April 2009


Politics April 30th, 2009 by Danny Mc Guire

The decision of Republican Senator Arlen Specter to return to the Democratic Party after 28 years as a Republican is the best thing that could have happened for Republicans and the worst for Democrats. What do Democrats get out of this deal that they didn't already have? What do the Republicans really lose? The answer is the same for both questions, nothing.

One of the reasons cited by the Senator for swapping his party affiliation has to do with the polling numbers showing that he would likely not win a Republican primary in his home state. Not wanting to lose his job in the next election he went to the Democrats who offered to let him run as a Democrat in the next election in exchange for his crossing over now.

It has been said that Obama agreed to campaign for him and that he might be allowed to sail through the primary without a serious challenge. Why would Democrats want to do that? What do they gain? Why would they want to take someone into their party who is so quick to change party affiliation when a hard primary approaches? Can you count on such a person?

What did Republicans lose? Many on the right have long wanted Arlen Specter gone from their party. Challenging an incumbent is a hard thing to do. Incumbents traditionally have the support of the national party in the primary on the off chance they are challenged. With Specter running as Democrat the party is free to have a primary with no incumbents running. The state party members get a real chance to elect someone they want as opposed to fighting against the status quo.

I would like to point out the recent case of Senator Joe Lieberman. Joe was targeted by the extreme left wing of his party because he dared to support the Iraq war. Much like Specter he was often seen as a problem by members of his own Democratic party. Lieberman faced a primary challenge in the form of one Ned Lamont. After being defeated in the primary (where only the fringe members vote according to Specter) Lieberman saw all of his long time Senate friends move their backing to the party favorite. Knowing that he had the support of the majority of CT voters he ran as an independent and won.

That's right. Joe Lieberman found himself in nearly the same position Arlen Specter finds himself in right now, facing a tough primary that he may lose. Joe did not give up. He knew the voters would support him so he ran in the general election and he was proven right, defeating both the Democratic and Republican challengers!

What do we learn from Joe? We learn a lesson that Arlen Specter has not learned. We learn that if the people respect and believe in you they will vote for you no matter what party you belong to. Even when your party sends a primary challenge your way that appeals to your parties 'fringe' base and not the electorate at large you can still win. Joe did it.

Pets April 28th, 2009 by HMTKSteve

Byter

Today we say goodbye to one of our cats, Byter. She was about 19 and lived a long, full life.

My wife had the Byter before we were married. Originally names Sassafras or Sassy for short she grew into the name Byter by way of her actions. She grew to like that name and responded to it when called.

Byter was quite the cat.

Though she never had any kittens of her own whenever we brought kittens into the house she would cozy up to them and treat them like her own. I have a ton of pictures of the Byter curled up on a bed or chair with a new kitten. I also have some pictures of her fighting with those kittens once they grew into cats. I guess even cats rebel against their parents after a certain age?

Byter was a big eater throughout most of her life. When my wife got her she had to be fed baby food because she was a little on the young side. A few weeks ago my wife had to feed her baby food again due to a sickness she was suffering through.

Even though she was old and walked with a little bit of a limp she seemed to be in good spirits. she had a shelf in the bathroom that she would sleep on and a special tree in the yard where she would laze away the day. It is under that tree where she will rest.

Byter was a good cat, she will be missed.

video games April 25th, 2009 by HMTKSteve
Excitebots: Trick Racing

Format: Wii™
Launch Date: 04/20/09
ESRB: E (Everyone): Mild Fantasy Violence
Game Type: Action Racing
Accessories: Wii Wheel™
Players: 1-2 Locally, Up to 6 via Nintendo® Wi-Fi Connectio
Developer: Monster Games

When the Nintendo Wii launched Monster Games was responsible for one of the launch titles: Excite Truck. This 1 - 2 player trick-racing game was the first one I purchased for my Wii. In fact I purchased it at the same time as I purchased my Wii. Yes, I bought it before I purchased the Zelda game!

Not long after Excite Truck proved to be a success rumors spread across the Internet about a successor to the game, an Excite Truck II if you will. Screen shots leaked showing Miis driving trucks and other fun things. To say my hopes were high is an understatement.

This weekend I picked up a copy of Excitebots: Trick Racing ($49.99 with wheel or $39.99 without). I started playing it last night and my first thought was, "this is Excite Truck 2?"

Some things are better and other things are worse than the original. Read on to hear my thoughts...

(more…)

video games April 21st, 2009 by HMTKSteve


Before you even read anything I have to say I suggest you take a few minutes and watch the videos above. No, really. Stop reading and watch for a few minutes.

Done watching?

Did you get the same feeling I did watching that? Did it give you the same feeling you got when the original assembly line trailer for Terminator 2 hit the airwaves years ago? That's the feeling I got! I also got the feeling that a certain game is going to be pushing Fallout 3 out of my Xbox 360 and back into the 'games I have not played in a while' draw.

Terminator Salvation

On May 19, 2009 the Terminator Salvation video game (based on the movie of the same name) will be hitting stores. Terminator Salvation is a third-person shooter featuring all of the bad machines from the new movie and a few designed just for this game. The intense action takes place in the ruins of Los Angeles and occurs two years before the events of the movie.

You will take on the role of John Connor as you live through the events of the Terminator mythology. A wide assortment of weapons from shotguns and hand grenades to heavy mounted weapons and even a plasma firing Skynet tank!

Not only are the weapons going to be great but the game boasts a specialized cover mechanic that allows the player to make better use of destructible cover elements present in the game. This will allow for a more strategic system when sneaking through enemy held terrain.

Unlike many games where the AI can be downright stupid the machines in Terminator Salvation are designed to lock onto a target and mercilessly pursue until said target is dead. Do not be surprised if that wounded T-600 starts to pull itself forward with its one remaining arm as it tries to take you down! Make sure those enemies are truly dead before you turn your back on them!

Terminator Salvation is not the most forgiving game in the world. In fact the game can be downright brutal! There are no fancy little health packs to be found lying about the ruins of L.A. and you only heal once you reach a checkpoint. With heavily armored machines running around that show no fear when you fire at them you will either quickly learn how to use the cover system or die.

You do have squad mates to help you out but you are playing the role of John Connor so do keep that in mind. The members of your squad are looking to you to get them through this hell hole that used to be a major American city. You will have to learn how to properly outflank some of those walking armored gun emplacements and hit them where it hurts. Namely their exposed air-cooled battery packs!

Terminator Salvation is not a game for the gamer who uses the save game system and medical packs as a crutch. When you get hit you bleed. There is no magic bactine out there that you can spray to fix a shattered leg. Oh no, when you get wounded in this game you have to deal with it or learn how not to get hit.

Oh yeah, I'm looking forward to this one... Oh yes I am!

Terminator Salvation

www.TerminatorSalvationTheGame.com (IE only) Available for Xbox360, PS3 and PC.

video games April 19th, 2009 by HMTKSteve
Lux-Pain

Lux-Pain (Ignition Entertainment) is a game for the Nintendo DS system. If you were to ask me what category I would put this one into I would have to say that it is an investigation game with RPG and dating sim elements thrown in. You might be wondering why I include 'dating sim' in my list but my reasoning will become more clear as you read the review.

Plot:

Lux-Pain is set in historical Kisaragi City, a town plagued by mysteries from small mishaps to murders - with no logical explanation as to why these events occur. It seems “Silent”, a worm born through hate and sadness, has infected humans and forced them to commit atrocious crimes. The hero’s parents, Atsuki, are victims of such crimes. To avenge his parents, Atsuki goes through a dangerous operation to acquire Lux-Pain in his left arm, a power so strong that his left eye turns golden when using it to seek and destroy Silent for good.

Game Features Overview:

  • Investigate your surroundings and gather hints by conversing with characters in the game
  • Use your Psychic Powers to save potential victims from Silent Worms.
  • Explore the massive world of Kisaragi City
    Use your stylus to:

  1. Conduct autopsies of Silent worms found throughout the game
  2. Find parasites before they reach the heart of the victim
  3. Examine various items you encounter along your journey such as buildings and objects

Overview

Lux-Pain

As a game Lux-Pain is hard to categorize. It has investigative elements and role playing elements. There is a lot of text to read and a few choices to make when dealing with the characters around you.

Most of the text you read is not interactive in any way, shape or form. It is only occasionally that a character will ask you something and the game offers you a choice of responses. This leads some to categorize Lux-Pain as more of a story you are watching unfold than a true game. After all, how can it be a game when you are not allowed to make choices? Even in the original Super Mario Brothers for the NES you had options such as taking tubes, warp zones, etc on the way to rescuing the princess. In Lux-Pain the game play is episodic in nature and the only real choices you make are what to investigate first.

There are times in the game when choosing to investigate one area will close other areas off from you. This is most notable when you are in school. I have had play sessions where going to the computer lab, with three other places open on the area map, would result in all other areas becoming closed off. Going back to a save game I was able to go to all of those other places before going to the computer lab. This leads me to believe that certain encounters trigger the story to move along while other encounters are just fluff.

Speaking of fluff, there is a lot of it in this game. There are days where you go around town and learn a little bit about some of the characters around you but the plot does not advance one bit. These days are designed to immerse you into the story and do succeed in doing so. However, not all gamers want to immerse themselves in the full details of high school life and such players may resent clicking through five minutes of dialog about what so-and-so had for lunch today.

Dating Sim?

Lux-Pain

One thing that did bother me with the game was the dating sim vibe I picked up from playing the game. I don't know if this was meant to help build a bond between the player and the characters in the game or not but it just felt weird to have the school nurse (25 yr old female) sending me email messages about how she was sitting on her couch watching the game and drinking a bunch of beer! Or how even the male characters seemed like they were hitting on me!

I can understand having some of the girls in school hitting on the main character but it just seemed so weird that close to 95% of the characters you meet in the game act like they want to go steady with you!

Maybe I'm overreacting to a cultural issue involved with bringing the game over from Japan?

Translation

Speaking of reginalization of the game... I read in the manual that when voice actors begin talking I should pay extra attention to what is being said because these are important conversations. Well, I did pay attention and more often than not the voice acting script did not match the text on screen. I'm not talking about simple spelling errors (there were more than a few) but complete divergences from the written text that resulted in the voice actors script saying something completely different from what was one screen.

Hello? Ingnition? What is so hard about doing the text translation work and then giving that same text to your voice actors? Because of this I ended up having to pay close attention to both the audio and the text to try and figure out which one I wanted to really pay attention to.

Lux-Pain

Interface

The general touch pad interface for the game works very well. With the exception of using the start button to access a menu you need never use anything other than the stylus when playing this game.

I did have some difficulty early on in dealing with the shinen (do I tap them or rub them?) but in the end I found out which method worked best for me.

Text speeds were adequately fast and you are able to tap the screen to force the words to appear faster. Moving around the world is also quick and easy.

The only complaint I have about the game world is the bland names given to some areas. It just felt weird to have a student in the school tell me to meet them at a shop in 'Area 4'. Area 4? How long have you been living in this city and you have places that you refer to as 'Area 4'? It's a small thing but it really pulls you out of the game when NPCs refer to places as 'Area #'.

Immersion

Lux-Pain

This game has a lot of immersion techniques built into it. If we ignore the problem with area names we find that the developers did an excellent job building the world around the game.

For example there is a net cafe where you can go read a forum full of messages from the locals. Apparently no one has a computer in their own home so they all go to the net cafe to post!

On your mobile device you can watch a local news show which also has a scrolling news story bar with news from outside of the local area. This adds greatly to the immersive quality of the game but it is easy to forget the broadcast is on your mobile and as such you may miss some of them.

You will also occasionally receive email messages from people you have encountered in the game. This can be incredibly weird when your hot school teacher or one of the local police women send you a somewhat personal message. It's also weird when you get some of these messages from other male students.

As you progress through the game the Pumpkin Witch shop opens up and the woman inside can give you a love reading. This opens up a screen where a heart spins, jumps and pulses to indicate how the other people you have met think about you. This can also be downright weird when the cute girls barely register a heart beat for you yet the guy who sits across from you in home room has a heart that is dancing wildly up and down and beating like a four year old hopped up on a case of Red Bull!

All in all the immersion level of the game is very high even if it does sometimes push you into thinking you are playing a dating sim!

Boss Battles

Lux-Pain

Yes, there is a combat system of sorts in this game. Finding shinen is a simple matter most of the time. The first difficult shinen encounter happens when you follow Akira Modo to the cemetery after he storms out of his dad's cake shop. The difficulty is based on the energy bar above Akira's head being low when you start. A little bit too much erasing and Akira dies and the game ends.

Yes, when someone dies the game tends to end.

The battles against the Silent tend to be a bit more tricky. They start out as basic shinen searches but then they turn into a battle against a Silent infection.

The first Silent battle you take part in is an easy affair. When the blobs turn white you tap on them and they go away causing damage to the Silent. Knock enough of these blobs out and the Silent loses.

However, the silent battles get trickier as the game progresses and the game never tells you how to beat each tougher type of Silent. It is up to you, through trial and error, to figure out the technique required to defeat tougher forms of Silent.

I was thrown at first when defeating Silent went from tapping them when white to slashing them when white. I had to fight that battle about three times before I figured out about the slashing. Luckily, if you lose a battle against a Silent you can start the battle over again right away. You do not have to go back to a save point.

Difficulty

Lux-Pain

This game starts out deceptively easy and becomes more and more difficult as time goes on.

At one point Nami's older sister Yayoi disappears and it is up to you to find and rescue her from the Silent infection. It is at this point where the game straight up tells you to save because you will probably fail and the game will end.

True to its word I did fail that episode, several times! I had tried to be smart and save the game later in the day but I saved it just at the point of failure so restoring that saved game didn't help.

What made the quest to find Yayoi particularly difficult for me is that I ended up finding her someplace I had already investigated. Being a logical person I figured I would find her someplace I had not been to. Those tricky game developers decided to pull a fast one on me and have her appear in a location only after you had visited it once. The other part of their trickiness is that the area on the map where she was is actually two areas in one (think driveway and backyard). So when I first visited the area I went to the A location but she was actually hiding out in the B location!

Another point of difficulty is the way the shinen messages are presented. The pacing and movement of the letters on screen are in part dependent on the mood of the person who had the shinen. If the person was in a rush the letters will fly across the screen, making it hard to read. If the person was a bit mad the letters may bounce around or vanish as soon as they appear. With three or more lines of text scrolling across the screen you may find that you are not able to keep up enough to properly read the messages. Because you can't go back and read them again it can cause of feeling of exasperation in some gamers.

Graphics

The graphics on this game are very nice and smooth. There are no long loading delays and everything is drawn in the same manga style. Cut scenes are well done as well.

Overall

Overall I have enjoyed playing Lux-Pain. I am currently about half way through the story and I am enjoying it even with all of the extra atmosphere that is sometimes sent my way with a shovel. I would have liked a bit more interactivity in the game but I am satisfied with the story enough that it does not overly bother me.

I do occasionally feel as if I am playing a game on rails but the scenery outside the train is so enjoyable that I don't mind the ride. Sometimes I do get annoyed in that most places become un-clickable when the story no longer requires you to go there while other places do not. This leads one to feel that they might have missed something at that location which causes you to go back there and waste time looking for something that is not there. Just as bad is when you go to a location only to find out that going there caused other locations to lock, preventing you from going back and entering those locations.

Will you enjoy the game? That is something you need to decide for yourself. Just because I like (or don't like) a given game does not mean that you will feel the same way. You may enjoy things I dislike and dislike things I enjoy. So read the full review again and look for some other reviews. If you find you consistently agree (or disagree) with a reviewer then (and only then) can you properly use that review to make an informed decision on buying a game.

Lux-Pain

    The Good

  • Awesome graphics
  • Immersive storyline
  • Progressive difficulty
  • Originality
  • 30+ Hours of game play
    The Bad

  • Sometimes feels like you are riding a plot train
  • Lack of interactivity
  • Location locking
    The Ugly

  • Somewhat creepy dating sim feel
  • No clues on changing strategies needed to combat advanced forms of Silent
Technology April 18th, 2009 by HMTKSteve

After upgrading my Acer Aspire One to Windows 7 I noticed that the fan had gone from an annoying little background hum to the sound an old hard drive makes as it drags its broken heads across the platter while it boots up or runs long. I thought briefly about opening up the machine and taking a good long look at the fan but I didn't want to deal with the hassle of reattaching the rubber feet.

Curious to see if I was the only one having this problem (and looking to fix the low level fan hum problem itself) I did what most people do and I searched online for similar problems.

After visiting several forums full of AOA owners with a similar problem I found a link to a small program that runs in the tray and allows me to set the temperatures for the fan to work at. I also found many references to Linux users with the same problem but since I'm not using Linux their guidance is useless for me now. If in the future I decide to throw a form of Linux on here I now know where to go.

I have to say that the program works great in Windows 7 and now the fan does not run unless the temperature of the CPU goes above 70 degrees Celsius. It then shuts off when it falls below 68 degrees Celsius. Most of the time the CPU runs below 45 degrees Celsius.

I still need to investigate why the fan was making those horrible screeching and scratching noise but with the program running it never makes that horrible noise. Not even on boot up. It may have just been a case of overuse.

If you are looking to quiet down your Windows 7 AOA netbook why not follow the link and download the software? Your ears will thank you, as will your battery.

Acer Aspire One (AA1) Fan Control for Windows XP/Vista

Technology April 17th, 2009 by HMTKSteve

For the past few days by Acer Aspire One Netbook has been in the hands of my daughter. She's been walking around the house goofing off with it and watching YouTube videos. This evening she asked me to install the NetFlix plugin so that she could watch some of the on demand movies in our NetFlix queue.

The first thing I did was fire up Internet Explorer and go to the NetFlix site to download the plugin.

Because my daughter is using a user account and not an admin account I had to enter my admin password during the installation process.

The plugin install went just fine but then Netflix told me that I needed to update my copy of Media Player. After a 24MB download Windows 7 informed me that the software I was downloading was older than the software that is already installed. Figuring that NetFlix was simply confused I rebooted the machine.

Sadly the version of Media Player that ships with the Windows 7 beta is not compatible with the NetFlix plugin for Internet Explorer. Downgrading is also not an option.

If watching on demand movies from your NetFlix account is important to you don't use the Windows 7 beta. Hopefully this problem will be fixed before Windows 7 ships this fall.

Technology April 7th, 2009 by HMTKSteve

Today I thought I might take the time to load Windows 7 on my netbook, the Acer Aspire One. Because the netbook lacks a DVD drive I needed to think up a good way to get the software on the machine.

I considered putting it on my USB flash drive but I only have a 1GB model and Windows 7 requires 2GB+ of space. I thought about buying a 4GB model but I couldn't convince myself to shell out $30 for 8GB of storage.

Because my main laptop recently died (it will soon be sent back to HP for repairs) I decided on a different option. HP requires a hard drive be installed in the laptop when I ship it back but they also may reformat the installed drive.

Not wanting to risk anything bad happening to my data (yes, I have backups) I decided to get another drive and slap it in for the journey to the repair shop. I ended up not buying an off the shelf laptop drive but instead picked up a 320GB My Passport Western Digital drive instead.

It set me back about $10 less than a laptop drive of the same size would and I get the added bonus of an external USB hard drive when it is all said and done. The big question will be if I leave the 320GB drive in my main laptop or put the 120GB one back in.

The 320GB external drive has plenty of space for the Windows 7 install files so that is where they went. It took about 30 mins from start to finish but Windows 7 is now installed on my Acer Aspire One netbook.

The install was mostly glitch free but I did have one major problem, the touch pad.

Under Windows 7 the Synaptics multi-touch touch pad was recognized as a standard PS/2 mouse. One without any form of scrolling nor tapping.

The mouse buttons on the Aspire One are pretty inconvenient as it is so you can imagine my annoyance at seeing tapping not working.
I tried using an XP/2000 driver and it seemed to work but then it crashed. I tried to download the Vista drivers for their touch pads but so far I have had no luck downloading them. I will do some more research and get the touch pad working!

The Wi-Fi came right up and the switch on the front of the machine still works to turn wireless on and of. The only difference is that I no longer see the notification on screen in green letters the way I did when running the copy of XP that shipped with the machine. This is fine because Windows 7 has added something that I am currently in love with, the Mobility Center.

This little Windows program is a laptop lovers dream! It allows you to quickly modify items that laptop users often spend time looking for. For example you can quickly adjust volume, power saving, contrast/brightness, turn Wireless on or off, fiddle with an external display, etc... This little bit of Windows magic will likely be my most often run application.

Why? Because I'm tired of always having to jump down to the tray or otherwise look for these settings.

It is also important to understand that not all machines get as many tools in the Mobility Center application. It depends on your PC manufacturer. Since Windows 7 is still in beta don't be surprised if some of the things you want are not there.

Because I did the full install rather than the upgrade (no upgrade path for XP) I lost all of my installed programs. This includes my anti-virus and 60 day trial of MS Office. I still have the original recovery partition and software so I'm going to try and reinstall those applications at a later date.

Aside from the touch pad issue I have also noticed that Windows 7 has identified 3 Base System Devices that it does not know what they are. I have no idea what they are myself. Windows 7 does provide some bus information so I will have to track them down when I have time.

The built-in webcam was found by Windows 7 but I currently have no idea how to use it, not that I ever used under XP! I will have to investigate some software options to see how Windows 7 handles it.
I do have to say that Windows 7 has a very Vista-like feel to it and it runs quite well on my little netbook. I'm using Wordpad to write this and the though the toolbar is a lot bigger than I would like it to be (netbooks have very little screen real estate) I am having no problems finding the tools that I need to write this article.

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