Euro Truck Simulator 2 – ETS2

I am a big fan of simulators like Flight Simulator X, and I am also really like SCS Software’s Euro Truck Simulator. I have just found out that Euro Truck Simulator 2 is in the works, still with a lot to do to it, but there are some videos on YouTube of them recording sounds from real Scania lorries that they borrowed from Scania, for sound in the game. Also another video on moving the mirrors from the interior – it looks like it is going to be a good game! Cant wait for it to be released in March 2012.

Image from: http://www.modsplace.com/index.php?news&nid=108

If you are interested, theres a playlist of “Euro Truck Simulator 2 Development” - this video of improved vehicle AI should put you into the playlist. The trucks look so much more modifiable within the game now, you can change your tyres, cab, chassis, mirrors, exhausts, number plates, lights where you want them on the bottom chrome bar, you can even turn the lights on and off in the editors to see how it looks! Beacon lights for the top of the cab are there, and apparently work too. Many different engines.. it look pretty amazing.

You can find their blog: here.

Find the ETS2 unofficial facebook page: here.

But How Good Is It? Samsung SyncMaster 2033HD

Bit of History
When I first got a desktop, I had a CRT (fat) monitor. Since then I have had an unbranded 15″ish silver plasma display, and a 17″ LG LCD TV. CRTs are now a thing of the past, the old monitor I had was fine, but had some terrible speakers built in either side. The LG Flatron M1721A is an okay TV. Built before HD was so common, I managed to get it cheap – £75 I believe, as there was a new Maplins opening in Kidderminster. It has speakers that are okay and ports on the back include ariel, VGA, scart and the 3 coloured component ports that old Xbox’s and PlayStations plug into (red white and yellow). I noticed after a while, a year or two, the reds that the tv displays, it displays them, then also copies them and displays them a short distance faintly from the original. Not sure why, and not too noticeable for most things, but sometimes you do see a red blur. It is currently in use connected to my Toshiba laptop, as I am home for Christmas – and it is doubling as a second screen.

Samsung 2033HD

Samsung SyncMaster 2033HD
On Amazon, I was looking for monitors and came across the Samsung 2033HD – a 20 inch widescreen monitor/tv with freeview built in and a whole host of ports on the back. It looked so good, my parents bought one too for their bedroom. They were priced at a very reasonable (must have been reduced) price of £120. This monitor/tv did not disappoint – it could do everything I wanted and more – I could connect my HDMI Xbox 360, my old Xbox with it’s component connection, my scart freeview box, my VGA pc etc etc.. it was so good, I wanted two.

But How Good Is It?
Very, with 720p HD (not quite 1080p), built in freeview – you just need an external antenna, dozens of ports and a pretty sleek design – I liked it. So what about the specs? Well it is a 20 inch LCD widescreen, with 16.7 million colours – which has to be enough for any domestic situation.. Speakers are in there, and to be fair are pretty good – I have played guitar hero on it, and not had a problem at all. It does sound better coming through my £15 logitech speakers, but only if you compare them consciously. 5ms response time seems to be as low as most other TVs out there, a TV remote is included, as is a stand, and the TV is wall-mountable if you buy a bracket.

Ports – in my opinion the most impressive part of this TV..

  • 2 x HDMI (1 on the side, under a little flap)
  • DVI-D
  • SCART
  • VGA
  • Component video input – RCA x 3
  • Audio line in – RCA x 2 (red and white from the yellow, red, white)
  • Audio line in – mini phone stereo (normal headphone jack it seems)
  • SPDIF – TOSLINK – fibre optic audio – never used this, probably never will
  • Another headphone jack on the side – very useful for connecting to speakers intermittently
  • Antenna in
  • Common interface – on the side – never used – something to do with DTV receivers.
  • USB port for servicing/firmware I believe. Don’t think you can use flash drives with it.. I’ll have to try..

Well that’s the list, the main ones are the 2 HDMIs for PC graphics cards / new laptops, VGA and DVI for PCs etc and the headphone jack on the side is useful too.

Montiors - old pc left, new pc right

Old pc CHKDSKing on the left, new pc installing Realplayer on the right

What’s in the box?
Included is:

  • Samsung 2033HD TV
  • Remote control
  • Stand (bottom bit)
  • VGA cable
  • Instructions

Overall
Overall a fantastic all-rounder TV, and good for the budget concious, they do occasionally seem to drop in price, keep your eyes on eBay. I loved mine so much, I bought another – exactly the same (although one seems to be a millimetre shorter or so). It makes the computing experience so much nicer having identical dual screens. I got the other one second hand off eBay, only quibble it has one dead pixel in the middle which is a little annoying (stuck on red), tried all I could to shift it, but nothing worked. I use a HDMI – HDMI and HDMI (TV end) to DVI-I cable to get from the TVs to my ATI HD6850 graphics card (outputs: HDMI, DVI, DVI, Display Port).
I am very happy with the pair of them, they look pretty cool, they have a blue glow in middle-bottom under the TV when it is on (pulsing if standby). They are made from black very glossy plastic, which gets dusty quick but does look good. One thing to bear in mind if buying twin monitors that are the same – they will BOTH respond to one remote control if it is pointed generally in their direction. I have had a few times where I go to turn the one off, and the other starts as well. I turn the awakened one off, and the other one comes on in reply.. can be prevented by putting the remote right next to their little sensor (bottom right dot on the plastic). No major hassle really. They also do have a fair few controls onboard the TV – along the right hand side (the little flat for the HDMI, headphone jack and CI is on the left), including power, vol up and down, source, programme up and down too I think. The main ones you use are source and power (bottom) though.

Quick Pros and Cons
Pros: Lots of ports, TV in built with freeview, HDMI, great quality, wide screen, big enough to have a document snapped left and right to each half (windows key and left / right arrow keys for Windows 7).
Cons: 1 dead pixel on one of mine, its a fairly unlikely event though, they take a couple of seconds(3-4) to fire up, which is a bit more than a normal pc monitor. I don’t think they are that adjustable – they tilt forwards and backwards I think, which is more than good enough for me – but I know e.g some dells can go up, down, forward, backward and even rotate..
If you want to see a video including this monitor starting up, click here.

Would I buy it again?
Yes, I’d buy two.
Matt

But How Good Is It? – Reviews

When buying new things, especially  technology, I take time – and lots of it. Why? Because I really like making informed decisions, and I want to know exactly what I am getting, what it will or will not do, will it work as I expected, and will it still do so a few months down the line?

Not much to ask normally, but it can be hard to find the a good bit of tech with the huge range of manufacturers and models out there. How many 20″ monitors are there? Thousands? Bound to be some rubbish ones and some “easter eggs” (amazing finds) in that mix.

So I write a few reviews of the things I have purchased – in the hope that it will allow someone to make a slightly more informed decision – as I try and put myself in the “user”s shoes – which is especially easy when I am a user. I will find out what annoys me about the product, could something be made better, and if there is something great about it. So comes the review set of blog posts about some of the tech I own, if its worth buying, crucially – would I buy it again?

First I am going to talk about a Samsung Display I have. But how good is it?

Lets Get Things In Order – Custom Post Order

As you may know if you use WordPress, newer blog posts are shown at the top of pages, and they push old posts further down. This is fine for someone blogging bits of news and interesting stories, but didn’t quite cut it for my posts on my computer build. I wanted users to be able to read from the beginning and see it being built up and progressing – rather than reading the posts backwards and seeing it being disassembled into components.

I also wanted just my “Build 2.0” category and other progression based topics to have this styling, not all of them. One idea I had was to make a webpage in HTML as a sort of contents or index of my build. This way I could order the links to each blog post in any way I wanted(using their permalink addresses). This doesn’t make it very readable, as users would have to open each link as a new tab for each tiny bit of the story, and also I would have to remember to grab the permalink for each new post and add it to the HTML page… “There’s gotta be a better way..”

After looking on the internet for some sort of “WordPress Organiser”, I found many people had searched for “WordPress Order”. Well ordering my posts – that was exactly what I wanted. It seemed the best plugin for the job was “Custom Post Order

Very easy to use, I installed by going wp-admin –> Plugins and searched and installed it from there.

To configure, go Settings –> Custom Post Order. From there you can tell your posts WHAT to order by (names, dates, titles etc), HOW to order (Ascending / Descending) and WHICH posts you would like it to apply to (specify categories or all)

Here are the options you get:

Order By




Order Direction

Apply To

You then see your list of categories (and sub categories!!) that you can check to apply it too.

Very useful plugin, did exactly what I wanted to :). If you want it too, search for “Custom Post Order” or go to their WordPress plugin page here.

Matt

Aber LINKS Website – IE Specific CSS Problems and Solution

During my testing of the site (I feel it is necessary to test extensively on many browsers, operating systems and screen sizes – to ensure no users are needlessly excluded), I found that Internet Explorer displayed the site wrong – the “main area” was displayed 5px or so too high, and it’s side borders were eating into the nav bar. Looked messy, unprofessional, and with the reality that a lot of companies may be reluctant to get away from the horrible old IE browser, I needed to do something to allow IE users to view  the site properly.

Why?

Why does IE display it wrong when Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera, Konqueror etc all display it perfectly happily?

After a small amount of research, I found it is because IE does not render the W3C box model correctly. (W3C – World Wide Web Consortium – the people that make the standards and protocols that everyone should adhere to.) So every other browser complies with (at least this part) of the W3C recommendation, but IE still does not, or at least the IE8 that I have and the ones before it don’t. I found the information on why it doesn’t render correctly here.

So what to do? IE isn’t quite sure about heights, widths, margins and padding etc, but every other browser is. I decided I needed to make the site display properly in IE, as although in my opinion it is a terrible browser, many people still use it (9.51% of people to the LINKS site currently use IE – but bear in mind this includes a lot of university students, who are likely to be using newer, better browsers on personal computers).

How to pick out IE users

After trying to redesign my CSS so that it would work happily in both IE and others, (basically changing the code so IE displayed it properly, but then finding the now wrong code obviously displayed incorrectly in every other browser), I decided that IE needed to be using some different code to all of the other browsers. I found it is actually very easy to pick out the IE users, and give them some different code by using “<!– [if IE]>” in your code. What is that? Basically the code is singling out IE users with the [if IE], but it is put in a comment so all other browsers ignore it.

This “if” is actually quite versatile, as you can specify certain IEs [if IE 6] or if it is earlier than a certain one [if lt IE7] (lt for less than, gt for greater than). You can also use [if !IE] – if it is not IE. I found out about this here.

Fixing CSS for IE

So with the “if” in place to catch IE users, I now give them their own stylesheet (style2ie.css). This overrides/overwrites the previously given styelsheet that is for all pages. Other browsers will see their correct CSS, and ignore the IE one in the commented “if” statement.

This IE stylesheet is exactly the same as the normal one except that I have added 5px of padding to the bottom of my nav bar, to force the main area down by 5px. It’s a bit of a hack, but it works fine for my purposes. At this time, it is also a good idea to add “a img {border: none; } ” to your code, to stop IE putting blue boxes around all the links that it sees. See the snippet of code from my main CSS below. SiteNavigation is the div around the navbar. It doesn’t matter if you have the “a img” part available in the main CSS – it doesn’t seem to affect the other browsers. It is just for IE.

Code for IE

 

Aber LINKS Website – PHP

I have used PHP on the Aber LINKS site to make the site more interactive and maintainable. The main use I have used it for at the moment is server side includes – where some common code across many pages is pulled from just one file. This means the code is written just once, and only has to be modified once to affect all pages. I also created a “template” page – with the headers, footers, nav bar, menu and main area all set out ready to receive content. This allows for easy page adding whilst keeping all pages consistent.

Adding a new page

How hard is it? It’s only as hard as you make it. Using PHP, it can be really easy and I follow the following steps with my site:

  1. Make a copy of my template page
  2. Add the content into the main area for the new page
  3. Update the menu and nav bar includes to include the link to the new page
  4. Upload the new page, and updated nav bar and menu.
As you  can see it is very easy to add a new page – as the layout is all done and ready for me. To modify the menu and nav bar across all pages, I have to modify just one file each.
What else to use PHP for?
Currently I also use PHP mail for the contact form. I learnt this code from W3Schools – click here for a link to their page on Secure E-mail with PHP. I have also found it is easy to add another recipient to the PHP mail, by just simply adding “,anotheremail@domain.com” (remember the comma) to the String of who the mail will be sent to.
We currently have no real use for an SQL database at the moment, however I would be ready to use one after doing this assignment.

[It is worth saying at this point, when I refer to Aber LINKS - I do mean Aberystwyth LINKS (St John Cymru - Wales First Aid Society at Aberystwyth University), just in case another place gets a LINKS unit (Aberdeen, Aberdovey etc) and calls themselves Aber LINKS. ]

Aber LINKS Website

Aber LINKS site

Recently I have been tasked with designing, building and maintaining a website for the St John LINKS First Aid society that I am a part of at university. A couple of weeks ago I started the XHTML and CSS code, using my old website as a base to design on.  The design of my old website has a container around the bulk of the page, with a “main area” in the centre – where the content for each page goes. For the LINKS website, I chose to design the page to be central and  relatively thin compared to my wide 20″ monitors. The main area is 600 px wide, and the content (that differs between pages) goes in here. The whole page is about 866px wide, and this displays fine on 10.1 inch netbook screens, without the user needing to scroll to see things. I work hard to ensure that the sites I build are easily and pleasurable to view on all screen sizes.

Above the main area, there is the horizontal navigation bar. Above that is the top header image of the site. To the left of the main area is a menu of all the pages, which isn’t vitally needed as I have a nav bar, but I prefer to let the user choose which to use – as they will naturally use whichever they are used to. Below the main area, there is a footer that contains the date and a Google +1 button. I have tried to add a Facebook like button, but placing it has proved very problematic. I will also possibly add a “Copyright Aber LINKS” at some point too.

Over the past few weeks, I have worked closely with the President and PR and Media Officer to perfect the site, and ensure that it complies with all the St John procedures – as we don’t want to be putting on pictures of things being done wrong. Also the difference between St John (England) and St John Cymru – Wales has became evident, as I am not aloud to use some of the nice “LINKS” logos that I found – as they are the English ones. Nothing can ever be simple, can it? But I have adjusted and adapted where needed, and nothing but the odd image look has suffered really.

Another progress post coming up..

Matt