Back Home Again

May 8, 2009

Well, it seems as though the school year is basically over. I am still waiting to get grades in two of my classes, but I don’t expect any surprises from either of them so I guess that means I will graduate! I’m glad that I was able to get through college in 4 years. About half way through I decided to add Math as a major in combination with Computer Science. During the time I had to deal with the coursework, I second guessed my decision, but I am glad that I choose to do that. Certainly I plan to find a computer science related job, but I think the skills I have learned from my math classes will come in handy depending on what I do with computers. Even if they don’t, learning mathematics has taught me to think much more logically than I used to. As many programers know, being able to think logically is quite helpful when writing code.

The feeling of being “done” with school hasn’t fully set in though. I’m sure it will eventually, but I can’t really predict when that will be. Right now it just seems like another semester has ended and I have gone home to try and figure out what to do for the summer. Though, in my case, it’s what to do in terms of a job. I still have some time from now until there are a couple senior events and then graduation. I hope to make some more posts and work on my personal webpage in that time. Those plans aren’t really set it stone though so I may up doing something else instead.

It’s good to be back on Lightflame (my desktop computer) again. For the past weekish I was using only my laptop since I wanted to bring the motorcycle back to school and needed to bring Lightflame home when I had the car out at college. It was fun having the bike at college though, so it was worth forgoing the full power of my computer for a time.

New Domain

April 30, 2009

This is just a quick note that I finally got around to registering and I plan to host my blog there. Since I already have this wordpress account and am continuing to use wordpress as the platform on my domain I will probably post all of my articles to both places at once. If you are a consistent reader it would probably be best to simply view the blog at the new domain. Finally, here is the URL:

I know I haven’t written much lately, but hopefully I can find some time to write something interesting in the next week or two. I have a long list of topics… just need to find the time to write about them.

Google Street View — Cool or Creepy?

April 11, 2009

Most people reading this are probably familiar with Google Street View. Indeed, Street View has been around for a while now, at least in internet terms, but I have just gotten around to summarizing my thoughts on it now. Basically, Google Street View is where Google goes around in fancy cars and takes lots of pictures of the surrounding area, and then allows users to view a 360 degree view of the area just off the road. Some of the advantages to this sound appealing: such as being able to figure out exactly where a restaurant you are going to is located, or trying to view a particularly nasty intersection in advance. Still, I tend to find Google Street View to be more an invasion of privacy than anything else.

Certainly I am not the first person to point out the privacy issues with Street View. Clearly it would be infeasible for Google to go through and edit everyone out of the pictures in Street View so they just leave them all in there. This might not seem like a problem as what you do in public can be seen by anyone walking around anyway. That happens to be the argument of some, but I think it is flawed. That is, if you do something stupid in public only the people in the immediate area have even a chance of knowing what happened. With Street View, you picking your nose could be immortalized for all internet users to see.

Google responds to privacy complaints by saying that as long as you let them know which picture you don’t like they will take it take down. Honestly I think that is kind of lame. There is no way one would have time to go through the ever changing pictures to make sure there were not any unwanted photographs of them. Even though Google’s offer sounds all well and good they must know that very few people will actually have the mix of time, dedication, and luck to find the pictures they wish to be removed from Street View.

Finally, the argument has been given that someone, like a thief, could use Street View to plan their next robbery. At first I was 100% on board with this point, but now I am not so sure. Let us try and reason this out a little bit. First off, if someone is going to use Street View to plan this out we can assume they are already more advanced than the average robber. Next, if someone is going to rob your house it is likely that they are already near by, within short driving or walking distance. If they are not then it would be too much hassle to rob you when they could go somewhere closer. Since they are already close to you they could simply drive by your house and take their own pictures. After all, if they can use the internet we can assume they can use other forms of technology such as a digital camera. Therefore Street View doesn’t really aid a would be robber that much. Maybe it can help them decide whether to rob your house over your neighbors house, but chances are that they could have done it just as easily without Street View.

At the end of day I don’t really like Google Street View because I don’t think Google has solved all of the privacy issues with it. If there were a way for them to blur out all the people in it, or just remove them than I wouldn’t have any problems with it. However, it is unlikely Google would be willing to do that. Regardless of my feelings on the matter it doesn’t seem like Street View is going anywhere. I guess I will just duck if I see the Googlemoblie driving by… 🙂 .

A LaTeX User in a Microsoft Office World

April 2, 2009

It has been quite a while since I wrote my last post, but school has been keeping me as busy as always. Thankfully I have had more free time this semester than in past years, but I still seem to keep myself quite busy, and too burned out at the end of the day to write anything terribly thoughtful on the blog. However, I still keep a list of topics to write about for when I have the motivation 🙂 .

Today I wish to write about a recent trouble I have had relating to my usage of LaTeX. I have been using LaTeX for a little over 3 years now and I love every minute of it. The level of control that it gives me over documents is perfect for my needs. Table of contents, works cited, picture placement, and many other time wasting tasks are mostly automated by LaTeX. As such I can focus in on the true content of my document, which is usually all I care about anyway. Also, with the use of packages such as LaTeX Beamer I can also do PowerPoints with LaTeX. Finally, the fact that you can define custom commands is another huge time saver, and for a programmer, who loves functional decomposition, this is a wonderful tool.

So, now we have established why I use LaTeX, but here is where the trouble with LaTeX lies: most people don’t use LaTeX (shocker… I know). In many situations this does not matter due to the ubiquity of the PDF file. However, there have been times when I have been expected to simply have things in .doc (or these days .docx) format. For instance, a couple of weeks ago I wrote a history paper in LaTeX and right before the due date our teacher said that we needed to send our paper, in .doc format, to someone in the class for peer review. Thankfully it was only a history paper and didn’t need much modification to get into OpenOffice. Still, it was an inconvenience and it was due to the assumption that “everybody uses Microsoft Word”. In another instance, I have seen companies that will only accept your resume in .doc format, which seems a little funny considering these are all technology companies I am applying to and I would hope they could accept a PDF file at least. Luckily I had known this in advance and have my resume typed up in OpenOffice.

At any rate the point of all this is that it seems I may be forced, at some point, to use either Microsoft Word directly or preferably something like OpenOffice. It is not as though I cannot use these tools, but that I think LaTeX is far superior to them. This is a disappointing realization, but hopefully I will still have chances over the years to use LaTeX so that my skills won’t grow dull. I realize that LaTeX looks intimidating to new users, but it is quite empowering once one gets the hang of things.

Well, that’s all I have to say for now 🙂 .

Okami Review (Wii Version)

March 7, 2009

Just a few days ago I finished my way through Okami (Wii version) and it was one of the most excellent games I have played in a long time. Okami is primarily an Action/Adventure game with a bit of Platforming sprinkled about. The reason that Okami stands apart from games of the day is that it feels fresh. These days, after many years of gaming, I can play a game and be completely turned off to it if it is a clone of some other game I’ve already played. Once I get that “been there done that” feeling any game, no matter how execellent otherwise, becomes worthless to me.

Plot (No Spoilers): In the game Okami you play as the sun goddess, Amaterasu, as you try an restore a land filled with evil. When you first start you have just been resurrected… so to speak and your powers are quite weak. From that point on you spend the game fighting back Orochi (and other evils) as well as gathering “praise” from villagers, plant life, and animals. Throughout the game you are seeking out the ancient “brush techniques” which allow Amaterasu many different super natural powers.

Music: The music in Okami is quite good and does not seem to get terribly repetative as some game music tends to do. Most of the music is that kind of music that is normally aossicated with old or ancient Japan, which is fitting since the game takes place there. I suppose if you aren’t a real fan of that kind of music then it would drive you nuts, but the music has a relaxing feel to it and blends nicely into the background.

Brush Techniques: This is what really makes Okami stand out from other games in the genre. As you work your way through the game Amaterasu learns 13 “Celestrial Brush Techniques”, which are performed by drawing various patterns on the screen with the Wii mote.  Each technique uses a certain amount of “ink” which you have a set reverse of. Ink levels recover slowly so you can’t use the techniques wastefully. I have heard that the controls for the brush techniques have been given mixed reviews. I had some trouble with the controls in the beginning, but after an hour or so I really enjoyed them and I think it is a very natural fit for the Wiimote. Again, for me, this was the major selling point of the game.

Controls: The controls for Okami felt pretty solid, but there  were a few occasions where they were a little clunky and just got me downright annoyed. Overall I wouldn’t say they detract from the game, but the one or two times you run into trouble is quite irritating.

Praise: In Okami “praise” is how you are able to get more powerful over time. As you travel around the various lands helping villagers and restoring nature that has been corrupted you acumulate praise. This praise can be spent on upgrades to increase the amount of ink you carry (needed for brush techniques), to get more health, and for various other upgrades. Praise is fairly easy to come by and as long as you are paying attention you should aquire it naturally as you play the game. I never found myself in a situation where I had to grind for several hours just to be strong enough to continue.

Battles: Battles in Okami are faught when you approach floating scrolls of paper that look possessed (yup… best way I could describe it). When you get close enough a restrictive barrior is placed around the immediate area of the map and the enemies appear. At the beginning of the game you are given a simple weapon that looks like a shield and as you move through the game you get various new weapons for your arrsenal. There are 15 weapons total and you are allowed to have one main weapon and one sub weapon equipped. Each enemy in the battle has a certain amount of health that you can view via a health bar that is displayed. It is in your interest to finish each battle as fast as possible, and take as little damage as possible. This is because at the end you see a summary of how well you did, and get rewarded with extra money for being faster/taking less damage. The battle system helps keep them from feeling too stale and gives you a reason to improve your skills over time and learn the best way to defeat each enemey.

Overall: Okami is a great game with a very interesting and engaging story line that keeps you guessing as to what is going to happen next. The controls take some getting used to, but Okami is one of the few games that didn’t just add Wiimote features for the heck of it. Its fresh take on the Action/Adventure genre is refreshing especially given all the clones of this genre.  I would recommend this game to anyone who likes the Legend of Zelda series, or anyone who enjoys  Action/Adventure games.

Happy gaming 🙂 !

My Impressions of KDE 4.2

February 25, 2009

I have actually been meaning to write this post for a while now, but as usual school takes away most of my ambition to do things such as write to this blog or write fun code.

I have been using KDE 4.2 on both my Gentoo systems (laptop and desktop) since about a week after it was released. I still run it now and plan on running it until the next big release of KDE.

KDE 4.2 really took my breath away on many fronts. First of all the Phonon sound system works properly. This also means that I can use Amarok 2.0 which is a HUGE plus for me. In 4.1 I had all sorts of annoying problems getting Phonon to even play sound, and when it did it would block any other applications from using the sound card. Not so any more!

Also, the Plasma widgets are running much cleaner and faster. In KDE 4.1 they seemed to resize slowly and imprecisely. Now, not only do they resize correctly, but if you stick them off the screen in a strange way or place them in some funny manner they try to arrange themselves in a neat fashion. For someone as OCD as myself this feature is wonderful!

The fact that you can now use a Desktop View widget as a desktop is probably good news for some because it means easier access to icons. Personally, I don’t really care about that because I hate desktop icons to begin with. I launch all of my programs through the Run Command interface anyway.

I started using Kopete recently as well, and that has seen huge improvements since the last time I used it. I’m not sure when they changed the interface around and added all the animations, but Kopete has now replaced Pidgin as my default messaging client.

In terms of looks… well KDE 4.2 looks very much like KDE 4.1 or even 4.0. They updated the default theme a little bit, but it is still the same fundamental idea. This is fine with me. I love the new Oxygen theme and it gives a fresh look to my desktop.

As far as running KDE on my laptop is concerned I like 4.2 much better for basically one reason alone… The battery meter widget shows the time remaining now and is also aware of different processor throttling states. This is a great improvement over what I experienced in 4.1 and it makes KDE completely useable on my laptop. Also, since KDE is now more aware of dual screens and screen settings it made it nice to use while I was giving presentations with Okular (the new KDE pdf viewer) on my laptop. I’ve yet to play around with the GUI for changing the display settings (I use xrandr from the terminal) , but I hope to give that a try some time in the near future.

Dual screen support in terms of my desktop setup seems to be about the same as it had been, but I think that is because I am using the proprietary ATI driver and not the open source one. It works well enough that I don’t have any issues. I really like the feature where if you have a maximized window on one screen you can just drag it over the other screen and it stays maximized. Maybe other versions of KDE had this… but either way it is real handy.

I can hardly say enough good things about KDE 4.2 and I am really looking forward to the 4.3 release and some additional bug fixes.

Now that I have gone on and on about the positives I will list a few bugs and whatnot that I have found, but am confident they will be fixed in later releases. The first is that the “Run Command” feature seems to crash if I have KDE running for too long. I typically leave my system running for days at a time so I don’t like it when stuff like that breaks. Also, when I first installed KDE 4.2 I had to clear out all my KDE 4.1 settings before it would run correctly. This is only a minor annoyance, but if you have a bunch of settings that took forever to set up it would be a bit of a bummer to reload them all.

Overall I am extremely happy with KDE 4.2 and would reccomend it to those who have been holding off on account of stability issues. I use it everyday for doing school work and I have not run in to any problems that have caused me to need to downgrade to 4.1 or to switch away from it entirely. Great work KDE team!

Just Begin Curious? Or a Skeptic?

February 24, 2009

Well, it is no secret, especially to those who know me, that I often like to inquire as to why people think in certain ways. At times this results in further discussion or debate, and at times I simply find their response interesting and that is the end of it.

As it turns out not everyone finds this to be one of my more charming attributes. I can’t really say why I am always interested to engage in deeper conversation about a particular topic with people. In fact it seems that it only gets me in trouble with some people. I find myself wondering if I should maybe abandon hope of attaining a reasonable explanation out of people for how they view the world. Today one of my friends responded with “Fine Tim, dissect my statement, I’m just full of crap” after I asked him to explain why he thought the tootsie roll ad campaign was one of the most successful in history. I don’t know… but I was genuinely curious as to the grounds by which he was basing that statement. It seems that many people would have me just take that sort of statement for granted and immediately say something like “Yeah, you’re right” and indeed, if I did think that I would have gladly responded with something to that effect.

I am wondering if people think I am constantly looking for a way to debate with them, which would cause  defensive statements such as the one mentioned above to come out instead of what I was actually looking for. I don’t try to be argumentative with people, but I can’t deny that a lot of my friends think I come across that way. I have tried in the past to “stop arguing”, but I always find that even things I consider light discussion turn out to be debate for some people.

Even after all this consideration I am left wondering what the best course of action is. Do I try my best to change and not attempt to ask people to explain the reason they feel certain ways, or do I pass it off as being an issue that only certain people have, and just avoid getting in to debate with them? After all I have met people more than willing to have a good debate with me about things. When is there good enough reason to debate with people and when should one let things drop? This is where I have trouble drawing the line. To me, sometimes a question I find to be very innocent is taken to mean that I am looking to start a lengthy discussion about some “trivial matter”.

On a more humorous note it is tough for me to have a discussion with people about my argumentative nature because as soon as I ask for more details about what they are saying I receive the response similar to “There you go again, this is exactly the problem”. Basically, if I try to defend myself that turns into the other person’s main argument against me.

Still, after this level of introspection I am left in a state of confusion about what the best course of action is to take. Certainly, I don’t want to be irritating my friends all the time. If that were the case I could hardly consider myself a good friend by any stretch of the imagination. On the other hand, what do I do if they have led themselves down a path of thinking which is just flat out illogical or otherwise incorrect? Do I let them continue living with that issue, or do I try and let them know that I think there is a problem?

Well, I still don’t have the full solution to my troubles, but it is nice to sit down and lay out my dilemas.

My Experiences with Mozilla Prism

February 11, 2009

I have been quite busy lately trying to keep up with my school work, but I decided that I had time for a quick post to the blog.

Recently I have been playing around with the Mozilla Labs project known as Prism.

Prism allows one to easily turn any website into what appears to be a standalone application. The advantage of which is that you can ditch things such as the menu bar and forward and back buttons which typically take up an unnecessary amount of screen space just so you can do something like… edit your WordPress blog.

So far I have only used this for WordPress and for access to my GMail account. It is nice to be able to just click on an icon and load up either WordPress or GMail in a nice and contained format. This is especially nice for GMail since I almost always have that open in a Firefox tab and now I don’t require all of Firefox just to check mail.

For now I had to install it by downloading the file and just unpacking it. You don’t need to do any special installing because it can simply run  as a normal user. For ease of use I just put the files in a .prism directory under my home directory and sys linked that to a directory which is include in my PATH variable.

Presently when you run prism you just enter the website and prism turns it into an easy to run desktop icon and then from that point on you use the icon.

Use This To Create a "New App"

Use This To Create a "New App"

After doing this one gets a nice desktop icon:

Now we can access GMail from here

GMail Icon

Once you click on the icon the application is run:

Notice the lack of navigation or address bar

Notice the lack of navigation or address bar

It should also be noted that there is a Firefox extension to do this same thing, but I couldn’t get that to work even after playing with it for a good deal of time.

If you would like to download and play with Prism for yourself you can check it out here: . I should also mention that Prism is still in the testing phases so it might not be too surprising if there were some bugs.

I have many more things I’d like the write about especially my awesome experiences for KDE 4.2, but those will have to wait until my motivation and free time have increased 🙂 .

Java Scanner class and Standard In Troubles

January 25, 2009

I ran into a bit of trouble today with the Java Scanner class that I thought was worth mentioning. Personally I really like the Java Scanner class because it is a great way to easily read from standard input (stdin). In specific the issue I had was that I noticed the Scanner class allows you to close stdin. This is the part I found problematic. Consider the following code from

import java.util.Scanner;
public class Test
    public static void main(String args[])
     Scanner scanner = new Scanner(;

     System.out.print("Enter a number: ");
     System.out.println("Your number was: " + scanner.nextInt());


     scanner = new Scanner(;

         System.out.println("Whoops! nothing to read!");

     System.out.println("Things seemed to  have worked correctly.");

When you run this code what you will notice is that after you enter the first number the program goes straight into that if statement. This is not what we might expect however because the has<something> functions are supposed to hang until something is typed.

The reason for this is the call to scanner.close() which ends up closing standard in. To be honest I’m not sure how this would work on a Windows system, but I know it was a bit of a problem for me on my Linux box. The simple fix is to just not call .close() , but since it is normally good practice to close things you opened I didn’t think much of it when I first wrote the code. I guess we didn’t technically open stdin, so perhaps that is the correct way to look at it .

At any rate I wouldn’t call this a bug of Scanner, but simply something to look out for when using the Scanner class.

Happy coding 🙂 !

Spheriosity Alpha 3 Released!

January 13, 2009

Today I finally managed to release the next instalment of Spheriosity. For those who don’t know Spheriosity is the Java program I wrote to be an emulation of spherical geometry and it is geared toward students in higher geometry classes or anyone interested in learning about spherical geometry. The latest release has many new features. Here are a few of them:

  • Midpoint plotting
  • Ability to draw spherical circles
  • Improved line length measurement tools
  • Ability to rename points

To give it a try head on over to our SourceForge page and download away. Spheriosity requires Java3D >= 1.4 and Java >= 1.5 . For those interested in hearing more about the latest release then keep reading.

The reason that I decided to release it as alpha is because I think there are still too many features I would like to add to the next version. Also, I have been reading about XML lately and think I might change the file format over to use an XML based one for saving spheres. Changing to XML will probably not be terribly difficult, but it does involve my needing to actually do it and then write some acompanying tests. More importantly it will, yet again, break backwards compatibility with file reading.

Hopefully, the next version I release can be beta quality. Also, I am still looking for people who would be interested in helping with development. It would be great to have other people to bounce ideas off of and check the code out to make sure there are as few errors as possible. Additionally, I don’t always have time to work on the project and getting a few more people would help it have some more consistent development.

At any rate I hope everyone enjoys the latest release and if you have any feedback please let me know either via this blog or the Spheriosity SourceForge page. Thanks!