Google vs Yahoo

New Year Narangs

Recently I've found myself comparing a lot of features and application from the two giant search companies. Each has an incredible lineup of stuff, so much in fact that it's near impossible to compare both on an even playing field.

The skew, I think, leans towards the side of Google, where they have Earth, my Outlook saving Desktop, and YouTubeVideo. Each being very cool applications that I find myself using regularly. Although Yahoo is the owner of Flickr which is my single most used web application, and probably will be as long as I dabble in photography, and they maintain the Widget Engine which is another useful peice of information software.

Staying away from the fringe, I'm going to compare the three core applications that both companies have done for a while, which I and a few other people use regularly; namely: Mail, Calendar and to a lesser degree finance and a customizable web page.

For mail, I think Google has it in the bag. Both e-mail applications are rather slick and easy to use. Both providers offer a silly amount of space for the typical user, but Yahoo makes it a little tricky to figure out where you are sitting. I really like Yahoo's RSS integration, but with google's reader being out in the wild, I don't think this is much of an edge. G-mail wins with a cleaner interface, and a couple very easy to implement features like forwarding all your mail to another address, secure RSS of your mail and POP access if you really want it. Yahoo may implement these features, but their interface is too clumsy to figure out how to do it, and if I can't find it, I'm sure there is others out there who can't either.

For the Calendar battle, I used to be solidly in Google's corner, but recent uncoverings have me on the fence. Once again I find Google's interface to be cleaner, and easier to use. I love being able to share my calendar online with my friends (Yahoo does this too, but all my friends use Google), as well as all of the public calendars (like the Rugby World Cup and Calgary Flames schedules). Google was my clear leader, until I found out how well Yahoo integrates it's calendar into it's other applications, namely finance.

This is really where my comparison started. Until recently I have been keeping tabs on my portfolio at E-northern with Globe Investor. The Globe and Mail has been pulling more and more of it's services into it's gold package, and the site has become much less useful. I decided to set up my portfolio tracking on both Yahoo Finance and Google Finance. Both sites have a plethora of news, and pretty graphs, as well as streaming quotes and portfolio management. The problem is that Google's portfolio management is useless. Sure you can create a portfolio and track it, but you can't add all of the real world equities that you have. Take Big Rock (Yahoo's page: here), a fully registered income trust with a six year track record. Sure enough you can get a quote from Google's site, but you can't add it to your portfolio. As a matter of fact: it doesn't look like anything on the TSX can be added to your portfolio. This makes tracking gain/loss on 80% of my portfolio impossible, which in turn makes google's finance page useless for my needs. Yahoo takes a clear, and definite lead in this category, and their win spills out to other areas as well.

With my portfolio entered correctly, I can display it correctly on my custom homepage that Yahoo provides, which I can not do with Google's version. This means that my Yahoo home page is again way more useful than my equivalent version on Google. Both homepages have a stupid amount of addable content from weather, news and integration with their other applications, but Yahoo doesn't stop just bringing everything to the homepage, their applications can talk to each other. Take the Calendar and Finance for example, looking in my Yahoo Calendar I can see the dividend payouts from stocks in my portfolio. Google doesn't offer that, and with the state of their finance page, I don't think it's high on their priorities.

Now that I'm done the wordy part, I can say that you can't just pick one of the two giants for everything. I've picked up Yahoo for finance, but still maintain Google for my Mail and Calendar needs. Although Yahoo did wrestle my homepage away from Google. For the time being.

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Gears of War

Gears Of War

After a rather odd mix up in launch dates, I finally got a hold of the highly anticipated Gears of War for the 360. For the last couple of days, I've been working like a madman, late into the evening early morning trying to get stuff done for various projects and chewing through the list of home made Christmas list items. Last night I took a much deserved break, and spent some time playing this wonderful new game.

My first impression was that this definitely is not a game for children, which shouldn't be surprising because of the large M on the box. Rated for "Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language" it's right on the mark. The first time you sink the chain saw into someone, of ram a frag grenade into their body before it blows, you know that you know that Epic didn't shy away from showing people what War is all about. The game plays out like a doomsday war movie, the dialog is impressive (if loaded with words you don't want your 4 year old picking up), and the flow of the game plays well into the story.

Saying that the content is gruesome is one thing, witnessing it in High Definition is completely another. The graphics for this game are to the level of crazy. This game really shows the community what the 360 can push as far as graphics are concerned. The models are excellently detailed, some of the views are breathtaking in their vastness and attention to design and I've yet to see the engine slow down one little bit in all of the intense game play.

The best part of the game, however, is it's game play. Epic Games (the same bright boys that brought us Unreal Tournament) has brought a whole new element into the shooter genre of games: cover. You can't just run around like a fast twitch idiot anymore, and hope you can shoot someone else down before they shoot you down, now you employ a series of SWAT like maneuvers hopping between broken husks of old stoves, sand bag barricades, doorways, trees and pillars trying to move around an enemy to expose their flank. You have to lay down covering fire for your team mates so that they can attempt to make crossings that leave them out in the open, nothing more than ripe targets for unsuppressed enemies. It is true that you can shoot at exposed parts of an enemy while they are cowering behind something smaller than they are, but while you are trying to line up that elbow or knee in your scope, you are exposed to all of his buddies. It's a different way to play, as you are really hesitant getting out from behind your precious cover, until you know what next piece you are going to use. Epic also did a great job with the save/checkpoint system (unlike Capcom's Dead Rising) and it just fades into the background, and you never need to worry about it. Having your partner teleport to the checkpoint when you reach it, also helps keep the game moving quickly. The balance that is struct with the ammo supply and your ability to regenerate health, also means you can spend more time in the action, than worrying about finding a pack of something.

Perfectly complimentary to the new game play style is the controls. Epic made the mad dashing from cover very easy to control, as well as the aspects of shooting from cover, and coming out of cover to get a more accurate shot. Another nice new feature, is the 'point of interest' button. When you hear someone yelling about a grenade, a fallen team mate, a newly discovered gun turret or emergence hole, you can press a button and the camera snaps towards what they were talking about. The controls become very natural after a very short learning curve.

The reason I was most looking forward to with this game was the Co-operative play. Right out of the box, I was playing in a split screen with Sonja, and the two of us were shooting through the level together. The same thing can be done in full screen over Xbox Live. I joined in as Dom in one of Mark's game, and we could strategize over the voice link, and render locus after locus dead in our path. I haven't tried the Versus mode on Live yet, but from what I hear, it's also a great deal of fun.

As great as the game is, there is still a couple areas I think could be improved. I would have liked to see the split screen Co-op be left-right as opposed to over-under, and the mechanics for getting into and out of a Co-op game are not quite as good as they could have been. For instance, if the second player leaves, I don't see why the first player has to quit as well. If I can jump in at any time, I should be able to jump out at any time.

All things considered, this is a very good game. It is currently my all time favorite, and is quickly generating a big online community. With Emergence Day coming up this weekend, and contests and tournaments scheduled for the future, I can see this quickly becoming one of the most popular games on Xbox Live.

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Clean Slate

Stark Ravin' Mad

It had finally reached a point that I could no longer take the abuse it was giving me. My computer, with a mind of its own, would occasionally pop up a virus notification within Microsoft's Internet Explorer. I was alarmed by these particular events, because within whatever means I have, I will avoid IE like the plague.

I knew I had a bug, and it was entrenched deep. For a few weeks I entertained the idea that the Trojan upon my machine was benign, and the worst it could do was annoy me with it's frequent advertisements. It wasn't until after I had decided to remove the bug that I found how deeply it was rooted.

I'd like to think that I'm somewhat of a knowledgeable user, and I can remove the occasional occurance of malicious software from my machine. In this case, I was wrong.

A fortnight of safe mode checks, and registry edits and I could not find why IE was telling me that I needed friends, pills to make my cock bigger, a larger line of credit and a new anti-virus software. My normal routine of checking my e-mail was not yet disturbed, so thus far this wasn't a problem. That was, until the parasite on my machine placed a monitoring device on my system, and was installing other trojans and spyware from a remote server.

The rest of my evening progressed like this

  • 8:15 - Finish all important backups, boot with Windows XP CD
  • 8:35 - I'm allowed to pick a partition, and set the clock and timezone
  • 8:45 - Windows stops copying systems files long enough to ask me what my Workgroup is going to be.
  • 8:55 - I'm given 15 seconds to watch a countdown, or I can just reboot my computer right now
  • 8:59 - The last romp through networking configuration wasn't enough, now XP wants to know if I'm using DHCP or not...
  • 9:27 - Windows crunches for quite some time, then tells me that I need to reboot, or I won't be able to use my networking
  • 9:30 - Windows has restarted, and I still don't have networking. I plug in my little USB key, and start installing my SATA drivers
  • 9:34 - After watching the damn machine unpack a file for about five minutes, It tells me that this particular driver isn't certified by M$FT, "Would you like to continue?"
  • 9:37 - I can access my second hard disk, and start to install Norton. You can't be too careful on the internet these days.
  • 9:56 - Norton has decided my machine is clean, I grab the network drivers off the USB key
  • 10:02 - It's the millionth time I've rebooted this peice. Now I can get on the internet
  • 10:04 - Immediately grab FireFox

In the end, a clean installation of Windows is like sliding into a clean pair of underwear. It's good to know that you've hit a level of freshness. Although, this particular freshness can only be obtained through a painful voyage through the ghost in the shell.

Standing on the OS soapbox, I wondered aloud why it has to be this complicated. It took me, a person who knows his way around a keyboard, almost two hours to install enough software so my machine can get on the internet without contracting a virus. How in the world is the average computer user supposed to be able to pull this off effectively. I could have just made some sort of LiveCD, but I'm hoping to use this rig for some games in the future.

The average user is not only unaware that they need to re-install windows on a semi-annual basis, but furthermore, most wouldn't even know where to start. Are we not the most intelligent beings on the planet? Why do we subject ourselves to suffering from a device of our own creation?

I'm starting to get a flavour for wanderlust, to see if some sort of alternative to this pain can be found.

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Get your Game On

A Single Spire

The weekend is over, which usually causes a bit of remorse, but this particular weekend held the phenomenon of a LAN Party out at peice of real estate that Jeff secured for us. I'm no stranger to the LAN event, but in case you've never been to one, I'll give you some things that I've learned at the events that I have attended:

  • When setting up, it is a unspoken law that someone will kill the power to your computer at least once.
  • Human males start to escrete a pungent, smelly liquid substance after a few hours of gaming. The odour given off by this substance can become an irritant after a few hours without ventilation, and will become lethal after 12 hours.
  • Games that are incredibly fun as a single player, aren't necessarily fun multiplayer.
  • Games that are fun for a few hours, are not likely to still be fun after 8 (like Diablo II, right Glen?)
  • 500grams of bacon produces more grease than can be held the drip tray found on a table top grill.
  • The three beer rule does apply to gaming.
  • Nobody shows up with all the software installed

The event was a lot of fun, and I'm thinking that I may want to host my own sometime in the fall. We will see if I can get together a big enough crew of Geekalotious when the leaves are turning.

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Multiple Databases on Rails

Pebbles or Stones

I have been loving work recently.

A fellow geek and I have embarked on a voyage splicing a new technology into a legacy system and it's mosaic or underlying programs. Our architecture is a little funny, in the strange way, not the humorous way. Therefore, I've been presented with a never ending set of hurdles in making rails do what I need it to do.

Which is just the way I like it.

The first order of business was to get rails to talk to several different dataservers and to connect to different databases within each one. It would appear that the magic to make it all happen is to create your own base record that will connect to different databases. To show how easy it is:

# cat lib/different_database_base.rb
class DifferentDatabaseBase < ActiveRecord::Base
   establish_connection (:host=>"some_other_server",
                         :database=>"another_database",
                         :username=>"jsmith",
                         :password="letmein")
end

# cat app/model/some_class.rb
class SomeClass < DifferentDatabaseBase
end

That's all you need. Now in your controllers and views, any SomeClass objects will be retrieved through the connection to another_database. We didn't just come to this conclusion, there was a lot of bad before it got this good.

And now, I'm a believer.

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