Sunday, March 25, 2012

New Computer Setup

I have recently added some LED bias lights to my monitor. The previous bias lights I had were USB based; they wouldn’t change color, and they did not have an ON/OFF switch. So I bought a different set of lights from Amazon.
LED bias lights

The remote control that comes along with the bias lights kit is a little sketchy, because its IR. So it works intermittently. The biggest drawback I could think of is the fact that should the remote ever not work, its not possible to change colors or turn the lights ON/OFF except unplug them from the power.

That said, these lights are pretty fantastic. It’s definitely worth the money.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

My Windows 8 Preview Impressions

I have started messing around with Windows 8 Consumer Preview recently. I installed it on a VM using Virtual Box. Its quite straight forward, and it worked quite well in a VM. It can be unstable to start with, needing a few restarts to boot, but once booted, its quite stable, and it works well.

The question to me is, is it worth upgrading? As it stands, I don’t think so. I am not going to upgrade because to me it seems more like a stripped down version of Windows. There are severe limitations when using the desktop version, and all the apps don’t really add any value. It just seems to limit the functionality. I can’t imagine any business upgrading to Windows 8, considering that Windows 7 is so stable, reliable, and easy to use.

Lets look at pictures to tell the rest of the story. Click for a larger picture.

The full album can be accessed here:


35. lock screenYou are greeted with the lock screen at the beginning. There is something to be said about this screen. You hit Ctrl + Alt + Del to go the password screen, or click and the drag the screen upwards, to reveal the password screen. I thought that was a nice touch. This works for both the desktop and the tablet. I wish the rest of the interface was just as thoughtful. I also the like the look of the lock screen. This is a very pointless improvement that adds nothing but aesthetics.

Start ScreenOnce you get past the lock screen, you are greeted with the Start Screen. Everything is in large and colorful. Great for a tablet, but completely useless for a desktop. I can’t imagine what this would add in terms of functionality. Why would a user want to leave the desktop, go to a different screen and launch an app, instead of accessing it from the desktop environment, so that it is possible to multi task?

Desktop with XfireClicking on the desktop will take us to the familiar desktop, with one big difference – no start menu. The familiar orb is now missing. It becomes a pain to navigate and launch programs. The Metro interface itself doesn’t bother me, it’s the fact that they removed the start menu is what really irritates me. Windows XP let users change the start menu to look like the Windows 98 classic start menu. No such luck this time. Without using 3rd party tools, it seems as if the users are stuck with the Start Screen. It seemed more like a prank than a needed UI redesign.

ViStart Start MenuUsing a program called ViStart. This looks very similar to the Windows 7 start menu, and the search function works, and also it is possible to access the power off functions from this menu. Quite convenient, but the start menu has some problems while launching certain programs. I am sure it will be fixed in the later versions, but Windows should really bring the start menu back!

PC Settings - SearchAll the options are now sliders. There are no radio buttons and checkboxes anymore. It seems as if all the screens are designed for the tablet. I don’t have a problem with this in particular. Its when features are stripped out in favor of a tablet like experience, it starts to become pointless for a desktop or a laptop. The redesign adds no value to a regular user. One of the many redesigns that don’t make a lot of sense. They are trying to fix things that aren’t broken.

IE Metro AppThis is the IE metro app. Again, I thought this was not adding much value. Even novice users now either use Firefox or Chrome. I know for a fact that my mom, who cant launch a browser unless there is a shortcut on the desktop, uses Firefox because she figured out she didn’t like IE. That being the case, why would I ever use an IE app? Especially when I am restricted, and I can’t effectively switch between tasks on a desktop? I guess it won’t hurt to have it, but if I were to ever upgrade to Windows 8, I don’t see myself using this at all.

IE 10 Spell CheckerIt only took 3 versions for IE to get a spell checker! I am sure the backend is much improved with support for new technologies and such, but the front end is disappointingly the same. I don’t know if the browser will get extensions like Firefox and Chrome, but out of the box, its almost like IE 9. It’s a very underwhelming experience. This again highlights why the IE metro app is so pointless to me. I am using Chrome anyway, and even a Chrome metro app would be of no use to me. I should also mention that there is no Paste & Go option either. That is such a simple addition, which should been included! Very lame.

Remote Desktop appThis is the Remote Desktop app. Although it is possible to launch remote desktop through the classic desktop, using the app is very limiting as expected. At work, I have 2-3 remote desktop windows open at a time, while I am using my regular desktop applications. So again, on the desktop version, I fail to see any need for this app.

Overall, Windows 8 has not been the change I was expecting to see. I am hoping the final release version would be better in terms of offering users the choice between using the Metro Start Screen and the Windows 7 start menu. Of course, there is also the possibility that the metro interface is going to be a huge hit among consumers, and one day will be look back at the time when we complained about it. Only time will tell.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Trip to San Antonio, February 22–24, 2012

I had a chance to revisit San Antonio again last month. I had a fantastic time the last time I was there. The Riverwalk, is absolutely amazing at night. The good thing about south Texas is that they don’t seem to have a real winter. Its almost always in the 50s-60s during the evening, which is great for talking a walk along the river.
This time however, I was on a business trip. The down side of this is that I am in a conference for close to 8 hours a day.
The up side is, I get to stay in a fancy hotel, and my meals are paid for, and I get to go out on the Riverwalk at night.
I got to stay at the Hyatt Regency on the Riverwalk, and I was put up in room 666! Being a fan of Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden, I couldn’t have gotten a better room! I also have to say, the view from the room is fantastic. I slept with the curtains completely open and lights turned off. I wouldn’t mind going back there again.
A brief tour of Hyatt Regency, and into room 666! The view from the room is amazing. Go to 1:44 for the view.
I also had a chance to walk around the Riverwalk at night. Last time I was there, I did not have a good camera, or a tripod. This time I was prepared. Check my post on how to carry a tripod on the plane without having to check it in.
Serious advice for anyone wanting to take pictures of Riverwalk at night, make sure you have a tripod. The kind of camera you have is almost irrelevant. It’s the tripod that matters. I am not saying that a good camera won’t make a difference. It certainly will. But in order to make the most out of an ordinary camera, especially for night time pictures, a tripod is necessary. There is no way of getting a good shit with slow shutter speed without using one.
During my last trip, I inadvertently, snapped a picture, which turned out to be great. I had no idea I was going to get the kind of reflections I did, and I wasn’t even using a tripod!
Riverwalk at night, San Antonio, Texas - November 6, 2011
I was using a Canon PowerShot SX20 IS, which is a great point and shoot camera, but it cannot be compared to a DSLR. This time, I was carrying a Nikon D3100 with a tripod, and god knows I tried to get a similar picture, but I couldn’t. The water was just never still enough! So I ventured out in the cold at 4AM in the morning to get a good picture, hoping that there won’t be anymore boats, but the lights were turned off. I returned disappointed.
Hopefully, I will have better luck next time.
The Republic of Texas Restaurants Inc taken from E Commerce Street at night.
I did however get some amazing pictures of San Antonio at night. Some of the pictures I took were almost exactly the same as the ones on the printed post cards, which made me pretty happy. I also had the chance to see a Lamborghini on the streets that night.

Lamborghini on the streets of San Antonio. Lamborghini on the streets of San Antonio.
Here are some of the night pictures I took during my trip. Click on the thumbnails to see them on Panoramio.
View of the riverwalk near Hilton Placio del Rio - San Antonio, TX - February 23, 2012 Tower of the Americas at night , San Antonio, TX - February 23, 2012View of the riverwalk near Hilton Placio del Rio - San Antonio, TX - February 23, 2012Tower of the Americas, from HemisFair Park, San Antonio, TX - February 23, 2012The Alamo, San Antonio, TX - February 23, 2012Charles Court, San Antonio, TX - February 23, 2012Tower Life building, San Antonio, TX - February 23, 2012View of Tower of the Americas from HemisFair Park, San Antonio, TX - February 22, 2012
Check out the rest of my album:

San Antonio - February 23, 2012

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Carrying a tripod on the plane

I recently went on a trip to San Antonio and I wasn’t sure if I could carry a tripod. Since I did not have any check-in luggage, I had to carry it with me.

I wasn’t sure if a tripod will be allowed as a carry on item. I checked the TSA website and a tripod wasn’t listed on there.

I was traveling by Southwest Airlines, so I checked their website for any baggage requirements. It says on the website that walking canes or umbrellas are not counted against the “one-bag plus one personal-type item” limit. So I figured I could take my chance.

My tripod was a Vista Explorer 60-Inch Lightweight Tripod. I bought it on Amazon.

Vista explorer tripod

And this is how I carried it with me:

Tripod with carry-on bag

I have not had a problem during the flight, and I wasn’t asked any questions either by the TSA or by the Southwest Airlines staff.

So if anyone is looking to carry their tripod, I recommend doing this.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

What happened to Quick Save?

I am not sure how and when this started, but it is getting really annoying. I understand that for some people this is not a problem, but some of us care about this. It feels like my experience is more watered down without options that were available to games from 8 years ago. There is no reason why the developers are not giving players the option to quick save in 2012!

I’ve talked about this issue in the past on the forums and the responses ranged from people who absolutely wanted it, and those who said quick save removed the challenge from the game.

I understand that, however, for those who want a challenge, they can always just not save. Gamers like me would like to have the option but just can’t seem to convince people that this is an important part of their experience!

I can’t remember the number of times I played a certain section in Crysis or in Max Payne, all because I could save where I wanted to.

I remember when Crysis 2 and Max Payne 3 were first announced. I had a bad feeling that they will be a console ports.

With Crysis 2, my suspicion was well founded. At launch, the game had no DX11 support, had hardly any graphics settings except pre-set options, and it featured the irritating checkpoint feature. If that wasn’t bad enough, you had to quit the current game to be able load a checkpoint. The game itself isn’t bad at all, but the gameplay is built around the console, and without the lack of any customization, its just a big disappointment compared to the 5 year old Crysis.

Now, the release date for Max Payne 3 has been announced and PC Gamer did a preview very recently.

 I asked Tyler Wilde if there was an option to quick save.

Tyler Wilde's Max Payne 3 preview

This is disappointing to me. The first two games let you save wherever you wanted to save, and also had a ton of graphics settings options. It seems as if Max Payne 3 is heading down the Crysis 2 path.

I am not sure what I intend to accomplish with this post. Perhaps someone in the games industry will read this and understand that not everyone will like the kind of restrictions that seem acceptable on consoles.

For example, the developers of Deus Ex Human Revolution believed that highlighting is a core part of the experience, yet they gave us the option to turn it off. I think that is commendable.

Allowing players to choose their experience is the best part of Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

If the fine folks at PC Gamer can convince developers in the future that curbing their enthusiasm to provide an experience is a good thing, everyone is going to be happy for it.