Photoshop for the Web

Written by rob on June 28, 2006 – 2:25 pm -

I saw this thing called cellsea Photo Editor on digg. It is a web application that behaves similarly to Photoshop. You can’t do anything serious like work with layers or combine pictures, but you can do a lot of useful things to photographs. For example, you can crop, resize, sharpen, blur, etc. There are also a huge amount of effects and distortions. It can also save in a variety of formats. This would be very useful if you either don’t have Photoshop or are on the road on a computer without Photoshop installed.

For anyone’s basic needs, this thing is quite good. I just did a quick test to crop, blur, and add a little sparkle effect to one of my wallpapers, and it worked well. I then saved it out as a PNG, one of the five or six formats it supports. This is highly recommended especially to those of your who use Printscreen + MS Paint to make screenshots of things. With this, you can take the BMP file produced from Paint and save it as a JPEG that everyone can enjoy. Check it out by clicking the “read more” link below! (I posted this story from Digg using their new Digg v3 features. Very nice!)

read more | digg story

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My New Computer

Written by rob on June 25, 2006 – 11:14 am -

My new computer has been running for about a week now. However, it is currently actually slower than my old computer. You see, I had to temporarily get 1GB of Kingston ValueRAM to get the thing working while I wait to get refunded on my original RAM purchase. In my old computer, I had 1.5GB of RAM so that is what I am used to. Also, my old system had a 3.06ghz Pentium 4 while the new one has a 2.66 ghz Pentium D. You’re probably wondering why I choose to backstep. Well, it is all temporary. Once I get a refund on my old RAM, I’m going to get 2GB of low latency Mushkin memory. After I have that, I will be able to do what I built this thing for: overclock. I expect to break 3.6ghz easily, and hope to get over 4ghz. I’m pretty sure my RAM, CPU, and PSU can all handle 4ghz, but the motherboard is what I’m worried about. Its previous version (I have the AW8D, I’m talking about the AW8) capped the OCability for 533mhz processors, which is what I have. I hope I don’t run into that, but it may be very possible.

Anyway, without further ado, click here to get to my photo gallery of the system. I probably should have did it in my Coppermine gallery, but I didn’t really feel like it, so I used a nice program aptly called Web Album Generator. It worked very nicely, I think, and has a lot of cool built-in templates, or you can make your own.

UPDATE (07-07-06): Web Album Generator was nice while it lasted. It is good for making and album and posting it. Unfortunately, if you only want to add one more picture in, you have to re-generate the whole thing and then re-upload the whole thing. Not cool. So, I moved over all the pictures and descriptions to the Coppermine Photo Gallery. The new link to access it is here. The Coppermine interface is kind of tedious, but it worked surprisingly well (I used the Batch Add feature which rids the need to re-upload the files). I just wish I would have done the gallery in this from the beginning. The main reason I switched was because I need to add another picture of the fan brackets I setup to cool the PWM1.

Expect me to brag about how cool my computer is once I get it overclocked. At that point, I know it will smoke my old system in terms of general speed. It already kills it in games thanks to my new 7900GT video card. I can play Oblivion easily on 1280×960 with AA and AF turned on, and the max settings!

UPDATE (06-30-06): I edited the photo gallery to include my new Mushkin RAM, plus final pics of the inside of the case. And so the overclocking begins.

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Gran Turismo 4 Tuning

Written by rob on June 24, 2006 – 6:49 pm -

Arguably the best PS2 racing game available is Gran Turismo 4. However, as its subtitle, The Real Driving Simulator, suggests, this game isn’t your average racing game. Need For Speed games are known for adding tweaks to your car that boost the HP, but aside from that you just go ahead and race. The racing in NFS is primarily about letting off the gas on turns, and maybe a little braking. Anyone can pick the game up and start winning races if they have a superior car. What makes Gran Turismo 4, and all the Gran Turismo games, different is the fact that it is super realistic. Sure, it may not be 100% like driving a car, but if you attack GT4 with the same techniques used in NFS, you will be losing everything except the easiest of races. Simply put, the speed of your car becomes less of a factor, and it is more about how you as the player handles the corners.

I, for one, was utterly killed in Gran Turismo when I first started playing. I got a Nissan Skyline used and won the Sunday Cup, the first and easiest races of the game. With the few thousand dollars I won, I souped up the car and got it well about 250 HP. It easily outperformed every car in most of the Beginner Hall races, so I went to the FR challenge, the next step up above the Sunday Cup but still relatively easy. However, I got smoked. Absolutely destroyed. I made a lucky race and got 4th once, but on every other course of the FR Challenge I came in dead last (6th place). I didn’t understand it because I had such a better car than everyone. It all came down to the fact that I wasn’t taking the corners right and often went off the road. After going through the B and A license tests and following the tips in the manual, I learned that the technique called out-in-out cornering, usable for most of the early courses. Essentially, you start near the outside of the road, then when you get to the corner you brake and turn toward the inside of the road, and follow that around the corner. General inertia will pull your car back to the outside of the road, but if you do it right this will give you a huge advantage coming out of the corner. I mastered that in the Sunday Cup, and then went ahead and tried it out in the FR Challenge. Unfortunately, I still got beat.

I went online and looked for help on GameFAQs. I soon found a Beginner’s Guide, and saw that in there the author uses an old 1983 Honda Civic for all the early races. I took his advice and restarted my game with the slower but easier to handle Civic. I soon started to win races, even the FF Challenge (the Civic’s equivalent of the FR Challenge), and also won the Honda Civic Challenge at the Honda dealer. Every time you win a particular Cup or Challenge, you get a car as a prize. I followed the Beginner’s Guide further and did the Capri Rally special condition race. This netted me a crazy Toyota Rally Raid car with over 410 HP. Since I had improved my cornering substantially, I was now able to handle faster cars like the Toyota, and even bought another Skyline, but this one was souped up to 600HP. With that, I won most of the races in the Professional Hall, and am now trying to do some of the Japanese Championships.

However, cornering isn’t the only difficult thing in Gran Turismo 4. In fact, purchasing parts can also be daunting. Until NFS-type games, it isn’t all about the speed. I didn’t even know what half the parts did, as I’m not really a car buff. Flywheel, Limited Slip, Drivetrain, and Transmission… I didn’t know how any of these would affect the performance of my car. Again, GameFAQs helped a bit, and so did the in-game descriptions of these parts. It isn’t that bad after you spend some time experimenting, but I definitely wasted a lot of money on parts that didn’t help all that much. One piece of advice I can give people is do not underestimate tires… they are ESSENTIAL. Getting the S3, Soft Sports Tires, helps you own the Beginner Hall. Also, don’t overestimate HP. While raw horse power will help in the straight aways, one of my best cars is a Honda S2000 with only 210 HP. It can beat all kinds of other cars with 300+ HP simply because it handles corners so well. Plus, GT4 calculates the A-Spec points awarded for every race based on your HP and number of add-on parts, so if your car has less bling than the others but you are a good enough driver to win, you’ll really rack up the A-Spec points.

I have still yet to dwell upon the most complex part of the game, but also the most helpful: Tuning. Almost every aspect of your car can be tweaked and tuned in the wonderful Settings menu accessible before starting any race. Many beginners don’t even know it is there, and those that do get scared away by its complexity. But with a little initial help, you can be off on your way to becoming a tuning expert. The best part about tuning is that it gives you a major edge on your opponents. Also, based on specific courses, you can balance peak speed and acceleration, just to name an obvious example. The end result is that tuning lets you get every last penny’s worth of your car, and truly helps in the more challenging races that I am now starting to enter in my racing career.

As I stated above, I have very little car experience, as I barely knew what the parts were for. So, then, how is someone like me, and someone like you, who know so little about cars, supposed to know what to set things like Toe and Camber angles to? What about tweaking each separate gear of the trasmission? Well, luckily, GameFAQs comes to the rescue again. A wonderful gentleman by the name of k-wix published a Tuning Guide specifically for GT4 (look for it here). The most useful part of his guide are the “presets”. They are a list of what you should set certain settings to in order to achieve a certain thing. For example, he has a Pure Speed build that you should use on a course with a lot of straight-aways where you want the max speed out of your car. Then there is the Acceleration build for the quickest acceleration. These are just the first two examples. The most useful, however, is the General Improvement build, which does just what its name implies. It doesn’t mess with the balance of your acceleration/peak speed much, but generally improves handling and performance of the car. I recommend anyone to use this on any car if they are unsure how to tune themselves. I know this particularly helped my Honda Civic win those Beginners races and the Capri Rally. The following is the General Improvement build, straight from his guide, presented with permission by the author:

'General Improvement' Build - Simply Put, a good tuneup.

Spring Rate: Front 75% Rear 75%
Ride Height: Front 0% Rear 0%
Shock Bound: Front 60% Rear 60%
Shock Rebound: Front 100% Rear 100%
Camber Angle: Front 4.0 Rear 2.0
Toe Angle: Front 0.0 Rear 0.0
Stabilizers: Front 20% Rear 20%

Brake Balance: Front 25% Rear 25%

Auto: 50%
1st: +10
2nd: +5
3rd: +0
4th: +10 (If It Stops, its okay, leave it there)
5th: +20 (If It Stops, its okay, leave it there)
6th: +20 (If It Stops, its okay, leave it there)
7th: +15
Final Gear Setting Set this how you want, put it between 50% and 25%. Higher means more acceleration, lower means more top-end max speed.

Initial Torque: 5%

Downforce: Front 75% Rear 25%
ASM(Over): 50%
ASM(Under): 50%
TCS: 30%
Nitro: 100%
Ballast Weight: 0%
Front/Rear Balance: 40%

- This build will help you turn a bit better, get a better startup, and even improve your max speed a little.
- There is a bit of emphasis on Oversteer so your car has a bit of a 'looser' feel and takes corners a bit better.
- If you see a lot of sparks coming out of the bottom of your car constantly (all the time) then increase your Ride Height by 5%

The build is pretty easy to apply. There are just a couple things I’d like to mention. First of all, when k-wix states 40% or some other percent, you need to estimate for the most part. The reason it is in percent and not the actual value is because all cars have different max values for different settings, except the ones where he actually gives you a value. The bars used to modify the values of certain settings have three markings denoting 25%, 50%, and 75% respectively. You can use those to estimate the value. You can also use a little math to find the exact value if you want. (Max Val – Min Val) * .40 would give you 40% of one of the bars, where Max Val is obviously the maximum and Min Val is the minimum (which isn’t always 0). For the front-rear balance that goes from -50 to positive 50, I tend to just use +20 as the value. One final note is for the gear ratios. +10 actually means + 0.1, while +5 means + 0.05. They are given in hundredths. You will see when you’re in the menu that the settings are all very precise decimals. Also note that not all cars have the full seven gears. Just do the ones you can.

I would recommend that any beginning use that. Over time, you’ll begin to realize what some of the settings do and modify them for your needs. I noticed that on some really fast cars like my 600HP Nissan Skyline I need to tweak the above a bit to get the max performance out of my car. One major thing I change is the ASM (Over), ASM (Under), and TCM to 5, 5, and 5 respectively (not 50% but the actual value 5). Another thing I tend to change is just leaving Front/Rear Balance to 0. Other than that, k-wix’s General Improvement build is very, very useful for nearly every situation. I’ve used it to win many of the Professional Hall races and am on my way through the Japan Championships now.

I recommend that anyone interested in cars and looking for a challenge (you’ve got to admit that NFS is an easy game) pick up Gran Turismo 4 for PS2. It is a very impressive looking game, especially considering it is for the graphically inferior PS2. Beyond that, it is highly enjoyable and gives you a sense of how real race car drivers have to drive. With the pricey ( ~ $90 ) Logitech steering wheel, you can get the full experience of driving in races. Again, remember that tuning will give you huge advantages, and don’t be afraid to experiment with different settings. Happy racing!

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MacBook: Tri-Booting

Written by rob on June 18, 2006 – 2:12 pm -

The Apple MacBook and MacBook Pro have now hit the market and are becoming widespread. I actually saw someone with a white MacBook in Philadelphia, so they’re definitely starting to go mainstream. If you read online news sites at all, you have probably heard dozens of sites talking about how the new Intel processors allow you to dual-boot Windows or Linux with the standard Mac OSX.

Apple even released their very own Boot Camp, which is essentially a boot loader. For those unfamiliar with the term, a boot loader is a very small program, that for PCs must be within the first 512KB of the hard drive (not sure how Macs handle it, but I’m guessing a lot differently), that reads the hard drive for operating systems and then allows you to choose which one to load. If there isn’t more than one available, it often doesn’t even ask you which OS to boot into, since there is only one. I know Windows’s NT Loader doesn’t ask you unless you tell it to in the C:/boot.ini file. Common non-Windows bootloaders that are used for everything from custom OSes to Linux to BSD are LILO (LInux LOader) and GRUB (GRand Unified Bootloader). Apple’s Boot Camp is a boot loader that will let you boot into the various different OSes on your hard drive.

Everyone talks about the dual/multi-booting abilities, but few articles actually tell you how to accomplish that. I expect to be getting a MacBook after a new revision comes out in a year or so, so I am naturally very interested in the process. I did some quick research and found an excellent resource that teaches you how to not only dual boot, but tri-boot all the major OSes on your system: the stock Mac OSX Tiger, Windows XP SP2, and finally Debian Linux. You can probably use whatever version of Linux or Windows you want, but I think most of the drivers for Windows are XP-only. You can access the article here.

The article starts by discussing how to partition your hard drive. The MacBook comes with a hard drive that has a single partition, for Mac OSX. A partition, for those who don’t know, is simply a divider inside the hard drive. You need to place these dividers between each OS, because each operating system is going to want to use a different file system (special standards in computing that define how files are stored on the hard drive… they are way too complex to discuss here) and doesn’t want to mix its system files up with another computer. If you make three partitions, one for Linux, one of Mac OSX, and one for Windows, all three systems can exist separately, but still on the same hard drive. Windows will see partitions as separate hard drive icons, as will Mac OSX. If you know a bit about Linux, you probably already know about partitions because good practice when installing Linux requires three partitions (boot, swap, and root).

It then moves into installing Windows, which is fairly straight-forward. Windows XP will need some drivers off a CD that you burn near the beginning of the article, mainly for the mouse and keyboard to function as expected. From there, you install a utility called rEFIt. This essentially takes care of feeding the NT Loader what it wants so Windows doesn’t get mad at you. From there, it gets a lot easier.

You can install Linux as they mention. Nothing really difficult or out-of-the-ordinary, except maybe the swapfile being on the same partition as the root filesystem. Any Linux user should be familiar with every step of that (mkswap, swapon is standard practice when making your own swap partition; Mandrake, Debian, etc. do this for you in their installers, but it’s good to know how to do it yourself for situations like this). Fstab editing is also simple, as well as Xorg configuration. From there, they go to build the custom kernel. That may be shaky for a lot of users, and unfortunately I’m not going to cover that right now. (I am planning a series of Linux articles this summer, so you can expect an article fully devoted to customizing your Linux kernel… not hard, I promise) After that it’s simple Linux application setup (thank apt for the easy wireless setup).

As I’ve said before, I do not yet have a MacBook so I can’t try any of this stuff. However, this article seems to break it down fairly well, and the article it tells you to reference through the whole thing has a lot of good sections explaining what you are doing. Once I actually get a MacBook in a year, I’ll probably run an article on my successes/failures, though I’m sure Leopard will be out by then and Apple plans on making it a lot easier to multi-boot in Leopard (Boot Camp will be included, and I expect a lot of other utilities that will hold your hand). Right now, dual booting is still sort of like a hack. It just doesn’t feel like Apple. Any Apple user knows that Apple computing is all about stuff “just working” automagically. I expect Apple to address the difficulties that currently come up to those trying to dual or tri-boot, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Leopard had a “Multi-Boot Utility” under /Applications/Utilities, or maybe had something integrated into the new version of Disk Utility, that would easily let you install multiple OSes on an Intel Mac.

Until then, articles like the ones linked to above will be the way to get things done. Early adopters of the MacBook systems who have a desire to run Windows and/or Linux alongside their Mac could most likely follow the above guides with success. I’m sure there are probably ambiguous areas, but if you have any questions don’t hestitate to leave a comment. I don’t have a MacBook, but I may be able to decipher some of the instructions for you.

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Photo Gallery

Written by rob on June 11, 2006 – 6:53 pm -

I added a Coppermine Photo Gallery to the site. It is accessible at Currently, I have one album up, and it is my cars from Gran Turismo 4. I used the Photo Travel feature in the game to pose and snap pictures of my cars with cool backdrops. Check that out here.

Once I get my new motherboard, and I get my computer up and running, this site is going to shift back into focus for me, especially after school is over.

One of the articles that will be up within two weeks is going to be a detailed look at Open-WRT, the custom firmware that you can flash to many Broadcom-based routers. I have an Asus WL500g router that is supported, so I plan on going nuts with it. The project is pretty limitless, so expect a lot of cool things to be discussed. One thing I am going to focus on is turning it into the ultimate war driving companion. It can act as a wireless client, and given its Linux foundation, can run tools such as aircrack to crack WEP keys of protected wireless hot spots.

Some time over the summer I’m going to launch a series of articles detailing Linux, from the basics (what is it? where do I get it? etc.) to some rather complex things like building your own programs from source, as customizing the Linux kernel itself. I promise it will be fun 😉

Until then, I’m pretty much just using my iBook for internet surfing and school projects, and playing PS2 in my spare time. Not having a main computer is quite boring… I’m learning all the things I take for granted. For example, you’d be surprised how much easier (and faster) converting an AVI to DVD is on Windows at 3ghz than on a Mac with 700mhz… especially considering my Mac doesn’t have a DVD burner. But once I get my main system up and running, it is going to be crazy. I might even run an article about how awesome it is. At the very least, expect a photo album to be added to the Coppermine with pics of the process from start to completion.

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