Archive for August 2008

Behind the Demoman

Published on August 29, 2008

The Team Fortress 2 Blog has a really insightful article on the design process behind the demoman class. Most interesting is the fact that the demoman started out as a red-haired Caucasian which, in the author’s words was “perhaps a little too much like a groundskeeper in Springfield.” These behind-the-scenes looks at the game design process are really interesting to read, making the TF2 blog a worthy bookmark.

Order of the Phoenix

Published on August 28, 2008

In order to properly describe my reading experience with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, I’d like to talk briefly about another, unrelated book.

The seventh and final book in the Chronicles of Narnia series, entitled The Last Battle, is perhaps one of the most frustrating books I’ve ever read. Strangely enough, it’s also the most gratifying of the series. For what must be easily three quarters of the book, the reader is forced through one bad event after another. No hope ever presents itself and all seems lost. At one point, I seriously considered putting the book down for good. Thankfully, I didn’t do so. The final quarter of the book makes the difficulty of the first three quarters worthwhile.

The Order of the Phoenix has a similar resonance with me. Much darker than the previous volumes, the fifth installment of the Harry Potter series is a frustrating read at first. Bad fortune seems to follow Harry around, affecting everyone around him. This makes the reader’s job an unpleasant one. Thankfully, about two-thirds of the way through the book, things begin to turn around. As with the previous installment of the series (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), this book ends on a rather melancholy note. This makes me a little anxious about what’s to come in the final two volumes, especially the final one.

All in all, I’m really enjoying the series; much more than I thought I would originally. These books have rekindled my interest in reading, which I’m excited about. I used to read all the time when I was younger, but my efforts have been focused elsewhere for the past several years. Thankfully, that spark has been ignited again. I’m already thinking about what to read after I conclude the Potter series. Maybe I’ll take a stab at the Lord of the Rings books…

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Windows XP Service Pack 3

Published on August 26, 2008

Just the other day, after weeks of nagging by the automatic update daemon, I installed Windows XP service pack 3 on my desktop machine. So far, so good. I was quite leery of installing the update pack, seeing as Microsoft has fallen off the beam of competent programming in recent times. In fact, I’m still putting off updating my work laptop, out of fear that something will stop working. I’ve read reports online (and heard firsthand accounts at work) of automatic updates failing to install properly after installing SP3. Since no updates have been pushed out since I updated my system, I can’t say one way or the other.

Catching Up With Harry Potter

Published on August 23, 2008

A few weeks ago, I was in search of something new to read, so I decided to pick up the first six volumes of the Harry Potter series. Having only seen a couple of the movies (the first and third movies, I now recall), I wasn’t too familiar with the story line. What better way, then, to read the whole story from the beginning?

I just now completed the fourth book (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), and will begin on the fifth (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) tonight. Without a doubt, J. K. Rowling is one of the great authors of our time. Every book I’ve read so far has been a delight, packed with action that runs the gamut of emotions. I’ve laughed out loud a number of times (there are some very funny scenes in each book), I’ve been tense with anticipation at the climax of each story, and there have even been a few sad moments, especially in the book I just finished (which is quite dark at the end).

I’m glad that I’ve finally gotten around to reading this series. If you haven’t read them yet, I highly recommend doing so.

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Team Fortress 2 Arena

Published on August 21, 2008

The new arena game type in Team Fortress 2 is a strange beast. Players are given one life per round, and there’s essentially no health to be had in each map. Rounds are played until either an entire team has been killed off, or a team captures the one and only capture point (which becomes active after 60 seconds). If a team wins 5 rounds in a row, the teams are scrambled and play begins again. I like this feature, but I think the limit should be lowered to 3 rounds in a row.

I’ve been playing this game type each night since its release on Tuesday, and I have to admit that I don’t really like it. This most likely stems from the fact that I’m no good at arena mode; I’m often the first to be killed, and standard Team Fortress 2 tactics don’t apply. Arena feels nothing like the game I’ve come to love, and I’m rather disappointed that Valve has expanded the game in this direction. A ‘last man standing’ approach doesn’t yield for great team play, which is the entire point of the game. For now, I’ll be sticking to the classics: payload, control point, and capture the flag.

Visual Studio 2005 Threading Woes

Published on August 17, 2008

Visual Studio 2005 introduced support for doing parallel builds in solutions that contain more than one project. This is a great idea, especially on systems equipped with multi-core processors. Unfortunately, the developers at Microsoft apparently don’t know how to program a multi-threaded application.

Suppose we’re building two projects within one solution, call them Project A and Project B. If A and B exist in completely different folders, and are mutually exclusive in every way possible, the parallel build option is quite handy (improved build performance). However, if projects A and B share any code, any code at all, you run the risk of build failures. It seems as though Visual Studio doesn’t lock files appropriately during the build process. So, if each instance of the compiler tries to build the same file at the same time, one of them will fall over and die, complaining that “no class instances were found.”

It’s shocking to me that something so seemingly simple could be broken in an application of this caliber.

Heavy Updates

Published on August 13, 2008

The official Team Fortress 2 blog has word of the upcoming update to the heavy class. There are tons of additions in the pipeline:

  • New game type (as yet unannounced) with five new maps
  • New payload map
  • New community made map
  • Three unlockable weapons
  • Thirty-five new achievements

An official heavy update site is revealing new information each day this week, as well as Monday and Tuesday of next week. So far, they’ve revealed the new community map (cp_steel), one of the new unlockable weapons (a pair of boxing gloves), and the list of achievements (though none of them have descriptions yet). As before, a free weekend will be held for folks new to the game. I’m looking forward to this update; it’ll give me a reason to jump back into TF2.

One Bad Mutha

Published on August 12, 2008

I was saddened to hear that music legend Isaac Hayes died on Sunday. He was an incredible composer and performer, and his additions to the music world will be greatly missed. Of his many works, my personal favorite (and, in my opinion, his best) is the soundtrack to the classic 1971 film Shaft. I highly recommend picking it up; it’s top quality stuff, especially if you’re a jazz and soul fan. While you’re at it, pick up the film too; I consider it one of my top ten favorite movies.

Kayaking Fun

Published on August 1, 2008

My dad and I took a 4-hour kayaking class this afternoon, from the folks at Frog Hollow Outdoors. The “intro to kayaking” class was incredibly thorough, and I learned a ton about how to kayak correctly. Topics covered included a number of various paddling strokes, wet exits (what to do when your kayak flips upside down with you in it), deep water rescues, and more. It’s some of the best $68 I’ve ever spent. I had a blast, learned way more than I thought I would, and got excellent exercise (I’m so tired at the moment).

If you’re in the Triangle area, and you’re looking for a way to learn about kayaking (or canoeing for that matter), check out Frog Hollow. Our particular instructor, a guy by the name of Banks, was incredibly knowledgeable and very friendly. It was well worth the trip, and I’d do it again in a heart beat. My next goal: river kayaking fundamentals. I can’t wait.

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