We Wants It!

Acer has some interesting new products.  One screams sexy.  The other only hints at it. Both scream sexy at ear bleedingly loud levels.

The sexy, technophile’s wet dream, is the newly unveiled Acer Predator.  With an orange case, with strange angles and bulked out appearance give it the appearance some kind of roided out robot.  The case looks to be a variant of In Win’s recent B2 Stealth bomber case (review), but I could be off.  Perhaps most impressive are the front access ‘EasySwap’ hard drive bays.  Video card options seem to range from the uber-ridiculous 3 9800 GTXs to the not-quite-as-ridiculous 2 8800 GT/s.  There are tons of other options listed in the specs but, oddly enough, only DDR2 (rather than the faster, crazy expensive DDR3) is listed.  Given that you’ll like have to morgage your house and sell both your soul and first born to afford a fully tricked out Predator, I find that oddly surprising.

The other bit of maybe sexy is the Acer Aspire Gemstone Blue laptop.  I don’t need a new laptop, but damn if it ain’t tempting.  Notebook review has a nice write-up here and some cost predictions near the end.  Acer says they start at $900 and top out under $2k, we’ll see about that.

Re: Hive Mind

Librarian Powers Activate!

A higher quality version of the demo is available at the TED conference site here.

More info is also up at the Microsoft Live Labs page for the technology, called Photosynth.  There is a demo there as well but my crappy work computer can’t run it (lack of even a cheap graphics card).  Be warned it requires use of IE 6/7, which already negates its viability assuming they don’t shoot for browser independence for the official release.  It might also be Windows specific, but if a Mac or Linux user (running Wine or some other means of getting IE to work….I guess) knows different let me know.

There is some other cool stuff on there as well including the team blog and links to specialized collections, including a link to a project with the BBC called “Your Britain in Pictures”, that might be worth playing around with.

The wikipedia entry provides a bit of trivia, some similar products, and other interesting tidbits.  In particular the science behind the whole deal: photogrammetry.  The photgrammetry article has a solid list of external links if you’re interested in finding out more.  Is it me or does photogrammetry have a delightfully 19th century science sound to it?

Last National Geographic has a video demo of the Stonehenge constructed using Photosynth.


Hive Mind

I’d say this technology is at least worth checking out.  About 2/3 of the way into the video, the guy shows off a composite model of the Notre Dame cathedral.  The model was designed using pictures from Flickr.  That’s awesome enough to border on the absurd.  There’s some other cool things in the presentation but, as one of the many people who is computer literate but has no in-depth knowledge of computers, I have no concept of what kind of power these processes entail.  Having gigabytes of pictures all up at once so that you can navigate and zoom smoothly doesn’t seem like the kind of thing my Dell laptop can do.

NJ Says: IP Address = Private

From Ars Technica:

In the decision, the justices discuss the differences between IP addresses and return addresses on envelopes when discussing whether or not Internet subscriber information deserves an expectation of privacy. The justices say that IP addresses are sufficiently anonymous to justify privacy protection because, theoretically, only the Internet service provider can identify who is associated with a specific IP address.  Link.

Interesting stuff that, as Ars points out, is likely to become a more important topic down the road. How many times have you watched a crime procedural where the IP was magically tracked back to a person/address? In all the times I saw that I happen I never once considered that it might even be a violation of a person’s privacy.  But the judges make a good point, and Ars highlights, that:

The State compares IP addresses to the return addresses found on the outside of envelopes, which carry no privacy protection. But there is an important difference: letter writers choose to include their address on an envelope. They may also opt for anonymity and list no return address. Internet users have no such choice because they must have an IP address to access a website. In addition, the string of numbers that comprises an IP address and can be collected by a website is both less revealing and less public than a name or street address posted on an envelope,

As I said, interesting, a certainly food for thought as you do your daily browsing.

Steam and Crysis

My poor 360 has relegated to a Rock Band station as of late (ok that demo of Dynasty Warriors: Gundum was somewhat distracting) mainly because I’ve been bushwhacked by Valve’s Steam.  Microsoft’s Live is a great service: player coordination, demos, original games, new content, and achievements are a pretty succinct summary of what it offers.  I think however, that I might like Steam better.

First of all it made switching to the new PC almost too easy.  Since all of Valve’s games are tied to Steam only had to download the service and log into my account.  After that I just picked my games and Steam did the rest (downloading and installing them all).  Simple as pie.

Next is Steam’s growing collection of of digitally distrubted titles.  Most recently we saw the Unreal titles, and Atari’s back catalog added.  Other companies offer a damned fine selection through Steam as well:  almost all of iD Softwares back titles are in there (every Doom title, every Quake title, Wolfenstein, and even Commander Keen), Activision (Call of Duty), THQ (STALKER, Company of Heroes), and more all available to download at the click (or several clicks) of a mouse.  The GUI for Steam is familiar to any computer use and certainly less convoluted than the over abundant sliding menus on Live.

I managed to pick up Bioshock for $29.99 so I’m working my through that at the moment.  I picked up Prey, on sale this last weekend, for $4.95.  I couldn’t argue with that price.  Most of my time, when not playing Rock Band or getting my ass handed to me in Team Fortress 2, has been dedicated to working my way through Crysis.

It won’t win any awards for original story but between gorgeous graphics, solid physics, and open ended gameplay that let’s you approach the game how you want it is a damned fine title and probably the best single player FPS I’ve played in a while.  There are parts in the game I’ve had issues with (the zero gravity section was annoying, and an escort mission that sucked) but they are mostly the sections that move away from that open-ended element.  There is a certain thrill as I assault a KPA base in my cloaked powersuit taking out soldiers one by one with my silencer equiped, laser sighted, sniper scoped assault rifle (did I mention the weapon modding system, fun).  Or sneaking up behind a humvee and nailing the auxiliary fuel tank with a few well-placed shots and watching the KPA soldiers scramble from the soon-to-be flaming wreckage.

The game was certainly stronger before I started fighting the aliens.  Things have gone too far towards the run and gun style and I miss having to actually think about how I want to approach (or avoid) a fight but we’ll see if things don’t make a comeback.  Regardless I still recommend  the title if you’ve got enough machine to run it.  I’ll have some final thoughts on the title once I’m through and some on Bioshock once I’ve gotten a bit further in than I am right now.

Dear Vista…

Dear Vista,Please stop accessing me so much.  I neither need nor appreciate it.


Mike’s Hard Drive

Vista’s disk trashing issue is well documented. It manifests itself as the incessant “clicking” and “ticking” of hard drive access when little to no actual computing is being done.  Finely fed up with this I dove into Vista’s innards in an attempt to silence this annoying garbage.

Some quick searching revealed several possible culprits:

  • Superfetch (loads frequently used programs into RAM for quicker start up)
  • disk indexing
  • Windows Defender

I thought I had already disabled the last but a quick glance over in Control Panel->Admin Tools->Services revealed that was total BS.   Superfetch was disabled in the same place.  Disabling those two services still didn’t solve me problem.  Some searching revealed that Windows stores settings for indexing under Power Settings (really? WTF?) so I hopped over there and switched the settings from “Performance” to “Balanced.”  Quieter but still not quite there.

A quick glance at the task manager revealed a program “aacenter.exe” jumping up and down the list when I sorted by CPU usage.  A bit of googling revealed this to be the ASUS ACPI Center which seemed to be a bit of extraneous, and ultimatley useless, motherboard software.  Back in Admin Tools I opened up the task scheduler disabled the automatic disk defragmenter (really MS?  I know how to defrag my own HD thanks) then killed the aacenter.exe task (started whenever a user logged onto the computer).  Seconds later only the faint hum of fans could be heard.  Success.

Dunno which did it in the end but it seems my HD does it’s own thing without being bothered by vista.  So if you have this problem check out the above programs (you might try this solution here as that might also work.

PC-RPGs….gasping for air or on the rise?

There are some interesting rumblings in world of PC RPGs and some uncomfortable silences as well.

First off some older news in the place holder image over at Interplay.com.  Interplay, paired with Black Isle Studios and Bioware released perhaps the preatest Post-Gold Box Era computer RPGs ever.  Baldur’s Gate II sucked away months of life taking my fledgling character from the humblest of roots to the pinnacle of goddom (yes) are some of my fondest gaming memories (Quixis of the Open Palm, monk turned just deity).   Planescape: Torment, Icewind Dale, Baldurs Gate, Fallout.  Interplay released some serious gems and it was a bit of shame when they went under.

I should point out one of the images on the placeholder is from the Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance games.  While for consoles only the light hack and slash fun both games featured was damned entertaining and I can only hope a newly formed Interplay finishes the series (both games ended in cliffhangers).

Slightly more troubling is Atari’s current financial difficulties.  Atari, as far as I know, still holds the license for D&D games.  They’ve managed it fairly well, Neverwinter Nights and Neverwinter Nights 2 were fun game but neither managed to eclipse the aforementioned Interplay titles.  I know I might catch some flak for this, but I almost hope EA gets the D&D license instead.  I know, I know but with their recent aquisition of Bioware and Obsidian (studios both tied to those original Interplay titles) means they have the talent, and the financial clout, to produce some top notch titles.  However, with the new ruleset (for pen and paper D&D) scheduled for release this summer I’m guessing we won’t hear any news on new D&D titles (discounting those already in production/active development) until some time in the fall.

Next up was a bit from RockPaperShotgun I saw this morning.  They mentioned a job posting by Blizzard that sparked specution on the development of Diablo 3.  With the semi-flop that was Hellgate a true sequel with the Diablo brand would be nice to see.  Having had a chance to beta Hellgate a bit I’m willing to admit that the gameplay was fun and similar to, though never quite as frantic as, Diablo.  The post casually speculates (a I seriously mean speculates) about a “World of Diablo” and I admit I felt a bit tingly at the thought of that.  I doubt it would happen, Blizzard hardly needs two fantasy MMOs, but still that would be a damned tempting prospect for me….and I don’t really like MMOs.

This isn’t to say that other areas of the PC RPG market are dry.  Bioware is as active as ever promising Mass Effect for PC this May, and additional titles in the series to be released on PC as well.  Even better, in a recent interview over at Eurogamer Bioware’s Matt Atwood mentions that the long developed Bioware original Dragon Age will be out before the fiscal year ends (i.e. before April 2009).  In other areas Bethesda is busy at work on Fallout 3, having enjoyed Oblivion I’m fairly confident they’ll turn out a sweet product.  Other than those titles the market for single-player RPGs on the PC looks rather slim, but maybe I’m missing a few.  I’ll suffer through this dry spell well enough, it isn’t like I don’t have games to play, I’m still working my way through Neverwinter Nights 2, just started Bioshock, and have yet to finish Crysis (and that doesn’t include my consoles) so I’m good to go.  I’m curious to see how whether the single player PC RPG will make any sort of comeback in an MMO saturated market; I for one certainly miss the sense of adventure, exploration, and epic story that those Interplay Infinity-engine titles engendered and hope for something similar down the line.

PC Specs

Mainboard:  Asus Maximus Formula
An intel x38 chip with DDR2 rather than DDR3. Solid so far. Some people have complained about the abundance of copper, and there is a shit ton, but I kind of like it. It had some issues with the Wolfdale, but more on that later.
RAM: Mushkin 4GB kit
It doesn’t have fancy spreaders or super-fast speed but solid numbers and price just under $100 for 4 gigs (2gb x 2gb) was hard to pass up.
CPU: Intel E8400 Intel E6750
Here is where my problems were. I really wanted a Wolfdale. 45nm, lots of overhead for OC, solid benchmarks, large cache size all around a solid chip with some impressive numbers. It installed fine and worked great. For a bit. Then I started getting weird temperature readings. 100 degrees Celsius weird. A quick search revealed tons of problems with temperature readings; though none officially recognized by intel. Thinking maybe the stock cooler was at fault I ordered an after market model, the Zalman 9500A. It arrived nice and quick.  Unfortunately, when I attempted to install it, I realized that the aforementioned copper heatsinks on the mobo didn’t allow for the screwless installation; there just wasn’t enough room. With my warranty period rapidly expiring I did what any sane man would do…I sent both the chip and the fan back. The fan I could get a refund on, the chip could be replaced. Unfortunately, do to stock constraints, I couldn’t get a new 8400. So, as New Egg’s return policy states, they refunded me the price.  With no E8400 I decided to stick to the old 65nm models. Rather than go quad-core I went with the sub-$200 E6750 instead. It is slightly slower than the E8400 but has mature bios support and solid temperature readings. Within the next year I’ll probably replace it, I can only hope that the 45nm quad-cores are a little more solid.
Graphics: eVGA nVidia 8800 GTS (g92/512 mb)
The new smaller G92 is a little cooler and a little faster than the earlier version of the 8800. A great piece of hardware. Unfortunately it seems that the fan never revs up passed 30%.  A bit of registry hacking thanks to rivatuner and it’s up to about 60% and keeping things nice and cool.
Power: OCZ GameXstream 700w
Despite the utterly ridiculous name this is a solid piece of hardware. Cool, quiet and with a nifty blue LED.
Storage: Samsung 20X SATA DVD Burner and Seagate 750GB Hard Drive
Got a decent deal on two OEM models here. Will probably pick up an additional HD for storage as I continue to transfer my music CDs and maybe-kinda-sorta so I can dual boot with Ubuntu. The Samsung drive is fast a pretty damn sweet, not too much else to say about it. Compared to my old computer, with its ginormous IDE ribbon, SATA everything is like a dream come true.
Cooling: ZALMAN 9700 NT Fan
If my case weren’t a full-tower this thing would cause trouble. 1250 RPM in silent mode is pretty damn quiet, managed with QFAN things get even quieter while my processor stays nice and cool. It has *gasp* screws to secure it too the mobo. Easy enough but I must have downed too much caffeine when I installed cause it took me quite a few tries.
Case: Coolermaster Stacker RC-832
In all honesty I think I should have gone with the Cosmos. It does appear to be slightly sexier and have sweet cable management behind the mobo. Oh well. Most of the problems with this case were created by me. First my retarded ass managed to pull one of the internal wires for the top USB ports, oops. A quick forum search found instructions for getting to top casing off. Easy enough. Unless Satan himself had screwed your case together. One perfectly round screw head later I resign myself to -2 usb ports and a not-so-bright power button. Last but not least my neanderthal brain could not manage to wrap itself around the side panel removal/replacement until far too late. I’m sure I knocked some sort of integral sound-damping metal clip off the panel track since the case is now prone to occasional metallic rattle. Annoying, but barely noticeable during gaming and things are still quieter than the airplane like whine of my old computer.
OS:Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit
Vista has its problems but they run towards the annoying rather than the system-breaking. Vista 64 is solid enough, the only real problem is driver signing. Microsoft, in the money-grubbing tradition, requires Microsoft signed drivers for programs to work. What this means is that a lot of smaller, free, independently developed programs just won’t work. Ugh. Part of why I want to dual boot Ubuntu.  64-bit operating systems are the only ones that recognize memory configurations over 3gb so if you want tons of ram there really isn’t any other way to go and, if you want DX10, you need Vista.  Yay Microsoft!
Over eagerness was part of my problem here. I put things together as they came rather than all at once on a free day. Things work good now though there is some fine tuning to do. With no AA and 1680×1050 I get a little over 10k in 3dMark 06, with 2x AA I’m in the solid 9k range. Crysis runs well at the same resolution with all settings on high, some reduction on post-processing effects should clear up the few minor hiccups that exist. TF2 runs as smooth as it ever did, damn but that Source engine is versatile. Speaking of Valve they made the switch to my new PC damn easy. Download Steam, sign into my account, pick the games I own and wander off while they download. Sure it took a while over a DSL connection; but still simple. Files went easy over WiFi and my iTunes library went on my iPod. Anyway, I’m sure there will be more benchmarks in the future, and more problems, but for now things are running quiet, cool, and fast.

An Odyssey Begun….

Well I’ve ordered the “first half” of my new computer. Ordered the following components:

Cooler Master Stacker RC-832
A big roomy full tower case with plenty of room for expansion
ASUS Maximus Formula
Using the X38 North Bridge, PCIe x16 2.0, DDR2. Solid looking board.
Seagate Barracuda 750GB HD (OEM)
Went OEM for the HD. Solid company. Massive Capacity.
Mushkin DDR2 800 2x (2gb)
DDR2 is still cheap as hell, got me four gigs on 2 sticks.
Intel Core 2 Duo E8400
Intel’s newest chip under the Wolfdale name. Small, cool, fast. Almost went with quad-core but I think I can wait a bit, until more software takes advantage of 4 cores.

I plan on ordering the rest (video card, optical drive, OS, and power supply) in about a week (I get paid next Wednesday). Now I only hope I put this shit together without having anything explode or catch on fire.

Bringin’ the sexy back….to keyboards

If I were willing to spend extravagant funds on my PC peripherals I would start with Art. Lebedev’s Optimus Maximus. The Optimus Maximus is a 113-key keyboard in which each of the keys is an OLED allowing dynamic icons for all keys. Coming in with a price tag of roughly $1,500 it is creme de la creme of input devices.

Engadget has an older hands-on (with delicious photos) while Arstechnica has a more recent hands-on from the ongoing CES