June 2008 in the Life of Ben (Blog)

  1. January
  2. February
  3. March
  4. April
  5. May
  6. June
  7. July
  8. August
  9. September
  10. October
  11. November
  12. December

GTA 2 Modding (29th June 2008)

There’s a surprisingly active GTA 2 multiplayer scene alive and fragging! They use Game Hunter, a really handy program written by Sektor and whose interface I influenced.

I expected MultiSlayer 4.6 to be final. But a few days ago I started to appreciate “arena” type levels. These are usually quite small areas which fit snugly inside the GTA 2 editor’s default view. Some are flat and featureless whilst others provide some cover with small buildings or height changes.

After scouring MultiSlayer I found a few places which are like arenas:

So far I’ve cut out the Ghetto and Hospital, turned them into arenas and gameplay tested them with:

Eternity Meadows Graveyard

Tombs give cover from rockets and trees give cover from molotovs. Has a few narrow paths of civilians. Should play like a cross between Zooka Arena and Ghetto. Not sure about weapons and powerups. Respawn points will probably be on the tombs.

Port Pluto Ship

Knife fight in a phone box! Dodging between containers with probably just rocket launchers and molotovs. This will be the next arena I cut out and test. Players will spawn on the cabin roof, with respawns on the containers.

Schnellburg Warehouses

Rooves, civilians, alleyways and open areas. These areas pack a lot of variety into quite small spaces.

Princess Mall

Large shops and small planted areas would give cover amongst a labyrinth of alleyways. Also has some open areas. Having made the Ghetto level already, I think this one would be too similar.

Downtown Ghetto

Pure chaos! Civilians run all over the place, rapid fire machine guns fill the screen with bullets and swarms of molotov cocktails get thrown overhead. You need switch weapons and tactics as the chaos develops and evolves.

Downtown Hospital

Players use stairs and jump gaps to switch between roof levels. Molotovs let you attack players at a different level. There are no civilians so good dodging and rocket skills overcome this. There are two flame throwers which are deadly in a couple of tight areas.

Conner Gardens Houses

Might remodel this into a small park. Perhaps like the one in Sunview from the San Andreas level of GTA 1? Pond with a bridge, trees, a small path and rocket launchers. Spawnkilling could be a problem, though.

23rd Birthday (27th June 2008)

This morning mum gave me a birthday card, which reads:

He’s the one who
has shown you
the meaning of joy
Right from the moment
they said,
“It’s a boy!”

He’s the dreamer
with visions
and plans
all his own,
Reaching for stars,
and too-suddenly grown…

He’s the man
you admire,
whose wonderful ways
Keep adding
new meaning
and love to your days…

He’s all of these
in one…

The someone
you’ve always
been proud
to call “Son.”

Your’re loved
very much, Son,
and you always will be.

My parents r teh pwn at selecting a greetings card. c{:¬)

That evening we cycled along the towpath to the wharf, out past the village. I crossed the canal over the humpback bridge whilst my parents stayed on the towpath. I whizzed along the lane which the bridge carries, then up the long hill towards the junction.

Rode gently along the road to the bridge by the wharf, meeting them there. This detour is a lot further than I remembered!

28th June 2008

Went to the Wyvern for lunch with my parents along with Zoe and Sarah. They came back to the house for a while, where I opened the remaining cards and presents. I’d put together a wishlist of CDs and, to my surprise, received all 4 of them!

Several weeks ago I saw a spellbinding – and completely unexpected – set from Portishead on Current TV. Pretty sure I’d seen music videos and the occassional radio airing of them during the 1990’s and liked their style.

That surprising performance on Current is what captured my imagination and convinced me this band deserved several places in my collection. Only music that really moves me gets into it. Which is also why In Rainbows got on my wishlist the moment I realised it existed.

So far I’ve listened to In Rainbows a few times through whilst doing the Seattle 100 Miles endurance race in Gran Turismo with the Gillet Vertigo and then the Panoz Esperate GT-R. Think I’ll experience Third tonight,. That’s what the Portishead set was based on, afaict.

Bought SmartFTP (26th June 2008)

Today I paid for SmartFTP, specifically the home version. I’ve been using the trial for like 400 days. Although it’s not perfect in my eyes, it’s the best I’ve used on balance by far.

Mum filled in the online forms for me, so it was kind of an early birthday present.

New Blog for 2003 (23rd June 2008)

Since announcing new blog IA, it has been progressing nicely. The end result is better than I had hoped for. To check what other people think, I’ve gone live with the 2003 blog updates.

Offline IRI Collection (20th June 2008)

From 4th June 2008 until today I collected 226 IRIs. These have come from various offline media, such as:

Why do that instead of getting lists of the most popular websites? Well, I’ll probably do that as well. By studying websites which arise in national and local culture, I get a deeper cross-section. There are Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) alongside multinational corporations and charities.

In particular, it cuts into the everyday websites which will never appear in a top-ranked websites list. These sites are used by people who get some benefit from them. They are run by people whose livelihoods depend on them, to some extent.

Making all the web work better and be easier to author is the goal, imho.

Parents Gone to Looe (20th June 2008)

On 13th June 2008 my parents have left for the town of Looe, in Cornwall. They will be away until 22nd June 2008.

So far I’ve spent some time rationalising Project Cerbera, especially the GTA areas. Also spent a couple of evenings playing GTA 2 multiplayer.

The guinea pigs now associate me with grass, celery, carrot and their normal food. They are now visibly more interested in my arrival each time I go check on them.

GTA IA (16th June 2008)

Today I went live with a raft of changes to the Grand Theft Auto section. They started when I created /gta/ on 12th June 2008.

This has needed doing for quite some time. Now it’s done, especially the massive re-organisation of all those tutorials, I’m very relieved. Looks like it will be the last change the GTA area will need.

Now, should I turn the Thoughts into blog entries at their corresponding dates? Then I could remove the /misc/ area…

Amazing Le Mans 24 Hours (15th June 2008)

Having seen Eurosport’s coverage of the Le Mans series during this year, I knew they were showing the entire Le Mans weekend. Crushingly I missed the Group C race on Saturday morning. But I watched nearly all the actual 24 hour race, taking a few naps during the night.


It was an incredibly dramatic weekend of racing. There have been several quite frightening crashes this season where air has gotten under a car, making it flip over and tumble through the run-off area. Reminded me of the Mercedes CLK GTR which did that in the late 1990’s whilst in the slipstream of a Toyota GT-One.

Amazingly the drivers have been alright and no spectators got hit by debris. But if there had been a grandstand on the inside of Curve Grande at Monza, all manner of components would have showered the crowd. Instead, they just showered the trees and grass.


Although qualifying had quite big gaps between the front-runners in each class, endurance is a very different ball game. Fast drivers tended to wear the cars out, so the slower but more consistent teams caught up.

After 24 hours of racing and 381 laps, the 1st and 2nd place cars finished on the same lap.

In other good news, Aston Martin won their class!

Gran Turismo 4

The lack of day/night transitions in Gran Turismo made my dream race less atmospheric than it could have been. The track looks so different at night. From the on-board footage you could see how you had to drive by memory as much as by eyesight.

Brake Pads Replaced (8th June 2008)

The sorry state of my bicycle’s brakes has been a source of embarrassment and danger for some time.

Let me say now that cheap old mountain bikes are a sorry piece of engineering. They use:

You need a range of tools to get at many of these things:

They are quite remarkable for the money, though. It’s all metric sizes, too.

Front Brake

Yesterday I had a go at realigning the brake pads on the front. Now, I had seen my dad do this years ago. Think I’ve had one or two attempts before now. Never really sat down in earnest to try and get it just right.

You have to undo nearly everything to do with the brakes before you can adjust the pads. This means everything is flopping around whilst you try and set the various angles necessary for effective braking. Think suspension geometery in motorsports. It’s like that but with wire cables, cheap steel pressings and 10mm nuts.

Each time I tried to get the nut really tight, my grip on the pad would slip. This ruined the angle. Eventually I was able to predict how much slip would occur and it ended up in the right place. With this under my belt, I did the other side much more quickly. It was still a fiddly and frustrating exercise but the result is an improvement.

Rear Brake

Today dad did the rear brake for me. The aggro was somewhat lessened by the brute force my dad can apply to the pads whilst tightening them. Also his experience of working with these bikes before helped.

After a few attempts and test runs around the garden, the braking was no better. Indeed, it actually felt a bit worse and the lever was soft. Think “long brake pedal” in motorsports and you’re there.

He looked for some new pads and, surprisingly to me, we had some. The old pads had aluminium embedded into their surface as they were so old. IIRC, they used to be my front brakes before I switched them to the back.

Dad fitted the new pads, with a little assistance from me. A couple more test runs and small adjustments and they seemed good as new.

Test Ride

After watching the Canadian Grand Prix I headed out. Going down the steep hill to the T-junction near my house was a bit worrisome with the old brakes. Squeezing both levers as hard as I could maybe 20 metres before the junction would stop the bike there. If I went down the hill slowly.

This time, I gave them a slight squeeze to check I’d have something when I got to the bottom. That slight squeeze gave as much stopping power as the maximum possible from the old setup! When I got to the bottom I left myself about 5 metres and easily stopped in that distance.

Rode around the nearby woods for a while. The front brake has a wonderful bite to it in normal riding. At very slow speeds it can be a bit harsh. I soon leart to use a single finger on the lever when turning around at very low speed.

The rear brake is now strong enough to lock the rear wheel on loose surfaces. This was impossible before. It’s concrete proof that the new pads are much more effective than the old ones. Will need to be careful of this on muddy terrain and when descending root-covered trails.

I’m dead chuffed to have this sorted out. Especially since the front brake improvements were all my own work.

Sunny Cycling (4th June 2008)

Some time ago I failed to summit a steep bank near Fleet Pond. Today, I made it!

I rode around for a few hours, quite slowly for the most part and stopping to look at trees, birds, waterfalls and so on. Explored some new routes and unintentionally ended up on the same routes as last time!

Rode along the other side of the stream which drains into the pond. This led me to the fields East of it. I went along the edge of one for a while, then saw a narrow route into the woodland. At first I thought it was an adventurous trail riders’ track but quickly found it ran past a very wet area. It was almost impassable but I managed to slog my way through it.

I was probably an animal track, not a cyclist route. I may have been the only person to go along it in months. Perhaps ever?

It eventually led me onto familiar routes on the ancient bank overlooking Fleet Pond. Rode through the picnic area looking for the steep, narrow path I failed at before. Eventually found it by the slope I dropped in from to build up approach speed.

Last time I nearly reached the top several times by approaching at high speed, then changing down to my lowest gear about 10 metres before it got really steep. This time I approached at a higher speed in medium 4, really pelting along the path and still pedalling hard up half the shallow run-up.

This increase in approach speed was the winning factor.

On my first run I wasn’t quite fast enough. The rear wheel slipped on the steepest section and that lost my momentum. It also loosened the surface, so I spent a while stamping the surface to smooth it out and pack it down. This was really precarious as it’s very steep, pretty loose and you have to stand on one leg to stamp!

The third run was the one I made it on. Thought I screwed up the approach as I was still shifting gears as I reached the end of the run-up. But the approach speed was so fast I only needed to lean on the pedals some metres later, by which time the gears had slipped into place. Just in time for me to need them.

Just after the summit, I was still turning left and nearly crashed off the side! Had to put a foot down but you can’t deny that I passed the summit. It felt like I’d won an X Games medal! Especially since I wasn’t completely satisfied with my run.

So I circled round and went again. This time I managed even more speed and got my gear changes done a bit earlier. Allowed the bike to freewheel further up the hill and only began pedalling again as I went over the steepest section. Got the steering perfect and rode cleanly out of the section.

Sometimes the little defeats in life really get me down. But the small victories, like this one, are equally uplifting.

Clarity is Massive Win (3rd June 2008)

Usability (and therefore accessibility) boils down to clarity, I think. For people to complete tasks, they must understand the system. It must be clear what they need to do at each step. As well as which part of the system does it.

This applies to all aspects of the system, including:

This clarity is best achieved by removing as much as possible. Yet enough must be kept for each step to be a convenient distance from the last.

In particular, removing inconsistencies makes the system more predictable. This makes it clear to users what each component does and how it will react when being used. Keeping the same thing in the same place on every page of a website is a plain-as-day example of getting this right.

Yet there are helpful inconsistencies. A little highlight in the main navigation to show which section the user is on. De-linking items which would point to the current page. But moving the navigation from one side of the screen to another, moving it down by a row, adding another item, changing it’s colour scheme and putting a main heading where it was? Gimme a break.

Parents Going to Looe (1st June 2008)

From 15th June 2008 to 22nd June 2008, my parents are vacationing in the Cornish town of Looe. They are staying at the same place we stayed at when I went with them, some years ago. In fact, many years ago. 8 or 9 years ago, to be imprecise.

It is on a hill which overlooks the sea. It has narrow, surfaced access roads which I remember belting around on with my mountain bicycle. That’s the same one I still have. Various youths would follow me around which was cool, since Zoe had moved out and was working rather than vacationing.