Nov 30, 2010

Emily's Christmas Story

Emily has been studying "-ing" words this week in school.  She decided to write a Christmas story using all of her -ing spelling words.  She had me scan it in so she could share printouts with us.  I took the liberty of posting the story here (click on images to enlarge):

*"fanted" = "fainted"

Christmas Song of the Day - Mary Did You Know

"Mary Did You Know?" Written by Mark Lowry, who is most noted for his hilarious comedy.  But, one day, he said this lyric came to him and he paired up with Buddy Greene who wrote the music to go with it.

Nov 29, 2010

Christmas Song of the Day - Where are you Christmas

Each day from now until Christmas Day, I in addition to any "regular" posts I do (and I use that term loosely), I will post a Christmas song for your enjoyment.  I am starting with "Where Are you Christmas?"  This is the Faith Hill version.  The song comes from the movie "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."

Nov 21, 2010

Black Ops for PC - First Impression

I bought Call of Duty: Black Ops on Friday.  I've been wanting to play the game since it came out and I couldn't wait to try it.  I found a web site (cannot recall just now) that let me see if my computer could even run the game.  According to the site, my computer could run it, but with several warnings: Processor was on the slow side and my RAM was a bit lower than they liked.

My system is roughly 5-6 years old.  It is a Pentium D 840 (or something along those lines - 2.8 Ghz) with 1.5 GB of RAM.  I actually thought I had 3GB of RAM, so somewhere in the past years, I must have played swapsies with various computers I had worked on.  Ah well.  I have twin Geforce 8600GT's in SLI mode.  If this is too techie, don't worry, I'm almost done with this part.  I installed the game (more on that in a bit), and fired it up.  LAG city.  I was bummed.  It is "semi-playable" on my rig, but that is being taken care of soon.  As it turns out, I had a mileage check from work that more than covered the cost upgrading the CPU on my motherboard.  I'll be kickin' it with 3.2 Ghz before long.  And for those that are rolling their eyes or are pounding their fists, let me say that I can do this upgrade for about a Benjamin.  Well within my budget, this upgrade will buy me several more years before I have to do a total replacement.  I am also moving over to a Radeon HD 5770* video card.  The video card is something I've been wanting to do for a while now and this presented a perfect opportunity.  Once my new hardware is in place, I will follow this post up with a "second look" for Black Ops.

Let's get down to business... I hate STEAM.  I thought I was okay with it when they solved the issue with my father's game (previously posted), but I've since gone back to my original feelings - I hate it.  STEAM requires the user to connect to the Internet for registration of new software.  That in itself is not bad.  But, then afterward, the STEAM engine needed and update.  Once the game was installed, the GAME needed an update!  Believe it or not, I actually chronicled this:

9:39pm - Begin installation, update steam (and find the stupid login info)
9:53pm - Enter product code after steam updates
9:54pm - Begin installation of actual game
10:16p - Launch game, game needs update, steam reports "Ready to play in 48 minutes" Say what!?
10:40p - Update finished, Ready to Play. Okay, not quite 48 minutes.

As you can see, from the time I put the DVD into the computer, it took AN HOUR before I could even play the game.  I assume XBox, Playstation, Wii, etc players do have this problem.  They can just drop the disc and go.  Yeesh.

Okay, let me say that I know the box says the game is rated "M" for 17+ age group.  But, the language in this game is ROUGH!  Even on the "moderate" setting, some of the scenes play the VERY foul language.  Do *NOT* play this game with youngins around (or kill the speakers!).

The lag was so bad, the game was unplayable in any realistic sense.  I got out of the game, set Avast! anti-virus to "Silent/Game Mode" and killed several running processes (Adobe, Java, iPod service, etc).  I went back into the game and dumbed down all the settings - 800x600, no effects, low quality, etc.  At that point, the game was playable and still didn't look too bad either.

You start out as a guy in an electric chair.  You are being interrogated, including a little shock therapy for good measure.  As you are being quizzed, you are taken back (in flashback memories) to various scenarios that you then get to play out.  After the mission ends, you come out of your daze back into 'the present' for more questions, shocks and then flashback to another memory-induced mission.  There was a Castro mission, a Vietnam mission, and a few others I can't recall.  I am in the Vietnam mission, but cannot continue because the lag has gotten horrendous.  If you've played the game, it's where you are in the trenches and must blow up the tanks with detonators.  The lag is so bad that during the melee where you have to "press the 'F' key repeatedly," I had to play through sevral times because the key presses were not registering fast enough.

Aside from the technical issues, I find myself torn about this game.  The missions you play through are great fun!  They represent what Call of Duty showcases in each of their first-person shooters - goals, objectives, run-and-gun (at least for the parts I have done) with some puzzle-solving thrown in.  On the downside, the whole "flashback" scenario is tedious for me.  Frankly, in the scheme of the "story," I'd rather just play through the missions and forget all the dumb interrogation and dialog junk.  I may be the only person on the planet that feels that way.  Each mission is a different period of time, and they are only 'connected' by the fact the main character is 'remembering' what happened.  UGH.  No thanks.  It's not even a problem of disjointedness (which there is that, but still), but rather that I just don't care.  I have zero vested interest in the main character's plight.  Nothing in the game has made me 'buy into' the premise.  I'm sure the designers thought they were doing a cool, great storyline.  Instead, it comes off as if each mission was coded by a different group of people and then someone said, "Hey, none of this goes together! We need a story here!"  BBBZZZTT... Thank you for playing.

I'll let you know how my experience goes once the new hardware is in place, and maybe things will "jeehaw" better when I'm not fighting lag.  As for now, though, I give the missions an 8 and the story a 3.  I give it a 3 because at least you can look around while seated, and rumor is you can break out of the straps and find a 'secret' computer to enter codes.  We'll see.

*I had previously reported a Radeon 7550, but that was a typo.

Steelers Plurk Timeline

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Nov 17, 2010

2010 Edublog Award Nominations are OPEN!

The 2010 Edublog Awards are currently accepting nominations for the best in a variety of areas.

I am nominating the following:

Best educational use of video/visual:
Best educational use of a social network:
Best class blog:

You can nominate your own favorites. Simply follow the directions from

Step 1: Write a post on your blog linking to:

  1. The Edublog Awards Homepage
  2. The blogs & sites that you want to nominate (must be linked to!)
You can nominate for as many categories as you like, but only one nomination per category, and not yourself :) You can nominate a blog (or site) for more than one category)

Step 2: Email the link to your nomination post

Use the form on The Edublog Awards Homepage to contact them, please include a genuine email address (spam free, just in case we need to confirm identity) and the link to your nominations post.

Drinking the Apple-flavored Kool Aid

I am sitting in the living room as I write this.  While that is not exactly novel, this is: I am using a MacBook to type while experimenting with an iPad *and* a 4th Gen iPod Touch.  Three years ago, I would have fallen on the floor laughing my head off if someone said I would be here now in this set-up.  Heck, even two years ago, I would have been scoffing at least a little.  A year ago, we didn't even know what an "iPad" was.

For the record, let it be known that these devices are not "mine," but rather they belong to my place of employment.  I simply get the benefit of using them until one of several things happen: a) something new comes along and I "trade up," b) I decide one or more of the devices cause more headache than they solve and pass them on to someone else, or c) my employment with the education service center where I work is no longer a factor and I have to turn them in.  Okay, I threw that last one in for fun.  I like to create controversy every so often just to keep people's juices flowing.  At least, I *hope* it's a joke!

Let me start with the iPod Touch 4th Gen.  Why?  Because, for me, it has the least amount of impact.  Why is that? Because I have a 3rd Gen (technically 2.5 Gen) iPod Touch that I personally own.  While the addition of two cameras is nice, it's still a Touch.  Frankly, it's not a very user-friendly one either.  You see, the edges are even more rounded than in previous versions.  Not a bad thing in and of itself, right?  Well, pair that with the top and side buttons that are essentially flush with the unit, and everything I do on it feels as though the thing is going to squirt out of my hands and crash to the floor. 

The metal is ULTRA slick, and this is one slippery fella.  In fact, the power button on top is basically on the back of the unit.  Not easy to manipulate, in my opinion.  The camera takes pretty good pictures and can fire off several pretty quickly.  In my unscientific testing, I was able to shoot about 3 pictures (like 2.5, really) every second.  I did a rapid-fire shutter test.  that is, I pressed the shutter button as fast as I could ten times.  The camera took 6 of the 10 shots!  That is impressive for something mounted inside a media player.

Is the device worth the extra $30 over its predecessor? Even with my grumblings about the unit, I have to say yes.  Having the dual cameras is a nice touch, and I'm sure I'll figure out other things once I get to using it more and more.

(note: the reflection of the bookcase in the picture was intentional. I've been letting Kevin Honeycutt's creativity rub off on me!)

Now, let's talk about the iPad.

You may recall, I posted several times about my dislike for the device.  Granted, I had only played with one for a little bit and at the time it was nothing more than an iPod Touch XL.  In a lot of ways, it still is that.  But, in other ways, it is more.  There are iPad-specific apps that take advantage of the resolution and screen real estate.  Other apps have been ported to the iPad.  And, if you do run iPod/iPhone apps, you can use the "2x" control to zoom in for a larger (not better) view.

One of the first apps I installed was iNet.  It is an iPhone/iPod app that I could run from the smaller device.  But, having a bigger screen means that I can READ what it is telling me much better.  Another app I installed is Jump.  Jump is a remote desktop tool that offers all kinds of great options, settings, etc.  I also installed Flipboard for reading Tweets in a magazine-like layout. Oh, man, that is worth the price of admission alone.  It also reads your Facebook feed, provided you set it up to do that.  I wish it would let me add RSS feeds as well, but there is Pulse for that, I guess.  Not a big fan of the Pulse app.  Too much vertical scrolling.  I'm not a good vert scroller, as I've mentioned on here in relation to my DSL at home.

I also snagged several educational apps, and will keep adding those.  Since part of my job is to show teachers what they can do with the device(s), I want to get my hands on as many different apps as I can - weed out the good, the bad, and the ugly.

I installed VTrace, but it doesn't seem to work. It locates me via wi-fi, but when I enter an address or hostname then press "Trace," all I get is the empty map (not even showing my location).  Maybe someone knows what I'm missing here.

I'm still learning what I can and can't do on the iPad, but so far, I have done a full 180-degree turn around from my initial thoughts on it.  With the tools I have, plus others that will come along, I'm sure, I can fully understand why so many TECH people are snagging these up.  And, of course with the other apps, it's no wonder non-techs are diving into the thing.

Yes, I have drunk the Apple-flavored Kool Aid.  And, ya know, it ain't half bad.

Nov 11, 2010

Castle Wolfenstein

I am a child of the 60's.  Not the 1960's, though I was born in 1969, but rather, I am a child of the Commodore 64 era.  Pictured above is the first game I can remember playing that had anything to do with World War II.  The player is the green guy.  The SS guards walked around and the player had to use stealth and timing to open up the golden chests to collect various items.  The zig-zag grid on the right is a set of stairs. 

I actually believe I played the Apple-II version before playing the C-64 one.  For some reason, I remember the game having different graphics, simpler ones if you can believe it.

The sequel to this game was "Beyond Castle Wolfenstein," and I played it all the way through (as I did the first one).  It basically played the same way, if memory serves.

From there, we move to the first 3d 1st person shooter - Affectionately known as "Wolf3d" because that was the file name you used in order to play.  I know I've talked about it before, but I remember first seeing the game in a Sears store.  It was the demo.  This was back in the days of dial-up and floppy disks.  In fact, the kid playing the game made me a copy to take home.  This was a newly developed method of distribution called "Shareware."  You could play a demo (limited) version of a game for free, downloadable on the bulletin boards.  What got me hooked, though, was the fact that it looked 3D!  All I saw was the tip of the gun and the world in front of and around me.  Similar to this:

Eventually, graphics got better, worlds more realistic, gameplay more intense in a game called "Return to Castle Wolfenstein:"

If I remember correctly, this was one of the first 3d shooters my Dad ever played.  He was hooked.  I tried to show him the 'historical' version of Wolf3d (and even Duke3d), but he would have none of that. I still have a copy of this floating around somewhere. I may need to break it out of its shell and fire it up again.

What made me think of all this?  Well, being home sick from work while watching various WWII historical documentaries probably had a lot to do with it.  I watched a show called "Patton 360" along with several other shows on this Veteran's Day, and eventually fired up "Battlefield 1942" for a little Nazi-killing.

The Wolfenstein series is based on fictional experiments that Hitler and his upper echelon were conducting.  Hitler and the Nazis were such a definitive enemy that many, many games have been built around eliminating them.  In fact, there are libraries of games based on WWII - so many, in fact, that at one time there was an outcry for game developers to STOP making them.

As I get older, I am drawn more and more to the desire to role-play the scenarios and battles that so many people lived and gave up their lives.  I don't mean that as anything suggesting a trivialization of the lives lost or what veterans went through during those battles.  In fact, I am seeking just the opposite.  I am not a vet, instead growing up at a time when I was free (because of the sacrifices of those who came before me) to go to college instead of being required to enlist.  Now that I am passed the age of being able to serve, I love to learn more and more about those who DID serve, those who DO serve.  And reliving those battles gives me a sense of connection to a time and place that I would not have otherwise.  Even watching the documentaries on TV is not the same as taking on the role of some of the personnel in the midst of those scenarios.

I am so grateful for the men and women who dedicate their lives, or have given their lives, so that we may enjoy the life we have in these United States.  Though I did not mean for this post to take on a message for Veteran's Day, there is really no way that it could not have.  I am free because others paid a price which I will never be able to pay back, and I am forever indebted to our armed forces.  Thank you from the deepest part of my heart.

Nov 8, 2010

Hail to the King, Baby!

 Yeah, this follow-up to yesterday's post brings Duke Nukem to the forefront once again.  You see, while poking around the 3dRealms website, I went to the "Store" and lo and behold - Duke3d Atomic Edition is available as a DRM-free download for just $5.99!  Oh, yeah!

I snagged that puppy up quickly.  What's even cooler about the game is that it comes with DOSBox as its means for execution.  This means that it should run on any version of Windows!  In fact, I fired it up on XP and it ran beautifully - er, well, as beautifully as it could for the time it was created.

I understand there are higher resolution add-ins one can download, and I may do that at some point.  Right now, though, I am simply enjoying the walk down memory lane. 

"Heh-heh... What a mess!"

Want your own copy?  check this out:

Nov 7, 2010

Come Get Some!

I received the "Holiday 2010" issue of PC Gamer magazine the other day, I was greeted by the face of an old friend.  You may recognize him by description alone: Blond hair, crew cut style; Dark sunglasses; Smoking a cigar; Wielding a hefty weapon; Muscles to carry anything; Signature smirk on his face.  Recognize him yet?  How about this:
Yeah, that's right.  Duke Nukem really is back for the game that has been on the "waiting list" since 1998.  Seriously.  If you were a gamer back in those days, Duke 3-D (and its spin-offs) ruled the 1st person shooters, and then there was word that a bigger, badder, be-all/end-all of Dukes was coming out.  It would be called, "Duke Nukem Forever" and the buzz was everywhere.  And then, it was nowhere.  Duke Nukem has got to be one of the longest-running pieces of vaporware known to gamerkind.  The game was coming, then it wasn't.  Then it was back on, then off again, then revamped, then scrapped, then back again then tossed into the bowels of 3d Realms.  It was an emotional roller coaster that only those who grew up in a world PRE-3D games, through "BattleZone," "Wolf3d," "Doom," and "Duke 3d" would ever truly come to appreciate.

Duke 3d was the first 3d game that I am aware of (or that I really cared to play, really) that featured a blend between linear and not-quite linear gameplay.  You had to walk through the various levels, but you could generally get where you needed to go under your own terms.  And, it featured a jetpack.  Oh sure, you could win the game without using it, mostly, but where was the fun in that?  We were no longer glued to the ground ala Doom (though you could "fall" in Doom).  We could jump, jetpack, you name it.  All the while, the smart-alec comments from the main character spat out the things you were THINKING ("Your face, your (butt)? What's the difference?").  It also had a wonderful interactive world.  Tell me one person who played the game that never once went up to the urinal and pressed the spacebar.  Of COURSE you did it!  And when word got around of other fun things to try, gamers fired up ol' Duke just to find those hidden gems.

Of course, for me, the real prize was getting into the editor!  Oh yes, we could make our own levels and play against our friends over the local network!  I know that sounds trite by today's standards, but back in that day, this was HUGE.  The guys I worked with would spend many lunch hours downloading the modified levels we could find online at the time, blasting each other silly as we ate.  Once I had the editor in hand, I was making all kinds of goofy levels (one designed around a not-to-scale replica of my house).  I learned how to make exploding walls, moving trams, deep pits that would leave you with one hit point (if you fell fully healed to begin with) only to be blessed with every kind of weapon in the game. 

Duke 3d was the game everyone upgraded their systems over: more memory, better video cards, enhanced sound cards.  We mucked around in config.sys and autoexec.bat to eke out as much memory as possible while getting the IPX networking right for our LAN parties.  Okay, that's a stretch.  In truth, DOOM is what started all of that, but Duke 3d is what MADE you want to follow through.  Er, well, made *me* want to, anyway.

So now, all these years later, Gearbox announces (and actually shows off) Duke Nukem Forever really is coming in 2011.  And much like the first go-round, I want to know the requirements.  I want to make sure my machine is ready for the smart-mouthed, cigar-chomping, muscle-bound alien killer.  "Forever" is the first game in a LONG time that I have been so genuinely excited to see coming to fruition.  It is so top-secret that PC Gamer had to hire a courtroom artist to sketch pictures of the gameplay.  Oh, I know. You're thinking, "That is ridiculous."  Yes. It is.  And those of us waiting, are eating up every single morsel.

Nov 1, 2010

NaNoWriMo - SLOW start...

The site is down.  My user account shows up as an invalid user with a php error on the site.  Things are off to a slow start in the world of NaNoWriMo this year.  To top it off, I gave up writing after just 350 words this evening - the first night.

Where is my motivation?  What is going on with me this go-round?  Is it the World Series?  Is it the knowing how some of the story will go?  Is it the weather?  I have no answers.  I just know that I've got a long road ahead if I am going to reach that 50,000 word goal.

Like the little train that has graduated from children's story to cliche', I know I can do it.  Once I find my rhythm, things will flow from my fingertips.  Right now, I have nearly written more words for this blog post than I have for my next novel.  It should come easier than this.  After all, I know the characters.  I know the setting.  I know some of the plot elements.  It is lying in wait, bubbling just below the surface.  I can feel the words coursing through my veins, my capillaries, my arteries.  I feel the ebb and flow of story movement, and like a flood of water behind a dam, once the crack is forged, things will come fast and hard, leaving certain death and destruction in its path.

"Lost Summer" may start out as a trickle, but soon, it will rush through, over and around the folks of Appleton!  What will remain in its wake?