Dear Santa: Here’s my wishlist for 2010

Dear Santa —

WTF, dude?  I mean, I know we haven’t talked in like 25 years or something, but really?  Cancelling the best show on TV (Dollhouse, duh), and what do we get instead in 2010?  Freaking Caprica?  Are you on drugs?  And don’t even get me started on Stargate: Universe…or, rather Stargate: Who’s Driving this Bus? No one, the same person writing the fecking script.

Just so there’s no misunderstandings next year, here’s my wishlist for next winter holiday.  You have plenty of time, Santa.  Don’t.  Screw.  It.  Up.

  1. A standalone Google Wave client.  Google Wave is cool, right, and with Chrome I can make an application shortcut and have it behave like its own app.  So this should be pretty easy, since the platform has its’ own set of built-in gadgets.  All I want is the freaking menu bar to blink when I have a new message/wave.  Seriously, is that so hard?
  2. Joss Whedon show that doesn’t get cancelled after 2 seasons.
  3. For that matter, a Dollhouse movie would be nice.
  4. HBO and Showtime to join Starz in signing lasting contracts with Netflix to stream movies and TV shows, thereby adding, like, every movie ever into Netflix’s Instant Viewing database.
  5. Netflix, Hulu, or someone to make some sort of deal to offer pay-per-view, online screenings of movies that are in theaters right now.
  6. Universally accepted CSS/HTML standards that eliminate browser compatibility issues.  Dammit.
  7. Heroes to either be put to death, or else to not suck, whichever is less impossible.
  8. SteamnVidia, or OnLive to launch a cloud computing video game streaming service so I don’t need to upgrade my graphics card every time I want to play a new game.
    8-a.  Steam, nVidia, and/or OnLive to not be competitors in the cloug computing video game streaming industry.  It would be ridiculous to have to have 3 different monthly subscriptions or some such bullshit.
  9. Frickin’ Flying Cars.  Seriously, it’s 2010, and the best we can do is a single company running space tourism jaunts into low orbit for rich folk?! If you can’t give me flying cars, the least you could do is those hoverboards from Back to the Future II so I can fall on my face and break my nose.
  10. A fat wad of cash that falls from the sky and is completely tax-free so we can finish fixing up the house and spend all day making WordPress themes.

also, a lifetime supply of chocolate from any of these companies would also be appreciated:

Oh, and Santa, if you could arrange to not have the Christmas season (by which I mean when Christmas music and decorations start appearing in malls and stores) start the day after Halloween and put it back to the day after Thanksgiving the way it used to be, that would be great.

thanks.  your pal,

p.s. all the usual items on my wishlist (world peace, an end to global hunger and poverty, universal health care, an environmentally stable future, a MacBook Pro) are still implied.  thx.

everything’s better in the cloud

image source: gawker
image source: gawker

since google’s big chromeOS unveiling last week, i’ve been left thinking a lot about cloud computing and chrome as an operating system in particular.  while i failed to be enamored about chromeOS, i do think the concept of cloud computing is an exciting developing technology.  chromeOS felt half-assed and not-fully-developed (the latter of which, at least, was true).  and it’s banking on a technology that is not yet widely adopted for which there aren’t a lot of equivalent technologies to what we are used to on our desktops and standard laptops.

the idea behind cloud computing (and the concept that chromeOS is founded on) is that most of what we do these days is done online, and that our most used applications are things that really just interface with the net.  even things that we think of as applications that run locally of our computer — like word processing or spreadsheets — can be taken to the cloud with microsoft’s new Office Live which was introduced to rival google’s own, longstanding Google Apps.  the few things you sacrifice by using a more simplistic user interface with less options (theoretically the stuff you don’t use anyway), you make up for in having permanent, secure, online data storage that follows you wherever you go, no matter what computer you’re on.  it doesn’t matter if your computer crashes, or your whole office crashes — if all your documents are online in Office Live or Google Apps, they’re safely tucked away in microsoft’s or google’s data warehouses.  and the chances of google’s or microsoft’s servers going down are about as high as snowflakes in the mojave desert in august. nvidia’s RealityServer and the independent OnLive show us ways that gaming can be taken to the cloud — and that is a glorious thing.  imagine not ever having to buy a graphics card ever again, and yet, still be able to play the hottest new games available at breathtaking resolutions that would have you staring at your screen in awe.  by taking all the heavy duty graphics and physics processing off your computer and crunching the numbers on a vast server cluster, the only thing you’d need is a fast enough internet connection to stream the audio and video.

cloud2it’s true, it’s beautiful up in the cloud.  the heavenly connotations are not entirely unwarranted when given access to unlimited data storage, unlimited processing power, unlimited games, unlimited music, everything you do and say and think lives in the cloud, you just need a conduit to tap into it.  all this constant upgrading your computer to the latest fancy technology to make it go faster is unnecessary.  you can access the cloud on the laptop you threw in the closet 7 years ago and forgot about. but wait…what about everything we’ve ever known about computing technology?  about how processors are constantly getting faster, data storage is getting bigger and faster and cheaper.  if you can access the cloud with any old thing, namely, if you can access the cloud with a chromeOS-powered netbook that does nothing else other than access the cloud, wouldn’t that sort of put a wrench in how hardware is developed, and do we even want that? because with cloud computing, nothing is local, all (or most) of the processing is done in the cloud.  at least, that was what google was presenting a few days ago.  you don’t need a fast computer, you just need something that can run their software.  (and google kind of has the corner on that market: one of the things they announced was that you would be running chromeOS on a specially-designed hardware device built to run chromeOS.)

a netbook is either a bloated smartphone that can’t make calls, or a dumbed-down computer with limited local storage.

this is where i get stuck.  it doesn’t make sense to me: why use a netbook to access stuff that only lives on the internet if it can’t do some of the things i can do on a regular computer?  okay, so it’s only task is to access and manipulate apps that live online, but so does a smartphone.  a netbook is, pretty much by definition, either a bloated smartphone that can’t make calls, or a dumbed-down computer with limited (or no) local storage.  this is the future of computing?  really?

the cloud also throws a wrench into our concept of ownership.  i mean, sure, i can say that i own all my documents on Google Docs, but what does that actually mean to me if i don’t actually have a file i can manipulate myself.  or, more to the point, what happens to the music collection i consider to be mine if it’s not actually stored on any hard drive i have physical access or proximity to, but rather, is part of a membership service i am subscribed to?  we saw this summer how easy it was to take away digital possessions thought to be the property of the purchasers when amazon pulled 1984 and animal farm off their (digital) Kindle shelves and, subsequently, out of the Kindle users’ collections.

aw_snapthe cloud is great at some things, but not so much at others.  netbooks are a hot, cheap solution to do some basic daily tasks, but they will never be able to do everything you can do on a regular computer.  rather than forcing users to settle on a good enough, cloud equivalent for what they want to do, let’s embrace the differences between netbook computing and desktop (or laptop) computing.  what i’m thinking is web apps that behave more like desktop apps and desktop apps that behave more like web apps.  so much so that the only distinction between the two is whether an app is web-exclusive and therefore can be run on a netbook with no local storage.  as an example, let’s say i’m using something like a video editing program that eats up a lot of memory, disk space, and cpu cycles.  rather than having to go out and buy a supercomputer that can handle the load, let’s offload some of the memory consumption, processing, and temporary data storage to the cloud.  the app still lives on my computer, i still have to go to the store and make the purchase (or download it online and install it on my computer), but it leverages the cloud to enhance the user experience.  my video editing app can use a server cluster in mountain view to handle the video rendering so that task can take minutes, or even seconds, rather than the hours it would take me to render the same video on my computer.  then i’m limited only by my bandwidth, which is pretty much universally accepted as necessary to make cloud computing — and the environment in which chromeOS can truly live — a reality.

is chromeOS really anything more than a cheap ploy to generate more ad revenue?

granted, google told us that this was not a release, not a true unveiling.  merely, it was a chance to look at what the operating system does and how it’s different than what we’re used to now.  but, if you’ve read the chrome browser propaganda, none of this is really new territory other than the fact that, in the future, there will be chrome devices that only run chrome.  with chromeOS, google is banking on a technology whose time hasn’t yet come, and it’s a hefty gamble.  and are google’s intentions purely benevolent?  if google is working towards bringing about a world in which computing is done entirely (or at least mostly) online, gee, doesn’t that mean there will be more opportunities for their text ads to appear while we go about our normal workday?  is this really anything other than a cheap ploy to plaster more google ads across more things you do, by bringing the things you do online?

when applications can intelligently use the cloud to boost performance and take the load off of the local host computer — as i see it, the best of both worlds — then i will be a true believer.  until then, google’s cloud lives in that same utopian dream that the Agents in The Matrix told us failed the first time they built the Matrix.  we kept trying to wake up.

Borderlands: Gun Porn

I recently got a copy of Borderlands sort of for my birthday.  If you keep tabs on my Twitter feed or, for that matter, my Facebook updates, you will know that there was some issues getting the second computer up to a point that could run Borderlands.  Borderlands is like the first new (and by new I mean recent/modern/up-to-date as opposed to just new to me) game we’ve gotten…well, probably Guild Wars (at least the Eye of the North expansion), or maybe Civ IV or Heroes V(although both of those were unimpressive enough to no longer be installed on our computers — we still play Civ and Heroes 3).  I guess there was Spore.  You get the picture…there isn’t much in terms of new software gaming installed on our machines and therefore one of them required the obligatory graphics card upgrade to get Borderlands to run.

This was the first time I tried purchasing a game via Steam, and I have mixed feelings about it.  on the one hand, no one had it in stock and I wanted it RTFN .  I could have ordered it on amazon, and maybe even saved a couple of bucks, but I would have had to wait for shipping.  Or I could download it on Steam, let it download overnight, and have it the next day.  Not exactly instant gratification, but better than shipping.  On the whole, I wouldn’t choose Steam over buying something from a store from real humans – even considering the couple bucks saved on sales tax – but it definitely beats shipping and it’s nice to know that there’s no disc to worry about, and if I ever reformat my computer (likely to happen when I try to go from Windows 7 RC to Windows 7 Home), it’s just a 4 hour download away.  (it would have been nice to know that I could have gotten one copy, a crack from MegaGames and played it on both computers, but I was guessing that wasn’t possible anyway for anything other than a single player game.)

Once the game downloaded, and i upraded the nvidia geforce 6600 to a 8400gs (matching the 8400gs I already had in the other computer), everything was set.  We played around in single player for a while getting reacquainted with a FPS and used to the environment and controls.  I’ll be honest, I haven’t played a FPS really since college, which is about 10 years ago now.  I played Quake and Doom at the beginning, so I was right up there in the early days, I even played Quake online (and got sufficiently pwnd).  When I got to college, me and a couple friends had LAN parties and we played games like Blood and Blood 2, Quake, Quake 2 and the Quake mod Future Vs. FantasyRainbow SixDelta Force (and Delta Force 2) and, later, Unreal and Unreal Tournament.  There’s a big difference (to me anyway) between playing through the campaign in Unreal or Quake and playing something competitive like Unreal Tournament, and after I graduated college, I really lost my taste for first-person shooters.  The gore was overdone, and there wasn’t anything that kept me interested in the game since I didn’t have friends to frag and insult.  And I knew I couldn’t compete online.  So I gave up the FPS genre, I thought, for good.

borderlands-20090728004836555About a month or so ago, Erin and I were talking about MMOs and she said that there should be one that was like a wild west MMO or like a Trigun/Cowboy Bebop/Firefly-style space western.  Just days later I saw a 2 page ad in Wired for Borderlands.

Borderlands touts itself as the best of both worlds – full RPG leveling and experience-based character progression, in a first-person shooter.  Really, it plays like an FPS with benefits.  And it’s not really role-playing in the way that maybe Morrowind or Fable are role-playing – where your decisions change the course of the world or the story (at least it hasn’t seemed like that yet).  But it’s definitely a step far above the grind of frag-respawn-die-respawn-repeat.  The story, and more than that, the setting is engrossing, and, while the gore is still over the top, it’s a lot more rewarding to blow the head off a skag that’s trying to rip your face off than to see a random bot explode into a million pieces (and, so far, I haven’t seen anyone turned into chunks by a critical hit edit: yes, i have).  And it really is equivalent to Trigun:the game in terms of setting.  The game has a sense of humor which earns it a lot of points with someone who has less patience with typical first person shooters – the characters are funny and compelling, and the robot, Claptrap, steals the show with his beatboxing and dancing and running away in terror.

borderlands-review-20091016045927579The real attraction – and unique feature that will be sure to draw in the FPSers – is that all of this RPG-meets-FPS stuff is just a masquerade for the game’s seedy underbelly and true intention: gun porn.

That’s right, I said it: gun porn.

The game claims to have millions of guns possible to pick up in-game.  I wouldn’t know about the millions part, since I haven’t seen millions, but certainly a driving force in the game is finding the best, shiniest, most bad assed hand cannon you can.  You spend more time than necessary lusting after guns you can’t afford at the in-game vending machines, or debating over the benefits of this gun over that one.  The variety of weaponry ensures that whatever your gameplay style — whether you’re a camper or more likely to spray-and-pray — there’s something in there for you.  Advancing further into the game you start to find weapons that do elemental damage, like burning or electrocution.

borderlands-review-20091016045917157There are only 4 playable characters, but between the four, you pretty much have your bases covered.  There’s the sniper/ranger class, the default soldier class, a unique “Siren” class which specializes in speed and elemental damage and has a really cool teleportation skill, and the tank class.  Like a normal RPG, the weapons and enemies progress as your character progresses, and there’s a skill tree and weapons proficiencies that allow you to tune your character even more for your unique playing style.  Many of the skills are passive, applying percentages to accuracy or critical hit damage, so you don’t need to worry about a lot of extra keys while you’re blasting away.  However each of the 4 characters has a special skill that only they can use, that can be leveled and earns bonuses as you progress; the soldier can drop a gun in front of him that acts like a turret, the sniper has a bird that he can throw at enemies for a special pet attack.

Also for players who are new to first person shooters, though there are no resurrection kits or anything like in a traditional RPG, instead, teammates just need to stand over you and hold down the action key for a few minutes to revive your fallen character.  So, the more people you play with, the more chances you have to be rez’ed when your character goes down.  And that’s only after you have a chance to shoot that one (or twenty) final shot(s) that takes down the bad guy.  Yeah, one of the coolest innovations in the game in terms of gameplay is being able to shoot from the ground as you’re dying, and if you manage to take someone down with you, you receive a “Second Wind” which recharges your shield but gives you limited health points, so you can get back in the game even after you’ve been fragged.  So let’s recap – you get tagged and are going down, first you have an opportunity to come back if you manage to take down one of your enemies.  If you don’t (or maybe one of your teammates gets the kill), your team can run over and revive you on the field.  Failing that, you go back to the last save point (which are fairly frequent), and have a percentage of your cash deducted.  That’s it.  Resurrection costs money, not xp or life, or anything else, just cold hard cash.  There’s a moral in there somewhere.

borderlands-20090819115154643There’s enough in Borderlands to keep you interested even if you’ve sworn of shooters.  The artistic style is unique and looks good even on the baseline graphics cards (as an aside: the nvidia 8 series is the lowest level nvidia card that still has a physics engine, so there isn’t a way out of it by hotrodding or overclocking your card unless you know how to program and embed a physics engine on there as well).  And there’s plenty of room to just run around and shoot things.  Not only that, but doing so is encouraged as well – there are special bonus tasks that you get extra xp for completing; last night I just completed the Get Off My Lawn task after putting down an Elder Skag and a couple of his buddies.  I’m sure there’s someplace that lists all the tasks (edit: there is), right now it’s just sort of a random “hey, I just got bonus xp” occurrence for us.  The overall story is to find “The Vault” which can be loosely described as a stash of ultimate stuff that will save the planet.  Yeah, we all know it’s empty (–edit: okay, maybe it’s not…), but as you progress, you are visited by a strange hologram girl who essentially acts like a cheerleader and guides you along the path to the vault.  Individual quests are filled with the idiosyncrasies of the NPCs that give them, like the guy who got his leg eaten off so now he can’t plant his crops and you have to venture into Skag Gully for him to collect seeds .

borderlands-20090728004856617Borderlands is pretty  much awesome, and it’s a visual treat – definitely filling that gritty, middle of nowhere, frontier fix.  And fans of Trigun will recognize many similarities in terms of the setting, the mix of wild west and far future, and the types of characters both playable and that you meet.  It’s definitely the best new game that’s come along in a long time, with a lot of cool innovations that more than make up for a few failings.

thinktank affiliate buttons, vista experience, computer woes resolved, and other stuff

so we got a new client for thinktank.  it’s a wordpress blog, and it’s mostly maintenance and updates, but it’s still pretty cool.  our client wants to build/integrate a social networking component, so i did some researching and found KickApps Social Networking Software.  the more i read into it and compared the alternatives, the cooler (and more KickAss) KickApps became.  they run a SaaS — Software as a Service, an intriguing concept Wired wrote an article about a while back.  what it means in this case is that the social networking software is provided by and hosted on KickApps’ servers.  you setup the gateway, and everything else lives on their side.  which means less twiddling, infinitely easier setup, no maintenance (other than cosmetic stuff) and also means, for them, that they get to control the flow of traffic and how things work monitarily.  you see, as a free service, they control 2/3 of the ads that show up on the site.  1 of the 3 ad banners you control and can set up as you please.  there’s an option to buy out the ads, but according to the video on their site, it starts at $100/month for 5000 clicks — not a small-scale deal.  they have an impressive client list though; professional sports teams, vibe, npr, universal music, etc.  and it plugs right into the standard cms apps.  not just joomla! and drupal but also wordpress.  it’s exciting enough of a concept to tempt me to create an account and set one up here.  even though, you know, no one visits me, really.

i also just finished optimizing this blog for search engines.  from which i learned a few things about seo-friendly coding, and hopefully does something to counter the last part of the paragraph above.  all this seo’izing and working on a new blog made me think of making affiliate buttons for thinktank.  well, the other thing that made me think of that was the email i got that said that firefox set the world record for most downloads in a 24 hour period for the firefox 3 download day campaign.  it all made me think that creating more ways for people to link back to thinktank couldn’t hurt, and the buttons are prettier than my cleverly unobtrusive “website designed by thinktank” tag at the bottom of our sites.  oh, the other thing the seo stuff taught me (or reminded me, really, i already knew it, but i wasn’t implementing it) was that it’s better to link the whole phrase “website designed by thinktank” than just the “thinktank” which is what i was doing before.

in other news, i got my computer working again, although i haven’t had a chance to look at the old hard drive, see if it’s usable, and figure out wtf happened.  for, you know, fun, and because i wanted to figure out what hardware i should get, or more accurately, if the hardware i was planning on getting would be comparable, i downloaded 3Dmark06 — the standard benchmarking tool that gaming magazines use to rate.  it seemed kind of silly to be using this benchmarking tool that i’ve read about in computer gaming world, but i wanted to see how erin’s system (roughly the equivalent of my broken system) compared with the media center which i was using (roughly the estimated equivalent of what i would be using).  i made a fatal error in doing this — while the mainboard and processors would be comparable (the mainboard i got was a mini version of the one i’m using in the media center) the fantastic graphics i was experiencing in guild wars on the media center was not due to a highly advanced onboard graphics processor which was my assumption at the time.  in fact, it was from the graphics card i got for the media center specifically because i needed s-video out to go to the tv.  as such, erin’s computer with an nvidia geforce 6600 ranked about a 600 and some change on the 3Dmark06 test.  the media center (not designed as a gaming computer by any means and only holding 1gb ram) ranked a 300.  these were, of course, piddly compared to the high scores of people who actually cared to build a gaming system and uploaded their scores to futuremark’s database.  so my plan was to get 4gb ram to overcompensate.  but, as i wrote in one more to file under “it’s always something”, i only had 2 ram slots and my power supply wasn’t spiff enough anyway.  so, having to order a new power supply, i also ordered a new graphics card as well, an off-brand nvidia geforce 8400gs.  it was the cheapest and most powerful solution.   when the power supply came, i started installing vista ultimate, and when the graphics card arrived a couple days later i started transitioning over to my new/old system.  in all, it’s performing well.  my new 3Dmark06 score is around 1600, and guild wars nightfall looks gorgeous — pretty much like the screenshots on their site.  so i’m a fairly happy camper and using a mostly functional operating system again.  while vista isn’t as simple and intuitive as osx and the start menu is all fuXX0red — seriously more messed up than previous versions imo — it works, the glass effects are pretty and it is better than XP and it’s no 95/98 by any means.   it’s definately an advance, albeit not a ground-breaking one.  there are a couple issues:

when i started using vista on the media center i discovered a problem — while i could create new folders (and new files through the right-click option) i could not NAME them.  i.e. New Folder.  New Folder (1).  New Folder (2).  etc. etc.  no matter what i did, i couldn’t get it to work.  apparently, after googling a bit, i discovered this was fairly common and required a registry hack to fix.  annoying, and a waste of a couple hours of banging my head on the computer screen.

random lockups and freezes in explorer, especially when accessing files on a shared network drive.  both vista computers do this so i can only assume this is fairly normal as well.  also, having to log in to the network drive after every reboot is obnoxious and i’m still trying to figure out how to save my password.  :/

so that’s the scoop.  a few quick, final closing remarks:

to answer the comment in my last post: avatars are user icon things for social apps like blogs and forums and messaging programs, but also are used by microsoft to visually represent different users.  it’s sort of the digitized representation of yourself to the world.

i’m planning on sending off my 8mm reels to get transferred to dvd in the next couple weeks.  once i get the dvd back i will rip the video, add new soundtracks and post them here (possibly to youtube as well).  i’m also going to do something about the gavin video and the guy in a hat video (guy in a hat might need to move to youtube also, just for kicks).

i want a google phone.

yes, i’m playing guild wars again.

look for joss whedon’s Dr. Horrible in a couple weeks.  it’s gonna be aweX0me.