Saturday, 24 December 2011

Its Christmas

Yeah, its christmas.. and this is what mankind has achieved...

That's right Obama... cancel the return to the moon... Nike have a new shoe out... for fuck sake.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Microsoft Notebook Noose

So, I've been on a little bit of a crusade, I was given tentative permission the other day to look around for a new laptop.  I had Toshiba and Dell laptops in the past, my current machine is a wheezing six years old, upgraded to the maximum and now simply not doing all the things I need to do with it (massive fan of virtualization that I am, I'm hobbled from coding on my chosen virtual machine in front of the tele, hence the need for a new laptop).

However, my first thoughts are, I want a stable host for my virtual machines, so I want to use a flavour of linux as the base for this laptop.  Having consulted with the code of law as laid down in the Holy Rite of the EULA from Microsoft it seems I am able to obtail a refund for any Microsoft Windows License; which would automatically come with a new laptop, so long as I decline to accept the license on first boot.

This however poses a couple of problems, firstly, Microsoft say I must decline.  If this machine has been booted, or cloned from a stock harddrive and the OEM/Manufacturer has in their turn accepted the EULA then I have to persue them for a refund.  So, if I buy an Acer laptop from PC World, I have to talk to Acer, not PC World...

If however, the manufacturer has not accepted the license on my behalf, then I am left to accept or decline it.  And if I decline it I can persue the reseller of the laptop, so PC World say, for the refund.

All sounds fair and, though complex, managable.  WRONG, I've walked into and out of nearly every single reseller PC World, Staples, Comet, Currys, BestBuy; I've spoken to online resellers like Amazon, Aria and Overclockers; I've spoken direct to manufacturers and suppliers like Dell and Asus.  All of them shrug their shoulders, scratch their heads and say "I have no idea what you're talking about"*.

It seems almost impossible to get what I want, or more rightly, escape the noose that is a Microsoft license.  There's been all this bluster in the EU about Microsoft pushing browsers anti-competitively, well I want a different OS... but I have to jump through hoops with retailers unaware of their neccessity to supply the refunds...!!!

* Well, Staples didn't, their three lads seemed genuinely interested in my input and took my number to call me back and see where their "higher ups" stand on this topic.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Falklands Under Threat (AGAIN)

Its interesting how history repeats itself, in 1981 the Royal Navy had just completed retiring its large fleet aircraft carriers, switching to the last light fleet carriers (HMS Hermes) and the new through deck cruisers (Jump jet/anti-submarine carriers) of the Invincible Class (HMS Ark Royal).

A considerable drop in our maritime exponent, recieved internationally as a percieved lowering of the white ensign, so much to that Argentina conducted an illegal, and ultimately misjudged, invasion of the British Oversears Territory of the Falkland isles.

In my opinion, spurred on by the idea that Britain would not come to the Falkland island government's aid and that the British Government were unable, through lack of these ships, to come to their aid.

But history less on over... Here we are in 2011, the government has just retired the Invincible class of carriers, leaving the Royal Navy with only the rotary wing air arm and HMS Ocean, two giant costly probably ill equipped super carriers on the slip ways being haggled over... and the South American Trade Bloc backing Argentina's claim to the islands once more!

I find it ridiculous, Argentina lost them to the French, Spanish and British in turn, the British people have a longer more thorough claim to the islands itself, but Argentina keep badgering for them, bullying for them.  The reason is symbollic rather than required.  I've heard Argentine Army Veterans who were landed on the islands during the war, one of them very poiniently said "We landed, and it was Britain, they drove on the left not the right, there were Red telephone boxes and no-one understood us, we suddenly were invaders, where I had expected a Spanish mix of people and us to be liberators I was suddenly very aware of being the invader".

That soldier (at the time of speaking) was living on the Islands, married to a native Falkland islander girl.  And good on him, he'd seen how to co-exist, how friendly the Falklanders are, and how British they are.

Not to say they don't take on the Latin American flair somewhat, but they are basically good honest working folk, with strong British ties, on an island not unlike the Shetlands in both its weather and fauna.

Argentina better simply accept this, live with the people, instead of trying to always bully tactic them.

My bother with this is that, we really don't have a response, or an iron willed Prime Minister this time around, if Argentina or whomever, threatened the Falklands what response would we give... Moaning in the UN probably... but you never know, Gas and Oil have been found in and around the isles, the yanks might want in on the party just like they did with Kuwait.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Obligatory SWTOR Release Post

So here it is, my obligatory post about Star Wars the Old Republic, I'm sure you can fill your boots with all the information you can find out there on the interwebs, it seems everything from the developer code to the artists car ahs been discussed endlessly as the game as come to fruition.

I'll be interested how many over time hours the staff have to put in at the game data centers, keeping it alive under the loads it'll get first week will be a challenge.  It being Christmas will also mean, any serious players taking it up will be on there around the clock, so the servers if they go down will be a real sticking point.

In fact, its my past frustration with server down time at the launch of WoW, which is making me steer well clear of SWTOR.  I suppose that's unfair of me, and its certainly putting a negative spin on an unknown entity; after all I've not really paid any attention to SWTOR, so how can I judge it.

But, I really don't see how they can change the formula of what an MMORPG is... Wow defines the genre, so its going to be WoW like... but not Wow... there are still going to be the elitist jerks, there are still going to be the RP maniacs, the gankers, the griefers, the scammers, the ninja's and the rest of us mindless automatons "Hey I got an epic"... "Gratz"... NEXT!

So, with that said, I really will be looking how the technology stands up, how do they cope with the influx of new players, have they load tested it alright?  And my interest stems from my current personal development efforts.

Some of you may know, I did a degree in computing, Computer Studies with Software Engineering to be precise.  My dissertation was on the topic of "Parallel and Cluster Computing in an Open Environment".  Ironically, wenty years after the fact, you might know this exact idea as "the Cloud".   Indeed Amazon offer a service very much like the concept I had put together in, the then fledgling, Java programming language.  I was told all that time ago, it'd never work, go get a job.  And I did, but I can't help I missed the boat.

I played games as a kid, lots and lots of computer games, I was one of that first generation who put down the boardgames to play their computers.  And I had the idea of a server back end controlling multiple hundreds of parallel instances (not just sharing a mainframe as was popular) but descrete processes or worlds belonging to different players running a thin-client on their computer infront of them, connecting to the world over the internet... I missed the boat, but I love the technology.

So, lets see if Bioware and the rest, can stand up to the all conquering Blizzard and through my bitterness at having thought about this in the 90's and being ignored can they deliver a WoW Slayer?

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Art Critque - Great Detail

So, earlier in the month, on the 8th, I posted about some images released by the BBC.  I complained that the artist was not actually very good that they had put "detail" in to make up for a basic lack of originality.

I just want to revisit this topic, firstly to say, I think I know where the artist vaunted by the BBC may have gone wrong.  I think they were wrong to use what appeared like a digital photograph of a part of Manchester as their starting point.

And secondly, to show them how I'd appreciate their art being produced... No, I'm not going to get Pencil or Paper out... I'm not going to start up GIMP or go buy Photoshop... I'm simply going to send you to a link to watch a video... its 11 minutes of mesmerizing attention to detail.

Here is that link.

Friday, 9 December 2011

There's a reason....

There is a reason the internet was invented, the history books try to tell us it was a method of communication created by DARPA to reduce the chances of the United States being unable to communicate in case of a nuclear strike... however, I disagree... the internet was invented so I could be up well beyond the time I should have gone to bed and I can find most excellent things like this:

In other news I'm actually up, because I'm wired, had a mad dash home from work earlier due to a medical emergency, and I'm utterly still wide awake from the worry and adrenaline.

Honourary mention to these tikes:

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Art Critique... Apocalypse Manchester

So, the BBC have done their usual and brought attention to something not very good... They're pictures created by an artist of Manchester in post apocalyptic style... personally I believe Manchester would be fully populated and a hub of any enterprises remaining after any apocalypse.  The people might have an extra finger from radiation, or they might not be able to get full signal on their iPhones, but they'd be there...

So, looking at these images had me a bit skewed towards the, not very good opinion straight off.  Looking at the detail in them though, I was impressed, the inner seven year old inside was like "whoa this is a great picture, look at all the detail"... then I realised all I was looking at was the detail, the amount of things the artist has flung shit at and scratched down walls...

Then I started to look with my thirty year old mind... and I came to the conclusion the art isn't very good... it looks like someone has snapped a picture on a decent high-res digital camera and then spent a good few days dirtying the pictures in Photoshop... the effect of decay is just taking walls and structures and scratching them away, best exemplified in the picture of the big wheel, if that structure had lost that segment, the weight of the upper standing arc would have pushed it down and collapsed it.

The railway viaducts, made of bricks, scratched away... bricks don't scratch away to leave brittle stagalmite like structures, they break off... well like bricks, and scatter... even in a nuclear blast.  And they don't erode like portrayed, they round and the pointing fails and they fall out as oblong whittled blocks, not splinters.

This simple relation between what is portrayed and what real-life presents is very stark in the images, the images clearly are not trying to convey real situations of decay or desolation, but instead a stylised one.  They are effectively abstract art, meeting modern art.  But with the artist clearly not wielding an eye for reality is this art?

The Jackson Pollock brigade clear would say yes, I myself however am more dubious... its fine photoshop work, worthy of any game developer out there, but I don't think its art in the "hang on the wall sense" its less in the art category from that perspective than a Pollock, and I think they're pretty off the scale of art in themselves.

But above my critique, why has the BBC brought attention to it... I wonder if the poster at the Beeb has let their seven year old mind run away with them going "WOW" before their adult brain went "ah, not actually that good".

So, in summary, massive detail does not define good art, and if you're going to aim for detail, make it realistic, make it stun even after the second glance.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Functional Programming... Ner, don't bother....

I've just had one of those moments, where I feel like the only programmer in the room who knows what they're on with... let me walk you through this one...

You have a complex piece of code, to sum the number of some values from a series of records where the record type is some given subtype... for example, you have a database of cars, you want to sum all the red cars registered in the last year... you want to sum the green cars... and then you want to sum the blue cars... Generically speaking, you can see where this is going, I'm sure:

function SumCars (Colour Col)
return   ( SELECT * FROM Cars WHERE Colour = Col );

function SumRedCars ()
return SumCars ('Red');

function SumGreenCars ()
return SumCars ('Green');

and so on... this seems very simple yes... and you gain a single function, which is referenced by other sub-functions... now imagine that the "SumCars" function is very very complex (lets say, 350 lines of code) with different if-else and switch statements controlling different pathways through it.

Now, think about what the above style of code does for you, it makes a single copy of that huge function, and you just call that wherever you want... Great eh?... This is one of the tennants of good coding and functional programming.  In my book its one of the best parts of programming.

This makes the code more maintainable, easier to read, and more approachable.  I certainly don't do this kind of coding just to say "mine is better".  If there is a better way to do this sort of thing please show me.  No, what has gotten me utterly buffuddled today is the approach of a collegue of mine, whom has not grasped the situation above at all, and indeed has labelled my approach (what many of you I'm sure would consider the standard approach) to be obfuscating the purpose of the code at hand...

Now, I let them goad me, and I'm utterly lost, here's their solution...

function SumRedCars ()

function SumRedCars ()

Yes, they want to copy and paste the really complex part and have a copy for every instance or parameter they want to pass in... and they see nothing wrong with this... they see this as being the correct way to work...

And it makes me want to chew my arm off just to have something to throw at them.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Slice a Penny Off Of Each Transaction Hack...

So, I'm sat this evening just going through some old videos (VHS Tapes, you know those old things before digital storage)... and one of them I've pulled up is "Hackers" from 1995... an instant, if in accurate technically, classic for the hacking, freaking, social engineering and coding worlds.

I'd always had this information filed away in the back of my mind, but the hack involved is a worm, which takes fractions of a cent from each transaction at a huge firm... Sound Familiar?... It should, its the same sort of thing as Richard Prior was drafted in to do in Superman III... and that hack itself was used as the basis (directly) for the hack mentioned in "Office Space"...

Come to think of it, its a pretty weary, well worn hack... One which clearly saunters into the movie executive world in different guises every ten years or so...

My question is... who's going to use it next?  iPhone is huge, Steve Jobs has gone to the great "fuck you all do it my way" shack in the sky... how long before someone puts eCredit, or Wireless banking, or whatever through the "skim 0.00001 cents each time" rigmarole?

Thursday, 1 December 2011

BBC Micro - 30 day!

With today being the 30th Birthday of the BBC Micro computer, a mainstay of very many British Schools like mine in the 1980's, I'm surprised the BBC haven't more stuff scheduled tonight about the machine.

They have recently had a fair few computing and maths related documentaries about Bletchley park and the code breakers.  So with the anniversary and a lot of archive material and even some contemporary programmes about the Beeb in the system I'm just so surprised to not find anything listed.

I'd love to see this again: