Archive for September 2008

David Blaine: Idiot Extraordinaire

Published on September 23, 2008

Does anyone even care about this guy anymore? His latest stunt, in which he’ll be upside down for 60 hours, might leave him blind. It’s sad to see him have to resort to stunts like this to get attention. But I guess that’s the way of things, seeing as magic lost its charm after all of those Magic’s Biggest Secrets Revealed specials.

At least he’s easy to make fun of. There are some really great David Blaine parodies on YouTube, all of which I have linked below. They really nail his demeanor and the jokes are hilarious. Mind the salty language, however. Each video is about 5 minutes long, so make sure you have some time to watch them.

Blast From the Past

Published on September 22, 2008

I’ve recently been looking for a few new computer games to play. Seeing as there’s nothing on the immediate horizon that suits my fancy, I decided to dig into my existing computer game collection for something I hadn’t played in a while. The first title that popped up was Microsoft’s Rise of Nations, the one and only real-time strategy (RTS) game that I own. I’m not a big fan of the RTS genre, mostly because I’m really terrible at those types of games, and the only reason I own one is because my dad got it for free at a Microsoft conference. Surprisingly to me, it’s a fun little game. As I’ve already said, I stink at RTS games, so even playing on the 2nd (of 7) difficulty levels still presents quite a challenge. But I have fun playing the game, and that’s what matters.

As much fun as I was having, there was still an itch that I couldn’t scratch. Thanks to some recent Diablo III screenshots I found via a news posting on Blue’s News, it occurred to me: I needed a good-ol’ role-playing game (RPG) to play. So I dug through my still-boxed computer games (which I never unpacked), and found my old copy of Sacred. It’s a Diablo-like RPG and was just what I was looking for. While perusing the Wikipedia article on the game, I noted that an expansion pack had been released, something that I originally had not picked up. A ‘gold’ edition of the game had later been released, including the original game along with the expansion. I saw it for sale on Amazon for $25.99, which seemed a little high, considering I already owned the base game. Thankfully, the game is also available on Steam for a paltry $9.99. I was sold, immediately bought the game, and I’m already having a blast (and I’m looking forward to all the new content).

Score another win for the Steam platform.

Amazon Wish List Improvements

Published on September 18, 2008

Long, long ago, when I was first setting up my website at DreamHost, I wanted a way to store a personal wish list. I looked at the Amazon wish list, but it had one fatal flaw: there was no way to list items that weren’t sold at Amazon or one of their partners. This flaw was enough to drive me out to develop my own wish list software. It’s not flashy, but it gets the job done. But it, too, has some annoying faults.

Recently, while perusing Lifehacker, I ran across a link to this article that points to the Amazon Universal Wish List. Essentially, Amazon provides a bookmarklet to users, enabling them to save any product to an Amazon wish list! This new feature has me seriously considering whether I should switch over.

One thing I really like about the Amazon wish list setup is that people can purchase things for you without knowing your address. So folks who would like to support Born Geek could simply buy me something off my wish list, without worrying how to get the item to me. Another big benefit is that I no longer need to copy-paste the product link and information. With this bookmarklet, it’s simply a two-click process to save an item to my wish list. Pretty sweet!

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One Perl Tip and Gotcha

Published on September 16, 2008

I ran into a strange problem with a Perl CGI script yesterday. Upon script execution, I received the following error message from IIS:

CGI Error
The specified CGI application misbehaved by not returning a complete set of HTTP headers.

A quick Google search of this error message turned up a number of discussions mentioning bugs in IIS, server configuration problems, etc. However, I suspected that my scripts were to blame (I had been hacking on them on Friday). But how could I determine whether I was at fault or if the server was to blame? Thankfully, the solution comes through one of the Perl CGI modules (here’s the Perl tip):

use CGI::Carp qw(fatalsToBrowser warningsToBrowser);

The Carp module (and where does that name come from?) gives us the fatalsToBrowser and warningsToBrowser subroutines. When included in your script, any resulting Perl execution errors will be output into the browser window (very handy). After turning on these features, I immediately found my error. It resided in this line (here’s the gotcha):

$safeProductName =~ s/\$/\\$/g;

It was my intent to replace any instances of the dollar sign character ($) with a backslash-dollar sign pair (\$). At first glance, this substitution rule may look alright. But it’s not! The replacement portion of a substitution is treated as a double quoted string. So, the interpreter was escaping the backslash just fine, but then hits a naked dollar sign, indicating a variable (of which I didn’t provide a name). And so it chokes! The line should have read:

$safeProductName =~ s/\$/\\\$/g;

Note the three backslashes in the replacement string. Two to print an actual backslash character, and one to print the actual dollar sign. Subtle? You bet.

2008 Summer Paralympic Games

Published on September 12, 2008

There a really great page with photos from this summer’s Paralympic Games, the forgotten little brother of the Olympics. The things some of the folks in these pictures are doing are way more impressive than anything I saw in this year’s Olympics (excepting Michael Phelps’ craziness). Soccer matches featuring blind players? Crazy. One armed archery? Epic. These people truly define ‘athlete’.

Tropical Storm Hanna Photos

Published on September 9, 2008

Tropical Storm Hanna slid up the east coast of the US on Saturday, and it dumped quite a bit of rain in our area. Subsequently, the Eno River rose to the highest level I’ve personally ever seen (17 feet), so my dad and I went down to take a look. This photo album is the result. Enjoy.

Fair Games

Published on September 7, 2008

(I’ve been neglecting the ‘Accessibility’ post category at this site for a while now, and it’s high time to correct that mistake. Expect some more posts in this area over the coming days.)

There’s a really great article that’s been posted about the work my dad is doing with Maze Day. Maze Day is a yearly event geared towards children with disabilities, and held at the Computer Science Department at UNC. Each year, the students come out to try out new games and technologies being developed for them. Some really cool stuff has been developed over the past few events, and I know the students always have a blast taking part. Check out the article to learn about the cool things being developed (and given away for free!) for kids with disabilities.

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Published on September 7, 2008

I just completed the seventh and final installment of the Harry Potter series: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Without a doubt, this final volume is the pinnacle of the series. The narrative is unlike any of the previous installments, and reads like a non-stop action movie. And while I’m on the topic of movies, I will go ahead and predict that the feature film for this story will not do it the appropriate justice. To fully appreciate this story, and the overall arc of the boy wizard, one must spend time with the books.

I’ll admit that I was apprehensive of going into this final story; a little scared, even. A great sense of foreboding precedes the reader into this final volume, and never once lets go. My nerves are pretty shot as a result (J. K. Rowling is truly a master of the cliffhanger). Thankfully, I can say that the finale is well worth the journey through seven years in the life of Harry Potter.

Completing this series is difficult. I’ve become friends with the characters in these books, and to know that their adventures are over is a little sad. But, as I mentioned in a recent post, the reading bug has bitten me once again, and I look forward to delving into other worlds.

If you haven’t read this series, pick it up. If you think the series is just for younger readers, think again. And if you’re persistent enough to read through all seven volumes, you will be rewarded. I feel safe enough to say that these books now rank among my favorites, and will hold a treasured spot on my book shelves.

WordPress 2.7 Sneak Peek

Published on September 4, 2008

There’s an interesting article offering a preview of the next major release of the WordPress blogging platform. It looks like the old administration look and feel will be returning, especially on the write panel. I’m looking forward to having more vertical screen space when writing, but these changes will (yet again) take some getting used to. There’s lots more changes in store, so 2.7 should be an interesting release.

Google Chrome

Published on September 3, 2008

There’s an incredibly insightful comic (hat tip to Dustin) on the new Google Chrome web browser. It explains a number of the design decisions that the Chrome team has made, and the ramifications behind them. There are some very interesting ideas in this new web browser:

  • Instead of taking the pure multi-threaded route, Google has instead opted for a multi-process route. According to their explanation, this requires a larger up-front memory quota, but reduces memory fragmentation over time (the cause of the much misunderstood ‘memory leak’ in Firefox).
  • The user interface is quite clever, with tabs appearing above all of the other browser chrome. This groups the controls more logically, and reinforces the separate processes model (you can drag tabs from one window to another, for example).
  • Chrome’s security model is clever, again thanks to the multi-process model.

As can be expected with this kind of thing, the media is buzzing about this new entry into the browser space. Some people are heralding its arrival, while others are brushing it off. There are several problems I foresee with Chrome that I believe will prevent it from becoming the new defacto web browser:

Accessibility
This is the biggest potential flaw with this web browser. According to one report, Chrome is far from accessible. No matter how good Chrome turns out to be from a functionality point-of-view, if it’s not accessible, it won’t be accepted by major corporations or government entities. Given Google’s very poor track record, I don’t have high hopes on improvements in this area.
No Add-ons
As far as I know, Chrome does not support add-ons like Firefox. That means no Adblock Plus, CoLT, or Firebug. That’s a deal breaker for me.
Security Concerns
Google’s security model for Chrome is clever, but as security problems are found, how quickly will they be patched? Google has never been prompt on releases (the last Google Talk update was in 2006), so I’m leery of how readily they will respond.
Stupid Name
Chrome is a ridiculous name. How many millions of other stuff out there has the word ‘chrome’ in it? It doesn’t stand out, and seems a little bland, in my opinion.

I haven’t yet downloaded the browser to try it out, but I plan on doing so soon. Have you tried it out? If so, what do you think?

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