The Frenzy Begins

Today is April 1.  For most that will mean juvenile pranks on people and wading through countless unimaginative articles littering the web, hoping to elicit a laugh but usually getting nothing more than rolling eyes.

For a very few select, this day marks the first day of Script Frenzy.  This is a contest where participants have the month of April to write a 100-page script.  That averages to about 3-4 pages a day.  For a script that’s not a whole lot of writing per day, so this is someone that pretty much anyone should be able to complete successfully.

So far I am on Page 2.  That’s not very much writing at all, even though in line with the daily goal.  However, that’s far more than I’ve put down in I don’t know how long, so that is an accomplishment on its own.  With the weekend coming up, I hope to maintain or even surpass the daily writing goal, along with plotting a rough outline so that later on I don’t get stuck trying to figure things out or worrying I’ve written myself into a corner.  As I don’t work on the weekends and should be home for the most part, I have no excuses to not do this.  I’ve spent alot more time working on drumming and other things, but completing this would show other people as well as myself that I still have what’s needed to call myself a “writer” and be proud in knowing that’s not a lie.

Goodbye Nibbler, Hello Voyager

I built my first PC from scratch in 2003 in order to play Doom 3.  Before that I had a Micron PC, and I had done a few upgrades to it.  I had already researched everything I’d need to know to build a PC, but as it was my first build it was plenty nerve-wracking, especially installing the CPU heatsink.  It went well and I had been using that PC since then, using Windows XP and various Linux distros.  Its name is nibbler.

It was a great system, but after so many years it was starting to get a little slow.  I was also not thrilled that with only three RAM slots, I had already maxed out the amount of RAM that motherboard could handle.  It also had an AGP slot, which meant any graphics card upgrade would have been a waste of money.  I also was using an add-in SATA card, which was a pain to get set-up in Widows XP.  I started putting together parts on Newegg to get an idea of how much it’d cost.  I knew I was going to keep my hard drive and DVD burner.  I was on the fence on keeping my current case, but eventually decided I wanted a new case that used 120mm fans instead of 80mm.  My case was quite loud, and I knew the main reason for that was the 3 (formerly 4) smaller fans spinning at near-max speed.

I finally decided on the parts from Newegg and ordered them.  I also found a nice Antec case at Best Buy that had 2 120mm fans as well as the power supply bay located at the bottom.  The first thing I did was take everything from nibbler and installed it into the new case to make sure the fans were working correctly.  I knew I was going to have a great system soon because when I did get that build up and running, the lower amount of noise was unbelievable.  I could barely hear the computer from more than a few feet away.  I could have even kept that system running, but I knew I wouldn’t be completely happy if I didn’t build a whole new system.

The parts arrived at work.  I was shocked by how small the box was.  I was expecting a pretty big box, and at first I was worried that it was only one of so many boxes.  But after checking everything in my office, I was relieved and amazed to find everything packed into it.  I did a quick check to make sure nothing looked bad and such.  I also had to take the graphics card out to admire its design.  The Asus GTS450 is a great-looking card.  It took me a long time to decide to stick with an Nvidia card, as there are some great AMD cards, but that was before Nvidia finally rebounded from their slump and began releasing more designs based on their Fermi architecture.  I knew the GTS450 was perfect for me, as it offered plenty of power for a few games, but wouldn’t kill my budget for what I intended to be a primarily work computer.

After getting the parts home, I began the process of building the new system.  I put all the old parts of nibbler back in the original case, leaving the hard drive and DVD burner to go into the new system.  I laid out some fabric on the coffee table and put down the motherboard.  Just like the graphics card, I decided to go with Asus.  I had read alot of reviews for both Asus and Gigabyte boards, but finally decided just to use Asus.

I grabbed the CPU with its cooler and installed it.  For the CPU I picked an Athlon II dual-core.  While the quad-core Athlon II’s and the dual-core Phenoms weren’t too much more, I knew for that I needed that the dual-core Athlon II would be fine.  Compared to the amount of work and energy I had to put into installing the CPU cooler on nibbler, on this new system it didn’t even take me a minute.  I decided to go ahead and just use the paste that was on the cooler, though I had purchased some Arctic Silver.  I may eventually use that when I upgrade to a quad-core CPU, but in the meantime I knew the stock parts would be fine.

Once the CPU and its cooler was secured to the motherboard, I installed it into the case and installed the RAM.  While the motherboard has 4 slots, for now I’m just using two 2GB sticks.  Eventually I’ll add another 4GB, but for now it’s more than enough for me.  Next the power supply went in.  I went with a Seasonic PSU as I had read very few bad reviews for their stuff.  Unlike my older PSU this one was alot more efficient, and like the new case it also uses a 120MM fan.

After all the core items were in, I installed the GTS450.  Power cables from the PSU went to all items, and then SATA cables for the hard drive and DVD-RW.  I knew that the WD Green drive was going to be a little on the slow side, but until SSD drives come down further in price I’ll stick with it.  I’ve used a WD Raptor drive in the past, but the amount of noise was more than I wanted, and while the performance was pretty nice it just wasn’t required for my work.

With everything installed, it was time to power on the system to see if it even worked before I took the time to clean up the cabling.  Just like when I tested the case with the parts from nibbler, when I powered on the computer again I could barely hear it.  For a brief moment I was convinced it wasn’t working.  But I saw that all the fans (case, CPU, PSU and grahics) were spinning away.  I looked on the screen and the ASUS logo came up.  I went into settings and checked.  The CPU was correct, as well as the amount of RAM.  After a few tweaks, it was time to reboot and begin a fresh Ubuntu 10.10 install.  Finally I could put a 64-bit OS to true use, having 4Gb RAM along with 1GB for the video card.  I even had the name ready for this new system: voyager.

Overall I am very happy with my new build.  Salvaging just a few parts from nibbler (hard drive, DVD-RW and wireless), I was able to build what for me is a very powerful system for not too much money.  I know I’ll double the RAM soon.  If SSDs come down in price then it will become the main drive and the WD Green will be the /home partition.  Will I upgrade to a quad-core AthlonII or PhenomII?  I don’t really foresee that.  The dual-core AthlonII is pretty fast enough for me, and it uses very little power.  What I’m most interested in is seeing if voyager will meet my needs for the same amount of time nibbler did (7 years!).

Ubuntu 10.10

As the most current review I’ve written for a Linux OS, the first thing you may notice is that I’ve changed the title for this review.  Previous reviews have been titled “Linux Review:…”, while here I simply title it as an Ubuntu review.  Why the change?  I realized that it isn’t a really big deal that Ubuntu is running the Linux kernel.  It could run BSD, etc. and it would still be Ubuntu.  For most people, they’ll just want to know that it’s something different from Windows or OS X.  Like any other Linux distro, Ubuntu is its own ecosystem, as much as it borrows from the hard work of Debian, Red Hat, etc.  This is certainly not a slight against Ubuntu, as that as is the spirit of open-source software, and without that attitude and licenses to allow it, none of these distros would be around.

As the first release since the 10.04 LTS release, I was hoping for some cutting-edge features to grace 10.10.  While there are some refinements, overall there isn’t a whole lot of “new” in this release.  That’s certainly not a bad thing, but I was hoping for something a little more bold.

The biggest feature that I seemed to notice in this release is the inclusion of the new Ubuntu font (link).  Unlike Red Hat’s Liberation fonts, this font wasn’t meant to be a replacement for another font.  In fact, at first glance you can see it’s quite different from a normal font.   At first I didn’t think I would like it, but as I started to use it, I found I actually preferred it more often.  It hasn’t replaced my favorite font of all time (Courier New) but it’s pretty darn close.  They are even working on a Monospace variant, so I can use this gorgeous font while using a text editor.

Other than that, I honestly can’t see anything drastically different besides some bumped up version numbers on the software.  OpenOffice is still in, but the next release will use LibreOffice instead.  These days I find myself using Gedit and AbiWord more often, as I just don’t need many features.  I’m hoping for a big performance improvement as LibreOffice development ramps up.  GIMP is still not included by default, so I have to make sure to include that in my initial addition list in Synaptic Package Manager.

The main thing I’m happy with in this release is that simply everything works as-is.  My wireless card works, while a driver isn’t even available for Windows 7.  I can install Dropbox and Google Chrome just fine.  All of my music is added and can be played in Rhythmbox.  When I built my new PC, I knew it was going to be a work system and not for gaming, as I do plenty of that on consoles.  There are some games I’d like to download and try out (Nexuiz, Alien Arena, etc.) but otherwise my GTS450 will just be for providing a good-looking and snappy interface.  Eventually web browsers and perhaps the new Unity interface will put that card to better use.  I do hope that the next release of Ubuntu pushes forward a little more aggressively, but I do know that until it’s been out for awhile I’ll be quite happy with Ubuntu 10.10 as my OS of choice.

Speaking of the new Unity interface, the next version of Ubuntu that’s currently in development will definitely be bringing in some huge changes.  Will these be changes that I’ll like, or will I need to disable it or even look at a KDE-centered distro?  I look forward to testing it out once it hits Beta, but until then I have a very stable and useable PC with Ubuntu 10.10.

Left 4 Dead Tactics

I’ve been playing Left4Dead since the demo was available on Steam, and not too long ago picked up an XBox360 to play the sequel.  Both are great games, and I’ll be writing a review covering both and what changes were for the better or worst in the sequel.  I usually play with bots, but sometimes I get in a game online.  Since I started playing I’ve learned quite a bit about how to best play the game, especially on the Advanced and Expert difficulties.

Weapons

Early in the game you can use either the shotgun or the Uzi.  In the first game you will also have a pistol, while in the sequel you can  pick up a melee weapon to replace the pistol.  The sequel also allows for duel pistols, which you can also obtain if a team-mate drops their pistol for a melee weapon.  On the higher difficulties, the pistols and melee weapons will become crucial for clearing out common infected around you, as you’ll need to conserve ammo for your primary weapon for the special infected as well as when the common infected are swarming around you.  You will also need to take into account the time for reloading, especially for dual pistols.  In the sequel, those with melee weapons can simply swing away, leaving those with pistols to help clear those in intermediate and further ranges.  For large groups far away, think about switching to automatic rifles, the Uzi, or using a throwable to reduce the large number of common infected.

With any weapon equipped, you can press alternate fire to shove instead.  This can be a good way to knock back one or more infected attacking you, especially if you need to reload or take some pills.  In the first game you can shove constantly, while in the sequel you will begin to take more time between shoves, but it’s still good to alternate between a shove and firing if there’s a large number of infected.

The pistols are not very powerful (except for the Desert Eagle in the sequel), but they are fairly accurate when fired from a crouching stance.  They don’t have a large clip size (especially the Desert Eagle), so be prepared for the numerous and slow reloads.  The Desert Eagle can inflict massive damage and is also great against the special infected, but like the sniper rifle each shot is critical.  Its recoil is also very high.

In the sequel melee weapons were introduced.  These are great at the higher difficulties for clearing off all infected that are near the group.  There’s no ammo to worry about, and there’s no penalty for constant swinging.  At the higher difficulties two or three of the members should have a melee weapon.  Let the members with pistols draw in infected that are at intermediate and long ranges.

Shotguns are great at easily taking out infected and thinning out a group very quickly.  They don’t hold many shells at a time, so reloading is very critical.  Reloading becomes very slow if all shells are fired, so it’s best to fire three to four shots and then reload if possible.  Obviously they are terrible at longer ranges, but at intermediate range they can still hit enough infected to draw in a group.

Automatic rifles are the standby for the game.  They have fairly large clips, deal a great amount of damage, and from a crouched position can be as accurate as the sniper rifles without the hassle of zooming in and out as well as having the automatic fire when needed.  Holding down the trigger wastes ammo and reduces accuracy, so it should only be used if the group is overwhelmed or if a special infected is getting too close.  Fire a two- or three-shot burst for each shot, and wait to reload until the clip is down to about ten rounds.

Sniper rifles deal a huge amount of damage, but they are very slow to fire and reload.  At higher difficulties only one member should have a sniper rifle.  It can be used to pick off individual common infected that aren’t in a group.  With the scope, it’s also possible to pick out special infected that might be coming around, even a tank that is waiting in an area ahead.  If a witch needs to be taken down, let the sniper get in a few shots to the head to greatly turn the odds.  Snipers are also best for taking out smokers, since they are often in spots that other weapons can’t deal enough damage quickly enough.

The sequel introduced the chainsaw, grenade launcher and M60 machine gun.  These weapons will replace the primary weapon you’re holding.  The chainsaw is great for cutting through a very large group, and for individual infected it is equally effective.  If you just give a small mouse button press for each attack, the fuel can last for quite a bit.  The grenade launcher can take out a large group of infected or inflict massive damage on a special infected.  It’s not good for up-close combat, as it will do as much damage to you and your teammates.  The M60 machine gun is a devastating weapon that can easily tear through common infected and easily put down special infected as well.  It’s easy to burn through the rounds as it has a high rate of fire and no reloading is necessary.

Throwables

In the first Left 4 Dead there are two throwables available: the molotov and pipe bomb.  The sequel added the Boomer bile.

The pipe bomb is a great way to get surrounding common infected away from the group, as well as to draw in several scattered individuals.  If thrown too far, the pipe bomb can go off with few casualties.  Thrown too close, and it can do more harm to your group.

The molotov is a great way to either set a group of infected on fire, create a wall for charging infected, or to help deal damage to the Tank and Witch.  It can be easy to underestimate the total area set on fire by the molotov, so be sure not to throw it too close to the group.

The Boomer bile is a great way to deflect charging infected, as well as to group scattered infected.  If thrown to an empty area, all infected will swarm to that spot.  If thrown on an infected, they will be attacked by other infected.  The best thing to see is a Boomer bile thrown onto a Tank and watching infected attack it.  On higher difficulties, doing this and then throwing a molotov on the Tank will greatly reduce the damage the group will need to do in order to take it down.

Health

In the game there are two items that can heal: health kits and pills.  The sequel added the paddles which can revive a fallen teammate. Both the health kit and pills can extend health quite a bit, so it’s good to wait to use them until absolutely needed.  When a player gets below a certain health level they will move much slower, which could prevent them from escaping a group or special infected.  It is also useful to use pills instead of health kits if both are available.

Group Tactics

Teamwork is very important in the game, and absolutely critical at the higher difficulties.  When going through the levels, all members must stay close to each other.  When taking down charging infected, it’s best to have two members in the front crouching.  If charging infected are coming on two or more sides, the members will need to decide which area to cover.  It’s best to have at least one member with a shogun, as well as one sniper.  The other two should have automatic rifles, to cover mid- and long-range areas.  The shotgunner can use their pistol(s) for longer range and keep the shogun ready for any needed close-up work.

Communication is not only critical for formation and movement, but for inventory as well.  Throughout the game there will be a limited number of health packs, pills, and throwables.  Using these items at the wrong time can mean the group’s demise in the long run.

When moving along and there’s not many or any infected nearby, it can be good to let someone scout up ahead, though not too far.  They can look for any infected that might be in odd locations, or listen for sounds indicating a Tank or such is nearby.

Kindle is to Books as iTunes is to CDs?

Ever since I purchased my first iPod, I’ve been very happy with digital purchases for my music.  Of course that’s technically confusing, as CDs are digital as well.  But most people say digital to mean on-line, physical-less data.  Of course it’s easy to copy those files to a flash drive or burn to a CD, and then it would almost be like purchasing the CD.  When iTunes became popular, I don’t remember there being too great a debate over choosing it rather than physical CDs.  There were those who complained about the lack of receiving a booklet, some with lyrics and/or artwork, and not being able to actually “hold” the music in their hands.  But most people knew those things weren’t as important as the key feature: simply listening to that music.  And with the popularity of iTunes, album sales have given way somewhat to singles.  Now instead of having to grab a CD to listen to that popular song on the radio, I can just purchase that one song.

There are many great features of iTunes that go along with the convenience of on-line music purchasing.  Some things have been added to appease some of the previous complaints (Artist LP, etc.).  Now that music has essentially evolved to its new form, will the same happen with books?

With music iTunes is the king; in eBooks it seems that Amazon is the lead candidate.  While Apple has begun work on iBooks, and Barnes and Noble has its Nook, it would be hard to argue against the popularity of the Kindle.  And with a Kindle app on the iPad, you can use both Amazon’s and Apple’s solutions.  Now on its third iteration, the Kindle has some great features, a good selection of books, and most importantly is very great to read on.

But is it as an important thing as an iPod?  Will the Kindle and its competitors shove paper copies to the sidelines as the iPod has done to CDs?  There are plenty of things that would make me root for the Kindle’s success.  It is much easier to hold and read the Kindle than either a mass-market paperback or a large hardcover, even if the Kindle (not the larger DX) screen isn’t as large as that format.  Being able to immediately purchase and download a book that’s available for the Kindle is such a better experience than fighting with the crowds at a local bookstore or waiting for an online order to ship.  There is also the amount of space that paper books use.  Several years ago I pared down my book collection as it was far too much to devote space to and move as wel.  What I have left still takes up more space than I’d like.  If all of those books were available on the Kindle, then all the books I would ever need would only take up the space that the Kindle does.  The Kindle’s collection can also be shared among several devices, so I could either continue reading on my iPhone or my work PC, or even share an account with one or more family members.

So what all will it take for the Kindle to match the iPod?  Well it’s not a whole lot.  The hardware is pretty much at its prime, though there is always room for improvement in the screen quality and speed of page flipping.  The app on the iPad and other platforms is also improving.  The Kindle store is fairly easy to use.  Its primary roadblocks are the selection of books and its prices.  I do think the prices are on average much higher than they should be.  Some have said this is due to the publishers, other have said it’s Amazon’s or Apple’s doing.  Regardless, I think fairer prices could be set for “standard” mass-market titles, while textbooks and such could warrant a higher price.

For now I will wait to purchase a Kindle or if I ever get an iPad, but I don’t think it will be too long before eReaders are as much a part of a person’s life as the iPod and smartphone have already become.