Archive for 2009

Goals for 2010

Published on December 31, 2009

In the spirit of it being New Year’s eve, I thought I’d share a few random goals I have for 2010:

  • Simplify CoLT and Googlebar Lite where possible
  • Actually release the next version of Paper Plus
  • Continue the improved 2009 trend of taking and posting more pictures
  • Back up data earlier and oftener
  • Get more exercise
  • Eat healthier fare (and cook more often)
  • ???
  • Profit!

Whatever the new year has in store, just remember this:

All these worlds are yours, except Europa. Attempt no landing there. Use them together. Use them in peace.

Happy New Year! 😀

Steam Super Sale

Published on December 31, 2009

Steam is hosting a holiday sale through January 3rd, with some titles discounted as much as 80% off! I picked up a couple of indie games during this sale (and might grab a few more at these prices). The first title I picked up was Samorost 2, and it only cost $2.49. That’s still a little steep in my opinion, seeing as over half of the game is available for free on the web. But the title is a fun, cute adventure style game set in a very imaginative world.

The second title I picked up is by the same crew, and is called Machinarium. This game is much more substantial, and has a number of very difficult puzzles (I’m currently stumped on a few of them). The artwork is fantastic, the soundtrack is highly enjoyable, and the characters are adorable. There’s no dialog; each character speaks using a thought bubble. But the stories they tell are amusing. It’s hard not to fall in love with these characters, much in the same way I did with the Pixar movie WALL-E.

Be sure to check out the Steam store before January 3rd. There are some terrific discounts on some great games, so now’s the time to pick them up!

Flying is For the Birds

Published on December 28, 2009

After two separate incidents aboard inbound flights to Detroit, airports have stepped up security (again) for passengers. Gizmodo has posted a couple of articles on the new restrictions being seen at various places: The Unofficial Guide to Flying After the Underwear Bomb and Leaked: Homeland Security’s Post Underwear Bomb Airplane Rules. These rules are ridiculous. Passengers have to sit with nothing in their lap for the last hour of a flight, the flight crew cannot make announcements during the last hour, and in-flight services, such as live television, phone access, and wifi, are all to be disabled for the entire flight. This, along with additional baggage charges, is why I no longer fly, nor plan on doing so at any time in the near future. There’s no doubt that airplanes are terrific inventions, but these policies make this form of travel ridiculous.

What’s next? We all have to sit quietly, with our hands at our side, and our eyes closed for the whole flight? Will bathroom breaks be prohibited? Will people who need medication aboard a flight be denied that, because there’s a potential risk?

Let’s just face the facts: with rules like this, the terrorists have already won.

Reimagining Sherlock Holmes

Published on December 25, 2009

Sherlock Holmes has had a special place in my heart since I was quite young. I’ve read all of the stories, all of which I hold in high esteem. In high school, I even did a report (or two) on this character. Among all famous, fictitious detectives, he ranks as my all-time favorite (though Cadfael, Inspector Morse, and Inspector Lewis are nearly as enjoyable). Of all of the actor portrayals of this character, Jeremy Brett’s is the only one I will ever truly acknowledge. Mr. Brett’s take on Sherlock was fantastic, and spot-on with the character in the stories. He captured nuances and characterizations that no other actor had been able to do prior, and no one has done since.

That being said, I’m intrigued by the new Sherlock Holmes film being released. Robert Downey Jr. is a good actor (though I’d argue not in the same league as Jeremy Brett), and his take on the super-sleuth looks interesting. Some of the reviews I’ve read have been positive, so it’s a movie that is definitely on my radar. I’m not a fan of movie theaters, so I’ll happily wait until it gets released to DVD. In the mean time, I think it’s time to fire up an episode or two of Jeremy Brett’s work.

Torchlight Achievements

Published on December 19, 2009

A recent update to Torchlight has added achievements to the game. There’s no way to see them in game (which is a bummer), and I wish they had progress bars that gave you an idea of where you were in the midst of collecting each one. Those nits aside, this is a great addition to an already great game. As of this writing, I’m only 15% complete, but I look forward to trying to grab as many as I can. Some of them look awfully difficult! It’s a shame they didn’t have this in the game from the get go…

Update: Here’s the global achievement list for your perusal.

Changes at Netflix

Published on December 17, 2009

Earlier today, Netflix announced some interesting changes they’ve made to the site. These changes seem to speak volumes about where the company is headed. First off, the “Watch Instantly” tab is now the default view when you log in. This clearly indicates that Netflix is wholeheartedly committed to a future where media streaming is the norm. Is this the beginning of the end for DVDs?

The second change is a relocation of the friends feature; from a prominent tab up top to the very bottom of the page. This must be an indication of how many people actually use this part of the site.

All in all, these are some interesting changes that Netflix has rolled out. It’s will be interesting to see where they go from here.

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Crafting in Team Fortress 2

Published on December 13, 2009

The upcoming Demoman and Soldier updates to Team Fortress 2 will add a crafting system into the mix. Apparently, blueprints (i.e. “recipes”) will be available in some fashion that will show you how to combine items together to create new items. This is a bizarre addition to this game. With this announcement, players are already complaining that Team Fortress 2 is devolving into a role-playing game. To be fair, however, the lines between game genres is blurring over time. Borderlands is a great example of a first-person-shooter mixed with traditional role-playing-game elements.

I’m going to give Valve the benefit of the doubt with this upcoming update, though I agree this is a odd direction to take this game. Knowing Valve, however, I won’t be surprised if this change turns out to be a great addition to an already great game.

Torchlight Review

Published on December 11, 2009

Having played through it a few times now, I thought I’d post a few thoughts on Torchlight, the action role-playing game I’ve talked about a time or two here on the site. For those who don’t already know, the game is essentially a Diablo 2 clone (with, what I would argue, are terrific updates). Read on for my take on this title.

Read the rest of this entry »

Hess Race Cars

Published on December 6, 2009

Every year around this time, the Hess Corporation, an independent energy company, advertises their “Hess Racing Cars” for Christmas. Apparently, they’ve been doing this for 45 years now, a fact I find quite surprising. According to their advertising, the cars are available at local Hess gas stations. They clearly must sell these cars to someone; otherwise they wouldn’t advertise year after year. But who buys these? I never think of a gas station as a place to go to buy stuff like this. As a kid, I never said “hey, let’s go toy shopping at our local gas station!” And I don’t know who would do that today. Maybe truck drivers pick this kind of thing up for their kids?

According to the Wikipedia article, these cars (especially the older ones) are considered collectibles and can fetch into the thousands of dollars, depending on the rarity and condition. Pretty amazing! Does anyone here have (or previously had) a Hess car? If so, what did you think about it?

Quitting Symantec

Published on December 2, 2009

For a long, long time now, I’ve run the Symantec anti-virus program (corporate edition) on my home desktop computer. I got the original binary from college and I’ve kept it ever since, undoubtedly breaking the license agreement in the process. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, however, I ditched the bloated, slow Symantec mess for the newer, freely available Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE). Having read good things about the product, I figured I’d give it a try.

So far, so good. Boot times are noticeably faster, which is a big plus in my book. With Symantec, my boot times had become horrible; it would literally take 2 or 3 minutes for the machine to become usable. Now, it’s ready in about a minute or a minute and a half (still too long, in my opinion; maybe Windows 7 will fix that). MSE is also quite easy to use. The interface is intuitive, and updating happens auto-magically, with no need to schedule updates. Performing a quick scan took a little while, but seemed to run faster than Symantec did. To top it all off, the MSE memory footprint is much smaller, though it’s still one of the larger memory using apps on my system.

What do you guys use for anti-virus solutions? I’m pleased that Microsoft is offering a quality solution to this problem. And the price couldn’t be better.

Google Reader Usage?

Published on November 25, 2009

How many people here use Google Reader to follow RSS feeds? I use it as my primary surfing mechanism now, and I’m curious as to how many others use it. Although it has some quirks, I’ve gotten used to it. Google Reader has made surfing the ‘net way more efficient, so much so that I often look for new sites to troll. If you do indeed use Reader, let me know if you’d like to friend me up. I share stories on the service routinely.

Buying Search Results

Published on November 24, 2009

It is being reported that Microsoft is trying to pay News Corp. to “de-index” their search results from Google. Rupert Murdoch (billionaire tyrant) has hinted that he’d like to prevent Google from spidering the websites for the companies that News Corp. controls. Ironically enough, what he wants can be done today for free using the appropriate rules in robots.txt.

If this report is true, it sure seems like a desperate attempt to gain search engine market share by Microsoft. What might really happen if this deal goes through? I’ve got to believe that viewership at the various sites would drop considerably. “The masses” know how to use Google to find stuff. If the stuff they’re looking for disappears, will they be willing (or knowledgeable enough) to use Bing to find it? I’m not sure that’s the case. Should this scenario play out, I can see things going one of two ways: either Microsoft wins and gains market share, or both Microsoft and News Corp. lose big time.

Gizmodo has a good take on this situation, claiming simply that, in the end, we’ll all lose. This will definitely be an interesting thing to watch in the coming months.

Serious Sam HD

Published on November 23, 2009

The “high definition” remake of Serious Sam: The First Encounter is being released tomorrow on Steam! Watching the trailer for this game should bring back some fond memories for anyone familiar with this title. I’ll probably pick it up very soon, as I remember having a blast with the original. At only $20, what is there to lose?

Speaking of $20 games, I still highly recommend Torchlight. I have yet to beat it, simply because I did a terrible job of creating my original character, therefore making her too weak to defeat the final boss (as embarrassing as that is to say). Oh, and the “Hard” difficulty is just that. It was a breeze early in the game, but the final levels are murder! Anyways, I created a new character and have pumped her up with all the right stats (she’s now a death-bringing tank). The other character classes are just as fun to play, and I look forward to spending more time with them.

Hopefully other equally great games will come out at this price point. With the price of most games today eclipsing $50 or $60, it’s hard to justify not picking up a cheap, fun title to play for the upcoming holidays.

Useful Tool: BlueScreenView

Published on November 19, 2009

Ever been bitten by the blue screen of death on a Windows box? Who hasn’t? It’s often hard to see just what caused the blue screen to occur, and the machine usually reboots before you can properly note down the information being provided. Thankfully, BlueScreenView is a helpful little utility that will provide information on your past crashes. It scans the mini-dumps that are generated when your system blue screens, and reports the problem. I’ve used this a time or two to track down troublesome drivers (usually the cause of these nefarious crashes). Be sure to add this helpful, free tool to your collection.

Fun With Time

Published on November 17, 2009

Time is a bother when programming. Doing time calculations is always way more complicated than it may seem, especially when your calculations have to go out into the distant future. Having been bitten by time related bugs in the past, I can only smile and nod in understanding when I read that the camera auto-focus bug in the Motorola Droid is due to an unfortunate time calculation. Why they use a date stamp in their auto-focus routine is beyond my understanding, but thanks to the wonders of rounding, auto focus will toggle between working correctly and not working correctly every 24.5 days. Terrific!

Time is making fools of us again. ~J. K. Rowling

Wasp Automotive in RTP, NC

Published on November 16, 2009

A month or so ago, I looked on the Car Talk website (official web home of the popular radio show) for a recommended mechanic in my area. One of the highest rated shops happened to be just up the road from my workplace, at the corner of NC Hwy 55 and NC Hwy 54: Wasp Automotive. I’ve been to them twice now, once for my 120K tuneup and once today for a check-engine light problem (which turned out to be a problem with my car’s emissions system).

I can’t say enough positive things about this shop. At my 120K tuneup, the mechanic pointed out that my brakes had about 8 or 10 thousand more miles on them, so he recommended holding off on changing them. He gave me the same advice for my timing belt, which had about 15,000 more miles on it. It’s the rare place, especially in today’s economy, that would advise you to not give them your money.

Today, while waiting on my complimentary ride to work (a nice perk), I fired up my laptop and discovered that they have a wireless access point! I quickly started my company VPN connection, and hopped online to check my email. Incredible!

The folks at Wasp automotive are friendly, the service is extremely fast, and the prices are very reasonable. If you’re in the Triangle area of North Carolina and you want a great mechanic, check them out. You won’t be disappointed.

Pets in Torchlight

Published on November 12, 2009

Last night, I purchased Torchlight on Steam, based on the positive reviews I’ve been reading about the game. At only $19.99, it’s a definite bargain. I’ve only played about two hours worth so far, but man is this game fun! Torchlight is an action-style RPG, much in the vein of Diablo (in fact, it’s made by a bunch of old Diablo developers). The graphics are beautiful and cartoony, spell effects are fun to watch, and the voice acting is pretty decent. But what I want to focus on in this post are the pets your character can have.

When you start a new game, you get to choose a pet (either a dog or a lynx-style cat), which you can then name. Your pet travels around with you and can aid you in battle. It will attack enemies if you put it into an aggressive stance, it can carry loot for you, and it can even wield items: a couple of rings, two spells, and an amulet. You can even send the pet around to gather up loot on the dungeon floor!

By far the best ability, however, is that your pet can travel back to town to sell items for you! Can you believe that? No longer do you have to teleport back to town to sell your unwanted loot. Just load up your pet with the stuff to sell, tell it to go back to town, and it will. The obvious downside to this is that you lose your pet’s abilities and assistance for a while, but it’s oh-so-worth it in the long run.

I’m having a blast so far with this game, and I’d much rather be at home playing it right now than at work. I definitely recommend checking it out. For only $20, it’s a great value!

Going Cell Only

Published on November 8, 2009

I have a land line telephone at home, along with a really old cell phone. I’m thinking about ditching the land line and going cell only on a smart phone (I’m looking at the Motorola Droid). Has anyone else here gone cell only? If so, what do you think about it? There are a few edge cases I’m mildly concerned about in migrating to a cell only scenario:

Emergency Contact at Night
Let’s assume someone else needs to get a hold of me late at night. Do I simply keep my cell phone on all the time? I’m assuming I would (it would be connected to the charger overnight). With a land line, this is obviously not a problem.
Loss or Theft of Cell Phone
Suppose the cell phone is either lost or stolen. Replacing it is a no brainer, but in the mean time there would be no fallback plan (right?).
Cell Phone Outages
Rarely, cell phone outages occur (say, from a hurricane). This is, admittedly, an extreme edge case. Land lines can similarly go out in these cases. But what is the fallback plan for outages? Is there one?

I know these are edge cases, but I’m trying to think about all the possibilities before I make the plunge. Any other advice on going cell only?

Bottom of the Barrel

Published on November 7, 2009

In a recent study, the Pentagon has found that nearly 75 percent of potential military recruits ages 17 to 24 in the United States are unfit to serve due to obesity, lack of a high school diploma, or serious criminal history. This is mildly surprising to me, only in that the figure is so high. The US military has had recruitment problems for years now, so I was already aware that they are willing to hire some pretty shady and dangerous people.

What happened in Fort Hood a few days ago is very sad, and I certainly can’t pigeonhole the shooter into the demographic mentioned by this study. However, when you’re willing to hire criminals, you’re bound to get burned at one point or another. A report released in July of this year showed that major crimes have been on the rise at all military bases since 2003. In addition, arrests among soldiers for murder, arson, and rape rose sharply between 2007 and 2008.

I don’t know what the solution to these violence problems is, but I really feel like we’re straining the folks in the military too much. Having to serve multiple tours year after year is bound to make even the sanest people among them break down. The fact that criminals are let in only makes things worse in the long run. Hopefully someone will come up with a clever solution to this issue. Otherwise, our country is in for a rude awakening when the supply of competent recruits dries up.

Three Strikes and You’re Out

Published on November 6, 2009

Last night, I tweeted some dark thoughts about The Office. This morning, I stand by them. As painful as it is for me to say it, this television show is becoming a chore to watch. Laughs have been few and far between this season, and last night’s episode was the second in a row where I didn’t laugh a single time. Not once! What happened?

Nearly all of the characters have lost their charm. Pam, for example, used to be an enjoyable second-tier character. Now, she’s just a cranky, two-dimensional bitch. Every episode this season has seemingly revolved around her being unhappy and depressed (even the wedding episode). This is getting really old, really fast, and it needs to stop.

Here’s my idea on how the show can recapture its greatness by the end of this season: Michael needs to fire Pam, Jim, or possibly both. There’s no tension in this show anymore, and shaking things up big time is the only way I see it coming back in a legitimate way. The first few seasons of this show captured the awkward tension that made the original British series so wonderful. Sadly, that tension has been lost (though it was oh-so-briefly revived in the “Lover” episode from this season). If Pam were to be fired, a whole new tension would arise: between Jim and Michael at work, Jim and Pam at home, and things may even spill over onto the rest of the cast (by the way, has anyone else noticed how little air-time the secondary characters have gotten this season?).

For the past two weeks, I’ve diligently watched this show and not once have I laughed. The Office, I’m putting you on notice. Three strikes, and you’re out of my TV lineup.

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