Ramble

Thanksgiving week meant all my time went to family things: cooking and cleaning mostly, but a lot else besides.

I took the week (actually more like ten days) off from pretty much everything else. I was already behind with my self-imposed schedule of posting here at least once a week, so that took another hit, and I deliberately avoided social media – as a result, I have pretty much no idea of what’s been going on in the news. The only thing I’ve used any computer for in the last few days has been playing games (The Talos Principle and Sir, You Are Being Hunted) and watching Netflix (I watched Cloud Atlas and Rogue One yesterday – the first pause all week where I was able to sit down and relax properly for a few hours).

Starting today, I’m getting wound back into the world. I took a few minutes earlier to send an email to my editor-in-chief to ask if there’s any news about the status of copy-editing on The Artemis Device, and whether she’s accepting Phantasms & Magicks for publication, and also to update a couple of pages on this site. I caught up a little bit with Twitter (and learned that Rance Howard died yesterday) and Mastodon (which I just started using a couple of weeks ago).

On the actual writing front, I’m planning on splitting the rest of today between doing some timeline work on the Untitled SF Project, and also writing a few notes for another project idea that I had a few days ago (it started as a short story idea, but as I thought about it it became bigger to the point where I think it’s likely to end up being a full-length novel).

On that note, I need to wrap this up; I have a couple of errands to run (the first time I’ll have left the house in three days) and then I want to get on that writing work.

Until next time…

Day Job Woes Again

Sort-of continuing from last week…

I was right about Monday hitting the reset button on the technical problems my team has been working hard to put right. Again, I don’t want to go into detail. In short, it’s taken another week of ten-hour days, plus half of Saturday, to get to a point where it looks like all the fixes are in and working. We won’t know for sure until tomorrow (Tuesday) when the whole thing gets an end-to-end test, which might reveal that we still have a little bit more to do. But I really think the worst is behind us.

Now, since today is Columbus Day, I get a three day weekend (actually a two-and-a-half day weekend, thanks to Saturday morning). And that means I’ve actually had some time to work on the timelines for the SF series (I really must think of a working title).

Well, ok, I have to be honest: I have spent some time playing Astroneer. And I’ve been catching up with the huge pile of laundry in the basement.

But I’ve also been making some progress with the timeline of the first story in the series, so that’s good, right? I took a break to write this, and I need to update the WiP pages while I’m at it, then I’m getting back to work.

I might just mention that today we had the first snow of the season here in our part of the world. It’s still falling; the forecast says we could have six or eight inches built up by the end of the day.

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On that note, time to update those WiP pages real quick, then it’s back to the timelines.

Until next time…

Day Job Woes

Before I begin, a word from our sponsors: my Steampunk adventure Mr. Gunn & Dr. Bohemia is just $1.99 for Kindle right now.

Promo spot over; back to the plot.

My regular readers (Sid and Doris Bonkers of Epping Forest) will have noticed that I’ve kind of broken my own rules for the last couple of weeks. I’d been making a point of posting here at least twice a week, and things had actually been going pretty well.

And then came the day job problems.

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Thanks to a problem that came up, the other developers and I have been in all-hands-to-the-pumps mode, making urgent updates to a bunch of web applications. I’m not going into more detail than that; it’s not that important or interesting.

As a side-effect, my regular work has had to take a back seat—but it still has to be done, so that’s meant I’ve had to work an extra couple of hours every day during the week. This morning (Saturday) I worked five hours to catch up some more. Right now I’m at a point where I can actually catch a breath, although I know Monday is going to hit the reset button and it’ll be back to panic mode.

The point being that my other work—writing, and other things I like to do—got pushed right off the cliff.

So: no blog posts the last couple of weeks. No work at all done on the timelining I’ve been working on for the SF book series. Basically I’ve been too tired to focus on anything that requires use of the brain.

Instead, what time I’ve had has been spent watching TV (Doc Martin, Dark Matter season 3); playing games (I just bought Dishonored and it’s a blast—one of the best I’ve played in a while); and reading (I’m partway into A Voyage to Arcturus, and I don’t want to hear any snide comments about it).

One other thing: I think I mentioned that I’d been watching a gentle British comedy called Detectorists on Netflix. It stars Mackenzie Crook and Toby Jones as couple of ordinary guys who also happen to be (surprise!) detectorists—that is, they spend their spare hours out and about with metal detectors, finding bottle caps and ring pulls. And occasionally, cash, and parts of WWII German bombers. And sometimes, gold. Watching the show reminded me as a teenager I’d wanted a metal detector to mess with.

So I’ve bought one. Nothing fancy or expensive, but perfectly fine for the hobbyist. I haven’t had a chance yet to get out with it—it’s actually been raining almost every day for the last couple of weeks here in Colorado, and in any case I really need to get a cheap pair of headphones and a small shovel before I go detecting. But I’m looking forward to getting some exercise and fresh air, and you never know, maybe finding the odd trinket I can sell on eBay. Depending on the weather, I might get out with it for a bit tomorrow.

Now, as for the rest of today, I have a free afternoon, so I’m about to grab a coffee and get back to those timelines. I have something like five hundred scenes to timeline and so far I’ve done nineteen. There’s a long way to go. Time to get busy.

Until next time…

Dear Diary . . .

MY regular readers (Sid and Doris Bonkers of Epping) might have noticed that every now and then I post something here that’s more like a rambling journal entry than an article about something specific.

This is one of those. Day job and household chores took over things for the last couple of days; I did find time to get a few things done, though, and now I feel like rambling a bit. Let the rambling begin . . .

On books and writing:

As I mentioned in the last post, I uploaded a correctly-formatted version of Finish Your Book, and now that should be what gets downloaded by readers. I tested it and it looks the way I intended the first time round.

I also re-published Pavonis, which was the first full-length story I ever published. It was originally self-published in 2012, but I took it down after Mr. Gunn & Dr. Bohemia was published professionally, the reason being that after going through the whole pro publishing process with G&B, I realised that my self-editing left a lot to be desired and I was no longer happy to have a flawed work out there. So I had sort-of planned to rework much of Pavonis with the help of a professional editor (and cover artist—the cover pretty much stinks), and come up with a better title (because Pavonis doesn’t tell you anything about what the book’s about). But after much consideration, I decided I’d rather focus on new works than try to fix old ones. And anyway, quite a few people liked the book despite its shortcomings. In the end I decided to just put it back out there. I might at some point upload a new version that fixes the known spelling errors and some formatting problems (a few passages display underlines and italics that weren’t in my source text), and I’m considering paying an artist to come up with better cover art. Maybe.

Meanwhile on the writing front, I’m building up the story line for the currently-untitled SF book I’ve been thinking about for the last couple of months. I’ll probably be getting back on that this afternoon.

Also, I did some tweaking of the web site to rearrange a few things and update a couple of pages. I think it’s looking pretty good.

On TV:

We’re saving Game of Thrones on DVR, with the intention of binge-watching when we have four or five episodes recorded. Reason: last year we watched the first episode of season six the night it showed—and at the end we were like a couple of addicts, craving more and cursing HBO for forcing us to wait a whole week for our next fix. So, not this time.

Meanwhile I’ve been re-watching season two of Dark Matter, and when I reach the end of that I’m planning on watching the available episodes of season three on on-demand.

On games:

I was given a new video card—a GTX950 to replace my older GTX560. I installed it yesterday afternoon, but wasn’t able to do anything with until the evening. I played some Serious Sam – The First Encounter and it did seem to be smoother. I’ll try it with something a bit more demanding on the video later; maybe No Man’s Sky. (I noticed NMS has had several patches since I played it last; if they fixed some of  the shortcomings that bugged me most, I might start playing it a bit more often.)

That’s enough for now. I need coffee and maybe I’ll watch a little TV before I get back to that SF story I mentioned.

Until next time . . .

@NoMansSky Is Not The Game I Paid For

THE last few months have been hell. Quite apart from the personal loss (see earlier posts), I’ve been working on a web site project that for reasons I won’t go into, has a lot of work to do in a short deadline, and that’s meant long days and weekends. Everything else has gone to the wall; I’m supposed to be editing Artemis, but after working for eleven hours without a break I couldn’t brain any more. I haven’t had time to write a blog post in months. I haven’t even had the oomph to tweet.

Things changed a couple of weeks ago. August 11 was deadline day. The project still wasn’t 100% (but thanks to RESTeasy and AngularJS, it was close—without those, it would have been way further behind), but enough of the cogs were in place so that preliminary testing could start.

Then came August 12, and with it the release of No Man’s Sky on Steam. So, while I was still busy getting the last bits of the web application working, I was looking forward to being able to relax with a game I’d been waiting for since I’d pre-paid for it in May.

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The trailers had been awesome. Dinosaur-like alien animals wandering along a lake shore. Rhinoceros things chasing prey through a forest. Space battles. Eighteen quintillion planets, each unique. And at last, I could play it.

So I installed it and started playing. No tutorials other than that it starts you off with a busted starship, so you have to figure out how to mine materials to make the repairs. Once I got my ship off the ground I was able to start exploring, and it was fun.

For a while.

Then I realised that it wasn’t as much fun as the trailers and the hype had led me to believe it was going to be. Is each planet unique? Maybe, if you take small variations into account. But I found that a lot of the desert planets are pretty much the same as each other. And the hot planets are pretty much the same as each other. And the cold planets are pretty much the same as each other.

And where were these huge dinosauroids? I haven’t found anything bigger than a large dog.

As far as variation across any given planet goes, forget it—explore the few hundred metres around your landing spot and you’ve explored the world, because if you take off and land somewhere else, it all looks the bloody same. No world I found had polar regions and tropics and deserts and mountain ranges and oceans, or even two of any of those. Basically, pick one of the above, and imagine a whole world made of it, and that’s a planet in NMS. So much for spending a few hours exploring to see what a planet has to offer.

I carried on, mining stuff to keep my ship and exosuit charged, and finding new tech “recipes” to improve the ship’s weapons and such.

Warp into a system, land on a planet, mine stuff. Hit the other three or four planets in that system, do the same. Gather materials to make a warp cell, charge the warp drive, warp to the next system. Rinse and repeat. It gets old pretty quick. I began to wonder if there was anything more to it. There doesn’t seem to be.

Even after five or six dozen planets in a couple of dozen systems, I still haven’t found a planet like the ones in the trailer. No big lizards. Quite a few planets are devoid of animal life; some are just dead rocks.

And about those worlds and systems . . .

Eighteen quintillion planets. That is a HUGE number. If every person on Earth was playing NMS, there would be something like two or three billion planets for every single player.

But there aren’t that many people playing. From what I’ve read, the number of players is somewhere around the one million ballpark. But let’s be generous and say they have ten million. That’s still (punches numbers into calculator) something like two trillion planets each.

Yet after fewer than a dozen warps, I hit a system that someone else had discovered a couple of days before. By all accounts on the Steam discussion boards, this is a common occurrence.

THAT SHOULDN’T BE POSSIBLE. Not so often that people are reporting it daily. Not with that many planets. There are basically two possibilities here:

  1. The game is starting all the players in a microscopically tiny region of the potential universe; or . . .
  2. Hello Games and Sean Murray are lying about the number of planets. After all, if they used 32-bit numbers instead of 64-bit, there would be about four billion possible planets. That’s still a bloody big number—so big that I doubt there’d be any way to tell the difference by just looking at the galaxy map. But with “only” four billion planets the chances of running into a system that someone else already encountered are much higher. High enough that it could conceivably happen daily, I think.

So all in all I have to say that No Man’s Sky is a BIG disappointment. And at sixty bucks (which makes it the priciest game I have ever bought) that stings. I feel ripped off.

I’m pretty sure Hello Games, with only fifteen developers on staff, weren’t able to deliver the game with all the content they intended and promised—but instead of saying so, they left the $60 tag on a game that is maybe worth $20. Hell, maybe less—I’ve bought better games for ten bucks.

See, here’s the difference between Hello Games and me: I know I’m not going to hit the deadline for preliminary testing, and I tell the analysts what’s going to be missing, and they tell the customer. So when the deadline comes the customer isn’t all bent out of shape about the missing bits. And in the meantime I’m still working on those bits, and if I can get some or all of them working before preliminary testing becomes Final Qualification Testing, that makes them all happy and shit. HG didn’t do that. They led the customers to believe that the game would look like the trailers, right up to release day, and then everyone’s upset and Hello Games goes all quiet. Not professional, guys.

I’ll continue to check it on Steam every so often, and any time there’s a patch or upgrade I’ll play for a bit to see if any of that promised content shows up. But I’m not holding my breath.

Meanwhile, I’m going to get on my gaming system and play some. But not No Man’s Sky. I think I’ll play Sir, You Are Being Hunted—a game that delivered what it said it was going to.

[Update: I thought about it, and it struck me that HG could have come clean before release day, but they didn’t. They could have dropped the price, but they didn’t. They could have apologised, but they haven’t. They haven’t done a damn thing to make up for what they’ve done. Fuck them; they’re not getting a free ride on my dime if I can help it. If it’s not too late, I’m hitting up Steam for a refund.]

[Another update: Steam doesn’t refund money on games played for more than two hours, a limit you’d exceed pretty easily in NMS. I think it was closer to twenty hours before I even began to suspect that the game wasn’t going to be up to expectations. Oh, well.]

I Don’t Always Write Blog Posts . . .

. . . BUT when I do, I try to make them interesting, and mention at least a little about what’s been going on since the last post. However, I’ve noticed that recently—according to my WordPress stats—I’ve gained more than a handful of new followers. If you’re one of the new followers then Welcome, gentle reader. For the new readers I’m going to put a little more background than usual into this post. And don’t forget to explore the other pages through the link tabs at the top. In particular, take a look at the Social page and consider following me on Twitter, too.

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The Day Job

BY profession I’m a Java web application developer. A few months ago the company I work for had a little bit of an unintentional downsizing, by which I mean that several of our other developers, by coincidence, all gave notice at about the same time—and as a result of that, my workload more than doubled as those other guys’ project work was dumped in my lap. So for several weeks I was working late nights and weekends, catching up with all the outstanding bug fixes.

Several weeks on, just about all of those bugs have been fixed, and so I’m back to regular maintenance on all those various applications. Which means I’m back to normal hours without the late nights and weekends. I’m even getting time in some of my lunch breaks to manage a little bit of writing.

Now that all the urgent work is done, I’ve also been spending some time evaluating some new software—web application frameworks, to be specific—to see what the next generation of our software should be using. For what it’s worth, we evaluated JSF (JavaServer Faces) and found it wanting; next up, I’m writing a small application using Apache Wicket to see how that goes, and so far it looks promising—at least, it gets away from JSPs (JavaServer Pages), which can only be a good thing.

Moving House

WE bought a new house, and we’ve been moving a few things in and getting the place ready to take the bigger furniture. Right now there’s not much we can do until some of the flooring has been replaced—but that’s just a few days away, now, and then we can get ourselves properly into the new place. And I can’t wait.

What I’m Writing

NOT that I should need to say, because it’s plastered all over this site, but I wrote Mr. Gunn & Dr. Bohemia, a steampunk action adventure story that was published last year. Now I’m working on a sequel, which—with a little luck—should have a first draft complete by the end of August (at least, that’s the target I’ve set myself). The timeline, which is a scene-by-scene version of the story from beginning to end, is complete; that gives me a plan to work to. The first few scenes have been written, but progress has been slow. The good news is, the pace is picking up and I expect to get back to full momentum on that within a week or two, especially when the house move is behind us.

What I’m Reading

RIGHT now I’m reading Kingdom City by Ben Ireland. I’m only a couple of chapters in, so far.

What I’m Smoking

IF you’ve read back a few posts, you’ll have seen the post about how I’ve been switching from cigarettes to e-cigarettes. On that, just a quick update: it’s going very well. Thanks to the e-cig as a way to stave off the craving I was down to about three “real” cigs a day. Then came another milestone: I haven’t smoked even one “real” cigarette in the last three days. Very pleased with that.

Sir, You Are Being Hunted

LAST word: I play some computer games as relaxation. I used to play World of Warcraft a lot (although I haven’t played in months now), and I’m also a big fan of the Half-Life games and their close cousins, the Portal series. Recently I found out about a game called Sir, You Are Being Hunted, which is variously described as steampunk and tweedpunk (is that a new word?). It’s a survival-stealth game, which under normal circumstances would have put me off because I’m not a fan of that genre (I tried playing Thief once, and detested it), but I’m finding Sir to be more than a little bit addictive. I mean, killer robots wearing country tweeds and smoking pipes. What’s not to like?

Until next time . . .

Bad, Bad Week

I just got through one of the heaviest work weeks I can remember in quite some time. One of our developers is leaving, so his projects are being transitioned over to other people, and I’m one of the lucky ones. But as it turned out, this guy’s work is, to put it mildly, appallingly bad. Having worked on this project for more than six months, the thing still wasn’t working—and it was supposed to have been rolled out to production the week before last.

So I was drafted in to try to get it into shape. And after four very tough days, including late night finishes, we’re almost there. One last bug to be nailed (which will probably be dealt with Monday morning) and it can go for final testing.

All of which has meant that there’s been no time for anything else. Work on GB2 has got no further than it was this time last week. The Voyage of Valerie McGrath (the short story that’s going into Xchyler Publishing’s Around The World In 80 Days anthology) is still to be edited (but I’ve had no word from my editor on that, so there’s little I could have done anyway). I’ve had no time even to relax with a bit of gaming.

Today, then, is going to be all about relaxation. I want to spend an hour working on the GB2 timeline (I have some ideas to get that ending sorted out), and I think I could do worse than have a read through McGrath to spot any mistakes I missed earlier. And I do want to have a little game time. (World of Warcraft? Diablo III? Not sure yet.)

And so, it’s time to get moving on that. Tea, then get on with it. Until next time, gentle reader . . .