Monday, January 26, 2009

Do I really have to say this again?

I'm serious.
Really, really serious.
I can't stress this enough.
I've seen this several times.
It disappoints me every single time.
Pay attention, you will save eighty bucks.

If you own a laser printer, do not plug it into a battery backup.

If you have a battery backup where some of the outlets are labeled "Surge Only", then that's OK.
Just make sure you don't plug it in the battery side. It will cause premature battery failure, and no one wants that.

(Getting off of my soapbox now...)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Wii Fit: Incredibly Late First Impressions

Since the employees at our local Best Buy seem to enjoy my Rubik's cube prowess, I was finally given the tipoff that there would be more Wii Fit today.  The store opened at 11, I left the house at 9:15 with the two kids and a stop at Home Depot that I needed to make.  One sheet of MDF that barely fit in the car later, I ended up at Best Buy around 10:10.  Several people were already in line, luckily some of them just wanted Wii's and not Wii Fit.  I got a ticket for one of the guaranteed 12 Wii Fits available.  Yay!  I burned the rest of the hour doing Rubik's cube for a few people ahead of me in line.  

The board itself seems rather sturdy, the battery compartment door was easy to remove and snapped in firmly.  The 'sync' button is inside the compartment, just like the Wiimotes.  #1 son and I were set up in minutes, and we both stunk at the very first test trying to figure out what we were doing.  It involved checking your balance, posture, and body control by having you hold off-balance positions for three seconds each.  

Since the machine has your age and BMI before you do this test, we presumed that those things figure heavily in getting your initial "Fitness Age".  I am a normal BMI, but only got through four of the five initial body control tests.  The machine gave me a Wii Fit age of 42.  (I'm not 40 yet.)  By comparison, when my wife tried it later, her BMI was several points higher but she aced the body control tests with time to spare and was given an initial "Fitness Age" of 35.  

We liked the wide variety of things to do on the game disk.  The games aren't suffering from all being too much alike, and the Yoga, Strength Training, and Aerobic sections are easy to work into.  Sure, there was one or two that I may not be ready for, but if I get better at the other ones, I'll be ready soon enough.  The real question, will I be able to stick with it?  Will I want to jog around my living room with a Wiimote in my pocket or do pushups on the balance board more often?  Check back in two weeks.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Adventures in Tech Support

File this one under "I wouldn't believe it unless I saw it myself."
I'm sure that many of you just expect your computer to work right and don't spend any time under the hood messing around with the parts. I'm guessing that more than half of you are using a computer that's a year or two old and has Windows XP on it. If any of you running Windows XP have less than 512MB of RAM, I would suggest you fix that if you can. 256MB is technically enough, but most days it doesn't cut it. With that in mind, here's my crazy tech support story.

I took apart a machine at the end of the business day yesterday to put some RAM in it. Our estimator at the office has been running an old AMD Athlon machine with only 256MB of RAM. He never turns it off because it's running his Blackberry redirector all the time, and uses a couple of fairly hefty programs on a regular basis including AutoCAD. He says that he has run two simultaneous sessions of AutoCAD before, even with other things running. On the down side, he's got a small hard drive that's almost completely full, and the machine took approximately fifteen minutes from hitting the power button to being able to work at the desktop. I even tried to get him to upgrade his machine last year and had the new workstation in the building, and he refused it because he didn't want to have to reinstall all of his extra stuff and sort through his files. I was able to use the workstation for one of the other users that really needed an upgrade, so no harm done overall. I subsequently decided that more RAM was the best solution for now, and I got him 2 Gigs which is plenty for Windows XP in hopes that his machine will now last until Windows 7 comes out. We shut down the machine, cracked open the case, and took the old RAM out. What I saw, especially considering that the machine was still running moments previously defies description, so here's a picture.

I was too scared to use the RAM socket that it came out of - luckily there were two other free slots to put the two 1G chips in. Like I said, I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it myself.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Short sparse games mean a lot.

I started Valve Software's "Portal" for PC Saturday a week ago, and finished the main game Tuesday night. I haven't done any of the crazy challenges yet, and I haven't gotten through all of the developer commentary. Even without the extras, it was amazing. Sure, it won all sorts of awards last year and the year before, so that's not much of a surprise. Just in case you haven't played it, I'll try not to spoil anything important.

The only other game that I can compare Portal to is ICO for Playstation 2. Both games are short, sparse, and short on communication. ICO opts for having a few cutscenes of unintelligible dialogue, where Portal has no cutscenes, all story pieces delivered in the game, and a chatty computer with a lot of memorable monologue. In ICO, you have a stick and a helpless princess to drag around after you. In Portal, you have a Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device and a Weighted Storage Cube. As it turns out, you can do more damage with the portal gun, but it's not as satisfying as beating something with a stick (at least not at first). In both cases the game is short by modern standards - ICO took me around eight in-game hours to finish, not counting dozens of deaths and half a dozen sandwiches over two weekends. Portal has but 19 levels - and makes no secret of it. An expert could blow through the entire game in less than an hour without breaking a sweat.

By comparison, Resident Evil 4 is 20-30 hours plus cutscenes under normal conditions. A driving game like Burnout or Gran Turismo's Arcade mode is likely to be a lot longer - to say nothing of GT's Simulation mode with its insanely long endurance races.

Neither game clutters the screen with a health bar or a score. Portal's only got a crosshair on the screen that tells you which portal you fired last. I really applaud both ICO's developers and Portal's developers for conveying so much in such a short game without too many heavy-handed approaches that take you out of the game. They are two games that made me feel something by the time the credits rolled - and not just the feeling that I'd been sitting in my chair too long.

Sure, I get all emotional about Zelda:Twilight Princess during the closing movie, but there's been at least a couple dozen cutscenes to propel the story by then. It would have been more challenging from a design standpoint to have conveyed all of that information in-game.

In other news - I suspect my 1up blog is not long for this world as UGO's acquisition of 1up gutted many of 1up's news people and killed Electronic Gaming Monthly magazine. I'm liable to just bail and stick to this space as my main soapbox. In really other news, I got dragged into the future via Facebook. (Thanks, y'all.)

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Holiday Gaming Wrapup

My oldest son did well for the holiday, scoring two out of the three LEGO "Fill in the Movie Franchise" games for Wii, and I got both of the zombie light gun shooters for Wii. LEGO Star Wars is nice - they did well in getting the two other games in one disc, improving a lot of the textures and rendering over the PS2 versions (who says the Wii's not next-gen?) and adding some levels that got left out before. LEGO Indiana Jones is pretty good from what I've played, and has all of the visual improvements of LEGO Star Wars and then some, but the AI isn't as good at doing what it needs to when you're playing by yourself. It really should be played co-op.

Now, on to the zombies. House of the Dead 2&3 Return is solid zombie shooting fun, and I find that 3 is a bit better than 2 so far but maybe it's because I'm not so good with 2's pistol and I fare better with 3's wider shotgun shooting. To be fair, these are dated arcade games, so the visuals are not on a par with what the system is really capable of, but it's quite faithful to the original. I wonder why they passed on including House of the Dead 1 - it might help keep the convoluted storyline together better. On the other hand, if you're going to cut one, it makes sense to cut the worst looking one. Resident Evil:Umbrella Chronicles is much more difficult than HOTD, and the visuals are almost as good as the Resident Evil 4 visuals. I do like the fact that they're using RE:UC to fill in parts of the plot leading you to next year's release of Resident Evil 5. (Good luck convincing this Wii owner to buy one of the other consoles yet, though.)

We had two late entries on the gaming front - one was Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games, which was a lot of fun both for us and the purchaser thereof, even though we spent an inordinate amount of time with the hammer throw and the javelin. I'm sure it will be a source of plenty of future screaming at the television. The other late entry was ZOMG PORTAL IS TEH AWESOMEZ BYE GG PLAY PORTAL NOW.