Posts Tagged‘why’

The Simple Science Behind Bendy Rivers.

There are some things you just don’t think about until they’re shown to you. Most people don’t think twice about why the same side of the moon always faces us, it’s either just coincidence or divine intervention, but when you learn it’s a relatively simple aspect of gravity (tidal locking) you find yourself asking where else such things might occur. Likewise I had never really thought about why rivers tend to twist and turn, thinking that it was most likely because there were things in the water’s way that it was just getting around, but as it turns out there’s a very clear explanation for why they bend, even without objects being in their way:

Understanding these fundamental principles is what allows us to look at other places in the universe and draw conclusions about what they might have been like billions of years in the past. We’ve long speculated that Mars was once host to oceans and rivers not unlike our own based on ideas like this; their snake like remnants still being visibleย long after the water has departed. Hopefully one day we’ll find the ever elusive underground reservoirs of water on Mars and maybe, just maybe, find evidence of life that may have once played a role in shaping those long forgotten rivers.

Super Meat Boy: The Return of Nintendo Hard.

I consider myself to be pretty good at video games. More often than not I’ll go for the hardest difficulty setting as otherwise the game will just feel too easy and beating the challenges the game puts before me just won’t be as satisfying. Still I lived through a time where making a game extraordinarily difficult was one way to make the game last longer, like the insane level of difficulty in the game Battletoads. I spent years playing that game and I believe I only ever made it to level 4 a couple times and the experiencing was so scarring that I’ve never been back to defeat my old foe. Still when I came head to head with Super Meat Boy I felt like I had been sent back 15 years to my youth, where the games were simple and incredibly hard.

Well this looks easy enough…

You play as Meat Boy a little red block who’s girlfriend, Bandage Girl, is taken away by the evil Dr. Fetus. At its heart the game is a good old fashioned platformer challenging you to get from the starting area of the level to the other end where Bandage Girl is. Of course every time you reach her Dr. Fetus appears and takes her away again, usually giving her a firm beating right in front of you before disappearing again. There are of course numerous obstacles that are in your way when you’re trying to navigate the levels and a good chunk of them will turn Meat Boy into a lovely explosion of gibs, sending you right back to the start of the level.

Super Meat Boy differs from the old school traditional platformers in several ways, most of which are done in order to keep the game play fast paced and incredibly intense. For starters each level is quite short, with many of the early levels over in under 6 seconds. Towards the end they do get quite a bit longer but even then none of them are longer than a minute (the non-boss levels anyway). There are no lives in this game either (save for the special Warp Zone levels) and the re-spawn time is incredibly quick, so much so that sometimes when you die you’ll be able to see your previous Meat Boy’s gibs still exploding as you respawn. This is not to say the game encourages you to just bash your head randomly against the keyboard until you finish the level, far from it. There are many additional elements to the game that encourage precise, carefully timed movements and finding the most optimal path to the end goal.

Oh what the hell!?!?!

Each level has a set time there for you to beat and doing so will earn you a “Grade A” mark for that level. It will also let you switch to the Dark Side of that level which is usually an incredibly more sadistic version of the same place, requiring even more precise timing in order to get through to the end. Additionally most levels have a bandage in them which can be used to purchase additional characters to use in place of Meat Boy. The bandages are usually placed so out of the way that you really have to go out of your way to get them and if you’re vying for Grade A status you’re usually going to miss them (as I did, I think I have 4). I’ve heard unlocking the additional characters can make the game quite a bit easier than the insanity that I experienced by doing the entire game with just Meat Boy.

Woah, single rainbow all the way.

When I first started out playing Super Meat Boy I relished the challenge that it presented to me. As a long time gamer I pride myself on being able to conquer most modern games without having to break too much of a sweat. As many gamers will agree the past decade has seen many games go the route of not being particularly hard in order to drive their adoption rates and thus games with difficulty that decades ago wouldn’t have been out of place are now infamous for their difficulty. The trick is not making a game difficult for difficult’s sake, more it is to teach the player to overcome what they once thought was impossible and rewarding them as they learn.

Super Meat Boy does this quite consistently, presenting you with challenges that on the surface look nigh on impossible until you start having a crack at them. The last 5 levels are brilliant examples of this having stumped me to the point of staring blankly at the screen for minutes on end trying to figure out just how the heck I was going to beat the puzzle laid out before me. The learning curve is pretty smooth at the start but quickly ramps up into insane territory towards the end. I think this is best shown by my played time which sat at a 8 hours as I hit the last zone and 12 hours after finishing the gameยน.


My Twitter followers will probably perk up at this point and say “Dave, wait a sec, didn’t you say you used a trainer to finish this game”. Yes I most assuredly did thanks to the last level requiring a key sequence that I just couldn’t master after 2 hours of trying to. The game tells you every time that you start it up that the keyboard is an inferior input device for Super Meat Boy but I had gone this far without using one and couldn’t be bothered setting up my PS3 controller with it. So I did what any programmer out there would do, I coded up a program in AutoIt to press the right keys with the right timing for me:

Sweet, sweet AutoIt.

If you look at that script you’ll get a sense for just how precise timing you need in order to execute the right moves in order to complete some of the levels. This script only gets you past the first major obstacle on the last level but that was more than enough as I was able to complete every other part of the level after an hour or so. It doesn’t work perfectly every time either with the sleep timer usually being off by a couple milliseconds either way, leaving Meat Boy standing there doing nothing or foolishly leaping to his death.

This sums up how I felt after finishing it.

Super Meat Boy sucked me in with its nostalgic feel and hat tips to classic gaming only to turn up the nostalgia even further by adding in punishing levels of difficulty. Immediately after finishing it I swore that I’d never go back to it, the sheer insanity of difficulty ruining the prospects of ever going back. However I hadn’t taken any screenshots of my adventure so I had to play for a bit to get some pictures for this review. 2 hours later I emerged after unlocking the Bit Trip Runner and playing through a couple of the warp zones I hadn’t seen. Truly Super Meat Boy had me experiencing beaten wife syndrome on a whole new level, I just couldn’t stay away from it no matter how much pain it put me through. Still this game is definitely not for everyone but at $20 on steam (and can be had at sale for $5) it’s hard to go wrong with Super Meat Boy, especially if you’re keen to revisit the world of games as it was almost 2 decades ago.

Super Meat Boy is available right now on Xbox360 and PC right now for $20. Game was played on the PC using a keyboard for the entire game, with a grand total of 14 hours played.

ยนI do not care if it’s the real end or not. I got the achievement that said “The End” that’s it, it’s done! *puts fingers in ears* LA LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU!!!!!!!

2 Years and 2 Days On: A Look Back at The Refined Geek.

I’ve never been one for making a big fuss about milestones on this blog, apart from that one time when I hit 100 posts (now well over 450) and unleashed Geon into the world. Indeed as the title of this post suggests I even managed to let the 2 year milestone slip by for 2 days before realising that I had been at this blogging thing for quite a while, nearly double the time of any job I’ve held in the past 6 years. So since I don’t have anything else interesting to post about today (more on that later) I thought I’d take some time to reflect on what this blog was, where it is and where I think this thing is going in the near future.

As anyone who’s made the journey into the archives section of this blog will tell you I initially started blogging as a knee jerk reaction to being roped into the No Clean Feed movement here in Australia. In all honesty I’ve never really been that much of a writer nor anyone who you would consider as a public face for something. Still my ego is large enough to support that idea so when my long time friend Hannah asked me to be the media representative for the Canberran branch I didn’t hesitate to say no. What followed was a brief stint in the public eye with me doing a couple radio interviews and doing a speech in the middle of Canberra. Thinking that this would lead onto bigger and better things I thought it would be time to get my online personality into shape and started this blog to chronicle my thoughts and misadventures whilst fighting against the Australian Internet Filter.

The name was something I thought up with a night of googling through dozens of possibilities before I found one that didn’t have any meaningful search results for the title. I always had the theme of something debonair but also wanted to keep true to my geeky/nerdy roots and “The Refined Geek” seemed to fit the bill. Funnily enough not too long after starting this blog and buying the domain name did I come across Refined Geek, another Australian based blogger who shares some of my passions but who’s writings are worlds away from what I write here. I still drop by there from time to time as he’s quite a good writer, preferring to post less often with much more well formed posts than my usual one post a day scatter gun approach.

I can’t remember exactly when it happened but I do remember making the commitment to writing at least one post a day sometime back in the beginning of 2009. Mostly it was because I felt this blog was languishing in the dark recesses of the Internet, garnering only one view a day for the first 3 months or so. After integrating my blog with Twitter and Facebook that increased traffic ten fold but my presence outside my social circle was still quite minimal. Still as I developed a large backlog of posts on varying subjects the traffic started to climb, peaking at about 20 visits a day by the end of 2009. 2010 however really has been this blog’s year with 80~100 people visiting this blog per day looking for all sorts of weird and wonderful things. I’m still surprised to see some of my old articles popping up in the stats, it always brings a smile to my face.

Initially I started out with the idea that this would be my professional presence on the web, demonstrating my professionalism and expertise on certain subjects. However, as most amateur bloggers find, the stories that do well are often those that come with a personal aspect to them and I always found those the easiest to write. Over time I let go of the idea that people would come here like they do for the other big blogs, instead preferring to just write about what I’m passionate about and seeing where the chips fall. Most recently this has taken the form of not trying to force out a post every day (although my OCD keeps bugging me to) instead hoping that I can just let the topics come to me and write when the moment strikes. Most recently I took to blogging my exploits through the USA which was an interesting diversion away from the usual game/tech/space focus that I usually take. I think that was the final nail in the “this isn’t my personal blog” idea’s coffin (all the other nails were put in a long time ago, however) and I’ve wholeheartedly resigned myself to not thinking about The Refined Geek in that way again.

As for the future of this blog? I’m not really sure where I want to go with it. Spending an hour or two here every day writing a post is still feels like part of my morning routine so there’s no doubt that I’ll be continuing to post here for the foreseeable future. However there have been many times when I’ve considered moving it to a better domain (I happen to own, which would be very suitable), revamping the site with a new theme or even starting anew with a better focus but with all my other exploits at the moment I can’t see many of them happening soon. So for those long term readers of mine can rest easy in the fact that I’m not going to start changing things now that I’ve hit the terrible twos but with change coming my way in the real world soon I can see this blog shifting in unison as it has done so over the past 2 years. Whether that’s anything I’ve just predicted is anyone’s guess, but I’m not one to be comfortable with the status quo.

I mean really, when was the last time you saw me write about finance? ๐Ÿ˜‰

Computer Fail.

As I’ve said before us IT guys have the most interesting problems when it comes to our personal computers. Mine decided last night, in the middle of doing stuff for the wedding on Monday no less, that it would give up the ghost and stop working completely. No amount of cajoling or begging would bring my computer back from its silent grave and I was relegated to trying to recover my files hastily in case the drives were on the way out.

Turns out either the hard drive itself of or the controller on my motherboard decided that the main boot record and master file table needed to die, and proceeded to oblige me in this request even though I had done nothing to provoke it. I had had problems with it freezing in the past but since there was no data corruption I put it down to spurious windows chicanery, and thought nothing more of it. This assumption has cost me around 3 hours of my life, something which I’m not keen to repeat again in the near future.

This post will be a short and sweet one as the time I usually dedicate to writing out a thoughtful post have been taken away by said computer fail. I will say one thing though, the free file recovery software Recuva is worth its weight in gold, as it was able to scan my drive and recover all the files in a fraction of the time of any other utility I’ve used before. Everything else I tried took at least 15 minutes to get the folder structure right and then couldn’t recover anything past a few measly files. I was able to get a full 21GB off my drive without too much hassle using Recuva, and I’m now just a format and reconfigure away from having a working machine again.

My shopping list now includes a 2TB RAID 1/0 array, because I never want to go through this crap again. ๐Ÿ™‚

Technical Difficulties.

It just goes to show that even if you think you’ve done everything right chances are there’s something small you missed. I got home yesterday and was greeted with not only a cat who demands attention immediately (or face the wrath of his continuous antics, that should make for an interesting post in the future) but also an Internet connection that refused to play ball. Queue an hour or so of troubleshooting and swapping between modems and routers and I finally thought I had it fixed. That was until around 2:45am this morning.

Turns out my modem thought it would be a spiffing time to reboot itself. This shouldn’t of caused more then about 5 minutes of downtime. However, due to my previous tinkering, several network settings had changed and my modem was now blissfully unaware of this. Turns out saving the config on this particular router only saves it into RAM, and any reboot will kill any settings not saved in the proper way. Needless to say I’ve fixed this issue and it shouldn’t happen again…..Well not for a while at least! ๐Ÿ™‚

I guess it’s like I’ve said before, us IT guys have the most interesting computer problems and no matter how sure we are in what we’ve done they always find a way to make us look like quite the fools. I’ll make up today’s blog post with something interesting tomorrow, I promise! ๐Ÿ˜€

We Have the most Interesting Problems.

No matter what you do you’ve got to have a bit of pride in what you’re doing. I’d love to tell everyone that my sense of pride in my work comes from my long line of successful projects, which I will admit do give me a warm and fuzzy feeling, but more and more I think it comes down to this: Give me any IT system known to man, be it a personal computer or corporate infrastructure, and guaranteed I’ll find a problem that no one has ever seen before and won’t even try to explain.

This came up recently with our blade implementation I mentioned a while ago. Everything has been going great, with our whole environment able to run on a single blade comfortably. Whilst I was migrating everything across something happened that managed to knock one of our 2 blades offline. No worries I thought to myself, I had enabled HA on the farm so all the virtual machines would magically reappear. Not 2 minutes later did our other blade server drop off the network, taking all the (non-production, thank heavens) servers offline. After spending a lot of time on getting this up and running I was more than a little irked that it had developed a problem like this, but I endeavoured to find the cause.

That was about 2 weeks ago and I thought I had nipped it in the bud when I had found the machines responsible and modified their configuration so they’d behave. I was working on reconfiguring some network properties on one machine when I suddenly lost connection again. Knowing that this could happen I had made sure to move most of the servers off before attempting this so we didn’t lose our entire environment this time around. However what troubled me wasn’t the blade dropping off the network it was how I managed to trigger it (a bit of shop talk follows).

VMware’s hypervisor is supposed to abstract the physical hardware away from the guest operating system so that you can easily divvy it up and get more use out of a server. As such it’s pretty rare for a change from within a guest to affect the physical hardware. However when I was changing one network adapter within a guest from a static address (it was on a different subnet prior to migration) to DHCP I completely lost network connectivity to the guest and host. It seems that a funny combination of VMware, HP Blades and Windows TCP/IP stack contains a magic combination so that when you do what I did, the network stack on the VMware host gets corrupted (I’ve confirmed its not the VirtualConnect module or anything else, since I had virtual machines running in the same chassis on a different blade perfectly well).

I’ve struggled with similar things with my own personal computer for years. My current machine suffers from random BSODs that I’m sure are due to the motherboard which is unfortunately the only component I can’t easily replace. Every phone I had for the past 3 years suffered from one problem or another that would render it useless for extended periods of time. Because of this I’ve come to the conclusion that because I’m supposed to be an expert with technology I will inheritly get the worst problems.

It’s not all bad though. With problems like these comes experience. Just like my initial projects which ultimately failed to deliver (granted one of those was a project at University and the other one was woefully under resourced) I learnt what can go wrong where, and had to develop troubleshooting skills to cope with that. I don’t think I’d know a lot about technology today if I hadn’t had so many things break on me. It was this quote that summed it up so well for me:

I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.

That quote was from Michael Jordan. A man who is constantly associated with success attributes it to his failures, something which I can attest to. It also speaks to the engineer in me, as with any engineering project the first implementation should never be the one delivered, as revising each implementation lets you learn where you made mistakes and correct them. There’s only so much you can learn from getting it right.

This still doesn’t stop me from wanting to thrash my computer for its dissent against me, however ๐Ÿ™‚