It’s that time of the (new) year

When 2020 rolled in, the inevitable questions about resolutions began to circulate. I pretty much gave up making those a few years ago, replaced more recently by more achievable wish-lists, but over the last couple of days one of those questions in particular is still bouncing around in my head:

What would make 2020 a good year?

There are so many things going wrong in the world right now that are distressing, and in many cases frankly dumbfounding. These seem to be mostly driven by the kinds of people who are motivated by greed and self-interest, the kinds of people I want to have absolutely nothing to do with. So how do I escape, where do I go, what will I do, and will my loved ones want to come and do that whatever that is with me?

Quite a big challenge to fit into a new year’s resolution. Let’s break it down some…

First, what to do? Buying and selling? Making? Creating?

The first two of these require cash upfront and a solid plan and an identified customer base. Making has the additional demands of actually being skilled enough to create physical things for which there is a demand, or a demand can be established. And both require significant effort in marketing, sales (neither of which are really my forte) and all the other trappings of those more traditional business models.

I don’t currently have a grasp of anything that I could buy and resell for profit, so that’s a non-starter for the time being. I did try that with robot kits and accessories about 20 years or so ago and learned a lot from that experience, but I don’t intend to go back to that anytime soon. I’d very much like to be a maker/seller, but that’s not where I am right now and there are so many very talented people out there making beautiful, unexpected things every day.

So can I be a creator? That feels like a better fit with what I know and do, so it seems like it could be a natural progression. Let’s think about it some more.

Problem 1: Money

I’m going to need this in quantities that I just don’t currently have, and it seems that the clock is running down faster than ever.

I have a job with an organisation that I am genuinely proud to be a part of, and the work itself is usually satisfying eventually, but it isn’t ever going to make me enough cash to make any significant changes. And with the self-inflicted disaster that is Brexit now only a short time away, the plans I did have will die along with our EU membership.

Solution: Become independently wealthy

There are a couple of ways I can think of to attempt this, both of which need lots of time and energy, and while I’ve already made a start on those ideas, they’ve been slow going.

The first is game development – and while my efforts thus far are not going to have any tangible effects on the solution, the knowledge I have gained, and continue to acculumate, is undoubtedly going to be useful. But, do I want to be a game developer in the traditional sense? Not really, no. It’s something I want to do but as and when I want to, not because I have a deadline or some other employer to keep happy. If I could invent the next Flappy Bird or something then things would definitely be on the right track in this area. Meanwhile I’ll keep experimenting and learning.

Next is writing, and again I’ve got a couple of irons heating in that particular fire too. At this stage it’s more about the practice and figuring out my own style and I’ve already learned a lot from what I’ve done so far, not least that I don’t think that I think like a writer. I imagine things out of order, almost like scenes from films, capture them and weave the ones that work into the story, keeping the others nearby in case they fit some other use case. Maybe I’ve just been a software developer for too long and need to find more traditional storytelling structure in order to move this along.

But I’m having some fun with this too – writing up the exploits of lunchtime D&D sessions at work, for example.

Problem 2: Location

Should I stay or should I go? (I’m not going anywhere if my loved ones don’t feel comfortable with the move, by the way)

I think it’s fair to say that I’m fed up with the UK’s politics and agenda. I love the country’s geography and variety, but I think we’re an embarrassment on the world stage these days, and I really want not to be associated with that any more. But where to go?

My language skills are a bit poor, but I think I’d pick that up as a result of just being in another country. I’m concerned that even getting a foot in the door, especially within Europe given recent stupidity on our part, will be particularly challenging. Adding my advancing years and lack of a degree into the mix is also going to complicate matters. For any kids reading: work hard at school, learn everything you can, even if it seems like you’ll never make use of the things you’re being taught. You’ll be giving your future self many more options if you do.

Solution(s): A fast-track route to a degree through an online university/course? Language apps? A stronger portfolio of work done/published?

None of these are impossible – it’s (I think) a lack of time that’s problematic. I’ve already made public some of the game dev work I’ve been doing, and have set up a site through which to share the writing projects too.

As for exactly where to relocate to, that’s for a much longer conversation yet to be had.

Problem 3: Time

This is the killer. As the years pile on, time – in terms of available, quality concentration time – is ever more scarce. However, now that the shortest day of the year is behind us and the days begin to get longer again, I’m hopeful that the brighter evenings will help to stay alert for a little longer and allow me to stretch my day out more than is possible through the winter months.

Solution(s): Work from home more? Work less than five days per week?

The former of these is potentially easier to implement but it has to be compatible with demands of work, and those change from time to time so it must be flexible, perhaps making routines a little more difficult to establish.

The latter would be ideal from the perspective of having reliably structured time available, but there are ramifications in all directions: income, obviously, would be decreased, which then has an effect on pension contributions – something that is already in need of some boosting from somewhere. Everything that is pro rated through work would be proportionally reduced, and those effects need to be considered and calculated.

There may be one other possibility: a sabbatical. As a one-off thing when one or more projects are close to completion, this may be viable to provide necessary focus and opportunity to wrap it/them up. However, this would be unpaid, so again many calculations are needed before pursuing this line of inquiry.

Ultimately, while I’m still working for an employer, any and all of these will depend on their approval.

Finally, and most importantly of all, everything here needs to be compatible with my family and their expectations. Many conversations have already been had, and I’m immensely grateful that I have their full support.

So, 2020, are you going to be the year that some or all of the above starts to resolve itself, in a new year’s resolution kind of way?


AI Dungeon

Found a post on AI Weirdness all about AI Dungeon. Definitely try it out when you get a chance. Here’s a snapshot of my first few minutes:

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 ▓█   ▓██▒░██░   ░▒████▓ ▒▒█████▓ ▒██░   ▓██░░▒▓███▀▒░▒████▒░ ████▓▒░▒██░   ▓██░   
 ▒▒   ▓▒█░░▓      ▒▒▓  ▒ ░▒▓▒ ▒ ▒ ░ ▒░   ▒ ▒  ░▒   ▒ ░░ ▒░ ░░ ▒░▒░▒░ ░ ▒░   ▒ ▒    
  ▒   ▒▒ ░ ▒ ░    ░ ▒  ▒ ░░▒░ ░ ░ ░ ░░   ░ ▒░  ░   ░  ░ ░  ░  ░ ▒ ▒░ ░ ░░   ░ ▒░   
  ░   ▒    ▒ ░    ░ ░  ░  ░░░ ░ ░    ░   ░ ░ ░ ░   ░    ░   ░ ░ ░ ▒     ░   ░ ░    
      ░  ░ ░        ░       ░              ░       ░    ░  ░    ░ ░           ░    

You are Knafflewarq, a ranger living in the kingdom of Larion. You have a hunting
 bow and a quiver of arrows. You spot the deer and are ready to finish your hunt
 when suddenly you hear a voice behind you
> say "who's there?"

"Who's there?" you ask.
"It's me, my name is Knobel".
"Knobel? I don't recognize that voice".

> draw bow

"I'm not going to shoot you, I've never shot before".
"Well why would I do that for you?"

> "Look, a unicorn!"

"A what?"
"A unicorn!".
"Yeah! A unicorn! They're really rare, I want to see one!"

> "it went that way"

"But how did you know it was there?"
"Because I saw it with my own eyes once when I was little!"
"How old were you?"

> follow the unicorn

"Okay, okay, let's go then".
You start following the unicorn through the forest. It seems like forever but
 eventually you get close enough that you can hear its hooves clomping on the
 ground behind you. The unicorn stops and looks at you
> "see the unicorn?"

The unicorn nods "Yes, it's right over there".
You nod back "Good, we'll be there soon".
The unicorn starts galloping off into the distance and you turn around to head
> Where is Knobel?

"Where is Knobel?" you ask.
"He's dead".
"No, he's gone".
"Yep, he's been killed by some bandits".

> "Bandits?"

"Yes, they're raiding our village now".
"Oh no, what happened?"
"They attacked us because they thought we had magical weapons. We didn't, we
 just had bows and arrows".

> shoot bandits

You aim your bow and fire a bolt at a bandit who has already run away. He falls
 backwards as his body hits the ground. You look down at your arrow and realize
 it's broken. You pick up another one and try again
> shoot all the bandits

You aim your bow and fire a bolt at every bandit in sight. You fire a few more
 bolts and realize that you need to reload your weapon. You grab a fresh quiver
 of arrows from your pack and begin shooting them at the bandits
> search bandits

You continue firing your arrows at the bandits until you realize that you need
 to rest. You lay down and fall asleep. When you wake up, you find yourself lying
 next to a dead bandit. You quickly stand up and take a look at your surroundings
> look around

You notice several bodies laying nearby and realize that you must have killed
 most of the bandits. You also notice that you are surrounded by dead bandits.
 You feel sick to your stomach and you immediately vomit up your last remaining
 food source
> loot bandits

You walk over to the bodies of the bandits and pick out their belongings. You
 notice a small pouch full of coins. You think about stealing them but decide
 against it since you don't want to risk getting caught. You notice a small bag
 containing some dried meat
> take coins and meat

You take the coins and meat and eat them. You feel better and you sleep well

Yep, it’s a bit odd and forgetful and disjointed, but it’s fun. Go try it!


Moving to Mars

Getting humans to Mars is becoming one of the great challenges of our time. From the spaceships to be used for the 8-month journey to the habitats that people will live in, and from terraforming the landscape to the development of a new society, every detail in this collective endeavour must be designed.

Source: Moving to Mars

Tarutao National Marine Park

You know that thing Win 10 does when it boots up – displays a funky photo for you to enjoy before logging in? This was one of those photos. Thanks Microsoft 🙂

Covering an area of 1490 km² at the southernmost Thailand, consists of 51 islands on three archipelagos.

Source: Tarutao National Marine Park

NASA’s Opportunity Rover Logs 15 Years on Mars | NASA

The Opportunity rover landed in a region of the Red Planet called Meridiani Planum 15 years ago today yesterday, on Jan. 24, 2004.

The golf-cart-sized rover was designed to travel 1,100 yards (1,006 meters) and operate on the Red Planet for 90 Martian days (sols). It has traveled over 28 miles (45 kilometers) and logged its 5,000th Martian day (or sol) back in February of 2018.

Source: NASA’s Opportunity Rover Logs 15 Years on Mars | NASA

Graphics card upgrade: Hello GTX 1080

Almost four years ago(!) I built a small-ish games machine initially exclusively for playing Elite: Dangerous. Since then my PC games diet kind of exploded and more recent releases such as Far Cry 5 have been pushing the limits of my trusty GTX 970, manifesting as regular brief pauses at really inopportune moments during peggie takedowns.

So I turned to Ebay and found a nice new GTX 1080 8GB card. Oh boy, is this thing smooth at ultra settings? Yes. Yes it is. Smoother than Jackson’s and Alien Ant Farm’s criminals combined. Smoother even than Sade’s operator.

Unwrapping it revealed a sizeable card, fronted with two large fans compared to the 970’s three. But aside from being a few mm taller than the 970, it was pretty much the same form factor. Which was a relief because I’d seen a few questions from 1080 buyers asking if they’d fit in a micro-ITX sized case (mine’s a Cooler Master Elite 120) and it seems that some of these cards might be too big.

But the Elite 120 case is a great small form factor box, and although everything’s pretty tightly packed inside once the CPU cooler and drives are mounted and connected, it leaves the gfx card on an outside edge, so it’s not too painful to swap out.

First thing then, disconnect all cables from the box then get the outer shell off, then before doing anything else, attach an anti-static strap. If you don’t have one, make sure you get a good grip of the chassis to make sure you’re earthed.

But seriously, get a strap – they’re only a few pounds and could save you hundreds.

It’s probably sensible to look at your setup and figure out how the extraction of

your old card is going to go before you start pulling at anything.

I figured mine would lift up then the bottom end would come forward and sit on the anti-static foam from the new card’s packaging. Then I’d unplug the power connectors and job done!

And that’s pretty much how it went. Once I’d remembered to undo the locking mechanism on the back (right hand side in this image) of the PCI-E slot. Also make sure to remove the PCI-E connector cover and the Zero Frozr fan sticker!

The extra height of the 1080 made for a bit of coaxing to get it seated properly, and then the power connectors pressed up against the quick-release lever for the DVD drive, which put some unwanted pressure on the card/mobo interface.

Fortunately the lever was quick to remove and replace with regular screws.

So that’s it – a nice simple swap out and, having already had the Geforce software on the machine, as soon as Windows rebooted (initially in a low resolution mode) it got to work detecting the new card and switched back to regular HD.

I’m only running it at 1920 x 1080 so even with full ultra everything enabled in the games I’ve tried so far I’m getting a rock-solid frame rate, only about two thirds of the VRAM are used and those two fans are barely making any noise.

Best of all, no more missed headshots because of dropped fractions of seconds. Awesome.

Bring on Read Dead Redemption 2!