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Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town review – limited earthly delights | Simulation games

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In this latest in a long line of farming-life games, you are once again thrust into the role of a young person who leaves the big city for an idyllic life of agricultural self-sufficiency, growing crops, chopping wood and integrating yourself into small-town life. Olive Town tries hard to integrate the lessons of its newer, scrappier competitors, most notably the mega-hit Stardew Valley; there’s more exploration and crafting, with a seemingly sprawling wilderness for you to reclaim and redevelop. But it’s hampered by technical issues that impact the game’s gentle vibe.

Both technically and artistically, Olive Town’s visuals have taken a leap forward from last year’s Friends of Mineral Town remake, and it looks just as good from both overhead and first-person views. This is best exemplified by the game’s loading screens, which showcase photos taken by other players – a great idea that deserves to be adopted by games with fancier photo modes. You’ll be seeing quite a lot of other player’s shots, because loading screens are both lengthy and annoyingly frequent, introducing unwelcome friction into the game’s otherwise laid-back flow.

Food for thought ... Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town.
Food for thought … Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town. Photograph: Marvelous

As the days pass by, your farm will sprawl out over the landscape like some twee industrial blight. Being able to lay down paths, buildings and fencing on your farm is a welcome change from the limited template customisation of past games, but there are strange restrictions that would drive any serious homesteader to distraction. Weird space restrictions guarantee a strangely geometric estate that can’t incorporate your farm’s natural features, and to upgrade your hammers and hoes you must plop down dozens of aesthetically-jarring maker contraptions to help process your raw materials into something usable. It doesn’t help, either, that the game’s framerate nosedives as you add more decorative flair.

Much of these games’ appeal rests on their characters, and Olive Town has a pleasingly large and diverse cast. It’s rare to see explicit nods to real-life cultures in these games, so florists Linh and Grandpa Nguyen and the surf-shack family headed by Emilio and Manuela really stand out. But it takes a long time to make friends, so you’ll be stuck at the bland nodding-acquaintance stage until you figure out precisely which gifts to bribe them with as part of your everyday routine. The writing is pleasingly quirky, but a bit light, lacking emotional weight or drama – not that we necessarily need that from a cute farming game.

Aesthetically-jarring contraptions ... Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town.
Aesthetically-jarring contraptions … Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town. Photograph: Marvelous

It’s disappointing that for a game about pioneering, there isn’t that much exploration or development. Once you’re done unlocking the areas of wilderness in your backyard, it’s hard to find longer-term goals that you want to work towards. There is the option to contribute materials towards town development, but this is superficial – it’s difficult to even see the difference in the new town hall’s facade, or to care about whether the road is brick or cobblestone.

Without the drive of something new and promising on the horizon, the daily grind just doesn’t have that one-more-go appeal that is key to the farming-sim experience. There have been big improvements to the game’s presentation and accessibility, and it remains warm, cheerful and inviting, but between the technical issues and the aimless design it’s difficult to recommend highly – even if it’s better than the newer Harvest Moon games.

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Tech neck: what are smartphones doing to our bodies? | Life and style

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Name: Tech neck.

Age: Two years old.

Appearance: The next stage of human evolution.

This sounds exciting! Are we all going to be cyborgs soon? Not exactly.

Then what on earth is tech neck? That’s easy. It’s the hunch you develop from staring at your phone too much.

That’s less exciting. And less deniable. It has been claimed by the Australian Chiropractors Association that our compulsive use of mobile devices is changing the shape of our bodies.

How? Let’s say you hold your phone at an angle that makes you lower your head by 60 degrees. That adds approximately 27kg (60lbs) of weight through your spine. Now, imagine doing that for several hours every day. That’s one messed up back.

Hang on, you said that tech neck is only two years old. Phones are older than that, and “text neck” was identified as an ailment in 2011, but the pandemic made things so much worse.

Posed by model Hunchbacked person with wrong bad posture, back bones pain and problems
All in the angle … tilting the head forward adds pressure (posed by model). Photograph: Михаил Руденко/Getty Images/iStockphoto

It did? For month after month you were starved of normal human contact, and had to communicate with the rest of the world through your phone. And when you weren’t doing that, you spent your time doom-scrolling in horror through a barrage of some of the worst news in modern history.

That sounds just like me. Me too. And guess what? All that bad news was a pain in the neck.

Well, on the plus side phones have only harmed us in one way. Or two, if you count “phone thumb”, a condition where your thumb can become inflamed from prolonged texting.

OK, fine, two ways. Or three, if you factor in the claim that the blue light emitted by phones can interfere with melatonin production. Or four, if you count the eye strain you get from prolonged use. And a couple of years ago it was suggested that humans are growing bone spurs at the base of their skulls to counter all the terrible phone-related posture.

Please, stop! Do you want to know the good news?

Yes! Anything! The posture problem is easy to correct. You can do a simple stretch, where you interlock your fingers behind your head and hold your elbows against a wall.

That’s promising. Or you could try holding your phone at eye level, to reduce the pressure on your spine. Or make an extra effort to stay active throughout the day.

This is good. I can do this. Then again, there is a better way to combat tech neck.

This sounds ominous. You could always try not using your phone as much.

Never! The humps are worth it! Suit yourself.

Do say: “The best way to avoid tech neck is to put your phone down.”

Don’t say: “You know, in a minute, after you’ve watched all those TikToks.”

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VMware demos ‘bare-metal’ performance from virtualized GPUs • The Register

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The future of high-performance computing will be virtualized, VMware’s Uday Kurkure has told The Register.

Kurkure, the lead engineer for VMware’s performance engineering team, has spent the past five years working on ways to virtualize machine-learning workloads running on accelerators. Earlier this month his team reported “near or better than bare-metal performance” for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT) and Mask R-CNN — two popular machine-learning workloads — running on virtualized GPUs (vGPU) connected using Nvidia’s NVLink interconnect.

NVLink enables compute and memory resources to be shared across up to four GPUs over a high-bandwidth mesh fabric operating at 6.25GB/s per lane compared to PCIe 4.0’s 2.5GB/s. The interconnect enabled Kurkure’s team to pool 160GB of GPU memory from the Dell PowerEdge system’s four 40GB Nvidia A100 SXM GPUs.

“As the machine learning models get bigger and bigger, they don’t fit into the graphics memory of a single chip, so you need to use multiple GPUs,” he explained.

Support for NVLink in VMware’s vSphere is a relatively new addition. By toggling NVLink on and off in vSphere between tests, Kurkure was able to determine how large of an impact the interconnect had on performance.

And in what should be a surprise to no one, the large ML workloads ran faster, scaling linearly with additional GPUs, when NVLink was enabled.

Testing showed Mask R-CNN training running 15 percent faster in a twin GPU, NVLink configuration, and 18 percent faster when using all four A100s. The performance delta was even greater in the BERT natural language processing model, where the NVLink-enabled system performed 243 percent faster when running on all four GPUs.

What’s more, Kurkure says the virtualized GPUs were able to achieve the same or better performance compared to running the same workloads on bare metal.

“Now with NVLink being supported in vSphere, customers have the flexibility where they can combine multiple GPUs on the same host using NVLink so they can support bigger models, without a significant communication overhead,” Kurkure said.

HPC, enterprise implications

Based on the results of these tests, Kurkure expects most HPC workloads will be virtualized moving forward. The HPC community is always running into performance bottlenecks that leaves systems underutilized, he added, arguing that virtualization enables users to make much more efficient use of their systems.

Kurkure’s team was able to achieve performance comparable to bare metal while using just a fraction of the dual-socket system’s CPU resources.

“We were only using 16 logical cores out of 128 available,” he said. “You could use that CPU resources for other jobs without affecting your machine-learning intensive graphics modules. This is going to improve your utilization, and bring down the cost of your datacenter.”

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By toggling on and off NVLink between GPUs, additional platform flexibility can be achieved by enabling multiple isolated AI/ML workloads to be spread across the GPUs simultaneously.

“One of the key takeaways of this testing was that because of the improved utilization offered by vGPUs connected over a NVLink mesh network, VMware was able to achieve bare-metal-like performance while freeing idle resources for other workloads,” Kurkure said.

VMWare expects these results to improve resource utilization in several applications, including investment banking, pharmaceutical research, 3D CAD, and auto manufacturing. 3D CAD is a particularly high-demand area for HPC virtualization, according to Kurkure, who cited several customers looking to implement machine learning to assist with the design process.

And while it’s possible to run many of these workloads on GPUs in the cloud, he argued that cost and/or intellectual property rules may prevent them from doing so.

vGPU vs MIG

An important note is VMware’s tests were conducted using Nvidia’s vGPU Manager in vSphere as opposed to the hardware-level partitioning offered by multi-instance GPU (MIG) on the A100. MIG essentially allows the A100 to behave like up to seven less-powerful GPUs.

By comparison, vGPUs are defined in the hypervisor and are time-sliced. You can think of this as multitasking where the GPU rapidly cycles through each vGPU workload until they’re completed.

The benefit of vGPUs is users can scale well beyond seven GPU instances at the cost of potential overheads associated with rapid context switching, Kurkure explained. However, at least in his testing, the use of vGPUs didn’t appear to have a negative impact on performance compared to running on bare metal with the GPUs passed through to the VM.

Whether MIG would change this dynamic remains to be seen and is the subject of another ongoing investigation by Kurkure’s team. “It’s not clear when you should be using vGPU and when we should be running in MIG mode,” he said.

More to come

With vGPU with NVLink validated for scale-up workloads, VMware is now exploring options such as how these workloads scale across multiple systems and racks over RDMA over converged Ethernet (RoCE). Here, he says, networking becomes a major consideration.

“The natural extension of this is scale out,” he said. “So, we’ll have a number of hosted connected by RoCE.”

VMware is also investing how virtualized GPUs perform with even larger AI/ML models,

Kurkure’s team is also investigating how these architectures scale with even larger AI/ML, like GPT-3, as well as how they can be applied to telco workloads running at the edge. ®

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The Irish start-up tackling employee mental wellbeing

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Pause offers coaching, audit, supervision and training services in a bid to deliver measurable mental wellbeing improvements for organisations.

A new Irish start-up called Pause aims to help employers implement good mental wellbeing practices in the workplace following a tough couple of years for workers.

The company is led by Báirbre Meehan, who has been in senior leadership roles for 25 years and is a trained executive coach with a master’s in business and executive coaching.

Future Human

Meehan realised that there was a gap in the market when it came to managing employee mental wellbeing, which was only widened by the stresses of the pandemic.

She undertook a research project into mental wellbeing after seeing first-hand the impact that mental health issues were having on employee performance. For five years, she worked with GPs, psychotherapists and word-of-mouth referrals to support and monitor mental wellbeing improvements in more than 100 people.

Her research found that short-term coaching intervention led to a 70pc improvement in collective employee mental wellbeing, with positive mental wellbeing maintained at six-month and two-year review stages.

Meehan used what she found out to develop Pause. She is now launching the company at a pivotal time for employer-employee relations, as workplaces continue reopening and companies negotiate hybrid and remote work policies with staff.

Pause offers coaching, audit, supervision and training services in a bid to deliver measurable mental wellbeing improvements for organisations.

Recent Pause research, carried out in 2021, revealed that senior HR leaders are finding it increasingly difficult to support employee mental wellbeing due to the distance involved in hybrid and remote working arrangements.

New ways of working have made identifying employees struggling with their mental wellbeing challenging, and it is also difficult to convince employees to seek support, according to the findings.

‘People are finding it difficult to cope’

Meehan acknowledged that the pandemic had a “significant impact on people’s stress levels, which were already high before the pandemic, but are now at an all-time high”.

“The pace of life and working life has escalated to such an extent that people are finding it difficult to cope. The phased return to the workplace is causing a large amount of anxiety for varying reasons,” she said.

She added that people are finding it hard to draw boundaries between work and home, pointing to the introduction of the right to disconnect in Ireland last year to help people switch off and achieve a better work-life balance.

“In addition, the global pandemic caused people to re-evaluate their attitudes to work-life balance,” Meehan said.

“This makes employee retention and attraction a critical issue for organisations, and one they are struggling to manage. This is a really complex area, but Pause has developed a provable and measurable system of improving employee mental wellbeing, which has a clear positive impact on business results and employee retention.”

Meehan was the 2021 winner of the Empower Start pitching competition for women entrepreneurs based on her work with Pause. This was a Dragon’s Den-style competition delivered through the innovation hubs at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, IT Sligo and Letterkenny IT, which recently amalgamated to form Atlantic Technological University (ATU).

Pause is based at ATU Sligo’s innovation centre. The team currently includes Meehan and two other coaches, one of whom is a psychotherapist based in the UK.

Meehan plans to employ and train more coaches in the Pause method over the coming years.

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