Not too long ago, I was using ScriptSafe selectively to block Javascript on webpages.  Back in about June, that started breaking Google searches, and I had to abandon it—which makes sense because it looks like ScriptSafe itself has been abandoned.  Since then, I’ve come upon my new Javascript blocker of choice:  uMatrix.  uMatrix is definitely more advanced and fine-grained than ScriptSafe, but I think it succeeds on its premise a bit better.

One of the things uMatrix does out of the box is allow first-party Javascript to run.  This means that fewer sites will be broken-by-default.  You also get the chance to enable or disable Javascript by domain.  This means that I can enable scripts when I’m using GMail, but I don’t need to open myself up when I’m on an external site.  The matrix concept took a little bit of time getting used to, but I don’t think I want to go back.  uMatrix can also block images, CSS files, plugins, scripts, and iframes from certain domains, meaning that you can let images through a third-party domain but block scripts.  That isn’t really as useful as it seems, but it’s a nice concept.

Also nice is that there’s support in Firefox and Chrome, meaning that I can get the same experience across both browsers.  No IE/Edge support, though.

Windows Live Writer Is Still Alive

Not too long ago, I decided to start blogging regularly once more.  In order to do this, I want to have a tool which allows me to write blog posts offline.  The WordPress editor is fine when you’re online, but sometimes I’ll be on an airplane or in a location without ready Internet access.  When I started researching blog editors, I landed on Windows Live Writer.  Although the product is in a dormant state, it’s still popular and for good reason.  It integrates with a number of services, gives you a pretty good idea of how your blog posts will look, lets you add images and links extremely easily (even easier than WordPress’s editor does), has seamless publishing, and lets you work offline.  It also lets you use one interface to publish against different blogs, although I only have this blog and so that benefit doesn’t do too much for me.

The biggest problem with Windows Live Writer is finding a working download link.  The Hanselman link above has it, but I also want to include the Windows Live Writer download link here.  I’ve confirmed that it works just fine with Windows 10.

I might look for something that works well with Android and Linux when I’m using tablets or laptops running those operating systems, but at least I have a workable product with my Windows tablet.

The Search For A Better Browser

Browsers and I have a long and somewhat-inimical relationship.  Here is what I want in a browser:

  1. Fast.  The browser should load faster than Netscape 4 did.  This means you, Firefox.
  2. Secure.  I want to turn off Javascript by default and turn it on when necessary.  Firefox has NoScript, which is great for that.  Chrome has historically tried to avoid adding that functionality, but ScriptSafe used to be a good alternative.  Ever since a couple of months ago, ScriptSafe has started to break Google searches, so I moved on to uMatrix (also available on Firefox).  I’ve liked that experience so far, especially because you can set domain-specific privileges, so I could allow third-party YouTube scripts on one domain but not another.
  3. Convenient.  Remember my settings, bring me back to where I left off in case I reboot my PC, and make it so that I don’t have to fight your UI.  Chrome is the worst about this:  by default, they don’t re-open tabs if you close the browser, meaning that you could lose a bunch of tabs if, say, Windows decides to reboot your computer overnight.

Every single browser on the market seems to fail me in various ways.  Here’s my current (and definitely not comprehensive) complaint list:

  • Edge:  I like how fast it is and how well it does HTML 5, but you cannot right-click and save!  Seriously, who let a modern browser out which does not allow you to choose to download things?
  • Internet Explorer:  Yeah, I’ve heard that IE 10 and 11 don’t suck nearly as much as IE used to, but you burned that bridge with me years ago, Microsoft.
  • Firefox:  NoScript is cool, but Firefox seems to get more and more bloated, slower and slower, more and more memory-intensive.  Just like Mozilla did.  Just like Netscape did.  It’s about time for another group to blow up the browser and start over; maybe it’ll be good for 2-3 versions like these other browsers were.
  • Chrome:  When I’m on a touchscreen device and I have a keyboard attached, I don’t want the on-screen keyboard to show up whenever I click on an input box.  I have a device which provides input already.  You should know that I have a device which provides input because Firefox and Edge don’t behave this way.  So what’s the advice Chrome gives?  Shut off on-screen keyboard…which is terrible advice for someone who has a tablet.  Also, Chrome has felt more bloated over time as well and it soaks up memory.
  • Safari:  I’ll admit that I don’t use Safari for Windows.  I tried it a few years back, but it was a horrible knock-off of the Apple version.  If I want a horrible knockoff browser, I’d reinstall Konqueror.
  • Opera:  Nope.

Are there any browsers on the market which don’t suck?  I’ll take Linux or Windows browsers.  Over on Android, I’m OK with Dolphin Browser because of its LastPass integration, tabbed browsing experience, and decent speed.

At Derbycon

Today marks the end of my Derbycon training.  This year, I ended up taking the basic Android hacking training.  I learned a good bit about the Android permissions model and we started to look into reverse engineering code from APK files.

Tomorrow will be the first day of talks.  Derbycon is a great conference, and one of the reasons it’s so great is that they pack in 10-12 hours of training each day.  Tomorrow starts at 8:30 AM and Irongeek will even be live streaming the opening sessions.  After that, sessions go on until 8 PM, and Saturday’s basically the same.

I made a smart decision! Yay!

When I bought/built my most recent PC (I didn’t do everything, but I did most of it, and transferring over the DVD drive was a massive pain in the ass, so I deserve credit), I agonized about choosing an i5 vs. an i7. My goal was to get four to five years out of this PC. I settled on the most powerful i5 Intel makes at present, the 4690k. However, hyperthreading made me constantly second guess this decision.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun to the rescue!

I can now confidently say that I regret nothing.

X-Wing Alliance On Modern Hardware

Since I started watching Clone Wars, I’ve felt the urge to go back and play one of the greatest space simulator lines ever:  the X-Wing series.  Folks growing up in the 1990s have fond memories of X-Wing and TIE Fighter as excellent single-player games (TIE Fighter tends to rank high in the hearts of gaming geeks), and one of my time sinks in my youth was X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter (as well as the Balance of Power add-on).  Shortly after XvT, LucasArts released X-Wing Alliance, the final game in the Totally Games X-Wing series.  Unfortunately, LucasArts never came out with any modern space simulators, so all we’re left with were great games from the 1990s.

So here’s the problem with 3D games from the 1990s:  modern video cards tend not to support them.  X-Wing Alliance used DirectX 6.0 (quick note:  we’re up to 10) and all kinds of crazy tricks nVidia and ATI/AMD were glad to deprecate.  This means that if you install X-Wing Alliance on your modern Windows PC (getting around the fact that the game was released a decade before UAC and back when Windows users were always local administrators), chances are good that you won’t get the results you want…at least by default.

This story has a happy ending, though, because we can play X-Wing (and the rest of the games) with upgraded, modern(ish) graphics, on our ultra-powerful machines from the future.  Here’s what you do, keeping in mind that I have an nVidia graphics card from about a year and a half ago.

  • Get a copy of X-Wing Alliance.  Don’t get it new.  In fact, to be honest, I’d consider this abandonware and wouldn’t have any ethical qualms about downloading a copy of the game.  LucasArts won’t make a dime off of it at this point and they haven’t supported the game in over a decade, after all.
  • Installing the game can be a bit tricky.  You need a patch to get the game to pass the Windows version check, saying that yeah, you have Windows 98.  Don’t think about installing this in a Windows 98 VM, though; your 3D card probably won’t work so well through a virtual machine.
  • Once you install the game, make sure to upgrade to version 2.02.  If you can’t get that patch, the next step actually includes it.
  • Now, the game was released in 1999, meaning that it had to run on PCs with 166 MHz processors, 32 MB of RAM, and 4 MB PCI video cards.  Sure, the game looked great at the time, but regardless of how much you love Star Wars, it will look like crap today.  This is why you absolutely need Darksaber’s Ultimate Craft Pack.  X-Wing Alliance was a highly moddable game (thanks for that, Totally Games), and over the past decade or so, people have contributed nicer models, turned on settings that Totally Games originally had off (remember:  crappy hardware), and pushed the graphics engine well past what Totally Games ever could have expected.  For my nVidia setup, I installed the nVidia font fix as well as the No CD crack, and all of the high-resolution models.
  • Once I got that taken care of, I jumped into the game.  On my first mission, pressing T to target a supply crate caused all of the objects to disappear, leaving just the star field.  The game worked fine in Software mode (but that’s crappy rendering and looks terrible!), and apparently, over the past 7 years or so, nVidia changed something in their drivers to make the game no longer work right.  After reading 10 pages of complaints, Reimar saved the day.  Go get XWAHacker.  For me, I ran the fixedclear.bat and 32bitmode.bat files.  The combination of those two changes made it so that I could target objects and perform all the actions without any graphics glitches.  I also used changeres.bat to change the default resolution to give me a widescreen experience.
  • Finally, don’t forget that there were a lot of controls and the game requires a joystick.

Once you do all of that, you’ll get a fantastic game.  Once you finish the default set of missions, you can mod XWA to re-create X-Wing and TIE Fighter with differing levels of success.

Alternatively, you should be able to get the entire series to play on a modern computer…but you won’t find the same upgrade packs, so you’re dealing with old, old graphics.  Still, old graphics beats nothing.

Disney, here’s some free advice:  take these games, put them in a modern engine, and re-release them in 2015 to hype up Star Wars Episode VII:  George Lucas Is Finally Gone.  Get it right and revenues would be fantastic; you’d have a whole new generation of people blowing stuff up in letter-shaped space craft.

New Presentation Laptop

My current presentation laptop is a 2-core machine with (maxed out) 4 GB of RAM.  That’s fine for doing basic work, but was really getting long in the tooth and prevented me from doing more interesting scenarios, like having several virtual machines interacting at once.

As a result, I decided to upgrade.  I ordered an Asus N550-JV-DB72T notebook.  By default, this comes with a slow hard drive and 8 GB of RAM, but I ended up bumping that to 16 GB of RAM and a 250 GB solid state drive.  At this point, my new laptop will be a bit more powerful than my current desktop machine, and will definitely allow me to do more complicated demos.

I might have a full review of the laptop after I receive it, but that won’t be for at least another week or so.