Trucking Digest

With a lot fewer posts from me over the last couple of weeks, this forum seems the best place to explain what has been going on as the root cause is my love of simulation programs on my computer. The pc I am writing this on is a Hewlett Packard Envy. It came with an Intel i7-4770 CPU, an AMD R9-270 graphics card, 16GB of RAM and a 2TB hard drive. At the time of purchase it was a high-end office and mid-range gaming pc – ideal for a casual gamer and a serious photographer with lots of processing to do. For at least three years now the Truck Simulator programs by SCS Software have been the core of my relaxation. Before that I also enjoyed Railworks Train Simulator. Each of these ‘games’ relies heavily on the ability of the hardware to create the scenery through which you pass to a good level of detail in order to achieve the illusion of travelling through the real world and maintain a high degree of immersion. And there we come to an issue, one that I’ve lived with for quite some time.

The R9-270 is now quite an old graphics card and was in the middle of AMD’s R9 range which means it was ok for most things but you might have to settle for lower quality graphics than with a top of the range card. One of the issues I have experienced in my simulator games is random graphical glitches, especially after the pc has been in use for a while. I sometimes got them in Railworks and also in the Truck Sim’s. The other issue was micro-stuttering in the movement through the environment – occasional missing frames resulting in very tiny stop-go instances that my eye would see. These issues over time can be a bit frustrating. I did read a comment on the Euro Truck forum dating to three or four years ago where another gamer complained that his R9-270 made the game unplayable! That certainly was not my experience – otherwise I would not have persevered with playing for so long. In fact it would be wrong of me to suggest that I was in any way disappointed in the HP Envy’s performance as a whole. Perhaps I’m just too pragmatic to get agitated about this sort of thing. I knew I was pushing the graphics card and possibly also the CPU beyond their realistic ‘best performance’ areas by playing heavy-duty simulation games and I accepted the resulting glitches as an understandable consequence. As I have moved into more recent games, Fishing Planet would be a good example, it has become even more apparent that the R9-270 was being asked to work beyond what was realistic.

One of the key indicators of trouble is the noise from the cooling fans in your pc – mine have been getting very loud (Hoover-like loud) and are a sure indication that something in there is getting way too warm for comfort. One fan has taken to making knocking noises as it slows down after a game has closed. I have cleaned the system thoroughly to remove dust and checked the fans over but the issue persists. But there is more to the situation – let me explain a little further. Another issue is sharing hard drive space between photography requirements (RAW files can be very large) and game code/saves (which can also be very large!). When your hard drive is close to 3 quarters full it’s time to look at your storage solutions and options. So, you see, I had a bit of a problem to resolve. It’s been rattling around my head since late last year like the pea in a referee’s whistle. So what is the solution? Replace the HP Envy with a new machine that can run those games better? That won’t really solve my other problem as even now the preferred largest size hard drive is 2TB – yes you can get bigger but that seems to be the ideal max for most systems. Give up playing simulation games? – don’t even go there!!! 😦 No – my solution is to buy a high-end gaming pc that will work alongside the existing HP Envy. All games will be moved across to the new machine and the old machine will have more free space on its hard drive to process photos. Shifting the games from the current machine will significantly reduce the stress on the graphics card and CPU – possibly extending their lifespan. And the games will benefit from a more suitable environment to provide a glitch free experience and thus improved immersion when driving my trucks 🙂

I have spent 6 months looking at a number of options, not helped by the continual changes in the computing equipment market place. I did consider building my own but I probably need a couple more years of knowledge gaining before I’m ready to take that step – although Alasdair is quickly learning such skills on his BTEC course 🙂 In the end I opted to buy from CCL Computers after they were recommended by simulation guru Squirrel. I chose to balance cost against performance – which means that I chose to buy the AMD Ryzen 7 2700X processor. The graphics card is the Nvidia RTX2070 which is upper-mid-range in Nvidia terms but with performance way above the top of the current AMD range (at a price). Today was its first day in service and what a day – a delivery for an SCS Software event. We took a racing truck from Köln to Санкт-Петербу́рг (St.Petersburg) as part of the #OneTruckFamily event that SCS are currently running with the FIA European Truck Racing Competition. That was 2hrs:46mins of driving on the new rig with no glitches and no stutters 🙂 Alasdair asked me when I told him about my intended drive – “How long would that take in the real world?”. 67.5 hours or 2.8 days including rest stops – and I was tired after just 2hrs:46mins! Some images below of my MAN TGX on this run…


Have a good weekend everyone – drive safe – more info about the new pc in another post 🙂

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Selling The Edge of Beyond

Outpost by name and outpost by nature I guess. I sat in the cafeteria of Pacheco Outpost with a breakfast of bacon, egg and beans. “You’re in luck” said the woman behind the serving hatch, “Only came in yesterday. Delivered by a trader from the Bacon Cats faction” The fresh produce was in stark contrast with the room itself. A lick of paint would brighten it up but you’d have to take a shovel to the layers of grease on the walls where the cleaner couldn’t reach or thought no one would notice! The furniture – utilitarian and ubiquitous in equal measure – had seen better days too with scratches deep enough to call valleys if you were a mouse. Someone had attempted to bring some luxury to one side of the cafeteria by fitting alcove seating along one of the walls – clearly recycled from an Orca passenger liner, it just didn’t feel right and was studiously avoided by the clientele.

The Waila system hangs on the edge of Human space above the drop off towards the Pleiades Nebula. The info system tells me there are 6000 souls here though how many are resident and how many are passing through I couldn’t tell you. Mining is the main industry and I eyed a group of miners gathered around another table, catching snatches of their conversation above the noise of the air plant. “Jossy had his ship shot from under him last week…” “The Empire should send more ISS to clear out the pirates.” “They won’t – We’re out of sight; Out of mind here.” “So… Jossy lost his ship? Rust bucket anyway!”… I tuned out and glanced around the rest of the room. On a table in the far corner I could see a young couple whispering – Imperial Slaves bound to a master until their debt is paid off, I wondered briefly what master would be employing them here. Then I concluded that they were probably on the run. With very few ISS about they should be safe here amongst the miners but they had run as far as they could go – there is nothing beyond Pacheco Outpost. They would have to find a means of income in the grey market that exists on the distant stations.

I’d arrived the previous evening (though Earthly times of day really don’t apply on a space port) – returning to Human Space after a two week trip out to the Helix Nebula. There’s money to be made in exploring if you can find new planets and stars that the Empire, or the Federation, can make money from. Top of the list are metal-rich planets and terraformable worlds. Any trip out there carries risks – running out of fuel being the most dangerous. There’s a rescue team who call themselves The Fuel Rats for when that happens, always assuming you can contact them and wait it out on life support only until they reach you. But you can collide with things, get too close to a star whilst scooping fuel or because you forgot to close the throttle when in hyper-cruise between systems. I picked up some minor damage when I got too close to a planet’s rings in the HIP 110107 system. Put it down to experience!

So, after docking, my first port of call was the maintenance office where I put in a request for repairs to the hull and systems. The kid behind the desk looked a bit young to be running the section. “Yeah, I scraped the underside on some rocks – so take a good look there please.” “Flying a bit low were you Sir?” Cheeky monkey I thought – “They sort of crept up on me” I replied. An older man in oily overalls, heavy boots and with welding goggles dangling round his neck, wandered in from the back room – “Python’s done – what’s next?” The kid, suddenly all business-like, tapped away at the terminal then asked “Name of ship?” “Humourist.” “Type?” “Cobra MkIII.” “Got you – Commander Anson?” “That’s me.” “Ok – no crimoff, no bounties, no fines – you run a clean ship Commander.” “Mostly” I said. The kid turned to the older guy – “Dad – you want to take a look at this one?” “Sure”, He gave me a wink and in a heavy stage whisper added “Kids these days!” I left the office happy that everything was in hand.

I wandered along a poorly lit corridor enjoying the ring of my boots on the companionway in the damply stale air. It was a pleasantly free experience after sitting in Humourist’s cockpit for 2 weeks solid! I was looking for the Cartography office – every station has one and Universal Cartographics will pay for any information you can give about systems that are not well documented. I found the office in a particularly dingy corridor with a sign outside that was flickering to the point of extinction.

As soon as I entered a small woman in a vibrant check jacket stood up from behind her desk to greet me. If the office was as gloomy as the corridor the jacket would have helped me find her but in the bright lights it was dazzling! The importance of a posting for UC staff is proportional to the distance from SOL and I guess that the Cartographer on Pacheco Outpost must feel that she’s landed a plumb job – so many explorers passing through with information from the systems beyond. After adjusting her black-framed spectacles, she offered her hand – “Cartographer Millard – What can I do for you?” A redundant question as the only reason for me to be in her office was to sell some mapping data! “Commander Anson” I replied and added “It’s bright in here!” “Oh yes… the corridor” she said, looking glum “Station maintenance is bad – they can’t get staff out here. I change the office lights myself. Haven’t seen a cleaner in weeks, so I do that too.” “Do you also take mapping data from distant systems?” I asked with a mischievous grin. Her face brightened perceptibly “Oh yes, most certainly! Let’s see what you’ve got.” She scanned down the screen of data I’d passed her. “No new systems here Commander, no bonuses, I mean… it’s all good info but… Hold on… What have we here!” I unconsciously leant forwards, waiting for clarification. “HIP 112962 – you’ve found two new stars that we knew nothing about and several planets. And one of them is a Water World with carbon life – eminently terraformable – Excellent work Commander!” By the time she had finished scanning through my data, there were new planet and star discoveries in 33 previously known systems and I was around 4.5MCr better off. She was ecstatic and I was pleased, so a good result all round!

I went off to get a few hours sleep in a cabin that could have doubled as a water feature with the amount of condensation running down the walls. It was good to get out of the G-suit and let my skin breathe on its own for a change! I could have dreamed bad dreams about lifeforms on distant planets eradicated in the name of terraforming and corporate profit but I didn’t lose any sleep over it – I have to make a freebooting living. Then I went to breakfast – which is where we came in!

Continued at https://2e0mca.wordpress.com/2015/11/30/waila-limbo/

The Parental Dilema

As Parents, online safety is one of the biggest challenges of our time. Having a permanent internet connection brings so many superb benefits for our children when it comes to education. But it brings with it the other things – things we may not want them to experience until they’re older. The obvious is pornography but it could just as easily be a news clip that shows unpleasant violence. Now, that’s something that I probably would not have seen when I was a child. Zoo Quest was the closest I ever saw to violence on TV when I was a child – though Dr Who in Black and White was pretty scary for my generation! How should we handle this?

I think that the first thing is not to panic! The vast majority of children, by the time they become teenagers, are a lot better at deciding what they feel safe with than we give them credit for. The approach I’ve taken with my son is to show some of the pitfalls of the internet (including how easy it is to find things you weren’t looking for), some of the violence he will find in games and give some advice of what the difference is between the internet and the real world. Being involved with the games he is playing has given confidence on both sides that he can make rational decisions about what he’s playing and how it relates to the real world.

The rules of contact via the internet, phone, skype, etc. are light – more a memorandum of understanding – talking with your school / scout friends is ok. Be very careful with anyone else who contacts you. After the initial advice of dealing with unwarranted nasty texts, emails, etc. He’s trusted to make his own judgement with the backstop that if something happens he’s unsure about he comes and talks to me and the door is always open.

In our experience as Father / Son, in-game contacts are often genuine contacts (if sometimes a little excitable) – so after a little initial care they often turn into trustworthy contacts from all over the world (the penpals of today?). I know that he has regular contacts on his favourite games from as far away as Greece and the US. None of these have stepped outside of game chat.

Outside of our parental decisions on this the school has banned mobile phones with cameras to prevent things like sexting. It also means the kids aren’t carrying expensive mobiles to school and therefore reduces the instances of muggings.

I did have a very amusing discovery yesterday though… Walking into our front room where the Lad’s computer and homework desk resides, I find him talking to some floosie who’s telling him all about how babies are made 😉 Actually, she’s a friend in Malta who he’s been in contact with via instagram for a while and apparently this particular piece of sex education came about through a discussion of expletives (The Maltese use them a lot?) and what they mean! What can I say… My passing presence was clearly more embarrassing to him than the chat they were having especially as it was on webcam 😉 I said hi and she gave me a polite hi back! – just hope I haven’t caused an issue for their friendship 😦 I’m actually impressed that this was a boy-girl conversation… There’s hope for the human race yet!

My approach works for me and my Son – can’t guarantee it will work for others but, as in most other things, knowledge dispels fear. The more you understand yourself, the more you can guide your children without seeming to clip their wings.