Secret Fun Park: IAAPA 
It occurred to me that I should follow up about the IAAPA tradeshow which I mentioned in the last post. IAAPA stands for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. They typically have a yearly tradeshow that moves around to various cities.

The cool thing about the tradeshow is that it’s like visiting a theme park or carnival on the cheap, no screaming kids, and very little waiting in line! Back when it was in Atlanta, several of my friends and I went and had a lot of fun. It was open to the public and we didn’t have any trouble with the fact that we were just a bunch of college guys and not bigwigs with a bankroll to buy any of the games/rides/cooking equipment on display. I can only imagine that the reason we got in so easily is because not enough people know enough about it for the show to get overrun with non-industry folks. I think the trade show entry fee was like $25 which was probably on par with the cost of a Six Flags ticket at the time. However, we got to eat all the carnival food we could hold down so it was actually cheaper than the typical Six Flags visit. Plus, I would say it was a much more unique experience and A LOT less waiting in line.

During our experience, we got to play all kinds of arcade games for free and rarely did we have to wait to play anything. We also rode on a few small-sized carnival rides that could fit in the Georgia World Congress Center. Additionally, there were some quite big rides in the Georgia Dome next door. I remember we rode on a giant Ferris wheel type thing, only it was two arms instead of a complete wheel. We almost went up in the rafters of the Dome it was so big! There was also a free fall type ride and a human slingshot. Some other cool things included motion platform games and a really cool Apache helicopter simulation game that was actually built from the same hardware used in military training. Another area of the show that was fun to check out was the special effects section for haunted houses.

I mentioned the food earlier. Part of the show floor is covered by food vendors and fast food cooking equipment. Of course, all of them have food samples. I think we ate hot dogs, pizza, ice cream, Dippin’ Dots, funnel cake, cotton candy, cookies, you name it! It’s a miracle we survived such gluttony. Probably the only reason we did make it out of there is that we showed some restraint so as not to get sick on the rides.

I can definitely recommend being on the lookout for when and where the tradeshow is going each year. If it comes by your area and the tradeshow entry fee is still cheap enough, get a bunch of friends together and head over. I think it’s in Orlando, FL this year.

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Guitar Hero encore Rock the Eighties  

I just picked up Guitar Hero encore Rock the Eighties. I’ve been a big fan of the series and was so glad to see the original GH come out; especially after I played a guitar arcade game at an IAAPA tradeshow several years ago (it was probably Guitar Freaks). Unfortunately, GHeRE just doesn’t live up to my expectations. The set list isn’t all that great. I haven’t unlocked all the songs yet, but so far the songs have just been so-so with the occasional good one thrown in the mix. For comparison’s sake, I’d say the set list is inferior to that found on the popular 80’s rock anthology album, Monsters of Rock. Though there’s definitely some overlap and some of the songs that would be appropriate for the 80’s game have already appeared in GH 1 and 2. Also, the song covers appear to slowly be degrading in terms of quality and accuracy as compared to the original recordings when we go from GH1 to GH2 and on to GHeRE.

Furthermore, changes from GH2 are really nonexistent other than new songs. All the same animations are used with just some “re-skinning” of the models for appropriate 80’s attire. Also, there are no bonus indy band songs that can be purchased from the virtual store like in GH 1 and 2.

Realistically, GHeRE can be described as an expansion pack in terms of the entertainment value. Back when the PC was the only platform to find good games, an expansion pack was a $15 or $20 software package that expanded a game you already bought with additional levels to play that didn’t really equate to a completely new game (expansion packs still exist today but typically only for PC games). If I had paid $20 for GHeRE instead of $50, I would have no complaints about the product. The reality is that $50 is simply too much money for the game.

I suspect that Activision/Red Octane may have even mulled over the idea of releasing GHeRE as an expansion pack. However, expansion packs don’t really make sense on a game console like the PS2 probably largely because it can confuse consumers that can’t figure out that they need to own both the original as well as the expansion to play the new content. There may also be technical limitations with disc swapping and such to authenticate ownership of the original product. Also, retailers are reticent to put bargain priced software on their shelves. Finally, if a fully playable GHeRE was priced at $20, then this would potentially cut into GH 2 sales. But enough making excuses for the game...

While I will say I am still enjoying the game for the same reasons I enjoyed GH 1 and 2, I can’t help but to begin to feel like Red Octane et al are milking the franchise for all it’s worth with no concern for sustainability.

Maybe they will come out with a 5/6 piece drum set controller and game soon and freshen the genre a bit.

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CGI Woes Under IIS 6 
At my lab, we just consolidated some web servers and we ran into some problems with a CGI application for online surveys called Perseus SurveySolutions that stopped working. I think it’s version 5. We were getting a “CGI misbehaving” error which is a 502.2 in the log files. For IIS 5, in addition to the 502 generic error message I used to be able to see all output to stdout (and probably stderr) in my browser window. Unfortunately, IIS 6 does not allow the output to be displayed.

I had a hunch that the program was crashing and printing something other than a valid header such as “Content-type: text/html” (and two newlines). Unfortunately, the program ran just fine from the command line.

Luckily, after much searching I found mention online of an “nph-“ prefix that can be placed at the beginning of an executable CGI (*.exe) that will allow all output to be sent to the browser (example: nph-foo.exe). The NPH is for “no parsing of headers” apparently. You’ll probably get a file download dialog when using this trick and the default file name to save will end with “.exe” the same as your CGI executable; however this is actually text (assuming your CGI only outputs text) so just change the extension when you save. Also, if you have web service extensions enabled then you will have to explicitly give permission to your “nph-*.exe” so that it can be run by IIS.

Once I did this I got some informative errors that Perseus (which is compiled Perl) was trying to write to “C:\WINNT\Temp\pdk-IUSR_IMTCWWW” and was failing due to permissions. The problem was that IUSR is the restricted user that executes CGI and didn’t have permissions to write to its temp directory. I suspect this had something to do with an in-place OS upgrade or the copying of files from one server to another and that directory was a leftover from a previous install. In any case, just deleting the directory and letting it be recreated fixed the problem!

Here's where MSFT's limited documentation of "nph" resides:

Info about NPH in IIS 6

And here's an informative newsgroup post from a msft employee about configuring CGI executables in IIS 6.

Newsgroup Post about CGI under IIS 6

(2nd post by David Wang [Msft] is the one to read)

Finally, here is a program I didn’t use but sounds like it could be useful for debugging CGI. It’s basically a Lint program for CGI.


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HDD Health 
I’ve been using some hard disk monitoring software to get reports from my hard drive about its health using "Self Monitoring and Reporting Technology" (SMART). Most HDDs support SMART. You can get reports about various errors, and get predictions of when the drive is expected to die. Right now, mine is predicted to die 3/8/2008 due to "power on hours." However, I’m also concerned about my "raw read error rate."

I’m using freeware HDD Health v2.1 build 159 from Panterasoft for my WindowsXP machine at work. I haven't set up drive monitoring on my Ubuntu machine at home yet. HDD Health appears to work just fine. My only complaint is that my "raw read error rate" changes fairly often and everytime this value changes, a pop-up notification window appears. This can be a bit annoying.

This competing product website (costs money for their software) has an informative FAQ about SMART stats.

The Wikipedia article above has some suggestions for the most important metrics, but I think spin-up time should also be an important parameter to watch for, since it will possibly indicate failing motors/bearings. Finally, this Google paper has some interesting analysis of SMART statistics. One conclusion they made is that SMART stats are not accurate for predicting failure.

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Note to self: DreamHost looks like a good option for cheap web hosting. I'll have to look into it more, but I like the idea of having MYSQL.

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