Monday, September 28, 2009

A to Z of me

Meme time :-) Or should that be Me Me Meme ?

I've been stealing ideas again, this time it's from my neighbour Cyberkitten. He hasn't got round to doing his yet though. Right - this one could be a long one, here goes :-)

A for Allrounder. For the cricket, I'd be able to do everything :-) I'd have seasons where I'd open the batting and seasons where I'd be a main bowler, although it always seemed like I'd be good at one and not the other. I could bowl spin as well as swing and seam. For the indoor side, I was most effective keeping wicket. And as long as I stayed reasonably close (and was awake!), I could terrify batsmen with sharp fielding.

B for BBC B. I've always been a computer person and it was Acorn's BBC B Microcomputer which started it all off when I was 5. Learned a lot from this special machine.

C for Cricket. Although I don't play any more (mebbe next year ?) the cricket still dominates. Hoping that England continue their amazing form (amazing cos it's a surprise ?) in the ICC Champions Trophy.

D for Dwagons. I like Dragons, of the various mythical beasts out there, these are the most majestic. You don't mess with dragons. That's dragons with an R though, Dwagons with a W is for my avatars. I've been using Pocket Dragon (link) avatars for quite a few years now. Big shame they're not still being made.

E for Evil Overlord. Much of my misspent youth was spent going for strategy games. Lots of mental exercise in subjugating those poor defenceless Bit Creatures. I tended to be a bit more Builder though than Evil Overlord.

F for Fragile. I have to admit, I'm rather fragile. I carry various long term disabling injuries from my ankles all the way up to my neck with sore shins, bad knees, groin trouble, back trouble and shoulder trouble in between. Some days are better than others.

G for Gamer Geek. Definitely a Gamer, definitely a Geek :-) I take things apart with my eyes without touching them, I can usually figure out how they work before resorting to invasive methods (translation, without taking them apart). Definite engineer (also see N below). I also get quite a bit of fun out of the weekly gaming sessions :-)

H for Hunter. As my Facebook page says, "Incorrigible Hunter of pizzas, teacakes and muffins."

I for Injuries. I'm usually carrying at least 2 and there's usually another that's waiting in the dark looking to jump out and surprise me.

J for Jokes. Always on the lookout for jokes and for trying to make people laugh, although my humour is more reactive than scripted.

K for Kind. I think I am. I'm not overly generous but I like to help people out where I can.

L for Lonely. No relationship for a while, Facebook helps keep me sane as well as the occasional dabbling in online games. I know some amazing people too, like the Snow Queen, The Boss, Ms Sunshine and the Crazies. But I do miss being able to share things with another person.

M for Music. I suspect that a music addiction has replaced my gaming addiction ... When I'm not watching telly I'm almost certainly listening to music :-) All sorts, from Enya to Iron Maiden with a lot of pop in there too. Lene Marlin coming up on the iTunes shuffle.

N for Nutter. Note of Warning : Keep Sleepypete away from caffeine. I'll usually go for the unorthodox solution where I can, purely because the unorthodox is more interesting.

O for Omnivore. I'll eat anything, although I prefer simple, traditional and doesn't run away when you chase it with a fork (like Spaghetti).

P for PIZZA !!!!!! (see H)

Q for Quiet. I'll usually go by a Yorkshire motto : "See all, Hear all, Say nowt." Quiet people can pick up all sorts of gossip, although my quietness is usually down to struggling to turn rapid thoughts into slower speech.

R for Round. Hey ! Round is a shape too. Perhaps not as good a shape for a person as one more chiselled but it'll do for me for now.

S for Sweet. This one's from our Snow Queen :-) Usually after I've said something related to K above, although it's rare that my words form an adequate description.

T for Toys. I don't go out of my way to get all of the latest toys but I definitely appreciate a well crafted toy. That'd be toys in terms of gadgets that fit their function without too much fanfare and without too much awkwardness. Most important with that "awkwardness" bit, as however fancy a toy is, if it's nasty to use it gets put to one side.

U for Unrelenting. (See Evil Overlord). Could also be used to describe what I can be like when I'm going at a task. Especially a task I'm not too interested in doing so that I can get it out the way quicker.

V for Vampire. When I broke my nose playing cricket, a few weeks later I had an operation to have it straightened so I could breathe better. A side effect of the operation was Vampiric Eyes :-) Literally blood red eyes that lasted for a few weeks. You can probably imagine how much fun I had with this, especially as a number of people on the project were rather squeamish :-) :-) :-)

W for Warcraft. Took over my life for rather a long time this did. I think the addiction is fairly well kicked now, hopefully I'll be able to resist getting the next expansion. I have to say there were a lot of good times with the bad but I'm glad I managed to escape a game that has a tendency to consume and twist those who get too deeply involved with it.

X for eXcitable. Ok, that's cheating but I don't play the Xylophone. I can quite happily go hyperactive, especially when there's caffeine involved :-)

Y for Young looking. One of my favourite games is Guess The Age. People always guess low :-) Will be playing this one again in 6 weeks when I bring in the cakes for my birthday.

Z for Zoom. Live fast, play fast. Run fast too. My bowling wasn't the quickest but due to building up lots of leg muscles from a paper round, I can run Real Fast. For a short distance and then the coughing, spluttering and wheezing kick in.

So there we have the A to Z :-)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

We really used these machines ?

Yep - I've got bored with the new games again and gone back to a few golden oldies :-)

The three classics are : Freelancer, Master of Orion 2 (no3 was appalling) and Master of Magic. Freelancer is one of the various spiritual successors to the genre creating Elite. Master of Orion 2 (Moo2) is Civ in space, while Master of Magic (MoM) is Civ again but set in 2 worlds with a huge injection of magic. It also gives Civ a tactical layer to join the strategic layer. Civ 4's a decent game but MoM will be a long time classic due to the magic and the tactical battles.

Freelancer's fairly recent and Moo2 just got released when Windows 95 came around ... Yep - this is RETRO Zone :-) MoM on the other hand needs special treatment. It's a DOS only game (remember those ? so last century) but one of the hardest programs to accommodate on machines of its day. The key problem is memory - it needs 576kbytes of Conventional Ram and 2.7Mb of Expanded Memory. It's extremely tough to manage that on anything but an ancient DOS machine.

At least, not without additional software help ...

What's the secret ? A little application called Dosbox is the key. It's a program that creates a computer within a computer. You run it on your Windows desktop and you have a virtual Retro style PC that should handle what you want to throw at it. Magic :-) Here's a link to the home of Dosbox. It pretends to be an old machine, running Dos while emulating the sound and graphics of the day.

That's not really what I wanted to talk about though today ... Elite hit the news this week because it's just turned 25 years old as a game. It was huge in its day, it did things with the BBC Microcomputer that should really have been impossible. The program itself was less than 22kbytes, the last email I sent was 15kbytes. There's more memory in the cache of my desktop PC than there was in the whole of the BBC Micro.

I smell an attack of Numbers ?

Elite - 22kbytes.
BBC Micro - 64kbytes on board
Modern Desktop CPU (Athlon X2-3800+) - 64kbytes of Data and Code cache. And there's two of these ... And that's just the bit on the processor that makes it go fast.
Speed of a BBC Micro 6502 processor - 1MHz
Variance in speed of desktop cpu - well, it's been hunting between 2001 and 2006MHz.

How about this Master of Magic game ?
Needs 574kB Conventional Ram, 2.7MB Expanded
(problem is getting all the Convention Ram, plus getting Expanded at all in XP)
I had that running originally on a machine with 408MB hard disc hooked up to a 80486 processor going at 66MHz, with 4MB of system memory to play with. Oh, it was a DX too, which meant it had a maths coprocessor. Can't remember what graphics it had, probably just a 1MB "I can make lines and circles" thing.

My current desktop has on its processor : 4x 64kB Data & Code cache, another 2x 512kB cache. That's a total of 1.25MB just to make it work properly. The hard discs have around 8MB cache each, or double what was available to the whole machine for the 15 year old box.

The desktop's memory runs at 200MHz, or 3 times the speed of the 80486 processor. That 200MHz is then multiplied by 10 to get the chip speed. And the ante from the maths coprocessor is well and truly upped by there being two full processors on the chip.

HUGE boost in numbers already. And that's before you realise that there is more memory for just the graphics board (512MB) than there was on that 15 year old hard disc ...

Processor - 66MHz up to 2000MHz
Memory - 4MB system to 2GB system
Hard disc - 408MB to 74+250GB
(the Windows folder footprint on my desktop would take 15 of those 408MB drives ...)
Graphics - "I can draw lines" to photo realistic 3d environment

Things have moved on a lot in the past 15 years of me owning PCs. They're a lot more capable now, although the software has bloated to make them just as responsive ("far less responsive" is more the term when we grapple with work's PCs). The games takes advantage of the new hardware but ...

I'm still playing 15 year old games ! Has nothing significantly better come out in the past few years ? There's some good (looking forward to Dragon Age), some appalling but there's no substitute for the excellence in design and simplicity that we used to see in our games.

Long live Moo2, Long live MoM :-)
And a very big thank you to the open source developers of DosBox for making it possible for us to still enjoy these old classics.

PS It could be much worse for the Retro machine ... My laptop beats my 3 year old desktop on everything except hard disc and graphics :-)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Orange Light of Impending Doom

Cars have personalities ... They really do.

One element of that is their feelings, you can hurt a car's feelings and they do sulk. Honest ! This is a certified (hey ! who said "certifiable" ?) MEng Electronic Engineer talking.

Do Not Upset The Ghost In The Machine !

Ok ok, enough ramble, time for the "what is an Orange Light Of Impending Doom ?" answer. Since they kicked out the old mechanical solution for keeping an engine working right, there's been a light that tells you when the Engine Management Unit isn't happy. There can be any number of explanations for that, from loose connections to broken bits to sensors that are lying.

The Orange Light Of Impending Doom started coming on (when it shouldn't) on Tuesday. No discernable difference in the car's performance and all the dials are in the midline, looked and sounded ok under the bonnet too. So I let it go for a day or so to see if it would go away on its own. No such luck Wednesday, no such luck Thursday. Which, with my driving profile (about 10 miles a day), isn't too much of a risk with a possibly failing engine.

Thursday evening was when I got off my backside to start getting active on sorting out warranty stuff, although I started ringing a bit too late cos the warranty people had gone home. Probably a good thing because Orange Light Of Impending Doom was a no-show today.

Huzzah !

How about this Car Personality thing then ?

I've been getting bored with this car for a while now. After the Puma, it's bigger, heavier and about the same power to weight. Which means the Go Power is about the same but bigger and heavier means it's not so good at going round corners. Ho hum. Probably a bad choice to go for another performance car after the original one, maybe there's a good reason why I always go Cushy - Fast - Cushy - Fast.

My mistake this time was to mention the boredom while in the car ... Car's have ears, if they feel unloved they'll let you know.

How did I fix it ? There's the olde philosophical superstition argument here too :-) I was checking out how much it would cost me to change car last night. The Prius I'd go for is the T4 model, about £20,000 new. Toyota's site says their finance stuff would be looking for a £7,000 deposit and £200 a month over 3 years. Guaranteed Future Value thing would mean a further payment of £9,000 after the 3 years (or you start again on another new one).

Very curious :-) Although with 20 months left on my car loan, it would cost a couple of hundred pounds more to pay off the loan than I'd get in part exchange. And it would also throw away the guaranteed servicing deal and warranty I have. So I keep my current car for another year and a half, which gets me more time to get more Green Stuff and more time for Prius Mk3's new now to get older and cheaper.

Hopefully the Orange Light Of Impending Doom (OLOID ?) will stay away for the 8 months to the next service.

PS I reckon it was Speed Bumps upsetting something. Cos the schools are back, I've been forced to divert to Plan B route to get to work, which in infested with speed bumps.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Square Eyes

If they say that watching telly gives you square eyes, what kind of shape eyes do you get from reading lots ?

That's pretty much what I've been doing lately. Listening to lots of great music (check out The XX) and reading lots of book :-) Oh and wondering what drugs the Mercury Prize people are taking to have not given the prize to Bat For Lashes.

I'm currently occupied with not one but actually 3 series of book :
Harry Turtledove's WorldWar series,
Larry Niven's Ringworld series,
Jack Campbell's The Lost Fleet series.

I've mentioned the WorldWar series before, it's set in the middle of World War Two but with a twist. Space Aliens invade and try to take over the world. I'm not quite sure what to make of this series, I'm three books in but it's a bit of a struggle. I want to know what happens and how it ends (I'm a little OCD like that) but it's rather long and drawn out. 3 down, 5 to go.

The Ringworld series is one I've had an eye on for quite some time now. It's penned by Larry Niven and is set within the amazing Known Space future. You have weird and wonderful alien races, who actually feel alien. These go from the cowardly Pierson's Puppeteers with heads for hands and extreme high technology to the fierce Kzin. For a Kzin, think 8 foot tall, feline, furry, claws and would probably eat anyone who attempted to call them "cute". But they do like being scratched behind their ears.

Ringworld is mostly set on an immense artifact, a circular ribbon 100 thousand miles across with a radius just under 100 million miles. And that's orbiting a sun. It makes the Orbitals of the Culture look small. The first book has our central protagonist Louis Wu discovering the Ringworld as part of an expedition including a puppeteer, a Kzin and another human. On their travels they encounter many species of Near-Human, the artifact has been around for hundreds of thousands of years so the inhabitants have gradually evolved from Human into many different Near-Human species.

The question of "why were there human-like beings on here ?" is a question that's answered throughout the four books : Ringworld, Ringworld Engineers, Ringworld Throne and Ringworld's Children. They're all well worth a read, although Larry Niven writes better when he collaborates on books. Almost like he struggles to get his ideas on paper, with the collaborations clarifying his vision.

Lastly, I've just finished enjoying the first book in a series of 6 penned by Jack Campbell. It's called Dauntless : The Lost Fleet and begins the telling of the tale of a fleet of Alliance warships that is deep behind enemy lines having just failed in an attack launched on the homeworld of their bitter enemy, the Syndicated Worlds.

Whereas the Honor Harrington books by David Weber can get themselves badly bogged down in politics, the politics is firmly in the backseat in Dauntless. It's still there but not nearly so prominent. Instead, you have battleships and battlecruisers pounding at each other with grapeshot (from railguns), missiles, Big Frickin' Lasers (I've been reading too much Register) and disintegrators.

I've only read one of them so far and ended up enjoying it enough that after about 100 pages, I ordered the second in the series from Abebooks ... I'd quite happily recommend the people I bought it from, just under £5, sent over from the States in pristine condition and quite quickly too. Abebooks can put you in touch with a lot of independent bookstores, the one I've been ordering from is the Paperbackshop Ltd in Fairford (in Abebooks as Books 2 Anywhere).

I've not just been reading the books though - England surprised everyone by winning the Ashes back. There's a strange contrast here to 2005, the last time we got the Ashes. 4 years ago, there was total hysteria over it. The 2005 series was a slugging match between 2 very well matched sides at the top of their games, utterly captivating because both teams were putting everything into it. This series was something different. The Aussies had lost several of their Great players and hadn't really adequately replaced them. England are currently in one of their inconsistent phases.

So we won the Ashes but no-one's really all that excited about it, maybe because it doesn't feel as if we earned them ... Which is a feeling reinforced by the rubbish we're seeing from England in the one day series. The players seem extremely scared right now. Scared of playing, scared of wearing the shirt, scared of playing to their potential and it shows in how they approach the game.

Grand Prix has finished now - time to get to the next book (Ringworld Throne), game and music :-)

PS Lol at the GP coverage, Ross Brawn just got hauled bodily over to the BBC interviewers by Eddie Irvine. Makes you laugh at the audacity of them to do that but what makes it more funny is the size difference between the big Ross Brawn and the little Eddie Irvine.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

I made dat !

I get a buzz once a month (ok, I get The Buzz more than that but work with me here :-)

It's when we're coming up to putting out a new version of the Volition Cult newsletter. VC is the group that I've been involved with in Eve over the years I've been on and off in that particular online game. They're a good bunch. Even though I bounce in and out of the game fairly regularly due to getting bored with it, I still try and keep up with what the boys are getting up to.

And what better way than to do a sub-editor job on their newsletter :-) We get contributions mainly from Agent Stone and Schelik Hill (in game names). They'll put the original stories in and then I'll come along afterwards and tidy up their language. I'll usually try and tailor it for effect too. It's a newsletter For Gamers By Gamers, so the objective for me is to do the proof reading without diluting out the Fun aspect.

It's a job I like doing, I have a craving for information and the sub-ed job gives me a sneak peek. All the positive feedback we get also helps :-)

Ok - that's enough saying how much of a buzz we get from sending out the newsletter. How about I give all you readers a chance for a peek too ? It's here, at Agent Stone's blog. Bit long though this time around :-)

I even get a writing credit in there this month, I usually just proof read but I added one or two bits in there as well this time around. I'm a Power Gamer who tends to dig into the mechanics of what I'm getting involved in. I'll try and take things apart (metaphorically) to see how they work, so I can play better or work better. So even though I don't have as much in game experience as others, I pick things up along the way on how to play better.

Lol - that's enough Eve for now, an apt statement as my sub just ran out today. The reason for the break this time is that at £11ish per month, that's way too much now for something I'm not getting any value out of.

Found a new group to listen to :-) The XX had their track Crystallised put up as iTunes tune of the week a couple of weeks ago. Grabbed it, listened to it, thought these people have a really promising sound. Ended up buying the album a couple of days later :-) Here's a link to Crystallised - check it out, they're worth a listen.

Talking of music, had a trip to London and back today with work. Which means iPodFM in the car all the way there and back :-)

Not as clean a drive as usual. It's 125 miles there, which should be about 2 hours at motorway speeds. Took just over 3 hours each way this time, due to traffic although I did do leg stretches there and back. It got me thinking a bit more, the various segments of the trip where I was at standstill or crawling forwards would be where a hybrid car like Toyota's Prius would come into its own. The new Prius has a 1.8 litre engine plus an electric motor. The motor can roll the car along at up to 30mph. Just think about that for motorway queues or urban when you're at the mercy of traffic lights. The engine would be off and you'd be rolling along on stored charge. Free energy !

Hybrids are the future :-) They really appeal to my Inner Geek, which appreciates efficiency in all its forms. Whether that be in the way certain people move, in seeing a gadget that just works with no fuss or seeing technology applied in clever ways that makes things Easier.

Any more ? Watched the latest Tarantino film (would name it but kiddies may read :-) and while it was good, couldn't help feeling that it could have been better. I dunno, maybe the excellence of Kill Bill, Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction have spoiled us :-) Good day for another reason, I got two hugs off RCA.

After my last post cleared my head somewhat and got me back to Positive Mental Attitude, I've had a rough few days due to my tongue swelling up on me (eeooo - saying no more !). It's almost better, which means I will now be terrorizing neighbours and nearby cats by singing along to iTunes. I'm currently chilling out to The XX from above after thinking that it really helps to have the iPod picking out the soft tracks for in car music :-)

This post has kinda jumped around a bit :
Eve Alliance Newsletter
New Music
Hybrid cars
More music

Check out the newsletter :-) It's hopefully a good example of something written By Gamers For Gamers showing how they enjoy the game they've taken to their hearts.

Oh last thing - another thing I sneaked into the newsletter was an oldie :

Something close to that has been my Eve signature over the years :-) Bit of an Eve in joke :-)