Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Nerdgasm Denouement: Galactic Adventures Review

Yesterday after work, I called the local GameStop and had them put on hold the very last copy they had of Spore: Galactic Adventures. I took the short journey over there and traded in two games (GTA: San Andreas for the PS2, which I was hiding from the children and forgot about when I traded in my PS2 so very long ago; and SimCity Creator for the Wii, which was an extreme let-down after SimCity 2000 on the PC), which covered about 65% of the cost of Galactic Adventures.

Spore: Galactic Adventures extends Spore's Space Stage to incorporate some of the types of interactions you knew from the Tribal Stage, and then some. In the original Spore, you might be sent on a mission to some lightly-guarded planet to retrieve a statue or a scroll, and you'd fly your ship over to it and beam it up. With Galactic Adventures, you don't beam it up, you beam yourself down.

Loading the game took a while — of course, you have to load the updates for Spore first before you can load the expansion pack — but I was expecting that. It gave me a chance to do something I rarely do: peruse the instruction manual. (I was happy with the effects of the recent updates, by the way: the regular game seemed to run more smoothly.) So I was ready to go when it finished loading.

First up was the basic tutorial, which was almost completely outside the regular game. What I found was a Second-Life-like town inhabited by talking bunnies, ugly aliens, and a reptilian mayor. My first reaction was mild chagrin. Not because of anything in the game itself, but because of how slow everything was running. The characters were choppy and slow to react. I had encountered this before on this computer — it comes and it goes — but I was hoping, just hoping . . . Anyone out there know which settings can give me the best boost?

But I ventured on. After the tutorial, I ventured into Spore space. I retrieved, at great risk to Captain Blurbius Maximus, the Golden Llama; and I dispatched a horrible beast that was terrorizing a village nightly. And it was all seamlessly incorporated into the regular gameplay. It would have been great fun if I had a faster computer, but I enjoyed it all the same.

I read about but haven't yet tried the adventure editor. One can create one's own adventure — creating buildings, terrain, creatures, and puzzles from scratch — and publish it online so other Spore users can have a go at it. Like I said, I haven't tried it yet, but it sounds an awful lot like a fun version of Second Life, but without all the geometry. This total customization offers great promise.

I have great hopes for Spore in the future. At one point in the game, I visited a spaceport, with all sorts of aliens wandering about and muttering to themselves. Add a multiplayer online feature, and these "spaceports" could take on a Second Life social quality. Imagine seamlessly going from the game to an online 3-D interactive space and back again! Pretty soon, we'd see users creating new gear, new color combinations, etc. and marketing those wares online (which, in my experience, was about the only thing you could do on Second Life without forking over the monthly fee). Soon after that, you could go on missions created and posted by other users and, again, it would be seamlessly integrated into your personal gameplay.

But that's the future of Spore, not the present. Needless to say, I like the direction that it's taking. Whereas Second Life was a great-looking car with no engine, Spore is a great engine, and now they're building a great car around it. If they keep it up, it'll go far.

In short, if you enjoy Spore, and if your computer has decent processing capabilities, it's worth the $30 to get Spore: Galactic Adventures.

Oh, and Second Life sucks.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Nerdgasm: Spore Expansion Pack!!!

I just learned today that a Spore expansion pack hits shelves TODAY! According to the Spore Web site:

Get out of your starship and turn your Spore creatures into legendary Space Captains. For the first time, beam down with your allies to take on action-packed, planetside adventures. Complete quests, collect rewards, and even create and share your own missions!

They also offer some "free" adventures from the creators of Robot Chicken. In this case, "free" means you have to have a valid EA account. Don't know if it's worth it. But the expansion pack definitely is!

The Spore folks know what they're doing: Make a great game, and then keep making it greater.

(You know, I still haven't taken on the Grox and defeated the original version of this game, even though I've spawned species on no fewer than ten planets. Maybe I ought to concentrate on that before dropping the dime on this expansion pack. And then there's the issue of whether to start buying expansion packs for Civilization IV — something that was on my Father's Day wish list. [But I'm not complaining about the Wii Fit! {How deep can I allow my parenthetical statements to go? (I mean, really?!)}] Speaking of the Wii, I can only hope that we'll eventually see a Wii version of Spore that'll let me access my regular online Spore account without paying through the nose. Would I ever leave the house again?)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day 2009

This year's Father's Day gathering was Friday night, when everyone was available. Thanks to my children (and the ex) for a Wii Fit. I've done quite a bit of sweating this weekend, and hopefully this will give me the motivation I need to get my stuff together and really start to get healthy. Or at least healthier.

Father's Day itself was pretty boring. Started the day at the laundromat with four loads. Went out and saw Year One (wait for the DVD — the funniest bits were in the commercials). Was basically lazy all day.

Which isn't a horrible thing.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Google Analytics: Chasing Readers

Last week, while meandering through my Blogger account settings, I found a link to sign up for Google Analytics. I gave it a try. I was surprised by the depth and breadth of data that Google Analytics could give me about who visits my blogs and how they get there (and how long they stay). The most surprising thing, though, was that someone out there is actually reading my blogs! Since I don't think my mother is visiting this blog twice a day, every day, there must be a few other surfers out there who've found my stuff. A few bloggers have even included my other Logophilius blog in their blogrolls. Yeah for me!

Google Analytics also shows what search terms a person who found my blog put in before they ended up here. As it turns out, a lot of people are still wondering about Snow Patrol's "Chasing Cars" lyrics, because a lot of people land in this blog on my blog post about "Chasing Cars" after a Google search. (And now that I've mentioned "Chasing Cars" [three times!] in this post, some of those surfers will find their way to this post, too, and hopefully follow the link to the original post above.)

That's kind of sad, though. I was hoping that the less pedestrian of my posts — like my review of Man Without a Country, or my experiences with Henoch-Schönlein Purpura, or even the weekend I spent figuring out how to work my camera — would be more attractive than a piddling discussion of some song lyrics.

Looking back, though, the greatest portion of my blog posts are pedestrian. Maybe you should jump over to Logophilius to find something with more teeth.

Monday, June 08, 2009


Summertime means having more free time than I am accustomed to. My Facebook friends have unwittingly presented me with addictive substances that quickly eat up all that extra time.

First, it was Bejeweled Blitz. Tonight, it's Farkle. Facebook itself is its own source of addiction.

When will I ever get something done?

Right after another game of Farkle!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Little Boys and Their Urine

The two Hollandbeck boys are spending the week with my parents. Yesterday, I received the following message from my mother:

Conversation from back of the car on the way home from fun, fun time at M'ville Park. I hope this sounds as funny written out as it was to hear.

Hollandbeck the Younger: E spinned me so hard on the tire swing I almost peed my pants.

The rest of the conversation is whispered.

Hollandbeck the Elder: Did you really pee your pants?
Y: A little bit.
E. How much?
Y: Maybe an inch.
E: That's not how you measure pee.
Y: How do you?
E: In cups. Did you pee a cup?
Y: What size cup?

After that we got a lesson in pints, quarts, and gallons.

Has Christopher Guest started scripting outings in our family?

Outlook/Excel Success!

Today, June 2, 2009, I completed a working solution for getting information from incoming Outlook e-mail into an Excel spreadsheet. It isn't the solution I had hoped for, but it works.

My problem before was trying to get three new buttons on the Ribbon. I could do this with ease in Excel, Word, and PowerPoint, but Outlook isn't so nice. I never did figure out how to do it — the current solution has the three macro buttons on the Quick Access Toolbar. Maybe in another year I'll have it totally integrated.

So I got the Outlook side put together, and I got the Excel side put together. My next big problem was figuring out how to get the data from Outlook VBA code (the data is in an array, for those who understand what that means) into an Excel subroutine. Passing arguments from one subroutine to another is pretty easy from within a single application, and only slightly more involved if I was going between, say, Word and Excel. But as I said, Outlook isn't very nice.

My ultimate solution there was to create a new, hidden worksheet in the target Excel workbook and filling the first column with the array data from Outlook. Then, I could call the Excel subroutine without passing it any arguments. The Excel code then rebuilds the array from the information on the temporary, hidden worksheet and deletes the worksheet.

Sloppy? Yes. But usable? YES! Big sigh of relief.

Now I can go back to redoing my Web site, which is getting kicked off of geocities on July 13. I think I have the basic style sheet the way I want it!

Monday, June 01, 2009

Not a Good Outlook

For the last month or so, I've been working on a VBA project at work. The short version is this: I'm creating an Outlook 2007 tool for a shared inbox that will divide the information in an incoming e-mail into different pieces and then insert those pieces into a table in one of three Excel spreadsheets. Which spreadsheet the information goes into depends on which button the mailbox user clicks.

I thought I had gotten the hard part finished. I've put together the VBA code to chop up the e-mail body into pieces and save those pieces into an array. That array will be passed to some Excel VBA code (more familiar ground for me), which will insert the information where it needs to go. I thought that was tha hard part.

But no. All I need to do is add a group to the Outlook Ribbon for the three buttons. In Word or Excel, this would be an easy process: I'd create an Add-in with RibbonX code (XML) to insert the new group (or new tab even) in the Ribbon by using my handy-dandy Custom UI Editor, and then I'd drop that Add-in the corresponding STARTUP folder. Piece of pie.

But Outlook 2007 isn't that easy. It looks like I need to code either in C# or outside of Outlook in VB to do what I want. I might also use an Outlook form, and I've even put the form together, but when Outlook was installed, the IT folks turned off my ability to add the code behind the form. I could probably get my boss to request that IT reload Outlook on my machine and turn on that ability, but even then (a) I don't know how to get that form to show automatically whenever someone opens an e-mail in this particular inbox; (b) this needs to be shared with three others, so they might need to have Outlook reloaded, too; and (c) if it doesn't work, I'll feel even worse.

Normally, you can find just about everything on the Internet. I've looked and looked hoping that someone has published a template of sorts just for adding buttons to the Ribbon, with placeholders and such. But no go. I've found a number of how-to's about customizing an Outlook Ribbon, but they're all over my head and require C# and/or VSTO and/or VB.NET. I just don't have the right resources, and I wouldn't know what to do with them if I had them.


I have one last thing to try today: The Outlook programming book I've been working from showed how to add an item to the right-click contextual menu. It looks like it can be done completely in VBA. I'll try that out. If that doesn't work, I don't know what to do next. I need to have this up and running by the end of June.