Monthly Archive for March, 2005

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Doom 3: Scary as Hell

I’ve been playing Doom 3, single-player campaign. Cripes, this game scares the shit out of me! With surround speakers, playing in the dark… it’s just plain creepy. And then the occasional spring-loaded Imp just shoots me right out of my chair.

I dig it!

But, I just let my brother play it. Set up another account on my PC for him. But all my saved games are there when loads it. If he plays, he’ll overwrite my saved games! They store the saved games under C:\Program Files!

What kind of crap is this? This is the sort of rookie mistake I would expect from a novice programmer. Anybody who has used Windows for more than a week should understand that Documents and Settings is the place to store user data like saved games. Where are their heads?

I found, I could just rename C:\Program Files\Doom 3\base\saved_games to saved_games_Ron, to protect my saves from being stomped on. Later, I’ll rename it back. But I shouldn’t have to do crap like this.

Harmony 628 Universal Remote

I just bought a Harmony 628 universal remote control. Somewhat puzzlingly, I can’t find a page on Logitech’s website about it, but it looks very similar to the Harmony 659 model.

Since Logitech bought the manufacturer of the Harmony remotes, they certainly have taken full advantage of Logitech’s extensive distribution channel. These very powerful remote controls are now very easy to find. I got mine at Costco for CDN$128.

I’ve just finished setting it up for the first time to control my Sony TV, Panasonic DVD/VCR combo, and Scientific Atlanta digital cable box. It went pretty smoothly. I had to teach it a new command, the Antenna button on my TV remote, because of the weird way I have the system hooked up right now. Teaching the command worked fine, once I looked more closely at the picture in the configuration web-app, and realized that the IR learning sensor is on the butt-end of the remote, not the head.

I also had trouble at first with the LCD display being extremely faint. No contrast at all. Then the contrast was flickering for a while, but now it seems to have stabilized at a pretty decent contrast level. Not sure what was going on with that. It’s a little bit worrying.

But I’m pretty impressed by this remote so far. Somehow, even if I mess with the current input selection on the TV manually, the Harmony is somehow mysteriously able to get the input changed properly for whichever activity I select. I have no idea how they do that. The only thing I can think of is that maybe they have a sensor that looks at light-output from the TV screen to detect when the TV has cycled around to the right input. Or maybe the TV understands some other “absolute” input-selection IR codes that the included remote doesn’t send.

My Mom is coming to visit this Easter weekend. That will be the acid test of usability of this remote. If she can operate the thing without calling me over every three minutes, it will be truly a triumph of simple interface design.

Sir! Yes, sir!

I’m perpetually irritated by the tendency of self-important authority figures to hand out their decrees without any justification whatsoever. Governments are particularly bad for this, but so are the little tin-pot dictators that infest corporate legal and safety departments.

Do not mix with other cleaning products. Do not make statements concerning bombs. Do not sit on the flower planter. Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball. Do not tamper with the ground pin. Do not use to clean inside your ear. Do not use this product for the purpose for which it is very obviously intended.

Some of these decrees are just power trips. Some are shameless ass-covering manoevers. Some are just silly. And some are very good advice. But it can be hard to tell which are which sometimes. For the ones that are legitimately good advice, a little bit of justification can go a long way to encouraging compliance. If mothers are made to understand why it is better that they put on their own oxygen mask before they help their child, they are much more likely to actually follow the instruction. (The reason:if your child passes out from lack of oxygen, you can still help your child, no harm done. But if you pass out from lack of oxygen, your child probably can’t help you, and you’ll die.)

At the business park where I work, our main ring road that joins the buildings has a posted 10km/h speed limit. Have you ever actually tried to drive 10km/h? It’s really hard. Some people walk faster than that. An automatic will idle faster than that, you have to ride the brake carefully to keep your speed down. A car with a manual transmission will stall, unless you delicately ride the clutch.

If the intent was simply to get people to slow down, it doesn’t work. Such a low speed limit is just a bad joke, worthy only of being mocked, or at best ignored. Had they set the limit at a more reasonable 30 or 40km/h, it might have a chance of being somewhat effective.

Just once, I’d like to have the person who decided on that speed limit behind me on that road. I’ll drive 10km/h. I bet that would really piss them off.

Anyway, what triggered today’s rant was the label on a bottle of brush-on wood preservative I bought. I’ve been rebuilding the shower in my master bath. Home Depot advises the use of pressure-treated wood to build the framing of the curb and around the shower pan. This is, presumably, to minimize damage should the shower pan leak.

It is often a good idea to use some brush-on end-cut treatment when you cut pressure-treated wood, to protect the core of the wood that was not reached by the pressure treatment. I thought it would be a good idea also to brush some onto the other existing untreated wood framing.

But the label on the bottle says “Not for interior use.”

No justification is given. No warnings about what terrible things will happen if I do, what the risks are. Just a decree handed down from on high. I know somebody in government or that company has done a risk assessment, and concluded that interior use is risky in some way. But there are a great many different uses that could be called “interior use”, surely they are not all equally risky. And there are many kinds of risks, and they may not all be applicable to me. They will be including their own legal risk in their analysis. Perhaps some bozo somewhere will use it to treat his baby’s crib, or make a kitchen counter with it, and end up suing the manufacturer for his own stupidity. Better, they think, to just blanket-forbid all interior uses.

I was able to find this directive from the Canadian government ordering manufacturers to include the phrase “Not for interior use” on their labels for copper napthenate and similar brush-on preservatives. The only reason given in the directive was that “label use patterns involving interior use are no longer considered appropriate.”

So, what is the danger of interior use, exactly? Is it that it will leach out of treated surfaces onto your hands and slowly poison you? Not buried under layers of mortar, shower membrane, more mortar, and ceramic tile, it won’t. Is it that it could leach down the shower drain? Only if the shower pan is leaky, which it will not be. Is it that the solvent fumes will poison me in the enclosed space? I’ll open a bloody window. Is it that it will release toxic gases if it gets burned in a fire?

What is it? C’mon, just tell me, so I can intelligently assess the risk for myself. Don’t just hand down the prohibition, and expect mindless obedience. Homey don’t play that.

Bundled crap

I’m growing less impressed with MSI… the video card is fine, no problems there. But all this bundled software… it takes me time to investigate all this stuff to see if any of it is worthwhile. So far, it’s almost universally crap. Why are they wasting my time with this? Would it kill them to just give some small indication what these things are for, so I wouldn’t have to go digging to figure out how useless it all is?

MSI 3D Desktop

I guess it’s a… well, a 3D desktop. Some screenshots would help give me some idea about it… but there aren’t any anywhere to be found. Nor have I found any reviews. Did anybody ever install this thing, and actually put it into use?

ThinSoft BeTwin

Lets you make your PC handle multiple simultaneous users. Install a video card for each user, plug all the mice and keyboards into a USB hub. BeTwin will take care of giving them completely independant sessions. Somehow.

Useless, to me anyway.

E-Color 3Deep

There are two 3Deeps. One is a boy band. The other is monitor colour-correction software. Apparently the idea is to adjust colours so you can see in shadows and such in your 3D shooters and kick all the ass.

Apparently 3Deep is now sold under the name ColorWizzard.

But… right click on the background… colour correction, and much more, is there already in NVIDIA’s drivers. What does this do that is different? I have no idea. I’m going to have to say “useless.”

MSI 3D Turbo Experience

From MSI’s site:

  • Fancy, Game-looking HTML/Flash Based Tool
  • New revolution! MSI is the worldwide first company to propose the advantage of HTML/Flash based utilities. By leading the new software trend, MSI devotes to serve the users a fancy, game- looking utility. Are you ready for the new experience now?

Ok… but… what is it? This is apparently a driver of some sort. It’s exact purpose seems to be a secret for which I do not have the required high-level security clearance. But, at the risk of attracting the wrath of the black helicopters, I will say that I found one page that seemed to suggest that it was for overclocking (the video board, presumably), and that it only worked with an MSI motherboard.

And, again, there are already extensive overclocking options on the NVIDIA display settings dialogs. So, what is this thing doing differently? Are they compatible? I have no idea.

I just gotta say it… useless.

MediaRing Dialer

As far as I can tell, this is a voice-over-IP system. What this has to do with video is beyond me. Seems useless. For some reason, most of the Google hits for this are warez sites with cracks.

MSI GoodMEM

According the very short documentation provided, “GoodMEM is a program which helps you increase your physical system memory size, and monitors your memory usage.” Yeah, right. All I can see that it does is free up allocated memory. Maybe I’m dense, but I don’t get it. You can’t just free memory that is allocated… whoever allocated it is using it! Otherwise, it would have been freed already. I can hardly imagine a better way to crash a system than to free memory that somebody is using.

Am I missing something? Then tell me what it really does, and how. Until then… useless.

MSI LockBox

From the readme: “With LockBox you can leave your computer unattended at any time and not worry about anyone prowling through your files , just click.” So, this program is apparently a one-click version of Ctl-Alt-Del: Lock Computer.

C’mon, do we really need this? I presume it’s going to take up more valuable space in my overcrowded system-tray to give me this silly icon to click on.

Incredibly useless.

MSI SecureDoc

I hardy know where to begin with this one. “SecureDoc is a program that could allow you to encrypt the files, this program is compatible with the file manager.” It could indeed allow you encrypt files… if you were foolish enough to trust it. MSI doesn’t give you much reason to.

Anyone who knows anything about cryptography knows one thing above all else: it’s really bloody hard to do it right. At every turn, you’re faced with a choice between the easy and obvious way, or the correct and secure way. But this program seems particularly half-assed to me.

“Secure DOC is using the international standard for encryption.” Yeah? Which international standard? Apparently the files will be encrypted with a password. They say they are using a 128-bit “international standard” encryption scheme. This raises the question… how do they get from the presumably very short and usually very human-readable password to the necessary 128-bit encryption key? This right here could be a major weak point in this thing. Do this part wrong, and your effective security will only be a tiny fraction of what an “international standard” 128-bit scheme should provide.

“If the user need to change the password to the encrypted files, user should know that the old password will still exist in the encrypted files.” I don’t claim to be any kind of expert in cryptography… but c’mon… you don’t include the encryption key in the encrypted file! This is just so wrong… man… I can’t find words for it…

“…there is no other program that could crack the encypted files.” No respectable cryptographer would ever make such an absolute claim as this. Especially not one who knew he was storing the encryption key in the file.

And, for a last little bit of puzzlement, we have this head-scratcher: “Note: Windows system files, hidden files and read me files cannot be encrypt.” Huh? It should be obvious to anyone that encrypting the system files would be serious bonehead move. But… readme files can’t be encrypted? Why the hell not?

More than useless. Downright dangerous.

MSI WMIInfo

I guess it’s a plug-in for Windows Management Information. Not really sure why I would need this.

ShowShifter

This seems to be PVR-type application. Seems very low-end, judging by the screenshots, and the price. But it could be ok. But my computer is nowhere near my TV, so I don’t need anything like this.

Trend Micro PC-Cillin

Anti-virus, spam filter, anti-spyware, etc. Probably pretty good. But… why is this on a video board support CD?

Anyway, my ASUS motherboard came with Norton Internet Security, so I installed that.


There’s a bunch more stuff included with this card. But I’m tired now.

Bundled Software Overload

With my recent purchase of a new Athlon64 motherboard and PCI Express graphics, I have been buried under an unprecedented avalanche of bundled software.

Let’s take an inventory, shall we? I’m going to include the bundled software that came with other hardware I had already, but which will be used with this system.

Asus A8N-SLI Deluxe motherboard:

  • nVidia Chipset n-Tune
  • ASUS Ai Booster
  • AMD Cool’n’Quiet
  • ASUS PC-Probe
  • Norton Internet Security 2005
  • Adobe Acrobat Reader V5.0
  • ASUS Screen Saver
  • InterVideo WinDVD 5
  • InterVideo WinDVD Creator
  • InterVideo DVD Copy 2
  • InterVideo Disc Master 2
  • MSI NX6000GT graphics board (enough bundled software to choke a horse):

  • MSI Media Centre Deluxe II
  • MSI 3D Desktop
  • MSI 3D Turbo Experience
  • MSI GoodMEM
  • MSI LockBox
  • MSI WMIinfo
  • MSI SecureDoc
  • Adobe Acrobat Reader
  • Trend Micro PC-Cillin
  • ThinSoft Be-Twin
  • Media Ring Dialer
  • D.O.T.
  • Photoshop Album SE
  • 3D-Album LE 2.03
  • Virtual Drive Professional
  • RestoreIT! Professional
  • InterVideo WinDVD 5.1
  • InterVideo WinDVD Creator PLUS
  • Supreme Foreign Language Learning Machine
  • Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
  • URU: Ages Beyond Myst
  • MSI Games Collection
  • Plextor PX-712A DVD Burner:

  • Roxio Easy CD & DVD Creator 6
  • PhotoSuite 5 SE
  • Roxio Drag-to-Disc
  • Dantz Retrospect
  • Canon i960 Printer:

  • ZoomBrowser EX
  • PhotoRecord 2.0
  • Easy-PhotoPrint 2.0
  • Easy-WebPrint 2.0
  • Easy-PhotoPrintPlus 1.0
  • Canon EOS-20D:

  • Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0
  • Digital Photo Professional 1.1
  • EOS Viewer 1.1.0
  • EOS Capture 1.1.7
  • PhotoStitch 3.1
  • Sony DCR-TRV38 Camcorder:

  • PIXELA ImageMixer v1.5
  • I think that’s just about it. Am I actually expected to install all that crap? Much of it is, truly, crap.

    Consider the motherboard optimization utilities. There are three of them: nVidia nTune, ASUS Ai Booster, and AMD Cool’n’Quiet. I don’t know what they all do, or if they can be used together. I know Cool’n’Quiet is incompatible with one of the other two (not sure which).

    I have no less than four firewalls now. The one bundled with XP SP2, the Norton Firewall, and two NVIDIA firewalls (one hardware and one software). I have disabled all of them, since I have an external Linksys firewall anyway. I would have liked to run the NVIDIA firewalls, because they seem extraordinarily powerful, but they cause an inexplicable problem with Norton LiveUpdate. So much for that.

    Two different anti-virus solutions: Norton Antivirus (included in Norton Internet Security), and Trend Micro PC-Cillin.

    Two copies of both WinDVD and WinDVD Creator. ImageMixer does the same thing as WinDVD Creator. And then there’s Windows Movie Maker, which comes with XP Professional. I also have MGI VideoWave, which does the same thing again, from a Firewire card I bought for my studio PC. Four video editing programs to choose from. All of them suck. (I’m assuming WinDVD Creator sucks, I haven’t installed it. I’m assuming Windows Movie Maker sucks, it’s Microsoft.)

    In the Photo Album category, we have Photoshop Album SE, 3D-Album LE 2.03, PhotoSuite 5 SE, and Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0. I won’t bother with any of them. I have never found any Photo Album software to be worth the vinyl it’s stamped on. They all make the same fundamental mistake so much bundled media software makes: trying to “simplify” things for the user by layering their own simplistic file system on top of the perfectly usable file systems the OS provides. I will write another rant about this one of these days.

    Two different backup packages here: Dantz Retrospect, and RestoreIT! Professional. I will have to take a look at those. I’ll need some decent backup solution. Of course, Windows provides one as well, which has the advantage that you’ll always have it available to read your backups.

    In the useless-fluff category, we have ASUS Screen Saver, MSI Media Centre Deluxe II, MSI 3D Desktop, MSI 3D Turbo Experience, Supreme Foreign Language Learning Machine, Easy-WebPrint 2.0, and ZoomBrowser EX. These are all unlikely to ever be installed, even out of curiosity. Every installation on a Windows PC hastens the day when it becomes so unstable that you have just format and reinstall. Windows Bit Rot disease. I’m not going to bring that day closer, just to see this crap.

    Finally, in the “what the hell does this do?” category, there is InterVideo Disc Master 2, MSI 3D Turbo Experience, MSI GoodMEM, MSI LockBox, MSI WMIinfo, MSI SecureDoc. Most of these MSI things come with not so much as a README.TXT file to indicate what they might be for. Perhaps I’ll google them later.

    GoodMEM supposedly “helps you increase your physical system memory size”, a claim which fills me with deepest suspicion. Software that increases my memory size? What the hell kind of snake oil is this? Let me guess… it’s some kind of memory-enhancement sticker I can apply to my RAM sticks? Uses quantum resonance effects to oxygenate the wavelength of the photons, thus enhancing the charge storage ability of the memory quarks? Something like that? I think that would work.

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