Review: Warzone 3

It’s been a while since I found some new games to play, but rummaging around, I’ve come across Java Gameplay. They’ve got a series of nice games in the “Nice to kill a half hour” variety. What’s nice is they’ve kept older versions of the games online so you can see the sort of evolution of the games. Older wireframe games give way to texture mapped realistic landscapes, etc. Warzone is a first-person tank game that has gone through this progression.

This game is sort of “Battlezone 2000” – take the old Atari wireframe Battlezone game and take it into the modern age. You have multiple tanks to choose from, missions, complex landscapes, and a turret that can actually turn in a different direction than the tank is facing. The gameplay is good, sound and graphics are quite nice for a Java embedded app, and it runs along nicely on my IBM T40 laptop.

Java Gameplay has several other cute little shoot ’em up games available. I’ve found myself going back there a few times to just blow things up for a while to unwind from a busy coding day.

Moving into the next age of geekery.

For quite a while I’ve been wanting to move into some of the more widely used methods for writing and deploying large-scale apps, particularly in Java. Sun developed a system called J2EE a while back that provides an environment where Java apps can scale to incredibly large installations. Up until now, I haven’t had the opportunity to really explore it

I recently started a 4 month project with a company in NJ to explore the feasibility of porting their applications from a Visual Foxpro base into J2EE. This is really a fantastic opportunity. I’m not only helping a great project move into an exciting new environment, but I’m also getting the chance to learn something I’ve been interested in for ages

One drawback though is that the J2EE environment is huge and fairly complex, and therefore there’s not ‘one way’ to do things. J2EE provides an object-based application server that’s designed to let you design and implement virtually any system and do it big. The steps I’m taking now are determining what aspects of this system are appropriate for us to use, and how to use them

This process is not helped by the fact that I don’t KNOW J2EE at all. I’ve never used these technologies myself for my own application development, and I’ve only brushed up against some of their technologies at a previous job. My work on CONGO used a hyper-simplified version of this concept, so there’s a heck of a learning curve here.

I am making progress though. Part of this project really requires the environment to be workable from someone who has traditionally been using Microsoft Visual Studio applications. That means a clean IDE, object editor and browser, etc. Tonight I successfully configured Eclipse to use a plugin to manage the JBoss application server I’m running on my laptop. Following some tutorials, I built and deployed a servlet to the server, and, via an Apache module used to connect Java servlet containers to web servers, I successully ran the servlet, and got those wonderful words… “Hello World”.

Seems like a lot of work to get 2 words on the screen, eh? But that’s the joy of learning a whole new environment. It doesn’t look like much, but it represents a big step down the road to understanding how I (and my client in NJ) may use this system to write and deploy applications. Personally, I’m okay as long as I don’t get stuck, and continue moving forward.

This coming week I hope to have enough in place to get a full JSP->Servlet->database process working, so that I’m familiar enough with the environment that I can start looking at designing how things REALLY work inside the appserver

LTSP Case Study – Orwell high School

I’m sure eveyone knows that I’m a big booster of LTSP – The Linux Terminal Server Project. One of the areas where they’ve had a lot of success is in schools where budget issues severely limit their capacity to bring decent computing facilities to their students

I found a great case study of a deployment at Orwell Highschool in England where they needed approximately 120 workstations to service 4 labs for their 1000 student. They needed distributed print services, shared server resources, and high end office software within a very restrictive budget.

The natural first place to look was Microsoft, but high requirements for client machines, prohibitive software licenses, and very complex system management procedures made them look elsewhere

LTSP was the solution they settled on. They are currently driving all 120 workstation from 5 central servers, distributing application load across 4 IBM Blade servers, sharing a central RAID drive array. There was an inevitable need to access Microsoft-only packages for legacy school applications, so a Windows Terminal server was installed, and the students and faculty can access it via a Linux RDP client from any of the workstations

John Osborne said:
“I can’t believe how easy it has been to move to Linux. The systems were installed and working within a week and it has been a revelation how simple and painless the process has been. I have saved thousands of pounds per year and got a brand-new ICT infrastructure at the same time”.
He added:
“Without switching to Linux, I would have been forced to cut back on our ICT hardware and software provision. There simply wasn’t the budget to upgrade to the latest versions of the software nor to keep replacing suites of PCs on a three or four year cycle. Now I have no licensing costs to worry about for the Open Source parts of the solution. We shall be moving to a complete Open Source basis as quickly as is practical and hope to start working with other schools interested in this type of development to share ideas and best practise”.

The entire case study is available. Highly recommended reading and sharing for any business or school considering deploying workstations in their environment

Checklist for Living with Americans

I saw this come across a mailing list I’m on, and I asked the author (Bill Yerazunis) if I could re-post. The topic came up with someone who would be sharing space with a dozen or so North Americans shortly, and wanted to know what was socially acceptable behaviour…

10 rules for living with North Americans

  1. if it’s not yours, don’t eat it or drink it.
  2. Shower every day. Whether you need it or not. Use soap. And your own towel. same v. toothbrushing. And underwear.
  3. clean clothes every day is not *required*, but doesn’t hurt. Don’t go more than two days on a shirt or three days on pants.
  4. Politics are not off limits. One of America’s most precious rights is the right to diss the government. The president in particular is fair game.
  5. replace the toilet paper.
  6. Stay out of rooms whose owners are not there.
  7. If you leave a mess, do not be surprised to find the mess placed on
    your bed. This is the ONE exception to Rule #6.

  8. Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you.
  9. leaving an offering of sweets (especially chocolate) will never get you in trouble. Put a note on it like “Free! Eat!” to assure that Rule #1 will not be assumed.
  10. Don’t assume ANYTHING about a North American. They are definitely the MOST VARIED population on the planet. Everybody’s family is from “somewhere else” (including the Native Americans; they’re actually from Siberia). So, if you’re worried, ask honestly. Honesty is almost as prized a right as dissing the government. Conversely, don’t be offended if honesty is returned, even if the truth is not pleasant.

A Pleasant Car Dealer experience

How’s THAT for an unusual topic?
I bought my VW Golf TDI from Bernardi VW about 2 years ago, and I’ve been pretty pleased with the service and support they’ve been giving me. I had a broken FM antenna they fixed under warranty with a minimum of hassle, and have basically been pleasant to deal with.
I needed to get my rear center brake light fixed, as well as get the car inspected, so I gave them a buzz. They happily said I could come right over and they could do it on the spot. Excellent!
I drove over, and pulled into their receiving bay, handed over the keys, checked in, and with some trepedation, headed toward the traditional dull waiting area.
This time, however, I had my trusty IBM T40 Laptop with me, so I figured I’d get a little work done while waiting. Fortunately, there was a comfy table and chair set there, so I set up shop on the table, planning on doing some coding while I waited.
But, whats this? My little wireless indicator was on full green. “Huh!” – and lo, I was on the net! Bernardi has free wireless access in their showroom / waiting area. How cool is that?
I was online with no hassle, able to do mail, irc, and other goodies while waiting for the car to be done.
Of course, they did need to order a part, alas, so I’ll need to go back tomorrow to finish things up, but at least I know I’ll be able to geek while waiting.

Make your Cargo Ship More Efficient: Put a sail on it!

I could spend all day showing links to GizMag, an emerging technology site that just has rapid-fire Cool Stuff, but this particular article is worthy of note.

Some bright lights figured out that if you put a computer controlled sail on a big ship, and combine it with a tracking/routing system that sets courses where there’s prevailing winds, you can cut the ships fuel usage by 50%. Instead of just plowing along the ocean no matter what the conditions, using diesel fuel only, you can just be a little smarter and let the sail help pull the ship along.

“As the sail is spatially separated from the body of the ship the reduction of the ship’s effective area by the system is economically insignificant. In its packed state the towing kite is easy to stow and takes up very little space. The existing crew is sufficient for the operation of the ship and the sail. Thus no additional staffing expenses are necessary.”

It seems like such a simple idea, I’m boggled no one has thought of it before. They do mention that there were some tricks to overcome, like any tethered sail could cause the ship to heel over, but an active control system can limit that.

Mcdonalds Wifi!

Yes, I’m actually participating in this. Honestly, it’s sort of hard to argue with a structure where you have food, a big play area for the kids (mmm, human habitrails), -and- wireless internet access. It’s just a bonus that McDonalds is actually doing this for a reasonable price ($2.95 for 2 hours of wifi access). As I sit, Tim and I are chatting, I’m able to blog, and the kids are functioning as 40lb hamsters. (Tim points out there needs to be a wheel in the playroom to complete the image)

Review: Mozilla Bookmark Synchronizer

For a long time now, I’ve been searching about for a mechanism to synchronize my bookmarks from one machine to another. There are times when I run Firefox on more than one machine at a time, and the bookmarks have become one of the more valuable resources in my desktop setup.

Lo, along comes Bookmark Synchronizer, a Mozilla extension that adds the capability of publishing or retrieving your bookmarks from a server at any time, including whenever you start or shut down your browser.

The installation and configuration was trivial using Firefox’s excellent Extensions manager, and I made a copy of my bookmarks onto my main server inside 10 seconds. Now I can import that file (in the documented XBEL – XML Bookmarks Extension Language format), anytime I need to, as well as publish changes into it

I do have one or two little nitpicks. I would like to be able to ‘sync’ without going into the Extensions window, selecting bookmarks synchronizer, clicking Options, then clicking Upload now. A hot button somewhere in the browser would be a lot easier. The other way the sync happens is automatically when starting up or shutting down Firefox, which also makes me a bit nervous. Usually the only reason I shut down Firefox is due to a crash or instability – throwing another function in during that situation may not help the situation.

But other than these comments, the tool works perfectly. A very easy way to move bookmarks from one machine to another. Bravo!

Slashdot is dead. Long live Boingboing!

I’ve always been a long time fan of Slashdot, with its hordes of geeks just waiting to descend on unsuspecting websites, and subject them to the Slashdot Effect.
The problem is that Slashdot has set the bar as to what a news / geek site should be. The style hasn’t changed in 5 years, and 99% of the traffic on the site now are the overly chatty forums. I rarely look into the forums – they tend to be swamped by trolls and constant reiteration of the “Microsoft sucks! Everything GPL!” argument over and over again.
Lately though, the one benefit of Slashdot, that being timely and interesting news, has been usurped. For a while now, Slashdot’s content has been deteriorating. Where it used to be chock full of fun articles with a couple high-point details, it’s degenerated into a low-volume badly targeted site.
Blogging has moved into the space where Slashdot used to reign supreme. In particular, BoingBoing, to me, has better edited, more detailed, and more relevant postings lately. In particular, there have been a number of articles that BoingBoing has posted 1-2 days -before- Slashdot has, making Slashdot just appear like another follower, perpetuating links and articles that have already been published elsewhere.
I now have Boingboing in my Sage RSS feeds, and I rarely look at Slashdot anymore.

Indulging myself. My voiceover site!

So I’ve done a couple radio spots, been involved in several episodes for an online radio comedy called The Fantastic Fate of Frederick Farnsworth the Fifth, and enjoyed it immensely. I’ve always thought that voice acting is something I can do well, and would have fun doing more of.
So, why not put together a demo tape and a website? So I did. Want to hear the sultry sounds of my voice and some silly tracks I’ve done? Well, feel free to wander over to and check it out.
Comments on the content, site design, suggested links, how I sound, etc are all welcome. I’m going to be adding more links and content as things progress, but I think things look pretty good for a launch.
Whadya think?

Monument to Chester Cheetah discovered on Moon!

In a stunning discovery, scientists at European Space Agency monitoring the progress of the SMART-1 lunar survey spacecraft have discovered what appears to be a monument carved in the Pythagoras Crater to Frito Lay’s ‘Chester the Cheetah’ mascot. This stunning discovery was made while reviewing pictures sent back from the probe during its passes over the lunar surface.

The famed cheetah, long thought to be only mildly compelling to intelligent beings outside the age range of 5-12, has apparently had quite a following on Luna, so much so that the occupants carved this huge image for all the cosmos to see.

More details on this story as events warrant!

IBM Thinkpad T40 Debian Install – A Breeze!

I had been putting off installing Debian Linux on my ‘new’ IBM T40 for quite a while mostly because I was nervous about all the hassles involved in repartitioning, boot loaders, etc. Since the convention I’d been working on is now over, and I have some more time until my next event, I decided to finally take the plunge. Really, my aging T23 was starting to knuckle under with everything I was running on it, it really was time to step up to the plate and take the plunge.

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