Monthly Archives: August 2013

Payday 2 Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

Payday 2: You Are Needed Once Again.

I’m in something of a love/hate relationship with online co-op games. On the one hand I think they’re amazing as some of the best times I’ve had in gaming have come from the times when a bunch of us have got together and just smashed out a couple hours on a game. Notable examples of this include Dead Island, Borderlands and Left 4 Dead. At the same time however it can be pretty difficult to get everyone online at the same time or, worse still, if you have more people who want to play than there are spots in the game it inevitably means it’ll never get played. Thankfully developers have noticed this and designed systems to alleviate at least the former of those issues. Payday 2 is one such game that lives and dies by its co-op experience but thankfully it’s a rather seamless experience, even if you can’t find any friends to play with.

Payday 2 Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

You’re a career criminal who’s been on the lamb for a while. Your old friend Bain has got into contact with you as he’s in need of your skills again. He’s set you up with a safe house, some cash and a cache of weapons to get you started. From there he leaves the rest up to you, allowing you to pick and choose through various heists, purchase additional weaponry and develop your skills in whichever way you see fit. You’re not the only criminal out there however and more often than not you’ll be working side by side with many others, some who might not share your view of how these things ought to go down.

Everything about Payday 2 is optimized for fast paced action and that includes the graphics. Whilst they’re not exactly bad it’s clear that they’ve been done with FPS in mind first and since it’s a multiplatform release the limitations from the consolization are quite apparent. I had every setting set to maximum (with v-sync on) and never once saw any slow down, even in the most heavy action scenes. I don’t expect Crysis level graphics from everyone but if you’re playing Payday 2 on a PC the limitations are going to be quite apparent, but they are there for a reason.

Payday 2 Screenshot Wallpaper CrimeNet

Payday 2 plays out through various different “heists” which are essentially short, usually no longer than 30mins long but can be as short as 1 min, missions which have varying degrees of risk and reward associated with them. You have little control over all these parameters however, instead you’re given an interface where you can choose from a multitude of available heists with various properties. The more white dots something has the bigger the reward for completing it is and the yellow dots denote additional risk (which appears to translate into a tougher mission, although not always). There are also Pro Jobs which have to be comepleted in one attempt otherwise you’re sent back to crime.net to search for another one.

The jobs will be different each time you play them as pathways will be opened/closed, resources required to complete them in different areas and, if its a multi-day heist, the outcome of the previous days will determine what options are available to you. It usually comes down to a choice between maximising your profit or shortening the amount of time you need to spend on that particular mission. One of the most popular heists, the Ukrainian Job, can be done in 30 seconds although you can loot the jewelry store for extra cash which, potentially, can make you miss the early escape that’s available.

Payday 2 Screenshot Wallpaper Nightclub Job

There’s 4 different character classes in Payday 2 and which one you choose will drastically alter the potential ways you have to finish a heist. Early on there isn’t much choice as the game changing skills don’t come until much later however the different equipment available to each class can be the make or break for those early level heists. I had initially chose the Enforcer class, which is essentially a soldier who deals out and soaks up damage, since all the heists I was in never worked out when we attempted to do stealth. I’ve since changed to the Technician almost exclusively for the shaped charge equipment (which allows you to blow open most things that would otherwise take ages to drill) but even then I’m still eyeing off the sentry gun tree as something that could be quite viable.

The leveling system is made up of 3 different components. The first is straight up experience, granted to you on the completion of every day of a heist, and every level grants you a skill point (and ever 10 levels gets you 2 bonus points). The higher up the skill tree the more points a particular skill costs so those top tier abilities require quite a heavy level of investment. The second is cash which is used to purchase skills, weapons and also to customize your mask. Past a certain point cash usually isn’t much of an issue, you’re never more than a mission or two away from buying anything you want, however the 3rd part of the leveling system, the unlocks, severely limits how far a large cash reserve can go.

Payday 2 Screenshot Wallpaper Glitched Car

You see whilst you’re able to buy every weapon once you reach the right levels the modifications to those weapons come as part of the “payday” you get at the end of every heist. Essentially it’s a random chance to get a drop which can be anything from mask components to weapon mods or even just additional cash. Problem with this is that it means once you get to say level 45 or so you’ll have the best weapon you can get and the only way to progress further is to get more unlocks. This is why you’ll see people preferring the single day heists that can be completed quickly and honestly its at this point that the replay value of Payday 2 diminishes rapidly as grinding out those unlocks just isn’t fun.

Payday 2 is also has quite a few quirks, one of which is pictured above. Other player characters don’t walk particularly smoothly on screen, usually twitching between walk cycles randomly. There’s also a lot of jitter on player models, almost as if the physics engine is buffering them around, which is most notable on the lobby screen before you commence a job. The hit detecting also seems to be a little weird as there were times I could nail people with a shotgun from 100m away only to have that same weapon miss when they were at point blank range. They’re not exactly game breaking issues but they are things that can cause additional frustration, something which can tip you over the edge if the heist isn’t going particularly well.

Payday 2 Screenshot Wallpaper Mission Screen

Payday 2 feels like one of those classic LAN games, one where you can just pick it up and bash it out with a couple friends for however long you feel like. The fast paced action and rudimentary level strategy is enough to make Payday 2 interesting whilst not overly complicated, significantly reducing the barrier to entry for those who want to play it. It’s not without its quirks however although I have to say that it’s probably one of the most polished games I’ve played that’s cost me less than $30. So if you’re a fan of cooperative styled games then Payday 2 has quite a lot to offer, especially if you have a few friends who have it already.

Rating: 8.5/10

Payday 2 is available on  PC and Xbox360 right now for $29.99 and $39.99 respectively. Game was played on the PC with around 10 hours played and  33% of the achievements unlocked.

Software Patents

New Zealand Bans Software Patents.

Have you ever read a software patent? They’re laborious things to read often starting out by describing at length their claims and then attempting to substantiate them all with even more colourful and esoteric language. They do this not out of some sick pleasure they get from torturing people who dare to read them but because the harder it is to compare it to prior art the better chance it has of getting through. Whilst a Dynamic Resolution Optimizer Algorithm might sound like something new and exciting it’s quite likely that it’s an image resizer, something that is trivial and has tons of prior art but, if such a patent was granted, would give the owner of it a lot of opportunity to squeeze people for licensing fees.

Software Patents

Image Credit: Mishi from OpenSource.com

Indeed this kind of behaviour, patenting anything and everything that can be done in software, is what has allow the patent troll industry to flourish. These are companies that don’t produce anything, nor do they use their patents for their intended purpose (I.E. a time limited monopoly to make use of said patent), and all they do is seek licensing fees from companies based who are infringing on their patent portfolio. The trouble is with the patent language being so deliberately obtuse and vague it’s nigh on impossible for anyone creating software products to not infringe on one of them, especially if they’re granted for things which the wider programming community would believe would be obvious and trivial. It’s for this reason that I and the vast majority of people involved in the creation of software oppose patents like these and it seems finally we may have the beginnings of support from governmental entities.

The New Zealand parliament just put the kibosh on software patents in a 117-4 vote. The language of the bill is a little strange essentially declaring that any computer program doesn’t classify as an invention however any computer application that’s an implementation of a process (which itself can be patented) is patentable. This legislation is also not retroactive which means that any software patents granted in New Zealand prior to its passing will remain in effect until their expiry date. Whilst this isn’t the kind of clean sweep that many of us would have hoped for I think it’s probably the best outcome we could realistically hope for and the work done in New Zealand will hopefully function well as a catalyst for similar legislation to be passed elsewhere.

Unfortunately the place that it’s least likely to happen in is also the place where it’s needed the most: the USA. The vast majority of software patents and their ensuing lawsuits take place in the USA and unfortunately the guaranteed way of avoiding infringement (not selling your software there) means cutting out one of the world’s largest markets. The only way I can see the situation changing there is if the EU passed similar laws however I haven’t heard of them attempting to do anything of the sort. The changes passed in New Zealand might go a ways to influence them along the same lines, but I’m not holding my breath on that one.

So overall this is a good thing however we’re still a long way off from eradicating the evils of software patents. We always knew this would be a long fight, one that would likely take decades to see any real progress in, but the decision in New Zealand shows that there’s a strong desire from the industry for change in this area and people in power are starting to take notice.

The Gorilla Arm Problem.

The interfaces of the future are almost always depicted as something that’s devoid of any interface peripheral leaving nothing between the humans and the screens they’re interacting with. Of these the most iconic is the one from Minority Report where we see Tom Cruise wave his hands around in order to manipulate data with the motions being so intuitive many people left the theater wondering how long it would take to get that technology in their homes. It didn’t take long for it to be developed but despite people’s excitement regarding the potential future of interface technology you’d be hard pressed to find it anywhere, let alone in anyone’s house.

There’s a company out there that’s trying to change that called Leap Motion and their new product has a distinctly Minority Report feel to it:

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Now the Leap Motion controller isn’t anything revolutionary from a technological point of view. It’s fundamentally the same as a Kinect (which itself is based off PrimeSense technology) however rather than doing whole body detection over a wide area the Leap Motion controller has instead been designed to recognize finer grained motion in a much smaller area. So instead of being aimed at the gaming market Leap Motion is positioning itself as an alternative interface to the traditional desktop PC, one that has the potential to replace many of the capabilities of the current standard interface peripherals (and even some of the non-standard ones). However there are some fundamental issues with it that will likely impede its adoption and they’re not exactly  unique  to the Leap Motion idea.

The Gorilla Arm effect is a well known phenomena in ergonomics whereby any interface system that requires someone to hold their arm out and make fine motions ends up with the user’s arm feeling tired and sore in no short order. It was first encountered when touchscreens were first developed which, at the time, was thought to be the next big revolution in interface design. Now whilst touchscreens are a big part of the world today they’re used much more like traditional peripherals (I.E. they don’t require you to hold your arms up) and not in the same way in which the Leap Motion demonstrates much of its functionality.

Now the argument can be made that the Leap Motion controller can provide a lot of additional functionality without invoking the Gorilla Arm effect as there has been musings that it could replace your keyboard and, by logical extension, your mouse as well. The trouble with that is however is that such interfaces lack any kind of tactile feedback something which plagued the similarly cool but useless idea of the laser keyboards. Indeed as I mentioned in my review of the Surface and its atrocious touch keyboard the lack of feedback makes using them quite a chore and unfortunately I can’t see how Leap Motion would be able to get around that particular issue.

Where it might become useful is in gestures that could be tied up with shortcuts in your application of choice. Personally I wouldn’t find much use for it as my muscle memory for all the required shortcuts is already etched into my nervous system but it would essentially be an alternative to something like a multi-touch trackpad. Whether or not one is better than the other is an exercise that I’ll leave up to the reader but suffice to say whilst the Leap Motion controller looks cool it’s applicability in the real world seems rather limited.

It could make a rather awesome little augment for robotics projects, however.

Measles Virus

What Happens When You Don’t Vaccinate.

So there’s a lot of diseases in the world, ones that were responsible for a lot of human death, that we’d pretty much eradicated. The primary mechanism for this is has been vaccines as they’re the only proven way to guarantee that an individual won’t contract the disease again and, more importantly, not be a carrier for that disease in the future. However there’s a small, determined minority who think that vaccines do more harm than good but they seem to conveniently forget that none of their friends have polio or any other of the myriad of diseases that have been readily preventable for the better part of a century.

Measles VirusThat little bugger above, the measles virus, is one of them. I can’t name a single person I’ve known that has had the measles and I can wholly attribute that to the fact that MMR vaccine, the one so many people wrong assume is the cause for autism, has been in widespread use long before I was born. Of course thanks to the misguided efforts of some high profile individuals we’ve ended up with pockets of ignorance which in turn have led to clusters of people who lack these vaccinations. Now it’s been hard to track this as whilst small clusters of outbreaks of certain diseases have occurred in the past there hasn’t been a convenient cluster that’s undergone an epidemic.

That was until just recently of course.

The Eagle Mountain International Church has been known for its skepticism over vaccines and it appears the teachings have not gone unheard in the congregation as many chose to forego vaccinating their children. Then, thanks to someone travelling overseas and then returning home, they were introduced to the wonderful virulent disease is measles. This has since led to at least 10 children becoming infected and, funnily enough, the isolation granted to them by the “protection” of home schooling (which is mandated by the state, since unvaccinated kids can’t be allowed in public schools) was made completely irrelevant by their church going ways.

What’s particularly interesting though is that has then led on to news that the Netherlands is actually suffering through an epidemic of its own (currently down, but the Google cache of it shows all the facts) with over 1160 cases reported. This, conveniently, ties in with their own “bible belt” which is vehemently against vaccination. Those figures are just from May to August for this year as well which means that there’s potentially more out there and it will only continue to increase until all of them are infected.

I’ve talked about herd immunity and how disease spreads in its absence and these outbreaks are a classic example of what happens when people refuse to vaccinate. Make no mistake measles is an entirely preventable disease and its prevalence in these areas is wholly due to their willful ignorance about the efficacy and safety of vaccines. So don’t be daft, don’t buy into whatever malarkey you might have read on the Internet about the dangers of vaccines because the simple fact is they work and these recent outbreaks are proof that failure to use them is doing far more harm than good.

 

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My Hotel Ritual.

Whilst I’m not a jet bound workaholic like I thought I’d be when I was this age (ah the naivety of teenagers) I have done my fair share of travel for work. I’ve come to find out that I’m not in either of the extremes of the two camps on it as I’m not particularly adverse to it but neither do I look forward to it like many I have met. Indeed many of the exotic places that I can say I’ve been too were because of work related travel and they truly are experiences that I treasure but should they have become the norm for me I can see myself swiftly becoming sick of it. New places are always fun to visit but I’ve never been on a work trip that wasn’t primarily about work.

DSC_0236It occurred to me that I’d developed a kind of ritual when it came to hotel rooms, something that upon reflection hasn’t changed in quite a while. As far as I can tell I developed it back when I was travelling the USA which I can only assume was because of the multitude of different places we stayed in over the course of the month we spent over there. The reasons for it are simple: I need to know what facilities I have access to and, in the event of the absence, arrange for alternatives. I’m sure this isn’t unique to me either but it was quite interesting to see what habits I had ingrained in myself over the past couple years.

For instance, and this might be a telltale sign of my generation, the first thing I’ll do will be to seek out what kind of Internet connection I have at my disposal. For the most part I’m bound for disappointment, as is the case with my current accommodation ($10 for 24 hours, 700MB limit), but the process of discovering what I’ve got to work with can be quite fun. If I’m in a particularly vindictive move I’ll bust out my network scanner tools and see how well their Internet access scheme has been set up (which, if you’re wondering, hotels seem to be getting better at) but for travel in Australia I’ll usually just tether to my phone.

The next one, which is something of a guilty pleasure of mine, is to crawl through the various pay TV channels to see if they have any of my favorites on them. If Discovery is on there then I’m guaranteed to binge on it for at least an hour each night, usually at the cost of a decent night’s sleep. It gets even worse when you consider just how bad most of the programming on there is and how much of it is continuous repeats but for some reason when I’m in a hotel room that’s one of my top things to do.

I also have to inspect the bed to see if I’ve ended up with a proper bed or the notorious faux-queen (as pictured above). My fellow giants will understand just how irritating those kinds of beds are, especially if they’re paired with an equally tragic mattress.

I think this whole thing just caught me off guard because I didn’t really think of something I had to do after every check in but thinking back to all my stays the first hour or so spent in the room is almost always spent methodically going through each of those items. Is this something that you do? (please say yes, I don’t need another thing that I might be potentially OCD about).

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Gone Home: Words Seem Like Such Crude Tools.

This is the part of my game reviews where I usually wax philosophical about the genre, developer or some other aspect of the game I’m about to review. I’m not going to do that with this review, instead I’m going to state quite clearly that this review is only for those who have played the game. The reason behind this is simple, whilst I could do my usual spoiler-free affair I feel like I couldn’t spend more than a paragraph talking about it before I inadvertently walked in spoiler territory. So before you go any further I’d urge you to hope on steam, buy Gone Home and immerse yourself in it for the next couple hours. Then when you’re done come back here, and we’ll talk.

SPOILERS FOR THE REST OF THE POST. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

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The setting of Gone Home is one that will be very familiar to any Australian. It’s something of a coming of age ritual for residents of my home country to leave it for a year after finishing college to go abroad and see the world. For me that instantly set the tone for the game, pulling up memories of seeing friends off and then, usually a long time later, seeing them come back with so many stories to tell. It’s also twinged with a slight feeling of loss as I never did that, choosing instead to go straight into university, and it instantly felt like I’d been pulled back to those times. I was a young adult once again.

The atmosphere that Gone Home sets up initially honestly had me a little worried. It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of the horror genre, consistently rating anything in that area lower, and whilst the recommendations I had received to play Gone Home couldn’t have been more exuberant the opening scenes did lead me to believe that I was, at some point, going to be spooked by something or walk in on some horrific scene that had befallen the occupants of this house. Still with none of it forthcoming I began to stumble my way through the house and this is where my usual drawing conclusions based on the evidence at hand seems to have led me astray, something I give the writers a lot of credit for.

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In terms of lay out I was really quite impressed with the way Gone Home guides you through the environment. Now after I had rummaged through all the nearby cupboards I headed straight for the answering machine (which did nothing to allay my fears that I was walking into a horror scene) and then proceeded to continue exploring from there. I’m not sure how my experience with Gone Home would changed if I had decided to go upstairs first as it feels like much of the base narrative is set up in those first few rooms on the bottom floor. Indeed that’s where the beginnings of your father’s narrative begin and where you start to learn that Sam has been struggling at school due to her being the girl from the psycho house.

I think that’s what hooked me into Sam’s story initially as the experiences she describes in her notes, specifically the ones about isolation, really hit home. After primary school I was constantly bullied, from the moment I got on the bus to the second I got home, and so I instantly had this rapport with Sam’s character as I knew what it was like to be on the outside. It was made all the more poignant by the blooming unrequited romance with Lonnie which drudged up even more memories of my time in school.

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This was when my overacting imagination started to lead me to conclusions that I desperately hoped weren’t true. You see after being in a similar position myself I knew what the potential outcomes where for this story and the most likely one chilled me to my bones. I remember one of the journal entries saying something to the effect of “I can’t live without you” which, given the circumstances that followed it, instantly led me to believe that Sam had committed suicide. I was panicked, I grabbed the attic key and moved myself as fast as I could to where it was, those glaring red lights feeling like an omen of epic proportions, indicating that someone had gone up but had never come back down again.

You can then imagine my relief as instead of finding a body up there I found the notebook, the one which had been playing in retrospect throughout the whole game. I’ve heard that a lot of people think that this is a hollywood ending, and it is in a way, however for me it’s much more of a bitter sweet moment. Sure I was extraordinarily happy that Sam and Lonnie had decided to follow their hearts rather than let the world tear them apart however I’m also someone who can still vividly remember the naivety of youth and the challenges that pair will face are only just beginning.

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I think my favorite aspect of gone home is how the narrative starts off dark, which pushes you towards thinking it is going to be some kind of horror/ghost story, but the more you read and discover the brighter it becomes. You learn in the beginning that your father is a writer who has unfortunately hit on rough times but later on its revealed that his first book had been republished and, due to that success, he had written another novel. Your parents relationship seemed to be on the rocks although their absence in Gone Home appears to be because they’re celebrating their anniversary. They may be on a couple’s counselling retreat however, but that at least shows they’re willing to work on it.

I did wonder for a while whether or not the ghost/uncle sub-plot was necessary for the overarching narrative as it really is an aside to everything else in Gone Home. It did help to generate some tension at the start as you couldn’t be quite sure which direction the story was heading in however once you’re invested enough in Sam and Lonnie that sub-plot instantly becomes secondary. Now I admit that that was probably the writer’s intent all along and therefore credit is due to them because of it but, I don’t know maybe it’s just my aversion to the horror genre that is driving this feeling I have.

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Gone Home is a beautifully written interactive story. It touches on so many issues that at least one of them will resonate with you and from there you’ll be dragged down into Sam’s world, echoing her every emotion. I have to give the writers credit for showing me one potential story path which I eagerly concluded was the most likely and then, at the last moment, they upended my expectations with a reveal that could not have been better. If you’re someone that favors narrative over game play then you really can’t go past Gone Home as it is one of the most well written games I’ve come across in a long time.

Rating: 9.25/10

Gone Home is available on PC right now for $19.99. Total game time was just on 2 hours.

Soylent

I Want To Believe, Soylent.

I’m absolutely terrible at cooking. It’s not that I can’t follow a recipe or anything like that, more it’s to do with the fact that I don’t particularly enjoy the cooking process all that much, seeing it as more of a necessity rather than something that can be enjoyed for its own right. There’s a few reasons for this, mostly being that I’ve got many other things I’d rather be doing, but I’ve also got something of a weird attitude to food that I can trace back to my childhood. Essentially it’s something of a disinterest in eating, something which I’ve struggled with as I’ve transformed myself from a 185CM 65kg person into the 90KG man beast I am today, So you can then imagine when I saw Soylent I instantly drew parallels to my own life and I was drawn in by the promise of convenience and optimal nutrition.

Soylent

Soylent, for those who are unaware, is a food replacement product that’s the brainchild of Rob Rhineheart, a Y-Combinator alum who’s background is in electrical engineering, computer science and the Silicon Valley scene. It’s goal is to be a nutritionally complete food replacement that contains all the necessary things to keep your body going, and nothing that it doesn’t. Rhineheart has been working on this formula for quite some time, documenting his escapades on his personal blog, and has been fine tuning it based on how his body has been reacting to his use of it. Since he’s still alive and doesn’t appear to be suffering any ill effects there appears to be some credence to his claims although, as always, this is the Internet so it’s not surprising that a healthy dose of skepticism has been thrown his way.

As someone who already consumes quite a bit of liquid calories the appeal of Soylent to me was the fact that I could have it as an on-demand meal replacement that wasn’t stupendously expensive. You see whilst I work out a lot more than your average person the kind of gains I see are quite limited and that’s entirely due to the fact that I struggle to get enough calories in me to support said gains. Soylent then could prove to be the kicker to get me over my current gain hump as well as being that convenient meal replacement that I could go to when I just couldn’t be bothered going down to the shops to pick something up. Of course I had to start doing some digging to find out if Soylent could really do all the things it said it could do and this is where things started to unravel a bit.

The idea of a nutritionally complete meal replacement isn’t new with the most prevalent product being Ensure Complete. These products are pretty expensive by comparison however with a typical daily intake being almost an order of magnitude more expensive than Soylent claims it will be. However these other products were developed by people who are in the business of doing this and whilst I’d love to believe that Rhineheart managed to cram decades worth of biology and nutrition information into Soylent you can’t really be confident in his expertise in this area. He does say he’s been consulting with experts and that all his ingredients are FDA approved however that doesn’t mean the end product is safe, especially if it’s going to people’s sole source of nutrition.

Indeed whilst many of the short term experiments appear to have positive outlooks I can’t help but feel that Soylent may be overreaching with some its claims. This is somewhat par for the course in Silicon Valley as in order to attract attention over there you have to be “disrupting” or “reinventing” something in order to get noticed but this isn’t a photo sharing app, it’s a product that’s being marketed as being the last source of food you’ll ever need. In that regard I feel they need to temper people’s expectations as it’s entirely possible that Soylent works brilliantly for the precious few who’ve tried it (read: relatively slim IT folks, most of whom already have a healthy lifestyle) and could be an absolute train wreck for others. This is true of all nutrition and I don’t see why the current mono-formula of Soylent would be any different.

In all honesty I really want something like this to be real, safe and successful as I know it’s a product that I would end up using. However at the same time I want it to be based on solid science with the appropriate trials and review mechanisms done in order to ensure its safety. This is the same amount of scrutiny I’ve applied to all the other supplements and powders I’ve ingested over the years and I’m not about to break my rule just because it’s coming from Silicon Valley. I’m hopeful that the Soylent crew will eventually get to that point but for now I’m going to plant myself firmly on the fence.

Water From Air.

We all know of the moisture contained within air, commonly referred to as humidity. Where I am it’s typically on the low side which has its advantages (evaporative cooling works a treat here) although it does tend to make any winter cold feel like it’s a frozen knife cutting through your very being. High humidity on the other hand gives rise to some potential applications that you might not have considered before like being able to extract drinkable water directly from the air that surrounds you:

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What’s interesting about this particular idea is that it’s actually been around for quite some time in the form of consumer level devices. I remembered reading about them being available in Japan almost a decade ago and whilst the scale of the billboard vastly surpasses those little water coolers the technology that drives them is essentially the same.

Indeed the technology is so mature that NASA makes use of a very similar system to extract water from the atmosphere contained within the International Space Station which was installed during STS-126. Theirs also has the awesome (although some may say disgusting) ability to process urine back into potable water which allowed the ISS to expand its total crew from 3 to 6. Due to the shuttle’s retirement though such crew levels haven’t been sustained for a while although that could change in the near future.

Isn’t it fascinating to see how far and wide technology like this spreads?

Games-for-Windows-Live

Finally, Games For Windows Live is Going Away.

Ever since Steam reached a certain level of functionality any game that was distributed on it was kind of expected to make use of it. This isn’t a hard requirement from Valve or anything like that, no more it was an expectation from gamers that should Steam provide some services, like user login and what have you, then any game requiring them to do that again would be met with derision and, in my mind, rightly so. Whilst there were numerous examples of different game developers using their own login systems (Ubernet being one of the first to come to mind) by far the worst offender in this category was the Games for Windows Live service which would always manage to weasel its way into any game that came out or was published by Microsoft Studios.Games-for-Windows-Live

Games for Windows Live got the most negative attention due to the fact that it directly replicated Steam’s technology, including things like the screen overlay, which meant that the user experience became somewhat confused. Additionally the benefits it provided were pretty slim as the only thing I could see was integration with my Live account, giving me achievement points, but considering most of those such games were cross platform intrepid achievement point hunters would likely prefer their Xbox. This was made all the more worse as since most PC gamers didn’t use it often the client usually needed to update itself, requiring multiple game restarts in order to get it working.

So you can imagine that there was no love lost when rumors started circulating that it was to be shut down next year.

The news comes from an unwitting source, Age of Empires Online, who mistakenly made the announcement as a courtesy to users who’d no longer be able to use the game after that point. The announcement was taken down almost immediately, although of course in the age of the Internet there’s always someone with a screenshot, which would seem to add a little credence to the idea that this was something Microsoft didn’t want everyone to know right now. Indeed in a strange coincidence it was also announced today that Arkham Origins would not be using the Games for Windows Live framework, strange considering that the previous two installments in that franchise did. Indeed looking at the list of Games for Windows Live games reveals that there’s been something of a dearth of titles released using the platform this year which would seem to confirm its imminent demise.

If the title of this post wasn’t a dead giveaway as to my feelings about this I’m honestly glad to see it go. The service never provided me any value and only served to get in the way of me playing the games, something which I don’t take kindly to. I’m sure this sentiment is shared by a lot of gamers, especially those who’ve made huge investments in the Steam platform like I have. Whilst I’m always wary of monopolies I’d hope that game developers took note of this and eschewed their own login systems in favor of something more standard and accepted.

Of course there’s also a dark side to this as Games for Windows Live going down will mean that games which rely on those services will simply stop working. Whilst I’m somewhat hopeful that the bigger titles might see a patch come through to remove it, at least enabling single player, I can’t imagine every title will see the same amount of effort put into it. There is a slim hope that Microsoft might make a general patch available however since a lot of the CD key authentication stuff was tied up with those servers I’m not too hopeful.

There is every chance that the Age of Empires guys got this wrong and Games for Windows Live will be sticking around but the evidence seems to say otherwise. Whilst I believe this is an overall positive for PC gamers the downsides to losing a hosted service like this are a painful reminder of the trade offs that coming with using them. We all like to believe that Steam is invincible, immune to things like this happening to it, but there’s every chance that in the future the same will happen to it. How the companies deal with this situation will be telling for the future as I’m sure this won’t be the last time we see such a service go down.

 

The Code Behind The Refined Geek

New Server, New Theme, New Beginnings.

On the surface this blog hasn’t changed that much. The right hand column had shifted around a bit as I added and subtracted various bits of social integration but for the most part the rest of the site remained largely static. Primarily this was due to laziness on my part as whilst I always wanted to revamp it I could just never find the motivation, nor the right design, to spur me on. However after a long night spent perusing various WordPress theme sites I eventually came across one I liked but it was a paid one and although I’m not one to shy away from paying people for their work it’s always something of a barrier. I kept the page open in Chrome and told myself that when it came time to move servers that’d be the time I’d make the switch.

And yesterday I did.

The Code Behind The Refined Geek

My previous provider, BurstNET, whilst being quite amazing at the start slowly started to go downhill as of late. Since I’d been having a lot of issues, mostly of my own doing, I had enlisted Pingdom to track my uptime and the number of reports I got started to trend upwards. For the most part it didn’t affect me too much as most of the outages happened outside my prime time however it’s never fun to wake up to an inbox full of alerts so I decided it was time to shift over to a new provider. I had had my eye on Digital Ocean for a while as they provide SSD backed VPSs, something which I had investigated last year but was unable to find at a reasonable price. Plus their plans are extraordinarily cheap for what you get with this site coming to you via their $20/month plan. Set up was a breeze too, even though it seems every provider has their own set of quirks built into their Ubuntu images.

The new theme is BlogTime  from ThemeForest and I chose it precisely because it’s the only one I could find that emulates the style you get when you login to WordPress.com (with those big featured images at the top with a nice flat layout). The widgets he provides with the theme unfortunately don’t seem to work, at least not in the way that’s advertised, so I had to spend some time wrestling with the Facebook and Twitter widget APIs to get them looking semi-decent on the sidebar. Thankfully it seems the “dark” theme on both sites seems to match the background on here quite well otherwise I would’ve had to do a whole bunch of custom CSS stuff that I just wasn’t in the mood for last night. Probably the coolest thing about this theme is that it automatically resizes itself depending on what kind of device you have so this blog should look pretty much the same no matter how you’re viewing it.

I also took the opportunity to try and set up caching again and whilst it appeared to work great last night upon attempting to load my site this morning I found that I was greeted with an empty response back. Logging into the WordPress dashboard directly seemed to solve this but I’m not quite sure what caused W3 Total Cache to cause my site to serve nothing for the better part of 5 hours. For the moment I’ve disabled it as the site appears to be running quite fine without it but I’ll probably attempt to get one of them running again in the future as when they’re working they really are quite good.

Does this change in face mean there’s going to be a radical change in what this site is about? I’m not intending to as whilst my traffic has been flagging of late (and why that is I couldn’t tell you) this was more a revamp that was long overdue. I’d changed servers nearly once a year however I had not once changed the theme (well unless you count the Ponies incident) and it was starting to get a little stale, especially considering it seemed to be the theme of choice for a multitude of other tech blogs I visited. So really all that’s changed is the look and the location that this blog is coming to you from, everything else is pretty much the same, for better or for worse.