Category Archives: Ordinateurs

Computers and that


You heard it here first: I’ve started working on a successor to Fandro (at xsamplex), mainly because, firstly, I love diving into these kind of algorithms. Secondly, Fandro’s popularity (for an app written in the Windows XP age) surprised me. Thirdly, Fandro required a reboot, because well, while it still works, obviously, there are issues with the current app. We’re moving to computers with higher DPI screens and 64-bit computers.

For a second I actually considered rewriting Fandro in FreePascal but I’ve decided to focus on C# for now: Yes, that will mean that most likely, I’ll open-source it. And yes, if time permits, I’ll even add side comments about how NOT to do text searches.

No timelines as of yet, though, but technically, the main algorithm was finished a couple of days ago. Time permitting, I expect at least something out by the end of the month.

SF and other unrelated news

After having not used Sourceforge for over 10 years, I’ve decided to move some of my sources back to Sourceforge. The main reason for that is that SF still allows devs to distribute binaries as part of their projects. Google (and GitHub) have slowly moved away from this citing ‘security’ issues. From an open-source perspective, I can understand Google’s and Github’s reasoning. On the good side: SF does support Git these days and frankly, while SF’s main interface looks confusing, I didn’t have a hard time to start committing changes thru git. One major surprise: back in 2003: to start a project it had to go thru a long and elaborate approval process first. This time, setting up Convendro’s project page (and committing sources) only took an hour or so. Henceforth: Convendro’s new project page sans downloads.

I’ve slowly moved to watching videos on YouTube: surprisingly only because it allows me to watch videos I want to watch as opposed to Cable TV. I’ll discuss my subscription list at a later stage but the point of me mentioning this is this elaborate list of videos of the Russian’s point of view of the Second World War (link via MetaFilter). Mind you, it is a Russian documentary (in 18 episodes). If you can stand the patriotic undertones, it’s worth a watch: each episode is around 45 minutes.

And last but not least: I can confirm that we have not had any hurricanes this season yet. It’s almost mid-September and no torrential rains (or gutting winds) have been sighted yet. Accuweather (link to article) blames this on abnormally warm Pacific waters, which apparently have created more westerly winds:

The atmosphere over the tropics thus far has behaved more like an El Nino pattern, where abnormally warm Pacific Ocean waters create westerly winds aloft over the tropical Atlantic. The current sea surface temperature pattern over the tropical Pacific is considered to be neutral.

I guess this may mean that hurricane-related insurance premiums may go down. That is a joke.

Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes

A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far away. Oh, forget it: “Fallen Enchantress, Legendary Heroes” is the third game in Stardocks line of Elemental games. As you probably know, ELemental’s release was a total disaster: For most people FE was the actual Elemental game. On top of that, just a couple of months ago, Stardock released “Legendary Heroes”, which is (surprisingly) a standalone game for the full price. I was among the people expecting to see this released as a DLC or even as a patch.

Legendary Heroes, as its predecessors is a 4X game in a magical world/fantasy setting with a slight city management background: Additionally, having played some 80 hours on this game the focus is on battle as well. You guide your champion (or sovereign) thru time, enhance your troops thru research and then try to win the game. There are 5 or so winning conditions, ranging from Diplomacy to Domination. Games can take fairly long if you choose the random huge map: anything from 4 to 10 hours for a single game. Without a doubt, graphically the game looks really good and performs very good as well. There are several things in the game that show the attention to detail, from the cloth-style map (zoomed out) to the fine-grained bubbly city views (zoomed in).

There are plenty of things that spoil the fun. The game’s stability (for one) is questionable. It appears to me that most crashes will frequently happen during the beginning stages. Additionally, the AI is very (lets say it) simple. It’s capable, but at times the AI doesn’t act decisively when it should. Often, further in the game, FE/LH can feel unmanageable, mainly because it’s hard to track all your individual champions and cities. Too many random events can also hamper your progress and gaming experience. And last but not least, while (turn-based) combat is fun, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of variation in combat maps. Hopefully mods might take care of this.

Generally, the game allows for extremely detailed management and for plenty of experimentation albeit, against a not very strong AI. If you like a 4X/strategic turn-based combat game, FE/LH will probably fit your boots. If you’re a Civ 5 fan, there’s nothing wrong with trying FE/LH. On my legendary “Frustration” rating, it’s a 6: Things are manageable during the starting phase of the game and before you know it, you’re at the end of your turn because you either lost or you gave up because of some random event spoiled the fun for you. Slightly recommended.

Gallery follows:

Continue reading

It’s a PC

By now you have already seen and heard all about the next generation of gaming consoles, the PS4 and the Xbox One, which were both demoed at the last E3. Microsoft’s Xbox was panned by many reviewers and tech journalist, mainly because of the DRM and Microsoft’s intended online distribution strategy that would have evaporated the used/rental games market. Sony promised to allow people to share their (old game) disks which they announced thru some funny video.

Just two days ago, Microsoft reversed its position on pre-owned games (Eurogamer on this), a move that was praised by many internet youtube army. However, despite the fact that used-games shops breathed a sigh of relief, I think that both Sony and Microsoft just have set a precedent and that in the near future both will discourage the release of games on disks: printing and publishing disks is and will be always more expensive than digitally distributing games. Valve’s Steam has obviously proven that.

I’ve never been in the market of getting a console and personally, once again I think I’ll pass on this generation of gaming consoles. After all, these next generation of consoles are just dedicated PCs.

Ubuntu 13.04

Last week, I triggered the apt-distupgrade on both my Ubuntu laptops which effectively downloaded Ubuntu 13.04 (“Raring Ringtail”) to these machines. This was actually sort of unexpected as I haven’t been really following Ubuntu’s latest efforts. I’m aware of Canonical’s push to the mobile market: their case to bring Ubuntu to cellphones and other devices received high praise in the media. That is, if Canonical can deliver on speed (UI) and speed (Roadmap).

The reason why I bring up Ubuntu Touch is that Canonical is aware of the slugginess of their current Unity interface. I’m pretty certain I brought this up in an earlier post (when I installed/upgraded to 11.10): it’s by default, a memory hog. What keeps me switching back to KDE or say, Gnome 3 is that Unity is heavily supported by Canonical. This is the main reason what keeps me away from other Ubuntu-descendants like Mint.

Anyway, what I mean to say is that 13.04 is supposed to be having most of the optimizations of Ubuntu Touch. As the release notes say:

Unity 7 brings a lot of performance improvements, reduced memory consumption and a great number of small UI fixes to bring a better overall shell experience.

Unity does feel like it has been improved (besides the fancy new icons for apps and the changes to the launcher): memory wise, I can’t tell the difference. It just generally still feels bloated. Time permitting, I’ll check out Gnome’s state at a later stage.

Update 1: Rebooted back in Gnome 3 and my first impression is that Gnome desktop takes a lot less memory than Unity.


I‘ll be honest: I’ve always been partial to AMD’s processors after buying my very first 386 PC clone in the early 90s. I’m pretty sure the PC came with the AMD 386 DX40 processor: at that time, nobody fell for the Intel SX chip trap. Intel chips were too expensive, too slow (intentionally) and mostly, required more power than the AMD processors.

AMD, sort of, always surprised the tech. market. While not the first to have created a dual-core processor (that honour befalls IBM of course), they were the first one to put a server-based dual-core chip on the market. Intel, feeling the heat, rushed out a dual-core processor for the desktop market. If I recall correctly, Intel’s form of dual-core processors were literally Pentiums soldered on a single board (with external logic processors) as opposed to AMD, where their Opteron platform was from the get-go designed to support multiple processors on a die (wikipedia).

AMD’s ATI take-over was another surprise. By now, ATI’s technology has literally been integrated into AMD’s processors in the form of AMD’s so-called APU line (wikipedia). That is a feat that has Intel still smoldering for an answer: I mean, technically, their integrated Intel 3000/4000 HD processor was a half-hearted response.

Which brings us to the now: You’ve heard that AMD is going to provide chips for both the PS4 and new Xbox. AMDs long goal and plan has always been to move the FPU to the GPU leaving the main CPU just for integer processing (reddit discussion), not to much success and adoption from developers though. Now that both Microsoft and Sony are adopting AMD’s chips and the possibility of true cross-platform game development this is going to change. I have this feeling that nVidia will somehow end up in Intel’s hands. Not that it will help Intel, now that the market seems to be going towards low-powered CPUs. Nvidia’s only good move was to branch out to the mobile market with their RISC-based Tegra line.

Random Christmas stuff

Now that vacation is sort of settling in, the following links attracted my full attention. In order of interest and heritage. I think.

The Dutch language is a very ‘adopting’ language: as opposed to the French, the Dutch language allows for the use of foreign words in public publications. Eventually, if foreign words become popular, they may become part of the Dutch vocabulary. There’s an organization handling the official word list and semantic rules: The TaalUnie (“Language Institute”). Just recently, I noticed the following sentence in this Dutch article:

Game of Thrones meest gedownloade serie

For some reason, the sentence looked silly to me: however, apparently it’s correct Dutch. I tend to think that by 2020, there won’t be such thing as a ‘Dutch language’.

On the Internet, mob mentality is the new democracy and while the word ‘mob’ has a negative… sound to it, on the Internet it’s sort of a good thing. Take for example your favourite home page: Reddit. A few weeks ago, the EA devs for SimCity 2013 (or whatever it’s going to be called), did an AMA (“Ask Us Anything”) about the upcoming city simulator. Within seconds, the most upvoted question was the one asking about the game’s hated ‘Always Online’ DRM (permalink to question):

What will happen to the game if I am playing and lose my internet connection – will the game still be playable and update the servers when my internet connection resumes or will it pause and wait for the connection?

The EA devs never really responded to the question and the rest is history (permalink to comprehensive ‘will not buy if’ thread).

A similar thing happened to the game WarZ, which was officially released on Steam last week. It’s a game that purports to put you into a post-zombie-apocalypse setting. The game was inspired by the popular DayZ mod for Arma2 (Arma2 on xsamplex). However, the game (WarZ) obviously didn’t deliver. The first Reddit thread that noted that the WarZ devs were less (say) truthful about the product can be found here, and obviously, it also targets Valve for allowing this game to be sold on ever popular Steam:

Honestly, some of the blame falls on Steam for this one. Obviously the info was written by the WarZ guys and then sent to steam, but it’s obvious no fact checking happened.

The follow-up thread (after the producer changed the description/feature list on Steam) still cried foul and eventually, Steam decided to stop selling the game (Forbes link), offering people refunds. The whole incident reminds me of the ‘Sword of the Stars II’ farce that happened last year (previously on xsamplex).

The moral of the story is that, if you publicly over-sell your over-promised games on the Internet, you will not get away with it. I guess, that Reddit users (and gamers) are a force to reckon with.

Mass Effect 3

Mass Effect 3, then. Shepard and EDI, at it[/caption] So yeah: by now you may have already read my review of Mass Effect 2. If you didn’t, go read that first.

Mass Effect 3 was released this year (wikipedia), with plenty of fanfare and controversy. First of all, there was the spat about DLCs that featured extra footage (scenes so you will) that were crucial for the storyline. Secondly, EA, owner of Bioware, decided to bring out Mass Effect 3 for their digital content delivery system, Origin, only, therefore ignoring requests from many fans to deliver the game thru Valve’s Steam. Thirdly, many game reviewers jumped the gun by calling this the best game of the year, which it isn’t. So what’s new and what’s not new?

The game is once again heavily scripted, dumbed down and generally, feels shorter than ME2 (I finished the game in 26 or so hours). Maps and levels, generally don’t take long to finish and worst yet, when leveled up, feel easy to take on. You hear that right: it feels shorter and it feels easier. I think, there were only two maps/missions that were fairly tough only because both of them pitted you against banshees. My general feeling about ME3 is that you can’t really call it an RPG: the choices that you have to make during many cutscenes generally have two answers: you can either pick evil or not so evil. Even that is sort of a step back from ME2, let alone ME1.

However: the story line is epic and while hard-core fans didn’t agree with the ending, I feel this game is an appropriate end to the Mass Effect lore. Sure you knew Shepard would die eventually (well, if you play it in a specific way you can actually have Shepard survive, but this implies that you gathered every ‘war assets’ that you can find). And that’s, I guess all I wanted to mention in this posting: Mass Effect 3 is a worthy game if you already played the earlier ones. If you haven’t played the first two games, you might miss references. Dumbed down and what not: my general feeling after finishing this game was a sigh of relief. I’m not sure what Bioware is planning and cooking up, but I surely hope they leave the Mass Effect world alone now. If not, I’m certain I will not buy into their crap any more. And that’s all I’m going to say about this.

Continue reading

Civilization V

I‘ve been playing Civilization 5 (wikipedia link) now for a while and I’m still mixed about it. If you played and loved Civ4 (Earlier here): it’s nothing like it. The game designers drastically changed several game features: First of all, everything plays now on a “hex” map. Secondly, stacking up units is not allowed any more. Most importantly, politics has changed. This is actually the part that bothers me the most. Since Civ 1, choosing your nation’s political affiliation resembled known types of political structures we’ve seen in recent history. You wanted to focus on trade, surely you could choose to lead your nation as a Republic or Dictatorship. Civ 5’s political system feels extremely dumbed down.

So, that being said: the game’s graphics, music and general presentation are top-notch as always. To get the most out of the game, you would probably need to get a PC that has more than 2 cores and an extremely capable graphics processor. Anything lower than a third generation i5 or i7, will most likely feel a ‘grind out game’. Turns generally seem to take longer (compared to Civ4). At the launch of this game, Firaxis claimed that their Civ 5 engine was their most scalable game engine, able to use multiple cores: If you have the time for it, witness Meier’s presentation. Upon release, however, the game was buggy as hell. Only 4 or 5 months after release, Civ 5 sort of became playable. Add to the fact that the DLC “Gods and Kings” finally added Religion and Spying mechanisms, you can say that Civ 5 is sort of turning into a classic: Mind you, a reluctant classic if you compare it with Civ 4.

Civ 5, however, does battle pretty well. Battles now feel sort of ‘real': You’ll need to plan the location of your cities so you can take advantage of the terrain and force possible bottlenecks upon your enemies. To conquer cities, you’ll find you have to push your cities to max to generate a steady stream of cannon fodder. Additionaly, cities now have basic defence mechanisms.

Would I recommend it? Reluctantly, but only if you get the “Gods and Kings” DLC: Besides adding religion and spying, it changes several core game play mechanisms. It seems to be a lot more playable in higher levels as well. My frustration score is obviously higher: I’d rate a solid 6. God, the game so obviously needs more peddles. But besides the frustration, winning the game is absolutely rewarding. With the release of Steam Workshop, people can now even create their own mods for Civ 5. “A+ would plai agian”, as they’d say on the Internet.

Continue reading

Treeview and storage

I‘ve not written a while about programming, let alone anything about that mailing program, RoundAbout. Today’s subject is the Windows TreeView control and its data section, the TreeNodes. As you probably know, a TreeView shows data in an hierarchical way, allowing users to ‘expand’ or ‘close’ so-called TreeNodes, so to expose or hide data they do and don’t want to see. TreeNodes in the Windows world can have user-data attached to it and often, developers will use this to store program specific information. I believe in .Net, this data propery is called ‘Tag': in the Delphi world, it was called plainly ‘Data’. So code-wise this could look like this:

var Node: TTreeNode;
/* FolderData is a pointer to a record */
Node := TreeView.Items.AddChild(Node, FolderData^.Name);
/* Attach the FolderData to the current node */
Node.Data := FolderData;

Early in the process of development, it was noticed that any font or even layout changes caused severe crashes in the TreeView: The TreeView in RoundAbout holds account and message/mail folder information via each TreeNode’s Data member. After a long investigation, I noticed that this was caused by the Delphi TreeView control itself: whenever a window anywhere was refreshed, Windows would send a message to the TreeView control to refresh and recreate itself. Let me say that again: whenever a font was changed in RoundAbout, this would trigger any TreeView to recreate itself. I think this issue was resolved in later versions of Delphi, but I decided to create my own control (PMTreeView, code here) to preserve the data with the following premises:

  1. Override CreateWnd and DestroyWnd
  2. Upon destruction of the treeview window, save the data for the nodes to a memorystream.
  3. Upon creation of the treeview window, (if available) load the node data from the memorystream.
  4. Trigger an event to notify the developer that the Data structure has changed for further activities.

As I mentioned earlier, I believe in subsequent Delphi versions, Borland fixed this in their own TreeView controls. However, for a piece of code that I debugged and coded in a night or so, my own PMTreeView control wasn’t too bad of an implementation.

Seagate open thyself

A year ago or so, I bought a 500 gig Seagate GoFlex portable harddrive. Unfortunately, I dropped it and started to have troubles with it. Initially, I thought the drive was just failing on me but upon thorough investigation I found out that actually the USB connector on the drive was broken. I recall that when I ‘unboxed’ the drive, I already had second thoughts about the cable and connector: I thought it looked suspiciously fragile.

I could go into a rant about everything fragile nowadays, but, here’s the thing: this drive contains a lot of data. I don’t want to lose my data. Why not just break it open and put it into one of those hd/custom enclosures: you know you can buy these at your local Staples for 20 dollars or so. Actually, opening the Seagate enclosure wasn’t too hard: first of all, there’s a plastic enclosing around the connector portion which you can slide out (use a bit of force..). Next, just push two or three flat screws into the rim and wiggle them until the top part lets go. Inside the shell, you can now take out the 2.5″ drive (you would need to screw off the aluminium cover) and put it into your custom enclosure.

I guess the moral is to stay clear from fragile connectors and plugs and all that stuff. On the other hand, a drive is just a drive. However, I fear the day, harddrive makers start to use propriety hd interfaces.

More images below the fold.

Continue reading

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

I have never played the original XCOM game (nee UFO: Enemy Unknown), back in the mid 90s. The famous turn-based-squad Microprose game obviously took the gaming world by surprise and people have been talking now for ages to recreate the experience of XCOM. Open-source? Check. Check. Check. What can you say?

So Firaxis (Of Civ fame), just released their interpretation of the famous XCOM game, XCOM: Enemy Unknown and too much critical acclaim, with a current average rating of 89. Many reviewers praise the difficulty of the game, paired with high levels or re-playability. And to be honest, 20 hours in, it is good, with some side remarks.

First of all, the game is using the Unreal engine and thru the first gameplay, I think the game scales fairly well. I’m running it on a high-end computer, but I think I would have been able to play it on my older P7350 machine. Secondly, the game is unmistakenly hard and unpredictable at times, even on the Normal level. The premise is this: you lead and train a team of combat personnel in a varying (but fixed amount) of missions. Successful missions in regions will lower ‘panic rates’. If panic rates are going through the roof, countries can and will withdraw support for your XCOM organization. What makes things worse is that some missions (Abduction missions, typically) will require you to make decisions WHICH region is going to be the focus of attention. I’ve not even talked yet about the tech-tree. Sadly, the tech-tree is not really dynamic and neither are the maps.

Here is where the problems start with XCOM: The tech-tree and the non-dynamic maps. The tech-tree sort of give you options to focus on: it’s far from indepth and generally speaking, if you keep your focus on researching armor, you should be able to keep up with the scaling of the game’s AI (yes, it will get harder gradually). Secondly, the maps don’t seem to be random enough for me. There may be like 50 or so unique maps, and sure, aliens look like they’re placed randomly on the map, but after 10 or so missions, the maps look the same.

That doesn’t mean it’s no fun: listen, this is a turn-based strategy game with the focus on (tadaa) strategy. Every mission is a careful exercise of slowly moving your forces tile by tile, turn by turn and attack by attack. Early in-game, you learn fast to adopt to the strategy of the AI: move your troops out of harm’s way because, that’s what the AI does as well. I don’t really care about how Firaxis has set up the financial part (yep, you need money to keep your organization running) nor do I care about the ‘scanning’ and ‘flight combat’ portions of the game. Both remind me strongly of the Mass Effect approach: they add no real value to the game.

So, to summarize, XCOM can be frustrating and rewarding at the same time. During the 20+ missions I played, it’s extremely exciting to finish a mission without any casualties. However, more often you lose extremely valuable team members. That’s just another reason to do better do the next time. Highly recommended. See images underneath.

10/21/2012: I finished the game in Normal difficulty mode. It’s pretty much an unforgiven game, that requires you to use every weapon and defensive tool in your arsenal (reddit on difficulty of the game). The very last battle, the Temple ship assault, I managed to finish by using three psi-enabled soldiers. Tip: smoke grenades and rush your assault team as close as you can to the Uber Ethereal. If you can, mind control one of the Mutants as that will distract one Ethereal (there are two of them). Let your sniper keep the other Mutant at bay. Do not (NOT) kludge together.

10/12/2012: Only 14.5% of Steam players beat the game on any difficulty. That is not a lot.

Continue reading

Unity dialogs wars

Something that reminded me of the issues regarding Unity new ‘touch-based devices desktop paradigm’ that I noticed earlier, which I was going to mention in the previous posting: When you copy (cut/move) a large set of files, Nautilus will show you the ‘Copy File Dialog’ box. If you minimize this box, you will not be able to re-open ever therefore sort of leaving the user in the dark when the copy operation has finished. In Unity, all minimized windows go to the ‘Unity bar’ (no, NOT that kind of bar). Minimized modal dialogs that are part of applications however, do not. You cannot even re-open this box thru the ALT+TAB switch windows method. Sadly, this is a bug reported in earlier versions of Unity and it seems like it is still hanging around on (bug #887821).

In Gnome 3, they solved this slightly more elegant: Modal windows are treated the same as general system notifications and you should see it fly by in your message event ‘log’ (so to say). Switching to this dialog, however, can be achieved by using ALT-TAB and selecting the Nautilus icon. Not ideal, but definitely some Gnome developer was paying attention to properly implementing modal dialogs.

It would be interesting to see how Microsoft is solving modal dialogs in Windows 8/Metro.

Update 10/21/2012: Looks like the modal dialog issues have been fixed in Ubuntu 12.10 in an overhauled Windows switching system that actually looks pretty(see image screenshot).