Some Vista and hardware hatesta

As I mostly use my home PC for playing games, I tend to try and keep it
reasonably up to date in terms of both hardware and software. Earlier this
year my graphics card’s memory went a bit funny meaning I had to buy a new one,
then my gaming mouse started having tracking problems, so I replaced that and,
last week, the primary hard disk on my system decided to lunch itself. At the
time I was unable to determine if this was hardware or just the filesystem
getting spaghettified. Given the number of times Vista had crashed due to the
graphics card problem I would not have been surprised either way.

I decided to buy a new disk in the form of a 300G Western Digital VelociRaptor,
which merited a Vista reinstall. This then freed up two 500G disks for me to
test and perhaps reuse. I decided to RAID1 the two disks so I could have a
little bit of protection against disk failure. Obviously all my important data
is backed up properly anyway.

Windows Vista Ultimate 64 edition, Microsoft’s flagship desktop OS has no
support for software RAID1.

I’ll say that again, just in case you skipped over the sentence: Windows Vista
Ultimate 64 edition, Microsoft’s flagship desktop OS has no support for
software RAID1.

I can RAID0 the two disks, I can create a spanned volume across the two disks,
but no RAID1. After a couple of hours of Googling in sheer disbelief, it turns
out to be true. Instead I’ve had to, for now, hook up my two disks to the
motherboard’s RAID BIOS thingy.

I paid nearly £200 for an OS that won’t do RAID1.

Grand Theft Auto 4, Steam and vapourising graphics cards and dodgy drivers

I was very pleased when GTA IV finally made it out for the PC. I’m a long time
fan of this series of games and, ever since announced, has been on my Buy On
Sight list of games. A few weeks I was in my local Tesco and noticed it on the
shelf and was just about to pick it up when I remembered it would be out on

I mostly like Steam, but see previous blog posts for a rant or two.

The price in Tesco was good, but I was sure Steam would be cheaper so I waited.
In vain as it turns out. Buying a physical dual-DVD box set with colour
manuals and nice big fold-out map turned out to be cheaper than
downloading the game on Steam. How can that make any sense? I digress.

GTA IV’s world is astonishing. Unless you’ve played previous games, and to
some extent even if you’ve played previous GTA games, you will have no concept
of just how vast and richly detailed it is. Want to go for drive? Just *ahem*
borrow a nearby car and take it for a spin. Turn left, turn right, accelerate
away and watch as the city lives and breathes around you and reacts to your
actions in it.

Bored of driving a car? Perhaps you’d prefer a van, or a bus, or petrol tanker
instead? They’re all there. As are a couple of helicopters. Oh yes. Climb
into the cockpit of one of these, spin up the rotors and soar up into the air
and take in the vastness of the city below. Want to go buzz some peds? No
problem, just try not to dent the rotor blades on the street lights and power
lines, that rarely ends well for you, or for people nearby.

Park a petrol tanker across a busy intersection, take a nearby window cleaner’s
lift up to the roof of a nearby building and watch as the traffic backs up.
Notice a few small crashes as cars attempt to get pass the blockage, doors
open, people get out, fists are waved and insults yelled. Grab your handy RPG
and send a rocket into the middle of the intersection. Watch as the explosion
causes cars to spin through the air, fires break out causing more cars to
explode, pedestrians get caught in the inferno and run around of fire
screaming. Police sirens start wailing and the screen gets covered in tiny red dots…

Tiny red dots? Huh?

A few reboots and many driver reinstalls and version changes later and I
conclude that my graphics card has decided to give up on me. Specifically it
appears that some of the on-board memory has gone bad. Luckily it’s a BFG card
which comes with an insane warranty so I gave them a call and they had no issue
with replacing the card, but regretted that I wasn’t likely to see the
replacement for about 10 days. A bit of a pest for me, I do need my PC.

I gave Toby at Wired2Fire a call
(readers of my blog may recall this is where I got my games rig from) who very
kindly agreed to part-ex my would-be warranty replacement card against an new
one from stock that he could ship same day. I ended up with a BFG GTX 280 OC,
it’s a lovely lovely thing and knocks one thing off my “would like to buy”
list, an Ageia Physx card; this thing comes with the Physx chipset on-board.
Installing the card was no problem though I did have to use an extra 12v rail
from the PSU and it needs 1 x 8 and 1 x 6 MOLEX connectors. I used two 6 ways
and a (supplied) converter to populate the 8 way. (Add to shopping list: 1000W
modular PSU). I installed the driver, spun up GTA IV again, and…. BSOD! Ghm.

Many driver re-installs, driver upgrades, downgrades, hacks and fiddling with
BIOS settings I was still getting the same problem. Google was utterly
resplendent with advice and suggestions from lots of other people who’ve had
exactly the same problem with many GeForce series card all the way back to the
7s. I finally cracked this by installing the current beta driver for this card
and managed to put in a good 4 hour session with no complaints at all.

London Perl Workshop 2008 – 29th November

Thanks to Mark Keating of Shadowcat Systems for daring, and succeeding brilliantly, in organising this year’s London Perl Workshop. Attended and supported by many of the usual suspects, it was also great to see a whole bunch of people there who’d not only not been to an LPW before, they’d not been to any Perl workshop before. I’m especially envious of the first-timer who won the Canon 1000D in the raffle.

A new job, a new OS and new chairs, and a trip to the zoo

I have a new job, starting on August 11th, working for a quite well known e-commerce solution provider as a Senior Systems Administrator. After spending 7 months mostly dealing with Windows problems and problems with a certain piece of almost-unheard-of commercial software, it’s going to be a challenge to get back into working at a UNIX hosted Perl shop. I’m looking forward to it.

On the subject of Windows, I finally decided to give my games machine a new operating system: Windows Vista Ultimate 64 bit edition. I’ve read all the negative reviews, all the reasons to stick with XP and, in all fairness, I find the criticisms wanting. It’s fast, pretty and runs Crysis at a very acceptable frame rate. Also I’m fan of ReadyBoost. Vista 64 seems happy with all my 32 bit games and utilities, games being my main reservation. This is my gaming PC after all.

We bought some chairs, having finally found some that matched our table. Visitors no longer have to be stunned by the sheer variety of pick and mix chairs we have, they now all look the same.

Kamel, Sonia and their 3 year-old daughter,our niece, Matilde, came to visit. The theme for the trip was definitely “Let’s go look at some animals”. We had a trip to Bedfords Park to insert carrots into deers, a trip to Old MacDonald’s Farm to feed all the usual farmyard suspects and, finally, a trip to Whipsnade Zoo, easily the best zoo within a convenient drive of London.

A few words on the basics of spam filtering

Spam filtering is a bit like the various Pop Idol auditions.

Firstly, the candidate needs to actually find the audition site. You’d be
amazed at the number of turnups who say “Hi, I’m here for $foo” and are told
“Uhh, not here, sorry.” “Oh.”

Next you get those who’ve turned up at the right place but for the wrong

“Hi. \0x121\0x310\0x023……..” “Uhh, okay, Knitting World was last week.”

Next you get those who turn up at the right place but don’t listen.

“HI” “He..” “MAIL FROM” “but I’ve not said hel….” “RCPT TO”

Next you get those who turn up, but haven’t read the rules.

“Hi” “Hi there_how_are_you” “Ummm, no.”

Next you get those who turn up, understand the principles, but can’t remember
who they’re supposed to be talking to.

“Hi.” “Hi.” “RCPT TO:”, “Who?” RCPT TO:”, “Eh?”

And finally, you get those who turn up and sing like they’ve snorted
dysentry-infected liquiturds[0] a few minutes before.[1]

[0] My word, hands off.
[1] Yes, *.{cn, pl, hk, tw, ru, tr} I mean you.

More toys

For some reason there’s a lovely feeling of satisfaction when you wake up one
morning and think “You know, I need more hardware.” It’s an even greater
satisfaction when you can actually justify doing so. This morning I’ve asked
Dell to supply me with a 2950 consisting of dual quad-core processors, 8 gigs
of RAM, eight 10k disks, hardware RAID, lights-out management card and dual
hot-swap power supplies. This box will be an additional front end mail server
for AntibodyMX. It’s been some time since
I’ve had chance to use 64 bit Debian, so I’m looking forward to seeing how that
works out.

Game review: Assassin’s Creed

I was slightly dubious about buying this game. I was torn between a huge variety of reviews, some loving it, some loathing it. However I’ve been waiting for so long for a good sneak-’em-up to come along (where art thou, Thief IV?) that I decided to give it a go.

I like games with a good story line, Assassin’s Creed definitely has an intriguing plot but it spoils it by requiring the player to sit though cut-scenes for a remarkable (subjectively) percentage of the game, especially during the early stages. The short version of the plot is that you have been kidnapped by a medical research facility who stick you in a machine that accesses the contents of your genetic memory. One of your ancestors was a member of a secretive organisation of assassins, by reliving parts of his life you are able to gain access to more memories which are locked away. Got that? Good.

You unlock memories by performing tasks such as saving a citizen from being beaten up by the guards, acting as a bodyguard, collecting flags and, obviously, assassinating certain people. You have nine people to assassinate but, before doing so, you must carry out investigations by eavesdropping or pick-pocketing or beating the crap out of someone to gain information about your target. Sounds tedious? Well, to a certain extent it is, except….

You will be distracted by the stunning, utterly stunning, in-game graphics. Stand atop a roof, pick a house in the far far distance, make your way towards it. No load times, no cuts, just seamless progress towards your gorgeously rendered target. But even here there’s a problem. My monitor’s native resolution is 1600×1400 which Assassin’s Creed supports but won’t allow me to turn anti-aliasing on. To enable AA I have to drop to 1280×1024 which ruins the game because it’s fixed 16:9 aspect ratio leaves thick black chunks of unused screen estate at the top and bottom of the picture.

There’s no in-game save, your progress is automatically saved at certain points along the story. Realising this, I waited until I was at a point where, to me, it would have logically saved my progress and then quit to do something else. The game hadn’t saved and I had to replay a chunk of the game including a couple of long unskippable cut-scenes. Frustrating.

In game travel is frustrating, too. You’re given a horse which can walk, trot or canter. The default speed is “trot” however if you go past a guard at anything but “walk” and he’ll immediately start hacking at you with a sword. Why? We’re not told.

The AI is pretty good but has some serious holes. If a guard is chasing you and you break his line of sight, climb up onto a rooftop and duck into one of the indicated “hiding places”. The guard will follow you up onto the roof, but won’t think to look in the covered gazebo that’s the only possible place you could have hidden. Instead he’ll wait until the game decides you’ve eluded him and then then just wander off.

This is a great idea for a game with stunning graphics that’s been let down by tedious game play. The engine is clearly capable of much more, let’s hope the next game in the series fixes the oversights.