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A letter from the Cuprohastes-in-Chief

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4:32PM

Another brush with Open Source

I decided to install Ubuntu Netbook on my old netbook, because basically Widows XP doesn’t fit on the SSD once you let it run some updates.

So I downloaded the ISO, ran the universal USB maker, checked that all the networking, cameras, and audio etc. in the netbook were more or less working, installed the non-open source WiFi drivers…

… watched the OS crash…

…Rebooted, and hit ‘Install on this computer’. Then the Gparted-server crashed.

What’s the Gparted-server? I have no idea and there wasn’t exactly an explanation. So I dug around and found that Gparted is the app that formats and partitions the hard drive so the OS can be installed. Fair enough.

I ran Gparted. It crashed. Back to the internet.

It turns out that Gparted can’t use an SSD card due to some oddball bug which can be edged around by typing a string of gibberish into a terminal. Unfortunately you can’t run the OS installer this way, and even if you get Gparted running, it can’t do anything with the HD without then crashing.

Ubuntu has known about this since roughly the end of 2009. Gparted 0.6 doesn’t work. There’s a Gparted 0.8 but you can’t just download it. You need to compile it. And if you do it complains of something or other and merrily fails – apparently downloading the listed dependencies isn’t actually enough to get it working.

So there you have it.

Open source: Dropping the ball while reaching for mediocrity.

2:05AM

How about a new model for games, that’s old?

There’s an article over on Ars Technica that I don’t wholly agree with (Surprise!) which nevertheless has some valid points.

However, having read it I think there’s a fairly simple suggestions which could be made to remedy most of these issues…

Click to read more ...

7:54AM

Crysis 2: The Review they didn’t tell you about.

If you check reviews for Crysis 2, they all seem to read the same:

Gosh what a pretty game, I don’t understand the plot, oh hey, Multiplayer!
9.0

Having just beaten this game I feel in a position to give an actually useful review of this game, including a few pointers to why you might like to wait for it.

The Good

The 8 hour long single player game, which took me 12 hours to play is a fun romp. The story is interesting enough, the locations are varied enough and playing a super-powered tank-man is great fun, especially in the set pieces where you’re given scope to just go nuts and enjoy feeling like you’re some unstoppable behemoth, or in normal gameplay where you’re usually free to play things your own way.

Movement is smooth – Jumping has some sort of smart filter so hitting ‘jump’ means you’ll actually take off from the edge of a ledge instead of too early or too late – grabbing ledges and hauling yourself up is automatic, and sprinting is just a key press away.

This means you can leap over a car, hit the ground, accelerate to thirty odd miles an hour, drop to the ground and slide into cover or under something, pop up, hurl yourself onto a rooftop and drop into cover in one fluid, speedy sequence, firing as you go, dropping in and out of cloak or shield modes as you need.

Talking of which, the suit modes have been re-worked to be a lot more intuitive and easy to use, making them fun to play with and combine.

The Not so good

It’s an 8 hour long single player game that takes 12 hours to play, because there’s parts where you don’t have leeway to do things your way, the infamous ‘Stand here and shoot in-coming waves for X minutes’ situations, which exist only to pad the game.

There's also a couple of moments when you get treated to a cut scene and then suddenly  you get “Press X not to die” pop up at the bottom of the screen unexpectedly while you’re looking at the huge set piece animation elsewhere.

And as per usual if you get the Steam version there’s no apparently way to find the manual, and even searching for a PDF in the Steam directory yields no results. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be a manual for the Steam version of the game at all – you just have to hope everything is explained. It isn’t.

Aiming with the controller is still a major pain, and the first patch out removed the target lock. Presumably because that knocked 4-6 hours off the gameplay when you could actually hit what you were aiming for.

Click to read more ...

5:05AM

Fukushima

Japan has something like 52 nuclear reactors. Two of them are in trouble at this moment – And here’s why:

The basics

The reactors were shut down when the earthquakes started up, but you can’t turn off a nuclear reaction, you can only damp it, down to6% in this case. This was done as per normal.

The Reactors are built to survive a 7.9 magnitude earthquake (Not Richter scale – that’s now obsolete, hence ‘Magnitude’), but the Quake that hit was 9.0, the fifth largest in history.

Then the Tsunami hit and caused even more damage. Specifically the emergency power generators that pump water to cool the reactors were off line. An irony because if the power plant could be turned on it could supply it’s own power!

Keeping Cool

Nuclear reactors work by using fissionable materials – Nuclear Fuel – To produce heat, which boils water into high pressure, superheated steam, which then goes through a turbine, turning it and producing power.

As you damp the reaction down it starts to cool naturally and produce less heat, but this takes several days, during which time, heat is still being generated.

To stop the reactor melting itself under it’s own heat, you just keep pouring water over it. Unfortunately the pumps aren’t working so the water’s just sitting here getting hotter… worse the water is leaking out.

To fix this – Just add more water.

This is one reason nuclear plants are generally placed by rivers and oceans – lots of water to dump your ‘used’ hot water into and in an emergency, get cold water.

So right now, the Japanese are pumping sea water from bay into the cooling system to try and keep Reactor No. 3 cool for long enough that it stops producing heat.

Asplosions!

There was an explosion at the NPP (Nuclear Power Plant), which seems like it should be incredibly bad news, but actually isn’t that bad.

The reactor is armoured. It’s designed to withstand 7.9 magnitude earthquakes, being hit by planes, or anything short of… well, a 9.0 earthquake and Tsunami. However it’s also inside a fairly lightweight shed that’s more or less there to keep the rain off and the pigeons and critters out.

When the water level dropped, it let the fuel rods heat up which caused a reaction that produced metal oxides and hydrogen (The water lost it’s oxygen atoms, just leaving hydrogen) which then exploded doing little damage to the well shielded reactor but blew the walls panels off the shed.

The Japanese then checked the radiation levels and found they were decreasing, meaning that it wasn’t the reactor blowing up.

So…?

Basically it’s a waiting game. In theory the Japanese just have to keep the reactor cool and name sure that the other reactors aren’t running low on water, for a few more days to avoid any really dramatic problems.

The downside is that the earthquakes are still happening (In the 4-6 mag range!) and though it’s unlikely there’s still a chance of another large enough quake to produce another Tsunami, or that a new problem will be uncovered and will have to be dealt with.

No Chernobyl

Unlike Chernobyl, the Fukushima reactors do not have graphite cores. Graphite is very useful for containing nuclear reactions but is also flammable at nuclear reaction temperatures, which is what happened at Chernobyl.

The big problem with Fukushima is most likely to be a ‘China Syndrome’ meltdown where the fuel becomes so hot it melts through the floor and digs a pit ‘to China’ (This phrase was coined by the USA after Three Mile Island).

Again this is something that’s planned for and there are safety measures in place to capture molten fuel rods, but it’d be messy, hard to deal with and dangerous as hell.

8:19AM

Pencil time

I told Richard Bartrop I was getting some pencils and he said…

Working hard on your hipster badge, I see.

Or words to that effect. The reason being that I’d decided on some Palomino Blackwing pencils, which have a slightly odd history.

Eberhard Faber produced the Blackwing pencil, a pretty standard pencil with black painted body, novel flat eraser holder (Called the Ferrule), stamped “Twice the speed, half the pressure” in reference to the lead’s nice dark colour and smooth glide on paper (Most pencil lead is graphite and clay, the Blackwing’s lead contained a little wax to make it smooth).

Because it was a generally OK pencil, it got used by a lot of people, and since a few of them became famous and at some point mentioned they used the Blackwing 602, it developed a reputation.

And then Faber stopped making them.

Faber had bought a machine, second hand that made the pencil’s special ferrule that held the oblong pink erasers with a special tension clip that meant that you could whip the eraser out and replace it with your own, making the pencil ideal for actually rubbing things out. The machine though, was broken when it was bought and either wasn’t economical to fix or couldn’t be fixed – But it did come with a large supply of already made components, and so the pencil was made until the ferrule supply ran out.

Which is when the pencil, dubbed by it’s admirers as “The best pencil in the world” started to get it’s own cult and mythology.

In the minds of certain people, it was the magic tool that’d allow them to be a great artist or composer or writer, just like the famous creators who’d used their Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602 pencils to sketch out famous works.

It became a talisman, a fetish (Of the little voodoo doll meaning of the word), and so when un-sold boxes of the pencils started showing up on eBay, prices skyrocketed, with people paying $20 or $60 for an original Blackwing.

A note about the Blackwing, Old and New.

The original Blackwing’s eraser was pink and either due to the material used or age is now generally reported to be “Not so much an eraser as a graphite smearing device”. The new eraser is white and quite generic and capable, with one small caveat that I’ll save for later.

Bother the old and new pencils use Cedar – the new “Palomino Blackwing” uses California cedar and is manufactured by the California Cedar company, which makes it easy to remember…

This means the pencil is made of a renewable wood that’s been grown for commercial use, and it also means that the wood is nicely dense, fine grained  and has a homogenous texture, which is important for the purpose of sharpening. This is pretty important in a pencil. It also smells nice, which is a trivial point but if you’re going to dick around with pencils instead of using a pen mechanical pencil or computer, you might as well enjoy the æsthetics of it fully.

The main event though is the lead. The new lead may not be the same recipe as the old (and the manufacturer is re-formulating it to produce a harder, firmer lead for writing), but it is a very dark, smooth experience. The current softer lead is quite nice for artists or if you favour an especially dark pencil, though as ever, darker means softer and more prone to snapping and blunting.

However, due to the smoothness, which presumably is created by adding in oil or wax of some sort to recipe, the eraser which works quite well on normal pencil marks can’t seem to completely remove the marks left by the Blackwing.

I suspect that the harsher eraser of the original Blackwing may have been closer to the ones used by secretaries to remove typed text by ablating the ink and layers of paper away, which may be the only way to completely remove the ghostly marks left by even a thorough rub down with the eraser or even with my collection of very competent pencil erasers.

Verdict

It’s a pencil. It writes nicely but so does a Zebra gel-ink pen or a B6 art pencil. The eraser arrangement is nice but not up to actually fully eradicating the marks.

On the up side, it’s not that expensive and quite pleasant to work with.

Price: $19.95 for a 12 pack from Pencils.com