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11.04.2007

Nobody gets it.

Maybe my halloween costume wasn't the best idea.
I did the black tactical uniform from Stargate Atlantis. Everyone pretty much assumes that you're dressed as a SWAT team member. So, I didn't get too many weird looks, just questions about the Atlantis team patch the shoulder of the uniform.

I have to thank Dan from Scifihero.net for help getting the patches in time.

10.21.2007

Metroid Prime 3

So...I've had Metroid Prime 3 for about a month or so. I haven't had a lot of time
to play, so it keep leaving it for a week and coming back.

This game is pretty much the best thing I've played on the Wii. The controls feel completely natural, and it's very immersive. They fixed most of the issues I hated about Metroid Prime 1&2.
An the story really draws you in on this one. The addition on multiple characters to interact with really helps sell the plot. I always had an issue with how lonely the Metroid games were. I think the Zelda and Half-Life franchises work with silent protagonists because of the amount of interaction you have with other characters. I think Metroid Prime 3 and Metroid Fusion have both taken a note from this and given you more NPC's to interact with to help move the story and keep you going in the right direction.

This game does have a good balance between the story moving forward, while not keeping the adventure completely on rails. There are plenty of opportunities to sidetrack, but you'll get prompted with the next objective if you stray too far.

I like the new weapons assortment. This game uses the same system as Metroid Fusion. New weapons stack on the old ones, but you can't turn them on and off at will. For example once you get Plasma, it's permanently added to your Charge Beam, when you get Ice Missiles, all missiles gain the freeze damage. This means you don't have to have two different managment schemes for beams and visors like in Metroid Prime 1. This time around, it's just visors on a gesture menu brought up by the "-" button, there is only one optional beam weapon, and you don't have to access a menu for it. You just hold "+" to invoke it.

I could go on more...but for now I'd say it's one of my picks for "must have" Wii titles.
(the second being RE4: Wii Edition)

6.24.2007

Like Monkeyball? Try Neverball


I found this one recently while trying out freeware and open-source games.

Neverball is based around the same concept as Monkeyball and other various arcade games. You tilt a playing field to steer a ball through various obstacles, bonus items, and into a goal.


This one runs beautifully on the PC, even with basic video hardware. The mouse or arrow keys are used for the tilt controls. Unfortunately, you cannot map joystick controls. I'm hoping that comes in a future version. The graphics are simple, but look great. Mouse control is nice, but it is very sensitive, which takes some getting used to...but some of the later levels need fine tuned controls.

My favorite feature is the included optional game "NeverPutt" which uses the same game engine to play miniature golf.
This is a great game for when you have 5 or 10 minutes to kill.

3.25.2007

DVD vending machines? Redbox dvd.

Scott's grocery stores in Ft. Wayne has installed Redbox DVD rental machines in all their stores. From what I hear, RedBox is owned by McDonalds.

I heard you could get a free rental online, so we decided to give it a go. We went to www.redbox.com and supplied an e-mail address. They e-mailed a rental code to me. It's good for one day. You still have to swipe your credit card at the machine so that they can charge you if you return it late or not at all.

The machines are simple enough. You pick a movie on the touchscreen, swipe your card, and supply your e-mail address. (You only have to enter your e-mail once...it links it to your card from then on) Your movie gets spit out the slot on the side of the machine, and you're done.

Redbox rentals are $1 per day. ($1.06 w/ tax)
If you're late they just charge for the extra days when you check the movie back in.
If you keep it more than 25 days, they charge you $25 and you own the movie.
We tend to impulse rent and then take the movie back the next day, so it's much cheaper for us than renting from Hollywood or Blockbuster.

We did have some trouble with our first rental skipping on our player due to light scratches and smudges on the disk. We were able to clean it and see the rest of the movie w/ no problems.

So to sum up...

Pros:
Cheap
Daily Rate for short rentals
Many return locations (can return to any kiosk in town)

Cons:
Scratched disks
May not be as economical for long rentals.

3.04.2007

Free Business Card Designer

So I found this cool site that lets you put together your own business cards. You can click on the article title to go over to BusinessCardLand.
I saw the original article over at Lifehacker.

Basically it's a nifty web UI that lets you layout your business cards, then you set the parameters for how you intend to get them printed, and the results are output as a PDF that you can save and print. I pulled some old perforated business card stationary out of my paper bin and was able to easily print up 10 cards for my tech support services.

This is way easier and looks better than the software that came with the stationary.

If you really like the service, you can make a Paypal donation.

2.11.2007

Updating my PC

Well, I finally went ahead and updated my PC.

My old system was:
Socket 754 Athlon 2800+ (1.8GHz)
Biostar Nforce 3 250GB motherboard.
1GB RAM
80GB PATA OS drive
120GB SATA drive for TV recordings from my capture card.

After much deliberation, I decided on a minor overhaul. I went with:
Pentium D 805 (2.66 GHz dual core at 533 FSB)
ASUS P5PE-VM motherboard (cheap, but will host a Core2Duo or Pentium D, and supports AGP and DDR400 RAM)
250 GB SATA drive for the OS

I kept my Happauge MCE150 TV capture card, 1GB of Corsair DDR400 (now running in dual channel instead of single), Geforce 6800XT AGP card, and the 120GB recording drive.

Gaming performance is slightly better than before. This is mostly due to the 6800XT's limitations, not an AGP or CPU bottleneck. Framerate is about the same as before, but I think the dual-core CPU is making map loads and AI performance faster and smoother.

For desktop performance, my PCMark2005 score went up by 30 to 50%...so I'm very happy with that change. Video encoding is going faster, along with much snappier desktop performance. I've also found that my PVR software, GB-PVR, is no longer having stutter problems if someone starts up a big application while the recording service is running.
Yesterday, I was able to run the Folding @ Home client, and render a DVD using DVDFlick while a tv show was recording, and there were no hiccups or stutters in the finished recording.

My long term plan for upgrading this rig is to wait for price drops and then put a Core 2 Duo and faster AGP card on this board, but I think that'll be up to a year off.

I have to say that if you already have DDR400 RAM and a good AGP video card that this board and CPU combo is a great way to get them onto a dual core setup on the cheap. I'm thinking about writing an article on this build and posting it over on www.cheapassgamer.com as a build-your-own guide.

2.04.2007

GameTZ: Trade video games for free

I've been trading video games on a site called GameTZ for about 7 years now.
GameTZ originally started as a simple hand edited site, where people listed their haves and wants with the help of a moderator. I joined on the recommendation of a friend shortly after they started the first online database version of the site.

GameTZ is free. You can pay to subscribe and get some bonus features, but registering and verifying your account will get you all the features you need to start trading. You set up an account here: http://gametz.com/Create.html and then create lists of the games you have, and the games you want. The database then can generate a list of matches or possible trades for you that you can browse. You find what you think looks like a fair trade, and can send a trade offer through the system to another user. They will receive a notification, and then will accept, decline, or make you a counter offer. When you both accept a deal, the system will send you each the other party's mailing info. When you receive your game, you log into the site and confirm you received the item, and leave feedback for the other user.

Obviously, any kind of barter system on the internet has it's risk of fraud, but I've been trading on GameTZ for 7 years and have not had a problem yet. It helps that you can see a user's feedback before you negotiate a deal. New traders with low feedback usually have to prove themselves by sending their items before the other user for their first few trades.

I've found this site invaluable for my Bargain Bin Gaming needs. I always hate shelling out cash for new releases. With GameTZ, If I have purchaed a new release I can usually finish it and still be able to trade it for other recent titles.

Other features that are noteworthy:
Forums for discussion and for buying / selling / trading.

User listing pages. You can use them to show unregistered users your have/want list.

User details pages show trade history, feedback, and instant messenger usernames.

Game listings aggregate game information from various sites so you can click on icons to see average pricing to get an idea what a trade is worth, orwhether you'd want to just buy it outright. They also include links to review sites so you can see if it's a game you would like.

iriverter - encoding XviD for the Zen Vision and other portables

I was fortunate to receive a Zen Vision:M for Christmas. I'll probably post a review here at some point. I mainly chose the Zen due to the build in FM tuner, and larger number of video formats it supports when compared to the iPod and Zune.

The Zen Vision line is nice in that they support MPEG4 videos encoded in Simple Profile settings without image stabilization, meaning most common XviD and DivX files. Unfortunately, the current firmware doesn't support DivX files encoded by DrDivX, which was my encoder of choice.

I found tutorials on how to use GordianKnot and other complex encoders to format video for the Zen, and also more complex ones on how to rip DVD's and convert them. It worked, but took a lot of time and effort.

I was happy to discover a utility, called iriverter, that most iRiver enthusiasts are already aware of. iriverter is a very user friendly XviD encoder that now has profiles for the Zen Vision, along with the iRiver and a few other portables.
Just select "Zen Vision:M" in the devices menu, then set your resolution. Drag and drop the target file or directory onto iriverter to queue it up. Hit the convert button and wait. Converting iPod compatible MPEG4's to XviD only takes a few minutes, converting MPEG2 to XviD at 640 x 480 usually happens at about 60 to 80 Frames Per Second on my Pentium D 2.66 CPU.
iriverter supports lots of input file formats, and can convert single files or whole directories.
Output files are tagged with a suffix to tell you what device they were targeted for. (I.E. TVShow11.mpg outputs a new file titled TVShow11.zvm.avi.)





iriverter also supports ripping unencrypted DVD's to XviD files. You have to tell it which "Title" on the disc contains the main movie and it'll rip it to one complete AVI. (Keep in mind circumventing DRM on commercial DVD's is technically a DMCA violation in the US. You shouldn't steal movies. Just use it to copy your home movies of your kid's soccer games from DVD to XviD, that's perfectly fine.)

I've been using it to convert my scheduled TV recordings from GB-PVR into portable XviD files to watch on my lunch hour at work. An hour of TV usually fits in somwhere between 500 to 750 MB at 640 x 480. I've been favoring 640 x 480 instead of 320 x 240 (native screen res of the Vision:M) because I often output my archived shows to my TV from my computer. (I may cover more about using GBPVR for this in a later post.) 640 x 480 looks pretty good when output over S-Video to a Standard Definition TV. (No HDTV in my home yet)

So, if you're frustrated with other compression utilities, give iriverter a shot. You can click on the title of this post to go to the Sourceforge page for iriverter.

[Edit - 2/26/08 iriverter is now hosted at http://iriverter.thestaticvoid.org/ ]

2.03.2007

Movie Review - The Last Man on Earth

I got a chance to sit down with our cranky baby today and watch this movie while rocking her to sleep. (don't worry, I use small rocks) My stepson took a homework break and starting watching about halfway through. I was suprised to see a black and white movie catch his attention. He even admitted that he enjoyed the film.

The Last Man on Earth features Vincent Price (classic horror & sci-fi star, and the guy who does the voiceover in the Thriller video). Vincent plays Robert, the "Last Man on Earth", following a plague that wipes out humanity and turns the deceased into not just zombies...but vampire zombies. From what I can find, I guess this film's protrayal of weak, stupid, shambling vampires helped shape the zombie genre, and influenced the work of George Romero.

The movies starts by introducing us to Robert's normal daily routine, then treats us to a flashback of his life leading up to the end of the world. We then pick back up in zombieland and see events play out as Robert encounters some things that change his daily grind.

All in all, I think it was worth watching. The plot isn't terrible, there's some decent exploration of character, and I had a couple of laughs at the ease with which Robert shoves vampires around. I guess they're not very strong...what with the being dead and all.

Free (Legal) Movies, coming to a torrent near you.

So, I had heard that there were quite a few classic movies that have passed into public domain and can now be had for cheap or free. Apparently a lot of these films were never properly copyrighted when released, and no longer have a parent company to distribute them. This is why you occasionally see the piles of $1 DVD's at WalMart and BigLots. These films don't cost the distributor anything in royalties. They only pay the duplication costs.

I found are few sites where you can find these movies:

http://www.publicdomaintorrents.com/
Public Domain Torrents has links to various torrents, usually in DivX format and formatted in a variety of flavors like PC, Palm, iPod, PSP, and PocketPC. (and often links to one hosted on Google Video)

http://www.openflix.com/
OpenFlix doesn't link to the torrents directly, but maintains a list of films and attempts to verify their legal status.

Most of these are old Black & White Sci-Fi and westerns, but there are some fun Kung-Fu movies and even old cartoons out there. Some are worth watching, just for laughs at the bad acting and story. For me, old sci-fi is like cheap chocolate...you know the quality is bad...but chocolate is chocolate. (and sci-fi is sci-fi) It's still fun when all is said and done.

Firefox visual plugin - Tab Effect


This little browser plugin is fun. It doesn't really do anything useful...it's just nice eye candy.

Once this is installed whenever you start a new tab in Firefox, it'll open with a 3d animation of the two tabs on a cube that rolls over from one tab to the next.