Sorting My Thoughts with Freemind

May 17, 2009

Recently I was introduced to a nifty little Java program called Freemind. The purpose of Freemind is to help you map out your thoughts into a form which then allows you to manipulate them freely. Sometimes I have too many ideas in my head to put them all together in a coherent way and a program like Freemind helps me to sort through them all. Basically, I use it as an extension of my memory, and I have been looking for software that does this for quite a while now. Before Freemind all I had was a pencil and paper. This solution is not terrible, but I do almost all of my work on the computer so having a digitized solution is always prefered. Here is a screen shot of Freemind:

Screenshot of the main application

Screenshot of the main application

One of the main things I like about Freemind is that once you get the hang of the keyboard shortcuts you can control everything about the program from the keyboard. This is really handy for me since I can just type away and keep adding ideas without having to give too much thought in to the use of the computer itself.

In Freemind a file is called a “Mind Map” and it is basically a single unifiying topic for what you will be organizing your thoughts on. Off of that one supplies “nodes” which have snippets of text in them describing whatever you please. Nodes can, of course, be placed off other nodes and this is how one builds a mind map. The nice thing about Freemind is that these nodes can be moved around quite easily with keyboard shortcuts. This allows one to quickly rearrange ideas.

Finally, Freemind lets you place little graphics next to the nodes which one can use to indicate various things about nodes. For example, I was using Freemind to keep track of bugs in this small program I was writing, and I would use the check mark graphic to indicate when I had solved one and written unit tests for it.

All in all I really like Freemind and it is a great way to put my thoughts together in a coherent way. I hope to find new and interesting uses for it in the future.

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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!


Mega Man 9 Review

December 16, 2008

About a month ago I purchased Mega Man 9 off the Wii Virtual Console. At the time I was still in the middle of a tough college semester so I played it little by little. I finally finished the game a week ago, and got around to writing up my thoughts on the game.

Game Play:

The game play in Mega Man 9 is spot on with what I remember from the old NES classics. For those who don’t know, Mega Man 9 was made in the same style as the NES Mega Man games of old. In Mega Man 9 we find that our hero has the usual abilities such as… jumping and shooting. No other abilities are given to him. However, you do have the option of using the Rush Jet or Rush Coil and, of course, when you defeat a boss you get to use their power afterward. Capcom did a perfect job of recreating the feel of the NES Mega Man, which is 100% ok by me 🙂 .

Story Line:

Mega Man games of yore have never been much for a story line so there’s not much to say here. I wasn’t expecting all that much from Mega Man 9 in the way of a storyline and I got what I expected. They attempt to explain everything but the bottom line is: Dr. Wily did something bad and you have to go around destroying robots to make things right.

Old School Boss Selection Screen

Old School Boss Selection Screen

Music:

I absolutely love the music in Mega Man 9. Now, I should mention that it is the classic 8-bit style music. I have met people who find this absolutely annoying, but for me it brings about a certain nostalgia. If you liked the NES Mega Man music chances are you will like this as well. Likewise, if you hated the old 8-bit music you probably won’t like the music in Mega Man 9.

Controls:

I found that the controls for this game worked just fine. You hold the Wiimote sideways: ‘1’ is shoot, ‘2’ is jump, and the D-pad moves you left and right. To pause and switch weapons you simply use ‘+’ .

Extras:

Mega Man 9 features a store where you use the bolts you collect throughout the levels to buy items such as energy tanks and extra lives. They also added a few more items such as the shock guard, which allows you to jump on spikes once without exploding instantly.

Challenges:

Mega Man 9 features different challenges, which the game notifies you of after you have completed them. Some of them include:  Jitterbug (beat game in under 60 minutes), Quick Draw (defeat a boss in 10 seconds or less), and Heavy Metal (reach a boss room without firing a weapon). These are turned on by default and can be fun to try and achieve. Either way it does not hurt the game to have these features around and can add a bit more play time to the game if you are into that sort of thing.

Galaxy Man Opening Screen

Galaxy Man Opening Screen

Time Trails:

Another interesting mode of play is the “Time Trial” mode where you are given all power-ups and are placed in a level of your choosing. Then, you try and get through the level as fast as possible. Furthermore, you can compete against the top times that people have accomplished and uploaded via the Wi-Fi network.

Difficultly:

Since it has been a while since I played any of the NES Mega Man games I’m not sure how to rate its difficulty in comparison to the others. I certainly wouldn’t call it easy, but I don’t know if it is as hard as the others. I would say that it probably took me around 9 or 10 hours to complete the game, but now that I have beaten it I would probably make it through in just under an hour. The difficulty comes in figuring out the “tricks” to each level for the first time. Once you do that it is fairly easy to finish a level in around 2 to 3 minutes. It is a different style of gaming from the modern sense. A lot of games these days are long and of easy to medium level difficulty. Mega Man 9 sports short, very difficult levels. You need to understand that you might not complete a level on your first, second, or even third attempt in this game.

Bonus Content:

Mega Man 9 features downloadable content that you must pay for with Wii points. As I am a poor college student, I have not yet purchased any of these features. Some of them include: being about to play as Proto Man or purchasing an additional level.

Conclusion:

All in all, Mega Man 9 has a lot of great content, and it is good to see a big player such as Capcom making awesome games for the virtual console, especially for a reasonable $10. If you were a fan of the old school Mega Man, or if you are looking for a fresh and challenging Wiiware title Mega Man 9 will not disappoint!


My Thoughts on KDE 4.1

December 15, 2008

For the past few days I have been using KDE 4.1 exclusively. In fact, I uninstalled most of my KDE 3.5 applications because I wanted to get a real feel for what KDE 4.1 can do. Now, even the KDE development team would agree that it is not 100% complete. By that I mean it does not have every feature from KDE 3.5, but it certainly seems pretty darn close. In terms of fancy screens shots the KDE team has done a nice job of this so I point you here to see some of the magic.

The Good

First, I will talk about what I really like about KDE 4.1. The new look and feel on KDE is certainly a welcome improvement. Lots of various things have animations such as selecting things in the new KMenu and changing between settings in different dialogs. These transitions provide not only some nice eye candy for onlookers, but serve to show the user that they are changing contexts. I think this is very important especially for new users to help ease them into the environment. Also, KDE 4.1 supports some compositing features, but I was not able to test those due to issues with my graphics card/X. It does seem to suppose an alternate rendering scheme which seems use the CPU, but my processor is not fast enough to make it run smoothly.

Also, a lot of my favorite KDE apps have been ported. Specially, Akregator, Kpdf (now called Okular), Kwallet, and many more. Akregator and Okular have a nice new appearance, and it is good to see them with a new look.

Screenshot of Okular

Screenshot of Okular

Just as before KDE has a helpful System Settings feature which allows you to change quite a few useful settings and configure all or most of the things KDE 3.5 used to allow for. Thankfully, KDE has switched away from artsd, which I could never get to work, and with the new Phonon backend it can use any number of audio backends such as xine or gstreammer.

From my limited interaction with dolphin, the file manager,  I like what I see. It is intuitive to use and has a number of different views for you to use when trying to get through your files. It also has another interesting feature that I noticed. It lets you tag and leaves comments about your files and folders. In fact, you can even rate them. This ties in with the “Nepomuk Semantic Desktop” which, if enabled, allows you to search your file system based on the tags and whatnot that you assign to your files. I must admit that I do most of my file management with a terminal still, but I think that feature has definite advantages if you like the graphical approach. For instance, say you have lots of photos in different folders. You could tag them and have a much easier way to locate them 2 or 3 years down the road.

I don’t really use konqueror, but it is still alive and well. I can’t say much more than that because I haven’t used it enough to have an opinion either way 🙂 .

The Not So Good

On the other side of things, if you require every last feature from KDE 3.5 than KDE 4.1 is not for you because they haven’t all been implemented yet. For instance, it does not support setting the background on a dual screen setup such that it spans both screens. A little work with GIMP “fixed” that problem for me by splitting the picture in half and setting each screen to each half, but that is a bit impractical.

Also, for whatever reason, the compositing effects were not working so well and enabling them was a bit of a pain. I’m not sure whether to pin this on KDE or whole ATI graphics drivers issue when it comes to X.

The plasmids, the new KDE widgets,  are a really cool idea, but some of it is a bit frustrating. As an example, I accidentally deleted the main bar with KMenu/Pager/etc, and it took me about 30 minutes to an hour to get everything back in working order. I think these minor bugs and annoyances will be worked out in future releases, but it was disappointing just the same.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, I am extremely happy with KDE 4.1. I have been looking forward to KDE 4 and 4.1 does anything but disappoint. In fact, I’m switching over to use it as my primary desktop environment on both my laptop and desktop machines. KDE 4.1 is not for everyone though, specifically those who are waiting for every last feature of KDE 3.5. Some things in KDE 4.1 take a little getting used to and some have complained about this. I don’t mind however, because ultimately I like what the KDE team has done, and sometimes I think people get very stuck in their ways and don’t want to move away from “the way it used to be”. KDE 4.1 doesn’t completely redfine desktop environments, but it sure does give them a fresh new look 🙂 . KDE 4.1 levaes me eagerly awaiting KDE 4.2!