[Babylon 5]

Nathan Mates' Personal Info Pages

Nathan Mates's .plan Archives

Plan Archives from May 1999.

Login name: nathan    			In real life: Nathan Mates
Directory: /home/nathan             	Shell: /bin/tcsh
Job: Network Programmer, Battlezone 2, developed by Pandemic Studios http://www.pandemicstudios.com , published by Activision http://www.activision.com [Note: in this, I am *NOT* speaking officially for either of those, I'm only speaking for myself.]

5/31/99: Just a reminder: this following tale of bad experience with computer hardware (mentioned by name) is on *MY* *PERSONAL* *SYSTEM* *AT* *HOME*. It's hardware I bought on my own dime well before I was employed by Pandemic, and this hardware has never been anywhere near Pandemic. This doesn't concern BZ2 at all, so if you have the slightest thoughts that it might, then skip this long rant.

NOT the kind of news I want out of my computers at home-- the monitor on my main computer (MAG MXP17F) is flaking out and/or dead. Big suck; I didn't want to be buying a new monitor for a while. But, gather 'round the campfire, folks, and let me tell you about my bad experiences with these MAGs at home:

I bought a MAG MXP17F as part of the computer I bought for myself back in the summer of '95. The MAG had pretty good reviews, and this one could push 1600x1200x75Hz (or more). Seemed good. But, the damn thing is the absolutely LARGEST 17" monitor I've ever come across outside of production TV monitors. It weighs in at 65+ pounds, is roughly 19" from front to back, 17" across in front and about 14.5" side to side. That's not the problem. Getting one that was functional was.

In the first 6 months I owned that MAG MXP17F(while I was still at Caltech), I had to send the first one I got back for repairs twice before they replaced it with another of the same model. That first replacement lasted a total of about 4 hours in my care-- I got it in the morning, used it for a little bit, and turned it off while I went to some classes for about 2 hours. When I came back from classes and turned it on, I smelled smoke, and the entire picture was a nice vertical line down the middle of the screen. Lemme just say that the customer service representative probably had to use a fire extinguisher on their telephone after that-- I was NOT happy.

A *SECOND* replacement later, and I had a MAG MXP17F that "worked"-- for about 3.5 years now. Until this afternoon. I came home from watching _The Mummy_ [totally cheezy, but actually kinda fun], and turned it on. Well, lemme just say that the horizontal size was kinda broked-- the vertical was the right size for the picture, but everything was double-wide. Thinking it might be a Win98 problem, I rebooted. That was the last I've seen out of it-- I get a nice black screen, even when booting a 3.5" to DOS and making sure the video card's ok. [Have crappy 14" monitor here with major pincushioning even in 640x480 (and don't even think about anything more than 800x600), and that did better than the MAG.]

If displaying an 80x25 DOS screen, the little LCD panel at the bottom identifies it as 640x400x70Hz, which is correct, but I can hear a bit of clicking (maybe 2/3 to 3/4 of a second apart) if I listen near the top of the monitor, as if a relay's clicking in and out. Still, the picture is pure black, as if it was unconnected. So, does this sound like any commonly fixable problem to someone with monitor repair experience (not that any would be reading this plan, I bet)? [I'll ask around at work tomorrow for monitor repair shops in the area, but if you know of any in the Santa Monica or LA Westside area, drop me a line.]

So, I might be out shopping for a new 17" monitor soon. [Was hoping to buy a 19" in a few months and move the MAG to my primarly Linux box. No such luck, it seems.] Time to start trolling for well-recommended 17" monitors, it seems-- drop me a line if you've got one. I dislike (though not intensely) the 2 horizontal lines on a Trinitron, so I may rule out things based on that.

And, on a similar tale of monitor woe, my main linux box is using a 15" Dell Ultrascan I rescued from the junkheap at my last job. It appears to have some cold solder joints or general cable looseness in back, as the red and blue channels flicker in and out occasionally. If I wiggle the cable in back, I can get it ok for a while. I've got a soldering iron and enough skills to be dangerous with it-- does this sound like a quick fix, or something far more serious?

Just a reminder: the above tale of bad experience with computer hardware (mentioned by name) is on *MY* *PERSONAL* *SYSTEM* *AT* *HOME*. It's hardware I bought on my own dime well before I was employed by Pandemic, and this hardware has never been anywhere near Pandemic. This doesn't concern BZ2 at all, and I mean it.

5/30/99: Spend part of this 'vacation' at home messing with computers at home. Been playing around with fully netbooting one (or more, once I get this process working) of my linux boxes at home-- I have a spare Pentium 200, 64MB RAM w/ ethernet (10Mbps) and a 3.5" disk, but no HD. Not quite working yet, but stay tuned...

[About an hour later... silly init and bash weren't exactly statically linked, and chasing down dependencies took a little bit of time. Almost working fine now, which is pretty damn good for a few hours worth of work; just need to make a promptless boot 3.5" disk. I'm half leaning towards gutting archenland and loneislands (386 and 486 at home) by yanking the power to their working HDs (i.e. less noise/power used), and going fully NFS'd only, but both only have 8MB RAM, and I'm kinda wary they'd want to swap eventually and bomb out.]

5/26/99: Stay tuned... something cool on the network side might be announced soon, once I get permission to announce it, etc...

5/25/99: Congrats to the Dark Reign II team for their E3 work-- looks like someone liked it: http://www.gamespot.com/features/e399/index.html

[And system at home still messed up. Tried new parallel printer cable, and the ABIT BH6 MB doesn't want to print to my deskjet. As noted below, it knows when it's printing to an 'off' printer, and Win98 can detect that there's a printer out there to prompt me for a driver disk, but doesn't print anything. Same printer and cable work fine off another of my systems, so it's time to get a crash course in Samba and park that printer on one of my linux boxen with a working parallel port.]

5/23/99: System at home is flaking out. Anyone have any ideas as to this problem:


Starting about a week ago, my Win98 system at home refused to speak to the printer, so I've been trying to get it working since... so time to ask for some help. I've stripped my system down to a minimal config to isolate problems, which is:

System: Selfbuilt (3 months ago) ABIT BH6 MB + PII-350, 128MB RAM
Video board: Creative Labs TNT
Printer: HP Deskjet 682C (parallel)
Serial Kbd, 3.5" Floppy Drive, Parallel cables connected, nothing else.
Latest BIOSs on MB and video board, booting to a Win98 formatted 3.5" floppy

This printer and cable have been tested on another box, and seemed to work fine, so I'm suspecting the parallel port of the BH6 is at fault. I'm booting to DOS 7.1 (Win98) off the floppy, and doing a "DIR >LPT1", which seems to run immediately, but the connection light on the printer never flashes, and pushing the FF button has no results. I've tried setting the parallel port to SPP, ECP, and ECP+EPP, and none of those work.

[And, some further datapoints... I've tried setting LPT1 over to IRQ5, no change. And if I do the "DIR >LPT1" with the printer connected but powered off, I get a "write fault error writing device LPT1; Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail" error as if it's correctly noticing there's a non-connection problem. However, powering back the printer doesn't make anything happen for subsequent print jobs.]

5/19/99: As I said in a previous .plan, today happens to be the day when all of Pandemic's going out to see a 1PM showing of a certain movie. Yes, that one. So, don't expect many updates, message board postings, or anything else while we're off having fun. [Pandemic's just over a year old now as a company and has 2 great games the public's seen: BZ2 and DR2. Great position for the company, and a great company to work for.]

5/17/99: There's a nice little thing the BZ2 team brought back from E3 around the office: 1999 E3 Strategy Game of the Show trophy. Yay.

5/14/99: Well, I took in a lot of E3 yesterday, maybe not in the greatest depth, but it was still a bit fun. FF8, Deus Ex and Anachronox look real nice on the RPG front. MM7 looks ho-hum, but really needs to ditch their software-only renderer for MM8-- things can and do look much nicer when you don't have to support such modes.

5/13/99: This isn't strictly BZ2 news, but since we share the same company name, building, and cool technologies with them, the Dark Reign 2 official site is up at http://www.pandemicstudios.com/dr2/index.htm

5/12/99: Well, our net access at work came back Tuesday, which was a big relief. But, I've been a bit busy polishing up some other features for the E3 demos, and generally getting ready for that. I'm planning to be at E3 all day Thursday (5/13/99), so don't expect much participation from me on message boards or email.

Also, this afternoon, our company prez (Josh Resnick) came by with a very nice thing: ticket for May 19th, 1PM at the movie theater about a mile north of work. I shouldn't have to say what movie this is for, or that I work for a very cool company. :)

5/10/99: Joseph Donaldson (webmaster @ pandemic, and general director of communications) wanted me to post something to this effect:

Since last Wednesday evening (5/5/99), our T1 internet access to work at Pandemic has not been operational. This is why website updates (hosted elsewhere, but uploaded from us) have been nonexistant, and participation by others at Pandemic who don't have a good connection at home have drastically fallen off. [I have cable modem at home.] All emails to *@pandemicstudios.com are also not getting through, so please don't expect immediate responses at the moment. (My personal email account, nathan.j.mates@gmail.com, is still quite functional)

Thank you for your understanding in this matter.

5/6/99: No internet access all day from work, and the power was out for about 90 minutes as well at work. I suspect pre-E3 sabotage :)

5/4/99, Even later: Saw a rough cut of the opening movie for BZ2 on videotape. Hmmm.

5/4/99, Later: Some minor E3 news: Battlezone2 and Dark Reign 2 are planned to be shown on the E3 floor, as part of the overall Activision booth. Look for us there, reportedly near the Quake 3 area. I won't be at the BZ2 area all the time (hey, I gotta scope out any "competition" as well as other games I wanna play at home (Might & Magic 7, Wizardry 8, Tribes 2, etc)) but I'll definitely be there at least one day of the show, probably Thursday or Friday. No, I can't give out passes for anyone; if anyone wants in, they'll have to ask elsewhere. [Any BZ2 fansites sending anyone?]

5/4/99: More dead code removal-- geysers were removed from gameplay months ago, but there was still plenty of code related to them. Sure, most of it wasn't ever used, but lots more places were doing checks along the lines of "is this object a geyser?" Even an optimizing compiler can't notice that none of the assets refer to a geyser, so that check can be completely skipped. You need a human to trim out dead code like that. And, a profiler won't normally catch such things either, as such checks rarely add up to a lot of time as they're done all over the place, but when all of them are removed, such things can be a small win. A whole lot of small wins, and sooner or later, you're talking a measurable speedup...

Oh, and while these numbers are in NO WAY final, according to Intel's VTune profiler on a release build playing our 'benchmark' mission, a bit less than 50% of CPU time is spent in BZ2. Roughly 10% of CPU time is in DirectX, and 40-45% of CPU time in the driver for the video board. Sorry, I'll get in trouble if I mention system specs, but this is my main machine at work, and is close to top of the line HW. [It woulda been essentially top of the line 5 months ago, if you want some hints.] Thus, optimized drivers for whatever 3D card you have are gonna help out a LOT.

5/3/99, Later: Optimized a bunch of dead code out, plus plenty of small changes that should speed things up in the long run. Wheee. Function #41 ('AIUtils::NearestVehicle') wasn't actually needed in the ways it was being called, so it got the axe, along with all of other miscellaneous things. Work continues...

5/3/99: E3 is only a week and a half away. Fun. Or something else. :) Working on optimizations, spotting code slowdowns, etc.

5/1/99: Yesterday was a day of putting out small fires at the office. MS Visual C++ was flaking out on Will Stahl's (Lead Designer's) system, making it painfully slow to edit code, build, or test on there. A bit of housecleaning later (blow away every intermediate file and project settings file; rebuild all from scratch), things were working. Then our debug builds of the code were running painfully slow on everyone's machines, and the profiler didn't catch it, but it was a project setting that had changed recently. Updated cookie stuff for Pandemic's website, helped fix a sync problem in a build that was going to someone outside of the office (our filesystem code doesn't deal well with a few problems, and some files can not be write protected), and a bit more.

And, on the home front, I picked up Rollercoaster Tycoon this week. Man is that an addictive game-- I was up until 2AM last night playing it, and that was only because I'm still painting myself into corners on the second scenario. I'll get better at this thing, I swear! :)