• The one who resurrected Duke Nukem: interview with Randy Pitchford, magician from Gearbox

      RUVDS and Habr continue the series of interviews with interesting people in IT field. Last time we talked to Richard «Levelord» Gray, level designer of popular games Duke Nukem, American McGee’s Alice, Heavy Metal F.A.K.K.2, SiN, Serious Sam, author of well-known «You’re not supposed to be here» phrase.

      Today we welcome Randall Steward «Randy» Pitchford II, president, CEO and co-founder of Gearbox Software video game development company.

      Randy started in 3D Realms where contributed to Duke Nukem 3D Atomic Edition and Shadow Warrior. Then he founded Gearbox Software and made Half-Life: Opposing Force, which won D.I.C.E in 2000. Other Gearbox titles include Half-Life: Blue Shift, Half-Life: Decay, Counter-Strike: Condition Zero, James Bond 007: Nightfire, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3, Halo: Combat Evolved and of course Borderlands.

      The interview team also includes editor of Habr Nikolay Zemlyanskiy, Richard «Levelord» Gray, Randy’s wife Kristy Pitchford and Randy’s son Randy Jr.


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    • Liza Alert: volunteers, who save lives



        Liza Alert search-and-rescue team has existed for eight years. It’s a volunteer organization, the fellowship of the ones who care, that searches for missing people effectively collaborating with the Ministry of Emergency Situations and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Liza Alert collects the entries on missing people; they conduct various educational events, search management and search operations themselves. The team isn’t involved in any business activities, doesn’t have a checking account and doesn’t accept monetary donations.

        Mail.Ru has recently provided Liza Alert with a free platform for services, extensively used for search-and-rescue operations. We decided to talk to Sergey Chumak — the head of Liza Alert IT branch — about the work of the volunteer emergency response group and how high-tech solutions aid them.
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      • Levelord, an Ordinary Moscow Resident: Interview with the Creator of Duke Nukem

          RUVDS together with Habr.com continues the series of interviews with interesting people in computer field. Previously we met Boris Yangel, who heads AI development of Yandex’s Alice voice assistant.

          Today we bring you an interview with Richard (Levelord) Gray — level designer of such legendary games as Duke Nukem, American McGee Alice, Heavy Metal F.A.K.K.2, SiN, and Serious Sam. And he is the one who coined the famous phrase «You are not supposed to be here». Richard was born and spent most of his life in USA, but several years ago he moved to Moscow to his russian wife and daughter.

          These who speak to Richard are Nick Zemlyanskiy, editor of Habr.com, and Nikita Tsaplin, co-founder and managing partner of RUVDS company.


          → Text and video in Russian
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        • Making a DIY thermal camera based on a Raspberry Pi

            image

            Hi everyone!

            Winter has arrived, and so I had to check the thermal insulation of my out of town residence dacha. And it just turned out a famous Chinese marketplace started to sell cheap thermal camera modules. So I decided to DIY it up and build a rather exotic and useful thing — a heat visor for the home. Why not? Especially since I had a Raspberry Pi lying around anyway… The result is down below.
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          • Is Haskell really the language of geniuses and academia?

            • Translation


            I once had a discussion with a founder of an Israeli startup developing a GPU-based database with a focus on speed. The work stack included Haskell and C++, among others, and the founder was complaining about how hard it is to find competent programmers. Which was part of the reason he came to Moscow.

            I carefully asked if they considered using something more popular and new. And even though the answer was rather polite and well-supported with arguments, it still sounded like “Come on, don’t even bring up these toys”.

            Until then, all I heard about Haskell could be summarized as “be VERY careful in dealing with it”. To get to know Haskell programmers better, I came to a topical Telegram chat with some questions. I was quite afraid at first, and, as it turned out, I was right.

            Haskell doesn’t lend itself to popular explanation, and people seemingly don’t even try. If the topic is ever brought up, it’s only talked about in full depth and as objectively as possible. Someone wrote to me: “One of the defining features of both Haskell itself and its community is that they didn’t try to achieve any kind of mainstream recognition. Instead, they focused on building a logical, principal way of solving real problems over trying to appease the widest audience possible”

            Nevertheless, a couple of people did tell me about their experiences, which are shown below.
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          • Choosing true wireless earbuds: 6 months later…

            • Translation


            Once I put on true wireless headphones and all the cables after that (even if it's a flexible headband on a “wireless” headset), became annoying. So I’ve tried a lot of AirPods-like earbuds in order to find the best ones. In 2018 aside from the AirPods themselves I tried: Jabra Elite 65+, Samsung IconX 2018 and Sony WF-1000X. The result was a neat table with all the objective data. Everything else — my personal opinion — let's discuss in the comments.
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          • Designing Sound for Pathfinder: Kingmaker


              Pathfinder: Kingmaker (PF:K for short) is a role-playing video game created by Owlcat Games, released in Fall 2018 on Steam and GoG. Inspired by classic Bioware games, this project uses a popular board game system ruleset, combat takes place in Real-Time with Pause, follows an isometric camera, and has a non-linear story with multiple unique endings.


              In this article, I will share a little about how we worked on designing the audio throughout the game’s development including task management, the search for inspiration, and troubleshooting. An experienced specialist may not find anything particularly groundbreaking in this recap, but beginners and enthusiasts will definitely discover some points of interest.

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            • Flightradar24 — how does it work?

                I’m going to hazard a guess and say that everyone whose friends or family have ever flown on a plane, have used Flightradar24 — a free and convenient service for tracking flights in real time.



                But, if my friends are any indication, very few people know that the service is community-driven and is supported by a group of enthusiasts gathering and sending data. Even fewer people know that anyone can join the project — including you.

                Let’s see how Flightradar and similar other services works.
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              • My Pascal compiler and Polish contemporary art

                  Origins


                  Several years ago I wrote a Pascal compiler. The motivation was simple: as a teenager, I had learnt from my first programming textbooks that a compiler is a very sophisticated thing. This claim eventually became a challenge and required to be tested by experience.

                  image
                  ha.art.pl

                  First, a simplistic PL/0 compiler came into being, and later an almost fully-functional Pascal compiler for MS-DOS has grown from it. My source of inspiration was the Compiler Construction book by Niklaus Wirth, the inventor of the Pascal language. I don't care if Wirth's views are now considered obsolete and have no direct connections to the IT mainstream, or if the compiler design fashion has changed. It is enough to know that his techniques are still simple, elegant, and — last but not least — bring much fun, since it is more appealing to parse a program source with a handwritten recursive descent parser and generate the machine code, rather than to call yaccs, bisons and all their descendants.

                  My compiler's fate was not so trivial. It has lived two lives: the first one in my own hands, and the second in the hands of computer antiquarians from Poland.
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                • Building a Private Currency Service Using Exonum

                    Zero-knowledge proofs/arguments are an emerging cryptographic technology that promises to bring us closer to the Holy Grail of blockchain: providing data privacy and auditability.

                    Potential applications for zero-knowledge include, but are not limited to:


                    Another application for zero-knowledge proofs is helping blockchains scale. ZKPs allow for the “compressing” of computations for blockchain transactions without sacrificing security.

                    In this article, we describe how zero-knowledge (specifically, Bulletproofs) can be applied to build a privacy-focused service using Bitfury’s Exonum platform.

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                  • PC Speaker To Eleven

                      Known now as a «motherboard speaker», or just «beeper», PC Speaker has been introduced in 1981 along with the first personal IBM computer. Being a successor of the big serious computers for serious business, it has been designed to produce very basic system beeps, so it never really had a chance to shine bright as a music device in numerous entertainment programs of the emerging home market. Overshadowed by much more advanced sound chips of popular home game systems, quickly replaced with powerful sound cards, it mostly served as a fallback option, playing severely downgraded content of better sound hardware.

                      «System Beeps» is a music album in shape of an MS-DOS program that features original music composed for PC Speaker using the same basic old techniques like ones found in classic PC games. It follows the usual retro computing demoscene formula — take something rusty and obsolete, and push it to eleven — and attempts to reveal the long hidden potential of this humble little sound device. You can hear it in action and form an opinion on how successful this attempt was at Bandcamp, or in the video below. The following article is an in-depth overview of the original PC Speaker capabilities and making of the project, for those who would like to know more.

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                    • Manifest of Smart Home Developer: 15 principles

                        Today I’d like to speak about Smart homes and IoT devices. But it is no ordinary article. You won’t find description of hardware, links to manufacturers, batches of code or repositories. Today we’ll discuss something of a higher level — principles that are used to organize “smart” systems.

                        image



                        Smart home is a system that can do some everyday routines instead of a person. It leads us to the first and the main principle:
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                      • A small notebook for a system administrator

                          I am a system administrator, and I need a small, lightweight notebook for every day carrying. Of course, not just to carry it, but for use it to work.

                          I already have a ThinkPad x200, but it’s heavier than I would like. And among the lightweight notebooks, I did not find anything suitable. All of them imitate the MacBook Air: thin, shiny, glamorous, and they all critically lack ports. Such notebook is suitable for posting photos on Instagram, but not for work. At least not for mine.

                          After not finding anything suitable, I thought about how a notebook would turn out if it were developed not with design, but the needs of real users in mind. System administrators, for example. Or people serving telecommunications equipment in hard-to-reach places — on roofs, masts, in the woods, literally in the middle of nowhere.

                          The results of my thoughts are presented in this article.

                          Figure to attract attention
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                        • Ternary computing: basics

                            Balanced ternary


                            I am working on a computer architecture principles lectures for our university; and as an assignment I'd like to propose to my students to build a simple programmable machine working in ternary. The main reason is fun: as a lecturer I must bring a bit of entertainment, otherwise I won't be listened to. Besides, it is important for historic reasons. Any further «why?!» questions will be answered «Because I can».

                            This page describes the very basics, it won't go beyond a simple ternary adder (and its hardware implementation). Stay tuned for more.

                            I chose the balanced ternary system: every trit represents one of three possible states, -1, 0 or 1. A very extensive description of this system may be found here.


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                          • Naïve Math: the Mendocino motor and Earnshaw's theorem

                            • Tutorial

                            The problem statement


                            I was surfing the Internet the other day and a rather curious thing caught my mind: the Mendocino motor. It’s an extremely low-friction bearing rotor: the original one had a glass cylinder hanging on two needles, but the modern ones use magnetic suspension. It’s a brushless engine: the rotor has solar batteries attached to it, which generate current for the coils wrapped around the rotor. The rotor spins in a fixed magnetic field, the solar batteries getting exposed to the light source one after the other. It’s a rather elegant solution that’s very possible to recreate at home.

                            Here’s the video that explains how it works (in Russian):


                            But this video had another curiosity even stronger than the engine itself. In the video description Dmitry Korzhevsky writes: “You CAN’T replace the side support with a magnet! Don’t ask me about this anymore!”
                            I LOVE the 'impossible' word!
                          • $10 million in investments and Wozniak's praise — creating an educational computer for children

                              We interviewed Mark Pavluykovskiy — the creator of the Piper educational computer. We asked him about immigrating from Ukraine to the US, how he almost died in Africa, graduated from Princeton, dropped out of a doctorate in Oxford and created a product that deserved a praise from Satia Nadella and Steve Wozniak.



                              In mid-October the Sistema_VC venture capital fund hosted a conference called Machine Teaching, where creators of various educational startups assembled to talk about technical advancements.

                              The special guest was Mark Pavluykosvkiy, the creator of Piper. His company created an educational computer — a children’s toy that, using wires, circuit boards and Minecraft teaches programming and engineering to children. A couple of years ago Mark completed a successful Kickstarter campaign, got a couple of Silicon Valley investors on board and raised around $11 million dollars in investments. Now he’s a member of Forbes’ “30 under 30” list, while his project is used by Satia Nadella and Steve Wozniak, among others.

                              Mark himself is a former Princeton and Oxford student. He was born in Ukraine, but moved to the US with his mother when he was a child. In various interviews Mark claimed that he doesn’t consider himself a genius, but simply someone who got very lucky. A lot of other people aren’t so lucky, however, and he considers it unfair. Driven by this notion, during his junior year he flew to Africa, where he almost died.
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                            • System in Package, or What's Under Chip Package Cover?

                                Transistor feature size is decreasing despite constant rumors about the death of Moore’s law and the fact that industry is really close to physical limits of miniaturisation (or even went through them with some clever technology tricks). Moore’s law, however, created user’s appetite for innovation, which is hard to handle for the industry. That’s why modern microelectronic products aren’t just feature size scaled, but also employ a number of other features, often even more complicated than chip scaling.


                                Disclaimer: This article is a slightly updated translation of my own piece published on this very site here. If you're Russian-speaking, you may want to check the original. If you're English-speaking, it's worth noting that English is not my native language, so I'll be very grateful for the feedback if you find something weird in the text.
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