Laptop BIOS/CMOS reset = pain

This post is for those individuals looking to see if this is possible... I just reset the BIOS on an HP Pavilion ZE4900 (laptop) by removing and replacing the CMOS battery. The online manual doesn't show its location - but you need to complete disassemble the laptop down to removing the main board. The CMOS battery is located on the underside of the board toward the front of the laptop. Needless to say - the last four hours are hours I'll never get back :-/

Custom Game Maps != Terrorist Threat

For those of you haven't heard, a young Chinese student was arrested the day after the Virginia Tech shootings and denied the ability to graduate with his peers. Read more about it at FortBendNow. Why was he arrested? Apperently, two parents reported to school officials that he had created a game with his school as the backdrop. That "game" was Counter-Strike - and his contribution was simply a custom map that resembled his school. He and his friends would apparently play the game together. When he was arrested, police searched his house and found a hammer - which he used to fix his broken bed - and then classified him as a terrorist threat.

If you've read thus far, you're probably thinking one of two things.
  1. This student is a terrorist threat. He created a virtual simulation of committing violent acts at his school. This kind of thing cannot be tolerated.
  2. What is the world coming to? They arrested one of our more creative young minds.
If you can't tell - I hold the latter opinion. I'll attempt to explain below.

When I was in middle school, I'd already gotten to play Wolfenstein 3D and Doom. Certain members of the media still refer to these types of games as "murder simulators" or "mind-altering virtual experiences". I'd refer to them as "pretty fun" and "completely harmless". Playing these games was fun - in the same way that Mario Brothers was fun. You traverse a level and stop/kill the bad guys. In Mario - you jumped on their heads or spit fireballs at them. With first person shooters (like Doom and the like), you shot the bad guys. Doom was certainly creepier, in the same way a horror movie is creepy, but in no way made me want to purchase a gun and shoot anything - in the same way that playing Mario didn't make me want to spit fire or jump on people.

Years later, I read a magazine ad for a 3d editor called Pie in the Sky software. This software let you make 3D maps (levels) just like your favorite first person shooters (it looked like a mix of Wolfenstein 3D and Doom really). The idea of making your own 3D world was really interesting. My imagination flowed as I'd daydream (quite often) about recreating many of the places I'd seen/been to. These places included: our dear lease (where I'd daydream for hours sitting in the deer stand with my Dad), our house, parts of my hometown, and of course - our school. Later in college, I got involved with playing Half-Life, Counterstrike, and a mod called Natural Selection. Was I seeking a way to shoot at people/aliens? No. The games were fun. Their atmosphere and level design were most interesting to me. How did these people create these detailed virtual worlds? Can I create my own? The creative mind (especially one of the engineering/architecture type) is constantly looking for inspiration to create something new. Not only do we want to create something, but we want to interact with it. If all we wanted to do was create, we'd be artists - not engineers or architects. This leads me to the creative process that all creation stems from...

I was once told that there are no new ideas. All "new ideas" are simply combinations and expansions of older ones. I haven't thought of a situation which would disprove this yet. So how does this relate to the situation described above? Simple. When a person is learning to design homes, they most often start with designing and drawing what they're most familiar with - their own home. When a person is learning to cook, they start by making what they've eaten most. When a person is learning to sing, they sing along to songs they've heard alot. So...when a person is learning how to create a virtual 3D world - they start with what they know...what they've been around the most...either their own home or the school they've spent 15 years attending. This isn't problematic until you realize that the software being used to create these virtual worlds has guns and shooting stuff in it. So why do these "creative brains" choose to put their efforts into something with lots of violence and guns?

Well - because that is the most available and easy tool to use. Most first person shooting games come with a map editor and instructions can be found online for creating a new map. Commercial software to simply create a 3D rendering is often expensive and difficult to learn. The process used to create a new FPS map takes as little time as a few minutes to construct a basic room with a hanging light bulb. To fully create a home, or gosh a school, would take weeks - maybe months. A finished product even partially resembling something in real life should be considered a work of art and something that was constructed with the utmost attention to detail. But you may be asking - if there are other tools out there, why choose one that uses guns/violence? Simply put, there are no 3D world creation software that is as free and interactive as the ones included with 3D FPS (first person shooter) games. I've tried multiple "Home Creation" software packages that all cost $69+ and none of them compare to the realism and atmosphere you can create using a built-in game editor like the Half-Life/Counterstrike editor Hammer.

I've tried my best to explain what was going through the mind of the young man who's life has been forever changed by false accusations. Some of you will still think that anyone creating a map of their own school has to be up to no good. I can't change that. I can, however, suggest a possible future for those like this young man. They go on to create: the buildings you work in, the special affects you watch at the movies, the videogames you and your kids play, the bridges you drive over, the "3D tours" of homes you're looking to buy, and will eventually build the "3D tours" of the schools you will look to place your children in. The beginnings of their talents will spring from videogames and map-making software, much like this young man's did. We should encourage and pay attention to these young minds, for their lights are the brightest ignored spots of genius in our society today.

The Resurgence of the Adventure Game Genre

I've been a gamer ever since I first laid eyes on an Atari. But of all the genres that I've enjoyed - the Adventure Genre stands out the most. What games are included on this list? Pretty much all Lucas Arts games...Monkey Island (1-4), Loom, Day of the Tentacle, etc. Because of my age, these games (for the most part) came out before I was old enough to realize that I needed to go buy them. As such, I acquired them from garage sales and relatives wanting to get rid of them. The adventure genre isn't known for its replayability, graphics, or downright fun. What I've always enjoyed was the tongue in cheek humor provided by them. I've enjoyed the zany puzzles. I enjoyed the "talkies".

These kind of games have been abandoned as a viable genre. Monkey Island 4 was the last great (if you can call it great - it used the keyboard more than the mouse) adventure game released by Lucas Arts....all the way back in the year 2000. So for seven years the world has needed a fresh adventure game. Who stepped up to the plate? Telltale Games. Building on the success of Lucas Arts' old Sam & Max adventure game, Telltale Games built and released episodic Sam & Max adventure games through GameTap (a monthly PC game subscription service). A friend of mine lets me use his secondary account, and I've been gladly enjoying Sam & Max for the last six months. They've completed the "first season" of the game (6 games) and are now offering it for sale at their online store. To be honest, Sam & Max is the ONLY PC game I've been playing in the last six months. None of the rest have held my attention (or been as entertaining).

Here's a brief rundown on how I'd score this game if I was reviewing for an online game site:
  • Graphics: 5/10 - The game doesn't push my GPU hard at all. However, it's a cartoony looking game with 3D graphics and nicely modeled characters. If it got much more graphically intensive, it wouldn't have the comic feel that it should. You should be able to run this game on just about any PC you could have bought in the last 4-5 years.
  • Replayability: 4/10 - Once again - this isn't what adventure games are about. You may replay the game once every few years. I tend to explore every aspect of an adventure game the first time through, so replaying is done more for nostalgia sake than anything else.
  • Sound: 10/10 - the voice acting and ambient music are excellent and really contribute to the feel of the game. The Sam & Max voice actors remind me of the old cartoon that was being produced years ago. So yes...this is a "talkie" :)
  • Humor: 8/10 - The humor in this one (and most adventure games) is very dry. My humor is the same, so I found the games to be pretty funny. At times, the jokes and dialogue just didn't tickle my funny bone - but they made my wife laugh. Good stuff.
  • Challenge: 7.5/10 - This is one area where I was a bit disappointed. The old Lucas Arts adventure games many times had you combining different items in your inventory to do things (sometimes multiple items). These games didn't do that at all. To top it off, each game generally had a similar premise - Find out problem, get tool from the inconvenience store, solve problem. Not that this was a totally bad thing - but a little more interactivity with the items in the inventory would have been appreciated. At other times, the puzzle completely stumped me and I ended up cheating (yeah I know...don't say it). I didn't ever get that same feeling that I got when playing the first couple Monkey Island games when I'd solve some rediculous puzzle using multiple combined items and timing my mouse clicks right. The game was still rewarding though.
  • Worthy of purchase: 11/10. If you've ever enjoyed adventure games, you owe it to yourself to pick this game up and play through it (all 6 episodes). I'm not advertising for TellTale here - but I think they've done the Sam & Max franchise justice.
If you're interested in purchasing the entire series, the TellTale store has it. You might also think about getting a 3 month subscription (or longer) to GameTap. It's a pretty neat service and has alot of good games to pick from besides the Sam & Max Series.

Introducing AMD Phenom

Intel switched their flagship line to the "Core" nameplate. AMD was bound to follow suit. As this DailyTech article points out, the Phenom is a member of the AMD Stars family of processors that also includes the new AMD Athlon 64 and Sempron 64. You'll want to see the PPT slide for a breakdown of what exactly will be available. Here are some highlights though:

  • This new line of chips is AMD K10. The original Athlon 64 was K8
  • All new chips except the absolute upper-end Phenom FX Quad Core will use Socket AM2+
  • Phenom X4 ( a quad core chip) has a TDP of only 89W! MUCH better than AMD's previous consumer quad core product.
Is this the start of a new competitive streak for AMD? That would be a great thing, not only for AMD - but for anyone looking to buy a new processor. With competition comes price drops and more value for your money :) I'm thinking now's a time to invest a little money in AMD.

Wonderful Utilities - 7zip

In continuing the theme of sharing what applications, themes, gadgets, etc. that I use and love - I present 7zip. 7zip is a FREE, open-source compression program (similar to WinZip).
What will it pack and unpack?
  • 7z
  • ZIP
  • GZIP
  • BZIP2
  • TAR

What will it only unpack?
  • RAR
  • CAB
  • ISO
  • ARJ
  • LZH
  • CHM
  • Z
  • CPIO
  • RPM
  • DEB
  • NSIS

Pretty handy! I've found it to be a direct replacement for the built-in Windows Compressed Files utility, as well as WinZip. Did I mention that it's FREE? But with many open-source programs that are provided free, it is very appreciated that you donate to the group that produces it so that they can continue offering it for free. :) 7zip Homepage

That beautiful black windows look

Been a while since I've posted anything. Reason being, I haven't had much time for anything fun technology wise. A couple weeks ago, I upgraded my ancient Dell laptop's ram. This decent speedup allowed me to continue using it without cringing. As such - it was time to deck it out with the typical compliment of visual goodness.

First thing - the Black Luna theme from Microsoft, known as Royale Noir. It's a black version of the Windows XP Media center theme.

Intersted in obtaining this theme and installing it? Here's a link. I personally prefer this theme, and have been using it for just about a year now. It's definitely delayed my purchase of Vista. :)