Thursday, April 28, 2016

What to write ...

Nooo !
Not writing about games again today. At least not directly. I have just dragged myself out of a session with the Planetbase Pixel People though. Sticky Wicket Base is steadily growing and I think I'll be able to keep going with it until it reaches the max.

Wait - I said I wasn't going to talk about games. I thought I would tap out a few words though about the words that appear here. How do I choose them ? It's pretty random isn't it ?

One of the way my brain works is that someone will ask me a question and I'll have a quick answer fast but the whole answer takes a little thinking about. Or I'll have something in my mind that's been eaten away at my sanity and the fix is to sort out those thoughts and write a few of them here. I might be reacting to something I've seen, like the Prince and Golden Oldie singers post.

I like it when I have an onrunning theme to talk about, like the Photo Challenge posts, the A to Z music posts and the Alphabet of the Human Heart posts. Memes too. You could call that easy content but that can belittle the amount of thought and self that can go into those posts. Especially the memes and the Alphabet posts. I'll miss the Alphabet posts when I've gotten to Z.

But that question thing is a big trigger. I do like to put stuff here that I think people will want to read and part of that challenge is picking out subjects that other people are interested in and that I can produce a good post around.

And then there's the keeping it positive angle. There are lots of things that annoy me in this world. It would be better without a lot of the people who are in it but I'm not going to be the one who chooses who shouldn't be here. Cyclists shouldn't ride on the pavements (especially when there is a cycle path provided for them). Why is discrimination still a thing ? And why are some people just genuine arseholes.

I've been following the debate around Warcraft's so called private servers. I'm not going to give an opinion on that. Ok, I think they're silly people. I do have nostalgia for when I first played Warcraft but nostalgia is something that should just remain as a fond memory. Things improve over time.

The mention of Warcraft actually brings me back to a trigger for this post ...

A lovely lady asked me the question "What games do you enjoy most ?" And I didn't have a ready answer. Of the games I've most recently played :

Astronest - iOS empire building game. I've given this one up because it was just clicking and seeing numbers change. No skill outside of pay to win.
Elite Dangerous - I enjoy the nomadic life in this game. I haven't been enjoying the rank progression grind. Not long left in that and then I can go back to wandering, trading, exploring, maybe a little combat too. But I would call it more cathartic than enjoyment.
Planetbase - oh yes. I have been happily losing myself in this one and am up to 22 hours played already. I suspect I will play this one until I have all of the achievements. That will take a while.
Deus Ex Human Revolution - lots of enjoyment in this one. It isn't as flexible as some games but what it does, it does extremely well. It has an interesting storyline and some comedy easter eggs thrown in too.
Mass Effect series - these were amazing, combining excellent gameplay with a compelling storyline. Somehow, after playing the first two games to death, I haven't replayed number 3 yet. It is a very fitting and very dark conclusion to the trilogy. And those feels in there ...

I put a lot of time into Settlers IV and Defense Grid. That's mostly putting my hyperactive mind into a set routine to keep it busy though, perhaps aiming for a high score. Not so much the enjoyment factor.

And then there are the older ones like :
Master Of Orion 2 - Another catharsis game. It keeps my brain busy. I need that sense, otherwise fidgeting will take over.
XWing and Tie Fighter - I loved these 20 years ago but now ? They are very dated and the gameplay mechanics and mission set up is ... painful.
X Beyond the Frontier - this was a spiritual successor to the original Elite games but somehow it just wasn't satisfying. There was far more in it compared to modern Elite but it was somehow missing a soul. Or was it the certain knowledge that there was tonnes of grinding to do in order to set up a trading and manufacturing empire to build the end game items that were otherwise unavailable.

It's back to that Enjoyment thing.

We should do what we enjoy. It's awesome when you find a job that lets you combine enjoyment with getting things done. I have to admit, I'm missing the enjoyment where I am at the moment. The people are good but what I work on isn't technical enough to keep me interested. Most of the time at least. I've been reading a document today that will shape the future of one of the projects I'm involved with.

Oh and it satisfies my engineering solutioneering geekery too. There is a task (which I can't go into here) which has a number of ways in which it can be done and the challenge is to find the best way to do it. And there are multiple ideas for how it can be done.

I like figuring out how to do stuff. I'll either figure it out on my own, or I'll adapt what I see from other people. With this writing, the style is mostly my own but it borrows a little from every person I've spoken to or every bit of writing I've read.

Well. Apart from tabloids perhaps.

I'm rambling now - better leg it !

If there's a subject you would like me to cover, or a meme you find interesting, questions you would like answering (see below), let me know.

There is a line though - I do like to keep things positive. It's things like praising the lovely Chrissa streamer person, or Enter Elysium for his videos (see right hand side for links) but not saying anything at all about the people who I have stopped watching because their content is just plain bad now. While I'll be hooked on the Chrissa/EE streams, I've turned off other ones quickly because I find them annoying.

Who are the annoying ones ? I'm not putting that here. It's a negative thought and there is far too much toxic aggressive negativity on the internet already. There are also those who tune into something and try and change it. If they were interested, why are they wanting to change it ? (Star Wars fanbois take note)

Encourage the creativity, praise the good, walk away from the bad.

PS Forgot a game ! Rebel Galaxy had a good start for me. I was enjoying it and then hit a breakpoint where you go from the starter system into the next and the difficulty ramps up. I should really go back in and investigate the story more. Tomorrow. Maybe !

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Pixel People Need Proper Diets Too

I wrote the other day about a game called Planetbase ...

You could say that it has my attention at the moment. One genre of game I do enjoy is the builder game. It's the sort of game where you just sit back and watch things happen as they unfold in front of you. It's a more restful type of game.

Other games like shooty games tend to wear me out fairly quickly. Plus they have typical break points like the end of a scenario or a mission, with the break point being an ideal point to stop and walk away from the game for a while.

Builder games tend to be a bit different. In Planetbase, one of the mechanics is power. You have solar power and wind power available, although some planets stop one or the other from being available. The starter planet is easy though and allows both. It does mean that your colony is at the mercy of the elements, with solar power only being available in the day (I bet you guessed that already) and wind power only being there when ... yep. You don't need me to tell you that. The colony also has big batteries too.

One "Just a little more !!" compulsion this game has is "will the lights stay on through the night ?"

Another is - will the food supply hold out ? Will the sleeping colonists run out of air ? Will the stupid idiots actually make some medicine !!! (they were taking an essential component everywhere except where the medicine is made and we had a few colonists suffering from broken bones due to mine accidents)

You can probably tell I am a tiny bit addicted to this one.

Pictures ? After Iceangel Base was evacuated due to a death spiral of starvation, I took a few attempts to start up Sticky Wicket Base. Yep. Daft names are us. The base on the airless moon will be called Mysteron Base and the ice planet will be Rain Stopped Play Base. The lightning planet may have to be Is There A Little Static In The Air Base.
Click for bigger as usual !

That's Sticky Wicket Base as it stands at the moment. I have just under 40 colonists now, up from 7 at the start. The base is actually overproducing on food and mostly has plenty of air. Both are a limited quantity. What's holding it back at the moment is bed space. The dorm only has beds for 12, hotbunking is definitely a thing at the moment. But they're working on it with that construction zone off to the left of picture.

It was just about even on power but that is sorted too with more wind turbines, batteries and solar panels. The other limited resource is water, that's fine too.

It's a tough game to get started in. Which I'm actually fine with because if it hits the fail state where you don't have enough materials to make the things that get you more materials, then you can quit and restart quickly.

Other games are a bit different, they can switch into the Fail State half an hour or an hour before everyone starts dying.

They may be Pixel People. But they're my Pixel People and I feel sad when the dome they are in gets hit by a Big Falling Rock. (That doesn't end well for the Pixel People).

Yeah ! I'm really enjoying this one. It's on Steam for £15 but if you wait until the next sale, it'll probably be half that or less. It is defined by quite tight rules and those rules work well. It is simpler in that it has less resources than a Banished but for me, less complication makes it a better game. Because computer intelligence and complication tends to lead to abject frustration.

And frustration doesn't lead to fun.

Nah - what you want in a computer game is the possibility of failure because that is where the challenge comes from. If there is no challenge, there is no interest and no reason to keep playing for ... just ... one ... more ... game day to see how the Pixel People end up doing.

Proper Diet ? You have 15 different types of growing plant in this game. 15 !!!! Crikey that's a lot. But you can't just pick them at random, because that doesn't lead to good nutrition. Nope. What you need to do is match up the veggies like Lettuce, Tomato and Maise which makes salad. Wheat or Maise plus artificial meat make burgers. And so on. You need to mix in starchy planets too because the inedible starch goes to make plastic for building and other things.

There's far more in the wiki.

I am going to try and avoid the game tonight (says he knowing that I've broken that to get the screenie above) because a 9 hour session the evening before working the next day is Very Silly. Yep. I stopped at just past 3am with me emerging from my pit at 7.30 (erm, make that 8am). Oops. I managed to resemble a human bean today at work. I might not play until next week actually because I'll be busy watching other people play the games. I find that oddly relaxing.

Back to it actually ! The current one I'm listening to and half watching is Rimworld, which is another space colony building game. They land on a planet with air we can breathe, which instantly makes it wholly different to Planetbase. I'm curious about Rimworld too, although it's not done yet. I do have a fear that they are building too much complication into the game though. Complication not only leads to frustration, it also makes for a learning curve that's like a cliff.

As long as the logic makes sense, that's good for me.

Especially when things go wrong. Definitely when things go wrong ! Because you like to know how you messed up. Like this :
Click for bigger again !

Can you see the traffic jam at the airlock ? Only one Pixel Person can use it at a time and I repeatedly asked them to take lots of supplies to traders.

The queue got so long on both sides, Pixel People are running low on sleep, water, oxygen, food and generally getting very upset at me (especially the fella with the orange anti-smiley - that's real bad). Bad Sleepy. They got over it and I'm building them a gym and a bar. The landing pad just out of shot is being replaced by pads with multiple airlocks to service them and an anti-Big Falling Rock laser will be built in its place.

What this post hopefully shows is that I really enjoyed the long sessions on the weekend and last night. I found the gameplay compelling and logical. That's much better than my experience in Elite on Sunday where I found certain illogical mechanics to be intensely frustating and those mechanics are changing my approach to the whole Get Imperial Rank For Shiny Ship quest.

Anyone got any recommendations for games ? Colony builder games where you occasionally interact and they get on with things ?

iOS especially because I've just stopped playing one called Astronest which I got bored with.

That's the thing ! Stay in games as long as you find them interesting. If they become boring, switch ! Plenty of games out there.

Play for fun !

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Alphabet of the Human Heart - O and P

More Alphabet !

O and P today. I more usually see those letters together as OP or Over Powered, which I don't think has resembled me with the gaming over this weekend. Let's see -

Iceangel Base in the Planetbase game has been evacuated, I think I let too many people in which can lead to a death spiral as the over population breaks the food supply. And attempts at starting up Sticky Wicket Base (yep, going for the odd names !) didn't lead to anything viable. I'll keep at it because I'm quite enjoying the game.

And Elite was trolling me today ! Maybe 10% to go (can't remember what I started on this morning) and you think - a few missions, this'll go quick. Oh well. I am that next step up at last but also reached that fed up with game stage.

Alphabet ?
ALPHABET !

O is for Overwhelmed.

It's when things get on top of you, it's time to get on top of things. Stop, make a list, identify priorities, prioritise the priorities. Be realistic. Do one thing at a time. And the book has much more !

Yeah, it's felt a bit overwhelming lately. There's a few things happening in May and the one at the top of my mind is cosplay ! I need to find a realistic idea (Space Marine armour isn't realistic) that I could pull off and have look good. And I'd like it to be both ME and economic.

Apart from that, there's all the work that still needs doing on the house. I would kinda like to have visitors again someday but won't be happy until the house is in a fit state. I know, work on one room at a time, tick them off. Work is busy too, although most of work at the moment is running around after other people trying to get them to do what needs to be done. Some are good, some do what they think needs to be done (their assumptions are usually wrong) and some are a real pain. It is much better when you have your own things to do that don't require work from other people to support.

Enough about work - if you're feeling overwhelmed, take a moment to take stock. Write the tasks down, put down how much YOU care about them, tick off one at a time.

Talk to people about them. If you're overwhelmed at a daunting task, ask for advice, it can help you with finding a place to start.

O is also for Optimism
However scary it is - you can do the thing.

Optimism looks for the best in every situation, the upside of all the downsides, the yes in every no.

I like to think I'm an optimist shackled by my own depressive sides. The optimism comes bubbling out whenever nice messages come in from friends or Streamer Lady spots my jokey comments and chuckles at them. Yep. It's an optimism that is driven by interaction with other people. I do depend on other people somewhat for my own happiness.

P is for Perfectionism.

Oh boy this one is a whopper. You saw the From The Depths ships but you didn't see me running round in the background trying to make them as perfect as I could make them. Or the frustration when I couldn't find parts of the interface that I needed.

I hang on to tasks at work for far too long, because I want the output to be absolutely perfect. I'm doing better at that lately, because I'm recognising the valuable of Good Enough. And that can be something that doesn't have everything included, because giving someone everything can lose the important stuff in too much detail.

You have to give people what they need, not the perfect answer. Or put it another way, the perfect answer for someone will be an encyclopaedia, the perfect answer for someone else is the pocket guide.

What does the book say ?

"Trying to get something exactly right is the best way of getting it wrong. Perfection is a kind of paralysis. The tighter you hold on to something the more it will hold you back. Often the best way to improve something is to let it go."

This happens with the pictures too, where I'll spend so much time on the little details losing sight of what the whole thing looks like.

Last one for today ! P is also for Passion.

I spent so much of my life suppressing my emotions to a certain extent. I didn't let my feelings out. The passion was suppressed. I'm learning to counter that tendency now, although I still Think things about people and don't tell them. Or I just stand/sit there gawking and wish I'd told them things later. Maybe that's something from the past, where the occasions where I have let inner feelings out have led to people running away screaming (metaphorically).

"Passion has the power to transform your life - to reveal your purpose, your reason for being, your life's work. To find out what your passion is, ask yourself what you would do if money were no object."

I think I would look into running a boat. Either as a cruise around the UK and then the world, or a trading vessel. To go to new places, new ports. To see new things. I think this is why my head has been turned by the idea of living on a canal barge, although I'm nowhere near ready being able to give up work to do the cruising thing.

Perhaps 10 years ago, it would have been the gaming. Although remembering back, 2016 is around the time when odd things were starting to happen in the Warcraft guild and guildlink and Warcraft was pretty much my only game of that time. It was fun while it lasted and I gained a good few friends from back then, some of whom may well read this !

Time to go I think !

If you're feeling overwhelmed, talk to someone about it. They'll help you sort it out in your own head. Stay optimistic, good things happen, even if it seems really dark. Try to avoid the perils of perfectionism but to try to let your passions drive you. Being passionate makes things more exciting.

As always, if you'd like to read everything that is in this excellent little book, it's the Alphabet of the Human Heart (Amazon link).

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Missing The Greats

We've lost a lot of amazing people this year haven't we ?

Especially tonight with Prince. I didn't listen to that much that Prince released with his own voice but he was a musical genius who influenced so many artists with his style and music he wrote for them.

I haven't been doing too many open tributes for the people that we've lost this year but I have turned the avatar back to this one for a bit :
Little Red ... not quite a Corvette.

I haven't done a music post for a while but with the stories today and after listening to a Michael Jackson track come up ... yep. Here goes. Here's one for those where we very definitely miss their voices, their songs, their inspiration.

Victoria Wood too ! Here she is being unrepentantly Politically Incorrect.

What was the Michael Jackson song ? One of his better, Billie Jean. He always managed to match so much power and passion in with those dance beats.

Bringing them all together on a Sunday morning was Terry Wogan. He had the odd song or two as well. Definitely odd in the case of the Floral Dance. He was unforgettable as the UK commentator in Eurovision. We would tune in annually just for his acidic sarcasm. Magic stuff and like the rest of his work, totally charming.

It goes back a few years too but I miss some of those golden oldies too.

Bob Marley with Could You Be Loved ? I think so.
The legend that is Jimi Hendrix and his unmistakable guitar riffs in the Purple Haze.
George Harrison and John Lennon with classics like Imagine and While My Guitar Gently Weeps.
Everybody pays attention when Nina Simone sings. I hope you are Feeling Good.
That's Life though - we lost another Sinatra too sadly.
And then there's Johnny Cash, his turn came round again on the iTunes. I'll always enjoy songs like Ring Of Fire.

David Bowie too ! And another missed actor too. David Bowie provided much of the soundtrack to A Knight's Tale which I need to watch again because it was one the better movies that I've seen for a while. Heath Ledger made that movie come to life. His Golden Years ?

Artists like this make you want to Sing along. The Carpenters definitely do.

And then they charm you with songs like Son Of A Preacher Man. Little bit of Dusty.

Glenn Frey was one of the main members of the Eagles with songs like Take It Easy. I like to take it easy, don't stress what's outside of your control.

Pink Floyd's music was ever present as I grew up. I enjoyed their 70s stuff where Richard Wright was a major contributor for songs like The Great Gig In The Sky.

The thing to remember though. However bad it seems, keep on going. Remember those who have left us. Treasure their memories and their legacy. And ... The Show Must Go On. That's one of Freddie Mercury's last songs with Queen. Very poignant.

I hope we don't lose many more loved artists this year ! Too many already.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Space Colony Building Is Hard

I've actually been finding time to find one of those games that I acquired in the Xmas sales !!!

Hurrah.

Tonight was actually the second attempt after me giving up on it over the weekend due to graphics driver crashes. This is something that's been an ongoing theme with PC gaming. Console people see the crashes as well but the hardware there is tightly controlled, it's just bad programming and overheating that cause problems. PCs are a bit more wild west though, especially with software being unleashed that really wasn't ready for the users.

This is why I switched back to AMD for my graphics, after nVidia were embarassing themselves again. It's not just nVidia though, AMD have the occasional bad driver* too. One reason I stopped allowing Apple to update iTunes was because every time I did that on a Windows PC, the upgrader app would break my audio streaming. I'd have to do geeky things to get iTunes going through the firewall again after the upgrader confused the settings.

*(a driver is a piece of software that goes between Windows/Mac and the hardware, it tells Windows/Mac how to best take advantage of what the hardware can do)

Space Colony ?

This is from Planetbase, which was happily more stable tonight than it was at the weekend.
That's Iceangel Base, with the domes turned on. The colonists have to live inside, as the atmosphere of this particular planet is heavily carbon dioxide. That's not entirely a bad thing though because the carbon dioxide still turns the wind turbines for power and gives some protection against solar flares. There are other planets with no atmosphere and other conditions I haven't seen yet.

It's an intriguing game, simple but offering so much freedom to the player/colony manager. Also pretty hard to start off too.

Picture of what's inside ? Here we go :
As always, click for bigger.

I started off my colony at the top and wanted to try and make sure the colonists could get to where they needed to go quickly. The canteen in the middle of the hexagon acts like a central hub.

Pretty hard ? There are a few things you need your people to have ... and the initial conditions are very tight on the materials given to set them up.

Power for everything - and storage to get through the night. The column with white glowing stuff (bottom right) is a battery. Power can come from solar or wind.
Water for drinking, feeding crops, feeding meat manufacture (yep - artificial chicken) and most important, for cracking into oxygen to breathe.
Basic materials are bioplast and metal. The bioplast comes from starchy plants, the metal comes from the mine. Both need turning into usable materials from what comes out of the plants and the mine.
To heal injuries or radiation from intensely dangerous solar flares, a medbay is needed.

And there's more too. It has my attention at the moment. My first few attempts at founding Iceangel Base floundered because I tried to build domes that were too big, too early. You don't have the materials for that. You can't even fully populate the rooms with beds or machines because you'll run out of materials. I think the way it'll work out is that you have to build very small at first and then expand. The original colony would turn into an Old Town and later be demolished to make way for bigger, better domes.

The colonists seem to be behaving themselves too. They can be odd with prioritising the order that buildings go up, as in they'll try putting up a dome that can't connect yet to the main base because they skipped the dome that would connect to it. But they obey priorities for what you tell them to build first.

I only mention that because certain other games (cough - Banished - cough) tend to make up their own minds for what they choose as priorities and other games (From The Depths!) have AIs that ignore what you tell them. They're probably doing exactly what they were programmed to do, with logic you can't see getting in the way.

But this one seems simple enough to be as predictable as it can be for Pixel People that aren't under your direct control. You just set up the base, put the machinery/plants there and the Pixel People do the rest.

Yep. I was enjoying seeing the colony come together a little more this evening. The secret with games like this is that you watch them unfold in front of you, with you occasionally adding new instructions. What to build, whether to accept new people (I'm at the oxygen limit and need to build more generators). It's a relaxed gameplay style, which suits me just fine.

You deal with disasters too. Iceangel Base is on a planet with occasional meteor strikes ... And one of those just happened to hit the main power collector battery, just as a sandstorm hit. The Pixel People had to endure a cold night without power because my wind turbines weren't up to the job and the solar panels couldn't collect during the sandstorm.

Games like this can drag you in. But don't take my word for it, my attention was drawn to this game by a fella called Enter Elysium who has a couple of series on this game over at his Youtube channel (peek to the right for the channel link, here is a link to one of the Planetbase playlists).

Check him out, he makes good videos. Or at least, I enjoy them.

And if you're thinking that Planetbase seems very Martian-ish, I thought that too ! Except it's not so much one man trying to survive on Mars, it's the start of an organised colonisation with some ease of mechanics orientated towards making it interesting to play.

I may come back a while later with a screenie of Iceangel Base if it expands significantly. Time permitting of course !

He says with Elite open in the background as per usual with me on the crusade towards the big ship. Cya !

Monday, April 18, 2016

A Star Wars Nerd ... Awakens

Yep.

You knew it was going to happen. First chance I get, off to somewhere to pick up a copy of the new Star Wars film as soon as it comes to bluray.

(Warning - this post will contain spoilers.)

Because I went in to this one with very few expectations, I really enjoyed it. It's a film that starts slow and gradually builds as it reintroduces you to the setting, the characters, especially the new characters and what'll be happening through the movie.

So far, we've met Kylo Ren, the new bad guy. He's not nearly as intimidating as Darth Vader and the Emperor were. I think this is partly the point of the character. Bit weak though in my opinion. Star Wars is usually about black and white opposites, it doesn't do too well when gray areas come in. He comes across as an absolute master of the force, doing tricks with it that we've never seen before in Star Wars. But that isn't backed up by the ruthlessness of the proper Sith or the wisdom of the Jedi.

There has been Poe Dameron, best pilot in the Alliance. Watch out for his X Wing at the start. It's the wrong colour compared to the various toy X Wings (including my Lego one !) ... Kinda tells you that he comes back later after disappearing for a while.

We've met Rey, who is spectacularly good in this movie. Daisy Ridley plays the part incredibly well. She starts as a very young adult, abandoned and scratching out a living on her own on a desolate desert planet. This character drew criticism because she could do pretty much everything. A pox on those who think that women aren't as capable as men. In my experience, women can do anything men can, sometimes better, sometimes worse. They usually have more common sense.

Yep. Rey. Living on her own, being self sufficient, looking a bit half starved, later on being an excellent mechanic. That makes perfect sense to me, even if the character were a boy and not a girl. Haha and now she's beating up a couple of aliens trying to steal her charmer of a droid. Winning too. She must have learned on the Mixed Hockey battle fields. Not for the faint hearted.

BB-8 is another highlight of the movie.
He's like an advanced version of old favourite, R2-D2. Everybody wanted a BB-8 after seeing this movie.

There are a few onrunning themes in this movie, one of which is the devastation that can be wrought by the Tie Fighters and other weapons.

Oh look ! It's the new Millenium Falcon. Let's hope they don't bounce it off the scenery. Oops !

That's one thing about this movie, it speaks to the Star Wars nerd, putting people like us into the shoes of the people on screen. This sequence with the Falcon escaping Tie Fighters is magic.

Here is another nod - a crashed and abandoned derelict Star Destroyer. They're never going to try flying through that. Haha ! There they go. Yep. This film starts slowly and then unleashes the magic. it definitely has its moments.

I think I'm going to settle in and watch the movie now if you don't mind. Highlights (and lowlights) I can remember from seeing it in December :

Awesome to see the old characters (including the ships) come back again. Han Solo and Chewie pumped in energy as per usual. Leia's scenes were touching and gave the movie heart. She didn't do that much but I thought she was better in this one than in 4, 5 and 6.

Rey is still being spectacular. She's adding bossy strength now. I'd actually forgotten how good she is in this one.

The Starkiller base. Very silly. Whereas the Death Stars were small (and slightly less small) moon sized battlestations that destroyed local planets with lasers, Starkiller base throws bolts of energy across star systems by eating a sun. The ridiculousness of this is beyond measure. But it's Star Wars and stupid stuff like that is kind of expected.

Ok - how would I destroy a planet if not with Big Fantasy Lasers ? I'd use a Big Fantasy Rock. Prime example - a rather good book (name withheld cos this is massive spoiler!) has an Earth that has been uplifted to some pretty advanced space scifi tech. The alien horde attacking threw everything they had at Earth and then gave up and threw one of Jupiter's moons at the planet. Game over ... if our heroes could not stop the moon.

Yep. Big Fantasy Rock beats Big Fantasy Laser every time. And that's without saying anything about trying to absorb and harness a sun.

I said something about concentrating on the movie didn't I ...

My reaction when I watched this in the cinema, was along the lines of "I really enjoyed that, I like what they've done with the place." I thought it was a shame that the Expanded Universe of books was summarily trashed and ignored. Some of those books like the Aaron Allstom and Michael Stackpole XWing books were outstanding. Timothy Zahn's best writing is in the Star Wars universe, both from pacing and from keeping you guessing. And Chewie's end in the books was legendary. He goes out screaming at a moon that is being dropped on a planet.

(See ! Star Wars can get it right sometimes ! Even if the rest of the New Jedi Order series ruined Expanded Universe for me)
On that note ... Cya !

Sunday, April 17, 2016

A Little Brain Surgery

I did an upgrade today that I've been putting off for a little bit too long ...
Earlier in the week, I went eek as my machine finally ran out of space while doing a Windows update. Ok, not totally out of space but it ran out of room on the disc that Windows is on. What's in my machine at the moment ?

C: drive - is the one that Windows is on. This used to be on a 60GB Solid State Device drive which really wasn't big enough for Windows 7. C: is the one that has been upgraded.
E:, F: and G: drives are the drives from my old Windows XP system. I can't quite remember why I split them up, probably because I was thinking about having a peek at Linux again ...
B: and H: drives are a newer large normal hard disc. H: is where my games and most of the data goes.

How come it's like that ? It's an artifact of conditions in the world when I was building this machine which got called Pumpkin due to the date when it was put together. (Here's the post !) Basically, there was massive flooding in Thailand where the hard disc manufacturing plants were. This drove the supply down massively and with demand staying the same, the prices went up massively. It took a good few months before I could acquire that B/H drive (was actually one I spotted on discount when Best Buy's abortive attempt at competing with PC World went belly up!).

So I built Pumpkin with one of these new SSDs for speed and as big an SSD as I could afford at the time. Only 60GB but that should really be big enough. I've said before a few times that SSDs are fast - they are basically fast Flash drives. They have a number of advantages of the old spinning rust drives :

They don't care where the data is;
Data can be fragmented and the drive doesn't care;
They can get to the data incredibly quicking;
And chuck the data out much faster than the rest of the computer can typically handle it.

The only disadvantage they have is size. Now that prices have stabilised again, you get far more storage on a conventional drive than an SSD. Here's the comparison (from Novatech) at the £80ish price point :

2.5" laptop drive from Western Digital - 1TB - £79.
3.5" desktop drive from Western Digital - 3TB - £83.
2.5" SSD from Kingston - 256GB - £83.

Yep. In the same sized package, a conventional drive can hold four times as much data and a medium sized but very slow looking desktop drive can hold 12 times as much. So you put the part that depends most on speed on the SSD and put the data on the conventional drive. Sometimes, you put applications (games!) on the SSD too for better performance when they load in new bits. Most of the time, that doesn't matter but where the scenery changes often, it helps to have faster load times.

Today's latest bit of brain surgery was to switch out that 60GB drive for a much bigger 250GB drive. It feels weird looking over to a drive monitor I have to see 164GB spare, instead of the tiny 5-7GB spare. Due to the wastefulness of modern software, I was having to continually manage the garbage that people like nVidia (1.5GB in unwanted driver downloads going back almost a year) litter up the machine with.

Anyway - too much geekery ! How about the dusty bits ?
It can be a bit cramped in a PC. In mine, the SSD lives in the bottom right corner, screwed to the bottom of the case. There are two leads that have to plug into it and the current SATA connection isn't the most robust connection you could wish for. (Translation - it'll fall out of the socket at the slightest excuse).

One thing that has helped is that the new sound arrangements mean I don't pull the speakers off the desk when I move the machine. I can plug everything in where I have better access and then move it back to where it lives. This is really handy when things don't go as you expect. (Case in point, I had to tweak something to make it go.

Machine has changed over the years to being a bit of a FrankenPumpkin. It's still ok inside and works really well still but over the years :

Power supply - replaced.
Graphics card - replaced twice.
Sound - had to go to a sound card because the original silently went boom.
Screen - don't think I've replaced this ... yet ! (it's on the list)
Hard disc - now on its fourth ... None have gone bang, it's just natural evolution.
Processor, case, memory and cooling - still the same (Intel i5-2500K, 8GB memory)

It's still coping remarkably well. I don't notice any significant frame rate drops in Elite (frame drops are where the machine can't keep up so it cheats by making the screen updates less frequent) and I've avoided the recent games that really push the system. (Cos I'm not interested in the Far Cry's, the Just Cause 3's and the other half baked ideas that I find don't actually work well as a game).

I do wonder where we are going with our IT though. It seems as if the software people are increasing in incompetence and in a plan to wrest control of our machines away from us. They are needing to fund a business model that started breaking when IT got to a point where people simply didn't need to upgrade any more. The PC market is collapsing right now due to this. Apple seemed like a good alternative, except that since the death of Steve Jobs, they have forgotten that they used to make strong software for users. It's gone back to them imposing bad design on those users. Things like me refusing to update to iTunes 11 or 12 because I think the interface is an abomination. I think we're just going past the point where buying Apple is a sensible proposition. Microsoft with Ribbon Office, similarly an abomination.

And the software companies impose these changes upon us through cutting the backwards compatibility. Gamers like me had to ditch Windows XP because newer games could not support it. We are seeing that again with Windows 10 where games like Quantum Break are Windows 10 only. I can't run games like Elite or even the very simple (graphically) Darkest Dungeon on my Macbook Air because I am refusing to update the OS.

Personally, I'm hoping that this machine stays viable for a little while longer. It amazes me that a 4.5 year old processor is still up to the job of playing modern games. That comes from living in a time when you'd be replacing the engine of a machine maybe every 2 years because it couldn't keep up with the developments in hardware. Graphics have advanced, to the point where my R9 380 card is more than 4 times as capable as my old GeForce 760 card. But that's through massive parallelism (thousands of simple processors doing simple sums) giving power through scale.

We'll see where things go ! I doubt whether the software situation is going to improve at all though while the software companies are looking out for their own interests (making sure we buy again after 3 years of ownership) instead of just making good software.

I wonder if FrankenPumpkin will last until they stop doing updates for Windows 7 in perhaps 4 years ? Maybe. Until then,
I must try to keep all the right bits in all the right places ...

Cya !
PS the upgrade seems to be working ... making another tweak (56GB of Windows became 68GB when I turned compression off) has taken away some of the "Machine Is Working" type pauses I was seeing. Good times !
PPS There is a third type of hard disc, called a hybrid drive. £77 will get you a 1TB Hybrid drive, which will give a very appreciable smoothness boost on a Windows laptop. Worth a peek, although you'll need a widget and software like the highly recommended (by me cos I've painlessly used it twice) Acronis TrueImage to switch the drives over.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Techie Speedy Cars

Here's something I've wanted to natter about for a while ...

Hybrids and racing cars ! Technically they're the same thing now in Formula 1 and the Le Mans cars, although not quite as hybrid as the road car I have at the moment. First ... a few myths to dispel.
And a picture of the Shiny thing. (My parking is still about the same as in pic).

Myth - Hybrids are slow. Haha, not any more they're not ! As well as giving lots of mpgs, they pack quite a punch on the acceleration. My IS is a bit tubby compared to the other cars I've owned but it can go 50 to 70 when overtaking before it has got level with the car in front. The electric motor gives them quite some welly.

Numbers - the quickest car I had before was a Focus ST170 with 170bhp and 170lbsft of torque. The bhp says how fast it can go but is largely irrelevant after that. When you're going quickly, that's when the air drags the car backwards. You need a certain amount of power to maintain the speed, to balance that drag force. And that drag increases with the square of speed. Torque is the acceleration force, it's what makes the car go really quick and determines that ease of driving thing that lets you maintain a speed despite the road going up or down.

The IS300h I have now has a 180 bhp engine with 160lbsft of torque. So about even on the engine. (Actually thought it had more torque but it is set up for economy !). The motors put in 143 bhp and 220 lbsft of torque. You don't get Engine + Motor power though because they give their best at different speeds. They say 220bhp for the combined, which is plenty fast enough especially when you compare the mpgs to the old Focus (45 min compared to 26-30) and the emissions cost (£10 per year compared to I think £250).

Myth - You need to change the battery.

Nope ! There are allegedly Prius hybrid taxis going strong with almost half a million miles on the clock. How do they do this ? You know how laptop batteries die quick but mobile phone batteries last pretty well ? There are two danger points for batteries where damage can happen :

Battery too full - they heat up when you try and squeeze too many Joules (it's a unit of energy) into them, which is why phone chargers have intelligence built in that drops the charging rate when topping off. The heat is what damages the battery.
Battery empty - when this happens, the electrolyte (the chemical soup that is the bit that makes it a battery) starts dropping chemical crud onto the electrodes (the metals that take the charge from the electrolyte and send it to the bit that needs power).

Both cases steadily make the battery less efficient, to the point where you unplug that laptop and it instantly dies despite the battery claiming to be 100%.

The Toyota/Lexus hybrid system deals with this by putting a few limits on the system :
Battery limits - not too full, not too empty. The engine will come on to recharge the battery when it gets to about 20% and the system will go to the mechanical brakes when the battery gets too full. Still, hilly country can be a bit of a challenge for it.
Current limits - this is the rate at which power goes into and out of the battery. Too much and it can cause damage, so the system limits the current until everything is at the right temperatures*.

*(This isn't just a hybrid thing, that Focus ST took away maybe half the engine power while it warmed up).

That said, I don't know how the other manufacturers manage it on their cars.

You need to plug them in right ?

Depends on the car. My car doesn't have a plug. The battery recharges on soft braking and from the engine. I couldn't actually get a fully electric plug in car because I don't have a garage to hide the car in. And I definitely wouldn't recommend trailing a 13 amp lead from house to car ! Nah, I plug mine into the petrol station like most other cars :-).

They're too quiet and a hazard in car parks !

With respect, this is more about those people who don't look where they're going in car parks and blame their inattention on other things. Most modern cars are near silent these days, you hear the tyres on the road more than the engine.

They are quiet - but people in car parks really need to be using their eyes as well as their ears and the people who complain "Your car is too quiet!" were usually not paying attention.

Myth - the gearboxes are bad !

The Toyota/Lexus system is a Continually Variable Transmission (CVT). Instead of having ratios set by cogs with certain amounts of teeth, the gear ratio changes according to what you're asking the car to do. This can lead to odd things happening with the engine revs where the engine revs go high without much apparent effect in acceleration. Yeah, I see this sometimes. And then I switch into Sport mode and go ZOOM.

I actually quite like the CVTs. They use what the car has to the optimum. I thought my CT was a bit lacking in outright power but if you asked it to go, it gave you all it had. The ST would quite often bog down where it was trapped in a rev range where the engine had minimal power. The ST also suffered from a big gap between 2nd and 3rd gear too. If you ask for economy, it will make the engine spin as slowly as it can get away with for cruise mode. If you ask for speed, it'll give you everything its got.

And that goes for the conventionally powered cars which have CVTs too. Drive one, see what you think of it. Test out the throttle response, see how it reacts.

Hmm - any more myths ... I may come back to that.

I would heavily recommend hybrid cars. As long as you get one that is worth it for power (Prius Gen 3, Lexus CT) and meets that magic 10 seconds to 60 figure (for flexibility in the car, not for being a speed demon), then you get driving flexibility, low emissions (for that road tax) and can get great economy too. Wins all round. Oh and you get the novelty of hearing the engine of the car next to you at the lights and not your own. Some of the systems aren't as good though, balances of 200 bhp engine and 40bhp motor aren't useful in my opinion.

Racing cars ?
That's the Audi that will challenge hard at this year's Le Mans. It's a full hybrid, where the engine will be off when it enters the pits. The commentators regularly comment on how eerie it is to see these 240mph beasties roll along in silence.

Not quite as exotic as the Formula 1 cars though. These have a couple of motors ...

Electric braking assist - MGU-K, which charges up the battery when the car brakes.
Turbo generator - MGU-H, which works with the turbo.

The MGU-H is the exciting technology, although I'm not quite sure how it would help a road car ...

What's a turbo ? An engine works best when a set ratio of air and fuel is burned together. Too much or too little of either and it doesn't run well and you can only fit so much in the cylinders. Bigger engines give more power but they're also far less efficient. But what if you can get the big engine effect from a more efficient engine ?

Enter the turbo. These work by getting more air in, compressing it down. Higher pressure means more oxygen to burn and if you put more fuel in too, your little engine works like a big one. If you take a 1 litre engine and double the pressure of the air going into it, it's the equivalent of a 2 litre engine.

It does this by spinning up a turbine that works off the engine exhaust. But there is a cost here, it takes a bit of time to spin up the turbo as the exhaust pressure builds, which can lead to unpredictable behaviour ...

The Formula 1 system eliminates that turbo lag by having a motor generator. When there is no exhaust pressure, the motor spins the turbo up so the power is instantly available. When the engine is going Fast, the turbo helps charge the battery which they use as "deployment" to boost them from 200mph to 220mph on the faster straights.

That's the exciting bit ... but the F1 people are showing that it's a really difficult system to master. They have different aims though. A road hybrid is about cruising along using the energy store to even out the drive. A race car hybrid is about max power as much as possible.

I think I've rambled on enough for today - I hope I didn't descend into engineering geekery too much ! Here's the summary :

Hybrids - the way of the future.
Battery only cars - maybe a bit of a dead end until the infrastructure catches up.
Turbo assisted hybrids - very interesting technology ...

Oh and for the curious - the power of a F1 or WEC hybrid motor assist ... is about the same as what the Toyota/Lexus motor gives. Think about that when someone says the hybrids are slow :-).

Monday, April 11, 2016

In Game, Out of Game

I've been doing that flying round the galaxy thing again.
Ok, maybe not the epic trips that you can do in Elite but still bouncing around human space a fair bit. The area populated in the game is actually quite small compared to the rest of our galaxy ...
(click for bigger and legibility of words ...)

The populated zone is in the bottom right, with top left showing the centre of the galaxy. Our Milky Way is about 75,000 light years from one side to the other and we are 26,500 light years away from the supermassive black hole at its centre. The "bubble" as it's called is maybe 500 light years across. Small by galactic standards but still plenty big enough for the players flying their internet spaceships within it.

Wonder how big the Eve universe is in comparison ? (Answer according to wiki is about 7,800 systems to play in).

The difference with the Eve universe is that Eve doesn't have the vast size of the rest of the galaxy to play with past the systems in the game. I've been to the galactic centre once and at some point, I'll disappear around the galaxy. One of the other places on the "I've been there !" list is Beagle Point, the farthest system from our own solar system. I understand there's not actually much there but there's a certain explorer's instinct cutting in there.

As in all things in this life, you do need to focus on what you're actually doing though. One lesson I've learned and tried to take to heart (and then totally ignore!) is to have one aim and maintain energies towards that aim. So in the game, I'm ignoring the money making, putting off the exploring until later, avoiding combat (takes time!) and staying away from the various Community Goals that go towards getting players together in one place.

Nah - I'm all about that ranking up. You see to get this :
(Imperial Cutter, I've posted the pic before)

You need to grind out the ranking points. There are 14 of these for each faction, each needing a little more for each level. My Commander Iceangel is currently at rank 9, or Count and going up steadily through philanthropic efforts ... To get the Cutter, I'll need to go up to rank 12, Duke. Duke Captain Iceangel ? Don't mind if I do.

The Commander name comes from my Warcraft mage and I've kept using it because I think it sounds pretty good as game names go. My Eve pilot was called Keela Danne, which started out as one of those inspired (by the dice!) completely randomly generated names for a D and D cleric. I enjoyed playing Keela. She was a kick ass girlie who kept her party of adventurers alive through praying to a loving goddess. (In the table top game). Bit naive maybe but that's all part of the fun.

Anyway - there are various ways to get those ranking points via lots of different missions. What I've found most effective actually is just sitting with Elite going in the background with me alt+tabbing back to it every 10 minutes or so when the missions update. And then I'll contribute a bit more to the charities in the game ("Help us repair our station in the name of the Emperor" - don't mind if I do) for about half a % point of rank.

The sad thing is that this actually seems quicker than ferrying cargo around for said Empire, although it costs you a little money instead of gaining it.

And it lets me do other stuff as well - watch things, definitely listen to music (next album - Charango by Morcheeba), read stuff and generally chill out. It does mean I'm looking at this view a fair bit :
(That's Medupe City in Cubeo, it's proving to be a good spot). When I'm not out and about in the galaxy drinking in the light of the eternal suns as my ship drinks in the hydrogen fuel that makes it go :
It is a pretty game is it not ? (I wonder where that solar flare is going !)

I wonder how long it will take to get that Cutter while I'm technically not actually playing the game ? We shall see. As of the last check, I am 10% through Count, having started this tactic at 65% Viscount (the rank below) yesterday. It seems to be doing pretty well while I do other stuff.

And that is ... watching other people play games ! I know. Bit strange but I find it relaxing, amusing, somewhat compelling. Oh, one person has commented that the tactic is good for things like housework too. One mission, more housework while the missions refresh. Repeat.

See ! Games can be a force for good.

Honest.
Cya !

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Earning All of the Stickers !

Someone lovely sent me this pic yesterday :
Love it.

But how about dem stickers ? How do they fit into Life Of Sleepy ?

I put away the Launndry. I have to admit. This doesn't happen too often. I leave everything hanging on the radiators and in the airing cupboard until I want to use it. (This would change if it wasn't just me living here). It's partly down to me having probably a few too many Things than I have space to put them. I should look at thinning out the t-shirt collection a bit, keep the awesome, get rid of the mundane. As for doing the laundry, I do mine on the Friday or early Saturday so it has a chance to dry over the weekend. Very important to have those dry, clean shirts and trousers for work !
Sparkly things are awesome.
(Sometimes mundane is good though because sometimes you need something plain).

"I wore a bra today" - nah. Hopefully this will never happen, outside of doing something for fun. I would totally be up for going in drag if it were for a good cause. Although I do need to lose some weight. I'm not obese but I am overweight. I'm a fair bit over my ideal weight for the activity I'm doing at the moment and it causes a complication or two. I suspect my loss of sleep due to too much acid is down to being overweight.

On other people's weight - you should be exactly the weight that you are comfortable and confident at. I know some big people who rock that size. I knew some thin people who are really desperate to get the curves. Be who you are meant to be, whether that is tall, short, wide or thin. Own it and the confidence you have in yourself will make you stunning.

"I didn't spend all my money" - but not for lack of window shopping ... Let's see. Things on my I Want That list at the moment :
Tickets for Silverstone - both the endurance cars and Formula 1.
Tickets for Le Mans endurance cars. Entry to the circuit is cheap for endurance cars and extortionate daylight robbery for Formula 1 but I would like to do it again some time. Le Mans would be an epic trip. But ... it can be better to (half!) watch these things on the telly and get the full story, rather than the filtered down scope you get from being there.

Lego ! All the Lego ! I'd love a Millenium Falcon, which would get made into an Elite Anaconda.
(picture courtesy of the Twitter people)

That's a pipedream although getting the Lego Le Mans Technic car to build while the 24 hour race is on is a definite possibility. Only £80 from Argos ...

I'll regularly look up the music people and the games too to investigate adding more goodies to the libraries. But I resist spending the money if I think the price is too high. So although I think her voice is amazing, the Lisa Miskovsky albums are staying on the shelf at £8.

"Almost made it to the gym today" - I've never been one for training. In fact, when I did do regular training, I gained nothing in terms of stamina and lost ever inkling of my extreme running speed. I'm like Ledley King, a footballer who played for Spurs. He couldn't train because his knees were too fragile but was able to maintain a level of fitness and skill that let him stay in the first team.

I was a bit like that with the cricket. Using a bike*, doing a paper round and a lot of walking kept me fit enough to have a baseline I found acceptable for the cricket. And then I'd get match fit and up to skill levels during pre season practice. Cricket fit me really well because I could recover from puffing and wheezing during the reset between balls.

*a funny story from uni is that during the off season, I was cycling into uni every day. I gained stomach muscles. I'd never had them before !!! Awesome ! But come preseason training, I literally could not bowl the ball in the net. It was going everywhere !!! These stomach muscles that I'd never had before were triggering completely at random and throwing me off. Awkward ...

There we go folks - training can be bad.

"I didn't eat all of the chips" - I actually didn't yesterday and I won't tonight. HAHA :-) But only because last night was a raiding of the Chinese and tonight will be a pasta bake. No chips in there :-).

(and now I'm madly chuckling at getting that badge in completely the wrong way)

Last one ! "I didn't hit snooze today".

Ok, I did actually, all 3 working days so far this week. Except it's a snooze that keeps the radio on instead of turning it off. I'm weird (you knew that already!), I seem to find it easier to get rest in the morning in the hour or so before getting ready to work, than in the hours after you go to bed.

I need to find that Switch Brain Off And Find The ZZZzzz's mental programme again.

Closing time ! I just spotted this on Facebook too, which I also found pretty funny :-)
Hahaha. Spiders are evil. I am scared witless in the time between it roaming free, when I catch it in a trap and when I manage to evict it outside. Especially the spiders that are bigger than the spider trap.

Shudder !

I enjoyed my stickers, I hope you did too !