Monday, October 31, 2011

Brought to life on Halloween

Now that it's (almost) complete, I've been wondering if it was a really good idea to bring a new machine to life on Halloween.

It is a night when all sorts of weird things are supposed to come out to play. Oh hell, maybe this is the best night of the year. All the gremlins will be out on the town instead of waiting to creep inside a machine as you build it.

By this point you're wondering : What's he been up to? While my laptop is almost 2 years old now (and starting to feel its age, aka it needs a dustbusting) my main desktop PC was built in April 2006. Even with a graphics upgrade along the way, that's Oooold for a games box. What have I got ?

Cpu - was Athlon X2-3800+ (dual core 2GHz + tricks) to Intel i5-2500K (quad core 3.3GHz +)
Graphcs - was ATi X4850, now nVidia 560Ti (overclocked)
Memory - was 2GB, now 8GB
Storage - was 74GB + 250GB, now 60GB solid state + the 250GB which I'm robbing
Motherboard - was Asus, now Asrock
And the rest is fairly generic : Thermaltake V3Black case, Corsair 600W power supply, Samsung blu-ray drive, Zalman cooler and Windows 7 Home Ed

I've been building my PCs for years and it's always guaranteed lost skin from somewhere. This time, I don't think I've lost any skin (decent case design) but it's definitely broken one build theme : Software install usually takes ages, hardware build not so much. Here's the timeline :

Build start - 17.49 as I have the PC box out of its packaging and I'm looking at the power supply.
Power supply is in at 17.59 after a fight with the case.

The Thermaltake case holds the power supply in quite tightly but has something you need to unscrew to get it in that tight. The instructions supplied with the case are utterly inadequate. As in : "Place the power supply in proper location and secure it with screws." Nothing about unscrewing the widget. And that theme continues with the rest of the build, lots of "ok, how's that supposed to work" when putting things in the case. A shame too, as the build quality of the case is pretty good. I'd like things a little different (the top is riveted on, cutting access) but it'll be a very solid case that will not rattle.

Ok - next is the hard disc, which took 15 minutes to figure out where to put it. More rubbish instructions. It lives on the bottom of the case. It'll be joined by another one later from my old box. Plan A was to get a conventional 1TB hard disc, which is plenty of space. However ... there's been floods around the factories that make hard discs and the prices have hit the roof. A 1TB drive would have cost me £45 a fortnight ago. Last week that was £65, now that drive is £95 and rising. So I went Plan B, which incidentally gets me a quicker machine :

Plan B : steal 250GB hard disc from old machine. Buy 60GB solid state drive (SSD). The difference with the SSD is that instead of taking 1/1000ths of seconds to find Stuff on the drive including moving an arm over to it, the SSD takes under 1/1000th of a second. (Thought it was quicker). As well as the latency being better, the SSD can read many parts of itself at once, which a conventional hard disc can't do. They're just a lot faster. Anyway, 40GB for Windows, 20GB for what's called SSD caching where it will make a bigger conventional drive much quicker.

What's next ? Blu-ray player didn't take long, just 4 minutes. The case has a quick release mechanism here, one for 5.25" drives and 2 for 3.5" internal drives. I then rearranged the power cables a little to get them out of the way for the motherboard to come in.

To make it easier, it's best to put all components into the mainboard before you put that into the case when you have lots of access to all the plugs. Better before, rather than after when you need Tiny Fingers for Tiny Plugs.

Here's where the headaches start. To make chips quicker, they have to make them smaller. There's no pins on the Intel i7 2nd Gen chip, just pads on the bottom. This is held in the socket by something that in no way can be called "Zero Insertion Force". Around the socket goes the heatsink arrangement. There's a plastic surround which bolts on to the mainboard. Mistake 1 was to put the surround on before putting in the cpu. Oops. Nothing broken. I left the rest of the heatsink for a little later.

Memory went in at 18.50, this is easy as it is push-fit. One issue is that my memory comes with heatsinks which protrude upwards a bit. The memory heatsinks almost clash with the cpu heatsink and let to me moving them to the other 2 sockets. (4 sockets, 2 used, 2 spare).

The cpu heatsink I've used is a Zalman CNPS10X Extreme. "Extreme" is no exaggeration, this thing is HUGE weighing in at 920grammes. With domestic fans, bigger is better to a huge degree, as a bigger fan can be run slower. A slow big fan is much quieter than a quick small fan. Installation of these is "interesting" though. There's a bracket that needs to be "just so" before you can tighten it down. That took some adjusting ...

Next step - putting the motherboard in the case. Interesting Times for sure. The Thermaltake case comes with its own spacers for holding the board away from all the conductive case stuff. That mostly works but it took a little swearing and poking to get the board aligned with the screw holes. Board finished going in at 19.52.

Graphics was next. My budget is decent but still modest. I've put money into cpu this time with graphics being "average" instead of "amazing". I've got a Gigabyte GeForce 560Ti card, factory overclocked to 900MHz (10% faster than normal). Curious to see how Shiny that will be. By this point, I was ignoring the case manual which made putting this card in much simpler.

Graphics in at 20.00, side of case on at 20.02, with Squeaky Bum Time (first power up) coming shortly after. Another difference this time is that I could hook it up to the telly, so an opportunity to test in the open before committing it to its hidey-hole. (I need to move the sofa to easily get at the hidey-hole).

From here on, it's almost without incident (eerily). First power up went with no hitches at 20.12. I had a good check of the BIOS (the bit that runs the machine behind Windows) to make sure things were configured ok. This is also a good time in a build to go to "Hardware Monitoring" and keep an eye on the temperatures. It doesn't give "in the green" but stable idle temps of 30 degrees C are Good. You don't want that going up much, it means the heatsink isn't doing its job.

I started off loading Windows 7 at 20.17 and the surprising thing is that it only took 23 minutes from starting to being able to see the internet on the machine. Bit less time to get a Windows screen up but it needed to be told how to see the net.

I decided to call a halt after a bit more temperature monitoring. Was getting hungry and could no longer focus-ignore that ... I'll reconvene tomorrow after moving the hard disc across to the new machine. Then I can see how Shiny the graphics will be.

How about the name ? I went for a Halloween theme name there : "Pumpkin". Although my mind is now thinking along the lines of "Frankenstein" or "Horrifido".

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Happy Face, Sad Face

Life's often contrasts, things make you happy or make you sad in equal measure. I have a few of those at the moment :

Happy Face - my Battlefield 3 preorder came through today
Sad Face - looks like I need new stuff as the box says no Windows XP
(just means I chill out Sunday night and have a huge reason to not be lazy on Monday)

Happy Face - I should get those new bits on Monday for putting together later
Sad Face - I know that Better Stuff will be out by the end of the week
(Just means I go for less expensive bits and save 2 bits for later)

Happy Face - I have all sorts of great toys
Sad Face - no one around to share them with
(I love popcorn but I like hugs more)

Happy Face - I appear to be getting my leg back (the wound appears to be fading at last)
Sad Face - the days of me enjoying running around a cricket field seems like it's in the past
(shoulder and back don't have many games left in them)

Happy Face - Car's great
Sad Face - it doesn't understand me (it's great but not perfect)
(the voice commands have about a 50% success rate at the moment, apart from that the brain of the automatic gearbox is perfectly in tune with what I want it to do)

Happy Face - England annihilated India in the Test series over here
Sad Face - England got annihilated by India at their place
(not much really to say there !)

Happy Face - I'm on leave next week
Sad Face - the house is messy and seeing it will remind me
(I have a lot of cleaning up to do)

Happy Face - work is quiet
Sad Face - it won't be when the printer gets fixed
(work has its successes at the moment plus enough unexpected stuff to keep life interesting and "quiet" has nothing to do with the activity level, just the deciBels at my desk caused by a printer)

Happy Face - I show the car off to more people soon
Sad Face - lots of driving (that's not really a Sad Face though)
(curious to see what mpg I get on the long run)

Happy Face - Tis Birthday season
Sad Face - Amazon's wish list system seems rather broken
(been trying to order stuff for someone, that met with utter failure of the ordering system and their customer services)

Happy Face - Fireworks party next week
Sad Face - you kiddin' ? Tis Explosions !

And on that last, I'll leave it there and head off to my desktop PC for what could be its last gaming session. There can never really be a downside to recreational explosives. Ok, pet owners will definitely disagree there.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sleepy's Gaming : League of Legends Tristana

Can't remember if I've written about this one before which means I probably have and then forgotten ...

Been enjoying a game called League of Legends lately. I'd been doing what you could call training by playing with bots only. Me plus 4 on my side versus 5 on the other. That got kinda easy after a while though so I started doing what was intended with a game like this, that is playing it with other people. Just against bots again for now, I won't enter Player Vs Player until I earn more levels.

It's one where it's better played with other people because of the variation that offers but the sad thing about the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena games is that the community is very badly behaved. I've seen that numerous times already where people descend into calling each other "noob". Yep, the quality of insults starts low and commences digging. So I'm not going to enter PvP until I'm ready for it. I'm more than holding my own in the Player vs Bots battles.

Waitaminute - what's this game I'm talking about ? Here's a few links :
Totalbiscuit plays LoL
Riot Games - these guys make LoL.
And finally - my referral link if anyone wants to give it a go.

So - I'm thinking I'm being effective in this game and through that, I'm avoiding the abuse that can come your way. I suspect I'm helping to squash some of it by carrying some games on my own. I'm using a character called Tristana who has special abilities that I have a lot of fun with. Not so sure about the other characters in the game and I know I have to have another in reserve so I can switch when Tristana gets picked first.

What's Tristana ? Here's another link ...

She's a little sniper champion ... Abilities are :
Long range - the closer she is to maximum level, the further she can shoot. Sometimes this is as far as off the screen (I have a widescreen monitor)
Fast shooting - little bit of extra damage when you need it
Rocket boots - love these. Jump in, go boom, jump away (if you can)
Explosive shots - kill something (in game) and it'll explode and hit things close by
Buster Shot - fires a big cannon ball that knocks bad guys halfway across the map.

So - the main Master Plan is to Rocket Boot ahead of someone and Buster Shot them back to your own lines. Works a charm if you land it right.

It's not just the abilities, part of my reason for this post is to put up a Tristana damage build. What path do I take with items ?

First is a Faerie Charm and Rejuvenation Bead for a little extra health and mana. You can afford these when the game starts and they go towards a later awesome item.
At 920 gold, it's time to head home and pick up the Berserker Boots. They make you move and attack faster.
Next is Tiamat, a damage item that does a few things, the best is to make your attacks splash to nearby targets. Tristana does most of her damage from basic attacks so this item is amazing when given to the little Megling.
After Tiamat I used to use Guinsoo's Rageblade which sped up the attack rate. Not sure this now because it might lead you to hit the maximum attack speed.
Ok, not Guinsoo's, how about the Phantom Dancer. It speeds up attack and movement. Nifty item ...
A Player vs Bot game can sometimes be coming to an end by now but there's still 3 item slots left :
Next on the list is the Trinity Force which boosts everything, the highlight being that it slows enemies when you hit them. Stops them escaping ...
5th is The Bloodthirster, which boosts damage and gives you health back when you hit things. This combines spectacularly with Tiamat which devastates groups of bad guys.
Lastly is the Frozen Mallet, to slow bad guys down.

Right - stats time for the LoL readers who might come by reading this :
Berserkers Greaves : +25 attack speed, Enhanced Movement 2
Tiamat : 50 attack damage, 15 health/5, 5 mana/5, splash damage
Phantom Dancer : 55 attack speed, 30 crit chance, 15 movement speed
Trinity Force : lots
Waitaminute - here's a link again. And another link.

Hmm - I've been typing all this time when I could have been powergaming my build even more. And this is quite enough about gaming for now :-)

PS Very quiet at work at the moment. The colour printer is broken and I am denying all suggestions of sabotage.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Can we get an epic length series again ? Please ?

One thing that's been consistent is that when an interesting TV series gets going, the money people will can it ...

Just been reading about the new V, while it wasn't the best series it was (barely) good enough to deserve the chance to tell its story at least to a satisfactory conclusion. I was watching Chase until I heard it got canned, although I found out it was being canned because I was wondering if there was any point in persisting with it. There's other examples too :

Babylon 5 - lost its fifth season so 2 year's worth of story had to be compressed into one. And that earnt it a fifth season. It's spinoff, Crusade, wasn't so lucky. It was given the axe just as it was building momentum. Same with Firefly and Stargate Universe. Firefly was awesome from day 1, SG:U struggled due to a depressing setting but came out fighting in season 2.

Star Trek original series - was killed off early. Were they right ? The success of Next Generation, the spinoffs and 11 movies (so far) say "hell no". At least the separate Star Trek series had chance to wind down and close themselves out, although Enterprise deserved more of a run.

I was really enjoying Defying Gravity over its short run, it was warm & fluffy entertaining scifi. Outcasts not so much, that got a mercy killing as it really didn't have that much in the way of redeeming features with actors phoning in their performances.

I still think Farscape is the best scifi series to be on telly in recent times, it roared back in style after getting killed off by the networks.

What am I enjoying on telly at the moment ? I have series links going for Buffy and A Town Called Eureka. Buffy's always been good, although I'm not intending to buy the dvds. Eureka is a new one which I looked at because of its links with Warehouse 13. Top, top series both of them. Highly entertaining due to light hearted character interaction. Sanctuary is what Amanda Tapping did next after Stargate and she brought through a lot of what made Stargate great. It's fun to watch while keeping an edge in reserve.

I just think it's a shame that potentially great series get killed off before they get a chance to show off their stories. We have a saying at work for thinking like that : "Risk Averse". Well, if the networks are that risk averse, they'll never get the payoff that comes with all the merchandising for successful series.

So many great stories out there which will never get the chance to be told.

Monday, October 17, 2011

More playing on da interwebs

Yep - it's another car type post :-)

I dunno if it's the interweb growing over the past few years in how much we actually use it these days or something else but I've looked up stuff about my current car much more than any car I've had in the past. Ok, I did end up getting a few magazines when Rover were bringing out their new 200 (the second one) which eventually led to me buying their 420.

I think I would have joined various owners club forums for the Puma when I bought it in 2001 had the interwebs been as active then as now. For the Lexus, before I bought it I was getting lots of very useful information from the CT200hforum and (will be adding links to the sidebar after I finish this post).

Reading around those websites let me get semi-impartial views on my prospective next car. Ok, views from people who have owned Lexus at least but I view those as far more impartial as what gets written in what passes for the motoring media in this country. People like Top Gear can be entertaining but they're as impartial as a football supporter at a game. They have their favourites, everything else is substandard.

The Lexus people are a little different there, they have their favourites but can give detailed examples of why everything else is substandard. From my personal experience, Prius build quality didn't feel as good, Honda salespeople didn't want to sell stuff and the German cars were too common. Being common isn't really a bad thing but it does mean "not special". And I like to have things that are a little different.

I've had my Lexus for a month now and the impression after that month is :

I want to drive it more.

Things like finding excuses to go places in it, like I may well be heading off to a kitcar show next weekend. My curiosity in kit cars has gone up again now I've been introduced to CVT hybrids. They're just a lot easier to drive and the CVT/motor combination gives amazing low speed flexibility. I've said byebye to having to wastefully work the clutch a lot when in stop/start traffic and if I get caught changing up too early on a roundabout or junction, the CVT box takes that in its stride and just Goes. The Focus gearbox had a long gap between 1st and 2nd which meant you were stuffed if relaxed getaway suddenly had to become fast getaway.

Anyway, one of those websites I've found is, which tracks your miles per gallon. Here's a link to the stats that will be building up for my CT. gives a couple of little toys, it lets you compare your economy to what other people are getting. Mine is a fairly low 44mpg on the last stop, although the trip computer said 46.5. We'll see how that works over several fill ups. The accuracy always depends on "where does it think a full tank stops ?" which varies between filling stations. Like if the last station underfilled by half a litre and this one overfilled by the same amount, that gets the mpg of the trip computer.

44-46 is a bit low for what I should get out of the CT, although it's a lot less thirsty in the same conditions than my Focus was. That used to get about 26-28 mpg in city only driving, going up to 36 on motorway trips. I ran up the motorway a bit tonight and was reading 51mpg and rising :-) So that's 50% better for a car that's a lot more refined, has much better spec and is a "I want to drive this car" rather than feeling like a tool to get from A to B.

Fuelly gives badges too :


That's one that's supposed to go on forum signatures (I need to edit the name to something less boring) although it depends on the forum code being smart enough to run it. I've added a smaller version to the sidebar.

Anyway - that's me done for this post. I have a week off coming soon, when I'll look to build a PC capable of playing the latest games. Fingers crossed that Novatech drop their prices in time, otherwise it's mail order again. Kit car show next weekend if it's dry, should be fun.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Star Wars Conundrum

Just finished watching the Star Wars movies again :-)

The blu-ray player "upgrade" (ok, it is an upgrade cos it'll play 3d but I'm not convinced about the engineering) gave me an excuse to acquire the newly released Star Wars blurays. They're definitely an improvement on the dvds :-) George Lucas has played with the content again though, introducing some questionable changes. The sad thing about the tweaks is that the tweaks coming in recently are wholly lacking in any value or meaning. Changing the krayt dragon noise that Kenobi makes ? Why - there's no point. It doesn't add any value and arguably takes value away.

That aside, the blu-ray movies look stellar, showing off the quality of the original prints (probably enhanced a little along the way). It's the best you'll ever see Star Wars, although if they bring out a £d special edition (meant 3d but my finger slipped freudian-like over the shift key) then I'll be avoiding it.

What's the conundrum ? You see there's a long series of Star Wars books out there that pick up the story and run with it. I've not read them all, partly because the New Jedi Order series soured the books for me and I don't buy the books any more due to that. However ... the conundrum comes because 3 authors in particular write Star Wars better than the movies.

That's :

Timothy Zahn with the original Post Movie Trilogy, where the Rebellion has become the Republic. It's not smooth sailing though as the last Grand Admiral of the Empire, Thrawn, has returned from out of shadows wanting to resurrect the Empire in his name.

Michael A. Stackpole comes in with the outstanding X Wing Rogue Squadron series. These slot in before the Thrawn trilogy focusing on "how the Republic was won". You see, the events in Return of the Jedi are just one battle in a much bigger war. The Rogue Squadron series follows lesser known characters under the leadership of Wedge Antilles, who was Red 2 from A New Hope and also appeared in Empire and Jedi. In these books, all bets are off as far as the characters are concerned. Body count is high ... which keeps the reader guessing as to what's going to happen.

Aaron Allston brings in the follow up to Rogue Squadron, with Antilles starting up a squadron of misfits. Call it The Dirty Dozen in space. They're not criminals, they're just pilots on their last chances. These are an excellent successor to the Rogue Squadron books, grittier and funnier at the same time.

The thing about Stackpole and Allston is that they keep the humour running through their books. Which really ups the interest level in the reader. They also treat the reader like an adult. It's not adult as in 18 cert, it's adult as in don't insult your reader by treating them like a child.

There are many other Star Wars books than the ones by the authors I mention above. They vary wildly in quality. The Timothy Zahn books are the highlights but some of the others are very poor. The New Jedi Order series in particular is one long epic of depression which I gave up on halfway through.

The conundrum is whether to dig those old books out again to give them another read :-) It actually fits in somewhat with my A to Z, with a few of the books being candidates to fill those empty letters.

Another conundrum is in gaming. In the era of the 486 PC (16 years ago), a lot of PCs were sold by one game, XWing. It was a space combat sim which if you got through the insane difficulty, would let you take on the Death Star trench run. I missed that one but cut my PC gaming teeth on the epic Tie Fighter. Really old games couldn't rely on visuals like the modern ones do, they needed gameplay and cunning level design. Tie Fighter made you feel a part of the Star Wars world.

I don't think I'll dig XWing and Tie Fighter out of the attic though, they need a flightstick to play and getting that to work on a modern PC (through emulators make it playable) would be a major headache. We don't see many space combat flight sims these days, which is a real shame. The X universe is the only contender but I couldn't get into that. Eve doesn't count because you A) are crippled by lag, B) don't have direct control of your ship and C) get lumped with half assed attempts to implement features the gamer base doesn't want.

Ok - that's enough about old games and poor games, time to get back to taking over the galaxy as my all conquering Krogan (I recycled the Mass Effect name for my Moo2 master race)

PS If any of the Bristol readers want to have a look at the T.Zahn, M.A.Stackpole or A.Allston books, lemme know and I'll be happy to lend them out.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Tardis blue ?

Commented on Thumper's blog about a little Smart car ...

Here's mine :

Here's the Doctor's blue box :
(copyright on that belongs to the BBC)

Tardis blue ?

Maybe :-) But it's not bigger on the inside than the outside.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Random stuff

This'll make a change, instead of starting on one theme and then going totally random, I'm just going to add random thoughts :-)

Honesty is good. Although too much honesty can upset people if it clashes with the opinions they have of themselves. (I kept quiet with some of the wildlife at the Mall)

Yep - Mall run tonight. The Panasonic blu-ray player works pretty well now that it has room to breathe. It actually says in the spec "Operating temperature range : +5 C to +35 C". For domestic electronics, that's actually pretty low. I'm not saying I'd want to have my living room at +5 C (brrrr) but +35 is very low for kit that is quite likely to be sharing a shelf with something else. For that reason alone, I cannot recommend Panasonic blu-ray players to anyone. Hell, +35 C can be a daytime temperature in high summer.

Car :

Been enjoying the car more. The best analogy I have is that this car feels like something I want to keep driving, whereas the Focus was a tool for getting around in. Some of the first impressions need to be looked at again, because as I've got used to the Lexus, it's answered the questions I had.

Petrol and economy - mpg has been going up :-) Plus I seem to remember issues with filling up at the Cheltenham place in previous cars ... I'm now averaging 45.5mpg on the car computer in town driving. The Focus would have been guzzling at under 30mpg. One of my amusements when driving to work is seeing the mpg figure steadily go upwards while in stop/start traffic where it's running off the electric. I'll be crossing my fingers for better economy on motorway runs.

Driving the auto - one major criticism I have of my dad's Volvo is that the brain in the gearbox always picks the wrong gear for how I want to drive it. Not so in the Lexus, it'll hold lower gearing for longer and make itself ready for acceleration instantly. It has less power than the Volvo (134bhp combined vs 167hp actual, same weight) but feels faster because it wants to Go Fast.

Satnav - not really used this yet but one thing I put in the First Impressions is wrong, there's more than 6 memory slots, there are Many (100+). Just need to figure out if I can use the phone with bluetooth connection to let me pick a destination without being in the car. I think it's possible ...


How's the leg been ? Since I started using the cream it's been steadily improving. To the point where the fella I showed it to today (serves him right for asking - muahaha) didn't run off to the loo to be ill. Heh - it was never that bad and has improved a fair bit. Hopefully I get my leg back soon. Had a short run the other day and the leg as a whole behaved itself.

Music - not done a music post for a while. After resetting the play counts on the library at the start of the year, I've managed to listen to All About Eve's Devil Woman cover 13 times. Recent buys have included Kasabian (interesting), Aimee Mann (luvit), Ani Difranco (meh), Michelle Shocked (8>) but I've left Tori Amos albums (great but inconsistent) and Edie Brickell (too expensive) albums on the shelf.

Furniture shopping.

Hey ! Don't fall over with shock. I was actually inside a furniture shop. Didn't find what I wanted though. I don't want a TV stand (happy with the one I got from Craziequeen) which is all that's on sale. Nope. I'm after a hifi stand to put an amplifier, KeepMeCool blu-ray player and Xbox on. The choice is either £25 rubbish from Argos (it has to carry a 10kg amplifier) or something from PC World costing £53 per shelf. That's expensive overkill.

The reason a TV stand is out is because they are too wide, I want to save a little space with having Amp, Xbox and Blu-ray stacked on a shelf each and a TV stand is too wide with not enough shelves.

Any more random thoughts ?

Given up on Deus Ex for PC as it was making my PC cry. Also have a date for Star Wars The Old Republic (SWTOR) ... it's coming out at Xmas 2011 which puts a drop dead date on my current PC. As in, if I don't upgrade it, SWTOR will kill it. Same with Battlefield 3, after watching a couple of preview Beta test videos, this one is hitting my Interesting list.

Apart from that, I've been hunting for a game to bury myself in. Fairly unsuccessfully. I guess that will be Deus Ex, SWTOR and Mass Effect 3 when they come out.

Right - time to have a look at what Richer Sounds have in hifi furniture :-).