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Current Projects: Americana Engine (Game Engine Development)

Monday, August 27, 2012

64 GB of Storage

Files in the drive when you first plug it in, with full stats. Autorun not active

#92E: Own a 64GB or higher flash drive. (Goal now properly completed)

At the time of the goal (2009), it was rather expensive to get such a large flash drive, which costed more than $150 at the time. Nowadays, the price is rather trivial, with its cost as low as $30 during a Office Max sale.

For a flash drive that lacks in speed (compared to other USB 3.0 equipment I regularly use), it more than makes up for it in capacity. Although I won't use this for school preferring my 16GB instead, it's best used for moving huge files around, given several networking issues (although this is somewhat offset by TeamViewer), or for backup uses.

For any SanDisk flash drive you use, though, it's strongly recommended you do not install the ClubSanDisk that comes with it (or worse, automatically installs for you) and simply discard it as well as the Secure Access Program - both are not necessary for the operation of the drive and the latter is mediocre at best.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance Speedruns

Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance is an old RTS game (more specifically, around five years) that's still quite distinctive in terms of strategy - no fixed resources, extremely large maps, strategic zoom, etc. Its system requirements are pretty steep - even a modern midrange graphics card will have some difficulties running smoothly. (While a laptop ran vanilla SupCom just fine, the expansion was unplayable).

After seeing a speedrun of one (and only one) level of Supreme Commander 2, a question remains: Why aren't there any speedruns of other maps? Because they take too long? Probably.

(I later discovered the answer behind the lack of speedruns: The campaign for SupCom Vanilla placed a bunch of unit restrictions in early levels leaving only a few ways to complete each mission, while SupCom 2 has more scripted sequences and fewer ways to get mass / energy faster.) While levels in the sequel are short to the point where many of them are beatable within a half hour or less, typically a single level in FA spans several youtube videos.)

These runs focus less on cheese strats and more towards both efficiency and macro - anyone can build up a large enough force over time and overpower the enemy, but can you accomplish all your goals within an hour?

Enter my first FA Speedrun, which involves completing each map and all secondary objectives as quickly as possible. By quickly, meaning one map in as fast as 48 minutes. (To compare, other normal playthroughs take around two hours to finish.)


  • The retail version of the game (build 3596) was used. Newer versions might break some of the strats used in the videos, especially mission 4.
  • Intro Briefings are skipped.
  • No separate 'parts', meaning each map is done in one take, in one video.
  • All videos here were played at Normal difficulty. Trying any map on hard would involve lots more time than you might expect in order to get a good defense up first.
  • Goal time is under 1 game hour for each op.
  • What and how much the enemy sends at you is based on what you have built (aka dynamic difficulty). If you have ground experimentals, they send T3 bombers (sometimes from off the map) at you to deal with them, so unless you have air superiority... (note: this occurs when the map expands, so you can safely build after.)


Individual Level Notes

Mission 1:

  • Started as UEF (and for the rest of the campaign) given that there's a lot of half-built material here. For each map, I do a general Perceval/Flak Artillery/Gunship/ASF/SACU combo.
  • A huge amount of T1s building mass storage, and shields / air defense per mass extractor (mex). 54 mass might not be much given the huge starting production you have at the beginning (148 mass/s), but at least you can generate more mass with those T1 engineers right off the bat while you're upgrading your stuff to T3, plus you have more mass at your reserve.
  • Sent several SACUs for proxy factory building using Fatboys (produce units at 3x the rate of a normal T3 factory) while existing Percevals are destroying the bases in the next phase. ASFs are used to counter the strategic bombers coming in the next phase.
  • There is a optional objective involving saving a nearby town, you can use gunships to pick off the boats. And then you need to escort the evac trucks to the nearest base. It's easier when Seraphim is revealed but a nuke is launched regardless whether or not the trucks were out. It's entirely possible to destroy the nearby boats completing that objective, the nuke hits taking out half the buildings, and moving the trucks that pop out to the base without any defense whatsoever.

Mission 2:

  • Micromanagement was needeed with reclaiming spare mass with engineers, power generators to give just enough power to upgrade to build T2 power plants, and building mexs / powerplants until capable of reaching T3. Upgrading mex surrounded by mass storage for a total of 27 mass/sec per extractor. Note: mex T3 upgrade costs 1800 mass, but only in the campaign - it will never be this cheap in a real skirmish / multiplayer match.
  • Destroy ally's mex and replace it with your own. This was more or less unnecessary given spare mass deposits, although it's justifiable becuase they're in a more defended position.
  • You can use transports to skip the pass completely and drop forces / SCU to capture, but you need that path clear of enemy air forces.

Mission 3:

  • Though more expensive, Two Atlantises are better in the long run and produces stuff faster than finding 12 engineers to assist an air factory. Only thing you need to worry about is mass producing T3 gunships.
  • Worked with production of four battleships as fast as possible, as well as an assortment of destroyers and cruisers (which counter air and sub attacks). Four's sufficient to destroy the first base and punch through heavy shielding to destroy the engineers that construct experimental bombers, with spy planes acting as spotters to where to (manually) aim the cannons.
  • Other strat guides suggest gunships or ground units, so why use ships? One, ground (submersible) units are too slow and no real protection from naval units. Two, experimental bombers explode when either it or the engineer building them is lost, that's to be expected, but keep in mind this also damages air units and in previous runs it had no problem destroying my 80ish T3 Gunships that were stacked and aiming that one engineer (and I still had several more to go).
  • 50 T3 gunships alone is enough to take on both commanders, the bottom one will eventually go under water to protect itself when damaged, but you can destroy it force it to teleport if you're fast enough.

Mission 4:

  • The first push should occur when you have several SACUs with the resource upgrade, and enough Percevals / anti-air to plow through the first and second phases without delay.
  • Bring the ACU and several SACUs with you along with the rest of the units to the ledge where you destroyed the Quantum Jammer - you can establish several layers of shields there with the SACU's resource generation and hold off light attacks as the Seraphim are too dumb to send their massive forces to locations other than your starting location.
  • According the game script, you're supposed to stay within your starting location, apparently you aren't required to do this, you just need to survive the timer.

Mission 5:

  • This is the only mission where there are no starting debris for extra mass.
  • Needed just enough power in order to capture buildings (and a turret to hold off engineers) while the Commander proceeds with the rescue and captures the nearby plant and places mass storage to store any excess mass accumulated while walking to capture / build new mexs to avoid unnecessary wait times. (The starting base is at this point expendable). It gives you more initial mass and power boosts as well as access to T3 immediately five minutes in the game.
  • SAM sites first, then engineering facilities once the coast is clear. They're faster than T3 engineers, but if there's ASF's, they'll destroy them (and can break any shields that happen to get in their way quite easily). This eventually leads to a T3 gunship per 15-20 seconds. (To put it in perspective, it takes 2m 30s to build one unassisted)
  • Don't establish mexs at the west firebase - nice mass boost, but it's too difficult to defend against gunships.
  • You can use 25 gunships to destroy Hex5's base and ACU, provided you get them on the far right edge of the map and move south. You also need spy planes to see through the cloak field.
  • Upcoming ASFs are used to defend Brackman as he makes his way north. Don't take a straight line there - head to the east and then north.
  • I was lucky that (1) Soul Rippers didn't intercept him, and that (2) Fletcher survived the attack (due to Hex5's early defeat he is typically not well enough prepared to fend off attcks, let alone two experimentals)

Mission 6 (updated):

  • Built a quantum gateway in order to produce SACUs for the battle ahead.
  • To build experimentals quickly, you simply need to supply the power, and one SACU collects from experimentals debris, while building experimentals of your own. You still need the anti-air.
  • Need two Czars to eliminate both Arnold / Victoria and advance to the next stage. If both are defeated at the same time only one cutscene plays.
  • GC's built after Quantum Rift is seen, otherwise three Strategic bombers appear for each GC (whether alive or partially built), which is painful without huge amounts of anti-air.
  • You'll need five GC's to destroy the quantum gate, and more if you're going to take out the ACU to complete the secondary objective. The backup was necessary since one of the GC's consistently missed the ACU.
  • It is also possible to mass Czars (the enemy doesn't send enough ASF's to be considered a major threat) and send them towards the gate, ending up with a completion time of around 27 minutes.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Bubble Safari: Invites Required Within 7 Minutes

When you reach this screen, you're done.

Bubble Safari is probably the worst offender in invite sending and game progression.

There was a report by Kotaku about the time it takes before either sending requests to friends or paying in Mafia Wars 2 to proceed in the game. Bubble Safari sets a new record for this, rolling out your first wall post within the first minute of gameplay (if you're not careful with unchecking the small 'share coins' box in the corner) and requiring you to invite more friends around 7 minutes in.

After so many people sent me requests to this game, I've decided to try it out, since it must be popular... or something. I was wrong about this.

Played through five levels of what is just Zynga's version of a bubble shooter (which are more like tutorial levels), and ended up with the above screen. An ordinary 'require friends to proceed' page, right? Not exactly.

Not only do you have to send requests to three different friends (and maybe more later on), but you have to send these requests to friends not already using the app, and they have to play the game and press the accept button from there. This, of course, is not guaranteed to occur unless you happen to control the accounts that you sent your requests to. (If they have a stance about multiple accounts, they're doing a very good job promoting them.)

Although you can skip this once using the premium cash given to you at the start of the game (which lets you go through around 10 more levels), you have to do the invite process at least five more times throughout the course of the game (total of 15+ new friends invited, provided another person didn't get to them first), and you can't grind premium cash by leveling up, completing missions, etc.

Seeing there's no way to really progress through the entire game, let alone 10% of it without bothering my 'actual' friends with requests in order to proceed, I promptly removed the app.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Laptops: Which one?

Given that many people are once again returning to college, the question remains as to which laptop to choose from. Choose carefully, as the wrong laptop type can actually hinder your performance a bit.


A year after I purchased my netbook for college, I found its performance lacking for the type of work that I will typically do on it. That was the Acer AO-722, a small $330 netbook that's more or less intended for internet browing and light work.

By going for the smallest (and by small, a laptop big enough to cause the internal GPU to not burn out making the laptop unusable) and cheapest available to do work, it suffered many performance hits while doing everyday tasks. With its measly 2GB of RAM, the background programs alone ate up half my usable memory. Firefox would freeze occassionally as it struggled to handle no less than twenty tabs at a time. Programming (with two monitors) didn't turn out too well, and compiling was a huge pain time-wise. (The processor is dual core 1Ghz, if you were wondering.)

I needed something that would handle all of these tasks, yet still be inexpensive. In the end, I chose an SSD-ultrabook for my needs.

Which Laptop?

Here's a brief pros and cons for each laptop type.


When they said it would be designed for light computing, they're very serious about it. Extremely inexpensive.

  • Exceptional battery power (five hours max)
  • Very small, so you can take it practically anywhere with ease.
  • Very low processing power
  • Low amounts of RAM (an integrated video card will consume a fraction of what little ram you've got, up to at least half)


Ultra light but somewhat expensive for its specs.

  • Extremely light (less than four pounds or so) and thin
  • Should have a USB 3.0 drive, for fast data transfer
  • Long battery life
  • Components (including batteries) are typically not removable, limiting expansion options. That's how they make slim sizes possible.
  • If it includes an SSD, it might not have a large capacity. Not advised to upgrade the SSD as they're typically mini-SATA's or something smaller than that, and they're pretty expensive. Recommended would be either portable hard drives or high capacity SD Cards with a UHS-1 rating or better, they usually fit into the card reader perfectly without anything sticking out while retaining the speed of a standard 7200rpm desktop hard drive.

128 GB SSD with 32GB extra storage via SD Card

Standard Laptops

Price range can vary greatly depending on what features you want and how powerful the laptop is. They're typically 14-17 inches in size.

  • Cost really depends on what you want on it and the brand (I've had better reliability with non-HP laptops)
  • Most common laptop type around.
  • Battery power typically ranges around 2-3 hours
  • Some parts can be upgraded or replaced if necessary.
  • Typically have a DVD drive

Gaming Laptops

Top of the line. They're typically bulky but it's your best bet if you need the extra power but can't afford to carry a desktop around.

  • Very fast, very expensive.
  • Typically contains a decent mobile graphics card (and you'll need a large body to offset that, anything like 13 inches and it'll have trouble dissipating heat fast enough.)
  • Some CS students use these at LAN parties.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Focus: Tech Reviews

I've just noticed today on my stats that my recent review on the router published a week ago exceeds that of Zuma Blitz material, something that no post has ever done since it was first published in January 2011. I think it's due to a falling userbase that helped push another post to the top, at least until the remake launches.

Given the recent success of my first Tech Review, future tech reviews on various products will now be a regular feature, which was was one of the original intentions of this blog. It allows me to post much longer in-depth reviews compared to that of other sites, which I have to keep it brief. However, everything I review here is (at this time) from my own budget, meaning that I have to purchase what I intend to review. As a result, reviews might be few and far between.

I might accept product review requests in the future, but not right now.

Large Scale Chess

Large Scale Chess, anyone wants to play?

A few days ago, this was the first time I stumbled upon a large scale chess set at a mall (Westfield Downtown Plaza, which switched owners today) as well as an elephant collection display on the second floor. One side's missing a knight. There's also some large checker pieces lying around nearby should interests change.

I decided to watch The Bourne Legacy since most of the stores weren't open at this time.

Note: See the area where the vending machines are? Behind this are all vacant stores. Combined with those on the second level, that's approximately one-quarter that's vacant. That was one factor to the acquisition. There were better days...

The same mall in Winter 2010, with artificial snow.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Excel VBA Macro Basics (Part 1)

The following is a brief guide to VBA Macros in Excel, how to use them, and in my opinion, what functions you should know about. This is one of my first reference pages, so this page might be updated frequently.

Requirements: At least Excel 2007. Other versions of excel might have ways of accessing / running macros differently.

Note: I'm assuming that don't know anything about macros in Excel prior to reading this.


Activate Developer Tab: In Excel 2007 Options under "Popular" submenu. In Excel 2010 you'll have to go to the Customize Ribbon and on the right you'll have the option to check the "developer" menu to enable it.

Access Visual Basic: Using the developer tab, click the button that says "Visual Basic".

Create a Module: Modules are used to run functions / subcommands and store code for any macros or button functions. If you record a macro, a module will automatically be created.

Though it is entirely possible to place functions inside a sheet and run it as a macro, it's typically better to store them in separate modules in the document, because if you happen to delete the sheet containing macro code, you'll lose it. Code related to buttons and other controls on the current sheet have to be placed inside their own sheet code.

Selecting Cells and Writing Data

There are several ways to write data to a cell. Replace "Text Here" with the text that you want in the cell enclosed in quotes. Assuming the cell you wish to write is B2 on Sheet1:

  • Worksheets("Sheet1").Cells(2,2) = "Text here"
  • Cells(2,2) = "Text here" (When Sheet1 is active)
  • ActiveSheet.Cells(2,2) = "Text here" (When Sheet1 is active)
  • Range("B2") = "test" (When Sheet1 is active)
  • Range("B2").Select
    Selection = "test" (When Sheet1 is active)
  • ActiveCell = "test" (When Sheet1 is active on cell B2)

Referencing Sheets, Cells and Variables

  • ActiveSheet refers to the currently active sheet when that line of code is run. Similarly, ActiveCell refers to the current cell that was selected.
  • Worksheets("Sheet1") calls a specific sheet when selecting cells or other commands. Note if a sheet with that name doesn't exist, then an error will be thrown.
  • Cells (2,2) refers to the coordinates of the cell in column, row coordinates, with 1 being row A. You can use variables to determine the cell being referenced. If you want the address of the cell referenced in Letter/number notation, use Cells().Address
  • Range() can be used to select a single range (such as "B2:C4"), or a series of ranges separated by commas (such as "B2, C2, D5").
    • Alternatively, just enclose the range in brackets. Ex: [B2] = "" will fill in cell B2 appropriately.
  • Variables can be defined / saved using a variety of variable types: Integer, Float, Range, Date, etc.

Aesthetic Stuff

  • Column widths can be set with Columns("G").ColumnWidth = 10, where G is the column you wish to have selected.
  • For a range, use .Interior.Color = RGB(Red:=a, Green:=b, Blue:=C) to change cell color, where a, b, and c are values between 0 and 255 (following the RGB color scheme). To change the font color use Font.Color = ... instead. Examples: Range("F12").Interior.Color = RGB(Red:=255, Green:=0, Blue:=0) shades the background blue.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Review: Asus RT-N65U Router

The Asus RT-N65U Router is the successor to the RT-N56U in the form of ultra-slim routers. Looking for a successor to my old router, which tended to drop its connection once every few days for a small period of time (this prevents me from playing any online game due to the very possibility of being kicked due to a disconnect), I turned towards the ASUS routers for its high reviews and ability to share files.

I found both the N56U and N65U at Fry's. One Fry's store didn't have the N65U in their store, claiming that it was a 'discontinued' model. After looking at both models, I've determined that the RT-N65 would be a better choice for $20 more, due to the fact that it not only offers 450Mbps speed but provides two USB 3.0 ports for remote storage, which more than doubles the transfer speed to newer external hard drives. There were very few reviews on Newegg regarding this product but that's to be expected since it's quite new.

Router from the front side

Notable Features: Able to plug in hard drives and access them either via network or over the internet. Abiilty to create print and media servers. Can create a guest network (very useful if a friend with a laptop wants to connct to your router but don't want them accessing whatever you had lying around in your Shared Docs folder). You can safely plug in 2TB hard drives into the router for sharing - it's possible to connect drives with capacities higher than this, but there's no support if something goes wrong. Increased wireless speed (on a speed test I've found that my wirelessly connected laptop has a faster download speed than my wired gigabit connection.)

Drawbacks: With extra speed comes extra heat. In short, it runs extremely hot. So hot that it tends to overheat within a day of use, causing the router to shut down entirely* (and thus disrupting internet, local file sharing, and remote laptop operation via Mouse Without Borders.) It will power back on after a while, but it clears the logfile (meaning there's no way to figure out what caused the outage) and resets the router's internal clock. Also, any drives connected to the router will no longer be recognized, so you'll have to disconnect and plug them back in.

I bought the router a week ago and have yet to see it go through two entire days of continuous uptime.

Final Words: It's fast, it's easy to set up, but it's certainly not stable. I really like the ability to share files and faster wireless speeds, but the fact that it overheats very quickly means that I simply cannot rely on this router for a constant internet connection. Time to switch to the RT-N66U router.

Fall 2012 in Concepts

Things change - people come and go, and in the long run, the only thing that matters is the big picture - there's a whole world to see and explore. As well as a handful of close friends to share experiences and stories with.

Fall 2012 in Concepts takes a different approach to images - it focuses less on just displaying pictures and places emphasis on various concepts - such as the programming side, covering a variety of topics set for this semester. Although originally started in 2012, this page contains info that goes well beyond that.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Universal Studios Annual Passes

Costco: Selling enough passes for Universal Studios that they have their own line to handle them.

Unlike Boardwalk / California State Fair, which Costco has sold in the past, there's a line to handle passes for this one simply because they sell tickets at a very good deal. They only thing they don't cover is VIP tickets, which send you to the front of the line once per ride and some other additional perks.

Recommendations: If you're planning a trip here for several days (note that you only need two to see everything during peak season), you should probably only get tickets at a Costco in the LA area, because that's where they sell those five day passes for $60 (if you can't find them, annual for $70). Elsewhere (at least in the northern CA area), the only option available is a 2-day pass for $64, and you'll never know when you might return.

Also Note: What you save in ticket costs, they make up for it in food sales. Especially at Ben and Jerry's, where it's $7 for a medium sized ice cream scoop, and that doesn't even include the waffle cone.*

Friday, August 3, 2012

Entering: Long Beach

This year's trip concentrates on the Long Beach area.


  • 4 Fry's Locations visited (Fremont, Oxnard, Woodland Hills, Fountain Valley). Only two remain before I see all of them in CA: San Marcos and Manhattan Beach.
  • 4 malls explored: Northridge Mall (Salinas), Lakewood Mall, Westfield Promenade, Santa Maria Mall, I've seen at least six more malls not visited yet that might complete that one goal.
  • Ronald Reagan Historical Museum - contains a lot of interesting / informative things and provides a tour of (a previous) Air Force One. It's much larger than you think, and the small cost of it makes it a good deal. Combined with the Disney exhibit, it makes it worthwhile. Remember, you simply can't do it in under three hours.
  • Mariott Hotel (Note: Long Beach location has no separate monitor support, basic internet free.)*
  • Piccolo Books - well worth visiting for one dollar books. Don't expect to find guides for software in recent years.
  • There's a lot of stuff at Long Beach - lighthouse, Queen Mary, Aquarium, etc. Combined with walking, there really wasn't enough time to go through everything in this area.
  • I recommend Long Beach Cafe. Its large portions and low cost (around 10 dollars or so for a dish) makes it worth it.
  • First time seeing a Costco Car Wash (at Oxnard) and another Costco close to a mall (Lakewood Mall)
  • KBD. Lower amount of tickets for jackpots than you would normally find in Storm Stopper or those other coin games. Plays are 1-2 dollars each, but some tend to pay quite high (see the balloon game and the large one next to it), and ticket values appear to be worth double.
  • California Pizza Kitchen's Pizzas are better ordered and eaten inside rather than takeout. When additional toppings are given to you on a separate container, it looks like it could be eaten as a salad alone.
  • Go to Universal Studios later at night - parking is cheaper and ride wait times are generally shorter. Allow at least one more hour per show since most shows seem to run at the same time, and they're usually 20 minutes long.
  • Jurassic Park water ride - brief zero-g at drop.