January 2009 Archives

Dual Screen Hitch

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I've been working for years now with two screens connected to my computer (though so far haven't made the change at home as there are other drains on my money). It makes coding easier as you don't need to switch back and forth between applications. I'm not the only one who agrees with this, my friend OJ wrote a good post about dual screen development back in 2006.

However, I've recently hit on a minor annoyance with using more than one screen, which became apparent to me when I upgraded one of my monitors in work for a higher resolution one. I'm running with one monitor at 1920x1200 and the other at 1280x1024. The problem comes from the difference in height between these resolutions as it creates a "step" at the bottom of the desktop where the two screens meet. If I move the mouse from the bigger monitor to the small one along the bottom, it gets stuck on this edge, where I would prefer Windows to simply move the mouse up a bit to compensate and still allow it to move across to the smaller screen.

I could remove this problem by setting my bigger monitor to a resolution with a height of 1024, but that would lose me some valuable desktop space and also would result in fuzziness due to running an LCD monitor at a non-native resolution. This really isn't a solution.

I know I can drag the monitors around in the display properties dialog, but this would just move the step to the top of the screen, or cause a smaller steps at both the top and bottom. This isn't a solution either.

I don't know whether Windows Vista/7 or Linux would handle this case differently as I don't have it installed here and don't have enough monitors to test at home. Does anyone know of a nice workaround for this in Windows XP?

Feeds

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I've changed the feed links at the top to feedburner feeds so I can track statistics on how many people are subscribing to my site.  The old feeds are still present and updated (and indeed they are the origin for the feedburner feed) you don't have to do anything if you're already subscribed.

Also, I've changed the comments feed to Atom format, as the old RSS one was causing quite a few validation errors which meant some readers had trouble with it.  You may get a load of old comments appearing as new in your readers at first, but that should go away once they've caught up.  Sorry about that.

I've recently been playing Portal: Prelude, another fan made mod for Portal. I'm currently about half way through - or I think I'm half way through.  I've played as far as test chamber 9 out of 19, though of course there could be more content afterwards.

However, I'm finding this mod a lot more difficult than the original game. I'm not finding the puzzles particularly difficult to work out - the problem is that I'm lacking the skill to perform the tricks needed. There are a lot of cases where you need to move a portal whilst moving at high speed and it's led me to think that actually the core mechanics of the game need tweaking as it's making the game more difficult than it should be.

The root cause of my problem can be demonstrated quite easily. Just create two portals on the floor and then fall into one of them. If you aim your fall right you will now oscillate up and down through them. When you fall through one of the portals, you emerge upside down from the other one. The problem is that the game will immediately try to turn you the right way up. If you're looking nearly straight up or down, it quickly flicks you the right way up with a slight change in your viewpoint. If you're looking nearer to horizontal then you will be rolled slowly to the right way up over the course of a second or so.

When just falling this isn't too bad, but when it interacts with your ability to aim at things we start to have serious problems. If you're looking vertically, the instant flip reverses your turn direction. If you're looking straight down you'll emerge looking straight up, so mouse movement is now suddenly different. Before you enter the portal you can't look any further down, and then suddenly you can move your viewport down another 180 degrees because it thinks you emerged looking straight up. Also when looking vertically, your turn direction will suddenly reverse. If you are looking down and turn the mouse to the right, the image will appear to rotate anti clockwise, but once you have fallen through the portal and are looking straight up, a mouse movement to the right will result in the view turning clockwise.

If you are looking closer to horizontal when you enter the portal, the situation is even worse as the auto rolling just totally messes up any attempt to aim.

I think that the only reason this isn't a problem in the original game is that the puzzles were deliberately designed to avoid this situation. The only occasion that comes to mind is one part of test chamber 18 where you are "climbing" by falling into successively higher portals, but in that case you have a fairly long fall so you have a couple of seconds to get accustomed to the new viewpoint.

The only way I can think to fix this is to postpone the correcting of your orientation until you have landed on a surface. What do people think?

Windows 7 Beta

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Long ago, I did a quick review of Windows Vista which was a mixture of positive and negative.  It performed a lot better on my current PC than the one I had at the time, but still had some annoyances which won it one of my Wooden Spoon Awards for 2008.

So, bringing us up to date I installed the beta version of Windows 7 the other day and here are my initial thoughts.

  • Speed - it's an absolute speed demon. Boot up time is a good chunk quicker than it was on Vista (I believe this is mostly because it enumerates devices and loads drivers in parallel rather than one at a time). The desktop feels a lot more responsive too - dwm.exe is taking 0% CPU nearly all the time according to the task manager, rather than the 1-3% it always did under Vista. Kudos to Microsoft's OS optimisation engineers.
  • Drivers - On first install it was able to find drivers for everything on my system, with one exception which we'll get to later. It even automatically set up my desktop to 1600x1200 (the native resolution of my monitor) without any prompting from me which makes a great change from living in VGA land after an OS install.
  • Wireless - I don't know why, but every OS I seem to install has a problem with my Abit Airpace wireless card, and Windows 7 was no exception. It refused to automatically find a driver for it simply labelling it as an "Ethernet Device" in device manager. I tried installing the Vista 64 driver, but it refused to identify the card. Anyway, the Abit Airpace is basically a repackaged Atheros 5007, so I manually installed that driver from the list and all was well.
  • The new task bar is rather spanking. Hover the mouse over an icon and it shows all instances of that application above so you can quickly switch to it. It even manages to show each tab in Internet Explorer so you can quickly jump to the right tab in one click, though I'm not sure how well this works if you have more than half a dozen or so tabs open. Another nice innovation is that there's conceptually no difference between launching an application and switching to it, so the quick launch bar is gone and instead you have tabs on the task bar which perform both functions (reminds me of RISC OS 3 from 1992!). The only bad part about this is it takes up more screenspace by default, though I believe you can set the size of the icons - I just haven't tried this yet.

2008 in Review

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Here we are again at the beginning of a new year, so it's time for me to post my subjective opinions on things that happened over the last twelve months.

Highlight of the Year - My son Isaac who continually amazes and delights me.  He hasn't cost us too many sleepless nights either, which is a bonus.  The holiday in Australia was another great moment - three weeks worth of great moments in fact (excluding the flights).  If I didn't have family and work commitments in the UK I'd seriously consider moving down under.

Film of the Year - Ironman.  For once, an exciting superhero origin film that's worth a repeat viewing, backed up by Robert Downey Jr being ace.  Cloverfield blew me away when I saw it at the cinema, but loses a lot on DVD so doesn't quite make the cut.  I perhaps may have picked The Dark Knight or another film if I had seen it, but I haven't set foot in a cinema since my son was born so my exposure to new films has been limited.

Game of the Year - Fallout 3.  I'm not usually a fan of RPG games, but this just drew me in completely.  A well written main story, a ton of cool stuff around the map which continually rewards you for exploring, and the VATS aiming system is a lot more useful than I first thought.  Slightly let down by technical issues (a few crashes here and there), but the ultra fast load times on the PC version make up for that.  Burnout Paradise and Fable 2 are also worthy contenders, but as I worked on them both it would hardly be fair for them to win would it?  Braid seemed to get a lot of positive press and its high quality is certainly very apparent, but I found it too fiddly and difficult to really get in to.  Perhaps I'm just rubbish at games these days.

TV of the year - Lost Season 4.  A shorter series that could have been ruined by the WGA writers strike, but it ended up stronger than ever.  The flash forwards were a neat twist on the formula.  I am really looking forward to season five now.  Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe is as excellent and well observed as always, but could do with being on earlier in the evening rather than buried at midnight on BBC 4.  Dr Who is just getting more and more silly this year - I can't wait for Russell T Smugface Davies to finally leave the series in the hands of some decent writers.

Book of the Year - The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger. I expected this to be pure trashy chick fic beach reading, but I was utterly surprised to find an intelligent sci-fi (-ish) tale with great characters. The idea of time travel being a genetic defect that causes you to become unstuck in time when stressed, like a kind of chronological epilepsy is a great plot idea. It is expertly written, never getting confusing even though the time line jumps about all over the place. It wasn't published in 2008, so including it here is perhaps cheating a bit, but I read it this year and it's my blog! Apparently a film adaptation of the book is in production. Neal Stephenson's Anathem was also good, but suffered a fair bit from the new vocabulary it makes you learn.

Wooden Spoon Awards

Worst Tech - Windows Vista 64. I've said good things about Vista in the past, but it's little annoyances are building up for me. It randomly decided I didn't have a DVD drive connected a few months ago which resulted in me having to trawl the internet for a solution, then recently I've been forced to install hotfixes from the beta version of Service Pack 2 to stop blue screen crashes caused by using a quad core processor with over four gig of memory. Is this really the seamless experience we should be getting from a modern world class operating system?

Most annoying company - A tie between Scan International and Emirates Airlines. Scan for taking nearly a month to send me a warranty replacement of my PC's dead motherboard. I sent back the board and they quickly confirmed it was dead and said a new one would be sent out within days. A week passes and I ask them for a progress report. They say they've had to send off to the manufacturer for a replacement but it's now in stock and will be with me in the next few days. A further week passes and I press the issue. This time they admit the board isn't available any more and offer me a similar one from a different manufacturer, which I accepted and it duly arrived. I asked them why they had lied to me about the original board being in stock and they simply ignored my email. Emirates also gets a wooden spoon for offering us frequent flier points when we complained about the provision for Isaac during the flights to Australia (what are we supposed to do with frequent flier points if we're not planning to fly long haul in the near future).

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from January 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

November 2008 is the previous archive.

February 2009 is the next archive.

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