Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Monday, May 23, 2005

Byte: 6dB margin

The broken broadband saga concluded today, thanks to the visit of a BT engineer. I did get my money's worth from the £60 call-out charge, because it turns out that our phone line to the flat was absolutely crap. BT measure the notional line length from the exchange to your phone by the signal loss in decibels, and our line was 60dB "long", which equates to about 6 kilometres (no coincidence, about the distance between the flat and the exchange at Bagshot), which used to be about the limit of broadband services. This means that the signal is still good for 1Mb broadband, but it gets pretty marginal if your line isn't 100% solid.

After the BT engineer tested the line at my end, he found out that the loss margin (i.e. how much signal your line can lose before the signal gives out) was only 6dB, which was as bad as the engineer said he had ever seen, which explained why the signal kept dropping out at peak hours. As soon as other people started using the same line from the estate network junction box (those green boxes you see by the side of the road) to the main telephone exchange, the losses went way beyond the 6dB margin I had, and just dropped the line. The only solution, he said, was basically just to replace the entire phone line from the flat to the exchange, because it had become too to hold a decent signal degraded. He replaced the line from the flat to the junction box first, tested it again, and the signal quality still wasn't good enough, so he checked things out at the exchange, and found out that there were two main lines from the exchange in Bagshot to the junction box, and my flat happened to be on the one of the two that was inexplicably about 10dB longer than the other one. The engineer switched me over to the other trunk line, and the loss margin on my phone line shot up to 21dB (out of a theoretical maximum of 25dB).

It's now clocking on for 6pm, and we're two hours further in than I normally get before the line drops on a weeknight, so it seems that the call-out fee was well spent. I can finally get around to reviewing that Asheron's Call 2 expansion now. Keep 'em peeled for first impressions over the next couple of days. Not that I'll be playing it tomorrow night, though, since I'm seeing Revenge of the Sith... I hope it lives up to the Episode III levels in LEGO Star Wars.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Bark: A special day

Today is a special day. Not only does it mark the release of Star Wars Episode III (which I'm seeing next week), but it is also the 5th anniversary of me joining IBM. Five years. Pretty incredible, considering quite a few of the people I know who joined when (or, indeed after) I did have long gone and moved to pastures new. I might have a little celebratory drink tonight to commemorate the occasion.

And I just found another Google Whack: "irasible swine". Describes me quite well, don't you think? Oh, the irony.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Bark: Coupé reticulation

I'm trying to find a Google Whack. Purely for work avoidance value. The best I've done so far is "coupé reticulation", with a grand total of 14 hits. (It'll be 15, once Google cottons on to this post).

For those unfamiliar with the concept, a Google Whack is a two word search term that returns only a single hit. It's a surprisingly good way of passing the time if you're bored out of your skull, or desperately want to put off doing something important... It's also a good test of the more esoteric sections of your vocabulary.

Update: Not *quite* a Google Whack, but "Teutoburg endoscopy" returns just 3 hits. I'll get there in the end, I'm sure...

Update 2: Almost there - "courgette scientologist" gives 2 hits. No, I don't know where that came from either.

Update 3: Success! Of a kind. "Teutoburg courgette" is a Google Whack, though it unfortunately, gives a "Page not found" splash error page for a French ISP, so I'm not sure it counts...

Final Update: I can die happy. I found one. "Teutoburg hematoma" Hurrah!

Monday, May 16, 2005

Byte: So bad, so good

Inspired by the hilarity of Leroy, I spent a considerable amount of time on World of Warcraft at the weekend.

I'm still only a fairly lowly Level 22, however, which makes me very easy prey in Contested Areas. After spending quite a lot of time on Sunday being "ganked" (i.e. killed by characters of much greater level), hitting Level 22 was a particularly sweet moment. You see, Shareth (my main character) is a Druid. At Level 20 they can shapechange into the Cat form (essentially a huge black panther), and at Level 22, you can buy the Prowl ability. At 27 Silver, it's not particularly cheap, but last night it proved to be worth every Copper. Prowling is a stealth ability, which reduces your movement rate to 60% of normal, but makes you invisible unless you attack something.

I'm doing a couple of quests in the contested Stonetalon Mountains, and I'm having to be wary, because it's crawling with Level 30+ Horde and I don't want to spent all night retrieving my corpse. I'm just killing off a huge rock lizard, so that I can farm some leather, when suddenly I see this Level 28 Tauren Shaman. He sees me, and comes charging in to attack. I'm no fool. I know I don't stand a chance, so I scarper behind a tree, shapechange into Cat form and Prowl. He comes charging around the tree and... just stops. I can see him thinking "WTF? Where did he go?" I wait around for a couple of minutes, keeping my distance, and I see he's called in friends. An Undead Warlock and Troll Rogue (both around Level 30) turn up, and they start hunting for me. Of course, I'm Prowling. They can't see me, and I'm having a chuckle to myself whilst they scour the area for something they're not going to find.

I slink off after about five minutes of watching them scrabble around fruitlessly, and start to head back to safer territory, because this place is just too hot to be in alone, and none of my guild or other friends are online to team up with. On my way, I stop off at the logging yard in Windshear Crag, to polish off a quest I started earlier, and things start to get really busy. A Level 19 Tauren Warrior is hammering away at a Pridewing (a bizarre cross between a lion and a flying squirrel) and taking quite a lot of damage. I decide to give him a helping hand. To the graveyard, naturally. I wait until he finishes off the Pridewing, and then ambush him before he can heal. A quick shapechange, Starfire, Wrath and Moonfire later, and he's gone. I feel justified in that I had the same thing done to me less than an hour earlier (by a Level 30 Rogue), and boy, does it feel good. I don't get an honour kill for it, but then I didn't really gank him either, so I didn't get a dishonour point either.

A few minutes after that, and the whole logging yard is Horde Central. Just as well that I'm already prowling again, because there's a dozen of the buggers going about slaughtering the goblins in the logging yard, on a huge rampage. They've come back through the tunnel from the Ashenvale Forest, and they look in a bad mood, moving slowly and killing everything in sight. Presumably they've just had their arses kicked in Astranaar, which is the major battleground in my part of the Warcraft World at the moment. Earlier in the day, I'd gotten 19 honour kills in an awesome hour long fight outside Astranaar, with about 30 players on each side. Not bad, considering I was a good 10 levels below most of the Horde characters.

Anyway, I've still got about 4 Deforesters to kill, so I stay stealthed and bide my time, waiting for them to move on. Leaving a carpet of dead bodies behind them, the Horde make their way slowly down the valley, moving off into the distance. Somewhat relieved, I give the place a quick scout to see if any Horde are still about before resuming my quest. There's still a Level 18 Rogue and a Level 21 Mage lurking around, sensibly sticking together, because Contested Territory is a dangerous place. They're too much for me to take on alone, so I play a bit of hide and seek, using my stealthed Cat Form to sneak around and off a couple of Deforesters out of sight of the two Horde players.

I'm working my way around the logging hut in the middle of the valley, keeping an eye on the Rogue and the Mage, when I see two other Alliance Members (one a Paladin and the other a Warrior, both at Level 20) on the opposite side of the hut from the two Horde. I stay stealthed, but whisper a warning to one of the Alliance players, that there are two enemies of levels similar to theirs' in the area. Within seconds, my two allies run off to engage them. They've just about got the balance of power, and battle is joined. The Horde Rogue lays into the Paladin, with a couple of high damage combos, and the Pally starts to feel the heat. It's a this point I give the Rogue the surprise of a lifetime, and start laying into him, coming out of my Prowl right behind his back. Three against two, and the battle's a foregone conclusion. I shapechange back to my normal form, so that I can cast spells again, and the Rogue gets a fatal Wrath blast right in the back, as he scarpers for cover. Then I turn my attention to the Mage. A quick blast of Faerie Fire takes down his armour, and the Night Elf Warrior just hacks him to pieces in short order.

Much exchanging of smilies ensues.

Of course, I don't get any honour points for it, but I can at least finish off my quest and head back to safer environs in peace... I did feel a little evil, suddenly leaping out and surprising this pair of poor Horde, but not for long. It's not like they wouldn't have done the same to me. It may be quite bad and on the boundaries of social acceptability for an MMORPG, but when you get your own back like that, boy, it does feel so good.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Byte: Leeeeeeeeroy Jenkins!

This is why you shouldn't play online games with morons. The funniest bit of online japery since that guy fell asleep during a Halo 2 Team Deathmatch.

Thanks to mon ami Rob Hale for the link.

Bark: More litigation madness

Another Ananova special.

The jobless German who sold the Pope's old car for £130,000 is suing eBay because he says it's not enough.

He's going to end up giving all his money to the lawyers. Idiot. Then he'll probably sue the lawyers for costing too much.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Bark: Litigation Happy

This has got to be the maddest court case I've ever heard about.

A Russian astrologer wants £165 million in damages from Nasa for upsetting the balance of the universe.

Marina Bai says NASA's Deep Impact space probe, which is due to hit the Tempel 1 comet on July 4, is a "terrorist act".

She claims it is also a personal assault on her grandparents as the comet heralded the beginning of their relationship.

I think someone's forgotten to take their tablets, don't you?

Bark: Monbiot vs. Bellamy

I've long been of the opinion that Channel Four News is the only current affairs program worth watching, and last night I was proved right yet again, thanks to a fabulous debate between George Monbiot and David Bellamy. The summary extract on the website makes the debate seem a little more competitive than it actually was. Monbiot completely took Bellamy apart, and left him practically speechless at the end of the debate. I've been a fan of Monbiot for quite a while now; not just for his stance on the Environment, but on the Iraq War and Globalisation, too. If you want to stay informed about the issues that really matter - keep an eye on his website.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Bark: Experiment

Just a bit of morbid curiousity about whether I have a readership or not... If anyone is out there, let it be known in the comments. They'll be here until the end of the week before they disappear again.

Byte: ADSHell

Okay. I'm not impressed. Just over a month ago I paid a £15 one-off fee to have my ADSL bumped up to 1Mbps. Ever since then, it's not worked correctly. It seems someone else on my line has decided to turn their machine into a bit-torrent server, a virus-ridden spambot or porn download warehouse, because between the hours of 4pm and 12 midnight, my line becomes absolutely unuseable. I've literally seen quicker 14.4kbps modems.

I raised the error a couple of weeks ago with my ISP, Pipex, who told me to do all the usual guff - swap autofilters, try the modem with different PCs, etc - and the problem still persisted, because, y'know, I'm an IT Professional, not a complete idiot. I know the value of having your ports locked down, having an up-to-date firewall, up-to-date anti-virus software and not leaving your PC on all day connected to the Internet. People using ADSL without a decent firewall (as I suspect the culprits raping my ADSL bandwidth are) need to be put down for their own good.

I left my PC connected to a BT Test server for a couple of days, got it to drop the connection at least a dozen times, and Pipex cut the line back to 576kbps (as it was before the upgrade) and said everything should be fine. Well, it's not. I'm trying to get back into World of Warcraft, and it still keeps dropping my connection at peak hours, despite the lower speed. So, not only am I paying a 1Mbps rate for a 576kbps connection, I paid an extra £15 for the privilege, and I now have an ADSL connection I can't use 90% of the time I want to use it. Awesome. NOT.

I re-raised the fault with Pipex this morning, went through the telephone support script again, and now I've got to hook my PC up to the BT Test server again for 2 days, meaning that I can't use the internet or work from home until Thursday. What's really annoying is that it's not even Pipex's fault - it's clearly one with the contention ratio of the line, which is BT's problem; one that they're trying very hard to ignore. It's driving me nuts, because I might as well be on dial-up and not pay £23.50 a month for a substandard service. Much as I'm loathed to consider changing ISPs and going for a Business Standard line with a lower 20:1 contention ratio (at double the monthly cost), I'll do it if I have to, because I need to be able to work from home, and have ADSL that works on demand, not when it feels like it.

BT need to sort their life out and give home users 20:1 contention (rather than 50:1 contention - i.e up to 50 users using the same DSL line) to at least minimise this kind of thing happening. It's not right that I should pay nearly £25 a month for something I can't use because some idiot can't protect their PC properly, or is just being an ass and downloading gigabytes of who knows what for 8 hours a day when they get home.

At this point I'm thinking about moving to Toyko, and getting a nice, wireless-enabled apartment with 20Mbps broadband...

Friday, May 06, 2005

Byte: Bricking it

Sorry, I couldn't resist that pun. I've been playing Lego Star Wars, obviously (as anyone who's seen my MSN login name in the last week will know). And despite being a game very much tailored for kids, it's really rather good. Certainly one of the best looking Star Wars games to date, and very easy to pick up and play. It also manages to entertain without patronising it's audience, which is no mean feat for a kid's game. Only a slightly erratic 3D camera and controls a little too imprecise for their own good prevent a 9/10. On charm and presentation alone, it'd easily warrant one.

The reason it's been so quiet around here lately hasn't just been because the pressures of work, but also because I've been plugging all my free time into the sublime Jade Empire. Most people will know of my all encompassing love of Bioware's previous opus, Knights of the Old Republic (400+ hours, completed 8 times, etc)... Well, this might surprise you, coming as it does from one of the biggest Star Wars fanboys ever to have walked the Earth, but Jade Empire is BETTER, and I don't say that lightly. If you're into the whole Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon aesthetic, or you simply love chop-socky flicks, then this is your game. The characters are great, the combat's far better than the stop-start of KOTOR and the story moves quickly from start to finish, throwing in a few surprises along the way. I don't think I'll play a better RPG all year. The cameo from John Cleese is worth the entry fee in itself.

I've been getting some good reviews from Pro-G lately - my latest is Silent Hunter III, which I'm slowly getting into, thanks to the Course Plotter's inherent inability to tell you if the course you've plotted intersects the harbour wall or not.

"Captain! We're taking damage, sir!"
"But we've not even left port yet!"

Not very impressive... neither was the installation. The CD key is printed on the CD, meaning that you have to write it down before you can install the game. What was wrong with it being written on the back of the manual, eh? Ah, well. At least the game looks good. It's going to take me hours and hours to review, though.

In the meantime, I'm going to go back to bricks, and do a preview for Pro-G of Meteos, a DS game I had Charles, my friend from NTSC-UK (and, ironically, team leader at work), import for me. It's a crazy Japanese twist on Tetris, where you have to line up blocks of the same colour into rows of three or more, whereupon they turn into rockets, and blast the blocks above them up into space. It's absolutely manic in two player mode, and not much calmer in single player. Even with Japanese menus, it's fairly easy to navigate around - well worth an import from Play-Asia if you don't want to wait a couple of months for the US version to come out. (A release in Europe hasn't been confirmed yet) It's definitely one of the DS's killer apps, though absolutely lethal on the touch screen. I put a screen protector on just yesterday, and it's already scratched completely to hell, after just a couple of hours' play. Crazy.

In other news, after the excitement of the weekend before last on the M25, we decided to stay at home to redo the bathroom, in the calmness and relative safety of the flat. Of course, spending three days in a 4m by 4m room with tins of paint, huge bottles of white spirit and no ventilation possibly wasn't the best idea I've had lately. Two days off sick, and about two million lost brain cells later... still, at least the bathroom looks great. I may have lost 10 points off my IQ, but hey. It probably explains my decision to give World of Warcraft another go, too. I wonder how long it'll take them to screw up the billing *this* time?