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May 012012
 

Siskiyou County Office of Education classrooms in Yreka, CA dedicated to those children with special education needs, were vandalized Sunday April 29, 2012, the second time in April. This hits a part of me directly as my wife was a teachers assistant for these children, in these particular classrooms in 2006-2007. My wife says “They were the best classrooms in Yreka” and now they are destroyed. Tens of thousands of dollars in damage to electronic equipment as well as flooding the bathrooms and many other hateful acts. Curriculum’s and other books were destroyed as well. Even though no person directly deserves such acts of hate and rage, these children especially are hurt by this senseless crime. Disconnected from their classroom for, who knows how long, they do not understand why this happened… and neither do I.

Update 02MAY2012: One adult, one juvenile arrested in Jackson Street School vandalism.

Update 03MAY2012: Vandals Trash Classrooms (Video from local TV station)

For the entire month of May 2012, all donations sent to me via this link will go directly to help rebuild the classrooms in Yreka, CA. I will also match 10% of all monies received and contribute to the cause as well. I thank you, in advance, for your support.

Update 02JUN2012: Generous support of my kind readers generated donations of $70! I thank everyone that helped remedy this matter.

Apr 222012
 

Hover over the links for more back story.

  1. I remember when I purchased a book with instructions on how to get rich for $19.99 by simply writing a book and publishing it.
  2. I remember when phones had cords.
  3. I remember when more then one PC game was released annually at retail stores.
  4. I remember when $20 to fill an 18 gallon gas tank was expensive.
  5. I remember when “apps” were keyed in by hand from a magazine and magnetic storage media was not financially feasible.
  6. I remember when song skipping was an extremely advanced option on car stereo cassette decks.
  7. I remember when Mtv actually played music videos.
  8. I remember when Mtv was better then VH1.
  9. I remember when 64KB of RAM was a lot.
  10. I remember when PC Gamer Magazine was 457 pages.
  11. I remember when www.blackviper.com was only 1 HTML page.
  12. I remember when people could “dislike” things as well as like them.
  13. I remember when sharing was giving access to physical objects with whom you did not wish to give that object to.
  14. I remember when a hard cover dictionary was the only spell checking option available.
  15. I remember when receiving one email per week from my website visitors was a success.
  16. I remember when receiving 250+ emails per day from my website visitors was a failure.
  17. I remember when 99% of all statistics were completely made up.
  18. I remember when I bought my first new car.
  19. I remember when I wrecked my first new car after only 3 months.
  20. I remember when people used to interact in person.
  21. I remember when I actually looked forward to Christmas.
  22. I remember when cars did not talk back.
  23. I remember when cars started talking.
  24. I remember when pay phones actually existed.
  25. I remember when the world was going to end December 31, 1999.
  26. I remember when the world did not end January 1, 2000.
  27. I remember when connecting to the internet required effort.
  28. I remember when modems actually made noise.
  29. I remember when displaying text as an image on a website was bad.
  30. I remember when displaying text as an image on a website was good.
  31. I remember when Transformers did not suck.
  32. I remember when console game controllers only had one button.
  33. I remember when my car insurance was just as much money per month as my rent.
  34. I remember when being a geek was not cool.
  35. I remember when The Bard’s Tale was released on C-64.
  36. I remember when 16 color graphics was great.
  37. I remember when Diablo was released on PC.
  38. I remember when 640×480 resolution was high res.
  39. I remember when I refused to buy a cell phone because people could call me at any time.
  40. I remember when I broke down on the side of the road which led to a purchased cell phone.
  41. I remember when a small battery installed in a game cartridge to enable saved games was phreaking awesome.
  42. I remember when I read the Dungeons Masters Guide at my leisure.
  43. I remember when Dungeons and Dragons was the root of all evil.
  44. I remember when I bought my first optical mouse and never looked back.
  45. I remember when #wordswereseperatedbyspaces.
  46. I remember when I could write some really good one liners.
  47. I remember when my whole life was in front of me.
  48. I remember when portable music players were 50+ pounds.
  49. I remember when people protested for a reason.
  50. I remember when entire brick and mortar stores were dedicated to PC Gaming.
  51. I remember when movies were only produced in two dimensions.
  52. I remember when I updated my daily diary in 1986 at the age of 14 with weeks of “Boring day” and did not make it to March.
  53. I remember when a 20 mile daily commute from Rosamond, CA to Edwards AFB took one CD worth of music to get there.
  54. I remember when a 30 mile car ride from Corning, CA to Chico, CA and back was an eternity every Saturday.
  55. I remember when a 60 mile car ride from Corning, CA to Redding, CA and back monthly was more punishing then being “sent to my room”.
  56. I remember when a 620 mile U-haul ride from Rosamond, CA to Yreka, CA required only one pee break with cats squalling in their carriers every two seconds.
  57. I remember when video game violence was actually blown out of proportion.
  58. I remember when songs on the radio did not have to censor every other word and those words were actually cuss words.
  59. I remember when robotics was science fiction.
  60. I remember when Stephen King novels were not allowed as high school book report options.
  61. I remember when a 13″ color TV was huge.
  62. I remember when a 21″ CRT computer monitor was gigantic.
  63. I remember when my kitties fit in the palm of my hand.
  64. I remember when Google was only a search engine.
  65. I remember when AltaVista was better then Google.
  66. I remember when people actually retained knowledge instead of just googling it.
  67. I remember when people actually retained incorrect knowledge instead of just googling it.
  68. I remember when I enjoyed using ICQ.
  69. I remember when printers cost more then the ink contained within them.
  70. I remember when a map purchased from a gas station was a better option then asking Siri.
  71. I remember when after work naps were longer then nighttime sleeping.
  72. I remember when I used to be funny.
Apr 032012
 

Introduction

This is an opinion piece to express my discontent for the feeling that “interfaces” should be consolidated and have one “look” and feel. This is utter rubbish and I will try to convey this distaste with a few examples. One should feel warned that if you do not enjoy reading opinion based content, you should stop now. This rant spawned from Microsoft’s push to force upon us a failure waiting to happen. So I will start with the tunnel vision of Microsoft, the success of Android and the failure of other interfaces on devices that I have used recently or shopped for.

Computers, Tablets, and Phones Oh My!

Microsoft is currently in a push to “unify” devices with the up and coming Windows 8. As a person that has had the displeasure of using the Windows 8 Consumer Preview on a desktop as well as a laptop, I can tell you with certainty Microsoft will fail that goal. Let’s not forget that Windows 8 is not “new” in the tablet genre. Microsoft had “Windows XP Tablet PC Edition” as well as Vista and 7 running on tablets and “Windows Phone” running on phones. Granted, when XP came out, the tablet scene was not ready and the price of said tablets were beyond what people were really willing to pay. They also had an easily misplaced stylus as an input device requiring users to seemingly take a step back to pen and paper. As such, “tablet” systems have not taken off with Microsoft as its OS… and for good reason. Face it, Apple did several things right with the release of the iPad build around their iOS that spawned initially from portable devices. Unfortunately, Microsoft is going the other way and all new PC users will suffer as a result. Microsoft wants you to use Windows on your phone, tablet, laptop and desktop and it is not going to work. The only thing they are going to really accomplish is diminish market share and raise Apples stock price. Each of those devices do not need “the same” interface.

Windows 8 has the “Metro” interface (an uncomfortable replacement for the start button) that is big square and rectangle tiles (oddly enough, most are two colors) instead of icons, presumably, easier to “touch” with a touch screen computer or tablet. That is all fine and dandy if said tablet did not have any “other” functions that one comes to expect from a Windows PC, such as using Explorer to wander around the file tree. Said Explorer actually drops the Metro style full screen view and dumps back to the standard desktop that we have all come to enjoy (or at least put up with). In its current version, I cannot imagine actually using Explorer on a tablet as the interface just does not follow that type of interaction. What is even worse is that two different versions of IE are in use in Windows 8. One that is full screen if activated from Metro with the address bar at the bottom, and another one if on the desktop and opening up IE from there with the address bar at the top. How is this going to win over desktop users as well as tablet purchasers? Having the address bar at the bottom of a tablet makes a certain amount of sense… touch keyboards often appear from the bottom and it would be easier to glance right above the keys to the address bar to see what is being typed, but with the insane push of “apps” that are just short cuts directly to a website and the long standing bookmark feature, I find it hard to believe the address bar will be used often, but it still does not need to move from North to South for the average user. It makes for a confusing experience and just scratches the surface of how users will lash out at the OS and should not be taken lightly. I may expand more on this later, but off to my point.

Microsoft is all too familiar with epic failures in the past (Windows ME) and most recently with the release of Windows Vista. Vista was (and still is) a bloated OS that took a speedy XP on modern systems and brought them to a crawl. As far as the end user was concerned, it was just a pretty interface that caused this slowdown and consumers wanted answers. That answer was to give Vista users the opportunity to go back to XP, further advancing the overall opinion of the OS in a downward spiral. Oddly enough, people will probably bash Windows 8 for not being pretty, just as I did, but also discredit the usability factor on desktops… Microsoft’s current bread and butter. Why piss off your absolutely largest audience just to capture a small percent of users that are already very happy with the great alternatives available? Thankfully, Windows 7 fixed many of those nagging Vista performance issues and has resulted in a great OS that I use daily and I will guarantee that after only a short period of time, people will be screaming to get Windows 7 on their new PC’s shipped with Windows 8. Unfortunately for Microsoft, I also use other OS’s daily and they are not Windows based.

Android Success, WebOS Fail

In all honesty, I have not used any Apple portable products, so I cannot comment on ease of use, but I can comment on Android. With the release of the Motorola Droid, I was propelled from wanting a “netbook” as my movable computer of choice to just using a smartphone. The Droid did everything I wanted: email, surf the web, GPS navigation, Netflix streaming and a dizzying amount of other functions I use all the time. The interface was built from the ground up (just like iOS was) from a touch screen/portable perspective. As such, I feel it is pretty easy to use and highly functional for what I need to do as well as intuitive enough to pick up and not have to “figure out” how to do the simplest of tasks. Oddly enough, “tiles” are not a part of the interface. Multicolored icons are throughout and easily identifiable as such, not so with Metro.

During the HP fire sale of the TouchPad device, I was able to acquire one. Hey, it was only $99 and I wanted to experience the “tablet” type of device and see what I was missing. Come to find out, I was not missing much as the single most important function that I wanted a TouchPad for was to stream Netflix on a device larger then my phone while away on business. After purchase, I quickly (20 minutes) discovered that no Netflix application supports WebOS. I tossed the TouchPad on my desk and left it there for several weeks. I even tried to pawn it off onto family members that wanted to try a tablet out, but they knew that if I am dumping technology, it is for a reason… or lack of purpose.

One faithful night, I decided to see if I could make my TouchPad useful. I rapidly discovered CyanogenMod as an alternative ROM for the TouchPad. Usually used to “root” and get rid of the default flavor of Android on a device, this is installed along side of WebOS. First I used CyanogenMod 7 (Android 2.3) but recently, CyanogenMod 9 (Android 4.0) has hit “Alpha” stage and I gave it a shot as well. The TouchPad now completely rocks. I use it often to stream Netflix via wireless networks where ever I may roam. Not only does Android have a successful interface on a phone, but Ice Cream Sandwich is great on a tablet. I could not be more happy and looking forward to the advancements the CyanogenMod team does.

It should also be worth noting that I use a WebOS powered phone for work. Yes, it does what it needs to do, but since HP dropped support for the devices, they won’t be advancing any time soon. The marketplace for WebOS is a ghost town and not many applications are available. The interface works, however, as the way it zooms out and swipe to scroll left and right through open applications is great. Just a flick to the top closes an application from the zoomed out view. Somehow, I wish that feature was available for ICS… oh wait… it is. Hitting the app selector button brings up a thumbnail listing on the left hand side of all applications running. A quick swipe to the right closes the application. Good innovations do live on, even in an alternative form.

The Death Of The PS3… How I Miss Thee!

Not to long ago, my PS3 that I purchased new upon first release died. Best that I can come up with is that it had a heat related issue and I did not wish to pay for it to be fixed. After all, for the past several years, the only thing I have used the PS3 for was to play optical disk movies and stream Netflix. I can come up with a replacement… I think. I do not have the money for a new PS3, so I had to figure out what I could do with what I already had.

I am well known for doing silly things with old hardware. At one time, more then a decade ago, I had a computer hooked up to my TV to watch DVD’s as I did not have a dedicated DVD player. I used a wireless mouse for controls and all was well and good. It worked for what I needed it to do. So, I decided to take one of my old laptops with a DVD player, put Linux on it and hook it up to the TV so I can stream Netflix. After several hours of banging my head against the big screen TV, I found out that Netflix only supports Silverlight on PC’s and it is not available for Linux due to DRM. What?!? Okay, I get the fact that Silverlight is a MS flash wannabe, but my thought of using a Linux PC for streaming Netflix was busted and I was pretty pissed. Even though it is technically possible, I looked for alternatives that, once again, I already had.

I turned to the XBOX 360. Unfortunately, the XBOX 360 requires a Live subscription to stream Netflix that I was not willing to pay for. Another unfortunate aspect of this adventure was that I updated the XBOX with the latest version available and the GUI turned into a strange, 3D avatar infested mishmash of… you guessed it, two colored tiles. Want to experience the prequel to Metro? Look no further then the kiddy interface on the 360. Another chink in the XBOX’s armor is the fact that mine does not play Blu-Rays, but more importantly, I wanted my Netflix back, so I turned to the Wii.

The Wii does not play Blu-Rays either, but at least I can stream Netflix without any additional cost. I should mention here that I don’t use the Wii. It was purchased for my wife, so I have not had the displeasure of using the motion controllers much. I did play Tetris by plugging in an old-skool style controller to the Wii wrist strapped uncomfortable bricks, but didn’t use it often enough for me to remember why I hated it. Oh, look! A bunch of square tiles! At least these had rounded corners! I then downloaded Netflix, activated it and off I go. I actually used this motion interface for a week before throwing the controller across the room. I cannot stand the Wii controllers and I could not even search for movies or browse for more. This sucks.

I then went to the local Walmart to get a standalone box to play optical disks as well as have the ability to stream Netflix. I landed on, what I thought, was a good deal and will suit it’s purpose and brought it home. It was a Sony player, so I figured that the interface would be compatible to the PS3 that I so miss. It was, sort of. It was slow as running through quicksand. I could not search or browse movies, only view my queue and streaming HD was not working. Even though YouTube was an option, I could not view the favorites that I have saved (music videos). I took it back and almost purchased a new PS3 with money I did not have, but I didn’t.

A friend of mine caught wind of my distress and offered up his Samsung player he was no longer using to take care of duties. It works, but not that well. The PS3 streamed wonderfully via wireless but the player does not have a wireless option. I now have a 50′ CAT5 cable running through my house from the player to the router. At least it does HD, but the interface for Netflix? No searching or browsing movies. Oh how I miss the PS3! The PS3 saves my point in my show watching and this player does, kinda. If I do not pause it in the middle of a program, it will randomly pick 1 of 100 episodes that I already watched and call that not viewed and I start from there. When a person is on episode 78 and it decides to pick 31 as its starting point… it gets annoying quick. After viewing a program, it gives the option of playing the next episode, but if you wish to wander back to the queue, not find anything worth viewing at the moment and jump back to what you just watched, the next episode is, again, a random pick. Crazy annoying crap, really. At least the interface on the player is basicly functional, which leads to my next point: “Smart TV’s”.

Smart TV’s?

Picture this: a college student is living in a 10′ by 10′ square (tile) and needs all the extra space and shed any electronic equipment that is not needed. That leaves me out. In the back of my mind, I want to get a TV to hang on the wall in the computer room. I want a TV that streams Netflix and can be connected to a computer at some point. No problem there, until I casually went to Walmart and discovered what I want was out of my price range (and more then a PS3). It has been (and still is) in the back of my mind, but I know that any “smart” TV that I get will have some crappy interface, slow as can be, and just be barely functional to even call it smart.

Enter Samsung. I was caught watching live TV when a Samsung commercial for their new smart TV’s came on the screen and I could not fast forward. It showed people standing in front of the TV and waiving their hand in front of them to move a cursor on screen as well as go from an open palm to a clenched fist to click. Are you serious? But wait, you can even talk to it. Uh, what? Yeah, I just laughed. I then looked up Samsung’s website to see what other craziness it can (or cannot) do. Come to find out, it has a bunch of built in features and has alternate input methods, such as a remote with a built in touch pad/microphone and a keyboard with a touch pad. Great, but I do not like touch pads either. At first opportunity, I plug in a mouse to my laptop to completely avoid using the touch pad at all. In certain Samsung’s propaganda videos, they even state that this new interaction is “fun”. Well, call me an old fart, but I do not find waving my hand around to be a fun way of messing with a TV or talking to it to make it do anything. Maybe that college student might enjoy it or a Kinect/Wii user, but I sure don’t. Oddly enough, the touch screen interface on a phone is just what the doctor ordered. I have no problems using it, via thumb. Oddly enough, it feels like a natural interaction vice a finger running over a touch pad. Depending on the actual size of the small remote control, it could be a usable alternative for me. If not, thankfully, a TV producer does have (acceptable) options available, such as the “like a Bluetooth mouse” from Panasonic.

Hey TV manufactures everywhere, I will give you what I think is the best option available: Bluetooth mouse. Let me connect a Bluetooth mouse to the TV so I can sit it on the coffee table and move it as I see fit. It is a tried and true method of interacting with desktops that, I feel, does not need “reinventing”. Granted, this option may not be great for everyone, but at least give the option. If you can engineer a camera on a TV that recognizes faces to “login”, you can let me connect a damn mouse to it.

Until that point… I will keep my dumb TV and only connect smart things to it… or at least try.

-Black Viper

Mar 132012
 

Diablo 3 Multiboxing: Possible Or Not?

In short, yes! Controlling 2 to 4 characters in Diablo 3 is possible with 2 to 4 seperate accounts, game purchases and free mouse replication software, but is it practical?

Unfortunately, the answer is no for the average gamer, including me at this time.

I just tried this using Input Director and Desktop + Laptop (on board graphics) running at same resolution (1366 x 768) using two beta accounts (wife and my account) and created two new characters.

The reason multiboxing Diablo 3 Beta is not practical is the systems become unsynced with relation to each other very quickly. In town, moving around is fine. Either “clicking” each move or holding down the mouse button (though clicking seems to work better) functions as expected. However, when getting into a fight and waiting for the resources to load (sound, spell effects, etc) the systems become unsynced and the characters start to run off in different parallels in relation to the master. With no follow command, getting them synced back up is as “easy” as running into a corner wall and waiting for them to stack on top of each other, but upon moving from that spot, the characters will still be just a little bit off. A pixel here or there adds up quick and they will become out of sync again. Let us not even factor in the battle.net latency as, regardless of systems, it will not be the “same” across all computers at the exact same moment for any extended period of time, once again making the characters not synced. The character in game also goes “just beyond” where clicked to move. As a result, the characters may not sync up due to different angles of arriving at the same location.

Even with the laptop running minimum GFX settings, it could not keep up with the desktop. This should not come as a surprise, but a current high end gaming PC with 4 virtual machines may struggle keeping everything synced up (I would say an I7 EE, 16GB RAM, SSD’s, 2 or more nVidia 500 series probably would work) and completely stutter free at all times. I do not have a system with such high end specs to test, so I had to only test what I have available. As such, unless 4 systems have the same high end specs (or at least way beyond what is required to run a single instance of Diablo 3 very smoothly), quad-boxing or even dual-boxing, is and will be, difficult to pull off for the average gamer. I would venture a guess that multiboxing is beyond average to start with, though. :)

With loot not being shared between party members (drops only show for the character that can pick it up), this makes looting difficult through trash monsters but still feasible for boss drops. Money (gold) is automatically picked up if the character is in range, but that range is still pretty small and gold does not drop in the same spot for all characters.

I really looked forward to multiboxing in D3 as I enjoyed it in WoW. I also spent a lot of time to run D2 on 8 systems over 10 years ago just for the “extras” it offered. However, having mules sit in town (level 1 characters going to Hell difficulty) is very different then controlling all those characters at the same time. For a good laugh, here is a guide and my findings I drafted in 2001 for Diablo 2 Muling.

When I dual-boxed for a long time with WoW, I used in game macros and was accused of “botting” often. It was fun for me overcoming aspects of the game while still controlling all characters… and that is the key.

“Botting” is mixed in with multiboxers more often then I can stomach. What is the difference in pressing one key on a keyboard and having it replicated across 4 computers verse having 4 keyboards very close to each other and stretching my fingers to hit “1” at the same time? “Botting” is automation! Having a character complete multiple tasks (traveling, killing, looting, crafting, vendoring) while the person “controlling” said character is at school/work/beach/sleep/etc. When I did not tell my characters to do something, they did nothing. That is not “botting”, that is multiboxing.

Hardware macros are not really “automation” unless it is doing much more then mashing three buttons. Using my G-19 keyboard to “macro” actions is pretty trivial. I played a (fairly) recent MMO that did not monitor hardware macro actions (like WoW does). As such, I made a macro button to constantly mash “1 2 3″ every 15ms. The game lasted right around 7 days for me as it made things extremely easy. How was I killing monsters before I macroed that action? Using three fingers to mash 1 2 3 and thus using those actions every cooldown anyway.

The interesting aspect (and general thought) about multiboxing is that the person somehow becames super rich in game. That is not correct for me as I purchase the standard stuff that everyone else does (example being epic flying, enchant them all up) and, in effect, I had 4 times the loot and 4 times the in game cost (as well as the wallet MMO monthly fee drain). As far as I am concerned… that makes single character controllers and I even.

People also do not understand that, as a whole, multiboxers are still behind the power curve as far as game content is concerned. Sure, in any given time period, Diablo 3 multiboxers would have “4 times” the chance that a good item drops, but 4 people have that same chance and probably completing content above the level of the multiboxer anyway (hell vs inferno for example) and getting items “worth more” and also much easier…

Multiboxing is work… hard work. :) Even though it may not be practical, I wish that I could find a way to make a single high end gaming system capable of running D3 in 4 VM’s manifest as I still want to do it upon Diablo 3’s release. :)

Jul 202011
 

The forum is currently shutdown. I wish to thank all of my members for their time and effort at making my community a clean and safe one, but the task of administrating a “General” technical support forum on my “personal” website was too great. It has been a great few years and I am sorry to let it go, but time has got the better of me recently. It makes me sad that I have to let a piece of my web site go with such great support of my readers.

Update: Please note, all of my Windows services guides will remain and stay updated with my findings. This post only is about the “BBS” or “Forum” section powered by SMF, not the entire domain. This post should also not be thought of as a disservice to Simple Machines Forums or discredit their software in any way. The volunteers working on SMF are awesome, but they seem to have been faced with much more then I can imagine “behind the scenes” and frustration on their part was worked through, but it was just a bit too late to try and recover on my end.

What is this all about?

I, Charles “Black Viper” Sparks, is shutting down the BBS/Forums section of my domain. This comes as a result of many issues from all aspects of hosting and moderating comments coming from the entire world as well as my original intentions of providing this service from the start. I am only one person.

What was the original intention of the BBS (Forums)?

Simply put: To provide a public access way for my visitors to ask questions about Windows(R) Services and allow me to answer them and be displayed to the planet.

“Write once, read by many” has been a philosophy crafted by me ever since I was a child.

When I first started creating my internet presence in 1998, I was blown away by the simple concept and realities that I could write something once and have the entire world read it in seconds. Seriously, that power is awesome when you think about it. Since that time, I have learned an enormous amount of self taught information about how the internet works, HTML and PHP, as well as computers in general and I wanted to share that knowledge with everyone for free. A lofty goal if you really think about that one also. :)

Over the last 3.5 years, in order to help people in general areas and reduce my one-on-one communication methods, the forums went from “something that only I really wanted” to “something that forum members use and respond to others”. What?

What “one-on-one” communication methods?

Email and Instant Message to name a couple. I even recieved technical support questions via Snail (Postal) Mail. No, seriously…

I have this lame stat in a few locations, but, when I shutdown the entire domain in 2005 (I had no “public” way to answer questions), I received, on average, 200 emails per day while my email server (of which I setup, configured with spam filters and viri detection) dumped 6,000 per day. At that time, I served zero ads and made little to no money for my time. It was a hobby that I enjoyed until it became too much work for nothing but a couple emails saying “thanks”.

I tried to reduce this “one-on-one” communication by offering a “FAQ” to my visitors and, unfortunately, most people ignored it because it was easier to spend 10 minutes writing an email then 5 minutes scanning a FAQ to get an answer.

What solution did you come up with?

When I brought back my domain in 2007, I wanted to squash this type of communication and decided on SMF forum software http://www.simplemachines.org/ to provide this “service”. I spent many hours researching what software to use as well as “looks” and ease of administration. Simple Machines Forum won my heart. I have spent 1000’s of hours behind the scenes administering this software and comments and it is extremely easy to do… What if it was complicated?

What has happened between 05FEB2011 to 12FEB2011 to question the intent of the forums?

Crib notes: After 12 years, I finally decided to make the leap from static HTML files and content on my main domain to be transfered into a “CMS” (LOL? My initials…) or Content Management System type of environment.

This is because it takes a crazy-insane amount of time to update static content using a HTML editor. The less time I spend “working in the background”, the more time I can spend writing content that people care about. No, not tweeting telling everyone that I am stuck at a red light, but content that people wish to read. My guess is that 99% of the people using the internet care very little about how it works. As such, over the last 12 years, 99% of the stuff that I have been doing is completely worthless to the average domain reader. Bummer.

I decided on WordPress http://wordpress.org/. Not much went into this decision except the simple fact that lots of people use it. I decided to convert my random “news updates” on my domain to individual posts in WordPress. I was impressed (pun?). The extreme ease of adding and updating “pluggins” as well as the act of updating WordPress software itself is amazingly easy. In contrast, the other CMS system I decided on for each of my 1200 static service pages was MediaWiki http://www.mediawiki.org/wiki/MediaWiki. Over several months (since around June 2010 to August 2010), I messed with MediaWiki and that software is a nightmare to administer and to even write a page. It took me a very long time to get that wiki up and running with no support from anyone. I actually respected SMF forum software a lot due to my experience with MediaWiki. WordPress took hardly anytime at all to get off of the ground.

As such, I started converting “all” of my static content available on www.blackviper.com, over to WordPress. This act alone ran me into many issues that I had to solve “behind the scenes” as no one really cares.

What issues has BV had converting the domain to WordPress?

Simply put: My (long) term goal is to have a single login as well as offer up a completely ad free environment for my dedicated readers.

By request, I implemented a “plugin” for WordPress to only serve ads to users that are not logged into the “blog”. I had issues setting up this “free” plugin that I found, but had exactly the capabilities that I wanted outlined here: http://planetozh.com/blog/my-projects/wordpress-plugin-who-sees-ads-control-adsense-display/?cp=all#comment-141494
I finally figured out a workaround, but it took around 15 hours to do so. That is 15 hours of me troubleshooting, not 15 hours of real-time, and I sent off $20 via PayPal to the author.
For awhile, I had contributing members on the forums (+1 post) display no ads. This is an effort to give back to my members. However, I do not like “multi-signon” anywhere and do not expect my forum members to deal with it either, so I want a “single login for everything” on my domain.

What happened? (February 12, 2011)

I have previously looked for “bridges” to link MediaWiki as well as WordPress to SMF 2.0.

However, “zero” plugins are supported due to the fact that SMF 2.0 is currently not “released”, meaning not good enough for final release and never has been recommended for a “production” site (I have experienced only a handful of bugs that only were a result of my lack of understanding how things were intended to work, not the fault of the software). As such, nobody wants to make a “free” plugin for software not in “final” form. I wish to explain right now that I have used SMF 2.0 on my BBS for around three years, since public release of the beta around March 2008. This whole time, I have waited for some method to link other CMS’s and have a single signon and administration aspect, as well as “final form”.
Today, Simple Machines gave this tidbit to the public: http://www.simplemachines.org/community/index.php?topic=421547.msg2948711

And I quote from the link above:
At this time, legal matters related to the upcoming license changes have prevented us from making a final release of SMF 2.0.

Update: SMF 2.0 has been released, but just a bit too late for me, unfortunately: http://www.simplemachines.org/community/index.php?topic=437328.0

Explain legal matters?

While I was searching for a bridge to link WordPress and SMF 2.0, I discovered the reason why in the last year, I cannot find something: SMF license prohibits this type of stuff. It is not “compatible” with the GPL and as such, no supported bridge can be made for legal reasons. Also from what I understand, “SMF Final Release” will change the license for this to happen and be able to legally do what I need to do… however, I need to say that this software is made and supported by “volunteers”, meaning, no one is getting paid. They do what they do because they enjoy it and the software is free.

What was your reaction to this information?

In all honesty, from all that I have done in the background, this piece of information made me pissed.

I wanted to lash out at SMF and give them a piece of my mind. Yet, I would be complaining to volunteers that do not get paid for their efforts. As such, instead of being a complete jerk and probably bringing up more issues by complaining about it, I decided to consider shutting down the forums.

Shutdown the forums? What? How can you even consider such a thing?

When I converted a couple popular pages over to WordPress, comments on my guides already started. In only 48 hours, one person already posted a technical support question related to Windows Services and I answered it. This simple act alone completely invalidates the entire reason for the forums to exist as stated in my “original intentions” at the top of this page. Not only do I have to administer my “blog” (damn, I hate that word), but I have to administer software (BBS) that, who knows, will even exist in a year and I may need to “convert” the BBS to different software in the future. The forums are not anywhere close to the content of WordPress, so too many clicks are needed to get to the answer. I need to cut my losses.

Why not convert to a different BBS software now?

I have spent thousands of hours behind the scenes administering the BBS.

I honestly have no desire to start from scratch learning how to do it on different software, let alone the fact that even the ability to perform such an action is completely up in the air due to “importing SMF 2.0″ is not supported as it is, once again, not a final release.

Another reason is that I am offering to answer “technical support questions” generated by everyone in the world on a forum operated by one person. Anyone with common sense should immediately understand that is an impossible task and I thought I could do it. Thankfully, I had forum members answer questions on their own, but I have a hard time with this. I never expected this to happen and it never was in my thoughts or intentions that it would happen.

What about the members?

I love my forum members.

In all honesty, I was scared from day one starting these forums up and every step of the way, my members have supported me, for nothing but a thanks, just like what I received for so many years and I cannot formulate enough words to communicate my appreciation for it.

But you have a billion people online…

This stat inflated that thought: Most Online Today: 20. Most Online Ever: 362 (November 01, 2009, 12:10:07 PM)

When I offered the ability for logged in users to the BBS to not have ads on my static HTML pages (that turned into dynamic PHP), the count of people visiting the “forums” was greatly inflated. In reality, only about 20 people visit the forums on any given 24 hour period… not hundreds.

Can you just allow “someone else” to deal with the forums?

Simply put: No.

I am the Master on my domain and if you would happen to gather three people in a room, those people will have a hard time agreeing on anything, let alone “proper” methods of administrating or “right and wrong” and the complicated matter of the internet’s “anonymous” aspect making people be jerks because they can. As such “ultimate power” has stayed with me throughout the life of my domain and I wish to keep it that way. I have zero desire to “manage” several people on something like this.

A few valued forum members have posted quality information and answers for absolutely nothing, with nothing to motivate them except a few thanks from me. I cannot ask nor do I feel right, bringing up the option to any of them to continue their efforts alone because I do not want to do it. The “cost” of keeping these forums up and running is difficult to calculate. For 2.5 years, I hosted the forums on a DSL line in my house that was $95 per month, but for the first time ever, I will state what financial compensation I have received as a direct result of the forums…

You serve ads on the BBS (Forums), isn’t that enough?

Average amount of money I have gained from Google Ads served off of the BBS is around $0.75 US per day.

I offer “no product” for sale, no tangible thing to make money.

So, are you asking for more money to keep the forums up?

No.

At this point, money is not my motivating factor in shutting down the forums.

Can I rip everything and make my own forums or have you send me the database?

No.

Ever since day one, I have stated that “Posts and Topics appearing here are the opinion and property of The Poster.” Meaning, I have zero right or authority to allow anyone else to duplicate the content and take it anywhere else. I have no desire to ask 1400 forum members with 1 post and over, permission to duplicate or redistribute their content. Period. It is not an option. I never redistributed the posts on my CD/DVD and I am not going to do it now.

I thank you, kind reader, for your support over the years and understand this decision came with much heartache and pain.

-Charles “Black Viper” Sparks

http://www.blackviper.com/

Originally drafted on the BBS on 13FEB2011, reposted/reformatted 20JUL2011 here.

Jul 072009
 

Introduction

For many years, I have been a fan of Blizzard’s Diablo Universe. I have spent a chunk of my life playing the Diablo franchise and I must say, I enjoyed every minute. Unfortunately, while wandering around on Slashdot.org today, I discovered some disturbing news…

The issue

Diablo and Diablo 2/LOD had LAN support built in. This enabled people to play on a local LAN for various reasons… LAN parties are a big one, but why I did it was for different reasons. After I discovered that XP (the unit of measurement that allowed a character to advance) was multiplied by how many players were in game, I started playing with 8 computers.

Unfortunately, according to this interview on Slashdot and several other sources around the internet, LAN play will not be available in Diablo 3. What?!?

Quote from the article:

Slashdot: Can you tell us about the multiplayer aspect of the game, in terms of Battle.net and the possibility of LAN play?

Blizzard: We’re not supporting LAN play. We’re basically focusing on making the best multiplayer experience we can, and that’s all through Battle.net. There are tons of features we’re going to be supporting both for cooperative play and competitive play. One of the things we can talk about with the new Battle.net is security. Fixing some of the problems we had with the earlier Diablos — item duping, cheating, and griefing — we’re going to be addressing all of those things with the new Battle.net, as well as some pretty awesome competitive play ideas we’re working with right now. So that’s going to be the biggest advance, especially for previous Diablo players, to see all these we’re planning. It going to be really awesome.

I am well aware that this “news” is old in an internet time scale, but I have been looking forwarded to LAN play in Diablo 3 ever since I watched Blizzcon 2008. It just so happens that I wandered through Slashdot and discovered this interview in mid 2009. When checking out the link, I was thinking it was a “pre” interview for Blizzcon 2009… not old news.

The Reasons

I am well aware of the reasons behind this decision.

  • A “secure” environment
  • “Reduced” cracks and cheats
  • Less coding due to not needing a “local server” to handle the details

Now, lets look at this a bit more.

A “Secure” Environment

With Diablo 2/LOD, a person could create “Closed” and “Open” characters.

Closed characters were only available on Battle.net and the character information was stored on their servers. It also should be noted that if you failed to login for a predetermined amount of time (if I recall correctly, it was 3 months) those “secure” characters were deleted. Meaning, all of my “USWest” characters are long gone (I actually checked sometime in 2003).

Open characters could play local LAN or coop play as well as on Battle.net on specific open character servers (usually riddled with the standard issue “trained” characters or duped items). I only created open characters with LOD and did not play on Battle.net once. I also still have all of my open character save files backed up many different times through various upgrades, etc. I even fired up Diablo 2 LOD several months ago with one of my high level characters to see how it played out on Windows Vista. I could not do that with any of my closed characters… Now, how “secure” are those closed servers? Not very in my humble opinion.

“Reduced” Cracks and Cheats

Anyone that has been gaming at least 2 hours will figure out this: No such thing as a secure gaming environment exists. If a company creates it, it WILL be cracked/cheat ridden within hours of release (and maybe even sooner). It is a sport for some, a challenge for others, and a magnet for some people that just cannot play as the developers intend, and thus a “market” for those people willing to spend the time cracking Blizzard games or any other companies games.

Let’s take World of Warcraft as a prime example. Blizzard has done well with World of Warcraft in the fact that they have had several million players and have had “little” issues with gaming cracks and cheats…

Wait… lets completely ignore bots, glider, macros, gold spammers, key loggers and other cracks and cheats that plague the world. Let me put this in other terms: no LAN play with Diablo 3 forces me to use Battle.net just to put up with the exact same crap as I have with World of Warcraft and other Blizzard games. Diablo “map” hacks, Warcraft 3 invisible players, etc. “Secure” environment? Really… does anyone actually believe this?

Even some games have “secure” servers that have anti-hack code on the client and server to attempt a “nice” playing environment. Does it really work? Has it ever? Then why bother?!? It is an illusion put in place by game companies to help “reassure” legit players that they are not playing cheaters while invading my privacy to “validate” my game files. Can this ever be guaranteed? I did not think so.

Less coding due to not needing a “local server” to handle the details

Really. This cannot be the problem. Many games have available a “local” server. FPS games, RTS games, etc. Cutting out all of the Battle.net “match making” and chat rooms cannot be all that difficult. I did find is pretty high on the lame scale that even with a local LAN game and a very capable computer that “warping” of characters and monsters and “lag” in Diablo 2/LOD. This was only magnified on Battle.net with, what I had at the time, a dial-up connection. Even with that rather large issue, LAN was the only way to play.

I am unaware if Diablo 3 will include a “single player” mode of gameplay or if Battle.net is going to be the only way to enjoy the game. If it is included, it cannot be that hard to code it to send the location information out to client systems and have those client systems display said information.

The Bummer Factor

Not having LAN play forces me to connect to servers that I have no control over. I cannot count the amount of times in 5 years that the servers were down with World of Warcraft when I wanted to play. Lets just take today for an example… their “weekly schedules maintenance” time is right now… 5AM to 11AM. For those that are ready to scream “ZOMG, get a life for six hours!” I want you to realize that I have no choice in playing. I cannot play during their down times, their network maintenance or random stability issues resulting in server crashes after every damn patch that could last weeks, and right after retail release… it was months of lag and disconnect problems. I want local LAN play that does not base its “ability to play” around someone else’s maintenance schedule. I want to play when ever I wish… excluding those power outage times. :)

As an example, what would be your reaction if your favorite TV show aired at the exact same time every week that your cable/satellite provider happened to be performing maintenance. Would it actually be your favorite show if you cannot watch it?

It also means that I need to connect through the internet to game servers hundreds of miles away to play Diablo 3 with my wife that is sitting at a distance of FIVE FEET! Even in this world of technological marvels we have today, that just seems extremely lame to me. Blizzard, I beg of you… give me the option of LAN play! I do not want to deal with server stability issues months after retail release. It seriously is a big downer and if you really think that “all will be figured out before then,” you are kidding yourself.

Hellgate: London

Do I even have to mention this?

Hellgate: London had a single player game. Single meaning just that… server less and no LAN support. Multiplayer support, through Flagship Studios servers, lasted just over a year and the company hit hard times and disappeared. Now… do I have multiplayer support for Hellgate: London? No.

Am I suggesting that Blizzard will have an epic fail with Diablo 3 if they do not include LAN play? Of course not. However, I would hope that they would look to the failures of past Blizzard employees and reconsider offering local multiplayer capabilities… just in case. :P

Additional Epic Fails:

StarCraft 2: No LAN support

August 27, 2009 @ ~ 7:00 P.M.: Battle.net authentication goes down for World of Warcraft. Stuck at “connecting”. Good thing I decided to switch from my regular account to a Battle.net one before it was “mandatory”. Grats to me also for deciding that Thursday would be another “guild gaming” day. Today “would” have been the first one… IF I could actually PLAY!

Conclusion

Even though this unfortunate information will not stop this fan from purchasing Diablo 3, It does stop me from getting multiple copies… Okay, maybe I will dual box. :) Now that it is 11:01 AM PST and the World of Warcraft servers are back up, I am going to get back to playing my characters.

Black Viper

July 7, 2009

Revision History

July 7, 2009: Initial release

July 14, 2009: Added Hellgate: London blurb.

August 27, 2009: Epic Fails

Feb 212008
 

The Pursuit of Perfection… Failed?

Introduction

Subjective content, meaning opinion based methods of evaluation, leave quite a sour taste in my mouth. In a math class, either the answer is wrong or right. Their is no “fuzzy logic” involved. Even though my English skills, I feel, lack the hard hitting efforts of many professional writers (and, lets face it, my grammar really is pathetic, but at least I know that), I try real hard to get my point across without any fluff.

The issue

For an assignment in my English class, I was commended for my writing style, presentation, and all around quality writing. We were tasked with creating a short essay about a “trait” that hits home with the writer. I picked perfectionism.

Several events lead up to the final product that I submitted, but at each step along the way, I was praised for my writing and that I should have been placed in a “higher” English class than what I was presently attending.

My “Thesis Statement” received a “check plus” along with a penciled “excellent” and was used as an example of how a thesis statement should be constructed in front of the whole class. The instructor did not say who wrote the other examples, but mine was first up to bat and she mentioned me by name:

—–

Being a perfectionist has not only lead me to increased stress, but also has magnified the complexity of the simplest of tasks.

—–

It took me a couple of hours to craft that one single sentence. No, seriously… and people wonder why it takes me forever to pen guides and post them. I read and reread my work a thousand times before it is deemed “good enough” to publicly post.

Even this quote penciled on my rough draft from my instructor all led me to believe I had created a “perfect” paper. One to go down in history. A masterpiece with no errors. (Haha!)

Charles – your writing style is clear and strong. Developed examples and events flow together seamlessly because of your transitions. No changes necessary – just submit a “clean” copy.

So what did I receive on the assignment? A 46 out of 50. 92%! What the?!? An “A”, but just barely. Bleh!

Anyway, here I offer before you an unedited/modified version of my final draft for you to read. It, of course, contains errors that my instructor did not catch the first few times around and that I missed after reading it a million times (noted by “sic”). That is okay, after all, it is not a perfect paper and it is worth noting that grammar and spelling was not a basis of evaluation. It may even strike you with some comic relief. I can laugh about it now, but at the time I received my grade results, I was pretty ticked off.

Only three paragraphs are presented here as the original document had and the assignment required. Personally, I would have broke up the body into several more and lengthened it considerably, but there was a “minimum and maximum” amount of words as a requirement. I barely made it… the maximum, that is.

—–

September 25, 2006

Thoughts of a Perfectionist

Some people strive for a flawless, chiseled body. Others try compulsively to claw their way to the top of the corporate ladder in search of the perfect career. I focus my efforts in a completely different manner. Being a perfectionist has not only lead me to increased stress, but also has magnified the complexity of the simplest of tasks.

Several years ago, I had vast white walls in my home I desired to cover with framed artwork. The void immediately above the television, up to the ceiling, was particularly bothersome. I preceded to take multiple, redundant measurements to place the picture directly in the center with the precision of a math professor, ensuring the image was not only level, but the surrounding area was equal in all respects. This labor was not measured in minutes, but hours. Even after the frame was attached to the wall surface, I stepped back and examined my handy work (sic) from many different angles, as if I were using the eye of a police detective at a crime scene. Although no one would ever notice even the slight (sic) offset of the artwork upon the wall, I would know, and that drives me to perfection. That drive continues on, being visible throughout my written words. Even though the Internet is a dynamic, evolving entity, I feel the written word can last forever. Recently in the work place, I was tasked with updating a training manual. This manual assisted new employees with not only understanding what their job entailed, but a step-by-step guide defining exactly what actions to perform to get the required tasks completed. This manual was not originally written by me. As such, I could not deal with just editing it because, not only were their (sic) multiple errors throughout the actions required, but the lack of formatting consistency was also common. As my frustration increased, I realized that the only way for me to be content to place my name on the manual, was to completely rewrite it from scratch. In the same way, if it were possible for me to rewrite my computer software without spending a lifetime doing it, I would. Since the default configuration for most software sold has many more features than needed for my daily tasks, I turn to doing whatever I can to have my computer equipment perform efficiently and remove as many unused features as possible. I have spent thousands of hours tweaking software to ensure not only that the functions that I use perform well, but that other tasks still can be accomplished without any detrimental effects.

Each of these situations are only touching the surface of how my thought process propels me to ensure perfection, as I view and examine the minute details of every situation. My mind never is at rest, but always thinking of ways to make things better, ultimately causing increased stress levels.

—–

Conclusion

Even though it took me a long time to vent about this (I have been wanting to do so for a long time now), my gripe still holds true and will for any foreseeable future: English is a bummer of a class.

Black Viper
February 21, 2008

Revision History

February 21, 2008: Initial release

February 24, 2008: Added small blurb, stating that I know about errors that exist in the document… that my instructor also missed. :)

Tweaking Rant

 Articles, The Rant  Comments Off
Mar 232007
 

Introduction

For several years, I have been advising people on how to tweak their systems for performance. I have also been challenged many times over my advice. In 2007, I am sure this will be no different after I finish posting my Vista information. Sometimes people laugh, cry or plain get angry over my recommendations… but in all instances, they are looking at it from the wrong perspective.

The issue

This is a good example of “way after the fact” information being posted: Anandtech forums. For another example of “way after the fact” is this rant you are reading as the original post is dated September 1, 2005.

Now, lets look at some facts. From the Microsoft web site: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/314865

The minimum hardware requirements for Windows XP Home Edition are:

  • Pentium 233-megahertz (MHz) processor or faster (300 MHz is recommended)
  • At least 64 megabytes (MB) of RAM (128 MB is recommended)
  • At least 1.5 gigabytes (GB) of available space on the hard disk

The minimum hardware requirements for Windows XP Professional include:

  • Pentium 233-megahertz (MHz) processor or faster (300 MHz is recommended)
  • At least 64 megabytes (MB) of RAM (128 MB is recommended)
  • At least 1.5 gigabytes (GB) of available space on the hard disk

I posted my Windows XP Services information on July 1, 2001 (I had an MSDN subscription to test the OS’s before retail release). XP was released shortly after in October 2001. At that time, a computer with more than 512MB of RAM (and “more than” = 1GB+) was rare and considered high end. Yet, on the post listed above, the posters “low end system” is actually running 2.5 times more memory then the minimum required and 25% more then the recommended. Now lets look at a bit more…

From the Microsoft web site for Vista requirements:

Home Basic:

  • 1 GHz 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor
  • 512 MB of system memory
  • 20 GB hard drive with at least 15 GB of available space

Premium, Business and Ultimate:

  • 1 GHz 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor
  • 1 GB of system memory
  • 40 GB hard drive with at least 15 GB of available space

Now, taking into consideration what the original poster had in mind on Anandtech forums… it means that in 4+ years, 2GB RAM modules will be… cheap, and systems sold in 2011 will be more then qualified to run Vista vice systems as we see them today. So based on the post, a Vista system built today would perform better with 1GB (2 times recommended for Home Basic) or 2GB (2 times recommended for the other flavors) of memory vice the Microsoft recommended value of 512MB/1GB? Duh? Wow, nice news flash there, yes? The poster even admitted the system was poor at running XP… but that is the configuration Microsoft recommended… and I posted tweaks for, not a system that was going to be built 4 years later with 16 times the minimum memory amount.

I put my Windows XP configurations online in 2001 and in 2007 with a dual core CPU and 4GB of memory standard… they are not valid and not needed? Duh? However, take that over clocked 300Mhz system they used as a “low end” benchmark and knock it back to 233 and hit it up with only 64MB of memory… then my “savings” for disabling unneeded services using 12MB to 70MB would be very important. The forum post showed that upon fresh install, the OS was using 90MB of the 160MB… more than 50% of the memory for the OS… Just like the example coming up!

I tested a system with Vista Home Basic and upon first boot, the OS was using 350MB of memory. It was knocked down to around 205MB or so after being on for several hours. Now… wait… lets just say “256MB” for easy math and a good average number. So, that means that the OS is using 50% of the memory available on a 512MB system? Using XP as an example, that would mean XP on a “recommended” system would only use 64MB out of the 128MB… that sounds pretty good to me! The forum post verifies that fact with a memory usage from 85-90MB down to 57-66MB. However, if you throw 3+Ghz CPU and 2GB at the OS, it will increase the performance of the system… another “duh?”

Price wise, it is correct to throw more memory at the system. However, back when 300Mhz systems were mid range, 1GB RAM modules were not $89.

Checking out Newegg.com like the original poster did… I see 2GB modules for around $150-$200 each… so to fill a system with 4 slots and 8GB, it would cost $600. In a fit of irony, I cannot even find any 4GB Ram Modules to even price compare those (to go in line with my 16x recommended value above for Premium, Business and Ultimate). Would you rather save a few bucks and tweak your 1GB system down a bit in memory use or wait 4 years because 2GB modules will “be the norm” and go down in price… only you and your wallet can choose.

Also, upon the release of Service Pack 2 for XP, I put up this message:

Saturday, October 16, 2004 @ 7:03 PM PST

I have updated my Windows XP Services Configurations and Windows XP Services Information pages to include additional Service Pack 2 information. I still have several more pages to place online before I can call it complete. However, I wanted to provide another update of my findings. All dependencies have been updated and are accurate.

For the most part, Microsoft took 3 years to create a “default” configuration for Windows XP Services that took me only one month to test and post on July 28, 2001. Several services that I previously recommended to be disabled are either gone or disabled by default after the installation of Service Pack 2.

So it sounds to me that my “Safe” setting with lots of crappy services (such as messenger service) was the right choice in 2001 but lacking in “performance value” in 2005? Duh again?!? Maybe because after the installation of SP2, the “Safe” and default were really close… so the gap closed? Yeah, I thought you would agree with me. :)

These recommendations also were coming off the heels of a reader dumping Windows 98/ME (*shudder*) and skipped Windows 2000 due to being marketed as a “business” OS. Those same 98/ME systems did need help in getting the memory down a bit to a reasonable level.

Also, my “Safe” configuration turned out to be the one that SP2 uses? Why not “Bare-bones” you ask? Because for a dedicated system doing specific tasks as the Bare-bones was fully capable of, does not equal a “general purpose computer system for the masses.” That, of course, is once again: “Safe.”

I have since removed my “Power User” and “Bare-bones” service recommendations for XP:SP2 (SP1a is still there though) as they are way out of date and no longer required as SP2’s “Default” is pretty good, but “Safe” still can do better. Also, I am no longer using XP as my desktop OS so I cannot use it daily to confirm the do’s and don’t or what services are “required” for daily, normal use.

I state many times throughout my information the pros and cons of performing speed modifications to a system. I post “Power User” and “Bare-bones” not because they are for everyone, but only for reference because that is the configurations “I” used! Me! BV! This is also the reason I always recommend “Safe” for everyone else. I know what it is like to break a system and the frustration of getting it back. I have worked with Windows Services for many years and fielded thousands of E-Mails with regards to the information I posted. I know what each does and their value pertaining to me. In no way can I possibly predict what is good for you. That is why I list the “Safe” configuration and recommend it beyond all others.

Conclusion

Anyway, I would love to be able to predict the future and “tweak” my systems OS performance for something built 4 years later that will still be valid, but my crystal ball is broke…

I am not here for a pissing contest. If you do not like my tweaks, feel free to not use them.

Until next time a rant is placed online about me, maybe benchmarks will be done on systems “in the now” and valid benchmarks at that and not almost 4 years after the fact. I will, however, tweak Vista for systems built today, and not for systems built in 2011.

Black Viper

March 23, 2007

Revision History:

March 25, 2007: Cleared up “minimum” and “recommended” settings. Changed “180MB” to “160MB” as the original poster stated.

April 1, 2007: Corrected a typo.

May 122004
 

Introduction

After originally posting my AMD and Intel Rant on July 30, 2002, many items touched on have become extremely out of date. I decided to take a “second look” at what both AMD and Intel has accomplished recently and hopefully provide a vision for the future.

This Rant, as with the other ones, may contain some rather random and fragmented thoughts, and many of the “facts” are my observations and beliefs. Do not be discouraged. Read on.

Why no AMD?

Some people have asked me, “Even though you have a few computers, why are none of them AMD based?!?” Previously, I stated that “I do not like AMD.” The reasons behind that statement is outlined in my previous Rant. Before posting my view on AMD and since that time, I have watched AMD closely as to the products they are currently providing as well as what direction Intel is heading.

Each of the points I noted almost two years ago will be discussed further and I will reevaluate my feelings with currently available information.

Stability

Before July 30, 2002, I observed numerous E-Mails from users of AMD products. Almost all of them stemmed from “stability issues.” For example, an underpowered power supply or “cheap” components. No one can get anything done if a computer crashes all of the time.

Since that time, both AMD, VIA, nVidia and Intel chipsets have became much more stable and I feel computer manufactures are now taking steps to provide better quality components to reduce support costs. The problems that I read in my E-Mail daily no longer sound as much like it stems from a poor chipsets choice anymore. In fact, almost all of them are caused by virus ridden systems and “spyware” of some description. However, that is a topic all on its own.

Power Use and Heat

As I outlined before, AMD has a history of high power usage and heat dissipation problems, which in turn contribute to stability issues. However, the tables have turned drastically since July of 2002.

Intel’s release of the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition set a new record for power consumption and heat generation. Yes, it does perform well, but at what cost? According to this document: , the AMD 64 FX-53 2.4 GHz hits around 89W of power dissipation. In contrast,
Intel’s documentation on the P4 3.4 GHz EE, page 69: lists 102.9W. That is a pretty large difference when considering how small each of the chips are. However, in that same document on page 69, Intel’s “normal” P4 3.4 GHz with only 512 KB cache is comparable with AMD’s CPU at 89W.

Cost

Cost of a new computer purchase has been a large factor in the decision making process of what components are included and will remain that way for the foreseeable future. Only a small percentage of people can afford (or are willing to fork out) $4000 for the latest computer components. Many people have E-mailed me stating the cost vs. performance factor while attempting to reverse my opinion. Even though AMD’s cost vs. performance ratio has been good in the past, the AMD 64 changed that upon release. Limited production due to a new fabrication process of the 64-bit CPU’s increased AMD’s cost and therefore increased the price for the end user.

As of this writing (12MAY2004), AMD’s FX-53 CPU at 2.4 GHz is listed on newegg.com at $765 in a retail box format. In contrast, the Intel P4 3.2 GHz EE is $915. Yes, Intel’s offering is much more money and all things equal (both CPU’s mentioned perform well against each other), AMD should be considered as a viable option. But there is more…

The AMD 64 3400+ is listed at $416 and Intel P4 3.4 GHz is $415. One dollar is relatively insignificant when it comes down to total system cost. However, with this information on hand, it reduces the “cost vs. performance” argument to a moot point.

As a side note: I have no affiliation with newegg.com, but have purchased several products from them and been completely satisfied in each case.

Performance

Almost all current benchmarks available on various technical web sites and reviews of products place AMD and Intel neck-and-neck. AMD is better at some things, Intel is better at others. This is how it should be.

GHz is not everything. That is very true. Previously the single most important reason I have not chosen AMD to power my latest gaming system is because of their “PR Rating.”

“But it looks like it can go 300 miles per hour!”

With the Athlon XP, the “blah+” rating was marketing hype to attempt to compete with the GHz battle. Think about this: If a car company placed “V8+” on a four-banger, even though it “performs like a V8,” wouldn’t that raise some eyebrows? People have E-mailed me stating that the “PR Rating” actually is not comparing it to P4’s at all, but previous architecture AMD CPU’s. Funny thing is that type of comparison is not in any QuantaSpeed white paper or FAQ. In fact, I could not find out “what” the actual meaning of the model number spec is!

Model Number Madness

In a strange twist of the plot, Intel announced it will provide a “Model Number” comparing each CPU in its own class and discontinue using clock speed as an indicator, even though it will still be listed on the box. More information is here:

In light of this information, I have to give AMD credit for at least coming up with their PR Rating in relation to some performance figure. 3200+ gives some easy indication of what you are getting. However, I was not happy with them placing the same “Model Number” on CPU’s that had slightly different configurations, such as bus speed, cache or even socket. With that in mind, a model number, I feel, should be an “at a glance” indication of what you are getting. No one should be required to dig deep into the manufactures web site to figure out exactly what they want or what they are getting.

Intel will be using a three digit number 3xx, 5xx, or 7xx, to differentiate its product line. Unfortunately, the confusion between different CPU’s, even in the same family may still exist in the future. From Intel on April 2, 2004: (Source page)

A higher number within a processor family can indicate more processor features, more of a specific processor feature, or a change in architecture. Note that in some cases, a higher number processor may potentially have more of one feature and less of another.

Further additions to the confusion factor include (again from Intel): (Source page)

Processor numbers are also not a measurement of performance.

My opinion is that the marketing geniuses on both sides of the processor fence have no clue how to sell to the “average user.” People look for “numbers” (higher is better) or “catchy phrases” like “Extreme Edition.” Metal names have also been used to describe a “better product” than a previous model, such as Platinum or Gold. Everyone should

know that Platinum is “more valuable” than Gold, so the average person would naturally assume that a “CPU Platinum” is better than “CPU Gold.” However, computers have many factors that contribute to overall performance.

I feel that AMD and Intel should both provide different “names” for their family of CPU’s. The “next generation,” whether it be a different fabrication process (130nm, 90nm, etc.), dual core, or even a virtual CPU function (Hyper-threading) should be immediately obvious to the average person. Even though HT on a CPU box does indicate the features, ones without it, a different size cache, and even different sockets are all labeled “Pentium 4.”

Currently, Intel is going to release a different core with the Pentium 4 designation and add a “number” to it. As stated above, straight from Intel, higher is not always “better” but does indicate “different.” This seems like a step in the right direction, but could obviously (to me) be tweaked a little bit better.

Even though I am not fond of AMD keeping the “Athlon” name in there 32/64-bit cross over, at least they added “FX” and even “51/53″ to the CPU to indicate the different revisions.

Which ever CPU you choose, do research on each of the manufactures web sites and try to sift through the hype. It could save you some money in the long run and possibly answer some questions you may have later on.

But you can over-clock it!

I do not support over clocking any system component. Thus, this is not an argument “for” AMD, “against” Intel or vice-versa. Intel chooses to not make it “easy” to over clock their CPU’s to reduce their support costs and return/replace instances from people that do not know when “enough is enough.”

I do admit that a “different-from-norm” cooled CPU and components, as in water-cooled, is a great idea and a super geek way to go! The amount of time, effort and money to get a system up and running reliably is quite a task in itself, but obtainable, nonetheless. Oddly enough, the same person that “saves” $100 on a CPU will go and get 4 case fans, a water cooling system and pretty neon lights when they could have spent that money on a “faster” CPU and quality components to wrap around it . If your over clocking efforts fail, you will have to spend more money on replacing your fried components.

64-bits

AMD has made massive improvements in the last couple of years to their products. Taking a big gamble on 64-bit computing really spun Intel around. Intel stated recently (I cannot find the source, now) that 64-bit computing is not required on the desktop. This is the kind of statements that tickle me. Software cannot use the extra functionality until hardware is available, but hardware is difficult to justify when no software will run on it! I still love Mr. Bill Gates statement about 640KB is all the RAM that anyone will ever need. Then came Windows. :) (Yes, it is a joke).

Currently, very little support is available for the 32/64-bit AMD hybrid when it comes to actually using the 64-bit capabilities. According to various information available on the internet, Service Pack 2 for Windows XP may change that. What features will be available and to what extent 64-bit computing will be supported is still very much up in the air and rather vague as to the details. However, the Athlon 64 is backward compatible with Windows XP running at 32-bit.

Do not confuse Intel’s Itanium/Itanium2 server line with AMD’s Athlon 64 or Opteron . They are very different and much more costly.

With AMD’s recent track record and their forward thinking aspect on 64-bit computing, even though little support for it is currently available, they are driving progress and AMD should be commended for it.

Choosing an Athlon 64 is difficult decision to make. Should you also look to the future of desktop applications and take the 64-bit plunge while still being able to use your existing applications? That is entirely up to you and your wallet.

Conclusion

I thank you for making it this far in my second look about AMD and Intel. I am sure that, from the comments and “facts based on opinions” that I have, I am going to still get flames from the AMD supporters, even though most of my previous arguments have been revisited. I am not trying to tell you never to get AMD. I want you to be happy. Whether you get an Apple, AMD or an overly priced SGI, I couldn’t care less. Just remember that if you ask for my opinion or recommendations on a subject, you will get it… whether or not you agree with it is totally up to you.

Has any of this “new” information changed my mind about AMD? Almost. I am not going to run out tomorrow and build up an AMD powered computer, but in the near future, I could very well do so. Even though my harsh “I do not like AMD” statement is no longer valid, both AMD and Intel are currently “on the line” and could fall either way.

Only time will tell how each will end up.

Black Viper

May 12, 2004

Mar 022004
 

Introduction

My current E-Mail address listed on the Contact BV page has served me well. It has been in use for over five years. However, in the last ten hours, I have received three times more virus infected E-Mail’s than I have received legitimate correspondence. Not to mention the spam that my server automatically blocks.

The Good

  1. People that contacted me five years ago can very well do so today with no fears that the E-Mail will be bounced.
  2. I am rather attached to it. This fact can also be considered a bad thing.

The Bad

  1. With Outlook Express and Outlook, the “default” configuration is to “automatically place” E-Mail addresses into the address book of people that the user has replied to. Even though it would take more time and effort than I would like to spend to discover exactly the amount of people with my current E-Mail address in their address book, my best guess is over 3000+ in only the last two years searching for “RE:” in the subject line of my archived E-Mails. This does not include those that could have added me without “replying to my reply” or discount those not using the previously mentioned E-Mail clients.
  2. Way too many viruses and worms of the past, present and future, take advantage of Outlook Express and Outlook by using those particular E-Mail addresses listed there to attempt and send an infected E-Mail to the rest. If that was not bad enough, most of them also pluck a random one out of the address book and “spoof” the from address, leading to my next comment.
  3. To further my discontent, E-Mail server/system administrators still insist on their systems to “automatically reply” to the above mentioned virus infection attempts. This is either done at the E-Mail server itself, or what ever virus protection service they use. Sometimes, these automated systems even include the virus in the bounced message!
  4. spam. Isn’t that enough reason to make my old address go away? When I first started this web site, I placed, as I do now, a “mailto:” link on the Contact BV page. Having my domain on a server that I did not have the “privilege” of administering (until it was way too late) caused my E-Mail address to be sucked up by the multitude of E-Mail harvesting robots out there. More on this in “The Ugly.”

The Ugly

  1. spam. Even though I have become completely disgusted with the various virus attacks floating around the Internet, spam still is way up on the list of “The Ugly” things the Internet has brought. Since I was unaware of the dangers (until it was way too late) of “publicly publishing” my E-Mail address on the site, I am sure it is widely distributed throughout the spamming community. I currently use several tactics to make the junk “appear” to go away (E-Mail server configuration, client configuration, etc.) it still uses my bandwidth and resources to block the junk. Something that I am not very happy about.
  2. In only the last 96 hours, my server has dealt with over 400 spam messages. 100 per day. 4 per hour. Those are the E-Mails I do not see and only a few get through. In the grand scheme of things, this amount may not seem like a lot, but the fact of the matter is, I have never used my domain’s E-Mail address to sign up for anything online. Ever.
  3. Clueless Internet users have “signed me up” for various things, such as newsletters, that they “think” I might be interested in. This happened much more frequently when the particular administrators of those lists did nothing to “verify” the E-Mail address that was signed up actually desired the information.
  4. Even a few people have signed me up for various “adult” information, either a sad attempt at being funny, or just a malicious way to “get back” at a total stranger on the Internet. Either way, my coveted E-Mail address ended up on even more lists.

The (possible) Solution(s)

I have spent lots of time and thought as to what I could do to curb this growing issue. I have already spent many hours, days, and weeks on end of geeking time to combat the flood of unwanted electronic commerce that ends up in my lap every day.

  1. I could remove my E-Mail address totally.
  2. I could discount it as “something that must be dealt with” and get over it.
  3. I could create a “contact form” for my readers to use.
  4. I could “cycle” my E-Mail address.

I could remove my E-Mail address totally.

Pro’s:

  • None

Con’s:

  • I find this to be the worst possible solution.
  • I feed off of kind words in my E-Mail box as fuel to keep me going. If those encouraging words and “thanks” were no longer available, I would drop the web site off of the internet and not look back.

I could discount it as “something that must be dealt with” and get over it.

Pro’s:

  • None

Con’s:

  • This solution is not in my nature. I have a hard time sitting down and “giving up” because of the “abuse” of an important form of communication today and in the future.
  • This will only fan the flames for ultimately turning to the “remove” solution.

I could create a “contact form” for my readers to use.

Pro’s:

  • E-Mail harvesters cannot get the E-Mail address because the actual “sending” is done by the web server, not the reader.
  • The E-Mail address the contact form “sends the message to” is not public.

Con’s:

  • I have always felt this solution as not the best that it can be.
  • I find it extremely impersonal and I feel that people should “contact me” with what ever utility they desire, meaning E-Mail client.
  • Some enterprising spammers have wandered web sites “looking” for these type of forms to send spam to.
  • My replies would have to come from a “publicly accessible” E-Mail address of which invalidates the purpose of the contact form.
  • No way exists, to my knowledge, to “confirm” that the senders E-Mail address typed into the form is valid or correct (meaning, the same person that wrote the message is in control of the E-Mail address).

I could “cycle” my E-Mail address.

Pro’s:

  • If a spammer, infected system or malicious reader decided to attack the address, it would only last as long as the cycle.

Con’s:

  • Depending on actual cycle (one month, one year), a reader may become confused as to why my E-Mail address suddenly became “invalid” even though they have contacted me before with success and my domain is still online.
  • If, for some reason, a spammer got the address, it could mean “multiple spam related attempts” to send information to my network, effectively creating more of an issue than what is being solved.

The Workable Solution

With no doubt in my mind, I have to do something.

  • I believe a combination of a contact form and cycling addresses will solve much more problems than it will create.
  • It is also technically feasible to create a “bounce” message on my server for invalid addresses and in that E-Mail, include a link to my Contact BV page with the latest information.
  • Even though I know it is possible, how to do it and if it is worth while to do so, will require more geek time on my part to research and experiment.
  • Logging “sent” messages must be conducted to reduce (report) abuse.

With hope in my heart, I wish to create a solution that attempts to regain a small portion of my sanity, as well as allow my readers to interact with me.

Black Viper

March 2, 2004

Revision History

March 2, 2004: Initial release