Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Microsoft XNA Game Studio Express released

Microsoft announced the release of their XNA Game Studio Express developer tools, which allow developers to use C# and target both Windows and the XBOX 360.

Slashdot is all over this, with some folks debating the usefulness of tools that require a $100 subscription to publish your games (in some cases), but this seems like an awesome tool release for small-scale game developers.

The $900 HP DV9005US laptop

Wowsers. $900 (after rebate) at Circuit City for all this:
  • Dual-core AMD Turion 64 @ 1.6Ghz

  • Windows XP MCE

  • 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM (expandable to 2GB)

  • Nvidia GeForce Go 6150 UMA w/ up to 128MB shared memory

  • 100GB 5400RPM SATA hard disk

  • DVD+/-RW w/ DualLayer + LightScribe support

  • 17" WXGA+ HD BrightView widescreen display @ 1440x900

  • 802.11b/g wireless

  • 5-in-1 media reader

  • 4 USB ports, standard audio ports, 1 FireWire port

  • 10/100 ethernet

  • 15.16" L x 11.65" W x 1.57" H

  • 7.8 pounds

See HP's specs for the DV9005US for more details.

I'm not really in the market for a new laptop, but this is pretty nice if you go for the desktop-replacement-and-some-gaming approach.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

MS Word vulnerability

from the advisory:

Microsoft is investigating a new report of limited “zero-day” attacks using a vulnerability in Microsoft Word 2000, Microsoft Word 2002, Microsoft Office Word 2003, Microsoft Word Viewer 2003, Microsoft Word 2004 for Mac, and Microsoft Word 2004 v. X for Mac, as well as Microsoft Works 2004, 2005, and 2006.
Recommendation: Do not open or save Word files that you receive from un-trusted or that are received unexpected from trusted sources. This vulnerability could be exploited when a user opens a file.

Well, that's just peachy. Time to fire up OpenOffice.

addition: 0959h 2006-12-06

Slashdot has a discussion on the MS Word vulnerability.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Bill O'Reilly on the PS3, gamers & iPods

So Mr O'Reilly has a new target for his disassociated reactionary rants - GAMING. Yup, it's the new Communism, this year's War on Christmas, worse than heroin or alcohol or tobacco:

Bill O’Reilly Slams PS3 Launch, Gamers, iPods, Digital Tech (not in that order)

There's a good discussion on Slashdot on the article at http://games.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=06/11/21/1648247

I like this quote in particular:

"I don't own an iPod. I would never wear an iPod… If this is your primary focus in life - the machines… it's going to have a staggeringly negative effect, all of this, for America… did you ever talk to these computer geeks? I mean, can you carry on a conversation with them?"

Speaking as someone who has (somehow) managed to become a tax-paying fully-employed married adult with children, despite all of the horrible influences of computers and video games in my life since the age of 5 or 6 years old, I have absolutely no idea how anyone talks with me. Not a bit. I mean, I can barely even write coherent sentences in my native language, let alone carry on a conversation, or, say, teach high-school students how to speak effectively and defend an argument. Or write business proposals. Or conduct meetings, or training sessions, or interview job candidates.


While I agree that a lot of mass-marketed entertainment can be a low-fidelity lossy replacement for reality, that's not really a new problem, or something that the Sony PS3 or Apple iPod introduced.

To a large degree, people from my generation and younger generations play video games the same way our parents and grandparents play card games, board games, darts, bowling or other not-so-physically-active forms of entertainment. Multiplayer games, networked or not, are the way we hang out and de-stress and enjoy each others' company. My 16-year-old brother-in-law and I don't sit down in front of the TV to watch football games, we play Madden. Or Halo, or Red Faction, or another fun multiplayer game.

Any form of entertainment can be addictive, but calling gamers irresponsible and witless is no more true than exculpating Scrabble players or someone who enjoys a hand of solitaire for their moral weakness.

In the words of today, WTF, Mr O'Reilly. Are you just an old fool too removed from your own listeners to have any idea of what people do with their time? Or does this look like an inflammatory target, something that can be easily railed against, not targeting a traditional minority group like gays or blacks or Jews which would generate backlash, and generate angry call-ins, attract listeners and ad revenue?

Maybe you should walk down the hall from your broadcast booth to visit the sound techs and radio engineers working in that building, and see what they say. Maybe talk with them, see if they can carry on a conversation. Or the folks who host your website. Or the accountants tallying your revenue from podcast downloads, online advertising and TV broadcasts. I'm sure you interact with some IT support people from time to time, try asking them what they enjoy doing in their spare time, what they're interested in, if they have families, if they're active in their communities, if they go to church, if they (gasp) fire up a PC or console game from time to time.

You'd be surprised.

Monday, November 13, 2006

DriveImage XML

So I was looking for a decent alternative to Symantec Ghost, and stumbled across DriveImage XML which is a nice drive-image utility for Windows.

I'm still testing it out, but it can use volume shadow copy on WinXP (= copy your HD while you're running Windows), split and compress your backups, browse saved images... looks pretty nice.

TreeSize Free

Since I've switched to my new Dell XPS M1710 laptop, I've been trying to find good Windows-style ways of doing what I'm used to doing with Ubuntu. One of my favorite *nix one-liners is `du -k | sort -r -n | less` to list the contents of the current directory by size - it's an easy way to figure out what's taking up space in a given directory or filesystem.

There's tons of software in the Windows world that does this, but most of it is shareware or commercial-ware, which is fine, but I don't plan on spending money for something that two tiny shell utilities can manage to do. Then I came upon TreeSize Free from JAM Software - Windows Freeware, which does exactly what I need - show which directories are eating up the most space - and is free. Works fine with my Windows XP install, it takes a little while to chew through the directory tree on my C: drive, but I'd expect that.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

General Dynamics GoBook XR-1 Rugged Notebook - US

General Dynamics GoBook XR-1 Rugged Notebook - US

Apparently GD makes laptops, in addition to Stryker combat vehicles and nuclear submarines. This machine is MIL-STD 810F compliant, works from -23 to 60 degrees Celsius, is sealed against dust and water, and can be completely immersed in a bleach solution for decontamination. And features an Intel Core Duo 1.83Ghz CPU, ATI graphics card, up to 2GB DDR2 SDRAM and a 40GB or 80GB SATA hard drive! Woo, who needs a Dell?

Remember remember the 0-days of November

Remember, remember, the 0-days of November!

Or, um, instead of being like Guy Fawkes and trying to blow up Parliament, you can set the kill bit on the XMLHTTP CLSID:


This seems like a particularly nasty Internet Explorer bug, since it affects all versions of Windows except Windows Server 2003, and the workaround kills XMLHTTP functionality, which is one of the key features that attracted developers to write for MSIE in the first place.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Performance tweaks in Firefox 2.0

Since FasterFox doesn't work with Firefox 2.0, here's a brief recap of common performance tweaks to use on the latest greatest Firefox:
  • network.http.pipelining = true
optionally set network.http.proxy.pipelining = true, if you use a proxy and it supports HTTP/1.1 pipelining. More details are in the HTTP/1.1 Pipelining FAQ.
  • network.http.pipelining.maxrequests = 8
8 is a good start, bumping this higher may cause some webservers to throttle your connections down or deny access.

I'm still tracking down about:config options for 2.0, since a lot of the previous ones from 1.0 or 1.5 have gone away or have been replaced by better default values.

Also see the Lifehacker Top Firefox 2 config tweaks for more good stuff.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Working in Iraq

One of my friends from college just went back to Iraq. He had served one tour previously in the Army, was wounded after being attacked while on guard duty, came back to the States for a while, and now he's back in the Sunni Triangle, embedded with an Iraqi battalion, providing training.

The one thing he's asking for in care packages is Strawberry Pop Tarts (frosted or non-frosted).

Ubuntu DapperDrake -> EdgyEft Upgrade

So I upgraded from Ubuntu DapperDrake (6.06) to EdgyEft (6.10) on my Dell Latitude D810 yesterday.

It wasn't too bad - I followed the instructions on the release notes:

gksu "update-manager -c"

That failed after running into the immutable flags I had set on the /etc/rcS.d directory and the /etc/init.d/cryptdisks script (chattr +i /etc/rcS.d, chattr +i /etc/init.d/cryptdisks). Whoops. Turned those off (chattr -i /etc/rcS.d, chattr -i /etc/init.d/cryptdisks), then ran apt-get dist-upgrade a few times. I had to do a manual apt-get install of the remaining python packages that were left over.

Time to reboot.

Cryptdisks wouldn't accept input on console during boot and didn't mount my encrypted volumes. Hmmm.

So I googled and found Bug 62751, edited the /lib/cryptsetup/cryptdisks.functions script, commented out these lines:

#if [ "${stdin#/dev/null}" != "$stdin" ]; then
# exec /dev/console 2>&1

and pasted in these lines instead:

if [ "${stdin#/dev/null}" != "$stdin" ] && [ "$ON_VT" != "yes" ]; then
exec env ON_VT=yes /usr/bin/openvt -f -c `fgconsole` -w $0 "$@"

Rebooted, now can enter password, but it shows on the screen. Rrrrgh.

Edited /boot/grub/menu.lst to remove "splash" from # defoptions, ran update-grub, rebooted.

Now it works, and doesn't show the password entered on the screen.

Tried putting in a GRUB splash screen (following instructions from Unofficial Ubuntu 6.10 (Edgy Eft) Starter Guide), it comes up but for some reason the selection highlight in the GRUB menu disappears. Makes it kinda hard to figure out what to boot.

So I took that back out after booting into my Dell utility partition and into single-user mode on the -386 kernel.

Upstart runs really really really fast. Wow. I always spend some effort on any OS trying to reduce boot times (disabling unnecessary services, pulling out unneeded components, symlink /bin/sh to dash instead of bash, recompile the kernel and remove all the crap I never use, play with InitNG or runit) but this is impressive.

Oh wait, for some reason I'm getting this error: Xlib: extension "XFree86-DRI" missing on display ":0.0".

Turns out EdgyEft turns on the X Composite extension by default, and this horks up the ATI binary fglrx driver. fglrxinfo was showing the Mesa OpenGL implementation (software) instead of the ATI driver (hardware). Yuck.

Thanks to Felipe Alfaro Solana, I figured out that I needed to edit /etc/X11/xorg.conf and append:

Section "Extensions"
Option "Composite" "false"

Then log out, restart GDM (CTRL-ALT-BACKSPACE; or CTRL-ALT-F1 to switch to tty1, log in, run /etc/init.d/gdm restart), log back in, and run fglrxinfo:

display: :0.0  screen: 0
OpenGL vendor string: ATI Technologies Inc.
OpenGL renderer string: MOBILITY RADEON X600 Generic
OpenGL version string: 2.0.6011 (8.28.8)


I'm pretty happy with it. Looks nice, especially after grabbing some cool GDM themes and backgrounds from GNOME-Look.org. Had to poke around a bit to see where to twiggle off the mauve background that pops up when GDM starts (matches the Human theme, but not much else) - it's around lines 416-417 in /etc/gdm/gdm.conf, #dab082 by default, which I switched to #000000. Any color you want, so long as it's black.

So far I like Firefox 2.0 as well. It takes a little adjustment to have the close-this-tab [X] button on the right side of each tab, rather than on the far-right of the tab list, but hey, whatever. More like Konqueror I guess. And you can switch back to the old tab close buttons by setting `browser.tabs.closeButtons = 3` in about:config. The automatic session restoration is nice, especially if you're playing around with Xgl/Compiz and Beryl crashes on you unexpectedly.