Sunday, 18 September 2016

Resliency, Rentals and Dual Radeons

The word of the week is resilient.

Sept 12 – Strained

If it seems sometimes like I don't have anything momentous to write in my blog, it's not for lack of trying, I assure you.

For the last month, I've simply been trying to 'reset mysef' back to a state of balance. The lack of exercise( and too much sitting at work )has negatively affected my body, as you may have read in the last few blog entries, but thankfully I haven't felt anxious about the situation. In fact, I haven't been majorly anxious in over four months time, for which I'm extraordinarily grateful.

Unfortunately, this week I discovered that my time spent at home with my left leg awkwardly elevated( to alleviate the strain on the tendon )has resulted in a compensatory effect: the muscles on the opposite side of my body have been strained.

All this last weekend, I've been hard-pressed to find a comfortable position sit in, due to the strained muscles on the right side of my abdomen. It's annoying, but at least I recognize what's going on and I've been able to treat it with a combination of heating pads, ice and regular gentle movement. It has made for some difficult nights in which I've woken up often in pain, but it's fortunately not been anything I couldn't get back to sleep after an hour or so.

It's just another frustration as I try to get back to balance and get rid of these random biological distractions. I'm sure if I was 20 years younger, I have just shrugged all this off and managed to be productive, but I'm not and I haven't. The thought has not escaped me that at my MMart job of over a decade, while it had its downsides in terms ofupper-back muscle knots and wooden-leg syndrome, at least I was standing...

Sept 13 – X-ray Books?

What if you could read a book without opening the cover?

Imagine being able to scan entire library's worth of information simply by passing the books underneath a machine that can read each page individually, without needing to 'see' them one at a time, like a traditional scanner or camera would.

Such is the premise behind a device recently invented by MIT, which uses precisely-focused x-rays to read pages inside a closed book. The device's sensitivity is fine enough to distinguish between the density of ink on a page versus blank paper, and so when combined with specialized software, can 'read' what's on the page... all without having to actually flip the pages. Amazing!

Right now the technology is limited to a 'depth' of less than 20 pages, though as the research continues, that will only improve. I'm reminded of a similar technology from one of my favorite sci-fi novels by Vernor Vinge called Rainbow's End, in which an entire library is shredded inside a giant scanner lined with 1 million tiny cameras. The shredded bits of each book are reassembled by software run by a massive supercomputer, which reassembles them into individual pages and books - again, an amazing, if currently impossible, feat of technology.

Now if only they invented something that would help me read a book in minutes instead of hours...

Sept 14 – Crossfire Success!

Warning: Heavy G33k-talk below...

It works! My on-the-cheap video computer upgrade is a total success! For a mere $33.00 all-in, I've managed to almost double my computer's video processing speed, meaning that I've given new life to my system in playing the half-dozen or so games I've been currently poking around with this last year or so.

It may not look like much, but it's got it where it counts - x2!

As you can see from the picture above, there are now two 5770 video cards in my computer. I had the foresight back in 2012 to purchase a motherboard that could support dual video cards, which was only just then becoming a mainstream feature. I also made sure that my power supply could handle two cards and, as it turns out, it's more than adequate. With two cards, my system draws only around 300 watts when running full-out, and my power supply is rated to easily supply more than twice that at full load - huzzah for proper planning!

With the two video cards now in a Crossfire setup( meaning each card alternates in drawing frames of video to share the load )my system no longer has a bottleneck for the video. As the image below shows, before the upgrade, my CPU was peaking at around the 80% range while the video card was hitting 100% usage, causing severe framerate stuttering in games:

Once my on-the-cheap used AMD CPU( another mere $75 )arrives in the mail from China  in about a month or so, I should be good to keep using my current setup for at least another one or two years more.

Sure beats having to pay around $1000 to upgrade my system to current 'midrange' computer specs... I'll take the $100 used-but-still good road, thanks.

Sept 15 –  Muzo: No noise?

I keep looking for noise cancellation solutions for my apartment.

The latest one I've come across on is the $160.00 USD Muzo, which purports to be able to create a 'sound bubble' that the user can customize to their needs. You are able to select one of three modes: Serenity, Sleep or Secret, the last of which is rather interesting - I'll mention it again in a moment.

As with all active noise-cancellation technology, the Muzo contains powerful software and hardware that 'reads' the ambient noise of its environment and actively cancels that noise by emitting frequencies of the exact opposite wavelength. The Muzo makes a case for itself to do a better job by utilizing any flat surface to resonate as a speaker for those frequencies, increasing its effectiveness. Having had a 'surface speaker' myself a few years ago, I'm familiar with the technology and can attest to its functionality, though I can't say that the small $25 unit I had at the time could outperform a dedicated, traditional speaker of the same size.

All the same, the Muzo is interesting not just for its noise-cancellation abilities, but also for the 'Secret' mode it touts. When selected, it actively mutes the conversation beyond a few feet, allowing people to converse privately even in public spaces - fascinating! I'm not sure that I would have need of such a feature, but it's interesting that the technology involved can so easily be adapted to such a revolutionary function.

At the moment, spending that amount of money( however good a deal it is! )simply isn't in the cards for me, but it bodes well for the near future, as it shows noise-cancellation technology is becoming more mainstream and therefore ( hopefully )more affordable.

Sept 16 – Good News on Rentals

As Tom Petty said: The waiting is the hardest part.

In the next two or three years, hundreds more rental units are slated to come online in Victoria. The normal cycle is for new condominiums to be built, resulting in older units being converted to rentals by their owners, but that traditional model doesn't seem to taking place here in the city, thanks to the red-hot rental market, where single bedroom apartments in certain areas can go for around $1,400 or more, and that's before the possibility of bidding wars - scary.

The latest news is that a large, older hotel in a lovely touristy area of the city may be converted into over 200 rental apartments, though at this point there's no definite word on either how long that will take or what the final price per suite will be.

That's median... not what's actually FOR rent.

I've always found it interesting trying to find a balance between affordability and convenience when it comes to rentals, and what does pop to mind - strangely - are communes. Not the old farm-the-backyard with livestock in the living room model, but rather a group of like-minded people getting together to purchase a property with the intent to live there far more cheaply than they could by renting it from an investment-minded land owner or developer.

Of course, I still would prefer to pursue my small-size Tiny Home lifestyle, but it's difficult when there's no educated financial infrastructure in place at the banks... as well as a sizable deposit in my bank account which they'd obviously require.

So for now, it's just me keeping an eye on the rental marketplace, and thanking my lucky stars that I don't have to move so I can keep paying my well-under-going-rate rent.

Sept 17 – Daredevil

I couldn't resist.

This week, in par of my downtime each evening, I watched the first season of Marvel's Daredevil series on Netflix. Wow! I knew it would be good, from the recommendations of several friends, but I was impressed all over again after only the first six episodes.

What I like about the series is that it's part of the larger Marvel universe: we're given tiny glimpses of now and then every few episodes. but unlike the Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D. series, it doesn't feel forced. We're firmly grounded in Daredevil's story, and it's focused on the battle between him and the antagonist, the Kingpin in the city of New York. While the show gets a little too graphic for my taste in parts, the story is excellent and the characters are engrossingly well-acted.

The title role of Daredevil is played by Charlie Cox, who starred in StarDust about a decade ago and brings a naïve yet intense performance to his character, Matt Murdock. Right now, I can really relate to Murdock, as he takes an incredible amount of punishment yet still gets up and keeps going, driven by his convictions.

I wish I could take that kind of punishment and keep going, yet it's inspiring all the same and on some level, Daredevil has helped me through this fourth trying week of recovery from my own physical difficulties.

Sept 18 – A few more steps...

I'm almost there.

Yesterday, I spent most of the afternoon out with my girlfriend, and left my cane in the car for almost all of that time - yay! While I'm not going to be moving at a fast clip anytime soon, this is a major step( pardon the pun )forward for me.

It's not to say that my left foot still doesn't hurt, but it's more than occasional( as in, at the end of the day )ache than constant pain, at least the way I'm taking it easy so I don't have a misstep. This past week at work, I've been getting up and walking around for 5 minutes every half hour, which everyone is more than fine with as it is helping me recover faster. While the backs of my legs do feel tight at the end of the day, they're not on fire like they were a month ago and I take that as a sign that I'm doing things right, though I always feel I could be doing better... but I don't want to push things: I'll recover slowly but surely, thanks.

Most days, MWO is about this fun...

Today is also the four-year anniversary of my playing MechWarrior Online, which kinda snuck up on me. The last month, I've actually joined up with a couple of regular players in a unit, which is also a first: normally, I'll just play random games and hope I do well, but since I'm trying to improve my game, it only makes sense that I play with other people who know what they're doing, so we can coordinate our actions. The fact that my computer's more responsive now thanks to the video upgrade also helps, though I'm still hitting losing streaks about half the time and have to  just step away, rather than keep watching my ratings drop.

All the same, it's the longest stretch that I've stuck with an online game apart from the first Neverwinter Nights, which is saying something. The fact that I probably spent about $50 a year or last four years on the game also says a lot about the new model of online gaming, where regular micro-transactions add up over time to far more than how the traditional 'pay-once-play-forever' model of video games used to be. Even a monthly fee of $15 seems exorbitant when you do the math over the long-term, but thankfully MWO is a free-to-play model where you can work your way up to buying things or plunk down some cash to save some time - it's not play-to-win, and I'll never play those kinds of games: it feels like cheating, and it is.

I like to lose fairly, and I'm learning not to do so often.

I'm looking forward to this week, as I only work four days thanks to my biweekly Friday off; last week was five days of busyness that thankfully didn't tire me out too much as my work team is quite competent now and we all share the load evenly even when it gets crazy.