page, this particular model is being phased out and replaced by the Kensington LiquidFM Transmitter, which has much lower reviews. If you want one of these models, I suggest picking it up ASAP. You will not be disappointed.

Crysis Mini-Review

Published on May 11, 2008

I completed Crysis yesterday, so I thought I would post a few quick thoughts on my experience:

What I Liked

  • As can be expected, the graphics in this game are insane. The jungle atmosphere is spot-on, physics are incredible, lighting is superb, and character modeling is excellent. Visually, this game is a real treat to play.
  • The nano-suit which the player wears is an interesting game play mechanic. ‘Health’ is handled via the nano-suit, and the abilities which the suit provides (speed, strength, armor, and cloak) are fun to play with.
  • Level design is excellent. All of the locations feel incredibly realistic, and there’s a ton to explore. I’ll probably play through the game once more just to fully explore each map, because I know there’s a ton of stuff I missed.

What I Didn’t Like

  • Crysis isn’t near as long as Far Cry, which really disappointed me. Likewise, the maps in Crysis aren’t as large either.
  • Crysis has an incredibly weak story line, much like Far Cry did. This comes as no surprise, especially in the FPS genre, but I was hoping for a little more meat than what I was given.
  • Again, just like Far Cry, the game turns into a battle against alien forces. I really enjoyed battling the human forces in the early parts of this game, and I wish Crytek had stuck to that theme. The later alien-based levels are, for the most part, not very fun. Why can’t we get a game that uses this style engine and doesn’t devolve into a ‘save-the-world-from-alien-attack’ kind of story? Perhaps Far Cry 2 will provide the kind of experience I’m looking for.
  • Difficulty is really uneven. I played through on the ‘Normal’ difficulty, and found myself stuck at a few places (though I never got stuck permanently). Some battles are surprisingly easy, while others are incredibly hard to survive.
  • Some of the vehicles the player gets to drive are woefully difficult to maneuver, which is frustrating. I’m not entirely sure why this is, because the vehicles in Far Cry were a pleasure to drive.
  • This game is a system hog. I played at 1280×1024 on the High setting (no anti-aliasing or anything fancy), and there were still a few moments where things really chugged (entering and exiting buildings especially). Overall my experience was smooth, but these moments of stuttering killed some of the immersion factor.

I’m not sure if I can recommend this game or not. It’s worth playing through for the eye candy, but some of the game’s frustrations cancel out that fun. My final verdict for Crysis? C+

Page Redirection Fixed

Published on May 8, 2008

A recent Lifehacker article on the Top 10 Tools to Get Blogging Done featured my oh-so-handy CoLT extension. Unfortunately the article linked to the old URL, for which I failed to provide a redirect. This problem is now fixed, and the broken URL now redirects to the new location.

You’ve got to tell me about this kind of stuff people!

Doing Credits Right

Published on May 5, 2008

I just finished Half-Life 2: Episode Two again. Playing it through on my new computer was a real treat, and the ending of this episode still brings a tear to my eye. One thing jumped out at me for the first time on this play-through: the end credits. Valve has chosen to present the end credits in a short, yet elegant way. Every contributor is listed in alphabetical order by last name, with only a few notable exceptions (all the voice talent is singled out, for example). The result is a short, concise credits sequence that isn’t a bore to sit through. Compare this with the end credits for Call of Duty 4, which go on for so long that a rap song is performed to break the monotony (I believe the end credits are on the order of 3 or 4 minutes long in that particular title).

I’d really like to see more end credit sequences patterned after Valve’s design. Others may disagree, but knowing who did what on a project isn’t very important. Listing each contributor in a single group levels the playing field and gives everyone an equal measure of thanks.

Predictions for The Office

Published on May 2, 2008

I’m a big fan of The Office, the comedy television show on NBC (hopefully everyone else is too). Last night’s episode was great, and it provided a glimpse of what might be coming down the pipeline (there are only 2 episodes left this season). Here are a few predictions I have for where this series is headed; note the possible spoilers ahead:

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Gold Rush: First Impressions

Published on May 1, 2008

The long-awaited update to Team Fortress 2 was released Tuesday evening, so I’ve only had a brief amount of time to play around with Gold Rush, the map showcasing the new payload game type. In a word, the new game play theme is awesome. Gold Rush is much more enjoyable than Dustbowl (which I love, by the way), and I really hope more maps of this type are released over time.

Here’s how Gold Rush works. A mine cart, carrying a Fat Man style bomb, must be moved from point A to point B through 3 different stages. The attacking team (BLU) moves the cart simply by standing near it; the more team members surround the cart, the faster it moves. If the cart is left unattended for 30 seconds, it begins to move backwards towards the starting point. The map is played just like Dustbowl; there are a total of 3 stages in which BLU attacks and RED defends. Once either BLU successfully attacks all stages, or RED successfully defends a stage, the teams swap sides and the stages are played again.

Gold Rush is definitely a tough map. The defending team almost always has a height advantage, making it difficult to make quick progress. A number of choke points slow things down even more. But like every other map in Team Fortress 2, things are very well balanced.

The other major change to the game comes through the new unlockable weapons and achievements. Medic is the only player class that currently supports these new features, so everyone is inevitably playing as a Medic. A total of 36 new achievements are available, and for every 12 that you unlock, a new weapon option becomes available. First up is “The Blutsauger,” a syringe gun mod that leeches health from each enemy you hit. Next is “The Kritzkrieg,” a medi-gun mod that gives the person you use it on a 100% chance of firing critical damage (instead of the standard Ubercharge). Finally, “The Ubersaw” bone-saw mod provides a 25% charge to your Ubercharge meter for every hit you make on an enemy. I’ve only gotten 4 out of the 36 achievements so far (Surgical Prep, Trauma Queen, Intern, and Group Health), so I’ve got quite a ways to go. Some of the achievements look impossible to get, so I doubt I’ll make it all the way.

If you’d like to try out Team Fortress 2, along with the new updates, Valve is offering a free weekend this weekend (May 5-6). I can’t recommend this game highly enough, and the Steam service is great, so check it out. If you do check it out, look for me; my username is jgbCodeMonkey.

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