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Why I Hate Games: Part 184

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When I was 2 there was no such thing as a home computer. When I was 4 the very first one appeared, and my dad got it right away. Some of my fondest memories are of sitting on his lap as we played text adventures together. So it is with utter mad delight that I receive my 2 year old’s requests to sit on my lap as I play games today. And with access to all of PC gaming, I’m usually able to meet his requests of, “Daddy, can we play game with…” That is, right up until I try to run any of them.

“Daddy, can we play a motorbike game?” came the request one day last week.

“Yes!” I said, particularly pleased because I’d had the foresight to install both Trials Evolution and Trials Fusion on Steam a few weeks back, anticipating that he’d love watching those. “I have a motorbike game right here!”

“No you don’t,” came a voice I’ve grown to fear. The dull, dreary voice of Ubisoft’s monstrosity, UPlay. I fucking hate UPlay.

Steam is obviously a giant pile of shite, worse with every iteration, creaking under the weight of its own clusterfuck of a design. We’re not exactly a site that shies away from reporting on that. But at least, in the main, when you install a game you just click on it to play. Sure, you have to sit through “1 of 3…” installations of software you know full well is already installed on your machine because Steam just sodding installed it with the last seventeen games you played, and explaining to a 2 year old that we have to sit and stare at this small dark window for an undetermined period is annoying, but it’ll likely load.

Even EA’s Origin is pretty much fine now, if somehow more poorly laid out than even Steam – quite an achievement on their behalf. It was appalling for years, but it’s really not any more. Origin is now annoying because it exists, rather than because of anything it actually does. (Oh, apart from always having a new update to install before it’ll start. Apart from that.) But UPlay is just baaaaaaaaad.

Launching either Trials game from Steam in fact launches UPlay, which is already irritating beyond comprehension. Because then UPlay inevitably needs to be updated, because God willing it’s months since you had to run it. And for both games it then helpfully went on to tell me that actually the game doesn’t exist.

“Wait Toby, sorry. I’m not sure what’s happening. Let me try again.”

UPlay maintained that neither game exists. I’m fairly certain they do, since I’d downloaded them and all. And there they were in my UPlay library, existing. But launch them… no. So I tried uninstalling, which brought up Windows’ uninstaller. Smooth, Ubisoft, smooth.

“Sorry Toby, look, I’m going to have to try downloading it again. This is going to take a while.”

I uninstalled the games from Steam, since that’s where I got them from. They didn’t disappear from Uplay. They were, it believed, still installed. Oh good grief. It’s nearly tea time, and then it’ll be bedtime. I can’t tell him we’ll do this later. It’s our chance today.

“Toby, look, this isn’t working. We may have to try tomorrow.”

I reinstall Trials Fusion, this time through UPlay, and it loads. But what it loads. A broken version of the game that will only allow me to try to play races I can’t access until I’ve completed tutorials. Tutorials it won’t let me access. I quit, and restart.

“Yes, I know sweetie, but it won’t let me play.”

I reload, and now, at last, I can play. The tutorials I’m forced to go through, despite knowing how to play, are accessible. Except they incessantly stop me from playing to tell me things I already know. And then comes the cry of “TEA TIME!” from downstairs.

A few days later Toby asks for “a car game.” Yes! I think. I know just the thing – I always have Burnout: Paradise installed on my PC, because it’s one of my favourite games. Now, that’s a game that’s famous for being so bloody awful to start, but at least I’ve played it to death.

Except it’s somehow not installed anywhere. Origin says it’s not installed there – oh gawd, did it not survive moving the HD into a new PC? Argh. But Steam hasn’t done that. Why isn’t it on Steam?

“Daddy, where car game?”

I’m trying so hard. And once again the impending deadline of teatime looms, and once again a game I know is installed won’t bloody load.

Oh for FUCKS SAKE. Steam has, beyond all explanation, decided to forget one of my install locations. An entire SSD of Steam games gone from the list. After guessing their ghastly Settings menus I find where to re-add it, and ping! Burnout’s back!

And has forgotten all my progress.

Meaning we have to not only sit through its interminable dozen or so opening screens, but also watch that godforsaken intro video in which it pointlessly tells you the names of all the locations on the map in a completely useless fashion, before then making you sit through an enforced photograph sequence despite there being no webcam attached to my machine, then that UTTER ARSEBUCKET DJ Shitforbrains or whatever his dumbass name is waffling shite at me and not just letting me drive a pretend car around a pretend track.

“Daddy, show the car again!”

“I’m trying, honey. I’m trying so hard. But this… bloody thing…”

Not swearing isn’t the hardest part of this. It’s seeing the wonderful patience on my little boy’s face, as he tries so flipping hard to be cool about his disappointment. Daddy’s excitedly promised a car game, but instead we’ve seen settings screens, Steam windows, loading screens and a lady talking bollocks over a picture of a map. And yes, of course, “TEA TIME!”

I end up apologising to my boy, feeling like such a shithead because games think they’re so fucking important that they need to make you jump through ludicrous hoops, rather than just double-click on an icon and then have the option to start playing. “Oh no no, you need to do these tutorials first, I’m quite sure. And this intro video. And here’s four seconds of the game, and then we’re going to freeze it to explain things to you instead of letting you have any fun.” Games are dicks. I hate games.

“That’s ok, daddy. Don’t worry!”

Oh gawd I want to hug him until we both explode, his disappointed face, trying to comfort me because I got him hyped up and then essentially said, “Actually, no, despite your being so patient you don’t get to see the game, and we’re going.” So tea waited a little bit longer last night and we drove a car around while daddy muttered oaths at DJ Atomicunt.

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Identification Chart

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Be careful—it's breeding season, and some of these can be *extremely* defensive of their nests.
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Be careful—it's breeding season, and some of these can be *extremely* defensive of their nests.

802.eleventy what? A deep dive into why Wi-Fi kind of sucks

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Aurich Lawson

When wireless networking based around the 802.11b standard first hit consumer markets in the late nineties, it looked pretty good on paper. Promising "11 Mbps" compared to original wired Ethernet's 10 Mbps, a reasonable person might have thought 802.11b was actually faster than 10Mbps wired Ethernet connections. It was a while before I was exposed to wireless networking—smartphones weren't a thing yet, and laptops were still hideously expensive, underpowered, and overweight. I was already rocking Fast Ethernet (100 Mbps) wired networks in all my clients' offices and my own house, so the idea of cutting my speed by 90 percent really didn't appeal.

In the early 2000s, things started to change. Laptops got smaller, lighter, and cheaper—and they had Wi-Fi built in right from the factory. Small businesses started eyeballing the "11Mbps" that 802.11b promised and deciding that 10Mbps had been enough for them in their last building, so why not just go wireless in the new one? My first real exposure to Wi-Fi was in dealing with the aftermath of that decision, and it didn't make for a good first impression. Turns out that "11Mbps" was the maximum physical layer bit rate, not a speed at which you could ever expect your actual data to flow from one machine to another. In practice, it wasn't a whole lot better than dial-up Internet—in speed or reliability. In real life, if you had your devices close enough to each other and to the access point, about the best you could reasonably expect was 1 Mbps—about 125 KB/sec. It only got worse from there—if you had ten PCs all trying to access a server, you could cut that 125 KB/sec down to 12.5 KB/sec for each one of them.

D-Link's DI-514 802.11b router. It was a perfectly cromulent router for its time... but those were dark days, friend, dark days indeed.

Just as everybody got used to the idea that 802.11b sucked, 802.11g came along. Promising 54 screaming Mbps, 802.11g was still only half the speed of Fast Ethernet, but five times faster than original Ethernet! Right? Well, no. Just like 802.11b, the advertised speed was really the maximum physical layer data rate, not anything you could ever expect to see on a progress bar. And also like 802.11b, your best case scenario tended to be about a tenth of that—5 Mbps or so—and you'd be splitting that 5 Mbps or so among all the computers on the network, not getting it for each one of them like you would with a switched network.

802.11n was introduced to the consumer public around 2010, promising six hundred Mbps. Wow! Okay, so it's not as fast as the gigabit wired Ethernet that just started getting affordable around the same time, but six times faster than wired Fast Ethernet, right? Once again, a reasonable real-life expectation was around a tenth of that. Maybe. On a good day. To a single device.

The marketers had gotten the bit between their teeth on day one and never let go.

When 802.11ac came to market in late 2013, the boxes in stores hysterically proclaimed faster and faster speeds, many of them several times higher than the fastest consumer wired networking available. As the years went by, it was 1.3 Gbps! 2.7 Gbps! 5.3 Gbps! But by then, I'd long since stopped paying attention. The marketers had gotten the bit between their teeth on day one and never let go. Wi-Fi is nowhere near as fast as wired; the marketing is all lies, lesson learned.

Having given up being excited about Wi-Fi a long time ago, I found it deeply weird when Wi-Fi mesh exploded on the market in 2016, and I wound up reviewing it in-depth.

Let's say a wireless router offers you an "AC5300" router with "breakthrough tri-band Wi-Fi technology with amazing combined wireless speeds of up to 5,332 Mbps. Thanks to 4x4 data streams, that can be combined through beamforming and MU-MIMO technology to increase reliability and range." (Actual ad copy from a modern router. It's not just D-Link, though—Netgear, Linksys, ASUS, and TP-Link all do the same thing.) By now, we hopefully know that absolutely does not mean we're going to connect a laptop and download things at 600+ MB/sec. But what does it mean?

Things get murky when we try to unpack that "AC5300" speed rating. The way these things are generated is by taking the maximum PHY rate of each radio in the router, multiplied by the maximum number of MIMO streams that radio supports, and adding them all together. The DIR-895L/R is a tri-band device and can transmit and receive on three different Wi-Fi channels at once: two 5 GHz channels and one 2.4 GHz channel. Assuming you don't have any congestion from your neighbors' networks, that means you can connect three devices—say, a laptop, a smartphone, and a tablet—all at once, to different radios and on different channels. So far, so good!

We have two 5 GHz radios with 80MHz wide channels and a 2.4 GHz radio with a 40 MHz wide channel, each of which supports up to four MIMO streams. Unfortunately, this doesn't add up right—433 Mbps per 80 MHz wide 5GHz channel multiplied by four spatial streams comes out to 1,732 Mbps, and D-Link is claiming 2,166 Mbps per 5GHz radio. Where's that extra 108.5 Mbps per stream coming from? You won't find a straightforward answer to that question, but depending on your level of cynicism, it's either "proprietary extensions to 802.11 that your device may or may not support enabling compression that your data may or may not be suitable for," or "marketing lol." This is a pretty standard practice now, and it's the reason why some 3x3 dual-band routers are suddenly jumping from "AC1700" to "AC1900."

It gets even worse when you examine the 2.4GHz portion of that "AC5300" rating. D-Link is claiming 1,000 Mbps for the 2.4GHz radio. The PHY rate for 40 MHz wide 802.11n 2.4GHz channels is 150 Mbps, though, and 150 Mbps multiplied by four MIMO streams is 600 Mbps. Where's that missing 400 Mbps coming from? Honestly, it's anyone's guess—but it looks like they're giving themselves an extra 50 Mbps per stream by assuming 256-QAM modulation on 2.4GHz spectrum, even though that's a non-standard, non-IEEE-approved setup that very few devices will support. That gets you to 800 Mbps. You're still 200 Mbps short of the 1,000 Mbps claimed, but that's the same 20 percent that D-Link granted themselves for "compression" on the 5GHz spectrum—so Bob's your uncle. Probably.

If what you're getting out of this so far is "the AC speed rating is always a lie," you're not wrong. So let's get back to what we can actually, hopefully, kinda, expect out of all this.

First of all, let's talk about that "4×4 MIMO." It's great that the router has it, but your client devices—laptops, tablets, and smartphones—don't. As of February 2017, almost all client devices are either single-stream, or 2×2. Those extra streams aren't doing you any good if your client devices can't use them. You might think that's okay; you can use two MIMO streams for your laptop and two for your tablet. Sorry, but still no—that's MU-MIMO, which your router may or may not support but your client devices almost certainly don't. (A very few flagship smartphones like the Galaxy S7 support MU-MIMO, but the only MU-MIMO laptop cards I've been able to obtain so far have been off-market bespoke interfaces provided directly by hardware vendors.) It's also pretty theoretical; the small amount of MU-MIMO testing I've managed does show some promise—but it looks better in terms of fairly distributing bandwidth among the MU-MIMO clients than it does for raw performance increases. When I tested enabling MU-MIMO on a router with two MU-MIMO clients connected, it only bumped up their total throughput by about 20 percent. What your client devices all, or almost all, support is SU-MIMO, which still only allows a single device to communicate with the access point at any given time. So if your fastest client device has a 2×2 radio, all you're ever getting out of that access point is 2×2 speeds, period.

So far, we've chopped that "AC5300 up to 5.3 Gbps" router down to one radio at a time, which they're claiming 2.166 Gbps for. Then we laughed off the "extra speed for compression" that won't help our JPEGs, MP3s, gzip-compressed HTTP transmissions, or basically anything else we're likely to care about, which brought us down to 1.732 Gbps. Then we realized we can only connect on two of those four MIMO streams in the ad copy, which brought us down to 866 Mbps.

Are we done yet? Sadly, no. You are never going to see a device actually moving data at PHY rate outside of a carefully designed stream of UDP traffic in an RF isolated and anechoic clean room.

Under ideal real-world conditions (10 feet or so distance, no intervening walls, no interference or competition), a single high-quality client device will generally get somewhere between one-third to two-thirds of the PHY rate for the channel it's connected to, multiplied by the number of MIMO streams it can transmit and receive on. The Qualcomm Atheros AR9462 802.11n 2x2 adapter in my Acer C720 Chromebook (and in a small army of cheap laptops I use for testing) maxes out at somewhere around 205 Mbps, roughly two-thirds of the PHY rate of two 5GHz, 64-QAM, 40 MHz wide MIMO streams. The TP-Link Archer T4U and Linksys WUSB-6300 802.11ac USB3 adapters I use for testing—also 2×2 devices—can almost hit 350 Mbps, which is about 40 percent of PHY. Macbook Pros with the Broadcom BCM94360CS, paired with the right router, can hit real-world ideal condition speeds of 600-ish Mbps... but they're 3×3 adapters, putting them right back in that same "one-third to two-thirds" bracket.

Now let's realize that most of the time, we're probably not going to be sitting 10 feet away from the router with a completely clear line of sight—half the reason we're wireless in the first place is so that we can wander around the whole house. You're thirty feet away with two or more walls between you and the router before you realize it, and now you're looking at more like 80 Mbps... and that's assuming you've got a great wireless client device, a really good access point, and you don't have any other people or devices competing with you for that radio's attention.

image by Jim Salter

If you aren't disgusted enough with the whole thing yet... a lot of these devices exhibit a strong directional bias, too. The Linksys WUSB-6300 gets about the same speeds up or down, but the Qualcomm AR9462 and the Archer T4U both strongly prefer download to upload, with upload speeds frequently half as good as download, or even worse... and different client device designs, even with the same chipset under the hood, can perform very differently (the WUSB-6300 and the T4U are both Realtek RTL8812au devices).

Testing Wi-Fi is a mess.

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To Each Their Own: Giving Feedback to Introverts and Extroverts

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There's so much beyond a simple "thank you".
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The Nature Of Hands

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Remember: When you touch someone's hand and their hand feels cold, your hand feels warm to them.

Don’t be afraid to hold cold hands.
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The Lost And Unfound

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I said, “I hope you find who you’re looking for.”

I said, “I hope you find someone to hold your heart.”

Even though I thought I was the one you were looking for.

Even though I thought I could hold your heart.
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