Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sweet Progress

Today is October 30th and do you know what that means?  It is time for weigh in number two!  I had actually been peeking a bit throughout the week so I had a pretty good idea of what the numbers were going to look like.  Today the numbers become official.  I am down another four pounds since the last weigh in taking my official weight to 345.  Total weight loss so far is five pounds.  This leaves another 146 pounds to go in order to for me to be below two hundred.

Going without soda has become very easy for me now.  It is not really even a temptation anymore.  I carry a case of bottled water around with me in the trunk of my car and so I always have access to something to drink.  I am also drinking ice tea with Splenda and I find that it really helps to offset the lack of taste that comes with plain old water.

I have done very well with the meals also.  I have actually increased the number of meals throughout the day but limited the portions.  Hopefully this is making a difference in addition to giving up soda.

I am excited about the progress but know that I must temper my expectations going forward as it always gets harder to keep losing weight.  To keep making progress I am probably going to need to ratchet up my level of activity.  Perhaps walking or playing more Your Shape Fitness Evolved on my Xbox 360.  I know this may sound crazy but I think I am actually feeling a bit better already.  My next weigh in will be on November 1st.  I do not actually expect to lose any weight between now and then given that it is only two days away but we shall see.  The November 1st post will summarize the month of October and look forward to the month of November.  Check back soon!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

1 Down, 150 More To Go!

Judgment day has arrived!  I promised a weigh in and I am delivering a weigh in.  You probably already guessed the result based on the title of the post.  I lost one pound!

I am not discouraged.  This was only three days and one pound in three days is probably pretty good.  I knew this was going to be a long drawn out journey which is why I bought a web domain and started this blog.  If it were easy to lose weight then everyone would do it.

I feel like it is getting easier to go without soda.  Yesterday I had a pretty good headache which I am sure had to do with cutting caffeine out of my diet.  I am considering drinking ice tea with Splenda just for something with a little flavor.  I could also do the little flavor packets that you add to water but I have noticed that those tend to upset my stomach.  Does anyone else have that problem?

October 30th will be my next weigh in and I hope to continue the downward trend.  This weekend will likely get busy so I may not have a chance to post any other updates between now and then.  You can count on a post on the 30th though with numbers.  Hopefully good numbers.  Until next time, take care my friends.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Day 1 Summary

Today was rough.  I did not get any real bad headaches but I did feel tired all day.  No caffeine will do that to you I suppose.

It is hard to give up soda.  I drank it a lot.  My poor kidneys are probably in shock not having to work so hard.  I have tried a few times in the past and was fairly successful once but then I got the bright idea that I could manage it.  Just a soda or two a day would not hurt.  Then I would fall right back into the old habits of having a soda with every meal.  A soda while I would play games.  A soda to help me get going in the morning.  A soda to help me sleep at night.  Just kidding about that last one...kinda.

I need to focus on the positive aspects of giving it up.  In addition to the weight issue, I will save a lot of money.  Many times when you eat out the drinks are outrageous.  That makes me splurge all the more.  Hey, if I am paying $2.50 for a Coke then I am getting another refill and when possible, a to go cup.

I did better on the meals as well.  I would be surprised if I consumed more than 2500 calories for the day.  We should know how things are going on the 25th and I can make any necessary adjustments at that time.  If I do not blog anything tomorrow I will definitely have a post again on judgment day...Thursday, October 25th 2012.  Until next time my friends.

Monday, October 22, 2012


I have been putting this off for far too long.  I owe it to myself and my kids to change this now.  I just weighed and I am back to 350 pounds.  I am 38 years old and will soon be 39.  Tonight was bad.  I was busy and I fell back into that old habit of just getting something quick...fast food!  Between fast food and my love for soda I am slowly killing myself.  Who knows, maybe it is not so slow.

I decided to make a public blog of my struggles so that I can be accountable to whoever wants to follow this blog.  I have never been very open about my struggles with weight.  In high school I was in great shape.  I was 175 pounds as a senior.  I had six pack abs.  When I went to college all of that started to change.  Here I am today, quite frankly in the worst shape of my life.  My goal will be to get below 200 pounds so I have a long way to go.  This changes now.

For starters, my relationship with soda is over.  From now on it is good old H2O.  I cannot stand the lack of taste but hopefully I will get used to it because I am not going back.  If I fail, I will be completely honest on this blog.  I will limit fast food.  I will continue to post my weight.  I will plan to do so every fifth day.  I will blog about it at least that frequently.  I will next weigh in on the 25th of October. And so it begins...

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Happy Wars: Free to Play Xbox Live Arcade Game

     The game Happy Wars was released on Xbox Live on 10/12/2012.  The game is the first free to play title offered on the service.  Free to play is a concept where users are allowed to download and play the core experience for free.  Players then have the option to purchase premium content to use in the game if they choose.

     I downloaded the game this morning and it is fairly entertaining.  My kids seem to really enjoy it.  There is violence in the game as you fight other characters with swords and different weapons but there is no blood.  The game is rated T for Teen.  I will post some updated impressions once I have spent some more time with the game myself.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Windows 7 Taskbar: Features and Settings

     Windows 7 includes many new features as well as some returning features related to the taskbar.  The taskbar is the bar typically at the bottom of the screen with the start button on the left and the time and date on the right.  The image below is an example of the taskbar in Windows 7.

Windows 7 Taskbar

Moving the Taskbar

      The first topic we will be covering is how to move the taskbar from the traditional bottom position. With the mouse pointer hovering over an empty area of the taskbar right click the mouse button and a menu will open.  Check the status of the "Lock the taskbar" option. If there is a check mark next to it then left click the "Lock the taskbar" option to remove the check mark. If there is no check mark then the taskbar can be moved around the screen. To move the taskbar simply left click and hold on an empty area of the taskbar and drag it to either the top, the left, or the right side of the screen. When the taskbar is in the desired location simply release the left mouse button. The taskbar will now be docked to that area of the screen. To lock the taskbar so that it cannot be moved simply right click on an empty area of the taskbar and left click "Lock the taskbar" to place a check mark next to it.
     To see a demonstration of the topic discussed above please watch the tutorial video below.

Pinned Programs

     Windows 7 has Internet Explorer, Libraries, and Windows Media Player pinned to the taskbar by default. There are multiple ways to pin more programs to the taskbar in Windows 7.  Users can pin a program icon from either the desktop or the start menu by left click and holding while dragging the icon to the taskbar. Once the icon is over the taskbar a message will appear that reads "Pin to Taskbar".  Releasing the left mouse button at this point will as stated pin the program to the taskbar.  Users can also pin any open program simply by right clicking the icon on the taskbar and selecting the menu (jump list) option "Pin this program to taskbar".  Finally, users can also left click and hold the icon of any open program on the taskbar and drag it straight up (or if the taskbar has been moved from the bottom, whichever direction is perpendicular to the taskbar). This opens the same menu (jump list) as right clicking the icon. Release the left mouse button once the menu has appeared and left click on "Pin this program to taskbar".
      To unpin a program simply right click on the pinned icon on the taskbar which opens the menu (jump list) and select "Unpin this program from taskbar". Users can also left click and hold the pinned icon on the taskbar and drag it straight up (or if the taskbar has been moved from the bottom, whichever direction is perpendicular to the taskbar). This opens the same menu (jump list) as right clicking the pinned icon.  Release the left mouse button once the menu has appeared and left click on "Unpin this program from taskbar".
     To see a demonstration of the topic discussed above please watch the tutorial video below.

Thumbnail Previews

     Windows 7 also includes thumbnail previews from the taskbar. These previews can be useful when multiple instances of the same program are running (web browser for instance) and one needs to quickly select the desired instance. By hovering the mouse pointer over the program on the taskbar the thumbnail preview will pop up. If the cursor is moved over the thumbnail preview and hovered the previewed program will show full screen. Left clicking on the thumbnail preview will make it the active window. The program can also be closed from within the thumbnail preview by moving to the top right corner of the preview and left clicking the red X.

     To see a demonstration of the topic discussed above please watch the tutorial video below.

Jump Lists

     As previously mentioned, jump lists are the menus available by either right clicking an icon on the taskbar or left click and holding and dragging perpendicular to the taskbar. The jump lists contain options specific to the program. For example, the jump list for Microsoft Word might contain recently opened Word documents whereas the jump list for a web browser might have frequently visited sites. These are just a few examples of the options inside of a program's jump list.
     To see a demonstration of the topic discussed above please watch the tutorial video below.

 Notification Area Icons

     The icons that exist just to the left of the time and date are known as the notification area icons. By default there should also be a show hidden icons button that kind of looks like an up arrow. If this is left clicked then more icons can be seen. Typically the volume, network, power (if laptop), and the action center icons (if any actions are recommended) are displayed. There are two easy ways to customize which icons show up next to the time.
     The first method is simply to drag the icons back and forth. By left clicking on the "Show hidden icons" button users can then left click and hold and drag one of the icons down to the visible notification area.  When the left mouse button is released the icon will now show there instead of being hidden. Conversely, users can can also left click and hold and drag one of the shown icons to the "Show hidden icons" button and drop it there by releasing the left mouse button.  The icon will now be a hidden icon instead of being displayed visibly next to the time and date.
     The second method is to left click on the "Show hidden icons" button and then left click on "Customize". This will open the Notification Area Icons menu where users can change the way each icon behaves by left clicking the drop down menu next to the appropriate icon and then left clicking the desired behavior. Each icon has three options detailed below.
  1. Show Icon and Notifications: This will place the icon in the visible notification area to the left of the time and date and notifications will pop up.
  2. Hide Icon and Notifications: This will place the icon in the "Show hidden icons" area and notifications will not pop up.
  3. Only Show Notifications: This will place the icon to the "Show hidden icons" area but notifications will still pop up.
     In addition to the three settings for each icon the Notification Area Icons menu also has an option called "Turn system icons on or off". By left clicking on this item users have the ability to further customize this area of the taskbar by left clicking the drop down menu and then left clicking on the desired setting like turning the clock on or off. If mistakes are made, left clicking on the "Restore default icon behaviors" will reset any icon changes back to their default settings.

     To see a demonstration of the topic discussed above please watch the tutorial video below.

     Please leave a comment with your questions or suggestions. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Walking Dead Game (Update)

     Just thought I would post a quick update to my impressions of the game.  In case you missed my initial impressions you can find that blog post here.  I finally finished the first episode of The Walking Dead Game.  Here are some of my thoughts.

     The storytelling is very good.  The characters are interesting and the graphics are engaging.  Speaking of graphics, they look a lot like a 3D version of a comic book.  The audio is solid as well making good use of 5.1 Dolby Digital.  I found that the controls take a little getting used to and can be a tad frustrating when you need to do something quick.

     As I said in my previous post the developers wanted to emphasize choice and in that they have succeeded.  One of the things that makes the choices interesting is that you are often given very little time to give a response.  I never really felt like I did not have enough time to read all of my dialogue options but I did feel like I was not given much time to consider them.  This adds to the drama and the feeling that you have to make split second decisions.  It adds a sense of realism in a way as most of the time when interacting with others you do not have all day to consider how you should respond to a given situation.

     The game does utilize a rewind feature that lets you replay any segment over again.  These segments are basically checkpoints and typically consist of either an action scene or a dialogue scene.  This is very convenient when you accidentally choose the wrong dialogue response or regret a decision that you made earlier.

     I am definitely enjoying the game and am fairly confident that I will be picking up episode two very soon.  I highly recommend it for fans of classic adventure games or The Walking Dead series.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Halo: Combat Evolved Unboxing and A Look Back

     Halo: Combat Evolved was released on November 15, 2001 as one of the original Xbox launch titles.  The game holds the distinction of having the highest Metacritic rating for an original Xbox game (97).

     Leading up to the launch of the original Xbox many felt that Dead or Alive 3 (aka DOA 3) would be the game that drove Xbox console sales.  Certainly DOA 3 was a great game and a system seller but Halo: Combat Evolved seemed to take everyone by surprise in terms of quality and entertainment value.

     The importance of this first entry into the Halo franchise cannot be over emphasized.  So what makes Halo: Combat Evolved so important?
  1. The graphics were arguably not the best amongst the launch titles.  That distinction would probably have to go to DOA 3.  That being said, Halo was no slouch in the graphics department.  Impressive draw distances coupled with vibrant colors and rich textures ensured that gamers would not mind staring at the screen for hours on end while completing Master Chief's story or partaking in the multi player offerings.
  2. Sound on the other hand was head and shoulders above any other launch title or most of the games that launched after it.  The use of 5.1 Dolby Digital was very well implemented.  Something as simple as footsteps had appropriate sound effects based on the surface that was being walked on.  The soundtrack by Martin O'Donnell created mood and atmosphere that immersed gamers even deeper into the Halo universe.
  3. Physics were also a strength of this game.  Explosions often had a very interesting effect on objects in the game world.  For a prime example of the physics in Halo: Combat Evolved check out http://warthog-jump.com.
  4. The control scheme was also well executed.  It should be pointed out that up until Halo: Combat Evolved most first person shooter games were not very successful on consoles.  Halo changed all of that with a control scheme that most new players to the genre were able to pick up and have some success with but deep enough that players were rewarded for continually honing their skills.
  5. If gamers came for the story of Master Chief, then they stayed for the multi player.  Whether playing four player split screen on the same TV or using the game's LAN features the multi player struck a unique balance of strategy and skill.  The game also provided a healthy dose of match types as well as the ability to modify settings within those match types to keep things fresh.
     When we take all of these points into consideration it is easy to state that Halo: Combat Evolved was the most important original Xbox launch title.  But how important was the game to the original Xbox platform as a whole?

     The landscape of the video game market might be entirely different were it not for this game. Would the Xbox have had the commercial success that it did? The original Xbox was never the market leader during that generation of consoles. The Playstation 2 held that distinction. So, were it not for this system seller is it out of the realm of possibility that there might not have been an Xbox 360 console?  There would not have been Halo 2 which was a huge success for the Xbox Live service.  Halo has turned into a multi-billion dollar franchise for Microsoft.  The original Xbox and even the Xbox brand have benefited immensely from the success of Halo: Combat Evolved.

A Look Back Rating (1-10):                                                       10

     I have also created an unboxing video of Halo: Combat Evolved plus a rather comical unboxing video of the "official" strategy guide.

Halo: Combat Evolved Unboxing and A Look Back Video

Halo: Combat Evolved "Official" Strategy Guide Unboxing Video

     Disagree with my assessment of Halo: Combat Evolved?  Have something you want to add?  Please leave your comments below.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Walking Dead Game

     Growing up I remember watching and enjoying many of the popular zombie movies.  My parents did not have too many rules for me as a kid when it came to violent shows.  I seem to have turned out alright.  No murderous rampages yet.  I probably should not joke about that but I think you probably get my point.  The funny thing is, I don't let my own children watch violent shows.  Then again, they are both girls and get scared very easily.

     Not long ago I was watching The Walking Dead television series after the kids had gone to bed.  Now if you have ever watched the show you know that there is not a ton of gore every single episode.  Well, I was watching the first season and I believe it may have been one of the later episodes where the camp outside of Atlanta is over run by walkers.  My daughter woke up and came into the living room at the perfect time to catch the start of the attack.  The gore in that scene was pretty intense and the look on her face before I could hit the stop button made me feel like the worst parent in the world.  Hopefully she has forgotten about that.  Anyway, to the point.

     I recently finished season two on Netflix.  I admit I have not read any of the comics.  Am I missing out?  Given that I will be waiting a while for season three (I cut cable television and stream everything to save money) I decided to pick up The Walking Dead Game on Xbox 360.  The game is just 400 points per episode and as I understand it there will be five episodes.  This game is produced and developed by Telltale Games; the same company that produced and developed the Lego series video games.

     I have always been an adventure game fan.  Back on the PC I remember Space Quest, King's Quest and all the other Sierra adventure games.  A friend got me into the Monkey Island series when I was in college.  The Walking Dead game definitely falls into the adventure game category.  You interact with objects in the game world to solve puzzles and advance the story line.  Combat is usually a matter of moving your reticule over the enemy and pressing the appropriate button in the allotted amount of time.

     The game claims to promote choice and while I am very early on in my play through that definitely appears to be the case.  Choices you make seem to change the way the story plays out.  Almost as if it were a choose your own adventure.  Does anyone else remember those books?  If you choose to do this turn to page 101.  Anyway, I will update again as I explore more of this game.  Don't worry, I won't spoil anything.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Am I alone?

     I have always had some issues when it comes to being something of a perfectionist.  I get it from my father.  But sometimes, this can turn into an obsession.  Let me provide some background.

     I have been playing games most of my life.  At an early age my family bought an Atari 2600 and thus began my passion for video games.  Some of my early favorites were of course Pac-Man, Space Invaders, and Circus Atari.  I remember my parents loving it when the little Circus Atari guy would go splat after missing the seesaw.

     After the Atari 2600 I remember I was able to get an NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) and this probably lead to my obsession.  It started with Super Mario Bros.  I remember the first time that I found a hidden block and that was the exact moment it started.  As a perfectionist, it really bothered me because I could not see everything.  How could I be sure I got everything if some of the stuff was hidden?  Now I found myself spending time searching for stuff that may or may not be there.  I should probably also clarify that I view using strategy guides as cheating.  So, I had to find everything myself.  Now this may sound like I would hate gaming because it would turn into work.  I still enjoyed the experience though because finding hidden items or collecting everything was a challenge.

     I had a lot of consoles, pretty much one every generation after that and mostly all Nintendo.  I never really got into any of the other consoles but there was a particular time when I changed course and picked up the original Xbox.  I had the GameCube as well from that generation but I will discuss the reasons that led me to Xbox in a different post.

     Around this time I began relying on video game reviews to determine which games I should be buying and playing.  My philosophy is simple.  When you have to find everything you should probably only play the very best games given the time investment.  This led me to Halo: Combat Evolved.  I searched every nook and cranny of that game and beat it on every difficulty level.  I enjoy playing a game on every difficulty level because I am intrigued by what the developers do to make the game harder.  This was also rewarded in the early Halo games with different dialogue that would occur based on the difficulty you were playing.  At any rate, I beat Halo to my satisfaction but this took a long time.

     It was around this time that I started using MetaCritic.com for my review scores because I liked that they averaged all major reviews and gave the games a score based on the aggregate scores.  The next game on my list was GTA: Double Pack (GTA 3 and Vice City).  These two Grand Theft Auto titles really did take me forever to beat to my standards.  As anyone who has played the games know, these games are as complex as it gets.  To further complicate the matter I decided that I had to achieve the highest possible rank in both games.  This required a certain score in Vice City that was extremely time consuming to acquire.

     The next game is Halo 2.  I am sorry to say I am still playing this game.  Sorry only because I have been chipping away at it forever.  This is a great game.  I am currently working on the last level on heroic difficulty.  One of my friends states that I will not be able to beat Halo 2 on legendary difficulty to my standards as when I play the game I must clear every level of bad guys.  Perhaps he is right, or perhaps I will find a way.  I just like finding stuff without cheating.  I do not have lots of time to game anymore which is why I am still working on Halo 2.  When I do play though, I like to take it seriously.  Is anyone else in the world as obsessive about playing their games?  Let me know if it's just me and if I need to get some help in the comments section below.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Windows 7 Themes and Gadgets

     Windows 7 has an easy to use interface for setting and changing desktop themes.  In addition to themes, users also have the ability to enable useful gadgets that provide various information.  Let us examine how to use these features built into Windows 7.

     To begin, we need to minimize all open windows so that we can see the desktop.  I have already touched on this subject in one of my previous posts.  You can find that information here if you need to review.  Now that we are viewing the desktop move the mouse pointer to an empty area of the desktop (in other words not hovering over any icons) and click the right mouse button.  This will open a menu where users can select from a set of options.  From this menu, left click on "Gadgets" to add gadgets to your desktop or left click on "Personalize" to change the desktop theme.  These two items are discussed in further detail below.


     Selecting "Personalize" from the menu takes you to a screen that allows you to choose from a set of default themes.  There are Aero themes (provided that your computer has sufficient processing power and memory) and Basic themes to choose from here.  You can see which theme is currently applied and if you choose you can select a different theme from among the default Windows 7 themes.  To change your theme simply left click on the theme that you wish to apply.

     Users can also mix the images from one theme with the sound file from another thus creating a custom theme.  To do this, begin by left clicking on the theme that has the images that are desired.  This will apply the theme.  Next, left click on Sounds in the lower area of the personalization window.  This will open a new window where the user can left click on the drop down menu below Sound Scheme and choose the desired sound file.  Once the user left clicks OK after choosing the sound file a new "Unsaved Theme" will appear under My Themes in the personalization window.  To save this theme simply left click Save theme and enter a name for the theme in the next window.  Once the theme has been named left click OK.  You have now created and saved a custom theme.

     There are also more free themes available online.  These can be found by left clicking on "Get more themes online" in the personalization window.  This option opens a web browser and takes you to a Microsoft website where you can choose new themes to add to your computer.  Choose a new theme from the website by left clicking on the download option under the theme.  Depending on which browser is being used your options may vary but Internet Explorer will bring up a bar at the bottom of the page with an option to Open, Save, or Cancel.  Choosing Open will download the theme and automatically apply it for you.

     To see a demonstration of the topics discussed above please watch the tutorial video below.


     Selecting "Gadgets" from the menu takes us to a screen that allows us to choose from a variety of Microsoft gadgets.  Simply double left click on the gadget you would like to enable and it will show up on your desktop.  Once you have a gadget on your desktop if you hover the mouse pointer over the gadget this brings up a small menu to the right of the gadget.

     Here you can click X to close the gadget and remove it from your desktop.  Some gadgets also have an arrow button that allow you to toggle between preset sizes for the gadget.  There is also an option that looks like a grouping of dots that allows you to drag the icon around the screen (appropriately named Drag Gadget) thus allowing you to choose where you would like it to reside on your desktop.  By left clicking and holding on the drag gadget button you are then able to move the gadget to another area.  Release the left mouse button to stop dragging it.  You may notice while dragging a gadget that it will snap to any side of the screen if the gadget gets close to the edge.  Finally, some of the gadgets have an options button that allows you to customize the information that you would like the gadget to display.

     To see a demonstration of the topics discussed above please watch the tutorial video below.

      Please leave a comment with your questions or suggestions.