Archive - Oct 2010

Formatting yesterday has naturally prompted me to reinstall all of my favourite computer software, so with that, I'd like to present a nerdy list which you might also make use of.
  • Paint.NET - A great freeware photo editing program. I love the design, UI, Windows 7 features, general ease of use, occasional/substantial updates, and comprehensive suite of tools. For advanced editing, this might not be enough for you, but for between the default tools and and the user-made plugins, it should be plenty for most. I've donated to this project and I recommend others do as well.

  • Sumatra PDF - Very lightweight and basic PDF viewer. Again, if you like advanced features, this isn't for you, but for a basic viewer that does what it says and well, I highly recommend it. It looks kind of nasty from the website image, but with a PDF in there, it's actually quite nice. Foxit is a decent alternative, but I hate its update system among other things. Adobe Reader of course is just a horribly optimized program.

  • Mozilla Firefox - I'm a longtime Firefox fan, mainly because of its extensive customization capabilites. For awhile now I've used a 'streamlined' design which I just love. Firefox 4 is looking way too much like Chrome for me, but hopefully I'll be able to customize it enough to look more like it does now. As a program, I don't hate Chrome, I just think it's redundant to have two programs which look and operate very similarly.

  • Mozilla Thunderbird - Infinitely more efficient to use than webmail, especially if you've got multiple accounts. If you've tried it before and found it hard to setup, recently they've updated it to make it much, much easier. Like Firefox, it's customizable, lightweight, and has a clean look.

  • MozBackup - Essential for Mozilla users who want to get their customizations, emails, bookmarks, etc. back in place after formatting instantly with no fuss.

  • CCleaner - Nice program for tidying up your registry and also unwanted files. Redemption has said it seemed to mess up his registry once but I've been fortunate enough to have used it for years with no issue. Frequent updates -- only complaint is there is no built in updater.

  • Defraggler - From the CCleaner people, I enjoy this one for the quick defrag and folder defrag features, the latter for when I just want to clean up a game folder for optimal play vs. waiting an hour for the whole system. It uses the same system as the Windows Defragmenter as well, so there's no worry about what it's doing to your computer.

  • Digsby - a lovely multi-protocol instant messaging client I've switched to recently after the abhorrent new Windows Live Messenger. Digsby isn't perfect but it does the job better than any other at the moment. Mostly I really enjoy it though -- it's customizable, clean, efficient, and probably a bunch of other nice things.

  • Last.fm Scrobbler - For the music nerd. I use this to track the music I listen to so I can share it with people, and also to get recommendations and local concert recommendations. Excellent stuff.

  • FRAPS - Essential for the game screenshot junkie like myself. Occasionally I'll even make videos. :)

  • Windows Media Player - iTunes is nice but continues to become more and more bloated for no good reason. Songbird pretty much went the same route, and foobar2000 is...unsettling somehow (I am very particular). WMP is also not perfect but also does the job better than any other for me -- I've customized the design so it more or less resembles the old iTunes. Last I checked it's light on memory as well. Of course the Windows 7 integration is nice too. If you're not on Windows 7 I can't recommend it as the previous designs are awful and performance seems to be subpar.

  • Microsoft Security Essentials - My favourite security program as of last year. I used Avast for a long time, and that's another great one, but I prefer MSE's user friendliness, better design, and Windows 7 integration. Very lightweight, intelligent, and efficient.

  • Tweetdeck - Thanks to Dany for introducing me to this. Like Thunderbird, it's very efficient if you're running multiple Twitter accounts. Unfortunately it does use a lot of memory and performance isn't too great, but I expect this to be improved greatly over time -- it's only on version 0.3.x after all. Besides, the efficiency far outweighs these downsides.

  • Image Resizer - Very efficient if you're working with images a lot. I use this pretty much daily for news articles and reviews and so on -- not everyone has a 22' monitor after all! Images are adjusted proportionally based on your chosen dimensions with just two clicks.
I think that's about it! If you have any recommendations of your own, feel free to share.

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It's been almost a month since my last report -- rather busy, indeed. I'm going to make an effort to have these up weekly as originally planned.

Let's get to it.

Upcoming reviews: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, Lost Planet 2 (PC), Medal of Honor (PC), Kirby's Epic Yarn (probably), Vanquish, God of War: Ghost of Sparta (should be published very early -- this is pleasing), Gran Turismo 5 (probably), Need for Speed Hot Pursuit, Arcania. Unfortunately LucasArts has declined us again this year, but we're working on it.

Planned coverage: X-Men: Destiny (possibly)

Wikis: BioShock Infinite wiki is started. I'll be getting into the Dragon Age series and Bad Company 2 wikis after this big batch of reviews. Lydia won't be working on the Guild Wars 2 wiki for about a month (same for news) -- feel like helping out? Leo is going to be touching up the Phantasy Star Portable 2 wiki as the design is borked.

Highlights:

A lot since last time, so bear with me. Lastly, I'm proud to announce we can call Heath Flor a 'professional' reviewer now. He's not going anywhere. :)

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My latest obsession is Mad Men as some know already -- I can't seem to shutup about it.

Like many other gamers, I also have a passion for music, television and film. Mad Men, much like The Sopranos (its creator was an executive producer on the latter show), is a blend of television and film -- episodes are 45 minutes and have a very cinematic feel in ways. What I love most about this style is it borrows from the strengths of TV and film and isn't hindered by the major weaknesses of either -- time constraints (film) and pointless plots (TV), so the viewer doesn't have to follow the show. You have to follow Mad Men. You have to watch every episode or you're missing critical pieces of the picture every time.

This is a show for adults. Set in the very early 60s (the culture and style of dress still largely feel 50s), the primary setting is an advertising agency on the infamous Madison Avenue in New York City. But don't be so silly as to think the show is all about advertising. As I've explained to a friend, it's no more about advertising than say, Six Feet Under is about funerals (another great show). In a similar manner, Mad Men doesn't hesitate to dive into each of the characters' personal lives both inside and outside the workplace.

Our main character is Donald Draper, creative director at the agency. Draper is largely responsible for the company's reputation as unique, passionate, and at times wild. While in some ways he is far from respectable in his personal life, Draper is very passionate and creative with his work, and made even me see another side to advertising, one that has merit. I say "even me" because although advertising has done a lot for me personally -- thank you advertising ;) -- I do largely detest it. Regardless, Mad Men has made me realize as with anything in life, it's what you make it.

One of the show's greatest strengths is its character depth. As in real life, things are often not what they seem. Pete Campbell -- one of the account managers -- is presented as despicable at first, and a great source of tension for Draper. Over time we see his character alternate between well intentioned and utterly human, and thoughtless, selfish, and ruthless -- a true internal struggle of duality I've witnessed in many before. Campbell is just one example -- we get to know virtually all of the characters in a similar manner over time, whether they be pure or remorseful or secretive or ambitious or hell, even happy.

I would say the other greatest strength is how the show tells us just enough about a character's actions or struggle then leaves quite a bit to interpretation. This is hard to exemplify without spoiling anything, so I'll just say there will be many times you'll find yourself reflecting on what a particular scene is about for the show and your own life as well.

Above all I would say Mad Men is about the struggle to be good, to have good, and to do good work. It's something I can relate to on all levels, and I recommend it very highly to anyone interested -- I don't want to confirm it quite yet, but I think it is my favourite show. That used to be Six Feet Under, but the godawful ending and the fact none of the characters even really achieved happiness bothered me quite a bit -- there's only so much despair I can take before I wonder what the point is (still an amazing show though).

Anyway, it's on Netflix and a bunch of other places now. Watch it.

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