My Car Makes a Nice Office But…

While I wait patiently for Canada to adopt a comprehensive high-speed rail line and commuter service, the next best thing is a car for working on the go. Though I’m the primary driver these days, there have been times when I’ve been the passenger. I write this now from a very comfortable position next to Exhibition Park in Guelph. I’m doing work on the laptop in the passenger seat (using a 3G USB adapter from Wind mobile).

Rail is my favourite mode of transport because:

  1. You face people. Seats are positioned in a way that fosters communication, unlike cars, in which everyone faces the same direction and it’s hard (and sometimes impossible) for people sitting less than a metre away in the back seat to hear conversation in the front seat.
  2. Free Wifi.
  3. Work while you travel. When you’re driving, you can’t do anything but drive. It’s dead time; a complete waste of human existence. If you travel by rail, you can accomplish work, read, think, relax, read.
  4. It’s fast. Even current rail service in Canada, specifically between Guelph and Toronto, isn’t that bad in terms of speed. My GPS reported that we reached 140km/h at one point. With some proper funding and planning, that could be the average speed, not the top speed.
  5. It’s safe. Rail is a very safe method of travel, especially compared to the car.
  6. You can pee. Every car has a washroom built right in. You don’t have to stop transport to pee.

Still, for times when I need a third place and cafes are closed, I use my car. It’s a 2001 Chrysler 300m. Here are a few things that could have been done better.

  1. Built-in inverter. My car has two access points to DC electricity: One in the front and one in the centre console. It uses the traditional cigarette lighter type adapter, to which I plug in an inverter which gives me AC electricity for my laptop.  (An even better solution would be to buy laptops that include a DC plug as well as an AC plug so I could just plug straight into DC since that’s what laptops use natively).
  2. Auxiliary input for the car stereo. I won a free car stereo and had the installers provide access to an AUX IN jack so I could plug my laptop audio in but it would be awesome if this came included out of the box. I have all of my mp3s, oggs, and music modules on my laptop.
  3. DC Access point for the back seat. Currently there is no way to access DC power in the back seat except through the centre console, which, when left open, is uncomfortable for the driver.
  4. Better fuel economy. While I’d love to have a fully electric car (such as the Ford Focus Electric), I realize that in 2001 the technology wasn’t close to being ready. My car gets an average of 11L/100KM in town and 7L/100KM highway. It would have been nice to have the ability to switch the engine between performance mode and economy mode whilst in the city.

Spending Less Time At Facebook These Days

Facebook has recently changed the way it handles my news feed. Because of this, it’s likely that I’ll be reading it less and keeping it around just to post things and check up on to make sure I haven’t missed a message.

Here’s why: I don’t equate friendship with following.

When I’m your friend, I want to keep in touch, maybe hang out, and share something with you directly. I don’t want to see your thought stream.

Don’t take it personally because it isn’t personal. When I read stuff online, it’s usually news. I want to learn something new about the fields in which I am excited, not in which you are excited. If it’s not news, it’s an editorial on said fields. If it’s not an editorial, it’s a tweet from someone who might be generating the previous two examples.

I had spent the last 6-12 months whittling down my Facebook news feed to weed out most people’s/most page’s posts from showing up.  The little down arrow icon with the “Hide all from xyz” was my best friend.

Then, a week or so ago, all those settings got wiped in favour of a new “acquaintences” system where you specifically select which group you want to read from.

Here’s why it doesn’t work: I have no clue what people are going to say before they say it, so I have no idea who I would like to follow. But, once they’ve said it, I sure as hell know who I would like to unsubscribe from.

This doesn’t mean I don’t want to be their friend, it just means I don’t want to mix their stuff in with mine is all.

Awesome Vegetarian Restaurants in Downtown Toronto

Staying at the Hotel Victoria in downtown Toronto for the last week with my girlfriend Amy has opened us to a ton of new, fantastic vegetarian and vegan restaurants. Google has helped us find them all, but I wanted to take a second to put together a small list in case you’re downtown Toronto for a while and are looking for great places to eat.

I’ll separate them by category.

Pizza

Pizzaiolo
http://www.pizzaiolo.ca/
There are probably 15 to 20 of these around Toronto, but the one we went to was just a few doors down from our hotel on Yonge St. It was amazing. In fact, it was so amazing, we ordered pizzas there two days in a row. They have a ton of vegetarian and vegan choices and each are made fresh right in front of you. It’s amazing.

Take-Away and Fast Food

Urban Herbivore
http://www.torontoeatoncentre.com/EN/Directory/Stores/Pages/UrbanHerbivore_F018.aspx
Like most food places in Toronto, there are a few locations. The one we went to was in the Eaton Centre, and it was fantastic. I ate the BBQ Tofu sandwich and loved it even though I’m not normally a huge fan of tofu. It was quick and cheap. Like all great vegetarian food, if you didn’t know it was vegetarian you wouldn’t be able to tell.

Sit Down

Fresh Toronto Vegetarian FoodFresh
http://www.freshrestaurants.ca/our_history.asp
Fresh was, without a doubt, our favourite. It’s got great style, it’s busy, it’s fast, and the food tastes fantastic. Amy loved it so much she bought one of the recipe books they offer on sale.

King’s Cafe (Kensington Market)
http://www.kingscafe.com/
This is the sister restaurant to our favourite vegetarian restaurant in Guelph, Zen Garden. Great food and amazing Lychee Black tea.

Project Natal + OpenSim = Heaven? Getting there!

Microsoft unveiled their new Xbox 360 controller, or, lack-of-controller today at E3. Yes, I’m referring to Project Natal.

If you haven’t heard of it yet, you obviously don’t have a Twitter account. All of the videos I’ve seen thus far are pre-recorded, but if this thing works as good as they make it look, we are all in for a treat.
I have a few questions, which I’m sure you all do as well. Mine are

  1. Will the sensor be a USB device?
  2. If so, has anyone hacked their own drivers yet? :)
  3. How long until someone uses it in a virtual world, like OpenSim?

Combine this with a projection-cube-room like this one, a treadmill floor so you can actually walk, and you’ve got yourself a holodeck, son.

Whatever happened to Virtual Reality?

Am I the only late-20-something that’s sorely disappointed that Virtual Reality has basically dropped off the face of the planet?

When I was young, Virtual Reality was supposed to be the “next big thing.” And for a while, it was. I played Dactyl Nightmare with the best of them on a Virtuality machine in a mall in Port Huron and anxiously awaited any tidbit of news to come from Atari about their Jaguar 3D headset.

Then, all of a sudden, VR disappeared.

I think it’s because of the Virtual Boy. I really liked that system, but I guess at the time it made a bunch of people sick and companies got scared to try it again.

Here’s what I want:

  1. A lightweight, high-resolution, full-vision 3D display headset with built-in (at least Stereo) sound. If it needs to take advantage of dual-header DVI graphics cards, so be it.
  2. Two Nintendo PowerGlove-ish devices that let me manipulate objects in 3D.

Can you do it for cheap?

Does anyone know of a high-quality headset like the one described above? Let me know in the comments!

As far as the gloves… I was thinking about getting 10 Nintendo Wii controllers and removing and then mounting the IR units on the tips of my fingers. Take advantage of the many open-source Wii controller drivers around the net to build a PC joystick driver that can work in engines like Torque.

I often fool around with 3D tools like blender and Torque Construction Set. I get frustrated at the interface with my computer. Not only is any size screen too small, a mouse and a flat 2D display just can’t manipulate the objects fast enough. I want to use my hands, damnit!

Just think of how cool it would be to wave your hand and have a forest grow behind it or earth raise into a mountain. The Matrix, here we come!

Female Counterpart Now Uses Linux

After a frustrating stint with Windows Vista and seeing my enjoyment whilst using Linux, Amy (my girlfriend) has decided to take the plunge and install Mandriva. This is a small recount of what transpired during that introductory period.

I downloaded the release candidate for the new Mandriva 2009.0, burned it to a CD, and attempted to boot up. Unfortunately, there appeared to be several bugs remaining in this distro: After showing the initial Mandriva loading screen, it went straight to a flickering cursor in the top-left of the screen. Oh well, it is a release candidate.

“A ha!”, I thought, “I know what to do.” I had this same problem with the last version on my laptop. I can install it with the ACPI option turned off. (It was at this point that I realized that this was an example of what separates a Linux user from the rest of the world — The rest of the world would throw the disc in the trash and NEVER come back. Me? I was tinkering, trying to get it to work and enjoying every minute.)

acpi=off? No. Hmm.

What?
What?

Sensing that my girlfriend was slightly disappointed, I decided to go to plan B and download last season’s stable release — 2008.1. In my opinion, this is the best release of Mandriva Linux to-date.

I downloaded the ISO for Mandriva Linux 2008.1, burned it, and awaited the dreaded blinking cursor yet again. Success! The blinking cursor was nowhere to be found. It went straight into KDE without a hiccup. I walked her through installing it to her hard disc using the “Live Install” icon on the desktop and everything went swell from then on.

I have installed Linux quite a few times over the years on computers of friends and family. It never seems to last past the 15 minute “oh, that’s neat…” phase. I am happy to announce that Amy, two days later, is still using Linux and is very happily zooming around in KDE thanks to Compiz Fusion and all the hard work that has gone into making Mandriva Linux. Thanks, guys and gals!

Amy does all of her web browsing and chatting using Firefox 3 and Kopete. We decided to leave Vista installed so she could dual-boot into Windows and play Team Fortress 2.  As I’ve blogged before, games seem to be the factor holding mainstream Linux adoption back.

I will continue to post articles about this experiment with Linux as time goes on.  In the mean-time: If you haven’t yet converted your girlfriend to Linux, what are you waiting for?

Helping The World = The Power of Ideas + Resources

Google has launched a new initiative asking people for ideas on how to help as many people around the world as possible. The project is called “Project 10 to the 100th”. Users submit ideas, which are then reviewed by a small panel of experts. The ones that have the potential to help the most amount of people will have financial resources committed to them by Google.

Google is spending $10 million to help these projects get off the ground.  If you have a great idea that you think may help people lead better lives around the world, you’re encouraged to send it in! While you won’t be receiving a financial reward if your idea is picked, you will sleep well knowing your idea is being made for real and will help those in need.

There are 10 categories to choose from. From the official website:

  • Community: How can we help connect people, build communities and protect unique cultures?
  • Opportunity: How can we help people better provide for themselves and their families?
  • Energy: How can we help move the world toward safe, clean, inexpensive energy?
  • Environment: How can we help promote a cleaner and more sustainable global ecosystem?
  • Health: How can we help individuals lead longer, healthier lives?
  • Education: How can we help more people get more access to better education?
  • Shelter: How can we help ensure that everyone has a safe place to live?
  • Everything else: Sometimes the best ideas don’t fit into any category at all.

Submissions to the project are due October 20th, 2008. For more information, watch this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NgSRwOZtDQ8

Links:

Project 10 to the 100
How It Works
Submit Your Idea
Submission Categories
Frequently Asked Questions

Grass-roots open-source gaming console?

Earlier today, I had a thought: What if a few of us got together to develop specs for a PC-based open-source games console that uses a bootable Linux-based game DVD for games?

I blogged about the awesome boot’n’play Linux CD before, but it still relies on someone to burn the disc and reboot their machine. Also, this requires gamers to (unless they have a unique set-up) sit at their desk and look at their computer monitor to play games. Finally, you always hope that the bootable disc supports your graphics or sound hardware.

Why can’t we put together some specs for a cheap gaming PC in a mini-atx case, include a TV-out card that has composite, S-Video, and Component output, and offer downloadable ISO game-packs from a website. The system can have a hard disk or can save the games to a USB memory card.

The goal is to make the gaming system as easy to use as, say, a GameCube.

Download the ISO, burn the disc, put it in the console and play.

We’re already half there — the games console could easily use the boot’n’play Linux CD I spoke about earlier. It kind of makes you wonder why this hasn’t been done already?

Games I Would Remake

In light of the recent release of the Quest for Glory 2 Remake , I wanted to do an “If I had a ton of money… I would make/remake these games” post. These are games that mean something to me — they have either touched my life in some way or I always thought they were overlooked by the gaming masses. Sometimes because of a glaring design flaw, sometimes because the technology just wasn’t there. Regardless, here’s the list (and it’s by no means final).

#1. Shenmue 1 thru 3 in one giant game.

Shenmue epitomized the Sega Dreamcast. Years ahead of its time, yet somehow not quite technically capable of doing what it set out to achieve. This epic game featured neat novelties such as being able to pick up and examine pretty much anything — even completely useless matchboxes. An intriguing story marred by awkward yet unintentionally funny dialog, this game is a good candidate for a new as yet unavailable virtual reality technology.  Imagine playing this game with full, modern graphics and a 3D headset!

#2. Syndicate

For a long time when I was in public school this was my favorite game for the Atari Jaguar. I loved the idea, the music, and the game-play.  I played Syndicate Wars and it was awesome, as well. I’d really like to see a sequel made with today’s graphics.

#3. Bonk’s Adventure

If game developers nowadays took almost any old-school platform game and converted it to 2.5D, it’d be a much more fun world for all of us. Bonk’s Adventure, in my opinion, would be near the top of the list of games to re-do in glorious 2.5D. In all honesty, I could see a remake of this game appearing on the Wii for today’s kids to play. Good stuff.

#4. Road Rash – 3DO/Saturn/PSX version

This game was hella fun in its day. It still is.  Where are games like this today?

#5. Transport Tycoon Deluxe / Locomotion

I know, I know. Locomotion is relatively new and it’s the spiritual successor to Transport Tycoon. But, what I’m envisioning is a huge graphical upgrade to the series along with networked play via the internet. Imagine a persistent MMO universe version of this game where players are continuing to build while you’re offline. A humongous world-size playfield: 30,000km with thousands of cities and villages. Perhaps that’s something for the creators of games like Second Life to think about. Instead of taking Transport Tycoon Deluxe and making it part of a persistent world, why don’t they make transportation a user-driven economy in large-scale persistent-world online social games? It’s more fun than chatting!

Top 5 Office Dont’s

Here are the top five best “don’ts” for office work environments. If you work at an office with other people in the same room with you or even if you’re in a cubicle and you one day find yourself considering one of these things, just don’t. For the sake of everyone involved, your career, your future, everything. JUST DON’T.

#1. DON’T think you can fart silently.

You know how it goes. You’re sitting there, there’s music on, everyone’s hard at work… You think you may be able to slip one past the goalie. Don’t. This momentary lapse in judgement will, depending on your workplace and peers, cause embarassment, shame, and possibly the generation of a new nickname.

#2. DON’T tell clients that your boss is in the bathroom.

Sometimes being painfully honest is not always the best method. No matter how truthful and innocent you may see it, to everyone else it’s terrible to hear.

#3. DON’T eat smelly food.

Salmon sandwiches are great. At home.

#4. DON’T tell dirty, sex-based, or race-based jokes.

This one almost doesn’t need to be said but you’d be surprised how often it comes up. I’m generally a light-hearted person but chances are there is at least one person in your office who isn’t when it comes to these types of things. Remember the adage “A closed mouth gathers no foot” and you should be OK.

#5. DON’T swear. Even when you think it’s okay.

Swearing in a joke makes things funny. But at work it’s not about being funny, it’s about getting results. Unless you’re Gordon Ramsay, any message you’re trying to get across will instantly be discarded as the attention goes on your choice of words.

Well that’s my top 5, what are yours?

My friends, Canada has entered Second Life.

It just goes to show how realistic Second Life is, except that this is the only one I’ve seen in Second Life (in my hometown of 50,000 people there are 11 Tim Hortons coffee shops). Also, if you’re lucky you may spot camped out customers on the left! (users outside of Canada won’t get this joke… Canadians are nuts about their Tim Hortons coffee :) )

Tim Hortons in Second Life
Always got time…

Top 5 Firefox Extensions for Web Developers

You might be a web developer. You might need to know what HTML element is under your cursor at any given time. You might need to know the hexadecimal value of a pixel is under your cursor at any time. You might have a mile-long CSS file inherited from multiple projects and wonder: “Which styles still apply and which are no longer used?”

Fear not my fellow web developers, web designers, programmers, whateverrers! These 5 Firefox Extensions will help you chop the time spent on any web development task so you can get back to reading blogs during the day. Or work. You choose.

Without further ado, here they are:

 

#1 – Web Developer Extension

I don’t think I’ve ever used a web browser-based tool as much as I have this one. It’s saved me so much time and helped me solve so many problems over the past year. It does practically everything. With tools like “Resize Window” which lets you resize your window to a certain pixel width and height and “View Generated Source” which lets you see the source code used in the website AFTER Javascript runs — Instead of showing function(var 1, var 2) it will actually show the variables that went into that function e.g., function(“john”, “rockefeller”). Cool huh?

Cool features:

  1. A ruler you can use to measure the size of tables, divs, or anything else on your page.
  2. Disable stylesheets to see what your site looks like without any styles whatsoever.
  3. Display alt tags, image file sizes, image paths, and more.
  4. “Outline Block Elements” will automatically outline divs, paragraphs, spans, and other elements on your site. Very handy.
  5. “Outline Current Element” will display the element id and name for any element underneath your cursor. Unbelievably handy.

Sample Screenshots:

Outline elementsMisc functions

 

#2 – ColorZilla

I’m sure we’ve all seen a cool color on a page, whether it’s an image or cell background, and said “Oh man I love that color. I could eat it. I wonder what the hex value is so I can use it on my site. Or in case I get hungry.” Well, you could always take a screenshot, load up The Gimp, use the Color Picker tool to determine the hex color value, but who needs to do that when you’ve got ColorZilla installed?

ColorZilla will display the hex color and RGB value of any color under your cursor. Very, very handy.

 

#3 –SearchStatus

This handy little extension will show you the Google PageRank of whatever site you are on as well as the less-important-but-for-some-reason-still-used Alexa Ranking.

PageRank Plugin

 

#4 – Dust-Me Selectors

This handy little Firefox Extension will tell you which CSS styles are not found on your pages. It works per domain, so surf all of the pages of your site and a comprehensive collection of unused styles will be shown which you can then promptly delete from your stylesheet, thereby increasing the performance of your site.

Very very, cool.

 

#5 – Firebug

No Web Developer’s tool-belt would be complete without the illustrious Firebug. The list of features here is incredibly long, but so is the list of Web Developers who have saved hours of work using it. Their own website explains it better than I would but you’ve got to ask yourself one question: What kind of web developer are you if you aren’t already using this??

I hope you’ve enjoyed this list and found some of the links useful. If you’ve got something to say about these tools or even have a list of handy tools you use that might think others would find useful, please post a comment with a few links. Thanks!

Crossover Games, PlayOnLinux, Wine, and Cedega

If I had a lot of money…

I’d buy PlayOnLinux and Cedega and Crossover Games (while maintaining a great working relationship with the good folks still at Crossover working on apps) and put together (with some hefty funds behind them) a crack team of DirectX hackers and previous Microsoft DirectX programmers to put together a fully-functional, working DirectX emulator for Mac and Linux. Then, port all those changes back into the Wine trunk while promoting an off-the-shelf Windows games player.

I truly believe that if games worked on Linux flawlessly there would be a greater adoption of Linux on desktops worldwide. I know locally it is a huge hurdle to jump. All of my friends are interested in Linux, two of them have the ISO sitting on their desktop. Why are they not making the switch? One: Games. The other: Sony Vegas. People want to use it but they want their games too!

Game development and publishing companies wouldn’t have to write games to be cross platform if the emulator worked perfectly. They would go on making Windows games while Linux continues to grow in installed user base.

Making games for Linux is not the answer, making Linux work for games is!