NEWS: Hey look, an update!

That's right folks, a real update.  How long has it been, 3 1/2 months?  But this time, I have a real excuse.  No, really.  Well okay, perhaps it's more of a diversionary tactic, but at any rate, feast your eyes on this:

Warped Core: The Next Generation

That's right, I got my own domain, rewrote my entire site layout in WordPress 1.5, and moved the whole thing off of Blogger and onto my own web host.  Why, you ask?  Well, go on, click the link and find out!  All my new posts will be appearing over there now, after all.  This will officially be my last post on Blogger, but not to fear, bigger and better things await on my new site.  ...Well, okay, at least it looks cooler anyway.


COMMENTARY - We wish you a merry Christmas, and a bundle of socks.

Yes, it's Mid-December already.  That most wonderful time of the year, with everyone's favorite holiday just around the corner...

Bah, humbug.

I hate Christmas.  No, it's not just because I like to complain about things or that I have the false perception that simply going against popular opinion makes me a "free thinker".  It also has nothing to do with any religious affiliation of the holiday either, which is also sketchy at best.  Fine, send me off on a brief tangent on the history of our modern Christmas...

Throughout history, there have been numerous ancient pagan holidays celebrated near winter solstice, but the direct descendant of our modern Christmas can probably be considered the Roman holiday of Saturnalia, the god of agriculture.  Or more specifically even, the birthday of Mithra, the god of the unconquerable sun, celebrated on December 25th, and considered by some Romans as the most sacred day of the year.  So of course in typical Catholic tradition, long about the fourth century, Pope Julius I declared December 25th as a celebration of the birthday of Jesus Christ in a blatant attempt to absorb another pagan holiday into a conversion to Christianity.  Nevermind the very story of Jesus' birth and angels visiting shepherds in the field tending their flocks at the time indicates Jesus was actually born in the spring and directly contradicts a winter celebration, but hey, let's overlook that in order to thwart another pagan holiday.  Besides, we already have Easter in place to undermine pagan springtime festivities, so we don't need another spring holiday.  So December 25th became the unofficial birthday of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  As far as all of the "traditions" we celebrate in our modern Christmas, that's mostly the fault of us Americans.  Christmas in its current form didn't really pick up steam until the mid to late 1800's, where Americans decided it was the perfect family holiday and retail opportunity, and began to incorporate traditions and beliefs from different churches and immigrants from around the world, or just plain made up their own traditions.  For more information on the convoluted history of what we have come to call Christmas, check out How Christmas Works.  Anyways, my point is the birth of Jesus as the celebration for Christmas in fact plays a small part in the holiday's origins, and is actually about as historically inaccurate as the rest of the holiday's traditions.  Now back to the rant.

So why do I particularly dislike Christmas?  In part, it's the same problem I have with all modern holidays.  They're over-commercialized.  Christmas is just the epitomy of the over-commercialized holiday.  Most retail stores account for 70% of their annual income to just the Christmas shopping season alone.  TV shows, movies, commercials, signs, and ads are everywhere promoting this season of peace, love, harmony, and spending lots of money buying presents for other people.  From the Christian standpoint, if this holiday is about the birth of Christ, in what way does crowding shopping malls and spending all your money on your friends and family tie into that?  Can't figure it out?  Neither can I.  What about the rest of the non-Christian population that still celebrates the holiday?  They have even less reason, yet they're not left out of the festivities, now are they?  Whatever one's explanation for celebrating it is, I doubt any can explain why exactly they have a decorated dead tree in their living room or what Santa Clause really has to do with anything.  That's because the true meaning of Christmas is doing whatever the media tells you to.  If you can't detail the origins of a tradition, is it then even traditional?  Hardly.  Why all the hyped up Christmas festivities then?  So the retail industry can rake in more income in a couple weeks than it does the other eleven months of the year combined, that's why.  As long as they can keep people excited and enchanted by the "spirit of Christmas", they continue to make money hand over fist.  And that is the true meaning of Christmas.

But as I said, that's only part of the reason I don't like the holiday.  Here's the main reason for my dislike of Christmas: With all these people spending money on gifts, why can't anyone manage to buy me something good??!!  I mean come on, seriously, who wants socks for Christmas?  I wouldn't really appreciate someone giving me socks on any of the other 364 days of the year, how does anyone figure they make a good Christmas gift?  The same goes for ties.  Especially Christmas ties.  Great!  A present I can only use once a year, and I have to wait another 12 months to wear it!  Gee, thanks!  I think a good rule of thumb is that if you can't think of a good gift to buy someone, either give them a gift card, or consider that you don't know them well enough to warrant buying them anything in the first place and save the money you would have wasted on some lame gift for them and put it towards a nicer gift for someone you actually care about.  Now I don't know why there's this stigma surrounding gift cards.  Contrary to popular opinion, I think they're one of the best gifts you can get someone.  Many people don't like giving gift cards because you now have an exact dollar figure for how much someone spent on your present.  Okay... and I'm supposed to believe you spent more than $5 on those socks?  Me, I'd take even a $5 gift card over some dollar store trash any day.  People also claim it's an impersonal gift, but let me ask you, which of the following scenarios do you find less personal:

1. "I didn't know what to buy you for Christmas, so here's a cheap package of socks I picked up at the dollar store."

2. "I didn't know what to buy you for Christmas, so I bought you a gift card worth a few dollars from a place you actually like to shop."

If you as me, a gift card is actually a more personal gift than some cheap present you picked up because you couldn't figure out what to really get for them. Here's how I interpret these two different scenarios:

1. "I didn't know what to get you and I didn't care enough to figure it out either, so here's a cheap piece of crap to say the thought of buying you something at least crossed my mind."

2. "I didn't know what to get you, but I know you like to shop at this particular store, so I got you a gift card worth a few bucks since I'm sure you could find a good use for it there."

If people would listen to me on this one simple point, I would have a far happier Christmas.  Imagine for a moment that every person who would have bought you a crappy gift this year instead decided to just get you a gift card good at your favorite store.  Even a cheap gift card.  With that little collection of cards, you could manage to buy yourself a pretty nice present.  But what are you supposed to do with your assortment of socks, ties, and sweaters?  Well, you could always save them for next year, wrap them back up, and return them as your very thoughtful Christmas present back to them.  That's right, who ever said that game was only reserved for the fruitcake?

So in closing, anyone thinking of buying me some lame, cheap gift this year, I respectfully request (okay, demand) you instead do one of the following:

1. Don't buy me anything and save the money for a better gift for someone else.  Otherwise, you'll be seeing your present again in about a year...

2. Click here, and remember my email address is tribblehunter@hotmail.com.



This is going to be another one of my sort of fantastically long two-part posts.  Seems that's becoming my new trend.  Don't post anything for a long while, then post two things at once.  Oh well.  Anyways, on with the show.  First, I will be starting with my review of the PC game "Evil Genius", followed by some very useful information to get you started on a real-life evil lair of your own.  Interested?  Read on...

First,The Game...

Evil Genius is not quite like any other game I've played.  It's something like the Sims meets Austin Powers with a dash of the old board game Risk thrown in.  Now, I've never been a big fan of the Sims games. They are like Real Time Strategy games minus the strategy, leaving them... well... nothing, really.  Plus, the micromanagement to the point of telling people when to go to the bathroom is quite frankly annoying.  That said, while Evil Genius resembles a Sims game on many levels, it doesn't really play like one at all.  Aside from your character (the evil genius), and his handful of henchmen, you actually have no direct control over the rest of your army of minions.  Instead, you issue commands for tasks to be completed, and the nearest available minion will run and do your bidding.  This allows you the freedom to issue more commands rather than to babysit all of your little men.  A few construction orders here, some build orders there, some work orders over there, and soon you can sit back and watch your evil base bustle with busy bodies in yellow jumpsuits.  You will occasionaly run into that miserable maggot of a minion who refuses to work and may even try to abandon your evil organization.  Of course, you can then dispatch one of your henchmen to throw him in a holding cell until he changes his mind, or just kill him and recruit a new one.  The choice is yours.  It is, after all, your evil empire...

The game starts out with your evil genius and his solitary henchman landing on a rather empty island, with nothing but a dream to take over the world, and a somewhat sizable wad of cash.  The mountain on the center of the island of course makes a perfect location to begin an underground lair, so you get to work.  You start by hiring up some minions in fashionable yellow jumpsuits.  (Don't ask me, the attire seems to be an evil requirement.  Haven't you ever watched a James Bond movie?) Where they come from, how you hired them, and where did they get the jumpsuits, I don't know.  Nevertheless, they begin showing up on your island clad in their brightly colored outfits, ready to do your bidding.  So you start by issuing orders to hollow out your mountain, creating cooridors and rooms to begin your hidden base.  Your minions start running about, blasting holes out of your mountain, and soon you have the beginnings of your evil empire.  You build a control room, from which to spy on the world.  You construct a generator room to power your base.  You carve out barracks and mess halls and break rooms for your men.  You set up a security center from which to monitor your base, arm your minions, and interrogate intruders.  Yessir, you have quite the little evil base now.  Except now you're out of money.  Now what?

Enter the World Domination view.  From here, you are presented a map of the world, with all the different nations nicely color coded for your convenience.  Using this map, you can send your minions and henchmen out to different parts of the world to steal and plot for you.  A well staffed control room back at your base is a must, as it reveals important information about the different coutries around the world, such as how much money you can steal from specific regions, as well as how strong their military presence there is.  Sending a fair number of minions around the world to steal for you will keep the cash flowing in, enabling you to build your base even larger.  "My base is plenty large already", you may be thinking, "how do I take over the world already?"  Fear not, for your global conquest is only beginning.  The world domination map has a meter on the bottom measuring your notoriety.  See how it's really low right now, like in the near vicinity of zero?  Now that certainly won't do for an evil genius.  You do want to be notorious, now don't you?  Well, if not, then I suggest you are in the wrong business my friend.  The rest of us will plot and scheme and carry out various acts of notoriety against the world to increase our infamy.  It is equally important to send your men out to plot as it is to steal.  Plotting uncovers opportunities to perform devious acts around the globe - kidnapping people (and monkeys), stealing valuable artifacts (or buildings... like the Eiffel Tower...), or just causing general disruption and mayhem (like dragging massive iceburgs off from Antarctica into major naval shipping lanes to disrupt traffic).  As your minions successfully complete these (sometimes ridiculous) acts, you gain more notoriety, putting you one step closer to becoming a global threat.  But watch out, as your notoriety increases, so does your heat...

So now you've had a bit of fun at the expense of the world.  Time to check back into your base.  You've decorated your lair with precious objects stolen from around the world.  You've increased your gold reserves dramatically.  You've even interrogated prisoners you've kidnapped to teach your minions new carrers in military, social, or science fields.  Oh, and your base is also swarming with secret agents now.  What happened here?  Where did they all come from?  Well, while you were commiting devious acts around the world and increasing your notoriety, your "heat" also went up.  If you pick on a particular nation too frequently, well, they get a little upset about it, and your heat rating will increase.  So they start sending spys and secret agents to your base to investigate, sabotage, or steal their goods back from you.  As your heat rating increases, they will send more agents with increasing skill to your island to generally cause you trouble.  Careful management of your minions on the world domination map can keep a country from waging an all-out war on your little island, but no matter what you do, some number of unwelcome visitors from around the world will continue to invade your base.  What is an evil mastermind to do?  Traps, of course.  Lots and lots of traps.

Traps are by far the highlight of the game.  As you train scientists to work for you, they will research new technologies that allow you to build new objects, rooms, and also many, many traps.  Now, you could occupy your henchmen and minions with playing doorman and standing around the entrance of your lair like a bunch of bouncers, but most of your minions are really lousy fighters, and they'd be far more useful doing something else.  Not to mention traps are infinitely more fun to watch.  You can quickly turn the entrance of your base into a cooridor filled with sensors, pressure pads, trap doors, pirhanna tanks, gas chambers, flame throwers... the list goes on.  With a little practice, you can even learn to string this series of traps together, throwing its victims from one trap into the next in a veritable obstacle course of DOOM!  MUHAHAHA!!!  *ahem.*  Well.  At any rate, traps are good, and watching enemy agents (or your own minions... hehehe...) fall victim to them again and again just never seems to get old.

From here, you are now poised to take over the world.  But first, you will need a bigger island.  Why?  Well, simple.  Your current island doesn't have a big volcano in the middle.  Well, you asked a silly question...  Anyways, so you give the order to pack up your base, all your minions scurry onto your boat, and you set sail for your new home. You soon arrive at your new, larger island, complete with volcano, and you get to start all over building a new base.  This is actually a good thing, as it gives you opportunity to correct all the design flaws you discovered in your first base, and you have more room to work with now too.  And hey, there's also a volcano in the middle now.  Once you've settled in to your new home, you can steal plans, blueprints, and kidnap scientists from around the world to devise the all important Doomsday Weapon, as you're hardly an evil genius without one.  Then it's time to convert your volcanic core into a missile silo (see?  I told you the volcano bit was important...) and take the world hostage! MUHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!! *Cue evil music of doom*

So here's the summary...  (What do you mean, "finally"?)  

Graphics: 10/10  Bright, colorful, and very reminiscient of an Austin Powers movie.  Also the character animations flow very well.  If you've played other Sims games, you'll know what I mean, where the characters kind of jerk around when switching from one task to another as they change animation sequences.  You get none of that with Evil Genius.

Sound: 10/10  An excellent and very fitting soundtrack that sounds like it's right out of a James bond movie.  I liked it so much I had to track down the MP3's so I could take Evil Genius background music with me wherever I go. ;-)

Gameplay: 8/10  A well done modification on a Sims game, it removes the annoyances of micromanagement, while still making you feel in control through issuing orders. You obtain new units and research new items throughout the entire game, keeping the gameplay fresh with a constant supply of new objects to toy with.  Specific mission objectives also help to give the general purpose of world domination a little direction, while still allowing you the leeway to wreak havoc on the world or just expand your base at your leisure.  Switching from your evil base to the world domination mode is a little disjointed, and the two modes could possibly link together a little better, but being able to switch between two modes of play does help to keep the game from getting monotonous.

Ingenuity: 9/10  While the Sims style game is nothing new, the control over the units in Evil Genius is different, and my opinion, far better.  Well, unless you like micromanagement to the nth level, I guess.  The method of issuing commands really makes you feel like you are just sitting there with a screen overlooking your base telling people what to do, which I suppose really was the point, wasn't it?  The premise of the game itself is also sheer brilliance.  I've never played anything like it, yet at the same time practically none of the content in it is really original, as you will find about every cliche from every super-spy movie ever somewhere in the game.  This game is a must have for any James Bond or Austin Powers fan.  Plus, you get to play the villian in this game, which I think is far too much of a rarity in games today.

Replay Value: 8/10  First, let me say the traps never get old.  Never.  I could watch that all day.  And I have, too.  With so many traps, and so many different ways to arrange them, the possibilities are endless...  Traps aside though, the game still has strong replay value.  From redesigning your base layout, to refining your tactics for global domination, there's plenty to keep you playing.  Also, there are three different evil geniuses you can choose from to take over the world, and as the game progresses you can pick up a variety of different henchmen to work for you, so the combinations from start to finish are pretty numerous as well, allowing for a different experience each time through the game.

OVERALL: 9/10  There is one major reason I did not give this game a perfect score.  I'm not sure if this was just a problem on my install for some reason, or if anybody else even has this same problem, so I'm hesitant to speak too much on its severity.  But the in-game help menu would NOT work for me. It would display the text all skewed way off the screen, making it pretty much useless.  Again, maybe just a problem on my install, and also probably quite easily fixed with a patch if it is in fact a broader problem.  Other than that, it's a great game.

Next... THE WORLD!!!

Inspired by your time with "Evil Genius"?  I was.  That's when I stumbled across this site: 20th Century Castles.  That's right.  Retired missile silos for sale.  Now they're advertised towards the paranoid agoraphobic sort as uber-bombshelters, but it doesn't take the most creative evil genius to think that a retired missile silo would be the perfect location for a not-so-retired missile silo.  Now, any crazy individual reading this with $1.5 million to spare, don't even think about that Titan I site in Denver CO, that sucker is SO mine.  Well, once I manage to scrounge up my own $1.5 million, anyways... (My PayPal link, anyone?)  It's on 210 acres of land.  There's 45,000 square feet of underground floorspace.  Three missile silos.  What more could an aspiring evil genius ask for?  I could build a legitimate business enterprise topside on the 210 acres.  Maybe a children's hospital.  I mean, what kind of heartless government would storm a children's hospital, right?  Then, with 45,000 square feet underground and three separate missile silos, I'd have all the space I'd need to conduct my evil scheming and plotting.  A half mile of tunnels is also more than adequate space for a sufficient number of traps to discourage unwanted government visitors or in-laws from dropping by.  Also, being a mere 20 minutes away from a major metropolitan area will make it a small matter to tap into global communications networks, and an international airport also in the vicinity will make getting my undercover operatives around the world a piece of cake.  To top it off, a lot of these silos have leftover yet still working equipment from when they were still operating military sites, which makes getting an operating control room that much easier.  Now I just need to find somewhere to order yellow jumpsuits in bulk...


COMMENTARY - Linux: Windows of Opportunity?

So here I am, downloading some new Linux distros for my next foray into over-multi-booting.  (Some people overclock.  So I have a slightly different hobby...)  Since my last article on the subject, I have since backed down to just two operating systems, Windows 98 (which I almost never touch and keep for support reasons) and Windows 2000.  I had done this as I was running out of drive space, but I intend on installing a third hard drive in the near future, doubling my current storage from 200GB to 400GB.  So I figured it was time to install some more new shiny operating systems again.

As I was checking out all the newest and hottest Linux distributions and releases on DistroWatch, I was struck by a couple of interesting thoughts about the Linux community. First is the proliferation of the Live CD.  This is really a rather brilliant move by Linux developers, as it helps to overcome one of the biggest problems with getting users to switch to Linux.  Installing a second (or third, or sixth...) operating system onto a single computer is no simple task for the uninitiated, and even for an experienced user it can at times be hazardous to your existing installation.  However, a Live CD allows you to boot directly off a disc into the operating system, without installing anything onto the computer.  With a Live CD, you can just boot right into Linux, mess around with it and learn your way around a new operating system in your spare time.  Then when you're done, just take the CD out, reboot, and you're back into your usual operating system, with no harm done (except maybe to Microsoft's ego).  This method of course has it's pros and cons.  It does make getting people to try Linux far simpler, but to me, use of a Live CD represents a half-hearted attempt at exploring an alternative operating system.  It's great that it can draw new users into an easy way to try Linux, but as long as they're running it off a CD it can never hope to replace their everyday (Windows) operating system.  That, and it also runs far slower off the CD, which can give new users the impression that Linux is inferior to Windows.  Another note on the positive side, it can allow the hardcore Linux user to take their operating system with them and run it on virtually any computer they come into contact with.  That, and some Live CD distributions have been decked out with system maintenance, network analysis, and forensics tools, making them an indispensible resource to the system administrator, or a dangerous weapon in the hands of a hacker.  All in all though, I think it's a great development for Linux.

The other thought that entered my head was in part inspired by my new day job.  I'm currently working in a call center providing cable internet technical support.  As a result of my time on the phone there, I have concluded that there are three main types of computer users.  Those who really know what they're doing, those that know just enough to get by, and those who are completely clueless but for some reason are in front of a computer anyway.  Sadly, the vast majority of the population seems to fall into that latter category.  Now this may seem like a crazy idea, but I'm beginning to rather strongly believe that these same clueless individuals may be the best candidates to target for a switch to Linux.  Users who really know what they're doing can make the switch or set up a multi-boot configuration themselves, so they're not a problem.  Users who know enough to get around usually have some little 3rd party programs or games that they use on a regular basis.  This makes them less likely candidates to switch, as most often they can't take these programs with them and make them run on Linux.

But let's look at what average Joe Idiot does on the computer.  He checks his email.  He surfs the internet.  And maybe he wants an office suite to work in.  But that's about it.  To him, it's a glorified typewriter with built in newspapers and magazines.  Using Windows actually makes these tasks more difficult for Joe Idiot, if you ask me, because now Joe also has to worry about antivirus, anti-spyware, and firewall software to protect his PC.  Joe also has to worry about making sure all of these programs as well as his Windows security patches are constantly up to date to keep him properly protected.  Joe doesn't really realize it, but he also needs protection from himself, for he can inadvertently cause more damage to his computer than anything else.

Now let's put this same individual on a lightweight version of Linux, Vector, for example, with Firefox and OpenOffice installed on it.  There are currently very few viruses that even target Linux, and most of those actually target specific Linux server applications.  So there is no need for Joe to maintain or even install an antivirus program.  Linux was also developed from the ground up to be a networking operating system, so it is very secure, and most distributions typically come with a firewall of some kind, else one can be downloaded and installed for free.  Not only does Joe not have to worry about getting viruses in his email anymore, but by using Firefox on Linux he can also surf the internet unimpeded by popups, adware, or spyware.  Firefox has an excellent built-in popup blocker, and since spyware and adware programs are written to run on Windows, even if they manage to infiltrate the computer they will simply not do anything on a Linux system.  Using OpenOffice, Joe can do anything he could do in Microsoft Office, and in fact can open any of his old MS Office documents as well.  Lastly, by making sure Joe is logged in under a user account and not as root (administrator, for you Windows folks), Joe is not capable of causing too much damage to the system as he simply does not have the proper access to really break it.  Switching Joe over should be fairly simple too.  He already doesn't know his way around Windows, so why not have him be lost on Linux instead?  Just simply set him up with a Linux desktop with all the icons he'd need to do anything right in front of him, and he'll be fine.  That's all he does in Windows, after all.  Joe clicks on email, Joe gets email.  Joe clicks on internet, Joe gets internet.  Joe doesn't see viruses or popups or errors.  Best of all, Joe didn't have to pay a cent for any of it.  So Joe is happy.  And the bottom line is that means he's calling me at work less, so I don't have to answer as many frickin' calls.

So what's wrong with this blissful model I present?  Several things, actually.  First, is support for Linux.  If set up correctly, Linux should require far less support, but that doesn't mean it'll never require support.  So who's going to fix it when Joe Idiot does manage to break it?  Everyone supports Windows.  Windows is always the same.  Finding a technician to work on Linux, or even a tech support number that will give you Linux support, is all but impossible.  Why?  That leads to my second point.  Lack of standardization.  There are so many different versions of Linux available, and while they are all fundamentally the same, they are also all very different from each other in many ways.  It's a support nightmare, especially from a call center point of view, where you have no idea what the person calling in is actually looking at.  This is the conundrum that plagues the Linux community.  Without standardization, it's impossible to consistently support, yet standardizing Linux ultimately takes away from what Linux is - open source and freely customizable.  Until this dilemma can be solved, Windows will forever remain in the top seat.  Also, sort of tying into the lack of support issue, thinking from the standpoint of a PC technician, what do you gain by installing a more stable and secure operating system on a customer's computer?  They no longer need to buy your software.  They no longer need to come to you every other week to get all the viruses and spyware cleaned off their computer.  They no longer need you to reinstall their operating system on a quarterly basis because they've manage to hose it up so badly.  So what's in it for them?  Face it, as long as you're still running Windows, you're a cash crop to tech support everywhere.

Linux for everyone sounds like a great idea, and a lot of Linux fans have a hard time understanding why everyone wouldn't want to adopt a free, more stable, more secure alternative.  But the harsh truth is that, while the software may be free, support never is.  It's a problem that will continue to loom over the Linux community.  Its diversity is both its greatest advantage and its biggest curse.


REVIEW - Finally, an alternative web browser that doesn't suck.

Until just recently, I have been using Internet Explorer to find my way around the internet, just like 99.99% of the rest of the online world.  It's not really because I like IE, but I've stuck with it really from a lack of other good alternatives.  I have messed around with Netscape and Opera and even a couple of other lesser known browsers in the past, but was really disappointed with each of them, and always found myself back on Internet Explorer in short order.  Not too long ago I decided to step off the Microsoft bandwagon once more, and give another new browser that has been gaining momentum a try: Firefox.  Well, at first it was actually called Phoenix, then they renamed it Firebird, and now it's called Firefox.  How the name evolved from a mythical flaming bird to a nickname for the red panda I'll never know, but call it whatever you like, it is easily the greatest web browser I have ever used.  It's fast, simple, elegant, stylish, and highly customizable.  What's not to like? The browser is very clean, straightforward, and simple.  No confusing layout or menus, and even the options menus are very easy to follow.  Looking for something more than the basic menu options though? Not a problem.  It has the ability to easily download and install tons of additional extensions, giving the browser all kinds of added functionality.  You can add RSS and news readers, web developer tools, bookmark managers, download managers, and a large variety of other tools to help you search and navigate and get the most out of the internet.  At first I was a little tentative about switching browsers, because I have a couple of 3rd party tools installed on my Internet Explorer that I didn't want to lose, namely my Google toolbar and my download manager, Flashget.  I installed the Google toolbar in IE mainly to block popups, but having a Google search box always sitting there has proved quite useful, as well as the form auto-complete feature it has.  As it turns out, Firefox already has a built-in popup blocker and a Google search box by default, and just a quick search through the available extensions and I also had a souped up form auto-complete option as well.  But what of the download manager? Turns out there are also extensions to add Firefox support to most 3rd party download managers, including Flashget, so looks like I'm all set.  But wait, there's more! As long as I was perusing the available extensions, I decided to try a few more of them out.  My favorite by far is the Adblocker.  Firefox already blocks popups by default, but with this extension you can actually remove banners and ads from within webpages.  That's right, it just strips out all the annoying blinking eyesores on the fly so you don't even know they're there.  It's fairly simple to configure, and within minutes you get commercial free internet.  Simply brilliant.  I won't go into all the extensions I installed, and bore you with details on news readers or web developer tools.  I'll just sum it up by saying that whatever you use the internet for, Firefox can make it easier.  Firefox also has Internet Explorer beat hands down on aesthetics.  By default it already looks better than IE, but you can also download new themes for Firefox, completely customizing the interface to your heart's content.  Try doing that in Internet Explorer without giving yourself a headache.

In summation, not only is there nothing that Internet Explorer can do that Firefox can't do better, but Firefox has tons of cool features that Internet Explorer can't even come close to touching.  I highly recommend downloading it and giving it a try.  It's simpler to use, easily customizable, highly configurable, and just plain looks cooler.  Thus I give it the new Warped Core stamp of approval:

CERTIFIED Suck Free Product Get Firefox


COMMENTARY - Voting for Dummies

This is going to be sort of a two part article, covering both the subjects of voting, the sheer brilliance behind the "Dummies" books, and why it's a shame that there isn't actually a "Voting for Dummies" title...

Voting.  That's right, it's election season again, and all these stale old farts are on TV droning on and on about why they're so great and why their opponents aren't, in hopes that when the big day comes and you find yourself in that little booth, you will be inspired to clearly mark the entry next to their name.  The candidate typically tries to make this impression upon you by prattling endlessly about subjects you've never heard of, don't really care about, and/or don't understand, and you quite frankly wouldn't even know any different if they were just making most of this stuff up.  Yet there are all these "vote for something" public service announcements going around, telling you it's your Patriotic duty as a member of a democratic society to vote.  Bull crap, I say.  I am honestly offended by the very concept.  It is at best a half truth.  Yes, the right and privelege to vote is at the very foundation of democracy, but it is my opinion that no vote at all is better than an uneducated one.  The power to vote without knowledge is a dangerous one, and is actually detrimental to the entire system of democracy.  Encouraging people to vote just for the sake of voting is ludicrous.  An individual with a solid knowledge and understanding of politics, the candidates, and their policies, who casts his or her vote out of a concern for the well-being of the country can just as easily be undone by some moron who couldn't even point out the nation's capitol on a map and is selecting random entries on the ballot simply because a TV commercial told him that was the "patriotic" thing to do.  It is for this reason that I find the whole concept of "just vote for something" unpatriotic.  If you don't even know what you're voting for, you're only destroying the entire system by doing so.  I'm not saying that anyone does not have the right to vote.  Voting is a great power given to us, and any U.S. citizen is free to excersize it.  But as wise old Uncle Ben once said to Spiderman, with great power comes great responsibility.  Voting without any knowledge of what you are voting for is irresponsible and goes against the principles on which a democracy operates.  So yes, do vote for something.  Just remember that Patriotism simply isn't about voting, but voting responsibly.

Unfortunately, a "Dummies" book does not exist on the subject of voting.  It would be able to clear up all these issues for the average American, as well as include a chapter instructing Florida residents on how to clearly mark a ballot.  It would be a top seller, I'm sure.  I love the "Dummies" books.  I think the concept behind them is ingenious.  The titles clearly insult you just for picking them up, yet they are bestsellers nonetheless.  How they can even get away with this, I don't know.  Here are a few of my particularly favorite titles published in the "Dummies" series...

Sex For Dummies: If you need this book, you shouldn't be procreating anyway.
Raising Smart Kids For Dummies: Sorry, genetics dictates you've already lost...
Dog Tricks For Dummies: Sit, dummy, sit! Good dummy...
Slow Cookers For Dummies: Redundant?
Starting an Online Business For Dummies: Tips on scamming AOL customers, maybe?
AOL For Dummies: Again, redundant.
Alzheimer's For Dummies: Are you stupid, or just forgetful? I can't remember...
Living Longer For Dummies: Great, just what we need. Idiots with longer life spans.
Negotiating For Dummies: No really, no need to negotiate. You can keep them all.
Communicating Effectively For Dummies: Because where would a dummy be without a good translator?
Preventing Identity Theft For Dummies: For the people that fell victim to someone who read "Starting an Online Business For Dummies".
NASCAR For Dummies: Another redundant one...
Florida For Dummies: There's an understatement...
Writing a Romance Novel For Dummies: Well, who else reads them?
Inventing for Dummies: How can you invent something if you need a book to tell you how to do it?


COMMENTARY - Neckties: Another reason to hate the French (and your CEO is an idiot)

I hate ties. I never understood them. What is the meaning of tying a noose around your own neck every morning before heading to the office for work? Is this some sort of sick, depressing symbolism? So I decided to do some digging into the history of the necktie. Here is what I found.

The first version of the necktie found in history actually dates all the way back to 210 B.C. China's first emperor, Emperor QinShihuang, was buried with the likenesses of 7,500 of his best warriors, after being persuaded not to have the soldiers actually buried with him. You may have heard of this terracotta army. If not, here is a link to a site all about it. At any rate, each of these soldiers were modeled and painted in intricate, life-size detail, right down to their neckties. There is no other record of Chinese wearing neckties in that time period, and it is believed that the emperor bestowed them as a symbol of ultimate honor on these soldiers chosen to guard his tomb until the end of time... well, at least have a statue of themselves standing there anyways. Not a bad deal for a silk scarf, I guess.

Neckties next popped up again in 113 A.D., when the Roman Emperor Trajan erects a monument to commemorate his army's victory over the Dacians. The monument is known as Trajan's Column, and here is a link to more information on it, for those of you who know nothing about history and have never heard of this one either. (Alright, in all fairness, this one isn't really well known. But still, shame on you for not knowing anything about the terracotta army.) On this 100-foot tall column are detailed depictions of over 2,000 soldiers, once again all wearing neckties. It was not common practice for Roman soldiers to sport neckware, so again it is believed that these legionnaires are depicted wearing ties as a symbol of honor for their skill in battle.

We don't see any neckties around again until about 1660. A Croatian regiment was visiting Paris for a celebration of a hard fought military victory over Turkey, and the soldiers were presented as heroes before King Louis XIV. The French king immediately noticed the colorful handkerchiefs the soldiers wore around their necks as a sign of honor, and he immediately thought it would be a great idea to cheapen their symbol of military superiority by spreading it all over the French courts as the latest fashion. This of course resulted in it spreading throughout all the courts of Europe, and then soon anyone wishing to so much as pretend that they were well-to-do had to tie something around their neck in order to do so, and somehow the unfortunate tradition stuck.

But as if France wasn't enough to blame for this insidious fashion requirement, in the 1920's a shrewd fashion designer out of Paris by the name of Jean Patou came up with an even more sinister ploy - the designer tie. Using women's clothing patterns and designs derived from the latest art movements, he created an extraordinarily expensive line of ties targeted at women. And the trick worked. Women bought the ties like mad for their significant male counterparts, and the designer tie industry took off. In fact, today 80 percent of ties are bought by women. Don't believe me? Ask any guy how many ties he has, and how many of those he actually bought for himself.

Fashion historians have long been predicting the demise of the necktie, yet it seems to only gain popularity to the point of being a requirement in many circumstances. Why is this? Personally, I blame company CEOs. They are the Kings and Emperors of our modern business world. An unfortunate condition indeed, given the fact that most CEOs are idiots. So since the CEOs wear neckties, all the managers wear neckties. And since all the managers wear neckties, all the supervisors wear neckties. And of course, since all the supervisors wear neckties, all the underlings wear neckties. So when that underling gets promoted to supervisor, then manager, then becomes the new company CEO, he's still wearing the blasted thing. Why? Just because that's the way it has always been done, and typically by the time an employee makes it as high as CEO, any inkling of free thinking has long since been replaced with conformity, so the necktie stays and everyone under him continues to wear them as well, and the cycle continues. If only a couple of major CEOs were struck by lightning and realized, "hey, why do I bother tying this ridiculous thing around my neck every morning when it's uncomfortable and has no useful function? I think I'll stop wearing them." The affects would cascade down the business model, and soon we would be tie free, and there would be no more accidental deaths due to ties getting caught in industrial shredders. Talk about your occupational hazard.