Archive for March, 2009

BattleField 1942 in Windows 2008

I decided to play BF1942 today. I installed it and Battlefield Vietnam. These two games are about the only first person shooters I can play without getting simulator sickness. It had been a while since I played BF1942 so I wanted to try it first.

It should be noted at this point that I've been using Windows 2008 server as a desktop operating system for about three months now. Up until now everything pretty much worked out of the box, but once I tried to start up BF1942 I ran into a slight problem. It complained about having the wrong version of DirectX installed. It requires DirectX 6.0 or higher.

I knew I had a higher version of DirectX than this. So after digging around for a while I found out that there is a bug that causes this issue. The fix is a little strange. One person suggested that it was an issue with fullscreen mode. True enough, after changing one line of a config file for BF1942 to force it to start in windowed mode, there was no issues. The only problem is that windowed mode sucks.

So, searching further, I discovered that there is a fix that involves a patch for GTA2. Here are the instructions to execute this solution:
1.) Download this.
2.) Unzip
3.) Copy the dmusic.dll and dmusic.inf files to C:\Windows\System32
4.) Inside the system32 directory find dmusic.inf...right click on it and choose install.

BF1942 should now work in full screen mode.

»crosslinked«

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Xlack Download!

As stated in a previous post, I couldn't find the Xlack system information script anywhere. Well I was looking through some old backup DVD's I'd made and sure enough I have a backup of it. So for anyone that wants it you can find it here.

Xlack is my favorite sysinfo script for XChat. It isn't supported any longer and that may be the reason it's so hard to find. Also xlack.tk isn't working any longer. I'm guessing it is an abandoned project. I may actually take it over, eventually. I don't have the time at the moment, however.

So, download and use at your own risk. If you need help, please post a comment to this post. I will answer to the best of my knowledge.

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My newest external harddrive reviews

I recently lost around 750GB of data. This was due to my trust in a brand new 1.5TB Seagate FreeAgent drive. I wanted to move some data around and during the move, the drive died. So, needless to say, the drive was exchanged.

The 1.5TB drive used a standard 3.5 inch internal hard drive. I've had some bad luck with many of the newer drives. I'm pretty sure that the quality of drives in general has deminished as the capacity has increased. SATA drives in particular have given me much grief.

I decided to try out the Seagate FreeAgent Go 500GB drive even though it was a third of the size of the original drive I had purchased. The 1.5TB drive had firewire, USB 2.0, and eSATA. This wide variety of connections was a major factor in my decision to purchase it. The 500gb Go only had USB 2.0. This made it quite a bit less appealing.

That is about the only cons to the drive. There are, however, many pros. First of all, the drive doesn't require any external power. It is completely powered from the USB port. This is especially useful in that one isn't required to carry around a power supply. Also the USB port is standard mini USB, which is useful when you have about

Secondly, the drive is quiet. Many of the larger(physical size, not capacity) drives seem to be noisy. Some of this noise comes from the power adapter and the rest comes from drive itself. At any rate, this drive makes no noise.

Finally, the drive is ultra portable. Since there is no external power needed, the drive and the mini USB cable are all one must carry around. The drive itself is small. It will fit in a pants or jacket pocket. I would rather carry a 500GB drive around in my pocket than a 32GB thumbdrive.

It also appears to be much more reliable than the 1.5TB FreeAgent. This could be related to the type of drive used, since this uses a 2.5 inch notebook hard drive versus the 3.5 inch desktop hard drive used in the 1.5TB FreeAgent.

All in all, I wouldn't recommend the 1.5TB Seagate FreeAgent. There are reports that there are problems with these drives. However, I do recommend the 500GB Seagate FreeAgent Go. It's small, portable, and more reliable.

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Tips for Finding Cheap Website Hosting

Starting a website isn't hard. It's much easier than one may imagine. There are many things to know before starting, however. By asking key questions like how the site will be used, who will be accessing it, and what features it will need, will make the task much easier.

Websites start out as an idea. There are three main types of website. Personal websites normally are used to display family photos, communicate with relatives, or display a personal interest. These websites have been very useful for many to get more familiar with building websites. They are the modern scrapbook. However, they are becoming less common these days due to another form of website. The community (Web2.0) sites have been taking the place of many personal sites. These online communities try to replicate real-world socialization. The final type of website is the business website. These are used as store fronts or to display related information about a company. They can also be used as portals for business employees. Knowing which of these types of one wishes to create is the first step in finding appropriate hosting.

For personal sites, a small hosting package is normally good enough. Minimal money will be spent on this type of site. If one plans to set up a community-based website or a business website, other more expensive hosting options will be needed. No matter which type of site is being built, the first thing that will be needed is a domain name.

The very best place to grab a domain name is GoDaddy. For around the price of lunch, a domain name can be purchased for a year. So, it's cheap to buy a piece of the web. The hard part is finding the domain name. The big three top level domains are .COM, .NET, and .ORG. Finding a domain name within these three TLDs is the best, but very difficult. There are many people called "squatters" who buy up domain names just to resale later. Try to think of something clever and catchy that is related to what your site is going to be about. Limit the length of the name as much as possible. It'll be essential that visitor be able to remember the name for later. Godaddy has a great tool for checking the availability of a domain name and suggesting ideas for other names related to your search.

Once the domain name is found and purchased, it's necessary to have a hosting service. Godaddy also offers hosting, however hosting is a very competitive market and it's easy to find unlimited shared hosting for very little. For instance, here are some examples of very cheap unlimited website hosting on eBay. If one needs good support it would probably be better to go with a company like HostGator. While the eBay hosting packages will cost around $10 per year or (in some cases) for life, HostGator will cost around $10 per month. It can not be stressed enough, however, that HostGator is a reputable company that will deliver the best product. "You get what you pay for" is very correct in this case. The HostGator plan also allows one to host as many sites as they want all for the same month price. Omnis Network also offers great deals on domain names and hosting plans.

This hosting is great for any of the three types of websites, but if the site has potential to receive a lot of traffic, it would be best to go with either dedicated servers, colocation servers, or VPS.

Dedicated servers and colocation servers are the most powerful of the lot. These are real servers that the user has full control over. They are, of course, more expensive. Dedicated servers are basically servers one can rent that are in a data center on a dedicated internet connection. Co-locations, "Colo" for short, are dedicated servers that are owned by the customer and placed in a data center like those used by the dedicated servers.

VPS is just alphabet soup meaning Virtual Private Server. It's a dedicated server in a virtual environment. VPS is usually cheaper than true dedicated servers, but offer many of the same features. The customer is the owner of the server. They have full admin rights and can do whatever they want with it.

VPS, dedicated, and colocation servers are typically harder to maintain. They require more technical know-how than shared hosting or managed hosting. The customer is the administrator on the server and with the complete control comes complete responsibility. Unlike shared hosts however, dedicated servers and colo servers are completely dedicated to a single customer. There is always potential, while using a shared host, that the server will become slow due to heavy load from all the many sites it is hosting. Proper load balancing usually takes care of this but it could still happen.

So in conclusion, if someone wanted a small site for personal or small business use, the cost could be as little as $20 bucks for the domain name and hosting for a year, using Godaddy and eBay. For best results, however, it's recommended to buy hosting from a reputable company like HostGator or Omnis. One hosting account will allow for as many websites as one wishes.

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Free Software Everyone Should Know About

Most computer users aren't "savvy". They know how to turn the computer on, how to open up "the internet", and maybe how to write an email. To some, computers are scary devices. To others, computers are something they use daily but couldn't fix on their own. To the non-savvy computer user, open source software is a foreign term. It's geek speak. It's mumbo jumbo. Whether one is a savvy user or a beginner, they should be aware of what open source software has to offer them.

In order to understand what open source software is, it is important to know a little about how computers work and why software is normally so expensive to begin with. So a little "Intro to computers" is in order.

Computers need software to operate. The main software on a computer is it's operating system. This software allows the user to interact with the hardware. When the user presses a mouse button, a signal is sent to the computer's hardware, the hardware asks the operating system what it's supposed to do with this signal. The operating system tells the hardware what to do next and then tells the other software on the computer what has happened. The other software then reacts to the event. The click event is registered and the process pretty much goes back in reverse. The software that handled the click event tells the operating system what happened. The operating system tells the hardware. Finally the user sees or hears the effect of their click of the button on the screen/speakers/both.

The operating system is very important. Most people use a form of Microsoft's Windows operating system. Other examples of operating systems include Apple's Mac OS X, Linux, and FreeBSD. Windows and OS X are considered proprietary or commercial software. OS X comes on Macs, and Windows comes on most PCs. However, neither are free. They are part of the price paid for the new computers.

So this leads us to our first examples of open source software. Linux and FreeBSD are open source software. Proprietary or commercial software is normally "closed source", meaning the source code is a secret that only the software company can look at. Windows is completely closed source. OS X is to an extent. Much of the software at the core of OS X is built from open source software. Windows has an arguably unfair share of the market because Microsoft positioned themselves to have their version of DOS included on most new computers back in the old days and that has carried over to Windows. Many people argue that Windows is easier and that is why it has such a huge market share. However, it's arguably easier for most people because of it's huge market share making it more familiar.

This market share allowed Microsoft to position itself in other software markets as well. For instance, today Microsoft's Office Suite controls a huge market share as well. This creates a circular problem in that everyone who wishes to open an Office document whether it be a spreadsheet, presentation, or memo, has to have Office installed on their computer. However, it can also be stated that Microsoft finally delivered a standard on all these products. Back in the day there were many word processors and if person A wrote a document in Word Perfect, it was difficult for person B to open the document in Word.

There is a better solution to the document standards though. The documents should be a standard, and that standard should be open. Meaning anyone who wants to write a word processor should adhere to the standard document type. It's the same concept that we use today for our web browsers. It is important that all web sites have standard coding that all browsers can read. Microsoft tried to set that standard as well, and to this day Internet Explorer is one of the least standards compliant browsers available. Microsoft knew that if they controlled the standard, then everyone would have to use their products.

Now that all of that is out of the way, lets look at some of this open source software. Open source software is, as its name implies, software who's source is open for public viewing. Anyone is free to view, edit, and redistribute the software with or without the modification. This also means that open source software tends to be free, and in most cases, can be downloaded for free. Here is a list of common alternatives. I will post links at the end of the article that will lead to the download page or home page for all these applications.

If one needs an office suite, why pay $100 to $400 for Microsoft Office when OpenOffice is free. OpenOffice has a word processor, database app, presentation app, and spreadsheet app. Granted, there are a few features that Microsoft has that OpenOffice doesn't, but most of those features wouldn't be used by the average user. If one finds that OpenOffice doesn't do the trick, then they can look into purchasing Microsoft's Office suite, but if it's not needed why waste the money.

For email, most people probably have a web-base mail account. However, for those that use Outlook or Outlook express, perhaps Mozilla's Thunderbird is a better alternative.

Window Media player and Apple's iTunes software are both free but they aren't open source. For music, SongBird is a great alternative. It has the look and feel of iTunes but doesn't force the iTunes music store down the user's throat. It also has many plugins/extensions that one can install with a click of the mouse. Such extensions include: automatic lyric display, automatic album art, artist bio, discography, etc. It also has many available themes.

Browsing the web is easy with Windows right out of the box. Internet Explorer is built-in. However there are a few things people don't realize about Internet Explorer. Ever notice how everyone's home page is set to MSN? Microsoft rakes in millions just from the advertising on that site. It's a simple tweak that most people don't realize. Also, what about the user's browsing habits. That's some very powerful information to have. With it they could pinpoint advertise and make even more money, or sell the info to others. The point is, Internet Explorer is all about invading your privacy. This coupled with the fact that it's probably the least secure browsers one can use, and it stands to reason that we should all be using something else. Thankfully there are plenty of alternatives to Internet Explorer. Try out Firefox, Google Chrome, Opera, or Flock. They are all very good choices to replace IE.

For photo editing needs, The Gimp makes a pretty good Photoshop replacement. It can do many of the same things. Granted, it's nowhere near as robust as Photoshop, it will surprise many of the most skilled "shoppers" out there.

For chatting with friends, an IM application is usually installed. These include Yahoo, MSN, AIM, Google Talk, and MySpace IM. Well all of those could be replaced with a single program called Pidgin. Pidgin is a great instant messenger application and uses very little system resources compared to any one of these.

Finally, after replacing all of the core software titles on a system, why not replace the operating system itself. Many people have switched to Linux and are happy. Linux is a monster as a server OS and it's actually a very good desktop OS as well. The most popular (at least for desktops) Linux distribution available today is Ubuntu. It is one of the easier distributions. There is also a huge community available to help with any problems that may arise.

In conclusion, it is quite possible to legally use a computer without paying a single penny for any of the software installed on it. Not only is this software free, but it's also very robust and can fill even the most demanding user's needs. There's always a chance that open source isn't a good choice for some users, but most will find it very useful.

Here is a complete list of the software mentioned in this article and links to learn more about or download the software.

Linux:
General Information about Linux
Ubuntu Linux
Debian Linux
Fedora Linux
Suse Linux
Arch Linux
DistroWatch - A list of all popular Linux distributions

FreeBSD and other free operating systems other than Linux:
FreeBSD Project Site
OpenBSD
NetBSD

OpenOffice:
http://openoffice.org

Thunderbird:
http://www.mozillamessaging.com/en-US/thunderbird/

SongBird:
http://getsongbird.com/

VLC:
Video Lan Media player
Firefox:
http://mozilla.com

Google Chrome:
http://www.google.com/chrome

Opera:
http://www.opera.com/

Flock:
http://flock.com/

The Gimp:
http://www.gimp.org/

Pidgin:
http://pidgin.im/

Other helpful links:
Comprehensive list of Open Source/Free software
GNU Project
The Free Software Foundation
Sourceforge - search for open source software.

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BitchX removed from latest stable Debian release

I just recently realized that BitchX is no longer in the Debian repos on one of my servers. Apparently there is some kind of library dependency issue. I decided to try some of the other IRC clients for the command line (I use XChat for most of my IRC chatting but sometimes I want to chat from a CLI environment). The rest of the clients, however, sucked. Especially when one is used to BitchX. I could have probably gotten used to one of them but I just wasn't impressed. I tried Irssi, ircii, weechat, epic4, and something called Pork. None of them felt right.

So, I downloaded the BitchX source. I couldn't get it to compile (probably why it isn't in the repos any longer). Configure didn't report any errors. Make failed with a generic error that ld ended status 1. All that means to me is that ld ended with an error. I'm sure I could have tracked it down eventually but instead I downloaded the Linux binaries. Miraculously, the binary worked without any problems whatsoever.

So, if you are like me and really like BitchX for IRC, download the binaries from: http://www.bitchx.com/download.php

Once you have the binary, you can place it in /usr/bin with:
cp BitchX /usr/bin
and create a symlink like so: 
ln -s /usr/bin/BitchX /usr/bin/bitchx
I created the symlink only because I'm used to starting BitchX using the lowercase version of the command. The symlink is optional.

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Virtual Box: VMs for the Rest of Us

A lot of my desktop time is spent in Linux, even though lately I've been trying out Windows Server 2008 as a desktop OS (as a side note, it's pretty dang good). At any rate, being a full time web developer now, I need to be able to preview everything with IE. DeVry also requires me to use Office 2007 for my school work. So, there's still a need for Windows. I can't cut myself free of it yet. I've been trying for over 10 years.

There's always the dual boot solution. I still do that on my main box. My secondary (I call it my server) runs Ubuntu Server OS only. My wife's desktop boots to Linux all the time. She tried Windows 7 but wasn't very impressed. All our laptops are dualboot as well.

This isn't a great solution if I just need to check a few things in IE though. This is where a VM comes in handy for me. There are many other uses, but for the most part, in my daily life, that's what I use a VM for. I also quite frequently use a Windows XP VM for writing Windows code.

Another handy thing about VMs is that they can be stored on an external storage device and carried around everywhere. It's basically like having your computer on your thumbdrive. The only catch is you need VM software to run that virtual machine. The most popular virtual machine software is VMWare. This is, however, an open source solution as well, Virtualbox.

Now, I love VMWare. So, there's no need to argue your points for VMWare. I know them. When I suggest Virtualbox, I'm only suggesting an alternative. I know VMWare server is free. BlahBlahBlah. I'm mearly suggesting that people should give Virtualbox a try. It really is a great product. I've had very few issues with it at all. The ONLY bad thing about it that I've found is related to its virtual networking. It's harder to make custom network interfaces with Virtualbox than VMWare. At least that's my experience. This is especially true with the Linux versions.

This network problem isn't really a problem for most people. I just noticed it because I was trying to set up a Windows domain for testing purposes one day. I wanted four VMs of XP and a 2k3 VM in a virtual lan cut off from the rest of the world. I then wanted to test group policy and such on the internal domain. It's been a while ago so I can't remember the exact details but I remember that it was difficult to make happen on Virtualbox at the time. It may have actually just been user error on my part.

I believe Virtualbox was bought by Sun not too long ago. It was around the same time that Sun bought MySQL. Those were two of my favorite open source products. So far it doesn't appear that Sun has screwed them up, but I'm sure it'll happen eventually. I can picture the future for both of those applications as being filled with Java bloat. It may be one of Sun's goals to slow MySQL down to Oracle speeds and to do so they'll force users to run MySQL in a Solaris VM on Virtualbox. Who knows?

Either way, Virtualbox is working great as of today, and I highly recommend it. Oh and by the way, it runs on Windows, Linux, and OS X. So, even your Mini can run it.

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Browser nuances

I've recently been working on a new site. I prefer to write the xhtml, css, php, and javascript without using any WYSIWYG interface. This is great for a few reasons.

  1. I can practice coding
  2. I can manage my own code better
  3. I can verify that the code is W3C compliant
  4. PHP/MySQL doesn't preview very well in pre-Dreamweaver CS4 WYSIWYG environments.
  5. Neither does javascript

I personally switch back and forth between three editors. I use Vim as much as I can. I love that old editor. I use Notepad++ mainly for vbscripting and quit web page edits. Finally, I've found that I love the code view in Dreamweaver. It's a great tool. So, now that I've gotten that out of the way, let me explain the one thing I can't stand about web development. I love everything about it except for ......browsers. All web developers will tell you that writing web pages for Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera, and now Chrome is a headache. It's not that writing a webpage is a headache. It's the fact that each of these browsers have their nuances. Here's an example... I'm working on a fluid layout for this new site. I have a search box that sits in a div in the upper left corner of the browser window.

Here it is in IE7:

Nuance 1 IE7

Notice the border around the search box. It goes above the top of the browser. This is because I'm using a negative margin value to move the search box up. I did this because in Firefox the search box was too low. I was developing the site and previewing in Firefox to check my code. So I adjusted the CSS in relation to what I saw in Firefox. Here's the same element in Firefox:

Nuance 1 FF

Again notice the top border of the search box. In fact, notice that the whole box show up in FF. Here's the same example in Google's Chrome browser:

Nuance 1 GC

You may be saying to yourself, "that looks exactly like the Firefox example. You would be correct but here's my second example of nuances. Here is my category menu just under that same search box...in Firefox:

Nuance 2 FF

That's how I wanted it to look. I'm using jQuery to get the rounded edges in the inside div. Check out the same edges in Google's Chrome:

Nuance 2 GC

When one spends hours trying to make a design look the same across all browsers, it's frustrating to say the least. I haven't mastered it yet. I would really rather spend this time adding AJAX to the site so that it will be functioning and ready for deployment.

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Play the real stock market with fake money. Learn to lose money just like a pro in no time!

I've always wanted to be a day trader. There's just something about the chance of making money from nothing but clever buys/sells. The only problem is, I'm broke. Just to start an account at most brokers you have to have $1,000. I may have the money but I'm not at the point in my life where I can throw it into some stocks.

What's more, I don't even know how to buy/sell stocks to begin with. Well at least I didn't. That is changing for the most part since I joined (for free) WallStreetSurvivor.com. Now I can lose money with the best of them. All joking aside, I've really learned a lot about the market from this site. For instance, I had no idea what selling short and buying on the margin were before I started playing this game.

There's also some really cool tools in the game such as performance charts. There's a ticker showing some of the latest trades by other players. Oh I forgot to mention that you compete against the other players for prizes.

I had an idea for something like this a couple of years ago, but my version of the game was setup more like an online casino atmosphere. I'm not sure if any of you have played Texas Hold'em on the old online poker sites but that was the idea I wanted for my stock simulator. People could compete in tournaments. There would be an entry fee, and the house would get a bit of a cut from the pool. Hey, I had to run the website with something. Unfortunately, that idea never took off, mainly because I didn't want to research the legality of such a business indeavor. I may actually start working on that idea and give WallStreetSurvivor.com a run for it's money.

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OpenDNS: A more secure, reliable, and up-to-date DNS service

Whether you're a parent wanting to filter some of the websites your child visits or a small business looking for a way to keep employees off Youtube, OpenDNS may be your solution. I've been using the service for a few months and love it.

Firstly, it tends to get updates faster than any other DNS servers I've ever used. So for someone like me, who is always working on new websites, it is important to be able to get to those websites by hostname as quickly as possible. OpenDNS seems to get updates within minutes. In the past, I've waited over a day for DNS to propagate on some sites using my ISP's DNS servers, and as a rule of thumb it can take up to 72 hours for DNS to propagate fully.

Now the downside to this is even though you can get to the website pretty easily, most of your viewers aren't using OpenDNS servers. They will have to wait, but at least you'll be able to construct a site while they are waiting. So, this isn't really a downside for you, it's just an inherit downside that comes from waiting on DNS.

Another advantage openDNS offers is that one can manually control DNS entries for a network. This is all handled from a very nice configuration page after you create an account. For instance, I can't stand MySpace.com and pretty much don't want any computers in my house browsing to that site. I've worked on too many computers loaded down with spyware, and a good number of them had MySpace shortcuts on the desktop or the MySpace instant messenger app installed. This could be a coincidence, but I think not. So, I can just block that site. I enter the domain name, save the settings, and within 3 minutes none of the computers on my network can get to MySpace.com.

All that one has to do is create a free account at openDNS.com, add your network, and then change your DNS server settings. Subscribe to my blog. I will be posting a tutorial on changing DNS servers later this week. I will also be describing a bit more about using openDNS on a dynamic IP and some of the things that can be done to help make living with a dynamic IP less of a headache.

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