Thursday, July 24, 2003

Travail



My shadowy paymasters have been doing a better job than usual of keeping me busy at work, hence I've not found the time to update for the best part of a week. I've actually been working on two projects, dividing my time between technical support on my usual project, and reviewing test scripts for another project in preparation for their factory acceptance tests. Naturally, I can't tell you anything about the work I'm doing, since it's all protectively marked, and I've actually got "SECRET UK EYES ONLY" material sitting on my desk, which doesn't happen to everyone everyday. It's interesting work, and doubly interesting to get involved with a project that I wouldn't otherwise know a single thing about (since I'm not exactly on a need-to-know basis).



I'll leave you tantalised, but unfulfilled, and talk about something else now.



There have been serious developments in Iraq this week. After all the clamouring the Coalition made about showing dead bodies on TV breaking the Geneva Convention, now they're going to show the bodies of Uday and Qusay Hussein, after a serious case of overkill. To capture 4 men, only armed with AK-47s, instead of using Special Forces, stun grenades and tear gas, instead, they use 200 troops, and 10 anti-tank TOW missiles, and take no prisoners, killing all the occupants of their hideout, including a 14 year old boy.


Whatever happened to justice? Two of the biggest figures in the old regime, and perhaps the only people who could give definitive answers to the WMD question, needlessly killed. If this is "American Justice" we should all start worrying. There was no need to kill them, or use such force - there wasn't even an attempt to take them alive for trial, just go in there and kill the bastards. Sure, they were murderous bastards, but so were all the Nazi's at the Nuremburg trials, and we made sure they lived long enough to see an international court of law.


It seems that Bush has succeeded with the sons where he failed with the father, after several botched assassination attempts during the conflict. I don't think that Bush ever wanted to make Hussein's regime accountable for the undeniable atrocities they commited against the Iraqi people - he just wanted them out, or dead, so that the oil could flow again. This is arguably fair enough, if it weren't for the fact that it was being paid for in taxpayer's money (an estimated £5 billion so far and counting for the UK - TEN TIMES that for the US) and also being paid for in the blood of US and UK servicemen. Nearly four months on the ground in Iraq, no WMDs found, around 40 US soldiers dead *after* the official end of hostilities, and yet the threat of terrorism or WMD proliferation hasn't reduced.


Oh, breaking news: Here we are; the gruesome evidence itself. Doesn't much look like them to me. I suspect these photos will "prove" their deaths just as much as our Intelligence "proved" that Iraq had WMDs.


Whatever's really the case, whatever's really the truth - either way, it stinks.

Sunday, July 20, 2003

Saturday Night Special



A late night update from The World Of Mad Iain, taking advantage of a free phoneline, and the fact my girlfriend is away for the weekend in Stratford-upon-Avon, at the Hen Weekend of one of her work colleagues.


Had quite an odd day today, since I stayed up really late last night, writing an editorial for State, bemoaning the lack of innovation in the games industry, and its descent into Franchise Hell, and was playing Vice City until 6am, getting beautifully drunk in the meantime. I then went to bed, catching up on some much needed sleep, crawling back out into the world of the living around 7pm, just in time to catch the last half of Jurassic Park: The Lost World (not a patch on the original, despite a feisty performance from Julianne Moore) and I then watched Deep Impact, which is a seriously enjoyable film. It's delicately paced, doesn't place too much emphasis on the CGI, and really makes you wait for the asteroid impact set piece. What's even more important is that when it arrives, it doesn't disappoint, but by far the most impressive part of the film is the emphasis on characterisation. It's a real personality driven piece, and has a first rate cast. The single most affecting piece of drama in the film is where the crew of the Messiah realise that they can save the Earth from an Extinction Level Event, but only at the cost of their own lives, and pilot, Baker, says to lighten the mood "Look on the bright side - we'll all get High Schools named after us."

As a piece of cinema, it's utterly formulaic and predictable, but still, it's a keen observation on the indominability of the human spirit - the will to keep striving and fighting until all options are lost, and given the choice between the self-preservation of yourself, and the self-preservation of human life and society, it's the latter which most people would choose. Imagine being put in the position where all life on Earth could be annihilated - but you could prevent it at the cost of your own life. I don't think that there's any question about what you would do - in any case, your life is forfeit (in the words of Cats "You have no hope of survive - make your time.") - so why insist on taking the rest of the world with you?


I have absolutely no fear of death (I don't welcome it, but I when my time comes, I'll embrace it with a clean conscience, a happy heart and no regrets) and if I were ever in the same position as the crew of the Messiah, I wouldn't have a single hesitation. Despite all the evil in the world, I believe that mankind can be fundamentally good - though that may just being overly idealistic, which itself is a necessary trait of man. Without ideas to pursue or ideals to aim for, what is the point of existence? If people have no hope for a life better than they currently have, what chance do we have as a species?


Speaking of hope - fucking hell - this whole business with Iraq is turning into an even worse mess than I ever envisaged it would. Three months now after official hostilities have ceased, and over 30 Coalition soldiers (by which I mean US and UK soldiers - no other country was stupid enough to commit serious ground forces) have been killed in random attacks, and still no Weapons Of Mass Destruction, the "clear and immediate threat" that constituted our reason for going to war in the first place, have been found, or show any likelihood of being found, and with the death of David Kelly, the MOD scientist at the centre of the dispute between Downing Street and the BBC over the exaggeration of the claims of the threat Iraq's WMD programme posed, raises serious doubts as to the motivations and validity of war in the first place.


Already Glenda Jackson (an ex-Government Minister and outspoken Labour MP) has declared Tony Blair's credibility fatally "holed below the waterline" and called for his resignation. I can only agree - the public has been lied to, and the world appears to be run by crooks, cronies and charlatans, acting in their own best interests, whilst pretending to do the world a favour. Did Kelly really commit suicide, or are there even darker forces at work? Even with a mooted judicial enquiry, you can't help question whenever we'll ever get the whole truth behind his death. I find it hard to believe that a man would commit suicide over a little media exposure, and doesn't the presense of a practically unknown prescription drug (presumably not easily available, yet still (reportedly) commonly found in the possession of suicidal people) being found near Kelly's body raise the slightest hint of doubts?


The family claims that there wasn't even the slightest hint that he was suicidal, and the last e-mail sent to one of Kelly's journalistic contacts spoke of him wanting to "wait until to the end of the week" until he saw how his appearance before the MP committee had been received. So - a man under pressure, but not suicidally depressed, yet he still turns up dead.


So who's to blame? The BBC for not naming its source, or the government for naming Kelly as the source and demanding that a journalist break the very founding principle of journalistic integrity by confirming or denying the claim? I'd expect both parties to protect their own interests, but the government is the one with the more to lose, and that's where I'd choose to apportion blame, if push were to come to shove.


I was one of the people who stayed up until 5am after the General Election in 1997, watching the coverage, watching Portillio get ousted by a gay MP in a Tory heartland, listening to "Things can only get better" blaring (Blairing?) out from the New Labour headquarters, as career politicians tried to be hip and dance to music that they couldn't possibly comprehend or enjoy, hoping that they'd usher in a new era of transparent, accountable politics, where your opinion mattered, and where the will of a people couldn't be ridden over roughshod by a group of self-serving bastards, who only wanted to have power and keep it.


Six years down the line, and here we are - life is pretty much exactly the same as under Major or Thatcher, an NHS and education system falling apart, spiralling taxes, and spuriously justifiable wars. Fantastic. The only difference these days is that it's more palatably presented, by Spin Doctors that keep the public revolving at 45rpm so that they're too dizzy to notice what's really going on. New government, same old shit. Oh, actually, no - the wars under Major and Thatcher could be justified. Oops.


I don't and can't trust Blair anymore - whenever he opens his mouth all I hear is "wah, wah, wah." Don't you find it *slightly* coincidental that he's off on a tour of America and the Far East when all this business with Dr Kelly kicks off? You'd have thought he needed a cast-iron alibi. Blair is a man in the pocket of the Bush and Bush's paymasters - the reception he got this week in the US should be evidence enough of that to anyone. The "special relationship" between Blair and Bush goes beyond the one that Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinski used to share, if you ask me.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Attack of the Drones



Another day, another horribly bad Star Wars based pun.


I got home yesterday to find my kitchen being invaded by ants, so I spent an hour committing some serious mass insecticide last night. There must have been over a hundred of the buggers swarming over the counter under the kitchen window.


Ants are funny creatures – they truly operate on the hive level, and as I was systematically exterminating their presence from my kitchen, you could see the survivors getting increasingly agitated, almost as if they were operating on a Delta Force “Leave No Ant Behind” principle, rushing towards the scene of their fellow drone’s death to investigate. Which naturally made it all the more easier for me to kill them, until I got down to the last dozen or so, when they went totally mental, and couldn’t decide where to go – it was like the ant equivalent of Auschwitz, there were so many corpses lying around.


If Bill Bailey's dream of the insects taking over the world ever comes to fruition, I'll be the first one up against the wall and shot.


If I was a Buddhist, I’d be abjectly remorseful with grief for killing a fellow life form, but thankfully I’m not – and unless the ants decide they want to pay rent and contribute to my mortgage, then they can stay the fuck out of my home.


I’m sure it’s all down to the weather – it’s been fantastic lately – high twenties Centigrade plus, for the last few days, making me all the more thankful for an air conditioned office, even if I don’t have any windows with which to see the sun.


The heat makes it all the more appropriate that I’m listening to the MP3 of the Miami Vice theme tune (that I downloaded for my Vice City MP3 player) at the moment.


The downside to all the good weather is that the clamminess gives me terrible bouts of insomnia, and makes it really difficult to get the right amount of sleep – not helped by the fact that this year I’ve started suffering from hayfever, which makes me feel terribly sluggish.


The only bonus is that when it’s hot, my appetite reduces to practically nothing, meaning that it’s a great time to lose all the weight I tend to pile on over the winter. Since it’s so hot this year, and I’m starting to regularly exercise again, I should drop all the excess weight I’ve picked up over the last year. I anticipate that the two week holiday I’ve got coming up in August in Porto will provide a similarly good opportunity – Portugal isn’t exactly known for its wet summers, and Porto is enticing close to a very warm ocean to swim in.


It’d be nice to be slim, svelte and fit again, and put back the inevitable onset of middle age back yet another year. So much professional and financial responsibility can really weigh on a man – worrying about your career and whenever you’ve taken on too much debt to handle. I should be living it up clubbing, driving fast cars and having dangerous sex with loose women at my age – not living like Hugh Laurie in FortySomething, but without the kids. I don’t want to grow out of my prime just yet, dammit.

Unfortunately, I don’t know any loose women, but at least I have the car. That’s a start. Isn't it?

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Darth Update



Not had much time to blog recently, resulting in a dearth of updates and that rather horrible pun above, because I've been too busy admining the shiny new State website. Naturally, the shock of actually getting some content onto our paper tiger of a website prompted much debate amongst the mod team, who were too busy arguing with me about what constitutes a "good enough" article to put up on the site, instead of leading by example and actually providing some content themselves. To which my response was SHUT UP AND GET SOMETHING DONE.

Diplomatic as always.


Speaking of which, I've got an editorial to write. Wait here. I'll be back.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

Washout



So, it appears that Iraq didn't have Weapons Of Mass Destruction after all. And that Donald "Two Faces" Rumsfeld says that there was no new intelligence that formed the basis of the justification of going to war, just "a dramatic new light" of looking at the old intelligence. i.e. they saw what they wanted to see, after putting on a post September 11th spin. A charge supported by a high level Intelligence chief in the State Department who has recently retired.


So,... we've been conned. What a surprise. The US and UK can't even agree on their fake evidence.


Isn't it great that after all the accusations of being cynical and naive in equal measure for saying that Iraq didn't pose a threat and it was all a front for justifying the opening of Iraqi oil fields, all the evidence (and indeed, the lack of it) points precisely to that conclusion?


The goalposts have been consistently moving throughout this affair, from WMD, to the Moral Case (How can *war* ever be moral? What fucking planet are these people on?), and now from Blair being confident of finding evidence of WMD, he's confident of finding evidence of WMD Programmes. So they want to find documents now rather than weapons. Great. What "clear and immediate danger" does a document present?


Not much, certainly not enough to go to war over, and yet you feel that Bush and Blair are going to get away with it, and won't be held accountable. Saddam is gone, and the Iraqi people are "free" - free to get steamrollered by American corporations, that is. Who cares if we exaggerated a little about the threat? The ends justify the means, right? BULLSHIT. *ALL* OF IT.


Michael Moore is right - these are fictious times - where those that speak the truth are pilloried as naifs and subversives - and being a liberal is the moral equivalent of being a Terrorist Sympathiser.


What a fucking world we live in.

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Less talk, more write!



I decided to shake up State a little yesterday. State is an odd community - it oozes intelligence and passion for videogames, yet whilst it promises much, it consistently fails to deliver. Perhaps it's the lack of Oskar's all-pervasive influence and enthusiasm, perhaps it's because everyone talks a good game, but can't actually play it.


So I decided that it was time to take the place by the balls and give everyone enough rope to hang themselves. There can be no more excuses, because if people want to write for State, they now have the means. I've given practically every forum user site writer access, so if they want to write, now they have their outlet.


Well, they will when Aanand has fixed the PHP for the article submission wizard, anyway. However, when it's fixed, people have no right to moan about lack of content, because they should be the ones writing it! It's a massively ambitious and risky thing to do, opening the site up to over 140 people, but I've made it very clear that anyone abusing the system will be trampled upon with my Big Boots Of Modly Smiting.


Hopefully this will inspire people to write, and if it doesn't, then State is nothing more than a forum full of lily-livered intellectual blowhards. I've given the forum a mouthpiece - it's up to them to use it. Time to find out whenever everyone wants State to succeed, or whenever they just like whinging when nothing ever happens.

Thursday, July 03, 2003

Ranger



Baldur's Gate 2 is like a tube of Pringles. Seriously. Once you pop, you can't stop. I created another two characters last night. I take it back. BGII's not like Pringles. It's more like a crack cocaine addiction.



My favourite character class has always been the Ranger, and I recreated my original Thrawn character again, albeit with slightly different stats. If I can get all numeric for a moment, this is the new incarnation of Thrawn; Chaotic Good Elf - Str: 18/94, Dex: 19, Con:14, Int: 10, Wis:17, Cha: 15 with ++ in Long Sword, ++ in Long Bow, + in Axe and +++ in Two Weapon Style.


I decided to sacrifice a couple of points of Constitution in order to get the higher Wisdom, which should hopefully give me a few bonus Priest spells, and a fairly high "natural" Charisma, so that I still get reaction bonuses and can lead the party effectively without having to sacrifice a Hand slot on the Ring Of Human Interaction, leaving it free for a more useful ring. I'm not sure which romance to pursue, though I dare say it'll probably be Jaheira, as that's the most complex and involving one.


All this AD&D is kind of inspiring me to write a short story, though I've not quite settled on a firm story yet. I've got a couple of good ideas though, a twist on the traditional Dungeons & Dragons fare. If you actually remember the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon, I want to almost turn it on it's head - i.e. a group of friends getting miraculously and mysteriously transported to the AD&D universe, but at least one of the characters not wanting to go back, whilst the rest of them do. It should create plenty of scope for a bit of internal party tension, people at odds with the leader and potential rifts. A bit like the Conservative party, really. I think I should call the main character Duncan. Arf.


I'll probably never actually get around to doing it, natch. I have at least five really good concepts and premises for novels knocking about in my head - I just don't have enough time to devote to actually getting it all down. Writing is such a time consuming endeavour,...

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Shadows Of Amn



I'm rather torn at the moment, as I have three truly exceptional games vying for my attention - GTA: Vice City, The Cassandra Project and Baldur's Gate 2. At the moment, BG2 is winning.


I really don't know why, either - it's not like I'm progressing that far in the game, because I keep creating new characters and restarting. I just love the character creation process, experimenting with dual-classing, multi-classing and the character kits.


I'm a couple of days into the game with a Cavalier (Paladin kit) character - missile weapons are for pansies! - and doing rather well with +++ in Two Weapon Style an ++ in Long Sword, since I've got the Blade Of Roses + 3 and a Sword of Flame + 1 to dual wield. I've gone for my usual party: Minsc, Yoshimo, Jaheira, Viconia and Aerie, to keep all the romantic options open, though I think I'm going to do the Viconia romance this time. Goody two shoes Paladin falls for Evil Drow Cleric.

IT'LL ALL END IN TEARS.

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Synchrotone



Listening to the Black Hawk Down soundtrack as I work. Some really nice tracks on it. Barra Barra is fantastic.



Today is a momentous day. After two and a half years of pretention, sweat, tears, tantrums, apathy and creativity, The Cassandra Project has finally been released. I've had a somewhat tenuous involvement with it since inception, and I'm glad it's finally seen the light of day, albeit in a cut down version of the original vision. I'm also glad to help Kieron out by hosting it on the State server.


TCP comes with the Official Mad Iain Seal Of Approval, so if you have Deus Ex, and want to check out one of the most intriguing mods ever created, get downloading. Bear in mind it's a 24MB file, though, so on a good dial-up connection it'll still take about 90 minutes to 2 hours to download. I think you'll find it's worth the wait, though. I've been Beta Testing it for the last month or so, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. If you take your time to explore everything and talk to everyone, you can easily take a couple of hours to play through it all.


Oh, and keep your eyes peeled in Bobby's office,.... there are some really nice little touches.