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Friday, January 31, 2003

11:20 PM - From Mozilla, a Phoenix rises

I've switched to Phoenix 0.5 as my browser of choice. I've been using OB1 for some time now and I initially thought of waiting for a few more milestones before making the switch to Phoenix but there are too many reasons to use Phoenix now and too few reasons not to.

So what is Phoenix?

It's a Mozilla-flavoured browser without extraneous junk. It does one thing and one thing only. That's exactly what I'm looking for. I use Google for Usenet newsgroup access and I don't need a HTML editor as my blog entries are composed with Fahim A. Farook's Blog app and I can always fall back on Windows Notepad if necessary.

As for e-mail, well, I'm still exploring options. I need something small and secure. I've looked at Pimmy, Scribe and Popcorn but for now, I'm sticking to Netscape Mail from Netscape Communicator 4.79. One of the Phoenix team is apparently also working on a standalone mail client, code named Thunderbird, so I might migrate to that when it's secure and stable. Not to mention available.

Anyway, Phoenix.

The zipped file for Phoenix 0.5 is a mere 6.1MB. (The development team hope to trim the browser installation file down to 5MB for its 1.0 release.)

I was disappointed a Windows installer/remover isn't included. But installing the program is as simple as unzipping the contents to a new directory. It unzips -- no stripper-style music is provided in the background, tragically -- and creates its subdirectories. Removing the program is as simple as deleting your profiles and deleting the Phoenix directory.

Take note that Phoenix also creates several sub-directories in the Windows directory. I hate it when programs do that. It makes it harder to keep track of changes made to the system.

Installation takes up a mere 11.6MB of hard disk space with another 50MB taken up by Phoenix's cache. You can specify a smaller cache size if you want to.

My favourite Phoenix feature by far is tabbed browsing. I especially love the ability to open grouped bookmarks in separate tabs. This means I get to open, say, my Manchester United news bookmarks -- both the BBC and Soccernet's Manchester United pages -- simultaneously in separate tabs. And when I'm done with those, I can replace the tabs with a new bookmark group, say, Transformers news from both Transfandom.com and Dave Van Domelen's site. No new windows opening all over the place and cluttering my desktop. It's neat in two senses of the word.

You can also force web sites to reuse currently opened windows or tabs instead of opening new ones. However, doing that will require editing one of the files manually. (You can do this via a user-friendly menu if you install the Preferential extension, though).

Another cool Phoenix feature is image blocking. Tired of seeing ads featuring pictures of nude men with small phalli? Get Phoenix to block images from the server. All you have to do is to select the option from the context menu.

Then there's the ability to disable pop-ups of all kinds. Phoenix can even kill pop-ups selectively since you might want to enable pop-ups for one particular site which actually has useful pop-ups.

Adding widgets to the browser is simple as well. For instance, to install the Preferential widget (which simplifies the process of tweaking the browser's more obscure behaviour) is a simple as clicking on the hyperlink. To enable the feature, you just have to close the browser and launch it again.

Finally, it's free! I don't have to pay to use a commercial browser like Opera or suffer ads to get similar features.

The cons?

While Phoenix 0.5 renders pages quickly on my machine (a Celeron 900 with 256MB of RAM running Windows 98SE), the user interface seems very sluggish at the moment especially when working with the sidebars and the Bookmark manager. Hopefully, the browser will get nippier as the development team reaches the 1.0 milestone.

While the image blocking feature is a great one, it does require refinement. Some web sites include the ads on their servers instead of getting the ads from a remote server so if you were to block the ad images, you would also block non-ad images from the web site as well. Hopefully, the development team will improve the image blocking so that users can define the ad image directory to be blocked. In addition, I hope future milestones include the ability to block those animated Macromedia ads.

In terms of stability, the browser has been quite good. It has only crashed on me twice so far. And that was probably Javascript-related. On the positive side, they weren't the type of crashes that required a reboot.

Phoenix isn't perfect but then this is a pre-1.0 release. But for many including myself, Phoenix 0.5 is good enough to switch to.

Link  | 

10:39 PM - A failure to communicate

It looks as if my connection blues have gone away. I'm now able to get online regularly. Previously, I was only able to get online twice between January 13 and January 28.

(And to think people were whining because they couldn't get online for some 24 hours because of the Slammer worm.)

I could not figure out what the problem was. It's very frustrating how some Windows error messages can be very misleading. I was getting the "The computer you are dialing into cannot establish a Dial-Up Networking connection. Check your password, and then try again," error message.

Naturally, I started thinking I made a mistake. But wait, I had my password saved and everything worked fine before. Could the PWL file be corrupted? I took the Windows Dial-Up Networking troubleshooter's advice and deleted the file and tried again. Nope, still the same error message.

I checked everything. TCP/IP settings, modem settings, the connection, my firewall. I checked everything twice. And then once more to be really sure.

Still no joy.

That was when I started getting paranoid.

Perhaps my PC was hacked by some pale, scrawny miscreant who wasn't hugged enough as a child. Perhaps the reason I wasn't able to log on was because the pale, scrawny miscreant who wasn't hugged enough as a child changed my password.

Or perhaps TMnet suspended my account because my blog entries were criminally banal.

Wuh oh.

So I trudged down to the local Kedai Telekom to get a TMnet Prepaid account. I wanted to confirm that the problem wasn't related to my TMnet 1515 account.

To get a Prepaid account, you have to pay RM50 to get yourself a CD-ROM. Well, technically, it isn't a CD-ROM because TMnet in its infinite wisdom decided it wanted a data storage medium shaped and sized like a credit card instead of an ordinary compact disc. I guess Telekom Malaysia was trying to be hip. Anyway, the username and password is printed on the disc-which-is-not-a-disc.

After I paid for the account, I chatted with the Kedai Telekom clerk and discovered that my connection problems weren't on my end. Apparently, the problems were area-wide.

Of course, I would only discover this after spending RM50 for the furshlugginer Prepaid account which of course I don't actually need now.

Gah.

I guessed (well, hoped, actually) Telekom Malaysia was upgrading the node which I connect to when I log on. Was Streamyx, Telekom Malaysia's ADSL service, finally available in Banting?

I wanted to ask the personnel at my local Kedai Telekom but they don't seem to be in the loop much. So, I called up TMnet's Customer Interaction Centre and was told that yes, Streamyx was available in my area.

Elated, I made my way to my local Kedai Telekom. Again. The clerk in charge wasn't in apparently but I was told by another clerk that yes, the Streamyx service was available "in selected areas."

Hurrah!

Visions of myself zipping along the Net at 300-plus kilobits/sec played in my mind as I waited for the clerk.

Thirty minutes passed.

Thirty very slow minutes.

Finally, a portly lady arrived and sat down at her chair. I went over to her to ask about Streamyx and in a few brief seconds, the woman cruelly dashed my hopes. No, Streamyx was not available in Banting, the lady told me. I told her that the Customer Interaction Centre said it was indeed available. What do they know, she countered. I had no comeback.

Disgruntled, I trudged back home and I called up the Customer Interaction Centre again for some sort of clarification. I was told again that Streamyx was available. I told the rep my local Kedai Telekom begged to differ. The rep repeated that Streamyx was available in Banting but then nonchalantly added that "the ports are full," which I think is Telekom Malaysia customer rep-speak for "I don't know what the problem is so get off my case."

I swear, if Alicia Silverstone ever decides to do a sequel to Clueless, it should be set in Telekom Malaysia.

Anyway.

It's good to be back online again.

Even if it's at 45.5 kilobits per sec.

Link  | 

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

2:10 AM - Microforce!

Great news!

(At least for action figure connoisseurs.)

Takara will release its latest Microman series, Microman Microforce, this March. My first impression of these figures was that Takara was trying to outdo Bandai's BetaMidgets gashapon figures. But Microforce looks like something really special.

There's a fan page previewing the figures here. I love the accessories especially Ninja Microman's massive swords.

Takara is also producing characters from other series in this figure style. The most notable of these is Ken from Gatchaman (G-Force/Battle of the Planets).

HobbyLink Japan is already taking pre-orders for the figures. Word is the figures will have over 30 points of articulation. That puts them in Marvel Legends territory as far as articulation is concerned. (Come to think of it, it does look like Microforce is Takara's answer to the Toy Biz line.) But what's amazing is that these figures are a mere 10cm tall!

The figures are also cheap at 980 yen each. I was initially concerned that they would be made of cheaper material but when you consider the LED Powers Microman figures that went for similar prices, it seems likely Takara will put out some great figures.

I do have some worries about the construction. I hope there aren't any weak joints. I would hate to have the figures go snap, crackle and pop on me as I'm enjoying their articulation.

Furthermore, I don't know if the figures will come equipped with 5mm ports. It's highly likely that the figures will have at least one 5mm port and it's most likely on their backs but there hasn't been any confirmation.

Link  | 

1:24 AM - Pixia perfect

I recently got an e-mail from Gurima Kusano, the author of the English Pixia tutorials. She's just updated the tutorials as well as made them available as an executable file so one can download the file, extract the tutorials and read them offline.

On a personal note, it's good to hear from her again. She's very nice and a terrific artist as well. I love her colouring work.

And she owns a rabbit as well! Check out her web site, Moon in the Noon.

Link  | 

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

11:02 PM - Digi-doodles

This is only the fourth time I've been able to get online in two weeks so I'm going to make the most of it. Fuyoh will have to be on hold for the moment. Here are some digi-doodles I've done recently during my enforced offline-ness.

A quick doodle done of a shadowed face. I don't think it took more than five minutes. It shows, too.

Another quickie. Here's looking at you, kid.

Here's another version of the Kenshin picture I did earlier. I replaced the heavy shadows in the nose/upper lip area (which made Kenshin look like he has a Hitler moustache), lightened the shadowing for the neck and gave him a tougher jawline. Admittedly, he doesn't look much like the anime version of the bishounen Kenshin but it's my interpretation.

Megatron from the original Transformers cartoon. I know I sound like one of those quaint G1-only Transformers fans (or Transfans) but with numerous Transformers series throughout its almost two decade history and multiple characters named Megatron, I feel compelled to clarify which Megatron. This one is a bit off since his "helmet" shouldn't be so small. Ah well. Practice, practice, practice.

Link  | 

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

9:30 AM - Heart of sword

Himura Kenshin from Rurouni Kenshin (a.k.a Samurai X). He's not anime-accurate, of course. I'm not really comfortable with the typical anime look with the saucer eyes and the deadly sharp proboscis. The colours aren't quite to my liking but it's not too bad. I need to get some pointers on drawing clothing though.

Link  | 

6:19 AM - Minsc-isms

"Boo is outraged! See his fury! It's small, so look close. Trust me, it's there." -- Minsc in Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn.

Link  | 

Monday, January 13, 2003

7:41 AM - The communis threat

I've often derided TM Net for its service or lack thereof. As of writing I've been without Internet access for 60 hours. Hopefully, this entry will be published online when TM Net's tech heads get their thumbs out.

However, I must give credit where credit is due. This is quite possibly the only ISP in the world that tells you what to do in case your connection is terminated by a fruit.

From the TM Net Support FAQ page:

"Error: Connection reset by pear

Solution:

Check the TCP/IP adapter.

Restart the computer and try again

Try do manually login"

Call me naive but I never thought pears were that malicious. All this while I thought they were an innocuous type of fruit. Who wouldn've thought that juicy fruit would be going around playing havoc with people's internet connections? Truly, we live in dangerous times.

Now, I do not know if I have ever had my connection reset by a pear but thanks to TM Net, I'll be prepared the next time it happens.

The FAQ page does not state if the solution provided will work when your connection is reset by other types of fruit so please, I urge you to use caution.

Link  | 

Sunday, January 12, 2003

3:57 AM - Bumblebee

A quick black and white "sketch" of Bumblebee from the original Transformers cartoon.

This was done using the Freehand drawing tool instead of the Freehand Connect drawing tool which I normally use. Using the former results in rather ink-y looking pictures. It's a nice effect and makes the picture less computer-y. Most drawings produced with a PC tends to be a little too clean, even and neat for my liking.

A quickly coloured version.

Link  | 

3:18 AM - Minsc-isms

"Don't teach my hamster to suck eggs!" - Minsc in Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn.

Link  | 

Saturday, January 11, 2003

11:46 AM - Party on

I've managed to complete the first chapter of Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn. I've just solved Quallo's riddles in the Athkatla sewers in the second chapter and managed to obtain Lilarcor, the talking two-handed sword, as my prize for completing the entertaining quest. It's just too bad my player character is a Kensai who's proficient with long swords.

I've decided to go with a Neutral/Evil party this time around. (I completed the game the first time playing as a Paladin accompanied with a gang of goody-goodies.)

I've discarded sweet, naive Aerie and will drop the hilarious Minsc and the bland Nalia as soon as I manage to get replacements. I hope to get Haer'Dalis and Viconia soon to complement Jaheira, Yoshimo and Korgan.

Link  | 

11:35 AM - Mo' Asimo

Asimo, Honda's robo-ambassador, made the front page of The Star today. The 52kg robot, making its first public appearance in Malaysia, was pictured shaking hands with a kid. The boy was later admitted to hospital for multiple fractures in his hand.

Kidding.

Meanwhile, the Asimo ad made another appearance elsewhere in the paper. (Page 11, fact fans). The copy now reads "Man took millions of years to evolve his walk. Asimo took 14." Someone apparently took note of the prominent error in the previous ad. However, the "When one of the world's most advanced car company builds a robot" error still remains.

I suppose I shouldn't make snarky comments since my blog entries are riddled with typos and gramatical errors. But sheesh, Honda actually paid someone to write that? That's not very advanced of the company, is it?

Link  | 

9:41 AM - Baa

Up until today, I've been exasperated by the fact Windows 98SE's Programs sub-menu in the Start menu isn't sorted alphabetically. It makes it slightly hard to find programs and utilities in the sub-menu.

It turns out that to sort the Programs sub-menu you merely have to right-click on the sub-menu and select the "Sort by Name" option in the context menu. That tip and more can be found in the tips.txt file in the Windows directory.

I feel sheepish.

Link  | 

8:48 AM - Dealing with pop-ups

I mainly surf the Net with OB1, a compact browser which has zero Javascript support. The lack of Javascript supports means there's no way for pop-up ads to appear. I've also disabled Javascript support in my back-up browsers, Netscape Navigator 4.79 and Internet Explorer 5.5. This means I haven't seen a pop-up ad in ages. Heck, since I surf the Net with the graphics turned off most of the time, I don't see that many ads.

Internet marketers must hate my kind.

However, there are the obvious drawbacks. Turning off images might speed up web browsing but it also makes some web pages drab to the eye. Plus, there are some pictures you absolutely have to see. Some of them might not even involve nekkid wimmen.

(The flip-side of that is that there are some pictures I wish I had never seen. For instance, that horrific picture of Michael Jackson in court. So disturbing.)

In addition, turning off Javascript often results in wacky page formatting. It's relatively minor as aggravations go but still.

Fortunately, the latest generation of browsers are tackling this problem head-on. Some Mozilla-flavoured browsers (for instance, Mozilla 1.2, Phoenix 0.5 and Netscape Navigator 7.01 ) allow you to selectively or completely ban pop-ups as well as images from servers that produce ads. You'll never see another ad wondering about your penis size.

I hope to upgrade to one of those browsers as soon as I believe they're stable enough for me. I'm especially interested in K-Meleon and Phoenix, the slimmer, browser-only flavours of Mozilla. Phoenix gets more mind-share but its UI is still sluggish as of version 0.5. K-Meleon, currently up to version 0.7, is nippier but lacks some of Phoenix 0.5's niftier features. I'll wait a couple of months to see how things develop.

Link  | 

8:42 AM - Picture this

I've enjoyed doodling since my early teens. Back then, I was ravenously devouring Marvel comic books and most of my drawings were my interpretations of works by my favourite comic book artists like John Byrne, Bill Sienkiewicz and Kevin Maguire. I mainly used a pencil and my canvas would usually be scraps of paper.

I did try my hand at digital art with Degas Elite, a graphics utility for the Atari ST, back in the late Eighties and even produced a couple of pictures that were the envy of my classmates. It's funny how a pixelated black and white picture produced by a 24-pin dot matrix printer could cause such a stir then.

My attempts at digi-doodling with Windows 9x were mostly unsatisfactory. Drawing with a mouse is frustrating. A graphics tablet would make things easier but I can't really justify the purchase of one. I enjoy doodling in my spare time but I don't enjoy it so much that I would be willing to spend RM200 (or more!) for a graphics tablet.

Furthermore, Windows's built-in graphics program, Paint (heh, I initially typo'd that as "Pain"), isn't as doodler-friendly as I would like.

For the most part I still rely on my trust old Papermate Pacer mechanical pencil and stick to drawing on paper.

Of late, however, I've been having a blast with a freeware graphics program, Pixia, which I learned about through the alt.comp.freeware newsgroup.

The latest version of the program, Pixia 2.5n, is a 2.96MB download and can be found here. Once installed, the program takes up less than 7MB of hard disk space.

Pixia is an English-translated version of a popular Japanese art program. From what I can tell, it's a favourite of amateur artists who seem to mainly use it to produce anime-inspired pictures. I have seen some absolutely stunning works produced with Pixia. If I wasn't informed otherwise I would have never known they were produced on a computer.

Unfortunately, documentation is sparse -- the program has a small text file providing some tips and that's about it -- but Gurima Kusano, a Japanese fan of the program, has produced a couple of nifty tutorials in English about the less intuitive aspects of the program. I initially had some problems dealing with layers -- one of Pixia's niftier features -- but Gurima's tutorials helped a lot.

(Note to the fussy: English is not Gurima's native tongue and it sometimes shows. But she does a great job, nonetheless.)

I love the fact it has got a couple of built-in options to compensate for dodgy mouse strokes. Drawing with a mouse is still a bit of a pain but it's more manageable thanks to Pixia's anti-aliasing capabilities (which eliminate jaggies) as well as the multiple undo and redo levels.

I'll bet if Rembrandt could have erased mistakes with a simple CTRL+Z keystroke combination he would be hearing in stereo today. Well, assuming he wasn't dead.

Although I doubt anything I've produced would be confused with Art with a capital A, a couple of my doodles produced with Pixia are nice (if I do say so myself).

I thought of displaying my drawings in my Bravenet photo gallery but for some reason or another the pictures aren't displaying in some browsers e.g. OB1.

Add to that the aggravation of Bravenet's ads and I've got a good reason not to use Bravenet's photo gallery. Sure, it's free but there's a limit to everything.

I've decided to use this site to showcase some lower-resolution versions of my doodles. Hey, it may not be great art but it's my art and I'm proud of it, darn it!

This was intended as a custom portrait for my Monk character in Neverwinter Nights. However, I had trouble summoning the enthusiasm to complete it once my interest in the game's official campaign waned. I'll probably continue working on this one in the future. I may even submit it to NW Vault's custom portraits section.

The above is a low-rez version of my doodle of Thomas Arashikage, better known as Storm Shadow from GI Joe: A Real American Hero. I used my now-yellowed action figure of the character as a model.

I'm very poor at colouring, though. I can never seem to get the colours just right. For that reason, I tend to stick to black and white. I probably need to find a collaborator. Any takers?

Link  | 

Thursday, January 09, 2003

11:12 PM - Back to Athkatla

I installed Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn and its expansion disk, Throne of Bhaal, yesterday. The hard disk space needed for full installations of both was 2.68GB. Ah, how I love my new Maxtor Fireball.

Upon playing the game, I was once again reminded of the differences between BGII and NWN. NWN has a superb UI. It's slick and makes it a whole lot easier to keep tabs of the various interfaces. The BGII UI, based on the venerable Infinity Engine UI, is a little clunkier.

One simple difference: in NWN, you can easily see the differences in player attributes and abilities when equipping items because you can display both the inventory and character sheets simultaneously. In BGII, you have to first click on the inventory screen and then open the character sheet.

However, in terms of role-playing satisfaction, BGII's first two hours beat NWN's first two chapters easily. The BGII characters are vivid and entertaining -- Minsc alone displays more character with his first dozen lines than any of the NWN NPCs -- and your player character has got a quick hook to draw you into the story.

Admittedly, payback as a motive isn't exactly original but it's more personal than "find a cure for a bunch of plague-hit NPCs thoroughly lacking in personality."

Link  | 

11:11 PM - Do the robot

Provocative ad by Honda "The Power of Dreams" in today's edition of The Star (page 9, fact fans).

"Humans took millions of years to evolve its walk. Asimo took 14."

Ah, but can Asimo make rude sounds with its armpits? I think not. Humans 1, Asimo 0.

Further down, readers are told "When one of the world's most advanced car company builds a robot, you can be sure it's anything but a toy." Shouldn't that read "companies"? I'll bet Asimo can't use a grammar checker. Humans 2, Asimo 0.

Link  | 

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

6:07 AM - I have space

I got a new hard disk, a Maxtor Fireball 30GB HDD, for RM245 three weeks ago. I had to make do with a mere 4.4GB for the past five years so this is a significant and welcome increase. Or at least, it eventually was.

Predictably, the BIOS didn't detect the Maxtor after I had hooked it up to the PC. I've never had a hardware upgrade that worked to my satisfaction the first time I tried it. I had no joy even after making sure the power and IDE cables were firmly hooked up. I was briefly entertaining the notion that I had a faulty disk on my hands when I remembered the jumper settings on the hard disk. It turns out I had neglected to switch the jumper settings from Slave to Master. D'oh. Once I had spent 10 minutes or so trying to remove the jumper -- why does it have to be so small and hard to remove? -- I was relieved to find that everything was A-OK. Hurrah!

Formatting the hard disk was an adventure. I've never partitioned a hard disk with FDISK before. The last time I attempted partitioning a hard disk, I used Windows-based utility Partition Magic so using the DOS prompt-based utility was rather, ah, exciting. I still had my data on the second hard disk and I didn't want to accidentally erase it. Fortunately, I managed to divide the new hard disk into two 14.3GB-sized partitions without problems.

Installing the OS and apps, dowloading updates and tweaking everything to my satisfaction took about two and a half hours. Once that was all done, I was pretty pleased with myself.

It's nice to be able to install games using their recommended or maximum installation sizes and reap the performance benefits. I've already noticed that NWN is more stable now. I'm not sure if that's due to 2GB recommended installation size I opted for or the fact I've had to install everything from scratch. Regardless, I've had fewer crashes while playing the game.

I've also been dumping MP3s from CDs to the hard disk. No more CD-swapping every time I want to hear a particular anime or classical tune.

Link  | 

6:04 AM - Updating NAV: The neverending story

Updating Norton AntiVirus 2001 is an aggravating experience. It first downloads 7MB worth of files then asks you to reboot. Look up Symantec's site again and you'll find another 3MB update awaiting you. Eh? Well, okay.

Download that then you're prompted to reboot again. Use LiveUpdate again and you'll find another 700kb worth of files awaiting you. Wha- ...?

Download that and you're prompted to reboot. Use LiveUpdate after this and you'll find another 1.7MB worth of updates waiting. Aargh.

And that wasn't the end of it. There was another 700-plus kb awaiting me when I connected to LiveUpdate after rebooting.

I'm all for patches and new virus definitions but why can't Symantec just provide one large download and allow the user to patch NAV2k1 offline instead of using this absurd piecemeal approach?

Link  | 

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