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My website (economyofeffort.com, in case you're reading this on one of my blog mirrors) has hosted my personal "wish list" for some time. The idea has been to give friends and relatives an easy way of finding things to buy me on gift-giving occasions.

Finally, a new website has come along to handle wish lists - MasterWish (www.masterwish.com). It makes creating online wish lists a lot easier. The "Wish List" link in my menu to the right will lead to a page that takes you to various sections of my MasterWish list. The site's got buddy lists, Amazon.com integration, and some other neat features. I had thought about writing a web-based wish list application, but this site renders that exercise unnecessary.

Some people think such lists are tacky, but honestly, nobody wants to give a bad present. Nobody likes trying to buy gifts for someone and having no idea what to get. And perhaps worst of all, nobody wants to buy someone something they already have. I love it when other people have wish lists to go from, if for nothing else but a starting point.

So, anyway, a new website for you all. Do your love ones a favor and put an end to the gift-buying guessing game. And save yourself trips to the store for returning crappy gifts.

(Originally posted at Economy of Effort)
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Games and my 25-Year Old Girlfriend
Generally, I don't care for the stereotypical geek pursuit of trying to get one's significant other into the "geek hobbies". Usually such attempts, while well meaning, are ill conceived. So it is perhaps with a bit of hypocricy that I follow the same pursuit. At least in my case, Stacey has an interest in gaming - one which I am simply trying to locate and help amplify. Stacey has, admirably, broadened her entertainment horizons on many fronts in the time that we've been together. I have tried to do my part as well, and in these past 4 years, I have become more intimately familiar with the offerings of the Disney Channel than I ever thought possible. I have a very broad range of entertainment choices, and so it hasn't been too difficult to find some that Stacey would become interested in and establish some common ground.

In terms of games, Stacey was an NES child, much like myself. My NES game stash nearly doubled when she dug up the old games her and her younger brother owned. Although Stacey's games have tended to be outside of the "hardcore", some have been reasonably distant from the typical "games girls play" (like The Sims).

Stacey's currently on a kick for two games. The first is Katamari Damacy. And who doesn't understand the appeal of that game? Roll a ball around and pick up a bunch of crap. Certainly a "female friendly" game, but a bit more of a gamer's game than Animal Crossing (another game Stacey was once hooked on, but that's another topic). She's progressed to the last 1/4th of the game, and she's ready to jump into the sequel "We Love Katamari" as soon as possible.

The only time Stacey's uninterested in Katamari Damacy is when she wants to hook her claws on her other current game of choice: Guitar Hero. Now I love this game a lot. One thing that surprised me is how close it feels to playing an actual guitar. I've played the guitar since I was 15 (holy hell that's been a long time now) and though I've never aspired to virtuoso "metal god" status, I can rock more than well enough to star in a radio-rock alternative band. So at least I have a decent idea of what playing a guitar is like. I'm shocked at how well they nailed it with the little Gibson SG style controller. When I progressed to harder songs that required speedy hammer-ons and pull-offs to hit the notes, it felt like rockin' a real guitar.

Stacey, meanwhile, is not a guitar player, but that sure doesn't seem to make any difference at all. She doesn't quite have the finger dexterity of a guitar player, but her face lights up when she does manage to riff her way through a difficult lick. I enjoy the classic rock and metal cuts like "Spanish Castle Magic" and "Symphony of Destruction", while Stacey likes the newer rock tracks like "Take Me Out".

So, two games that are somewhere between the hardcore and the typical "girl games". I really can't wait to get a copy of Beyond Good & Evil into her hands - if stupid Half.com sellers would stop cancelling my orders, that is (if ya don't have it, take down the listing, fools).

(Originally posted at Economy of Effort)
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Lord Stanley, Python, and Peter Jackson
Last night, I touched Lord Stanley's Cup. The ECHL All-Star Game was hosted here in Fresno, at the wonderful Save Mart Center. Along for the ride was the Stanley Cup as well as the ECHL's own prize, the Kelly Cup. Stacey and I had our pictures taken with the Cup. The game was also fun, more for the company (Kate and Kristyn) than the game itself.

I have started experimenting with Python and the pygame library, in order to create a quick puzzle game. I need to build up a portfolio of demos, and so I am going to learn some new languages and libraries along the way. I'd be so comfortable just jumping into C++ and OpenGL to do everything, but when it comes to skill sets, Wider Is Better.

GameFly sent me the next game I had in my queue: Peter Jackson's King Kong for the Xbox 360. I've played it for about half an hour. Very pretty game, seems like a well-executed concept too. One complaint: playing it on my VGA monitor in 1280x1024, the picture appears as if it is rendered in 16:9 but then letterboxed on top of that too. The viewing size is VERY short. I've noticed a few graphical gotchas in playing the 360 on a VGA display, rather than an SDTV or an HDTV. I appreciate it when games are letterboxed, but I think there's something funky going on in this case. No matter - I'll still play through anything Michel Ansel (Beyond Good and Evil) creates from here on out.

(Originally posted at Economy of Effort)
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Xbox: Modded for Fun and Profit
OK, maybe not so much with the "profit", but plenty of the "fun".

I have a history of using old hardware for new purposes. I currently have a media server / router box in my room that is (mostly) a computer that I built for my best friend some 6-7 years ago. I've refurbished machines for family members, and torn parts out of spare systems to repair or upgrade others peoples' systems.

Now, game consoles are getting in on the action. I had planned on modding my Xbox once I got an Xbox 360. And, as of a few days ago, I finally went ahead and did it.

Some research and help from neighborhood friendly Gamers With Jobs made the entire process very smooth and simple. I found out that I did not, in fact, need a modchip at all. Instead, a "soft mod" would serve all of my purposes easily. Xbox

My goals were two in number: to be able to watch IPTV (video podcasts and such) on my television, and to be able to emulate all of my old consoles from the early '90s on back (so that I can leave that hardware in storage). These goals, as it turned out, were very easily achieved.

To perform the softmod, I needed the Krayzie Ndure Softmod Pack (found on your nearest Bittorrent search engine) and a Pro Action Replay USB. The Pro Action Replay is usually used for downloading "cheat" savegames from the Internet to a memory card that plugs into the Xbox controllers. For my purposes, the save game was a "hack" from the Ndure pack, which would almost completely automate the process of installing a new BIOS and dashboard, as well as backing up the original stuff. All I needed was a copy of the original Splinter Cell (which I never got rid of) and I was off.

After the Ndure install finished, I had a modded Xbox running the Evolution-X dashboard. That allowed me to FTP into the Xbox from my laptop. For emulators and other apps (like Xbox Media Center), one need fire up their IRC client, and head to EFNet and #xbins. Or, if you have a nice legal copy of the Xbox Development Kit (and who doesn't?), you can just download the source code from the project websites and build it yourself. Either way, once the binaries are built, it's just a matter of FTP-ing into the Xbox and uploading them into the "Apps" and "Emus" folders.

Xbox Media Center had little trouble getting onto my Samba network and pulling video files from my media server on demand. I tweaked a copy of the Bashpodder podcast client script to download and store video podcasts in a particular folder, and told XBMC to look in that folder. Voila, it streams the video from my server whenever I browse to view a video.

Which leads me to my initial list of must-see video podcasts:
DigitalLife TV (Patrick Norton and Robert Heron from TechTV, doing a 45 minute tech show)
Rocketboom (a daily 3-minute mini-show, loosely about tech and the Internet, with a very cute anchorwoman)
1UP TV (good gaming TV)
Diggnation (Kevin Rose and Alex Albrecht discussing stories from digg.com - probably more enjoyable than digg itself)
Tiki Bar TV (ummm... it's kind of like a recurring skit about a new cocktail each time, except with less structure and more funny. And LaLa is hot)

I have some others subscribed to but not yet viewed.

Anyway - I got some good answers to my question in the last post about games for my parents. They bought Mario Kart, as well as an old copy of Madden for $5 to try out. And I imagine they will go get Mario Tennis after they've worn their current stash out a bit more.

Now, I'm waiting on a copy of Beyond Good & Evil to arrive in the mail, as a Christmas present for my girlfriend (which should have been here around Christmas, but the tool I originally ordered it from on Half.com sat around for a week and cancelled the order January 3rd, without a word). But that's a discussion for another post.

(Originally posted at Economy of Effort)
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