Sep 2
Essential Tools
posted by: Player0 in tools on 09 2nd, 2012 | | No Comments »

I’m becoming quite the tool collector in my old age.  While I’ve known for a long time that having the right tool for the job makes the job a lot easier, I haven’t exactly known what the right tools are.

Take wobble extensions for example.  I learned about these from a random forum post on removing a specific part from a specific car.  I read tool specific blogs and such but never heard of a wobble extension before.  They hide in the socket aisle of Sears looking just like everything else.  I guess everyone just knows about them somehow and don’t need to mention it.

But a wobble extension is useful in 90% of all socket wrench applications.  It helps the socket sit on the bolt much more quickly and aids to keep it seated properly.  It gives just enough wiggle room to make your hand more comfortable and the very short ones don’t usually get in the way.

Universal joints are not as handy.  While I do use them all the time for automotive work, they simply bend too far too often.  This makes it impossible to sit them on to some bolts because they’ll swing away to some impossible angle.  Once on the bolt, the angle may be to severe to allow the correct turning of the wrench.  A high friction universal joint with angle limiters would be indispensable.  Maybe it exists in some snap-on catalog.

Air powered impact wrenches and ratchets also fall in to “why didn’t I do this 10 years ago” category.  It is sort of a pain to drag that hose back and forth and oil these things constantly.  But effortlessly removing stubborn over-torqued rusted bolts without jumping on breaker bars and spraining my ankles is priceless.  The knuckle skin savings on my little 1/4 air ratchet is also quite good.  Having to buy new sets of impact sockets and extensions really sucks though.

Impact drivers themselves are pretty new to me.  I bought an electric cordless ‘drill style’ impact driver.  Tiny, light, lithium battery, incredibly powerful without breaking my wrist, can drive lag bolts or hang curtains.  The only downside is the lack of a chuck so you need to buy those awful drill bits with the hex ends which wobble and snap quite easily.

I don’t think I need to mention the saws-all.  It gets used on almost every project around the house.

I like being surprised by tool usefulness.  Ratcheting box end wrenches for example.  Now this only applies to the combination style wrenches (has the crescent wrench part on one end) that also flex and that flex needs to lock in position.  In fact, flex without a lock is only useful 20% of the time so please put locks on them.  I bought a set of these really thinking I may not use it all that often but I find I grab them before going for socket wrenches because they’re so useful in tight places.  I even bought some U and S shaped ones, though they are box end only and are slightly less universally useful.  No flex either.  But these are cheaper GearWrench variants which actually have a nice bi-directional feature on the ratchet.

Dec 19
Skyrim: Why Magic Sucks
posted by: Player0 in cruft on 12 19th, 2011 | | 1 Comment »

I’ve just spent 120 hours and 41 levels on a pure Destruction mage in Skyrim.  I spent most of this time just wondering when the experience was going to get good.  But I’ve finished the main quest line and feel left down.  Skyrim started off on the right foot with the dual handed casting.  They even added in the magic block concept.  But the execution is just utterly flawed.

The real problem is that I’ve put all my level up points in to Magicka because it’s the one resource I’m always starved in.  Even with magicka regen gear or fortify destruction gear, even after this many levels there is not enough magicka to fight more than two enemies at a time.  The game makes you do this all the time.  But because all my points went to magicka and not health, the mage is extremely fragile.  There really aren’t many good dropped items to really improve armor AND the correct magic thing you want.

One could enchant, but that brings up issue number 2: there aren’t enough skill points.  Even as a Destruction purist, the Restoration and Alteration bring a lot of spells to improve offense, defense, and reduce Magicka cost.  But there aren’t enough skill points to do all that AND level enchantment which is the only way to get the decent gear we need.  You might say that it’s the point, that it’d be too easy otherwise.  But there’s just no balance when a single arrow or ice spell can kill you and you STILL don’t have enough magicka to fend off three dead guys without running or potting.

Luckily, Destruction provides stuns.  If you dual cast the spell, you can stun an opponent and this is critical to surviving any fight.  Crowd control is a must, but it also kills the action.  You dual cast a spell, stun the guy, wait 15 seconds, do it again.  It’s cheap and it’s boring.  It also forces you to dual cast every spell which kind of ruins blocking.  I can’t just hit block to dodge a spell.  I have to switch to that spell, let it charge up, and then hope that it blocks.

But all a magic block or ward ends up doing is draining your magicka pool super quick.  And it usually fails with a single destruction hit.  There is a talent point that can be used to make wards absorb magicka, but see my note about not enough talent points.  Also, like Oblivion, you can simply side step most destruction spells.  Why burn precious magicka off trying to block it when you can instantly step to the side?

Magic blocking would actually be a fun component if it came up instantly with a key press without having to change spells.  Let it burn magicka at the same rate, but if we bring it up for only a second while we need it, that’s fine.

Oblivion had a better magic system overall.  More spells AND you got to create your own monstrosities.  Touch versus range spells were a good idea and gave an otherwise long range class some close range action.  You could be a pretty powerful mage in Oblivion and still have major health.

A lot of people complain about Skyrim’s obvious flaws.  The dated graphics, the shitty UI, the bugs, the crashes, the annoying Radiant AI talking at you in the middle of other conversations, the lack of money at the vendors.  But those things can be forgiven, they don’t really hurt the action.  But hurtling the same spells for 120 hours does.  Flame walls and glyphs are good ideas but almost entirely useless in just about every battle.

This biggest effrontery is that there seem to only be 8 mappable spell keys.  It makes it annoying to try other spells since they require rummaging through a shitty UI to find.  Suddenly need water breathing or a ward or frost instead of flame, well now you have to remap hot keys.  Fun in the heat of battle.

The little oil pots and fire spells are a great addition.  I also like the candlelight spell you can shoot to make, well lets face it, the majority of the game visible.  Oblivion was awesome because of the spell variety it gave.  And it was just dumbed down like all new games seem to be this day.

As a mage, Shouts are confusing.  Ice Form gives great crowd control, but most of the other spells are complete rip offs of spells I already have.  I’m torn on Slow Time since I’m not sure it affects magicka regen, which is all I really need time for.  A “slow their time but keep mine the same” button would work better.

Maybe swords are the way to go with this game.  The combo moves look interesting.  I miss some meaningful combat.  Not this recursion of stun, stun, stun, stun, shout, drink potion, stun, stun, stun, collect loot.

Nov 19
Cost of Driving
posted by: Player0 in cruft on 11 19th, 2011 | | No Comments »

In 2004 I bought my first new car, a 2004 Subaru Impreza RS.  Each of my previous vehicles had been extremely well used and most had cost less than $1000.  But in 2004 my wife needed a reliable car and we didn’t have the money to buy a decent used model so our only option was to finance.  The banks would only let us purchase a new car.

Every month for the next five years came the bill for $382.  It was a good car and really only cost us about $2000 in non wear repairs such as a new master pully and a rusted through catalytic converter.  Tires and breaks probably cost another $3000 on top of that.  We sold it at the rather fair rate of $8000.  In the end, we spent about $226 a month for having owned that car.  If we had kept the car beyond 7 years, we may have made out a little better although it was nearing 100,000 miles and would have suddenly needed a lot more money in repairs.  The 100,000 area seems to be an expensive time for most cars.

There are plenty of cars in the used market that used to cost $20-$30K new and can be had for $2000-$4000 used.  You can usually find them at around 70-100K miles which is about when new cars are sold to purchase more new cars.  If you buy one of these cars for $3000, you will likely dump another $3000 in to it right away for breaks, tires, mufflers, accessory belts, a timing belt, and a tune up.  A manual car may need $1000 in a clutch as well.  This seems to scare many people off since you’re in $7000 on a car that’s still only worth $3000.  They see the repairs as a nuisance and opt instead for a new car which they see as costing less in repairs and being more reliable.

But this car with that work is likely going to last you at least another 50,000 miles.  You can get 4-5 years out of one of these things easily.  At $7000 over 48 months, the cost of this car is $145/mo but you can do better.  This doesn’t account for selling the car when you are done with it, although your best bet is to drive it in to the ground.

It can save you well over $1000 a year to buy a used car.  So I wonder what puts people off the most about it.  Obviously the bigger savings can be had by purchasing from a private party which people may find an intimidating experience.  This is especially true if they don’t know what to look for in a car.  With Google and a printer you can find all sorts of tips on how to buy a used car.  Also there is savings by not involving the bank.  People may not have $3000-$4000 up front to buy a car through a private seller.  Also, if you spend $3000 on a car, expect to spend another $1000 right away for brakes or tires.  They always seem to need something right out of the gate and people may not realize this.

Buying used is the best thing you can do for your environment.  A lot of green conscious people don’t realize that the energy and pollution caused by creating a new vehicle often outweighs any gasoline savings.  How many people have traded in perfectly decent Civics or Camrys for a Prius only to do more harm than good?

Just some other random thoughts:

* Roadside assistance is cheap and although used cars are slightly less reliable, with cell phones and cheap assistance, breaking down is rarely more than a minor inconvenience.  And even new cars can break down.

* If you have a new car, every scratch or ding is going to make you cringe.  If you live in a city or do a lot of highway driving this is especially true.  Looks mean a lot to some people.  But it’s always easier to swallow a dent if it’s on a $2,000 car than a $20,000 car.

* Put $100/mo away for repairs.  You will probably spend about $1000/year on repairing an old car so it’s good to plan for that and earn a little interest to boot.

* Test drive that car hard and get it real warm.  If something smells or sounds off about the car, skip it.  Even a layman can usually tell if something sounds wrong even if he or she doesn’t realize what might be causing it.  Avoid cars with any signs of present or previous leaks as fixing them can be more money than you need to spend.  Accelerate hard in the car to see how the engine compression is doing.  Don’t worry about the tires or brakes, or clutch, just assume they’ll need to be done.

* If you don’t get service records for the car, change fluids like the transmission or differential fluid.  This is usually required for 45-60K service and is often ignored.  Change timing belts on an interference engine if you don’t have records as well.  Never believe anyone if they claim to have had service done.

* Use the dealer’s mechanic sparingly.  They’re very over priced.  They may be your best hope for more complicated jobs such as faulty ABS or a timing belt.  Otherwise, find a local mechanic who is ASE certified.  Don’t be afraid to try a few different mechanics before settling on one who does the best job.  If you can find a mechanic who will install parts you purchase yourself, even better.  Mechanics often add write up to part costs.

* Most mechanics don’t want to spend your money.  I don’t know if they are naturally frugal or used to customers who are extremely cheap.  It’s usually a fight to get them to order higher quality parts or fix things that may only be slightly broken.  If a single hose or belt breaks, have the mechanic change them all.  It can help the reliability situation and keep your down time to a minimum.  But like I said, very few mechanics like fixing things that aren’t broken.  But do you really care if a $3 hose can go 200,000 miles or not?

* Always get a stainless steel muffler system.  Yours will fall off.  And they will keep falling off until you go stainless.  It costs a little more up front but a stainless unit will probably last the rest of the car’s life.  If you do a lot of short drives, you may join the ‘new muffler every 2 years’ club otherwise.

* The little things are going to stop working.  Cruise control seems to be fragile.  Plastic latches and switches will often be very brittle after 10 years.  An older car isn’t going to be perfect so don’t put money in to fixing the little things like mirror controls, seat heaters, etc.

* Buy the best brakes and tires you can afford.  The cost of one accident far outweighs the cost of good tires and brakes.  And tires especially can make a huge difference in your safety.  And do put snow tires on any car you intend to drive on the snow.  Good all-seasons do quite well on the snow, but not nearly as good as snow tires do.  They really are worth the expense if you can’t stay at home when there’s snow on the roads.

* You can get a much ‘nicer’ car used than you can new.  For example, some luxury cars are surprisingly affordable used.  You can get a Subaru, Audi, Honda, for less than it costs to get a Kia, Suzuki, or Hyundai.  Or, get a BMW, Mercedes, Porsche for a little more and still spend less than a Kia costs new.  Or get 4 Hondas or 2 Porsches for the cost of a new Kia.  But beware, parts can be expensive on less common cars.  Japanese and American car parts are very affordable in the US but many European car parts are still expensive.  You have the option of getting an exotic or rare model, but it comes at a price.

* These days a used car is a late 90s or early 00s car and these cars are likely to all have air conditioning, ABS, air bags and many of the features you’ve come to expect.  Avoid cars that are much older even if they have low mileage because you will miss some of the features and the cars are less safe.  The differences between an early 90s and a late 90s car can be dramatic.

* Consider 150,000 miles to be end of life for any car.  Many car engines will gladly do 200,000 miles but don’t buy a car with 160,000 miles expecting to get five years of commuting out of it.  A car at 80-90K miles has a lot of life left but will need that 100K work done.  A car at 120K miles that has already had timing belt, clutch, air conditioning, etc replaced and has quality service records is also a contender.  It has a bit less life but has already had a lot of the major mid-life crisis work done on it so may save you some money.

Jul 5
Wasted Energy
posted by: Player0 in cruft on 07 5th, 2009 | | No Comments »

I was watching a show last night called Invention Nation, and the episode New Cool caught my attention.  One particular segment showed how this one company was adapting refrigerators to use cold outside air instead of the compressor during nights and cold days to save energy.  Now, I’m not a very green person in general and don’t like going out of my way to be ‘Earth conscious’ but this idea seemed to make extremely perfect sense.  I live in an area where it’s plenty cold enough to refrigerate food at least for half of the year.

But then I gave it a little more thought.  On those same cold days we’re heating our houses.  The condensor on the refridgerator is actually cutting money off of the heating bill.  In fact, cutting a hole through the side of the house might actually hurt the heating costs since sealing holes can be quite tricky.

Of course, most of us have our fridges tucked away in to some wooden cubby hole where all that heat builds up and is ultimately wasted energy.  In fact, our aesthetic will causes refridgerators to work harder than they have too since they’ll run inefficiently without proper cooling.  A simple $5 fan is all that’s required to circulate that heat out from behind the cabinets and out in to the open air where it can be of more benefit to cold humans.

Refridgerators are pretty stupid all around when you think about it.  They should be top loading, not side loading.  Throw a retractable counter top or butcher block on the thing and it can be quite functional that way.  The fact that it uses air for cooling food is quite inefficient.  Some metal conductors and some reusable tinfoil packaging might work better.  A little cold water bath for things like soda, milk, or other plastic containers would be nice as well.  Think of a giant cooler at a picnic.  That’s really the right design.

I’m not saying that using the cold winter air for the fridge is a bad idea.  It certainly helps reduce your dependency on the stressed out grid.  I’m not sure it’s the energy win they claim it to be.  It’d be better to make use of the heat energy the fridge pumps to the condensor for heating rooms or water.  Between wasted stove energy and fridge energy you could probably generate all the hot water you need.  That’d be useful in the summer months where you don’t want the fridge dumping hot air in to the house.  But you still take warm showers.

What I really want is a thermo-resonant cooling system that these guys make: http://www.cficinc.com/

Apr 26
Long In The Tooth
posted by: Player0 in cruft on 04 26th, 2009 | | No Comments »

In the later part of 2007 I finally had some funds put together to get myself a proper PC gaming rig again.  I settled on the Nvidia 8800 Ultra as my card of choice.  I bought the MSI version for a massive $589 before shipping.  This was actually quite cheap for the Ultra at that time thanks to it being an MSI model.  And then I strapped a $130 waterblock to it.

Yep.  I upgraded from a $300 mid-range video card to a $700 one.  Even in 2007 the 8800 series was getting a bit dated.  The Ultra was discontinued only a couple months after I purchased it.  It wasn’t a good value for the money so they say.

I’ve been using it for a year and a half now and today is the first day it’s let me down.  I can’t run STALKER Clear Sky at 1600×1200 with full eye candy at 30FPS minimum.  FarCry 2, Crysis, Fallout 3, FEAR2 and GTA4 are all games I’ve recently played with it and it’s done amazing on each and every one.  STALKER:CS is a demanding game with amazing lighting effects and at 1600×1200 it will dip down to 20FPS.  Again, with maximum settings.

Except for AA.  I don’t use or like AA.

The problem seems to be video RAM.  768m just isn’t enough anymore if you want full eye candy.  GTA4 is the most noticible when it comes to video ram usage since it provides a handy little utility for guestimating how much you need.  If you want big draw distances you just need a lot more video memory.

Super fast DDR3 helps when you need to swap textures but it’s still a bad idea.  So I have to run STALKER:CS at 1280×960 resolution.  With full eye candy but less resolution I get the 30FPS minimum I want with averages in the mid 40s.  The video memory usuage drops to 600-800m so mcuh more inline with the card.

Don’t know why dropping resolution drops down memory usage but since it does more power too me.

I’ve noticed that I’m not running the card overclocked.  With RivaTuner and the water cooling I can clock this card to over 720MHz core, 1580MHz shader, and 1250MHz vram.  RivaTuner somehow got uninstalled on this machine so it’s only running it’s stock ‘overclock’ of 660/1512/1150MHz.

The stock Ultra is spec’ed for 612/1500/2160MHz.  So MSI really got some solid numbers out of it out of the box.  But don’t let MSI fool you: the card was NEVER stable at those settings with the stock cooling.  You’d get a lot of pixel ‘glitter’ at those settings though underclocking it to stock Ultra settings fixed that.  So did going to water cooling.

As far as the DangerDen cooler well I think it was a waste to be honest.  I love DangerDen products and I’m absolutely glad someone makes such a massive cooler that can also cool the RAM and power components.  But the thing of it is that you just can’t get much more out of the RAM.  RAM tends not to overclock so well on video cards and even when it does it provides very little performance gain.  Having MORE ram is important.  Does the DangerDen cooler sacrifice GPU cooling abilites for the RAM?  The GPU temperatures are quite high.  Well over 65c after intense gaming.  Thermal transfer from the GPU to the water is poor with this block.  That doesn’t stop 720-730MHz core ranges from being unreachable though.  With a little overvolting I think 730-740MHz would be completely stable.  I would like a better GPU block though.

I still think vram is the limiting factor here.  Who cares about a fast core/shader if you’re swapping textures from system RAM all the time?  If this card had 1GB or more of RAM I think I’d be playing at full res on STALKER.

The bottom line for me is that I’ve gotten a lot of use out of this card.  Being able to run PC games with all the lovely eye candy has sort of made me buy and play a ton of PC games in the past 18 months.  I’m still shocked every time I get a new game and go in to the options screen and crank everything up and watch it not struggle at all.  Did I get my moneys worth?  No I don’t think so.  The water cooling kit was too much for what I got out of it.  And the MSI Ultra, while a good deal at the time, wasn’t priced to compete with the slightly better valued 8800 GTX.

But I still don’t need to upgrade.  The Nvidia GTX 285 can be had for under $400 and it’ll have 1GB of RAM.  It’s a tremendous value for that and it’d be my card of choice.  I get to wait for the next series of GPUs to come out before I start feeling the slowdown.

Apr 23
Ding! Fries are done!
posted by: Player0 in cruft on 04 23rd, 2009 | | No Comments »

I was thinking about tech company organization the other day and I stumbled upon an interesting thought.  In many ways, working in a development house is like working in a restaurant.  You have customers.  They look at a menu, pick what they find appetizing at that moment in time, and then place the order.  The kitchen springs to life, uses the ingredients and appliances they have to create a meal, and then some one delivers it to the customer.  If all goes well, the customer pays and comes back again for more.  The customer really has almost no idea what goes on in the kitchen and usually doesn’t want to know for fear that they would be appalled.  The customer and chefs almost never communicate with each other unless it’s through a volley of intermediate employees.

Imagine your developers are the guys in the back making the food.  Imagine the development managers are taking the orders.  Imagine the product people or upper management as the customers.  The consumers.

It all sort of fits, doesn’t it?

Customers all want the same basic things.  They want fast service.  They want quality service.  They want reliable service.  And most important of all is that they want it cheap.  It’s easy to tell when when your service is fast at a restaurant.  If you don’t have your food right quick you’ll be bloody hungry!  Quality and reliability are easy to measure too.  If the food tastes like burnt motor oil than they’ve failed on both accounts.

For some reason the customers of the software development world have a much more difficult time of gauging the performance of their ‘kitchens’.  They almost always seem to focus on speed and cheap.  I don’t think they always realize that they’re getting McDonald’s though.

Fast food joints provide a ready supply of expedient food options.  Through clever marketing it even seems cheap.  Your typical fast food meal can cost just as much as eating out somewhere more reputable however.  The real problem with fast food is that it’s completely unhealthy and has a tendency to kill you if you eat too much of it.

Your typical developer is like a fry cook.  You don’t even want to know what this guy would do to your burger.  You certainly wouldn’t want him to take your order cause he’d simply muck it up.  He’s getting paid so little and similar jobs are so readily available that he just doesn’t care about your fries one bit.  So you get soggy fries.  And no matter how bad those fries are you’ll still go back to this place because it’s quite simply a quick fix.

There are nice restaurants though.  There are developers out there who think just like fine chefs.  They want to make something beautiful and tasty because that is their passion.  They design their menu carefully and they charge a lot more so they can go buy the best steaks or wine.  The wait staff is cute and attentive and will certainly know which delightful soup the chef has whipped up.

And the chef will certainly feel a little annoyed if you pour ketchup all over your dry aged filet.

You’d probably like your developers to be chefs and not fry cooks.  You have to give them the leeway to do the kind of work they can be proud of.  Just place your order and sit back and enjoy the appetizers while they assemble something you’ll love.  If the food arrives late and cold than don’t pay!

The sad reality of this, however, is that no matter how good of a restaurant your development house turns out to be, it’s still a restaurant.  Your customers are placing orders and waiting to see what will arrive at the table.  It’s almost always a surprise.  I think this is a terribly ineffective way of building quality software products.

Think baseball team instead.  Everyone has different positions on the team but they still all work as a single unit.  They’re all working for a single goal and the greater good.  They’re playing to win the game.  And in modern times they’re also playing to raise someones stock portfolio.  You can make a lot of money while doing an excellent job and having fun.

Oh sure, every company throws out terms like ‘team building’ but they almost always mean hierarchy building.  And hierarchy is exactly the root cause of the restaurant scenario.  You segregate the people requesting work from the people doing the work and create tiny choke points of failure.  No one ever really seems to know what anyone else wants.  By putting someone over someone else you’ve almost certainly reduced the amount of two-way communication between those people.  Person A might feel intimidated by Person B now.  Or Person B might feel they don’t need to listen to Person A because they value their own opinions more.

I know many development companies have adopted flattened management structures.  Others create things called ‘verticals’ or ‘pods’.  Like communism it sounds good on paper but these types of things always seem to have fundamental flaws.  My personal experiences with pods has been grueling primarily because pods don’t interact well with other pods.

The bottom line I think is that if you have a room full of smart and educated people from developers to managers and everywhere in between, why should communications be one way?  How can one set of people dictating requests to another possibly use the full group’s combined potential?  Bi-directional communication has to be encouraged.  The most junior guy on the team might have the best solution for the project.  The product manager might have thought of a simple approach to a tricky development problem but the developers might immediate dismiss it.

Avoiding conflict is not always the best solution.  But the real trick here is to maximize ideas while minimizing conflict.  In the end I don’t know the proper solution.  And I’m certainly not saying that I work for McDonald’s.  But I’m fascinated by the various attempts at company organization I’ve seen first hand.  I’ve seen the ups and downs of many different kinds of structures.  But what I see the most is company after company always falling back on the old standby of ridged org charts and middle management.

I think the offices of the future are going to be much different than that.

Apr 23
Things About Far Cry 2 (PC)
posted by: Player0 in gaming on 04 23rd, 2009 | | No Comments »

Things I Hate:

Invisible walls.  This is supposed to be a wide open game so why can’t I jump over certain walls or get close to others?

World layout bugs.  Objects through walls, trees floating several inches too high, etc.  These are all things that take away from being totally engrossed in the game.

Incredibly bad car physics.  You do A LOT of driving on this game but it feels so stiff and completely unfun.

Everyone is an enemy.  Surely this isn’t realistic.  Where are all the innocent people to kill?

Enemy respawns.  If you clear an area and go back to it a few minutes later it’s completely rebuilt and full of enemies.  Why not have a much slower respawn rate?

Repetitive audio.  The music is interesting but surely they could have more variety.  Enemy voice acting seems out of place with too many ‘white’ actors and repetitive.  Might as well use the Wilhelm scream.

Audio ESP.  I hate games that change the audio to indicate an enemy is near before I see them.  It’s like cheating.

Can only track one mission at a time.  This wouldn’t be so bad except that missions will randomly take you to opposite ends of the map.  This means a lot of boring driving or re-killing countless guard posts.

Enemy AI.  It’s passable but there are some real problems.  Enemies *always* go far cars it seems.  Kill the driver and the gunner goes to the driver seat.  Enemies are given amazing accuracy.  Shot gun headshot from a mile away.  Right.  They run around a lot which is good but if you fire a gun they’ll STOP and LET YOU shoot them.  Bleh.

Bugs. Game isn’t crashy which is GREAT.  EA could learn something from Ubisoft.  But certain missions don’t work correctly.

Saving.  On the PC after many full saves it now takes the game well over 4 minutes to actually pop open the save dialog.  And the Save Boxes in the game world which make sense on the console versions of this game don’t fit at all on the PC.

Things I Like:

Fire physics.

Gun unreliability and break downs.

Main character voice acting.

Weapon choices.  There is a lot of strategy in this game.

Varied terrain.

Diamond hunting.

Apr 4
The Limits of Memory
posted by: Player0 in computering on 04 4th, 2009 | | No Comments »

Data warehousing has become a sort of personal quest of mine.  I’ve been using computers since I was four and in those few decades I’ve managed to create, acquire, and loose countless precious bits of data.  It’s disheartening to have lost some projects I created in my pre-teen years that I know I poured my soul in to at the time.  And all because of a bad floppy.

What’s worse is that I just recently lost more of this precious data in the past few weeks while upgrading my fileserver.  It’s hard to say just how much I’ve lost.  It’s hard to notice when a rogue file or two goes missing over the years but it happens all the time.  On linux with some historical backups a quick diff or rsync can find problems like that.  Cygwin and Windows doesn’t really work quite as nicely.

So currently I have been sorting through 9 year old backup CDs trying to look for things that have gone missing.  I had been thinking it was silly to keep hanging on to a binder full of ancient CDs but I proved myself wrong today.  In fact I found quite a few little nice surprises that I had thought lost forever.

Windows XP is a terrible tool for archiving or backing up data.  Vista is not much better.  I really wish this thing could be Linux.  Heck, I wouldn’t even mind dual booting if I thought Linux could be trusted with live NTFS partitions.  I don’t mind Ubuntu hacking it’s way through one of my NTFS USB drives but my lovely RAID5 array is another story.

NTFS and Linux is getting better though.  It’s a lot less of a struggle to get it to WRITE to NTFS anyway.

Computers are good at remembering things for us.  From letters we sent to ex landlords to what music we used to listen too and pictures of people we used to work with.  My computer remembers my past a lot better than I do.  I try to focus on making new memories rather than spending time living in the past.  It’s possible that this choice means it’s actually more difficult for me to retrieve older memories.  If you spend enough time dwelling on the past it’ll seem much more clear.  I think that in a sense having an “off-mind” memory storage device is quite beneficial.  If only they were reliable on the cheap.

Amazon S3 is not cheap but it does protect my memories from fire and theives or any other sort of disaster that might befall my house.  It’s money well spent I think.  But like burning CDs or using backup tapes it takes quite a bit of thought and energy.  Archiving anything requires a lot of patience and technical knowledge.  Your average computer user simply doesn’t backup their data properly.

Of course now that the web has become very cost effective one can upload their pictures to Flickr or Snapfish or any number of gallery products out there.  You can probably RAR up your text documents and shove them on to RapidShare or something.  But people have the tendency to unwittingly back things up to the web and this is a trend that should definitely continue.  Archiving data really should be this natural.

For me the problem is sheer quantity.  Home videos and huge print quality photo files and CD and game backups start taking up gigs of space.  I have 3.5TB of storage in my file server and the more I have the more I tend to fill.  The RAID5 array has redudnancy but nothing a power surge or virus can’t wreck in an instant.  So I have backup DVDs.  It can take days to compress and burn just a few dozen gigs worth of data.  So I backup more regularly to portable USB drives.  But this is problematic since Windows XP doesn’t have any good backup utilities to properly handle this.

The real reason I lost data in the move is because In order to back up 2TB of data you need 2TB of backup storage.  I had 1.25TB.  I backed up the most important things, so I thought, and assumed the rest would be safe on the RAID5 array.  After the crash I made sure to buy a 1TB drive for one of my external enclosures and I’ll be sure to be buying more of those.  I really need the ability to have full backup somewhere.

And since I wouldn’t want to squeeze even 1TB in to Amazon S3 I need to consider getting some sort of fireproof safe for the backup drives.  Heck, I’ve even considered hiding a hard drive somewhere in one of my cars.  At least if my house burns down or is robbed I’ll probably have the car with me.  I just don’t know how a hard drive will survive in the car with all the moisture and vibration.  I regret throwing out all those silica gel packets now.

The fun comes from my old Atari 800XL system.  I’m still working on preserving the files I generated when I was eight.  It takes some special hardware to get the data on to a PC but I have managed to get some of it uploaded.  It’s still another time consuming process but one I hope to start in to again soon.  Those old 5-1/4 floppies rot pretty darn quick.

Mar 26

You can read more about it on the discussion thread here.  Long story short, because resellerratings.com felt that I was infringing on their trademark by using the words “reseller ratings” to describe the activity on one of my subforums.

Activity that consituted about half a dozen posts and maybe a few thousand views since the sub forum’s inception.

So they bullied me and threatened me in to legal action until I changed it.

So it’s changed now and that’s the end of that chapter.  But the moral of the story is important here.  Corporations are slowly stripping away our civil liberties.  Bloggers have to watch what they say or risk receiving cease and desist letters.

Donate to the EFF today :)

Mar 22
Died in it’s sleep.
posted by: Player0 in computering on 03 22nd, 2009 | | No Comments »

I was feeling up.  By flashing the 1740 and 2320 controllers with special configurations which prevent them from acting as boot drives I am able to have them active on my motherboard at the same time as the ICH10R.  I also discovered that while the 2320 does not work at all from the second PCIe x16 slot it does work fine from the first one.  And I was happy to discover that the 2320 will read the RAID5 array the 1740 made.  I got my backplane installed and my hot swap trays mounted up with the drives and a fresh install of Windows XP and everything was working great.

And then I decided to do an Online Capacity Expansion.  I wanted to go from three 1TB drives in RAID5 to four 1TB drives.  I started the rebuild process and it all seemed to be going swimmingly.  An hour later I came back to check the process of the rebuild and…

The computer went to sleep.  It went to sleep in the middle of the capacity expansion and the RAID controller couldn’t cope.  The failure alarm started to go off, the rebuild was halted and I couldn’t restart it.  My only option was to reboot the machine.  It came back up, the original array was inaccessible but the OCE started again from 0.0% automatically.  I thought that maybe it was a good sign.  Maybe it would pick up where it left off and just make things work again.  I let it run for 14 hours to finish doing whatever it was doing.

It didn’t work.  The result was an incredibly broken array with a weird size and busted partition tables.  I’m really bummed.  I have most things backed up on to USB drives.  I didn’t really loose anything I can’t get back from bittorrent.  But I’m just more annoyed than anything.

I can’t even START getting data back on to the array because it insists on ‘initializing’ itself.  Whatever that means.  It contains no data but it’s going to spend all day parity checking itself for no apparant reason what so ever before I can format it.  It still says it’s a 2TB array and not a 3TB array for some reason so yeah… whatever it’s doing I have to let it do.

So much for my idea of letting my fileserver sleep when I’m not home.  The stupid Highpoint controller doesn’t deal well with it for some reason so I can’t risk it crashing again on a rebuild.  Crap.

Mar 19
Highpoint 2320 Fail!
posted by: Player0 in computering on 03 19th, 2009 | | No Comments »

Well, I installed the RAID controller in either of my two PCs and it pretty much keeps either from POSTing.  That’s a total bummer.  I tried to next day another one from the Egg but if I get it before the weekend I’ll be surprised.  It sucks to have to wait and spend another $N in shipping.  But on the other paw, I needed to order a 24p ATX power cable extender and an 8p EPS power cable extender.  The new Enermax PSU I installed doesn’t quite reach from one side of the cube to the other.

I’m more than a little worried about this configuration though.  The Highpoint 1740 still refuses to work on the Asus P5Q3 board even after firmware updates on both.  I still get the “No enough space to copy PCI ROM” error.  It just sucks that my ancient IC7 can run the 1740 and use it’s onboard Intel RAID, but the ICH10R on the new one won’t play ball.

Even if the 2320 works where they 1740 fails, I’m not sure it’s going to read from the data array on my three hard drives.  I could destroy the array simply by plugging the drives in to the different RAID controller.  Sure, it’s backed up somewhat.  But it’d be a bad thing none the less.

Meh, I’m sick of thinking about it.  I need to find a better solution to this problem.  I really might have to get a new motherboard :(

Mar 13
Microcenter Goodies
posted by: Player0 in computering on 03 13th, 2009 | | No Comments »

I continued the buying spree, I mean, doing my part for the economy.  Microcenter is evil.  Their prices are usually competitive enough to warrant not buying online.  Their sale items are usually great deals.  And sometimes I really like just being able to look at products in meat space.  Instant gratification and all that, even if I have to deal with dreaded sales tax.  I’d rather pay my 5% to UPS than the state I think.

I went in for a new RAID controller.  I’m using a Highpoint 1740 right now.  It’s a PCI 4 port SATAII RAID5 controller that works quite well and has Linux support.  I’m happy with it and it even supports online capacity expansion.  I have this second x16 PCIe port staring at me though so I wanted to get a x4 or x8 PCIe version of the HighPoint card.  Maybe even one with 8 ports.  The Highpoint 2310 looks like what I want.  Microcenter didn’t have this or anything close unfortunately.  I did end up buying the 2300 model there.  It’s essentially the same thing as the 1740 but only PCIe x1 which means it probably won’t be any faster or better than the 1740 I already own.  PCI is 1Gbps and PCIe x1 is 5Gbps.  But for the same price I can get the 20Gbps one so… I’m going to take it back and order the 2310 from NewEgg.  Or the 8 port 2320 maybe.  So hard to decide…

And I would like some faster throughput.  I’m using RAID5 which has ugly write speeds but stripe like read speeds.  And I bought another 1TB Western Digital 5400RPM “Green” drive.  So I’ll have four of those on the array and that will certainly be more data than a PCI slot can deliver.

I bought two 1TB drives actually.  I needed another for a USB enclosure because the 250Gb drives I have in them now are very old, dying, and are not large enough to easily back up the data I need to back up.  These 5400RPM drives run much cooler and are a great fit for an external enclosure.  Plus I can use eSATA with my P5Q3.

Against seemingly better advice, I’ve decided against just running with software only RAID even though my new motherboard has more SATA ports than I can count.  I really don’t like setting up RAID in Linux and any performance gain I can get out of a decent controller card is ideal.  Plus I like the thought of taking these drives and controller out of this computer and installing them in any other computer and not having to mess around with it too much to make it work.

The last waste of money, I mean, economic stimulus was the BFG 9600GT.  I absolutely needed a PCIe video card (even though I have a perfectly good PCI Nvidia 6200).  BFG has a nice warranty and with the rate of failure I seem to have for video cards that’s okay fine with me.  I needed to go Nvidia since it has better Linux support.  And heh, better Windows support for that matter.  Also if I run any Cuda apps, such as F@H GPU client, the 9600’s moderate speed will work nicely even though I won’t be gaming on this card.

So I have quite a bit to do this weekend.  I’m just waiting for my backups to finish so I can throw the new kit in.

Mar 3
KVMs and other acronyms…
posted by: Player0 in computering on 03 3rd, 2009 | | No Comments »

Purchasing a KVM isn’t an easy task.  The brand names aren’t necessarily well known, the prices vary wildly for the same features, information isn’t forthcoming from many of these overseas manufacturers, and product reviews are often very negative biased.  I guess they just aren’t a mainstream product yet.

The review bias is an interesting phenomenon.  You’re average junky CPU cooler will often have a zillion positive reviews for no good reason what so ever.  People are just more liable to be happy with certain products than others regardless of the actual quality.

I purchased the IOGEAR GCS1762 KVM a month ago and I really dig it.  The price was a little steep but at least it came with cables I didn’t need.  I purchased much longer cables to run to my Cube which sits about 3-4m away from the LCD and keyboard.  This doesn’t seem like a very large distance but companies are cheap with cable lengths these days even though you can get extra long chinese cables for very cheap.

This assumes you know which polarity of cables you need to buy for your KVM.  And it’s not always easy to determine this unless you have good product photos.  You also need to get a KVM with replacable cables.  It’s a crime when cables can’t be detached.

My old VGA KVM, also an Iogear, worked just fine but VGA over a 4m cable is incredibly blurry and hard to deal with after a while.  But it was at least USB.  And it didn’t have any emulation.  And that’s a good thing.  I don’t know what problem emulation is supposed to solve.  But emulating a missing monitor, keyboard, or mouse really just seems to cause problems for most people.

If you don’t emulate a keyboard or mouse than at worst you might get a ‘Press F1 to continue’ keyboard error on boot which you can maybe disable in BIOS anyway.  The most typical issue you run in to without emulation is a slight 1-2 second lag time when you switch PCs before the USB devices re-register.  Having dealt with this delay for many years I can assure you it’s never been an issue.  Even when I was in the middle of a game.

Monitor emulation doesn’t seem to have a purpose.  Without it, my computers simply boot up in their ‘last known good’ state.  And everything just works.  When a KVM has monitor emulation, if you boot the PC and that PC isn’t selected on the KVM, the KVM tells the PC that you have some bog standard VGA monitor.  Windows responds by setting the resolution to something that is wrong.  And Vista/Nvidia seems to INSIST on putting the Start menu on my second monitor, the one not attached to the KVM, because I assume it wants to put that on the monitor with the largest resolution or something.

I have to go in to the Nvidia control panel and fight with it for about 3 minutes before I can get everything to show properly on the primary display again.  Why the Start menu EVER moves off the primary display is beyond me.

When a KVM emulates a keyboard, sometimes the extended features of those keyboards don’t work.  The media keys, the scroll wheels, the volume controls, the lights and LCDs, etc.  You might not notice unless you have a Logitech G15 but well I do.

The GCS1762 doesn’t seem to have much in the way of keyboard/mouse emulation but it can be gotten around by using the standard USB ports on it instead of the ones labeled keyboard and mouse.  It does have the annoying VGA emulation though and that really bites.  If I don’t remember to have the right PC selected when I boot it, the video gets totally screwed.  But it’s my only complaint.  It switches fast, my images are crystal clear, and I can even switch via keyboard commands which my old one couldn’t do.

It also has a serial port on it for updating firmware.  I can’t imagine what you’d need to do that for but perhaps you can find a firmware that disables emulation.  That’d be worth a look.

Anyway, if you’re in the market for a KVM, Iogear isn’t a bad choice.  I can’t speak for most other models except for Belken which also seem to work just fine.  Just don’t spend too much, get one with removable cables, and the smallest amount of emulation possible.  Read the reviews as there are always people complaining about the problems with emulation on the ones which do it poorly.

Mar 3
Square Shaped Love
posted by: Player0 in computering on 03 3rd, 2009 | | No Comments »

Well, rectangular anyway.  After months of whining I finally ordered a new motherboard, CPU, and RAM for the Cube.  Just as a reminded, this machine is used for file serving, general office work, bittorrent, and video editing/encoding.  Basically my stable, bogged down machine.  I keep the other free from cruft so it’s faster for gaming and is more fun to overclock.

The Cube will be getting the Asus P5Q3.  This is the second I’ve purchased.  The first was actually the P5Q3 Deluxe which Abi is using in her desktop.  Apart from the lack of WiFi, which works nicely I must add, I’m not sure what’s different between the boards.  Asus has the problem of making lots of little model revisions on each board and it’s a bunch of work to try to figure out which boards are better than others.  For $150 though it’s a hard board to beat.

Why no LGA 1366 board?  They’re kind of expensive still honestly.  Also I wanted to upgrade my gaming rig with a new processor.  It’s currently running the Q9450 which is an excellent processor.  It just doesn’t overclock very well.  Also, games just don’t benefit from the four cores.  Most games don’t even benefit from a dual core.

So I ordered an E8400.  These chips are almost guaranteed to hit 4GHz.  And at that clock rate, any non SMP games are going to run better.  This is an aging chip but it still seems to be the ’sweet spot’ right now.  $165 still seems like a lot of money for an old dual core.  I guess it’s the demand on the thing.

A DDR3 motherboard needs some DDR3 RAM.  My gaming rig needs RAM more though.  My current Corsair RAM is only good for 1600MHz.  That’s really not too bad.  But the RAM is often running at 1200-1300MHz because it can’t keep up with the FSBs I’m running.  I found that 1600MHz DDR gets a bit limiting fast.  Now, truth be told, RAM speed isn’t a critical factor for most things unless you’re swapping a lot of textures from RAM to video memory.  GTA4 seems to do that a lot as do some other games that allow you to set high view distances.  It’s generally better to have more video RAM but… well, I really wanted to try some 2000MHz DDR3 just to see if I’d get any more performance out of better dividors.  Sometimes it’s the case that weird dividors can increase latencies.  I don’t know if that’s the case here but let’s find out.

I went with some truely horribly colored RAM.  Patriot Viper PVS34G2000LLKNB.  4G worth this time instead of the 2G I currently have (which Vista64 hates).  I went with the Patriot because it was cheap and I’m sick of Corsair RAM dying.  Yes, I’m really scared of the high voltage this thing is rated at.  That tends to kill RAM fast.  And yes, I’m scared of the Patriot brand.  I haven’t had luck with it in the past.  But for $180 I get a flash drive and a copy of 3DMark Vantage too.  I was sold.

I think the RAM is a crap shoot.  Assuming it runs at it’s rated speed when I get it, I’ll be surprised if the RAM has any longevity.  I hope by that time we have some faster, and more affordable, DDR3 around.  If 2000MHz RAM makes any difference in performance that is.  It’s possible that the cheapest and slowest DDR3 is just as viable.  Just get a brand with a decent warranty.

Patriot’s website claims to have a limited lifetime warranty on the Viper RAM as long as you don’t modify it in any way.  I’ve heard that it’s hard to actually obtain an RMA though.

This RAM is also only rated for 2000MHz on the Nvidia i790.  How it will react on my P5E3 X48 is unknown I guess.  Crapshoot.  My experience in the past with this Nvidia only thing with other products is that they work just as well on Intel chipsets.

Since the Cube isn’t watercooled and I don’t actually have a cooler for it, I had to pick up this.  I really do like Zalman products.  A little costly, a little pretty, and definitely not the best performers.  But usually quiet and well made.  And for a machine that will be on 24×7, quiet and well made is important.

So I have a project for the weekend!

Feb 16
I’m not done just yet…
posted by: Player0 in computering on 02 16th, 2009 | | No Comments »

Yeah, I’m still talking about Vista tuning.  I’m just so bothered to have 25-30% of my RAM in use when I have nothing running. Service and Task tuning is very important with Vista.  It tends to run with a ’safe’ set of services out of the box but most of these things aren’t required by anyone.  I’m certainly not on a domain.  I’m not sharing credentials.  I don’t need tablet input services.  There are so many different versions of Vista which allow you to have differing amounts of useless applications.  But Microsoft isn’t doing anything to ask what you as a user actually intend to DO with this install.  Are you in an office?  Are you just playing games?  Are you just looking for internet and email?  Why not do some sort of on demand kind of installations?  Microsoft won’t change for the better until it has to.  *cough* Windows 7…

The most confusing and constant part of my Vista install is that right after boot up and log in it’s using 750-800m of RAM.  But this drops after a few minutes to 560-580m.  It’s at 631m right now after a fresh boot with only FireFox running.  It can’t be good for Windows to be loading so much of my hard drives that it doesn’t need that much longer after boot.  There doesn’t seem to be any way to stop it though.

I dabbled with using the Windows Classing theme, disabling the Themes service and the Desktop Management service.  After a couple days I’ve realized that it has no real performance impact on this machine and only saves about 30-50m of RAM.  Disabling Aero can save another 50-70m so as pretty as it is, I have that disabled for now.  Kind of splits the difference you know?

I really dislike the scroll bar in the start menu.  It slows me down I think.  I need to look for a way to kill that.  I prefer the XP just expand forever over half the screen method.

Someone really needs to write a good document on disabling Vista tasks.  There are plenty of Service references.  But less information about tasks.  Some online guides actually suggest you don’t modify them at all.  But that’s not quite right.  You can in fact disable 80% of them.  Certainly the defrag and anything pertaining to the indexer if you don’t use it.  Anything that runs while the system is ‘idle’ is probably a bad idea.  Anything that runs at start up or login can really delay those things.  I really hate that certain tasks like the error rollup tasks run every x minutes regardless of if you’re doing something more important at that time or not.

Feb 16
Collecting for the DS
posted by: Player0 in gaming on 02 16th, 2009 | | No Comments »

I currently own an original Nintendo DS along with a DS Lite.  The problem with the DS you see is that it’s horribly uncomfortable for me to play.  I don’t know if its carpal tunnel or the design of the thing.  It and the GBA before it are awful devices to play RPGs on.

The GBA was kind enough to have the GameBoy Player for the GameCube however.  I don’t know if there will ever be such a thing for DS games.  It’s a question of input and dual screens.  It’s not something that’s so easily emulated on a single TV.  But I could certainly be done.

The DS has the third largest collection of JRPGs of any system.  It’s very close to the PS2 and PSX collections.  So if you’re a JRPG collector, you really want to buy many of these DS titles.  There are some especially good old school ones.  Many remakes and ports.  And it seems a shame really that these awesome games are stuck on a device I can hardly see and that gives me cramps after 30 minutes of playtime.

The PSP isn’t as problematic.  It’s comfortable, the screen is large, and it’s ultimately meant for people of an age greater than 12.  The PSP itself follows the PSX/PS2 lineage of having some great JRPGs but sadly doesn’t have the same level of market.  Sony’s close minded tactics with locking the device down has really limited the takeoff of the device.  I’m sure the head haunchos are blaming market segmentation or something else to that effect.  But no, it was simple old man bureaucracy and greed that made it a closed system and stunted it’s ‘cool factor’ potential.

The DS itself has about two dozen different devices that allow the thing to be hacked in all sorts of clever ways.  Heck, a friend gave me a broken M3 Simply.  If I ever bothered to try and make it work, I could easily go download any ROM I wanted and stick it on this flash cartridge and play it on the DS.  So instead of spending the $150/mo on DS games I probably won’t ever play because I can’t stand the DS, I could just save all the ROMs and emulate them on my PC.

But, I have a problem.  I have an addiction to collecting certain kinds of video games even if I can’t play them.  I’m cutting back little by little.  But I really needed that copy of Dragon Quest V and The Y’s I & II I swear!

Feb 16
A Day Off
posted by: Player0 in cruft on 02 16th, 2009 | | No Comments »

I’m so happy to have gotten president’s day off from work.  It gives me a nice long weekend to decompress and spend some maitenance time on some projects.  One of the things that went missing from my life when I got married is downtime.  Prisoners have this sort of thing in droves.  It’s the kind of time that lets you obsess over the details.  It’s the kind of time that forces you in to doing something you want to do and would take pride in doing except you’d probably never get around to doing it otherwise.

Okay, maybe it’s not just marriage and kids.  It’s also video games and television and the internet.  It’s an enormous amount of media that I could spend my whole life digesting.  And I think this sort of thing can be very educational.  I’ve learned more in the past few years from Wikipedia than I had in my entire highschool career.  But this desire to absorb has overtaken my desire to produce.  And that’s very unlike me.

Video games and reading and movies are also an escape.  Escaping is important to me as it gives me a drug free way to turn reality off for a moment.  It’s an ideal way to melt away stress.  But with a successful career comes the added means to buying a lot more books and video games and movies.  There’s just not enough time in the day to deal with it all.

So now I try not to fall in to my habit of watching or reading or playing the same things over and over again.  I could read that Neil Gaiman book or play that Valve game 100 times over and be perfectly satisfied.  But then I’m not experiencing new things and it seems like a waste of time.  Unfortunately, it turns out that my ability for comprehension on the first time through anything is a bit poor.  You watch Spirited Away for the 12th time and I guarantee you will see something new.

There is, of course, a health factor when it comes to media digestion.  Doing something is actually a lot better for your body, physically speaking.  I’m looking over the course guide at Le Cordon Bleu and I’d love to have the $50K to learn how to be a chef.  And I know that I’d loose 100 pounds running all over cooking things in a hot sweaty kitchen.  The repetitive nature of cooking makes me realize that I don’t want to go through with it.  But there’s no denying that it might actually be a very healthy thing to attempt.

If I don’t eat anything that I cook of course ;)

I can’t wait for spring cleaning.  I feel that strong desire to throw open the windows and start rearranging everything in my house.  We moved in last year around August and though we took a bit of extra time to plan things out, it still takes about a year to really understand the flow of your house and to know how to change it to make things better.  My office is a particular challenge since although I spent a lot of time organizing it so everything fit… well, there’s just a lot of stuff in here and the simplest project explodes in to an unweildy mess in an instant.  The cube keeps eating AGP video cards (though the PCI one I bought seems to be happy enough) and this isn’t helping since it’s guts seem to be forever strewn about my floor.

It’s going to take me a day just to organize all the CDs and DVDs I have thrown all over my desk.  God forbid I should label any of them or put them back in my organizer.

On the plus side, I have Reason 4 and Photoshop CS3 installed today.  My Canopus ADVC110 is working just great and I have some videos to edit together of the kids.  I’m sure the relatives would get a kick out of seeing some online videos.  I might just decide to be lazy and use Steam to buy FEAR2 or FarCry2 though.

Feb 14
Vista Won
posted by: Player0 in computering on 02 14th, 2009 | | No Comments »

I almost had a complete XP install on the m17.  My first challenge was to get XP to install on the ICH9R-E RAID controller without a floppy drive.  Even my USB floppy drive wouldn’t work for it.  After several days of trying different things, slipstreaming which didn’t work, I found a solution that meant editing the floppy drivers to add additional USB floppy drive support.  This worked well.  Mobility Modder made Catalyst install.  Many of the Vista drivers worked on XP when I couldn’t find XP drivers to use.  Everything worked…

Except screen brightness.  It was locked at 100% and was giving me headaches.  I spent a week trying to find a way to reduce brightness.  I even tried reducing it from the display settings.  Nothing worked.  The m17 relies on Vista’s advanced power options to adjsut the brightness.  I tried looking for generic XP drivers for it but no luck.  I suspect something out there exists to do it but I just couldn’t find it.

So I’m back on Vista now.  Once again I spent a good amount of time stripping off all unnecessary services thanks to BlackViper. I’m sitting at 730M right now with all drivers, Steam, Firefox, and Avast antivirus running.  That’s not great and I don’t know why it’s using so much RAM.  I have themes and aero disabled.  I have all the fancy desktop manager stuff turned off.  Maybe it’s some sort of caching.  The RAM does seem to be hiding in the background.  I can’t find it in taskman anyway.

I don’t know.  I’m sick of thinking about it :)

Feb 1
Vista Tuning
posted by: Player0 in computering on 02 1st, 2009 | | No Comments »

It will be a week before my new hard drives arrive so I’m giving Vista Home 32 bit a brutal shakedown on this laptop.  It honestly seems to run faster and better than Vista x64 on my Q9450.  I still think I’m going to throw XP Pro on it but with some clever tweaking of Tasks and Services I got Vista’s footprint down to under 650M.  A slight help but still a bit heavy when you only have 2048M to play with and need to run some very memory heavy games.

I’m trying to find out just how viable Vista is.  There are a bunch of people these days who think you should just suck it up and use Vista.  However, my experience with Vista 64 on my gaming rig is that it really makes the system less responsive.  It uses too much memory and 3-4G is really optimal.  But drivers are just really unstable or non existent for Vista 64.

Just what on Earth makes Vista worth it then?  I couldn’t ever really see any noticeable difference in DirectX 10 games.  Yeah, I do like some of the UI things a bit but… at the end of the day XP is just faster.  But Vista 32 isn’t nearly so bad.  It’s just a lot more responsive and the benchmarks seem just fine.  It seems to want less memory.

In other news I have some more thoughts on the m17.  The speakers are too quiet.  This is a common complaint of mine with many laptops.  They just never seem to be loud enough.  Using some special software I have been able to determine that the GPUs and CPU run about 50c degrees while idling in Vista.  This is while using my Belkin lap cooler.  So the laptop is still breathing just fine.  It just runs hot.  With two GPUs this probably isn’t surprising.

The heat doesn’t bother me though since I use the lap cooler anyway.  Yes, I have tried to overclock the FSB.  But the CPU multipliers seem to drop when I do that.  I need to do a little more reading on overclocking without affecting speedstep or whatever other power management features are coming in to play.

Jan 31
SSD Research
posted by: Player0 in computering on 01 31st, 2009 | | No Comments »

It’s just not the right time to buy SSDs right now.  If you’re an early adopter or have money to burn than have at it.  There are a few reasons for this.  First off, the technology costs are going to come down dramatically.  These drives should end up being much cheaper to produce than standard mechanical hard drives.  They’ll probably follow a curve similar to Moore’s Law.

The software isn’t there just yet either.  Windows can have problem installing on SSDs.  Particularly the cheaper ones with MLC technology.  The SLC ones have better write performance and longevity but less capacity and huge price tags.  The write times are just terrible and can cause the OS to lock up now and again.  Better software and caching options will fix these issues.

I don’t need epic performance on my laptop.  The reliability would be nice but not $500 nice.  But in the spirit of getting GOOD performance I did order a couple of these Western Digital 7200RPM 16m cache drives.  This should give me disk performance comparible to normal workstations and for a much more affordable cost.

SSDs will become the thing to do as soon as they become mainstream and the costs drop significantly.  This new laptop may see them eventually.

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