Friday, February 27, 2009

Virtualize me

I've had our new machines sitting behind me for over 4 weeks now, but there's never been a window in the tech support to build a new image up for the year. Finally IE8 died a nasty death at the start of the week, and that was enough of a catalyst to get the new one out.

I'd been thinking for a while about how to set up my new rig. Since the virtualization of the main server room I'm certainly doing more from here than I used to. My typical day end up with these windows open:
- 4-5 remote desktops
- the support ticketing webpage
- personal webpage with gmail / hotmail / Fb / Twitter / QGL forum in different tabs
- the ISD wiki
- Virtual server control webpages (4 tabs)
- 1 or 2 personal virtual machines.
- 2-3 IE windows with ~5 tabs on each from researching certain issues.

The previous system at 2Gb just couldn't cope. It would regularly run out of virtual memory while exploring on the web. The issue isn't actually the romte desktops or personal VMs, but IE itself. Even with nothing else going I can only get 5 or so windows open with a couple of tabs on each whereas last year I could easily get over 25 windows open. Tabbing certainly has added to the overall weight as it's very easy to google a topic, + click on 4-5 likely hits and by that time the first and second are downloaded and ready for reading. But even a one tab page (such as the ticketing window) can easily get out over 200Mb of virtual memory by the end of the day. I'm using Firefox at home and it's just as bloaty, so moving browsers isn't going to solve it (I do use chrome, but only for google services).

With the 3Gb limit on 32 bit windows, there was a definite need to go 64 bit to get at least 4Gb available on the main system. I've also been wanting to go dual screen to give space for VMs or remote desktops doing lengthy work to still remain visible and not get ignored until the end of the day. Since our SOE desktop is 32bit, I also wasn't looking forward to testing every single app on 64 bit just to move to a bigger memory footprint.

The solution seemed to be to install a virtual server on my own machine. Have the main OS barebones and simply servicing the standard RD and VM windows with my main working environment on a large local VM with the SOE installed.

First up was server 2008. I'd set up the backup server on that OS and it looked clean. With new changes to allow native viewing inside a VHD, and shiny new Hyper-V functionality it would have been a good baseline. Unfortunately it didn't like the Mobo or chip settings and couldn't install Hyper-V. Strike 1.

Next up was server 2003. All our other virtual servers are of this vintage, so I knew it would accept that role, however the drivers provided didn't have support for server 2003, and without video drivers dual screen just wasn't going to work. Strike 2.

Next up was Vista Businees, the abandoned child in Microsoft's family. I had seriously thought of going to Windows 7 before pulling this one out. Loaded fine, drivers Ok, but licensing seemed the issue. Vista had always had something against volume license keys, and my testing back at the start of last year poo-poo'd vista as an alternative OS purely because of the changes to the licensing. I'd definitely seen VLK support for Vista in the last couple of iterations, but it wasn't showing up on the license list for our Microsoft Select Agreement. Strike 3.

Back to my only option. XP 64bit. I pretty much knew this on would work, but was hoping for some Hyper-V goodness instead of relying on Microsoft's freeware Virtual PC 2007. I know of at least 2 programs that won't make it onto 64 bit (including the security agent), so it's still going to have to stay as a base environment for VMs.

Apart from a few little niggles, it's up and going. Just waiting on the virtualized SOE. Enough time to blog it up.

USB Root Hub driver issues (code 39)

Rebuilt a new 64bit workstation to handle more memory and struck a wierd issue. The Intel drivers for the motherboard loaded fine, the USB host controllers were picked up Ok, but the root hubs were claiming a missing or corrupt driver. Since the root hub is the generic winXP driver I wouldn't guess it was missing or corrupt (plus this being a brand new install), and the USB's definitely worked when I was tinkering with a server 2008 install on the same box. There were no new drivers for the mobo on the Intel site, and attempting to upgrade the drivers automatically also failed.

A bit of googling revealed a similar problem and the recommendations worked for me too on x64. Uninstall all the USB root hubs and let windows read them on boot.

Monday, February 23, 2009

GameLog 80

Civ4:BtS (35h) - Been leaving this game on for long periods while doing other stuff, but the main focus this week has been playing the English in the Road the War mod; a remake of WWII.

There were a couple of points in the war that I hadn't picked up on (like Russia was actually working with Germany at the start) that made the game really interesting from a historical perspective, even to the point that once Germany blitzed through the Netherlands and into heartland France I really felt exposed to an insurmountable enemy. Obviously it's not the same as living through the war first hand, but it gave me a glimpse of what the English battleroom must have been like when thoughts of survival are more prominent than victory.

Unfortunately the German AI also tried to push past the Menigot line fortifications that they historically had bypassed, and the losses turned the tide of the war. They couldn't push down into France and by the time Barbarossa started I had their measure in aircraft and France had reclaimed the lowlands.

Started out another game as the Germans to see if wiping out all of Europe is a possibility. Still in the build up stage and playing on Emperor level, so it's not clear whether I'll have the type of raw numbers that the AI had in the last game, but I'll be focusing on air superiority. I hadn't realised that Germany actually had Air superiority at the start of the war. They had claimed that too in my previous game, but didn't press the advantage. In Civ4 you really need to hunt down aircraft and wipe them out. Once you have a substantial lead it is almost impossible to come back. The same goes for naval warfare too. I had wiped out Germany's whole naval fleet in my England game to be relatively comfortable over on my island, but Italy was amassing a MASSIVE airforce and fleet that was going to be very hairy. Not sure when Italy were supposed to join the war, but I'm sure it was before the Russian invasion (Tobruk and all that). Another reason for the restart..

Skate 2 (10h) - Getting better at just cruising around and doing the trick I want. Cameron's got the hang of jumping now and even pulled off some handplants! I should probably make a video of his stuff so he can watch what he was like as I feel he's going to be playing this one for a looong time.

Street Fighter IV (2h) - Picked up the Collector's Edition as retail therapy but almost baulked when I heard the price: $170!

Got it home and found nothing of real value inside apart from some figurines. The game itself doesn't seem to have a campaign mode, so it's mainly like playing at the arcades. Pretty disappointed all round (although it still is going to be a stalwart of the PS3 for a long time to come)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Down the glass

I've been spending a fair bit of time in Skate 2 just looking around for interesting lines and spots to create. Yesterday I found a create-a-spot that someone had made on top of one of the seaside buildings. I'd seen that spot before as it's used for a hall of meat challenge in freeskate, but I have no idea how they got up there in normal mode. I had previously looked with envious eyes at the balconies around the building and wished there was a way up onto them, but now I could drop down from the top to skate a fair distance to the adjoining buildings.

Filled with new vigor to find a way onto the balconies myself, I popped back out into normal mode and tooled around looking at likely jump points or hidden features to make the climb. Finally I decided on the sloping feature walls with holes in them, but couldn't get up enough speed to make the jump over the rail. I did manage to glitch my way over by bailing on one jump and sliding through a hole in the balcony to respawn on the right side. I'm in!

From level 1 there was a staircase up to small level 2 balcony that was divided from the rest by about a 5m gap. I tried jumping it and also the bailing technique that got me up the first stage, but kept missing the mark. There was a sloping deck chair on level 1, but after 1/2 hour of pushing, wedging, flipping & resetting it I gav up trying to push it up the stairs.

Skating around a bit more I found that you could make a jump to the sails from the level 1 balcony, so I made a create-a-spot from there with a fairly tough landing onto the ground. Looking back up the sail though and it starts just above the 2nd level balcony, so I managed to work my way up the sail and over onto the balcony. Sweet!

After some more cruising and looking for potential spots, I found exactly what I was after: 3 glass ovals in procession heading down to the lily pond. Moving a deck chair into position it made the perfect spot with a launch to the first, a quick hop to the second and an even quicker hop to the 3rd before gliding to the ground. The create-a-spot criteria really only covers one trick, but hopefully you can transition the 4 gaps and land a huge score.

After setting up the spot I tried it out in normal mode and managed to complete the sequence with simple ollies so it definitely is possible to do. Now I just have to work on my manuals to link them all together.

GameLog 79

Civ4:BtS Fall from Heaven II mod (20h) - Bit more on the elven game, but the main use was original Civ4:BtS at the LAN on Friday / Sat. It plays Ok as a LAN game, but is very intensive. There's no real time that you can have a break without everyone stopping, and since the games are 4+ hours long it cen feel a bit like you're locked in to playing. Downloaded the latest Road to War but haven't tried it

Skate 2 (15h) - Played a couple of ranked games online as well as freeskate and a big dig through create-a-spots. Found some excellent sail launchpads in the lighthouse park, as well as a couple of other long grinds. Up over 30 spots now.

PS3 demos (2h): Couple more demos downloaded. Nothing super exciting

Little Big planet (1h) - Tie Jumping with Cameron.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Mathletics wins BETT

Just saw that Mathletics won a BETT award for Primary schhols.

I liked it the moment I saw it and it highlights the point that competition is good for incidental learning. Many kids are really thriving on Mathletics because of the competition and in turn their maths grades are skyrocketing.

Well done Mathletics! Hopefully it'll turn into a worldwide phenomenon.

Knowledge is connection

Listened to a very interesting Big Ideas podcast today from David Weinberger on Knowledge at the end of the Information Age. Some very salient points about the complexity of data and the transformation of data to knowledge. One point that really stuck with me was that metadata is merely our interperetation of data, and that our metadata could easily be someone else's data. Adding context and meaning to data is initself data to be analyzed and searched upon.

Another point that I'd been spruking for a while is that knowledge is not as important as understanding. David places this even deeper stating that what we used to perceive of as knowledge is in fact the organisation of the data in a meaningful way, not just the acquisition of data, so the term 'gaining knowledge' still applies to the google generation, just the emphasis changes.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

GameLog 78

Civ4:BtS Fall from Heaven II mod (35h) - Played through most of the game as Elohim, then multiple restarts of an emperor game. Currently holding my own as the Elves with Yggdrasil in range of my capital. Massive cities with 23 and 24 pop thanks to the religion giving +5 health and +1 happiness for each tree. That and trees not impacting on other improvements is making it a nice choice indeed. Angels have appeared from a good (?) vampire civ though.

Skate 2 (10h) - Slowly going through the missions, but mainly skating around looking for new create-a-spots. I should upload more videos that I have waiting on the editroom floor.

Cameron is playing Skate more than anything else at the moment and this seems to be the game where he'll demand the controller to have a go himself rather than happily sitting back and watching daddy play. I knew this day would come ...

The inline commentary from your sidekick contained too much swearing for Cameron, but luckily it's on a separate audio config line in the settings and can be turned down. Funnily enough the competitive and magazine commentary is all fine and delivered with a fairly positive attitude.

Little Big planet (4h) - I found out that the logitech controller I had for the PC actually works on little big planet! I'd tried it before, but the analog sticks weren't picking up, and being almost all controlled by analog sticks it was useless. not sure whether it was a failing of the analog button on the controller or an update to LBP to allow other controller types, but it has allowed Sandy and I to complete a couple of starting levels that needed 2xPlayers as wel las helping her through the ninja zones. Almost as good as that other couple activity...

Space Rangers 2 (1h) - Civ is pushing this one out.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Internet Explorer 8 Addon - BlogThis

Internet Explorer 8 beta has modular right click functionality through accelerators. I found the Blogger one in the
Blogging - Add-ons Gallery: "Add-ons Gallery: Blogging" and it looks like the standard BlogThis! interface.

Still no section for labels tho .. :(

I'll also need to dig around to see whether you can reorganise the addons to change the order and placement. Currently all the windows live ones are front and centre with additional ones tucked away in a submenu.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

GameLog 77

Skate 2 (14h) - The demo was great, and a poor day at work led to some retail therapy. I've been reading some reviews about it not being as true as the original, but having not played the original that point is moot on me. What I'm really pleased about is the openness of the city for just tooling around. I really like the ability to create your own spots too, although it took a while to find the option to do so because it was off the select button, not the start button like all the other menu options (why have 2 menus??).

The other feature I was really keen on was making your own video. It's certainly easy to get in and have rudimentary controls over the last 30 seconds of play, but it doesn't want to save the clip as just the in and out segments but to whole 30secs. I'm guessing it's as bug. Uploading the video is REALLY time consuming though, with each frame taking ~1 sec. Thinking about it, that might just be the upload speed, not the compression. Anything more than 3 seconds worth of film is going to need a break before returning though. Here's my test upload; a backbreaker in the first 1/2 hr of the game.

I also like the scars and torn clothes. Admittedly some of the falls I've taken should have had me hospitalized, but at least it's something to draw your attention to the pounding you're putting your virtual body through.

I still suck pretty hard at doing exactly the trick I want (as SKATE challenges point out) but a lot of the missions are pretty lenient in letting you do a certain category of moves instead of a specific move. One thing is for certain though, doing the same run over and over for hours doesn't get boring when you're not quite sure how it's going to turn out.

Civ4:BtS Fall from Heaven II mod (12h) - Ben played a bit of Civ Revolution demo and confessed to not having played any of the Civ series. We'll need to recify that next weekend. Talking about Civ made me want fire it up again, but it hadn't made the transfer from my old system. After some fooling around it looked easier to just boot up the old HDD and play off that rather than reinstall or fix the missing files. It also gave me an excuse to try out Fall from heaven II after an excellent reverse interview from one of the creators of Civ4.

FfH plays well. It feels more intense and engaging with a myriad of new things to try, but I've dominated the map already so I might need to replay to get more out of it. Yes, Barbarians are dangerous, bu so are the wildlife (8str elephants?? elite bears??). It certainly removes the notion that you can fast-expand with little defenses, one of my staple tactics.

Space Rangers 2 (10h) - Plugging along, now 4th on the list. Veeyar - Space Ranger hasn't moved though :/.

Civilization revolution Demo (6h) - I can't believe the length of the demo, it feels like a full game. On a repeat though it turned out to be the same map, so that's definitely limiting factor. Played through the second time to see if I could wipe them all out before the turn timer was up and I almost made it.

Diplomacy (5h) - The main game for the LAN with Ben. The interface is a little clunky, especially extended negotiations. it made me pine for the efficiency of speech. We played 2 games as allies and swept the floor with the hard AI, so it's probably not going to be a good LAN game either.

Club Penguin (1h) - Cameron can almost manage by himself now.