Wild World

February 29, 2008

Been playing with my white Nintendo DS Lite today and think I have forged an addiction to Animal Crossing Wild World.

This game isn’t one of competition, it’s one of cartoon life.  Simple collecting, buying, fishing and all other manner of mundane tasks.

The beauty of it is that the game reacts to the day of the year and time of day you play the game, with different events and ‘things’ happening depending on when you play.

This game is going to keep me addicted for a long time to come I think.

I have also been playing the Zelda – Phantom Hourglass game as well today.  This plays like a dream too.

I’ll go a little bit more in depth when I drag myself away from Animal Crossing…..


Fighting Fantasy

February 23, 2008

This is pretty much a post on my progress with Java.  It’s going well when there is peace enough for me to concentrate.

I have written my first very simple game and am now moving on to a more complex, how shall I put it?  Converting of an old Fighting Fantasy book into a playable Java game.  Why this project?  Well, it will be pretty much text based and rather simple to code.  At least that is what I am hoping.

I am just converting a couple of PDF’s of a couple of the books to .txt format before I have a read through and decide how to proceed with the design.


Games consoles reveal the supercomputer within

February 16, 2008

WHEN Todd Martínez broke his son’s Sony PlayStation he didn’t realise this would change the course of his career as a theoretical chemist. Having dutifully bought a PlayStation 2 as a replacement, he was browsing through the games console’s technical specification when he realised it might have another use. “I noticed that the architecture looked a lot like high-performance supercomputers I had seen before,” he says. “That’s when I thought about getting one for myself.”

Six years on and Martínez has persuaded the supercomputing centre at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, to buy eight computers each driven by two of the specialised chips that are at the heart of Sony’s PlayStation 3 console. Together with his student Benjamin Levine he is using them to simulate the interactions between the electrons in atoms. Scaled up over entire molecules, the results could pave the way to predicting how a protein will interact with a drug.

Martínez and Levine are not the only researchers who have turned to gaming hardware to do their number crunching. That’s because the kinds of calculations required to produce the mouth-wateringly realistic graphics now seen in high-end video games are similar to those used by chemists and physicists as they simulate the interactions between particles in systems ranging in scale from the molecular to the astronomical. Rotating, enlarging or reflecting an object from one frame to the next in a game, for example, requires a technique called matrix multiplication. Modelling the interactions between thousands of electrons in a molecule calls for similar techniques.

Such simulations are usually carried out on a supercomputer, but time on these machines is expensive and in short supply. By comparison, games consoles are cheap and easily available, and they come with the added bonus of some innovative hardware. For example, the Wii, made by Nintendo, has a motion-tracking remote control unit that is far cheaper than a comparable device would be if researchers had to build it from scratch.

One key advance is the ease with which scientists can now program games consoles for their own purposes. Although consoles do a great job of rendering images, games programs don’t require software to save data once it has been used to render the image. Scientists, by contrast, need to be able to store the results of the calculations they have fed into their machines.

Things started to get easier in 2002, when demand from computer enthusiasts who wanted to use their PlayStations as fully fledged desktop machines prompted Sony to release software that allowed the PlayStation 2 to run the Linux operating system. That allowed scientists to reprogram the consoles to run their calculations. Then in 2006 came the big breakthrough, with the launch by IBM, Sony and Toshiba of the Cell chip that now drives Sony’s PlayStation 3 (see Timeline). With one central processor and eight “servant” processors (New Scientist, 19 February 2005, p 23), it is vastly more powerful than the PS2 chip, and was designed from day 1 to run Linux.

The release of the Cell has accelerated  research into black holes by Gaurav Khanna, an astrophysicist at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. He has strung together 16 PS3 consoles to calculate the properties of the gravity waves that are expected to be produced when two black holes merge. Meanwhile, a collaboration between IBM and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, is using the Cell’s ability to render high-resolution video graphics to do the same with data gathered by MRI and other medical scanning techniques. The aim is to make diagnosis easier and faster – by using the images to determine whether a tumour has grown or shrunk, for example.

Other researchers are pushing for even more speed. One of Martínez’s students, Ivan Ufimtsev, is experimenting with the NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTX graphical processing unit (GPU) for PCs, which was released in November 2006. The GPU has 128 processors – compared to the Cell’s eight – and when slotted into a PC, helps turn it into a high-quality gaming engine. To start with, these cards were hard to program, just like the PS2 without the Linux add-on, but NVIDIA soon cottoned on to the sales opportunities that scientists like Martínez could offer for its product. In February 2007 it released the Compute Unified Device Architecture, a software package that allows the C programming language to be used to program the GPUs.

The results were staggering. When Martínez used it to simulate the repulsion between two electrons in an atom, he found that the calculation ran 130 times faster than it did on an ordinary desktop computer (Journal of Chemical Theory and Computation, DOI: 10.1021/ct700268q). He is now calculating the energy of the electrons in 1000 atoms, which add up to the size of a small protein. “We can now do the things we were killing ourselves to do,” he says.

Martínez predicts that it will soon be possible to use the GPU to predict more accurately which drug molecules will most strongly interact with a protein and how they will react, which could revolutionise pharmaceutical research. Similarly, Koji Yasuda at Nagoya University in Japan reported in a paper published this month (Journal of Computational Chemistry, vol 29, p 334) that he used the same GPU to map the electron energies in two molecules: the anti-cancer drug paclitaxel and the cyclic peptide valinomycin.

Games hardware still isn’t perfect for science. The Cell’s eight processors and the NVIDIA GPUs are forced to round decimal numbers to seven decimal places. As numbers are repeatedly multiplied together, this small error becomes magnified. In a game, the result might be nothing more serious than a car appearing slightly closer to a wall than it should, but in research such inaccuracies can be show-stoppers.

It’s not just the chips that researchers can usefully borrow from gaming hardware. Take the Wii’s hand-held remote control, which contains an accelerometer that can sense in which direction it is being moved, and how vigorously. It transmits this information via a Bluetooth link to the console, where it is used to adjust the graphics to respond to the player’s movements in real time.
Monitoring Parkinson’s

The device recently grabbed attention as a tool for surgeons to improve their technique (New Scientist, 19 January, p 24). Meanwhile, neurologist Thomas Davis at the Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, is using it to measure movement deficiencies in Parkinson’s patients. By attaching up to four Wii remotes to different limbs, Davis captures data for tremor, speed and smoothness of movement, and gait. This data is then sent via the Bluetooth link to a laptop running software that allows Davis to assess quantitatively how well a patient can move. Davis hopes this can be used in clinical trials for Parkinson’s drugs to replace the scoring scales now used, which are based on a doctor observing a patient’s condition.

Others are using the console to assess the progress of patients who have had a stroke or a head injury by monitoring their performance as they play Wii games. Johnny Chung Lee at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is using the Wii remote as a virtual reality research tool. As the wearer’s head moves, the Wii tracks it and displays images dependent on where the wearer is looking. Meanwhile, a team at the University of Valladolid in Spain hopes to use the Wii remote to rotate and manipulate ultrasound images more intuitively.

Computer gamers have always hankered after the latest console or PC hardware to run ever more realistic-looking games. Now scientists are lining up right beside them.

From issue 2643 of New Scientist magazine, 16 February 2008, page 26-27

And not an xbox360 in sight….


Vista haters

February 11, 2008

These people really get on my nerves. Why?

Well Vista is designed for the ‘United Radio Op’s’ of this world. People who are pretty clueless when it comes to anything computer related. Not only them though. Vista is aimed at every walk of life computer user. So bearing that in mind it is going to be difficult to please everyone all of the time.

I’m going to list a few points and deflect them as best I can.

  • Vista is buggy, doesn’t work et al.

This is simply wrong. Vista is more stable than any other version of windows at it’s same time of life. Drivers? Yes, it was a problem, but you can’t expect a new operating system to have every driver covered, and that is less of an issue now. I just installed Vista on someones laptop and everything worked ‘out of the box’; from graphics to wireless. The driver argument simply isn’t one anymore. It’s stable and it works exceedingly well.

  • Vista is resource hungry

Compared to xp, Vista is resource hungry. What would run xp easily, sometimes will struggle to run Vista with all it’s bells and whistles. But. I don’t advocate ‘upgrading’ to Vista unless you have a pressing need, such as Direct 10 gaming, not that that has taken flight yet. If you aren’t upgrading, which the majority of everyday users wouldn’t do anyway, when else would you come into contact with Vista? If you bought a new machine. Well if you have bought a new machine, the specs will run Vista. People then complain, well what ran xp like lightning, runs Vista slowly. Yes, that is true, but then the price of a new PC reflects that. Prices of hardware have tumbled as usual for what you get. You can pick up a stick of 1gb of ram for £20 and get change these days. As is always the norm, if you splash out for a new cheap pc, you will get the performance of a cheap pc with regards to today’s software. If you buy a midrange to highend pc, you will get better performance. It was the same with xp. Times change and computing specifications reflect the advance. Software requirements increase with time as do the available high end components.

  • Vista is annoying with all it’s pop up windows

Security, security, security. It’s all people complain about these days. ‘Windows xp is soooo insecure’. So Microsoft add features to deal with this in Vista and we get. ‘Vista is soooo annoying with all its confirmations and pop-ups’….. Make your mind up….

  • DRM and phoning home

This is one aspect of Vista where I am not so happy. DRM I can accept from a 2007/2008 commercial OS, that’s the way the market is. As much as I dislike it MS couldn’t have released it any other way. The giant’s of intellectual property law / companies are focused this way and until something changes globally that’s the way it is. If you don’t want drm, install Ubuntu Linux, which is in many ways far superior to Vista and pirate your music and film. Microsoft could have tried to go in a different direction, but it simply isn’t viable until there is a commercial shift wider than one company, no matter how big they might be. Phoning home? Well this is something I can’t stand and one of the main reasons I don’t use Vista. Once you have activated your copy of windows, that should be that. No need to pry any further into your computing habits, ie every time you switch on your computer.

  • The frontend

It’s different than xp. Is that a reason to hate it? So some things are in different places and somethings work a little differently. Not really. As with most new products, there are changes and it takes a while to get used to them. That’s the way it works. If it were any other product it would have a settling in period and people would get used to it and that would be that. With Vista? Of course not. It’s a deal breaker, it’s awful, etc etc. Get over it. Use it for a few days and get over yourself. Things change.

Those are some main points. There are plenty more out there of course, and people are bound to disagree with me. But, in my opinion, Vista haters, for the most part, hate Vista because that is what they are conditioned to do, via peer pressure and for no other reason than it’s the cool thing to do.

Vista works, it works well, it’s stable, it’s frontend is very pretty to look at. It’s user friendly, all the features for the more experienced user are under the bonnet. The improvements over xp are up front and inside for all to see.

The only reason I can see to hate Vista is Big Brother syndrome. Saying that, MS has been going this way for a long time in xp and if you continued to use xp why not use Vista with your new machine. Like I say, don’t pay for the upgrade, but if you were happy with xp there is no reason you won’t be with Vista. Unless you are the above mentioned ‘Vista Hater’. Dell’s Ubuntu laptops retail for almost the same as it’s Vista products. SP1 is very quickly appearing over the horizon. Vista seems to be on the up and up. If you buy a new system as most people do, it will come with Vista and most people won’t have an issue after using it for a couple of weeks.

So how would I sum up?

Well Vista is here to stay. And unless you want to move to Linux or to a Mac OS, Vista does fine and is better than xp in most respects for the masses. If you have a special need in your computing world that Vista has trampled all over, then make a switch or stay with xp. As for the millions of everyday Windows users, Vista makes a fine operating system. As long as you are getting it by default with a new pc. However saying that, Vista isn’t exactly expensive compared to buying xp.

Vista is fine.

Btw, for those of you who got this far, you might be thinking I am some kind of Vista or Microsoft fanboy.

Well I’m not, I run Linux, and am typing this on Slackware Linux now, I don’t use Vista or xp very often, though I do have them both. The reason I wrote this is simple. I am sick of the sheep, the crowd followers and the idiots who slag everything off because some die hard OSS user who they think is cool does so too or whoever else. Or because they hate Microsoft full stop over and despite anything that they actually create that is good they stick by their irrational opinions.


Zero Punctuation: Crysis

January 17, 2008

So you think you are good at Guitar Hero 3?

January 11, 2008

Well this guy is the best apparently.

Shock and awe.  We have it for PS3, not my type of game, though I have to admit, the above video is spectacular.


Round 1 to me

January 9, 2008

Well that’s a little bit of an exageration.  My PS3 comes with blu-ray disc playback built in, so I get the pleasure of this.

I have a vested interest in Blu-Ray winning the HD format wars for obvious reasons.