My friend just got his PhD!

So last week my friend invited me over to his place to celebrate a momentous occasion. He has just gotten his PhD! There for food and drinks, and lots of alcohol. It didn’t get wild or anything but it was nice to see friends over and just reminiscing about the good old days and how my friend struggled during the 5 years he spent in completing his PhD programme.

After proof-reading his thesis, I must say, he did struggle during his PhD candidature. What was shocking to me was when he revealed over drinks that he considered several times of actually quitting the programme completely. I was that much of a struggle for him, a struggle that I just wasn’t aware of. Now I know my friend. He is the kind of wouldn’t simply give up. He is patient yet tenacious, with a keen eye for detail for anything that is in front of him. He was an intense level of curiosity when something really did pique his interest, and he will investigate it till the ends of the earth. But to see him on the edge and fantasizing about quitting the programme, that is just not him.

Well, I am glad he did not. He made it through safe and sound and with a PhD to boot. I am so happy for him. I am also really honoured that he chose me to proofread his PhD thesis. It was a joy to read someone’s blood sweat and tears, the sacrifices he had to make during the five years as a PhD student all distilled in a couple hundred pages.

I may never experience what life is like doing your PhD, but what I do know, is that you need a sheer amount of tenacity, resilience, patience, and lots and lots of hard work, with an incredible network of support from your family and friends to get through the programme to really earn your PhD.

I finally completed Mass Effect Andromeda

Mass Effect Andromeda was released sometime in March of 2017. It’s August as of this writing. I took nearly 6 months to complete Mass Effect Andromeda.

Mass Effect Andromeda was one of the most anticipated video game. When it was first announced, I was beyond excited. For Bioware to bring the beloved Mass Effect franchise back to life was a bold move for them to make. After releasing three rock solid games that formed the Mass Effect Trilogy, it was certainly a tall order to meet or even exceed the standards and quality set by the first three games.

So when it finally came out, I was ecstatic. But flash forward 6 months later and it is only now that I finally get to complete the game. So why did it took so long for me to play the game in its entirety from start to finish?

Sad to say, the game fell short of expectations. When it was first launched, the game felt hugely unpolished. Numerous bugs, terrible facial and lip sync animations. It felt like a beta. Although animations can be improved through subsequent patches, (and thankfully it was improved) it is the story that ultimately fell short. The main character, Ryder, was a little two dimensional and boring. Your squadmates are no better, featuring very bland backstories and flat personalities (maybe with the exception of Peebee). At the end of the day, you don’t feel invested in spending time doing any of their character related missions or make any extra effort to gain their loyalty and unlock higher level skill set for you to level them up.

Gameplay was not bad. I had fun. Action sequences were intense and I am thankful for that. If the characters were boring and the gameplay was no better, the game would have tanked. The reviews would have come back panning the game. Bioware really came close in releasing its first ever flop. That would have been embarrassing for Bioware, masters in RPG, storytelling and world building to release an RPG that sucked for the very first time. It would have marred the entire Mass Effect franchise with the release of Mass Effect Andromeda. Generally, taking the game in its entirety. There are good moments within the story and robust gameplay mechanism. Bioware had the opportunity to truly create an epic RPG storyline within the Mass Effect universe. But it decided to squander it away.   Bioware had a blank slate to come up with a killer storyline on a new galaxy (Andromeda, instead of the Milky Way where Shepard and the rest of humanity reside in the first three games) but it squandered it away. Bioware had the opportunity to bring back that sense of discovery and exploration for gamers to experience on a totally new galaxy but it decided to squander it away. Bioware had the opportunity to run wild on a totally new set of alien species and all of its intrigues and unique characters on a new galaxy but it chose to introduce just one main alien species, the Angara (two if you consider the Kett, the bad aliens you have to fight against). In other words, Bioware missed on a lot of opportunities to elevate the franchise on a whole new level and bring a new generation of gamers to the Mass Effect universe.

Looking back, I enjoyed the game. But the reason it took me so long to finish is that I feel at times, the game to be very inconsistent in terms of the pacing and plot progression. So it was inevitable that I take long breaks before firing up the game and continue slugging it out and forcing myself to bring the game’s plot forward bit by bit over time.

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All AMD build?

In the past couple of days, there has been a deluge of information regarding AMD’s new product offering from the CPU and GPU departments. The latest monster of a cpu, Threadripper was launched to much fanfare and I really dig the review kits AMD distributed to all major influential tech reviewers on YouTube. The review kit they received was really badass! AMD also announced their new Vega GPUs for the mainstream market and so far things are looking really promising for AMD. I have heard nothing but praises for AMD from the tech community, especially when it comes to really listening to feedback and acting on that feedback to give customers what they truly want from AMD.

Which got me wondering now about my future gaming rig. And all AMD build seems an interesting prospect. It would be doubtful for me to get the Threadripper lineup of CPUs. Those are overkill, but the Ryzen 5 or even the Ryzen 7 series is competitively priced against Intel’s CPU offerings. Having an 8-core, 16-thread CPU is a bonus. Definitely still overkill, but nice to have.

As for GPUs, I’m reserving judgment over them. Vega is an interesting product, but I am more interested in what Nvidia has to offer next year. Honestly, I am still a Nvidia fan, and their recent 10 series GPUs are nothing to scoff about. But one thing is for sure, and that it I will go for multi GPU set up for my next build. I am aiming to get 2 enthusiast level GPUs to be included in my future build. More power! It could be possible that I could go for an AMD CPU coupled with a pair of Nvidia GPUs in my future builds.

By the way, in about 15 days or so, my current Dark Rage build will be official one year old! Time truly flies! It doesn’t feel like a year has passed. At. All. But believe it or not, a full year will soon pass since I first built my new gaming PC. It is still going strong and I have made zero upgrades to the PC since then. I just love my PC to death. I imposed a moratorium on PC upgrades for 2017 and I have kept to my end of the bargain. Reason being is that I personally feel a waste of money to make incremental upgrades to my current PC, when I can use that money and more as I save up to build an even bigger and better PC in the future, hopefully sometime in 2018.

The flu wiped out my stamina

Last week I was down with the flu. It was bad. I can’t remember when was the last time I was afflicted with such a terrible strain of flu. From what I recall, it usually took just a couple of days of experiencing body aches, tension headaches and the occasional fever before the whole thing blows over. But this time around, it took me an entire week, before I actually felt well enough to get out of bed for an extended period of time.

The body aches were terrible. At that moment I seriously thought that I had the Zika or dengue. But I remembered that those afflictions usually cause joint aches, rather than general muscle aches throughout the whole body. I had low-grade fever throughout the duration and occasional spikes of high fever and my throat hurt a lot. Worse of all is that the flu wiped out my stamina.

Last week was the week that I was supposed to take my IPPT and clear this year’s window. I had to cancel my appointment at the very last minute and focus on nursing my flu and getting better as soon as possible. I felt really weak throughout the ordeal and now that I have recovered, I feel that I am still not at my 100%. With my window closing in a month’s time, I am now against time to get my fitness back to where it was once, a level just enough to clear my IPPT and be done with it. It will not be an easy feat. I need to be disciplined in going for runs 3 times a week for the next month and hopefully, by then, my stamina would have returned to normal, so that I will have a decent chance at passing this darn IPPT (and hopefully get a promotion in rank along the way).

Ethereum Mining Rig

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After weeks of planning and acquiring all the necessary hardware, I finally completed assembling my first Ethereum mining rig. This is no walk in the park. Everything I learnt about building a gaming PC rig was upturned. I had to un-learn and re-learn a lot on what it took to build a PC. Building a computer system with 5 graphics cards for a highly specific purpose of mining Ethereum requires a different set of skills. So how do I get from building gaming PCs for leisure to building mining rigs to make some cash?

I first learned about cryptocurrency about a month ago. I received chatter on social media and on the news online about the rise of cryptocurrency. Of course, the whole concept of cryptocurrency isn’t new. Bitcoin has been around for quite some time. But it remained a very obscure notion to a lay person. Mine block chains and get rewarded for it in a form of electronic currency? Sounds puzzling.

Nonetheless, I soldiered on and read as much about cryptocurrency as I can. I watched various YouTube videos on what block chains are, how it works, how it is applied and the potential usefulness in the future. Along the way, I was surprised that there are several dozen forms of cryptocurrency floating around online! It comes in weird and futuristic sounding names, promising miners and holders of these digital currencies of a surging value in the near future when its use becomes widespread and mainstream. However, as I wrote this entry, the most popular and valuable (in terms of market capitalisation) are Bitcoin, Ethereum, Zcash, Dash, Litecoin and a just couple of others.

From then on, I was intensely curious as to how to build one. Again, I scoured the internet and read up on how to build a multi-GPU PC system. And when I said multi-GPU PCs, I am referring to 6 to 8 GPUs in a single system.

It actually sounds pretty straightforward. You are simply building a PC without a case, (since you can hardly find a PC case large enough to fit all 6 or 8 GPU inside) buy a bunch of GPUs, a compatible motherboard, the cheapest CPU, RAM and SSD you can find. The only difference is that you need to buy a bunch of GPU risers, which allows you to connect your GPU indirectly from the motherboard’s PCI-E slots. This way, you can slot more GPU within the PCI-E slots without cramping the motherboard’s real estate. Oh, and don’t forget a simple on-off switch that connects to the switch jumpers on the motherboard to switch your computer on and off.

Getting the GPUs was challenging! There was a massive shortage of GPU everywhere. I mean it, literally, everywhere. At the moment I was prepared to get all the hardware, it seemed that everyone else was doing it as well. I wasn’t the only crazy one to invest 2.7K on a new PC that does nothing but mine for crypto coins. But eventually, I did get those darn GPUs. It took a while, as all my GPU were on pre-order status and I had to wait for it to arrive. But I finally got 4 units of GTX 1060 mining GPU and 1 unit of an ordinary GTX 1060 GPU for general purpose use. The reason why I got just 1 ordinary unit of GTX 1060 was for video output capabilities. This is essential as I need to see what I’m doing with my PC, especially the first step of any PC building step after hardware assembly: OS installation. As for the rest of the GPUs, I got the mining GPU, cheaper and slightly more power efficient. It doesn’t have any video output at the back of the GPU, which resulted in some cost savings (but at the expense of resale value, as it only exist to serve one function: mine for coins)

I had difficulties with the driver installations as well. I didn’t fully realise that there is actually a certain version of graphics drivers that the mining GPU and the OS were able to recognise each other. I was close to giving up as I was at my wit’s end to figure out why Windows 10 couldn’t recognise the mining GPU, despite the fact that the mining GPU is basically a stripped down version of a Nvidia GTX1060 GPU. Zotac and Biostar weren’t helpful in providing information or FAQ about the correct driver installed.

But worked it did and it worked wonders. I was already familiar setting up the ethereum mining software (Claymore miner, mining block chains in a pool from Nanopool) by testing it on my gaming rig and letting my GTX 1070 churn through the cryptographic algorithm, solving complex puzzles. But the speed and productivity of a single 1070 pale in comparison to having a herd of 5 1060s working in tandem. My hash rate shot up through the roof after I got my mining rig running.

Now everything is in order and quietly humming away in another room. The whole set up can make the room pretty warm though since you have using the GPU to work hard and mine the block chains. The rig is going to run 24/7, maximising my return. I am pretty confident nothing will go wrong, at least for the foreseeable future. The whole set up looks crude, since it’s an open setup, with all the cables exposed and crisscrossing each other. Cost saving was a major deciding factor when it comes to building this mining rig, so I wasn’t keen on spending any more money to make the whole set up look neat (specialised case, rigs, frames to neatly hold the GPUs together).

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I am still closely monitoring the situation now that it has been up and running for 24 hours. But looking at the Claymore console for ethereum mining, it seems everything is going really smoothly.

Another Kickstarter project backed

Recently, I backed a Kickstarter project. Ridgemont Outfitter was launching a new line of waterproof, and durable hiking boots. The new pairs of boots come in a variety of colour and personally, I love the Java/Red combination the best.

Ridgemont shoes

I was browsing Kickstarter when I chanced upon the boots that Ridgemont Outfitters was trying to launch. I backed the project immediately when I saw the Java/Red combination. The design is really beautiful in my opinion. The red accents and shoelaces really give the boots character and it stands out among other hiking boots out there without looking too outlandish. I can’t really comment on the quality of the leather or the boots in general, (it launching in September) but I am pretty excited what that company has promised to offer when the time comes.

Personally, I don’t really need a new pair of hiking boots, since I already have one and a couple of leather shoes from Timberland that is still durable and wearable. What swayed me to back their product on Kickstarter was the fact that this pair of boots, actually look kind of ‘sneaker-like’. I other words, I can wear this to work like a pair of work shoes. It doesn’t look big and bulky like most hiking shoes out there (which is important in providing stability and a certain level of ruggedness to withstand the terrain in which one would be hiking) but the one from Ridgemont had design the boots to be very low profile. And I really really like that.

We shall see if the quality that they promised are up to standard in September. Right now, as I am writing this, I recently gave my sizes to Ridgemont. No doubt, the people at Ridgemont are busy preparing the orders and making user their boots arrive on time to the loyal customers who helped to make their Kickstarter a resounding success.

Science Communication workshop done!

A couple of weeks ago, I attended my first intensive module for my Masters Programme for Science Communication. It lasted two weeks, every day from 9 am to 4 pm. It was held at the Singapore Science Center, and our guest lecturers flew all the way from Australia to conduct the module and workshop (depending on who is attending the module and for what purposes).

It was quite tiring, having to sit in for the lessons every day, but at the same time rewarding, as I actually learned a lot about science communication on a deeper level now. Being a module at a Masters level. The topics and concepts covered during the two-week intensive period were sometimes technical and abstract. Many contemporary issues were discussed with regards to Science Communication, such as what Science Communication really means to us as educators, scientists and even the general public. We also learned the evolution of Science Communication as an expanding and increasingly more important field of science to be taken seriously.

In between the topics to ponder on, we also got the opportunity to learn from the very best in conducting science demonstrations and the innovative ways one can use when conducting science demonstrations to the general public or a specific audience. The hands-on experience was invaluable, as it really opened our eyes to a myriad of ways we can approach in teaching certain basic science concepts using demonstrations. The most striking aspect of science demonstration for me was the popular misconceptions in science when conducting certain classic demonstrations. It brings potential pitfalls in using science demonstration as a tool to teach science and it taught us to be keenly aware in how we should perform certain demonstration without introducing misunderstanding or cultivating certain misconceptions about the science along the way.

Overall, I had fun with the module. Now comes the challenging part, which is to complete a series of writing assignments that are going to take some time to complete it. It will constitute about 70% of the final grade (30% being participation marks and a group presentation that we did on the final day of the workshop).

The submission deadline is the last day of July, which gives me about a month to complete those assignments.