Archive for June 2010

Early Thoughts on Windows 7

Published on June 21, 2010

On Friday afternoon, I finally upgraded my home system to Windows 7. Windows XP was feeling dated, and my old system had slowed to a crawl for unexplained reasons. I also figured it was time to upgrade to a 64-bit OS, so that’s the version of 7 that I installed. Here are a few brief thoughts I’ve had on this new operating system:

New Task Bar
Interestingly enough, the steepest learning curve I’ve had with Windows 7 has been with the new task bar. I’m quite used to XP’s task bar, complete with the quick launch toolbar. The new task bar in Windows 7 rolls these two toolbars into one; essentially combining currently running applications with ‘pinned’ applications. Also, by default, only program icons are displayed; none of the window titles are shown as a part of each process’ button. This new scheme is a little confusing at first, but I’m becoming accustomed to it.
Updated Start Menu
Microsoft finally got smart with the new start menu. No longer does it stretch to the top of the screen when you have a million applications installed. Instead, the “All Programs” menu simply transforms into a scrollable pane, showing the items available. This is a terrific UI change that should have been done at least 10 years ago.
Improved Speed
In the midst of going to Windows 7, I also made several hardware improvements. I upped my memory from 2 GB to 4 GB (I may go to 8 GB if 4 doesn’t suffice), I am using a new brand of hard drive (Western Digital, instead of Seagate), and I added a new CPU heat sink. Since I updated a few hardware components, I’m not sure what really made the difference, but most of my applications now start noticeably faster than before. For example, iTunes starts nearly instantly, which blows the previous 15 to 20 second startup time out of the water. Games also start way faster, which is a plus. I love getting performance boosts like this; hopefully they will hold up over time.
Miscellaneous
There are other minor things that I find interesting about the Windows 7 experience:

  • Installation was amazingly fast, and I was only asked one or two questions.
  • Drivers thankfully haven’t been an issue (so far).
  • The built-in zip file support has apparently been vastly improved; it’s orders of magnitude faster than XP. I’m not sure I’m going to install WinZip seeing as the built-in support is so good.
  • The new virtualized volume control is epic; why wasn’t it like this all along?

So far, I’m pleasantly surprised with Windows 7. Some of the new UI takes getting used to, but this looks like a positive step forward; both for Microsoft and for my home setup.

E3 2010

Published on June 18, 2010

This year’s E3 has come and gone, and I thought I’d post a few thoughts on various things introduced at the event. To make things easy, I’ll organize things by platform.

PC Gaming

Portal 2
This may be the game I’m most excited about. Whereas the first Portal was an “experiment” of sorts, this second title looks to be a full-fledged game. The puzzles sound much more insidious (physics paint!), and the new milieu of the game looks incredible. Portions of the trailer I watched are very funny, as can be expected. And hey, it’s Valve we’re talking about here. This will definitely be a winner.
Rage
id Software’s new intellectual property looks incredible. Part racer, part first-person shooter, this game looks like a boat load of fun. It’s pretty, too, as expected with titles from id (humans still look a little too fake, however; they need to drop the ‘bloated’ look). I’ll probably pick this one up when it’s released.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
If this game is as fun (and as deep) as the first one was, I’ll definitely buy in. If it’s as lame as the second one was reported to be, I’ll skip it. Nevertheless, the trailer looks great.

Nintendo Wii

Lost in Shadow
This upcoming adventure game looks really impressive. You play as the shadow of a young boy, separated from him at the beginning of the game. The ultimate goal is to reach the top of a tower, where the boy is being held. But the twist here is that, as a shadow, you can only use other object’s shadows as platforms. Manipulating light in the environment looks like a large part of the puzzle mechanic. This is another very inventive title that looks promising.
Zelda: Skyward Sword
What’s not to like about a new Zelda title?
Kirby’s Epic Yarn
Kirby’s Epic Yarn has an incredibly unique art design. This time around, Kirby is an outline of yarn, and moves through a similarly designed environment. I’ve seen plenty of comments around the web poking fun at the seemingly “gay” presentation of the trailer; but this looks like an inventive, fun game to me.
Donkey Kong Country Returns
I was a big fan of the Donkey Kong Country games back on the SNES, so I’m really looking forward to this one. Some of the older games were ridiculously difficult; hopefully some of that difficulty will be ported over. The graphics in this one look fantastic.
Epic Mickey
Mickey Mouse goes on an epic adventure, using various paints and paint thinners to modify and navigate the world. The fact that this game includes a Steamboat Willie level, complete with the old artwork style, is epic in itself.

Nintendo DS

Nintendo 3DS
The next iteration of Nintendo’s hand-held looks interesting. I’d have to see the 3D effect in person to get a good feel for it, but all the press I’ve read has sounded promising. There are some neat sounding titles coming for this new platform and, if they’re fun enough, I may just have to upgrade.

XBox 360

Kinect (AKA Project Natal)
I’m not exactly sure what to think about this. I’ve read in several places that Microsoft really butchered the unveiling of this tech, opting for ‘family-friendly’ titles similar to what’s already on the Wii. That being said, Child of Eden looks like a phenomenal title that makes terrific use of the new technology. Only time will tell how this stuff works out. I think it’s funny, however, that Sony and Microsoft are just now trying to catch up to Nintendo in motion control. Nintendo gets a lot of hate from the hard-core gaming community (a small portion of which is justified), but they’re obviously doing something right; otherwise these companies wouldn’t be entering this space.

I’m sure there are a few items I’ve missed in this rundown, but these are the ones that really caught my eye. For those of you who followed this year’s event, what are you looking forward to?

Two Towers and Return of the King

Published on June 7, 2010

Yesterday, I finally finished reading the Lord of the Rings series for the first time. I can finally scratch them off my list of shame! As I did for the previous two books, I thought I would provide some brief thoughts on each.

The Two Towers

I found it interesting how this volume told two stories in separate chunks (books 3 and 4), rather than interleaving them. The first book follows the adventures of Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, Merry, Pippin, and Gandalf, from beginning to end. The second follows Sam, Frodo, and Gollum. In the movie adaptation of this book, the stories are intertwined, helping to remind the viewer that various events are happening in parallel. Telling each story in its entirety in the novel was much more rewarding from a reading perspective. I never lost track of what was going on during each story, and I found them that much more engaging. It’s interesting that Peter Jackson decided to move the scene with Shelob into the third movie, since it really happens at the end of the second novel. Again, this was a top notch novel, which I enjoyed cover to cover. Five Stars

The Return of the King

To me, this book differs more from its movie adaptation than the previous two. In the book, the army of the dead is used to gain ships for Aragorn and company: nothing more. They are released from service after helping the company obtain these ships. In the movie, the dead travel with them and fight Sauron’s army with the company. I think I prefer the novel’s version here. Likewise, I prefer the ending of the novel over the movie. How could the film’s writers have left out the scouring of the Shire? When Frodo and company return to the Shire, they find it in ruin. This was a key scene omitted from the movie, much to the movie’s detriment, in my opinion. Novel for the win! Five Stars

Now for a few final thoughts on the series as a whole:

  • It boggles my mind that Arwen is a bit character in the novels. Having seen the movies before reading the books, I guess my vision of her importance was tarnished. She barely has any speaking lines in the books, and is left out of the second story altogether.
  • While I enjoy Peter Jackson’s movie adaptations of these books, the novels (as usual) far exceed them. Key elements were left out of the films: interacting with Tom Bombadil, several scenes with the Ents, and the scouring of the Shire (along with the deaths of both Saruman and Wormtongue). I guess it’s hard to beat a book.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Photos

Published on June 4, 2010

Photos from my recent visit to Cape Hatteras Lighthouse have just been posted. This particular lighthouse, the tallest in the United States, was quite fun to climb (and very tiring!). It’s amazing to think that the lighthouse was moved nearly 3,000 feet over 10 years ago. Again, this is a highly recommended visit if you’re on the Outer Banks.

I have one final photo album coming in the next few days, which I had forgotten about until last night. This last album contains some of my favorite photos, so stay tuned!

Defining State Parks

Published on June 3, 2010

While researching the North Carolina State Park System for my “visit and photograph every state park” project, I learned that there are far more state parks than I realized. My original list had 39 parks; the official list, as I eventually found on the NC parks website, lists 32 parks, 19 natural areas, and 4 recreation areas. Unfortunately, this list is only current as of January 1, 2007. As such, a few newer parks aren’t listed, such as Grandfather Mountain and Chimney Rock (which is actually listed as Hickory Nut Gorge).

All of this got me thinking about what, for my purposes, constitutes a “state park.” Not all of the official sites have public facilities or access. A number of the state natural areas are simply chunks of land set aside for preservation. Several areas are relatively new and haven’t yet been developed. Some others aren’t developed simply based on recent budget cuts and shortfalls.

These facts have all led me to the following decision: the “state parks” I will pursue in my visitation project will include those for which official attendance figures are kept. Attendance information is posted in each state park newsletter; it is from this source that I have pulled my park list. The result is 40 parks, which nearly agrees with my first list. I had omitted Grandfather Mountain in my first pass, simply because it only recently became a state park, and wasn’t listed on the official website until very recently.

I’m looking forward to visiting each park in the state. As of this writing, I’ve been to 13 parks, and have photographed 11. Plenty more to go!

Bodie Island Lighthouse Photos

Published on June 3, 2010

The next-to-last photo album from my vacation has just been posted. This album isn’t very large, but it showcases an incredible renovation being done at the Bodie Island Lighthouse. I was really impressed with the scaffolding around the lighthouse; that structure must have taken a long time to set up.

My final photo album will hopefully be posted in the next day or two. Stay tuned.

Currituck Lighthouse Photos

Published on June 2, 2010

I’ve just posted my photos from the Currituck Lighthouse. Located near Corolla, NC, the lighthouse is the first one I’ve ever gotten the chance to climb. If you’re ever out at Outer Banks, I recommend a trip to this park. The view from the top is incredible, and there’s a lot to see and do. Another great spot in this great state!

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