Archive for the 'Technology' Category

No Promises

So, I’ve had my head buried in a fun project over the last couple weeks. I want to share it with you.

The basic concept was that I wanted to make a game with transparency in the sprite sheet, but without using a tool that lets me set pixels to transparent (no fancy tools, just basic ones). So I used Microsoft Paint, mixed two types of background colors that I could easily single out later for transparency (I think they are [254, 0, 254] and [0, 254, 0] — notice the “full” values are one value lower than the full 255). Then I drew a grid with those colors (more of a checkerboard) for 16 by 16 sprites, and started making a game. I pasted in a few NES and GameBoy sprites that were the right size just for testing purposes (I will probably replace them later, but they are still there for now). In the JavaScript, I use the HTML5 Canvas ability to pull pixel data, manipulate it, write it back in, and save it as an image object for use later. Because of a security feature with the canvas element (“tainted” canvas or something) this feature doesn’t work offline. So I had to make two rendering modes for testing purposes, but it auto-detects when it’s being served from the web, and uses the appropriate rendering mode.

This is the blank tilesheet I created.

This is the blank tilesheet I created.

Because the transparency is calculated manually, I thought it would be good to only load in the sprites that were needed for each map. This turned out to be a stupid way to do things, so I might be having it just do the process once at the beginning later instead of doing it every time I load a map or the help screen.

Then I wanted to make random dungeons. That turned out to be quite the challenge. I think I mostly succeeded though — I really like some of the designs it comes up with. I’m 100% positive my algorithm is the least efficient way of doing it, but it gets the job done. The maps it generates are really fun and interesting to explore (for me, at least). I hope you like this feature. I’m thinking about implementing a new “rendering mode” that uses these maps for a text based adventure game. All of the creatures, items, and rooms would be the same, it would just present the area to you in text form rather than visually. It could be a fun experiment.

Then I started sprinkling random things in for a while before realizing that I had room for over 1000 sprites, and only had a little over 100. The separate item sprite (for the HTML inventory display) sheet is also over sized. So I’m kind of thinking of filling those spaces with even more sprites. Some things are fairly easy to add in dynamically (like walls, floors, and furniture), and other (more interactive) things are only a little more involved to add in (like trolls who block doors, items, and other characters). If you want to submit some new sprites with descriptions of what they would be or do, let me know (email address on the right).

I also wanted to add a particle system, but I wanted it to fit in with the pixelated environment (unlike the particle system I designed for my space experiment game). The particle system turned out really nice, and I was even able to use it for a visual “+1” that pops up when you pick up or get an item. Particle emitters can behave like explosions (I even used the pixel data to create correctly colored particles in the same locations as the pixels of the exploding block before scattering them), or spray emitters that can be turned on or off, or any number of other things I haven’t tried.

The next thing I wanted was for it to be multi-player. Since I don’t do any server-side code still I decided to go with multiple players on one keyboard. Eventually I added a third player who uses the mouse. The controls for the keyboard players took a bit of work to get right. Players expect a certain behavior (rocking between directions as though using an NES controller D-pad). They want to be going one way, “rock” into another direction by hitting an additional key while still holding the first one to make a turn, and resume the previous direction of travel when they release the additional key. It’s harder to say than to do–you probably do it already naturally. And you expect it to work. Unfortunately it turned out to be a lot more complicated to code. But I succeeded. Again, it’s not the best code, but it does what it needs to do.

I also wanted to add in a leader board. Again, since I don’t do server side code yet the leader board is local only (hearkening back to the days of early arcade machines where the high scores were stored locally and you competed with others who used the same machine as you). I had to add in a way to put your name in (on the character select screen in the very beginning). If you forget, a default name is assigned.

One thing I’m very unhappy with is my persistence in using HTML to supplement what happens in the rendered game screen. Someday I’d like to make a game that has all of its interface inside the HTML canvas. Technically I did do this once, but the game has horrible flickering issues and is so poorly coded that fixing the flicker is nearly impossible. I’d need to rewrite the whole thing from scratch in order to fix it. I did reuse a couple sprites from that game though (since it also used 16 by 16 pixel sprites).

I can’t possibly think of all the other little problems I had to solve along the way (that’s what makes it fun for me). For example, this is my first project to use sound (I based the idea off this tutorial). I definitely need to redo some of the sounds, add more (including background music), and make sure the volume is consistent between them all. I recorded the current sounds (with one copyright-infringing exception that I hope falls under fair use) at 3am while everyone else was sleeping in the house, so it’s all my voice (sometimes sped up or slowed down). Audacity is a great little program for getting that sort of thing done.

99% made in Microsoft Paint

99% made in Microsoft Paint

In fact, nearly everything for this game was created with Microsoft Notepad, Microsoft Paint, and Audacity. One image, a fully transparent gif for the HTML formatting, was pulled from another project and couldn’t have been created with my chosen toolset.

Anyway, here’s the finished project. I call it “No Promises” because the game doesn’t check to see if a level is solvable (I can’t promise you’ll be able to beat every level). I added in the ability to abort a game (pause with Escape and click the screen) in case you get irreversibly stuck. An aborted game that includes at least one solved level will still be eligible for the leader board. Before aborting though, as long as some of the map is still hidden you can wait by the spawn point for random items to spawn. These items are designed to help you if you get stuck. Also, walls can have hidden doors in them (look for a wall tile that is just a little different from the rest).

Computer Games

Story time. If you want to skip to the interesting list at the end, go right ahead. I’m in the typing mood though so I’m about to tell you my entire life story as it relates to gaming.

English: A NES console with the Super Mario Br...

English: A NES console with the Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt game (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve always loved video games. My grandpa was kind enough to donate his Nintendo Entertainment System to my parents when I was very young, probably after we visited him once or twice and he saw how the machine captivated my brother and me. I must have been five years old (plus or minus the standard deviation for my poor memory).

Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, Baseball, Duck Hunt, Gumshoe, Master Blaster, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Marble Madness, Captain Skyhawk, and many more games filled the earliest years of my memory.

Then, after much entreatment from my brother and me, we got a Sega Genesis for Christmas, and years later a Nintendo 64. I believe my grandfather may have had a financial hand in one or both of those acquisitions as well.

Our time with those game systems shaped who we are. My brother is now lucky enough to work for a small but well-known game development company and I… well, I make useless JavaScript toys in my free time.

As a part of my interest in games, teenager me wanted to become a 3D artist. To this day I work plenty in 3D and the skills I gained in my teens will forever benefit me. However, in support of my quest to learn 3D modeling my parents loaned me the money to buy a PC (circa 1998, plus or minus whatever my memory is wrong about). I got my first job to pay my parents back. I was 15.

Anyhow, the computer I got worked for very limited 3D work (renderings took forever and often never finished due to hard drive crashes or other terrible mishaps), and it also allowed me to try my hand at PC gaming for the first time.

I had tried a couple of very simple games on my father’s Power Mac, but these PC games were entirely different. I can’t remember everything I played (I’ve spent quite a bit of time in bursts of nostalgia trying to hunt down those games), but a few of them were Jane’s Advanced Tactical Fighters, Descent, Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee, Blastdoors, Return Fire 2, Mech Warrior, and Gravity Well.

Unfortunately my PC was junk and barely ran most of those games. I had no idea that games could actually be played at more than five frames a second. I thought all PC games were supposed to be choppy and slow. Then I tried a few games on a friend’s computer and everything changed. He had built his machine for speed. He had one of those things called a graphics card.

When I went to college several years later I made sure my computer had a graphics card. I was going to be studying 3D animation and I knew I’d need some serious power. So I got a mid-level desktop replacement laptop (this would have been sometime around 2003). It had a whole 512 MB of ram, and an NVIDIA graphics card with several MB of dedicated graphics memory (I don’t remember how much).

Despite all of this raw power, I didn’t really get back into computer gaming. I played a few games here and there, but for some reason I forgot all about what a good graphics card did for PC gaming. I still remembered playing Return Fire 2 at 5 FPS with the textures and effects turned off, and I think that left the impression that PC gaming was inferior to console gaming.

Eventually I got married and that laptop became an aging family computer. After one particularly hefty tax return when my wife and I didn’t have any major purchases in mind we decided to get a new (first generation) HP TouchSmart computer. Our young son would be able to have so much fun on the touch screen, we thought, and since the mouse was on its way out as an archaic technology we figured it was time to introduce our child to the future (right?).

That computer lasted us several years, but eventually the integrated graphics burned out and rendered the entire motherboard useless. I salvaged the hard drive, but we needed a new computer.

Once again, with a new baby girl, we decided that a touch screen would be handy. We now knew that the computer mouse was here to stay, but babies do better with touch screens. Plus, the second generation of TouchSmart PCs had been out for a while, and there was a model with a graphics card. So we got that one.

English: HP Touchsmart PC. With Rob Miles using it

English: HP Touchsmart PC. With Rob Miles using it (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, with an actual graphics card, I was ready to start playing computer games again. I started with emulators (I’m a sucker for nostalgia), but eventually installed Steam and got a game (Super Meat Boy, at my brother’s suggestion). I figured my fancy new graphics card should be able to handle the latest 2D game. Well, I was disappointed to discover that my system choked a little on that 2D game. I eventually figured out that, on the lowest settings, I could run a few modern games, but with serious restrictions and difficulties.

I played through Portal, but Portal 2 was a little too much for my system (I did eventually play through it, but with the graphics all turned down to the lowest settings again). I played Mount and Blade with all the settings configured for a crappy system. I played Minecraft comfortably for a while, but in the last few months my system began sputtering even on that game.

Unfortunately that computer lasted a full two years and some change. Though I knew we couldn’t afford to just replace it, I always secretly hoped it would die so that we could start looking for a way to pay for a new computer.

Well, a couple of weeks ago I got my wish, and, thankfully, we were financially prepared for it. My wife had gotten into a few of those computer games with me, and she agreed that it was time to get something that would comfortably play most of the games we wanted to play. We both knew we weren’t going to spend thousands on the best hardware available, but we didn’t want to have to play Mount and Blade at less than 30 FPS with all the textures and effects on the lowest settings.

I’m not saying what I got because the purpose of this post is not to open my system up for criticism. I want to talk about games.

As someone who has had to turn down the opportunity to play any new PC games for several years, there is a whole list of games I haven’t been able to play and I’m looking forward to playing on my new computer. I’ve got the list divided into three parts. The first part is stuff that’s out now and I need or want to play it (according to me). The second part of the list consists of games that I’m interested in but they aren’t out yet (I’ve backed a few of them on Kickstarter and will be getting the full game when released). The final part is for suggestions. A coworker suggested a few games, but I want you to help me add to the list.

I realize that not all of these games require a modern graphics card, but my poor graphics card made me disinterested in PC gaming for so long that I skipped over a lot of games that I was interested in. Add your suggestions in the comments!

Part 1: Games Available Now that I Want to Play

Part 2: Games Coming Soon that I’m Interested In

Part 3: Suggestions of Games to Play

  • Bioshock
  • Halflife 2
  • Black Mesa
  • Stalker
  • Dwarf Fortress

Again, add your suggestions in the comments. I’ll look into the game and if it’s pertinent to my interests I’ll add it to my list. Also, if you see any games in my lists that you think are not worth spending money or time on them, let me know your reasons (don’t just say, “Don’t play that awful game!”). I’ll take them into consideration, and if you’ve got a good point I’ll skip over that game. Thanks!

Simplicity, Productivity Boosting, and My Kindle

I'll be covering this topic.

I’m challenging myself to cover three huge topics and do it in as short a post as possible because I want you to actually read the whole thing.

Ready?

Go.

Simplicity has always been a thing for me. I have an entire site set up dedicated to seeking elegant simplicity in the things I own (though it’s been neglected for a while). Then, I read a book by Joshua Becker called Simplify. After reading it, I knew what I had to do. I had a vision of what I wanted my home to look like.

It was clean. It was orderly. We only had the things we absolutely needed or really, really wanted. No junk. No perpetual messes. No clutter.

But I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it alone. So I had my wife read the book on my Kindle. She agreed that it would be good for us to change the way we view our stuff, and we began.

That was back in January. So far we’ve de-cluttered over a third of the rooms and spaces in our home, and the areas we have cleared out are still immaculate. It feels great. I am a little less stressed even. I can’t wait to be done, but I suspect it will be less of a destination and more of a mentality, a lesson for our children, and a process. We will forever be questioning what we own, what we need, and what we use. It is a beautiful thing.

Along those lines, and before I move on to the second topic, I have to mention the simplification of my digital life (which began before even reading Simplify).

If you’ve been reading my posts for a while you’ll know that I have gone back and forth with Facebook for a long time. My last post on the subject mentioned that I had divided my Facebook existence into two accounts as an experiment to see if I really needed or wanted it.

Well, the experiment ended about four months ago. I realized that I just didn’t really need or want Facebook, so I shut down my accounts entirely.

Hurray for scientific experimentation.

On to topic number two: Productivity Boosting.

So last week I stumbled upon this article about fixing procrastination. Being the procrastinator that I am, I bookmarked the article and decided to read it later.

Then, the next day, I realized the irony of that approach with that sort of an article, and I printed the article, thinking that if I carried it around long enough I’d feel more pressure to read it than if it sat in my inhumanely long list of bookmarks in the To Do folder.

An iron, because I said irony.

So I carried it around in my book bag and even kept it on my nightstand for another couple of days, hoping I would read it.

Eventually, when I was about to condemn myself to a life of expert-level procrastination, I read the article.

I liked it. It was simple. I like simple. I could start immediately. Well, sort of… OK. I started the next day.

I highly recommend you read the article, but here’s what you need to know in order to follow along: The idea is that you pick three or four broad-ish goals to accomplish every single day, and if you meet your goals you put a big, fat, gratuitously gratifying “X” for the day on a special calendar reserved for this process. If you miss a day, you break the chain of X’s, which is bad, and you… um, you… well, you just allow yourself to feel horrible about breaking your chain, then you renew your resolve and go at it again the next day, or something like that.

In the end I wound up having to adapt the idea a little, since some of the specifics wouldn’t work for me and I kind of got lost on a couple of the ideas since my printer had an issue with figuring how images and text interact.

So I drafted up my Productivity Plan (the four goals), and decided that I would only hold myself to completing three of the four goals each day.

My goals are to exercise, simplify, write, and relax. I don’t want to expect myself to do all four every day because I don’t believe in exercising every single day (I have to have at least Sunday off, RIGHT?), and some days I just don’t have time to simplify something, or maybe I just can’t work up the energy required to do any writing because my soul has been drained by my sadistic government employer… I wanted some leeway to account for non-perfect days.

Vacation time, sick time, and other extraneous circumstances can be explained in the calendar by, instead of marking an “X,” marking an “S” for “sick,” a “V” for “super rad vacation that was totally too awesome to afford me any time to be productive,” or an “E” for “END OF THE WORLD, FORGET MY GOALS.”

Mostly, I anticipate a string of X’s.

So I printed off some pages of calendars. I wanted all of the days in the year to be on one sheet of paper, so I went with this calendar. I printed three years’ worth to keep me busy for a while. Then I got a super cheap-o folder from Target, and picked up these fat markers for $3.50 while I was there (sometimes Amazon prices are awesome, other times they are scary dangerous – as of this writing those same markers are selling for over $8 on Amazon).

You can't tell me this isn't an awesome hat.

To help with the exercise thing, I got a nice pedometer a few weeks ago. I also got a really awesome hat, but that’s completely unrelated.

Then I stapled the current year sheet to the front of the folder, put the extra year calendars inside with the article printout and my Productivity Plan, and started marking X’s the next day. Today is the second day of working under this slave-driver. So far, I’ve been quite productive and I like it. I also really like my hat.

Because one of my goals (the relax goal) deals with reading, it’s now time to mention my Kindle.

I decided to get a Kindle a while ago, and I did. And I’m very glad I did.

I didn’t promise a review, but here it is: I really love my Kindle and if you are on the fence between nook and Kindle, do your stinking homework. Don’t just ask me what to get. They both have their advantages and disadvantages, and the decision is yours because we live in a free country where choices are awesome. Embrace the choice.

The only “problem” is that now I have way too many books to read. I already had a pile a mile high (closer to three feet wide, in the bookshelf) of physical books to read (though those are very lazy-making since I think I have a paper allergy or something). Now I have over a hundred books on my Kindle that are waiting to be read.

It’s just too easy to add books to your Kindle library. They have this Kindle Daily Deal thing where books are put on super-sale. I know I picked up at least one $14 e-book for just $1.99 (a great book that I wanted to read – don’t judge me; I know you’re thinking back to my spat about simplification). I also picked up one of my favorite titles, which normally lists for $11.95 (but currently sells for &7.81), for just ninety nine cents! You can see how books can start to pile up. Some of the daily deals are free books, and I regularly catch wind of book promotions through Google+ where authors are giving their books away for free.

So I’m in the middle of reading the Hunger Games trilogy (almost done with book 2), but when I finish I’m going to have a reading list that puts all of my other “to do” lists to shame.

Oh, and they have this Kindle Owner’s Lending Library where many of the best-sellers can be borrowed for free. Indefinitely. You can only have one borrowed at a time, and you can’t borrow more than one per month, but that gives me easy, free access to so many good books it makes my head spin. That’s how I’m currently reading the Hunger Games. All of the books in that trilogy are free for me to borrow, for as long as it takes me to read them.

Crazy.

Alright. That’s enough for this post. I sure would like some comments from you brave, intrepid souls who made it to the end of my post. What are you currently reading? Do you use an e-reader? Do you have any productivity tricks? Do you like hats?

Nook vs Kindle: The Story of My Personal Decision

A Picture of a eBook

Image via Wikipedia

Ever since before we pre-ordered my wife’s first generation Barnes and Noble nook two years ago (probably even two years ago today since it first shipped November 30, 2009), I knew that I wanted an ebook reader that did not use a back-lit screen.

Back then I was aware that Sony and a few other companies already had expensive devices on the market that made use of the e-ink screen technologies I had read about a few years prior in Popular Science, and I had followed the release of the Amazon Kindle closely. This was a technology I knew I would use because I love to read, I love using gadgets, and I can’t read from a back-lit screen for too long before my eyes grow tired. As much as I love reading real books, the fact is that I get lazy about carrying around a whole book. I worry about tearing or creasing pages. And oddly enough, I have a sensitivity issue with paper.

Every once in a while, physical contact with paper is somehow registered as pain on my skin. I always loved to write, but my writing didn’t flourish until I could abandon the pain of resting my palm on paper and take up the keyboard. I have tried using gloves, lotion, petroleum jelly… You name it. Paper hurts my skin. Not all the time, but sometimes it’s so bad it becomes unbearable.

So I knew I needed an ebook reader.

I tend to shun products that quickly dominate a market and garner an almost cult following (ehem: iProducts).  I try to promote “the other guys” when it comes to making technology purchases, especially when the difference between the less popular product and the insanely popular product is negligible. And the Kindle had just about become such a product in the months leading up to the release of the nook.

Barnes & Noble nook (ebook reader device)

Image via Wikipedia

And so when Barnes and Noble announced the nook, I poured over the facts and decided that the  nook was a worthy competitor for the Kindle. When my wife expressed an interest in getting a nook or a Kindle, I helped her look at both as objectively as possible. In the end, she liked the openness of the Android platform, the fact that the nook would take the EPUB format, and she even liked that the nook offered competition for the Kindle. She opted for the nook, and we haven’t at any point in time regretted that decision.

So I guess a part of me always assumed I would get a nook. And recently, my desire to read and my desire to avoid touching paper books collided again and I found myself in a Barnes and Noble store holding the newest nook Simple Touch ereader. I loved it. Dark bevel (I heard once that the darker finish helped increase the perceived contrast of the e-ink screen). Slim profile. Compact design. Touch screen. And the price wasn’t bad at $150 (this was a month ago or so, before all the price changes).

I made the decision to get it. I knew that as the holidays got closer prices might go down, and I knew that some of my relatives might send money. I was too poor to just take the thing to the checkout then and there, but I knew I had a nook Simple Touch in my reading future.

It was just a matter of time.

Then Amazon did something crazy. They released an extremely similar product, at a lower price, with an ugly silver bevel. No worries. I still wanted the nook. But the Kindle was cheaper. But the nook had the dark bevel, and I was sure Barnes and Noble would match Amazon’s price soon enough (and I was right). So I stuck with my determination to get the nook.

Then Amazon did something else. They announced the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. Essentially, it meant that I, as an Amazon Prime member, would have access to hundreds of bestselling books for free. Sure, it’s only one at a time, once a month. But these are not books that can be read for free on the nook. Most of them won’t even be on the library network where you can borrow books for free. And as a slow reader, I appreciate that the new Amazon service doesn’t have a due date. I can borrow the book indefinitely. This is a big deal for me.

But is it worth reading on a device with an ugly silver bevel?

Maybe.

So at this point my decision to purchase a nook wasn’t quite as solid. I had doubts. Also, somewhere in there I realized that the Kindle no longer held a firm, ridiculously popular grip in the ereader market. I realized that I wouldn’t have to feel like buying a Kindle was really just a pitiful cry for social help.

It was time to do what I do best: crunch some numbers.

I have used spreadsheets to analyze many things, and I knew that a spreadsheet could help me resolve this conflict. So I went to my bookshelves at home and wrote down the titles of almost forty of my favorite books that I already own (shamefully, a few of which remain unread). Then I went to my Amazon wishlist full of hundreds of books that have been recommended to me, or that I had planned on purchasing and reading in the future. All in all, I assembled a list of 103 books that were all relevant to my interests.

I decided that whichever service provided the greatest selection of books that I would be interested in reading would win. I put the list of books into the spreadsheet, then began pulling prices from Amazon and Barnes and Noble for the ebook versions.

Keep in mind that I put the spreadsheet together quickly, without doing a bunch of digging around. I went with the price for the first version that popped up, I didn’t do searches for variations or special editions or anything of the sort. I searched, I clicked, I got the price. That was it.

Oh, and I didn’t include expensive ebooks in my average price calculations. To me, any ebook that costs more than $20 should be ignored. If it’s that expensive but you just have to read it, find the hard copy in a library or check ebay.

Behold: MY SPREADSHEET.

I found out a couple of things right away. First, I have spent so much time on Amazon making music, movie, game, and grocery  purchases that I am way more comfortable with Amazon than I am with Barnes and Noble. I love going to a Barnes and Noble store in person, but I found their website nearly offensive in some cases. I can’t pinpoint exactly what I found so distasteful, but navigating it felt like trying to ride a bike through a rock garden, even after searching for 103 titles.

Second, and this one is important, I realized that Amazon does digital distribution better than Barnes and Noble. Amazon makes the entire process easier for me. Finding the books I wanted was easier and faster on Amazon, and since I already have an intimate relationship with them, the process for purchasing a book from them was easier (I found this out while trying to get free ebooks as a test of the system).

The results of the spreadsheet war? Amazon had 72 of my target titles in their Kindle library (69.9%) at an average price of $9.35 per title. Barnes and Noble had 63 of my target titles in their nook library (61.2%) at an average price of $9.32 per title. I found one book in the nook library that was less expensive than the version I found on Amazon. There were nine books that I found on Amazon that were not available for the nook. Not a single book from my list was only available for the nook.

All this meant that owning a Kindle would mean having access to all of the books I wanted to read in the nook library, plus some that I wanted to read that I couldn’t read on a nook, and it meant that I would have access to a constantly changing list of bestsellers that I could borrow for free indefinitely, in addition to all of the free books nook and Kindle can access equally (Project Gutenberg, the OverDrive library loaning network, and others).

Even with only a difference of 9 books between the services, a clear winner had emerged for me.

And since aesthetics are never a primary factor in my decision-making process, the Kindle Touch won by a landslide based on the Amazon architecture.

Plus, if the silver bevel does become a problem, I can always get a darker skin decal or a rubberized cover.

So last week I placed my pre-order, and today Amazon began shipping the devices, a whole week early.

I am very happy with my decision. I would promise a full review after I get it in the mail, but I’m afraid that I will be doing a lot more reading than writing.

My Future

My attempt at making an X-Wing was cut short...

I made this in High School.

NOTE: Unlike some of my other posts, I’m not linking to Wikipedia on all of these links. I highly encourage you to click on every link here – some of the pages will make you laugh, some of the videos will make you cry, and most of the photos are from my personal albums. Enjoy!

I’ve been meaning to write this post for quite some time, so here goes.

First though, I would just like to say that prior to commencing the crafting of this post I was listening to some really excellent music by a very talented friend of mine. If you enjoy music by such awesome composers as John Williams, Hans Zimmer, James Horner and more, you would do well to click here. In fact, the first track sounds like something Edward Shearmur and John Williams might have written together.

OK, so let’s get something straight here. Not to brag, but I am a smart guy. I don’t always do the smartest things, and I don’t have a whole lot of formal education, but I have an extremely capable mind and I excel at various tasks involving mental labor. I love problem solving, have always enjoyed technically creative hobbies, and have a deep obsession with aircraft and spacecraft that has followed me my entire life. Being good at practical mathematics, I decided at an early age that I would enjoy engineering.

Then I began researching what is required for an engineering degree. Nearly immediately the math scared me away.

I love practical math (geometry, trigonometry and some algebra). As I see things, practical math has some sort of immediately accessible application or I can draw a picture to further understand it. When I started learning some pre-calculus, things went south as I discovered that not all math is practical.

I clearly remember my first pre-calculus class – the teacher wrote a very large, complex equation on the board. Then she started hacking away at it, removing entire segments and portions saying they were “insignificant.” I was overwhelmed and appalled. I consider every part of an equation, formula, system or composition to be intricately and inseparably part of the whole. I quickly wrote off calculus as psychotic and moved on with my life, seeking for a future among careers with as little advanced math as possible.

Turns out that’s difficult for someone with my interests. I thought 3D animation might be good, but after attending a year at the Savannah College of Art and Design I decided that my creativity levels just aren’t on par with the animators and modelers that I admire. In fact, I am too technical to allow the imperfections of real life into my artistic endeavors.

Then I considered becoming an author, but again I feel that my writing style is better suited to technical documents than creative fiction. Sure, I can throw a little humanity in there every once in a while, but most of my writing could have been produced by software. The same went for music composition – I was too robotic about it, even when I put all of my feeling into it.

I considered jobs in robotics, software engineering, piloting, information technology, and many other fields, but alas – they all required too much math. And not just any math, scary math. Psychotic math. At one point I even considered working to pay off all of my debt before just going off the grid entirely, becoming completely self-sufficient with my family in the woods, living off the land. I don’t think my wife liked that idea very much.

Being a thinker, I briefly pondered becoming a philosopher, but that didn’t feel like a very good career for supporting a family.

Then, while reading a book on philosophy, I thought, “getting an education is going to be tough no matter what. I suppose I might just need to study some advanced math.”

For English Class

My Sophomore Year in High School

So, I pondered back along my life’s many interests and hobbies and took another look at engineering. Then my realist side kicked in. Engineering might not be all that I hope it is. It could be especially boring and overly technical (even for me).

However, from my earliest years my first love has been engineering. Whether it be designing new aircraft, making a better space-plane, creating a robot, or dreaming about what the future could be, I was always headed toward some sort of engineering.

When I was in grade school I came up with a design for an aircraft that blended the best of two wing configurations. The F-14 Tomcat already proved that swinging wings could be used to reconfigure an aircraft for multiple flight characteristics even while still in the air, but I wanted to incorporate the maneuvering benefits of forward swept wings (such as those of the X-29) and a swept back delta wing configuration for high speed. So at least a few years prior to this patent being filed, I designed a plane that looked almost exactly like the Northrop Switchblade.

Yes, I designed this one before 1999.

My Switchblade (predates 1999 patent)

Even back then I was reading Popular Mechanics and Popular Science. Boy was I surprised one day to see my plane design in their pages when one of them published an article about the new patent for a switchblade design. I guess that’s when I knew that I needed to get into Aerospace Engineering.

However, the psychotic math and possibility of engineering being boring still kept me hesitant until recently.

I have been aware for a couple of years that the space shuttle program is coming to an end this year. But when I recently learned that the second to last shuttle flight (and final flight for Endeavour) was taking place this month, I became inexplicably depressed. I began to obsessively research everything I could about the Space Shuttle. I fantasized about attending the final shuttle launch in July when Atlantis will become the last of the Space Shuttles to launch. I started watching inhumane amounts of NASA TV, even going as far as to adjust my schedule to ensure I got to see certain events. I daydreamed about building a 1:1 replica of the exterior and interior of a shuttle in lieu of a tree-house for my children later in life. I added a bunch of shuttle paraphernalia to my wishlists on Amazon. Some of the products are too expensive.

From Family 2011

If I tell you everything about my shuttle obsession, we’ll end up with a long, sad autobiography about a guy who stalks space planes.

What I recently realized was that I desperately want to be involved with the future of Aerospace technologies. I want to inspire, design, and launch systems for human transportation both inside and outside of Earth’s gravitational pull. I want the vehicles I design to inspire the world and make space exciting again. I want to inspire people the way many of my favorite planes have inspired me. Planes such as the X-29, the SR-71 Blackbird, the F-14 Tomcat, the P-61 Black Widdow, the F-4 Phantom, or the OV-101 Enterprise.

For underwater exploration.

An underwater exploration vehicle.

When I was a kid I designed various types of craft. From watercraft to spacecraft I had ideas for anything that moves people fast. When I started experimenting with 3D design I tried recreating some of my designs, but ultimately failed. If I had put a little more effort in I may have succeeded, but all of my best 3D work has been the result of just messing around in the programs. Clearly there is a disconnect (have I ever told you how much I hate using that word as anything but a verb?).

This was my favorite sub design.

Submarines are similar to spacecraft, no?

I will close out this post with a few more of my designs. I had to dig them out of a box. I’m glad I kept them, as I find them inspiring at this time. I am about to begin the rest of my life. I am sitting on the edge of a past that offers little in the way of a future for my family. Before me are endless possibilities, and proceeding without direction is terrifying. These seeds from my childhood are offering and awesome insight into my inner dreams and desires.

Clearly there is still a lot of uncertainty. Even Aerospace Engineering isn’t quite specific enough. There are many fields of specialization within aerospace engineering. Of course, it is nice to know that I am still young and I still have time to deal with this uncertainty.

Wow... I drew this?

An underwater scene from WWIII.

For now I will continue with my current job and take advantage of any education benefits I can to work toward my degree.

Oh, and rather than babble on about nothing while sharing these images, I will tell you about a recent experience that helped me make the decision to get into engineering.

We know a family in the area in which the husband and wife are both engineers. When they saw our bumper sticker, and after getting to know me a little, they both decided that I needed to be an engineer. Or, at least that I would make a good engineer.

Based on something I read about.

I envisioned going to school on this.

So we finally got around to visiting them in their home recently and I grilled them for information about their education, their job, and other nerdy things.

I had a good time getting to know more about the work they do. The wife is currently a stay-at-home mother, but her husband is working as a materials engineer. I think he was surprised to learn that I am familiar with many of the concepts he researches at work. My desire to be on the forefront of technological advances and new ideas takes me all over the Internet in search of the new and magical things people are doing in labs.

So while that wasn’t the deciding factor, it was nice to have a talk with an engineer and learn more about real engineering. Plus he was completely dorky and proud of it. I like that quality.

Alright. Time to stop the blabber. Enjoy the last few photos here. Thank you for reading. This is a big deal for me because I have wondered what I would do with my life for the last twenty years or more. To finally have a solid plan in place (again) feels good.

The End.

New Computer? – Start Here

**EDIT**

If you’re just looking for a list of free software to install on your computer, I’ve created a Springpad notebook full of links to my favorites. If I find anything else to add, I’ll put it there.

I want to start out by saying that I am just a guy. I wasn’t paid to write any of this, I don’t work for any of the companies mentioned, and these are all just my opinions. If any of the mentioned companies wanted to pay me because I wrote all these nice things about them, I’d be willing to talk to them about an arrangement. 😉

Having said that, here are the chronicles of my recent adventure procuring and setting up my new laptop. I’m going to break this down into three separate categories: Hardware, Pre-installed Software you Don’t Need, and Free Software you Might Need. Lucky for you, I’m all about free, open-source and simplicity; so the only part that I spent money on was the hardware.

I’ve designed this as a sort of guide to assist YOU in purchasing and setting up a new computer. People are always looking at my glasses. After they get a good look at my glasses, they say, “Hey, I need a new computer. What kind should I get?” People with new computers are always asking me, “Is it better to just use Internet Explorer, or should I get one of those new browsers?” Also, it has been my own experience that just using all of the default software (that ships with the system) for document editing, virus handling, and many other tasks is a bad idea. So, here are all of my answers and tips in one place. This may not be the definitive guide to getting a new computer, but it is MY definitive guide for those who need it.

So, without further chit-chat, let’s look at your hardware options.

HARDWARE

This one’s easier than you might be inclined to believe. Sure there are a lot of choices, but it all comes down to what you want to use the computer for.

The computer I wanted this time around was a laptop I could actually take places. Last time I got a laptop (over five years ago) it weighed ten pounds, it was more of a desktop replacement and cost me over two thousand dollars. Now I’ve got a desktop, and I wanted an inexpensive computer that could go places with me AND do stuff. I’ve got an Asus eee PC (a netbook), but that thing can’t really do stuff. I mean, it can do some stuff (I use it for NaNoWriMo every year), but it’s a little wimpy when it comes to multitasking and other processor/RAM intensive activities.

The Argument for Desktops

First, if you’ve got the space for it and you don’t need to move it, get a desktop. Laptops have really gone down in price lately, but an equivalent (as far as hardware and capabilities) desktop will always cost less than its laptop counterpart (as of this writing).

Desktops have the greatest range in options as well. You can get a cheap-o system that is really only good for running your web browser and a word processor for under a hundred dollars, or you can pay tens of thousands of dollars for systems that can perform at speeds rivaling supercomputers. No matter what you’ll be using the desktop for, you can always find a system that perfectly meets your needs without spending more than you have to. Always.

The first step in selecting a desktop is to imagine yourself using that computer for the next two years. What will you use it for? Do you play many games? You might need to spend more for a system that will be compatible with future game releases. Will you be hooking it up to your TV to watch shows and movies? There are a lot of media center pc options. If you’re a Mac person (which, I might be if I had more money), you might want an Apple TV rather than a new computer.

Just decide what you’ll need the computer to be able to do, and consider these simple guidelines (which, unless you’re a “power user,” will more than cover the basics). I don’t need to say it, but if you know enough about computers to know that these guidelines aren’t comprehensive, then these guidelines weren’t written for you.

  • RAM – For most users, this is arguably the most important decision. More RAM means faster, smoother, more powerful computing. You want to open and use every program installed on your computer at the same time? You need lots of RAM. Will you only do one thing at a time for the rest of the time you own the computer? You can get by with 2 Gigs or less (depending on that one program you’ll be running!).
  • Operating System Bits – Related to RAM, but separate, is the operating system you’ll be using. Right away I have to mention that a 32 bit operating system cannot handle a full 4 Gigabytes of RAM, and certainly not more. If you will want 4 Gigs or more of RAM, you’ll need a 64 bit OS. Otherwise, 32 vs 64 bits will not have much of an impact on you.
  • Operating System Flavor – Which OS you choose will depend on many factors, but at the risk of bringing on hoards of criticism, I’m going to go ahead and simplify things this way: If you’re lost when it comes to choosing your operating system, just get Windows 7. Sure, Macs are simple, but getting software for them can be a hassle. Windows may have a poor track-record when it comes to stability and ease of use, but I’m putting a lot of faith in Windows 7, and I think it’s a safe choice for YOU. If you know you want a Mac though, please get it!
  • Processor – When it comes to desktops, you’re really only going to concern yourself with how many cores and processors you want. Adding processors and cores means better ability to process multiple instructions at a time (translating to blazing speed and excellent multitasking), while a single core on a single processor will more than meet the needs of most users. Don’t get the fancy processor set-up unless you know you need it. For most modern operating systems and software, though, I recommend at least a single processor with dual cores. More than that and you’d better be doing some serious video editing or 3D graphics (like games).
  • Hard Drive – If you’re doing video editing or if you’re archiving your DVD collection on the hard drive, get something huge. If you’re just surfing the Internet and writing papers in Word, you don’t need much hard drive space. Even the smallest hard drives shipping these days are more than ample for the average user. Note that media center systems should have more hard drive space to store videos or recorded television.

Sure, there are more factors than just these to consider, but if you’re not a power user who already knows about the other factors, then you don’t need to worry about them. What you don’t know can’t hurt you here.

The only other thing I would caution is to avoid brands you’re not familiar with and be wary of prices that are significantly lower than competing systems with similar capabilities. Your desktop shouldn’t be too expensive, but don’t be a cheapskate once you know what you want. Just pay what the trusted manufacturers are charging.

I currently use a first generation HP TouchSmart for my desktop, and it’s held up very well in the two years we’ve owned it. Both of my laptops are Toshibas, and we love them. Namebrand systems are always a good bet.

Where Desktops Fail

The only problem with a desktop is that it is not very portable. Sure, some of the newer CPU box form-factors (especially in the case of media center computers) are very small and lightweight. However, the screen and input devices are not built in, thus to use the system it must be hooked up to these things, and to move it you have to unplug everything. Convenient? No.

So what if you really need something you can take to class with you? You need either a laptop or a netbook. Can’t decide which one? Consider this:

I thought I could get a netbook and do the same things with it as I do with my laptop. I was wrong. Even with a full size keyboard attached and an external mouse, the netbook screens are too small to be practical in a number of applications. For a true, natural computing experience, you’ll still want a larger system. They make laptops that are much closer in size (and price) to netbooks, but they are much more convenient. If you’re not sure about getting a netbook, don’t. Just go for a smaller laptop. I promise you’ll be happy with it.

If you know you want a netbook, get it. If you’re not sure, don’t. You’ve got to be committed to liking your netbook, or you’re going to hate it.

Other than the netbook vs laptop decision, there isn’t a whole lot more to think about. How portable do you want it? There are a range of sizes from 13 inches to over 18 inches for screens. Some are less than an inch thin, and others have huge 12 cell batteries that lift them about three inches off your table top. Some run hot from having their hardware crammed in to a small space, while others have minimal hardware configurations and are quiet and cool. Again, the considerations for desktops will all hold true for laptops, but you might want to consider the following IN ADDITION to the desktop suggestions:

  • Overall Size – You’re getting a laptop because a desktop isn’t portable enough for you, but how portable do you need your laptop to be? If you are still just going to leave it set up in one place for long periods of time, you might consider a larger desktop replacement laptop. These systems offer the same performance as a desktop, at often competitive prices, but at the end of the day the screen folds up and you can pack it away in a bag. Expect these to weigh close to ten pounds though! Then there are the ultra portables that weigh in at under five pounds (mine weighs like three pounds!). Keep in mind that a netbook can weigh close to one pound, but you’ve already decided you want a laptop, right?
  • Battery Size/Usage – Some laptops these days are being designed as marathon machines. They can squeeze almost a full day of usage out of a single charge, but that efficiency comes at a price (both in dollars and performance). Most laptops are designed to fully contain a six cell battery, but by doubling the number of cells to twelve (and subsequently, increasing the size of the battery pack itself, causing it to protrude out the back or bottom of the computer), you can double the life of the battery. Also, Intel and AMD make processors specifically designed to use less power. They usually run at far less than 2 Gigahertz, and they cannot handle too many big tasks like gaming and video editing as well. You could try, but if that’s what you need the system for (primarily) you’ll just have to charge the system more often.
  • USB Ports – If you use a lot of devices at once, you’ll need at least three USB ports. I always recommend using an external keyboard and mouse with a laptop whenever possible simply because they can be replaced much easier than the built-in devices. The less you use them, the less likely they are to break. So, with a keyboard and mouse plugged in, you will want to have at least one more USB port for external hard drives, thumb drives, cameras or whatever else tickles your fancy. A few laptops only have two ports (one on each side), most have three, and a few have up to five USB ports. Get as many as you can without spending too much just for that feature. Also keep in mind that some USB devices have a special “Y” shaped cable that plugs into two USB ports. If you might need one of these devices, you’ll want a laptop with two USB ports that are close together, not one on each side.

In my most recent purchase, I wanted something far more portable than my old laptop but more capable than a netbook. I went with a Toshiba Satellite, ultra thin system. This particular system (like most ultra thin, lightweight systems) does not have an optical drive (no DVD or CD drive). That wasn’t an issue for me because I knew that all of the software I could ever need I was going to download for free once I got it connected to the Internet. If you install a lot of software from disks but still want a system like mine, there are some great external drives that will meet your needs. I may end up getting one too so I can watch movies on my laptop, but for now I’m fine without an optical drive.

Accessories

The final hardware consideration is, what else do you need? Some people need lots of storage but end up choosing a laptop with a smaller hard drive. In that case, just get an external hard drive. Do you transfer a lot of files between systems? Get a thumb drive. Actually, I recommend that people get thumb drives even if they don’t need them for transferring files. They make a great place to keep backups of your most important files.

Keyboard:

The only thing I know you’ll need if you got a laptop is a mouse and keyboard. There’s no getting around it – using the laptop keyboard puts wear on it that could eventually require maintenance. If you use an external keyboard, and it breaks, you can just unplug it and get another one. My favorite typing keyboard ever (that I’ve used anyhow) is the Logitech Classic Keyboard 200. It currently sells for $13.99 on Amazon.com, it is comfortable, and I’ve never had any problems with it. I love it.

Mouse:

I do recommend spending a little more for your external mouse though. Touch pads are great for basic navigation and occasional clicking, but nothing beats a scroll wheel on the Internet, and when doing graphics work or gaming you just can’t live without a mouse. My current favorite is the Microsoft Explorer series. Specifically, my wife and I love our Explorer Mini mice. Amazon.com sells them for about $40, they retail for about $60, and there is currently a vendor on Amazon that is selling them for under $20 (with $4 shipping). The great thing about the Explorer mice is that they will track on literally anything but glass and mirrors (although in some tests these mice have actually tracked on glass and mirrors!). We can use them on shag carpet, glossy surfaces, pitted surfaces, hair, clothing, anything at all, and more. If you want a great mouse, Microsoft actually has a great product.

PRE-INSTALLED SOFTWARE YOU DON’T NEED

All computers come with what is lovingly called “bloat-ware.” This is software that people pay the manufacturer to include pre-installed from the factory. In some ways I guess it’s good because I’d like to think that the money they earn from that endeavor goes toward keeping costs lower for me, but I rather doubt it.

Anyhow, the first program I highly suggest you uninstall (if it’s installed) is Norton Anti-Virus. Many computers come with it pre-installed along with an offer for a whole year or month or day of free updates. It’s not worth it. Microsoft has a free program you can download right away that does the same thing (well, roughly the same thing).

To get rid of Norton (or any program, for that matter), just go to the control panel and look for “Add/Remove Programs” or something like that. Find the offender, click “uninstall,” and follow the directions. Most virus protection software will require that you restart after removing it. That’s OK.

Now, I don’t recommend you leave your computer virus-protection-free for long. It is a dangerous thing. So once you’ve finished uninstalling the crud you don’t need, make sure you immediately download the “essential” software I have listed below, in the order I’ve listed them.

First though, look for any programs that say “offer” or “setup” next to them and get rid of them (still in the Add/Remove Software tool). Also, some systems (most Toshibas and HPs) come with some kind of game portal that you should get rid of.

Many people will tell you to get rid of a lot more than this, but it’s not always necessary. After you’ve been using the computer for a month or so, go back to the Add/Remove Software tool and look over the list. If you recognize the program and you know you use it a lot, don’t get rid of it. If you recognize it and you know you don’t use it a lot, get rid of it (just make sure you know what it does first!). Everything else is probably OK to leave installed.

FREE SOFTWARE YOU MIGHT NEED

Some of these are more essential than others. I’ll categorize them to simplify this. In some cases it won’t matter what program you get as long as you get something that does the job. So, if you’re ready to get started, open Internet Explorer (unless your system came with another browser pre-installed, in which case you should DEFINITELY use the other one!).

Note: This list is designed for Windows users ONLY. Many of these programs are cross platform, but I’m not going to say which ones because I’m not making this list for Mac users. Sorry guys. Maybe another time.

Essential Software

These are programs that you will need to get – almost everyone needs these programs. Right away, before downloading anything, you need virus protection!

  • Virus Protection – Search for “Microsoft Security Essentials,” or go to http://www.microsoft.com/Security_Essentials/. Click on the big “Download Now” button, save the executable and run it. Make sure you have already removed any virus protection that shipped with your computer, then close your web browser while the program installs. Once it installs make sure it runs OK, then let it scan your system. Depending on the size of your hard drive, this can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. Since this is the first thing you’re doing on your new system, everything should be clean. After it scans your system, you may proceed with this list.
  • New Browser – DO NOT USE INTERNET EXPLORER. Sure, there are a lot of sites that require it, but I can show you how to get around that later. For now, just download one or both of the following browsers and try them out. You won’t miss Internet Explorer after a few days. I promise. My favorite is Google Chrome, but I was once a die-hard Firefox fan (I even have an embroidered FireFox shirt). They are both worlds better than IE, more secure, faster, and prettier. While I might catch some heat for this, I am going to recommend that you just get Google Chrome. It’s better. Once you’ve downloaded and selected a new browser, close Internet Explorer and never open it again (unless you really have to).
  • Free Office Software – While there are a few options for this, my favorite (and arguably the most user friendly and robust) is OpenOffice.org. Just go to their website in your new, shiny browser, and download. It’s that easy. The installation is easy and the program operates a lot like Microsoft Office. There are some differences, but OpenOffice.org can do just about anything Microsoft Office can do, and in some cases it does it better. If you ever find that OpenOffice.org just isn’t meeting your needs, feel free to go back to the Microsoft version, but I don’t think most people will ever need to.
  • Media Player – Windows Media Player is pretty good, but there are a lot of things it can’t handle. For everything else, there’s VLC. VLC can’t do everything, but I’ve never found a video it couldn’t play.
  • Photo Organizer – Since most people maintain some kind of image collection (from digital cameras, web graphics, etc.), you’ll probably want a good program to organize and lightly edit those photos. Google Picasa is a great product that is completely free and I recommend it to everyone.

Everything Else

Those, to me, represent the bare-bones necessities for a new computer. If you get nothing else, make sure you get those things. The remainder of my list is specific to my needs and wants, based on what I want to use the computer for. If you know of other great free programs that aren’t listed here, please add them in the comments.

  • Dropbox – This is a really cool file program. It creates a special folder that automatically backs itself up online any time you add or change files in the folder. If you install Dropbox on other computers and link them with your account, Dropbox will synchronize all of the folders across all of the computers and devices you have Dropbox installed on. I love it.
  • Notepad ++ – If you do any web development or coding the old fashioned way (in notepad) you might want to try Notepad ++. I found this little gem several years ago and have installed it on all of my computers ever since.
  • Skype – For video calls and VoIP, my favorite is still Skype. We’ve been using it for quite a while now and we love it.
  • Google Talk – Actually, I didn’t download the Talk program, I installed the Video and Voice plug-in. While most of our video chats are handled over Skype, we have more friends with Google accounts than Skype accounts. With this plug-in, I can have a video call with any Google Talk contact who is also using the plug-in or the desktop client. I’ve only done it once, and it was a long time ago, but this is a valuable thing to have on standby.
  • Google Earth – There’s nothing cooler than exploring your planet in 3D with a nearly infinitely scalable, detailed and textured model with Google Maps plastered all over it. This is as fun as it is useful.
  • Google SketchUp – I am a bit of a 3D hobbyist, and SketchUp is a great way to rapidly visualize a model. It’s a wildly different experience from most of the 3D software I’ve used, but once I got the hang of it I realize it was easier and more intuitive than anything else I’ve ever tried. Plus, it’s free!
  • Blender – On the subject of 3D, how does a free 3D program with advanced features sound? SketchUp may be easy and fast, but it’s not anywhere near Blender’s level. I don’t know if it’s just me, but Blender is extremely un-intuitive to learn. However, I’ve seen what it can do, and I’m impressed enough to trudge over the learning curve and figure it out.
  • Paint.NET – If I’m going to make awesome 3D images in Blender, I’ll need software like Photoshop to make textures, composites, do touch-ups, and more. Windows Paint won’t do any of that. In fact, Paint is nearly useless. Luckily, there’s a better Paint. This program can do layers, adjustments, transparency and even some cool effects. Sure, there’s a lot that it can’t do, but it’s free. If it does what you need it to then you’ve lost nothing, right? I even made the cover for my new book entirely in Paint.NET.
  • Inkscape – Paint.NET can handle most of my 2D needs, but it is primarily for raster images (bitmaps). For vector images, I love Inkscape. It’s relatively easy to learn, and it can handle almost anything you can dream up.
  • GIMP – Many people believe GIMP capable of anything Photoshop can do. I don’t agree, but I do think GIMP is better than Paint.NET for more advanced jobs. A lot like Blender, I find GIMP hard to learn, but that doesn’t stop me from trying. I want to learn it so I can see how long I can live without Photoshop. Someday I’ll be rich and it won’t matter. Until then, I’ll be struggling with GIMP.
  • WavePad – I haven’t tried this yet, but it’s a free audio editing tool that I hope will allow me to make simple audio tracks for animations or an audio book. We shall see. Once I’ve tried it, I’ll write a review (and link to it from here).
  • VideoPad – Like WavePad, I downloaded this to see if it would be suitable for creating simple promotional or family videos. I just want to be able to cut scenes together, edit things out and add simple effects. If this program is a winner, I’ll write a review.

CONCLUSION

I hope this helped. As I use my system and learn more about what programs are meeting my needs and which ones I don’t have that could help, I may modify this list.

I’m 100% sure of all of the hardware tips though, as well as the “essential software” bit. The important thing to remember is that there are hundreds of thousands of free programs out there that you can find that will do the same things that more expensive software can do. Look to the free stuff first, and if it doesn’t work out, pay for what you need.

Good luck and happy computing!

Me and My Android 2.0

 

Android

Meet Android

So, tomorrow’s the big day. I’ve taken the whole day off work. I’ve identified the Verizon Store I’ll be making my purchase at and I know that they’ll be opening at 7:00 am (three hours earlier than usual). I’ve called and crunched all the numbers with a Verizon Wireless “plan expert.” I’m going to show up at the store early (even before their 7:00 AM opening time). Every detail has been considered, processed and addressed.

 

The next question is, will I even like my new Motorola Droid?

I’ve hunted across the net and found mostly raving, shining reviews. There are a few iPhone fanboys and enthusiasts that are shrugging the Droid off (or worse), but for the most part the reviews are glowing. Many people have tried to call the Droid an “iPhone Killer,” but I agree with those who don’t even bother pitting the Droid against the iPhone. We’re talking about two completely separate demographics in the same market. Think Nintendo Wii versus Playstation 3. While they may technically share the same market, the numbers prove that the demographics are so wildly different that they might as well not even be competing against each other.

I think my favorite review so far isn’t about the Droid specifically, but about its operating system, Android 2.0. I found it on Gizmodo, a site I generally get news from through other sources. In this case, Matt Buchanan writes one of the most objective, comprehensive and even stinging reviews of the Android operating system I’ve ever read. Halfway through the article I questioned my decision to buy the Droid this Friday. If you have been considering buying an Android phone, make sure you don’t miss this review.

His conclusion? Keeping his audience in mind (remember, the site is called “Gizmodo”), he says, “I can’t say Android 2.0 is ready for your mom yet, but it’s definitely ready for anybody reading this.”

For one of my favorite aspects of the Android operating system, read this one about its integration with Google services.

Essentially, for someone like me whose life is already nearly fully integrated with the services Google offers (Gmail, Google Talk, Google Calendar, Google Voice, Google Contacts, Google Maps… the list goes on), the Google build of the Android operating system seamlessly synchronizes the online Google services with a device that you carry in your pocket. No more forgotten appointments. No more separate phone/address lists. Everything consolidates nicely into the Google package and I slip it into my pocket. Sure, Android has shortcomings. The Droid may not be the ultimate cellular device, and its hardware may even be lacking in a few areas. But I know that the Google Android branded Motorola Droid is a perfect match for me.

Why? Mostly because I already know I don’t want an iPhone.


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    "The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool." - William Shakespeare

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