Blog Archive

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Persona


The guy is getting on my nerves. 

He wears at least half a suit, sometimes a tie, depending on what he figures is appropriate for the appointment. He always says with a wink that he is actually a technician that only dresses as a salesman, and he is almost right. He experiments with what shirt to wear. Sometimes he compares himself with an engineer or an architect, but only if the person he's talking to isn't either because that would imply the same qualification. He lets his arms hang loosely beside himself, avoiding negative body language. He smiles at people and greets as many of them as possible. He has been in the business for many years and isn't it moving so fast, it's like three times regular human time. He has done everything at least once before, he knows every company in the world at least by name even if he can't quite place it and he knows at least one company that faces the exact same challenges. He figures it's a great match and there is an urgent call to action. He listens intently, nods all the time and looks people in the eye all the time. Work is a fascinating and interesting challenge to him and he really looks forward to working together. It isn't really a client-kind of relationship to him, more of a partnership with common goals that absolutely don't collide with each other. His colleagues are professionals. He has had all the hobbies there are for some minuscule fragment of time, he likes to talk about sports or cars as much as the person sitting in front of him. He doesn't have strong opinions on anything he sees around him, rather there are many advantages and disadvantages that require consideration to make an informed decision. He understands frustration with technology and would never imply it's due to false expectations or ignorance. He does not consume fluids and no thanks for the coffee, but he's just had one. It is clear to him that all involved parties are sensible adult people that only need to talk to each other and everything will be figured out. He has an unshakable understanding for the preservation of processes and habits and absolutely recommends the least disruptive approach. He is positive that something can be arranged. He plans ahead, always solves problems before they become serious. He always says how redundancy is as important in personal as it is in machinery. He understands completely. He knows exactly one thing more than the person he talks to.

I hate him and I wish he would leave, but he is one of the fake persons that allow for the purchase of food.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Meanwhile, on Bizarro A World to Come

I know the constant flux of interesting posts to my large international audience doesn't show it, but I am deeply involved in many interesting ventures in my spare time. My determination and clear goals in life really help me navigate my way through all these joyful and memorable pursuits - the right attitude brings such high spirits. I've found a splendid balance between my diverse hobbies and fulfilling work and still find time to spend with my family and friends. What an uplifting feeling to know you're doing something worthwhile in your professional life that you can look back on and identify with, and then live your private life among these many people that you treasure and give back some of the warmth you receive. In my next posts, I shall report on my latest artistic works, explain the merits of charity, give you an insight into some of the adventurous travels I've undertaken and maybe even comment on the latest and greatest in soft-rock, reggae and pop.
Looking forward to the future! ;)

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay


I've recently read up on Docker and the coming integration with the next Windows Server. Docker, generally speaking, is a framework to encapsulate server-applications and their dependencies into containers and orchestrate their deployment. I have a limited experience with a more client-oriented but similar concept: application virtualization, where you create a package that contains all the files, registry keys and whatnot that make up a program and deliver it to a client to run. The benefit of both solutions is that you don't have to install an application in the static conventional manner, but instead leave it packaged. When there's an update you install it once into your package and the redeploy that centrally, without having to touch the machines that run it. You also don't have to uninstall, as it was never really installed in the first place. Through encapsulation, dependencies like specific versions of Java are bundles up with the applications themselves and do not collide with whatever else you're running. That's a good thing.

Both technologies make a lot of sense for many scenarios, especially when it comes to large deployments. However in my personal experience, I've never seen them applied. In many environments, there is a multitude of very specific applications that the operational tech department (maybe even outsourced) has only a vague understanding of and only does the first few levels of support, but leaves deeper issues to the vendors' support teams. When you introduce a technology that directly affects the application you're running, vendors will always point to that first when there's an issue that isn't transparent, i.e. "it runs fine with others customers and they don't use this technology". Some vendors go as far as explicitly not supporting the deployment of their programs in this way because their developers have no idea about these technologies, did not verify them and can't greenlight their use. From a dev standpoint, it takes a lot of QA effort to actually test applications in this additional way, and if there is not an explicit request from many or important customers, they won't make that investment and take the risk. Instead it is recommended to somehow automate the conventional installation.

The moment you're not installing applications the conventional way, your systems are the first that will be second-guessed. You introduce a new source of uncertainty and thus risk into a layer that is usually no concern for conventional IT. I have made the experience that although it makes a lot of sense to deploy applications both server- and client-sided to a network in this manner, customers will most often refuse because it makes things more complicated and risky. Instead they will much rather have you create a new virtual server to run this service, which of course means more overhead. For the person managing the IT budget, it is easier to ask for more hardware to run additional systems (CEOs can understand that) than to spend more budget on application-related services (creating the containers). Solving software problems with hardware solutions has always been popular. 
Of course this seems bad for service providers, as budgets chunks go to hardware vendors instead, but often customer satisfaction seems higher if they don't need to wrap their head around new concepts and instead invest in something they can both understand and touch. Also service providers are also happy to comply, because new hardware means new licenses (operating systems, SQL, backup...) and thus more revenue for them. The technologically best solution is not always in the best interest of IT service providers.

Therefore, Docker-like containers and application virtualization are two technologies that I would like to use more often in my line of work, but apparently doing it the conventional way requires less know-how and is more easily sold to the customers. For cloud providers this is very different of course, there I can see these methods much more readily applied.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Grand Theft Auto 5 on PC


First released in 2013, GTA5 has finally made it onto the PC this month. You could either download the 60GB or buy the boxed seven DVDs and still download 5GB of updates from completely overloaded servers that left many unable to start the game on release day. After these idiotic hurdles however, the PC version worked surprisingly good for me, gone are the popups and missing textures of the predecessor. It runs perfectly smooth and while it's not as pretty as the linear shooters of recent months, it looks fine.


Like the previous titles, GTA5 is huge and offers loads of side activities to endulge in, but is at its best when you're doing the missions and get involved with the ensemble of characters. The gameplay hasn't changed much when compared to GTA4, but then again it doesn't have to. There's now cover based combat, but if you've played any other GTA title, you'll instantly get going. What bugged me most about GTA4 was that although the characters were the over the top silly parody characters that make the franchise so great, Liberty City was the most boring thing they could do. I was worried that the return to their Westcoast Metropolis would be equally uninspired, but was positively surprised. The drive to the rural outskirts takes up a little too much time, but both the desert and the green landscapes are a welcome contrast to the city.

The biggest twist might be the deviation from a single protagonist to three: upstart thug Franklin, professional bankrobber Michael and the psychopathic wreck that is Trevor play surprisingly well together and are all interesting, it's only until later in the game that the dynamic trio looses their edge when Franklin becomes less relevant to the story. Switching between the three works great though and really gives you a feeling that you're just a small part of this large environment. In regards to the story, the delivery is consistently perfect, but the writing left the ending somewhat anticlimactic and starts several threads that don't go anywhere (Tanisha, Simeon).

What didn't quite work out as well as I thought is the first person perspective due to the very limited field of view, even when set to the maximum. It makes the whole experience more immersive, but it's not really practical. However, when you just need to get from one place to another, there is nothing more amazing than getting a superbike, switching to first person and racing there at breakneck speed.
The radio stations turned out as great as always, of course I put in some extreme metal at "Self Radio", but I often found myself listening to Soulwax, Channel X and some of the others. When you're flying a fighter jet and "Danger Zone" comes on, you just HAVE to try a few idiotic stunts and when you're driving a speedboat at sunset and Phil Collins comes on, it feels just a little like Vice City.


So all in all, GTA5 does a great many things right and while it could have been even better with a more conclusive writing, it delivers an atmospheric trip through the most authentic world in any videogame yet. It took me roughly five days of doing nothing much else to finish the main story and several of the sidequests, and I was well entertained through almost all of it.
GTA5 is also the basis for GTA Online, which takes place on the same stage as the singleplayer game. In GTAO, you get to fight and race other players and run heists together. I've only played a little of that and while I don't intend to spend too much time on it, it's pretty much a standalone title that comes bundled with the game. So if you don't have any idea what to do with the loads of spare time you have, GTA5/GTA Online is a fun non-productive way to spend a gross of hours.

[Update 25.04.:] There is a good part that is only available online, including races and heists that would work just was well in singleplayer. I think it would have been better if Rockstar had made this content available for the story mode as well.

[Update 01.05.:] By far the most difficult aspect of GTA Online is finding people to do the Heists with properly. In my experience, you'll try to get the mandatory four players together for a setup mission (that one could well finish alone, but you're forced to do it with four people) over and over again, until literally hours later you've got a team that contains at least one player with a super-low level because nobody else would join. You'll start the mission and somebody other than yourself keeps dying until somebody leaves and the entire mission is cancelled because of that and you start over again. "Hell is other people" indeed. The Heists are fun constructs, but forcing you to play it with other people makes it immensely frustrating. Rockstar should have made all GTA Online contents optional and all Heists, missions etc. available to single-players.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Soundtrack to the Antisphere

Gruesome - Savage Land [2015] []
The "Death to All" Tour, which plays Death songs and features former band members as well as genre-pros from Malevolent Creation and Exhumed, spawned this project. Both the cover (by Ed Repka of course) and the songs are intentionally very reminiscent of Death's Leprosy. Thus, you get eight tracks plus two covers (Death+Slayer) of competent late 80s/early 90s Florida Death Metal, attentively recreated in every detail. And while Gruesome succeed to emulate the tone of Leprosy and Scream Bloody Gore (and in some songs Spiritual Healing), there is one thing you can't recreate, and that is the writing genius of Chuck Schuldiner himself. It's an enjoyable record that brings an abandoned sound back to life and pays a dignified tribute to their idol, but it lacks the instant hook you got from the classics.


Sulphur Aeon - Gateway To The Antisphere [2015] []
And they said Death Metal was stagnant. Sulphur Aeon from Germany have only been around since 2010, but their second full length release feels as refined as the latest Behemoth album, which is also an approximate description of their sound. There is a bit of Hypocrisy-like melodies sitting on top of the crushing heavyness of their vocals and instrumental parts, like a gleaming fringe of foam atop a towering wave. Thankfully, the guys from NRW never abandon their songs for pointless droning or instrumental masturbation, instead every part works for the respective track. There are heavier, more technical and more atmospheric albums, but few find a competent balance between all three aspects like Gateway to the Antisphere. One of the best releases of this year so far and an urgent recommendation for all Death Metal folks.


Trudger - Dormiveglia [2014] []
The Brits from Trudger have released their first full record Dormiveglia on bandcamp for "pay whatever you want". The album starts out as a post-something doom ambient album, but quickly turns into a heavy sludge doom metal beast. Black Cobra comes to mind, however Trudger feel a bit darker and harsher than the slightly polished former band. There's also a small resemblance from death/black metal as played by Mutilation Rites or Tombs. However as opposed to Sulphur Aeon, this doesn't feel as professional yet. There are some parts that feel like filler material, and there is still development necessary in terms of the vocals and riffs. Nevertheless, for a debut album, Dormiveglia does rather well and if this young band keeps at it, they might put out some killer records in the future.


The Chasm - Farseeing The Paranormal Abysm [2009] []
This is another Death Metal Record and I have to admit that I struggle with it quite a bit. The reason is that it starts out as this atmospheric, heavy, enchanting, complex yet tight dynamic masterpiece, but dulls down considerably in the end. I had never heard of this Mexican/American band and was quite impressed for the first songs, but it lost me somewhere later on. The greatness comes from playing heavy material at high speed with a great production that lies somewhere between Vexovoid and Altars of Madness. The weaker parts are when the band slows down and tries its hand at a more majestic tone and pace in 11min songs, which doesn't quite work out. If you were to cut this album down quite a bit, it would truly live up to the Morbid Angel comparison. I strongly recommend the first half of it.


Torche - Harmonicraft [2012] []
So much for the brutal grim trve kvlt death metal, here's a record with pink and rainbows on the cover! I had lost interest in Torche after the great Meanderthal when their album covers started to look like this, but Torche's core values brought me back to this: Super-downtuned guitars in fast, fun songs, and while I wouldn't call it pop sludge, it's a joyful heavy rock album. Highlights include the title track, Walk it off and most importantly the rampaging "let's play powercords as fast as we can" Sky Trials. Although their style has remained virtually unchanged, Harmonicraft doesn't quite reach the memorability of their first record, but it holds a number of good songs. If winter is Mayhem season, then spring is Torche season. Recommendation for anyone who can't quite get into the previous albums of this article. 


Further listening:
Crystal Age - Far Beyond Divine Horizons: I need to stop listening to albums because of their coverart.
Timeghoul - Discography: Doesn't go anywhere. 
Fates Warning - The Spectre Within: Made me reconsider my opinion of the band in a positive way.
Nas - Illmatic: Sure it's good, but not as perfect as it's made out to be.
Metalwave compilation - Altars of Synthness: FUN!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Frontlines


I'm a sucker for military Sci-Fi in the vein of Starship Troopers, Old Men's War or The Forever War. Two such novels are Terms of Enlistment and Lines of Departure by Marko Kloos, who comprise the first two novels of his "Frontlines" series. As usually, our protagonist joins the military, goes through bootcamp, makes some friends and enemies and rises through the ranks, all against a backdrop of an interstellar military conflict. The North American Commonwealth is up against its own rioting impoverished population at home and the Russian/Chinese troops in the terraformed colonies, when an unyielding alien civilization bursts onto the scene and mercilessly takes over one colony after the other. The space military is caught between brittle support from home, an equal human enemy and superior alien hostiles at the same time.

Both novels aren't exactly original, but well crafted snacks for genre-fans. Marko Kloos was both a soldier and an IT-guy and it shows, the picture he paints of the processes and procedures the protagonist is subjected to feel more insightful than in most other novels. Just the simple fact that all systems can be controlled remotely through a computer network instead of there being terminals the hero has to run to is a welcome burst of sensibility.
However, this notion of pseudo-realism with the smart treatment of technology and the bureaucratic apparatus clash with the simplistic trajectory of the protagonists career. It feels like the hurdles are overcome too easily, that our hero succeeds with little effort. There is also very little to his character, the biggest card he plays is the escape from poverty, but what fascinated me so much about Starship Troopers, the main character's realization that his personality (not just his status) has changed and how he deals with it, is completely absent here. Kloos is competent in describing the environment the characters are in, but he focuses so much on the backdrop that it drowns out the characters, which is fine for some stories, but the point of a story like this is how an individual is lost in the vastness of a conflict while still maintaining his personal view and character. If you can't hold onto the identity of a character in the colossal dimensions of space war, the reader is washed away.

The premise especially of the second book is that humanity is on the ropes, one of the major reasons I wanted to read this. However in the interest of variation, the author chooses to drop his protagonist into different scenarios on each deployment - close combat against rioting civilians, battle against the Russians/Chinese, then battle against the aliens, then mutiny in their own ranks, then the aliens again, etc. Such alternating threads works well enough in a long and sequential format like a TV show, but given the limited length of both books, it is disruptive enough to seemingly diminish the importance of either conflict. What is meant to present problems on every front reduces the weight of each struggle.

Thus, the two Frontline books are entertaining genre fiction and do many things right, but they are too impersonal to leave a lasting impression. I enjoyed reading both novels, but I probably won't look into the third of the series.