Sunday, 28 September 2014

The home server. (you need one)

 
A few months ago I set up my home server. This morning, I turned it off for a few hours to clean the dust out of it and do some cable management. While it was off, Even though it was just because I was 'messing' with the hardware I realised just how much I would miss it if it were off-line for any length of time.

My server does some simple enough things for me, things that I appreciate a great dea.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

The Standing Desk.


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Fellow PC gamers and Geeks alike, I have important information for you. It is entirely possible that you, do in fact fact sit down far too much!  - I know, Shocker right?

Personally I work in an office all day, that means that I spend a lot of time sitting down while I make spreadsheets and edit documents and, in my case, stamp things. Then being a pretty dedicated computer geek I often come home and sit my bum down in a chair while I mess with Python code and play video games. Now like many of you fellow geeks I do occasionally get up and make a pot of tea (how very English I am) or decide to sit on the sofa and read or maybe watch a movie. The problem here however is that all of my hobby or entertainment activates involve sitting down. Sure get out most days, maybe go the shops, take a walk with my daughter but every day at some point I'll sit down at my desk (damn you reddit)

There are stacks of websites telling you why you shouldn't sit down all day. Most of them agree that even going the gym regularly will not counteract the damage done by extended time in a chair. One website I found even said that sitting for six hours or more a day was as detrimental to health as smoking a pack a day. I think that's an over estimation myself but it is logical to assume that sitting is not the natural posture of the human. This is when I encountered a solution - The Standing desk.

I know, all desk stand. The standing desk however is a desk that you stand at, rather than sit at. I gave the concept a week or so to roll around my head. Standing as apposed to sitting means that I would naturally move around more, and be more ready for activities when leaving my desk. It would not doubt ensure I will burn more of the often touted calories each day (how much of a difference this is, I think is  actually debatable) and most of all every research document or article that I encountered said that it helps keep a healthy metabolism.

I decided to do it, to stand at my desk from now on. I trekked to my local Ikea store in search of extra long legs for my desk. The little nugget of information I forgot was that I am actually very tall and so, they had nothing suitable. In the end I found some rather heavy duty shelving items at a hardware store (it was B&Q in case your wondering)
I got two large 'Flexi Brackets and two wall mounting 'Flexi' branded upright rails to hang them off. Luckily these brackets run about three quarters the depth of my desktop so support is great. I took the legs off my trusty Ikea desk (I have had this wood surface for a while now and its always been great) after some measuring and rather professional looking drilling I had my desk mounted to the wall (Sounds easy but my wall is not straight so I had to 'adjust' the brackets a lot, also please note that 'Flexi' Brackets are total rubbish, don't buy them if you do this)

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My desk is high enough that when I stand at it I can rest my arms on it level (as shown in image below that I found on  Google.) I did try it a little lower but I started leaning forward almost instantly (not good posture) My actual desktop is pretty sparse, two monitors, keyboard and mouse. I also have a bizarrely tiny set of draws on my desk that I keep memory sticks in oh, and a microphone on a stand so I'm not too concerned about the weight on my brackets, also being on stands the monitors put all the weight is at the back of the desk, pretty good from a stability point of view.

You will notice that I have not added any pictures of my desk to this post, well that's because its not tidy enough for /r/battlestations just yet (that was a reddit joke by the way) I have had to put an old table under my standing desk to house my PC and amp/effects panel, as well as a few more little items as I no longer had space for a shelf above my desk. As soon as i get some free cash i am going to get a large cupboard with closing doors to house all this stuff neatly. Once it looks nicer I'll post those pictures.

Well, that's how I built the desk, but what do I think of it? It's day two of standing and now I have the height just right its not at all unpleasant to use. I do find myself moving about far more at my desk. I also find myself moving away from my desk more as I'm not tied to a chair. I'm already standing so it takes no effort at all to pop over to the other side of the room or wonder off to another task. I have a hard floor under a thin carpet so the biggest challenge has been on the bottom of my feet. I think I may invest in a good quality yoga mat to stand on while I work and game (or an epic pair of super soft slippers)

So far, I still think that I made a good decision to get my rear out of a seat for far more time every day. Also, it means that I appreciate my seated time far more, instead of it just being the default posture. Gaming while standing it actually really good too, where as before I would find myself very sleepy after a few hours of gaming the standing desk forces me to stay more alert and also forces me to quit when I'm sleepy for real.

Also, if you think a standing desk is a daft idea that's fine but here are some people who thought differently:
  • Sir Winston Churchill
  • Leonardo Da Vinci
  • Ernest Hemmingway
  • and, lets not forget penguin master himself,  Linus Torvalds

Monday, 21 July 2014

The 5 Game Challenge

Last night my fellow Blogger Mr Hangman Joe and I was playing Dark Souls when we unanimously decided that Dark Souls, although soul crushingly hard and utterly unforgiving was possibly one of the best games ever produced. The discussion evolved and I set out a challenge for us both, the question was simple "What are the 5 games that people should play before they die?" Now, please notice that these are not 'the Best Games' but the 5 that we think people should play if they want any respect as a gamer.

I would think that Mr Hangman Joe and I will have VERY different lists, we haven't discussed this list at all aside from I expect that we will both select Dark Souls.

That's interesting here is that although I do label myself as a 'gamer' I'm not that serious about it, I'm a Sci-fi/Comic Book Nerd primary and my true passion is Computer 'tinkering' (while watching Start trek the Original Series, oh, god, I need to get out more)

So with the scene set allow me to Present the 5 Games that should be played before your untimely demise!  - that it, in my opinion, anyway. (I expect Hangmans list will be far better)

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1  - Dark Souls.
Dark Souls is a game I have only come to play very recently but already its had a really profound impact on me. Dark Souls is nut kickingly hard. Its the most unforgiving game I have ever played and for the first few hours I hated it. I hated it so much I wished I could un-play it. I stuck at it because I wanted to find out why my friend loved it so much
I was stuck on the first real Boss in the game. I was stuck there for an embarrassingly long amount of time. For literally hours I would take a go, die, walk back to him and take a go, then redo. But, then, I began to notice small thing, the way the boss leaned back a second before striking, the way his leg arched as he hit. I could use this information to be a second faster, to role away as needed. Then I started memorizing the patterns of attack that the regular enemy's used.

Each death became a fresh chance to make it a perfect 'run' I would get to the boss without even taking a single hit from the many enemy's on route. Then slowly I began to face the boss on even ground. I knew him better than he knew me and eventually I prevailed. I put my pad down, I looked at the screen clear of my enemy and for the first time in years I felt like I had accomplished something in a game. I had worked for my victory and it felt good. In most games where it takes one or two attempts to progress victory is hollow but entertaining. In Dark souls its a slog and a fight in a way that no game I have ever played comes close to.

The reason that Dark Souls is number one on my list isn't just because its hard but its because its smart. Its calculatingly difficult and it knows how you will respond as a gamer. The areas are interlocked in often jarring ways and progression is measured in moments of realization more than kill count or XP gained.It gives you nothing and takes everything. Its wonderful. It's also the first game that I have ever liked that I am aware is working against me at all times. Dark Souls doesn't want me to win. Not until I deserve to.

The advice I was given about the game is the advice that I would give you. "To love Dark Souls you must first play it until you don't hate it any more." I cant thank Hangman enough for forcing me to play it with his endless nagging. He was totally right. Dark souls is amazing and it should be both played and respected.

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2 - Half Life 2.
I know, I'm nothing if not predicable. Half life two is now a pretty old game. Its been considered the best first person shooter of all time since the day it came out. The lust for its sequel is at this point legendary. I have put HL2 at second place, I'm also including episodes one and two in this pick. It's really one game and should be treated as such.

If you like FPS games you owe it to yourself to play the game that sets the bar for them. Half Life two balances story, characters game-play, setting, excitement and events in a way that still to this day  no other game even comes close to. Its a true work of perfection in almost every way. I would even go as far as saying that its the first game to take a character and turn her into a real dynamic and believable person. I'm talking of course about Alex Vance, My first Video Game Crush.

Every time you start to get accustomed to something in the game, it changes. Every time you think you know what you have to do or where you have to go, it changes. HL2 never slows down and there is not a single boring moment.

The game starts as dystopian science fiction, transitions into survival horror (the genuinely scary kind) then squad based shooter before finishing up as hi-science physics based shooting extravaganza.
You are not qualified to say that a first person shooter is 'good' or not until you have finished HL2. This game shows you the meaning of the word and only when you have finished it do you actually have a frame of reference.

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3 - Portal 2
Yes. Another Valve game. Up until I actually sat down to write this pot I was planning on putting the first Portal game at spot number 3. Then I actually sat and thought about it and I think the second one is actually a more important game.

The first Portal game blew my mind. I was playing a game that worked like a First Person Shooter but Acted like a puzzle game. It made my brain actually hurt at times and I loved every second of it.

The second game however has everything the first game does. If you have never played either then I think that the feeling I had playing the first one will hit you just as hard with this title. With the added bonus of some astonishingly great voice acting  and some characters that really make it memorable. It's also great because there's more to it that 'just' portals. Portal two will challenge your mind, entertain you and leave you wishing all games were as charming.

Portal is long, visually diverse and trains you to play in a way that makes you just a little smarter. It got this spot on my list because its shows that the FPS genre doesn't need to be all about the 'S' when the 'F' and 'P' are just as important.

In many ways Valve brought to portal all the things that made Half Life 2 great and that deserves nothing but praise.

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4 - Counter Strike
Another Valve game... I didn't realize just how much they had impacted me as a gamer until now. The reason Counter Strike is on this list is partly because of its history (starting as a Half Life Mod and then spinning out into its own title) and partly because its a pure FPS game, that is to say, If you can play Counter Strike well then you can play anything.

Counter Strike is a pure Player vs Player Experience. There's no mechanics to confuse the matter. You see someone and you shoot them while trying not to get shot. These skills will take you far in any shooter be it COD or Unreal. Once you can use a mouse and keyboard to shoot things everything else is fluff.

Also, personally, I think CS:GO (Global Offensive) is the best Competitive shooter around at the moment, for all the reasons I listed above.

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5- World Of Warcraft
The hardest thing about this list has been limiting it to 5 games. In last place it was almost surely going to be DOTA or LoL but in the end I realized that the experience of playing an MMO was something that as a gamer I enjoyed greatly and played far more than any other genre so far. My poison of choice was the first Guild Wars game and then some Lord of the Rings online but WoW is great. It never stuck with me personally but WoW is a rock solid world filled with random encounters and things to do. Every gamer should play an MMO at some point and why not play the one that has the largest world and the most players.
MMO's can be all encompassing experiences. Some people even say they are addictive but still, gamer's should try at least one MMO. The act of wondering about a virtual world while other people run past going about their business,  killing things, fighting and chatting its something that really should be enjoyed at least for a while by everyone.
Finally - MOBA's and classics.

My list of games is selected and I think i chose well but that doesn't mean there shouldn't be some Honourable mentions.

Everyone should spend some time with a good MOBA, like DOTA or LoL. Its a growing e-sport's scene and there are some great experiances to be hand both playing and watching.

Classics - Just because a game is old it doesn't mean its bad. Monkey island, Dune 2, Xcom (the original 2,) Frontier Elite 2, Doom, Quake, Duke Nukem 2D and Commander Keen are just some things that string to mind when i think about the classics that inspired generations of gamers and developers.

I kept my list mostly contemporary because I think the classics should be enjoyed as that, little slices of history as many of them simply wont stand up from a graphical or control point of view.

I hope you enjoyed my list.


Friday, 6 June 2014

Chromecast: Streaming media that thinks its better than you?

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I had a little more cash than I expected rolling around my bank this month and like any good geek I decided to spend it on some new technology (a toy.) I had been thinking about picking up a Google Chromecast for some time now and this struck me as a great time to give in to temptation and just order it.