ESA IXV Full Scale Prototype

ESA’s New Spacecraft Shows Engineers are Obsessed with Tiny Shuttles.

There’s no denying that the Space Shuttle was an unique design being the only spacecraft that was capable aerodynamic flight after reentry. That capability, initially born out of military requirements for one-orbit trips that required significant downrange flight, came at a high cost in both financial and complexity terms dashing any hopes it had of being the revolutionary gateway space it was intended to be. A lot of the designs and engineering were sound though and so it should come as little surprise to see elements of it popping up in other, more modern spacecraft designs. The most recent of those (to come to my attention at least) is the European Space Agency’s Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle, a curious little craft that could be Europe’s ticket to delivering much more than dry cargo to space.

ESA IXV Full Scale PrototypeWhilst this might not be an almost exact replica like the X-37B is it’s hard to deny that the IXV bears a lot of the characteristics that many of us associated with the Space Shuttle. The rounded nose, blackened bottom, white top and sleek profile are all very reminisicent of that iconic design but that’s where the similarities end. The IXV is a tiny little craft weighing not a lot more than your typical car and lacking the giant wings that allowed the Shuttle to fly so far. This doesn’t mean it isn’t capable of flight however as the entire craft is a lifting body, capable of generating lift comparable to a winged aircraft. Steering is accomplished 2 little paddles attached to the back enabling the IXV to keep its thermal protective layer facing the right direction upon reentry. For now the IXV is a completely robotic craft with little room to spare save for a few on board experiments.

Much like the X-37B the IXV is being designed as a test bed for the technologies that the ESA wants to use in upcoming craft for future missions. Primarily this relates to its lifting body profile and the little flaps it uses for attitude control, things which have a very sound theoretical basis but haven’t seen many real world applications. If all goes according to plan the IXV will be making its maiden flight in October this year, rocketing up to the same altitude as the International Space Station, nearly completing an orbit and then descending back down to earth. Whilst it’s design would make you think it’d then be landing at an air strip this model will actually end up in the Pacific ocean, using its aerodynamic capabilities to guide it to a smaller region than you could typically achieve otherwise. It also lacks any landing gear to speak of, relying instead on parachutes to cushion its final stages of descent.

Future craft based on the IXV platform won’t be your typical cargo carrying ISS ferries however as the ESA is looking to adapt the platform to be an orbital platform, much like the Shuttle was early on in its life. The downrange capability is something that a lot of space fairing nations currently lack with most relying on Russian craft or pinning their hopes on the capabilities of the up and coming private space industry. This opens up a lot of opportunities for scientists to conduct experiments that might be cost prohibitive to complete on the ISS or even ones that might be considered to be too dangerous. There doesn’t appear to be any intention to make an IXV variant that will carry humans into space however, although there’s already numerous lifting body craft in various stages of production that are aiming to have that capability.

It’s going to be interesting to see where the ESA takes the IXV platform as it definitely fills a niche that’s currently not serviced particularly well. Should they be able to transform the IXV from a prototype craft into a full production vehicle within 3 years that would be mightily impressive but I have the feeling that’s a best case scenario, something which is rare when designing new craft. Still it’s an interesting craft and I’m very excited to see what missions it will end up flying.

Moto360__Metal_RGB

Motorola 360: Defy One Trend, Follow The Other.

It’s no secret that I’m not the biggest fan of the current generation of smartwatches as I feel that, in terms of functionality, they simply don’t provide enough for me to justify purchasing one. Sure they’re pretty neat bits of technology but geek lust can only drive me so far as should I buy one and only end up using it as a watch then I’ll likely feel disappointed. When I thought about this more I figured it was a little strange as I’m already a watch wearer and so you’d think that if it came down to that then, realistically, I was getting my money’s worth anyway. After seeing the Motorola 360 though I think I know why all of the other smartwatches are so lacklustre.

Moto360__Metal_RGBFor the uninitiated last week saw the debut of Android Wear, a new version of the Android phone operating system that’s focused specifically on wearable technology. Right now it’s focused at developers with current applications that produce notifications with preview allowing developers to see how they’ll look on future devices. Interestingly enough it supports both the traditional smartwatch screen (square/rectangle) along with a more traditional round face. Considering every smartwatch that I’ve heard of up until this point had a square face I was wondering who would be create such a beast and it’s Motorola, something I probably should’ve seen coming.

Smartwatches have always gone for the rectangular style screen for 2 reasons. The first is that’s what screen manufacturers make and getting something that isn’t standard like that ends up costing quite a considerable amount. In order to make them affordable enough for people to want to buy them this kind of precludes doing anything particularly fancy so square faces it was. Secondly doing content layouts for square screens is hard enough already and doesn’t translate well to the rounded format. Motorola’s 360, in combination with Android Wear, makes this non-standard fantasy a reality but the question then becomes, why?

As it turns out Motorola has realised that smartwatches, whilst a popular niche in their own right, are focusing on one demographic: technophiles. The 360 on the other hand isn’t targeted at them specifically instead it’s aimed more at “people who wear watches” hence the round design (which apparently is 80% of all watch sales worldwide, who knew). Indeed the 360 looks like it’d be right at home among the chunkier watch offerings that have become popular of late with the added side benefit of having additional functionality built into it. The Pebble Steel made some headroads in this regard although it’s hard to deny that the 360 is a much more striking beast.

So I guess what was needed for me to overcome my initial skepticism about smartwatches wasn’t so much the functionality, although I’d admit I still dream of getting an all in one, it was more of design. It will be interesting to see if the round watch face gamble pays off for Motorola since they’ll be the first to market with their device and it’ll likely be the standard by which other Android Wear products are judged. I’ll hold off on saying Motorola has my money for this one until I see one or two in the wild but it’s been quite interesting to see my opinion changed due to good design.

Maybe I am an Apple fan boy after all. *shudder*

Titanfall Review Screenshot Wallpaper Attrition

Titanfall: We Thank You For Your Service, Pilot.

The origin story of Respawn Entertainment is one that’s cemented in many gamer’s minds. Not long after Infinity Ward released Modern Warfare 2 tensions between some of the executive team and Activision began to escalate. This eventually led to Jason West and Vince Zampella being fired from Infinity Ward for “breaches of contract and insubordination”, a line not many in the industry believed. However not long after that the former employees announced that they were starting a new games company (with blackjack and hookers, obviously) called Respawn entertainment. It didn’t take long for many current Infinity Ward employees to follow them but after that they went dark. Last year Respawn announced their first title would be called Titanfall, a sci-fi FPS that would be an Xbox exclusive. Thankfully that, and a few other things, have changed since then and Titanfall has shaped up to be a great first title, even if can’t hide its Call of Duty roots.

Titanfall Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

It’s the distant future and mankind has succeeded in building warp technology, opening up the universe for our exploitation. Humans have expanded far and wide however with distance became a growing disconnect and resentment began brewing between the core worlds and those that live on the frontier. Over time this has escalated into a full scale war between the core world’s military force, The IMC, and the frontier’s Resistance. Neither side has any intentions of backing down and battles continually rage on multiple planets, devastating their colonies and turning paradises into giant fuel depots and factories dedicated to the war effort. You’re a pilot, one of the elite 2% who make it through the notoriously fatal training programs, and it’s up to you to fight for your cause.

For a game that’s based on a modified version of the Source engine (the same one that powered Half Life 2 all those years ago) Titanfall is surprisingly pretty with all the eye candy I had come to expect from games like Crysis or Far Cry. The initial settings that Titanfall selected for my system had me a little worried that it’d run like a dog once I started tweaking it but, surprisingly, it runs incredibly well with only a few things like shadow detail turned down. Still, as you can see in the screenshot below, those tweaks don’t appear to have a lot of impact on the overall visual quality something Respawn are to be commended for. You won’t be spending much time looking at the scenery however as Titanfall is designed to throw you head first into the action and it doesn’t let up until the round is finished.

Titanfall Review Screenshot Wallpaper Very Pretty

Typically I’d go over most things from the view of the single player campaign first before talking about the multiplayer experience but Titanfall takes the interesting route of blending in single player elements into multiplayer matches to facilitate the story. It actually works out really well as a gentle way to introduce you to how Titanfall plays as you’ll likely be matched up against other people just starting out with it, ensuring that you’re not stomped by max level players who’ve already amassed hundreds of hours. The game’s story is also passable however since you’re always in the middle of the action when critical things are occurring it’s kind of hard to pay attention to it which is probably the only major letdown of the multiplayer campaign experience.

Titanfall has 2 distinct modes of gameplay, each of which has its own unique tech tree for you to customize to fit your playstyle. The first is a traditional style FPS experience with the added benefit of lots of mobility, including parkour style wall running and double jumping, and an array of weapons that are distinctly different to anything you’ll find in similar deathmatch style games. The second one happens when you call in your Titan from the sky, giving you a giant battlesuit with high powered weapons to take on both players and other Titans alike. How you customize your loadout, both for Titan and Pilot play, will determine how effective you are in certain situations and whilst there’s no one build to rule them all there’s definitely going to be one that suits you perfectly.

Titanfall Review Screenshot Wallpaper Welcome to the Suck

At first glance you’d figure that everything would revolve around Titan based combat because, come on, they’re giant mechs. Whilst this is partly true you’re given a heck of a lot of tools to deal with Titans as a Pilot. This isn’t to say that Titans are your biggest threat on the field however as you’ll likely spend quite a lot of time facing down with other pilots. Thus the larger strategic decision you’ll have to make when customizing your Pilot load out will be: do I want to be anti-Titan or anti-Pilot? The same choice applies to your Titan load out as well and will determine when you’re most effective in the game. Since you’ve got multiple loadouts to choose from this usually isn’t too much of an issue as you can build for multiple situations but each of them will need to be geared towards either one of those objectives otherwise you’ll likely find yourself ineffectual at both.

For me I chose to go for a primarily anti-Titan build for both my Titan and Pilot. I kind of fell into it as I kept tweaking my build throughout the campaign missions, trying out things that were used against me that I felt were pretty effective. The main exception to this is the smart pistol which is like having a sanctioned aimbot and is very handy in showing you where enemy Pilots are hiding. Of course its stopping power is somewhat limited, given its aimbot nature, but if you’re able to dance around someone long enough you’re guaranteed a kill. Walking around a corner into someone else will likely see you dead first, however.

Titanfall Review Screenshot Wallpaper Attrition

However once I got past level 20 or so (which doesn’t take long to do, I think I got there in about 3~4 hours) my build remained largely static. Whilst I did encounter some other builds that were particularly effective at one thing or another they all seemed to be pretty limited outside of that. Indeed the best one I came across, the light Titan with the Arc Canon, wouldn’t last long after I landed a couple hits on it. Couple that with the Vortex Shield nullifying their fully charged shots most of the time and it made it hard for me to want to try anything different, lest I start getting owned. This is in stark contrast to the way I play Call of Duty where I’ll typically have 4 completely different builds loaded up just for variety’s sake, all of which I feel are viable. Maybe my build just fits into the way I play best but, honestly, whilst the initial customization options seem large they pale in comparison to similar games in this genre.

This, I think, is probably the one thing that could be Titanfall’s… downfall. There’s just not enough variety in the game to keep you going past a certain point as you’ll unlock most things relatively quickly and will tend towards things that work. There’s a whole mess of things in the game that just aren’t worth using, shrinking the pool of viable builds considerably. Whilst 15 maps sound like a lot you’ll get familiar with them quickly and apart from attrition all of the game modes are the same kinds of modes you’ve seen dozens of times previously. Thus in order to keep Titanfall new and engaging Respawn needs to keep releasing content, something which they’ve planned to do but I have no idea how well it will work should it not come out soon.

Titanfall Review Screenshot Wallpaper King of the Server

Titanfall is a gorgeous, action packed game that delivers a great multiplayer experience reminiscent of the Call of Duty series but with an identity that’s uniquely its own. The blended single/multiplayer campaign works well, functioning as an extended tutorial that ensures you know what you’re getting into before diving into the multiplayer in earnest. It’s let down a bit by the lack of variety which is exacerbated by the fast levelling process, which could affect Titanfall’s longevity for some. All that being said it is an incredible amount of fun to play and is a solid first title from Respawn entertainment.

Rating: 9/10

Titanfall is right now on PC and XboxOne for $49.99 and  $99.95 respectively with a Xbox360 release due in the near future. Total play time was approximately 7 hours, reaching level 31.

Cassini Saturn Hexagon

Saturn’s Hexagon and a Table Covered in Clay.

One of the strangest phenomena I’ve ever read about in our solar system (and there are many, like Venus spinning in the opposite direction to everyone else, but that’s a story for another day) none are more perplexing than the hexagon atop of Saturn. It’s strange because shapes like that don’t typically appear in nature, especially at scales of that magnitude. The question of how it came to be, and more importantly why it keeps sticking around, was an interesting one and whilst there’s a sound scientific explanation for it a video shared to me by a friend showcases how the effect can come about.

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You can see the effect most strongly at around 2:30 where he starts moving from the center of the spinning disk back towards the outer edge and, lo and behold, suddenly we have a hexagon shape created by a simple motion on a rotating disk. It’s easy to make the comparison between the spinning disk and the incredible winds that sweep across Saturn’s surface, but what about the artist’s arm motion? We can see it’s a simple periodic, much like a pendulum, but the scale of which these two forces act on would almost preclude any kind of relationship. As it turns out there are in fact some similarities but the mechanisms of action are far more complex.

The current theory is that the hexagon isn’t created by the wind currents per se, as the original spinning a bucket of water experiment would lead you to believe, instead its created by the differing wind speeds that are present throughout Saturn’s atmosphere. These differing wind speeds buffet against each other creating vortexes, eddies and waves. As it turns out Saturn’s north pole has the steepest wind gradient which gives rise to the hexagon. With this in mind the researchers created a system whereby they could spin a cylinder and its base at different speeds creating a gradient similar to that on Saturn and, with a little tweaking, a hexagon appeared.

Now you know all that you should take a look at the latest movie of Saturn’s north pole from Cassini showing the speed gradient in effect. Absolutely incredible, don’t you think?

Sony Project Morpheus Headset

Sony’s New VR Headset and the Peripheral Conundrum.

Ever since the Nintendo Wii was released back in 2006 there seems to have been a resurgence in non-standard peripherals for consoles although most are simply motion based controllers in a fancy case. The issue with non-standard hardware was, and still is, that game developers can’t rely on a consumer having it and thus many choose to simply not use them. It’s for this (and other) reasons that Donkey Kong 64 had to include the Expansion Pak as their game was inoperable without it and its distribution in the market place could not be relied on. However it seems that manufacturing costs have become cheap enough to make custom peripherals like this viable and thus they have returned in greater numbers than ever before.

The big issue I see with things like this is that once a good idea comes along it’s guaranteed that there will be a lot of copy cat ideas that come out not too long after. In the absence of any interface standards governing their interactions with the consoles this inevitably turns into an arms race of who can win the most support from developers, most often ending in a duopoly of two competing standards that will likely never completely agree with one another. Whilst I’m all for competition in the consumer space I’m also for an open set of standards so that I’m not forced to choose between two functionally equivalent products based on who or what they support.

Which is why Sony’s announcement today of Project Morpheus, their virtual reality headset, is slightly troubling to me.

Sony Project Morpheus HeadsetSince it’s still in the prototype phase details are pretty scant on what its specifications will be but it’s apparently rocking a 1080p display (I’m guessing there’s 2 of them in there) and can apparently do full 360 degree tracking. Predictably the motion tracking relies on the PlayStation Eye accessory indicating that it’s probably got most of the same technology in it that the DualShock4/PlayStation Move controllers do. There doesn’t appear to be any headphones built into it but if it’s got all the same core bits and pieces as a regular PlayStation controller than I’m sure there’ll be a headphone port on it. Essentially it looks like the Oculus Rift did way back when it first debuted on Kickstarter, albeit far more reliant on Sony technology than their product will ever be.

Therein lies the crux of the issue with peripherals of this nature. Sure they add functionality and experiences that would be otherwise impossible to accomplish on the platform by their own but when they’re built like Sony’s, reliant on a whole bunch of things that are only available on that platform, I almost immediately lose interest. As someone who plays across multiple platforms in the space of a year the last thing I want to do is flood my living room with all sorts of one shot peripherals that have no use outside a couple narrow scenarios. Instead I’d prefer one that works across a multitude, something which is technically possible (I won’t tell you how much research I did into finding a cross platform compatible arcade stick for the fighting games I play) but rarely occurs in the wild.

What I’m really getting at here is that whilst I’m super excited for these kinds of virtual reality devices to become commonplace I also want a set of open standards so that when you buy one you’ll be able to use it pretty much everywhere. Oculus Rift has a big head start on everyone in this regard so I really hope that they’ve seen this problem on the horizon and are working towards a solution for it. With something like that in place companies could then focus on making the better headsets rather than trying to coax everyone into their ecosystem. It’s probably a pipe dream, I know, but it would be to the benefit of everyone if it happened.

BICEP2 Twilight

We Live in an Inflationary Universe.

The quest to understand our origins is an innate part of our psyche as humans. You can see evidence of this stretching as far back as we kept records as our ancestors grappled with the idea of where they originated from, whether it was a (relatively) simple question of lineage or the larger question of where we, and all that we know of, came from. Modern science has made incredible leaps in this area, expanding our understanding to show that we live in a universe that is old beyond any of our wildest guesses and is home to more wonders than any could have dreamed of. Still the ultimate question, of where everything began, still puzzles us although as of today we’ve begun to lay down the first few pieces in this puzzle and they’re magnificent.

BICEP2 TwilightYou’re likely familiar with the concept of the Big Bang, the theorized event that gave birth to our universe and marked the beginning of time. However the specifics of what happened during that time are the subject of intense debate among the scientific community and there are many theories that model what may have happened. One of the most popular theories is that during the Big Bang the universe underwent a period of massive inflation in the tiny fractions of a second after it began, expanding faster than the speed of light. There was a lot of indirect evidence to support this (like the fact that our universe is still expanding) but direct proof of this occurring had been elusive.

That was until the telescope picture above, called BICEP-2, caught a picture of something that could only exist if that theory was correct.

Our universe still has remnants of the Big Bang hanging around in something called the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB). It’s a kind of radiation that’s pretty much uniform not matter which direction you look into, something which is pretty peculiar when you consider just how wide and varied everything else we can observe is. BICEP-2 was searching for something in particular though, a pattern in this radiation that could only have happened should the early universe undergone a period of rapid inflation. The technical term for this is primordial B-mode polarization and was widely believed to have a value of below 0.11 based on previous maps of the CMB. BICEP-2 on the other hand has come in at a 5 sigma confidence level (1 in 3.5 million chance of being random, the gold standard for confirmation in this field of physics) as 0.2, excluding many models and theories that were based on that assumption. It opens up a whole new world of physics and is the first direct proof of the inflationary model.

To understand just how huge of an impact this is going to have on the world of physics you just have to see the reaction of Andrei Linde, one of the first to propose such a model, and his wife Renata Kallosh (also a well renowned theoretical physicist) reacting to the news:

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It’s one thing to find proof of something and it’s another thing entirely to show something can not be. This discovery is powerful not because it shows us that a certain model is correct more it has shown us that the widely held belief was in fact wrong and we need to start heading in another direction. Confirmation of this shouldn’t be far off (indeed the team behind the discovery held onto the results for a year to make sure) and with that we’ll enter into a new world scientific debate, one that was so much more informed than before.

 

Uncovered Telstra Pit

Beating a Dead Copper Network.

Not so long time readers will know that a month ago (exactly, strangely enough) I posted about the issues that a FTTN NBN wouldn’t fix, namely that of the horrendous nature of the copper network that Telstra currently maintains. When I posted it I figured that my almost unusably slow Internet was the byproduct of the incumbent weather and would soon rectify itself, something which had happened in the past. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case at all and after many days of sunshine and no improvement in sight I decided to do the thing I had been regretting: calling up Telstra to get the line investigated.

Uncovered Telstra PitYou can then imagine my elation when I saw that they now have a handy online form for you to fill out instead of calling them. Like a dutiful consumer I filled it out and sent it on its way, not caring about the multiple warnings about getting charged $120 if there was no fault found. The site guaranteed me a response within a week and so I waited for them to respond. Almost like clockwork a response appear from Telstra a week later claiming that the problem had been resolved and inviting me to take a survey about my experience. If my problem hadn’t been fixed, it said, I could say so on the survey and they’d continue investigating the issue.

Of course the fault hadn’t been fixed as no one had contacted me since lodging the fault so it was obvious that they hadn’t done any troubleshooting at all, that was just the system automatically closing out a ticket that had no action on it. I replied to the survey in kind, outlining the issues I was experiencing and the troubleshooting steps I had taken to fix it. I received a call back a day later from an agent who was going to handle my case who was very understanding of the situation I was in. However the earliest he could send out a technician was a month away although he promised he’d get that moved up.

I never heard back from him after a couple call backs where he told me he couldn’t do anything for me (even though he promised to keep me updated). Luckily the technician did arrive on the scheduled date although at 8AM rather than the agreed time of after 5pm. Upon inspection of my outlet he asked if I was able to get a connection at all as the line was essentially unusable by his diagnostic tools. After a quick trip to the pit he came back with an assessment that shouldn’t shock anyone but should make you lose all faith in the state of Telstra’s copper network.

Essentially the pit had been uncovered for quite some time, much like the above picture, with the terminals exposed to the elements. Another technician had been by recently though as they had put a temporary cover the terminals to protect it however this had to have been done after my terminal had degraded. A simple rewiring job fixed the issue but the pit still remains uncovered although, hopefully, the terminals are now protected from the elements so that it won’t happen again in the future.

The issue here is that I know this isn’t exactly uncommon as I’ve managed to pass multiple pits in my travellings around Canberra that are in a similar state. To get speeds higher than what I get right now would mean that a lot of remediation to the copper network would need to be done and no where in the government’s NBN plan does it stipulate that happening. This makes their promise of getting higher speeds to everyone cheaper and faster hollow as the infrastructure they’re relying on to provide it simply isn’t capable of delivering the required outcomes. I could go on but I feel like I’ve said my peace about this a dozen times over already. I just wanted to highlight the amount of rigmarole I had to go through to get a single connection fixed which, when multiplied by an entire nation, shows how infeasible a FTTN NBN really is.

Thief Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

Thief: Subtly Only Gets You So Far.

The gold standard for stealth game play has, and probably always will be, the original Thief series. It wasn’t that it was one of the first games to get stealth mechanics right, I believe that title belongs to the Metal Gear series (even though I’ve never played any of them), more that the blend of mechanics, cues and emphasis on finesse rather than force made the series stand out amongst its peers. It’s been a very long time between drinks for the series though with the last title, Thief: Deadly Shadows, being released almost a decade ago. The latest instalment, Thief, is an attempt to reboot the series for a modern audience something which may be at odds at the long time fans of the master thief Garret

Thief Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

After taking a job from Basso, Garrett’s only friend and contact for all this nefarious and underworldly, you find yourself atop a glorious manor accompanied by your former apprentice Erin. However something doesn’t feel right about this particular job as you witness something strange, an otherworldly ritual that shakes the very world. You’re just about to pull out when Erin, who was watching the ritual from on top of a glass dome, falls. You try to save her but it’s too late and she falls down right into the middle of the ritual, disappearing from sight. Suddenly it’s a year later and you have no recollection of what has happened.

Thief certainly impresses graphically as all the environments pack in an incredible amount of detail, something which is key to the core game play mechanics. There’s atmospheric and lighting effects everywhere which can turn some of the most dull environments into wonderful screenshot bait. Having said all that I feel like it could’ve been better as whilst they’re definitely on the upper end of the scale there are some sections where it’s obvious that sacrifices had to be made for the large number of platforms that were targeted. This did mean that I rarely had any performance issues but I’m usually happy to sacrifice that for a little more eye candy.

Thief Review Screenshot Wallpaper Many Avenues of Attack

Unsurprisingly Thief is a stealth game, one where the objective of your current quest can be completed in a variety of different ways. The tools you have at your disposal are wide and varied, ranging from tools that will help keep you concealed to weapons of massive destruction. There’s also two different upgrade systems that allow you to tailor Garrett’s abilities to your play style of choice allowing you to become the master of the shadows or a brutal predator that lurks around every corner. Indeed whilst Thief’s pedigree is in stealthy game play either play style seems viable, even a mix of both if either one of them starts to wear on you.

In terms of retaining the trademark feel that all Thief games have this latest instalment does it quite well. Whilst the environments aren’t exactly massive open world sandboxes like Assassin’s Creed there’s enough back alleys, secret pathways and rooms with tantalizingly locked doors to make the maps feel a lot bigger than they actually are. Thief certainly rewards players who take the time to go over everything with a fine tooth comb which I’m sure a lot of players will find rewarding. On the flip side it never feels like this is a necessary part of the game as you’ll find more than enough resources to keep you going if you just meander off the beaten trail once in a while. Whilst this might annoy the purists the inclusion of a custom difficulty mode turns this optional but rewarding task into a necessity, something which should keep them at bay.

Thief Review Screenshot Wallpaper Why Is There Always a Log

The combat in Thief is understandably lacklustre, mostly because it’s obvious that out and out fighting isn’t the game’s preferred way of completing objectives. This is in stark contrast to other similar stealth games of recent memory (most notably Dishonored) where both paths were somewhat viable. You’ve still got the choice of killing or knocking people out to achieve your objective but should you find yourself discovered there’s really no way to get yourself out of that situation without finding a nearby hidey hole. I don’t necessarily count this against Thief as out and out combat is not what the series, nor the genre itself, is usually about. The option is there but its a blunt instrument in comparison to all the other tools you have at your disposal.

The stealth, on the other hand, is quite marvelous. With the highly detailed maps peppered with vents, corridors and passageways it’s guaranteed that every obstacle you encounter has multiple ways to bypass it. Indeed every time I found myself struggling with a particular section it was always because I wasn’t noticing the alternate path that was right before me, opening up options I didn’t know I had previously. There are some situations where trade offs have to be made though which can lead to some frustration but realistically it’s just about making the choice that’s right for your particular playstyle.

Thief Review Screenshot Wallpaper Locking Picking

The game is well executed for the most part with no major bugs or glitches to report however the control scheme does feel a little bit awkward. Using the lean out ability can be a real exercise in frustration, especially if you wanted to pick something up from a chest or box instead of peeking around it. The same can be said for cancelling things, which can be right click or another key, leading to some heat of the moment confusion. Additionally dropping off a rope can’t be done with space if there’s no nearby ledge and instead must be done with X. It just feels like the interface lacks consistency and makes the more routine parts of the game harder than they need to be. This is somewhat excusable in survival horror games but it’s also one of the reasons that I have a tendency to dislike that genre.

Thief’s story is decidedly middle of the road sharing some similar threads to those of previous instalments in the series (secret society conspiracies laced with bits of magic) but there’s nothing particularly memorable about it. The initial build up in the opening scenes is far too short for us to have any emotional investment in the main characters and seems to rely on our previous experiences with the series to derive most of its impact. It simply doesn’t work as the vast majority of people playing this game haven’t been involved with the Thief series for the better part of a decade and much of the detail is lost to the ages. I’m a firm believer that a good story can make up for nearly any shortcomings that a game might have but unfortunately for Thief that isn’t the case and it’s lucky that it’s so strong mechanically.

Thief Review Screenshot Wallpaper Where To From Here

F or a series that hasn’t seen a release in 10 years Thief delivers a solid game play experience, modernizing many mechanics without incurring the usual penalty of simplifying them too greatly for mass adoption. Thief doesn’t rely heavily on its pedigree in order to deliver a good experience, being able to create its own distinct identity through it’s well executed game mechanics. Unfortunately the story is the giant black mark on an otherwise highly polished experience, leaving this and many other reviewers wanting. Still it’s hard for me to recommend against playing Thief as it really is a solid game, just don’t play it for the story.

Rating: 7.8/10

Thief is available right now on PC, Xbox360, XboxOne, PlayStation3 and PlayStation4 right now for $49.99, $79.95, $99.995, $79.95 and $99.95 respectively. Game was played on the PC on the Thief difficulty with 11 hours of total play time and 35% of the achievements unlocked.

COSMOS: A Classic Revisited.

Carl Sagan was a great man. A long time advocate for the sciences he inspired a generation of new scientists with his influence, from the simple things like his lectures at Cornell to the wondrous television program called Cosmos. As someone who only fully came to the world of scientific thinking later in life I was completely unaware of his works until some years ago and was surprised at how well Cosmos stood the test of time. Since then however things what were mearly theories have matured into scientific facts and boundless new ideas have been created. Thus it was time for a new generation to be inspired by the wonders of science and none other than Neil deGrasse Tyson has taken up the task of doing so.

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Whilst the first episode is somewhat light on in the science department it serves as a basis from which the rest of the series will build upon. It pays homage to Carl Sagan’s legacy whilst not being bound by it, creating its own identity that’s distinct from that of the original works. I’d highly recommend you follow it as it will not only be amazing watching but it will also serve as the first steps you can take towards getting a deeper understanding of the universe we exist in.

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Will Open Compute Ever Trickle Down?

When Facebook first announced the Open Compute Project it was a very exciting prospect for people like me. Ever since virtualization became the defacto standard for servers in the data center hardware density became the prime the name of the game. Client after client I worked for was always seeking out ways to reduce their server fleet’s footprint, both by consolidating through virtualization and by taking advantage of technology like blade servers. However whilst the past half decade has seen a phenomenal increase the amount of computing power available, and thus an increase in density, there hasn’t been another blade revelation. That was until Facebook went open kimono on their data center strategies.

Open Compute Project LogoThe designs proposed by the Open Compute Project are pretty radical if you’re used to traditional computer hardware, primarily because they’re so minimalistic and the fact that they expect a 12.5V DC input rather than the usual 240/120VAC that’s typical of all modern data centers. Other than that they look very similar to your typical blade server and indeed the first revisions appeared to get densities that were pretty comparable. The savings at scale were pretty tremendous however as you could gain a lot of efficiency by not running a power supply in every server and their simple design meant their cooling aspects were greatly improved. Apart from Facebook though I wasn’t aware of any other big providers utilizing ideas like this until Microsoft announced today that it was joining the project and was contributing its own designs to the effort.

On the surface they look pretty similar to the current Open Compute standards although the big differences seem to come from the chassis.Instead of doing away with a power supply completely (like the current Open Compute servers advocate) it instead has a dedicated power supply in the base of the chassis for all the servers. Whilst I can’t find any details on it I’d expect this would mean that it could operate in a traditional data center with a VAC power feed rather than requiring the more specialized 12.5V DC. At the same time the density that they can achieve with their cloud servers is absolutely phenomenal, being able to cram 96 of them in a standard rack. For comparison the densest blade system I’ve ever supplied would top out at 64 servers and most wouldn’t go past 48.

This then begs the question: when we will start to see server systems like this trickle down to the enterprise and consumer market? Whilst we rarely have the requirements for the scales at which these servers are typically used I can guarantee there’s a market for servers of this nature as enterprises continue on their never ending quest for higher densities and better efficiency. Indeed this feels like it would be advantageous for some of the larger server manufacturers to pursue since if these large companies are investing in developing their own hardware platforms it shows that there’s a niche they haven’t yet filled.

Indeed if the system can also accommodate non-compute blades (like the Microsoft one shows with the JBOD expansion) such ideas would go toe to toe with system-in-a-box solutions like the CISCO UCS which, to my surprise, quickly pushed its way to the #2 spot for x86 blade servers last year. Of course there are already similar systems on the market from others but in order to draw people away from that platform other manufacturers are going to have to offer something more and I think the answer to that lies within the Open Compute designs.

If I’m honest I think that the real answer to the question posited in the title of this blog is no. Whilst it would be possible for anyone working at Facebook and Microsoft levels of scale to engage in something like this unless a big manufacturer gets on board Open Compute based solutions just won’t be feasible for the clients I service. It’s a shame because I think there’s some definite merits to the platform, something which is validated by Microsoft joining the project.