All Geek to Me

April 24, 2008


Filed under: Geek Stuff — britinla @ 5:18 pm

After a first season that left me largely indifferent, I have thoroughly enjoyed the second series of Torchwood. It ran in the US just a couple of weeks after airing in the UK on BBC America. The good episodes were better and more frequent than in the previous year and there was only one episode that I felt was disappointing. If you saw the first series and gave, then I recommend giving it a second chance. If you have never seen it, then I suggest starting with the second season. Now, I am hoping to hear confirmation of a third season.

April 20, 2008

Red Shirts

Filed under: Geek Stuff — britinla @ 3:01 pm

Most people, even ones with a Geek score as high as mine, would accept the perceived wisdom that wearing red shirts in the original series of Star Trek was dangerous. If someone in a red shirt beamed down to a planet with Captain Kirk, they had a high chance of dying. However, someone has carried out full research on the subject.

There is one aspect of the research which leads to a survival strategy for those red shirts; the chance of dying is less if Kirk has a relationship with a female. Given the ease with which these encounters happened, all you need to do is find a female the moment you land on the planet and introduce her to the Captain.

April 19, 2008

Why Programmers Cannot Estimate

Filed under: Geek Stuff — britinla @ 2:44 pm

Ilegirl made a comment on my recent “Advice to Programmers” post that programmers should double their estimates. This is not, as Ammonyte, suggests an example of the Scotty principle where you deliberately under promise so you can be sure that you over deliver. The underlying problem is that programmers tend to make unrealistically optimistic estimates, leading them to over promise and under deliver. Doubling their estimates will not lead them into Scotty miracle delivery territory, but give them a fighting chance of delivering on time.

Why do programmers underestimate? Here are some thoughts on that subject

Software development is complex even a simple sounding problem may be far more involved than it appears at first glance; the iceberg principle. Programmers are making their estimates based on their first glance and thus estimate based on an incomplete understanding of what they are being asked to build.

Programmers are focused on the coding and do seem to assume that their code will be prefect and once it is compiled it will work, so they do not include enough time for testing and fixing.

There are very few programming environments in which the programmer can work for a full eight hours on an assigned project. They will get interrupted by co-workers with questions, or a production issue will drag them away. There is research to suggest that if a programmer is focused on a task it takes them fifteen minutes to regain that concentration. Four fifteen minute interruptions in day will therefore take two hours away from the main task.

I have never met a programmer who likes to do routine book-keeping; getting a coder to record their hours is a thankless task. This is understandable, a programmer wants to write software and not fill in forms. However, this aversion means that when a project is over they do not really know how long it took them to complete it. Having this knowledge would aid them in estimating more accurately in future.

This article is full of generalizations; obviously there are programmers who can estimate accurately. I have one who works for me now. He is the first and only one I have met.

April 18, 2008

Rush Hour – But No One is Moving

Filed under: Geek Stuff — britinla @ 1:36 am

Google Maps has added a further enhancement to their traffic information. Some time ago Google added real time indicators showing average speeds on freeways and locations of reported crashes. Now you can get this information for a particular time and day of the week. The display uses the average of historic data; thus you can see the traffic is heavy in the Bay Area on a Friday night and that the I-80 North through Fairfield is one of the slowest portions.

What would make it more useful if it used this traffic data to dynamically recalculate the estimated journey time for a route that you have entered. Currently Google Maps shows just a regular trip duration and one for traffic, it would be more helpful if it used the information it obviously has for average speeds. The route from SF airport is shown as 59 minutes, or 1hour and 40 minutes in traffic; having a little more precision in that estimate would be helpful.

Programming Advice

Filed under: Geek Stuff — britinla @ 1:03 am

I have some advice to give to would be programmers

Just because your program compiled does not mean that it will work

Running your program once and encountering no errors is not the same as testing it thoroughly

Always code as if the guy who ends up maintaining your code will be a violent psychopath who knows where you live

Just because a command exists in your language of choice does not mean that you are required to use it.

New does not always mean better

April 17, 2008


Filed under: Geek Stuff — britinla @ 5:09 am

I can still recall the meticulous step by step approach to mathematical proofs. I think I could still demonstrate that there are an infinite number of primes. I guess that is why this cartoon was so appealing.

April 16, 2008

Bruce Willis is Dead

Filed under: Geek Stuff — britinla @ 2:20 pm

I invented a movie trivia game a couple of weeks ago. The idea of the game is that you are given a spoiler for the movie and you have to name the film. For instance, “The spoiler is it’s a sled” and the other player names the movie.

However, someone has already taken the idea and made clothing from it.

April 15, 2008

A Very Long Weekend

Filed under: Geek Stuff — britinla @ 2:09 am

Just over three years ago, I was facing a four day Easter weekend in the UK while my wife was in the US. I wanted to find something to do to keep me occupied for the break. I decided to buy a new computer game. A friend of mine had raved about the delights of online games, specifically World of War craft (Otherwise known as WoW). I figured there might be enough to keep me interested for the four days, but none of the local stores seemed to have the game in stock. So instead I purchased Everquest 2, another Massively Multiplayer Online fantasy roleplaying game. The purchase did not quite work as intended, instead of a game to keep me busy for the weekend, I had a game that has kept me amused for over three years.

What is it about the game that is so fascinating? Initially, it was the sense of wonder exploring a vast and dangerous new world as my character progressed and gained new skills. Long before I came close to losing that feeling, I discovered what makes these online games so much more fun that traditional computer games; other people. One evening, I was lost in the dark and dangerous Nektulos Forest. I needed to find my way out of the forest, but I was afraid to venture too far into its gloomy depths, for fear of what might be lurking behind the trees. It was then I came across a couple more elven characters, so I asked them for directions. They obliged and started talking to me, before inviting m to join their guild. A guild, in the context of Online games, is a set of players who join together to help each other in their progress through the game. The guild provides help and support to its members and it is this friendship and of shared challenges that differentiates playing this game from any others that I have come across.

April 9, 2008

A Short History of Computer Games – Pong to Madden

Filed under: Geek Stuff — britinla @ 2:20 pm

The second of my posts on computer games that I have enjoyed across the last twenty five years looks at sports simulations. I suppose that you could say that it was sports simulations started the home video gaming industry, with Pong as a tennis simulation.

There are essentially two types of sports simulations, those that focus on letting you play the game and those that deal with the management and coaching side. Back in my earliest days I recall a football game on my friend’s Commodore 64. It was great fun, but bore little relationship to the real game. You saw only a small amount of the pitch at anyone time, so shooting for goal was almost impossible. Walking the ball into the net was the standard method of scoring. At around the same time I keyed in a listing from a computer magazine for a World Cup management simulation. Another friend and I spent many an hour taking England to victory in the 1982 world cup.

The only other direct sports simulation that caught my attention was Sensible Soccer, which had tiny player graphics, but excellent control and allowed you a view of enough of the pitch to make passing and shooting a real possibility. I had a friend who used to treat the game as a chance to see how many of your players he could injure so severely that they would be carried off – I think he might have been happier with an Ice Hockey simulation.

It is the management thread of games that have really intrigued me across the year. I played several of the Championship Manager games and more recently Football Manager, the game that the authors of Championship Manager wrote after they changed publishers. There is something addictive about the signing of players, the selection of teams, and the sense of frustration as a dominating team performance slips away into a 1-0 defeat. In an earlier incarnation I ended up managing Aston Villa, signing a couple of players who later actually joined the club and took them to a Champion’s League win and the Premiership Title. The games seem to be getting more realistic, in very early incarnations I had my beloved Norwich City at the top of the Premiership and even took Boston United to the Double.

Sports Simulations are big business. EA publish a host of games, which they update each year with minor enhancements, and sell vast numbers. The Granddaddy of these license simulations is Madden, a game so famous that there is no need to mention which sport it simulates. The only major American sport for which EA does not have the major license is Baseball, whose officially endorsed games are produced by another studio. Increasingly these games include an element of management as well as the playing of the game.

April 7, 2008

The Nintendo Wee game

Filed under: Geek Stuff — britinla @ 2:21 pm

Nintendo’s Wii has gained a reputation for innovative game styles with its motion based game controller. There is a fine line between innovative and plain weird. This game however is firmly on the latter side of that line.  This game will not help the childish sniggers caused by the console’s naming. Thanks, I suppose, to West Karna for the link (Real thanks for the information that I could get Saturday’s season opener of Doctor Who)

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