31 August 2009

Miserable end to a hard-fought campaign

Welcome back to the Promised Land, Simon Clur!

Simon is back in town, and in true CompSci student fashion, Kat, Simon and I hooked up again to relive some of the good old days, and under Simon's instruction (how could we deny him his request?), we had some pizza and XBOX360 co-op action. Oh boy, were there some fun war stories...

Mary-Anne Botha was kind enough to allow us to invade her home and hook up again with Oltman to play some 4-player Left4Dead co-op action, and this time we had substituted our friendly-fire fanatic, Wayne, with a newbie, Simon. I was hopeful that I could train Simon into the ways of NO FRIENDLY FIRE and we could achieve the very elusive SAFETY FIRST achievement. As events unfolded, I realise now how wrong I was... :(

We played Blood Harvest, and it started off pretty well - we were doing very well in fact, and making good time on the missions. We headed onto the penultimate level, and there things took a turn for the worse. At some point Zoey (played by Kat) died, and it was left to Francis (me), Bill (Simon), and Louis (Oltman) to escape the level on 1% health each, and me on my last life.

As we made it to the escape point (up ahead on the bridge), we were swarmed, and Oltman and Simon were incapacitated. Being the hero I was, I held off the swarm on my last legs and 1% (or we would have had to restart the darned level), and revived both players, who then subsequently ran off (while I lumbered along behind them) to the safe house. As I reached the safe house, what was waiting for me other than a smoker on top of the escape car - fortunately I fended him off with the last shells of my shotgun, and we made it into the escape car in time.

Next level, we repeated our antics and managed to make three successful attempts to the finale where we radio'ed in for help. Round one, Louis got panicked and raido'ed in while the rest of the survivors were still agreeing on the safest place to fend off the swarms. In the end, Zoey and Francis (Kat and me) lasted the longest, because Louis and Bill couldn't agree on anything, and both died. We didn't outlast the swarm, and also inevitably demised.

The second time we made it into the house, we all hid in the front closet, and it only took a little time before a Smoker pulled Louis out into the open, and going against my better judgment, I departed the closet to rescue him, only to be swamped and beaten. The two hapless survivors still in the closet didn't last with only two guns, and we failed again.

Third time, Louis suggested hiding out in the barn. In the end, we managed to hold off two waves and died by the second Tank. Much better result in the end, but the unfortunate early loss of Louis during the first Tank meant we hadn't enough firepower to repel the second Tank, and we all bought it.

Our successful attempt was achieved when we took out an unexpected Tank at the beginning, without anyone dying. We made it to the barn, set up our perimeter, and then the most stressful sprint from the house to the barn by a panicked Francis (me) and desperate Louis (Oltman) resulted in us successfully repelling the waves.

Bill (Simon) was taken down during the first wave, but we managed to defeat the Tank and survive the second wave too. The final Tank showed up, and we were nailing him just fine, until Louis took a tumble. I ran in to distract the Tank and deal the deathblows to his head at point-blank with my combat shotgun, only to be smacked across the barn and (fortunately) onto the ledge on the other side. Attempting to get myself back into the fray to save Louis, I noticed I was taking a lot of hits, and I realised the Tank didn't have this sort of distance firepower, and it slowly dawned on me that my hopes for a SAFETY FIRST achievement were definately over, since my two esteemed survivor team-mates - Zoey and Bill - were missing the Tank and hitting me!!

I jumped off the ledge, climbed back up the ladder, just in time to see Louis being trampled to death, and we couldn't make the escape together :(

In comes the Military APC, followed by a distant swarm of zombies, and we made a run for it. Zoey was awaiting a helicopter pick-up, so Bill made it to the APC first, followed closely by Francis (me). As I was running up the ramp to my first survival and to freedom, I was knocked off the ramp and into a waiting swarm of zombies. I never made it to the ramp, and was knocked down. I pleaded for rescue, but saw Zoey run over the heads of the marauding zombies and into the APC, which then closed their doors and raced off. I was very distraught at fighting the good fight (and especially in the penultimate level single-handedly bringing us to the finale), but not making it.

At this point, Simon sheepishly confessed that he had shot me off the ramp in a Vietnam-induced flashback and thus ended my desperate attempts to finally complete a campaign. And so, I once again observed the campaign ending lying alongside my dead buddy Oltman, and once again, we did all the hard-work and sacrificed ourselves for the lesser survivors to escape under a hail of gun-fire :-/

I must add, however, that I managed to achieve the Cr0wned, pharm-assist achievements this time around :)

27 August 2009

Another hoax, or hi-jack strategy?

Driving on the freeway, you spot a little girl on the road, under a blanket. What do you do?

If you stop, you may be hijacked - apparently the latest scam is to employ a life-like doll to distract drivers and force them to stop!

You've been warned, I suppose :-/

24 August 2009

BlackBerry Curve 8900 "Javelin" white screen of death

[ UPDATE: also check out this post for possible solutions ]

I suppose it was inevitable that the BlackBerry would also succumb to a bizarre "SOD", and I suppose a WHITE screen is the most appropriate, since it's the opposite of the BLACKberry's style. I just didn't anticipate to experience such a glitch with my evergreen and ever-reliable BlackBerry handset. Doing a search on the internet revealed that I'm not the only person with this problem, but what has surprised me the most is what's causing it...

Strangely, I've only ever noticed it when I've had it resting on my pile of papers on my desk in my office. The most strange thing about it is that it seemed to start with Google Talk, but soon migrated its way to any application that I was using.

For some reason, it would look like it lost a display signal, and artefacts would occur all over the show, but it was almost still visible sometimes. Then, when it blanked out, I'd have to move my phone aside and let it rest while I carried on with my other work, and over some time it would come back.

This went on for a few weeks on-and-off (but only in my office in front of my keyboard) when I discovered the cause... at least, I'd be prepared to bet my BlackBerry on this being the cause.

Underneath my pile of paper, but near-enough to the top of the stack to be near or in contact with my BlackBerry 8900, is the very plastic CD sleeve that came bundled with the BlackBerry software CD (see image).

I've since established that when my phone is near or in contact with this very CD sleeve, it will experience its WSOD, but ONLY then.

I have no explanation for this, except that maybe the plastic is causing some static interference with the phone, but when it's not near or on the plastic, the phone is fine, and I've yet to experience the same WSOD symptoms!

I can't understand it, but there you have it. Hopefully this will make someone's life a little simpler :)

23 August 2009

Offline co-op Left 4 Dead system link split-screen 4 player

These are the stuff of legend. Four humans, survivors of a mutated rabies virus outbreak that has decimated the world. Four survivors who have to find a way out - a way to sanctuary and safety. Four survivors armed with fairly primitive firepower and relying heavily on each other and their mutual will to live, to adapt, and to survive.

And it was with much speculation and trepidation, that Oltman, Kat, Wayne and I hooked up this Sunday to play 4-player on two Xbox 360s - to my pleasant surprise (and all of our excitement) it works!!

Here's how ...

1. Sign in both people on one console at the start-up screen (pressing |> START; signs in for split screen mode)

2. Select "Play Campaign"

3. Play with Friends

4. Create Lobby (X)

5. Campaign Mode

6. Create Lobby after choosing settings

7. Then other xbox360 chooses steps 2 - 5 (it's drop-in, drop-out so they can join in while your game is going; the "client" will see the following screen displaying an available server...)

It's done so well! Split-screen, system link, 4 player co-op, and if players go idle or 'take a break' then you can have AI players taking over "for a while".

Screenshots show what the game looks like being set up for system link split-screen games. First
is split-screen setup on the "server", then what the other console ("client") sees, and finally a successful 4-player lobby game, ready to go (but as I've already mentioned it's drop-in, drop-out so no need to have everyone ready at the start).

SO MUCH FUN! If anyone has Tank-busting tips for us, please let us know by leaving a comment :)

21 August 2009

Portable ISO creator - LC ISO Creator

I'm all about mixing up analogies. It's an advanced gift that God blessed me with. If you found my previous post quite useful, you may also be in the market for a portable ISO creator (or CD/DVD snapshotter) since an ISO ripper and ISO mounter go hand-in-hand like two peas as tight as thieves... well, step up to the plate, LC ISO Creator, because it takes two to tango...

This little guy is very basic in its GUI, but all you really need is a "click to rip" button, right?

Check out my comprehensive PortableApps list here, or go here to get the guy for yourself:


Virtual CD-ROM Control Panel

There's a lot of good portable stuff out there, and in my mind a support guy's best friend is some freeware software that doesn't leave a footprint. Even better for a support guy is stuff that doesn't leave a footprint, and helps to emulate hardware that may or may not even exist on the system in need of your attention! Step up Virtual CD-ROM Control Panel... your moment has arrived!

If you need to have an ISO mounted on a PC but don't want to fiddle with DaemonTools (which I think has spyware on it now or something?), or something else that edits the registry, then look no further than VCDROM - it's lightweight (30k), portable, and can even run from the network!

I've added it to my list of "must-have" portable applications for support tools, and I really use it extensively!

Check out my comprehensive (i.e. work-in-progress) portable-applications list here.

And try these links for more on this particular application;

Where do old rickety dogs go to die...?

Quietly behind my reversing car, apparently...

I'm presuming that the educated and world-savvy readers of my blog (both of them) have heard of elephant graveyards and whale-resting places and all that fancy speculation before. Well, for old rickety dogs I guess it's the parking lots and driveways of the world that suffice for them.

Basically, yesterday I reversed into my in-laws' old labrador - Taffy. He wasn't there when I got into my car and I suspect he wanted to buy an opportunity of euthanasia and ran (he's been storing up his energy for months for this last break) behind the Palio to take the hit. All I knew was, I felt some resistance, like I was driving over a log. I paused. Went backwards again. Resistance. Paused. Drove forward. Looked around and didn't see anything (and considered it may have been Taffy, but he must have put on his cloak of "make-me-invisible-momentarily-so-I-can-buy-it-now" because I couldn't see him, so I went back again with some caution. Resistance. A log? Okay, just drive over it. Start to reverse again (no more than before though). Yelp! Stop. Go forward. Get out. See a rickety old dog sitting there pooh'ing himself. Get him up and he hobbles away, wetting the floor. He was okay, but shaken up, poor thing.

Sigh. Be careful. I suspect either dogs like to make an exit, or my in-laws tried to incriminate me by craftfully placing Taffy there while I was doing my seven-point safety check.

19 August 2009

Is lady justice alive in SA?

Today we had our attorneys apply for a court date to hear our application. I have been most hopeful of an outcome to all of this bother over the past two years and was expecting a court date in the not-too-distant future so we could start this process and conclude it before I'm old and grey (which is approaching more rapidly than I'd prefer).

Well, I have a lot to learn, it seems. After hearing that the first available High Court date is in December, and seeing that this has dragged on almost over a year already, my enthusiasm has somewhat waned. We've been offered an amount about 33% higher than our purchase price for our flat, although I'm not entirely sure whether I'd trust the offer. Quite a bit to think about - do we take the sale and let go of this conflict? If that happens I'd feel a bit like David running away from Goliath. I feel like we have right on our sides, and with right comes might - but do others have the stamina and will to fight this? I'd spend every ounce of energy and every cent of financial wealth on this if I knew justice would prevail, and moreso, if it encouraged others to make a stand against injustice in the future. I will never do it at the cost of my family, but I know that provided my judgment is sound and my motives pure, God will sustain my family through this battle.

07 August 2009

ASP.NET and AUTORUN.INF et al trojan

I'm sure by now most people have experienced one form of this BackDoor trojan or another. There's a very simple way to remove it, but in my mind it's simple because it's using DOS - others may not find it as useful or as helpful.

The first telltale signs of a trojan-infected USB drive is when you try to open the drive using MS Windows - if you double-click, it won't actually open, but rather prompt you to select an application to OPEN WITH.

To fix this problem is quite straightforward, and here's the concept:
  1. The USB drive has had an AUTORUN trojan infiltrate it, so it won't allow you to open it normally.
  2. The trojan is hidden, sometimes read-only, and sometimes marked as a system file.
  3. The trojan can take many forms, but will usually replicate itself on the drive and if it's the AUTORUN.INF variant, you can see that it will be hidden somewhere else, and activated by the AUTORUN.INF.
  4. You will need to unhide, unread, unsystem the file attributes, and then delete the file. Remove the USB flashdrive, and reinsert. That should be Robert being your uncle.

Here are the steps, in more detail (click here for the screenshot document):
  1. First discover that you have the trojan (either an antivirus will pick it up, or you will experience difficulty when you try to explore the flashdrive)

  2. Then open up a COMMAND window (start-->RUN-->CMD)

  3. Type (flashdrive letter): where (flashdrive letter) is replaced by the letter of your flashdrive (so if it's E: then type "E:" without the ""'s).

  4. Look for any hidden files on the flashdrive ("dir /ah" without the ""'s)
    dir /ah
    If you find too many files listed, then try dir /ah /p

  5. After spotting any hidden files, look for ones that look like ASP.NET or AUTORUN.INF or some funny *.COM files, etc.

  6. Find out those files' attributes (attrib xxx.yyy; e.g. attrib asp.net)
    attrib autorun.inf
    attrib asp.net
    attrib d.com


  7. Next, remove the attributes that are present (e.g. if it reports HR E:\asp.net then you would say attrib -h -r asp.net)
    attrib -h -r autorun.inf
    attrib -h -r asp.net

    attrib -h -r d.com

  8. Then delete the file
    del autorun.inf
    del asp.net
    del d.com

  9. Verify there are no more such files on the flashdrive by searching recursively for hidden files (e.g. dir /ah /s /o /p) and repeat the above.
    dir /ah /s /o /p
    (You should still see some hidden files, but look out for AUTORUN.INF, ASP.NET, D.COM, 6PHX.COM, etc.)

Once done, remove the flashdrive (pull it out), then reinsert. Job should be done!

06 August 2009

BF1942 "Map Not Found" or "INVALID CD KEY" error

There's been a veritable bargain of games lately for the PC - my personal flavour of the moment is BATTLEFIELD 1942: WW2 ANTHOLOGY which is retailing for a meager R50, and includes BATTLEFIELD 1942, SECRET WEAPONS, and ROAD TO ROME. The back of the box says you can play 1 player per CD, and the game comes with 4 CDs, so to be legitimate, you can run a LAN of 4-players for R50. Our club has subsequently purchased about eight copies, so we can do up to 32 players without fear of retribution.

Setting it up is quite simple, but if you encounter any hiccups when playing it, here's how to fix some of the more common ones I've come across:

If you install the game with everything, you can then just simply pull the EA GAMES folder out of PROGRAM FILES, and Robert's your uncle. A portable copy of BF1942 if you are on the move with your friends, or want to play it (legally, of course) on different machines. It's fully portable!

There will, however, need to be a few tweaks to get it to work on a portable flavour without the CDs (which I only condone if you are legitimate owners of enough "licenses" to play it).

  1. To circumvent the CD check, you need to download a NO-CD crack from somewhere like GAMECOPYWORLD.
  2. If you load the game up, with this NO-CD crack (or with a legit. CD), it should load fine. Starting a multiplayer game may render a "INVALID CD KEY" error, in which case you need to make sure your machine has the registry key updates for the game you want to join;

    [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Electronic Arts\EA GAMES\Battlefield 1942\ergc]

    [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Electronic Arts\EA GAMES\Battlefield 1942 The Road to Rome\ergc]

    [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Electronic Arts\EA GAMES\Battlefield 1942 Secret Weapons of WWII\ergc]

  3. If the error reports "MAP NOT FOUND" it's because the MOD you're using hasn't got a REGISTRY update, and this applies primarily to Road to Rome and Secret Weapons (as above).
With those changes made to the game, you should now be able to play and enjoy!

Not seeing a server? Maybe your firewall is blocking the port!

Can't get DEDICATED SERVER to run over a LAN with portable installations (i.e. "CANNOT CONNECT TO SERVER" error), don't worry - I get that too... haven't figured that one out yet!

Enjoy :)

My name's BrYan, and I might be Infected

I don't really want to dishonour the latest suspected victim (and 2nd in South Africa) of the H1N1 virus, but this is something I need to post, since it relates directly to me, and I knew the guy that passed away suddenly, and he wasn't a frail dude by any stretch of the imagination.

"A spokesperson for the family of [name deleted] has advised the Division of Human Resources and Equity that Mr [name deleted]'s likely cause of death is related to the H1N1 virus which is commonly called Swine Flu. The University would like to reassure staff and students that there is no cause for panic and that the matter is being addressed by a high level team, convened by Professor Willem Sturm of the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine. This team will shortly publish guidelines for staff and students. In the meantime all staff and students are advised that if they are displaying flu like symptoms and feel concerned, they should seek medical advice."

What can I say? I've potentially been exposed. More interestingly, this guy died after a short visit to Swaziland. Where have I been just at the beginning of July? Swaziland. Coincidence? I think not! I am now starting to think my four-week long illness with 'flu was actually this H1N1 virus. Let's go over the facts:

  1. Throat infection / sore throat
  2. Coughing for weeks (still a minor cough now)
  3. Fatigue

"The internets" says that the symptoms of H1N1 are (with emphasis on the ones I've had):

What are the signs and symptoms of H1N1 (swine) flu in people?

The symptoms of H1N1 (swine) flu in people are similar to the symptoms of regular human flu and include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people have reported diarrhea and vomiting associated with H1N1 (swine) flu. In the past, severe illness (pneumonia and respiratory failure) and deaths have been reported with H1N1 (swine) flu infection in people. Like seasonal flu, H1N1 (swine) flu may cause a worsening of underlying chronic medical conditions.

Hmmm... might I have contracted this virus after all? I'm starting to think not, because I don't seem to have enough of these symptoms to confirm the illness, and no-one else has contracted anything after being in contact with me. And apparently I wasn't contagious just by being around me.

This then leads me onto my second suspicion. If suddenly we get a whole lot of "service delivery protests" in areas that are quite obscure and isolated, and we have reports of police needing to use "rubber" bullets, and protestors going on the rampage, then I'm going to start to suspect that this whole H1N1 pandemic is nothing more than a very elaborate cover-up for the latest potential outbreak of you-know-what! Again, without trying to trivialise what happened just over a year ago - do you really think xenophobia was the true root of the unrest???

03 August 2009

Zombies 101

Last week I had a minor dream come true. I was shopping with Warren Lansdell to buy some more games for our gaming club, when I noticed Left4Dead on sale at Incredible Connection for R249. Now usually I wouldn't spend so much on a game, but when it retails for R799 normally, and it's a first-person co-op shooter about zombie apocalypse madness, I can't ignore it. I really can't ignore it, because with the impending doomsday around the corner, one needs to keep one's wits about and be mentally prepared at any moment.

Joe Graham made a comment on Thursday evening after watching Katherine and I play a bit of the game (yay for Kat! She recognises the value in mental preparation for the inevitable) that stunned me, and made me realise I have a responsibility - nay, a duty - to inform the ignorant masses about the inescapable zombie apocalypse.

You see, Joe Graham made a very casual remark that mainstream zombies have lost their "realness" because now they're too fast and agile and such, and recognising the telltale symptoms of an ignorant trying to pretend to be a zombie scholar, I responded with "what do you mean?" and Joe let out the revealing confession I was anticipating:

"well, you know, 28 Days Later - the zombies are super fast and agile - ..." ... I cut him off at that point and reprimanded his heresy.

I then realised many more out there may fall into the same trap as Joe, and to Joe's credit, he's already a great way down the path to complete zombie enlightenment, and I would certainly let him hide in my crawlspace during the invasion, provided he brings with him the necessary tools and skills - and of course, the willingness to submit to my every instruction since I am the commander-in-chief of the zombie survival group this side of the Umgeni River.

Let me put it out there for all of you to understand:

28 Days Later is a fictional movie based on the premise of a biohazard outbreak which is in fact a mutated strain of the Ebola virus gone wrong. It is a very sad by-product (or mutation) of a virus intended to curb the hostile and psychotic tendencies of violent miscreants, which instead fell into the wrong hands and became a military technology geared at empowering total domination of the globe. Interestingly, the Rage virus (as depicted in the movie) is also the French word for rabies, which is not unlike the virus in terms of behavioural effects and general efficacy.

However, I digress.

In 28 Days Later, the Infected aren't zombies in the traditional sense of the word, since they don't ever really die and then un-die. They're not undead. They're simply infected with a virus whose sole purpose is reproduction. The symptoms of the virus cause an uncontrollable, blindingly insane rage that drives the Infected to want to do really really nasty things - it just so happens that their blood-vomiting abilities coincide with the virus' need to reproduce itself. Ultimately, the Infected in this movie are virus-infected humans - they are as fragile as a normal human, but just carry a virus in their blood (the Rage virus) that drives them to do zombie-like things, but they're not - and in fact never will be - undead. A good illustration of this is in 28 Weeks Later where Robert Carlisle's character manages to use his swipe-card to gain access to otherwise secure rooms, while in an enraged state.

Understanding this very significant and vital disparity between REAL undead zombies and the Hollywood (or indie) concept as depicted in this movie is key to your preparation for the unavoidable apocalypse. Assuming a machete hack to the body will slay a zombie is foolishness. Furthermore, assuming a zombie will starve itself to death within three or four weeks is also tomfoolery.


Forget everything you have learned about 28 Days Later Infected, and focus on reality - zombies will not, ever, ever, ever, starve to death in a month. You are going to be in it for the long haul, and the chances of quarantine on the British Isles is also foolhardy wishful thinking. Zombies will not keep out of the sunlight. Zombies will not relent. Zombies will not be put down with a shot to the vital organs (apart from the brain). Zombies will rise from graves. They will rise from morgues. They will rise from the beds wherein parents take overdoses of sleeping tablets. There will be very little escape from a zombie horde. You must unlearn all that this movie has taught you about zombies, lest these aspects invariably become your undoing in week three onwards during the outbreak.