Showing posts with label Product Review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Product Review. Show all posts

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Recent purchase of old games on Steam...and labor required to actually get them running

I recently purchased a game package that consists of Railroad Tycoon II Platinum, Railroad Tycoon 3 and Sid Meier's Railroads! on Steam.  Two of these games needed a human (me) to get into the game files to fix them so the games can be run on Windows 10 (or even on Vista or 8).

Railroad Tycoon 3's issue is that it crashes on startup.  The fix is to turn on an option called "Disable Hardware T&L" in the Settings dialog.  The problem is that you cannot turn this option on in-game if you cannot get the game started.


For this, the solution is to replace the engine.cfg file which is found in the game's Steam folder (example: C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\steamapps\common\Railroad Tycoon 3\Data\Configuration).  The source of the replacement engine.cfg file is here: 105_106_RT3_Vista_Fix.zip.  More information about this fix can be found on Hawk & Badger Railroad (backup link).  This video also covers more information about patching RT3:


Sid Meier's Railroads!'s issue is that it crashes constantly, like in minutes.  The fix is to directly edit the game's executable file with a hexeditor to change a specific bit.  You never know when you'll need a hexeditor, so I always install one on one every desktop PC I've owned.  Even still, I've literally not used a hexeditor on game files in over 2 decades.  Anyway, the bug fix description is too involve for me to repeat in this article, so I'll just point to the source article on Steam: Fix Crashing/LAA manual fix (backup link). 


The Steam article employs a particular hexeditor, so if you aren't experienced hexediting files, you may wish to use the recommended app.  Despite the lengthy article, the actual fix is very quick once you find the bit you need change. So far, I've not had a crash since implementing this fix.

Epilogue

When Steam gaming platform first came out, I was not a fan.  I tried to avoid it like the plague, but eventually, AAA games that I wished to play were only available on Steam, so I had to commit.  The game that finally snared me was Civilization 5.

One cool thing about Steam is that they have a ton of old games from as far back as the early 90's (maybe even earlier).  The old games are typically porteddosboxed or patched to run on modern systems.  Although you have to rebuy old games that you wish to play (for rather small prices), it is typically worth the cost to avoid the trouble of working out how to configure a modern PC to run those games.

The problem with Steam is that their updates are often half-hearted efforts.  For example, no efforts are taken to maintain aspect ratios of the original games.  This makes many of the old games appear uglier than the originals.  However, this is typically OK, as you play old games for their game mechanics and functional design more than their outdated graphical design.  A bigger issue is demonstrated earlier in this article.  Some games are so badly adopted by Steam, you, the user, have to manually configure the game files in order for the game to even run (or at least run without a ton of crashes).  

Not all games are fixable.  An example of this is Independence War (a game I loved).  Both Steam editions (original and sequel) appear to have unfixed game-breaking bugs with no community solutions.  These games are only $6, but it's $6 too much for a game that cannot be finished.


Sunday, September 13, 2020

Pontiac G8 Wiper Blades, super low-key custom equipment

The Pontiac G8 is a fun and enjoyable car, though a little rough around the edges for some details.  The G8 model never had time to be polished because it and the whole Pontiac brand where cancelled as a result of the GM bankruptcy from the Financial crisis of 2007–2008. So, there are just somethings where the owner needs to consider their options when replacing worn-out parts.  One consideration: the two windshield wiper blades.

The original sizes for the wiper blades didn't do a good job of clearing the window in front of the driver.  The stock wiper blades don't swipe enough of the upper middle area of the windshield to help the driver clearly see through the enough window.  Another problem with the original blades is/was that some owners (including myself) reported chatter or incomplete clearing of the window during each swipe.  

Funny enough, it's not easy to find the sizes of the original wiper blades.  You can still buy them, supposedly, but the sizes aren't published in their descriptions. I think they were something like 24" length for the driver's side and 14" for the passenger side.  Whatever the sizes, the original blades left rather large of areas of the window unswiped during rain, not just at the top, but also the bottom of the window between swiped areas.


I didn't wait to long replace the original blades. Either late 2009 or 2010, I found some good quality replacement blades of the sizes 26" and 15".  (At the time, it wasn't easy to figure out replacements of alternate sizes.)  Believe it or not, my replacement blades performed well for 10 years.  Sometimes you get lucky.  Unfortunately, when it came time to replace them this year, I lost track of what I purchased before.

That didn't end up mattering, though.  In 2020, the secret has long since been out.  It's actually more common to find 26"/15" sizes than what might've been stock sizes.  On multiple sites, I found that the main size recommendations are 26"/15".  So, it is really down to quality (since price stopped being a factor since I'm no longer looking at stock blades).

After seeing recommendations on multiple websites (including forums) and reading many reviews, I settled on Trico brand blades:  Trico 25-260 Force Beam Wiper Blade 26" and Trico 25-150 Force Beam Wiper Blade 15".


Many modern blades try to support as many car models as possible, so they come with adapters.  I remember my first replacement blades being very simple to install.  This doesn't seem to be the case anymore.  The Trico's aren't hard to install, but it is a ~10 step process which includes removing their default adapter, adding the included secondary adapter, then removing a piece of that adapter to specifically fit the G8.  Again, not hard, but not intuitive either.  

I like the Tricos because they cover even more area of my windshield than my first replacements.  It amazes me just how much of the window they clear with each swipe. So far, the Tricos work well.  We'll see how they perform as the season changes.  

Friday, September 11, 2020

So, I did it...I saw a movie in Covid-time [TENET]

Yup, it's true.  I went to see a first-run movie during covid-time.  Though, I'm not even considering movie theaters right now.  That's not going to happen until COVID-19 vaccination is widely available.  In the meantime, how should someone see a new movie?  Well, there's streaming services.  But, for some reason, paying $30 to watch a movie on my own device at home seems alien.  So, let's go to the movie drive-in!

Holiday Twin Drive-in

Yup, it's true.  I went to see a first-run movie at the drive-in.  Social distancing is super easy with two tons of steel and glass (and an additional 10 feet of parking distance) between you and others in outside world.  

I saw TENET.  It's an enjoyable, yet complex film that will take multiple viewings to completely understand.  

So, here's the problem.  Seeing a movie at the drive-in is an inferior experience, particularly for big films designed for modern theater screens.  It's an acceptable experience, but not high quality.  The main problem is that your own car fights against the experience, at least many modern cars do.  Even just turning your car on to ACC for the radio (to hear the movie's sound on the drive-in's FM station) will start up all sorts of interior lights, including the status screen that is present many cars.  Yeah, you can turn them down or cover them up, but that's just annoying.  

Then, condensation forms on the windows in certain conditions. You'll have to open the windows from time to time.  In most cars these days, power windows require the car to be on in the pre-start position. Guess what that does!  Yup, it turns on even more interior lights!

Then, there's the weather.  Fog, rain, and even dust or remnants of ash from fires in the nearby mountains can all detract from your experience.  This weekend, I experienced rain, blown dust and fire ash.

The biggest problem of all?  Most movie drive-ins do not play first-run movies.  I literally had to drive 1 hour to see TENET on opening weekend.  

Even still, seeing a movie on a big screen is better than not.  Drive-in may be inferior, but it is preferable to the alternative: sitting for 3 hours in an enclosed space with a bunch of strangers around breathing the same air and touching the same surfaces, or queueing up to close at the snackbar or just walking too closely when exiting the theater.  

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Of Wolves and Rocks (Part 1)

Allie and I travelled to the Colorado Springs area this weekend to explore the area and meet some wildlife at Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center.  Our travel itinerary was made before the current world crisis.  As such, many plans were changed or cancelled.  In Colorado, there are state restrictions, which are being phased out right now.  However, there's little consistency from one region to another since  individual cities have set their own rules.  So, we didn't know for sure if our visit to the Center was even going to happen until a week prior.  We had to change our hotel and cancel all restaurant reservations.  It was also fruitless to try to explore Colorado Springs downtown.

Fortunately, the Center was able to open as of May 1.  So, in addition to some everyday strict clothing requirements, the Center implemented proper face mask and social distancing for guests and staff.  

We had the Ultimate Alpha package.  This includes meeting two pairs of wolves and also foxes, and 50 photos of the interactions.  My only critique of our experience is that the quality of photography was lacking, as you'll see below. If you compare our photos with what is presented on the website, there's a world of difference.  I did touch up the photos to fix as much of the issues as possible.

We first visited the foxes.  The foxes were rambunctious.  They actually kinda reminded me of racoons. While we were in their enclosure, there was no question that Rhett and Scarlett viewed us as the source of their kibble, and nothing more.


Scarlett

Rhett

Rhett and Scarlett

Navi and Tala are the pair of wolves that we next met.  I don't know if the photos truly capture the size of Navi.  When you are face to face with him, looking at him in the eyes, you get a real sense of the power and grace embodied by these awesome canids.  

Being greeted by Tala and Navi

We were able to start a pack howl. 
It wasn't hard.  They live for howling.

Navi and Tala

Finally, we met with Orenda and Isha. 

Orenda posing
  
A wolf only sits when it wants, and the treats only provide passive enticement.  Orenda only half sits for the promise of a kibble.

Orenda kinda sits for kibble.

Tala greeted Allie at first, but was generally aloof.  She knows she's beautiful and has little time for us humans.  (Actually, she did enjoyably interact with us for a time, but none of the photos are well-posed.)

The Deep Dark by Max Tobin (review)

The Deep DarkThe Deep Dark by Max Tobin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What happens when you live in a dystopia world with layers like an onion? The results are institutionalized death, pain and mayhem where life is miserable while each person fulfills their assigned roles. The secret truth is too unbelievable to be true, or so one would think.

Harton is the POV character. Harton moves through the story at a good pace. The story is revealed through character driven action. Some exposition is used to progress the story at certain points, but not overly done. The read is enjoyable and quick. This book does serve as a critique of certain aspects of our modern world by exploring a possible result of such.

This book uses method of writing to recall dreams which is a little distracting, but overall the story is linear as Harton makes discoveries and comes to certain realizations. Other than that, this is fairly traditional Sci-Fi in tone, plot and structure.

View all my Goodreads reviews

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Sydney 2019 Vacation

Alice and I had a great time in Sydney, Australia.  Originally, we planned to use our 9 days in Australia to visit a couple of areas.  That plan changed as we became aware of just how much Sydney itself offers.  So, we spent all 9 days in Sydney.  We were able to visit many points of interests and other locations.



Favs!

Our favorite places for this trip are Featherdale Wildlife Park, Scenic World (despite its unimaginative name), The Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney ("botanic" and "garden" are not typos) and Taronga Zoo.


 


All of these locations should be at the top of the list when planning a vacation to Sydney for the first time.

Sydney Opera House Nonoperatic Concert

We enjoyed Peter Bence's concert at Sydney Opera House (What's on in Sydney: November 30 - December 1 (backup link), Peter Bence Tour (backup link)), called "Peter Bence: The Awesome Piano Tour".  Alice was originally concerned about seeing a concert by a pianist, but now feels this is one of the most enjoyable concerts that she has experienced.  It was an awesome surprize.


Dinner Cruise

We also thoroughly enjoyed our "Sydney Harbour Sky Deck Gold Penfolds Dinner Cruise" (backup link).  Because I upgraded the experience to "Gold" level, we had a particularly special night, including a priority boarding, welcome reception on the upper deck, special window table, our own dedicated maitre d' and a specially prepared 6-course dinner with wines to compliment each course.  Even without the Gold level status, this would've been a very enjoyable evening.  That said, we were the only Gold level passengers for this particular cruise, so this made things seem even more special for us.  We were literally the only passengers at the upper deck welcome reception.  For a short period, we had an entire deck to just ourselves.


Michael's Tour

My friend Michael Lord joined us for almost a whole day to show us around town on an incredible walking tour.  I can tell Michael loves his hometown!  We met up at Queen Victoria Building and then stopped by at Archibald Fountain in Hyde Park, St. Mary's Cathedral, The Mint, Parliament of New South Wales (no one chained themselves to the fence on this particular day), and The Domain before visiting Art Gallery of New South Wales.


Afterward, we had a terrific lunch at Otto Ristorante on the Finger Wharf.  Then, we walked around Farm Cove to Sydney Opera House.  We had dessert at Guylian Belgian Chocolate Cafe before taking the ferry to Manly, where we found an interesting Christmas Tree that seemed a bit lost.


After returning to Circular Quay, we explored The Rocks and Darling Harbour, including a light dinner at Pho-mo in Barangaroo.  Heading back, we passed by a large all-white outdoor dinner event at Tumbalong Park.  Passing by Paddy's Markets, we headed back.  I don't know the exact number of steps, but I believe Michael's pedometer app counted well over 23K for the day.  Thank you Michael for the Grand Tour!



Shopping

Alice and I shopped at many locations, and there are many more that we missed.  Just to name a few places where we shopped: Market City, Queen Victoria Building (and adjacent underground and aboveground shops), Westfield Sydney, Westfield Bondi JunctionCentral Park Mall, The Strand Arcade and Circular Quay.  For mementos, we really tried to focus on buying "Australian Made" products, just because it seems silly to buy non-Australian made products on a vacation in Australia.

Other Points of Interest

Sydney Tower Eye was a good diversion one morning.  The entry point can be hard to find within the Westfield Sydney mall due to contradictory direction signage. We also found ourselves exploring the mildly interesting Museum of Contemporary Art one afternoon. 

Walkability 

Sydney is a very walkable city, with several well-placed T (train) stations.  Since our hotel was near Central Station, it was easy to get out and around town.  One thing to mention is that the railway public transport cars aren't friendly to large luggage (if you are travelling from or to the airport), particularly during busy hours.  So, if you don't rent a car, you still may wish to use Uber for the airport.  Other than that, you can walk most of the time.  We only used Uber when we were under specific time constraints, such as our dinner cruise and the concert.

Other Restaurants of Note

Basket Brothers has quirky breakfast choices.  Peacock Gardens has some great lobster dishes.

        

Monday, February 04, 2019

Kindle Oasis 2017 Tips, Part 1: Making the Home Screen More Homey

I own an original Kindle.  It is an awkward, yet suprizingly powerful beast.  It didn't take much to form it into a tool of self-expression.  I've not used that device in a long time.  This isn't because I grew tired of it.  Rather, it got put into storage somewhere and I only have a vague idea of where it's at.  In the time its been in storage, it has become an archaic device.  The interface and shape was always very clumsy, even by 2008 standards.

So, I jumped on the Kindle Oasis bandwagon, finally.

The design of the Kindle Oasis 2017 (or is that Kindle Oasis 2, or II or 7", or 9th Generation)...   ...you know, I'm going interrupt myself right here to mention that the Kindle Oasis edition from 2017 has an Amazon page name that reads like a bad Craigslist ad.  The official name for the specific edition I purchased is supposedly just "Kindle Oasis".  The Amazon page is titled "Kindle Oasis E-reader – Champagne Gold, 7" High-Resolution Display (300 ppi), Waterproof, Built-In Audible, 32 GB, Wi-Fi - with Special Offers".

However, the problem with that is you cannot differentiate my Kindle Oasis from the first "Kindle Oasis" of the 8th Generation, which is also just called "Kindle Oasis".  Also, if the generation is such an important factor, why isn't that included in the name?  Very confusion in a very unnecessary way.

Anyway, back to the design of the 7", 9th Generation Kindle Oasis 2017 2/II (whatever it's called).  The design is mostly streamlined.  It is odd in one way.  It has two thicknesses, which makes it easier to hold in your right hand, but makes it a bit awkward for some accessories, such as cases.

OK, enough of the unintentional review.  On to the tip.

Changing your home screen

The original Kindle didn't have ads.  It didn't try to sell me anything directly.  It was easy to buy stuff, but it wasn't in your face.  The Kindle Oasis is constantly trying to sell you books.  The lock screen is an ad.  The home screen has several ads of various subtleties.

Well, there's a way to change your home screen so that it is not ad focused.  Instead, your library is the center, and the ads are mostly out of the way.

It is important to note that Kindle Oasis menus have changed a bit.  Some other online guides for this have never been updated.  This is why I've made this guide.  My guide is current up to January 2019.

My original home:


Touch the vertical ellipsis button (the three vertical dots icon) in the upper right corner of the screen to bring up your More Options menu:


Select Settings.  This brings up the Settings page:


Select Device Options.  This brings up the Device Options page:


Select Advanced Options.  This brings up the Advanced Options page:


Select Home & Library.  This brings up the Home & Library page:


Select Home Screen View to turn off the setting:


Select home button in upper left.  This will bring you to your newly minted home page.  The new home page just displays your library...with a small ad at the bottom.  I'll cover more about that little ad in a future article.


Note to self, "apparently, Amazon really really wants me to read that Shadows of the Stone Benders series."

Kindle Oasis 2017 Tips
Making the Home Screen More Homey
Screenshots

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

OK, Coke got me...

Coca-Cola is always coming out with new products.  Sometimes they make mistakes that turn out to be brilliant blunders.  Sometimes, they just make duds.  Sometimes you don't know it's Coke at all.  And, sometimes they make a winner.

Coca-Cola Life could be a winner.  I only found the new beverage by accident at a nearby Target.  The odd color caught my attention, so I got a 2L bottle to try it out.  It is a drink that about matches the taste of Coke, but having only 63% of the original caleries (90 vs. 143 calories of Coke Classic).  They acheive this improvement by using cane sugar and Stevia instead of corn syrup.  Some people claim cane sugar has a better taste than corn syrup.  (I'm one of those people.)

I think the timing for this improvement is very important, as medical field is just now beginning to understand that sugar is the real culprit in heart disease.  Even though there is still substantial sugar in Coca-Cola Life, there is less than Coke Classic.  Not only that, Stevia has been showing promising results that suggest it might help lower blood pressure.  (If someone is taking blood pressure medication, this may have unintentional compounding effects with their medication.  Moderate risk of interaction between Stevia and a few mediations has been asserted.)

For myself, although I find the name a little awkward, I like Coca-Cola Life.  It pretty much tastes like Coke Classic.  There is a slight difference, but certainly much less difference seen from diet drinks.  It certainly doesn't have the annoying aftertaste that I experience with every other sugar substitute. I'm on the lookout for more packaging options, such as those tiny cans that seem to popular these days.

Friday, January 16, 2015

It finally happened

Its Trouble blog is 13 years old.  It had one major facelift in 2002, just before Blogger.com's buyout by Google (2003).  Its Trouble has had a subtle renaming; I had to remove the apostrophe in "It's" because it was bad for linking.  As a result, the name looks fine, but has a drastic typo that should bug me more than it really does.

The 2002 facelift for Its Trouble was created by Jennifer Szabo, who has since renounced all things webdesign.  The design of pretty cool for its time.  It was certainly unique, with the curled parchment theme.  I had my website loaded up with services, custom pages, and moderately useful functionality.  Everything worked nicely.  However, as time went on, stuff stopped working as old services went away and external websites died off.  For example, there are a lot of really good comments on my early posts which are lost due to the original comment service going away.  I was not able to maintain the overall website because Google shutdown FTP access for blogspot accounts, only allowing me to edit my home page.  As a result, I have several dead pages which I will never be able to change or remove.  Images, services, and weblinks stopped working on these pages many years ago.  Its Trouble has been on a slow decline in terms of presentation, all the while having new content with 1000+ posts.

Well, I finally bit the bullet.  I embraced the new Blogger.com stuff and updated my website with the biggest facelift in over a decade.  The problem with Blogger.com is that everything is canned.  You have only so many layout styles, and only so many templates, and only so many useful widgets.  It is way more limited than Wordpress.

Even still, the new design is cleaner.  There's noting broken.  Its functionality is limited to the bare basics allowed by Blogger.com. I was able to keep a similar color scheme and background image as before. It's not half bad.    I'm fairly happy with the result, if not a little disappointed that I cannot do much more.

Use in good health!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Awesome hall of shame devices - Interesting link

There's a cool article with ten hall of shame automotive devices that are/were supposed to do something or another to improve your vehicle's gas mileage, performance, and even ectoplasm removal (because I guess ghosts are slowing your car down؟). Popular Mechanic Gas Saving Gadgets (backup link) covers it all.  My favorite is the magnets used to "straighten" fuel molecules to improve ignition efficiency. (If anything, the magnets would add more weight to your car, thus reducing fuel efficiency).