i wanna go camping

So, VALA is running a tech camp in July and I wanna go. In fact, I’m fairly sure I will go. I can teach myself coding things and did study computer science a decade or two ago. Actually now I think about it, it was nearly 3 decades ago. Eep! I’m almost 50 and still pottering along and trying to work out what I want to do with my life. Anyway I can teach myself but do tend to learn better with other people around.

A year or so back, I was playing with code on my vaio (running Win8 then, win10 now) and trying to get stuff working to explore and analyse web harvesting stuff. Got caught in a neverending circle of installing software dependencies and eventually ran out of puff without getting to the playing-with-code stage. I did have docker running, virtualbox running linux, and got most of the way with maven2.

30533574640_5de8d36502_nThis year I’m trying again on my mac mini. Installations ran smoothly, I’ve had few issues with software dependencies…I now have docker and maven3 and SPARQL apache spark installed and running. I have approached it differently this year, following a different guide. Also, the mac is easier as unix is fully integrated with the OS, whereas it’s a separate thang under windows.

I stalled a month ago as I couldn’t get the test example in SPARQL spark/scala to work. I realised a few days later that it was probably an issue with pathnames. Finally got round to trying again last night, and it was indeed a pathname issue and I resolved it in minutes and got the text example to work.

Yay me.

So my current dev environment is a mac mini, not the windows laptop. But I wanna take it to tech camp. So I looked at connecting the mini to laptop and it’s sorta doable but a little bit painful with reduced functionality.

4556812857_f81e7c3078_mI could hire a screen in Melbourne and travel with the mini and a keyboard.

I could get a handheld mini projector…and they really are handheld now.

Or I could apply what I’ve learnt from the mac install and revisit the windows install and get it all running there too. That’s the cheapest option and a happier one as I remain fond of my laptop and want to keep using it. I love the idea of a handheld projector but it is a wee bit excessive and possibly gratuitously so.

my gaming history

I came across this post from Kotaku about trying to collect and preserve the context of the world of computer games ie getting the external materials, promotions, articles and so forth which provide a real world background to the development of the game itself.

This sort of ties into one of my ongoing concerns in game preservation, how do I convey the sense of “atari thumb”?  As this link shows, the Atari joystick was fairly basic. I spent so many hours using that controller as a teenager, thumb on the red button, mashing it as hard as I could. Eventually, you’d have to stop playing as your thumb got too sore to continue hence “atari thumb”.

There’s plenty of options around for game emulation including the almighty Internet Archive’s Game Arcade and MAME has just had its 20th birthday. However it’s one thing to be able to play the old games, it’s another thing entirely to talk about and understand the culture of gaming when the original systems existed. It’s nice to see for example, that the internet archive is maintaining an archive of old computer magazines including one of my favourites from the 80s, the UK Computer + Video Games. I bought this magazine every month, usually for one column, particular, the Adventurer’s Helpline.

The Adventurer pages were full of hints and reviews text adventures including the US Infocom, and the English Level 9. I have vague recollections of reader letters and responses too so it felt like there was an international community. There were also Oz based magazines including the Australian Commodore Review which morphed into the Australian Commodore & Amiga Review and included a dedicated text adventure section called “Adventurer’s Realm“. Capturing that external world of gaming is a tricky beast. Many years ago, I discarded most of my original copies of those magazines though did cut out all the adventure columns. I’m sorta hoping that I’ve retained that small archive somewhere in a box. On other hand, it seems to be the case that more and more of this material is being digitised and made available online.

post holiday thoughts

Flew back into Sydney a couple of weeks ago. 6 weeks in Europe ended up feeling about right and I was happy to return home. We experienced a mild, European winter and winter didn’t seem to set in proper til after we left. Temps were mostly single figure negative eventually making it to positive.

Prior to leaving, we’d booked accommodation for 8 nights out of 42, a return train trip from Paris to London and a couple of shows.  Everything else was discussed, explored and booked as we went. For the most part we were booking trains and accommodation a few days in advance. The broad bones of the trip were necessarily constant but the places inbetween changed, and changed a few times. Alas, no snow. We had a few flecks in Nuremberg and some hail somewhere else but no snow we could play with.

31883039312_f56cf3c2a4_nI recall travelling not dissimilarly a decade or so back, planning each place while in the previous place. Back then, I needed to book into an internet cafe and spend an hour or two working out how to get to the next place and where to stay. This time round, I had a laptop with me, a local sim card with plenty of data, and most places we stayed had wifi. The German train system is fab and and so easy to organise and book, France was a little more challenging and often didn’t recognise our credit card for train bookings so we did a few in person there. We’d discuss plans over dinner or breakfast and then I’d make the required bookings keeping in touch with airbnb hosts via the app or WhatsApp.

Airbnb was really fab. I was reluctant initially but have been converted. There were 3 of us travelling: myself, my partner and her 16 year old daughter, and we were able to book whole apartments so we had space to relax in. Many places we usually had at least one separate bedroom and a sofa bed in the living though occasionally we had 2 bedrooms. Dead simple to book, hosts were flexible in meeting times and friendly and welcoming. We stayed in some amazing places and places were cheaper as there were a lot less folk travelling in winter.

Queues were short or non existent eg a 20 minute queue at the Louvre. I think our worst queues were in Disneyland Paris and even then most ride queues were short. Disneyland Paris was one of those things we managed to add while travelling as we hadn’t planned to go initially however it was dead simple as a day trip from Paris.

Google maps was bloody awesome. I had full data connectivity on my phone though the Spanish SIM I was using never quite managed to make it to 4G and was a wee bit slow at times. But I could use my phone as I would at home for a cost of around 1-2 euros per day. I played plenty of Ingress in all countries and made good use of both google’s and microsoft’s translation software though I think I prefer microsoft’s. Google maps however made moving about dead easy: it worked out appropriate metro stops. bus stops, bits to walk etc. Sometimes it’s nice to get lost and find stuff but not when you’re carrying a pack trying to find your next airbnb.

All I need to do now is cull my photos down to a manageable amount and upload them to flickr. First run through got them down to 622 from 688, so clearly lots more culling required. Oh joy.

trip stuff

Heading off in a week or so for a 6 week holiday in Europe. I am alternately between sheer panic and totally chilled. Flights are booked, a couple of trains are booked, accommodation for first place and for christmas have been booked. I’m mostly ok with that, on the other hand I panic occasionally as there’s 3 of us travelling together and I’m not used to travelling with other people. This time it’s with my partner and Ms15.

Starting in Copenhagen and mostly spending time in Germany (for traditional christmas markets) and France, finishing off with a few days in Barcelona. Been a busy year and it’s been hard to plan or think things through. The last time I did a big trip was 3 weeks around Borneo in 2012 with Intrepid so everything was taken care of. My previous trips to Europe have usually been self guided and self propelled, on occasion finding accommodation on the fly. With that said, tech has improved a lot and I’ll probably get a local sim for my phone with data so I can carry on as usual. I doubt I’ll need rely as heavily on local internet cafes as I used to in the old days.

I had mostly decided not to take my laptop which surprised my partner. However I’ve been rethinking this week that it would be handy to have with me, particularly if we’re weighing up options throughout the trip. Phone and tablets can handle some things but they’re not great for having lots of tabs open.The other advantage of the laptop is that I can use it to back up our photos as we go. I’m toying with the idea of making my NAS remotely accessible and backing up the photos to it as well. That might be overkill and create more headaches.

18300426633_43fac8621e_n

My tablet is a 2013 edition of the 7″ nexus and while it’s still nice, it is getting a little long in the tooth and not recharging as well as it used to. I am considering picking up a new tablet duty-free, possibly the 8″ samsung galaxy S2. Unfortunately my phone isn’t dual sim so I’ll need to swap sims occasionally to check for messages from home though most friends use various messenging apps to contact me, family less so. And of course, I’ll have my ereader with me, one can’t have too many devices. The only remaining item in the photo is my old psion 5mx from 1999 – it shall remain at home :)

sat nav

I’ve never owned a sat-nav. I have on occasion, used google maps on the phone. Going to a new place I may check google maps at home to get a sense of where a place is. In olden days, I’d rely on on a printed street directory, I still have one in the car. But turn by turn driving, with computer voiceover, no thanks.

When driving I like a broad sense of where I’m going and then I generally fudge a bit when in the right-ish vicinity. Sometimes in moments of desperation I will get the phone out and find out where the bloody hell I am. This approach is not particularly efficient, a little bit lazy, and a little bit stubborn.

I reflect on this occasionally when playing video games, or should I call them computer games, though both terms sound a little archaic. Grand Theft Auto for example does a fullish sat-nav thang wih a coloured line from your car to your destination that recalculates if you take a different course.

map of skyrimHowever I think the Skyrim approach works best for me. It puts a spot on the Skyrim map where I’m heading and I can see a rough idea of the terrain between it and me with a sense of where the major route may lie. That’s about it. I journey toward that point, not quite directly. Diversions occur, weird paths cross my own and beg to be followed. I head off on detours, all the while keeping in mind where I’m ultimately heading.

Travel for me, in gaming and in life, is rarely about getting from point A to point B.

systematic fun

I’d been wanting to do something with my desktop machine for a while as the Mac Pro is getting a little dated. The chipset hasn’t supported the last few versions of MacOS, and is still on Lion. At the start of the year, I decided to migrate to a mac mini and have been keenly waiting each Mac announcement, only to be disappointed at the lack of hardware upgrades.

Apple finally announced a bunch of hardware stuff a couple of weeks ago and overall, they were a wee bit underwhelming. Macbook pros still don’t support touch screens and instead have a touch bar to replace the function key row. The bar is sorta cute and it’s nice to see an alternative to function keys but nothing earth shattering. On top of that, there was bugger all to say about mac minis or the current mac pro, though at least they haven’t been phased out. Even the microsoft hardware announcement was way more interesting.

Last weekend I went out and bought a mac mini (2014 model, 8GB ram, 1TB drive). I had been weighing up my options and was also considering the Gigabytes Brix and Intel NUC. The mini had the advantage of OS compatibility whereas the others would have required a migration from mac to windows. A key requirement was photo management so I would have had to purchase Adobe’s Lightroom for the winbox whereas MacOS comes with their current photo software, Photos (iPhotos is the old version on my MacPro that’s no longer supported).

Gone are the days when changing machines meant running two systems side by side for a week while you moved stuff across. Setting up the mac mini was dead easy:

  • start it up
  • connect to network
  • connect to Pro’s Time Machine backup (on NAS)
  • automatically transfer data – a few hours via wifi
  • update software
  • remaining step is to upgrade MacOS from El Capitan to Sierra

Time consuming but painless. My windows experience of migrating machines is also time consuming but with occasional pain. Time machine is the best backup system I’ve used and I’d love to be able to use similar for my non mac devices. With that said, upgrading the laptop from Windows 8 to Windows 10 was dead simple and pain free, similarly android.

headphones

…can be a tricky thing. For many years I’ve had a pair of Sennheiser HD 515 headphones which have been lovely. I have used them a lot, replaced the pads once and they’re due for another set. I dropped them a year or so back and the casing had cracked but sound was still fab. To wear them, I usually removed my hearing aids and pumped the sound up. The downside was that sound leaked and recently I had an incident on a plane where the person behind asked me to turn them down.

Part of the issue is finding headphones with a big enough cavity so that I can leave my hearing aids in comfortably, the other part is reducing the amount of sound that “leaks” out. In recent months I’ve been trying out lots of headphones trying to find the right balance. Not entirely unexpectedly I’ve ended up back at Sennheiser. I had initially settled on a pair of HD 280 Pro as they seemed pretty close to ideal. I was in JB on the weekend and they happened to have 20% off on headphones and was prepared to get the 280. Then I noticed they had another unit set up for trying out: Sennheiser 380 Pro. They were only $3 more than the lower model but the design pushed them against the head and reduced the sound leakage significantly, Plus they come with a flattened carry case which means they’re easy to travel with. With the JB discount, they ended up being $159. Sold.

Wearing them now while my partner watches TV behind me and no complaints so far. Currently “bopping” to Ministry’s Just One Fix. Happy days. Will see how they go on the flight to Adelaide on Sunday.

Update: my partner didn’t hear them at all even though she was sitting a foot behind me. With them on, I didn’t hear any external noises either so there seems to be some sort of noise cancelling/insulation thang going on.

five overdue

It’s been over a month since I last blogged and even longer since I did a round-up of interesting articles. I blame post #blogjune recovery. I’ve had a quick dash back through the last month or so of tweeted articles and chose these 5. I was going to include this list of gaming terms but decided I didn’t agree with some of the definitions. So here’s an overdue list of five things:

tooling along

Riffing off Kate’s post around staying organised, I’m a little less organised but still have a need to have some structures in place. I posted a few years back about my calendar efforts and re-reading that post I can say that it continues to work well enough for me.  I’ve got my work calendar feeding into my rainlendar setup so I usually check the night before if I have any morning meetings. I did need to update the calendar on my phone as my old phone calendar stopped supporting transparent overlays so I’m now using a paid version of Business Calendar 2.

I used to be a big fan of evernote and was willing to pay but didn’t like their subscription options, particularly as I only used it occasionally. Further I found the interface a little overwhelming for my needs. Mostly I was using it for sharing text and the occasional PDF across my devices. On the text side I’ve recently installed Simplenote and that’s been fab so far. The interface is basic and the data exchange quick. It’s easy to set up, make notes and sync across my various devices. I’m still using evernote to store PDFs occasionally but that’s primarily when I travel and I could probably move those to dropbox and get rid of evernote altogether.

In 2014, I put together a list of all the apps I’d paid for at the time. Looking back, I finally managed to cancel my sub to app.net which I haven’t touched since. As I commented a few weeks ago, I have started paying for wordpress and I’m still paying for flickr. I moved to feedly from google reader and have been fine with the free version. I wouldn’t mind paying for it as I use it as part of my regular reading but less keen about paying US$65/year for it. I’m somewhat stuck between wanting to pay  a one off price but recognising that it does need continuing support. The free version is sufficient and I don’t need to upgrade but would like a friendlier charge to enable me to give something back.

I have a paid subscription to the digital version of the Sydney Morning Herald via its android app. Unfortunately the android app is occasionally buggy, seems to be poorly supported and doesn’t have all the features that the apple version of the app has. It’s frustrating to use ie you can read the current day’s paper, once it update’s with the next day’s paper you lose access to the news content of the previous day. Whereas the apple version lets you view digital versions of the previous 7 days I think…though that’s PDF format, based on the image of the printed version. Come to think of it, I complained about all this stuff in 2014 and nothing has changed since.