Sunday, December 31, 2006

Mixed Bag

A variety of topics for today's post, and there were going to be more but I've managed to forget a few. No doubt they'll pop up soon enough.

First up is one of the mini-rants that seem to pervade this blog. This time it's the turn of HDR in Oblivion. Now, I know HDR provides an enhanced gaming experience by reproducing far more realistic effects for an intensely immersive experience and blah blah blah, but seriously, what's up with it in Oblivion? It seems that every light source, every piece of metal, and indeed every freakin' tree in the game becomes bright enough to both blind you and cause severe sunburn. Highly polished metal I can understand, but when it's every damn thing you look at I can only assume they were going less for realism and more "this is all a dream....". I swear I saw uber-reflective stone walls.

Moving into the domain of "random things I've seen", how about this one. The Dunelm in Loughborough (hate the green logo on the site btw, it's meant to be more of a tan colour) has a big uber Main Power Lever Of Doom upstairs on the wall, publicly accessible. If only it was a video game where I could throw that switch to cut all the power off without the police grabbing me.

And my final point I can remember - a quick pre-use evaluation of my new PC case. I went for Jeantech's Phong II (protip: get a new site designer) because reviews mentioned it was pretty damn good value for money. Anywho, it arrived and t'was all in order, which was nice :-) The thumbscrews are a welcome change from my usual "spend half an hour finding a screwdriver before doing anything", as are the pre-installed and nicely large fans. It comes with a 140mm fan in the front and a 120mm fan in the back, which should be substantially quieter than the 2 or 4 90mm fans that I'm used to. Also very nice was the compartmented box of colour coded thumbscrews and other miscellaneous parts it came with, as well as the pre-installed rubber grommets in the hard drive bays to reduce vibrations that would normally be transmitted to the case. Pretty much the only change I'm going to have to make to it is a simple swap of the side air duct for another fan as it won't line up nicely with the Freezer Pro 7 anyway. If I'm feeling adventurous I may rig this fan up to direct air over the graphics card rather than just straight into the case, we'll see. Overall I love my new case :-)

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Calm Down Dear

Quote the Sun:

Evil dictator Saddam Hussein goes to hell for his crimes

Is it just me or have they forgotten how to report without huge excesses of emotive language. Personally it doesn't work on me anymore because they just go way over the top.

I also like the fact that our "impartial" news reporting outlets assume that Christianity is The One True Faith. What if god likes people like Saddam? Or if (s)he doesn't care about such petty human affairs? What if there isn't a hell to go to? Or if the criteria for entry are completely different? What if hell isn't a place of eternal damnation and suffering? What if there isn't a heaven/hell distinction and there is just one place where the dead hang out? What if our souls continue to inhabit this plane of existence rather than passing on? What if god's plan just didn't include anywhere for our souls to go after our death? What if we get reincarnated?

And when you come down to it, what if there is no magical (wo)man in the sky and when we die we simply stop existing?

Friday, December 29, 2006

New PC :-D

Well the parts have started trickling in, though some are going to be delivered after I go back to Coventry so I'll have to wait to pick those up :-( Quick specs below, and yes there's some odd choices but I have my reasons :-P

Case: Jeantech Phong 2
Motherboard: Asus Striker Exteme NF680i
CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo E6400 (2.13 GHz, 1066MHz FSB, Allendale Core, 2MB Cache)
Cooling: Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro
RAM: Crucial CT2KIT12864AA667 2GB kit (1GBx2)
Graphics: XFX 512MB GeForce 7950GT XXX (overclocked - Mem 1600MHz, GPU 610MHz)
PSU: 600W Seasonic S12-600

Saturday, December 23, 2006

PSP Games

My PSP is now on firmware 2.71 under DevHook so I finally have the ability to do a load of things that I couldn't under basic 2.0. One of those abilities is to boot game ISOs from the memory stick. Now this is technically illegal I guess, but I'm doing it for a good reason : make sure games are worth buying before I shell out cash on them. My basic plan is to try the game out and if I play it a lot then buy a real copy of it as the people who made it deserve the money. If I'm not impressed by the game then I won't buy it (and nor will I continue to play the rip of it). Contrary to how various organisations see it, I have actually made more purchases of real music, dvds and games based on my impressions from rips than I would have without them, my default stance is not to bother buying something unless I already know about it.

Anywho, my thoughts on various games so far:

Armored Core : Formula Front (Own)
This game has two of my favourite things - Mechs and insane amounts of customisation. Not a game for someone who just wants something they can pick up between doing other things, this takes actual concentration and a will to get right into the customising of your war machines. The ability to do matches on manual control or using the (customisable) AI is nice as well.

Wipeout Pure (Own)
This was the first game I owned for the PSP and I played it near obsessively for quite a long time, I in fact have gold on a substantial number of the races. If you've played previous Wipeout games then this is definately one to look for, if you haven't played one previously then it's still great fun.

Lumines (Own)
The first (and arguably best) puzzle game released for the PSP, kind of a tetris clone with a twist and really nice graphics and music. It's also very addictive as I'm sure Gina can tell you (having played it about as much as I played Wipeout). If you can find it cheap then go for it, or even full price but I just don't like paying £20-£25 for puzzle games.

Mercury (Tried - Buying)
This is another fun puzzle game, again one to try if you can get it cheap. Take this games where you have to tilt a marble/ball bearing around a maze and then take it to a whole new level. You're tilting a ball of mercury around a level (so it's almost fluid and can split up and recombine) involving conveyor belts, gates, moving platforms, etc etc. Very fun to pick up and play at random intervals. This one is on my buying list if I can get it for under £15.

Infected (Tried - Not Buying)
I can't say I was impressed with this game, maybe the first level isn't a good indication of the whole game but it just didn't grab me, didn't give me any hooks to make me think "Yeah, I want to keep playing this". This one is off my buying list unless I happen to pick it back up and find the rest of the game is orders of magnitude more interesting.

Coded Arms (Tried - Buying)
Unlike the above, this is actually a decent shooter. In fact, I've got it paused while I type this post up and I plan to go back to it afterwards. There's not much room to innovate in a first-person shooter, but this game had just enough to interest me and keep me playing, plus it's fun and takes place inside a computer simulation. A computer simulating a computer simulation, don't you just love it? It's like a Matrix game... This one's on my buying list.

Still To Try
Ghost in the Shell
Grip Shift
Dead To Rights : Reckoning
Ridge Racer
Starwars Battlefront 2
Fired Up
Twisted Metal : Head On
Gundam Battle Tactics

Overlord advised me to check these games out:
Sonic Rivals, Lemmings, Loco Roco, Pyuo Pop Fever and Outrun 2006

Now I just need to find sources for them :-P (the list above only included ones I currently have access to and was thinking about possibly buying, plus a few that I figured might be interesting)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


You know what's freakin' awesome? The trailer for 300, specifically the International Trailer marked "(12.13.06)" as found here. It's based on one of Frank Miller's graphics novels (remember Sin City?) and done in a similar awesome style. I haven't used the word awesome enough yet : The awesomeness is strong with this one. Indeed it is awesome as the critics have forseen. etc etc. The story of 300 Spartans defending Sparta against a million or so Persians. My powers of describing appear to be failing, watch the trailer.

"Madness?! THIS IS SPARTA!"

Monday, December 18, 2006

Save or Export?

Today's challenge to programmers is to explain to me exactly what the difference is between saving a file and exporting a file. I used to believe the following definition:
  • Save : Save to a file type that you might want to transport the data around in. For example, a spreadsheet application saving in Excel or OpenDocument Spreadsheet format.

  • Export : Save to a file type useful for displaying the data, or for processing. For example, a spreadsheet application saving in HTML, PDF or CSV format.

This always made sense to me, the formats were always where I instinctively expected them to be. Then today I went to save a spreadsheet to CSV format in OpenOffice Calc. I went to the export menu and no CSV was there, it was in the normal save list. This isn't a problem really, CSV was designed to store this type of data so it's up for interpretation where to put the option to save to that format. One thing I did notice during this however was that you could export to XHTML or save to HTML. Considering they are effectively the same (*), how can they split them like that? Is there some deeper underlying truth I've missed about how the two are mostly used or something?

(*) XHTML is basically just slightly stricter HTML that doesn't let you ignore the standard and still have it work, how it should have been in the first place really.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Newbies and Free Things

I'd like to start off an excerpt from a conversation on IRC:

<bracks> vlc is just for newbies that dont know how to install codecs
<Kemp-> ... I honestly can't answer someone who can come up with that line of reasoning
<Kemp-> operating systems are just for newbies that can't manually adjust the processor state by shorting pins out to ground or vcc

This was the guy who couldn't get videos to play properly due to a problem with installing codecs.

Is usability in general so bad that we've accepted this sort of thing? That if a program anticipates your needs and lets you just do what you want to without jumping through hoops then of course it must be for newbies and not good enough for Real Users?

In other news, I got some free goodies today from Crime Generators, sorry... Cash Generators. I bought a TV about a month ago (strangely not cheaper than buying a brand new one really, but they're pretty much next door so I didn't have to drag it across half of Cov) and it died the Thursday just gone. Not even an impressive death, it just turned off and refused to come back on (it wasn't the fuse). Anywho, I took it back and they tried it and confirmed it was dead, so they got me a replacement. During this the woman put the remote control in the bag which is kinda good because they couldn't find one before, so already I had gained something I didn't get originally, and they didn't ask why there was no remote there. Then they notice the TVs have been reduced since I bought them and it's now £10 less. I expected them to not do anything about that as it's a straight replacement and to my knowledge shops don't refund differences for that. However, the manager guy who happened to be nearby told me that he wouldn't mind if I grabbed a couple of DVDs to make up the difference. Win. :-) So because my TV died, I now have a remote for it and a couple of free DVDs. I'm quite happy with the transaction overall.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

NaN? That's Far Too Easy...

This thread on TheDailyWTF linked here and much hilarity ensued. Basically this guy has taken existing concepts (NaN, division by zero, infinity, etc), rewritten it slightly in a way that makes things basically suck and called it his amazing new invention that will revolutionalise everything in maths, computing, etc. He's even taken it upon himself to teach it to children at school. Here are some choice comments (and bear in mind the Wikipedia article on his new maths was put up for deletion barely 2 hours after its creation):
So, in order to avoid causing math errors from division by zero, this idiot has created a new batch of entities which requires special rules which are even more complex (which means less intuitive and more difficult to implement) than just "don't divide by zero". Obviously a major human accomplishment.

If math were medicine, this guy just invented a special new pill which, if you take it, one Planck Time unit before you die, puts you into a coma-like state in which you do not eat, breathe, communicate, or think, and in which you eventually decompose. Your legal status becomes hopelessly confused, and your doctor has to spend twenty times as much effort to deal with it as he would have to sign a death certificate. But it sure beats dying!

[...] the "inventor's" example of the calamity that would ensue if an autopilot system were to crash because of a divide-by-zero. Now, if instead we received a null, how would this carry through the equations/program used within the autopilot? Then the settings for the thrust, alerones, elevators, and everything else would become null. What do you do with a null? Nothing! It's just as indeterminate as the divide-by-zero you were originally stuck with. So if the resulting values are of no use, then what was the point of continuing with the calculation? You gain nothing by continuing past the null condition.

In CS, we have a term for this: an exception. When something happens that stops the show, you back out and try to recover from it. How does a null change this? Instead of immediately backing out (as the divby0 interrupt on any processor would do), you have to constantly check the "nullity" of your return value and manually back out. Congradulations, you've reinvented the square wheel.

What really scares me though, is that he's teaching this to his high school class. This isn't yet an accepted mathematical representation, let alone part of the curricullum that he is required to follow. So why is this being taught to high school students who will blindly accept his useless nonsense?

The part mentioned above is this:
"Imagine you're landing on an aeroplane and the automatic pilot's working," he suggests. "If it divides by zero and the computer stops working - you're in big trouble. If your heart pacemaker divides by zero, you're dead."

So how does he suggest it deals with a nullity condition then? Should the heart rate be increased? Lowered? Should the plane bank? Dive? Eject the motherf***ing snakes?

This theory is full of fail.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Linux + Usability

Further to my previous posts about gradually liking Linux more and more, I do have to point out that Windows has one thing on its side. It may be bloated, slow, unreliable and targetted by every virus/spyware writer in existence, but it's usable by (almost) anyone. The problem that Linux has, and will always have until the programmers start to pick their game up, is that it's simply not possible for the average computer user (ie, someone without a degree in computing) to pick it up and use it. Sure the basic functionality is fine, but once you start doing anything useful that Windows handles for you, like printing to a network printer, you start hitting the machine with large blunt objects. The problem seems to be a combination of two things:
  • No will to create decent documentation

  • An assumption that not only will you be familiar with the internals of Linux, you will be familiar with the internals of the tool that you only just picked up

  • Fancy graphical interfaces that actually don't help you at all

Until developers think in terms of usability, the approaching time of mass adoption will never, never, appear.

As a case in point, I have this article about one man's attempts to set up CUPS. I personally have been exposed to a similar task in CUPS and even with instructions from someone who's already done it, it wasn't nice at all.
Part 1
Part 2

I'm sure Sarah will have a cunningly persuasive rebuttal, but you know it's all true really :-P

Friday, December 01, 2006

Still Alive

I'm still alive, I just don't seem to find the time to post much. I'm going back and tagging random posts though (yay for Blogger Beta) so at least I'm doing something here. Real post soon, I promise.