Wednesday, April 30, 2003

There's no such thing as bad publicity



Or so Coca-Cola would seem to think by adorning it's promotional products with Nazi Swastikas. An "honest mistake", or insensitive corporate nazism? You decide.


Ressurrection



It appears my PC troubles are over, as my PC was its usual super stable self last night. Perhaps I shouldn't count my chickens just yet, but it appears that the problems I was having have disappeared as quickly as they appeared, so it's a relief that I don't have to fork out the money for a new motherboard just yet. I've still not really determined what the problem was, a flaky overclock or an erratic boot sector coupled with a few dozen abnormal shutdowns, but I had the PC running for a couple of hours, and did a half a dozen power cycles with no problems last night, for the second consecutive night. So if I do have any underlying power management problems with the motherboard, they've not manifested themselves for a couple of days and a dozen restarts, they can't be very serious. I'll be keeping an eye on things, though.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Spite



Just to annoy everyone from State who reads this: Max Payne is rubbish. Bullet-time is rubbish. Get used to it. :-p

The Arboreal Menace



SQUIRREL POWER!!!

The Black Screen Of Oblivion...



... the slightly more terminal cousin of The Blue Screen Of Death. I was expecting to see it last night, after discussions on State and PCGF, I was increasingly of the belief that there is something seriously wrong with my motherboard. With this sense of impending doom in mind, I started up the machine last night, and because I'd done an abnormal shutdown, it started a scandisk, so I cancelled that, and it didn't crash out. So I backed up all my essential files onto CD and rebooted, ducking into BIOS so I could clock the CPU back to normal.

It restarted fine, I waited about five minutes, and it still didn't give me the Black Screen Of Oblivion, so I did a scandisk. It reported (and fixed) an error with the FSBootInfo sector on the hard drive and all was fine and dandy. I shut down and restarted the machine several times (making sure I was doing full power cycles) during the evening, and it remained stable every time. I even got to play a little BG, though Operation Flashpoint strangely wouldn't run, complaining that it needs DirectX 8, when I have DX9 installed and NWN (which needs DX8.1) *would* run.


So now I'm a bit confused. The real test is tonight, booting the machine up normally from a "cold" start and a normal shutdown. If it BSOO's me tonight I know I got a real problem. If it's fine, however, I'm going to be even more confused - because why would a machine be stable at a marginally overclocked configuration for 18 months, and then suddenly start throwing wobblers?

Monday, April 28, 2003

Global Conspiracy



Someone doesn't want me to complete Deus Ex. When I got to the last level on my last PC, my hard drive failed, and now, on my current PC, I'm approaching the end-game, in the Ocean Lab level, and guess what? My PC decides that it's going to start throwing inexplicable wobblers. I boot up my PC, it's fine for about 3 minutes, and then - woof - the screen goes black, and the D: drive busy light comes on, and the PC's just totally dead. I turn the machine off, turn it back on again, and the screen stays black and the D: drive is still busy. Nothing happening at all. I leave the PC for half and hour or so, try it again, and the machine boots up, it's fine for about 3 minutes and the same thing happens again!

I turn the machine off, wait, turn it back on again, reboot from CD and reinstall Windows. It works fine, and doesn't crash out. I do a Thorough Scandisk (4 hours) and a defrag (3 hours) of the hard disk - which all runs fine, and says that the Scandisk has fixed a minor problem with the boot sector of the C: drive, I do a virus scan and an Ad-Aware scan, which finds nothings, and I think all's well and good, so I turn the machine off for the night and try it again on Sunday. Hey presto! We're back to square one as it bombs out within 3 minutes. Not happy. Any thoughts as to what's wrong would be welcome.


So, games-rig-less, I install Deus Ex on the laptop instead, which runs it fine, all things considered, at a fairly spanky 800x600, and start AGAIN from scratch (with no patch, so there's no skill point cheating at character creation). After some fairly solid gaming I'm back in Hong Kong, with a nice little skill-set (Pistol & Computer at Advanced, Rifle, Lockpicking & Electronics at Trained) and an inventory packed to the gills with weaponry (Mini-crossbow, Stealth Pistol, Assault Rifle, Assault Shotgun, GEP gun and Sniper Rifle) and practically a full complement of lockpicks, multitools and biocells. Sweet.


I went swimming on Sunday for the first time in ages, and really enjoyed it. Swimming doesn't really feel like exercise - not like going to the gym does. It's not a chore, it's getting healthy enjoyably. I over-did it, natch, and pulled something in the back of my left knee (I hope it's not a ligament) and can now barely walk. Still, I'll be swimming a lot more in the future. I'd forgotten just how good it feels.

Friday, April 25, 2003

The Not So Beautiful Game



Seeing as I'm from the White and Green half of Glasgow, I naturally watched Celtic take on Boavista in the second leg of the UEFA Cup Semi-Final last night. I wasn't expecting the game to live up to the match on Wednesday night, but bugger me, the match was dire. Utterly, UTTERLY dire. Boavista stuck nine men behind the ball and defended all night, trying to kill the game and scrape through on the away goals rule. Mercifully, good old Henrik Larsson stuck one in with about 15 minutes left in the game, with a brilliant piece of skill - how he got the ball out from under his feet I've no idea. Class player, class finish. Celtic deserved to go through, simply because Boavista were so negative and made no effort to go out and win the game. Serves them right. Hopefully the final against Porto will be a bit more open Celtic can show off a bit more of their attacking flair. Anyway, Dad will be pleased.

Thursday, April 24, 2003

The Beautiful Game



I'm not a religious follower of football, but I have to admit, I do like watching the odd game. Last night was the second leg of the Champions League Quarter Final between Real Madrid and Manchester United. Now, I'm not fond of Man U, so I was naturally supporting Real. The game, if anything, was even better than the first leg I blogged about a couple of weeks back. It was an absolute corker. It had everything - a hat-trick from Ronaldo, a super-special Beckham free-kick, an own goal (nearly two) missed chances galore and a grandstand finish. The second half was absolutely spellbinding - you couldn't take your eyes off it. If only all matches were played like this - even Fleur might be convinced to watch.



Speaking of beautiful games - I was playing more Deus Ex last night. I didn't fancy going back to Hong Kong, so I thought I'd exploit a bug I've found with one of my save games that allows you to load up a save game, start a new game without quitting, and keep your inventory from the saved game. It only seems to work with one specific saved game I have, but it's bloody handy, particularly combined with the skill point bug that allows you to downgrade your Pistol skill to Untrained at character creation, keep the skill points, and still have Pistol at Trained when you start the game.
You might call that being a filthy cheat - I call it maximising game functionality. Exploiting shoddy coding is fair game as far as I'm concerned. Besides, everyone on State keeps complaining how a multi-billion dollar nano-augmented secret agent should really be able to hit a barn door with a pistol, and be better equipped than just a pistol and a prod. This redresses the balance a bit.

Anyway, back to Liberty Island. I made my first really concerted effort to take the Statue and the surrounding area without fatalities - and it's an extremely rewarding way to play. In my other game, I tried the same thing during the Liberty Island UNATCO escape, and managed to get out of the building only killing Anna (with her killphrase), using the Run Silent aug, tranq darts and the riot prod. It feels good not having all that blood on your hands.

I'll be playing more tonight.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Don't You Just Hate It When That Happens?


I was replaying a bit of Deus Ex last night - Hong Kong - probably my favourite bit of the game, and was just infiltrating the Universal Constructor in the bowels of the Versalife building. I climb down the ladder to have the confrontation with Maggie Chow, and use the mouse wheel to select my auto-shotgun. Unfortunately, the cutscene begins before the weapons selection finishes, so at the end of the cutscene, Maggie hacks me down with a single blow to the head with the Dragons Tooth sword, before I even get my weapon ready in my hands.


BASTARD.


Next time I'm just going to White Phosphorous Rocket her from the gangway above.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Oh my God, we're doomed!


Valve announce the impending arrival of Half-Life 2.

With A Holiday Like That, I'd Rather Be At Work


As you will have probably gathered from the paucity of updates lately, I've had rather an excessive and interesting week. In the end, I didn't end up playing that many games, because of a few warning signs of impending carpal tunnel syndrome or RSI in my wrists and forearms, and wanted to give my arms and fingers a rest from the keyboard. Instead, I watched a few DVD's, including Black Hawk Down, which I picked up for £9.99 on sale in Smiths.


I really like Ridley Scott, and BHD is an awesome film - totally unrelenting in its action and violence, and it just doesn't shock, it truly appalls, because despite the pace and multitude of characters, you're never emotionally detached from the people on show. When people die, you care. You don't think "cool 'splode!"


I don't say this about many films, but BHD made me want to cry, at several points in the film. Whatever you may think of the American government, this film shows that the training, courage and integrity of these soldiers is second to none.


One of the most moving scenes in the film is when Shughart and Gordon, two Delta Force snipers, go down to the second crash site to secure the perimeter. They *know* that there's a couple of hundred militia descending on the place, but ask to be inserted anyway, because there *may* be someone alive down there in the wreck. That's fucking heroism. Real fucking heroism. Their courage and dedication saved the pilot, at the cost of their own lives, but they weren't willing to stay out of the fight when lives of their comrades were in danger and they could do something about it. I don't think I could have said I'd have done the same thing in their place.


If you've not seen this film, go rent it - it'll change the way you think about soldiers.


Also, as expected, I managed to be late every single day last week subsequent to Fleur's departure. I expect the same to happen this week too. Despite the double alarms. Fleur's off to Lincoln tomorrow morning to see her god-daughter. FOR CHINESE TAKEAWAYS AND BEER! Oh, I mean, FOR FREEDOM!


Easter Weekend passed off quite peacefully until yesterday, when it all went pear-shaped, though there were two bright spots in a day that started badly, and got progressively worse. I rarely see my parents for a couple of reasons - one; the distance involved with driving up to Bridlington to see them, and two; they're not the most interesting of people. I know it's cliché to hate your parents, but my Mum and Dad are more angsty and fucked up than I am. At least there's always lots of beer and wine on tap when I see them - that at least makes it tolerable. That's a terrible thing to say, but it's true. We're not a close family at all.


Things started out well, though - a trip to a stately home down the road with a lovely art collection, we watched a couple of half-decent films (well, from a chick flick point of view, anyway - Harry Potter The Chamber of Secrets, Bridget Jones and Moulin Rouge), I ruled in our annual game of Trivial Pursuit, and all was well.


Then came Monday morning. I ran Dad to the local garage to get the papers, and pulling back out onto the road, I nearly get clobbered by two police cars steaming down the wrong side of the road with lights on, but no sirens, that would've tipped me off to their presense. This was the first near miss of the day.


Fleur and I call it a day just after narrowly avoiding a family feud with my sister-in-law, after my nephew Ryan blasts a football at the full power his little legs can muster directly into my face from about three feet, mangling a £150 pair of glasses and nearly taking out my right eye.


The misaligned lens causes my right eye to ache all the way home. As if that wasn't bad enough, some teenaged fuckwit in a 10 year old Astra decides that I don't belong in the outside lane of the M18 at 75mph, because he has this God-given right to proceed unimpeded at 100mph, and woe betide anyone who gets in his way. So he tailgates me as I overtake a Mercedes A-class, and then chops infront of me at about a distance of 2 feet, at well over 80mph, in a deliberate attempt to get me to crash my car. That little fucking mutant is a marked man. If I see him again, I'll put his face into a wall, and fuck the insurances costs. If Fleur hadn't been asleep we could have taken his license plate and reported the fucker for dangerous driving.


It gets worse, too, as I'm so incensed that I miss my turn-off for the A1, and have to take a detour down the M1, which is choc-a-block with Bank Holiday traffic, adding time and distance to a trip already scheduled to take four hours. We stop off for lunch at a service station on the M1, to plan a route back to the A1, and finally, we reach one of the bright spots of the day. Who should I bump into coming back from the Sheffield Utd/Leicester City match? My old university tutor, Doctor Lester. We have a brief chat, and catch up on a bit of gossip about my fellow tutees, one of whom went on to get a doctorate and marry the trendiest lecturer in the department! It's an unexpected bonus to brighten up a very bad day. You never know who you're going to meet at a motorway service station.


Resuming our journey, we bail out of the M1 just short of Nottingham and a load of roadworks that was about to bring the carriageway to a complete standstill, and cut back to the A1 down the A52. The A52 is dead, and we make really good time, before getting back into all the traffic on the A1, where I get balked, cut up and pissed off by incompetent driving on at least another dozen occasions. It was actually a relief to hit the M25, which was quite placid by normal standards.


A full six hours after we leave my parent's place, we pull up outside the Golden Jade in Lightwater to purchase the second bright spot of the day. A special fried rice and House Special Curry. I wash it down with a couple of glasses of wine, and relax for the rest of the evening, playing a bit of Deus Ex, and watching Leon on BBC2.


Weekends like that I can do without.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

FOR FREEDOM!



No, I've not been playing Freedom Force (I didn't like the demo) - Fleur's just rung me to tell me that I'm going to have an extra night of bachelor-esque freedom, as she's staying the night with a friend before the drama trip she's helping supervising kicks off tomorrow, giving me an extra evening of drinking, gaming and debauchery. Well, the first two, at least. I'll have to make sure I set up dual alarms for the morning, to prevent myself from being horribly late. It's always difficult dragging my sorry carcass out of bed in the morning (a side affect from my previous life as a croupier) - doubly so if Fleur's not there to provide me with the Darth Vader style "motivation" I need at 7am, and that she does so well.

Monday, April 14, 2003

Weekend? What weekend?


I've just had the most bizarre weekend. Fleur and I weren't feeling particularly well, so we slept through Saturday. No joke. I got up for a couple of hours between 6pm and 11pm to watch The Man Who Wasn't There on DVD and read a bit, but otherwise, the majority of Saturday was spent asleep.


So after this most relaxed of Saturdays, I was determined to have a more energetic Sunday. I got up at 10am, mainly because I had to - being on call - and since Fleur showed no signs of getting up, and me being all slept out - I got back to my book. I'm reading Paul Auster's New York Trilogy at the moment, having recommended it to Jim earlier last week, I wanted to re-read it myself. It's as good as I remember it, and I finished the first of the three short stories inside of two hours. There's a scene near the end of the first story, where the main character, Quinn, actually meets Auster (a characteristically self-indulgent touch by the author), and is introduced to his wife Siri.

Her name stuck in my head, because it's such an unusual one.


Later in the afternoon, Fleur and I headed off to Guildford to do some shopping, where I picked up a delightful Le Creuset griddle pan in granite, which was on sale. As usual, we headed into Waterstones, and during my usual trek down to "S" to look at all the Will Self books I never quite get around to buying, I had a very Auster-like moment.


I noticed an unusual name on a bookcover as I was passing it - Siri Hustvedt. I thought that they can't be that many Siri's around, so picked up the book, called The Blindfold, and had a poke under the front cover. Sure enough - "Siri lives in Brooklyn, New York" and the dedication was to one Paul Auster. I read the overview of the book, and quite liked the sound of it, so I bought it. Auster's always writing about chance and fate, and had I not read the first story of The New York Trilogy that morning, I never would have made the mental connection and bought his wife's book. I think he would have liked the thought of me being introduced to her work like that.


As if that wasn't enough to make it a memorable weekend - the flushing mechanism broke on the bog, necessitating a plumber having to come out to replace the mechanism for a tidy £110. You never really appreciate just how vital these things are until they break - so it's a bit of a bargain, really.

Friday, April 11, 2003

Aural Sex



Like most code monkeys, I like to listen to music whilst I work (and skive on the 'net writing blog entries, natch) and this means wearing headphones. I'm listening to the Star Wars Anthology Outtakes and Extras disk, and I got to the fantastic Carbon Freeze track from Empire Strikes Back when I discovered that Craig's haircut (i.e. the lack of hair) and his bizarre horizontal neckband headphones make him look exactly like Lobot from Empire Strikes Back, as seen below.

It was so bizarre that I had to share it with you, though I doubt Craig will thank me for the comparison. Arf. I'm going to get back to listening to some of the brilliant John Williams.

CD-crazy!



Yesterday I got heartily sick of all the CD boxes cluttering up my desk at work, so I bought a huge Caselogic CD folder to store all my disks in. I thought that a 208 slot folder would be ample to hold my CD collection, including the case notes, only to find last night that my entire CD collection only squeezed into the case with 8 slots to spare. So I can only buy another 4 CDs before I need to get another case. Perhaps I should have gone the extra fiver and gone for the 264 slot one after all.

Still, it's nice to have all my CD's at work now, and I'm happily listening to Jerry Goldsmith's Alien soundtrack as I type.


Also, it snowed yesterday morning. Which was nice.


Today is Friday. Which means I can get horribly drunk tonight. Hurrah!

Roll on 5pm.

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

Oh my God! They killed Kenny!



Kenny has been permanently offed by the creators of South Park, to which I can only say "You bastards!".

Real Deal



I watched the Champions League Quarter Final first leg between Manchester United and Real Madrid last night. Real were simply awesome and made Manchester United look like a third division side - it was a truly enthralling match. Real could almost certainly take on any International team and beat them - Zidane and Figo were absolutely sublime last night, and Raul's finishing was lethal - 2 goals from 3 chances. I can't wait to see the second leg in a fortnight.



Ba'ath: The crumbliest, flakiest regime in the world?



Incredible news from Baghdad today. It looks like Baghdad is nominally under Coalition control - a quite astounding prospect. I don't think we can call the war over yet - not until we have definitive proof on the fate of Saddam Hussein - but to take Baghdad in just three weeks is a mind-boggling achievement for the US armed forces. "Shock and awe" is pretty much what I'm feeling now. I'm relieved that there wasn't a prolonged battle for Baghdad, but I can't help thinking that this isn't quite over yet. What has happened to Saddam Hussein and his sons? What has happened to the Fedayeen and the Special Republican Guard? Will they continue to fight? Will they bid their time and wait until everything has died down and run a guerilla and terrorist campaign against any American-led administration?

So many unanswered questions and uncertainties - only time will answer them.

Monday, April 07, 2003

Grrrrrr!



I typed up a 1000 word odd blow-by-blow account of what I did at the weekend, and Blogger ate it, because my internet connection is absolutely shite today. I can't be arsed to type it all again, so you're going to get the short version.


Both my gambling predictions were correct - Chives got pulled up after about 10 fences in the National, and Blowing Wind wasn't quite wind powered enough and trailed in 8th. The poker night was storming - really good fun - Fleur lost the £10 I fronted her, but she played really well, and lasted until midnight. I started really, REALLY badly - embarassingly badly, in fact, as I was down to about £3 by 11pm, and it looked like I was going to be first out, but I staged a masterful recovery, thanks to an Ace-high flush with which I absolutely murdered Iain P, and pretty much put him out of the running. I also creamed everyone with a 9-high straight, when everyone else was looking for trips or two-pairs, which put me up to my highest marker of the night, nearly £25. I was still holding my own, with Iain P and Fleur out of the game and Anne (Iain P's other half) about to follow suit, when we realised it was 3am and Fleur was about to drop. I ended up cashing out with £20, so I'd doubled my initial stake, and made back what Fleur had lost to come out of the night even - so that's got to be a moral victory.


Tim ended up taking the rest of the pot - after a showdown with Martin - around 5am Saturday morning, his "get pissed and bet lots and lots of money" strategy working a treat.


Great fun, but we'll have to start off a bit earlier next time, and keep Tim away from the Single Malt,.....

Friday, April 04, 2003

Sweepstake



It's Grand National weekend this week, so we're having a sweepstake in the office, two horses for two quid. I've got Chives and Blowing Wind. They're horses, honestly!

Chives looks like a good pick - 11 to 1 joint second favourite, though Blowing Wind is a 51 to 1 outsider. A possible dark horse if the whole field fails to get over the first fence. I suspect I'll never see that £2 again, however. Horses aren't exactly my thing.


Luckily, it's our poker night tonight, and I stand a much better chance at that, and I'm having a couple of practice hands at lunch with Tim, Iain and Craig to try and pick up on their 'tails' and see what their betting strategy is like. From what everyone is saying, it seems like no-one has played for a while, so could it be easy pickings? I don't think I should tempt fate at this point, but let's just say I'm pretty confident of winning.

Thursday, April 03, 2003

...



Of all the things I have to do in my job, writing test scripts is by far the most tedious of them all, and I've been doing it for the last four days. Consequently, I'm totally, utterly brain dead. I haven't even been able to concentrate long enough to avoid work by writing here instead. It's *that* bad. The thought that I have to go to my French class this evening depresses me too. I'm just not in the mood, and it feels like something is trying to escape from the back of my throat.


I need a holiday.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

Steve Bell



I'll see your 25 and raise you 50



Pence, that is. Fleur's instruction in the subtleties of Texas Hold 'em is continuing apace, and she's almost to the point where she can hold her own at one-on-one, though I wasn't being particularly hard on her last night. We've got another practice session tonight, where we'll go through playing multiple hands to give her an idea of what it'll be like at the beginning of the game on Friday, and then on Thursday night after I get back from my French class we'll have a no-holds barred session, where I won't take any prisoners at all, and see how Fleur's game holds up.


I'm really looking forward to it on Friday night.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Follicle Architecture



I'm having to write another entry today because Blogger is steadfastly refusing to publish my previous entry, so I'm going to tell you about something amazing that happened yesterday. I got my hair cut. That's not the really amazing thing however. The really amazing thing is that my girlfriend LIKED IT and didn't pull a face like she'd been sucking on a particularly acidic lemon all day. What's even more surprising is that I like it too. Wonders shall never cease.

Deuces and One Eyed Jacks Wild



The guys at work are having a poker night on Friday, so I was teaching my girlfriend last night how to play Texas Hold 'em. I was surprised that she took right to it, and grasped the order of precidence of the hands pretty quickly, but she's having a little trouble with the concept of betting, mainly a problem with the vocabulary, more than anything else, so we've got to have a few more training sessions before friday, otherwise she'll get totally murdered.


We're not exactly playing for high stakes, £10 each with seven players, so a £70 pot will be nice to take home for someone, but won't put everyone else out of pocket too much. Still, I want to get Fleur up to a fairly decent standard so she's not out of the game within five hands. I've not played competitive poker since I was working at Napoleon's in Sheffield, but I should stand a fairly decent chance, though apparently Martin fancies himself as a bit of a shark. It'll be interesting to see how Martin will fair against an ex-professional, though I'm not used to playing with my own money!!


I absolutely slaughtered Fleur last night, however, within about half a dozen hands, so that's a nice encouragement and since I usually hammer AI's in computer games I know I have a pretty good game. The only potential spanner is not having played against the other people before - but it should be fun, which is the most important thing. I reckon it'll probably come down to between me and Martin, so I think I've got at least an even chance of winning, but we'll see. If you don't get the cards, it doesn't matter how good a player you are. I've seen plenty of shit players walk away with cash in my time just because they had a good run on the deck. So we'll see - but it's nice to be playing poker again. I'd rather play poker than Deus Ex, and that's saying something.