tiistai 28. joulukuuta 2010

Trying out some Steam games on the netbook

I have recently tried out a few games on my Asus EeePC 1101HA netbook and will now briefly report the results:

You'd think that Flight Control, which also exists for mobile phones, would run on a netbook, but no. Sure, it's HD, but still. The same actually goes for Worms Reloaded: Worms 2 was released in 1998 and the graphics seem to be essentially the same as back then, but now I couldn't even get past the initial "This is your first time playing the game! Would you like to create a player profile?" screen of the newest incarnation! World of Goo is a happy surprise and runs almost smoothly, even though I'm willing to bet it does more complex calculations all the time than either of the two other games. Goes again to show you that the weak spot of this netbook is its Intel GMA500 graphics chip. Oh well, at least I've got my still brand new'ish desktop computer.

lauantai 25. joulukuuta 2010

The Humble Indie Bundle #2

There's only 13 hours left of this offer so act quickly: The Humble Indie Bundle #2 offers five indie games for whatever price you choose to pay! The games are Braid, Cortex Command, Machinarium, Osmos and Revenge of the Titans and most of them are redeemable on Steam as well. If you pay above what the average user pays (currently 7.80 USD) you'll also get the first Humble Indie Bundle which contains six games, including the hits World of Goo and Gish. World of Goo alone is well worth the 7.80 USD and I have heard good things about Braid, Machinarium and Gish as well. This is the first time I hear about Osmos but it looks interesting too. I already bought the games and might have done that even if I already had all the games as I find the Humble Bundle concept very supportable.

maanantai 8. marraskuuta 2010

New computer for playing Civ5

So, a month went without any updates, sorry about that to both of my readers. What have I been up to? Well, I bought Civilization V but found out that my computers wouldn't run it. The game wouldn't even start on my 9-year-old desktop computer. It did start on my Asus EeePC 1101HA netbook, but it took no less than 15 minutes to get into the game with all the loading, and even then the game responded to mouse clicks with a one second lag. So, I was forced to buy a new desktop computer.

My new desktop computer is built on an Asus P7P55D-E LX motherboard into a Nexus Version 1 case. It has got 4 GB of DDR3 RAM, an Intel Core I7-870 processor and a silent Gigabyte R575SL-1GI Radeon HD 5750 graphics card. There's also an OCZ Agility 2 90 GB SSD data storage device. The computer is fast and rather quiet. :) A small mistake was that I bought the processor as the boxed version, i.e. with a heatsink and a fan. A separate, larger heatsink would've been in order as under full stress the CPU core temperature rises above 90 °C, when the idle temperature is around 40 °C! :O Intel customer service did assure me that modern processors can take high temperatures and that the CPU will shutdown itself to protect itself before any damage occurs, but I'm still a bit skeptical... Maybe I'll buy a better heatsink (something like this) later.

So anyway, the new machine runs Civilization V (and other games) very smoothly. :) In case you are interested in my experiences with the game, see my blog post at the Civilization wiki. There's also another game log I posted.

sunnuntai 12. syyskuuta 2010

Free arrow icons

Some time ago I was looking for some arrow graphics to be used at work. The criteria I had for the arrows were:
  • pointing to all eight directions
  • round background
  • in multiple colors
  • nice looking (think "Web 2.0")
  • permissive license

I searched Wikimedia Commons and a few other resources but didn't manage to find a good icon set matching all these criteria. Luckily these were more of a nice-to-have feature than an absolute requirement so I just went without the arrows then.

Later on at home I began to think it shouldn't be too difficult to create the arrows by myself. So, I surfed to Six Revisions, which is an excellent blog for web developers and designers, and did a few searches to their archives. Surely enough, I found a great tutorial for creating Web 2.0 -like icons.

The result you can see in sample image attached to this post. Download the icons (.zip file, 1.5 MB) and see them all. The images are saved as 256x256 pixel PNGs with transparent backgrounds. There are 48 different images: all eight directions in white on green, white on yellow, white on red and inversed colors. I have licensed them with the CC0 1.0 Universal license which is effectively the same as giving them into public domain. In other words you are free to do whatever you want with these images, no restrictions. I would appreciate a note if you use them somewhere but that's not required either. Enjoy!

sunnuntai 22. elokuuta 2010

Dropbox

Dropbox is a neat online service for saving your files. It is basically an online hard drive where you can store any kind of files to be accessed from anywhere. Using Dropbox has been made very easy: you register to the site and download and install a client application, which then displays as a regular folder in your file system. The magic happens when you move or copy files into that folder: they are automatically copied into the Dropbox servers and you can access them from any other computer, either by using the online user interface or by the dedicated client! 

The client is available for Windows, Linux, Mac and even some mobile platforms, so there's really no reason not to use Dropbox even if you use multiple computers with different operating systems. I figure Dropbox is a great way of storing data when using a netbook: even if the system breaks, your data will be safe, plus it will be available for your desktop computer as well. It is also unlikely that you will be handling very large files with a netbook that doesn't have too much power so the default amount of 2 GB that you get should be plenty. Register using this link and you'll even get an extra 250 MB of storage space. :)

I registered to Dropbox in the spring when someone wanted to share some photos with me (yes, Dropbox can easily be used for sharing files too, and no, those who then just want to view your files don't need to register). After that I forgot about it until I tried the Jolicloud Linux distribution which has got some sort of a Dropbox integration. I figured Dropbox would be an excellent place to store, for example, my KeePassX password database file so I could access it from both Windows and Linux, and from both my desktop computer and my netbook. I have now also saved the installation packages of some key software to Dropbox so that the next time I'm installing a fresh system I won't have to browse through a dozen web sites to get all the programs I need.

torstai 19. elokuuta 2010

Steam's pricing policy

Steam is an online content delivery system where you can purchase and download games. It also involves some social networking features. Steam offers some indie games that cannot be bought elsewhere, but it also distributes some big titles. In the past I have written about a few games I've downloaded from Steam. 

Lately I have been contemplating pre-purchasing Civilization V which will be out in about five weeks. I might have purchased it already if it wasn't for Steam's ridiculous pricing policy: the exchange rate of 1 USD = 1 Euro! The basic version of Civ 5 costs $49.99 for US-based customers but 49.99 € for EU-based customers! The current real exchange rate is something completely different and the correct price in Euro would be 38.98 €. With the Civilization V Deluxe Edition the situation is slightly fairer: shopping from the US the price is $59.99 (46.77 €) but for European customers it's not 59.99 € but 54.99 €, which of course still leaves a difference of 8.22 € ($10.54)...

I was able to check the US prices using some proxy servers located in US. Basically my browser connects to a proxy server and asks for a web page, after which the proxy fetches the page and returns it to my browser. The target site (Steam) deduces the country of origin for each request and chooses the prices accordingly. When the proxy server is located in the US it looks like the requests are coming from US and Steam shows the prices in dollars even though it's me requesting the sites from Europe.

Anyway, while I was at it I decided to check the prices for the United Kingdom as well. Turns out Civ 5 is in discount at the moment: the regular version costs £29.99 ($46.78 or 36.49 €) and the Deluxe Edition £39.99 ($62.36 or 48.68 €). Still slightly more expensive than the prices in US. However, these were just the discount prices -- the normal prices are £39.99 and a whopping £49.99 ($77.97 or 60.82 €) respectively!

Alas, while writing this post I just found out I've been doing it all the hard way: you don't need to use a proxy to get the prices from different regions, just install this script to your browser! At least the US prices seem to be displayed correctly. However, for UK it only displays "N/A". For Australia it displays the prices 79.99 USD and 89.95 USD but I wasn't able to confirm those using a proxy. If the prices are correct, however, it's an enormous difference from the US price! I wonder how Steam can just keep doing this? There's even a Steam Community group called 1€ ≠ 1$ with more than twenty thousand members.

tiistai 17. elokuuta 2010

Best mobile games

I'm a Nokia user and every now and then I feel like playing something with my phone. Here's a little list of games of enjoyable games, in no particular order. They should work with other models than Nokia as well as they are made with Java.

Ukko's Escape. A free and addictive one thumb game where your mission is to keep jumping upwards to make Ukko happy. Ukko's happiness decreases if he falls or does not jump and when he's out of happiness the game ends -- unless you managed to actually jump all the way up, in which case you win. The levels get increasingly harder and you can feel how you are making progress when you get further and further with each try. Ukko's Escape has even got a global highscore list at RumbleX and it seems that my record for the Hard difficulty level is still unbeaten. :)

Yet Another Tetris. Just what the title says, but this is the best free mobile implementation that I have come across. The arcade mode keeps the games short and hectic when extra rows are regularly added to the bottom of the screen. :)

Rollercoaster Revolution 99 Tracks. This is a commercial game but I once came across an offer and got it for free. In the game you control the speed of rollercoaster cars and try to collect smileys while avoiding crashing. As the game progresses you unlock new tracks, a couple of new car types and so-called awards, which are just cosmetic but nice anyway. 99 tracks do sometimes make it feel like the game was repeating itself, but if you like perfecting your accomplishments then this game might just be for you. There's also a free online version of the game available.

Tower Wars. I had actually forgotten about this free game, found it again when writing this post and ended up playing it for quite a while. Tower Wars is a tower defense game. In the game you place various kinds of gun turrets in front of forces of Chaos and either try to create a maze for them or to fill the edges of existing mazes with as effective cannon setups as possible. The graphics are good and there's a nice twist in that the game progresses through decades and millenniums: you start with rock-slinging huts and progress all the way to laser turrets and such. My online favorite of the genre is Desktop Tower Defense. :)

Samsung Facebook app

In June I wrote about the Samsung BD-C6500 blu-ray player and its applications, noting that the Facebook app still only said it would be ready "in April". Later on, in July I think, they updated it to say it would be ready "soon". Yesterday I was going to watch a 119 minutes long 'making of Iron Man' document (got the 2-disk blu-ray edition of Iron Man from the library) and figured I'd check the Internet@TV feature first. Much to my surprise, it informed me that it needs to update itself and removed and reinstalled the Facebook app. Probably just to update the message to "Will be ready in December 2012", I thought, but no; lo and behold:

It's actually a working Facebook client in my blu-ray player! (The texts are in Finnish, just get over it.) Sure, typing a status update with just ten or so buttons while having to precisely point the remote at the player eats some of the usability, but at least it's got pretty much all the basic features Facebook has. The most natural use case for this app would be to watch photos, I think. Sure, they look a little small on a 37" full-HD screen but they aren't that big on an 11" laptop screen either, and cannot really be watched by more than two people at the same time. Nonetheless, having the client scale the photos up would be a nice feature.

As a final note, in July I wrote about Samsung support and how it was rather un-supportive. They reasoned that the apps are made by third parties and that they don't know anything about them, but looking at the App Store menu I can clearly see that it says that the Facebook app is made by Samsung. So, the Samsung support team still does not convince me. :P

lauantai 14. elokuuta 2010

Jolicloud

After trying Ubuntu Netbook Edition (UNE from now on) and failing I decided to try something else. At the comments of the post someone suggested Jolicloud (JC) so I chose that. Jolicloud is yet another Linux distribution, the current version being based on a not-so-current Ubuntu 9.4. Jolicloud is based on the idea of utilizing the services on the web – the cloud. This should mean it is pretty tightly tied with Facebook, Twitter, Google Docs, Dropbox and such services.

So, I downloaded the Jolicloud Windows installer, followed the instructions from the site and got the system up and running really easily. The installer even created a nice boot menu so I can choose between Windows 7 and Jolicloud when the computer starts. (And I did even validate that I can still boot to Windows, unlike with UNE!) Here's a screenshot of the Windows installer:
Jolicloud installing
The installer forced me to either create a Jolicloud account or to link one with my Facebook account. Well, if the idea of the OS is to utilize the possibilities of social networking, then I suppose I must choose the Facebook option. Turns out none of my FB friends are using Jolicloud... So much for that synergy.

When Jolicloud booted up the first time its relationship with Ubuntu became very clear to me. The top-bar and the mouse cursors were practically indistinguishable from UNE. Like UNE, Jolicloud also likes to maximize new windows automatically (which sometimes results in sad views when the new window is just a small prompt with few words and just one or two buttons). The launcher, which is apparently a popular concept with Linux distributions customized for netbooks and contains the most popular programs, does look different though:
Exciting, huh? Sure, at first, once you realize that those icons to Facebook, Flickr, etc. are actually nothing but glorified shortcuts to your browser (Chromium by default). The shortcuts present the web sites without any of the browser UI such as back/forward/reload buttons or the address bar. Click on a link that would take you to an external site and a new, "real" browser window opens. Also, notice those white dots at the bottom of the launcher? They change the page. Not that intuitive.

At this point I should probably mention that the Jolicloud launcher is made using HTML5 and apparently loads from the net. Thus, if you were using a few different computers and had Jolicloud installed on each of them, JC would keep your launchers synchronized. However, the launcher can only contain programs installed from the dedicated Jolicloud App Center, so programs installed with apt-get (known as "legacy apps" in JC) can never show up in it, which I find distracting. You can't even add a shortcut to the terminal into the launcher! Luckily I found a way to install the shortcut into the top bar. The terminal (and other programs) can also be launcher from the menu which can be brought up using the, well, menu-key of your keyboard (the one that's likely to be located between your AltGr and right Ctrl. Not the one with the Windows-flag, that shows the launcher.) So the profit from having your launcher synchronized (and probably some other settings too) is not too obvious. Sure, JC is a nice, new toy OS but who'd want to immediately install it into every computer they use?

Anyway, let's continue the tour. Above the shortcuts of the launcher there are a few icons: "Add", a satellite dish, a folder and a gear. The folder and gear are pretty obvious, they bring up the folders and some settings (namely your Jolicloud account information). The "Add" button brings up the App Center I already mentioned:
It's pretty much what you'd expect: a selection of apps someone else has picked as being representative. The Communication category, for example, contains about 20 instant messaging and email client applications, etc. I guess someone might have fun trying out all the different apps. However, I still don't approve of the concept of calling simple web links "applications". As noted before, installing the "YouTube application" only creates a shortcut to the site, etc. There are, of course, "real" applications to be installed too, such as the VLC media player, but if the application refers to a web site then it's certainly just a shortcut to that website.

VLC reminds me of another problem with Jolicloud: the audio won't work! I can (most of the time) hear the "jungle sound" that is played at start up but after that the netbook goes mute, sooner or later. You might just hear a faint "plop" from the speaker when trying to play an audio file.

Onwards. The next icon at the top row is the satellite dish, the "Stream". Great! This must be the heart of the system! I bet this is where all my social networking feeds and emails are joined together and displayed to me with little icons! Not quite. Not like that at all, in fact. Turns out the stream, despite having such a great showcase place in the user interface, only displays messages from your Jolicloud account. Remind you, none of my Facebook friends are using JC. My stream is not very flowy:

Thanks for nothing. Even if all my friends were using Jolicloud, what would I see here? "Mr. X likes the VLC media player application" or "Ms. Y installed the Spotify application". Wow, how interesting. And once everyone got ready with installing everything they needed, the stream would just dry out. Seriously, the Jolicloud team needs to thoroughly rethink this stream thing.

The rest of the two buttons I already explained but I'll still comment on the folder button. The launcher works with a one-click principle: hoover your cursor over an icon to highlight it, click on it to open it. The folder view displays your personal Documents, Pictures, Music, Videos and Windows folders with the same style as everything so far. Opening a folder, however, launches the Nautilus file browser which just doesn't match the visual style of the rest of the system. It also works so that you need to double click an item to open it, which is a slightly irritating inconsistency.

So, let's recap. JC is a rather new and young OS. The basic idea behind it is good but seriously lacks in execution. Jolicloud also does not contain a hibernate mode at all, which is a bad disadvantage for an OS designed for netbooks. It also does not support the Fn key combinations of the keyboard so you cannot, for example, adjust the brightness of the screen. Thus you are pretty much stuck with the retina-burning level that also draws the battery quickly. However, Jolicloud is a Linux distribution anyway and for me has it some definitive advantages over the Ubuntu Netbook Edition:
  1. It installed easily on the side of Windows 7 and did not wreck my Windows installation
  2. You can access your Windows file structure from Jolicloud just like that, with no extra tricks whatsoever
  3. The native resolution of the screen, 1366x768, works out of the box
  4. Jolicloud feels faster than Ubuntu Netbook Edition

tiistai 10. elokuuta 2010

Back on tracks

About a month ago I managed to completely destroy my Windows 7 installation. Since then I have been using my desktop computer or the memory stick installation of Ubuntu Netbook Edition on this Asus EeePC 1101HA netbook of mine. Until now, when I finally managed to borrow an external DVD drive. See, the netbook actually shipped with a bootable recovery DVD which happily erased the hard drive and reinstalled Windows. That was rather surprising as I didn't see any obvious hints on the DVD that it would contain a feature like this -- I actually found out by accident that it was bootable at all. Anyway, my Windows 7 is now back up and running again. Let's see if I can find another way to wreck it later. :P

maanantai 19. heinäkuuta 2010

Samsung Support

I'm going to have to vent off a bit, but I'll start from the beginning. In my blog entry about the Samsung BD-C6500 blu-ray player and its apps I wrote:

"The total number of games and applications combined is 17. You should be able to download more but I cannot see any applications in the store that haven't been installed already. Could be a regional issue, maybe there are more applications available in the US than here in Finland -- I don't know."

At that point you probably thougth to yourself: "Oh, that Internet@TV thingie seems rather lame." I cannot blame you, and I actually also started wondering what is the matter here exactly? So, I sent a polite rant to the Finnish Samsung support. I'll translate and shorten it:

I bought a blu-ray player about a month ago. It has since turned out that the Internet@TV feature doesn't quite live up to the marketing hype. There are 17 apps and cell-phone level toy games. The Facebook app still in late June says it will be ready "in August" and the YouTube application is somewhat dysfunctional. The App Store does not have a single application that has not been installed already.

The Samsung web page is vaguely misleading. "The unique Internet@TV technique opens more possibilities than you can imagine. It is better, better equipped and easier to use than before. You can sort, add and remove content using the Samsung Apps application library." The English version of the page, however, lists a few apps. I'd love to use the Flickr application but even that one cannot be found.

The Finnish Internet@TV help page contains a broken link to Yahoo Help.

I also just found an article that says that Samsung has entirely moved away from using Yahoo Widgets which, to my understanding, are used to create the applications in my blu-ray player as well. It cannot be possible that a product this new is sold using a feature that works this badly, while the marketing paints a completely different picture.

So, not too bad? Well, here's their response:

Thank you for contacting the Samsung customer support. All internet@tv apps are made by third party manufacturers so Samsung has no support or "control" over the application finishing dates or their count. In the C-series allprograms are published in the Samsung Apps service, so as you mentioned, Yahoo does not have anything to do with the Widgets anymore. The widgetsofthe B-series come through yahoo but no new applications are developed that way.

What? I have tried my best to preserve the brokenness of their language. Well, naturally I then tried using the "If you are not satisfied with the answer we provided, please click here" link at the bottom of their message. I typed my message and hit "send" at which point I was greeted with a happy error message that sent my message into the heaven of dead interweb things. Crap. But I had to get a better answer, so I loaded the online feedback form again (as a completely new issue, without the "reply" feature) and sent another, shorter message:

I have understood that the Internet@TV applications are not controlled by Samsung. Where could I ask the schedule for the Facebook application, improvements for the YouTube application and availability of the Flickr application? Are the manufacturers of the applications listed out somewhere?

Now, with the first sentence I show that I have read their message. However, I feel they could've done more for me in the first place, so the rest is actually just for that. The message is very simple, you shouldn't have a problem understanding what I want. Their response:

Thank you for contacting the Samsung customer support. Unfortunately we do not have a list of contact information. One way is to try in the TV, at the applications in question, pressing the red key of the remote, to see if the information comes up. Finding information from the internet is a little difficult for us as the sites in question have been blocked from us at work so we cannot reach them for getting any information. 

Whaa-aaa-aat?! Samsung has installed some fancy firewalls into the desktops of their customer support people to prevent them from doing their work?! I cannot believe this, these guys are totally useless!

But as Samsung does not have any information on their own services, I figured I'd ask Flickr if they knew anything about the Flickr application I was missing. At least I could tell Samsung later I had tried. So I sent them a polite message with the disclaimer that I think this is Samsung's problem and I'm only asking them because Samsung is being most unhelpful. After exchanging a couple of messages to really make sure what I want they escalated my case over to a "senior representative in an effort to obtain the best answer". Cool, now I was being treated like a human being! However, Flickr's answer was expected:

I am very sorry for the trouble. We have no direct information on Samsung's system or interface, if you are still having trouble with their App list, please contact Samsung directly.

Cannot blame them... I'm still a happy Flickr user, however unhappy Samsung user I'm turning.

So... If the Finnish Samsung staff cannot help me, surely their US counterparts would have much better resources at their disposal? I figured I'd try the 24/7 Live Support Chat they've got. Here's a screenshot of the discussion that followed -- please click to enlarge:

In case you did not just click to enlarge the chat I'll recap it. Almost before I can start explaining my problem, they ask whether I bought the device from the US at all and explain that they do not have the training for non-US models. I tried asking if my player is not sold in US but never got a straight answer. I was only told that the range of applications available "depends upon the Internet Service and also the local Samsung providers". Providers? What providers? Providers of catering services, dental services or escort services? I'm pretty sure the people at my internet service provider support will just politely laugh at me if I go to them complaining that my blu-ray player has lousy applications. The support person also pasted me the http://samsung.com/finland link a couple of times and then actually gave me a new phone number, one that cannot be found from Samsung Finland web site, also. I quit the conversation as I realized that it wouldn't take me anywhere if I just read some rather generic template answers.

So... At this point it had been more than a couple of weeks since I contacted the Samsung support for the first time. I decided to send them yet another, well defined, simple question:

Which party decides what applications are accepted into the Samsung App Store? Could I please have the contact information for this party?

Their response:

Thank you for contacting the Samsung customer support. Differentprogram manufacturers make individually deals with Samsung Electronics. We at the support do not have the contact information for that party.

Now, WHAT THE F***? Translate the above and you get: "WE DO NOT HAVE OUR OWN INTERNAL CORPORATE NUMBERS AND WE ARE NOT GOING TO GET THEM FOR YOU. ALSO I WON'T ASK MY SUPERIORS." Usually, when a customer approaches the customer supports and asks if they could help him, the support says "Please hold while we jump through hoops to find the information you need!" That's what they are paid for. I'm sure they just sent me that message and happily clicked "problem solved, case closed". Or they will click on that button in a couple of days as the form behind the "If you are not satisfied with the answer we provided, please click here" link is still broken. (As is, by the way, the link to the Yahoo Help I mentioned before.) I wouldn't want to tell them how to do their job, but I just can't belive this s***. They are basically saying that they have got a service of which NO ONE IS RESPONSIBLE FOR. What are you supposed to do with people like this??!

tiistai 13. heinäkuuta 2010

Ubuntu Netbook Edition

It all started when I wanted to know what www-address does my new blu-ray player contact to at start up. That should've been easy enough: just install Wireshark and listen to the traffic in the air. After all, it's my WLAN so I'm free to tap it and can even turn the encryption off temporarily. Unfortunately it turns out that virtually no Windows Wi-Fi card driver supports the so-called promiscuous mode which means listening to traffic not addressed to the listening host. Luckily almost all Linux drivers do support it.

So, I figured I'd install some live distribution of Linux into a memory card, boot the computer from that, install Wireshark and get the job done. Fair enough, that was rather easy. I followed the instructions at the Ubuntu Netbook Edition download page, edited the BIOS settings so that booting from an USB device is allowed and so that something called the "quick boot" is disabled. Then I only had to figure out that to actually boot from an USB device (or the card reader) you'd have to hit ESC when the BIOS was starting up.

Now, the Ubuntu started fine, "apt-get install wireshark" worked perfectly and I managed to capture all sorts of traffic caused by the blu-ray player. Job well done, end of story, let's go home? Not quite. As we say in Finland, appetite comes with eating. I had had a small bite of Linux and now I wanted more. I figured I'd start with the screen resolution: it was set to 1024x768, which meant it was badly distorted because the native resolution of the screen is 1366x768. So I looked for some instructions for installing new drivers for the video chip, Intel GMA500, and found this one.

After doing the "sudo add-apt-repository" and "sudo apt-get" commands I restarted the computer, booted to Ubuntu again -- and was greeted with a white screen and an error message. Obviously the drivers didn't work that well. The Ubuntu crash reporting application refused to send an error report as there was a few hundred megabytes of outdated packages installed. So I tried updating everything using the Synaptic package manager, but the system brought it to my attention that there wasn't enough space for these updates in the memory card where I had installed Ubuntu.

At this point I should've stopped, booted back to Windows and erased Ubuntu from the memory card, but instead I got a better idea: I'd install Ubuntu to a free partition on the hard disk. After all, what could possibly go wrong? 

Well, a lot of things. For one, the Ubuntu Netbook Edition installer apparently overwrote the master boot record of the hard drive, rendering Windows unusable -- trying to boot to Windows would only bring up an error message and a recommendation to re-install the entire system. Right. Luckily ASUS had added a hidden 10 GB partition into the hard drive with an image of a working system. Also, it's just a netbook so I didn't have much stuff in it that I couldn't reinstall back later. A few photos maybe, but I wouldn't miss those.

So, the system restore can be launched at the boot up time and I did that. Surprisingly, it did absolutely nothing, besides probably erasing all my data. Ubuntu cannot read the mangled Windows partition either, otherwise I would've rescued all my data beforehand, of course. OK, so, now I had no Windows but an Ubuntu with a terrible resolution. Surely the video chip drivers would work once I updated all the outdated packages? Nope. I was greeted with the same white screen, and this time I didn't even get an error message. I could use it by launching a terminal and other programs from that but it isn't that much fun.

So now I've got a crippled netbook with a Linux system running from a memory card and no Windows and none of the data I previously had on my Windows installation. Luckily the Ubuntu on the memory card works fine, except for the bad resolution... Moral of the story? Don't install Ubuntu Netbook Edition on your Asus EeePC 1101HA if you plan to keep your Windows too. Also don't go messing around with the video chip drivers. Just use Ubuntu from a memory card or an USB disk if you must, but don't go beyond that.

lauantai 5. kesäkuuta 2010

Samsung BD-C6500 and its apps

I received some extra money so I decided to invest in a Blu-Ray player. After reading reviews and reviewing technical details of several players I ended up buying a Samsung BD-C6500. This decision was influenced by the fact that I've already got a Samsung TV and that the BD-C6500 has a wireless network connection built in.

I have only watched one Blu-Ray movie and one DVD so far and the player has been working fine. It's also nice to be able to control the basic features of the TV with the BD player's remote control and vice versa. I also managed to get file sharing to work from my netbook with little effort, allowing me to view my photos from the TV screen. The player does not ship with an HDMI cable so one had to be bought separately, but as I understand it this is the case with all Blu-Ray players.

The BD-C6500 has a feature called Internet@TV. There's no web browser but some dedicated applications for certain web services and some simple games. The total number of games and applications combined is 17. You should be able to download more but I cannot see any applications in the store that haven't been installed already. Could be a regional issue, maybe there are more applications available in the US than here in Finland -- I don't know. Anyway, here's a photo of the main application menu:


So, from top-left to bottom-right: YouTube, Picasa, Twitter, AccuWeather, History Channel, Dracula's Coffin, Getty Images, Google Maps, Kurakku, Mahjongg Fruits, Memory, Quizz Master, Rock Swap Adventures, Sudoku, Texas Hold'em, USA Today and Facebook.

And here are photos of the applications in that order (except for Twitter, to which I do not have an account, and Getty Images, which refused to work when I was taking these photos. Sorry about the layout, Blogger just won't let me format the images nicely. And there's some Finnish language in at least the YouTube photo/screenshot, don't be alarmed. Anyway, click to zoom in:
































As you can see, the Facebook app will be available in Apr.. wait, what? It's June already! Maybe it means April 2011? Anyway... The apps are not too pretty and look like they could be used on, say, a mobile phone as-is. My main problem with the games, though, is that they are completely stateless. You can't save your progress and there are no high score lists. Most of them don't seem to have any sounds and none has any music, so they may get old pretty quickly.

Google Maps works fine. However, there's no zoom-in or zoom-out animation, just a spinning "please wait" symbol, so the experience is not quite as smooth as it could be. You can look at a map or satellite imagery just as you could on a regular computer.

The YouTube application looks strange because it seems that all videos have the ranking of just one star. This is probably because YouTube recently changed its rating scale from 1 to 5 stars to just "like" or "dislike". Also, I could not find a free search interface so you are pretty much stuck with whatever videos the different categories offer you. Of course, there's the My Favorites category which should contain the videos you have favorited in the past, but I did not test it yet.

sunnuntai 23. toukokuuta 2010

Custom style sheet for xkcd

In February I wrote about custom style sheets. Basically they allow you to modify any web site's visual appearance to your liking. So here is a custom style sheet file for the xkcd web comic for you to download. Here are the deployment instructions for Opera again:

  1. Direct Opera to xkcd.com
  2. Hit F12
  3. Select Edit Site Preferences...
  4. Choose the Display tab
  5. Into the My style sheet box, select the CSS file you hopefully just downloaded
  6. Hit OK, then refresh xkcd.com.

Here is a screenshot of an xkcd comic before the custom style sheet:


And here's a picture after installing the custom style sheet. Notice how the comic now fully fits into the first screenful:

The top bar has been moved below the comic and the title-text of the image has been rendered visible. Some elements have also been made transparent so that they are less distracting.

torstai 20. toukokuuta 2010

New GMA500 drivers

After installing, trying and removing Portal yesterday I thought of the graphics card drivers and found out that there's a new version out. Intel calls it 5.0.0.2024 which is rather strange since the previous version was called 5.2.1!? This driver still has a newer date than the previous one and in the device manager it appears as version 8.14.10.2024 which is greater than before (8.14.10.2020). No visible improvement in the Windows Experience Index figures though, but go install it anyway.

keskiviikko 19. toukokuuta 2010

Portal

For a few more days, until May 24th, the mega-popular game of Portal is free on Steam. I downloaded it and tried it on my Asus EeePC 1101HA and found out, less surprisingly, that it is entirely unplayable with this hardware. I kind of guessed that when the Steam launcher displayed a message that the Valve database has never even heard of the Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 500 graphics card. The game loads for ages, the sounds are jerky and the frame rate is about 1 frame per second, even with the lowest possible quality settings. Oh well, at least it has been tested now. However, I have no doubts that with proper hardware Portal is a great game anyway.

tiistai 11. toukokuuta 2010

Software bugs and nerd humor

I recently came across a heisenbug: a software bug which disappeared or changed its nature when I added debug output into the program. The Wikipedia article explains other interesting types of bugs as well, such as a schroedinbug, bohrbug and phase of the Moon bug. Phase of the Moon bug links to another article, Time formatting and storage bugs. This article unfortunaly omits the favorite example of many: the Ubuntu bug #248619 where OpenOffice.org would not print on Tuesdays!? Matt Zimmerman writes that it's a great example of the aforementioned concept of bohrbug.

Related to bugs, the Global Nerdy blog recently compiled a list of New Programming Jargon. The list contains such gems as hindenbug ("A catastrophic data-destroying bug. Oh, the humanity!") and Loch Ness Monster Bug ("A bug that isn’t reproducible and has been sighted by only one person."). :)

tiistai 20. huhtikuuta 2010

Case: Lots of Flickr traffic

Empire State PigeonOne of my photos, the Empire State Pigeon (also shown to the right), was recently featured in the official Flickr Blog. The Flickr Blog has the property that it is featured on the main page of Flickr, at least for the logged in users. Now, as Flickr is a high traffic site, anything on the front page is likely to get high traffic too, and so did my photo.

I posted the photo to Flickr about 19 months ago. In that time it had gathered some 5000 views, which I found an impressive number. However, when the blog post was published, the view count surged all the way up to 30000 in just a few days! Below is the graph that shows the daily traffic statistics before, during and after the event. Click to zoom to the full size view:


Empire State Pigeon daily traffic statistics

The graph shows that the photo was getting a steady amount of some thirty views a day and then, on April 14, it suddenly got 11133 views, 106 comments and 468 favorites. The next day it got even more views, 12635, but way less comments (8) and favorites (40). Why?

Well, that can be explained by drilling into the referrer statistics: on April 14, only 4784 of the 11000 visitors came through Flickr.com. Almost as many, 4594, came from another high traffic site called Reddit.com to where someone had posted a link to the photo. On April 15, 9798 visitors came via Reddit and only 517 via Flickr, as by then the Flickr Blog already had new posts. Reddit users don't necessarily have Flickr accounts and thus cannot leave comments or favorite the photos.

Another difference I observed in the behavior of Flickr visitors and Reddit visitors was that Flickr visitors looked at my other photos too. Thus the aggregate views over all of my photos was a lot higher on April 14 than it was on April 15, even though that one photo got more visitors on April 15:

Aggregate view counts over all of my photos

(And now for something completely different. If those graphs above felt dry, try the GraphJam site instead!)

tiistai 6. huhtikuuta 2010

Tools for web developers

A handy tool for web developers is Dynamic Drive's Gradient Image Maker. Creating gradient images is a basic thing that a web developer has to do and there's no need to fire up Photoshop for something like that. Microsoft Paint can be used to create gradients, too, but a dedicated tool beats that hands down. :)

Another nifty tool, possibly for selecting the colors for your gradient, is Iconico's ColorPic. It can be used to pick a color anywhere from your screen. It's got an adjustable magnifier, you can nudge the mouse cursor pixel by pixel using the arrow keys, and you can select the average color of a small area of pixels in case selecting the color of a single pixel is not desired!

lauantai 20. maaliskuuta 2010

Firefox Personas

The newest version of the Firefox browser, 3.6, offers a new, nifty little feature called Personas. A Persona is like a skin that Firefox can wear. Personas only change the background and not, for example, the buttons. On the Firefox Personas site you can try the personas by just hovering your mouse cursor over the Persona image and take it into use by clicking "Wear It". It couldn't be any simpler! There are already thousands of Personas from which to choose. I am using different Personas on different computers. So far they are these:

maanantai 15. maaliskuuta 2010

Opera 10.51 RC1

A month ago I wrote about Opera 10.50 beta. Now the 10.50 has already passed the beta stage and what's more, Opera 10.51 Release Candidate 1 for Windows has just been released. This version contains performance improvements and an even better JavaScript engine, especially what comes to memory management. These features are of course very welcome to all netbook users. :)

tiistai 9. maaliskuuta 2010

Image processing software

When you open an image file in Windows 7 it opens in Windows Photo Viewer by default. It can be used to view and rotate images but nothing else, so you need a better piece of software if you intend to crop, resize, adjust or otherwise edit your photos.

IrfanView does all this. It is a piece of freeware that I have used for as long as I have used the Opera browser and the NoteTab text editor, ten years or so. The user interface is minimalistic and the program is controlled using the menus or the shortcut keys. IrfanView can be used to batch process an entire folder full of images or just one image at a time. It can read dozens of file formats and write an impressive number of formats too. There are also lots of plugins for it bringing in some extra functionality. They are really easy to install because they are provided as one big installer file from the IrfanView homepage. What's also very important for netbook users is that IrfanView is a lightweight and fast program.

Hint: If you work with images that have transparency, set the IrfanView background color to pink (Options | Properties/Settings... | Viewing | Main window color). Then you will know exactly where the transparency starts and where it ends, as pink is featured in really few pictures, unlike black and white.

sunnuntai 7. maaliskuuta 2010

Text editors

So far I have introduced you to alternative office software, browsers, instant messaging software and PDF readers. Today it's text editors meant for plain text.

So, Windows ships with Notepad. It's as simple as a text editor can get. A good text editor can save you time by having useful shortcuts, being able to have several files open at once, allowing you to do search and replace on several files at once, allowing you to use regular expressions when searching and replacing, etc.

All this and much more can be done using NoteTab Pro. It costs $29.95 but is well worth every penny. There is also a free version called NoteTab Light which is a very capable program too -- a comparison of features between the different versions can be found here.

I myself have been an avid NoteTab user for years already, not least because it has got its own scripting language which can be used to program the application to do almost anything you can think of. Automatic reformatting of any text you just copied to clipboard from another program? Consider it done. HTML table wizard? Piece of cake. FTP integration? No problem. The scripts are called clips and organized into clipbooks. The program comes with many ready made clipbooks and more can be downloaded.

NoteTab has also got a very active and helpful community at the Yahoo! Groups. It is divided into a general section, clips, and www-authoring.

The only thing that NoteTab lacks is syntax highlighting for other languages than HTML. If you need that, I can warmly recommend an open source program called SciTE.

perjantai 5. maaliskuuta 2010

Alternative PDF readers

Previously I have written about alternatives to Internet Explorer and alternatives to Windows Messenger. This time it's alternatives to the Adobe Reader.

Foxit Reader is a small and fast PDF reader. It is commercial software but the basic version is free and has all the main features and, in some aspeceven more than Adobe Reader has.

Sumatra PDF is another slim and quick reader. It is designed so that it does not require any special installation procedures and can be used from a USB stick. It is also open source, if that's what you prefer.

Both of these are good alternatives to the Adobe Reader, so it's a personal choice between them. Either one works faster than the Adobe Reader, and the software that you are using on your netbook can never be too fast.

keskiviikko 3. maaliskuuta 2010

Pidgin instant messaging software

Windows ships with the Messenger instant messaging (IM) software. I, too, use Messenger, along with ICQ that I have even been using for a much longer time.

A while ago I found out that my Messenger was taking ridiculous amounts of CPU time, slowing down the entire system. It appears that it was because of (some of) the advertisements that the main view displays so I started looking for another IM software and found Pidgin. It is a lot faster than Messenger and does not display any advertisements. It also supports multiple IM protocols, i.e. you can use both ICQ and Messenger using the same piece of software. Google Talk and many other protocols are supported too, so give it a try. :)

PS. Related to alternative software: a month ago I wrote about alternative web browsers!

maanantai 1. maaliskuuta 2010

Keyboard woes

Some time ago I wrote that I bought a Bluetooth dongle and a Bluetooth mouse. Now I can plug my netbook into my TV and go sit on the sofa and still control the mouse. But how about keyboard? Well, surely there are Bluetooth keyboards too, I thought and went browsing a couple of resources, Hintaseuranta (literally 'Price monitoring') that tracks the prices of several retailers and Verkkokauppa.com, a large retailer which is not included in Hintaseuranta. They both revealed the ugly truth: the prices of Bluetooth keyboards start from around 60 euros, while you could get a cordless keyboard with a proprietary connection for around 20 euros! D'oh. I wouldn't want to get another dongle to fill my netbook's USB ports but I also wouldn't want to pay thrice the money for a Bluetooth keyboard, so I don't know what I'm going to do.

In this light the Asus EeeKeyboard sounds like a nice living room computer: it's a full featured PC in the case of a keyboard! They also claim that you are able to connect it to your TV wirelessly. Sounds nice. :)

lauantai 27. helmikuuta 2010

Synergy

If you are using more than one computer on the same desk simultaneously, such as when using your netbook next to your desktop computer, you will find Synergy a very useful program. It shares the mouse and keyboard of one computer to the rest. The mouse moves from one computer screen to another just by moving it "over the edge" and the keyboard control is switched simultaneously. Synergy uses your existing local area network so you don't need any special hardware either. Here are some screenshots: the first two are from a Windows XP computer (called Mjollnir) that acts as the server, i.e. shares its keyboard and mouse. The final screenshot is from a Windows 7 netbook (called Hummingbird) that acts as a client and can then receive commands from the Windows XP server.





torstai 25. helmikuuta 2010

Disable login prompt

A quick tip on how to speed up the system when it is waking up from hibernate or sleep mode. If you are the only person that has physical access to your laptop or if you trust everyone else that does, you might want to consider disabling the Windows password prompt. In Windows 7 this is done in Control Panel > All Control Panel Items > Power Options > Require a password on wakeup. Then click "Change settings that are currently unavailable" and then select "Don't require a password" and finally "Save changes". Now Windows won't delay you with password prompts when waking up. Plus, you can always lock your computer any time with Windows key + L.

tiistai 23. helmikuuta 2010

Laptop sleeve

The Asus EeePC 1101HA did not ship with a protective bag so I had to buy one separately. Naturally you don't want your laptop to roll around in your backpack without any extra protection at all. It turned out to be a bit tricky as this laptop is 11.6" in diameter. All the bags in the market seemed to be have been designed either for larger or for smaller laptops! 

After visiting about three other stores I finally wandered into Clas Ohlson and found what I was looking for: a neoprene sleeve, for less than 15 €. The brand name is "Aldata". It says in the case that it is designed for 10" laptops but I found that it still fits the EeePC 1101HA perfectly. It is also nice to be able to use the laptop without actually removing it from the sleeve, as there are two zippers going around it. The sleeve also contains handles that may be left outside the sleeve for carrying the laptop around when inside a building or for short distances anyway.

perjantai 19. helmikuuta 2010

HD videos

Slashdot recently featured an article called How to play HD video on a netbook by PCPro. It includes buying a codec for about $10 (although someone commented on the original story that Shark007's codecs do the same thing for free). However, I'm happy to report that the Asus EeePC 1101HA plays HD videos out of the box! I tried it with a 1920×816 (1080p), 23.967 FPS trailer of The Bourne Ultimatum, found from H264info.com. As is mentioned in the PCPro article too, some stutter in the video is inevitable, especially in the scenes where a lot is happening at once, but basically it is perfectly watchable anyway. The sound plays very smoothly and there was no stutter to be heard.

keskiviikko 17. helmikuuta 2010

inSSIDer

If you are using WLAN, this piece of software is for you: inSSIDer. It shows you the signal strengths and channels of the wireless networks visible to your computer. With inSSIDer it is very easy to see competing networks, i.e. networks that are on the same channel and thus interfere with each other. Many people just leave their network to operate on the default channel which also contributes to the risk of using the same channel as your neighbor. inSSIDer also draws a graph about the signal strengths as functions of time so you can, for example, walk around your apartment with your laptop and determine if your WLAN reaches every corner of the place equally well or if you should move your access point to ensure better reception. I have also tested that inSSIDer works on Windows XP and on Windows 7.

Oh, and one more thing. What is this "SSID" that's highlighted in the name of the program; why not just "Insider"? Wikipedia explains: SSID stands for service set identifier, which is just a fancy name for "the name of a wireless network".

maanantai 15. helmikuuta 2010

Sounds

I noticed that I haven't written anything about the speakers or the general quality of audio regarding the Asus EeePC 1101HA, so I guess it's time to fix that. In short, the speakers are no better than with any other laptop you may have used. They are definitely not designed for listening to music. They do well enough when playing speech driven games such as Monkey Island which only has ambient background music, but otherwise you're better off just muting the device altogether.

That being said, I find that the netbook's audio jack's output quality is from an entirely different world. Plug it into a proper amplifier and speakers and I, for one, couldn't tell it from a more professional audio source. :) The same goes for proper headphones.

While we are talking about audio, here are a few links to Spotify songs that you may use to either torture or gentle your ears, depending on your speakers (and personal taste):

System Of A Down – Vicinity Of Obscenity

Queen – Don't Stop Me Now

Trio Töykeät – Pizzitaxi

The Offspring – What Happened to You? 

sunnuntai 14. helmikuuta 2010

Password management

Many of us have dozens of passwords to tens of different services: emails, web forums, workplace computers, games, etc. It is often quite difficult to remember all of them and as a result people use the same password in many services. This is a bad habit because now if your password gets stolen from one service, the attacker gains access to your other systems too. Many people also use very weak passwords, something like "qwerty" or "12345", which are easy to guess just by trying out the most common alternatives.

Luckily there are solutions to these problems: password manager programs. The program saves and encrypts all your passwords behind one master password. That one still needs to be a strong one and you need to memorize it, but after you have set up the system, that's the only password you are ever going to have to remember again. I have been using KeePass and its cross platform version KeePassX. I won't bother writing a full featured review as I just found a recent KeePass review by soft2review, so if you are not yet convinced that you need KeePass, go read it!

lauantai 13. helmikuuta 2010

Command & Conquer

Netbooks are not known for their ability to run new games but luckily there are good, a bit older games that may still be entirely playable and enjoyable. I just learned that Electronic Arts has released Command & Conquer: Tiberian Dawn (1995), Command & Conquer: Red Alert (1996) and Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun (2000) as freeware games -- Tiberian Sun was released yesterday. They can be downloaded from CommandAndConquer.com.

Edit/Add: Here's a Spotify link to Frank Klepacki's music. Klepacki is the man who made the Command & Conquer soundtracks!

torstai 11. helmikuuta 2010

Opera 10.50 beta

Opera Software just released a new version of Opera browser, 10.50 beta. It seems that they have borrowed some ideas from Google Chrome. The user interface is more minimalistic than ever, providing more space for the actual web pages. Individual tabs or windows can be made "private", i.e. Opera forgets everything that has happened in them after they are closed. The JavaScript engine is claimed to be significantly faster than before, and it just looks nice on Windows 7. :)

Custom style sheets

About a week ago I made a post about browsers, namely alternatives to Internet Explorer, and I recommended Opera. I also promised some tips on how to get more out of it, so here goes.

In a netbook the screen space is usually quite limited. However, many sites are designed with larger screen resolutions in mind and may have, for example, excessive margins or too large navigation menus. You may not even have thought about it before, but wouldn't it be quite nice to customize the layout of some sites a bit? With most browsers, including Opera, this is actually possible. You will need to know some hypertext markup language (HTML) and cascading style sheets (CSS) but that's pretty much all it takes. If you use style sheets created by other people then you don't even have to know those.

Anyway. Take geocaching.com. The individual cache pages actually have a lot of clutter: buttons, linebreaks, information that is just not used. Here's a screenshot of a cache page as they typically look like: 


You'll notice that there is so much extra information that the actual cache description barely even starts on the first screenful. Using a custom style sheet you can strip the unwanted elements out of the page:



How many differences can you spot and which version of the page would you rather use? To achive this result I used this style sheet. You may copy it and save it anywhere in your computer. How to take this file into use then? Here are the instructions for Opera:

  1. Direct Opera to www.geocaching.com
  2. Hit F12
  3. Select Edit Site Preferences...
  4. Choose the Display tab
  5. Into the My style sheet box, select the CSS file you hopefully just downloaded
  6. Hit OK, then refresh geocaching.com

Presto! Your geocaching.com browsing experience has vastly improved. :)

tiistai 9. helmikuuta 2010

Geolocation; Street View in Finland

Tangentially related to nothing in particular, I felt like sharing an interesting service I just found: Geolocation in Firefox. Based on the WLAN access points the computer sees, it is scaringly accurate at best. I have tried it in two separate urban locations and in both the coordinates were extremely accurate: the margin of error was probably less than 100 meters. Just follow the link above, click on the "Give it a try!" link, and then click "Where am I?" below the map that opens.

Note that when I say "extremely accurate" I don't mean that it could even be compared to the 3—4 meters that you can get with a GPS receiver. However, it is extremely accurate in the sense that traditionally you would get the location of a computer based on its IP address, and then you are lucky if you even get the city or state right.

In other news, Google launched Street View for Finland today. In case you haven't heard of Street View, it is a supplement to Google Maps that you can use to virtually drive inside cities. They have taken thousands, if not millions, of photographs of many major cities and composed seamless landscapes out of them, so why don't you take a while and go for a tour in Helsinki? :)

Utilities for Windows XP

While I'm running Windows 7 on my netbook, I still use Windows XP on my desktop computer. I'd now like to share links to a couple of my favorite utility programs for Windows XP. 

Firstly, Taskbar Shuffle. Picture this: you have been using your computer for a few hours and you've got a dozen of programs open: your browser, email client, instant messenger, a few Windows Explorer windows, and so on. Now, your browser crashes and you need to restart it. Suppose it was the first program you started after you booted your computer. Now, the browser's icon is moved in the taskbar from the leftmost side to all the way right, after all your other programs. I know it distracts me when suddenly a program icon is not located where I expect it to be. This is the situation where Taskbar Shuffle comes to rescue. It is a very simple program that allows you to reorder the icons of the running programs in the taskbar.

Another neat piece of utility software is Shell Enhancer. It also does what the name suggests: adds features to the Windows user interface. It has got a lot more features than Taskbar Shuffle but it also stays nice and quiet until you need it. My favorite of the long list of features is the ability to pin any window on top. Simple but effective. Another one is the ability to make any window transparent by any amount.

lauantai 6. helmikuuta 2010

ReadyBoost

Trying to improve the performance of my netbook led me to try out the Windows ReadyBoost feature. ReadyBoost is a feature that utilizes a memory stick or a memory card as a fast cache, in addition to using the slow hard disk. This works because flash memory is usually faster than a hard drive, at least in random reads/writes. So, I used my USB memory for a while and, while I did not commit any actual measurings, I felt the computer was indeed more responsive, especially when multiple programs were running simultaneously.

Because a memory stick sticking out from the side of the netbook is not a very nice feature I went ahead and bought a fast SDHC card (Class 6, 8 GB, ~14 €) to be permanently stuck into the memory card slot (which, by the way, in Asus EeePC 1101HA's case only supports SD, SDHC and MMC cards and not, for example, MemoryStick cards..). Then I formatted the card into the new exFAT file system and gave it to Windows to be used as a ReadyBoost disk.

You may think that this is a waste of money and time but as far as I can see it is never a bad idea to buy SD cards. Firstly, many, if not most, digital cameras support those. Secondly, 8 GB is quite a lot of space, so the card could well be used for copying files from one computer to another. Thirdly, you could just use it like any other drive in your computer and, for example, install another operating system (namely Linux or Chrome) to it. Running an OS from a flash disk should save the battery because flash disks only consume a fraction of power compared to the regular, spinning disks. So who knows, I might do that some day. And if I do, I will be posting about my experiences here.

keskiviikko 3. helmikuuta 2010

Browsers

I have been using the Opera browser for ten years or so and still find it to be the best there is. Opera has had all the best features, such as mouse gestures and tabbed browsing, long before Firefox or Internet Explorer. What's more, they are built in so you don't even need to download dozens of plugins to make it usable in the first place. I'm also using Opera Mini in my cellphone.

That being said, I think Firefox is a great browser too. I couldn't, for example, do any web development without the Firebug plugin anymore. Adblock Plus is an absolutely crucial plugin for any Firefox user as it blocks the ads -- netbooks usually don't have screen space to waste, nor do they like heavy, flashy web pages.

Chrome is a fast and light weight browser by Google. It, too, supports plugins. There's a post at the Google Chrome Blog that walks you through with those. Chrome has got a highly optimized JavaScript engine so those modern web applications such as Google Docs should be pretty fast with it.

So, my point? There are alternatives to Internet Explorer, and as a netbook owner you should definitely try them out and see if they perform better than IE. Lifehacker's blog post from a couple of months ago compares the browsers. In the end, IE gets the lowest score of them all. They were the first to admit that the measurements are not very scientific or too accurate but I do think their results bear at least some significance.

If I were you I would now start using Opera because a) it is, in my opinion, the best and b) because I will post some Opera tips later.

maanantai 1. helmikuuta 2010

Tales of Monkey Island

In my previous post I made a note that while the Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition does run on the Asus EeePC 1101HA, you still have to fall back to the antiquated graphics at times because the graphics chip, Intel GMA500, just can't take it all. On this background I felt a little uncomfortable buying the Tales of Monkey Island because that one is fully in 3D, while the Secret of Monkey Island is completely in 2D. So I thought that if the computer cannot run a 2D game smoothly, could it run a 3D game at all? If nothing else then I could've played the Tales on my desktop computer anyway.

Luckily, I was worried in vain. Sure, you need to tune the game's graphical quality settings way down. The scale is from 1 to 10 and the game becomes playable at quality level 3 or 4. Tuning the resolution down to 800x600 is not a bad idea either, but after that the game works perfectly! The story and humor are still guaranteed Monkey Island quality and the voice actors as good as ever. I recommend.

sunnuntai 31. tammikuuta 2010

The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition

In my review of the Asus EeePC 1101HA I noted that it had a pretty lousy Windows Experience Index score at the gaming graphics section. This, of course, does not stop me from trying out some games anyway.

First on the line was The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition which I had bought from Steam but which refused to work on my desktop computer because of the Athlon XP 3000+ processor. That's actually the first game I have ever run into to mean business with the system requirements, "Intel Pentium 4 3GHz or AMD Athlon 64 3000+". Odd, since it's just a point and click adventure, but anyway.

So, the Special Edition is a remake of the original game that was published in 1990. The game features one Guybrush Threepwood, a young wannabe pirate, trying to become a real pirate. The remake contains exactly the same plot and everything as the original game, but all the lines are spoken out loud and the graphics have been modernized. You can, in fact, toggle between the old and new graphics on the fly with a single key press. This feature does come in handy when playing with the netbook, because while it can run the game well in many of the scenes, it becomes unplayable if there are any fire of water shown on the screen. The game is well worth the money anyway and should give you some good laughs. :)

lauantai 30. tammikuuta 2010

Windows + P

Windows 7 introduces some new shortcuts compared to the earlier versions of Windows. My absolute favorite of the new shortcuts is Windows key + P. This allows you to choose the presentation mode, i.e. attach or detach an external display, such as a projector, a TV or a regular computer display. In the previous versions of Windows there was no simple way to do it (well, according to my definition of simple -- of course I know how to do it, but anyway). Windows 7 makes it extremely simple.