Posted on July 28, 2009.

Well into the summer now (half-way, if we count from the end of exams) and having a real whale of a time. It's my last 'long' holiday for a long, long time, so coming in I consciously decided that I wanted to try and make the most of it. The month that I've been at home so far compares surprisingly well to the month leading up to graduation.

A long-term goal of mine had been to build an arcade stick for a games console. It took around ten days of near-solid work, but it's finally done and is a joy to use. Arcade StickIt's already getting a lot of use in Street Fighter IV (and I've only received a single piece of abuse on Live so far, which is less than I was expecting), and come Wednesday it'll be getting a lot of love through the medium of Marvel vs. Capcom 2. The electronics was, ironically, the easy bit, despite the fact I was soldering to an existing PCB and setting up two 25 pin harnesses. It was all done in under three days and worked correctly first time. Cutting six pieces of wood out of a floorboard, drilling a few holes, and screwing them together? Took the remainder of the time. I hate working with wood. I'm very happy with how it turned out, though - certainly at the lowest point I wouldn't have expected it to turn out this good. It ended up costing around the same as buying a Madcatz Street Fighter IV SE stick, but is at least future-proof - I can build other breakaway project boxes that will let it work on other consoles, if I am struck by the urge.

Much to my delight, there are enough people around without jobs just yet (mostly people who took a gap year and so have only just graduated along with me), so there's more than enough support for fun times. Notable mentions so far are a black-tie dinner party, sailing on Ben's boat (where we saw seals), the beach, and going out having dressed up in owl material (oooooooo indeed).

I also trekked into London with some excellent co-conspirators who were game enough to see Derren Brown's Enigma show. We're asked to 'keep the mysteries mysterious, and the surprises surprising', so in that spirit I won't delve into too much detail. However, speaking loosely, I think I can safely say that we were all extremely impressed. We managed to deduce how some of the effects were done to our satisfaction, though many still eluded us. I believe I know loosely how the final effect was done (at least, I have a method that I would use if demanded to reproduce it at gunpoint), and I had a particular song stuck in my head for a couple of days after the show. What the most shocking thing about the show was just how impressive Derren putting people into a dissociative state is; there was one girl he kept putting under and pulling back, and she just went completely limp instantly, each time.

I'm conscious of the fact that compared to a lot of people I know, I'm not doing anything too extravagant with my prolonged time off. Phil's off trekking South America, and I know a few other people who are travelling to similar extents. While doing something along those lines would be fun, I'm not pining for it to any great extent. I'm away for a week towards the end of next month, but it's primarily Ph.D. related rather than outright fun - though I'm anticipating some of that as well; after all, all work and no play...

For a competition I wrote a program to 'solve' any Countdown numbers game (assuming a solution exists). The source is here, though it is very slow (a couple of minutes to exhaustively search a tree). Poking around the internet after I wrote it shows that there are much faster implementations of what is essentially the same algorithm, just with more shortcuts taken and a stricter adherence to the rules (it transpires that intermediate fractions are not allowed in Countdown, so by checking a % b before dividing you can save yourself a lot of time). It took me most of the day, but only because I don't use Perl on a regular basis; I was initially unfamiliar with how it displays numbers and truncates their representations when asked to display them if there are a sufficient number of 0s after the decimal point. Frustrating, but good to know.