Thursday, October 18, 2007

Ready for ROK

It feels like its been forever since the last expansion to EQ2 came out. When ROK comes out in November it will be roughly one year since the last major expansion, EOF, came out. KOS came out 9 months before that. I've been getting really burnt out on EQ2 lately... looking at these dates and time lines its no wonder why. Also, since EOF did not increase the level cap and they introduced more AA's... it was more of a grind than usual.

In my previous entry I talked about The Orange Box and, specifically, Portal. Wow what a great distraction! Valve really outdid themselves with this bundle. I love the feeling of new challenges and things to explore...

I pre-ordered ROK today from EBGames. I also scheduled three days of vacation to have fun with ROK. I can't wait!

Thursday, October 11, 2007


I picked up The Orange Box last night and played the included puzzle game Portal. You can see a demo of what the game is here on you tube. The game is awesome! Its got puzzles, comedy, and neat effects. I finished last night in around 3 hours and am looking forward to trying out the advanced levels tonight.

The concept is kind of hard to explain so its best if you check out the video. The basic idea is to use a gun to create wormholes throughout the game to accomplish various tasks. There is a ton of comedy in the game from the computer. They did a really nice job with this game. My only complaint is the shortness. Also, the puzzles could have been a bit more complex (though I think the advanced levels will address my concern). I can't wait to see more of this in the future.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

"Programming the Universe" by Seth Lloyd

This past weekend I was in Indiana and I read a few articles in Nature regarding quantum computing. I decided to pick up this particular book as an introduction to quantum computers for my upcoming business trip earlier this week (flights can be quite boring at times).

All in all I felt the book was lacking... it was too simplified. In hindsight I was probably looking for something a bit more technical. This book is not technical at all.

The author seems to be all over the place in the book too. He tries to piece together many different things he worked on in the past into some grand notion that the universe may be a gigantic computer. It came off to me more like he wanted a reason to talk about himself and his past accomplishments and, by the way, it relates to this grand notion. The universe is a computer? Sure it may appear in some aspects as a computer and may have computational qualities here or there, but the whole thing? This notion seems far fetched to me and his arguments didn't sway me.

The book seemed inconsistent in places too. He speaks that atoms and systems can thought of as a bit in the first half of the book but in the latter half he uses bits to represent different qualities of atoms and systems. This is inconsistent because if you use bits to represent qualities then an atom and systems have many different qualities. I think he meant these bits to represent entropy/information... if so he could have been clearer in the first half.

There were some interesting ideas in the book, ones that got me thinking. But, I think your money is better spent elsewhere. I do plan on picking a book from his further reading section. I'll let you know how that works out.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

How to Win $2 Million Dollars

Its simple, just be the first to complete this 256 piece puzzle before the end of next year. Easy, right? Looks can be deceiving!

I have been interested in this line of puzzles ever since I received Eternity I for Christmas way back in 1999. It presented a fun programming problem to me, and I enjoyed tackling the various methods of programmatically solving it. When the puzzle was solved (by two mathematicians) I kept an eye out for news of a second puzzle.

And then I found that news, at the beginning of this year. There were some details on the format of the puzzle (i.e. square pieces, 8x8 board) out there... enough to get me a head start on a solver for this puzzle. I found my old eternity newsgroup, now resurrected as a place to discuss the new puzzle. Discussions were already taking place, a lot of which were based on expected number of solutions, piece tileablity, things that were very important to the previous puzzle. I completed my solver and anxiously awaited the release.

I had my puzzle and the two hint puzzles shipped to me from England. My wife started solving the two hint puzzles by hand while I encoded the 256 pieces of the main puzzle into a file. How deceivingly simple the two clue puzzles were... she had them both solved in less than an hour. And this was about how long it took me to finish encoding. I let loose my solver (an instance on each of my computers) and watched it. It really was fascinating to watch... it would place a bunch of pieces... remove some... place some again... really neat stuff. As a programmer, I really enjoy seeing things I have spent long hours on work the way they should. I had really high hopes.

But alas, this puzzle is a lot more difficult... the search space is simply to vast. My best "partial" solution to date was discovered last weekend. A 216 piece partial, the silhouette of which can be seen here. I cannot show the actual picture due to copyright issues. Unfortunately my first generation of solver did not save off partial solutions... I'll never know if I had had something better in the past.

My first generation solver placed tiles one at a time. Last month I finalized my second generation solver (running now) that places tiles via a 2x2 "super" tile. I pre-create all the 2x2 tile combinations when the solver starts up, so my puzzle is effectively an 8x8 board but with millions of pieces. My third generation solver will handle 2x4 tiles... sort of. I did some math and if I wanted to pre-create all the 2x4 "super" tiles ahead of time I would need something like 20 terra bytes of storage to save them all!

So I decided to do something a bit different here and only generate the top and bottom edge "super" tiles for only around 25 gigs of storage. Since the storage requirements are large, I will need to save them to disk instead of to memory. This will reduce the speed of my solver somewhat but it may be worth it since I will be placing 8 pieces at a time. I have yet to complete this solver so it should be interesting.