Dec 26, 2010

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2010 (Part 1)

One of the games I got for Christmas this year: NFS:Hot Pursuit Limited Edition (NFS:HPLE)!  I am an avid Need for Speed fan, going back to the very first edition.  I've played most versions on the PC and the Hot Pursuit series have always been some of my favorites.  I love being the cops busting bad guys.

NFS:HPLE breaks with the "open world" design and goes for straight up match-up style racing.  The player has to complete certain races or certain tasks at specified locations.  The player chooses which ones to do based on what has been opened up by the game.  As events are won, and as "bounty" increases, new races show up on the map.  In open-world games (like NFS: Undercover), the player drives around the world until s/he feel like taking part in an event (or they can use the GPS to select events from a map).  In NFS:HPLE, the makers decided to use the overlay map system.  It's not a bad system, it's just not as free-wheeling as some NFS players may like or be used to.

The game does offer both racer and police "Free Drive" modes, though.  These modes allow the player to explore the area without triggering any kind of event.  Basically, it's a way for the player to get a feel for the lay of the land.  If you've played NFS in any of the previous Hot Pursuit forms, you may recognize areas of the map.  I have only played the game for a few hours, but the first thing that struck me: how familiar things were.  Maybe because I have been playing around with NFS3:HP (the *original* Hot Pursuit) that I "got it" right away, or maybe I've lived in the NFS world that it's so familiar to me, but in either case, there are homages (or more accurately REMAKES) of many of the Hot Pursuit areas.  For example, the Timber Mill area features huge fallen trees that you can drive your car through (the road is cut into the tree), and this was one of the coolest effects way back in the day.  In today's game, the effect is even more pronounced because the graphics are AMAZING!

Lighthouses with rotating lights, oceans with rolling waves, street lights that cast light and shadows (sometimes to the point that you can't see an oncoming car in your path!), mountain vistas that take your breath away.  Yes, this is a game, and though racing (or avoiding cops/busting racers) is the main goal, trust me when I say you *will* want to take advantage of the free driving just to look around the place. 

For me, it was like visiting my home town with fresh eyes.  Mining tunnels with railroad tracks were fun the first time around all those years ago, but with today's physics models, the railroad tracks themselves are 3d (making it fun to try and drive on them).  Cutouts in cliff sides allow the player to take quick shortcuts (assuming you can handle the tight squeeze!).  There are some new areas I don't recognize, and I don't know if that's memory failing or if those are actually new to this game.  It doesn't matter.  It just looks cool.

Racing comes in the way of time trials (get to the finish in certain time), racing (beat other racers to the finish), escapes (get away from the cops), and combinations of those.  As you win events, your reputation (or Bounty) increases.  The better you do, the more bounty you earn.  Earning bounty unlocks more cars, better weapons (spike strips, EMP, etc), and more tracks.  As a racer, most events have a Gold, Silver and Bronze achievement level.  As long as you medal (at least so far as I have seen in the time I've played), you unlock new races.  Of course, the idea is to score Gold in everything, but some of these events are TOUGH - especially the ones where you have to get to the finish by a certain time.  And even the Nitro doesn't always help!

Every car in NFS:HPLE has Nitro equipped standard.  This is a nice touch.  You build Nitro by driving in the oncoming traffic lanes, accumulating close calls (passing by another vehicle VERY closely without hitting it) and by generally driving recklessly.  You don't want to crash into things though, because that slows your time.  Eventually, you will unlock certain levels where you get Turbo in addition to Nitro.  Turbo rocks!  Well, mostly.  The downside is that EVERY car gets Turbo for the same map, so your racing adversaries and the cops keep up with you.  Really, then, what's the point?  Okay, the point is: screaming through the race at ultra-unrealistic speeds is a HUGE rush (pun maybe intended).  Man, you FLY through level!

On the cop-centric levels (whether you are the good guys or bad guys), cars have spike strips, EMPs, and other tactics to use against the opposition.  I love watching my spike strip take out a fellow racer.  I actually like to see that more than I do taking out a cop.  For the most part, I can deal with cops.  The other racers, though, are tough competitors.  As a cop, you have things like Spike Strips, EMPs, Road Blocks and Helicopters at your disposal.  Road blocks are more effective in crowded area where the racers are forced to crash into the waiting officers.  The racers also get weapons and can jam your signal, drop spikes, etc.  Some of the races are quite furious as you dodge traffic and everything else while hunting down the baddies.

Cops and racers have a "Damage bar" above each of them and you have get their "health" to zero - by use of weapons, crashing, or whatever means you can.

I've unlocked several cars (both racers and cop cars) but do not actually have access to them from the menus.  Not sure how that works.  I have also unlocked several different race types (like highway patrol) that I have yet to take part in.  Guess I see how that works as I keep playing.

I'll post a follow-up review after I've completed more of the game.  In the meantime, I fully recommend snagging it for whatever gaming platform you have.

Next up: I'm taking my dance moves into the "Michael Jackson Experience!"

Dec 25, 2010

Christmas Song of the Day - Let It Be Christmas

There are hundreds of songs I could have chosen to be *THE* Christmas Song for this season.  I think this is one of the most touching, hope-filled songs of the season.  Though any number of artists could have recorded this, only Alan Jackson makes it what it is.  God has certainly given this man a unique and incredible voice.  Today, on the day many Christians celebrate as the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ, I pray that we find peace, love, and music throughout the day.

I wish you and yours a VERY Merry Christmas! 

I pray that if you are reading this, you will take at least a moment to think and reflect on what it took and what it means for the God of Christ to have brought down a child who would change the world like no other ever would.  Being a believer is not about "bible-thumping" or "hypocrisy." It's not about ramming religion down other people's throats.  It's about finding a higher power, someone to lean on and to thank.  It's about trusting that everything we are able to do and everything we are not able to (on our own) can be provided to us.  It's about accepting God's only child as the redeeming savior that bridges the gap humans made (and still make) between themselves and their creator.  Not trying to ram anything down anyone's throat, but I think some people have totally distorted what "Christmas" is truly about.

It is not about pagan traditions and religious holidays all getting mixed together for some commercial gain.  Yes, that's what's happened as a side effect, granted.  But, we celebrate Christmas for what it means to Christians: Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ.  Period.  Without the birth of Christ, there is no "Christ"-mas.  There wouldnt even be an "X"-mas without the birth of Christ because we would have His name to "X" out in the first place!  It is about Christ.  It is about this child that was given to the world, an ultimate sacrifice placed here by the Lord God.

For me, one of the best things about Christ and the way the Lord works: Free Will.  He lets us make the choice to accept what He has offered.  I pray you find Christ one day, but if you choose not to, I pray that you (and I for that matter) will be open enough to love those who think differently without hating, without shouting, without killing.

On this one day of the year, let it be Christmas... Love, peace, hope, music, celebration.

Dec 24, 2010

Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

While typing up my "Christmas Song of the Day" for today, my mind drifted to the now-iconic news clipping from an 8-year old girl to the newspaper asking if there is a such thing as Santa Claus.  It amazes me that this clipping comes from a time more than 110 years ago, and yet my daughter asked us the very same thing just the other day.  This is for her... and for all those who wonder:

"DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
"Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
"Papa says, 'If you see it in THE SUN it's so.'
"Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?


VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Christmas Song of the Day - Believe, from "Polar Express"

I love the book and the movie, "The Polar Express."  Though the Christian aspects of Christmas are easily explained (at least for me), some of the other aspects get jumbled and some people believe in certain things and others do not.

Aside from the reason CHRIST is in Christmas, believe in the goodness of others, in being charitable, in being OPEN to receiving charity and well wishes from others.  The story of Santa Claus is as old as the holiday itself (well, okay, maybe not quite), and knowing what St. Nicholas did and what he meant to those children lives in the traditions we have today.  Santa Claus and, even more importantly (I believe), the spirit of Santa Claus should always remain a part of the mystery and lore of the holiday season.

Believe in the wonder of a child's eyes, the love of friends and family, the need to give something to those that require it (whether that be food, shelter, toys, or a warm smile).  Believe.

Dec 23, 2010

Christmas Song of the Day - Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

One of the classic Christmas songs that has been covered by everyone from Sinatra to Coldplay to just about anyone you can think of.  And, while poking around the 'net looking for a rendition to post, I found David Cook singing it in 2008 at the Rockefeller Center:

Dec 22, 2010

Broken Apple USB Cable

A friend of mine wanted to know what I meant by a recent Facebook post in which I said that we break our USB cables... Here is just one example.

Wanna Win a Printer?? Read on!

Need a new printer?  WANT one even if you don't need one?  Want one to give to someone else for the new year?  Like to enter contests just to see if you can win?

Well, if the answer is YES to any of those, then head on over to The Pioneer Woman's site for your chance to win:

Wanna know more about the printer?  Well, here's a picture:

And here is more info about this beauty:

Have fun!  Hey, if you win and don't want the printer, you could always send it to me for helping you win it!

Christmas Song of the Day - It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

I probably should have started with this one as the the "Christmas Song of the Day" kicked off, but I'm not that smart nor organized.  I looked around and came up with a group of children singing this song.  As I get older, listening to groups of children sing brings a feeling to my heart that no other styling can do.  I love the sound of kids singing in a chorus, and to have them singing Christmas song brings a joy that is comforting, reassuring, and hopeful.  Enjoy!

Dec 21, 2010

Christmas Song of the Day - It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Andy Williams sings one of the most uplifting, toe-tapping songs of the season that has become a traditional classic!  This makes me want to run outside into the snow (if there any), and dance around as the flakes come falling down around me.  I've been ice skating only a couple times in my life, that I can remember, and this song always brings the feeling of gliding along the ice (not that I would call what I did 'gliding' exactly):

Dec 20, 2010

Christmas Song of the Day - Santa Claus is Coming to Town

Ah, how could I offer up Christmas songs without providing the song that parents all over the world use as a way to guilt their children into behaving?  Frankly, I've always had issue with the idea that Santa seemed to have as much omniscience as the Lord Himself - he knows when you're sleeping, awake, good or bad...  I believe it was explained to me like this: Santa gets his info from God.

Well, believe it how you like.  For me, there is hands-down no better version of this song than from the Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen:

Dec 19, 2010

Christmas Song of the Day - Santa Claus and His Old Lady

I grew up listening to the bits and antics of Cheech and Chong on vinyl.  Naturally, my favorite is "Dave's not here," but only slightly less well known is a recording they did about the story of Santa.  Politically correct or not, this is classic, funny stuff:

Dec 18, 2010

Christmas Song of the Day - The Christmas Song

Until a few years ago, I always thought this was called, "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire."  Shows what I know!  This video shows Mel Torme and Judy Garland singing the song together!

Dec 17, 2010

Christmas Song of the Day - Sleigh Ride

I think this version by The Boston Pops is one of my all-time favorites.  I know there are versions with the words being sung, but this song has always been great with just the music and little sound effects in it:

Dec 16, 2010

Christmas Song of the Day - Rockin Around the Christmas Tree

How can you provide a different Christmas song each day and not include this one!? You can't.  Well, you can, but you shouldn't. Really.  I am a HUGE fan of the house-lighting-to-music displays, and I found this one done to this song!

Dec 15, 2010

Christmas Song of the Day - O, Little Town of Bethlehem

Sarah McLachlan has one of the most distinguishable voices ever recorded, and here is her take on this traditional Christmas song:

Dec 14, 2010

Dec 13, 2010

Christmas Song of the Day - Santa Baby

Oh, I know, Ertha Kitt did it originally, and she certainly has one of the best versions!  But, I thought it would be fun to post a more 'current' version.  This one is sung by Taylor Swift:

Dec 12, 2010

Christmas Song of the Day - I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas

Today, I present to you one of Shan's all-time favorite Christmas songs. One year, I even bought her a stuffed hippo for Christmas! She still has it, too:

Dec 11, 2010

Christmas Song of the Day - Do you hear what I hear

One of the most beautiful voices God has ever put on this earth, as far as I'm concerned: Carrie Underwood sings "Do you hear what I hear"

Dec 10, 2010

Christmas Song of the Day - Christmas Shoes

Some songs touch your heart and bring a tear to your eye.  Some songs remind us that other people may have much more going on in their lives than we could ever know or understand.  Some songs make us stop and consider our own reactions or make us look inward further than we may care to.  For me, this is one of those.

Dec 9, 2010

Dec 8, 2010

Christmas Song of the Day - Silent Night

There is something soft, warm, and peaceful about this song and hearing Elvis sing it brings the story of Jesus' birth to a place that few singers can take us.  I am not an Elvis fan, but certainly respect his impact on music and appreciate his talent when I hear something like this.

Dec 6, 2010

Christmas Song of the Day - Do they know it's Christmas

On the heels of "We are the World," a group of 80's stars got together to make a Christmas song to raise money and awareness of the plight of Africans during the time.

Dec 5, 2010

Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit - Yes, you can still play! (maybe)

Do you happen to have a copy of the "classic" (we're talking the original 1998 retail version here) racing game, "Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit" laying around?  Well, if you do (or if you decide to buy the original jewel cased version from eBay), you can enjoy the benefits of some enterprising programmers and still play the game with some remarkable results.

Okay, "remarkable" is used in the following manner: This game is from 1998, when "Voodoo" chipsets were all the rage.  This is not "remarkable" in the sense that today's games are graphically off the charts, though I admit, with the steps I'll lay out here, you can't deny the game looks DANG GOOD for being more than ten years old!

The steps outlined below come from one discussion on the topic, but I am pulling everything together so you don't have to cull through all the comments and back and forth rapport.  And, this allows you to play this classic on XP, Vista, Windows 7 x32 and Windows 7 x64. No kidding.

First, you will need the "NFS3:HP Vista Edition" from: - When you get there, just click on the yellow folder with the zipper on it.

Next, you must have an original NFS3:HP game disc.  Evidently, this Vista version does *NOT* work with the bundled edition of the game (the one with several NFS classic games in it).

Make sure the game disc is in the drive, then extract the files from the ZIP and run the Vista Edition setup.  The setup will verify your CD.  Then, it will ask you where you want the game, etc.

That lets you play the game with decent graphics.  Let's move up to "Ohhh, yeah!"

Download the nGlide Wrapper:

Extract and install the wrapper.  Note, it will not affect any modern games, and may actually prove to aid in playing some of the other classic Voodoo-enabled games you have.

Next, you have to download a patch for NFS3:HP:

Extract the patch files (there are two files in the ZIP) to your game's installed location (where you told it to install during the first step).  It should replace the voodoo2a.dll file and provide a .reg file.

Use Explorer or My Computer to find the installation location of your game and double-click the .REG file to add the Voodoo-enabled information to your registry.

Now, we have to edit the shortcut that the Vista Edition installed on your dekstop.  Find that shortcut, right-click on it, and choose properties.

In the "Target:" line, you need to add one thing.  At he very right-end of the line, AFTER the final quotation mark, add a SPACE (press your space bar once) and type: "-voodoo"

Click APPLY then OK.

Run the game from the desktop icon.  Once inside the game, choose Single Player, create a name, etc, but before you race, click on OPTIONS (bottom right of screen) and set your VIDEO preferences!  Trust me, you can set everything to "HIGH" or "FULL" or whatever.  Also, change the resolution to the highest you see listed.

Welcome to a new feel for a classic game!

*All this info was culled together from:

One eBay listing that *appears* to be listing a compatible version:

I took only the iPad

Last week, I had a state technology coordinator's meeting.  That's nothing new, as we have them every month.  What was new, however, was the iPad that I took.  In fact, what was new, really, was the fact that I *only* took the device to use during the meeting.  How did it go?

First of all, I had recently updated to the iOS 4.2.whatever and let me say that the switching of the "anti-rotate" button into a "mute" button has got to be one of the WORST decisions I have ever seen made to a device that freely flips the screen around at the tip of a hat.  Hold the device flat on a table, and it might rotate the screen 90 degrees in one moment, then do a literal 180-degree turn in the next with no rhyme or reason.  The ability to freeze the screen in any given position was one of my favorite features.  Now, that's gone (unless there is some trick to getting it back, which I would love to hear about!).

I do not have ANY type of case for the device yet, so that played into several of the problems (like the freely-rotating screen) I had.  It's a pain in the rear to type on the thing while it is laying perfectly flat on a table, at least for me.  I've heard a lot of folks complain that the keyboard doesn't "work" because you can't "feel" the keys.  Let me tell you, it takes a LOT of getting used to.  Even though there is a 'click' when you hit the keys (unless, of course, you flipped the anti-rotate switch and instead it muted it), there is no real tactile response.  You get no physical feedback.  I like physical feedback.  I eventually got the hang of it, except for the times I "rested" my hand, only to find a bunch of random characters in my notes from accidentally hitting keys.

My next problem stemmed from the 'autocorrect/auto spellcheck' that is enabled by default.  That stupid thing kept trying to "fix" my typing.  That's great for actual misspelled words, but not so great when one is typing acronyms, names, etc.  In the settings, one can turn off auto-correct, but then that immediately and automatically turns off spell check.  Seriously!?  Can we not have it check spelling WITHOUT fixing it!?  Let's see, Microsoft Word has been doing that since...what, 1984 or something?  Stupid.  I'd like the little red wavy "hey, I think this is not spelled correctly" line, in case I *do* type something incorrectly.  Once I disabled auto-correct, though, that went with it.  Again, stupid.

One last editing-related problem: I cannot touch a word and set the edit cursor where I want.  For example, if I typed: thenIwent home, I cannot simply touch between each of the three words run together in order to add spaces.  Seriously!?  Again, if someone know a fix or technique, please let me know.  How ridiculous that I have to type an entire word again just to fix a spelling mistake or a transposition of two letters.  Come on, man!

The rest of the meeting went fine (checking email, looking up resources on web, etc).

And then, I needed to post my notes.  Granted, I used the built-in notepad.  There was no way (that I could find) to copy all the text and paste it into a blog post (or even to just select ALL the text, for that matter). Useless.  I have to email the notes to myself, then copy the text on my computer in order to post it into another document.  Talk about frustrating!  Not only that, but also VERY counterproductive and a complete waste of time.  If I have to do all that, why bother carrying the thing?  I'll just take my computer and save 9, 10, 50 steps. Thanks.

I am still learning what the iPad does (and doesn't do).  So far, the best three apps for me are:

iNet Network Scanner - Scan your network, see what's out there.
Jump - Remote desktop into any machine with full integration.
FlipBoard - The coolest reader for Twitter and Facebook (hoping they add RSS soon!).

I'll keep you posted.

Christmas Song of the Day - Go Tell It On The Mountain

This is probably one of the most "choral-friendly" song ever created, especially in relation to Christmas.  The video is of the great Aretha Franklin singing during the tree lighting while Clinton was President.  This also includes "O Christmas Tree"

Christmas Song of the Day - The Carol of the Bells

George Winston created an amazing masterpiece for this song, and I found this tribute with a lot of cool pictures to go with it.

Dec 4, 2010

Add more effects to Photo Booth on Mac

Tired of playing with same set of effects that come with Photo Booth?  Well, after poking around, I came across an article that (sorta) explains how to do it.  So, I took the best parts, cut out the stuff you don't care about and jotted the steps down here for you:

1. In Finder, navigate to /System/Library/Compositions

2. Use command-click to select all the recommended compositions: ASCII Art, Blue Print, Blur, City Lights, Color Controls, Color Invert, Compound Eye, Concert, Crystallize, Dot Screen, Exposure Adjust, Gamma Adjust, Kaleidescope, Line Overlay, Line Screen, Monochrome, Neon, Pixellate, Pointillize, Posterize, Sharpen, Tracer, Zoom Blur

3. Copy the items

4. In Finder, navigate to MacintoshHD/Users/your_name/Library/Compositions (if that folder does not exist on your computer, then you can just create it). If you are familiar with the terminology, you can navigate to ~/Library/Compositions.

5. Paste the items

6. Open a Terminal window, and execute the following commands:

cd ~/Library/Compositions

for i in *.qtz; do /usr/libexec/PlistBuddy -c 'delete :excludedHosts:' "$i"; done
(for BEST results, just copy the line above and paste it into your Terminal session, then press ENTER/RETURN)

**Ignore any "errors" you might see during the execution of that command.

7. Launch PhotoBooth, look for the new effects at the right of your effects list and enjoy!

Some Examples:

This information can be found here:

Christmas Song of the Day - Walking in a Winter Wonderland

I enjoy more upbeat versions of many Christmas classics, and combining Selena Gomez with a 'pop' version of the song makes for some fun yuletime entertainment.

Dec 3, 2010

Christmas Song of the Day - White Christmas

This is one of my all-time favorite ones.  Now that I live in Arkansas, it is very rare that I see white Christmases.  While growing up in Pittsburgh and the time I spent in Colorado and Virginia, I had seen plenty of them.  I chose this video because I love the setting of the military folks sitting around.  I know there are people serving our country in all parts of the world, and many of them will be dreaming of a white Christmas, too.

Dec 2, 2010

Christmas Song of the Day - 12 Days of Christmas (Bob and Doug version)

I realize this is not your usual "12 Days" rendition, but I loved watching Bob and Doug on TV when I could, and I love this version of the classic Christmas song!

Dec 1, 2010

Christmas Song of the Day - I'll Be Home for Christmas

There have been a zillion renditions of this song, but there is something about Rascal Flatts that really gives the song something very moving.