More Googley Thoughts

I'm sitting here, right now, sending myself 7M of files on my Gmail account. Why? I left my thumbdrive at the office, I need to quickly port some files around, and I've got plenty of space available to do it. And it's got me thinking.

Sure, there are hacks out there to let you use your Gmail as a mounted disk in Windows, but they still have to save the files as email messages with attachments, and that's still a pain. Google needs to go ahead and start up some kind of Gdisk, letting you stash files online. Web interface, integration into Google Desktop and maybe a context menu option for Windows, and Samba/DAV support so you can mount it under Windows or Linux as a drive and use it that way. Give users direct access to their Google Docs & Spreadsheets, Picasa Web Albums, and Gmail attachments in subfolders. And, last but certainly not least, give each Google account a certain amount of space, and share that space between Gmail, D&S, and Picasa Web. It seems like that should be a relatively simple undertaking to me, but maybe I'm missing something.


Wii Sports (Wii)

Well, well, well. Look what we have here. I did Excite Truck, and failed to hit Wii Sports first. Wii Sports, that game which had me up for 6 hours after receiving my midnight Wii.

Wii Sports is a very simplistic party game, in which caricatures you create (Mii's) play, well, sports. You can play Tennis (by swinging the controller like a racket), Baseball (by swinging the controller like a bat), Bowling (by swinging the controller like you're throwing a bowling ball), Golf (by swinging the controller like a golf club), and Boxing (by swinging the controller and nunchuk like, well, fists.) If that sounds like a lot of swinging, well, it is.

The game also includes a Practice mode that offers 3 training modes for each of the 5 games, for a total of 15 training modes. Power Bowling is particularly entertaining, challenging you to see how many pins you can knock down with a single throw; each of 10 tries, a new row of pins is added, such that for your final toss, you're trying to knock down 91 pins at once. The practice modes have to be unlocked one by one, with only one mode for each sport available to begin with. However, no particular level of success is required to unlock the next mode - you need only play one mode once before going on to the next.

Last but not least, it includes Wii Fitness, which gives you a random sampling of 3 of the practice modes that you have unlocked, and uses your performance to judge your "Wii Fitness Age", on a scale of 20 (best) to 80 (worst). I'm 23. The first time I tried it I was 74 years old, the next time I was 78 years old, then 41 years old, and yesterday, 31 years old. I find it makes a big difference which events it gives you - I do particularly well at the tennis events, so when I get all 3 tennis events for my test, I do very well.

The games are decent single-player, and allow you to increase your score in each game by defeating AI opponents. You start with 0 score, and work your way up to 1000 (Pro) and beyond. The real fun in the title comes from multiplayer; it's a great party game, for players and observers. One of the nice touches is in hotseat games like bowling or golf, the controller chimes when it's your turn - so if you take your controller with you to get a drink, you won't miss anything.

The games themselves are a little hit-or-miss. Personally, I find Tennis and Bowling to be highly addictive, Baseball to be mediocre, and Boxing and Golf to be downright lousy. Boxing has control issues; the motion sensing just never works like you expect it to, giving you little control of your on-screen avatar's actions. Golf, well - I'm not a big golf fan to begin with, but the way they used the motion control just doesn't work well for me. Maybe a "real" golfing title will make better use of the motion detection.

Baseball is fine, but too simplistic; you can bat and you can pitch, and everything else is handled automatically, making it purely a game of motions. It's fine as a motion-challenge game, but it's really not baseball.

Tennis and bowling are both excellent, and they're both games you can really get into with a group of 2 to 4, or even more. A particularly great game for company that's new to the Wii, and you want to introduce them to it with something simple and straightforward, but still fun to play.


Excite Truck (Wii)

Excite Truck is one of Wii's big launch titles, one of several racers to hit shelves on launch day. The others are GT Pro Series, Need for Speed: Carbon, and Monster 4x4. GT Pro and NfS both strive for realism; Excite Truck and Monster both go for a more cartoony style.

Excite Truck throws realism right out the window, in fact, going for more of a Burnout-style high-flying, big-smashing, star-collecting racer. Like burnout, nearly everything you do earns you from one to five stars - drifts, air, tree runs (almost, but not quite, hitting trees), truck smashes (hitting your competitors), and so on. While you get a bonus for placing well in the race, what actually determines your success in single-player, or the winner in multi-player, is your star count.

The races take place in various fictional locations in various real countries. The single-player game is organized into 4 ranks (Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum), each with 4-5 races. Each race, your number of stars grants you a rating of D to S, D being worst, A being second best, and S being best. If you complete all races in a rank with a B or better, you gain access to the next rank. If you complete all races in all ranks with an S rating, you gain access to the "Super Excite" difficulty. At seemingly random intervals you gain new vehicles, and if you get enough wins or enough S ratings with a particular vehicle, you gain a new paint job for that vehicle.

There are 19 tracks and 10 trucks in total, all of them available for single- and multi-player. There is also a tutorial mode which does a good job of walking you through all of the various tricks you can perform in order to get the most stars possible.

The single-player game is fun, but brief. I would have liked to see more tracks, more ranks, and more vehicles. But, all in all, it's definitely a good racer if you liked the Burnout series and are looking for a first racer to try on the Wii platform. The controls are solid, as is the gameplay - the only thing really lacking is in depth and in multiplayer.

Multiplayer is limited to two human players. That's it. No CPU opponents, no 3 or 4 player races. Just you and one opponent, trying to get the most stars. If you win 1st place, you don't get the 50-star bonus you'd get in singleplayer; you get a 15-star bonus, plus one star per second until your opponent crosses the finish line. This can get very frustrating when racing a less-skilled player, because you'll find they win the majority of the time. I'm serious. You'll be racing through the whole level, hitting every jump and every ring, doing air spins like there's no tomorrow, you beat them soundly, there's even a scare at the end that they might be disqualified completely for being 30 seconds behind you. Then they cross the finish with 2 seconds to go, after recovering from the 90th crash into a tree, and - what's this? They've won.

Why? Well, if you examine the scores at the end, a beginning player will tend to get a lot of drifts, because they're overcompensating their steering. This leads into getting a lot of tree runs, because they're often flailing wildly off the track. Then, of course, they hit a tree - and every crash earns you another star. Some balancing of this system is sorely needed.

Multiplayer is still a blast, however, and I've played in groups of half a dozen all waiting patiently to play the winner. It's highly addictive, and it's a lot of fun. I'm not dissappointed at all by the title - I'm just anxiously awaiting an ET2 with more tracks, more trucks, a more balanced point system, and a drastically improved multiplayer - at the very least, 2-4 player multiplayer, with the game filling out the 6-racer lineup with CPU opponents. I don't even need online play, but it would certainly be a nice touch.

The game's soundtrack is a tiring generic rock lineup, reminiscent of the SNES' Rock 'n' Roll Racing (another great game, BTW, and one I hope to see on VC soon). Luckily, if you've got an SD card, you can fill it up with MP3s, pop it in the Wii, and replace the soundtrack with those. I'm really hoping more games add a similar feature, and wishing Nintendo would go ahead and add a Music Channel to the Wii allowing you to play music from an SD card, MP3 CD, or standard audio CD, with visualisations. Doesn't seem like too much to ask.

All in all, Excite Truck is a solid title, particularly for anyone looking for a Burnout-esque racer on Wii.


Wii, by Nintendo

Nintendo's latest console has finally arrived, and it's a doozy. It's low on horsepower, sparse on features, and desperately lacking in online capability. However, it's full of innovation, and the game lineup is solid.

When you first hook up the Wii, you've got the unit itself, the Sensor Bar, a power cable, and an RCA A/V cable. The sensor bar can be placed at the top or bottom of the screen, but must be level with the floor and centered horizontally to the TV screen. Useless trivia: the Sensor Bar is not a sensor, it is in fact the origin of the IR pulse. The sensor is in the Wii Remote, granting the device various rewards.

Then you've got the Wii Remote and Nunchuk. The Wii Remote is a heck of a gadget: motion and tilt sensing, bluetooth wireless, a speaker, an IR sensor, and a rumble pack. You can connect up to four at once for four-player action, and each one has a set of lights indicating which player it is. The nunchuk attaches to the Wii Remote via cable, and has its own motion and tilt sensor, an analog stick, and a couple of buttons (but sadly, no rumble.) Both devices fit comfortably in my (fairly large) hands, and have been just as comfortable to everyone I've handed them to. I'd also like to note that playing without your hands tied together is far more comfortable than any controller I've ever used, and a very welcome change.

The next wireless function is in the internet connection. When you start up the Wii, your settings panel allows you to set up the wireless connection to receive firmware updates, game updates, Mii's (more on them later), and to download content from the Wii Shopping Channel.

The settings also provide for switching between 480i and 480p, 4:3 and 16:9 widescreen, and Mono/Stereo/Surround sound, settings which affect all Wii games used with the unit. You can also set the sensor bar position (above or below the TV), and adjust the "Sensor Bar Sensitivity" - I put this in quotes because you are actually, of course, adjusting the sensitivity of the IR sensor in the Wii Remotes. This isn't like the sensitivity in your mouse settings - it's the raw IR sensitivity of the camera. You can reduce the sensitivity to try to eliminate the effects of high glare, or increase the sensitivity to account for a greater-than-normal playing distance.

The system also includes the Wii Message Board, which is a bit of a mixed bag. I was hoping for something vaguely resembling Xbox Live's Achievements to but fit in there somewhere, but alas. It's basically just a log of how much you play your games (sometimes an unwelcome one), and a way to leave messages for other users of that Wii. You can also send messages to other Wii units via the internet connection, though I have yet to get this to work.

Then there's the Mii channel. Herein you can make a vaguely anime-esque 3D caricature of yourself and others; you can also share these with other Wii users, and use them as avitars when playing Wii Sports and (theoretically) other, future games. While this is a neat feature, I'd like to see it expanded in future updates with more options and a wider range of customizability. You can also copy your Mii to your Wii Remote, take it to another unit, and use your Mii on that unit with that remote. An interesting feature, but only slightly, since only Wii Sports currently makes any use of Mii's.

Weather, News, and Web channels are in the works, but have not been released yet. Current announcements put all 3 being released by the end of January.

Speaking of things that haven't been released yet, let's talk about online for a moment. There isn't any. You can download old games and play them by virtual console, but there's no online multiplayer until next year, there's no games making use of WiiConnect24 (which lets the Wii stay connected to the internet even in standby mode) until Elebits comes out "during the launch window". I'm very disappointed. And it doesn't end there. The unit doesn't support DVD or CD playback either, though a revision has been announced for Japan only for 2007 to add DVD playback.

The graphics are... so-so. I've seen the 360 in hi-def, and while it's impressive, I'm not one to see games as being all about the visuals. I got the Wii for the controller, and I'm happy with the tradeoff. But be prepared, because the games aren't exactly gorgeous. Most fit their theme well, and games like Zelda: Twilight Princess are graphically impressive, just not on the scale of the 360 or PS3. So, if you're looking for grandiose graphics, move on; if you're looking for something new, I highly recommend the Nintendo Wii, for any one, any age, girls and boys alike. It's a great system for solo and even better for multiplayer (as long as you're all in the same room together.)

All in all, I'm very happy with mine.

My Wii Launch Experience

Let me start this flashback with a note on what happens after this tale: it was all completely worth it.

Friday, November 17th: myself, CJ and Amy all went to Wal-mart to see if they'd be offering a midnight launch. A notice posted in the electronics section confirmed a Wii launch at 12:01am on Sunday the 19th. They hadn't gotten many inquiries about it, and most of the employees didn't even know what Wii is. Good sign. We decide to start calling them on Saturday around 6pm, and actually go down there at 10pm to wait in line, just to be sure that everybody got one.

Saturday, November 18th: It's around 5pm, I'm walking my laundry down to my apartment complex' laundry room, and CJ passes by in his car. He's on his way to Wal-mart to check out the situation, because they aren't picking up the phone. At 5:30pm, I get a call saying there's already a line over a dozen people long, camped out in Wal-mart in folding chairs. Me and Amy pack up and leave, picking up Tim on our way in. We arrive at Wal-mart 15th, 16th and 17th in line for "about 20 units".

The line continues to grow, with at least half a dozen people coming every hour. There are laptops, portable DVD players, iPods, and DS's everywhere. We can't get an employee to give an official unit count. We passed the time chatting, playing cards, and roaming the store. Luckily they had a McD's in the store or we might've starved to death.

At 10:00pm, they finally gave us an official unit count: 21 units. Some of the nearly 30 people in line were very disappointed. By 11:00pm everybody had an official ticket marking their place in line, and were free to roam as long as everybody was back by midnight. At 12:01, the sales started; the only people that didn't buy Zelda with their unit were buying it as a gift or eBay fodder. Wii's are shipped in boxes of 3, games appear to be shipped in cases of 20 or 24. I was number 16 in line, and they were already out of controllers by the time I got up there; I still got my hands on a Wii, Zelda, Red Steel, and Excite Truck. The 21st person in line was told that there were only actually 20 units - odd, since a hard count showed 21 units, and they come in boxes of 3... I'm guessing one was a display unit, and they failed to deduct that unit during the hard count. Anyway, one customer was HIGHLY disappointed, and I can't blame them.

So, myself, Amy, CJ and Tim all left with Wii in hand. We returned to CJ's apartment (biggest TV), hooked it up, popped in Wii sports, and proceeded to play Wii Sports and Excite Truck for the next six hours. No kidding, I woke up the next morning with tennis elbow.

The next day I finally hooked up my own unit, updated it (a nearly 30 minute process, with as overloaded as the servers were on launch day), configured it, made a few Miis, and then picked up CJ to head to Best Buy. Before we get to that, I'd like to point out that the Wii interface is fantstic, really intuitive, and overall I was very impressed with the unit, before ever inserting a game disc. There are some disappointing qualities, and so far, almost all surround online functionalities. I'll get into more detail in a later posting - back to the tale.

At BB, I picked up a Wavebird, and several GCN games (they're all new to me, since I never had a GCN): Super Mario Strikers, Mario Kart Double Dash, Super Smash Bros. Melee, and Pikmin 2 and Animal Crossing for Amy. No spare controllers at BB either.

Went home, packed up, and made my way to Asheville for my own personal Wii Tour. In Asheville my mom got her hands on it for a few hours, and loved it - so far so good for the "all audiences" idea, although my mom is something of a gamer (her current addiction is Burnout Revenge, one of my old faves.) From Asheville we went on to Roanoke, VA to spend some time with Amy's family. Once again, the Wii was hooked up and passed around, with Amy's entire family getting in on the action. Everybody got hooked on Excite Truck up there, while my mom had preferred Wii Sports. We also found one store with Wiimotes in stock, so I picked up 3, plus a second Wavebird, a GCN memory card, and Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam. Me and Amy's brother rocked out on Tony Hawk, and Amy made her way through Animal Crossing and Pikmin whenever she could get the Wii to herself for a few minutes.

On the way back we stopped again in Asheville for some more Wii party action, before finally returning home Monday afternoon. We picked up our insane kittens (who haven't stopped crying and purring and snuggling since we got home), and hooked the Wii back up.

I purchased my Wii, with Zelda, around 12:30am on Sunday, 11/19. At 5:30pm on Monday, 11/27, I finally started Zelda. Sad, isn't it? I had only had a chance to play multiplayer games the entire week, and if I could play single player, I didn't have a long enough block of time to really sit down and dig into Zelda; and I knew I wouldn't be happy with starting it and having to stop before I had at least finished tutorial town. So, I finally get tLoZ:TP booted up, Link and Epona get suited up, and I commenced the jigglin.

If all the hours of play over the past week hadn't made the 7 hours in the middle of a Wal-mart while my laundry mildewed worthwhile, Zelda would have. It's beautiful, the controls are fantastic, and the story is as epic as ever. I'm only in the 2nd of 10 dungeons, but I can already say, this is a truly fantastic game. While I was gone, CJ got himself nearly to the end after over 40 hours of play, and is thoroughly impressed. I haven't even finished it yet, but I still can't wait for the next Wii RPG to come out - I think the platform poses HUGE potential for RPG fans in general, and JRPG fans (of which I am one) in particular. But, I guess only time will tell.

I now nearly have Excite Truck beat, and I'm halfway through Tony Hawk. Stay tuned for end-game reviews of all these titles and more.


So much to tell...

Wow. I've been out of town for a week, and there is much to tell. Saturday I arrived at my local 24-hour walmart at 6pm to wait in line for my Wii; the last people to recieve units arrived at 6:30pm. By 1:30am I was at home and playing Wii sports frantically with friends until past 6am. I also picked up Zelda TP, Red Steel, Excite Truck and Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam, as well as a handful of GameCube games (hey, I never had a GCN, so they're all new to me!)

Monday we left for Asheville, Tuesday we left Asheville for Roanoke for Thanksgiving, Saturday we returned to Asheville, and yesterday we finally arrived back home, safe and sound, Wii in tow. The holiday was dreadful, but the Wii is, in a word, awesome. I've said several times it's the coolest invention ever in video games, and I stand by that.

Stay tuned for my take on the Wii, Wii Sports, Zelda: Twilight Princess, Red Steel, Excite Truck, and Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam!


Brace yourselves...

Seriously. Brace yourself. Make sure you're seated comfortably and securely. Put down anything liable to spill. Steele yourself. You're about to witness the funniest thing on the entire Internet. Like so many things, it's funny because it's absolutely, horrifyingly real.

Ready? Are you sure? Okay... but don't say I didn't warn you.

Prepare to be Seasoned On Impact.


Amazon: Wii demand far outnumbers supply

I just received a letter from Amazon.com:

The Nintendo Wii will be available for purchase on Amazon.com on 11/19, Sunday morning (PST). We will be limiting purchases to one per household and we anticipate that we will sell through our inventory very quickly as we've received 100 times more Wii email sign-ups than consoles we'll have available for sale (i.e., for every Nintendo Wii we'll have for sale, over 100 people have signed up to be notified).

We expect to receive periodic shipments of the Wii from Nintendo throughout the holidays and we will post availability updates on the product detail page as well as in the customer discussions on the Nintendo Wii product page:


So, I guess with over a million units in the US at launch, that's still not nearly enough... I'm starting to wonder if I'll really be able to get my hands on one on Sunday. I'm keeping my fingers crossed!


Timothy McSweeny's Open Letters

Through the glory of Hyperlinks, a question about the FCC led me to Timothy McSweeny's archive of Open Letters to People or Entities Who Are Unlikely to Respond. These are downright hilarious, and well worth the time to read. To cherry-pick a few favorites:
But don't stop there... heck, read them all.

Sun Opens Java

Ars Technica is reporting that Sun has finally made good on their promise to open up Java for the masses. This is good news for everyone - in fact, the only one whose benefit stands in question would be Sun. While I'm confidant that they will turn this to their advantage, it certainly assuages fears that trouble for Sun might mean trouble for Java - realistic fears when Sun's financials look shakier and shakier with each passing quarter. Now, if Sun goes down, they won't take Java with them.

What's prevented Java being open-sourced before (according to Sun's PR department) wasn't an issue of profitability for Java products - after all, the JVM/JRE and JDK are free, and all of their paid products are not being open sourced - it was an issue of branching. Sun was afraid that if they opened up the Java source, we'd see forks which would eventually diverge, bringing about compatibility issues; it's bad enough having to make sure that a user has the JVM/JRE installed and that they have an adequately recent version, without having to worry about which JVM they're using out of an array of options which may not all support the same features.

Personally, I think that's a rather silly fear - they need to revamp Java's dependency handling anyway, so why not take the opportunity to do so now? Instead of an application saying "I need this version of the JDK or newer", say "I need to use this library, and this one, and this one" and make sure those are available. This resolves both the issue of determining what your minimum JRE requirement need be, and the issue of diverging forks supporting different featuresets.

All in all, as a Java developer, I can't see this as anything but a Good Thing(tm).


Freedom of the Press (to cover up information)

By way of Slashdot I discovered this post about Extremely odd behavior from the Washington Post re: the President's Rumsfeld lie. I highly recommend you take a look - the article is extremely extensive, so I won't go in depth on it here - just read the article.

"Learn to say 'I don't know.' If used when appropriate, it will be often."

Appropriately, About.com is running a toplist of Rummy quotes. There are some real gems in there, too:

"I don't know what the facts are but somebody's certainly going to sit down with him and find out what he knows that they may not know, and make sure he knows what they know that he may not know."

"I'm not into this detail stuff. I'm more concepty."

"Needless to say, the President is correct. Whatever it was he said."

"Death has a tendency to encourage a depressing view of war."

Oh, just go read them all.


Wii Spotting

Just got Best Buy's holiday mailer, and I was pleased to find Wii prominently placed within. More than prominently. Across two pages, you find the PS3, PSP, Wii, and DS Lite, all equally displayed. However, the previous two pages show a detail pic of Wii on one side, and a family playing Wii Sports on the other. Above the action shot, there's the text "We pledge to help you find the right games and system for any age." That's Wii alright!

US is a broadband laggard, according to FCC commissioner

Ars Technica just posted an article regarding broadband availability in the US. To quote the article:

It seems like everybody agrees on an essential point: access to "quality," reasonably priced broadband is crucial in this day and age. Unfortunately, we're not even close in the US. Yes, the nation's two largest telecoms are at this moment rolling out new fiber optic networks. Better yet, consumers in areas served by Verizon's new FiOS network are seeing the benefits of increased competition: some cable providers in those areas are bumping speeds up to 15Mbps/1.5Mbps. However, fiber deployments are slow and selective, leaving most Americans out in the cold.

We may be looking at a radically different landscape in five years, with WiMAX, BPL, cable, DSL, and municipal WiFi networks offering consumers a host of equally-good choices. That rosy outcome is by no means guaranteed—there's much that has to be done in the interim to make it a reality.

I couldn't agree more. Look at Japan: basic broadband is 24 - 40Mbps, and runs the equivalent of around $20 per month. Alternately, where FttC is available, customers can get 50 - 100Mbps, for $30 - $45 per month. Right now, I pay $65 per month for 6Mbps service through Comcast, including the 15 channels I'm required to sign up for. Technically, I don't have to sign up for those 15 channels; however, the price for service to those without any TV services goes up such that it ends up being about a dollar cheaper to add the TV stations - and besides, my girlfriend watches TV, so I suppose that's fine. Also, that 6M service can burst over 12M when I've got the network to myself; it can also go down for hours at a time when it rains, or slow down to sub-200k speeds during peak times. And it's $65 a month.

DSL in my area isn't exactly better; they just rolled out 6M service, and are moving toward 12M and eventually 24M (via two lines). However, that 6M service is not available without phone service; for 6M service and a phone line (which I won't use other than for DSL), the price comes to $65, before taxes, surcharges, fees, installation, equipment, and so on.

Basically, Americans sit around thinking we're the kings of the Interweb, but, lo and behold, we're barely even on the list. We're no higher than 15th place in terms of broadband penetration, and 21st place when you factor in cost, speed and availability. And to think, we pioneered this thing.

What's the big holdup? Well, Japan managed what they've accomplished through government sponsorship of their telco, NTT DoCoMo. NTT serves every Japanese person with telephone service; it is a regulated monopoly. NTT offers phone, broadband, wireless, and TV. They also have the advantage of shorter distances; DSL offers better speeds the closer you are to your CO, allowing the more densely-packed Japan to offer higher speeds to more people. It also means a fiber rollout requires fewer miles of fiber to be laid down.

America could accomplish the same thing, but it won't - it's just too socialist for us. We'd rather foster competition: some local municipalities are offering broadband wireless, and some power companies are starting to talk about maybe eventually rolling out broadband over power lines (BPL). Both of these are great options; however, the wireless technology just isn't there yet, and there are still spectrum hurdles to be overcome. BPL is a great prospect, with the capability of huge speeds at low cost; however, it's a long way off, and the cost to the consumer is entirely decided by the provider. If the broadband market hasn't changed much by the time these offerings arrive, the providers may see little incentive to end the price gouging - it's more profitable to join in.

The Revenge of the Updated Chronos Update

So, about a week after my successful mobo upgrade, CJ starts reporting narcolepsy in his bawx, which is still running my PSU. So, after all that, it turns out the issue was with the PSU to begin with. Figures.

So, I've got a shiny new Rosewill 600W modular PSU (120mm single fan) sitting next to me, which I will probably install this evening.

Aside from that, I'm trying to OC this thing a little bit, since my new board is a far better overclocker than my old Chaintech; things aren't going so smoothly, though. I'm currently at 225MHz FSB, 4x HT, 9x CPU, 1:1 DRAM, giving me 900MHz HT, 2GHz CPU (up from 1.8), and DDR-450. However, Prime95 now dies if I leave it running long enough. Theoretically I should easily be able to hit 2.2GHz with this chip, but if I step it up from 225 x9 to 230 x9, I get sporadic no-boot, no-POST, which I find perplexing. I'm not having any heat issues; it runs idle at 45C and load under 50C. I'm thinking it may be drive strength; I'm going to try bumping VCore to see what happens.

I've also upclocked my shiny new X1900 XT from the stock 600/720(1440) to 650/775(1550), which isn't bad at all, and actually gives a noticable performance bump - nothing huge, but not bad considering it doesn't cost a penny.

The ceiling on the CPU concerns me, though. I'm not planning on a CPU upgrade until I do a full system upgrade, certainly not before this time next year. So I'd like to get all I can out of the current unit. Hopefully another couple hundred mA will get me the clock I want without burning out the CPU.

Wish me luck...


Sleepless Nights in Neverwinter

Finally picked up Neverwinter Nights 2 yesterday. After much anticipation, ever-changing release dates, and stocking issues at Ye Olde Beste Buye, I finally brought home the (unfortunately) CD-ROM edition.

Initially I had some problems - after install, I could update and launch the toolset, but if I tried to launch the game, I'd get an Unable to authenticate disc error.

Atari's support site doesn't list NWN2, and in order to contact them, you first have to select your game - I sent them a message under NWN, but it told me that it'd be 7 - 10 days for a response. I double-checked the readme, and it says you can send your error logs to SecuROM; I sent them an email after business hours, and got a response the next afternoon. They recommended a DVD drive firmware update (the only thing I hadn't tried at that point), which has resolved the problem solidly. However, there are numorous people on the forums for whom even this did not resolve the issue - hopefully this gets fixed in a patch later.

All in all, it's a really nice game, with very good quality graphics. They're smoother than the graphics of Oblivion, but more cartoonish where Oblivion makes some vague stab at realism. All in all, it's a solid update to the original NWN. However, it's important to note that it's a complete rewrite, no code spared, so the entire UI has changed.

The UI more customizable than before, but feels a little clunky. The new targeting system has some bizarre qualities, and I found it confusing for a while that you can attack something without targeting it, and target an enemy while doing nothing to it. I also much preferred the old context ring menus from NWN1 to the new delayed-reaction drop-down menus of NWN2. I know, I know, more than half prefer the new blah blah blah.... how much more than half? If it's a small margin, you should sit down with your testers and come up with a way to improve the system, or you offer it as an option to players.

As far as gameplay goes, the engine is a solid representation of D&D 3.5, including prestige classes. Note that it stops at level 20; no epic classes yet, though I'd put money on epic levels coming out in an expansion pack, as they did in NWN1. Mounts are NOT present either; if I remember right, this was announced to come in an expansion pack, though I can't think of the source off the top of my head.

I haven't yet completed the original campaign, however, I will say some about it. The story is pretty good; however, as most western RPG's do, it goes for breadth rather than depth. You have total control over your character, the star of the show, and their actions and decisions; thus, they've spent more resources on increasing your options than they have on developing a deep and engrossing storyline. Take Oblivion as a more extreme example - nearly a "sandbox" game, it sacrifices depth of the main plotline to offer a greater array of options and side quests. Compare this to a Zelda or Final Fantasy title, where they provide you with a character, and a fairly limited set of options, but a much more in-depth and engrossing storyine.

As there aren't many NWN2 servers out there right now, I'm holding off on reviewing online features. Online play was my favorite part of NWN1, with the capability to create a complete world from scratch and run a persistent world being a significant draw for me. So I have high hopes for NWN2 in the same areas, but only time will tell.


Review: Eventum

Eventum is an open-source web-based issue management and tracking system from MySQL AB. It runs on PHP with a MySQL backend (of course), and offers a rich featureset and easy installation - in theory.

Eventum is a little bit picky about it's installation environment. Attempting to install Eventum on a default installation of Apache (with MySQL libraries installed) results in some bad luck. When you load the installer, you'll get a long list of files that Apache doesn't have the permission to write to. Then, it'll tell you you're missing the GD2 library, and that you need to turn on the deprecated allow_call_time_pass_reference in php.ini.

Under Windows, installing GD2 means uncommenting one line in php.ini. Under Linux, it means gathering libjpeg, libpng, and libttf, and gd2, compiling all of them, then reconfiguring and recompiling PHP itself. Easy for some, but hey, I'm not a comand-line ninja. That stuff takes me a while.

Once you've done your bowing and scraping, the installation is rather straightforward - fill in the fields, click the button, it installs itself, but doesn't log you in or tell you the default account - you have to go back to the INSTALL file to get the default admin account, and use this to create your own account and other accounts. Then you're ready to get started.

Initial Setup
Once you've got it installed, you have to create your project. This seems simple enough until you try to create a ticket, only to discover that new projects have no default priority codes or issue types - an odd choice.

The interface leaves much to be desired, even for a developer's tool. In terms of usability, it isn't very intuitive in general, and navigation can be complex and confusing. The entire interface could sorely use a severe overhaul - something I may take on if I decide to continue using it.

Eventum is very feature-rich, which is a bad thing in my situation. I chose it for its quick install, not for the features; I just need issue management, not timekeeping, which seems to play a large part in Eventum. I also don't need all the pie charts and graphs that made GD2 necessary in the first place.

As far as it's core featureset is concerned, it is an effective issue manager, though some features are clunky. For example, the notes on issues are difficult to get to; as a developer, I want to be able to open an issue and immediately see the note history so I can see where progress is being made and what the current status is, beyond the "implementation" status code.

It should really also open to the My Assignments page if you have assignments, rather than the Stats page. It also sorely needs a preference to let you change the default rows per page on the issue lists to something other than 5 (yes, the default is 5, and each row actually only takes up one line on the page. I'm not sure what they were thinking.)

I'm stuck with Eventum for the time being as I don't have time to find, install and migrate to an alternative. I chose Eventum as a quick-fix. Once I have time to apply to the issue of issue management, I may switch to another solution, or try to fix Eventum. I'll burn that bridge when I get to it - who knows, maybe it'll have grown on my by then. Or maybe I'll finally make that issue management system I keep putting off...


Review: FireFox 2.0

After the Great Chronos Crash of '06, I was forced to reinstall, well, everything. That's mostly a bad thing, but it did encourage me to upgrade everything I use to the latest and greatest, including Mozilla's FireFox browser (my browser of choice.) So, behold the silver lining to my grey cloud: my review of FireFox 2.0.

The first thing anyone notices about a new version of a program is , of course, the interface. FireFox 2.0 sports a somewhat updated interface, particularly in the toolbar and tab bar.

The new toolbar I'm really not happy with. I like the search suggestions that have been added to the search box; other than that, I hate what they've done with the toolbar. The addition of a Go button is fine for computer novices - which I am not, yet there is no option to remove the button to free up screen real estate. Likewise, there is an equivalent Search button added to the search box - again, fine for users who don't know about hitting enter, but I want an option to remove the thing, because I don't need, use, or want it. The updated icons are ugly, particularly the home icon. Using FireFox 1.5 I left the default skin in place; now I've switched to one of the freely-available custom skins (GrayModern2, if you're wondering). I'm sorry, brown is just a really unappealing colour for a toolbar button.

The new tab bar I do like; it integrates many of the features that I previously had to add myself using extensions, like the close box now available on every tab, and the use of fixed-width tabs. I would have liked to see a close box remain fixed at one side of the tab bar; I often find myself closing a series of tabs one after the other, so the ability to just click several times in one spot to close several tabs in a row is a big plus. It's now more obvious which tab is the active tab, which is nice. They've also added a tab menu button to the far-right side of the tab bar, which gives you a list of the currently open tabs; this feature is almost useful, but deeply hampered by the fact that you can't right-click items in this menu to get the context menu you'd get by right-clicking the tab (e.g., close tab, close other tabs, etc.). They have added Undo Close Tab to the context menu, thank god - a feature I use regularly, being one who often makes mistakes.

The preferences have been updated slightly; I noticed that they removed the option to change your screen resolution in DPI - a mixed bag, since it didn't work before, but such a feature would be extremely handy if it worked, since I run at high resolution with DPI turned up for improved readability.

The extensions and theme managers have been integrated into a single "add-ons" manager - not a big deal, but a positive change nonetheless.

New Features
The new version isn't particularly big on new features, but there are a few. The new search bar has support for search suggestions, such as those available on Google, which, I have to say, I didn't really like at first. However, after leaving it on for a couple of days, it's really started to grow on me as a handy time-saver. Plus, your search history shows up ahead of the suggestions, leaving that feature unencumbered by the new addition.

It also features a long-time wish of mine, inline spell check. That means you have a spell checker like that of a word processor when you're using web form fields (such as the one I'm entering this post into.) Not much to explain, but incredibly handy. It underlines misspelled words as you type, and you can right-click to auto-correct, add to dictionary, etc.

There's a new feed reader as well, but I'm not a big RSS user. I may just have to give RSS another try with the newer clients available (including FireFox's built-in options) and post a followup here.

They say it's more stable and performs better, but it's really hard to say, as it's always been really stable and performed really well. I will say that this version seems to be bogged down less by having multiple extensions installed than 1.5 did, but that may also be partly due to the fact that all the plugin developers had to release new versions for compatibility with 2.0, so they may have released some improvements of their own along with the update.

All in all, I'd say it's certainly worth the upgrade (especially being free), but nothing ground-breaking here. I'm looking forward to FireFox 3.0 which seems to have passed the Acid2 test in development builds. Finally!


Google - Make up your minds!

So, Google is on two separate and opposing rampages. On one hand, they're talking about halting new releases to improve quality and integration, and (as mentioned in a previous post), even cutting their product count by a full 20%. On the other hand, they're making acquisition after acquisition. It just doesn't add up - do they want more products, or less? Are they bulking up or slimming down? I'm a rabid technophile, I read more tech news than most people read "real" news. So, which is it, Big G?

Anyone who's read my blog knows I'm all for speculation, but this one has me stumped. I'd hate to see good in-house projects get dumped in favor of bringing in products from the outside - not so much because of the products themselves, but because of Google's merger habits. You see, when they bring out a new in-house product, it's, well, Googley. It's got the familiar Google UI, and it typically has some level of integration with existing Google products - at the very least, it shares Google's accounts system. But when they buy something up, well... how long have they had Blogger, and they're just now integrating accounts into it? And that's pretty much it. The UI is still the same dismal Blogger UI they've always had (and yes, I am using the "new" Blogger Beta), the Google logo is nowhere to be found, and integration is nearly non-existent. When they bought YouTube they stated they were keeping Google Video around, which indicates to me that they are planning on keeping the YouTube brand separate from Google for the foreseeable future.

With all their talk of wanting to scale down product count and focus on integration, they seem to be doing a lot of acquisition which works against both goals. It just doesn't add up.


Ahhhhh, Holidays.

It's that time of year again! Not quite time for decorations, presents, pies or turkeys, it's that special time that couples around the globe spend arguing over one thing: who's family gets which holiday.

I'm not a big holiday person. I celebrate three holidays a year: my birthday (who doesn't love getting presents?), halloween (which I missed out on this year), and new years (a time of new beginnings, punctuated with alcohol and fireworks.) My mom isn't big on holidays either, but wants to see us at some point in the winter months, so a few weeks ago I told my girlfriend she could pick who gets Thanksgiving and who gets Christmas. She chose Thanksgiving with her dad and Christmas with my mom. In the intervening time, people have made plans and time off requests and so on, making the matter rather set in stone.

To muddy matters more, it turns out my dad may be in Asheville (where my mom lives - my dad lives in Texas) for Christmas as well, making it a two-parents-with-one-stone kind of thing. On top of that, my girlfriend's dad's anniversary is on New Years. Plus, her family traditionally celebrates xmas on New Year's because they often can't get together for xmas.

Now, I don't know about the rest of you, but I see anniversaries as something of a private deal, a couple celebrating their coupledom, typically with flowers, jewelery, fancy meals and lots of sex - things you really don't usually share with others, particularly your kids and their partners. So, being invited to my girlfriend's dad's wedding anniversary is a little bit, well, creepy. That aside, the xmas-for-New Year's thing makes sense in a way, but seems a little unfair - I don't try to celebrate thanksgiving on valentine's day with my parents just because we didn't spend thanksgiving together. And before you knock the comparison, you should know that I see New Year's as a romantic holiday - start the year together, end the year together kind of thing.

New Year's gives you a chance to close the book on all the ills of the year past, and set the stage for all the good in the year to come. I think partying, drinking, romancing, and, of course, fireworks, do this quite well; creepiness and making up for lost time do not. Besides, Atlanta has far more impressive fireworks displays than does Roanoke, or Asheville.

Of course, it doesn't help that her whole family hates me - I'm far too liberal and godless for their tastes. One holiday a year is bad enough, especially since it's the longest holiday of the year. I'm not giving up one of the holidays I actually like.


Bush Moves Toward Martial Law

An article on Toward Freedom details a bill signed into law recently by President Bush which removes restrictions on his ability to declare martial law within the United States. It leaves me wondering what's left. I've seen laws rewritten, removed, bent, and broken - eminent domain, habeas corpus, and now martial law; I've seen rights and privileges eroded - education, health care; I've seen treaties ignored - the Geneva conventions, which we signed, and the Kyoto treaty, which we did not; I've seen our government trick and corrupt the United Kingdom and the United Nations. Even if we manage to oust the Republicans from office, I'm beginning to wonder if it won't already be too late by the time we have the chance - in two years, will we have any rights left? How many enemies will we have by then? I worry too that we may face a time very soon when our greatest fear is no longer international terrorism, but terrorism from within; the terrorism peddled by the White House, the Senate, and the House; terrorism peddled by MSNBC and FOX News; terrorism so insidious we don't even realize it's already happening, and it's already having a deeper impact than any bomb ever could.

My girlfriend recently flew to Los Angeles on a business trip. On this trip, they searched her bags, and found some prescriptions (in her name, of course), and some makeup (under 3 oz). They wanted to take the medications until she called in a manager to verify that the GIANT SIGN in the terminal was correct, that she was in fact allowed to keep her prescriptions. But the original security examiner, upset that he had to call his manager, and upset at having been proven wrong, instead confiscated the makeup, which he had been ready to let her take aboard. Purely vindictive.

I will say this: they have, more or less, the right idea: it isn't the Al-Kamirs we need to worry about, it's the Smiths. It's not furriners, it's 'mercans. But what they have wrong is that terror isn't in your makeup or your meds, it's not even in your luggage: it's in your mind. When we carry ideas around the country - wrong-headed, mob-mentality, un-thought-out, angry, fearful ideas, we land with a bomb in our heads, a bomb that goes of slowly, over hours and days and weeks, a biological weapon that infects everyone we talk to and everyone we judge and everyone we persecute, a weapon more powerful than a nuclear bomb, a weapon sneakier than a stealth bomber, a weapon more accurate than a laser-guided missile.

Ideas are the most powerful weapon of all - and the most powerful medicine, the most powerful defense, the most powerful single thing in the world. So many of our ideas today are dangerous, they're weapons of terror inflicted upon ourselves and each other every minute of every day. But just as these ideas have been given to us to use on one another, so too can ideas be passed around which save us from the terror, ideas which mend the wounds of propaganda, ideas that can save the country and save the world.

So please, please, I beg you - have a good idea. Do it today. Do it now. And when you've got it, share it with everyone you know and everyone you see.

It's the only thing that can save us now.


Why I hate iTunes, but use it anyway

Let me preface this post by saying I'm not an Apple-hater. In fact, I was once an Apple-lover, a die-hard Mac-user. I had an Apple //c when I was 5, a Mac SE when I was 9, a Quadra 605 when I was 13, and a PowerMac G3 (blue & white) when I was 16. The first time I had used a Windows PC was when I got a job doing tech support for an ISP, so I had to learn Windows both for use as my workstation and for troubleshooting calls. My first Windows PC I built myself when I was 19.

Then MacOS X came out, and I sold my Macs and went straight-PC. I hate MacOS X. I know a lot of people love it, but, well, I disagree. It's worse than Windows, by a significant margin. But, enough ragging on OSX. I'm here to rag on iTunes.

You see, when I got this nice new job here in ATL and started making decent money, I went out, and I bought me an iPod. Loved the thing. They're just awesome. Small, lightweight, brilliant interface, good audio quality, good physical quality. Overpriced, but hey. I had a new job.

Some time later, a friend bought me a new iPod Video as a gift, and I gave the old iPod mini away to a friend. I love the new iPod even more than the old one. I even put an iPod adapter in my car so I can hook the iPod directly to the stereo - works great, I can control the iPod from the head unit, and it displays track info on the head unit's display. Awesome. Love it.

Basically, iPods are the shit.

The problem, however, is in the software. You see, iTunes is godawful. Dreadful. Ghastly. Really, really bad.

It doesn't work with multiple users. AT ALL. It gives each person a seperate library; purchases from ITMS don't show up for both users, and neither do playlists; if one person has iTunes open, the other can't open it or control the other instance, and if you switch to another user from the user that's running iTunes while it's playing, the audio goes all choppy until you force-quit the app. The application is a resource-hog. The interface is awful.

I like the iTunes Store - it's usually cheaper than buying CD's, and I can make purchases from the comfort of my livingroom and immediately put them on my iPod without having to rip CD's. I do feel a little gipped on quality settings, and I feel thoroughly gipped by the DRM. You see, I'd happily buy tracks off of ITS all day long, if I could play the damned things in, oh, say, WinAmp. I would buy Apple's hardware, I would buy Apple's content - the only part I don't want is the part they don't make a penny off of, their free software. But can you remove that piece of the equation? Well, sort of.

You see, you can burn and re-rip your ITMS tracks to get plain MP3s, it's just a pain to do so. After that, you can play them in any player you want - but you still need iTunes to update your iPod's library. Of course, you could re-flash the iPod BIOS in order to use a different app to manage it, but then you lose all accessory functionality - e.g., my car-stereo hookup. So, it's a no-win situation.

Why not switch to another MP3 player, and another online store? Well, all the online stores have DRM issues, and most of them use WMA, which I hate even more than AAC. On top of that, because Apple dominates the player market, they own the accessory market too - a good 90% of accessories are only available for the iPod, or if they work with other players, feature very limited support (i.e., audio only, no support for controlling the iPod via the device or gathering track info from the iPod for display on the device.)

So, I suppose at this point I'm suck with iTunes. But, Apple, you've got a choice: either get iTunes into shape, open up access to ITS and iPod to other software, or expect to lose a good hunk of market share as soon as decent alternatives become available. Because I'm already more than ready to jump ship as soon as a decent alternative appears.

Google’s Internal Company Goals

As mentioned on Slashdot, Google Blogoscoped posted an article about Google's internal goals, and it's actually really interesting. It mentions some upcoming projects like a revamped Google News, Gmail 2.0, Google Archive Search, and "Another interesting feature foreshadowed in the Google papers was to grab relevant locations & dates from web pages allowing users to 'view results on a timeline of map.'" I'm not entirely sure what the last one might look like, but it certainly sounds interesting.

What interested me the most about this post, however, was the note that Google intends to "Count total number of Google products and reduce by 20%." When I first read this, I found it somewhat worrisome - I use a lot of Google products, and I'd hate to see a much-loved product hit the chopping block.

But I don't think that's going to happen - not that I don't think they'll reduce the product count by 20%, but that I don't think that means many products will disappear. There are basically 3 ways they could remove a product from their product count:
  1. The obvious: dump the product entirely. I'm sure this will happen to some products.
  2. The unlikely: sell off products. I doubt if this will happen to any Google products; if they see fit to keep it online, they'll keep it in-house as well.
  3. The sneaky: combine disparate products into a cohesive whole. E.g., Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools might become a single, combined entity.
Since they've already stated that they want to tighten up integration between their various products, I see #3 as being a highly viable option for them to use to reduce product count; it lets them kill two birds with one stone without actually having to "kill" a product.

At least, I hope they pick #3 if they're looking at slimming down one of the many Google products I use on a daily basis.


Chronos Update Updated

Okay. Chronos is back up and running stable and solid. I ran Prime95 for about 3 hours with no problems, CPU steady at 44 degrees. Ran BF2 for about an hour, again no problems. So I'm hopeful that it might actually be finally fixed. By this time tomorrow, well, I'll be moderately certain that it's fixed. At this point I'm just hedging my bets. I might call it fully fixed if it's still stable this time next week.

Chronos Update

It was all going so well. Quake 4, 1280x1024, maxed out, smooth as silk. Battlefield 2, 1600x1200, maxed out, smooth as silk. I played Q4 for about an hour with no stability problems. I played Battlefield 2 for about 15 mintues, and Chronos turned off. Again. Only this time, it wouldn't turn back on.

So I pop the case, unplug everything but the CPU, HSF and mobo power connector. Still no boot. I haul the POS to CJ's place. No boot. Swap PSU's. Boots. Swap back to my PSU. Boots. Boggle. Swap back to CJ's PSU, and CJ takes mine in his bawx. His bawx boots fine. Runs stably. I take his PSU. Still boots. Haul it back to my appartment. Tired, went straight to bed. Got up. Hooked up Chronos. Won't boot. Unplug, replug. Boots. BIOS. I hear the screen res flipping as if it's about to load up windows. I get hopeful. I've got a steady HDD light. Good... good... good... screen remains black, HDD light remains on. 5 minutes. 10 minutes. No sign of progress. Solid HDD, blank screen, but the screen isn't in sleep mode - it's just blank.

So, Chronos is back in critical condition, YET AGAIN. I feel more and more an idiot every day.

Also, I've cancelled our trip to Asheville this weekend. I'm just not up to it. My girlfriend is sick, my cat is sick, my PC is sick, my project (at work) is sick (buggy, and I'm not sure what's wrong with it), my appartment is a wreck. I have no costume.


Chronos Reborn

Chronos is back with the living, for the most part. I'm having some drive lettering problems, and I've yet to really reinstall everything, but it's booting and I'm using it to post this right now. Photos to come later.

Update: turns out it requires an act of Congress to reletter your system drive, so I get to reinstall again. But I have an upgrade copy of Windows, and the Win98 disk with which to authorize it is at CJ's house, and CJ is at work. So... Chronos is back in critical condition until such time as I can reinstall windows AGAIN. YAY!


New Parts Arrived

My new parts arrived (mobo, GPU and thermal grease) about an hour ago. I've taken photos but can't import them via the laptop (no Picasa), so I'll post photos once Chronos is back up and running. Not sure when that will be, however, because I can't get the farking HSF off the motherboard. It's an Athlon64, with your standard 3-stage retention clip. I've released the tension lever, I was able to unhook the clip opposite the lever using a screwdriver, but I can't for the life of me get the last clip (the one on the same side as the tension lever) off. It's starting to piss me off. However, the knowledge that lovely new parts are just waiting to be installed is keeping me in a fairly good mood.

I've been messing with the HSF for the last half hour or so, so I'm giving up on it for the moment. I've got some quick work to do, then off to Best Buy to pick up a legal (gasp) copy of Windows XP, and something with which to break in my new GPU (Neverwinter Nights 2 if they've got it, possibly Battlefield 2142 if they don't, but the whole spyware thing has turned me off of that title - maybe I'll find something else to toy with.)

More news here when it happens.


Why won't MS make a handheld?

Microsoft has sternly declined to enter the handheld gaming market, and insists it isn't changing it's mind any time soon. And that may be true... for the Xbox division. But with MS smartphones doubling in number every year, with better mobile processors, higher-bandwidth cellular, and wider-range WAN technology coming out all the time, I see them pouncing on the handheld market like a starving hyena in 2-3 years.

They're already hinting at integration between smartphones and Xbox Live, allowing cross-communication with buddies who are online on Live, and possible viewing of stats and "downloadable game content". This is where it starts - the day Xbox Live Mobile debuts is the day Sony and Nintendo had better tighten their grips on the handheld market.

They start by offering Xbox Live Mobile services for cellphones and smartphones. This starts with communication link-ups, stats viewing, maybe trailer downloads. They start offering downloadable games you can buy with points from your existing account. Then mobile games start featuring Achievements which affect your Live Gamerscore. Players start seeing games that offer interaction between the version for their Xbox and the version for their phone.

Then, that's when the unthinkable happens: Microsoft releases a new hardware unit, seeking the same glory Ngage failed to achieve, an all-in-one cell phone/smartphone/handheld gaming console. Actually, I'd bet good money it'll be an MP3 player, too - and probably a camera (maybe an option, like the regular and deluxe 360 packages?). I see games being purchased solely through direct-download - possibly a retail push with a flash-based format, like the SD-based Nintendo DS.

Personally, I still love my GameBoy Advance SP, and I've not yet been impressed enough with the Xbox 360 or the PSP to buy one. But, given a handheld offering from MS, I might have to give it a spin.

Parts on the way...

ASUS A8R32-MVP Deluxe ATi CrossFire 3200 mobo
ATi Radeon X1900 XT 256M PCIe GPU

Rush + next day, so hopefully it'll arrive tomorrow. NewEgg to the rescue!

PC Problems (Pt 3)

Okay, went over to CJ's, swapped PSU, it still dies. Swapped RAM. Still dies. Found out one of the cables was interfering with the front case fan - shouldn't be a big deal, particularly since the entire front of my case is a vent, and even more so because the side panel was off the whole time I was testing it at CJ's. Unhooked unnecessary devices. Still dies. All fans are operating properly, nothing feels hot (CPU, GPU, southbridge, or drives).

So, tomorrow I'll be buying a new motherboard, and if that doesn't resolve the issue, I'll be sorely pissed off. But for now, it's half past two in the morning, so I'm going to bed.


I've failed at Halloween...

I've failed. Halloween is coming up - in fact, I'm going to a party each on Friday and Saturday. And what am I going to be this year?

I have no freaking clue.

Hey Larry and Sergei!

I hope somebody's listening, because Google has some glaring gaps in their coverage.

First and foremost in my mind, they need a download service, something like C|Net's Download.com. I'm shocked that this has yet to happen. It's got to happen sooner or later. I just hope it's sooner.

They need to add Google Docs & Spreadsheets to Google Apps for Your Domain. I've got Apps FYD, and while it works well, it's, well, it's not much - it's Gmail, Gtalk and a WYSIWYG page editor. That's it. I expect more from them out of an offering like this. I also thoroughly expect this to come out in an appliance like the GSA. I think such a product would do really well.

For some reason Hello is still a seperate program from Gtalk. They've got to fix that. Scrap it and integrate Picassa into Gtalk to send images that way.

They've got to have a truly wicked project and source management system - any chance we might see this opened up for use by open-source projects? They could probably knock the wind out of Sourceforge. Sourceforge is a good site, but it's not the best user experience in the world.

They're now vaguely tracking music listening habits via Gtalk to Google Trends. This is silly. Especially since they have a video property and no music property. They need to get off their asses and snap up Last.fm, or just fork the project (it's open-source, after all). Build the Scrobbler into Gtalk and/or GDS, merge the Last.fm database into Trends, and combine your Last.fm profile with your Google profile. I know they don't typically take on competitors head-on, but this gives them a handy way to take the scenic route to a fight with iTunes, and in a good way - in a way that would let Google truly ambush Apple, particularly if Google is able to swing a deal offering DRM-free content that could be put on any player, not just specific players. I'm not naive enough to expect Google to go into commodity hardware sales.

If they're going to push the whole Sitemaps thing, they should have Blogger and Google Page Creator automatically generate Sitemaps and automatically submit them to Google. Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics should both be tied directly into the admin panel for Apps FYD. AdSense and AdWords can be tied into it too for those using AdSense and/or AdWords with their GAFYD site.

I'm amazed we haven't seen an official virtual disk service from Big G yet. Many people are using what's now nearing 3G of space on a Gmail account as disk space, and various tools have been created to facilitate such use. But wouldn't it be better if they just made something for that purpose? Tie the client into GDS? Use it for storage, file sharing, backups, transfering files between work and home... Oh, the possibilities.

And, last but not least, I have to gripe about the quality of Google Page Creator. It's lousy. It's buggy, and it doesn't give you nearly enough flexibility to make a decent site. And on top of it all, it's deathly slow during pretty much all operations. I'm hoping they improve it fast, otherwise I'm going to have to ditch it.


Prosper: P2P Loan Agency/Network


"The online marketplace for people-to-people lending"

Very interesting. I kind of like the idea - it's somewhat like the stock market (well, more like the bond market), only with real, genuine, honest-to-goodness people. My only concern is over Prosperity's trustworthyness in terms of their fees and their criteria for borrowers. It looks like a good system, though; I may just try it as a lender to see how it goes. Or maybe I'll take out a loan to fix up my ailing PC.

PC Problems (Continued)

Still can't figure out what's wrong with Chronos, and it's starting to piss me off. I've found a reliable way to generate a crash: if I load up Rome: Total War, it will crash. Sometimes it dies before it goes fullscreen, sometimes it dies while loading, sometimes I get all the way to the main menu and I'm able to select "Continue Campaign" before it tanks. I tried clocking my 1.8GHz Athlon 64 3000+ down to 1.2GHz (CPU multi from 9x to 6x), and it's still tanking. I also turned my auto-shutdown temp from 60C to 65C with no luck. I doubt it's a heat issue at this point. Last night I cleaned the case out and made a brief visual inspection of all components, and everything looks good.

A couple of times it's died before it even posts, which is particularly alarming. I'm going to try to borrow somebody's (probably CJ's) PSU for a little while to see if that resolves it; if that doesn't fix the problem, I'll probably replace the mobo and go from there. I'd just hate to buy a new mobo to fit my last-gen CPU, only to find out I need to replace the CPU - if I have to replace both, I'd rather move up to current generation (AM2 or Core 2).

Blah. This r suX0rz.


That's right boys and girls, it's time to talk about Wii. I'll start by saying this: I want one. I'll be standing in line somewhere on launch day to buy one. I think the controller is brilliant, the virtual console is awesome, and they've got a lot of really interesting and innovative titles coming out for the system. Plus, the system and games are cheap, and the online service is free.

My only real gripe is with the online service, which won't be featuring online multiplayer until next year, and games released between now and then won't gain the feature after online muliplayer launches. I'm really dissappointed about this, and was hoping for more out of Nintendo this time around.

Launch day I'm looking at Excite Truck, Zelda (of course), and Red Steel. I'm really excited to see what an FPS feels like with the Wiimote. I've always loved FPS games on the PC and hated them on consoles, because of the unintuitiveness of dual analog sticks. I think this will be a breath of fresh air.

As for Zelda, well, I haven't really gotten into a Zelda game since Link to the Past on SNES, but with all the hype being poured onto this title, I've got to see what's what. I'll give Link another chance. Besides, this is the first time a system has launched with a Zelda title - they're putting a lot of stock in the game as a showcase for the system, which means they've done their very best with it.

Excite Truck, well... I'm a Burnout Revenge addict (PS2 & 360), and Excite Truck looks like it bears enough similarity to be worth buying on that merit alone. Plus, I'm looking forward to seeing how the controls feel for a racing game on Wii.

I'm also looking at Elebits and/or Trauma Center for my girlfriend, and we're both desperately hoping they come out with a Katamari sequel for Wii.

In the meantime, I'm waiting for NWN2 to finally be released so I can occupy myself with that until I've got my hands on Nintendo's lovely new little white box.

Internet Perspective

So, okay. I've started blogs before, and they tend not to last me long. I get distracted, I get disheartened from lack of readership, or I just plain get bored with it. I'm trying to stick to it this time. Why? It's a Web 2.0 thing.

Web 2.0 is a term that's been flying around the industry for the past couple of years, and nobody is quite sure what it means. There are countless definitions, and countless "experts" willing to point out what qualifies and what does not. There are two main Web 2.0 camps, it seems, and we'll call them types A and B. A says it's the tranformation from web pages to web applications, including all the AJAX and SOAP and web services goodness that's so popular right now. B says it's the transformation from a top-down content-buffet where one group posts content and the other (majority) group consumes it, into a bottom-up collaborative user-content-driven system where everybody posts content for everybody else to consume.

Now, I think that both are very interesting points in the evolution of the internet, however, it is coincidental that they happened around the same time. Neither requires the other; they're no more related to eachother than a car is related to where it's going. The only reason they've been given the same name is because they're happening at the same time; this does not, mind you, make them the same thing.

As a developer, I've done quite a bit of work with the Type A definition. It's cool and you can do some really neat stuff with it, but it's much more evolution than revolution. Type B, on the other hand - well, the jury's still out on its revolutionary qualities, but I will say that it represents a much more fundamental shift in the internet, and in our world as a whole.

Where once we were fed the opinions of the rich, famous, and overqualified, we are now all engaging in millions of gigantic conversations between the average, mundane, and underqualified. Blogs were just the beginning; behold Wikis and social networking sites and YouTube and Flickr. These sites are about mass-publishing, not just mass-media. They're about everyone making their voices heard. They're about participation.

And that's why I'm trying the blog thing again. Participation. As steeped as I am in technology and the internet, as much time as I spend browsing the internet and as much time as I spend building the sites that make up the internet, I'm not a very good participant. You can browse the web, or you can join in. Well, damn it, I'm joining in.

I'm still undecided on my level of Internet intimacy. Some people are more than happy to post every intimate detail about their lives and their thoughts and their feelings for all the world to see and comment on, like their own personal reality TV show. I'm not that much of an extrovert; I have a lot of ideas, some of which I want to share with the public, and some of which are my own. I suppose that's a line each person must draw for themselves.

So, feel free to examine my music listening habits, or my personal photos, but don't expect all to be laid bare.


PC Problems, Ho!

I've got a DIY box (Chronos III) I built almost a year ago. Athlon 64 3000+ (1.8GHz), ATI Radeon X800XL PCIe, 2GB DDR-400, and a total of 460G of HD space across three drives.

Over the last couple of weeks, it's been turning off. No warning, no errors, no memdumps, nothing in the system log. It happens in the middle of the night when the machine is idle, it happens while you're using it under low CPU load, it happens under high CPU load. It's like a narcoleptic - you're having a conversation, and suddenly *off*. So that's fun.

I'm trying to work out the problem; MemTest86 completed 2 passes with no errors. I recently added a USB hub, so I unplugged that - still happens. The PSU is good quality, but there are always bad apples in the bunch, so it's always a possibility. It could be a heat issue as well, though at this point I doubt it.

Anyway, I just hope I've got this resolved by the time I've got NWN2 on this box; that game will probably have me doing one last upgrade (to an X1950 Pro, when they hit shelves) before Wii comes out, at which point I doubt I'll have much left to spend on my PC.

If anybody has any suggestions, post a comment...


Getting Google-Eyed

Okay, I'm a regular reader of Ars Technica, which is a regular poster of Google news. Every time Google makes some nifty new toy, Ars posts about it.

So, when I look at the tiny toolbar in the top-left corner of my Gmail and Google Calendar pages and notice two new links, I'm intrigued. So, what do I do? I sign up for both Google Docs & Spreadsheets, and Picasa Web Albums.

I started with Docs & Spreadsheets, and I'd have to describe it as "not bad". It's still in beta (isn't everything?), and it shows. There are serious inconsistencies with the interface, and I experienced one point when the application said my connection had been lost, and along with it, my changes - oddly, I didn't actually lose any changes, but regardless, that's not a good sign. I wouldn't use it for anything work-related honestly, but I will say it makes a decent home word processor and spreadsheet suite. I like the collaboration and sharing tools; they're simple but effective. Revision control is a very nice feature as well; being a developer and used to using revision control when programming, I'm glad to see it catching on in other areas.

I uploaded some files by email, both in the body of the email (which works very smoothly, but takes a while to process), and as attachments (takes an extremely long time to process, and I ran into some problems, which I was able to resolve by searching the Google Group dedicated to the application.) I also tried editing and creating new documents through the web interface. I uploaded spreadsheets and text documents by email and by upload form, and created a new one of each via the web interface. Everything worked well, but there are some inconsistencies between the two applications (such as the way documents are renamed), and the interface for Spreadsheets can be irritating, as you have to switch between tabs to switch between formatting and data entry/formula editing. I don't know how many spreadsheet functions it supports, but probably not many - this might present some difficulties when importing more complex spreadsheets, so I wouldn't recommend it.

On the whole, however, it is an application I will continue to use for my personal use going forward, and for some documents I need to collaborate on for work purposes, that aren't mission-critical or highly confidential.

On to Picasa Web Albums. This works extremely well. There are a couple of minor bugs with the (again, beta) Picassa 2 software with the Web Albums upgrade. I already had and have used Picassa 2, but I had to download and install the new version seperately (no auto-update as Gtalk has.) There are some minor glitches with the upgrade that are unrelated to the web album feature - UI glitches with scrolling, for example - but the web album works quite well. You select your photos, click a button, give the album a title and description, and it resizes and uploads the photos to your free 250M of storage. For $25 per year you can upgrade to 6G of storage, plus the ability to post video.

You can re-caption, re-name, and reorganize photos via the web interface, and you can add to existing albums from within Picasa. The web page also gives convenient links to email your friends from your Gmail account, and the links are fairly easy to remember (it's basically your Gmail address). It also accepts uploads from Apple's iPhoto.

This is something I will definitely be using going forward, because I share a lot of photos to keep in touch with friends and family across the country. I would recommend it as a photo-sharing service, but it is not a social networking site; you are only intended to find someone's web album if they tell you about it. They do, however, offer methods of embedding your photo feed into your blog or (shudder) MySpace page.

Now, this got me thinking on everybody's favorite debate: What's next for Google? Well, they just announced they want to slow down on new product development, and spend more time refining their existing offerings and integrating them together. This is what Google Docs & Spreadsheets is about, and we're going to see more of that. Web albums was a simple matter of leveraging their existing technologies; we're going to see more of that, too.

I also see a few holes in their big push areas. They've got many-to-many text (Google Groups), one-to-one text (Gmail), live one-to-one text (Gtalk), one-to-many text (Blogger), and live one-to-one audio (Gtalk Voice Chat). I see live many-to-many text (chatrooms built onto Gtalk), live many-to-many audio (Gtalk conference calls), and possibly live one-to-one video (Gtalk video chat) on the horizon, easily. The reason I say possibly on one-to-one video as it's still not hugely popular, and it still doesn't work very well. However, Google is known for changing those traits in everything they touch, so they may be able to pull something out of their PhD-lined hat.

That's everybody's communications. They're also taking care of everybody's media, with Google Video and a recent YouTube acquisition, and of course Picasa and the new Web albums. What's missing is, of course, audio. I see an appeal to independent artists, and possibly another grab of public domain material (like their recent indexing of all books whose copyright had expired). I can definitely see an acquisition in this space, and I particularly like the idea of Last.fm coming under Google's wing. I think it'd be a really good matchup, and I think it'd do great things for both companies. But, of course, this is all conjecture - only time will tell what Big G has planned.