Monday, March 22, 2010
Yahoo Satellite Maps Downloader has an attractive and efficient interface that keeps things simple. You need to understand map coordinates to use it, but the program makes it easy, and there's a Help file if you need it. To create custom maps, you define the boundaries of the region, select Zoom and Thread Count levels, and press Download. Yahoo Satellite Maps Downloader quickly retrieves and assembles the parts into an interactive satellite map view. Maps on Yahoo are for personal purposes only, so if you need commercial images, a geographical information system (GIS) package or image service may be a better choice. For nearly every other use, though, it's a great choice.
Yahoo Satellite Maps Downloader is free to try, but the Zoom function is limited to a maximum level of 6. It's certified for versions of Windows up to Vista.
Get it here
Created by people thinking out of the box to come up with new ways to use the Internet
Don't like menus? Use hot keys. Don't like hot keys? Use word aliases. Don't like aliases? Use toolbars. Don't like toolbars? Then use mouse gestures. It's all up to you.
Think we left something out? Pick from more than 1,400 plug-ins that make Maxthon the do-all of browsers.
The built-in Ad Hunter blocks harmful, or just irritating ads, images and pages.
Filter packs screen out offensive and irritating Web pages, and you decide what's offensive and irritating.
More, more, more....
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Google has released the beta version of a new browser, Chrome. In its comic-book preannouncement, Google stated correctly that watching videos, chatting, and even playing Web-based games didn't exist when browsers were first invented. Google wants the browser to help users focus on the applications and pages they are viewing, rather than on browser toolbars and buttons. Google has rethought the Internet browser--some of its basic underpinnings are quite novel--but users will recognize some features as they exist in other, open-source browsers on the market today.
At the moment, only the Windows version of Chrome is available for download. Plans call for Mac OS X and Linux versions in the near future. That said, Google has released Chrome in 43 languages and in 122 countries.
Chrome is based on the open-source project Webkit, the same rendering engine used by Apple Safari. If a page renders in Safari, it will render in Chrome. Webkit is also the basis for Android, Google's mobile platform, so it seems that Google is planning to use Chrome in mobile environments.
The interface in Chrome is very different from other browsers and takes a little getting used to. Instead of the traditional Netscape/IE-style toolbar across the top, Chrome puts tabs across the top. Moreover, the tabs are detachable, so the terms "tabs" and "windows" become interchangeable within Chrome. Detached tabs can be dragged and dropped into the browser, and tabs can be rearranged at any time.
New tab pages display your nine most visited Web pages, as well as the searches you perform most, and your most recent bookmarks. Within each tab are individual controls, such as forward and back buttons. Missing is the search box. Instead, Chrome sports a hybrid address bar, which Google calls the Omnibox. The Omnibox includes not only suggestions for URLs culled from your browser's history, but it also includes search suggestions from Google. URL Auto completion in Chrome is for top-level domains, not just some individual page you last visited on a site. There are also other neat additional elements; for example, if you go to Amazon and type within its search box to find a book or CD, Chrome remembers that Amazon search and when it next suggests the Amazon URL in the Omnibox, it also include a link to Amazon's search box.
Application Shortcuts is a feature that allows you to create desktop icons for Web-only applications, such as Gmail or Calendar.
And there's a stealth mode, as well. Like IE8 InPrivate, Chrome has its own incognito mode. The Incognito window looks different: it's darker and has a little detective character in the upper left corner to help you remember it's not remembering the Web sites you visit. Although the Omnibox in Incognito has access to the regular Chrome history, everything typed into that stealth tab will be erased when you exit, as though you were never there.
Chrome deals with pop-up dialogues in a novel way. Pop-ups associated with a Web page appear within that page's tab, so if you want to see a pop-up in greater detail, just drag it out into its own new window. This carries over to downloads as well. Instead of using a pop-up dialogue, downloads are shunted to the bottom of the tab frame where you can monitor or interact with them if you wish.
Rockstar's juggernaut Grand Theft Auto series debuted on the PlayStation Portable late last year in Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories, a side-story prequel to the events that took place in Grand Theft Auto III for the PlayStation 2. With Liberty City Stories, Rockstar successfully translated its open-ended world of crime to a handheld system, though not without a few missteps. Enter Vice City Stories, the newly released PSP GTA game that follows a similar side-story formula. Vice City Stories improves upon some of the flaws found in the first game, not the least of which is improved length and direction, as well as a great deal more personality. The story's still pretty subpar, though, and as much as this is very much Grand Theft Auto, certain conventions of the series are starting to feel a bit antiquated. Still, if you want to roam around a large city, shooting up the place and driving like a crazy person, few games on the PSP let you do that as well as this one does.
Return to the soft neon glow of Vice City in GTA: Vice City Stories.
Vice City Stories returns to the pastel- and neon-colored excesses of the 1980s and Vice City. Modeled after '80s-era Miami, GTA: Vice City told a Scarface-inspired tale of Tommy Vercetti, a shunned mobster who found himself sifting through the aftermath of a cocaine deal gone wrong, and subsequently ended up building a major criminal empire throughout the city. It was a bizarre, convoluted, and completely entertaining tale, filled with ridiculous and profane characters, as well as lots of biting satire on the most superficial of decades. Vice City Stories is, again, a prequel, taking place a couple of years prior to the original game. You play as Vic Vance, the brother of central Vice City character Lance Vance. Vic's a strange fellow. When the game begins, he's just joined the army, and he gets off the transport truck at a military base in Vice City. Upon meeting his commanding officer--a borderline psychotic named Jerry Martinez--things start going wrong. We find out that Vic has joined the military to make some money to support his family, specifically his sick brother. But within the first few minutes of the game, you'll find yourself inexplicably picking up drugs for Martinez, killing Mexican gang members, and chauffeuring prostitutes.
Of course, any veteran of this series won't be shocked one bit by missions like these. The trouble here is that the setup for getting Vic into this mess is beyond flimsy. From the get-go, Vic talks about how uncomfortable he is with illegal activities, and yet he does every single illicit thing Martinez asks him to do. If you're someone who doesn't want to do anything illegal, and your boss starts asking you to pick up hookers and hide drugs for him, are you going to just gripe about it and then do it anyway? Not to mention that Vic seems completely willing to run into an apartment complex and start wasting Mexicans without even being ordered specifically to do so. He just says, "I'll go get it" (referring to owed money stashed inside one of the apartments) and goes in guns blazing. GTA heroes are never heroes, exactly, but the trick in the past has been that there's been no attempt to play those characters up as sympathetic. They weren't boy scouts--they were gangsters, killers, and dope dealers. Vice City Stories tries to present Vic as a guy who doesn't want to get into that stuff, yet he freely and frequently does throughout the entire game. He mostly comes off as a hypocritical idiot.
For what it's worth, though, once you get through about the first hour of the game, you'll probably be inclined to stop questioning why Vic is doing what he's doing and just go with it. As time passes, the game settles into the typical progression of GTA missions and oddball characters. While Liberty City Stories was almost devoid of memorable characters, Vice City Stories digs up a few favorites from the original Vice City, and introduces a couple of new ones as well. Vic's mildly crazy brother Lance, the alcoholic gun nut Phil Cassidy, the balls-obsessed Cuban gang leader Umberto Robina, and the foul-mouthed Ricardo Diaz (voiced by Phillip Michael Thomas, Gary Busey, Danny Trejo, and Luis Guzman, respectively) are all back. Lance plays a huge role in the story, but the others aren't quite as prominently featured as they were in the first game. Still, you get a good chunk of time with each of them.
Functionally, Vice City Stories plays very much as Liberty City Stories did. The same basic control adjustments made in the previous game to make up for the lack of a right analog stick on the PSP are made here. When running around and shooting people, you simply press the right trigger to lock onto an enemy. Occasionally the game will lock onto random civilians, as opposed to the guy with the submachine gun blowing a hole in your head, but usually it's pretty good about identifying exactly whom you should be killing. Camera control is mapped to the left trigger, and basically all you can do is whip it behind you if you get too turned around. This will lead to occasional scenarios where you're being shot from behind and have to take a couple of extra seconds to turn your character, and then the camera, to see where to shoot.
Mostly, though, the combat is quite fun. Running around causing mayhem and blasting away at the masses is just as enjoyable as it's ever been, and there's a good variety of guns and other instruments of destruction to play with. The one part that isn't so good, unfortunately, is the melee combat. Basic fisticuffs and blunt-object beatings are merely a bit clunky, but if you try to get yourself into a fight while holding a gun at close range to someone punching you in the face, you'll lose every time, unless you run a good distance away, turn back, and start firing. For some reason, the game just can't deal with aiming mechanics while you're face-to-face with an enemy; you're basically hosed.
It's hard to feel too sympathetic to Vic Vance, since he seems incapable of keeping himself out of trouble, despite the fact that he whines about it at every turn.
Vice City is a sizable open-world environment, and driving around it can be a bit overwhelming at first. Odds are that unless you've had Vice City regularly inserted in your PS2 for the last couple of years, you won't remember too much of the city's layout. But even though it'll take a while to figure out all the roads and side streets, there's plenty of familiar scenery and landmarks that appear just about where you remember them. The game's minimap is about as useful as it's ever been in depicting where you are, and there is a larger map to check on in the pause menu. Still, it feels a bit antiquated, especially considering evolutions we've seen in recent games of this type, where the best possible paths for a mission are highlighted on the map. Heck, even an arrow pointer telling you where to turn would be nice.
Driving in the game is pretty much as it's been for years now. The vehicle physics are perhaps a bit more exaggerated than they were in Liberty City Stories, and that's both a blessing and a curse. It's extremely easy to spin out while taking turns in many of the game's cars, trucks, and motorcycles, but at the same time, some of the jumps and ridiculous crashes you can have make those wacked-out physics worthwhile. You will run into weird physics glitches from time to time, and you'll sometimes get stuck in pieces of the scenery. These issues aren't exactly new to the series, but they're as annoying as ever. In addition to cars and bikes, helicopters make their return in Vice City Stories, and they're among some of the most enjoyable vehicles in the game. The flying controls are surprisingly easy to handle, even with the lack of a right analog stick, and flying around the city is often much quicker than trying to drive it.
Canon updated 2009's PowerShot A480 by splitting it into two models: the A490 and the A495. The PowerShot A490 is about $20 less expensive than the A495, but it's only available in silver; has a 5-point Face AiAF autofocus system instead of the A495's 9-point; does not have Face Self-Timer (explained later in this review) or Canon's two, new creative shooting modes, Super Vivid and Poster Effect; and uses 13 scene settings for its Smart Auto mode whereas the A495 uses 18.
Regardless of those differences, they both turn out great photos for their budget price tags (though the A495 seemed to get negligibly better results in Auto mode). The biggest downside is that they aren't remotely fast when it comes to shooting performance; shot-to-shot times are particularly long. But, if you're strapped for cash and want a pocket camera, the A495 is certainly worth the money for its photos alone. The extra shooting modes are nice, too, but if you don't need them or any of the other things mentioned above, save $20 and get the A490.
Key specs Canon PowerShot A495
Price (MSRP) $129.99
Dimensions (WHD) 3.7x2.4x1.2 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 6.7 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 10 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CCD
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 2.5-inch LCD, 115K dots/None
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 3.3x, f3-5.8, 37-122mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/Motion JPEG (.AVI)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 3,648x2,736 pixels/ 640x480 at 30fps
Image stabilization type Digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life AA-size alkaline (2), 150 shots
Battery charged in camera No; alkaline batteries supplied
Storage media SD, SDHC, SDXC memory cards
Bundled software ZoomBrowser EX 6.5/PhotoStitch 3.1 (Windows); ImageBrowser 6.5/PhotoStitch 3.2 (Mac)
The A495, which is available in red, blue, and silver, is chubby, but still reasonably compact. It's not very wide or tall, but is more than an inch thick, so though it'll fit in a pants pocket, it might be a tight squeeze. From the front, the camera looks reasonably stylish with nice rounded corners. Unlike the A480, the buttons don't feel cheap and are clearly marked in white on black. In fact, the overall build seems improved. Plus, Canon kept the controls straightforward and simple, and the menu systems are likewise uncomplicated.
On top are the power and shutter release buttons with the remaining controls on back to the right of the LCD. At the top is a zoom rocker followed down by a button for playback; four-way control pad with select button; and shooting mode and Menu buttons. The Menu button pulls up two tabs of general settings, whereas the select button (labeled Func. Set) opens shooting-mode-specific options. Overall, it's easy to control and should be simple enough for beginners out of the box.
The lens is narrow at a 35mm-equivalent of 37mm and it has an optical zoom of 3.3x; standard for cameras in its class. The LCD, though a decent size, is fairly low resolution; it gets fairly bright, but it can still be tough to see in direct sunlight.
This model is powered by AA-size batteries, something many people find convenient. However, you'll only get about 150 shots out of the A495 before they'll need replacing. Getting two NiMH AA-size batteries should more than double your shot count, though.
General shooting options Canon PowerShot A495
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,600
White balance Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Custom
Recording modes Auto, Program, Special Scene, Movie
Focus modes Normal, Macro, Infinity, Face AiAF, Center AF
Metering modes Evaluative, Center-weighted average, Spot
Color effects Vivid, Neutral, Sepia, Black & White, Custom
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) Unlimited continuous
The A495 predictably doesn't have a lot of shooting options. The most complicated it gets is in Program, which gives you options for white balance, focus, metering, ISO, and color effects. Don't want to touch any of those things? Canon's Smart Auto (simply called Auto now) is very reliable at picking the appropriate settings based on 18 different scene types. Or you can choose from one of 13 special scene modes like Fireworks, Long Shutter, Foliage, or Kids & Pets. Canon renamed its High ISO mode to Low Light to alleviate confusion, but it's otherwise the same, capturing 2-megapixel shots at ISOs from 500 to 3,200. The highlights are new Super Vivid and Poster Effect modes. (They're appropriately named and you can see a sample of them in use in the slideshow in this review.) Canon also includes Face Self-Timer, which, when activated, will wait to take a shot until the camera detects an additional face in the frame. If you like taking a lot of close-up macro shots, the A495 is a great option for the money. You can get very close--down to 0.4 inch--and the autofocus seems improved from the A480, which struggled to properly focus.
Updates to Serials 2005 are about every 2 weeks. We will try and release the "patches" on the 1st and the 15th of every month. Think about it. You get your paycheck from work early in the day, then come home and get the newest serials :) Ain't Life Grand? Don't be surprised if we release an update on the 16 th or so. All of us have real jobs to worry about, so we may fall a little behind. But we will try to get all the updates out on the 1st and the 15th.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
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Is Blu-ray the root of Sony's troubles in the gaming space? Aaron Greenberg, Microsoft's director of product management, seems to think so.
Speaking to Edge magazine in a recent interview, Greenberg said that because "Sony bet on the physical disc" for entertainment, it's facing "associated costs" that might be holding the PlayStation 3 back.
Is Blu-ray to blame for PS3 woes?
"The fact that we're able to offer a console starting at $199 is a benefit of not being burdened with that cost," Greenberg told Edge. "Being $100 cheaper is part of the reason why we're nearly twice [Sony's] installed base."
Greenberg was also quick to point out that Microsoft offers HD movies and television shows through Xbox Live.
Whether or not Blu-ray is really the reason Sony is trailing Microsoft is decidedly up for debate. Price has been a thorn in Sony's side since the release of the PlayStation 3. Due to powerful components, including but not limited to Blu-ray, the company was forced to keep the PS3's price high for a substantial period of time.
But once Sony announced the PS3 Slim and its $299 price tag in August, sales started taking off. In fact, The NPD Group reported recently that Sony tallied 30 percent year-over-year sales growth in February.
Going forward, some analysts believe Sony, not Microsoft or Nintendo, will lead this console generation. Analysts at Strategic Analytics said in a report last week that they expect the PlayStation 3 to have a longer shelf life than competing console, which should help it enjoy commercial success "five years after the Wii has been replaced."
For those who doubted that Microsoft was serious in its effort to re-engage with the Web, it's time to put the skepticism aside.
At its Mix conference in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Microsoft gave programmers, Web developers, and the world at large a taste of things to come with its Web browser. Specifically, Microsoft released what it's calling the Internet Explorer 9 Platform Preview, a prototype that's designed to show off the company's effort to improve how the browser deals with the Web as it exists today and, just as important, to add support for new Web technologies that are coming right now.
The new software is only a framework, raw enough that it's still missing a "back" button. But with "a few" updated preview versions set to arrive at eight-week intervals, the project will develop into a beta, a release candidate, and eventually the full-fledged product IE9, said Dean Hachamovitch, general manager of Internet Explorer and the executive who'll describe the project at Mix.
Coming in the new version is support for new Web standards including plug-in-free video; better performance with graphics, text, and JavaSript by taking advantage of modern computing hardware; and a new effort at gathering and responding to feedback from those using the prototype software, Hachamovitch said.
Dean Hachamovitch, IE general manager
IE9 is months from release, but already it holds the potential to alter the browser market. Not only could it reinvigorate competition with a host of new rivals, it could help usher in the cloud computing era that some of those rivals are eager to embrace. In that era, the Web transforms from a foundation for static documents and Web sites into a foundation for interactive programs.
IE6, released in 2001 when Microsoft had won the browser wars of the 1990s, still is widely used today. It's loathed among Web developers who want to use more modern Web technologies, and despite the release of IE8 a year ago, Microsoft is still saddled with a reputation as a company behind the browser curve. Mozilla's Firefox now accounts for nearly a quarter of usage, Google's Chrome has burst onto the scene and now is in third place, while Internet Explorer continues to gradually lose its share of usage.
With IE9, though, Microsoft is trying to rebuild the browser for the Web that's to come through new standards such as HTML5 and CSS3, updates to Hypertext Markup Language for describing Web pages and Cascading Style Sheets for formatting.
The software caught the attention of Microsoft's biggest browser rival. "IE9 looks great, very glad to see it. Congrats to the IE team!" said Mike Shaver, vice president of engineering at Firefox backer Mozilla, in a tweet.
"There will be no more updates for Firefox 3.0.x," Mozilla said Tuesday in a meeting planning document. The last update will be Firefox 3.0.19, due March 30, according to the Mozilla Wiki page. Mozilla started building the new version after some last-minute security fixes over the weekend.
Mozilla had planned to discontinue support for Firefox 3.0 in January, but the browser got a lifespan extension after Firefox 3.6 arrived later than planned.
The move reflects a gradual shift toward upgrading browsers more frequently, not just to keep up with new features, but also to free up resources otherwise spent on testing and maintaining older browsers and to reduce security risks associated with them. Google is even more aggressive: its Chrome browser updates automatically in the background by default, and it calls new releases "milestones" to be passed rather than version numbers to be attained.
Microsoft issues frequent patches to its browsers but sees things differently when it comes to longer-term issues. It still maintains support for Internet Explorer 6, introduced in 2001. "We are excited for people to move on. We want people to move on," IE General Manager Dean Hachamovitch said in an interview this week for the IE9 Platform Preview launch, but meanwhile, providing security updates is the "responsible" thing to do.
Browsers are a fast-moving, increasingly important, technology and are central to the shift toward cloud computing. But there's a tension between organizations and people, for whom change can be a technical challenge or an expensive compatibility-breaking problem. Compatibility with standards can ease these transitions, but Web standards are in flux and aren't uniformly supported either with browsers or Web sites.
Mozilla released Firefox 3.0 with great fanfare in June 2008, and it's been patched as 3.0.18. Firefox 3.6 is the current supported version, and, of course, future work is under way. Mozilla has released two public alphas of its successor, which is called 3.7 for now though that's not necessarily the final name.
In the nearer term, Mozilla also preparing a Firefox 3.6 update called Lorentz. Mozilla had hoped for a beta release of Lorentz. But its chief feature--the out-of-process plug-ins (OOPP) design aimed to reduce crashes by putting Flash Player and its like into a separate memory compartment--is proving thorny. In addition,
Mozilla programmers have only just begun the OOPP work for Mac OS X.