Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Must give myself a chance ...

Tired again. Not really knowing which day of the week it is, which is usually a sure sign I'm needing to take some time off work again.

No chance ! Not until Easter at least, so I'll be kicking myself along mistreating myself for another 5 weeks. When you're feeling below par, it's always good to have a target to go for. A target to aim at so you can keep the energy going until the time comes to Reeeelax.

I don't have much sympathy for myself though this time around, I never do with self inflicted wounds :-) The reaction I give to self inflicted wounds tends to be "pointy finger - HAHA!" Nope, not much sympathy there.

So what's brought on the tiredness ? Lots of late nights playing games :-) (little bit of Olympics too)

Ah ha ! The lightbulb goes on for why I don't have much sympathy for me being tired ... Gotta admit, my lightbulb seems to be an Energy Saving lightbulb. You know when an idea finally sinks in to someone and it's like a light's gone on ? Well, energy saving bulbs take a few more moments to turn on and they're a bit dimmer.

Lots of stuff going on at work at the moment :-) Which is never a bad thing. I get a kick out of getting things done and dusted. I'd far rather be over busy than bored. And I can get bored very easily. We're preparing for one fella leaving the project, which makes a gap which I'll be stepping into.

That means I finally have confirmation on where I'll be working next month :-) I like a bit of security, it can be surprising how deeply uncertainty can affect people. I wrote a bit about uncertainty stress a little while ago. It's no coincidence that since I got the news of being headhunted for the gap, my confidence has risen dramatically with my effectiveness also going up. I'm just glad I'll be in a post that's not as much a poisoned chalice as some of the ones that I've seen advertised.

Challenge is good but professional suicide isn't. And some of the advertised posts step over into "DO NOT TOUCH WITH BARGEPOLE" territory due to asking too much from too few with too little. We're used to producing miracles and will continue to do so :-)

Preferably without dying while trying, so I'll see about getting some decent sleep over the next few days. That's why I'm feeling tired, I need 6-7 hours sleep a night minimum and late night gaming and Olympics watching has been shortchanging me on that.

Other stuff - got the car back, proved to myself along the way that I can still walk at over 4mph. Proud of that, the walk from Newport station took 28 minutes to do about 2.1 miles. That's not the full walk, 2.1 miles is when I got stuck waiting at a crossing, before that I lost maybe a minute. As I get more years, I like reminders that I'm not old and decrepit just yet and pushing for targets like that is one way I can remember how quick I can be.

Ahh - the car. By rights, I should have been livid at a £600 bill for parts not covered under the warranty. But when you're being told that by a young lady who just happens to be dazzingly cute and delicate, being stunned makes the anger evaporate as you try not to gaze :-) I shall have to do something about my tendency to cave when a pretty lady smiles. And I forgot to ask for a phone number :-( Doh !

Been enjoying the car, changing the inlet manifold and throttle control box seems to have given it maybe 20-30 more bhp. It had decent power before but now it has a lot more urge, as I was having fun finding out last night on the way back from gaming :-)

Games - Finished Mass Effect 2 and unlike Dragon Age (got bored, not gone back) I'm very impressed with this one. It's maybe a bit linear in how it presents what you do but there's sufficient scope in there. The town type areas are much more limited than in the first game but it makes up for that by far more detail in the combat and mission areas. The first game had you go through a limited set of identikit bases, the second is like playing levels in a first person shooter. The levels are all different and well thought out.

Top marks for Mass Effect 2 :-) However, the game that's kicked off the tiredness in a big way is Moo2. Here's a link to a bit more on Moo2. Let's just say here that this game has the power to keep me at the keyboard from 5pm on a Saturday through to 3am on a Sunday morning, kept going by raiding the biscuits with the Mini Egg supply also being mysteriously depleted ... It's a strategy game that still offers an interesting test as while I've discovered ships as unbalanced against the AI as the Ori ships in Stargate, the game can still beat me on Impossible.

Uhoh - I think I hear another Moo2 game calling ... I shall have to be very careful when I fire up Eve to put in a skill queue update.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sampling different transport

I used 4 (got it wrong on FB earlier) different bits of transport today ...

Had a day off work to get the car in to the garage to get its wonky engine fixed. It's been making a whizzy-slap/bang noise since last Tuesday, stuff like that needs checking out before you try moving the car again. First chance was today :

10am - Transport type 1 : start the car up again. It's been a bit reluctant to start since the problem started but I "persuaded" it quickly. Then there's a nervy trip across to Newport, trying hard to keep the discipline for a 50mph limit. Car drove fine :-) Brakes were ok and steering was unaffected. Just a loud bangy noise coming from under the hood.

The verdict on the car (so far!) is a faulty inlet manifold, which makes a lot of sense. It accounts for the bad starting, which was looking like a fuel/air mix that was badly off what it should be. It's not the kind of thing that gets fixed immediately, unless the parts happen to be on hand.

What I thought would happen next is that I'd borrow a courtesy car for a few days ... Oh well ! Best laid plans never survive contact with the enemy :-)

Next step - Transport type 2 : I walk from the garage to the train station. Only 2 and a bit miles. I'm badly out of shape fitness wise but everything still seems to work. Left calf was screaming at me within a few hundred yards but I applied "Ignore it and it'll give up complaining" theory :-)

This gets me to Newport centre (not really sure if Newport is city or town). And a trap ...

"Books for £1" says the sign in the window.

Doh ! I only bought one, Polar City Nightmare by Katherine Kerr. I enjoyed reading Polar City Blues quite a few years ago, so reading this pair should be good.

From Newport centre it's the train back to Bristol, making transport type 3. It's only a 20 minute trip but I still get a Jobsworth Fat Controller saying I needed to move out of the first class section and into the second class. Bit silly really, in another 10 minutes I'd have been off the train anyway. Sure, I was in the wrong part of the train but sometimes a little common sense is called for. Especially when first class is packed ... with empty seats.

Irritating. Customer service is king, going the Jobsworth line tends to push people towards other forms of transport. So while I've been looking into bus as a valid alternate transport to work, I'll be continuing to ignore the train option. Even though it's convenient for getting to a couple of places I go to with work. So be it.

Transport type 4 is the bus again. I'd have walked home (couple of miles again) but I thought it was a shame to waste the coincidence of the right bus turning up just as I left the station :-).

I'm back home again now, a late lunch is all done and it's now time to counteract the effect of calories burned by the walking. Yep - first Easter Egg of the year is about to get eaten :-)

Addendum - just had the call to find out what the damage will be ... £330 not covered by the paid for warranty. Grr. That'll be the last paid warranty I buy !

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Be my ... wingman ?

Most people will have one or two days of the year that are kinda like set aside as "Bad Days". 14th Feb is one of mine, it's a more jabbing reminder of missing having the excuse to pamper a special someone.

While I'm not the kind of person who will go out every night and I definitely avoid night clubs like the plague, I do enjoy heading out for a meal or a movie. Could be part of cabin fever, there will also be a hefty bit of wanting a better meal than I typically provide myself :-). I could cook much better if I put my mind to it but I'd rather be watching something or doing something while my meal is quietly cooking (burning?) away in the kitchen.

I'm kinda addicted to Input, I don't do well when nothing's happening, I'll get bored and look for something to perk up my interest. Like at the moment, I'm listening to iTunes while tapping this entry and I've just attempted to lip-read the lovely Isobel Lang doing the weather on Sky News. Or at work where I'm always very curious as to what the BM girls are getting up to. (There's less of them now because 2 have moved on)

I think that's why I miss being in a partnership. Whereas the outside world and PC games can be very predictable, ladies are definitely not. They keep you guessing as to how they'll react to what you do and keep you on your toes for not forgetting the important things. I also get a huge kick out of subterfuge, the art of surprising people. I'm pretty good at that too, I can usually hide the setups for surprises that I pull on people like the leaving certificates tailored to people who leave our part of the team at work.

But I do miss being able to chat for ages to someone special, to help them out or be helped back in return. Someone to steal the popcorn before I get my mitts on it. A person who'll be able to keep up when my Geek Sense takes over what I'm talking about. (This was the biggest problem with Evil Ex, I hadn't realised how much I was holding myself back). It'd help if she was a cricket nut too :-)

So that's why today's not one I tend to look forward to - I'd like to treat someone to a meal+movie, there's just not the opportunity presenting itself. Thought I was on to something with the Little Canteen Girl, she's a very likeable pintsized package of fun and attitude. I bet she definitely makes life interesting for the lad who comes into our canteen with a Huge Wide Smile when he arrives to take her home.

To take the edge off the loneliness a bit I'll be heading back into Eve online later. The Wordless Wednesday post had the "Surrender The Booty" t-shirt, especially for a little fleet we had on Wednesday evening running around our local space. It was fun, I learned a bit more about handling a little ship in the Player v Player stuff. I've been around Eve for years and have read around the theory a huge amount but I've got little or no experience in fleet situations. The Eve people are a good mob but maybe a little quiet, it can take a couple of noisy people like me and Luth to get them going.

Yep - fun but we ended up getting our collective butts kicked by a much superior fleet at the end of the night. I'll be naming one of my future ships "Brave Sir Robin", after my contribution seemed to add up to RUN AWAY :-). I got shot at three times and bravely legged it each time :-)

I've also been distracted away by the Mass Effect 2 game that just came out, which is an absolute cracker. I like the way they've tied in what happened in the first game as well as the contents of the two Mass Effect books published so far. It's a different game to the first in a number of ways but what's come out this time is some truly demonic humour. They've handled "passage of time" extremely well too, by showing that the universe it's set in has moved on.

So, been keeping myself distracted but it would have been better if I'd have had someone shouting along with me today while watching England make hard work of Italy in the rugby. Or even someone giving me a strange "Don't be silly" look.

Got a bit more stress at the moment too - on Tuesday night the car started making Whizz-whizzy-SLAP noises from inside the engine bay, as if a motor or belt is trying to spin up before getting unexpectedly stopped. It kicked off as I was pulling up to a roundabout and kept on going as I made my way to Tescos. It got me home and it's going in for warranty stuff on Tuesday. Hopefully it'll get there ok, although I'll be nervously taking it very slow.

Been on the bus all week, which has got me thinking a bit as to "do I really need to take the car in?" For bus - more walking = more exercise = hopefully reduction in girth. Against bus - dependent on bus times, less flexibility in taking that after work trip to window shop the Mall. I'd also need a bag so I could take work stuff to and from work (not something I need to do much). Cost isn't really an issue, my car is greedy and petrol has come up so much that £14/week for an all week bus ticket is actually closer to petrol cost than you might think.

Arrrg - I've rabbited on again and it's getting dark enough that I'm having to retype stuff due to not seeing which key is which.

Time to close again and think of another year going by without having the excuse to make 14th Feb special for someone. E-Harmony ads are looking more tempting ! Although I do wonder if there's a Princess waiting for me from a bit closer ...

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Off saving the galaxy again

Been enjoying HD again, well - maybe not as much as the HD Evangelists would have you think but what I've been watching in HD this weekend has been well worth it.

I've been quiet lately, which usually means I've been gaming again :-) Yep. Definitely gaming again, watching a bit too much telly too. I dunno about other people but I'm not sure how interesting it is to read when people are talking about gaming, which is why I don't post that much nowadays about it.

That said though, the latest one is worth writing things about. It's called Mass Effect 2, second in what's likely to be a trilogy (with more after that probably) where you are Commander Shephard, tasked with saving the galaxy yet again. (There are games out there that aren't centered around that cliche, honest!) It's a very strong step forward on from the first game. Different can be Very Very Good. One of the All Time Greats in strategy is XCOM1 - Ufo : Enemy Unknown. On the heels of UFO came Terror From The Deep, which was XCOM1 under the sea, same game different graphics. Mass Effect 2 is definitely not Mass Effect 1 with different graphics. They've done a great job of evolving the game. It's a much better game but the good but flawed Dragon Age.

Heh heh heh - that's enough about the game, there will be plenty of reviews out there which will go orgasmic over this one.

YARR ! Six Nations championship started again this weekend. I don't watch club rugby on the telly like I do county cricket but I'm always glued to the international rugby. It's very rare that you find sport where the result is genuinely in doubt all the way to the end.

It definitely increases the excitement of watching when you don't have a clue who's going to win.

The Six Nations brings with it 4 teams who always have the potential to win it all, with a couple more who give it their best. And because it's Six Nations, they all up their game considerably. We had one fairly comfortable win for Ireland yesterday, although Italy pushed them hard. England v Wales was one of the great games, not so much for the play but definitely for the "who's going to win". One of the best things about rugby is that there's plenty of scoring opportunities, it only takes a split second for that clever break to happen to turn a game around.

And this weekend it's in HD, courtesy of BBC's coverage. I'm currently watching a bit of trench warfare with Scotland digging in against the French. Only 5 minutes in it as I type.

Ahh - HD. It is better picture quality. They're paying proper attention to giving the signal the bandwidth it needs, so the little details aren't being lost in the mush of data compression. I can see the pattern of the grass much better and I think I can see the matrix of the advertising boards. However, I'm not convinced it gives you that much more compared to normal telly definition. Certainly not enough to make me think about doing all the necessary to get Sky stuff in HD.

Besides, who cares about seeing the grass better or the ads clearer, I'm wanting to watch the game !

So - is it about possibly having more dots to the inch or is it about giving standard definition telly the bandwidth it needs ? It's like those serials where the backgrounds are all pixellated because they're not sending all of the information. I'll quite happily recognise that HD looks better but it's not "it's like you're there !" That much better.

Uhoh - it's now 15-6 to France and it's looking like the tipping point is coming ... Time to get back to the game and hope a headache disappears before a suitability interview tomorrow. Think I may be taking advantage of the half time break to get fresh milk for the Coffee IV :-)

Monday, February 01, 2010

Progress is gorgeous

Things have come a long way in the computer world.

(long one today, with a bunch of screenies that will benefit from a click to make them true size)

One of the first that caught me and gave me that "Wow" moment was called Alone in the Dark. It was an adventure game, possibly one of the first to feature full 3d movement. It was limited but an outstanding achievement at the time. I wrote a bit about it here (linked post), although there's a Rant Warning on that post cos it was written while I was watching the extremely poor film that stole the name. Curse Uwe Boll to eternity ! And never let him near a camera too ! Muahaha :-)

There's a bit more about the game here too in this Wikipedia post (linked). Remember that this came out in 1992 and the game itself was smaller than your typical MP3 file. This is when home computers didn't have enough memory to hold a picture taken by your modern mobile phone camera.

How did it look ?

(640x480 - picture grabbed from Wiki)

She's just about recognisable as a person isn't she ? They got the sharp, pointy shoes dead right too :-) Note the simple textures. More on that in a bit.

After this one, games took a bit of a sojourn into being mixed between 3d environments and sprites. In a 3d game, a sprite is like having one of those life sized cardboard cutouts, which is scaled according to how far away it is. There was no sense of depth.

Let's leap forward a bit. A game I was passing time on last week is Star Wars : Knights of the Old Republic. It's set 4,000 years before the films, so its creators Bioware had the opportunity to run with a fairly clean slate. They did a bang up job too. It's a fully 3d game, taking in a form of the Dungeons and Dragons rules to run things from behind the screen.

How's it look ?

(1280x1024 - my picture converted from bitmap to jpeg)

That's my boy Finlay taking centre stage, with cohort Bastila to his side. The Jedi Council are in back, that's one of Yoda's ancestors there :-) He passed his English GCSE in time for this game, unlike the Yoda we know so well who only caught up last year (Newsbiscuit story).

I have all the bells and whistles and shiny things turned on and it shows in the screenie. There's more detail in there, people look like people, aliens look like aliens and the textures allow more detail in the background. Still a bit plain though.

There's a techie thing called Anisotropic Filtering at work here. The way a game builds up its 3d world is by overlaying textures on a frame. The frame is made up of polygons, with much of the work going into mapping textures to the polygons. And then doing all sorts of stuff to it. A lot of the detail gets lost though, which is where this Anisotropic Filtering comes in. So whereas Alone In The Dark had very simple textures, modern games have very complex textures with this filtering thing keeping the detail.

First time I noticed it was in World of Warcraft, where changing to a better graphics card let me see the stitching in the outfits that my characters were wearing. That's anisotropic filtering at work. Before it's mush, after it's finely detailed stitching.

Knights of the Old Republic looked impressive stood still. The action was pretty good but the detail is a bit limited. The main character only had about 6 faces to choose from and when you talked to people, it seemed as if they had just eaten one of those things that makes your tongue swell up. Not much scope for variation here.

On to my current favourite game !

(1280x1024, pretty options to Maximum)

I've played Mass Effect to death and then some. It's easy to play and has a decent storyline. Good blaster. As well as the screenie above, here's a link to the Wiki Mass Effect screenie page.

This one gave a Wow when I first started playing it. The detail level steps up yet again. The face you see there of the main character is highly customisable, as that frame the textures are mapped to is altered. The problem some of these games can fall victim to is to look a little too stale and clinical. That's tackled in this game by the graininess that's deliberately introduced into the image.

It works too. The movement of the characters looks highly fluid and there's lots of little detail in the patterns on the armour, the walls and the equipment the characters carry. There's still some limits with the non-player characters though, short dark hair is definitely in fashion in the Mass Effect world.

But - there's always room to raise the bar, which is where Mass Effect 2 comes in.

The first Mass Effect has you living on a frigate called the Normandy. You walk its corridors and interact with its people. The second game starts with the Normandy coming under attack my mysterious alien forces. You're moving through surroundings made unfamiliar by battle damage and you reach the top of the stairs. The doors open, all the air escapes. There's a subtle feeling that something's different ... Even on top of the battle damage.

And then you look up ... and see open space where there used to be a roof.

It's a definite WOW moment. I've only played a little of Mass Effect 2 so far and I can already see how they've raised the bar yet again with this one. Let's get a screenie :

More extra detail again coming in there.

And it just continues on coming. The extra detail being added in makes it look as if you can hear the leather of the armour creaking. Mass Effect looked great but the new one just makes it look "better". There's much more detail in the environments you fight in too, ME was all a bit samey after a while with a limited selection of area types made different by altering the layouts of crates.

Can't wait to give it some more playtime. I picked it up on Friday, just had time to scratch the surface so far. It has the usual Bioware touches. They have something about them, other developers produce interesting and technically good pieces of work but there's something missing when they're compared to what Bioware come out with.

Definitely a fan. But alas ! Bed time has come around, I'll emerge for work in less than 8 hours, so the game will have to keep until tomorrow.

PS You'll see another sign of the progress by comparing films like Final Fantasy, Beowulf and Avatar. FF made a good early fist of it, Beowulf did well but Avatar just raised the bar again.