Archive for January, 2006


Mac Mini!

Posted in General at 3:51 pm by jw

Went out to CompUSA on Saturday and got my wife a Mac Mini.  Ever since her old Blue and White G3 died she’s been at a loss for what to do when she wanted to surf the web while using her PC for games, not to mention the time she spends telling me how much better things would be if she was using a Mac.  Well, now she’s happy again.  The mini is an amazing little box – literally just large enough to put a CD into but it’s vastly more powerful than her old G3 and so long as I don’t mention that the G5’s are probably 5 times more powerful than the mini then she’ll be more than happy.

Actually getting the mini from CompUSA was a different and more interesting story – I knew exactly what I wanted when I walked into the store at Robinson and hung around the Apple section of the store for 5 or so minutes while the guy wearing the Apple shirt proceeded to unpack boxes and generally ignore me (this isn’t unusual, I’ve had that experience many times in this particular CompUSA Apple Store).  Eventually he decides to pay me some attention and I have to ask if they have the minis as there was nothing out on display.  He assures me they do and even goes out the back to check for me – yep, the $500 and $700 versions.

Now, I’d resolved to get the $600 version because I figured the 20% improvement in CPU speed (1.25GHz to 1.42GHz) would be noticeable and the extra 40G drive space would certainly help out, but as it wasn’t available and I really had no need to go to the $700 one I just saved a bit of cash and got the cheapest. 

Next thing I know is the guy is explaining to me how incredibly horrible Apple’s service is and I really want to spend $150 on CompUSA’s 18 month plan.  When I baulked at spending 30% of the purchase price on a warranty that literally covered almost nothing more than the standard Apple hardware warranty (12 months parts and labor) they proceeded to “explain” to me that if anything went wrong with the Mac then Apple would charge me $50 just to talk to them about it.  I knew this was a flat out lie, especially given the only reason I’d ever talk to Apple is if I knew the thing was broken and it was definitely their fault so again I ignored him.

The stock boy finally brings out the mini (the box is so tiny and cute) and he starts up on the whole warranty pitch as well, also going into how terrible it would be for me to rely on Apple’s warranty and how good value their $150 warranty is!  Sheesh – I already told one person I didn’t want it, now another?  He eventually shuts up when I tell him I’ll think about it after I take it home seeing I apparently have 14 days to consider their generous offer.

Now the cashier starts up, but while she’s talking to me another cashier interrupts and lets her know she’s got some work to do if she wants to win the daily prize for warranty sales.  It all suddenly becomes clear.  Turns out the sales guys were deliberately lying to me about Apple’s warranties so they could get the prizes for hocking off a warranty to me.  Yeah – I’ve thought about it properly now and they can take their warranties and stick them where the sun don’t shine.

In other PC news, I downloaded trial versions of Hoyle Casino 2006 and also the 3D version.  Casino 2006 seems pretty much identical to the 2004 one except the Facemaker bombs out if you install it anywhere other than C: drive.  Given my current Windows installation is on D: (for reasons I don’t have time to explain), it took me several hours to work out the problem only to realize there’s really nothing new here.  The 3D version is even worse – nothing like keeping the same gameplay (ie 2D overlay) but using crappy 3D models instead of the wider variety of semi-amusing 2D faces. 

And in the vein of games not installing properly I picked up Enigma: Rising Tide from Best Buy (thanks to $15 of Reward Zone certificates) just for it being about the most interesting of a rather dull selection in the sub-$30 price range.  Turns out it uses copy protection garbage that prevents it from working on Windows XP x64 and getting a No-CD crack for the game just made it crash a little further in.  Works ok if I reboot my machine into regular XP but I really hate doing that (what’s the point of a 64 bit chip if you’re only using half the ALU width and half the registers).


Back from Vegas, X3 and Shadowrun

Posted in General at 3:28 pm by jw

I seem to have made it back from Vegas ok, and Pittsburgh made it to the Superbowl which will be an interesting match to see.  The last few days in Vegas really weren’t that much to write about – pretty much spending most of my time working with the IBM people to learn as much as I could while I was there.  I didn’t even get time to head out to the Hilton to see the Star Trek Experience, much to my wife’s disappointment (she was hoping for some fat loot).

There were plenty of goodies waiting for me when I got back home though!  First of all was X3:Reunion, which was slammed by the critics but I’ve been a sucker for space flying/trading games since I got my hands on Elite way back in ‘86.  Played maybe 10 minutes of it so far but it’s definitely very, very pretty.  The people still have the same old uninteresting animations from X2, but who really plays a space training game for the cutscenes?

Next was my nice set of Shadowrun books that arrived from my recent playing around on eBay.  This was really my first contested bidding experience and I have to say it went off pretty well.  I guess the old trick of bidding with 5 seconds left really does work.  In any case, I managed to get 1 2 3 4 lots which should keep me busy for a while.  Now I have a regular group playing SR, this should get me a little more up to speed on the world and what’s going on around the place.


Vegas – Day 2… err… 3

Posted in General at 3:02 am by jw

Damn it’s hard getting up to class at 8:30am when you were up until 6am “team building” with the other guys from the company and some crazy nurses they found.  I did learn stuff that I was actually here to learn though, just it’s probably not interesting to anyone reading this blog so I won’t bore you with enterprise level Java junk.


Vegas – Day 1

Posted in General at 8:52 am by jw

Vegas is an interesting place.  I wish Tahnia was here – I’d have a *lot* more fun!

First of all, watching the Steelers/Colts game in a pub in Vegas with 100 or so Steelers fans singing “Here we go, Steelers” was awesome.  While I’m not America’s biggest football fan (I still enjoy the Rugby more than American Football), I did love to see my home team supported so heavily out here and to be part of the winning game that takes them to the AFC final.  I don’t think anyone in the world could argue that being an exciting game.

So, after the game I hung out with some friends who decided to play the Blackjack tables here in Vegas and much to my surprise they did amazingly well, being up over $1000 together after a few hours.  My gambling money (as usual) is severely restricted cause I just don’t have the cash to toss about and my luck is terrible as usual, playing the even odds on Roulette four times in a row and losing all four, followed by getting my only quarter jammed in a slot machine.  That was the end of my gambling day – some things just obviously aren’t going to happen and I’m sure it’s all for the best.

After hooking up with the other guys from work for our official duties, we headed back to the gaming tables at around 10pm and my friend who was already significantly up for the day played another half hour to win yet another $200.  Some people really do have all the luck.  So, after sitting around the bar with four other guys for a few hours (and a few Jagerbombs) the lads got tired of boring scenery and decided to go to a Vegas strip club (topless only cause full nudity in NV means no serving drinks).

What surprised me most of all about the strip club was that while I found the strippers good to look at, seven years of happy marriage meant I really was totally uninterested in the other offerings the club had walking around sitting on people’s knees.  Most of them were cute kids in slut costumes but talking to them really wasn’t a turn on.  If I remember correctly, 4 different ones tried to hit on me with different and original lines before I figured out that sitting in certain spots was a bad idea.  Once I figured out the right “not interested” signals things went much smoother.

Now, I haven’t been to a strip club since being married (not that my wife would really mind, just not been that interested) so in many ways the lack of difficulty I had in turning down the girls from their complete lack of comparison to my wife was refreshing.  It’s nice to know that some temptations are just not there.  I had a good time, but not the sort of good time the girls were hoping to sell me (they could drain your pockets faster than the casino tables), and got out of there with nothing more than a few hideously overpriced drinks to burn a hole in my wallet.

I’m pretty sure the fact I’m not carrying my credit cards or ATM cards with me around Vegas is helping a lot too – nothing like a half hour walk back to the hotel room to really convince you that spending more money isn’t a good idea.

Well, 6am is creeping up way too fast.  Better get what sleep I can before classes start here in earnest.


The pain of Daggerfall

Posted in General at 2:08 am by jw

Having enjoyed Morrowind, I figured I’d give Daggerfall a try.  Was a nice idea, except for the fact it’s a really old DOS based game from the days long before 64 bit protected operating systems existed.  So, the challenge was to get it working on my computer which currently only boots to XP-x64.

The first problem was that unlike regular XP, XP-x64 has no support for 16 bit code so trying to run a DOS program just gives you an error that the program wasn’t build for this CPU.  Ok, I can deal with that.  Download dosbox and try that out.  Well, dosbox is a great program that happily emulates an x86 processor running DOS in a nice window that you can resize and run full screen if you want to.  Unfortunately the performance isn’t great at all because it emulates the CPU entirely in software and so turned out to be too slow to run Daggerfall.  This was a real shame because the support for audio and MIDI are amazing – things just work happily!

Performance issues?  Maybe if I rebuild dosbox as a 64 bit application?  Grab the source code from Sourceforge and open it up in Visual Studio.  Create an x64 target build and fire it off.  Blam – hundreds of errors trying to compile 32 bit assembly code in a 64 bit program.  Not going to happen.

Ok, so next idea was to use VMWare to boot to a simple DOS system and run Daggerfall.  After some fun getting DOS set up (my memory of autoexec.bat and config.sys magic is a little rusty), I installed Daggerfall and tried to run the audio setup.  BOOM – lockup.

Right, look at the VMWare guest OS installation guide and find that since v5 it supports an AudioPCI and not an SB16 by default.  Ok – head over to Creative Labs and grab the DOS drivers for the AudioPCI.  Drop them onto the DOS box, ttp://, fix autoexec.bat and config.sys again then reboot.  Splat – lockup loading the drivers which apparently are turning the CPU off!

Head over to the VMWare support area.  Issue found – edit the VMWare .vmx file directly with notepad and change the sound support from the AudioPCI to an SB16.  Seemed reasonable – I wanted an SB16 anyway.  Boot up, run the audio config program in Daggerfall again and the digital audio is absolutely flawless.  Move down to the MIDI setup and VMWare crashes with a “function not supported error” in emulating the MIDI cialis pris.  Arghh.

So… I decide maybe I can live without the music for the time being and fire up the game.  It’s choppy – VMWare has problems writing to the hardware when there’s no guest tools installed.  No guest tools are available for DOS so the game is basically unplayable.

That’s not too big of a problem – I head over to MSDN subscriber downloads and grab a copy of the latest Virtual PC.  Ten minutes downloading later I have it and run the installer which politely informs me that it doesn’t run on XP-x64 and I’ll have to install a 32 bit operating system.

Sure thing – I make some room on my C: drive with Partition Magic and go hunting for some DOS drivers for my AC97 onboard sound.  Oops – they don’t exist and apparently you need BIOS support to handle that sort of junk.

This problem I can deal with – installing Win98 should fix all that because it has nice drivers that will give the DOS program something to talk to.  Run through the Win98 setup and it’s taking an awful long time to do anything (that scrolling bar at the bottom is sooo pretty), but that’s probably because it can’t detect any of my hardware until I get the drivers, right?  Nope – splat back to text saying there’s insufficient memory to run windows.  Kinda surprising given there’s 2G in my machine.

Off to MS tech support and there’s a perfect article there saying to edit my system.ini to tell Win98 that I really only have 780M of memory because apparently any more than that overloads the poor old 16 bit data structures in the 98 kernel.  That’s pretty easy and I fire up the rest of the installation process.  Still takes a long time so while I’m waiting I jump onto the web and search for the motherboard drivers I know I’ll need.  Oh dear, nVidia doesn’t have anything for 98 (or ME) and Gigabyte tells me that the “chipset manufacturer has no Win98 compatibility”.  Some Google-fu later and I see a few people asking for help finding 98 drivers for nForce4 boards and a lot more morons abusing them for trying to run 98 on an nForce4 system when there’s perfectly good reasons for wanting to do so (like running Daggerfall).  Ultimately I find a few actually helpful people informing me that there will never be 98 drivers for the nForce4 platform and I’m shit outta luck.  Crap, crap, crap.

So… back to VMWare and install Win98.  Drop the guest tools onto it.  That’s about where I’m at right now, I’ll continue this with further updates if anything happens.

(2 hours later)

Well, VMWare+Win98 was no better than VMWare+DOS.  I shouldn’t be surprised by that because Win98 really is DOS anyway.  It was identical right down to needing to use SB16 instead of the AudioPCI to get anything to work and then crashing VMWare with the exact same error – “function not supported” when I tried to use the MIDI.

About to give up I went over to the Elder Scrolls web site to see if there were any patches I’d missed and a quick look at the forum led me to this post, which was the absolute best advice I’d found.  Using the special build of DosBox with the configuration recommended, Daggerfall runs amazingly well.  I get a solid 25fps and almost no popping on the audio.  I’m now happy and hopefully anyone else wanting to play Daggerfall will find that post and be happy as well!

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