Off to a cold start…

Man has it been cold outside recently. I wanted to go for quick walk to Walgreens the other day, but about after 5 minutes outside, I decided to turn around before my fingers froze solid. In the twenty or so minutes it took me to run my errant, the humidity inside my car had condensed and froze on the inside of the windows!

mde
It was -25°F with the windchill… 

I like winter and snow and all, but I would rather that it was not so cold. Temperatures below zero means no running outside, no running outside means treadmill which is incredibly boring. Autumn and Spring temperatures are best temperatures for running. So much for my half marathons prep…

*****

Talking about staying inside and doing nothing, let us talk about Esports. I understand the idea of competitive video games, I like watching high level players in games like Starcraft 2, but I just don’t understand why someone would look at a game like Overwatch and think “Yes, this fast paced and manic first person shooter, with 20+ charatcers with unique abilities is exactly what we need to bring Esport to the public!”. 

The “Overwatch League” inaugural season was last week and out of curiosity, I decided to watch some of and I honestly could not figure out what on earth was going on. Between the fast moving characters and the constant switch between points of view made things quite hard to follow. Also each match involve four separate game modes,  which meant that I got quite confused when they switched between a capture the hill type event to an escort a target event (I think they called it a payload mode?) while I went to make some tea.

The one thing that I somewhat liked was that each team had nice color coded skins for their characters. That made determining who was in which team a bit easier. The commentary team was not exactly useful but I was better than some of the commentary I have heard on some League of Legends tournaments, those are mostly gibberish unless you have master degree in that game.

I still think the best Esport game is Starcraft, because it is, in my humble opinion anyways, simple enough for someone who never played to understand. There are two players, one on each side of the map, collect minerals to create massive army and the first to destroy the other wins. Simple! Sure there is a lot more to it, but I think that you don’t need to know everything to grasp the gist of what is happening.

On a side note, after every round, all the players would grab a couple of those hand warmer pouch thing and warm their fingers. What was that about? Does it really makes that much a difference? Was it just cold in the studio where they were playing? Were they just showing off? Who knows….

*****

I am going to have a bit of a choice this week end as there are couple interesting events going on. There is the Midlands auto show downtown at the century link convention center that is always fun to visit and see what current trends there are in the car industry. They will even have a Delorean! How retro!

On the other hand, there is also a gun show happening across the river in Council Bluff. I don’t actually plan to buy or own a gun but I am curious american gun culture. Going to a gun show is on my bucket list of  all-American things to experience I want to do along with Rodeo, drag racing and Monster trucks. Might as well drop by and stroll for a few minutes…

Advertisements

A fresh new year!

Happy New year! Yes, I know it was six days ago, but better late than never right? Anyways, I hope you all had a great holiday.

Ah 2017, what a year. I got myself a VR headset, I went on an amazing trip through national parks in Utah, ran a half marathon under three hours, learned some new recipes, and ended breaking up my glasses in late December. Also I really started listening to podcasts on a regular basis and discovered that there is only about four brands that pay for advertisements. There is something subtly annoying in having your murder mystery podcast being interrupted by a cheerful Blue Apron ad…

Anyways, new year, new resolutions! I was going to start with a joke that my new year resolution was 4K, as I originally thought to get a 4K television for Christmas, but decided that it would mostly be a waste of money. So what about some proper resolution?

Obviously there is the usual stuff of trying to lose some weight, not get fired, meet new people. Here are some more specific ones:

  • I will continue running and training for Half marathons, hopefully this year I’ll be able to do 2 hours 45. I did sign for three this year, so it’s not like I won’t have the opportunity.
  • I have been meaning to learn C++ for the longest time, but I never really got around to sit down and do it. Code wars has a lot of nice exercises to learn the basics and I have a nice book. Just need take the time to go through them.
  • I have been thinking about making an android app. I already know quite a bit of Java but I just have no real plan as to what the app would be.

Oh and I guess it would be nice to start playing D&D or Dark Heresy again. I should look for a RPG group.

Bitcoin’s early Christmas gift…

After spending a week preventing the company from going bankrupt, and probably several other big businesses, and several boring meetings of “what can we do to prevent this happening again?” (The answer is nothing because it was not our fault), I think I could use some change of scenery.

Remember Bitcoins? It’s not like it has been making headlines for the past couple month. Anyways, a long time ago I had invested a small amount into it. I was hoping to explore where I could spend my newly earned crypto-currency and discovered that there was not much I could do at the time. I figured that I would probably hold until the price had gone up and make my investment back, which I did. Little did I know that it would be a terrible mistake.

Now, if you were to lazy to make the calculation yourself, had I not sold back then, my investment would have been worth nearly $3000!! AGGHHHHH!!! Why did I sell? How could I not have foreseen that the price would explode over a year in the future?

Joking aside, I did not sell all the bitcoin that I had. There was 0.029 bitcoins left over that I had not converted, and that was now worth $450! Nice. But what could I do what that? Well, $450 is enough to get you an Nvidia GTX 1070 TI graphics card, and turns out that Newegg accepts Bitcoins! Miracle!

So, what do you do with a nice graphics card like that? Virtual Reality of course! My current graphics card, AMD’s RX 480, is capable of VR but I figured that it was worth future proofing my computer a little bit. This upgrade was also perfectly timed with the probably the biggest VR release of all time, the most anticipated Desert Bus VR! Oh, and some game called Fallout 4 VR.

The upgrade in graphics card, despite the fact that that 1070 TI is far better than the RX 480, does not make much difference in VR. Everything feels subtly smoother but it is hard to quantify. The only game that I have ever seen lag was Space Pirate trainer when multiple drone exploded at once and that seems to have gone away with the new card.

I think the best part of this story is that effectively I only paid about $5 for a $450 graphics card. I could have had a whole new top-of-the-line computer, but what ever. Anyways, thanks bitcoin for getting me an early Christmas gift.

 

We nearly ruined the Holidays for millions of people…

You know things have taken a very bad turn when, as you arrive at the office on a Monday morning, there is already a stack of empty pizza boxes. As a matter of facts, it was probably the worst issue we had in probably five years. This made my bug feel like a walk in the park.

As it turns out, someone from a big credit card association decided that they were above petty things like system stability and not messing up Christmas season, and proceeded to create a massive bug in their system. For nearly two and a half days, transactions did not included the information for what currency in was made in. Was it in Indian Rupee? Maybe it was in Euros? How about Mexican Pesos? Nobody knows!

I pulled three consecutive 12 hour stints to help people more knowledgeable than me make our system work. It was not fun… Things were rather bleak on Tuesday night when the decision was made to dump half the files we received that day. We also decided to dump a whole day of the test environment. There was one brief moment of levity when, while skimming through a file to check data integrity, I found a transaction for a Youtube Red subscription. That was funny.

The most perplexing thing was the way managers and executives interacted. When the executive were in their conference room, the mid managers were all optimistic and soft, telling people that they understood that we were dealing with complicated system and “take your time” and all that. Then they would leave for five minute, come back surrounded by suits and start yelling at everyone and tossing everyone in charge under the bus. I have no idea what they were trying to achieve, because all the happened was a lot of wasted time.

Last I heard, we were back on track and processed everything and only once, so good on us. Clients are going to be pissed at us for a while, especially since the card association guys told our clients that it was our fault that they were not getting paid because we could not process their garbage transactions…

A confluence of random things, late November edition…

Last week, in my Thanksgiving post, I made a passing joke at the scandal that recently plagued Star Wars Battlefront and EA surrounding the way the game had a “pay to win” microtransaction system. That jostled some memories and reminded me a of game that I played a few years ago called “Mighty Quest for Epic Loot”.

The concept was quite interesting, half the game was a dungeon crawling RPG, while the other half was a level designer, like Dungeon keeper. The idea is that you would design your own dungeon and raid other people’s creation. At the end of each dungeon you would get experience points and other resources that would allow you to upgrade your dungeon and your character. Surprisingly, this formula worked!

That is, until you reached the third tier of dungeons. At that point, the required amount of resources take massive swing upward making the game extremely slow paced. You were then left with the following choice: play levels over and over again for hours on end to slowly grind your way to the next level or pay real money.

It seemed very clear that the first five or so hours of the game where designed to get you hook and that the moment you started to get competitive, the would severely throttle you to get you to pay up. A bit of a shame really.

Anyways, I was curious to see what ever happened to that game, only to discover that it no longer existed. The servers where shut down over a year and half ago. I am not actually sure how I feel about that. I am sort of sad that they did not bother to fix it, since there was a decent idea at the core of the game, but then again it was such a blatant attempt to rob you of your hard earn money, I sort of glad that it failed.

*****

I went to Holland center this past Saturday to see Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in Concert. The orchestra would perform the music live while the movie was playing. I do have to admit that the movie was a bit distracting from the fact that the orchestra was playing but it was a nice evening all around.

Watching the first Harry Potter film for the first time in forever made me feel nostalgic and made me want to read the books again. I figured that I could just walk into my local used book store and stumble into piles of them. Surprisingly, that did not happen, and despite searching thoroughly through all the book shelves, I couldn’t find even one of the seven books! Fine, I Thought, I guess I’ll just go to Barnes and Nobles and just buy a boxed set. Even more surprisingly, they did not have a single Harry Potter book either… To the internet then…

There is a problem however. If I am going to order them online, might as well get the proper versions and not the the botched, Americanized versions. Despite the fact that we live in the year 2017, a year where you can unlock your phone by looking at it and order things on Amazon via voice command, it is not possible to order the UK version of the books directly on Amazon.com. I had to go on Amazon.co.uk and pay $15 for international shipping and it will take three weeks to get here! Ugghhh….

*****

Talking about books, I finished reading the book that inspired “Blade Runner”, and I have to say that I am disappointed. The rule of thumb is the book is much better than the movie but it seems that this might be an exception. Now, the book and the film have very little in common other than the general plot, main character and setting. Unfortunately, the plot of the book takes a massive dive in quality toward the last third of the book where a bunch of unrelated plots all come together into a nonsensical ending.

Turns out that the android, instead of trying to increase their lifespan, where actually plants from the corporation in order improve the androids and make them undetectable to humans. Why? Who knows, it is never explained. Rachel, rather then being the conflicted android who wanted to be human, is this calculated and manipulative femme-fatale character that reports to the corporation to improve the androids. The popular philosophy that centered around empathy turns out to have been made up and no one seems to care because they are completely brainwashed by it.

The ending is the biggest joke of them all. The book ends with Deckerd having massive breakdown and hallucination after learning that Rachel had killed his goat. He ends up finding a fake toad and returns home, where everything just goes back to the same old routine… What?

The film does a far better job at making a coherent narrative and likable characters and proper villains. It is a mildly interesting book but not one that I would recommend reading.

Happy Thanks Giving!

I know it’s a bit late in the day but hey, I was busy not doing anything, I wanted to share what I was thankful for this holiday season.

I am thankful for EA screwing up their microtransactions in the latest Battlefront so badly that the government of Belgium and Australia have declared in-game loot boxes to be gambling. I have always hated in game purchases, even cosmetic stuff, and EA has really been pushing hard for more and more in-game monetization. The main issue is that these microtransaction have negative effects on the game mechanics, often creating arbitrary roadblocks that you either have to grind early levels to collect enough resources or pay up with in-game purchases. These recent announcements are probably not going to make any differences with current industry trend but it is a good sign that there will be more public pressure if they continue with loot boxes.

On a more realistic note, I am thankful for my coworker for being awesome and supportive for the past couple years, my boss for being cool when I made my first big mistake a few weeks ago, and big thanks to my family for being supportive as always.

Also big shout out to the guys from my local comic store for being awesome and starting off the weekend with fun banter.

November Double feature! Office Stuff! Video Games!

So the past week was an exciting week, because I accomplished two thing that I have never done before. I have caused my first major bug at the office and I finally beaten one of the video game that defined my childhood, the original Crash Bandicoot. Now those may not seem all that interesting to some of you but hey, not every week gets to be the week where you beat your personal best time for the half marathon. Appreciate the small things, you know.

Now, there is not a lot to appreciate when causing a bug in your software, especially in the industry that I am in. So what happened? The gist of it was that we had files that an empty field that would cause a program to crash. We figured that we could add a check upstream a catch when that field was empty and get rid of that specific entry in the file. I was given a file that contained an example of such an entry and assumed that the file was an input file. After all it had the correct layout. So I did my magic on the code, tested it with said file and all was well. The faulty entry was rejected as it should have, and nothing else was different. All good! Right?

Well the thing was that the file was actually an output file and the field we checked gets populated inside the program. By placing my check at the top of the logic flow, pretty much every single entry on the file would get rejected…. Ooops.

But Alex, don’t you have test environments? Shouldn’t you have seen that something was wrong? Well, our test environment is junk. I checked and while we should have seen the same issue in the test environment that occurred in production, my faulty program made no difference in it. Junk data came in, junk data came out. Hard to pin point a fault in a system that is entirely faulty to begin with.

We were able to recover all the data and rerun the old version of the code, so I am not in hot water. I will have to explain to bunch of people why and how I screwed up but that should not be too painful.

*****

Forget about all that work related nonsense, tell us more about the good stuff! Why, thank you imaginary reader! I did not realized that you cared so much about PlayStation 1 games.

Growing up in the late 90’s, there are two game franchise that I have very fond memory of: Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon. I don’t think there have been any games since that have matched their level refinement when it come to action/platforming. I have spent countless hours as a kid trying to get everything single collectibles in every level but there was always that one game that just relentlessly defied by attempts to beat it: The first Crash Bandicoot game. The third one was my favorite, I knew like the back of my hand and could probably beat it in my sleep. The second one was a bit tougher, lacking the double jump made getting some of the jumps a bit hard (like getting to the secret exit in Air Crash…). The first game however had the harshest level of difficulty a game can ever have: no save feature.

In the original game, the only way to save your progress was to complete one of the bonus rounds that you could find in certain levels. As you progress through the game, the levels would get tougher and so would the bonus rounds. Also, you only had one try at the bonus round, if you failed, you had to restart the entire level! As a kid I managed to go up to the level Road to Nowhere and never managed to beat it. Very disappointing.

When the games were re-released on the PlayStation network as PSONE classics, I ended up downloading them to my PSP and played through them while I was in college. I did manage to go quite a bit further but hit a stumbling block. There was a bonus round in the level Chemical Plant, right before the Pinstripe boss, but the next level with a bonus was Slippery Climb, which was incredibly hard. In order to make any progress I would have needed to beat Chemical Plant, Pinstripe, a Bridge level that was really annoying and make it through Slippery Climb, something that I never managed.

Finally, Earlier this year, Crash Bandicoot N’sane trilogy was released. Complete remake and modernization of the original games. Now, they made a major change to the original game that made it much easier: the game autosaves after every level. That being said, the levels are not any easier.

One thing that I notices through this run through of the game is what made it so hard. Crash 2 and 3 had a whole collection of enemies that served as the main obstacle while bottomless pits were more secondary to the level designs. In the first Crash, it all jumps and tricky platforming. There are the occasional enemy but they are more distraction than anything.

After many grueling hours of failing jumps and stupid deaths, I finally achieved 100% completion! Ah, the satisfaction of finally seeing a game that I have played for so many years bite the dust… I might even put the effort in getting all the time relics that were added, but I think that I will spend more time doing Planet Coaster stuff.