Archive for the Tech Category

That Browser War

When I got my new laptop with Windows Vista, I decided I was going to try out as much of the built in software as made sense to me. In particular, I thought I’d try Internet Explorer 7 and see if it really was a decent competitor to Firefox. My initial impressions were good:

  • It had tabs just like Firefox.
  • It seemed nice and fast.
  • I liked the look and feel, and how they had minimised the space used by the user interface in order to maximise the space used to display the website.
  • The search bar worked well and was easy to configure.
  • It seemed stable, and the times that a website did get bound up I could kill just that window without losing all of the others.
  • It didn’t do that incredibly annoying thing that Firefox does when it steals the cursor focus on a screen where you’ve already started typing stuff into the form fields.

However, while the IE7 core browser was better than Firefox there were some features that I missed:

  • Web Developer – an amazingly useful extension if you’re ever doing any web development work. The in-place CSS editor has saved me countless hours tweaking and reloading style sheets, and that’s only one of the features.
  • AdBlock – Web based ads never used to worry me too much. I’d ignore them most of the time (often without even noticing that they even existed) and very occasionally I’d even click on one if it looked interesting. Then came the ads that covered the webpage or had audio/video of music or people talking. Something had to be done and AdBlock just cleaned all that crap out.

I used IE7 for a while but then I had a development project – and suddenly I had to install Firefox so I could use the Web Developer extension. And day by day those damn ads were annoying me more and more and finally I installed AdBlock in to Firefox and switched to using it as my default browser.

That was about a month ago and so far it’s been going well. They seem to have got the instability and memory leak issues under control in the latest version, and using AdBlock has made reading material online much more enjoyable. Firefox is still the best option as far as I know.

I find it interesting that the Firefox browser wasn’t as good as that in Internet Explorer, but that the quality of the add-ons more than makes up the difference.

The Compleat Home Entertainment Network

Fifteen years ago I had a good home entertainment system. I was pretty cool with my biggish-screen TV, four-head hifi stereo video recorder, five disc CD player and Dolby Prologic Surround amplifier and speakers. Sure, you could get bigger TVs and louder stereos but this was as good as it got (ignoring such fringe technologies like laser disc).

But the world has moved on – DVDs replaced VHS tapes, MP3s are replacing audio CDs, TV’s have got wider and shallower, we’re downloading TV programmes from the internet, and the analogue Dolby Prologic audio has been replaced by digital five channel plus a subwoofer systems. Then there’s the really big change – the integration of our computers into everything else to give us new ways to create, store and enjoy media of all forms.

I’ve been through a few system generations over the last 15 years but I got rid of it all when I went overseas last year, so now is a great chance to set up a new system from scratch. This article describes what I’m doing and why I’m doing it that way. It’s aimed at a general audience but you’ll need at least some IT skills or the help of a geeky friend for a few bits.

This is the second article in my “How I’m Doing It” series. The first one was Geek Backpacking in Central America.
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Backpacking Geeks in Central America

I’ve seen a lot of articles telling you what to do and take when travelling, but I thought it might be worthwhile writing one about our experiences with what we did take and how well it worked out for us.

Kim and I recently did our big trip around Central America (Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama) and southern Mexico (Yucatan Peninsula, Oaxaca, Mexico City). Most of the time we were backpacking so were deliberately travelling quite light – I allowed myself one medium size backpack and one shoulder satchel.
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Personal Video Game History

I just read an article asking “What game turned you into a gamer?” and I realised that I have been one as long as I can remember.

When I was a very young child in the 70s I used to be terribly excited to go to the airport. While I liked aeroplanes as much as the next boy the real attraction was the that they had a game arcade. I always made a bee-line for it (I can still rememeber exactly where it was!) – but only after begging for money from my parents.

This was pretty early on in gaming history and most of the games they had there weren’t actually video games. Instead they were electro-mechanical devices with gears and pulleys and little models on rails. One of my favourites was where you used a gun to shoot tanks and it used a red bulb to light up an explosion graphic whenever you got a hit. They did have some early video games too, such as Sea Wolf and Pong.

Then my local dairy (corner store for you damn foreigners) got Space Invaders and that was the end of any plans for saving my pocket money. If we didn’t have any 20c pieces we’d just stand around and watch others play, trying to learn the firing patterns to get 300 points when you shot the UFO.

Next up was Thru-the-Wall (aka Breakout) followed by Galaxian, Pleiades, Galaga and others. Sadly I never got the hang of the controls in Defender and I still struggle with games with too many buttons to press (yes GTA, I’m looking at you).

One of my favourites was Time Pilot and I must admit that this was partly because it was one of the few games I was actually good at. I also liked Phoenix and would play it with a friend hovering their finger over the shield button for last minute saves – and the inevitable arguments when they pressed it too late.

I wouldn’t really call myself a gamer these days. To me the term now implies that you’re part of the online role playing movement or heavily into killing your friends with first person shooters. I still play the occasional video game, mainly concentrating on the best car driving simulation I can afford which is currently Forza on the Xbox. Thanks to the generosity of Homagenz I’m also going to give Morrowind a try too.