Category Archives: Technology

Games that have impressed me over the years

I have always been an avid video game player. Like everyone else, I started off with 8-bit games, got a PC and then subsequently upgraded the hardware as games evolved over the years. Somehow, I never got around to buying a console. For me, nothing can beat the keyboard/mouse combination.
Following is a list of games that have impressed me a lot over the years. I will not do full reviews (I’ll include links for those), but briefly state why I found them so appealing. I have included the Plot summaries from wikipedia
System Shock 2 (1999)

I have always been fascinated with Sci-fi, FPS & space. System Shock 2 combines all this with the horror genre and the result is a very addictive and mesmerizing game.

I got this game from Sector 17, Chandigarh, unfortunately, just before Diwali. I was so engrossed in the game that I spent most of Diwali playing it and ignored everything else. 










The reason I liked this game so much was because it conveys a feeling of loneliness. You are the only human (almost) in a city-sized spacecraft light-years away from home. Everything is deserted and the enemies appear suddenly, scaring you.
Also  fascinating for science fiction  lovers is how the overall structure of the Von-Braun and the Rickenbacker are slowly revealed and you discover how the spacecrafts are built to sustain an entire ecosystem. You feel sad, lonely and scared most of the time.
It’s a pity that there was no sequel to this fantastic game (even though the finale is open-ended). However, irrational games did release Bioshock, which is called the “spiritual successor” of System Shock.
Tomb Raider Series (1996 onwards)

Many would consider the Tomb Raider series as girly. Some others (who have only watched the movies) might have a different perception of the character. However, I found the games very fascinating due to the following reasons

  1. Most of the time, you are alone in a deserted location. This conveys a feeling of loneliness & mystery.
  2. The locales are just fascinating. Lara Croft travels through exotic locations, like the City of the Dead, Angkor Vat, South America, the Arctic Ocean etc. A full map of her adventures can be found here
  3. You get to walk, run, jump, drive vehicles, swim underwater etc
  4. The path forward is not always clear. You have to find your way most of the times, time your jumps, look for clues etc.
  5. The soundtrack is fantastic. Most of it, composed by Nathan McRee. They can be downloaded here

The later parts of the games have migrated to more modern settings, however, the earlier versions would remain closest to my heart,
Janes USAF (1999)

 
Jane’s USAF is one of the many Combat Flight Simulationsreleased by Jane’s Combat Simulations, but undoubtedly one of the best. You get to fly several US Air Force planes like the F-105 Thunderchief, F-4E Phantom IIF-16C Fighting Falcon, F-15C Eagle, F-15E Strike EagleA-10A Thunderbolt IIF-117A Nighthawk, and the F-22A Raptor  to different sorties, major missions like Vietnam and Desert Storm and 2 missions set in the future. You can switch from one plane to another within a mission as well. 
The controls were very slick and the graphics very good for that era. Too bad the game refused to run at all on Windows XP onwards.


Rogue Trip: Vacation 2012 (1998)










Rogue trip is a vehicular combat game and one of the few games I’ve played extensively on my friend’s Playstation (PS One). Even though I played it in Black & White (He has a PAL system but NTSC discs), the game was very enjoyable.
The main aim is to take aliens on a sight-seeing trip in various locales in the US. There are other cars who want to do the same, so there’s stiff competition as they try to kill you and vice-versa.



The cars are fun and you have a bevy of weapons including ballistic missiles. I have very fond memories of playing this game. The soundtrack is especially good including the Rascal King by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Here’s the song
[youtube
Max Payne (2001/2003)

This is the game that changed it all. It put my graphics card, my processor and my overall computer to shame. I had to invest money into buying new hardware for my computer, especially to play this game. With an almost brand new system and a lighter pocket, this game was a pure pleasure to play. Some things that stand out for this game

  1. Unique storyboard based gameplay
  2. Amazing haunting music
  3. The innovative gameplay style featuring Bullet-time motion, with slow-motion stunts. You can see bullets slow down and travelling through the air, causing shock-waves while you dive for cover and fire back at the same time
  4. The snowy landscape of New York is a joy to travel through
  5. Unique weapons like the Molotov Cocktail

I still vividly remember the opening cut-scene

“Stand by, 10-10 investigated reported disturbance at Aesir plaza.”
“10-4, Dispatcher, verify address.”
“It’s Aesir Plaza, repeat, Aesir Plaza.”

The sequel, though not as great as the first part is still pretty amazing.
Grand Theft Auto (1997 onwards)

My first sojourn with a Grand Theft Auto game was when I played GTA II demo on a Chip CD. The gameplay, though 2D as still quite enjoyable.
GTA-III started the 3D era for the GTA series. GTA-III onwards, the gameplay features a sandboxed city, in which you can navigate to complete different missions. The main points are

  1. You are given access to an open world. You can go anywhere in the city you like, steal an vehicle you can find (including a Tank)
  2. An innovative “RADIO” system. You can switch between radio channels and listen to the obscure in-game radios.
  3. You can sleep off your injuries

GTA-III had one of the best gameplays/graphics of that era and subsequent sequels improved upon it and maintained the high-standards.
The latest version, GTA-IV is widely regarded as one of the best games of all time. Again, I had to spend a lot to upgrade my computer to be able to run this game. If your computer is up for it, the graphics are pure bliss. No other game till now has managed to re-create such a beautiful city in its entirety

The best part about such games is that the game never gets over. You still have the whole city to explore and you can just roam around for hours killing people, fleeing from the police, stealing cars and bikes.

Some other games worth mentioning are Microsoft Flight Simulator, Microsoft Midtown Madness, Crysis 2

Bye Bye Worldspace Satellite Radio!

My Mom gifted me my Worldspace satellite radio around 5 years ago, knowing how much I liked music. Though it was available in India for years before this, it was not very affordable and their receivers were huge and bulky.  My mom got mine for around 5k with a yearly subscription of around 1200 Rupees in 2006.
I took it with me to Nagpur, where, reaching at 11:00 at night, the first thing I did was install the receiver on the roof and listen to music all night long. After that, I knew which direction “South-East” was, in every house I lived. After moving to Kolkata, we went to great lengths to install the receiver on the apartment roof, run the cable down to our flat. Did the same when I moved to 2 different houses in Gurgaon.
While satellite radio might not a hit amongst the general population in India (“Who listens to Radio at home when you have TV?” or “Who pays a subscription fee to listen to radio when you can download pirated songs for free?”), it was a boon for music lovers. Almost every genre of music imaginable, spread across more than 50 channels, with excellent sound quality, it was everything a music lover had been waiting for.
My favorite channels used to be Orbit Rock and Voyager. It was on Orbit Rock that I first listened to Echoes by Pink Floyd. I had tuned in mid-way and the haunting nature of the music instantly mesmerized me. The music went on for 20 minutes and I was left with an overwhelming desire to listen to it again. Thankfully, the Worldspace India website provided a way to find out which song played when and there was also a section to request new songs.
After moving for the second time in Gurgaon, the Radio fell in bad times. I did not get to install it for almost 5-6 months, and even after I did, I didn’t listen to it much, partly due to my hectic schedule.
Then one day, I read in the newspaper that Worldspace had broadcast it’s last song in India on December 31, 2009, the company already having filed for bankruptcy in the US a year ago. I immediately turned on my receiver and as expected, there was no Pink Floyd; just silence.
I felt bad as well as nostalgic. Bad because I didn’t listen to it much during it’s last days. Nostalgic because I had great memories associated with it and there is no alternative to it in India at the present.
Still, I refused to take down the cabling and the antenna placed on the rooftop, braving rain and cold and the harsh Gurgaon summers. I was hopeful that somehow the company would be revived or there would be a different company which would launch services compatible with the existing hardware.
More than a year later, there is no Satellite Radio Service in India and while tidying up my place, I decided to take down the antenna from the rooftop and remove the cabling (due to which I had been unable to fully close my window for years).
From what I can surmise, worldspace failed in India primarily because they didn’t launch a car version of their radio. No one really listens to Radio at home when they have TV and no one would dare to pay to listen to Radio. True blue music lovers are quite scarce, not enough to keep the company afloat. They did team up with airtel DTH TV services for bundled services, but apparently that didn’t help.
However, people do listen to music in their cars. Worldspace should have taken a note from What Sirius and XM have done in the US and teamed up with car  and car stereo manufacturers to put a Worldspace module in mid and high-end car stereos.
Even if Worldspace does return, people would have a hard time trusting them with a pre-paid yearly subscription, having been cut short the last time. I myself am not much fond of Internet Radio, with the lack of dedicated Internet Radio receivers available in this country and unwilling to keep the whole computer running just for radio.
Worldspace, we will miss you. may you R.I.P!!

Bose® In-Ear Headphones

I recently had the opportunity to use bose in-ear headphones and I was so moved by the experience that I had to write a post.
Firstly, I wanted to know what the hype is about bose products and why they cost so more. Maybe it was this because of which my expectations were high. These bose headphones are good, but not as good as I expected. If you’re looking for noise cancelling phones, these are not for you. They fight very lightly in the ears but are very very comfortable. I normally use the generic headphones that came with my phone, so I like to keep my equaliser to high bass. The bass on the bose is so strong I immediately had to turn my equaliser back to normal. I started off with sad but true by metallica and the depth of the sound blew me away. The song sounded amazing. Next I moved on to marooned from pink floyd’s division bell. Again, amazing, with the bass just a bit high, overwhelming the mid range. Coming back to life sounded amazing, the bass on high hopes
was physically irritating to my skull and I had to lower the volume. Bose also says on the package that the headphones produce “natural sound” which is not entirely true, as the music sounds enhanced in the low range.
To change the genre I turned to Dire Straits. I started off with So far away, continued to Money for nothing and finished off with brothers in arms. Again, normal songs sound good, the songs with already prominent bass tracks just overwhelm the mid-range. By this time i’ve listened to an hour worth of songs but the headphones are barely noticeable and so comfortable that if it wasn’t for the sound or the wires
hanging off, I would not even know they were there. I am normally not a fan of in-ear earphones, but these are really-really good.
Pros:

  1. Excellent sound quality
  2. Excellent comfort
  3. Good Bass
Cons:
  1. Bass sometimes too strong, overpowers mid-range
  2. Better earphones available within same range
If you listen to a song for the music, the clarity of the instruments, there may be better options available. If you want just loud music with thumping bass, this the the thing for you.

I myself have added the Klipsch Image S4 on my wishlist and will be getting these bad boys as soon as I get my pay at the end of the month.

My job is like a medical intern’s

I’ve been watching scrubs a lot lately and I think I can relate to that lifestyle because I have a similar job. Now, I’m not remotely connected to the medical profession, but there are many similarities between my job and that of a medical intern.

1. We both work in shifts, mostly nights.
2. We both have to work under high pressure situations, time being of essence.
3. We both get to work on cases. Some are easy and get solved right away, some take months.
4. There are high priority cases where you can’t do anything unless they gets solved and there are normal ones. Just like an ICU.
5. You don’t feel that happy when you escape at the end of the shift because you know when you return the next day, the cases will be waiting for you.
6. Some cases you don’t know what to do but they got solved by themselves, some cases seem very easy but go on for months.
7. We all have to work on holidays.
8. Research is your best friend.
9. When you don’t know what to do, you go beg your mentor to tell you something.

Electric Car – A farce

The electric car is one of the biggest objects of farce in today’s age. People keep on crying about how electric cars run on electricity and not by burning hydrocarbons and hence they are less polluting and “environment friendly” Ha. Ha. Looks like the people who say this have never believed in anything written outside text books and tabloids or understood a few simple concepts of physics.

Let’s take for example a regular petrol/diesel powered car. The efficiency of a stock normal compression petrol engine is around 30% and that of a diesel engine is 45%. That means 45% of the energy obtained from burning fuel is actually converted into mechanical energy to move a car and this includes mechanical loss and heat loss. For high performance cars, the figure may be up to 50%.

Now let’s take the “environment friendly” electric car. An electric car motor has an efficiency of around 90%!! Wow!! Isn’t that amazing?? And also so pollution free! Not quite so! Where does the electricity used to charge the car come from? From power plants. What do these power plants run from? In India, 87% power is produced by burning coal. The efficiency of a typical Indian power plant is around 23%(US=33%) which means a loss of 77%. Add to that transmission losses of around 15%(US=9%). Battery charging efficiency is at the best 70% which means a loss of 30%. This brings the total efficiency of an electric car down to 19% starting from the first fuel. And this is using coal, which is much much more polluting than petrol or diesel. I’m not even taking into account the fact that half the weight of an electric car is the batteries which is a waste of the mechanical energy. Also, each megawatt of power utilised more in the cities means 1 less hour of electricity per day in the villages. And the villages i’m talking about get only a few hours of electricity per day as it is.

Let’s look at the total efficiency figures of a diesel and electric car

Diesel—–Diesel Engine 55% loss——> Mechanical Energy = 45% Efficiency

Coal/Diesel—-Turbine power plant 77% loss—>Transmission 15% loss—>Battery charging 30% loss—->Electric Motor loss 10%—->Mechanical Energy = 19% efficiency

Modern diesel and petrol engines are almost pollution free and you also get performance and practicality. Would you want to go on a road trip and stop for a charge every 100km or so and even then crawl along at speeds not more than 80kmph. And for all this you shell out 4 times as more than you would for an Internal Combustion car and also have people laugh at you.

Unless more efficient and pollution free power generation is adopted, the electric car is clearly impractical and in fact more polluting than a normal car. The only difference is that a normal car pollutes the urban section and the electric car pollutes the suburbs and the rural. The blame of pollution is just passing from your conscience to the government.

Pink Floyd+Vodka=Disaster (I am screwed big time…)

Seemed like the perfect evening. Pink Floyd Pulse concert on DVD on my friend’s laptop. Me and my friend were having Fuel Vodka. Pink Floyd music and Vodka really combined have a really interesting effect. Couple with that the spectacular Visual Effects and the Psychedelic nature of the music and your head will surely start reeling. Anyways, We watched the whole concert when “Comfortably Numb” started playing. Eager to show off my guitaring skills, as I could play that song well, I picked up my guitar from the bed and accidentally hit over the vodka glass lying on the table and spilled vodka all over the laptop. Dried it off the best we could at that time but in the morning it won’t turn ON, so we took it to the service centre. Seems that the motherboard is shot to hell and I have to get a new one. A new HP laptop motherboard costs around 35,000 and I have to pay that so I am screwed. Don’t know where to arrange so much money. Meanwhile I am really depressed while I look for ways to arrange the money.. 🙁