Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Recipe Time

And that's a post title no one would expect from me !

So what's cooking ? Let's take you through the ingredients as you mix them all together.

First. Prepare your work space and implements of choice. Dust free is Good, also make sure it's well lit. Implements should be fit for purpose and if they're magnetic, PUT THEM DOWN AND STEP AWAY ! Magnetic stuff picks up screws ok but if you move Iron through a magnetic field, the change in that field induces an electric current. Which, with sensitive electronics, is Very Bad.

Take your Thermaltake case and add power supply. (Novatech unit or OCUK). Gloves can be useful here so you don't fingerprint the box. For most satisfaction, go for extreme beefiness. Going lean tends to lead to fainting through hunger later.

(if not enough power is available, the system will "Brown Out". Think of it as a pastry which starts to rise and then goes FLUMF - flat as a pancake)

When the trays are prepared, turn your attention to the cake. For today's cake, we'll use an Asus P6X58D-E motherboard as the sponge, with a liberal coating of Intel i7 930 icing on top. Applying the icing is really fiddly, too much pressure or an unsteady hand can lead to big dents in your cake. Dents are bad. (Especially as an Intel i7 930 processor costs £180+VAT!)

So, we have our sponge cake with its icing but the job isn't done yet. We need candles ! Zalman give us the sparkly things here, in the form of a CNPS10X Extreme cooler. Lots of care needed again here to stop the candles breaking through that icing.

What's left ? Hundreds and thousands to sprinkle on that icing, as well as those shiny silvery thingys. Let's bring out the GeForce 460 to make this thing look purdy.

Carefully slide it on to the plate (our box has a plate that you put everything on before fixing it in) we made earlier and we're almost ready.

Add a few wafers (Samsung 1TB hard disc and 6GB of memory) and that cake of our's is almost ready for the party. We're missing music and a movie ! Bring out the blu-ray drive and a screen (by Samsung again) and it's ready to roll.

Back to reality ...

I'm having a thunk about changing my PC stuff again. What I have now has served me pretty well, greatly helped by the upgrade to the graphics from 18 months ago. It is starting to hit the ragged edge of what it can do though, so it's time to start researching now so that when I buy in 6-12 months, I'll be choosing bits from a position of strength instead of ignorance.

I'm quite likely to buy a screen before that though, as my 17" 4:3 display feels very cramped. I can't see the point in buying anything other than a touchscreen compatible display, so it'll be a good few months before I part with any money.

The garbled stuff above is an attempt to say how you put a home brew PC together, helped out by the experience I have with the series of home build boxes I've done before. It does aid if you know roughly what order to put things together in, to anticipate having your access closed off. There's also stuff like needing to Push Really Hard to slot things in, best to do that when you can brace what you're pushing so it doesn't flex and break.

There's a bit more to it as well. The electronics are very sensitive, so it's wise to have a Tame Geek to take you through the precautions needed. Even an innocent finger tip can fry a processor - think of how you jump when you get that spark when you touch the car door and then imagine that spark going into electronic stuff just 45nm across.

Right - The geeks are probably wondering what kind of thing would I get ?

Monitor - at least 22" widescreen, although I'll need a home for my current one before I jump.
Thermaltake TT-V3BLAC box - looks ok, cheap, should keep bits cool and neat, Solid name.
Novatech/OCUK power supply - risky going for a no-name as a bad PSU will break the rest of the bits in the box when it goes bang. But if it's half the price for more grunt ...

Forums are useful as well here, Google is a powerful tool if you're looking for fairly impartial views on kit. Apply X-Files logic though : "Trust No One".

Zalman CNPS10X Extreme cooler - it's worth going for the most expensive, biggest cooler in the shop as it'll keep your system cool while being Very Quiet. I hardly notice my current desktop.
Asus motherboard and Intel cpu - this is a departure for me, the last Intel chip I had was a 486 around 14 years ago. Intel have been making strides forward while AMD have stood somewhat still.
6GB memory - desktop is struggling with 2GB and it's a choice of 3 or 6. 3 would be close to struggle with games, 6 gives a lot more headroom. I'd want to follow my current desktop which has two hard discs (one Windows, one games) but Ultra Fast solid state drives aren't cheap enough yet.
Graphics from GeForce - another change, as I sacked the makers of these around 8 years ago due to breakages and bad drivers. The wheel turns full circle ...

That's most of the bits I'd think of getting. I've mentioned a few hardware makers in this post :

Asus - had a couple of motherboards from these guys and they are Solid. A motherboard is the foundation of a system, you want it to be granite.
Zalman - they look pretty, they keep stuff cool, they're quiet. Cost a bit more but they are 100% value for money.
Novatech - they have a shop within easy driving distance and they earned themselves an excellent reputation from their first store in Portsmouth.
Samsung - these guys will take over the world. They have the best R&D ideas and after 1 monitor, 2 TV's, 1 hard disc which are all high quality, I have no reason (yet!) to go elsewhere. No regrets from going to these guys again.

I've made no mention at all of speakers or keyboard and mice ... These things are so Personal Choice that if someone does recommend one, don't listen. Go to a shop, fiddle with the keyboards and mice, see what you like best. It's your keyboard and mouse and your fingers and hands are different shapes to the reviewer person.

Personal Choice Rules.

I won't be buying new hardware yet ... But I have started thinking about it :-)

PS The i7 930 processor I'm looking at has more than double the memory on the chip than my first PC had for system memory.
PS2 Somebody mention CAKE ?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Just revisited : Firefly

There's a TV writer out there called Joss Whedon.

He cut his teeth with a series called Buffy, which while rather decently catching the popculture of its time is not something I've got a hankering to watch over again.

Not so with Firefly.

Could be that it's sci-fi, which is a genre I take to like people to air (or chavs to alcohol). Could be the down to earth characters. Could be the 'verse it is set in. Could be the wit that was sewn into the interactions. Could be the ship, small and humble and with a design that Made Sense.

I'm definitely one of the geekier members of the engineer species (hey, I'd chase Kaylee !) and I tend to look out for things like : Would that ship fly. How do you get around it. Multiple routes around in case of fire. Where's the cables, where's the vents. Big cargo hold, how do you get stuff in. Yeah, I'm sad, I spot those kind of things and if they aren't thought about properly I'll get bored, peeved and shortening in attention span. To that geekus engineeri, Serenity is perfect. The design makes sense and doesn't succumb to the hell of the Plot Device.

(watching The Deep at the moment, which is getting killed by Plot Devices)

Everything about the tech underneath Firefly is simple. What do they say about good lies ? Keep it simple and it'll be more believable. Scifi is and always will be a pack of lies. But it's a pack of lies designed to entertain. If the creators (inc production and direction) try to overcomplicate (a la RTD), they quickly get caught out in the fiction they're trying to portray as inconsistencies cut out the sense.

Firefly's all about the 10 core characters and how they are trying to make their way in the 'Verse. Bit like the David Eddings books, they succeed by allowing the reader/watcher have fun sharing in with the interactions. All 10 have their part to play, whether it be Inara putting the Captain in his place or Serenity digging the crew out of the mess they've gotten into. Yes, the ship is a vital part of the cast in a way that I don't think has been realised since the Liberator or U-96.

I suspect we identify well with them because "They're Just Like Us". There's a bit of a disconnect with series like Star Trek or Stargate, because the characters are just a little too elite. We don't feel as if we'd fit in, except as someone to clean the boots or hold the doors open. Firefly's different, you could picture yourself as part of that crew or along for the ride.

They include you in their tale in a way that not much fiction achieves. Except maybe those Eddings books. They're real people, despite only existing in that small screen.

And that's Firefly's big secret. You don't talk about the tech, you talk about whether Inara and Mal will tell each other how they feel. You're looking for how Doc Simon is going to put his foot in his mouth again. What's Serenity going to let them do. What precisely is Jayne going off to do in his bunk. (Don't answer that last one, in fact, I apologise for putting the image in your head)

You can probably guess that I've just done a Firefly marathon :-)

Enjoyed every minute too of watching the entire far too short run of 15 episodes with the film Serenity being watched tonight. Most scifi series go on too long or are killed off too early. Not often do you get the feeling of Unfinished Business. That's definitely the feeling with Firefly, there are far more stories to be told in the 'Verse. Will we ever get to hear them ? Probably not. But I'm keener to hear those stories than I am the stories of B5: Crusade or Defying Gravity. And I was crushed to hear those get canned. The stories and the writing is what counts.

Huge shame that this one was cancelled just as it was really getting going. I have a hankering to watch those 15 episodes again !

Wanted : a seat on a Firefly class transport, will happily be Engineer's Assistant. Keep your Galaxy Class, your White Star, your NX-01, your Nebulon B, your Daedalus or even your Battlestar (original one, not the rubbish new one).

Gis proper starship. (Would settle for a spot on a Leviathan)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Season's review

I have a feeling (looking outside at semi-apocalypse) that we've played our last game for this year.

How did the season go ? It was my first season back for quite some time, I have to thank a work colleague (the Batman) for getting me back in when I had given up looking to play again. I'm glad I did, because I've enjoyed quite a bit of this season. It's come at a cost, I picked up one new injury and got reminded of a few more. But that's a cost I'll gladly pay in return for the feeling of the wind rushing past my ears as I kick it up to max speed. That's not a feeling I get too often, as Max Speed needs a lot of room cos it is pretty quick and my brakes are rubbish.

It's a good feeling knowing that even though I'm 35 (serious thought working that out again earlier) and need help to count up the injuries (not enough fingers), I'm still one of the faster runners that take to the field for our team (over a short distance before it turns to coughing, spluttering and redness). We finished better than we started, with our last 7 games played getting us 7 wins. Early season didn't go so well, with us losing a few games we should really have won. No league final for us this year.

I hadn't played a match for 3, maybe 4 years, so I really didn't know what to expect. I knew bowling would be a bad idea because I'd had the embarassment of what may have been 6-7 wides in a practice thing we tried on an evening where the opposition didn't turn up. I think that was last year and my only outing that season. I've had the shoulder injury since I was 23 but I'd usually been able to bowl through it. It's progressed though, such that there's a kind of blockage with the mechanics of the bowling with the result being I can't control the length I bowl now.

So I only bat now and attempt to salvage as much as possible of the shoulder by staying in the in field so I don't have to throw too hard. It's been a mixed bag. When fit, I've been able to use my speed to get to the ball quickly, which usually scares batsmen into not running. Once you get second thoughts into their head, that's half the battle. Appearing competent makes them hesitate, which makes the job much easier.

Gets me grass stains too. I don't consider that I've put enough effort in unless I've earned at least one big green or brown (from the mud!) mark on my whites. Or on my shirt, as happened in the game where I fielded a ball standing on my head. Literally. No kidding !

I was surprised to remember technique with the batting in the early knocks. A 2 and a 9 don't sound like much but it was encouraging enough to get me bat shopping. Mistake ... Or was it :-) I had my highest score for a little while (a 34) but that knock probably lost us a game by taking up too much time. The new bat felt great in the shop and for the first few knocks but eventually I correlated missing the ball too much with it being too light. Back to the old bat and the first scoring shot was a six.

This season has been about the injuries a little too much. I did actually play through 2 games uninjured ! Apart from the shoulder, which is something I don't count any more :-) First game, I damage something in my groin (again). Groin strains are a little weird, feel weird too. Best description of their effect is that it's difficult to start moving and tricky to turn. Get pointed in a direction and you can GO. Because it affected my acceleration and reaction time, I ended up fielding closer than usual. And I field close.

That's another of the old injuries, which I first got in my second season with the home village team. I'd just got fit again from a back injury that hit pre-season nets and thought I'd be able to lengthen my bowling run up to get me more pace. Ah well, the longer run up led to the groin strain. Doh ! Another old injury or more a "tendency" is cramp. I used to have a lot of trouble here, with muscles tending to want to go boom. I've done better there this year, with the cramp only partially hitting once.

Good preparation aids proper performance (ok, I "borrowed" a saying there ... and corrupted it) In my case, it's preparing in the afternoon of a game to avoid running out of batteries during the game. You have to listen to what your body asks for, if you don't do that with exercise then something is going to bite you.

The big injury story of the year was the ankle and shin. I got whacked while fielding. My own fault really, using your hands to grab the ball hurts far less than just getting in the way of it. I should have got this one checked out, as I suspect I could have got the bragging rights of a cracked bone proved by X-Ray. It's still a little sore after I dunno how many weeks but at least I can put power through it on hard ground now. Not comfortably but it is improving enough for it to be a safer bet when I indulge in the sport of dodging trucks.

Anyway, the aftermath of an 8 inch bruise slowed me down but I'm still pleased there were several comments of "What's happened to Sleepypete this year, he's throwing himself around a fair bit ?" Comments like that make Sleepy happy.

Another bruise was the Panda Paw, which I suspect further cemented the Little Canteen Girl's opinion of me being a little strange. Ok, more than a little strange.

Other highlights (lowlights ?) include being an ambulance driver. I've been at several games where an impromptu ambulance has been called for. Once I was the passenger. Once I was batting while their keeper got taken off to hospital (smashed fingers, not pretty). I got hit on the head again in that game but batted on ok because the helmet did its job. First time I've been the driver ...

I also ran out the Batman to preserve my lead in the averages :-) Ok, I was standing down the other end shouting NO while he went for a run that wasn't there but perverseness means I'm claiming responsibility anyway.

To sum it up, we had a slow start to the season but 7 wins on the trot made it an excellent finish. I helped with runs, sharp fielding and 3 catches through the season.

Glad I came back.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Natural Order - Broken

Yep, that's right, the natural order of the universe is breaking down.

What's the proof ? Game on Wednesday had 2 incidents that are highly unusual. The second was not so much of a surprise, as it was my third catch of the year. Going back to the old hat has really helped my fielding as I can track the ball properly again. I'm also fielding well enough to secure a place at my favoured infield position which is kinder on the shoulder.

Still, 3 catches this year is a good return, I've only dropped 1 so far (not counting the couple I didn't quite reach). No runouts yet, I must be scaring batsmen into not running, which is half the battle. A bit of energy injected early on makes it easier later.

What was the first incident ? Well, it's one that doesn't come every day. It's my first of the year and must be the first in quite a few seasons. The scorers needed several repeats of the signal from our umpire because they thought he was joking. I'd gone back to my old bat after missing shots with the new one. It was the first scoring shot of my innings.

Ok, I've built that up hugely, what happened ?

I hit a six.

That's right - one hit, clearing the boundary. Can't remember when I hit my last, it may be decades.

Definite signs that the Natural Order of the Universe is breaking down. The sudden spurt of batting form didn't last though. I stole a single at the end of that over, followed by a comment of "perhaps that was a bad idea" as I knew what was coming from the other end. Quick, little bit of swing and I almost dug out an excellent over. Out for 7.

Which is incidentally also the number of games we've run on the trot. Our fielding isn't great, with catches refused and several of our fielders showing huge Ball Fright but somehow we keep winning those close games. It's good stuff :-) We were lucky to get the game in too, after torrential rain on Monday and Tuesday.

I'm becoming more a fan of my phone too now after a shaky start. The 3g internet problem was sorted out late Wednesday giving full functionality to the little handset. It has several app toys in there to keep the SleepyGeek happy. I've only managed to catch TrackID out a couple of times so far, although NeoReader can't even recognise the bar code of a KitKat. It requires educating.

The battery is lasting longer too, still going strong after almost 2 days. So it's forgiven and will hopefully fit in the rather thin pocket of my leather jacket. It's a Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 Mini. If I'm not a fan of endorsements but will pass one on if it does well. Being a free upgrade helps there too.

What now ? Twenty20 finals day on the telly at the moment, although it's being disrupted by rain. Hoping they get 3 full games in, I'm currently watching Marcus Trescothick hammer the ball to all parts. Go Tres !

Pizza is due in the break between 2nd semi and final, although the heavy rain we have here at the moment may make me delay that.

Monday, August 09, 2010

I've seen the future ... and it's a bit pants

The future's bright, unless you put your mobile phone contract with someone who will pass your personal details to every third party mobile phone upgrader under the sun.

Gotta be fair to H3G though, they haven't done that unlike my last mobile phone provider. Ok, I kinda started in the middle of a post there :-)

I have a new mobile phone ... It's brand spanking new modern technology. However, this isn't a "best thing since sliced bread" post ... No, far from it. Gadgets have their place but I reckon the people who make them are forgetting the basic requirements as they hunt to pack in more and more functionality.

What's a phone for ? It's to make calls and send & receive text messages. It must have enough battery life to give you a decent chance to be away from the charger. Anything else is just fluff. Internet is nice, gps is ok, especially when you're somewhere strange and are looking to get around. Satnav capability is creditable but to be honest, I don't think a little screen will beat my old iPaq based combo. Although the iPaq is car bound. Touchscreens are a gucci change for cleaning up the look of phones but after struggling to enter my wifi password, I'm not convinced.

What's the cost of all these new fangled features engineered to enrage the Luddite Tendency ? Let's list them :

Battery life. First and most important feature. I used to think my last phone was a bit poor because at about 3 days, it didn't have nearly as much the one before which lasted for over a week between charges. This one has a battery life of 36 hours ... And that's with all the bells and whistles turned off.

That's not good. Bonus functionality should not get in the way of core functionality. If I was away from power for a weekend, this phone would die halfway through the weekend unless I went for severe power management (turning off when not in use).

Troubles with data connection. I can't get a 3g signal through ... and that's at work as well as at home. I'll have to see what it's like at the Mall when I have a whinge at the 3 shop. I can get data to it through my wifi network but that's only useful at home.

More on the touchpad. I have to admit, after struggling heavily on Friday I've found it much easier to put those tricky passwords in. (I apply Kung Fu to my passwords now ... and it is strong) Still, I think I'll end up missing real buttons.

Where was I ? Hmm, mid rant until I thought I'd found a fix for that internet trouble ... Which seems to have worked and then failed again. Ho Hum. The internet issue is patchy, we'll see what they say in the shop.

The battery issue is likely to be the real killer, if I switch back to my old phone it'll be because I don't want to put the phone on charge every night. That's looking like a "when I switch back" to be honest ... It was a bit clunky compared to the previous Nokia but it wasn't too shabby. It would have been a much tougher choice if the upgrade hadn't been free :-)

PS It's not all bad. This new Android phone comes with an applet called TrackID. It'll listen to about 5 seconds of music and then try and identify it. I haven't caught it out yet, despite trying a few things. Must look for something particularly obscure in my iTunes collection ...

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Gonna buy a hat ...

Well, maybe not yet at least.

Cricket is one sport where tailoring your gear to support you while playing really helps. And that's from toe to noggin. It's pretty tough to go into a sprint on ground made greasy by dew when you don't have spikes on. Spikeyboots really help :-) And a good pair of boots will keep you playing when you get a toecrusher from a bowler.

When I'm in the field, I generate a lot of heat so I depend on just a few bits n pieces. I have my SpikyBoots which are still going strong after a few years. (Ok, they're starting to fall apart but they'll last a bit longer) I have a couple of pairs of white trousers which now desperately need a wash :-) I throw myself around in the field and never feel I've put the required effort in unless I get at least one new grass stain. To give me the confidence to dive around, I wear a pair of knee supports. They're quite honestly, RUBBISH ! They don't give much support to knee ligaments but they do at least give some padding against the ground while being RUBBISH means they don't hinder movement.

I don't tend to wear a jumper now, although I used to when I was a young pup. Couldn't bowl in a jumper ... having that wool around my shoulder put me off. (This was when my arm was 100%). Finishing the fielding outfit is what I have on my head. I've never worn contacts, so I'll always be with my glasses on. Top that off with a rainhat and you'll see a crazy disreputable person in :

Shabby boots, grass stained whites, a tubby tummy attempting to creep out from underneath a shirt that is never tucked in, hands spread wide to help me start with tearing off after the ball and my trademark demonic grin lurking below glasses and rainhat*.

*(with English weather, I refuse to call it a sunhat)

One of the guys is leaving our project, so we celebrated by heading off to Lords for a day at the cricket. It was a great day out, good company, interesting weather, close exciting games and the right team (our's!) won. And I walked out of there with a new hat :-)

I like my new hat :-) But after Wednesday's game it looks like it'll be kept aside as a non cricket playing hat. Maybe a watching hat :-).

Depth perception is pretty critical when you're in the field, it goes towards timing dives and knowing where to stand for a catch. So I'm depending on my glasses being well aligned, to let me judge where the ball is correctly. To have the best chance, you need to be able to put a 50p on the ground where you think the ball will land, as soon as it goes up in the air. What happens if the eyes are out of alignment is that the 50p landing point guess will move as the ball gets closer. So you set yourself for the ball landing in one place, if you stay then the ball will either go over your head or land short.

Or, if the glasses/eyes are doing really badly, it'll land 6 foot to the side ... Not had that kind of embarassment for years though, my current pair of glasses have done the depth perception much better than any I've had in the past.

Funnily enough, I never really needed good depth perception while batting ... Although what I've forgotten this year is that the helmet has helped because it lets you level your eyes with the horizon. You forget more technique than you ever learn.

What happened Wednesday was a bit embarassing. Looks like the new hat was a bit big, so it comes down over my head more. That means it hits the legs at the back of my glasses, which knocks that alignment out just a little. It's a pretty close thing, so you can only really tell if it's ok when the ball is coming towards you and not even then. I held one catch but missed stopping the ball with a few dives.

And then there's the one on the boundary ... I was actually sub fielding for the other side, so when the instant guess says it'll land 30 feet short I'm thinking "fine, wasn't planning on catching one of our guys anyway". Then it starts getting closer through its trajectory, closer, closer and that 50p landing point is suddenly just 8 feet away ... To the point where it's probably easier to go for the catch than let it bounce. Especially as the cricket ball bounce made the rotten thing move 5 feet to the right.

Yep - embarassing. So the new hat is fired and I'm back to the old one. Old hat is fine :-) It sticks on well and has a bit of air up there (although that's filled by my hair). The brim is a bit unruly though, so it has issues keeping the sun out.

Still, after me beating myself up for getting caught out by gear we did actually win. Closer game than it needed to be, with me standing at the other end when the winning runs were knocked off. I got 4 not out, having dropped down the order to give a cramping leg chance to settle down. 4 plus 1 catch isn't bad, especially when the early catch prevented one of their openers from making an impact. I threw myself around in the field again, with the bad ankles standing up to the strain well. Calf wasn't so good, it wanted to explode on me due to cramp. I blame poor preparation, Wednesday at work was extremely hectic.

Oh, before I finish, I have been reasonably pleased with myself this week ... Firstly, I managed to avoid buying another bat on Tuesday. Why another bat ? Ask a cricketer that question and you'll get a blank "Why not ? It's there ?" look. The other reason is cos I've still managed to avoid sledging the bloke who's going out with the Evil Ex, who's also played in the last couple of games. I have a feeling that if I had started sledging him, I would definitely not have stopped as there was plenty of excuses for it.

That said, I'm not going to start sledging the guy now, I'll just close out with a Youtube link :
Chris Rea's Gonna Buy A Hat.