Thursday, 25 April 2013


I'm off on holiday from tomorrow.

I'm actually going to a wedding reception on the Friday (I'm not attending the wedding itself, just the reception afterwards).  They're having it in the middle of nowhere, and the Travelodge I'm staying at is a fair distance away, so I've a horrible feeling it could cost me a fortune in taxi fares, as well as being heavy on the wallet for the more obvious reasons.

Then the week after I'm building the PC, as mentioned yesterday.  I'm also hoping to get some stuff watched, both in terms of recorded programs so that I've a bit more of a cushion of free space and I'm not constantly watching stuff in a panic so that I don't run out of room, but also in terms of Blu Rays.

I've stacked up quite a pile of Blu Rays to watch and I don't have any means of ripping them so I can't sell them on until I've seen them.  There's a handful I think may be keepers, but mostly they're not things I'll want to hang on, but as I say, I can't sell them until I've watched them.

It's then my birthday and I'll be off down to my Dads to install the PC and also to see him as it's been ages since I have.  Not sure how long I'll stay, but I expect I'll come back on the Sunday or Monday - the Monday is the bank holiday, so I'll be back to work (and blogging) on the Tuesday.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

dad PC

I've made a bit of a potential minor catastrophic blunder.

Well, actually I've made a series of relatively small blunder that have combined and could give me some fairly serious problems.

I should start at the beginning.

My dad currently uses my sister's old desktop PC.  It's very old - I built it for her more than a decade ago, and it was only mid-spec when it was built.  It's therefore getting quite creaky - particularly as my dad is a bit of a one for installing random bits of software and doesn't know how to optimise the system.

So, for example, his penchant for saying yes to installs he doesn't actually want/need/know what they are means he has to have the virus checker doing constant scan and that of course uses up a good chunk of the available resources (virus software seems to be quite prone to becoming bloat-ware under the assumption that everyone is running the latest-spec equipment), slowing it down further.

He's also been getting into digital photography and so wants a system that could handle processing and manipulating big digital photographs.  He therefore asked me a while back about getting a new machine and I recommended either buying one from PC world (or similar) if he wanted a cheap route to upgrade or me building one if he had a bit more cash as I could build one with specs that would help him, rather than lots of rubbish he didn't need that you get if you spend a lot of money in such places.

He agreed and went with a budget of £1,000.  I then put together some suggestions and we refined it and it came in at about the right budget.  It was a bit of a beast of a system in terms of processor, ram and hard-drive, but nothing special for the graphics, case and other bits (he's already using a bigger monitor, so he's keeping that, and we're also re-using his DVD burner - both are recent additions to the old machine so aren't that old, but also he doesn't need anything more).

Anyway, that was all fine and good, but I had a bit of an issue with timing, but also with finances, so he transferred the money, but I didn't have the time to buy stuff, plus some of it wasn't in stock at the time.  However, I did something particularly dumb with the money too.

I prefer to use credit cards online for the additional protection they give, but instead of putting all the money onto one card and therefore freeing up an appropriate slot, I spread it across multiple cards.  Why the hell I did this looking back I don't know - it means multiple orders and therefore multiple postage, so will cost me more.

Also, rather annoyingly, I've now come to buy the bits and the price of every single bit has gone up slightly.  Not a lot - a few pounds, or tens of pounds- but enough to give me some additional issues.

It also doesn't help that I didn't really think sensibly about my car tax and insurance: I should have done 6 months instead of 12 for the car tax and split the insurance into monthly payments - both would have cost more in the long term, but wouldn't have taken big chunks out of my cash reserves.  The stag do also cost a lot more money than I thought it would - I haven't added it up, but it was at least £500, all of which had to be paid in cash as it was all paid for by the best man and then re-paid by us: I couldn't book anything individually, which I could have put on a card and therefore given myself some free-space for my Dad's PC.

The upshot of all this is that I now have an annoying situation where I am going to have to pay more for my Dad's PC than he has paid me, but I can't go back to him with the above problems because he's under the impression I've already bought it all.  What I might do is make a substitution - there are one or two bits that I picked as slightly better than he needs (the GFX card in particular) in order to make the budget up so I may go cheaper so it cancels out the additional cost.  Not 100% honest, but he will never play a game on it so he doesn't need anything with any grunt.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

version two point oh

So yesterday they launched the version 2.0 patch for SimCity.

I haven't tried it out yet - they took the servers down for quite a while to do it - but also I try not to play during the week too much.  Plus I figure that a lot of people will have played in order to see if the new patch has really helped to fix things or not, so I'm guessing it would have been quite busy.

I don't think it will fix everything that needs fixing.  Indeed, I don't think some of the things that should be fixed ever will be.  Or at least, in order to be fixed, they would need some serious redesigning of the game engine/mechanics.

Having played a fair bit and sat down and studied what's going on in places I think traffic in particular is quite badly broken.

There are two big problems - the rules they've set for how vehicles drive on the roads and the "behaviour" of the Sims that driving is a function of.  The first would require a total change of the engine.  The second would also require some major changes but I think they may be able to "tune" the game around it or the bits that need changing might be changeable.

In the first the problem is that vehicles are very much "on rails".  When you drive a car on a normal road there is nothing that stops you from changing lanes (going into the side of the road oncoming traffic uses).  Well, I mean apart from the oncoming traffic itself and solid white lines - what I mean is, if someone stops in the road you can move into the oncoming lane in order to overtake them.  This doesn't happen in SimCity - all vehicles are on rails.

But in SimCity they do not do this - if a fire engine stops to put out a fire then all vehicles stop behind it, causing a huge traffic blockage.  And conversely, if an emergency vehicle gets stuck behind something it won't go in the oncoming lane to overtake.  Now also there are (unrealistically, given the permitted density of roads and types of junctions allowed) so many vehicles on the roads in SimCity there wouldn't be that much opportunity to overtake, but that's not the point - it's unrealistic behaviour that leads to clogged streets.

There's other stuff as well, but that's the best example.  There is a solution - you can upgrade the roads to multi-lane jobs and vehicles will overtake, but building density is linked to road density, so you then get buildings upgrading (there's no way to stop this) and so there are more cars, leading to clogged streets again!

The other issue is behaviour - no Sim has a fixed abode or fixed job, they all just go to the nearest free house/free factory/empty school/etc.  This is simple to code and I'm sure minimises memory requirements, but it means that all Sims head off to the same destinations all the time - they all try to go to the nearest job, leading to huge jams.

And only once they reach the warehouse and the jobs fill up do they all suddenly then decide to go to the next job.  This basically applies to everything they do, which is why you get huge lines of buses all following each other about and why vehicles perform a staggering number of U-turns (which is also another reflection of the previous issue - they can only perform a U-turn at a proper junction, rather than randomly, which also clogs up the roads!).

Now as I say, this second one is the sort of issue that I think they may be able to tweak the algorithms to give a bit more realistic behaviour, or even perhaps replace the algorithm for that sort of behaviour without needing to fundamentally rebuild everything.  So I'm hoping this is what v2.0 helps to fix.

If it doesn't then I've been playing about with some workarounds.  One in particular that seems to help is to construct your entire city as one big loop.  It can be quite fun working this out, but boy does it lead to some unrealistic cities.

Another thing that helps traffic is to think of things as mini cities, so each small bit of residential has easy/close access to commercial and industrial, so they don't do too much long-distance driving (they don't care what the commercial/industrial is, remember, so they don't need go further than their nearest job).  Again, horribly unrealistic cities, but at least your entire city doesn't grind to a halt!

Monday, 22 April 2013


Well, how wrong was I?

Bahrain turned out to be a really interesting race.  It was virtually non-stop, with lots of overtaking and good on-circuit action (and a bit of not so good action).

I think a big part of it is the DRS, which really works here - it enables them to get into a position for overtaking but doesn't make it a simple drive-past like it does at some other circuits.  That's why it actually made China a worse race - if it's a circuit where there are already a few chances to overtake then it either makes those areas too easy or shifts the overtaking from that area to the main straight (why battle it out in a corner when you can just wait and drive past on the straight).

It wasn't all clean battling in Bahrain.  Perez trying to overtake Button was a bit close to the mark (he even hit him a couple of times).  For team-mates it's good that they were keen to fight and not ordered not to at all, but it needs to be totally clean - taking out your own team-mate (and, worse, yourself as well) is an absolute no-no as it basically ruins the work of the team and could cost valuable points.

However, that wasn't the only action - there were good fights between plenty of other cars too and some interesting results - the Force India of Paul Di Resta, for example, got up to 4th.  The Lotus is looking extremely consistent - Vettel won, but Kimi and Grosjean were in 2nd and 3rd.  The Red Bull therefore looks less comprehensively dominant than in previous years and we know there are circuits it doesn't suit as well given the design philosophy.  However, the Lotus looks like it may be a good performer whatever the circuit.

Ferrari also look strong, but Alonso and Massa were horribly unlucky.  Alonso's DRS failed quite early, which meant he couldn't use it, effectively tying one hand behind his back.  This was having had the issue with the front wing last time, so he's dropped a lot of potential points.  Massa had two punctures, which is almost unheard of - both it sounded like came from cuts in the tyres and there were a few smashes that would have left debris on the circuit, but very unlucky to get two.

There's a bit of a gap now until the next race, which is Spain, I believe.  I think we also go into a stretch of alternate week races, rather than double-headers, which is better, I feel.  The odd double-header is okay, but when they happen a lot I find it quite disruptive to my routines and plans.