Video Games

Redshift headlong into yesterday

Kudos goes out to The Sierra Vault for hosting scans of myriad Sierra Hint Books, provided by site reader Vasyl.

In the late 80’s and early 90’s my favourite video game developer was the Sierra On-Line studio; makers of extraordinary adventure game series such as Leisure Suit Larry, Police Quest, and Space Quest.

Accompanying sales of its beautifully immersive and exceptionally written interactive epics were Hint Books – unattractive stapled booklets containing helpful hints for circumventing obstacles, as well as a few red herrings to discourage using the book for anything but reference. The books were published in red and blue ink, with blue hint text obscured by red cross-hatching, made readable with an included red cellophane viewing card.

Yes, this is the biggest image I could find. :(

Sierra’s President Ken Williams was notorious for his hatred of software piracy, so in the pre-internet era these $15 books were a smart sell as they were equally desirable by owners and pirates alike, plus the rarity of colour photocopiers and scanners made the tactically-coloured text indiscernable in black and white. The books themselves were well written and gave incrementally more direct hints for each scenario so they were a worthwhile purchase by their own merits.

Most of these games will never be published again, and the proliferation of free hint sites has made the concept of the hint book unmarketable, so this wonderful archive is probably good for little more than nostalgia.

PC Apps

Two haystacks, one needle

I was very satisfied with the Windows Vista operating system, with which I’ve been on board since Service Pack 1 was released, and for nearly 2 weeks I’ve been floored by how awesome Windows 7 is.  7 shows many improvements, mostly with the UI, over its predecessor, but a few legacy issues remain.  The most frustrating issue for me is likely one that most users will never experience.

I have several email addresses – a couple for each of my domains, some old ones I can’t afford to abandon, and some disposable ones where I don’t care how much spam accumulates.  To manage all these email addresses reasonably I need a local email client that handles such a scenario elegantly.

Mozilla Thunderbird did the job swimmingly for many years, and I enjoyed it very much while I was still using Windows XP.  Thunderbird gave me the option of segregating each inbox or pooling them in a virtual catchall, did wonders with spam filtering, and was overall lightweight and responsive.  Unfortunately Thunderbird wasn’t without its foibles, and overall is a bit of an afterthought for the Mozilla team which meant there were long lulls between sometimes much-needed patches.  When I moved up to Vista I started looking for a replacement when I realized Thunderbird did not hook into the OS-level search engine.

After writing off Microsoft Outlook Express as a bullseye for viruses for over half a decade I was extremely surprised at how much I enjoyed the default Windows email client, Windows Mail.  It’s an elegant and simple piece of software that isn’t much more sophisticated than Outlook Express, but it played nice with multiple email addresses and it was a dream to be able to search my mail right from the Start button search box, even when my mail client was closed!  I was even more impressed by its successor, Windows Live Mail, which I use to this day, for having an even nicer interface.  Windows Live Mail doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles but it interfaces very nicely with many Windows apps, not the least of which being Windows Desktop Search which is core to Vista and 7.  It’s very handy to be able to call up any email by searching for some text I remember existing somewhere in the body, or to find a contact to look up a phone number or address, all without the mail client being open.

My only gripe surfaced when I installed Microsoft Outlook, which I use exclusively for work.  I have a zillion emails spanning many years in my work Inbox so search is essential, but what’s frustrating is that both Vista and 7 seem to prioritize the placement of Outlook search results over those from Windows Live Mail.  I tend to only search Outlook mail from the client itself since I’ve always got it open when I’m working from home, but when the client is closed and I’m on Brian time I have no need to search my work email from the Start button.  Worst of all, I always have sufficient hits in work email for any given keyword that my Outlook results fill the entire Start menu, so if I want to see more results I have to open the fatter search window which ends up giving WAY too much information.

I can find no way to prioritize my Windows Live Mail search results over Outlook.  It’s frustrating that I have no control over the search services which are so central to Vista and 7.

It’s inelegant, but I’m thinking of making use of Windows 7’s XP virtual machine for this situation.  I’ll uninstall Outlook (and my work VPN client while I’m at it) and reinstall them on the virtual machine, effectively making a dual boot to completely segregate my work tasks from my personal-use OS.  I suppose I’ll have to share files with the virtual OS as well, install the rest of the Office suite on there, and who knows what else.  I’ll have to make some network shares and map drives, no doubt.  It’s a kludge and I don’t like it.

How about some search love, Microsoft?