Sunday, December 30, 2012

Technical Difficulties

First of all I apologize for a lack of updates, I added all the new RS3067 units like 3 weeks ago and still haven't gotten the refresh on the database done yet.  Between the holidays, a car accident, and serious computer issues, my productivity is down to crap.

And speaking of computer issues.  I live on my computer far more than most and my computer is far more valuable to me (monetarily) than most of ya'lls.  My current configuration cost me almost $10K and is about 4 years old now.  It is actually the oldest computer I've owned in 20+ years, typically I buy a new one every year.  My servers are up, and it isn't like I have a dozen other computers in the house, but none are my "primary" with the 4 monitors, all my play files, a good video card, and 12GB of ram (yes, I actually use that).

So anyway, the first week of December my SCSI RAID card decided to throw errors when I rebooted.  I hadn't backed up that drive in about a week, and didn't want to lose my work.  The drives appeared fine, just the controller card that lets the OS see them.  So I scoured ebay and found a replacement, got it ordered, and received it about a week before Christmas.  I was able to get my OS running, got everything backed up, but after about 20 minutes it died again.  I figured I had another bad card (it was used) so ordered an Intel card instead of the old LSI card.  It ended up having the same issue, ugh.  So I swapped slots in my motherboard, disabled the memory on the card, and my computer can run for maybe an hour or two, then it dies again.  By dies I mean the mouse cursor even stops responding, the system locks up completely, and requires me push reset.  So I turn it on to get some files occasionally, but leave it off most of the time.  I think I've troubleshooted everything, and it just appears this motherboard doesn't like SCSI controllers anymore.... or a lot of coincidences are throwing me for a loop.  So I'm just kinda sitting on it until I figure out what to do.

Normally I'd just go buy a new computer, which is about due.  I haven't needed to upgraded as my system still runs everything fast, and processors and drives aren't getting any faster.  I ran Linux for a week to give it a thorough chance at being my new OS, but it sucks horribly, and its my professional opinion that its a poor man's OS, with no advantage at all over windows, unless your dirt poor.  Anyway, I haven't bought a new one as taxes are coming up, plus the "fiscal cliff".  Even if we don't cross over the cliff I expected to have to pay $10K or more this year (tax return, wtf is that?) even after both the wife and I have 0 deductions set... damned IRS, plus the $1000 deductible on my car.  Anyway, I want to get my taxes paid off before I go buy a new big machine, so it may be as late as May before I can get running again.  Probably a lot sooner as I'll just reinstall windows on one of the 10 SATA drives in my computer and I think it'll be ok, it'll just be slower and annoying to me :).

But anyway, just wanted to let readers know why updates have ground to a halt.  They aren't halted, just delayed for a bit.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Errata in me

So I'm big on details in game universes, one of the reasons I enjoy the BTU so much as its just soooo full of detail.  Anyway, I, like many of you, get a bit frustrated when I purchase a new product and find it filled full of errors.  I'd be ok if it was a PDF, and a new updated PDF got released every month or so with any errata that was discovered.  That is why PDFs are so great.

Anyway, to my point.  I started entering in the 3067 Unabridged stuff into my database and immediately start to see errors (FYI, I'm 27% complete now, but haven't updated the DB yet).  Not huge numbers, but not just a couple either.  I am not sure how they make them.  If they are using MegaMekLab or some other software to create them, the software is probably at fault.  If they are making them by hand, well, they are insane, and that'd be the reason for the errors.

I know CGL internally is frustrated by the lack of good software to make and print units and RS books.  I'm sure they are more frustrated than we are (and by some internal emails I saw a couple years ago, perhaps a LOT more frustrated).  I don't know what Rick Raisley's real world issues are, but they have pretty much killed any new HMP software.  Based on the way he writes them though, and the rate of new items being released from CGL, even if he does eventually get HMP 6 finished, it'll be outdated within a few months.  Heck, and that is only HMP.  What about infantry, battle armor, protomechs, space craft, support vehicles, buildings, etc, etc???  Yeah, dead end IMO.  Solaris Skunk Works is better these days in about every way, and even its pretty limited and slow going.

But all my recent work on TRO3063 really showed just how annoying it can be to create these applications.  There are just soooo many special case rules that have to be looked at.  Mechs are the hardest, as the critical slot diagram can be a real pain, but the other units aren't so bad.

I offered a couple years back to write them a HMP style replacement, for nothing, and my only request was that they can give me timely answers to issues that pop up with designs and missing information.  That is where it all died.  Since then, I've completed my database of equipment in a modular enough format that adding new stuff is a snap, and I even have data for all 5500 units or so that have been created done.  With the work on TRO3063 I've written code to calculate battle values, costs, years of introduction/extinction, and even the tech rating and 3 era availability codes. I can enter a mech, or *any* design possible in the BTU into a single line in excel (as its MUCH easier to update excel than a database), run a little script to update the database with the new unit and/or equipment, and bam, all finished.  The way I wrote the calculations is nearly identical for every unit type, with only very minor differences.  The code is all modular, and highly adaptable for an ever changing game system like Battletech.

So, wanna know why I haven't written software to do this (this being a designer for *everything* in the universe)?
#1.  (75%) No support from CGL.  Even when I posted questions on their "rule questions" forum it'd often take months to get answered, if it ever did.  No way I can write software, hit a roadblock, and wait 6 freaking months for an answer.
#2.  (15%) Nobody has asked me to.
#3.  (10%) I need to feel like what I'm spending my valuable time for is worthwhile to more than just a couple people.  If I dive into a project like this, I need a few dozen folks asking me every day "is it done yet?" to keep me on the project.  I don't like to let people down, but if nobody is counting on me I'll drift off into other projects.

Its getting hot in here!

So I built this whole encyclopedia site this last spring.  I powered on a 2nd server (huge rack mounted things, not just some PC) in the extra room in my house.  All was well, though it probably costs me $50 a month in power to run these suckers.  Anyway, once we stopped using the Air condition (its December now, and though it dropped down to 40 a couple times already, its 80 outside now in Dallas, woot!) that room got *VERY* hot.  Even 2 little servers, barely working, could easily throw that room up to 100 degrees.  Crazy.  So I had to leave the door open, and those things are kinda loud and annoying.  Anyway, a month of that and I was sick of it.

So I got my previous "primary workstation", which was a Dual Xeon 3.6 Ghz with 6GB of ram.  I upgrade the 8 SCSI hard drives to 146GB/15k/U320, and installed Windows Server 2012 and SQL Server 2012 (an upgrade from the 2008 R2 versions).

I had some various things that slowed progress in the middle of all that, but end result?

The entire site, as well as my internal network, is now running on a SINGLE sever that is far quieter, with less power consumption (even though it had 14 fans in it!), even though I had to give up a bit of memory (I wasn't using it anyway).  My storage is redundant, but if the server exploded I'd be down a day or two while I built a new one.  Also, I'll be putting these servers at my datacenter at work soon, and will move the site back over to them (and their gigabit+ internet connection) so eventually the site will be much faster.

So what does this mean for the site?  Ummm... absolutely nothing.  However I do have the new forum software also installed on it, and will be launching it soon.

Now, onto Battletech stuff!

First, my old MUL_QS application I wrote a long time ago that used the API that Skyhigh had added is now defunt with their new updates, and the application basically doesn't work anymore.  I could probably make it work with my database instead, but I think time would better be spent just making a simple website that showed you the QS cards all by themselves, easily viewable on phones and stuff.  Chime in if you disagree and I'll rethink it.

Next, a couple new products.  First was a PDF of the FedCom Civil War.  I bought it, as the version I downloaded long ago kinda sucked.  Guess what, so does the new one.  Just crap.  Total waste of money.  Ugh.

However, they also finally released TRO 3067 Unabridged!  I know lots of people were really anxious for this, there is a total of about 315 units in it.  The designs are always, well, new designs that people could make themselves. It'll take me a week or two to get them all entered into the database for ya, but they will all be there soon.

There is a new Interstellar Operations beta thing out, a force generator.  I perused it, and thought it totally sucked.  It wasn't quite a mercenary unit generator, and wasn't nearly as good as what was already in Strategic Operations.  I have no idea what it is supposed to be used for.

I still read the official forums as I still have some accounts on there, but I've ceased posting entirely.  It really seems their forums kinda suck and the topics the epitome of lame.  Even if I was never banned, the only even remotely useful forums anymore seem to be the errata ones, although they accept errata, they never say its confirmed or update the PDFs, which is amazing.

I get the feeling the BT community is just dying, more and more every day.  I love the whole universe, but the game... well, I think I'd rather play 40K or anything with counters.

Somebody mentioned that I should just do my own miniatures based rules system.  While I've thought about something like that before, it is just a lot of work and I'm pretty sure I'm already making more money than I could doing a board game system.  Computers are the future, and that is something that CGL just hasn't quite been able to grasp.  Old non-tech people probably, its common among games like this.