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The rantings of a First Year Computer Science student

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It's been a long time...

I've got my Linux properly working this time, so I'm going to try and write something worth talking about. I'm going to get a fully working SDL Pong clone up and running if it kills me, working AI and everything.

I've been a little bogged down with Uni life, but my coding's something for the summer evenings (I'm getting a job, so very likely no holiday for me this year [sad]). I might be buying a second hand iMac 2 off our CompSci department - it's supposedly about 4 years old, and it's got Tiger. Each year, a CS lab here gets upgraded, and it's rumoured the Second Year Mac lab is the next one to get gutted.

On a side note, I hate Java. We've been learning it intensely at University, but I can't stand it. You can't get away with any sort of hackery, all your old C++ tricks to dodge round certain problems just cause the Java compiler to die a horrible painful death. And the Sun JavaDoc system is an absolute nightmare - you can't find useful information on anything, and spend long periods of time failing miserably. Thirdly, we're forced to use Eclipse: absolutely horrible. It's hellishly slow to respond to anything whatsoever (why didn't they write the IDE in C++?), clumsy, overcomplicated, and cluttered. I'd like to start coding within half a minute of clicking the Eclipse icon, not half a century. I followed my tutor's advice, and I'm turning into a fan of firing up a UNIX shell and running javac.

But anyhoo, C++ is far nicer to look at also. Java just tries to dress everything up for you, but it just feels horrible. I don't like the idea of it forcing you into a rigid OO paradigm, I like the freedom to do things as I choose.

Right, time to properly design my reusable SDL framework (drag-and-drop into every SDL project, it'll save time in future).

Bye for now.




Konquer your CSS bugs!1

OK, so I've been experimenting with CSS and PHP, and so far so good.

I just managed to get my custom font class to work with IE7.

Basically, I had a set of custom tags before:

mytext.standard { //blah blah; }

mytext.standout { //blah blah; }

Except IE didn't like that. At all. My white text, with IP number highlighted in bold, using Tahoma, came out all in black Times New. Apparently it doesn't like custom CSS tags without some bizarre hacking and weird namespace definitions, which will probably break Firefox support as well (by Sod's Law/my luck, at least).

So, I came up with a brainwave. Why not use the standard HTML tag, but make a class out of it? Yay! So now it works in IE7, haven't tried 6 yet.

However, the same problem observed in IE is still observed in Konqueror. Bollocks to Konqueror. I'm hacking no further, I'll just write a PHP script telling Konqueror users to get a decent browser. Of course, if they use that crappy identity changer function and make my server think it's something else other than the K, then it's their problem if half my content won't display properly.

The reason I dislike Konqueror is two-fold: firstly, because of its blatant, almost arrogant ignorance of the standards. Secondly, it's horribly inflexible (who needs a spell checker and identity spoofer if it can't even handle online multimedia properly?), and is both clumsy and slow to use. It tries to be IE, but fails miserably - although I'm a KDE user, I surf the net using ye goode olde Firefox for Linux. I might even install GNOME so I don't have to use Konqueror at all, including file browsing.

I think Konqueror is shite, basically. I'm thinking about grabbing Opera, seeing what it's like.

Comments welcome [smile].




"Linux for Human Beings" - whatever

OK, so I've been experimenting with Ubuntu "Breezy Badger" Linux. It was pretty good, for about the 4 hours it worked out of the 4 days I've had it installed. I'm writing this from Windows.

If Ubuntu is so magi-tastic, why have I had to reinstall it 3 times in 48 hours, only for it to corrupt again overnight without any settings being changed?

The first two times, I saw the logo, and "Loading modules" and all that, except it got to "Mounting root filesystem" and told me the drive Linux was installed on didn't exist. My my, that's interesting.

I reinstalled, it happened again after booting and working beautifully for a few hours. And again.

After my latest reinstall (about 9 hours ago) - it boots, but neither KDE or GNOME work for more than 10 seconds before I'm thrown back to the login screen. X is running, I know that for a fact because all the fancy graphics appear. This time, on boot, I got a textual bootup and not the graphical one with the logo.

Oh, and in the brief period it worked and booted properly every time, I had weird issues such as applications loading forever, and eventually not starting at all.

These random corruptions are exactly that - random, I have done nothing that I know of which would cause it. And also, the sound wouldn't work at all - even following several massive tutorials on the subject, nothing bloody worked.

I've had enough. I'm going back to the Evil Redmond Empire for now (because it actually works reliably and everytime, been using it since 3.11 without any problems), I'm not touching Ubuntu again, the only reason I'm using at all is because I can't be bothered burning 5+ CDs of rubbish I'm never going to use. Seriously, the Ubuntu forums are buzzing with threads reporting similar problems, but nobody seems to care, and important questions go unanswered - all too often I've seen burning important user issue questions with 100+ views and no replies.

I'm appalled that something so blatantly poor made it through testing and got so much hype. What a bloody joke. Linux is seen to be better than Windows (especially Ubuntu, apparently), but if you can't rely on it to boot everytime you power on your system, what's the point?

Yep, "Linux for Human Beings" - "Human Beings" who enjoy having to reformat every 2 days just to make their system bootable. Be warned kiddies.

If anybody can think of a different distro which would suit my needs (relatively noobish, not too bloated, and free), then please let me know. I'm willing to give it another chance, just not Ubuntu. I'm waiting on Fedora 5 final release as well.





... here be 2006. Went to the Edinburgh Street Party last night, and then out drinking with old friends, had a great time.

But I've got other things to say.

Firstly, I managed to finally perservere and finish HL2, but as I've already said in my previous entry, I hated it. To recap, here's a list of why I think that game was totally overrated. See December 4th's entry for anything I've forgotten.

-> It was genuinely boring and repetitive to play. How many times must I use the gravity gun to drag objects around to cross a swamp? Also, how many times must I meet the same enemies over and over again, and how many times must I kill everything in sight, and spend the next 10 minutes running backwards and forwards trying to find, in vain, what I'm supposed to do next?
I didn't feel involved or enthralled, it just felt so dull and predictable, and the story was never explained.

-> I kept on getting stuck on the scenery. And I couldn't go prone to hide from gunfire, why not? Also, you find yourself having to run along ledges barely wide enough to fit one foot on. You fall off and die. Repeatedly.

-> The AI stinks. The spider things you get to control keep on blocking you in. Your human controlled squadmates also block you in, follow you so closely that you can't get through doors, and just end up dancing round in circles going "Hey it's Freeman!" and "Sorry, Freeman! [notably without getting out of your way]". Also, they stand there shouting, rattling off an endless number of machine gun rounds, and kill absolutely nothing. What's the point of them "helping" you if you have to do everything yourself? Also, I walked in front of a combine, late in the game, and he didn't start shooting me at all.

-> The same old monsters kept on appearing again and again and again. I'm sick of headcrabs and those stupid toxic things that leave you with 1 health point.

-> You seemed to lose vast amounts of health doing absolutely anything, and spend your entire time looking for the next health pack.

-> The same goes for ammo. You'd think 20 accurately placed machine gun rounds through the head would kill, right? No, it would appear not. You find yourself without enough ammo for any gun.

-> The Windows key - why wasn't it trapped so it didn't respond when you hit it? I've got a top of the range machine, but it's a laptop. So naturally the Windows key is next to the control key for crouch. If you hit the Windows key by accident, you end up back on the desktop. By the time you've got the game back up again, you're dead. Even some of the amateur stuff in the Showcase here traps that and prevents it from happening, so why not Valve?

-> In short, I feel like I've just played through a bland, overhyped tech demo. Valve made a very wise choice releasing CS:Source separately, boxed and everything. Means you don't have to buy this tripe just to get access to a mod. Which really goes to show, a community mod is better and more fun than the actual game.

Most of my complaints aren't unique - I found many of the same issues reported on reviews, and other user reviews of the game dotted around on the net. Even many Half Life fanboys, it would seem, haven't been taken in at all.

[Awaits the flames to rise]

Now I've got that out of my system, onto something else somewhat more important.

I've been mucking about with PHP, Java, and both Linux and Windows 2000 based Web services. Yep, sounds a great deal easier and more appealing than normal apps development, so I honestly feel like I'm going to pursue that route and see where it takes me.

OK, that's all, all the best for 2006 [smile]






Hello again, I've not been updating my Journal for a while now, simply because there wasn't anything interesting to put here.

But now there is, because I've been seriously playing Half Life 2.

I don't really like it.

IMHO it's just a dull, repetitive tech demo. I'm sick of the following:

-> Getting stuck on the scenery (partly fixed by the Gravity Gun, but it's still irritating)

-> Poor level design - ledges that are too narrow to walk on without being 100% accurate, and jumps that you can miss (thus killing oneself) by simply being as little as 1mm further back than the game wants you to be.

-> The clumsy controls.

-> The "LOADING" moving from one room to another - never seen that in anything over than the HL series.

-> The endless tide of near invincible monsters, causing your whole ammo to deplete just by trying to kill them. Headshots aren't always terribly effective.

-> Highway 17 (the driving mission) - don't get me started.

-> The general hellish boredom and chore of going through the game.

I got the original Half Life off Steam, and didn't like it either, but at least it was so bad it was good, and also had some comedy value - HL2 lacks anything. It's one outlandish advert for a graphics engine, as far as I can see. I'm glad to see that, in the UK at least (not sure about everywhere else), Valve have taken the sensible step of selling CS Source separate from HL2. Very wise move, I'd say.

At this point, I tend to think that the single player FPS campaigns aren't for me, unless they're mindless fragfests like the older Quake games and UT. I didn't like Quake IV much, either - I liked Quake because it was different to Doom, but that's no longer the case.

Bah. I really don't think single player FPS is for me - it's online play for me, balanced out with a healthy dose of RTS.

Another random thought which crossed my mind - the medium on which games are distributed. I remember a discussion a while ago on a different forum, where Americans were complaining about the number of discs their games were coming on. I believe UT2K4 had 6 discs, BF2 had 3, HL2 had quite a few...

I wondered, why do they do it? In the UK, basically all new AAA releases are on DVD these days, I've never seen a game with multiple CD-ROMs in the last 3-4 years at least, yet it seems elsewhere that it's a common occurence.

Anyway, not much else to report, except that I've not posted any noob programming questions lately.

Oh, and I found this quite amusing. Wonder if that'll satisfy any conspiracists?




Mathematics... rant

Well I'm angry. I'm angry at myself for my own stupidity.

Mathematics - I was a retard in school, so I need to do one module of University level maths to continue to second year CS. But the same thoughts still hit me - what is the point in Mathematics? Is it any use?

Well, I'm tempted to say both yes and no. Applied Mathematics may be useful in solving real-world problems, but just about everything else isn't. Maths doesn't exist as such - it's just a set of rules made up by people over the past few thousand years, and exists only in time and space. If it doesn't exist in the real world, I can't grasp it. So I just don't see the point - Maths seems to be a means of getting to the next level rather than something which is genuinely useful, interesting, or based in material fact.

I'd say about 75% of everything you would learn is both useless and overcomplicated. The ONLY time you'll see 100% usefulness is if you're a professional mathematician, working in a University (School teachers never teach anything as advanced as that). I mean, who really needs to be able to solve a trigonometric equation? Real-world application? Nobody and nothing are the two answers you're looking for. Trig graphs? Bollocks. Inequalities? Say what? Fourier series? Now you're pushing it.

I can handle computer science fine, there really is very little Maths involved, but having to jump through such pointless hoops to get there REALLY ticks me off. Especially when you spend hours and hours of struggle and it's always wrong. Struggle continually, hit the exam, fail, and the merry-go-round completes another revolution.

God, I pity Maths students, wasting 3-4, sometimes 5 years proving things which don't exist and that they will never use ever again after graduation. Chances are they'll be sucked into the arms of a financial juggernaut (like most of us) and spend the rest of their lives using the bare minimum in terms of what they have learnt. Pointless.

Gah. Better stop ranting, and try and get something done. And yes, the cracks are beginning to show, my state of mind has gone splat.




Boo :(

Ramsay didn't win. Despite my vote, he came in a not-so-close second.

The new Rector at the University of St Andrews is therefore Simon Pepper, OBE. Never heard of him? Neither have I. It seems he used to be the head of the Scottish WWF (not wrestling, wildlife [grin]).

I haven't been up to the Union today yet (so I don't have the exact vote count), but here's the BBC story.





Can't remember when I last wrote something here, and I can't be bothered looking it up.

So, I'm still up here in St Andrews studying CS. So far, it's pretty straightforward - take a few concepts from C++ that I already knew damn well, and apply them to Java.

I might even take one of my practical assignments, put bells on it, and upload it to the showcase just as a point of interest. It involved moving a turtle around the screen to form letters, so if I put a front-end on it to allow the user to specify where they wanted the turtle to go, it could prove to be amusing for little under 5 minutes. The turtle drew coloured lines, it was imported from the Galapagos library which I think comes with a book I've got (it was stored on a file server in the CS department when we did the practical - we just had to point Eclipse at it, and copy a couple of files). It was hard-coded for the assignment, but I can just grab my old code, hack it around to allow user input, and away you go. In go the co-ordinates, away goes the turtle. Dull, but still a program.

I was going to put a screenie here, but I still need to fiddle about with getting the library set up on my laptop. Screenie cometh soon!

Also, iTunes is a wonderful thing - being able to stream music off other people on the fly, it's genious. Pity about the 5 users a day limit though, or should that be 5 users during that instance of iTunes? That's right folks, close iTunes and it gets reset. Restart iTunes even a couple of seconds later, and others can connect normally once more. Hardly a day's worth of users, is it?

In other news, Gordon Ramsay is running for Rector here. The elections are on Friday, I'll probably vote for him because I haven't actually heard of any of the other candidates.

I get a week off next Friday, so I'm off back to Edinburgh for a bit. I'll probably spend it doing some work, but I think I need to rest up a bit.

I do wish I had something to write about here, but I don't. But I want my money's worth anyway.

See you round,





Hello again :D (56k aware)

Hello, I decided seeing as I've paid for this here Journal, I might as well update it.

I'm still learning Java, and actually rather liking it. It's so nice for a change, I haven't touched C++ in weeks. The only problem I have is Eclipse, I find it to be pretty poor given the hype it gets. I'm still holding out the hope I might be able to hack together some kind of game in it some day. By "some kind of game", I probably mean Pong, but time will tell I guess.

The thing about my CS course is this: the first semester in First Year can be basically slept through if you've done any OO programming before, or if you've done Computing as a school subject beforehand. They teach you the foundations of OO thinking, UML, and basic Java. Not at all too challenging for me. Yet.

I also tried the CoD2 demo and the F.E.A.R. SP demo, both of which run rather nicely on this here lappy of mine. I thought CoD2 was basically identical to the original, it even had an identical main menu as far as I could see. F.E.A.R. was rather good though, although a little dark (I mean literally rather than figuratively, it was hard to see things). Apparently, Quake IV isn't very good (so the rumour mill says - PC Gamer supposedly gave it 70%).

I've also managed to blag a Moderator position over at I usually get to lock a load of flamewars, old threads and edit stuff out, because there are a few too many loudmouthed, immature script kiddies over there. It's rather good fun.

In other news, I've upgraded to Vista. "Yay!", you might say? Not quite, it's just a skin for XP. Here's my desktop as it now stands (it's a 1440x900 17" widescreen, sorry about the oversized nature of the p1ct4r) - hence the 56k warning.

Apart from the ugly red blotch I put on to cover my username, that's exactly how it appears. I think it's beautiful, but I can't decide whether the full version of WindowBlinds, which would give me the proper Vista icons and more control over transparency etc., is really worth the expense.

One other thing: for those of you thinking of applying to University, watch out for Economics. I'm currently committed to the first module I'd signed up for, alongside Computer Science, but I'm going to drop the other one before I start it. Why? Simply because I find the subject to be made up of some completely abstract, bizarre concepts that completely defy both common sense and common logic. When you go out into the street to buy something, or run a business, you just don't think about that sort of thing. What a waste of time, it's boring, stressful, irrelevant and I've learnt absolutely nothing - it makes no sense. Nope, I'm going to drop Economics next semester.

TraderJack said you couldn't post a journal without piccies, so I've given you one. I don't have any other interesting ones to show you, I'm afraid.

Anyways, I'm off for now. Comments are most welcome [smile]!





Java Monkey in the making

You know something? As bloated, slow and generally not-all-that-useful people say Java is, I'm actually beginning to like it. Then again, I felt the same about C++, but we'll see how things go.

I'm still getting my head round the import keyword, and how everything seems to be inside a class, but I'm being taught this bad boy for the next 4 years, AFAIK, and I can keep learning my C++ on the side.

Also, I got an e-mail today (one of many). Apparently, St. Andrews has an Academic Alliance on MSDN. I logged in and checked it out. I can legally download, for free, the following:

Access 2003
Exchange Server 2003 Enterprise Edition
Infopath 2003
MapPoint 2004
Microsoft Project Professional 2002
Full MSDN (6.0 and .Net)
Visual Studio .Net 2003 Professional
Visual Studio .Net 2002 Pro
Windows 2000 Advanced Server SP4
Windows 2000 Server SP4
Windows 2000 Professional SP4
Windows Server 2003 Enterprise
Windows Server 2003 Standard
Windows Server 2003 Web Edition
Windows Services for UNIX 3.0
Windows XP Embedded
Windows XP Professional with SP2

[wow] [wow] [wow] What a collection!

There are a fair few strings attached (inevitably), but I really was surprised to see all this free software on offer. Most of them are downloadable ISOs - download, burn, and away you go.
For the Windows 2000, I think it's only Professional that's just a service pack on its own - the server editions are actually the full OS with service pack included.

Well, at least I think it's that simple.

Everything up here seems fine thus far, at least. Like I said in my previous entry, I might even hack together a game in Java at some point.

In other news, an old school friend of mine (who lives about 4 doors along from me in our Halls), is making a small operating system. He says he'd pay me to help him out. He generally talks rubbish, but what he's suggesting in the functionality of his system sounds rather good. If he (or we [oh]) can manage it. I think I'll help him out for the learning experience, but I need to either learn C or brush up on C++ first of all. Wish me luck [smile].

Catch you later,





Loose Ends

Friday night was great fun, but last night was a bit rubbish.

On Friday night, I got my first taste of "Turbo Diesel" - a mixture of (I think) vodka, cider, lager, and blackcurrant juice. A pint of it. Apparently the mixing involved makes it illegal, but they sell us it anyway. Tastes wonderful, has great effects real quickly. Beats that horrendous After Shock stuff any day. On top of the other rubbish I had in my system by that point, the effects were somewhat dodgy.

In other news, I've started learning Java as part of Computer Science. As well as lecture notes, I've got a copy of Java in Two Semesters, by Charatan and Kans, and An Introduction to Object-Oriented Programming with Java by C. Thomas Wu (although my copy's got a different cover to that one).

So far, it looks like quite a nice little language, although the link in Mushu's sig may say otherwise [grin]. It's not too challenging, but then again neither was C++ at the HELO WROLD!!11OEN1!1!!one stage, so we'll see how things turn out. Speaking of C++, I haven't touched the beast in ages - I'm kind of hoping that the Java will springboard me forward, somehow. But, again, we'll have to wait and see.

I might even learn enough to hack together a crappy game for the Showcase.

I had a look at the livejournal link Steve put up - dear God, what rubbish, I'm not surprised he's raging.

In other news again, the Dunhill's still running at The Old Course - I took a wander past yesterday, didn't see anybody famous that I recognised, although somebody did see Michael Douglas. If I can get down there again before it all closes, I might see something worth mentioning.

Adios, until next time,





A new beginning

First real day of lectures today (enrolment was yesterday). I have to say, from what I've seen so far, that the first year Computer Science course doesn't look particularly challenging. I'm also doing a pretty basic maths module, as well as an economics module in my first semester - they look a good bit harder. We'll see how things go.

I've hardly done any coding in ages, but I'm about to be taught Java, pretty much from start to finish. In my C++ scope of things, I'm working on a drag-and-drop selection of source files (basically an engine), reusable in any gaming project. It'll be written in SDL, and fully OO where possible (I struggled to get SDL_Mixer working within a class - it's pretty picky). I'll then release that, saving y'all some time instead of reinventing the wheel and re-writing code for every project you do.

It's going to include support for doing many things to an image based object, such as rotation, fading etc. There will also be an audio manager, so you could call something like

ukAudio GunShot; //Create GunShot instance of class

GunShot.PlaySnd(); //Plays the GunShot sound

Similar story for the graphics, you could have

ukGameObject Tank;

Tank.Rotate(0); //0 means anti-clockwise

That sort of thing. Of course, you'd have to alter bits of it yourself to make it into a game of your own, but the donkey work's going to be basically done. Magic.
Would any of you be interested in seeing/trying it if, and when, I finish it?

I'm about to pop out for the evening, even though I'm feeling pretty tired.

Point of random interest:

I've been using a scaled down version of that as my MSN display picture for a while now. People thought it was funny. Still want an iPod, even though Daleks use them?

Anyway, catch you later.





New project time (and other things)

Well, I've decided it's to be a lame two player racing sim, in SDL. I've already got a reusable framework in place, just a few function calls. I'm still struggling with calculating the frame-rate and regulating it as well, but I'm sure if I fiddle with it it'll all fit together finestyle.

I'll come up with a system of customisable tracks in some way or another, and there will hopefully be full collision detection. It also seems cool to have some kind of physics system for the collisions, as well as acceleration/deceleration, I'll have a look into it. I might even push the boat out and try to get some decent graphics for a change.

Of course, there's the obvious problem for me: not being bothered to get it anywhere near completion. Like most of my projects, it'll probably encounter one of VC++ 2005's horribly pedantic compiler errors, nail itself, and end up getting abandoned.

I'll keep you updated on any progress there is (probably none, but we'll see).

To answer evelyn's question about my avatar, that is in fact Heartbeat's Sgt. Miller, as played by John Duttine. Avatars are a very personal thing, after all, no matter how bizarre the choice!

As Uni goes, I think I'm slowly emerging from my shell. I think I've blown it as far as meeting people in my own halls goes (it's not a sociable place anyway, the others are far friendlier), but I'm meeting great people from other halls. It would be nice to have some friends for a change.

I'm shattered, so bedtime for me. Goodnight. [smile]




Took the plunge...

Well, folks, I've been here since last November.

Today I had a rush of blood to the head, and took out a year's GDNet+. It's a little hard to take in the fact that I actually have it. Journal Land has always seemed like very good fun [grin]

I chose the title "Golden Years" because I was listening to it as I started putting my journal together. And also I love that song.

Let me tell you a little about myself. I've just started Freshers' Week at the University of St Andrews, and on Monday, classes begin! I'm doing an Honours degree (BSc Hons) in Computer Science. I must get round to asking the staff if they can add St Andrews, Fife to the address database as it ain't there just now :(

I'd like to thank you all for being so supportive and tolerant of some of the truly stupid questions I've asked during my time here. I looked back over my new topic history, and some of it is so embarrassing, it makes me cringe. I've come a very long way.

Thanks guys, see you on the boards sometime!




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