December 31, 2004
Resident Evil: Apocalypse
Szu-Huey and I watched Resident Evil: Apocalypse last night. A good continuation of the first Resident Evil movie, which I saw but don't own. I should get it now that I've got the sequel. Milla Jovovich makes a good female action heroine, but I also like her as Leeloo in The Fifth Element and Joan in The Messenger. Apparently she does a lot of her own stunts, and is also the vocal sample source on The Crystal Method's Legion of Boom - I Know It's You (source: IMDB).
Joe Haldeman's Books
I figure I should start writing about which books I'm reading. Most recently, I've been going through Joe Haldeman's books again. I've got The Forever War, Forever Peace, Forever Free, and The Coming. Unfortunately, I think the best one is also the oldest, and they decrease in goodness as time progresses. Still good though. After I finish The Coming I'll start reading some of the new books I got for Christmas.
Someone pooped outside the toilet again. It may not have been only Chie this time, because I found two piles. The litter level in the toilet pan got really low, and had already been used up with urine so no one wanted to use it. Had to clean it up and raise the litter level. I have changed over to a larger hole though, which the kitties don't seem to mind. I cut two toilet roll tubes in half and duct taped them together to make a larger hole. And I did see Chie use the toilet today, after I'd cleaned it and raised the litter level. So he will use it, but he's picky.
December 24, 2004
Wild Arms 3 Complete
Just finished Wild Arms 3. Completing this game is pretty satisfying. The story was really good, and became quite involving once it started to take off. It's also one of the most non-linear RPGs I've played, which was both very nice and a source of annoyance. The music was excellent, but the sound effects could have used some work to make them fit in better. My favorite part of the entire game would be Maya.
The combat engine was very nice. Intuitive and also a nice change. But combat itself was pretty boring. All monsters had only one or two types of attacks, and since everything was turn based, fighting the same monster again became a matter of routine. Combat was way too deterministic and lacked any variety. The encounter avoidance feature and auto-battle are nice ways to get around this, but combat is still very frequent and sometimes you can't use auto-battle to implement the best attack.
The developers did not make use of the analog stick. This meant one button was wasted on walking, and another button wasted on running. That is not too bad, except the run button is also the action button. This means when you want to perform an action, you might instead run. Or, also bad, after you complete an action you will start running. This is a real problem when they let you fall off cliffs.
Being able to fall off cliffs is quite annoying. They worked it in as a test of reflexes but it became very frustrating at times. Especially since some of the reflex puzzles had no margin for error at all. I don't mind a reflex puzzle if they don't expect it to require perfection to complete it. I did like the thinking puzzles, but the problem was they came up with one type of puzzle, and then would make you go through variations of it several times. No really harder so much as longer. Thus more tedious and both boring and annoying.
Another disappointment was the summoning action sequences. The summoned creatures look like something out of Zoids, only they move a lot worse. And the damaging summons are absolutely worthless. It was more efficient to cast magic or just attack than to bother summoning. I never summoned anything after I'd seen it once, and those sequences were painful to watch.
Magic itself was kind of stupid too. One character is very good for magic use because he can target multiple enemies and has a strong magic stat. But rather than making him the magic user, you have to make everyone magic users because you equip the magic sources. So magic becomes kind of useless for those other characters, because they can't target multiple enemies and also because their magic is very weak. You can rearrange equipped magic during battle but it is a hassle since you also have to reassign the skills associated with the magic sources if you move them between characters, and because it is just faster for all non-boss battles to just use regular attacks than to waste time rearranging magic. This also makes the ability to target multiple enemies less valuable, since that character only has a few elemental magic attacks at his disposal during any given battle.
In fact, there are only a few spells worth having at all. Heal, Valiant, and Fragile are about the only spells I used at all. Unless a boss required a specific spell to defeat it. I only used Permanence during one battle, and Reply only during one battle. I never used anything like Shield, Protect, Reflect, and rarely used elemental attacks because it would have to by chance be equipped to the one character who could target multiple enemies.
I did not want to move magic around a lot, depending on which enemies I was fighting, for a couple of reasons. First, in any given location, there are a number of different elemental weaknesses you could exploit. But, I always want to be able to target all my characters with heal, so that limits one choice. And then the stat boosters and personal skills associated with the magic sources make it undesirable to move magic around too much or to use certain combinations. Once I'd gotten Valiant, all battles because a mix of Valiant and Heal. I didn't even make a lot of use of the personal skill enhancers that I found. You can use these to add personal skills to magic sources, such as resistance to elemental attacks. But I didn't care about getting hurt, given Valiant, and I didn't have a lot of spare skill points to make use of them anyway.
Targeting multiple enemies was also handled badly. Enemies can only be targeted in groups of two to four, depending on how that battle was laid out. So, even though there might be 12 enemies, you could only target 4 of them. Plus, you could only target enemies of the same type. So you could not cast the same spell on all the enemies even if wanted to. This isn't necessarily bad, since different enemies have different weaknesses to magic, but sometimes even with the same enemy type, they weren't grouped by the combat engine and so you couldn't multiple target anyway.
This game would have been much, much better with a better implementation. The non-linearity, character development, and story were great. But the boring and tedious combat, bad magic system, and annoying puzzles made me not want to explore or spend time on things. I was just trying to get through as quickly as possible, and this meant looking things up in GameFAQs when I got stuck for more than 15 minutes.
Riser Photos Posted
I've put up photos of the riser construction in MyPhotos. Three days of work, approximately 1300 pounds completed, total cost about $500 not including auxiliary tools or the leftover carpeting.
December 23, 2004
Rope Lighting Installed
I finally got the riser rope lighting put in. I purchased 24' of clear rope lighting from Home Depot, along with the clips and a portable dimmer. I had to get some #4 x 3/4" screws because the ones included with the clips were only 1/2" and would not have gone through the riser's carpet into the frame as well. Everything is attached and with the dimmer set about halfway, it works perfectly.
December 21, 2004
Cell Phones Damage DNA
Today's CNET Dispatch pointed to an article titled "Cell phones scramble DNA". A four-year study of radio waves in the mobile phone spectrum at comparable intensity showed genetic mutations in cells that was passed on to reproduced cells. The researchers make a note of pointing out this was evidenced in a laboratory environment and does not necessarily indicate real-world cell phone usage would result in the same effects.
December 19, 2004
Today Everend and I watched the entire Lord of the Rings extended editions in sequence. Took a total of almost 12 hours, due to minor breaks and some technical difficulties.
For starters, MPlayer either did not correctly capture the DTS-ES soundtrack, or is incapable of playing it back through the optical output. It only played 2-channel audio, which I matrixed out to 6.1 channels using DPLIIx and Neo:6. I tried both and DPLIIx seemed better. But either way, the matrixed audio didn't sound as good. I don't think it can do a good job on speech, as sometimes it moved between the fronts and the center channel based on the frequency. And since my center is much higher than my front tweeters (and the Monitor Audio Silver LCR is not the best, this movement was audible.
On the second disc of The Return of the King, MPlayer dumped a bad audio stream. The sound was attenuated way too much, and full of noise. We switched to the physical disc at that point.
MPlayer's playback and video suffered too. Between VOB file changes, MPlayer displayed a green-screen temporarily as it resized the overlay window. This was disrupting. Not as disrupting as having to change the disc, but annoying nonetheless. Plus, there were some scenes where the entire background was posturized. I think I would have noticed this on the physical disc, and it was pretty bad looking. MPlayer also froze the machine at once point.
Also, for some reason the screen saver kept popping up even after I'd turned it off. Eventually a combination of fiddling turned it off for good, but that was annoying in the beginning.
Using my phone as a remote also proved a little cumbersome. Although the remote functionality did work, my phone went into auto-lock mode after a few seconds and I would have to navigate back to the remote menu. Running down to hit keys on the keyboard proved more convenient, and necessary at times to adjust the screen saver or rearrange the playlist.
All-in-all, I wasn't very pleased with the playback features and quality or the technical problems due to MPlayer. If I didn't have to cut out chapters and join the movies together without menus or credits, I could have simply created a disc image of the movie and played it back using Apple's DVD Player (which doesn't have the greatest quality either).
For now, I'll have to wait on any sort of DVD jukebox system. The playback software isn't as good as a good DVD player such as a Denon, the audio didn't play back correctly when ripped using MPlayer, and there were too many MPlayer interface issues.
I'm not interested in getting a Denon player right now though, because there isn't one with DVI and a zero-second layer-change. I'll find some seats for the riser, and then look at a projector and screen. Then a DVD player if one meets my criteria. Otherwise a 7-channel amp (e.g. Gemstone Audio, Anthem/Statement, ATI). Last would be a pre-amp.
December 14, 2004
I just finished ICO (US site), a cult classic released for the Playstation 2 in 2001. This was one of the first games I really wanted to get a PS2 for, and maybe the only PS2 game I had interest in besides RPGs. It was a very short game, at seven hours, but it was also very good. It would have to be the best puzzle game I've played in a very long time.
The plot is relatively engrossing, for a game that depends more on puzzle elements than the story, but the ending leaves certain things unanswered. It feels more authentic with two different spoken languages, only one of which is displayed in English subtitles. This requires you to provide your own interpretation for what is going on, but the voice acting is good enough for tone and emotion to help convey the messages.
I also really enjoyed the background art (although it was lower-resolution than what gamers are accustomed to today) and the ambient audio. Playing ICO really felt like an amazing place to explore, and with the volume up and the lights off, I could lose myself in ICO's world. (I actually turned up the volume to -25dB for ICO, because the audio was so enveloping. I normally play video games at -40dB.)
I will have to get the follow-up game, Wanda and the Colossus. It's not a sequel, but it's been developed by the same team as ICO and features the same sort puzzle-solving gameplay.
December 13, 2004
FF IX Complete
I just finished Final Fantasy IX, which now that I've completed, I have to agree with the people who stated it is the best Final Fantasy yet. (I haven't played FF X or FF X-2 yet.) But although Squaresoft took the best of all the previous Final Fantasies and put them together in just the right mix, I think it is the ending that I will remember most. This ending has a much deeper meaning and emotional story behind it. And what happens is really unexpected and special. I have to purchase the soundtrack for this one too.
Playing and finishing Final Fantasy IX at this time is also a little nice because there is a minor tie-in with Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles. I won't give away any spoilers, but having played and finished Crystal Chronicles the day before, some of what is revealed in the end makes more sense and has more meaning. The two games could in some ways be said to have parallel storylines.
Yesterday I went over to Shannon & Yvonne's house and we finally finished Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles. We had probably been playing it for something like nine months by now. A couple of weeks ago, I asked them if I should play our characters single-player to raise their stats faster. So I put in about twenty hours on my own and got our characters enough artifacts for us to easily get through the final stage. The ending was pretty good and the story at the last stage was good too. I liked how the stuff we had experienced along the journey became clearer and more tied together once we'd gotten to the end.
December 11, 2004
EU Patent Decision Delayed
The EU Council has decided to postpone its software patentability decision until next year. Apparently, many of the member states have started expressing concerns against software patents. Poland is one of those countries, and their statement that "'computer-implemented inventions' would be patentable, but that computer programs would not be" is exactly right, but vague due to a lack of definitions.
The idea is to patent a specific application, but not a class of applications or the technical approach used by an application. In other words, you can patent your tire, but not the tire. But that does bring up another point. To some extent, the ability to patent your tire should also be invalid for the single reason that a specific implementation may in fact be the best implementation. That does not apply, of course, to the majority of items. But it is conceivable, for example, that a specific mixture of glass creates the absolutely best transparent optical properties physically possible. A patent on that would have long-lasting damaging effects.
December 10, 2004
Japan is one of the few places in the world I want to visit. Partly because so many of the things I like come from Japan, or are heavily influenced by Japanese culture. One of the reasons I don't want to go to Japan, however, is because there are so many things over there I would like to buy, even though I can't read Japanese. Unfortunately, since I do pay attention to the technology and culture of Japan, I realize the sort of things that are lacking in the U.S. The SFGate has an article about this titled The Gadget Gap.
I think a large part of the problem is the mass-market approach dominant in U.S. business. It is extremely hard to find niche products anywhere other than via direct channels. In Japan, there are stores that sell a single product, open one day of the week with a different product each time, and sell out in hours from a line that formed the day before. There are so many types of products I would be interested in, but I'm looking for something that is perfect for me. That's hard when the majority of products are feature-saturated to meet the needs and desires of the lowest-common denominator.
December 9, 2004
I watched The Terminal tonight. Was quite enjoyable. It wasn't what I was expecting; I was thinking romantic comedy. But it really isn't that. Tom Hanks plays a foreigner trapped in a NYC airport (I don't remember if it is LaGuardia or JFK) because of a promise he made. Because he is such an honest and compassionate person, he makes the airport better just by being there.
Steven Spielberg did an excellent job directing this movie. There are specific shots that show off his skill. The people were excellent and honest, experienced actors but really wonderful in what they do. And again, Spielberg hired John Williams for the score. Williams is the only movie composer I know of who still does the really traditional character-melodies. Like Peter and the Wolf. All other movie composers score the scene or the film. Williams scores the characters.
Oh, and for this movie, I spiked my two front speakers and placed the spikes on moving coasters I purchased from home depot. The speakers seem a little more prone to up-and-down movement now (probably due to the springy nature of the coasters) but I'm wondering if things will sound better. It's too early for me to make any conclusion, especially since I'd never listened to The Terminal before.
Riser Construction Complete
I completed the riser today, as expected. It looks pretty good considering this is the first time I've ever put down carpet. After finishing the last side of the platform, I created the steps in the same manner as the platform: roofing felt on the bottom where it touches the floor, the rounded lip (only on 3 sides), carpet padding, and then carpet. Ran out of the dining room carpet leftovers, so I used the carpet leftover from covering the wall behind my refrigerator. Different pile but same color. I'll put up pictures soon.
December 8, 2004
Newton Stuck a Needle in His Eye?
This is weird. (And it has forced me to make a new category named as such.) Apparently one of the experiments conducted by Sir Isaac Newton was to stick a needle in his own eye. He then wrote down his observations (I see a big metal dot) and took notes on the experience. Maybe someone will stick a needle in their ear and write down what they hear.
Riser Construction Continues
Today I continued construction of my riser. I got the top platform complete and placed on the bottom platform, and finished that off. The sand is inside and everything is screwed down. Covered it with carpet padding. Then I took the carpet which used to be in the dining room (I had the workers save it when they put down the hardwood floor) and got it stapled down on three sides. Not the nicest looking job but I didn't want to deal with carpet tacks and my lip is too short for a really clean fold. I should be able to finish tomorrow, but I still haven't found any rope lighting.
December 7, 2004
Riser Construction Begins
Today was my first official vacation day. I'm on vacation until next year, since I hadn't taken any vacation days until now. And, today I began construction on the riser. I cut most of the 2x6's and all of the plywood. The lower-layer platform frame has been completed, and the bottom plywood floor attached and covered with roofing felt. The platform is in position, ready for the sand and further construction to take place on top of it.
I built the frame in the garage, only to discover that it was way too heavy for me to get inside. So I bought a pair of rolling wheels from Orchard Supply Hardware which made it much easier. I attached the plywood base and roofing felt inside, then flipped it over with Szu-Huey's help.
I really need a new power screwdriver. The one I have right now is portable with a rechargeable battery, but that means if I use it too much, I can no longer screw things in even when it is plugged into the wall. I need one that is always plugged into the wall, for projects like this. I ended up placing the philips head bit into the drill that my dad left here and used that to screw everything in. Not the best solution but it works.
December 4, 2004
DRAM Price Fixing
ComputerWeekly reports that Infineon executives have pleaded guilty to DRAM price fixing. The company is fined US$160 million and four executives face the possibility of jail time and fines. Some of you may recall when this investigation began in 2002. Basically, Infineon owns the intellectual property associated with DRAM technology. Since just about every computer used DRAM technology since the late 1990's, Infineon got a slice of that pie. But by fixing prices, they artificially drove prices up for consumers and business. The US $160 million fine doesn't seem so large when you read about the ProMOS settlement, however.
NASA Centennial Challenge Awards
Due to the success of the Ansari X Prize (where private organizations built successful space-faring vehicles), NASA is considering a similar approach. As described at SpaceDaily, instead of the old bidding and contracts system, where the winning bid would receive funds before a project's success, the new system would only reward actual accomplishments. NASA is hoping to fuel more simultaneous development with a lower cost risk. The only problem is NASA is not authorized to do this.
Alla came back from her Thanksgiving vacation in Philadelphia, and found out that the same memory stick the got corrupted last time after her Europe trip was corrupted again. All the files had been lost. Last time, I was able to recover them by running fsck_msdos and recovering the lost files. But this time, the FAT was clean. So recovery needed to be done off the raw data.
I found a web page that describes the Exif file format. This is the format her Sony CyberShot camera saved the images in. So, I have the capability of reading the raw data (I made an image of the partition using hdiutil) using HexEditor or through a small program and saving the found images back to disk.
But even better! Someone had already written a really simple application to do that, with additional support for special devices. Exif Untrasher did exactly what I would have had to do. There are lots of commercial programs that do exactly this, and can cost a decent amount. But the solution is so simple, I'm surprised no one has made their source code available. I may do that at some later point.