archive for November, 2005

Firefox 1.5 Released Today

If you’re using Internet Explorer still, or an older version of Firefox, now is a great time to update. Just go to www.mozilla.com and click the big Download Firefox button. Save the installer to your desktop, close out your browser, and then run the installer. It should import any of your past settings seamlessly. Easy enough, right? Let me know if you need any help with it.

Now, here’s why you should upgrade…

  • Automated update – the Mozilla folks have put a lot of work into improving the update system. I’ve used it with the release candidates. It’s simple and quick.
  • Faster browser navigation – who wouldn’t want a faster browser?
  • New support for Web Standards – you may not notice this right away, but as more people use up to date browsers, web developers will be able to make better sites.
  • Many security enhancements
  • And much more

Don’t wait another minute! Download Firefox 1.5 now.

SpaceMonger

I used SpaceMonger to find out what was eating up all of the free space on one of the servers at work. If you’re looking for a great hard drive visualization too, I suggest SpaceMonger.

Thanksgiving in Imnaha, OR

We had a great time visiting my grandparents. They live in a little valley tucked away in eastern Oregon. The next closest town, Joseph, is half an hour away and only has about 1000 people. We also got to visit with my brother, dad, cousins, and several other relatives. I should be uploading pictures soon.

Half Life 2 – Still a Great Game

I just noticed that one year ago today, I blogged about finishing Half Life 2 for the first time. It’s funny because I’m still playing it today (literally). That’s definitely the sign of a great game.

Xbox 360 Launch

The Xbox 360 is now available. Microsoft released the original Xbox about a year after the Sony Play Station 2, and probably lost a lot of customers because of it (on the other hand, if they’d released a year earlier, they wouldn’t have had Halo). To this day, Sony has dominated the game console market. This time around, it’s Microsoft that’s first out of the gates.

I haven’t played with a 360, or even seen one in person, but that’s not going to stop me from commenting. First of all, it looks like Microsoft has made a lot of nice improvements over the previous generation. The case is smaller, the controller is more comfortable, graphics are better, and you can connect with other players online for free.

So, what are the draw backs? First and foremost is price. If you want to play your old Xbox games, or do anything cool with the thing, you’ll need to get the model with the hard drive which runs $400. Microsoft’s early release may turn out to haunt them too. The PS2, original Xbox, and Game Cube still seem to have some play time in them. At this point, I’d rather pick up a PS2 for $150 because the graphics really aren’t half bad, and the PS2 has a huge selection of good games available.

Maybe I’m missing something, but I just don’t see the innovation. Sure, the graphics are prettier, but are the games more fun? Last time around, Sony and Microsoft were able to capitalize on the included DVD player at a time when most people were buying their first DVD player. I haven’t heard anything about the media center features of the new Xbox. Maybe they’ll be enough to draw more customers, but maybe not.

Personally, I’m going to wait and see. I am getting pretty fed up with fighting with my computer just to get it to play games. Consoles do have a huge attraction in that respect, especially if you can buy a nice gaming console for less than $200. I might even consider giving up on PC gaming and switch to Linux. With the money I save, I could probably afford two of the next generation consoles, but if I had to choose today those two would be the Sony Play Station 3 and the Nintendo Revolution.

Weekend in Solvang

Jesse and I spent this weekend in Solvang, CA. Solvang is a little Danish town in central California, just a bit north of Santa Barbara.

On the way in to town, we noticed the Santa Ynez Airport and a sign for glider rides. We talked about it, and it sounded fun so Saturday morning we drove on over and checked it out. The place is called Windhaven, and they’ll take you up for a while so you can really check out the Santa Ynez Valley. Jesse went up first and came back with a smile on her face. You’ll have to ask her for details of her flight. I went up next.

You start out by climbing in the front seat of the glider, and the pilot climbs in the back. They strap you in and explain what controls do what, and what not to touch. Then, they hook up the tow rope and before long, the plane in front of you is pulling you along the gravel and onto the runway. I was really surprised by how quickly we got airborne.

After gaining a little altitude, we made a left turn for the mountains. Before too long, the pilot asked if I’d like to take the controls. We’d talked about me being a student pilot and that he’d let me try flying, but I wasn’t expecting to fly while we were still being towed. It was the first time I’d used a stick to fly (besides on computers), but it was pretty easy to get the hang of it. Keeping the tow plane right in front of us was the tricky part. Gliders are very sensitive, and you usually only make very small corrections. I think I was starting to get the hang of it (except maybe for the turns), and the pilot told me to pull the yellow handle to release the tow rope.

I hadn’t really noticed the force of the plane in front of us until it was gone all of the sudden. It felt like we were just hanging there in mid air. I was told to try to keep the glider right at 50 knots. In theory, it’s not too hard — if you’re going to slowly, just push forward and go down a bit, and the reverse if you get going too fast. The tricky part, at least for me, is that the bottom edge of the windshield was a lot lower than what I’m used to in the Cessna. I kept feeling like I was diving, so I kept wanting to pull up. Before long I was able to keep it nice and level.

Turns were another tricky part. In airplanes, you have to use a little rudder pressure in the directions of your turns to correct for adverse yaw (a twisting motion that you get in turns). In gliders, the effect is a lot stronger, and you really have to be on the rudder for even the slightest turn to keep things coordinated. It was really good practice and I think the time I spent in the glider will make me a better pilot. Whether you’re a pilot or not, I highly recommend soaring in a glider at least once.

So, back to Solvang. We walked around all afternoon and checked out the shops. There had been frost on the ground when we woke up, but by three o’clock, it was well into the 80’s. We got a good night’s sleep and had a wonderful breakfast at the Solvang Restaurant this morning (with aebleskivers of course).

All-in-all, the trip was a lot of fun and very relaxing. If you live in Southern California, and want to get out of town, be sure to remember Solvang.

Night Solo

I needed another 0.9 hours of solo time, so yesterday I drove over to the airport after work. The plane I normally fly was already scheduled, but the other Cessna 172 was available. I don’t really like switching planes, but it’s not too big of a deal. I was a little nervous about flying at night because I’ve really only done it once before and it’s a little different — not in how you fly, but in what everything looks like — especially the runway.

I stayed in the pattern to play it safe and just worked on my landings. Most of them started farther down the runway than they should have, but I figured that it was better to land long than short and I had plenty of room to work with. The wind was really calm and I was able to make nice smooth touchdowns each time. Overall, it was a nice and productive flight.

Google Dump

I hate to do this because I already write about Google way too much as it is, but… they are making fairly big waves several times a week. What else can I do?

First up, how to add your favorite blog to your personalized Google home page.
1) You’ll need to set up a Google Account. Get that here: Google Account Signup.
2) Set your home page to the Google Personalized page by going to the Personalized Google page and dragging the icon in the address bar onto your “Home” toolbar button (works in IE and Firefox).
3) Log in, if you haven’t already.
4) On your new home page page, click the Add Content button in the top left corner. This will open a side bar of options for adding content to your personalized page. Click the Create a Section node. Enter “A Broken Thought” (or whatever the name of your favorite blog is) in the search field and click Go. The blog should pop up at the top of the list.
5) Click the add button and it will add the feed to your personalized page. You can close the side bar once you’re done adding features.

Next up is Google Sitemaps. I checked it out when it was first announced, and it didn’t really look that useful to me. Google is giving webmasters a way to describe the organization of their site so that search engines can better find their way around. It would have been way too hard to build a description of my site and keep it up to date, and Google already does a good job of finding its way around, so I didn’t worry about it. Well, now I find out that you can get some cool usage information by creating a sitemap profile (you don’t actually need to build a sitemap). I went ahead and tried it out, and it’s pretty cool. Of course, Google Analytics that I mentioned a few days ago is even better. By the way, they’re having some trouble keeping up with demand, but it is collecting data and is pretty nice.

Google Base has launched for real (after a false launch about a month ago) and is very interesting. They’ve basically created a generic database structure and are letting people and just about anything they want to it. They have predefined item types such as Course Schedules, Events and Activities, Jobs, Products, Recipes, and Reviews. You can also define your own item types if you want. It’s kind of like a gigantic classifieds section plus a bunch of other stuff. All of these things can already be found on the web, but by storing them in a structured format, Google will be able to manage and search the information better. It’s really very close to what the Semantic Web has promised for years, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Google supported Semantic Web data from any website/database. Just like the rest of the web, if people put valuable information in, then it’ll be successful.

Last up is Robert Cringely‘s article Google-Mart. Somehow (I have no idea how), he seems to have information about Google building mobile data-centers that it can place in strategic locations around the world and connect to the Internet. This will allow them to host huge amounts of data and keep it close to users no matter where they are in the world (in theory). The easiest and most obvious use of this capacity would be to host static content like websites and movies and never have to worry about bandwidth or lag times. Bob notes that they could use this to support web based office applications. Of course, they could do all of that and a whole lot more (like VoIP). We’ll just have to wait and see, but if he is right: wow.

All of these bits of news are new as of this week. How can Google keep up this pace? What’s going to be the next announcement that will seem to come out of left field and yet make perfect sense? What would happen if companies like Microsoft, Sun, IBM, and Oracle learned to be this fast and innovative? Is Google really producing good systems, or just good prototypes (aka betas)?

PS: The latest rumor is that Google has bought Riya.

PPS: I just got an amazingly fast comment stating that Riya hasn’t been bought by Google. Thanks for the comment Shel. I guess that’s why they’re called rumors.

Google Analytics

I just signed up for Google Analytics. It’s basically a nice little traffic tracking system that they offer for free. All you have to do is stick a little JavaScript code on each of your pages, and they’ll do the rest. Lots of other companies have offered tracking services, but usually they make you put a little image on your site as advertising.

Google’s system is based on Urchin (a company they acquired last Spring). I’ve used Urchin before at work and have been impressed with both the info it’s able to provide, and the ease of use.

The biggest impact of Google Analytics will be the data that Google is able to gather and analyze for their own purposes. Not only will they be able to provide better search results, but they’ll be able to provide better targeted ads and who knows what else.

Welcome Back Space Mountain

Yesterday afternoon, Jesse and I remembered that we were planning to go to Disneyland for the day. Coca-Cola is currently selling two liter bottles of Coke with coupons for $20 of the Southern California Annual Pass. The coupons expire on Dec. 15, so we needed to go sooner rather than later.

It took us about two hours to drive down there and get parked, and we had to wait about an hour in lines to get our passes, but we were all set by 6:00. We headed over to the Pizza Port in Tomorrowland for dinner.

Once we were done with dinner, we got in line for Space Mountain. The ride was closed for two years for a major refurbishment. Since it’s one of our favorite rides, we were really looking forward to riding it again. The line was pretty long (about 50 min.), and it stopped moving for about ten minutes, but eventually we made it on. The new coaster carts are very comfortable, and the track is very smooth — not that it wasn’t smooth before. The new effects look great, but I don’t know that they’re quite as stunning as Disney claims. I never did feel like I was spinning in free fall. The ending was really cool, but I won’t spoil the surprise.

After Space Mountain, we wandered around and ended up getting stuck behind a parade. The sub lagoon is all boarded up in preparation for the Finding Nemo that’s coming in ’07. Tomorrow land was already busy with the Buzz Lightyear ride and the return of Space Mountain. It’s going to be very busy and exciting when the subs are back in action. We hit a couple more rides (Big Thunder, Pirates, the Mansion, and Buzz) and watched most of the fireworks before leaving at 10:00. We had a really great time, and I’m looking forward to returning at least a few more times in the next year.

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