Posts Tagged ‘Computers’

Dragon Age



Slaying a dragon atop a pedestal in Rothenburg.

I lost a lot of time this weekend to Dragon Age: Origin.

After a bit of play I can say that this game encapsulates the joys felt while playing Baldur’s Gate.

My favorite part of the game so far is the lack of clear good/bad decisions, oftentimes there is either no clear answer or seemingly good decisions having bad consequences.

The biggest issue I have with the game (aside from trouble installing DLC) is the camera. A wider range of movement in the top-down view such as being able to tilt the camera without entering over the shoulder view. I understand the limitations on panning as it would require a fog of war to be enforced which would not work seamlessly with the over the shoulder view. But the tactical (top down) view feels very limited in scope and cannot even look from directly above, which can prevent visibility in small rooms.

Unlike replaying favorite games like Baldur’s Gate or Planescape: Torment I do not know what is going to happen. And to fully embrace the unknown I am not reloading for a bad outcome, if that behavior starts it leads to trying to play for the most powerful character instead of a consistent one. I just wish the weekend had more time in it to play.


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The forecast for the next seven days: rain.

The forecast for the next seven days: rain.

Within the first week of release I have been running OS 10.6 on my MacBook Pro and all was well.

Recently I noticed that I have been running on the integrated graphics card since moving to Seattle, this explained why it felt as if the system was sluggish. Once I switched over to the dedicated graphics card (NVidia GeForce 9600M GT) everything started moving faster. Almost everything.

Once an hour, once every twenty minutes or once every day the system would hang. For twenty seconds the system was not responsive, I could get in maybe two clicks before everything stopped. It was not lag as keystroked and mouseclicks made during this hang time were not registered in any way. The system just stopped. I have read about this on forums with one solution being to downgrade the EFI firmware from 1.7 to 1.6. This sounds risky since my computer shipped with 1.7 so 1.6 might just fail completely.

Sunday I decided to try to fix it on my own. First thing I did was verify the main hard drive and repair permissions. No major problems with either of these. Next was a hardware test off the original install discs, passed with no issues. The last hardware maneuver was to rest the PRAM. Back into running the OS I checked all the third party programs that run in the background. I found out that the major three that I use were out of date and lacking 10.6 support (Caffeine, Quicksilver and Keyremap4Macbook).

After these steps I have not had a hang in over a day. Usually I get a couple with Matlab running and I had it open most of the day. Hopefully this is a working solution else I will need to wait until 10.6.2 is released in the next month or so.

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This is the best uptime I have seen of any computer I have accessed.

This is the best uptime I have seen of any computer I have accessed.

The best uptime I have personal achieved was on my old Powerbook G4 with an uptime of 100 days when running 10.4. I have yet to be able to come anywhere near matching that uptime with either 10.5 or 10.6 (which has not broken ten days). Since I can now dual boot into Windows I will probably not be able to achieve a high uptime on my laptop. Even without the Windows partition I still have some issues to work out before I get it to be super stable.

The pictured uptime is from a computer in my lab, I just happened to check out uptime yesterday when it hit 500 days up. This particular one has a UPS and its own generator, it’s internet connection is also on a generator and UPS, so long as Seattle as a whole does not go on it will keep on going.

As for my laptop a few issues persist through 10.6. When I am running on my dedicated graphics card (instead of the integrated one) the system hangs for around twenty seconds every hour or so (so being ± 40 minutes). I think this is related to the 1.7 firmware update but I don’t know how comfortable I would be in downgrading the firmware. Especially since I think this computer shipped with 1.7 on it. The system also occasionally starts acting really weird requiring a logout. The last issue is that when I wake it from sleep some windows are blacked out for up to ten seconds before refreshing back to normal.

I might just need to do an erase and install with 10.6 instead of my current upgraded install. I don’t because my Microsoft Office and CS4 disks are in California while I am not. Add to those reinstalling Matlab (and Mathematica) and it is enough of a deterrent to reinstalling the OS, though I really should.

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A good script.

A good script.

I just finished setting up something neat for my MacBook Pro: a script that takes the IP address of the laptop on wake and writes it to a file that is then synced online via Dropbox.

It starts with the set of terminal commands on scripts called SleepWatcher. This program looks for a file called .sleep and .wakeup int he users home directory and executes them upon sleep and wake respectively. They can contain any UNIX script from say “Goodnight Michael” to, well, grabbing the current IP.

The command used to get the current IP and write it to a file is:

curl http://myip.ozymo.com -o /Users/michaelhutchins/Documents/Dropbox/wan_ip_mac.txt

With the /michaelhutchins… part replaced with your username and where you want the file to go (and be called). To make the use TextEdit or anything to make a file called sleep.txt. Then rename this to .sleep saying yes to all the warning of hidden files and removing the .txt extension. My full script is the above with one added line:

sleep 5;

curl http://myip.ozymo.com -o /Users/michaelhutchins/Documents/Dropbox/wan_ip_mac.txt;

The sleep 5 just waits five seconds so the computer can make the connection to the internet. Once it was done in Terminal I typed chmod +x .wakeup to make it executable. With this and sleepwatcher installed it now updated the IP address whenever it wakes up.

Why is this useful? I see it as a security measure. If my laptop is ever lost or stolen I can use the IP to SSH in to maybe find out where it went or at least narrow down the options. I can also use Screen Sharing through OS X to see what is on the screen by connecting with the IP address. Or if the IP is for a coffee house or public place a well placed “say “I am stolen!” on repeat may help.

Also in the future I may see about setting my computer up as a file server I can wake remotely in case I need to get a file. Though I have yet to experiment with that.

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Tech Support

They tend towards overripe, under ripe or already eaten by hikers.

They tend towards overripe, under ripe or already eaten by hikers.

XKCD is a great webcomic, I would say one of the best.

And this one in particular should be spread around as much as possible. Every parent, relative and computer user out there needs to see it.

Just so we can increase computer literacy.

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If I every have security or body guards, I know what they will be wearing.

If I every have security or body guards, I know what they will be wearing.

Passwords are tricky things.

On one hand it is often said to have unique, complex passwords for each website and every computer. On the other hand we can only remember so much before resorting to password books, spreadsheets of logins and sticky notes on monitors.

In years of part time computer consulting I have seen a bunch of different ways of approaching the password problem. Some have used the same four letter password for everything, occasionally appending a set of numbers if the site requires 6+ characters and numbers to be involved. Others have small address books with websites listed alphabetically with their logins and unique passwords. And recently I have seen an excel spreadsheet with websites, logins and passwords all neatly typed up with notes.

I have done my best to help secure everyone with decent password practices, or at least those best suited to the individual. For those with short and frequently used passwords I had them create a complex password for critical logins like e-mail and computer accounts. Those with small books are actually doing alright, even if their unique passwords are all one word with a number appended or pre-fixed every now and then. And for the individual with a spreadsheet, I could not stop the practice so I made them used an encrypted disk image to hold the password, encouraging them to store it on a flash drive, along with a printed copy as backup.

The challenge for most people in passwords is creating those that are complex enough yet memorable. I found the best method for people is in taking a phrase they know or like and altering it into something unrecognizable. For example a famous quote:

One day, Sir, you may tax it.

– Michael Farady in response to British Prime Ministers Gladstone’s question, “What good is electricity?”.

Then take a short segment of it, “you may tax it”, which is eleven characters and use that as a basis. Add in capitalization of each word, replace characters with numbers and maybe add a few extra on the end. For bonus points add in non-alphanumeric characters. To show how it looks:

  • youmaytaxit – remove the spaces
  • YouMayTaxIt – capitalize
  • Y0uM4y74xIt – replace letters with numbers
  • Y0uM4y&4x!7 – use the shift key
  • Y0uM4y&4k!7 – replace letters with their phonetic counterpart, or similar looking characters
  • Y0uM4y&4k!767 – add some number (the year Faraday died)

The beginning may still look recognizable but the end looks like random characters. A trick to use is just hold down shift for a particular segment, I find that most passwords become muscle memory so after adding in numbers throw in a shift key to get those odd characters.

Of course some websites don’t like this very much. I recently tried to update all of my credit card passwords only to find my sweet new passwords was not accepted due to some unacceptable characters.

Finally I don’t use the unique password for every site technique. Instead I have a half dozen or so passwords that are used depending on how secure that login needs to be. Internet forums have a simple six character password while banks and sites that store credit card information have longer, more complex passwords. Every now and then I introduce a new password and sort of shift everything down a level.

The best thing to do is practice so that password becomes set in muscle memory. Of course if you have ever have to login used an iPhone then all bets are off.

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Typewriters are fun for short periods of time.

Typewriters are fun for short periods of time.

I have been helping a writing coach develop her website: Your Book Starts Here.

Mostly I have been giving advice on layout and design, creating graphics (like the above) and helping finagle register.com‘s webpage creating tool.

Webpage creation tools can be a blessing and a curse, the one for Register.com has some issues with custom header graphics, notably they forget to tell you what size it should be to fit the webpage. That and their tile/no-tile options is always set to tile. The basic templates are decent enough with an odd amount of customization, there is just enough to be not useful.

For example: you can change the colors of links/used links on the webpage but cannot change the background color.

Unfortunately I know enough about graphic design to do well at improving and critiquing websites but I lack the background to build a new one from the ground up.

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It is easier to transfer files over for a new typewriter.

It is easier to transfer files over for a new typewriter.

Before I received my new laptop I had to make a decision: rely on Migration Assistant to move everything over or do it myself. I had a large library of photos so I decided to do it by hand.

With a large hard drive at hand I had to decide what to move over. Aside from the obvious such as documents, music and such I went through the Libraries (User and System) along with applications to see what I could move over. As well as what would actually help.

I grabbed what preferences seemed important and some application support files (Doom 3 keeps the save games in the User/Library/Application Support) and a handful of other I thought to be useful (RSS reader, Safari folder). What I forget to grab that turned out to be important: Keychain. I have a lot of useless websites with passwords saved and it is just easier for the computer to remember these.

Mail did not like being transfered over through a direct copy. In the end I just re-setup three of my e-mail accounts on the new laptop and archived the older folder. Luckily all of my accounts are IMAP so it just required a massive download (I don’t really clean or organize my e-mails).

The other tricky bit was Time Machine. I wanted to just plug it in to the new laptop and have it resume where it left off. No dice. I even tried to change the MAC address based on this Mac OS X Hints article and that did nothing.

I did find out that option-clicking on the Time Machine icon allows one to access other Time Machine’s on the give disk. This let me go into my Powerbook’s TIme Machine, delete some things taking up space and start a whole new Time Machine for my MacBook Pro. The only disadvantage of this system is that the Powerbook backups will not be deleted to make room so I need to keep an eye on it myself.

So far nothing was missed, then again I tended to keep an organized system to begin with, no personal documents outside the User file except for some save games in the applications folder.

We will see in a week or so if anything critical was left behind.

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Bill's Bus taking friendly Isla Vistans to downtown Santa Barbara.

Bill's Bus taking friendly Isla Vistans to downtown Santa Barbara.

The new MacBook Pro’s (and mine) have Mini DisplayPort outputs instead of a standard such as DVI or VGA. My Powerbook had DVI so I was hoping that the Mini DisplayPort to DVI connector would allow me to use my current DVI to VGA connector.

No such luck, one has a – surrounded by four short pins while the other has just the -. I thought about simply removing those pins, except that three of those are the R, G and B channels of the VGA display. Namely three of the five important pins in a VGA display (the others being VSYNC and HSYNC).

After looking into it there are three DVI types, A, D and I. So much for simplicity, looks like I am getting another adapter.

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I love night photography.

I love night photography.

Slowly over the course of the last few years I have found my approach to video games change. I started as a player, always jumping at the opportunity to play the next new game, the next round in multiplier or the next console.

Now I rarely play a video game on my own and only play a handful of games with my flat mates. Mostly I watch other play; I have become a spectator.

Initially I always wondered how watching others play could be any fun or why they just don’t play instead. Recently I have watched suite mates suffer horrific defeats or miraculous victories in Street Fighter IV, I see my neighbor go through end game content in World of Warcraft or shake my head as my roommate gets swarmed by zombies in Resident Evil V.

But I don’t find joy in actually playing Street Fighter, I stopped playing World of Warcraft years ago and I only played one run through of Resident Evil V co-op.

A few games have gotten me interested in playing again, but when I start playing I cannot become absorbed as I used too. The only game I enjoy playing in my spare time in Nethack and the game I want to play (but can’t at the moment) is Placescape: Torment. But even here I only play an hour, maybe two, of video game each week. More then ten times less then I used to normally play.

I am still hoping that I can regain the enjoyment when Starcraft 2 and Diablo III come out.

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