Winter has come

And back to real life: here in Cape Town, winter has come.  (Apologies to the Starks.)  It’s at this time of year that those of us living here realise that we’re on a tiny peninsula on the southern tip of Africa with nothing between us and the Antarctic.

While Tim (my housemate) posted on how his office park became a raging torrent, I came across photos on how the persistent winter rain caused a section of Lover’s Walk (just below the university) to collapse.

Dammit — I used to stay right around the corner from there…

How to Kill Raid Bosses and Get Stuff Changed

Making the news today in the World of Warcraft is a level 80 protection paladin going into Mogu’shan Vaults (a level 90 raid!) and single-handedly defeating encounters that require (at least) 10 players that are (also, at least!) 10 levels above him.  Apparently, he managed to take care of Stone Guard, Feng the Accursed and Elegon before Blizzard caught wind of it.  The video below shows his Elegon kill:

Of course, since I play a protection paladin myself, this interested me quite a bit (in terms of “wait… WHAT?!?!”).

Key to this involves a bug with our Shield of the Righteous ability (our primary damage reduction ability), and how it interacts with Vengeance (a passive ability that increases our attack power based on unmitigated damage received).  We’ve known about this for a while over on Maintankadin (and I’m guessing that Blizzard knew about it as well, but just never fixed it) — you can click on the link for all the details, but to summarise: due to a quirk of the Vengeance calculation and server/client latency, timing Shield of the Righteous with a melee swing from the boss could result in the Vengeance calculation grossly overestimating  how much unmitigated damage we received, resulting in a massive spike of Vengeance, and hence attack power, and hence damage we do.  Not only that, but many of our self-heals and absorbs also scale with attack power (Sacred Shield, I’m looking at you here — also Light’s Hammer and Execution Sentence, but since we only get those abilities at level 90, they’re not really applicable here), and one can see how our level 80 guy was not only able to deal enough damage, but also keep himself alive.

But that’s only part of the story.  Matt Walsh over on WoW Insider has filled us on the rest: there is some bind-on-equip rare gear found in the levelling zones of Mists of Pandaria (intended for players levelling from 85 to 90) that can, strangely enough, be equipped by a level 80 player.  (Here’s an example.)  By equipping those, our level 80 paladin managed to gain amounts of secondary stats (dodge/parry/mastery/haste/etc.) that were not originally intended for a level 80 player (when gear item levels were in the high 200s, not the low 400s in the case of the gear he had equipped).  More importantly, because he was level 80, he was cleverly avoiding the combat rating drop-offs that occur at levels 81 and 86 (those levels coincide with players encountering Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria content for the first time respectively).  This resulted in absolutely crazy character stats: Matt mentions that our level 80 paladin had 95% haste and 88% mastery, which one simply wouldn’t see on a level 90 character.

All of this came together to ensure our level 80 paladin could survive the raid bosses.  The haste and attack power from Vengeance meant that Seal of Insight was regularly overhealing him, and Sacred Shield was fully absorbing his attacks (not only that, but the insane haste percentage meant that it was constantly refreshing as well).  Plus, all of that mastery meant a damage reduction boost with Shield of the Righteous.

In a nutshell, all of this was simply our player using Blizzard’s design choices, and creating unintended consequences out of them.

Blizzard’s reaction to all of this has been to hotfix Vengeance so that it caps at a player’s maximum health (until a more elegant solution can be found); Vengeance previously had no maximum limit.  While I recognise that this is a temporary fix, I don’t believe it to be ideal: different tanking classes (protection paladins, protection warriors, blood death knights, guardian druids and brewmaster monks) are not created equally with regards to maximum health.  It remains to be seen how this will affect encounters that have the strategy relying on the tank having higher than usual Vengeance (10-player Wind Lord Mel’jarak coming to mind straight away); I’ll have to see what difference this makes in tonight’s raid.  (Although I may not notice much difference, since my personal gearing strategy seeks to maximise my health pool while still keeping an acceptable amount of secondary stats.)

I’ll end by throwing in this image, because it’s strangely relevant:


You are having a bad problem…

Earlier in the week, North Korea performed a missile test that successfully put a payload in orbit.  Just one problem: the orbit isn’t exactly stable.  Here’s why it’s bad news:

The most obvious bad news is that this is quite dangerous, as this object has now become a collision risk to other satellites.

The first collision between two satellites happened in 2009, when an American 1,235-pound Iridium communications satellite—launched in 1997—collided with a dead 1-ton Russian satellite launched in 1993. At the time, NASA blamed the Russians.

The collision wasn’t only bad for the functioning Iridium, but also to everyone else. Space is a big place, but it’s full of trash. And like that accident proved, collisions happen.

We can track small pieces of debris, but space crashes generate particles that we can’t monitor. The thousands of objects that may result from such an accident put other satellites, spaceships and the lives of astronauts at risk.

There’s probably several of you wondering how a small piece of space debris can be so deadly, and the answer is a simple one: the speeds involved.  Earth’s escape velocity is 11 km/s, so that’s kind of a minimum speed limit for anything wishing to escape the planet’s gravitational influence.  In practice, satellites will be moving slower than that, since they don’t need to escape Earth’s gravitational influence; they need only to obtain balance between Earth’s gravitational pull and the inertia of the satellite’s motion.

But that’s still fast.  The closer the object is to Earth, the faster it needs to be moving to obtain that balance, since the gravitational influence is stronger.  I spend a bit of time tinkering with NASA’s orbital velocity calculator, and discovered the following:

  • The International Space Station, which is maintained at an orbital altitude of between 330 km and 410 km (if Wikipedia is to be believed), has an average orbital velocity of 7.706 km/s.
  • Geosynchronous satellites, at an altitude of 35,786 km above the equator, requires an orbital velocity of 3.07 km/s.
  • The Moon, which is around 380,000 km away, has an average orbital velocity of 1.022 km/s.

For comparison, a bullet fired from an AK-47 assault rifle has a muzzle velocity of 0.715 km/s.  (Once again, if Wikipedia is to be believed.)  Imagine something the size of a bullet colliding with your spacecraft at 10 times that speed — the consequences of an almost-certain uncontrolled depressurization would not be pretty.

Then, when one considers the North Korean political situation, other concerns pop up:

The other bad news is that, while nobody really knows if this is a satellite or not, all countries are assuming it has been an attempt to disguise the test of a three-stage intercontinental ballistic missile. One that can easily reach the United States or Russia. And it worked.

The only bit of good news is that the lack of precision that probably led to a spinning satellite is proof of North Koreans’ ineptitude when it comes to design and control these long-range weapons. Putting an ICBM in space is not all you need to, say, drop a couple of nuclear warheads over Los Angeles. You need precision guiding systems for that, something that Kim Jong-Un’s boffins don’t seem to have mastered quite yet.

But then again, a nuclear warhead falling anywhere will definitely be very bad news anyway, no matter how precise it is.

While the rest of the world worries about that, I’m more interested in where the satellite will potentially come down after an almost-certain uncontrolled re-entry.  The satellite’s position can be tracked here: rather disturbingly, it passed almost directly over Cape Town as I was typing this post up.

So, lesson of the day — if you’re going to put something in orbit, make sure you do it properly.  Otherwise, you are having a bad problem and you will not go to space today.

The week where everything just breaks

You know, sometimes you just get those weeks from hell – weeks where everything just crashes and burns, you feel like you’re swimming upstream against a raging torrent… that kind of thing.

Well, last week was one of those.

First off, last week Saturday, I got back home from our department teambuilding (quad biking at Melkbosstrand – which was so made of awesome, I want to do that again!), flicked on the bedroom lights, and… nothing.  “Well, that’s great, the bulb has gone” thought the protagonist.  “Since I don’t have a spare, let me steal one from elsewhere in the flat.”  So, I did that, and… still nothing.  At this point, I decided to let things be, since I was heading off for boardgames night (and it was my turn to supply the boardgame), did a quick e-mail check, and noticed that my IRC client had been disconnecting and reconnecting since just after I left for the quad biking.  Thinking “well, I need to head on out, I’ll take a look when I get back”, that’s exactly what I did.  Off to boardgames night I went.

I returned home in the early hours of the morning, and tried flicking on the kitchen light.  Nothing.  Noting that my PC was still on, I tried fumbling around in the dark for my flashlight, eventually located it, and took a look at the circuit breakers.  Noticing that the circuit for the lights had tripped, I flicked it back on.  Kitchen light came back on.  Armed with hot chocolate in hand, I returned to my room, flicked the light on – and the entire flat was plunged into darkness.  Back to the circuit breakers I went, and noticed that while none of the lights in the flat worked, the trip switch for the lights had actually remained up.  At this point, I realised that I had a serious problem on my hands and turned off the trip switch manually.  Realising that I couldn’t do much else at that stage, I went back to my computer, noticed that the ADSL was still very intermittent, and decided to get some sleep and tackle it in the morning.

The next morning, fighting intermittent internet, I managed to get the number of an electrician to come and sort the lights out.  They arrived an hour later and spent another two up in the roof trying to figure out what the problem was.  As it turned out, the wiring to my room ran through an old metal pipe, and the insulation had decayed due to age.  Live wire touching earthed metal pipe – you can guess what it did.  It actually tripped one of the power phases down at the meter box (and took some other flats out with it).  After the problem was found, it was simple enough to rewire and get my lights back – although that’s now left me with the matter of R1,100 that I’m still trying to claim back from the landlord.

With the knowledge that my flat wouldn’t suddenly spontaneously combust, I started investigating the intermittent internet.  Within a short period of time, I discovered that the voice service on the line was totally dead, the upload part of my ADSL seriously degraded, and the download part still fine.  That was definitely a line fault, and during a quick burst of connectivity, I managed to log the fault online with Telkom.  Telkom isn’t known for their service though, so I thought that I would be without internet for a while.

They phoned me the next Monday at work, asking when it would be convenient for them to fix the issue.  Tuesday morning was agreed on, and sure enough, the technician popped over right on time.  After one hour investigating the flat’s telephone wiring, he decided that the problem lay between the flat and the exchange (which is only around 200 m away).  Off he went, and an hour later called me on my now working landline informing me that the problem had been solved.

But wait, that’s not the last thing that broke – just to add to a week of breakages, I managed also to pick up a slow puncture in my car, and that was another morning disrupted to get that fixed…

On the plus side, my code didn’t break…