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
reason.

“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: AAAAAAAAA@foo.com”, “Who?” RCPT TO: AAAAAAAAB@foo.com”, “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.

March already, first hangover of the year

Last Friday I was out at The Master Gunner with several people from a particular technical mailing list. It’s not often I get drunk, and it’s very very rare for me to get a hangover. I managed both on this occasion.

Last week I was nicely surprised by Dell’s desktop support. The chap I ended up speaking to was helpful, knowledgeable and came back with timely and relevant information about the problem I was experiencing. It turns out that Windows XP SP3 is missing a particular hotfix that prevents machines with the Realtek ACL888 HD audio chipset from installing the driver. Trying to manually install this hotfix results in an error indicating that the hotfix should already be installed. Luckily, there’s a slightly modified version of the hotfix available that will install on SP3 allowing the Realtek driver to install correctly.

The DIY Continues….

Lynda and I had a good chance in Norway to improve our DIY skills. Painting
walls and laying laminate floors aren’t especially hard things to do, you just
need time, patience and practice.

So far we’ve completely redecorated our main living room and we’re now working
on the room opposite, this can be thought of as either living room #2 or
bedroom #2. It used to be blue, very very blue indeed. It’s taken many coats
of paint just to get in back to a fairly neutral white and we’ve so far applied
one coat of the final colour, a kind of creamy white called Almond White.

When not covering myself in paint, I’ve been getting stuck into Crysis, one of
the many game titles I’ve been looking forward to playing. It’s an interesting
game, though I’m not yet in love with some of the gameplay mechanics. Perhaps I
just need a bit more time to get used to it.

Invaluable Support

Those of you who know me will know that I’m no shrinking bloom when it comes to
dealing with bad customer service (yes, Apple, I mean you) and so, for once,
I’m delighted to share with you an example of near-perfect support.

Wind the clock back a few months and Martin takes delivery of his new gaming
rig from Wired2Fire. It’s an Intel
QX6800 based machine, with 4Gb RAM, an Nvidia 8800 Ultra OC graphics card and
couple of 500Gb disks and more fans than your average harem. It’s quick, very
very quick.

After a couple of months I started noticing stability problems. The machine
would sometimes reboot at random, when it did I would struggle to get any video
output afterwards. On one occasion the machine lost all its BIOS settings.
After a couple of diagnostics sessions on the phone, Wired2Fire suggested a
Return To Base to get the motherboard swapped out. W2F are not to far away so
I drove the machine to their office and, their Head Honcho, Toby got on with
the business of sorting my machine out.

Since the motherboard swap out I’ve had zero problems. This is what you’d
expect, right? Alas it seems that people no longer expect timely fixes to their
problem, they’re happy for weeks of tooing and froing whilst a problem is
diagnosed. Congratulations to Wired2Fire for just getting the problem fixed.

I look forward to buying my next gaming rig from you in 2010.