November 2006


Apple November 30th, 2006 by HMTKSteve

RockBoxRockBox is an alternate firmware package for your iPod. Unlike the traditional iPod+iTunes, RockBox works with any computer that can connect to the iPod as a hard drive.

Now, you might be wondering why anyone would even want to replace the firmware on an iPod. After all the iPod “just works” and it has a very clean interface.

Well, contrary to popular belief, the iPod does not always “just work.” If you check the Internet you will see a few stories where people have problems getting their iPod to work properly.

RockBox does not replace your Apple firmware. It does add a boot loader which allows you to choose to run your iPod in “Apple” mode, “disk mode” or “RockBox” mode. If you choose to run in Apple mode your iPod will work much as it has before.

I’m going to quickly go down my list of reasons for installing RockBox:

1) To Support non-standard audio formats:

RockBox supports numerous audio codecs such as: Mpeg-audio, Ogg/Vorbis, MPC, AC3, AAC/MP4, WAV, AIFF, FLAC and ALAC. For a complete listing you can click here.

See, not everyone uses mp3. Some people prefer to use a more open audio codec.

Rock Blocks2) It’s skinable:

The one thing the iPod lacks is the ability to skin the menus. Some would clearly argue that the iPod is elegant in it’s simplicity. Look at the Zune, it has some degree of skinning and the interface sucks. Which would you rather have? Clean and elegant or skinable and sucky?

RockBox has found a middle ground. After you get used to navigating the menu system you will find that skinning it has no major effect on how you use it, other than personalizing your iPod that is!

You can find a large number of skins here.

3) So I can easily use the iPod with a Linux PC.

Because RockBox does not use the xml database file system that the iPod firmware uses I can just drag and drop music files onto my iPod and play them.

Because iTunes+iPod uses a db file to tell it where all the songs are you can’t access your iTunes music as easily as you might want to. For one thing that area of the iPod is marked hidden and even if you un-hide it, every time you connect to iTunes it will be marked hidden again.

The other problem is that iTunes renames all of your files with names such as GYEF.mp3 and puts them in folders F00 -> F32 etc… Yeah, you can find the files but you will have no idea what is in the file until you play it!

Unreal4) To get around some of the problems I have been having playing and moving media onto my iPod.

I have dealt with the 00:01 problem.

I have dealt with iTunes abject refusal to move podcasts onto my iPod.

Not anymore! The same mp3 files that would cause my iPod to crash plays perfectly fine under RockBox.

Now that I have told you the good, here comes the bad:

1) Battery life is lower.

Because RockBox does not use the full feature set available in the iPod it can not use the battery as well as the iPod firmware can. This wouldn’t be such a major issue except…

2) You can not plug it into the car charger while using it.

I have a long commute, typically 45 minutes each way, twice a day. I keep my iPod plugged into the car charger while I use it. This allows me to also use it during the work day with little to no fear of the battery running out.

RockBox goes right into disk mode if I plug in the car charger.

3) It takes more work to set things up.

Setting up playlists in iTunes is fairly simple. The iPod firmware also handles categorizing music in a very simple way. RockBox is not quite there yet.

Unless you think out your directory structure before you load anything into RockBox you will probably encounter some trouble in finding things.

In closing:

I feel RockBox has made great strides but it is not quite ready yet. The software that Apple loads onto the iPod is so simple that there is almost no need to replace it. Well, except for skinning! It is funny how a company that is all about the individual and making their products your own does not allow you to skin the software on your iPod. Not even something as simple as changing the menu colors…

Oh wait, they are doing something like that with the new iPod Nanos but… you have to pay for that feature when you buy it…

General November 30th, 2006 by Marsha

All the guys always ask, "How do I keep my woman happy?"

Sit right down and take some notes because I am going to tell you!

1) Listen - This is the easiest thing you can do and it gives you the biggest benefits. Just listen when she speaks to you. Stop what you are doing (unless stopping would kill or maim you) and pay attention to her and what she is saying.

Woman communicate best through speech and they want to know that what they are saying is not going in one ear and out the other.

Also, no matter how good you are at multi-tasking you need to give her your full attention. Oh, and never act like your not listening and then rattle off, word for word, what she just said back to her.

2) If the trash is three quarters of the way full, empty it.

What can I say, taking out the garbage is still man's work, so do it!

3) Learn to read our body language - If your woman is lying on the coach half asleep don't go giving her sexy eyes expecting a response other than a boot to the head.

When you are busy working on a car and you are focused on getting that head gasket to fit just right we don't bother you. Well, sometimes we do, but you probably deserve it. Learn to read us so you will not when to ask for something is appropriate.

At the same time, if you see us with a bottle of wine and some sexy lingerie it does not mean we want you to go out with the guys. But, if you do decide to go out I'm sure we can always call an ex to come over.

4) We are not your mother - If I need to explain this one you are probably still single.

5) Be yourself - No matter what kind of person you really are be yourself. Let us see all the good and all of the bad. How else will we be able to judge whether or not we want to keep you?

We don't want to find out two years later that you were once an axe murderer! We want to know that now so we can decide if your cooking skills outweigh your killing skills!

If you pretend to be someone you are not you'll only end up disappointing both of us.

You'll be unhappy because you have to keep up the act and we'll be unhappy for wasting our time.

Gadgets November 30th, 2006 by Stephen

RockBoxRockBox is an alternate firmware package for your iPod. Unlike the traditional iPod+iTunes, RockBox works with any computer that can connect to the iPod as a hard drive.

Now, you might be wondering why anyone would even want to replace the firmware on an iPod. After all the iPod "just works" and it has a very clean interface.

Well, contrary to popular belief, the iPod does not always "just work." If you check the Internet you will see a few stories where people have problems getting their iPod to work properly.

RockBox does not replace your Apple firmware. It does add a boot loader which allows you to choose to run your iPod in "Apple" mode, "disk mode" or "RockBox" mode. If you choose to run in Apple mode your iPod will work much as it has before.

I'm going to quickly go down my list of reasons for installing RockBox:

1) To Support non-standard audio formats:

RockBox supports numerous audio codecs such as: Mpeg-audio, Ogg/Vorbis, MPC, AC3, AAC/MP4, WAV, AIFF, FLAC and ALAC. For a complete listing you can click here.

See, not everyone uses mp3. Some people prefer to use a more open audio codec.

Rock Blocks2) It's skinable:

The one thing the iPod lacks is the ability to skin the menus. Some would clearly argue that the iPod is elegant in it's simplicity. Look at the Zune, it has some degree of skinning and the interface sucks. Which would you rather have? Clean and elegant or skinable and sucky?

RockBox has found a middle ground. After you get used to navigating the menu system you will find that skinning it has no major effect on how you use it, other than personalizing your iPod that is!

You can find a large number of skins here.

3) So I can easily use the iPod with a Linux PC.

Because RockBox does not use the xml database file system that the iPod firmware uses I can just drag and drop music files onto my iPod and play them.

Because iTunes+iPod uses a db file to tell it where all the songs are you can't access your iTunes music as easily as you might want to. For one thing that area of the iPod is marked hidden and even if you un-hide it, every time you connect to iTunes it will be marked hidden again.

The other problem is that iTunes renames all of your files with names such as GYEF.mp3 and puts them in folders F00 -> F32 etc... Yeah, you can find the files but you will have no idea what is in the file until you play it!

Unreal4) To get around some of the problems I have been having playing and moving media onto my iPod.

I have dealt with the 00:01 problem.

I have dealt with iTunes abject refusal to move podcasts onto my iPod.

Not anymore! The same mp3 files that would cause my iPod to crash plays perfectly fine under RockBox.

Now that I have told you the good, here comes the bad:

1) Battery life is lower.

Because RockBox does not use the full feature set available in the iPod it can not use the battery as well as the iPod firmware can. This wouldn't be such a major issue except...

2) You can not plug it into the car charger while using it.

I have a long commute, typically 45 minutes each way, twice a day. I keep my iPod plugged into the car charger while I use it. This allows me to also use it during the work day with little to no fear of the battery running out.

RockBox goes right into disk mode if I plug in the car charger.

3) It takes more work to set things up.

Setting up playlists in iTunes is fairly simple. The iPod firmware also handles categorizing music in a very simple way. RockBox is not quite there yet.

Unless you think out your directory structure before you load anything into RockBox you will probably encounter some trouble in finding things.

In closing:

I feel RockBox has made great strides but it is not quite ready yet. The software that Apple loads onto the iPod is so simple that there is almost no need to replace it. Well, except for skinning! It is funny how a company that is all about the individual and making their products your own does not allow you to skin the software on your iPod. Not even something as simple as changing the menu colors...

Oh wait, they are doing something like that with the new iPod Nanos but... you have to pay for that feature when you buy it...

Social Bookmarking November 29th, 2006 by HMTKSteve

I was just checking my profile on Digg and I was surprised to see that I have jumped into the Top 500 users on Digg!

It's been a long haul getting this far but what really surprised me is the fact that you only need to get 12 stories pegged to the home page to be in the Top 500!

You can see my Digg profile here and I invite you to add me as your friend.

Now that I am in the Top 500 listing, does this mean my stories will hit the home page with less Diggs? My 12th story to make it to the home page did it with only 34 Diggs. This may be because it was in the lighter category of "Gaming News" rather than the Tech area.

The break points for each grouping are as follows (as of today):

13 stories = 438
14 stories = 397
15 stories = 369
16 stories = 340
17 stories = 309
18 stories = 296
19 stories = 269
20 stories = 254
21 stories = 240
22 stories = 231
23 stories = 224
24 stories = 217
25 stories = 207
26 stories = 201
27 stories = 194
28 stories = 182
29 stories = 177
30 stories = 172
31 stories = 164
32 stories = 158
33 stories = 153
34 stories = 148
35 stories = 144
36 stories = 135
37 stories = 126
38 stories = 122
39 stories = 119
41 stories = 117
42 stories = 113
43 stories = 111
44 stories = 109
45 stories = 107
46 stories = 106
47 stories = 104
48 stories = 103
49 stories = 101
50 stories = 99
51 stories = 97
53 stories = 95
54 stories = 93
55 stories = 89
56 stories = 85
58 stories = 83
59 stories = 81
61 stories = 80
62 stories = 79
63 stories = 77
64 stories = 76
68 stories = 75
71 stories = 73
72 stories = 72
75 stories = 71
76 stories = 70
77 stories = 69
79 stories = 68
80 stories = 67
81 stories = 66
87 stories = 65
88 stories = 64
90 stories = 63
96 stories = 61

Once you get past the 61st spot on the list the count gaps between home page numbers gets large. What you will quickly notice when perusing the Top Diggers List is that breaking into the Top 100 is hard enough, but climbing through the Top 50 is near impossible!

It's also interesting to note that the current Top Digg User has been befriended by 1192 users!

In fact, all of the Top Ten Top Diggers have been befriended by at least 400 users, eight out of ten have been befriended by 500 or more!

Getting friend data is not so easy on Digg so I'm not about to do a big article on it, unless I break a leg and I'm stuck in the hospital or something along those lines!

Games November 29th, 2006 by Tom Vasel

Venus Needs Men! (Synelix Games, 2006 - John L. Velonis) sounds like the name of a really bad "B" movie, and the artwork on the box cover does nothing to dissuade one from that. But I'm always on the lookout for games in the space genre; and therefore, it wasn't hard to tempt me into a playing of the game. And I liked it, not despite the theme but because of it. The ideas were silly and humorous, yet the mechanics offered enough choices to make this more than just a simple, light game.

Each player controls aliens who are attempting to capture or eliminate a good portion of Earth's population - Venus is looking for slaves, Mars for brains, Ganymede for food, Titan for parasitic hosts, and Pluto for targets. Using a cards and dice, players manipulate their spaceships around, attempting to take large chunks of the Earth's population. The game has a basic and "enhanced" game; and while I find the basic game a bit mundane for my tastes, the enhanced game is an enjoyable romp of semi-role playing and light tactics.

I'll go over the enhanced rules, since they are only a small step up from the basic rules. As I said up above, each player chooses one of the five races attacking Earth thanks to a defense system being disabled. Alternatively, a player can play as Earth, attempting to rescue players rather than players taking spaceships of their colors (four through six, depending on race), and placing two on their home planet. The planets are connected via dotted lines to either space regions (numbered "1" through "10") or orbit around the earth. Earth itself is divided into eight land regions - each with a number of population chips on them. These land regions are connected via dotted lines to each other and to five different water regions. A deck of "Zap" cards is shuffled and evenly split between players, giving them a deck which they draw three from. Another deck of Technology Upgrade cards is shuffled with three placed face up next to the board. Players place the three Technology cards and one Special card specific to their race in front of them, and the game is ready to begin, starting with Pluto, if possible.

On a players turn they fill up their hand up to three Zap cards and then take one of the following actions:
- Build a spaceship. The player may take one of their reserve spaceships and place it on their home world. (Ganymede can build two; Earth can build them on land territories)
- Move action. The player can move each of their spaceships to one adjacent area, following the dotted lines, or going from Orbit to any land area on earth. (Titan can move two spaces, Earth ships cannot move into deep space, Pluto can warp to a random space zone, and Ganymede can use all movement for one ship.)
- Attack. The player can attack a spaceship in the same section, or any ship on earth from orbit, or any ship in an adjacent earth territory. A player rolls the number of dice listed on their weapon card, with some of the races having special abilities. If a ship is hit, it is removed from the board, although Pluto's ships need to be hit twice.
- Population. The player can collect one population chip with each of their ships in a land area that contains population chips. Pluto can collect (destroy) them from orbit; Ganymede can collect them from adjacent oceans, and Titan can infect them with parasites. There is a limited amount of chips on the board; when they're gone, they are not replaced.
- Research action. The player must discard one of the face-up Tech cards and replace it with the top one from the deck. They then choose one of the face-up cards that they would like to obtain and roll one ten-sided die to match or exceed the Upgrade number on the card. If they do so, they may take the card, acquiring any upgrade or special abilities it adds.

A player can play Zap cards at any time and use them for a variety of special effects, to help themselves and hinder the other players. However, a player can also discard up to three Zap cards on their turn, using each discard to add to the action they already took (for example they can move one ship one extra space). Once a player runs out of Zap cards, they can play no more; so players must use them with care.

The game continues until one player captures a plurality of the population on Earth wins the game immediately. The Basic game is similar to the enhanced game, but has no Technology, and fewer differences between the races.

Some comments on the game…

1.) Components: I'm fairly satisfied with the components, but I did have a few problems. The biggest problem was that every single card in the game has the same back, which makes them extremely difficult to sort and keep separate. I did like the look of the cards, which are black and white, with some silly, retro artwork. The ships are generic plastic ships in different colors; and a few ten- sided dice are included with the game, as well as a pile of chips for population. These small poker chips are decent, although they don't stack too well. The board is very well done and includes great artwork as well as very clear territory delineations. Everything fits into a sturdy box, and the entire game has a very retro feel about it.

2.) Rules: The rulebook is only four pages long and is actually only decent. For one thing, you have to really read carefully to see the differences between the Enhanced and Basic game; it should have been formatted better to more easily distinguish which rules applied to which game. Also, the rules are in a bit of a whacky order, and I found myself perusing around several times - almost missing critical rules because they are only mentioned quickly once. Still, once I taught the game to others, I found it very easy going; and most players caught on quickly. The cards are rather helpful to remind players what their special abilities are, and a nice card is included for each player that gives them a short description of the abilities of the other aliens. Teenagers had no problem with the game; and while I would have preferred longer, clearer rules, it wasn't hard to understand.

3.) Races: At first, you may assume that every race is more powerful than the one you are playing. Some of the races do seem overpowered, but I've seen them all have good results (except Earth - perhaps that one needs to go to an experienced player?) Each of them has just a bit of flair - such as Mars stealing other player's ships, or Venus with their extremely unpredictable gun, or Titan attempting to infect the entire earth population. Players tend to get into character, which is almost essential for a game such as this, and use the special abilities of the races to best win the game. This is another reason why I'm a fan of the enhanced game, as it allows the races to have larger differences, giving the game more flavor.

4.) Zap: The Zap cards are an interesting beast, as they can be used either for their text or to extend one's turn. In the games that I've played I've seen them used about equally for both purposes. The cards are NOT balanced, as some of them are certainly more powerful than others, but none of them are game-breakers either. They add a bit of chaos to the game that isn't there otherwise; yet I enjoy using them, not simply because they increase the interaction, but because give the players one more choice to make when deciding what to do on their turn.

5.) Strategy: Obviously, a player's main goal is to simply fly to Earth and start collecting as many people as they can, since that is the ultimate goal of the game. Yet with technology and racial abilities, some players have a slight advantage here; and since not all land areas are created equal, a player with a ship in China has a much bigger pool of people to collect from than say, one in Australia. The counter to this is the ship-to-ship combat in the game. Some players may get caught up in the combat, which is admittedly fun; but if you can destroy a couple of your opponent's ships at the right time, you can cause a major setback to them, since it takes time to rebuild ships and send them back down to earth.

6.) Diplomacy: I'm not a huge fan of multi-player war games, as players often tend to get ganged up on, but it works fairly smoothly in Venus Needs Men! Players can point out who is winning and adjust their strategies accordingly, but an all out offensive on one player is difficult and is often a waste of players' times. No trading is allowed, so very few deals are made other than "Let's all attack Pluto's ships this turn, since they are so far ahead!"

7.) Fun Factor and Luck: Any game that uses ten-sided dice for combat will certainly have a decent amount of luck in it. Combat is quick, simple; and some races do quite a bit better at it. However, since collecting population is NOT random, the game rises above the rolling of the dice and playing of the Zap cards. Venus Needs Men! is fun because of its theme and interesting gameplay. It's fun to try and get new technology to enhance your race. It's fun to destroy your opponent's ships or use a Zap card at the right time!

8.) Time: One can adjust the time needed to play the game by adjusting the starting population markers in each country. This is a VERY effective way to increase / decrease playing time (although I found that the starting number seems to be the best and easiest) and usually causes the game to last just about an hour, which is perfect for this type of game.

I'm not sure that Venus Needs Men! will win any strategy game awards for an elegant play style. Yet despite a few rule and components problems, I enjoy the game tremendously. Part of that is certainly due to the theme, which is humorous and enjoyable; but I like how the game allows one action per turn, as it keeps the game moving quickly and smoothly. It's an hour game that allows some strategy, as players decide whether to build, move, fight, or capture humans. Venus Needs Men! has just enough variety to keep it interesting, with enough tactics to keep it from being just another pretty game.

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games"
www.thedicetower.com

You can buy this game directly from their website.


BoardGameGeek entry for Venus Needs Men

General November 28th, 2006 by HMTKSteve

I admit it... Back in the day I used to buy all of Weird Al's albums. I made sure to watch his show before the MTV Music Awards and I know who Harvey the Wonder Hamster is.

I was checking YouTube tonight and I found some Weird Al Videos so I would like to share them with all of you.

The first one is called "White and Nerdy"

The second one is Al's take on downloading music.

This one is a little older but still good "Amish Paradise"

Home November 28th, 2006 by HMTKSteve

I mentioned before on this blog how I am getting ready to put a major addition onto my home. I thought I should take a few moments to show all of you just how small my home currently is.

Here is a shot from the front of the house.
This shot is taken from the driveway.

This house is just about 800 square feet. The basement has a low ceiling and is not as big as the house above it. Parts of the foundation are filled in with dirt while other areas are accessible.

The yard is large but there is a slope that turns into an eight foot drop over ten feet about 25 feet behind the house. I'm hoping to take advantage of this by putting on a 25x25 foot addition with a walk-out basement.

Looking up from the base of the slope.

My wife and I have gone back and forth about the basement. She wants to just drop a slab in place to save money but I want a room I can use for a shop without bumping my head on the ceiling. I also feel that because of the drop in the back we can't just use a simple slab, we will need to have some sort of retaining wall built under the slab where the slope is.

A 25x25 foot expansion will go a few feet past the existing bulkhead. This will allow me to get rid of the water problem we have with the bulkhead. It's not the doors but the blocks themselves that have leaking problems. I've used Dry-Lock on them and it did meditate but not fully remedy the water problem.

This is a side view. The deck sticks out about 15 feet and will be replaced by the addition.

We will also put a small upstairs on with the addition. We will not raise the entire roof but the area above the addition and part of the existing roof will be raised. We may have to raise the chimney as well. After we get the pricing estimates (and add out assumed 15% to them) we may just raise the whole roof, it all depends on the cost.

Our main goals are:

  • Master bedroom with bath upstairs.
  • Dining room and laundry area on the main floor.
  • Shop for me in the basement.

    We have not drawn up a specific floor plan and I will be meeting with a builder next week to go over the basics and get some rough estimates on cost.

    Now, I know most people are used to seeing the home shows on TV where they tear the whole place down and don't even talk about the budget. I'm all about the budget! I'm not made out of money so I have to watch my nickels lest I go broke before the job is complete.

    I hope to impart what I have learned to all who read this blog.

    Only time will tell if this becomes a "do as I do" story or a "don't do what I did" story. I hope for the "do as I do" type because this is directly affecting me!

  • Games November 28th, 2006 by HMTKSteve

    Every other Monday I get together with my friends for game night. This week it was only Dan and I so we took the opportunity to play Arkham Horror with the Curse of the Dark Pharaoh expansion.

    One of the chief problems with Arkham Horror is that it can take a large block of time to play. Last time we played it took us over four hours to win the game. This time we had a three and one-half hour block of time to play and we felt confident that the game would either end on time or it would end early with the great old one being victorious!

    We could have just played the standard game without the expansion but we decided to go for broke and went with the version where you shuffle all of the cards together.

    After three and one-half hours we called the game. We had sealed five gates and would have sealed the sixth one for the win but we did not have enough time left.

    Here is a short list of the things we learned in our two player game:

    1) When playing with only two players the outskirts often fill up and the terror track moves fairly fast.
    2) Clue tokens can really build up at locations.
    3) Those same clue tokens can quickly vanish if you don't seal gates!
    4) Being delayed or lost in space and time has a much greater effect on the game when there are only two players.
    5) The CotDP Mythos cards have a lot of "lingering" effects.
    6) The exhibit items were interesting but not unbalancing.
    7) Some of the other worlds cards are deadly as you may have to fight an elder god, on your own!
    8) Seal every gate. The locations that were "stable" are no longer stable.

    We had a good time playing but we did reach a point where we knew we would not lose and that did affect our game play.

    Early on I had an opportunity to seal the Independence Square location but I held off thinking it to be a stable location, it wasn't as two more gates opened there during the course of the game!

    I acquired an item that would allow me to gain sanity, health and clue tokens when other players died...

    Strangely, when I went to outer worlds I would draw cards along the lines of, "make a check and something good happens, fail and something not quite as good happens." Whereas Dan would draw cards along the lines of, "make a check and something bad happens, fail it and something even worse happens!"

    We had a few problems with powerful monsters roaming the streets of Arkham in gangs. It became a case of, "should I fight the Dhole or that grouping of a witch, vampire, elder thing and a hound?"

    We did not draw any of the feared "put two tokens on the doom track" mythos cards but we did draw enough of the mythos cards targeting normally stable gate locations. There were also a few times where we would stay in a location that is normally unstable and not have gates open there, ever!

    Dan was banned from one of the locations... shortly after he was banned clue tokens began to appear in that section of town!

    I picked up a "local guide" card while in another world. The -1 to my movement became an issue as areas were just out of my reach!

    Because we only had two players we hardly ever cashed in out monster tokens and gate tokens. It just was not worth it to us. We had to keep closing and sealing gates and spending a turn on a location while trading in tokens just was not worth it.

    We hope to play again soon with a bigger group.

    I have also heard that the Dunwhich Horror expansion is out.... I can't wait to get it!


    You can buy these games directly from Funagain games.

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