Digital Logic

Happy New Year!

by on Jan.03, 2012, under Computer Science, Games, Leisure, MMOs, Personal, Technology

Well, the holidays are officially over and I have no excuse to avoid writing here. This term I’m taking three courses at the University of Waterloo, two of them being distance education and one of them requiring me to make the trip to campus. The three courses that I’ve enrolled in this term are:

  • ENGL 109: Introduction to Academic Writing (Online)
  • PHIL 215: Professional and Business Ethics (Online)
  • CS 447: Software Testing, Quality Assurance and Maintenance

It may seem like an odd course selection for a 4B Computer Science student, but I haven’t taken an English course in a long time and it’s never a bad time to improve one’s communication skills. I’m really hoping that the philosophy course will tie in nicely with the software engineering content that I’ve been learning over the past few terms. From what I understand, the typical software engineer is responsible for not only designing software, but designing good software (as in, software that makes sense from a design and usability perspective). PHIL 215 is also one of the courses recommended by the degree requirements checklist for my year.

CS447 is the final course in a series of three software engineering-related courses (the first two being CS445: Software Requirements and CS446: Software Architecture). I’ve found myself being extremely interested in the design philosophies of software from the software engineering perspective. This is kind of surprising, given the attitudes of many of my classmates towards these three courses (generally not positive). The courses have also been some of the highest marks I’ve received at the University of Waterloo, and their content has been extremely useful in some of the side projects that I’ve been working on lately (more on this later).

On the lighter side of life, I have been playing BioWare’s new Star Wars game with a few of my friends and have been thoroughly enjoying it. As a former World of Warcraft player (clean and sober for 2 years now, thankfully) it’s fairly easy for me to nitpick the small flaws with SW:TOR, but I have to admit that the holiday launch was one of the smoothest I have seen from the MMO genre. One of the major ideas that the player community is missing is that many of the features that they take for granted in mature games like World of Warcraft were not present at launch, and time will only improve the technical quality of the game.

I also recently upgraded my computer’s graphics hardware by installing two XFX HD6950 cards in a CrossFireX configuration. This is my first multi-card installation and from what I have seen so far, it works pretty well. I did have some minor issues with screen tearing (even after enabling vertical sync) which I will attribute to the 3D engine not working well with multiple graphics cards, but installing Catalyst Application Profiles seems to have fixed the problem. Additionally, I did have to install an additional 120mm fan on the side of my case (which is obnoxiously loud) in order to regulate the temperature of the cards under load. Because of the layout of my motherboard, the video cards sit right next to each other, causing the top one to suck in hot air from the bottom one. Before the fan was added, the temperatures of the top and bottom cards were 95C and 80C, respectively (a little too hot for me). Adding the fan reduced the temperatures to 75C and 65C; these are well within acceptable bounds given that they’re powering a 1440p display.

That about wraps it up for my life right now. I’m still planning on writing about (potentially) interesting facts on a daily to weekly basis. Once I determine the load that classes and work are placing on me this term, I will decide how much time I can devote to this blog. Until then, I’ll be posting here whenever I have something to say.

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New Content and a Challenge

by on Nov.16, 2011, under Personal, warren-gray.com

I know it’s been a while since I posted here. I also know that there’s probably very few people who have stopped by for reasons beyond looking for Still Alive or other tidbits of information, but I think it’s time to turn over a new leaf. Because I’m nearing the end of my academic career (and am now filled with answers on many of the “why’s” of computer science), I feel that some research is in order. Although the New Year is still a month and a half away, I’ve already made my resolution: I am going to strive to learn something new every day, and attempt to describe that knowledge here.

Now, when I say “something new”, I do not mean “a random fact that I happened to overhear today”. Instead, I mean approximately an hour’s worth of research on the topic. My goal here is to provide myself with a deeper understanding of the practical applications of the theory that I have studied at the University of Waterloo. In addition, I feel this experiment will  give me a chance to explore many of the interesting topics that I overhear every day. Finally, it is an opportunity for me to improve my comprehension, communication and research skills so that I may better represent my thoughts and ideas in a way that others can understand. For those few people who subscribe to this blog at the time of this writing, I encourage both positive and negative feedback on the ideas and research presented here.

Due to the fact that I am just entering the term-end crunch at school, I will probably not be posting very much until after the holidays (this is a New Year resolution, after all), but I may sneak one or two entries in during the Christmas break. Until then, I will keep anything interesting written down until I have time to research it.

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White Noise and HTML 5

by on May.25, 2011, under Personal, Web Design

I’ve been looking for a high-quality white noise (more specifically rain) generator for a while now. Some recordings are available for purchase or download, or even to listen to via Flash player, but none of them seem to meet my expectations. It recently dawned on me that I can simply use the recorded sounds from the various games that I play. These are professionally recorded sound bytes that can be strung together to form the illusion of an infinitely long soundscape.

At first I thought of creating a client application that one could use to loop and adjust these sounds. Now, I’m sure that somewhere, this program already exists, but it’s far more fun to experiment and try something new. It occurred to me that the newly supported HTML5 audio tag might be useful; there’s no need to create a UI or worry about audio threads as these functions are all handled by the browser. The fact that it’s on the web means it’s accessible from everywhere as well.

It turns out that while the audio tag supports a looping function, said loop is not gapless (at least for wav playback) in any browser. That is, there is an audible silence between when the track ends and when it starts again. There are a few ways around this, and most of them involve a small amount of Javascript.

Click here to see my white noise demo.

The background rain in the above player is actually composed of two audio tags. The sound plays for 8 seconds (it’s a 9 second sound file), after which the second player starts and resets the first player. The audio “bounces” back and forth between the two players to create the illusion of infinitely falling rain. You may notice some occasional clicks if you listen for a while; this is because the Javascript engine is falling behind. Unfortunately, this is unavoidable.

The thunder is actually several more audio tags (each with a different thunder sound effect) that are triggered at random intervals. This serves to cover up any pops between the rain loop, and also to keep any subconscious patterns from forming in the underlying rain sounds (all while making the entire scene more exciting). I haven’t added a function to disable the thunder at this point, but the delay between “strikes” can be set to an arbitrarily high number.

Either way, for an hour or so’s work, I’m very impressed with the result, and will no doubt be listening to it when I head to bed tonight.

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The Internet You Need!

by on Jan.21, 2011, under Comedy, Technology

Just came across an interesting flash video that clearly explains net neutrality to those who may not fully grasp the concept (or have no idea what it is).

Check it out at http://www.newgrounds.com/portal/view/559221

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Cocktail of the Week #1: Live Twice

by on Apr.10, 2010, under Leisure

Well, it’s true. I’ve been kind of lazy lately with the posts, but better late than never. So, without further adieu, I present the first Cocktail of the Week:

Live Twice
Glass: Cocktail Glass (Martini Glass)
1oz Vodka
1/3oz Triple Sec
1/3oz Grenadine
2/3oz Frangelico

Directions: Mix all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake well, strain into glass.

Cost: 3/5
Vodka, Triple Sec and Grenadine are all fairly cheap ingredients. You can find the Grenadine in most grocery stores because it’s non-alcoholic. Frangelico is not an expensive liqueur, but it’s not among the cheapest ones either. A 750mL bottle will set you back $27.95 at the LCBO.

Difficulty: 2/5
There’s no layering or otherwise fancy mixing involved; you pretty much just pour the ingredients into the shaker and mix them.

Flavour: 2/5
Here’s the big one. Now, I personally would not recommend this cocktail, but I don’t like fruitcake much. The drink has a fruity flavour, courtesy of the Grenadine and Triple sec, and it’s also got hints of hazelnut from the Frangelico. The Vodka doesn’t add any flavour, but adds a bit of a kick to the cocktail (although it’s not really noticeable). I didn’t really like the way the drink went together. Frangelico is a kind of thick liqueur, so it adds a lot of “weight” to the drink (kind of like a syrup). Overall not terrible, just not great.

Strength: 2/5
Live Twice is a fairly standard cocktail. Other than the Vodka, there’s nothing in it to give it an exceptional punch. Depending on what type of Triple Sec you buy, the alcohol content will vary slightly. I would compare the effect after consumption to that of one or two beers.

In summary, this particular cocktail is probably worth trying once if you like the combination of fruit and nuts, but I wouldn’t serve it at parties. It’s also not the cheapest cocktail you can make, so the value here is not terribly high.

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New Recurring Post: Cocktail of the Week

by on Mar.22, 2010, under Leisure

I’ve decided that I’d like to have at least once post per week on this site so that it encourages me not to forget about it (also so that my Google results stay fresh). To this end, I’d like to introduce a new category: Cocktail of the Week.

As a university student, I know what it’s like to have a hard week and I also know how nice it is to sit back and enjoy a drink after you’ve made a significant dent in your work. One thing that I’ve observed is that the majority of my friends have little to no knowledge when it comes to mixing drinks (although a couple of my friends do know how to appreciate wine). It can also be hard to buy the materials for mixing anything beyond drinks like rum and Coke. I have decided to be a guinea pig and experiment with some new and exciting cocktails.

Here’s how it’s going to work. Once per week, I will randomly select a cocktail to try based on the ingredients I currently have in my house. I’ll provide the recipe for how I made the drink along with any tips I discovered and (hopefully) a photo. Cocktails will be rated on from 1 – 5 (one being the worst, five being the best) in the following categories: Cost (cost of materials required to make the cocktail), Difficulty (skill required to mix said ingredients), Flavour (how well the concoction actually tastes) and finally Strength (how fast and how hard you’ll feel the effects, if at all).

I’m thinking that Saturday is probably the best day to make these posts, given that Friday night is probably the best time to mix drinks, so keep an eye out for the first one coming this week. Oh, and if you have a cocktail or shooter you’d like me to review, shoot me an email or leave it in the comments.

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Playstation Move: What?

by on Mar.11, 2010, under Games

So upon reading my feeds this morning, I’ve come across about 100 different articles about the Playstation Move (this is out of maybe 120 since I checked Google Reader last night). Now, I know that this is something revolutionary (I don’t even know if I’m being sarcastic here), but can we tone down the amount of news that we’re posting about things? And yes, I realize the irony that this post is going to show up in a feed somewhere…. Google News tells me that in the last hour, just under 3000 items have been posted regarding this product, and that’s only for sites that have been indexed!

I enjoy a new announcement as much as the next person, but for something that we’ve had prototype images and tons of hints about (and in contrast with the rest of the world, is relatively unimportant), do we really need to stop the presses? Space your announcements out during the course of this week, perhaps. I seriously doubt people are glued to their computers waiting for more news about this thing.

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StarCraft 2: Initial Impressions

by on Mar.08, 2010, under Games

Got an invite to the SC2 Beta yesterday from my good friends at Blizzard (i.e. I won the lottery….). Installed it, cranked up a 1v1 game and was instantly reminded of my childhood. While my buddies didn’t seem to appreciate the subtle differences or the fact that the game tries to remain true to it’s roots, I had a fun 30 minutes (although I’m still as bad at StarCraft as I was in the 90s). More to come as I have time to play it (that is, if I don’t get to into FFXIII).

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Grinding My Gears: Fast Food Incompetency

by on Nov.25, 2009, under Gears

It’s odd that I should have two articles of this type in such a short time span, but I was recently enraged. For those of you who don’t know, I live in Ontario in a small city called Waterloo. Since I’m a student, I’m not exactly a stranger to the world of fast food. Occasionally I grab my friends and head to the nearest McDonalds for a deliciously unhealthy batch of food.

Recently I was in Niagara Falls hitting the poker tables with a few of my buddies. After we had finished we decided to head over to the Wendy’s on Clifton Hill for a bite to eat.

“Alright!” I say, thinking of the delicious warm food that is about to hit my taste buds. Upon passing through the doors to this ritzy establishment we are greeted with a line at least 30 people long waiting to order. We begrudgingly enter the line to wait. First thing I notice is that while they have THREE tills, only one is operational for some reason. Now, it was only around 11PM on a Saturday, in a place that commonly is very busy. This is just poor management.

So after a good 20 minute chunk of time, we get to the till and place our orders. Among items ordered were a Baconator, two Junior Bacon Cheeseburgers, and a few drinks. After a few minutes, the cashiers comes out from the kitchen and tells us that “we’re out of bacon.” It should be clarified that they were not actually out of bacon, they just didn’t have any prepared (it also apparently takes 15 minutes to prepare bacon).

Remember that we had already paid for our meals at this point. The cashier offers to make us an equivalent meal instead. We agree, and wait another 5 minutes for the food to actually arrive. Sitting down at the table, we now realize that “equivalent meal” in Wendy’s-speak translates roughly to “sandwiches without bacon”. Have you ever tried a Baconator without bacon? Ask my friend Dave, he’ll tell you all about it.

So Wendy’s failed. I probably won’t be back to any Wendy’s for a while as their “fresh, never frozen” hamburgers generally taste like chewing on ground cardboard. There is a reason they feel the need to load their burgers with cheese sauce, overly expensive bacon and half a pound of mayonnaise, you know.

On to case number two: the McDonald’s restaurant at Columbia and King in Waterloo. I have only one word that can possibly describe this restaurant: failure.

It seems that, no matter what time of day or what day of the week, every time I head to this McDonalds they seem to be able to reach new heights in the field of disappointment. Because this particular McDonalds is so close to home and my friends seem to enjoy Big Macs a bit too much, I have countless stories of poor service to rhyme off. For this reason, please accept this bulleted list of horrible things about the restaurant.

  • 4 registers, but only 1 is ever in use
  • 10-15 minute waits in general to get your food ordered
  • either cashiers or cooks are incompetent because they never seem to get my order right. Examples include: extra lettuce instead of extra pickles, and tomato every freaking time I tell them not to put it on. I even speak slowly to them in the hopes that one day they will understand.
  • drink orders frequently screwed up
  • managers serving employee orders and meals before customers (even though the customer ordered first)
  • managers accusing customers of throwing trays (I’m 100% serious, this did happen)
  • prices that are higher than the surrounding McDonalds, but yield the same amount of food.

I’m sure I could think of more, but frankly it’s not worth my time.

I don’t understand what happened to the concept of quality and customer satisfaction. I remember fast food places being considerably more reliable no more than a few years ago.

Step it up, guys.

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Grinding My Gears: Cash Grabs

by on Nov.06, 2009, under Games, MMOs

It’s Friday morning and I took a break from my computer science homework only to stumble across the fact that some new pets have been added to the game that everybody seems to be playing (apart from me and anybody in my immediate circle of friends): World of Warcraft. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are tons of people who enjoy hunting down and collecting every single aesthetic bonus in the game, which is fine, I’m a bit of a perfectionist/completionist myself. There are even sites devoted exclusively to collecting pets in World of Warcraft.

The one problem I do have with these new pets, as you’ve probably already guessed from the title of this article, is that they are a shameless attempt at a cash grab by Blizzard. Oh, what’s that? I didn’t mention that you have to buy these pets? For real money? In fact, each one of these pets will set you back TEN DOLLARS. Ten dollars. For a small, insignificant, purely cosmetic upgrade for your World of Warcraft account…. Now, the rumor is that for each Pandaren sold, Blizzard will donate $5 to the Make-a-Wish foundation (until the end of 2009), which is good. However, why don’t they just price the pets at $5 and donate 100% of the profit to the  foundation. Better yet, why not just announce a promotion and say that a donation to Make-a-Wish will net you a promo code?

Since there are no up-to-date statistics about the subscribers (some people say Blizzard lost a few million subscriptions for the screwup in China), I can’t say exactly how much Blizzard aims to make from this deal, but I think 10 million dollars is a bit much for shrinking down some pre-existing models and putting them on the store.

Here is a list of better uses for $20:

  • $20 donation to the Make-a-Wish foundation
  • Treat yourself and two friends to a fast-food meal of your choosing
  • Buy materials for lunches for a week
  • Go out for lunch twice next week
  • Take a date to the movies
  • Go to the movies yourself and buy popcorn….
  • Buy a decent bottle of wine
  • Help pay for the WoW addiction clinic
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