Silver Gravy Sharing thoughts on Science, Technology & Video Games Sun, 08 Jul 2012 17:35:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The lost Halo Reach maps Sun, 08 Jul 2012 13:45:13 +0000 Andrew (More)…]]> There have been two DLC packs for Halo Reach to date, Noble and Defiant. Together they included six new maps, which are were super rad. Problem is, they’ve kinda….disappeared. The one I miss the most is probably Breakpoint, because it was one of only three original Invasion game-type maps Reach had to offer. Also it was snowy!

Halo Reach Breakpoint

Just looking at this screenshot brings back memories. Ah, better days.

We paid a grand total of 1600 Microsoft Points (£13.71) for both of those DLC packs, and now we never see them in multiplayer matchmaking. What’s going on?

There used to be a seperate playlist available for those who wanted to play the DLC content (called Premium Battle). We had hours of fun swapping between the DLC maps and the vanilla maps in multiplayer matchmaking, getting the most out of our money and the best experience Reach had to offer.

So what went wrong?

In December 2011 the DLC playlists were removed, and all DLC content integrated into their regular playlists (for example, Breakpoint would now appear in the Invasion playlist). Here’s what 343 Industries had to say about the change at the time:

We’ve adjusted the Matchmaking algorithm to match players who have DLC with other players who have DLC more often than in the past. We’ve also upped the weighting for DLC in our playlists so that you’ll see the DLC in your voting options more frequently. Also, remember that all of the Anniversary maps have been added to the majority of the playlists. The combination of these things means that you’re going to be able to enjoy your premium DLC in Matchmaking much more often than ever before.

If you would like to continue playing the game types and maps featured in this particular playlist after December’s Matchmaking update goes live, here’s a handy-dandy cheat sheet to get you started on replicating that experience.

Slayer – Visit Team Slayer, Squad Slayer, and Big Team Battle, where DLC has been weighted to show up frequently.
Objective – Visit Team Objective and Big Team Battle, where DLC has been weighted to show up frequently.
Invasion – Visit the Invasion playlist, where Invasion Breakpoint has been set to show up frequently in slot one.

That sounds like a pretty nice solution right? Match people with the DLC together, and then make it more likely that the DLC will show up for them. I like that solution. However, it clearly doesn’t work.

I usually play Reach once or twice a week for a good number of hours, and have done since it was released back in 2010. You could call me….a fan. Since the Premium Battle playlist was removed, I have not seen a DLC map once. Not once. Let me be very clear.

Not a single time.

I can only think of three reasons for this to be the case, considering how 343 have changed the matchmaking algorithm.

  1. So few people own the DLC packs that the system simply can’t match them together, and so we never see the DLC
  2. Their matchmaking algorithm is broken, and isn’t putting those with the DLC together
  3. 343 Industries are trolling us
Something's Wrong Here

Something’s Wrong Here….

So, the maps aren’t gone, we’re just more likely to get hit by a bus tomorrow than we are to land on one in matchmaking. To quote one Halo Reach Forum member…..

“you just need several four leaf clovers for any DLC map to show up now.” – boomdeyadah, Intrepid Legendary Member

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Where should Mobile Phone Ports be placed? Fri, 08 Jun 2012 23:11:58 +0000 Andrew (More)…]]> Until recent years the location of ports on mobile phones hasn’t been as important.

I wasn’t using my phone to play music because of limited storage capacity, battery drain and the clunkyness of early smartphone media players.

I also wasn’t often using my phone while it was charging, because phones weren’t much good at anything beyond phone calls, texting and taking photos (and as a result, the battery didn’t drain enough to need charging until I went to sleep).

So, I never used the headphone port, and the charger cable never got in the way while I was using my phone.

Here’s the phone I use now, the HTC Desire HD. It’s my first modern touch screen smartphone, and I’m extremely pleased with how it’s performed:

HTC Desire HD

After having my Desire HD for over a year, it's yet to scratch. What the heck is it made of?!

What do the ports look like on the Desire HD?

HTC Desire HD Base

Desire HD's base ports: Headphone & USB (that small hole is the internal mic)

The Desire HD has two ports (not including the internal Micro-SD slot), the Headphone port and the USB port. That’s perfectly standard, but what’s good about them is their placment. They’re on the bottom of the phone.

Okay, so why is having all the ports on the bottom a good thing?

Let’s look at the USB port first. We use that for charging and data transfer, but mostly just charging. With a lot of modern phones, the battery drain throughout the day requires us to plug our phones in at some point during the evening, perhaps while we’re still actively using the phone. For example I use my phone a lot to read blogs in bed before I go to sleep. Having the charger cable plug into the bottom of the phone is ideal, because it means it never gets in the way, and it never bends in a potentially harmful (for the cable) manner.

Having the Headphone port on the bottom of the phone is ideal too, and here’s why:

When you’re holding your phone up to use it, the headphone cable doesn’t have to bend towards gravity, it’s already oriented downwards in a manner that can improve the cable’s lifespan (you don’t want a damaged cable that needs jiggling to get to work!).

Also, (since my first phone without an external antenna poking out of the top) I put my phone into my pocket top first. When I pull it out of my pocket again, it’s already the right way up in my hand ready for use, I don’t have to flip it around.

The key point here, is that it makes no logical sense to flip your phone around when you put it into your pocket, only to have to flip it back again when you take it out.

So, if the headphone port is on the bottom of the phone, not only does the cable hang nicely while you’re holding your phone, but while it’s in your pocket the cable is already oriented to come up out of your pocket.

So where are the ports on current phones?

Here’s the iPhone 4′s ports, and the newest in the HTC line (and soon to be replacement for my Desire HD), the HTC One X:

iPhone 4 Ports

The iPhone 4's ports (headphone port on top of phone)



HTC One X (Headphone port top, USB left side)

Both phones have the headphone ports on the top of the phone, which is pretty inconvenient. The particularly strange thing is the placement of the HTC One X’s USB port, the upper left side. This is arguably worse than having it on top. It forces the cable to bend as it hangs, and could annoy left-handed users by getting in the way of where their thumbs comfortably rest to hold the phone. It could also be a pain when trying to use the phone on your side in bed, or standing it up landscape (most phones seem to default their landscape tilt to 90° clockwise, and being right-handed I prefer to have the face-buttons near my right thumb where I can reach them).

Okay, so some of those reasons are minor. But they’re inconveniences that could be eradicated entirely by simply having the ports on the bottom of the phone. There is the possibility that hardware design necessitated that the USB port be on the side, but there’s Little excuse for the headphone ports ill-conceived placement.

Conclusions, conclusions…..

I can only conclude that the majority of consumers want their headphone ports to be on the top of the phone. I for one can’t imagine why, but that’s life for you.

What do you think?

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How do radio waves work? Wed, 18 Apr 2012 20:21:57 +0000 Andrew (More)…]]> I started writing a quick primer on radio waves within an article on how to get into Amateur Radio (upcoming), but it quickly expanded to the point where I decided it deserved its own article. So, want a little refresher on the basics of radio waves? Read on!

The Electromagnetic Spectrum

Electromagnetic (EM) radiation is all around us. Radio waves, microwaves, visible light, x-rays, gamma rays and more are all examples of EM radiation, they all have their place in the EM Spectrum (shown below), and they are all waves. The only difference between them is their frequency and wavelength.

Electromagnetic Spectrum

Part of the EM Spectrum. The higher up the spectrum, the higher the frequency of the waves (img XKCD)


The frequency of a wave is the rate at which the wave repeats itself (or cycles). One wave cycle per second is one Hertz.

High and Low Frequency Example

The higher the frequency, the more often the wave repeats

We’ve developed technology that allows us to convert radio waves of a specific frequency to sound that we can hear. These are the radios we have in our homes and our cars!

When we set our dial to 98.8 Mhz FM to listen to BBC Radio 1, we’re telling our radios to focus on the FM radio waves that are cycling at 98,800,000 Hertz! (1 Mhz or Megahertz = 1,000,000 Hertz). Okay, FM it’s a bit more complex than that, but that’s all we need to know!


Amplitude the measurement of the strength of the wave.

  • If the wave were a sound wave, a higher amplitude would give us a louder noise
  • If the wave were a radio wave, a higher amplitude puts more power behind the wave, allowing it to travel further, and be received better over background noise or other transmissions
  • Your electrical appliances are also rated in amps (short for amplitude). Some of them use more power than others, and thus have a higher amp rating!

The higher the amplitude, the more energy the wave has.

Amplitude is measured as half the height of the wave. Look at the below diagram. Both waves have the same frequency, but different amplitudes. The wave at the top of the diagram has a higher amplitude, and so it is “taller”. If you’d like a more dictionary-like definition of amplitude, look no further than….right here!

“Amplitude is the objective measurement of the degree of change in the power output of a wave”

Amplitude Example

The taller the wave, the higher the amplitude

Wavelength! The length of a wave

The physical length of a wave (quite handily called the wavelength) is the distance between the start and end of one cycle of the wave (see below diagram). Some low frequency waves are more than 100 miles long, some higher frequency waves are less than 1 millimeter long!

Wavelength Example Diagram

The higher the frequency, the shorter the wavelength

Bands and Channels

(Not actually to do with the basics of radio waves, but Band and Channel are terms used often in the world of radio transmission and reception.)

A band is a specific slice of the EM Spectrum. For example, CB Radio users transmit at around 27 Mhz. This is part of the 11 Meter Band of frequencies, because a 27 Mhz wave is about 11 meters long (it’s actually about 11.11111…. meters long).

Channels (E.g TV channels) are specifically designated frequencies within a band that people can tune their sets to. There’s usually a gap between channels to avoid accidental cross over.

And finally….Modulation!

Modulation. It’s not as difficult to wrap your head around as it first sounds! Let’s look at two very well known methods of radio modulation. Frequency Modulation (FM) and Amplitude Modulation (AM). Put simply, these are two different methods of formatting a piece of information in order to transmit it. The piece of information we want to send is represented in the below diagram as the “Signal”. Let’s say that signal is somebody’s voice speaking into a microphone.

In Amplitude Modulation (AM), the transmitted wave’s frequency does not change relative to the source “Signal”, but the amplitude does.

In Frequency Modulation (FM), the transmitted wave’s amplitude does not change relative to the source “Signal”, but the frequency does.

FM and AM Modulation

Yay, animated GIFs!

A radio set that can only demodulate (restore the original “Signal” so it can be played out of the speakers) AM transmissions would be unable to retrieve the information from an FM transmission, and vice versa. For example, in the UK, CB Radio uses FM. In America, CB Radio uses AM. Even if you had favourable weather conditions and an excellent antenna, you would never hear a normal American CB user on the same frequency using a UK FM set.

Interested in where Amateur (HAM) Radio & CB Radio sit in the EM Spectrum? Take a closer look at that diagram!

EM Spectrum Close Up

Close up showing the part of the EM Spectrum we'll be using!

Now you know the basics of radio waves you guys! Don’t forget to check out my upcoming article on How to get into Amateur Radio, because you know, it could be pretty rad.

Peace out.

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An open source Artificial Intelligence Evolution Simulator Mon, 16 Apr 2012 17:48:42 +0000 Andrew (More)…]]> Creating Artificial Intelligence is seen by many as the holy grail of computer science, and many devote their careers to that goal. One of the methods being explored is Evolutionary Computation, and we’re going to take a quick look at an exciting piece of open source software called Evolve 4.0 that uses that method!

“Evolutionary Computation is the general term for several computational techniques which are based to some degree on the evolution of biological life in the natural world.” – Craig Reynolds

What is Evolve?

Evolve 4.0 is an evolution simulator that places organisms into a 2D universe in which they can move, grow, eat, breed, and fight other organisms. Each organism is made up of one or more “cells”, and contains its own genetic language called KFORTH, which plays the role of DNA.

Evolve 4.0 Simulation Screenshot

Two species fighting for dominance and survival, much like life in the real world.

How do the organisms reproduce?

When an organism breeds asexually, its genetic code is copied, and then randomly “mutated” based on some customisable probabilities. For example, a simulation with the same settings as seen in the below settings box would have a 2% chance of duplicating a line of genetic code in the organism’s offspring.

Evolve Mutation Settings

How quickly should creatures evolve? Too much mutation too fast can destroy a species

Sexual reproduction is almost the same as asexual reproduction, except that the first organism releases a spore that contains an exact copy of it’s genetic code, and that spore then sits there until another organism comes along and introduces a copy of it’s own genetic code.

Evolve's Sexual Reproduction

Sexual reproduction, as shown on Evolve's site

The code of the two organisms is then mixed, and again mutated, to produce the offspring.

So mutation is evolution?

Yes! In biological life, organisms mix and mutate their DNA randomly, a process that over millions of years (and a lot of random chance) allows the better suited organisms to survive and reproduce, while the weaker less suited organisms and their DNA die out.

In Evolve the same is true. Newly born organisms are randomly mutated, and that mutation will either give this organism an advantage over the others (and thus make it more likely to take over the genetic pool), or give the organism a disadvantage that makes it more likely to die out (E.g. not being efficient at hunting food, or being unable to reproduce).

The mutation could also give the organism no advantage or disadvantage, if for example the code in the mutation is never actually used. Just as there is plenty of unused junk code in our own DNA, there is also going to be plenty of useless junk code in an Evolve organism’s KFORTH code.

How much complexity does Evolve’s genetic code allow?

Many PC CPUs at their heart can only actually perform a dozen or less specific actions (see RISC Architecture). All the extremely complex things they can do are derived from those dozen actions. Let’s keep that in mind when we look at Evolve’s KFORTH code.

Organism's Status & Genetic Code

An example of an organism's current status, including the organism's full KFORTH Genetic Code

KFORTH gives organisms 22 specific actions, that are either applied to a single cell within the organism, or the entire organism. The actions are interesting and useful, and a creature that evolves to make the best use of these actions could be very exciting indeed. This list of actions is a bit of a read, so feel free to skip past and just take my word for it:

Interacting with the universe

  • OMOVE (The entire organism moves)
  • ROTATE (The entire organism rotates)
  • CMOVE (A single cell moves within the organism)
  • GROW (Produces more cells within the organism)
  • MAKE-SPORE (Produces a reproductive spore)
  • EAT (Eats whatever the cell is touching)


  • LOOK (A cell can see what’s around it, and how far away that thing is)
  • WHAT (Used in LOOK, tells the cell what type of thing it can see)
  • WHERE (used in LOOK, tells the cell how far away something is
  • NEAREST (Finds the nearest thing to the cell)
  • FARTHEST (Finds the farthest thing from the cell)
  • NEAREST2 (Like NEAREST, except it takes a distance value to limit the search radius)
  • FARTHEST2 (Like FARTHEST, except it takes a distance value to limit the search radius)

Communication between cells

  • MOOD (Every cell has a “mood” value, this queries another cell within the organism)
  • MOOD! (Cell sets its own mood value)
  • BROADCAST (Takes a value and sets the “message” register for every cell in the organism)
  • SEND (A cell can send a value to any other cell in the same organism)
  • RECV (Pushes a copy of the message register onto the top of the data stack)

Information about organism

  • ENERGY (Amount of energy the cell has)
  • AGE (The organism’s age)
  • NUM-CELLS (How many cells the organism has)
  • HAS-NEIGHBOR (Checks if there is a cell next to the cell executing the instruction)

As we can see, KFORTH allows for some very complex creatures, and if we look at the limitless complexity in mixtures of commands that can evolve within a organism’s genetic code, we could even eventually reach the kind of complexity we see in some biological life. In a very large scale simulation, at least.

Has anybody ran a long term simulation using Evolve?

Ken Stauffer, the man behind Evolve, ran a 42 week simulation of sexually reproducing organisms, the details of which can be found over on his One Year of ALife blog. That was four years ago, on old hardware that could only simulate 7 million steps a day. The more powerful computers get, the faster simulations can be run. Perhaps you can set up a simulation that can produce interesting results in half the time? Give it a shot!

I’ve started my own simulation using the same basic seed code Stauffer used in his 42 week simulation (which can be found at the bottom of his One Year of Alife page). I created a large world and populated it with interestingly shaped barriers. The top left of the world for example has a “forest” of dotted barriers, while the bottom right has spiral “caves”.

My creatures look black because it's very zoomed out (very large world)

So far, my organisms seem to prefer the nooks and crannies, and avoid the open area of the middle of the world. I’ve also noticed that while they are all able to interbreed as one species, noticeable genetic differences exist in different areas due to isolation, in much the same way humans evolved slightly differently after being forced apart by distance, and an ice age.

Unfortunately my simulation is running on my only free machine, a five year old laptop. Also, as my simulation universe contains more organisms with more opportunity for complexity, in a much larger world space, I can’t get anywhere near the speed of Stauffer’s original year long simulation. He could produce 7,000,000 steps a day, my machine can only produce 290,000. Even so, interesting things are occuring, and I look forward to checking in on my creatures again at the end of today.

One interesting thing I did notice (though I can’t explain it) was that on day one of my simulation the population doubled and remained stable at around 3,000 for a while, before dropping down to around 1,100, the lowest it’s ever been. This could be a long term trend moving towards extinction, or perhaps the organisms have just evolved to be more greedy and thus unable to sustain larger numbers. Who knows!

In conclusion, Evolve is an exciting piece of software you guys.

Wrong Evolution, you guys

My organisms will destroy you all! Especially you, David Duchovny. Especially you.

Interested in seeing your own creatures evolve? Head over to Evolve’s site and download a copy! Like the idea of an evolutionary simulator, but this one’s not for you? Check out Wikipedia’s list of Notable Artificial Life Simulators (Polyworld is quite popular). Want to watch a movie about rapidly evolving organisms? I got you covered bro.

Peace out.

Hey guys, an update on my simulation!

My simulation’s been running for 6 days now, and a snapshot of the world is saved every hour. I grabbed the stats from the snapshots and made two graphs! Click them for full size.

So this first graph shows three things. The number of organisms (which is basically the number of sexual organisms) currently alive, the amount of food (dead organisms), and the number of spores (the “eggs” the organisms lay awaiting fertilisation). Make of it what you will!

First 6 days of my simulation

An initial drop in population was quickly replaced with a huge boom! Then it leveled out....

The second graph shows some information relating to the genetics of the organisms! Logarithmically! Make of it what you will.

First 6 days logarithmic graph

This track shows a bit of genetic information, logarithmically!

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Scientist designs real Tricorder for the masses! Thu, 05 Apr 2012 20:52:31 +0000 Andrew (More)…]]> Hand-held scanners are a sci-fi staple, and no scanner does more than the famous Star Trek Tricorder! Unfortunately, technology is slow to catch up with Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future (see The Physics Of Star Trek), but with advancements like portable flip-communicators (mobile phones!) and transparent aluminium (aluminum oxynitride), it seems there is hope for cool futuristic tech in our lifetimes.

TNG Tricorder Replica

This is a replica of Star Trek's Tricorders. Obviously the ones on the show were real.

In recent years we’ve seen Smartphones with a multitude of in built sensors (e.g. magnetic & gyroscopic sensors) as well as a bunch of cool apps to take advantage of them (such as the now unavailable Tricorder app for Android phones). Dr Peter Jansen PhD decided it would be thoroughly awesome if he built all of those sensors into a hand-held device that looked like a Tricorder.

Then he called it a Tricorder.

That got us excited.

Science Tricorder Mark 2

The Science Tricorder Mark 2 (top circuitry compartment not usually visible)

Why did Jansen invent this Tricorder?

Dr Jansen wanted to design a device that was easy and cheap to build, that could sense the hidden world of science around us (temperature, pressure, magnetism, etc). A device that would satisfy our curiosity and need to learn. As a man who ran around his house with a magnetic-field sensor app on his mobile trying to find things in the walls (because…why not?), such a device thoroughly excites me!

Dudes on a beach.....scanning?

Imagine using a Tricorder to find stuff on the beach instead of doing....this? (okay it's probably not that sensitive....yet)

What does the Tricorder do?

Dr Jansen is currently working on the a new version of his Tricorder, the details of which he’s keeping under wraps. So let’s take a look at the current version, the Mark 2.

What sensors are built in, you ask?

  • Ambient Temperature
  • Ambient Humidity
  • 3-axis Magnetic Field Sensor
  • Colourimeter
  • Atmospheric Pressure
  • Non-Contact Temperature
  • Ambient Light Level
  • GPS Receiver
  • Ultrasonic Distance Sensor (6 Meter Range)
  • Accelerometer
  • Gyroscope
Tricorder Mark 2 Scanning

I'm scanning your face right now. Were you aware that you are Klingon?

You can find all the detailed specs on the Tricorder Project’s site as well as schematics and a list of parts to guide you in building your own Tricorder, but I’ll list a few specs for you here:

Processor: ARM920T 32-bit RISC 180MHz
Displays: 2x 2.8″ OLED 320×240, 16bit colour, resistive-touch input
Memory: 32MB SDRAM
Storage: 8MB boot flash & MicroSD port
Battery: Rechargeable 1000mAh Li-Ion
Other Ports: USB & Power Adapter
OS: Linux (on MicroSD)

“[the Mark 2 is] a little faster than a Nintendo DSi [...] about twice the RAM and higher resolution displays” – Dr Jansen

The Mark 2's Motherboard & Ports

The Mark 2's Motherboard & Ports

How much will it cost to build your own Tricorder?

Dr Jansen puts the cost of the Tricorder Mark 2 within the £60-120 ($100-200) range depending on where you buy your parts, which is a lot cheaper than the Mark 1′s steep £300 ($500) price tag. That sounds pretty accessible for what you get for your money, plus you can be the coolest person in any room by pulling out your Tricorder and scanning your friends.

And yes, your friends are all Klingons.

Mister Tricorder

I....just wanted to put this picture in this article. I have.

What’s the future for the Tricorder Project?

Dr Jansen is currently working on the fourth version of the Tricorder (after ditching the third version). Development started in early 2011, and according to his website he’s completed hardware fabrication and the device is now “undergoing software development”. Sweet!

“[The Mark 4 is] an experiment in further dramatically reducing the cost of a Tricorder without sacrificing visualization capabilities. My hope is that this may be an initial model that could be mass produced, and that folks could have in their hands.” – Dr Jansen

So go check out the Tricorder Project site for more details, and take a look at the short video below, in which Dr Jansen talks about his project!

Peace out.

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