Retro Game Review: Blaster Master 2

>> Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Blaster Master 2 sucks.  If you ever heard anyone saying anything good about this game, they were either a shill or they made the game themselves.  This game takes everything that was good about the 8-bit original and poops on it.

To provide a comparison, I've played and beaten the first game at least four times - and the most recent time I played it, I found myself thinking, "God, but I love this game!"  Part two has me thinking, "why am I still playing this?!"

The first had intricate level design, well thought-out enemies, USEFUL powerups, music so good you could play on your stereo (yeah, I grew up in the 80's) repeatedly, and most of all you wanted to keep going just to get past the next boss, just to get the next powerup, just a little bit more.

The second has straightforward levels from which there is NO deviation.  You find the locked door, continue on, exit the car and kill a boss to get the key - sorry, powerup - return to the door, and keep going.  The powerups pretty much only serve as keys, seriously.  The only "useful" powerup is the very first one, which really only takes your rate of fire from "annoying" to "regular".

The controls are pure agony.  While driving the car, you find yourself BOUNCING off of the walls in an uncontrollable manner, and while walking you can jump like 70 feet in the air - but if you land slightly further down, say on a slight hill, from where you started, you take damage.

The music is nothing but an INSULT.  Whiny, extremely repetitive crap that you wouldn't have heard on an 8-bit game.  Well, you would have, but it would have been just as forgettable.

Why am I putting up with it?  Ugh, I don't know - I've played pretty much every Blaster Master game out there (I think I didn't try one of the Gameboy games), but seriously, the only good one is the first one.  Sunsoft, why did you let this slip from your control? 

I'll go pine, now.


Games: Strangelove Lives!

Who did this?  Whoever it was, I thank you.  Strangelove is a mutator for UT2004 that changes the game so that you can ride/drive the redeemer missile, a la the movie Dr. Strangelove.  This mutator somehow appeared after the peak of UT99, and has appeared again for UT2004 sometime after IT'S peak.  I only noticed it now.

Mind you, someone had already begun programming it long ago, but they dropped off around "version 5.5" which was really an unplayable version.  MENTION CLAN

This is perfect timing because in another month, I expect to be flying around the Giant Bedroom board launching nukes at will.  Yeeeeeaaaaahaaaaaaahhhhh!


Computers: a Warning about Stuffit

>> Monday, April 23, 2007

This is a public service message: Do not install StuffIt for Windows.  It will probably screw up your right-click context menu.  Thank you.


Web: Zpeech Revisited

Not so much that I've been using Zpeech very heavily since last I talked about it, but it's on my mind again this morning. Because it's so close to being relly. Really useful. Again. The main problem with it is that it's not much more than a glorified chat attached to your page. It lacks many of the features that make a forum/message board really useful.

It should have some way of allowing the site owner some way of organizing and/or moderating the content. This would be to encourage the use of the board BY the site owner. For example, I would be willing to forego the forum on my winkboy site in favor of Zpeech, creating a dedicated page for it, even. But I can't section out the discussuons as they are now.

It would even be acceptable if it was self-moderated somehow, allowing users to create forum sections, such as "new product," "technical support," or "product review." But to my knowledge this does not exist.

I have to double-check, but I don't even think it has search capabilties, or email post-back reminders, or buddy lists, or any of the other well-established forum functions.

I'm going to write Zpeech and see what they have to say about all of this.


Family: Weekend Review

So, a pretty good weekend. Nothing, task-wise, was majorly accomplished, but I got a little bit of web work finished and now the direct family knows about the Baby. That reminds me that its probably time to send word out to the extended family, too. Only my one cousin knows about this blog so far, and I doubt if it's on her daily read list, as I'm pretty sure she has her hands full at the time being.

We had our regular family meeting on Saturday, although it was kind of a staggered approach, with bits of the family arriving and leaving at individual times, and not e veryone able to make it. I'm still glad were able to have the meetings, though. It's fantastic to be able to stay close to one's family - I can't imagine what it's like to be, I assume, like most of the country where families are spread across state and nation as soon as the children reach college age.

I was mostly out of it, Saturday afternoon, considering I had stayed up so late, so I crashed after everyone had finally left. The next day we went to see the Parents and, well, almost everyone else again, as we'd promised the Daughter she could go see the baby chicks and the horses. When we returned home, it was a little family time, a little work time, and then finally another late night crash into bed.

Heroes tonight!


Web: Store Locators

We went to the Olive Garden this weekend and before we did, I called them to see how long the wait would be. To find their number, I started out on Google Maps trying to "find a business" in my area. Muchy to my disappointment, our local Garden was not apparently in Google's database.

It's sad, really, because if Google Maps was up-to-date with all the business listings, it really could be used to replace another common web site element; store locators. Businesses could, from what I know of Google's API, take care of this themselves, so they wouldn't really have to PROGRAM much to have a store locator, but that doesn't spearate the functionality from the site itself.

I'm still talking about a problem that I feel is pervasive in the internet, today: a lack of standards. When you pick up a book, it doesn't take you five minutes every time you open it to figure out where you should go to start reading it. In like manner it shouldn't take you any time at all trying to hunt down the contact page for a company's website, nor the store locator, or anything else.

Sure, this flies in the face of all the agencies that create websites, today, including the one I work for, but they're part of the problem, not the solution. Stop making things different for every single site out there! Yes, that's great that you can make a pretty site. Now, stop it, and give us some real user functionality.


Family: The time just flies.

>> Friday, April 20, 2007

While fortunately I am re-establishing my summer routine of biking to get to thye  bus stop, thus coming about forty mintues of exercise into my daily routine and allowing me that mcu more time in the evening for other endeavors, it is frustrating ho quickly the free time disappears each day.

I was up until 2:00 AM last night - or this morning - because I resent being essentially alloted only four hours a day for my own purposes.  That, of course, is a vague approximation because it's probably a lot less than that once you factor in dinner time, chores, and most important of all, time with the wife and family.

It's not that I'm blaming work - the desk job - because frankly it's pleasant to work with the people I do and in the business I do (although I never hide the fact that I would always prefer to make games, of course).  I'm just thrashing against the way the world works for most of us; we're forced to be apart from our families and away from home in order to get by.

Last night, and this is somewhat an average occurance, I got home at six, and by the time I had unwound and finished dinner, it was about seven o'clock.  We drove to the grocery store, library, and video store and it was just after eight when we were done.  We put things away, poured some tea, and put the little one to bed, and another hour had disappeared.  After that my wife went to bed, herself, and I tinkered around with the computers, as I'm still setting up those new ones properly.  Well, okay, they are good enough to go, but stickler as I am, I want them just right.

Like I said before, it was 2:00 before I finally went to sleep.  All these modern conveniences and it's still like it's always been.


Open ID

Continuing the thought process from a couple of days ago, websites need to do away with another common, repetitive element: registration.  Back when I learned to appreciate the ability to customize the interface of an application to my liking, I forgave the internet in general for the tedious task of having to enter YET AGAIN my first name, last name, email address, and so on.  But enough is enough because there is a better way on the horizon.

Microsoft had the right idea back when they came up with their Passport sign-in, and they have a relatively user-friendly approach, but their shortcoming is, I believe, that people don't want to trust Microsoft with their global registration.  I did read early on that there is apparently too many hoops to jump through for developers to look to adopting it easily, as well.

But the concept remains sound; I want to have only one registration for all my websites, and the Open ID is what will make that possible.  It is "an open, decentralized, free framework for user-centric digital identity".  It's note quite ready for prime time, but considering that it's being adopted by big names such as Digg, it soon will be.  Check out O'Reilly's pros and cons of the system.


Sweet, Google Lovin'

>> Thursday, April 19, 2007

I'm currently finding myself in possession of four useful computers, although that really seems like one more than I actually need.  My wife's computer was just so old that it was barely tolerable anymore so I had been buying parts here and there in preparation of replacing it with a shiny, fast one.  That plan had almost come to a head when my laptop up and died, so I was looking all of a sudden at being without.  I placed an order for the remaining pieces of the new computer, thinking then just to use the new one for myself, but then after trying to use my wife's computer again, I found hers unbearable - so I found a very great deal on a refurbished HP.

I finished building the new computer - which was an absolutely pleasant experience, and I would love to do it again sometimes - and the following weekend, my brother tore our two laptops apart and did a Frankenstein job to resurrect mine.  (His was entirely dead due to the trashed processor)  So, the laptop reborn, I feel a little wasteful in possession of these four, very nice computers.

I'm planning on reformatting the laptop now, sometime when I have the chance, because I have learned that setting up a new computer is a lot easier than it once was.


It's impressive to me how much Microsoft product complicate the setup of a new computer.  I know of no other company whose installations take longer than theirs, excluding of course, the hotfixes and patches of the operating system itself.  I always hated how long it took to install Office, and I resent how it embeds itself by default into the system, by setting up things like the quick loader, adding "create new office document" shortcuts in the context menu, and so forth.  It's just a freaking word processor, Microsoft!  Stop complicating it

So when I start reinstalling things, I find that the Google toolbar has an option - and indeed prompted me itself, once - for making it possible to double-click on Doc and Xls files to have them open in Google Docs automatically.  That is hella sweet (thanks, Gigglepuss, for the slang flashcards...)!  Screw office!  It dawned on me that most companies actually create products for themselves, but Google creates products for their customers.

Continuing the Office example, I am still currently stuck with the slight possibility of having to install Outlook, to which I give a huge shudder.  The problem is that my wife and I each have pocket PCs, and for some twisted reaon, the PIM information only synchs through ActiveSync with Outlook... for a little while yet:  In a very exciting move, Mozilla is on the verge of releasing Thunderbird 2.0.  I have installed the release candidate and am thoroughly impressed with the Gmail integration.  From the moment you install it, it's primed just to hook right ujp to your Gmail account with just the right settings so thbat it acts as if Outlook had merged with Gmail (but only in a good way).

Messages sent through Thunderbird appear in your online Gmail sent folder, tag and star support is right there in the interface, emails are set to remain on the server, period - unless you feel like changing it.  The only possible flaw I saw was that if I read an email in one program, it didn't mark it as read in the other, but that's a very minor inconvenience.

To bring the discussion back to the issue of synchronizing the PDA, there is an extension for Thunderbird called BirdieSync that will take care of email, contacts, calendar, and task synchronization, but they don't yet support Thunderbird 2.0.  I'm sure they will, as soon as it's released*, and when they do, mwahahah...  (Note, BirdieSync is not a free/opensource product, but as it is the best option available, I would certainly buy it, to get away from Outlook).  The FINAL final key will be when, somehow, we're able to (automatically) synchronize our contacts from PDA to Gmail, but for now manual import/export will have to do.

*Note:  Thunderbird 2.0 is released!


In addition to Google's offerings, I also find a wide array of fantastic open source software that is faster and easier than their commercial competitors.  Just as Office feels and acts bloated, Adobe's Acrobat Reader is one of the more-annoying pieces of software that people usually have to put up with.  DON'T put up with it!  Go install Foxit.  What can I say about this except that it is everything that a PDF reader should be.  Small and Fast.  The end. 

Real Alternative and Quicktime Alternative are now standards on all of my systems.  RealAudio and QuickTime are two of the other prime offenders regarding software bloat / annoyances, and we shouldn't have to put up with it.

Go use 7-Zip for your compression needs, but remember that for this one you need to launch the program and manually associate .zip files with it by changing the options.

Get AVGFree for your virus scanning; as the name implies it's free, and it's actually one of the better-rated scanners out there.

Open source software is finally establishing itself as the preferred choice of software, and now it's just that the word has to get out there.  Perhaps I'll try to install Ubuntu on my wife's old system.  It still runs, anyway, and it'd be a fine playground for testing the entire OS out (even though as I understand you don't even need to install it, in order to test it; running it from a CD, I guess, is possible.)

Here's to a more user-friendly and open source future!


I hate my friends and Google told me so.

>> Wednesday, April 18, 2007

In web development there is a set of elements of a site that are repeated on a per-site basis. It need not be this way and it hampers way users interact with their friends, it slows the web down, and it increases security risks. I've seen a very small amount of attempts to rectify this situation and none of them really promised any hope until I reinstalled the Google toolbar and saw what it had to offer (that for some reason wasn't available just by keeping the plug-in up to date).

Google has built in a "send to a friend" (STAF) element which can be used to replace that functionality - or add it to where it never was - on any website. This is a marvelous step forward in the operation of the web, even if Google merely thought it a convenience (although I have no way of knowing what caused them to add it). Although I find some - extremely minor - inconvenience in the functionality of Google's STAF tool, I will never again use a site's custom-built version.  The inconvenience is that it sometimes seems to take a while to pop up the new window it uses - but that might be my own fault for having too many extensions installed.  The advantages are numerous:

First, you no longer have to hate your friends by risking their personal information; there is now only one company you have to trust with your information.  Who knows what a company is really doing with the addresses you supply them with?  An old friend of mine recently dumped her years-old address due to spam, and instructed everyone to NEVER even enter her new address in any web form, whatsoever, for this very reason.  In defense of the individual websites, yes, their usage license should prevent them from sharing, let alone saving, your addresses.  But that is a "should" and not all websites even HAVE a usage license.  You can be guaranteed that the website is going to use the analytics gathered from their STAF usage to determine the popularity of their site (ROI), but as a user - is this something you even need to concern yourself with?  From the site's perspective, is it really something that should even be used as a measuring tool?  Even the best results that could be aquired from it will still only be a portion of the statistical picture, because there ARE people who will refuse to use the site-based STAF.  It's really nice for the site owner to see their stats, but word-of-mouth should be left as word-of-mouth.

Then, as you are already using your email tool, that is Gmail, as the delivery method, you also have the convenience of having all your contacts' addresses on hand, and you may send the message to as many people as you'd like, and in whatever fashion you'd like.  Typically site-based STAF tools send things in a blind carbon-copy fashion, which is probably most preferable, but what if you want to send them in mass CC style? I prefer to have the option.  You also never know whether the site's tool will be able to handle sending to more than one friend at a time, which is also an annoyance you shouldn't have to put up with.
Some sites will force you through the laborious process of signing up with their system in order to use any of their tools.  This is a far less common occurance for STAF tools, but it has happened and it should never.

The page you send is, for the most part, actually included in the email you send.  It doesn't seem to include Flash files, so any YouTube videos or Homestar Runner episodes that you might try to send won't actually appear in the user's inbox, but that is proper and to be expected.  Your friends' email readers won't show those things, anyway.  Sending the content in your actual email serves three good purposes:  It does not force your friend to potentially register for whatever site you may be sending them to - as many online newspapers have thought it justified to do.  Directly related to that, the content that you're sending to your friend won't have the chance to "expire" - an annoying practice that other (usually newspaper-based) sites have taken up.  Finally, the sent mail is recorded for your own purposes in your Sent folder, so if you ever need to look up what you sent to someone, it's right there.

Removing the STAF element from a website gives the agencies one less thing to clutter up the site with and keeps costs down, as neither designers are needed to create graphics, nor developers needed to program them.  (Modern API's do streamline the coding production of these, but you can't balance the amount of hours used for creating a custom STAF with the zero hours for using a browser-integrated STAF)

Google isn't the only one to attempt to free the user from the site-based STAF tools; I have tried (and enjoyed) the Cooliris extension.  Cooliris does more than just replace the send-to-friend, such as in-page quick previews of links and context-menu relational searching, but it's STAF element pales in comparison to using Gmail as a delivery method.  Investigate if you'd like, and if you have other STAF alternatives, I'd love to hear from you.



Family: My daughter talks a lot

>> Thursday, April 12, 2007

It's really awesome.  She holds entirely huge conversations with us now, and only at 2.5 years old.  It's surprising the complexity of words that she already uses, and how she seems to easily switch back and forth between Russian and English.  As you can tell, my pride level is turned up high with her.  What's really cute is when she doesn't know something exactly, she responds, in Russian, "I dunno.  thpp," finishing off with a cute little raspberry.  It makes me want to laugh every time, but I can't because she says it with all seriousness.

Last night once I got home, she insisted that I take my shoes and socks off and hop in her "bathtub," which is really just her toybox, so that she could wash my feet, hands, and hair.   Washing, this time, consisted of rubbing a plastic refrigerator magnet on my feet/hands/head as soap, and then pouring imaginary water from a woven basket on me.  Hilarious.  Of course, then it was her turn and I had to give her the bath.  Where does she come up with these things?  I'm not sure, but she DOES seem to have a fixation with the imaginary bath probably because she seems to have such a fear of actually getting her hair washed.  Perhaps by cleaning herself via imagination, she figures she can put off the real thing that much longer!

Later, we read some books together and she really ate them right up.


eBooks Online

>> Tuesday, April 10, 2007

While naturally people love free eBooks the best, we should realize that harpers need to be paid for their tales, or there won't be very many tales told.  EBooks are better than print books for a large number of reasons; If you feel you need a hardcopy of the book you're reading, it's probably because that feeling has been learned by a lifetime of reading in such a method.  However, for now I'm just going to dump the why's and what's of the eBook (since DownloadSquad has already done that) and just list the resources, so I don't forget them later:

Compiled by FriedBeef:

...ah, forget it... now I see that FriedBeef has compiled the user comments into a Comprehensive eBook List. :P


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