Thursday, December 31, 2009

Another reason to drool over the N900 (Mobile Weave)

I had a N800, the first or one of the first mobile devices to use the Mozilla web rendering engine. I really didn't notice any difference between Mozilla's engine and the N800's stock engine, so it wasn't a big deal to me.

In addition, it wasn't a big deal to me when I heard that Firefox for Mobile would be used on the N900, either. Until I heard that it supports Mozilla Weave.

Weave is an addon for Firefox that syncs bookmarks and passwords like Xmarks, but in addition it also syncs history and tabs that are open on your other devices. I just started using it today (on my desktop and netbook, I don't own an N900 yet), so I'll have a more in-depth Weave post in a few days. Watch this short video to see Firefox's mobile browser in action on the N900 (Weave is only touched upon briefly), I'll talk about more after.

Imagine you're at your desktop, reading an article online, waiting for a friend to come pick you up. You get a text, your friend is outside. You go to a restaurant where there's a 30-minute wait. You can now pull out your phone and resume reading the article you were reading at home. After that, you can continue your browsing in full on the N900, because it supports the full web.

That's really cool. Another reason to buy one.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Games games games games!

When I start writing twitter post after twitter post, and am about to write a few more, I realize perhaps the subject in question is better suited to my blog. Between Steam's post-Thanksgiving sale and their Christmas Sale (going on until January 3rd), I have bought a ton of games, and only spent about $105.

In Thanksgiving I only bought Dead Space, I think for $10, maybe it was $15. I didn't know about the sale until the second day, so I missed Batman: Arkham Asylum for super-cheap. Oh well.

During this current sale, I passed on GTA 4 for $7.50 (I think it was $7.50), and I'm kind of kicking myself but it's not like I'm going to run out of games any time soon. I ended up buying Prototype (which I'd beaten on PS3 prior to purchasing), Torchlight (which I've played a bit and is pretty fun), and Far Cry 1 and 2. I bought Prey for $2.50, then they ran out of activation codes (they sold out after I bought it) so they put Bioshock up for $5 to make up for it, which I also picked up.

I also bought the Eidos Collector Pack, which contained Batman: Arkham Asylum, Deus Ex 1 and 2, 3 Hitman games (which I'm a little interested in), Thief, Kane and Lynch (which I played on PS3 with a friend and we didn't like it, though I'm still curious about trying it single-player). It also came with a handful of other games I'm not really interested in, some Tomb Raider games and a few others. This was all for $50, the non-sale price of Arkham Asylum by itself.

All these games for $105, give or take $5. I feel a little proud of myself for waiting it out and snagging all these games at such a great price. Of course, I'm going to be so busy with work over the next few months I think I'll only be able to get in a few hours of gaming a week, but at least I have something to look forward to.

Of course, the sale isn't over yet for another 5 days, so I may end up grabbing a handful of other games if I see any other deals too good to pass up, but I feel like all the games I really want I have now.

Thinking about all the games I own now that I haven't played, I also have to think about all the exciting releases due in 2010--Mass Effect 2 and Dark Void (Dark Void looks cool, though I'm waiting for some reviews) are due out in January. Bioshock 2 is due in February (although I probably still won't have played the first one by them). Just Cause 2 is due in March (another one I won't be sure about until I see some reviews). Those are just the games on my radar, I'm sure a lot of other non-hyped games will pop up and get some attention.

As a child, I was always overwhelmed by the immense amount of books and music out there that were probably good. And here I only have 100 years total in this life, give or take, not nearly enough to absorb it all. Add that to the fact that more people are recording music than ever, more people are writing books, more people are making games, more people are making videos--it's just too much to consider. There's more out there than one person could ever absorb. Consider the fact that every 60 seconds sees 16 hours of video uploaded to youtube (I think that's the figure). That's impossible. That's just a crushing amount of content.

People can moan about over-stimulation and low attention spans, but with so much information and entertainment out in the world, added to the widespread use of portable devices like laptops, phones and mp3 players, there's really no excuse to be bored again.

And I sincerely hope it's that clear-cut,


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Power outage

Got home from running some errands to find the power out for, not only my apartment complex, but for perhaps a mile east of it and everything North of that line.

I shrugged it off and lit some candles. Then I looked around for something to do. Let's see...

Work is out of the question, because the power's out! Yes! Maybe I could play some Team Fortress 2...oh, yeah, the power's out. Can't watch TV, can't play any games, can't work, can't surf the net...

Okay, I can and did surf the net. My router and cable modem were useless, of course, but I was able to tether my phone to my netbook and do some rudimentary surfing.

I decided to take my laptop to my friend's house, which is far enough away that it has power, and do some work there. I packed up my stuff, walked out of my room, said bye to my roommate and as soon as my hand touched the front doorknob, the power kicked on. It was out for at least an hour. That's right, all I have to do is threaten to leave and they straighten that out immediately.

But it made me think about some problems with my current setup.

First of all, I don't have a backup battery on my primary PC. Not a big deal, as, I do most of my work on my laptop, and I save obsessively. My netbook has a battery life of 5-6 hours, and it was charged up, so I could have done some writing on that, though I'm a bit past the writing stage. The problem was, how could I know how long the outage was going to be? This was the longest outage I've experienced since I was a child, when a big storm knocked out power (and water) for days.

I've always been thinking of ways to keep all my electronics charged when away from home--my bag has an AC cord in it that I can plug in anywhere, and it'll charge my phone, netbook, or whatever else is in my bag at the time. I also have a DC to AC inverter to charge all my devices in a car if needed.

But what if I have no place to charge these things up? It's practical to charge my netbook in my car during a long trip, but not to use it to supplement my apartment's power supply.

Now, having been in nomadic situations before, I know there are gas stations with booths where you can plug devices in, and if it's a good station they'll even have wifi and a grill. A lot of diner-style restaurants have exposed outlets, and if you're bold enough you can plug your devices in there (in my experience most places don't mind). I've been there, that's one of the reasons I set up this bag to charge everything conveniently and inconspicuously.

So what happens when the power goes out here at home? I live in an apartment, so it's not possible to have a generator. It's not practical to take my laptop to a gas station or diner for the majority of a workday. The library would be a good place to go, actually. They provide power and wifi, and I could stay there all day without disturbing anybody. Too bad there are no 24 hour libraries.

I've been thinking about those devices made to keep your trunk. You can use one to start your car un-assisted. Basically it's a car battery with a handle on it (leak-proof) and two terminals on top. I've seen stores use one of these with an inverter to power a LCD screen for an in-store display. It's something to consider. I would hope it could buy me at least a few days of power for my netbook and perhaps a half a day or more for my 17" laptop.

I have a lot of devices in my house, but how many do I need at one time? A handful of these portable batteries could probably keep me well-powered for a few days. If the phone lines are still up, I could even use one for my modem and router, though I could just plug my modem directly into my PC to save even more energy.

It sounds workable. Perhaps in the next few months I can but one and see how much power it provides.

Food for thought anyway.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Online Video -without ads

As I'm getting closer and closer to posting videos to an online video service like, I'm starting to pay closer attention to how a lot of major content providers, providing their content. In-browser. I'm looking more at how they handle ads, but I'll start my small observations with a few without advertising: Amazon, Netflix, and G4. More observations on other services in a later post.

Amazon VOD is built on a great idea but is crippled by DRM they use on downloaded videos. I haven't used it myself besides looking at some of their samples of online video (usually the first 2-minutes of many television shows and movies so you can see the quality). From what I saw, the SD quality is pretty good, the HD quality was, well, far from spotless. Not worth the extra money, in my book.

The service is interesting--you buy a video and you have the perpetual option to watch it online or download it. Even once you've downloaded it, you can still watch it online. That way, you do tangibly own it in case the service goes under, but you also have the perpetual convenience of watching it on demand whenever you have internet access. My favorite part, you can buy seasons of televisions shows that are airing right now, and watch them a little while after they air (I think you have to wait a day after most shows have aired to view them via Amazon VOD). You can keep up with your shows without having cable, which I think is cool. You can do that for many shows on their own sites or on hulu, but you have to wait longer and sit through ads. With Amazon VOD you're paying for faster availability and less ads and other hassles.

The problem with this service is that the videos you download are WMV and contains DRM. The problem with DRM is two-fold. One, it ties your hands: Can you watch it on a Mac? On Linux? Can you transfer it to other computers or can you only watch it on the PC that downloaded it? As someone with multiple PCs running multiple OSs, this DRM is stopping me from using their service.

Two, in 2, 5, 10 years will Amazon still use this type of DRM? Probably not. Since Windows Media Player needs to contact their servers to make sure you're allowed to watch DRM'd videos, it can be reasonable assumed that eventually these video files will be rendered useless, EXCEPT that in 10 years there'll probably be a easily found way to "free" these files of their DRM, and computers will be all the more capable to do it in 10 years (as they can with DVDs, which generally are encrypted but are very easy to unencrypt). It's still a hassle and, to be honest, most WMV files I've seen are crap anyways.

Quick side note, I've also just found out that you can send Amazon VOD shows to a Tivo box, perhaps a reason to use it if you have one. I also know you can use it with boxes like Roku, and many Blu-Ray players are starting to support it as well.


I just subscribed to Netflix. Like, literally a half an hour before writing this. I haven't watched any full programs yet, but I've tested a few shows and movies and they look okay. I watched some shows at my friend's house streaming over his HDTV and it looked surprisingly good. It also handled their crappy, throttled, Citywide-Wireless connection pretty well.

My main problem with Netflix is it's lack of Linux support. Really? Linux gets the multimedia short end of the stick. I know I can't easily or satisfactorily play Blu-Ray discs in Linux, and sometimes even playing a DVD is a chore, but something like this, that's in-browser, should be a snap. Of course, hitch number one is that Netflix uses Microsoft Silverlight. There is a--I'm actually not sure what it is--port, fork, emulator, something, called 'Moonlight,' which I was led to by Silverlight's own site, that lets Linux users view Silverlight content. My understanding is Moonlight can't yet handle the DRM that Netflix's player uses.

And a quick note on DRM. I don't like DRM on something I'm buying, something that I'm keeping on my own hard drive, because as I explained above it gives a false sense of security. If the servers that provide verification are shut down, all the files are un-playable (among other issues). However, everybody using Netflix knows they're 'renting,' DVDS, or 'streaming' videos and there's no real transfer of ownership. DRM in their streamed videos is fine with me, because I don't 'own' the content they're locking down. That said, it really bothers me that I can't view Netflix videos on Linux.

That aside, it's wonderfully convenient, and it's pretty easy to navigate which episode of a TV show you want to watch. Let the player load, and there's a drop-down menu that lets you choose a different episode. Works really well.


I watch Attack of the Show and XPlay on G4, and that's about it. Even though they have a lot of content on their website, you can't watch shows in their entirity on their website. I wonder if they're trying to distance themselves from all the tech-themed internet stations whose back catalog you can freely and easily download. Perhaps they're afraid that if someone without that channel goes to their website and sees you can download all their shows, they think, "That's odd, I thought G4 was a television station, not an internet station." Not that that would be a bad thing.

You can view certain segments online, piecemeal, but you can't watch whole episodes. G4's website has a lot of other content you can watch, online-exclusive versions of popular segments like "Fresh Ink," as well as vidcasts only available online such as a new personal favorite of mine, "Sessler's Soapbox."

The quality is okay, but I have the damnest time getting these videos to play smoothly in-browser on any computer other than my gaming supercomputer. My netbook? Forget it. They don't display a download link that I've seen, but they do provide a link to their RSS feed. If you click on that, you're taken to Feedburner's list of that vidcast's recent posts. Each post has, not an embedded player, but a link to an MP4 file which plays on all my computers beautifully. I can't say how much I appreciate this. Not only do they do a good job separating their content's RSS feeds (some sites throw them all together on the same feed, which is a nice way to get me to stop subscribing), but they provide a file I can play on any operating system with VLC.

Oh, and I know I said their in-browser player is resource intensive, and it is. Having it open in a window severely slows down my netbook. It does do something really cool though, it doesn't start loading anything unless it's actually visible in your browser. The links I provided above go to the vidcast's main pages, which has all their recent updates listed, with a video embedded in each post. Those players don't even initialize until you scroll down to them, so they don't all collectively eat up your bandwidth or CPU power. That's pretty cool.

Well, that wraps up the post on non-ad supported videos. I really was only going to touch on these three services before moving on the the ad-supported ones, all in one post. I've just got so many thoughts in my big ole head it's a rarity if any topic is ever restrained to just one post.


Friday, December 18, 2009

Team Fortress 2 Soldier/Demoman Update

I suppose, there being a new TF2 update, I should post a little about it. I would be playing it right now but my computer can't connect to VALVe's inventory servers, which means no weapon switching and possibly no weapons drops at all.

I got on a little last night, I was able to see my inventory and the crafting page, though I wasn't so brave as to try crafting while the inventory servers were overloaded. I played 1-2 hours and got 20+ items, including the Eyelander (sword), Targe (shield), and the Direct Hit (launcher with faster rockets). I'm really glad they dropped all three, as these were the three items I was most anxious to test.

I will admit, when these updates were announced I thought the Demoman got the short end of the stick. Soldier got a new, faster rocket launcher while Demoman got a sword and shield? Demoman got the option to be a melee class? But oh man is it fun. The Targe and Eyelander are awesome. The Targe lets you rush, and if you rush far enough at the end of the trip you get some crits. It also severely cuts down your fire and explosion damage. Of course, you don't get a sticky launcher anymore, either.

I found that with the targe on payload maps I could just crouch behind the cart, ignoring the rocket/sticky/grenade spam, because the cart would heal me faster than those things could damage me (crouching behind the cart it's mostly splash damage anyways). A few times Demos exploded a patch of stickies I was in the middle of, and I just got launched in the air, I didn't die. Okay, once the fall killed me.

This is a great time to play, because it's a free weekend and there are also a lot of new weapons to try. This means a lot of people are screwing around more, testing these new weapons, and the uber-serious assholes that occasionally populate the servers are nowhere to be seen or are at least biting their tongues. There's too much chaos, charging, and spam to take it seriously. That's not to say the objectives are being ignored, people are still mostly playing right, but it's a much more experimental and fun environment. Everyone's just having fun with their new weapons. Besides, you can't have a sword and shield and actually be mad if your team loses. You have a sword and shield! How can you be sad or angry after you've just charged someone and cut their head off?

**I've just tried to join a game. I could access my inventory in the game itself, but I got an error message that the servers I was playing on couldn't connect with Steam's item servers, so I couldn't use any of the new weapons. Other players on the server had the new weapons though, so I don't know what was going on. I guess the gaming gods are just trying to keep me off the servers.

**-30 minutes later =/-**This is starting to piss me off, and it epitomizes what's so great about single player games--none of this waiting bullshit. Of course, you'd think having independent community-run servers would solve that problem, and it does to a degree. I can still play even though Steam's own servers are overloaded, I just can't use any of the new weapons.

**Yet another 30 minutes later**...and, I officially give up. I've wasted too much time stalling, hoping I'd get to play with these new weapons some more and pick up some new items while they're being dropped at a pretty high rate. I'd try later, but I seriously doubt anything will be fixed in a few hours when everyone is home from work and the servers are even more overloaded. What a disappointment.

I really should have know better than to expect anything different.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Uberpix Ate My Day


Light Sabers
Ceiling Cat
Are you uncomfortable with this word?
Literally? Porked it.

So that's what I did with my morning.


Why are people such dicks about marriage?

"Marriage," is a term that historically has belonged in the social and legal realms. Now many people are pretending like it's a religious term. Hey, marriage ceremonies happen in churches, administered by religious leaders, right?

Is one required to get married in a church? No, you don't need a church or a religious leader to get married, you just need a license from city hall. Do you have to be a member of a certain religion to get a marriage license? Of course not. Some people are all of the sudden pretending that marriage is a religious term, probably because homosexuality gives them unease and they're not yet ready to accept it as legitimate. Don't be fooled though, people know that you get a marriage license at a city building, not a church.

Catholics, Protestants, Scientologists, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Wiccans, Pagans, Atheists and Agnostics are all allowed to marry whoever they see fit, and call it a 'marriage,' so long as the resulting couple consists of 1 man and 1 woman. So which religion owns 'marriage?' Seriously, which specific denomination owns the term 'marriage'--tell me quickly, so that we can deny everyone that isn't a member of that specific religion the right to call their union a 'marriage.'

Most people would probably refuse to discriminate in that way, but some still claim that it's the privilege of the churches to define what is and isn't marriage. Okay, well they should know that it's the official stance of some (or all) branches of Judiasm, Unitarianism, Buddhism, Presbyterianism, Methodism and more I'm sure that same sex marriage should be allowed. All of these groups apparently hold rights to the term marriage, so that's settled, right? Churches have their say, and gays can get married, mission accomplished!

I understand that a lot of people who support civil unions are trying to be fair while also keeping the peace. I understand a lot of other people are trying to push something separate but equal out of their own fear and hatred of that which they do not know, which seems to fuel most segregation and bigotry.

Marriage isn't solely a religious concept. It was most probably a social concept first. Today, above all it's a legal construct. From a Libertarian perspective, the government gets it's rights from the people. Since no person has the right to tell any consenting adults whether or not they can marry, the government doesn't posses that right either. Churches can still make as many rules for it's congregation as they want. As with every other religious proclamation, those of us outside a particular church shouldn't be subject to any of it's doctrines.


Friday, December 11, 2009

Two things Steam needs to do

Steam is a cool community/online gaming middleman/distribution platform for the PC. It allows you to download games to as many PCs as you want, but you have to be logged in to play them. It completely erases the need for installation discs. As someone with a couple boxes of computer discs, it's a great boon.

Two things Steam should do though, to make their service that much better:

1) Backup game saves and sync them between all of a user's computers.

2) Remove the damn age-verification screens in their app if I'm logged in.

Number one has been discussed by them before, I've heard that it's in the works for a while but I haven't seen it in action yet. Maybe it's in effect for Valve games only, which I haven't played in a while so I wouldn't know. It's not that big of a deal to me now, I primarily game on my desktop. In 2010 though I want to buy an amazing custom gaming laptop. Whether I'll be able to, who knows, but I want to. My gaming will be equally divided between desktop and laptop (though eventually I may phase out my desktop entirely). I don't want to juggle save files on a USB drive. Maybe I can work something out with Dropbox, who knows. It would be so much better though, if Steam did it for me.

Number two is something that is getting more and more annoying as the days go by. It seems like every time I browse Steam I have to enter in a birthday (I would say 'my' birthday but come on, I quickly enter in any birthday over eighteen to continue as quickly as possible). What's worse is it doesn't work. I was younger than eighteen once, I remember how quickly I would click through that stuff. What's worst of all is that they already have my information. Most of my Steam-browsing is in their app, where I'm logged in. If I'm logged in, they know I'm eighteen, so couldn't we skip all that crap? It's just an annoyance, but the nuisance is growing as every other gaming site seems to be going in the same direction.

Why don't we just make a separate, dumber internet for kids and leave the current, semi-awesome internet for adults only, so we can avoid this crap? I'm serious. Making something accessible to and safe for kids is a damned sure way to ruin it. Not to mention any twelve-year-old is smart enough to enter in a birthday over eighteen.

That's my say anyway,



Blippy. A service currently in private beta that allows you to display your credit card transactions to the world, in real-time! No, seriously.

Since so many people scoffed at twitter, and look at it now, I imagine a lot of very strange things are going to start happening online, like this. A lot of social networking-meets-whatever. Social networking-meets-automobile-wheel-rotation. Social-networking-meets-blood-donation. Who knows?

That said, I could see the use for something like Blippy, but private. I've been thinking for a while that if you really want to cut credit/bank card fraud short, find a way to put posted transactions in your twitter stream--the stream you receive, not the one you broadcast to others.

Of course, there'd have to be some improvements in the descriptions of posted transactions. You never know what a restaurant is going to show up as on your statement. And then the common practice of 'take a dollar to authorize transaction, refund it later' could become pretty annoying if it happens enough.

Just some interesting thought. The good news, though, is that even though we probably will start to see a huge rush of off-the-wall spins on social networking, a few of them will be amazing innovations that no one saw them coming, and the world will be better for it.

Or we'll all go crazy.


Monday, December 7, 2009

Modern Warfare 2 for PC

A little over 2 weeks ago, I posted an article called, "But...I'm a PC Gamer," about Infinity Ward's direct porting of Modern Warfare 2 to PC, and addressing people claiming this could mean the death of PC games.

Generally, certain advanced options are given to PC games, such as use of an in-game command console and the ability to host servers for multiplayer games. On the PS3 and Xbox 360, online multiplayer games are usually populated using an automated matchmaking system.

I stressed that being able to choose what servers I play on is very important to me:

In server-hosted online games, any group can create a static server, for which they set the rules. They can kick off and ban cheaters and troublemakers, they can use experimental maps or weapons, or even ensure the game is as "vanilla" as possible. These benefits are what make online gaming fun for me.

However, I reasoned that match-made games are okay for console gaming, and I've played Uncharted 2 online without any problems, so matchmaking instead of hosted servers might not be so bad.

Then I saw this post by Les on Stupid Evil Bastard, entitled 'Infinity Ward has fucked over “Call of Duty” fans who play on the PC.' Guess where he falls on the issue? Unlike me, Les has actually played Modern Warfare 2 on PC, here's what he said about the experience:

This evening I joined and quit no less than two dozen games because the cheaters were out in force with no less than at least 4 cheaters in each game and one where half the players where cheating.

Earlier he says:

If we had dedicated servers this would be less of a problem as the admins can kick and ban by IP address at the first sign of a cheater. As things stand now not only are there no admins to deal with cheaters, but there’s no means of kicking cheaters at all. At the very fucking least it would’ve been nice to have the ability to call a vote to kick someone who’s being an ass in the game, but Infinity Ward won’t even let us do that.

So yes, I completely underestimated the potential for problems, having never played match-made online games on the PC before. The PC, being a much more versatile machine, allows for all sorts of hacks and cheats not possible on consoles. Since hosted servers can ban by IP address, it's much easier to weed out cheaters. You can change your IP address but it's not always easy, and there's usually a limited number of addresses available to you. As it is now, you're banned from playing Modern Warfare 2 online by your Steam ID. As Les points out, you can get as many Steam IDs as you want, so that's not a big deterrent.

My earlier post was more intended to address why I like PC gaming better that console gaming, and why I didn't think it was that big of a deal that Modern Warfare 2 didn't include the usual advanced PC options. When talking about online play, my conclusion was that both online matchmaking and hosted servers are possible within the same game. If there's any doubt, developers can include both methods. I think we been shown now that if you only stick with one method, on PC games it should be static hosted servers.

I really hope this gets sorted out soon, I'd like to get into Modern Warfare 2 eventually,


Friday, December 4, 2009


You know what I haven't posted in just under 2 months? This Maemo 5/N900 video:

Since the N900's out now, it just occurred to me to throw this video up again.

Because I like it.


Celtx 2.5.1

Celtx version 2.5.1 was released on November 15th. I want to talk about it, but I really hate being an asshole.

Okay, I'll talk about it.

First of all, I'm still using a portable version of Celtx I found, numbered Every time a new version is released, I install it, and then find that not only has it gotten much slower (especially on my netbook), but nothing I care about has been changed.

I have one big problem with Celtx, and a few small ones. The big one is autocomplete. Some people probably love it, but I type too fast for it. Sometimes it doesn't pop up until I've already finished typing a name, and sometimes it doesn't pop up at all, causing a lot of inconsistencies when trying to touch-type a script from handwritten notes. I found a workaround for this, where I leave a hanging period (or any other character) to the right of my cursor. It throws off autocomplete, because none of my names has a period at the end of it, and nothing is suggested. That solves the problem when I'm writing whole passages, but when I go back to fix errors, autocomplete is still as annoying as ever.

It's a fine feature, but I want to turn it off. Why can't I turn it off? Seriously, Celtx is at version 2.5 and it won't let users turn off autocomplete?

Then we get to the small problems. You should be able to turn pagination on for all documents, or at least have it enabled for new documents by default. It's really annoying to have to turn it on for all my scripts, and I've never not wanted it.

2.5, on my netbook, is slow as molasses. Especially while saving. In the version I currently use, I'm used to being able to hit 'save' and then close the program, quick as that. In 2.5 I hit 'save' and then have to sit and wait for it to finish saving, 10-20 seconds. Not terribly long, but if I'm waiting to pack up my netbook and go over to a friend's house, it's very annoying.

You can use the arrow keys to expand and contract folders in the Project Library sidebar, and you can navigate to items just like you'd expect to be able to. But for some reason, hitting the 'enter' key doesn't open a file. It's counter-intuitive.

You can't rename by hitting F2, which is pretty universal in all the OS's and programs I've used. You have to open the right-click context menu to rename an item.

I'd alto really like to see more hotkeys. It would help my workflow if I could only needed my keyboard while working on a script. It's true that for the most part, their method of choosing whether to format as dialog, character, action, etc is very well designed. However, sometimes when making revisions it's necessary to move things around or change a format that was set wrong. I have to mouse to change the format, type some, mouse to change another format, type, mouse again, etc. Giving a set of CTRL-WHATEVER hotkeys to change the formatting applied to a block of text would streamline things quite a bit.

Finally, they removed a context menu option. In the old version I'm using, I can right click inside the 'Project Library' sidebar to add items or folders. In the most recent versions (including 1.0, I think), you can't. Why remove extra functionality? Maybe it caused some problems, I don't know, but it works fine in my version.

I know I could go to their site and comment on any of this in their forums. I'm lazy. I'm mostly apathetic. The problems I have with Celtx are nuisances at best, and I'll always have my portable copy, so I can ignore whatever changes they continue to make.

They've been adding a lot more collaborative tools, which I'm indifferent to. I've been saving files as html and emailing them to friends to revise in AbiWord, but the new version of Celtx has visible revisions built in. It also has a built-in online chat client, the necessity of which I'm not sold on. Celtx does need an operating system to run on, correct? And I could install a chat client on said operating system? But then again, like I said, I don't use the collaboration tools so what do I care? It's not like it hurts anything.

Ultimately I was very excited when I first heard of Celtx, well before 1.0. I really didn't think that by 2.5 the few nagging problems I had would still be there, but the scriptwriting itself is still exceptional (except for autocomplete always being active). I could take or leave the scheduling and the collaborative aspects, which is why I have left them, I suppose.

That's my say,


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

5-minute Soapbox (Passwords)

You know, it really pisses me off when services make me jump through hoops when setting up a password. Hey site whose name I won't disclose, I just gave you a 20-character password using a random combination of letters, symbols, and numbers, but you won't accept it because I didn't include an uppercase letter?

Maybe sites need a check box saying, "I am capable of assessing the risk of my own password." Or, "I know I shouldn't use my middle name as a password." Or, "I do not need a babysitter at this particular time in my life." I understand why Facebook might want to enforce a certain level of password security, because my grandma uses Facebook and she also trusts every pop-up and banner ad she reads. This site I'm registering at provides advanced services for web administrators, something that requires a certain level of knowledge about the technology being used and it's security risks (yeah, that doesn't guarantee a lack of stupidity, but shut up, I'm being angry).

I also understand that using uppercase letters along with lowercase letters increases the number of possible characters by 26, from 66 to 92 (roughly, just looking at my keyboard). Meaning that with a 20-character password, using lowercase letters only means there's a frighteningly small number of possible passwords:


But using uppercase letters, too, you get a large, safe, un-guessable number of possible passwords:


Wow, that safeguard kept my ass out of the fire, for real. Look how exposed I would have been had they not forced me to use uppercase letters! Thanks, web service that will remain anonymous, now fuck off.


(BTW I got the numbers '66' and '92' by counting the number of characters available on my keyboard, it was a quick count, and it's probably wrong)

My life has become the 'Twilight Zone'

So I went to the eye doctor today. Two things of note to report:

1-My prescription is finally the same for both eyes. I've been wearing contacts for I think 10+ years now, and only now can I stop worrying about which lens goes in which eye.

2-My eyes were dilated today for the first time. As someone who has studied lighting and photography, it's interesting to see principles I know pretty well demonstrated in my very eyes (well, more than the usual). The smaller the aperture, the larger the depth of field, providing there's enough light for a clear image. If the aperture is as small as possible without being closed, then everything should be in sharp focus.

The wider the aperture is, however, the narrower the depth of field, and the more finicky focus is. I'm nearsighted (that means I can see things that are near, some people can't seem to crack that particular jargon). For the first time in...well, ever, I cannot see what is directly in front of my nose. I can see distant things okay (with my contacts in) but nothing at any distance is in sharp focus.

My nearsightedness was a bit better before I put my contacts in before leaving the office, though diminished from what it normally is. Once I put the contacts in, I actually started experiencing what it's like to be far-sighted. Leaning in to better read something, as I'm used to, just makes things worse. I have to lean backwards to make anything out. My mother is farsighted, and it always seemed so strange that she would lean away from the computer monitor when trying to read.

So I get home, and I figure I'll watch some shows on our 50" HDTV from a reasonable distance. Except I don't have any shows recorded!!! Okay then, I'll work on some templates for another site I'm working on. Nope, can't SEE NEAR, dipshit. No, but I've got the time now! I've got the whole day free! Not to mention, all these feeds, and I can't read them! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Saw it coming.

Okay, so to pass the time I pillowed my eye sockets with cotton balls and wrapped my head with gauze, just like MacGuyver did in that episode of MacGuyver. When my roommate gets home, we'll do a dramatic unwrapping. Will I have regained my sight, just in time to recognize who it is that blinded me in the first place? Professor Moriarity, of course! I thought you were dead!


PS--Yes, that is a picture of my eyes at the top of the post. That's about 45 minutes after hitting full dilation. They were bigger at the Dr.'s office. And yes, my eyelashes are luxuriously long...shut up.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Blender 2.5 Alpha

Another short and sweet post. This isn't news to Blenderheads like myself, but just thought I'd throw out there that the much-anticipated Blender 2.5 is in it's public alpha stage. The 2.5 version is a near-complete rewrite of the software (I think).

Blender, for those of you who don't know, is an (free and) open source 3D modeling and animation program. It is quite possibly the most full-featured 3d program out there, free or commercial. I'm not being a fanboy, and I'm not using hyperbole. It's amazing. Previous versions had a lot of these features, but let me just take a minute to tell you all the things Blender 2.5 will do:

-Full physics simulation, including fluids, softbodies, and now volumetrics (for smoke and clouds)
-Particle system
-Multiple armature systems for rigging
-Amazing system that allows you to save motions and actions and apply them wherever you want (I love this system!).
-Ray tracing, shadows, subsurface scattering
-Built in game engine
-You know what, just look here. Seriously, Blender can do a lot. (link lists current features. Here's a look at what 2.5 will do)

Oh, and it also has a node compositor, supports texture nodes, can edit images, can edit video, and runs on nearly every platform (Windows, Mac OS X [PPC and Intel], Linux, FreeBSD 5.4 [i386], SGI Irix 6.5, Sun Solaris 2.8 [sparc]). There was even a build that ran on PDAs a while ago.

Those of you who've tried the program and hated the interface will love 2.5--it's extremely customizable, to the point where you should be able to get it to mimic the 3d program you're most comfortable with. And I have to add, if you don't like the interface, that's really too bad because although it's a little odd at first, it's designed for speed. Now that I've learned it, I love it.

Just had to spread the news,


PS - I just realized it's a little odd to say Blender's in public alpha, all the code is public, duh.

Random Personal Updates

Hey everyone! I'm working on some blog posts at the moment, but thought now would be a good time to throw out some random personal updates.

I removed Ubuntu from my laptop and replaced it with OpenSuse. I like it. The package manager takes some getting used to, but it's going well. My main reason for leaving Ubuntu is the snail-like pace at which Ubuntu updates their repositories. In fact, Ubuntu usually only updates software in their repositories every six months, when they release official updates to their distro. In the open source world six months is a long time, and way too long to go without bug fixes. There are ways around it, like finding pre-compiled packages, building packages for yourself, and using independent repositories but I wanted to test out some other distros anyways.

A lot of could-be-good games are set to come out next year. Mass Effect 2, Bioshock 2 (still haven't played the first), Dark Void, Just Cause 2, I know I'm forgetting some but rest assured, 2010 should be a good year for games. I can hardly wait. Of course, I still have yet to play Arkham Asylum, Dead Space, Modern Warfare 2, Assassin's Creed 2, and a handful of 2009's other great games. I like having all these presumably great games just waiting for me to play them.

Speaking of gaming, I started watching G4's X-Play last week. I've watched 'Attack of the Show' regularly for close to a year now (since I've had G4) and I don't know why I haven't watched X-Play. Truth is, after Attack of the Show is over, my DVR usually shows the beginning of X-Play after it. My interest is piqued, and then the show is cut off. My interest in games comes and goes--and I don't mind waiting out most games until there's a large price drop (I'm just now playing Mass Effect 1), but we seem to be entering into a golden age of gaming. I mean, superhero games are actually getting fun, who could have predicted that? That said, I enjoy X-Play, especially Adam Sessler's insight (I held off on buying a PS3 because Sessler said at E3 he suspected a price drop was on it's way, though Sony wasn't talking. A few months later, the PS3 dropped to $300). Also, there's a lot of games out there I didn't even know existed, which X-Play has educated me on.

Well, there you have it, a short, scatter-brained post.

You're welcome,


Friday, November 20, 2009

But...I'm a PC Gamer

The other day, Attack of the Show's segment "The Loop" asked the question, "Is PC gaming dead?" It's a very troubling question for me, I am a PC gamer. There are a lot of different issues involved, but I'm going to try and tackle a lot of them in this article. (SPOILER!!!--PC Games RULE!!!)

(In this article I use the phrase "command console" to mean the in-game command entry system, as differentiated by just "console," which refers to console gaming systems such as the Xbox 360 or PS3. Hopefully context will make the intended meanings apparent)

This all has to do with Infinity Ward's release of Modern Warfare 2 for PC. Instead of offering more advanced functionality for the PC version as is standard, they released a total clone of the XBox 360 version. The biggest complaints were that Infinity Ward didn't include the ability to use a command console, and that it's online games are populated by a matchmaking system instead of by users joining dedicated servers.

A command console can be used to enter in cheats, bring up diagnostic info, and perform advanced tasks (in Max Payne 2 you can use the console to switch your character's "skin" out for another, among other things). Having a command console is cool, but not necessary. I myself don't use them much, not since Fallout 3, when I used a such a command to increase my character's walking speed. Made that game 10 times better.

A matchmaking system for online games is usually just a button, "Find game". Depending on how it's designed, players might be grouped by their locational proximity (for latency reasons), or by mix of experience (for fairer teams), etc. You can usually also join games with people in your friend list if you want. There is no real administrator in this system, which can cause problems.

In server-hosted online games, any group can create a static server, for which they set the rules. They can kick off and ban cheaters and troublemakers, they can use experimental maps or weapons, or even ensure the game is as "vanilla" as possible. These benefits are what make online gaming fun for me. A game like Team Fortress 2, for instance, has a steep learning curve. The first time you play, you have no clue what to do. You run around like an idiot, people call you (me) a retard, and you don't ever want to play again.

Lucky for me, I found a bunch of servers for Newbs. (HK Central and NewbsTF2) Lots of people, newbs and experienced alike play on these servers, because it's less for people who can't play well and more for people who have agreed to be civil. There is a forced awareness of the fact that the people on these servers may be new or are simply trying to figure things out, so it's a much more enjoyable and stress-free experience. Not that there aren't dicks on these servers, but it's not the norm and rudeness is heavily discouraged

There is a learning curve involved with hosted server-based games. Lots of servers have tags in their names that a beginner might not understand. Some are clan tags, some denote rules, some are there as jokes. For me, I had to search the internet to find a comfortable place to play, as the servers I now use weren't listed in the game itself that I saw, so I had to enter them in manually. The concept was difficult for me to grasp at first, and I'm sure many others have had and will have the same problems, but ultimately I have found the extra effort to be worth it.

The bottom line on server vs matchmaking really is that both are possible, so why not have both? They aren't mutually exclusive, so why not make everyone happy?

Okay, those points aside, do I think PC gaming is defined by console commands or how I join online games? No.

For all I care, all PC games can be identical to Xbox or PS3 games. Make no mistake--the norm with PC games is greater than the norm with consoles. I like have the command console as an option, and I obviously prefer static gaming servers. I also like that PC games have much more mods and total conversions--community made levels and stories. Some are as good as or better than the games they were made for (Minerva: Metastasis for Half Life 2 is every bit as good as Half Life 2 itself). PC games have trainers and tools for hacking saved games. Consoles have saved games you can download and I'm sure some games' saves can be hacked, but it's much more prevalent on PCs. PC games can also reach resolutions above full HD (1920x1080), 2560x1600 being the highest PC resolution I've seen (I doubt it's even noticeable, but it's there). All these things are good, but that's not why I'm a PC gamer.

Why am I a PC gamer?

For starters, I can play most PC games with my choice of controls: keyboard and mouse, Xbox 360 controller, joystick where applicable, or some other awesome 3rd party PC controller. I'm constantly arguing this point with console gamers, but I firmly believe that shooters are better with a mouse and keyboard. I don't even see how this can be argued. The control a mouse can give you over speed and accuracy is immense. Sure, I grew up playing games on a computer, but I own a PS3, most of my PS3 games are shooters, and while it's acceptable to play a shooter with a controller it's just not the same. Quick note, the PS3 supports keyboard and mouse, however, most of it's games don't. I don't know about the Xbox. There are workarounds and third party gadgets that try to better integrate keyboard and mouse into console gaming, but console games well favor the controller.

PC games have the graphics and scope of console games, because many of the major console games are available on the PC, but they also have the added option of portability. I have a year-old laptop, it can play all of my favorite games, and I can take it anywhere. Yeah, I doubt it can play Crysis--it was stuttering a bit with Prototype, but my next laptop will be able to play anything out today.

In addition, it's not as hard to play PC games as many people would have you believe. Keep your drivers updated, that solves most of the problems I've had. However, the difficult part to me is knowing whether or not your computer can play a game. Here's Crysis' processor requirements (via Steam):

2.8 GHz or faster (XP) or 3.2 GHz or faster * (Vista)

And follow the asterisk for this:

* Supported Processors: Intel Pentium 4 2.8 GHz (3.2 GHz for Vista) or faster, Intel Core 2.0 GHz (2.2 GHz for Vista) or faster, AMD Athlon 2800+ (3200+ for Vista) or faster.

How many people know the brand of their processor, much less if it's dual core, what it's GHz are, etc.? PC Gamers know this info and that's probably it.

That brings us to the major advantages console gaming has over PCs: the ability to not know shit about what's inside.

PCs offer customization, more control options, and (potential) portability. Consoles offer ease of use, and the ability to not know anything about the technology being used. All these things considered I would still prefer PC gaming, but I haven't even said the main reason I'm a PC gamer yet.

The reason is this: Backwards compatibility. On my computer, I can play any PC game I own. I can fire up ScummVM for those cool old Lucasarts games, or DosBox if I want to go really far back (I don't). What's more, I can fit every game I've ever played on my laptop's hard drive. And I can play current games as well.

You know what, it's not just backwards compatibility, it's deeper than that. PC gaming doesn't bring any insurmountable downside, it just requires a semi-constant awareness of what's under the hood, which I maintain anyway as a sort of hobby. What it does bring is my life. This same device holds all my music, which I can play in the background while gaming (and I can control the music during any game using Winamp's global hotkeys). It holds all my writing, all my movies (ok, need an external drive for all my videos), and a lot of my books. I don't own a DVD player, I use...guess what?...a PC, with S-Video out.

What's more, I already own a PC. Nearly everyone does. All my grandparents have computers, for Pete's sake, so if your a gamer, why not buy a good computer and cut out the additional systems?

Sure, the God of War games will probably always be around somewhere, maybe re-released for the newest console as they were for the PS3. And the Halo games will probably be resurrected as well, because there will always be money in nostalgia. I won't have to wait for developers to catch up in order to fire up the Max Payne series, though. It's here, it's with me. It will always be with me. On CD if not on Steam. If I can run 28-year-old MS-DOS on a virtual machine today, I see no reason why I won't be able to run Windows 7 on a virtual machine in 28 more years. That's real security.

All that said, I do own a PS3. I don't balk at buying games for a console, however if a game is available for PC, that's what I get it for. And in response to the question posed by others, is PC gaming dying? It may be dwindling, it may be taking the back seat, but it has advantages it will continue to have for years to come.

Steam has helped a lot. It brought not only a great service but a focal point for the PC community. While browsing it's forums, I'm surprised to see that it's community isn't just older people sticking with what they know, people who remember playing Wolfenstein 3D in MS-DOS. It's a lot of kids. It's a lot of hardcore gamers. It's me. I don't see this community going anywhere.

I don't see PC gaming going away.


P.S. - I realize I'm always talking up Steam. They don't pay me any money, I have no connections to their service past the fact that I use it a lot, and it really seems to be a good thing for PC gaming as a whole.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Steam Powered?

I haven't talked about Steam, the amazing service/store for PC games in a while, and without looking at my archives none of the previous articles I've written may have survived the latest redesign.

So for those that don't know, or do know but just love hearing about it, Steam is a program that you install to your computer. It is the brainchild of Valve Corporation, the creators of the Half Life franchise and the Left 4 Dead (soon to be) franchise. I'm a big fan of their games, and am awaiting the release of Half Life, Episode 3 with baited breath.

So what's so great about Steam?

You buy a game on Steam and, unless the manufacturers are clueless and forbid it, you can download and install that game an unlimited number of times, on an unlimited number of computers. Instead of restricting installs, Steam chooses to use verification as it's primary DRM. You can play any of your games on any computer, so long as you are logged in to the Steam application on that computer. You cannot be logged in on more than one computer at once. You can also verify your installs while logged in, and go into "offline mode," allowing you to play games without a constant connection to the internet.

This is so great I can't even begin to tell you. Sure, a lot of games install their own DRM along with the Steam installs, but I haven't had any problems with this DRM keeping me from playing on multiple computers or disrupting my system in any noticeable way. Some games, like Crysis (link requires birthdate entry) have a 5 machine activation limit. This may not be a problem for some people, but I like to go back and play old games all the time. Max Payne and Max Payne 2 are the most frequently played, and they are 8 and 6 years old, respectively. I can't tell you how many of my machines they've been installed on. No wait, I can...8. And over the next 6 years that number will triple, because as computers get better and cheaper faster I will be upgrading more frequently.

I'll bet in 6 years I will have gone through at least 3-5 more laptops and 6 more gaming PCs (I build them myself). I'll have used up all my activations. I can call Crysis's publisher and get the limit reset and start over, but is the game that good? I could just not humor their lame DRM and play much better or even slightly worse games that have no such restrictions. Or I could download a pirated version off the internet which has no restrictions. You see, one thing the video game industry fails to realize, is that no DRM has stopped a much-anticipated game from being made available illegally online before the game's official release date--therefore the legal copies are the only ones that are bound by the DRM. Understand that? THE PEOPLE PAYING FOR GAMES ARE THE ONLY ONES AFFECTED BY DRM. I own Crysis, it was fun, but faced with the decision again today I would not buy a game with a limited number of activations.

Steam does warn you of such DRM restrictions, but I wish they would prominently display a HUGE warning label on these games to warn potential customers, and to shame manufacturers out of the practice. Those occasional restrictions aside, Steam's service is really cool, and saves my ass from having to hunt down discs all the time. When I first heard about it I thought it was too good to be true, but nope, it really is that cool.

In addition to just being a store it is has forums and a social network in place, it helps you connect with online games, and it saves and displays stats. I don't have any friends that are big PC gamers. It was a big deal for me to start playing Team Fortress 2 online, with a bunch of strangers. Most people are cool about it, but that's a different situation than, say, Left 4 Dead. I'm considering buying Left 4 Dead and pre-ordering the sequel, I've played the first a little on Xbox 360, but I'm a little worried about playing in a close-quarter survival game with a bunch of strangers. How does it work? Should I use a headset? Are there rules of protocol and etiquette I should know?

Yeah I'm a n00b, what of it? No, seriously, what of it?


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Let's Dish

I'm someone who considers himself Libertarian leaning. I subscribe to's RSS feeds, along with a few other Libertarian blogs. Of course, I also subscribe to many Republican blogs, and Democrat blogs, and tech blogs, and entertainment blogs, etc. I don't read Andrew Sullivan's The Daily Dish regularly anymore (it's updated way too fast for me to keep up), but I followed it very closely coming up on the 2008 presidential election. I will admit Sullivan seemed to have it out for Sarah Palin, probably because, as a lot of people saw it, she was nominated from out of nowhere and stayed out of the press' reach for most of her candidacy.

In addition to maintaining a running list of all the verifiable lies she told (which I can't fault him for), Sullivan also frequently revisited one suspected lie that couldn't be verified without Palin's consent (by releasing her medical records)--Sullivan suspected that Palin's son Trig was not her child, but in fact he child of her (at the time) 17-year-old daughter Bristol Palin.

Today I saw (via my feed reader) that Reason editor Nick Gillespie reviewed two books about Sarah Palin in the Washington Post. I was reading Reason's excerpt of the review and was a little surprised to read this:

The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan, a self-identified conservative who calls his Daily Dish "the most popular one-man political blog site in the world," persistently claimed that Trig Palin, the governor's then-4-month-old baby with Down syndrome, was not Sarah's biological child and requested the full release of her obstetrical records, stopping just short of demanding he be sent the placenta for genetic testing. (If President Obama is hounded by a small group of reality-challenged "birthers," who doubt he was born in Hawaii, Palin is certainly the only politician to have given rise to what might be called "after-birthers," who doubt that she delivered her own children.)

Am I reading too much into that, or is he especially harsh toward Andrew Sullivan? As someone who likes Sullivan, and as someone who read his blog regularly as he was making the aforementioned claims, I'm a little disappointed by how that paragraph treated him. I have to wonder if Gillespie even read what Sullivan wrote about the matter, or if he's just been influenced by the way it was covered by others. First, let's address the actual argument, which I think Sullivan best laid out here.

To summarize the link, Palin announced her pregnancy at 7 months, when she didn't seem to be showing (the reporters she announced it to were shocked). A lot of pictures have popped up from around that time where she didn't seem to be showing, but one has showed up (the one at the top of the link) where she did look pregnant. Her campaign said she was using her wardrobe to cleverly disguise her pregnancy. I don't think it's at all hard to believe that she could have been pregnant and hidden it.

However, some other points come up that give way to doubt:

  • Here Sullivan says it was reported that Bristol missed 5-7 months of school for mono, coinciding with the later part of the pregnancy.

  • Palin flew 8000 miles in her last month of pregnancy, something prohibited by some airlines and recommended against by doctors. It can induce labor, and Palin knew in advance that the baby had Down syndrome, meaning it would probably have special needs. It seems odd that she would risk it.

  • Also, in the link claiming Bristol had mono, Sullivan says the flight attendants on Sarah's flight home didn't notice that Palin was pregnant.

  • On top of all this, at the end of October 2009, one of Sarah Palin's spokespersons said Palin's medical records would be released within the next week. They never were.

    Let me be clear: I don't have an opinion on who the mother of Trig Palin is. I don't have enough information, and I don't care. However, I can understand Sullivan's doubts.

    That said, I don't remember Sullivan ever flat-out stating that that Trig wasn't carried by Sarah Palin, he'd only expressed doubt. Here is a post by Sullivan at his angriest. McCain chief aide Mark Salter told a journalist, Jeffrey Goldberg: "This whole story about how the baby isn't hers? Jesus Christ. Just crazy shit." Even in response to that, Sullivan doesn't make any direct accusations. In his own defense, he says:

    I think the bizarre circumstantial evidence easily rises to the level of material that should be addressed - as presumably could be done definitively - by the campaign.

    It is not an answer to call bloggers "insane" because they are asking factual questions to which there must be evidentiary answers.

    He closes the post with:

    I'm begging the McCain campaign to make me look like a total fool for even wondering. Please, blow my skepticism out of the water. Prove I'm full of "crazy shit."

    Now let's go back to what Gillespie said (with snarky notes from me in [bracketed bold text]):

    The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan, a self-identified conservative ['self-identified' is code for, 'He thinks he's a conservative. He isn't'] who calls his Daily Dish "the most popular one-man political blog site in the world," [um, he calls it that because it is] persistently claimed [never 'claimed' that I saw, just voiced suspicions] that Trig Palin, the governor's then-4-month-old baby with Down syndrome [As opposed to Trig Palin, the governor's then-4-month-old baby that didn't have Down syndrome? I don't know how Down syndrome is relevant, unless you're trying to gather sympathy on your side to somehow shame Sullivan], was not Sarah's biological child and requested the full release of her obstetrical records, stopping just short of demanding he be sent the placenta for genetic testing [cue rimshot]. (If President Obama is hounded by a small group of reality-challenged "birthers," who doubt he was born in Hawaii, Palin is certainly the only politician to have given rise to what might be called "after-birthers," who doubt that she delivered her own children. [I've never heard anyone doubt that she delivered her own 'children' (plural), just Trig specifically])

    Keep in mind that this is just me reading deeply into two sentences. I'm not trying to come off as angry or hateful towards Nick Gillespie, nor am I trying to make a case saying Sarah Palin wasn't pregnant with Trig. I don't have a dog in that fight. I just read something that seemed a little harsh towards a reasonable if misguided argument, and felt like offering my own take.

    Take from it what you will,


    Oh, and the link I pointed to while saying The Daily Dish is "the most popular one-man political blog site in the world," is a link to Technorati's Top 100, which ranks blogs, I think by popularity and influence. I don't know of any better ranking sites, or ones that judge popularity alone. The Technorati Top 100 is updated daily. The Daily Dish was listed #14 on November, 3, 2009 (the day of posting), and I didn't see any other political blog consisting solely of posts from one person ranked any higher.

    Tuesday, October 27, 2009

    Project Dark?

    I must ask, why "Project Dark?" Why did T-Mobile choose to cover their secret plans under the name "Project Dark?" What's so dark about it?

    It's not like the name really matters, I suppose, but the so-called Project Dark certainly has my attention. First broken by the Boy Genius Report, Project Dark or "Project Black," as it was also thought to be named, was rumored to be a three-prong operation.

    First, new unlimited plans, which T-Mobile has just set in motion with Even More Plus. A lot of people are wondering why the 2-year contract plans are more expensive than the no-contract plans. My guess is because the no-contract plan doesn't have the costs of a discounted (subsidized) new handset factored in. If that's the reason I applaud T-Mobile. T-Mobile has had problems in the past with customer service giving customers without a contract much less compensation for their problems than on-contract customers. Let's hope the new plans are a sign that T-Mobile will start treating customers without a contract the same way they treat all others.

    Second, there was talk of bringing on three new handsets, one of which was the N900, two of which weren't so I can't be bothered to remember their names. Do remember that T-Mobile is the only US carrier whose network the N900 is fully compatible with.

    Third, it was rumored that T-Mobile would very rapidly begin to upgrade their network to support data transfers as fast as 21 Mbps.

    As I said, the first "prong" of the rumor is true (they've flaunted Engadget's warnings). I haven't seen any confirmation of the N900 being officially branded by T-Mobile yet, in fact I've heard some people now claiming it won't happen. The device hasn't even been released yet, not until November, so hope is not lost for those who wanted a subsidized N900. The 21Mbps HDSPA rollout seems to be taken as fact by many reporters, and it's projected to start in early 2010.

    I wish T-Mobile would make an unlimited data only plan. I also wish I could find some info on what "unlimited' data means on T-Mobile. To Sprint it means 5 Gb/month. I've heard for T-Mobile in the past unlimited data means 10 GB/month. How are carriers allowed to blatantly lie like that? Unlimited means unlimited, no?

    Anyway, I tweeted a while ago (can't be bothered to find it) that T-Mobile better release an fairly-priced data plan with no contract that I could use with the N900. They did, so I guess I'm stuck, and I have to buy one now.

    By January of next year, I will be the proud owner of a Nokia N900, which I will be running on T-Mobile. Now to decide whether or not to keep my Sprint account as well...


    Monday, October 26, 2009

    Outbursts of Everett True

    Check this out:

    This comic strip is from 1906, and they all fall like that. Panel 1, somebody does something inconsiderate, panel 2, Everett True beats them up. There's a lot of them to read at Barnacle Press, a site I've just discovered and will be visiting a lot. Kind of reminds me of Milk and Cheese.




    Monday, October 19, 2009

    A few notes...

    A few notes all across the board.

    First, a while ago I read this interview with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. He expresses confusion that Google seems to be abandoning Android as a netbook OS in favor of Chrome OS. I was a little confused about that too, but Chrome OS does make more sense on a non-touch screen netbook than Android does. Also, the idea that an OS is really a browser is something Ubuntu needs to start thinking about. Windows 7's search-able start menu is arguably their best feature (yes, Vista had it too).

    On my honor, I was just thinking about this very thing, a watch that could connect to a smartphone via bluetooth. This prototype is for Blackberry only, it isn't available now but may be someday. With the very long range of Bluetooth 2.0 this is a really good idea.

    Verizon is blasting the iPhone in their new "Droid Can" ads in favor of the Android OS. Now it's rumored a 4G iPhone might pop up on Verizon. At least you're not burning any bridges...

    Android is getting the advantage in the cell phone market now. It's not locked to any hardware, so people can access the large app base with the form factor they most want. Even Maemo, which I think is better, only shows up on Nokia phones despite it's being open source. I was hoping the Nokia N900 would position itself against the iPhone the way Verizon is doing with the Droid ads, but Nokia might already be a lost cause. Their last quarter reports are pretty bad. With smartphones, at least.

    Android really is the techno-hydra. It's non-exclusive and I don't think Nokia can beat it in the US when their smartphone will only be fully compatible with one carrier. I mean really, the N900's success in the US seems to be dependent on how well T-Mobile's Project Dark goes. I don't know if I like that very much.

    I'm fine with using Android over Windows Mobile or the iPhone, but I really, really would like to see Nokia and Maemo get the success it deserves.


    Wednesday, October 14, 2009

    Just finished switching outliners...

    So I'm switching outliners, from the more recent and regularly updated The Guide to the ancient yet still very functional KeyNote.

    What is an outliner? Look at a file browser, like Windows Explorer. The left pane usually shows a tree view, where each folder can be expanded or minimized to show or hide all the subdirectories it contains. The right pane shows all the files in the directory selected in the tree view. An outliner uses this interface design with a text editor. In the left pane, instead of folders, traditionally has nodes. Each node has it's own body of text that shows up in the right pane when selected. Click here for a picture of "The Guide" that might help you understand it better. The nodes are hierarchical, you have parent and child nodes, and they can be maximized and minimized just like folders in a file browser.

    It might help to think of the left pane as collapsible a 'Table of Contents', and the right pane is the actual text the table points to. Outliners are very important, I think, because they're so adaptable. You can use them for addresses, recipes, brainstorming, note-taking, shopping and to do lists, anything really. Outliners are built to organize a lot of information and that makes them very useful.

    The Guide is the first Outliner I've ever used, and I've since tried many more while searching for a cross-platform replacement. The Guide is the best out of all I've tried (only free and open source, I didn't try any commercial ones). The only reason I'm switching programs is because I needed an outliner that would work in Windows and Linux. KeyNote is Windows only, as is The Guide, but The Guide doesn't work under Wine (Windows environment for Linux) and KeyNote does.

    KeyNote is very similar to The Guide, in fact I think The Guide is loosely based on it. The transition won't be hard, but the copying sure was. I just finished manually copying each node of my main file from The Guide to KeyNote. Probably 300 nodes. It wasn't fun.

    I'm doing a lot more graphic design and video work lately, and Inkscape and The Gimp seem to run faster on Linux. Not to mention Blender loves crashing when I try to use sound in the sequencer on Windows 7. So I'm using Linux for this work, and my outline has all my notes for it, so my outliner should run in Linux.

    Oddly enough, I only have 3 windows-only apps I regularly use: Exact Audio Copy (doesn't work in Wine), KeyNote, and a post-it notes app. I switch back and forth from Windows to Linux so much that it's something I pay attention to when looking for new programs. In Linux I tend to use abcde for ripping. I just started using this notes app and the concept has proven invaluable so I suppose I'll have to start looking for a cross-platform alternative for that, too.

    Other cross-platform outliners I looked at: JreePad--couldn't get it to run on one Windows 7 PC, although it would run on another. KeepNote would be my next choice after KeyNote, if it didn't hang every now and then, and...well, it's just not what I'm used to. If you could hide the trash can, that would reduce a lot of the clutter and I think I'd like it a lot more. Both decent programs though and I'll keep an eye on them in the future.

    But the cream of the crop really is The Guide. If you run Windows only, you should check it out.


    PS I was about to pass out sleeping while writing this, apologies for any and all spelling, grammar, and logistical errors.

    Notes on Uncharted 2

    Uncharted_2_thumbI beat Uncharted 2 yesterday, here are a few notes (mostly comparing/contrasting with the first Uncharted game):

    This game kicks ass. I was a little suspicious of some of the scenes I'd seen in trailers. Running on a train, for instance, while a helicopter is firing at you looked cool but I worried in the game it would be overwhelming and too difficult. For my money, they balanced it perfectly and it was great fun.

    Like the first game, the first levels have very little fighting and shooting while the story is set up. I was all set to mark this down as a bad thing, as I was itching to hit the ground running, but I've come around to their side on this. These games are cinematic and story-driven. The only other games to draw me into the story this well were the Max Payne games and then the Half Life games.

    A few differences between Uncharted 1 and Uncharted 2:

    The game focuses on wherever your reticle (crosshairs) are pointed. If you're snapped in behind a corner and the reticle is on the corner, everything past it will be blurry. It your reticle is on an enemy, he will be in the sharpest focus. At first I didn't like this, but you adjust quickly. It communicates to the player what is being focused on, and this system allows for very accurate grenade throwing. Grenades are much easier to use and a lot more of a help in this game.

    They moved the look/hint button from L2 to d-pad up. Pressing L2 now fires a grenade. This occasionally caused some embarrassing mistakes, but I'll get used to it. If you tap L2 it throws a grenade wherever your reticle is focused (see above paragraph). If you hold L2 it brings up an arc similar to the one in the first game, except instead of using the six-axis functionality (tilting the controller) you use the joystick to set the arc. You can also now set up the arc from cover, only breaking cover long enough to actually throw the grenade. Very cool. The only problem I had was in that you have to hit the triangle button to avoid throwing a grenade once you have an arc lined up. I would prefer that releasing L1 cancels the throw, and you'd have to hit R1 while L1 is still held to throw a grenade. It would prevent accidental throws in frantic situations.

    You can also now move while aiming from cover. Finally! This was a large annoyance in the first game. Of course, this could cause problems when going back to the first game, since the grenade controls are different and the cover is slightly different. I'd like to see a patch that makes the controls on the first game mirror those on the second, so I can replay them both with less confusion. Uncharted 1 doesn't have the focus functionality, so tapping L1 may not provide an accurate throw, but you could still have L1 bring up an aiming arc.

    The game seems to take a lot longer to launch, however like the first game there were no load times once you start playing that I remember. Unless you skip cut scenes, in which case you will be faced with some load times.

    No more Brutal Combos. I didn't fully appreciate the hand-to-hand combat in the first Uncharted until I started working for trophies, where I had to do certain moves so many times. That showed me how useful the different combos could be. Not being able to use the old combos is disheartening at first, but the new combat system is really cool. Simple, yet capable and engrossing. The stealth system is cool. And when rushed by an enemy, as would happen in the first game, you can now pull the guy over and take him down with hand-to-hand moves without completely leaving the safety of cover. Also, being able to push people off a moving train is satisfying to no end.

    All the improvements they have made keeps driving home the one they still need to make: they need a Mirror's Edge-style highlighting system for ledges and ropes you can jump to. Maybe only highlight ledges and things when in "Look" mode (up on the d-pad). I died so many times thinking I could jump somewhere I couldn't. I wasted so much time wandering around looking for a ledge when I was missing a rope dangling feet away. To their credit, a lot of times when you die looking for a way out they bring you back looking right where you need to go next, and that was a big help.

    Yes, as most reviews said the first bit in the Museum was a bit of a pain. I was at a loss as to what to do sometimes, but that was at maybe two points in that whole level, and it's over quickly.

    Doing something spontaneous and getting the "Marco Polo" achievement was a nice touch. Perhaps my favorite moment in the game. I wonder how many similar achievements exist?

    EDIT--Right after submitting this post I remembered another point I wanted to make. I remember seeing a video for the game Wet where a big deal is made out of being able to jump from car-to-car while shooting during a highway scene. This looked really cool, however when I played the demo this turned out to be more rigid--the car hopping was controlled by quicktime events. Uncharted 2 has a similar scene, except not ruled by quicktime-events. You do have to jump within a certain window but it's much cooler, because it doesn't use quicktime events, which generally suck (except in boss battles). So if the car surfing in Wet (which is cool in it's own right) didn't float your boat, there is a level in Uncharted 2 where you're jumping from truck to truck shooting people. Yeah, it's pretty cool.

    Also, no more jet-skis, which just became more and more annoying as I re-played the first game. To those that might miss it, just wait until you're on that train. ;) (winking smiley, we're friends now)

    I am really looking forward to the next Uncharted game. The controls and graphics are so nailed down I would actually be happy if they left it all as is and focused on releasing new stories and adventures built on this engine. Hopefully that could get us more games faster. On that note, one thing I like about PC games is the ease of releasing mods, total conversions and fan-created stories. Half Life 2 has a handful of mods that are as good as, possibly even better than the original itself (Minerva: Metastasis anyone?). It would be cool to see this kind of content show up for Uncharted, but I doubt that's possible. Naughty Dog, the game's developers, gave users a nice set of tools for machinima (making movies with video games) this time around. Maybe in the next installment they could create a platform for fan-created content, like Little Big Planet but actually fun to play. Sorry, I had to say it.


    PS-I really, really hope that Uncharted 3 is entitled "The Legend of Curly's Gold".

    Thursday, October 8, 2009

    Okay, a bit more on the N900.

    Holy crap I am really talking up the N900, a device that I've never seen and hasn't even been released yet. It's apparent I'm a Nokia fanboy, even though the only Nokia device is own is the N800. I thought I'd write a post that better explains why I like the idea of this phone so much.

    I currently own an HTC Touch Pro, my first smart phone ever. I was planning on buying a Titan for quite a while, but held off for various reasons. When I was finally ready to buy a new phone the Touch Pro just came out, so I bought that instead. I'm a pretty big gadget freak, but it's for legitimate reasons. Every time a new device comes out that can replace multiple devices in my pipeline, I take notice.

    I will admit, my excitement for new gadgets does sometimes blind me. When the Touch Pro 2 came out, I was all for it. I even did some odd jobs to earn extra money so I could buy it on it's release date. However, I had a few nagging doubts about the device, and they ultimately won out. For one, the Touch Pro 2 would have cost me way more than a PS3 and a handful of games. This is exactly how I looked at it, and I ended up buying a PS3 instead. Second, the first Touch Pro is a buggy little phone. It's capable but fussy. Sometimes it doesn't ring, sometimes it changes it's ringtone on it's own, sometimes it registers screen taps but refuses to open the app I selected. No, it's not slowly loading the app, it's just sitting there not doing anything.

    You can multitask on the Touch Pro, but it's a pain. Switching apps in Windows Mobile is troublesome and it can take a while. There's a lag just to pull down the menu to show you all your open apps, even if you're not running any. I've tried so many roms (different packaged configurations of Windows Mobile), both stock and optimized. Some are more stable than others, but they're ultimately putting lipstick on a pig. The Touch Pro really is a click-and-wait device. Click on something, wait for it to load. I realize it's got a dinky mobile processor, but sometimes I feel like even when I'm just making calls and sending text messages--the bare minimum--this phone is overextending itself.

    The Touch Pro 2 disappointed me. It's got a "2" in the title, it should be a big improvement over the first, right? Wrong. Same processing power, same battery life (although it has a larger battery, they put in a less efficient but equally powerful processor). The reviews came in glowing, saying that the specs are the same but everything is much snappier. Even some highly respected rom creators said this, but I remain skeptical. For one thing, Opera is pre-loaded in the memory, perpetually hogging space so it loads fast. But what if I want to use a different browser? Okay, I know, not likely but still an issue. I wish there would have been hardware improvements beyond the speakers. That's reason 1 for digging the N900. It's hardware is at the high end of what most smart phones are equipped with.

    Nokia has also put out a successor that disappointed me. The N810 was released with 1 SD slot instead of the N800's 2, a fixed camera instead of the N800's rotating one, and although it had a keyboard (unlike the N800) the top row of keys were too close to the screen, making them hard to use. Oh, and the d-pad was removed from the face of the device and placed on the keyboard, even though the screen was the same size and there could've been room for it. The N810 had a faster processor than the stock N800, but a firmware update for the N800 overclocked the device to match the N810, making them more or less equal. All things considered, the N800 is still the better device in my book.

    All right though, let's talk practicality. What could the N900 do for me that would replace all my other devices?

    Well, it's got a full 3.5" audio jack. When the iPhone came out I balked at the idea of using a phone as an mp3 player. I'm starting to come around to the idea. The N900 already comes with 32GB of storage, and a microSD expansion slot. I've heard that about 25 of that initial 32GB are free for non-system use. The largest microSD cards I've seen on the market are 16GB, so that means I could fit 41GB of music onto the N800. That's about 20GB too little, but I could take the essentials with me. Also worth mentioning, the N900 has a built-in FM transmitter, so out of the box it's ready to play over most car stereos.

    Web browsing. The N900 houses the Holy Grail of smartphone web browsing. Check out this quick video that briefly touches upon Maemo 5's web browser gestures. This is as good as mobile browsing is going to be for a while. I've checked out many hands-on videos of the N900 in action, and it really does seem to be as responsive in person as it is in their demos.

    The N900's got a bigger screen and higher resolution than the Touch Pro, and it's about 3/4" smaller than the N800's screen. The N800 is the last device I consistently used as an ebook reader. I tried it on the Touch Pro but it just wasn't convenient. Have I mentioned that the d-pad on the Touch Pro's face is hard to navigate with? Well it is. I'd have to look at the screen and controls to decide how well it would work, but I'm betting the N900 could serve me quite well as an ebook reader.

    Twitter. I use PocketTwit on my phone to check tweets, but I use it very rarely. I mostly use my PCs for Twitter, though the service itself is best suited to something light and portable like a phone. It's actually frustrating to check Twitter updates on a mobile phone, because the lack of proper Flash support make many linked videos and sites impossible to view. I know that full Flash is coming to all phones soon, but there's no way the Touch Pro, and by extension the Touch Pro 2, can smoothly handle in-browser youtube videos. Silly as it seems, Twitter is a big reason why I want the N900. Nokia's slogan is "Connecting People" and this is a prime example. It should be touted as the world's first twitter-phone, a phone capable of viewing anything people tweet.

    In fact, this phone could get closer than any other device to replacing my netbook. The only thing my eeePC 901 has over this device is it can play Max Payne 1 and 2 (and other games), I can watch movies off an external hard drive, and it has a larger keyboard. I haven't played any games on my netbook for years, and I watched any videos on it in months. Typing is a big one though. I can type faster on my netbook than I can on any other PC. I have some ideas for how a mobile device could get input that fast or even faster, but it would require a steep learning curve and then you have issues of new devices not adopting it years later. The idea of faster touch screen input may sound far-fetched, but hey, the world record for shorthand WPM is something like 4 times what is it for typing. Someday some genius will work out a faster touch screen input system. I'll be waiting.

    The N900 seems like a completely new kind of phone. It looks like a standard smart phone, but it really seems to be a portable desktop. It's specs are very similar to the iPod, all things considered they're probably neck-and-neck hardware-wise. Where the iPhone has set itself apart as an entertainment phone, the N900 is a phone for power-users. The iPhone has great games, multimedia, and apps, the N900 has a solid OS, built for multitasking and information connectivity. That's not to say they don't meet in the middle. The N900 is in itself a multimedia powerhouse and I'm sure will have some decent games, and the iPhone has plenty of web apps and an interface famous for speed and accuracy.

    I've said it before, I'll say it again. I hate it when people try to label things as "killers" of any Apple device. However, the N900 is the only phone I'm aware of that could go toe-to-toe with the iPhone. I'd wager that all Nokia would have to do is make a CDMA compatible model, then make the N900 equally available to all carriers. Slather that sick Maemo 5 video all over the airwaves, and then just try and clone as many iPhone apps as they can. They'd woo everyone who wants an iPhone that either can't or won't switch to AT&T. They'd woo all the Linux nerds disappointed with Android. They'd woo anyone that wants full access to the internet on a mobile phone.

    As it stands now, the N900 is a phone that only fully works in the US with T-Mobile, and it doesn't look like it'll be subsidized (to be fair it isn't released yet). Are they even going to try and push this phone in the US?

    It sucks for me to see how nice this phone is, how appropriate it is for my needs, and then to suddenly realize all the hurdles I'd have to leap in order to own and use it, the primary hurdles being cost of the phone and it's different network type than the one I'm on. I'm waiting with baited breath to see how this phone is made available and advertised once it's released.

    I really hope Nokia gets this together.


    PS-Hopefully I'll be able to shut up about this phone for a while now.

    Tuesday, October 6, 2009

    Micro Center


    This post started out as a digression in an earlier post. It got a little too long so I put it aside and decided to post it as it's own article:

    Micro Center is a very strange store. It's half tech paradise and half closeout store. Their clearance section has loosely stacked piles of nameless CDRs, keyboards, mice, etc. It's a little depressing. They have twenty or thirty different USB SD card readers, most of them dirt cheap, most of them from brands I've never heard of. I also think their employees make commissions, something else that's a little bothersome. One girl put a sticker with her name and ID number on a product she helped me pick out. She did help me out, but the countless other times I've gone there I'd been pestered without needing any help.

    In spite of that, I do like shopping there. Micro Center is the first chain store I've ever walked into that has, from soup to nuts, every single component you need to build a computer from scratch. Best Buy's starting to go in that direction, but they're nowhere near as comprehensive as Micro Center. One downside is that the pricing is very inconsistent. Sometimes they're way overpriced, sometimes they're cheaper than Amazon or Newegg. In store they also have that pesky habit of displaying the price in a large font, and in a much smaller font saying "price after mail-in rebate." I've been burned so many times with mail-in rebates it's now a reason for me not to buy something. Luckily you can check the prices and sales out online, and the online price (after I choose my store online) has always matched up with the in-store price.

    Micro Center was also the closest store to me that had eeePC 701s and 901s perpetually in stock, making them saviors when my 701 died and I had to buy a 901. Let me qualify what "closest store" means. Micro Center is 30 miles away. That makes driving there and back slightly cheaper than most online stores' next-day shipping, and I get whatever I've purchased immediately. If I can talk a friend into driving me, I get to play with whatever new toy I've bought on the way home.

    I wasn't even aware of Micro Center until a few years ago. I don't know how long it's been around, but it's gotten me to go back and start buying computer components in a brick-and-mortar store, something I never thought I'd do again. No, that's wrong, I'd never gotten anything more than a graphics card and a handful of hard drives from physical stores before MicroCenter. Everything else I'd purchased online. Micro Center has managed to work it's way into my comparison circle. I'm in the habit now of checking it's availability and prices alongside Newegg, Amazon, Tiger Direct, Provantage, and various other online retailers.

    I find it odd that such a store exists today, and that it actually competes with the online stores in price and selection. My guess is that it's kept afloat by a lot of sales from small businesses that either can't afford to or don't want to wait for replacement parts for their equipment. Every time I go I see dozens of men in suits, on their lunch breaks or something, with a monitor or a hard drive under their arms. It's odd that they should look so out of place there--what business nowadays doesn't have a computer? First, I think it's odd in general to see so many men in suits anywhere that isn't their place of business. I think the rest of the confusion lies with me because for the longest time, everyone I've known who works on computers has either dressed like a slacker or worn the IT uniform--Shirt, slacks, tie, no jacket. And usually glasses.

    I'm not surprised how much I love shopping in a store full of tech. If any huge nerds out there have only bought components online, it's worth checking out. Walking in the first time and looking around can actually be a little breathtaking.