archive for September, 2005

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It looks like the fire has moved on. Some of the hills around our place have been blackened, but nothing too close. The wind has shifted and is now blowing the fire north and east, so I think we’re pretty safe now.


From what the news has been saying, Oak Park (where I live) is currently under mandatory evacuation due to the brush fires in the area. Jesse and I packed up some of our important stuff this morning and are just going to wait it out at work. Hopefully they’ll get the fires in our area out later today.

On the way to work, it looked like the darkest area of smoke was a couple miles east of us. At Kanan and US-101, and again at Lost Hills and Agoura there were several fire trucks directing traffic. I assume they’re keeping people out of the evacuated area.

Link Roundup: Sep. 28, 2005

I’ve gotten behind on my posting the links I’ve collected, and I don’t have much time before work, so please excuse me as I rush through this.

Robert X. Cringely’s NerdTV
An interview show with historically important technologists. The cool thing is that it comes in several flavors (audio, video, and text). I like the transcript version best myself.

Google Blog Search
So far, I’m not impressed. I think they may have released it a little early. The biggest problem I see is that there isn’t any way to add your blog to their index.

Last Minute Auction
A listing of eBay auctions where the items are going for less than $1 and are about to close. It’s a cool idea, but tends to be full of stuff nobody would want. Shocking? I don’t think so.

Opera is Free
That’s free as in free beer, not free speech. Opera is a fairly popular web browser. They had a free version in the past, but it included ads. I’ve tried it. It seems ok, but I’ll stick with Firefox.

Slashdot Changes Standards
For far, far too many years, Slashdot generated some seriously lame HTML code. For such a techie site, I don’t understand why they didn’t make this change years ago. Hopefully they’ll get a style upgrade next.

MapleStory is a free, online, side-scrolling, role playing game. It’s technically in beta testing right now, but I haven’t had any problems with it. From what I understand, they plan to make money by charging for in-game items like haircuts, pets, VIP taxi service, etc… It’s a great idea, and is pretty fun to play — even Jesse has tried it out.

Well, I’m all out of time, and that only covers about half of my links. I’ll try to get the rest posted later this week, but I doubt I’ll be able to.

Day of Defeat: Source

I tried posting this last night, but my post didn’t seem to make it to the server. I hate rewriting posts — I always feel like I’m summarizing myself. Oh well, here goes…

Day of Defeat:Source was released yesterday afternoon, so of course, I had to try it out. DoD:S was included in the Half-Life 2 package that I bought last year, so I’ve been waiting a long time for this.

The game play in Day of Defeat really isn’t my style. I like more open and expansive maps, and at least their current ones all feel small and boxed in to me. DoD:S is the first game from Valve to show off their new High Dynamic Range lighting effects. Since my new video card supports these effects, I’m glad I get to try them out.

In short, the effects are cool but a little distracting (at least at first). HDR is designed to give you a better feel for the real lighting that a scene should have even with the contrast limitations of today’s monitors. So, if you come around a corner and find a brightly lit wall or sun steaming through a window, it will look almost over exposed and washed out. Light will bloom around the edges of objects more realistically too (this is truly beautiful). After a few seconds, your virtual eyes adjust and what was once a completely washed out wall resolves to merely a brightly lit wall.

It’s a pretty cool technique, and I’m looking forward to seeing it in more games. The distracting part comes from the HDR not being applied evenly. Some objects (at least in DoD:S) seem to take on much more of a glow than others. It gives them a weird, ethereal, look in a mundane computer generated world.

Camarillo at Dusk

Last night, my instructor and I flew to the Camarillo Airport. It was kind of a little test where he tried not to tell me anything about the flying. Actually, the silence was a little weird. Overall, I think it went well. There were a few things that I messed up. Three were kind of important.

First, I was aiming for 4,500 ft. on my way to the airport, but caught some lift over the mountains and climbed to 4,900. Another 100 feet, and I would have been in class Bravo airspace (not good). My instructor mentioned it, and I corrected.

The second problem (which was really the first) was that I didn’t have my chart out the whole time. I had it available, but I should have had it on my lap. If I had, I might have though about the class Bravo and not gotten so close.

The third big problem was that on my approach I lined up with the taxi way instead of the runway. It had just rained, and the sun was setting straight down the end of the runway. With the long shadows and glint from the water, I was having a hard time making anything out. Luckily, my instructor pointed out the runway before it became a problem.

I really wish I’d had a camera with me. The sky was beautiful. The last bits of clouds from the rain storm were still in the sky. Off to the north, we could see lightning, and the unstable air made the visibility terrific.

This is going to be my last flight for two weeks. The plane is booked for the rest of this week, and Jesse and I are going on vacation next week.

Goodbye Norton, Hello Avast

My subscription for Norton Anti-Virus is almost up. It costs almost $40 to renew which may not seem like a big deal, but really starts to add up year after year. This year, I’m opting for the free avast! antivirus. I’ve posted about free anti-viruses before, and now it’s time to take the plunge. If you ever get sick or renewing your Norton or McAfee subscription, you might want to switch to a free solution.

Solo Pattern

Sorry guys. It’s yet another aviation post. I’ll keep this short. Yesterday I went flying all by myself. My instructor wasn’t even at the airport. I wasn’t sure about the weather because it was really hazy, and I thought that it might be getting overcast, but it seemed to clear up by the time I got to the airport. I stayed in the pattern (8 landings) for a little over an hour and called it a day. It was fun, but there’s nothing really special to talk about.

Flight Lessons: 3 Point X-Country

I just got back from another flight. Before I tell you about it though, I forgot to post last Friday, so let’s catch up. There’s really not much to say. We made a few loops around the pattern, and then my instructor hopped out and let me go around once on my own. It was nice to solo again, but not as exciting as the first time.

Today’s flight was a little more work. It was a round-robin cross-country starting at Santa Monica, then to Santa Paula, then General Fox, and back to Santa Monica. I thought I’d be leaving later in the afternoon and would have pretty much all day to plan. When I actually sat down at the computer at 9:00 this morning I realized that I was flying at noon which only gave me about two hours of planning time. I rush though the planning and filed my flight plan, grabbed my stuff and ran for the door.

I ended up getting to the airport only a minute late (don’t ask how fast I was driving). I went over my plan with my instructor. It was seriously lacking, but it at least had the directions down. Next time I plan a trip of this size, I need to give myself at least 4 hours for planning. We opened the flight plan at 12:35 (only 5 min. late), and were on our way to Santa Paula.

The flight there went ok. My lack of planning was catching up with me and I felt much busier than I’d like as I was trying to look everything up, and talk to ATC. The pattern altitude at Santa Paula is really low which was strange, but my landing was ok. We didn’t have time to stop and hang out, but we did stop long enough to look at the next leg of the trip and get the radios set up.

On the way to General Fox (just outside of Lancaster), we kept losing radio and radar contact with ATC. Next time I fly there, I think I’ll try to stay higher than 5,500 ft. I came in a little fast to land because I had to descend so much and ended up forgetting to go back to full fuel mixture before making a touch-and-go. Luckily the engine didn’t die, but I’m sure I got less climb performance than I should have.

My plan for the flight back was to go over Van Nuys, but ATC said that it was busy to the West of Burbank and wanted us to go more to the East. They released us about 10 miles out of Santa Monica. Again, I was flying pretty fast (I think I was doing about 130 knots on the way down), but I was able to slow it down before landing. We ended up getting in late, but nobody was waiting for the plane, so that was good.

Overall, I think it was a good flight. I got a lot of practice working with flight following, VOR navigation, landing at new airports, and planning (even though it was rushed).

Nintendo 'Revolution' Controller: First Impression

My first impression of the Nintendo Revolution controller is: wow. I’m not exactly sure of the details, but it appears that they have a very good tracking system to detect the movement of the controller and where it’s pointing. For the last 20 years, every time I’ve seen someone new try to play a console video game, their first instinct is to yank their hands around — pushing, pulling, twisting, and jabbing with the action. You actually have to train yourself not to move your hands so that you don’t look like a total lamer.

By (finally) taking advantage of this instinct they’re going to open up console gaming to a much wider audience who wouldn’t normally want to take the time to learn how to play. So, what about existing gamers that use a typical controller like an extension of their hand? Nintendo is going to have to do some serious marketing. Historically, people have thought of Nintendo as the console for kids — which has hurt them as gamers have moved into adulthood. By making the controller this easy to use and employs those newbie first moves, they risk looking like a console for the non-gamer. The truth is, it adds a lot of flexibility and power. This is the first console controller that could make first-person-shooters playable, something all true gamers should love. Now I understand why Nintendo was so worried about Sony and Microsoft copying them.

Speaking of Microsoft, they’ve announced that the new XBox 360 will be available just in time for the holiday rush this year. No word yet on when the Play Station 3 will be available. I bet Nintendo would love to launch before they do, and if they’re announcing the controller, maybe that means they’re getting close. The question is: will there actually be enough fun games to make the entire console worth it? Nintendo needs to out price their competitors (I have no doubt they will), and they need to have at least one great game that will make buying the console worth it.

Update: Here’s a link to the keynote speech.

Radeon x850 + ABIT AV8 + RAID = PITA

Here’s the short version:
I bought a new video card for my computer last night. My old one wouldn’t play Battlefield 2 and was pretty much on its last leg as far as new games go. I was thinking about getting an nVidia 6600GT from PC Club, but ended up at Best Buy instead. The guy there talked me into the ATI Radeon 850 Pro which is a fairly expensive card, but not top of the line either.

When I got home I was excited to hook it up. I’ve installed many of video cards and other PC accessories in the past, so I wasn’t expecting too much trouble. On the other hand, I’ve installed lots of cards, so I wasn’t too surprised when I found out that my system wouldn’t boot with the card in. ATI (the maker of the video card) recommends upgrading to the latest BIOS software (that’s what runs before your OS is started). I did, and that let me get a little farther in the boot process, but still not far enough.

After working on it for a few hours and doing some searching, I found a solution. You have to use a specific version of the BIOS (16) if you are using an ABIT AV8 motherboard with RAID and have a x800 series motherboard. So, the good news is that tonight I was able to get home and try it out. Everything seems to be working fine now. I haven’t really gotten a chance to test it out with some serious video game time, but I think it’s working.

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