Month: November 2015

PlayStation Plus November 2015 Free Games – I love this month!

I know we’re already quite a way into November, but I only got around to checking out the PlayStation Plus offerings this weekend. I was pretty impressed.

In the free games section for Plus subscribers this month, we can pick up The Walking Dead season 2, Magicka 2 and Dragon Fin Soup.

Now, some may not be too enthused by this, but me? These games are all totally up my alley. I’ve yet to finish The Walking Dead season 1, but that is a game that is firmly on my ‘to play’ list, so I’m very pleased.

As for Magicka – the humour in this game feels like it was put there with me in mind. Just check out the trailer here. I may have watched it quite a few times, as it makes me giggle.

Dragon Fin Soup is one that I know little about – but from the trailer alone, the words ‘Tactical RPG’ stuck out, making me very excited at the prospect of playing this game.

I feel like this months Plus was aimed at me personally, which is great. I’ve only had a brief foray into Magicka 2 so far, and I’m finding it thoroughly enjoyable and hilarious. Keep your eyes peeled – I’ll be having something to say about all these games in the next few weeks.

Inspirational Quotes from Fiction

I love me some good inspirational quotes. Instead of going for the mainstream ones from random famous and occasionally awesome people, I thought I’d share my favourite ones from the various books I read that have stuck with me over the years. I’ll do my best to attribute the right quote to the right book. Corrections welcome!

  • “Until you learn to laugh at yourself, your life will always be a tragedy”. – Polgara the Sorceress, David Eddings.
  • “I don’t care about whose DNA has recombined with whose. When everything goes to hell, the people who stand by you without flinching – they are your family.” – Proven Guilty, Jim Butcher
  • “We are always more afraid than we wish to be, but we can always be braver than we expect.” – Lord of Chaos, Robert Jordan
  • “You can’t go around building a better world for people. Only people can build a better world for people. Otherwise it’s just a cage.” – Witches Abroad, Terry Pratchett
  • “Just when you’ve squared up to the solemn realisation that life is a bitch, it turns around and does something nice, just to confuse you.” – The Better Mousetrap, Tom Holt

The author of my problems

I am the author of my own problems, simply by being bothered enough by something for it to become a problem for me.

This in itself is not actually a problem. Here’s the twisty bit – without a problem to get my teeth into, I am prone to getting depressed. And when I get depressed, I behave in a way that actually causes more substantial problems and situations for myself. I effectively shoot myself in the foot on a regular basis.

How stupid is that? If I don’t have a problem to solve, I go right ahead and create one. The logic is kind of flawless. Prior experience tells me the execution leaves a lot to be desired. It’s not a deliberate thing by any means, but it has been a constant thing in my life – and one that I need to acknowledge so that I can stop doing it already. Or at least find a more constructive way to deal with it.

Almost every time I reach a point in life where I can look around and think to myself ‘Everything is awesome right now’, I start looking around with the mindset of ‘what do I do next?’. And if I can’t find anything, I start prodding all the details in my life, hoping to see something fall out that I can fix. My own contentment is rooted in having a goal to achieve, or a problem to solve.

Which brings me to the point of this post, I guess. At the moment, I have no complaints in life beyond not being able to afford my own home until I’m about 40. The long term goal is there. The short term one is lacking. While I feel completely fine in myself right now, I know all too well where this leads if I’m not careful.

So, I’m making a conscious effort to take control of my self destructive tendency to create a problem for myself by looking for more goals in life. So far on my list of new goals is teaching myself to paint. Experience tells me that I’d better come up with some goals that are a bit more substantial at some point in the near future, before my life gets interesting again.

Bad advice?

I came across an article (3 Key Steps to Building a Powerful Personal Brand)* on the other day, which had some – what I think is – rather dubious advice. It made me actually cringe to read it. Here’s the excerpt:

Being self-aware helps a lot here. If you think you might have blind spots, do this:

Write down a list of a list of 10 adjectives that describe you.
Now go have lunch with the five people who know you best.
Ask them to make the same list about you.
Compare the lists and look for common descriptors.

And later …

For further insight, try the same exercise with colleagues and acquaintances that barely know you.

Really? Grab 5 people, and take up their most valuable resource – their time – to write or talk all about *you*?!? That’s kind of self indulgent, really. In addition, depending on the honesty of the people involved, and resulting list would very likely contain the following descriptors: Self obsessed, needy, narcissistic. Maybe I’m reading it wrong. I don’t feel the rest of the advice in the article is bad. But that part about getting people to write a list like that just sets my teeth on edge.

Has anyone actually managed to do this kind of thing seriously? Or been asked to do this kind of thing?

Maybe I’m just taking it for granted that I have people in my life who will often flat out tell me their unvarnished opinion, even if they know I probably won’t like to hear it. I don’t see the need to do the above – which possibly means I actually need to the do the above exercise because I am suffering a self awareness fail. Who knows?

* Guilty pleasure – I occasionally indulge in reading click bait articles along the lines of ’10 things you must do now!!!’. Some of these articles are common sense, whilst many are so off the wall that they make me snigger. The latter are the more entertaining for me, as I enjoy the smug feeling I get from being able to tell my computer screen (and the internet at large) that it is wrong.

Automatic Real Time Systems are Scary.

This is a long post. Bear with me.

We live in an increasingly automated world. And this makes me nervous.

Computers are stupid. They will only do what we tell them to. Which leads to the obvious conclusion that any given computer program is only as good as the person or people who wrote it.

I could focus on any system with this blog post. I’ll talk about the Google Self Driving Car project. It’s one I’ve been watching fairly closely, as I put more thought into how automated our world is becoming.

On the surface of it, the self driving car is something of a success story. The last monthly report shows that over the course of 1,268,108 miles in autonomous mode, no accidents were reported. Which is pretty awesome. It’s only getting better all the time, as the geniuses at Google get on the case.

I get nervous at the thought of giving up control to a system that was programmed by people. I know that in large part is down to my own arrogance – part of me is obviously of the mindset that I am better at driving a car than a piece of software programmed by a fellow human being.

Here’s where my non-arrogant issues with this come in to the equation. Let’s consider the human element in a real-time system. Things happen in real-time. Things that a piece of software may not know how to deal with – only because it’s bloody difficult to anticipate edge case scenarios, and tell the software it may happen – which requires the person or people doing the coding to anticipate this. The likelihood of such events – i.e. a meteor landing in the road, etc – is very small. But the probability is still there.

The reaction speed of a human is slower than that of a machine in a given situation, which could render this whole issue moot. But a human still beats out a machine when it comes to the ability to react. If I was a passenger in a car when the hypothetical meteor crashes into the road in front of me, I’d be hoping that the person driving the car was in full control. Not the computer of the car.

My next issue is the removal of personal and human responsibility in a machine that has often proven capable of killing in worst case scenarios. These scenarios are often down to human stupidity. The solution to this would be to make all cars self-drive. But this then also leads to what Google call in their report the ‘Hands off problem‘. You still have the issue whereby a human ability to react to the unexpected will be necessary in select cases. The ‘Hands off’ problem, and the google report, estimate that it takes between 5 and 8 seconds for a human to regain control. In real-time, this is an absolute age. Even a full second would be too long in many cases of an unexpected event.

Next, let’s talk the bug to code ratio. I only have some books and blog posts published a few years ago to go on here (after a brief google search). Dan Mayer published an interesting blog post back in 2012 which discussed bug to code ratios. It’s worth a read. In it, he quotes a book called Code Complete by Steve McConnell, which states the following:

Industry Average: “about 15 – 50 errors per 1000 lines of delivered code.”

That’s quite a scary number. Now, an error could be something fairly minor. It could be a spelling mistake in the user interface, for instance. It could also be something more serious. Here’s the thing – I suspect that this number may only have gotten larger, even in the face of better coding standards. As we work to improve an older system, for example, the system gets larger, more complex, and more interconnected with its component parts to satisfy an ever-growing demanding market that wants better features.

I’m sure that Google have very stringent code quality processes and guidelines, and as such their code to bug ratio is incredibly low. But I doubt that they can guarantee 100% clean code, without a single error. If any part of their code base meets the above quoted industry average, then I actually find that pretty frightening. And that is feasible, given that in any software development, you will have different people/teams working on different modules. In addition, how much can any published test metrics be trusted when it’s public knowledge that said test metrics can very easily be faked? All it takes is one person to either get it wrong or to abandon scruples to meet a deadline. I’m sure that the people working at Google are all fine and upstanding. Will every person who gets their hands on this kind of software be the same?

Here’s the even bigger issue. People can be clever arseholes, to put in bluntly. Cars relying too much on software have already been hacked. So even if we go with the assumption that everyone working on the software is an awesome and outstanding citizen, that’s not to say that everyone in the world is.

That aside, my conclusion is that automated systems can only work when we all give up all personal responsibility over to the system. Where does this stop? As an adult, I take pride in being responsible for my own welfare. The idea of handing any part of that responsibility over to a system – and therefore, to the people who are in control of that system – sends chills down my spine.

Don’t get me wrong – the technology is cool. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been following the news on it closely. But the ramifications of something like this being adopted worldwide is something that I feel probably hasn’t been thought about fully. Bug ratios, inability to anticipate the random, or malicious intervention aside, just who do you think should be in control of your car? You? Google? Or any governing body that takes over the software at some point in the distant future?

5 Things that add up to an awesome day

Sometimes, it’s the little things. Here are 5 that make a day awesome in my book:

  1. I get to play computer games
  2. I get to read a book
  3. I get to drink as much coffee as I want
  4. I have all the food in that I need to not have to venture outside (the graphics suck out there)
  5. I get to have a nap

It is very possible that I am easily pleased.