January 2009


video games January 31st, 2009 by HMTKSteve

A few days ago Bethesda released the first DLC for Fallout 3: Operation Anchorage. This added content costs 800 Xbox points.

Description:

Operation: Anchorage. Enter a military simulation and fight in one of the greatest battles of the Fallout universe – the liberation of Anchorage, Alaska from its Chinese Communist invaders. Gain access to unique armor, weapons, and exotic gadgets while you build and command interactive Strike Teams to win the battle and defeat the Chinese base.

Story:

The Brotherhood Outcasts are trying to acquire advanced military technology, and the only way to open the vault containing these relics is by completing a tactical simulation only you can enter. In Operation: Anchorage you will re-live the epic Battle of Anchorage from Fallout lore. Find your way into the simulation, stripped of resources, and survive within the rules set up by the simulation’s creators. The Chinese red army is everywhere, so secure the surrounding mountain side and fight your way into the Chinese base.

    Key Features:

  • Enter a top-secret battle simulator which allows you to test and use both new and old weaponry, with nearly unlimited amounts of ammo at your disposal!
  • Adds hours of extended gameplay to explore the Alaskan tundra with a new or existing character.
  • Gain access to new weapons, exotic armor, and items…even a Chinese Stealth Suit!
  • Chose your strike team to help you through your quest.
  • Exclusive new perks and achievements!

Now that you've read the canned text from Bethesda it's time for you to read my opinion on this piece of work.

OPINION

The first thing that struck me as odd is that Bethesda is waiting until their third DLC release before upping the level cap from 20 to 30. Now I do grant that a level 20 character in this game is nigh on indestructible but level 20 also means you only get 20 perks. Since most of us who have played the game prior to this piece of DLC have already hit the level cap and knowing that the DLC that moves the level cap up will be the last release may make some fans hold off and buy all three at once. Or they may wait for the Game of the Year edition (think Oblivion) and buy it all in one go.

The second thing that bothered me is that when you first enter the simulation you start talking to a soldier who begins to tell you what to do. This is great and all but their were no subtitles. Generally when a character in the game talks without subtitles it is because they have nothing interesting to say. This guy had important things to say and I'll have to replay the content to find out what he said.

There is a significant bug in the game where upon claiming the Winterized T-51b Power Armor from the armory the You Gotta Shoot 'Em in the Head Quest will complete. If you have not claimed the keys for this quest before this you will not be able to claim them at all.

A new Perk named Covert Ops (Science, Small Guns and Lockpick +3) can be gained by finding all ten intel briefcases.

The DLC is broken into three main parts. The first part is where you find the radio signal and help the Brotherhood of Steel Outcasts by entering the simulation. The second part is when you accept the mission to destroy the three big guns on the cliffs. The third part is where you command a strike force to take out several targets controlled by the Chinese Military.

Part One: The Signal

The radio signal that the Brotherhood of Steel Outcasts are broadcasting is very weak. You need to be pretty close to the Red Ryder Factory to even pick it up. Once you do it is easy enough to find the Brotherhood of Steel Outcasts.

After meeting up with them they request your aid killing some Super Mutants. It's an easy moving battle and soon you will be in an underground bunker preparing to enter the VR world to unlock the armory. (There is a body with a Vault 108 uniform in one of the side rooms.)

Part Two: Take Out The Guns

As soon as you enter the VR world you will see a soldier named Sergeant Benjamin Montgomery. He will go into a big spiel about destroying the guns and then vanish. A little ways into this mission you will encounter him again.

When destroying the big guns be sure to have a solid wall between you and the explosion. Don't think you can just hide inside a bunker because you will die! The shrapnel flies through the bunker fire holes and kills you every time.

Once you destroy the last gun you teleport back to base camp So be sure to get all of the intel before you blow the last gun.

Part Three: The Big Offensive

There are three parts to the third part of the DLC. Part one has you blowing up a fuel depot, part two has you clearing an observation post and the final part is where you take down a defensive shield and go in to kill the enemy general. Once he is dead the VR ends and you jump back to the "real" world.

A quick jog to a computer terminal unlocks the armory where you get free reign to take everything. It is at this point that a minor mutiny occurs and Brother hood Outcasts start attacking their leaders for letting a wastelander grab the goodies they fought for. If you help stop the mutiny you gain a friend who will repair things for you for caps.

Loot

All the cool gear and weapons you used in the VR world are in the vault. That includes the awesome Chinese Stealth Suit (Stealth +15, DR 28) that operates like a Stealth Boy when in Sneak mode as well as the Gauss Rifle.

The Gauss Rifle has a scope and is more powerful than the Sniper Rifle but it comes at a price. Each shot of the Gauss Rifle consumes one Micro Fusion Cell. It is up to you to decide if that is worth it. One thing I did notice is that it is steadier than the Sniper Rifle.

Other Notes

The Chinese Stealth Suit is lethal when you first encounter enemies using it. For one thing you can not lock on with VATS when an enemy is in stealth mode. Enemies do bounce out of stealth mode for a few seconds when you hit them. Unlike you they can be in stealth mode while standing upright.

Dead enemies vanish when you kill them so you can not loot bodies inside the VR world.

Some items can make the transition to the VR world. For example my MoleRat killing stick came into the VR world with me.

It took me about four hours to play through the DLC. Your mileage may vary.

Technology January 30th, 2009 by HMTKSteve

People who work in the utility business often discover some very strange animal-based troubles. This one falls under the "strange but true" grouping of animal-based telecom troubles.

source

Technology January 29th, 2009 by HMTKSteve

The other evening I found myself in the horrible position of seeing my server spit out disk errors like there was no tomorrow. Not willing to risk the machine going down when I would not be around I took a quick trip to the office supply store and picked up a new SATA drive.

The server I am using is new and I added a second drive to it before I brought it online. My feeling was that the /home partition would likely grow very large so why not beef it up by giving it its very own drive? It was a good idea and how was I to know that the drive I purchased would begin to fail in less than 30 days?

The first step in replacing a drive gone bad is to purchase a new drive. Drives are very cheap these days so I always look at the performance rather than the storage capacity. Even though this drive is going into a web server I know that I do not need 1TB of storage.

I settled on a 500GB Seagate drive with a 16MB cache that runs at 7200RPM. This drive set me back about $100 and would have been cheaper if I purchased it online but, I was under pressure so I paid extra for the convenience.

When you have a bad drive it is important to replace it as soon as you can. As long as the drive can be read most of your data should be recoverable. In my case the errors I was getting had to do with writing to the drive not with reading from it.

One of the first things I did was run fsck to check both drives. While the primary drive checked out fine the drive I used for /home was full of errors.

With drive in hand I opened up the case on my server after shutting it down. I pulled the old drive out and mounted the new one in its place.

After rebooting I went into single user mode and ran fdisk to get the disk ready. I set it to use the entire disk and created one slice on it. After fdisk I ran disklabel and set it to be used as /home. I then proceeded to shutdown the server so that I could reconnect the old /home drive.

After rebooting I once again entered single user mode and mounted the old drive as /oldhome. From here it was a simple matter of issuing the following cp command:

cp -r -p /oldhome/* /home

We use -r so that cp will copy directories and we use -p to insure all the permissions and ownerships stay the same. If I had not used -p all the copied files would have become owned by whatever account I used to copy them with. Since I was logged in as root all of those files would have become owned by root. On a webserver this would prevent all those files from being readable by apache, mail, mysql, etc...

After all the files were copied I rebooted the server and made sure everything came up. With everything working I then quickly took the server down to remove the bad drive.

I have had no problems since.

Games January 28th, 2009 by HMTKSteve

On Tuseday January 27, 2009 Bethesda released the first of the DLC for Fallout 3. Clocking in at 800 Xbox Points and a 4 hour gameplay estimate the Operation Anchorage pack is the first of three planned for the game.

I should have time to play through this DLC over the weekend and I will report back on whether I consider it worth the expense.

Technology January 27th, 2009 by HMTKSteve
Flickr

Earnings results for Yahoo are due today and many are predicting more doom and gloom for the once dominant search company. There may be a bright spot ahead.

Several years ago Yahoo and SBC (later becoming AT&T) formed a partnership where SBC's DSL service was co-branded with Yahoo. Verizon later signed a similar deal. DSL customers enjoyed many Yahoo services at no extra cost. One of those features was Flickr.

With AT&T and Verizon broadband customers having recently been notified of the expiration of their free flickr service it is up to Yahoo to convince these customers to part with some of their money. Yahoo needs to clearly show these people why they would want to pay for something that they used to get for free. We may see an upswing in earnings for Yahoo as these customers if they can convince them to go from free to pay.

Now before you get too worried about AT&T and Yahoo splitting up you need to understand that their deal was renegotiated in early 2008 and is still in effect. Flickr is the only services that AT&T broadband customers have been told that they are losing. This may even be a test case on either party’s behalf to see if they can make more with a revenue share model than they do by burying the cost in the DSL subscription cost.

As to the difference between paid and free there is this breakdown from Yahoo:

    Here's what you'll get with a Pro Account ($24.95/yr):

  • Unlimited photo uploads (20MB per photo)
  • Unlimited video uploads (90 seconds max)
  • Unlimited storage
  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • Unlimited photosets
  • Archiving of high-resolution original images
  • The ability to replace a photo
  • Post any of your photos or videos in up to 60 group pools
  • Ad-free browsing and sharing
  • View count and referrer statistics
    Compare that to what you get with a Free Account:

  • 100 MB monthly upload limit (10MB per photo)
  • 3 sets
  • Photostream views limited to the 200 most recent images
  • Post any of your photos in up to 10 group pools
  • Only smaller (resized) images accessible (though the originals are saved in case you upgrade later)

Clearly any AT&T customer who has used flickr will be weighing the pros and cons of paying an extra couple of dollars a month to continue having the full use of their flickr account. That or they will look for another free option for storing their photographs online.

If I was a betting man I would bet on users paying the fee. $24.95 is not that much money to continue to be a part of the flickr community because when you get right down to it flickr is a social website. Why do I think this way? Probably because both my wife and I will be paying the fee to keep our flickr accounts useful.

Ramblings January 27th, 2009 by HMTKSteve

I recently upgraded my cell phone to one that includes a built-in camera. Because of this I have been able to shoot pictures just about all the time.

I present to you my week in pictures:

081228_161723

This is my cat Kiko, sitting on the kitchen table. He knows he is not allowed to sit up there but since when do cats ever listen?

It is not uncommon to find him staring out of a window or curled up sleeping in a papasan chair. He's a rather noisy cat and has no problem making his opinions known when you do something he does not like. His brother Koko is not nearly as loud or boisterous.

All in all he's a good cat.

090117_151609

I took this picture last Saturday outside of my office. The building next door burnt down the previous night and the firetrucks were there most of the day. I had to call the grounds people to come and sand the parking lot because it was nothing but six inches of solid ice from the fire hoses!

As far as I know no one was injured in the fire but there were at least ten apartments inside that building.

I saw some news crews in the area while I was working but I did not venture outside to talk to anyone.

There are a few more pictures in the photostream on my flickr account. just click on either of the above images to get there.

090122_152343

I was driving the other day when I saw this car pull out of a side street. I waited until we both came to a red light to quickly snap this picture.

Who knew there was a car driving around with a big can of Red Bull on the back? Not me!

I was tempted to follow them when they went down another side street to get a shot of the side of the car (and ask for free samples) but it was not meant to be.

Wait for me!!!!

Games January 26th, 2009 by HMTKSteve

It looks like Nintendo is finally running out of games to add to the Wii Shop Channel. Not bad for a console that has been on top of the sales chart for three Holiday seasons in a row!

So, what does Nintendo have for us today?

First up we have the WiiWare game Niki - Rock 'n' Ball. This jump and roll platformer clocks in at 500 Wii points, is for 1 to 2 players, rated E for Everyone and is developed by Bplus

Are you in love with those unforgettable arcade classics where the only goal is to vanquish all opponents to reach the next stage? Niki - Rock 'n' Ball is a new interpretation of those games with a completely innovative and unique gaming mechanism. Roll along with Niki through fantastic worlds, find all the ZeLeLi pearls, and liberate your village from cuddly-yet-evil monsters before it's too late. Timing is everything. Jump in the nick of time to avoid landing amid barbs. Hop across the stages thanks to the realistic gaming physics. Snap on the ZeLeLi amulet, transform yourself into Niki Rock, and force even the most obstinate monster to its knees. Explore all the stages and win valuable medals while dribbling through them, alone or with a friend. Use familiar controls in Retro style, or experience novel controls in the Wii style.

Up next we have a Virtual Console game that originally appeared on the Sega Master System -
Wonder Boyâ„¢ in Monster Land. This one player action game clocks in at 500 Wii Points and allows the full choice on controllers.

After the defeat of the evil king, the kingdom of Wonder Land was a paradise…for a time. The peace was broken when a ferocious, fire-breathing dragon struck without warning and took over Wonder Land with a swarm of evil, monstrous henchmen, turning the once-peaceful land into the utterly chaotic Monster Land. Unable to fight, the people now look to Wonder Boy. Realizing that he is Wonder Land's last hope, Wonder Boy sets out on an incredible journey to rid the country of the monsters and defeat the "invincible" evil dragon. Guide Wonder Boy through various environments and dungeons, and defeat enemies using Special Weapons and Spells.

Movies and Technology January 26th, 2009 by HMTKSteve
Netflix, Inc.

My family has been a subscriber to the NetFlix service for almost three years now. I was angry when they talked about killing profiles and I rejoiced when they changed their minds. Yes, I've been a fan of the NetFlix for quite some time.

It is only recently that I acquired an Xbox360 for my home entertainment use. I acquired this device before the new dashboard was released in November 2008 that integrated NetFlix seamlessly into the Xbox360 experience. Prior to that there existed a sometimes clunky plugin that used a Media Center PC as a conduit to stream NetFlix movies to the 360. I had that plugin working at one point but after a failed attempt to sync a different Vista machine to the 360 I was never able to get it to work properly again.

The plugin did offer the awesome ability to modify your queue right from the couch. Updating the queue was nowhere near as easy or user friendly as using your computer but it was doable. That feature did not make its way into the new Xbox Experience.

Though you can not add movies to your NetFlix Watch Instantly queue from the comfort of your couch using the 360 you can remove items you have watched as well as rate them. The 360 also provides for the synopsis information to be displayed as you look at each title.

Losing a feature that never worked all that well for me is not that bad. Getting something that just works is awesome.

Using the NetFlix viewer through the 360 is not as simple as having a NetFlix account, You also have to have a Gold Live account as well. The price of Gold service is not that expensive and if you do a lot of multi-player online gaming you probably already have a Gold account.

When it comes to video quality there are multiple things you need to take into consideration:

1. Not all content is available in HD.
2. The speed of your broadband will effect the quality of your service.
3. If you don't have the Media Center remote you will want to buy it now!

HD

If you have a 360 odds are you also have an HDTV hooked up to it. To use a 360 on a standard def TV will only lead to mental pain and anguish.

Not all NetFlix Watch Instantly content is available in HD. In fact you may not even know it is available in HD until you start to stream it and see the little HD logo appear on screen.

For example: I recently added the TV show The Office to my queue. I didn't know that it was HD but as soon as the first episode queued up I saw the little HD logo appear.

I'm not going to go into just how good the HD quality is because that is heavily dependent on the quality of your network connection. What I will say is that watching it on a 10MB cable modem connection there was still one bar that was not green and I experienced no problems while watching the show. I imagine that if I had a faster connection all of those bars would have been green.

SD

Most of the content you watch will be standard def. I know it might sound painful to watch SD content on your HD set but the 360 does a decent job of upscaling the content.

Unlike HD you don't need to have nearly the high end network connection to enjoy SD content. I do not suggest using anything lower than a 1.5Mbs DSL line for watching SD content. Even with that speed I suggest turning the rest of your Internet connected devices off while watching a movie.

Why do I say this? I say this because there have been times while I watched content over a 1.5Mbs DSL line when the movie would stop and the 360 would adjust the link to a lower speed due to problems with the connection.

Generally the 1.5Mbs DSL will give you one or two green bars when it syncs up. If you only get one bar don't bother watching. The picture will be too blocky and the subtitles (if you use them) will be unreadable.

Conclusion

If you have a 360 and NetFlix you are probably already using your 360 to stream NetFlix to your TV. If you have a 360 but not NetFlix all I can say is, "what are you waiting for?" New content is constantly being added to the NetFlix streaming service, especially TV shows.

I don't know about you but the only DVDs I still buy today are TV show box sets. Granted you will not get access to the bonus features via NetFlix but if you only missed a show here and there what better way to catch up?

If you have NetFlix but do not own a 360 I'm not going to tell you to drop $200+ getting one. There are numerous other options out there for streaming NetFlix to your TV. I have even heard that LG is planning to add NetFlix to their HDTVs. How cool is that?

The bottom line is that the NetFlix streaming service is awesome and you still get the DVDs in the mail for things you can not stream. How can you beat that?

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