Archive for 2013

Mountain Photos

Published on November 24, 2013

I’ve posted my final photo album from last month’s trip to the mountains. Like before, this is a fairly small album.

Gorges State Park

Published on November 22, 2013

I’ve just posted some photos from an autumn visit to Gorges state park. The park has improved significantly since I was last there, with the inclusion of a stellar visitor’s center (with some really nice views). Gorges remains one of my favorite state parks!

Lake James State Park

Published on November 16, 2013

I’ve posted another photo album from my trip last month to the Asheville area. This time, the focus is on Lake James State Park, which is located near Marion, NC. This park has incredible vistas of mountain ranges over the lake, and was well worth the visit.

Crowders Mountain State Park

Published on November 3, 2013

Back in early October, I visited Crowders Mountain state park with my girlfriend and my family. Located west of Charlotte, the park is a very nice (and popular!) place to visit, with fantastic views of the surrounding countryside atop the mountain. I’ve just published some photos of our visit. If you’re ever in the area, check it out!

Exploration in Gaming

Published on October 10, 2013

For a little while now, I’ve been playing and enjoying Terraria, a side-scrolling exploration game (somewhat similar, from what I hear, to Minecraft). Its 16-bit vibe really hits the nostalgia button for me, not to mention that it’s just plain fun.

That said, I think the single most attractive feature of this game is that you get to really explore a computer-generated world (no two of which are alike!). It’s the exploration factor that attracts me most. Once I hit the “hard mode” portion of the game, it starts to feel like a grind to me. The discovery of brand new places and items is my carrot on the stick; once I’ve fully uncovered the map, the game loses its luster.

I think the same thing can be said for a number of other games I have enjoyed in the past, including ones like Skyrim. The expansive world is just plain fun to explore; there’s always a new cave, or city, or ruin to find and explore. Quests can keep things interesting, but it’s seeing new places that really gets me excited.

Are there any games out there that are, to some degree, solely about the exploration? I’m pretty sure that Dear Esther fits that bill (and I have yet to play it), but I’m wondering if there are others I’ve missed. I have to believe that purely exploration-based games have a market (see Beyond Eyes, for example). If anyone can provide recommendations for titles in this space, I’d love to hear them.

SciQuarium Photos

Published on October 7, 2013

I’ve just posted a small photo set from a visit my family took to the SciQuarium in Greensboro back in August. If you have children, it’s a fantastic place to visit. The animal and fish collection there is very fun to look at!

NC SECU’s Car Buying Service

Published on September 26, 2013

Let me get the crux of this review out of the way: the car buying service offered by the North Carolina State Employees’ Credit Union (of which I am a member) rocks. Before I get to the details, allow me to provide a little background.

I’ve been driving a 1999 Mazda Protege since June of 2000. The Protege is an extremely reliable car, but mine was really starting to show its age: rust was visible in a few places, the pin stripes on the side were flaking off, and the car had gotten quite loud on the road (the wind and road noise were pretty unbearable). Having talked about getting a new car for a year or two, I finally decided to take action. In searching for a new car, I had a few essential criteria:

  • It should be a four-door sedan
  • It should have a quiet and smooth ride
  • It should be a step up in quality from my Protege

I ended up test driving five vehicles, all in the same size and price class: the Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Mazda 6, Nissan Altima, and Toyota Camry. All of these vehicles have their own strengths and weaknesses (e.g. the Mazda 6 was the sexiest on the outside, but had a rather loud and “active” ride), but I was able to whittle it down to two cars: the Altima and the Camry. I ended up choosing the Camry (though it was admittedly a tough choice; the Altima is a pretty nice vehicle).

Once I knew what I wanted, I started looking at local dealers’ prices. My dad reminded me that our credit union had a car buying service, so I looked into it, mostly out of curiosity. Their process typically works as follows:

  1. You select the make, model, and year of the car you’re looking for.
  2. You select the color and options you’re interested in.
  3. You provide some contact information and submit.

Once the credit union has your information, they’ll look for a car that most closely matches what you asked for. They’ll then negotiate a price for that car, and will let you know what that price is. The turnaround time for this entire process was only two days (I submitted the request on a Monday and had a quote the very next day). My primary goal was to get an anchor price that I could use when negotiating with the local dealers.

The quote I received for the car I was interested in was way less than I expected it would be; nearly $5500 off the sticker price! Not only that, but they offered me nearly double what Carmax would have given me for my Protege! Needless to say, I was stunned at how competitive the deal was. Car shopping is an intimidating process and the negotiation phase was something I wasn’t looking forward to at all. This service shortcut that headache altogether!

I decided to not even bother trying to negotiate for a better deal elsewhere. I’m sure there are people who could have gotten a better deal, but I decided that my time and efforts were worth something, and SECU’s offer was very tempting. The car was delivered to my local SECU branch (they can deliver to your house, if you so desire), and most of the paperwork was handled for me. I essentially drove to my bank and swapped cars with the driver who delivered it (after signing the requisite forms, of course).

All in all, I would definitely use this service again. I’m so impressed with how easy it all was, and it took the most frustrating aspect of car buying out of the equation completely. If you’re a member of a credit union, I highly recommend checking out this kind of service if it’s available. It just might be the way I handle car buying from now on.

Improved Mobile Experience for Photos

Published on September 6, 2013

I’ve finally gotten around to improving the mobile browsing experience for my photos. There are still a few nits I might try to improve (I hide EXIF information on screens smaller than 1024 pixels in width, collection previews don’t scale on the smallest screen sizes, etc), but it should be a much better experience than before. This should also hopefully help those of you who don’t have very wide screens.

Let me know if you spot any problems or have suggestions for improvement.

Fort Fisher Photos

Published on July 3, 2013

I’ve just posted a new photo series showcasing Fort Fisher. This day trip involved a visit to both the aquarium there, as well as the state recreational area. I have now visited and photographed 25 state parks in North Carolina!

California Academy of Sciences Photos

Published on June 25, 2013

I have finally gotten around to posting the final photo album from my trip last month to California. This time, the album showcases the California Academy of Sciences, a fantastic museum within Golden Gate park. The aquarium at this museum is stellar (easily one of the best I’ve ever been to), and the various other exhibits they have on hand are well worth seeing. If you’re ever in the San Francisco area, make sure to see this attraction. It’s well worth the price of admission (which is admittedly pricey).

Japanese Tea Garden Photos

Published on June 19, 2013

A fourth photo album of my trip last month to San Francisco has been posted, this time showcasing the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park (in addition to a few random sights in Golden Gate Park). Though small, the gardens are very peaceful and serene.

I have one more photo album from San Francisco in the wings, and it’s my favorite one, so stay tuned!

California Coast & Redwoods

Published on June 14, 2013

The latest photo album from my recent trip to San Francisco has just been posted, this time detailing some of the sights we saw while visiting the California Coast. We also got a chance to see some gigantic redwood trees, which was a real treat!

Alcatraz Photos

Published on June 11, 2013

I’ve just posted another photo album from my recent trip to San Francisco, this time showcasing the sights from Alcatraz Island. This was a remarkable place to visit, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. It’s a must-see attraction in the San Francisco area.

San Francisco Sights

Published on June 3, 2013

I have just posted the first of at least four photo albums from my recent trip to San Francisco. This first album, San Francisco Sights, showcases some of the sights my girlfriend and I saw while visiting. It’s a very beautiful city, and gets my highest recommendation for a place to visit!

Stone Mountain State Park

Published on April 22, 2013

Earlier this month, my girlfriend and I set out for yet another visit to a North Carolina state park. This time, we checked out Stone Mountain state park, near the town of Traphill. Stone Mountain is easily one of North Carolina’s most scenic parks, and offers fantastic hiking trails. Several waterfalls can also be enjoyed in the park, along with the site of an historic homestead from the mid-19th century. I’ve posted some photos from our trip, showcasing some of the sights from the park.

Font Rendering & Firefox Hardware Acceleration

Published on April 11, 2013

By default, Firefox ships with the Use hardware acceleration when enabled option turned on. Unfortunately, Firefox has a number of font rendering bugs under the hardware acceleration umbrella (the following are a select few):

As a result of these bugs, I’ve run with hardware acceleration disabled on my personal systems for quite some time. This, however, has resulted in an unforeseen consequence with my web development. The apps and pages I’ve developed look great in every browser, except stock Firefox! I only recently ran into this issue when I re-enabled hardware acceleration on my work laptop (in the process of creating a new profile). To my horror, several sites I had developed looked pretty terrible, my photo site being one among them.

I have since rolled out an updated stylesheet to my photo site, fixing the problems that showed up in stock Firefox. It should (hopefully) still look alright in all other browser variants (if you spot a bug, let me know). It’s worth knowing, however, that enabling hardware acceleration in Firefox is a worthwhile thing to do if you develop things for the web. The underlying bugs in the rendering engine may bring out underlying flaws in your design.

New Responsive Design is Live

Published on April 2, 2013

I have just pushed out the responsive version of this site’s theme, so you should see it immediately. Though the various tweaks may not be immediately apparent, the experience of this site on a mobile device or tablet (or a smaller screen in general) should be much better than before. Resize your browser window in the horizontal direction to see the style changes in real time!

There are still a few pain points to work through:

  1. I’m still a little unsure how to handle the syntax-highlighted code snippets in the various posts around the site. Snippets that don’t use syntax highlighting will word-wrap, but the syntax-highlighted blocks currently just offer a horizontal scroll bar.
  2. Various images in older posts need to have their hard-coded sizes removed from the img tags, so that they’ll scale appropriately. This is just a matter of going through and making those changes.

There could be other issues that I have yet to stumble across. From my limited testing, the site looks alright in Firefox, Chrome, and IE-9. I’m sure I’ll be tweaking stuff here and there over the next few days. If you spot problems, please let me know by leaving a comment.

Controlling Mobile Browser Layout

Published on March 26, 2013

I’m currently working on converting this site’s layout to a fluid, responsive-design variant, which will make the site much more usable on mobile devices (as of this writing, the mobile experience is pretty bad). In my efforts to improve the design, I noted that the browser on my Android phone didn’t respond to my changes at all. The Responsive Design View in Firefox yielded acceptable results, as did the developer tools available in Chrome (which, by the way, are pretty terrible). So why did my phone look so different?

The answer has to do with the concept of the viewport. I found a terrific pair of articles detailing the ideas behind viewports on both the desktop and mobile devices (be sure to read the desktop article first; it sets the stage for the second). It turns out that my page’s header was missing a key meta element, whose very existence we can thank Apple (of all people) for. The tag looks like this:

<meta name="viewport"
      content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1, maximum-scale=8" />

Using this meta entry allows devices to scale their layout viewport appropriately. Adding this one element fixed my phone, causing the site to render as expected. There are other articles that discuss this element better than I could, so give them a look. And don’t forget this one line if you’re designing responsively; it’ll save you a lot of potential headache!

Improving Code Snippets

Published on February 15, 2013

I have decided to start using the SyntaxHighlighter package here at this website, to make various code snippets a little easier to read. This package really appeals to me since it supports a number of languages, has a graceful fallback mechanism, and looks nice. Rolling out these changes will be slow, however, since I have to go through and apply some styling to all the appropriate code blocks. As always, let me know if you spot a problem with this new feature.

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