Friday, June 29, 2007

Friday Freebie - Give That Old XP Box A Kick In The Pants And Get It Moving Again

How old is the rig that you're checking out this site on right now - 3 years old? Maybe 4? I bet it's not as fast as it used to be. Just like everything else, as computers get older, they tend to get slower. And that's especially true if you don't keep up on the maintenance. There are some things you can do right through Windows to improve performance, like defragment your hard drive, and occasionally running virus and spyware scans with third-party software. But what about tracking down driver problems or disk access issues? A lot of "system suite" software utilities over to help out in this department, in return for a little green from your wallet. Or you can let Bill Gates do the work for you:

Today's Freebie is a program called Bootvis. This program was developed by Microsoft, and is supposed to help cut the startup time of your PC. Yes, I said "supposed to". Officially, MS never endorsed this tool for that purpose, mostly because depending on your configuration, not everyone will see an improvement. That's just the nature of computers. But the fact is, on a decent system in otherwise good condition, running Bootvis optimization can cut your startup times in half.

Here's how it works. Bootvis automatically reboots your computer a number of times, and "traces" each of the boots. (Tracing means that it looks at how drivers and files load, how long each of those processes takes, and how much stress the boot process places on the system.) Multiple reboots are performed to make sure that the program receives accurate information. Then, once the traces are complete, Bootvis reorganizes the files and drivers that load during startup in order to optimize your PC's potential. It also gives you some fancy graphs, like those in the screen shot above, to show you how your system boots.

Another reason that MS never officially endorsed this program is because everything that it does is done by Windows automatically every now and then, assuming you haven't disabled any necessary services. The Bootvis program just forces the optimization to happen immediately, so you tend to notice the benefits. There's no harm in running the program frequently, but you won't see noticeable improvements if you're firing it up every two weeks.

One more thing - this program only works with Windows XP. Don't try to run it on Vista or 98, or anything else. You'll probably end up wrecking your system.

The program has always been unsupported by Microsoft (like Tweak UI), but now they're not evening offering the download anymore. But don't worry, the web comes to your rescue once again. You can grab the download right here, and if that ever goes dark, a quick Google search should easily find you another download. So breathe a little bit of new life into that old machine, but remember, don't expect miracles. Bootvis simply part of a well-balanced diet for your PC.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Wii Virtual Console - Not Just For Old Crap Anymore

Since the Wii's release, people have been playing two types of games on the console: Wii Sports, and old stuff that they played when they were 8 years old. But what if the Wii is the only console you have, and you're tired of gaming like it's 1989? Don't worry - the big N's got you covered. Eventually.

Newsweek originally broke the story that has now been confirmed by Nintendo, which is that they are officially getting into the new downloadable games business. No more will the Virtual Console be populated only by 8-bit gems from yesteryear and crap you wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole when you were little. Coming in 2008 and currently known as WiiWare, the service will feature original games from all the publishers you know and tolerate like Capcom and Sega. There's no word on a pricing structure for these games, and we probably won't see that for some time, but you can bet that they'll slot in higher than the copy of Kid Chameleon you just downloaded.

We can infer some bads news from this as well. With original content making its way to the VC, it's only a matter of time before microtransactions become a part of the Nintendo world. Ironically, N's lack of innovation in the online sector has actually saved its customers from the hassles that are microtransactions, but all good things must come to an end.

People have been clamouring for original content on the VC for a while now, so this is definitely a good move. Even though Nintendo has made a bunch of money off the old games, there's still more to be had - you only have to look at the cash cow that is the Xbox Live Arcade to see that. I just hope that some of the games available for download are more entertaining and well developed than Red Steel. That shouldn't be too difficult.

Screw The Mortgage Payment - Get An iPhone!

Apple knows how to make people lust after their products. They did it with the iMac, the iPod, and now comes the iPhone. I think it has to do with the "i". After all, Apple changed the name of the iTV to Apple TV at the last minute, and guess what, its sales have been somewhat less than stellar. But that won't be the case for the iPhone - people are already lining up to pay far out the ass for this little beauty.

And pay you will - the low end model costs $500, with the top of the line ringing in at a cool $600. Hmm, sounds like the same pricing structure for another much hyped piece of electronic gear. But the costs don't stop there - Apple finally released the rate plans for the phone, and the cheapest will cost you $60 bucks a month. It's $100 for the top drawer plan. Plus, AT&T is tacking on a $36 activation fee, just cause they can. And that's with a 2-year contract. For those kinds of prices, this had better be one sexy beast.

If there's one bright spot about buying an iPhone, it's that you don't have to stick around the store for an hour while the clerk activates the damn thing. Instead, just take it home, load up iTunes, and you can activate it online - pretty slick. That being said, I think most people buy their phones online these days, so activation really isn't that much of a hassle for the average joe.

So what do you do once you get your grubby little paws on the iPhone this Friday? Why, you sell it on eBay, of course. Or, if you're one of those insecure types that wants the phone to impress your friends and to compensate for your teeny weeny, you can do just about anything with it - send text messages and emails, surf the web, get directions, listen to music. Honestly, that's a pretty good feature list. I wonder if this thing makes phone calls...

There's no doubt that the iPhone is going to be the hot gadget of the year, but with the high cost of ownership and the exclusive deal with AT&T, I have to wonder just how many people will actually nut up and max out their platinum card for this puppy. You know, besides celebrities.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Tuesday Trainwreck - Would Someone Please Kill This Franchise Already?

I don't know how much more of this game franchise I can take. I'm sure it would be different if I were 13 and a girl, but guess what, I'm not. I'm a red-blooded American man. When I kill something in a video game, I want to do it with a rifle, lightsaber, or chainsaw. I want the thing I'm killing to be big, mean, and ugly. And when it dies, I want it lying face down in a pool of it's own blood. But instead, I get Pokemon Battle Revolution:

Now I know some of you are going to cry foul here, given that I just devoted a Trainwreck to these cute little fighting bastards only two months ago. Well, get over it - this had to be done. Why, you ask? Simple. This game has the potential to trick innocent people - meaning non-Pokemon fans - into buying it by virtue of the fact that this is the first Wii title released in the States to support online play.

One of the biggest gripes about the Wii since its launch has been the lack of online play, so I can easily envision hoards of unsuspecting buyers grabbing this title for no other reason than to pwn a 12 year old in Uzbekistan. And that's all it takes to start down the slippery slope of having to catch them all. It's best to just let sleeping dogs lie.

On a side note, it pains me to think that this title could end up being the big seller for the Wii to date, whether or not newbies are sucked in with the promise of friend codes. After the disappointing long term sales of Zelda and Paper Mario, and RE4 failing to make a splash, this one could easily take the title. I guess there's always Wii Sports...

Monday, June 25, 2007

Finally Put That PSP To Good Use

The PSP, Sony's little handheld that could but didn't, has led a tough life. Always standing in the shadows of both its older sibling, the PS2, and even its younger sibling, the PS3, not to mention feuding with the more talented handheld that lives down the street, the Nintendo DS, the PSP has never been able to carve out a niche for itself in the mainstream market. Unfortunately, that hasn't changed.

But, today's news does change things for those that believe the PSP is destined for things beyond bad ports of PS2 games and slow, clunky web browsing. To those people, homebrew is the lifeblood of this little handheld, and things are starting to look up on that front. Word is hitting the intertubes that a new exploit will allow PSP users to run homebrew code no matter what firmware their PlayStation Lite is using.

In the past, a PSP owner had to make a choice between playing the latest games and running homebrew code. That's because the homebrew exploits only ran on older firmware, while newer games forced firmware upgrades (in a move to stymie the homebrew community). Usually, that choice was easy - just about all the new games out there suck balls, so homebrew it was. But now, a new exploit called Illuminati (insert your own Tom Hanks Da Vinci Code joke here), enabled through the game Lumines, a title you should own if you already have a PSP, promises to enable homebrew apps on your PSP no matter what firmware you're rocking.

Notice I used the word "promises" - right now, the exploit does little more than launch itself on your Portable Station of Play. But this is just the first step, because if the exploit allows this code to run, it will allow anything. So, get ready to play all those old NES ROMs right along side...whatever the hell is being released for the PSP these days.

It always baffles me how a community can come out and support a device better than a manufacturer can. It's happened countless times before - there's AppleTV, the Audrey, and even the iPod, just to name a few. And now with this mod, the PSP homebrew community may finally be able to break out of the shadows. So don't put that PSP on eBay yet - good things are coming.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Looks Like You Won't Be Playing God Anytime Soon

It's everyone's dream to mold the universe, and all the creatures that inhabit it, in your own image. Well, get over it, cause that's not happening in real life, and it looks like it won't be happening in video game form for a while, at least. And that's because Spore, the much anticipated game from legendary SimCity creator Will Wright, has apparently been delayed again.

Earlier this week, Kotaku reported that EA, the publisher for the title, moved the release of the game from fiscal year 2008 to fiscal year 2009. Those details are pretty slim, and it could mean that the game will still be released next year (EA's 2009 fiscal year actually begins in 2008). Still, when you consider that many people thought we'd be playing the game by now, any delay seems like an eternity.

In the end, I don't think anyone will complain if the game delivers everything it's promising. But some questions do come to mind. Will there still be just as much buzz over this title when it's finally released, or will people have moved on? Will the title ever be released, or will it suffer the same fate as Duke Nukem Forever? Will Batman stop the Joker before he poisons Gotham? To find out the answers to these thrilling questions, tune in tomorrow - same bat time, same bat channel.

Friday Freebie - Make Windows Your B*tch

Windows has a funny (meaning annoying) tendency to do whatever the hell it wants to, whether or not you want it done. It can be really frustrating when you're typing a story for your blog, only to have XP focus on a new window because a new download is starting. Maybe I minimized the window for a reason! Now you can take back some control from Bill Gates:

Tweak UI (user interface) is a tool that was released by Microsoft a few years back, and is designed to let you easily control some of the more specific behaviors of Windows without having to edit the registry. The program is part of larger suite of tools known as the Windows PowerToys, but each tool can be downloaded and installed separately.

With Tweak UI, you can adjust settings for window focus, options on the "New" context menu, set privacy settings, and more. The menus are accessed from the tree on the left - they're broken down into groups, with specific items under each heading. Changes are a simple click away.

One thing worth mentioning - although this software was created by Microsoft, it is not officially supported. So, if you make some changes and completely hose your system, you're on your own. Thankfully (for novice users), the options in Tweak UI won't really let you destroy your system for the most part. They can, however, cause some really annoying behavior depending on what you mess with. The point is, if you're not sure what something does, do a web search before messing around with it.

For those of you that may remember Tweak UI from the Windows 98 days, the program works in much the same way on XP. The one major difference is its location. Under 98, the program resided in the Control Panel. Now, you'll find it on the All Programs menu. It's six of one, half a dozen of the other once you get used to it.

Now, the bad news - Tweak UI is currently only being offered for XP. With a little searching, you should be able to find the 95/98 version if you're still living and working in the last decade. And a set of PowerToys have not yet been released for Vista, but you can expect them at some point in the not-too-distant future.

You can view all the PowerToys here, and the download for Tweak UI itself is here. Don't be afraid - stand up to Windows and show it who's the boss. It worked for Tony Danza, at least for about 8 seasons.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Days Of Grilling Steaks On The Xbox 360 Are Coming To An End

Everybody that owns an Xbox 360 knows of the dreaded three red lights of death. It's essentially your console giving you the finger and flushing your hard earned $400 bucks straight down the crapper, as it signifies the death of yet another once oh-so-mighty-and-promising next-gen game console. And the leading cause of premature 360 deaths is widely attributed to overheating. It's not good for your car, and it's not good for your console. So what can you do to help save the life of an Xbox 360 you know and love? Apparently not much, but big daddy Bill Gates seems to have the answer.

Just last week, Engadget reported that Microsoft has increased the cooling capacity of the 360 in order to extend the life of its little white fun box. A bigger heat sink and a new heat pipe seem to be the answer, and it sure looks snazzy. Time will tell if this is the panacea that the 360 has desperately needed.

So far, it's only been confirmed that refurbished 360's are getting the special cooling treatment, so there's no guarantee that the shiny new Elite you pick up next week will be a cool customer. But now that MS is finally taking action, it'll only be a matter of time before new rigs are outfitted with the industrial strength a/c unit as well.

All I can say is, it's about damn time. Overheating has been a problem with this console since day one, and it's taken a freaking year and a half for MS to do something about it. Maybe they can fix Windows next. That's only been broken for 20 years or so...

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Tuesday Trainwreck - There's No Substitute For The Original

The Wii generated a lot of buzz when it was first released, and sales continue to be at the top of the console charts. Unfortunately for Nintendo, most people seem to be buying the console just to play Wii Sports and Wii Play. But the big N is looking to change all that with some key game releases throughout 2007. Some of them look good. Others look like this:

Resident Evil 4 was a smash hit on the GameCube - it was arguably the best RE game to date. So, Nintendo decided that if it worked on the Cube, it'll work on the Wii. Way off the mark on that one.

Some people really enjoy the Wii's new control scheme using the Wiimote. For games like Wii Sports, the controls are intuitive and easy to grasp. For games like Madden 2007, not so much. The problem with the Wiimote is that it's not particularly accurate. It can be downright frustrating to lock on to a moving target on the screen and track it, just because the controls are too jumpy. For this reason, the Wii is not a console aimed at shooters.

Just to be clear here, the Wiimote does not work like a light gun. Those were quite accurate, because they bounced infrared light directly off the television screen. The Wiimote, however, uses motion sensors and the sensor bar to determine the controllers position in a three-dimensional space, and to determine its position and angle relative to the TV. If it sounds complex, that's because it is. The fact that it works as well as it does is a testament to Nintendo. That being said, there are limitations to the control scheme, and accuracy is one of them.

As far as the game itself is concerned, it looks and feels very much like the GC version did. And it should - aside from the control schemes, they are essentially the same game. But controls can make or break a title, and for RE4 on the Wii, they simply ruin the experience. Despite its low intro price of $30, this game is best kept on the Cube. If you haven't played the GC version, you should - you can probably pick it up for an even better price.

The Wii is bound to have some great titles eventually. Developers just need to keep the strengths and weaknesses of the Wii's controls in mind when porting a game over. Just like Wii Sports wouldn't play well on a PS2, some games just won't play well on the Wii.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Friday Freebie - Play Your Flash Movies Anywhere, Anytime

Wow, deja vu. The double feature week continues right now with another Freebie to clog up your hard drive. And, because everyone loves themes, today's Freebies are related. We just looked at a way to play your Flash games from your PC, but what about your Flash movies? You know, all those clips on YouTube, Google Video, and those other sites you don't tell your girlfriend about? We've got you covered there as well:

FLV Player is a dedicated program for playing Flash movies (flv files) directly from your hard drive. No longer do you have to bookmark pages - just download the movie or grab it from your temp directory, and with this software installed, you can play it anytime you want, no internet access required.

Unlike the last program, this one does require installation, but it's quick and easy. This is also a fairly basic app, so you can't arrange fancy playlists or easily navigate through the files (though some fast forwarding and rewinding is possible). For those and even more advanced features, you'll probably have to wait for the official Adobe Media Player, set to be released later this year (we'll cover the program once it's released). But until then, this is an excellent free alternative.

You can grab this program here, and then start watching all those movies you saved but didn't know how to play. Just make sure that no one can see your monitor when you're enjoying those "special" videos.

Friday Freebie - Play Your Flash Games Anywhere, Anytime

Flash can be used for either good or evil. It's good in the form of minigames that let you kill 15 minutes (or more) at work. It's evil when an entire website has been created in Flash, with menus that take forever to load and crappy background music you just can't shut off. Not to mention, the sites don't work with your phone or PDA. More often than not, evil wins out on the web. But once in a while, you stumble upon a Flash game that reminds you why this software does actually have some redeeming qualities.

So what happens when you find a game you like, and you want to keep it locally on your hard drive for when you're out of Wi-Fi access range? Easy enough - just copy the game file out of your temp directory, and you're good to go. But in order to play that game later, you have to use your browser, which is a pain. Wouldn't it be nice to have a dedicated, stand alone Flash player that you could associate with these games, so all you have to do is click the game icon to start playing? Well, ask and you shall receive:

The Adobe Flash Player is a stand alone app designed to play Flash content (swf files) outside of your browser. The program is a single file that requires no installation - just copy it to wherever you want it to live on your hard drive, double click the exe file to associate Flash content with the program, and you're set. From that point on, all swf files opened from your hard drive will open in the Flash Player. Quick and easy.

Officially, this player is billed as a debugger for Flash creators, so they don't have to mess around with embedding their Flash programs in web pages just to test them. But, it works perfectly well as a stand alone player, so why not make use of it?

One word of warning - it's best to follow the steps above for saving and associating the file types. If you open the exe file and then move it, Windows may not be able to find the program, and then you'll be forced to edit the registry (or perform some trickery) to get things working again. Bottom line - just save the file somewhere other than your desktop before opening it, and you should have no problems.

The download page can be found here, and a direct link to the Windows version is here (the descriptions on the download page are a little confusing). A Mac version is available as well. So go ahead and save those Flash games, cause now you can play them anytime you want, online or off. Who says you can only waste time at work?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

I Hope They Give Her A Skimpy Costume

Believe it or not, the CW drama Smallville, the show about Superman's coming of age, is still on the air. At this point, I'm not sure who's watching it. Don't get me wrong - the show started off great. But it's been a tough road over the years. The mythos of the Man of Steel is long and detailed, so there's only so much that can be done before you start stepping on toes and pissing people off. The other side of that is the show has spent many seasons doing nothing - story arks that go on for half the year are conveniently wiped out just before the point of no return, which usually doesn't sit well with the more general, non-comic fan part of the audience.

For the past couple of years, the formula for keeping the show going has been to involve other DC characters in the mix. Lois Lane became a regular, and we've seen guest appearances by Aquaman, The Flash, Green Arrow, and a few other lesser heroes that no one really cares about. They even started the Justice League, which was really lame.

And word has just dropped that it'll be more of the same next season. In an official press release, it was announced that Supergirl would be joining the cast. There have been multiple back stories for this character, but the one they're going with is that she's Clark's cousin from Krypton, and she has all of Kal-El's abilities. The distinction is important - this means she can fly, something that Clark has yet to do in the series. If you ask me, it's about time he started. Flying is the coolest part of being Superman. Well, that and the x-ray vision.

The release doesn't mention who'll be playing the role, but it should be a hottie. Supergirl has been portrayed by some foxes over the years, and is usually drop dead gorgeous in comic form.

Despite the "boring" persona that many attribute to the character, Supergirl has always been one of my favorites. There's just something about a hot chick that can bend steel - know what I mean? I don't think this will be anywhere near enough to please the dissolving fan base of the show, but I'm sure as hell happy about the announcement. I wonder how long it will be before someone pitches a show about Black Cat or Black Canary...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

I Wonder If Super Smash Bros Brawl Will Work With My NES Advantage...

At this rate, it may just happen. The Wiimote is a revolutionary control scheme. Unfortunately, revolutionary does not necessarily mean good. For every fanboy out there that loves the damn thing, there's someone who just can't get used to it. Beyond that, the type of motion control offered by Nintendo doesn't necessarily lend itself to all styles of gameplay. For instance, it's essentially useless in that Mario text adventure game. You know, Super Paper Mario?

For some time, we've known that the next Smash Bros. sequel would be released on the Wii in 2007. What we didn't know was how the game would be controlled. Early reports had it that a GameCube controller would be necessary to play the game. Of course, that doesn't really help the big N in the argument against the Wii being nothing but two GameCubes duct taped together. So, through whatever engineering wizardry they could muster, we now have confirmation that the game can be played through no less than 4 - yes, four - control schemes.

In a post on the official Smash Bros. website, Nintendo is stating that the game will be playable (1) with the Wii controller and nunchuk, (2) with the Wii controller turned on its side, (3) with the Classic Controller, and (4) with the GameCube controller. Interesting stuff, but let's be clear here - options 2, 3, and 4 are essentially the same, with option 2 suffering from a slight button deficit. My thinking here is that the game is probably best played with the standard style control system, but may be passable with the Wiimote/nunchuk combo. Of course, there's no confirmation that the combo will even use the motion sensing functionality of the controller, so that may have been implemented for just the analog stick and extra buttons.

We won't know which controller works best until the game is released, but since it was designed from day 1 with the GC controller in mind, I'm guessing that'll be the pad of choice. Too bad, cause I hate that controller - I've just never been able to get used to the button layout. Of course, I'm not too fond of the Wiimote either. Here's hoping the Classic Controller is passable.

At the end of the day, choice is a good thing, and it's good to see that Nintendo isn't requiring that customers purchase a last gen controller to use a next gen game. Still, if these control schemes are just half-assed attempts at using the Wiimote, that may be worse than not having them at all. The controls are arguably the most important aspect of a game. Without those, you're just watching bad TV.

Tuesday Trainwreck - The Only Thing Evil About This Movie Is That They're Charging For It

What's this - two Trainwrecks in a row? That's right. Due to our MIA status last week, I mentioned that some double features were in order. So here we are, second round. This is a great opportunity, since we can explore the worst from both video games and DVDs. We've already covered the trash that is the Rise of the Silver Surfer game, so let's move on to some craptacular cinema - Primeval:

Let's jump right into the plot. Don't worry - the water's shallow. This movie is based on the true story of a 23 foot long man-eating crocodile. Essentially, we follow a news crew that travels to the African jungles. Their mission is to catch the creature on tape, and maybe even capture this beast, to exploit him and make some money. These are American journalists, after all. Now, what a news crew knows about hunting or croc wrangling, I'll never know. Maybe they watched Crocodile Dundee before they left.

Anyway, it turns out they're not the only ones hunting in this jungle - the croc, known by the locals as "Gustave" (strikes fear in your heart, doesn't it?), is fixing to make our crack team of heroes his main course. There's a lot of back of forth with this, and the team has a bunch of encounters with the croc. Oh, and there's also a civil war going on too. I don't think this movie was sponsored by the African Board of Tourism.

In the end, Gustave eats a bunch of people, and we all have a good laugh at the fact that this is the career that Dominic Purcell made out of his Prison Break fame. Good times.

To be fair, there's a lot of action in this movie, and I wouldn't throw Brooke Langton out of bed. Until I was done with her, at least. But the plot is just too weak to get you really involved in the movie. This is the kind of thing you watch on HBO at 2 a.m. when nothing else is on - assuming you haven't already cancelled your subscription. So find something better to spend your drug money on - like drugs.

Tuesday Trainwreck - Not Nearly As Fantastic As You Hoped

I'm just going to come right out and say it - movie tie-in games suck. It started with the E.T. game for the Atari some 25 years ago, and until people stop shelling out their hard earned cash for this crap, it'll never end. That's what brings us to Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer:

Now you'll notice from the box art that I've singled out the Xbox 360 version of the game. I thought of making it more generic, since honestly, this Trainwreck applies to all versions, but I decided to leave it in to prove a point. Some people are going to buy this game because they're FF nuts, and there's nothing I can do about that. But, I may be able to stop them from shelling out a full $60 for this title, and instead convince them that parting with only $40 for the PS2 is somewhat less painful. For the rest - just avoid the game on all platforms.

Movie games are essentially doomed right from the beginning. They have less development time, the designers working on the game are usually not the pick of the litter, and the story is somewhat closed, since it usually has to relate to the movie in some way. Also, the game is usually designed from the most basic perspective possible, to make it easier to port to every console, portable, and cell phone on the market. All those factors add up to a game that just doesn't cut the mustard.

In all honesty, I'm not even sure why this movie was made. I'm a FF fan, no doubt, and I was excited about the first movie, but like most I considered it a letdown. As far as this sequel is concerned, I'll definitely see it, but I don't have high hopes. And if the movie is going to be bad, you can only imagine what kind of a disaster the game must be.

If you're going to spend money on anything relating to FF, go see the movie. The special effects should be outstanding - especially the Surfer - and Jessica Alba is a stone hottie. But even 360 graphics don't do her justice. Marvin and Tammi said it best - "Ain't nothing like the real thing".

Monday, June 11, 2007

You Got Apple In My Windows!

So let's say you're a PC guy, but you've kind of got a thing for Steve Jobs. It's okay. I don't swing from that side of the plate myself, but there's nothing wrong with having a man crush. *cough*Gay*cough* Excuse me.

So what's a boy to do? Abandon the PC world entirely and become a loyal Mac user? Hell no. Are you crazy? Instead, just grab enough Apple gear to make you feel hip and trendy, and to bring you a step closer to your personal lord and savior, the turtle-necked one. But until now, that gear has been few and far between. Sure, you can snatch up an iPod with all the trimmings, and there's iTunes and QuickTime - does anyone on a PC use QT? - but what about the basics, like a browser? Well, rejoice - your time has come.

In his infinite wisdom, Jobs has decided to take on MS in their own backyard. That's right - you can now get Safari, Apple's home-grown browser, for XP and Vista (in beta form, for now). No more must you suffer with regular IE and Firefox offerings - now you can browse like an Apple god.

For anyone who's used Safari on the Mac, you know that it's a very good piece of software. It's certainly the browser of choice on OS X, but I think that's because many Mac users probably haven't given Firefox a fair shake. Still, it'll be interesting to see if Apple can make a dent in the Windows browser market.

Historically, Apple has had little reason to compete in the Windows arena. They've always been more focused on bringing users over to their own walled garden, as opposed to venturing out and sharing their goods with others. That's part of the reason I've never been a Mac fan - that and the fact that the machines seem too simplistic. I mean, why can't they just put a damn eject button on the front of the box? I'm sure they could design a nice touch-sensitive button that would look great and add $100 to the selling price of the rig. But this is a topic for another article.

You can grab the beta here, with or without QT bundled (go without). Who knows - maybe a little Apple is just what Windows needs to spice things up a bit.

We Built This Famicom On A Ton Of Games

Some people have way too much time on their hands. The above video is proof of that - it's a compilation of title screens for every game released on the Famicom (the Japanese version of the NES), in chronological order of release, and set to one hell of a tune. And you thought you knew a lot about import video games...

Friday, June 8, 2007

CBS Now Resumes Your Coverage Of World War III

The TV viewing audience is a vocal bunch. When something pisses them off, they tend to raise a little hell about it. Sometimes that's a bad thing. I mean, be honest - in retrospect, was another season or two of Roswell really a good idea? But sometimes, the crazy viewers who won't take no for an answer get it right. And that was the case with Jericho.

For those of you that haven't been acquainted, Jericho tells the tale about a town struggling for survival in a post-apocalyptic America. It's a powerful premise, and something that hasn't really been seen on TV before. So, as expected, it generated a lot of pre-season buzz last fall. Whether the show lived up to that buzz, however, is a matter of opinion.

The show started fairly strong - the premise was enough to hook most people. Unfortunately, it got a little sappy around mid-season, and some viewers started to lose interest. That's too bad, because despite the down-turn in action, the writing and acting were still top notch. However, that change isn't what caused the most significant loss in viewers - the three month hiatus took care of that.

In their infinite wisdom, the CBS execs decided that they wouldn't "over saturate" the public with too much Jericho. So, instead of airing the series between the months of December through February, they aired crappy specials, mid-season junk, and cheap reality TV in its place. When Jericho finally returned, many viewers had lost track of the show, and just didn't get back into it. The worst part? The final episodes of the season were some of the best. Each show was filled with real tension and serious issues that kept you wanting more. This was truly the best show of the season that no one was watching.

As a result of the lackluster ratings for the second half of the year, CBS canned the show just before announcing this year's fall lineup. But the Jericho faithful held strong, and to show their support, sent nuts to the CBS offices (because they were nuts to cancel the show - get it?). And, much like it did for the original Star Trek series back in 1967, the campaign worked. Earlier this week, CBS officially announced that Jericho would return as a mid-season replacement due to the support of the viewers.

This is good news for a deserving TV show. In this day and age, good TV is hard to find. But Jericho consistently delivers. Look for this one when it returns for season 2. And if you missed any of season 1, consider picking up the DVD box set when it's released, probably later this year.

As a grateful viewer, thanks to everyone that helped to bring back one of my favorite shows of the season. Now if we could just kill that stupid Heroes spin-off scheduled for next season...

Note - Speaking of returning from the dead, some of you may have noticed a distinct lack of posts on the Playground this week. This was not a planned absence, but sometimes, recess does get cancelled. I'm happy to report that the troubles are over, however, and things should return to normal first thing next week. We're already planning some double features to make up for the lack of them this week, so don't worry - the kidd always delivers. Thanks for hanging in.

Friday, June 1, 2007

I Want My Wii Lightsaber!

As soon as the Wiimote was revealed, one word sprang into every sci-fi geeks mind - lightsaber. It was so obvious - if the controller can be held as a bat, or a tennis racket, then there's no reason it couldn't be held as a lightsaber. Hell, it's so obvious that they should have had a launch game for it. But for months now, we've heard the sound of silence on this topic, instead of the gentle hum of the Jedi weapon of choice.

Finally, it seems that someone is chiming in on the topic. In an article published over on Fin24, the head of LucasArts stated that "a Wii game that lets players wield virtual light sabers is on the horizon". All I can say is, it damn well better be.

There are no details on the game itself, so allow me to offer a few ideas. It should not be a "traditional" Star Wars game. I don't care about flying the Millennium Falcon with the Wiimote. I don't want to guide some no-name Jedi on a quest to find some crystals. This game should be a straight-up lightsaber fighting game, Mortal Kombat style. Include everyone who's ever used a lightsaber - Luke, Vader, Maul, Obi-Wan - and make them all playable. Make it tournament style, and include online multiplayer. And that's it. Do that, and you'll make a ton of money.

Please LucasArts, don't let us down like you have so many times in the past. Just make it good, and make it quick - my Wii is collecting dust faster than my PS3, and that thing is a dust magnet.

You Can't Work Your Stick In This Car

Anyone that's ever driven in a Jaguar knows that they have one of the stupidest transmission selectors in the world - the "J-Gate". It's big, it's clunky, and it's a total pain to use. So, when word got out that the company was finally doing away with it, people were excited. Now we see what the replacement is, and people are...confused. That's a good word for it.

Pictured above is Jag's new selector. As you can see, it's no longer a stick, but a knob of some kind. While Jag has yet to make an official announcement on how it works, the popular theory is that you simply turn it to select a gear. Makes sense, but damn if it's not weird looking.

The cool part of the setup are the concentric rings around the knob. When the car is turned off, the rings rise up flat with the knob, creating an aluminum "panel" of sorts and preventing the knob from being turned. Then, when you start the car again, the rings drop down, restoring access to the selector.

The whole setup is somewhat futuristic. When was the last time you saw this on a car? Never, that's when. But at the same time, it's somewhat nostalgic. The whole thing is reminiscent of the 1982 flick Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, since it's the same control seen on the fictional "Genesis Device" in the movie. As far as I know, there have been no marketing tie ins yet, but Ricardo Montalban is reportedly available for work.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go polish my knob.

Friday Freebie - A New Way To Get Your Spam On

So you're not that into the webmail scene. It's cool, I hear ya. There's a lot to be said for "old fashioned", pop3 email accounts. But most pop3 users are still messing with Outlook Express, since that's what their ISP had them install to setup the account. And don't get me wrong - OE is a decent program, if not a little bloated, buggy, and unstable. You do have alternatives, though, and one of them is Thunderbird:

From Mozilla, the same folks that brought you Firefox, Thunderbird is a free email client for your PC or Mac. It features all the basic things you've come to expect from an email client, such as tagging, searching, message templates, signatures - it's all there. Plus, it's a small, streamlined piece of software, so you can load it fast and work quickly.

Now let's say you have both a pop3 and a Gmail account, as most of us do. Thunderbird has you covered there as well. It has the ability to access both pop3 and webmail services, so you can view all your messages through a single interface. No more bouncing between programs just to send pictures of your kid to everyone in the universe.

Migrating between email clients can be a bit of a pain, so make sure you give this program a run through before you decide to officially make the switch. But this is definitely worth your time, so go grab the download right now. Then send me an email to let me know what you think, but don't include pictures of your kid. I only accept pics of funny cats and naked ladies.