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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Der Keyboard

For some reason, in the last couple of weeks I've become very interested in keyboards. Not musical ones (though I want one of them too), but the QWERTY variety. For years I've been using the stock-standard rubber-dome keyboard that came with my computer, but an article has intrigued me about the prospect of using a buckling-spring keyboard like IBM's classic Model M. They're non-existent on eBay, except in America, and they're too heavy to ship from the US for less than about $60. I found some 122-key monsters on there, which look pretty leet, but they're not buckling spring, despite the listing's dishonest implications. I'd probably buy one anyway for the hacker cred, if not for the weird, gaming-unfriendly cursor key layout. The search continues.

Thinking about this reminded me of the fact that I still can't touch type - well, I sort of can, if you call 14 WPM "typing". So, inspired by Das Keyboard's supposed ability to force people to learn by preventing them from looking at the keys, I've painted my keyboard all black. It looks pretty cool, if a little emo. I also downloaded TuxTyping, a touch typing practice program. It's aimed at kids, but it should help a lot anyway.

Maybe in the holidays I'll do something like this. If only I had the necessary tools and stuff. Oh well, I'll think of something.


Radar gun

My latest acquisition:

It's a radar gun.

The ball is stationary.

I don't know what I'm actually going to do with this, but it was only $12 on eBay, so I figured I might as well grab it. At the very least I can take it apart and do interesting things with its insides.


Friday, October 26, 2007

Portal to heaven

About a week ago I heard about the game Portal. Just looking at the Wikipedia article was enough to make my head explode at the sheer awesomeness of it. Immediately I hit Demonoid and got downloadin'. Something's making BitTorrent work really badly for me. Something to do with NAT? Every time I try to figure it out it gets terribly complicated and I then go and do something else. But anyway, after leaving Azureus running overnight a couple of times I finally managed to torrent the last few bits and finished downloading Portal. It's a Windows game, and my computer is now free of the vice-like grip of Microsoft, so I downloaded Wine, which runs Windows programs on Linux. Luckily, Portal runs pretty well on Wine, but there's a few glitches, like not being able to see properly through the portals sometimes.

To the game itself: basically, if you own a computer, you have no excuse not to get this game. It is awesome. By far the most original game I've played in a long time. Watch the trailer here and you'll hopefully understand. I finished it in about 3 hours of solid, addicted playing, and it was just too great for words. But I'll come up with some anyway, in case you want to do yourself the indescribable disservice of not playing the game.

The game starts with the player character waking up in a cell in a research facility of some kind. The character has been chosen to test the "Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device", which creates portals on walls/floors/ceilings which you can see/walk/fall/push objects through. The cool thing about the portals is that you can jump through them retaining your momentum, which makes for some pretty cool manoeuvres. Picture jumping 10 metres to the floor, then going through a portal and suddenly you're flung out sideways from a wall in a different part of the room. Craaaazy. But that's not all! Guiding you through the tests is a sing-song-voiced AI who says some, well, pretty odd things. Make that pretty hilarious things. The humour in the game is really great, and not what you'd expect from a company that makes first person shooters.

The game consists of a series of rooms, in which you must use the portal gun to solve puzzles which allow you to progress to the next room. It starts off easy enough, and never gets particularly frustrating (unlike some puzzle games), but some of the later rooms are pretty tricky. After about 19 rooms the test ends and you are invited by the AI guide to have some cake. It's all over... or is it?


When the game does finish, there's a song at the end that is the Best Video Game Music. I give this game a rating of five billion out of ten. No, just kidding. Six billion.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Lolthis guy

Guys I am propagating a meme.


Saturday, October 13, 2007

Switching to Linux

Well, after years of putting up with Windows I've finally taken the plunge and switched over to Linux! I'm now using Ubuntu 7.04 on my desktop with not a shred of Microsoft presence.

It all started yesterday when I remembered an article I came across some months ago about dual-booting Windows and Linux. The instructions seemed pretty simple so I didn't bother backing much of my stuff up, just a few LaTeX files I considered important.

I booted Ubuntu from the LiveCD and hit "install". Everything went well until I got to partitioning the hard drive. The partitioning options were totally different to the instructions and I couldn't find anything to resize the NTFS partition Windows was using. Then I tried to resize it using a partitioning program that was on the LiveCD, which I think worked, and then I created a new partition using the freed up space and installed Ubuntu. This seemed fine, until the Grub bootloader didn't work and I had no idea how to fix it. I forget what I did after that, but long story short, everything got ruined.

(Of course, in retrospect, not backing up my important stuff was an amazingly stupid thing to do and I really should have known better. Luckily, it's only been a couple of months since I last reformatted, so nearly all my stuff is backed up elsewhere. This morning I freaked out big time because I thought I had lost the full-resolution .psd file for my Mod Rocker picture, but luckily it was still on my laptop.)

After this traumatic episode, I gave up on dual booting and partitioned the whole drive for Linux. Now I have Ubuntu installed and so far it's going pretty well. After stumbling through installing a few things manually, including the driver for my graphics card, I discovered that I could have done it with a fraction of the effort using Synaptic Package Manager. Things are looking pretty good, but one thing's for sure: I've got a hell of a lot of learning to do.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Hooray for Radiohead

So, Radiohead! Woo! The new album is good. I'm not totally bowled over by it, but probably I just need to listen to it a few more times. There seems to be a sort of bell curve with albums; at first I don't really get into them but then after a few listens I do. Then after a while it peaks and then gradually falls back when I've heard it heaps of times. But of course the curve is very different for different albums. For example I used to sort of like Good Charlotte after getting a free single (The Anthem) with my discman. The enthusiasm curve rose quickly, then wavered a bit, then dropped quickly as I realised that Good Charlotte blow ass. At the other end of the spectrum of musical worth, most Pink Floyd albums followed a general pattern of rising slightly less quickly (due to being less accessible) but then going through the roof and eventually settling at "very high". The general Radiohead curve rises fairly slowly for me but usually ends up pretty high. I guess I haven't really listened to them enough to see if/how the curve will drop but it will be pretty gradual, I expect.

I really take my hat off to them for their distribution model (which, in case you live under a rock, is that you choose your own price (e.g. free) and then download the album). It's pretty much a huge "fuck you" to the whole recording industry, which is great. Record companies have had their head in the sand for too long, and with any luck they'll finally see that simply lowering album prices and embracing the internet like Radiohead have will pretty much eliminate the bulk of music piracy. It is a good feeling to legally choose my own price for an album, and I totally would have payed for it if I had a credit card (they probably should have had PayPal as an option). Ultimately I think In Rainbows will be remembered almost as much for its distribution model as for the music.

In other news: The Supanova Pop Culture Expo is on this weekend. I didn't even know it was on until I saw a TV ad for it. Should be fun.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

In Rainbows

Woo! The new Radiohead album is out! I'm listening to it now. It is looking good. Sounding good anyway.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

My day

So pretty much here's what happened to me today: First I got up at 6 am (no, that's not a typo) to get to uni by 8 am for a thing where I made a photovoltaic cell on the roof of the electrical engineering building. It's for one of my subjects, Sustainable Energy. This week is Engineering Week, where basically first year engineering students do random stuff like that instead of having classes. It's cool, except when you spend over three hours on a roof in the unseasonably hot sun doing something that is only just interesting enough to justify the early start and profuse sweating. (It was compulsory.)

Next I had nothing to do for two hours so I went to the Unibar and had a stein of New. There's a promotion for the Oktoberfest thing that's happening at the Roundhouse, where you pay eight bucks and get a stein (which you can keep) filled with half a litre of Tooheys New. Which would be awesome, if New was any good (Tooheys Old is of course far superior). As I was finishing the beer they started doing bingo in the Unibar (obviously mistaking the uni for an old people's home) so I left, went to a computer lab and, out of boredom, started experimenting with the random() function in C. Remember, kids: You need to include the stdlib.h library.

Then I went to another Engineering Week thing, an elec-eng presentation where they demonstrated how GPS works and then we got to ride a Segway. I've ridden a Segway before, but I reckon you'd have to ride one for several hundred hours before the novelty wore off - it is just awesome. If you've never ridden a Segway, go to your nearest Segway dealership and test drive one. (I don't know if there are actually any Segway dealerships. If not, write to your local MP and demand one - not that he could likely do anything about it, but it would be hilarious if politicians started getting bombarded with emails about this.)

So then on the drive home, I noticed a dashboard light had come on which said "RR DEF". I started getting anxious about it because for all I knew it was some serious problem with the car, and having car troubles is the pits (no pun intended), so after I got home I showed it to the mechanic who works two doors down from my house. He looked at it and told me it meant the rear de-mister was on. It was the best news I'd heard in weeks.

Then I get home, and guess what? It turns out the periodic comet Encke has had its tail knocked off by a Coronal Mass Ejection from the Sun! Sucked in Encke, you had it coming.