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August 5, 2010

Game Review: LIMBO

Filed under Reviews, Video Games, Xbox 360

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LIMBO is a new game for Xbox 360.

This is a special game. It reminds me of the original Prince of Persia in terms of the fluid animation and puzzles.

What I liked:

  • Unique look
  • Looks as if the game was filmed with an old black and white camera
  • Impressive puzzles
  • Great sound and effects
  • Dark theme
  • Not 3D for a change

Check out this video to see what LIMBO looks like.

I really enjoyed this one.

Highly recommended. 5/5 stars.

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June 7, 2010

Android First Impressions

Filed under Gadgets, Reviews

I picked up an HTC EVO 4G on Friday.

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One year ago I bought a Palm Pre. I *love* the Palm Pre. My biggest issue with the Pre is a lack of new products (still no follow-on announced) and the lost developer momentum.

Android, on the other hand, is doing very well in those departments.

What I like:

  • Voice search – just press and hold the search button on the bottom right, then say what you are looking for and the phone gives you the Google search results for what you just said. I’m shocked how accurate it is, especially considering there is no voice training involved. This is definitely easier/quicker than typing and it has already changed how I use a smart phone.
  • Similarly, the on screen keyboard has an option to let you speak instead of type. I’ve used it for a few text messages and find it useful. I’m curious if I’ll use this more than the actual keyboard for txt messages…if it saves me keystrokes, then I will.
  • Google Maps has Street View! Maps is a killer app for mobile phones…and having access to Street View makes it even more so. I really like how you can rotate your body in order to spin around in Street View.
  • Google Scoreboard app: This app tracks your favorite teams, and tells you what time they are playing (in *your* time zone), where they are on TV/radio, and can notify you with score updates at start/end of game, or after every quarter, or score. It works great, it is free, and it has no ads.
  • EVO uses the same Micro USB port that the Pre uses, so I don’t need new charging cables for home/work/car.
  • Facebook app…written by Facebook. Automatically populates your phone’s contact list with information (email, phone numbers, address, etc) and profile pics.
  • Twitter app…written by Twitter. Like the Facebook app, the Twitter app integrates with Android so that any contacts you have that don’t have pictures associated with them can get their profile pics from Twitter. App has fun cloud/bird animations that give it a unique look and feel.
  • Foursquare app…written by Foursquare. Unlike the Pre version, this actually works well.
  • Gmail. The Android version of Gmail is is more full featured than the Pre mail program (supports labels, collapsing conversations to a single message).
  • Animated wallpaper.
  • Shazam. Ever hear a song and wonder who sings it? Shazam can listen to just a few seconds of a song and tell you what it is. This *is* magical software.
  • Phone kickstand. You can see a metal bar on the back on the phone in the image above. That metal bar extends so you can place your phone in landscape mode on a table for easy viewing. Useful when you use your phone as an alarm clock, watching movies, or a mini computer. Just add a wireless keyboard and you have a *very* portable computer, except the screen may be too small for heavy usage. Which brings me to…
  • HDMI out. The phone can output to a TV via an HDMI cable (video/sound). If you want a much bigger display than the already ginormous 4.3 inch screen…just plug it into your TV!
  • Mobile hotspot. You can use the EVO as a Wi-Fi access point for up to 8 devices! Finally…I can connect my laptop to the internet via my phone. My Pre could not do that (but my old Windows Mobile 6 Palm Treo could).
  • Web browser. I found that more web pages load correctly on the EVO than they did on my Pre.
  • I haven’t really thought about the performance of this phone, mostly because I haven’t had to wait for anything. I guess that means 1 GHz Snapdragon processor is fast.
  • Android has a lot of momentum now, I only expect it to grow. It is nice to have a phone that developers are targeting instead of being an afterthought. There are a ton of apps to play with…much more than what is available for the Pre.
  • Big 4.3” screen makes everything better: more details visible on maps, on screen keyboard has large buttons even in portrait mode, video more enjoyable to watch.
  • HTC’s custom software is actually useful and not crap ware like I was expecting. I like the home screen big clock, weather, alarms, timer, and stopwatch. You can turn on a low light clock that stays on at all times if you want to use your phone as an alarm clock. The pinch to zoom for access to the 7 home screens is very fast/useful.
  • Front facing camera for video chats. Not sure when I’ll use this, but it is nice to know I can.
  • HD video recording at 720p.
  • 8MP camera with 2 LED flashes.
  • Supports 32 GB microSD card.
  • Adobe Flash! It isn’t here on this Android release (2.1), but it should be when 2.2 come out…which won’t be long.

What I don’t like/miss:

  • Keyboard. I still prefer the confidence of typing with actual keys.
  • Notifications. They are handled *perfectly* on the Pre. Android needs some work. Android email notification only says you have a new message. Pre tells you who sent it and the message subject. Notifications on the Pre could be selectively deleted. So far, I’ve only been able to delete all notifications at once with Android.
  • Task management. Pre has this done right, too. On the Pre, you press the “home” button and you instantly see small “cards” representing all the running applications. You swipe an app up to send it off the screen and kill it. You can rearrange the order of running apps. You can use the swipe left/right gesture to quickly move between running apps without going to a home screen/task switcher dialog (like pressing/releasing Alt-tab). With Android, I don’t see a way to kill an app (Android is supposed to manage this for you). Android appears to only support switching between 6 apps via a dialog that comes up when you press and hold the “home” button. It’s not terrible…but not as slick as the Pre.
  • The Pre uses a universal swipe to the left or right to delete an item (like a mail message or a notification). Once you learn this, you expect you can do it anywhere…which is true on the Pre. Android doesn’t support the swipe to delete gesture…but I wish it did.
  • The Pre has the touchstone charger that lets you charge your phone by simply laying it on a “puck”…wireless charging. If you get a call, you lift the phone off the puck and the call is automatically answered, just like the way a traditional phone works. Also if you start a speaker phone conversation while on the the puck, lifting the phone off the puck will switch speaker phone off. EVO just plugs into a micro USB cable. :(
  • The battery life is about the same as what I was getting with the Pre…I have to charge a minimum of once a day, or more if I really use the phone. I keep it plugged in overnight and have a charger at work as well. It’s not a step back from the Pre, but I’d like to get back to the days when a cell phone only needed charging once a week.
  • On the Pre, you can slide your launch icons where ever you want. If an icon is already in the location, it will slide out of the way to a new location allowing for easy insertions. Android, on the other hand, won’t let you do this. You must first make an empty space before you can drag an icon to a location. Not a big deal…but not as slick as the Pre.

After using the EVO for a weekend and getting used to Android…I’m hooked. The EVO isn’t perfect and I do miss some of some of Pre’s niceties. Overall, the good almost makes you forget the bad.

I would recommend the EVO and Android to anyone.

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April 4, 2010

CityCenter’s Aria

Filed under Reviews, Travel

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The past weekend I stayed at Vegas’ latest super casino: CityCenter. The hotel we stayed at in CityCenter is called “Aria.”

CityCenter is made up of 5 towers and a mall called “Crystals.” imageThe 5 towers are:

  1. Aria: hotel and casino
  2. Vdara: hotel and condo
  3. Mandarin Oriental: hotel and condo
  4. Harmon: hotel
  5. Veer: condo

Aria’s rooms are the best Vegas rooms I have ever been in. First of all, the key card to open the door works by being close to the door…no need to insert it in a slot. That means you can just leave the card in your wallet and wave your wallet in front of the door to open it.

When you walk in for the first time, the room is completely dark with the curtains drawn. The lights thoughout the room slowly ramp up to full brightness as the curtains automatically pull back to reveal an amazing view. Then the HDTV turns on with your name written on the screen. There are two remotes: a standard remote and a touch screen that stays by your bed. Both remotes use RF instead of IF, so you don’t have to aim them. The remotes lets you control:

  • TV
  • Music
  • All the lights
  • The curtains
  • Alarm clock
  • Temperature
  • Privacy indicator outside your door

It is very slick.

The room has audio/video inputs so you can easily hook your laptop/mp3 player to the TV. Two powered USB ports allows you to charge your devices without using an AC adapter…nice!

Here are some pics of our room on 54th floor…

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View outside our room…

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The sports betting area of Aria is amazing. It has the best/biggest HDTV I have seen (actually, two) if you take the one at Cowboy Stadium out of consideration. First drink is on the house here! I would *definitely* come back just to watch a basketball/football game here. Here is some video to give you an idea how big (and bright!) the screens are.

The next smaller TV’s are ~60”…and they look great, too.

Overall, I’m impressed with Aria. It is very different from typical Vegas casinos…but I enjoyed the change. The food was great, but our service at The Buffet and Cafe Vettro were sub-par. For example, I finished my meal and left The Buffet and never got the Diet Coke that I requested *twice* (the first request was before I went to get my first plate of food).

I still enjoyed my stay and would go again. It is an amazing structure and worth checking out.

Some photos from around Aria…

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Mandarin Hotel @ CityCenter…

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Crystals Mall at CityCenter…

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December 3, 2009

Up in the Air

Filed under Movies, Reviews

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Just got out of a screening of “Up in the Air.”

My take: Hits close to home. Thoroughly enjoyable. Must-see.

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October 20, 2009

Scariest Movie I’ve Ever Seen: Paranormal Activity

Filed under Movies, Reviews

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Just got out of a screening of Paranormal Activity.

*This* is the movie to see to get your scary movie fix for Halloween. This movie really got me…and the main reason is that it all seems so real.

Highly recommended!

September 1, 2009

Home Theater Nirvana

Filed under Gadgets, HDTV, Reviews

image I bought a new super remote: the Nevo Q50.

What I like:

  • Don’t have to aim remote (uses RF to talk to Nevo Connect, which is connected to my devices via IR Emitters)
  • Can use remote in any room
  • No number pad (those keys are wasted on me)
  • Almost everything can be done via 31 hard buttons
  • Four hard buttons that use the remote’s screen for labeling
  • One-handed operation
  • Voltage sensor for devices that do not have discreet on/off codes (like the PS3)
  • Completely customizable color, 320x240 touch screen
  • NevoStudio Pro 2.0 - really good/easy software for programming
  • You can get the screens to look *exactly* like you want. For example, I just took an image from the manual for my PS3 controller and made that a screen. Then I placed hotspots on the buttons that mapped to the actual IR remote output for a PS3 (via IR2BT).

What I don’t like:

  • Has to be charged approximately every three days
  • Software only runs on 32 bit Vista (not 64 bit Windows 7, which is what I normally run)
  • You get obsessed wanting to customize the screens to look perfect…and you are never finished
  • Resistive screen doesn’t work well with fingers (fingernails work better)

I bought the Nevo Q50 Remote, Nevo Connect, and NevoStudio Pro 2.0 software for about $550 on eBay from a merchant called “jdm-cafe.” Normally, you buy this remote from a home theater installer that will do all the programming for you…but what fun is that? I think this remote is more than a $1000 if you buy it from an installer.

I bought a voltage sensor (for my PS3) and 6 IR emitters from Remote Shoppe for about $140.

To figure out when my PS3 is powered on, I connected the voltage sensor to the power lines on a USB cable I plugged into the PS3. I learned about this technique for detecting the power state of a PS3 here.

I’m really happy with how slick this setup works. *NOW*, everything just works. Press the “PS3” button and…

  • TV turns on
  • TV switches to HDMI for PS3
  • Receiver turns on
  • Receiver switches to PS3 digital audio
  • PS3 powers on (if it isn’t already on)
  • Remote switches to PS3 control, with volume keys controlling the receiver

And when I’m done, I press “Power Down System”…

  • TV turns off
  • Receiver turns off
  • PS3 is sent a macro for turning off (if it is currently on)

Mmmmmmm…home theater nirvana! This makes me *really* happy. :)

June 10, 2009

My New Phone: Palm Pre

Filed under Gadgets, Reviews

I was impressed with the Palm Pre when it was announced to the world at CES back in January.

It has the cool UI of the iPhone and the keyboard of a Blackberry…a killer combination.

I stood in line at the Van Ness Sprint store in San Francisco the past Saturday. I got there at 7:30am and I was issued ticket #17.

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I was able to pickup a Pre around 10:30am, but not the cool new Touchstone “wireless” charger because they were already sold out. I ordered one and should have it by next week.

What do I think?

I love it.

What I like

  1. A keyboard! It is almost identical to a Palm Treo Pro (my previous phone). Some keys were rearranged for better internet typing. For example, the @ sign can be typed without using the alt key. The keyboard is a huge deal. When you type a message, you still get the full screen, instead of just half (or less) on iPhone’s virtual keyboard.
  2. Multi-tasking. I can run Pandora radio in the background, Facebook, Twitter, load multiple web pages, write an email, use Google Maps, and have multiple txt message conversations, and jump back and forth between these running apps. If you listen to Apple (I recommend you don’t…they liea lot), they’d have you believe phones *can’t* do multitasking…and their dumbed down “push notification” is the solution. Whatever! The iPhone is the *only* smart phone that can’t do multi-tasking. You don’t know how much you need multi-tasking until you don’t have it anymore.
  3. Notifications! You can keep working while email/txt messages arrive…notifications don’t get in the way…unless you want to deal with them. See it action here.
  4. Camera has a flash…night time photos now possible with cell phone. Camera is very quick to start, take pictures. It seems like good quality 3MP images, too.
  5. Copy/Paste keyboard shortcuts are *fast*…works much better than using a menu to do copy/paste. To copy, select text by holding the shift key while dragging on the screen, then put one finger on the gesture area (button will light up) and press the “c” key. To paste, touch where you want to insert (or hold orange key to move cursor more precisely with your finger), and then touch the gesture area with one figure (button will light up) and press the “v” key.
  6. The Touchstone charger is just slick (see end of notifications video above)
  7. The Palm Pre SDK runs on PC’s (Windows, Linux, Mac). iPhone SDK only runs on Mac. Also, the Pre SDK does *not* use Objective-C (who uses that?!?!? Oh yeah, just Apple)! I’m trying to get the Pre SDK now.
  8. Adobe Flash Support coming!
  9. Tethering (coming soon)
  10. Smaller than an iPhone…fits better in your pocket.
  11. Linked contacts. I added my Facebook account to my Pre contacts and then all of my exchange contacts that have Facebook accounts suddenly have Facebook profile pics associated with them (for email, txt messages, phone calls). Very cool! Here’s a demo of contacts on the Pre.
  12. Gestures. I didn’t appreciate gestures until I started using the phone…but now I’m hooked. Gestures let you quickly do various common tasks (go back, quick launch apps, switch between apps, close apps) without using any valuable screen real-estate by flicking your finger in certain ways. Here is a demo of gestures.
  13. My phone hasn’t had a typical day yet since I keep showing people what it can do and I’m constantly playing with it. Currently, I’m sitting at 35% of the battery left at almost midnight…not bad!
  14. I’m on Sprint now (had AT&T). At work, with AT&T I had *no* signal until I left the building. With Sprint, I get two bars consistently…my phone is now usable at work.
  15. Wi-Fi on my old phone would drain the battery quickly, so I rarely used it. I’ve read the Palm Pre uses *less* battery with Wi-Fi than using the cellular network for loading data. Good to know!

What I don’t like

  1. Can’t send a txt message to multiple people…or at least I haven’t found a way.
  2. Can’t have more than three “launcher” pages (for starting apps)
  3. No support for iCalendar events. For my previous phone, I’d forward events from my work calendar to my home email as iCalendar and I could easily add them to my home calendar via my phone. Pre doesn’t support this (yet?)

So far my Pre has been amazingly stable with few bugs…unheard of in a 1.0 product.

I expect things to get more interesting as Palm updates the software with more features and more apps are developed for the Pre.

Highly recommended!

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June 8, 2009

Must See Movies!

Filed under Movies, Reviews

So far this year, I have three movies on my “must see” list.

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I saw “The Hangover” on Friday. I *really* enjoyed this movie…it doesn’t get any funnier than this. I’ve already started quoting this movie…and you should too. Drop what you are doing and go see this now!

 

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Last weekend, I saw “Drag Me to Hell.” The ads make it look like a cheesy horror flick…but this movie is much better than that. It is actually very funny. The last time I experienced anything like this was when I saw Evil Dead 2 for the first time. That shouldn’t be a surprise since they are both by Sam Raimi.

imageStar Trek has a lot to like: visual effects (by ILM!), great dialog, acting, interesting story, and hot green chicks. Yesterday, Star Trek passed Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home as the 2nd top grossing Star Trek film (in adjusted dollars). It will likely take the top position ($18 million to go) from Star Trek: The Motion Picture soon.

 

January 17, 2009

Greetings From Windows 7

Filed under Computers, Reviews, Software

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I installed the public beta of Windows 7 this week.

If you have any interest in giving Windows 7 a test drive or providing Microsoft feedback on improving Windows, I recommend you download it now (and write down the activation key). The public beta will close on January 24th. Here is where you get the free download.

My initial impression…I *love* it.

I love Vista, so it should come as no surprise that I love Windows 7 even more. Windows 7 is basically Windows Vista with some polish.

I’m shocked at all the positive press Windows 7 is getting from people that hated Vista. If you hate Vista, you should hate Windows 7…period (I’m looking at you PC Magazine).

I’ve been jotting down notes about new things I like in Windows 7. I’ll start posting my Windows 7 Gems soon.

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Sent from Microsoft Windows 7

January 6, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

Filed under Movies, Reviews

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Slumdog Millionaire is the best movie I’ve seen in the past year.

The story, location, style, action, intensity, surprises, music, and the Bollywood dance number make this a must-see.

I especially like that this movie was filmed in India, because I was just there a year ago.

There is *nothing* Hollywood about this movie…a refreshing change.

Go see this…you will love it!

December 14, 2008

Book Review: Designing Interfaces

Filed under Programming, Reviews, Software

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I recently finished reading “Designing Interfaces” by Jenifer Tidwell.

I think of this book as “Design Patterns” for user interfaces.

If this book was required reading for everybody that builds software, we’d have *much* better software and happier users. It has really changed how I approach creating user interfaces.

Before reading this book, I could point to an application and tell you if it looks professional and polished or not. Now I can tell you why.

This book deals with many subtleties and attention to detail that can have a huge impact on the user’s impression of your software.

Here is an example pattern, “Center Stage”…

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A “preview” of the book is available online (with large chunks missing so you still need to buy it) here.

Highly recommended!

December 11, 2008

Some TFU Love

Filed under Reviews, Video Games, Work

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Here are a couple of nice holiday recommendations for TFU.

These guys place TFU as the number one game gift for Xmas.

Time Magazine picked the top 10 games of the year, and TFU was number #7!

I played through the whole game and thoroughly enjoyed it…definitely a must-play for Star Wars fans.

November 7, 2008

Fett's Vette

Filed under Movies, Music, Reviews

I saw "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" last night. I loved it...very raunchy and funny.

The soundtrack is great...I preordered it from Amazon. My favorite song: Fett's Vette...

 

October 14, 2008

Switching

Filed under Music, Reviews

 

I dumped my iPod's and now I'm all about Zune.

Why? I tried out the Zune software first and was *very* impressed.

There are three main parts to iPod:

  1. iPod hardware
  2. iTunes music player for your PC
  3. iTunes store

Similarly, there are three main parts to Zune:

  1. Zune Hardware
  2. Zune Software for your PC
  3. Zune Marketplace

Here's what I like about Zune/don't like about iPod...

Zune Hardware

I bought the new 120GB black Zune.

  • The included Zune headphones have magnets that make the ear buds stick together so tangled chords are less of an issue.
  • I bought the premium headphones (also have magnetized ear buds) and they do an amazing job of silencing external noise so you can listen at a lower volume. Bass is surprisingly good.
  • Photos automatically synced
  • Videos automatically synced
  • I *hate* the iPod clickwheel. When I want to choose the next song in a list via the clickwheel, I typically overshoot by a few songs and must resonate back and forth to get the proper selection. I also don't like when I have to constantly rotate my finger around the clickwheel to move through a long list.
  • Zune has a slick 4-way direction pad/touch pad called the Zune Pad. Want the next song? Just press the bottom of the pad once. Done! Need to scroll through a bunch of songs, flick your finger over the pad and songs will scroll past very quickly...just tap when you get close to stop. The Zune Pad is both better at precise selection and quickly traversing a long list than the iPod clickwheel. Check out this video to see it in action.
  • Built-in FM radio (iPod has no radio). If you hear a song on the radio you like, just click the Zune Pad and you can buy it and add it to your collection...very cool!
  • The directional pad/touch pad works well for games. The directional pad works just like a standard up/down/left/right navigation on a standard gaming system. It works great for games like Pac Man. The Zune Pad gives you mouse-like control (like for Missile Command or Centipede). The clickwheel *sucks* for games.
  • Speaking of games...XNA allows writing a game once and deploying on Windows, Xbox 360, and now Zune.
  • I can sync my Zune wirelessly (Zune has built in WiFi). This means I can leave my Zune in a charger/dock that is connected to my home theater system (for music, videos, and photos). While my Zune is charging in my living room, it wirelessly syncs with my PC that is in my office. Very slick!
  • The Zune User Interface is very polished and fun...much nicer than iPod.
  • Zune's 3.5" screen is much better for watching videos than iPod Classic's 2.5" screen
  • Zune can use WiFi to listen or purchase music from the Zune Marketplace

Zune Software

The Zune Software is *amazing*! Here it is in action. It is the best looking software I've ever seen...

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iTunes looks like (ahem) an office productivity app in comparison...

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Even Zune's installation is worth checking out. It doesn't use the standard InstallShield wizard setup. Some of the dialog boxes have very subtle geometric animations in the background...nice touch.

I recommend anybody that creates software check out Zune Software...they clearly had artists involved in the development of the software and it shows.

You can get the software here.

Here's what I like about Zune Software over iTunes

  • iTunes is slow. The UI bogs down while downloading. I haven't noticed any slowdown's with Zune Software.
  • iTunes doesn't support forward/back buttons on mouse, Zune does
  • When playing a song, Zune Software defaults to a mosaic of album covers from your collection in the background that constantly change:image
  • For some artists, Zune does a montage of color-shifting photos mixed with informative text:image
  • If I update iTunes, Apple tries to slip in Safari *every* time. Unchecking the checkbox gets old fast. Also notice how the Apple dialog doesn't follow the Window's dialog box guidlines that place the least disruptive action on the right (they are following the Mac guidelines). Best Windows app ever written? Puhleez!
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  • If you sync with a cable, you can just unplug your Zune at anytime...no need to tell the software you want to "eject" your device (which you have to do with iPod/iTunes).
  • With Zune, you can delete a song while it is playing. With iTunes, you can't.
  • If you delete a song via explorer, it is instantly removed from your Zune library. With iTunes, the song is still there, but gives an error because it can't be found.
  • Restoring music from the recycle bin instantly updates the Zune library.
  • As soon as you update the tag information for an MP3 via explorer, it shows up in the Zune library automatically. For iTunes, you must do "File->Import" each time your music library changes outside of iTunes.
  • Rating system for music is stored *in* the music file for Zune. For iTunes, it is not. So if you copy your mp3 to another system, you will lose the iTunes ratings, but not the Zune ratings. With Zune, you can set the rating in explorer and Zune will recognize the rating (doesn't work for iTunes).
  • Zune's rating system is simpler than iTunes (3 levels verses 6). I'm more likely to use the 3 levels (like/don't like/unrated) because the difference between levels is clear. I'm not sure how to tell the difference between a song with 1 star verses 2.
  • Zune music rating nicely integrated with explorer. Zune's three ratings map to explorer's 5 star rating like this:
    •   like = 4/5
    •   don't like = 1/5
    •   unrated = no rating
  • The Zune UI is filled with subtle fades and slide animation that give it nice polish
  • You can view your photos in Zune, you can't in iTunes.

 

Zune Marketplace

Zune Marketplace is where you can browse music and videos for purchase.

  • Uses same "point" system as Xbox 360. You can purchase music with your Xbox points.
  • Zune Pass (which I got) lets you listen to any song you want on your PC or your player for $15/month. iTunes doesn't have a subscription model.
  • MixView helps you find music you might like based on music you do like. How does it compare to iTune's new Genius Playlist? Here's one view.
  • Picks: Zune Marketplace will suggest music you may like and connect you with listeners that have similar tastes so you can browse their playlists
  • Channels: playlists that are updated every week by professionals that know what they are doing

 

I didn't even get into the social aspect of Zune, which is completely missing from iPod.

One example of the social component is the Zune badge.

If you click on my home page, you can see I have a Zune badge on the right. This badge tracks what I'm listening to, which artists I like, what my favorite songs are. I don't have to do anything...it automatically stays up to date as I play music. If you click on the badge, you get the more detailed version below:

 
So far, I *really* like my Zune. I still use my iPod Shuffle for jogging, but with Mediafour's XPlay, I don't need/use iTunes at all...which is wonderful!
 
Highly recommended!
 

October 13, 2008

Stackoverflow

Filed under Programming, Reviews, Web

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Stackoverflow is an interesting new (still in beta) website for programmers.

You ask programmer-related questions and the community answers. No registration is required. Better answers get more votes and move to the top of the list. More about how it works here.

I tried it last night with this post...

Locking Executing Files: Windows does, Linux doesn’t. Why?

I got some decent answers from the Linux-side about how Linux works without locking a file. However, I *really* want to know why *Windows* locks files. Do you get better performance with locked files? It seems like there has to be a reason...but I still don't know it.

In any case, stackoverflow is a site I plan on using for casual reading about programming topics and to help out when I get stuck or want the opinion of the programming community. Recommended.

September 30, 2008

Don't Use PayPal!!!

Filed under Reviews, Web

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I wanted to buy some software that would let me add/remove music from my iPod *without* using iTunes.

I did a Google search for "ipod explorer" and the first thing that came up was "Anapod Explorer."

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I bought the software for $19.95 via PayPal. I received an email from Red Chair Software, the company that makes Anapod Explorer, with a download link for the software.

I downloaded and installed the software. When I tried to run Anapod Explorer, it gave me a dialog box asking for an "activation code" that will be emailed to me in 24 hours.

I waited 24 hours...no activation code.

I replied to the email with my download instructions and asked for an activation code...no response.

I sent an email using the contact information on Red Chair Software's website...no response.

After 3 days and 4 unanswered emails, I decided to cancel the payment.

I opened a payment dispute with PayPal. PayPal asked me to contact the buyer in order to resolve the issue. I told them I had, and was not getting any responses.

PayPal then responded with this email...

Dear David Lenihan,

You have chosen to escalate your dispute to a PayPal claim. By ending communication with the seller, you are asking PayPal to investigate the case and decide the outcome. As part of our investigation, PayPal reviewed any communication you may have had in the Resolution Center.

Our investigation into your claim is complete. As stated in our User Agreement, the claims process only applies to the shipment of goods. It does not apply to complaints about the attributes or quality of goods received. Therefore, we are unable to reverse this transaction or issue a refund.

So in PayPal's view, I *did* receive the software. The fact that the software won't run without an activation code is irrelevant...I have the software I purchase.

PayPal closed my dispute and listed it as resolved.

I tried to re-opened the dispute and got this email...

Dear David Lenihan,

Thank you for contacting PayPal.

Hello my name is Arriane, I am sorry to hear about the situation regarding the key that you have not received, and understand your frustration and concern over this issue. I am happy to assist you with your questions.

Our investigation into your claim is complete. As stated in our User Agreement, the claims process only applies to the shipment of goods. It does not apply to complaints about the attributes or quality of goods received. Therefore, we are unable to reverse this transaction or issue a refund.

The Buyer Complaint Policy only applies to payments for tangible, physical goods which can be shipped, and excludes all other payments, including but not limited to payments for intangibles, for services or for licenses and other access to digital content. In addition, items prohibited in the PayPal Acceptable Use Policy are ineligible for coverage.

PayPal's Buyer Complaint Policy is our best efforts program. This program reimburses users for losses only to the extent we are able to recover the funds from sellers.

For the Terms and Conditions of the Buyer Complaint Policy, click https://www.paypal.com/bcp

We recommend you to communicate the merchant ask for a refund.

Notice the red, underlined words above. PayPal will not protect its customers in the case of licenses and digital content! Wow! That's pathetic!

I called PayPal tonight to talk about my issue. They confirmed their policy and said there is nothing they can do unless another PayPal customer creates a dispute with Red Chair Software within the next 180 days.

I told PayPal to check Google...everybody is having problems with Red Chair Software. A Google search of "red chair software" provides two links to Red Chair Software's website, followed by a petition from angry iPod users that have been screwed by Red Chair Software. A few more links down is a forum about how unresponsive Red Chair Software is.

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Further researching Red Chair Software I found several people claim the company went bankrupt in 2007!

So PayPal is siding with a company that went bankrupt?!?!?! WTF?!?!

I told PayPal I find this unacceptable. This is a scam and PayPal is making the scam work.

I told PayPal I am going to cancel my account and never use them again.

In response, PayPal said they would refund my $19.95.

I told them I would take the money, but I will still cancel my PayPal account because they provide no protection from scams involving software or digital content, but credit cards do.

Buyer Beware!

As a side note, I downloaded the trial version of Mediafour's XPlay that lets you interact with your iPod files via Explorer. It works really well.

September 28, 2008

Take Me to Butter

Filed under Reviews, Travel

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I went to a (new to me) bar this past Friday called "Butter."

Any place that serves deep fried Twinkies and deep fried P. B. & J is alright by me...especially if it is from a trailer (they have a trailer in their bar)! I actually had a deep fried Twinkie...unbelievable.

The drinks were awesome! How about a tangtini? I think I got Tang in several of the drinks I tried. My favorite specialty drink name..."Bitchin' Camero."

The DJ was spinning Southern Rock mixed with Hip-Hop...all stuff you'd recognized, but a little bit different.

Here is the write-up on Yelp.

This is going to become a regular stop for me...next visitor to SF...we are going to Butter.

September 14, 2008

Burn After Reading

Filed under Movies, Reviews

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I saw "Burn After Reading" today. It is a new movie by the Coen brothers and it is amazing!

I loved it.

*This* is why I love to see movies. I knew nothing about this movie except the Coen brothers were involved and I usually like what they do. I had no idea where this movie was going and I loved all the surprises along the way. I had a smile on my face for most of the movie.

This is the best movie I've seen in almost a year. Check it out!

 

September 7, 2008

Internet Explorer 8 Beta 2

Filed under Reviews, Software, Web

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I tried out Google's new Chrome browser a few days ago. I downloaded Internet Explorer 8 (beta 2) today.

Initial reaction: everything I like about Chrome is already available in IE8.

What I like:

  • Passes the Acid2 test
  • Related tabs are kept next to each other with color coding. For example, when you open a link from another tab, both tabs will have the same color (see below)
  • The address bar highlights the name of the website in bolder text...nice touch (see "arstechnica" in graphic below).
  • Typing in the address bar will automatically search your history, or setup a search for the item...no need to go to Google to search for something.
  • Searching for text on the page is *much* improved. Just do "Ctrl-F" and type what you are looking for. All matches are instantly highlighted. Press "Enter" to move forward to the next search item or "Shift-Enter" to go back. Nice!
  • New tab has a list of last closed tabs...easier to get back to places you've already been (although I prefer Chrome's new tab screen because of the thumbnails and also the most frequented web page list).
  • Each tab is a separate process...a web page that crashes the browser doesn't hurt the other tabs.
  • Compatibility mode! Web sites that are not "web standard's compliant" may not work correctly in IE8...so there is a button next to the address bar that allows you to switch back to IE7 rendering. *Many* web sites do not follow the web standards (instead they are designed to work with the most popular browser...IE)...so this is a *very* important feature. This is my biggest gripe with Chrome...glad to see IE8 can work will all web sites. For example, I could not login to purchase an item on walmart.com via Chrome, but IE8 could do it.

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Tab Color

This update puts IE in the same league as Chrome and Firefox. That being the case, I don't see a reason to jump ship.

After a brief flirtation with Chrome, I'm back to IE (8, beta 2) as my default browser.

 

September 2, 2008

Google Chrome

Filed under Reviews, Software, Web

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Wow! Google released a new web browser today called "Chrome."

That should certainly make IE, Firefox, Safari, and Opera take notice.

I downloaded it tonight and have made it my default browser.

What I like...

  • Faster - pages pop up quicker than IE 7
  • Smaller - takes up a lot less memory than IE 7
  • Tab UI - you can rearrange the tabs as you please, drag them off to become independent browsers, or drag independent browsers back to make them tabs...very sleek!
  • New Tab page shows you thumbnails of most visited pages, bookmarks, recently closed tabs...easier to get to pages you want to go to.
  • Address bar is also search engine bar...I rarely need to go to google to find anything, I can go directly from the address bar
  • Each tab is an separate process...if one page locks up, the rest continue to run (coming in IE 8, also)
  • Passes the Acid2 test
  • Find (Ctrl-F or F3) is much better than IE...highlights every match, F3 to go next match, Shift-F3 to go to previous
  • Downloads show up at the bottom of your page as an icon you can drag to a folder or open directly
  • More screen space for web pages than IE (uses some of title bar for top UI, no status bar at bottom)

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So far, the only issue I see is with iGoogle (how ironic)...when I shrink the window, one of the widgets does not know how to resize correctly and keeps changing size which causes the whole page to start flashing. Then again, Google uses their almost permanent "beta" status on this software so they can say "what do you expect, it is beta software!"

Oh! Found another one. You can only look at about 47 facebook photos before it refuses to let you look at anymore...hmmm.

I'm going to keep using this as long as I don't run into too many websites that have problems. For now, I think Google has a competitor in its hands.

August 27, 2008

Google Reader

Filed under Blogging, Reviews, Web

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If you aren't using Google Reader to read this, then stop what you are doing, click the above link, and continue reading this in Google Reader.

Google Reader is the best way to keep up on...everything! It has become my newspaper.

I'm currently using it to track 104 feeds in the following categories:

  • Entertainment
  • Gadgets
  • Games
  • Geek
  • News
  • Personal
  • Phones
  • Podcasts
  • Programming
  • Sports
  • Xbox

Almost everything on the web has a feed version that can be read in Google Reader: news, stocks, weather, traffic, blog posts, sports scores, movie reviews, podcasts, etc.

The big time saver is I don't have to go from web site to web site to see what is new...when someone posts something new, it comes to me.

For example, I have all my friends and family blogs listed under "personal." You can see from the above picture that I have 21 new posts to read. Those 21 posts are from a bunch of different people. With Google Reader, you just see the new posts in the same location and can quickly read them all.

It also has some nice keyboard shortcuts so you can do almost everything without touching the mouse. I use the spacebar to advance to the next page all the time.

Another cool feature...you can use Google Reader on your phone, too! Here is the mobile version.

And...the feeds in Google Reader don't have the ads that many web sites have, so it is easier to focus on the content without distraction.

Someone at work recently asked for a recommendation for reading feeds and the response was overwhelming: Google Reader.

I can't recommend this enough: Get Google Reader!

July 21, 2008

King of Kong

Filed under Movies, Reviews

image I saw "King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters" tonight.

This is one of the best documentaries I've seen! Two thumbs *way* up!

The premise will scare most people away: it follows two men fighting for the Guinness word record high score on Donkey Kong.

What an amazing film! I won't spoil it...but I will say it is hard to not get emotionally involved.

Highly recommended...even if you don't like video games.

The screening tonight had the director, Seth Gordon, and one of the contestants, Steve Wiebe on hand to do a Q&A session afterwards.

Even the Q&A session was amazing! Somebody in the audience was obviously a Billy Mitchell (the other contestant) supporter and tried to take over the Q&A session with pro-Billy propaganda! The director had to stop the man from asking questions and move on to other people that didn't have an agenda! It was tense!

Afterwards, I met Steve Wiebe and took a picture with him. He's hard not to like after watching this film.

David and Steve Wiebe - Donkey Kong World Record Holder

Seth Gordon announced he is working on a new film with Vince Vaughn (Steve Wiebe also has a role) called Four Christmases coming out November 26, 2008.

King of Kong is available on DVD. It can be rented at Blockbuster or Netflix. Check it out!

July 19, 2008

Memphis Minnie's

Filed under Reviews, Travel

imageI met up with some friends yesterday for dinner at a place called "Memphis Minnie's."

A barbeque place in SF? No way!

It's a small place that is overflowing with character and good/unique food.

I ended up having a little of everything:

  • BBQ Seasoned Fries (*really good*)
  • BBQ Pork Rolls
  • Fried Cheese Grit Sticks
  • Corn Bread Muffin
  • Pecan Pie

Everything was yummy...definitely will have to go back to this place.

Here is the Yelp page with more info.

Big ups to Yung for the hookup. And ladies...he's single.

July 9, 2008

Cinematographer Style

Filed under Movies, Reviews

Tonight I watched a screening of the documentary Cinematographer Style hosted by director/cinematographer Jon Fauer.

The film covers 110 cinematographers talking about their craft.

After watching this film, I have a better understanding of the role of  cinematographers and the issues they face.

Anybody interested in how films are made will appreciate this.

Should be available on DVD soon.

June 28, 2008

WALL-E

Filed under Movies, Reviews

imageI saw WALL-E last night.

I really liked it...and I am not alone. It currently has a 96% tomatometer score, which is really good. For comparison, Iron Man (my favorite of the summer), has a score of 93%.

This movie has a different feel than previous Pixar films. The main characters don't talk, so communication via expression is the focus...and it works.

Ben Burtt (responsible for R2-D2's chirps, light saber sounds, Darth Vader's breathing, among others) did the sounds of the robots in WALL-E. The sound is one of the reasons I really liked the film.

Sigourney Weaver gets a chance to see other side...she is the voice of the ship's computer and gets to do the "this ship will self destruct in 5 minutes" line.

The movie opens with an animated short called "Presto". It was fun...one of the better shorts. It reminded me of PDI's Gabola The Great from 1997.

So where does this fit in with Pixar's other 8 films? I put it in the top half along with The Incredibles, Monster's Inc. and Toy Story...which means it is a *very* good film.

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June 19, 2008

Skyfire

Filed under Gadgets, Reviews, Web

Wow! This *really* changes how I use my cell phone.

Skyfire is a web browser that works just like the web browser that runs on your PC. It supports Java, Javascript, Flash, Quicktime, etc.

I haven't had any trouble with any website I've tried: facebook, match, youtube, davidlenihan.com, espn...all sites that wouldn't work or had formatting issues with the mobile version of Internet Explorer that comes with Windows Mobile.

With Skyfire, you use the normal website, not the dumbed down versions designed to fit on a small screen. Audio and video work as expected.

I downloaded the beta for free...but considering how much utility this brings to my phone...I'd pay a lot for this software...it's worth it! I feel like I got a new phone...probably because the web browser was the weakest part of Windows Mobile.

Check out the demo to see it in action...

June 14, 2008

New Laptop

Filed under Computers, Gadgets, Reviews

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I got a new laptop last week. It is a Lenovo IdeaPad 110. Lenovo was previously IBM's laptop division responsible for ThinkPads.

The main reason I went with this one is how light/small it is and it still has a good keyboard. It weighs less than 2.5 pounds and easily fits in my backpack.

I am writing this from a restaurant. I have been running with the extended battery (comes with a regular and extended standard). I've been here for more than 2 hours and my battery indicator says I can go for another hour. I haven't done any tweaking to conserve power, so I could probably go longer. With the settings I have on now, the computer is very responsive and the screen is nice and bright.

I am using my AT&T Tilt's Bluetooth connection for Internet access.

It has a very unique/engaging look...which is very important around here when you have to do battle with all the Apple-fanboys.

The face recognition (via integrated web cam) login works surprisingly well, as long as the light is decent. At first I thought this would be a gimmick, but I rarely type my password anymore. As soon as I sit in front of my laptop, it logs me in. You also have the option to use your face for Internet passwords, which is very handy.

I got my laptop from J&R. I bought it for $1999, which was $100 more than what you get if you order from Lenovo directly. Currently, you can't configure the laptop. However, the version from J&R has integrated Bluetooth and 3GB of RAM (Lenovo's site is selling 2GB of RAM with no Bluetooth). Bluetooth is critical for me because I expect to use it for my Internet connection and I don't want to deal with add-on cards. The extra RAM is nice, but I don't actually need it for what I'm doing

So far, I love it.

I plan on using it for email, Internet, blogging, and a C# project I've been planning for a while.

Here is a video to get an idea of what it looks like. It definitely draws attention.

Technorati Tags: ,,,

The Happening

Filed under Movies, Reviews

imageI saw The Happening tonight.

I went in with low expectations based on what I read on rottentomatoes.

I also already knew the plot and had seen most of the special effects (ILM did several).

I still wanted to see it.

When the movie was over, I actually heard several people booing.

However...I actually liked the movie (I think I was the only one).

It is *very* creepy, which is what I liked most about it.

The movie reminds me of Night of the Living Dead.

The acting is bad, but it fits in with a B-grade horror movie. It's debatable whether the bad acting is by design or it is just bad acting. I want to believe it's the former.

The *previews* were really good. I saw previews for several movies that look interesting that I didn't know about:

 

May 27, 2008

Vista's Natural Language Search is *EVIL*

Filed under Computers, Reviews, Software

image Vista has a *much* improved search engine over XP. As soon as you create a new file, it is instantly indexed and ready for fast searching.

I found an interesting setting for search called "use natural language search", which is off by default.

You can find it via Start->Control Panel->Appearance and Personalization->Folder Options->Search->Use natural language search.

Sadly, there is no documentation on this page for what exactly natural language search (NLS) is.

This page explains it (about mid-way down).

Basically, NLS applies all your search terms to any possible property without explicitly indicating the property. NLS also does not require capitalization of boolean filters like "AND", "NOT", and "OR."

Here are a couple of example searches without and with natural language search:

Without natural language With natural language
kind: music artist: (Beethoven OR Mozart) music Beethoven or Mozart
kind: document author: (Charlie AND Herb) document Charlie and Herb

The documentation says this about NLS...

Even with natural language search turned on, you can continue to use the Search box in exactly the same way. If you want to use Boolean filters or introduce filters with colons and parentheses, you can. In addition, you can use all the same properties to fine-tune your searches. The difference is that you can enter searches in a more casual way. Here are some examples:
  • email today
  • documents 2006
  • author Susan
  • pictures vacation

Note Some searches might give more results than you expect. For example, if you search for "email today" you will see all messages sent today as well as any messages with the word "today" in the contents.

Let me give some background before I tell you why the above lines are highlighted red.

I've spent the last couple of weeks trying to figure out why Vista's search could not find a file I have in my documents folder called "music to get.txt." Other files in the same directory could be found, but this one was problematic. I tried rebuilding the search database several times and narrowing the searchable directories down to just one folder with "music to get.txt".

It didn't matter...Vista's search could not find the file.

Then, I happened to turn *off* NLS today and guess what? Vista easily can find "music to get.txt"!

The issue appears related to the spaces in the filename. If NLS is turned on, then I have to search for:

"music to get"

...instead of...

music to get

NLS would not even match...

music

...I had to start with a quote to get a matching file...

"music

Those lines in red above are *LIES*!!!

you can continue to use the Search box in exactly the same way.

With NLS on, you must remember to put a filename in quotes if it contains a space. I didn't have to do that with NLS off.

The difference is that you can enter searches in a more casual way

I don't considering having to add quotes to my search more casual than not using them at all.

Some searches might give more results than you expect

And in the case of filenames with spaces, some searches won't give you *any* results when they should.

My advice:

TURN OFF NATURAL LANGUAGE SEARCH!

May 26, 2008

Freakonomics

Filed under Computers, Gadgets, Reviews

image I finished my first audiobook last week: Freakonomics.

I downloaded "Freakonomics: Revised Edition (Unabridged)" from iTunes for $21.95. The audiobook is about 7 hours long.

I started listening to Freakonomics on my iPod for my walk to/from work.

This is a very interesting, thought-provoking read/listen.

Probably the most memorable topic was about the dramatic drop in crime (40% drop in homicides) in the early 90's and its connection to legalized abortion. It's a touchy subject, but handled in a factual manner without choosing sides in the abortion debate.

Other topics were about what parenting techniques work and which ones don't:

  • Reading to your child every night (doesn't help)
  • Letting your child watch TV (doesn't hurt)
  • Stay at home moms (doesn't help)

The findings are that kids do well when their parents do well, independent of how the child is raised. It's who you *are* as parents that is important, not what you *do* as parents.

Another question the book tackles...which is safer: a house with a gun or a house with a pool? The answer: a child is 100 times more likely to die at a house that has a pool than one with a gun present.

I recommend both Freakonomics and the medium of audiobooks.

I already finished another audiobook, Stephen King's "The Gingerbread Girl (Unabridged)." It was a short listen (about 2 hours) and kept me entertained.

My next audiobook is Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.

May 12, 2008

Amazon MP3 Downloads

Filed under Music, Reviews, Web

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Last year I switched from using iTunes and Rhapsody for my source of music back to CD's. The main reason: convenience.

I'm switching again...to Amazon MP3.

They have a really good selection of music. Singles cost 89 or 99 cents.

The *big* difference over iTunes and Rhapsody: you download music as MP3, not a format that will only work on certain devices.

I have two iPods, an MP3 player for my car, phone with a media player, and my computer. MP3 is the only format that will work in all places (and any future devices I get). MP3 support is a requirement for me.

Anytime I bought from iTunes/Rhapsody, I'd immediately burn the DRM'ed songs to CD and then extract them as MP3's back to the hard drive. It was a painfully slow process...especially filling in all the missing information.

Amazon MP3 avoids all of this...I just pick a song and it is downloaded directly to my library AND it has all the song information and cover art!

Amazon MP3 is better than CD's because your purchase is immediate (no waiting for CD delivered by mail) and there is no need to rip the MP3's from the CD.

It is pretty addictive...I bought $40 worth of singles tonight.

If I can't find it on Amazon MP3, then I'll use CD's as my backup option.

Highly recommended!

May 4, 2008

GTA 4

Filed under Reviews, Video Games, Xbox 360

imageI picked up Grand Theft Auto IV this week.

This is reported to be the most expensive video game ever made...$100 million...and I'd believe it based on what I've seen. You can tell a lot of work went into this game.

When I started playing, it brought back memories of playing the previous versions...but with much better graphics in HD and more attention to detail.

And that's a good thing...because the previous versions were already well done.

One of the most fun things to do in GTA 4 is just explore and see what you can do and the consequences for your actions.

One new feature I really like...if you are trying to get to a location in town and you steal a luxury car, the car's GPS voice instructions will let you keep your eyes on the road instead of looking at the map.

I'm going to be playing this one for a while.

May 3, 2008

Ironman Review

Filed under Movies, Reviews

imageIronman is awesome!

One of the best comic book movies ever made...up there with the original Superman and Spiderman movies.

Some of my favorite parts were the dialog between Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow. Robert has a great screen presence and is the reason this movie works. I think the focus on the characters will attract a broader audience than most comic book movies.

The end credits had a really cool effect...definitely worth checking out.

...and the special effects weren't shabby, either. :)

Look for a cameo appearance by Ironman/Robert Downey Jr. in The Incredible Hulk June 13th.

 

April 28, 2008

Half Life 2

Filed under Reviews, Video Games, Xbox 360

image I finished Half Life 2 this weekend.

This game is old by video game standards (it came out in Nov 2004).

It is one of 5 games on "The Orange Box."

The first game I played on "The Orange Box" was "Portal," and I loved it. It is one of the best games I've played in the past 5 years.

HL2 is huge. I spent much of my time in awe over the expansive environments and the effort involved creating props that you sometimes just fly by. The attention to detail is amazing.

I certainly enjoyed it...but it may have been too easy. I never felt like any part was really challenging using the default settings. In some ways that is good...because I never got too frustrated...but when I finished the game, I didn't feel any sense of accomplishment that I normally feel when I beat a difficult game.

I'm guessing most people have played this already...but if you haven't, it is worth checking out...it holds up well for an "old" game. This game feels like an interactive movie.

Now I'm on to playing HL2 Episode 1.

The Orange Box is a great value and full of great games...definitely a must have (and I still have 3 more games to try).

 

March 15, 2008

ObjectDock

Filed under Computers, Reviews, Software

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I noticed a co-worker had some cool Mac-effects on his Windows box. He was using ObjectDock, a free utility.

I've tried it on my work XP box and my home Vista box, and it works equally well in both OS's.

Above is a screen shot of my current Vista desktop. I turned off the Windows taskbar and I'm using ObjectDock exclusively now.

It's definitely fun to play with.

The one thing I wish it could do is show the taskbar notifications AND open windows. The property page only lets you do windows OR system tray (notification area)...not both:

image

As a work around, I added a system tray dock at the top of my screen. You can see it "hidden" in the top photo and expanded below. It will suffice, but I'd like to have all this in the same dock at the bottom of the screen. The ability to add extra docks is part of ObjectDock Plus, which cost $20.

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February 9, 2008

Vista Boot Time

Filed under Computers, Reviews

I noticed that my boot up time had increased significantly and I didn't know why. I don't reboot very often, so it's not a big deal, but I was curious what was slowing things down.

Until recently, I could boot Vista in 28 seconds. Now it is taking me about 85 seconds to boot.

Shutdown was taking longer as well.

Vista tracks your systems performance and will generate errors and warnings when something is not performing as it should. To see what your status is, go to:

Start->Control Panel->System and Maintenance->Performance Information and Tools->Advanced tools->View performance details in Event Log

Sure enough, I had critical and warning performance events in my boot up...

image

I did a search on "Event 100" and found this post that suggested it could be an external USB hard drive issue.

I unplugged my external hard drive and rebooted.

My boot time dropped back to 28 seconds!

In searching the net for this issue, I noticed many references to Western Digital My Book's, which is exactly what I have. I wondered if this was an external USB hard drive issue or a *Western Digital* external USB hard drive issue.

So I plugged in my older/smaller capacity Maxtor external USB hard drive and rebooted.

My boot time stayed at 28 seconds. I checked the event log and I was no longer getting critical or warning performance events at boot up.

It looks like this is a Western Digital external USB hard drive issue.

I ordered a new 750 GB Maxtor external USB hard drive today to replace the Western Digital.

My advice to you: stay away from the Western Digital external USB hard drives!

 

February 7, 2008

Inbox Zero

Filed under Computers, Reviews, Software, Work

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Merlin Mann stopped by today to give us his "Inbox Zero" talk about controlling high volumes of email.

I picked up some useful tips:

  • Don't use your inbox as a "to do" list...it is only for unread mail.
  • Your inbox should be empty most of the time. Leaving email in your inbox slows down your ability to process new email and forces you to revisit old email over and over.
  • When you have email in your inbox, you should go through it quickly and do one of the following:
    • Delete it
    • Delegate it - forward to someone that can handle the email, then remove/archive the email
    • Respond, then remove/archive the email
    • Defer (move it to a folder for things you don't have time to figure out an action for just yet, but will later)
    • Do what the email asks now, then remove/archive the email
  • Turn off email notifications...they just stop you from being productive by interrupting your current work.
  • Check your email less frequently: You will process 20 new emails at once more quickly than 1 new email 20 different times.

I am doing this both for my work and home email. I moved all my email out of my inbox into a "To Do Email" folder (a "defer" folder). I have empty inboxes now!

Merlin is a great, entertaining speaker. I highly recommend this program. It should be required viewing...you will spend less time in email and more time doing what you want after you watch this.

This 1 hour video is the same talk we got today, but this was recorded from Merlin's visit to Google:

January 27, 2008

Juno

Filed under Movies, Reviews

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Wow! The last three movies I've seen have been great (Ok, I'm not counting this one).

I saw Juno last night and loved it. For those counting at home, the other two are this one and this one.

This is a funny movie...and the dialog is fast and furious. Juno is what I imagine Sarah Silverman (I love her) would be like if she got knocked up in high school.

This movie is about high school kids and teen pregnancy. It doesn't seem like a movie that I would like...but I loved it.

Go see this movie!

The Oscar nominated screenplay was written by former stripper and phone sex operator Diablo Cody. You can tell Juno gets a lot of her character from Diablo.

 

Check her out on a recent Letterman appearance concerning Juno:

 

Here is an earlier Diablo Cody Letterman appearance where she talks about being a stripper:

January 18, 2008

Cloverfield

Filed under Movies, Reviews

image Stop reading this and go see Cloverfield now.

 

I'm not kidding.

This is a fun monster movie...and the less you know, the better it is. It may be the perfect monster movie. I *really* liked it.

 

I got to see a special screening of this film earlier this week. The movie is like a cross between Godzilla and The Blair Witch Project...except much better than either one.

Since the movie is filmed from a video camera held by one of the characters (like Blair Witch)....expect a bumpy ride. There is a lot of running and spinning. A security guard said 16 people ran to the lobby to vomit during the movie. A friend of mine had to get up and leave because he was nauseated. All the people came back to finish watching, though. It is recommended you sit further back in the theater to lessen the impact (or closer if you want the ultimate experience!). I didn't have any problems with it, and I sat about 6 rows from the front.

Oh! And make sure you see this in a theater with good sound...it makes a huge difference! The sound is really well done (props to Skywalker Sound!) and will make you feel like you are there if you go to a good theater.

Here is the teaser (which is essentially the first 5 minutes of the movie):

 

January 16, 2008

Synergy

Filed under Reviews, Software

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If you have multiple computers on your desk and want to control them all with a single keyboard/mouse...you got to try Synergy.

I have a Windows box and a Linux box at work. I had both systems setup next to each other. I was constantly using the wrong keyboard/mouse when I would switch systems.

Now I use Synergy and just a single keyboard/mouse. When I want to switch to my Linux box from Windows, I simply drag the mouse cursor on Windows in the direction of the Linux monitor and the mouse pointer magically appears on Linux and all keyboard input now goes to the Linux box. When I want to go back to Windows, I just drag the mouse cursor back towards the Windows monitor. It looks like a dual-monitor setup because the mouse just slides back and forth between the two computers as if it were the same mouse.

How does it work? One system is a server (in my case, my Windows box) and one is a client (my Linux box). The server has the keyboard/mouse attached to it. When you move the mouse to an edge, Synergy redirects keyboard/mouse output to the client over the network connection. It works like a software-based KVM switch (but doesn't do the video).

It even supports copy/paste between systems! And when my screen-saver kicks in on Windows, my Linux box does the same...and they both wake up when I touch the mouse.

It is definitely better than a desktop filled with keyboards and mice for multiple systems.

And best of all, Synergy is free!

Highly recommended! Give it a try!

January 12, 2008

No Country For Old Men

Filed under Movies, Reviews

No_Country_for_Old_Men_posterI went to a screening of No Country For Old Men a couple of days ago.

This is the best movie I've seen in the past year.

It's a Coen Brothers film, so it is quirky and original. I liken it to Fargo in Texas.

I grew up in West Texas, so I enjoyed this movie on another level. The accents, people and locations were very familiar to me.

The main hitman in the film may bump  Hannibal Lecter off the top spot for creepiest villain.

This is a great film...a must-see.

December 15, 2007

Metacritic

Filed under Reviews, Web

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A co-worker turned me on to Metacritic.com recently.

What is Metacritic? It is the ultimate review site for films, DVD's, video games, TV, music, and books. It takes reviews from all over the place and combines them into a single rating.

From what my co-worker said, *this* is the site to gauge how good a video game is.

December 4, 2007

Blade Runner: The Final Cut

Filed under Movies, Reviews

image I went to a special screening of "Blade Runner: The Final Cut" yesterday. This version commemorates the 25th anniversary of Blade Runner.

The previous "director's cut" actually did not involve the director Ridley Scott...but this one does.

This is the best revised movie I've ever seen. The differences are subtle, but make the movie better. The differences I noticed were more violent/intense scenes and additional/fixed dialog. Here is a complete list of the changes.

The presentation is spot on. The color pops. The music (by Vangelis) sounds amazing.

It didn't hurt that I saw the all digital version in a THX theater.

The movie started with a new THX trailer. It features an odd mixture of mechanical plants that emit different tones that eventually becomes "deep note." It got applause like the early days of THX trailers.

Blade Runner: The Final Cut is coming to DVD, HD-DVD, and Blu-ray Dec. 18th.

November 30, 2007

Portal

Filed under Reviews, Video Games, Xbox 360

I bought the Orange Box recently for the Xbox 360. The Orange Box consists of 5 games. The first game I tried is called "Portal." The video above gives you an idea of the concept behind Portal and what game-play looks like. This video was also shown at the SIGGRAPH Electronic Theater in 2007.

It took me about two sittings to finish Portal. Some people will be annoyed with how short it is. I love that it didn't take forever since I don't spend a lot of time playing video games.

Portal is an amazing game and unlike anything you have played. It seems like a first person shooter...but you don't have a gun and nobody is trying to kill you. It is actually a mind-bending puzzle game.

The game's sense of humor is part of the charm. It is so well done.

I can't stress this enough...you *must* try this game! It may be my favorite game since I first tried "The Sims." This is a fun and very satisfying game!

Portal (part of "The Orange Box") is available now on the Xbox 360 and PC and coming soon to the PS3.

November 25, 2007

Windows Live Writer 1.0

Filed under Blogging, Reviews, Software

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I've been using Windows Live Writer for publishing blog posts for over a year now. It has been beta software...until now. You can get the 1.0 release version here.

Highly recommended!

November 7, 2007

The Pixar Story

Filed under 3D, Animation, Movies, Reviews

image I saw "The Pixar Story" today. It is a documentary following the creation of Pixar and the people behind it.

The director, Leslie Iwerks, did a Q&A session after the screening. Leslie's grandfather, Ub Iwerks, is the creator of Mickey Mouse.

I loved this film because I could relate to so much of it. Many of the movie events chronicled in this film made me want a career in computer graphics.

This is a great film...go see it if you get the chance or rent it when it comes to DVD.

 

September 9, 2007

Notepad Replacement

Filed under Computers, Programming, Reviews, Software

I spend much of my time editing text in Visual Studio. I love their text editor...but Visual Studio is too big to load just to edit an occasional text file. For that, I use Notepad or Wordpad.

I ran into an issue where I needed to look at a specific line number in a text file. Visual Studio lets you jump to a line number, but Notepad/Wordpad don't.

I could load Visual Studio and then jump to the line number...but I decided to look for a Notepad replacement...and I found a great one!

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It's called Notepad++. It is *exactly* what I was looking for...a free editor that gives you all the functionality of Visual Studio in a text editor that loads very quickly.

Things that I like about Notepad++:

  • Line numbers/go to line number
  • Free
  • Quick to load
  • Bookmarks
  • Ctrl-F3 Search (searches for the word under the cursor without opening a dialog box)
  • Uses the same keyboard shortcuts that Visual Studio uses
  • Regular Expression Searches
  • Tabbed Document Interface
  • Syntax highlighting for C++, HTML, XML, Python, Lua, JavaScript, C# (and many others)
  • Support for Windows, UNIX, and Mac line ending
  • Macro recording/playback
  • Plug-in Support
  • Spell Check
  • Alt-Left Mouse Button select (great for selecting a single column of text)

You can download Notepad++ (npp) here. I used npp.4.2.2.Installer.exe.

Highly recommended!

September 5, 2007

BioShock Review

Filed under Reviews, Video Games, Xbox 360

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I finished BioShock yesterday. I don't want to give anything away in case you might play this game...there are a lot of fun surprises.

In short...I loved it.

The story line was incredibly deep. Probably the thing that sets this game apart the most is the art direction and the architecture...it is beautiful to just look around the very detailed buildings of this underwater city from the 1940's.

The game is very dark in its mood and disturbing in its images and sounds. It's very creepy. It's rated "M"...so don't play this game around kids...you might scar them for life! There are scenes that remind me of some of the more gruesome parts of the movie "Seven."

This game reminded me of several movies I've seen. I already mentioned "Seven." Others include...

This is the first game I've played where you are judged by your actions. You can be a good guy or a bad guy...and each choice will give you a different experience.

I chose to be bad my first time through. I'm going to play the game again, but this time I'm going to be good.

I played on the easy level first...and it was virtually impossible to die. I was more interested in the story, so I'm not disappointed with the lack of a challenge. Now I'm going to replay on the hardest level (which gives you 40 achievement points if you can do it).

This game is certainly discussion worthy. Several of my friends and co-workers are playing it and I hear conversations daily about the game.

I'd put this game up with Gears of War as a must own 360 game (also available on the PC). Go get it!

 

August 19, 2007

Superbad

Filed under Movies, Not Safe for Work (NSFW), Reviews

This preview is not safe for work (R-rated)...

I saw Superbad today. Very funny and crude...but highly recommended!

August 4, 2007

Hostel - First Day Impressions

Filed under Reviews, SIGGRAPH

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I checked into a hostel today (my first). It certainly is a bit different than a normal hotel. So far...I like it. It works just fine for me. I don't think any of my former girlfriends would have approved of this place. People are very friendly and want to talk to you. I'm in the middle of the Gaslamp Quarter, so I'm surrounded by restaurants and night life...and I'm only 4 blocks from the convention center.

Here are some pics of my room. It was $30/person per night and my room is for 2 people. So I paid $60/night to get a private room.

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My main concern was the bathroom...I wasn't looking forward to sharing a bathroom and a shower. It looks like it won't be too bad after all...here are some pics of the bathroom...

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The outside (see the first pic) has a painting of a guy trying to commit suicide...not sure how that fits into staying at a hostel, but I'll let you know after I've been here a week.

July 26, 2007

How To Destroy Your Music Collection

Filed under Reviews, Software, WTF

Brought to you by Windows Media Player 11 (WMP).

I started trying to rip some CD's I recently purchased. When I put the CD in, it was labeled as "Unknown Album". If I right-clicked on the blank CD album art, I had the option of "Find Album Info". I tried this option out and it worked as expected...it found the correct album. Clicking "Finish" adds all the album information to the CD....except my CD information stayed blank.

I tried doing this using my guest account and it worked right: I inserted the CD and it immediately had the right song names, album name, artist, album art, etc.

I couldn't find any help online. I did find a solution when I was trying to find where WMP was attempting to store the CD information. I found (on Vista) that WMP stores information in C:\Users\USERNAME\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Media Player. I moved this folder to "Media Player.old" and tried again and everything worked as expected.

WMP does a great job of getting CD information. It also has the same feature for files in your music library. In WMP, if you right-click on an album in your music library, you have the option to "Find Album Info." Even though the album had all the information correct that I care about, I thought it would be interesting to see if it filled in all the missing pieces.

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It asked me how I wanted to search, so I gave it the artist name ".38 Special."

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Next it gave me a list of albums by .38 Special and I picked the correct one. The final screen shows you all the details of the album it found. Just click "Finish" and your information will be up to date...right?

WRONG! DON'T PRESS "FINISH"!!!

If you do, WMP will start searching your music library for music files that are about the right size to match the music file sizes for the songs on the album (Special Forces). I actually only had one song from that album (which it found correctly), but after I was done I had 6 other songs. It took a few Bee Gees songs, a Banannarama song, a .38 Special song from another album, and a Father MC song and relabeled them as songs from "Special Forces." It changed...

  • File name was changed from the correct "artist-song" format to a combination of "38 Special" and an incorrect 38 Special song
  • File location...moved the files from their correct "artist/album" folder to the "38 Special/Special Forces" folder
  • File information...artist, album, song name, etc. were all overwritten with the wrong info

I can understand software getting this wrong, it is not a perfect science. But *if* there is a chance it is going to do the wrong thing, shouldn't it show me it's proposed changes and allow me to decide if I want my beloved music collection mutilated?!?!?!?!?!

Also, I figured it would limit its search to just the album folder that I did "Find Album Info" for, but it looks like my entire music collection was fair game. That is scary! Getting those songs labeled correctly took a lot of time...but just a fraction of a second for WMP to turn it to garbage.

Luckily, I have my system backed up and I just deleted the bad files and restored them from the backup. I use Vista's excellent "Backup and Restore Center" and an external hard drive to back up changes to my system daily.

So everything is back to normal...or so I thought.

I had my Bee Gees folder open to verify the files were replaced correctly by the restore. I went on to doing something else when I noticed one by one the Bee Gees songs disappeared! Where did they go?

They went right back in the "38 Special/Special Forces" folder...and all their information was again changed back to a 38 Special information.

WTF? How did that happen?

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It turns out that WMP stores the album information it used to update files...in case a file needs to be "fixed" again. 

To get WMP to stop changing file names, locations, and song information, I had to disable a few options. These are the options to *avoid*:

    1. "Overwrite all media information"
    2. "Rename music files using rip music settings"
    3. "Rearrange music in rip music folder, using rip music settings"

I figured I was safe, since I used "Only add missing information" with #2 and #3 (I never had #1 on). But I definitely had my information overwritten even though #1 was off!

I'm not sure if it is necessary, but I'd recommend deleting the WMP data folder (C:\Users\USERNAME\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Media Player) if you ever use "Find Album Info" or "Update Album Info" so it won't even think about renaming your files ever again.

After disabling those options, erasing WMP's memory, and restoring my old music files again...all is well.

Lesson learned:

NEVER USE THE "FIND ALBUM INFO" OR "UPDATE ALBUM INFO" IN WINDOWS MEDIA PLAYER!

June 30, 2007

Opening Day: Ratatouille

Filed under Movies, Reviews

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I saw the new Pixar movie Ratatouille tonight.

Visually, the movie is stunning. The animation is just fun to watch.

The villain (a food critic) in the film is so well done (Peter O'Toole does the voice).

This is a great film. I certainly liked it better than Cars...but not as much as The Incredibles.

The movie opens with a very funny short called Lifted about an alien taking his "abduction" exam.

Ratatouille and Transformers are the movies to see this summer.

April 15, 2007

New PC!

Filed under Computers, Reviews

I was holding off buying a PC until I could get one with Vista. About the time Vista was released, I got a new job and had to move. So my new PC had to wait.

Once I started getting paychecks again...I put in my order to Dell for a new PC.

I really like the way the Dell XPS 710's look. We had several at my last job, and I was close to getting one...but space is a premium for me now. The 710 is big and heavy. You can fill it with a bunch of hard drives...but I only need one hard drive.

I decided to go with a Dell Dimension E520.

Here are the vitals:

  • Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate 32-bit (including original install DVD)
  • Intel Core 2 Duo E6400 (2.13 GHz, 1066 FSB, 2MB cache)
  • 2 GB DDR2 SDRAM at 667 MHz
  • 24 inch Dell 2407FPW UltraSharp LCD
  • Intel Integrated Graphics (Temporary solution...waiting on upcoming Nvidia/ATI DirectX 10 cards that should be out this month)
  • 250 GB SATA II Hard Drive (7200 RPM)
  • 16X DVD+/-RW Drive
  • Integrated Audio
  • Dell speakers that fit under the flat panel monitor
  • 13 in 1 Media Card Reader
  • 1 Year Support

The total came to $1,554.76 using my LucasFilm employee discount. The LucasFilm discount saved me about $250. That figure does not include tax, which was an additional $131.73. Shipping was free.

This is my first PC without a floppy drive. I haven't used a floppy in years.

I've used my 21 inch Compaq monitor since I left my job at Compaq in 1997. Back then, I bought it with my employee discount for half price...$1,000. I got 10 years of service out of it...not bad!

The new 24" widescreen LCD looks great. I am hooked on widescreen aspect ratio for computers. This is the same monitor I use at work. 

The system is fast and very quiet. I had to turn off my old PC so it would not bother me while watching movies...not so with this one.

The Intel integrated graphics work great for Vista's Aero UI. The original drivers drew some random black lines on the login screen. I updated the drivers and the problem went away.

The only real problem I had was when I turned on the PC, I got an error dialog requesting a Windows disk. The keyboard and mouse weren't functioning so I could not close or skip the dialog box, and inserting all the disks that came with the system did not help. I eventually booted in Safe Mode and got past the the dialog and everything worked fine after that.

I didn't care about this...I had always planned on formatting the hard drive so I could install Vista clean. I hate all the crapware that PC makers add to their OS installations. A clean install gets rid of it all.

I'm very happy with my purchase so far!

 

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April 8, 2007

Grindhouse

Filed under Movies, Reviews

I saw the new movie "Grindhouse" yesterday.

The film has an unusual layout. It is actually two completely different movies with fake previews before each feature. Total running time is 3 hours, 10 minutes.

"Planet Terror" is a zombie movie and "Death Proof" is a psycho-on-a-killing-rampage movie.

I *loved* this movie. This is Tarantino's best work since Pulp Fiction. Of the two features, I preferred Tarantino's "Death Proof" over Rodriguez's "Planet Terror."

Definitely not a film for everybody. It is the goriest movie I've ever seen...which is one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much. Watching with a crowd is a must...listening to the audience react to the over-the-top moments (there are several) is what makes this movie such a fun ride.

Part of the "charm" of this movie are the references to other shows. The characters talk about "tasty beverages" and "Big Kahuna Burgers" a la Pulp Fiction. There are some car chase scenes that are right out of the "Dukes of Hazard." The music at times was reminiscent of a John Carpenter horror flick.

The look of "Planet Terror" is intentionally very low-budget, however the special effects (by ILM neighbor, The Orphanage) were top-notch and gruesome.

The music was great...I ordered both CD's (1 for each movie) today.

 

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April 7, 2007

Windows Live Writer (Beta)

Filed under Blogging, Computers, Reviews, Software, Web

I had a bad experience with Word 2007 as a blog editor.

During the process of setting up Word to talk to Movable Type, I learned that I needed to configure Movable Type to allow publishing via external programs.

Ever since I upgraded my version of Movable Type from 3.2 to 3.34, I lost my ability to use Windows Live Writer (WLW). I went back to the old, web-based basic HTML editor for posting. It was painful, but it worked.

I decided to try WLW again to see if it would start working after my modified Movable Type to support external publishing programs...and it did!

So I'm back to using WLW again and it makes me happy!

I noticed that they have added several plug-ins since I last used WLW, which may be worth trying out.

What I like about WLW:

  • Support for tagging
  • Support for categories
  • Resize images to fit a particular blog width
  • Link to original, full size photo
  • Automagically uploads, resizes pictures
  • Spell checker
  • Very fast/light application
  • Free!
  • WYSIWYG...uses the stylesheet from your blog you know what you post will look like before you publish it.

I did notice that if I try to link to a really big photo (like a 1920x1200 desktop), WLW will fail to post to the server with a error message. Shrinking the image size fixed the problem. This is beta software...hopefully this problem will be fixed!

Blogging in Word 2007

Filed under Blogging, Reviews, Software

My brother was nice enough to hook me up with a free version of Office Pro 2007, which normally costs $499. The free offer from Microsoft is over now.

One of the first things I wanted to try out was Word's new blogging support.

 

What I like:

  • Spell checking
  • Easily create bulleted lists by starting a line with an asterisk (*)
  • In the same fashion, create numbered bulleted lists by prefixing your lists with "1."
  • Add pictures to a post by pasting them into Word…it will automatically convert them to .png and upload them to the server…a big time saver!
  • Lots of nice picture formatting options

What I don't like:

  • Word supports adding categories to a blog post, but for some reason they don't get transferred to my blog.
  • Word supports tagging, but these tags are not included with the post.
  • Images are resized in inches, not pixels. I know my blog works with pictures that are 320 pixels wide, I don't know what that is in inches.
  • Does not have a way (that I could find) to link to the full size image automatically. I believe you have to manually upload the full size picture and then create a hyperlink to the full size picture. This is a deal breaker!

The poor support for image resizing and hyperlinking to full size pictures is enough for me to pass on Word 2007 as a blog editor for now. Hopefully Microsoft will address my concerns in a future release or service pack.

April 5, 2007

Bird's Eye View

Filed under Reviews, Web

Microsoft's Live Search Maps has a really cool feature for some parts of the country called "Bird's Eye View." The picture above is the bird's eye view of the LucasFilm campus at the Letterman Digital Arts Center, looking to the North.

You can pick a spot and rotate around it to see it from North, South, East, and West.

I've found this view very helpful for my modeling project. I also use it when I'm going to parts of town I'm not familiar with (like all of it), so that I know what the buildings look like in the area I'm going to.

March 5, 2007

Zodiac

Filed under Reviews

Every Saturday, LucasFilm has a free screening for a new movie opening that week. Sounds like a great benefit except for two things...
  1. The theaters that do the screenings (regular movie theaters, not owned by LucasFilm) are near Skywalker Ranch, which is north of San Francisco near San Rafael, CA. Skywalker Ranch was the original HQ for LucasFilm, but ILM, LucasArts, and Licensing have moved to the Presidio. San Rafael is about a 30 minute drive from the Presidio and it requires you to cross the Golden Gate bridge. It is always free to leave San Francisco by bridge, but you have to pay a toll on the way back...$5 for the Golden Gate Bridge.
  2. The screenings start at 9 a.m.!

This was my first time driving across the Golden Gate Bridge...very impressive. I took the photo above on my way back to San Francisco. You can see Sutro Tower in the background, the tallest structure in San Francisco.

I was reminded several times during my first week on the job of how to watch a movie screening...it is considered rude to get up when the credits start rolling. You should wait until all the credits are through to pay your respect to the people that made the movie...which I usually do anyway.

The movie screening this week was for Zodiac. It was interesting to watch because it is a true story and it takes place in and around San Francisco. I thought it was a good movie, but probably an hour too long (it is 2:40 total). It starts with a "bang" and then drags on for awhile.

January 11, 2007

Idiocracy

Filed under Movies, Reviews

I just finished watching Idiocracy. This is a *great* movie by the guy that did Office Space, Mike Judge.

Idiocracy was never promoted in theaters and only played in 7 cities. In Dallas, it was gone in less than 2 weeks, so I missed it. But it came out on DVD this week, and I grabbed it as quick as I could.

After seeing the film, I can understand why 20th Century Fox tried to bury this movie. It makes a lot of jokes at the expense of corporations (Fuddruckers, Starbucks, Carl's Jr. to name a few)...and those corporations buy a lot of advertising.

It is original, funny, and smart, in a dumb kind of way. It is one of the best movies I've seen in a while. Two thumbs way up!

January 10, 2007

Selling on eBay

Filed under Reviews, Web

I bought things on eBay, but I never *sold* anything until now. Since I stopped using DirecTV, I have a bunch of electronics that I no longer need. I decided to try to sell two things to see how eBay works.

About a year ago, I bought a couple of "destackers" so I could use my regular DirecTV tuners with the "stacked" signal my apartment uses. One of the destackers, a Sonora D575, converts one signal. It cost around $60.

The other destacker, a Sonora D575D, converts one signal into two un-stacked signals for a dual tuner TiVo. It cost about $160.

I listed my destackers for half the price I bought them for. I put them up for auction for a 7 day period. Nobody bid on the destackers until the final day. Then a bidding "war" started! It is fun to watch the price go up!

After the auctions closed, I sold the D575 for $32 + shipping cost ($2 more than I was asking). I sold the D575D for $100 + shipping cost, which is $25 more than I was asking!

Now I'm addicted! That was *way* too easy! I just got paid $132 to get rid of my junk! I cleaned out my apartment and found 10 more items I will soon list on eBay.

When I was a kid, we had a garage sale to get rid of our stuff. It was a big deal and required a lot of work. eBay is like a garage sale, but you have an audience of millions of people and you can sell *anything* whenever you want, with very little preparation.

As an adult, I have not had my own garage sale. Instead, I dump my old electronics on unsuspecting family members and friends...but no more! Everything is going out via eBay now!

What a great way to get rid of your junk and get paid to do it! Highly recommended!

December 22, 2006

PS3 Thoughts

Filed under Gadgets, Reviews, Xbox 360

I owned a PS1 and I still have a PS2. I decided to switch camps for this generation of consoles and move to the Xbox 360.

I have no doubt that I made the right decision.

I tried out a PS3 demo unit at a GameStop. The controller is almost exactly like the PS2 version, which is not a bad thing. I like that the controller is now wireless and the shoulder buttons are analog triggers (like the 360's). I couldn't try out the tilt feature because the games I played did not support it. The PS3 no longer has support for "rumble", which is disappointing.

The games looked like Xbox 360 games, which is underwhelming considering the price difference, extra year of development time, and bold claims by Sony. Here's a website that compared games that are released on both the 360 and PS3...they look almost identical!

One of the selling points for the PS3 is its new Cell microprocessor. It has been called a "supercomputer on a chip."

Both the PS3 and the 360 get much of their processing power from multiple chips processing in parallel. The PS3 can process 8 threads at a time compared to the Xbox 360's 6. A *big* difference is the PS3 is asymmetric, which means the processors have different abilities and the software developer must take care in deciding which processors runs which thread. This is not an issue for the 360, because each processor has identical properties. Writing multi-threaded software is *really* hard. With the PS3, you also have to manage which processor is doing what and try to make sure the best processor for the job is always finished doing its previous work to avoid bottlenecks. The home user will not notice this issue, but software developers will.

I've also read that the PS3's Cell processor is crippled because of a design defect. If true, it could be another headache for software developers.

But forget the processors...they are not as important as the media would have you believe. For 3D video games, the biggest bottleneck is the graphics card. A game can only run as fast as its slowest component, and that will usually be the graphics card. PS3 has a custom Nvidia card and the 360 has a custom ATI card. These cards are very close in terms of specs and performance. I believe this is the most important reason why you will not see much difference between what a PS3 can do and what a 360 can do.

I see the hardware as essentially equal between the PS3 and the 360...which is bad news for Sony. Sony is a hardware company, Microsoft is a software company. If the hardware is equal, then this battle is going to play to Microsoft's favor. Examples of 360 software that make the platform shine are achievements (like the coins you collect in Mario, but available across all games), Xbox Live (networked gaming; game, video, music downloads), Xbox Live Arcade (retro/casual games), plus tools and libraries to make software developers happy.

I've heard the magic number is 10 million: first console to reach 10 million sales becomes the dominate platform for that generation. The 360 is expected to reach 10 million before the end of the year.

December 18, 2006

Gears of War

Filed under Reviews, Xbox 360

There was a lot of buzz surrounding the launch of Gears of War, so I picked it up when it came out to see if it lived up to the hype. Without question this is the game to have if you want to show off what next-generation games look like.

I played the single player game off and on when I had time and was progressing very slowly. Then I visited my buddy Chris Franka in San Antonio this past weekend. Chris also has an Xbox 360 and Gear of War. We ended up playing in cooperative mode on his 60 inch screen...my view was the bottom half of the screen and his was the top half. Playing single player is a lot of fun, but cooperative is even better! We played for four hours, took a break to watch the Cowboy game and watch Borat, then continued playing until we finished the game. In all, it took us about 8 hours on the easy level.

I was able to transfer my "gamertag" from my home Xbox 360 to Chris' over Xbox Live using the "Recover Gamertag" option. I had to type in my Xbox Live email address and password to complete the transfer. The main reason I did this is so that any achievements or progress I unlocked in the game would be stored in my account, so I could take it home with me. FYI: Typing email/passwords via the Xbox controller is painful...just plug in a USB keyboard instead.

The game has several familiar elements from Sci-Fi/Adventure films: Aliens (troop transport), Starship Troopers (the Locusts), The Matrix (The Reavers), Star Wars (Jack the robot, some of the theme music), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (mine cars), Escape From New York (traveling deserted city at night), and more.

Probably the most amazing aspect of this game for me is the attention to detail. You can literally spend hours just looking around at all the background/unimportant architecture. I am replaying the game on medium difficulty and it doesn't get old because there is so much to look at.

The game play has some unique features that make this game shine. There is no jumping up and down to avoid getting shot like in most shooters. You can't "orbit" an enemy. Instead you spend much of your time hiding behind cover trying to get headshots to kill your enemies. It feels more realistic than other shooters I've played.

The sound effects and music are great and really help set the mood.

This is definitely my favorite Xbox 360 game. There is a lot of hype behind this game, but I think it is well deserving. Highly recommended.

Here is the ad for the game...

December 5, 2006

Xbox 360 HD DVD Player

Filed under HDTV, Reviews, Xbox 360

I got an Xbox 360 HD DVD Player this weekend.

The external drive plugs into a USB port. Initially, I was not excited about a console with two drives. However, now I like the idea.

One of my main gripes about the 360 is how loud the DVD drive is. You better crank up the volume if you don't want to be distracted by the DVD drive. The HD DVD is quiet. I never noticed it, even during low volume scenes.

Another nice benefit of two drives: I can leave my games in the 360 while changing out movies in the HD DVD tray and vice versa. It means less trips to the console if you want to play some "Gears of War" in between episodes of "24", like I'm doing now.

The HD DVD disk themselves feel much more sturdy than a standard DVD. I read a while back that HD DVD would have a special "scratch-proof" coating. It is really hard to gauge if it is working at this point. But if it does, it certainly will make renting HD DVD a more pleasant experience than renting DVD's.

Speaking of renting, Netflix has both a HD DVD & Blu-ray "genre." You can setup Netflix to send you HD DVD or Blu-ray if they are available. I loaded up my rental queue with 50 HD DVD's. There is no extra cost to rent HD DVD or Blu-ray.

The video quality is excellent. I didn't see any video issues whatsoever. In fact, I could watch the movie from just 1 foot away on my 46" TV and *NOT* see any compression artifacts! Even the best OTA HD broadcast has compression artifacts that are easy to see from that distance. I could see the film grain ("Happy Gilmore"), but that is an issue with the source material, and not the HD DVD drive. From 9 feet away, the film grain was not noticeable. I didn't see any film grain issues with "King Kong."

Sound was the same as a standard DVD as far as I could tell...which is really good.

DVD's still look good on my set, but HD DVD looks even better...mainly sharper and better color output.

HD DVD has the ability to keep running the movie while interactive menus play on top of the film. It is useful for changing the audio track or jumping to a particular scene. Certainly not ground breaking, but DVD's can't do this. On a DVD, every time you select a different menu, the audio/video for the current menu abruptly stop and start on the new menu. With HD DVD, the transitions are flawless...it just makes the disk feel more polished.

HD DVD does not pause midway through a movie like a DVD does when going to the second layer of a dual layer disk. That pause was more annoying than anything, but I'm glad it's gone.

If you have a 360 and an HDTV, this is a no brainer...get this drive!

November 26, 2006

Running

Filed under Gadgets, Reviews

I *hate* running. I gave up running over 10 years ago. Instead I've played basketball or rode my bike for exercise.

I'm giving running another try because I've hit my weight limit and I found a very cool running trail. The trail starts at the American Airlines Center, which is just down the street from me. It is called The Katy Trail. It is 3.5 miles in length from the AAC to Mockingbird Station. Here is a map of the trail I made with Microsoft Live.

I tried walking it yesterday and used my Motorola Q phone as a music player...and that sucked! Even with max volume, I could barely hear the music. I needed something else to keep me entertained while I was running. I decided to pick up an Apple Ipod Shuffle because they are really light, fairly cheap, get good reviews, and have a really cool commercial...

I went running this afternoon...and it wasn't pretty. I couldn't run a quarter of a mile without stopping. I ran/walked (mostly walked) 3 miles. I have a lot of work to do. I plan on running minimum twice a week.

As for the Shuffle...I really like it. Since I'm running, I don't care that it doesn't have a display. I loaded it up with high energy music and it sounded great. I had it clipped to my shorts and I never noticed it while I was running.

There are a few changes I wish Apple would make to the Shuffle...

  1. I wish we had a single standard for music so I didn't have to use multiple music managers. I currently use iTunes for my Shuffle, Phatnoise Music Manager for my PhatBox, Media Player as my default player, and Rhapsody for online music.
  2. I wish the Shuffle had a built-in USB connection (instead of a USB dock) so I could charge it anywhere and use it as a USB memory key.
  3. I wish I could just drag music onto the Shuffle using Explorer. I *can* do this, but the music is then considered "data" and the shuffle will not play "data." You have to use iTunes to put music on the Shuffle.

Xbox Live Video Marketplace

Filed under HDTV, Reviews, Xbox 360

The Xbox Live Video Marketplace went live on November 22, 2006...one year after the Xbox 360 launched. Here's another review with some nice pics.

The video marketplace lets you rent/buy movies and TV shows. The biggest news is that some of the content is offered in HD...and I'm all about HD now. For more details on the video marketplace see the FAQ (part 1 and part 2).

So on the 22nd, I found an HD movie to test out, "V for Vendetta".  I rented it for 480 Microsoft Points or $6 (80 MP = $1). I started the download before I went to work. The movie was a 6 GB download. In 30 minutes I had about 7% downloaded. I went to work and figured the whole movie would be finished by the time I got home.

Wrong! When I got home, the download was at 36% complete. I let it run for the rest of the night and I only got to 40% before the download ended in an error message. I was charged for the movie even though I never finished downloading it. 

I tried to download the movie again before I left for Thanksgiving. I was charged a second time for the download. When I came back, the movie was downloaded. Since I was gone for a few days, I have no idea how long it took to download.

Apparently Microsoft was having some growing pains with the video marketplace. Many people were reporting slow and failed downloads. Microsoft's Major Nelson acknowledged the problem and gave a number to call (800-4MYXBOX) to get credit for failed downloads.

I finished watching the movie this morning. The video quality was beautiful. However, I did notice a jerkiness during scenes with motion, like when the credits moved up the screen. I saw a similar issue when I first watched a DVD on my 360, but it was cleared up with a patch...hopefully this issue will be fixed as well.

The controls are fairly limited. The remote control works much better than using the 360 controller since you can access functions directly without having to go to an on screen menu. There are not a lot of control options:

  • Play/pause
  • Fast forward/Rewind (2x, 4x, 8x). At the fastest speed, it takes ~7 seconds to skip a minute. This makes skipping to a particular part of a movie *very* frustrating.
  • Chapter Skip. Normally a chapter skip moves to the beginning of scenes in a movie. This *could* work that way, but in this movie it did not. The movie was divided into "chapters" by creating a chapter every 8 seconds. The chapter skip will move you to the next or previous chapter. This is pretty useless without some logic behind the chapter locations.
  • Info. This shows the time elapsed and a countdown to the end of the movie.
  • Format. You can switch from the default view (which looks good) to a "letterbox" view which adds black bars to the left and right as well as top and bottom...effectively turning your HDTV into a SD TV. I guess you might use this feature if you are watching HD content on a SD TV.

The video is 720p, which looks great. The sound is in Dolby Digital 5.1.

What is missing? You don't get the chapter search that you get with a DVD. Also, there is no visual scene selection like most DVD's have. There is no way to do slow motion. There are no DVD extras, like director's commentaries or behind the scenes features. There is no support for subtitles, which I use a lot when I have trouble understanding what an actor says.

I called 800-4MYXBOX to fix the issue with the double charge on the one movie I downloaded. I spent at least 10 minutes on hold until I got to talk to somebody. The person I talked to would ask me a question and then would interrupt me every time I tried to answer her which meant she would have to ask me for the information again...it almost made me wish Microsoft would outsource their call center. After 30+ minutes on the phone, I finally got my credit...but I don't think I should have ever had to call. Microsoft knew there was a problem. They know what I've downloaded and when I've watched it. I would have expected them to correct the issue without any need for me to call in. Oh well.

You have 24 hours to finish watching a rental from when you start watching. When you look at the movie in your downloaded movie area, it indicates how much time is left in the 24 hour window. After my 24 hour window expired, I wondered what would happen if I tried to play the movie again. I just tried it and the movie started playing...no "Do you want to rent this movie again?" dialog. It doesn't look like I was charged for it, but after all the troubles they are having and since they have given me a credit for multiple charges on "V for Vendetta", who knows if this is the normal behavior.

I'm excited about the future of Xbox Live Video Marketplace. If I have the choice between watching an HD-DVD (my player is shipping this week!) or an HD video from the marketplace, I'd choose the HD-DVD every time. But, I do see utility in the Video Marketplace. Video Marketplace will eventually allow me to watch TV shows that I may have missed that are not yet available on DVD or HD movies that are not yet available on HD-DVD (or are instead on Blu-ray). I hope more and more content providers jump on the Video Marketplace.

November 3, 2006

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Filed under Movies, Reviews

I saw Borat today. I laughed out loud more for this movie than any I can remember. Very funny stuff.

I know this is not for everyone. In fact, a very infamous naked man wrestling scene (responsible for the "graphic nudity" in its "R" rating) made one older woman run out of the theater in disgust...which just means this is a *great* film.

I will probably see this one again in the theaters...which I rarely do. I only buy DVD's that have high replay value, and this one certainly falls into that category...so I'll pick this one up when it inevitably comes out on DVD. 

Two thumbs way up! High Five!

October 6, 2006

Place Your Bets

Filed under Reviews, Xbox 360

This is the beginning of the next-generation console war. The contenders are:

We've talked a lot about this contest at work. Who is going to win? Sony has been the leader for the last two contests with the PS1 and PS2. Here is your chance to make your prediction before the battle begins.

I believe that the Xbox 360 will dominate the market. Nintendo Wii will be a distant 2nd. Last place goes to PS3.

I've had my Xbox 360 for almost a year. This is the most I've played a console since I was in college. Microsoft has done a lot right.

Probably the best thing about the Xbox has nothing to do with its graphics or CPU power...it is Xbox Live Arcade. These are small games that are purchased online and stored on your hard drive. This means you can quickly switch between games without having to get up and change out the DVD. So in a single gaming session on my 360, I may play 3 or 4 games. Previously on my PS2, I'd only play one game per session. 

Another cool concept Microsoft has is "Xbox Live Arcade Wednesdays." Every Wednesday, a new game is released for Xbox Live Arcade. It is similar to NBC's "Must See TV" Thursdays, Wednesday has become the day to find out what new game has come out on Xbox Live Arcade. Some of the games released over the past few weeks include Doom, Frogger, Time Pilot, Pac-Man, Street Fighter, Galaga, and Scramble.

Achievement Points! I have become an achievement point whore! You can see see my gamerscore (sum of achievement points) on my Xbox 360 gamercard to the right. Achievement points *make* you want to play more...especially when you find out your friends have more than you. Microsoft has done a great job making achievement points a required component of every Xbox 360 game.

Microsoft already owns the desktop. Get ready for them to own the living room.

September 21, 2006

My Little Bundle Of Joy

Filed under Gadgets, HDTV, Reviews

After a few years of researching, I finally got my HDTV, a 46" Sony XBR3 LCD.

Why did I choose this set? There are a few reasons...

  • 1920x1080 resolution
  • Support for 1080p inputs
  • Looks great from any viewing angle
  • DRC 2.5 (Digital Reality Creation) - Image Enhancement Chip
  • Sony XBR well respected brand for high end TV's
  • Floating-glass Bezel looks cool
  • Not too big for standard definition, not too small for high definition from a viewing distance of 9 feet
  • Automagically brightens when the room gets brighter (lights on, Sunlight)

 

I used the THX Optimizer from The Incredibles DVD to check the setup. I changed the color mode from "vivid" to "standard." Other than that, all settings were left at the factory defaults. I was surprised that the default settings gave the best results for the THX Optimizer...I didn't have to adjust anything.

I watched some of The Incredibles and I was blown away by how good it looked. I sat about 3 feet away and it looked amazing. I noticed *much* more detail than before. One reason for this is probably because my old set did not support anamorphic DVD's, but this one does. Anamorphic DVD's use the entire frame for video instead of wasting data on the black bars. The DVD player will stretch the frame to fit a wide screen and add the black bars.

If a DVD can look this good, I'm not going to be in a rush to get HD-DVD or Blu-ray. Although, I will be *very* tempted to pickup the new Xbox 360 HD DVD add-on if it is only $170.

I watched a bit of Star Wars Episode III and was again impressed. Granted, I chose these movies because I knew they were filmed at 60 fps for HDTV, unlike most movies that are done at 24 fps.

Next I watched an episode of 24, season 2. It did not look as good as the previous movies, but it still looked great.

DirecTV looked terrible at first. I played with the settings for DRC and then I got a picture that looked almost the same as my old TV, which was really good. Lesson learned: DRC can improve picture quality when done right, and it can make TV look horrible when done wrong. The default is on with some funky settings which make regular television (NTSC) look awful.

I will be getting FOX, CBS, NBC, ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, Discovery, TNT, and MSNBC in HD tomorrow. My apartment complex in the past month has added HD support to the DirecTV they supply us. I can't pick up HD using an antenna because I am surrounded by tall buildings.

I played Xbox 360 last night, which is currently my only true HD source (720p). I sat really close and played Project Gotham Racing 3. I've had this game since I bought my 360 back in February, but I haven't played it much. It feels like a new game...you can see further in the distance, the detail is a amazing. The wide screen fills my field of view...it was a completely different experience than before. I will *definitely* be playing this one more.

My initial impression...I *love* this set.

September 11, 2006

OK Go

Filed under Reviews, Video

This song reminds me of music from the good old days (the 80's) when you judged a song by how many times you could tolerate watching the video. This is a very clever video (done in one take!) and a catchy song. Check it out, OK Go's "Here It Goes Again"...

 

 

September 10, 2006

XNA

Filed under Programming, Reviews, Software, Xbox 360

XNA (which stands for "XNA is Not Acronymed") is a new moniker from Microsoft for tools to make video games for Windows and the Xbox 360. The tools are designed to make developing games easier and accessible to more people. This FAQ is helpful to understand what XNA is all about. The home page for XNA is here

About a week ago, Microsoft released a beta of the XNA Game Studio Express (GSE). I downloaded GSE this weekend to find out what it is about.

GSE appears to just be a plug-in to Visual C# Express (VCSE). Since GSE is a plug-in, it requires VCSE in order to install. After you install GSE and restart VCSE, everything looks the same. I had to do some digging to find out where exactly GSE "enhances" VCSE. I found 3 places:

  1. Documentation. The help system has tutorials, a programming guide, and reference for XNA.
  2. New XNA framework. This framework is built on top of the .NET framework. It adds the following libraries:
    • Application Model - game loop, how to pause/exit
    • Graphics - 2D, 3D
    • Math - vectors, matrices, collision detection
    • Input - read the mouse, keyboard, and Xbox 360 controller
    • Audio - associate sounds with events, like a gun shot when a player presses a button on the controller
    • Storage - generalizes where game data is read from and where game save data goes to so the same code will work on a 360 and a PC without modification
  3. Templates. When you start a project in VCSE (File->New Project...), you are given some choices about what type of project you want to create (e.g. Windows Application, Console Application, Empty Project, etc.). GSE adds three more options: Windows Game, Windows Library, and Spacewar Starter Kit. The Spacewar Starter Kit is a rewrite of the classic Spacewar game using XNA. All the code is available so you can see how an actual game is using the XNA framework.

I followed a tutorial in the help called "Your First XNA Game." Basically you just create a project based on the "Windows Game" template, add some code to the update and draw functions, and you have quite possibly the worst video game of all time. To see for yourself, download this and extract it to a folder and run "shadowtest.exe." Granted, the point of the exercise is not to make a game, but to show you how to get started making a game, which it does well. It took me about 10 minutes to go through the tutorial.

Final thoughts...

  • C# has a lot of buzz and is growing in importance in the game industry. I'm going to do my home programming projects in C# from now on.
  • .NET/XNA can/will be used for video games. If you asked me about .NET use for video games 2 years ago, I would have said it is too slow. That appears to be changing.
  • .NET/XNA development is more efficient than STL/OpenGL/OpenAL/etc. Instead of using many isolated libraries, .NET/XNA appears to be a single well organized library with a *ton* of functionality. STL has data types (like a list of strings) that OpenGL does not understand. In order for these libraries to inter-operate, the programmer is required to "massage" data to get it into the proper format. The incompatibilities in data types in .NET/XNA are largely removed since they are built on top of the same data types. Plus, all of the .NET/XNA library is documented in a consistent way, which lowers the learning curve.
  • 360 controller is the only controller supported by XNA. This makes sense since the idea is you use XNA to make games that work on both Windows and Xbox 360. It sucks to make games for a PC and not know what controller to target. Now Microsoft is saying the 360 controller *is* the game controller for the PC. This may be bad news for choice and input device manufacturers, but it is great news for PC game development and ease-of-use. XNA-based PC games will "just work" with a 360 controller.
  • XNA games will work on an Xbox (PowerPC-based) and a PC (x86-based) *without* recompiling. This is a side effect of using .NET. Just like a Java app can be "write once, run anywhere," same goes for .NET. 

There are several forums that discuss XNA. This one is about the XNA framework. This one is about the GSE. This is the parent page that lists forums for different game technologies. I've found a lot of good information browsing through these forums.

Another good place for XNA info is their blog.

XNA is a work in progress and they have a bunch of things coming. This is a technology that I'm going to be watching closely.

August 15, 2006

Blog Posting

Filed under Blogging, Reviews, Software

I normally use Movable Type's default web browser interface for posting. It is very simple...just a text field that takes HTML tags.

Posting via tags is a good skill to have. Many web sites (like MySpace) allow you to use HTML tags to spruce up a comment or an email. If it wasn't for my posts on MT, I probably wouldn't have the HTML tags memorized like I do now.

That said, posting via HTML tags is tedious...and I think I may have found my new favorite way to post to my blog.

Microsoft recently released a free beta of a blog posting program called "Windows Live Writer."

Writer is like a specialized version of Word designed for blogging. It loads the stylesheet from your blog so your new posts have the same look as when the post is published on your blog.

Since Writer runs locally on your computer, it is very fast and responsive. It has a nice spell checker, which I absolutely depend on. You can easily add photos and Writer will automatically upload them when you are finished and ready to publish to your blog.

Writer has an SDK so more features will (hopefully) be created. There is already a Flickr plugin for Writer to make integrating photos from Flickr into a blog easier.

Even though this software is beta, it is very refined and usable. I did notice a bug once with a photo showing up in the background where it could not be deleted. I modified the view a couple of times (from normal to web layout) and the background photo disappeared on its own.

I started using Writer with my previous post, and plan on using it going forward.

Best Movie of The Summer

Filed under Movies, Reviews

 I *love* movies. However, this summer has been a disappointment. I haven't seen a summer movie that I *really* enjoyed...until tonight. The movie is called "Little Miss Sunshine." The title sounds like it is a chick flick, but it is not. I honestly thought it was going to be a girly movie and I was going to be bored out of my mind.

On the contrary, this is a very funny movie. It has the same feel as the movie "Sideways", but I liked this one better.

The movie is about a VW bus trip from New Mexico to Redondo Beach, CA for a kids beauty pageant. Don't let the plot scare you away...this is a good film.

Great dialog, great acting, and odd situations make this a fun movie.

This is a dark comedy. There are several uncomfortable moments that make you want to cringe and also make you laugh nervously (am I supposed to be laughing at this?).

Well done! Highly recommended.

August 13, 2006

Must-Have Utility: FinePrint

Filed under Reviews, Software

This is a utility that I can't live without. It is called FinePrint. FinePrint is a "virtual printer." You setup FinePrint as your default printer and then FinePrint will send the documents to your real printer.

Probably the best reason to use FinePrint is you get a print preview before you print. Some applications have a print preview option, but most don't. With FinePrint, you *always* get a print preview. The print preview can save a lot of wasted paper by showing you if a document is going to fit on a page or if it is going to print too much or too little information.

Double-Sided printing! FinePrint will turn *any* printer into a double sided printer. If your printer doesn't come with support for double-sided printing, FinePrint will print one side and then ask you to flip the pages and reinsert them into the printer to get printing on both sides.

Print multiple pages on a single sheet. FinePrint has options for 1, 2, 4, and 8 pages on a single printed sheet. Add double-sided printing and you can turn 16 pages into a single sheet of paper.

A trial version is available for free that prints a small banner on each page. FinePrint costs $49.95. I've used this for about 3 years and depend on it. Highly recommended.

August 6, 2006

The 9

Filed under Reviews

My buddy John Verostek showed me "The 9" while I was in Boston...and now I'm hooked. It is a top 9 list of interesting items on the web, hosted by a really cute girl named Maria Sansone. It is a short (less than 5 minutes) TV show that is broadcast daily on the web by Yahoo. It is interesting how Maria knows the layout of the web page and points to the bottom to get you to vote for your favorite 9 or points to the bottom right to get you to propose #10. Also, you can jump ahead or back via the 9 chapter listings on the right side or go directly to the site of discussion by clicking on a link in the same area. Very slick and worth at least one viewing to see what it is about. It looks like the first episode was July 10, 2006...so this is fairly new. Fun!

July 23, 2006

Ghostbar

Filed under Architecture, High School, Photos, Reviews, Video

My old high school buddy Chris Franka flew in to hang out for the weekend. Our first stop for happy hour was the new Ghostbar on the 32nd floor of the W Dallas-Victory. The elevator says it is the 33rd floor, but it skips floor 13, just to be safe. Ghostbar has been open for only 3 weeks.

I took pictures and video with my Motorola Q. Let's just say it is a better phone than a camera. Here are the photos. Here is a video from the south balcony, which has an outdoor bar. Here is a video from the north balcony, which has a see-through glass floor.

We got in just before 7 and did not have to pay a cover. For Friday's and Saturday's after happy hour, cover is $20 for guys...girls get in free. For happy hour, ghostbar is just a bar/lounge. Later on a DJ plays music and it becomes a dance club.

The first thing I noticed when I got off the elevator were the waitresses. They are all very tall (most around 6 foot with their heels), very thin, very cute, and dressed in sexy outfits with fishnet stockings. Here is a photo of one of our waitresses.

Ghostbar is one large room with a bar on the west side and couches and chairs throughout. It has a lot of style and attention to detail. Very cool design.

We headed out to the south balcony to see the view. It is amazing, but it got to me a bit. I *love* observation decks in tall buildings, but they scare the *hell* out of me. I could feel the building shake a bit...but I found the more I drank, the less I noticed. We sat at some bar stools right by the glass window on the balcony. The window has a glass bar on it so you can take in the view and enjoy a tasty overpriced beverage. My rum/diet coke was $10 after tip! The window is not connected to anything above, so you really are outside. Besides the bar stools by the edge, there are also some couches and tables that are on the balcony but closer to the building.

The north balcony is much smaller, but it has a see-through floor! That is such a bizarre feeling to be able to see cars driving 32 floors beneath your feet! It took me a while before I could be comfortable out there...but it was worth it. Definitely a thrill.

I ran into one of my friends that works at Ghostbar. He was nice enough to take us to the "VIP" area. The VIP area is just a small corner in the north part of the bar that is sectioned off with a curtain and a private bar and waitstaff. Next, he took us around to meet all the really cute waitresses. Why can't all my friends be this cool?!?!

We left Ghostbar to check out some other places. We planned on coming back to see what it was like later in the evening. We returned at 1:30am, but they had stopped letting people enter because Ghostbar had reached its maximum occupancy of 450.

In summary...way cool bar! I'll put Ghostbar in my regular rotation. Two acrophobic thumbs up!

July 15, 2006

The Coolest Gadget of All Time

Filed under Gadgets, Reviews

This one is impressive. As I've detailed ad nauseum, I bought a Motorola Q. With a new gadget I bought last weekend, I have turned my cell phone into a TV with DirecTV and TiVo!

The device that makes it possible is called SlingBox. You can see my SlingBox sitting above my DirecTV TiVo in the picture above. The SlingBox takes the output from the TiVo (or any cable box/DVR) and then broadcasts it over the Internet to any PC running SlingPlayer or cell phones running SlingPlayer Mobile. Anything you can do with a TiVo remote can be done by SlingPlayer. The SlingPlayer sends commands over the Internet back to the SlingBox, which mimics the TiVo remote with an IR repeater. You can see the IR repeater in the photo above. It is a small black arm sticking out beneath the TiVo and pointing at the black circle that receives the remote control signal.

Here is a video of the SlingBox/SlingPlayer Mobile in action. It shows my TV broadcasting live TV. I put my cell phone next to the TV so you can see that it is showing the same content. There is about a 5 second delay between live TV and when it arrives on the SlingPlayer. This makes it a bit tricky to try and fast forward with TiVo...not impossible, but certainly more difficult. As long as I have a good signal on my cell phone, the video quality is extremely good. It is sharp enough that you can read the text scrolling by at the bottom of the screen of CNN Headline News. As the signal degrades, the SlingPlayer will drop frames so that it will still work with less bandwidth. Audio rarely ever drops, but video rate can fluctuate. Typically, it runs around 30 fps, which looks really good. I've seen it drop down to 5 fps, which is still very watchable.

All SlingBox does is rebroadcast what your TV is currently doing. If I change channels when I am watching TV at work (this is an example...I would never do this), then my TV at home will be changing channels as well. This works fine for me, because I'm single. But I could imagine this might cause some issues when multiple people are using the same TV.

With my SlingBox setup and DirecTV TiVo, from anywhere that my cell phone works I can now:

  • Watch any DirecTV channel
  • Listen to the DirecTV music channels
  • Order and watch Pay-Per-View Movies
  • Pause, fast forward, or rewind TV using TiVo
  • Watch any programs I've previously recorded with TiVo
  • Set TiVo to record something that is about start in 5 minutes

What a great time waster!

I installed SlingPlayer on my desktop. It can be docked on the side of your monitor to allow you watch TV while you work on your computer. Video/audio quality is excellent.

Installation was surprisingly simple. SlingBox comes with a single sheet of instructions that is about 1' x 2'. SlingPlayer is also easy to install, but requires a bit more Q&A to find out what type of remote control you have and how to optimize the video stream to look its best.

I pay for DirecTV in my bedroom in addition to my living room. With SlingPlayer and my laptop...I may cancel that service. Now I can watch DirecTV *AND* TiVo in my bedroom for free.

How much does all this cost? It is surprisingly cheap. I bought the SlingBox for $150 at Best Buy. I didn't want to run an Ethernet cable from my SlingBox to my router, so I also bought SlingLink (uses power lines to transmit Ethernet in your house) for $80. The SlingPlayer for PC's is free. I am using a free 30-day trial of SlingPlayer Mobile for my phone. After the trial is over, I will pay $30. So the total comes to $260 to turn your phone into a portable TiVo. Since I have unlimited data usage on my cell phone, I can stream video all day and it doesn't cost me anything extra. For comparison, Verizon offers video to your cell phone with their "V-Cast" service for $15 a month with a selection of "dozens of broadcasts per day."

SlingPlayer Mobile is still in beta. I did notice a few issues with the software that will hopefully be fixed. The keyboard mapping to TiVo functionality is a bit awkward for some functions. Turning the volume up and down doesn't use the Q's scroll wheel as you'd expect, but instead requires you to switch the keyboard from "123 mode" to "SC" (short cut mode) by holding down the space bar and then use the shifted 1 and 3 keys to turn the volume up and down. That is a lot of work if you turn on the TV and it starts blasting Oprah in a boring meeting. I want the volume controls *always* available. Also I found that performance can degrade if you start and stop the player a few times. The only way I could get the performance to improve was to turn my phone off and then back on...which sounds like a software bug. Otherwise, the software works really well.

I'm blown away by this. It is very cool and fun. I used it yesterday when I was waiting in the doctors office. The doctor was running over an hour behind schedule so I watched 30 minutes of Headline News and then I watched a South Park episode.

Highly recommended! Two thumbs way up!

July 9, 2006

Taste Of Dallas

Filed under Reviews

I went to Taste Of Dallas this weekend. I *thought* (based on my experiences at Taste Addison) that the idea was to sample small portions of a variety of foods from various restaurants. I tried food from The Spaghetti Warehouse and Landry's...both were really good. There were a few places (less than 10) that did this, but for the most part it was just carnival food...corny dogs, funnel cakes, and turkey legs from no-name vendors. What a disappointment! I guess you get what you pay for (admission was free). My recommendation...skip Taste of Dallas and do Taste Addison instead.

June 30, 2006

Cars

Filed under Reviews

I watched Cars today.

Pixar does an amazing job of making a car act human. It really stands out as something special compared to other 3D animation. This movie is beautiful to watch.

The movie, at 1 hour, 45 minutes is too long. This would be a great 1 hour show. I found myself bored in the middle of the movie. Not enough happened...it is a simple story that is stretched too long. I enjoyed watching it, but I don't have any interest in seeing it again. This is the first Pixar movie I *don't* plan on buying on DVD.

June 24, 2006

First Impressions of the Q

Filed under Gadgets, Reviews

This is a billboard for the Q near where I live. There is another equally large billboard barely visible on the far right. Motorola is doing quite a job advertising this phone.

I've had my Q for 3 weeks now. Overall, I like the phone. It is not perfect, but I like it and look forward to upgrading to future versions.

What I like:

  • Slim - easily fits in my pants pocket
  • Keyboard - makes entering information *MUCH* easier
  • Internet Explorer - works pretty good with most web sites. My blog comes is drawn with a black background (should be white), makes some text completely unreadable. I thought it was IE, but I tried an older Opera browser for Windows Mobile and it had the same problem....need to look into how my website is formatted! I'll probably switch to the new Opera browser because it has more features (java script, tabbed browsing, full page view).
  • Download Speed - The download speed makes web browsing easy...and addictive. You can surf *anywhere* with this phone.
  • Windows Mobile 5.0 - This phone is a platform, just like Windows. I expect Windows Mobile to grow in popularity. There is quite a bit of software you can download for this phone. Plus, with Visual Studio 2005, you can build your own apps. I will probably do this at some point.
  • Screen - 320x240 - nice sized screen for reading emails and browsing the web.

What I don't like:

  • Reception - my old cingular cell phone had full strength in my apartment. The Q barely manages half strength signal and frequently drops to 25% or worse. I've had it drop calls in my apartment. I called Verizon about it and they said I am covered by 5 cell phone towers in my location (I live downtown). So either Verizon's cell towers suck, or this phone isn't that great at getting reception. I should note that almost everywhere else I go, I don't have problems with dropped calls...just at home. Go figure.
  • Battery life - I had a few problems where I could not make it a full day without the phone running out of juice. I found that it was operator error....I was using the USB cable on my computer to charge the phone. Although it does charge the phone, it apparently does not do as good of a job as the dedicated charger. Since I've switched to the dedicated charger, I usually have at least half the battery left after one day of use. I don't have enough experience with the dedicated charger to say that I always can make it a full day without the phone running out of power. I ordered an extended battery for $20 from Verizon just in case I do run out of juice and I still need to use my phone.
  • Vibrate - I believe there should be only one ring tone...vibrate, since I don't believe my phone alerts should annoy anybody but me. Since this phone receives phone calls AND email, I wish the phone had different vibrate patterns for different alerts: phone call, friend phone call, email, voice mail, etc.
  • Inputting a Time - Setting a time (like an appointment time) is annoying. You have to hold the ALT button to access the numbers, even though a letter doesn't make any sense. I don't see why the phone can't be smart enough to know that you are entering the hours, so you must need to be in number mode (it does it when you type a phone number). Plus, you have to enter 2 digits to change the hour or minute...you can't just change 1. Also, it would be nice if I could just use the directional pad to move to the digit I want to change and then press up or down to modify the number...that would be the easiest. Not the end of the world, but it does get tedious.
  • Alarm - When I set an alarm to wake me in the morning, that should trump everything. This phone says, I know you set an alarm, but I'm set to vibrate mode, so I won't make any sound when the alarm goes off. BAD!!! So if I *do* turn on sound for the alarm, I also get sound for every email that comes in...all night long....ugh! A new alarm clock with an alarm that sounds independent of the current sound profile may be my first app I write for the Q!!!
  • No text editor - I guess I could send myself emails instead, but why not include pocket word like you do for Pocket PC's?
  • No spell checker - would be nice to be able to spell check emails
  • No external LEDs - It would be nice to be able to see if you have a message waiting or voice mail by looking at a flashing LED. No LED's with the Q...you have to turn on the screen to see what's up.
  • No dedicated volume control - The side scroll wheel does double duty as a volume control and a scroll wheel. I've been browsing a web page when a loud alert played, I wanted to quickly bring the volume down, but the volume keys were now for scrolling...I had to switch to a different app that used the scroll wheel as a volume control!
  • Outlook Notes not supported - I like to jot done important info using Outlook Notes (like yellow post it notes for your computer). I don't know why Outlook Notes are not supported by Windows Mobile...they should be.
  • No support for copy/paste - Windows Mobile doesn't have the concept of the clipboard like Windows does. It would be helpful if it did!

This is a fun phone, and pretty cheap ($200 with 2 year commitment). For me, it is my pda, laptop, ipod, and cell phone. I love that I can access my email, task list, and contacts from my desktop, any web browser, and now my cell phone.

June 23, 2006

Xbox 360 as a DVD Player (Part II)

Filed under Reviews, Xbox 360

I previously wrote that I would not use my Xbox 360 as a DVD player due to some motion artifacts I could see.

I did a test again after loading the the Xbox 360 Spring Update. One of the features in the list is improved video quality for DVD playback.

It looks like this update did the trick. I don't see any of the motion artifacts any more. I watched the credits of a movie and they slid up the screen smooth this time (before the Spring Update, the credits would have a slight jerk every second or so). So *now* I will use my Xbox 360 for watching DVD movies.

May 20, 2006

My New Favorite Movie Theater

Filed under Movies, Reviews

I saw The DaVinci Code at the new AMC NorthPark 15. The theater opened two weeks ago. It is part of a massive expansion of NorthPark Center that makes it the largest mall in Texas and one of the 5 largest in the US.

You buy your tickets on the second floor. There are plenty of automated kiosks or you can use the antiquated human ticket sellers if you are old school. Once you have your tickets, you ride the escalator to the 3rd floor where the theaters and concessions are.

The 3rd floor has huge windows looking out onto the new 1.4 acre CenterPark in the center of the mall.

I have seen plenty of restrooms that have components of "the perfect restroom", but they never go far enough. I really like a restroom where I don't have to touch anything. The AMC NorthPark 15 is the first restroom that does it right. There are no doors to push open, just a winding hallway to the restroom. The urinals flush automagically (and they have dividers!). When you wash your hands, the water automagically turns on *AND* the soap is automagically dispensed (first time I've seen that before), nothing to touch! They use paper towels for drying your hands, which I prefer to the fans anyway. There you have it...the perfect restroom!

The theater I went in (#9) was ginormous. I have no idea what the dimensions are, but it is certainly one of the largest screens I've ever seen. I went in on the 3rd floor, but the 4th floor gives you access to the top of the theater. I like that all the seats are in the center (no seats next to the wall). The stairs run along the theater wall...which makes sense, you don't want to sit on the side and have people walking up and down the stairs in your way of viewing the screen. The seats have cup holders and the arm rests can be raised.

Besides the movie theater addition, NorthPark also added a food court, right next to the theater box office. Here is a list of all the restaurants and fast food places at the mall.

The DaVinci Code

Filed under Movies, Reviews

I saw The DaVinci Code yesterday on opening day. I read the book a few years ago and really liked it. The book was very entertaining and thought-provoking. I was excited to hear The DaVinci Code was going to be made into a Ron Howard movie starring Tom Hanks. Great story, great director, and great actor and you have a great movie, right?

Wrong! This movie is terrible! What a disappointment. I found myself bored and checking my watch several times. The movie is 2 and a half hours long, and it feels like it. I thought Tom Hank's acting was wooden and he had no personality...his character, Robert Langdon, never connects with the audience.

The one bright spot is Ian McKellen. He was fun to watch and delivers some of the most entertaining and controversial dialog in the movie.

As for the controversy surrounding the book and movie, I think it is a bit overblown. After I read the book, I felt compelled to learn more about how the Bible was created, and this is a good thing.

So don't let the controversial subject matter keep you from seeing this movie, just stay away because it isn't any good. I give it 2 out of 5 stars. Not a good start to the summer movie season.

May 6, 2006

Error Deleting File or Folder

Filed under Reviews, Software

You have probably gotten this dialog box at some point when you were trying to delete or move files. If an application locks a file when it opens it, the file cannot be deleted or moved. Unfortunately, Windows does not tell you which application has the file locked. Sometimes it is obvious why a file is locked, but often times it is not. One technique I've tried is to keep closing applications until the file can be deleted. This is a painful way to do it and it doesn't always work. I have found that the OS itself sometimes locks a file, thus the only way to unlock the file is to logout and then log back in.

I found a better way! This tool is the answer! It is called Unlocker. It adds an "Unlocker" option to the right click menu for a file. It will tell you what application is locking the file and let you unlock it. Works great and it is free!

April 23, 2006

Character Animation

Filed under 3D, Animation, Maya, Reviews, Software, Video

Endorphin

I played with a very cool application this weekend. It is called Endorphin by a company called Natural Motion. Endorphin is used to generate motion for 3D character animation.

Trying to animate a character by hand (using a package such as Maya) is tedious and likely will not capture all the subtleties of motion. An alternative to animating by hand is motion capture or mocap. Mocap requires a studio with expensive equipment that records the location of positions on actors bodies. This motion data is applied to 3D characters so they behave just like the real life actors.

Endorphin is a new twist on character animation. It uses a different approach. To capture motion, you place a "dummy" into your 3D scene. This dummy has highly tweak-able "behaviors" that make it react in a very convincing fashion. Once your scene is setup, you press the "simulate" button to calculate what will happen. Simulations run in real time, so feedback is very quick.

Here is an example I threw together in about 5 minutes. It is very simple. I applied a force to the chest of the dummy to simulate a gunshot. I also applied a behavior to the dummy called "stagger" that is responsible for how the dummy reacts to the gunshot. Then I pressed play to see what happens.

Here is a more complex example. This was also very easy to setup...probably about 10 minutes. I started by having the dummy jump by giving the dummy a jump behavior. I tweaked the jump behavior until the dummy's hands were close to the pole. Then I added a constraint that locked the dummy's hands on the pole. The hand constraint causes the dummy to rock back and forth on the pole. I added another behavior called "legs kick" that adds a bit more life to how the dummy moves his legs move back and forth. Then I undo the constraint to let the dummy fall to his death. It is really fun killing dummies.

The next thing I tried was posing a character. For example, how do you position a character so that it looks like they are sitting in a chair? With Endorphin, it is very easy. Since the dummy reacts like a real human, you just place him in the seat. His body will collide with the chair (not go through it) until he is sitting. And since the dummy understands how humans move, the resting position of the dummy in the chair is very believable. For example, if you try to place the dummy's arm on the arm rest, the rest of the body will react appropriately without letting you create an arm position that a human cannot possibly have. Positioning a character in Endorphin is very easy and a huge time saver verses doing it by hand.

Several big name video games are using Endorphin for their character animation. The new Indiana Jones video game is one example coming out in 2007. Namco's Tekken 5 also used Endorphin for generating the animations of two players fighting each other.

Endorphin is not cheap. The full version costs $9,495 plus 12 months of maintenance for $2,395. If you can't afford to buy their software, you can rent it for $1,195 a month. If you want to use this app for non-commercial purposes, you can get the student version for $995.

I used the free trial version this weekend. The only difference between the free version and the full version is what you can export. The full version will let you export data (via FBX file format, for example) that can be read by an animation package like Maya. You can also export movie clips. The trial version will only export movie clips.

Since you can do all your work in the free trial version, it may be cheaper to get your scenes setup in the trial version and then rent the software for a month in order to get the motion data out. I'm not sure if their license allows you to do this, so I'd check with Natural Motion first.

Natural Motion has several very impressive video clips on their website that show off much more complex examples. Check them out here.

Final thoughts...very fun program to play with. When I do character animation in the future, I will certainly consider Endorphin as the fastest/easiest/cheapest way to get good looking character motion data. Highly recommended.

March 28, 2006

Choosing a Web Host

Filed under Blogging, Reviews

A web host is when you pay a company to serve up your web pages. You could host web pages yourself, but you miss out on several advantages of a web host:
  • Backup is automatic and transparent
  • Internet access to your web pages is typically faster than what you can serve up from home
  • You don't have to buy/configure a server
  • You don't have to worry (as much) about people exploiting security holes in your server
  • You don't have to worry about sharing bandwidth with a server
  • You don't have to worry about fixing/upgrading hardware
In short, it is a good idea to let someone else host your web pages rather than try to do it yourself.
 
I started shopping for a new hosting company when I decided I wanted to use Movable Type as my blogging software. I ask my previous web hosting company, Hostway, if I could run Movable Type. They said I could, but I would have to switch my account from Windows to Linux, and they would charge me $40 to do that. I used Hostway since April 2002 and was happy with their support. I paid $215 a year for the Windows Gold Web Hosting Plan which came with 600 MB of storage. Rather than pay $40 to switch my account to Linux, I decided to do some web host shopping to see if I could do better.
 
When researching Movable Type, I saw that Yahoo! Web Hosting came with Movable Type already configured. This sounded perfect, so I signed up. Yahoo! also gives you a temporary domain name. The domain name I have (http://davidlenihan.com) still pointed at my Hostway account and I did not want to disturb it until I was able to get my new web host working the way I wanted. The temporary domain name allowed me to setup my web site on Yahoo! without moving my domain name. BUT, I quickly ran into a problem...Yahoo! (for unexplained reasons) does not support uploading files that have spaces in the filename. This file, for example, would have to be renamed to something without spaces. That would break a bunch of my current HTML pages. I considered this unacceptable, since I plan on using spaces in photo names in the future. So I canceled my Yahoo! account, and they gave me a full refund.
 
Next, I tried godaddy.com. You may remember their infamous super bowl ad. Unlike Yahoo!, Go Daddy supported spaces in file names. However, they did not give you a temporary domain name. They charged me a fee ($6) to get a static ip address to setup my web site, which I could cancel once I switched over my domain. I got my web site copied over, so I started working on installing Movable Type. I ran into SO many problems...it was very frustrating. I finally found this thread which had a quote from the president of Go Daddy saying, "We understand that there are a few instances of MovableType running on our servers, however, we agree that installation is almost impossible." The issue has to do with a security sandbox Go Daddy uses, that forces any software to be modified to run correctly. At that point, I canceled my service and Go Daddy gave me a full refund.
 
Next I tried 1&1. They gave me a free .info domain to get started, so I grabbed http://davidlenihan.info. They support filenames with spaces, so my web site transfered without any issues. Movable Type installed cleanly. Two other features 1&1 has that are very useful for server side software installation: SSH and CGI Output Monitor. SSH lets you login to the server from a command prompt so you can run scripts. CGI Output Monitor lets you see the error log from when you run a script...not sure how you are supposed to diagnose script problems without these two features!
 
So I decided to go with 1&1 for my web hosting. I chose their 1&1 Business Package. It is MUCH cheaper ($120/year vs $215/year) and has much more storage (100,000 MB vs 600 MB) than my old Hostway account. I'm really happy with 1&1's price, features, and slick web administration interface. Two thumbs way up!
 
If you want 1&1 to host your web site, click on this banner ad to set one up. They will pay me a commission and I'll think you are really cool!
 

February 25, 2006

Scratching Xbox 360 Discs

Filed under Reviews, Xbox 360

If you are looking for a way to ruin your Xbox 360 games…I have found it! It is very simple…
  • Put a game in the unit.
  • Start the game.
  • Switch the orientation of the Xbox 360 (from vertical to horizontal or vice versa).
  • Note extremely loud buzz saw noise.
And that is it! You have destroyed your $60 game. You will notice scratch marks all around the outer edge of your game disc.
 
Normally I would never switch the orientation of the unit while it is in use. However, I heard a really loud fan noise at one point in a game and I wondered if the noise would be quieter if I put the Xbox flat.
 
I called Dell about this and they are going to replace the disc Actually, they are replacing everything, since they only have an order number for the Xbox 360 bundle and not the disc. No questions asked! I like Dell.
 
It sounds like I’m not the only one to run into this. These guys ran into the problem and did a thorough investigation into the cause and how to modify your Xbox so it won’t scratch any more discs. They even have a video that shows how it works (in case you don’t want to try it on your own discs).
 
UPDATE:
Dell did not have any Xbox 360 bundles in stock, so they could not replace my scratched disk. They contacted me about the issue and gave me two choices: a full refund and I return the whole system or they would give me a credit of $50. I took the credit (of course). The game actually cost $50 so it worked out well..I promptly went to Best Buy and bought a new copy of Kameo. I like Dell.

February 18, 2006

Best Web Browser

Filed under Reviews, Software

My favorite web browser is Internet Explorer (IE). Why? It is the most compatible web browser out there. And since it is bundled with Windows, it is very likely that it will be on any computer you use.
 
For the web pages I visit, IE always works. I like it when things just work. Since IE has the largest market share, it is highly likely that most web pages are tested to work with IE.
 
However, IE does lack in some features that other web browsers have. The most noticeable is “tabbed browsing.” On my Linux box at work, I use Firefox (no IE for Linux…surprise!) and really like its tabbed browsing interface. I open 10+ web pages at any one time, and using a separate window for each can get unwieldy. Also, it is nice to use the middle mouse button to click on links and let them load in the background in a tab while you continue to browse the current page. When you are done, you can move on to the other tabs that were loading in the background…no need to wait on web pages loading!
 
IE 7 will have tabbed browsing. Actually, IE 7 will have better tab browsing than Firefox. Microsoft’s new take on tabbed browsing is called “quick tabs.” With quick tabs, you can see mini versions of all your open web pages, all on a single page. From quick tabs, you can see which pages have loaded (or have loaded enough to be usable) and pick which one you want to view or close. I can’t wait to try out this feature…I’m sure I will use it daily. Read more about the current state of IE 7 Beta 2 here.
 
Unfortunately, IE 7 is not out yet. It is planned for the second half of 2006 (it will also be a part of the next version of Windows, Windows Vista). So no tab browsing for the current IE…or is there?
 
I’ve found two ways to add tab browsing to IE. One is to use MSN’s toolbar. This review didn’t make me want to run out and try it. The review says the performance is slow and integration seems more like and afterthought. To try it out for yourself (it is free), get it here.
 
 
The other way to get tabbed browsing in IE is to use Avant Browser. Avant uses a different approach than MSN’s toolbar. Avant wrote their own web browser. But, Avant uses the IE rendering engine, so the net result is web pages look the same in Avant as they do in IE.
 
The tabbed browsing works just like Firefox. I love it! I would recommend Avant just for the tabbed browsing, but it also has a couple other nice features that I’ll use:
  • Flash animation blocker. I found that some of the advertisements Yahoo puts on my home page are of the flash animation variety. I didn’t worry about it until some of the animations sucked up 100% of my CPU and slowed everything down…especially loading my home page. With the flash animation blocker, this is not a problem any more. Plus, it is easy to turn back on if you do want to watch an animation, just go to the Tools menu and uncheck “Disable Flash Animations.”
  • Ad blocker. Avant will filter out requests for advertisements so you don’t waste time loading ads…makes web pages load much quicker.
Avant is free, but they do take donations. I sent them $15 because I think they did a great job. You can download it here. Highly recommended!

February 13, 2006

XBOX 360 as a DVD player

Filed under Reviews, Xbox 360

I watched a couple of movies on my Xbox 360 this weekend. I noticed some motion artifacts that do not show up on my Sony DVD player.  For example, the credits at the end of a movie seem to jerk slightly every second or so. I watched the credits with my Sony DVD player and I did not see any issues. My guess is that the Xbox 360 is taking an interlaced signal and converting it into progressive. This might work better if I had an HDTV, but I don’t.

I’ll try this again when I eventually get an HDTV, but until then I won’t be using my Xbox 360 for watching movies.

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About Reviews

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to David's Blog in the Reviews category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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