Coding and Configuring

My Smartwatch

The greatest part about the VRunow 1.54inch is also the worst part it is not just a wearable watch its a micro phone! I have been using it for about 2 weeks. I will attempt to break things down since a simple Pro/Con review wont actually do this equipment justice.

Out of the Box:
First, this watch thinks its a phone.... all the time. This is a really big deal since it can take a sim and a mem card, make calls on its own and basically function about 80% without a bluetooth link. I was excited when i realized this out of the box, it was only after a week that the reality of this setup finally sunk in. I dont want my watch to have its own phone number. Out of the box though the watch looks good enough. I liked the lines the textured rubber band and the front facing camera. The battery lasted 4 days before i had to charge it and that's Amazing!!!! I noticed that a lot of the app features didn't work, but I assumed this was due to the fact that I hadn't tethered the watch yet. The battery is exchangeable so if you really needed to you could throw and extra one in your pocket, because its about the size of a 'square quarter' and about 3 quarters thick.

The altimeter/pedometer did not function out of the box. I don't know if this is a defective unit but I haven't been able to log a single step since i purchased it. Which means that it didn't really take the place of a Fitbit device.

Sleep monitoring doesn't actually give you any metrics it just tells you if your sleep was good or ----- i don't know what it says for bad since there is no heart monitor and the accelerometer as noted above isn't functional. So i'm a GREAT sleeper. Even when I'm awake and working.

The software defined FM radio doesn't work because it is expecting you to plug in a pair of Earphones to serve as an antenna. There is no earphone jack.

The watch only has 20K (yes K) memory until you install a mem card. The mem card would be useful if you were going to take video or pics with your watch. I'm not so it seemed wasteful to install a card. This also means there was no local music playback.

About here I was inclined to remove about half a star, because its functionality was pretty miserable as a smart device.

Facebook, Twitter, and the Chrome apps do not work... see Tethered with bluetooth below. No bluetooth, no SIM at this point this was reasonable.

Also a really big thing to know is this unit is not waterproof. I found this out when i took it into the Shower accidentally. I assumed that because it had a sweat proof band that a light sprinkle wouldn't be a problem. That was bad. The back of the watch just snaps over the battery and sim holder there is no seal to speak of. The very tight seam around the face of the watch was sufficient to prevent most water getting in but the little bit of water running down my wrist eventually found its way into the case and started a non-fatal short. This is where i learned that the watch did in fact have a vibration motor, which previously had not gone off till that point. I hadn't really worried about the vibration feature cause the speakers volume rivaled my PC and dwarfed my phone... so as an alarm it was going to be more than sufficient. I was sad that i had gotten water into the device after only 5 days of use, so i pulled the cover off and threw it into a bag of clothes then hopped on an airplane for a business trip. After a 2 hour hop and getting settled into my hotel i pulled the remains of the watch reassembled everything and fired it up. It worked no problems. Kudos to the device engineers for making an exceptionally tough product.

Tethered with Bluetooth:
This was the biggest let down. Of my two weeks. After seeing how it operated on its own (no sim, no bluetooth) I knew that i had to pair it in order to give it a fair review. The pairing process was as good as any other bluetooth device. Not a problem. So now what can we do?


Facebook -No; Twitter -No; Chrome -No;

Just having bluetooth connected doesn't actually provide you with an internet connection, and this means that a lot of functionality to the watch is not turned on. Any other apps you might expect to work actually just tells you to install the BTNotification app. Which sounds like the bluetooth notification app. I was not ready to add software to my phone so that notifications would work. So another 3 or 4 days went by.

It lost a full star for this. This is when i started hitting the internet to find out if I was missing something. The BTNotification App (not its real name) is critical to this device gaining more functionality. At this point I want to point out that I am a software developer, and i was really upset by the way this device was leading me around. My user experience was bad, features didn't work, and apparently I had to give this watch a foothold on my phone in order to actually test its uses and workflows.

Tethered with Bluetooth and BT Notifications App
I recommend this video to help you get things set up:

There are about 6 different apps that allow you to setup the notification service. Its not the easiest set up, and since you have to have BT pairing then device-app pairing any connectivity problems and you will get frustrated. This is about a quarter star reduction here.

Once its together though there is this new and different 'notification' platform. And that is what we're talking about a new way to get notices. Your phone will send a system message to your watch that something has happened on your phone and that's about its usefulness. Its nice that you can turn off and on what gets sent. I left my messaging apps including RocketChat and Telegram turned on and started getting.... i'm going to call them 'pages' because it simply was a datetime stamp and which application on my phone had a pop-up. There is no interactivity with them, and that is kind of expected and also kind of a let-down. I can totally see the advantage of this in some ways, just knowing that I have a Telegram or Facebook message to check after i finish with my meeting is useful. Sort of. I already check my phone after meetings because i put it on silent as I go in to the meetings. Since the contents of the message are not displayed I don't know if there is an emergency or not. Its just more notifications. To your wrist. You can decline incoming phone calls from your writst, and that's okay.

The most useful this turned out to be was this situation: I walked away from my laptop, and phone which was charging. My headphones were in the laptop and my phone was muted. As I was on the other side of the room a RocketChat message came in. I wouldn't have known that while i was making a sandwich someone needed my attention, and probably would have gone about my business till i hit one of my routine checks, or till my team member flagged me again.

The second time this was useful was while i was gaming. I was able feel on my wrist an sms notification from my wife while i was "in game."

Final Thoughts
Because this is a very cheap device there isn't going to be a huge amount of added features in the future I can say that the device's usefulness has pretty much plateau'd. Since i can make software I can craft some custom notification apps for my phone that will then flag my wrist.... but I already have a phone buzzing in my pocket. This is a very very very narrow device and its practical uses are very limited. If you need another notification tray on your wrist than this is the way to go. If the fitness tracking features worked it would have eliminated another device and that probably would have been useful. Similarly the sleep tracking, but since there is no heart monitor it is an overall limited platform for health monitoring.

Ark Clusters Across Multiple Machines

I have supported multiple servers for games for many years.  I got started because when I was in the Navy we had no internet connectivity so playing multi-player games meant someone had to learn how the servers worked.  Ark: Survival Evolved uses game servers and the configuration of these can become quite complex, especially since the game is feature incomplete.  I had been running multiple 'instances' of ark servers.  Different maps and different settings, I had carefully learned how to migrate people's profiles to the other servers using the underlying File System.  Then with Scorched Earth we learned that we could have these instances linked.  This changed things tremendously.  

What follows is a technical discussion about clusters, and its not a straightforward step by step how to set things up.  If you don't know what network file systems, symlinks and swap is then its probably going to be difficult.

Clustered servers means that you can have all 3 maps running simultaneously and move items and dinos and even players between them seamlessly.  Amazing!! this effectively changes the size of playable maps if you can just go to another map!  This means that the limit of the cluster is only a limit of hardware.  It takes a little bit of metal to accomplish this though:  The Island map with no mods runs at about 5.5 GB of RAM, The Center which is optimized and foregoes some visual candy can run at about 4GB even though its a much larger map.  Scorched Earth which is the newest map uses about 2.2 GB of RAM.  This means that to run everything we need about 12GB of RAM.   Individual client connections also put more load on the RAM and we absolutely want to prevent things from going to swap... but that's is a lot of server for a cluster, and it becomes more difficult once we start adding mods and their RAM requirements on top of things.  

To deal with the hardware requirements I simply switched servers on and off as required.  This was fine for the 3 or 4 people that were playing in my cluster as we pretty much wanted to be together on one server or another.  Till the holiday events. During the events we wanted to split up and collect as much of the costumes and swag as possible.  This presented a challenge. The Center is where we had our main base, since we took over one of the in game obelisks it was convenient for a base as there is room to expand around the base of the obelisk.  The Center did not have the holiday mechanics properly plumbed and so besides the holiday drops we were not seeing the DodoRex spawn, for that we would need The Island map.  Finally, there were the event's Scorched Earth features that only went off there... so we must have all three maps running.... i have plenty of machines that can do these maps individually; older hardware in the 4 GB or 8 GB range, but I only have one machine with 12 GB and that is my laptop.  How can we make this work?  


This is how!!!!!

The cluster directory on Linux is here:


I have seen on several tutorials where people that wanted to run multiple servers with different game settings have had multiple installs so they would look like this: 

/home/user/server1Location/Saved/clusters/clustername  /home/user/server2Location/Saved/clusters/clustername

with the clustername directory linked via symlink.  This would essentially allow to different servers to share items through the in game mechanics.  In case your wondering, items loaded into the obelisk in game are dropped into a file that is named what your steam profile ID is.  You could manually move this file to another server/cluster if you wanted to, but i wanted this to work without hand holding from the admins.  Since symlinks work I hoped that UNIX/Linux's Network File System would allow to separate computers to accomplish what a single computer was completing.  I tested it this morning and it does in-fact work!!!  The red arrow in the diagram above which runs directly between the two bottom computers is the NFS mount.  Now multiple computers can share this allowing for hundreds of servers simultaneously running in the same cluster.  I have not tested this on Windows since the NFS protocol is not baked in.  I might be able to do this with Samba/Windows shares, but windows is not set up for this distributed computing the way that Linux is, the NFS mounts do not appear differently than locally mounted devices to the Linux filesystems, and this is why it works so well with NFS. 

There are some drawbacks however.... your player profile was available to all the maps on a cluster that shared the same server directory.  (not everyone knew this but you could just login to new server and select 'respawn at random location' and viola your stats, levels and engrams were all available.)  Now since the server directories are different your player profile will be separate.  This is kind of a downer, but can be hand copied by the server admin provided they want this crazy task.  I suppose we could set up a sync between the servers and only copy the most up-to-date files.  I can think of couple programs that would be very good at this.  It also opens the door to cheating.  I dont think the developers ever intended to have the avatar profile existing in multiple instances across server but sharing a XP pool, but that's what has happened. 

The cheating would work something like this:  lets say I had an idea of the 50 most useful things that i always wanted to be omni-available in a obelisk.  I could load those things into the obelisk in game, then copy that file (the one with my profilenumber) into a third directory out of game.  Then I would simply write a shell script that copied this file back over the cluster file ever minute.  Then i could just hang out by the obelisk and download Ascendant Rocket Launchers and ammo every minute till I was overburdened with high powered death.... This probably would work for dinosaurs as well.  Mate Boosted 300 T Rexes?  sure you can get another 2 every minute out of the obelisk.  I have accidentally made copies of dinos moving servers around so I am quite sure that this would work.  

Next up I want to try and mount the entire game directory, then run multiple instances of islands with alternate save directories off the same game installation.  This would prevent some of the problems i already mentioned because they would all be working off the same save directory except for the files that are specified in an 'altSaveDir' setting upon start up.  It would also mean that only one server installation had to be updated instead of maintaining multiple working copies with synchronization. 


Why would i want to do this?  Digital Ocean offers a $5 a month rig that would server as the top level of the diagram and then the subsequent 'process' servers have an associated cost to run hourly... there is a 16 GB server that only costs $.18 an hour.  This means that running the server a 6 hours a day (which is what we are averaging currently) would cost $32 a month.  As long as I wrote a program to turn off and on these servers.  We might be able to use other cloud compute providers to make our ark cluster truly expansive.  Having a fiber backbone for the network would be infinitely better than my home connection and then we can really play with our dinosaurs in a way that is reflective of the digital age.  You know for fun.  

I can confirm that mounting the entire installation does work!!


All four maps on my cluster running simultaneously out of the same installation across 3 machines!

This means that as long as you have computers available you can spin up a new instance without actually configuring and installing everything on an individual machine!!!!!!!!!!!  More to follow!

One Year With Ark!



welcome to the Scorched Ark!

welcome to the Scorched Ark!

Hello again!!! I'm sure there is not that many people that are hanging on to the adventures of one geek in the ether, but still.  This post is overdue.  

I just want to show off some of the great stuff that has been happening in the world of ark.  Since i have over 1600 hours into the game I can say with a great deal of certainty that this is my favorite pass time or all time.  What you see above is a screenshot of me inside the first expansion of Ark called "Scorched Earth."  The expansion brought a host of new creatures (some of them mythical) and it also brought the full fury of cross server transfers.  This is sort of the missing piece of the ark universe that makes the meta game absolutely amazing.  There will be a little more about the cross server non-sense in another post but for now I just want to talk about 1 year with Ark.  

Scorched Earth was met with a split response from the player base.  The first group basically had a solid outrage of, "why would you sell me an expansion before the first game is even officially released?"  The second group had no response cause they were too busy loving the content.  I think that the offered price of $19.99 was better than fair, and I can state that by highlighting even though the Scorched Earth map is brutally hard, plenty of people have started playing there full time/exclusively.  

What makes Scorched Earth so hard and so good?  You not only play against each other and the beasts roaming the map you play against the elements themselves.  The Ark Design team really went out on a limb here.  Everyone has regarded fortitude and water as "throw-away" stats in the standard ark maps because there is no reason to put points into them.  Well, that is not true anymore.  Fortitude is the most important stat in Scorched Earth.  Searing heat and bitter cold await you even in the most mild environs on the map.  Water loss is a real concern since water is few and far between.  Of the dozen or so watering holes in the center of the map you will find an abundance of life competing, as you would expect in the African wastes.  This makes surviving HARD.  Additionally to the water loss is the equally frustrating heat mechanic, which accelerates water loss.  The temperature on Scorched Earth routinely reaches 150+!!!! This will kill you if you are outside.  But the developers have given you tools to deal with this frustrating set of circumstances.  Dessert Armor.  It helps with water retention and fights heat stroke (an in game mechanic that ruins your vision until you pass out.)  There are also adobe building blocks so you can hide inside a building with get thermo properties instead of a stone or metal building which basically becomes a frying pan.  There is also the amazing addition of a tent!  This temp shelter allows you to hide from many of the dangerous weather conditions that you will encounter when you are far from base, but as a temp shelter it looses vitality when its erected till till it falls apart.  One could run into one of the many caves on the maps, but creatures native to the caves will not be considerate or your needs to live.  Finally one has to contend with Sandstorms that strip away your stamina and kill visibility and force all animals to walk, not sprint.

Why would anyone even want to play on this god forsaken map?  Resources.  Dinos available no where else. 

Toothless the Lightning Wyvren

Toothless the Lightning Wyvren

That's right, tamable, ride-able Wyvrens.  There are three different flavors: Fire, Lightning, Poison.  They each have there own utilities and breath weapons, but overall Wyvrens are among the most versatile mounts in the game.  And you can only get them in Scorched Earth.  There are a few things that make them great.  Speed:  they are faster than every other dino, but if you bump points into the speed stat they can literally fly faster than the game can render.  Flight and picking up dinos: they are better than an Argy but dont have the pick up of a Quetz.  For example you can liberate a Carno from its earthy prison, but a mammoth not so much. Weight:  You can pump the weight stat and get into the range of Paracers very easily.  It wont compete with a Bronto but it will compete with mid level Quetz's.  Finally, and this point is not insignficant, getting your hands on one of these babies is an adrenaline ride!!!

Wyvrens cannot be tamed, they must be hatched.  Since you cannot breed them in captivity you have to steal wild Wyvren eggs from a giant canyon on the South side of the map.  It pisses off all of the wild wyvrens when you liberate an egg from its' mother's nest.  So imagine flying into a enclosed lava filled space on an Argentavis with nothing but movement speed pumped so you can get away.  You find a nest, you land in the pocket on the canyon wall which limits your view of what is actually cruising nearby.  You snatch the egg and jump back on your bird to flee when you are greeted by the trumpeting calls of mythical dragon cousins enraged at your arrogance!  Yes its all that and more, and for a video game to consistently give me adrenaline boosts during this process is awesome!!!!  Oh by the way when you actually recover an egg and you start to hatch it you will learn that you literally need to raise the temperature of the egg to human life threatening levels.  And when that is done you have to feed the damn thing wyvren milk.... which you can only get from knocking out female wyvrens and milking them before they damn well wake up. Yes its hard.  Yes its nuts.  Yes its inconsistent because you don't have control over the stats or what level an egg is.  Yes its epic. 

There are other creatures on the map that are beneficial and worth exporting to other servers but the Wyvrens really steal the show.  The Design team did a good job making it hard to get your hands on an adult wyvren, and then limiting their utility on the map they are found.  It really shows that you are expected to hop between these realms/arks.  When you start going down that road... well the game becomes more dynamic and strategic.  

Time for a culling

Time for a culling

The Holiday season is back as are the in-game events, we just completed the Halloween event, and I'm looking forward to some turkey antics and some Christmas antics after that.  My tribe and I have been enjoying all that this game has to offer and in that one way we are completely sold on Ark.  We even have a pool on what the next expansion will be, I'm all in on a nearly water-only expansion that introduces underwater bases and aquatic breeding.  Till then "BRING IT!"


Regular Expression

All!! Here is my homework for those that want to look at things:

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Ark: JoeCenter Server

Yesterday instead of doing homework I decided to fire up my Ark game and screw around.  After a while I was happy with my progress and decided to step away and complete homework while I tamed a Triceratops in game.  This method of multitasking allows for me to focus on my homework for about 20 minutes till i have to re-dose the taming dino.  I found this amazingly helpful website.  I just plug in the info and set the alarm to go off two minutes in advance and viola!!! Tame and homework simultaneously.  Or at least that's what I tell myself. 

So one of my trips back into Ark upon an alarm brought a surprise.... There is another person here.  And he is named "Tiny."  Tiny is the in ark personna of Sl1pg8r a gaming personality.  

After I clarified that this gent was not the Tiny we got to know a little more about eachother.  It turns out my idea of a non-persistent, and not packed server appeals to multiple people.  

I know Smyhk and I don't have time to have this persistent world clicking away, especially if we have to log in every few hours and pile on more food for our dinos.   I learned in my last server attempt on "The Island" that im a dino horder.  See the Marina I build to hold all my sharks on the last server instance?


There was about 10 minutes of work every day just to keep all three of my bases stocked and functional.  Additionally, when we started with babies and breeding it became apparent that my time spent babysitting baby dinos was going to be immense.   The threat of a food trough running out of food was a true concern in early days.  (someone figured out that on normal settings a stack of food would only last for 6 hours but then the devs fixed the hunger mechanic.  Activity burns calories so a dino running around burning stamina uses food to refresh.  Its pretty good if your dinos are just going to be standing there.  There is also the threat of attack... If another dino attacks one of your's while your logged it will use food to regen its health.  Still making sense.  

All of this breaks down in the baby dinos..... 

Little Monster

These suckers plow through food.  Again you can load a butt-ton into a feeding trough and pray (6 hour per stack and all that) that it doesn't eat everything and die.... which happens a lot.  Internet knowledge points out that there is a "bug" with their food stat.  Since they cannot eat to full capacity till they are adults.  (only 600 of 6000 food might be available)  the baby dinos are hungry all the time.  This means that a baby need to be "starved"  if you just have the food in the trough they will eat right through what is there. If you come back periodically though and top off their food stat they will eat significantly less.  Of course that means you have to actually log in and feed them periodically.... So food vs. time.  Babies almost break your day. 

Back to the friend.... we discussed this at large.  We also discussed some ideas for mods.... milking scorpion venom for narcotics instead of berry harvesting... etc.  He too was looking for a nearly stock experience as he found the survival element the most appealing.  No cranked training timers, no high harvest rates, but the game is brutally difficult and requires a serious investment of time.  Additionally, any casual players will find themselves at the mercy of folks that are full-time players.  It makes sense that if your putting 8 hours into a video game... like a job you should be rewarded more than someone that only plays 4 hours a week.  This is where the server set up I utilize becomes a deterrent.

  1. The server is only on 12 to noon.  Automatically, this limits the play time people have and pushes hard-core players away.  
  2. The server is essentially stock, meaning progression is slow.  Anyone interested in grinding out levels quickly and terrorizing others has to be committed. 
  3. The player limit is at 10.  This ensures that you cant have a huge population shift.  Worse case scenario is that 10 people are logged in and you have to play something else.  Goodbye to anyone but casual players.
  4. The difficulty is turned all the way up.  This means that your little puny human can and will come up against lvl 150 T Rex's.  Without the quick progression to endgame this makes the server a punishment to all but the most cautious and thoughtful players.  (building floating bases will be safer then the beach for instance) To facilitate this idea the only setting that is cranked up is the number of structures per platform is at 6000%.  

So welcome to my ark!!!