Thursday, May 29, 2003

Secrets And Lies



Regular readers will know that I was rather anti-war. Now it seems that after nearly 2 months on the ground in Iraq the best evidence found so far of the Weapons Of Mass Destruction that formed the basis of going to war are two trucks that DON'T CONTAIN ANY ILLEGAL WEAPONS OR EQUIPMENT and Donald Rumsfeld is now suggesting that Saddam Hussein's Weapons of Mass Destruction MAY NEVER BE FOUND or that the Iraqi's might have actually destroyed them prior to the conflict in TOTAL COMPLIANCE with the UN's demands for disarmament.

It also appears that Intelligence reports on Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction were made 'more sexy' by using unconfirmed reports that they could be used at 45 minutes notice, in order to put pressure on the media and MPs that Iraq posed the immediate and clear threat that justified the war.


My conclusion? Tony Blair is a liar and a fink, and the war in Iraq is becoming increasingly indefensible, by the very terms used to justify it in the first place. It's surely also no coincidence that one of the very first reconstruction contracts handed out - to run Umm Qasar seaport - was given to Bechtel, whose ex-CEO was one Dick Cheney, the Vice President. It's surely also no coincidence that of the 1000+ companies invited to tender for the other reconstruction contracts, less than 100 of them are not American or British. Jobs for the boys? Too fucking right.


Every single pro-war person I spoke to before the conflict categorically stated that this war wasn't about oil. It was about WMDs. I ask you Hawks now - where the fuck are they? Why has the UN been sidelined, the sanctions lifted, and the Oil for Food program (run by the UN) been disbanded, to be replaced by a reconstruction trust fund that depends solely on oil revenues, which is administrated by the US and UK, not the UN? Why are the administrators for Iraq now talking about part privatising the oil industry to Western Oil Companies such as Shell, BP and Exxon, because the oil revenues alone will not fund the reconstruction of Iraq's infrastructure (blown to pieces by the US and the UK in two wars and 12 years of sanctions) AND pay off Iraq's $110 billion debt that Saddam Hussein's creditors (including the US, UK and even France, I hasten to add) are clamouring to claim back from the new regime.


And now with Blair and Rumfeld making threatening noises at Iran how long can we allow our governments to get away with such illegal and irresponsible activity? How can we believe their justifications to intervene in our countries affairs and provoke "regime change" when the humanitarian and human rights disasters of Afghanistan and Iraq are the results?

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Half Holiday



Fleur has flown home to France for a week for half term, leaving me Home Alone again. Unfortunately, half term clashed with our testing schedule, as we have to ship the latest version of our application in the next two weeks, meaning I couldn't take any holiday, which is a shame - as I could really do with one right now. Fortunately, not having to ferry Fleur to work in the morning means I get an extra hour in bed in the mornings, or rather an extra hour at night to play games or watch DVDs without sacrificing any sleep. So it's not all bad.

Friday, May 23, 2003

Porrasturvat


This is the best thing ever in a sickly sadistic kind of way. Who says applied physics can't be fun?

Thursday, May 22, 2003

The Bhoys



I've got an overall feeling of disappointment this morning as Celtic lost the UEFA Cup Final last night. It's not so much the fact that they lost - Porto were always expected to win - but it's the manner of the loss that's particularly grating. The referee was shockingly bad - where's Pierluigi Collina when you need him? He threw yellow cards at the barest contact, and the Porto players writhed and dived whenever a tackle went in, and the referee bought it every time. It was the worst display of sportmanship in a Cup Final I've seen in years. The sending off of Balde was particularly galling, because both tackles he got yellow cards for didn't deserve them.


When the referee wasn't prepossessed to blow his whistle, and the Porto players weren't getting grass stains on their backs to test out the kit washer's detergent, it was actually a good game, and if you have to point the finger at anyone in the Celtic team for the defeat, it's not Balde, it's Rab Douglas. Wee Rab is a typical Scottish goalkeeper - and I don't mean that in a good way. He was at fault for all three of the goals conceded, especially the second and third, though all three were cases of typically sloppy Scottish defending as a collective team.

The way Celtic responded was magnificent, though, and Henrik Larsson equalised twice with brilliant bullet headers, so you can't say that they didn't fight tooth and nail for 120 minutes - they didn't deserve to lose, and if it weren't for a couple of critical passes giving the ball away in their own half, and some woeful decision making by the officials, I'd probably have a celebratory hangover instead of a commisatory one.


All will be well, however, if Celtic can wrap up the SPL title this weekend, but it's going to be hard to pick up the players after such a disappointment, and it would be such a shame for the Buoys to finish such a promising season with absolutely nothing to show for it.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Vanity



A woman has insured her face for £100,000 to guard against her becoming ugly - as judged by an panel of 10 builders.

Don't you think it's a little late to have taken out insurance, dear? The phrase "back-end of bus" leaps to mind.

Extreme!



Another Ananova Special: Extreme Ironing



Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Yay Belgium!



17 Iraqis and 2 Jordanians have applied to the Belgian Courts to try US General Tommy Franks for war crimes committed in Iraq. It's unlikely to ever secure a conviction, but the United States' point blank refusal to sign up to the International Criminal Court leaves this as the only method of ever making US military commanders accountable for their actions. Of course, the US will probably suspend all economic and political ties with Belgium until it drops the case, because God Forbid that the USA could ever do anything wrong and not be the total moral authority of the world,....

Friday, May 16, 2003

Happy! Happy! Joy! Joy!



I've decided I *do* need to say more about the Half-Life 2 videos I linked to yesterday.

To be honest, I don't think I've ever been as excited about a bit of video game footage, well, EVER. Half-Life 2 shows phenomenal promise - even though the Source engine being used for it was feature-locked last September, it easily looks the most advanced engine currently being used in games development. The engine tech demo demonstrates the incredible Havoc physics engine, which is by far the most "real world" I've seen in a game. The graviton gun which you use to fling objects around looks great fun, as does the beach buggy you see Gordon using to fight one of the Terminator aerial HK-style Scanner with. The way the wrecked cars get recoiled by the Scanner's gunfire in Video 7 is massively impressive.


The AI looks pretty good, with enemies ducking in and out of cover, etc, and what can I say about the Pheremone Grenade chasing Ant Lions? It's like watching the opening Klendathu scene in Starship Troopers. Most jaw-dropping of all, however are the Striders. They look absolutely fearsome, like an organic War Of The Worlds machine. I really can't wait to play this game,....

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Six Reasons To Be Excited



Half-Life 2 videos. Need I say more?

Domination



I submitted again to the call of Star Wars: Supremacy last night. This game is dangerously compulsive, absolutely nothing to look at, but soul-suckingly good nonetheless. Starting a new game as the Rebellion at Intermediate difficulty, I managed to sway almost an entire Core Sector into Rebellion against the Empire in just over 100 days of game time, which is a corking start to a campaign, simply by massing my fleet and sending it into the Empire's most vulnerable Core sector, where all their worlds had been garrisoned, and provoking uprisings by bombarding the troop facilities with the fleet, or using Special Forces to sabotage the troop regiments.


The level of management in Supremacy brings new meaning to control freakery - you can control every single aspect of your budding hegemony, from troop deployment, defense building, mine and refinery deployment, fleet management, diplomacy, sabotage and subversion via special forces deployment, Research & Development of new facilities, planetary troop training facilities and construction yards, shipyards, and even kidnapping or assassination of key enemy personnel. Supremacy is a hardcore mouse-on-GUI clickfest, and with up to 200 worlds to control, depending upon the galaxy size you choose (I always play with 200 worlds), it can be daunting to say the least.


However, your droid assistant can take over the troop production and deployment for you, as well as manage your construction yards, deploying as many mines and refineries as it can, in order for you to have the maintenance capacity in order to wage a bloody war of truly galactic proportions. Whilst useful for a beginner, I indulge my craving for complete and utter control, and micromanage everything myself, as I'm better at identifying potential hotspots that need reinforcing than the AI is.


It's not all about management, though - you get wanton destruction and ultra-violence too. The most exciting parts are, of course, the fleet battles which unfortunately are few and far between, but there's a certain measure of satisfaction to be gained from a successful sabotage mission or a planetary assault or bombardment. So whilst Supremacy can rarely be described as an exciting game, it is deeply involving and immensely satisfying when "everything that has transpired has done so according to my design".


I just need to find a black cloak and learn how to shoot lightning from my fingertips, and I'm ready for total galactic domination.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Indecision



The PC has changed its mind again - it is properly buggered, totally ruining my Opera theory. I got another Black Screen Of Oblivion two minutes after startup last night. It didn't even survive the obligiatory Scandisk you get after an abnormal termination. Naturally, I'm not best pleased - and I'm faced with the prospect of an expensive repair/upgrade/replacement of my games rig, just when I can least afford it. Bang go any thoughts of getting GTA: Vice City this weekend, too.



On the slightly positive news front - at least my gamepad works with the laptop, as does GTA III, albeit with a moderately sluggish framerate in 640x480x16. A mobile Radeon 7500 doesn't really have the *oooomph* to push the polygons quite quick enough, but at least it's playable, and the steering with a gamepad is a revelation. It's much better than with the keyboard, though you need to go to a slightly awkward gamepad/mouse setup when on foot. It works, though, and with my games rig out of commission, I can see a few hours being spent this way.



Having a working gamepad also prompted me to install Colin McRae 2 on the laptop, which is substantially less demanding on the graphics card. It flies along beautifully in 800x600, and although the force feedback/rumble force doesn't work, you're not entirely given the feeling that you're driving on a skid pan. The physics is good, and you can really tell the difference in traction between tarmac, gravel, mud and snow. The Sweden Arcade time trial level on snow is by far my favourite - I've always liked driving on snow in rally games, and I've got a nice ability to judge powerslides. I've got the time trial laptime down to 1m7s, but I reckon I can cut another couple of seconds off that, if I can get a good run on the last hairpin. Good game, and it's now out for a fiver, but I'd say it's only really worth getting if you have a decent pad or steering wheel.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Ressurrection



All bets are off on the PC front. I'm now pretty convinced it's not a hardware problem. It's an Opera problem. I got my PC back up and running last night, immediately ejected my Black Hawk Down DVD from the DVD drive, and uninstalled Opera. Lo and behold - the PC ran stably all night.


To start this story at the beginning, we need to go back a few weeks. When I downloaded the new dial-up software for my BT Internet account, it inexplicably broke my Internet Explorer install, such that it stopped autoloading images, an no amount of reinstalling IE would change things. So, I decided that I'd grab Opera off the PC Format disks and give it a try, as I'd heard vaguely good things about it, and it's "Open Source", that paragon of anti-capitalist stick-it-to-Bill software.


No sooner had I installed Opera, and given it a try on the 'net, I started having my initial Black Screen Of Oblivion problems. So, I did all the right things, under the impression it was a hardware problem, reset my overclock, and on a whim, I uninstalled Opera. I did a Scandisk which fixed a problem with the boot sector of my hard drive, and everything was fine again, for about a fortnight.


At the weekend, I wanted to look at a few flight prices to get a ballpark figure for my summer holiday, so I tentatively reinstall Opera and have a poke around Expedia for my flight details. I leave the machine on, play a bit of X-Wing Alliance and Freespace 2, watch Black Hawk Down, and call it a night. Sunday morning, I turn the machine back on - boof! - BSOO. Monday night, I turn the machine on again, skip the automatic Scandisk, uninstall Opera, Scandisk to fix the boot sector problem on the hard drive, and reboot. And it's fine, even coping with a 4 hour session of Star Wars: Supremacy (still the finest game in existence). If it's fine tonight I know that I don't have to spend £300 on a replacement motherboard, CPU and memory. I reckon my PC has taken a dislike to the Internet in general and Opera in particular, because every time I use it, it appears to bugger up my boot sector and give me BSOO's.


So it would appear that the moral of the story is either a) don't use Open Source software, b) don't use the Internet, or c) both a) & b).

Monday, May 12, 2003

THRAWN RRAARRRRRRRLLLLLLL SMASH SMASH SMASH!!!!!!!!



I appear to have gotten back my work e-mail (which is good) - unfortunately, the motherboard on my games rig at home appears to have conked out - permanently this time (which is bad). This means that I'm faced with a cruel choice - have it repaired at no doubt great cost and make it increasingly difficult to save up money for my summer holiday, or leave it until after we come back in August and have my gaming options reduced to what will run on the laptop for a couple of months.


And this happens scant days after I win a force feedback steering wheel for £1 on eBay. BASTARD, BASTARD, BASTARD!!!!



Oh, and the gamepad I bought wouldn't install either. I wonder if GTA III will run on the laptop,....

Friday, May 09, 2003

THRAWN SMASH! (again)



Some muppet in admin has disabled my Lotus Notes account, meaning I can't get any business related e-mail. So now I've got to chase people down to get it working again instead of doing some very important and time critical work that might actually generate some revenue for the company. For FUCKS sake. Can't bloody administrators do ANYTHING right?

The Moral High Ground?



I always thought Donald Rumsfeld was a slimy git, but even I was surprised today when The Guardian revealed that he held a directorship on a company selling nuclear reactors to North Korea a brief two years before subsequently denouncing them as a rogue, terrorist state that needed regime change, because they had the facilities to build nuclear weapons. Talk about having your cake and eating it.


No wonder good old Red Ken called George W. Bush "corrupt" and his administration "unsupportable". In response to the comments, Ari Fleischer, the Presidential Spokeman said "I've never heard of the fellow." Ignorant twat. Kind of proves Ken's point, doesn't it?

Thursday, May 08, 2003

Gaypad



Yes, I know it's a rather puerile joke, but I've done something I once swore I'd never do. I popped out to PC World at lunch to buy a gamepad for my PC. Since Fleur kept whining at me for messing up the bedroom whenever I used my steering wheel and pedal set, I ended up giving it to Paul in a fit of exasperated generousity, leaving me with no suitable controller to play my driving games with. So I've finally given into temptation and gotten myself an analogue pad - a Saitek P2500 Rumble Force. I decided on this one because a) it's fairly cheap (£20) and b) because my Saitek 3D Cyborg Force Feedback joystick is top class, so I trust the quality of their gear. I was tempted to go for the Logitech Wingman pad, but it only has the one analogue stick (and I didn't want to fork out £40 for the wireless version that has two) and for things like Grand Prix 3 and Colin McRae 2, you really need to separate out the steering and throttle onto separate analogue controls.


So, I've bought a gamepad. It's a slippery slope I'm on now. Next I'll be buying one of those new-fangled console toys,...

THRAWN SMASH!



Right. I'm annoyed. The customer has just rung up and told me that they've changed the spec on the piece of new functionality that I spent all last week coding. The fuckers. One of these days I'm going to stick a MOAB on their building.

GTA Tales



I meant to write this yesterday, but kind of got sidetracked. Pesky work. Tsk.


The last couple of evenings, I've been playing GTA III, and now I really can't for the life of me remember why I stopped playing it. (Okay, that's not true - I was too busy playing Bridge Commander) I installed the patch last night, making the frame rate a little less sticky, and it's an absolute joy to play, even if the failings I mentioned earlier in my blog with the total freedom still hold true.


The driving physics are superlative - if a little twitchy when played on a keyboard, I'm seriously tempted to get an analogue pad to help with the steering - you can really feel the differences in the way the cars handle. The Stallion is so tail-happy it's untrue (and practically uncontrollable at speed), the Banshee is all point and squirt, the most responsive car in the game so far (still only in Portland), the Ambulance has a very high centre of gravity, and has the nasty tendency to roll at the slightest opportunity and the Mafia Sentinel is fast, stable and tough, probably my favourite so far. I'm finally getting to grips with doing handbrake turns around corners at speed, and I'm actually finding it easier to do with the larger vehicles, particularly the Linerunner truck and the Ambulance, as you don't need to correct the back end so much. I could seriously just spend hours driving cars around the city, enjoying the physics, the handling model is so good.


As for the actual game, I've worked my way through the Joey and Luigi missions, and I'm starting on the Tony missions, but I can't get anywhere with the Turismo mission to start working for El Burro - even with a gregariously handling Mafia Sentinel or a Banshee I just keep hitting other cars and being put into spins. I even tried it with a Patriot to muscle out the other cars at the first corner, and did really well, until I realised all the pushing and shoving had made me miss the first checkpoint. D'oh! I might end up just skipping the El Burro missions entirely, concentrate on the Story Missions, and get back to them later in another game. The verdict: So far, so good - but I'll probably end up getting distracted and wander off to play something else in the next week or so. I always do.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Almost Like A Monday



I think today has been one of the most spectacularly unproductive days I've had in months, and none of it has been my fault. One of the power generators needed emergency repairs on Friday, necessitating a complete power shutdown in the building, so we had to turn off all the network servers and the database server we do all our work on. So, this morning, we come in and power everything up, only to find that not all of the network switches have come back up correctly, and I can't log into the network, and have absolutely no access to the file or database servers. Meaning that I can't do any work. At all.


We sort out this problem around 11 o'clock, only for the database server to start playing up - going so far as having one of it's CPU's fail. (Bloody shoddy SGI kit, can't even handle a power cycle correctly) So we have to take the server down to do some diagnostics, meaning that I can't do any work. At all. Fantastic.


We get the server back up and running around 2pm, and I can finally sort out this bloody bit of SQL that was driving me nuts on Friday. Shock, horror, not only do I manage to get it working, but I also manage to win only my 5th eBay auction, with some frantic last minute bidding, for a box of over 600 assorted roulette chips, which I'll be able to use in poker games and practice my chip shuffling skills. I'll have to dig out the chequebook.


Right, I'm going to pick up Fleur and hit Sainsbury's - there's nothing in the fridge and I'm hungry. We've got some serious shopping to do!

Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3 ....



Whilst I'm in a testing mood - the Personality Disorder Test!


DisorderRating
Paranoid:Moderate
Schizoid:Moderate
Schizotypal:Moderate
Antisocial:Moderate
Borderline:Low
Histrionic:Low
Narcissistic:Moderate
Avoidant:Low
Dependent:Moderate
Obsessive-Compulsive:Low

-- Personality Disorder Test - Take It! --


So, not only am I doomed to be eternal damnation in the Fifth Level of Hell, I'm bonkers too.

A New Hope?



If there's one thing guaranteed to ensure your complete and utter social death, it's to film yourself on a school video camera, practicing your Jedi Double-Bladed Lightsaber madskillz and not erase the tape, leaving open the possibility for one of your teachers to post the video on the internet for an inevitable and exceptionally cruel remix complete with authentic music and SFX to be made and distributed to thousands of people worldwide.

The Dante's Inferno Test



I shamelessly stole the link from Rich, and here are my results. Oh my God, I'm going to burn.



The Dante's Inferno Test has banished you to the Fifth Level of Hell!


The river Styx runs through this level of Hell, and in it are punished the wrathful and the gloomy. The former are forever lashing out at each other in anger, furious and naked, tearing each other piecemeal with their teeth. The latter are gurgling in the black mud, slothful and sullen, withdrawn from the world. Their lamentations bubble to the surface as they try to repeat a doleful hymn, though with unbroken words they cannot say it. Because you lived a cruel, vindictive and hateful life, you meet your fate in the Styx.

Here is how you matched up against all the levels:

LevelScore
Purgatory (Repenting Believers)Very Low
Level 1 - Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers)Very Low
Level 2 (Lustful)Very High
Level 3 (Gluttonous)High
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious)High
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy)Extreme
Level 6 - The City of Dis (Heretics)Extreme
Level 7 (Violent)Extreme
Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers)Very High
Level 9 - Cocytus (Treacherous)Very High

Take the Dante Inferno Hell Test

Friday, May 02, 2003

Voter Apathy



Yesterday was the voting day for the Local Council Elections, where less than 50% of the population could be bothered to get out and exercise it's democratic rights. Considering we've just had a highly contentious war in Iraq, which has raised political awareness, you would have thought that more people would have had their say. Why bother "fighting for freedom and democracy" in Iraq, when no-one at home can be bothered to vote? If the majority of the people don't care about democracy, why should we fight for it elsewhere? People can't be bothered to vote, yet they want all the benefits of living in a free, liberal democracy, because anytime the government threatens one of their rights, people are up in arms about it.


It seems nonsensical to me - people want the benefits of democracy, but not the responsibility, and then complain when parties like the BNP get council seats in Burnley or Oldham. WAKE UP AND SMELL THE COFFEE, PEOPLE! If you don't vote, you lose all your rights to complain, because you were too lazy to exercise what little political power you have to change things to your liking.


Case in point: I live in Surrey, classic Tory Heartland, where Labour save their deposit fees and don't stand candidates. It's been Tory for the last, ooooh, 400 years or something, but do I not bother going out to vote? No. I get my voting card and vote Lib Dem, because a) it's my political preference anyway, and b) because I don't want to live in a Tory dominated council that hiked my Council Tax fees by 18% this year. The result? I help 5 more Lib Dems and 2 Independents get on the council. Sure, the Conservatives still have overall control, but I can honestly feel that my vote has made a difference, and it sets up the council next election for a Lib Dem takeover, if the Conservative Party doesn't get it's act together and continues to self-destruct.

Thursday, May 01, 2003

All News Is Bad News



On my daily trawl of the BBC News website, and I find this. So, the "experts" at the Department Of Food Environment and Rural Affairs think that hiking up fuel prices and increasing road tax to £600 a year will cut pollution, do they? No fucking shit, Sherlock, no fucker will be able to afford to drive anymore!



As if that wasn't enough to worry about there's this. It seems like just about everything reduces male fertility these days. Oh well, it's not like I wanted to have kids anyway.


Add to that a coach plunging into a reservoir in South Africa, a devestating earthquake in Turkey and a concerted effort to derail the Middle East Peace process by both the Israelis today and an apparent British suicide bomber blowing himself and three other people up yesterday, it all adds up to a depressing news day.

If Crime Didn't Pay There'd Be Very Few Criminals



Since my PC has decided, in its infinite wisdom, to work again, I reinstalled Grand Theft Auto III. I've had it practically since it came out, well over 10 months, yet, I've only probably played it for 10 hours. Perhaps less. With my seeming inability to play a game for more than a week at a time, I never really gave this a fair crack, and since I'm itching to play something new (yet can't afford to buy Delta Force: Black Hawk Down for another month or two) I decided to give it another go.


GTA III is a game you know you're going to love or hate from the very instant the opening credits start. It's a bit like Mechwarrior 2 in that respect - there are very few games that you can happily sit through the opening credits for every time you load the game. MW2 is one, and GTA III is another. GTA III intro has a beautiful balance between clean, stylish visuals and really catchy music, and it just makes you think - I'm really going to love this game.

So why did I never make it off the first island, first time I had the game installed? I don't know - there's lots about the game to like, the 3D engine, the cars, the driving physics, the guns, the AI, the production value of the mission cutscenes, the dialogue, the radio stations - practically everything in the game oozes sheer quality, so why didn't it hold my attention?


Freedom. Normally this would be a good thing in a game, to play the game *exactly* how you want to - but first time around, I found that GTA III gives you far too much freedom - there's no real impetus to drive on the story. If you want to run around the city with an M4 carbine and a LAW rocket launcher blowing up helicopters and SWAT vans, you're free to do exactly that. Sure, that's great fun, for a while, as is cruising around the city, picking up prostitutes for blow jobs (and their associated health bonuses) and beating them up afterwards with a baseball bat to get your money back, but all this freedom doesn't make it a game. It's more of a thug simulator.


I'm sure all this is more due to my failings as a player than GTA III's failings as a game, but perhaps Rockstar North could have thought about implementing a time limit between missions, ensuring that you're always driving the story onwards, and leaving you with a sandbox mode to go around the city doing what you want after you've completed the game. Again, last night, I did a few of the story missions to unlock Joey, but after that, I simply went around trying to find hidden packages, power-ups and stealing fast cars to try out the stunt jumps. And that's not even touching on the vigilante, taxi, fire and paramedic missions. I know I like expansive games with lots of freedom (i.e. things like Star Wars: Supremacy, Deus Ex, Civ III or Baldur's Gate II) but for someone with my woeful attention span, GTA III gives you too much. You don't know where to start, and maybe a slightly firmer guiding hand would be welcome. Or maybe not - perhaps it's perfect the way it is, and I'm the one who's flawed. At any rate, I at least want to unlock all three islands this time around.


Stay tuned to see how I get on.