Saturday, March 26, 2016

Internet Devices in my home 1991 - 2016

It must be middle age that has recently inclined me towards nostalgic comparisons of past and present technology.  Last week I was musing about internet speeds but today I got to thinking about the prolifieration of internet connected devices in our home over the last couple of decades.

1991: 0 devices (I hadn't even met my wife at that stage  but I give this date as a zero reference point) (1 adult living in my home, Peak internet speed 0 kb/s)

1996: 1 desktop PC with dial up
(2 adults living in my home. Peak Internet Connection speed 28.8kbs)

2001: 1 desktop PC with dial up modem
          1 Laptop with dial up modem
(2 adults and 2 infants living in my home. Peak internet connection speed 56kb/s )

2006: 2 desktop PCs with wired broadband
           1 laptop with wifi connection to broadband
(2 adults 2 children living in my home. Peak internet connection speed 2Mb/s)

2011: 2 desktop PCs with wired broadband
          1 Laptop with wifi connection to broadband
          2 smart phones with GSM and Wifi connections to
          1 Kindle with wifi connection
          1 game console with wifi connection
          1 Cable TV box with wired connection to broadband
(2 adults and two children living in our home. Peal internet connection speed 20Mb/s)

2016: 2 desktop PCs with wired broadband
         3 laptop computers with wifi
         4 tablet computers with wifi
         4 smartphones
         3 kindles with wifi
         2 game consoles with wifi connection
         1 Satellite TV box with wifi connection to broadband
         1 Raspberry pi with wifi
         1 wireless printer
(2 adults 2 teenagers living in our home. Peak internet connection speed 240 Mb/s)

Note these are all devices that access the internet and are in active use. I am not counting old devices that may be buried in drawers around the house.

For bonus nerdyness I plotted a couple of charts.







Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Playing Halo 2 for the first time in 2016

The iconic Halo series has had a poor relationship with the PC. Halo 2 didn't come out for PC until two full years after the Xbox 2006 release and even then it was artificially restricted to those who had upgraded to Microsoft's unpopular Vista operating system. If all that wasn't enough to annoy PC gamers the port was badly optimised and buggy. The game has never been made available as a digital download so it has pretty much been forgotten by the PC community. Yet Halo 2 remains an important milestone in gaming history and I have long intended to play it so I finally bit the bullet last week and did so.

The original Halo (Combat Evolved) was important because it showed that first person shooters could work well on consoles and introduced a number of innovations that have become standard to this day (the game pad control scheme, the two weapon carry limit and the recharging health/shield scheme). Halo 2 introduced on-line multi-player with automatic matchmaking  and its massive popularity paved the way for the success of Call of Duty and other online shooters which are so dominant today.

Is the single player game any good? Does it still stand up in 2016?

Yes and no.

Yes the shooting is still very good. There is a wide variety of enemies who hit hard, move constantly and use a variety of  tactics to keep you on your toes. You have an equally wide variety of weaponry to kill them with.

On the negative side this is a very linear corridor shooter and after a while you begin to notice that one corridor looks very much like another. This isn't just an impression - it is a fact because artwork is reused over and over again. No doubt this saved time and money in development and it may even have been required due to hardware limits of the original Xbox but it does get very monotonous,  It only takes about ten hours to complete the campaign but I think they should have chopped at least a third of that off for a shorter tighter experience.

Compared to the first game Halo Combat Evolved, Halo 2 has more of everything: more enemies, more weapons and more vehicles. You even have the novelty as playing one of the Covenant but this doesn't introduce any real variety sadly because you end up fighting the same enemies with the same weapons as when you play as Master Chief. Bungie somehow managed to craft a storyline where you play as a member of the covenant and never actually shoot any humans.

One positive thing I realised while playing the game is that the Halo mythos has evolved into a very rich back story that has grown  beyond the games into books, comics and animation. It is reminiscent of the Mass Effect universe and I would like to experience more of it. Unfortunately the remaining Halo games are not available on PC and I do not have an Xbox to play them on.


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Just Cause 3 breaks the 8Gb ram barrier

If you want to get Just Cause 3 to run smoothly in high quality settings then you need more than 8Gb ram in your PC. I have 12Gb which is enough but even so I still need to be careful not to have too much stuff running in the background in order to play the game. For some reason the games official requirement is only 6Gb but many players have criticised the game for being a poor quality buggy port and adding more ram  solves most of the issues. Whether this is due to bad programming or not the fact remains that you need more than 8Gb ram to get the best experience out of Just Cause 3.

This is the first game I have come across that actually needs more than 8Gb. Until fairly recently even 4Gb was enough,  a legacy of the memory limitations of 32 bit Windows but just over a year ago games like Witcher 3 started demanding up to 8Gb. Now it seems even that barrier has been breached.

As for Just Cause 3 itself? Once I got it running I liked it a lot. It is very repetitive and the storyline is completely forgettable but running around blowing things up never really gets old. I found the game quite relaxing to play in the evenings for the couple of weeks it took me to capture every town on the map. The relatively easy difficulty level (which cannot be changed) might be a disappointment for some but it means you can be as creative as you like in causing destruction. Foolish attempts are never harshly punished. Just Cause 3 out does Just Cause 2 in pretty much every way with bigger guns better vehicles and a much improved grappling hook. The devs did try to ape Far Cry and populated the country with many mini missions but I ignored most of them. Enjoy the game for what it is: a riotous feast of mayhem and destruction.

Friday, March 18, 2016

3Gb download in under 2 minutes

Back in the 1990's I connected to the internet with a 28.8k dial up modem. I remember one one occasion trying to download 20Mbytes of data over this ever so narrow pipeline and it proved such a long and tortuous experience that eventually I had to leave the computer running overnight in order to complete the download.  Yesterday I downloaded a 3Gb file in just under 2 minutes at an average rate 25 M bytes per second. I just had time to browse a couple of web pages before the download was finished.

We take it for granted that everything to do with computers has gotten orders of magnitude faster over time but this still strucke me. Three billion bytes is an enormous amount of data. Back in 2000 I bought a computer with a "massive" 10Gb hard drive that managed to serve all of my IT and gaming needs for several years.

EDIT: Make that 25 Mbyte per second. Seems I got the math wrong the first time.


Saturday, March 05, 2016

Windows Laptop Frustration

It takes so long to boot my Windows laptop that it just isn't worth it any more. I am not talking about the minute or two delay caused by booting from a normal HDD. I am talking about the 10 to 15 minute delay due to Windows updates that seems to be required every time I want to use the laptop.

I guess this wouldn't be as much of an issue if used the laptop every day but I don't. I use it perhaps one every two to three weeks in order to give a talk or presentation when I am out of the office. I can assure you from first hand experience that three works worth of accumulated updates makes booting into Windows a slow nightmare. I do have a nice Samsung tablet that I use for normal mobile computing (meetings / email / web browsing) and I even have a HDMI adapter for that tablet but if I am going to an unfamiliar location with untested facilities it is still far safer to bring a windows laptop with old fashioned VGA connector to ensure everything works out.

Solutions:
1. Buy a Mac. Sorry but that is way outside the budget and remember I only need to use this machine occasionally.
2. Install updates in advance. I try to  to do this but it doesn't always work out. Last week for example I did exactly this and the laptop did indeed download a bunch of updates. Unfortunately when I next booted up the machine to give a presentation I got the "!Windows is installing updates screen" for 10 minutes before I could use the machine.
3.Install Linux. A stable version of Linux that doesn't need constant updates might solve my problem. I have Linux  few times over the years and on each occasion I start out excited but end up frustrated due to compatibility issues.
4. Disable all windows updates: Tempting to try this but surely a major security risk. Is it even possible to do this on modern Windows? Internet connectivity is not optional unfortunately so an un updated machine will be at risk.