Category Archives: Ordinateurs

Computers and that

Madness du Systeme Linuxi

The previous posting was actually supposed to be detailing the conversion of my DV-5 to Linux, a process that I have done so many times that I can do this with my eyes closed. Sort of. It took a bit longer as I decided to check out OpenSuse and Linux Mint first. Either Linux flavours I disliked from the get-go: OpenSuse is driven by KDE 4, which I really like, except for that it reminds me these days of Lego in both a good and bad way. Mint is where I expect desktop-Gnome 3 to go: only, it behaves very unpredictable. For example, UI elements like menus in NetBeans didn’t work at all. Also, random crashes occurred too many times.

So, back to Unity, which, as you probably already knew, I hate. For now, I can tolerate it: however, in my mind, while I appreciate that the Ubuntu-crew is concentrating on a UI that can work with touchbased devices, it would have been so nice if they had provided users with a good UI choice.

I am pining for both KDE4 and Mint tho. Or, maybe, just maybe, I really should go back to Debian, which to my surpise is now up to version 6. Same apt, same tools and same architecture.

Activities in Linux

Now that I’ve finally moved on to bigger hardware, I can officially retire my 2008 DV-5 1157-CA (this link doesn’t exist anymore). It has served me well, while costing me two harddrives, because, well, it obviously lost one fan at one time resulting in overheating. As you know, the number one killer of harddrives is heat.

While we’re at it: I’ve decided to steer away from major brand laptops like HP and Toshiba: I have had both brands and have seen the quality dwindle down. Current models look ugly and are extremely fragile. I don’t mean that you should be able to drop a laptop from 20 feet or so.

My favourite part of the DV-5 was the fact that it could play recent games fairly well (see category) because of the size of the video ram: For a general all-purpose laptop in 2008, 512 MB was a lot. Additionally, the laptop is not extremely hard to take apart: heck, at one time, HP’s site had elaborate instructions how to do it yourself and where to order spare parts from. Maybe that’s all we need from laptop manufacturers: sell laptops that one can repair and upgrade yourself.

For now, the DV-5 is running the latest Ubuntu flavour.

Another slight of Postgres

Back almost 10 years ago, as mentioned probably a-many times, I exclusively used Debian to deploy Postgres database servers. That was mainly, because (officially) there were no Windows versions out yet, well, except for an older 7.2 version. My main interaction therefore was with bash and the postgres commandline tools (psql). I’ve not had a need to install postgres on a Linux machine since a while ago (2007?), so I was sort of surprised that 9.1 one was the most stable version. I barely touched the 8 series because, as you probably know, back in the days Debian Sarge only supported version 7.4.

I was not surprised I was still able to use psql’s commandline tools: heck, I was surprised that I still remember which command options to use to clear buffers and what not. If you do a combined Windows/Linux development, you don’t need pgadmin: as a matter of fact, I barely used it because (and even now), I find the program’s UI underwhelming.

The underwhelmingness (is that a word?) of pgadmin, was actually the sole reason to start up a SourceForge project to write a Delphi tool to set things right. I ended up abandoning the idea and focused on a tool to export data forth and back using plain ODBC connections. This initially evolved in a tool called ‘Helios’, written in Delphi, which then became HelioSQL when I rewrote this for .Net.

The only reason why I bring this up is to highlight that – while I already had extensive knowledge of Sybase (yay) and SQLserver – my heart was so close to postgres, that I used a similar naming convention for my database query tool.

Add. 1: There used to be a joke in the postgres mailing-lists on how to pronounce ‘PostgreSQL’. There were people who thought the unfortunate naming was the main cause of PostgreSQL’s low adoption rate. Everybody I ran into, just called PostgreSQL ‘Postgres’. The same idea is true for ‘HelioSQL’. I wouldn’t dare to claim that ‘Helios’ low adaption rate is because of its silly name.

Add. 2: A thing that blew me away was that I could run psql on both Windows and Unix platforms. This is where SQLServer is missing out: as far as I know there are no unix tools available that provide connectivity to SQLserver (well, I’m discounting ODBC for UNIX).

A slight return to Postgres

Years ago, I used to set up postgres on Debian servers. For a couple of test, I had to install Postgres somewhere: Installing on Windows is generally a breeze, but not needing the third-party tools, I decided to go back to Linux and install the database server on my Ubuntu box. While I didn’t have issues with importing test data/databases, there were minor things that had me briefly stumped. So, to install Postgres on Ubuntu and other Debian flavours, here we go:

  1. First install postgres by entering ‘apt-get install postgresql’ in a bash-session/terminal
  2. We need to properly initialize it and I would recommend to add your login user to Postgres: sudo -u postgres createuser -D -P arthur
  3. Optionally, create a new database: sudo -u postgres createdatabase -O username whateveryouhavefordatabasename
  4. Open up pg_hba.cfg (sudo vi /etc/postgresql/9.1/main/pg_hba.conf).
  5. Change the following lines properly (use trust):
    # IPv4 local connections:
    host all all 127.0.0.1/32 trust
    host all all 192.168.2.0/24 trust

  6. Open up postgresql.conf and set listen_addresses = ‘*’ properly (* means that postgres will listen to all ip-address as defined in networking)
  7. Restart postgresql
  8. Connect to postgres using the psql client: psql -U arthur -h localhost -d whichever database

The official postgres site has demo databases (or rather links to them): they are around this url

Mount and Blade: with Fire and Sword

Earlier this year I decided to give Mount and Blade a try, only because Wikipedia describes the game as a “medieval, single-player nonlinear action role-playing video game”. For the first time, before buying the game, I decided to watch the typical “Lets play” videos, to see if I would (sort of) like the game.

Before I start going on that review-tangent: There are a couple of “Mount & Blade” games around. There are: “Mount & Blade”, “Mount & Blade: Warband”, “Mount & Blade: With Fire and Sword” and (just recently released) “Mount & Blade Warband: Napeoleonic Wars”. Today: I’m mainly going over the third game (Fire & Sword), as that version seems to be universally despised by M&B fans. While concepts between all the games are generally the same, Fire & Sword introduced firearms to Mount & Blade. The firearms aspect is what M&B hardcore fans mostly despise as apparently it’s rather easy to be killed by bullets than by arrows (the main projectile weapon in the original M&B series is the bow). Additionally, Fire & Sword appears to be sort of a mod on top of the original Mount & Blade, which does not include several game enhancements introduced by ‘Mount & Blade: Warband’, significantly, the option to build your own empire.

Surprisingly, since I started out with Fire and Sword, I find the game’s mechanics actually better than ‘Warband’. Certainly, if someone fires a bullet at you, you’re either dead or barely alive. However, during battle mode, Fire and Sword forces you to strategically position your troops particularly when the odds are against you. In Warband, while it does provide the option, I’m able to singled-handedly commit genocide even when the odds are 1 to 5. Anyway.

So Mount & Blade is indeed an ‘open-ended RPG slash strategy game’. You mainly move your band over an iso-metric map, collecting as much money as you need and taking on tasks from different factions. In Fire & Sword, the factions seem to resemble factions from Russian history books (Cossacks, Moscovites and Polish). When you cross the path of other warbands, you can either attack or run away. In the case of ‘attack’, the game puts you in a 3D map, where (from a third-person perspective on your horse) you can start attacking or defending yourself against a horde of enemies. There’s an additional aspect to combat: when you’ve collected enough experience, you can actually lay sieges and attack fortresses and strongholds.

On the overall, the combination of combat (sword, firearm) and RPG elements make ‘Mount and Blade’ a compelling game to play. As a matter of fact, I’ve not had so much fun as the combat and strategy elements are unique: there is no other game around where you can ride your horse and squash people with your sword or firearm, not to mention, laying siege and attacking fortresses and that all in first person. Surely, it’s not typically an easy game and it can go on endlessly, making you (mostly) forget about tasks you were assigned by your factions and friendly commanders. You don’t get punished for missing tasks. On my famous frustration scale (if you forgot) it’s a solid 7.5. Graphically, “Mount & Blade” is not a demanding game either (and to be honest, it does look outdated) so I think you should be able to run it on yer faithful Duo Core computer with a lower-end-ish Nvidia 96xx graphics card. If you’re into sandbox games with RPG elements and you love horse riding (haha), you should probably check out the game. If you’re not into ‘one bullet can kill you’ games but like horse riding, you may want to check out “Mount & Blade: Warband”.

Pictures below the fold.

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Surface

Last week-ish, I was going to write something about Microsoft Windows 8. By now you must have heard and read about how the company is chopping up their OS to fit (well, it’s officially called “optimized for”) touch-enabled devices, which has caused quite an uproar in the Windows-sphere.

I’ve been fairly sceptic about Microsoft’s Windows 8 plans and having now mostly used Linux (Ubuntu/Debian), to be honest, an OS is an OS is an OS. Here’s the silly thing I was thinking last week: Knowing that Windows 8 is supposed to be so tablet-centric and because of the outcry of PC users and the like around on the Internet PLUS the fact that OEM (PC manufacturers) have been slow to show Windows 8 devices, well… What if Microsoft was working on its own Windows 8 – ready tablets to generate excitement about Windows 8.

I wouldn’t say I predicted this when I saw the first announcement of the Surface tablet: In the grand scheme of plans – the fact that current PC users have cried foul about Windows 8, Microsoft could just not afford to wait for OEMs to produce good-looking hardware. At this stage, I sort of feel sorry for the OEMs (HP, Dell and others): apparently they were told on fairly short notice that Microsoft was going to build their own tablets. Surprisingly, the tablet was very well received by industry insiders and PC users. As for myself: The chance to be able to play Civ 5 on a tablet sounds attractive: that is, as long as you bring your own cooling pad.

Android

I have been using my Android-based tablet (review of the Iconia Tab, other Android-related topical postings) now for over a year and I thought this was the perfect opportunity to do a recap and go over that device again.

First of all, just a couple of months, I upgraded the tablet to the latest Android version (“Ice Cream Sandwich”, or ICS from now on): I personally think that Google sort of redeemed itself on several Android UI design choices. I generally didn’t care about Acer’s HoneyComb OEM changes and thought the choice of font was, ‘awkward’. With ICS, Google sort of forced manufacturers of Android tablets to take over some of the new Android UI elements.

Secondly, the Android App market has literally exploded: while the two App market places obviously still show that Apple still tops Google, you can safely say that most iOS apps are also available in Android flavours. And if not, surely there are Android alternatives available.

On the development side: after a year of Android use, I still believe that tablets will replace netbooks. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s no market for netbooks by 2013. Heck, I even find the Intel-based Ultrabooks sort of a dubious phenomenon, mainly because I’m not convinced that the current hardware specs (mobile slimmed down versions of i5s and i7s) are properly targeting these devices’ usage. A tablet for occasional browsing and communication? Sure. An Ultrabook for the very same? Not so much.

Which brings me back to my tablet’s daily usage: indeed I use it more for browsing, e-mailing, reading books and a variety of multi-media activities (listening music and or watching video). This is actually exactly what I used it for when I bought the tablet last year. As I mentioned in previous postings, the tablet has slowly replaced my main PCs (Linux/Windows) as the go-to device. To be honest, I’m still sort of surprised how the A500 has become (literally) the information center piece. This has some drawbacks and they are mostly, you guessed it, on the technical front. I will go into that in a later posting.

Eye of the Beholder/Grimrock

This is not going to be a review of sorts: However, I bought ‘Legend of Grimrock’ (producer) the other day, which is an old-style hack-and-slash dungeon crawler a la “Dungeon Master”, or, rather, more to my experience, “Eye of the Beholder”. I’ve only briefly mentioned “Eye of the Beholder” before on this site (here).

The game has been a resounding success, if I may say so: It looks like the Finnish developer has already recovered the cost of producing the game. This is surprising: Back when I played EOB (and EOB2) I always thought the introduction of games from Id Software (you know the 3D FPS) basically replaced the trusty dungeon crawlers: from one day to the other, these crawlers became ‘out of date’ technology. No matter how you turn it: Quake, was the turning point for PC-gaming.

While playing Grimrock, I run into frustrations as reported by many others on the Internets: however, most of them are actually neglectable if you think about the type of game Grimrock actually is: It’s a dungeon crawler. You’re supposed to take the time for it. For someone who finished both EOBs, like ages ago, the puzzles are what make these kind of games enjoyable.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

While I’m at it: I haven’t had time to put any thoughts on games. Not that I spend my hours on playing games all the time: however, 2 or 3 months ago, I managed to finish ‘Skyrim’ (product page, wikipedia page).

I’ve played but never finished ‘Oblivion’ (review here) or its predecessor, ‘Morrowind’ (never reviewed): Actually the latter I actually played on an XBOX before but I can’t recall I actually finished it or not. Regardless, while I loved Oblivion, like anyone else, I despised the game’s ‘level scaling algorithm’. Good news first then: in Skyrim there appears to be no level scaling happening. I believe I was able to finish the game in 120+ hours and generally, it wasn’t too hard, combat-wise.

Right: Skyrim is an FPS-based open-world RPG. Technically you can do anything what you want to do in this game: while there are main quest lines (and the dozens of sidequests), you could venture out into a town, kill anybody and walk away from the onslaught. I think in one case, I refused to do a specific side-quest for people of a particular town and since I refused it, I decided just to kill all of them. The beauty of the game is that it detects people have died and (in my case) killed storeowners were replaced by unnamed assistant-shop keepers. Not bad, Bethesda.

Combat is still sort of clunky: Switching from magic to swords (and vice versa) is tedious. Bethesda provided keyboard short cuts, however the amount of available short cuts is not enough. If you’ve selected a combat-like character, there’s no point to try to get ‘magical points': you might just as well find or create the very best armour/shielding there is. There are (and I won’t reveal too much) specific quests to find these items.

Technically and graphically, the game is not too far off from ‘Oblivion': the engine is pretty and scales fairly well (I ran this on my 3-year old P7350 laptop). I don’t recall experiencing ‘slowdowns’ during hectic combat. I believe Skyrim auto-detects your graphical display capabilities: I would recommend to ‘notch it down’ a bit.

There’s so much more to tell about Skyrim: in my 120 hours, while I’ve discovered a lot, I can tell for sure that I’ve not seen 100% of the world. It feels humongous and the changing weather patterns (and northern lights!) make Skyrim feel truly a world of its own. Highly recommended.

See below for screenshots.

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Convendro, Soliendro

So, the last couple of weeks, I’ve finally decided to push for a 1.0 release of Convendro (Google Code downloads, Github code): the reason being that I thought it was getting obnoxious that it was still in ‘beta-ish’ mode. After what, 2 years? Come on, pal.

That being said: I’ve mainly focused on clean-up and creating two separate installers for 32 and 64-bits architectures.The irony is that twhe development tool chain literally forced me to deliver two separate installers: First, VS (and the Express edition) has a funny bug (right-oh-here) that kicks in when ever you want to target a full project to 32-bits. My alternative choice, SharpDevelop, does not like targeting 64-bit as ‘there is no x64 debugger yet’. Tough luck and tough shit as a famous rapper once proclaimed: we just change the build to fit the 64-bit dlls and create new installers. Whatever.

So 1.0 out and what’s next? I have no idea, yet. I wrote Convendro because I got tired of WinFF and some other unspecified ‘ad-supported’ conversion tool. I’d love to be able to support more recent versions of ffmpeg. Clever-er parsing of output. Support for other encoders/decoders. How or what, I just don’t know yet.

X3 and Elite

It probably doesn’t surprise anybody that I’ve added “X3: Albion Prelude” (Egosoft) to my collection of playable games. This is supposed to be an expansion to “X3:Terran Conflict” (earlier on xsamplex), but to be honest, it doesn’t feel like that: from what I can tell is that some of the X3:TC features aren’t there. It feels more like a stand-alone game than an expansion, which makes the $9.99 price it sold at initially a very reasonable price. Alright: this is not supposed to be a review of sorts, so,

The reason I bring up X3 is that the joy playing this game stems from the initial skirmishes I had in the MSX version of Elite, like, way back in the late 80s (earlier). At one time I showed someone some X3 gameplay, and I was asked what ‘the point is of travelling for hours without doing anything at all’. Which is true: the game doesn’t have real goals (besides the missions). The only goal in the game is whatever the player wants to make out of it. On your own pace.

This is also what set Elite apart, 25 or so years ago, and it was indeed one of the most successful games ever made. I wish X3 would get the same attention as I believe Egosoft is doing something remarkable here.

Oh noes

Earlier this week, Friday to be exact, Kerebos Productions released their much anticipated sequel to “Sword of the Stars”, “Sword of the Stars II”. The game was originally distributed on Steam: however, this ended up being a (so it was claimed) a ‘beta version’ which indeed did not work. Later that night, Kerebos uploaded the ‘real version’, which ended up being a version that a) did not work as promised and b) did not appear to be feature complete for the price of a 40,- a pop. Fans on Steam raged over this as: witness the threads (“Serious problems at Kerberos”, “A new letter from Kerberos”, “5 hours??” and “Patch incoming shortly”).

In summary: it appears that Kerberos could not meet the expectations of releasing a full product. I can’t get over it how the product was hyped and (at the end) a not-working game was released at the full price. Shoddy and genuinely unprofessional. I don’t know what really happened at that company (exodus of developers perhaps?) but releasing beta software and then playing the victim card doesn’t make me want to play their video games.

Earlier I bought FIFA 2012 (no, really) after pondering if I could live with EA’s new Digital content delivery mechanism called ‘Origins’. Origins is still beta, I believe and at the moment, I wouldn’t even dare to compare it with Steam. However, competition is good: Steam has now been at it for what… 8 or so years and hopefully this will keep the Valve team on their toes. What about FIFA 2012? It is fun to play and I don’t really have trouble running it on my 3 year old Duo Core 2 laptop. I do find it annoying that in this age, software companies have decided that their software should only run when there’s an online connection. Shame.

Gnome 3 and Oneiric Ocelot

To my surprise, I saw that Ubuntu’s “Oneiric Ocelot” was released, which I decided to let go through via Ubuntu’s Update manager. I ended up double surprised when I found out that, from version 11.10 and on, only the Unity shell will be part of Ubuntu. I despise Unity (earlier). Despise is a hard word: lets say I can’t get used to that fixed launcher. I found it also very disk-intensive, sort of defeating the purpose of making a light shell. Going way back to Gnome was easy, though:

sudo apt-get install gnome-shell

Wherein I ran into the third surprise of the week: Gnome 3 is now part of 11.10. Gnome 3: it reminds of Unity, that is: without the bloat. Everything now centers around the “Activities” panel, which is sort of an overview of what is active and what is currently running. There are a bunch of nice tricks you can do but it leaves me still mixed: Since there is no real task bar, it’s really hard/impossible to find particular process messages (like the file copy windows). Gnome 3 seems also geared towards hot-keys and short-cuts: you’ll find Gnome’s Cheatsheet handy (location). There are definitely improvements: Screencasting is now built-in using the hotkey CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+R (output in WebM format!), effects are used sparingly and geared towards a uniform experience. Do I like Gnome 3? So-so. But, it just has a slightly better feel than Unity.

10/22/2011: I ended up installing the Gnome Shell extensions + an external Dock program (“Dockie”) to take care of the missing features I was looking for.