Archive for July 2009

Updated Styles

Published on July 30, 2009

I have tweaked the style sheet here at Born Geek, adding eye-candy support to WebKit enabled browsers (Safari and Chrome). I’ve also squashed some minor bugs. Let me know if you spot something that needs correcting.

Thoughts on Star Trek

Published on July 29, 2009

[I originally tweeted some of the following thoughts, but decided a blog post would be a better place to share them, hence the disappearance of said tweets.]

I’ve recently been going through the original Star Trek movies (with William Shatner, et al). Prior to watching the films, I started with the first season of the original series, which is available instantly on Netflix. Sure it’s dated, but I think the original show is terrific. There are a number of interesting moral dilemmas which occur through various episodes, and often some interesting conclusions to said problems. After watching the first season (I actually have one episode left, as of this writing), I started watching the films. Here are some thoughts on the ones I’ve seen so far.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture
The premise of this movie is fantastic (an ancient man-made machine becomes self aware). Sadly, the film’s execution of the story falls flat. I guess you have to start somewhere though. 3 stars.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
The 22nd episode of the first season of Star Trek introduces Khan, a super-human who escapes 20th century Earth with a number of criminals. Kirk and company find him and his compatriots frozen in space in a spaceship named Botany Bay. I won’t spoil the ending of that episode, but this movie essentially picks up that story line 15 years later. Things have taken a turn for the worse for Khan, and he’s out for revenge. Ricardo Montalban is outstanding as Khan, and the movie plays out in dramatic fashion. I gave this movie 4 stars at Netflix, but it probably merits more like 4.5. Outstanding science fiction.
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
I enjoyed this movie, though it’s nowhere near as gripping as the second. The story was enjoyable, and you’ve got to love Christopher Lloyd as the Klingon commander. 3 stars (3.49 in my book, not quite enough to round to 4).
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Like the first movie, this film has a terrific premise. A strange probe shows up on Earth, draining all power sources as it orbits overhead, and begins evaporating the oceans. Mankind presumes the probe is trying to communicate with humans; turns out it’s trying to contact another species on Earth. Again, like the first movie, the execution here falls a little flat. It quickly turns into a fish-out-of-water movie similar to Crocodile Dundee, another film from 1986 (and a movie I absolutely adore; one of my favorite movies ever, strange as that may be). The comedic undertones are enjoyable, but water down the admittedly pro-environmentalist plot. 3 stars.

I have two more films to go: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. I’m looking forward to both. I’ll probably tweet my thoughts on those two, once I’ve seen them.

Future Upgrades

Published on July 29, 2009

I’ve recently been thinking about upgrading the operating system on my desktop computer at home. More specifically, I’ve been tossing around the idea of upgrading to the 64-bit variant of Windows 7. Windows XP has been a decent operating system, but it’s definitely feeling its age. Seeing as Windows 7 is being targeted for release on October 22, which is now less than 3 months away, I figured now is a good time to think about how I would upgrade.

Moving to a 64-bit OS would allow me to expand the amount of installed memory in my system. At a minimum, I would go to 4 GB installed, especially since Microsoft recommends at least 2 GB for the 64-bit flavor. To be safe, I think I might also buy some new hard drives and install the OS on those (keeping my current setup intact).

At $199 (for the full Home Premium version; $119 for an upgrade, which I have yet to read about), it seems quite an investment. Has anyone else thought about upgrading to Windows 7? Or is anyone currently running a 64-bit OS? If so, what are your thoughts?

Image Navigation Update

Published on July 24, 2009

I’ve made a slight update to image navigation in Monkey Album (thanks to a suggestion from Dustin). When browsing through an album, the image navigation will now automatically scroll you down the page, placing the image closer to the top. This helps the viewer see more of the image at once, reducing the need to scroll.

Comments or suggestions on how things could be improved further? Let me know!

Monkey Album Updates

Published on July 20, 2009

I have made a few updates to Monkey Album. The first and most obvious update is that it now matches the new theme used here at Year of the Code Monkey. Not only are the styles different, but some of the underlying markup has been improved as well. The second big change is a clever implementation of image navigation. I got this idea via a nice implementation demo. Using purely CSS, the user now has a nice means of browsing through full-size album images.

One final change is that Monkey Album no longer supports Internet Explorer 6. Seeing as other big sites are dropping support, I am glad to do so as well. IE 6 visitors will be shown a notice, rather than the photo albums, and must upgrade to view my photos. For those of you who still use IE 6, please get with the times. Even IE 7 is a major step up (and IE 8 is now out).

I may drop IE 6 support on this website altogether, but I’m holding off on that for now. The new theme looks horrible in IE 6; (I tested it out this morning). I probably won’t put any serious effort into fixing those issues at this time.

Far Cry 2 Review

Published on July 12, 2009

I recently purchased a copy of Far Cry 2 on Steam. Oddly enough, Far Cry 2 has nothing to do with the first Far Cry, save for the name. Crytek, the original game’s developer, wasn’t involved in the development of Far Cry 2, so I’m confused as to why this game is billed as the true sequel. Other than the standard first person shooter tropes, the two have very little (if anything) in common.

To me, Far Cry 2 resembles the Grand Theft Auto series more than any traditional first person shooter. The mission design feels similar, as do many of the game mechanics. But in the long run, how does the game fare? Here’s my review.

Read the rest of this entry »

The JavaScript Arms Race

Published on July 10, 2009

It seems like every web browser these days is spending an enormous amount of time and development effort on JavaScript performance. Whether it’s the new TraceMonkey engine in Firefox 3.5, the V8 engine in Google Chrome, or the upcoming SquirrelFish engine in WebKit browsers, everyone claims (to some degree) superiority in this arms race. All of this raises two questions in my mind.

1. How important is JavaScript performance?
Are JavaScript applications really that slow? I’ll admit that the new Firefox 3.5 browser feels snappier on sites like GMail and Netflix, but said sites never felt that slow before. Why are developers spending so much time optimizing something that not everyone uses? Admittedly, JavaScript usage is going up (especially with the Web 2.0 craze), but how much latency does JavaScript computing really account for in today’s world? I’m much more concerned about data transfer; that’s the bottleneck I see. Broadband speeds here in the United States are ridiculously slow, compared to other parts of the world. Shouldn’t we all focus on ways to improve that? Yes, I know software developers have little control over that kind of infrastructure, but perhaps there are better protocols out there to get data to the end user in a more efficient manner.

2. Won’t improved JavaScript performance lead to poorer JavaScript programming?
As computers have gotten faster over the past two decades, and as memory sizes have increased, applications have become more bloated and (arguably) slower than before. I’m convinced that if programmers had retained the “every byte matters” mentality from the 1970s, 80s, and early 90s, applications would be leaner and meaner than they are today (especially in the realm of operating systems). Can’t the same thing be said for JavaScript programming? As JavaScript engines get faster, serious performance considerations during an application’s design phase might become less and less frequent. I’m of the opinion that high performance hardware can lead to sloppy programming. “Well, the application is good enough” is what the pointy-haired bosses of the world would say. Shouldn’t the application be the best it can be? Can’t one argue that “good enough” isn’t necessarily good enough?

I’ll be interested to see where this arms race takes us. What do you think?

Disable Compress Option in Disk Cleanup

Published on July 5, 2009

The Disk Cleanup utility that comes as a part of Windows has an annoying feature. As a part of its scan procedure, it tries to figure out how much space you’d save by “compressing old files.” This step takes a ridiculously long time to complete, and is highly annoying. Thankfully, disabling this feature is simple, though it involves editing your Windows registry. As always, be very careful during the editing process.

To disable the “Compress Old Files” operation, navigate to this registry key, and delete it:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\VolumeCaches\Compress old files

Once you’ve deleted the above key, start up the Disk Cleanup utility and marvel at how much faster it loads!

Firefox 3.5 Slow to Start

Published on July 2, 2009

Is anyone else seeing a slow startup issue with Firefox 3.5? I’m talking about the initial load (after turning on your computer, for example). For me, startup times have increased dramatically with 3.5, and I’ve even tried creating a new profile. On my machine at home, cold startup takes between 30 and 60 seconds. On my laptop, it’s between 15 and 30 seconds. Firefox 3.0.11 took on the order of 5 or 10 seconds on both machines.

I’ve got to believe something is wrong with 3.5. Maybe a 3.5.1 is on the horizon…

Update: According to commenter Dean, cleaning out your temporary directory should help things (and it worked for me). To locate the temp folder, open a command prompt and type echo %TEMP%. For me, the folder was under “Documents and Settings\Jonah\Local Settings\Temp.” I cleaned this out using the Disk Cleanup utility (mine was 750 MB in size!) and startup was much faster (10 seconds or so).

Update 2: I’ve found the requisite bug about this problem on Bugzilla: bug 501605. If I read this correctly, NSS uses files in the temporary folder to seed its random number generator. If you have tons of files, this operation takes a long time (the file scan operation isn’t as efficient as it should be). There may also be other factors (as commenters in the bug report suggest), but this is at least one of the problem areas.

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