Video Game Music I Fell In Love With

The entire Ridge Racer R4 soundtrack, in particularly Kouta Takahashi – Urban Fragments. The entire soundtrack is fantastic which is why I uploaded it here (ripped from the original PSX CD, 192kBps 44.1kHz),. There’s also a remix of the intro track: Hiroshi Okubo – One More Win (also in the uploaded pack).


The Jazz Jackrabbit (and the sequel) menu music. Original MOD music from here (and the sequel here).

All of the Sonic music. In particular the ending to Sonic & Knuckles (or Sonic 3 & Knuckles, same thing). The credits mashup is awesome. The original VGMs: Sonic 1, Sonic 2, Sonic 3 & Knuckles

The Doom 3 theme. Linky.

This one’s a little obscure. The menu music from a leaked UT2003 beta. The menu music in the final version of the game was different but the ogg was kept in the game files, although never used. I loved it the first time I launched the beta.. Oh the days of drooling over the graphics of CTF-Maul. Link to the musics.

The Metal Gear Solid VR Missions (or Integral) intro music.

The Half-Life 1 Closing Theme (Link) music….and the remix of it in Half-Life 2 (Double Link) apparently called Tracking Device by Kelly Bailey. The original is probably better.


And finally, everyone’s favourite from Portal. Still Alive.

A little less game related…The intro to Windows XP and 98 music.

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Xobius II Scratchpad: How my new NAS will work

Time to upgrade my NAS, Xobius. Currently it has 10TB (made up of 2 RAID1s of 1TB and a RAID5 of 6x 1.5TB). All of it is full. This is my scratchpad for planning Xobius II (on the cheap). FYI a Drobo Pro is about $2k…and it holds an underwhelming 8 drives.

Hardware

CPU: AMD Athlon II X4 635 $100

Why? I would normally go Intel but low-end Intel CPUs don’t support hardware virtualisation (see Operating Systems) or ECC RAM.

Case: Norco RPC-4224 $459

Why? This thing holds 24 3.5″ SATA drives…and for that, it’s damn cheap.

Memory: Kingston KVR1066D3E7SK2/4GI x2 $316

Why? Software RAID can use a lot of RAM when you have a ton of drives. I would usually go Corsair, alas Kingston are the only manufacturers that provide Unbuffered / Unregistered ECC RAM. Need ECC RAM to ensure no memory corruption in RAID but it needs to be unbuffered and unregistered as only server CPUs support it.

Motherboard: ASUS M4A89GTD PRO/USB3 $186

Why? Integrated graphics, gigabit LAN, 6x SATA III ports. It also has 2 x8 AND x4 PCIe slots so that I can chuck in 3 SAS HBAs. The two PCI slots will be used for an extra Gigabit NIC and a Wireless NIC (for bridging two networks).

Power Supply: Corsair TX-850 $178

Why? Corsair are awesome these days. Hard Disks use at max about 30W, 850W should be plenty.

SAS HBAs: 3x Supermicro AOC-USAS-L8i $480

Why? This is how the drives connect from the Norco SAS SFF-8087 ports to the system. I need a total of 6 ports for all 24 drives (4 drives per port), so I need 3 cards (at 2 ports per drive). All are PCIe x4 so I need to use the 2 x8 and x4 on the motherboard. These are only SATA II as the drives I will be using are only SATA II. If in the future I need to upgrade, since I’m only getting 20 drives total, I will have 4 bays free. I can connect these 4 drives directly to the motherboard (which has SATA III), or a controller in the  free PCIe x1 slot using a SFF-8087 to SATA breakout cable. Often users suggest using a HP SAS Expander which has 8x SFF-8086 SAS ports (6 to connect drives to card and 2 for uplink to the SAS HBA). I believe that by using this method you limit the amount of bandwidth you have as you are essentially plugging all 24 drives into a single SAS port (on the SAS controller). Using 3 controllers allows for maximum bandwidth allocation between drives.

Cables: 6x SFF-8087 to SFF-8087, 4x Male Molex to 7x Female Molex Power connects and maybe 1x SFF-8087 to 4x SATA breakout cable $100

Why? The Norco case connects drive by SAS cables from the backplane. 6 ports, 4 drives per port. 6 cables to connect all drives to the system. Need many power connectors to power all the drives on the backplane and might need a SFF-8087 to 4x SATA cable if I wish to connect SATA III drives directly to the motherboard.

Drives: 6x 1.5TB Seagate Barracuda 7200.11, 2x 1TB Samsung HD103UJ, 2x 1TB Hitachi 7K1000, 10x 2TB Hitachi 7K2000 $1500

Why? The only new drives will be the 2TB Hitachi drives. They’re cheap and fast…and NOT green power (TLER doesn’t matter in Unix-based systems…as much). Who likes green power drives anyway? Remember RAID used to stand for Redundant Array of INEXPENSIVE Disks. These are great value for performance.

Operating System

I’m a Windows fanboy, so I really wanted to use Windows. My current software RAID5 Windows based, so keeping Windows would have been easiest. Alas, OpenSolaris and ZFS seems to be the in thing these days for RAID. So, the plan is to run BOTH Windows and OpenSolaris using VMware ESXi. The SAS HBA seems to be compatible with both VMware ESXi and OpenSolaris. The CPU is 64-bit and supports hardware virtualization, perfect for ESXi. So, the plan is to allocate 2GB of RAM to Windows Server 2008 R2 (Datacenter) and 6GB to OpenSolaris. OpenSolaris will deal only with ZFS RAID while Windows will provide all my network services (WAMP, OpenVPN, etc.)

RAID Configuration

6x 1.5TB (RAID-Z2 RAID6)

10x 2TB (RAID-Z2 RAID6)

4x 1TB (RAID-Z2 RAID6)

250GB OS Drive

All raids pooled so that shows as single drive. Software RAID so that I can migrate the RAID to new hardware if a controller fails.

TOTAL: 24TB (RAID6) 28.5TB (RAID5)

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Google Instant Sucks!

It’s true. It really does. It’s flawed. I like the functionality but part of the implementation is frustrating. Let’s face it, when I saw it for the first time I was like OMGWTFBBQ, but now, not so much.

Going Back

This one’s a simple matter of placing focus in the Search Bar. Often I find myself browsing a site, searching for a keyword, visiting a search result then going back to the site I was originally visiting. For example:

  1. Browse site A
  2. Search for “test test”
  3. Go to first result
  4. Go back to “test test”
  5. Go back to site A

This now becomes a nuisance with Google Instant. As soon as you go back from a search result you are focused into the search query box. You need to tab out or click the back button to actually go back to the page before your search results. Often you just end up deleting a character in your query.

Auto Completion

This is just silly. I thought the whole reason of Google Instant is to save time. Often Google’s prediction is pretty damn good. Now I find myself typing part of the search query (because Google already predicted it) and pressing Enter! Instead I find that I’ve ended up searching for my partial search query rather than the prediction. For example, searching for “google maps”:

  1. Type “google m”
  2. Press Enter
  3. Google Mobile?! BUT YOU AUTO COMPLETED GOOGLE MAPS. WTF?!

Instead, pressing Enter should use the autocompleted result (instead of me having to press Right Arrow THEN Enter). If you want to search for the query “google m” you press Escape. OR the other way around…Escape hides the Google Instant box and keeps it’s current prediction state and Enter searches for your incomplete query. Either solution requires just one button press instead of two.

I guess you could ask…why am I pressing Enter at all? If I type “google m” it shows me the results for the predicted text. Well, two reasons: a) I’m too damn used to pressing Enter after my query, and b) I want to get rid of the gigantic Google Instant box that hides at least 2 search results!

Take Me There

Complementing my previous problem (sort of). There NEEDS to be a keyboard shortcut to take me to a result. Be it the first result or result X on the page. So I could:

  1. Type “google m”
  2. Press keyboard shortcut to take me to first result

I propose ALT + x (x being the search result number). Time saving? I think so.

Browser Integration

Google Instant needs browser integration ASAP. No doubt Chrome will have some sort of implementation….but I don’t use Chrome, I use Firefox. A possible implementation? Well I’m glad you asked. Pretty simple:

Typing into the Firefox Search Box brings up a new tab with Google Instant results. Typing into the search box works exactly the same way as the Google Instant box….oh and it should have support for choosing a search result with keyboard shortcuts too :P

DOM Storage

Initially, Google Instant hated me. When it launched, I simply could not get it to work with Firefox despite disabling all extensions (Safe Mode), clearing cache and cookies! It turns out Google Instant uses DOM Storage. If you happened to use a Firefox extension named BetterPrivacy (which is pretty popular!) you ended up with a broken Google page. Even if you disabled the extension, you’d still have the problem since the extension is simply a frontend for changing a flag in about:config. Either way, why on earth does Google Instant need to use DOM Storage? There’s probably a good reason for this, but surely if DOM Storage fails they could revert to Cookies…or something.

Anyway, for those having this issue:

Error: Permission denied for <https://www.google.com> to get property Window.getComputedStyle from <http://www.google.com.au>.
Error: uncaught exception: [Exception... "Security error"  code: "1000" nsresult: "0x805303e8 (NS_ERROR_DOM_SECURITY_ERR)"  location: "http://www.google.com/extern_js/f/CgJlbiswRTgBLCswWjgALCswDjgBLCswFzgHLCswJzgELCswPDgALCswUTgALCswWTgOLCswCjh_QC8sKzAWOB0sKzAZOCAsKzAhOD9AASwrMCU4z4gBLCswKjgLLCswKzgRLCswNTgELCswQDgTLCswQTgFLCswTjgGLCswVDgBLCswYzgALCswHThXLCswXDgXLCswGDgFLCswJjgOLIACGZACG/Veq5STkSvqE.js Line: 109"]

You can fix it by:

  1. Going to “about:config” in your Firefox address bar
  2. Search for “dom.storage.enabled” and set it to true
  3. Huzzah. Google Instant.

International

Why the hell can’t Google roll out Instant to international domains at the same time? I want Australian results! There is no excuse for this.

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Every Single (Awesome) Game I’ve Played

Today, I spent a couple of hours thinking back to how awesome the good ol’ days of DOS games were and that now…I hardly play games. Mainly because I find them all pretty damn boring. I thought it’d be awesome to make a 1995 super-computer, say a couple of Pentium Pros and a kick-ass 3dfx Voodoo card (or two), just to play some retro games. Alas, finding rare parts, even on eBay, is rather difficult and it’d probably be a pretty expensive ordeal. Guess I’ll just have to stick with DOSbox and VMware.

On another note, I present you with the list of awesome game I’ve played. You’ll notice how it begins with a shit-ton of DOS games, ventures briefly into Windows, then heads to the PSX, then to WoW, and finally, the world of casual gaming.

The DOS Era (1991 – 1997)
Ancients
Battle Chess 4000
Bio Menace
Blake Stone
Blood
Blues Brothers – Jukebox Adventure
Bouncing Babies
Captain Comic
Carmageddon
Catacombs 3-D
CD-Man
Command & Conquer: Red Alert
Commander Keen 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, Dreams, 6
Companions of Xanth
Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure
Crysal Caves
Dangerous Dave
Descent, 2
Doom 1, 2
Duke Nukem 1, 2, 3D (Atomic)
Dune
Earthworm Jim
ElectroMan
Epic Pinball
Fantastic Dizzy
Flashback
Freddy Pharkas – Frontier Pharmacist
Fuzzy’s World of Miniature Space Golf
Gertrude’s Secrets
Goldfields
Gorillas (QBASIC)
Grand Theft Auto 1, 2
Heretic, Shadow of the Serpent Riders
Hexen: Beyond Heretic, Deathkings of the Dark Citadel
Hocus Pocus
Hugo’s House of Horrors, Whodunit, Jungle of Doom
IndyCar Racing
Jazz Jackrabbit, 2
Jetpack
Ken’s Labyrinth
King’s Quest 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
Lamborghini: American Challenge
Lemmings
Links: The Challenge of Golf
Lotus III: The Ultimate Challenge
Mario Is Missing
Monster Bash
Need for Speed
Nibbles (QBASIC)
Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee
One Must Fall: 2097
Prince of Persia
Quake
Raptor
Reader Rabbit
Rise of the Triad
Sango Fighter
Shadow Warrior
Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective
Sim City 2000
Sim City Classic
Sim Farm
Stunts
SWIV 3D
Terminal Velocity
The Incredible Machine
Theme Park
Tomb Raider
Turok
Wacky Wheels
Warcraft 1, 2
Wipeout
Wolfenstein 3D (Spear of Destiny)
WordMAX
Worms
Zool
The Windows Era (~1995 – 2004)
3D Movie Maker
3D Pinball for Windows
Age of Empires 1, 2, 3
Ballistics
Battlefield 1942
Catz
Chip’s Challenge
Counter Strike
Crazy Taxi
Daytona USA
Deer Hunter
Destruction Derby
DogDay
Doom 3
Doom 3, Resurrection of Evil
Dope Wars
Elasto Mania
Enter The Matrix
FIFA 97
Flight Simulator 2004
Fury3
Grim Fandango
Half Life
Halo
Heretic II
HeXen II, Portal of Praevus
Hitman: Codename 47, 2: Silent Assassin, Contracts, Blood Money
Hong Kong Mahjong
Hover!
I.G.I.
Jurassic Park: Chaos Island
Kid Pix
Kingpin: Life of Crime
Math Blaster
Math Circus
Max Payne, Max Payne II
MechWarrior 2
Metal Gear Solid 2
Micro Machines V3
Microsoft Golf
MindMaze (that game in Microsoft Encarta!)
Monster Truck Madness
Motocross Madness 1, 2
Myst, Riven, III, IV, V, realMYST
Need for Speed 2
Need for Speed: Underground, Underground 2
Postal, 2
Putt-Putt
Pyst
Quake II, The Reckoning, Ground Zero
Quake III Arena, Team Arena, Quake Live,
Rainbow Six: Rouge Spear
Rally Championship
Red Faction
Redneck Rampage
Sega Rally
Sim Park
SimTower
SkiFree
Soldier of Fortune
Sonic CD
Starcraft, Brood War
SWAT
The Land of Um
The Sims
Theme Hospital
Titanic: Adventure Out Of Time
ToCA Race Driver 2
Typing of the Dead
Unreal, Unreal Tournament, Unreal Tournament 2003, Unreal 2, Unreal Tournament 2004,
Virtua Cop
V-Rally
Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?
Yoot Tower
The PSX Era (1999 – 2002)
Ace Combat 1, 2
Colin McRae Rally 1, 2.0
Crash Bandicoot, 2:Cortex Strikes Back, 3:Warped
Croc 1, 2
Die Hard
Dino Crisis
Driver
Gex
Gran Turismo 1, 2
Metal Gear Solid: Integral
Point Blank
R4: Ridge Racer Type 4
Silent Hill
Siphon Filter
Spyro the Dragon
Tenchu
Time Crisis
Wargames: Defcon 1
WoW Era (2005 – 2009)
World of Warcraft, Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King
Post-WoW Era (2008 – 2010)
Colin McRae: DiRT 1, DiRT 2
Counter-Strike: Source
Crysis
Knytt, Stories
Left 4 Dead 1, Left 4 Dead 2
Portal
Team Fortress 2
Unreal Tournament 3
Within A Deep Forest
iPhone Era (2009 – 2010)
Angry Birds
BubblePRO
Doodle Jump
Flight Control
Need for Speed Undercover
Paper Toss
Peggle
Plants vs. Zombies
Rock Band
Spikey’s Bounce Around
Super Monkey Ball 1, 2
Tap Tap Revenge
Other
Donkey Kong Country (SNES)
GoldenEye (N64)
Granny’s Garden (C64)
Guitar Hero (Xbox 360)
Pokemon Red, Blue, Green, Yellow (GB)
Sonic 1, 2, 3, & Knuckles (Mega Drive)
Super Mario World (SNES)
Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey (N64)
Wii Sports (Wii)

I am sure to update this list as I can think of any DOS games that come to mind. I currently have one game racking my brain that I played a ton and just can’t remember the name, sigh.

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iPad: The Verdict

Originally I intended to buy a netbook for overseas travel. After searching through an endless amount of models there was nothing I saw that has decent specs and a long battery life.

Apple announced the iPad… At first I figured it’d be a useless heap of junk, but after thinking about it for a while, it seemed like a logical netbook replacement. So, I bought one. A 64GB WiFi+3G one…with accessories. Here’s the review.

The Hardware

You can tell the iPad is a first generation Apple device. The screen isn’t 16:9, it has no front facing camera, let alone any camera. I’ve also found that the iPad has only 256MB of RAM. It’s essentially a giant iPhone. However, the only significant flaw of these, is the RAM. I’m still experimenting but even without backgrounding apps, things start to get a little low and laggy. Maybe I just need another factory restore. On the upside, it’s pretty fast, the screen is bright, it’s perfectly sized and the battery life is fantastic.

Another flaw is USB charging. The iPad requires a full 10W of power to charge and unfortunately most USB ports don’t supply that much power. Only ports that implement a new USB standard can charge the iPad (currently only new i7/i5 Macs). This sucks. It makes it impossible to keep your iPad fully charged and syncable at the same time. The only solution is the Wi-Fi Sync jailbreak app (which is fantastic, by the way) so that you can connect your iPad via the power connector and still sync. Without the jailbreak, this would be a show stopper for me as I intended to use the iPad in it’s dock next to my current monitors. Thank god for jailbreaking.

The Accessories

I bought the case, dock and camera kit. You could say I went all out.

The case is great, it adds a tilt that is great for movie watching and typing…but you can’t dock the iPad in it’s case. Not a huge deal, but it’s pretty hard to pull the iPad out of the case once it’s in it. The dock works okay too, but it has no weight, so you have to hold down the dock to pull the iPad out. It would be nice if the dock included some sort of TV out or way to connect both power and USB, but alas it doesn’t…but it does sit nicely next to my other screens. I haven’t tested the camera kit yet, but I bought this since there have been reports of connecting other devices to the iPad. As jailbreaking evolves, this seems like logical device to toy around with other peripherals with the iPad.

The Operating System

iPhone OS 3.2 seems like it was rushed. It works, but a significant amount of features are disabled from the operating system for no good reason. Upon booting for the first time I realized that there’s no Weather, Calculator, Voice Recorder, Compass, Stocks or Clock app. I can’t decide whether or not Apple rushed it out or if they wanted to leave it to the developers, but it’s rather annoying since some of these applications use a private API, only accessible to Apple (the alarm feature in the Clock app, for example). Either way, it’s a bit disappointing. The apps that Apple have ported are rather decent. The iPod app is like a miniature iTunes and Calendar app has a great UI.

Tethering is completely disabled. So is voice control, but at least the latter can be enabled with a simple hack. Since there is no camera, any application that has a camera feature often crashes since there is no check for the hardware. And hell, why isn’t there an SMS app or Phone app. They could have least enabled the API for developers.

Apple claims the iPad supports iPhone applications…and it does…but frankly it sucks. iPhone applications show up in small area of the screen…or you can use pixel doubling to make it look like an awesomely distorted JPEG image. If you think that you’ll use an iPhone app for something the iPad does not yet support, then you’re kidding yourself. Frankly, the iPad is only good for native iPad apps, iPhone apps are an absolute last resort.

Luckily, there’s a jailbreak solution, sort of. FullForce will force iPhone apps to the native iPad UI. Unfortunately, your mileage may vary depending on the app. It does however work well for the Facebook app, for which there is no native iPad app, yet. Keep in mind though, most applications are just mobile front ends to websites…and now that you have a giant screen, you can can get an excellent experience from MobileSafari.

Jailbreak users will be a bit disappointed, at least for now. There are several apps that simply don’t work with OS3.2. However, I spent some time going through jailbreak apps that I feel are 100% essential: ProSwitcher (Palm Pre style task manager), SBSettings (toggle pad that works in 3.2) and LockInfo (lock screen information). Luckily, at least ProSwitcher has active development. The github repository has partially working code for the iPad… And it’ll probably be ready soonish.

I feel OS4 will make the iPad shine. There are a couple of cool things in OS3.2 though: SpringBoard now rotates to landscape, there’s a rotation lock, and the keyboard is fantastically huge. Yes, I’m typing this article on an onscreen keyboard, and it’s actually productive!

The Apps

Even though the iPad has been out for a month or so, there is a lack of decent apps. No doubt, over time this will sort it self out. Also, you’ll find that app store prices are incredibly inflated at the moment. Angry Birds for iPad (a popular game for the iPhone) is 5, yes f i v e, times the price of the iPhone version…and to top it off, there are only 2 chapters in the iPad version vs. 4 in the iPhone version (say wut?!). Nevertheless, first I’ll go through some alternatives to the default iPhone apps (Weather, etc.) then I’ll cover some gems for the iPad.

Alternatives
Compass: Compass-HD
Weather: Pocket Weather
Stocks: Bloomberg (really informative on the iPad)
World Clocks: MyWorld Clock
Calculator: Calculator HD for iPad
Alarm: Weather Watch (has a fantastic UI that merges alarm clock and weather display)
Voice Recorder: Voice Recorder for iPad

iPad Gems
AirVideo: this application is one of the killer apps on iPad. It allows you to stream video from a computer to your iPad. It supports just about every type of video format as it transcodes on the fly using the server software you install on your computer (transcoding is done with ffdshow). The application just works. I’ve even used this with 3G by VPNing to home. Even with 256kbit upload, I was able to pull up a TV show with just 60 seconds of initial buffering. From then on in, the video played flawlessly. It automatically transcodes to an acceptable video bit rate depending on the amount of bandwidth available.

WunderRadio: this is also an iPhone app. It has a vast and extensive database of internet radio streams, including many of the Australian radio stations. Another app that just works.

iTap RDP: is a Windows remote desktop application. The 1024×768 screen of the iPad makes these applications shine. iTap supports a ton of touch gestures and has a few innovations up its sleeve to make it easier to use on the iPad. Unfortunately, it doesn’t support files on the clipboard, but that’s where the next app comes in…

FileBrowser: supports file sharing and SMB share browsing, so you can grab files and send files between your iPad and computer. It also supports an “Open With” function so you can grab a word document and open it with Pages.

iSSH: if you want VNC instead of RDP, this is where it’s at. It also supports SSH, which is fantastic for jailbreak users since MobileTerminal isn’t yet iPad compatible.

Sociable: while MobileSafari is pretty pleasing experience…sometimes it’s nice to have a native app. Sociable is a good alternative for the iPhone Digg or iReddit app.

Twitterific: this is where it’s at in terms of Twitter clients. Nuff said.

Beejive: while I was rather pissed that I had to pay another $8 for Beejive, since I already had the iPhone app, it’s a worth while purchase. It supports MSN, Facebook, AIM, ICQ, Gtalk, Jabber, MySpace and Yahoo!

TWiTPad: a fan of Leo? Then this is for you.

Quota: a usage tracking application that works for just about any Australian mobile provider and ISP. It has a pretty damned good UI.

GlobeConvert: everyone needs a unit converter. This one has a fantastic UI and selection of units. The company also makes WordBook XL, an excellent offline dictionary and thesaurus.

Bento: is hard to explain. It’s like a journal…a library of things. A database? I’m not sure. It has a pretty UI and it seems like a decent application to store some….stuff.

1Password: sort of like Bento, but with security. This is a great app to store all your sensitive information. It’s pretty much a wallet.

Penultimate: if you have a stylus…or want a OneNote style application, this is it.

Magic Piano: this is from the same company that made Ocarina. Fun++

Star Walk: if you like astronomy, you might wanna give this a go. It has support for the compass and accelerometer so you can figure out where constellations are.

Atomic Web Browser: this is an alternative web browser with a Firefox-ish layout and an adblocker.

Korg iELECTRIBE: if you’re a DJ, this is fantastic. It’s an easy to use interface for loops. It has a pretty decent database of synths and effects.

InstaPaper & The Early Edition: these are two separate apps, but great if you like to read articles in a newspaper style. InstaPaper is able to save webpages for offline viewing and The Early Edition is a fancy RSS reader that lays out articles into a newspaper template.

The Apple Suite (iBooks, Pages, Numbers, Keynote): I was a tad pissed that these aren’t included on the iPad by default and that the prices of the office suite are in the $10 range. The apps however, are quality. Apple kept it simple and it worked. I would think that for people that read, iBooks is the killer app, but I don’t read…so I can’t comment on that.

The Verdict

I’m not quite sure I know the exact use for my iPad…yet, but I feel that once the apps evolve and OS4 comes out that it’ll be clear. If you haven’t yet got your iPad, and want one, I’d wait a month then test the waters. The few quality applications that are out nearly make it worth it, but somethings still need a bit of polish. If you do buy one, be prepared to change your work style for the iPad…as in it’s current state, I don’t think the iPad will influence the way you work. No doubt this is a luxury device, but I feel that Apple do have the price set a tad high.

Do I recommend one? If you have the money and you feel the iPad can fill a gap, then yes.

For now, I have tried to avoid using my laptop, and I’ve been fairly successful. The iPad can handle most of my day to day tasks…and if not, there’s remote desktop ;)

Sent from my iPad… (WordPress.app)

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Today I was over productive

I don’t normally blog about personal crap, but today…oddly, I was over productive.

It’s closing in on about a 20 hour day, but so far I’ve accomplished the following:

Organised Mother’s Day presents
Met to discuss iPhone App Development
Had lunch a long lunch
Organised seating arrangements for Hawaii trip
Organised travel insurance
Haircut
Finished PhD Proposal Methodology (4 pages)
Finished iPhone App Proposal (5 pages)
Created a new CV
Sorted a lot of files
Updated a bunch of PCs with new software
Hacked new Vuze version

On top of it all of that I managed to watch numerous episodes of TBBT and Seinfeld….and play Angry Birds.

If I was this productive every day…well…who knows what would happen.

Time for bed.

Fixing a character spacing issue in Windows 7

I’ve noticed this a couple of times: Windows decides to go a bit crazy with it’s UI font. Luckily, this is purely a cosmetic problem.

Symptoms:

  • Title bar text becomes compacted.
  • Text is inconsistently spaced in some areas of the UI. For example, typing “this text is awesome” into the Start Menu search bar shows something along the lines of “th i s t ext is aweso me”.
  • Upon the first few seconds seeing your Desktop at start up, most fonts default to Arial (notably the Date/Time in the notification area). Something kicks in a few seconds later and fixes some of the fonts, but not all of them.

It’s all quite odd. I have no idea what causes this exactly because generally, it occurs after a reboot and I don’t reboot for days on end. The default font for the Winodws UI is Segoe UI. I’m not sure if this problem is font specific as I’ve never used anything other than the default.

I haven’t seen anything critical in the Event Log or noticed any applications failing to work they way they should, but it bugged me enough to figure out how to fix it. I started at Google, which seemed to be of little help due to vague keywords. Generally, you’d find random people complaining about how to fix their character spacing in word processing applications.

I used a few steps to troubleshoot the issue. These commands are run as Administrator. You should probably reboot after each step:

  1. Rebuild the MUI cache: mcbuilder
  2. Rebuild the Font Cache:
    a) Stop the Windows Font Cache Service: net stop FontCache
    b) Delete the Font Cache: del %WINDIR%\system32\FNTCACHE.DAT
    c) Start the Windows Font Cache Service: net start FontCache
  3. If all else fails, check for corrupt system files and fonts:
    a) System File Checker scan: sfc /SCANNOW
    b) Reapply any system file patches (e.g. tcpip.sys, termsrv.dll, uxtheme.dll, MUI watermark removers)
  4. If all else fails (try to avoid this), copy all Fonts from a working machine of Windows 7
    a) Find a machine running the same build of Windows 7 (edition, i.e. Ultimate / Home Premium, does not matter) that does not have this problem
    b) Copy all fonts from the working install to the broken install. Fonts are located in %WINDIR%\Fonts
    c) Repeat steps 1 to 3. This is important as you will rebuild caches with the working font files

That should do the trick. If not, it’s probably time to reformat and reinstall… or live with it.

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3D Movies? No Thanks.

I like pretty pictures. Today, I saw my first 3D movie, Alice in Wonderland. After seeing it, I have decided that anyone that says 3D is an incredible experience either a) has vision problems and/or b) does not appreciate a high definition image. By no means is a “2D” movie high definition (speckles and grainyness), but it does look decent for its size. “3D” is a step backwards in terms of quality.

Firstly, the glasses they give you have the same effect as wearing sunglasses. I’m sorry, but when did anyone wear sunglasses to a cinema? This significantly dulls the brightness and vibrancy of colour in the image. Throughout the whole movie I had the urge to remove the glasses to see the image with the brightness dial turned up. These 3D films, like Avatar, have “groundbreaking” CG. You would think that you’d like to view this image in it’s originally rendered, bright and beautiful colours, no?

The next complaint is about the focused portions of the image. Many will notice, when compared to the “2D” version, that a vast majority of the image is blurred to focus your eyes on the 3D portion. Although, this didn’t give me a headache (like some do suffer), I did find it very frustrating that I was unable to explore “groundbreaking” CG scenery. Instead, you are forced to focus on a portion of the image that, sometimes, isn’t even the character/object that is meant to be the centre of attention. To top it off, there are often objects that are presented in 3D but out of focus. Naturally, you are drawn to focus on that object but you become confused that the object looks both horrible and out of focus.

The movie was viewed at Hoyts Norwood (Adelaide, South Australia). The screen is most certainly not the biggest but it was the “Xtreme Screen” of the cinema. Now, I’m not quite sure if this is a 3D technology technicality or if it’s just how this movie was shot, but, the movie did not take up the whole screen (width wise). It was apparent to me that the curtain was still drawn over the edges of the screen. Firstly, this is supposed to be a spectacular image, why the hell isn’t it big? Secondly, this causes much disappointment when “3D” objects are flung off the side of the screen. Initially, the effect is cool, it looks like it’s coming towards you…but you are significantly disappointed when the border of the screen makes the image disappear and not the corner of your eye. Perhaps this would be more spectacular on an IMAX screen?

3D does, however, work in some cases. I found that when there is only one character on the screen, it worked well (an example in Alice in Wonderland is Cheshire Cat ). Also, ambient effects, such as smoke and fireflies, would add depth to the image. Fast moving objects, such as falling or flinged objects can also work, but I found that the fast moving object would often be blurred making it look very gimmicky. In Alice in Wonderland, I found that “real life” scenes were only partially in 3D and that the effect on “real life” scenes were underwhelming. CG generated scenes took more advantage of the 3D “technology”, significantly.

For non-glasses wearers, such as myself, these things are uncomfortable. I don’t choose to wear glasses for a reason and I’m pretty sure that most people that wear glasses only wear them because they have to.

For all this, you pay an extra AU$6 (Student). What a jip. Now, I understand that the technology to shoot the movie costs more, but I’m fairly sure the cinema does not need to purchase new projectors to show the film (I could be wrong). Why am I paying extra? New movies continuously use new and more expensive technology and we generally don’t pay extra. I can go see this movie in 2D and pay the normal price. Gimmick? Yup.

Where’s my damn hologram.

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PC Media Centers: A journey of pain, hurt and frustration.

Putting a PC under your TV to play your pictures, movies, and all that jazz, sounds like an excellent idea until you actually try and implement it. I’ve been using a full blown PC since 2004 to record TV and stream media from my server….but it’s been hell.

Problem #1: Choosing the right hardware
Back in 2004, I thought that putting a PC under the TV to play media would be a fantastic idea. I started to plan a bunch of parts and on paper, it looked great. Being slightly more clueless than I am today, I didn’t do much research….which led to me buying a P4 LGA775 (the hottest of all Intel processors) processor and a set of loud components.

The TV tuner card (a Hauppauge PVR-MCE-350) was also very average. It’s an analogue card, but the quality of video it outputs is significantly worse than plugging it directly into the TV (via the same connector). Fast forward to today and I still use the same card. It works OK, but in the world of digital, the card needs updating.

The leads us to the next problem. Working with a FOXTEL box. In 2004, FOXTEL digital was introduced. Ironically, the set top box provided by FOXTEL does not output any digital video (only audio). FOXTEL boxes have only recently outputted in digital with the introduction of FOXTEL HD channels. That brings up a new problem. It’s impossible to create a “purely digital” media center PC…where there’s digital input and digital output. Why? Well firstly, HDMI and Component are protected by HDCP (and any capture cards to bypass HDCP are “illegal” or need heavy licensing fees). Secondly, it takes a beefy PC to capture and view HD video at the same time. Currently, the only way to capture HD video from FOXTEL would be via analogue component inputs. Capture cards that do this are reasonably expensive…$300+ The alternative is CableCard. A technology that has never taken off despite it being amazing and around for several years.

There’s also the problem of IR blasting. This isn’t FTA Digital/Analog, where you tune into a frequency depending on a channel, the capture card sees FOXTEL as a singular channel. Every time you want to change the channel you must blast infrared out to the FOXTEL box. I’ve found that this can often be inaccurate and laggy.

Problem #2: Choosing the software
Now the software. Generally, you’d use Windows Media Center. It comes with Windows. For a simplistic Media Center, it works pretty well. However, it’s hard to extend and skin. Windows 7 media center is particularly average when it comes to UI.

The alternatives? MythTV. XBMC. MediaPortal. MythTV is out, fuck Linux. XBMC is out, no capture card support. This leaves MediaPortal. An open source media center that’s highly extensible and skinable. MediaPortal, by default, looks like balls but it has a ton of cool features. Adding the StreamedMP skin and a couple of plugins makes MediaPortal look and feel like XBMC. It has excellent UIs for TV Shows and Movies (with a bit of work).

The downside? It’s buggy as fuck. Firstly, the StreamedMP skin doesn’t support 4:3. I guess this isn’t a big deal for most, alas, the parents refuse to venture into a world of new technology. This means you have to do a crapton of skin modifying to fit things on the screen. Secondly, I had to go ahead and check out the source from SVN to determine what was hanging MediaPortal for 2 minutes. It turns out there was no such timeout for devices like card readers. If there’s nothing in the card reader, there’d an extended I/O timeout which would hang MediaPortal. It’s an easy source fix, but there’s bugs like this that just make MediaPortal very unfriendly (without a helluva lot of work).

There’s also a problem with timeshifting. A feature that allows you to pause and rewind TV. With FTA, this is great. With FOXTEL, this is absolute pain. The way timeshifting works is that the capture card is saved to a temporary file before it is viewed on the screen. This means there’s usually a 3-4 second delay. This delay makes using onscreen components for the FOXTEL box (such as TV guide) impossible. Unfortunately, both MediaPortal and WMC do not allow you to disable timeshifting.

Finally, EPG (programme guide) data is nearly impossible to get for FOXTEL. There are sources such as OzTiVo, but it is often incomplete. In the end, I ended up writing a parser for YourTV (which has relatively complete FOXTEL data). It’s a very highly customized solution mainly because there is now “raw” data feed (such as XML). I have to parse HTML pages to get meta data. Each day downloads approximately 50-75MB of data (when parsed it’s only ~4MB, 600KB zipped)…which means I have to run this on my overseas VPS. Basically, the stars have to align to get any sort of consistent EPG data.

So, in conclusion?
a) If you want a purely digital media center: you’re going to have to use FTA Digital. You can use analogue component for FOXTEL but it’ll cost you.
b) EPG data for FTA is great! FOXTEL not so much.
c) FTA works great for timeshifting. You’re probably going to want to connect FOXTEL directly to your TV and capture card, so that when you need to record, you can.
d) Buy and research silent, cool and compatible hardware components.
e) 4:3 is out. 16:9 is here. Don’t even bother if you have an old TV.
f) Be prepared to pull your hair out.

You can probably tell this is just a spill of my brain. I haven’t gone in to much detail…but I’ve finally finished the rebuild project of my media center.

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