Friday, December 30, 2005

It is the year 2005...

"It is the year 2005. The treacherous Decepticons has conquered the Autobot's home planet of Cybertron." At least, that's how it went in the classic Transformers: The Movie animated film. It's a year of some interesting time. Some of them are good and yet some of them bad. I think I'll make some mentions as to what went on in that year. I'll start off by going along the theme I started this entry.

The year 2005 introduces Transformers: Galaxy Force into the airwaves. To promote the series, the Galaxy Force toys also made its debut. Starting with the two prominent leaders of each faction, Master Megatron and Galaxy Convoy, the toy figures from Takara is perhaps one of the most interesting yet since the Car Robot days in 2000. Some figures quickly sold out due to high popularity along with truly original characters such as Vector Prime. As the series progresses, new characters are introduced as well as new figures to promote it. The introduction of Noisemaze and Soundwave clearly made the figures fly off the shelves due to original designs and intricate posing abilities of the two figures. The latter, a major tribute to a vintage character of old age, not only includes a bird designed companion but also features a cassette style ejecting system to show its character roots.

The Galaxy Force series also introduces leader-classed characters designated by the Convoy name. Each Convoy represents the planet by which they protect or govern. With 5 Convoy characters total, it is truly something different that has never been done in a Transformers series. The main character, Galaxy Convoy, leads the Cybertron people. Nitro Convoy speeds down the highway in the name of justice on Planet Speedia. Flame Convoy overpowers all as he governs the inhabitants of Planet Animatros. Live Convoy quietly watches over the people of Planet Earth. And Megalo Convoy stands tall above everyone as the leader of Planet Gigalonia.

Sadly, Takara will silently fade into history as part of TOMY's acquisition and merging. And while this may put the Transformers franchise in question, the series will continue on. The name of Takara has been around for a long time. It'll be a sad time when we will no longer see the Takara brand printed on the box of future Transformers figures.

Next in the list for 2005 is Apple. In one of the boldest yet logical move in computing history, Apple is going with Intel. And while Steve Jobs proclaims that Mac OS X has led a secret double life for the past several years, the notion isn't all that surprising really. With Apple's Darwin kernel being open source and freely available to coders, developers, and hobbyists, it has been a known fact that Darwin can run just fine on Intel x86 hardware with ease. Yet I had this uncertainty as to whether they had co-developed the OS X GUI under both platforms all this time. The event also shed light as Steve Jobs revealed that the machine he was running at the keynote is indeed Intel hardware. Hardware questions were raised immediately and people started investigating on the possibility of running OS X on everyday and common commodity x86 hardware. It was soon revealed that running OS X is possible, albeit with hacks and workarounds to how certain modules were loaded up.

Nature has its say in 2005 as the year with so many hurricanes and tropical storms that they had to resort to using the Greek alphabet for the next series of names. Yet the most devastating was, according to others, Katrina, which hit the New Orleans area "hard." Now, speaking of my opinions here, the New Orleans area is just asking for a disaster ot happen. And while Katrina is nothing more than your average hurricane, the destruction set upon the city is immense due to a particular structural failure -- levees. Many people have suffered so much due to this hurricane yet I cannot helped but wonder why they were not evacuated. The flood of rural towns and areas is one thing. But to hear the staggering number of people lost to the hurricane, it's outrageous.

Moving back to the technology portion, AMD released dual-core versions of their processors onto the world. And people are liking it. At first, the Opteron processors were the first to receive dual-core treatment. Then in the summer, the Athlon64 processors got their share of dual-core goodness, dubbed as the Athlon64 X2. Tests upon tests, benchmarks upon benchmarks, the performance improvement over single-core processors shows greatly in a variety of applications ranging from 3D rendering and modeling to video encoding and editing. And while people will question the need for dual-core processors in gaming environment, the benefit of having one is there in some form or another, no matter how miniscule it may appear or seem.

Intel combats the dual-core offense with their Pentium D processors. Tests were run and scores were recorded. And by many accounts, the Pentium D didn't perform on the same level as the X2. The heat output, the architecture, and the design all contributed to the Pentium D's drawbacks in performing in the same league as the X2. But while Intel took a heavy blow on the dual-core front in the desktop and server arena, the portable market seems to be Intel's only area of expertise. Their Pentium-M processors have shown to be top performers that rival even the desktop counterparts at time. Going with that, Intel is planning to focus on that while providing future users with dual-core processors. Intel still plans on keeping the fight on in the desktop and server market but time will tell what Intel has in store for the rest of us. 2005 is AMD's year for dual-core. It's time to see how 2006 will be.

On the gaming front, there's quite a few notables that stands out. But I'll start with something that went silently and very unnoticed by many. Several years ago, a multiplayer game developed by what was Dynamix created a large-scale game that later defines how online gaming ought to be. Starsiege: TRIBES turned out to be a truly unique game that sets Capture the Flag apart from everything else. It was perhaps one of the best multiplayer online game of all time, simply because not only is it your average Capture the Flag style of game but you're albe to fly around with a jet pack. In early 2005, Vivendi Universal Games ended support for TRIBES: Vengeance, citing major financial loss for the upkeep of support. The truth is out there somewhere. But the ending of support for the title means software bugs and problems will forever exists. Many were angry with the decision to end support for the game yet others have moved on prior to the announcement. To this day, there are some who linger around playing the game.

On the other end of the spectrum, the year 2005 marks the beginning of something different in MMO games. NCSoft, the company who has a hand in the game City of Heroes, and ArenaNet released Guild Wars into the world. With no monthly fee, it is a game that separates itself from the rest of fee-based games like World of Warcraft.

Preorders were made and people were saving up. The Xbox 360 was released in November of 2005 and people spent oodles of cash on it while other made tons off of it. The system debuted with two distinct and separate packages: Core and Premium. Given the price differences between the two, many dumped $100 more for the Premium due to the immense savings. And while there were reported problems with the system, the graphics is rather disturbing. Having seen PC graphics so much that it's natural to me, viewing one of the titles for the Xbox 360 (King Kong), I cannot helped but think "Is that it???" The visuals in the system was unimpressive and I felt rather disappointed in what I have seen. However, it is only one fish in the sea and I have yet to see the rest or know what it is truly capable of.

Moving a bit back into the Apple area, the iPod Video debuted and videos became something new for the iPod. Yet the funny part is what you can put into this. Since the iPod can play videos and since iPod is much more popular due to its design, the possibility of dumping questionable materials into it for playback is very high. Music videos and TV shows became something Apple now offers as part of their overall sales in addition to the music that it originally sold. One has to wonder if it should be called iTunes Music Store now.

On the entertainment front, Star Wars Episode 3 made its debut both in theater and on DVD, selling quite fast for Star Wars' final installment of the 6-episode series. Harry Potter magically appears on the silver screen again in The Goblet of Fire. Tom Cruise fends for himself and his daughter in War of the Worlds. Johnny Depp eerily plays Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The story of Batman's origin is told once again with Christian Bale playing the role of Bruce Wayne. And Adam Sandler puts on the football gear again in 2005's version of The Longest Yard.

The year 2005 is quite interesting. Yet one can say the same for every year. There's always something notable to mention in a particular year. The problem is remembering them all. The year comes to a close. And a new one will begin. Time continually goes on. And the human race continues to ponder what will tomorrow bring. Will it be the end of the world? Will a disaster strike? Will a miracle happen? Will a hero be named? Well... we'll see.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Bah humbug!

No I am not a Scrooge. But you can say that I'm not always in the spirit of the season. Last year I made a purchase that I somewhat later regret getting. Yes, the price is right. But the rule of "you get what you paid for" held true on me when evaluating the product.

The Belkin 802.11g wireless router (model F5D7230-4) was on sale for about $7 to $8 after the mail-in rebates are applied to the initial price. Needing a wireless router to better complement the laptop I have in possession, I took a shot in participating in America's worst nightmare -- Black Friday. The one single day out of the entire year where people do many of their holiday shoppings. At first, I figure it's just some crazy thing. But experience would tell me otherwise. It's more than just hell on earth. The number of people lining up are like those trying to mass-purchase gallons of water in preparation for a Catagory 5 hurricane. It is that bad.

I figure I'd go with a bit of time prior to opening hour to at least guarantee my shot at this router. Little did I know that there are those waiting much longer. And there I stood in line with the rest of the lunatics enduring the cold and bitter air. It felt like death.

Fast forward to this year's Black Friday. This time, no getting up early. It's getting there early in the ungodly hour of the night. The plan was simple -- grab a 19" LCD panel and Battlefield 2 and go. Part 1 of that plan was easy enough. Part 2, the checkout (go) part, wasn't. Long lines, slowly moving, and nothing to make it faster or easier to check out. An opportunity arises and I and 3 others jumped line to get an early checkout. Two hours spent and I later went to bed.

The problem with the Black Friday dealie is that people rush out. Ungodly hours for deals that didn't seem all that interesting, mixed with hordes of unknowing spending buyers grabbing items off the shelves. And for some items, there's never enough of them in stock to meet the demands of all the buyers. At least, that's what I initially thought. Despite that, I loathe the notion of having to deal with mail-in rebates and waiting for 2 months (maybe more) to get your damn money back. It's stupid and I despise it to the extent that it should have been internationally banned like child porn.

Yet here I am, two items purchased, one of which at an interesting price... at that time. In the retail arena, the current price for a 19" LCD panel with a DVI port would run you at least $250 with or without rebates. It doesn't get any lower than that. I usually want to wait until there's one available at a good price to get it. It seem at the time that it wasn't bad of a price. Of course, most of us fail to see what the future may hold for the LCD market. That's always the risk involved when it comes to purchasing a piece of the computer puzzle.

After an hour of cleaning and rearranging, I managed to make enough room (just barely) to squeeze in the LCD panel. Hooking them up was no problem. Plug the power cable in and the test began... The panel glows and I noticed something right away... something I knew would be a problem no matter how many times I have heard about it regarding LCD panels. So I counted. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9... Nine subpixels stuck, each of the three fundamental colors of light: red, green, and blue. In order to ensure that they are indeed stuck, I ran the test of all-white and all-black, filling the entire screen with one or the other for a good 5 seconds or so. And sure enough, they were stuck.

I sighed and unplugged it. Back to the store. But before I did that, I wanted to make sure that what I have is exchangeable. So I called up their tech line and inquired about their pixel policy. This is necessary as I know that for each LCD panel being sold that the policy varies from store to store and from manufacturer to manufacturer. Some won't tolerate a single one and some will tolerate up to an ungodly and unbearable amount. I was then suggested to go to the store and get it exchanged, of which I had mentioned that the store may not have any more in stock due to Black Friday and the possible limited supply of the panels. The person advised me that this is something I will have to contend with the manager for.

Upon arrival, I inquired and then their tech desk brought it to the back to have it looked into. I then inquired that they have any of the panels in stock to ensure I can get a valid exchange. To my surprise and shock, they said they have over 40. Sure enough, I was able to get at least one that should be perfect... or close to one.

The exchange went well as expected and I then returned to the tech desk to have them test for dead and/or stuck pixels. The person said the panel did not show any sign of defect or flaw. I was skeptic at first. So I went back to test it for myself.

The LCD powers on... and the image come into view. Another test of full white and full black, I had it sweep the entire screen... and I found nothing. Nothing. No single red, blue, or green. No single black spot. No single white spot. No single spot of any combination of red, blue, or green. It was devoid of irregularities. The screen was consistent, clean, and... perfect. The panel was flawless. And I was relieved.

Barring from any specification pitfalls when compared to other panels, the monitor was bright. Strangely enough, it's taking me a while to get used to the intense brightness of the LCD, as it sits right next to the 21" CRT monitor. Perhaps the only bad thing about this monitor is the horrendous contrast ratio (the range of whitest white to the blackest black). But that's no big deal to me. The screen works quite well and so far I am satisfied. And I'll be even more satisfied when the rebates are approved, processed, and sent back to me.

Two Black Friday experiences, I have survived both of them. And both times I hated the event. I loathe it in every way and for what it stood for. Of all the goddamn days of the year, why that day? Why not something more traditional? Why not something where everyone can get an equal opportunity shot? But no, the corporations want to take advantage of the twisted mind of the consumers and have them fight over something (and in some cases, that was taken literally). Pathetic and pitiful. Is this what the human race is about too? If there really are intelligent life out there in the far distance of the galaxy, I bet that they are laughing their asses off. I do not want to be a part of it. Yet I had little choice on the matter. I've no inside info as to the amount of stock they have in the inventory room. And I sure as hell do not have any inside info as to how many people are going to purchase a particular item. Had I known, I would have planned appropriately.