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Author: Ian Beck
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Location: Walla Walla WA, U.S.A.
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Skaak on, Skaak off

Back to the rank and file

I just realized that most people probably don't know this, but as of the beginning of September I've backed off on IMG involvement from articles head-honcho to general author and hanger-on. Non-IMG life got super busy, and there just wasn't going to be any way to keep up with things, so I've taken a back seat and Tuncer shuffled responsibilities around.

Hopefully I'll have the time in my life to take a more active role in IMG again in the future, but for now I'm doing the author and forum-haunting thing.

Posted on September 20, 2006 at 8:55 pm
Boot Camp...what a pain

I finally, weeks after getting my new MacBook Pro, have successfully installed Windows XP on my Mac. What a hellish experience it was, too; people claim that Boot Camp is easy as anything to install, but let me tell you that there are some serious stumbling blocks, and I hit them all.

For those of you thinking of installing Windows, here's the experience of someone who's lost several days over the course of a multiple weeks to the process.

Here's my specific situation: I had the Professional verison of Office 2004 for Mac, which meant that I had a never-used, entirely legal license key for Windows XP Pro. Unfortunately, I didn't have a Windows install disk, because Virtual PC is screwy like that. There was no way I was going to spend $300 on what essentialy would amount to a duplicate license, so I set about looking to borrow an XP install disk. Learn from my experience, and just buy yourself Windows.

First off, the files that come with Virtual PC are just not quite right. I burned a number of disks exactly to the instructions in the Apple Discussions forums (and a few experimenting to see if I could fix things), but they always claimed they were missing a file (which was clearly located on the CDs). Good luck getting an install disk using VPC; I had no luck, and have heard from no one who had such success, although they may be out there.

Secondly, you cannot use an academic version of Windows XP; since all of the people with install disks had academic versions, this left me out of luck (dang college kids). This is the single biggest issue that I ran up against; I've slipstreamed an easy eight or more disks that didn't work discovering this. For a clean install, the Windows setup program requires that the disk be a "full" disk of Windows, and Academic disks evidently don't fit the bill. There is a loophole to this, but exploiting it involves acts of sketchy legality.

Thirdly, don't listen to Apple. Their drivers are not in any way perfect. The first time I installed the drivers, I shut down the computer instead of restarting it, and when I started it up the display didn't work at all. After restarting with the old configuration, I discovered I had to uninstall everything and reinstall it to get it working (thanks for being impossible to use, Windows). I did this, but then the sound drivers didn't work at all (they hadn't worked initially, for that matter). If you run across this issue, there is an alternative (linked to from here), but please note: using this driver results in a program called Intel Audio Studio being installed, which will not run, tries (and fails) to start every time you boot into Windows, and is, as far as I can figure, impossible to remove without hacking into the registry (which is bad). Also, the sound will only go through the headphone jack (not through the computer speakers). You can disable the Intel program from starting with the computer (by using MSCONFIG, the launching of which is described here), but the program will still be there.

So there you have it: the things I've discovered trying to get Windows to install on my Mac. It was a terrible experience. My advice, in retrospect, would be to wait for Vista and Leopard. Unless you have a full install disk, the whole process just isn't really worth it, and the Apple drivers are still not perfect even if you do.

Posted on June 26, 2006 at 12:04 am
Software I won't live without

Particularly over the past few years I have found that there's a lot of software out for Macs that can really make life a lot easier. I've previously posted about a sweet combo using Butler and xGestures, but here's the full list of software that for whatever reason, I really don't want to live without.

Most of the following software is shareware ranging in price from $5 to $80, and virtually all of it allows you to try before you buy. Free software is marked as such, for your convenience.

-- After you use this, you'll never touch Apple's Finder again; tabbed windows, the amazingly useful drop stack, expanded options for power users, and more

-- Somewhat difficult to start using, but will completely change your computing experience (or, if you don't like Butler, try Quicksilver); free, but accepts and deserves donations

-- Mouse gestures are amazing, so don't ask questions, just go download and buy this software (it's only $5, hard to resist); also, this combined with Butler is ridiculously cool (see earlier post)

-- Somewhat redundant if you use Butler, but offers hotkey access to a huge list of search sites

MenuCalendarClock -- Don't buy it, just use the free features; hovering over the time to get the date and clicking to have instant access to a calendar is really, really useful

-- Best time tracking software available for Mac, if you happen to do any work at home that needs to be kept track of

-- Mostly redundant if you use PathFinder, but amazingly cool if you don't; hides the clutter on your desktop, allows you to set a movie as your desktop, and more

-- Because Aqua is boring, and themes are amazingly fun

Yahoo Widget Engine
-- Forget Dashboard, the son of Konfabulator is where it's at, especially if you grab JC Sticky Deluxe and iTunes Bar (all free)

Nisus Writer Express
-- Don't bother with Word, this is the best word processor you're liable to find (and it imports/exports Word documents extremely well)

-- Cleans up text; hard to describe, but incredibly useful, so check out the website and free trial

-- Even if you don't journal, this is an excellent way to store, search, and organize tidbits of text (free)

-- If you are of the writerly persuasion, then you definitely have to check this piece of software out; makes writing stuff much, much easier (from short stories to novels to scripts to whatever else you need organizational help with)

-- If you are of the blogging persuasion, definitely give ecto a look-see

Color Schemer Studio OS X
-- If you do any web design work or otherwise need to create color schemes, this is the software for you

Graphic Converter
-- The best image editing software for people who like to mess around with images, but don't have the cash for Photoshop; constantly updated with bug fixes and new features, too

-- Amazingly fast photo/image browser, and far better than iPhoto in a number of respects

VLC Media Player
-- Very helpful for those non-Quicktime friendly files (free)

-- Converts Windows Media Audio files to Mac-friendly formats

Sound Studio 3
-- Excellent sound editing software

Web -- end user
-- IM-ing the way it was meant to be (and free to boot)

-- If you use Safari, you pretty much have to use Saft; adds a lot of useful features

-- Better searchbar for Safari; replace the default Google with A9 or whatever else your heart desires, among other things (free, although it has some screwy behavior when combined with Saft)

-- Excellent RSS newsreader for Mac (free)

Web -- editing/design
-- The best text editor for programmers/web designers ever, with tons of amazing plugins, and best of all, it's totally free and works in almost any operating system (Java)

CSS Edit
-- If you use CSS at all, you really need this little program

-- An excellent open source FTP program (free)

Fun, Games, and Miscellany
Comic Life
-- Play with digital photos; lots of fun (bundled with newer Macs)

Delicious Library
-- Catalog everything you own using your iSight (or other webcam)

Kill Monty
-- One of the best shareware games you can download (and quite cheap)

Battle for Wesnoth
-- One of the few open source games that has made it to a full release; lots of fun, free, and nice quirky graphics

-- The best Breakout clone you are liable to find, and for one reason: physics

Posted on May 25, 2006 at 2:41 am
Never thought this would happen...

I finally did it. After four years of sluggish bottom-of-the-line eMac computing, I have finally scrounged up a bit of money and placed an order for a 15" 2.16 GHz MacBook Pro. No more having to lug 50 lbs. worth of computer with me if I want to take my computer somewhere else. No more being relegated to reviewing the shareware with lower specs. No more need to watch enviously over my friend's shoulder as he plays Fear or Half-Life 2.

This is quite possibly the most exciting thing ever. I've been yearning after a 15" Powerbook for a year or longer, and for the first time in my life I'm going to be computing on a computer that is top-of-the-line (albeit top-of-the-line laptop).

Hells yes!

Posted on May 20, 2006 at 10:18 am
Casual gaming: attack of the clones

Today (5-3-06) IMG had among the rest of the news two interesting items: MacGameStore has added Wild West Wendy as a digital download, and Big Fish Games released Mystic Inn.

Why is this interesting? Because they are the exact same game. The only difference is who made them, and there are likely one or two gameplay tweaks (and of course the necessary superficial locale and graphical changes, reminiscent of Luxor vs. Atlantis).

I've been amazed at the number of clones within the casual gaming market anyway, but this just pushes it over the top. Do people actually buy these things? How is it worth $20 to buy a game that is merely a clone of a game that wasn't worth $20 in the first place? FunPause (now Big Fish Games) appears to have never made an original game, and yet they're going strong. It's so bad that I can't even tell what the original game is in some instances, just that a given set of games are all clones of one another (although generally I've found that if I find a PopCap game that fits the clone category, it's usually the original one).

Anyway, enough with the ranting, but I'd really like to see some more original casual games even if they are based off time-worn premises (Gish comes to mind as an excellent original take on an overdone type of game).

Posted on May 3, 2006 at 11:21 am
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